Sunday, March 20, 2022

Real-time Coastal Hatching

You've probably seen old maps with little lines along the coast, right?  Back in the days of ink and engravings those were tedious to draw.  I've tried a lot of different methods to add this kind of hatching to maps in Photoshop, but they've all been slow.

What I'm going to show you here is applied in real time.  Once you've set up your layer style, you can just draw and the hatching is applied automatically.

These instructions are for Photoshop, so if you're using a different drawing program, let me know what you do differently.

Mask a fill layer

Start off with a simple fill layer.  This is a layer that's already full of a single color, with a mask that lets you show or hide it as you like.  (Go to the menu: Layer > New Fill Layer > Solid Color.)

Draw the shape of the land in the mask to reveal the color.  (By default the mask will show color everywhere, which is the opposite of what you want.  There are many ways to switch the mask to hide everything: one is to select the mask and hit Ctrl-I to invert it.)

Noisy inner shadow

Open up the layer style.  (Right-click on the name of the layer and go to Blending Options, or just double-click on the layer.)

Add an inner shadow to show the edge of the coastline.  The default settings make a soft-edged shadow, which isn't what we want here.  Turn the Choke most of the way up (so the shadow is mostly opaque) and set the Size to just a few pixels.  Add a little bit of Noise (I'm using 10% for this demo).

Notice how the white area is hidden here?  Put the layer in a folder, then set that folder's blending mode to Multiply.  That means anything in white will be transparent this will be important later.

Stroke hatching

Next we're going to add the little lines that stick out into the water.  You'll need to draw a hatching pattern to do this, or you can use mine if you like.  (Non-commercial purposes only.)

If you draw one yourself, make sure the left and right edges match (and the top and bottom edges) so that it can tile seamlessly.  (I could do a tutorial on making seamless textures if you guys want.)

Open up your hatching tile as a separate image, make it into a pattern, then head back to the map.  (Edit > Define Pattern.)

In the layer style, add a Stroke.  For the Fill Type, choose Pattern, and select the hatching pattern you just defined.  Set the Blend Mode to Difference.  This will draw a band of that pattern around the edge of the coastline.

Click the Overprint check box for this stroke, so the hatching will be drawn on top of the other effects we'll add soon.

This is ok, but it's not great.  Ideally we'd like the hatching to be bolder near the land and less intense further out in the water.  To do that, we'll need a few more copies of the pattern.

Add another Stroke just like the previous one, but increase the size.

Then add a third Stroke the same way.  (You might need to tinker with the size and opacity a bit to get an effect you like.)

Reversed outer glow to hide hatching

We're getting closer, but the outer edge is still too regular.  We need something further out from the coast that's fuzzy and noisy to cover up the edges of the hatching.

An outer glow or a drop shadow would be perfect, but those usually are stronger near the object, fading off further away.  Thankfully, we can invert the direction.

(Outer Glow and Drop Shadow both have a similar effect here.  I ended up using both on my own image for finer control, but you can go it with just one.)

Add an Outer Glow, then reverse the contour.

If you don't already have a reversed contour in that little menu, just click on the contour itself and drag the handles to reverse it, like in this image.

When we're done the outer glow will need to be white, but for now, make it red.

Adjust the size and spread until the outer glow is strongest out at the far edge of the hatching, fading off as the glow approaches the land.  Add some noise for roughness, then it should look something like this:

Notice how that red band is covering up the outer part of the hatching?  That's exactly what we want, if only the red band were invisible.

Change its color from red to white, and it'll disappear.  (It disappears because this layer is inside a folder set to Multiply.  Using the Multiply blending mode, white manifests as transparency.)

That's it for the coastline.  Draw the rest of the owl and you get something like this:


  1. Make a hatching pattern from a separate image.
  2. Draw the land shape using a fill layer.
  3. Put the fill layer in a folder that has Blend (Multiply).
  4. Add a layer style: Inner Shadow: high Choke, some Noise.
  5. Add a Stroke: Fill (Pattern), Blend (Difference), Overprint.
  6. Add two more of that Stroke, each one with a larger Size.
  7. Add a red Outer Glow: Contour (reversed), some Noise, moderate Spread, enough Size so it's out at the edge of the hatching.
  8. Change the Outer Glow to white.

Once you've made your layer style, you can save it or just copy it from one map to another.  You only have to do those steps once; from then on, all your coastal hatching can be done in real time.

Are there any steps you'd like to see in more detail?  Let me know, either here or on the subreddit, and I'll add them in.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Rolling up Today's Campaign

Want to see how a campaign is made?  Or just want to join us for some adventure?

I'm starting up a new play-by-post game over on Discord.

The first step is choosing an Opportunity, a premise for the initial adventure.  I'm suggesting we start with one of these:

  1. Establishing a new community in the wilderness.
  2. Avoiding the law to survive as smugglers.
  3. Searching for a lost treasure.
  4. Protecting a remote outpost on the frontier.
  5. Leading the conquest of a poorly-understood country.
  6. Following a falling star to where it lands.

Once the players have chosen an opportunity to start with, we'll answer a few questions about the party, then we'll jump right into the adventure.


Meanwhile, I'll be posting on the behind-the-scenes channel about how the world is actually being made, as I roll everything up on random tables.  Last time we tried this it was a lot of fun, and as the GM, I enjoyed being surprised by the nature of the world unfolding around us as we adventured.

The game is going to focus on the fiction of the world, leaving aside any number-crunching and die-rolling mechanics for now.  (I'm interested in those, but that's not the focus of this playthrough.)

Feel free to drop in and out, or just watch if you like.  We're leaving the size of the party somewhat vague, so players can come and go as needed.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Drawing of a Flintlock Pistol

A quick post today, just wanted to share some of the artwork I've been doing for Signs in the Wilderness.  Here's a drawing of a flintlock pistol with some of the process labeled:

I'm aiming for a style somewhere between old-school RPG art and Eric Sloane's pen-and-ink drawings.

Does this look interesting?  Evocative of the setting?  Good enough for publication?

Monday, February 15, 2021

Cattle Brands as Heraldry

Heraldic coats of arms are a fun way to distinguish powerful families, but they're best for a European setting.  If you're looking for interesting symbols for a non-European setting, there are plenty of other sources you could look at, from Japanese mon to Central Asian tamgha.

For an American setting, I decided to look at cattle brands.

The giants of the Northern Lands belong to houses: kinship societies centered around a family meeting-place.  Each house is named for its sign, carved on trees and painted on rocks throughout its territory. 


Start with a Base sign.  Here are a few of the more common ones:


(If you're interested, the names underneath are in the language of the giants of the Inner Sea.  Vowels are like in Spanish, h is pronounced even after a vowel, and doubled vowels are sustained twice as long.)


Then add at least one Modifier.  A standing sign has a single leg with a foot on each side.  A walking sign has a pair of feet splayed out at the bottom.  If they're facing the same way, it's running

Standing Hand
Solyo Sang
Walking Turkey
Lo Vath Tuyik
Running Hand
Vindva Sang

Flying signs have a pair of wings at the top:

Flying Spear
Saata Toxu
Flying Shoe
Saata Masvo

A sign can have a bar across the top:

Bar Hand
Dol Sang
Bar Turkey
Dol Tuyik

Broken signs are divided in half by a pair of parallel lines:

Broken Hand
Ontki Sang
Broken Shoe
Ontki Masvo

Signs can be enclosed by a diamond or a circle:

Diamond Turkey
Kusuk Tuyik
Circle Hand
Osu Sang

Turn a sign on its side and it's lazy; upside-down makes it crazy:

Lazy Turkey
Ugu Tuyik
Crazy Hand
Saya Sang

Signs can also be double, or you can have one by another, or one over another.

Double Hand
Anggaak Sang
Hand by Turkey
Sang do Tuyik
Turkey over Shoe
Tuyik so Masvo

Modifiers can even be combined:

Bar Standing Fence
Dol Solyo Lavta
  Broken Sled over Cloud
Ontki Laami so Movta
  Lazy Bar Trout by Walking Hill
Ugu Dol Lulut do Lo Vath Guth

Modifiers are applied in order, starting with the one closest to the base and working your way leftwards, so Lazy Bar Turkey starts with the sign for Turkey, then adds a Bar to make Bar Turkey, then rotates it sideways to make Lazy Bar Turkey.

Lazy Bar Turkey
Ugu Dol Tuyik
 Bar Lazy Turkey
Dol Ugu Tuyik

There's no strict upper bound to the number of modifiers you can use at once, but don't get too carried away.  This house, for example, would probably be ridiculed for their overly-complex sign: 

Lazy Running Standing Diamond Walking Net over Flying Running Lazy Standing Lazy Coat
Ugu Vindva Solyo Kusuk Lo Vath Tahya so Saata Vindva Ugu Solyo Ugu Lapu

(If you're playing a giant, I suggest you try something simpler for the sign of your own house.)

In our campaign over on Reddit, the party recently encounted the houses of Dead Spear and Spider by Crow, and they've heard of the abandoned ruin of the house of Flying Hand.  From the names alone, any giant would recognize their signs.

What kind of heraldry do they have in your game world?

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Surprise Plot from Random Encounters

When you're playing in a sandbox, random encounters are just the GM's way of casting Summon Plot.  I just rolled one up that's going to completely derail the adventure I'm running.  I have no idea how the players are going to respond, or what they're supposed to do to get past this obstacle, and that's the point.

(Spoilers ahead, if you're in the expedition on the Blind River.)

Sunday, January 17, 2021

A detour to White Isle (In Pursuit of the Star)

Looks like the party wants to go to White Isle, that throwaway location I added at the last second to round out the map.  Serves me right, I guess.

This is for a randomly-generated campaign that we're playing through over on Reddit.  Come join us, if you like!

Spoilers ahead!

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Preparing to Depart (In Pursuit of the Star)

The adventure is starting up over on Reddit and players are asking some good questions.  Let's see if we can answer those and get prepared for their actual landing in Bitterwood Bay.

In this post I'll be explaining how I'm rolling dice and coming with ideas behind the scenes.  (See previous posts in this series.)

Spoilers ahead!