Saturday, August 15, 2020

Mapping tutorial: Serpent Coast (part 2)

I'm drawing a map for the Serpent Coast, part of a randomly-generated adventure The Legend of Copper Isle.  In part 1 we ended with a coastline full of fjords:

Let's add some rivers.  Sometimes it feels easier to add rivers first and then draw mountains around them; sometimes it's the other way around.  Wherever you start, rivers and terrain are linked.  If you know the shape of the land, you can see where the water will go.

The Serpent Coast is supposed to have a river flowing in from the southwest, so I'll have that flow into one of the inlets.  Each inlet probably has some waterway flowing into it, but since there are so many, we'll just focus on the larger ones.

For this mapping style, it's important to make rivers wiggly -- not because all rivers undulate across the land, but simply to show that they're rivers.

Next we'll add some lines to indicate terrain.  I usually like to just add enough lines to give an impression of the terrain, rather than drawing in every hill and cliff.  (Though there are some excellent artists who draw much more terrain than I do and some who draw less.)

After the terrain lines are added, I'll probably draw in a few more streams, but we'll see how it looks when we get there.

Because these are fjords, the valleys should generally be steep-sided.  I'm mostly looking for terrain like this:

but also a few low-lying shores like this:

Let's add some short, steep lines along the coast to show the steepness of the fjords.  I'll start with a single island, using a thinner pen so the terrain isn't overwhelming.

Notice how the lines on south-facing coasts are longer, while lines on north-facing coasts are shorter?  This gives the impression that you're looking at the island from a bit of an angle, and it's an important part of the 1700s style I'm aiming for.  This allows for profile views of trees and settlements to coexist with overhead views of coastlines.

Hills and mountains can be added with just a few lines.  It's easy to go overboard with these (at least for me), so I find myself constantly trying to draw fewer mountains, not more.

I could draw the smaller hills in the little peninsulas, but my goal is to suggest the landscape, not define it entirely.  (Defining the landscape entirely would be wonderful, but when I try it, the map ends up far too busy and it takes too long to draw.)

Waterfalls are marked with a little cliff that extends on both sides of the river.

Here's another example of how cliffs can be used to divide terrain:

And here's the entire map with hills and mountains added:

This map is supposed to have two major settlements: the giantish houses of Flying Bar Goose and Bear-by-Hand.  With this much density on the map, it's going to be hard to add labels, but we'll make do.  (I probably should go in and remove some of the inlets, just to make it easier to label things.)

I think that's enough for today.  Next I'll add in symbols for ground cover and finish up with settlements and labels.

(Continued in part 3.)


  1. I’m really enjoying this series. You say you’re looking for 1700s style, is there a particular map that inspires you?

    1. One map I really enjoy is this 1618 Bertius map:

      Overall, I'm trying to develop a style that conveys the information I need while running a game, is easy to draw, and evokes some of the feel of the era. Not sure if I'm there yet.