22
Jan

40 Magnificent Mapping Resources

The map is often the centerpiece of a game – a visual focal point on which to sketch your story. Players plot their strategies over scrolls depicting the overworld and talk tactics with a dungeon drawing in hand. But good cartography is hard work and we all could use a little help and lot of inspiration.

For those among us who enjoy the tedious work of pen and parchment (or standard copy paper tinged with tea – real parchment is crazy expensive!), maps are a joy to produce… when there’s time. Which there isn’t. Ever. So as an alternative to analog, I present a giant list of links to digital sources for your mapping needs.

MAPPING SOFTWARE:

Arcane Mapper – early-access dungeon drawing software where you outline whatever room shape you like, includes simple lighting effects and a basic set of objects, $10 on Steam

Astrosynthesis – beefy star-system mapper with lots and lots of options, travel-time calculator, fractal mapper, $35 or you can test it with a free trial version

Autorealm – older but reliable program for vector-drawing maps of many styles, good for entry-level mappers or advanced creators who don’t need super slick graphics, free download, well-loved by those who have been using it for many years

Azgaar’s Fantasy Map Generator – random map generator with layers for cultures and borders and more, plenty of customizable sliders

Campaign Cartographer 3 – big and versatile mapping program able to create many styles of maps on many scales, powerful enough to do almost anything you could want, $45 for the main software or bundle up to $620 if you want to own the entire library of add-ons

Cityographer / Dungeonographer / Hexographer / Worldographer – various clever random-generator programs with lots of customizable features and editability, licenses range from $15 for icon sets to $80 for the full pro-bundle

Dundjinni – fantasy map creation program, free demo, $40 for full version, art packs sold separately

DungeonFog – good-looking map tool for creating interior and exterior cartography very quickly, free version with limited storage but full functionality, $57 premium version with regular art updates, $114 commercial license version

Fractal Mapper – potent map-drawing application with fractal drawing capabilities to make your coastlines and terrain features look more natural, suitable for interiors and exteriors, lots of capability and solid art, free trial version or $35 for the full product

Grid Cartographer 4 – easy map-drawing tool with several artistic styles, supports grids and hexes, fog of war feature, $50 on Steam

Illwinter’s Floorplan Generator – very easy to use map-drawing program with decent graphics, suitable for many kinds of 2D fantasy maps, $7 on Steam

Inkarnate – high-quality overworld and city map art program with isometric view capability, distinctive art style, free version, pro version is $25 per year and allows for larger maps, more assets, and commercial licensing, rated highly by the community

MapForge – high-res battlemap maker with drag-and-drop art tiles and plenty of customization, $30 license fee, free trial version, lots of add-ons

MapTool – free virtual tabletop that also contains a nice map-making tool, has dynamic lighting and lots of other features like vision-blocking and tokens, good community support, accepts donations via DriveThruRPG

Other World Mapper – excellent drawing tool for fantasy maps with distinctive artwork, perhaps the most beautiful mountains in the business, $35 for the basics or $60 for the expanded version with thousands of map symbols, hundreds of textures, and options for dungeons and cities

Pyromancer’s Dungeon Painter Studio – drag-and-drop creation tool, $15 on Steam, test it out with the free online demo version

RPG Maker MV – high quality pixel-art game-making software for JRPG-style games, you can make video games with it or just use it for maps, $80 on Steam plus LOTS of art and music packs

Spreadsheet Program (any) – Goblin’s Henchman did a YouTube video on this subject last year if you need an example of how to make spreadsheet cells into grid-spaces, many utilities like this are available and you may already have one installed

Station Generator / Station Architect (coming Jan. 31, 2019) – drag-and-drop space station room mapper with very simple graphics, very easy to use, suitable for quick and simple layouts, supports fog of war and easy exporting, Generator is $8 on Steam, Architect is $10 (or free, if you’re upgrading from the original)

Virtual Battlemap – high quality drag-and-drop 3D map builder with 2D print options, customizable lighting effects, $30 on Steam with extra art packs sold separately

Wonderdraft – premium map creator that can produce some serious pieces of artwork in high-def detail, $30, lots of high ratings from the community

Yet Another Gameboard (YAG) – upcoming (Feb. 5th, 2019) early access app that does spiffy 3D fantasy game maps with procedural generation and oodles of customizable gambits and animated characters, price unknown at time of publication

ONLINE RESOURCES:

Cartographers’ Guild – the go-to online community for all things cartography, highlights both fictional and historical maps and the appreciation of all things that go into making them

Davesmapper – website that draws random maps made out of different artists’ work and fits them together like puzzle pieces

DriveThruRPG Maps and Play Aids – online shop featuring all kinds of maps, tokens, graphics, and 3D modeling resources, even includes free and pay-what-you-want items

Fantastic Mapper – lovely early-access online tool that draws your maps using the art style of Jonathan Roberts who won an ENnie for his cartographic art, hex maps with text and links to your notes, currently free while in testing but planning to move to a pay-model once fully developed

HexTML – super-simple freebie map-maker with very basic and clean iconography, beginner-friendly, supports grids and hexes, link locations to other sub-maps

Mipui – free, open-source grid map app, automatic cloud storage, collaborate with other users on the same map

Pinterest Battlemaps – large collection of maps from other sites that are easy to view and skim through all on one image-board page

Reddit has masses of maps if you know where to look:

r/battlemaps

r/cartography

r/dndmaps

r/fantasycartography

r/fantasymaps

r/imaginarymaps

r/mapmaking

r/worldbuilding

Sectors Without Number – very simple random star system generator, hex grid, small amount of customization, originally for “Stars Without Number”

Tiamat the Tile Mapper – basic drag-and-drop dungeon map site, free to use but pay to export files

Watabou’s Medieval Fantasy City Generator – randomly creates a streets-and-buildings layout with simple customization tools, clean look

ARTISTIC ADVICE FOR AN ADVANCED ATLAS

If your brain is still burned out after all that, here are a handful of other ideas to orient your mental mapper into some new regions of thought.

  • Look up floor plans on real estate websites (especially older buildings from time periods and localities that match your setting as closely as possible).
  • Experiment with different drawing surfaces – leather, wood, clear plastic sheets, cloth, large leaves, the smooth inner side of tree bark, flat stones, clay tablets, and so on. And don’t just stick to regular ink if you have access to paint, chalk, charcoal, or carving tools.
  • The back of most rolls of wrapping paper is often lined with a 1-inch grid, if you need cheap mapping material.
  • Think in terms of “tourist maps” like those you might find in hotel lobbies or in travel centers – they show the basic layout of an area but use large, not-to-scale icons to point out the important locations.
  • Draw a side-view of a site instead of an overhead view when you don’t need to know the exact layout – think of a city skyline, for example.
  • Consider overhead isometric views or bisected/cutaway maps when you want to change up the look.
  • If you’re good at animation, think about animating a digital map with things like flowing water, rustling leaves, flickering torches, etc.
  • Digital maps can also benefit from extra layers if you’ve got the time to make them – fog-of-war, night and day lighting, roof layers, basement and upper floors, etc.
  • Something’s D&D Blog shows how to throw a whole bunch of dice on a drawing surface and let them determine your overworld map borders. You can get even more complex with this method of borough/town generation from Last Gasp Grimoire. Or, design your own mashup of these ideas!
  • Sick of maps altogether? No worries! Diagram your dungeon (sometimes known as Jaquaying) instead of mapping, and rely on good descriptions and the theater of the mind.

There’s a plethora of resources available online (I didn’t even start listing all the books you could use) and I’m certain to have missed some. What would you add to our list and which ones are your favorites?

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