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We’re on the last week of this month’s RPG Blog Carnival which is about RPG Cartography – what maps work for you, what maps don’t, how you map, how they inspire you, and so on.

When I post my maps, at least once a month I get a request for a “how to” on my mapping style / techniques. I’ve never actually gone through with one because I don’t generally think they are that remarkable. However, the response to my hand-drawn maps has been so positive over the past two years that I’ll finally cede to your demands. This is the Dyson Logos Cartography Tutorial – or how to be an amateur mapper in one easy step.

First of all, you need to be gassy. I don’t seem to map without enveloping myself in a cloud of noxious fumes originating from parts down south. If the room doesn’t stink and your eyes aren’t running, you aren’t doing it right. I recommend beans – chili in particular because it encourages you to drink beer and it has onions in it too.

Once you have the gas going, it’s time to pull out the tools. I use the following:

1 – Something to draw with
2 – Something to draw on

Normally #1 is either a black gel pen (I typically use a 0.7 mm nib black pen like the Zebra Sarasa retractable gel pen, and occasionally a 0.5 mm black gel pen which produces slightly finer lines normally). Sometimes I go really old school and pull out a non-mechanical HB Pencil (#2 pencil for the USians). For this demo I’m using my 0.7 mm retractable gel pen.

For this demo, #2 is a booklet of graph paper. But I also often use plain white paper. But I don’t restrict myself to these two mediums – I also use post-it notes, note pads, journal booklets, the inside covers of novels, envelopes from the government, the backs of resumes, and whatever I have lying around really. I’ve sold many used novels back to the Book Market here in Ottawa with my maps on one of the inside covers. When inspiration strikes, no paper is safe.

Alright, on to the actual play-by-play.

When I start a map, the first thing I decide is whether I’ll be doing a side view or cutaway view of the map. If so, I do the side view  first because it establishes how the other portions of the map will work together. For this demo, I’ll be going with a side view, and because I’m lazy I’m not going to get around to doing the rest of the map today – just the side view.

So, I need an entrance to the dungeon, so some ruins come first.

Dyson Mapping "Tutorial" Step 1

Dyson Mapping "Tutorial" Step 1

There it is, two stories of tower (40 feet wide) with a ruined third floor, and some mysterious stairs leading down into the dark. I’m demonstrating two of the three formats of stairs I use in side views here. The spiral stairs leading up in the tower, and the traditional stairs leading into the depths. I’ll put some of the third format soon – traditional stairs that are facing towards or away from the side view instead of along the cut.

Dyson Mapping "Tutorial" Step 2

Dyson Mapping "Tutorial" Step 2

And there we go, the third kind of stairs at the bottom of the set leading down. And I’m already adding my cross-hatching. This can be perilous if you aren’t dead set in your mapping – by adding the cross-hatching, I’m already locking into my design, I can’t add new halls leading into areas and have to live with what I’ve drawn. But I find the cross-hatching to be my favourite part of mapping. It is relaxing and slows down the process, giving me time to think in the back of my head about where the map is going.

It would probably be clever of me to sketch in the areas in pencil first and then ink them, allowing me to change my mind as I go (and I probably recommend this for those of you following this at home), but that’s just not how I work – either the first try is good enough to publish on the blog, or it goes in the trash (or gets sold back to the Book Market in the back cover of Moorcock’s “Lord of the Spiders”).

I’m already contemplating a second exit to the dungeon at this point – that’s why I’m reaching to the right and leaving open space that way. A good dungeon has at LEAST two entrances, otherwise it is a death trap for those living within it as adventurers can secure the entrance and hold it, restricting access to food, loot and more adventurers.

Dyson Mapping "Tutorial" Step 3

Dyson Mapping "Tutorial" Step 3

All right! A little more cross-hatching added, and the rest of the complex is here. Some natural caves, some stairs carved into them, and even a room chiseled out of the caves over on the right. At this point, technically the layout is done and everything I do from now on is detail. But that’s what I love – details.

I’ve also started going back and thickening lines. You can see how the lines of the ruined fort have already had a second pass added to them. This increases contrast between the earth and the structure, and makes the map a lot easier to read. I don’t always do this, and didn’t do it much in my older maps, and it is a trick that adds a lot to a good map. So thicken those lines – even better is to thicken them after doing the cross-hatching (as it makes the cross-hatching and the lines blend together a bit more, making the contrast even stronger right in that limnal area) – but I don’t always stick to that.

Dyson Mapping "Tutorial" Step 4

Dyson Mapping "Tutorial" Step 4

Trees. I love trees. I don’t draw them all that well, but I love them. In this case, they also explain why the cave won’t be the first entrance the characters find, since it is hidden in the trees. I’ve also thickened all the lines of the structures / caves / dungeons now, and added some shading to the water. Then it is time to finish off the in-filling of cross-hatching and my more recent rocks-and-dirt fill to get to our final map:

Dyson Mapping "Tutorial" Step 5

Dyson Mapping "Tutorial" Step 5

Finally with that map in hand, I would normally scan it for the first time (instead of having scanned it 4 times previous to finishing it. I drag it into either the Gimp or Photoshop and enhance the Brightness and Contrast (typically +40 Brightness, +60 Contrast) and suddenly it looks like this:

Dyson Mapping "Tutorial" Final

Dyson Mapping "Tutorial" Final - Click to Enlarge

And that’s how I draw these maps that I fill my blog with. Just me, a room full of stinky, stinky farts, and a pen. Occasionally the farts are optional, but my best maps are definitely fueled by stink.

Now don’t tell me that I never give you what you ask for!