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How to draw cliffs - 3 different styles

So I was asked a while ago about different cliff mapping styles. Today I thought I'd break the hiatus of the last couple of weeks with a few different styles of cliffs. It's not really a tutorial, just a breakdown of a couple of the styles I've used for different maps.

1. Classic cliffs
This is a symbolic style - a very abstract representation of a cliff. It's used a lot on current maps. The advantage is that is clearly designates the cliff, shows where the edge is, and indicates which side is the top and which the bottom. The downside is that it's not particularly illustrative. These are great for abstracted regional scale maps and old school dungeon maps.

2. Illustrative cliffs
Here we have the opposite approach. The cliff is drawn to give some impression of how it would look from above. You tend not to see the vertical lines in the cliff. Instead you see all the ledges as you look down. Where the edges are close together you can see that it's steep, where they are more spread out you can see a more gradual rise. Throw in some fallen rocks at the bottom - all cliffs have them - and some lines showing the smaller rubble that's run off from the cliff. This is a good style for battlemaps, where you might want to give an indication of different routes up the cliff, but bad for regional maps where the scale makes this style inappropriate.

3. A compromise
Finally we have a style that acts as a compromise. The edge of the cliff is clearly shown. The structure of the cliff is indicated by the perpendicular lines. I've added more structure and variation. This gives a more illustrative feel to the style in 1. without sacrificing clarity. I've found this works well on world or regional scale maps where you need to indicate a cliff, and have it blend in with a more illustrative style.

I hope that's useful! As ever, feel free to share this around to others who might find this handy. You can check out older tutorials on the Tutorials page of my blog: [link]
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How to draw isometric cliffs

Following my quick run down of how to draw cliffs (here [link]) here's an equally quick one for drawing cliffs on isometric maps.

1. Draw the top of the cliff. Make the horizontal variations in the line larger than the vertical variations. This will sell the cliff as being viewed side on.

2. Draw the vertical edges. These should come down from every 'wiggle' in your cliff top line. Give them different lengths and allow your hand to wiggle a little giving them some jitter.

3. Add some ground lines for the base of the cliff. These represent the run off of debris from the cliff and give the cliff a well defined base. Just like a figure drawing needs a floor and feet to ground it, a cliff needs a base to settle it into the map. Add a few lines around the top to suggest the lie of the land around the top of the cliff and allow the top to blend into the map.

That's it! Would it be useful to follow this with a rundown of how to colour this up?

As always, you can find previous tutes on here over on the tutorials page of my blog: [link]
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Here's the breakdown of how I draw lineart for swamps.

1. The rivers

Swamps are often around a river - if this is the case, then begin with the river at the heart of the swamp. Unlike most rivers which usually run for miles without branches, in a swamp I add lots and lots of tributaries feeding into the main river. This indicates the water draining in from the wider swamp and helps to define the borders of the swamp. Because I'm drawing a 3/4 style map here, I emphasise the horizontal spread of the rivers over the vertical spreads.

If your swamp isn't connected to a river, then ignore this step.

2. Tufts of swamp grass

Add in tufts of grass throughout the swamp. 2-3 lines spiking up from the ground should do the trick.

3. Horizontal lines

Here we really specify the area of the swamps. I add horizontal lines and ripples to imply the surface water in the bog. The lines don't meet up with the tufted grass - that separation helps keep the texture clean rather than messy. Finally I add a rippled line around the edge to define the limits of the swamp.

I hope that helps! I'll put together a parallel tutorial with colour hopefully later this week.

For more tutorials check out the full list on the blog: [link]
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Isometric hand drawn mountains

Today's tutorial is a quick walkthrough for isometric or forced perspective mountains. This is entirely software agnostic, and is the starting point for maps like this: [link] or this: [link]

This was done with a pen in my lunch break, but can equally be done in Gimp with a mouse, or Photoshop with a tablet.

1. Defined the silhouettes for your mountains. They can be jagged, they can be smooth. Allow your hand to wander and create different shapes. It helps to start with the closest mountain (bottom of the page) and work to the farthest (top of the page)
2. Draw the ridge line. Start at the highest point on a mountain and draw a ridge line to the next in the line of mountains. Don't draw directly to the next peak, offset the end of the line. That will make it look like the ridge drops down and then comes up the far side where it's hidden from the viewer.
3. Add in the details. Here I've taken lines from all of the mini-peaks and drawn flowing lines down the sides of the mountains. Add in a few secondary ridge lines running off down to ground level (like the second mountain from the top on the left hand side)

At this point you have your mountain range. Any more detail added with colour or tone will add to the effect, but you can leave it at this and it'll read just fine as a mountain range.

As always, feel free to share this round. Previous tutorials can be found on the Tutorials page of my website: [link]
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Lunchtime Tip - Turning any map into an aged paper handout

The key to a good map is the information it presents. As soon as you've done the line drawing on a map, it should be perfectly possible to pick it up and use it. Everything after that point is polish to make it pretty. Today I'm looking at taking a simple map on a white background and turning it into an aged paper handout.

First of all you need a good paper texture. There are thousands of these free on the internet. As always, is a good bet, under Paper->Plain. You can also find hundreds of paper textures on (just search for "paper texture"). With this in hand it's a quick hop to a pretty map:

(as always you can download this fullsize, or download the psd here:

1. Take the original map - here we have a simple 3 colour map with a couple of locations marked with crosses. It's useful, but not that atmospheric.
2. Add a parchment background as a layer behind the map. You won't see it initially (the white background blocks it out) so change the blend mode to multiply. This only darkens, so the white background will disappear. Drop the opacity of the layer to 50% to give a light watercolour look.
3. The 50% multiply layer is a little washed out, and we want to darken the lines and bump up the colours. To do this, duplicate the layer and set the blend mode to colour burn. This will boost the colours and burn in the dark lines - and once again the white is transparent for this blend mode.. I've set it to 70% opacity.

Play with the opacity of the two blend modes to get a look that you like. You can also use colour and saturation blend modes with this to build up a nice effect. And just like that you have an aged paper hand out. Much easier than tea staining or baking a hand drawn map, and with less chance of setting fire to the oven.

This originally appeared on my G+ page here: [link]
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How to colour a dungeon map by hand

Today it's back to the isometric dungeon I created in this mini-tute a few weeks ago ([link]). +Larry Moore was asking about the next step - how I'd go about taking a map like that and colouring it up. An isometric map is a little trickier than a top down map. As there aren't hard edges for the walls it's tricky to set up a selection and stroke the selection or use filters to define walls and floor styles. So I do it by hand. And here's the steps I use.

Note - I'm refering to Photoshop in this tutorial, but it's exactly the same in Gimp.

1. Throw a nice textured background under your lines. I'm very partial to parchment backgrounds, but stone, cloth or other backgrounds also work well. The texture will pull the whole map together and suggest more detail than you put in by hand. Then create a new layer with the colour blend mode underneath the lines. Take a very desaturated colour (I tend to use a brown that's almost grey, maybe 5% saturation) and block in areas that should be stone. I use a grungy brush with low opacity and build up the greys slowly. You don't want heavy round brush edges here. They may not show up at this stage, but you'll notice hard edges on the colour layer towards the end. Finally, pick out the colours of non grey objects, like wooden doors and water. Don't worry about being too careful here. You'll almost certainly go back and edit this layer before you're done.

2. Add in your first layer of light and shade. I almost always use an overlay layer for light and shade. At this stage, your building up general form, so use a large brush - around the same size as a grid square. A fuzzy circular brush works well, or a grungy brush with low opacity. I like to make the floor the lightest area, as our eyes are drawn to the lightest point in an image. The walls and floors around the dungeon can be darker to suggest heavy earth and rock. I also like to darken the corner where the wall meets the floor. There's no good reason for that physically, but is really seems to work for me when detailing maps. In this case I've actually built up two overlay layers to get to here - this is mostly because my background was so light.

3. Place the detail. This is the stage that takes the time. Once again, add a new overlay layer. Reduce the size of your grungy brush by half (at least) and start working in the darkest shadows. These should be along wall edges, and in nooks and crannies of natural stone walls. I also ran a dark brush along all of the flagstone lines to give a bit of dimension to the flagstones. Now switch to a light colour, amd use a hard round brush with relatively small size and set the opacity to pressure sensitivity (if you're using a tablet). Pick out sharp highlights. These should be along the any sharp edges, like the side of an outcropping, the edge of a flagstone, the edge of a door, the bright highlight on a doorhandle. I also added the stone effect in the surrounding earth by setting the hard brush to low opacity, adding a large scatter and allowing the size of the brush to vary. I threw in some scatter in the earth to hint at rocks and stones in the earth around the dungeon.

Now go back to your colour layer and make any tweaks you need now that the detailing's finished and you're done!

That's another long one (I'm afraid), but the steps are - lay in the colours, block in the rough light and shade, add in the detailed shadows and highlights. I hope that helps! You can find the psd for the iso dungeon here - [link] - feel free to play with the different layers and see what they do.

As always, previous tips can be found on my blog here: [link] Feel free to reshare, and let me know if there's anything that doesn't make sense.

#fmtips #map #tutorial #photoshop
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Here's a quick tutorial to get back into the swing of things for 2013. I was asked about drawing coastlines. This is just a technique question so it's software agnostic.

1. Starting point

Here's the basic shape of the coastline - this is what I see a lot in turnover sketches at the early design stage. It's very blobby and indistinct, and looks nothing like a real coastline. The key is the regularity and smoothness of the line

2. Break it up!

I've followed the general shape of the coastline, but broken the line into a more jagged pattern. Some regions are almost sawtoothed. Try not to make features and variations the same size. Coastlines are fractal - they should look similarly broken up at a range of different zoom levels. Add some smooth coves for beaches to give variety (like the beach under the 2.)

Add islands along the coast. I tend to add them off peninsulas - where a spur of rock stretches out into the sea and leaves a trail of islands pointing out - or in inlets where the islands can mimic the shape of the negative space.

3. Edge detail

At this stage I've added a range of marks to the land to indicate the structure of the coastline and hint at hills, valleys, and the form of that beach I mentioned earlier. A lot of coastline has a sharp drop to the sea, and these lines hint at that structure.

For more hints and tips see the Tutorials section of my blog: [link]

Ask any questions in the comments and I'll do my best to answer them!
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Using paths to give pretty wall textures

It's a longer one today - but the effect is a pretty one. It's a method for creating pretty wall edges - especially handy for natural stone locations

1. Start with a textured base and draw your walls on a separate layer. Make sure your floor area is entirely enclosed by walls or the edge of the canvas.
2. Use the magic wand tool to select the area that will be the walls (and use Select->Modify->Expand to make sure the selection runs down the middle of the ink lines). Then go to the Paths dialog and click the 'Make work path from selection' button to make a path from the selection. (also use Select->Save Selection before going any further - you'll need this selection later)
3. This creates a work path. Drag and drop the work path to the New Path button to create a permanent path. You also want to invert the selection and do the same process to get a path that surrounds the floor space. You'll now have two paths.
4. Now a quick tweak - I desaturate the background layer using an adjustment layer. I also add an overlay layer that's masked to just hit the walls.*5.* Create a group (folder icon) and mask the folder so that the floor is masked out and the walls are open. In the group create a new layer. Now select the path that surrounds the floor. You don't want to have a selection going round the outside of the walls, because we're going to stroke the path and we don't want the outside of the canvas to be highlighted. With the path selected go back to the layers palette and make sure the new layer is selected. Pick a nice large brush and press enter. First off, I want to put in a grungy highlight along the edge. I use a large grungy brush with a low opacity (around 10%) Start off really big - like 100-200px - and stroke the path with white (hit enter with the layer selected - you should see a brush stroke around the path). Then reduce the brush size and do it again. Rinse and repeat until you have a nice gradual highlight up to the wall edge. I set the layer to overlay to get a nice textured highlight.
6. This is nice, but it needs to have an extra texture. I set up an extra layer and this time I'll use a hard round brush with lots of scatter (1000%), colour jitter to swap light and dark and a low opacity (around 20-30%). Stroke the path again (make sure the path is selected then hit enter with the brush tool selected) with a few different sizes of this brush. You should have something like panel 6.
7. Now set this layer to overlay and set the opacity of the overlay layer to have it blend in.
8. The wall shadows are the same trick. In this case set up a new group, and mask this with the inverse of the previous mask (we're working on the floors this time). You can do this by selecting the previous mask, right click->Add Mask To Selection, and then use Ctrl/Cmd-shift-I to invert the selection. Click group icon and then click the Add Layer Mask button (to the right of the fx button at the bottom of the Layers dialog). Add a layer to the group. This layer will be our base shadow layer. Select the second path - from the Paths dialog - and then go to your new layer. Choose a nice dark colour, and a large, low opacity grungy brush (again around 5-10% opacity) and hit enter to stroke the path. Reduce the brush size and repeat. This will give a nice grungy shadow
9. In panel 8 I have this layer set to multiply at 100%. It's a little overbearing, so I reduce the opacity to 10-20% and create a new layer, this time set to overlay. Repeat the process of stroking the path and you should get something like the final image.

Here's the original psd ([link]) if you want to look at the full breakdown of how this was created. Note that this process is the same amount of work for 1 room as 100, so it's great for adding texture to a large map - and it still looks hand drawn rather than too photoshopped.
Feel free to share this if you find it useful. As ever, past tutorials can be found on the blog here: [link]
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I've been asked a lot about how to depict different scales recently. The question is - how do you tell the viewer of one map that they're looking at a zoomed in region of a small area, and on another map convince the viewer that they're looking at a large area, zoomed out. The easiest cue for the viewer is mountain ranges. These are the feature that's different enough at different scales that they can act as a defacto scale-bar.

Left: I've shown a section of a mountain range pretty zoomed in. Here you can see the individual peaks, and the slopes and crests of the mountains. They take up a large amount of the map and we know we're looking at a detailed map - similar to the kind of map you might get when exploring hiking trails. This is perfect for a detailed map of the environment around a town, perhaps showing the location of some nearby monster lair or other location of adventure.

Right: I've shown a similar map, but the mountains are now just a range. You can't see the individual peaks, and all you get is the overall sense of a barrier. This is closer to what you might see if you look at the Andes zoomed way out ([link]). The lack of distinct detail tells the viewer that you're looking at a large expanse. You can add a scale of course, but ideally a scale should reinforce the impression the viewer has of the map, rather than being a necessary tool for interpretation.

You can also vary the amount of detail in the coastline. Coasts are fractal, so that's not strictly going to be a good measure, but it can trick the viewer into thinking that a map is of one scale rather than another.

As always, check out more tutorials in the Tutorials section on the blog: [link]

If you want to draw mountains in the style on the left - there's a tutorial for that: [link] and also a video tutorial: [link]

(and yes, I tried to do depth levels in the sea with hatching but it didn't really work....)
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Following the previous tutorial about town design here’s a tutorial on filling in the buildings in the town.

I’m jumping in at the stage where we’ve already got the terrain, major locations and roads mapped out. The next step is filling all the remaining space with buildings to turn a skeleton of a town into a town. The key here is to give the impression of a large number of buildings, without having to agonise over every single chimney pot and awning.

1. Using the Pen Tool

Here I’m using the pen tool in Photoshop (P) – you can also use the pen tool in Gimp (B). Under Paths, hit the New Path button, and give it a name. Here I’ve called it “Houses”.

The advantage of using the path tool is that you can go back and edit any element of the city at any point. This is invaluable. It may be that you need to add a road later once and have to move some buildings to accommodate. This way, just use the direct selection tool (A) in Photoshop, or the pen tool (B) in Gimp and go back to edit the vector outline of the houses.

Many path tutorials will focus on the fact that you can use the path tool to create bezier curves. We’re not doing curves today, but creating straight sided polygons instead. To lay a house polygon, click one for each corner. Because you’re clicking – rather than clicking and dragging – the path lays in straight lines between anchor points. Click again on the first point (you should see a small circle appear under the pen cursor) and the path will close. In Gimp – you need to command-click the first point to close the path.

Click again somewhere else to start the next building, and you’re off!

2. Use a variety of building sizes

First of all, don’t worry about the shapes being precisely right. Any town map will have a lot of buildings, and the chance of a viewer looking at any one and judging the historical accuracy of the building shape are slim. You want the impression of an urban sprawl without having to carefully design each bit of sprawl. So, work quickly, and don’t sweat the details. But – make some decisions about the blocks that you’re filling in. A slum area should have smaller and more disorganised buildings – or solid tenement blocks. There shouldn’t be too much spare space. A wealthier neighbourhood might have bigger building with more empty space around them.

Use a variety of building shapes. It may well be that buildings are mostly rectangular, but a complete uniformity of buildings forms a repetitive pattern – and out brains are very good at spotting repetitive patterns. That’s part of the reason we’re doing these shapes by hand. Add variety – t-shaped buildings, l-shaped buildings. It might start to look a little like the reject bin in the Tetris factory, but that’s okay. Remember, we’ll be seeing this zoomed out, not examining every single building in turn.

Also, use negative space. We see not just the buildings, but also the space around them. Leave courtyards and meeting areas, squares and plazas. Leave more empty space in some parts of town than others – even if you don’t have a reason why. Either you’ll come up with a reason later, or your players will rationalise the difference for you, and add detail to your world without you trying.

3. Let the buildings flow

The roads and terrain have a flow to them – let the buildings work with that. Fill in the empty space around your featured locations, but use the buildings to describe lines and emphasise the larger shapes of the town. So, for example, a line of similar size buildings all curving around a bend will suggest that the buildings are all the same, and might help to sell a barracks, or pre-built line of miner’s cottages. In contrast, a set of widely varied buildings, all spaced out, might be the mansions of the wealthy – all created to each person’s taste.

Filling in the buildings takes time – lots of time – but the end result is worth it. I’ve got a few methods of laying out blocks that are more automated, and these help for cities, but nothing beats just drawing in all the houses.

4. Turn your path into a selection

Once you’ve tweaked your houses to your liking, turn the path into a selection. (Path’s palette – button at the bottom ‘Load Path as Selection’ -PS, or Path Tool -> Tool Options -> Selection from Path, Gimp).

5. Fill your houses selection

Create a new layer, and fill the houses selection with a colour of your choice to lay in all the houses! Here I’ve used some layer options. I filled the selection with white, and set the fill opacity to 50%. I also added an inner stroke of 1px in black. There are lots of good choices for layer styles that can give you a more satisfying set of houses from this selection, but that’s a tutorial for another day. For now, you’ve got a full layout of your town.

That’s it for now. I’ll post some alternative house style tips over the coming week, and delve into what to do once you’ve got all your vector outlines, later in the week.

More tutorials on the blog: [link]
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