Friday, September 20, 2013

Fun With Campaign Cartographer

When I started writing fantasy again a couple of years ago, I purchased a mapping program called Campaign Cartographer. It's a very complicated program with a pretty steep learning curve. If you follow their basic tutorial, you'll learn to make a basic map, but many of the things about their interface, including much of the terminology for different components of the program, are non intuitive for someone like me (no background in graphic design or anything).

Still, it's loads of fun, and there's a pretty helpful online forum where you can get advice about various aspects of the program. The things that are still stymieing me are the issue related to scaling. I'd love to have a fairly non-detailed world level map where I could zoom into various portions to create more detailed landscapes. But this has eluded me thus far. Also, the city builder module has been a challenge. I purchased this because I thought it would be cool to make more zoomed in maps of a couple of the cities in my world.

It's probably overkill for a writer who just wants some to-scale maps of places in her world, such as what one often sees inset inside the first pages of a fantasy novel. I think the program is more designed for gamers (as the name suggests).

There's also the problem with world building being a potential source of procrastination, and world building being about far more than mapping. I don't agree with some writers who say mapping's a complete waste of time. I'm a visual person, and it is pretty helpful for me to have a sense for how long it will take to travel somewhere, or for what the terrain and landscape might be like in a given region. I've created the nations of Tarkilem (where most of Umbral Heretic occurs) and Andur with a given history and cultures in mind, but the act of setting them down on a map tells me where places need to be within each place in order to allow the story to unfold the way it does. I'll likely need to get some more details down for the countries called Minua and Zeryah and for the continent and lands within Sunabera to the south for the rest of what I currently envision for the series. There's another continent (Roksana) which is mentioned in passing during a scene in the novel.

However, unlike Tolkien, who had his whole world its history so completely in place by the time he wrote Lord of the Rings, that he knew where and what every single reference in his story (save the cats of Queen Berúthiel) fit into the whole, I've left a lot blank for the time being. Actually, I don't want to rope myself, or any future stories I might want to tell in this world, into anything too firmly. I know all too well the kind of flack writers can get when even little things that were hinted at or revealed in earlier books are contradicted in later ones.

So this map represents Northern Tarkilem, the part that is home to the North Hills (Tesk's home village is called Hallerby as it stands right now) and Sa Tarkil (the capital and where much of the story takes place). Another couple hundred miles to the south lies Andur, Jarrod's homeland, and to the East over the mountains lies Zeryah, Ruu's homeland. Tundenholme lies to the north of the North Hills, though this place doesn't come into the story. I'm still tweaking place names to try to get them a bit more aligned with some coherent linguistics. I don't have the expertise in languages to make up my own conlangs and have them sound like anything but random and strange, so I'm borrowing patterns and names from existing languages.

Still working on getting all the fonts large enough to read when the map is smaller than it appears in the program itself.


  1. Fun! I've always wanted this program. How much was it? Is it worth it?

  2. The company that sells it is called profantasy. Here's a link to their site.

  3. Excellent. I'm still loyal to, but I can see that a computer-made map could have advantages.

    I completely agree that a map's an essential world-making tool, whether or not it's going to appear in the published book. It's all very well if I'm just writing a short story set in a half-defined landscape, but anything more than that can go askew if I can't see the relationships between the places.

  4. I agree. And it also can reveal holes in the world building. If I have a culture where everyone wears clothes made from wool, where do they keep all the sheep? If they trade for a lot of things, where might the sea or land trade routes be? What resources to they offer in return? And the terrain can give you ideas about what they might use to build their houses (or conversely, if you have a particular building style in mind, you can think about where they'd have to get the alabaster or sandstone or whatever). And of course, if a war is part of a tale, where they're vulnerable militarily is always a good question.

  5. Wow, this is not unlike my post today. :) Depending on project, just the right visuals can be so helpful.