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BMR's Generic Map Tutorial Part 02

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BMR's Map Making Tutorial Part 02

And we're back with the next part! Before reading this though, make sure that you've read through Part 01 first, otherwise this may all seem like a bunch of gibberish. Here, we'll be adding mountains, rivers, and the sort, so let's get right to it!


As with the previous parts, you're going to need a texture for the mountains. You can go with whatever you want, but I tend towards a mossy gray. For my mountains, I'll be using this texture:

So now, like the previous steps, create a new layer that's filled with this texture and with the mask we made. This will be above your coastline and vegetation layers. You should now have a landmass that's solidly mountain color. But! It doesn't really look like a mountain yet. We'll get to that.

Create a new layer. It doesn't matter where you place it in your layer stack, as we will only be using it to affect other layers. Fill this with difference clouds using whatever method you prefer. One thing you must do though, is to make sure that it has a lot of detail, because the more detail you get into this, the more detail your mountains will have. Once you've got that layer, you can hide it. It won't be visible in the end product.

Now that it's hidden, go to your mountain layer. Here, you'll need to apply a bump map. Where this is varies from product to product, but essentially what you're looking for is a filter (or tool or whatever) that allows you to apply a black and white map to your layer. Whites will be high areas, and blacks will be low areas. In your settings, you'll need to play around with elevation to get just the right look. Your depth should be set fairly high, to give you the look of mountains and valleys. What you should wind up with is something like this:

Right now, this... doesn't look very good. It will take some editing to make it actually look like mountains. The first thing I do here is to select my ocean using the mask (it's all black, so it makes selection easy), expand the selection by 10 px or so, and then add a feather of 30-60 for this resolution. Then, you can fill that up with black, and that should leave only the central areas of the landmass filled with mountains. Like so:

That looks better, but you'll want to do a bit of manual tweaking with the mask to adjust the areas where you want mountains and where you don't. For example, you might want a hidden valley, so you'll brush in some black on the mask to take away some mountains. Alternatively, you might want one of the smaller islands to have a more pronounced mountain, so you brush in some white. This is why we use the layer mask, it allows for easy editing of where we want the mountains without having to edit the actual mountains. Something you can do at this stage is to use fancy brushes, as that will allow you to better speckle and adjust just how your mountain ranges look.

It's getting better now, so let's add some rivers.


With previous steps, there was a lot of automation as you could let the tools do the work for you. With rivers though... not so much. Some manual drawing will be needed here.

The first step is to duplicate your water later and place it above everything else. Then, you'll add a layer mask to it, but this time around you won't be using the mask created in the first few steps. This mask will be completely black, so nothing will be visible. What you're going to do now is to use the brush tool (set to about 75-90% hardness or so), and draw in rivers.

Remember! When drawing rivers, a good rule of thumb is to start in mountains, and then draw to the ocean. You'll want to start with small brush sizes when drawing from the mountains, eventually getting to 2-3 times your starting size by the time you get to the ocean. And a note on forking: Typically, you won't have a river fork into two different rivers going downstream. There may be a few exceptions to the rule, but for the most part, what will happen is that two smaller rivers will merge to form a larger river. The fork will be headed upstream, not downstream. I repeat, there are exceptions, but generally, this is the rule that you will want to follow unless you've got a good reason not to.

With all my rivers drawn in, and my mountains tweaked, I've got this:

This looks good, but the transition from the rivers to the greenery is a bit abrupt. One solution for this is to duplicate your coastline layer, and then move it under your rivers and mountains. You'll want it under your mountain layer so that you don't have sandy riverbanks suddenly appearing up in the mountains where your rivers originated.

You'll then copy the mask from your rivers to your new riverbank layer, overwriting the old coastline mask. This won't do much, visually-speaking, so you'll want to expand the whites by a few pixels or so. Also, taking down the opacity to 60% or so tends to work for me, but that value will obviously depend on what you are trying to do. Remember though, the ocean coastlines will need to be tweaked, otherwise you'll have conspicuous coastlines jutting out into the sea.

Better! But could still use some more details.


Here, with forests, we'll be using a similar technique with what was used for rivers. We'll create a new layer above everything else and add an all-black mask to it. For your texture, you'll want to use a darker shade of green that will stand out over your vegetation. I will be using this texture:

Now that you've got your new forest layer, go ahead and edit the mask. You'll want to use the brush tool for this, as there's no automatic way that will make it look good. You could use the regular circular brush, but I've found it's easier to work with a speckled brush which gives the illusion of lots of little dotted trees. This is going to take a bit of work, as you'll have to gauge by eye where there should be trees.

One thing you'll find at times though, is that the trees don't really "pop". The way I go about this is to apply a "glow" effect to the layer, creating a dark shadow around it. In Photoshop, this can be accomplished with layer effects. In other applications, you might need to duplicate your layer, replacing the texture with black and moving it under your tree layer. Whatever method you choose though, the effect is the same, to create a dark shadow around the "trees" to make them more visually distinct. By the end of that, you'll have something like this:

You can use these techniques to add other features, like deserts or swamps. However, doing so simply repeats these techniques, so we won't go over them here. So with that, we'll move on to the last bit, prettification!


Now, things are looking better, but things could be a bit better still. One thing that's fairly glaringly obvious, is that the ocean is quite uniform, no matter where it is in relation to the main landmass. The way I go about this is to create a layer above the water layer and fill it with varying shades of black or white, then setting the layer mode to soft light. This can allow you to simulate different water depths, or the surf crashing up against the shore. Like so:

This can also be applied to other parts of your map. If you feel that some areas are too bright or too light, the easiest way to fix this is to create a soft light layer over everything and brush in varying shades of black or white to do little tweaks here and there. One thing to remember though, is that at this step, you should be subtle. Too much can be rather glaring, so you have to make tiny little nudges, rather than great big strokes. After I did that, this is what I had:

With that, you've got your basic map finished. From here, you can then go ahead and add details like cities and the sort. That, however, is a completely different tutorial (one I will probably get to in the future). So with that, I'll close this tutorial, and leave you with the final image:

A few closing notes:

This image is 800 px 800 px, so while it may have a decent level of detail in it, if you really want to get a lot of detail in, you'll need to work at larger sizes. 1,600 px 1,600 px is good, but higher is better. The thing to remember though, is that the higher you go, the more powerful your machine will need to be. Still, having the higher resolution files on hand is always better, as you can simply scale down to distribute your map. If you only have small resolution maps though, it's harder to scale up if you need to, say, isolate a small section of your map as that's the only place relevant to your players at the moment.

And that wraps it up for this tutorial. As always, I don't claim this to be the definitive way to make maps. I'm just sharing how I go about making mine, and I hope some of you find it useful. Anyways, that's all from me, BMR out!


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Updated 04-27-2018 at 01:41 PM by BMR