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Learn to draw world maps from one of D&D's best cartographers

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Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Jared Blando is an accomplished concept artist and cartographer. Over the past few years, he's worked quite a bit with the team behind the fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons, creating the maps for both The Hoard of the Dragon Queen and The Rise of Tiamat campaign books. Now, he's written a step-by-step guide to creating your own fantasy worlds.

How To Draw Fantasy Art & RPG Maps, published by Impact Books, is a comprehensive guide to fantasy cartography, on either a global or a regional scale. While it touches briefly on the use of digital tools, by and large it focuses on physical works. I've spent the last few nights with it, and the results have been very satisfying.

I haven't tried to seriously draw anything in, oh... about 20 years. I've spent some time creating encounter maps for my D&D campaigns, but mostly that's meant copying things out of books — creating grids with a straight edge on weathered paper to add a little immersion at the table. For me, Blando's book has been a gentle re-introduction to the art of drawing.

What I found particularly helpful was the fact that the entire first chapter is actually a guide to shopping for supplies. Here's the pencils and pens you'll need, and why. Here's the kind of paper to look for, and a few different types to try. Yesterday before dinner, after a long day at the word mill, I finally spent about $40 at the craft store. By that night I was well on my way to creating a decent little piece of art, and something that I'll be able to use for my next campaign.

This little town is perhaps an inch wide. Blando shows how to build it up from basic shapes and add shading. From there, he goes into detail on lettering, adding heraldry and even painting it with acrylics or watercolors.

Blando's tutorials are split up into sections. There's one for creating the landmass itself, another for adding forests and mountains, and even a longer exploration of how to represent different towns and landmarks. Later on, he goes into great detail about using inks for shading, adding decorative borders, and using paints.

After experimenting with the recommended sepia inking markers, I might go a step further next time and soak this watercolor paper with a dark roast coffee before I start drawing. The book gives a lot of options to personalize your work.

In about a week's time, I'm pretty confident I can have a nicely inked 16"x20" map, and since I've got the right paper now I can keep working on it once that work is done. I might even spend extra time painting and shading it all in.

In the future, it will be exciting to sit around a table as the dungeon master with my party, prompting them to create a world together. In between sessions, I can use Blando's book to depict that world, baking in more secrets of my own for them to uncover throughout the course of the campaign.

More than anything, though, what this book has provided me with is a bit of stress relief. It has been a treat to get away from a screen for a while, to turn off my mind and just explore a fresh, creative space.

Making maps, it turns out, is very meditative.

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