World Building 201

Welcome back. Last month we discussed why an author would build a new world for their stories and then I talked about randomly building my new world Aulea using a 20 year old Dungeons & Dragons book, The World Builder’s Guidebook (WBG). This month we will continue our world development by selecting a specific area. The most difficult thing this month is creating the scale map of the region.


To draw a scale map start by printing a few sheets of blank hex paper. You can find a number of sites that offer good quality, free hex paper you can download. As you can see I selected a hex within a hex sheet. The big hex represents the small hex on last month’s world map so this is the key to drawing a scale map but do you transfer the coast from on map to another accurately? Years ago, animators would use a light table to assist them in copying a previous drawing to make a new drawing with a subtle change. Your computer’s monitor is your light table.

Open your world map in Photoshop and enlarge the map until the hexes are as large as the hexs on your printed sheet (on my map I had to enlarge the image by 1,000 times). Using a pencil and a light touch, trace the general shape of your landmass. You might need to scroll the image around on the screen to get it all on your page – just make sure you include some overlap when moving your screen image around (like taking a panaramic photo). If you need a second (or more sheets of hex paper you’ll need overlap there as well).


After you have traced your screen to capture the area of your region you may have several pages with a light outline of the coast on them. With a fine-tip Sharpie now outline the coast (as shown to the left). Here’s where you can add details such as inlets, bays and rivers as you need (I added rivers in Photoshop). When you reach the edge of your first page use a nearby window as your light table to make sure the coast from one page to the next lines up with the hexes. Mark the coasts and then return to inking.

Once the inking is complete you will need to scan each page as a Black & White JPG file, giving each page a unique filename. Open each scan in Photoshop and build a single image using each of the scans. Remember to save as you go in case you have to go back a step or two. If needed, crop your image and then increase the DPI of the image to at least 150, this will allow you to add a lot of small details later. Then I added a new layer and selected the pencil tool, set to 6 points and followed the outline that I had drawn with my Sharpie. I then used the triangle brush to draw the mountains, placing them to reflect their place on my world map. Then I wondered, can I create my own bushes of the various old-school D&D map symbols.


In the 1980’s TSR used very simple, easy to understand map symbols and these are what I wanted to use on my map. Googling instructions for making custom brushes I discovered how easy it is. Open a New file, setting it’s size as 50 x 50 with a white background. Using a solid black pencil I drew my first symbol, the tree. Once I was happy with it I then selected the Edit menu and then selected Define Brush. The image is then saved at the bottom of the default brush list. I repeated this process for each of the other needed symbols, Hill, Grassland and Swamp. I will create the various city symbols when I need them for the next map.


Using my newly created brushes I enjoyed assigning a unique map symbol to each and every small hex. Above is my completed map. East of the inland like is a cliff line as well as a river gorge; both of these were hand drawn with the pencil took set at 3 points. The rivers were also drawn in at this time to complete this map.

How Big is this Map?

When I rolled to determine the world’s size I refered to a table in the WBG where it said that my world’s size meant that the hexes on the world map (last month) were 300 miles across and the small hexes on this regional map are 50 miles across. If you could drive across Puyallup at 50 miles an hour it would take you about 40 hours to get to the other side. The characters in my story are limited to walking (about 3 miles per hour) it would take Olan about 660 days of non-stop walking to get from one side to the other. In real world terms, from New York City to the Colorado-Utah border is about 2,000 miles, the approximate width of this map.

The next step according to the WBG is to add various civilizations to your landmass. D&D uses a number of different fantasy races, where my story will only have humans, so I need to give this some thought. While I’m thinking, enjoy buidling your regional map.

  • Stephen

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