Raunch Review: The Bell Forging Cycle

Raunch Review: The Bell Forging Cycle

Raunch Reviews is a series about profanity. Not real profanity, but speculative swearing. Authors often try to incorporate original, innovative forms of profanity into our own fantastical works as a way to expand the worlds we build. Sometimes we’re successful. Often we’re not. In this series, I examine the faux-profanity from various works of sci-fi and fantasy, judge their effectiveness, and rate them on an unscientific and purely subjective scale. This is Raunch Reviews, welcome.


Raunch Review: The Bell Forging Cycle
Raunch Review: The Bell Forging Cycle
The Author: K. M. Alexander
Work in Question: The Bell Forging Cycle
The Profanity: “By the Firsts”

Sometimes you need to taste your own medicine, and here I am tasting mine. I’m proud of the strange and wonderful world of the Territories. I think it’s different and unique and yet in exploring those differences, it remains approachable. Although I believe my worldbuilding is excellent, I sometimes find myself wishing I had pushed it a bit further.

I feel this particularly in regards to language, and especially with the declarative: “By the Firsts.” It’s a fairly standard pseudo-oath and is used throughout the series. But it lacks the punch it should have—the Firsts, within the context of the story, have faded into myth and legend. The few who have transcended into deity status aren’t considered Firsts by the time the book rolls around. The word itself is also quite common, “firsts” holds no sacred place in the lexicon. So, it fails at being faux-blasphemous. (I’m not doing so well.)

If anything, the phrase ranks as a minced oath. This isn’t uncommon in language drift—we see it all the time as language evolves. Take “by Jove”—“pro Iovem,” in Latin—it means “By Jupiter,” but by the time it caught on Jupiter was myth. The phrase had long ceased being blasphemous. For minced oaths to truly work, the original intent needs to be hidden, often by layers. While “by the First,” is intended to follow a similar cadence, it lacks the obscurity that makes minced oaths so prevalent.

So, I earn some points with the minced roots. But overall it’s a low score for me. It’s always fun and enlightening to look at your own work, and being able to discuss successes and failures is essential for any growth. I would have done much better had I picked “Carter’s cross.” A lot more to unpack there. Perhaps for another time.

Score: Half Swear (2.5)

🤬 Previous Raunch Reviews


Have a suggestion for Raunch Reviews? It can be any made-up slang word from a book, television show, or movie. You can email me directly with your recommendation or leave a comment below. I’ll need to spend time with the property before I’ll feel confident reviewing it, so give me a little time. I have a lot of books to read.


Tutorial: How to Use My Brush Sets

A few people have asked me how one would go about using my brush sets. (Or anyone’s brush set, really.) It’s a great question! It’s easy to see how daunting it’d look for the layperson. But the sets themselves are effortless to use, and that’s their intent. I want to empower writers or gamemasters to create detailed maps that are period-authentic for their fantasy work, be it a book, RPG, or a personal map for a gaming session. This is the onus of #NoBadMaps.

This post is going to serve as a step by step guide on use. But first, some introduction to the whole brushes thing: brushes were designed to mimic different mediums digitally—so one could develop brushes for oil paints, graphite lead, charcoal, watercolor, etc. The brush would randomize and do its best to emulate the little details left by those tools in the real world. My brush sets are a hack of that system. Instead of mimicking mediums, we’re doing something slightly different.

Think of these brushes as stamps.
Think of these brushes as stamps.

Think of these brushes as stamps. Only it’s one you never have to ink, and you can see where each symbol/shape/element is placed. You’re not dragging a mouse or drawing with a stylus across your document. No artistic skill is needed. All you’re doing is placing and clicking. The pattern goes like this: 1) select the brush you want. 2) position it. 3) click, and you’re done. 4) on to the next object! It’s that simple. By utilizing this system, one can rapidly develop a detailed map that feels hand-drawn. Instead of rendering each object one by one, we’re just stamping them into place.

As with my tutorial on coastlines, I’ll be using Adobe Photoshop CC on my Macbook Pro running macOS Mojave, but I am sure similar functions exist in other image software. Nothing I am using in this tutorial will be cutting-edge. For this tutorial, you need minimal experience using Photoshop, Gimp, or whatever tool you choose—this tutorial sits firmly in Beginner Level territory.

Let’s begin!


Step 1 – Download a brush set

Step 01 - Download

Download the set by clicking on the button from my site. For this demo, I am going to use Walser, one of my more popular brush sets. You can find links to all the sets over on my Free Stuff page. There’s a variety to choose from, pick whatever you like best.


Step 2 – Install the brush set

Step 02 - Install

Your browser will download the file. Simply locate it and install the brush set by unzipping the file (double-click on it) and then double-click on the .abr file, this will automatically install the brush set into Photoshop. Click here for step by step instructions on installing brushes for GIMP.


Step 3 – Set up your document

Step 03 - Set Up
For this demo, I am using a 1400x1400px artboard with a pre-drawn landmass to save a little time. I name the layer with the outline “Border.” You can draw your landmass any way you want, scan in a drawing, or download my demo map (pictured) and use it.


[!] Tip: There are plenty of tutorials out there on how to do this. But if you want a fantastic guide on creating realistic coastlines, check out Mike Summers’ tutorial. It’s a simple solution with some reliable results.


Step 4 – Locate your brushes

Step 04 - Locate Your Brushes

Now that you have a landmass, it’s time to add the details. Select the Brush Tool (B) then open the Walser Cartography Brushes folder using the Brush Dropdown (pictured) or from the Brush Palette located under Window in the File Menu.


Step 5 – Select your first brush

Step 5 - Select Your First Brush
Select the brush you want from the subdirectories. I take a great deal of time labeling and organizing these sets so you can find what you want quickly. I tend to start with the most significant landform first and work backward, but you can place your brushes any way you want. In this instance, I selected “Mountain 1.”


Step 6 – Place your brush

Step 6 - Place a Brush
Your cursor will change to an outline of the brush you selected. Make sure to choose the color you want. I usually go with #000000 (Black) to mimic ink. (You can change this by clicking on the Foreground Color located on the bottom of your toolbar. Just click on the swatch, choose a color, and click Okay.)

While not necessary, I personally like to use a new layer for each “type” of symbol. In this instance, I created a New Layer (Shift+⌘+N) or click Layer > New > Layer…  in the File Menu. The New Layer panel will appear, name your new layer “Mountains” then click “Okay.” You’ll now have a new layer. Now, just click to place your brush where you want it.

Boom! That’s it! You made a mountain!


[!] Tip: Want more nuance in placing your objects? Give each individual object its own layer. That way you can use your arrow keys to nudge it to the exact spot you want. Be sure to name each layer in a convention that makes sense to you. There’s nothing worse than having to hunt through a mass of misnamed layers.


Step 7 – Expand your mountain range

Step 07 - Expand Your Mountain Range
Repeat the process to expand your mountain ranges wherever you want them. Be sure to mix and match symbols to give your map that classic hand-drawn feel. This is why I include so many different variances in my sets, the less repeating symbols you have, the more custom your map will look.


Step 8 – Add hills

Step 08 - Add Hills

Create another New Layer (Shift+⌘+N) and name it “Hills” then repeat the process using the hill brushes. Place ’em wherever you want! As I mentioned above, think of the brushes as stamps. You’re just stamping away placing the landmasses, flora, and settlements wherever you feel like. The pattern and layout are entirely up to you. As Zombo.com used to sagely say: “The only limit is yourself.”


[!] Tip: If you want more advice on creating realistic geography for your fantasy worlds I’d recommend checking out Brandon Sanderson’s Worldbuilding Geography lecture, it’s a great entry into geography development. Check out Part I and Part II on YouTube.

[!] Tip: Remember that rivers come from elevation, generally after this step, I’d consider where I’d extend my rivers. You can see I drew in a few wider rivers in my initial border, but they would need to be lengthened to finalize this map.


Step 9 – Add flora and more

Step 9 - Add Flora and More
Follow the same steps as above for your flora. You can be as sparse or detailed as you want. When you’re finished, you can move on to your settlements. Just add a New Layer, label it “Towns” and repeat the process above. Once complete label your towns and cities with the Type Tool (T).

From here you can style your map any way you want. Add texture. Add effects. Weather the edges. Mess with the Blending Modes. There are loads of options to customize and tweak your design. Do what fits your vision!


[!] Tip: Not finding what you’re looking in Walser? Try mixing and matching brush sets! Different engravers highlight different aspects, so you never know what you’ll find to make your map your own.


You did it!

That’s it! There’s no step 10. You created a map just by clicking and placing the brushes you wanted, where you wanted, and it’s already looking pretty amazing. That’s the beauty of these brush sets, it allows anyone with a computer to create an authentically styled map quickly and easily. Hopefully, you found this tutorial simple to follow, and you were able to achieve the look you wanted. As always, let me know if I need to clarify anything.

If you’re looking for more advice on how to continue or expand the design your map check out Mapping Resources for Authors and GMs—it’s a handy resource detailing a variety of options and communities for authors and GMs who want to expand their map-creation skills.

You can download and learn more about my brushes over on Free Stuff page. I currently have ten sets available with more on the way. All my brushes are distributed with a CC0 license. No attribution required!


💸 Supporting This Work

If you found this helpful and want to support my work, instead of a donation, consider buying one of the novels from my Bell Forging Cycle series. The first book—The Stars Were Right—is only $2.99 on eBook. You can find all three in stores and online, and the fourth is due soon. Visit bellforgingcycle.com to learn more about the series. Leave reviews and tell your friends!

And what’s a pulpy urban-fantasy novel without a map? When Old Broken Road, the second book in the series, launched I shared a map detailing the expanded world of the Territories, you can check it out here.

The Bell Forging Cycle


Dead Drop: Missives from the desk of K. M. AlexanderWant to stay in touch with me? Sign up for Dead Drop, my rare and elusive newsletter. Subscribers get news, previews, and notices on my books before anyone else delivered directly to their inbox. I work hard to make sure it’s not spammy and full of interesting and relevant information.  SIGN UP TODAY →

Gomboust: A Free 17th Century Urban Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy City Maps

Gomboust: A Free 17th Century Urban Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy City Maps

Since embarking on my cartography brush project, I’ve gotten several emails from creators asking about city maps. I get the appeal. I love a good city map. While city cartography is as old as ocean charts and landmass-focuses atlases, the reality is that creating them is nowhere near as forgiving as riffing on the physiography of natural landscapes. Unlike the natural world, cities are both rigidly planned (sometimes poorly) and yet still vibrantly organic. That duality comes across in their cartography. No city is the same. Few buildings are the same. For that reason, I was hesitant to adapt some of the early city maps into a brush set—that is until today.

Meet Gomboust, my eleventh free maps set and my eighth of 2019! Unlike the previous sets, this one is entirely focused on urban cartography. Buildings! Hospitals! City blocks! Churches! Cathedrals! Gardens! Palaces! Windmills! Fields! Pillories! Houses! Barns! Wells! Towers! Guard Posts! Even bridges! There is so much in this set, and with it, you can quickly create engaging and vibrant cities—I think you’ll discover it was worth the wait.

Gomboust Sampler

The elements within were extracted from Jacques Gomboust’s 1652 map of Paris. Rendered in an off-kilter isometric perspective that often shifts into… honestly, I don’t even know what you’d call it, it just occasionally gets weird. I mean the map is 367 years old, it’s allowed to get weird. But it’s a good weird. Feels authentic. The map features significant points of interest for the discerning Parisian of the mid-17th century. It’s beautiful—if not a bit strange—with a heavy focus on the religious presence within Paris, its gardens, and palaces.

Wielding these brushes is tougher than landmass focused sets. To capture your vision, you’ll want to plan or at least have a decent knowledge of your tools. Spend some time with the brushes, learn what’s available. Be willing to edit and adjust them, it’ll allow you to make critical decisions and help fully realize your vision. It doesn’t hurt to study the original just so you can understand how each element was used.

Gomboust Sampler #2

I realize the odd shifts in perspective makes things harder—but if utilized properly, it can make for a compelling piece. It works in Gomboust’s original map, and I believe it’ll work in yours. For this reason, I’ve also included textures along with my more traditional “stamp” style brushes. Combined together I think you can get real close to recreating a faux 17th-century urban map and keeping Gomboust’s style alive for years to come.

Gomboust is a large set, maybe my most extensive ever. It sits in at just over 600 brushes total, including (and this list will get long):

  • 70 City Blocks (Multiple buildings)
  • 10 Unique Blocks
  • 15 Barns
  • 50 Houses
  • 10 Farms
  • 5 Mansions (Bigger Houses)
  • 5 Hospitals
  • 10 Towers
  • 10 Gatehouses
  • 5 Palaces (Bigger Mansions)
  • 40 Generic Buildings (Individual buildings, well… kinda)
  • 15 Unique Buildings
  • 10 Chapels
  • 15 Churches
  • 5 Cathedrals
  • 5 Monasteries
  • 5 Unique Religious Buildings
  • 20 Horizontal Walls
  • 10 Vertical Walls
  • 10 Unique Walls
  • 10 Fences
  • 10 Hedges
  • 20 Small Gardens
  • 20 Large Gardens
  • 5 Vertical Rows of Trees
  • 10 Horizontal Rows of Trees
  • 10 Orchards
  • 5 Groves
  • 20 Fields
  • 5 Unique Flora Brushes
  • 10 Bridges
  • 15 Windmills
  • 10 Fountains
  • 10 Wells
  • 10 Crosses
  • 5 Cemeteries
  • 10 Guard Posts
  • 10 Unique Points-of-Interests
  • 10 Ground Texture
  • 10 Untilled Land Textures
  • 10 Water Textures
  • 10 People
  • 10 Horseback Riders
  • 10 Boats
  • 5 Carriages
  • 10 Map Elements
  • 10 Unique Cartouches

The button below links to a ZIP file that contains a Photoshop brush set (it’ll also work in GIMP) as well as a set of transparent PNGs in case you’re using a program that doesn’t support Adobe brush files. I’ve separated them by type City Blocks, Buildings (1), Buildings (2), Natural Elements, and Points-of-Interest & Cartouches. They’re black, and they’ll look broken if viewed in Chrome, but trust me, they’re all there.


DOWNLOAD GOMBOUST


As with all of my previous brush sets, Gomboust is free for any use. As of July 2019, I now distribute my sets with a Creative Common, No Rights Reserved License (CC0), which means you can freely use this and any of my brushes in commercial work and distribute adaptations. (Details on this decision here.) No attribution is required. Easy peasy!

Enjoy Gomboust? Feel free to show me what you created by sending me an email or finding me on Twitter. I love seeing how these brushes get used, and I’d be happy to share your work with my readers. Let me see what you make!


🌏 Gomboust In Use

Want to see this brush set in use? I put together a sample map using Gomboust. There are three versions, a black and white version, one colored, and a decorated sample. Click on any of the images below to view them larger.

Gomboust in use (Black & White)     Gomboust in use (Color)     Gomboust in use (Decorated)


💸 Supporting This Work

If you like the Gomboust brush set (or any of my free brushes, really) and want to support this work instead of a donation, consider buying one of the novels from my Bell Forging Cycle series. The first book—The Stars Were Right—is only $2.99 on eBook. You can find all three in stores and online, and the fourth is due soon. Visit bellforgingcycle.com to learn more about the series. Leave reviews and tell your friends!

And what’s a pulpy urban-fantasy novel without a map? When Old Broken Road, the second book in the series, launched I shared a map detailing the expanded world of the Territories, you can check it out here.

The Bell Forging Cycle


🗺 More Map Brushes

Gomboust isn’t the only brush set I’ve released. You can find other free brush sets with a wide variety of styles over on my Free Stuff page. Every set is free, distributed under a CC0 license, and open for personal or commercial use. I’m sure you’ll be able to find something that works for your project.

Harrewyn: An 18th Century Cartography Brush SetHarrewyn: An 18th Century Cartography Brush Set

Based on Eugene Henry Fricx’s “Cartes des Paysbas et des Frontieres de France,” this set leans into its 1727 gothic styling and its focus on the developed rather than the natural. It’s hauntingly familiar yet strikingly different. If you’re looking for more natural elements, Harrewyn works well alongside other sets as well.

Popple: A Free 18th Century Cartography Brush SetPopple: A Free 18th Century Cartography Brush Set

This set has quickly become a favorite, and it’s perfect for a wide variety of projects. The brushes are taken from 1746’s A Map of the British Empire in America by Henry Popple, and it has a fresh style that does a fantastic job capturing the wildness of a frontier. Plus it has swamps! And we know swamps have become a necessity in fantasy cartography.

Donia: A Free 17th Century Settlement Brush SetDonia: A Free 17th Century Settlement Brush Set

While not my most extensive set (a little over one hundred brushes) Donia boasts one of the more unique takes on settlements from the 17th century. If you’re looking for flora, I suggest checking out other sets, but if you want to pay attention to your maps cities, towns, castles, churches, towers, forts, even fountains then this is the right set for you.

Blaeu: A Free 17th Century Cartography Brush SetBlaeu: A Free 17th Century Cartography Brush Set

Based on Joan Blaeu’s Terræ Sanctæ—a 17th-century tourist map of the Holy Land—this set includes a ton of unique and varied signs as well as a large portion of illustrative cartouches that can add a flair authenticity to any fantasy map. Elegant and nuanced, everything works within a system, but nearly every sign is unique.

Aubers: An 18th Century Cartography Brush SetAubers: An 18th Century Cartography Brush Set

An 18th Century brush set based on a map from 1767 detailing the journey of François Pagès, a French naval officer, who accompanied the Spanish Governor of Texas on a lengthy exploration through Louisiana, Texas, and Mexico. A unique southwestern set with a few interesting deviations—including three volcanos!

L’Isle: An 18th Century Battlefield Brush SetL’Isle: An 18th Century Battlefield Brush Set for Fant

A departure from the norm, this set is based on the Plan Batalii map which was included in a special edition of The First Atlas of Russia in 1745. A detailed view of a battle during the Russo-Turkish War of 1735–1739. Canon! Units! Battles! Perfect for mapping out the combat scenarios in your fantasy stories.

Widman: A 17th Century Cartography Brush SetWidman: A 17th Century Cartography Brush Set

A 17th Century brush set based on the work of Georgio Widman for Giovanni Giacomo de Rossi’s atlas published in 1692. A fantastic example of Cantelli da Vignola’s influence and a solid set for any fantastic map. This is the workhorse of antique map brush sets—perfect for nearly any setting.

Walser: An 18th Century Cartography Brush SetWalser: An 18th Century Cartography Brush Set

An 18th Century brush set based on the work of Gabriel Walser with a focus on small farms and ruins and a robust set of mountain and hills. This is a great brush set to see how Vignola’s influence persisted across generations. It was etched over 80 years after the Widman set, but you’ll find a few familiar symbols within.

Lumbia: A Sketchy Cartography Brush SetLumbia: A Sketchy Cartography Brush Set

A sketchy style brush set I drew myself that focuses on unique hills and mountains and personal customizability. My attempt at trying to channel the sort of map a barkeep would draw for a band of hearty adventurers. It includes extra-large brushes for extremely high-resolution maps.

Lehmann: A Hatchure Brush SetLehmann: A Hatchure Brush Set

Named after Austrian topographer Johann Georg Lehmann creator of the Lehmann hatching system in 1799, this is a path-focused brush set designed for Adobe Illustrator that attempts to captures the hand-drawn style unique 19th Century hachure-style mountains. This set works perfectly in conjunction with my other sets from the late 18th century.


Dead Drop: Missives from the desk of K. M. AlexanderWant to stay in touch with me? Sign up for Dead Drop, my rare and elusive newsletter. Subscribers get news, previews, and notices on my books before anyone else delivered directly to their inbox. I work hard to make sure it’s not spammy and full of interesting and relevant information.  SIGN UP TODAY →

Our Tarnished Colossus

Mother of Exiles

A New Colossus

by Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

It’s always good to be reminded of the actual poem that graces Lady Liberty. It’s easily my favorite verse in American history, and I think about it often. In my mind, there is nothing else that defines the hope of America quite like this poem.

Lately, I’ve seen discussion around an interview with some doofus where he twists Lazarus’ sacred words in a weak attempt to bolster cruel and un-American policies mainly rooted in fear. (It’s always fear.) I wish I could say, “we’re better than that,” and believe it. But, I’ve read enough history to know we’re not. That said, we can damn well try to be.

Farewell Facebook, One Year Later

Farewell Facebook, One Year Later

One year ago today, I deleted my Facebook account. (I laid out my reasoning in this post.) I haven’t gone back, and I’ve had little temptation to return. Since it’s been a full year, I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on my decision and share what I’ve learned over my last year without Facebook.

I’m still in the ecosystem—much like Amazon or Google, it’s hard to remove yourself from Facebooks grasping tentacles completely. Instagram (from Facebook™) is still in my life, and I share work there frequently. I also use WhatsApp to connect with friends outside of the US. But, if alternatives rose up or if these apps no longer brought me value, I’d consider leaving either of them. Instagram, in particular, hasn’t gotten better.

Much of my suspicions from a year ago were proven correct, and I’m in a better headspace because I’ve left. I don’t have to read cruel, insipid, bigoted, or racist diatribes that were disappointingly common. I’m no longer marketed products I don’t want. My work isn’t walled off in strange little corners. I don’t have Facebook hounding my wallet in a vain attempt to “boost” posts for my “audience.” I don’t have to worry about my private information being stolen or sold. (Not just a Facebook problem, I realize.) Succinctly: I no longer have to engage with nothing for the sake of nothing.


“I no longer have to engage with nothing for the sake of nothing.”


The wicked trick of social media is convincing you that it’s essential. That you’ll lose contact with friends, colleagues, and loved ones if it’s removed from your life. That you’re somehow missing out if you’re not engaged. It sows FOMO to encouraging engagement. Reality couldn’t be further from Facebook’s “truth.” If anything I found the opposite is true. Facebook isn’t essential. This has been the best year on my blog since I started doing this eight years ago. My audience is still here, and I don’t have to wonder if my readers see what I share. It’s all visible. Nothing is hidden. Likewise, I’ve made time for the important things. I’ve stayed connected with relationships that matter. My interests have expanded.

What one chooses in regards to their social media presence is personal. My path might not be right for you. If Facebook brings you joy, then stay on Facebook. But if it doesn’t, then why are you wasting your time? As for me, I’m glad I left. Happy even. It was a big step in decoupling the behaviors built into social media. (Something I wrote about a few weeks ago.) Now, when I sit down to work, the old muscle memory isn’t betraying me by sending me into a path of wasted time and squandered emotional energy.

As I said a year ago: things can always change. Perhaps with a shift in leadership Facebook could turn itself around. Companies change, ten years from now, it’ll be different than it is today. Who knows what the future holds? I have no regrets in leaving, and honestly, I wish I had taken this step sooner. It’s been a good year.


Dead Drop: Missives from the desk of K. M. AlexanderWant to stay in touch with me? Sign up for Dead Drop, my rare and elusive newsletter. Subscribers get news, previews, and notices on my books before anyone else delivered directly to their inbox. I work hard to make sure it’s not spammy and full of interesting and relevant information.  SIGN UP TODAY →