Tag Archives: fantasy

Lumbia: A Free Sketchy Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

Lumbia: A Free Sketchy Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

If you spend any time on cartography forums or cartography-related subreddits, you’ll eventually run across folks using Star Raven’s Sketchy Cartography Brushes. You can see why, the whole set is incredible, cohesive, and you can make beautiful maps in no time.

I have always admired Star Raven’s work, but I began to see it everywhere. One thing I love about maps is how unique each felt, and I wanted to do what I could to help maintain that feeling of discovery. Star Raven was a big inspiration for me to create Lumbia, my own sketchy cartography brush set which I’m giving away today for free.

A tiny fraction of the brushes included in Lumbia 1.0
A tiny fraction of the brushes included in Lumbia 1.0

The set consists of over two hundred brushes designed for high-resolution use. Each mountain, tree, and hill are separate by design—I find this allows more custom placing than the block method, it lets you decide the look of the forest and ranges.

Lumbia 1.0 Includes:

  • 1 Mother of Mountains (an absolute unit)
  • 15 Large Mountains
  • 42 Medium mountains
  • 25 Small Mountains
  • 71 Hill
  • 17 Scrub bushes
  • 9 Cattails
  • 13 Cacti (prickly bois)
  • 9 Bone Trees (spoOoOoky!)
  • 9 Cyprus Trees
  • 10 Acacia Trees
  • 21 Maple Trees
  • 19 Pine Trees
  • 12 Generic Jungley Trees
  • 12 Tumbleweeds

The button below links to a ZIP file that contains a Photoshop brush set and a transparent PNG in case you’re using a program that doesn’t support the brush file. A vector set isn’t included in this initial release, but will most likely come in later a later version. I’m sure I’ll announce it here when its ready.


DOWNLOAD LUMBIA 1.0


Lumbia is free for any use and is distributed with a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License that means you can freely use it in commercial work and distribute adaptations. So have some fun.

If you like Lumbia and would like to support my work, instead of a donation, consider buying one of my urban fantasy novels. They’re available in stores and online, and you can find out much more about them at bellforgingcycle.com.

Enjoy Lumbia, everyone! Have a suggestion or request for future Lumbia versions or want to show me what you created, feel free to send me an email! Have a friend who might be interested in using Lumbia? Share this post with them.


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 →

I've updated my Mapping Resources for Authors (and GMs)

A New Hybrid Solution for Creating Fantasy Maps

Just a quick note to let everyone know that I’ve updated my ‘Mapping Resources for Authors (and GMs)’ guide this afternoon. It’s a minor update, but one I wanted to specifically call out. You’ll find a handy new hybrid tool from Red Blob Games that builds some of the most stunning fantasy maps on the fly—it might be the best out there right now. So if you’re working on a project (or if you’re just a map enthusiast), you really owe it to yourself to swing on by and check it out.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Raunch Reviews: A Song of Ice and Fire

Raunch Reviews: A Song of Ice and Fire

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 Reviews: A Song of Ice and FireThe Author: George R. R. Martin
Work in Question: A Song of Ice & Fire/Game of Thrones
The Profanity: “Seven Hells”

It’s easy to dismiss George R. R. Martin’s epic as just another fantasy. After all, it has all the trappings. But Martin likes to ground these in a grim reality that make the struggles and conflict on the page feel real—almost historical. This is especially incorporated through his in-world religions as well. From the strange faces of the old gods carved into the sides of weirwood trees, to the Drowned God of the men of the Iron Isles, and to the Andal’s Faith of the Seven—with any faith, oaths generally follow. So it’s no surprise Martin went with “seven hells” as his inworld mild-profanity replacement.

As a mild oath, it’s fine. Seven kingdoms, seven gods, seven heavens, seven hells—it makes sense. Likewise, it doesn’t stray too far from English’s own oaths, so there is a recognition factor that comes into play. The familiarity of this profanity is understandable, as in his writing Martin tends to stick reasonably close to actual real-world history and mythology in his work. That makes his bleak world feel more adjacent to our own which works in its favor. All that said, while this is recognizable, it’s not especially original. But it’s not a word to pull you out of the story. Instead, it allows you to glide right past one grim tragedy and onto the next.

Score:  (3.0)

🤬 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.


Raunch Reviews: Harry Potter

Raunch Reviews: Harry Potter

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 Reviews: Harry PotterThe Author: J. K. Rowling
Work in Question: The Harry Potter Series
The Profanity: “Mudblood”

One of the many duties of successful speculative fiction is to work as a mirror on reality, and ultimately, humanity. Sometimes that mirror can reflect more serious subjects. So, it’s no surprise that something like bigotry would become a topic, even in a series like Harry Potter. While there have been a great many articles written about the successes and failures of the metaphor, the goal here is to examine the word itself.

Enter “mudblood.” It is a slur for a magical person born of parents who have no magic ability of their own. Considered highly offensive, it gets slung around a lot in the series by bullies, villains, and the propaganda arm of the fascist state. Clearly coded like racial profanity, the word is designed to dehumanize (or dewizardize, in this case), and the connotations manifest throughout the series. In fact, the entire story across all seven books largely consists of the titular hero and his pals battling against a villain who believes all of wizardkind should be “pure-bloods.” (We can trace this back to Salazar Slytherin—the goth racist who founded Slytherin House and thought the school should only teach those of pure wizard-blood. Then he left when no one agreed with him. He was basically the Morrissey of Hogwarts.) It’s important to recognize the context of “mudblood” in relation to the overall struggle; it’s not just a word bandied about by meanies, it has plot connotations as well.

As a term, it’s evocative of modern racial profanity. Used within the realm of speculative fiction, it does its part to hold up the mirror, and as faux-profanity it does this effectively.

Score: Half Swear (4.5)

🤬 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.


My SPFBO Interview

My SPFBO Interview

SPFBO 4 is in full swing. Some folks are advancing already while others have been eliminated. Eventually, the final ten will emerge. It’s been fun watching the community rally and support one another. Yeah, this is an award contest, and we’re all each other’s competition, but it is also very good-natured and encouraging which is really refreshing. We need more of that in the science fiction and fantasy community.

To celebrate the contest, author Michael R. Baker had undertaken a bold quest. He is attempting to interview every one of the three hundred contestants. An admirable and impressive goal. Believe me, I know. Blog posts take a lot of work. Yesterday, it was my turn, and you can read our conversation by clicking on the button below. It was a lot of fun. We discuss my projects, The Stars Were Right, inspiration, the advice I have for aspiring authors, and a whole lot more.

SPFBO Entry Interview: K. M. Alexander

Big thank you to Michael for the opportunity. You can follow him and his crusade at his blog at thousandscarsblog.wordpress.com, and be sure to follow him on Twitter. Likewise, make sure to check out his dark fantasy novel The Thousand Scars—also apart of SPFBO 4.

Good luck to the rest of the entrants! I look forward to reading all of your interviews with Michael in the coming days.


🎙 Interviews & Articles

Looking for further conversations with me? Perhaps you’re interested in articles I’ve written elsewhere? You can find all of this and more at my About Page. There’s a lot of great stuff with posts going back as far as 2013.


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 →

Mapping Resources for Authors

Mapping Resources for Authors (and GMs)

“But I can’t draw…”

How many times have we heard that from our fellow fantasy authors? It’s said when we discuss web design, book cover design, email marketing design, cover design, but it gets said most often when we discuss map designs for our various fantastical projects. Fantasy readers love maps. They draw fan into your world—and while they’re not a requirement, they’ve become expected to some extent.

That expectation is what stresses folks out—but there are solutions out there that can help! There are all sorts of tool that will get you a useful map so you can get back to writing. To help, I’ve put together this post. Here you’ll find all sorts of mapping resource from the simple to the complex. This will not be a definitive guide, merely a handy set of tools I’ve used that might empower you.

If you have a suggestion for a tool I should check out or an article or guide I should read, feel free to leave a comment or send an email to hello@kmalexander.com. I’ll be happy to update the post after I check it out for myself.


Contents

  1. The Lazy Way — Map Generation
  2. The Hybrid Solution — Easy Map Creators
  3. The Time Sink — Making Your Own Maps
  4. Further Resources


The Lazy Way — Map Generation

If you are not picky about your map but want a base to annotate consider one of these free map-generation tools. Please note, most of these are fine for personal use, but you should check their licensing options if you plan on including these in your manuscript. (I highly recommend you hire an illustrator to redraw your map when you get to that point. You’ll get a style that fits your book and you’ll avoid any licensing lawsuits.)

Uncharted Atlas

In-depth mapping generation focus on creating realistic and random landscapes. If you’re not picky, these are an excellent starting point. I highly recommend running through the whole tutorial to see how the process works. Be sure to follow the Uncharted Atlas Twitter account for new maps generated hourly.

Upsides: Unique maps that pay attention to realistic geology
Downsides: Small images, no easy way to download high-resolution files.

Azgaar Fantasy Map Generator

Azgaar’s Fantasy Map Generator

In-depth mapping generator that allows for a wide variety of themes and customization. Azgaar has a great blog where he goes into detail about his process, and I’d encourage you to check it out.

Upsides: Loads of customization, download of editable vector .svg files
Downsides: Bit buggy. Occasionally crashes some browsers.

Planet Map Generator

Planet Map Generator

When you’re looking for something a bit larger, this planet map generator helps you expand to a global scale. Simple choose a seed and then customize to your heart’s content.

Upsides: Loads of customization, a lot of customizability
Downsides: Maps can be a little ugly

GM World Map

GM World Map

An expansive generated map that allows for custom levels of zoom. Loads of options and an excellent base for world maps.

Upsides: Lots of random generations make for unique maps, WYSIWYG saving
Downsides: No customizability

Medieval Fantasy City Generator

Watabou’s Medieval Fantasy City Generator

If you’re looking for generating something a bit smaller than continents or worlds, then this city generator is perfect. It allows for some style customization and a few other little treats.

Upsides: Highly detailed, fun visual customization, WYSIWYG saving
Downsides: Occasional strangeness w/ output. Oddly shaped buildings. No zoom.


▲ RETURN TO CONTENTS


The Hybrid Solution — Easy Map Creators

Often, we authors have something particular in mind, and auto-generated maps won’t quite work out for us. But it would be nice to have some sort of program that achieves the style we want without learning cartography. The tools below are designed for just that.

Mapgen4 from Red Blob Games

Mapgen4 from Red Blob Games [New!]

If you’re looking for a classic fantasy approach and a simple (and quite powerful execution) then the latest version of Mapgen is perfect. With the wave of your brush, you can create stunning high-resolution maps in moments.

Upsides: Incredible maps in moments, realistic biomes, high-resolution output
Downsides: Rivers are placed automatically, lack of brush sizes, only terrain

Roll for Fantasy

Roll for Fantasy

Using tile-based imagery, this site allows you to create a wide variety of maps. Tiles can be rotated and mirrored creating a lot of customizability.

Upsides: Loads of customization.
Downsides: Maps can be a little plain. Time-consuming.

Inkarnate

This is one of my favorites. Inkarnate lets you draw maps quickly and effectively, and they look good. The Pro account allows for even more customizability.

Upsides: Easy to use. Lots of options.
Downsides: One specific style, it’s a good one, but a limit.

Worldspinner

World Spinner

If you want to get into the nitty-gritty of political borders and imperial expansion, then World Spinner (subscription-based) might be the right fit. Plus it includes a neat Heraldry Designer as well.

Upsides: Focus on countries and borders for fantasy. Heraldry designer.
Downsides: Not totally customizable.


▲ RETURN TO CONTENTS


The Time Sink — Making Your Own Maps

Sometimes auto-generated images won’t hack it. Either you have a specific world in mind, or you want complete control over the placement of mountain ranges, cities, towns, harbors, and rivers of your world. I get it, I too suffer from that sickness. Thankfully, there’s a lot out there to help make your map be the best it can be.

First, let’s start with some advice…
Crafting Plausible Maps

What does it take to craft a world that feels authentic and realistic? How much of your design will be rooted in fantasy and how much will be based on scientific principles? In this in-depth article, Brandon Kier takes you through the dos and don’ts of fantasy cartography.

Tolkien’s Map and The Messed Up Mountains of Middle-earth

I’ve always felt there’s something a little off about the classic map of Middle-earth. Author and geologist Alex Acks agrees. In this article for Tor.com, he goes into details on the strange geology of Tolkien’s classic.

Fantastic Cartography Tips From the Guy Who Mapped Game of Thrones

Jonathan Roberts has an extensive pedigree when it comes to fantasy cartography. In this quick article for Wired, he discusses the things he keeps in mind as he embarks on each and every commission.

10 Rules For Making Better Fantasy Maps

A map should help enhance your story, and Lauren Davis has ten tips you can use to improve your project.

Now, let’s check out some tutorials…
Fantastic Maps — Map Making Tutorials

Jonathan Roberts (from the Wired article earlier) has a ton of handy guides on his blog—Fantastic Maps. In his posts, he shares how you can quickly sketch out portions of your map using only a pen and paper. Be sure to check out his Tips & Tricks sections.

Ascensions’ Atlas style in Photoshop

This step by step guide is often duplicated and for a good reason. It goes into great detail explaining how you can make a custom and unique atlas-style map for your setting.

Learn to Draw a Stunning Map Using Photoshop

Over at the World Building School, Nathan Smith goes into detail about how he creates a stylized map using Photoshop.

A Magical Society: Guide to Mapping

The key here is plausible worlds. This free downloadable PDF goes into great detail on constructing a map that feels realistic. The art is up to you, but the planning is solid.

This is a time-consuming process, and to create something memorable it’ll take a lot of trial and error. Especially if you’re just starting out. But the end result is something that fits your vision perfectly. Plus, like generated maps, there’s always the option of hiring an illustrator to redraw your creation. Just make sure to get those core ideas down on paper.


▲ RETURN TO CONTENTS


Further Resources

If you are looking for additional help. Here are a few more resources for you to explore.

Making Magnificent Mountains

A free Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop brush set I created which allows you to recreate hachure-style mountains to lend a turn-of-the-century feel to your maps.

r/Mapmaking

Reddit’s map making subforum has a ton of great advice and a lot of inspiration. While you’re at it make sure to check out their Mapmaking Wiki. It’s basically this post but with a ton more tools listed.

Cartographers Guild

This online community has been around for a long time and has a ton of great members who are happy to share process, tips, tricks, and tools with the community. It’s also a great place to look for illustrators that can turn your sketches into a work of art.

Old Maps Online

Inspiration can come from anywhere. This handy site allows you to zoom into specific areas on the map and find old maps related to that area. Never know what cool stuff you’ll stumble across.


▲ RETURN TO CONTENTS


This is just a small list of tools I’ve tried and liked. There’s a variety of sites and programs out there for a variety of authors and more coming along each day. As with everything, map creation is about finding the tool that works for you, fits your vision, and keeps you writing. As I mentioned in the beginning, if you have a site or resource you like that’s not on this list, let me know! I’d love to continue expanding this post.

Now, go make some maps.

✨🗺✨


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 →