A look into the maps for Twelve Kings in Sharakhai

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In the background, I’ve been working with artist Maxime Plasse on maps for The Song of the Shattered Sands. There’s been a lot of back and forth to get things from my very rough starting point to the final version, so I thought I’d share some of it to give you a sense for how the process typically works.

When I say rough starting point, I did have a pretty solid base from which Max could start his work. I had generated maps from Fractal Terrains and Campaign Cartographer. I’ve talked about Fractal Terrains before. It’s pretty cool. You can generate a world based on certain parameters you set (world size, water coverage, roughness or smoothness of terrain, etc.) and then the program uses fractal algorithms to generate the world for you. You can seed the algorithms with different values or just regenerate the world over and over until you get something you like. And even then, once it’s generated, the program has tools to allow you to raise or lower certain areas, to add land masses or bodies of water or rivers, and so on.

I tweaked it in Fractal Terrains until I was happy with the general shape of the Shangazi desert, and then exported it to the second program, Campaign Cartographer, to add more detail. Campaign Cartographer is more of a 2D, CAD-style program that allows you to add things like cities, roads, forests, mountains, and so on. In my case, I wasn’t starting from scratch. The terrain was already there from all the stuff I did in Fractal Terrains. I just added the major countries, cities, the trade routes between them.

Here’s how things looked after I was done with them in CC.

Sharakai Wide 3

Click to embiggen

That’s what I gave Max to work with. I bit rough and tumble, but I figured he was used to working with a lot worse (or sometimes nothing at all) from authors. All the basics were there. We just needed, well, a piece of art from this rusty looking piece of garbage.

Max and I traded a few email conversations and had a transatlantic chat on Skype. And then he set to work. We planned a grayscale version for the books, which would be a two-page spread, and also a color version. Here’s what Max came back with on his first pass of the grayscale version.

Shangazi Greyscale First Pass

Click to embiggen

That’s quite a change, isn’t it? The basic framework is the same, but Max turned it into a real map. There were a lot of little tweaks to make along the way, things I fed back to Max and he reworked. Stuff like placement of the title, cutting the two caravan routes in the south of the desert down to one, tweaking the fonts and shading in certain places, and so on. There were two things I’ll call out that are (to me, anyway) more interesting.

The first is due to the fact that this will be a two-page spread. That is, it’ll be split right down the middle, and the content along that line will be in the gutter of the physical book. Because of that, you have to be careful what you put in the center. You can’t have wording that spans that gap. And smaller details should be placed to one side or the other.

Here’s a new version Max shared where he moved a few things and added lines to show the gutter we’d need to worry about.

Click to embiggen

Click to embiggen

The second thing I wanted to try on for size was the notion of adding nautical lines on the pan of the Shangazi desert. Why? Because in the books, ships sail the desert. They’re more or less tall ships, but they have these skis made of “skimwood” that allow them to sail over the desert easily. I thought it would be a nice nod to those old maps that have the various nautical lines on them. We tried it on for size and ended up really liking it.

After a number of passes, we ended up with the final grayscale map.

Click to embiggen

Click to embiggen

I think it turned out pretty awesome. It was an actual, honest-to-goodness map. And I love all the detail Max added to the terrain.

With this done, it was time for the color version. Even knowing from Max’s other work that it was probably going to look pretty cool, I was stunned with what he delivered.

Click to embiggen

Click to embiggen

I love the colors he pulled out in the desert vs. the mountains, and in the wetter plains vs. the seas and lakes. And the bordering really stands out in this color version. What do you think? Should I arrange for some posters to be made?

Next up is the map for Sharakhai itself. I’m really looking forward to that process, and I’ll share it once it’s done as well.



  1. Paul (@princejvstin)

    February 4, 2016 at 10:21 am

    Very very cool –thanjs for going into the nuts and bolts, Brad

    • Brad

      February 4, 2016 at 10:54 am

      Happy to! It’s fun talking about this stuff.

  2. Colleen

    February 6, 2016 at 12:41 am

    Definitely poster worthy! It’s so cool to see the progression of the map from rough draft to (gorgeous) finished product, especially since the landscape was such a neat aspect in the book. Thanks for letting us follow along on the journey!

    • Brad

      February 11, 2016 at 9:08 am

      Thanks, Colleen. Yeah, I really enjoy seeing the behind-the-scenes stuff too, so I was happy to share.

  3. Pingback: More Mappy Goodness – The City of Sharakhai – Bradley P. Beaulieu

  4. Hank

    March 24, 2016 at 3:51 am

    Pretty colors but a real shame that Plasse seems to know absolutely nothing about geography. This map makes me cringe for the poor guy who thinks mountains look like those do. Even a fantasy map should at least look believable.