Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Freehand Mapping and My Unmanly Secret

In the course of writing my sandbox mini-setting of Dunlyle, I sketched several outdoor maps (about 5 miles to the inch) using different media and paper.  I tried pencil, pen, crayon (surprisingly effective, actually) and used plain paper, graph paper, and hexgrid.  I can now, of course, sketch out a Dunlyle map in my sleep.  But something was missing.

Over at the Cartographer's Guild I saw what was missing, other than artistic talent.  My maps just weren't cool.  Lacking in both patience and ability to use the computer drawing programs like Hexographer, I decided to go old school and abandon the grid (for now) ... which is where the Unmanliness crept in.

For you see, today I discovered the joy of scrapbooking materials.

My wife had been a scrapbooker for years and had all of the fancy papers, paper-cutters, stamps, stickers, and all of the paraphrenalia that goes along with this most Girly of hobbies.  What I found out, though, while perusing my local art supply store, was that scrapbooking has everything we gamers need for extremely cool maps -- while at the same time providing a built-in storage and protection system.

First, there's the paper.  Scrapbooking paper is wonderful.  I picked up a bunch of parchment-style cardstock paper that happened to be on sale.  So you have this durable, weighty bit of parchment-looking paper just waiting for your fantasy world or dungeon to explode upon it.

The size of scrapbooking paper (12" square) is also handy, providing roughly 50% more surface area upon which to sketch compared to 8 1/2" x 11" or A4 paper.  I find this to be a more naturally pleasing drawing surface; the shape of the paper is no longer an influence on my creative muse.

Here's Dunlyle on scrapbook parchment cardstock, after a few hours of my amateur artistic and calligraphic labors:

But wait, you say!  What about the hexgrid or square grid?

No problem, my budding Marco Polo.  Just run that bad boy through the printer, before or after you've freehanded the map.  Personally, I will be putting the grid on afterwords, if at all -- I don't want the presence of the grid to guide my pencil.

The scrapbooking accessories are also spot-on.  Want to dress up your maps with symbols you will use repeatedly?  Get a stamp and just ink that bad boy.  How about a cool border for your crypt, using skulls or black lace?  You can make it as kitschy or campy as you want.  Throw a Scooby-Doo sticker on there if it floats your boat.  Or, if you're an artiste like Zak, you could throw some web images on there and cut and paste yourself to an impressionistic dungeon masterpiece.

And then there is the scrapbook itself, a perfect place to store, transport, and admire your beautiful map.  It is bound so that the scrapbook paper doesn't have to be holepunched ... the holes are in the sheet protectors.  And those sheet protectors?  You can write on them with a wet-erase pen and never mark up your precious maps!

It gets even better when you realize that you could do entire dungeons on facing-page scrapbook pages ... map on one side, key on the other.


  1. I have a tendency towards three-ring binders; they often got a bit too torn up to use for school, and then were converted to D&D. Sheet protectors are awesome, but the scrapbooking paper argument is tempting...

    Other applications of craft supplies in gaming:
    Starship minis
    Making critter tokens (I know you're not a battlemap sort, but good use of materials)

  2. Thanks for the other ideas, John.

    I'm not opposed to battlemats -- I just think they are overused, which is understandable given their virtual requirement in 3.x/4e.

  3. Holy cow! That is amazing, I really like the idea of scrapbooking paper. Your map looks wonderful, I love it!

  4. Gird your loins and journey to the arts/crafts store, my friend. Soak in the glory of parchment-style cardstock. Revel in the folders designed to hold your own masterpieces. And then there's the pens, drafting supplies, borders and stickers ...

    Ok, so I have a stationery fetish.

    If you can go when there's a sale, even better. I got six 12" square parchment-style cardstock for a dollar. Now I'm thinking buying 18 of them was not enough ... normally they're around 69 cents each.

    I use sepia ink pens (in .1 mm, .5 mm, 1 mm, and 'brush' sizes -- though the brush is hard for this amateur to use presently) and watercolor pencils. The cool part about these -- just add a drop of water and you totally change the look. I need to experiment more with these.

    The cardstock paper has a "rough" side and a flat side. I like the flat side for interior maps (it has a cleaner look) but I think the rough side looks better for wilderness maps.

  5. Hey, great idea! My sister owns a scrap-booking business! Why didn't I think of this before?