It has been a few years since we first made the maps for the continent of Eletreus – and recently I reached out to a fairly famous graphic artist who I had always wanted to work with, but alas I received no reply. But ever since high school days I have always enjoyed creating fantasy maps for D&D and other table top RPGs – and so I figured it was time to go back to the drawing board. Literally.
Inkarnate was great – and I definitely got my $25 worth with it (the cost of its annual subscription). But in the years since I first started this site – world building software has come a long way so it seems..
And while Inkarnate has also evolved, at the time I begin checking around the interwebs for some map making software, a lot of the new features are in BETA – and the article, “10 of the Best Fantasy Map Generators and Worldbuilding Tools” here at Bookriot.com lead me to explore 9 other options..
The first one in their list, Azgaar’s Fantasy Map Generator was the last one I checked out because, after all, this is for a ‘commercial’ project and not for personal use and so I tended to overlook free Worldbuilders..
But this one is easily the best free fantasy worldbuilder out there, period.
The number of tweaks that you can do to these free maps truly is outstanding – and because so much of it is auto-generated, this is what I would have to call a ‘Gamesmasters best friend’ simply because you can create the skeletal outline of an entire world in just a few minutes – and yet once you have the hang of the very intuitive software, that world can be tweaked to be exactly what you need in the shortest time possible.
Here is an autogenerated map that I created that with some heavy tweaking, could potentially be transformed into a map of Eletrues.
By using the dropdown menus to the left it is possible to show and tweak the map in many, many different ways – showing religions, cultures, biomes, you name it – you can show it. And it autogenerates thousands of towns, trade routes, etc – zoom in and you can see what is there. And with some work, it is possible to take what was generated and make it your own – renaming states, cultures, religions – pretty much everything.
Here is what a random place in the ‘Bryblinese Empire’ looks like – a frigid place with glacial streams and rivers.
And another cool feature (unless you planned a ‘flat’ planet) is you can turn it into a globe like google earth – making it feel even more real than ever (though it only works well with certain map types, some just have too much land and look very strange, others are not designed to wrap around and so end up looking broken. But in my example below, it looks pretty realistic to me!).
Honestly, I wish there had been software like this when I was first getting into worldbuilding and fantasy map making. The ability to create an entire world map and as many states and civilizations and you need, all made to the highest level of detail in mere seconds is very, very impressive.
However, it’s not easy to adjust it to make it fit the pre-established lands of Eletreus and much better for a GM who is pressed for time to quickly create the framework of a unique world and slowly adjust the maps and the amazing amount of information contained within as needed (everything from population to army sizes, climate, and so much more).
So as such, my search for the perfect map maker continued..
Now in the list there are a few other free web-builders that the article recommends. One of the others Donjon, I actually used well before I had discovered Inkarnate – and even considered using what it generated in lieu of our home grown map of Eletreus.
Here is a half size version of the map that was made all those years ago – of land called ‘Wrydwyn’ – where I planned to use Inkarnate to map out various regions in detail..
Like Azgaars worldbuilder – everything is pre-generated and created in seconds. But unlike Azgaar, all you really get is the bare bones skeleton – you really need to spend some time to flesh it out yourself.
Fortunately, the Donjon site offers many resources to help you do just that. From random quest generators to name generators and even town generators – it has a suite of very helpful GM tools right there for free at your fingertips.
For example, say you wanted to focus on one of the cities in the auto generated world map. Just jump to the town generator, and bang – not only do you get the map, but it also generates some information on this town.
However, in the list of the top 10, it seems fitting to mention another world building tool that while it will not help with maps of the world does a VERY good job of creating much better looking towns and cities than all purpose Donjon does..
The name of this tool, Watabou medieval fantasy city generator – does exactly what it says on the box. In much the same manner as the town/city maker above, you set the values for a handful of characteristics and let the software create the basic structure for you. You can then either keep generating new towns until something pops up that you like, or take any of the maps and tweak it to your hearts content.
For example, I want to create a map of the capital of the Aelutian Empire, Paragonia. It’s a massive and ancient coastal city, with many roads (‘all roads lead to Paragonia’) a river, castle and huge fortified wall.
Here is what it generates after a few tries to ensure the roads are coming in from both sides equally and suggests that it is a ‘safe’ city that is not prone to sieges or attacks from outside, so has a significant and old extension to the city having formed outside its walls.
Not bad, but not big enough for the largest city of the known world. And this is where the fun begins. Because by right clicking anywhere on the map and selecting ‘warp’, it brings up a menu to tweak things. So the first thing I do is turn it all the other way around as the sea should be to the north using the ‘rotate’ function.
And then, and this is a bit tricky sometimes, I carefully start to shift the city walls using the displace function, being careful not to distort the roads or cause any areas of crazy congestion – which can happen if you move too much too fast.
So in my experience, small – careful – changes usually add up to a good result.
While making massive capital cities and metropolis like Paragonia is a little bit of a stretch, making towns or villages are what I think this software’s specialty. But combine it with Azgaar’s worldbuilding tool and any creative can come up with some truly amazing maps of almost every scale – all for free, and all 100% uniquely their own.
All of the above options are basically free resources that are mainly aimed at gamesmasters, but for the most part even in the fine print – allow writers, game makers and other creatives to own the content created.
This is of course only important if the work that you are creating is something you intend to sell or profit from down the track – however it prevents me from doing much more than taking a very casual look at one of the ‘free for 30 days’ options called Worldspinner..
This isn’t very practical or professional for creatives – but as it is try for 30 days for free with no credit card needed, maybe anyone reading this looking at worldbuilding software will dig deeper and find that their mileage may vary..
But for this project, there were really only three valid choice remaining – and the best of which, did not appear to be quite ready at the time of writing this blog post..
You see, I have been intermittently following the World Anvil project with quite some interest since it first caught my eye and have more or less decided to give it a serious try in the very near future. It seems like the perfect place to store all the various maps and content that I am creating to flesh out the world of Elereus and store important information about the main story-line I am quietly writing behind the scenes for the Gathering of the Heroes webcomic.
And World Anvil just looks like the absolute perfect fit for a lot of this sites existing content – and where a lot of the future content should be categorized and organized.
This led me naturally to an article World Anvil published in THEIR blog entitled ‘5 Best Map Making Software for World Building’ that you can see here – and in it I was excited to discover a new option I had not seen before called PROJECT DEIOS..
Sadly, it seems my timing was not quite right – and the ‘tech alpha’ release and the pre-purchase of the software wasn’t really up to speed yet to create a better map than what I have already created with Inkarnate 2-3 years ago.
I really should have held off, as there are a few things about the Project Deios website that made me think that the current pandemic is really putting a damper on proceedings (mostly, outdated information about the release) – and just playing around with it for a few hours let me know that it is very much in a pre-beta state, but certainly looks promising and plan to revisit it when it is further developed.
My first attempt to recreate Eletrues was quickly abandoned as it would clearly need to be re-done again once the software updates, and I ended my exploration of the software with a very simple map that shows just how much scale and zoomability the software promises to deliver..
Here’ a close up of a simple map I made.
So with Project Deios on ice for me until it gets closer to beta release – there are basically two map building software packages left for me to choose from, and with neither of them having a ‘try for 30 days’ option, I need to first define what I want to make while I am waiting for Deios to get up to speed.
So with this in mind, it was time to watch a video presentation featuring these two builders side by side to make my final decision on which one to go with in the interim..
After watching this video I summarized that both Wonderdraft and Campaign Cartographer 3 are pretty similar in terms of price (around US$30 – a one time fee, which is better value than Inkarnate at $5 a month!) and both are downloadable – so unlike Inkarnate or Project Deios, both of which are cloud based, you can only download and use these other two programs on one computer at a time.
SIDENOTE: I should also note that they also mentioned Flowscape as a ‘world builder’ – at least as a helpful tool for 3-D scenes and small scale, photo-realistic maps. So far, it looks pretty interesting and I am certain will be useful in the future – especially for the Celtic Faery-land of Tuath De. More on this later.
Anyway, in the end I decided to try out Wonderdraft.
It’s slightly more affordable at US$29.95 (CC3 is 29 Great British pounds) and seems just a bit more modern and intuitive, which as I plan at least for now to only use it sparingly until Project Deios is up and running, looks like it best fits my immediate needs..
And indeed, initial tests are promising. Here’s a little island map I made in the same time I spent with Project Deios.
It’s not a scene from Eletreus, but I REALLY like the way rivers, lakes and roads have their own dedicated tool – and within a very short period of time a lot of ways to use it were quickly becoming apparent.
So far and overall, the interface is pretty intuitive and it’s quite easy to modify or change anything as you go (which is a problem I had with Inkarnate – as it can be hard to select and delete things. When I first started using it in 2017, Inkarnate did not have an undo function at all! But Wonderdraft is very easy to undo something without accidentally undoing everything).
Only downside I can see from this very early dive into the software is that it seemingly lacks the scalability of Project Dieos and I cannot yet seem to find a way to zoom in closer. But there are indeed a lot of assets with many different map types to choose from, and I look forward to starting a new draft of the map of Eletreus (which was cobbled together from 4 maps using Inkarnate joined together in Photoshop).
Hope that this information was either of interest or of help if you are a fellow worldbuilder.