Cheats guide to making simple outline maps in Photoshop

Please note: There are some excellent and very professional cartographers out there producing great maps for games, this article is not designed to create a map to compete with them, it is for someone who wants to quickly put together a simple map that they can use during a RP campaign with minimal struggle.

Producing professional looking campaign maps can be very tricky, takes a lot of practice and time, however, if you’re just looking for a quick map that will enable you to get playing your game quickly then this guide should help you.

This article assumes you have access to Photoshop and basic ability to use it (although the principles should be transferable to other graphic programs like GIMP).

  1. Open a new screen
    Start up your graphics program and open a new image.1
  2. Colour in the water on your map
    Choose a colour to represent the water on you map and then fill the whole screen in that colour (you can switch to the fill option by pressing G on your keyboard in Photoshop). It’s generally best if you go for a mid-range blue colour.2
  3. Download some landmass brushes
    This is where you’ll really save a lot of time, instead of drawing your landmasses by hand or laboriously creating them using the Photoshop freehand tool, look online for a set of brushes that are ready made landmasses.I recommend land brushes by Bonvanello:

    Download the brush file to your computer, then select the brush tool (or press B in Photoshop).

    Click on the option to change your brush size and then on the small arrow at the side (as shown on the screenshot below).

    Select load brushes and then navigate to where you saved the landmass brush file.
    If you scroll down the brushes available to you, you should now see the various island shapes available.


  4. Create a new layer for the land
    You can do this by clicking on the add new layer button in Photoshop.6
  5. On the new layer put down landmasses in a different colour (I’m going to use white), re-sizing and rotating brushes until you’re happy with them7
  6. Making sure you still have your land layer selected, double click to the right of the layer name (as shown in the image below)8
  7. You will see the following menu appear9
  8. Select Outer Glow, this will create an area of colour around your landmasses, you can change the colour to a lighter blue than your sea and mess around with the different settingsThe settings I’ve used are shown below.

    This creates the area of shallow water around the coasts of your landmasses.


  9. So there you are a simple map ready for you to sketch on and fill in as your campaign progresses. If you want to give your landmasses a little more definition then you can use the Stroke effect to add an outline and the Inner Glow effect to give them a bit more of a 3D look.12

    So there you are, using this method it’s possible to create a basic outline map for an RPG in about ten minutes or so (quicker once you’ve had a bit of practice).


Storm & Sails: Reference Document

Okay, so I’ve started the planning for my forthcoming Storm & Sails campaign, I’m currently working on a gazetteer style Google Doc that will contain setting information and character creation for the campaign so that my players can peruse it. Although it is not complete the document can be viewed here:

I’ll be updating the document over the next couple of weeks, once it’s complete I’ll be turning it over to my players to get some feedback before we start getting into the serious business of making characters.

New Campaign: Storm & Sail

As you may have read in my previous GM Tips: Campaign Fatigue post, I’m taking a break from running my 3Brothers D&D 5E campaign for a short while; during that break I’m going to be running a finite fantasy mini-campaign (probably about 10 sessions in length). To give me something different to get my teeth into whilst I’m having a break from my 3Brothers game I decided that this game should be more high-fantasy, and having always had a soft-spot for pirate stories and the like decided to make a nautically based campaign.

I plan to be posting updates over the next few weeks as the campaign ideas are fleshed out and then make as much of the setting as possible available as a PDF on this blog, so if you like Fate fantasy or the idea of swashing a buckle on the high seas stay tuned 🙂

In the meantime I’m adding images that are inspiring me for this campaign to my Pinterest account, you can check that out by clicking on the link below:

GM Tips: Campaign Fatigue

GM Tips articles offer advice and ideas for gamesmasters to help hone their techniques and run their games, these lists are not exhaustive but provide some tips to point a GM in the right direction. Continue reading “GM Tips: Campaign Fatigue”

Random Things: D&D 5E trinkets for a savage world

desert nightThese random things articles are designed as quick idea generators for time-pressed GMs who want to inject some additional details into their game, in this article we look at trinkets. Trinkets were one of my favourite things about character generation in D&D 5th Edition, each character starts with at least one, a small item or curiosity that has some odd property or something strange about it, it’s not a powerful magic item, just something interesting that could spur conversation and plot.

These items can of course be used in other RPGs.

The list of trinkets in the D&D 5E PHB is great, but it had to be for the standard style of fantasy world that a large number of D&D campaign games take place in, this is great and makes sense from a marketing stand-point, but over the years there have been some really compelling primitive worlds (Dark Sun, for example). Whilst it’s possible to adapt some standard trinkets, I wanted to offer a table themed more towards these savage worlds: Continue reading “Random Things: D&D 5E trinkets for a savage world”

GM Tips: Don’t try to trick your players

GM Tips articles offer advice and ideas for gamesmasters to help hone their techniques and run their games, these lists are not exhaustive but provide some tips to point a GM in the right direction.

Continue reading “GM Tips: Don’t try to trick your players”

GM Tips: Questions to ask about Settlements

village-1043623_960_720GM Tips articles offer advice and ideas for gamesmasters to help hone their techniques and run their games, these lists are not exhaustive but provide some tips to point a GM in the right direction.

One of the most important things a GM can do when designing a campaign is to ask themselves questions, by doing so you ensure consistency and might also through up some important elements of your setting that can be woven into compelling stories. Continue reading “GM Tips: Questions to ask about Settlements”

Random Things to Find in a Tomb

These random things articles are designed as quick idea generators for time-pressed GMs who want to inject some additional details into their game, when you need some inspiration just roll a D20 and consult the table:

1A variety of colourful spiders (some possibly poisonous) crawl amongst the bones and thicking webbing in the tomb.
2It appears as though someone has recently ransacked this tomb, a number of coffins are broken open and the dust has been disturbed.
3Dust hangs heavy in the air, creating a hazy film through which the flickering sunlight passes. The air in here smells stale.
4The corpse of a man long dead but clad in clothing more modern than the tomb itself lies on the floor a crossbow bolt lodged in his chest.
5A trail of footprints made in the thick dust and moss crosses the floor of the tomb to the far wall and then the prints disappear.
6A gentle breeze that smells faintly of the sea emerges through a crack in one of the tomb walls.
7The bodies in this tomb have been entombed according to some ancient tradition, each body is mummified and laid to rest in elaborately crafted sarcophagi resembling their occupant.
8Ragged black and brown rats perch on top of the coffins, chewing on bits of bone and scraps of cloth, they regard the PCs through shining yellow eyes.
9There is an eerie tittering sound from further on in the tomb, perhaps it is just the wind or maybe the tomb isn't as unoccupied as previously thought.
10Bare footprints that resemble a humans, but clawed, ragged and stained with dirt criss-cross the chamber.
11A series of urns each containing the ashes of occupants who could not afford a luxurious coffin line the stone shelves of the tomb.
12Through a hole in the ceiling a pencil thin beam of sunlight falls onto the centre sarcophagus illuminating an ancient script.
13A worn but recognisable statue of a dragon takes centre-stage in the tomb.
14Two skeletons are propped up in full armour near the entrance as though guarding the dead.
15The roots of a tree long-ago broke through the decaying walls of the tomb, winding through the coffins and entangling the bodies within.
16A great warrior is laid to rest here, along with all of the warriors who died with him in his final battle, their equipment with them.
17A huge stone gateway is built into the wall, although the entrance is painted black it goes nowhere, symbollising the entrance to the second world.
18Prayers to the gods have been delicately carved into almost every stone surface in the tomb.
19The tomb is an ossuary where the dead do not lie in coffins but are built into the very walls of the place.
20A series of perforated pipes is built into the walls, when the wind blows in a certain direction musical notes are produced.