I had a small quantum leap moment lately. It’s time to quit drawing maps and move to handling geographical data.

I’m pretty happy how I’ve been able to open up Avarthrel’s wordbuilding notes in the Avarthrel encyclopædia.

A pretty big piece is missing from the notes, though. The map. Sharing the map is actually more difficult than it sounds at first, because I actually wanted the map I shared to be useful. For me, the map has generally not been particularly helpful — I’ve had a rough idea what the world looks like, and rough idea what places are where. Over the years, I’ve only had a rather vague idea of what the map looks in general. I’ve mostly focused on building smaller areas as they appear in my stories, so currently, the Northern Continent is the best-mapped area, and the capital (Anchorfall region) and the central area of these have received the most love. There are three small continents that are even vaguely referenced to in the stories, and all of them are only a couple of thousand kilometers across. I haven’t gotten around to designing the rest of the planet. I’m not very good at sending my heroes to epic journeys across the continents (As it turns out, the roads in the Northern Continent are pretty darn good, so this would be a pretty boring proposition), so most of the stories deal with pretty small regions.

I first only had a few rough sketches of maps. I actually can’t even remember if there were more hand-drawn maps; all I could find was an old map of Grycia.

Old map of Grycia

In 2006, I started working on computerised maps. I actually found the first map I made in AutoREALM, and its fantastic fractal tools:

Old AutoReam map of the three continents

I had previously used AutoREALM for RPG maps, and it’s pretty good. (In retrospect, I probably subconsciously named Grycia after AutoREALM’s creator. Sorry. =)

The crazy part is that this map is the only map so far that has the Southeastern and Southwestern Continents! The details on the Southwestern Continent are quite sketchy, but a few pretty prominent nations are supposed to exist in the Southeastern Continent, and I only have a very rough idea where they are and what they look like. When I pulled these maps up, I had completely forgotten they even exist and what they actually looked like.

Still, here’s a detail on the Anchorfall region.

Old AutoReam map, detail of the Anchorfall region

Now, AutoREALM is a pretty clumsy tool in some respects, so apparently, I just imported the map to Inkscape and started redrawing the map. It’s pretty obvious that the outline is a tracing of the AutoREALM map. This is the map I lived with until this year.

Northern Continent map, Inkscape version

There’s one pretty big problem with Inkscape, though: it’s a pretty damn heavy program, and working on the map is really slow. Also, it’s not really geared for drawing maps. I fortunately can copy around a bunch of map markers using the linked clone tool, but those pogs are just as big as I make them. Each city marker is a 10 km diameter circle. I can’t really start drawing streets and such underneath them, and I want to draw detailed maps of the cities. It’s not really all that fun to draw separate maps of cities, when I could just put them in the same map data file.

Here’s a very rough plan of Anchorfall, for example. I may have roughly made maps of Anchorfall vaguely worked out in some map somewhere. The current shoreline actually looks a little bit different.

Anchorfall general plan, Inkscape

So how do I avoid the problems with Inkscape? I’m using a real geographical suite for world design now - Quantum GIS. The not-so-nice thing about QGIS is that it’s a bit of a pro software, and figuring it out is a little bit of a challenge - though since I’ve been interested of maps all my life and loved geography lessons in school, it wasn’t that difficult. The nice thing about QGIS is that it actually lends scientific precision to the whole worldbuilding process. I can do different map projections. Distance calculations are accurate. Of course, before I get better hang of this, the maps are going to look like a total mess, but at least I’ll be able to build areas and get distances right. And every feature I plop down has real coordinates. (Anchorfall happens to be located roughly in the same spot as Helsinki. Yet, I have to say I had Porvoo in my mind when I thought of the residential areas. =)

I didn’t want to slavishly follow the old map when I remade it, so here’s how the remade map looks like in QGIS:

Map, 2012-10-23

And here, for reference, is what Anchorfall region looks like.

Anchorfall region, 2012-10-23

Most of my current writing stuff has focused on the area on the northern side of Lake Arthylia – the village of Almondehill, and the road to Bagranwood. So obviously, I was in most hurry to get this area finished first.

Next up, I’ll be working on how to get meaningful renderings of the map for other people to use. At least now, I’ll be less constrained by the tools!