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If you're a dungeon master or an aspiring fantasy novelist (and oh, how often the two must intersect), you know that worldbuilding is essential to making those fantastic places inside your head come alive to your players or readers. But before you can populate a world with your strange cultures, your deadly dungeons, or your giant, flying cat buses, you first have to build that world.

A map provides reference points, a sense of scale, and it's immersive in the way that only tangible objects can be. As an added bonus, it generates questions from whoever is reading your map. What is the city of Summerwood like? Is that a shipwreck symbol off the X'syz'ghtn Coast? How do you even pronounce that? Apart from laziness on the part of the writer, why is is called the Desert of Doom?

Hexographer

D&D maps: frustrating geologists since 1974.
D&D maps: frustrating geologists since 1974.

Hexographer is aimed towards DMs who prefer their Dungeons & Dragons in the 1970s and places of interest spaced away from each other in 6-mile increments. The interface is intuitive, and mapmaking boils down to finding the appropriate tile and plopping it down on a hex. You end up with a colorful, albeit simple, map that you can export as a .PNG file.

The screenshot you see above is from the free version, which I have found to be sufficient enough for my needs. The pro version allows you to, among other things, create sub-maps of a hex, add notes to a hex, or import custom icons in case none of the existing ones shout "Elephant Graveyard" to you.

Inkarnate

A mythical land that is holding elections soon.
A mythical land that is holding elections soon.

Inkarnate is currently in beta, but for something still in development, it already comes with all the features you would ask for in a mapmaking program. You have the ability to create hex maps in Inkarnate, but its main draw is how the casual cartographer can whip up intricate maps without having to learn a design program like Gimp or Photoshop. Users can save maps onto the site itself for future tinkering, and also export it as a .JPG file once it's acceptable for mass consumption.

I threw together the American-shaped hack job you see above by following this handy tutorial by imgur user jacristi.

D.I.Y.

Of course, if you prefer a pencil in your hand over a tablet stylus, there is always the option to draw your map by hand. Maybe you don't consider yourself an artist, but nothing beats the feeling of creating something with your own hands. Maybe the taste of eating something you cooked with your own hands, but that's a different article on a different website. In any case, this is what practice is for.

Finding a tutorial for drawing is as easy as asking for it on Google, but my recommendation is going through the archive of tips and tricks from Jonathan Roberts of Fantastic Maps. His tools of the trade are Photoshop and a tablet, but many of his posts are applicable to worldbuilding on good old pen and paper.

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