Making a 3D Map of Barsaive

Lately I was considering to offer you, my readers, the opportunity again to write guest entries for the Earthdawn Blog. I guess the time for guest blogging will come in summer again. I didn’t want to wait that long until I publish the post about Patternspider’s project. He contacted me to introduce his project to the Earthdawn community and I guess you all gonna understand why I simply couldn’t wait until summer to publish the following article. Patternspider was so kind to write a small article wherein he tells us the story of his project about “Making a 3D Map of Barsaive”! I pass the word to Spidy:


I first started playing Earthdawn around 1997, and it quickly became my favorite RPG. I ran a game with a continuous group of characters that lasted for about 3 years. Then, in 2001 Exalted came out, and it became my new game of choice for the next decade. I finally burned out on Exalted last year, and I was looking for a new game to play. A friend mentioned to me that Earthdawn was being re-published in its 3rd Edition, so I quickly checked it out, and my current gaming group made the switch last summer. Overall, I'm really pleased with the changes from 1st Edition, and I'm enjoying getting back into the game.

One of the things that's always been central to FRPGs is maps, and I've always enjoyed creating them, usually on paper or digitally. A few years ago, when we were playing Exalted, one of my players and I painted a map of Creation on a large piece of canvas. When we switched to Earthdawn, we started another for Barsaive, but we were unable to finish it. I got the idea that it would be cool to make a 3 dimensional map. Barsaive is full of huge mountain ranges, so I thought it would work well. This isn't something I'd done before, so I pretty much had to invent my techniques as I went along.

I started with a 32"x20" piece of laminated particle board, which was a left-over cut -out from my kitchen counter top. I used a projector to trace the rivers and major features of the map from the books on the un-laminated side with a marker. I then sculpted the mountain ranges out of modeling clay. I made sure the Throal mountains were the tallest, tried to make the Twilight peaks somewhat sharp and craggy, etc. I didn't want the areas in between the mountains to be completely flat, though, so I next put down more modeling clay in very thin layers to give the terrain some variance. Keeping in mind that the Serpent river follows a pretty unlikely course, I tried to vary the height of the land so that the river would flow through the low areas, and never uphill.

After everything dried out for a few days, I filled in any cracks in the clay with glue, then coated the entire thing in acrylic spray primer. This still looked too "smooth" for my liking, so at someone's suggestion, I sprayed on some glue and sprinkled a layer of fine sand over most of the land areas, again making an effort to keep the rivers' paths clear of sand, so they wouldn't be bumpy (because I used a sharpie initially to trace everything out, the lines were still faintly visible through the primer, making this task easier). This gave the map a more textured look, and smoothed out some of the edges where the clay met the board. I covered this with primer as well. I then hand-painted everything with acrylic paints, using several different brushes. The great thing about this was that I could experiment with different brushes and techniques, and if I didn't like the results, I'd just paint over it. I put down many layers of colors while the paints were still wet, which made the different greens, reds, and blues blend together nicely.

I took some liberties with the Death's Sea area. On the official map, it's brightest at the edges and grows darker toward the center. This seemed backward to me, as I would think the shores of the sea would be cooler than the center, so I reversed the color scheme. I tried to make the shoreline and the surrounding mountainsides look burned and ash covered, which isn't represented on the official map. I also added some snow caps to the tops of the higher mountain peaks, because it seemed appropriate. Finally, I didn't really know what should be behind the legend in the upper right corner, so I decided to make this a large open plain, given that the rest of the map is pretty geographically dense.

The last touch was adding the forests and jungles. I had already painted darker green areas for them on the map, which I then covered in artificial foliage made for model train sets. This gave those areas a nice 3D look and texture. The only thing I've yet to do is spray on a clear matte finish to protect everything. I'm waiting for warmer weather so I can do that outside.




I did make a few errors along the way, such as missing a couple of minor rivers, and putting a mountain in the middle of Cara Fahd (oops!), but on the whole, I'm really happy with it, and so is my group. I keep it on an easel next to the gaming table so it's in full view. I think it helps the world come alive in our imaginations more than a flat printed map does. I took a nice hi-res overhead picture of it and uploaded it to our group's wiki page. As they travel to new places, I've been adding labels and markers to it, to show where they have been.

Now that the Cathay setting has been released, I'm very tempted to do this again :)


So we all hope that the 3D Cathay Map is not far away  and you can be sure that a lot of Earthdawn fans appreciate your work, but will remain envious of your map. Zwinkerndes Smiley Oh btw, here are the pictures of the working progress. Smiley For your thoughts, critics and praises use the comments and if you want to get in touch with Patternspider, contact him.

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1 Response to "Making a 3D Map of Barsaive"

  1. WOW. Very impressive. I'm going to be focusing on a virtual 3d map of Barsaive here in the next few months (The latest Unreal Dev Kit, March beta, has a new Landscape terrain system that can handle the high-res DEM satellite data). This is totally inspiration. Thanks for sharing!

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