Creating Fantasy Maps With GIMP: Worldbuilding—The Texture Map

Updated on October 4, 2019
Frost Birch profile image

I've been drawing maps for D&D since first playing the game in '78. Playing online requires digital maps, so I taught myself using GIMP.

Terran as Found
Terran as Found | Source

This is one of many articles on making fantasy maps with GIMP. I wrote this one to point out a difficulty I had in my D&D campaign.

Worldbuilding Starts with a Map

Holding the whole world in your head is difficult. Starting with a world map and then focusing on smaller and smaller bites is the way to start. I tried beginning my campaign the other way, and I've found myself at a loss many times.

It is hard to answer questions like:

  • Where do the Elves or giants come from?
  • Who are we at war with?
  • Why was this citadel destroyed?

And, of course, the biggest question:

  • Who lived here before us?

When you start small, you don't have the worldview answers to the big questions. So I stopped my campaign building and started from the other end. These are the steps I've taken so far and some of the reasons for doing what I have done.


Letting the Grid Be Your Guide

I started with a grid layer. A large grid, dividing the pages into nine pieces. In my case, I started with a 3200 x 3200 pixel page with 1067 x 1067 grid panels. This is where you begin to scale your world.

Label your grid or just assign nine different names to the panels. Create a layer for each of the nine panels. Now you can start drawing the land on your map. I chose a neutral color that I'll not be using on the colored contoured map. Using a solid hard edged brush and fill in the areas with the bucket fill.

Completed outline.
Completed outline. | Source

Outline First—One Section At a Time

Sketch or paint the outlines of the map on each of the nine sections. I draw them this way so that I don't have to work on the whole map at once. Doing the outline on all of the separate layers at once lets us match the borders and work on the water at one time so things match.

When I started making maps, small and working out, I had troubles lining up the borders and textures wouldn't match, etc. Now I have solved that problem by starting big and working down. This gives a better match to borders and textures.

It also gives you a broader picture of the world and an overall background to your story even if you end up using only a small portion.

Water, Water Everywhere
Water, Water Everywhere | Source

Once all the outlines are done; make all the layers for the land visible and the background and grid invisible. Now create a new layer from visible sections. This will give you a layer you can use to create selections for masks and textures for the water.

Now work on the water as a whole. I use three layers of blue from dark to light and feather the edges, so the other layers show through. Then I add a textured layer as an overlay. Finally, I add a cloud layer, and that would finish off the main water layer of oceans and seas. Rivers are added later.

Filling In The Blanks
Filling In The Blanks | Source

Filling in the details is easy, but I have already written a few articles on how to make fantasy maps. In finishing this world map, I made several layers:

  • 5 color layers for the land and hills
  • 4 color layers for the mountains
  • a sand layer
  • a river layer
  • a tree layer
  • a texture layer
  • a light and dark shading layer
  • 2 snow layers

Some of the sections used all the layers some less, but the technique was the same for each. First I built the hills and mountains so I could correctly position the rivers and trees.

Follow me and check some of my older pieces and we'll continue to learn how to make fantasy maps.

What's Next?

The map is made and we can now start worldbuilding. In the next part we'll start taking the base map and reskinning it to make:

  • A political map
  • A travel map
  • A resource map
  • A weather map
  • A map to show where the monsters are

There are many types of maps we can build from the base of our map and each will add to the story we are trying to create. In the comments section below, tell me what other types of maps you can create or need for a campaign. Your comments are always appreciated.

© 2017 Frost Birch


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    • Frost Birch profile imageAUTHOR

      Frost Birch 

      9 months ago from Canada

      Well, Blablabla, I could agree with you if this was the only part of the series you viewed but as I mentioned in the piece, there are other articles in the series showing all the different parts in detail. (but by the name you choose to go by I can only assume you are one to just complain no matter.)

    • profile image


      14 months ago

      This isn't very helpful, it's just a broad overview. If you're at the level you can understand this you're probably already making maps.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      i well play mincaft

    • Frost Birch profile imageAUTHOR

      Frost Birch 

      3 years ago from Canada

      If you have any ideas on worldbuilding, please feel free to comment below.


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