Leo Hartas draw an original fantasy map for the world of Orb. Well, my real favourite Kickstarter goal would have been for my and Leo's Mirabilis project, but you know what I mean.
The stretch goal having been reached, Leo has been hard at work on a map of Irsmuncast-nigh-Edge, a city of the Manmarch. If you're going to Fighting Fantasy Fest you might even get the chance to buy the original artwork. I asked Leo and Orb's creator, Mark Smith, about the creative process.
DM: Mark, when designing a city, do you start out by drawing a rough map or do you prefer that to come later?
Mark Smith: I would do things slightly differently now- but this is how it worked back then. When designing a city I first took into account its geography – and proximity to other significant places – and the reasons why people would either immigrate or emigrate. Then I introduced the random factor of assigning temples from the Pantheon of Orb, and I will only modify that roster of temples if it is absolutely necessary – meaning I can't find a plausible rationale and back story for how and why the temples were founded there in that mix of temples.
DM: Can you tell us a bit about how the city got its name?
MS: Irsmuncast Nigh Edge is a shortening of what was originally 'The first camp of men near to the Rift’ (aka the Edge) and, understandably, it is not that close to the Edge. It’s the first settlement that you would come to in the Manmarch if you were journeying away from the Rift.
Since the Rift is like the edge of the world and spews forth evil and danger we can guess a few things about the nature of the Irmuncast inhabitants These tend to be either hardy or hopeless folk who can/must live under the shadow or threat of an incursion of evil. Some couldn't find success in safer places so had to make a go of it in Irsmuncast. Over time Irsmuncast became stronger- more able to defend itself and was able to sustain or attract wealthy and privileged people like Golspiel and others. The farmlands that supply the city are all to the west of the city as any to the east would be t0o easily despoiled by Orcs and so on.
I noted in the books that it was a city of 20,000 souls. I now think it is more likely it has around 35-40,000 inhabitants. but has reached the maximum sustainable by the farmlands to the west and so food is not overly plentiful.
DM: Leo, your maps have got a real feel for the place - what techniques are you using that give them that edge over other fantasy maps?
Leo Hartas: Illustrated maps, whether of real or imagined locations, must fulfill the necessity of practical use and readability while also be entertaining, adding atmosphere and style to the world.
With the Irsmuncast map, I was provided with a detailed sketch and copious notes to work from. Often the maps I did for Fighting Fantasy had to be based on barely more than a scribble on the back of an envelope. I am happy to work with either so long as there's enough information to do a pencil rough to submit to the publishers and authors. At that point it is easy to see what needs adding or changing and which spelling mistakes I've made (and I always seem to make them!).
To get to that point I lay out the components of the map in pencil on the paper I'm going to paint on (Bockinford 180 lb hot pressed watercolour) to have a pleasing composition and be clear and easy to read. I always have a dilemma at the beginning of any project about going traditional or digital, as I can work in either or a combination. For the Irsmuncast map, I decided on entirely traditional because I felt it should exist as a physical object, giving a little tactile authenticity to a fantasy world.
DM: What sources do you find inspire you when making a fantasy map?
LH: The Way of the Tiger world is loosely oriental, so I started looking online for old Japanese and Chinese maps for ideas of the look. The ones I found were rather short on decorative motifs so I widened my search to include all kinds of Eastern art. In the end I'd not found anything specific so just started doodling possible ideas, building a mash up of all kinds of influences into something that hopefully is new but contains the right cultural "feel". My whole thinking process is pretty fluid in that I don't have much of a plan and change stuff all the time. Even when the colour goes on, although I'll have a rough idea of what I am aiming at, half of it will be experimenting on the paper and trying to rescue it from cock-ups. This gung-ho way of working is probably why I went grey early! During all of this I listen to audiobooks. Somehow the half concentration unlocks an intuitive streak, while at the same time I get to plow through hundreds of novels.