ProFantasy's Campaign Cartographer 3

As I mentioned last week I view maps as something to be both functional and artistic. Last week I reviewed the Hexographer program which leans more towards the functional side, emphasizing production of hex maps as seen in the old D&D Gazetteer series.

This week I'll be discussing ProFantasy's Campaign Cartographer 3, (CC3) an application that can produce some absolutely amazing maps. While it get easier to use with practice, at its core it is a specialized CAD program. You get a ton of functionality but at a cost in ease of use.

Let's start with showcasing what CC3 is capable of producing. Below is a map I designed using CC3 in the style of the old Iron Crown Enterprise's Middle Earth Roleplaying Game maps, as drawn by Pete Fenlon. (Click on this and other images here to see the maps at full size. Also note that none of them have labels or text on them yet.)

My skills with CC3 are probably middle of the road - I've been using it and its predecessor, CC2, for years, albeit not extensively. For me it's a tool with which I have a fair amount of proficiency - probably akin to someone who occasionally makes use of Excel vs. someone who is able to whip out all sorts of pivot tables, graphs, predictive models, etc. The map above took me a few hours to develop, designed to portray a land on the shores of a large freshwater lake.

Let's discuss a bit as to what CC3 is and what is available for it. At its core is the main CC3 program which is optimized for making overland wilderness maps.The map I produced above used a template that defined a set of tools to produce a map in the style of the Pete Fenlon Middle Earth maps.This came with a paid add-on. To give you an idea what you can produce with the default template see the example below. Note that the following map is one I developed in only about 15 minutes and so it is of course much lesser quality and detail than the map above - rather it is designed to give a broad idea what the default style looks like.

With the default program you have symbol sets and templates to produce a variety of overland maps and basic dungeons. You can also purchase add-ons. Some of the more notable ones include:
  • Dungeon Designer 3 - Symbol sets, templates, and tools to produce more detailed dungeons in a variety of styles.
  • City Design 3 - Symbol sets, templates, and tools to produce city and village maps.
  • Cosmographer - Symbol sets, templates, and tools to produce starship deck plans, Traveller sector maps, etc.
  • Symbol Sets - A variety of products with symbols for fantasy overland maps, modern floorplans, dungeon symbols, etc.
  • Annuals - A subscription to ProFantasy's monthly series. Each issue comes with a PDF giving a tutorial on producing maps of a certain style, along with add-ons to CC3 and sample maps.
I find the annuals to be of great use in that the issues both provide new tools and also have useful tutorials. The annuals have features themes like landform maps, maps in the style of Sarah Wroot's Dying Earth Maps, Forgotten Realms-style maps, Middle Earth Roleplaying-style maps, modern atlases, sailing ships, etc. The caveat to bear in mind is this can get to be quite an expensive undertaking, with the main product and its add-ons running around $40 each and the symbol sets in $20s. 

Is it worth it? That depends on what you want and how much time you want to dedicate to it. If you are making professional maps or just really like maps and you are willing to put the time into it then I absolutely believe it is worth it. On the other hand if you want something quick and dirty you are probably better using simpler, more inexpensive or free tools.

With all that in mind I've not discussed much about what the program itself is like to use. As I've mentioned, it is essentially a CAD (Computer-Aided Design) program. What you have to keep in mind when using it is that it important to understand how the program builds your maps (which is documented). Maps are made up of sheets and layers. It is probably best to quote CC3's online help (which is quite useful) to define these:

Layers are a way of associating related entities. CC3 has many pre-defined mapping layers including STRUCTURES and VEGETATION. CC3 pre-defines two other layers: Merge and Standard which can renamed, but not removed from a drawing. Each drawing has its own set of layers, each with its own layer status.

Sheets can be thought of as a stack of transparent pieces. Like layers, sheets can be hidden or shown. Unlike layers, all entities on each sheet are sorted into order by sheet name, back to front. Sheets have certain advantages:
  • You can always ensure that certain features are on top of others. If you have BACKGROUND sheet with the contours and map border on, it will always draw before the trees, mountains and symbols. You could have a HEX/SQUARE grid sheet that always draws last.
  • Sheets can be hidden. This speeds up drawing time immensely, as CC3 skips over an entire section of the drawing when a sheet it hidden.
  • Each sheet can have one or more effects to improve the appearance of your maps. You can make the grid overlay semi-transparent, add a glow to text, or add a shadow to a wall.

Just reading this gives an idea that you are dealing with something that isn't a simple drop a symbol into a hex. But it is important to emphasize you gain a lot with this. For example, suppose you want to have a swamp that extends all the way to a coastline. You typically draw a swamp by creating a filled polygon. As you define the points of the polygon you can use modifiers to have your next point be on the line used to draw the coast and you can instruct the program to trace the coastline from one point to another point. When drawing rivers you can make the final point of a tributary go precisely on a point on the main river. 

One thing I've often done is taken one map and moved it to another - either to incorporate a detailed map into a larger scale map or to make a more detailed map of a section of a larger scale map. Say for example I have an island in a large-scale map. What I've done is used a copy operation to grab all the elements of that island and copied it to the clipboard. I then create a new map of a smaller scale, one that can fit all of the island (if that is what I want). I then paste the island into the new map. Now typically what I then do is move all of the details of the island I just pasted to a temporary layer or sheet as the larger scale map will be more coarse and will sometimes even be of a different style (some styles work better for large scale maps and some for small scale maps). I'd then redraw the island, tracing if I wanted to at points, but often not under the assumption that the larger scale map is less detailed and is missing smaller bays, twists and turns of rivers, etc. 

Going in the opposite direction, where I want to create a more detailed map for a small section of a larger map, I'll often paste the entire larger map into the smaller - it will almost certainly be larger than the smaller map's boundaries. I'll make certain the section I want to detail is in the boundaries, move everything to a temporary sheet, and start trimming until nothing remains but the smaller area. At this point I'll use what remains as the basis for a new map, but again I will often avoid tracing as I want to introduce more detail.

As you can see, just from those examples there are a lot of tricks you can use. Again though, this comes at a cost. When making mountains you'll often find yourself making adjustments when one mountain is incorrectly in front of another. When making polygons you'll start dreading "leaking multipolies" (enjoy your ignorance for now). 

What I'm trying to do in this review is both scare and encourage potential buyers. This is product for people who love maps and think they are absolutely worth some work to produce them. I don't want to scare you too much. While the second map I show above is nothing all that special, I'm proud of the first map. There's people out there who can produce much better maps, but I think it's rather nice and evokes the feel I was aiming for. With a moderate amount of practice you can easily get to the level of proficiency to produce maps like that. 

One closing thought - if you do decide to take the plunge do be aware that ProFantasy has an excellent support community at their website. There are forums filled with people, affiliated with ProFantasy and fans, who are more than willing to help. It is a friendly community to - when people post maps for advice or critiques, criticisms are always given in an encouraging manner - i.e. here's what you did good, here's what needs some work, etc. I don't think I've ever seen someone get flamed or insulted based on a map or question - at worse I've seen people referred to various tutorials or manuals for guidance.

Technical details - CC3 is a Windows only application. It works on Windows XP and later OS-es. I've had luck using it on Macs running Parallels or VMware Fusion (disclaimer - I'm an employee of EMC which holds VMware as a partial subsidiary), though I tend to prefer working on a dedicated Windows PC.  It doesn't require an incredibly high-powered system, though as a CAD-program it certainly performs better with more memory and faster processor speeds, but I've seen it work reasonably well on netbooks (though the smaller display was a hindrance). I

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