Grimdark Fantasy (renamed "Darklands") - development thread

LoopysueLoopysue 🖼️ 24 images Cartographer ProFantasy

I've done a google search to find a definition of this term, but only come up with a vague dystopian theme.

From the point of view of making a 'grimdark' map, what exactly does that mean? Is it some kind of special mapping style, or set of colours that should be used?

Anyone have any idea?



  • MonsenMonsen 🖼️ 44 images Cartographer Administrator

    It's more about the tone of the settings than the colors of the map. Just think "the world is not a happy place" and adjust whatever you need to accomplish that. Ruins, war and conflict are all central elements.

  • LoopysueLoopysue 🖼️ 24 images Cartographer ProFantasy

    Thanks, Remy :)

    I've had a lot of similar responses over on the FB Group page today. It's also been suggested that I look at Warhammer maps for inspiration. It does seem that the main link between them (since they really are very different from one another at first glance) is the lack of any bright colours. It's all grey and various different types of brown. Ruins play an important part. So Spectrum isn't the first style I would think of to do a grimdark map, just for example.

  • Definitely not Spectrum Sue! That is the antithesis of Grimdark - without de-saturating it a lot. Is this for a commission?

    You could try using the Ancient Realms or Dark Realms annual styles if you want colour. A B&W style on parchment would also probably work.

  • LoopysueLoopysue 🖼️ 24 images Cartographer ProFantasy

    At the time I wrote that last comment I was just trying to work out what it meant as a result of being asked to do a grimdark version of one of my city maps for another member of the team.

    Since then, however, I've started generating a few fills and talked a bit with Ralf about a Grimdark Fantasy overland style for next year's Cartographer's Annual. The basic colour scheme will probably be cream->dull green->dull purple with blue water and gold leaf border. Not sure about anything yet, though, so it might not be anything like that at all.

  • Sounds like I'll be getting next years Annual as well then...

  • LoopysueLoopysue 🖼️ 24 images Cartographer ProFantasy

    Well, even if I don't do it, an annual is always a good buy :)

  • Chanced-upon something of possible interest in this line today. The OneBookShelf download sites (DriveThru RPG, etc.) are currently running their annual Hallowe'en promotion, part of which is to hide away spooky freebies behind Hallowe'en-themed miniature graphics on various pages scattered across the site, as a kind of treasure hunt. One of those freebies this year is an RPG called Xas Irkalla. It normally retails at $15, reduced to $11.25 in the Halloween Sale at present, but free using the special link.

    Firstly, you must have an OBS account (free to open) to download anything from the site, but you don't have to give them more than a few basic details to do so (no credit card or bank info, for instance). Secondly, Xas Irkalla is an adult, hard, very deadly RPG that uses the Strain survival-horror system. It is definitely not for the faint-hearted. But, y'know, this topic is about grimdark, so... This is the core book, so ALL rules and details about the setting needed to play the game are included.

    Oh yes, the special freebie link! Use the "My Library" link at the top right of the normal OBS page. Once there, scroll to the foot of the page, and towards the lower right corner, you should see a glowing pumpkin head. Click that, and the freebie will be added to your cart.

    If you'd like to hunt for others, there are at least 11 more to be found just on DTRPG.

  • LoopysueLoopysue 🖼️ 24 images Cartographer ProFantasy

    Thank you, Wyvern :)

  • There are 2 Grimdark-like styles for overland maps - Issue 120 (2016 annual) - Dark Realms, and 140 (2018 annual) - Dark Fantasy.

    My Atlas map of the Bleakness in in this style

  • MedioMedio Surveyor

    I feel that the HW style would fit well on a grimdark style.

  • LoopysueLoopysue 🖼️ 24 images Cartographer ProFantasy

    It seems the definition is a very broad one. Basically it seems that any style will do, as long as there are no bright colours in it.

  • MedioMedio Surveyor

    Humm yeah, indeed.

  • 7 days later
  • LoopysueLoopysue 🖼️ 24 images Cartographer ProFantasy

    Something like this, then?

    DaltonSpenceTheschabiMonsenRaikomike robel
  • MedioMedio Surveyor

    The mountain and forest yeah. The land and sea, not that much.

  • Mountain is a little bright. Think mountains of Mordor

  • DaltonSpenceDaltonSpence Surveyor
    edited October 2020

    Which should include at least one volcano. (Mount Doom?)😈

  • And Pits of Hell, and toxic swamps, and evil sadistic pyschopathic rulers living in palaces like Maleficent.

  • LoopysueLoopysue 🖼️ 24 images Cartographer ProFantasy

    Maleficent? I just love Maleficent :)

    Well, I'm kind of attached to that colour scheme now so we'll have to see how the mountains and the rest of the symbols evolve. The two test ones I did are actually a lot darker than the ones on the Warhammer maps I was looking at for inspiration. I mean, they are my own original drawings and nothing like the mountains I looked at, but I have used darker versions of the colours.

    Fascinating how the human brain works, really. To me it all looks as dark as the other maps. Maybe it is the greater contrast I have added...

  • edited October 2020

    I don't think that maps for a "grimdark" setting need to be dark.

    As you say, the maps for Warhammer - which is probably the best known grimdark RPG - aren't dark.

    For me a grimdark fantasy setting is any where the protagonists are mainly antiheroes or even villains and the antagonists aren't necessarily evil (but those who are are generally very nasty pieces of work). The settings are generally low magic settings as well

    So while the works of many contemporary fantasy writers have been tagged as grimdark - eg George RR Martin and Joe Abercrombie - lots of old classical fantasy is also grimdark, eg Conan and stuff by Moorcock. Classical fairy tales like Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks and Hansel & Gretel as well, where the protagonists are naughty children (antiheroes for kids?).

    None of these necessary have dark depressing maps though

  • jslaytonjslayton Mapmaker Moderator, ProFantasy

    I suspect that the mountains read too bright because they look like they are lit by a bright sun, especially when placed on the darker background. Pulling down the highlights down and the blacks up a couple of tones might make it appear a bit grimmer. It's hard to limit the dynamic range in one big go without making it look muddy, though.

  • LoopysueLoopysue 🖼️ 24 images Cartographer ProFantasy

    Thank you, David, Quenten, Dalton, Gary and Joe :)

    Interesting reactions from all of you. I have been using several accepted grimdark maps as a muse for inspiration, so I know they are all pretty variable when compared to each other, and that it is more of a story atmosphere than a map thing. So maybe I'm still way off the mark.

    I would like to keep those texture colours as they are, though, since they are more grey than coloured already, so lets just see what can be done about the mountains and other symbols yet to be created. A few bright red, green or purple place symbols might just show how grey the rest of the map really is.

  • Clearly the modeled region suffered from huge volcanic eruptions which accounts for the gray tint as vegetation slowly peaks out of the flows and displays fields of green.

  • LoopysueLoopysue 🖼️ 24 images Cartographer ProFantasy

    Oh I haven't got started on the volcanic bit yet, Mike. That's later. This is just the ordinary mountain background yet. Do you think it is too dark perhaps?

  • LoopysueLoopysue 🖼️ 24 images Cartographer ProFantasy
    edited October 2020

    Well, in the interest of finding out which way to go, here is a red tint on everything achieved by adding an RGB Matrix Process effect to the entire map. I've hidden the offputting contrasty mountains this time. Do you like this better, or not at all?

  • My point was the gray color came from really ancient volcanic flows, not anything happening now.

    I prefer the original color.

  • LoopysueLoopysue 🖼️ 24 images Cartographer ProFantasy

    Oh, I see!

    And so do I. But what I want isn't necessarily what the majority of users want ;)

  • MonsenMonsen 🖼️ 44 images Cartographer Administrator

    Red tint just makes it look weird.

  • LoopysueLoopysue 🖼️ 24 images Cartographer ProFantasy

    Just waiting to hear about whether we are going into another full lockdown, but after that I will do a series of variations - see if I can hit a common favourite.

  • LoopysueLoopysue 🖼️ 24 images Cartographer ProFantasy

    Ok. I've tried all kinds of different colour variations and they all look just as weird as the pink tint.

    So I decided to totally flatten the patterns in the textures (except the forests) and impose a paper texture on all of them. Maybe this looks more 'grim' without looking bad?

  • edited October 2020

    I kind of like it. The paper texture makes it look like there are small rolling hills instead of just a flat plain. (Very few areas are truly flat anyway.) Now it sort of looks to me like the observer is above and looking through a curtain of smoke, which might be blowing in from off map due to massive fires set by the population as they flee to deny the incoming hordes any pasture, food, or forage. Oh, and they poisoned the wells and tried to contaminate the rivers with dead cattle.

    It was a dark and grimmy sunset.

    As you can sort of see here.

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