When I snagged a pre-release review copy of Profantasy Campaign Cartographer 3 Plus, smugness quickly turned to irritation… then to understanding and respect.
Let me tell you about it.
Though just a 3-person company, Profantasy are the behemoths of Fantasy cartography.
They’ve been around since 1993 (so far back that I think Richard III was still on the throne) which says a lot. They have a massive suite of programs for designing things like dungeons, cities, star systems and starship.
Their output is beautiful. Just glancing at what people can do with is enough to take you to otherwhen places .
So as I downloaded their not-inexpensive software, I was grinning happily to myself…. just like one of the dark lord’s minions walking into an ambush.
The new version is certainly an improvement on the old (which, however, did as advertised).
It’s more stable, makes full use of the power of modern PCs, has a prettier, less confusing interface, a really very useful “verbose” tooltip that pops up when you use any tool, and smoother navigation.
I had the power to create beauty. I was mesmerized!
Then the ambush sprung.
Like most writers, I am used to creating by iteration. I rough things out then refine them, tinkering with structure and detail until things are right. That’s how I write, and how I want to worldbuild.
Campaign Cartographer just doesn’t lend itself to this way of working. It’s just too granular, too fiddly. You select your tool first, then the thing you want to tweak, and even drag and drop entails menus and mouse clicks. This software felt like the graphics equivalent of a typewriter, or perhaps FrameMaker.
So, gentle reader, I became irritated.
But then I recalled my friend Andy Law who actually makes his living as a cartographer and I finally understood.
That granular fiddliness?
It’s a feature if you are designing a map, rather than building a world.
Whereas I’m thinking, “Rah mountains, rah dragon, rah road!”, professional cartographers are thinking, “Mountains must leave space for dragon and road, and mustn’t interfere with the text, and it has to look good”.
Me using Campaign Cartographer for my musings is like my mum using Scrivener for her shopping list.
And that understanding brought respect.
Cartography is like any other design skill. It takes talent, hard work and most of all practice. Cartographers no more dump symbols onto the screen than we writers just type the stuff in our heads then hit “Upload to Amazon”.
So, don’t buy this software for world building unless you are comfortable with professional CAD tools — I know some of you are.
However, do, consider buying Campaign Cartographer if you need to produce professional looking maps of your imaginary world, for example for a self-published role playing project or a Fantasy ebook.
If you are prepared to use this package as a intended, as a design rather than creativity tool, then you can quickly start to produce encouraging results; the learning curve is only a problem if you insist on skiing uphill! My own efforts after an hour of tinkering were not so bad, and would have been better had I been mapping a world that already existed in rough form.
Ultimately, Campaign Cartographer does require putting in some effort, but for map design, the results are rewarding and learning the software is not a bad way of spending a rainy Scottish afternoon.
UPDATE: When you buy CC3, you actually get CC3+ plus the old version which will be superseded when all the add-ons are also updated.
M Harold Page (www.mharoldpage.com) is a Scottish-based writer. He has several Historical Adventure books in print. His creative writing handbook, Storyteller Tools: Outline from vision to finished novel without losing the magic is available on Amazon. If you live near Edinburgh, Scotland, he would love to teach you how to fight Medieval German Longsword.