Worldbuilding #3 – Continents

worldbuilding logo2

Welcome to the third edition of the Worldbuilding series. Also, Happy Earth Day. Funny how things fall into place.

So far with this series we’ve talked about our planet and tools we’ll use. Unfortunately, we have one more tool to discuss today, however, there is the nice added benefit of starting to build your world.

After reading this and following the directions, you’ll have an outline of your continents. Exciting stuff.


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Today, we’ll be doing continents. Now many maps I see for fantasy world generally are cut off. We only see one aspect of the world, that is most important to the story (or so it seems), but I am often left wondering what the rest of the world looks like, and the stories they must have. Such as Lord of the Rings. Sure, the world is quite expansive, but from this map, the land continues beyond what we’re shown.


Another example of world maps, which is fairly common, is showing one continent. What we don’t know is if this is part of the world and there is more we don’t see, or this is all there is. If this is all there is, then it is a poorly designed map. If there is much more, I’m still left to wonder what the rest of the world looks like.

A good example of this is Tamriel from the Elder Scrolls series. Tamriel is a highly expansive game (did you know that Daggerfall had 62,394 square miles of playable area?). Looking at the continent, if this is all that is within the world, it’s poorly designed. As we look at future articles, you will gain an appreciation for that. However, if it is not and there is much more, where does Tamriel fit in with the rest of the world?


This tutorial will focus on creating your entire world. You can use it to create just an island if you choose, or a single continent, but be aware that the instructions are set for a big world. So you may needs to adapt some of my instructions for your use. I recommend that you follow along with what I’m doing the first time round, to see how things are done, then try a second time on your own.

Starting off, I’m going to introduce a new tool today to help create some continents. At the end of the lesson, there will be files for you to download in case you have any difficulties so you can follow along.

Each tutorial will give you step-by-step instructions of how to create your world. You’ll be amazed by how easy it actually is. It being tedious work is what will drive you bonkers, but in the end, it is worth all the time you spend.

Now if you are like me, the best you can do is draw a series of squares and circles. To draw something like Tamriel is impossible for you. More than that, draw small islands, mountains, rivers, desert…it’s not happening.

So what we need is a generator. Not just any generator, a Fractal World Generator.

fractal world generator

Go ahead and check it out. This thing is amazing…I can’t get enough of it. It creates continents for us. Might seem like it takes the fun out of it for us, but trust me when I say, it works miracles. I will note that there are a lot of different things on this site and may be of use if you are an RPG player or you want more ways to enhance your book or video game.

Let us first do a walk through of this tool before we start playing around.

1. Random Seed

This box, you can put in any random (whole) number you want. From 1 to 9999999999999999999999999999999999999999999 if desired. This will take the number you chose and through some crazy algorithm, you get a different map. However, if you use the same number again, you will get the same exact result. Relying on just random generation, it is possible that no two people get the same result, especially with the options below.

2. Map Projection

This relates to the final outcome of what you will get. Square just means a square map. Mercator is a square map as well, but the top of the map is stretch wide, like a globe is. The Transverse Mercator does the same thing except with a focus of the poles. The rest are practically useless to us. For this tutorial, we’ll be using Square. If you would like to see a good example of why Mercator is bad, check out the video below for West Wing.

If you are interested to learn more, you can check out VSauce discussion on it.

3. Map Palette
This is an interesting setting. Thankfully you can see immediately what effect it has. You will note that some of the choices you pick will have Ice grayed out, not letting you edit that. It is a fun variety, but for our example, we will be using Landmask.

Why? Atlas is already colored in for us, why not just use that?

This tutorial starts with the bare basics, and builds from there. It will make a map that is more detailed than Atlas will provide. It should be noted that with the Atlas option, you are stuck with how it looks and will be unable to change it.

Remember for Landmask, Black == Water and White == Land.

4. %-Water
This one is obvious. The amount of water for your planet, specifically how big your oceans will be. Lower the number means more land and higher the number means more water. Our magical number is between 85% – 95%. Why so high? Any lower and the maps will be a continuous strip along the poles. We don’t want that. Later in the lesson you will see why that is bad.

5. %-Ice
This refers to ice formed at the North and South Poles. If you put in 10, then it will have 5% at the bottom and 5% at the top. Since we are doing landmask, this option is grayed out.

6. Image Height
This reference how big the final image will be. We want our biggest amount of 2000. For slower computers, this will take a bit to load, if necessary, set it to 1000. But remember, editing a bigger image to a smaller one is always better than editing a smaller image and making it bigger.

7. Iteration
I’ll have to be honest, I don’t know what this really does. I just know different numbers produce a different result. I assume that it is all the possible outcomes of the vast equation it uses…I don’t know.

8. Rotation
Now let me show you a little trick. Go to the globe and select either the most west point or east point along the imaginary equator, and click on it. The Globe will move. I discovered this by accident. It will turn along the equator, and you will notice this last box will change numbers. It is at what position along the equator the map is at.

Enough playing around, let us make a map. Now, you are welcome to follow along and do exactly what I do, or choose your own map to do. Now me, I actually combining maps together. This way I get a much bigger world to play with. For this tutorial, you will need Please refer to my article: Worldbuilding #2 – Tools

For your reference:

1. Open up
a. Do File->New (or Ctrl+N)
b. A box will pop up, set:

Width: 2000
Height: 1000

*Note: You can set W: 4000 and H: 1000; but later lessons, this will slow down your computer. if you’re concerned about your computers performance, I’d go with the suggestion above.

c. Select the Paint Bucket from the tools (or press ‘F’)
d. In the colors window, make sure Primary is set in the dropdown box and select black.
e. Then click anywhere on the white screen and it will turn black.

Now we have an endless Ocean. All done.

What? I have to stay until the end. Dammit.

2. Layers
Click the left most button in the little window 2 times. This is the layers button. Don’t do anything else beyond that, and don’t color them in. If you do, just undo it.

With that, you will notice checkerboard of grey and white. This is called transparent (or transparency). And it basically means exactly that, it is devoid of color and whatever other color is there, it becomes it. It will be high important for this tutorial and if you are confused now, you will see what it does for us soon.

3. Go back to the Fractal World Generator and input this information:Random Seed: 809644187
Map Projection: Square
Map Palette: Landmask
Water: 90
Ice: 0
Height: 2000
Iteration: 5000
Rotation 237

a. Hit create.

This will fill up your page.

b. You should be able to right click the image and hit “Save Image As”.

I am using Firefox, if you are using a different browser, you will need to look up how to save images. I named this Continent 1. Be sure you saved it somewhere you can find it, might not be a bad idea of saving this in a folder for your project.

4. Continent 2
Random Seed: 350475208
Map Projection: Square
Map Palette: Landmask
Water: 90
Ice: 0
Height: 2000
Iteration: 5000
Rotation 268

Same thing as before. Is it me, or does this look like a bear on its back? Hmmmmm.

5. Open up both images in

You will now see in the upper right corner of the screen 3 black images. This of course represents our 3 files.

6. Go to our first one with the big black Ocean. In the Layer box, it should have from top to bottom:

Layer 3
Layer 2

If this is not what you see, please rearrange it until it is. Then uncheck Layer 3 and Background. Now you will see the checkerboard.

7. Go to Continent 1 (image up top)
a. In the Tool, click on Rectangular Select (or press ‘M’)
b. If the whole thing highlights, press ESC
c. Now select the area you want. Note the tiny island on the bottom right side.

Don’t worry about getting it exact, just try to get a box that surrounds everything.

d. In the Tools, click Move Select (or press ‘M’ twice).

Be sure that on the upper right hand side of the toolbox, the White mouse cursor with a cross is selected.

e. You will notice there are 8 flashing little boxes. This allows you to move the lines so they are closer to the the continent. Try to move them so they are close to the continent (and islands) with some padding.
f. Lastly, hit Ctrl+C

8. Go back to the first file image
a. In layer 2 (make sure Layer 2 is highlighted in Blue in Layers window), click in the middle and hit Ctrl+V.

Make sure the Blue Mouse is select (by default it is when you paste something in)

This image is smaller than our canvas area.The trick here is to put this continent on one side of the map, where there is plenty of ocean on all sides of it, including the top and the edge. Too big of a continent and it will have an affect on our final design when we make this a globe.

However, my tutorial is to show you techniques, so I’m going to make them as big as I can while still having water surround them. This particular image I am putting on the right side of the map. (Files are available down below if you just want to use what I have, but I recommend you still try this for yourself)

b. Press ESC when done.
c. Hit the check mark for Background in the Layers box…what do you notice?

You’ll see that the checkerboard is gone for the big image. Filled in with black. But if you look in the layers, it is still in Layer 2. Now each image that is on top of another image is the dominate image. Whatever is in upper image will always show for the bottom. Since we have a continent in Layer 2, it shows up when we turn Background on. But then why did the transparency disappear?

Transparency (for lack of a better definition) is essentially the lack of color. So, when we turned on Background, Layer 2 transparency turned back. Now say if Layer 3 was all blue and Background was still black; when we turn all 3 on at once, what color would Layer 2 transparency be?

If you guess Blue, you are correct.

Whatever is in 3, is drawn first, then whatever is in 2 appears next, and lastly, what appears in Background. Now if 2 and 3 cover the whole canvas, it won’t matter what is in Background. I’m sorry if this is confusing you, but our next step will demonstrate this.

9. In first file image named Black Ocean, turn on all the layers
a. Now go to Continent 2 (select it up top), and select the continent again like you did with Continent 1.
b. Copy it and go back the Black Ocean

IMPORTANT: In Layers window, make sure Layer 3 is highlight Blue.

c. Now Paste the image

You may notice, that the image in Layer 3 is now over the main continent. Layer 3 has higher priority, and thus it loads up first.

d. Move it over to to the left hand side where it doesn’t overlap with any of the island.

This looks OK, but I want something different.

e. Hold down Shift and right click on the line surrounding the image.

You will notice it will start to rotate in any direction you want based on how you move your mouse.

f. Move the image so the small area (or the bears head) is on top. Make sure it is level and let go of the right mouse button before you let go of Shift.

Now to me, that actually looks better. And look at that island to the east near its feet, doesn’t that look like a pony?

Now something I want you to remember. You see this map in 2 dimensions, and it looks like Bear continent is far from the other continent. But if this were a globe, on the other side, it is a short distance if we were to make this image 3 dimensions. So I am going to move Bear Continent closer.

So, don’t make it too close to the edge, because the space between each continent and the edge of the map will connect together for the globe. If you’re OK with them being that close, that’s fine, but if you want some space between then, try to picture your square map as a sphere.

One last step.

10. Merge Layers
a. In the Layers box, fourth button from the left is Merge Layer Down.
b. Select Layer 3, and hit Merge Layer Down.

Now Layer 2 and 3 are one Layer.

c. Select Layer 2, and hit Merge Layer Down.

Now instead of 3 layers, there is only 1.

d. Lastly, click on the right most button for Layers, called Properties.

e. Change the name to Default Map.

11. Now do File->Save.

Make sure file type is PDN. This is the project save, so at any time we can come in and continue where we left off. I’m calling it Worldbuilding Project. In the next screen, leave everything on its defaults and hit OK. You should now have an map that looks like this:

  Worldbuilding Project

Now look at that. I mean really look at it. Look at the lakes, the islands, the land masses. I can’t draw at all and now I have a map that looks organic. That right there amazes me. It’s breath taking…yet we are only just beginning.

In our next lesson, we’ll be going over Oceans and Land, starting to design both. This will involve putting some color to our map and getting more structure to how we will do things.

Some things to think about, pick where you think you will want your deserts to go. Might seem weird, but it will be very important later, or just do what I do. There should be a file below for you to download to have what I have to make the process easier, but I do recommend you play around with this to get some ideas of what you want for your map.

I thank Donjon, whoever he is, that is an amazing tool.


Help Keep This Site Running

This site is a great achievement for me, but due to being unable to work, I may not be able to keep this site running. With your help, I might be able to.

I need $125 by October 30th, 2017. Anything you can give will help.


  1. Sam says:

    For the iteration thing: the way a fractal generator works is that it does a series of passes: the first one defines some very basic shapes, and then each successive pass changes it on a smaller scale than the previous pass. This setting controls how many passes it does before it stops.

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