How to Map a Desert
November 10, 2020
November 10, 2020

How to Map a Desert

How to Map a Desert



November 10, 2020

Mapping a desert sounds easy, right? Select sand, click fill, and done. But there is a lot more to keep in mind if you want to make it visually interesting and engaging for your players, and today we are going to talk about these things!

If we want to map a desert, we should look at some “don’ts” before we move on to the “dos”.

  • If we are thinking about a real desert, the road doesn’t make a lot of sense.
  • An oasis is fine, but we would have greens around the water, not random palms on different parts of the map
  • Even though the map is not very full, there is too much repetitive clutter for a desert
  • The map is just boring to look at

For this tutorial we will use unedited RPG Maker MZ tiles again, but unedited does not mean, we don’t change anything with the sheet layout.

You don’t even have to look closely to see how many of the world map ground tiles would work great for a desert as well, right? So before anything else, I will open all Outside tilesets in Gimp, and set a 48*48 grid using Image->Configure Grid.

Then I will use “View->Show Grid” and “View->Snap to grid” and copy-paste everything I want to have added onto these sheets.

This is for example the default outside water. For a desert I will definitely not use the snow and swamp tiles, these can be replaced.

On the other hand, this water from the world map set could be a great alternate water tile, to have that option, I will paste it above the snow water and Save the tileset under a different name - e.g. Desert A1.

Tip: You might have to change the mode of the set from Indexed to RGB, otherwise it might mess the colors up!

I will proceed with the other tiles the same way, this is what I think I might need from Outside A2 merged with what I think I need from World A2:

As you might see, I kept more than I should actually need. Always remember: You can remove and replace stuff you have not used yet later, but especially with places like deserts, there is not that much clutter to place everywhere, so ground variations are very nice to have.

There was also this handful of tiles that I thought could be useful, so I threw them on a blank B/C/D Sheet. They were the dry plants from SF_Outside C, the mountains that could be rocks from Worldmap A2, the dirt from Dungeon B and the big Stone from Worldmap B.

Since most of what we are going to use is already part of Outside, I will create a new tileset slot in the database and copy and paste the default outside set. Then I will replace A1 and A3 and add D to the set, call it Desert and just check/edit the settings for the things that I changed on the sets.

Now, for a desert it is very important to know the purpose of the map.

Nothing is more boring to have the player walk for hours on a giant map with no clue where to go.

There are several things you can do to keep players from getting lost:

  • Have a puzzle, give the player a description on how to pass the giant map, so they keep their eyes open for markings and following the instructions.
  • Have the long straight journey through the boring desert as a cutscene, where your heroes can be seen walking and walking for a bit and then cut to the next part.
  • Have cliffs in the desert, to create a more dungeon like experience
  • Have the map only the necessary size with messages that it is too dangerous to leave the route
  • If you go for a very large map without cliffs, be sure to add some distinct landmarks so player can have a feeling for if they already visited the place before

There are probably more methods you could use, but for now I think, for my map, I will use cliffs to have the player not wander around too aimlessly.

Since I am more the “carving out” type of mapper, I used the top part of the cliff on the whole layer 3 and will proceed by carving out the paths and everything else by using a blank tile.

Since a lot of this requires mapping on top or below something, I do this type of map only by manually switching the layers.

Do not rely on auto-layers here, you will end up with a lot of trouble if you want to add or change things! Shift-Mapping will help a lot with getting the rock walls right and since I use ground variations below and very little on top, most of the cliffs go on layer 3 in my case.

While I usually try to make my maps on the smaller side, for the desert I picked a 50*50 map to have the player feel the sheer size a desert has.

You can of course go bigger, but I want you all to still be able to see what I am doing.

I also added a lot of “holes” into the walls that will make the rims of the map look more interesting than just plain… sand top.

By simply adding the walls and some dry rocklike ground around the rock walls, the map already starts to pop more. To have everything consistent, I went with a basic wall height of 2 tiles for all the walls.

In the next step I will both add more ground variation and more variation to the rock walls.

This already is starting to look very visually interesting.

All the different shaped ground variations and recognizable wall features will lead to the people knowing whether they passed a spot already or not - imagine a map 4 times this size or even larger, you don’t want your players to get totally lost and frustrated.

To make the map even more visually diverse, let’s add some more ground variation and a bit of B/C/D clutter.


Too much clutter will destroy the “deserted” look of the map.

Now there is one last thing left:

To give the map the vibe of really hot and intense sunshine, you can adjust the screen tint in a parallel process for the map.

I found these settings pretty good for the vibe I was going for, if these work for you depends on how you want your map to feel like to the player!

Recommended Posts