First up is the popular, free, 3D rendering program. Yes, there is a paid Pro version, but the basic version is still free for non-commercial use. You can get SketchUp for downloading here.
For a few folks, SketchUp might be the ultimate in mapping. Even I have to admit that being able to render a map in 3D is wicked cool. I've seen some game products done in SketchUp in a style that makes it look like it was drafted by hand and given an artist's once-over.
Me....I'm a bit too lazy to play with SketchUp, at least for now. I have enough problems mapping in 2D, much less in 3D. Given my predilection for using the computer to stitch together assorted map parts you'd think this would be the perfect thing for me.
I can, however totally get behind SketchUp if I get to download some wonderful renderings that other people have already created, which is really my main point in today's post. Mr. Hook, a graphic designer/illustrator from Nebraska, put together an awesome sampling of 3D RPG renderings. He calls it his GENERICA Project and I think the results are amazing. I'm only going to share one picture of his work, the quintessential tavern:
Seriously, don't you want to start off your adventure in a place like this? Since it is 3D you can move about the space virtually and change things however you want. Too many tables? Easily fixed. Needs a larger fireplace....done.
Even if you don't want to make your own models, I think you'll get a ton of mileage out of SketchUp and Mr. Hook's GENERICA Project files.