10 Rules for Believable Fantasy Maps

When you create a map of a fantasy world, you do what you want. Who can say how plate tectonics will work, for example, in a world where wizards can literally move mountains by uttering a few magic words? Sure, root our world in reality, but bypassing the rules in places makes a fantastic world, well, fantastic! This card is still not “perfect” because there is no perfect singular; The permutations of acceptable are enormous. In fact, it is statistically likely that a map of a particular region is not perfect. Even on Earth, strange “non-Earth-like” features occur here and there. For detailed maps the size of a continent, I advise you to consciously add one or two strange features. The map I drew has credible characteristics at the limit. The great river from the south flows through a mountain range to the coast.* The barrier islands are a little far from the coast to the northwest. And vegetation patterns could indicate an inverted rotation (relative to Earth) of the planet.* Maps can in some cases be an immediate introduction to the world we are visiting. Think of Keith Thompson`s map of Europe that he made for Scott Westerfeld`s Leviathan series. The map gives a clear picture of the alternative history of Leviathan and its struggle between mechanically minded clan nuclei and biomanipulative Darwinists. A map can even convey how people in a culture see the world – even if the state of the world itself is doubtful.

Consider the cards made by fans based on George Orwell`s 1984. As we will see below, there are many considerations, such as the realism you want it to be. In this guide, we will look in detail at how to create a fantastic map. Jason Thompson, an io9 contributor who owns some truly spectacular D&D cards as well as maps from H.P. Lovecraft`s Dreamlands, points out that just looking at a map can spark a person`s imagination. He told us, “You`re looking at a map and this area is waiting for you to go. Look at this whole country! Mountains and coasts follow general patterns, but few strict and fast rules. This is not the case with rivers; Rivers are dictated by simple logic and never deviate without a lot of magic. Even the most energetic hand gestures won`t save you from ridicule if one of your rivers flows uphill or follows a circular loop. Really, there`s nothing better than real maps to improve your understanding of geography and find inspiration than looking at what cartographers mapping the real world have done. He too is inspired by other fantastic cartographers, Schley tells us that real maps stimulate his imagination: Schley tells us that the biggest mistake he sees that new cartographers make is not spending enough time on their maps: if you want more help and support in writing, as well as more advice on creating fantastic maps, Why not join my online writing group? But in short, it can help define the physical parameters of your world – whether it`s a desert, a wetland, etc. And it can also be helpful to look at some of the cultural aspects of your fantasy world.

So where are the cities and how they have grown and evolved over time to shape the landscape around them. This fractal nature means you can focus on the coast of a small territory or study the edges of a continent, and the contours* should be pretty much the same. In fact, if you don`t feel very inspired, you can take an enlarged island from Earth* and make it your fantastic continent or vice versa.* However, as a geologist, I have a fundamental problem with advice of this kind applied to a fantastic setting. This advice presupposes that the normal laws of physics and geology apply. However, a fantastic setting assumes that they do NOT. Magic, by definition, violates the laws of physics as they apply to our world. It is extremely naïve to assume that this will not affect geology. A great example was discussed earlier in the comments: Middle-earth. The Misty Mountains annoyed me at school because they are not natural. Then I read the Silimarillion, and it made sense: it was a shield wall built by Morgoth, not at all something created by tectonics! Thompson particularly likes maps that convey basic information about the world remotely, but then offer “meaningful up close detail.” There are several ways to do this.

On the one hand, you can add heraldic symbols to your map, small illustrations of monsters, representations of events. But you can also do it in a smaller way, with the style of your legend and your compass rose, your font – even just with the way you draw your geographical features. Consider how Boston, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. are different when drawn in the style of J.R.R. Tolkien. If you look at the fantastic maps beautifully illustrated on posters, in books and on the Internet and wish you could make such incredible pieces of world-building, then you are in luck. We have some guidelines to make your cards better, more beautiful and more understandable. Armed with this knowledge, you will find it much easier to create a fantastic map. The idea that a map must follow the rules of tectonics as they apply to our world to be realistic is like saying that magic cannot exist in a fantasy environment because it would be unrealistic.

As long as the setting is consistent internally, it should not be relevant whether or not it follows Earth`s tectonics. Consider all the wonderful maps – both from fans and officially – that we`ve seen for A Song of Ice and Fire. We`ve seen maps that actually capture a snapshot of the world at the time george R.R. Martin`s series takes place. We have seen the history of the world told through a series of political maps. We even saw a map of the geological history of the world. Each of these cards looks at Martin`s world history, but in a different way. Are you stuck in a drawing track of huge continents full of forests and mountain ranges? Try drawing a map of a city or village. Thompson notes that he doesn`t see enough maps representing three-dimensional space — towers, connections, and representations of cities that capture not only their layout, but also their horizon.

Challenge yourself: See how well you understand the different types of space and geography. Even if you don`t get it quite right the first few times, practicing different types and techniques of cards can make you a better card maker. Getting an idea of what cards should look like can take some time, especially since there are so few fixed and quick rules.* This is where analyzing other cards – real and fictional – can help. Most cards are fairly reasonable questions; It`s rare to find one that is so ridiculously poorly designed that it can illustrate all the “don`ts” of mapping in one place. It is also important to remember that this is only a guide. Much of the fantasy writing revolves around the creation of new worlds. Creating fantastic maps is only part of this process. Here are some flow placement rules, in order of importance from “avoiding deviations at all costs” to “explaining yourself when you get creative”: It`s not easy to create a realistic fantasy map. We can spend something by spending what looks like an age correctly positioning a river, connecting it to the mountains and taking into account the lakes. Similarly, we might get stuck trying to determine the most appropriate climate for your fantasy world or how that climate has shaped the development of your flora and fauna.

When working with a printed book, you often have no choice but to work in black and white. But color can do a lot to improve the look of your card. Do you want your card to have a picture book feel? Look at the illustrations that evoke the feeling you are aiming for and study their color palettes. Do you want your world to feel like it comes from a certain moment in human history? Thompson says he sometimes finds an old card he really likes, using that card`s color palette as artistic inspiration. I`m in the process of creating a fantasy map (with Wonderdraft) for my fantasy sequel to Dartfoil, which should also have had a map (but I didn`t know anything about Wonderdraft at the time!). I came here for tips on how to create a realistic map and found all sorts of information that basically boils down to this: Get a degree in geology and mapping! I want to thank you, as a geologist, for 🙂 highlighted geology. Your mention of the mountains is very nice. My biggest problem with a lot of fantastic cards is that they are so empty. There are practically no cities between important places. Mountains accompany rivers in their meaning when it comes to learning how to create a fantastic map. As we have seen, rivers start here.

Some of my favorite sources of inspiration are the people I grew up with, like Steven Biesty and the stable of artists that National Geographic relied on for their wonderful article illustrations and flyers. Later, I discovered Daniel Reeve`s work on LotR film maps and started spending more time with historical cartographers such as Al Idrisi and Henry Pelham.