So, you’ve thought about your fantasy land and where and in what circumstances the basic laws of physics and climate apply, now we get to the next step: creating a geographical map.
There’s a myriad of ways you can do this. Hand-drawing a map is good if you’re the artistic type. If you don’t have the best hand with a pencil or ink, you can always go digital in a program like Photoshop or GIMP.
There are very convenient programs that allow you to make a good map if you aren’t the best digital or traditional artist. My personal favorite of these is a program called Campaign Cartographer 3 (CC3) that is relatively inexpensive and offers a very usable program that can create terrific maps of any kind. It even comes with YouTube instructional videos to help you get started.
A link to their website here if you’re interested: http://www.profantasy.com/products/cc3.asp
So, now that you’ve decided a medium, it’s time to actually create the map. The first thing you want to make are the actual shapes of the landmasses themselves. Rivers need something to flow through and mountains need to have something to sit on. This is the point where a real-life atlas can be a huge help. If you look in detail at the land masses of our world, very few of them are blocky, and all of them have jagged, curving coastlines. Very rarely will you ever encounter a landmass with sharp, hard corners.
Unless the laws and rules you laid down beforehand demand you make sharp corners or boxes, don’t. Try to achieve the natural kind of looks you see in our real world maps, but don’t become overly obsessed. The beautiful thing about a fantasy map is that you can always rework it if you really need to.
Now that you’ve created the landmasses that everything can sit on, you go about adding things like mountains, forests, marshes, etc… the climate rules you decided earlier will help here. Weather can be a big factor in deciding what kind of plants, grasses and even rocks can be in a certain location. That sounds intimidating, but it’s easier than it sounds. Let’s get started adding things to our landmass.
- Mountains: I recommend that you put mountains on your map first. Many rivers originate from mountains, and forests, deserts, even marshes can be affected by them. Mountains are a major source of climate control, as they dictate winds, rainfall and wildlife.
- Rivers: Rivers normally come next. Because rivers always flow from high to low, having your mountains in place can definitely help. Rivers enable forests to grow, and are often places where cities or towns are built. The less water runs through a place, generally the less life is there. Just remember this one important rule when it comes to rivers: When rivers flow a certain direction, all of the water flows that direction. What I mean by this is you start with small springs and many small streams that add up to one large river, not the other way around. If you want to add lakes or seas, now is a good time to do it, when you can still connect the rivers easily to the main bodies of water.
- Forests: Forests are great things that help inspire towns and often spring up around a large body of water or series of rivers. Any place with heavy rainfall can make a good place for a forest. When drawing these, keep in mind that people will settle by them for resources and that the further away from the water you are, generally the smaller the trees.
These three things will really give your land shape and set you up for a very easy leap to the next step in the process of making the world. It also allows you to fully see your world and know what kind of things a party of adventuring people will be up against when getting from place to place. Keep in mind that these are just suggestions to make the process of making it more immersive. You don’t have to follow a specific order all the time, and at the end of the day, it’s you’re world and you can do what you want with it.
Next time, I’ll be covering the creation of towns and political borders, which is not so hard as you might think… or is it?