Up to this point, I’ve covered basic geography, rules and climates. Now we get to more detailed parts of mapmaking: cities and political borders.
Cities and political borders are some of the most interesting parts of a fantasy world. They describe the people that live there. This section is often the one that takes the most careful planning, and every fantasy is different because of it. But, here are some general suggestions you can use to help start out:
If you look at the actual world, many cities are formed near resources (especially rivers) and many countries are limited by geographical borders. For example, in the early days of the United States of America, almost all the states stopped at the Appalachian Mountains and its rivers.
Many countries’ size depends on geography and the ability to maintain sovereignty. Sovereignty, in simple terms, is the ability to defend your independence from others. Generally, the more powerful the military, the greater the ability to expand or maintain borders. There are exceptions to this rule in fantasy.
For instance, if there’s a large nation next to a small one, the large nation has a large army, so it would make sense it could take over the small nation, correct? But, what if the small nation was a country of powerful magicians? The size of the army isn’t always a direct link to the size of a nation.
Those are two basic things that can really add a sense of realism to a tale or world without the reader even realizing it. Because maps designed in that manner are so natural, it easily fits into the mind. Now we talk about the other major factor of political borders: people.
People are what really make a nation in a fantasy land, or any land in general. However, most people have a complex history behind their land. So, it would make sense that some background would have to be worked on to help provide a clear picture.
This is often the part that can take the longest to plan and work on. Tolkien, creator of Lord of the Rings, planned very carefully everything about his world’s inhabitants and culture. This background information can really make a book or game shine.
It may take a while, and cause major frustration, but in the end, this background creation and political borders will create a vivid, tasteful world.