When creating a “world map” for a fantasy setting, I generally find it rather pointless to actually make a map that shows the entire world. Most fantasy worlds aim to be late medieval to early modern in the kind of world they describe and in these time periods much of the Earth was yet unknown even to the people with the most complete maps that existed. Also, an Earth-sized planet is massive and there is no way you could ever actually visit all those places, no matter how many books you write or games you play. At the very most, what a setting can practically make use of, is a region that covers all the major climate zones and ecological environments.
While the distance from pole to pole is a bit over 20,000 km, the north to south length you need for a map that provides all the environments you could ever wish for is much shorter than that. I took some measurements on world maps and the numbers that showed up again and again were all in the range of 3,000 to 3,500 km. Or in fantasy units, 2,000 miles.
It is the distance that takes you from the northern coast of Africa to the northernmost extend of the Baltic Sea. It’s the distance from Russia across all of Mongolia and China to northern Vietnam. It’s from Hudson Bay in Canada to Cuba and from Alaska to Baja California. The distance from Rio de Janeiro to the Falkland Isles.
If you really want the full range of possible climates from the thickest tropical jungles to the permanently frozen artic tundra it’s more like 3,000 miles, but with 2,000 you are already on the pretty safe side in your ability to cover any landscapes you might want to put into your world.
I was unhappy with the last map I had for the Ancient Lands and after having decided to give the world more of Planetary Romance feel (just without lasers and airships; think Jungle Dark Sun) I made this new one. I’ve been feeling quite happy about it for three days now and usually I think my great ideas are terrible the next morning. That I still like it is a strong indicator that it’s going to work. (Creating a good map is a bit like creating good names. You start with a “not completely terrible placeholder” and once you used it for a week or two you no longer think it needs to be changed.)
As you can see, it’s very bare bones. Much more simplified and abstract than previous maps that I made when I was thinking primarily from the perspective of an RPG campaign setting writer heavily influenced by the maps of the Forgotten Realms, Eberron, and Grayhawk. But now that I am looking at it more from the perspective of a Sword & Sorcery writer, maps of that kind really seem like total overkill. And even when you look at RPGs that are not D&D, a great number of them have maps that are just as much detailed as this one, if not even more simple. The only case where you really need a big map with satellite photo type detail is when you’re doing hexcrawling games. When you’re looking at campaigns and adventures that are more story driven and, dare I use the term, “cinematic”, you don’t really need a map. Star Wars doesn’t have maps. Indiana Jones and Mass Effect have maps that are no more detailed than this one. The maps of Conan and The Witcher are like this, and Kane and Barsoom don’t have any. Satellite photo maps are only useful when you’re tracking daily movement through trackless wilderness. Otherwise you can simply say “the party leaves the village and after a number of days they reach the city”.
If you remember earlier maps (I doubt I have any regular readers that devoted), you might notice that there are considerably fewer regions on this one than there had been before. This week I did a lot of consolidating and discarding redundancy, which did help quite a bit in making the world feel more crisp and having a sharper profile. Someone I mentioned this to quoted some French artist who said “Perfection is reached not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” Which I can get behind. The number of different peoples is down from 20 to 12 with lizardmen being completely gone, monsters are down from 110 to 50, and I discarded all the gods of intermediate power between cosmic forces and local spirits of the land. It’s an animistic world after all. You don’t need the god of hunting. Hunters in any given place only need their spirit of hunting. And the same approach also went into redesigning the map.
There’s been some maps of the Ancient Lands before in the past, so if you’ve seen any and remember them, the new map doesn’t really look much different than the old ones.
The lables seem to be pretty much unreadable, but I think the coasts and terrain are hopefully still fully visible. The main change I made was to remove the open plains of Sanved on the western shore of the Inner Sea and cover it all with forest again, which is actually what you would get on the eastern coast of a continent. (Deserts are always on the western coast because of wind patterns. Except Arabia.) I also beefed the Vestanen mountains up in size and moved them a bit more south, as they will now be the new homeland of the Vandren.
The Border Hills in the west and the Great Plains beyond them are now completely gone. Nobody knows what lies in that direction and when the forests might ever end. In the north I reshaped the Rayalka mountains a bit, but you might be able to make out that there is still a big question mark in the kaas homeland of Yakun. Got to do something with it, as I love the kaas, but that will have to wait for later.
One thing my maps never show satisfactorary is the scale. This area is pretty huge. (Not when compared to those map nuts who do whole globes, but still distances that would take weeks to cover by ship and months on foot.) That bulge in the north is about as big as China and the whole map covers an area that ranges from the Subarctics in the north to the tropics in the South. Imagine you had the Russian pacific coast on the north edge of the map and Vietnam on the south edge. You probably could get all of Europe on this map (though perhaps without the northern parts of Norway, Sweden, and Finland).
You might think that the sea coasts are boringly straight and there is going to be more detail in more refined maps, but mostly this is how real coastlines look like. Europe and Indonesia are the exception. Look at Africa, South America, and most of North America and you’ll see that there are very few bays or major islands except for the arctic regions.
Something I’ve seen when searching for other fantasy maps as inspirations and which I still want to add are some major inland lakes. On Earth these are very rare and most fantasy maps do them pretty unrealistically, but they still look interesting and add some variety to the endless sea of trees. Also allows me to do more boat stuff even far away from the coasts. :p