Should You Use a Map for Worldbuilding?

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Do You Need Maps to Worldbuild?

When worldbuilding, you may wonder whether or not creating maps for your world is necessary. The short answer is that having a visual representation of your world can help you generate regions, filling those regions, and ensuring that you have a lived-in world rather than big gaps where nothing is happening. Here’s everything you need to know about the benefits of creating a map for your world. 

Why Creating a Map Can Help Your Tabletop Campaign

Those who want to worldbuild for a tabletop campaign can find that generating a map for their world is extremely helpful. Before you start your campaign, create a few different maps. The first should be your continent. If you’re already using an existing world, then simply find a map of the continent. They likely have one. Those who are homebrewing their entire campaign, including the world, should start off with designing their continent. 

A map of your continent allows you to easily break it up into regions or kingdoms. You can include certain land barriers like large lakes or mountains to break these regions or realms up. Seeing your world as a whole gives you a visual representation of the kind of scope your adventurers are going to be placed in.

From a large continent map, you can then start to make region maps. These are similar to the continent map in that it still lacks the details of a city or town map. However, it grants you the ability, as the dungeon master or game master, to know what towns, farms, cities, dungeons, and other dangers lurk within the region. 

I love using region maps, myself. This is partially because I’m a visual learner. I need to see it in order to remember it and find inspiration from it. Region maps are also helpful in determining distances. One of the hardest parts of setting up a campaign is informing your adventurers how long it’s going to be to travel to a certain location. While you can always break up the travel with some bandit fights or side quests, you may also want your adventurers to arrive there as quickly as you can. 

A region map keeps your distances ordered and helps you make sense of the various distances that your adventurers will be traveling numerous times within that region. 

Region maps can also give your adventurers a sense of mystery. When I run a campaign, I allow my adventurers to see the continent map. It seems logical to me that they likely would have seen a map of the country at some point in their lives (with rare exceptions, of course). I do not, however, allow them to see the full region map if their characters have spent most of their lives in a single city. 

Instead, I’ll make a map with a fog over certain parts of the region where they haven’t explored. That sense of mysterious, a desire to explore, will encourage them to seek adventures in the misty unknown and further fill out their map. 

The final map that campaigners should create is a city or town map. This can help you as a world builder because it gives you a general layout of the city or town. When you need to describe it, the map can be extremely useful. It may even be something that you give to your players if they manage to find one or ask someone to create one for them. 

City or town maps can also help you create several quests that exist throughout the city. Even if your adventurers never unlock some of them, the map can contain a few secret DM notes to yourself on where those quests are located and what they involve. 

How Creating a Map Can Help Game Designers

Concept art exists for a reason. It gives game designers, animators, and other cogs in the game maker mechanical wheel direction. Maps are just another form of concept art, although they can certainly be used in the game itself. Creating a map for game design is just as useful as it is for those running a tabletop campaign. Except maps can also serve a more technical purpose for game designers.

Just like tabletop games, game designers should have a continent, region, and city/town map for reference. Yet game designers can also use these maps to physically mark where they want quests to take place or where they want specific levels to be. 

When it comes time to  create said levels or quests, your entire team knows where to just place them visually. It can also help with art design. A continent map can inform your designers that one part of the continent may be a bleak desert. As a result, the region and city/town map should reflect that. 

Designers and developers don’t want to create a lush city of trees and grass in a region that is known for its wasteland. Maps can keep everyone on the same page. 

Why Novel Writers Should Create a Fictional Map

Novel worldbuilders can also benefit from the use of a map. While I don’t always plan out a detailed map for a city or town that my characters visit, I do like to sketch out a continent or region map. Again, because I’m a visual learner, I like to see the journey that my characters are taking as I write it. 

In particular, I print out a large region map and place it on a pegboard. Then I use thumbtacks to mark off notes where cities or places of interest are located. From there, I use a string to mark the path of my characters. Not only does it help me keep track of their story so far, but it also helps me fill my world. 

One problem with attempting to worldbuild without a map is that you end up with a lot of dead space. In some cases, your characters or players may not notice it. However, if you only have a few regions with sparse adventures to be had there, then they’re going to start to notice and feel that the world is quite small. 

Novel writers should create a continent map and region maps. Whether you use it to track or just help fill in the gaps with towns, wastelands, or just undiscovered country, you’ll find that having the visual before you can really help with your inspiration and keeping track of your lore thus far. 

Start Creating Your Worldbuilding Maps!

Clearly, creating and using a map can help any facet in which worldbuilding needs to take place. If you’re able to keep it all in your head, then all the power to you. For those who are like me and prefer visual representations, a map is your best friend. We’ll go into detail about the different ways you can create maps later. For now, start with a simple sketch and let us know in the comments some of the things you keep in mind when creating a map for your world, region, or city/town.

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