View Full Version : Difference between a Pure Magical Fantasy World and Realistic Fantasy World

05-01-2012, 01:03 PM
I have noticed that the majority of cartographers on here favor a realistic fantasy map over a pure fantasy map. What I mean is that the terrain and how the land formation is mapped out is realistic and is complimentary to our Earth. The only difference is the shapes, names and locations of these environments on the maps we make.

Then there are those maps that are made for pure fantasy and doesn't necessarily comply with our Earth's formations or ecosystems. And if it does it's a veers off it. I guess these maps use the excuse "magic" made it happen.

I am just wondering why that those cartographers who make maps and use that excuse "magic" is the reason why that biome or climate doesn't make sense or whatever. How come those types of maps seem to get harsher criticism than realistic maps? Technically, it's their world and they can do what they want and set the laws of nature for it.

Another thing I would like to mention is that when I think of a Magical World, I see a vast array of different types of environments and interesting things that you may not find on earth or perhaps a different way to show it. When I think of a realistic fantasy world I imagine the essentials of different types of environments where nothing "fantasy" is predominant on them.

So I guess in my conclusion is that most of the posters on here favor a realistic fantasy map over a pure "magical" fantasy map?

Just wanted to write down both sides of the coin and see why some favor a realistic approach versus a pure magical approach.

Also another question, I assume that the majority of worlds on here are for D&D campaigns correct?

05-01-2012, 02:08 PM
knowledge is a commodity in our culture. it is also a control mechanism. as readily as i compose this post, people are eager to display their knowledge, sometimes to assist, sometimes to belittle, sometimes between those two points. and sometimes because they are parasitised by an authority and are compelled by the nature of their composition to act out the interests of the authority.

as a culture, we are still new to the paradigm of the internet, and the forces at play haven't necessarily reached equilibrium. using computers allows us to make our maps look like the accredited material we have had handed down to us by precedents established when computers were less available, and realism is a skill we want to be good at, and incisively dictate what realism/skill is and what it isn't, for ourselves and "for others".

i think that the increased diversity we see online in creativity will eventually lead us more towards the individual as the seat of authority, and greater tolerance towards others who diverge from our ideals. as a culture, it is going to be difficult to reach that point since the culture bears many authoritative, counterindividualist entities that may manifest through us as we participate in it.


i'm like totally into people making whatever kind of map they want. the criticism i've seen in this venue is toned waay down to what i've seen in other fields that combine creativity and technique.

05-01-2012, 02:26 PM
Hey Farsight,

I'm a brand new member here and I think my project falls somewhere between fantasy and reality. My DnD campaign is definitely high on the magical fantasy end with flying cities and flying sailing ships. The world has literally been broken in two and in "reality" could likely never exist without magical or divine involvement. However, I am trying to draw heavily on 'real world' elements in order to create the overall look of my world. Using 'real' world models helps gives me a framework around which to build. It also provides a guide of sorts for keeping the story elements consistent, but since I'm creating something that can't exist in reality it still forces me to stretch my mind. I guess I'm looking for the best of both worlds.

dlaporte aka Dave

05-01-2012, 04:46 PM
I think, it shouldn't be a problem as long as you note that it was created by a specific magic or cataclysm. My maps usually go like this, Base world, + Ancient Magic + Cataclysm.

05-01-2012, 08:23 PM
I'm not a professional mapper and will never be one but I feel what you're saying FarsightX3. This is a cartography site though. Mapping is what most of the people here either do or love. Most of the criticism is either "lite" or helpful, even if the map is based in a fantasy setting. A strong leaning towards "realistic" isn't bad in itself and advise that helps it be so isn't either. I agree with xoxos that most of the comments here are much kinder when compared to other forums. It is naturally easier to give advice on things that have some basis in the real world (its all we have so far) than to give advice or constuctive criticism on on imaginary world or map where the only person who knows the details is the person posting that map.

05-13-2012, 09:47 PM
For me a world needs rules that it cannot break however these rules do not need to follow the real worlds rules for instance you could have a group of floating islands because a wizards like to live on them but you could not them have them appear in the country that has no wizards it has to be internally consistent.

05-13-2012, 11:46 PM
I wouldn't say they are all create for D&D. Most are created for RPG gaming or just for the love of creating a world even if it never sees a game table. There are other systems for rpgs than D&D but if you meant maps created for gaming then I would say that has driven the creation of quite a few if not the majority you see here. we also have a few real world professionals who do geographical maps and stuff for real.

I still barely think of myself as a cartographer since I see myself more as an artist who is currently working around cartography.

If we were to throw reality out the window it could make it suddenly very hard to communicate with one another. Someone draws a face with two eyes on one side of the head and we are thinking...is this painter blind? Reality based mapping just makes immediate sense to everyone.

If you jumped into a car and there were nothing but buttons I think you might be a little unsure of what you were dealing with. If you created rivers that ran uphill that would be very odd and would certainly bother the more OCD of us. Now, if you wanted to have rivers run uphill then we need an explanation. Just like any author who writes about an unknown race has to explain to us who and what they are about, if you make maps that don't relate to what everyone is familiar with that is fine but you have to explain it somehow or we just won't get it.

05-14-2012, 08:49 AM
Even the most fantastical setting needs a level of verisimilitude to prevent the suspension of disbelief. Mapping is an easy way to provide it because the nature of the map provides information on a wide range of things. Gravity ( water runs downhill ), basic thermodynamics ( climate, wind, etc. ), and social interactions ( populations, towns, and travel routes ) can all indicated indirectly by maps. These things give the players something they have direct experiences with and can relate to as a grounding for the fantasy aspects of the setting.

05-14-2012, 11:55 AM
Like Ishmael said, it's really as simple as the fact that most magical worlds, still use Earth-based physics. The magic rules for the setting might have all sorts of fantastic results, but most of these worlds still have gravity, wind, seasons - the sorts of things that really define how our world looks.

05-18-2012, 10:17 AM
I favor realistic fantasy style for all artworks, not just the maps. There was a pretty good article about the three possible styles for fantasy work, could apply to maps as well. Check out AD&D blog.

05-23-2012, 04:01 PM
This is a common area of concern, Farsight. It all depends on the artist.

There are some of us that rely heavily on tectonic action and Earth geology to make our maps (myself included). But for the fantastic ones, they start with that base map and use "magic" to explain certain ground-breaking instances (i.e. deity battles) to explain certain regions.

There are times when you can get extremely creative and use magic as the sole reason. There is an interesting discussion about this in here.

Brian Smaller
05-30-2012, 10:51 PM
A long legacy of role-playing using Robin Crossby's Harnworld and the fabulous maps by Eric Hotz, Crossby and others has left me a fan of the realistic fantasy world map. Kelestia Games's layered PDF maps of Harn are just fabulous - if you get the chance take a look at them.

05-31-2012, 11:47 AM
It might also be helpful to consider the "purpose," so to speak, of the world. Most fantasy worlds, particularly those created for roleplaying, are born from the swords-and-horses genre, where the world is very Earth-like. In these kinds of worlds, if something is happening that defies expectations, it should be explained, or at least noted as deliberately unusual. For RPGs in particular, it is necessary that as few of the players' expectations be violated as possible so that the assumptions they make about the world are more likely to be accurate, and their actions therefore more likely to be successful.

On the other hand, there are fantasy worlds that are truly fantastic. Narnia, for instance, doesn't follow many of the typical rules because it is allegorical; the meaning behind the way features are arranged is more important than whether those features would have arisen naturally. Donaldson's The Land is a place where reality itself is so fluid that the properties of substances completely change from one novel to the next. In a world like that, verisimilitude would work against the author because the entire point is that you can take nothing for granted.

05-31-2012, 01:49 PM
Consistency is important, in particular for writing, so if you break rules and you know why, and that is consistent, I have no issue with fanciful maps. Some of the aesthetically prettiest maps certainly aren't "Real" and they get heaped with praise. The harshest criticisms I've seen on here (which are generally polite but blunt) is when someone actually asks for criticism on the reality of a project. Or something is just visually jarring. These forums are actually one heck of a combination of art and science, so long as one isn't overly sensitive to criticism on one's baby, LOL.