I think most fantasy worlds have too much in common with how real life history developed. For instance, a world with magic cannot possibly have the same techological and scientific breakthroughs that we have had. How does this affect city planning? military planning? cartography? etc.
Graphically, the mountains, forests and villages have a very marked way of being done. The burned paper is a cliche too.
It's like someone said here,, we project what we know into what we don't know. But for what we don't know we must think completely different things.
I completely agree; however, I think that people need to project what they know into what they don't. Art says something about the truth, and cartography must therefore contain its own truths as well as original aspects
Those elements are not just decoration, they serve a function and thus should be easily recognizable. Conforming to well established conventions makes recognition of the map symbols much faster and more certain, so it is no wonder that many maps follow such conventions. That should not be considered cliche.
Originally Posted by ThoseAnimeTimez
I completely agree with Ghostman
There's a reason what we do is (often) termed a "setting". It's because a novel (ha: etymology: novel=new thing :-) ) has to have some elements that *aren't* new , so the reader can relate to the fantasy/ unique/ new elements. A jewel in a ring will often have very plain prongs holding it. It's always seemed nuts to me for a complicated painting to have a gold, decorated, complex, heavy frame. I understand the impulse - "this is an important, rare, beautiful thing, therefore I have to provide it with a fancy, beautiful, place to rest." The Japanese with their torii shrines make sense - enough of a frame to point out a beautiful view, without needing scads of attention drawn to itself.
So the elements of *particularly* a fantasy map become a shorthand to convey an impression, to create a mood, without having to tiresomely build a detailed backstory. Same as the 'standard' tropes of a fantasy story/movie/play -- shorthand. I'll steal from an earthly language in naming places specifically to invoke a central European or oriental or arctic or south seas island mood. True, I'll sometimes then skewer that mood with intentionally jarring countermelodies - the Tong gangster behavior in African garb and manners. The bronze armor in outer space. The steampunk mechanics in dinosaur society. But on purpose, and in moderation :-).
I am all for intentional inaccuracy in fantasy maps to restrict the in-story reader to what info he likely "should" have, as well as to simulate the overdetailing of unknown spaces - from 'here be dragons' to arbitrarily wiggly rivers to Atlantis and Mu just over the horizon. And I will cheerfully hide my River Police badge if someone is obviously mimicking things like the Blaeu China map :-).
My favorite (anti-favorite?) map cliche extends to the world being depicted -- when a certain society is sketched without enough infrastructure to sustain it. The alien planets in TV shows with a single village housing human-ish folks, having wrought iron implements with no mines or smelters, board-built houses with no sawmills, fancy textiles with no flax ,cotton, or silkworms growing.
The 'semi European' kingdom with a couple of scattered cities, a handful of villages, and none of those same mines, mills, farming, or craft-trading. Granted, hamlets and villages can fall off a regional map for simplification - still, an author or cartographer obviously sometimes INTENDS there be zero habitation between point a and b, where a 'proper' logical feudal-heritage European-ish society would have scads of peasants, serfs, freeholders, and general commerce going on.
Cities with no hinterlands, no umbra, no suburbs.
But if the story's good or the map is pretty, I'll suspend disbelief and forgive :-)
I think part of it has to do with the assumption that, unless something is specified from the outset to be different to reality, then it's the same as our world.
I think "cliche" might be the wrong word. For me cartography came from the early RPG's where the cities (for the most part) were European at their roots and magic was just a fact of life. I am probably the most guilty of "naming things for where or what or why they are" Names like "Riverhewn" named for the island that was formed by two rivers. "Southrun" because quite simply it is South of "Northrun" I also think that a good of deal of what we depict is tradition. We all have been inspired by what has gone before and the vast majority of 'Fantasy" is forests and dungeons and magic. It is also towns called "Greyhawk" and "Waterdeep" I for one enjoy the "cliches" of Fantasy and Fantasy mapping.
I am the breath of Dragons...The Song of Mountains...The Stories of Rivers....The Heart of Cities.... I am A Cartographer....
Kingdom Of Shendenflar Campaign Setting (WIP)
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I think most of us would agree. I, for one, enjoy the various cliches; however, on this thread, we're simply identifying cliches, not criticising their use.
While it's super common, and entirely reasonable in a hobbyist's work, I have a pet peeve that really bugs me in professional fiction.
Flat maps with cookie-cutter elevation. I am as guilty as the next guy, but geographically that makes no sense! Elevation and slope are distinct concepts, mountains have vegetation on one side, and rivers hardly ever travel through flat terrain. If the land is really flat, it's probably a marsh. And that's another thing: homogenous wetland. Is it a tree-filled swamp, or a reedy marsh, or what? Usually it's undefined 'swamp,' and when it IS defined, it's wrong.
Tl:dr - terrain that doesn't make geographic sense, but instead looks like it was distributed randomly for aesthetic purposes.
That's an excellent point. It'd be really easy to fall into wanting to distribute different things around a map, especially trying to include too many climate regions or geographical features in one single map.
Originally Posted by Tomalak
The details about how vegetation grows on mountains and all the other geographical stuff is something I'd have never considered.