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Thread: Where Do You Start?

  1. #1

    Question Where Do You Start?

    Hopefully this is in the right place...

    When you create a map for a new world, where and how do you start? I've heard some people try and create plate tectonics to make a more realistic world. Others just dive right in and create. I'm curious about the processes ya'll used to create your world. ^.^

  2. #2
    "Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall."-Confucius
    Old map and Historic map

  3. #3


    I think this might get more attention in the General thread so I'll move it over there.
    Some folks get into the plates which is cool. I usually start out with my basic land mass shapes and go from there. I do try to make things that make some sense because that makes things more believable but I don't personally get all that much out of plate tectonics and whatnot. Since I've mostly been making fantasy maps I'm not overly concerned with realities although I do aim for plausable. If I really was concerned I'd get into tectonics but I'm here for the art, not so much the math.
    “When it’s over and you look in the mirror, did you do the best that you were capable of? If so, the score does not matter. But if you find that you did your best you were capable of, you will find it to your liking.” -John Wooden

    * Rivengard * My Finished Maps * My Challenge Maps * My deviantArt

  4. #4
    Community Leader Guild Sponsor
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    Diamond's Avatar
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    Jul 2009


    My starting points usually involve cultures/races/situations and their interactions. Once I have a general idea of the cultures, I think about what type of geography and climate is best suited to them and start mapping from there. Sometimes I'll have an idea about some unique or odd geographical feature (like a huge archipelago or a massive impassable mountain range), and I'll throw that in at an early stage, maybe even start the map with that feature and build out from it.

    I'm not an authenticist when it comes to plate tectonics, etc. I try to hold true to actual physical principles, but being super nit-picky takes a lot of the fun out of it for me. Not that there's anything wrong with being exacting as far as your realistic-ness goes, it's just not how I roll.

    In the end, it comes down to what feels right for YOU. My advice is to try creating worlds in a variety of ways and see which sticks for you. You can go extreme-top-down, i.e. creating a solar system-->planet-->geology/geologic history/plate tectonics-->weather/climate--> etc, etc, etc, or you can go the opposite way, starting with a single city or kingdom and building up from there, or some combinations of the two (that's where I tend to fall most of the time).

    That link that Amber provided is full of great info, and I've found this and this and this to be useful.

  5. #5
    Guild Expert jbgibson's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    Alabama, USA


    I'm an engineer. This sequence could be useful in organizing your thoughts and actions.

    Requirements -- what do you want this world FOR? Background for a novel? Setting for a game? Steampunk zombie battles would differ from medieval geofiction, which would differ from straight D&D or Live Action Barsoomian Diplomacy-Martial Arts Since this is not business but pleasure, include what we call Desirements too: if you always wanted to make up stories about jungle adventures, go ahead and say "need jungles". Fascinated by ships? Then say "plenty of seaborne trade & warfare".

    Specifications -- if the first was "why" , this is "what". How much land vs. water (vs. phaseless void.. Don't leave out stuff you want, tempered by your desire for realism/ plausibility).Size? Climates? Inhabitants? History? Terrain? If you have ideas that will call for multiple Amazon-size rivers, that'll influence choices later, so state such up front. Sky? A moon larger than earth's will cause certain effects in subsequent steps.

    Requirements affect specifications. If the game you run is land bound exploring, regardless of any desire for ships, you'll need decent-sized landmasses too.

    Architecture -- what does it fit into? D&D rules? GURPS? Novel #1 on an adjacent planet? Laws of physics (which I'd suggest you stick to reality with: it 's tough to vary much and stay plausible. How does it contribute to other worlds/ lands/ series. You could put physical parameters here or back in specs: will you be printing it out wall-sized? Modeling it 3d for tabletop miniature play?

    Design -- here's where you can delve into tectonics, climatology, geology, and the like. Decide by here whether you'll use software or physical tools you already know, or whether you want to try something new. Run through some tutorials if you need to. Shove some landmasses around, difference some clouds, or wiggle some inked lines into place. Push buttons and set parameters in Fractal Terrains, Wilbur, what-have-you.

    implementation -- if you want to differentiate between this and design, , maybe design is roughing things in and experimenting, while this could be the drawing and lettering. Of course some people think visually, and have been drawing and sketching since the requirements phase. If you let a computer generate stuff for you, tweak it to mesh with your aims & goals.

    You HAVE been showing us these steps , yes? Best way to gather helpful criticism, is to. " work out loud" in a Work-In-Progress thread.

    Pay some attention here (all steps really) to use ability/ reusability/ maintenance. If various fellow gamemasters rename adjoining territory, how much effort will it be to mod your maps to keep up with them?

    Test and Debugging. Think of these as making whatever changes turn up from the review of your maps in these forums.

    Does that help any, to see a process laid out?
    Last edited by jbgibson; 12-07-2012 at 02:42 AM.

  6. #6
    Guild Artisan Clercon's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Eslöv, Sweden


    I usually start with the story, much like Diamond mentioned above. I usually start with races,culture, history (how was the world created). From that part I try to make out some sketches of the world, landmass, climate etc. I usually try to make my worlds as realistic as possible, but without to much calculation. I don't really care about tectonic plates and stuff like that. But I try to get rivers right and I try to place terrain in places that look natural. When I'm done with the actual map, continents and oceans, I try to find good spots where civilization might have started out. I then place in cities and build out from that, adding countries etc.

    In the end I hopefully have a map that looks quite convincing
    My finished maps

    Mapping Worlds (My blog about mapping)

    Imaginary maps (My facbook page devoted to mapping)

  7. #7


    Thanks guys! I've tried building my world about 3 times now, and started over from scratch because I get overwhelmed or don't like this one little detail. The links really help too. ^.^

    I'm building a world for my fantasy story (only just started, I wrote it last month for NaNoWriMo) and I'm just trying to make it seem as realistic as possible.

    jbgibson -- thank you for the list! I'm an engineer too--well, an engineering student. But the organization really helps me with a starting point!

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