D&D Instant World Builder – Part 1: Maps

Table of Contents

This article is part of the Instant World Builder Project.

Instant World Builder #1: Maps

Drawing maps for a new campaign might be my favorite DM activity. It’s what I start with when I design worlds and campaigns. I am usually motivated, inspired and always surprised to see the plot hooks that arise during map-drawing.

Unfortunately I can’t let myself do too much map-drawing otherwise I would never get around to doing anything else. So here are a few thoughts on creating maps:

Write on the map

It saves time to write notes directly on the map. It allows for a better work flow if you don’t have to write on 2 different sheets or documents. For those of you who are artistically inclined it might not be fun because too much writing on the map makes for an ugly final product. But you’ll be the only one looking at the map so a lot of time can be saved by not caring about the looks of the map.

Let the players and their characters work on the map

One of the best worlds I’ve created was almost completely drawn by a player. When the party would explore an unknown area I would draw a very rough copy of my map and let the cartographer of the group draw it. The more skilled he became at cartography – both as a player and a character – the better the map I would draw for the party.

As the players traveled the world the map would expand and lots of details were added – the climate, the type of creatures encountered, odd places they wanted to explore, sites of their great victories, where they got owned by a red dragon, whatever. The end result was a map 10 times richer than the one I originally drew, and it was fairly accurate.

Note: I wrote an article on drawing dungeon maps that could also apply to drawing world maps.

Do you have any nifty map-drawing tricks?

I’d love to hone my skills! Feel free to share your knowledge.

16 thoughts on “D&D Instant World Builder – Part 1: Maps”

  1. I make a map as is with trap doors and the whole nine yards and describe the map to my players. when they have an encounter, I pencil in the walls. i uesd to worry about them going into other rooms, but they dont. tis sad

  2. I have created literaly dozens of world maps with realistic coastline, detailed mountain ranges, and every lake , river, desert…blah, blah, blah, ect… Though none of them found any real place, but then it hit me. Take the 22 (yes i counted) world maps and put them all together into one colossal world. so far i have “DMed” two campains levels 1-30 and am on campain three level 12 with plenty of room for more.
    Just a tip for people who have 8 maps and cant decide.
    PS. if your wondering, we do play very often because we’re all 15 years old and only two of us accualy have girlfriends. im single -_-

  3. I am starting a new campian with ppl who are new the the game and i am trying to come up with a free form game play for an entire world with 11pp and they r going to play in the same world but in diff places how do i allow evil chars and good chars interact and still have both chars alive to fight in a continued conflict kind of like magneto and prof X

  4. I’m the GM of a D&D group at my high school, and I’ve recently started preparation for the next year and recently had an idea for a map that has worked out really well for me. First, sorry to comment on an ancient post but you recently linked to this.
    What I did was take the map of the school that we go to, it’s one of those types that has a bunch of small buildings, scaled it up to the size of a world, and worked from there. Things like a small stream become a raging river, and a small lawn becomes an expansive fertile plain. On another layer I took the purposes of the buildings to make particular landmarks, for instance the science building is going to be a currently latent steampunk city, the main academic building The Omniversity, so on and so forth. It really makes it easy to have defined themes for certain areas.
    Know this doesn’t mean you can’t add in things that aren’t at your school. To start with I just zoomed in on one small section and begin planning from there.

  5. Hi Michael

    Sorry I’ve only just seen your comment.

    Perhaps it was just a temporary blip – I’ve just tried it and it seems to work OK.

    Otherwise try “Dawn of Worlds” in Google

  6. Color coding is a great idea. It’s a great visual cue. Somehow I never thought about it.

    And yes, I once was very tired and drew a secret door on the player map. My friends have been shoving it back in my face for years. 8[ That’s what friends do! :)

  7. I must say that i love my maps and spend ages making them perfectly 2 scale, something that Yax seemed to disagree with in his “drawing dungeon maps” (but he shows players secreat doors :P) i also dont draw in anything other than doors and the rooms on my maps, i code every room and then on a seperate piece of papper i describe it. as far as my world is concerened that is coulor coded, different coulers for different terain, it doesnt look nerely as proffetional as other maps but it very easy to use! my towns and key locations are numbered so that iff i show it to the Players they wont know wat all the places they havnt been to are!

  8. (My last comment today. I promise.)

    Just read the footer. How about an article on how to get a life
    1. Create a mind-blowing thrilling life.
    2. Not spending anytime doing it!

Leave a Comment