World Building – Creating Continents and Maps

Narrated by Naomi

Hello again and welcome to another World Building Sunday. I hope everyone is doing well. ^_^

Last week, we took a look at building a city. Today, we want to take a look at creating your continents, with a little bit of backtracking for mapmaking purposes because of a couple of awesome new links and generators I found. So first off, if you’re not using Earth as your template for a world, you obviously need a new one. That includes new continents, islands, biomes, and everything else that goes along with it.

In the past, I’ve just winged it and built my world as I went along, sketching a map when necessary and rationalizing and pulling the pieces together just so in order to explain what was happening. As long as it makes sense in the end, there’s no real wrong way to go about it. That being said… if you have information laid out beforehand, it is easier to move straight forward (more or less) as opposed to having to retcon something because it didn’t fit in with the established narrative.

If you’re like me, you might prefer to sketch continents and worlds by hand. Mine aren’t particularly detailed but they give me enough to go on and again, as long as everything works out, who’s to say you can’t. Below you can see one such sketch, on a sketchpad gifted to me by a friend I might add. ^_^ I wouldn’t worry about trying to read the comments or notes… my handwriting is generally terrible when I’m sketching or plotting. haha

Like I said though, not terribly detailed or particularly attractive. It’s a bare bones approach to get you started and help give you a geographical understanding of your world, but not much else. For most of my worlds, I engage in far more theater of the mind antics. >.>

Fortunately though, lots of advances have been made in regards to generators and software that can assist you when you desire to have a more detailed or well… better map. I freely admit this is not the best! XD However, I have found a few sites and generators to help us with our task today.

Since I write primarily fantasy and the gods or denizens of the worlds have more control in how it is shaped, I don’t often look at world building from a scientifically accurate perspective when it comes to plate tectonics and the shifting of masses. If you’re interested in hearing more about that and would like to see how a world can be built with such information in mind, feel free to check out this website:

Worldbuilding 101 – How to Map Your Fictional World – Continents & Plate Tectonics

It’s a fascinating albeit lengthy read but a great source if you want to be true to form from an Earth-like world perspective. Maybe you could put a new spin on the whole divergence of Pangaea. 😉

As for fantasy worlds where you might not be paying quite as much attention to the physics of it all, this site might be more up your alley:

Fantasy World Maps: Your Guide To Fictional World Building

I’ve gone through and checked that all the primary links work and are otherwise valid. Many of the sites he recommends throughout will take you to other sites that you can access free of charge or sometimes for a one-time fee. I haven’t used any yet and some do look daunting, but I intend to explore further. They’re so much more aesthetically appealing than my hand-drawn sketch. haha

Also, as I mentioned previously, the above link offers sites for settlement building as well. In my post last week, we brainstormed a settlement with data points and how it should function as a city, but this site actually allows you to generate a map for your city.

https://watabou.itch.io/medieval-fantasy-city-generator

You’ll want to generate your own city following this link: https://watabou.github.io/city-generator

Use the hotkeys to open up options for further alteration and development of your medieval city

Sample image from Watabou Medieval Fantasy City Generator

This page is meant to be for fantasy settings in general, but you could theoretically use it as a template for a more modern structure or a futuristic one too. It just doesn’t have the same visual appeal…

I will be keeping an eye out for futuristic setting map development sites at some point in the future, but for most of my works, ideas, or other paused WIPs, I might seriously consider checking out Inkarnate. So many options! And it looks to be especially useful for DMs or GMs if anybody happens to need (or want) a mapmaker for settlements, dungeons, interiors, etc. It’s apparently a bit more hands on but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Sample images from Inkarnate (https://inkarnate.com/#features)

Now, swinging back to the idea of building or constructing a continent or continents, the article I’m pulling from makes some very useful observations and points out important elements to world building. For example, we should start considering such things as:

distances between places

geography and climate

settlements and political boundaries

natural resources (or lack of them)

From: https://rocketexpansion.com/fantasy-world-building-maps/

For one, does your world have only one super continent or is it broken up into various smaller ones across the surface of the planet? As seen in my hand-sketched map above, that world has two larger continents, a central island, and lots of much smaller islands scattered about. It’s not a particularly large world at all but no one ever said your planet had to be the size of Jupiter either. So much space to work with. O.o

Another thing to consider is the overall geography and climate of your world. Geography of course being things like mountain ranges, valleys, rivers and lakes, forests, and the general layout of your world from a cartographic perspective. You could assuredly look at other geographical elements inherent in your world, of which there are many different branches, but for today’s purposes, the immediately necessary map-making elements are best. You can check out this Dictionary for a much more detailed look at various major and minor landforms to consider, though it’s not generally necessary to use all of them in any world you might make. Or it’s possible they all exist but you don’t have to explain them in depth. There are quite a few… >.>

As for climate, what is the weather like on average on your continents? Not to be confused with seasons which can change the regional climate depending on the axial alignment of your world relative to its sun (or suns). A breakdown of why we have seasons can be found HERE and HERE (has a neat blurb of info about seasons on other planets at the end too). As for climate, this may or may not change, even if you do have different seasons on your world. For reference, temperatures don’t change all that much in the Arctic or in the desert regions of our world. It stands to reason they wouldn’t necessarily change that much in other worlds too. Not to mention, if it’s a fantasy world, you’re free to make up any reason you want for the climate / seasons to not change. Cursed? Overseen by an elemental deity that maintains the weather at all times? Specifically separated into regions that don’t change for ‘reasons’? Go for it! But if you want a bit more information on the breakdown of different possible climates, National Geographic gives a pretty decent breakdown with some nice pictures to give examples too!

As for settlements and political boundaries, these will help establish and define the relationship your creatures and peoples have with each other on the planet / continent / island, etc. A really cool example of this is listed on the world building site I keep referencing.

For example, the land of Seiden is often attacked by goblins because of what the King stole when he was a prince. He built himself a palace surrounded by permafrost called Jirkiisa. When a goblin touches Jirkiisa they turn into ice.

This is why the palace is surrounded by thick fog and ice. There are also giant frozen rocks as you come closer to the palace, they are the frozen goblins that have tried to invade the palace over the years.

From: https://rocketexpansion.com/fantasy-world-building-maps/

This just screams fantasy and it’s such a fascinating bit of history to explain part of why the goblins are antagonistic to whoever the King is and how the world in that area is constructed as far as climate and geographical constructs go. It doesn’t have to be like that, but it’s a neat idea and one that deserves thought if you really want to breathe a new history into your universe.

The last bit is also important because it can really help structure any additional tensions that might exist or give reason to cause wars or explain why a particular group or city is so successful or dominant in any given area. You might use natural resources that are already in existence (Oil, coal, natural gas, metals, stone, sand, animals, birds, fish, plants, etc.) or you could come up with your own if your fantasy world calls for it. Pixie dust? Sure! Phoenix feathers? Why not? Unicorns or dragons bred as war beasts? Definitely possible. But it’s important to know what your area has, including access to food sources like crops and what kind of growths can feasibly be harvested there. If you’re working in a fantasy world, you have a lot of leeway potentially speaking – mages or magic or elementals can make a lot of things possible, but it never hurts to consider how best to set up your general region. In one of my most recently edited works, my beta reader asked if the climate my character was in could sustain rice. Realistically, probably not, but it’s something that is so easily accessible to me that I overlooked that issue. Subsequently, I changed that particular food item to bread instead – ground wheat is much more accessible there. lol

But seeing as we’ve more or less reached the end of points to consider and I’ve waxed on for quite a bit now, we’ll go ahead and wrap things up. If you have any questions that I might be able to offer assistance with, please feel free to ask. As always though, thank you for taking the time to read and I hope you have a lovely day!

Today’s background soundtrack: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hA-qcn1wczU

Header image pulled from https://thenormancrane.wordpress.com/2013/12/08/free-fantasy-world-generator/ (he also has information about fantasy worldbuilding and recommends one of the sites listed in the other websites links – donjon)

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