When laying out a Campaign the setting is rarely the most prominent nor most emphasized aspect. Story, plot and adventure often take place on a hasty backdrop of “The Kingdom”. Usually this is sufficient for an adventure, but when considering the dynamics of a campaign, some consideration must be given to the world map. Where should the mountains be? How many rivers do I need? How big should my cities be? Today we look at some basic advice for laying out a Campaign World Map.
Firstly, your Kingdom needs water. Medieval cities are almost exclusively built along rivers, with smaller settlements near lakes, streams or other waterways. For life to develop, cities to grow and population to boom, there needs to be an ample and readily available supply of water for the Kingdom’s citizens. When placing your Kingdom be mindful of where the water access comes from, as this will most likely be your first prominent terrain feature on the world map.
Next, you should consider the regional geography. To completely oversimplify the subject, your domain should be of a fairly consistent terrain that only gradually changes. Plains should give way to rolling hills before mountains, and forests should taper into marshes or plains. Generally speaking, you shouldn’t see a sudden or harsh change in climate or landscape. A desert next to a rain forest, or a tundra next to a marshland, are very out of place.
Now be mindful at this point, that water flows downhill. From any source the goal of any river or stream is to pool at the lowest point it can, which means the ocean. River currents almost exclusively flow “down” to larger bodies of water. When placing your rivers it is prudent to have them flow from your Kingdom’s highlands down towards lower coastline. It is possible that a mountainous ridge might reach to the coast, but this is a rarer exception to a general rule of thumb.
Now you should consider appropriate weather for the landscape you’ve created. If you have steep ridges overlooking rolling hills and plains, there would likely by high winds and fast moving storms. A heavily forested region would tend to be very muggy and receive more rainfall than other regions. The harsher the terrain, the more stifling the weather should be. Mountains will feature harsher winters, and deserts more merciless nights. Take a moment to consider what the best and worst seasons for our Kingdom might be.
Lastly, consider the ways your world will affect the Kingdom’s economy. What major exports and imports make the most sense for the realm? A forest Kingdom would likely sell lumber and have many artisan woodworkers, but might lack ample farms. A desert realm might jealously horde water and fight over it, but have ample access to remote mines. The way you layout your world map will impact many of the trade aspects and economics of the realm. This is often overlooked, so take a moment to be sure the items available in your Kingdom match and make sense compared to the surrounding world.
What climates or terrain do you prefer to run your campaign setting in? Do you have landmarks or cities that break the rules of nature and stand out against the backdrop? Tell us about your journeys and adventures in the comments below!
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