Over the years as a player and as a DM, I have encountered many world maps. Most of them serve the purpose of showing the players were cities and towns and geographic locations are. However that does not have to be all it shows. One thing I like doing when creating a world map is to add interesting landmarks to get players interested in exploring the world.
Creating maps with features that make players stop and wonder what is going on there can help encourage them to explore the world you made. I will be going over things you can do to peak your players interest in the wonders of your world.
This is my most recent map and at the time of this article, the current one I’m using for my game. The named stars are heavily colonized systems while the non-name stars uninhabited or have outposts. For most of you, a galactic map is not what you are looking for however the concepts are the same if you’re to use it in a world map.
Look at the map and see if anything catches your eye.
Did you see anything that seems out of the ordinary? There are quite a few around the map. I categorize these into a few categories. These categories are name, location, and look. I use these three categories by themselves or in conjunction with the other categories. There are a few my examples you will see with not one but two of these categories come into play.
The Power Of A Name
Names are a good way of getting your players interested in a certain location. Think of The Cave of Wonders from Aladdin. That name gets you thinking that there’s something special about that place. Two of those locations on my map are Mechazarius and The Rift. Because these names seem like cool places to visit my players expressed interest in seeing what they have to offer. Adding unique sounding names or ones that provoke a sense of mystery can add an interesting variation on a blank spot of your map.
Another way to use names is to look at the system Torop. This system does not have a name that stands out. However if you look to the left of it you will see the Martil Union. All of the named systems in the union end in either an EP, OP, or AP. Torop has the same ending scheme, as the union however; it is not in their territory. This has one of my players interested in why that is the case. If you create a country with a unique naming scheme, try creating a city in another country with that same naming scheme to get players interested why it’s named that. Another thing you can do is call something that does not belong at it’s location. For example, you can have a port city in the middle of the desert. You can have a mining town in the middle of the ocean.
These types of names can easily coincide with the second category I use, location.
The Eye-Catching Location
Location is a great way to get players interested in a particular part of your map. Getting your players to look at something that seems out of place and ask, “Why is that there?” Can get your players curious about that area.
Going back to the previous example, the system Torop, you can see that it’s location can cause your players to wonder why that’s there. An inhabited system is not part of any civilization even though it shares on naming scheme with one of them. There are a few other systems that are also colonized by not part any civilization. These systems to make players wonder why that is the case and go explore the find out.
Another aspect of location is isolation. If you look at the center of The Free Worlds of Nim, you will see an area of empty space with one star in the middle. As stated above just because it is not named does not mean it’s not inhabited. This is one of the stars that I got my players questioning why it’s there and why nothing else around it. Placing a county, city, or anything else by itself can be a great way to draw players into exploring the area.
The Look Seems Off
Look is a very broad term. In this case, I’m talking about something on the map that’s not associated with names, with location seeming fine however; the look of it seems off. You may have noticed the two big instances when looking at my map. They are the constellation of stars that are in a circle and one red star. Constellations on a galactic star map are not out of the ordinary however, it is easy to see which draws interest. Imagine having a country in the fantasy setting full of deserts, forests, planes etc. now picture one section of the country with a desert in the shape of the triangle. Desert are common in this country however, the shape does seem out of place and that can get players interested in visiting it.
The red star definitely stands out. It’s the only star on the map that is not white and this has one of my players interested in seeing why. Changing the look of something is a great easy way to get players interested in the location. You can have an image of a volcano on your map however; the lava you can see on the top is not red but gold. That small change can get players interested in what is going on at that volcano. You can make a section of the river yellow or weird glow come from a single tree in the forest. Any small deviation from what the players expect something to look like can get them interested in that difference.
The Whole View
These are the main ways I design interesting locations. Since you can use one of these three by themselves or combine them together the possibilities are endless. I did not end up combining look and name in my map but that does not mean you cannot. One way I combined those two categories in a previous campaign was make a blue desert and call in the crashing desert. This desert acted like an ocean. Now go out there and make locations you players will find interesting.