Designing a World Map; Looking for advice and criticism

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In the spoiler is a hastily-drawn, Microsoft Paint quality rough draft of a map I converted from paper. I started out liking this map, however now I'm not too sure, and would like to hear some comments on how I could improve it.

I haven't done much in the way of height mapping (besides the mountains of course) but I plan on having the eastern plains area have a higher elevation with many hills, while the west is more of a lowlands type of area. Unfortunately my image hosting website cut down the resolution to even worse levels than what it already was, so many of the black dots indicating towns are indistinguishable, especially the one in the marshland and the two on the western lake. But I guess it'll have to do.
The colors are pretty self-explanatory with dark brown for mountains, light green for plains, green for forests, dark green for marshland, tan for deserts, light brown for wastelands (and in the island's case, fiery wasteland), blue for water, and grey for ancient destroyed ruins (which may or may not also be self-explanatory).

Also, if you're wondering why the two rivers cut off so suddenly or why there's nothing but mountains to the north, it's simply because I had too much space when I was designing this. The cutoff point on the rivers is technically where the actual map should end. Sloppy, I know, but like I said this is only a rough draft. The western mountains do serve a purpose, however.

The world is a little small right now, but I plan on designing new continents to explore after the characters get far enough along in the campaign. This will probably add a lot of complexity, but each continent will be pretty small in scale, so I'm not too worried.

I do have a few things that don't make sense from a geographical standpoint, but do play into the plot of the campaign. For example, the abrupt change to lush forest from harsh desert on the eastern peninsula has an in-game explanation (which essentially boils down to MAGICKS), and the vast desert on the western peninsula is due to an ancient cataclysm. Other than those two, everything else is pretty much just there.

This is the first ever map that I've drawn by hand before I began a campaign. In my previous sessions my maps consisted of little more than a drawing of a very generallized circle with the occasional terrain marker. So please, any advice or critique on this map is welcome.

I usually start out creating my worlds with a map myself, so that is a good start (at least from my point of view. :3)  But I can share my general rules of thumb for some advice.
1. For a continent-wide scale on an overview map, I would go more for style than accuracy.  The most technical I would probaby get would be a scale and a compass, biome maps/coloring isn't truly necessary.  Think more a map like this:
 http://andysdnd.files.wordpress.com/2011/07/dd_-_4th_edition_-_eberron_map_khorvaire.jpg
than like this:
upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8...
So long as there are clear markings for the important stuff (mountains, rivers, forests, nations, important cities (not every tiny little hamlet unless you go smaller scale)) you and your players will get the general idea.
2.  There are generally two approaches to fantasy map-making: One is the full continent, like the Eberron Map above, or the map of WEsteros for the Game of Thrones.  The other is the 'Known World' approach, like yours which has a portion of the continent displayed and a broad expanse going to the edge of the map.  This is seen on Tolkien's Middle Earth Maps, the Faerun map, and in a number other fantasy settings.  This is good for later expansion, but you can kind of see a common theme- usually the continents take up about half the map, with the open sea on the eastern or western half.  This is beneficial to world-making because you have a much greater variability of climates going north and south than east and west, due to differences in latitude from the equator.  For instance, if you cut the North American continent in half, you get the full range on the eastern seaboard- tropics in the south, woodlands in the middle, and arctic tundra in the north.  Vice versa in the southern hemisphere- it's a common joke in Canada that they wish the continent had been split north to south, instead of getting all the coldest parts.  This approach also gives a grander sort of scale- maps hanging down from the north or jutting up from the south look like smaller parts of a much bigger place.
3.  Geologically, I just keep a few things in mind from my basic geology classes.  You can pretty much stick mountains wherever you want, because plate tectonicses is complicamicated, but the mountains effect the rest of the landscape.  The landscape on the seaward side of a mountain range is going to have a lot more wet areas, and the land on the leeward side of the mountains is going to be a lot drier. 
Rivers usually form in drainages from the mountains, so after you draw a collection of mountains you might want to ponder what is the best way for water to flow from the mountains to the sea- including flowing down from multiple ranges.  If a river has a long way to go from the mountains to the ocean, it will either meander and have a lot of serpentine curves across the flat landscape, like the Seine, and depending on the rock create enormous canyons.
4. While it's easy to just draw a bunch of lines on the map and come up with cool fantasy names for your nations and countries, you might want to have another look at the physical boundaries of the landscape.  We in the modern world can afford to just draw squares or lines for countries because we wanted arbitrary divisions based on area or latitude (see the African countries and the results spawning from ignoring cultural boundaries) but most countries before that were based on natural borders- mountains, rivers, deserts.
5. Also, coming with the slapping names on the countries, try not to fall into the traps of stereotypes- there's a dwarf country in the mountains, and elf country in a huge ancient forest, a human country, and so on and so on.  For instance, in the Forgotten Realms there was a dwarf nation that lived in a huge canyon, and the homeland of the elves is in a tropical jungle (or a sandy desert) in Eberron.  In addition, you can look for stories as you draw and study your map.  For instance, on my map I had kind of arbitrarily made human nations spanning most of the world, with the elves on the southern coast and the dwarves in the mountains north of them, and a collection of islands I called the Orkroks off the coast there.  I realized there could be a really good rationalization for this arrangement- The elves had once had an enormous empire, but the aggressive and ambitious humans began expanding and forcing the elves further and further into the sea.  Crossing the mountains into the southern wilderland, they found the homelands of the orcs, living in the mountains and the land beyond, who were allied with giants in enslaving the gnomes and dwarves.  The elves defeated the orcs and giants, liberating the dwarves and driving the orcs onto the islands (thus explaining the racial enmity between those races.)
Coming up with neat little stories like that to explain why the world is like it is makes it more vibrant and real- and all because of an accident of geography.
I do quite like the look of the Eberron map. Perhaps if I had some better image editing software, I could work that out. For now, I suppose I'll have to stick to paper to achieve that look.

 For this map, I did already have the general idea of making this part of a larger continent, with humans living on this one and elves to the west, and the other races being sprinkled wherever. Maybe now that you've brought this to my attention, I may just give the dwarves either a northern frigid continent or a southern tropical. Right now, I'm leaning towards a southern one. 

I agree with you that I do need more rivers. Especially one that connects to the eastern lake. Also if I add more rivers, perhaps I can explain why the central area is so lush, while the coast is so desolate.

As for political boundaries, right now I'm considering having this entire map to be united under one flag, but divided into different feudal areas based on geography, as per your suggestion. This will make cultural differences in an area this small to be less of a head ache when moving around, I hope, and also allow for the game world to take on a grander scale.

As of now in the campaign, I have a fantastically racist human empire (seen here), an undrawn dwarven alliance that includes halflings and gnomes, and a partially complete elven republic. I do still need to find a place among these three for Orcs to reside, and frankly I haven't even begun to consider where they would go in the world. Perhaps later I'll draw some maps up and post them for comments. Unfortunately, all my landmasses (this one and the two uncomplete ones) as of now don't have any distinguishing features. Perhaps I can have the human empire have a battle-scarred country (since I already have it covered in ancient ruins and a gnarled island), the dwarves could have a geographically diverse land with a sub-tropical element and the elves can have a high fantasy-esque land similar to Middle Earth. I loathe cliches as well and find they just detract from the story-telling element. That and I don't quite feel like making a giant underground empire for dwarves, though I may give them a few cities that are true to their form.


Thank you for your comments, they are very eye opening. I hadn't even begun to think in terms of a Known-World approach or to avoid cliches. Now, however, I will be sure to consider these when I design future campaigns and when completing this one.


 
Here is a World map I made for a campaign I am running.  You could place your map into it as part of the larger world.  Essentially that is what I am doings as 90% of the map will never be explored by my PCs.  If you are interested in using it let me know and I can send you the higher resolution PDF.


I definetly do like this map, especially the runic border surrounding it. May I ask what program you used to draw it?

And the idea of a naval heavy world does interest me, in fact I started this campaign with a heavy aquatic element but scrapped it at the last second in favor of a necropolis-esque element. I may use your map to inspire some of my future designs, but I don't think I'll just copy it. Not because it isn't an awesome map, but because it seems almost like cheating. xD
I definetly do like this map, especially the runic border surrounding it. May I ask what program you used to draw it?



This.

Campaign Cartographer 3? 
I definetly do like this map, especially the runic border surrounding it. May I ask what program you used to draw it?

And the idea of a naval heavy world does interest me, in fact I started this campaign with a heavy aquatic element but scrapped it at the last second in favor of a necropolis-esque element. I may use your map to inspire some of my future designs, but I don't think I'll just copy it. Not because it isn't an awesome map, but because it seems almost like cheating. xD



I primarily used photoshop.  I hand drew the map, scanned it, and added the color, text, and "aging" in photoshop.  The border was a free runic font for word.  I forget what it says (if anything).  I simply typed up a line of text, made a pdf and brought it into photoshop.  I then copied and rotated as needed to make the border. 

No problem, I was only offering because I don't know if I am going to get to use this map.  The campaign I had planned as changed and I think I need a new map!  I was hoping someone could get some use out of it.
I definetly do like this map, especially the runic border surrounding it. May I ask what program you used to draw it?



This.

Campaign Cartographer 3? 

Penicl and trace paper, photoshop and word.