This is my D&D world! It doesn’t have a name, it is an unnamed planet characters occasionally refer to as Earth. It has similar orbital elements to Earth, which produce very Earth-like seasons and climate, but it isn’t really Earth- it has two moons, three continents (for now), and through the acts of the gods (me) it undergoes terraforming fairly often. I call the continents the mainland and the northern/southern continents because I am sooo creative, and the mountain ranges, rivers, and other landforms have similarly clever names. I do actually plan to name things eventually, but it’s been in a state of flux over the past few years so I just haven’t gotten around to it. Not all the cities have names yet either, but eventually when I write campaigns that go to unfinished parts of the world it will fill in over time. It is a world in progress, which I enjoy.
The mainland is approximately the size of the US. None of the map is particularity geologically realistic, though some regions are more thought out than others where it has been relevant to the story. This bugs me endlessly, but it I have to force myself not to be over concerned by it- DMing is a lot of work, and there’s only so much energy I want to put into something that the players don’t really care about. For reference though, the north-eastern part of the mainland did experience substantial uplift and is a plateau area, which is why the river flows all the way south-west to get to the ocean. Just don’t think too hard about it. (We like to joke about what the geologist NPCs inside the game must think: “We followed the dwarf tunnels deep under the mountains, and suddenly we came upon a layer of sedimentary rock that matches the plains to the East – it’s like the mountains just appeared here!”)
I can’t draw really at all, so for map making I usually look for topographic landforms I like on google maps or from image searches, and I cut, paste, and cobble together the coastline I want in Photoshop. I then print this and trace the coastline onto a sheet of paper by hand because I prefer the hand-drawn look. I have a frosted glass kitchen table, so I mount a small work light on the leg of a chair pointing upward, which allows me to still be able to trace the map onto thicker, watercolor paper. I like using watercolors because it’s easy to blend colors, and I feel like they work well for creating interesting color texture. Plus they allow me to make changes or corrections if I want. I just use cheap kids’ water colors. The downside is, they do fade if you leave them where they’ll get a lot of light so I keep them all in a map drawer in our game room. I made the world map to fit on an 8.5×11″ paper so I could scan and print it. I added a layer of hexagons onto the digital file to mark space increments so that players can calculate travel times, and laminated it so we can draw on it while, e.g., planning routes. This happens to be important for my current campaign, but I also just like it as a useful, tactile tool for players.
I also made close up maps of different regions on larger paper. I use wax stamps and ink to mark the crest/flag for each city-state on the map, and write in the names of the cities and towns in the surrounding areas. I use a city name generator that returns cities from Earth from a chosen country. This way, I can stylize different parts of my world based on different cultures and races. I try really hard to ensure my world is diverse, though I’m just a white woman so I know I don’t do it perfectly. But I think it adds richness to the world when players can stop in a village where everyone has Vietnamese names instead of western European names, and the food is different, and they use unfamiliar words I pronounce poorly from google translate. I do use mythology from around the real world to weave into the local culture and magical attributes of different D&D regions, but I try to do in such a way that isn’t culturally appropriative or misrepresentative. Most of my friends are also white, so I really have no idea how well I’m doing. I guess I figure that doing a mediorce job creating a diverse world is more constructive than not trying at all, even if only because it forces players to imagine the non-white, non-American/European NPCs they interact with. Anyways, I digress. Here are the close up images of different regions. More to come as the world develops.