5 Minute World Maps

If you’re anything like me then you have trouble with the whole mapping aspect of the tabletop role playing hobby.  Sure anybody can sit down for a few hours and come out with a decent world or continent map, but what do you do if you need one right now? Let me share with you my technique for slapping together a world map without any planning or particular skill. You won’t end up with anything pretty, but it will be good enough to get the point across.

You will need:

  • A pencil
  • 2 Sheets of paper
  • This guide (or a serviceable memory)


  1. Draw a mountain range or two on your paper. Nothing fancy though, we’re going to ruin it in step two. When drawing mountain ranges remember that they are usually found where tectonic plates meet, so don’t just drop them everywhere all willy-nilly.
  2. Crumple up your sheet of paper. I’m not joking. Just do it
  3. Uncrumple the paper and flatten it out. You’ll see that there are now a bunch of lines. Pick some that intersect with your mountains and fill them in with your pencil. These are your rivers
  4. Copy what you have over to the non crumpled piece of paper.
  5. Find your longest river and draw a line around your mountains with it. Intersect with the ends of at least a quarter of your rivers. Wiggle your hand a lot while doing this so that the line isn’t straight or rounded. This is the outline of a continent. Rivers go from the mountain to the sea.
  6. Draw some clouds around your river areas. These are forests.
  7. Draw some hills around the bases of mountains. These are foothills.
  8. Place as many cities as you like. Place them at river intersections, inlets, or lakes. In a medieval setting cities were almost always built near water sources.
  9. Add some other interesting elements. Like a crater or spire of bones. You don’t have to do this step, but at least allow yourself a little dragon squiggle and a “Hear be Dragons”.
  10. Find some objects near you and spell their names backwards. Place these new words on things for their names. If, for example, you are making this map in the bathroom as you players decided to visit a new continent out of the blue, you might the majestic city they sailed to “Teliot”
  11. Show off your masterpiece. Possibly improve it when you have more time.

What you will end up with won’t be the worlds most fantastic piece of cartography. It will be enough to show the players where they are going and possibly give you a few ideas. When you have some time you could expand on it, add some colour, maybe even digitize it.

Now, if you happen to be even lazier than I am this might be too much work. In that case let me point you in the direction of a few applications that do all that heavy pencil lifting for you.

Have your own quick mapping tips? Let us know in the comments.

[tags]cartography, fantasy, rpg[/tags]

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