In a Middle Earth type world, there exists a magical map. It has the property that anything that happens to the map also happens in the real world.

The map can be 'zoomed' in or out to get the right level of detail. The best resolution would be as shown in the following map. You can see the scale in the bottom right under the coat of arms. There is a black and white line the total length of which is marked as 200 yards.

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The obvious problem

Given that changes to the map affect the world it represents, the owner could in theory cause instantaneous catastrophic effects by tearing the map in half or scribbling all over it.

I'd like to be able to change the course of rivers, or make bridges collapse in a natural-seeming way. However I don't want to simply draw a mountain and have it suddenly appear out of nowhere.


What rules can I make in order for the map only to cause changes that seem natural and possible to the inhabitants of the land and that happen at a reasonable scale and in a reasonable space of time? I don't want the owner to have to be an expert artist or map-maker.

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    $\begingroup$ The only changes that will seems natural and possible to the inhabitants of the land are ones that occur on geological timescales, which violates your "reasonable space of time" requirement. People don't generally observe rivers change course or mountains rise from the plain. Anything changes to the land that are perceptible will be near-instantaneous on geological timescales, so you're probably left with extremely violent events like major earthquakes and sudden volcanic eruptions. Any other natural-seeming process will take far too long for inhabitants with human-scale lifespans to notice. $\endgroup$ – Nuclear Wang Jan 4 at 19:10
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    $\begingroup$ @NuclearWang, Dutch observed entire regions drowning under sea in the span of a stormy night. Rivers can change course in the span of a day when a flooding occurs. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Jan 4 at 19:13
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    $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch would flooding not count as a violent event $\endgroup$ – BKlassen Jan 4 at 21:43
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    $\begingroup$ @NuclearWang If such a map exists, and is used often, wouldn't the inhabitants be used to rivers changing course, and mountains rising from the plane? $\endgroup$ – Abigail Jan 4 at 22:49
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    $\begingroup$ Borrow from us software folks, and have read only "get" methods that update the map. If changes to the map must really affect the world, then make them expensive, or slow the rate of change. $\endgroup$ – ivanivan Jan 4 at 23:55

25 Answers 25


Anything that happens to the map happens to the real world... eventually. Changes to the map simply put the world on the path to reach that change, and naturally the more impressive/far-reaching changes take longer to finish.

  • Draw a new patch of green behind your house, and spend the next few minutes wondering how you never noticed that big tree in your backyard.
  • Draw a line of grey circles across a river, and the water level will soon drop just enough to expose a series of stones to let you hop across.
  • Draw a fine villa on the edge of town, and magically the paperwork for it is approved and the builders are paid for. Construction should be finished by the end of the year.
  • Draw a new river and over the next few months a series of severe rainstorms or a newly constructed dam will cause a lake to overflow, creating the river.
  • Draw a new island in the middle of a bay, and feel the first few earthquakes caused by the new volcano that will soon form your island.
  • Rip the paper in half, and a large asteroid is set on a millennia-long collision course with the world.

So, if someone wants to cause a major catastrophe or otherwise significant change to the world it's unlikely that they live long enough to see it happen, and gives plenty of time for the change to be corrected by someone who wants to preserve the world.

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    $\begingroup$ An interesting restriction, but I imagine that such a restriction makes the map go from overpowered to near-useless to all but immortals and extremely long-living races and reduces it to a bit of intriguing world-building trivia rather than being a significant plot device. $\endgroup$ – Abion47 Jan 4 at 20:59
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    $\begingroup$ This article seem to indicate that volcanic islands can form very quickly. "The tephra production was tremendous, and an island had already been formed the day after – on November 15 [1963]. By the end of January 1964, the new island’s elevation was 174 m, or over 300 m above the sea floor where it had all begun." surtsey.is/pp_ens/gen_3.htm $\endgroup$ – chasly from UK Jan 4 at 22:32
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    $\begingroup$ @Abion47 I feel that being able to create a tree "in a few minutes" has interesting properties for woodcutters. And being able to make a fine villa in less than a year, and having the builders "magically paid for" is a fairly useful property. $\endgroup$ – Gryphon Jan 5 at 2:10
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    $\begingroup$ Draw a treasure box under an X, and instantaneously find a lost treasure. Draw some ruins and find a lost city and increase your scholastic reputation. Draw a symbol for a mine, and discover an untapped resource under your very feet (couple the symbol for mine with symbol for the mineral required to ensure you find gold instead of coal or coal instead of tin etc)...I see lots of 'powerful' resource use for such a map. $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps Jan 5 at 13:29
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    $\begingroup$ This could be handled by having the map scale also scale time, so at 1:25000 resolution a change that takes 1 minute to draw takes 17 days to complete in the world. That also gives you 17 days to fix it. $\endgroup$ – John Jan 5 at 16:27

The map and the world are magically linked to each other. Much like a rubber band, whenever they are pulled apart, the potential (magical) energy tries to force them back together. However, both the map and the world can shift back towards their initial positions. This is partially how the map stays true to the erosion, volcanoes, tectonic shifts that have taken place since the initial creation of the map.

Most owners don't properly recognize the power of the map initially. They try to draw a bridge, and after a few minutes, most of the drawing disappears, so they correctly determine the map is magical, but figure it's just an accurate representation of the world at the moment. However, if they look closely, they might see a couple rocks near either side of the riverbed. If you continued drawing the bridge over and over, eventually, the world would concede to the map, and your bridge has formed.

Occasionally, the world is less resistant to change -- perhaps there is a heavy storm already coming towards the area before you draw a river. It was going to travel another mile or two, but hey, this is just a lot less energy than resisting the magical potential of the map. The storm erupts, erodes a canal, and a fraction of a flash flood later, you have your river.

A particularly persistent user could, in fact, make a mountain. If they drew the mountain every night before bed, after a couple years, they might have a hill, and after several decades, The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain may concede.

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    $\begingroup$ This is good because it explains a mechanism for what others have said about there needing to be a cost to the user. $\endgroup$ – chasly from UK Jan 5 at 0:04
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    $\begingroup$ Nice and simple, and provides an obvious link between effort expended in changing the map and the size of the real world effects. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Jan 6 at 11:34
  • $\begingroup$ That's cool because the map usage become a real science. The user needs to analyse (according to meteo, ...) when is the right time for the map to "consume less energy" to do the action. $\endgroup$ – Benoit Jan 8 at 6:28
  • $\begingroup$ I came back and created an account just to upvote. Your answer seems to beautifully satisfy the question, and avoid big "magical events" presented in other answers. (For instance a villa being paid for, out of nowhere) $\endgroup$ – hat Jan 8 at 10:01

The correct tools for the correct job

In order to have something done on the map, it has to be done correctly - That is, things like notations and such won't show up, because they're not meant to be part of the map itself.

Instead, you have to have the correct inks, the correct pens, etc. And not only that, but you have to draw it correctly. You can't just mark an 'X' over a bridge and then the bridge disappears. You have to remove the bridge by painting over it.

The skill of the user determines how obvious it is that this map was used. When removing said bridge, if you draw the shoreline almost right, in the real world, it'll be obvious. The shore will suddenly, and very cleanly, move. Someone who knows about the map would be able to pick up on something like this.

Similarly, even though the map is magical and causes changes, those changes aren't held together by magic. An impossibly tall cliff simply won't work.

I also like the concept of things happening somewhat slowly. You draw a mountain, and there won't suddenly be thousands of cubic kilometers of dirt. It'll shove itself upward over the course of some arbitrary time period.

As far as doing something like tearing it in half, or holes? The map simply doesn't do anything to those areas. They can't be updated - you would have to move where you're viewing.

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    $\begingroup$ I like this a lot. Adds a great deal of lore, and kinda requires anyone who uses the map to have been trained as a cartographer. I've read articles talking about the difficulties of drawing a map and fitting everything in the right places. Even computers struggle with putting things on a map in the right way. $\endgroup$ – Garrett Motzner Jan 4 at 22:21
  • $\begingroup$ @GarrettMotzner Exactly! You or I might be able to make minor changes, but something complex like a river or a mountain? Much more difficult! $\endgroup$ – Andon Jan 4 at 22:47
  • $\begingroup$ but I don't want them to have to be an expert mapmaker - too bad. You can't have that without this, lest your world be torn apart at the seams. +1 $\endgroup$ – Mazura Jan 4 at 23:24
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    $\begingroup$ @Mazura I honestly didn't see that part of the question when I did this answer. But, honestly, they don't have to be experts. It's just the skill of the user determines what they can do. $\endgroup$ – Andon Jan 5 at 22:38
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    $\begingroup$ Now that's some plot fodder. "Any day now, Mr. Banner... If you could just finish drawing a picture of your green friend that'd be great." - "Yeah, hold on. I gotta make 'em look angry or it won't work." $\endgroup$ – Mazura Jan 5 at 22:44

The map has its own goals, and will reject any changes that conflict with them

Mr. Padfoot would like to register his astonishment that an idiot like you was ever put in charge of this map.

This map was created for the purpose of saving the local beaver population. As such, any changes that might endanger the beavers are summarily rejected.

This means that things like bridge collapses or new stands of trees are generally allowed. A river adjustment is usually fine, unless the adjustment would leave a beaver dam high and dry.

Sudden mountains cause all sorts of ripples throughout the ecosystem - and big changes are rarely good for the thriving populations currently living in balance.

Even if the mountain would benefit the beavers in the grand scheme of things, the map's ability to predict the outcome of its changes is finite, and it will reject things whose effects are too complicated for it to fully comprehend.

And surprise catastrophes are right out.

Of course, the map wasn't labeled with any of this information, so it's not at all obvious that the sticking point as to what works and what doesn't is the beavers.

Obviously, beaver protection is just an example. Choose your own obscure set of dictates for the map to follow.

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    $\begingroup$ +1. This reminds me, in a rather indirect way, of an F. Paul Wilson short story whose name I don't know how to type; the protagonist comes into possession of a word that he thinks of as "the winning word", and while the word is fully as powerful as he imagines it to be, its power is a bit different from what he thinks, with the effect that he can't really use it to its potential at first. $\endgroup$ – ruakh Jan 6 at 0:56
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    $\begingroup$ For even more ‘aargh’ - make the magic map sapient. Much like Pratchett’s Luggage: it’s terrifyingly powerful, utterly unfathomable, and bloody minded to a fault. Try to harm the beavers and the next thing you know your exact location will be denoted on the map as ‘Warning: Quicksand’... $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Jan 6 at 11:40
  • $\begingroup$ Remember: don't trust anything that can think for itself if you can't where it keeps its brain! $\endgroup$ – Arcanist Lupus Jan 6 at 17:47

Add a user interface

Just like I can't erase a program from Windows by rubbing an actual eraser against the screen, so too will the map answer only to commands it understands. A drag and drop interface would be nice.

Otherwise make it require some special ink or pen to operate it. These can be enchanted so that you can draw a decent river on the map even if you can't draw stick figures by yourself.

Tearing the map into pieces will not tear the land, it will just destroy a really useful magical device.

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    $\begingroup$ Beware: in a fantasy world, this could end up as a "dragon drop" interface instead! $\endgroup$ – Mason Wheeler Jan 5 at 22:18
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    $\begingroup$ The special ink idea makes sense. $\endgroup$ – The Mattbat999 Jan 6 at 4:20
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    $\begingroup$ @MasonWheeler: That pun... $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Jan 6 at 11:35
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    $\begingroup$ @Mason Wheeler - I'll definitely include an unexplained picture of a dragon next to the map's user interface :-) $\endgroup$ – chasly from UK Jan 7 at 18:05

The effort you have to put into altering the map is directly proportional to the effort it would take to apply that change to the reality.

To give you an example, removing part of a forest will be easier than deviating a river which will be easier than rising a mountain range.

If you don't have the right amount of force or stamina you simply cannot even think of performing certain tasks.

Side effect: forget about folding the map, unless you are a tectonic plaque.

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    $\begingroup$ I think folding or tearing should simply do nothing, but only inking does anything at all. $\endgroup$ – Joshua Jan 4 at 20:47

The maps scale also applies to time, or at least the changes do, so at 1:25000 resolution a change that takes 1 minute to draw takes ~17 days to complete in the world. Redraw the river and the river will spend the next 17 days shifting position. That also gives you 17 days to fix it. This also means the more you zoom out the longer changes take.

If the changes take the path of least resistance, that is they change the world in the way that requires the least energy to achieve the results most changes will look completely natural. Buildings building themselves will never look natural.

As an additional measure changes on the map have to be changed with the right tools, ink (perhaps even special inks), spill a glass of water on the map and nothing happens, until the water starts to bleed the ink. This almost has to be true otherwise your townsfolk will see a giant pen changing their world.

You could place further limits by having the map only able to change things that are in its map key, you can move the river because water is in the key, you can't set the town on fire because there is no fire in the key.

tearing the map will simply destroy the map and have no effect on the world. The map needs to be intact to function.

  • $\begingroup$ Ooh, I love the first idea. $\endgroup$ – Riley Jan 10 at 14:17

As my 6 year old son observed, all magic systems are about manipulation of energy.

The map acts as a user interface for managing the energy to alter the landscape, but there is a finite amount of energy available to work with.

What is the energy source? Does it draw on the energy of the "earth"? The energy of the user? Or some other energy source like a trapped demon?

It takes energy to manipulate large amounts of energy. If the map directs say the entire energy of the world, it uses energy from another more manageable source to direct it. Does it draw from the map's user? In that case the possible changes would be in proportion to the energy that can be provided by the user.

If the user requests a change that is beyond the available energy limits, then the map either rejects the request and returns to whatever state it was in before the request, or it attempts to fulfill the request and self corrects to match what really happened afterwards. If the map sets of something bigger than what was intended, it also self corrects afterwards.

  • $\begingroup$ "all magic systems are about manipulation of energy" I would disagree with this. There are plenty of magic systems where this isn't the case. The "vending machine universe" where the magic is baked into the natural laws of the universe. Said laws are just invoked unconventional - you make the correct "spell" and you're essentially putting the coin and pressing a button to dispense some effect. The "coin" doesn't need to have energy manipulation aspect. Another one is asking supernatural beings to do stuff for you. It's "energy manipulation" as much as asking your buddy to get you a coke. $\endgroup$ – vlaz Jan 8 at 13:05
  • $\begingroup$ @vlaz "manipulating energy" is exactly what we do when we choose to use a hammer instead of our bare hands to drive in a nail. The reason you bring supernatural beings into a magic system is because they can manipulate energy is ways or volumes an unaided human cannot. The observation stands for systems invoking the supernatural. I'll have to think on the vending machine universe to see if it also fits, although the use of spells to influence the laws of causality remains a strong candidate. $\endgroup$ – pojo-guy Jan 8 at 13:45
  • $\begingroup$ if you want to view it like that, then it's not "magic" that's about manipulating energy but every single interaction ever. That will make the claim correct but useless. After all, if I'm manipulating energy to strike with a hammer, that's the same fundamental thing as chanting to the spirits to make a forest grow in seconds or wave a magic wand to make water flow uphill. The "volume" is not really a good deciding factor - I can probably use the spirits to drive a nail, too. That doesn't make the action mundane. Or use a bulldozer which doesn't make it magical. $\endgroup$ – vlaz Jan 8 at 13:53
  • $\begingroup$ Bingo! Indeed within the "magical" communities of the universes, those things become "mundane" once they are understood. What I found most interesting was that the observation was made by a 6 year old, and he backed it up with examples from a broad cross section of his favorite shows. It mirror's Heinlein's observation that all weapons are simply tools that manipulate energy, therefore anything that possesses energy that can be manipulated can be a weapon. $\endgroup$ – pojo-guy Jan 8 at 14:06

The general idea of making magic less powerful is to make it expensive to use. Perhaps changing the course of a river requires the presence of a dozen powerful mages. But powerful mages are rare, live scattered over the world, and charge hefty fees for their presence. Collapse a bridge? The caster collapses as well, making him/her extremely vulnerable, perhaps permanently loosing a spell or two in the process. Creating a mounting requires sacrificing your first born, meaning it can only be done once in a lifetime; casters without a child will not be able to create mountains.

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    $\begingroup$ Although I don't want to bring in other mages, your point about requiring some kind of sacrifice is a good one. Maybe there is some magical text that appears in a blank space on the map after you have drawn something, that tells you what sacrifice you must make for the transformation to take place. If you don't then either the map goes back to how it was or it extracts its own 'sacrifice' from the owner - maybe even killing them or someone dear to them. $\endgroup$ – chasly from UK Jan 5 at 0:10

Change the past, instead of the future

I'll offer a slightly different take: instead of having modifications to the map change the future of the landscape, have it change the past of the landscape. The map is essentially a time travel (or, if you prefer, a timeline-jumping) device.

Take a blue paint and draw a new river? You look up and it's always been there. Pour green ink all over an existing town? Look up and the town is gone. It might have been built a mile upriver, or a thousand yards to the north, or perhaps it used to exist in this spot but a violent uprising occurred in this town instead of a different one, and it no longer exists. Nobody but you is ever surprised by any of your changes, because to everyone else, it has always been this way.

The user of the map is cautious because small-scale changes generally "work out", but the larger the change the less predictable. The map allows you to wipe out the entire United States of America by painting it over with a freezing ice storm, but once you're done you have no idea whether the pilgrims landed in Brazil instead, whether America is populated by a huge tribe of technologically advanced Eskimos, whether the ice storm in America has affected the Sahara desert in unexpected ways, etc. Frustratingly, the map is surprisingly resilient to changes you'd think would change the course of history (somehow, things just seem to end up the same no matter what you do...)

EDIT: I'll add from a mechanics perspective: a useful physical experience for the map would be painting on it with inks/brushes, but the map slowly "fades" your changes into its own style. You don't have to be a master artist to use it, as whatever you do will end up looking like it should; but, a better artist is able to make more specific and more predictable changes to the landscape.

  • $\begingroup$ That's a very interesting take. One problem is of course the old time travel paradox. It might eventually turn out that the map was never made and the user was never born. I'm not sure how to deal with that - or it might make for a very short story! $\endgroup$ – chasly from UK Jan 5 at 20:05
  • $\begingroup$ You beat me to it in principle, good on ya. Except, in my concept you would set the map backwards or forwards in time, and cause the landscape go change over time almost like animating a cartoon. Making changes require energy, the shorter the time the change takes place and the larger the change, the more energy. If a change is made everyone always sees it as always having been that way except those who have true sight, and the map grants permanent true site to all who have ever been present for it's use or learned what it does and seen it. $\endgroup$ – Ben Personick Jan 6 at 18:40

Place a limitation on the map that you cannot add lines, only move them. The map then non-destructively moves the other terrain features to accommodate your change. The objects flow with the earth as if they were floating in water.

Thus you grab a river and drag it to a new position. Other items, houses, roads, trees, etc. move out of the way to make room for the new location of the river. A person in a house that is being moved may or may not feel the gentle movement but they will see the shifting occurring.


You require a special pen, which requires special ink, of which there is a limited supply to hand.

Getting more special ink is either impossible (it came from a meteorite?), or really slow (perhaps it depends on some bugs that only eat a certain plant which flowers only on blue moons in the summer snow or something that suits your world)

Diluting the special ink or cutting it with normal ink means the effects on the map are less predictable or don't have staying power (they revert) or simply don't work at all, wasting the special ink.

Climax modifier, someone spills ink on the map and "stuff" happens then the map is cleaned somehow leaving traces of change.

The map also uses energy, somewhat like a cellphone, the more the display is on/moved the faster it uses the "charge" and it can only regain its reserves by sunlight/full-moonlight/something.

Perhaps more distance or more zoom uses the charge faster ?

This would require the user to keep the map for times it is needed, not just idle GoogleMaps browsing like we've all done.

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    $\begingroup$ Maybe the ink used is blood drawn magically from a special pen, so if you make too many changes or too difficult changes, the map will bleed you dry... $\endgroup$ – Garrett Motzner Jan 4 at 22:18

The map itself is not 'magical' per se but is rather attuned or responsive to magic. To nonmagical beings with no magical augments of any kind, the map is just a map. But apply a minor spell and things start to get... interesting.

Your average bumbling spellslinger can scribble the thing black, and the result of their artistic exertions might be a faint Grey fog upon the land. Punching a hole through the paper might so much as open a molehill in someone's front lawn.

But the great sorcerers covet such a map, for bound to their already awesome power, the land is utterly beholden to their will. A clever stroke of the pen and grand kingdoms are rent asunder, suddenly embroiled in political upheaval and strife -- but the user is for a time clouded in mind, divided from his senses. A well placed ember scorching the page grows an insidious mountain of smoke and flame, and the mage is racked with burning agony of body and soul. And an accidental tear may cause the world itself to shatter -- and with it, the very soul of the careless wielder.

Thus the magic itself becomes its own limitation -- for it is said that magic always comes with a cost!


The original creator of the map was not actually trying to make a map that affected the world. Rather, they wanted to instead make a world within a map. Unfortunately because this would allow for violations of the laws of thermodynamics (which obviously still applies in a magical world, right?) the spell only succeeded in making a map that affected the world. They wanted to create an interface that made sense for such a world. Therefore because they thought it would be fun for the locals to toy around with they made the map have a limit on changes as something a human could feasibly do within their entire lifetime, per day per person. We will also ignore engineering requirement. The assumption here is that if a person assembled such a structure by just grabbing the materials readily available and assembling the object that they could perform that work in their lifetime. Perhaps it can be quantified as total energy needed to move all those materials but I'm not in the mood for intense physics calculations so I'm not going to try and attach a value to that.

So suppose someone wants to demolish that village. Sure, they can. But literally all they can do is tear down the buildings and maybe bust the well apart as that is something a person could do with their physical ability within a few weeks time. Building a mountain though? That's going to take way longer than a lifetime if you are artificially building it.

Now of course if you get 1000 people together and they each pass the map around then maybe you will get your mountain. However, I think that is a fair and unavoidable compromise. Having a large community work towards such a massive goal by using this isn't exactly unfair. After all if an army used magic to outright destroy an enemy kingdom by all at once launching fireballs across the country side and destroying villages that would not be as overpowered as one sorcerer casting a spell and the entire kingdom sinking into the Earth as the entirety of the land turned to ocean. The results are mostly the same but it sounds less unrealistic when you need more people to do it.

Ripping the map in half won't do anything meaningful though. Just as with a map in real life the area that map represents shrinks by ripping it, so to does your map. Suppose I ripped that example map in half. Now the left half contains one half of the river and the other contains the other half. Each half can only directly affect that one region. It's not going to destroy the world. It's just a map.

However, while we are on the subject of destroying planets via magical maps...

Besides, considering the Earth is non-euclidean and the map is flat ripping the map in half under your original claim that it could destroy things would actually be more likely to not actually cause the problems you think it would anyways. I'm going to come back to this later but I think that if we assume that the spherical surface of the Earth's is being mapped to a flat surface and then we bend or rip that surface to change it that the corresponding change to the sphere might actually result in something much more exotic than a physical change to the Earth's shape. If we also factor in the curvature of spacetime formed by the Earth then the actual result might be a temporal shifting rather than a physical shifting. This is just hypothetical though and I'd have to really think hard about this. Basically the problem is that we aren't ripping a globe in half and getting two hemispheres we are ripping a map in half along a line such that things are still connected deep underground and possibly around the sides of the map and then potentially folding it. But because we are working with a spherical surface projected to a flat surface there are actions for which the spherical surface lack an equivalent. Hence why I suspect that if the distortion of the map distorted actual space that it would half to distort time as well by folding and ripping because that might be the only way for the math to work out. I suspect that areas that weren't ripped that are then laid together in different ways and folded might also result in a worm hole like effect, but that's also just a symptom of messing with spacetime arbitrarily. To elaborate further, poke a hole in the map. Poke another hole in the map. Let's assume the map can be folded or bent with no problems for now. Now join the two poked in holes. If the map can at least repair itself the result will first be vacuous emptiness forming. I don't even know what that would mean, but it sounds bad. Then all of a sudden a wormhole would open from that location on the planet to the other location. Everything around that area will also stretch inward which also will look very strange. Obviously the way to prevent this is to just assume damage to the map is damage only to the artifact not to all of space.

In conclusion, considering the distortion from euclidean to spherical geometry it might be that the map cannot do it anyways in that form as a change on that scale of the map would be incompatible with the actual real world counterpart (the globe) as the transformation from one to other is simply impossible. There will always be a distance or trajectory distortion (or both). One way to resolve that might be to make the map affect time when messing on that scale, but I think the easier explanation is that the map simply can't look at things that large. Similarly limiting it to the amount of work a person can do in their entire lifetime makes it an easy metric for various users. It's easy for a random adventurer to see "oh I can only do as much as could have done if I lived out my entire life right now" (given instruction) then for them to understand what "1000000 joules of energy spent on moving materials" means. It's also easier for a reader to comprehend.

  • $\begingroup$ "Just as with a map in real life the area that map represents shrinks by ripping it, so to does your map." - Good point. $\endgroup$ – chasly from UK Jan 5 at 10:14

The map is not literal

First of all, I'd make this map indestructible. It certainly can be damaged - but exclusively by magical means, like rituals, that would eventually guarantee that it will eventually "heal".

Then, I'd say that only a specific kind of magic ink can be used to draw in this map. Either this or make it so that changes to the map can only be done during a given ritual. Anything else, like a pencil or regular ink won`t work (maybe the ink and the graphite just fade, eventually).

This magical map works by projecting the idea of the drawer in the terrain - but it won't always work exactly as it's supposed to. For simple things like drawing a tree, it might work perfectly. But when a greater change is done, the effects on the terrain start to get more and more unpredictable.

So if you draw a tree in the middle of a square, the ink will slowly spread, over the course of days, months, years - decades or centuries even - and slowly change its form and colours to start becoming a tree. It will, most times, be the tree the drawer thought of. But sometimes, the tree might end up becoming a different tree (which is of little consequence).

This way you don't really need a person that knows how to draw, since the map kind of "scans" the drawer's idea from his mind. Just imagine how silly your map would be when found by your heroes, after 3000 years of people drawing shitty sticks and weird shapes in it.

You might also adapt this to fit the extreme versions of what can be done to the map. If you burn it, maybe a great fire strikes the affected area. The burn stain would also change, just like the magic ink, and eventually portrait the destroyed area. The same can be said of tearing the map. Maybe it glues itself back together while portraying the huge canyon formed after the greatest earthquake ever registered.

These unorthodox ways of using the map could be even more unpredictable. We'd all assume that burning the map would mean a great fire. But why couldn't the affected area just become a huge tar pit or a swamp over hundreds of years? - a drastic change to a biome. This factor of randomness could be a way to ensure that the map is not a weapon of mass destruction - at least not that easily.

Remember that: These more agressive ways of shaping the map must also be done under a ritual, to explain why it heals itself even if heavily damaged (it's a magical map, dude :P)


does the interface have to be traditional?

imagine you have the wielder of the map (now cartographer) sit cross legged with the map in front of him. His eyes close, and in his vision the space warps, as it dose when a star fighter in star wars goes into hyperspace. He looks at his hand and it is translucent. Then he turns around and sees his body. In modern times it is in what would be called a vegetative state, as its spirit has left it. he then pictures moving down, and sees his mom making dinner. Enshrouding her is a spirit identical to her body. her lips are moving, but he cant hear her. He has known of the power of the map for countless years, yet now its his. He goes to the park and finds a oak sapling. he knows he can effect terrain and time. he tries time on the sapling,k and it quickly becomes an old tree. as he floats home he starts to feel fatigue, so he goes to a fountain and finds himself five years older


Changes to the map occur instantly, but only in the owner's head. However (for instance) if the owner removes an existing bridge and then tries to walk across it, he drowns. Altering the map changes nothing in the real world. The map was created by a mage with a peculiar sense of humor. The mage originally arranged for the map to be found by an enemy, since mages are not allowed to use magic on each other. The map becomes in effect a third party and after a time the enemy kills himself with his changes to the map. The map is indestructible and continues to provide the creator mage with endless amusements.


The map must be "Animated" over time":

In my concept, to enact a change, you would set the map backwards and/or forwards in time, select an interval, and draw the each change at each time interval.

  • Making changes requires energy, or effort of some sort, on the part of the person making the changes, and so in any given moment of time they can only change a certain amount at a given scale.

  • The shorter the time-frame acted on, and/or larger the scale, ths more energy/effort required up to some finite maximum.

    • To make a river change at a certain scale, they might dial the time on the map backwards 10 years, and make slight changes, every year 10 times, or 12 times a year, 120 times.
  • The map chooses how to get from A to B between intervals on the drawn on section.

    • Draw a ladder on a building appearing in an hour from now, and some work-men come by and put up a ladder to clean the building's windows, then wonder off to take lunch.

    • Change the course of a river over 10 years at one year intervals, and perhaps most years the map chooses to have annual flooding and some minor rock-falls affect the changes.

  • The Map decides how these changes affect (if at all) the area outside of that space drawn on (although ymmv).

    • Make the course of a river change 1 hour from now, and a massive earth-quake occurs somewhere else in the map causing massive destruction that was unplanned for and perhaps unwanted.

    • eg. If you redraw a section of the river such that it will follow a new Course, and do it on a very section of the map, you can only redraw the end point and the topological change, the map is going to redraw the river's flow through the land outside that section with increasingly unpredictable consequences as the further upstream and more dramatic the change is drawn.

    • If you survey the area beforehand with map in hand, and put in sufficient effort to predict how the change would affect things (especially if you choose to move forward in time) the more predictable the surrounding changes will be.

  • Changes that Happen over time give people that amount of time to react to it

    • Dial the map back 100 years into the past, and make the river change course to empty into a basin with a town. The town was moved, or damned the water so that it swill flows similarly to how you drew it but perhaps not how you expected it. Or a few houses from a settlement for 2 houses 100 years ago exist as ruins, and a city is on a nearby hill with all the same people in it, or 50 years ago the whole town was flooded and its houses are all underwater, but some/all of the descendants and brand new people live in a city up the hill.

    • If the user wants to change the course of a river to flood a town, it could be done instantly with an earthquake (that is what changed the mighty Mississippi in a single hour!) But it would require the max energy that an instant change allows on a very small scale, so they would need to zoom in on a small area, and re-draw that area so the down-river portion of the river is shown pointing else-where, with a change in elevation to keep it from heading back fo the original course directly.

    • Make the course of a river change 1 hour from now, and a massive earth-quake occurs somewhere else in the map and changes the elevation of the area causing a wall of water to sweep through the town. Then, the map/physics/rng/gm will have to determine the rest of the course of the river.

  • Changes are accepted as natural for those who have no "True Sight™"

    • If a change is made everyone sees it as always having been that way except those who have a special true sight ability.

    • This ability is permanently conferred to those who have been in possession of the map while changes that were planed occur, or who have learned what it does and been preset for someone else demonstrating it.

  • Physically cutting the map or ripping it up usually won't cause an effect:

    • The map is "mapped" to the world, but does not join the world, instead it only acts on the world.

    • In certain circumstances, however you could reposition the map through cutting and mending the map, so long as all lines on mended edges match up without notation, or the notations are erased and redrawn as necessary.

    • To this end the User can detect, and create "Portals" or "Wormholes". While touching one side of the map to the other does nothing, a person could create a connection between places by only mending one edge of the map, joining areas far separated without moving where they physically are.

    • This would also allow the user to discover secret portals that other magical users created that exist, because, although they don't have the map, essentially they are doing the same thing, and at least the map will represent this when at a correct scale to be able to do so.


Map of Manipulation

Skill requirement:

(bonus modifier to your roll when using skill:

  • Geology : +8
  • Lore : +2
  • Oceanography : +4
  • Cartography : +10
  • Astrophysics : +20*

Users who are 'uneducated' automatically critically fail and cause random severe weather.

* consult your DM

  • $\begingroup$ Geology you know why the land changes, lore is that it did, oceans that water changes things, maps that are always changing, and giant rocks from the sky that push the reset button. $\endgroup$ – Mazura Jan 6 at 2:40

have the map only command the water in the river.

You erase a bridge and the river attacks the foundations.

you change the path and the river bursts its banks.

I'm envisioning processes that take weeks to years to complete.


The map and the world are linked because they are the same. They map is 100% accurate at the detail it shows. (In fact, that is probably what made it so hard to form, and why it took countless centuries of trial and error, even with all the magic available.)

Now that it's formed, there is some leeway, but no one wants to test how much. No one knows how far you can take it before the connection breaks. And no one knows if breaking the connection will be a clean break or cause a catastrophe.

So you must make a small change, and then wait for it to take effect, as it take some time. Then when the map is accurate again, you make another small change, and so on.

Those trained to watch over the map and use it when needed are of course very careful. But even the villain(s) going after the map would never think to push it too hard, because of what might happen.

Of course, maybe there is some villain who has the hurbis to think they can keep it all together no matter what, or who doesn't care what happens to the world.


The simplest answer here that is not overpowered is that the person who wishes to enact a change must paint or draw on it the thing they want to change, then the map makes the change happen if and only if the change is something of an acceptable level of change.

As you say in your example, ripping the map is catastrophic. So, if someone rips the map, the map rejects this change and the two pieces just zip back together as soon as they hit the ground.

If you erase a city off the face of the map, the map just decides not to do it, and the paint or X drawn on it just flakes off.

If you draw a cage around someone then it works, appearing around the person - assuming that the person doesn't move into the edge before you complete the drawing. In that case the drawing flakes away.

You could even go as far as having the map be somewhat sentient like a living planet scenario. If you draw a dam bursting above a valley with a village in it, the map finds your change to be abhorrent and never accepts your changes again


Don't forget that a map is merely a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional world. You necessarily lose some information when encoding reality onto a map. Therefore, adding something to the map does not provide enough information to completely and perfectly describe a change to the three-dimensional world. In your particular case, your magic map has the responsibility of filling in the missing pieces.

For example, let's say you find a large, wide-open prairie and draw a tall brown mesa in the middle of it. Creating a tall mesa in the middle of the prairie would of course be the intended result. You head out to the prairie but...it's still perfectly flat. What happened? You survey the area from the air and notice that patches of vegetation have died back, revealing the rocky ground underneath. When viewed from an altitude, these dark-colored rocky patches form the shape of the mesa symbol that you drew on the map. Your magic map simply took your input and came up with the simplest, lowest-energy solution that would result in a map that looked like the one that you drew (similar to how a polynomial equation in mathematics can have multiple, equally-valid solutions). Because of this behavior, it's extremely difficult to make large-scale changes like adding or removing land-forms. Enough detail is left up to interpretation that the results of attempting something like that are difficult to predict, and are rarely close to what you intended.

Moving existing things is a different story. The bridge icon on your map was created by the map itself. Therefore, the map already knows everything about the 3D structure of the bridge. Taking that existing map marker and relocating it downstream a bit would have the effect that you expect.

As far as something like tearing the map goes, that wouldn't result in catastrophic changes at all. Tearing the map didn't actually change it. The information encoded on the map is exactly the same, now it's just in two pieces and a whole lot harder to use.


Drawing symbols on the map with a pen or brush is only a physical representation of what you are actually doing - embedding your will into the map. The changes that occur in the real world are reflective of what your were willing to happen at the time you drew it, which has no relationship on how well you can draw. If accidental things happen to the map, these obviously were not intended and therefore the world is not affected by them.

This would also mean the person modifying the map could be hiding their intention by drawing something different from what they were 'willing' to happen, confusing anyone who looked at the map until the change occured in the real world.


This is a specific set of rules known about the map, the shady merchant wrote this down from a series of notes from its previous owner.

  1. The map is indeed very special, is not just like ordinary paper map as it is indestructible (at least so far everything that has been done to it never even scratch its surface, be it fire, water, dagger, even magic itself, somehow this map looks like predates magic, or even human?).

  2. It has been known that the map have something like zoom ability, but the truth is the map just always shows its owner the area of their own range of vision. This mean, this map is quite useless to show you a road to another city. So many people before just throw this map, unknown of its full potential.

  3. This zoom ability therefore also affect the map's power to change the earth. As when you are in a narrow alley, most likely what you can do is just remove obstacles ahead of you or put a big boulder to block your chasers. But when you are at the top of the mountain, there's quite much interesting things that you can do with it.

  4. The map come with also indestructible pen, neglecting its indestructible trait, the pen is also very special as it is ink-less, nor it will work with any type of ink.

  5. What the pen can do is simply manipulate what's already there on the map, like smudging on the land and sea. It may be boring, but in the hands of creative mind bearer, this is more than enough to act gods.

  6. Swipe a shoreline to a nearby island, you got a natural bridge and receding shoreline on the left and right part of the bridge. Move a scoop of land from a nearby river, you alter it.

  7. Beginners may think this map is lame. But with just those features known previous owner who is also a seafarer has been created a new sea from a dessert, the other previous owner even has a legend that with this map he can change climate, another one destroy a kingdom overnight, but the darkest tale is human has stole this map from titans, and somehow erase them from history with it paving a habitable world for us, but unhabitable for the Titan and god knows what else.


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