Fellow world-builders, I need some guidance. I've been drawing a map of the continent Anai'vora, the landmass where my current D&D Campaign takes place. I'm very new to world building, and this is my first stab at anything cartography related. I've spent over a 100+ hours researching and drawing (and redrawing) what I have so far (see image below), and I'm still nowhere close to being finished, and I'm starting to get discouraged. This is very much a fantasy map, but I want it to at least be semi-realistic. Australia was very much an inspiration for how it has turned out so far. Current Draft of Anai'vora

I've been trying to figure out where rivers and lakes would make sense to go, and I've tried placing a few, but I don't feel super confident in my chosen placements. I'm also trying to go for certain biomes if possible in a couple places. I want more of a Wild West feel on the left side of the Central mountain range, and more of a traditional fantasy forest feel on the right side (if at all possible). I've made some quick labels for where these might go, and have included them in the image below. Labeled Draft of Anai'vora

The ??? represent areas I have no idea what would make sense, and areas I have no issue with them being whatever makes the most sense. I would really appreciate any suggestions and feedback you guys might have. I want to do this map to the best of my ability.

Special Notes: In case it's relevant, the Shattered Isles were a peninsula that was ripped apart by a cataclysmic-level event (Gravity was redirected to pull the land apart), hence their unusual formation. Novarra (the world this continent is on) has no moon, but rather a ring similar to Saturn, as well as two suns (yellow and blue). Novarra orbits the orbit of the two suns around each other. The crater (directly underneath the word Rocky) is a result of a floating city crashing to the ground from Orbit, and that area is probably pockmarked from falling debris.

EDIT: Taking some of the feedback I've gotten, I've made some adjustments on the map (see below). Updated Draft of Anai'vora

Updated Labeled Draft of Anai'vora

However, I still don't have good sense of where to put rivers or additional lakes, especially with the changed landscape.

Also, since the crater of the fallen city is on the edge of the Desert, I've labeled the area around the crater as the "Glass Fields" as I imagine there would be huge chunks of sand turned to glass from the immense heat of impact (more importantly it's cool).

  • $\begingroup$ At a minimum we will need to know the latitudes occupied to estimate ocean and air currents. $\endgroup$ – rek Sep 7 '20 at 22:59
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    $\begingroup$ I'm going to give out my usual advice: check out Aagaar's FMG, it will do a lot of the work for you! If you don't mind either making the effort to carefully redraw your map exactly, or accepting something that is "close" to your current design but not identical, it will fill in watersheds, biomes and whatnot. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Sep 7 '20 at 23:05
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    $\begingroup$ Please note that rivers shape landscapes over the ages. The question sort if assumes: imagine if a world appeared out of nowhere and it started raining ... rivers are less a feature added on than something that develops over time and is in no way static on geological time scales. That's a good thing for you. The complexity is insane and will depend on global weather patterns, small streams forming larger ones, historic glaciers, rock types and much more. You can draw them wherever and nobody can prove you wrong. Whatever fits your story. Assuming you know water flows downhill ;) $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Sep 7 '20 at 23:09
  • $\begingroup$ A couple things seem a little suspect, starting with the mountains so close to the coast(s). I would expect more lowlands before the sea, but maybe you have an explanation for how they occurred? The river coming off the eastern mountains looks like it ought to drain more directly into the southern bay, unless there is a ridge of higher elevation cutting across the top of the southern peninsula. I'm not sure how the more northern lake up against the eastern mountains happened. Azgaar's will give you / force you to make a complete height map that will give you a better feel for all this. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Sep 7 '20 at 23:10
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    $\begingroup$ The new map looks MUCH improved! I might still pull the northwestern spine in a touch, though, like you did the eastern one. And seriously, have you checked out Azgaar's FMG yet? Rough in your height map and let it do the rest of the work for you! $\endgroup$ – Matthew Sep 9 '20 at 13:58

So... I have bad news.

I went and tried to reproduce this in Azgaar's FMG. I think I did a tolerable job getting the basics pretty close:

Height Map

However, when you take prevailing winds into account, you run into two problems with your biomes that I couldn't "solve" even by changing the winds to less realistic directions. First, the west side of the eastern mountain range is in a rain shadow; getting much in the way of forests here is going to be troublesome if they are tall (~8000 ft). Second, the lake near the southern bay was probably closer in your first attempt versus the revision, except that (as noted) you probably won't have much in the way of rivers feeding it from the east. You can get it (you'll notice I managed it), but it's going to be fed mostly from the mountains nearer the middle of the map, and you're probably going to need a valley west of it to keep that water from bypassing it. Third... I can't for the life of me get the northwestern part to be dry; there's just nothing there to stop rain from coming in. You might have better luck extending the northern mountain range to meet up with the one in the middle, but that's a non-trivial topological change. In this version, I made it a mesa which at least turned it into taiga, but that was the best I could do. You might get a very small patch of desert right at the foot of the mountains. Fourth, I can't get that swamp to appear. It's on the wrong side of the mountains; it seems the shattered isles disrupt the rainfall too much. If you moved it to the south of the mountains, that would probably work.

Here's how the biomes for the above look:


So, after more fiddling... If you want grasslands and desert in the northwest, the only way I can figure for that to happen is for that area to be about on the equator. That seems to work tolerably:


...and the height map:

Height Map

The northwest is mostly savanna with a bit of hot (and cold) desert where you want it, and another big desert north of the central mountains (huge rain shadow there). I still can't figure out any way, however, to dry out the northeast; in this version it's mostly seasonal tropical forest with tropical rain forest on the east coast, turning into temperate rain forest as you go south. The area around the big lake is mostly grassland. I had to carve out a fairly substantial valley to get the water to go there, which turned into temperate deciduous forest, and a bit more of that along the lake's outlet. That area is probably a bit like the American Midwest. Again, though, I just can't see any way to get rain to the west slope of the eastern mountains, so you've got another big desert there. (Interestingly, it's east slope is wetland...)

Lastly, since the rivers are a bit hard to see in the other versions:


Obviously, you don't need to copy this exactly, but it should at least help get you pointed in a reasonable direction as to what your watershed looks like. One note: that western bay makes me think there should be some sort of a cleft running deeper into the land. In this version, I have said cleft coming in from the east (as in your original version), but you could switch that and have it coming from the north if you'd prefer.

I really can't stress enough that you should play around with this yourself!

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you so much for putting all this work into helping me figure this out! Is there anyway you could send me the map file you made with Azgaar's? I'd like a chance to mess with it as you suggested. The northeast not being dry is honestly okay, the marsh and the dryer western region were more important as my players have already been to those areas to some extent. Everything else is a lot more flexible. $\endgroup$ – SirNocturne Sep 9 '20 at 22:07
  • $\begingroup$ Try this: gofile.io/d/W1hRLP. BTW, you might have better luck with rainfall for the marsh if you move the shattered isles a bit (make them come off the south of the northwest mass rather than right next to the marsh). That said, if it's at least showing up as deciduous forest, that may be sufficient for plausibility anyway. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Sep 10 '20 at 13:03

I have some comments to make about things that don't currently make sense to me about your map. I don't think they're definitely impossible, but they might stretch believability. enter image description here

First, the red circled area. You have rivers flowing from the east mountains towards the central mountains. Maybe if you added contour lines this would look better, but right now it looks like the eastern-most rivers are flowing up hill.

Second, the blue circled area. It seems to be a lake, but I don't see any rivers feeding it. This isn't necessarily a problem, but it changes what the surrounding terrain has to be like. If it isn't fed by major rivers, it must be fed by lots of streams that were too small to note on this map. Since it doesn't drain anywhere, it is likely to be very salty, and maybe not harbor any life.

Last, the green circled area. This is the only one that I can't think of a way to fix. Deserts form in rain shadows; the prevailing winds don't bring enough humid air to the region, meaning little water makes its way there. I don't see anywhere you could have the wind come from and have all these features make sense. Like, if it comes from the northeast, the desert makes sense; humidity couldn't make it over the mountains. But if no humidity is making it over the mountains, what's feeding those rivers? If the wind is coming from any other direction, the rivers get fed but then the desert doesn't make sense.

I don't think there's anything wrong with having lakes near, or even within mountain ranges.

  • $\begingroup$ Small lakes usually are found in mountains, they just aren't usually so big. Although, come to think of it, Lake Tahoe or Titicaca aren't all that different from the northern lake. (Shifting it just a touch away from the foot of the mountains would probably help.) As for the desert, I actually wonder if it's too far north, given the other side of the continent at that latitude is "cold tunrda". (Maybe it's much higher elevation?) $\endgroup$ – Matthew Sep 8 '20 at 3:17

Unless you have people studying your terrain in detail and analyzing it SPECIFICALLY to poke holes in lake and river placement, your map as it is is probably fine.

Your rivers and lakes depend on the topography of the terrain - you need a headwater and a delta, but the space in between depends on details that don't exist in your map. Some of the issues I'd raise mirror @Ryan_L but I'd also suggest the northern desert works fine if your prevailing winds are coming from the east and the desert elevation is low enough.

The river flowing from the east to the central mountains might be an issue, but again it depends on the relative elevation. If the eastern range levels out in a plateau then the river might empty into a basin south of the central range, fill your lake, then enter the delta to the west. All of that is fine, but consider the broader impact... depending on the age of your world (and a variety of other factors) the eastern river gives you the opportunity to build in a canyon. Intraversable terrain is always a fantastic limiter or challenge in stories.

The ONLY question I have is the river that flows to the west just south of your desert. It starts in the middle of nowhere and moves west without any clear motivation. Ostensibly, the desert is probably lower than the plains... it seems likely that any headwater forming from ground springs would either flow into a dead sea or end up back underground. I'd consider at least explaining its existence as an anomaly.

This is all your call though for the reasons I stated above - there's not enough detail in this map to explain everything, but that goes both ways. There's also not enough detail to argue against placement - or at least there's plenty of room for you to explain why things are the way they are.

  • $\begingroup$ "Unless you have people studying your terrain in detail and analyzing it SPECIFICALLY to poke holes in lake and river placement"... which is exactly what I'd expect for this question 😉. Fair point, though; you presumably aren't showing this map to your players and explicitly asking them... well, to specifically poke holes in your lake and river placement. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Sep 8 '20 at 3:11
  • $\begingroup$ Right - I tend to come at things based on my own experience as a writer and experience designer, and a lot of the detail is usually only important for continuity. If it doesn't add to the experience, you don't always need to explain it. $\endgroup$ – CeliaFate Sep 8 '20 at 4:01
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    $\begingroup$ It may also depend on how accuracy-obsessed you are and/or how badly you are infected with world-building disease. I'm a bit like the main character from Eight Million Gods. I've been working on a story where at one point the main character needs to sneak out of school. Satisfying my need to know how this was accomplished — ­despite it accounting for maybe a few sentences (well, at the time) — "required" me to develop a complete floor plan of the building 😃. (Of course, that sort of thing can be useful once you have it...) $\endgroup$ – Matthew Sep 8 '20 at 13:41
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    $\begingroup$ Oh absolutely!! In one of my stories I have a floor plan of the school, a map of the town including the shops, and lines connecting each character with the places they frequent so the names, locations, directions, etc. are all laid out, but NONE of that info reaches the reader except through the experience of the protagonist. However, whether or not there's a pothole on the shoulder between the grocer and the post office is only relevant if it affects the plot, even if people need to change their behavior to avoid it. $\endgroup$ – CeliaFate Sep 8 '20 at 14:08
  • $\begingroup$ I really appreciate your thoughts CeliaFate, they were honestly really encouraging. 😃 $\endgroup$ – SirNocturne Sep 9 '20 at 22:18

First shift the river fed lake in the center of your map to roughly halfway between the mountains and put the outlet neat the furthest northeast portion of the big bay. the Continental to continental crust mountain range in the middle produces huge uplift, the river should be very very far away from it, basically halfway between it and the eastern range or even a little further east.

Second the northwestern quadrant of the map is a mess. the big round bay makes no sense, plate tectonics don't produce shapes like that with a mountain range right nest to them. The bay makes absolutely no sense with that mountain range right there, a mountain range along the coast like that is due to subduction so there should be an island arc closing of the bay. tectonic borders are basically always made of 120 degree angles and arcs.The river that goes south and east should either go all the way across the desert (Nile like) or just not exist, you are looking ant one small continent. There is no way elevation is pushing that river east. river only parallel mountain ranges when you have multiple small mountains on both sides of it. Note your desert will be a cold desert because it is at the same latitude as tundra.

All your coastlines are a bit weird, tectonic borders are basically always made of 120 degree angles and arcs with a fer rare splits. A lot of the coastlines are a little too jagged The general shape the coastline actually looks fairly decent but the lines waver a bit too much. basically it is too jagged for its scale but the big angles are good. coastlines tend to be rather smooth not counting river cuts.

Third island don't occur in big round blobs like that, they exist in arcs, sometimes layered arcs but the subduction arc that creates them is always noticeable. Look at the south pacific, very noticeable arcs.

Forth you have a large lake in the northeast, that does not make sense, a large lake needs to be either fed by a large river or be surrounded my mountains to exist, you are better off deleting it. Ditto for the one in the south, but you can fix the southern one by extending the eastern mountain range south following the arc and maybe putting a small branch around it.

  • $\begingroup$ Couldn't the big round bay be a meteor crater (like Chesapeake Bay)? $\endgroup$ – Peter Shor Sep 8 '20 at 0:58
  • $\begingroup$ @PeterShor the Chesapeake bay is barely visible on this scale. Nor is it round. $\endgroup$ – John Sep 8 '20 at 1:06
  • $\begingroup$ A lot of meteor craters are much rounder than Chesapeake Bay. Sedimentation has filled in the Eastern Shore of Virginia since it was created. But you're right about the size. $\endgroup$ – Peter Shor Sep 8 '20 at 1:13
  • $\begingroup$ @PeterShor on this scale a meteor large enough to create this bay as a crater would liquefy the planet. $\endgroup$ – John Sep 8 '20 at 1:15
  • $\begingroup$ As for the isles, at least; ahem: "the Shattered Isles were a peninsula that was ripped apart by a cataclysmic-level event (gravity was redirected to pull the land apart), hence their unusual formation". (On that note, though, I wonder if they were an extension of the nearby mountain range? In which case they might be very tall...) $\endgroup$ – Matthew Sep 8 '20 at 3:22

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