Using maps to structure your fantasy world
While giving your players a map when they enter a new region might be not feel too realistic it does allow you to structure your world and your game.

Using maps to structure your world

Handing out a city map

While giving your players a map when they enter a new region might not feel too realistic it does allow you to structure your world and your game. Maps mark points of interest using icons or numbers. And those numbers act as triggers.

City of Ardbeg map marking POI's with numbers

As an example I proudly present Ardbeg. A small mining settlement in The Great Dwarven Empire of my home-brew world.

Using the numbers/triggers

Like any curious explorer or tourist, your players will be drawn to those numbers. They will tell you they head for building number 37 and ask you what they see. The stage is now set, it's concrete. This allows you, the Dungeon Master to show your world to your players.

Deep Dug Inn Interior

On the Ardbeg map number 37 is "Bea's Deep Dug Inn" a rowdy bar frequented by miners who come here to blow off steam after a long day's work.

Running down the numbers

"Given the opportunity, players will optimize the fun out of a game. - Soren Johnson"

Your players might just run down the numbers and ask you about 36, 35, 34 all the way to 24 until they have a complete rough guide of region. Which is certainly effective but results in you, the DM in info-dumping your world onto your players which makes for terrible gaming experience.

City of Ardbeg map marked with ?

Running through the numbers I'll be required to info dump what all of the +/-19 houses between the bar, Nb 37 and the red light district Nb 24 look like. Apart from 11, 12, 17, 32, 35, 36... they're all pretty common. Bored yet?


Number everything:

Give every tree in the forest or every house in the city a number. When they find out it's just another tree or house they'll take a step back and start to explore in a more engaging way. Just be careful. Tediousness might not stop them. And tedious makes for a tedious gaming experience. Thus while easy and effective I recommend one of the solutions below.

All the houses are numbered.

Temporarily unreachable:

Some places might not always be reachable, or might not even always exist. Mountain passes might be frozen shut during winter. Markets might only appear every last day of the week. This forces your players to consider when to explore. Preventing a rundown of the numbers.

Number 17 is the city square. Depending on when it's visited it might house a market, military parade, protesters or it might just be a square.

The cost of exploring:

Exploring should be encouraged but it should also have a cost. Predictable as in time spent, rations consumed or by the use of random encounters. This forces your players to consider what to explore. Preventing a rundown of the numbers.

The space between the numbers:

Things can also happen in the space between the numbers on the map. When traveling from one number (location) to another you can throw in a random encounter, friendly or hostile. This adds to the cost of exploration but also shows the map is a tool to show your world. Not an inventory of events.

World building

In conclusion

When you're designing a world and structuring it around a map consider;

  • marking everything on your map.
  • creating temporarily unreachable locations (consider when to explore).
  • adding a cost to exploration (consider what to explore).
Author(s): Gregory Vangilbergen - (Updated:Jan 23, 2022)