What are the iconic maps/cartography to come from the RPG/fantasy/MMO genre?
January 19, 2012 10:58 AM   Subscribe

RPG/Fantasy/MMO maps and cartography: There's quite a bit out there, but who is making/has made the best, most beautiful, or most significant fantasy maps? And which maps are iconic within the genre? [more qualifications inside]

I write a blog about very large maps. I'm strong on the "maps" part; weak as a kitten on the "RPG/Fantasy/MMO" part. I'd like to find some high-quality, innovative, significant examples of fantasy cartography to write about, but I'm at a loss for where to start; so I'd like the opinions and guidance of connoisseurs of this mapping idiom, first.

I've had to wade through quite a bit of crap, honestly, to find the few gems I've found so far. I'm not sure where to look, and it doesn't help that I'm not sure exactly what it is I'm looking for.

Notionally, the maps I'm seeking would score high in the following ways:
  • maps exhibiting tremendous skill, effort, and craft on the part of the mapmaker.
  • maps thought to have very high significance or import to a particular genre or canon (as agreed upon by large segments of the community)
  • maps at least somewhat interesting to a layman, and having fairly broad appeal (not saying that it has to be white-bread or anything... just that it should be benign or inclusive towards those unfamiliar with RPG tropes, rather than excluding them, outright)
For different reasons, it'd also be great if:
  • the maps could be obtained at very large pixel dimensions -- we're talking minimum 3,000px × 3,000px, but preferably larger.
  • the mapmaker could be contacted about giving his/her permission to use the map and/or the map is in the public domain. (A hard-and-fast rule of mine).
Many thanks for your expertise and your answers. I look forward to researching further.
posted by jjjjjjjijjjjjjj to Media & Arts (17 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
These maps of Aporkalypse (MetaFilter's unofficial Minecraft world) might fit your requirement. They were all done by me.
posted by crapmatic at 11:06 AM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

The best maps are probably being made by folks who use ProFantasy's (expensive) Campaign Cartographer toolkit. You might want to chat with some of their Master Mappers and ask this question on their forum, as a start.

I'm a user of CC myself, but no expert. :)
posted by ellF at 11:13 AM on January 19, 2012

Maps of Ultima
posted by TrinsicWS at 11:21 AM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

scoring extremely low on your first bullet point, but pretty high on the next two...Mapstalgia was just posted on the blue a few days ago, in case u hadn't seen it...might be good for a post on your blog...i found it charming...
posted by sexyrobot at 11:21 AM on January 19, 2012

Warhammer Maps Galore
posted by Think_Long at 11:23 AM on January 19, 2012

Maps of Middlearth created for Tolkien's books are really great, I think. There are many examples of them on the net, I'm sure some are available in high resolution.
posted by utsutsu at 11:23 AM on January 19, 2012

I'd start with old School D&D classics:

The original Greyhawk map.

The Temple of Elemental Evil, if you can find a copy.

The Planescape maps are a thing of beauty.
posted by empath at 11:27 AM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think that Greyhawk map is a more recent version of the iconic original by Darlene Pekul.
posted by dfan at 11:35 AM on January 19, 2012

Speaking of, talking about why RPG maps use(d) hexes would be a good post.
posted by empath at 11:36 AM on January 19, 2012

Maps of 'cyberspace' and computer systems from games like Shadowrun, Cyberpunk and Deus Ex, etc, would be another topic.
posted by empath at 11:38 AM on January 19, 2012

There is some astonishingly good content at The Cartographer's Guild. Especially their Cartographer's Choice showcase.
posted by Wretch729 at 11:56 AM on January 19, 2012

You might find interesting the Middle Earth Digital Elevation Map Project, a guy who is building a 3D terrain model of Middle Earth.
posted by XMLicious at 12:48 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Of the fantasy RPG maps I've always felt that Taladas, one of the continents of the Dungeons & Dragons Dragonlance worlds, was the most striking image. The credits list Dave Sutherland and Dave LaForce as cartographers, but I don't know who of the two designed that map and how much input the designer, David Zeb Cook, had in it.

The in-game reason for the shape of the continent and the lava-sea in the middle of it is that in the history of the Dragonlance world (the planet is called Krynn, incidentally) the gods sent a meteor through the planet to punish two empires which challenged their rule. The Burning Sea in the middle of Taladas is the exit wound, so to speak. Yes, scientifically it is nonsense, but it makes a lovely kind of sense on its own terms. Also, needing to design a map around that fact is an interesting challenge which the cartographer(s) rose to and then some. There is more info about Taladas here, and that's the page which hosts the map-image I linked to.
posted by Kattullus at 3:45 PM on January 19, 2012

Do a google image search for "Riven maps". And "Myst maps"

(From the riven link, four maps of the same island, for comparison: 1, 2, 3, 4)

As soon as a new Myst game would come out (such as the aforementioned Riven), the cartographic race was on to a) produce the most complete maps, and b) produce the most beautiful maps.

Cartography was part of the game experience, for many players.

This is because these games are about exploring the worlds, so finding unexplored terrain - and how to get there - is a huge part of the reward for playing. Secondly, the games are intended to be beautiful, with touches of old-world charm, and so a whatever-works level of map artistry is unsatisfying for many players.

Myst was a highly influential game, and is one of the most successful of all time. It was also recently part of a Smithsonian exhibit on the history of computer games. So you'd be in good company by including it :)
posted by -harlequin- at 4:09 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Jules Verne is a prominent fantasy figure, and the aforementioned Myst was named in part after his fantasy island from the book The Mysterious Island.

Here is a recent map that incorporates the original lithograph to create (as far as I know) the only English-language full-colour map of the island: Mysterious Island, and includes contact info.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:19 PM on January 19, 2012

I don't know how well this meets your requirements, but I'll admit to being impressed by this comparison of the maps in the different games from the Elder Scrolls series.
posted by radwolf76 at 6:51 PM on January 19, 2012

Oh, how could I forget Ursula K. Le Guin! Her website has a collection of maps. I'm especially fond of this one but Earthsea and Gethen are probably the most classic.
posted by Kattullus at 10:28 AM on January 26, 2012

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