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Realistic Fantasy Maps Rules

10 Rules for Realistic Fantasy Maps

Storyteller OS users: Clip this video into your Knowledge Base and categorize it under Setting + World Building

When creating a fantasy map it can be tempting to draw very unique and whimsical characteristics. But this can lead to your map being unrealistic and implausible. Learn how to keep your map grounded (no pun intended) and follow these rules to create a realistic landscape for your story.


  • Rivers don't split, they join together as they go to lower points. One exception is a delta which is the mouth of the river widening by sediment and silt deposits.
  • Lakes only have one river draining it. It's extremely unlikely that you'll have two equally low points where the water is going to flow.
  • No coast to coast rivers. Water from rivers starts at high points and then flow to low points.
  • No lonely mountains. Naturally mountains are created by factors that create lots of mountains.
  • Consider the rain shadow effect. On coastal side of mountains are usually very wet and lush. The other side of the mountain is dry and air. This is effected by the wind direction.
  • Plate tectonics effect continent shape. See how continents use to fit together when they were one.
  • Plate tectonics effect mountains. Formed by plate subduction where one plate is going underneath the other.
  • Settlements should be common near water. It is advantageous for life, transportation, and agriculture.
  • Ports are in sheltered areas. They are not in exposed areas, but more in bays that are sheltered from winds and rough waters.