Map generation software is a great way to source maps for your worldbuilding quickly. If you need a quick map for a fantasy story, or a map for a D&D campaign, this might be the way for you. You’ll be able to start worldbuilding on World Anvil with a map right away, and you don’t need to spend time crafting each individual coastline. Once you have your map images, you can upload them to World Anvil to start the actual worldbuilding process! Write articles about the world wonders, the political organizations like Empires and countries, and the climate, then drop pins onto the map and link them in! Toggle between layers showing climate, politics and more.
World Map generation software
When I’m talking map generation software, the typical process is this. Tweak some preset options (more or less water, lots of towns or fewer) and then the system autogenerates a map for you! My main consideration is always what the finished product looks like, which is a matter of personal taste. Beyond that, the main criteria I’ve been judging by are speed, ease of use, and the level of control you have. After all, even if you’re using a premade map for worldbuilding, it doesn’t mean you don’t want to tweak things!
Just note, most map generation software I’ve found is geared towards fantasy maps, and there isn’t a lot available for sci-fi. In terms of permissions, you’ll be fine using any of these images for your own worldbuilding. As always, if you want to use any of maps created using this software commercially, double check the permissions of the software owners.
My micro-review process
I’ve done what I guess is a “micro-review” of five pieces of map generation software available online for free: Azgaar’s Fantasy Map Generator, Worldspinner (free features only), Donjon’s Fantasy Map generator, Greenfish Relief Map Generator and Nortantis. The first three are browser-based map generation software, and the last two are downloadable software. I call it a micro-review because I went through the process of creating a map I would happily upload to a World Anvil world as the seed for worldbuilding. I didn’t explore all the features available, just the simple process of making a map for worldbuilding. And it goes without saying… these are my own, personal opinions!
Azgaar’s Fantasy Map Generator
Azgaar’s fantasy map generator is a free fantasy map generation software, supported by a Patreon. It’s browser-based and very easy to use. I mention it first as it’s probably the best example I’ve found of map generation software currently available! When the browser loads, the system autogenerates a map of a fantasy world. You can refresh the window to get a whole new landmass if you don’t like the one provided.
So what can it do?
There’s a LOT of control with this software. At the top left you can open and close a panel which gives you a TONNE of options. You can toggle layers on and off to show different information. You can change the art style to ye olde fashioned, modern, “gloomy” (their word!) or monochrome, and also add filters. It doesn’t look very Scifi, but you can definitely get a modern-looking map if you tweak the settings. Toggle on and off the autogenerated place name labels, autogenerated biomes, roads, rivers, precipitation levels, landmarks, population stats, religious and cultural distributions etc.
All that toggling is FANTASTIC for creating different layer images for World Anvil’s interactive maps! Just export the different image compositions you like and upload them as layer images in World Anvil. That way, you’ll be able to toggle between them at ease, and also drop pins on them to integrate, organize and store your worldbuilding! The map generation software also autogenerates a tonne of information about population, “burgs”, religions, etc. I’m not a fan of this for my projects, but if you need a start to your worldbuilding in a hurry, this might be useful for you. It’s at least an inspirational place to start! You can quickly regenerate these in the interface but, as with all autogeneration, it’s pretty hit or miss.
There are also several different view modes for maps: flat, 3d (which shows topography and allows you to drag it around in 3 dimensions) and globe view.
What I didn’t like about Azgaar’s Fantasy Map Generator
Most of the landmasses in the world maps auto-created were Pangea-like lumps. Maybe it’s because I come from an island, but I love to see archipelagos, wiggly coastlines and idiosyncratic formations. I tried refreshing a bunch to give it a chance, but to no avail. It’s also a touch laggy, even on a very fast internet connection and a quick machine with the most updated Chrome browser. People with slower setup might find this unusable (or at least, they’ll need to be more patient and less coffee-fuelled than me!).
The name generation is… fine. But it’s not outstanding. Fortunately, you can toggle the names off so that didn’t bother me too much. After all, I’ll be uploading the different map shots to the World Anvil worldbuilding software and using the labels and interactive pins there. The globe view showed that the map created didn’t actually cover the whole globe. I had one or two continents. I guess that means that I’d need to create several maps to cover the whole globe, but that’s not practical in this engine.
Overall, I’d say this is the best map generation software available for free right now, for both D&D Game masters and Writers. If your favorite price is free and you want an attractive, autogenerated map with a lot of detail, this is a great option. If it’s useful for you, make sure you throw some money to the creator via his Patreon!
Worldspinner’s map generation software
Worldspinner is a fantasy map generation software, but also offers a bunch of other random generators to randomly generate a world. It is HEAVILY geared towards tabletop RPG games. Like the Azgaar Fantasy Map generator, it will autogenerate a certain amount of the worldbuilding for you, which you can take or leave as you like. Here, though, the focus is largely on adventure hooks and fantasy species or “historical” human cultures.
So what can it do?
Here’s the autogenerated map I was given to start with. You can toggle the land masses (Earthlike, Pangea or many continents), the rainfall and the general temperature of the world. You can also manually tweak the biomes with a brush. I like the landmass creation much more than Azgaar’s Fantasy Map generator. It looks more realistic to me.
You’re then invited to add “people” to your map – this is a mix of species and cultures. Options include high fantasy (standard Dungeons and Dragons), Low Fantasy and Historical (Egyptians, Romans, Vikings… and the English, apparently!) 😀 The “History” stage allows you to “run” your history forward, so that the seed points of your species and cultures spread out and form their own states. “Explore” presents you with a bunch of prenamed settlements with adventure hooks attached to them.
But to create flexible maps and map layers for use with World Anvil, the Map Artist stage is what you need to skip forward to. You can render the map region in detail, and the default art styles are fine, if somewhat old school. Most importantly for creating map layers, you can toggle the view mode to show or remove assets like cities, states and points of interest. This allows you to grab a bunch of different shots to use at map layers on World Anvil, which you can use to showcase your worldbuilding and link in your articles.
What I didn’t like about Worldspinner
I’m fussy, and I know it! After all, how much can you really demand from free map generation software? I’m afraid I definitely prefer the Azgaar art style to the Worldspinner one. A quick glance at the closeup below might show you why. Whilst old school is nostalgic for some, it just doesn’t do it for me, but I know that’s a personal preference. Also, be aware that, with the free Worldspinner account, you’ll have all your worldbuilding data deleted after a month. That’s pretty reasonable, as they want to encourage you to buy a membership (which isn’t expensive). It takes a LOONG time to render maps, though (maybe I’m just impatient) so make sure you have a cup of coffee to keep you occupied.
Fantasy World Generator by Donjon
Donjon, if you don’t know the site, is an awesome source of worldbuilding random generators (I’ll do a post on those too, one of these days!). I wanted to make sure I included this map generator, as I’m sure it’ll appeal to some of you!
You’ll start with a list of presets you can toggle. Make sure you check the settings carefully, because you’ll have to wait in a queue to have your map autogenerated and (as is becoming a theme in this blog post) I always want to do everything at 100 miles an hour!
This is a map I made without a hex grid and labels. If you want to do an oldschool D&D hex crawl, you can add the hex grid too.
As with all of this map generation software, it also autogenerates a certain amount of data (in the form of lists) about cities, castles and ruins to populate your world, which is listed beneath the map. There’s no export tool (at least, I couldn’t find one), so you’ll need to use a Snipping Tool or screenshot to grab your image.
What I didn’t like about Donjon’s map generation software
Well, it’s pretty simple. I don’t make maps for hex crawls. If you do, then this is the tool for you – quick and free! Those looking for a beautiful map for your fantasy novel, this isn’t going to be the map-generation software for you. For those who DO like it though, if you end up using any of the services, leave the creator a tip on Kofi!
Greenfish Relief Map Generator
The Greenfish Relief Map Generator is a quirky little free, downloadable map generation software that was designed to create fake maps that resemble real relief maps! The idea behind it was to help people create map displays for demonstrations without infringing on any copyrights, but it can create an earthlike map in a hurry! It’s a great tool for worldbuilders creating earthlike worldbuilding projects. If you’re writing in a fictional city within our own world (think Metropolis, Gotham and the like), this would be great for planning the surrounding area. Just a note that it was created back in 2008, so it looks a little retro, and there seems to be no updating or support. Don’t expect new features on this limited but handy little programme.
Nortantis is a free, downloadable fantasy map generation software originally created as an academic project. It uses a simple tectonic plate simulation to create islands and continents with trees, rivers, and mountains.
It’s actually a pretty nifty and compact program. Once you have it downloaded, you can toggle settings for terrain, background, effects, icons and text style, then preview your map. If you like it, you can generate the map, which saves on your computer as a PNG file. The maps look like old-fashioned handdrawn maps. With regards to names, you can choose a combination of different styles, like Ancient Eygpt, Wizard of Oz, or Around the World in 80 days. Removing the check-in the Draw Text box will remove the labels, meaning you can upload label-free into World Anvil and add the labels there (which is always my preference)! I love how realistic all the landmasses look. To make a map that fits into the border, make sure you set the land edge probability slider to zero.
What I don’t like about Nortantis Map Generation software
It’s a downloaded software, rather than browser-based, and it won’t work for Mac users. This is one of the reasons I personally favor browser-based programs over downloadable software. The other is that stuff gets lost too easily if it’s only on a local machine – I’ve had laptops stolen and die often enough to crush my spirit. And, sorry to harp on about it, but the close-up art style again leaves something to be desired in the way the assets overlap.
Project Deios – the last word in map generation software
If you’ve been following World Anvil for a while you’ve probably already heard of Project Deios, the map-making and map generation software designed especially for worldbuilders! Once it’s out (Alpha release is expected in March 2020, public release by 2021!) this will absolutely be my go to choice! You’ll be able to draw from scratch or autogenerate, and then tweak everything to your heart’s content! That art will be stunning, as it’s made by the artist Caeora. AND it’s also going to be integrated into World Anvil, to make life even easier.
Not found what you’re looking for?
Or check out these amazing fictional cartographers who create work you can use for your own worldbuilding (coming soon!)
Check out this post if you want mapping software and resources to make your own world maps.
For city and settlement maps (both drawn and premade) check this one out!
So, did I help you find what you were looking for? Or did I miss a map generation software you love? Let me know if the comments!
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