World building and RPG maps

I am in the process of creating a new world. The thing is, I want the maps of my new world to be clean, but I also need to have a ton of information on them to inform my world building decisions. I like to work first on paper and then scan, so i can jump into the digital assets. I guess that a piece of paper (or a stack of them) helps me think better and without distractions.

rpg maps

Initial geographical map of my new world

What I wanted to display on this map was the geographical layer (see above) and also the geopolitical layer (kingdoms, settlements etc.), as well as a campaign map that my players created, including their journey so far and data about their hexcrawl.

I already find that geographical and geopolitical maps, especially when it comes to borders, don’t play well together. Adding the rest of the information would have made the map even busier and more difficult to use.

The idea

I thought back to the years of my design degree, and considered how the tutors used to overlay their comments and feedback on our design work. This gave me a great idea for a system which I think will really benefit any worldbuilder or storyteller! The idea is simple – you can use heavy (90 gsm) tracing paper to create overlays of your map. But that’s the easy part. Normally you would have to either leave those papers loose or staple them. But stapling causes the issue that you can only see the layers in a certain order and if you want to see the 4th layer, you will be stuck with the 2nd and 3rd layer which are sandwiched between your base map and it. In order to solve this problem, I used something called a binding screw which, as you will see, connects the layers together but leaves you able to choose which layers you want to overlay. I also found out that continuous use of these maps, especially during an rpg or world building session, can tear them around the screw. In order to fix that, I’ve used adhesive reinforcement rings which protect the map layers by … reinforcing the holes!

What you will need

tools for multi layered rpg maps

Apart from your base map you will need:

  • A tracing pad of 90gsm tracing paper
  • Adhesive reinforcements rings
  • Nickel Plated Binding Screw Post (1x)

You can find all of these at your local craft store or on amazon (found them in both and com).

Making the map

Overlay each of your layers on top of the base map and create them one by one (see below a small part of my political map).

Political layer

Align all the new layers with the base map and punch a hole going straight through all of them. Then stick the reinforcement rings in either side of all your layers

Reinforcement ring

Pass the screw post’s bottom side through all the reinforced holes

And finally, screw in the top side, locking them all together. That’s it – you’re done!

How does it look?

multi layered rpg maps

Geological and Political rpg maps overlaid


Geological and Political and Journey rpg maps overlaid


All four maps overlaid – At this point it is hard to read


The trick

Since all of the layers can freely move around the screw you can simply move them out of the way in order to overlay 2 or 3 layers of any order at any time! Ta dah!

rpg maps

Base map (geographical) and 2rd layer (journey) overlaid

I also use this system to have hidden overlays for my hexcrawl campaigns or events in the map. Think of it as the Storyteller’s layer. 

Well, that’s all from me. I hope you’ve enjoyed the article and that it helps you in the future. If you have any ideas of how it can become better, let me know! If you liked the article share it around with your friends and please subscribe to our newsletter.


About Dimitris Romeo Havlidis

My name is Dimitris Romeo. I am a dyslexic one-eyed, web architect, developer and designer with a passion for photography, User Experience and telling stories.I spend my free time taking photos, watching tv series, cooking and watering my plants.I love lemon tarts, audiobooks, top hats, fantasy and science fiction in all its forms.

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