As I have been fleshing out my Starpunk setting, it came time to create a world map. My first several tries failed because, well, space is just so big. How many planets do I make? Do I name every one of them? Do I have to generate individual governments for each planet? AAAAAAAARRRRRGGGGHHHH
I took some more time to think about it and, nope. I don't. Starpunk is supposed to be a fun romp through 80's inspired sci-fi. Action! Adventure! and BLUE BEVERAGES! It could, and should, take them literally anywhere, just like a good fantasy setting. It's a little depressing to me that D&D doesn't have many of the fantastic environments once found in literature. Where are the floating castles? The islands that form on the back of huge sea turtles? Where are the singing gardens of Ba'ath Shabeb?
The old stories I loved as a child had many strange environments. These environment types played a key role in the nature of the story. Take Laputa from Gulliver's Travels - (Excerpt from Wikipedia)
is rescued by the flying island of Laputa, a kingdom
devoted to the arts of music, mathematics, and astronomy but unable to use them
for practical ends. Rather than using armies, Laputa has a custom of throwing rocks
down at rebellious cities on the ground.
Gulliver tours Balnibarbi, the kingdom ruled from Laputa, as the guest of a low-ranking courtier and sees the ruin brought about by the blind pursuit of science without practical results, in a satire on bureaucracy and on the Royal Society and its experiments. At the Grand Academy of Lagado in Balnibarbi, great resources and manpower are employed on researching preposterous schemes such as extracting sunbeams from cucumbers, softening marble for use in pillows, learning how to mix paint by smell, and uncovering political conspiracies by examining the excrement of suspicious persons (see muckraking). "
The best fantasy/sci fi environments impact the story. Do you really want to get that detailed with every village, town, or planet as you make your map? You will go insane. I know, I just got back.
When making your world map paint in broad strokes, HUGE ones. Here's what you need for your world map.
1) Geography. How big will your world cover? Will it be the size of England? The size of America? The whole freakin' galaxy? Okay.
2) Core region(s). This is the seat of power. This is the heart of the empire/ civilization. There are no roaming beasts haunting the streets at night. All is conquered. Here, one doesn't have to worry about the wild. They have to worry about their neighbors. This is the place where espionage and conspiracy provide adventure.
3) Fringe Regions. Fringe Regions are the place between civilization and the wild. People have a tentative hold on the area but crime, warlords, and the occasional rampaging creature can ruin a person's day. Divide up some regions (say 10-30 regions) and name them. What are these regions? They might be territories of mighty feudal lords, small towns, or in the case of Starpunk they represent sectors of space ruled by a major species. Make a few notes about what the region is like, what the government is like, and any strange quirks in customs. Keep in mind that even if one race holds dominion over the region, there could be worlds/towns inhabited by lesser, vassal races. The elves may control Garados, but the village of Queensway is peopled entirely by halflings who live under the elvish law.
4) Finally, the Wild Regions. Here
are places unexplored, where few humans have set foot. It may harbor ancient
ruins of extinct civilizations, creatures that lurk in the darkness, and worlds
that cannot be explained with natural science.
And we are done. There's your world/ galactic map, now start making adventures and epic scenery. Let's say you want a land of 1,000 waterfalls and the adventure hook is that some Orc land-developer wants to bulldoze chunks of it for housing. Where is that land? Well, which region are the heroes in? Where are they going? Or where is the most interesting region to set it in? Put it there. Don't draw its location, just make a note that Fallwater is in the region of Carapella and if the heroes are ever in Carapella again, they could go visit it.
Seriously, it's that easy and it gives you the freedom to think of all kinds of wacky places. You only need to flesh them out when you need it for an adventure.
I know I am rambling. I hope this makes some sense.