2. Label important regions
3. Write one page of background giving no more than a handful of sentences to each region
4. Pick an area roughly 200 miles by 150 miles
Before I started labeling regions on my map, I did some research on human migration. I wanted to have a history for my continent that really changed the map over time. You can check out a Wikipedia article on the subject here. For an example of human migration used in fantasy fiction, check out Robert E. Howard's essay The Hyborian Age.
I went through several iterations of my map before reaching the final product. This is a good thing. It gives your map realism. Each time I redrew my map, I moved the regions around, removed some, and added others. As I did this I had a vague narrative in my mind about what was causing these changes, but I didn't flesh out the details until I wrote my one page background based on the maps. Just how far back you want to start your history is up to you. I think around 1,000 years is a solid number. I made about six rough maps over about 1,200 years.
History of Rimeland
The heroes of the Tarusian War journeyed to the northern coast of Rimeland. There they settled, naming their new kingdom Tythia.
After five hundred years of peace, invaders landed on the shores of Tythia: they were the Jorykir, blue-skinned and fair-haired, descended from giants. The Tythians fought. The blood of the Tarusian heroes made them strong, but the Jorykir were too mighty and too numerous to withstand; they overflowed into Tythia, pushing the Tythians south.
Another kingdom, called Erorria, had expanded from the east into the lands south of Tythia. The Tythians, after decades of pushing by the Jorykir, fell into the Erorrians. Erorria, witnessing the fury of the Jorykir, aided the Tythians.
The two kingdoms fought as allies for two centuries and formed the kingdom called Ardiel.
It was in this time that the strain of mixed race began to appear: the result of interbreeding between the Jorykir and their Ardelian captives. This new race lacked the fury of the Jorykir and were kept by them as slaves; but, growing numerous, and imbued with Jorykir strength, they rose up against their masters, forming the kingdom called Vorn.
In Ardiel, some embraced the kingdom of Vorn as ally; others cursed it for its Jorykir blood. Those of the old Tythian bloodlines raided Vorn repeatedly, treating them like Jorykir. Many of the Erorrian bloodlines disagreed with this. Ardiel fell into a period of civil war, ending with the separation and reformation of the kingdom of Erorria.
Erorria sent aid to Vorn against the Jorykir when Ardiel would not. Over three hundred years, Vorn, with the help of Erorria, pushed the Jorykir back into the sea. Years of fighting in that land where the Jorykir had last clung led to the slow establishment of the kingdom called Svedain. Now the strength of Jorykir is reduced to sporadic raiding against Vorn and Svedain. Those kingdoms work to rebuild and recover, striving to establish a permanent bastion against Jorykir. Ardiel and Erorria turn to their own interests, cultural and economic, but the old enmity between them smolders beneath the surface.
Like I said, you don't have to put this amount of detail into your final map. It could just be rough shapes and scribbled notes. I just find that for me the more realistic and polished I make my map look, the more real the world feels.
Now that I've created my map, labelled my regions, and written a page of background, it's time to choose my campaign area.
I chose an area on the coast of Svedain because I want to feature longships in my campaign and I want the Jorykir to have a presence.
Next up, I'll draw a hex map of the campaign area in Part III.