I found myself laughing and feeling panged at the same time last night as I worked to finish labeling one of my maps last night, the Norway coast featuring the Lofoten Islands. The gentle reader can check it out ... and if especially versed on Norwegian and Swedish geography, take note of the many, many errors.
When I started this project years ago I made a decision about just how accurate I was going to try to be. I realized that while it was necessary to make the coastlines recognizable, and to have the cities in approximately their correct places, I was going to be driven crazy if I tried to painstakingly trace out the course of every river, or include every possible lake. My take on the overall accuracy was to think in terms of a typical Renaissance-period map ... when exactitude was not a major feature.
It isn't that I wouldn't have the rivers flow generally in their right courses - but that I wouldn't be working off a real copy to sketch in every bend. I would make especial effort with the really important rivers, making sure they passed through the right cities and so on ... but where it came to the vast hinterlands, I would just have the rivers flow according to the general pattern of the elevations my plotted data assigned to the hexes. For the most part, rivers would flow into the lowest possible adjacent hex, whatever that hex was. That made it easier for me to draw in hundreds and hundreds of rivers that really didn't matter to the game, even if their actual courses were different than what I was mapping.
As such, it isn't the Earth - it's my Earth. That was good enough for me. Most of the time I can forget the issue. I'm not comparing my map all that intrinsically to the real Earth, and so I don't notice that this river or that river seems out of place.
Then came the wiki ...
Suddenly, it was important that my maps have labels, to make them more accessible for people who haven't crawled with their eyes and hands over the globe. I may have the names of regions and mountain ranges in my head, but others don't. They need names. So with putting the maps on the wiki, I knew I'd have to start working on that aspect of the maps that - sincerely - isn't really a lot of fun.
While I was at it, I reasoned, I ought to add another feature I've been thinking about for a few years, which also wasn't going to be a lot of fun. I wanted to include mountains over 1,000 ft. At least, putting down mountains for which I had information. Because let's face it, finding lists and lists of mountains that are consistent for everywhere isn't easy. More to the point, the lists look awful dull, and plotting them on a map according to their latitude and longitude is duller still.
So this last week I took a short cut. I superimposed the real world over my false world, and dropped the mountains into the hexes in short order.
Problem is, my world's dimensions are skewed and shifted because of its hexed representation, and the map I used to superimpose over my world is of a completely different map projection. I knew this, of course. it's something I'd never had done if I wanted to adhere to the least accurate provision of cartographic responsibility. But as I said, that struck me as inordinately time consuming and, as I said, boring. I wanted fast, so I created a fast method, and the result is ...
Wide ranging [pun] inaccuracies, on a scale that makes even me shudder. Mountains on the wrong sides of cities, mountains far from the borders they're supposed to be defining ... sheer unreality. Still, overall, fitting in general the ranges they're supposed to represent and still serving the purpose for including them in the first place: so that the player, entering that hex, can have me say, "This is the mountain you see." Even if, on Earth, it's really thirty miles over there.
And so, having scattered mountains over Norway and Sweden, I settled down to label the lakes and rivers ... forcing me to chuckle in red-faced embarrassment.
Rivers flowing apart when they should have joined together. Rivers not flowing from lakes they should be flowing from, rivers turning to the right instead of the left, rivers ending up in the wrong place. In short, hopeless, ridiculous inaccuracies. But what can I do? Reorder the whole map again, the color schemes, painstakingly organize those rivers so that they're recognizable to people living in northern Sweden? What, for a D&D campaign?
Oh, fuck it. It's the 17th century and it's good enough. I'm god, if I want the river to pour this way I'll stick my finger in the dirt and make the damn valley how it pleases me. Concessions must be made. I don't have the plotting program to make it more accurate and even if I did now, I wouldn't go back. I still have four continents I've never even touched, plus half of Europe and three quarters of Asia left to do. I might try to be more accurate going forward, but old ground is old ground and to hell with it.
But just for the record, I know very well how unrealistic I'm being, better than anyone I think, since I know exactly where I've cheated. I wanted to say so, and to point out that just because you do steal from the real world doesn't mean you must adhere to its template. If it suits you to shift the streets of Paris around for your own purposes, feel free to do so. It is fantasy, after all.