RPG Superstar 2015: What the heck is a map, anyway

Published on 2015-01-18 by Garrett

UPDATE: The Round 2 entries are public! Go view them and vote!

Designer and host Owen K.C. Stephens provided some hella vague hints about the next round of this year's RPG Superstar: maps!

Namely, some key points about the submissions included:

... a full-page map, of a previously unmapped fantasy-themed location in Golarion ...

... having enough information for a cartographer to be able to create a publishable map from your entry ...

... No one needs a map of a 20-foot by 20-foot room with a door centered in the north and west walls, or of a forest that's six miles long and three miles deep with a single road and one town in the middle ...

... it must be something that could be used by a GM to run a game set in the mapped location, and it must have all the information a cartographer needs to make the final map ...

That doesn't narrow anything down much. No scope limits except that it be on Golarion and fits on a letter-sized piece of paper, which isn't much of a content limit considering a map of the entire passage of souls from creation to death and encompassing all of space and time fits on a letter-sized piece of paper, much less Golarion's entire solar system, much less all of Golarion.

So let's look at equivalent examples in actual Paizo products of "full-page maps" of "fantasy-themed locations in Golarion" that "have enough information for a cartographer to be able to create a publishable map," encompassing any scale as long as it "could be used by a GM to run a game set in the mapped location", with the caveats that:

To keep references simple, I'll link to maps already released under the Community Use Policy and uploaded to PathfinderWiki so they're easy to view.

Places that could technically fit this definition include:

A good map, like Tim's, tells us immediately everything we need to know about the location. I don't have to redraw his map and I don't have to send a novel with the map order that includes tags and descriptions for every room so the cartographer can get the map right. Were we to send our cartographers the bad map example from above, without also sending along the entire article that goes with it, we'd get back a nicely drawn, full-color drawing of 5 box shapes, a circle, and a few smudges. Our cartographers are awesome, but their base for quality is only as good as the hand-drawn map they receive. A cartographer should be able to open the author's map and immediately get to work turning a good map into a great map rather than reading a wall of text and then turning a terrible map into a mediocre map.

Is this novel enough? If enough of the Top 32 submit colored, textured, pretty, evocative maps that aren't more imaginative or as turnaround-friendly but capture voters' imaginations, would they bump this designer out of the Top 16?

In other words, clean maps like these are freelance bread-and-butter, but can they be Superstar enough?