No really, it’s cheap. Google search cheap. Because I searched for “mapless fantasy” to see what other people had to say about it today. Even the image contains a cheap joke! Obscure, but cheap!
Anyway, I point you to Joe Abercombie’s words, which make a lot of sense to me. I don’t hate maps. I love them. I’ve run hexcrawls and plot coupon collecting and like him, drew maps like crazy, though I was a bit slower to give them up — I drew the map from my juvenile AD&D game when I was 18, in my first apartment, long after the game was done. In some ways, that map was post-gaming, synthesizing the messy tween RPG play we did into something that would look like respectable Map Fantasy.
Thus, maps can enhance or threaten the imagination. On one hand, they invite you to go here or there, but as Abercrombie says, the full survey can make things look smaller and surprisingly hemmed in. The vast weird wild gets revealed for being filler between developed, named locations. Genre conventions suggest themselves, with our cut rate Mordors and Atlantises. (My Atlantis was called Merwyvan. I still think it’s a pretty cool name!)
One of the best pieces of advice I read about RPG maps, which came from an “official” source, no less, was a suggestion in one of the D&D books to let your first maps trail off the page, leaving room for expansion. Don’t enclose the stage for play right from the outset. Maybe that circumnavigation of the coast should only end when you’re finishing the game.