Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Features of a Fantasy World

Work is eating my brain. I wanted to post something to keep the blog going.

Many of my players are in academia so come summer there should be a lot more time for gaming. I want to have a sandbox world for them when we start back up. I had an old world map but the idea of it got bogged down with simulationism so I wanted to start over. I want a world map that is simple but offers lots of variety. So what should it have?
  • It needs a large body of water, if not coastal areas than at least a big lake
  • Should have mountains and the mines, caves and huge terrible creatures that live there
  • Swamps or marshes, wetlands are quite different, which?
  • Deserts? This starts complicating things if you are going to have the former
  • Forests. Deciduous or evergreen?
  • Badlans, canyons, interesting rock formations.
It appears my assumption is that these features shouldn't be too far apart, close enough for players to visit them within a week, say. But that makes it hard because most places don't have such varied terrain in such close proximity. I suppose we could go the magical route and have the feature be the result of great historical spellwork or such.

Another assumption I'm realizing I have is that these different geographical features will determine cultures found in the game world. I know its limiting but when I think of something like Beduoin culture I think desert, vikings I think coastal fjords. So, at least in my mind, trying to fit in archetypal cultures for adventure gaming affects what geographical features I want to try to stuff into a small region. Or at least decide which archetypal culture will only be encountered at first in a campaign. Hard decision, make an unrealistic smörgåsbord or limit the scope of what players can explore.


  1. Go planar? "You can reach the fjords of Alfheim by sailing through the cold mists at Raven's Tooth on a full moon. Beware the were sharks, my boy."

    Or, if you just need to scratch the bug, pick a coastal region that doesn't offer a lot of variety (eg. just jungle, hills, and coastline), but have a bustling harbor with lots of available rides. "Aye, the Captain Vertigo and his slave ships will be here next Sunday unless the devils of the deep sea have taken them. So you watch yer mouth, eh boy?"

  2. You'd be surprised by the geographical diversity one can find squeezed into relatively compact areas in the real world.

    To take a place in the news a lot lately: Arizona is not all deserts. There are mountains in the north. There are many forested valleys between the mountains.

    To get a good idea of how diverse an area can be geographically, check out tourism brochures and travel books. They generally try to play up a region's diversity to appeal to a wide range of tourists.

  3. It appears my assumption is that these features shouldn't be too far apart, close enough for players to visit them within a week, say. But that makes it hard because most places don't have such varied terrain in such close proximity.

    Europe, particularly the Iberian peninsula.

    Everything from desert uplands to maritime coastal areas in one handy relatively square area. More cultures than you can shake a stick at (visigoths, celts, bedouin, basques, etc.)

  4. Thanks, superb comments like these make me glad I made the effort to post something.

    Also, I'm kind of a goof because the southern central valley of a California is pretty diverse as far as geography goes: mountains, desert a little to the south, hills, coast and if you know the history of the region there used to be a big lake/wetlands in the valley.

    But I also really like the idea of a campaign world being centered on a coastal city giving players access to lands by ship.

  5. Have you considered a giant mesa or plateau? A desert and mountains on top, forest valleys carved into the base that drain down into swamps in the lower plains. Or drain into a marsh delta that goes into the sea.

  6. Thanks, Dan, that could work. The idea of a plateau is strange and cool to me, though, so I might like it better if a great plateau was something players might find out in the wilderness to explore, than as the base of their operations.

  7. Volcanoes, gotta have some volcanoes.

    If you're not going the simulation route. You should really ditch it entirely. And follow only one rule "Would it be fun? Yes, include it. No, don't." Players won't notice that the geography and prevailing winds wouldn't provide enough precipitation for this jungle if they're jousting Sleestaks on dinosaurs.

    Floating islands, roaming woods, portals and "mists" that transport you to strange areas/worlds. One can style it fantastical or gonzo or whatever. I've "solved" similar problems in my campaign by having lots of (two-way) portals to what ever lands/world I want, having "land of fey" superimposed on mundane world so out in the wilderness any sort of crazy geographical shenanigan is possible/expected, and having aliens transplant various earth cultures ala "Stargate: SG1". Players don't know 90% of that, it's mostly to free the creative fun stuff my rational/simulationist nature would otherwise pooh pooh.

  8. It isn't that difficult to find places with such features. Just look at Iraq! There are swamps in the Mesopotamian area at the food of the hills and the high mountains in the north. SOme centuries ago, there used to be a whole culture based only on dwelling in the swamps and the rivers on floating huts (if I don't confuse it with another swampy area). To the south, you have badlands and, afterwards, a desert. To the northwest you have the Mediterranean Sea and to the south is the Indian Ocean.
    Just have a look at this map: