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That awkward moment when you’re working on a map of your fantasy world…

That awkward moment when you’re working on a map of your fantasy world… published on 9 Comments on That awkward moment when you’re working on a map of your fantasy world…

…and you go looking for information on whether some detail is geologically plausible, and all of a sudden it’s ten hours later and you’ve thrown out half the map and are trying to give yourself a crash course in the development of planetwide ocean currents.

A simple map of Ceannis has been around for months — you can see a section of it in this strip. Since that’s the country where all the action so far takes place, it’s the only one where I’ve needed a handle on the geography. So far, so good.

(Shoutout to Amit Patel’s Polygon Map Generator, for providing the visuals I could hack together.)

Problem is, the map has what I’m going to call European Fantasy Writer Syndrome: there’s a land mass on one side that extends off the edge of the map, facing a mysterious and little-known ocean that extends off the opposite edge of the map, and that’s it. (See: Middle-earth shows us the western coast of a continent; Narnia mixes it up a little and puts the ocean on the east.) What does the rest of the continent look like? Is there a facing coast, if you hike across Asia the land long enough? What if you go as far north or south as possible? Who knows!

At least I knew a few of those details for Ceannis. If you go north, you get: Sønheim! If you go to the northernmost part of Sønheim…

…and, whoops, stuck again.

Did Sønheim have a glacial coast bordering a polar ocean? Did it extend up and over the pole? Did it go far enough to have another temperate coastal country bordering it on the other side? Was that even possible, or is there a good reason none of Earth’s major land masses are over the poles?

After some googling — and filtering out these really earnest websites that want you to understand the scientific reasons why the Earth is totally hollow — I got to Worldbuilding Stack Exchange. Which not only has this kind of information, but is writing it for a target audience of laypeople trying to build imaginary planets.

Assorted fun facts of the day:

  • Nothing wrong with polar land masses. If you flooded Mars, for instance, you would see high ground concentrated around the poles, and an ocean ringing the equator.
  • Although this means you won’t get major north-to-south ocean currents, and those are a huge influence in tempering a planet’s climate.
  • Currents aside, the water itself absorbs solar heat slowly during the day and releases it slowly at night, which is a big deal too. Make a big-enough continent with no inland seas, and you’ll get deserts that can skyrocket to 100 °F at midday, then drop below freezing at night.
  • If you have so little surface water that it’s relegated to non-connected seas, you’ll get individual microclimates operating independently.
  • (You can balance this out by storing extra water in plant life, or in really big underground aquifers.)
  • Also possible if you get a sea surrounded by mountains! If clouds can’t move into or out of the area without going through a rain shadow stage, you’ll get two independent water cycles.
  • And if you take away enough land interruptions to make a giant continuous ocean, the storms coming in off the sea will be awe-inspiring. (Pangaea had ridiculous monsoons.)
  • Our sun affects the tides a lot more than I had realized.
  • Plate tectonics, which push land masses upward, are the only reason our land hasn’t all eroded into the oceans.
  • Also, they’re the reason we have functional mining. Sure, you can dig deep mines to get at underground ore, but only if you have the tools for it…so you need some metal deposits shoved close to the surface to build the tools.
  • Desalinating our oceans would be a great way to destroy all life on Earth. Even the current real-world melting of our freshwater icecaps isn’t looking good on this count.

As the research went on, I really did throw out half the map…and then rebuilt it. Faster, stronger, more powerful. Ceannis and Sønheim have a whole continent now!

Plus some auxiliary land masses, an equator, a full set of ocean currents, lots of exciting new biomes, and a grab bag of cultural and historical implications. Magic means the population isn’t as completely at the mercy of the elements as they might have been — especially at their current level of spelltech — but there’s still plenty to work with.

I, uh, may have had to split the data up into two files, because it got to be so much that Paint Shop Pro couldn’t save without crashing.

Not gonna release the whole hemisphere right away. There’s a lot left to do, and parts that might change even more, depending on factors like “if I find some other cool geology thing and decide to work it in.”

For now, here’s the Leif & Thorn small map, now that I know what happens off the edges.

9 Comments

So much fun! I’ve been researching the effects of having no land masses at the equator for a fantasy world I’m building (tweaking it so as to still have seasons the way I want to suit people’s metaphors is a challenge…), what an excellent web resource, thanks for sharing!

This site is going to be exactly what you need =D

With some things here, I’m just going to have to accept that the characters have different metaphors, and hope I haven’t muddled any of them in the script so far…

Oh? is it safe to give some examples?

Hmm…okay, here’s one:

We (in my part of the world, at least) say “a rising tide lifts all boats” to mean “when a situation improves, it benefits everyone.” But the metaphor wouldn’t sound right to people in in this world, where the tides are stronger, and high tides are associated with being a hazard that you need to defend against.

That’s also why Central is several miles up a river instead of right on the coast. It’s a big hub of sea-based trade, like so many of the national capitols in our world…but here, the easiest place to conduct your sea trade involves having a safe distance from the actual ocean.

That’s very interesting! Would/does the city invest in a lock-system to maintain water levels/control currents during low-tide?

This particular river is reeeeally wide, so I don’t know how practical it would be…unless, hmm, maybe if earth and water mages got involved… I’ll look into it and try to figure out what works at this scale.

Well, if you did a lock-system sealing water to the shore side, you wouldn’t need to dam the whole river.
On the other hand, a whole river block would not only secure the ships against a critical king tide, but maintain some degree of reliability in river traffic by guaranteeing enough water to maintain navigability. In either case, I assume you could ask water spirits to move water through the comparatively small caissons, rather than trying to raise or lower the entire river. And, unlike most of our locks, there is no real need to build them high – you are looking to maintain a set minimum water level – overflow during high tide is in no way a problem – just swing open the gates via spirit, and mark the edges by buoy so the deeper keels don’t risk scraping.

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