Earlier this week I wrote a post about rethinking my approach for dealing with the both physical and cultural geography of the Ancient Lands. I’ve never been anywhere close to happy with the geography of the setting and I think I now figured out why. The traditional fantasy campaign setting “satelite view” map very much conflicts with the sword & sorcery and space opera approach to setting design I am using. So right now I think I am not actually going to do a true world map at all. Instead there will be just a very rough and sketchy outline for the major landmasses. All the actual content regarding settlements and landscapes is confined to a number of relatively small areas, which get covered in considerable detail. These will be comparable to Icewind Dale, Ferelden, the Eldeen Reaches, Skyrim, Tatooine, Tuchanka, or any other of hundreds of “countries” you encounter in fiction outside of roleplaying games. The ones that I cover may not necessarily be the most densely populated or most representative regions of the Ancient Lands, but I am picking them by how well they are suited as places for adventures. Big fertile lands of peaceful farming villages are not really places either players or GMs would care about.
A good reason to have accurate world maps for fantasy settings is for judging travel distances and to see what kind of places and areas you’ll be passing through on a long journey to another region. This can be quite important information for some campaigns, but in a pulp campaign like Sword & Sorcery or space opera it normally doesn’t matter at all. Some weeks or months have passed and then you’re standing right next to the place you wanted to go to. The journey itself doesn’t really play any role in these genres. It’s the parts with the villains and the old ruins that matter, the rest is glossed over. Doing a good world map poses a lot of challenges (even if it’s just a continent or part of one), but for a setting like the Ancient Lands where it is not needed, it really isn’t worth the effort. And I think not having an accurate map actually enhances some of the themes and the overall atmosphere of the setting.
Currently, all the material I have crated over the years seems to come together very neatly in 16 thematical and geographical regions. The layout is very simple, consisting of a single long coast that runs from north to south with the land in the west and the ocean in the east. Similar to the American East Coast all the way from Greenland to Florida, or the eastern coast of Asia.The Far North: This remote region is the northernmost part of the known world for the people of the Ancient Lands. It’s mostly rocky coasts and treeless tundra that experiences many months of winter. It’s the homeland of the human Mari, who survive by fishing, whaling, and herding reindeer, and a few small bands of Vashka kaas. This is the land for true arctic adventures and visiting the frozen castles of spirits of cold and ice.
The Kaas Lands: Cold, but less bleak and inhospitable than the lands of the Mari, this region is dominated by vast forests of pines and firs that stretch on forever to the west as far as the local people know, and high mountains that are covered in snow all year. It’s the land of the Brana and Vashka kaas tribes and also home to some strongholds of skeyn. This region is a relatively ordinary “Viking setting”, except that the locals are not human.
The Witchfens: The Witchfens are a very large cold wetland that is home of the human Kaska. There are few natural resources and the Kaska don’t welcome any visitors to their land. It’s covered by fog almost all year and an absolutely miserable place to be, but for some reason the Kaska rarely travel beyond it. Groups of raiders who have attacked settlements in other regions are probably the main reason why anyone would want to go there, but it’s also a very strange and mystical place inhabited by mysterious spirits and home to ancient magic.
The Dusk Coast: This long stretch of coast lies between the Northlands and the Inner Sea, which is pretty much the only reason anyone ever comes near it. Though the climate is quite mild and the coast consists of sandy beaches, it is always somewhat gloomy as if some kind of haze is obscuring the sun. There are several small villages on the coast which have been build by Keyren elves from the Northern Islands and are popular stops for ships traveling to or from the Northlands. Just a few miles inland the land becomes more rugged and choked by very dense forest that is part of the huge expanse of trees that covers almost the entire northern half of the Ancient Lands. There is something unnatural about those woods and even the locals rarely travel far from the coast.
The Northern Islands: This group of islands lies many miles to the east of the Dusk Coast in the ocean and is the homeland of the Keyren elves. Some of the larger islands have mountains in their centers but the rest of the land is quite flat. Most of the land is covered by forest and for most time of the year it either rains or gets very foggy, but the constant sea winds usually get a few hours of sunshine on most days and weather can change very quickly and frequently. (This region is highly influenced by the North Sea and Baltic Sea coasts where I am from, but without vikings.)
The Burning Mountains: Many miles south of the Dusk Coast lies a high mountain range comparable to inland Greece, the Caucasus, or the Pyrenees. The region is home to many volcanoes and in many places smoke and vapors rise from cracks in the ground. Not many people live in these mountains and they are a strange mix of elves from the Falden, Neshanen, and Keyren tribes with even some human Vandren and possibly Kaska thrown in. To the Neshanen and the Keyren they are wild people who are brutish and superstitious. Many people believe that the cracks in the ground lead all the way down into the underworld and the local barbarians regularly worship the ancient gods below the ground. To other people they are demon worshippers and usually quickly driven away from any civilized settlements. In many places it is not just smoke that rises from the ground, but strange green and purple glowing mists that have strange effects on the local plants and animals and surely could be able to turn even people into monsters.
The Island Ruins: A few miles off the coast from the Burning Mountains lies a group of islands that consists mostly of barren rock but are home to a large number of very ancient ruined cities. Thousands of years ago they were inhabited by naga and it’s likely the place where the first sorcerers mastered their arts. Most sailors stay as far away from the islands as possible as they are said to be haunted by ghouls and demons, but many Neshanen sorcerers have a great interest in all the ancient magical lore that might still be hidden in the lifeless ruins and the tombs of ancient naga sorcerers. Some naga of the southern jungles have become aware of that and also have great interest in recovering the knolwedge of their predecessors before the elves get them into their hands.
The Rocky Coast: South of the Burning Mountains the coast turns from it’s north-south direction towards the west and forms the northern shore of the huge gulf that is the Inner Sea. This is the home of the Neshanen elves and somewhat inspired by the coasts and islands of Greece and Italy. There are various small city states, which in most cases are really just a fortified palace surrounded by a town of craftsmen and traders. Though even that makes it one of the most highly civilized regions in the Ancient Lands. There are hundreds of small islands near the coast and the rocky cliffs are full with caves, of which many are unexplored or still unknown.
The Elven Forest: This is a large section of forest which is the home to the Falden tribe. It’s a fairly standard place and I don’t have any really outstanding ideas for it yet. It sits to the west of the Rocky Coast and the Burning Mountains. After this region the coast goes back from north to south, forming the western shore of the Inner Sea.
The Deep Forest: A good distance further inland and quite far away from the coast of the Inner Sea lies this region of increddibly huge trees that block out most of the daylight and make the forest floor pitch black during the night. There are some Falden villages high up in the trees, but otherwise this land is entirely under the rule of the beasts and spirits of the forest. This is one of the furthest outposts of civilization in the Ancient Lands.
The Other Mountains: This mountain range is even larger than the Burning Mountains and the home of the human Vandren tribe. They are considered quite primitive by elves and most lizardmen, but produce most of the copper and salt that is traded in the Ancient Lands. This region is somewhat inspired by the lower sloped of the Himalayas, particularly in China but also northern India. Not completely sure where to put them geographically, but they will separate the Elven Forest from the Red River.
The Land of the Red River: This region forms the western shore of the Inner Sea. While the coast is extremely wet and swampy, the land rises very quickly and turns into an almost barren expanse of rock and dust. The main feature of this seemingly empty land is the huge river network of the Red River, which carries the water of almost all the springs on the southern side of the mountains. Over the ages the waters have carved a gigantic maze of deep canyons into the ground and earthquakes and landslides have frequently redirected the river to result in countless dead arms and large underground caves. It’s not a highly populated region, but there are some settlements of human Vanren and Takari elves, many of which are build into the canyon walls.
The Takari Jungles: In this region the coastline bends again towards the east to form the southern shore of the Inner Sea. These jungles are home of the Takari, though I am afraid I don’t have much else on it yet.
The Mayaka Jungles: East of the Takari lands lies the great kingdom of the Mayaka lizardmen. It’s more jungle, but also the home of lots of giant reptiles.
The Southern Islands: North of the Mayaka Jungles and south of the Rocky Coast lie the Southern Islands, which separate the Inner Sea in the west from the great ocean to the east. They are the home of the human Amakari and the Gandju lizardmen but also for many pirates and the location of various naga ruins.
The Naga Jungles: To the east and south of the Mayaka Jungles lie the last lands that are still ruled by the naga and are also home to their Suji slaves. This is a very mysterious and dangerous land of strange magic. Almost nobody else knows really much about it.
I am still thinking of possible idea for one or two more regions, but I think these already include almost all the things I’ve always wanted to incorporate in the Ancient Lands. These 16 regions are all mashups of over three dozens of my favorite places from various other settings from RPG, movies, novels, and videogames, and I think this number of regions is already quite a lot. And there’s a good balance betwen cold, temperate, and warm regions, as well as three main groups of islands for a lot of variations. All the tribes have a homeland too. (Though I put a few of them together as their differences weren’t really that meaningful.)