Yeah, I’ve run out of smart titles for these a while ago. A topographical map of the current version of Kaendor with 30 mile hexes. The smaller one being the region I intend to use for the exploration sandbox campaign I am currently working on.
The Lands Beyond the Mountains have been the realm of the asura for thousands of years and greatly avoided by the mortal peoples of the great river valley in the east. When the first explorers crossed the few mountain passes 300 years ago, they found the cities and citadels of the asura falling into ruin, abandoned centuries ago. Shamans and witches journeyed to the West to search for the arcane secrets left behind in the empty ruins, often returning with new magical powers. But one day great clouds of poisonous ash came rolling down from the fiery peaks, burrying the narrow passes. In the decades that followed, the fierceness of the ash storms became reduced in power, but the mountains were haunted by ghouls and more terrible horror. Only within the last generation has it become possible to cross the mountains again, but only the foolish and the desperate make the journey to the West in hope for a new life.
My old computer has been reaching the end of its life and the backup I am using now just doesn’t have the power to handle the large file sizes I usually like to work with, so for the time being I am limiting myself to basic layout sketches without trying to make them look pretty as handouts for players. I also decided to limit the scope of this map to just the part of the continent that I actually need for planning my next campaign.
This area actually covers a good 90% of all the content that I have already created for the setting. There’s still the far northern lands of Venlat where the white skinned and white haired Kuri live under the rule of Maiv the Witch Queen, but I am quite happy with that being a far off distant land that has no direct contact with the main civilized region shown on this map.
On the east side of the map is a huge valley between two mountain ranges with a total size roughly on the same scale of France or Spain. I think that’s as big as I can go with the main city states (maked in red) still having meaningful regular interactions with each other. The eastern mountains and highlands are the lands of the Yao mountain people, while the great plain in the center of the valley is the lands of the Murya sorcerer kings. The woodlands north of Senkand are the home of the Fenhail tribes.
This incarnation of Senkand takes a lot of inspirations from Dark Sun, but instead of a barren desert its environment is more like Northern Spain and southern France, with the mountains being comparable to the Pyreneese and the Alps. In earlier versions of the setting it used to be more like the coasts of Greece and Southern Italy, but in the process of downscaling the city states considerably to make a more wilderness focused setting, I decided to drop the Mediterranean port city model (which is more a think of Antiquity) with the river valley structure that dominated in the Bronze Age.
I don’t have any specific plans for campaigns set in the east and I mostly want it to be background material for NPCs and factions. Though I think it would be a perfectly playable region that still works in the overall style I am pursuing with Kaendor.
The center of the map consists of a large region of temperate-warm woodlands that are bordered in the east by the mountains that separate it from the city states of Senkand, and in the west by a great river that marks the edge of the known world for most people. This area is what Kaendor was always meant to be about and that is most reflective of the kind of environment implied by the Dungeons & Dragons Basic and Expert rules. A vast wilderness full of ruins, monsters, and treasures, and only a few scattered villages and forts.
Dainiva, as well as the forests beyond the great river, were once the realm of the asura who ruled there for thousands of years. Their presence alone was what had kept the various early societies of Senkand from attempting to cross the mountains. But now the asura are almost entirely gone, and the lands of Dainiva have been abandoned for many centuries. The first people to cross the mountains where Murya shamans and witches seeking the occult secrets of the great asura kings. They brought back great amounts of esoteric knowledge about other realms and demons that became the basis of sorcery, but many of them stayed in the lands beyond the mountains to delve deeper into what the asura had discovered before them. Whatever they found, something covered the peaks of the mountains in clouds of poisonous ash and made the few passes crawl with ghouls and other undead horrors. For many generations crossing the mountains was all out impossible, but over time clouds of ash become more rare and the undead only rarely seen. Slowly Murya from Senkand resumed making the crossing into the lands beyond the mountains, while further north some Fenhail and the occasional Yao made the journey through the forest. Most of the people who came to Dainiva and settled down had fled from Senkand for one reason or another, which greately affected the kind of society that developed in the west.
The woods of Dainiva are home to scattered villages of rarely more than a few hundred people, often surrounded by wooden palisades or build on top of defensible hills and cliffs. Hunting is just as much a part of daily life as farming and great amounts of tools and weapons found by local traders have been imported from the East. The woods are also filled with ancient asura ruins, as well as the lairs and tombs of the first sorcerers.
Beyond the Great River
While the woodlands of Dainiva are a barely explored frontier, the lands on the western bank of the great river are a completely unknown wilderness. Rumors are that those distant forests are still ruled by asura kings, the mountains swarming with dragons, and that ancient gods are walking among the trees. But in truth almost nobdy ever returned to the taverns and trade posts of Dainiva with any proof that they actually had made it to the other side.
Every model builder should know what kitbashing is. Why isn’t mapbashing an established technical term among map makers?
While I was working on a new map layout for Kaendor that better reflects some design changes I’ve decided on, I was comparing notes with other mappers and noticed that on my scale reference Europe map, that the Adriatic Sea had almost the exact dimensions as the narrow sea in the middle of my sketch, and Italy was a close match to the mountain range I want to put to the West of it, if you just rotate it a little bit. On a map of Europe, there’s something very close to any geographic shape I had in mind, and so I just kept cutting out more pieces from my reference map and cutting and rotating them until it looked like this. I didn’t even use scaling and mirroring, with is additional options you can use for something like this.
And two hours later, I had something looking like this. I really like this.
There’s no better way to get more realistic looking shorelines, river systems, and islands than tracing actual shorelines, river systems, and islands. And by using topographical maps like I did with this map, you also get some information about what kinds of mountain formations further inland contributed to creating these shapes.
A simple map I’ve quickly thrown together because it’s just so much easier to talk about environments and the relationships between regions when you can just point to a picture.
As it turns out, the general layout idea in my head is pretty plain and basic. Which I guess is quite fitting for the central design paradigm I’ve set myself. A world that is designed to support classic dungeon crawl adventures and puts the needs of the gameplay over fanciful explorations of an entire and unique world. This is a layout that does the job. A subarctic valley in the very North, a large expanse of temperate-cool woodlands, a rocky coastal region, large river plains prairie, rugged foothills of a great mountain range, and subtropical woodlands in the very South. The whole area is about 1,200 miles long and 400 miles wide, which is climatically plausible, given that we don’t see what the land is like beyond the edges of the map and what possible wind patterns and ocean currents might exist. The total area is not that big, a bit smaller than all of Northern Europe, and about the size of my favorite reference frame for this kind of geographic layout, the American West Coast between the Pacific and the Rocky Mountains. Though the flat ground between the sea and the mountains is much wider, but I really don’t want to go into the geology of plate tectonics. For a dungeon crawl campaign setting, this is plausible enough.
As it happens, the overall map reminds me quite a bit of the map from The Witcher. Which is probably one of the best examples of really nice worldbuiling with a unique character that only uses the most basic generic components and doesn’t really bother to go into any detail about things outside the scope of the story. Really not the worst thing to have similarities with.
A discussion came up about how much the map of the Forgotten Realms was changed in size over the various editions, and I sat down to finally get a definitive answer to that.
As far as I can tell, the maps for 1st and 2nd edition are identical. The 2nd edition map perfectly overlaps all the outlines of the original, just prettied up to make it look more appealing. (An attempt was made.)
Working only with image files, getting the scale for the 1st edition map right took a bit of work. The Campaign Set and The Savage Frontier mention in the text the distances between various locations. Of these 11 given distances, two are completely off from all the others and as such I discarded them. The remaining nine were all in pretty close agreement and I went with the average of those to scale the image to the same scale as the other three.
Making four overlayed layers into a comprehensible image would be an insane amount of work, so I have limited myself to a number of reference points and connected them with lines, which gives us this illustration.
As can be seen here, 3rd edition both scaled down and squished the map significantly. Even with all the major overhauls of the setting in 4th edition, the overall geography remained effectively untouched. In 5th edition, it appears they returned the overall shape of the landscape to its original form, but not its original size. Luskan and Sundabar have moved further North, but if you tilt it a bit, the distances between Baldur’s Gate, Atkatla, Westgate, and Zhentil Keep have not really changed at all.
Unfortunately, 5th edition only has a map for the Northwest quarter of Faerûn, but the changes that 3rd edition made to the rest of the map are also pretty wild.