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When the blood in your veins returns to the sea, and the earth in your bones returns to the ground, perhaps then you will remember that this land does not belong to you, it is you who belong to this land.
- Indian Proverb
A lot of great sayings refer to respecting the land and ensuring that we leave it in better condition than we found it. Many American Indian cultures refer to the land as a living, breathing thing that can be spoken to and interacted with on a daily basis. When thinking of your story…what role does your land play? Innocent bystander? Unbiased mediator? Unwitting accomplice? Take a look as we explore building the terrain for your world and how it makes sense. Add credibility to your story and allow your readers to immersive themselves in the lifeblood of your environment…the land.
This Land is My Land…
Think about this for a moment. I live in an addition called Gemstone Acres, in a region called Canadian Valley, near a city called Mustang, in a state called Oklahoma…also known as the Midwest, the Heartland, or the Great Plains. People love giving names to the land they live on, and it brings life to regions that otherwise wouldn’t exist. Giving names to areas provides a sense of ‘belonging’ that you wouldn’t have if I were to say “I live near the middle…between the coasts. Let’s take a quick look at the types of land, how they coexist, and you can incorporate each into your world.
Use in Your World
In a fantasy setting, mountains are lands of mystery and intrigue. Rarely settled and often unexplored, rumors abound about inherent danger, mythical beasts, and magical treasure. Many tales of lore originate at the base of your largest mountains. For any world, however, the physical dominance of a mountain range can be used to divide your land. Rivers always flow away from these areas, creating distinct regions on each side. Use this to your advantage when plotting your countries, as many mountain ranges serve as natural borders…or in some cases, impassable barriers. In fact, as you lay your line of mountains across the land, regions will begin to naturally take shape.
Arid land, scorching sand, and incredible dunes mark the desert areas of your world. With little exception, this region is mostly devoid of water, yielding a large expanse of barren land, hostile to life. Rivers are capable of traversing deserts on the way to the ocean, offering a stark contrast to the sandy oceans around them. Rich with life, vegetation, and civilization, these flood plains flank the river on each side, all the way to the coastline. Generally considered lands of mystery, inhabited only by nomadic desert tribes and those looking for the safe haven miles of unremarkable sand can offer. Due to its highly distinct nature, the wildlife and vegetation offered by a desert region are equally distinct, often home to life that can be found nowhere else in your world.
Use in Your World
Deserts are enormous barren regions and, much like mountain ranges, can provide a natural barrier between other regions. Full of mystery and isolation, deserts will be home to many of your world’s unanswered questions. Rumors will be ripe and legends will run out of control about what may live in the unknown expanse. Loosely knit clans of nomads will call your deserts home…some of which may be very protective of their ‘sacred’ land. Roads and other means of travel will be sparse, and most that DO travel through will not venture off course, fearful of being lost or succumbing to the mysteries of the sand. Also consider that deserts were likely forests, grasslands, or even oceans millions of years ago, leaving it wide open for the possiblilty of ancient ruins or buried artifacts, their secrets known only by the dunes themselves.
What's Up Next
We'll split this one up for time's sake. In our next session, we'll take a look at forests, swamps, hills, and tundra...and see how it all comes together when you are setting up your environment. I hope you've enjoyed our discussion on the different terrain types so far. With luck, you've picked up a few ideas along the way.
Hello, my name is Scott...I'm a husband, father of 3, and work full-time in IT. If that's not enough on my plate, I'm also tackling the biggest 'creative' project of my lifetime, bringing the world of Mists of Kel Doran to life. I hope you like what I'm trying to pull off and I truly appreciate all of those who have supported this dream of mine. Here's to following your heart and having the courage to put your ideas out there for the world to enjoy :)
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