Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Supercontinents

It's pretty well known among gamers that the map to D&D's Mystara setting (née "The Known World") is based on the arrangement of Earth's continents in the late Jurassic period. I hope it's now equally well known that many seminal pulp fantasies take place either in the Earth's imaginary past or in a speculative future, at times when the continental outlines were different and (presumably) the laws of reality are too. I've always been fond of using real world maps and tweaking them in various ways to produce "fantasy" maps. This has the advantage of creating broadly believable geographies and it saves a lot of time to boot.

Lately, the players in my Dwimmermount campaign have begun to grow slightly curious about the world beyond the ancient Thulian mountain fortress and the area in its immediate vicinity. There's not much danger they'll start wandering very far afield, never mind exploring other continents, but I've begun to give some thought to the vague shape of the world. In doing so, I've been poking around with maps of possible supercontinents of Earth's far future -- millions of years from now after continental drift has changed the face of the planet.


Of those in the graphic above, I'm particularly fond of Pangaea Proxima, although I've also found images of an even later continent called Pangaea Ultima, which has a nice inland sea where the Indian Ocean used to be. I find these maps nicely evocative and, because they include places in the world I already know (albeit mashed up), it'd be easy for me to know "where to put the Vikings." That is, I could just pick a spot on the map, find out what it corresponds to in the real world and run with it rather than having to come up with things whole cloth. But now that you have, say, Africa butted right up against North America, you can get some cool interactions going on that you might not if you stuck with a map more closely mirroring Earth over the last few million years.

27 comments:

  1. I have always equated Pangea Ultima with Zothique in my own mind.

    They share a lot of similarities and who knows what life will be like 300 Million Years from now when the starts are even different.

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  2. James,

    it's wonderful that you're posting this. Several months back I was in your shoes and also arrived at Pangea-Ultima as my world map. With little modification I was able to place my campaign map just east of the large mountain range dividing Eurasia and Africa. While I understood then that we're talking hundreds of millions of years here, just the idea of mashing up that gepgraphy spawned all sorts of ideas regarding the mashing up of those cultures. rary Northern European

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  3. Man, I don't what's going on with my typing today. Too much trying to get out at once, I guess. Ignore that last bit.

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  4. I'm at a similar point in my current campaign right now. The group has seen that there is a much larger world, and are curious. So I've begun to try and figure it all out. I really like the Pangea idea of a super continent.

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  5. Pangea Ultima - that's the one I use for Nod. Patent pending.

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  6. There was a great book from my childhood, called "After Man" by Dougal Dixon that presented hypothetical evolution of animals and had a projected future continental map. I never did, but have often thought it would be a fantastic rpg setting.

    Here's the book:
    http://www.amazon.com/After-Man-Zoology-Dougal-Dixon/dp/0312194331

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  7. By the way, I found this.

    Earth in the Hyborian Age (circa 14,000 BC to 10,000 BC):
    http://www.terrablood.com/hw/hyboria.gif

    Earth 50 million years from now:
    http://www.scotese.com/images/18F050v4.jpg

    I know Howard was not a geologist - even then, geologists did not know about plate-tectonics back in the 30's - but I find it a little funny no less.

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  8. I haven't seen these future projections of what the continents would look like. Strike that. I'm sure I have seen them but I have totally forgotten about them. What a great idea for a game map! I'm currently using Google Earth* for one of games as it is and projecting this forward to mix up the map a bit would be awesome.

    * New Zealand for low density of urban areas, high variety of terrain features, and excellent satellite coverage

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  9. "This has the advantage of creating broadly believable geographies and it saves a lot of time to boot."

    As a side note I'll point out what I do: I use the old Maxis video game SimEarth, which lets you play through the whole formation of a planet up to civilization. Includes continental flow, meteor strikes, biomass, climate, wind, sea currents, city formation, etc., etc.

    Takes a bit of effort (and programming) on my part to turn into game-playable stuff, but I like the results. One thing to watch out for is that whole-planet geographies are a lot of space to work with. (Consider how small classical civilization was nestled around the Mediterranean.) With my planets, I usually cut radius by half (surface by 1/4), which feels more manageable.

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  10. The outer parts of the world grew in my game world mostly from needing places for things like The Isle of Dread, and also when I decided to include my Oriental Adventures lands on the same planet. These are very rare adventures when my players characters go overseas, so there is still plenty of unexplored contients out there.

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  11. Cool idea for a world map. I wonder what sorts of life will inhabit the planet 300 million years from now.. Certainly not mankind, even if one only considers that just a relative handful of species still exist in roughly the same form from that long ago (e.g., horseshoe crabs). I guess that's why the Dying Earth subgenre has always struck me as a little silly... The notion that our species will outlive our sun is wishful thinking.

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  12. Actually I don't see the Dying Earth sub-genre as wishful thinking, quite the opposite really.

    All those years and we didn't change except to get worse.

    I guess that is why CAS is classified as a horror writer.

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  13. Dwarf Fortress. Best, most comprehensive continent, ecology and even history generator. And free. And gives you a pretty hex-map looking thing.

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  14. It's the nearly inland sea that sells Proxima. Inland seas are always awesome.

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  15. @dhowarth:

    Not to diverge too far from the subject, but you might be interested in knowing that true horseshoe crabs have existed for approximately 445 million years. I'm part of the research team that discovered the world's oldest horseshoe crab, Lunataspis aurora from central Manitoba a few years ago. Until this find, the fossil record of horseshoe crabs extended back ~230 million years, so this is quite an extension.

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  16. One thing to remember about any use of Pangaea for a setting. The reason Siberia sucks so bad is it's remoteness from active ocean currents. Ocean currents moderate and control our climates. Get more than a few hundred miles away from the coast, especially if there are rain-blocking mountains involved, and you're going to see a lot of grasslands fading to deserts in the middle.

    Proxima is the best one for world building, since that arm of the ocean extending northwards not only helps the climate, it would also encourage Bronze/Iron Age trade.

    I've found using Civilization IV can create some interesting maps, especially on the Fractal setting. Added bonus: ready made cultures!

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  17. I did something similar, I took a map of Australia, flipped it and inverted it for my current campaign. The knowledge of where cities are located and an approximate distance between them is extraordinarily helpful.

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  18. @Sean Robson

    I'm part of the research team that discovered the world's oldest horseshoe crab, Lunataspis aurora from central Manitoba a few years ago. Until this find, the fossil record of horseshoe crabs extended back ~230 million years, so this is quite an extension.

    Nice; I was just taking a ballpark guess. I live about 6 miles from the Delaware Bay, so I see my share of horseshoe crabs (not to mention red knots) at times :); freaky-looking buggers, and humbling to think they've been around about 200 times as long as anything resembling a human.

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  19. you have to check out this post from matt

    http://matt-landofnod.blogspot.com/2010/05/what-does-1d10-damage-look-like.html#comment-form

    what more could you want from a great sword?

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  20. This was the secret of the world design for Powers & Perils as well. Mash the continents together and then assume the cultures and general environments will remain in their relative positions.

    [Which won't actually be the case. Water is the engine that drives the atmosphere, and having a supercontinent creates very interesting weather dynamics (this, abetted by the Himalayas is the reason why the monsoon exists and India only has three seasons, and why the steppes are arid/semi-arid; the result is that regular trade along the East African coast becomes trivial, which leads to dissemination of culture etc.)]

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  21. I've found Google Earth to be a useful tool for map making. I'd zoom into an area, spin the map around a bit and print screen and place in MS Paint.

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  22. Everyone here knows about Planetocopia, right?

    http://www.worlddreambank.org/P/PLANETS.HTM

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  23. Dougal Dixon yeah! After Man's great and so is Man After Man. Can't recall if The New Dinosaurs is set in the future or when.

    The Future is Wild tv show is related to this (and I think there was a kid's show even!).

    Sadly I think the original early books are long out of print, rare and now pricey. I hope I'm wrong!

    http://www.dougal-dixon.co.uk/

    There are maps for Zothique et al here and elsewhere on the Eldritch Dark site (include some nice maps in two Zothique RPG stub pdfs).
    http://www.eldritchdark.com/galleries/inspired-by-cas/

    moar loev for Dorf Fort (Dwarf Fortress), especially Boatmurdered!

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  24. My AD&D game is set in fantasy California. Plenty of maps. Counties the size of duchies. In fantasy, it's a little bit cooler, and Catalina Island is the size of Long Island and shaped like a Goldfish (Pepperidge Farm variety).

    As the man said, patent pending.

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  25. http://ptolemymaps-meyerprints.blogspot.com/

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  26. I was inspired by an old Chaosium boardgame called Lords of the Middle Sea to create a world based on ours in which the sea levels had magically risen 1000 ft or so. There's a tool with Google Maps which will fill in areas below a certain altitude with color (originally intended for use by environmental and weather groups to show extent of flooding with various scenarios of sea level rise) which allows such maps to be made (though my original attempts, predating the internet explosion, were made with tracing paper and a world atlas. Later I worked with ProFantasy software's Fractal Terrains). The Appalachian and Ozark Isles are fascinating, and a failing empire around the San Fernando Sea is what I generally have in mind for my otherwise open-design upcoming campaign.

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  27. O ja. There are some great geologist/cartographers working on the historical stuff. I have some links to pretty videos and pictures here. Living in Kentucky, I think it'd be great fun to run a campaign in the Middle Devonian.

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