Sandbox: Step 1a – Mapping the World

The first step is usually a good place to start, and the Sandbox experiment is no different. Rob defines that first step as:

Using one page sketch a world or continent map

Since I am using this experiment to consolidate my fantasy world building, I decided that I do not wish to create an entirely new map if I can help it. I have several maps that I could use:

  1. Enderra
  2. The Twin Continents
  3. Impossible Earth
  4. A Much Neglected Continent

Enderra has the advantage of being my fantasy setting all along, so a lot of my material would “fit” automatically. The last incarnation of the map is the best one I have designed for that setting, but I was never entirely happy with it. Besides, this is not all about Enderra – while my consolidated fantasy setting will inherit a lot of material from Enderra, and will probably be called Enderra unless I come up with a more compelling name, I do not want to lock myself into that particular setting.

The Twin Continents were never really worked out too well. There are a few things I like about that map – the big chasm that runs northwest to southeast across both continents, the whole Atelan thing, and I personally think that this map is fairly well executed. However, I think I am probably not too happy with the continental shapes and layout. I could recycle the banners and some ideas – but this map itself is not really a compelling choice.

The Impossible Earth, a setting about a world whose huge underworld collapsed and drained the ocean, is a setting that I really love the concept of. However, it is too specific – it wouldn’t make for a good generic fantasy setting. Impossible Earth would be about survival and set in both lush cave systems and a harsh surface desert. Like the Enderra map, if I continued using Impossible Earth I would be doing Impossible Earth and not a consolidation of all my fantasy efforts.

The Much Neglected Continent is – no big secret – based on Antarctica without the ice sheet. It was more a start at Mythopoeia than at Fantasy, but this is not mutually exclusive. Indeed, the grandfather of fantasy authors, Tolkien, coined the use of the term Mythopoeia as he created Middle Earth. This map is smaller than the others – a single continent – bug again this is not in itself a bad thing.

As I looked at these maps, I realized that the Neglected Continent is actually not a bad fit for Enderra. Enderra was originally centered around the Cirrian Sea, a roughly circular inland sea connected to the ocean by a narrow strait. This campaign area expanded to Thaine, which is – geographically speaking – quite nondescript, and to Andarien, the Gulf of Brania and the Amber Bay, and the as-yet unnamed strait that connects the ocean to its eastern counterpart.

On the Neglected Continent, there are two large bays that could serve as the Cirrian Sea without any changes, and two more I could edit into a fit. The most prominent area of the Neglected Continent is a long and narrow strait northwest of the main continent. And let’s face it, this Antarctica-based map is much nicer than my Enderra map. So I’ll use it.

Map with possible Cirrian Sea locations marked
Map with possible Cirrian Sea locations marked

So, back on track. Rob’s first step is to apply global wind patterns and ocean currents. For this, I need to find out how big my continent is. Measuring it, I get roughly 5500km in the north-south direction and roughly 5000km west to east. This includes the island chains. 5500 kilometers is about an eights of the earth’s circumference, or 45°. To give myself an idea of what this actually means, I like to overlay an Earth region over my maps. In this case, I am picking Europe:

Map with Europe overlay
Map with Europe overlay

So this should give me a good spread of climate, from icy at the far north to Saharan deserts in the south. I could move it a bit south, too, sacrificing the subarctic and arctic north of the map for a generally warmer climate in this region. I enjoy snowy excursions now and then, so I probably won’t do this, but of course I can always add another snowy continent on the north or south of the map – south if I move this to the southern hemisphere. I probably won’t do the later either, by the way, because I feel the island chains on the west side of the map should be tropical.

Each of the rectangles in the distance bar at the bottom represents 250km by the way.

Air Circulation

Now that we can place the continent on the globe, I can place the basic air currents following Rob’s simplified model. Both the Horse Latitudes and the Polar Front are crossing the continent – this I think is a good thing, as it will give me a variety of situations to work with later.

Any way the wind blows
Any way the wind blows

It also looks like the center and northeast of the largest landmass is going to be fairly dry, as is its southern end. The west and north are going to be wet and consequently the most fertile areas.

Ocean Currents

As a next step we’ll apply simplistic ocean currents.

With the flow
With the flow

I always found ocean currents hard to “model”, and this is no exception, despite the very minimalistic model used in Rob’s sandbox process.


Now that we completed these steps, let’s place our climate types. First, some general notes.

Notes on Climate, Part 1
Notes on Climate, Part 1

This is what I think of the various regions of the continent. Distributing some Köppen types, I get this:

Notes on Climate, Part 2
Notes on Climate, Part 2

Unfortunately, I have to call it a day at this point – this posting is getting way too long. I am not yet convinced these climate types are all correct. It also turns out that this landmass is now too far north to have a tropical island chain. I can’t move it further south, due to the deserts that will happen in the Horse Langitudes, so I have to expand my map to the south.

I’ll look into climate more tomorrow, as well as updating the map with more islands, rivers, and so on.

Continue with part 1b.

2 thoughts on “Sandbox: Step 1a – Mapping the World

  1. Remarkable the amount of effort here. My attention is much more focused on people when I world build, so seeing your work on physical geography is fascinating. I'm going to poke around, but just in case I can't find it, you keep mentioning "Rob" and his method. What's the deal there?

  2. Welcome to my blog Thomas – thanks for dropping by!

    Rob in this case is Rob Conley of Bat In The Attic Games. He posted steps for creating a "Sandbox Campaign" at… – and I decided to follow these steps for the consolidation of my fantasy world. I don't really need to do it, but I figured it'd make the exercise more fun.

    I guess when it comes to world building, my "strengths" – or let's call it my "focus" – is geography and history, I haven't created peoples a lot. I did dabble in con languages some, and want to work more on both. I also want to do more and more systematic world building, so I hope that I will actually get around to it.

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