Apr 182019

Now we need to calculate the number of days it takes to travel between two points on our map. The formula is distance divided by speed. First, we need to calculate speed by taking the BMPD and subtracting the amount of time lost by the terrain traveled over. The resulting formula is:

Distance / (BMPD—Terrain Modifier)

For example, traveling by foot is 12 miles per day. According to my chart, if traveling through light forest without a road, we lose 1.8 miles per day, resulting in a speed of 10.2 miles per day. If our map’s scale says that a quarter inch is 20 miles, and our journey is 1 inch, then 20 * 4 is 80 miles. Eighty (80) miles divided by 10.2 miles per day gets our answer: just under 8 days.

80 / (12—1.8)

Calculating speed for every mode of travel, through every type of terrain, for every two locations on our world, can be time consuming. Doing so has an advantage: once the calculations are done, we don’t have to do them again. If we change our mind about scale and have used the provided spreadsheet to track our data, then our calculations will automatically update. This method might be more suited to those intending to use a world over many stories.

By contrast, there is a more manual method, discussed in the next section, that avoids using formulas to change things. Its chief disadvantage is that if we change our mind on scale, calculations we’ve logged before must be redone. Those using a world once or twice might find this is the most suitable approach.

Pre-Set Calculations

The easiest approach to calculating travel between two places is to be generic about it. Looking at the chart below will make the explanation clearer. This chart states in line 1 that everything on it is for traveling on a paved road. Column A shows inches on our map, while columns B and C shows the corresponding number of miles or kilometers; which we use is irrelevant for determining speed. Columns D through J are the number of days to travel each distance from the first three columns by foot, riding horse, etc.

This chart, and others for different terrains, is included in the free template given to newsletter subscribers. The file allows you to change the scale so that .25 inches could be 25 miles instead of 20, for example, and all the chart’s data will change immediately.

Figure 39 Travel on Paved Roads

Figure 39 Travel on Paved Roads

Using these pre-set calculations, we never need to use formulas to determine travel time. Instead, we can take our measurement between two places, like Illiandor and Talendor, and see that it is 2 inches. Line 11 above shows us how far that is and how long each travel mode is. And we’re done.

But what if the two inches between these locations are over different terrain? Maybe 1 inch is a road and another inch is rolling hills. We need to grab line 7 from both charts (the line for 1 inch). Now we have realistic data with thought behind it.

In the included template, I’ve added an area for you to add up these values. It looks like this screen shot below. What I did here was take the inches by road and hills and typed them into the chart. Then I add the miles by looking at the other charts. I also added the values for a riding horse, in this case. It shows my final results for a particular journey.

Figure 40 Travel Sample

Figure 40 Travel Sample

The main problem with the above chart is that our data is not preserved. When we want to do a second journey, we’ll have to replace that data, unless we save it somewhere. Also, if we change our mind about scale, that saved data must be redone. For this reason, some world builders might want to follow the steps in the next section.

Custom Calculations

World builders who intend to use the world for many years to come might want to preserve travel times between many places in a single database. Doing this requires a time investment and familiarity with formulas that will scare away many people. This section is designed for the brave. I did this once for my main world, Llurien, and will likely never do it again, even for new continents, because it’s too much work. There’s also a significant risk of making a formula mistake. A major advantage of doing it is that, once done, it never needs repeating. A change of scale updates the entire spreadsheet.

The details of these custom calculations are discussed in the following template section. Explaining how to do it without the template as a visual guide is unnecessarily challenging. And setting up that template yourself is more pain than you likely want.

Apr 042019
The Impact of Terrain

The terrain we travel over impacts our speed and even reliability. Sand will impact a two-legged species less than a wagon, with wheels that are bogged down, but remember, from Chapter 4, that most deserts are rocky rather than sandy. A forest with thick underbrush slows everything. A light forest will have less impact. The density of underbrush in a forest is a moot point if there’s a cleared road through it. Rolling hills, foothills, and mountains will slow everyone whether there’s a road or not; it takes time to go up and down and this is worse on the legs of humanoids or animals, increasing fatigue.

Roads paved with cobblestones aren’t very smooth and can not only slow travel but fatigue feet and even wagons, where the bumpy ride strains construction. Such roads are more common near a city, extending only a short distance from the walls. Very dry, hard ground is tough on feet, which is why horses will prefer the grass. An unpaved roads means potholes and potentially mud.

Paving, when present, seldom extends far from a settlement due to expense. This is one way to indicate wealth, such as in an empire. We may want to decide that most roads are unpaved for most of their length.

Rivers can require traveling to a known crossing, which might be guarded by creatures or species who charge a toll or simply won’t let others pass without a fight. Given fords’ importance, such a crossing might be controlled by a city, sovereign power, or band of opportunistic thugs. But our main concern is to decide where a river crossing is between two settlements and measure the distance to it from both places, unless the bridge happens to be directly between them.

The Impact of Life

Wild animals and sinister species make traveling more perilous. On a wide open plain with low grass, one could see trouble coming from a long way off, but tall grass or a thick forest could slow our travelers even if there’s a road through the terrain. Due to this, there’s a difference between the theoretical travel time and the actual. This is another way to slow our characters.

Apr 012019

While flying can generally be assumed to be done in a straight line, factors change this, though this depends on the mode of travel, as what affects a dragon wouldn’t affect a Boeing 747. Mountains can be tall enough that they must be circumnavigated. Real birds struggle to get over the Himalayas, for example, because the air is thinner. Dragons are often depicted as all-powerful, but describing their difficulty in climbing over mountains is one way to make them more realistic. This is one reason, along with rain shadows, for characterizing any land features we’ve created; in this case, we’ll decide which mountain ranges are this tall (hint from Chapter 4: the tallest peaks are in the interior of a continent, not on its coast).

Hostile territories can also change flight patterns, whether that hostility derives from other animals or sentient beings like humans with missile weapons. A lone dragon might fear to fly through an area inhabited by other dragons, if the latter are territorial or of a hostile variety. If the dragon is unafraid, his rider might be more cautious.

Politics can also cause hostility. A dictatorship might have outlawed all dragons, for example, that aren’t ridden by its own military so that borders are closely watched. Being caught could be a problem. While some might attempt passing over the territory using flight or subterfuge, some will simply go around. In such cases, we’ll need to figure out the shortest path that is not a straight line.


All flying animals that are depicted as being ridable are imaginary. The likelihood is that none of them would get off the ground with a rider, but there’s no fun in that. We must take being realistic with a bigger grain of salt than normal, but the useful details and considerations that arise from trying to be realistic can make our work more believable.

Except for mountains, flying animals are unaffected by the terrain, whether that’s roads, forests, rolling hills, or deserts. Flying low changes things a little, as foliage may hide threats, but we’re focused on speed here, not dangers except as those that affect flight paths.

When deciding how far (and fast) invented animals can travel in a day, it can help to start with understanding what real Earth birds can do. A carrier pigeon can fly about fifty miles per hour and cover seven hundred miles in a day. Hawks reach twenty to forty miles per hour during migration. These guidelines can help us determine the speeds and distances of our invented fliers. If we have a species that is humanoid with wings, aerodynamics will ensure they fly more slowly than birds. Their maneuverability is also reduced so that a giant bird should have little trouble catching and killing our species, unless the latter is well armed with missile weapons. For these reasons, flying low and hugging treetops and mountains is wiser for our humanoid character than open air unless they have no reason to suspect such a foe. The sight of such a threat should prompt one to seek shelter.

Figure 33 Zeppelin Airship

Figure 33 Zeppelin Airship

Whether we call them airships, blimps, or dirigibles, these aircraft use buoyancy to stay aloft. This chapter won’t focus on the differences between them but rather how fast they can travel. The larger airships like the Hindenburg have higher speeds and other capabilities. The Hindenburg before its demise could reach 84 mph (135 k/mh), but smaller blimps are a bit slower—their maximum speed is 70 mph and with a typical cruising speed of 30-50 mph. The limitation is inherent in the shape and design; using a bigger or more powerful engine won’t change this.

As opposed to a balloon, they are maneuverable. The large ones can ascend as high as 24000 feet (7300 meters), which means they can theoretically fly over any mountain range on Earth. However, their payload is reduced when that high and they mainly operate between 1500-8000 feet (460-2500 meters), though the Hindenburg typically did so under 650 feet to stay below clouds and monitor them for storms. The purpose of the flight will determine their altitude, as a passenger ship might sail lower to provide views while a surveillance blimp might be higher to avoid detection.

When planning a trip for our characters, we can assume a straight line unless we have some reason not to do so, such as the avoidance of a storm or hostile territory. Airships must refuel and this could restrict their uninterrupted flight to 24-50 hours, but the Hindenburg could fly over 100 hours, typically when crossing an ocean.


Hot air balloons drift with the wind. They cannot be propelled through the air and their flight path cannot be controlled beyond a limited degree. Their speed is also rather slow, such as 3-6 mph for commercial flights, which range from 3-10 miles long and take roughly an hour. Longer trips are possible as the Earth has been circumnavigated in a single trip more than once; fuel, supplies, assistance, and navigator skill are the requirements for such a feat. For world builders, we mostly need to know the balloon’s air speed and what sort of trouble our characters might get into if the flight doesn’t go as planned, but this will depend on landscape.


There are many variations to planes and engine types that will determine how long it takes to travel between two locations by aircraft. This includes fuel capacity, wind, and the plane’s purpose, as a passenger jet is far slower than an F-16, but also far faster than a crop duster. The variety is extreme enough that trying to summarize this may not serve a world builder well and has been omitted from the book.

What we need to first do is decide on the technological level of our society and what sort of plane we need (passenger, fighter). What’s the purpose in our story, and do we want our characters to have a plane that suits that purpose or not? Perhaps only a two-seat propeller plane is available but they’d prefer a fighter jet. We’ll also need a sense of how far they need to go. From here, we’d Google the plane type, learn its typical speed and fuel capacity, and get a sense of how long a trip might take if done in a straight line.

Mar 282019

There are arguably three scenarios for ridden animals and their encumbrance—light, medium, and heavy. A horse outfitted for a casual ride and ridden by someone with minimal gear (spare clothes, a sword, some utensils and water) has the lightest load and will therefore be able to travel farther in a day, thirty or forty miles. By contrast, a fully armored knight (plate armor, with multiple swords and a lance) on a war horse that’s also fully armored (plate armor) will have far less endurance and speed. This will reduce the distance that can be traveled in a day. A less armored warrior (chainmail, shield, one sword) and a lightly armored horse (just leather) will be able to travel father. This also relates to elephants, camels, and our custom animals.

Specialized horses can go over one hundred miles per day for several days in a row. The Pony Express riders could travel many miles, but they nearly rode a horse into the ground between stations, when they mounted another and kept going at the same breakneck speed. Horse-pulled wagons travel about fifteen to twenty-five miles per day without roads. Other animals like oxen, giant lizards, and elephants will have different speeds and endurance. We can use any of them as analogues for our invented animals.

How Long it Takes to Walk Somewhere

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Mar 252019

Depending on the level of prosperity and technology in our world, most people will only have walking as an option. This is one reason people traveled less on Earth long ago. A trip can be arduous and fraught with peril from thieves and other bandits. Add to that the nefarious creatures in fantasy worlds and people will often stay put. Generally, in a world with poor medicine like in most fantasy settings, those walking are more likely to be between the ages of ten and forty. Those younger or older than this tend to suffer more from long walks. Their fitness level and our world’s standards of health impact this. On Earth, few people lived past forty long ago, a problem that modern medicine has reduced. Now people are generally healthier, but if our invented society is based on a medieval one, our inhabitants might be somewhat frail by forty.

When traveling by foot, most people will walk the entire way—only trained warriors or messengers will run any meaningful distance. The ability to run for long distances requires conditioning and practice and is therefore not for the average person unless they happen to love doing it.

Armor, weapons, and supplies will encumber warriors, slowing them and reducing endurance so that they cannot travel as far in a day. A messenger might be less encumbered, but that depends on their location. If traveling in fairly safe lands, they need fewer protections and might carry less. A messenger for the royalty might receive free room and board, and need few supplies. Molesting one might be a capital offense so that they have little to fear. By contrast, in a dangerous wilderness or sovereign power, death from other species or animals (even plants) can happen at any time.

Most of our humanoid species will be close enough in height to humans for there to be no measurable difference. Those much smaller or taller have a shorter or longer gait. This can mean more or fewer steps to accomplish the same journey. This could, in turn, have them tired upon completion. They might also take more or fewer hours to complete the trip. We can alter them to compensate if desired. For example, perhaps our short species has better endurance and travels for more hours without fatigue, reaching a destination in more hours but still making it.

While carrying minimal supplies, the average human can reliably walk twelve miles a day, day after day, without needing to rest or be exhausted. A Roman legion could do fourteen to twenty miles per day. Someone could conceivably do over twenty miles in a day but be exhausted. A marathon of over twenty miles can be done in a few hours, but those people must train for it and must recover for days afterward. In other words, we can fudge travel times in our world based on story needs, but we should first understand a baseline.

Caravans are a special case wherein the entire group moves at the speed of the slowest traveler, unless that person can be placed in a wagon or on a steed. This often means that the slowest mover is an animal, so first we’ll need to decide which ones are in the caravan and how encumbered they are, as this may reduce speed.

Dealing with Land Travel

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Mar 142019

On Earth, motorized vehicles come with a speedometer to tell us how fast we’re going. Using navigation systems, which are typically connected to GPS, we can even learn how long a trip will take and get continual updates on that. In a SF world with even more advanced technology, we can likely assume the same convenience, but in fantasy worlds, none of this exists. Few of us know how long it takes to get any significant distance by walking or riding various animals. This chapter focus mostly on a fantasy-like setting, where help determining speeds, capabilities, and the impact of terrain on non-magical travel is needed.

Most of the Earth uses the metric system. If releasing products, it’s wise to state measurements for the culture where the product will be released. Despite this, miles were used instead of kilometers while writing explanations in this chapter because theories apply regardless of the measurement used and explanations are clearer with consistency. Conversions for kilometers are included for any formulas.

Writing “Not drawn to scale” on any maps we create is recommended. This provides some leeway in regards to stringent accuracy. A map is not needed for understanding this chapter, but the guidelines are written assuming that you have a map and now want to determine distances and corresponding travel times.

Where to Start Creating Cities

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Mar 112019

It’s wise to start with the settlement’s location, as this affects everything about it, including layout, climate (and therefore dress), and neighbors, which can include not only other settlements and sovereign powers, but nearby species that live in adjacent terrain. The settlement size, and therefore population, is a second area to consider, as this affects the society and its world view.  We might next consider the defense needed due to nearby threats. What it’s known for can either be a starting point or a minor detail we add toward the end of our conception. Above all, start with whatever strikes you as a solid idea you won’t change your mind on later, as this inspiration often colors much else about our invention.