5 World Building Tips (Vol 2, #6): Land Travel
Here are today’s world building tips! The theme is land travel. You can read more in Chapter 7, “Travel by Land”, from Creating Places, (The Art of World Building, #2).
Tip #1: “Make Dragons Believable”
While anything huge that flies is not very believable to begin with, we can make them more so giving limitations. Even normal birds struggle at high altitudes and might be unable to get over very tall mountains (above 20,000 feet), for example. Dragons and other large animals would never make it unless we decide their magic helps them. We like them all powerful but maybe forcing them to fly around is better.
Tip #2: “Terrain Slows”
A forest can slow travelers due to underbrush and being unable to see threats from a distance, requiring caution. Desert sand will stop a wagon and slow walkers, but most deserts are actually hard earth and just tough on wheels and feet/hooves. Wetlands are another matter. Hills and mountains cause fatigue and reduce speed and endurance. However, a road mitigates some of these issues. Be sure to take the terrain into account when determining how long your characters’ trip will take.
Tip #3: “Don’t Draw to Scale”
While it’s good to try for accuracy when determining distances and travel times on maps, writing “not drawn to scale” on them gives us leeway to be wrong about something. After all, we’re storytellers, not masters at cartography of modes of travel we don’t use anymore, like horse, wagon, or hovercraft (I stopped using the latter years ago).
Tip #4: “Know How Fast Things Travel”
If you’re writing fantasy, you need to know how far a horse, wagon, or humans (or a species) moves in a day under normal conditions. Either that, or avoid every commenting on it, but this is hard given that characters move through dangerous places and must camp for the night, etc., and we typically mention the dangers while covering said journey. Creating Places makes it easier to know this by providing that data.
Tip #5: “Get the Travel Template”
You can save a ton of time by using the Travel Template sent to newsletter subscribers. It features a way to set the miles her quarter inch on your map, the base miles per day that various animals travel, how to size areas, terrain modifiers, and how long it takes to travel between locations. And if you change your scale, the numbers adjust for you.
Summary of Chapter 7—Travel Over Land
In settings without automobiles, world builders may struggle to determine how long it really takes people to traverse a distance, whether that’s between settlements or land features. Mountains, hills, desert, and vegetation all impact speed and endurance, whether one is walking, riding a steed (even flying on one), or hauling freight like a wagon. The presence and quality of roads alter this, as do life forms that might cause wariness and therefore slower travel. A methodology is presented to assist with organizing distance measurements and scale, determining the base miles per day (BMPD) for various mode of travel, and terrain modifiers to BMPD. Using both miles and kilometers, formulas are provided for making calculations, which can also be estimated for overall land area in sovereign powers. Newsletter subscribers receive an Excel spreadsheet that can be used to alter scale and modifiers so that all calculations are automatically updated, reducing the need for manual calculations.