World Building: Geography

Lake Nemrut inside the crater of Nemrut Volcano
Lake Nemrut inside the crater of Nemrut Volcano (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

      To an extent, you can design your physical world based on the people that inhabit it. Or you can create cultures based on the features of your world. Land and people interact. So when you design one, keep the other in mind.

      I mentioned the role of geography earlier in this series. Since the physical environment is such an obvious and important aspect of world building, let’s look more closely at how five physical aspects affect the people who live in your world.

  • Continents: Continents are a great way to separate vastly different groups, isolationist nations, and exotic tribes. People living on the same continent tend to share language groups (Portuguese is much closer to Spanish than to Japanese). “New” continents are typically colonized by nations that have ocean access. If you have a world where this happens, remember that land-locked nations typically miss out on colonization and must extend their influence in other ways.

  • Regions: Areas of distinct landscapes, like large grasslands or long mountain ranges, influence the types of societies that live there. Lattitude matters too. Cold weather groups live very differently from hot weather groups.

  • Water: Rivers offer convenient boundaries for nations. They also aid travel, promoting the trade of goods and information. They also make convenient invasion routes. Rivers also mean a steady source of water for cities and farmland. Oceans, as mentioned, can be a physical barrier. They also are a good source of food, trade, and may hide unknown lands and people.

  • Resources: Island nations will rely heavily on trade to get their resources or be reduced to more primitive living conditions. Limited food resources suggests moving tribes unless there is some other abundant resource to trade. Both tend to be vulnerable to outside powers. On the other hand, fertile plains offer lots of food that can support large groups but offers poor military defense.

  • Stability: An often overlooked feature is stability of the land feature. Coasts may be prone to tsunamis or the read tide. Certain regions may be prone to earthquakes or tornadoes. Rivers can dry up and oceans can have hurricanes. Mineral resources will eventually disappear and forests can be overhunted. Natural and manmade disasters – the standard precautions taken, the imminant threat, the recent effects – can enrich and complicate the immediate world of your characters.

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