Before we can actually begin building a map for the World of Samardan setting, there are a few considerations that I'd prefer to address first. The two biggest concerns I have are the size/scale of the map and the terrain it should include.
In terms of campaigning within a sandbox setting, most of my players rarely leave an area more than seven days across. Even starting a campaign off in the middle of the map, I'm looking at a map that is probably fifteen to twenty days travel time, at the most. Unless I've got a good reason to do so, though, I'm inclined to put the starting city of the campaign down near one corner, maybe three days from the edge, and then expand out from there, so a map of ten to twelve days travel should be sufficient.
Here's where things get a little wonky. What are the means by which player-characters can travel across the landscape? On foot, I assume a walking rate of about three miles (~4.8 or basically five kilometers) per hour. Using the gaming standard of eight hours of walking per day of travel, I find that a day's travel covers a distance of about 24 miles (~38.6 kilometers). That would give us a map of approximately 240-288 miles (386-463 kilometers) along each side.
But what if I allow flying mounts, like the "flutrells" of Kregen or the "tarns" of Gor? If I based their stats on the game mechanics for a giant eagle, for example, then I'm looking at a movement rate that is double to triple that of a walking human (depending on the system you use.) For the sake of discussion, let's assume ten days of travel time at this point, and a flying rate that is 2.5 times that of a walking human. That's an region measuring about 600 miles (965 kilometers) along each side. And if you have to hoof it on foot, then the entire region requires 25 days to cross, assuming even terrain.
But wait, that's not all. I could assume that there will be airships. If I do, and I probably would, then I then have to consider how far they can travel in a day. If they move like sailing vessels on the open seas, then airships cover about 80 to 100 miles a day. That's a region measuring about 800 to 1000 miles (1287 to 1609 kilometers) across.
But what if airships traveled faster than that? I'm going to put a maximum speed consideration on airships to about the general speed of a single propeller aircraft, because once we hit jet speeds, we're mapping a whole world, and that's obviously way too much. A Cessna 152 maxes out at 126mph, and while there are plenty of aircraft that are faster, this should work for our purpose. Assuming one tank of gas, it can travel 477 miles (768 km), or 795 miles (1280 km) with long-range tanks. If we assume that whatever powers an airship has a similar range on a daily basis, then we're looking at a region that runs 4800 to 8000 miles across.
Obviously, we can't use the ten day range for airships, unless everyone has airships. The world just gets too big to effectively sandbox. If we look at human walking speed, we get a map that is 240 miles across, for example. Flying mounts can cover the same territory in four days. An airship that travels at the speed of ancient sailing vessels, then they could cover the region in two days. I can live with those figures. (And if someone really wanted to use aircraft speeds, then that's two hours to cover the region, but that takes all the fun out of it.) This makes flying mounts very desirable, and airships are reserved for the wealthy and powerful, for obvious reasons.
So that I've got a little more room to play with, in terms of flying mounts, I think I'll go with fifteen days walking distance, or 360 miles across. Assuming 12-mile hexes (which are my personal preference for regional hex maps), that means approximately 30 hexes to the side. Hmmm... seeing that number makes me think of Traveller sector maps, which are 32 hexes wide by 40 hexes tall. Given my love for those, I'll just up the map size slightly to fit that model, and I'll move forward with that.
Final Resolution: The map for the World of Samardan campaign setting shall be 32 hexes wide by 40 hexes tall!
Terrain Types There are two rather common descriptions for worlds in the Planetary Romance genre:
- Desolate World: Edgar Rice Burroughs' Princess of Mars serialized novel in 1914 was set on the desolate world of Barsoom, described pretty much as badlands covered in a crimson moss, with limited water and only an occasional forest. This fit the limited knowledge of scientists of the era, as filtered through the imagination of a pencil sharpener wholesaler-turned-author. The popularity of his stories spun off a series of imitators, and many early tales of this genre depicted worlds of a similar nature.
- Lush Tropical Wilderness: The nature of the heroes and tales told in Planetary Romance derive from the Jungle Adventure sub-genre, and it is no small wonder that the other common terrain selected for these stories is that of jungles and rain forests, regions teaming with dangerous wildlife ready to devour a hero or a princess at any moment. Lin Carter took this to an extreme in the Green Star series, and placed the entire series on a cloud-covered world largely covered by a tropical forest of multi-mile-high trees in whose tops are the main cities of the human inhabitants of the world.
On the one hand, I think the setting would be more identifiable to those who came into the genre via the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs. I can create a dying world, with water as a limited resource, thin canals cutting through miles of desert and mountain ranges, and ruins of ancient cities and atmosphere production plants (terraforming stations) dotting the wilderness. I think it's true to the genre, but it sounds a little boring as a gaming environment, in and of itself, because there's so little diversity in terms of experiences.
On the other hand, I can get a lot more diversity out of the lush tropical jungle approach. The diversity of wildlife will make the game interesting and be identifiable to many readers of the genre, but there's little to make it stand out from a fantasy campaign setting, at first blush. I definitely want something with flavor, and while this gives me variety, I feel that with this option, I'm lacking a sense of distinctive flavor that would separate this setting from a fantasy setting.
Honestly, I'd like to honor both terrain styles, rather than choose between the two. That way, I can liberally "borrow" ideas from multiple authors for a Planetary Romance campaign and still have places where they would fit in the setting. With that in mind, I think I'm going to go with a variant on the dying world trope. The surface of the planet is primarily desolate wastelands. However, in vast open valleys, once the beds of great lakes, the last vestiges of a lush tropical existence clings to life. If you climb out of the great valley area, however, all you find are the wastelands. This could also give me a reason why most of the adventures will take place in this area, with only a few adventures likely to push forth into the deadly wastelands of the upper reaches in search of ancient ruins. It localizes resources of interest to the populations as a whole, and gives cities a reason to squabble over these rare sites in relative proximity to one another. Hmmm, I'm liking this thought more and more as I ruminate on it.
Final Resolution: The World of Samardan campaign setting shall be set within a large valley where enough water remains to allow jungles and life to persist, but beyond the valley lies only wastelands (and presumably other valleys).
Both of the thought processes above dramatically change the world's "Big Picture" view from my original World of Samardan campaign. Honestly, though, I ran that game during my Gamemastering phase of "story arcs over player arcs." Since then, I've swung very happily into the player-generated adventure zone, and I feel that this sandbox version of Samardan is going to be even better than what I ran the first time through.
Looking Forward To It,