Sunday, 28 September 2008


The world is a big place, you know. It's easy to forget that point, in this age of air travel and instant international communications, where a man who grew up in a suburb of Liverpool and now lives in Yokohama can write blog posts read by people from the US, France and Australia while simultaneously chatting on msn with a friend in South Africa.

But it is. It's bloody enormous. From my home town to the place I live now is approximately 5,916 miles; if I had to rely on my own legs for transportation, as human beings did for the vast majority of our history, it would take me around 296 days to travel that distance assuming a rate of 20 miles per day. That's ignoring mountains, impenetrable forests, uncrossable deserts, wide rivers, two seas, and other natural obstacles which would obviously make the whole thing take much longer. It's also ignoring the searching for food which I would have to do on the way. And by the time I arrived I would have seen comfortably less than 0.01% of the world's land surface area.

The world isn't just geographically big. It's culturally big too - another thing that it's easy to forget, in the modern world of nation-states. For most of human time our planet has been a patchwork of myriad different cultural, linguistic, religious and ethnic groups, each with its own unique history. In New Guinea over 1,000 languages are spoken; in the Caucusus mountains there are three entirely unrelated language families of dozens of languages each; in North-East India there are a group of Tibeto-Burman people called the Bnei Menashe who believe they are one of the lost tribes of Israel; at the time of the Reconquista there was an emirate of Basque-speaking Muslims near modern day Pamplona in Spain; in 1984 a group of nine Australian aborigines who had never encountered Western civilisation were discovered in the Gibson Desert: the world is a huge place full of weird and wonderful things, almost beyond cataloging.

How do you go about making a homebrew campaign setting which goes even a tiny way towards representing all that variety? Moreover, how do you represent the wonder of demihuman variety which must surely exist in equal measure on top of all that?

The answer is that it's an impossible task which you shouldn't even try. Part of me - the masochistic part - wants to, though.


  1. *grim nod*
    So do I, lad. So do I.

    Ah well.

  2. That's why it always bothers me when traveling in D&D is effectively teleportation. What? No! The lands between here and there are interesting, dangerous, mysterious, and not entirely tamed like modern-day developed countries.

    I've had a DM seriously tell me that we shouldn't worry about monsters or anything on a 200 mile trail, because he can drive across the state in four hours in his car and never sees a monster.

    Anyway neat post. I like the thoughts it evokes. Also the links are interesting.

  3. David: I remember reading that even up until the revolution the kings of France were able to ride out from Versailles to hunt wolves and bears. And that was one of the most densely populated areas of one of the most 'civilised' countries in Europe, in the late 18th century. What must it have been like in 1000 AD? Then add D&D's plethora of monsters... The idea that travel should be safe is a complete nonsense!