The Towerlands are set in a parallel, fantasy version of the Pannonian Basin, essentially the area of Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia today. When I found out that this area of Earth was a giant, drained seabed–flat as can be, but surrounded entirely by a circle of mountains–I was entranced. That’s always a good start for a fantasy world.
But how to transform that cool geography into a fantasy world? How do you present it?
I had a few false starts where I took the idea of the Pannonian Basin and drew a new map: you know, a ring of mountains, a couple cool rivers chopping through it. It lacked fidelity.
This was the first image I found of the Pannonian Basin, on wikipedia:
It shows where the water was in the 19th century, before they really started draining it all. Swamps, everywhere! I traced the rivers in GIMP and got this:
How many fantasy region maps have you seen that have a river system like that?
Look at this picture of the hills and mountains:
The colors represent terrain height, not vegetation. A lot of the lower mountains are covered with trees and even grass. I chose the northern set of mountain ranges as the focus for the campaign.
There’s a website that lets you zoom in on topology data and turn river features on and off. Look how cool this area is:
My favorite part of this is the set of valleys between the three ranges and how the rivers come from the east and west and terminate before actually touching.
The dark orange mountains at the top are the High Tatras. Here’s what they look like, face-on:
The Low Tatras are a lot less formidable, and you can even hike across the tops of them, like a Slovakian “Appalachian Trail.”
So I decided to use the geography as it is on Earth, figure out why that’s the case in the Towerlands, and now I can use pictures like these directly in my game and say, “It looks exactly like this,” and mean it.
Truth is stranger than fiction.
The map at the top of the screen is my finished campaign area. I think it’s like 250 miles across. More than enough to get started! I want it to feel large and sweeping. If the characters want to explore more, there’s a whole giant area to the south to open up, too.
But thinking smaller, I built a six-mile hex for the immediate campaign area, even though I don’t really plan to run anything like a hexcrawl at first. Still, it’s nice to know what’s nearby for adventure hooks. Here’s my hex, which I drew up in Inkarnate (I have a pro account).
(WordPress is being a butt, so I’ll try to load it tomorrow.)