A Sundered World: Topography of a Sundered World

During this week's A Sundered World Hangout session a few things came up, including whether allowing everyone to fly is just too damned good, Ironhide's death and return as a spirit, and just what the hell the world (such as it is) looks like.

That last one was something that I don't want to set in stone in the actual book, as I feel that there are a variety of possible ways you can arrange the world without having to change much if any of the rules and content.

However in our current campaign one of the players became understandably frustrated because he wasn't sure what things looked like, what things like ley lines were, and how it all worked together, which meant that he wasn't able to really make informed decisions.

Sooo this post is to help address part of that.

Right now I've thought of three ways to model A Sundered World, with one that could help address the "issue" of not having a day and night cycle. Lemme know which one you prefer, any tweaks you would add to the mix, and any other models that you'd like to see in the book as options.

Option 1: Spiral World
Originally my "default" topography was similar to a spiral galaxy. Here's a sideways shot that isn't at all scaled:

I went with this for two reasons.

The first is that I started designing this setting back when we still regularly played 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons, so I blew up the World Axis cosmology (which I think is way better than the Great Wheel, and I'm a Planescape fan). The end result was that all the other planes ended up getting suspended in the Astral Sea.

One of the main features of the Astral Sea is the astral horizon, which "forms something like the surface of the ocean" (Manual of the Planes, page 87). This leads me to the second reason: I was pretty much going with a kind of "pirate" campaign, just set in a very alien world. Using the astral horizon was better for the concept and made things easier to map.

Here you've got the Abyss is in the center of the Maelstrom. The Maelstrom endlessly produces various types of elemental matter and forces, some of which gets gobbled up by the Abyss (kind of like a supermassive blackhole that also vomits forth demonic critters). Around the Maelstrom is everything else, which generally remains stationary unless someone or something else acts upon it.

Option 2: Sphere World
Another option that someone else proposed was a spherical topography, where islands are scattered about in all directions around the Abyss and Maelstrom. Here's another sideshot (also not to scale):

I think you could kind of merge the spiral and spherical models, with most of the objects on a flat plane, but plenty of other stuff scattered about above and below. Could be a way to stash hidden locations that no one's discovered.

Option 3: Layer World
A third model that I thought of yesterday (and that is my current favorite) is to have everything arranged in a series of layers (sideshot, not scaled, etc):

Instead of an ambient light illuminating everything, it shines down from above where the heavens used to be. There's been discussion of how to handle a setting without a day and night cycle (or really any way to accurately and consistently measure time), so this light could fade and brighten at regular intervals.

The next layer down are the islands and clouds. As with Dungeons & Dragons's Astral Sea, things tend to settle around here and remain stationary. 

The Maelstrom occupies the entirety of the third layer. Chunks of matter that manage to escape could float up, and islands could send ships down to harvest stone, water, and other materials. Particularly devastating explosions of fire and discharges of lightning could inflict havoc on the island layer.

Finally, the Abyss lurks at the very bottom. If you get too close it can corrupt you, or even draw you in. What happens then? Who knows, but it's probably not anything good.


  1. Options 1 and 3 seem strongest I think.

  2. I always thought it was number 2 that you referred to in your book.

  3. @John: Yeah, I'm banking on 3 for the default.

    @Delos: Really? I recall people wanting more stuff scattered about in all directions, but I think it just added too much complexity to mapping and navigation.

    But, hey, this is why I'm asking everyone!

  4. The post is a little dated, but I didn't want to just jump in and comment when I first read, as I really hadn't even considered the physical structure of a Sundered World when it was posted. And after a couple weeks, I think the key word in that last sentence is "a". What works for one group might not work for another, and so I heartily back the sentiment of not presenting any as "the" version. In fact, I'm still not sure what I'd do, but I have a better idea of what I'd want and which would fit best.

    I'd always sort of thought of it as type 2, but really it wasn't even quite that. My vision was probably closest to one of those star maps you see in video games like the Mass Effect or Sins of a Solar Empire series. I pictured roads (streams, gates, portals, whatever) that connected different realms to one another, which may or may not be physically linked in any way; like little pocket universes rubbing up against one another and you could hop from one to another. The joint background of having been spawned from the same original universe facilitating why they were so easy to travel between and why they shared so many similarities.

    That said, after a couple weeks of mulling it over, I really like type 1. But, I really like it in a seriously doctored version of Sundered World where the abyss is actually a black hole (so nothing escapes) that's gradually eating the universe. The maelstrom then is the final throes of those realms pulled too close as they are torn apart and crash into one another. What really sold me on the spiral galaxy idea though was picturing the spine of Bahamut as one of the arms of the spiral.

  5. @Svafa: I never really intended to describe any specific model, but instead had a list of questions for the GM and players to help map it out as needed.

    I'm really glad Matthew chimed in, because it made me realize that I could still describe several possibilities without saying "this one is the right one" (or even this is the standard).

    It's funny that you mention Mass Effect, because when I was running the campaign I was playing the crap out of Mass Effect 2 at the time, and it was definitely an inspiration (like, say, Angel Gates).

    I like the mental image of Bahamut's spine being an arm: it very well could be long enough!


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