Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Great Rift

One of the several dramatic defining features of Kimatarthi is the Great Rift. This is a massive fault line that runs nearly the entire length of the land from north to south. It marks the western edge of the central lowlands and the beginning of the western mountains. The Rift itself is a sheer escarpment some 1,500 meters high, though its prominence decreases in the north.  In my mind, it looks a bit like the Bandiagara Escarpment in Mali, but much higher.

Pic by Andres Barragan, modified

At the top of the Great Rift, the snow-capped High Mountains roll into the Western Desert. Waterfalls, craggy outcroppings, and interesting irregularities periodically break the cliff face, but it is basically sheer. And since it is so high (and there are no X-treme hobby climbers in Kimatarthi), it is impassible. At its base is the Black River, which itself runs from the north to a small sea in the southern part of the central lowlands. At some points the river runs directly along the sheer face of the Rift, but at other points loose, rocky deposits create a sort of shoreline.

The cliff face gradually becomes less in the north, as the hills gain elevation. It breaks west at its northernmost point, allowing for east-west passage. The city of Markaz rests at this gap. In the south, the Great Rift simply runs into the mists of Land’s End.

Besides being a cool fantasy feature, the Great Rift serves the gaming function of adding distance between zones that would otherwise be relatively close. In the early days of world creation, I found myself wondering why the populations of Bryss didn’t just expand east into the central valley, and why the goblin hordes didn’t swallow up the city along with the other southern towns. It made sense to create a geographic feature that would isolate Bryss, so that it wasn’t tied to the fate of the other southern territories. In so doing, I found that it also forces travel to move north-south, which means that there is a larger frontier for the players to explore. The Great Rift forces caravans to cross the Western Desert between Markaz and Bryss. The Great Rift forces players to base their exploration of the central valley far in the north. In short, I think it is a constraint that encourages more plot hooks and interesting adventures. Also, huge cliffs are awesome.

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