Epic Environments – Deserts

Photo by Loggawiggler


The desert is a harsh mistress… No wait, that was the moon. Anyway, deserts are harsh places. A desert is defined as anywhere that receives less than 250mm of rain a year, which means that technically parts of Antarctica are deserts. What we usually mean, though, is an area of rock and sand with very little water and even less life.



They say you can survive 3 weeks without food, 3 days without water and 3 minutes without air (so I guess the moon really is harsher than any desert on Earth!). This means water management is extremely important if you wish to travel in the desert. What life there is tends to congregate around oases, the rare water sources which do appear in many deserts, or it lies dormant until the rare rains. In the Atacama Desert, in Chile, there is a phenomenon called the Flowering Desert – generally the area receives less than 12mm of rain a year, making it one of the driest places on the planet but every so often it receives heavy rain and the seeds germinate – for a few days the entire region is covered in thousands of species of wild flowers, and teeming with life which takes advantage of them. It is said to be absolutely beautiful.

The other problem with deserts is temperature – everyone knows deserts are hot (well, except for Antarctica), but the temperature drops rapidly at night, often falling below freezing. Many a traveller has frozen to death because they were unaware of that.  

Continue reading →

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Epic Environments – Life on the Water

By Thomas Quine (Reed Islands of Lake Titicaca) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Thomas Quine (Reed Islands of Lake Titicaca) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The world’s land is limited, and the Earth’s surface is 70% water, so finding a way to live on the sea is a very attractive proposition, but truth be told it is actually very hard to do.

There a few ways to do it – you can island hop, live in a big ship and dock occasionally, or you can build a floating village. This week we’re looking at how floating villages can work, to go with last Thursday’s freebie.


Floating Villages

There a few of these around the world, Ha-Long Bay: in Vietnam Lake,  Stilt Village: in Ganvie in Africa, Tonle Sap: in a lake in Cambodia, Floating Islands of Uros: Titicaca Lake in Peru and Sama-Bajau which are found in the sea around the Philippine.

Most of these places are in stationary water, and are built on stilts which support the house. Despite all being called “floating villages” few of them are actually floating on the water unsupported – but although it’s rare it is possible. Two places where this unusual feat has been managed for centuries are the Uros whose homes are made completely from reeds which are found growing in the shallows of the lake and Ha-Long Bay where they live in house made of wood on top of either bamboo rafts or (in more modern times) empty metal or plastic barrels.

People living in these villages will generally eat mostly fish, seaweed and seafood like clams and crap, this mean they get a lot of water from their food means they have to find less clean water to drink. Drinking water can be made by boiling the lake water which will kill of most of the harmful bacteria, but more often it, along with vegetables, flowers and clothing will traded for from the mainland in exchange for the fish.

People that live in such places tend to have long lean bodies, can swim before they can walk and have deeply tanned skin since they are out fishing most days and there no shade from trees that far out in the water.  

Why Do They Live There? Continue reading →

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Third Thursday Freebie – Warrior Priests of the Sea

Warrior Priests of the Sea Cover

This month’s freebie is a small Noggin drawn from the Jigsaw Piece The Floating City – focusing on the priests of their Academic Quarter, who defend the elderly and the young with the gifts of their goddess.

As with all Jigsaw Fantasy products this also includes a series of “Jigsaw Links” giving advice on how to tie the elements into your own setting, using examples drawn from many different fantasy worlds.

Check out Jigsaw Fantasy’s Warrior Priests of the Sea

And if you enjoy that, you’ll love our upcoming kickstarter – so keep your eyes peeled.

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Epic Environments – Wetlands


Wetlands in Cape May, New Jersey, USA. View of Fishing Creek Marsh with Miami Beach, New Jersey on the left. from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Digital Visual Library

Wetlands in Cape May, New Jersey, USA. View of Fishing Creek Marsh with Miami Beach, New Jersey on the left. from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Digital Visual Library


When we write faraway magical places, cultures, and creatures we are inspired by the real world. Nothing you could make up is half as weird as Mother Nature already has. If you plan to make any environment a part of your storytelling, you could do worse than go watch a couple of nature documentaries. Look what nature does, and then fantasy-fy it a little. All the creatures in the Sivatag Desert or the Floating City are inspired by real creatures, even if those inspirations are taken in unusual and fantastical directions.

That’s what you get for having a biologist on the team, who asks questions like “what are the nesting habits of kraken?” or “what are the evolutionary environmental pressures of sleeping on gold?”

Where the adventure is set matters. How you get there is part of the story.

So today, to get to the Next Place, your party have to travel through a swamp. Apart from getting their boots wet, what kind of effects does this have on your adventure? Why not just avoid describing the landscape?

Because yet another forest is boring. Because investigating a different ecosystem at the very least provides for different monsters to fight. Because just getting from A to B becomes a challenge – a reason to have the Survival skill, a reason to hire a native guide. Because the real world is diverse and beautiful and bizarre, and therefore the fantasy worlds we build really should be even more so.


Features Continue reading →

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Epic Environments: Lands of Ice

There are many different types environments in this world – from hot wet swamps, to harsh desert to dry sheets of ice. Each environment brings with it new challenges for the people to live through.

The shape, and movement of our round world means that it can be cold in one place and warm in another and the same for night and day. Due to the tilt of the world’s rotation both the far north and south go through months without light, and even when they do have light the sun never comes much above the horizon, leaving the world with lands of ice.

Photo by Ian Mackenzie from Ottawa, Canada

Photo by Ian Mackenzie from Ottawa, Canada

Lands of Ice

Much of the world can become frozen under sheets of ice throughout the cold times, but some parts never fully thaw; Greenland, the Arctic, Antarctic and Alaska are just a few of these places. These kind of places can experience anything from a month to 6 months without sunlight, temperatures getting as low -90oc, with -50oc being commonplace in some.

When the land is covered in snow and ice there is very little food for people and animals, since not much grows for half the year there are no trees to help slow down the wind, the wind speed can get as high as 50 knots in ice storms.

Inhabitants Continue reading →

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