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Thread: What sort of map supports a Silk Road campaign

  1. #1

    Post What sort of map supports a Silk Road campaign

    So I'm going to be running a fantasy game, and I've been thinking that I like the elements of pilgrimages, and caravans, and that a fantasy version of the Silk Road could be a good setting. Which brings me to the map elements to support that... the things I see are that to force overland travel the route the sea route has to be untenable (either the tech level isnt there or its just dangerous), I need a big continent, riches at both ends of the trade route that the other guys wants, and lots of ninjas... I mean nomadic barbarians.

    Any thoughs on map elements to support a story and map of daring caravan travel & trade with the hopes of great riches?

  2. #2
    Community Leader Facebook Connected Ascension's Avatar
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    Well the main reason for the original Silk Road was that there weren't any sea lanes to get there until the 1500's when Magellan finally circumnavigated the globe. So my first thought is to stick a big continent in the way to block the sea lanes. Second, make the technology level low so that sea-worthy ships don't exist yet (coastal barques and trade cogs are ok, though). You could always stick a desert or mountains in there or a swamp. You've already mentioned the roving nomads.
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  3. #3
    Guild Expert jbgibson's Avatar
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    You could plausibly "need" an arduous overland route, even with well-developed sailing technology and theoretically-possible ocean routes... if those ocean routes were overrun with pirates, swarming with sea monsters, full of icebergs, or fraught with contrary winds and currents. You could "generate" a favorable environment for pirates by making nearby seafaring nations weak (ineffective enforcers) yet wealthy (lucrative prey). Maybe your world's East India Company holds a lock on sea transport there, while an appropriately diplomatic set of land traders might work out routes that skip the institutional legal piracy and graft.

    Mapping that? "Here be dragons". Or "exclusive corporate/ guild/ society transport zone". Labels like "the pirate coast", "Thieves' Islands", or a table of required exorbitant tributes. Lots of wreck symbols. Narrow passages with whirlpool indications. Volcanic islands that periodically belch toxic fumes.

  4. #4


    Quote Originally Posted by Ascension View Post
    Well the main reason for the original Silk Road was that there weren't any sea lanes to get there until the 1500's when Magellan finally circumnavigated the globe.
    Actually, the Romans operated a sea route to India, via Alexandria and the Red Sea. That route was no longer accessible to christians after the islamic conquest of Egypt, hence the overland Silk Road grew in importance to them. Also, circumnavigation of the globe was not needed for a new sea route to reach India; all one needed to do was to sail around Africa.

    Regarding the OP question, the sheer size of a continent is not the only way by which one could use geography to discourage sea trade. The shapes of the landmasses should also be considered. The Americas area good example here, actually. They form a long continuous chunk of land (before the Panama canal was dug, anyway) stretching North-South. This makes them a rather inconvenient obstacle to marine traffic, especially since the prevailing winds tend to blow either East-West or West-East. The northern coast of NA also reaches so far into the arctic that sailing around it has been mostly infeasible.

  5. #5
    Community Leader Guild Sponsor Korash's Avatar
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    I think JB has it right when he said "here be Dragons" and "bandits here...and here...and here...". I think "Vague" should be the watch word here. The opening of such a trade route would be frought with rumor and misleading info, both in maps and discription of the locales. False maps, inacurate portrail of distances (as people map their lost blundering about) and places that just sound wierd: "Land of the 3 Breasted Women" or "Oasis of the Three legged Man", that sort of stuff that can play on a players mind and send him off on a whole bunch of red herrings...... Have stuff defined at both ends of the route, but VERY vague in between. Any land features that could cause problems for travel should be placed, but not nessarily acuratly or to full extent.
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  6. #6
    Community Leader jfrazierjr's Avatar
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    I would likely make a largish desert or badlands on one side with sparse settlements(at least sparse friendly/indifferent) along the road, as well as a large mountain range(large meaning long, N-S or E-W) with the desert on one side or perhaps even two. Perhaps you might also include a largish sea on the other side which must be traversed, either take a ship or go the long way around... or not.

    A second mountain range could open more possibilities as there are two routes, one an underground cavern system which is the most direct route(cave in's attack from subterranean creatures) and the other a much tougher on the body(due to cold, high altitude, steep climbs, etc)
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  7. #7


    I was thinking you could have a longer Sea voyage that would extend into an arctic area and thus only navigable at certain times of the year. Even then it might be iffy and not worth the possibly losses compared to an overland caravan. As mentioned you could have an ocean passage that is just too dangerous or full of leviathans or other creature. Something along the lines of my Wayfairen's Passage map. Obviously it would only be a small part of the world map but most businessmen would rather not take the chances on such a route.
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  8. #8


    These are all great suggestions. You guys are giving good suggestions to the new guy (I wish the rest of the interweb would take a nod from here). I was originally thinking of building a map from scratch, but these days (with the newborn) I need to be less ambitious so the current plan is to distort our world, and take an erasure to much of the details.

    I like the idea of a sea route that is only navigable (Africa-India, non-monsoon season as an example) during way less than half of the year. I am totally down with crossing the Med safely, but anything bigger I want to be dangerous as an incentive for the land route. I also really like the idea that the map is pretty rough. The road, and land marks are pretty clear, but nearly everything beyond that is pretty much blank.

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