Transportation in a Fantasy World

Travel on a Global Scale

Okay so this ties in a bit with the trade and natural resources post I wrote a while back.

If you want your world to be vast, then you need to take trade and transport into consideration.

I found this website recently which I have found very useful and wish I’d discovered earlier. It shows travel distances and times between major cities within the Roman Empire. It is particularly interesting for me because that’s what some of my world is based on.Even if you’re doing something different I think it could be still useful.

These distances are based on technology available at the time and it’s good to have an example to work from. If you’re doing a medieval style story, you can see what it was like back in the empire days and work from that. It may not have changed much or it may have changed a lot, depending on what type of fantasy world you have. I just think it’s a good base to use and I shall be consulting it when it comes to writing.

You may want to list travel distances between major cities in your world for future reference. Little bits of information like that could go in your Story Bible if you have one and I would recommend that you do for this type of writing.

Methods of Travel

It’d be a good idea to list the kinds of travel methods you plan to use in your story. For me it’s be ships, horses, mules, carts, the usual stuff.

Here's a horse picture from outside the Colosseum
Here’s a horse picture from outside the Colosseum

If you use these, then you may need to research how they work, what materials they use, how fast they can move and what they can carry. It depends how much detail you want but it can’t hurt to know.

Then these things need to be applied to your world. For example, if you want a boat, make sure the materials it’s made from are accessible and the method of building it is believable for that level technology.


Fantastic Methods

If you’re planning to inject a bit more fantasy in there, you could make up animals that your people can ride, you could throw in the ability to fly or teleport. There’s a lot of space to have fun with this if you want to make your world as odd as possible.

With magical creatures, you can play around with dangerous animals, proud animals, fast/slow animals. Maybe only some people can ride them or you have to do a certain act/ritual before you ride one, e.g. Hippogriffs in Harry Potter.

Or you could use animals that exist here but give them opposite characteristics.

With flying or teleportation, think about how your characters can do it. Are they human, if so, what physical differences will they have from us to enable them to travel this way? Are there only certain places they can do it? Do they need a special object/spell to do it?

Like with everything in world-building, it must make sense within the context of your world.

Where Travel Fits Into Your World

Don’t make transportation too easy because you don’t want to describe a big Lord of the Rings style journey. When I was first drawing my maps, I had the countries a bit close together to make it easier for myself.

I know I’ve mentioned this before but it’s important, I asked myself:

Why are you making it easier? Where’s the conflict in that? Where’s the struggle for your characters?

Even if your characters can magically pop up or fly where ever they like, try giving it a down side. Maybe you can only do it once a day, maybe it can go horribly wrong or maybe it completely drains your characters of energy so is best avoidable in a battle.

On the other hand, if you want to avoid the long journeys in your story, you could do a time jump. You don’t have to make transport part of the narrative or the conflict if you don’t want to, but don’t just avoid it because you can’t be bothered.

You could come back to it later or try writing parts of it and then see how you feel. I’m currently keeping my options open. I like to plan and organise but not so much that there’s no room for spontaneity.

Different Purposes of Travel

Another thing to think about is how different methods of travel will have different purposes.

Road in Pompeii
Road in Pompei

In my Story Bible I have listed methods suitable for trade, both over water and land. I have also thought about transport around cities as opposed to cross-country. Cities will likely have different roads and less space, so that also needs to be taken into account.

It’s also important to consider transport differences between the rich and poor.

The poor will have limited access to transport which will likely be crowded, slow and filthy. The rich will have a more relaxed approach to it. Think first class/economy.

Play around but be logical, is the main advice here.

Do you have any tips on this subject? Share your thoughts in the comments!


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