If you want to go to the very first post on the Atlas of Ice and Fire, click here.
Some other useful links:
If you want to go to the very first post on the Atlas of Ice and Fire, click here.
Some other useful links:
The Inner Sphere
The Inner Sphere is the territory located roughly within 600 light-years of Terra and claimed by the Successor States of the fallen Star League. These polities form a flattened sphere approximately centred on neutral Terra and divided between the five major powers of known space.
These states each consider themselves to be the natural heir to the grace and power of the Star League. These states are, arranged roughly clockwise, the Lyran Commonwealth, the Draconis Combine, the Federated Suns, the Capellan Confederation and the Free Worlds League. At the centre of the Inner Sphere is Terra, under the control of the mercantile-religious organisation known as ComStar.
Around the edges of the Sphere lies the territory known as the Periphery, inhabited by various independent worlds and minor powers.
Each of the Successor States is huge, either in distances spanned, the number of star systems controlled or, in the case of the Federated Suns, both. For ease of reference, each one of the States breaks their territory down into different sub-regions, though each State has its own method of determining how this is accomplished.
The States are as follows:
The Lyran Commonwealth
Founded in 2341 as an alliance between three mercantile states, the Lyran Commonwealth extends some 400 light-years anti-spinwards and corewards from Terra. Originally a much smaller nation, the Commonwealth benefited from the collapse of the Rim Worlds Republic during the fall of the Star League and absorbed much of its former territory.
As of 3025, the Lyran Commonwealth contains over 300 settled systems, with its capital located on Tharkad. The Commonwealth is ruled by House Steiner, whose current leader is Archon Katrina Steiner.
Reflecting its origins, the Lyran Commonwealth is noted for its mercantile and corporate power, with some of the Inner Sphere’s richest corporations located within the Commonwealth’s borders. The Commonwealth is the richest-per-head nation in the Inner Sphere and fields some of its best equipment, with a high preponderance of rare Assault BattleMechs and variants in the armed forces. The nation’s political power is concentrated in the hands of its nobility, to the point where officers in the Lyran Commonwealth Armed Forces (LCAF) often buy their ranks with little or no formal training in the military academies, resulting in the phenomenon known as “social generals.” This has left the LCAF in a precarious situation where many of the individual units, soldiers and MechWarriors are of a high standard, with top-of-the-line equipment, but they are often led by inexperienced officers with little or no front-line combat experience. Still, with 75 BattleMech regiments mobilised at any time, the Commonwealth is the third-most-militarily powerful nation in the Inner Sphere. The Lyran Intelligence Corps (LIC) is also a formidable intelligence organisation.
The Commonwealth has a fractious relationship with the Free Worlds League to the galactic south, and worlds exchange hands between the two sides along the border on a somewhat regular basis. However, the relationship with the Draconis Combine to the galactic east is considerably more dubious, with real hatred and dislike on both sides of the border. Many of the best LCAF units and their most experienced officers are located along the Combine border.
For the past three years, the Lyran Commonwealth has enjoyed an unprecedented alliance with the Federated Suns. The two empires, located on opposite sides of Terra and expanding in different directions, have no major border disputes and their philosophical and political goals are compatible. In particular, the overwhelming strength of the alliance has discouraged the Draconis Combine, sandwiched between the two powers, from making war on either. The Federated Suns have offered military advice and equipment to the LCAF in an attempt to bring it up to their spec, though some in the military and nobility resent the intrusion of new ideas.
The Lyran Commonwealth is divided between three bodies, each subdivided into smaller provinces.
The Draconis Combine
The Draconis Combine was founded in 2319, growing out of the former Alliance of Galedon formed between Galedon V and New Samarkand. The Combine controls a vast swathe of space extending some 400 light-years spinward from Terra and 400 light-years corewards. The Combine controls over 350 settled planets.
The Combine is ruled by House Kurita from the planet Luthien. Its current ruler is Coordinator Takashi Kurita. The Combine is something of an imperial power, believing that it is destined to resurrect the Star League and rule over humanity as its destiny. The Combine’s army, the Draconis Combine Mustered Soldiery (DCMS), is superbly trained, with the military rigidly trained in the concepts of honour and sacrifice. Combine units are noted for their greater tendency to fight to the death rather than surrender, though the extent of their fanaticism is often exaggerated by their enemies. The DCMS is regarded as a formidable war machine, but a somewhat inflexible one, often unwilling to embrace new ideas or doctrines. It is also not the best-equipped armed force, often over-relying on Heavy ‘Mechs and lighter classes due to a shortage of Assaults. However, this often makes Draconian MechWarriors formidable in battle, having to make up for in skill what they lack in equipment. With 80 MechWarrior regiments mobilised, the Combine has the second-largest military in the Inner Sphere.
The Combine’s intelligence branches, the Internal Security Force (ISF) and Order of the Five Pillars (O5P) are considered extremely effective. Despite the names, the ISF actually undertakes the bulk of external operations against enemy powers and the Order maintains internal security (the “internal” theatre of the ISF is actually the entirety of the Inner Sphere, as the Combine considers itself the heir to the Star League).
The Combine is based upon the Five Pillars: the Pillar of Gold (the government), the Pillar of Steel (the military), the Pillar of Teak (the people and culture), the Pillar of Ivory (philosophy and religion) and the Pillar of Jade (the economy). All five pillars have to work in harmony to ensure the survival and growth of the Combine.
The Combine has relatively few friends, though it does enjoy cordial relations with the Free Worlds League, from which it is separated by a large span of space, and the Capellan Commonwealth, with which it shares some common goals, principally the elimination of the Federated Suns. The Combine holds the Lyran Commonwealth in contempt, despite its large military, but it both hates and respects the Federated Suns, with which it shares the longest and most contentious border in the entire Inner Sphere.
The recent advent of an alliance between the Lyran Commonwealth and the Federated Suns has put the Draconis Combine on the back foot. The Combine is sandwiched between the two powers and in the advent of both attacking simultaneously, the Combine would be hard-pressed to hold them back. To defend against this, the Combine has entered into a strategic alliance with House Marik of the Free Worlds League and House Liao of the Capellan Commonwealth, although this alliance is generally considered to be less stable than the Lyran-Federated axis.
The Draconis Combine is divided into five military districts, each of which is further subdivided into prefectures.
The Federated Suns
The Federated Suns – often called “The Federation” by its citizens – was founded in 2317 and is the largest, richest, most populous and most powerful of the Successor States. The Federation extends 400 light-years rimwards from Terra and over 600 light-years spinwards. It controls over 500 settled planets, representing the greatest concentration of humanity in known space.
The Federation is ruled by House Davion from the planet New Avalon. Its current ruler is First Prince Hanse Davion, widely known as “The Fox” for his cunning political stratagems and wily military prowess. Despite being an effective monarchy, the Federation prides itself on being the greatest bastion of personal freedom, liberty and democracy in the Inner Sphere. It often holds itself as being the moral conscience and defender of freedom in known space, an idea the other powers are sceptical of (to say the least), and quick to accuse the Federation of hypocrisy when it acts in the interest of realpolitik rather than its idealism.
The Armed Forces of the Federated Suns (AFFS) is regarded as the finest military in the Inner Sphere, with a strong balance between the fanaticism and emphasis on individual glory provided by the Draconis Combine and the reliance on superior equipment of the Lyran Commonwealth. The AFFS is a highly professional force with a superb military academy system, designed to find and promote the best military minds in the Federation. With more than 110 BattleMech regiments mobilised, the AFFS is the largest military force in the Inner Sphere, though it also has vastly more territory and worlds to defend than any other power. The Ministry of Information, Intelligence and Operations (MIIO) and Department of Military Intelligence (DMI) are among the best intelligence services in the Inner Sphere, operating agents in backwaters in the Periphery and deep-cover operatives in the very centres of power in the other empires, often playing the long game and employing patience to position agents at the very heart of enemy power.
The Federated Suns has tempestuous relations with both the Draconis Combine to the galactic north and the Capellan Confederation to the galactic west. The Federation has gone to war against both powers many times and usually been victorious, or held its own. However, the Federation has never been able to embark on a full war of conquest against either power for fear of exposing its flanks to the other. The Federation has the largest military in the Inner Sphere, but it is not large enough to wage full wars against both neighbouring powers simultaneously.
This geostrategic weakness was recently undone by the alliance with House Steiner of the Lyran Commonwealth, putting hostile forces on both sides of the Draconis Combine’s borders and theoretically allowing the Federation to put pressure on the Capellan Confederation with less fear of an attack by the Combine. The Combine, Confederation and Free Worlds League have responded by forming their own alliance, but this is considered a less stable alliance in contrast.
The Federated Suns is divided into three principalities or “Marches.” Each March is enormous in size, population and power. Each March is divided into military operation theatres and further subdivisions, as follows:
The Capellan Confederation
The Capellan Confederation is the youngest of the Successor States, founded in 2367 as an alliance between several powerful, smaller factions in the systems surrounding Capella. At the time the Federated Suns were expanding swiftly from galactic east and the Capellan systems decided to band together rather be swallowed up by the rapidly-growing superpower. The Confederation extends 400 light-years rimwards from Terra, but is only around 200 light-years wide at its widest extent. The Confederation appears small on maps, but it is relatively densely populated, with 217 inhabited systems as of 3025.
The Confederation is ruled by House Liao from the planet Sian. Its current ruler is Chancellor Maximilian Liao. The Confederation is a highly autocratic power with a controlled economy and caste system. Power is concentrated in three bodies: the Chancellor, the Prefectorate and the House of Scions. Capellan society is rooted in service to the state: those born in the Confederation are effectively wards of the state until they are granted citizenship by service in the military, law enforcement, medical, scientific or intelligence communities. Those who are unable to earn citizenship become servitors, forced to work in crippling conditions for the bare amenities needed to survive.
The Capellan Confederation Armed Services (CCAF) are a small but professional and well-armed military force, with 45 BattleMech regiments under arms (augmented by a fluctuating number of mercenary forces, Warrior Houses and the elite Death Commandos). The Confederation government has long feared an insurrection of the CCAF and kept the military numbers to the bare minimum needed to dissuade attacks by the Free Worlds League or the Federated Suns, but this is insufficient to fulfil the Confederation’s long-term goal of claiming more territory from the surrounding powers. The Confederation bases much of its defence plans on information gained from the Maskirovka, the Confederation intelligence agency. The Maskirovka is noted for how incredibly widespread and tenacious it is, with sympathisers on many worlds in every Successor State and throughout the Periphery. The Federated Suns’ intelligence agencies are better-funded and resourced, but the Maskirovka is considered more ruthless and is more feared.
The Capellan Confederation has hostile relations with the Federated Suns, which it considers a rival despite the Federation having more than twice and not far off three times the Confederation’s size, military power and population. Much of the Federation’s anti-spinwards expansion came at the expense of the Confederation, either in terms of actual member worlds or worlds the Confederation coveted as well. The Confederation wants to bring down and destroy the Federation, but due to its inferior resources has employed assassination, subterfuge and sabotage as its preferred weapons of war. The Confederation also has a long border with the Free Worlds League, with which it has sparred several times over worlds of mutual interest, and the Rimward Periphery, a region where the Confederation has looked for allies and opportunities for expansion.
The Federation’s recent alliance with the Lyran Commonwealth has seen the Confederation open talks with the Draconis Combine and Free Worlds League, forming a mutual defence pact. This alliance is designed to counterweight the Davion-Steiner axis, but is considered a somewhat less reliable partnership.
The Capellan Confederation is divided into five major subdivisions, known as commonalities. Each commonality is divided into grand duchies, duchies and fiefdoms, although these titles change hands so often as factions and families rise and fall that tracking them becomes very complex.
The Free Worlds League
The Free Worlds League is the oldest of the Successor States, founded in 2271 as an alliance between the Marik Republic, Federation of Oriente and Regulan Principality. Unlike the other Successor States, which are cohesive nation-states with a strong central authority, the Free Worlds League is more of an alliance of semi-autonomous polities banded together for mutual defence against their neighbours. Its constituent regions have the greatest autonomy of any in the Successor States, although this has come at the expense of security. The League extends approximately 400 light-years rimwards from Terra and 400 light-years anti-spinward. There are more than 330 settled systems in the League.
The League is ruled by House Marik from the planet Atreus, although “ruled” is perhaps a strong term. The League is a somewhat diffuse organisation which places high degrees of autonomy in each member world and sub-body, many of which are responsible for maintaining their own military forces and government. Broadly speaking, the League is organised as a federal state with the League acting as the federal government and each member-state organising their own affairs. The nominal head of state is currently Captain-General Janos Marik.
The Free Worlds League Military is nevertheless a professional and respected force. It can mobilise 60 BattleMech regiments at any time, but, in times of warfare, the FWLM can call upon reserve troops from individual planetary militias or state governments. The quality of these troops can vary extremely wildly. The FWLM is notable for its focus on combined operations, with armor, infantry and aerospace forces existing in large numbers and its relative numbers of BattleMechs being quite small compared to conventional forces. In addition, the FWLM fields one of the largest navies in the Inner Sphere, a product of its large number of shipyards, with the Free League’s doctrine of war focusing on denying space and air superiority to enemy forces and destroying enemy forces before they can land on target worlds.
The Free Worlds League also maintains an efficient intelligence-gathering operation: SAFE. SAFE is considered the least-effective intelligence body of the five Successor States, with a low number of successful missions outside its borders. SAFE (the acronym’s origins are unknown, with popular myth suggesting it stands for “Search and Find Everything”) is better employed as an information analysis bureau.
The Free Worlds League has varying relations with other powers, including long-running border disputes with the Lyran Commonwealth and several major border clashes with the Capellan Confederation, particularly over the Duchy of Andurien. The League’s federal structure and devotion to the freedom of its member worlds, not to mention their lack of a common border, makes it arguably a natural ally of the Federated Suns, but the two powers have had generally apathetic relations over the centuries. The League does enjoy arguably the closest relationship of any of the major powers with ComStar on Terra, and has a moderate relationship with the Magistracy of Canopus, one of the largest Periphery powers on its galactic southern border.
Since the formation of the Davion-Steiner Alliance, the League has entered into a strategic alliance with the Draconis Combine and Capellan Confederation. The League is not a natural friend of either state but considers working with them preferable to possibly being conquered by the Lyran Commonwealth.
The League has the most confusing hierarchy of the five major powers, a result of it being more an alliance of lesser states and independent worlds than an empire as such. Most star systems in the Free Worlds League are autonomous systems maintaining their own governments and militaries, sending representatives to the League Parliament on Atreus. However, multiple systems have banded together into smaller states for greater protection and representation
Sarna, the BattleTech Wiki, was an exhaustive source of information, canon, star locations and facts, as well as providing some symbols and information.
The recent 2018 BattleTech video game was a source of information, inspiration, expanded lore, new maps and faction symbols, as well as being a fantastic video game in its own right.
Thank you for reading The Atlas of Ice and Fire. To help me provide better content, please consider contributing to my Patreon page and other funding methods, which will also get you exclusive content before it goes live on my blogs.
This map marks the start of a number of maps related to the BattleTech science fiction setting, from the miniatures game, novel line and video game of the same name and the MechWarrior series of video games. You can find out more about the setting here.
These series of maps depict known space as it stands in the year 3025, after the Third Succession War. This is the time period of the “classic” BattleTech setting and approximately the setting of the recent video games BattleTech and MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries.
During the past nine centuries of interstellar exploration and settlement, humanity has expanded across a region roughly circular* in shape, approximately four thousand light-years across and centred on Terra, humanity’s ancestral homeworld. This region is vast and crowded; more than 50 million stars are located in this volume of space, less than three thousand of which have been settled by humanity and only a few multiples of that have even been visited by spacecraft. Of course, this area is infinitesimal when compared to the remainder of the Milky Way Galaxy; less than 4% of its width has been explored by humans.
The exploration of this volume of space was undertaken by several bodies, most notably the Terran Hegemony, the Rim Worlds Republic, and the Star League which they were both part of. Survey ships struck out on perilous journeys far beyond the rim of settled space in search of worlds suitable for terraforming, if not the rare jewels of worlds already suitable for colonisation. Not all these ships returned; jump technology was not always certain and sometimes, after hundreds of jumps carrying ships far out of communications range of settled space, their recharging systems would fail, leaving ships stranded with no way of getting home. Exploration was thus perilous.
After the fall of the Star League in 2781 and the beginnings of the Succession Wars, exploration became of less interest to the major powers. There were more than enough worlds to be dealing with already, most of them not in any imminent danger of overpopulation, and the impetus for costly, dangerous journeys was reduced. The age of exploration did not completely come to an end – ComStar, in particular, maintains an exploration arm, and the private firm Interstellar Expeditions maintains some long-range surveys – but it did slow dramatically.
Divisions of Known Space
Known space is divided into three distinct regions, defined as follows:
* Maps in the BattleTech universe are curiously two-dimensional, depicting events taking place on an approximately 2D plane of the galaxy centred on Sol. Stars “above” and “below” the map appear to have not been settled in significant numbers, and well-known stars above and below the galactic plane (such as, for example, Polaris) are not listed, or have been moved. In other cases, real, named stars are not in their correct spatial relations to Earth (Terra) or one another. For reasons of sanity, it is best to assume that BattleTech takes place in a parallel universe version of the Milky Way where the major powers have chosen not to settle worlds above or below the galactic plane and the Inner “Sphere” is actually more pancake-shaped.
Next time we will take a closer look at the Inner Sphere itself.
Thank you for reading The Atlas of Ice and Fire. To help me provide better content, please consider contributing to my Patreon page and other funding methods, which will also get you exclusive content before it goes live on my blogs.
In the process of creating my recent Babylon 5 starmap, using the location of real stars, I thought it might be interesting to create a larger map showing all of the major powers and their colonies, and the jump routes connecting them.
This map is based on the map provided in the Babylon 5 Roleplaying Game from Mongoose Publishing (2002), which in turn was partially inspired by the starmaps in the earlier Babylon Project Roleplaying Game from Titan Books (1997) and Babylon 5 Wars miniatures game from Agents of Gaming (1997), with some modifications. All of these games ran their maps and other information past J. Michael Straczynski and his assistant Fiona Avery for approval. Whilst official, licensed products, however, they are not necessarily canon (Straczynski later fell out with Mongoose Publishing and declared the information in their game to be non-canon, even apparently information that he’d authorised). However, they are the best maps we have or are likely to get.
The map depicts the state of known space at the start of the year 2257, at the time that Ambassador Kosh of the Vorlon Empire arrives on board the Babylon 5 diplomatic station. There are five major powers whose military, political and economic clout is enough to classify them as superpowers: the Vorlon Empire, the Minbari Federation, the Centauri Republic, the Earth Alliance and the Narn Regime (in rough order of age and power). Some of these powers exercise control over other races as overlords, such as the Centauri, or the Minbari over several neighbouring worlds which are part of their “protectorate,” most notably the Norsai.
In addition there are a large number of minor powers who have banded together as the League of Non-aligned Worlds. These include the Abbai, Balosians, Brakiri, Cascor, Drazi, Gaim, Grome, Hurr, Hyach, Ipsha (or Iksha), Llort, Markab, Onteen, Pak’ma’ra, Vree and Yolu, whose combined power is considerable but undercut by internal divisions. There are yet more minor powers who prefer to maintain their own independence, such as the Lumati, Golians, Sh’lassans, Onteen and Ch’lonas.
This map depicts the major empires based on hyperspace transit routes, not their physical relationships in realspace. The Earth Alliance incorporates systems that are physically close to one another – such as Proxima Centauri, which is only 4.2 light-years from Earth – but also ones that are extremely distant, such as Deneb, located 2,616 light-years from Earth. However, quirks of hyperspace currents and gravitational inclines allow relatively rapid transit to those systems. Similarly, worlds like Centauri Prime and Narn are a fairly convoluted series of jumps from Earth, despite physically being relatively close by (Narn is about 19.7 light-years from Earth, Centauri Prime around 58 light-years away), whilst the mysterious Alpha Omega system is more like 25,000 light-years away, on the Galactic Rim, but can be reached relatively easily (if anyone had any reason to travel out there).
Jump routes are shown in three varieties. Thick lines are major routes, catered for by multiple, redundant jump beacons and in some cases multiple jump gates. Thinner lines are normal routes, catered for by a single beacon and gate. Broken lines are restricted routes, where one or both of the gates has been switched to only allowing authorised ships to pass. The reasons for these restrictions vary, but may be down to planetary security, quarantine (dangerous wildlife is the reason the Centauri world of Na’ka’leen is quarantined), military restrictions or dangerous space phenomena (the reason the Narn have restricted access to Sigma 957).
“Jump routes” refer to the jump beacon network in hyperspace. Every jump gate has a beacon (located in realspace, to avoid drifting in hyperspace) which emits a powerful tachyon signal that can cut through the interference of hyperspace. Beacons can pair with one another, creating lifelines through hyperspace which non-FTL-capable ships can follow to destination gates. FTL-capable ships, vessels with their own jump drives, are also reliant on the beacon network to reach their destination but can choose their own exit point from hyperspace. Ships with more advanced and sensitive signal receivers might be able to take “shortcuts” in hyperspace, bypassing the beacon network altogether because they can detect the beacons of other gates at longer ranges, or even are confident enough to head out on a certain heading, losing contact with one beacon before picking up the signal of another, but this is an extremely hazardous tactic, risking being swept off the beacon network altogether and being marooned in hyperspace forever.
Ships which expand the jump network – such as the Earth Alliance’s immense Explorer-class starships – do so by ranging out from a beacon and attempting to target other stars through trial and error, jumping out and dropping a new beacon if they find something interesting, even building new jump gates altogether if the system is worth it. This is slow and tedious work even for more advanced races, but ensures that the jump network continues to expand continuously across the galaxy, if at times agonisingly slowly. The lack of stellar reference points prohibit the use of hyperspace for intergalactic travel; the distances involved are well beyond the range of modern beacon technology.
Thank you for reading The Atlas of Ice and Fire. To help me provide better content, please consider contributing to my Patreon page and other funding methods, which will also get you exclusive content before it goes live on my blogs.
Here’s a quick project I’ve been meaning to look at for a while: a Babylon 5 starmap. This map only shows a few systems and their relative positions in real space (not hyperspace, which is a very different thing). Babylon 5 is one of the few SFF franchises – certainly one of the few TV shows – which actually uses real stars as the basis for locations.
The map is partially based on the fine Stellar Geography article about Babylon 5, where the writer lays out persuasive arguments for the locations of both the Narn and Centauri homeworld based on in-text distances and directions. Unfortunately, insufficient data exists to map the locations of the Minbari and Vorlon homeworlds, and other locations of note.
This map shows Sol, the location of Earth and the heart of the Earth Alliance, and the neighbouring powers of the Narn Regime and the Centauri Republic. Epsilon Eridani, the neutral star system where diplomatic station Babylon 5 is located, is shown, along with the Earth Alliance’s major colonies at Proxima III and Vega VII. These are real-world stars whose distances are known. The location of the Narn homeworld can be inferred from the show (in the episode By Any Means Necessary): we are told that Narn is located 12.2 human light-years (10.0 Narn light-years) from Babylon 5. The only star located at this distance from Epsilon Eridani likely to have habitable planets (actually closer to 12.4 light-years, but that seems a negligible difference) is 82 Eridani.
The location of Centauri Prime is harder to discern, as the only clue we are given is that Centauri Prime is 75 Centauri light-years from Babylon 5 (in The War Prayer). However, the star Iota Centauri is located a pleasing 65.3 human light-years from Babylon 5 (approx 58 light-years from Earth), with a reasonable possibility of hosting planets, and located in a direction that would allow the Centauri to encounter the Narn before they encountered humanity.
Unfortunately we lack any significant clues to be able to identify the stars that are home to the Minbari, Vorlons or other species. One world that does appear is called Markab, and there is a real star called Markab (located 133.35 light-years from Sol and 130 light-years from Babylon 5), but according to J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5‘s main writer, who penned 91 of the show’s 110 episodes), he was unaware of this and the star is not meant to be the location of the Markab homeworld.
In the Babylon 5 universe, interstellar travel is conducted via hyperspace. Hyperspace is a parallel (but featureless) universe that exists alongside our own and intersects with it at every point, but is much smaller. Because of this, ships can enter hyperspace, travel several thousand or million kilometres and exit hyperspace several light-years away from their prior location. However, hyperspace features strange gravitational eddies, inclines and currents that prevent simple linear travel. Ships might have to fly “against” the current to get to a target destination, and in some areas hyperspace travel might become impossible, necessitating a return to real space and travelling across open space to get to another jump gate located “beyond” the obstruction in hyperspace. In other areas there may by hyperfast currents and eddies that can dramatically speed ships to remote regions in hyperspace, allowing them to re-enter real space thousands or even tens of thousands of light-years from their prior location in just a few days, whilst it might take weeks to travel a hundred light-years under normal conditions.
In terms of plot, of course, the vagaries of hyperspace travel allow the writers to be vague about travel times and have ships travelling at the “speed of plot.” That said, J. Michael Straczynski was reasonably consistent about travel times. It is a two-day jump from Earth to Babylon 5 (10.5 light-years) and a three-day jump from Babylon 5 to Centauri Prime, despite Centauri Prime being considerably further away (~58 light-years based on the map calculations). It is also a two-day jump from Babylon 5 to Z’ha’dum on the galactic rim, a distance approximating 25,000 light-years (assuming Z’ha’dum is on the rim closest to Earth, otherwise possibly considerably further; 75,000 light-years if it is located on the opposite side of the galaxy).
For these reasons, a literal distance map between stars is somewhat pointless, since stars relatively close in realspace might entail a long trip in hyperspace, whilst stars located thousands of light-years apart might be a very quick trip in hyperspace. As a result, various fan and quasi-canon Babylon 5 maps in licensed material show maps in terms of jump nodes rather than literal distances.
Still, this was a fun little map to put together, using Celestia to establish the relative stellar relationships.
After a bit of a break, I’m easing back into the mapping game with this quick map based on Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Fionavar Tapestry, a high fantasy trilogy published in the 1980s.
The trilogy consists of the novels The Summer Tree (1984), The Wandering Fire (1986) and The Darkest Road (1986) and was Kay’s debut solo work. His previous work in the fantasy field had been assisting Christopher Tolkien in editing The Silmarillion for publication in 1977, so Kay came into the field with rather more impressive credentials than most fantasy authors.
The Fionavar Tapestry sees several Canadian students summoned to the magical world of Fionavar, where the kingdoms are under threat from a dark lord, Rakoth Maugrim. The students find themselves taken on new guises and powers in this world, even re-enacting ideals from other mythologies (one of the students finds herself fulfilling the role of Guinevere in a revamp of the Arthurian legend) before the final great battle is fought.
Kay’s later work has been much more rooted in real history, with an arguably declining level of magic in his later novels. He’s also, remarkably, never written a trilogy again, with the closest being his Sarantine Mosaic duology. Fionavar did get a sequel of sorts, however, with Ysabel (2007), a fantasy novel set in our world which is mostly self-contained, but does feature several characters from the earlier trilogy.
A while ago, I received a request for an interesting idea: isochronic maps of fantasy worlds.
Isochronic maps show time over distance, and are very useful if the specific distance is less useful than knowing how quickly you can get somewhere. The scale might tell you that a location is 300 miles away in a straight line, but an isochronic map can tell you how long it will take to travel that distance given various factors (time of year, weather conditions, mounted or on foot, on good roads or across country, terrain etc).
I started looking at doing an isochronic map of Westeros but ran into problems that sorting through the morass of geographical factors would take a considerable amount of time, requiring a huge number of judgement calls on how good quality the Kingsroad is versus the Ocean Road, how impassable the Mountains of the Moon are in autumn and so on. For the time being I switched to doing a much more simple distance map which does not take account of geographical obstacles at this stage. The distance map is centred on King’s Landing, the capital city of the Seven Kingdoms.
The distance map is based on the idea of someone being able to travel 25 miles in one day. This would typically be someone travelling on horseback with moderate baggage and able to swap horses maybe once a week or fortnight (otherwise you could assume 2 days of rest for every 5-7 days travelled and extend the days required to travel accordingly). The journeys would be slightly faster on an excellent highway like the Kingsroad, and a lot slower in bad weather.
A full isochronic map would take account of such features. Historically they were more useful for ocean travel, given the more dependable regularity of ship speeds as technology improved, but land-based ones exist as well.
A fully accurate isochronic map is impossible, due to the number of variables being very high (pleasingly, for an author who hasn’t necessarily put this amount of thought into things), but it’s something to definitely consider for a future entry.
Following on from my previous map of Xadia and the Five Kingdoms (from the Netflix animated series, The Dragon Prince), I’ve now prepared an updated version which takes into account new information from the book, The Art of the Dragon Prince.
This book includes a brand-new, more detailed map of the continent shared by the Five Kingdoms and Xadia, presumably with locations that will play a larger role in forthcoming seasons (Netflix recently renewed the show for four more seasons to complete the saga), as well as the capitals of the other human kingdoms (apart from Evenere).
Season 4 of The Dragon Prince is expected to air on Netflix in 2021, and I suspect we’ll have a bunch more new locations to explore at that point.
I previously posted a map of Joe Abercrombie’s Circle of the World – the setting for his First Law books – a couple of years back. I decided to revisit it ahead of the publication of the next book in the setting, The Trouble with Peace, next month.
This isn’t a major revamp, being the previous map colourised. A more thorough reworking of the map is possible in the future (incorporating the expanded maps of Styria and the Far Country from Best Served Cold and Red Country, for example), but that’s a way off at the moment.
Joe Abercrombie’s First Law world is divided into three continents and numerous large islands.
The North is a land of frozen rivers, towering mountains and ferocious creatures called Shanka. The Northmen are hardy warriors, living in a land of war, raiding and a rough kind of honour.
The western continent is land of prairies and plains, reminiscent of the American West. This continent is the location of the Far Country, where rumours of riches and gold have drawn settlers, and the Old Empire, a formerly great nation that has collapsed into civil war.
The southern continent, Kanta, is a vast land of deserts and arid plains with civilisation clustered around the great rivers. Kanta is the home of the massive Gurkish Empire, the largest and most populous nation in the Circle of the World.
Located between these continents are several islands, the most notable of which are Midderland, Styria, Suljuk and Thond. Midderland is the homeland of the Union, a large empire which includes possessions on all three continental landmasses: Angland in the North, Dagoska in Kanta and Starikland on the western continent. Adua, the capital of the Union, is located in Midderland. Styria is a collection of feuding city-states, the most powerful of which is Talins.
Note on the Map
This map is based closely on the map created by Dave Senior for Sharp Ends, the 2016 Joe Abercrombie collection of short stories set in the same world. I have added some additional locations and included a scale (based on the discussion of the distance from Aostum to Darmium given in the text).
The Circle of the World is the setting for the following novels:
The First Law Trilogy
The Age of Madness Trilogy
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This is a series of maps based on the Freespace video game franchise. This series consists of three space combat games widely regarded as the best in their genre: Conflict Freespace: The Great War (1998), Conflict Freespace: The Silent Threat (1998) and Freespace 2 (1999).
A Brief History of the Freespace Universe
More then ten thousand years ago, a powerful alien race, known colloquially if lazily as “the Ancients,” arose in our region of the galaxy and established a large, powerful empire spanning many systems, utilising the power of subspace to jump between distant stars. This empire flourished for several millennia before it encountered an extremely powerful, tenacious and relentless foe, the “Destroyers.” The Destroyers pushed the Ancients back to their home star system and eradicated them approximately eight thousand years ago.
Peace fell on this corner of the galaxy for a long period of time until two species in relatively neighbouring parts of the galaxy (at least neighbouring via the subspace node network, if not in physical space) reached the stars almost simultaneously: the Vasudans, based on Vasuda Prime, and the Terrans, based on Earth in the Sol system. The two species colonised multiple systems before running headlong into one another. First contact took place early in the 24th Century and it appears that this may have been relatively peaceful. However, the flames of xenophobia were fanned in both civilisations, propelled by a joint fear that each other race was going to seize resources urgently desired by the other. When a Terran diplomatic party made a minor mistake during a ritual Vasudan greeting in 2321, extremists seized on it as an excuse for war.
The war, fought between the Vasudan Parliamentary Empire (PVE) and the Galactic Terran Alliance (GTA), raged for fourteen years. At several key moments it appeared that one power gained the upper hand over the other, only for their advantage to be checked. The conflict was expensive and wasteful, and peace initiatives several times came close to ending the war, but each time old fears and hatreds were reignited and the conflict gained new momentum. Still, after fourteen years it became clear that both races had lost the appetite for a prolonged battle to the death.
The Great War
In 2335, both species were taken by surprise by the arrival of an unknown alien race. Flying distinctive black ships and using energy shields (a technology unknown to either the Vasudans or Terrans), this race gained the name “Shivans.” The Shivans relentlessly attacked both Terran and Vasudan worlds and ships, devastating GTA holdings in the Ross 128 system and mounting a systematic assault through the Ribos sector. Faced with a mutual foe desiring nothing less than the annihilation of all other sentient life, the Terrans and Vasudans called a ceasefire, formed an ad hoc alliance and established a common front against the invading Shivans, drawing a line between Vega, Antares and Ribos.
Unfortunately, the Shivans deployed a superior flagship vessel, codenamed Lucifer. Equipped with a shield which regenerated almost instantly to any attack, the vessel appeared unbeatable. It jumped past the allied blockade to strike at Deneb. After massacring all forces in its path, it jumped into orbit around Vasuda Prime and bombarded the planet from orbit for half a day, killing more than four billion Vasudans.
As the war grew more desperate, Vasudan scientists reluctantly confirmed the existence of alien ruins on Altair IV that long predated their own civilisation. Examination of records from these ruins suggested that the Shivans were the “Great Destroyers” who had obliterated the Ancient civilisation. The Ancient records suggested that although Shivan shield technology was superior, it possessed a significant weakness: it could not function in subspace. The Terran and Vasudan forces augmented their best fighter and bomber wings with intersystem subspace drives and tracked the Lucifer from Vasuda to Delta Serpenis. From there, the Lucifer made the jump to Sol. The fighter and bomber wings pursued the Lucifer into subspace and confirmed that the shields on the Lucifer were no longer operating. They were able to hit the Lucifer’s reactor core with heavy torpedoes and crippled the ship; when it emerged from subspace, it exploded with such force that it created a subspace feedback loop that enveloped the entire Sol system. Although the system was unharmed, it did collapse every jump node leading to Sol, effectively cutting it off from the rest of the galaxy.
The aftermath of the Great War was a chaotic time. The Vasudan Empire relocated its capital to Aldebaran and began a rebuilding process, whilst the GTA established a new base of operations in Delta Serpentis and attempted to find a way of reopening the jump node to Sol. All of these efforts proved futile. Several months after the war, the GTA’s intelligence and special operations division attempted to launch a coup against the GTA government and reignite the war against the Vasudans using an experimental warship, the Hades. This rebellion was halted in its tracks and the Hades was destroyed.
The GTA fragmented over the following few years, with regional governments including the Regulus Syndicate, the Adhara Coalition, the Antares Federation and the Luyten New Alliance forming. However, in 2345 the Vasudan Emperor proposed unifying Terran and Vasudan military holdings into a single alliance with the intent of propelling technological development forward so that they would be much better prepared should the Shivans return. After considerable dissent, argument and negotiation, this resulted in the signing in 2358 of the Beta Aquilae Convention (BETAC), which dissolved the regional governments and formally established the Galactic Terran-Vasudan Alliance (GTVA).
By this time, attempts to contact Earth by sublight communications from systems close to Sol in physical space (most notably Alpha Centauri, Wolf 359 and Sirius) had also curiously failed, resulting in growing concerns about the fate of the home system.
In 2365 the GTVA was suddenly rocked by the unexpected outbreak of civil war. Although the new alliance had restored political peace and economic security to all Terran and Vasudan worlds, some Terrans and Vasudans bristled at the integration of their two species into one union. The Vasudan rebels, known as the Hammer of the Light, had largely been defeated after the Great War, but underlying tensions in the Terran systems reached boiling point. Admiral Bosch of the GTVA military staged a coup in Polaris and announced the founding of the Neo-Terran Front, a human-first organisation which called for the dissolution of BETAC and the imposition of a hardline, fascistic form of governance (including summary execution for officers who failed to achieve military objectives). The NTF failed to recognised the BETAC’s rules on war crimes, particularly not recognising the execution of Vasudan military officers or civilians as a crime at all. Shockingly, the rebellion spread and both Regulus and Sirius declared for the NTF within weeks.
The GTVA and the NTF clashed for control of their three home systems, but the NTF had caused a substantial minority of the GTVA fleet to defect. The GTVA was on the back foot in the opening months of the war as the NTF fortified their three home systems and then went on the offensive in Epsilon Pegasi, Deneb and Alpha Centauri. The GTVA barely held them back, but was then able to launch a successful counter-offensive. Eighteen months into the war, with the GTVA political council on the brink of suing for peace, the GTVA military unleashed its most secret project: the GTVA Colossus, a ship considerably larger and more powerful even than the Lucifer. The Colossus tore a swathe through the NTF fleet, shrugging off even an attempted kamikaze ram from an Orion-class destroyer with only minimal damage.
During this conflict, it was determined that the NTF had seized technology related to the Ancients and had been using it for unknown purposes. One of the NTF experiments activated an Ancient device of tremendous power in the Gamma Draconis system, a system believed to have been deserted after initial surveys turned up nothing of interest. GTVA investigations revealed that the device was a subspace portal, capable of stabilising jump nodes too unstable for regular use. The Gamma Draconis portal, known as the Knossos, appeared to lead to Shivan space, as Shivan forces began pouring through Gamma Draconis into the Capella system. The GTVA fleet at Capella annihilated the Shivan force and then drove them back to the Knossos portal. The GTVA seized control of the portal and debated on destroying it to halt the possibility of any further Shivan invasion. However, the portal hinted at a way of reopening the jump nodes to Earth. This prospect was too tantalising to resist and it was decided to fortify the Knossos whilst securing the space on the far side. A precautionary evacuation of the 250 million inhabitants of Capella began, whilst the GTVA fleet redeployed to meet the possible challenges of fighting both the Shivans and NTF simultaneously. As it turned out, the latter was unnecessary; not only did the Colossus make short work of the NTF fleets, Admiral Bosch and his flagship, the Iceni, abandoned their worlds and fled through the Knossos, taking the GTVA fleets defending it by surprise.
The far side of the Knossos portal was revealed to be a dense nebula. With no stars visible through the thick clouds, it was impossible to determine the nebula’s location. However, the nebula was determined to be the site of a vast Shivan resource-gathering operation. The GTVA engaged Shivan forces throughout the nebula, destroying all of them with impressive ease thanks to their new weapons and technology, but were unable to locate the Iceni. They did locate the new Shivan flagship, the Sathanas, a warship rivalling the Colossus in size and exceeding it in firepower. With the Sathanas bearing down on the subspace the portal, the order was given to destroy the Knossos.
The attempt to destroy the portal appeared successful, but the Sathanas was able to jump into Gamma Draconis anyway: the portal had held the node open for long enough for it to become fully stabilised, even without the portal’s help. The GTVA scrambled its best bomber squadrons to knock out the Sathanas’ main weapons array. The Colossus was then able to destroy the Sathanas with its main guns, although only by almost overheating them into oblivion.
A GTVA taskforce returned to the nebula and discovered the Iceni, having somehow communicated with the Shivans. Admiral Bosch and his command crew were taken off the vessel by the Shivans, who then attempted to butcher the crew but were stopped by the GTVA taskforce. The Iceni was scuttled, but the experimental ETAK device Bosch used to communicate with the Shivans was recovered intact.
Further exploration of the nebula revealed the presence of a second Knossos portal, but attempts to secure it were defeated when a second Sathanas-class warship arrived, forcing the GTVA to once again evacuate the nebula. Before they left, a single scout party using captured Shivan fighters was sent through the second portal. They found themselves in a binary star system with a sky configuration that was not recognised by GTVA astronomers. A third Knossos portal was detected a vast distance away and no less than nine Sathanas-class warships were detected converging on the nebula portal, presenting a level of threat that even the Colossus could not deal with. Eventually the threat level became insurmountable when it was revealed that the full strength of the Shivan fleet topped out at eighty Sathanas-class vessels.
The GTVA concentrated almost its entire military force in Capella. The evacuation of Capella had now been proceeding for months, with the majority of its 250 million people pulled back (an exercise which had easily become the single most logistically challenging task in the history of both the Vasudan and human races). Aware they could not hope to defeat the Sathanas fleet, they instead focused on getting the last few civilian ships out of the system and using powerful meson bombs to destroy the jump nodes leading out of Capella to Vega and Epsilon Pegasi. The Epsilon Pegasi node was successfully collapsed.
The GTVA fleet began withdrawing to Vega, but the expected battle with the Sathanas fleet did not take place: instead, seventy-nine of the Sathanas-class ships surrounded the Capella star and began manipulating it with energy emissions of unknown origin. The remaining Sathanas broke off to engage and destroy the Colossus, which disobeyed orders to hold back the Shivans long enough for several civilian ships to escape.
After three days, just as the last Capellan refugees fled to Vega, the Shivan fleet triggered an energy pulse which destroyed the Capella star, making it go supernova. The resulting explosion destroyed the entire system and everything in it, and also collapsed the Vega node without the need for a meson bomb.
The destruction of Capella and its jump nodes effectively ended the Shivan threat from that quarter. The GTVA had survived what appeared to be an outright apocalypse, but the motivations for the Shivans to destroy Capella were unknown. It was theorised that the nebula system may have also been a star destroyed before its time by the Shivans, allowing the Shivans to harvest the gases and resources left behind. The truth of the matter remained unknown.
What was known was that the Shivan threat was far greater than could have been previously imagined. The GTVA began rearming and rebuilding, and also researching, for the data gleaned from the Knossos was enough for them to construct their own such devices and re-establish contact with the mysteriously silent Sol system. The threat of the Shivans remains overwhelming.
To circumvent the speed of light limitation, all known spacefaring races used the subspace node network. This consists of tunnels or wormholes through subspace which link disparate systems together. Scientists are divided over whether nodes are naturally-occurring artifacts or are of artificial origin, or a mix. There is some evidence that it was the Ancients who created the current subspace node network, by using Knossos-class portals to stabilise natural but unstable nodes and then open them up to travel. The fact that the nodes tend to link together the brightest stars as seen from this sector of space or those most likely to harbour lifebearing planets does suggest an artificial origin.
The node network is not dependent on physical proximity in realspace. For example, Alpha Centauri is the closest star system to Sol at 4.4 light-years, but it is not the closest in subspace: Deneb (1,412 light-years distant), Beta Aquilae (44.7 light-years) and Delta Serpentis (228.1 light-years) are all a single subspace jump from Sol, whilst Alpha Centauri are is two jumps away (via Deneb). Wolf 359 is only 7.8 light-years distant from Sol but it is five jumps distant, via Delta Serpentis (228.1 light-years), Ross 128 (10.94 light-years), Laramis (unknown) and Luyten 726-8 (8.73 light-years) and so forth.
It is possible to collapse jump nodes with a large enough explosion. The shockwaves triggers the collapse of the node tunnel into a state only detectable at the quantum level; reopening the jump node can only be done with exotic matter and energy as generated via a Knossos-class subspace portal. Robust jump engines can also traverse nodes that other races cannot use: for example, the Shivans were able to use several unstable jump nodes to circumvent Vasudan and GTA lines of defence during the Great War. By the time of the second conflict, Vasudan and GTA technology had improved and the Shivans were unable to use this tactic as effectively.
The jump nodes from Sol to its connecting systems (Deneb, Beta Aquilae and Delta Serpentis) were severed during the Lucifer’s destruction at the conclusion of the Great War. The jump nodes linking Capella to Epsilon Pegasi and Vega (and presumably Gamma Draconis) were collapsed when the Shivans turned the Capellan star supernova at the conclusion of the Second Great War.
Note on the Maps
The links marked in blue are confirmed to exist via the game’s own accompanying maps or are canonically proven to exist by in-game events (most notably the Altair-Deneb jump node, which is not on the official maps but features in no less than three missions during the original game). Lines in orange are not shown on the maps but are referred to in dialogue.
The FreeSpace Wiki was an invaluable reference point in assembling this guide, particularly the high-res logos created by MjnMixael.
Kara-Tur is part of the same landmass as Faerûn and Zakhara, but is considered a continent in its own right, separated from those two landmasses by the towering Yehimal mountain range. It is located due east of Faerûn, across the obviously-misnamed Endless Waste, and east and north-east of Zakhara, across the Segara Sea. Overland travel and trade between Faerûn and Kara-Tur is lengthy but frequent; trade with Zakhara is complicated by distance and geography.
Kara-Tur measures some 5,500 miles from the Land of the Snow Spirits – believed to be the local name for the Endless Ice Sea – in the north to the Southern Ocean. It is around 3,500 miles wide at its widest extent in the south. These dimensions comfortably make Kara-Tur the largest of Toril’s continents, especially when the extensive Wa and Kozakura island chains (among others) are added to the landmass. Kara-Tur is bordered by the Great Ice Sea, the Endless Waste and the Yehimal to the west and by the Yellow Sea, Celestial Sea and Eastern Sea in the east.
Trade Links with Faerûn
Faerûn and Kara-Tur enjoy regular travel and trade, and three great overland trade routes link the two continents.
The northern-most route is known as the Golden Way in Faerûn and the Spice Road in Kara-Tur. It extends from the port of Telflamm on Faerûn’s Inner Sea all the way to the Shou city of Chao Yang, from which further highways extend to Kuo Te’ Lung, the capital city of Shou Lung. It is roughly 3,400 miles from Telflamm to Chao Yang by road, with a further 1,600 miles required to reach the Shou capital. This route is obviously the longest of the three, but also the most convenient for nations of Faerûn’s Heartlands. This route was shut down by the Tuigan war of 1359-60 DR, but since the end of the war the Tuigan have reopened the trade route in return for (so far) relatively modest tribute for crossing their lands.
The central road is known as the Silk Route and extends from Dhaztanar, the port capital of Semphar on Brightstar Lake, to the Shou city of Yenching. This route is considerably shorter than the northern at just under 2,000 miles (with another 1,300 miles required to reach the Shou capital) and minimises the time spent in the Hordelands, with only a relatively modest distance to be covered between Howling Gap and the Alashan Pass into Khazari. However, this route tends to be the most expensive. Both Semphar and Khazari tax trade goods passing through their territories to the point that the northern route may appear preferable, despite being longer. There is also the issue of getting to Dhaztanar, which is already so far east – to the east of Mulhorand and even Murghôm – that it doesn’t even appear on many maps of Faerûn. To put this in context, the distance from Waterdeep to Dhaztanar is significantly greater than the distance from Dhaztanar to the Shou capital.
The southern-most route, and the least-known, is the winding pass between the Katakoro Plateau of Kara-Tur and the kingdom of Ulgarth in the Utter East of Faerûn. This route begins at the port of Suormpar on the Golden Water and extends north and east through the towering Katakoro Mountains (a north-western arm of the Yehimal) onto the plateau. The road then winds eastwards along the Upper Hungste to the Shou port of Mishan. This route is a relatively modest 1,600 miles in length and, since Mishan on the wide and fast-flowing Hungste, one of the great rivers of Kara-Tur, provides much speedier access to the Shou interior. However, the same problem applies here on much greater scale: Ulgarth is in the far south-eastern corner of Faerûn and the time spent travelling to Ulgarth could be better spent just traversing one of the other routes. Ulgarth does have the benefit of being located on the external ocean (the Great Sea, via the Golden Water), which means for traders travelling from Estagund, Halruaa, Samarach, Nimbral, Lantan or even Calimshan, there are arguments for travelling by sea to Suormpar and then overland. A counter-argument is that the pass through the Katakoro Mountains can be unreliable, closed by bad weather or avalanches, and the stretch of road along the Hungste west of Mishan is in unclaimed territory, with a dramatically increased risk of bandit attack.
Another option is by sea, although this is both lengthy and costly. Experiments to open a northern sea route to Kara-Tur via the Endless Ice Sea have ended so far in failure. Although routes around Faerûn’s northern coast do open in the summer, they tend to be fleeting and a ship will do well to get from the Trackless Sea to the Great Ice Sea before the routes close. There are no viable ports on the Great Ice Sea, and Kara-Tur’s northern coast extends for a vast distance to the east, more than can easily be covered by a single voyage.
The southern route is more doable, but is somewhat hazardous, requiring as does a skilled navigator to pass through the maze of islands to the west of Zakhara (most of them uncharted, with corsairs and pirates a common problem), then turning east through the well-named Crowded Sea, then across the only-partially charted Segara Sea and then around Kara-Tur’s vast, inhospitable southern coast before finally making landfall in T’u Lung. Faerûnian traders generally prefer the intermediary trade, of visiting only Zakhara and then buying Kara-Tur goods or selling their own wares there, which depending on demand and the goods in question can be more cost-effective.
A more direct route has been proposed, by circumnavigating the globe and travelling west to reach Kara-Tur from the east. It was during a very attempt to do this by Captain Cordell and the Golden Legion of Amn in 1361 that led to the discovery of the western continent of Maztica. Faerûnian explorers and traders have gotten caught up in the exploration of Maztica instead, but the original plan remains valid, especially since a sea route from the Trackless Sea into the Eastern Sea via the Straits of Lopango is known to exist. However, travelling to Kara-Tur by this method would entail a sea voyage of more than 20,000 miles across vast stretches of open, featureless ocean, which so far has daunted even the bravest sea captain. There are also logistical issues, with no safe port known to exist between south-eastern Maztica and Kara-Tur for resupply.
For the time being, adventurers and traders alike stick to one of the most trusted routes.
Major Polities of Kara-Tur
If Faerûn is the land of kingdoms and city-states, Kara-Tur is the land of empires. Colossal nation-states stretch across Kara-Tur, several of them so vast that they have provinces and even districts that could swallow the largest Faerûn nations whole. Shou Lung’s Chukei Province, by itself, is far larger than Faerûn’s entire Western Heartlands, whilst noble Cormyr is still smaller than Shou Lung’s smallest province.
The Shou Lung Empire lays claim to being the largest, most populous and most powerful nation on Faerûn. The first two claims are indisputable. More than 2,500 miles fall between the empire’s northern-most and southern-most borders, and some 2,200 miles between the east and rest. The entire continent of Zakhara could fit into the empire with plenty of room left over.
In terms of population, the sheer number of people living inside Shou Lung is staggering. It is said that Shou Lung’s human population may exceed 100 million, which is more than the combined numbers of humans and non-humans living on the entire continent of Faerûn (currently estimated at just under 80 million). A colossal amount of Shou Lung’s land has been turned over to feeding this vast population, with immense rice valleys stretching for hundreds of miles along the major river-valleys, and fields cut out of the side of mountains through engineering and magical feats unlike anything seen in the west. Gigantic highways criss-cross the empire, which is defended by an army said to number more than a million strong, although it is also scattered across a vast swathe of territory, having to defend the southern border with T’u Lung and the Warring States, the Dragonwall against the Endless Waste, the western border with the lawless Katakoro Plateau and the eastern coast against naval adventurers from Wa and Kozakura.
Shou Lung is divided into fourteen provinces: Chukei, Mai Yuan, Ching Tung, Sheng Ti, Wa K’an, Ti Erte, Hungste, Kao Shan, Wang Kuo, Hai Yuan, Yu’ I, Arakin, Chu Yuan and Tien Lun. Its capital city is Kuo Te’ Lung and its largest port is Karatin, both on the Hungste River. Its current ruler (as of 1371 DR) is Kai Tsao Shou Chin, Lord of the Jade Throne.
T’u Lung is Shou Lung’s more fractious neighbour to the south. It was originally part of Shou Lung, but broke away 300 years ago when the empire was divided between two rival emperors. Shou Lung has tried several times to invade and reclaim T’u Lung, but failed to do so; devoting the manpower required to fully subdue the breakaway kingdom would endanger the empire’s other frontiers. T’u Lung has also faced a bitter and bloody internal civil war, which only recently ended.
Despite these struggles, T’u Lung may well be the second-largest and second-most populous nation on Toril, although it is more divided and fractious than Shou Lung. It also has more border challenges than Shou Lung, having to hold its frontiers against Petan, the Warring States, the Kuong Kingdom, the hill-tribes of the Purang and the jungle kingdom of Laothan to the south-east.
It consists of six provinces as follows: Joi Chang, Ausa, West Wai, East Wai, Bashan Do and vast Fengnao. Its capital city is Wai (formerly Chia Wan Ch’uan) and its largest port is Ausa. Its current ruler is Wai Yong, tenth Emperor of the Lui Dynasty.
Khazari is an intermediary kingdom on the Silk Route, located east of Semphar and west of Shou Lung, high up in the Katakoro Mountains. It is sometimes counted as part of the Hordelands, rather than Kara-Tur. Khazari is a land of trade and religious piety, but is divided by corruption and internal politics.
Khazari’s capital city is Skarou, with the town of Alashan guarding the Silk Route west to Semphar. The fortress-town of Manass watches over the Hordelands to the north. The nation’s ruler is Prince Ogandi, a canny ruler who took advantage of a threatened Tuigan invasion in 1359 to consolidate power and authority under his banner.
Ra-Khati is a secretive and almost unknown country located south and west of Khazari, deep in the heart of the Katakoro Shan. Unlike Khazari, which lays in a vast bowl of open land between the mountain peaks, Ra-Khati winds between the mountains and lakes. Towns and villages are built around the rivers, streams and lakes of the country.
Ra-Khati’s capital city is Saikhoi. Its ruler is the Dalai Lama (high priest) Tsenya Garbo. The kingdom was invaded and conquered by Ambuchar Devayam, the Necromancer Emperor of Solon, in 1360; the nation was liberated in 1362 when Devayam was slain in Khazari and the rule of the Dalai Lama restored.
Tabot is a large kingdom located on the eastern flanks of the Yehimal, the tallest peaks on all of Toril. The mountains tower a staggering 35,000 feet or more above sea level and few who have tried to climb them have ever returned.
Tabot consists of two immense valleys separated by the Peerless Mountains but joined by the Lokar Pass. The kingdom is decentralised, with authority shared between the great monastery-fortresses and local rulers.
Tabot’s cultural and trading capital is U’Chan Gompa (formerly Koko Nur).
Petan is a small country located south-west of T’u Lung, along the lower Fenghsintzu River (T’u Lung’s greatest river network) and the Rendah, north of the Intan Mountains.
Relatively little is known of Petan, save it seems to be relatively peaceable but fierce in its independence. Its capital city is Penting.
The Warring States
The Warring States are a small number of petty-kingdoms, bandit principalities and tribelands located east of Petan and south of T’u Lung, in the jungles north of the Malatran Plateau. Little is known of the States beyond their unrelenting hostility.
The vast but secretive Kuong Kingdom is located in the jungles of south-eastern Kara-Tur, south of T’u Lung and Purang, east of the Warring States and south-west of Laothan. The Himasla Mountains form the southern border of the kingdom and the vast Malatran Plateau forms the western.
Kuong is a strongly unified country whose people obey their rulers unquestioningly. The nation has a strong army and a strong economy, thanks to a well-developed system of internal markets and trade with surrounding nations. Kuong’s remoteness and its apparent primitivism hides its true strength. The T’u like to think of the Kuong as a primitive and barbarian people, although their generals are less relaxed about the network of strong Kuong fortresses located along their mutual river border.
Kuong is ruled by the Priest-King Vishnan VII from the city of Ranguri, located on the Kunong River, deep in the jungle. The kingdom’s largest port is Marabaya on the Eastern Sea.
The Purang Hills form a complex highland landscape extending almost from Bukai Lake to the Laothan and Kuong jungles, around the headwaters of the Henai. The tribes of the hills are a mixture of friendly and the decidedly militant.
The Purang do not recognise a single capital, although Kumok is their largest settlement and the White Monkey Tribe who control it are the friendliest and most open to external trade. The unrelentingly hostile Twisted Palm tribe, which controls the southern hills near the jungle, is best avoided.
Laothan is a large kingdom stretching along the south-eastern coast of Kara-Tur, south and east of T’u Lung, east of Purang and north-east of the Kuong Kingdom. The Laothan nation is actually an alliance of tribes known as the Seng; the Thok are the largest and currently most dominant tribe of the Seng. The Seng people settled down some centuries ago and are currently transitioning to farming and trade as their main sources of income rather than migratory wanderings.
Laothan’s capital is Cheinang. Its current ruler is Thok Lian.
Malatra is not a political entity, but a geographic one. The term “Malatra” is used in Shou and T’u Lung to refer to all the jungle lands to the south, although this is inaccurate. Malatra proper is the name of a vast plateau in southern Kara-Tur. Almost a thousand miles across, the plateau towers a thousand feet or more above the surrounding lands. Access to Malatra is extremely difficult, with some believing it is protected by magical and religious forces as well as simple geographic inaccessibility.
Those who have managed to enter Malatra report a land dominated by the so-called “Living Jungle” and divided into regions by savannahs, rivers, volcanoes and mountains. Remote and mysterious, Malatra daunts even the most dedicated explorers.
The Tribes of Ama Basin
Ama Basin is located north of Shou Lung, beyond the Koryaz Mountains. The basin is colossal, stretching for two thousand miles from east to west and almost eight hundred from north to south. The central part of the basin is dominated by a marshy swamp, easily the largest on Toril, with extensive forests surrounding it.
The forests are home to powerful tribal groupings, at least three of which are strong enough to be called nations: the Pazruki in the west, the Issacortae in the central region and the Wu-haltai in the east. These three tribal nations are secretive and keep to themselves, but are somewhat open to external trade; the Wu-haltai have permitted the building of the great coast road linking Shou Lung to Koyro.
Koryo is located on the peninsula of the same name. The peninsula is slow to reach by land, as the only existing road goes right around the far northern coast of the Yellow Sea and requires negotiating passage across Wu-haltai lands and various tribes who control the northern part of the peninsula. Most travellers visit the country by ship instead.
As the north-eastern-most nation on the main landmass (an impressive seven and a half thousand miles due east of Waterdeep), Koryo is remote and relatively little-known. It is an alliance of three formerly independent kingdoms: the island nation of Saishu, the Koguryo Peninsula and Silla, the heartland of the kingdom. The three nations were forcibly united by the King of Silla, but subsequent rulers have tried to integrate the three kingdoms more peaceably.
Koryo is a heavily defended nation due to the twin threats of barbarian invaders from the north of the peninsula and the constant threat of invasion from Kozakura. Koryo has thrown back multiple invasions from Kozakura but has also launched assaults itself, once invading the northern island of Shinkoku before being driven back into the sea. The enmity between the two kingdoms is such that no Kozakuran citizen is permitted to set foot in Koryo and Kozakuran currency is not accepted. Koryo does enjoy strong relations with Wa and distant but cordial trading relations with Shou Lung.
Koryo’s capital city is Xi Hulang. It is currently ruled by King Wanang Sun.
Off the southern tip of Koyro lies a huge archipelago of sizeable islands. The archipelago is divided between two powerful empires, Wa in the west and Kozakura in the east.
Wa consists of the islands of Tsukishima, Shidekima, Paikai and Machukara. Wa also claims the Outer Isles located to its south-west, not for territory but to protect outsiders from them. Hidden amongst these islands is the Isle of Gargantuas, home to beasts of titanic size, each capable of comfortably destroying entire cities by itself.
Wa is a peaceful nation under the rule of law. Wa has enjoyed a longer period of peace than any other nation in Kara-Tur and has pursued a path of mercantile trade in recent centuries, with its ships trading from Koryo to Zakhara. Aside from occasional border naval clashes with Kozakura, Wa has not engaged in warfare for centuries and its policies are around continuing the current status quo. How long this is practical, especially as there is some evidence of growing internal dissent by the peasantry, is unclear.
Wa is ruled from the city of Uwaji by Shogun Matasuuri Nagahide. On paper, the Shogun is merely the military governor of the nation and rules at the pleasure of the Emperor; in reality, the Shogun (the most powerful of the daimyo or warlords) holds the true power in Wa and the Emperor rules merely as a figurehead.
Like Wa, Kozakura is a sprawling island empire. Unlike Wa, Kozakura is a land of constant, bitter struggle which has been in a state of constant political intrigue, occasionally spilling into open civil war, for decades. Kozakura has unified several times for attempted invasions of Koryo, the failures of which have sparked further internal dissent.
Kozakura sprawls across the islands of Shinkoku, Tenmai, Mikedono and Hinomoto. Shinkoku is the largest island and the site of the imperial capital.
Kozakura is ruled from the city of Dojyu by Emperor Gonijo, who took the throne at a young age. As is his tradition this did not happen upon his father’s death, but upon his “retirement.” Retired Emperor Gokammu still lives and provides advice and assistant to his former heir. As in Wa, the Emperor’s power and influence is less than it was, although the Kozakuran Emperor is perhaps not quite as powerless as his western counterpart. The Kozakuran Shogun, currently Hojo Kawakubo, commands the empire’s armies and wields considerable authority, but he also has to work harder to maintain the loyalty of his daimyos.
As with my other maps, this one started with the base map from the Forgotten Realms Interactive Atlas (1999). However, in this case there was an error in the base map, as the Malatran Plateau had been placed in the wrong place based on misinformation. As a result, Malatra as depicted in the original map was far, far too small compared to the original maps (from the Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition “Living Jungle” campaign) and the text descriptions.
As a result, I deviated to follow the solution proposed by mapmaker Markustay a decade ago, of moving Malatra to the south-west and expanding its size to compensate, which worked very well.