Thursday, September 1, 2011

Dungeonspiration: Geography

Earlier this week I was poking around in one of my bookcases and rediscovered a book that I hadn't seen for a while: The Geography Behind History, by W. Gordon East.  Like Br'er Rabbit's tar baby, this book tends to grab me and not let me go.

Early in my DMing career, I was having problems with world building.  All of the standard 'Tolkien ingedients' were there, but the worlds seemed dead, flat, and nonsensical. But soon, I discovered The Geography Behind History, and discovered why.

My original world-building method involved tracing the outlines of a continent, and then tossing in some mountains, rivers, forest, and deserts.  After that, I'd pick some good races and evil races, develop a timeline of wars and other important events - and then start the campaign.  The big problem was my history very little to do with the map I drew.

In a mere two hundred pages, W. Gordon East packs a huge amount of information about how people and events are inextricably linked to the local geography.  He discusses why people pick the areas that they settle, how roads develop from animal trails, and how borders drawn on maps have little to do with reality.  There are over seventy maps that explore the relations of climate, vegetation, trade routes, population, viticulture, and a heap of things that I can't even remember.

The book may be a bit dated, since it was published in 1965.  I'm not sure where, though.  East speaks of theories of early migration to the New World that, while discredited in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, have made a big comeback recently. It's discussion on Cold War politics and geography in the last chapter may not be 'the fresh new thing,' but it still has importance in today's world.

Below is a table of contents to give you a look at the structure:

Geography as an Historical Document
Old Maps as Historical Documents
Geographical Position
Climate and History
Frontiers and Boundaries
Habitat and Economy
The Dawn of Civilisation
The Dawn of Civilisation in the Americas
Europe and China
International Politics

I checked on Amazon, and was surprised that they had the book in stock.  The only two reviewers had nothing good to say, though.  Like any old English textbook, it can be dry at times, but it's the kind of dry that I like.  I have read this book many times and have always found things that sparked wonderful ideas.  If you can make it through all 1,342 pages of H. G. Wells' The Outline of History, then The Geography Behind History will be a breeze. 

So go read a book on geography and get inspired to draw some maps and develop some really interesting history and cultures.  :)

- Ark


  1. now that looks like one good read!

  2. I have it on my bookshelves as well. Good resource, IMO.

  3. Bought from Amazon - thanks for the tip.

  4. Nice one Ark. I look forward to checking this out.

  5. What an excellent resource to have... I'm going to have to find one. Thanks!

  6. Looks good. You should post this on Amazon as a review in counterpoint to the two negative reviewers, which seem to have disliked the book almost wholly because it features England. Anti-Anglophiles?

  7. @Everyone - Wow. I wish I made a cut off the sales! I'd be .14 cents richer!

    @Al - Yeah - that's a bit weird. I'll have to clean this up and post to Amazon. :)

    - Ark