Oerth From the Ground Up | by Roger E. Moore | From the Oerth Journal Vol.1 #3 March 20, 1996; the Council of Greyhawk

Oerik & Oerth Observed | Continental Questions | Is Hepmonaland a Continent? | Matters of Longitude | It's About Time | A Last (Tilted) Point


Certainly, just about everyone who plays in and enjoys the WORLD OF GREYHAWK® setting also wonders what the rest of the world of Oerth looks like beyond the Flanaess. There is, of course, the small map showing most of the continent of Oerik, present in the 1980 WORLD OF GREYHAWK gazetteer and 1983 WORLD OF GREYHAWK boxed set (on page 18 in the Glossography of the latter). But few other official TSR-published materials are available on the shape of the rest of the world.

Apparently, not even the original designer of the GREYHAWK® setting or his allied Dungeon Masters ever mapped the whole world out in any detail. However, we're not unarmed with clues. What can we figure out about the rest of Oerth from official sources -- using the Oerik map, for instance? Quite a lot, if we make certain necessary assumptions and accept that each DM is going to create a unique version of Oerth to suit his or her own campaign style. Brace yourself for some math work, too -- and please check my figures. If you find an error, you can embarrass me with it later! (I've had to correct this article twice already. Don't ask.)

Oerik & Oerth Observed

As noted in the 1983 boxed set and other places, Oerth has a polar circumference of 25,200 miles. We will assume Oerth's equatorial circumference is the same (or so close to it that it doesn't matter -- given the nicely timed orbits of Celene and Luna, the gods of Oerth seem to go for a certain amount of perfection). The little map of Oerik shows its geographical features from the equator up to 60 degrees latitude, equal to 4,200 miles north of the equator. I got out a ruler and measured the equatorial distance shown, did the same for the 4,200-mile distance north, and used proportions to find that the east-west distance shown along the equator is about 6,320 miles. Now, this is almost exactly 25% of 25,200 miles (6,300 miles); I could easily be off by 20 miles, so we can make it 6,300 miles even, a full 90 degrees of longitude. Thus, the Oerik map shows roughly one-quarter of the northern hemisphere of Oerth, excluding all lands from 60 degrees latitude north to the pole. This is less than one-eighth the total surface area of Oerth. As vast as this mapped region is, it isn't much!

The total surface area of Oerth, by the way, can be found if we assume Oerth is a perfect sphere. With a circumference of 25,200 miles, the diameter is 25,200 divided by pi (3.14159265 ...), which is about 8,021.41 miles (radius = 4,010.7 miles), and the total surface area of its lands and seas equals pi times the diameter squared, or about 202,139,540 square miles. The total area of the Oerik North Quadrant, which is the area of the Oerik map plus the rest of the region north to the pole, is one-eighth the above, or about 25,267,440 square miles. Earth's total surface area, land and sea, is 196,949,970 square miles; Oerth is larger than our world, as Earth (which is an oblate spheroid, not a perfect sphere) has a mean diameter of about 7,917.78 miles. These figures are important, as will be shown later.

There is a problem we face in using this Oerik map, however. Because the Oerik map is a two-dimensional projection map showing features from a globe, some distortion exists when east-west distances are measured away from the equator, with such distortions increasing the farther north or south one goes. (In other words, the Oerik map is not a Lambert azimuthal equal-area projection map, for you hard-core cartographers.) How much distortion is involved? Well, the map shows a distance of 6,300 miles east-west at the equator, but at the 30 degree north latitude mark, the total east-west distance on the Oerik map is about 5,456 miles, and at 60 degrees north latitude, the total east-west distance is 3,150 miles -- exactly half the east-west distance at the equator! A more accurate map of Oerik would squeeze the northernmost features more closely together than we would expect from the Oerik map and even the colorful two-part Flanaess maps. This produces some important problems; for instance, the Thillonrian peninsula is not as long as we think it is, and the Dramidj Ocean is more narrow than it looks. Travel times should take only half what they seem, going east or west at the 60 degree latitude mark!

An Important Pause: Some DMs might be screaming already as they read this. Am I saying that all the maps of the Flanaess are actually inaccurate? Yes, I am. If your group is playing north of the 45 degree north latitude line, the east-west distances are way, way off. They are rather off even when you are playing at the latitude of the City of Greyhawk. Erk!

What should GREYHAWK campaign DMs do about this? Nothing for now. Just keep on playing along. Assume that it takes longer to travel east-west as you go farther north because of cold weather, bad roads, a curse from Fhlarlanghn, or whatever. Just forget about it for now, really. Faerun on the FORGOTTEN REALMS campaign world probably has the very same problem. Don't sweat it. We'll probably get a Lambert azimuthal equal-area projection map done for Oerik first, and then we can laugh about it. At any rate, the map error, as serious as it is (and it is serious) hasn't hampered any campaigns that I know of.

Let's move on. How much area is actually shown in the little Oerik map? The temptation is to multiply 6,300 miles east-west by 4,200 miles north-south and get 26,460,000 square miles, which works for any rectangular area -- but we've already pointed out that we can't do this because of map distortion. The Oerik map's total area would equal that of the Oerik North Quadrant minus the area north of the 60 degree latitude line. Thanks to the wonderful Gary Holian (PSmedger@aol.com, whose article on this topic will appear in the next issue of the Oerth Journal), we have the formula for measuring the area north of the 60 degree latitude line, and I reproduce it below:

Polar Area = 2 * pi * [(sin 90 degrees)-(sin 60 degrees)] * (radius of Oerth, squared)
which equals 2 * pi * (.13397) * (16,085,714.49) = about 13,540,283 square miles of Arctic wasteland and sea. 

This figure might be of interest to anyone writing about the Land of Black Ice and its blue bugbears. Interestingly, the 1983 boxed set's description of the Land of Black Ice includes some rumors that sound suspiciously like an opening exists at the north pole leading into a Pellucidar-like hollow world, like the HOLLOW WORLD(TM) setting of the MYSTARA(R) campaign. Just read the section on the Land of Black Ice in the Guide booklet, page 60. (Why are Edgar Rice Burroughs' Pellucidar novels listed as "inspirational and educational reading" in Appendix N of the AD&D 1st Edition DMG? Hmm.) But we are getting off the topic.

The northern hemisphere of Oerth covers about 101,069,770 square miles, and if we subtract off the Arctic region and divide the remainder by 4, we have the area shown on the Oerik map. (We divide by 4 because the region is part of a quadrant.) The Oerik map (from the equator to the 60 degree north latitude line) thus covers about 21,882,372 square miles.

How large is Oerik itself? I further guess that, correcting for map distortion, about three-fourths of the Oerik map is land -- mostly Oerik, of course, with Hepmonaland and the chunk of arctic land to the northwest making up all the rest except for the islands. How much farther Oerik extends to the south and west is anyone's guess, but the visible portion is about 16,411,779 square miles in size. (Thank you, Gary Holian!)

Continental Questions

The largest land mass on Earth is the Eurasian continent (including Europe, Asia Minor, the Arabian peninsula, all areas once part of the Soviet Union, all Mediterranean islands, Iceland, Indonesia, Japan, etc.), which covers about 21,196,000 square miles. The total land area of Earth is 58,433,000 square miles, so Eurasia covers about 36% of that total. We can't get an accurate idea of how much land area Oerik covers, but "the Oerik continent is the major center of the world" (Guide, page 4), so we'll assume it is the largest Oerth continent there is. There could be plenty of land to the west and south to rival or exceed Eurasia.

What about the other continents? In the 1983 boxed set's Guide, page 4, it is said that Oerth has "four great continents and countless islands, and four great oceans and countless seas which surround these bodies of land. Little is known about the lands of the western portion of Oerik, less still about the savage inhabitants of the other continents ..." This passage tells us clearly that learned people of the Flanaess have discovered the nature of their world and something of its appearance. Did they use divination spells or wishes? Did they question the gods directly or indirectly? Were they spelljamming? Did someone teleport to a moon of Oerth and look back with a telescope? All of these are clear possibilities, and it is likely that all of them are true. (Nothing makes a fact a fact like independent confirmation.) We shall accept the brief description of Oerth as true and apply it to what we've figured out so far.

To figure out something about the size of the other continents, we have to guess at how much of Oerth's surface is land. On earth, the land-to-sea ratio is about 3 to 7. On Oerth, this ratio could probably be adjusted to give a DM big continents or little ones. How far can it be adjusted? Let's look at a table of Earth's continents:
continent area in square miles

Eurasia* 21,196,000
Africa 11,707,000
North America 9,360,000
South America 6,883,000
Antarctica 6,000,000
Australia** 2,966,150

* This includes (again) Europe, Asia Minor, the Arabian peninsula, all areas once part of the Soviet Union, all Mediterranean islands, Iceland, Indonesia, Japan, and other small islands nearby, like Taiwan. ** This excludes all islands in Oceania.

By comparison, the largest island in the world, Greenland (a.k.a. Kalaallit Nunaat, in Inuit), covers about 840,000 square miles. The next largest island, New Guinea, covers a bit over 316,600 square miles. The continents of Oerth are described as "great", so we figure they must be at least the size of South America. How much bigger or smaller? We have to decide on how much of Oerth's surface is covered by land.

surface area of Oerth covered

10%  20,214,000 square miles
20% 40,428,000 square miles
30% 60,642,000 square miles
40% 80,856,000 square miles

Well, we can't pick 10%, because there's almost no land left over from Oerik to make anything but islands. At 20%, assuming that Oerik is the size of Eurasia, we have about enough land left over to make three continents that, if they were of equal size, would each be about as big as South America. At 30%, we have enough land left over after Oerik's done to make three monstrous continents, each larger than North America and Australia combined. At 40%, each of the other three continents is about the size of Eurasia! This is, of course, because Oerth has so much more surface area than our own world, even though its diameter doesn't seem that much larger. (It's also because Oerth has four continents, while Earth has six.)

And now, the famous question: Is Hepmonaland a Continent?

I say yes, it probably is. Look at the Oerik map, at the chunk of northwestern Hepmonaland we can see. The east-west distortion at 15 degrees north latitude is not very great, so we can get away with estimating its area by creating a roughly equivalent-sized rectangle and multiplying the base by the height. When I did this, I came up with a figure of just over 700,000 square miles. This is nearly the size of Greenland, and Hepmonaland's coastlines clearly appear to be spreading out, implying much more land lies to the southeast. Northwestern Hepmonaland is shown on the Oerik map to be covered by a single (tropical rain) forest, but lands farther to the southeast could include savanna, mountains, and everything else Oerik has. If you are one of those 30% or 40% land-area DMs, then there's one darn big continent down there.

By the way, the continent's real name (i.e., the one its civilized inhabitants call it) is unlikely to be Hepmonaland; Hepmonaland is just what Oerikians (Oerikers? Oerikeans?) call the jungle part, probably named after a being named Hepmona, who discovered it or once conquered it. It would be like a visitor calling North America "Florida" because all he saw of our continent was Miami. Given the presence of Olman (quasi-Central American) peoples in the Amedio and the absence of quasi-African, sub-Saharan cultures in the Flanaess, the Hepmonaland continent sounds like a good place for a mix of both, plus whatever else the DM wishes to toss in the pot.

Indeed, one writer for DRAGON(R) Magazine, David Howery, used Hepmonaland for his African GREYHAWK settings; see DRAGON issue #189, page 10+, "The Dark Continent", which includes a color map that might have been his version of the unseen part of Hepmonaland. In addition, wall paintings in the dungeons of AD&D module C1 The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan clearly imply that the Olman people migrated over land and sea to the Amedio Jungle from another area, where their old empire was at war with black-skinned humans. (Yes, I suppose the latter could have been drow, but let's not go into that for now.) Did the Olman people originally come from Hepmonaland? It seems possible.

I have heard about Aquaria, the continent that's supposed to lie to the east of Oerik across the Solnor Ocean, but I know next to nothing about it. Aquaria, if it lies about 3,000 miles or so east of Oerik (the Solnor Ocean is said to be at least 1,000 leagues across), lies just north or northeast of Hepmonaland.

If you accept Hepmonaland as a continent and buy off on Aquaria as one, too (or if you have your own replacement for Aquaria to the east), then where's Continent #4? It might be polar, either at the north or south poles; the Oerik map does show a chunk of unconnected land to the northwest above the 45 degree latitude mark. (Antarctica lies entirely south of the 60 degree south latitude line, for instance, and Alaska, Greenland, and much of Scandinavia are above the 60 degree north latitude line on our world.) If a polar continent sounds too boring, with nothing but ice and snow to play with, then Oerth probably has seasonal polar caps like our Arctic icecap (900,000 square miles, island-sized), and the extra continent is far to the west or southwest of Oerik. (Personally, I'm inclined to fill this last continent with dinosaurs or early Cenozoic mammals, maybe with an Egyptian or Atlantean civilization, just for variety's sake.)

Now, keep in mind that there have to be four huge oceans. The Solnor Ocean is one, and the huge ocean of which the Densac Gulf is the northernmost part is likely another. The ocean to the west of Oerik is a third. These are going to be huge oceans, at least one of them larger than the Pacific! If you are mapping things out this far, be sure to add plenty of islands. You might have many areas similar to the lands of Ursula K. LeGuin's Earthsea trilogy when you're done, with the bad effects of hurricanes and sea waves undone by artifacts, local protective gods, weather magic, etc.

Matters of Longitude

An interesting point comes up when trying to write down map coordinates for places on Oerth: Where is the zero-degree longitude line? On Earth, it is arbitrarily set at Greenwich, England, the site of the Royal Greenwich Observatory. On Oerth, where else could it be but the City of Greyhawk, the Jewel of the Flanaess? So be it! The world will be mapped from Greyhawk, and we assume that most of the central Flanaess uses this system of cartography.

It is unlikely, of course, that this was always so. Just as every city keeps its own time, so is it likely that some major cities, particularly the capitals of empires, were once the "zero points" for longitude lines. "Official" maps from Aerdy, the Great Kingdom, are certain to show Rauxes as the "zero point". (Anything different calls for a trip to the torture chambers.) Ancient maps from the Suloise Empire or the Baklunish lands are likely to have their own "zero points", all of which leads to a certain amount of confusion on the part of cartographers and lost adventurers. The Scarlet Brotherhood might have adopted the old standard from the Suloise Empire and use the presumed location of the Suel capital (a.k.a. the Forgotten City) as its "zero point".

Another possibility appears here. If you accept the Scarlet Brotherhood's worship of Tharizdun, they might measure all points in a radial fashion from the so-called Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun, in hex F5-88 (assuming they know of its existence from the few guardians and worshipers there). Radial coordinates, instead of using latitude and longitude lines, measure the direct distance from the "zero point" to a given spot, plus the angle at which the above line lies with respect to a line drawn from the "zero point" straight north. Thus, the Scarlet Brotherhood's cartographers would say that a certain hill that lies 10 miles due east of the Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun is at coordinate point 10/90: 10 miles, 90 degrees. A cavern 106 miles southeast of the temple would be at point 106/135, and so on. The radial system is sure to confuse all player-character types except possibly wizards and priests who took trigonometry; grids are much easier to use.
It's also worth a thought that one extremely vital point in an enemy government would be its cartographic division. If a group of commando-type characters was able to destroy an enemy nation's maps, mapmaking equipment, and cartography staff, the enemy would be dealt a critical blow for decades to come. This is especially true for naval powers, who probably guard their map rooms more heavily than their treasure vaults. Think about it.

It's About Time

If you assume that most timekeeping on Oerth is done by means of sundials (which can be extremely clever and sophisticated, by the way -- look them up in a good encyclopedia), then you can also figure that no two cities will have the same daily time shown at any moment unless they lie on the exact same longitude line. For every 5 degrees of longitude eastward of a given base point (equal to 350 miles, at 70 miles per degree of longitude), a sundial will record the time as 20 minutes later in the day; for every 5 degrees westward, the time will be 20 minutes earlier in the day. (We are, of course, assuming that Oerth rotates as our Earth does, counterclockwise when viewed from its north pole, so that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.) A full 15 degrees of longitude makes an hour's difference, and so forth. When it is sundown in Hepmonaland, it is full daylight over the Sea of Dust. Keep this in mind when your characters go teleporting over great distances.

The Flanaess is not sophisticated or organized enough to have developed time zones as we have, so each city keeps its own time. (As the supremely relativistic priests of Cyndor like to say, "The correct time is wherever you happen to be".) Minor magical enhancements can have a sundial register even on cloudy days, or (in extreme cases) underground. Other details on local timekeeping, such as sunrise and sunset times, may be found in the Glossography from the 1983 boxed set, on pages 18-20.

The clerics of Flanaess deities concerned with time, such as Cyndor, Istus, or Lendor, are likely to have some importance in major cities as official timekeepers. They would know what time it was at any spot on Oerik, given a brief glance at a map or a moment of meditation, and might themselves have perfect internal senses of time. In places where the timing of ceremonies, spells, military actions, and so forth are of great importance, these priests are sure to be gainfully employed with merchant houses, the government, wizards' guilds, the military, etc.

A Last (Tilted) Point

The axial tilt of Oerth as it rotates in the center of Greyspace is 30 degrees exactly, as opposed to our Earth's 23 degrees 27 minutes. As noted in the 1983 Glossography, page 20, the 60 degree north latitude line is Oerth's "arctic circle", north of which you get the phenomenon of the midnight sun. (The same thing happens, of course, south of the 60 degree south latitude line.) As a result of this increased tilt, Oerth should actually have more severe seasonal changes in climate than Earth does. Gods and magic can alter this, of course, but somewhere on Oerth it might get very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter.

Other interesting points can be deduced from this axial tilt, but those can wait for a future article. I've wandered off the topic of continents and mapping Oerth, anyway.


built by unclefester | sternzwischen | updated 14-05-29 23:15:23