OSR: The Shape of the World

My current game is set in the not-14th century. The world is largely unmapped and the campaigns are largely local.

I was thinking about maps, and time, and worldbuilding. Most settings have spherical worlds. Some experiment with discs or toruses.
How To Be A Sailor - 1944
Here's an early world map, drawn in 1502. It's one of the earliest maps to show the world in a format we'd recognize.
Cantino Planisphere - 1502
Here's the map redrawn in a simplified format.
Fairly simple, right? Cold to the north, cold to the south, water to the east, and who knows what to the west.

And eventually, people circle around west and end up in the east and the world is finally confirmed to be round, despite the protests of clever people who say it's been confirmed round for centuries because of math. The top bit is cold, the bottom bit is cold, and the middle bit is warm.

And that's all fine and dandy, but what if it's not true? What if the world isn't a sphere or a disc or a flat plane?

What it's a spiral?

In 1520, Magellan tries to cut south across the tip of South America and reach the Pacific. Instead, he runs into ice. After weeks of storms and backtracking, with no stars visible, he finds a wide navigable channel. He follows it south.

And after weeks of ice and bitter cold, Magellan's crew spots mammoths. A shore party is attacked by a sabre-tooth tiger. Giant beasts unknown to the explorers are seen on the shore.

The survivors return home, disappointed and deeply confused.
Later expeditions don't help. Eventually, all the people with clever math and theories about the shape of the world toss out their models and redraw their maps.

The Time Spiral
Graham, Joseph, Newman, William, and Stacy, John, 2008
The world is a spiral. The diagram above is literal.

Upstream there is only ice, as far as anyone knows. Arctic explorers are trying to see if there is an upstream passage.

But downstream, the world changes. You can sail there and bring back treasures. You can also be devoured by dinosaurs. Whoever made the world didn't count on sailing ships. A few strays won't cause any issues - this explains coelacanths and crocodiles, they crept into our region from a past age - but an organized expedition seems to be a new concept.

It's not easy. Each "segment" on the spiral diagram is, essentially, a new continent or set of continents. Some are separated from others by ice sheets, channels, volcanic fields, ash dunes, or glass deserts.

In the Age of Discovery, the past is literally an unknown country.

"But what about eclipses, Skerples?"

Yeah well what about eclipses?


  1. what happened to magellan? especially to explain what he saw.

  2. I'm having a hard time visualising this, but I am intrigued none the less.

    1. Ok, you see the spiral diagram? Right at the end, the last segment closest to the top?
      That's North and South America on one side of the water, Europe, Africa, and Asia on the other. You can sail "south" (downstream) to get to other continents/times. See the map just above the spiral diagram.

  3. There was some science fantasy short story I read a while back that was about the WW2 on a non-Euclidean Earth. I loved the concept and it's quite similar to yours.

    The Earth was a sphere, just as we know it, but the Atlantic was impossible to cross. You only ran into more water. Eventually, the victorious Nazi Germany* build a massive airship in an attempt to find out the other shore of Atlantic. They continued for many, many months over an open sea, until they ran into dinosaurs.

    The Earth was basically a hypersphere - n-dimensional sphere that still behaved like normal planet, circling around Sun and being circled by Moon, but its equatorial went in "spiral" through time.

    * There was no USA as we know it.

  4. I would be tempted to do the spiral/hypersphere west and east, rather than north and south, so that time zones become a lot more literal.

  5. This brings to mind Hal Duncan's Book of Hours from the book Vellum. All possible times and realities overlayed into an infinite continuous plane.

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  7. Hey there, first comment here.

    This post conjures up a worldview that drips with OSR-flavour, excellent catch.

    Some thoughts:

    - I'm presuming that the "world portion" enfolds the spiral core, meaning you could still sail far out to the west and come up from the east, correct?

    - Would it not make sense for the "extreme north" to be a hell of fire and brimstone, as tectonic activity generates *more* of the spiral?

    - Extinction-events could be driven not (or not exclusively) by the geology inherent to earth but by portions of this infinitely spawning petri dish eventually becoming shaded from the sun's light for millenia, as it they "spiral down" the corkscrew.

    - Eclipses could be the sun becoming temporarily obscured by the turn of the spiral's strip or by ancient/down-spiral volcanic activit (completely dependent on the orb's placement, of course).

    (P.S. I also loved the medieval picaresque itinerary thingie you're doing to bits. I'm adding you to my blogroll sidebar.)

    1. -Sure, the world could fold around the spiral core. It makes a bit more sense than Warclam's method above (although the time zone thing is tempting).
      -Ah, but what if "upstream" from our world there are other worlds! Do we truly know that we are the end of the line? Perhaps, after another ice age, there are future ages?

    2. We also don't know if the worlds are spiraling out or spiraling in. Maybe the worlds further down stream are younger and that is why they have more "ancient" life. However many years ago, our world also looked like that before it became what it is now.

  8. What determines the precise historical 'location' of a given point in the time stream? Like, is Magellan located in the same quadrant as modern America, and that future just hasn't unspooled itself yet? Does the bit of the spiral that Magellan lives on progress into its own future, while 'north' of him in the Far Future a species of sentient fungus has repopulated the world after nuclear holocaust?

    If so, what are the rules for the cut off points of different epochs - at what point do they form a separate continent with its own internal timeline?

    If not, can Magellan travel back in time and assassinate his own grandfather by sailing south?

    So many questions.

    1. I figure each ice-age gap separates at least 100,000 years, possibly several million. Can't sail into the recent past or near future.