Look at you all sitting here. Quite some of you have probably never ventured beyond the outskirts of this city, mayhaps not even past the wall? You've spent your whole lives in this place, but what do you actually know about its lifetime?

Introductory course to the History & Sociology of the tri-region area, Ringstadt Militaric University.

This question is about checking over the topography I created in the below map. There are a number of features in and about it that I, with my limited knowledge and understanding of geology & hydrology, find plausible - but have no way of reliably telling if that is fact.

Below you will find a Background section explaining some of my goals for this area in terms of worldbuilding that have been significant factors in my design-process. In the Topography section you will find aforementioned map as well as some paragraphs detailing it in prose, documenting my thoughts and choices - and the why's in my understanding. At the end you will find, once again, the question accompanied by a focused list of the things I know I need double-checking & feedback on - this list is not meant to be exclusive, but to my understanding these are the core foci.


On the below image I attempted to map the area where my con-city Ringstadt will be founded and built. The development of the region will start off with a few communities living off the land and supporting an abbey that is going to be somewhere in the H4 to K7 area (the square denoted by these corners).

Eventually, in the earth-equivalent of the ~1600-1700s, metals and coal become a thing of importance and prospecting happens, which leads to a mining town growing around first shafts digging into the mountain in the D2 to F3 area, producing mainly coal. A supporting logging encampment springs up somewhere upstream, the mining expands along the ridge towards the abbey, digging further into the mountains.

The underground mining reveals iron deposits that, when being tapped, turn out to be much more extensive than judged by the original prospecting. The limited iron smelting & processing industry experiences a rapid growth together with the surrounding boroughs of worker & family homes. The direction of trade inverts from exporting raw materials to importing them and starting to export goods & commodities.


The map section is located in the northern hemisphere somewhere above 55° of latitude. The base-height of the map is, as of now, undecided - it can be whatever is necessary for the topography to work.

The area is framed by a lake and a mountainside. The lake kisses the mountainside until it eventually eases back to give way for a wide expanse, being separated from higher grounds by a steep 'cliff'. I imagine there having been an ice-age glacier shearing off the mountainside, leaving that steep 'cliff'. The glacier would have been reduced into the residing lake.

Along the lakeside, the expanse features reed marshes. The wide and even expanse getting flat enough in the lower parts near the lake to gather standing bodies of water, etc.

A smaller lake forms up in the mountains to the north-east, discharging into a river that eventually feeds into the lower-eastern lake. To the south of the high-lake hills frame a valley mostly being a peat-bog. I imagine are having started off as a rather flat extension of the above lake, eventually filling up with biomass and turning into marshlands.

Ringstadt topological map

 brown                ->  topological lines, 10 meters each
 light blue -line-    ->  streams, rivers
 light blue -shaded-  ->  bodies of water
 turquoise            ->  peat bog
 olive                ->  reed marshes

Each grid-cell is 400m by 400m.

Q: How sensible is my topography?

A good answer should at least address the following topics:

  • Are there any (grossly) unnatural features?
    • e.g. the steep 'cliff' that frames most of the mountainside until about H4
    • What do I have to change for them to be natural?
  • Are the streams & rivers in sensible positions?
    • Which (if any) are misplaced & where do I need to move them?
    • Which areas are missing streams?
  • Can the peat bog and reed marshes exist at the positions I put them?
    • Should the area from D1 to F1 be a bog or similar as well?
    • Can I have clay and/or other shallow resources in this area? And where?
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Yay gj graduating from sandbox. Writing my answer $\endgroup$ Aug 16, 2018 at 19:07
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ (1) What's the scale? (2) I see no unusual cliffs. The tallest cliffs seem to be about 50 m high, and I can think of several places were lakes are bounded by cliffs of a similar height. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Aug 16, 2018 at 19:23
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP there is a measure at the bottom-left of the map; the legend explains that each topological line marks 10 meters, and each orange topo line additionally carries a number of meters it is relatively away from the 0 line $\endgroup$
    – dot_Sp0T
    Aug 16, 2018 at 19:25
  • $\begingroup$ @dot_Sp0T: There is a very ambiguous measure. Is 400 meters the white part? Or the entire line? And there are no orange contour lines -- they all look brown to me. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Aug 16, 2018 at 19:28
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ I think you meant topography rather than topology. As far as I can tell, your map is topologically uninteresting, being essentially a singly-connected flat sheet. $\endgroup$ Aug 16, 2018 at 22:30

6 Answers 6


Grossly unnatural features:

Mainly, you should remember that topography is a facet of the geological history of the area. So, your hills look fine, could just be product of orogeny and erosion, your cliff spanning the entire map is fine, most likely explained by a strike-slip fault (although it could be a bit straighter if that's the case), and the plain could also be explained by glaciation or sea-level retreat (although randomize it a little, the slope is too similar). Looks mostly good!

Streams and Rivers

For that one stream in the D3-G2, you seem to understand that streams tend to have those U-shaped bends in the contour line. However, the other streams don't seem to fit this pattern. Also, if you intended the river at J2 to cut through the mountains, that would have it flowing uphill at first, which doesn't seem to fit. Other than that, this looks ok.

Bogs and Marshes

Marshes and bogs tend to occur in low places, near water. I don't know your water table, but those regions are defined as usually saturated, so below the water table. Given that you put your bogs and marshes near shore, that should totally work.

Clay and city

Clay is a type of particulate matter: like sand. Given that your large river cuts through a cliff, that area should have some clay. Also possible: near your peat bog or under the surface of the lakes. I would place your city in either the region D3-E3-E4 or the region G6-H6, with D3-E3-E4 preferred because of flat land for farming, natural defence (back to a cliff), and a water source (river).

I am by no means an expert on this, please correct any mistakes I have made.

  • $\begingroup$ G2 being the outflow, J2 would be an inflow coming from further up through the plain into the alke $\endgroup$
    – dot_Sp0T
    Aug 17, 2018 at 4:41

I am not a geologist, but as far as I can tell this layout is completely plausible. Good attention to detail and an interesting landscape.

I would move the city slightly west though, having it situated on the flats as opposed to bordering the bog and corresponding hills. (Or even right next to the reedlands, since a rice like staple crop could be grown there more easily.)

Possibly the best place to retrieve clay would be on the edges of the Northern lake. A layer of clay is probably deposited just below the water line, or even above it, depending on how high the lake was before the drainage river formed. The western lake may also contain deposits.

I think the only other thing to worry about is whether coal and iron tend to be deposited together. While I don't think it is impossible, I also don't think it is likely to occur often.

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ The city of Birmingham Alabama was founded where it is because of close proximity of coal, iron and limestone. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Aug 16, 2018 at 23:23
  • $\begingroup$ So rare but not impossible, as I originally thought. Though I wonder if there are more deposits if you don't include limestone as a requirement. $\endgroup$ Aug 16, 2018 at 23:39
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Yes very rare I'd say, I can only think of one other example, in Coalbrookdale, England; fireclay for building blast furnaces, coal seams, limestones and iron ore all in one geological stack. The industrial revolution started in Coalbrookdale, for a reason. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Aug 22, 2018 at 13:19

Looks pretty good with some nitpicks

Land Topography

The shape and layout of the mountains and hills that form the geography look pretty good to me. The lower left portions of the map have clearly seen significant erosion to flatten out like that.

Hydrology has some problems

In a few places, it looks like the streams run uphill or close enough to uphill to be really confusing.

The Bog looks pretty good. It's shape hints at a low, <10m rise in J3-K3. When I saw an early version of the map, I assumed that the bog would go all the way to the smaller lake. If the smaller lake were to get deeper then it would naturally flood into the area occupied by the bog. If the lake water level went down the bog would naturally drain out. The stream leading from K3 to J2 means there's a slope going down to the small lake. Seems odd that the bog would stop just short of extending to the lake.

The Reed Marshes could probably extend much further inland along the streams that feed into the large lake. 10m contour lines isn't really enough resolution to be able to tell where the divets and hollows on this landscape are. A good argument could be made that the southern portions of the planes would be very marshy; especially row 10. The landscape extends 4000 meters with only 25 meters of altitude gain. That's less than a 1% grade and very hard to tell which way is downhill.

The stream in K4-J5 seems odd. Normally, streams don't run parallel to contour lines and that stream does. I think it more realistic that water coming from the moutain would go east, off map, travel south on what would be columns M, N, O or P then come back west around rows 6 or 7.

Some heuristics for designing water flow systems

  1. As the terrain gets steeper, the water path will get straighter. This makes sense since the pull of gravity on a 45 degree incline is much stronger than on a 1 degree incline.
  2. Inversely, as terrain gets shallower, the water path tends to meander a lot more with far more loops, curves and bends.
  3. The size of a stream, river, etc will depend completely on the surface area of the land found upstream. For example, in the steeper terrain in G4-H4, there isn't nearly as much land surface area to feed a stream there as with a stream that empties into the river at F2. I would expect the G4-H4 stream to be much smaller and less regular than the F2 stream.
  4. The general flow of all water is inherently tree shaped. This map captures much of that pattern but stated just for completeness.
  5. Where erosion has been happening longer/faster, the landscape tends to sit back. J5 is an acute example of this. The stream in C1 that goes down to the big lake in B2; I would expect it to go west a little more to meet up with stream in B1 first then go down to the big lake in B2.

Let's take your concerns in order:

The general topography looks good without any seriously unnatural landforms. High cliffs are often a feature of areas with a glaciated history like these near Fox Glacier in New Zealand: enter image description here

Your drainage looks okay as it is but I would have a stream along the cliff bottom that captures most of the drainage coming from the highlands along the rough line from K5 to F2; joining the main outlet river before it empties into the larger western lake. The streams that cross the plains would be smaller, and possibly seasonal rather than continuous, due to capturing only over land drainage on the plains rather than any water from the heights. The box from F8 to K10 probably needs some detail work in the drainage department as well, it's a bit "blank paper" at the moment.

Bogs are an artifact of blocked drainage, they occur in basins where rainwater cannot get out fast enough to prevent waterlogging, the area you have identified appears to be a prime candidate. There should be a transitional zone of treed swamp or grassy marsh where the bog gives over to lake or stream where water becomes dominant over vegetation. On a technical note you appear to have streams feeding the bog, this would make it a fen as opposed to a purely rain fed bog. Reed marshes are usually formed along lake edges so there's no issues with the one you have, although a fringe of the same in the upper lake would not be unreasonable as well. As the D1 to F1 zone does not appear show any drainage impeding topography there's no reason to change the proposed drainage in that area.

In terms of resources; there will lenses of secondary clay to be found, shallowly buried, under the large southern alluvial plain, (left overs from post-glacial sedimentation) you'll be able to pick them out because the poor drainage will allow reeds to grow in isolated patches all over the otherwise well drained and grass dominated plain. Peat from boggy areas makes a good fuel, and bog iron was historically an important ore. Gravel will dominate the plains, especially in the area where the river connecting the two lakes comes out of the hills, and there will be other alluvial fans where streams from the mountainous northern area meet the plain, these may also be a valuable source of both clay and gravel. Reeds are an important traditional building material in many parts of the world, both for houses and for fishing boats.

For me the best settlement location is in D3, where the river meets the lake, this will give good access to a number of resources, not least of all easy access to the lake for fishing boats, and the reedbeds for boat building.

If I missed anything or you need more details on a point let me know.


There are places looking a little like that in french Jura called reculée. They are also created by a glacier and tend to form lakes and cliffs, higher than your but that's mostly because the plateau where the glacier forms is higher above the valley underneath.

If it takes place in Europe the 50 meters of sediment will be mostly Jurassic limestone so iron is likely but you will have to dig much deeper for coal.

If your glacier came from K10 to A5 then the small lake is not very likely since streams tends to be subterranean on limestone plateaus, and the stream will have a resurgence or something on the cliff. The only way to solve that issue I see is that an older glacier created a small reculée for the small lake and then a bigger one crossed its road. Glacier tends to bring sand and clay so it's perfect for reed.

The small streams flowing from the hill H3 will be active only when it rains like all the other streams less than 200m long but the well on H4 would be a good resurgence. The stream flowing from D10 to the lake in A5 should be bigger, starting at the bottom of the valley

  • $\begingroup$ Partially on topic: Are you Swiss? $\endgroup$
    – dot_Sp0T
    Aug 19, 2018 at 17:37
  • $\begingroup$ nope i'm french $\endgroup$
    – Jean-Abdel
    Aug 19, 2018 at 22:01

I know I’m late to this, but If you’re still taking feedback I think you’ll find that your topography is quite exaggerated vertically, especially in the lowlands. From what I can see, the flattest parts of the map (the Dubukay expanse, for which I now feel responsible) have a grade of about 1% (10m/1000m). That would hardly make it feel very flat, but rather a noticeably sloped hill. If we look at a place like Kansas or Florida (sorry to be US-centric, but they’re just examples of very flat places), the grade is much closer to 0.05 or 0.025%. (Kansas is ~400 miles wide (650km) and has a total elevation change of less than a mile (1.6km)). Florida is apparently even flatter.

I’d spread out the contour lines there. I know it sucks because it’s already kinda boring.

Alternatively, you could blow up the scale in the corner a bit. Make it more like 1-2km would give a more realistic grading, although it’d wreak havoc upon your other features and travel times.


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