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I'm building a map for a tabletop RPG (Pathfinder specifically), the aim of which is that my players will be trekking around and visiting interesting places. As part of that, I'd love to portray a bunch of exotic climates, such as deserts, jungles and tundra (to name a few). However, on Earth, the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle are almost 3,000 miles apart, which is a long way to force my characters to walk.

Thus my question, what rules do I need to follow, be it manipulating elevation, weather patterns, placement of oceans/mountains, etc, in order to bring my hot and cold climates as close together as possible?

As this is a fantasy world, some Suspension of Disbelief or magic can be used, but I want to avoid any jarring revelations as much as possible.

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    $\begingroup$ Hmm. I don’t suppose portals are an option? $\endgroup$ – Dubukay Nov 27 '18 at 15:57
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    $\begingroup$ @dubukay GLaDOS likes the way you think. $\endgroup$ – Renan Nov 27 '18 at 16:04
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    $\begingroup$ @Dubukay, whilst I love the out-of-box solution, unfortunately it won't work in this particular case. $\endgroup$ – Kyyshak Nov 27 '18 at 16:08
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    $\begingroup$ You have seen Zootopia (Zootropolis if in Europe), have you? ;-) "There are twelve unique ecosystems within city borders. Tundra Town, Sahara Square, Rain Forest District to name a few..." $\endgroup$ – Ister Nov 28 '18 at 9:08
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    $\begingroup$ @Ister: I suspect a fair degree of Sufficient Technology(TM) was involved to build that city $\endgroup$ – Kyyshak Nov 28 '18 at 12:59
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Mountains

In Peru (for example) Cusco is at 3400 meters elevation. The average year-round temps is 12 C, the average low is close to freezing, and it has historically been below freezing every month of the year. Frost and hail are common in all months (although snow accumulation is rare)

enter image description here

Meanwhile only 90 km away, is Pillcopata, Peru, at 500 meters, in the heart of the Amazon. Average year-round temps are 24 C; there is a mini-'winter' in May-July, but the other months have an average high of 30 C. It rains year-round, monsoonally in the summer, about 3000 mm per year, which is three times what New York City would see. It looks like this:

enter image description here

Changing climate with elevation is called "altitudinal zonation."

There are plenty of other examples around the world. Elevation will solve all your heat vs cold problems. Snowy mountain highlands can be just a day or two's travel away from steamy jungles. Other examples that I could have added would put cool temperate forests in the mountains above hot deserts (as in Central Asia or the southern Great Basin) or misty forested hills above sweltering fertile plains (like Sichuan province in China, or the upper Ganges Basin in India).

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    $\begingroup$ I'd recommend an addition to your answer. If you go a little ways (200 miles?) south of Cusco, you'll find the Pacific coast deserts, which ticks another check on his list. $\endgroup$ – Adam Miller Nov 27 '18 at 17:29
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    $\begingroup$ For another example of this: Hawaii has almost all the classic climate zones, missing only permafrost - and this is on just a single mountain. The combination of a slope to produce a rain shadow, and a high elevation to reduce temperatures, gives quite a lot of climate variation. $\endgroup$ – Skyler Nov 27 '18 at 17:57
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    $\begingroup$ Or where I live (east side of the Sierra Nevada): I can hike from sagebrush desert through mixed pine forest, mountain meadows, and alpine tundra, in a single day. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Nov 27 '18 at 18:24
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    $\begingroup$ My first thought was elevation too. You could have a high cold arid plateau like the Altiplano, then down at sea-level you could have lush rainforests. Plus, if your elevated region is oriented north-south, you could have great variation in temperature from one end to the other. $\endgroup$ – Arkenstein XII Nov 27 '18 at 19:28
  • $\begingroup$ Definitely mountains. I visited some friends who lived halfway up a mountain near Geneva. I remember there being bright sunshine, snow, rain and heavy mist all in the same day and at the same spot. $\endgroup$ – chasly from UK Nov 27 '18 at 22:40
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Geothermal springs can create a warm, lush forested region in the valley of a frozen mountain range, just as natural springs can create a large oasis in a desert. I suppose it would be possible for strong ocean currents to reliably carry large icebergs from a polar region to the beaches of a tropical region, and thus support cold-weather flora and fauna in the waters and on land year-round.

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In the foothills of Himalayan Mountains, winter temperatures regularly go below freezing. The upper reaches of the mountain range are covered in ice year-round.

But, if you travel a few hundred kilometers south, you reach the Tropic of Cancer. Some of the Indian states in this region have temperatures approaching ~50°C at the peak of summer. There is hardly any winter in most South Indian states.

A few hundred kilometers west from central India, you have the Thar Desert, with all geological phenomena you can expect from a desert.

A few hundred kilometers east from central India, you reach the towns of Mawsynram and Cherrapunji, two of the wettest places on earth by annual rainfall.

The South Indian peninsula is surrounded on three sides by the Bay of Bengal, Arabian sea and the Indian Ocean. This means that there are long stretches of coastal areas on both sides of the peninsula with moderate climate year-round.

During Monsoon season, the eastern coast faces Cyclones (Hurricanes) every year. And in the tropical states the Monsoon season lasts for more than two months when it rains almost continuously everyday.

From Wikipedia article Climate of India:

The Climate of India comprises a wide range of weather conditions across a vast geographic scale and varied topography, making generalisations difficult. Based on the Köppen system, India hosts six major climatic subtypes, ranging from arid desert in the west, alpine tundra and glaciers in the north, and humid tropical regions supporting rainforests in the southwest and the island territories. Many regions have starkly different microclimates.

TL;DR - Send your trekkers to the Indian subcontinent.

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  • $\begingroup$ A great idea !! $\endgroup$ – Fattie Nov 28 '18 at 7:13
  • $\begingroup$ Exactly what I wanted to propose. Desert in Pakistan, jungle in India, freezing hell in the Himalaya/Tibet $\endgroup$ – Erik Nov 28 '18 at 8:39
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on Earth, the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle are almost 3,000 miles apart.

If you drop the jungle from the requirement, you only need to walk 1/3 of that.

Los Angeles to Olympia

You could wander from the Mojave desert in California all the way north to the temperate rain forrest from Washington. A little further north and you get tundra in British Columbia, I think.

If you still want that jungle you can handwave it with . Terraria and other videogames have underground jungles and nobody complains about that... Kinda adds to the whole magical and fantastic theme.

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    $\begingroup$ Just a note - the Google Map is reporting the driving time. If you’re walking, it’ll take closer to 16 days of continuous effort or something like a month including sleeping and foraging. $\endgroup$ – Dubukay Nov 27 '18 at 16:13
  • $\begingroup$ @Dubukay I only included it for the distance. $\endgroup$ – Renan Nov 27 '18 at 16:20
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    $\begingroup$ Can you give any information as to why the Majove Desert and Washington Forest have formed relatively close? I don't need specific maths, just enough that I can produce a similar system $\endgroup$ – Kyyshak Nov 27 '18 at 17:11
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    $\begingroup$ @Kyyshak I don't have that on me. I know of manh other examples, though... The Sahara, for example, is just north of the african rain forest and right next to them, if you look from above. And Brazil has deserts right next to temperate forests. As a hunch I believe the Mojave is a desert because the winds drive rain clouds away from it, and it's hot because of its latitude, but my geography only goes so deep. I encourage you to research and find out more, though. $\endgroup$ – Renan Nov 27 '18 at 17:34
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    $\begingroup$ @Kyyshak: Rain shadow. You don't even need to go to Washington for rain forest, the North Coast of California (e.g. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Redwood_National_and_State_Parks ) is plenty wet enough. The prevailing winds bring moist air off the Pacific: orographic lift from the Coast Range cause much of the moisture to precipitate, leaving the Central Valley mostly dry. Then the higher Sierra Nevada wrings out much of the remaining moisture, leaving the areas to the east mostly desert. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Nov 27 '18 at 18:30
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Bring the glaciers closer to the equator

Since you're not confined to Earth or Earth-like geological parameters, you can do whatever you want.

Ways to achieve close geographical proximity of wildly varying climate zones

  • Bring the glaciers closer to the equator. While climate and ice sheets are linked, since we are designing a planet to do what we want. Just plunk down some ice sheets over the large land masses. This will increase the steepness of the thermocline from its maximum at the equator to arctic wastelands.
  • Reduce the amount of atmospheric greenhouse gases. This feeds into the mass glaciation but also decreases the amount of heat that the atmosphere can hold.

Effects of these Changes

Since the glaciers come so far south/north, they push the tundra ahead of them. This overall compresses the distance required to go from tropical temperatures to arctic conditions.

At the equator, start with lush jungles. Temperatures are high because of the strong solar heating. Further north where solar illumination is weaker, temperatures start to cool. Temperate forests and cooler rain forests would appear in this zone. Still further north would be desert conditions where the descending air from the tropical Hadley Cell descends carrying relatively moisture free air. Beyond the warm dry zone, temperatures will continue to fall to tundra then arctic conditions.

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    $\begingroup$ Glaciers are a product of the climate, not a cause of it. It's not clear what you mean by "bring the glaciers closer to the equator". Are you saying just plop down a few ice sheets, somehow expand the arctic region, or something else? $\endgroup$ – Nuclear Wang Nov 27 '18 at 19:21
  • $\begingroup$ @NuclearWang We're designing a planet from scratch. We can make the climate and ice sheets to be whatever we want. I'm advocating plunking down ice sheets where ever we need them to be. $\endgroup$ – Green Nov 27 '18 at 21:47
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    $\begingroup$ @NuclearWang If glaciers advance due to an Ice Age, then the ice age abates and global temperature rise, there is a hundreds to thousands of years gap where the ice still has to melt. This could be a (non-stable) way to make this happen? $\endgroup$ – kingledion Nov 28 '18 at 0:57
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Have strange ocean & wind flows.

Possible causes for strange ocean flows :

  • Extreme version of deep sea "volcanos"/smokers : enter image description here

Possible causes for strange wind flows & climate :

  • Astronomical configuration : have multiple suns, or multiple other planets leading to a complex lighting of your planet; some parts would receive more sunlight, thus be hotter, and others would be in the shadows. Your planet could also be small(or even a moon) and spin around strangely.

  • As already mentioned : Height differences

    • Expanding on this point : Mountain Ranges - Imagine a valley surrounded by high mountains. The climate in it can be totally different from the outside; for instance, rain clouds would be raining over the mountains and "filling" the valley
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