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I initially assumed my world was going to be pure fantasy, but the more I think about it, the more I consider having the story take place somewhere on Earth, either as alternate history or the far future. I have some requirements for the broad area around the main character's home due to events in the plot I've already written:

The main area where civilization tends to prosper is a temperate zone, not unlike most of North America, Europe, East Asia, etc.

Next to the MC's rural hometown is the Poison Land, a cold volcanic desert, ideally on the leeward side of a mountain range, that produces obsidian and basalt. It has moderately toxic soil to the extent that the people there have an inborn resistance to it and can in fact be quite healthy and strong, but many are noticeably diseased and/or deformed. Beyond the Poison Land should be more land, not necessarily poisonous but probably wild.

In a different direction from the Poison Land is an ocean, ideally warm, that experiences infamously intense Summer Storms, but has a good amount of habitable islands with some of the more advanced (medieval to early modern tech) societies. One of these islands is the capital of a major kingdom whose influence extends to the mainland and has a natural fountain with inexhaustible drinkable water. (the Fountain is important to the plot)

To the north - and it really should be the NORTH for cool factor, although I'd also consider a warmer Antarctica - is an isle or continent known for its giant people and cold weather, who have domestic bison and either loads of farmland or even more loads of wilderness to hunt from.

Somewhere nearby the 'hub' realms is a forest of giant trees, like the Giant Sequoia, where the majority of this world's proxy-wood-elves live. Bonus points if it's adjacent to or in a jungle, and adjacent to or on the Isle of Giants, and in a week or so's riding distance from MC's hometown.

I'm also considering higher oxygen levels and more air density so we can have giant bugs and giant flying animals, but that's not a hard requirement.

What I need to know is: Does a region like this already exist on Earth today? And if it doesn't, then could it exist as a result of climate change over the next million years or so? Because if not, that means I'll have to set the world on a different planet, which radically changes the course of my worldbuilding style.

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    $\begingroup$ "Does a region like this..." Like what? 8 paragraphs of stuff which may or may not bear any relevance. Please ask your question succinctly, then we can answer it and all go home. $\endgroup$ – We are Monica. Sep 29 at 4:10
  • $\begingroup$ What I mean is "is there an area where all these described biomes are relatively close to each other?" $\endgroup$ – Maddock Emerson Sep 29 at 4:21
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    $\begingroup$ "The main area where civilization tends to prosper is a temperate zone": history famously begins in Mesopotamia, Egypt and the Levant (= Palestine, Lebanon, Syria), the so-called Fertile Crescent. I wouldn't call the climate of those lands "temperate". $\endgroup$ – AlexP Sep 29 at 5:38
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP Well, yeah, civilization tends to start in arid regions, but after ~10,000 years of compounding apocalypses, you'd expect the remaining prospering civilizations to be in relatively greener places. Yeah, it's the kind of world where there's ruins everywhere, I love that stuff. $\endgroup$ – Maddock Emerson Sep 29 at 12:12
  • $\begingroup$ What "arid regions"? I just explained that they are called together the Fertile Crescent. I seriously doubt that mankind can do something to stop the flow of the Nile, the Orontes, the Euphrates and the Tigris. Yes, lots of heat and lots sand. No, people do not live in the sandy areas. (Well, maybe American soldiers do. It's their choice.) The locals live in the areas irrigated with the plentiful water brought by the mighty rivers. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Sep 29 at 12:24
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Campania

You main character lives in Campania, one of the most fertile and pleasant regions of Italy, probably somewhere near Capua. It being a region in Italy, mountains are never far away. (It is situated on the western side of the peninsula, south of the central region of Lazio.)

  • The land is exceptionally fertile; agriculture has been the main business since the antiquity up to our days. (The Romans called it Campania Felix, that is, Happy Countryside.)

  • The main city of Campania is Naples. And guess what, the city is situated on the northern shore of the magnificent Gulf of Naples, between the Mount Vesuvius volcano (the one reponsible for burrying Pompeii and Herculaneum) and the pestilential Phlegraean Fields with hundreds of fumaroles, pools of boiling mud, and craters spewing molten sulfur.

  • Mount Vesuvius produces obsidian, no problem.

  • Plenty of basalt in the Cyclopean Isles, not that far south, close to the eastern coast of Sicily.

  • The warm ocean with lots of inhabited islands is of course the Mediterranean. It is warm, it exhibits fierce storms (albeit not so much in summer, but fierce summer storms are not at all uncommon), and as for islands it has aplenty, big, small and mid-sized. Larger islands have whole rivers, not only springs and fountains.

  • Northern Italy (what the Romans called Gallia Cisalpina) was heavily forested in the Antiquity. Even today, Liguria and Piedmont have ample forests, and they are indeed at about a week's travel on horseback.

  • To the north of the Italian Peninsula is the European mainland, full of Gauls and Germans. Especially the Germans were perceived by the Romans as complete barbarians, "with fierce blue eyes, deep yellow hair, robust frame and gigantic height", in the words of Lemprière's Bibliotheca Classica.

  • There were European bison (Bison bonasus) in Gaul and Germany in the antiquity and the Middle Ages. The aurochs, the wild ancestor of domestic cattle, was found in the antiquity in the Balkan peninsula (heavy forests) and further north, while during the Middle Ages its area was restricted to the deep dark forests of Moldavia, Poland and Lithuania.

Depending on whether you want the forests or the volcanic area to be closer, you may want to consider Tuscany as the homeland of the main character. I like Campania more, but the refined civilization of Tuscany may be more enticing.

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    $\begingroup$ I like this a lot. I'm heavily considering it. My main problem is, there doesn't seem to be quite enough volcanic desert. I want the people of the Poison Land to actually be their own subspecies native to toxic places. Maybe if they're from the Turkey area, and are just pushing into Italy... Is there a way to get more of Southern Italy, Greece and Turkey to look like the Phlegraean Fields, without completely destroying the world? $\endgroup$ – Maddock Emerson Sep 29 at 12:10
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    $\begingroup$ @MaddockEmerson: There's Sicily not that far to the south. Has volcanos, and it's very rocky. In the antiquity is was very fertile, but you can make it as dry as you wish. It even had its own indigenous peoples complete with mysterious ruins and an unknown language. (Of course, there is a humongous desert on the southern shore of the Med... And it has deposits of sal ammoniac and other noxious minerals.) $\endgroup$ – AlexP Sep 29 at 12:36
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    $\begingroup$ I'm quite aware of the Sahara, and I actually want that to be the domain of the 'normal' humans. Where most of the races have some great strength they like to boast of, the allegedly bland and sheltered variety of humans are known for being extremely adaptable, as the only race that lives natively in the Known World's greatest desert. It's a "throw humanity a bone" kinda thing. tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/HumansAreSurvivors $\endgroup$ – Maddock Emerson Sep 29 at 12:43
  • $\begingroup$ For more volcanic (semi) desert, you could look at the Columbia & Snake Rive basalt flows: volcano.oregonstate.edu/columbia-river-flood-basalts Of course they have nowadays partially eroded & become covered with soil, but some areas of relatively fresh lava flows exist, e.g. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hell%27s_Half_Acre_Lava_Field $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Sep 30 at 18:59
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a cold volcanic [...] moderately toxic soil to the extent that the people there have an inborn resistance to it and can in fact be quite healthy and strong, but many are noticeably diseased and/or deformed.

This can be a volcanic region, with an active volcano and a significant release of radon from the ground.

an ocean, ideally warm, that experiences infamously intense Summer Storms, but has a good amount of habitable islands with some of the more advanced (medieval to early modern tech) societies.

This can basically be a duplicate of the pacific ocean

giant people and cold weather, who have domestic bison and either loads of farmland or even more loads of wilderness to hunt from.

On Earth to cold climates is associate a shorter bodies, since the sphere is the form allowing to maximize the volume to surface ratio, and long and slender bodies are further away from the sphere.

Furthermore, cold climate and farmland do not mix: Alaska is not famous for its crop fields, isn't? But the forests and sea around it provide good resources.

Wrapping up, Alaska and neighboring Asian north seems indeed a good candidate: volcanic region, pacific ocean close-by and cold climate.

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Your story is set in California.

california map

It is a very cool thing to site your story in a fictional past of the real world. That lets you riff off of real and legendary things from our world and also frame things out in terms of real geography. A prime example: Robert Howard’s Hyborian Age for the Conan stories is set in Europe around 10,000 BC. A more recent and excellent example is the Sea of Trolls books by Nancy Farmer, set in northern England around 700 AD.

Your requirements describe California. You could set your story there in a fictional past around 2000-3000 BCE.

Point by point:

The main area where civilization tends to prosper is a temperate zone.

Your MCs rural hometown is near present day Bakersfield, at the foot of the fertile San Joaquin valley.

Next to the MC's rural hometown is the Poison Land, a cold volcanic desert, ideally on the leeward side of a mountain range, that produces obsidian and basalt.

Death Valley qualifies as Poison Land. It is on the leeward side of a mountain range. It is not very cold. Strangely enough obsidian does occur in Death Valley. You can find pieces on the ground. I am not sure if it was transported there from points further north or if it is from ancient volcanoes.

The main poison in real life Death Valley would have to be salts; sodium, magnesium, borate etc. A strain of people with evolved / cultural tolerance to salts is plausible. Maybe they make extra salty sweat and so are always covered with dusty white salt. Getting slowly poisoned by salt would lend itself to a story.

As for volcanoes, Death Valley is geologically active but the closest volcano is Lassen at the southern tip of the Cascades. A bonafide volcano but not the reason that Death Valley is poisonous.

If you use Death Valley for a fiction, you have got to include the mysterious sailing stones!

One of these islands is the capital of a major kingdom whose influence extends to the mainland and has a natural fountain with inexhaustible drinkable water

These are the Channel Islands off of Los Angeles. They have been inhabited since people have been in California.

To the north - is an isle or continent known for its giant people and cold weather, who have domestic bison and either loads of farmland or even more loads of wilderness to hunt from.

Northern California has wild forests and then opens onto the plains. It is not Antarctica but it snows. That is Sasquatch country up there. In those days there would have been more of them. I like a civilization of sasquatch with tame bison. Maybe they could even ride them.

… a forest of giant trees, like the Giant Sequoia,

The Giant Sequoias are right there outside Bakersfield! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sequoia_National_Park

… giant bugs and giant flying animals,

Even 2000 years ago the redwood forests were refugia from a much older time. There are still giant slugs and other unusual creatures in those forests. As regards California more generally, there are California condors which qualify as giant flying animals. If set in the past, you could have teratorns. You could have thunderbirds. And the elves. Could there have been a relict population of a different hominin species, hiding in the forests from our ancestors? Little people like Homo florensis? These archaeologists claim to have found evidence for human activity in bones 130,000 years old.

The new study, however, suggests that some type of hominin species—early human relatives from the genus Homo—was bashing up mastodon bones in North America about 115,000 years earlier than the commonly accepted date. That’s a staggeringly early date, and one that is likely to raise eyebrows. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/new-evidence-human-activity-north-america-130000-years-ago-180963046/

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  • $\begingroup$ I like this a lot. The other best answer right now is Italy, but I think I prefer this because it has larger landmass and a huge ocean, and bigger desert. The suggestion about salt is interesting and something I hadn't considered before, but I think the people are too big and populous to be confined to just DV. How about, they come from South America, where in this world plants, bugs, etc. are even more toxic. They push into the desert because for all its problems it's actually better than the jungle, and this leads them to the forested areas where they come into conflict with the other humans $\endgroup$ – Maddock Emerson Sep 30 at 14:59
  • $\begingroup$ A few quibbles. 1) Much of the Central Valley, especially around Bakersfield, is not really good farmland unless it's irrigated. 2) Death Valley isn't really poisonous, just hot and dry. 3) There are volcanos south of Mono Lake that were active as recently as 500 years ago: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mono%E2%80%93Inyo_Craters 4) Mono Lake would be a good candidate for the Poison Land, but you might also want to look at the areas of serpentine soil, and arsenic &c left from Gold Rush era mining operations. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Oct 1 at 5:20
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf - what does Mono lake have that is poisonous that Death Valley does not have? $\endgroup$ – Willk Oct 1 at 12:11
  • $\begingroup$ @Willk: Lots of arsenic in the water, so that not much can live there: smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/… $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Oct 1 at 17:06

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