I'm writing a fantasy old-west type novel, and I want this world to have extreme climates. I have a few questions, particularly for Americans:

  • I want the mostly settled areas (mid to low income population) to look like a perma-frosted Aspen (Colorado), with mountains and snow and evergreen trees and such, but also the occasional whipping blizzard. And on the other hand, I need a desert wasteland with harsh sandstorms.
  • Now, I'm not American and I can't know how that works, but how should the place between the two extremes look? I was thinking to make this the 'rich people' area where they can afford to live in not-life-threatening climates, but that raises the problem - everyone would fight over those places and strip them dry of resources, or use it all for farmland, and I don't even know what else. Would this area be bruised with vegetation-less hills or be more like prairies?
  • How big of an area would all of this together have to cover - how many states? Can it fit within one?

As you can see, I'm kinda lost, and any tips on this (especially from Americans living in those areas) would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

Edit: The read dead 2 map is just under 30,000 square miles. Is the climate and terrain there realistic for the size?

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    $\begingroup$ Just take a north-south line in Siberia. Any line. In the northern part you have your permafrost and blizzards. In the south you have your hot deserts. (Just remember than most hot deserts are stony. Sandy deserts are actually quite rare.) (Another solution is for the permafrost to be alpine, such as, for example, the Tibetan plateau. Then the area with permafrost can be quite close to a hot desert.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jun 13, 2022 at 10:00
  • $\begingroup$ Do you mean you have a fantasy setting with an old west feel, or a 19th century world with more extreme climate? It greatly affects how people will live there. Transportation and industry greatly change the picture. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Jun 13, 2022 at 12:09
  • $\begingroup$ @DWKraus I do mean a fantasy setting with an old west feel. I don't want the environment to be the forefront of the story, but I do want to get it right. $\endgroup$
    – Hugo
    Jun 13, 2022 at 12:27
  • $\begingroup$ Then rich people won't live geographically apart from the poor, and no one will live far from agriculture (climate distance changes can't be fast enough to justify it). Grasslands and alpine areas will have pastoralism with different animals. The old west was a product of transportation by ship and train. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Jun 13, 2022 at 13:14
  • $\begingroup$ @DWKraus Ah, that's a good one. I should definitely consider ship and train routes. Thank you! $\endgroup$
    – Hugo
    Jun 13, 2022 at 13:23

2 Answers 2


The best I can tell you is take a look at the countries of the world that exist in harsh climates, like the far north, or equatorial deserts, or scorching Africa.

One thing I notice is that the harsher and more dangerous the climate, the more likely the culture is inclusive and mutually supporting. Even though the Netherland countries are modern, the climate is cold and forbidding and they have the strongest social safety nets in the world.

I think this is because in such climates, you need the help of your neighbors, almost to the point of share and share alike, just in order to survive. You work collectively because the synergy of that is a matter of survival.

Synergy is when the work people can do together exceeds the sum of what they can do alone. A common example is the defenses of the village fence: It is far easier for everybody to build a fence around their village, then for each person to build a fence around their house. Shared child care is easier than individual childcare, shared hunting is more productive than individual hunting, shared farming is more productive than individual gardens. In fact, a team can build an irrigation ditch from the river to serve one giant 500 acre farm, and that's much less total effort than everybody trying to dig their own irrigation ditch from the river to serve their own 2 acres.

The harsher and more dangerous the climate, the more tight-knit the community.

Also, the wars for the "Good" climate areas have already been fought and lost, and the "good" areas are well defended. Those people use their wealth to hire the poor as soldiers and guards. There may be an occasional raid or robbery or murder, but for the most part, the poor farmers in dry parts of Mexico are not plotting to take back California. They may want to immigrate and work for the rich people there, but they aren't trying to overthrow it and take it back. That battle's already been lost.

The collective action for the rich in the good climate areas is not for individual survival, it is just taxation to fund a collective defense of what they have. The richer they are, the less inclusive and mutually supporting they are, the more prejudiced, bigoted, jealous and status-obsessed they become, the less able they are to put aside minor differences. And the less they will go out of their way to help individuals in their own group.

Hardship brings people together. Abundance pushes people apart, because they don't need each other to survive.

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    $\begingroup$ Hell yeah @Amadeus. This is exactly what I wanted. $\endgroup$
    – Hugo
    Jun 13, 2022 at 14:11

Look at the Mormon experience dealing with Western lands.

salt lake city


In 1847 the Mormon pioneers chose the Salt Lake Valley for their settlement because it was isolated, inhospitable and harsh. Hopefully no-one would drive them out, because no-one else wanted it.


The Intermountain West was “drier and colder…more rugged… and less accessible,” making the geographical differences from the Mississippi River Valley, their former home, quite profound... Lansford Hastings said that the area “offers inducements to no civilized people, sufficient to justify an expectation of permanent settlements,” however, John Fremont's more favorable report inspired the church leaders to select the Salt Lake Valley as their destination.

Young thought that isolation and demand for hard work would be character building for his people and the Salt Lake Valley seemed to possess the ideal qualities... With ample manpower at his command, these resources could be fully utilized at his discretion... Jim Bridger had told the newcomers that nothing would ever grow in the Salt Lake Valley, mainly because the ground was so hard. In fact, it was so hard that it broke some of the pioneers’ plows. In order to soften the ground, the pioneers built a dam in nearby City Creek to flood the ground, which was successful (Alexander). Some of the Saints had learned irrigation techniques while serving missions, in places such as Italy, so they understood how to “dam streams and channel water in ditches to irrigate the crops

The Mormon story is an amazing one. Those lands are really bleak and inhospitable, but they made it work. Where the Mormon experience addresses your question is as regards societal structure: the church members were unified by their membership and shared beliefs, and the church / government could coordinate and oversee the efforts of many unrelated people in undertakings for the common good.

Old west Mormon-type societal structure would be fine material for a fiction. The church was insular in that outsiders might be distrusted, but evangelical - outsiders were invited to join. As seen from the outside, some customs were weird and offputting (polygamy) and others frankly admirable (work ethic, common purpose). I could see a fiction of an American West type world introducing a religious community halfway through as a contrast to the communities the reader has encountered so far in the story.

  • $\begingroup$ This is amazing. Thanks so much for your time on this post, I will definitely use this. $\endgroup$
    – Hugo
    Jun 15, 2022 at 7:45

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