The premise is a low-tech world such as Earth prior to 1600 CE but with a fixed number of magical/technological teleportation portal pairs scattered across the world. Each portal only takes travelers to its paired portal. The workings of the teleportation are no longer known so the portals just stand there and do their thing.

The question is how do I arrange for the world around the portals to not globalize? My current thought is for them to be controlled and their use regulated by what passes for local government but that is prone to change as power struggles cause them to change hands over the decades/centuries. So I am looking for something more structural to make them usable but without causing cultural/economic globalization.


My intention was that the portals would be seeded during world building and then be unmovable by means that the various civilizations have available. So they are like rivers, useful but you take them where they are.

The sense in which I meant globalization is a process where cultural and material exchange is below a threshold where it becomes more reasonable to talk of a single large civilization/economy rather than several smaller civilizations/economies with some interactions. There is no hard and fast line between these extremes but I am looking for something that helps the civilizations remain distinct rather than pushes them to merge.

  • $\begingroup$ An important detail is, are the portals in hubs or scattered semi-randomly? I'd assume that if a culture built those portals to be useful, they'd scatter them liberally if they were easy to make and work with, but they would pack them in hubs if their cost was higher or they wanted to concentrate and organize their use. Did the present culture find the portals and build cities around them or were they a later discovery? $\endgroup$
    – mechalynx
    Oct 1, 2014 at 12:52
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Could you clarify what you mean by "globalisation"? Every place on Earth is equally accessible? Every country is equally accessible? I mean, we currently have "globalisation" as a phenomenon in our existing world, so it could be useful to know exactly what you don't want. :) $\endgroup$
    – cloudfeet
    Oct 1, 2014 at 15:11
  • $\begingroup$ Question(s): Can the portals be moved, or are they tied to the geography somehow/part of a building? Or they can be moved, but are extremely heavy so only some of these civilizations can move them? $\endgroup$
    – Izkata
    Oct 1, 2014 at 18:08
  • $\begingroup$ As with a lot of things, you can model this as a graph problem. As an input graph, have a set of nodes (cities, teleport portal, important places) connected to each other via a set of weighted edges (travel routes with associated costs, two nodes that are connected by a portal have a much lower cost). The level of cultural exchanges between two nodes depend on the minimum travel path between the two nodes. You can keep exchanges minimal by creating disconnected subgraphs or impose extremely high cost for travel between nearly disconnected subgraphs. $\endgroup$
    – Lie Ryan
    Oct 2, 2014 at 11:03
  • $\begingroup$ You can put high cost between two nodes when travels between the two points are difficult either due to distance, political, dangerous route, the local government restricts the use of portal, etc. And you can reduce the cost when there are portals, or when they're close together, etc. In more sophisticated models, you can have multiple edges between nodes, or multiple different type of costs for each edge, and different preferences by different people for the route cost (e.g. spies may prefer more discreet route, merchants don't like portal tax, some portals are unreliable, etc) $\endgroup$
    – Lie Ryan
    Oct 2, 2014 at 11:12

7 Answers 7


You have actually partially solved this yourself.

The key to globalization is a network. A link between two points is not enough by itself, you need those points to connect on to other points.

Towns where there are these paired portals would have commerce and trade between themselves and knowledge would travel faster but that would not be enough to globalize by itself. Particularly if the portals were too slow or too small to reasonably permit an army to pass through.

They would be useful for messengers and you would end up with an interesting "distance map" when you look at travel from one point of the world to another but they would not be enough by themselves to reshape the world.

One thing you might well find though is that a town that happened to have multiple endpoints for the pairs inside it would end up growing and becoming a central hub as a result. Many capital cities might well have that benefit and access to appropriate portals would be a major strategic advantage, as important as rivers and defensible positions are.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Good answer here. Have ever seen these distorted maps adjusted by "commute time from city to city"? Basically, your world would virtually have a geography where 2 points are really close, but this would have no other implication than having 2 points be physically close to one another (except that maybe, 2 portals are in different regions and trade is enhanced because they can provide to the eachother things that wouldn't be available otherwise). $\endgroup$
    – Sheraff
    Oct 1, 2014 at 23:06

Make the transaction cost high. Modern globalization occurred because transaction costs plummeted: payment, travel, communication, shipping, etc.

Maybe the portals make you sick, sap your health, 10% chance of death, take a day/week to recharge, requires gold to operate, etc.?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Or potentially only one-way. Some people can zap from Greece to Rome, while others can only zap from Rome to Greece? $\endgroup$
    – Mikey
    Dec 21, 2014 at 11:46

If you mean real Globalization like today where most people have some idea of the rest of the world and accept Africa and China and trade goods across the globe, then the number of teleportation devices would make the real difference.

If you only have a handful of these teleport locations scattered around the globe groups who know about one pair probably would not know that any others exist. People don't tend to travel far without decent transportation. So assuming that the people who have one don't fear it as a god or devil technology and actually use it then it would likely be treated like going to market or traveling to the 'big city'. Without the understanding of the globe, people might think that they are traveling to a strange and different "planet" not just to a different part of earth. So connecting the Navajo with the Han won't make the French know about South Africa. You'll really only have blending where the 2 cultures meet. And the Chinese for a long time didn't 'blend'.

Also if one end of each pair are clustered into one location, it would tend toward Globalization around those connected cultures around a central trading city.

However, if there are hundreds or thousands of these portals around the globe, then having a few close enough together for knowledge of them and what they can do will have people in power looking for them and wanting to control more of them, and knowledge would spread between them. Even more, if a pair happens to be close enough together that someone might have physically traveled between them and recognize both ends and what it means, things would start to get really interesting. And real Globalization will be almost impossible to avoid.

Just consider each portal as a trade route and go from there, looking at cities on trade route hubs.

  • $\begingroup$ The question at the top should be a comment, not an answer. Maybe make it more of a statement, something like, "This post is assuming..." $\endgroup$
    – DonyorM
    Oct 1, 2014 at 14:31
  • $\begingroup$ yes, it was more rhetorical. I'll make a few edits $\endgroup$
    – bowlturner
    Oct 1, 2014 at 14:33

So you have a couple options that I can think of.

  1. Make them geographically remote, top of a mountain, middle of a swamp, you get the idea. Limiting their use would limit the impact of culture transfer significantly and no one wants to live in the middle of a swamp so if you place them away from "civilization" in places that people have trouble getting to, that should solve that.
  2. Their use requires something beyond the average person: Maybe you have to be a mage to activate them, maybe you need a certain relic (there could be many of said relic) a passport so to speak.
  3. Limited number of portal pairs. On an earth sized planet a dozen pairs connecting certain parts of the globe wouldn't make a huge difference in globalizing things just because of the scale of the planet, this is even more true if you combine it with #1 or #2.

Commander Sanders of the Colonial Engineers 3rd Brigade, Set-Prep Ship Isis reporting.

We arrived planetside eight standard years ahead of the multi-gen colony ship, with only one third of our original equipment. Our sister ships, the Farrigut and the Ontarsis, were captured by slaver pirates (details reported separately). Of the settlement development equipment lost, the most notable absence are the majority of the TeleGates. We are left with only sixteen mated pairs and no multiplexing hubs.

From the planetary accessment scout's report, we determined that ten of those pairs will be needed just to link the initial landing site with needed resources including farmlands, mineral deposits and the fishable coastlines on three temporate point of the main continent. Naturally storm protected bays have been chosen for each of these fishery gates. In keeping with standard practices, one of the gates has been affixed well above the permafrost line of the tallest mountain, ensuring access to fresh water at landing.

That leaves only six pairs for trans-continental access. Since this planet has three major continents and two subcontinents, and considering that all of the major continents are bisected by nearly unpassable mountain ranges, even the most dispersed distrubution of these six pairs will leave more than 40% of the viable landmass and all of the island chains inaccesssable through civilized methods.

Also note that with the telegates spread so thin, there is no redundancy. These things are built tough but if even one of the vital main continent links break down, the initial landing zone will become uninhabitable, lacking access to either resources, water or food. Since the landing zone is the only point where multiple gates are within walking distance of each other, if it fails, then this entire pitiful network will also.

This planet is one gate failure away from "going primitive". God help those poor colonists if that happens.

-- end of narrative --

My point is that the worldbuilders who installed the teleportation gates would not have prioritized globalization. The planet was empty when they arrived so there was nothing to globalize. Instead, they would focus on making the initial colony viable. If there were any resources available after that, they might try to clear the path for future expansion.


If you mean to prevent idea exchange, it's impossible even without teleportation. The ideas flow even with the weakest means of communication.

If you want to prevent globalization in sense of massive traffic, the best thing to do is to limit the mechanics of the portals itself. Make them need to recharge each time someone teleports. Set the limit as you like, for example 1 person an hour, or 1 person a day. The portal will be unavailable as long as it is recharging, or it will be able to teleport smaller objects only, when not fully charged.

It will enable single travellers to pass by, but will make it unable to be used to transport goods or enable mass traffic.

  • $\begingroup$ A mass per hour limit is a cool idea. After X kg of mass has passed thru the portal surface collapses, cutting anything caught in the line. It would certainly influence standard mass measures, so their mass unit could be this critical mass. "I'd like 2.5 centiportals of bread" $\endgroup$
    – beppe9000
    Jan 28, 2016 at 14:17

I would add one more answer. Make the two places at the different sides of the portal extremely different. That is, a portal between the frozen north and the burning desert, a portal between the humid jungle and the dark forests. Assuming people have adopted successfully to their local habitat, they may not want to travel to the other side at all.


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