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So I have this mid-to-low fantasy world (which in this case can be taken to mean that it is a setting where there are monsters and various types of supernatural creatures but they're at least slightly grounded in reality, magic exists but isn't very common except amongst those rare few who have been blessed by the gods, and most of human society still follows the same basic rules you'd expect it to at any given stage of cultural and technological development). It's got one major defining facet to it that drives most of the plot and I want to make sure I've shored up the logic of how this facet has shaped society so that it stands up to close scrutiny.

It's a world in the early Age of Sail where a naval-based portal network that connects all the continents and major landmasses in the world has existed since ancient times. For this world, the existence of these sea-based gates is absolutely necessary, because more than three miles out at sea from any given landmass, the sea suddenly turns into an impenetrable wall of thick, choking fog where ghost ships, freak storms, and giant sea monsters threaten to destroy any vessel that strays too far from shore. Expeditionary teams and explorers throughout history have tried to brave this hostile region that seems to plague the entire planet's oceans, but they've all either traveled so far into the fog that they run out of food and starve to death or have been killed by the threats within the fog within seconds of entering. Sometimes, ships even enter the fog, travel for months over what seems like thousands of kilometers, and then end back at the same shore they left, despite ostensibly traveling in a straight line. The gates are the only thing that can create a safe passage between ports by creating a traversable "lane" of clear water through the fog (sorta like Moses parting the sea) that you can sail through and end up at your destination in only a few weeks or even days. Some places you can even see port from land on your side of the gate, it's that close.

Basically, it's a world where the rules of the Bermuda Triangle apply to the entire ocean and the maps have "HERE THERE BE MONSTERS" written in block capitals across everything that isn't land. The ocean is more or less functionally infinite and impassable, and trade between two continents is ONLY possible using a gate. The dominant powers are all nations with robust navies that have access to a large number of gates and gatemasters (the specially blessed individuals who without which the gates would not work), and a sort of proto-globalization has begun where most of the world's major powers rely on each other for vital resources exported from across the sea, making them all hesitant to wage war on each other because losing those imported resources would cause their economies to collapse. Gatemasters travel the world aboard trade and warships, sailing up and down the coasts of foreign lands to supervise trade deals and provide safe passage home, and most hold major positions of power in their own governments, basically being treated like nobility or obscenely wealthy merchants due to either actual wealth or simply respect for their necessity in society. Most of the science and technology being developed is geared towards beefing up your navy and your gateships, improving your trading routes with things like preservatives, and coming up with new materials, commodities and inventions to export to other countries via the gates.

What I want to know is what you think the logical consequences would be of a portal network on this sort of early/mid 15th century Age of Sail setting and what sorts of implications I may or may not be missing or haven't thought of. How would culture and society evolve in a world where the sea not only gives life, but is so active and malicious in taking it? What kind of world would form when organized society on any level greater than individual nation-states hinges on the existence of a single resource?

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    $\begingroup$ Could you specify how large these portal gates can be? Do they fit in one ship at a time or possibly The Royal Navy's entire fleet? $\endgroup$ – MvW Apr 6 '17 at 6:53
  • $\begingroup$ Are the portals linked so that they always go to the same place or can any portal be used to visit any other? @Mormacil's answer raises a good point too about how history would be changed considerably by the existence of the portals, so who built them and when would also be important. $\endgroup$ – adaliabooks Apr 6 '17 at 10:14
  • $\begingroup$ The large circles of rock that make up the gates are large enough to fit one or two modern aircraft carriers and I'm guessing maybe 5-10 ships of the time. Not an armada, but still militarily significant. Additionally, you could just continue to feed ships through once the first few have entered the passage the gate opens, although eventually you'll hit a bottleneck (both figuratively and literally). Again, militarily significant, but I think the chokepoint nature of the gates would make sending a large fleet of warships through them a double-edged sword in military terms. $\endgroup$ – Z.Schroeder Apr 6 '17 at 12:57
  • $\begingroup$ How are ships propelled between gates? What happens when a ship enters from one gate at the same time another enters at the other end? Is it possible to leave the lane between the gates? Are they traveling the physical distance across the world, or are the gates also a shortcut? $\endgroup$ – Michael Richardson Apr 6 '17 at 13:56
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The world

You mention these have existed since ancient times. That means the Romans would've sailed from their Spanish provinces to the Americas. There would be extensive contact between all continents and people as it's far easier to reach. For larger states at least.

I expect things like corn, peanuts, rice, potatoes and tomatoes to be widely shared. I'm not sure the Roman military would've defeated the native americans easily. Sure they excelled against lightly armored enemies but those still excelled in guerilla warfare. Something the Romans struggled with.

Every culture you think existed in 15th century wouldn't. The mere contact since antiquity would've changed it all. England would be permanently cut off from the world. Scandinavia would never develop into vikings. Denmark would perhaps but Norway is a lonely corner of the world if you can't travel by sea.

With no England, no English - French wars, no Saxons invading England. History in Europe would be completely different. Japan would likely still mostly develop as they've been isolationists. However I assume them to be far more primitive. Unable to access foreign knowledge and resources at all.

Actually besides England, Greece would never form as it did. The Romans may have nothing to copy right there. Your world logically would be entirely different. Empires would trade and conquer across continents. Island nations would never leave the stone age as they're cut off from the Mainland.

Two things about the economy of your world. With islands undesirable, Venice will be interesting. I assume coastal cities with ports near rivers would be the wealthiest. They allow for water based inland transport.

The other would be that areas with large amounts of good timber will be very wealthy or conquered by the powerful. Good timber is needed for ships. In part it was the Dutch timber industry that gave rise to the Dutch and English navies. Without their woodmills it couldn't have happened, not enouhg good cheap planks.

The gatemasters

Now the position of the gatemasters in cultures would I think largely hinge on the local power structure. If a largely landbased society of significant size would learn of the gate system your gatekeepers would likely be screwed. The nation doesn't derive their power from the gates. So the gatemasters lack the leverage. They'd be conscripted into service by the current ruling class. If a significant amount of them resist and refuse the nation won't fall. Eventually they'd lose and likely be enslaved.

Now if the nation was largely Island based and from the start very much focussed on water and ships, then I can see the gatekeepers doing better. They're either 'the son of god' or 'the chosen one' and rule by divine judgement or they're a strictly religious sect. Both have a religious undertone. So they'd be the god kings who control access to the rest of the world. That or they speak for the gods and in that way hold power. The kings need their favor to bring wealth to their people.

Gatekeepers in summary will either hold the power to the throne or are tools at the bottom.

Cultures in isolation

So in a way your continents are completely cut off from each other. There is no way to learn they're all locked into the same oceans. So it make sense people would imagine them to be different worlds. Much like the Norse did with their nine worlds.

I figure each continent would see themselves are the true world. The rest are lesser or other beings. Similar to us but given physical differences, likely to be a different being. Perhaps they're the demons and angels of our stories, our elves and dwarves. Imagine going through a magical portal and arriving at people who's skin is a dark brown, who speak a language you don't even vaguely recognize. They're clearly not from this/your world.

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  • $\begingroup$ There is a chance that China could export their civilization much much further and actually become the center of the whole world. $\endgroup$ – Faerindel Apr 6 '17 at 10:45
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure, the Silk Road might lose it's importance if we get quick travel to the Americas. Then again that's a little beyond my expertice. $\endgroup$ – Mormacil Apr 6 '17 at 11:32
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    $\begingroup$ This isn't our world. None of the cultures or even continents we recognize existed in this world, although they may have superficially similar analogues. I'm more interested in the broad strokes, like what kind of societies WOULD form and what difficulties they'd facs or be able to avoid because of the gates. $\endgroup$ – Z.Schroeder Apr 6 '17 at 13:00
  • $\begingroup$ That does make me wonder though, why do you say England would suffer from being cut off? Granted it totally would be, but if it has a gate, it can still make contact with the rest of the world, still engage in trade. Or are you just saying England and other small island nations wouldn't be as prosperous as they would be if the sea wasn't closed off? $\endgroup$ – Z.Schroeder Apr 6 '17 at 13:02
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    $\begingroup$ Alright, guess I was a bit to fixated on our world. As for England. You can't fish really well. You can't invade the enemy, both ways. Utilizing a single point of entry would require cooperation well beyond the splintered kingdoms of England. Whomever holds the portal, holds the Island. $\endgroup$ – Mormacil Apr 6 '17 at 13:29
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The age of sails would never happen.

Developing ocean going vessels unneeded if you must stay within sight of land. Any economy based of fishing would collapse because most of the waters used for fishing are more than 3 miles off the coast. The only boats that would exist are coastal vessels unsuited for rough waters.

Boats will need to be shallow rowed affairs to be able to maneuver around obstacles close to shore.

Trade would be limited to going up and down the coast. Crossing even a modest bay would be impossible because of the encroaching fog.

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    $\begingroup$ Agreed. In this world I think we would see massive triremes the likes of which never evolved on our world. $\endgroup$ – Jason K Apr 6 '17 at 16:34
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You would need to assume one of two things. First is that gates work as tubes. So only one enter and exit. So owning a gate would not particularly mean more discovery as you could just move from Sicily to Baltic Sea region.
Second one is that the gates can be "dialled" for specific region. But you would to know how to dial location and how to come back. Owning a lot of gates would be useless as just one would be sufficient.

But any choice would have no implication over the fact that there would be no Age of Sail. You could travel from Thailand to Spain on fisherman boat without a hassle. What it would change is that the world would more concerned on the coast than inside.

You would reverse the exploration. There would be an Age of Caravans. A brave Amerigo Vespucci going into undiscovered territories of Africa or Asia. A wild tribes of strange people riding on horses that haven't seen a sea in their lifetime.

Oh, and of course, there would be Vikings everywhere. Alaska? Vikings. Venezuela? Vikings. Finland? literary no one because why would you live there if you could live in Polynesia?

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It seems to me like countries would be inclined to build bridges through the portals because ships wouldn't be that efficient. They might also just construct barges because they don't have to deal with the open ocean.

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  • $\begingroup$ Hmmm. I hadn't thought to specify this, but that'd be impossible. Even the shortest passage between two gates is still a few miles, which is far beyond the engineering capabilities of the time period in terms of bridge-building AFAIK. The gates don't remain open forever, either. A gate can only remain open for perhaps a year at the absolute maximum, maybe longer depending on the destination and estimated travel time, but not much longer. Even then, I'm not sure both sides would stay open for the whole duration of the trip. $\endgroup$ – Z.Schroeder Apr 6 '17 at 4:14

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