So I am working on a world for fantasy setting and I drew a map as one is oft to do when making a world. The story, at least as far as I have planned, will be limited to one continent on this planet. My problem is after placing all my movers and shakers in the political world I have nearly half of the continent empty. This seems really unlikely to me if I just look at Earth and the fact that humans have popped up pretty much anywhere there is water to be had.

So here is the world's info so as to be able to better answer this:

  • The world is about Earth sized and the continent in question is nearly 74 million square Kilometers in size (based on estimates and it being relatively rectangular-ish). The planet has an axis tilt of about 11 degrees and as such has more milder seasons. However the suns (in a binary system) are a bit closer to the planet most of the time and as such it is slightly warmer. Secondly instead of a moon there is a similarly sized planet that orbits around a shared central point. The most pertinent effect of this is that the tides are about 3x more powerful than on Earth.
  • There are four major intelligent races that live on this continent: Elves, Humans, Dwarves, and Dragons. Dwarves are a subterranean humanoid creatures that rarely if ever leave their cave cities in the northern mountains. Dragons are coastal creatures who grow to immense size and feed mostly off sea life and as such are semi-aquatic. Dragons live by themselves or in small groups of up to three in rare cases. They will live to be 3000 years old assuming something doesn't kill them, be it disease or otherwise. Both Dragons and Dwarves rarely bother with the politics of the other races, humans and elves. Humans and elves are much more people oriented. Elves routinely live to be 1100 years of age and humans live to be about 100 on average. Elves have about 1-3 children in their lifetime and humans the same and the humans out number the elves significantly.
  • There is magic. At this point I have not quite worked out the kinks of what the system can do but suffice to say there are a large portion of the population that is magic users in some way (about 25% of the population) and all can perform a very limited form of magic which is a simple enhancement system though they require help to do so. To do magic with out help, one must have an inborn talent for one of the five disciplines of the world. There is Alchemy, similar to what is seen in Full Metal Alchemists, Spoken Truth, a true name type of magic, music magic, a form of enchantment and magic item making, and conjuring of magical animal-like spirits. This is not a new development but has been slow in development in many ways.
  • There are gods who literally walk the planet and often times will directly lead the mortals who in turn often worship them. All gods can perform powerful feats of magic and are immortal but they are not all powerful (well the ones that walk the planet aren't).
  • The land that is already filled with countries are as follows: A Theological Empire ran by a god who wants to unite all mortals under his rule. A Federation of Smaller merchant states which have banded together to avoid that fate. A Kingdom of Elves semi-isolated by mountain range from the Empire and the Federation which has isolationist policies. And a human/elf nation that is mostly socialistic and highly family oriented. All nations have access to flight, mostly through riding of drakes, dragon like creatures which are less intelligent and significantly smaller. All nations know the general size of the continent.
  • It has been at least 4000 yrs since the onset of agriculture.

What would be out in the empty places on my map? Is it possible to have areas with access to water that are not populated? There is a mountain range that separates the continent in two and most of the "empty" space is beyond that. With the mountains making on foot travel over them difficult and there not being major sources of population does it make sense that the war happy Empire would ignore what is semi-empty land?

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    $\begingroup$ I would recommend cutting a lot of the information from this question as it isn't all relevant. I don't think the information on races and magic is needed and in general questions with less information do better. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 5:52
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    $\begingroup$ I'd suggest following the advice of @Bellerophon and instead expand on why the answer matters. Is it relevant wether those areas are really unpopulated or merely uncharted? $\endgroup$
    – Guran
    Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 6:55
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    $\begingroup$ It's totally possible to have them unpopulated, although as @Guran succinctly put, you're better off with 'uncharted/unexplored'. As a writer, you can fill them up later (you might need them to introduce plot twists or other stuff). The readers don't really care for these areas, unless you specifically bring them to their attention. $\endgroup$
    – adonies
    Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 7:58
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    $\begingroup$ This seems really unlikely to me if I just look at Earth and the fact that humans have popped up pretty much anywhere there is water to be had. — that was some kind alternative Earth, our Earth has a lot of unpopulated territories. $\endgroup$
    – user28434
    Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 9:42
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    $\begingroup$ Do you mean completely unpopulated, or just without permanent settlements, governments etc? Because while most regions of the world do have inhabitants, often times large swaths of regions are only populated by smaller nomadic groups. That perhaps those powers that be drawing up the map of world powers overlooked as they do not enforce borders. Perhaps too you could use this to influence the terrain in this region, making it more favorable to nomadic lifestyles. $\endgroup$
    – Firelight
    Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 13:48

13 Answers 13


Yes, they are.

As you referenced the size of your Planet to be Earth-like, let's look at some Earth Population Data!

enter image description here

To give some numbers:

In 4.000 BC, there lived an estimated 28.37 million People on Earth. Lets just put them all in your

74 million square Kilometers

sized area. That'd mean, everyone would have around 1km² to himself! That's huge!

Now 4000 years passed: In the year 0, Earth's Population was at an estimated 188 million. We can go even further:

You have 4 major races. Let's assume there are 188 million of each! Except for Dragons, as 188 million Dragons sounds terrifying (and would be a massive drain on available resources)

You now have a population of 564 million Elves, Dwarves and Humans. That's a population density of ~8 people per 1km².

So yes, big, unpopulated areas are perfectly valid, depending on the age of your overall population and their Tech-level.

What could be in those uninhabited regions? Adventure! The mother of all Dragons, where she gives birth to all of them? Perhaps! Basically anything that fits your story.

Edit: it was not calculated above that the Dwarves don't need to be counted as they don't live above ground ("Rarely even come outside") so that math is a bit more cramped than it should be where ~8/km² should be ~6/km² with ~2/km² Dwarves, but Math wasn't my strong point, feel free to correct it.

Also, I'm not sure, but did they accidentally include Dragons in their Math? If so, instead of my earlier ~6/km² it's closer to ~5/km² (factoring a size factor of *4 to a population factor of /8, ⅛ the population but 4× larger than average Humanoids), maybe even ~4.5/km² due to food limitations of the Dragons.

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    $\begingroup$ Surely it's not "unpopulated" if the mother of all dragons lives there $\endgroup$
    – Mayube
    Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 16:14
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    $\begingroup$ @Mayube That depends on whom is giving the definition of "population", which usually devolves into a question of whom, or what, counts as a "person". Even on Earth there are areas of "un-populated wilderness", however, given that living eco-systems are chock filled with animals, plants, insects, and more... surely that still counts as populated by some definitions. Yet if there are no humans there, suddenly it is "un-populated". $\endgroup$
    – nijineko
    Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 19:42
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    $\begingroup$ @nijineko but surely dragons count as more of a person than those tree hugging elves $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 22:22
  • $\begingroup$ @PyRulez Again, that depends. Not all dragons are sentient or sapient. And even among dragons that are sapient and/or sentient, if they eat humans for snacks, then from the human's point of view, they are monsters, not "people". And a monster infested wilderness still counts as un-populated in most peoples books, regardless of if the monsters can talk or think or not. $\endgroup$
    – nijineko
    Commented Jun 10, 2017 at 1:46
  • $\begingroup$ One dragon living throughout 100 square kilometers doesn't really populate that region in my eyes. $\endgroup$
    – user64742
    Commented Jun 10, 2017 at 15:46

Generally speaking, lacking water supply is a good reason for having unpopulated areas (just look at our earthly deserts).

However, you can still have unpopulated or scarcely populated areas thanks to one of the following reasons:

  • too much water: swamps and permanently flooded areas are generally not healthy places to permanent live
  • sacred places: the walking gods claimed those areas as their personal retreat and forbid other races to access it.
  • intense vulcanism: well, a lava fountain is not exactly the most nice place to live close to, considering it would burn and cover in ashes everything (in addition to the toxic gasses produced)
  • remoteness: some areas are simply too far away from other civilized places to make it worth the effort of building something there.
  • $\begingroup$ The last point seem week if the timespan involved is "at least a thousand years", because I would expect many groups of people looking for new, unowned land to settle on in that period. After 1000 years, "far away" becomes "the neighboring country". $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 12:17
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    $\begingroup$ Exploring is driven by scarcity of resources. @FlorianSchaetz. If there's no scarcity, there's no real drive to move on, especially if you'd be moving to a place with less resources. That's what makes the founding of Russia so amazing. $\endgroup$
    – user20762
    Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 13:15
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    $\begingroup$ Take a group of people and given enough time, you will get a sub-group of these people who will want to start over elsewhere. Having huge amounts of empty space will lead to these groups having an easily available goal. No need for extreme scarcity, just the "normal" problems to be expected in pretty much any country: Religion, poverty, war, etc. There WILL be reasons why people want to go elsewhere, as people will create their own problems. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 13:36
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    $\begingroup$ @FlorianSchaetz Most "normal" problems when living in a civilized area are not going to be bigger than the problem of leaving civilization itself. That is a huge hurdle to start with. Even once that is crossed, Wanting to and being able to are different things. Setting up colonies takes a great deal of support and capital from the colonizing entity. Setting up entirely new successful settlements without a stable entity backing you up would be far harder. $\endgroup$
    – Mr.Mindor
    Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 16:07
  • $\begingroup$ You forgot altitude. Low oxygen isn't very healthy, either. $\endgroup$
    – jpmc26
    Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 22:46

Define "empty".

Is this genuinely empty, as in no-one lives there at all, or has ever lived there?

Is this empty like the Alps? No-one lives on the tops, but there are people living in all the valleys, and the higher slopes are a traditional part of transhumance agriculture.

Is it empty like north Africa? There are fairly wide areas where no-one lives, because there's not much water there, but there is regular traffic between centres of population (which are founded around sources of water), and it is still considered "owned" by the tribes/countries who cross it.

Is it empty like the larger forests in the US or Europe? You can go quite some distance without seeing anyone. But forests have edges, and where a forest is entirely within a country, that country owns it, even though no-one may actually live there.

Is it empty like the mountains between India and Pakistan? It's a dead zone as far as humans are concerned, but there is a strategic and political importance to it which means actually there are people there for military purposes?

Or is it empty like the central Sahara, where the place is basically a killing zone for anything larger than insects and small lizards, and there's no strategic or political importance for anyone to be there?

All these areas could easily be called "empty", and certainly there aren't any great centres of population in those areas. So the answer has to be "yes, it's possible". In many of these examples though, they are still owned by a state or tribe, or people use these areas or travel through them. So you'd need to decide whether there are reasons for them to be genuinely empty, or whether it's only that there are so few people there that they're not worth counting from a tax/resources/defence perspective. And whether, in spite of their "emptiness", they should still belong to someone.

  • $\begingroup$ While this provides valuable insights, I question whether it really counts as an answer. You are basically just providing examples for different interpretations of the world "empty" (or "unpopulated"), which doesn't really address whether such areas can exist over the time period the OP is asking about. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 13:36
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling Fair point, thanks. I thought giving modern-day examples of this would make it clear that it's possible, but you're right that I wasn't clear. I've added a last paragraph to summarise this better. $\endgroup$
    – Graham
    Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 14:00

There are large areas of desert in real Earth, taking up a bit of a contenent.

Look at pre-industrial populations, and you see they are not huge cities. They are spread out, with farmland and villiages. It might be a day's journey to the next settlement.

After keeping that in mind, I think adonies is right: have unknown areas, not uninhabited. Set up natural barriers, such as deserts and mountains. You can have trade with peoples on the far side while being vague as to what’s actually there: think of the Silk Road for example.


I think one important aspect to this question is: how long ago was your world created?

If all races evolved over a long time frame then it's VERY likely that most of them are present in the empty space (unless the shore line AND the mountains are completely impassable - humans on earth made it too Canada during the Stone Ages). Their cultures, languages(!) and technological level should all be different from the main area you're focusing on (think the America's or Asia before anyone from Europe arrived there). Maybe the races there are at war with each other, maybe it's just a few tribes in the grasslands. The area could also have their own gods, magic or no gods at all; same thing for agriculture.

If your world was created not too long before 'the onset of agriculture', it's reasonable that humans and elves never made it across the mountains - especially if the gods kept them 'occupied' in their territories. However, I would argue that dragons & dwarves should still live in that part, since they could easily go around (through the sea) or through the mountain range. (Similar differences in culture as above, just less extreme)

  • $\begingroup$ The world was created a long long time ago and was left alone by the gods to evolve most of the critters on it then they plopped the intelligent races on it. of the ones mentioned only Dragons are native to the planet. There are on another continent a sentient species "native" to the planet but they are relatively young (like only came into being about 1000-3000 yrs) and haven't had the time to develop sea faring and there havent been land bridges between continents which has left them stuck on their one continet. $\endgroup$
    – Adrienne
    Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 14:20

I'm gonna throw out a more unconventional one here. You mention that the tides are three times stronger in your world: I think that would lead to quite a few unpopulated coastal areas.

Cities are usually built on coasts to act as ports, for trading or military purposes (or both). However, if the difference between high tide and low tide is too extreme - and it will be in quite a few places on your continent, depending on the local geography - it would be completely​ impractical to build a city there:

  • You build a city near the low tide mark. At high tide, the entire dockyard is underwater.
  • You build a city near the high tide mark. At low tide, the city is completely inaccessible from the ocean.

Either way, the dockyard would only be usable at certain times of the day, and that's so disruptive to business that you might as well not bother. There are ways around this (a floating jetty that raises and lowers together with the tide, for example), but how practical this is depends on your world's tech level.

Generally speaking, though, ports would be located at specific areas, where the difference between low tide and high tide is not too extreme, and everywhere else would be uninhabitable because twice a day the sea comes half a mile inland and floods everything.

On the plus side, when the tide goes back out again, you'd have some spectacular beaches.

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    $\begingroup$ There are ports, such as Cardiff and Newport in Wales, which operate with tidal ranges of 15 meters, and which have been in operation since the Middle Ages... $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 11:23
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    $\begingroup$ I grew up near the Bay of Fundy with some 16m tides, and while they present challenges, they did not prevent harbors and fishing communities from cropping up everywhere along the Bay. $\endgroup$
    – Firelight
    Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 11:37
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    $\begingroup$ If my understanding is correct - I'll admit that it might not be - "3x stronger tides" means that instead of a 15m tide, you'd have a 45m tide. That's much more difficult to deal with. $\endgroup$
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 11:40

Since you have magic in your world it could be areas blighted by hostile magic in some way, maybe it works like radiation would or something more direct such as zombies or magical monsters. These areas could be naturally occurring or the legacy of past magical wars. Either way it explains the situation.


Just going to throw out something from the real world that may have an impact on your world.

In the southwest United States there are huge areas that are un-populated or very very sparsely populated. You can look up the wikipedia entries on Chaco Canyon In New Mexico or Mesa Verde in Colorado. these are examples of areas that had civilisations there, then nearly nothing in the area for thousands of years. Technically there are people there, but the populations are very sparse. If you visit, you see why. Though beautiful, there is little water and travel would be extremely difficult.

These are places I have personally been to, and I understand there are many such similar places all over our own planet.

The things I think are critical to create that kind of environment are the following: Lack of readily available water, and very difficult travel. In the places I mention they kind of play off of each other. to get to Chaco canyon, there are significant distances with no water that Make travel hard. Mesa Verde in in some mountainous terrain.

All I know is that they are Beautiful, Timeless, and Empty. You have no problem at all imagining you are the first person to have ever been on that part of the planet.


Considering that first off, Magic already exists, in multiple formats no less, and it's taken Time and Effort to produce these Methods, that is an important factor, another important factor is that you already answered your own question, Dragons already Live up to 3× the Time Frame in question, the Dragons could have easily already visited the other side of the Mountains for 2,000 Years before the Humans set up their Nations, which brings me to the World Building Parent Topic of this Post:

I was recently reminiscing about one of my old favorite Games (Tales of Symphonia), and in it, the Civilization is in a very Low Tech Era, this turned out to be due to Magic Shortages primarily, whereas the Second Planet had a VERY abundant Magic supply, and as a result, their Tech Levels were significantly more advanced (Steam Ships compared to Ion Propulsion Personal Multidimensional Planes to be precise).

The reason this is important is because at one point, both Planets were not only Equal in their Tech-level, but they were actually more advanced back then as well! Which begs the question; What Happened? This Technology doesn't simply disappear! It's evidenced in the few Ruins that weren't purged by the Bad Guys (who are also Hoarding Magic as well).

The results of the two ruling Nations fighting caused the bad guys to split the World in two, quite a catastrophic event I would assume, and from there, the decline began, which when translated to your World, means that perhaps whilst the current Civilization is only 1,000 Years old​, the Dragons might remember amazing City-scapes with Magi-Tech far more Advanced than anything today, you know, before The Great Cataclysm, which wiped out almost everything, and probably helped form the very Mountains which divided the areas.

There's even a possibility of an Old Elf or Two that might know a few things​, perhaps they might know why everything and everyone vanished from that area, maybe not, or maybe they will even have their own Agenda to spread.

There's also of course the given possibility of the Dwarves discovering this area as well, and utilizing the terrain for their own purposes (I'm thinking Refineries, Ventilation, Storage, Mining, etc.)

As you are the Creator, the answer is clearly up to you, but it is very possible to discover Advanced Ruins in uncharted territories.

  • $\begingroup$ First off Tales of Symphonia is so awesome. Second off useful ideas. Thank you. $\endgroup$
    – Adrienne
    Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 14:16
  • $\begingroup$ Glad I could help :) $\endgroup$
    – Blue64
    Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 14:36

You just need to remove the motivation for people to move away from the populated areas and into the unpopulated areas. Why do people move? Because there's something there that's better (or more available) than what's here.

In the historic real world's migrations, "something" was often farmland or less often other natural resources (mineral deposits, furs, timber, hunting grounds). In other cases, "something" was less-oppressive neighbors, culture, or government (for many subjective definitions of "oppressive"). In more recent times (but at least as far back as the black death), sometimes the "something" is jobs, either quality or quantity.

So, to keep people from expanding into the unpopulated areas, you just have to make sure that the best place to move to was always a different already-populated area.

Magic reduces the value of remote natural resources. If your farmers can magically prevent bad weather, pests, and soil exhaustion, they won't need to expand as far to feed the population. Same thing with minerals. Mining gold hundreds of miles from home is stupid when the alchemist up the street can make it from lead.

Without the lure of remote resources, there's not much reason for people fleeing (what they see as) oppression to settle new towns. Much safer to move to one of the established-but-less-oppressive countries. Anyone fleeing the Empire will go to the Federation. Anywhere else, they'll be too few and too isolated to defend themselves. Fear of outsiders keeps most of the Kingdom's population inside its borders, much like cultural family bonds for the Nation's population.

Jobs is the easiest. New employers set up where there's already a labor pool and infrastructure. I.e., in existing towns and cities. We see this in the modern real world, even with huge tax and real estate price disincentives. Just for completeness, high demand for labor in the cities (and/or widespread welfare) will keep people from turning to subsistence farming, which might otherwise drive a few away.

Bonus reasons:

  • The empty areas simply don't have any known useful resources.
  • The regions used to be populated, but a disease, war, genocide, or other disaster killed enough people that the rest fled.
  • Problematic fauna or flora. Who'd want to live in the areas with coma-inducing flower pollen or rats that can teleport into your granary? Even worse is if humans aren't at the top of the local food chain.
  • Jealous gods demand their worshipers stay near the existing temples where the priests can keep an eye on them.
  • Conquering gods want worshipers in the cities where they can be conscripted for conquering, not wandering around in the wilderness.

In general small fauna will not take on large targets and large animals can be hunted. However, that's not always true. There are creatures in the insect world that take on bigger stuff, not to eat but for reproduction. Suppose your empty area is the environment of a bigger version of this.

The Death Snake: Death snakes are typically 1' long when mature, they are masters of camouflage as tree branches. While normally not a threat that changes when it's egg-laying time. A death snake's ovaries are in it's head, it's eggs are injected with it's venom. The venom causes permanent paralysis, the eggs promptly hatch and the baby death snakes quickly hatch and begin devouring their host while they grow.

Scavengers will not eat such a host because doing so would likely eat a death snake--with lethal results.

Now, if you want empty lands without a reason--everyone knows about the death snakes. What nobody realizes is that they fell victim to a particularly deadly (easy transmission, slow but certain lethality) disease and are now extinct.


Yes it is possible. Take Italy, which is named in the Bible (Acts 27). There are 20,000 unpopulated ghost towns in a small heavily populated country that is over 2,000 years old. Link: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3068494/The-abandoned-beauty-Italy-s-20-000-ghost-towns-Stunning-pictures-ruined-villages-left-crumble-eerie-splendour-emigration-natural-calamities-pirate-raids-sent-locals-packing.html


If the technology level is low enough and the unpopulated land is far enough from the rest of the continents it would be normal. Agriculture actually kicked in just before 10k bc, in middle east, while north America was receiving the first human foot in history ( well, pre-history). We don't know nothing about the nations of that period and onwards, by definition, but the belief that no complex societies existed is wrong. Actually there are proofs that show it: megalithic temples and tombs were done by people that don't have a name for us. And north America, of Bering strait had been larger, could have never been colonized if not during copper age, much, much later.

  • $\begingroup$ This doesn't appear to answer the OP's question, but seem instead to be a comment to his question. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 0:35
  • $\begingroup$ You're right, I'll change it right away. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 7:28

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