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30+ Lake Features For Fantasy Worldbuilding24 Min Read

30+ Lake Features For Fantasy Worldbuilding24 min read

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Puddle and pond, lake and loch! Welcome back, Outlander, to the 3rd entry in Mythic Ecology, my series on how learning real-world landscape features can enrich our fantasy worldbuilding and storytelling. In this post I return to my minimalist framework for Dungeon Masters, Game Masters, fiction writers, and similar worldbuilders to merge the realms of general myth and geomorphology. Last week we looked at wetlands. As I resume my journey sketching a framework for designing Yridia, my unique D&D 5e fantasy world, let’s learn some lake terms, with a visual guide!

All the images herein I use for educational and entertainment purposes, I claim no rights to any of them. For corrections or content removal requests, hit my contact page.

Part 0: Mythic Ecology For Fantasy Worldbuilding & Storytelling
-Settlements
-Omens
-Overlooks
-Passageways
-Abyss
-Battlegrounds

Part 1: Lake, Pond, Puddle, Loch

Part 2: Lake Categories By Origin
-2A: Tectonic Lakes
-2B: Volcanic Lakes
-2C: Glacial Lakes
—Epishelf Lake
—Finger Lake / Fjord Lake / Trough Lake
—Proglacial Lake
—Subglacial Lake
—Tarn / Corrie Loch
-2D: Fluvial Lakes
—Mere
—Oxbow Lake / Billabong
—Plunge Pool / Tinaja
-2E: Solution Lakes
-2F: Landslide Lakes
-2G: Aeolian Lakes
-2H: Shoreline Lakes
-2I: Organic Lakes
-2J: Impact Lakes

Part 3: Lakes by Content or Behavior
-3A: Nutrient & Oxygen Profiles
-3B: Acidic and Saline Lakes
—Acid Lake
—Alkaline / Soda Lake
—Salt Lake / Saline Lake / Brine Lake
-3C: Temporal Lakes
—Dry Lake / Playa / Clay Pan
—Ephemeral Lake
—Lacustrine Plain / Lake Plains
—Playa Lake
—Shrunken Lake
—Vlei

PART 0: MYTHIC ECOLOGY FOR FANTASY WORLDBUILDING & STORYTELLING

Let’s revisit my minimalist framework for my worldbuilding, which will unfold gradually. The six archetype tags with which I will flag all the various real-world land features in my Mythic Ecology Series:

1. Settlements: habitable regions of either Work or Play, Familiar or Exotic, offering diverse narrative functions: a Day in the Life, Home Base, Personal Reasons, Gathering Supplies. Can subvert tropes with Ruins or Escape.
2. Omens: sensational, temporal, or particularly pointed features that offer narrative functions of forshadowing, and good or evil portents. Can subvert tropes with a Wild Goose Chase.
3. Overlooks: sites of magnitude and grandeur, living monuments which can function narratively for finding resolve, invoking spirits, or as a Call to Adventure. Can subvert tropes with Dread or Betrayal.
4. Passageways: transitional journeylands, including magical portals, functioning narratively for initiation and return, thresholds and tests, shortcuts and setbacks.
5. Abyss: a void or confined space presenting scarcity or temptation, desperation and danger. Can subvert tropes with a Timely Rescue or Secret Refuge.
6. Battlegrounds: sites fit for epic, sprawling encounters and climax conflicts. Can subvert tropes with Alternative Solutions.

Feel free to submit your own ideas, or draw outside the lines. Alright, let’s see how lakes fit in.

PART 1: LAKE, POND, PUDDLE, LOCH

Otherworldly Incantations Lake Worldbuilding

A “lake” simply refers to a large body of water localized in a basin and surrounded by land, apart from any outlet that would feed or drain it (forming an endorheic basin). A “pond” just refers to a smaller version of that. Likewise, “puddle” just refers to an even smaller pool of liquid, usually rainwater. Beyond that, “loch” just refers to the Irish, Scottish Gaelic, and Scots word for lake or sea-inlet. Nothing too fancy.

PART 2: LAKE CATEGORIES BY ORIGIN

Lakes come in several types based on origin. You can generally find them in mountainous terrain, rift zones, and regions of ongoing glaciation. Sometimes drainage basins, or near mature rivers, and particularly as the aftermath of former glaciers.

The basic categories of lakes for our purposes include: tectonic lakes, glacial lakes, fluvial lakes, solution lakes, landslide lakes, aeolian lakes, shoreline lakes, organic lakes, and impact lakes. Let’s take a look at those, before proceeding to some other types arising from content or behavior.

2A: Tectonic Lakes

Otherworldly Incantations Lake Worldbuilding Tectonic Lakes

Formed by the deformation of the Earth’s crust and resulting lateral and vertical movements, such as faulting, tilting, folding, and warping.
[Settlements, Omens, Overlooks, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

2B: Volcanic Lakes

Otherworldly Incantations Lake Worldbuilding Volcanic Lakes

Found in local depressions like craters or larger basins, such as volcanic calderas. A “maar” denotes a shallow one arising from explosions of groundwater meeting hot lava or magma.
[Settlements, Omens, Overlooks, Passageways, Abyss, Battlegrounds]

2C: Glacial Lakes

Otherworldly Incantations Lake Worldbuilding Glacial Lakes

Created by glacial action and continental ice sheets. Includes versions with direct contact with ice, glacially carved rock basins and depressions, morainic and outwash lakes, and glacial drift basins.
[Settlements, Omens, Overlooks, Passageways, Abyss, Battlegrounds]

Otherworldly Incantations Lake Worldbuilding Epishelf Lake

Epishelf Lake highly stratified lake with a layer of freshwater, from ice and snow melt, dammed behind a coastal ice shelf.
[Omens, Overlooks, Abyss]

Otherworldly Incantations Lake Worldbuilding Finger Lake

Finger Lake / Fjord Lake / Trough Lake – narrow linear body of water in a glacially overdeepened valley, sometimes impounded by a morainic dam. If one end touches the sea, can become a fjord or sea-loch.
[Overlooks, Passageways, Abyss]

Otherworldly Incantations Lake Worldbuilding Proglacial Lake

Proglacial Lake formed either by the damming action of a moraine as glaciers melt, as a glacial ice dam, or by meltwater trapped against an ice sheet.
[Omens, Overlooks]

Otherworldly Incantations Lake Worldbuilding Subglacial Lake

Subglacial Lakeunder a glacier, such as an ice cap or ice sheet.
[Settlements, Omens, Passageways, Abyss]

Otherworldly Incantations Lake Worldbuilding Tarn Lake

Tarn / Corrie Locha mountain lake, pond, or pool formed in a valley amphitheater (cirque) excavated by a glacier. Glacial debris may form a natural dam below it.
[Settlements, Overlooks, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

2D: Fluvial Lakes

Otherworldly Incantations Lake Worldbuilding Fluvial Lake

Produced by running water, especially rivers. Sometimes form as fluvialite dams when tributary sediment blocks the main river, or as a lateral lake when when the main river sediment blocks a tributary.
[Omens, Passageways, Abyss]

Otherworldly Incantations Lake Worldbuilding Mere Lake

Mere a shallow but broad lake, typically alongside a river rather than having a river run through it.
[Passageways]

Otherworldly Incantations Lake Worldbuilding Oxbow Lake

Oxbow Lake / Billabong crescent-shaped lakes forming in valleys from meandering rivers.
[Omens, Passageways, Abyss]

Otherworldly Incantations Lake Worldbuilding Plunge Pool

Plunge Pool / Tinaja – a deep recession in a streambed at the base of a waterfall or shut-in.
[Omens, Passageways, Abyss]

2E: Solution Lakes

Otherworldly Incantations Lake Worldbuilding Solution Lake

Typically underground, occupying a basin formed by bedrock dissolution, as groundwater fills cavities and sinkholes. Karst ponds indicate smaller ones. Becomes a karst lake if in an extensive closed depression in limestone. Most underground lakes occur in limestone.
[Omens, Overlooks, Passageways, Abyss]

2F: Landslide Lakes

Otherworldly Incantations Lake Worldbuilding Landslide Lake

Created by the mudflows, rockslides, or screes blocking valleys. Large and deep but short-lived.
[Omens, Overlooks, Battlegrounds]

2G: Aeolian Lakes

Otherworldly Incantations Lake Worldbuilding Aeolian Lake

Formed as basins dammed by sand from wind action. Found mainly in arid locales, or as remains of older arid climates.
[Settlements, Omens]

2H: Shoreline Lakes

Otherworldly Incantations Lake Worldbuilding Shoreline Lake

Created by blocked estuaries or uneven development of beach ridges.
[Omens,
Overlooks, Passageways, Abyss]

2I: Organic Lakes

Otherworldly Incantations Lake Worldbuilding Beaver Dam

Created by plant and animal action and typically short-lived, such as beaver dams, coral lakes, or vegetation dams. Can include bogs.
[Settlements]

2J: Impact Lakes

Otherworldly Incantations Lake Worldbuilding Impact Lake

Created by catastrophic impact of meteorites or asteroids.
[Omens, Overlooks, Passageways, Abyss]

PART 3: LAKES BY CONTENT OR BEHAVIOR

Lakes also differ in their content or behavior, not just their drainage basin or catchment area, inflow or outflow, but also nutrient and oxygen profiles, pH, and sedimentation. We can add in the dimension of seasonality and time as well. For fantasy worldbuilding purposes, we’ll exclude thermal stratification classifications.

3A: Nutrient and Oxygen Profile

Otherworldly Incantations Lakes Worldbuilding Oligotrophic Lake
Otherworldly Incantations Lakes Worldbuilding Mesotrophic Lake
Otherworldly Incantations Lakes Worldbuilding Eutrophic Lake

If lakes progress from Oligotrophic to Mesotrophic to Eutrophic states, their biological productivity increases due to higher nutrient contents, the water muddies and develops aquatic plants and algae, oxygen levels decrease, and fauna multiply, but eventually algae blooms may overtake the waters, causing suffocation.

In terms of storytelling and worldbuilding, the first suggests a mood of clarity and stability but scarcity as well, the last suggests murkiness and precarity but potential abundance, with the second lays somewhere in the middle. You can play out those moods storywise if you choose, using them to support themes.

3B: Acidic and Saline Lakes

See also: “Dry Lake” section in Temporal Lakes.

Otherworldly Incantations Lake Worldbuilding Acid Lake

Acid Lake – naturally acid lakes can form from igneous and metamorphic landscapes, peat bogs, arid environments, or volcanic craters.
[Omens, Overlooks, Abyss]

Otherworldly Incantations Lake Worldbuilding Soda Lake

Alkaline / Soda Lake – a strongly alkaline lake characterized by high concentrations of carbonate salts, typically sodium carbonate (causing their alkalinity). Many also bear high concentrations of sodium chloride and other dissolved salts, making them saline as well since high pH and salinity often coincide.
[Omens, Passageways]

Otherworldly Incantations Lake Worldbuilding Salt Lake

Salt Lake / Saline Lake / Brine Lake – lake with a concentration of salts (typically sodium chloride) and other dissolved minerals significantly higher than most lakes.
[Omens, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

3C: Temporal Lakes

Otherworldly Incantations Lake Worldbuilding Dry Playa

Dry Lake / Playa / Clay Pan – basin or depression which formerly contained a body of water, but evaporated. Includes alkali flats and salt flats / salt pans. May possess a phenomenon called sailing stones.
[Omens, Passageways, Abyss, Battlegrounds]

Otherworldly Incantations Lake Worldbuilding Ephemeral Lake

Ephemeral Lake – short-lived, drying up seasonally. Often fills karst fields (poljes).
[Omens, Passageways, Abyss]

Otherworldly Incantations Lake Worldbuilding Lake Plains

Lacustrine Plain / Lake Plains – lakes filled by incoming sediment, which gradually drain to become a fertile plain, or else wetlands or desert.
[Omens, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

Otherworldly Incantations Lake Worldbuilding Dry Lake

Playa Lake – shallow, intermittent and occupies playa either in wet seasons or in especially wet years only.
[Omens, Passageways, Abyss]

Otherworldly Incantations Lake Worldbuilding Shrunken Lake

Shrunken Lake – existing lake which permanently shrunk considerably in size over time, possibly dividing.
[Settlements, Omens, Overlooks, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

Otherworldly Incantations Lake Worldbuilding Vlei

Vlei – shallow lake varying considerably in level by season.
[Omens, Passageways, Abyss, Battlegrounds]

FINAL THOUGHTS

I hope you enjoyed this third entry in my Mythic Ecology series! I look forward to continuing with it, I have some greater ambitions for developing this series into worldbuilding web tools. Give this a share if you liked it, and let me know in the comments if you have any feedback. I publish new posts on Tuesdays. In the meantime, I post original D&D memes and writing updates daily over on my site’s Facebook Page. Also, if you want to keep up-to-date on all my posts, check out my Newsletter Sign-Up to receive email notifications when I release new posts. A big thanks as always to my Patrons on Patreon, helping keep this project going: Anthony, Eric & Jones, Geoff, Jason, and Rudy. Thanks for your support!

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Tril

D&D 5e blogger.

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