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40+ Plains Features For Fantasy Worldbuilding23 Min Read

40+ Plains Features For Fantasy Worldbuilding23 min read

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Meadow, Prairie, Scrub, and Steppe! Welcome back, Outlander, to the 10th 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 entry we looked at valleys. As I resume my journey sketching a framework for designing Yridia, my unique D&D 5e fantasy world, let’s learn some plains terms, with a visual guide!

A quick note on terminology: “plains” for this entry refers to grasslands and shrublands and the like, generally on flat terrain. “Scrub” and “shrub” mean essentially the same thing. Some terms like “steppe” and “prairie” have ambiguous definitions across regions, so sorry for any confusion.

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: Temperate Grasslands, Savannas, and Shrublands / Prairie / Pampas / Veld
^defined
Shortgrass Prairie / Dry Prairie
Mesic Prairie
Tallgrass Prairie / Wet Prairie

Part 2: Tropical and Subtropical Grassland, Savannas, and Shrublands
-^defined
Tropical Grasslands
Tropical Savanna
-Tropical Shrubland

Part 3: Mediterranean Scrublands
-^defined
Chaparral
Garigue / Phrygana
Macchia / Maquis Shrubland
Matorral / Mediterranean Scrub

Part 4: Steppe
-^defined
Alpine-Steppe
-Shrub-Steppe

Subtropical Steppe
Temperate Steppe

Part 5: Desert & Xeric Shrublands
-^defined
Hot Shrublands
Hot & Cold Shrublands

Part 6: Dry Meadows
Natural Meadow / Perpetual Meadow
Alpine Meadows
Coastal Prairie / Coastal Meadow
Desert Meadows

Part 7: Wet Meadows + Flooded Grasslands & Savannas
^defined
Callows
Wet-Meadow
-Floodmeadow
-Floodplain

Part 8: Highland Plains
Heath / Heathland
Montane Grasslands and Shrublands
Moorland
Potrero

Part 9: Lowland Plains
Machair
Rift Valley

Part 10: Bonus Plains
Coastal Scrub
-Mammoth Steppe
Polje / Karst Polje / Karst Field
Shrub Swamp / Scrub Swamp / Buttonbush Swamps

PART 0: MYTHIC ECOLOGY FOR FANTASY WORLDBUILDING & STORYTELLING

First, let’s revisit my minimalist framework for my worldbuilding. 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 plains fit in.

PART 1: TEMPERATE GRASSLANDS, SAVANNAS, AND SHRUBLANDS

Otherworldly Incantations Plains Worldbuilding Temperate Grasslands
Also regionally referred to as “prairie”, “pampas”, “veld”, or sometimes “steppe”. Grasslands, savannas, and shrublands in semi-arid to semi-humid climates of temperate latitudes.
[
Settlements, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

Otherworldly Incantations Plains Worldbuilding Shortgrass Prairie
Shortgrass Prairie / Dry Prairie – short grasslands in semi-arid climates, without trees unless near rivers and lakes.
[Settlements, Passageways, Battlegrounds]
Otherworldly Incantations Mesic Prairie
Mesic Prairie – grasslands with primarily forbs like wildflowers instead of grasses, sedges, and rushes, in regions with moderate rainfall, drainage, and soil.
[Settlements, Passageways, Battlegrounds]
Otherworldly Incantations Plains Worldbuilding Tallgrass Prairie
Tallgrass Prairie / Wet Prairie – tall grasslands in areas of higher rainfall and rich soils.
[Settlements, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

PART 2: TROPICAL + SUBTROPICAL GRASSLANDS, SAVANNAS, AND SHRUBLANDS

Otherworldly Incantations Plains Worldbuilding Tropical

Grasslands, savannas, and shrublands in semi-arid to semi-humid climates of tropical or subtropical latitudes.
[Settlements, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

Otherworldly Incantations Plains Worldbuilding Tropical Grasslands

Tropical Grasslands – dominated by grass or other herbaceous plants.
[Settlements, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding savanna

Tropical Savanna – mixed woodland and grassland with widely spaced trees and thus no closed canopy, supporting grasses.
[Settlements, Passageways, Abyss, Battlegrounds]

Otherworldly Incantations Plains Worldbuilding Tropical Shrublands

Tropical Shrubland – dominated by woody or herbaceous shrubs.
[Settlements, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

PART 3: MEDITERRANEAN GRASSLANDS, SAVANNAS, AND SHRUBLANDS

Otherworldly Incantations Plains Worldbuilding Mediterranean Shrublands

Grasslands, savannas, and shrublands in Mediterranean climates of dry summers and rainy winters. Inland, lowland locations have hot summers but can cool if near colder seas. Has mild to cool winters in lowland locations but cold ones in inland and highland spots.
[Settlements, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

Otherworldly Incantations Plains Worldbuilding Chaparral

Chaparral – shrubland or heathland with a Mediterranean climate of mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers, with hard-leafed evergreens. Often associated with coasts and wildfires.
[Settlements, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

Otherworldly Incantations Plains Worldbuilding Garigue

Garrigue / Phrygana – low, soft-leaved scrubland in Mediterranean regions with limestone soils, usually near seacoast and with summer droughts. Often has low, creeping dwarf-shrubs.
[Settlements, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

Otherworldly Incantations Plains Worldbuilding Macchia

Macchia / Maquis Shrubland Mediterranean shrubland with dense evergreen shrubs. Often has low, creeping dwarf-shrubs.
[Settlements, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

Otherworldly Incantations Plains Worldbuilding Matorral

Matorral / Mediterranean Scrub – shrubland, thicket, and bushes in a Mediterranean climate.
[Settlements, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

PART 4: STEPPE

Otherworldly Incantations Plains Worldbuilding Steppe

Grasslands or shrublands of semi-arid or continental climate, with extreme temperature variation across both season and time of day. Often transition zones between Mediterranean climates and true deserts, or under the rain shadow effect of mountains. Overlaps with shortgrass prairie.
[Settlements, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

Otherworldly Incantations Plains Worldbuilding Alpine Steppe

Alpine-Steppe – dry grasslands in alpine regions, with year-round frost despite high sunshine.
[Settlements, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

Otherworldly Incantations Plains Worldbuilding Shrub Steppe

Shrub-Steppe – low-rainfall grassland with a patchwork of perennial grasses or shrubs adapted to drought and wildfire.
[Settlements, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

Otherworldly Incantations Plains Worldbuilding Subtropical Steppe

Subtropical Steppe – found in the driest areas with Mediterranean-like climate.
[Settlements, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

Otherworldly Incantations Plains Worldbuilding Temperate Steppe

Temperate Steppe – found in humid continental climates.
[Settlements, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

PART 5: DESERT & XERIC SHRUBLANDS

Otherworldly Incantations Plains Worldbuilding Desert Shrublands

Arid shrub habitats with extreme temperature variation across across time of day; some fluctuate seasonally as well.
[Passageways, Abyss, Battlegrounds]

Otherworldly Incantations Plains Worldbuilding Hot Desert Shrublands

Hot Desert Shrublands – desert shrublands hot year-round.
[Passageways, Abyss, Battlegrounds]

Otherworldly Incantations Plains Worldbuilding Cold Desert Shrublands

Divergent Desert Shrublands – desert shrublands with harsh heat but also harsh cold in winter.
[Passageways, Abyss, Battlegrounds]

PART 6: DRY MEADOWS

Otherworldly Incantations Plains Worldbuilding Perpetual Meadow

Natural Meadow / Perpetual Meadow an open field vegetated by grass or other non-woody plants. Also includes prairies from “Temperate Grasslands, Savannas, and Shrublands”.
[Settlements, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

Otherworldly Incantations Plains Worldbuilding Alpine Meadows

Alpine Meadows tundra grasslands at high elevations above the treeline, maintained by harsh climate.
[Settlements, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

Otherworldly Incantations Plains Worldbuilding Coastal Meadow

Coastal Prairie / Coastal Meadow grasslands along coastal regions. Often becomes coastal scrub.
[Settlements, Overlooks, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

Otherworldly Incantations Plains Worldbuilding Desert Meadow
Desert Meadowsgrasslands restricted by low precipitation or lack of nutrients and humus. May feature desert wildflower blooms.
[Settlements, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

PART 7: WET MEADOWS + FLOODED GRASSLANDS & SAVANNAS

Otherworldly Incantations Plains Worldbuilding Flooded Grasslands
Expanses or complexes of flooded grasslands, grassy wetlands.
[Settlements, Omens, Passageways, Abyss, Battlegrounds]
Otherworldly Incantations Wetlands Worldbuilding Callows
Callows – seasonally-flooded grasslands in low-lying river floodplains.
[Settlements, Omens, Passageways]
Otherworldly Incantations Wetlands Worldbuilding Wet Meadow
Wet-Meadow – marshes fluctuating between brief inundation and longer periods of saturation, whereas meadows are dry marshes. May have sedges, rushes, and grasses. Also includes wet prairie and wet savanna. Includes cienega.
[Settlements, Omens, Passageways, Battlegrounds]
Otherworldly Incantations Plains Worldbuilding Flooded Floodmeadow
Floodmeadow – grassland or pasture beside river, subject to seasonal flooding.
[Settlements, Omens, Passageways, Abyss, Battlegrounds]
Otherworldly Incantations Plains Worldbuilding Floodplain
Floodplain an area adjacent to a stream or river, enclosed by valley walls, which periodically floods, creating fertile lands.
[Settlements, Omens, Passageways, Abyss, Battlegrounds]

PART 8: HIGHLAND PLAINS

Otherworldly Incantations Plains Worldbuilding Heathland
Heath / Heathland – shrubland habitat around free-draining infertile, acidic soils. Has open, low-growing woody vegetation like dwarf-shrubs. Moorland generally related to highland, cooler, damper climate version.
[Overlooks, Passageways, Battlegrounds]
Otherworldly Incantations Wetlands Worldbuilding Moor

Moorland / Moor – upland areas in temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands, montane grasslands and shrublands biomes with low-growing vegetation on acidic soils, uncultivated hills and low-lying wetlands. Appears where tundra retreat.
[Overlooks, Passageways, Battlegrounds]
Otherworldly Incantations Plains Worldbuilding Montane Grasslands
Montane Grasslands and Shrublandshighland grasslands and shrublands.
[Overlooks, Passageways, Battlegrounds]
Otherworldly Incantations Mountain Worldbuilding Potrero
Potrero – a long mesa with one end sloping upward to higher terrain, usually at the flanks of a mountain, as part of a dissected plateau.
[Settlements, Overlooks, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

PART 9: LOWLAND PLAINS

Otherworldly Incantations Plains Worldbuilding Machair
Machair a fertile low-lying grassy plain.
[
Settlements, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

Otherworldly Incantations Valley Worldbuilding Rift Valley
Rift Valley – a linear lowland between highlands or mountain ranges, created by a tectonic rift or fault. May hold rift valley lakes.
[Settlements, Omens, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

PART 10: BONUS PLAINS

Otherworldly Incantations Plains Worldbuilding Coastal Shrubland
Coastal Scrub shrublands along coastal regions.
[
Settlements, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

Otherworldly Incantations Plains Worldbuilding Mammoth Steppe
Mammoth Steppe – a dry Ice Age climate of grasslands and shrublands featuring grazing megafauna.
[Settlements, Omens, Passageways, Abyss, Battlegrounds]
Otherworldly Incantations Plains Worldbuilding Polje
Polje / Karst Polje / Karst Field a large flat plains landscape formed from the dissolution of soluble rocks like limestone, with such underground drainage systems as sinkholes and caves.
[Settlements, Omens, Passageways, Battlegrounds]
Otherworldly Incantations Plains Worldbuilding Shrub Swamp
Shrub Swamp / Scrub Swamp / Buttonbush Swampsfreshwater wetlands neither swamp nor marsh, transitional between swamps and wet meadows or fens, featuring primarily shrub cover.
[Settlements, Omens, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

FINAL THOUGHTS

I hope you enjoyed this tenth 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, Chris, Eric & Jones, Geoff, Jason, Rudy, and Tom. Thanks for your support!

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Tril

D&D 5e blogger.

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