skip to Main Content
70+ Tundra Features For Fantasy Worldbuilding36 Min Read

70+ Tundra Features For Fantasy Worldbuilding36 min read

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Glaciers. Hoarfrost. Auroras. Welcome back, Outlander, to the 7th 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 deserts. As I resume my journey sketching a framework for designing Yridia, my unique D&D 5e fantasy world, let’s learn some tundra 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: Tundra Types
Polar Tundra
-Subpolar Tundra
-Alpine Tundra

Part 2: Snow Phases
Neve / Snow Field
Firn
Glacier / Glacial Ice

Part 3: Landform Expanses
Blockfield / Felsenmeer / Boulder Field / Stone Field
-Fellfield
-Moraine
–Rogen Moraine / Ribbed Moraine
-Ogives
-Permafrost Plateau
-Stone Run / Stone River
-Strandflat
-Thermokarst

Part 4: Iceform Expanses
Aufeis / Overflow / Icings / Naled
Cirque Glaciers
Valley Glaciers
Piedmont Glaciers
-Dirt Cone
-Glaciokarst
-Ice Sheet / Continental Glacier
-Ice Field
-Icefall
-Ice Shelf
-Ice Tongue
-Penitentes
-Serac
-Sea Ice
-Rock Glacier
-Snowdrift
-Snow Patch

Part 5: Patterned Ground
Frost Boils / Mud Boils / Stony Earth Circles / Frost Scars / Mud Circles
-Lithalsa
-Palsa
-Pingo
-Polygonal Patterns / Ice Wedges
-Sastrugi
-Sorted Stripe
-Solifluction Lobes
-Sheepback / Roche Moutonee

Part 6: Protrusions
Arete
-Bratschen
-Drumlin
-Nunatak / Glacial Island
-Pyramidal Peak / Glacial Horn
-Glacial Erratic
-Snow Cornice / Cornice

Part 7: Depressions
Crevasse
–Marginal Cleft / Randkluft
–Mountain Cleft / Bergschrund
-Glacial Cave
-Moulin / Glacier Mill
-Nirvation Hollow
-Suncups
-Tarn / Corrie Loch

Part 8: Hoarfrost & Rime
Advection Frost / Wind Frost
Air Hoarfrost
Crevasse Hoarfrost
Depth Hoarfrost
Surface Hoarfrost
Soft Rime
Frost Flower
Hair Ice / Ice Wool / Frost Beard
-Needle Ice
-Yukimarimo

Part 9: Tundra Phenomena
Aurora / Polar Lights
Avalanche / Snowslide
Blizzard
Blue Ice

PART 0: MYTHIC ECOLOGY FOR FANTASY WORLDBUILDING & STORYTELLING

On the topic of Tundra worldbuilding, I highly recommend Famous Hippo’s Guide to the Arctic For D&D 5e.

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 tundra fits in.

PART 1: TUNDRA TYPES

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Tundra Types
Tundra collectively can cover many varying terrains: mountain ranges and peaks, ice sheets, island archipelagos, fjords, glassland plateaus, river valleys, forests, as well as areas with grasses, sedges, mosses, and lichens for vegetation. By the nature of the topic we’ll also look at features relevant to harsh winters and glacial action more broadly. But for the most part, tundra falls within three domains:
Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Arctic Tundra
Polar Tundra – cold regions featuring mostly treeless permafrost, like ice sheets, sea ice, and glaciers, often with high winds and scant precipitation.
[Settlements, Omens, Overlooks, Passageways, Abyss, Battlegrounds]
Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Subarctic Tundra
Subpolar Tundra – cold regions associated with some permafrost, but also boreal forest, taiga, peat bog, and at least one warmer season per year.
[Settlements, Omens, Overlooks, Passageways, Abyss, Battlegrounds]
Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Alpine Tundra
Alpine Tundra – cold regions of high altitude (on summits, slopes, and ridges), typically without permafrost, and treeless but featuring many shorter plants.
[Settlements, Omens, Overlooks, Passageways, Abyss, Battlegrounds]

PART 2: SNOW PHASES

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Neve

Neve / Snow Field young, granular snow which has been partially melted, refrozen, and compacted, yet precedes ice. Associated with glacier formation. After a full season of ablation it becomes firn.
[Omens, Passageways]

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Firn

Firnolder and slightly denser snow than neve, left over from past seasons and recrystallized as snowflakes compress under snowpack. Intermediate between snow and glacial ice.
[Omens, Passageways]


Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Glacial Ice

Glacier / Glacial Ice long-lived, compacted ice which creates forms that constantly move under their own weight.[Omens, Passageways]

PART 3: LANDFORM EXPANSES

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Blockfield

Blockfield / Felsenmeer / Boulder Field / Stone Field a surface covered by boulder- or block-sized angular rocks associated with subsurface frost weathering, created as larger rock breaks down into smaller.
[Passageways, Abyss]

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Fellfield

Fellfield a slope, alpine or tundra, where freeze and thaw cycles and wind action support unique vegetation in rockfall deposits. Related to scree.
[Overlooks, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Glacial Moraine

Morainean accumulation of unconsolidated debris after glacial retreat, including a mix of rock, gravel, boulders, and powder. Comes in several variations.
[Settlements, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Rogen Moraine

Rogen Moraine / Ribbed Moraine – ridges deposited by a glacier or ice sheet transverse to ice flow.
[Settlements, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Ogives

Ogives – alternating wave crests and valleys appearing as dark and light ice bands on glacial surfaces, linked to seasonal glacier motion. Related to icefall.
[Omens, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Permafrost Plateau

Permafrost Plateau – coalesced Palsas that form a continuous elevated flatland area, usually in a peat bog. Some parts may grow as others decay. Often surrounded by wetlands, and can have pools of water during summer.
[Settlements, Overlooks, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Stone River

Stone Run / Stone Rivera rock landform characterized by stable boulders with no finer material between them, a mass-movement and stone sorting resulting from freeze-thaw erosion cycles after an Ice Age.
[Omens, Abyss]

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Strandflat

Strandflatflattish erosion surfaces on coastal seabed, with mountainous terrain on one side and protected waters on another, with potential glacial origin (disputed).
[Settlements, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Thermokarst

Thermokarst – a land surface with very irregular surfaces of marshy hollows and small hummocks formed as permafrost thaws. Related to palsas and lithalsas.
[Settlements, Omens, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

PART 4: ICEFORM EXPANSES

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Aufeis

Aufeis / Overflow / Icings / Naled – a sheet-like mass of layered ice forming from successive groundwater flows during freezes.
[Omens, Passageways]

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Cirque Glaciers

Cirque Glaciers – bowl-shaped valleys which contain glacial ice on mountainsides.
[Settlements, Omens, Overlooks, Abyss]

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Valley Glacier

Valley Glaciersstreams of flowing ice confined within steep-walled valleys, or outlet glaciers providing drainage for ice fields or sheets. Related to fjord.
[Settlements, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Piedmont Glaciers

Piedmont Glaciers – valley glaciers which have spilled out onto relatively flat plains, where they spread out into bulb-like lobes.
[Settlements, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Dirt Cone

Dirt Cone – a conical shaped deposit with a core of ice, snow, or firn covered by insulating depositional material, like dirt. May arise on snow patches, and begins forming in a crevasse or hollow.
[Passageways, Battlegrounds]

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Glaciokarst

Glaciokarst – a landscape formed from the dissolution of soluble rocks like limestone, with such underground drainage systems as sinkholes and caves, in this form displaying major glacial influences from cold periods long ago.
[Overlooks, Passageways]

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Ice Sheet

Ice Sheet / Continental Glacier – a colossal mass of glacial ice.
[Abyss, Battlegrounds]

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Ice Field

Ice Field a large area of interconnected glaciers, usually mountainous. Larger than glaciers, but smaller than ice sheets.
[Abyss, Battlegrounds]

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Icefall

Icefallportion of a glacier with rapid flow and a chaotic crevassed surface, functioning like a high-speed waterfall of ice. Can smooth glaciers, and piles can form seracs.
[Omens, Passageways, Abyss]

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Ice Shelf

Ice Shelf – a thick, suspended ice platform where a glacier or ice sheet flows into the ocean. Contrasts with sea ice.
[Omens, Overlooks, Abyss]

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Ice Tongue

Ice Tongue – a long and narrow ice sheet projecting from a coastline. Forms when a valley glacier moves rapidly into an ocean or lake.
[Omens, Passageways, Abyss]

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Penitente

Penitentes – high-altitude snow formations with elongated, thin blades of hardened snow or ice, close together and pointing somewhat toward the sun.
[Omens, Abyss]

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Serac

Serac – a block or column of glacial ice, often formed by intersecting crevasses on a glacier.
[Overlooks]

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Sea Ice

Sea Ice frozen seawater. Includes “drift ice” carried by wind and sea currents, and “fast ice” fastened to coastline, sea floor, or grounded icebergs. Contrasts with ice shelf.
[Omens, Passageways, Abyss]

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Rock Glacier

Rock Glacier angular rock debris frozen in interstitial ice, former glacier overlain with rock debris, or a mix of the two.
[Omens, Overlooks, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Snowdrift

Snowdrift – a deposit of snow sculpted by wind into a mound during a snowstorm, resembling sand dunes. Surface crests and slopes toward the windward side of a large object, with a lower and flatter leeward side.
[Omens, Abyss]

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Snow Patch

Snow Patchsnow and firn accumulation on the surface longer than other seasonal snow cover, which can create distinctive vegetation.
[Omens, Passageways]

PART 5: PATTERNED GROUND

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Frost Boils

Frost Boils / Mud Boils / Stony Earth Circles / Frost Scars / Mud Circlessmall circular mounds of fresh soil material formed by frost weathering and freeze-thaw cycles.
[Omens]

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Lithalsa

Lithalsa a frost-induced raised landform in permafrost areas, which forms ice lens.
[Omens, Battlegrounds]

Otherworldly Incantations Wetlands Worldbuilding Palsa Bog

Palsa groups of low mounds marked by tall concentric ridges, gradual ice lenses, and limited peat formation, arising as frost lifts soil. Related to permafrost plateau.
[Omens, Overlooks, Passageways]

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Pingo

Pingo a mound of earth-covered ice, usually single. Related to palsa.
[Settlements, Overlooks, Abyss]

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Polygonal

Polygonal Patterns / Ice Wedgespermafrost or seasonal frost can manifest polygonal patterned raise stone rings.
[Omens, Battlegrounds]

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Sastrugi

Sastrugi – sharp irregular grooves or ridges, usually perpendicular to prevailing winds, formed on a snow surface by wind erosion, snow saltation, and deposition, found in polar areas and sites like frozen likes in cold temperate regions. Steep on windward side, sloping on leeward side. Smaller forms become “ripples” or “wind ridges”.
[Omens, Passageways, Abyss]

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Sorted Stripe

Sorted Stripe – lines of stone, vegetation, or soil from transitional steps on slopes, arising from freezing and thawing action.
[Omens, Passageways, Abyss]

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Solifluction

Solifluction Lobes – slope failures and landforms where sediments form tongue-shaped features due to differential downhill flow rates.
[Omens, Passageways]

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Roche

Sheepback / Roche Moutonee – a rock formation created as a glacier passes over bedrock, resulting in asymmetric erosional forms on the upstream side and plucking on the downstream side.
[Omens, Abyss]

PART 6: PROTRUSIONS

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Arete
Arete – a narrow ridge of rock which separates two valleys, formed when two glaciers erode parallel U-shaped valleys, or two glacial cirques erode toward each other.
[Overlooks, Abyss]
Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Bratschen
Bratschen – weathered ridges resulting from frost and wind wear, characterized by steep, rocky, rough, and bare slopes.
[Overlooks, Abyss]
Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Drumlin
Drumlin – an elongated hill formed by glacial ice acting on underlying unconsolidated till or ground moraine.
[Settlements, Overlooks, Passageways, Battlegrounds]
Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Nunatak

Nunatak / Glacial Island exposed, often rocky element of a ridge, mountain, or peak not covered with ice or snow within an ice field or glacier. “Rognon” refers to a smaller one rounded by glacial action.
[Omens, Overlooks]

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Pyramidal Peak
Pyramidal Peak / Glacial Horn – angular, sharply-pointed mountain peak resulting from cirque erosion as three or more glaciers diverged from a central point. Often nunataks.
[Omens, Overlooks]
Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Glacial Erratic
Glacial Erratic – a piece of rock differing in size and native type from the area it rests, carried by glacial ice.
[Omens]
Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Snow Cornice
Snow Cornice / Cornicean overhanging edge of snow on a ridge or the crest of a mountain and along the sides of gullies.
[Omens, Overlooks, Passageways, Abyss]

PART 7: DEPRESSIONS

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Crevasse
Crevasse a deep crack or fracture in an ice sheet or glacier, resulting from the shear stress of differential movement rates
[Omens, Overlooks, Passageways, Abyss, Battlegrounds]
Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Randkluft

Marginal Cleft / Randkluft a crevasse forming as a gap between a glacier or snowfield and an adjacent rock face.
[Omens, Overlooks, Passageways, Abyss, Battlegrounds]
Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Bergschrund

Mountain Cleft / Bergschrund – a crevasse forming as a gap between two ice walls, where moving glacial ice separates from the stagnant ice or firn above, typically at high-altitude.
[Omens, Overlooks, Passageways, Abyss]
Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Glacial Cave
Glacial Cavea cave formed within glacial ice. Related to moulin.
[Omens, Passageways, Abyss]
Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Moulin
Moulin / Glacier Mill a roughly circular, vertical well-like shaft within a glacier or ice sheet which surface water enters.
[Omens, Overlooks, Passageways, Abyss, Battlegrounds]
Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Nirvation Hollow
Nirvation Hollow earthen hollows formed by the slope movement and freeze and thaw cycles of snow patches, which can enlarge to become cirque.
[Omens, Passageways, Abyss]
Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Suncup
Suncups closely-packed, bowl-shaped depressions in a snow surface, honeycomb and often hexagonal patterned, typically wider than deep. Their sharp, narrow ridges and smoothly concave hollows form as snow melts.
[Omens, Passageways]
Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Tarn
Tarn / Corrie Loch – a 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]

PART 8: HOARFROST & RIME

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Advection Frost

Advection Frost / Wind Frost – tiny ice spikes forming as cold wind blows over objects like tree branches or poles.
[Omens]

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Air Hoarfrost

Air Hoarfrosticy crystals on objects above the surface, such as tree branches or plant stems.
[Omens]

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Crevasse Hoarfrost
Crevasse Hoarfrost ice crystals in glacial crevasses where water vapor accumulates in calm weather.
[Omens, Overlooks, Passageways]
Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Depth Hoarfrost
Depth Hoarfrostice crystals slowly growing within cavities beneath surface banks of dry snow, which can overtake smaller crystals, forming steps and faceted hollows.
[Omens, Overlooks, Passageways, Abyss]

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Surface Hoarfrost

Surface Hoarfrost – fern-like ice crystals on snow, ice, or already frozen surfaces.
[Omens]

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Soft Rime

Soft Rimefragile white ice deposition on the outer surface of objects, forming as fog or mist freezes. Resembles hoarfrost, which forms from direct deposition.
[Omens]

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Frost Flower
Frost Flower – formed when thin layers of ice extrude from long-stemmed plants in fall or early winter, often curling into exquisite floral shapes.
[Omens]
Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Hair Ice
Hair Ice / Ice Wool / Frost Bearda type of ice which forms on dead wood and resembles fine, silky hair.
[Omens]
Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Needle Ice
Needle Ice – phenomenon where subterranean liquid water come to the surface via capillary action, freezing into needle-like ice columns.
[Omens]
Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Yukimarimo
Yukimarimo – balls of fine frost formed when hoarfrost on a snow surface breaks apart then electrostatic attraction, ice crystal fusion, and light wind allow the frost to condense and tumble like tumbleweeds.
[Omens]

PART 9: TUNDRA PHENOMENA

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Aurora Borealis
Aurora / Polar Lights a natural light display in the sky, mostly seen in high-latitude regions around the planetary poles.
[Omens]
Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Avalanche
Avalanche / Snowslide – when a cohesive slab of snow on a weaker layer fractures and slides down a steep slope, accelerating rapidly into a massive impact.
[Omens, Abyss]
Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Blizzard

Blizzard – a severe snowstorm with strong sustained winds and lasting for a prolonged period. Also includes “ground blizzard”, where wind picks up loose ground snow.
[Abyss]
Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Blue Ice

Blue Icewhen snow falls on a glacier, compresses, and becomes part of the glacier. Enlarging icy crystals squeeze out the air bubbles, causing a blue hue.
[Omens]

FINAL THOUGHTS

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

Liked it? Take a second to support Tril on Patreon!

Tril

D&D 5e blogger.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Otherworldly Incantations

Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)

Back To Top