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30+ Valley Features For Fantasy Worldbuilding21 Min Read

30+ Valley Features For Fantasy Worldbuilding21 min read

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Gulches, Gullies, Glens, and Gorges! Welcome back, Outlander, to the 9th 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 mountains. As I resume my journey sketching a framework for designing Yridia, my unique D&D 5e fantasy world, let’s learn some valley 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: Valleys 101
-Valley / Dale

Part 2: Tectonic Valleys
-Ramp Valley
-Rift Valley

Part 3: Raised Valleys
-High Valley
-Valley Head

Part 4: Hanging Valleys
-Hanging Valley
-Side Valley / Tributary Valley

Part 5: Glacial Valleys
-Asymmetric Valley
-Box Canyon
-Cirque Glaciers
-Dry Valley
-Meltwater Valley / Urstromtal
-Trimline
-U-Shaped Valley / Trough Valley / Glacial Trough
–Tunnel Valley
–Valley Step
-Valley Glaciers

Part 6: River Valleys
-Canyon / Gorge
-Chine
-Dell / Dingle
-Draw / Re-Entrant
-Glen
-Gulch
-Gully
–Couloir
-Lavaka
-Ravine / Gill / Ghyll
-Steephead Valley / Steephead / Blind Valley
-Strath
-Vale
-Wadi

Part 7: Bonus Valleys
-Defile
-Longitudinal Valley
-Transverse Valley

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 valleys fit in.

PART 1: VALLEYS 101

Otherworldly Incantations Valley Worldbuilding 101
Valley / Dale a low area between hills, often with a river running through it. Can form from the weathering and erosion of streams and glacial melt, or tectonic action like the tilting and thrusting of faults.
[Settlements, Omens, Overlooks, Passageways, Abyss, Battlegrounds]

PART 2: TECTONIC VALLEYS

Otherworldly Incantations Valley Worldbuilding Ramp Valley
Ramp Valley – a linear lowland between highlands or mountain ranges, characterized by steep, ramp-like sides and flat floors containing debris. Created by crustal shortening.
[Omens, Passageways, Abyss]
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 3: RAISED VALLEYS

Otherworldly Incantations Valley Worldbuilding High Valley

High Valley a valley in the upper third of a mountain range.
[Overlooks, Passageways, Abyss, Battleground]

Otherworldly Incantations Valley Worldbuilding Valley Heads

Valley Head the uppermost part of a valley. Higher ones resemble cirques. In crystalline rock valleys, the heads become bogs or alpine meadows, whereas limestone valleys hold rock and gravel, and ones that held Ice Age glaciers previously may now hold lakes.
[Settlements, Overlooks, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

PART 4: HANGING VALLEYS

Otherworldly Incantations Valley Worldbuilding Hanging Valley

Hanging Valley – a tributary valley that meets the main valley above the valley floor.
[Settlements, Omens, Overlooks, Abyss, Battlegrounds]

Otherworldly Incantations Valley Worldbuilding Side Valley

Side Valley / Tributary Valley a valley with a tributary brook or river to a larger river.
[Omens, Passageways]

PART 5: GLACIAL VALLEYS

Otherworldly Incantations Valley Worldbuilding Asymmetric Valley

Asymmetric Valley a valley with steeper slopes on one side. Often arises from sun-facing ice slopes melting faster.
[Settlements, Omens, Overlooks, Battlegrounds]


Otherworldly Incantations Valley Worldbuilding Box Canyon

Box Canyon – a small canyon shorter and narrower than a river canyon, with steep walls on three sides, allowing only one mouth by which to enter or exit.
[Settlements, Abyss]

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Cirque Glaciers

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

Otherworldly Incantations Valley Worldbuilding Dry Valley

Dry Valley a valley developing on permeable rock like limestone, chalk, or sandy terrains, without sustained surface water flow, where surface water sinks into bedrock. Often post-glacial.
[Settlements, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

Otherworldly Incantations Valley Worldbuilding Meltwater Valley

Meltwater Valley / Urstromtal a broad glacial valley formed by meltwater that flowed parallel to the ice margin after an Ice Age.
[Omens, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

Otherworldly Incantations Valley Worldbuilding Trimline

Trimline a clear line on the side of a valley marking the most recent highest extent of a glacier.
[Omens, Overlooks]

Otherworldly Incantations Valley Worldbuilding trough valley

U-Shaped Valley / Trough Valley / Glacial Trough mountain valleys formed by glacial scouring, with a characteristic U-shape, and steep, straight sides with a boulder-laden bottom either flat or rounded. Can end abruptly, creating spectacular waterfalls. When filled with ocean water, becomes a fjord.
[Settlements, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

Otherworldly Incantations Valley Worldbuilding Tunnel Valley

Tunnel Valley a U-shaped valley originally cut by water under glacial ice near the margin of continental ice sheets. Formed by subglacial water erosion.
[Omens, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

Otherworldly Incantations Valley Worldbuilding Valley Steps

Valley Stepan abrupt change in the longitudinal slope of a glacial valley, mainly U-shaped valleys.
[Omens, Overlooks, Passageways, Abyss]

Otherworldly Incantations Tundra Worldbuilding Valley Glacier

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

PART 6: RIVER VALLEYS

Otherworldly Incantations Valley Worldbuilding Canyon

Canyon / Gorge a deep ravine between cliffs, resulting from very slow erosion. Wider than a ravine.
[Omens, Overlooks, Passageways, Abyss]

Chine – a steep-sided coastal gorge where a river flows to the sea, typically through soft-eroding cliffs of sandstone or clays.
[Omens, Overlooks, Passageways, Abyss]

Otherworldly Incantations Valley Worldbuilding Dell

Dell / Dingle a small secluded hollow, with a connotations of a grassy, partially-wooded valley. “Dingle” specifies deeper ravines flanked by trees.
[Passageways]

Otherworldly Incantations Valley Worldbuilding Reentrant
Draw / Re-Entrant – two parallel ridges or spurs, most often beside ridges, with low, uneven ground in between, often with water.
[Omens, Overlooks, Passageways, Abyss]
Otherworldly Incantations Valley Worldbuilding Glen
Glena valley both narrow and deep, typically a river valley long and bounded by gently sloped concave sides.
[Omens, Passageways]
Otherworldly Incantations Valley Worldbuilding Gulch

Gulch a deep V-shaped valley formed by erosion. Larger than a gully.
[Omens, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

Gully large ditches or small valleys created by running water eroding sharply into soil, typically on a hillside.
[Omens, Overlooks, Passageways, Abyss]
Otherworldly Incantations Valley Worldbuilding Couloir
Couloira narrow gully with a steep gradient in a mountainous terrain.
[Omens, Overlooks, Passageways, Abyss]
Otherworldly Incantations Valley Worldbuilding Lavaka
Lavakaa type of gully, usually teardrop-shaped with steep, round headwall that narrows downhill into a shallow outlet channel. Formed via groundwater sapping. Often has mudslides during heavy rains.
[Settlements, Omens, Overlooks, Passageways, Abyss]
Otherworldly Incantations Valley Worldbuilding Ravines
Ravine / Gill / Ghyll a small valley, deep and bounded by steep slopes. Often the product of streamcutting erosion. Narrower than a canyon.
[
Overlooks, Passageways]

Otherworldly Incantations Valley Worldbuilding Steephead
Steephead Valley / Steephead / Blind Valley a deep, narrow, flat-bottomed valley with an abrupt ending, associated with permeable rock landscapes.
[Settlements, Overlooks, Passageways, Battlegrounds]
Otherworldly Incantations Valley Worldbuilding Strath

Stratha large valley, typically a river valley both wide and shallow.
[Settlements, Passageways, Battlegrounds]
Otherworldly Incantations Valley Worldbuilding Vale

Valea low area between hills, usually flat-bottomed, associated with wide river valleys.
[
Settlements, Passageways, Battlegrounds]
Otherworldly Incantations River Worldbuilding Wadi
Wadi – river valley, especially a dry riverbed that contains water only during times of heavy rain. Can become filled by flash floods.
[Omens, Passageways, Abyss]

PART 7: BONUS VALLEYS

Otherworldly Incantations Valley Worldbuilding Defile

Defile a narrow pass or gorge between mountains or hills.
[Omens, Passageways, Abyss]

Otherworldly Incantations Valley Worldbuilding Longitudinal Valley

Longitudinal Valley an elongated valley found between two nearly parallel mountain chains. Counterpart to transverse valley.
[Settlements, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

Otherworldly Incantations Valley Worldbuilding Transverse Valley
Transverse Valleya valley which cuts at right angles across a ridge. Or in mountainous terrain, a valley at roughly right angles to the main mountain chain or crest. Counterpart to longitudinal valley.
[Omens, Passageways, Abyss]

FINAL THOUGHTS

I hope you enjoyed this ninth 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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