At this moment I am creating a world for my pathfinder game and I have no idea what the world's size should be.

I know it ultimately depends on each GM and their group, but some information on the pros and cons of a big or small world for the GM and players would be very handy for me.

So my question is : What factors should I consider when deciding how large to make my world, and how will they affect my campaign?

It would be useful if your answer included some numbers, especially if they account for the normal methods of transportation for the time period.


If you're interested in the geographic scale of a game world, then you need to consider the following points.

  • What is the technological level of the world, and how does it affect transport speed?
  • What is the terrain on which the settlements may be built?

On land at least, settlements tend to be at most around an easy day's travel from each-other, to allow for people to travel to the next town without having to stress themselves or their beasts of burden. At sea, the equation changes as ships can carry their own supply.

Considering a Pathfinder game, we would expect that, barring the relatively rare exception of magic or exotic creatures, most transport will be muscle-powered, i.e. walking, riding animals (e.g. horses) or riding in animal-drawn conveyances on land, and on water, boats and ships will typically be wind or muscle powered. The following links provide some reference and discussion as to typical and exceptional travel times in this type of environment:




To summarise the relevant data from the above in case of link rot:

On Roads / trails
 Level or rolling terrain: 40 miles/day
 Hilly terrain: 30 mi/d
 Mountainous terrain: 20 mi/d

Off-Road (or unkempt trails etc)
 Level/rolling grasslands: 30  mi/d
 Hilly grasslands: 25 mi/d
 Level/rolling forest/thick scrub: 20 mi/d
 Very hilly forest/thick scrub: 15 mi/d

 Un-blazed Mountain passes: 10 mi/d
 Marshland: 10 mi/d

From this, we can conclude that, depending upon terrain and the quality of the path between settlements, settlements could be anything from 10 to 40 miles apart, though the highest likelihood, assuming that roads have been built, is 20 to 30 miles apart.

You should consider that there won't be cities every 25 miles on average, however. Most of these settlements are likely to be some sort of village which serves as a collection point for agricultural produce and as a way-station for travelers who can't afford to use more exotic means of transport such as magic or flying mounts. Where the logical routes of travel dictate that more commerce will pass through a single area, the settlements become larger. Other factors such as water supply will dictate how large such settlements can become.

In a world with flying mounts, we can expect that some of the settlements that would otherwise be villages could be larger to accommodate riders of the most common type of flying mount - typically within a day's easy flight of each other. However, unless a region was difficult to fly through (extreme mountains, chronically bad weather), the spacing of these would not really depend on terrain. Also, there may well be some smaller settlements in areas difficult to access by land that exist as way stations for flying travelers.

Extrapolating from Pathfinder's Movement and Distance table, some example flying mounts:

  • Wyvern (Fly 60'): 6 mi/h, 48 mi/d
  • Griffon (Fly 80'): 8 mi/h, 64 mi/d
  • Roc (Fly 80'): 8 mi/h, 64 mi/d* (192 mi/d if you allow "sleeping on the wing")
  • Sleipnir ("Fly" 80'): 8 mi/h, 64 mi/d
  • Hippogriff (Fly 100'): 10 mi/h, 80 mi/d
  • Dragon Horse (Fly 120'): 12 mi/h, 96 mi/d
  • Pegasus (Fly 120'): 12 mi/h, 96 mi/d
  • Kirin (Fly 120'): 12 mi/h, 96 mi/d

Spells/items: - Overland Flight/ broom/cauldron/carpet of Flying / Flying Ointment (variable)

You would need to decide which of the above (or other) was in common use - probably overland Flight spells/items, or hippogriffs, as they are the most easily obtained, though allowance should be made for slower, rarer creatures such as griffons or even wyverns if such creatures are used much. Way-stations for flying creatures/magic users will typically be placed within a day's flight for the slowest in reasonably "common" use.

Finally, you need to consider the size of sovereign nations. These will be dependent upon many factors, and barring a war in progress, a nation's borders are typically tied to some sort of natural boundary such as mountains, rivers, woods, coastlines, etc. The size of a nation depends on its ability to patrol and defend its land, and in turn this will depend on the strength and belligerency of its neighbors - the stronger and more belligerent the neighbors, the more a nation will have to concentrate its defenses to counter them, and will consequently be less able to defend its interior and other borders.

As to the size of your entire world, that is entirely a matter of personal choice. You needn't even define your whole world to begin with, just your preferred area and name a few mysterious far-away places.


In considering the 'scale' of a game world, there are a number of things to consider. First and foremost among which you need to consider are the amount of resources that you have at your disposal (time included) as well as the degree to which you would like to use these towards your game-world building exercises.

If you have limited time then a full-featured adventure with details about a whole lot of places that are not necessary to the progression of the game (the cobweb-filled greenhouse in the corner of the mansion back garden filled to the brim with chipped and cracked pots) will likely not be worthwhile. Likewise as your world grows so too will your resources be tested… perhaps (more information further down).

Game Density – A game that is dense is so full of detail that the players find it easier to imagine the actual context before them (or rather their characters).

There is a big difference between:

  • “You open the door to a dimly lit dormitory.”, and

  • “You open the door and a stuffy room with some Spartan furnishings is revealed. Most prominent is what looks like a bunk bed on the far wall and the air is thick as a small cloud of dust shifts along the floor, only to slowly settle in the dim light.”

Both the above descriptions involve the same room but the second description is denser as a lot more information is provided about the same geographic location.

The former method is a good way to skim over locations of lower importance while the later method enhances the suspension of reality for most types of players. If they care not for the descriptions then you could strike a mutual balance or quietly discuss regarding whether the player might prefer a different style of play. Talking about it might also yield more positive results in play since the player will recognize that you at least care about him or her having fun.

Elasticity of Time and Space – In a game world, no two spaces nor times need be linear. One location could be well-covered while another less important location could be suitably skimmed over or even symbolically skipped.

This is practiced most often when characters are travelling. OK so your character spends 3 days walking between towns and has a 30 minute encounter in the forest on the 2nd day. That encounter might have been pretty well described and elaborated upon – but the rest of the journey can be put down to several short sentences – perhaps with watch rosters established so that they may sleep.

Just as importantly, the game need not explore all the conceivable spaces of any space. In other words, just because our world is a speck of dust within a massive universe, there is no need for an adventure to span anything more than a single planet (space missions aside).

It is content that determines the "detail" of non-essential spaces. Some role playing games have an "over world" mode where an icon representing the player's party can roam freely upon a rather oblique and eventually boring landscape... but this would quickly change if every so often the players came upon a "niche of note" - a space that is in some way remarkable. It needn't be an encounter:

  • It could simply be a small "cut-scene" where the players come to the edge of a cliff and glimpse the world ahead from afar, the tree tops seemingly at their feet.

  • It could be a travelling merchant - perhaps a little bothered because one of the wheels of his cart was damaged in a recent escape from bandits.

  • Or perhaps its simply a moment when the clouds obscure the sun, thunder peels in the distance as a flock of birds (your choice of species) zoom past and seem to disappear amongst the overgrown grasses of a nearby field.

Its the little explosions of flavour that make the whole taste better. And the wise and economized use of these moments will allow you to greatly expand the physical world while not overly sacrificing quality of play.

In short, once you become conscious of the resources that you feasibly have at your disposal you can seek to define a number of difficult and effective “outer boundaries” that your characters are not really intended to interact with.

Perhaps your story occurs on one of the small islands off the coast. Your adventurers are here to seek out fame, just as others have, but there are sinister forces at play. A small island environment may limit the number of communities that may easily be visited to a handful at best and the NPCs and the atmosphere can become truly dense – with less effort. Supplies might be as regular or irregular as you wish (good delay methods include storms, piracy and sheer distance (making it less worthwhile to cater for frequent ferries).

Alternatively you could place the PCs in a type of environment that is chaotic enough so that you may enjoy conservation of energy benefits as you come up with variants of ‘jungle’ as well as compatible threats to keep the characters busy. Just because a place is large does not mean that it has to be detailed. Of course you may want to describe details where prompted so that the game doesn’t become too light on details, reducing engagement.

Different GMs will find different types of worlds to their taste. Large world with sparse details compensated for by an immersive plot? Small world with lots of details and side-quests? Something in between or beyond? A little experimentation should give a feel for what you find most comfortable - and try to avoid over-reaching. Economizing on your own resources helps to keep things fun for you too - a very important factor in determining whether a game is sustainable.

  • \$\begingroup\$ @Avesrton Thanks a lot for your answer it was very helpfull, but my question was about distance in number because I don't have any idea for the size of my world in km or miles. \$\endgroup\$
    – Pyersamid
    Jun 2 '14 at 22:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Pyersamid Looks like another answer has the numbers and travel times part of your question down pat :) Within the spirit of my answer, for sake of comparison, The Maltese Islands span less than 320 square km - but the space is densely packed with "stuff" even if you could walk/ swim from one end to another in little more than a day. :) Much further south one finds the Sahara desert - more than 9.25 million square km - but with arguably less density of "stuff" to see (much of it obscured by the sands of time). An attempt to walk across it would likely end badly but it is a simpler space. \$\endgroup\$
    – Avestron
    Jun 3 '14 at 6:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also you could build your world in phases. You might only build the framework of the world at large while focusing on a particular country for most of the content. You will still wish to invest a little general information into the most prominent places of lands that the players might never see (example - the Grand Duke Kardash of Hitheria has clamped down on commercial and citizens' movements until an investigation into a leaked plot to kill him is concluded. No need to get into further details that would not be included on a travel brochure for Hitheria. ;) \$\endgroup\$
    – Avestron
    Jun 3 '14 at 6:22

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