Building a World with A Globe and Paper

Dice, globe and paper. Along with a pencil, some pens, scissors and tape, these are our tools today.

Dice, globe and paper. Along with a pencil, some pens, scissors and tape, these are our worldbuilding tools today.

Inspired by this post by Deborah Christian on World Builder’s Academy and Random’s post on Reddit, I’ve decided to look into possibilities of doing this on a spherical surface so as to avoid the distortions inherent in applying the motions on a flat surface onto a putative spherical world.

I’m going to use two methods. One will be an attempt to temporarily tape “continents” onto a handy globe and move them about; occasionally taping some together or cutting them apart. The second broad method will use gplates to roughly simulate what I’m doing with the globe on the computer.

The first step of rifting. Select a center.

The first step of rifting. Select a center.

Both methods will follow the same rough rules. For each landmass(or piece of paper), I will roll an eight-sided die. The number rolled will determine the direction of movement, 1 being due north, 2 being north-east and so on around the compass rose in a clockwise direction. A six-sided die will also be rolled, 1 or 2 determining that the “landmass” rotates to clockwise, 3 or 4 denoting a counter-clockwise rotation, 5 no rotation and 6 will have a

Second step. Draw three rifts radiating from the center.

Second step. Draw three rifts radiating from the center.

special effect. The movements and rotations will be fairly small and by eye. In the event a six is rolled on the six-sided die, I will chose a point randomly on the landmass and I will use that as the center of a rifting event to split the mass into three new “continents”, each of which will henceforth move independently. In order to clarify any possible confusion, I have created illustrations of this process.

Cut along the rifts, and you have three new continents where once there was only one.

Cut along the rifts, and you have three new continents where once there was only one.

The next rule is that when two landmasses collide they will be attached together and henceforth move together unless divided by another rifting event. Some note should be made of the rough date of collisions and rifting events. These can be considered mountain-building events and their relative age could be used to control the application of erosion. Older mountain ranges would be lower and more eroded.

These rules are kind of primitive and they only really deal with shapes of continental margins and mountains created by intercontinental convergences, but they are a decent first try at creating a believable landscape. A more sophisticated model would do more to model mountain building due to subduction at oceanic boundaries and other effects, but for now this will have to do.

Today, I’ll start with the paper-on-globe method. Hands-on physical reality may make what we’re trying to do a bit clearer. First we need a globe. I’ll be using an actual globe of the Earth that I picked

The lovely globe

The lovely globe

up at Goodwill for three bucks. My original intention had been to sand the globe down and prepare it for the Chris Wayan Planetocopia treatment, replacing its surface with my own created world. Unfortunately, I’ve never had the heart to sand off its lovely surface, so it’s sat in the living room doing nothing but being decorative for the last year. Because I don’t want to damage the existing surface, I have to be somewhat careful how I attach things to the globe. I could avoid some of those worries by using a more prosaic ball, but the only ball I had available was somewhat

A ball.

A ball.

larger than my globe. Not much larger, but even on the globe I’m using Africa is about the size of an 8-1/2 x 11-inch sheet of paper and Asia is quite inconveniently large. Sticking the “continents on would also be a bit of a challenge. Although my trusty duck tape would have probably done the job most nicely, it would also have completely trashed the globe. I suspect Post-It notes could have easily been twisted to the purpose, but, strangely, I don’t seem to have any of those on hand at the moment.

I didn’t put too much effort into drawing precise shapes, which turned

Some pieces cut out and "ready" to be forced onto the globe.

Some pieces cut out and “ready” to be forced onto the globe.

outnot to be too much of an issue because my skills with a pair of scissors were barely up to the task of following the shapes of the blobs I drew. Perhaps next time I’ll have my grade school kids do the cutting. And drawing…

Even if the shapes had been intricately drawn and precisely cut with an exacto knife and a skilled hand, much of that would have been lost

The cut-out "continents" somewhat successfully adhered to the globe.

The cut-out “continents” somewhat successfully adhered to the globe.

in trying to force the flat sheets onto the curved surface. I wasn’t surprised that the larger cut-outs(approaching “Africa”-sized) were somewhat problematic, but even pieces smaller than “Australia” were still somewhat involved to force onto the surface. Had I been willing to use a stronger adhesive things likely would have been easier, but I suspect the required deformation would have still limited the detail attainable.

Some of the tasks involved in playing the Plate Tectonics Game were

Trying to cut rifts en globe. This proved nearly impossible.

Trying to cut rifts en globe. This proved nearly impossible.

unexpectedly involved. Each movement required the cut-out to be pulled up and laboriously re-stuck to the globe. Taping continents together after collisions wasn’t too difficult, but cutting them apart proved rather involved. Also the more rigid masking tape I used made it difficult to get the continents to deform to the surface. It seemed like they would have been pre-deformed, but not so much… I tried making cuts in situ, but that proved unnecessarily

Early stages in the en globe continental drift simulation.

Early stages in the en globe continental drift simulation.

difficult. Taking continents off the surface and trying to re-adhere them to the same location and orientation was error-prone at best.

Even though I ultimately did a pretty half-assed job with the paper-and globe method of tectonic drift simulation, it was still time-consuming and more than a little bit frustrating. The shapes were ultimately pretty vague. Whatever the results, they would have been

A little further along...

A little further along…

difficult to record with any precision. Possibly, I could see carefully measuring the latlong positions of vertices on the perimeter and using that either to start an equirectangular map on graph paper or enter into your favorite cad program. Might be useful for an all-by-hand-approach, but if your going to use a cad program anyway…

Bored now...

Bored now…

As a proof of concept, doing this with paper and globe was of interest, but I wouldn’t want to do it regularly. This turned out to be an all-day project. The results were not impressive enough for an all-day project. I give this one thumbs-down.

I’m already working on the gplates and qgis version of this little simulation/game. Hopefully it will be quicker…

Thank you for reading,
The Astrographer

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Mapping, World Building and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Building a World with A Globe and Paper

  1. Pingback: Plate Tectonics with GPlates and QGIS | Astrographer

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s