A Sense of Scale

Something that I’ve often pondered as I’ve worked on my books is how to get across the sense of the scale of different things, in particular the mountains. It’s difficult, and something I have struggled with. Especially for my international audience who has less of a grasp of what feet and inches are. Yes, I think America should convert to Metric, but I grew up with feet, inches, and miles. It makes it interesting. Anyway, I thought I’d share my thoughts on the scale of things.

I grew up in Utah, near the Wellsville Mountains. The mountains are tall and jagged, and are considered one of the steepest mountain ranges in the world for their width. This is in part due to how young the mountain range is. One thing to remember is that the Godsrage Mountains, which Sistina is in the mere outskirts of, is only about 6,000 years old and it was created extremely violently, which means that they’re even more jagged and nasty than what I’m used to. Still, I’m going to try to explain the size of Sistina’s mountain.

I live at an elevation of approximately 4,300 feet (1,300 meters). One of the nearby mountains, Mount Ogden, is 9,579 feet tall (2,920 meters). This is very close to what I imagine Sistina’s mountain as being like, about 1 mile tall (1.6 kilometers). The base of the mountain, where the dungeon entrance is located, is located approximately 2.5 miles (~4 kilometers) from the center of the mountain. Yes, I’m making the mountain roughly circular which isn’t terribly common, but it works for my purposes.

You can probably see why they didn’t decide to go over Sistina’s mountain. What with cliffs and other hazards, it just wasn’t worth it. And realize, while Sistina’s tree is located somewhat beneath the altitude of the dungeon entrance, her domain is mostly a sphere, and encompasses the entire mountain.

Just to give a sense of scale for all of you.

9 thoughts on “A Sense of Scale

  1. If she controls the entire mountain and her domain is a sphere, wouldn’t she cover the town outside the mountain too? I’m not great at geometry but I’d think she’d be either missing the top bit of her mountain or be VERY aware of what’s going on in the budding city.


  2. As a matter of fact, the town is actually slightly inside of her domain. Not all of it, mind, but some of it is. Remember, it’s a 2.5 mile radius sphere. Assuming she’s 1,000 feet below the town at the center of the mountain (not likely), the uppermost reaches of her domain would be 12,200 feet in the air, or a good ~7,000 feet above the mountain peak. And all of this is without necessarily including the town.

    Incidentally, this is part of the Bad Math that I realized I had in Spells of Old. Even in Ancient Ruins I knew she controlled the entire mountain, and that the space was a sphere. The problem was that I didn’t consider the full implications of that. Realize, her Domain reaches so far down that she might be into the mantle of the planet. (Assuming it isn’t a flat world. This /is/ a fantasy setting, created by gods as an experiment, so it’s entirely possible.) I’m not doing the math on that, though.


  3. this is for pat the earths mantle or crust is ruffly 30 miles thick and for Benjamin Medrano your math with you saying the entrance being 2.5 miles form the center of the mountain that would make the mountain and her domain 5 miles in diameter or 26400 feet with her “mountain” being only 1 mile high I don’t think it would be called a “mountain” and be more like a wide and tall hill


  4. I actually thought the scene where Sistina does that holo-map-projecting thing was a good way to give a sense of scale. I mean, maybe not the precise measurements, but “large” was kinda implied.
    Also, how long it took the adventurers to get anywhere.

    Also, about SI units – personally I’m used to metrics, but in fantasy stories that often actually feels wrong. Those measurements were, after all, only implemented relatively late. It’d usually make more sense to talk about old-style forearm or hand-spans or paces or whatever, unless for some reason the fantasy setting includes relatively advanced scientific methodology. Granted, fantasy worlds don’t have to develop exactly parallel to actual history, but some things just don’t make all that much sense to randomly pop-up if other things aren’t also there.


  5. *checks Wikipedia* Earth’s crust varies in thickness between 5-70 kilometers in thickness, and with 2.5 miles being about 4 kilometers, if this planet had a thinner crust in the location where Sistina is, it /could/ be close to the mantle. It isn’t, because the composition of the planet is somewhat different, but if this was on earth near the ocean, or an oceanic dungeon, her domain could extend into the mantle of a planet.

    As for mountains, let’s look at the slope grade. For a road, the steepest road in the world has a 35% grade. Sistina’s mountain averages a 40% grade, assuming it’s exactly a mile tall. That doesn’t include any cliffs, flat spots, or anything else. Because remember, you measure from the peak of the mountain to the edge, not the full diameter. And believe me, hiking up one of these mountains isn’t as easy as it might sound.

    Besides all of this, there is no concrete definition of the difference between a hill and a mountain. Different countries have different standards, so it makes things… weird.


  6. *nods* A very good point. I was mostly meaning, well, for instance my friend who inspired Joseph the Cleric. He lives in the middle-east of the United States. He mentioned that he has a hard time talking about mountains because he’s so rarely seen them in his life.

    In California, there’s a ‘mountain’ that’s about 980 feet tall, despite the United States classifying mountains as needing to be a minimum of 1,000 feet in elevation. I’ve seen authors like John Ringo use a ‘mountain’ with a peak of about 300 feet. It’s so incredibly random that it’s hard to get across to a reader how big a mountain is without outright telling them.

    And I prefer the same. For science fiction, I intend to use metric, but who knows? I very well may accidentally lapse into american imperial. It’s one of those things that I know I will have issues with.


  7. Your talking something like yellow stone National Park, there’s a enormous lava lake under it that’s actually a volcano and they say it’s not that far under the park and few hundred feet maybe.
    As for mountains I live in Colorado in the rocky Mountains the town/city I live in is at an elevation of 6512ft the hillside outside my apartment is so steep you would have to crawl on hands and feet to get up it.


  8. Or the oceanic crust, yes. It varies drastically.

    And yeah, Colorado and Utah are pretty similar in that regard. As I said, there isn’t a universal definition of a hill versus a mountain worldwide. The United States classifies anything taller than 1,000 feet as a mountain, but it’s hardly that useful on the slope of the buildings. And your hillside sounds like some of the areas up the canyon from me.


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