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Now those who sail the Big Pond
Will tell you of its mystery
They'll brag of all those battles
And all the bloody history

But talk to any river-dog
Who sails upon the Gleniwent
He'll say God made the oceans
But the River's what he really meant

Oh, the Ocean is a question
But the river is an answer
With here rollicking and frollicking
As fine as any dancer
So let Hell take the shirkers
For this old boat wont carry 'em
And if we lose some crew or two
We'll drink to 'em at Meremund…

(from) Meremund - originally found in Stone of Farewell Tad Williams

Basic Information

A river is a permanent natural watercourse, possibly distinguished from other permanent natural watercourses by its size, although that is far from certain. The natural is also debatable given that extensive hydrological engineering can divert a river miles from its original course whilst it still remains - officially at least - the same river. Suffice to say that a river is not usually a canal. Permanance is also a key feature - if a "river" only runs seasonally, it probably needs a different name - and any culture that has seasonal rivers will generally have a name for them as well.

The course of a river is traced from source to destination - the source usually being a single identified point (either a spring or a body of standing water) from which it grows as it is fed by a series of smaller tributaries and the destination being a larger body of water: a lake, sea or, indeed another river. Occasionally a river may terminate in a wetland of somekind instead or disappear underground (which may actually lead to it feeding an underground sea or aquifer). Underground rivers do exist, but are significantly less well understood.

Historically rivers have been a key water source for many civilisations, both for direct consumption and for irrigation and have provided fish as a food source. Flowing water also provides potential industrial power, sanitation and transport (indeed water transport was vital to civilisation into the modern era). Rivers can also act as boundaries between neighbouring cultures and focuses for communities that spring up around crossing places - it is a general rule that if you follow a watercourse for long enough, you will find civilsation (or at least settlements). With very few exceptions, most of the worlds largest cities will be built around a river.

Where rivers used for transport pass close to each other, or encounter obstacles, expect a portage to be developed.

This article is a stub. Please expand on it!

List of Noteworthy Rivers

Real World Rivers

Mythological Rivers

Fictional Rivers



Game and Story Use

  • Potential for cultural differences between a culture where rivers are primarily barriers (say, a nomadic herding culture) and one where the river is the focus of their civilisation.
  • Major rivers should be highly significant in any campaign setting - and not just something you have to find a way over.
  • Rivers also allow you to place a major port in the middle of a continent, especially if you build the city on a portage or at a major river junction.
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