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Points of Light Setting

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If the Old World could be glimpsed from above, it would appear much as an ocean of forest dotted with specks of flickering light. The cities of Men are little more than lonely islands rising out of this untamed sea, their nations nothing more than scattered archipelagos. Surrounding each city, town and village is an impenetrable mass of ancient and gnarled forest, within which uncounted horrors lurk. To stray even a short distance from the few roads that cross the forest is to invite death at the hands and teeth of any one of the myriad of nameless things that call it home.
Warhammer Fantasy 7th Edition: Beastmen

If you ever tried your hand at worldbuilding for any sort of adventure-focused story or game, you likely know it is hard to make an Adventure-Friendly World. The more details, history, and character you add to your world, the harder and harder it is to justify why exactly does it need your heroes at all and why various organizations, countries, or powerful and capable characters in your world haven't deal with the problem your heroes face. Moreover, the more you develop and establish your world, the harder it is to fit all kinds of stories you may have ideas for into it. As you develop the history and lore you also run into a risk of tearing away all the mystery of the setting.

Points of Light Setting is a world that is designed precisely to avoid these kinds of issues. It is a world that makes it easy to fit all kinds of adventures and threats as it is deliberately made to be dangerous and not well-defined. Common traits of such a world include:

  • Any cities, communes, villages or other centers of civilization are few, isolated and preferably small "points of light" scattered across a "sea of darkness".
  • Between these "points of light" the world is filled with dangers and there is no safe way to travel from one place to another. The exact nature of the threats may vary from roving bands of thugs to a Death World where literally everything wants you dead.
  • Means of communication between civilization points are few and as such information spreads slowly. It is possible for any of those "points of light" to be swallowed by darkness — terrorized, conquered, or utterly destroyed by some sort of evil — and no one else noticing until the same threat is at their own doorstep or a band of adventurers stumble onto it.
  • In such circumstances many settlements are founded and may even flourish for some time, only to ultimately fall, filling the landscape with all kinds of abandoned strongholds, empty cities, or ghost towns. It can also lead to the world being full of strange and fantastic locations for heroes to discover and adventures to take place in.
  • As a result, common people look to the world outside their communities with dread, often being distrustful of strangers coming into their town. Very few are well-traveled and even those are more likely to stick to common roads. Explorers are rare and trade is a limited and very risky venture. As such the world is mysterious and full of yet unexplored places and secrets to uncover.
  • Common people view those who traverse this world in search of adventure with a mix of reverence, distrust, and scorn, seeing them as extremely brave at best and having ulterior motives or outright out of their mind at worst. Due to this and limited ways to spread information, the world lacks many individuals of legendary renown and status, if it has them at all. Only the greatest and most accomplished of people, usually some sort of Hope Bringer, can manage to gain widespread fame in such a world.
  • The world lacks wide-spreading organizations or groups that could claim any sort of authority and actually enforce it. If an organized military force exists it is likely having a very limited reach from its main base of operation or spread extremely thin, leaving common people defenseless and in need of wandering heroes to solve their problems.
    • If there is an organization possessing means to enforce its authority and defend its subjects it may be isolationist, keeping its reach only to its own borders due to xenophobia, the pursuit of a specific goal within the territory it already controls, or a belief it has no resources or responsibility to provide for the rest of the world.
    • Alternatively, it may be aggressively expansionist, conquering nearby settlements one after another, making it another threat to fear and not means of protection from one.
    • Finally it may even lack the resources to provide security within its own borders. If people live in a kingdom or empire where travel is harder and more dangerous the further away you are from the capital, it can still qualify for this trope.
  • Due to all these circumstances, the world verges more on fantastic as each settlement can be its own Planet of Hats. Even if one village is home to a Fantasy Counterpart Culture realistically reflecting the real-world society that inspired it, the next one may be something different altogether. Two nearby towns may also exist on a different technological level due to lacking contact or means to share their technology. The determining factor what a traveler will find in the next town over is not realism in how various cultures develop, spread, or interact over time but a simple question in which settlements managed to survive up to this point.
  • If different species inhabit the same world they are likely to treat each other with distrust. Fantastic Racism, as well as regular one and xenophobia, can be very common. However, the isolation of communities means it will be very rare for the world to go into detail how different societies or species interact on any level above small and localized to a specific settlement. While Always Chaotic Evil races can still exist they will be treated no differently from human bandits who are just evil out of greed, cruelty or desperation, rather than due to some deity making them evil or an Evil Overlord creating them as his servants.
  • In fact, there will be very little focus on wider cosmology, with potential deities being either distant, confined to specific locations or limited to protecting only small groups of people. Evil gods are more likely to be a Sealed Evil in a Can and in form verging close to Eldritch Abomination types, whose goals and origins matter less than a direct threat to a hero they pose.
  • If the bad state of the world could be blamed on a single individual it too will be either long dead or withdrawn. If an Evil Overlord or a God of Evil is making the world so dangerous (as opposed of merely taking advantage of it to do things like amass an army) they are more likely to have a hands-off approach, letting their minions and creations roam freely while they focus on their actual goals.
  • The world often is presented as some sort of After the End scenario, where much more advanced civilization existed in nearby or distant past but has fallen and the current state of things is a direct result of this fall.
  • People fear what they don't understand and in this world they will not understand a lot, meaning any kind of magic, advanced technology, or superpowers will be feared and distrusted. The presence, power, and influence of such things may also be limited to avoid questions why it won't be used to fix this world, with an exception of an occasional villain who uses it for evil and needs to be put down.
  • There is less focus on Evil Versus Evil and Gray-and-Gray Morality, the kind of stories this setting provides usually make it easy for the heroes and the audience to decide which side to take. If a villain opposes other villains it is usually in form of Enemy Mine scenario with the hero or is making it very clear that one of them is A Lighter Shade of Black that still needs to be taken down but the other one is leagues of magnitude worse. An exception to that is a Villain Protagonist, but these are limited for darker and more cynical examples of this trope.
  • Death is dramatic. While the world doesn't need to be lacking ways for a character to come Back from the Dead, it is likely rare or beyond heroes' reach or requiring an epic quest in its own right. As such death of even a minor supporting character can lead to a heartfelt farewell and a serious injury may result in an early retirement or a lot of drama as the character struggles to adjust to their newly-found disability while continuing on their adventures.
  • The setting may throw in some form of aesthetics that will be easily recognizable to the audience as referencing modern days or well-known time period from real life, solely to provide a point of reference for them.

While such a setting doesn't need to have all of those qualities, they often overlap naturally. In fact, many of Points of Light Settings came to be unintentionally, due to being written to tell a specific story and not focus on other aspects of the world or simply a desire to tell series of standalone adventures without getting bogged down in worldbuilding details.

Many worlds of Heroic Fantasy use this type of setting, especially those with an episodic nature where each adventure is planned individually with no desire to make them into one long narrative. Space-themed settings are a natural fit too due to outer space being harsh, inhospitable, and unimaginably vast, especially if the galaxies are not yet fully explored or the infrastructure needed for easy space travel does not exist. This is also a common situation in After the End settings of various stripes, where the collapse of civilization is portrayed as breaking down travel, information networks and governments, leaving surviving enclaves alone in a sea of darkness and danger. It should also be noted that a Points of Light Setting can exist as a part of a larger world that does not follow its principles, usually due to being isolated from it by some natural means. In fact, many works of The Western genre or others focused on Settling the Frontier fall under this setting due to the fact they are about traversing wild and dangerous places and slowly bringing civilization to them.

A subtler variety is when functional traits of Points of Light Setting are still present in a world that should theoretically defy its principles. A setting may have widespread organizations, religions, and well-defined countries, but within it still can exist areas where protection of travelers and communication between communities are not ensured and other problems that steam from it follow. Many works of High Fantasy have an issue like this.

The roots of this trope can be likely traced back to chivalric romances that depicted the early middle ages as being like this after the fall of the Roman Empire. The reality wasn't quite so disorganized but at the time the romances were written many monarchs with ambitions of empire had a vested interest in that sort of narrative.

It should be noted that a Points of Light Setting is not the same as Crapsack World. The two may overlap but none of the traits of Points of Light Setting in themselves make it a Crapsack World and it can still have an overall hopeful and optimistic tone. In fact, the setting may be designed with the purpose of being fixed by the heroes. On the other hand a Crapsack World doesn't need any of the elements that define Points of Light Setting to still deliver on its overall grim and gloom tone, especially if it takes place in a totalitarian dystopia. Similarly, while this trope can easily overlap with Adventure-Friendly World, the purpose of one can be accomplished without it turning into the other — a world that eschews all traits of Points of Light Setting may still be adventure friendly, while a setting following them may not focus on adventuring at all.

The Trope Namer and Trope Codifier is Nentir Vale, the official default setting of the 4th edition of Dungeons & Dragons. "Points of Light" was an unofficial nickname of the setting referenced by its creators and fans alike during development and before it was given an official name. Later, it caught on in writing and roleplaying circles concerned with worldbuilding, becoming its own term. While D&D 4th certainly didn't invent such a type of setting, many of its traits were first defined on paper as its traits by Nentir Vale design principles.


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     Anime and Manga 
  • Attack on Titan turns out to be a subversion. It initially presents itself as such a setting, with one big point of light walled off and besieged by titular Titans, sending troops on risky missions to find other surviving settlements or at least their remnants. The subversion comes twofold. First it turns out they really are the only such point on the whole island and second it is revealed that the rest of their world is not like this - the island is a prison the ancestors of current population were sent to.
  • Claymore: Humanity is living in small cities and villages scattered across the continent and the only widespread group is Organization, whose only concern is overseeing titular Claymores, giving them new missions related to monster attacks or renegade members. As it later turns out this was engineered as a biological testing ground by a more advanced and organized nation far away on another continent.
  • Dog Days: Flognard was originally like this in the backstory, where demons roamed the land and leaving the safety of the kingdoms was a death sentence. That is until Princess Clarifier of Pastillage and her band of heroes hunted down and sealed every single demon on the continent, turning it into the Sugar Bowl that it is in the present.
  • Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within has humanity huddled into a scattered few megacities after the Leonid Meteor unleashed the phantoms. These phantoms aren't corporeal, and can pass through any barrier except special ovoid shields. Such shields have been erected as giant domes over the megacities, protecting them from these phantoms.
  • Fist of the North Star presents a postapocalyptic take on this with fantasy elements, like attempts at building first kingdoms in isolated areas and villains amassing medieval-style armies to conquer the wasteland. It was directly inspired by Mad Max and as such also features mostly isolated communities with their own problems upon which main characters stumble and murderous mooks roaming the desert between them.
  • GUN×SWORD: Endless Illusion is a loose bunch of settlements Van and Wendy tend to stumble upon, often erring on the side of Planet of Hats and the only group that seems to have become a widespread organization is one lead by the central antagonist it was originally a prison planet whose all means of governance have collapsed, leaving its technology behind. Unsurprisingly, considering the anime is taking a lot from a Spaghetti Western.
  • One Piece: The Grand Line is an ocean current that encircles the planet's equator. It's littered with hundreds of independent islands, each with their own unique climate and magnetic signature, which play havoc on the weather patterns throughout the Line's open ocean. To the north and south are the "Calm Belts", which are windless year-round and infested with giant sea monsters, making the only ways to enter or exit the Grand Line sailing up Reverse Mountain or using the official government port in the capitol city of Mary Geoise (the latter not being an option for most of the cast, being pirates and all).
  • s-CRY-ed: Lost Ground is a series of independent communities living on land separated from Japan after an earthquake. There is a big city operated by people from the mainland and those loyal to them that are trying to restore old order but they are mostly seen as invaders and opposed by said communities.
  • Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann: The first part presents the world as such, at least to humans — a wasteland with scattered underground human settlements, with any humans on the surface fighting to survive against Beastmen, who themselves are well organized and widespread but concerned only with hunting down humans. As it turns out this is by the design, Lordgenome had enforced such status quo to keep humanity from being deemed worthy of extermination by Anti-Spirals. In the series finale, it is revealed a whole Universe is full of Spiral races as numerous as stars in the sky but all forced into hiding from one another and from Anti-Spirals. The distant finale has new generation set off to make contact with all of them to ultimately undo this trope.

    Comic Books 

    Comic Strips 
  • Axa: The titular heroine is chosen to leave the safety of the Domed City, and traverse the post-apocalyptic world, seeking other survivors living in a City in a Bottle. Much of the world has been Reclaimed by Nature, and is full of Everything Trying to Kill You mutated monsters. Some villages have people living as pre-industrial tribes, though there is another domed city, built underwater.

    Fan Works 
  • RWBY: Remnants: The four flying cities are the only truly safe settlements in Remnant; the world below either consists of scattered tribes and city-states under vassalage of the Kingdoms, or is completely desolate due to the Grimm.
  • Triptych Continuum: Only about 6% of the land and 7% of the sky of Equestria is a "settled zone", a place where ponies and other intelligent beings actually live and work. The rest of the continent is all wilderness, often crawling with monsters and extremely dangerous to travel through, and these "wild zones" often separate and isolate individual settled zones.
  • Twilight Then, Twilight Now Universe: After the fall of Equestria, civilization largely crumbled, centralized governments reduced and vanished, and cities were abandoned. By the time of Dream Valley, ponies live primarily in isolated forts and mansions and in a single surviving town, each largely self-sustaining and separated from the others and from the distant kingdoms of the other civilized races by large areas of wilderness filled with the lairs of dangerous creatures and the holdfasts of evil beings.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Mad Max presents such vision of a postapocalyptic world consisting of vast deserts dotted with hardscrabble towns and menaced by raiders and warlords, with each movie having Max stumble upon a separate community in the wasteland and usually getting tangled in its problems.
  • Star Wars:
    • The Galaxy often functions more or less like this, depending on which part of it is being considered. Towards the Core Worlds, the heartland of galactic civilization, inhabited systems are physically closer together and the Galaxy's governments tend to be based there, resulting in denser habitation and consistent enforcement of laws. Towards the Mid and Outer Rims, however, civilized planets often become distant and isolated from each other, with long stretches of wild space and savage worlds between them, the rule of the current galactic government often becomes nominal when it's enforced at all, and stability only comes from the rule of large criminal syndicates or the occasional warlord. In Wild Space and the Unknown Regions, beyond the mapped parts of the Galaxy, safe worlds become rare exceptions in a sea of unmapped planets and reclusive alien empires.
    • On a smaller scale, sparsely-populated planets like Tatooine also work this way, with a few spots of civilization here and there and harsh wild environments, often home to barbarians, outlaws and dangerous alien predators, everywhere else. Most people in the Galaxy spend their entire lives on one planet or even one town, as they deem it too dangerous or otherwise not worth the effort to travel.
  • Waterworld is set on a future Earth after the polar ice caps have melted, submerging all the world's land masses. What's left of humanity lives on watercraft, such as the Mariner's catamaran, or on an artificial atoll that functions as a trade hub. Piracy, of course, is rampant and unchecked.

  • The Dark Forest uses this as the basis for a very bleak answer to the Fermi Paradox. Because of the immense distances between the stars, alien civilizations cannot communicate with each other in any meaningful way, and inevitably annihilate one another out of paranoia via Star Killing. Those civilizations who are lucky enough to figure this out in time will hide themselves from the rest of the universe however they can.
    Shi Qiang: That's... that's really dark.
    Luo Ji: The real universe is just that black. The universe is a dark forest. Every civilization is an armed hunter stalking through the trees like a ghost, gently pushing aside branches that block the path and trying to tread without sound. Even breathing is done with care. The hunter has to be careful, because everywhere in the forest are stealthy hunters like him. If he finds other life — another hunter, an angel or a demon, a delicate infant or a tottering old man, a fairy or a demigod — there's only one thing he can do: open fire and eliminate them. In this forest, hell is other people. An eternal threat that any life that exposes its own existence will be swiftly wiped out. This is the picture of cosmic civilization. It's the explanation for the Fermi Paradox. But in this dark forest, there's a stupid child called humanity, who has built a bonfire and is standing beside it shouting, 'Here I am! Here I am!'
  • Destroyermen: The novels are set in an alternate 1940s in which the K-T extinction never happened, and the dinosaurs and their contemporary species have continued to evolve.
    • The seas are teeming with predators (including "flashies", essentially tuna-sized saltwater pirannhas; and "mountain fish", carnivorous whales large enough to swallow ships whole), which have largely prevented plants and animals from migrating to different landmasses, allowing for a wide variety of evolutionary paths to take hold.
    • Living among this Death World are the Grik (an empire of Lizard Folk, heavily implied to be descended from raptors), scattered populations of Lemurians (Cat Folk who evolved on Madagascar but had to pull a Homeland Evacuation when the Grik invaded), and the occasional community of humans who got stranded in this world after getting pulled through a Squall. Not all of those humans are from the same universe, either.
    • Over the course of the books, The Alliance started by the crew of USS Walker to fight the Grik explores this alternate world and gradually becomes a Space-Filling Empire; however, much of its territory consist of islands or coastlines, and as late as Devil's Due (the eleventh book out of fifteen) one character doubts more than 5% of the globe has actually been explored yet.
  • Hikari No Ou: The known world consists of the capital city, a smattering of villages, and the armored trains that bring news and goods through the trackless forest between them. There's also mention of an island far out to sea where the people speak the same language as those on the mainland.
  • The Lord of the Rings: By the time of the War of the Ring, millennia of war and social decline have left Middle-Earth in this state.
    • The elves and dwarves are Dying Races, the former restricted to four city-states often little more than fortified households and the latter a Vestigial Empire clinging on to life in a handful of far-flung outposts after the center of their civilization was lost to orcs, dragons, and worse.
    • The human kingdoms have been in decline for centuries or more, with the northern land of Eriador so completely destroyed by civil war and a great plague that the western Middle-Earth is almost totally devoid of human life, with only ruins and haunted cairnlands marking the old kingdoms' extent.
    • Outside of pockets of civilization and a couple of dying kingdoms, Middle-Earth consists of miles and miles of empty lands, dark forests where no one dares to go, ruined dwarf-cities crawling with monsters and lands ruled by orcs and human barbarians hostile to all outsiders.
    • The remaining holdouts of civilization are often highly isolated and superstitious — the hobbits have little to no knowledge of anything outside the Shire, for instance, while the Rohirrim have come to regard the elves of Lothlórien, one of the greatest remaining bastions of good, as malevolent fey ruled by a dangerous witch.
  • The Night Land: Taken to an extreme, where After the End there exists (as far as everybody knows) only a single refuge of humanity, a giant fortress called the Last Redoubt. The world outside is inhospitable to the extreme, filled with monsters, Eldritch Abominations, air that ranges from hard-to-breathe to poisonous, and toxic vegetation and water. There used to be a Lesser Redoubt, but it was overrun by monsters.
  • The Witcher: After the Conjunction of the Spheres, the Continent was invaded by hordes of monsters from dozens of universes. The Witchers, alchemically altered monster hunters, were created to fight them off, but often treated as little better than the monsters by the fearful townspeople. By the time of the books and games many monster species are nearing extinction, but there's still little central authority, with small kingdoms and the Nilfgaardian Empire just starting to exert control over the scattered villages and towns.

    Live-Action Television 
  • Andromeda: After the Nietzschean Rebellion and the failure to establish a Nietzschean Empire, the post-Commonwealth reality is full of largely isolated worlds, some of which are under the boot of this or that Nietzschean pride or a MegaCorp. The protagonists are a Commonwealth High Guard captain and his Sapient Ship who got trapped on the edge of a black hole for 300 years, and the salvage crew who pulled them out and were recruited into the captain's self-given mission to rebuild the Commonwealth through a combination of diplomacy and Lost Technology weapons.
  • Star Trek: Discovery: The third season, set in 3189, turns the Trek Verse into one of these. 125 years prior, much of the galaxy's dilithium went inert and millions of ships exploded for no apparent reason in an event called the Burn. With little dilithium left to fuel warp-capable starships, The Federation largely collapsed in the following decades, and now exists as a Vestigial Empire that almost no one takes seriously. While interstellar travel is still possible, the rarity of dilithium means that it is no longer commonplace, and most star systems are left to govern their own affairs.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Many D&D worlds started as this type of a setting, before being developed into something else over time.
    • Dark Sun is this in spades, being a postapocalyptic take on a fantasy genre and as such mixing two genres most fit to this kind of setting.
    • Dragonlance started as an attempt to combine influences from The Lord of the Rings and Gygax's worldbuilding. As such, it tried to tell a High Fantasy narrative in a world that was only beginning to raise up from an apocalypse, with few remaining kingdoms distrustful of one another and unprepared to defend against world-conquering armies of evil and other races like elves and dwarves isolating themselves from rest of the world. This aspect eventually vanished with the release of a large number of other adventures and novels adding more and more to the world until it firmly moved closer to a standard high fantasy territory. The moment the series moved from Age of Despair to Age of Mortals is often seen as when the transition kicked off for good and even later attempts to roll back many of the changes did not manage to shake it off.
    • Forgotten Realms uses this in locations isolated from major civilizations, most famous of those being probably Icewind Dale — a snow-covered area cut off by mountains where main centers of civilization are literally called the Ten Towns because there is only ten of them and communication between them is limited due to extremely dangerous environment. In fact, it originally was very much like Greyhawk, but it doubled down on filling in the blanks with sourcebooks and tie-in novels.
    • Greyhawk was intentionally defined very vaguely with a lot of uncharted wilderness and abandoned, monster-filled locations for heroes to explore before Gary Gygax filled it with kingdoms and history connecting it all. Even then he stuck skimming the details to preserve the "easy to place adventures in" aspect of the world.
    • Mystara started as a bunch of standalone or loosely connected adventures, usually providing a location and danger present in it. It was only when these adventures were made into one comprehensive world with its own politics, mortal and immortal alike, that points of light aspect was lost.
    • Nentir Vale, the default 4th edition setting, was created as a deliberate stylistic throwback to the original iterations of Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk, which led to it becoming the Trope Namer and Trope Codifier. The history of the world is an ongoing saga of great empires rising, fatally overreaching themselves, and then being destroyed, leaving the scattered survivors to claw a living amidst the newly resurgent wilderness until they can rebuild civilization again. The most recent major empire fell barely a century ago, and thus people tend to be concentrated into either small tribal units or else isolated city-states. In fact, several of the known city-states of the setting trace their origins further back than that; Sarthel was originally a provincial capital for Bael Turath, the tiefling empire that ruled much of the world; Merindaelion is a kingdom of half-elves descended from a fallen elven kingdom named Solaneillon, which began assimilating human mercenaries to try and stave off its decline a thousand years ago; Rethmil tried to become its own empire and failed over three thousand years ago, then ended up as a conquered province of first Arkhosia, the dragonborn empire and rival of Bael Turath, and then Nerath, meaning Nerath's fall has granted it a century of independence.
    • Ravenloft is a whole demiplane of areas literally isolated from one another by deadly mist, each one filled with its unique kinds of monsters and usually only a few small towns in it, and each ruled with an iron fist by a different tyrant.
    • Wilderlands Of High Fantasy, a third-party setting, has this philosophy as one of its core foundations: its setting is very loosely defined, almost entirely unexplored, scattered with ancient ruins, and filled with monsters and unknown horrors. Travel is unpredictable and perilous. Even the mightiest of kingdoms — Viridistan, Tarantis, Rallu, and the City-State of the Invincible Overlord — are little more than petty city-states with only a tenuous grip to the surrounding lands and almost no influence anywhere farther. As the book itself puts it, "civilization is but a candle in the dark".
  • Exalted: Creation has gone through at least three apocalyptic events in the backstory, the most recent one happening seven and a half centuries ago. The Great Contagion (a magical plague) wiped out 90% of everything living and then the Balorian Crusade (an invasion of The Fair Folk hell-bent on returning the world to Chaos) killed off a lot of the rest. The world has climbed up since then, but it still has vast swathes of unexplored lands, vastly isolated nations, wildernesses ruled by barbarians, beastmen, petty tyrants, restless dead and The Fair Folk, a fair share of Lost Worlds, and ruins everywhere.
  • GURPS Steampunk Setting: The Broken Clockwork World: The "Broken World" used to be a reasonably orderly, peaceful world of steampunk city states. Then something tore it apart and put it back together wrong, leaving it distinctly post-apocalyptic. Many of the old cities still stand, for now, but the points of light are flickering at best.
  • Ironsworn: The humans of the Ironlands live in isolated settlements, and most Ironlanders stay away from the dangerous, mysterious wilderness. There are no united kingdoms, contrasting with an Old World which is either inaccessible or destroyed. The Ironlanders live apart from the Ironland's original inhabitants, the firstborn — if the firstborn even exist. These setting assumptions work together to uphold one of the principles of Ironsworn, that the player's responsibility is to "portray a heroic character in a harsh land."
  • Ironsworn: Starforged: Settlements are scattered across the star cluster of the Forge, having only been recently founded by fleeing refugees and thus lacking either the numbers or the organization of its residents' home galaxy. Journeys are risky and entire quests can run from traveling from system to system.
  • Numenera:
    • The game is set in the wake of a billion years' worth of godlike civilizations emerging, ruling the Earth and vanishing or collapsing, and this has deeply affected the nature of the world. Human civilization — and likely the human species — has only recently reemerged, and is both very fragmentary and constantly in the shadow of the ruins of the prior worlds and the plethora of technologies, entities and creatures left over from their reigns. Even in civilized lands such as the Steadfast, Lostrei or Augur-Kala, settlements are often very isolated and separated by vast stretches of wilderness home to ferocious predators, incomprehensible and usually dangerous machines, vicious abhuman raiders, and good old-fashioned bandits; it's very common for distinct towns to have very unusual quirks not shared by others or to even be unaware of their nation's nominal capital. In the wildernesses of the Beyond, villages and cities are often tiny islands of civilization in vast seas of dangerous, uncharted land, and having arisen in complete isolation tend to be wildly different from one another — one town might be home to peaceful farmers, the next one over to insane cannibals, the next to exotic people riding strange machines, and the next one still not even home to humans.
    • The Gloaming is an Alderson disk, a flat habitable structure built around a star placed within a hole in its center, and the text puts a great deal of emphasis on the impacts of its immense scale. Only a small portion of it is the right temperature for Earthlike life to inhabit, and this still covers an area millions of times the size of the Earth; the species that live there are divided from one another by immense distances, making communication difficult, and the only large-scale organization, the Confederation, covers only a tiny fragment of the livable area despite counting thousands of species. Even then, the Confederation is very spread-out and thinly populated, and most of its territory is wildland home only to animal life.
  • Primeval Thule is a setting available for multiple systems (including few editions of D&D), that is inspired by classic works of Sword and Sorcery genre. As such it presents a world of dangerous, untamed wilderness full of monsters and ruins of fallen civilizations, where most people live as barbarians and few cities are dens of corruption and villainy.
  • Summerland: In the wake of the Event, when a vast Enchanted Forest suddenly and destructively overlaid itself on the world, human civilization exists as scattered clusters of villages and survivor holdouts in the depths of the global forest. The forest's Call will claim most humans who are left outside of a settlement one night falls, and individual settlements are divided by long stretches of forest and ruins home to feral humans, dangerous beasts and alien spirits. The few people immune to the Call are the only ones capable of making the dangerous treks between towns and into the old world's ruins, and despite serving as the only reliable means of communication and exploration are often viewed with distrust and wariness by the rest of the survivors of civilization.
  • Traveller: The "Galaxiad" setting for T5, also known as Milieu 1900, is set 700 years after the New Era and consists of pocket empires of up to a couple dozen worlds. These pocket empires are separated by tenuous routes 40-50 parsecs long.
  • Warhammer: The majority of the world consists of vast stretches of wilderness, dark wastelands, barren steppes, vast deserts and harsh mountains home to monsters, dangerous beasts, orcs, beastmen and the forces of Chaos, often littered with the ancient ruins of dead civilizations in which ancient undead lords still lurk and with civilized nations far apart from one another. Even within actual nations, civilization often exists as a loose web of cities and roads woven through vast expanses of wildness crawling with horrors, which periodically rise to snuff out the lights that would shine against the dark.
  • Warhammer 40,000: The Imperium rules about a million star systems, which amounts to 0.00001% of the galaxy; besides it, a few Eldar Cratfworlds and surviving colonies also shine here and there, while the Tau Empire maintains another small pocket of civilization on the galaxy's rim. Between these far-flung worlds there is space for roving hordes of Orks, high-tech ruins millions of years old, hostile alien empires, Chaos abominations, bizarre cosmic phenomena, and any threat or adventure you could care to imagine. This is particularly the case for the Imperium Nihilus, the half of the galaxy left cut off from the psychic lighthouse of the Astronomican by the formation of the Great Rift, which has made faster-than-light travel and communications difficult and unreliable and thus cut off many Imperial worlds and sectors from one another.
  • Warhammer: Age of Sigmar: During the Age of Chaos, the hordes of the Ruinous Power swept over creation and overran almost everything save for the fortified realm of Azyr, leading to the collapse and erasure of almost every trace of the many civilizations that existed within them. By the game's timeframe, the lands of the forces of Order consist of the far-scattered Free Cities founded by Sigmar's expeditionary forces, alongside isolated and embattled cities, tribes and kingdoms of mortals that survived the dark times, which are separated by world-sized expanses of wilderness and wastelands ruled by Chaos worshipers, roving hordes of Destruction barbarians, former Order cultures that became dark and hostile to survive, primordial monsters, living and predatory spells, and stranger and more dangerous things.
  • World Tree (RPG): The titular World Tree has many branches, and is constantly growing. Civilization tends to gather atop the newest and best-sunlit branches, in handfuls of mighty cities and smaller villages, each normally surrounded by powerful and deadly magical walls. This is because outside of these areas are many monsters and dangers deliberately created or encouraged by the gods to populate a world of adventure, while the geography of the Tree encourages civilization to exist as long series of cities strung out along the (relatively) narrow branches, which makes it very difficult to enforce any kind of large-scale rule. While there are old and broken cities deep within the shadows of the lower branches, some possibly with treasures worth entire new cities, they might as well not exist anymore once the monsters take over.

    Video Games 
  • BlazBlue: The Earth is almost completely covered in seithr, a magical toxic gas that not only renders all but the highest mountaintops uninhabitable for humans, but has mutated and generated magical beings, some of which are friendly to humans but most of which are hostile. The result is humanity being reduced to roughly a dozen cities around the world located on these mountaintops; despite there being The Empire that governs these cities, there isn't much means of or interest in communicating with each other. Unlike most examples of this trope, none of the main characters are all that interested in traveling the world — the ones that have are not fond of it at all — and most of the story is set in the city of Kagutsuchi.
  • Borderlands takes place on a planet called Pandora, where populations are separated by long, desertic routes filled with bandits, dangerous creatures such as Skags and Rakks, and (in the General Knoxx DLC) Crimson Lance soldiers and Skyscraper spiders, among other hazards.
  • Fallout is mostly this kind of setting. Although a few regional powers begin to rise as the series progresses, the world is mostly made up of isolated settlements cobbled together from the ruins of civilization and a handful of Vaults that haven't managed to kill their inhabitants. The wasteland is otherwise populated with raiders, mutants, ghouls, pockets of radiation, and various other horrors which only a few brave traders and heroes attempt to navigate. This is largely averted in Fallout: New Vegas, though. The Mojave's communities are relatively well-connected (though with some disruptions on the major caravan routes), and they're coming into contact with external regional powers and with local warlords who want to become regional powers.
  • The Gold Box game Pool of Radiance is focused on a ruined city infested with monsters that is slowly being reclaimed as the player characters clear out sections.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: The game's version of Hyrule is set in the wake of a fantasy apocalypse that almost completely destroyed it a hundred years in the past. The extensive ruins found throughout it show that it was fairly densely populated before this, but in modern Hyrule civilization is limited to seven isolated villages — three effectively human ones and the four other species' base towns — and a handful of roadside stables. Outside of these, the world consist entirely of vast stretches of wilderness littered with the broken shells of villages and sites of ancient magic, and travel between the surviving towns is difficult and dangerous — numerous monsters live in the ruins of Hyrule, often making their encampments in the remnants of towns, along major roads or even right outside the surviving settlements, while central Hyrule is so infested with the powerful, deadly Guardians — Magitek robots that were the ones to destroy Hyrule to begin with — that nobody lives or goes there anymore. Link, of course, is going to spend his quest hoofing it through this wilderness, fighting monsters, living off the land and uncovering a great many wondrous and secret things.
  • Outward: Cities are relatively isolated, and outside of the larger metropolitan settlements there are essentially no villages besides a tiny handful made up of warrior clans due to the hostility of the wilderness. When the game begins, your character has never left their city except on a boat that was headed to other pockets of civilization.
  • Tales of Berseria is set in a world where civilization has almost experienced a collapse due to demons emerging ten years prior to the story. Now, half of the world's population is dead, and while the world-spanning Empire has endured, it was only thanks to the Abbey, a Church Militant that has the means to effectively fight demons. However, they still spread extremely thin, leaving smaller settlements to their fate. This helps our Anti-Hero Team in evading the Abbey, as they can't spare enough people to chase the party.

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY: The Creatures of Grimm are found everywhere throughout Remnant, seeking to destroy humanity and their creations. In the countless years that humanity had roamed the planet there have only been four locations that have survived throughout the centuries. Those being the four Kingdoms, Vale, Vacuo, Mistral and Atlas, only surviving due to humanities tenacity and the natural barriers, such as mountains and frigid temperatures, keeping Grimm away. Although small villages have been built, they do not last long thanks to the Grimm. There is also the island Menagerie, a safe haven for the faunus, though two-thirds of the island is covered in desert and there is deadly wildlife keeping people from expanding.

  • Girl Genius: Most of Europa (an Alternate History early 19th century Europe) is a wilderness where travel is made deadly dangerous by Mad Science-generated biological and mechanical abominations left to roam on their own after fleeing from their creators or their falls, bandits and army deserters still equipped with powerful weaponry and vehicles, and more mysterious beings. Civilized life is confined to a number of fortified cities and strongholds ruled by Sparks. This situation is a result of the Wulfenbach Empire’s Pax Transylvania, and widely considered an improvement over the prior status quo, in which the Sparks creating the monsters were constantly at war.

    Web Original 
  • SCP Foundation: SCP-3008, an IKEA store that is Bigger on the Inside and full of people who got lost inside. Many of the people have constructed crude settlements out of the furniture and stock, and fortified them to keep the monstrous "staff" at bay. Due to the immense danger of traveling at night, people cannot travel very far before needing to retreat to safety, and contact between settlements is tenuous and limited to neighboring ones. Sometimes a settlement falls to the staff, forcing the survivors to move to another or build a new one.

    Western Animation 
  • Amphibia: Amphibia is nominally ruled and controlled by the Newt Kingdom and Toad Army, but in reality, feels much more like this. Toads are more like bands of thugs controlled by rivaling warlords only held together by fear of Newts, who themselves do not seem to care about anything beyond enforcing their rule and taxes. The civilization points are scattered between large areas of wilderness and even staying on the road does not warrant safety from all kinds of monstrous animals and other creepy creatures roaming them. And even the existing points of light aren't safe from dangers - Wartwood is constantly under a threat of all kinds of beasts and even the capital city of Newtopia can suddenly be besieged by giant ants.
  • The Legend of Korra: During the story of Avatar Wan, there were four civilizations, watched over by four lion turtles, who would grant the power to bend elements to those who wished to journey out into the wilds between each civilization. It was only when bending was granted to humans full-time and the spirits left for their separate world that humanity was able to expand their civilization beyond these four separated cities.
  • Samurai Jack: The Future That Is Aku is technically ruled by a single authority in the form of Aku himself, but he and his subordinates seem mostly concerned with hunting down Jack and snuffing out any remaining points of light, filling the world with more monsters and criminals.
  • Fangbone!: Skullbania seems to be mainly comprised of vast expanses of wilderness, with most of the settlements being the Barbarian Tribes' villages. The only other form of Skullbanian civilization ever seen in the show is the city of Minkwater, where the Shadowsteppers are headquartered at.