Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Wheel

The wheel may be second on the list, but it certainly does not precede agriculture, hunting or mysticism. Though developed in southwest Asia sometime before 5000 bce, its widespread use developed as a result of transporting agricultural goods between cultures.

Not every culture developed the wheel. Inca and Olmec cultures did not, nor is there coherent evidence that the Zimbabwe culture of South Africa did. Therefore, in determining the development of a nation peoples in your world, consider that Incas were highly developed and civilized, with no wheel. Note also that the absence of the wheel would limit the development of pottery, mathematics and so on ... but would not necessarily deny the presence of these things. Natural gourds and other storage methods might replace pottery in those cultures – something to be considered.

The presence of the wheel in your devised culture is cut into two stages: the first being the solid wheel, limited in strength and in shock resistance. This wheel was the first developed, but was later replaced by the spoked wheel – coming into existence around 2000 bce and having the benefit of distributing the weight more easily upon the rim and axle (the solid wheel, made of slatted wood, did not). The use of the wheel in war, for the chariot, required that it be spoked.

If your culture has developed the solid wheel, there should exist a seasonal, bartering trade with other nearby cultures; where wide plains exist, and roads easily fashioned, such cultures may be more widespread, such as in the Middle East or in parts of Europe. The distribution of cultures (some being of different type) may allow for a wider range of weapons and treasure. It is up to you to decide, given that you will determine what the nearby trading partners might be.

Therefore, a plains culture with some agriculture may trade with a coastal culture, obtaining spears, coral and pearls, and even crushed shell as a fertilizer. A singular cult of the plains culture might include training in the trident, for purely military purpose.

Given that I mean to describe the wheel as the only advancement of the culture, extensive roads would not exist. Cart tracks, tailored to some degree with local stones, would be the height of the roads the party could expect – in overgrown areas or areas of hard packed earth and grass, the roads may disappear entirely, to be found two or three miles beyond. Locals would expect this – a travelling party might easily become lost.

The introduction of the spoked wheel, following the domestication of horses (animal husbandry), allows for the presence of the chariot. I want to make a small point here about the absence of practical, useful rules in D&D to manage combat by horseback. Clearly the creators expected players to ride up and dismount before fighting. However, the chariot was the true terror weapon of the 2nd millennia bce precisely because the riders did not dismount. At some point I mean to take all the various thoughts I’ve had on horses and chariots and produce a group of written rules – at present my offline party and I work according to agreed upon principles which remain fluid.

Since the wheel is so intrinsic to other technologies there is little to say about it beyond roads and chariots. However, note that the inclined plane, the wedge, the pulley and the lever are also basic weapons which come into existence along with the wheel, and which themselves highly influence a culture’s construction (monolithic construction in particular). The presence of these five basic tools in your culture means that the defences surrounding a tooled habitat should be stronger and more elaborate than a mere wall of boulders. A raised platform upon which cultural centers are built, split logs as well as finely cut and shaped stone, collapsing or lever-designed traps should all be present. It may not be as easy to seize a primitive village as the players think.

Next: agriculture.


KenHR said...

Some great points here.

As you allude to in this post, geography might have had a lot to do with why the wheel wasn't adopted by the Incas. They had wheeled toys and figurines, so they knew how to use the wheel. However, it would have been impractical for transport purposes due to the terrain. I think there were other, cultural, reasons (anthro classes were over a decade ago), but the physical landscape is seen as the primary factor in the case of the Incas.

Alexis said...

About the Incas - yes, I agree absolutely, and should have said so. And it follows that the physical landscape should always be considered in terms of every one of the early technologies listed in the game Civ IV. People who have played the game know that you must choose your technologies to fit with your first or second cities.

The same logic should be applied to D&D placement of monsters/cultures.

Ragnorakk said...

These are good posts and a very good idea. Can't wait to get to refrigeration!
Every developed technology, even those we consider primitive now, had huge impacts on culture, commerce, etc...and each has a variety of implications and synergies to consider. Looking forward - constant progress!