Thursday, September 10, 2009

My Reward

Part of the Evil Distance Table

In the eighteen months since starting this blog, I have had a number of very well meaning suggestions, many of which have been quite brilliant and much appreciated. All have been sincere – even those which were given with less than charitable consideration. Some have been to suggest different ways that I might do things – easier, less complicated ways. As I said in a comment a few days ago, I find myself somewhat disturbed by the trend in players to seek shortcuts where they’re not needed.

I don’t mean to abuse those who make suggestions for simplicity. I do wish to convey why I resist these suggestions.

There is an emotional response which I sometimes have towards my world that makes every long effort more than worthwhile – and that response is stunned disbelief that I have managed to create something so beautiful that it is difficult to look away. Yes, I know how self-aggrandizing that is ... but if you are a DM and you have worked dozens, scores or even hundreds of hours at a project which is now completed, you know exactly what I mean.

Take the image at the top of this post, which is a small chunk of the much larger market/distance table I made reference to recently. As I gaze at it, I am legitimately unable to wholly grasp that it came out of my mind. Yes, it wasn’t created in a day, it was slowly managed over several additions, often months apart – but it is a single entity now, one which I recently spent a great deal of time slowly and steadily sorting out.

Go on, if you dare, and tell me the shortest distance between Marburg in the bottom right hand corner and Bielefeld in the upper left. Keep in mind that the blue lines with an arrow are rivers, so that if you go with the arrow the first number next to the arrow applies (downstream), while if you go against the arrow the second number applies (upstream). You will make note that this means the shortest route from Marburg to Bielefeld may not be the same as the shortest route from Bielefeld to Marburg.

I’m happy to say I know the shortest distance, both ways, not just between these two cities but between every two cities you see on the table. Since this is a part of the table, some of those shortest distances are to be found by going around and outside what you see here.

Oh, just to clarify, the ‘distances’ you’re seeing are not in miles, but in days of travel, assuming an average of 20 miles per day, and given that a change in elevation of 400 ft. equals one additional day’s travel due to terrain. So where you see in the bottom right that Vienna is 20.4 days from Graz, that is because the Alps must be gotten over.

When I think about all this, and about the craziness of spending all the time figuring that out and the effort in making this table, I am quite content just to stare and stare and let my eyes follow the routes laid out. Moreover, I remind you that every place on this table is a real city, whose actual trade relationship with the rest of the world reflects quite closely the pattern represented here. The reason why Nuremberg was an incredibly rich and successful city during the middle ages was because of its central position between the Danube on the right (river ports Ulm, Ingolstadt, Regensburg, Passau, Linz, Vienna, etc,.) and the Rhine on the left (river ports Basel, Freiberg, Speyer, Heidelberg, Worms, Mainz, Bingen, etc.). A similar connection can be made regarding Brunn (modern Brno, in the Czech Republic) and its relationship to the Danube and the Elbe (river ports Pardubitz, Usti, Dresden, Dessau, Magdeburg, etc.).

I have a grasp now of how these cities relate to the political situations and strategic importance of their day because I have been down on the ground and have measured it, patiently. I am richer as a person, for when they speak of knowledge being power, I’m the drunk they’re describing.

Yes, of course this could be done more easily. I could separate all the cities in Germany and call it one block of trade, and have only one price for the whole region. But what would I learn from that? How much more ignorant would I be now?

And how much less a thing of beauty would be this table?


Chgowiz said...

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Just like a mathematician finds beauty in equations, or an engineer finds beauty in a construct, you find beauty in the accuracy and expression of alternative history in your world. It's like listening to a composition and then having the composer tell us the beauty he sees in it. I might not be able to appreciate it the same, but it is utterly fascinating.


Carl said...

You sound like me describing food (I'm a very serious hobbyist-cook, from a long line of professional cooks), and to a more limited extent, program code.

Alexis, this is a beautiful piece and the table is truly impressive.

Now, where's your book? ;-)

Alexis said...

Nag, nag, nag ...

I am in chapter eight, for your information, and beginning to move faster.

Adam Thornton said...

I am so lusting after the actual tables, when you have them available.