Friday, January 3, 2014

The Fantastical Possibilities of a Local Economy

Being on vacation, I have had time to give thought to matters that would normally be left on a shelf somewhere.  One of these would be how to adjust vast sections of North America, and to a lesser degree South America, in keeping with my game world's view.

For those gentle readers who may not know, my D&D world is Earth, circa 1650.  This would be at the end of the Age of Exploration, prior to the Restoration (for British readers) and at the outset of the colonization of the world.  There are British, Dutch and Portuguese outposts upon the coasts of India, China, the Spice Islands and Africa.  There are extensive Spanish colonies along the coasts of South America, and some settlement throughout the mountains of Columbia, Peru and Bolivia.  The Massachusetts colony has been formed, the Dutch have settled on Long Island, there are French in Acadia and Lower Canada, and there are Swedes on the Delaware River.

Before we talk, however, of what is going on beyond the seaboard, however, let me make a point about non-human races.

I have always meant to have them.  What is a D&D world without vast empires ruled by dwarves, elves, hobgoblins, gnolls, giants, ogres and so on?  Thus I determined that there would be some parts of Earth that were not ruled by humans.  This meant, naturally, that some considerable swaths of history would need to be changed; that places we associate with occupation by human tribes - such as the Samoyadi, Evenki and Nenets in Russia, or the Bantu, Kalahari and Zulu in Africa - would have to go.  A pity, true.  There are so many interesting stories associated with human tribal cultures ... but then, there's always the interesting variant that the Zulu in my world can be 8-foot tall fire trolls, with all that that implies.

The one human element that I have been determined not to have in my world would be the American Native. Naturally, this is a bit of a political choice - it means that the world I run simply wave the native tribes that crossed into the New World some 15,000 years ago out of existence.  There are those who wouldn't be happy about that.  Of course, those same people do not care that I wave the Bornu from existence, or that the Uighurs never existed.  These things are relative.  Whatever the case, I am left with a great area of the world - almost all of America and Canada - that is utterly, decidedly empty.

Consider, then, the next issue.  For those readers who, again, may not know, I have incorporated a vast trade system into my world.  This system depends on the actual production of goods and services, natural resources and handicrafts, that exists in the real world.  For example, the town of Bata in the modern Czech republic produces, yes, shoes.  Cadiz produces sherry, Astrakhan produces caviar, Delft makes porcelain, the dye derived from cochineal comes from the Canary Islands, frankincense originates in Yemen, whales are hunted on the Kara Sea, etcetera, etcetera.

It follows, then, that the goods that are produced in the regions that the Zulus occupy in 1650 are produced by said 8-foot tall fire trolls.  Such production is of course adjusted for technology, and the reduced amounts of production for a pre-Industrial world ... but there is gold in South Africa, so we can assume that our nasty trolls are, whatever else they might be interested in, digging up a bit of the yellow metal.

And so, whatever vast empty regions I have made ready in North America, one might think that the creatures I put there would make whatever are those things made in North America.


The Zulus, it must be understood, actually existed in 1650.  The lands were actually exploited at that time, for an economy that was marginally related to the rest of the world.  Not so in North America.  By the time vast areas of North America were actually colonized, the Industrial Revolution had happened. Farmers moved into prairie provinces and began to produce cash crops.  The states of Ohio, Missouri and Michigan were immediately tailored for mass production, not individual support.  If there was a culture that occupied, say, the province of Alberta - where I am as I write this - it wouldn't have need to transform every expanse of prairie into the production of wheat.  That's only something they would do if there were trains and boats to send that wheat to Europe.  This is not happening in my 17th century D&D world.

Then, limit the production of goods to those that would exist in 1650?  No, that's not practical either.  Alberta, to continue with that example, is occupied by intelligent monsters.  The only resource Alberta produced for the world market in the 17th century was beaver pelts - and really, that production didn't begin until post 1751.  One cannot build a localized, non-export economy on beaver pelts ... unless one wants to postulate really large beavers, cattle-sized, that are eaten by monsters that herd beavers in large numbers along the lake shores and river banks of the modern West Canadian province.

And that, my dear readers, is the thought process I am coming to.  Because I think there is something genius in that sentiment, something that proposes an obscure, barely connected economic culture in North America might serve to produce goods and services that don't otherwise exist in the real world.  Or, at least, they are produced along with reduced amounts of timber, grains, and assorted industrial goods that don't need to be made in great numbers.  I could use the information about Alberta, say, as a baseline (Alberta raises cattle, sheep and swine, it digs for coal, it gains fish from its many lakes, and so on) with things like 'massive big beaver meat' thrown in to make the economies more local and, well, weird.

I wouldn't want, obviously, to get too far out there and ruin the economic structure I've been building up for years - but perhaps there is room here to get really fantastical.  In a restrained, business sort of way.


Arduin said...

I know it's crazy, but I'd go absolutely bonkers if that sort of thing started showing up on the trade tables.

"Yes, my fighter has an addiction to candied Wyvern stings. Well, yes, I know it'll cost the party a good 800 gp a month, but what can I say? It's deadly good eating!"

That said, if you've left out the Native American tribes, does that include things like the Aztec and Mayan civilizations in South America as demihumans? Do you have a rationale in place, (assuming not, I think I've heard them mentioned before, could be wrong), for why they opted not to spread further north?

Would be really fun and interesting indeed to play a campaign of settling the frontier by fire and sword (and wagon trains).

jbeltman said...

I suppose you could look to see what were the last animals that the native americans made extinct and just add them back in. You would probably have all types of megafauna like wooly mammoths and aurochs instead of buffalo. You would probably find your giant beavers as well.

Blaise said...

Thanks Alexis, I had always wondered where the fantastical fit in to your world. I suspect you may have written about it before but I have not done the work to seek it out. If this is not true, I would be interested in the "monsters" in your world.


Alexis Smolensk said...

You can find a list of the monsters faced by the online party on one of the player's blogrolls, Blaise, here, here and here.

From those links, you'll see the party has fought an astral wolf, a huecuva, pirates, a man on tarn back, kobalds, an otyugh, a hydra and ghouls. They've also met a dragon and a ghost. Recently they fought a wraith, but that's not included in the blog roll yet.

Yarivandel said...

I find your idea of using the elements of real world in a fantasy campaign very interesting.
I am personally not convinced it would work for me. One of the charms of playing in a fantasy world is the discovering "the unknown" also in the geographical and cultural sense. Unfortunately I find it very difficult to get as a player as very few DMs I know bring depth to these aspects of the game.
But generally I would opt for visiting a great fantastic city I've never heard of than a fantastic city of Paris. But in truth it's a matter of proper presentation not the city name, so what do I know...
I am just curious, what lies in your world on the lands of current Poland? Is it a region inhabited by some demihuman race, a savage wilderness or a human kingdom?