Monday, June 22, 2015

Fallow IV

Having some understanding of names, let’s invent some for the arc of our view from Argus Tower stretching from five to eight o’clock. The reader will remember that this encompasses the shoreline of the Widden Main, the ocean, from where it meets the Krankenwander to the furthest extent of the Fallow Peninsula. Peninsulas always end in capes, so let’s give that extent an appropriate name. Since the land of Fallow changes direction from veering west to veering north, let’s call the bit of land at eight o’clock ‘Direction Point.’

At this point I will ask the reader to visualize the shape of the land inside the triangle formed by the edge of the Krankenwander at five o’clock, Direction Point and us, here on the Tower. Furthest away is the ocean. Nearer is the shore, which I’ll define as a narrow band of flat land, four and five miles wide, just above sea level and at the mercy of storms and perpetual bad weather.

Above this coastal plain let’s have a cliff-face running along the whole of southern Fallow – three to five hundred feet high ought to be sufficient. We can imagine places where there are higher cliffs or gaps, places where the cliffs are crumbling and where they are formed of hardened rock. Presumably the Krankenwander meets the Widden Main as a series of cliffs six hundred feet high.

Between the cliffs and the tower, the land is flat, forested, filled with a number of small rivers that arise in low hills spattered through central Fallow, along the line separating the forest land of in front of us from the open plains behind us (remember, we’re more or less facing in the direction of six o’clock). These short rivers make deep cuts in the rock, so that the forested plateau is filled with canyons that have plunging rapids and waterfalls.

All except for one river, that is. We’ll call it the Assuage. It rises on the edge of the Krankenwander at about four o’clock and flows gently along a deep, stony bank until it reaches Blue Lake. This last fills a twenty-mile long cut in the tableland, surrounded by forest and narrow beaches. It is a deep blue in color. We’ll place it at six o’clock. It is about thirty miles from the city of Augustus, which we can imagine is much closer and located about six-thirty.

By putting this lake here we help break up the monotony of forest, forest, forest. The lake is beautiful, pleasant and easy to access from Fallow’s capital. We can easily see a well-worked trade route along the Assuage that leads into Blue Lake; from there, boats ferry across the lake to unload their cargo at a small town on the lake’s west end, nearest to Augustus. Let’s call the town after a person – a hero of Fallow. I’ve always liked the name ‘Wilhelm.’ Let’s call the town that. We can suppose that it moves timber cut along the course of the river, pitch and gum made from tree sap, articles made of wood, tree nuts, fish caught in Blue Lake and whatever else catches our fancy – the people in Wilhelm must do something for a living.

The road between Wilhelm and Augustus, used to ship these things, would not have sprung into existence overnight. The route would have grown organically. Likely, it would have first been a trail, probably before either the town of Wilhelm or the city of Augustus existed. We might even suppose it was a trail used by animals before humans even dwelt in the land, afterwards discovered by humans as the best, most practical passage between the natural forest growth, between outcroppings of rocks and those low hills I mentioned. Humans only need to invent or build things when a demand rises for improvement. The first humans dwelling in Fallow, concerned more with hunting than with building, would have found the trail as convenient as the animals did.

That would only change once a permanent habitation was established. Here we should understand that a settlement at either Augustus or Wilhelm would have been founded principally for those basest of human needs – food, shelter and water. I began by proposing the peoples here began with hunting. We know that both centers are surrounded by woods, providing plenty of lodging. And we know that Wilhelm is adjacent to a source of fresh water; we must assume that Augustus, too, is located on a lake, stream or easily accessible aquifer. With these three things, either place could have come into existence first.

Real growth begins when a luxury turns up near a subsistence-initiated village. Timber cut and made ready for shipment elsewhere is a luxury. Pitch and gum, furs, nuts, fish that is dried out in the sun, all things that could help Wilhelm grow, these are luxuries too. Many of these could be as easily found in Augustus. However, since Augustus is a city while Wilhelm is only a town, there must have been something truly special to be found in the woods around Augustus that was not found in the woods around Wilhelm. What might that be?

As ever, it is up to us – remembering, always, that whatever we choose will help define the sort of city that Augustus is, as well as what its people do throughout the toil of their day. It is one thing to supply a ball and bat; it is another entirely to formulate an activity with both that will intoxicate and addict the participants.

That is what we want, however: to immerse the player’s in a game that will seize them by their imaginations and hold them hostage until doomsday. Of course I can arrange an activity where I throw a ball and someone else attempts to hit it . . . whereupon we both go search for the ball before doing it again. There’s no question that this will fill up our time and perhaps even supply some satisfaction. However, we all know it is the sorry thing we all do when we haven’t enough players or enough resources to organize a real game.

In role-playing, the resources are there in our heads; the organization in how intrinsically unified or elaborate we make the world in which the players run. We can make up two places and call them names, but this offers little in the way of possibility. On the other hand, we can envision something special about two places that make them and their culture distinct due to where they exist physically in a physical world. This lets us build supposition upon supposition endlessly, making more and more room for all the elements of the game that provide great potential for a rich and exciting evening of play.

2 comments:

Tim said...

While you leave the choice of resources open, do you have any suggestions on making a good choice? I remember your economy video featured a few decisions based on geographical features (gold concentrated around rivers, for instance).
There would be choices which are geographically appropriate, and within those there might be choices which are more enticing to the players then others.
I would imagine, given your research on economies and resources, you'd probably have a pretty good sense of what are some common luxuries of all sorts of settlements.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Well, there's randomness of course - but virtually every resource is determined by topography and climate. Most hard metals turn up in mountains and rare metals in old worn rock like the Canadian Shield, Scandinavia or the Russian Tunguska, building stone too; fish by the sea, meat where there's plenty of grass for livestock, whale oil in the north, valuable woods at the equator and so on.

It's a simple matter of equating a part of your fantasy world to a part of the real world, looking it up on wikipedia and seeing what is economically important there.

Then tweaking that to add fantasy elements, mixing and matching regions, deciding what you WANT to be important and then building on the few basic details you've picked in a logical way.

For example, why did the creation of simple handicrafts like shoes, lamps and clothing become so popular for manufacture by Connecticut in the 1700s? Because the many, many small Connecticut rivers were very easy to dam and transform into ready-made waterwheel-driven mills. And how did that affect imports of those goods into England? It greatly diffused the British market and made shoes cheaper. And how did England attempt to deal with that problem? It attempted to impose tariffs on goods made in the American colonies.

And what happened then?

It isn't important what goods you pick. What is important is understanding how the presence of those goods CHANGES the viewpoints, goals and culture of the makers of those goods. You can't do that if you don't first understand what happens to an area once it becomes a center for gold mining, whaling or ranching.