When I first began accumulating references from the encyclopedia I use, I soon found many, many references to towns that were markets for the surrounding country, commercial centers, important ports and so on. Any reference that I found like this I noted along with all the iron, cattle, wool cloth and whatever else I found, as a service called "market." As expected, I didn't find a market reference for every habitation - but I tended to find them for every significant city in my world. For some places, such as Antwerp, Hamburg, Barcelona and so on, I found references to their market significance over and over again, in some cases mentioned as often as 17 or 18 times. Like every other reference in my system, each time that a place was connected to a particular good or service, including markets, that counted as one reference. Sometimes, a given article in the book would mention the same product twice or three times - each time it appeared in a different sentence, I noted it as a separate reference.
Unlike the map of Pon that I created to discuss the trade system, my world has many, many places that not only are not counted as a market, do not technically have any trade references at all (the encyclopedia didn't refer to them by name). Just look at this one small part of France and Belgium:
|Scene of WWI|
Some of these places have references that are not markets: Lens makes canvas, linen, grows hemp and mines coal; Guise makes bronze, smelts copper and iron and manufactures tools; Arras grinds flours, weaves carpets and tapestries, distills lamp oil and smiths metal; Compiegne makes cloth, rope, ship's rigging (though it is nowhere near the sea), builds boats (it is on the Oise River, a navigable connection with the Seine), makes terra cotta and raises racehorses. All of these are details I found in the encyclopedia.
Most of these towns have no references: Encre, Denain, Formies, Vervins, Gilly, St.-Pol-sur-Ternois and so on. In my conception, this doesn't mean these places don't have an economy - it is only that, given a 17th century, backward world, that economy does not affect the world in a larger sense. The people of Bohain-en-Vermandais pick from their orchards, they collect the wool from their sheep, they gather medicinal herbs, they make ceramics - but there is no trade for these things in Bohain itself, because the town is simply too backward to have an established merchant class.
Oh, but how do I know that the people of Bohain do those precise things? Ah, because Bohain is in the Laon "zone" - and I do have references for the region surrounding Laon, if not the specific towns in that region. Thus to some degree every center in the Laon zone has orchards, sheep, a herbal culture and ceramic making; and these things are taken by individuals into the market of Laon, where the guild receives their goods and licenses those specific people to make those specific things. Laon then trades these things with Cambrai and Amiens, as well as every other market town in my world.
It would be the height of impracticality for me to try to make every town in my world a 'market' town. Just look at the math required to handle the small bit of the world shown - compare that to my whole world, that has more than 10,000 villages, towns and cities. I don't have that kind of time.
But suppose the party does find itself in Bohain? What can the party buy?
It is tempting to say they can buy ceramics or medicinal herbs. However, these things are carefully controlled by the local guilds and there is a strong feeling that the best thing to do is to sell these things in Laon - not only for the coin, but also for the relationship between the seller and the buyer. If I sell my pots to you, an adventurer, that's all very well - one time only. But then I'm going to have to explain that sale to my usual buyer, who buys my pots every season, who is now out a profit because I shortchanged him on my usual supply. We see these things as quite ordinary in the modern world - but back then, when supply was carefully managed and the world was very, very small (in terms of one's relationships), this would be a potential threat to one's permanent position in the community.
Am I saying the players can't buy anything in Bohain? No. I've made a provision. I mentioned this just a few months ago. In non-market towns, players will be able to find goods (when available) at the stockyards, the mason, the innkeeper, the chandler's and the carpenter's. This includes the town market as well:
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Players can buy local artwork, land, fruits, vegetables, grains, greasy wool - very common things that might be for sale anywhere. Though it must be noted that, according to common laws at the time, goods were for sale only on expressly permitted days of the week. Often, in Europe, this was Sunday, because people weren't working in the field and were in the village to attend church; it was also a good opportunity for the church to sell some things of its own (Jesus chucked the money-changers from the temple but they went back). Sometimes things were for sale only on festival days - though this was really a 13th-15th century thing, largely replaced by the time of my world. If we go back even earlier, the 12th century and before, goods were never for sale in a place like Bohain. The village wouldn't have made any of the things that I've described because the education for making things hadn't spread outside the very big cities. Three or four centuries before that, Bohain was little more than a wide place in the road (it was founded around 691 AD), where the dwellers were living on subsistence agriculture and probably did not even possess what we would think of as a "lord" - more like a tribal chief.
Food that is grown and then stored locally in a subsistence culture is never sold to anyone - that's just a guarantee that you'll starve to death during the next drought. Thus if you're running a world that is more backward than mine (which has a very establishing world-trading culture, permitting bulk food to be brought in to stave off hunger on a nation-wide scale), you might want to make rules for how large a town has to be before the inhabitants are willing to sell food.
Have a look at the places that fit into the Laon zone:
Now compare this with the references (or sources) that I use for Laon, garnered from the encyclopedia:
I color code these for ease of identification: lime green is foodstuffs, or manufactured food, blue is textiles, purple is alchemy, gray is materials, red is metalwork, bright green is fruits, nuts and vegetables, tan is livestock. In all, 94,552 residents and 25 total references. Saint-Quentin is as large as Laon but it isn't a market town - even though it produces nearly half the goods of the zone. How does that work?
Easy. Saint-Quentin is a religious center. Something that readers must get out of their heads is the 'logic' of their own century: people from another age thought very differently. All those textile products, all that sugar refining, a third of the metal industry? All done by monks in monasteries, making up the vast balance of the goods made in the zone. Laon isn't the market town because it happens to make the most stuff: it is the market town because it has good access to Alsace (to the east, not shown on the map) and ultimately to Italy, it is a big town, apparently it doesn't do anything BUT market goods and it isn't Saint-Quentin. The bishop will designate the market wherever the bishop damn well pleases. Can the players buy goods in Saint-Quentin? Probably not - unless they have some relationship with the monks, which might be possible IF the party cleric is the same religion and has gained some respect among his peers. I have noticed that my players' clerics tend to be anything except Catholic (they favor Celtic, for the most part); chances are they'll have to hoof it to Laon. I did have one player that choose a Catholic priest - Andrej, in the online campaign - and the campaign tended to play out to his and the party's benefit because of it.
The various goods, then, are collected in one market place because of the encyclopedia and because it makes the system easier - but ALSO because it creates that ever-important scarcity I am always going on about. The players must go to Laon; they must wait until the next time the market is open; no, they can't buy this thing they are looking at because it is promised to someone else - and so on. Scarcity creates adventure. The party decides that if they can't buy it, they'll steal it. The party decides not to wait for next Sunday, but to do without because they want to go now - or they have to go now because they are on the clock and the girl will die if they don't get there before Friday. The party would rather not walk five miles to Laon right now, but if they have to, they have to - and if something happens on the road, then it does.
Scarcity makes adventure. Ease of access destroys adventure. First rule of the trade system.