Friday, April 28, 2017

A World From Scratch ~ A Bigger Place

Following on the previous post, let's add another hex:

I've made one aesthetic change, by drawing in a bit of green where occupation has taken hold.  All the other changes have to do with the hex added on the bottom, marked "6."  I haven't changed the tech level, here; we are still in tech-5.  But the level of settlement has increased from a seven to a six, remembering that the most dense hexes have low numbers, "1" being the most civilized.

The six-level hex has a number of new features.  The most noticeable is that I've added an intermittent river, of the smallest possible size.  This is nothing more than a dry-bed stream that fills with water three or four times a year, depending on rain occurring in mountains that ~ as of yet ~ are an unknown distance away.  The hex also has two population centers, each of which could be termed a clan.  There is more food here and there is a new symbol, a gold coin.

A type-6 hex is considered to be advanced in a number of ways.  To begin with, it receives a bonus food, in part because there are two centers but also because the hex itself clearly has more food (else a greater number of people would not be living here).  Some readers may remember that I read the number of food as a binary number: 2 food showing on the map equals "11" in binary, equal to 3 as we would normally express it.  Therefore the type-6 hex has three times the food that the type-7 hex has.

This is not due to the stream; a type-6 hex may exist without the need for a stream, due to a number of factors, including ground water that is easily accessible, a particular kind of vegetation, the breeding grounds for migratory animals, particularly birds.  The hex may also be a travel route for migratory animals.  In any case, the inhabitants have learned how to exploit the benefits of the hex and have increased their number.  With three times as much food, we may assume there are three times as many people here: perhaps 90 to 200.  This is large enough to be deemed a tribe.

Note that the number of hammers has not changed.  This is because no special industry has been created.  While the hammers described the necessary activities of the community to maintain itself in the type-7 hex I described in the last post, the hammers in the new hex still describes that maintenance.  There is more maintenance, but the sum of maintenance to population hasn't changed.

This brings us to the coin.  Some will remember that Civilization IV gave a gold coin for hexes with rivers in them ~ I am simply continuing that process here.  The river, however intermittent, represents a tremendous adjustment to the community.  Water will flood, bringing an explosion of plant growth, which may then be gathered with less work ~ and some of it may be traded away, to persons up and down the stream bed, which forms a natural road through the desert.  Thus, without being specific about how much money actually exists, we can be sure the money's presence has produced a "building" ~ we'll call it an outpost.

An outpost isn't a market; there is virtually nothing here that can be bought, except for food, skins and some wooden products, such as can be made from willow branches and rattan.  We might have other things that are washed down or revealed with the river's flooding: placer deposits of copper, gold or silver, perhaps salt that accumulates when the river dries, perhaps gums and aloes that don't require agricultural know-how to exploit.  These products don't produce a plethora of buyers, obviously; just the few who will come through, collect four to six months of accumulation in exchange for a little metal, a few trinkets, some housewares and perhaps a few other things to make life easier.

Now, before we get to the party's experience, let's give a few names to things.  This gets complicated, so we apply easy to understand labels that will allow us to communicate.  We don't want fabulously difficult labels, so let's keep it simple:

There, this is beginning to feel normal.  Our players come from the little settlement of Ai, which we'll say occupies a lush little gorge some seven miles north of Bodo.  Bodo is a large clan settlement on the Djombo river bed and the secondary settlement of Cai is its satellite.

Let's have a look at the adventures we can offer now:
  • Presuming the party has made a bit of a name for itself in Ai, gone out into the unoccupied hex to the north and come back with food and skins, perhaps they can now take the skins they've collected to Bodo, where they can be traded for spears with metal heads, a small shield made of leather and willow branches, then sit in a mgahawa ~ a drinking bar ~ where they can have lightly salted fruit juices, just the thing on a hot day when one is going to relax. Here they can meet a merchant who will offer to buy as much leather skins as they can provide in the next four months.
  • Or they can learn that there is an old man in Cai who once entered into the desert, top left, and found a series of buried tombs and catacombs, but he could not carry home all the gold himself.  He is the only person the party has ever seen who had a gold necklace as wide as a person's wrist, so he would seem to know of what he speaks.  He cannot make the journey himself, but he says to take little birds in a cage; when the birds die, the party will know they are very close to the catacombs.
  • We might have a flood that occurs while the party is there, offering more water than the party has seen in their lives ~ and encourage the party to stay long enough to see plants bloom and give forth seeds; which can then be carried back to Ai to see if they can be made to spread in that valley.  While a sort of agriculture, it is minimal at best, and certainly what a neolithic culture would have done.  This may lead to a number of things the party can do to enhance the Ai and make themselves more important.
  • They may be asked to sort out a dispute, being outsiders; they may be allowed to demonstrate their cleverness by coming up with a solution that would enhance their status in Bodo and Cai.  Perhaps they might become "Those people from Ai," who are greeted as friends whenever they return, perhaps to be given an important role in expanding the economy of the whole region ~ even being made part of Bodo's tribe and encouraged to marry and rise as war chiefs.

There is always a tendency to think the game is about finding the dungeon, and of course that option exists. But there is status, too, to be gained, the respect of others and authority over them. Wealth is not a question of how much one owns, but how one's personal wealth compares to the wealth of the system.  In the closed system above, great wealth is fairly easy to obtain.  What's more, we might imagine that these two hexes are separated from the rest of the world by a hundred miles of empty desert, a long, long way for a single merchant and two camels to cross to collect a little salt, hides and gum.

Yet obviously, we are not done.  I will be returning to this, to expand our little world farther.


Embla Strand said...

This is excellent.

Your comment of population-maintenance ratio - Are you suggesting that what hammers signify is dependent upon the population total?

Alexis Smolensk said...

In my usual design, I use the population number vs. the area to determine the number in the corner, by a number of means. But since we are making THIS world from scratch, we're not bothering with all the fiddly computations I usually produce. We're just designating this a "type-6" because we want it to be. Therefore, population is merely a result, not a determiner in any way. The only determiner, therefore, is the hex type. The specific population has no particular meaning.

Hex-type determines the amount of food and the food determines the population. See?

With a higher tech, one that introduced a granary as a building, we could argue that population would not equal the food, as available food would be diminished each year for storage purposes; this would, in turn, produce food for trade ~ but were not dealing with this at tech-5.

Charles Taylor (Charles Angus) said...

This is a fascinating series. Don't have anything to add but encouragement!

Samuel Kernan said...

I am very excited to keep reading the series! It is really cool to see how things play out when you build the world from tech level and geography up instead of interpreting off of population.

Samuel Kernan said...

Thinking ahead to building more of a world this way, how would you determine which areas are one tech level or another? Would it be influenced by geography, or random?

Alexis Smolensk said...


You'll remember the original tech-level system defined a tech-level as existing inside borders. Since it was very unlikely that a major-high density of population would be alongside one that was exceptionally low, this works out. The cases where it does occur, the low density happens because an area is massively less productive due to environment.

To give an example, the region of Zafara in eastern Egypt is surrounded by Upper Egypt, Lower Egypt, Palestine and various Arabian states across the Red Sea. Zafara is right on the coast, so there is access. However, the resources of Zafara are so minimal, as is the value of the land's productivity, that the density of population is paltry compared to that of the Nile Valley.

In modern times, roads and fast ships would make Zafara somewhat more in line with the tech of Egypt and Arabia ~ but in ancient times, very few people from Zafara would go outside the region and practically no one would enter it, since there'd be little reason to do so. Add to that the willingness of the poorer region to kill any outsiders, who would be entering carrying wealth Zafara didn't have, with the presumed purpose of stealing away wealth Zafara wouldn't like to lose. This hostility alone helps minimize the contact between a high tech region and a low tech region.

In making a world from our gut, as I'm demonstrating here, we don't "determine" the difference between tech areas (which would suggest a die roll): we try to impose it logically. We surround the low-tech area with desert, starve it with poorly producing hexes, then make it both inaccessible and hostile. No one conquers it because what would they get? A few crummy hexes with little production, where no soldier wants to stand post. Better to control it with tributes, taking a bit off the top and leaving the region alone. Zafara was nominally part of the Ottoman Empire, but it was largely autonomous. Why wouldn't it be? What was it going to do? Threaten its neighbors?

Samuel Kernan said...

Thanks Alexis! Good food for thought. I could see a similar logic applying to constructing borders between states, something which I am thinking about ways to do.