That is somewhat difficult to explain, since it comes from decades of reading books about medieval cultures and studying maps of all scales (right down to 1 inch = 50 feet), because that has always been a particular fascination of mine.
Let's take the example above, which as I said was development-6, or Dev6. The hex generation system offers 8 levels of wilderness, from none to total, so when describing a settlement, we want 8 kinds of settlement. Type-8 is no settlement at all, because the hex is all wilderness, so that's easy. But how do we go about deciding on the other settlements?
Well, I have a book about human demographics and development, The Real World: Understanding the Modern World through New Geography. This book has been invaluable in breaking down the development of towns and cities, what shapes they take, where they are founded and why, along with many other details about geography. Scattered, open settlements (type-7) grow into linear villages (type-6), or open space villages (type-5, above), which then become towns. My background in medieval studies, supported by much reading on the subject, reminds me that prior to gunpowder, most towns included fields and gardens inside the city walls, so I envisioned a very quiet country town (type-4) which is just a big village. Logically, such a town would then begin to develop mills and industries (type-3), which must then develop commerce (type-2), which in turn becomes intensely managed by guilds (type-1).
That gives a framework. Now, we want to figure out a description for each. And what everyone is doing with their days. And what buildings are present. And how the settlements are each laid out, and what the roads would be like, and who runs the place and so on, as expressed above.
THEN, we want to limit all those things by the development of the region. This gives us a different look for a Dev6 culture than a Dev5 ~ remembering that different is good! We want the players to be able to go to different places in the world, so not everywhere is alike. So that if they find themselves in some backward area, like a desert in Africa, there aren't mill towns and such, because they're too backward.
And, at the same time, the "mill-town" in the Dev6 culture is very different than the "mill-town" in a Dev7 culture. In Dev6, the mills only process agricultural and livestock goods. They don't use charcoal for fuel, they run on animal power only. We're talking the meanest form of mill ... which, nevertheless, still produces a relatively exciting atmosphere for people who know nothing of life except the fields they work.
With Dev7, we then add charcoal as a tech, along with pottery and metal founding, which creates kilns and furnaces, which create smoke, which lowers health, which creates a whole new kind of mill town. So the thinking here is not to think of just one sort of mill town, but many kinds, depending on how developed a particular region is.
This means research. Lots and lots of research. And thinking, speculating on how something like the presence of stonecutting with metal tools changes the shape of the rock walls in the region, or how the development of pottery changes the materialism of the inhabitants, or the amount of crops grown, since we can now store extra food and it doesn't go to waste ~ which means more hours spent on working the fields, which in turn can mean more distilled beverages being produced and a change in how tired the people are when they visit the local tavern. And we want to think about how metal makes a well look, because without metal and stonecutting, the well is just a hole in the ground, surrounded by unmortared rock, whereas with charcoal furnaces, we can make mortar, which makes better wells, which can now have a windlass erected over the top.
The "process," then, is to think and compare each advancement not only in terms of how it specifically brings about a particular object (sailing makes sailing ships), but how that advancement adjusts every other advancement already in the culture. And to recognize that the advancement, such as sailing, when it is first devised, doesn't instantly bring into existence galleons, since that would need a lot of other advancements apart from sailing. No, it brings in the most austere sailing boat imaginable ... which is then adjusted for each development level as we go up the scale.
So we're talking multiple scales at the same time. A scale of population density, a scale for development, a balance of rural vs. settlement, effects surrounding the presence of resource references (from my trade table, that produces buildings or rural improvements, if the reference exists in that particular settlement/region) ... and the geography/climate/vegetation of the region as well, which adjusts how much food can be grown based on the biome in which the region exists.
Many, many factors. Which I am pulling together, as a methodology, by virtue of being extremely well read, extremely creative, possessed of a strong memory for this sort of work, with knowledge of exactly how to research something I don't already know, where to find it and what search terms to use, as well as being experienced in knowing when something will matter to players and when it is just extraneous information that can be discounted.
All of it based on generation tools I invented, that I have worked long and hard to create and exposit, which work independently already and which can be pulled together only because I know precisely how they work.
So by all means, retrace my path and make something "simpler" ... but know that anything simpler is, going to be useless, since it won't do what this development/infrastructure system proposes to do:
- Create unique, easy-to-comprehend spaces that players can experience, without feeling they are running into the same culture over and over.
- Fill the hexes with content so that, if the players decide to hex crawl, there will be something for them to see and, more importantly, identify as a place that inspires their imaginations.
- Provides endless motivation for self-made, sand-filled inspiration for player's enterprising spirits.
- Makes sense.
I'm in blue skies here. This may be the hardest thing I've ever attempted. Yet, already, I am blown away by the results. I'm very excited for the day when I can start posting them.