Thursday, April 26, 2018

Putting Down Roots

The comments upon the previous post, What Good are Town Maps?, brought up some points I mean to take up ... but I feel I need to make it clear that the reason why this "town problem" has not found a solution has much to do with the way the game is approached.  The functionality underlying some issues and circumstances of the game cannot be properly handled by fiat, ass-pulling and winging it: they are too complicated and just too damn needful of research, preparation and solid data that can be reviewed often for game use.

I've run towns in all my games like anyone else: with a little intrigue, with some mystery, with an occasional opportunity for a street fight or a spontaneous small dungeon in the town sewers or catacombs, but this has all been happenstance and shallow in design.  I'm only now beginning to see a bigger picture because I've been building a number of different structures for the past decade ~ cities, hex design, the concept of development vs. geography, etcetera ~ to where I am beginning to see how a city can be deconstructed for what it IS and what it needs to provide in terms of adventuring.

Understand, however ... I'm still wallowing here.  My process for building structure is to think about it, research, talk about it on the blog, think some more, write it into the wiki, then run it in a few sessions, then tweak the blog rules.  So that should explain where I am right now.

Since it has come up in the comments, let's set aside the services that a town provides for a moment and talk about how towns happen.  For this, we should turn to those people who study the formation and lay-out of towns:


Let me quote a piece from the video description:
"Here a new approach is furthered, which argues that rather than seeing towns as planned or as organic, that they are emergent - places become urban as social relations are played out at multiple scales. Towns are more than buildings and streets, they are social assemblages which are reiterated and transformed as the people, materials and things interact within and around them. Utilising the concept of ‘lines of becoming’, this paper traces trajectories of urbanism, to view towns as dynamic processes rather than static plans ..."
And from the video itself, regarding the town of Andover:
"I think that materialized in the plans as it were, we can perceive of two sets of interactions come together ... so we can see a localized reiteration in the performance of place, the marketing activity, the worship, which has got the dignity of the administration, which has gone on here for centuries, colliding with a more dispersed network, which we could call royal activity ~ and money, really, was the key thing which flowed between these two scales.  So we can see that money is finding this dispersed royal network, with this localized performance of place; and maybe it's in this tension that we can conceive of the agency for the guild merchants to be founded emerging ... and in 1205 the granting of the borough charter following ... now the concept of plantation implies that a decision was made to build a town; but if we think about how the flows and goods and people and money had passed through this place, I think rather we can see that this isn't town foundation by decree, but rather we see the agency for town urbanization as emerging from these processes."

I put this up as an academic example, to give my arguments weight; I have been thinking of towns in this way for quite some time, certainly since 2004, as I began to map out the thousands of towns on the 20-mile scale maps I had designed.  Towns were clearly "accumulating" in places, rather than appearing at random ~ which is what MOST towns do when placed on a map by an RPGer who hasn't taken any time to consider exactly why a town should be there, except as a convenience store for adventurers returning from the local dungeon.  Personally, I think accumulation is a better noun here than assembly; we need to think of the mass of people moving over a landscape, affected by the money that exists to be made, tempered by who controls the money, accumulating at river fords, on passes between hills, upon natural harbors and so on, just as the water in a stream will pile up deep an slow in some places and run fast and shallow in others.  The land itself, resources, ease of travel, supplies of water and food, defines which places will accumulate humans and which will not.  It is out of our hands ~ once we understand that we as a species are prepared to subject ourselves to our wants and needs.

That Andover is a much larger city than nearby places like Thruxton or Finkley was inevitable, just as London would end in being a much larger city than Andover - and the largest urban area in Europe, even now.  Acknowledging this, we need to investigate reasons why accumulations occur, to have a list we can turn to, as a tool that we can have in our minds when plopping a sizable town or city on a map, striving to set a scale for ourselves why it should be this big and not bigger.  Thankfully, I already have such a list, from a 1990 textbook I picked up in university, which is still conveniently at hand (I use it often): Bruce Marshall's The Real World.

Searching for a google link, it's clear the book is not much cherished; my copy appears exactly as the Amazon page, without a cover (which I've provided for the post from an image search).  For D&D, it is a fantastically useful book, as it strives to explain how towns and geographical humanity emerges, what problems we face, how we structure our environment through urban planning and the lack of same, etcetera.  The whole book describes urban assembly from the ground up ... though in a coffee table format, as it was meant for a 300-level geography course [second year].

Be that as it may, I would like to have a picture from the internet to show here, but the best I can do is a composite from my phone.  This is a copyright violation ~ but judging from the lack of the love the book has online, I don't think anyone is going to care.


Sorry I can't do better.  What's funny is the two images were shot one second apart but even moving the phone over a few inches changes the light quality. It must be hell to be a photographer.

The reader can see numbers on the map; and on the bottom, some of the explanation for those numbers, each with a little green icon all its own.  I won't produce the little icons (though I suppose they might be useful, it will take too much time just now), but I will write out the intro for the map and the descriptions next to the numbers.
"Certain sites in the landscape are more likely to attract settlements than others.  London, for example, was established at the narrowest fordable part of the Thames, and was also on the Roman route north.  The main part of the city developed along the outside meander of the river, thus allowing easy access to fresh water.
"The advantages of the favored sites tend to fall into one or more of the following categories:"
  1. In some cases, the physical conditions of a settlement site are of overriding importance.  In a mountainous area, for example, where winds are strong and most of the land is steep and rugged, the floor of a river valley may provide the only protected level site for a village.
  2. In a like situation, it may be advantageous for a settlement to develop on a gentle slope ~ in the northern hemisphere, sites on south-facing slopes benefit from more sunshine (in the southern hemisphere, north-facing slopes are warmer).
  3. Topography may also have a symbolic significance; a prominent hilltop my become the site for a religious center and its associated settlement.
  4. Villages are often located within easy reach of a key resource. In such cases, the priority is to reduce the daily expenditure of time and effort.  Miners and their families, for example, may choose to settle close to where mineral deposits lie.
  5. A dependable water supply is another vital resource, used for drinking, cooking, washing, irrigation of crops, and often for industrial purposes.  Hence, settlements may develop along a river, particularly on the outside of a meander, where the water is deeper and land is less likely to be marshy.
  6. In the desert, a settlement is more likely to prosper at an oasis.
  7. The siting of settlements is influenced by trade routes, whether passage is by land, sea or air. Settlements may emerge at any point on a route, but places where routes converge, or where the flow of traffic becomes concentrated, are prime sites.  The confluence of two rivers is one such place [and here the book begins to give some examples] ~ Duisburg, Khartoum, Kuala Lumpur, Montreal, Phnom Penh.
  8. Or railway junctions.
  9. Or river crossings ~ Budapest, Frankfurt, Kansas City, London, Omsk.
  10. Trans-shipment points ~ where boats must load and offload their freight ~ are also favored sites.  Protected deep water harbors, for example ~ Cape Town, Havana, New York, Rio de Janeiro, Sydney, Vladivostok, Wellington.
  11. Which may also be found on the inside of bays ~ Maracaibo [my example].
  12. Or river estuaries ~ Antwerp, Banjul, Buenos Aires, Lisbon, Montevideo, Oslo.
  13. Ports are often located on the first solid ground on the margin or head of a delta ~ Alexandria, Astrakhan, Cairo, Ho Chi Minh City, Shanghai.
  14. Other trans-shipment points that may spawn settlements include the mouth of a lake.
  15. Or the highest navigable point on a river ~ Basel, Louisville, Minneapolis, and [my example] Smolensk.
  16. Or at a portage point, where river freight must be transferred over land to another waterway ~ Chicago, Moscow.
  17. Settlements often originate at sites that are readily defensible or which provides strategic protection for resources.  Many otherwise desirable sites have been impossible to build on because of the threat of invasion.  In such cases, the ability to protect the site may be the first priority ~ immediate personal comfort is a secondary consideration.  An isolated crag or hilltop can provide a commanding view over the surrounding plains ~ Athens, Edinburgh, Jerusalem, Luxembourg, Madrid.
  18. A site at the entrance to a mountain pass can give strategic control over a vital cross-country route ~ Kabul, Peshawar, Sion.
  19. The most easily defended sites are those partly or completely surrounded by water.  Such locations include a hill around which a river meanders ~ Berne, Dhaka, Durham, New Orleans.
  20. Or a peninsula ~ Bombay, Boston, Helsinki.
  21. Or an island in a river ~ Leningrad, Paris, Seoul, Stockholm.
  22. Or an offshore island ~ Copenhagen, Hong Kong, Lagos, Mombasa, Venice.

Okay.  That is enough to think about for the present.  I'm not done, but I'll leave off until the next post.

4 comments:

Oddbit said...

Irrelevant, but note you may be interested in.

In all likelihood the lighting issue from the phone is due to the automatic white balance and shutter speed most modern cameras use.

Some of the better configured cameras let you set the balance/speed effectively locking it in and preventing the difference. (You may sometimes see a photographer point their camera at a white sheet of paper for this reason.)

So yeah. Modern phone's result in oddness due to their automatic features that make it easy to snap and get a 'good' photo.

But it also results in the difficulties in establishing what the dark and light portions of the image are as well as being 'more or less yellow'. Which is why with yellow lights it tries to make everything white...

ANYHOW.

I was thinking about setting up a campaign around one "town", and this could make a great jumping off point for considering where it should be and why.

Sterling said...

Perhaps not directly relevant to this post, but a fascinating read about the early formation of cities and states. It highlights some recent archaeological evidence that domestication, agriculture, urbanization, and governance was formed rather differently from narrative I recall. I think you'd enjoy Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States reviewed by The Guardian here.

Ozymandias said...

It seems so obvious when the speaker says it aloud that it makes me wonder how we could have ever thought otherwise: of course towns form organically. When has anyone ever shown up at an empty place with a group of people and said, "Someday we will have a large settlement here; let's make a master plan for that future."

Other than modern times, that is.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Ozymandias,

I think that because layman's writing began in the period when people were rushing off to settle in the New World, in Africa or in the colonies of Asia, it was ret-conned in people's imaginations that the ancients did it exactly the same way. And that is supported by mythology. Romulus and Remus came to the site of Rome and decided that this would be the location of the greatest city in the world, and at once Romulus grabbed a plow and began to pull it through the earth to show where the walls would be. Both were the descendants of Aeneas, who wandered from the fall of Troy to found the city of Alba Iulia in the same way. Constantine founded Constantinople out of the blue. Such stories also appear in Indian myths and Chinese myths. The Emperor Kanmu of Japan chose to move his capital; he chose a little village called Uda, built a new city upon it and that was Kyoto. In 5400 BCE, Eridu was said to be founded by the god Enki. The idea of a city springing out of nothing has long been a go-to legend for storytellers.

We embraced it up until the time of real scholarship, say around the post-war period, when the last of European imperialism's influence over history had truly died away (see Toynbee). Only in the lead-up to that war and in the 50s and 60s afterwards did historians start to ask the RIGHT questions, and resist the temptation to take contemporary sources seriously. It seemed to some historians that actual people in the present don't seem to know anything about the world they live in right now, and are subject to all sorts of false beliefs ~ so why would people in the past not be similarly prejudiced?

As we understand it, history is actually a newer social science than psychology. Imagine that.