Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Building Block

I have been thinking further on earlier writings about treasure, and treasure systems, and the distribution of treasure. If my gentle reader will be patient, I believe I will try to produce several posts outlining my concerns, and my proposal towards solving problems I discussed here. To begin with, however, I believe there needs to be some discussion on the outline of society.

For sometime now I have divided the various strata of society according to their status and economic position: I call these groups peasant, laborer, artisan, exemplary, attendant, adherent, zealot, adventurer, celebrity, title holder and liege.

The first group would be non-leveled persons. A peasant includes anyone who is lacking in all status, does not own land and in fact exists under a limited freedom (tied to the land). A laborer is anyone lacking in education and who performs unskilled work. An artisan has been given a directed education to perform a single skill. An exemplary includes persons who have obtained several skills and advanced education, but who remain untrained as leveled persons or who perform unusual occupations. An attendant would include those who directly support leveled persons, though they themselves remain zero level; a man-at-arms would be an attendant.

The second group would be leveled persons. An adherent would have the adequate skills to be leveled, without possessing extraordinary abilities; they would adhere to their class structure, serving as functionaries such as parish priests, city officials, laboratory workers and so on. A zealot would be an adherent who has adopted a particular political or religious calling. An adventurer would include persons who explore or who serve as freelancers. A celebrity, or hero, would be an adventurer who has had notable success. A title holder would include the nobility, or persons who have risen to the highest rank in their profession, such as admirals, bishops, marshals or guildmasters. Finally, a liege would include masters of primary political divisions, of religious groups or class-based organizations.

These classifications are meant to be flexible, and are not based on any moral principle. For example, both a harlot and a ferry operator would be considered exemplaries, while both mercenary captains and religious ascetics would be considered adventurers. The principal purpose of the above organization is not to describe the general occupation the individual serves within the society, only his or her general importance and/or success. I find the ordering useful for determining an NPC’s ability stats and probable level.

Having outlined the above, when I mention a peasant and a peasant’s possessions, I refer to the typical hovel, in enough repair to keep out the cold, utensils and furniture of a crude nature created by the individuals themselves. There would never be any coin, as peasants do not leave their small hamlets and things are never for sale in such places for there are no storefronts, not even peddlers. Possessions of every kind that a player might find valuable don’t exist. If a party were to attack an ordinary hamlet, kill everyone in it and seize every good they could find, there would be nothing in any of the peasant huts that should be of any hard value.

However…there would be food, and there would be livestock.

What exactly is a “hamlet”? By and large both gamers and movie makers plunk hamlets hither and there in fictional worlds with very little thought. Such villages usually lack any political structure beyond a token leader, who rarely has any more ability or status than the grubby peasants themselves—at best, he might have a bigger house, or in the case of Beowulf, a private room in the great lodge with a slightly better bed.

For a period in parts of Northern Europe, this has some basis in reality—if you see your world existing prior to 8th century Earth…in which case there should be no trade, no markets, and nothing your party does not make itself out of hide, bones and wood. Metal swords should not exist in your world, nor should stirrups or plentiful food. Most items, such as books, wands, magic rings and the like should be incredibly rare, and definitely from a land far, far away.

That is because once there are fields to farm and livestock to breed, the threat of such things being pillaged will demand the creation of a social structure which includes defense and the mastery of labor. But before we can continue with the description of that mastery, let me answer the lone voice in the gallery who will argue that Norse societies continued to be structured on the singular longhouse for all the members of society, from the king on down. I’d like to answer that the society so suggested was based upon an economy of pillage, wherein virtually everything was seized from everywhere the Norsemen of that period could reach. An examination of Norse history will show that virtually every present urban center in Norway and much of Sweden was founded after 1500, after the spread of agriculture to those regions, and that prior to that time the total population was scant, scattered and lacking in education, art, architecture, medicine and so on.

Very well. Let us take a typical manse from the middle European period, circa 1300 to 1500, and let us apply D&D to its organization. To begin with, the manse must come into existence through the spread of population. While many of the cities in western Germany or France were coming into existence in and about 800, much of Poland and Eastern Europe was founded between 900 and 1400. As groups broke new ground, labor was imported and fields cut and tilled along water sources. In many cases, peasants who had separated from society were the first to arrive, such as would later happen in Kentucky and Tennessee. In other cases, whole groups led by what I would call zealots (leveled persons with a single purpose) would seek a new land to establish a religious or political entity, such as what would later happen in Massachusetts or Virginia.

Either way, a typical manse would form around a dual relationship: the lord’s manor and the peasant’s village. Each peasant would be given the right to farm a section of land—in some cultures these sections were mixed up, as with communes, and some cultures would have isolated farms. Typically the amount of land that could be reasonably tilled and managed by a human being (often without animals to help) would be 30 acres. During the period, the amount of grain this would produce was paltry—yields were typically 1.3 bushels per acre. A bushel is marginally over 65 lbs., so the total production of the grains would be 2,535 lbs. This will give 42 lbs. of flour per bushel, or 1,638 lbs of flour, the equivalent of 2,457,000 calories.

If you eat 1,500 calories a day (and many peasants ate approximately that much, making them less than active would-be defenders), your 30 acre farm will produce enough grain to feed a family of four the year round, with 10% of your total yield available for shipping out as taxes.

You can then help subsidize your food intake by obtaining a few chickens (which will produce eggs or more chickens if they don’t die of disease), berries or game from the forest (if it isn’t a forest restricted to peasants) or gifts/festivals deriving from the manse. You can see why peasants might be inclined to poach from the forest or the local brook, remembering always that such places were often reserved for the use of the manse itself, which I will get to describe in good time.

The peasant’s week was divided into three parts: one day of the week, Sunday, working was not permitted for religious reasons. Three days of the week, the peasant was permitted to work on his land and gather food as he was able. And three days of the week the peasant was expected to pick up and head over to the manse in order to service the lord’s land or residence.

Usually the lord would have a considerable household to provide for, luxury needs and a desire for an income that would allow for the obtaining of goods and materials from outside the manse, so his land would be extensive. Typically a manse measured about three miles on a side, or nine square miles in total. I know that D&D would like this to be a 267 square mile area (20-mile hex), but I’ve never found any material supporting that claim, so lets just assume that Gygax pulled the number out of his ass or that he simply failed to mention that more than 96% of the land would be unoccupied forest. Of course, having mapped out a lot of Europe, I should point out that a 20-mile hex west of Russia without a sizable town (more than 500 persons) in it is a rare thing indeed … moreover, virtually every such hex would have upwards of 20 manses present. But setting that aside …

Within the 9-square-mile manse (5,760 acres), about 40 peasant families would occupy 1,200 acres; meadow for livestock would measure about 1,800 acres; forest for wood and for pigs, another 1,800 acres; and about 1,000 acres would be personal land for the manse itself: orchards, fields, fortifications, a wooden or stone central structure, possibly a pond and probably shops for the production of cloth, wine, oils and so on.

Those peasants serving the lord three times a week would typically elect two of their number to serve as officials: in my world, these would typically be zero level exemplaries, or possibly adherents, depending on the affluence of the town. In either case, both the hayward (or hedge warden) and the reeve would be elected by the peasants to oversee the work done and to ensure that no peasant failed to meet their obligations or duties.

Sometimes, certain peasants would have unusual skills: one family might be made of carpenters, who would serve those three days repairing the lord’s house before returning to his lands. Another family might be masons. Often designated families were made of herders or woodcutters … who nevertheless would also work as farmers in order to obtain their food. The wood that was cut would not be sold, you understand – that came much later. Instead, the wood would be cut during the days of service to the lord and that wood would be taken to the manse for use there. Such peasants would be considered laborers and artisans.

There would also be a class of artisans who did not farm land, but who were either subsidized by the lord for continuous labor, or who took a percentage from the peasants for servicing their needs. For example, the miller, who ground wheat into flour by use of the mill constructed with the help of the carpenter, would take a slight fee in flour for services. Vintners, chandlers (candle makers), tanners, weavers and so on working directly for the lord would take their wages in food from the lord’s land and from the tax gathered from peasant fields. All such persons would be considered exemplaries in my system, with laborers serving under them who would add their manual labor to the exemplary’s knowledge and skill.

Finally, a small contingent of men would serve as the lord’s personal retinue: as I said before, these would be attendants: men-at-arms. Other attendants might include personal, capable servants, dressmaids, cooks who produce food for the lord and lady, and so on.

The master of the servants, the steward, the official records keepers or accountants in the house, the clergyman who provided spiritual guidance – for the most part these would all be adherents. Leveled persons, perhaps half a dozen, who keep everything running smoothly. They have little interest in stepping outside their roles, but they are able to cast healing spells or cantrips when needed, or manage any slight rebellion that might occur as they would have more hit points and better fighting ability than the average peasant.

Depending on the importance of the manse, its period of existence, it might be overseen by a zealot, an adventurer or a celebrity. Any manse which would be managed by a title holder would be much larger, having expanded from its early beginnings to be a considerable citadel, the peasant village having swollen into a polis, complete with stockyards, warehouses, artisans, a criminal element and so on. For the description of a typical manse, however, it is most likely that the lord is only an ex-adventurer or a zealot, the offspring of a long family of lords who have always managed these lands. Keep in mind that the zealot in question would merely be a person bred into his state of mind, with no aspirations other than to manage the land itself. Not a fanatic, per se, but merely “single minded.”

This, then, is the substantial unit of income for my world. The farm producing food; the moderate factory producing agricultural goods or possibly stone from a quarry within the manse, or metal from a mine; a small church built for only the lord and the peasants; livestock raised for the lord’s table and managed by contractual labor. All other forms of habitation must evolve from here.

If I must think in terms of the availability of treasure, I must first answer, how much would be present in the above example?


Chgowiz said...

This is really fascinating.

You can explain the stocking of human society, but I'm going to be curious how you will organize the demihuman societies. And I'm curious how this will affect treasure distribution in more ancient locales. I'm assuming in your world, if I really wanted to, I could go raid Egypt and plumb the pyramids and tombs at Giza. Will you move towards how to stock those types of areas with treasure, in this system?

Alexis said...

Will you move towards how to stock those types of areas with treasure, in this system?Step by step, hopefully.

Joik said...

Hi, I have no idea if you answer a question on an old post, but I'll try. First of all, I'm very impressed by your work, that's why I'm reading your old posts.

The question: You write that "yields where typically 1,3 bushels per acre." You say this is paltry, but isn't it way to low?can I ask where you have this from?
My sources says a net yield of 6-10 bushels (they vary), and as high as 25 in areas such as the Nile area in Egypt.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I'm sorry Joik, I don't remember teh original source for that off the top of my head. Books I read in the 90s, mostly; remember that while 6-8 bushels was possible, that wasn't by any imagination the norm. In Egypt, where yields of 25 do happen, the farms are also much, much smaller than 30 acres.

Some searching on line gave me these numbers, supporting my position. But you can get others if you search. It is a question of who you want to believe.