Saturday, April 29, 2017

A World From Scratch ~ Valley of the Djombo

Copied from the last post.
Expanding the map from our last post, we want to stay within a couple of boundaries.  My measuring stick for the tech system was based on simple population density.  Tech-5, I wrote, consisted of regions that had a population density of less than 160 persons per 20-mile hex.  Since we're working in 6-mile hexes, that number is reduced to only 23 persons.

This seems absurdly low, but we are talking about the extreme low-side of civilized culture . . . and these numbers easily correspond to large parts of the world four hundred years ago.  Odd as it may seem, the density we've established so far for our map indicates an all-too-crowded space.

So far, I've given ranges for population.  Let's nail those numbers down, rolling 60 inhabitants for the original hex, containing the settlement at Ai, and 150 inhabitants for Bodo-Cai.  This gives us a total of 70 per hex. That is too high for tech-5.

Therefore, let's isolate our starting area, drowning it in with a hinterland that is much greater in area.  Since this is a desert, obviously we want mostly desert hexes ~ but we also want to remember that the Djombo river starts somewhere and goes somewhere.  I never did give the direction of the river ~ but we'll say it is flowing towards the bottom of the above map.

To bring our density down below 23, we'll need six more hexes.  I propose this:

Even though we're just making this up as we go along (I'm not making any random rolls, I'm just putting in hexes where they feel good, as I know this is what most world-makers do), we want to pay attention to ratios.  Obviously, we can just go ahead and plunk in as many number six hexes as we want to, but eventually that kind of thinking is going to make a uniform, unvarying and dull world.  The key to different adventures and different experiences is to create extreme inconsistencies ~ by working towards an ascetic design here, full of self-discipline, we can look forward to letting ourselves off the chain further on.

We can keep adding to the map, naturally ~ but we want to keep to the ratio above for now: for every occupied hex, 0-2 hinterland hexes (with no number showing); and for every four hexes of habitable hexes (those that potentially produce food), 6-10 desert hexes.  If this was a boreal region, we'd replace the desert with inaccessible swampland, unproductive tundra, rock-strata mountains or snowfields.

We've extended the intermittent river off the map, through the desert; there's nothing odd about this.  Remember, the river itself does not produce food: the soil the river flows through does.  Where the river passes through a non-producing desert, we may imagine a canyon, areas of bare rock, barren or sterile silicate sands or unfruitful gravel.  We are identifying habitable areas as hexes with relatively productive soils, and we are identifying those that actually produce food by giving them a number.

Let's move forward and add three more hexes to the map:

Here I am more or less keeping to the ratios I've just described, adding a desert hex, a water hex (sea) and a hex that is both desert and habitable.  I want to discourage the reader from thinking that a 6-mile area has to be homogeneous in its terrain or vegetation.  The type-7 hex I've created here doesn't need a big spread of hinterland, since for food they have the sea.

I could have designated the hex as a type-6 or even a type-5 ~ in which case it would make sense to increase the habitable coloring to match the increase in population.  I felt, however, it would be more instructive to indicate an access point on the coast that is not a port.  After all, we are talking only a population of 210 persons in the interior; hardly enough to make a port worthwhile. Therefore, the little settlement of Eom (65 people) is nothing but a little fishing village.  Fishing, some readers will remember, is available at tech-5.

This, incidentally, is also the reason why Eom doesn't get a coin.  I've established that type-7 hexes aren't big enough for even the minimum of commerce (the party would be a rare exception); a hex on the sea would have to be at least type-6 to generate such interest.

Eom does have one industry that a tech-5 culture would also possess: boatbuilding.  Not ships, mind, but simple fishing boats, the sort that are safe for travel up to, we might stipulate, a distance of three water hexes.  These boats would be crafted from a hard-wood that grows in the small area where the Djombo river flows into the sea, at the point where the fresh-water table is just a few inches below the surface.  Anywhere around Eom, it is possible to dig down a few inches into the soft earth and find fresh water.  This sustains the trees, which in turn sustains just enough boats for a small village like Eom to use for fishing.  Likely, there is one family within the clan that is dedicated to making and repairing boats.

The sea hex is not technically a part of the region ~ but it is productive, in the same way that an unoccupied hinterland hex is productive.  In hard times, boats would have to go out to the more open sea to enable a catch; and of course those boats would sometimes be lost if a storm came up and it was too far to come home.  As well, the deeper sea might produce less overall fish (who tend to shoal in shallower waters), except that a great fish may occasionally be caught, providing many days of food for the whole settlement, or a great fish may sink the fisher's craft.

Now, let's talk adventures:
  • The journey to Eom itself is an adventure.  It may even be something that a few residents of Ai do every year as a religious ceremony (remember, mysticism is also available at tech-5). The party is therefore encouraged to go to the sea, obtain a vessel of seawater with a live fish and a basket of clam shells to bring back to Ai for the making of jewelry.  The continued survival of the fish (which need not be a big one) might be seen as a good omen ~ and obviously the more salt-water brought back, the longer the fish will survive.  Eom might be a source of gourds in which the fish and the water could be carried.
  • The party could contact a boatbuilder in Eom who could build a vessel for them.  There is a world out there, after all, and perhaps the party would like to see it.  We might stipulate that it is well known that there is an island culture somewhere "out there" that is more technologically advanced that the region we've depicted (tech-6!).  What might that hold for the party and where, precisely, is it?  It would be too easy to simply say that one of the Eomites know ~ perhaps they've seen the island, once, but they're not sure they could find it easily and they can't just abandon their responsibility to the settlement to find food.  So no, the party cannot hire a fisher as a guide.  But they could collect hides, spirit gum, fresh meat, honey or other products from the interior and use these to encourage a boatbuilder to make them a craft.
  • Where before we had just one desert hex, now we have eight of them.  Whereas one might have the dungeon we discussed in the previous post, there might be something else out there: a small desert village of humanoids who have, themselves, a hidden, fertile little valley, who do not trade with the "civilized" parts of the map that are shown.  We wouldn't want to put it on the map, but we might have a group of orcs or some such attack a pair of hunters.  Too, we could put a shrine out there, one that was built by the Djombo Valley people but was covered by sand and lost.  It could be sought out and restored to the people, winning the party great prestige.

This is going to go on.  I don't see any limitation to how many posts I could write along these lines.  I'm finished with my day off, however, so I may not write another of these until Friday.  Please keep the comments coming.  If I know what the readers like about what I'm doing, I can concentrate more energy towards those things.


Joey Bennett said...

This is fantastic. I hope you are finding the new job palatable enough.

Pandred said...

Let's keep this thing rolling!

Tim said...

Love it. I'm curious to see what changes when you move to a higher tech level: it would be neat to see you cover the same concepts for a tech 9, a tech 13 and a tech 17 too, just focussing on what changes or gets more complex.

I think these posts are great partly because they take the process of worldbuilding and mapping and find a way to apply it to the actual set of opportunities available to the players. You're not expounding some endlessly-retold narrative structure (not that you ever would) about how the people of Ai and Cai are trapped in conflict while two star-crossed lovers try to meet, or a young boy seeks his destiny with the help of a wise master figure and blah blah blah. Instead, you keep it simple and structured and flexible: more of a water park than a water fountain in terms of interactivity. That touch just kindles the excitement to adventure and explore so perfectly. Can't wait to see what's next!