Tuesday, May 2, 2017

A World from Scratch ~ Stretchy Minds

Begins the next step in our world-building experiment.

I've started by expanding the region, adding in a second valley, the Hatafi, with a type-6 and a type-5 hex, as well as enough desert to further isolate the region to separate it from the rest of the unknown world:

Take note that as these hexes are only 6 miles across, we've not represented a very large area yet.  The whole map expanded above would still easily fit into an area about the size of Rhode Island or about 1/5th of Wales.  Presumably, the deserts will continue to extend outwards, though that isn't important just now.  It is enough to know of their location.

Before I get to details about the Hatafi valley, we want to explore the difficult business of naming things.  So far, I've deliberately named only the habitable settlements and the intermittent rivers.  We have more work to do.

We can spend a lot of time talking about Typonomy, the process of naming things, including all sorts of interesting angles like how names change over time and how names eventually stick, but I'd rather not sink into that subject just now.  The problem with creating a fantasy world is that everything has to be named and coming up with names is a troublesome thing.  It is probable that there are so few settlements, villages, towns, nations, rivers, mountains, bays and so on to be found on fantasy maps because of the simple pesky problem of having to invent so many names.  I suggest stealing names from very old books, from technical treatises on things, from actual maps (using street names or very small places that aren't well known to your players) and so on.  I once named all the planets in a traveller-type world that I ran once from Xenophon's Anabasis, so that all the planets had either Greek or Persian names.  Worked great.

For now, we certainly want to concentrate on the largest features: we can use the river names to identify the two valleys, so we needn't be concerned with that.  But the rivers divide the desert into three parts, while of course the whole region needs a name.  And the sea as well.

In my usual world, I have the benefit of using names that are already familiar.  Here, we want to pick names that will be easily remembered and will convey a certain amount of verve and size.  The deserts should be threatening.  The sea should reflect the love that most sailors feel for it; and the region should be prestigious and a little awe-inspiring.  Three expectations upon which we are sure to fall short, but let's give it a try anyway.

I've been playing with shadowed text to give some names more stand-out appeal; I find territory names in particular seem to get lost on my maps.  I've used Jawanda as the region name: three syllables are common where regions are concerned, particularly in regions without the suffix of "land" or "-ia", which will often extend a name to four syllables.  I felt four syllables gave enough love to the sea, which stands out because it is the only name with four syllables.  And regarding the three deserts, the actual names will probably be forgotten, but the players will remember that one is cliffs, one is a sand sea and one is a desert.  This tagging helps.

Let's have a close-up of the Hatafi valley, adding the production (which does not show on the map above).

The type-6 hex we know: this is like the Bodo-Cai hex on the Djombo river (note that you're already becoming familiar with these names, though I just invented them last week).  Falou and Io are much like Bodo and Cai, representing a similar outpost.

The type-5 hex is a different animal.  First, it produces the same amount of food as a type-6 hex, so we would expect it to have the same number of inhabitants.  No, actually.  The type-5 hex is more densely populated, outstripping its food supply on account of the specialists that have occupied the hex.  These are represented by the second hammer, meaning that a type-5 hex is three times more mechanically productive than either a type-6 or type-7 hex.

It would be easy for us to simply make the food supply equal the population ~ playing god, as it were.  But I remind the reader that some places should have a food deficit.  This encourages a change to the status quo, giving a particular region character and creating need and tension.  What can the type-5 inhabitants do?  If they take from the other, lesser, hexes, than the people in those hexes will starve.  And they can't eat hammers.

They can send forage parties into the unoccupied hinterland hexes, which can allay the food issue somewhat.  They can also count on a portion of the greater population living on 1700 calories a day or less, slowly starving, in order to enable the more productive inhabitants to thrive.  More importantly, they can trade their production for food from the outside, perhaps from that tech-6 entity that I spoke of with the last post.

However, the tech-5 culture can't support trade; they don't have the education to build vessels to import goods, or even use domesticated animals, as that is a tech-6 ability.  These are very, very simple people.  They understand fishing, hunting and mysticism, and that is all.

Productively, however, they know how to dry meat and skins, they know how to collect and tan leather, they know how to build boats.  These things can be collected and transferred to vessels from more complex societies who will bring food for exchange.  This is the simplest economy. Guba isn't a market place, but it is a transshipment point.  This is why the number of coins does not increase, even though trade occurs here.  The trade is not for durable wealth, but for wealth that is quickly lost.

Incidentally, some might suppose that the river should bring Guba one coin and that the river should bring another.  I have chosen to follow the original system from the Civilization IV game, where either a river or a coastline increases the hex's number of coins, but not both.  This is a good thing, I think, because we don't want to drench the countryside in excessive coinage.  If the connection between river and sea is that important, the hex will be a type-4 or better, and that in turn will increase the number of coins a hex has [but this is for later].

It is unlikely that most readers' worlds will include a place as primitive as Jawanda.  Nonetheless, I want to make it clear how such a backward part of the world would function, without most of the services that D&D players take for granted.

I have just one more thing to add before I can put tech-5 societies to bed: and that is the technology of mysticism.  I have written about this a few times, specifically here and here.  Therefore, let's not concentrate on what mysticism is.  It is a belief system and certainly doesn't fit into the scheme of food, coins and hammers.  But following the path of Civ IV, it does invoke the existence of a monolith of some form: a cairn, an obelisk, a monument and so on.  We might include any number of possible variants, from the large stone heads of the Mayan culture to Easter Island.

We can suppose that a tech-5 culture would celebrate such a thing, where a higher tech might see it as just a curiousity.  This is how I like to see it.  If we imagine a giant stone head (Moia) at Guba, perhaps 13 feet high, this could be a central dominant image in the whole culture of Jawanda.  Those natives who have seen the head, have touched it, might be changed; they might have the benefit of a +2% to their experience gained for all of their lives.  They might fight at +1 to hit and damage when defending the hex surrounding Guba against outside invaders.  They may be prepared to throw themselves in desperate, self-sacrificing attacks that might repel enemies.

And then we can say that no one from a more advanced culture would have these benefits, because they were from an advanced culture.  For them, the Guba Head would just be a large block of carved stone, nothing more.  They have lost the sense of mysticism, or wild magic, that makes such dedication to a monolith like this have meaning.

Adventures?  I can think of several.  But I think at this point that I should encourage the readers to come up with a few of their own.  Try to stay within the scheme I've offered thus far.  DON'T add additional materials, personages, ideas or technologies that don't already exist.  Don't suppose a great leader, a great medicine man, a soldier or any single individual because the social structures needed for these things hasn't been invented by this culture.  There is no monarch, no right of heredity, no cleric, no soldier (the idea of combat training doesn't exist), no charismatic entity of any kind.  The adventures need to be about survival, obtaining food, seeking information, fighting off dangerous animals, exploring deadly, lost deserts, communicating with outsiders who are easily more deadly than our party of only fighters, who cannot imagine armor, missile weapons and so on.

It is hard to think on this level of adventure, but give it a try.  I expect that most of you will fall short, but it isn't necessary that you succeed in this.  It is necessary only that you stretch your ideas outside of the bounds of what you've been thinking makes an adventure thus far.  We want the title of this post to be what you have.


Scott Stringer said...

I'm really enjoying these world-building posts Alexis!

RE: naming

I put together an Excel sheet to generate random lists of names. As a base I used several hundred Turkish names (because I liked the shape and sound of them). I split the names into syllables and randomly concatenate them in predefined patterns to form pseudo names.

You get plenty of dross, but usually one in four or five is useful. I pick a continent/region and use a single dialect to name the the entire place (for consistency). Occasionally I chuck in a name-modifier like "Greater" or ""Darker" to give a bit of flavor.

Your guidelines here are much better than my random system. I hadn't considered using the number of syllables to convey information. Thanks for the tip!

Ozymandias said...

I've done the same, by grabbing lists of names online and building a simple generator in Excel. I haven't tackled the syllable portion yet; think I'll have to do that next.

I'm thoroughly enjoying this process, along with many others I'm sure. I'm curious, though: how do type-7 and type-6 hexes interact with higher level tech areas? As in, if you have a region (many 6-mile hexes across the countryside) with an overall population density that supports a tech level 8, 9 or 10, what do type-7 and type-6 hexes look like?

Sofia Viktorova Koleva said...

- The Linkoro Sand Sea is encroaching into the settled lands and pilgrims from Bodo have arrived to touch the stone monolith and receive Wisdom. What is happening in the desert?

- Drought. Guba's meager food supply is further diminished and violence has broken out as armed bands form to control the limited resource.

I know you said not to invent anything, but isn't the conflict of civilization vs. primitivism irresistible?

- Foreigners have arrived in Guba by ship willing to trade wondrous items for slaves. The primitive economy is disrupted, what role will the players adopt?

- Foreigners have arrived in Guba by ship willing to trade wondrous items in exchange for guides into the Mande Desert. What lies there?

Discord said...

Wow. This series just keeps getting better and better! Keep up the great work!

Vlad Malkav said...

Same here, I'm really hooked on this !

LTW said...

This is great fun for thought.

With inhabitants of tech-5 cultures so focused on survival, adventures are largely focused on changes to status quo or normal levels of survival.

Change in a natural resource or landscape:
-The river level is lowering or rising
-A sink whole is discovered in the desert
-An unusual red tide occurs on coast
-Increase or decrease in animal resources. (for increases, clan will be wanting to off load excess meat, tallow, bones and hides, but have limited trading experience)
-Unusual heat wave, drought, cold snap, infestation, the possibilities are endless.

Social or cultural events or changes within the clan:
-Unity within a single clan or between two clans breaking down over scarcity or abundance.
-Outsiders visit or visited clan to trade, explore or pillage.
-Too many clan members causing strain on resources and unity.
-Too few males or females in a clan.
-Trope of star-crossed lovers from competing clans.
-Trope of the outsider (say a half-elf) once accepted by a (human)clan, is now rejected upon maturation because of the clans hetero fears. Did you say hireling?
-Change to a cultural or spiritual artifact such as a sacred tree dying or having been desecrated.
-Unknown clan settles near existing clan. Maybe they do not share race and/or language.
-A prodigal clan member returns suddenly.
-A clan member is struck with strange illness or madness.

Or Adventures caused by mysticism, limited knowledge and scope of tech-5 inhabitants:
-Discovery of an unused resource by party.
-Perceived mystical disturbance caused by outsiders.
-Clan performs rituals deemed disruptive by others (such as the Feast of the Dead celebrated by the Huron Indians)
-Clan is worried because details within long standing lore are being interpreted as happening now.
-Clan or clan member believes to be cursed, or wishes to perform one.
-a small abandoned boat washes ashore.

All these could be the start of a great adventure. I have to say, with a little sadness, that given the limited scope and resources of tech-5, I don't think my party would be interested in helping tribes or clans with many of these issues. At least not for very long.