Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Techs Living Side by Side

Each time that I make noises about regional tech-levels, I find myself facing the same bugbear: that the existence of a higher tech level will force a confrontation between one region and the next, for no other reason than the disparity between tech levels.  If we have swords, then we must attack the next region over that has only spears.  If we have the benefit of courthouses, organized religion and the alphabet, then we must immediately attack those regions that do not have these things.  This is an imperative . . . and there are many readers who find themselves asking, over and over, why wouldn't this happen?

What keeps the tech areas from bleeding into one another?  How do two different tech areas exist alongside each other, or trade with each other?  How does that work?

I'm quite sure that the reason this is a mystery is based upon the more dramatic instances of historical emigration.  Europeans encountered primitive peoples living in Asia, Africa, the Americas and the Pacific and began a conquest that was greatly enabled by a superior technology.  So it is assumed that if we have a superior technology, we will certainly rush in and take land away from those who have an inferior technology, yes?

Sort of.  It is interesting to note that these indigent peoples who were eventually conquered were discovered three hundred years before most of the actual conquests took place.  For a hundred years, the Dutch, English and Portuguese existed as nothing more than outposts in Africa, India and the Far East, even though they had vastly superior weapons and social organization.  What they did not have were numbers.  Therefore, until the industrial revolution made mass production possible, it was more practical to trade with backward regions than to attempt conquest.  Most of the actual conquest of Africa and Asia did not begin until the early 19th century, post the Napoleonic wars.

There are exceptions, of course.  India was greatly occupied by Britain in the mid-18th century, but only with the aid and benefit of the local Rajahs, who saw their own way to power by supporting the British.  More than half the subcontinent was still under strict native control in the year 1800.  South America is a better example, as the Spanish began smashing apart the native regions almost at once ~ but then, these regions were greatly under-populated compared to Africa and Asia.  More to the point, South America had vast, unexploited resources, untapped by the natives, which served as an encouragement to conquest.  Most of the resources in Africa and Asia were already exploited.

The same can be said of the United States, which had a motivation to take away the lands of lower tech societies because those lands were of great, unexploited value.  Australia's conquest of the interior was quite different, given that most of the interior was uninhabitable and undesirable.  Thus, while the American natives were exterminated or pushed out as soon as the higher tech Europeans arrived, the Australian natives experienced a longer period of co-existence because they did not have anything the Australians were inclined to take ~ whatever the disparity in tech levels.

Those parts of the world that did not have meaningful resources of any kind were left virtually untouched until the 20th century.  Even though the British had gunboats, rifles and pistols, they did did not set out to exterminate the native Inuit in the 19th century because there was no reason to.  In fact, there are no examples of acquisition or massacres by Europeans of Inuit in northern Canada and Greenland, as there are in southern Canada.  Because the resources just aren't there.

As far as persons of different tech levels living side-by-side, I'm surprised that readers can't see the more obvious examples, those staring them right in the face.  The depressed regions of West Virginia and Kentucky have existed right alongside Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia for two hundred years . . . yet the disparity between services in Maryland and southeastern Pennsylvania and West Virginia are still pronounced.  Even the present day existence of computers and other technological innovations are sadly lacking in places like Tucker or Randolph counties, in the mountainous part of the state.  How is it that the "invasion" of tech industry and social progressiveness hasn't caused these places to universally adopt ideas like free abortion, embraced homosexuality or social liberalism?  Why are the hospitals of depressed areas not of a quality of hospitals in New York or San Francisco?  How is it that these places of greatly different tech-level co-exist side by side without one bleeding into another?

If we remove the communication of instruments like the internet, television, radio and the telephone, taking us back to the 1870s, how much more backward is West Virginia compared with Washington?  How is it that most people living in Washington city can read but most in Huntington West Virginia cannot?  How can universities exist in Boston and New York but there are no great Universities in Morgantown or Charleston?  And if we go back another century, to the time before the revolutionary war, how is it that there are Europeans living in Bucks County in Pennsylvania but there are none living in the Appalachians?  How is it that these Europeans exist side-by-side with the vastly inferior tech people of the interior?

With the last post, I was asked about foreigners arriving in the fictional Jawanda interested in trading for slaves.  I would ask in response, why would they go there?  I've described the total population of the represented Jawanda being about 700 persons, scattered over an area the size of Rhode Island (about a fifth of Wales).  How rational is that?  It costs money to build boats and fund soldiers to go get slaves.  Would it not make more sense to bypass Jawanda and go to another place with more food production and more people?  There are no accounts of Europeans landing on Greenland's shores and seizing Inuit to be slaves on plantations in America.  Certainly, it would have been easy to conquer the Inuit.  Why did they not do so?

There are also parts of Africa ~ the depressed coastlines of Mauritania and Rio de Oro ~ that waited until the 19th century to be "conquered" by Europeans.  Actually, the Europeans just showed up, pointed guns and were allowed to do whatever they wanted.  But it took four centuries after the discovery of these lands for outsiders to bother.  Until then, Rio de Oro was nominally under the authority of Morocco.  And how did they interact with their overlords?  They paid tribute in the shape of salt, skins and gums, in exchange for food.  Just as I've described.  And they did so for centuries, without the higher tech Morocco culture bleeding into Rio de Oro and Mauritania to any extent at all.

Because there were no meaningful resources!  This is what readers just cannot understand.  You cannot propose a motivation to conquest if there is nothing of value to take from the conquered region.  Do you imagine that Europeans want to live the hard, unforgiving life I've described as the existence of Ai, Bodo or Cai, in the interior of Jawanda?  Have we not already learned that white people in America do not want to take the jobs that illegal Mexicans are willing to perform?

Even if we handed Jawanda over to a higher tech region, lock, stock and barrel (though none of these things exist in Jawanda), the region would be abandoned within a year and the natives would move right back in.  The higher tech skills of Europeans did not enable Jamestown, Port Royal or any of the other failed first colonial attempts on the American seaboard to survive ~ because Europeans just weren't strong enough or willing enough to survive in that kind of harsh, untouched wilderness.  It took time and effort to remake even a golden land like America into a comfortable place to live: this still hasn't been done with the parts of the world that I am describing as tech-5.

This is what readers just won't get.  These tech levels do not exist arbitrarily.  They exist because the region itself, without the modern measure of information exchange, won't support a better tech level.  Even if a better tech level is right next door.


  1. The examples you give here of the real world history which form the underpinnings of your Tech level system are excellent.
    Thank you.

  2. With the last post, I was asked about foreigners arriving in the fictional Jawanda interested in trading for slaves. I would ask in response, why would they go there...How rational is that? It costs money to build boats and fund soldiers to go get slaves. Would it not make more sense to bypass Jawanda and go to another place with more food production and more people?

    But wouldn't the lack of population, technology, institutions, etc... inherent in Jawanda make it particularly susceptible for exploitation? You ask why would the ship arrive in the first place but you yourself point out the higher tech society that produced the ship and its crew could be literally right next door. Or, Jawanda could simply be between two more noteworthy places separated by some distance and therefore only convenient. Columbus didn't mean to land in the New World, but taking slaves was among the first things he did when he got there.

  3. You say "next door" like this is relevant. I just gave a bunch of examples of how West Virginia being "next door" to urban Pennsylvania doesn't mean a thing.

    Ships cost money. Crews cost money. If you're going to outlay all that money, you're going to go somewhere that has something to trade, right? You've completely ignored everything I said in the post, the examples I gave, etcetera. You're just not getting it.

  4. I read and understood every word. Nevermind, clearly I have nothing to contribute here.

  5. Understood, perhaps; but not thinking it through. If Jawanda was on the way to somewhere, it would have a higher tech, because that would be valuable! But as it is tech-5, your suppositions are groundless. Each time you try to make an argument by supposing new facts, you ignore the premise.

  6. Does this mean that by assigning a lower tech level, we're committing the region to a state of fewer resources?

    If so, it makes a certain sort of sense. Why would a region with exploitable resources have such a low population? Most D&D games take place in a Renaissance-like era, and most have several intelligent humanoid races all vying for control, so the likelihood of any region possessing lots of resources but not a lot of people should be pretty low...

  7. I should also point out that most worlds are homogenous in the extreme. That is the problem. Propose a region without tech and the immediate response is to rush to the trope of a more advanced culture rushing in and taking over - even though there are far more examples of this not happening before 1800 than happening. In fact, there are many examples of the reverse, with aggressive, lower tech cultures destroying a soft, pampered higher tech culture with less motivation.

    As I have said many times, we must stop thinking we are talking about post-industrial geopolitics. That's what I mean when I say stretch your minds.

  8. A question just occurred to me, but what about the humanoids who live in the wild areas of these zones? Do they share the technological levels? Is their tech level based on their INT, or on the relative density of their hex?

    I'm uncertain if you use your Hex Generator for anything but determining the overall Hex Type any longer, but interested in how this effects your placement of "uncivilised" tribes, especially in the context of a civilisation this far down the tech levels to begin with.

  9. I see two an unresolved relationship between two seemingly conflicting premises in your post. The first is your comparison of West Virginia and Washington D.C. over time. Following your logic there, the tech level of West Virginia increases over time, just not as it does in Washington. The other is the premise that a region is inherently a certain tech level due to its exploitable resources. That would seem to imply that it would never increase in tech level.

    We can presume that some bleeding of tech will eventually take place based on the first premise, but how do we determine what conditions will cause that to happen, and then how do we denote that the natural conditions of the area are a certain tech level, but that currently it is at a different level?

  10. If we assume the game is taking place over the period of a few years to a generation then we can assume that tech levels will stay relatively static. There could be outlying situations.

    My question is, aside from a starting location (which would mean a party of fighters), why would party ever want to go to a tech-5 area? Like higher tech civilizations, I am having trouble coming up with reasons why a party would venture to tech-5.

  11. Alexis, this is a great post; interesting historic underscoring to your argument and plenty of food for thought.

    @LTW: presumably, you go there to explore the buried ruins dating from before the whole area became desertified.

  12. Joey, I agree with your reasoning that tech levels will travel over time. I think it's important to understand that the "time" involved is likely to be several hundred years or more. It's also important that we establish a base tech level when fleshing out a new region. For my own purposes, I'm applying Alexis' technique to a pre-conceived world: I'm starting with a map drawn by someone else and I'm "zooming in," as it were, to the local level (5-mile hex) and populating it with random details. Before I get into those details, however, I look to the larger region and make some assumptions, like, which race is living there, whether there's already a large city/trade center nearby, what the likelihood of certain resources is, etc. Granted, I can do this because I'm working from a published world so I have material I can reference. In the case of a completely new and random world... I dunno, maybe you'd have to do something similar like making certain decisions at a regional level, then closing in and deciding other details.

    Regardless, I think one of the takeaways from these posts might be: limitations are good. Limits and constraints help to establish the status quo, which is something the players can act for or against.

  13. The tech levels are based on population density.

    There's a whole series of posts from 2015 that go into it.
    The way then, that I assume tech would increase is by an increase in population, which would advance (since the "technologies" here are in many ways social constructs like Feudalism or Currency) the area accordingly.
    I'll be really honest though when I say I don't see much reason to think very hard about advancement. If everything increases in tech whenever the players work to increase a given region, then what exactly did they gain by trying to advance it?
    I know Alexis has been playing a very long time. How long, in game time, have his parties gone? I would actually be surprised if that timespan exceeded a hundred years, the sort of time that might require thinking about the advancement of tech.

  14. @Drain: Yes, I agree forgotten ruins and such will attract parties. I was wondering if I was missing the obvious besides altruism, exploration, or treasure. Each worthy goals for a party, treasure being my parties preferred reward.

  15. Damn, but I hate working.

    Others have answered questions near enough to my own answers, and I am grateful. I shall chime in, however, and say where. Then I shall pick up on the questions that were asked that did not receive answers.

    Joey, as LTW, Ozymandias and Pandred have answered, the D&D game does not need a progression in the tech level. We're not representing a world history or a simulation here, we're creating a nuanced setting with detailed, unique technology backdrops which can both serve as a limitation, as Oz said, and also as a distinct game experience separate from the usual homogeneous soup which describes every setting in existence. By stating that these things are not available at this tech, we force players to make do in ways that games rarely demand: this in turn creates an appreciation for higher tech levels, which permits a greater sense of luxury and comfort when visiting those levels after having experienced the dregs of places like Jawanda.

    LTW, as Drain answered, the reason for going to Jawanda would be for adventure. Perhaps for the dungeons in the desert, perhaps for the purpose of obtaining wisdom from a solitary individual who can explain the origin of the massive head, perhaps for an ingredient for a potion or the head of an odd animal as a punishment quest, etcetera. I could also add that Jawanda could be an origin for a party, if it was so agreed, just as Stavanger was an agreed-upon origin place for the online Juvenis party. I know that most people would not choose such an origin, but it IS possible.

    Finally, who is to say that Jawanda won't be conquered for the sake of its tribute by a high level party someday? I don't like an adventure concept that says a high-tech group shows up and makes the party's life difficult, but I don't dismiss the PARTY deciding to do what they want. Agency, always.

  16. Pandred, regarding humanoids in the wild.

    It is a good question. You will note that the tech-system does not define the number of wild animals or monsters inhabiting the unoccupied hexes. Any humanoid that is not part of the system (say a band of roving orcs) would have to be counted among the monsters ~ and like monsters, they may have any tech limitation we choose to give them. We don't limit dragon breath potential by the number of people in the village it is attacking, so obviously we can't limit an attacking orc party by the tech level of the culture it preys upon.

    For me personally, I would prefer to limit intelligent outsiders to near and abouts the nearest tech level. Well-heeled orcs attacking out of a desert would need some origin, and for me that origin would mean another kingdom we created like Jawanda, somewhere in the hinterland, which would in turn establish the tech level of the orcs. Smaller parties, however, say 15-30, can be allowed to move as interlopers between established kingdoms, as serves us to create a good adventure for the players.

  17. Joey, regarding increases in tech level.

    I have no idea how you would have gotten the idea that a region's tech level is based upon its exploitable resources AT A GIVEN MOMENT in time. I draw your attention to Libya, which was a very backward part of the world for a very long time, until the discovery of oil. Or how South Africa was little more than a back country for ranching immigrants until diamonds at Kimberley changed the game completely. Or how the progression of the cellphone has caused present-day Zaire to become the most important source for coltan, a metal of almost no importance at all fifty years ago.

    As tech levels over the whole world increases, the resources that a region has can become vastly more valuable because of that increase. Did Zaire invent the cellphone? No, obviously not. But just as Portugal rounding Cape Horn five hundred years ago greatly changed the importance of growing indigo in south India or the importance of growing cinnamon and nutmeg in the East Indies.

    I've only tried to represent a state of the world in a very specific time-frame, when this particular tech-5 region is tech-5 because now, for the moment, it has nothing that anyone wants. That can always change.

    Of course, that change doesn't happen for everyone. The Central African Republic or Guinea-Bissau haven't been propelled into any great shattering change because of newly demanded resources in their borders. Guyana continues to exist in a sort of limbo. People have rarely heard of Ryukyu, the Marquesas, Kerguelen or Cabinda. There are hardly any parts of the world today that could be called tech-5, but there were many, many such places at the beginning of World War 2. They didn't change themselves. We changed them.

    I never argued that places were not changed; I argued that this did not generally happen until AFTER the industrial revolution. My world does not take place after the revolution. Therefore, problems of change are not relevant if they can't be expected to happen pre-18th century. Given that new technologies were not invented to use new chemical compounds until those compounds were proven to exist, post 1750 for the most part, we can presume that what a country had as a resource in 1300 was probably still what it has in 1650.


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