Sunday, July 23, 2017

Horses, deer or antelope? Why world building matters

A sane GM would ask why I spend so much time figuring out things like cuisine, clothing fashions, and art.  The quick answer is simple:  Because this is high fantasy.

This is high fantasy.  There are orcs, elves, dwarves and far crazier creatures like centaurs, vampires, and minotaurs, not to mention dragons and giants.  Are orcs humans with green skin?  Are elves humans with pointy ears?  Are dwarves short humans with beards?  If so, what is the point of even having them?  If this is high fantasy, then the subtle differences between a human and an elf will have to have an impact on their culture and their lifestyles.

Let me take the easiest first:  animal locations.  I expect that took you off guard, but I think it has the biggest impact on everything.  There were no horses on the continent that the titans (and giants, and humans, and halflings) came from.  So there were no cavalry units in the days where the titans ruled.  That makes sense, because there aren’t any giant or titan sized horses on my world.  Horses (all equines) come from Hughijen.  Once humans moved to Hughijen, they started domesticating horses and pretty quickly formed cavalry units.  Actually they started with horse riding explorers because they needed to cover ground quickly, but an explorer with a bow is a soldier, or an adventurer.

So horses from Hughijen, antelope from Drentae, and deer from Koaluckssie.  Ignoring the domestication of the horses, these are relatively similar animals - large herbivores that act as prey animals for large carnivores or packs of carnivores.  But the elves came from Koaluckssie (that is a hugely long story and greatly debated).  So did they domesticate deer and use them as steeds?  Yes, they did.  Steeds rarely, but beasts of burden more commonly.  But the elves don’t plow fields, so the idea of a beast of burden should probably only be seen as a pack animal and not as a vehicle engine.

This becomes important in that all of the horses on Drentae were imported at some point.  Sure, there are wild horses there, but they are like the American mustangs - descended from domesticated horses that escaped.  There were thousands of years in which this could have happened, not just the several hundred Earth had, so it is entirely plausible.  But the dominant prey animal on Drentae is the antelope.  So when the Barons of the Council of Baronies go hunting, they are going out after antelope, not deer.

Does it matter?  Well, let me get into the whole ‘they are all different’ thing again.  The elves actually imported deer so they would have something to use as pack animals and to hunt.  So an elven adventurer will most likely have venison pemmican as the meat of his rations.  A Velesan from Parnania (where they breed hogs) would have pork sausage or salt pork.  From the Council?  beef jerky.  From Scaret or Brinston?  those are sea ports, so expect to have salted fish.  Does it matter?  Maybe not, but there is a difference between humans and elves, and between different humans.

What else?  Well, the Lats live farther south and have trouble growing “bread wheat”.  So they grow “pasta wheat”.  So while a Rhoric will likely have hard tack in his rations bag, a Lat is going to have dried pasta.  Meanwhile, the dwarves have trouble growing any grains, and most of theirs are imported (traded for metal goods).  Because of this, their government basically mills and blends the various grains together to form a more uniform “meal” (because they are communist and believe in that sort of uniformity).  Meanwhile, the Bortens are growing corn and having cornmeal mush for their morning meal.  They make too much so that when lunch rolls around, they shape the leftovers into patties and fry them up.

Does it matter?  Again - they are different.  The cultures are different.  If you come from Traigar, you probably drink mead.  If you’re Rhoric, you drink beer.  Lat = red wine; Marilick = white wine.  but how does this affect the games?

Here are some ways this all affects the games:  The Rhorics love cinnamon, but it doesn’t grow anywhere near them.  So caravans transport the cinnamon from Caratok to Rhum and Snobist (and Rock Cove).  Now you have an idea of what might be on a caravan.  Silks come from the Quassim Islands and Dalavar.  Now you know what might be on the ships crossing the oceans.  Knowing imports and exports often helps GMs design guard quests.

An antler handled knife made in Forsbury will be from an antelope, while in Slyvania it would be from a deer.  This changes the look and feel of the weapons and tools.  Further, steel has become scarce in the southern central region, so Bortens from Scaret have turned to using bronze weapons in many cases.  The elves don’t typically do metal crafting, so they are using various alternatives, including flint tipped arrows and ironwood (semi-magical tress with the strength and durability of iron or low grade steel) maces.

This same lack of steel production in some areas leads to trade (again with the caravans and ships), but it also makes getting massive steel armors very rare in towns like Garnock and Scaret.  So their militaries are being outfitted in old armors that have been “repaired” or recycled or in leathers.  But since leather is not as good as steel, they are boiling the leathers and looking for alternatives, like dragon hides.  The orcs have no looms to speak of, so they are fully into wearing hides and leathers whether for war or normal use.  They also have the dragon hides and in some cases are trading them to Garnock.  Are we getting a little closer to the things you care about now?

The best emeralds in the world come from the jungles in the south, but they’re incredibly treacherous and there is no organized trade.  Sounds like a good mission for adventurers, huh?  But the elves do mine emeralds, lower quality emeralds.  Would the elves take action against someone trying to establish a trade in higher quality emeralds?  That would make for some good adventuring ideas!

There is a cartel out of Forsbury that is bringing in wagonloads of ivory from the north.  Mastodons in the far north and elephants in the far south.  Elephant ivory is better (whiter - and that’s not racist), but rarer.  Will someone try to compete with her?  And what trouble will they run into that far south? 

The Gold Mountains no longer contain gold, but they do still have silver mines.  So most of the gold was mined by the dwarves and transported to their current location in the north, while the orcs are mining silver in the south.  So you’re not going to find orc chieftains decked out with gold chains or other gold jewelry unless they found some sort of dwarven cache left behind.  So if you find an orc with lots of gold chains, does that lead to a much bigger exploration mission to figure out where he got it from?

The point is this:  There should be a difference between the cultures of tropical and temperate peoples.  There should be a difference between dwarves and elves and humans, and not just a couple of tweaks to what their attributes are.  These differences will not only serve to make the different races and ethnicities more fun to learn about, but will help the GM drive new missions and develop characters, their gear, and their loot.  If characters, gear and loot aren’t important to your game, then you and I are playing very different games.

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