My thoughts are
continuing to jump around, and finally returned to the Settlement Campaign.
Rereading Alexis' series of posts on creating a trading settlement got me
thinking about Phase 2 of the settlement campaign: establishing a thorp. This
became especially timely with Alexis' ruminations on large-scale passage oftime.
Wilder's novels, in an environment where humans are the alpha predator, each
cluster will establish their own farm a day or so distant from each other.
However, this is D&D - until the party clears out whatever malicious
presences are nearby, the expedition is under constant threat. Consequently,
they will build a concentrated group of buildings instead of a network of
individual houses. This thorp will likely be walled and will have animal pens,
a granary, homes for each cluster, and place of worship, and common food
storage. Ideally, the expedition will be able to put a well inside the walls,
but that's a feature of hydrology and climate - water barrels might be the only
The primary function
of this thorp is to produce enough food that everyone lives. No more, no less.
Most communities will do this by farming (raiding will later become an option,
but presumably there are few things to rob at this point). Each able-bodied
worker can manage about 2 acres of farmland, and about 1 acre is necessary to
feed 1 adult, over the course of the year. However, yields are not consistent
(weather plays a huge factor in whether a field produces or not), so a family
of 4 would want to operate at least 5 acres to avoid starvation. In most feudal
settings, land is at a premium, but in the settlement campaign, land costs only
the effort to clear it. However, farming at this rate pretty much requires a
yoke of oxen or horses to plow the land come spring, and 1 team can plow 1 acre
per day (the origin of the unit of measurement). So, the number of teams
determines the overall number of acres the community can support - in the
northern hemisphere, the month of July is used for plowing. On my calendar,
that's 28 days available for plowing, so 28 acres per team, or enough land to
support about 19 people (assuming a 1.5 acres/person ratio for safety's sake).
There are other food
approaches, however. Wildcrafting allows skilled individuals to find and
harvest locally-available food, identifying berry patches, fruit trees, edible
mushrooms, fishing spots, and the like. Forest farming entails manipulating a
forest environment to grow food and cash crops under the tree canopy. The
advantages of wildcrafting and forest farming is that they do not require
clearing the land before allowing for farming, but they can be less fruitful
than typical farming methods in some climates (hence the abandonment of both
practices by Europeans).
whatever rules you use for foraging in the wilderness and requires a couple
hundred acres of undeveloped land fairly close to the settlement, and it is
assumed that a wildcrafter will be sustainably foraging. Forest farming, on the
other hand, requires somewhat different rules. It is only available in wooded
environments (obviously) and requires at least 5 acres to be sustainable. But,
each of those 5 acres can support 1 person, just like an acre of conventional
farmland. At this stage of the settlement campaign, the downside to both
wildcrafting and forest farming is that they require a specialized skillset
-a combination of traditional farming
knowledge and the wilderness lore usually restricted to ranger-type
between trad farming, wildcrafting, and forest farming manifest in the kinds of
goods produced, but that only matters when the thorp becomes part of a network
of thorps, exchanging goods and services. For now, all three produce food, and
that's what is important.
As I alluded above,
the settlement's physical location is crucial and will determine the success or
failure of the thorp. Most expeditions will need to rely on traditional farming
for food and require a relatively flat area of about 20 acres. The site needs
to have ready access to potable water, preferably a river or lake.
flatland is not thickly forested, as it will have to be clear-cut and destumped
before trad farming the land.If the
site is not forested (as a prairie or something), it would be nice for there to
be a woodland of some kind relatively close by to provide the timber for all of
the building projects. Ultimately, the biome of the settled location will
determine what properties are available and desirable. For those of you who
have played Dwarf Fortress, it is exactly the same process - we are looking for
a the equivalent of a high-metal, high-wood, high-soil region with reasonable
weather and accessible water (but no aquifers. Fuck aquifers.), or as close to
it as we can get. I operate with terrain, climate, and vegetation types as
three separate parameters which combine into a fairly detailed picture of what
kinds of things could be found on a particular hex. Vegetation tells me what
kinds of plants predominate (trees, grasses, or shrubs, and in what density)
while climate/elevation tells me what specific trees, grasses, or shrubs
actually grow there (so that I can say not trees but oak or boxwood trees). [I
will say that since I primarily operate in a tropical climate, needing to
convert most of the wood used in Alexis' trade tables, which rely on European
standards for most constructed goods (spruce for buckets, for instance), to the
woods actually available in a tropical climate, has been a lot of fun and also
a lot of work, but totally worth it.]
I won't make a list
- how those three parameters interact is going to depend heavily upon your
worldmap, and I have not yet finished a nice organizational scheme for the
interactions that I use.
As I mentioned
previously, every expedition needs to have some sort of guide (a hinterlander
or ranger-type character) who helps the expedition cope with the new
environment, and it is the guide's responsibility to choose a suitable site.
Whatever site the group ends up with is the best available site within the
region - there should not be a strictly better place to establish a thorp
within a couple days' travel. If your players become guides, then randomly
rolling for a series of sites and letting them choose where to settle their
groups makes sense.