Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Settlement

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.

Drawing from 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 option.

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).

Wildcrafting uses 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 individuals.

The distinctions 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.

Preferably, the 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.


  1. Just want to reassure you that somebody is reading these.

    It seems that everyone else in the Alexis-influenced blogosphere has more knowledge of real-world processes than I! I haven't turned myself to the idea of settling land or destumping this and clearcutting that all ...

    What rules do you, Dani, use for foraging, woodcrafting, etc.? You've got a skill for that, no?

  2. Thanks, Maxwell. I appreciate that.

    Hmm. I am shocked to find that I don't seem to have any. I have a skill (Wildcrafter, distinct from Tracker), but no actual rules under it. That needs fixing. Quickly. Well, time for another post!