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Population and Power Scales in Greyhawk
Posted on Fri, December 07, 2012 by Ullmaster
ek writes "Law and Peace reign across the Land. Danger and Uncertainty are banished to the far reaches of the Flannaess! Or are chaotic Borderlands hidden right under our noses?




This is partially a reply to both the Niole Dra/Gradsul thread, and the Campaign Preferences thread where GreyhawkGrognard caught my attention with his impression of Nyrond feeling too safe and civilized.  What was intended as a topic post became so long, perhaps it's best to post as an article.

One problem I have with most maps is they don't communicate scale well.  Without proper scale, it's difficult to find creases to place wild areas; as GHGrognard suggests, things become too safe and civilized.

To shake things up, we must re-calibrate our sense of scale (not just geographical, but political or power scales).  If we do it right, this allows for many, many more dubious borderlands and opportunity for adventure across ancient and wild lands. 

Let me try this with the Niole Dra/Gradsul area: Our venerable Pluffet records Keoland's population as 300,000.  The Kingdom covers approximately 130 green hexes.  If we evenly distribute these folk across the map, that's only 3 people per square mile!  At that rate, how many square miles must be emptied to account for a lowly hamlet of 100? 

According to "Medieval Demographics Made Easy," developed land could support a population density of over 120 per square mile.  To put this in perspective, the Darlene map shows 4 towns/cities in Keoland.  If each of those hexes represent well developed "medieval" areas, those 4 hexes contain 314,000 people -- the remaining 120 hexes in Keoland would have no human population to speak of....

It's clear, then, that Keoland's size and population dictate areas of habitation remain quite small.  They coalesce around places of value, and lines of trade.  The density of population quickly falls off as you move away. 

How could we scale the spheres of power and influence across such a landscape?  My approach is that a center of population represents a center of political power.   These centers of population, down to the lowest levels, are built on layers of localized, semi-autonomous entities of control, whether a village council, a tribal leader, a petty noble, what-have-you, all building up through higher nobles or higher powers. 

Larger dominions, then, are built by tieing these lands together through allegiance... don't forget the degree of command and loyalty may vary greatly, and be in constant contention with other nearby dominions.  Hopefully, this emphasizes how a ruler's control relies on fealties, potentially across geographically fractured landscapes. So, even in a "civilized" Kingdom, many, many hexes become uncontrolled borderlands.

To turn this thought-exercise into something visual, I took one of Anna Meyer's **fantastic** maps of Keoland.  I shaded the human-settled areas, arbitrarily based on geographical features and whim, in red.

I scribbled black lines to suggest how power and influence is projected over the inhabited areas.  Again, "power and influence" could be various lesser nobles, familial associations, tribal identities, hostage exchanges, guild systems, ancient vows, traditional rivalries (if not traditional enemies), etc.  I feel more tension arises if the power-projections form concentric and overlapping circles of various intensity.  These become the ~true~ political boundaries... areas beyond these spheres of influence are beyond effective control:  there's no one to govern, no one to be governed; and depending on a DM's imagination, these uncontrolled lands may be unknown, undesirable, untenable, unmanageable, and downright dangerous.  “Sorry, we don't know what's over that next hill.  Those brave or foolhardy enough to look never come back.”

[Edited version of Anna Meyer's map] :  http://home.comcast.net/~buile/niole-dra-population.jpg

One result of limited lines of power is the dotted line boundaries for earldoms, duchies, counties, and kingdoms could or should be left undrawn.  They ~are~ useful as an input to riff ideas from, though, but don't let them dictate.  An example of what I mean: I placed an inhabited area which turned out to be right on the boundary depicted between the Earldom of Gand and the Duchy of Gradsul. Since ~my~ boundaries of influence don't match up with someone else's rendition, we could use this conflicting depiction to suggest ideas:

1. Neither the Earl nor Duke nor King hold sway in this area. 
2. The Duke or Earl covet the allegiance of this area to extend their influence.
3. The ruler of this in-between area switches allegiance to whoever gives the best gifts.
4. The Duke and/or Earl will petition the King to put the unruly nobility of this in-between area back in their "place."
5. The inhabitants are a migratory tribe

The list can go on and on as imagination permits.  None of these need be the focus of any gameplay (unless that's the players' style); I intend it as a thought exercise to challenge the idea that any ruler's influence and power, overkings included, stretch consistently from solidified border to solidified border.   Borders are not created by lines on a map, they are created by who is aligned with who, and how far their power and influence stretch.  Power reduces the farther away you are from their power-base, so things get gray and foggy at the edges.  And once we re-add uncertainty back into the map, it reveals many more unsafe, uncivilized places spread liberally within the borders of a seemingly stable land. 

A King is just another sphere of influence, and he may not be the only "King" present in the land.  For example, the Duke of Gradsul ... he may be a King of the ancient inhabitants of the mouth of the Sheldomar.  Gradsul is only part of Keoland because a nominal allegiance exists.  If the connection between the Duke and King is not very strong, then depicting the land as a Heat Map concerning the Keoish king's influence, Gradsul is a very cool area.  And, if the Duke of Gradsul has a lot of influence over the Baron of Riverwatch due to ancient affiliations predating the “creation” of the Keoish monarchy.... whichever way the Duke goes, the Baron goes.  How is Niole Dra going to fair if it loses the Sheldomar river way?

One thing I notice going through this kind of exercise: the placement of many towns and political boundaries on maps (whether it's the original GH map, or later additions like Living GH) often strike me as non-sensical... but that unpredictability is a fun way to spark new ideas.  For example, why the ~heck~ would a town exist deep in the Dreadwood? Zero safety, and extremely poor lines of trade/communication with the outside world.  Explaining these oddly-placed locations hopefully spawn great and fantastic ideas.

In the same vein, oddly placed political boundaries (such as splitting an area of high value), entice interesting tensions and imbalances, just ripe for explosion. 

On top of all this... consider Fey Lines. Persistent lines of magic power might explain the locations of features like the Elsberedeth Druid Grove, and why there's no real inhabited areas surrounding for 50 miles... If some of these lines run through uninhabited border areas... crossing that kind of ground is a bad recipe for altered realities. Is the triangle formation of Niole Dra, Tringlee and Jurnre with the Silverwood at the base, just a coincidence? 

I also like to think of Fey lines similar to weather patterns.  Fluid, shifting streams of energy transmuting the magic weather systems like a change in the Jet Stream.  "Today, a High Pressure Chaos Magic front will move through bringing ill luck and failed spells for Lawful wizards.  Expect better Magic Weather later this week when a low pressure Good Zone coming up from the southeast takes over.  A Faerie Fog Warning is in effect for the Lowlands tomorrow morning; keep your children indoors, and as always, don't forget to dress appropriately: young boys should be clothed as girls to reduce chance of Faerie abduction...!" 

A change in the weather can mean the difference between a forest path leading to an expected destination, or to something that didn't exist there the day before.

My whole point is there just isn't enough people in Greyhawk to maintain consistent control across all the green hexes.  The numbers and distances dictate that centers of population and control are not created nor distributed equally: they often lie fractured across each kingdom, or principality, or prelacy, or whatever “country” exists on the GH map.  Allegiances exist in varying degrees of loyalty, therefore, borders are fluid and fuzzy even within an ostensibly well-defined land.  Plenty of unsafe, uncivilized areas wait to be filled with whatever fantasy elements drive your campaigns.  Instead of travelling a thousand miles to find an adventure, the world can be scaled properly to make it feasible to travel 10 miles.  Those 10 just need the right backdrop of uncertainty and danger to keep 99.9% of the folk from going beyond what they see from their village outfields or even castle walls.


"
 
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Re: Population and Power Scales in Greyhawk (Score: 1)
by Longetalos on Thu, January 10, 2013
(User Info | Send a Message) http://www.geocities.com/ricdii/Top_page.htm
I noticed the same thing when I started detailing Furyondy. Basically once you create a few towns and villages in each province, you have pretty much used up all the human population available.

A hamlet of 14 families (roughly 100 people) can farm and maintain about 2 square kilometers. The population of Furyondy is about 200,000 families. So they could cover abouot 30,000 square kilometers. Furyondy is 500,000 square kilometers in size. So you are looking at 6% of the land mass is civilized.







Re: Population and Power Scales in Greyhawk (Score: 1)
by Longetalos on Thu, January 10, 2013
(User Info | Send a Message) http://www.geocities.com/ricdii/Top_page.htm
I noticed the same thing when I started detailing Furyondy. Basically once you create a few towns and villages in each province, you have pretty much used up all the human population available.

A hamlet of 14 families (roughly 100 people) can farm and maintain about 2 square kilometers. The population of Furyondy is about 200,000 families. So they could cover abouot 30,000 square kilometers. Furyondy is 500,000 square kilometers in size. So you are looking at 6% of the land mass is civilized.







Re: Population and Power Scales in Greyhawk (Score: 1)
by Phalastar on Sat, January 19, 2013
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Hi, great article. A really useful thought provoking piece especially for those of us trying to flesh out our little piece of Greyhawk.

Perhaps I missed it in your article - it is a bit late - if so I apologise. But you mention power centres and how this creates a civilised area and a wilderness area. I think what truly makes an area wilderness is a lack of regulation or visit by authority. Thus the areas that are uncontrolled and lawless become those borderlands types areas that no-one is really sure about.

Exerting 'control' over an area means stamping some sort of authority on it. Building a castle was a well used method of subdueing the locals and it provided a constant reminder that someone was in charge, so the land around it was regulated. Likewise regular military patrols through an area provide a way of exerting control and influence on an area. Regular patrols along roads for example.

So I suspect if I was to draw a map like yours, I would add some red along those roads that are well travelled and regularly patrolled. This would add a bit more civilised red to your map, while still lieaving some large areas as untouched wild areas.

So in summary I think the location and use of regular military force would have a big impact on the map.



Re: Population and Power Scales in Greyhawk (Score: 1)
by rickstr on Fri, April 12, 2013
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A typical and very complex problem. And for its solutions can not be simple zodov. In any case, will face either hard-administrative methods, or with large economic costs to provide incentives for the move to free territory. But in general .. infrastructure will have to solve the problem in any case. Or to expand the space in the urban center, or explore new territory.

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Re: Population and Power Scales in Greyhawk (Score: 1)
by Denakhan (noth@nks.com) on Wed, December 04, 2013
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Hiya.

A bit late to the party, but...

[quote]The Kingdom covers approximately 130 green hexes.  If we evenly distribute these folk across the map, that's only 3 people per square mile!  At that rate, how many square miles must be emptied to account for a lowly hamlet of 100?  [/quote]

  I honestly don't see a problem with that at all. Where I live (Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada), if we had a population density of 3/sq.mi. I'd be thinking [i]Where the heck did all these people come from?!?[/i]. Mainly because to get to 3/sq.mi. we'd have to multiply our population by about 17 (our 'current' population density is about 0.07/sq.km....or 0.18/sq.mi. ).

  In short...yeah...I think the VAST majority of Greyhawk is 'wilderness'. And I like it that way. :)

^_^

Paul L. Ming



Re: Population and Power Scales in Greyhawk (Score: 1)
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