Another Creation Myth

I had a pretty nice story for the origin of primordials, demons, and fey and the different realms of reality in Kaendor three months back, but since then I’ve once again changed my stance on the inclusion of demons. There are a few cool ideas I have for demons, but overall they just don’t have the kind of integration into the larger existing worldbuilding that primordials and fey have. I also feel that having three groups of supernatural beings is diluting the distinguishing boundaries between them and unloads too many overlapping concepts on players who are meant to figure things out largely for themselves. Demons are also heavily associated with Evil and Hell, which are both concepts that don’t really appear in the big picture of Kaendor.

So for the third time now, I believe, I decided that the setting should not have demons at all. Most of the ideas I have for them can quite well be given to either the primordials or the fey, and the remaining ones really don’t need to be jammed into a setting that does not actually need them. But that also means that the old creation story no longer makes any sense. Here’s a new one I also really like.

In the primordial age, the world was all water and darkness. It was the world of the Primordials, who ruled the lightless depths for uncountable aeons. This changed with the arrivial of fire. It is not known how fire came to be, but stars appeared in the eternal blackness of the Void and drove back the darkness around them. Their light and warmth drove the Primordials into the deepest seas and lowest reaches of the earth, or into the eternal emptiness of the void. Where the light of the stars reached the surface of the earth and the sea, its energy brought forth the first elemental spirits, as it did those of the air.

When the darkness was driven away by the radiance of the stars, shards of the sun fell down onto the earth and burried themselves many miles deep into the ground. From these shards emanate the streams of lava that sometimes rise back to the surface, and they gave life to all the fire elementals that roam the world, and many of the spirits of the deeper earth as well. The smallest of these sun shards have cooled down in the aeons that have passed since these earliest days, and have solidified into veins of copper.

The elementals were the first of a new form of life that came to spread throughout the lands touched by the lights of the stars. From them came many other spirits, as well as the ancestors of the earliest plants and animals.

An Interpretation of Dragonbane’s Resting rules

Going through the mechanics for Journeys in Dragonbane, I came upon this rule in the section on resting:

“A shift rest lasts one full shift of time and can only take place in a safe location where there are no enemies nearby.”

Other rules in the Journeys section indicate pretty strongly that the writer assumes anywhere that isn’t inside a dungeon to be a safe location. But personally, I wouldn’t consider pitching a tent in the goblin hills or spider woods to be “in a safe location”. Ultimately, what is safe enough to allow the PCs to rest is at the discretion of the GM.

For the Woodland Vales system, I really want to players to set up proper base camps while exploring a stretch of wilderness, where they can store their food and other supplies, as well as the heavy treasures they find under the guard of their hirelings who also take care of the pack animals. Using a more severe interpretation of what constitutes a safe place for the purposes of resting immediately makes this a much greater necessity without really touching the rest of the Dragonbane rules at all.

Similar to the havens (I think that’s the term) in The One Ring, finding the home of a friendly NPC, the shrine of a benevolent spirit, or an abandoned tower with intact walls can be a hugely beneficial discovery. A location secure enough to regain all HP and WP and remove all your conditions becomes a key resource for the ability to delve further into the unknown wilds. Without it, you can only get four Round Rests to recover 1d6 WP and four Stretch Rests to recover 1d6 WP and HP per day.

A less severe approach to this is to assign all outdoor areas a security rating of safe, wild, and dangerous. In a wild area, the Bushcraft roll to find a suitable camp site for making a Shift Rest is made normally. But in a safe area it is rolled with a boon and in a dangerous area with a bane. In a dangerous area you might still be able to find the occasional safe campsite to make a Shift Rest, but with a bane (roll twice, take the worse result) it would be quite unpredictable which nights you will be able to. Even with this house rule, any place that is reliable secure and does not require Bushcraft checks at all would still be a very valuable resource.

Woodland Vales: Choosing the Hex Scale

I’ve long had an ambivalent relationship with hex maps. I think the conventional approach to hexcrawl campaigns in which the party enters a 6-mile hex and discovers whatever cave or ruin in located inside just goes beyond any believable plausibility. As an “outdoor dungeon room”, 6-mile hexes are just way too big and even 1-mile hexes would be stupidly huge. But I really do like hex maps as a tool  to quickly and easily estimate the length of a winding path through the wilderness and around natural obstacles like mountains or large lakes. I really can’t imagine the Woodland Vales system without using a hex map for the GM. I think the players should never actually see a hex map, as cartographers of a typical fantasy world would not be able to create any maps with that degree of accuracy regarding relative directions and distances. Navigation should be done by the players entirely by following roads, rivers, and visible landmarks. But for a GM, hexes are a great tool to track supply consumption and random encounter frequencies.

People have long discussed the merits of different hex scales for adventure and campaign maps, and I’m entirely in the 6-mile hex camp for long-distance overland travel. But for doing multiple criss-crossing trips through a much more bounded play area, this might not necessarily be the best scale as well. But to choose the right scale for a hex map, it’s first necessary to establish what kind of information is actually meant to go on that map.

The Default Domain Template

For my Kaendor setting, I recently made the decision to model borderland settlements on the image that is being created by the D&D Expert and Companion rules by Frank Mentzer from 1983. A region of wilderness that is dotted by small keeps of independent lords surrounded by a small area of farmland with numerous tiny villages paying taxes for the lord’s protection against the monsters of the wilds. Mostly as an aesthetic choice. I just find it very evocative. Having a bit of casual research into the medieval manor system for social and economic organization in western Europe, I came up with the following average template for what such a lord’s domain might plausible look like.

At the center of the domain is the lord’s keep. A fortified residence that serves as the domain’s military headquarter and treasury, that might also serve as a refuge for people living nearby in times of attack. Close by or surrounding the keep is a town where most of the domain’s businesses and services are located. The rest of the domain would consists of several manors. These are the lands that are under the economic control of other wealthy and powerful families of the domain. Either as personal property or on rent from the lord. These manor estates in turn would work a small part of that land but rent out most of it to common tenant farmers. The masters of these manors make up the retainers of the lord of the domain. Depending on the local culture, these might be called knights or something to a similar effect. Part of the agreement with the lord that grants them the right to own or rent property in the domain is to provide military service. In addition to themselves and perhaps some of their sons, these retainers would each also employ a few semi-professional soldiers as their men at arms, funded by the rent the retainers receive from their tenants.

A plausible scale for the numbers of the people making up such a generic domain I settled on the following, which I believe falls into roughly the same range that you find quoted for some actual medieval baronies and manors.

A domain has one keep that is home to the lord. The keep is next to the domain’s single main town of 1,000 to 2,000 people. The rest of the domain consists of 20 to 30 manors that provide the lord with 1 retainer and 5 or 6 men at arms each and have a further population of 200 to 300 farmers. This comes out as a total population of 20-30 retainers, 100 to 180 men at arms, 1,000 to 2,000 townspeople and 4,000-9,000 villagers. That’s a bit low for the ratio of villagers per townspeople, but ultimately this is about getting a sense of scale rather than doing precise head counts.

As a very broad generalization, it appears that it takes about 3 acres of fields and pastures to support one person. For our roughly 10,000 inhabitants of an average domain, this comes out as 120 km². Assuming that the domains are pretty wild borderlands and between 1/3 and 1/2 of the land is unworked by farmers, this would be 160 to 240 km² for the total domain size. This translates to about 4 to 6 6-mile hexes, 20 to 25 2-mile hexes, or 80 to 100 1-mile hexes.

The Why and Where of Towns

In a pre-modern farming society, farms are largely self-sufficient, producing all the food they consume and most of their clothing. However, once you get to have carts with wheels, horses with harness, and plows with metal blades, and you want to do some embroidery on your good clothes with fine threads in bright colors, you can’t do all these things by yourself on your farm and require the work of experiences specialists with specialized tools. And while there might be one guy who has a simple forge and can make crude nails in most farming villages, for many of these specialized trades you can have a single business supplying a very large number of customers over a fairly large area. And you need all these customers to make your business economically viable.

Leaving the farm to go on an errand to one of these specialists takes time and keeps you away from your own work. So farmers will always prefer to go to a place that has many businesses and services in one spot so they can do multiple errands on a single trip. When given the choice, they will do their errands in whichever place has the most businesses close together. Businesses located in these places will do better than those in the middle of nowhere, and so all businesses will naturally move to a single central place. That’s a town.

But while farmers will always prefer to do all their errands on one trip to the largest town, this does have a limit. Even more preferable than doing everything in a single trip is to make all your trips in a single day and be back home before nightfall. Staying the night in a foreign town is unappealing and expense, and getting stuck on some dark road until the next morning is even worse. Also, many farmers might not like to have their family be alone on the farm for the whole night, and somebody is having to feed the animals in the morning. So even when a larger town is available in the area, it’s typically beaten out by smaller towns that can be visited on a single day trip. And as it turns out, the maximum distance for a trip to town, doing your errands, and making it back home by nightfall is about 5 to 6 miles when traveling on foot or with a horse cart. This means that every town is surrounded by a bubble some 10 to 12 miles across from which it gets all its customers. If there’s another town inside that bubble, the one that has the better range of services will draw in all the customers and businesses in the smaller town will have to move to stay competitive. If there are rural villages that are located outside of any of these bubbles, then there’s a huge business opportunity for trades people to set up shop there and provide their goods without competition and a new town will grow. Once an area has been newly settled by farmers, businesses will move around and potential towns grow and decline until the entire area is covered in permanent towns whose bubbles of customers are just touching, but also leave very few gaps between them. And we can see that in many rural places. The distances between towns are rarely much shorter or much longer than that.

The Options for Hex Scales

As I mentioned earlier, I am quite the fan of 6-mile hexes. It’s the most commonly used scale for hex maps and its resolution is quite convenient for long distance overland travel. But when it comes to mapping a domain consisting of four to six hexes, maybe not so much.

At the scale of a domain, this hex size really doesn’t provide anything useful. All you could mark on this is that any sites in the domain are either right next to the town or six miles away. And if the domain takes up five or six of the seven hexes, every domain will have nearly identical outlines on the map. This really doesn’t look fun.

Now the 6-mile hexes could be split into 3-mile hexes, but that just looks really wonky when trying to overlay a 3-mile hex grid over a 6-mile grid. So let’s go right ahead to look at 2-mile hexes instead.

I say that’s more like it. We have 37 hexes within a 6-mile radius around the central town, and would require some 20 to 25 of those to make up the territory inhabited by the domain’s farming population. That’s vastly more options for domains of different shapes. It’s also a resolution in which the relative positions of various villages or landmarks in the domain could be indicated by a single hex coordinate.

Just for the sake of completeness, let’s take a look at 1-mile hexes, which has been advocated for small scale wilderness exploration by early D&D.

If your entire campaign takes place only in a single 6-mile hex and the directly neighboring wilderness hexes, then I can see using a 1-mile hex overlay being a decent choice. But for Woodland Vales, I also want to include interactions between different lords and the overland journeys between domains. If you were to make a map with 8 domains and some wilderness between them and surrounding them, I think going down to a 1-mile hex resolution seems like overkill.

The 2-mile hex seems like the ideal hex size for my intentions with the Woodland Vales borderland exploration system.

Woodland Vales: An Introduction

This might be the first post in a potentially long running series. Or I might lose interest after a week or two and not much more comes from it. Hard to say at this point.

What this is

For a good while now, I’ve been pondering and tinkering with various ideas for a kind of sandbox campaign that would be best suited to really bring out what I consider the strengths and most interesting design of my Kaendor setting and emphasizes the aspects of sandbox play that I always found the most intriguing. What I am aiming for is a structure and set of mechanics and procedures that combines the Basic/Expert D&D dungeon and wilderness exploration system by Tom Moldvay and the concept of players establishing a domain in the wilderness, with the West Marches approach to player proactivity by Ben Robbins, the Points of Light worldbuilding paradigm, and various inspirations from the Hill Cantons posts by Chris Kutalik. And yes, this all sounds extremely 2011.

What this series is going to be about is to take all these elements that people have used very effectively in the past and turn them into one unified system that is simplified and streamlined enough that even someone with ADHD like me can run it entirely from memory without having to cross-reference any tables or do any kind of calculations in the middle of play. I think that I had already some 90% of all the mechanics and procedures well worked out over the last couple of years, and mostly this will be me putting all of that mess into an orderly and coherent form that other people can understand and actually use for their own games, or adapt it in parts.

The big question when doing something like this is always whether you are going to present the readers with the finished product that they can use and reference during play, or to take them to the entire design process and explain in detail what all of the moving parts do and my reasoning for making them the way they are which would be immensely useful for people who want to further tinker with it to adapt it to their own needs and purposes? In my over-abundant enthusiasm, I decided that I want to try doing both. This series of posts will go with the later approach first. While I think my ideas are pretty cool, I don’t have expectations that this will turn into the next surprise breakout hit book for sandbox campaigns among the DIY Elfgame crowd. But I know that there are plenty of people who love tinkering with this stuff like I do and that there is a real audience interested in just talking shop. Even if I end up not having the stamina to see this through to the end, individual posts about the design process of specific elements will still be of some use to some people.

What it’s for

The overall campaign concept for which these Woodland Vales systems are being designed is based around an Iron Age society of scattered farming villages that cluster around a main hill forts that serves as the central market town and stronghold of the local big man.These islands of early civilization are separated from each other and surrounded by true primordial wilderness of dark forests, vast swamplands, and treacherous mountains. Traveling merchants move between towns with boats and rafts across a network of rivers or with caravans of pack animals along a few established trails through the woods. Throughout the wilderness and the scattered valleys of farmland are the ruins of ancient  civilizations of inhuman sorcerers, many of which hold the hidden lairs of dangerous monsters or treacherous magical curses that keep people far away from them, but also occasional ancient treasures that are an irresistible lure for foolish young warriors and reckless vagabonds.

Civilization is a fairly small affair in these Woodland Vales, and many of the clearings and valleys that could be suitable for farming have never been settled or been abandoned after some calamity befell their people. The old keeps and crumbling castles of their former lords and chiefs often become home to monsters or bandits, making these vales dangerous places to move through. But many of them could still hold great potential for settlement and various resources that could be of great value, if someone were to drive out those threats and secure their boundaries.

The player characters in a Woodland Vales campaign are assumed to be adventurous warriors and scoundrels, or curious and ambitious scholars and apprentice sorcerers lured by the promises of riches and ancient secrets. The intention behind the mechanics is to strongly incentivize players to establish temporary or permanent bases on the very edges of the inhabited vales that will serve as their base camps for the exploration of the surrounding unsettled valleys. Resource management goes beyond counting torches and arrows, and includes taking caravans of pack animals to a nearby town to stock their base with supplies for weeks of exploration and possibly maintain hold of the surrounding area throughout the winter. This will require large numbers of hirelings to both maintain the base and defend it while the PCs are gone for days or even weeks to roam through the forests and descend into caves and ruins. It is up to the players to chose between expanding one of their bases into a proper stronghold and recruit people to build farms under their protection, or to keep moving to other borderland valleys and establishing a new base camp there. Either way, this is a process that is meant to start in the early game and not to be locked away behind some arbitrary experience threshold once there are no more challenging monsters to be found.

As owners of a stronghold (or perhaps several keeps owned by different PCs?), there is also a lot of room to go into a more political game of dealing with the other big men of the region and making allies to stand again common foes. Mass Battles are something that I can very much see as being a thing in this kind of campaign environment, for which a simple wargame system like De Bellis Antiquitatis could quite easily be added on to the RPG rules for Player Characters. But what I want to avoid is to turn campaigns into games of tax accounting or granular base building where you have to count the silver pieces for the furnishing of individual rooms. Owning a stronghold should be a game of making meaningful decisions and dealing with new kinds of dramatic conflict. While managing your resources to establish how many troops you actually can field when it comes to a battle is of course important, I believe that the amount of number crunching should be limited to as low as absolutely possible.

Farming in the Savage Frontier

As people who have been to this site more than once or twice surely would have noticed, I have a huge fascination with the Forgotten Realms sourcebook The Savage Frontier from 1988. I still believe to this day that this is possibly the best single fantasy campaign setting book that has ever been made. It does not look like much at only 64 pages with very little illustrations, but this thing is densely packed like nobody’s business. It’s not a huge amount of content, but it is content that is almost all immediately useful for GMs for creating adventures and bringing the world to life. And every year that I pick it up again, it only keeps impressing me more.

My approach to The Savage Frontier is to always take it at its word. Any detailed that is mentioned in the book is assumed to be true. If there is anything about the setting as it is presented in a way that seems contradictory or implausible, I assume that the information is merely incomplete rather than wrong. Unless it seems absolutely necessary to make the setting feel believable, I always only add new details to resolve such conflicts instead of removing or changing anything that is in the text.

What do they eat?

When examining a fictional world for how believable and consistent it is, it’s always a good first step to ask “What do they eat?”

All large scale conflicts are deep down caused by economical issues. Someone wants or needs something that is not accessible and is willing to start a fight for it. And warfare is all about managing the resources that you have access to and disrupting the access of your enemy. Strategy is always about managing resources much more than fighting battles. Believable large scale conflicts always have underlying economic circumstances. If these circumstances are plausible, then you can have your actors make decisions that are consistent and believable. Those decisions might be bad or stupid, but they have to make sense in the minds of the people who make them. If the economic circumstances of the setting make no sense, then many of the decisions will be nonsensical as well. And the most fundamental level of all economy is food production. Most other aspects of the economy ultimately serve to improve and secure the supply of food for the population, and in a society with medieval levels of technology, food production takes up the vast majority of all labor output. If the food economy of your setting makes no sense, then the rest of the economy will make no sense either, and therefore all the major political and social conflicts as well. Food production is something that every setting has to get right to create a world and stories that are halfway believable.

So how does The Savage Frontier look in that regard? It’s a pretty large region the size of central Europe, full of great mountain ranges and vast forests, and with very long distances between most major settlements. And it’s a very cold place. This is a region in which growing crops will have a fairly low productivity, but the large scale import of food deep into the wilderness is also quite impractical. Being located in the most remote corner of the continent, there really isn’t any outside trade coming through the region. Adbar, Sundabar, Mirabar, and Ironmaster are major suppliers of metals for the southern lands, but only Ironmaster can be supplied by the sea. Hauling all the food to feed the 100,000 city dwellers in the Interior for a thousand miles up the river through the wilderness just doesn’t seem very plausible and what would Silverymoon and Everlund even have to trade for all of that? As I see it, almost all of the food in the Savage Frontier has to be produced locally.

So “What do they eat?” becomes “What do they produce?” I think the best comparison we have for the agriculture that would be possible in the Savage Frontier is the medieval Baltic region. Southern Sweden, the Baltic States, and the westernmost regions of Russia. In the 13th and 14th century, which is the time period that the Forgotten Realms Campaign Set gives as a reference, the region was actually home to numerous largely independent oligarchic merchant cities, which is very much like the social structure that dominates the northern Forgotten Realms. Novgorod and Moscow had populations of about 30,000 people, which is roughly the scale of Silverymoon, Sundabar, and Mirabar. (And dwarfs Neverwinter and Luskan.) So it is looking pretty promising that this can be made to work as a very plausible and consistent setting.

The main crop in Northern Europe has always been wheat, which should grow fairly well in the Savage Frontier as well. Barley as well, with Russia and Canada being among the top producers worldwide. The coast of the Sea of Swords at Neverwinter and Waterdeep and the lower Delymbiyr valley would all be great areas for growing grains.

An alternative food source that has been used widely in more harsher regions like Scotland, Iceland, and Norway is raising cattle and sheep. The Dessarin valley between Waterdeep and the Evermoors consists of a vast prairie, which is ideal for grazing.

A third source for food would be fishing. Ironmaster, Luskan, Neverwinter, and Waterdeep are all directly on the coast of a cold sub-arctic sea, which are typically very abundant fishing grounds.

These three sources of food cover the food supply situation in the western parts of the Savage Frontier very well. While Mirabar is located in a more inhospitable location, it is still fairly close to the sea and one of the most important mining cities in the world, so a heavy reliance on food imports would not be much of a stretch there.

Feeding the Interior

But this still leaves out the Interior region in the Northeast. This would be the area with the harshest winter and the shortest summers, with the least areas of open grasslands. While the Rauvin is a fairly major river that might provide decent amounts of fish, the catches would have to be split among Silverymoon, Everlund, and Sundabar, which I just don’t see as a reliable main food source. So having my big fancy map of the Savage Frontier and with a little bit of research and calculations, I crunched some numbers to see how much agricultural land would actually be needed to feed these three cities and Citadel Adbar as well.

Together the four cities have a population of 90,000 people. As a rule of thumb, it takes roughly 9-10 people working in the fields to produce enough surplus to feed each additional person living in a city. So we can estimate a total population of humans and dwarves in the region of 1 million. Available numbers on how much land was required to feed one person in the middle age cover a fairly wide range, but they all seem to cluster around 3 acres per person. Which in turn comes out to somewhere in the range of 125 people per square mile, or roughly 4000 people per 6-mile hex of worked fields. Of course, even in densely populated and worked areas, not all of the land is actually fields for growing crops. So in practice I think we have to look at more like 2000 to 3000 people that can be supported by each 6-mile hex of grassland.

Based on those assumptions, I made this following map.

Click to embiggen.

This map shows the amount of grassland that all the major settlements in the Savage Frontier would need to completely sustain themselves by growing crops. It assumes that the hexes in the south and west can feed about 3000 people, while those towards the north and west feed more like 2000 people each. As we can see, it would be possible to feed the entire human and dwarven population by only growing crops, though in the Northeast things are getting pretty cramped.

The coastal cities could decrease their need for farmland by fishing, though I really don’t have any information on how much fish could replace grain.

The great prairie of the Dessarin valley is described in the text as having a lot of cattle and sheep herding going on. A great thing about grazers is that they have feet, and as such can transport themselves from the pastures all the way to their customers where they will be slaughtered. So even though Yartar and Triboar are fairly small and remote towns, each year could see massive cattle drives to Mirabar, Neverwinter, Nesme, Everlund, and Waterdeep, where the meat can further decrease the need for grain. Some of the herds could even be driven up to Silverymoon.

Further into the Interior, Sundabar sits right in the middle of a huge valley between the Rauvin and Nether Mountains. Since the Rauvin river is flowing down through the Nether Mountains, the valley would have to be more of a highland plateau. Which I just don’t see as being able to support the kind of crops production we see in Western Europe. They really would have to support themselves with additional cattle herding in the valley and perhaps sheep herding in the lower hills of the Nether Mountains to the south of the city. Things look very similar with the valley outside the gates of Citadel Adbar in the uppermost right corner of the map.

Feeding the Orcs

While the space necessary to feed these cities is there, Adbar, Sundabar, and to some degree Everlund are finding themselves in quite precarious locations, though. The valley outside Adbar is wedged between the Ice Mountains and the Rauvin Mountains, which are both orc territory. I’ve come up with the theory that the orcs mostly support themselves through hunting and organize long hunting expeditions to restock their stores after the winter and prepare for the next one. Both the dwarven valley and the Sundabar valley would be the primary hunting grounds for the orcs in the Northeast. The plain between the Cold Wood and the Moonwood as well, though that area is being claimed by the Uthgardt of the Black Lion and Red Tiger tribes for the very same purpose. This makes the Interior the main area of the Orc conflicts. The orcs need these three valleys to feed their own population and are on all sides fenced in by the dwarves, the Uthgardt, and Sundabar. With only so much prey available, it makes sense for the orcs to try driving out the other groups from the area. And if in the process they can rustle some cattle and help themselves to sacks of grain, they are absolutely going to do that. With the food situation this precarious, the other groups aren’t just going to leave the land for the orcs, and so it’s understandable that this is regularly turning into a genocidal war.

What this map does not show is that further north beyond the Ice Mountains and the Spine of the World lies an arctic ocean. Just as many orcs as are coming south from the mountains to hunt deer, bison, and boar and steal cattle and sheep, would also be going north to hunt seals and whales. With this additional food source, we have at least some kind of plausible explanation for how the orcs in the area can survive without being able to destroy Adbar and Sundabar.

The other major orc populations have things a lot easier. The orcs of the Spine of the World have the mountains and surrounding lowlands pretty much for themselves, except for Mirabar and the Black Raven tribe in the westernmost ranges. A similar situation is found in the Grey Peaks in the southeast and inside the High Forest. In these areas the orcs are the only ones to do any large scale hunting and are not in direct conflict with any settlements, though they still might go raiding if an opportunity presents itself or they are feeling bold. But it would not have the genocidal character as in the Interior.

The last major orc population is found in the Evermoors, where they are in a permanent three way battle with the Elk tribe and the trolls. When prey becomes sparse, orc clans might try to raid villages outside of Nesme, Yartar, Everlund, and Silverymoon, but that would probably be the exception rather than the rule, and consists mostly of individual attacks with no greater organization rather than major campaigns by a great orc horde.

What have we learned from it?

I really am always having a lot of fun going over this map and poking it with a stick to find things that could be puzzling and implausible and trying to work out how what I’m seeing and reading could realistically be true. There is always so much more to discover here, and often it’s things that I think would make for very interesting and compelling adventure hooks.

The first thing I am taking from this analysis is that the largest cities all need to be surrounded by fairly densely populated farmland for a few dozen miles. Adventuring companies traveling on the roads would reach the outskirts of each city states two or three days before they get an actual sight of their walls, and also coming across sizable towns where they can find accommodations for the night instead of sleeping outside around a campfire.

In many places, these outskirts would also be under regular threat of cattle raids by orc or Uthgardt, or even other neighboring villages. I see this being a huge issue everywhere within 50 miles around the Evermoors and in the Sundabar valley.

Also, not engaging in the growing of crops, conflict involving the Uthgardt and the orcs would primarily be about hunting grounds. Hunting societies need huge amounts of territory to have a population of prey that can sustain them reliably every year. While there is plenty of open range with bisons in the Surbrin valley, things are much more cramped in the Interior where they are in direct competition with the need for farmland by the large cities.

The Dessarin valley is a giant cattle and sheep pasture. All the towns in the valley would have an economy based pretty much entirely on herding. And once per year, all the roads going out of Triboar would be completely swarmed with giant herds of cattle and sheep. This could be a really funny detail to work into the game if the party is traveling through the valley at a certain time of the year.

The Delymbiyr valley is a total backwater even by the standards of the Savage Frontier. Assuming that Loudwater, Llork, and Secomber are the largest settlements in the area, this is probably the least populated stretch anywhere in the North. While farming there would be possible, I would assume more remote homesteads than more densely concentrated medieval farming villages. There’s probably some herding going on there as well to sell beef to Waterdeep.

And there should be orc whalers. Which I think is cool.

My Revised 3rd Edition

In hindsight, I’ve come to regard the 3.5e rules revision of D&D 3rd edition as a mistake. Revising the rules was certainly the right call, but the arguments that have been made by many people about many of the specific changes are really convincing to me. These days, I think it’s a much more interesting thought to run a 3rd edition campaign with my own revisions again instead of dealing with the 3.5e rules.

The following are my thoughts on adopting or rejecting certain changes introduced by 3.5e and 5th Ed.:

  • Replacing creatures’ Face with 3.5e’s Space. Yay, spherical cows!
  • Dwarves’ movement speed is always 20 ft., regardless of their armor or load they carry.
  • Keeping 3rd Ed.’s Damage Reduction and Energy Resistance values.
  • Keeping 3rd Ed.’s weapon tables, letting small characters use daggers like short swords, and short swords like longswords. Not quite as realistic for many weapons because of blade shapes and weight distribution, but it allows magic weapons to be used by people of other sizes than the creators.
  • Clerics, druids, paladins, rangers, and wizards prepare spells like in 5th edition. (A number of spells of any level equal to their class level plus spellcasting ability modifier. Spells remain prepared after casting.)

And here’s the genuinely new additions:

  • Prestige Classes are off by default. They are exclusively for secretive orders and only shared among members.
  • Lets try actually applying the XP penalties for multiclass characters. I don’t think anyone ever actually did that. ;)
  • Initiative is rolled for the entire group instead of individual characters. The roll is made by whichever character makes the most sense in a given situation, like the one in front of the marching order or the back of the marching order, the one being on watch, or the one who first draws a weapon in a confrontation. If more than one character could roll initiative for the group, the roll is made by the character with the highest initiative modifier. (Group initiative greatly increased turn speed by letting players think about their turn at the same time and avoiding them getting distracted when they have nothing to do for several minutes on end.)
  • When the PCs are first noticed by NPCs or creatures, a 2d6 reaction roll is made to determine their initial reaction. (2 immediate attack, 3-5 threatening violence, 6-8 waiting for the PCs’ move, 9-11 avoiding confrontation, 12 offering help.) If a PC approaches and greets a group of NPCs or creature, the 2d6 roll is modified by the Charisma modifier.
  • Creatures and NPCs must make a DC 15 Will save when the first member of their group goes down in battle, when their group loses half its members, and when their leader is taken out of the fight or become frightened. (Must flee from combat, -2 to attacks, checks, and saving throws if cornered.)
  • Spells and effects with durations measured in rounds last for the entire combat in which they are cast. Durations measured in minutes last for the whole scene in which they are cast. Durations measured in hours last for the entire day on which they are cast. (No longer having to track which spells expire in which round.)
  • When attempting to hide from other characters or move silently as a group, the opposed skill checks are made by the character with the highest modifier to Listen or Spot and the character with the lowest modifier to Hide or Move Silently. The same principle applies to other opposed skill checks between two groups of characters when applicable.
  • Characters can carry a number of items equal to their Strength score as a light load, twice their Strength score as a medium load, and three times their Strength score as a heavy load. 100 coin and one daily ration of food and water count as one item each. Two-handed weapons and armor counts as two items or more.
  • Removing all the large exotic melee weapons. They are all stupid!