100 miles is a long distance on foot, heck, even horseback. Because you can only travel so far before you need to sleep for the night, you are going to encounter settlements at regular intervals on major roads. Quite often, these are simple roadside inns with a single building and maybe a barn/stable for horses. Other times it can be a crossroads affair with multiple inns and a shop, while even others it could simply be that a local farmer or rancher built his home nearer to the road. If the roads become increasingly traveled and have access to natural resources (usually water) then often these will become settlements that include multiple shops and perhaps some homes. To keep adventure content limited to primary plot and important NPCs, these roadside settlements are rarely mentioned. Quite often, we (GMs) are forced to create such settlements for our players as they travel from place to place, be it a home game or a printed module/AP. Often, I find myself giving simple descriptions that include size, style, age, and establishments you can expect to find … simply to avoid over describing a location that my players may never bother learning about. If they just want to resupply food and water, they could care less about the twins that operate the dueling piano bars across from each other … so I might as well save that location for a town that they either want to explore or I need them to explore.
I digress (buckle up, I sense more coming). I am Randal, this is Groundbreaking, and today I wanted to discuss having a lot of small settlements but that are supposed to work as a single cohesive society but have no true government over them to enforce any standards. Thus far, in Groundbreaking, we have established the following key points about the settlements in an around Marathis’ Cradle
- Lakeside Proper (aka The Docks) – The focal point by virtue of location and the source of all water. Has the most/biggest history involving “humanoid-ity”
- The Glintwood Forest (aka The Misty Forest) – 99% of the humanoid population is in a series of small (primarily) human settlements near the (eastern) entrance to the valley
- The Hunting Grounds (aka The Northern Forest) – 3 hunting villages built in the trees that are operated and maintained by the Masters of the Forest and their rangers and druids (aka The Huntsmen).
- The Farms – This vast farmland to the south is known mostly for the many villages along the main roads where the farmers trade their crops for other goods (aka The Markets)
- The Parched Land (aka The Dry East) – This region is known to house entrances to Tar-Urzeft (home of dwarven clan Stormbrew) and the Gnomish Dream Caverns.
We know from this that there are at minimum 10 settlements (Glintwood says “series of settlements” and Farms says “many villages” so minimum of 2 for plurality) with no real idea how many there could be. This collection of locations is a prime example of creating something small and simple as needed, and then setting your notes aside afterwards and either forgetting or not finding time to integrate them into the whole. Make sure you understand, I have no problems with any of these locations, and I feel they all serve their purposes well in the world we are building. (Also, I am very self aware of my constant forgetting of something I create and lack of time to properly integrate between sessions.)
I was trying to follow up my previous piece on Masked Banditry, and as I was rereading this or that it dawned on me that the bandits would have a field day hitting locations and moving on. We have yet to outline any sort of government in the region that has the actual power to operate on a large enough scale. We have not called this a kingdom, we have no centralized ruler, keep, nor army to call a seat of power. Much of my thought on this subject (which you have obviously not be privy to) has simply been that the geography of the region keeps them relatively isolated and thus relatively safe. Therefore I have left out any hint at governance or law enforcement (with the exception of comparing the Huntsmen to law enforcement) for a couple of reasons.
First of all, I haven’t felt ready to tackle this topic yet. I have been having a really good time meandering around the region creating this NPC or that location or some other mystery to provide a reason to adventure. As I haven’t sat down and laid out all the settlements and how they truly interact with each other, I felt that it wasn’t time to deal with governance. Our stories in the region haven’t yet reached the scale that they need to deal with law enforcement nor armies. I feel like we should outline more of the settlements in the Glintwood and discuss their relationships before we decide how they fit into the larger body and treat rules and laws placed by those from Lakeside Proper (the likely seat of power in the region).
Second, were I (or you) to run a game anywhere in Marathis’ Cradle now, and the heroes were to be involved in a bar brawl or apprehend a pickpocket, it is a very simple matter to declare they “turn them over to the authorities” and move on. Should you want to include more details then that then it is just as simple a matter to declare the town has a sheriff and a jail cell or two, as these are going to be true of most societies regardless of the large governing body.
Thirdly (and truthfully hindsight now that I am almost 1k words into this topic) is that setting the government up for a home brew too early can color not only how it evolves but, more importantly (in my opinion), how it is portrayed by readers and players. I may have been using this region as a mostly utopian society that gets along because everybody is (mostly) happy with their lot in life and everybody pulls their weight. But you might have been seeing this same region as a high society of nobles that live on the lake are taking advantage of the work done by the farmers to the south that toil all day long, meanwhile those of the Misty Forest are eking out an existence plagued by dinos and deadly fog and are scared about the militant rangers and druids to the north. Both of these are very easy to imagine using the exact same context we have been creating here at Groundbreaking.
All of this to say … create your world in the order you want to create it. Don’t worry about forgetting things, as it will become apparent when they are needed, and don’t worry about only creating a part of something if you don’t need the whole thing. I think it is time that we start to figure out the bigger picture of how Marathis’ Cradle is governed, but I also feel that we need to detail the settlements more to determine how they work together within each region, how the regions work with each other, and how they all respect one another. Once we have that, we can then piece together a government that seems more organically grown to fit the whole instead of just declaring a government and shoehorning how each piece fits and why some don’t.
Join me next time as we look more into the settlements of Glintwood Forest … and join me before then to discuss what you would like to see included at our Discord server https://discord.gg/Rt79BAj.