Monday, June 9, 2014

Modern Minds and Medieval Distances

  You know what I really love? The old map of Greyhawk. I remember getting the old boxed set as a gift in 1980 when I was 12 and loving the huge poster maps and the detail. My own campaign (Seaward) was already 2 years old and my hand-drawn maps on hex and graph paper were much more primitive.
  And much smaller.
  In my own maps unless I am doing a world map I use 1 hex/1 square = 10 miles at the most. This originally came from a rather simple idea - Seaward was based upon fighter strongholds! I used the concept of name-level fighters establishing strongholds as the 'origin story' of Seaward, which is a rather remote frontier nation. A king had gone into the wilderness, developed good relations with the semi-barbaric locals, built a fortress, attracted followers, etc. He then later 'sponsored' others who built the other major towns of the total kingdom. Seaward stretches about 180 miles East to West and about 80 miles North to South, max., with a total controlled area of about 10,000 - 11,000 sq. miles.
  After Greyhawk came out I was really tempted to make Seaward bigger, but I resisted. And I have had the urge to change this again and again over the years - make it bigger. Bigger is better, right? I mean, if Seaward were an American county it would only the the 8th largest!
  But I always have resisted this urge and always will because it is based on thinking like a modern person.
  Quick aside: yes, this is a game about wizards and dragons, I know. A game about faeries and boats that fly and living fires and invisible butlers. A game. I get that. But I want the game to be immersive so I want it to make some sort of internal sense. 
  Anyway, as I have mentioned elsewhere, I love demographics. And I also love history. That's why I know that Seaward is 20% larger than Moravia and 5 times the size of the Kingdom of Sussex. It is about the size of modern Albania.
  That's pretty good!
  But let's also think about something we often don't consider - distances.

  Personal anecdote time. Back in 2001 I was in England on a business trip. It was my first time in the UK. I was there with a co worker and because of the way the flights worked out we would be done with business in 3 days but were in the UK for 6, so I suggested we visit a friend of mine who lived in York. We arranged everything before we left so that we would drive from Reading to York on Wednesday night, sleep a bit, spend a day in York, return to Reading early Friday and leave at the crack of dawn Saturday for our flight.
  Wednesday we mentioned to our British colleagues that we were planning to drive to York after work ended at 4 pm.
  "Great!" they said, "Where will you be staying tonight?"
  "In York," we replied.
  "No," they said, "We know you will get to York tomorrow. What hotel will you be staying in tonight? Someplace in Derby?"
  My co-worker and I shot each other a glance, and repeated, "We are going to be in York tonight and sleep with my friend."
  "But, but," one stammered, " that's over 200 miles! You'll need to stop the car and rest!"
  "That's not even 4 hours, even if we stop for a quick dinner."
  We were all gobsmacked with each other.
  When I told this to a friend of mine who had lived in the UK for years and had a British wife he said,
  "There is a old truism - to an American 100 years is a long time and to a Brit 100 miles is a long way".

  To you and I, living in the modern world with mass transit trains and buses, massive infrastructure like railways, highways, local roads, and access to automobiles 8 miles is not very far at all. Several of my co-workers are very pleased that their drive to and from work is less than 8 miles each way as it gives them a very short commute. There is a very good farmer's market 8 miles from out house and when we go it is a 12 minute drive to and from (there is a road almost directly to and from for us), we spend about 2 hours walking around, talking with people we know, getting to know the suppliers, buying things, etc. Then we toss it into the car and drive home, done. We like to leave at sunrise and are home in two and a half hours, max.

  But think of this from the perspective of a medieval/fantasy world peasant- if I were to set out on foot for the market fair 8 miles away on good roads in good weather if I am in decent shape I will walk about 3 miles per hour (yes, it is possible to walk faster than this, but 3 - 3.1 mph is the well-documented 'preferred walking speed' of human beings) so walking that far will take about 2 hours and 40 minutes assuming I do not stop to rest, urinate, eat, visit, etc. So estimate that this trip on foot will take about 3 hours.
  This means that if there is a good road directly between me and, oh, the market 8 miles away if I leave at sunrise (call it 6:30) and want to return home by sunset (call it 8:45) [I am using the sunrise/set times for Seaward for this time of year] then I wouldn't get to the market until about 9:30 and need to leave by 5:45.
  Assuming I am not burdened!
  Let's say that, as a peasant, I don't have a lot of money but I do have food, so I don't want to buy the (probably expensive) market fair food, I want to bring it. I load up a knapsack with a loaf of bread, a cheese, a spicy wurst (they will all keep for a day or more) and 4 bottles of small beer. And I am going there to buy things, so I will probably return with about the same weight. This will slow me down by at least making me rest more often. So I don't actually make the market fair until almost 10:00 and I must leave by 5:00.
  On the one hand, this doesn't seem too bad, does it? But compared to what I am used to just the trip there takes more time than the entirety of the modern experience!

  Now, what if I had a horse? Believe it or not, not a lot would change. Horses also have preferred travelling speeds for their various gaits and when carrying a rider they must be rested, watered, fed, etc. As historical writers seem to point out often, a dedicated man on foot can actually catch a man on horseback over the long term because a man on foot can cover more ground over weeks of travel. The advantage of horses is that at the end of the day the man is much less tired than if he had walked the whole way - and horseback riding is tiring all by itself! The Long Riders Guild is a real-world organization that discusses horseback riding over long distances and is a go-to resource for writers and film makers about the realities of horse travel. They repeat, over and over again, that on good terrain with good horses, good riders, plenty of food and water horseback riders can travel at an average of about 5 mph when you are riding. But between walking the animal, resting, feeding, etc. you spend less time travelling total than if you were walking.

  Many resources for AD&D (like the DMG) list the possible travel in a day as 30 miles. This has to be seen as 'pushing it'! After all, if a human departs at sunrise and only camps at sunset this gives a maximum of 14, perhaps 15 hours of daylight. Between meals, water, rest, camps, etc this means that we can really expect no more than 10 hours of actual travel a day. Yes, that is 30 miles, obviously,
  BUT!
  1) That is assuming the person travelling is not burdened
  2) Even for a very fit individual this will be very wearing and cannot be maintained for very long
  3) The use of horses is different but the Long Riders Guild stresses that although a horse with rider can do up to 40 miles a day over great terrain with a good rider, etc. that these speeds are exhausting to both horse and rider and cannot be maintained for more than two days before the horse will need to rest for a full day!
The incredible distances covered by Mongols and in many endurance races is achieved by having a large number of top-quality horses and swapping mounts often. Even the one-horse endurance races are performed with years of training, no real burden but the rider, and afterwards the horse is rested for months! In Real Life knights would have a horse for riding and their warhorse would be led during travel so that it would be fresh for battle.
  In my campaign an unencumbered adventurer on foot OR horses with riders where there is no heavy encumbrance on a good road or terrain can travel 15 miles a day without facing force march/fatigue effects.
  Or, in short, the Wilderness Survival Guide's Large-Scale Overland Movement chart for both man and beast.

  Now, all that discussion of daily travel times and how I think the Wilderness Survival Guide largely gets it right (although I am fierce about encumbrance) is just a sideline.

  Here is another one.
  In the modern world we are used to big, solid urban areas and then , after the third-ring suburbs, scattered towns with large spaces in between.
  This isn't how a civilization with horses and carts as shipping could live. Sure, Rome had a million people in the city at one point, but that required massive, heavily-subsidized shipping of grain on a tremendous scale every day from the fringes of the empire. When the grain supply was disrupted Rome emptied. As is pointed out in a number of excellent books on medieval life and demographics as well as on the I-owe-that-guy-money and I-wish-the-internet-existed-when-I-spent-4-days-in-the-Ball-State-research-library website Medieval Demographics Made Easy, in a settled region;
  a) 'cities' and towns just aren't that big, and
  b) there is a village every 2-5 miles.
  That's right, there is a village every few miles. If you leave the capitol and ride 15 miles that day you are going to pass through 2-6 villages by sunset. The frontier will be small walled villages, some forts, and then...
  Nothing.
  No villages, no towns, no inns until you return to civilized areas again.
  Well within recorded history the portions of Germany East of the Elbe and Saale Rivers were as sparsely populated as remote Siberia or Alaska. That's right - in the year 1,014 A.D. what is now the Berlin/Brandenburg Metropolitan Area, home to 4.5 million people, was a howling wilderness populated only by bears and perhaps a seasonal camp for a small clan of Wends. At that time if you had travelled East from the brand-new, just founded settlement of Leipsig you could travel for over 200 miles (often in heavy forest) before you reached the small town of Posen in Poland, a small place with a small fort. In between were just a handful of brave hunters and wilderness.Between rivers, forests, rugged terrain, etc. this could have easily taken a month and probably would have taken 2 or 3!
  Today this same trip is 4 hours by car, 5 by train.

  Another factor is weather - it can slow or even stop travel and can influence when people travel.
  "The Tower of the Golem Lord is deep in the Blackwood? We should wait until Spring!"
  And weather really impacts sea travel, too. There is the famous Real World story of the ship that left a port in England to travel the 40 miles to France and, 30 days later, returned to the same port after being blocked by bad weather for a month!

  "But Rick," you say, "I just want the party to get to the megadungeon and start hacking away"
  Fine! Go ahead! I have no idea how many times I have started with 'the party arrives at the entrance...' and that isn't what I am talking about. If travel times, distance, and weather are getting in the way of having fun, don't use them at the time!

  What I am talking about is world building. If you are in the process of world building you cannot forget travel times and distance. Let me show you how I use it.
  In my campaign the River Road between the capitol, Seaward, and the westernmost town, the mining town of Ekull in the Stone Mountains, is 150 miles. The road is through the heart of civilized Seaward so there is a village about every 3.5 miles, meaning there are about 42 villages along the road. Now, I am a detail-oriented SOB, but I just started with 9 - the ones 12-18 miles apart between Seaward and Ekull. Since these were all about 1 day apart I gave them names, blocked in a rough population, added an NPC or three, named the taverns and - gave them inns. So if you are travelling between the capitol and Ekull and you travel a full day and then look for an inn there is one (after all, lots of other people are doing the same!) and I know what is there. I did the same for the Coast Road, the Mountain Road, and the North Road.
  It also means that I can estimate how long the party will take to get to an adventure location. Since we tend to know what the party is doing next time I can roll for weather, encounters, etc., and get them all detailed before the session. My layers are now aware that the travel to and from a location is also an adventure!

  This also means that while I do have a large world in both campaigns a great deal of adventure, especially in my 1e game, is rather local. And why not? Sure, the orcish city-states are only 120 miles beyond the border - but the Stone Hills are in the way, so that is a long trip. Yes, Skull Mountain is "just" 70 miles from the River Road, but 10 of those miles are through forest and 50 though the Briars - that's 2 weeks!

  When it comes to your campaign, think like a Brit - 100 miles is a long way!