The sons and I were talking about gaming (like we do every day) and about some of our other shared passions; history, the Church, and books. We were also talking about my main campaign and how I was always surprised that the handful of guys that made it to 9th level did not get 'all fortressy' but rather angled to take over existing positions within the game
What I mean is the few characters to hit name level who could then establish a demense all finagled with NPC rulers to take over existing fiefdoms rather than build from scratch.Which is, naturally, fine. My oldest speculated that he, himself, might never build beyond the border because there were so many interesting places on the map already; Dwarf Hill, Wyvern Keep, Skull Mountain, the Vanishing Manor, the Tower of the Air, etc. But then we began speculating;
Why is the assumption that everyone from warriors to priests to mages will strike out into deep wilderness and hack out a corner for themselves?I mean, think about it; that is a tremendous amount of expense and risk. Why not do what people in my campaign did and just - get a promotion and retire rather than contend with plague, famine, and orc hordes?
And why, oh why, would people flock to follow you if, and only if, you did that hugely risky thing?! And not just guys with levels! 0-level men, their wives, their kids! Pilgrims might come and just - settle. I mean, what is going on?
For a while we speculated that the default D&D world is a lot like the America of the past - vast, largely unexplored, and daring people struck out to make their way.
[We had the discussion Sunday, I started writing this Monday, and I saw this in my google+ feed Tuesday. Small world!]
That might be part of it, sure, especially how followers appear and why random encounters sometimes stick around. But does the 'untouched wilderness' really apply to something so Dying Earth as D&D? As the great blog The Hill Cantons points out, based on the wilderness encounter charts the typical AD&D world is littered with ruins of past fortresses, cities, etc. all thrown down to ruin by war or time. And in a manner very similar to North America, D&D wilderness isn't 'untouched', it is full of intelligent being. Berzerkers, cavemen, orcs, hobgoblins, nomads, goblins, kobolds, etc., etc., etc. Heck, you leave patrolled demi-human areas and the 'wilds' are crawling with intelligent creatures. Sure, they're malevolent, but still!
Plus the AD&D world isn't modeled after 2015 North America or even 1975 Europe, is it? No, the 'place in time' of the real world that seems closest to the default assumptions of AD&D is somewhere between 770 AD and 820 AD; yes, yes, this is speculation, but I can talk about that in another post. Sure, there are anachronisms for that but that is my guess.
Now, modern Europe looks like this;
In 800 Europe looked like this;
Look at the differences! As I point out in my second most popular post ever, in the year 1000 AD the place that is now the Berlin Metropolitan Area, the 6th largest city in Europe, was uninhabited, howling wilderness. 780 AD is 400 years before the first Germans settled on the banks of the Spree!
In other words, at the time that seems most like AD&D's assumed setting in history Europe was cheek-by-jowl with howling wilderness and hostile forces.
This means that in the context of the setting and place well behind the curtain of AD&D (Charlemagne's Europe as described in the Matter of France) Europe looked a lot more like 1870's America than most people realize (Although Andy Bartlett did explicitly mention this in the article I linked above). In both places the average person who wanted a better life and who had the courage and resources (or just a lot of courage!) could, and did, set out into the wilderness and start a new life, Heck, that's where little towns like Leipzig and Berlin came from!
There is also the very mildly controversial topic of the Northern Crusades. In a very high level gloss not meant to dive into the complex, nuanced issues associated with the Northern Crusades, but only to illustrate how it relates to the point at hand over a century of mutual conflict between pagan peoples in North/Northeastern Europe with the Catholic nations to their West and Orthodox nations of their East, where peaceful missionary and diplomatic activity failed, led to a call for a Crusade and a subdual of the pagans by force in the belief that decisive victory would cause the interminable wars to end.
What followed was some pretty serious and organized expansion and battles from the West. Part of this was having some of the toughest fighters from the West build fortresses in the pagan areas, establish domains, and maintain the peace.
Heck, sometimes when there were no opportunities to set up in established areas tough, popular leaders would travel even beyond the pagan lands, set of a stronghold, 'subdue the wilderness', and attract people who wanted a better life who could count on the protection of this leader from bandits, etc.
That had better sound familiar!
So there is, interesting enough, at least one historical period where something vaguely like Name-level characters starting the 'domain game' did occur, which is pretty cool.
But I think there is a bit more meta going on, here. In Three Hearts and Three Lions (as well as other books, like Operation Chaos) the author speaks of Law and Chaos as being opposed to each other in a sort of ongoing struggle. But this concept of Anderson's (that seems to have also influenced Dickson in The Dragon and the George) is a lot more complex and nuanced than the shallow, never actually quantified, Law vs. Chaos of Moorcock. Anderson's Law and Chaos (as well as Dickson's Chance and History) are very much about Virtue/Civilization/Good (Law/History) against Amorality/Wilderness/Evil (Chaos/Chance).
This was explicitly stated in Three Hearts and Three Lions;
"Holger got the idea that a perpetual struggle went on between primeval forces of Law and Chaos. No, not forces exactly. Modes of existence? A terrestrial reflection of the spiritual conflict between heaven and hell? In any case, humans were the chief agents on earth of Law, though most of them were so only unconsciously and some, witches and warlocks and evildoers, had sold out to Chaos."It is also essentially stated that the Church is Law while Chaos is a tool of the Devil. The faerie and their uncaring capriciousness? Chaos, because they could not be trusted.
Despite the desire of contemporary people to think of the faerie/sidhe as fun-loving hippies in folklore they're are much, much more like the Weeping Angels - inhuman, utterly other creatures that if you were lucky will only cast you decades through time away from all you know and love.
This sort of 'axis' is pretty clear in OD&D where you are Lawful (good) or Chaotic (bad) and it was very much a fantastical experience of fey vs. man.
But it is more complex and such in AD&D with both the Law/Chaos and Good/Evil axis and the Neutral section. But the core concept remains valid: when a party goes into the (wild, uncivilized) dungeon and destroys monsters the PCs are championing civilization against it's opposite, wildness; when a Lord goes into the wilderness, builds a stronghold, attracts followers, etc. he is championing civilization versus wildness, just on a different level.
And no, I am avoiding the term 'barbarism' for a reason; woad-painted warriors, nomadic tribesman, etc., can be forces for Law or Chaos, it depends upon if they build or destroy, if they are trustworthy or capricious as a people.
In my post on how I handle religion in my campaign I mention that the big divide between demi-humans and humanoids is if they are (in general) within the Church or outside of it. But the difference is also 'do those races build civilizations or destroy them?'. Sure, hobgoblins, orcs, etc. are organized, they have skills, etc. But they are wreckers, not creators. In my world they have no cities, they live in what they capture from demi-humans and humans; they have no trade, only plunder; they have slaves who often are worked to death; they have at best war chants but no music, enough writing to issue orders but no literature; etc. Where they go they push back civilization, scrubbing away cities and towns, fences and fields, and leaving behind only brambles, thickets, end desolate ruins.
So a fighter, wizard, or cleric going into the wilds, building a strong place, attracting followers, and all the rest is, in a very real way, pushing back darkness, ignorance, savagery, and evil. Where there were brambles and thickets he puts fields and orchards; where there was a bare hill he puts a cozy home; where there was darkness there are the lights of a village; where there was isolation and fear he puts friendship and hope.
No wonder those who want a better life follow.
So why do 9th level fighters spend all that money and take all that risk? Because they are fighting evil an a new, more important, way.