Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Postscript on Greyhawk's “Howling Emptiness”

Yesterday's post set off a rather longish discussion and thought train—oh we are a nerdy crew. A few more points before I let go of this.

Greyhawk's nations are big suckas. In comparison to other lands in this part of Oerik, Veluna is a small-to-mid-sized land with its 44,544 square miles (and that's only counting the presumably-cultivated clear hexes). Compared to small-to-midsized European nations though it's pretty large even with that reduced count. Ireland is almost half that size at 27,135 square miles for instance.

There's very little actual farmland. Here's an interesting backward calculation. My conservative estimate (based on disputable medieval crop yields) for the amount of land you'd need under cultivation to support populations is about 1 sq mile per 180.

So just to support the population existing for Veluna you'd only need 1,488.33 square miles of that 54000+ square miles. That would be only a little over two out of those 70 clear hexes (assuming it was all clumped together) for sustainability and maybe twice that if it was growing a lot of surplus.

The 1983 boxed set gazetteer (I was only using the folio as a source yesterday) says that's the majority of the population is clustered around the capital city and the large urban areas and around the middle of the country, so again I'm conjuring up mental pictures of a pretty desolate countryside with rare palisaded villages and fortified manors surrounded by light woods and wasteland for the most part when you get outside those denser belts.

The rural to urban populations are pretty close to actual historical precedents. Having picked up one of my books from a Penguin series on English medieval history I was about to write the opposite. That book had a long list of towns over 2,000 in population (Greyhawk's maps only cover towns over 1,500). A whopping 42 in fact which made Veluna with its measly three seem incredibly rural in comparison.

But then I looked at Britain's population at that time and it stood around 5 million—which is neatly 20 times the population of Veluna (again wow that's how tiny and far-flung these countries are). Allowing for that twenty-fold difference the number of towns seem totally on.

There is a huge population jump from first edition's Greyhawk to 3.5's. I'm not the first to point this out but later editions increased the Flanaess nations populations from 200-800 percent. I would have never known if I hadn't seen the numbers on Wiki (tangentially it's funny that Wiki has the 3.5 stats down as “facts”) but Veluna is given in 668,000 as compared to the folio's 250,000.

The big shift—and I would be curious to hear more about the reasoning behind it—points out how such a seemingly uninteresting thing like demographics can subtly influence the tone and feeling of a setting. Later Veluna is a place more akin to the relatively more stable and prosperous medieval Britain than the razor's edge I was presenting yesterday.

I suppose that's my point with all this. Honestly I could care less about what's canonical or not, that's a pointless and silly thing to get worked up about. But I am interested in what the implications of fantasy world building, what changes when you alter this “fact” or that “dynamic” and how it all stacks up to the only thing we really have for empirical comparison: the history (however spotty and inaccurate) of our own world.  

16 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Numbers and map scales aside, Greyhawk does not read, like a Howlingly empty wasteland. The picture of the Flannaes presented in the Folio is not one of tiny city states holding on to civilization by their bloodied fingertips a la Road Warrior, but rather of monolithic nation states comprised of reasonably well fed citizenry who are capable of rallying vast, organized armies to face far-off enemies.

    In my crothediness, I'm loathe to give credit to any post-1985 D&D product, but I think the 3.5 era figures you mentioned are probably more in keeping with the tone Gygax intended to set with his narrative. Unless Scottsz is right and it was all a work-for-hire written by spies to blow smoke up the kilt of some petty nobleman in Rel Mord.

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    1. Dunno, these photos clearly show Greyhawk as being a terrible wasteland filled with unspeakable horror: http://www.greyhawkgolf.com/

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    2. My point was that the raw data presented is in-game material, presumably from a sage of some kind.

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    3. On a serious note Timrod, I guess I just am not sure. I do think that the numbers from 3.5 are closer to the authorial intent but still overstated.

      Leaving aside my post-apoc stick-bending, Oerik still reads to me as a way more anarchic place than medieval Europe. You have several fairly large sized places(again by European standards) who have completely collapsed like the Pomarj and the Bone March. Whole other places ruled entirely by bandits or pirates.

      Certainly doesn't read to me as a place of nation-states (an early modern creation anywho) who can muster much of anything beyond the immediate reach of their territory.

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    4. ckutalik: unspeakable indeed!

      scottsz: I'm with ya' buddy. I'm just stretching your point a little and assuming that the sage might have a patron, the patron probably has an agenda, and the sage, wanting to keep him/them happy, might be cooking the books a bit to satisfy or even manipulate said patron.

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    5. ckutalik: Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that words like "accurate" should be tossed into the same sentence as the 3.5 data; they're just more in keeping with my own impression of a sort of cosmopolitan Flannaes of, yes, anachronistic nation-states intermixed with expanses of bandit-run mayhem. These regions of anarchy and desolation are intended, I feel, to be held in contrast to Veluna or the Ulek states, where every hobbit hole has a garden and a perfectly round door and the scent of fresh-baked cookies wafts from every elf tree. There definitely seems to be a yin yang thing going in Greyhawk--as opposed to the DMG--whereas in Medieval Europe order and chaos lived closer together.

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  3. "Von Hagge, Smelek & Baril, sagesse et cie. Confectioners of fine Glossographies, Gazetteers and G.O.L.F. since CY 498."

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    1. Their shop is at the foot of the Big Rock Candy Mountain...

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    2. Chris... Bombasticus is hitting the sauce again...!!!!

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    3. Livers are way overstated as necessary organs in my opinion.

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    4. I wish! But that Grey Hawk Golf is the perfect capstone to this round of ultra-revisionist Oerth, well done all!

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    5. That is a suburban golfing gated community only compounds the cosmic horror.

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    6. Better hope Oerik doesn't get off the gold standard, or everyone's going to go bust!

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  4. I like this explanation for the map. Veluna for example is a huge area with a capital and a couple towns, but the villages are all fortified fear-camps in the howling fairy wilderness. The reason there is a border between Veluna and its neighbor is because neither has the military to try to expand, the need for space to impel them to, and are beset all aruond by chaotic monsters so there's a sense of human comraderie. Why kill your human neighbor when there are displacer beasts luring your children?

    Basically I see civilization along the trade routes from resource locations like mines and forests and strung along with the capitals. The blank 30-mile hexes except the ones where a town is or the ones adjacent to a capital are actually blank, full of bad weather and monsters.

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  5. One might also consider that there are presumably (based on wilderness wandering monster tables, etc) some pretty sizeable populations of organized "humanoids" that are slipping through the cracks of these population reports.

    Without doing the impressive crunching above on the various tables, the odds of players running into fairly substantial groups of orcs, goblins, etc. may explain what is populating some of this "unpopulated" land.

    Not unlike illegal immigrant and homeless populations being under-reported in modern census data, these humanoids are the "invisible" population of the Flaaness.

    (NOTE: I am absolutely not trying to apply the negative connotation of orcs/goblins to transient and alien populations. I tried to reconfigure the metaphor but stuck with my original instinct despite it being in poor taste).

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