Thursday, December 9, 2010

Tony Bath's Hyboria Part IV: World-Building

We are back finally to the battle-strewn reaches of Hyboria today. I sure love the smell of Greek Fire in the morning.

I mentioned several times in the previous posts about how large-scale and immersive--I ran out of adjectives--Tony Bath's approach to world-building was (btw the map above is one of his actual, draft maps courtesy of Rudi Geudens' treasure trove of images on the subject). A closer look at the methods the Tin God developed back there in the 60s to breathe life into his world is worthwhile--especially if you are hankering for some top-down world design of your own.

World-building for Bath, like the advice of countless other rpg manuals, begins with a map. He argues strenuously to the presumably fantasy-skeptical wargamer reader for adopting a mythical continent.

He then sets out two starting points for your mythic continent: 1. blowing up a map from a fantasy novel (this is where that previous list of pulp fantasy authors I quoted came in) or 2. his friend (and later Hyborian Co-Controller) Neville Dickinson's method of taking tourist brochures of various islands and small countries cutting them up and pasting them back together to make new continents with realistic-seeming coastlines.

Taking note that most fantasy novel maps are pretty sketchy in geographic detail, he counsels using two pillars of old school terrain generation: overlaying a hex grid and random generation. Neither are terribly remarkable other than the simple, nifty way he gives for making “extreme” hexes of various terrain types (forest become thick forest tangles and such not when doubles are rolled).

Dice are thrown again for human habitation and roads or placed at the usual range of logical sites (rivers, strategic points, etc.). Again nothing earth-shattering though I was struck both by how similar his sub-systems are to the ones in rpg successors--parallel evolution is a hell of a thing—and how much more better-designed useful I thought than to be those of others. Did I mention in the last five minutes that you should buy this book?

More interesting world-building suggestions re-appear later in the book in the chapters on logistics. I will quote the following at length to get you a sense of how granular and thorough of an approach Bath took with creating Hyboria (also note again the implications for rpg gameplay and possible use for domain management rules):
“ have created your own continent, world or what have you, you are faced with also creating its supply resources. This was my problem in Hyboria. However, I had of course marked in a great deal of the physical features of the countryside for the purposes of map movement etc; and I now added to this by giving the map basic color codes for plains, steppes, woods (as opposed to forests) and cultivated ground. I then set up a basic system of seven area types, with certain resources for each. These were:
  1. Cultivated Ground. Produces crops of various kinds, mainly basics for food and clothing.
  2. River Banks. Good water supply, so produces crops; also would have resources in fishing and hunting.
  1. Coast Lines. Main resource would be fishing.
  2. Plains. Could produce rich resources in wheat, cattle and horses.
  3. Forests and Woods. According to thickness of trees (i.e. woods or forests) would have resources in hunting, small animals in the forest but larger game such as deer, boar etc. in the more open woods.
  4. Hill Country. Some hunting. Often good sheep country. Poor crops.
  5. Mountains. Some hunting; generally low on food resources. Possible mineral sources.
Having done this, I then set about calculating resources on the level of the smallest territorial units--counties, khanates, etc. I counted up the spaces of each type of country within the boundaries of the area, and, on the basis of this and an arbitrary decision as to soil conditions plus other factors such as population, I worked out the annual resources of each area in crops, animals, general food production, manufacturing potentialities etc. My next step was to consider mineral resources: after all, weapon and armor production had to be considered, also timber for boats, carts, bridges and many other items. I already had the figures for woods and forests, so it was fairly simple to lay down resources of timber; for the minerals I had to do some sort of test in likely areas.
Not being an expert on geology etc. I had to work by some arbitrary method; undoubtedly better and more realistic methods- could be used if one wishes to go deeper into the subject. For my purposes I ignored the possibility of mineral deposits in low-lying areas, and concentrated on the hills, and mountains. For each space which contained any hills or mountains, a dice was thrown...This of course could be varied according to the prevalence of hills and mountains on your map; I had a lot and I didn't want to be swamped with mines. Moreover, this was only to establish known deposits; later I allowed players to fit out special expeditions to try and discover fresh lodes to supplement their resources.
Having discovered a source area, two things had now to be established: the type of ore, and the richness of the lode. I decided on nine types of mine: silver, gold, copper, lead, tin, iron, emerald, diamond and ruby. Obviously others could have been added, but these were enough for my purpose: which was not only to set up resources for weapon production etc. but also a basis for local taxation--hence the precious metals and jewels...
I had thus established a basic idea of the resources of the whole country. This of course could be varied by weather conditions: drought at the wrong time could greatly reduce food production, kindly weather bring bumper crops, floods and other natural disasters could be ruinous...At all events, a player knows the basic resources of his own country; he may know something of those near his borders, either from experience, or traders, or spies, and can thereby plan his operations. knowing that here he can collect supplies, but there he must bring them in from outside.”
The next page goes on to expand any number of head-spinning suggestions for providing a real economic underpinning:
"The other items to be reckoned with from the supply point of view are of course men and money. Men are needed to fill the ranks of your army and replace casualties; money is needed to supply them with arms, equipment and food. We have discussed earlier the question of assessing the population of your country; of this population it is possible that some 20% are of military age...
We now turn to the question of money...I decided that in Hyboria everyone used a single monetary system based on the crown...The system therefore has the gold crown, made up of one hundred silver crowns, which is in turn made up of one hundred bronze crowns.
Having established a money system, it is then of course necessary to... institute a tax system...You first of all put a monetary value on the resources you have allocated to your types of ground, thus: 
Cultivated Ground 1000 gold crowns per annum 
River Banks 1200 gold crowns per annum 
Coast Lines 600 gold crowns per annum 
Plain 800 gold crowns per annum 
Forest 500 gold crowns per annum
Hills 600 gold crowns per annum 
Mountains 400 gold crowns per annum
These are the total resources of the hexagons: you add up your various hexagons and their resources to reach the total annual resources in money of the County, Khanate etc. Of this amount I then levy one quarter in taxes; but not all of this goes to the State Treasury, because this would not allow for the local nobility, who must have their share. What I have done is to, in effect, set up a feudal system or tier system. The peasantry and petty lord-lings are the lowest tier, and they pay over a quarter of their income to the Count or Khan or whatever his title is who occupies the next tier. Above the Count is probably a Duke who controls several Counties, and above him is the King who controls several Duchies. In some states there may be more or less tiers...This has several advantages, in that if a revolution or a civil war breaks out it is easy to assess the monetary resources of all parties.
But the system does not stop here. So far we have dealt with only the direct resources of the land; taxes can also be levied on other items. There are the various mines: these are all the property of the State, not of the noble whose land they are on. The annual income of these therefore goes direct to the State Treasury--or alternatively the State might prefer to lease the mine to a noble or a contractor for an annual fee. By the original dice throw which decided on the productiveness of the mine you can assess its monetary value, based on the comparative worth of diamonds, gold, iron etc. Then we have the various cities and towns in the country; these must also pay taxes, based usually on population, and this tax also goes direct to the State.
Finally we have customs dues, which are levied on all trade routes and entry and exit points such as seaports.”

What's more Bath goes on to provide other subsystems or Hyborian-inspired suggestions for weather, random campaign events, espionage networks, religion, trade routes, infrastructure construction, and the range of campaign costs familiar to D&Ders (on down to an individual soldier equipment list). The real meat of this giant worldgame was putting all this together with his other collection of systems to generate casts of thousands of NPCs at many levels of each state. Take that Oxford dons!

The NPC generation systems are something I can continue to explore later if readers aren't sick to death of hearing about the glory days of British wargaming in the 1960s.  

At the urging of Scott from Huge Ruined Pile and a few other wannabe warmongers I will be taking a look wargaming and it's relationship to role-playing on and off again this next month. The next series will provide some analysis on the various ways rpgs have tried to work military action into campaign play. First stop on that train will be a look at the military campaign mini-games in En Garde, Mark Pettigrew's Empire of the Petal Throne sub-system, and Heroes.


  1. For such a bottom up dungeon master like you you sure seem to love these top down worldbuilder guys. ; )

  2. The Girl informs me that this book has arrived at her house and she's bringing it over tonight as an early Christmas present. :)

  3. She's a keeper, Scott! All I got was a subscription to the New York Review of Books :(

  4. @wampus00 - *LOL*
    (that's all I have time to say just now)

    Ah... 1960s /wargaming/ now; still with elusive "RPG elements", though? :p
    What about the 1970s? ;) *plays harmonica*

    Cheers, Chris! :)

    p.s. This is another EGG "almost got" but left that at the Diplomacy board (literally) rather than merge with his AWE proposal.

    p2.s. Next up; why other campaign journals can also be orange. ;>

  5. Your new bible is also available at the union Powells bookstore instead of the censor and employer of temps?

    So, how long before you start running one of these campaigns? You could use Maptool and do the military battles online.

  6. @Red
    Praise Mithra!

    Red, you know me too well. Crazy notions of running a worldgame have been swirling around my head. Thanks for enabling me.

  7. "Not being an expert on geology etc. I had to work by some arbitrary method; undoubtedly better and more realistic methods-"

    Emphasis mine.

    I'm all too easily drawn into such things; with regret.