Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Post-Apocalyptic D&D: Greyhawk vs. Wilderlands

...the Alliance constructed a fortress north of the base constructed to accommodate the large bodied elder scientists (later to be called the City State of the Invincible Overlord when nomadic barbarians settled amongst the ruins thousands of years later)...Completing the dismantling and demolishing of all tools and machines not worth transporting, the Alliance star cruiser filled up with the colonists going off-planet and the Markrabs began the Uttermost War by destroying the cruiser, all satellite probes, and the Alliance space station. The planet itself was spared devastation as neither side wished to disrupt or destroy the unique ecological cauldron of immense scientific interest.”
- Bob Bledsaw on the origins of the Wilderlands

Because I have lots of life activity with things better to do, I doggedly continue to plug away on matters that are silly, obsessional and fantastical. Still trying to wrap my brain about how demographics subtly shape the feel and tone of a campaign world I started to shift into comparative mode.

The easiest target was Judges Guild's old warhorse of a setting, the Wilderlands. Easy because unlike many other old published D&D settings, the Guild folks thought and published a good deal more (and more rigorously) about the in-game implications of all this. 

Sandwiched between the terse descriptions of hexes and settlements are these solid gold guidelines and sub-systems covering everything from population density to prospecting to semi-realistic cave systems. Helpfully a lot of that work has continued to recently (see here and here).

(Really the compilation of such little nuggets found in the Ready Ref sheets are one of the best—if worst presented—examples ever produced in classic D&D of how you can pull all the game elements together into an interesting “domain game”--but that's a matter for another post).

So let's do some number crunching. Again I'm going to focus on one area for my analysis, in this case I'm picking on Map 1, the area that covers the much-famed City State (and the most-densely inhabited place in that great stretch of wilderness.)

Trying to figure out what the square mileage of that map is a bit of a headache—with the smaller 5-mile hexes and poster-size you get a whopping 1768 hexes. I toss out all the full ocean hexes (244) and count partial water and small islands as half. That gives 1519 land hexes at 32,866.35 square miles (which incidentally makes it the size of Austria or Maine). Now because I am lazy I use a much more liberal count and count the total land areas (remember I only counted clear hexes in Veluna, a count that included the smallish wilderness areas inside its borders would decrease the population density even further by roughly 10 percent.)

Skipping to the chase (so as not to induce eye glazing):
City State area: 8.56 people/square mile, 281,667 total population.
Veluna (Folio): 4.89 people/square mile, 267,000 total population.
Veluna (3.5 ed): 12.24 people/square mile, 668,000 total population.
British Isles (circa 1300): 40 people/square mile.
France (circa 1300): 100 people/square mile.

Punchline is that the City State area is twice as densely settled as the old Veluna and not even that far off from the tripling revision of 3.5 edition (which I more and more think is likely closer to the original authorial intent).

Wilderlands though in my twisted, little mind owns up to the implications of being such a howlingly wild, post-apocalyptic place in a more explicit manner. The fallout from the Uttermost War and following calamities that happened to the former space colony of Ghenrek IV feel so much deeper and more cataclysmic when you eyeball those many maps and see the little pockets of civilizations. 

The explicit variation of technology levels from the neolithic up to late Renaissance-seeming technologies reinforces this feeling. And with the smaller scale (six times smaller than the Darlene maps remember) how fragile civilization feels all the more obvious as you see how much bigger and closer in those large swaths of forest are.

In the Wilderlands there are no overarching large-scale polities with boundaries pushed up against each other. It's a place where an overgrown city-state (nay THE city-state) lead by a Lord Humungus-sounding “overlord” is one of the most organized bastions of civilization existent.

So what does that do to our view of the World of Greyhawk?


  1. Sadly, it looks like the links to the Pegasus magazine issues on the Necromancer site are dead... Overall, though, have to agree - never met a fantasy setting that feels more clearly post-apocalyptic than the Wilderlands.

    1. The entire domain has fallen to grues now .. however, the Internet Archive has the download page and PDFs from Oct 2012


  2. You know I kind of like that the fact that the Wilderlands are that roaring in my mind as well. Thanks for an awesome article/blog post.

  3. There is something strange going on with the Pegasus Downloads - because I had dead links when I first tried them one or two years ago and I had functioning links a few weeks ago, much to my surprise... just checked, the date stamp (when I saved them) on the PDFs is 08-20-12. Huh!

  4. Ah! Found out, same page, different place. Try this link:

    1. Nice find, I changed the link in the post to that. The demographics fan product is what you want.

  5. Love the population density map. I'm compelled to tinker with that idea now.... :evil:

    Earthdawn ("The ex-Theran province of Barsaive") has a similar feel, also due to post-apoc setting background.

    1. Isn't that a beauty. I wish there was something comparable for other published settings.

    2. For anyone looking for said density map, it is here:

      It is indeed a beauty.