|"The Procession to Cavalry" by Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Back when I used to watch Game of Thrones (when it was still pretty good), a huge chunk of the "non political" parts were plots about characters traveling over land, often through the wilderness. And yet, those plots almost always still involved the characters running into people and factions. Tyrion runs into Catelyn Stark and her retinue, then they run into wildlings or something, then the knights of the Vale, then he leaves and him and Bronn run into some hill folk, etc. Jaime and Brienne traveled in the wilderness and met bands of brigands and mercenaries, employed by lords with agendas. Arya traveled in the wilderness and met the Brotherhood Without Banners, the Hound, Lannister soldiers, some peasantry, a knight errant on a quest (Brienne), etc.
So I would still of course have monster encounters, but I've been thinking more and more about the logic to determine what sorts of people you'd meet and where. Here's what I've got so far:
The Preliminary Stuff
First, as usual, let me talk about some influences and research.
One major influence on me has been a video called Why Cities Are Where They Are, which I highly recommend. This has been coupled with a blog post sent to me called Collections: the Lonely City which you can read if you'd like. It talks at length about the "ideal premodern city" as discussed by J. H. von Thünen in his book "The Isolated State," for which there is an excellent diagram here:
I talked about some of these ideas to my co-writer and he reminded me of an old post by Zak S about the "Warbox" that I read years ago and forgot about. I revisited it and found a lot of overlap with the ideas I've been thinking of now (I'm sure it must have been a subconscious influence on me) but as usual, the implementation seemed ungraceful and convoluted to me. But of interest also is some common ideas it had with some reading I've been doing about historical China lately.
See, China has almost always run on a bureaucratically-managed agrarian empire with "barbarian" peoples on the periphery. So power is concentrated in the big cities, then loosely managed out in the provinces, and then wars might break out with Mongols, Viet, Koreans, etc. on the borders. At some times, China has the "barbarians" colonized and at other times, not so much. This is where they get the idea of the "Middle Kingdom" identity.
And this aligned with some of the theory I learned in college during my international relations courses. I have a texbook called "Comparative Grand Strategy" (by Thierry Balzacq, Peter Dombrowski, and Simon Reich) about global power projection in the 21st century. It has a chapter devoted to each one of the most powerful countries in the world, analyzing the track they've been on over the past couple hundred years and where they're at now. And sure enough, China actually has a firmly-defined state policy that divides their interests up in a list of priorities that spatially radiate outward from Beijing. Here's a picture I took from the book, which I hope is (mostly) self-explanatory:
Fun enough, I also just recently tried out the board game Oath: Chronicles of Empire and Exile by Leder Games. It has the kingdom divided up into three regions, and a fan made a helpful diagram explaining some of the movement rules that I've included here:
- People will naturally settle in habitable areas to begin with, like arable land and water sources and, generally speaking, not massive jungles or deserts.
- If the land where the settlement is formed isn't ideal, then people will adapt the landscape to fit. A lot of the farmland and grazing land in those "Settled" hexes may have once been forests! And a lot of the forests in the "Tamed" hexes may have once been ancient forests (see another video here with some good analysis by a real historian here) but have now been pollarded or coppiced or just generally managed so they're more easily exploitable and navigable. Upland moors are often man-made by draining wetlands. Even a swamp can be "Tamed," so to speak.
- Lawful characters can mostly stick to settlements and around them you'll have random encounters with the sorts of things we associate with Lawful societies: serfs, garrisons, monks, pilgrims, heralds and messengers, foresters, sheriffs, nobles and merchants, knights doing pas d'armes challenges at bridges and stuff, miners going to and from the mountains, and so on.
- Neutral characters have a reason to stay a bit away from settlements and enjoy a more rural, even nomadic lifestyle. And of course, in Tamed and Wild hexes you'll run into random encounters associated with the powers of Neutrality: nomads, druids, rangers, outlaws, hermits, shepherds, agrarian communes, wildlings, and so on.
- Chaotic characters will most likely have their thirst for power quenched out in the Wilderness or in the Underworld where artifacts are lost, great monsters roam, and the secrets of the world can be found. But also, if they commit crimes within civilization then they'll naturally flee to those locations or be outright exiled to them. So you go to the Wild and Underworld hexes and have random encounters fitting Chaotic society: brigands, assassin orders, mercenary companies, bandit kings, cults, witches, and so on.
Option A: settlements and surrounding Tamed hexes are for Law, Tamed and Wild hexes are for Neutrality, and Wild and Underworld hexes are for Chaos. As a general rule, Lawful encounters tend to be safer, Neutral encounters tend to be a bit more adventurous, and Chaotic encounters are often downright dangerous.Option B: A settlement and every hex in its zone of control belongs to one alignment, but the way in which that alignment manifests gets more and more dangerous the further out from the settlement you go. Thus, there's safe encounters, risky encounters, and dangerous encounters of all alignments.Option C: a hybrid? Like, Option A would be the default for most of the Overworld and Underworld, but there are notable exceptions like a handful of Chaotic towns and cities on the Overworld, a good number of Neutral villages in both the Overworld and Underworld, and some Lawful settlements in the Underworld for elves and dwarves and such.