Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Urbanization and the Dark Country

The Dark Country is a highly urbanized are.  In fact, it has a higher concentration of towns than one would find in the Western counties.  One should not, however, assume that since a population is "urbanized" that it is also sophisticated.  While the Dark Country has its share of merchants and scholars, most of the inhabitants of a town are likely to be woodsmen and rangers.  These men and women spend most of their time in the production of the forest products that are sent down the Great River into the Center Sea.  They will live countless hours of their lives in the brooding forests and murky swamps that permeate the Dark Country, but the safety provided by a towns walls is an important part of their daily lives.

The towns of the Dark Country primarily exist to defend against the slathering beasts that wait in the forests and mountains to gobble up good folk.  The Dark Country, as its name suggests, is a perilous land filled with foul monsters and black-hearted warlocks.  The proper pastoral life practiced in the West is all but impossible in the shadow of the Bald Mountains.  The Westerners who "settled" the land -- or stole it depending on who one asks -- quickly discovered that life without a wall was nearly impossible.

The early walled villages that eventually formed the Six Cities initially also provided much needed staging points for the Sword Brothers and their fellow militant orders.  In that time, unwalled villages were somewhat common among the various pagan tribes that had lived their since the collapse of the Empire.  The monsters did not stir so much then, and Nightwick Abbey had not yet been erected to terrorize the land and its peoples.  Today only one unwalled village is known to the Western settlers: Hommlet, and even it is in close enough proximity to Lichegate that if a crisis were to arise the small population could uproot and flee to that town.

All of this is not to say that the people of the Dark Country do not farm.  While much of their produce comes from trade with the West and Zenopolis, it is not enough for the Six Cities and the baronies and diocese under their control to sustain themselves without threat of famine.  It does, however, mean that farming must take place around tightly packed village walls.  This allows the farmers to leave the village during the day and return at night so that they are not carted off by goblins or some fouler thing.  When these families do live outside the walls, it is always in tightly packed tenements that hug the fortifications of the village or town.  From there they may barter with the guards for entrance into the village or city proper when some enemy host appears, if they have the coin.


The roots of this post may be found in both this earlier discussion and the original Wilderlands of High Fantasy.  While reading through the old JG product recently, I became struck by just how few urban centers there were.  In the Wilderlands, civilization only exists in enclaves of two or three hundred people separated by vast swathes of howling wilderness.*  This isn't exactly what I wanted from the Dark Country.

This model, misshapen and half-formed as it is, comes from my most likely distorted impression of medieval Russia from my Russian History class I took as an undergrad.  Apparently Rus society was highly urbanized partly because the climate was ill suited for farming and partly because the parts that were suited for farming were filled with raiders.  Russia's economy was largely based on the trade of forest products and human chattle.  The Rus cities were, if I remember correctly and it is possible I don't, also larger than their Western counterparts.

Whether or not the above is true, I thought it made a good model for the Dark Country.  I then added a dab of colonialism.  Hopefully the result is somewhat coherent.

I should note that I know significantly less about current pagan settlements than I do about Western ones.  For some reason when writing these things and thinking about my campaign setting I always do so from the perspective of the Westerners.  Oddly, my players have, until very recently, by and large chosen to play pagans.  If they would like to tell me about the various pagan societies, I'd be glad to hear about them.

* I hope to do a full post about the implications of these small populations on the Wilderlands setting in a future post, but don't hold your breath.


  1. You know, I never really pictured the Dark Country as being urbanized but, given the dangers, I suppose it does make sense for the population to gather behind town walls rather than live in isolated, vulnerable little hamlets.

  2. Admittedly it's in comparison to the Wilderlands which is really sparsely populated. The Six cities are really only large towns by Greyhawk standards.