The Salt Route Moves
June 29, 2008
In the first part of this “what-if…” series, I looked at Tashal as the home of the Great Summer Fair, and why I think it needs to establish a port capable of handling ocean-going vessels if it is to keep its pre-eminent position in the economic life of Hârn. Now it’s time to look at the consequences of that necessary decision. The following assumes a port has been established at Tuleme Island, and that you have read An Ocean Port for Kaldor.
In all commerce, the driving factor of the price of goods is cost. Well, it could be argued the driving factor is greed, but let’s assume that greed is simply another cost. Let’s try to itemise the cost of a thing:
- raw material
- greed (profit), and
Raw materials are seldom free; there are licensing charges, taxes, bribes, and finder’s fees to pay even before you extract the materials. Then you have to pay the labour charges to mine or harvest the materials, and transport them to a market. There are the tools that have to be bought and replaced (wear) and then even these raw materials are usually transformed in some way (smelting, sawing timber into lumber). Secondary industries take these raw materials and transform them further; grass becomes wool becomes cloth, iron ore becomes pig iron becomes a sword or plough, and so on.
All along the way, people are taking their cut (profits, taxes), and so the cost goes up as time goes on. One of the greatest costs is getting the materials from one place to another. It’s one reason that mines usually incorporate a smelter; it’s far cheaper to smelt on-site than transport all that base ore to another place1. The same for timber; transporting cut lumber means that only the valuable material is moved.
The Salt Route and the Rise of Jedes
If transport is a major factor in cost, reducing the cost of transport can mean greater profits…until a competitor undercuts in order to steal a sale. Now, let’s assume you are a merchant in Kanday with a load of salt bound for Tashal. You have several dozen mules, many with heavy bags of salt, and the rest with feed for all those mules, muleteers and guards. All of those animals and people are driving up to cost of getting the salt to market, and hence reducing the amount of profit you, as the salt merchant, can make. But there’s this new port in Kaldor and there’s barge traffic going up and down the Kald River all the time. If only you could get your salt onto a barge heading up to Tashal, think of all the savings you could make! You could put the mules out to pasture (no more feed costs! or less, anyway), you could pay off most of the guards, and probably most of the muleteers, too. You’d save thousands! And get to market just as quickly, or even more quickly.
Well, that’s the logic I’m using anyway.
It strikes me that, with an established port at Tuleme Island, there would be an increased flow of river traffic, because barges, like ships, can carry a lot of cargo with very little in the way of labour required. This reduces the cost of transportation enormously, making for greater potential profits. Salt, and especially wool, are very bulky, but low value products. The more you can move with the fewest people doing the moving, the better.
The Salt Route approaches the Kald River before it turns north and heads for the bridge (and safety) at Tashal. In fact, according to the maps, at it’s closest point, it’s only about 10 miles west of Jedes. That’s not very far; about half a day’s travel for a mule train, perhaps. What-if…
What-if is the name of the game in this series, so what if an enterprising merchant decides to split off from the main caravan and head to Jedes to hail one of those passing barges? Or what if an enterprising Kaldoran barge owner hacks a route through the wilderness and sets up a sign on the Salt route itself, and wait for caravans to come on passed, offering cheap barge transportation for their goods from Jedes. “I’m sure you’ll find it cheaper than continuing on up through the Kath-infested wilderness for another tenday, Master Merchant!”
Pretty quickly (I’d say in no more than five years), the Salt Route would terminate at Jedes and all goods from western Hârn would be barged up to Tashal. Efficient and frequent barge travel along the Kald River could transform the communities all along the river, not just Jedes. But that settlement would see a huge growth.
Exactly what kind of growth would Jedes see? That’s the subject of my next post in this series. Hopefully a bit sooner than I was with this one!
What do you think? Is my vision possible? Or can you see flaws in my argument? Have you got an alternative? Then feel free to post a comment!
- This is something the availability of ridiculously cheap energy in to form of fossil fuels has turned upside down in the modern world. Australian iron ore is transported in enormous ships all the way to Japan and China, and the resulting metal goods are shipped back in other enormous ships [↩]
The Case for a Kaldoran Ocean Port
February 16, 2008
You know, since I first picked up Encyclopedia Harnica No. 1 way back in 1984 in a small Queensland country city, I’ve always loved Kaldor. But one thing has always bugged me about the kingdom; it has this commercial fair that goes on for over two months. I mean, a fair might take three or four days of trading, perhaps even a week, but two months? Sure, there’s the annual caravans that arrived from the four cardinal points of the compass, but seriously, who thinks mere caravans can transport enough cargo to keep a commercial fair going for over 2 months!
Before you go on, this post—in fact, the entire series—assumes that you have read An Ocean Port for Kaldor, and that you are somewhat familiar with the world of Hârn in general, and the Kingdom of Kaldor in particular. If not, then you probably won’t make a great deal of sense out of it.
The Great Summer Fair
It wasn’t until I read Life In A Medieval City, by Joseph & Frances Gies that I realised that it was possible. In that book, the Gies discuss the city of Troyes, located in the heart of the Champagne region of central France. It had two fairs a year, one July to August (the “Hot” Fair or Fair of St-Jean), and one November to December (the “Cold” Fair or Fair of St-Rémi). In 1250, the population of Troyes was roughly the same as Tashal (~10,000), but there were some significant differences which meant that Troyes could support two big fairs every year.
The area around Troyes is a broad and fertile plain. Well populated even in the early Middle Ages, the Champagne region was wealthy and easily accessible from Italy, Germany, Spain and the Low Countries. Well-heeled and well stocked with goods, the merchants of Europe descended on Troyes and other major centres in Champagne to trade almost all year round. For it’s time, Troyes was very advanced, had a stable government and, because of its location, there were few wars that bothered the city.
Tashal Isn’t Troyes
But Tashal presents a few problems for merchants that Troyes didn’t have:
- it’s far away, and made to seem even further by the ocean gap between the continent and the island;
- you have to deal with creepy wizard-enforced embargoes;
- there’s an arduous trek through wilderness teeming with ghastly barbarians and horrible monsters; and
- you have deal with semi-civilised kingdoms and primitive conditions.
So there are lots of reasons to think that the Great Summer Fair, as written, is not so great or so full of cool stuff that it could go on for two months. I mean, how many times could bags of salt, bales of fur, or a few Khuzan trinkets really change hands? As for wool, does anyone seriously believe anyone at the fair actually sees more than a few bales of wool? Don’t forget that wool is Hârn’s major export, but why would you transport it to Tashal from Vemionshire (let alone Kanday) only to transport it pretty much all the way back again on the way to Thay? Wouldn’t you be better off to bring a couple of bales of your finest to Tashal, and ship the rest directly to, say, Kobing? Or, if you are a Kandian merchant, ship it directly to Cherafir or Thay by sea?
It just doesn’t make sense to transport a whole bunch of luxury goods overland from Thay when the pulling power of your goods could easily force the Hârnic merchants to come to Thay. After all, it’s only a few more leagues in an already long journey from Kanday/Tharda, and little less convenient from Azadmere or Leriel/Lorkin. No, if Tashal is to keep its place as a central point of commerce for the island, and all the wealth that implies is brought into the kingdom, Kaldor must develop a port capable of taking ocean-going vessels. Only by eliminating the expense and danger of the overland trek can you convince foreign merchants to continue to arrive in Tashal.
More Positive Reasons
There are two more really good reasons to develop a port for Kaldor.
The first is that a Kaldoran port becomes an alternative to Cherafir and Thay, both controlled by Melderyn and the aforementioned creepy wizard-enforced embargo. A bit of adroit marketing, spreading the word in the inns, taverns and coffee houses of the continent, and soon the Larun are bypassing Melderyn altogether, for a more friendly haven (with appropriate bribes….I mean, bonding house rebates, of course!)
The second reason is that any ship offloading good in a Kaldoran port will want to load up with more goods, even if it’s only wool (high volume, low value goods). An empty ship earns her owners nothing; in fact it costs them money (in wages and upkeep). A central point to ship bulky goods like wool means that all those Hârnic goods will be coming through a Kaldoran port instead of a Melderyni port. That has to be good for the Treasury coffers!
But where is a good location for a Kaldoran port? How will you decide? Never fear, this question was raised a few years ago, and Robin Crossby and I batted it about for a couple of months. At the end of that, I wrote an article that many of you have probably already downloaded and read. If you haven’t, then click here to go get it right now. Of course, it’s completely unofficial because as of 720TR, there is no port or even any serious plans for a port. At least, not in official, or canon, HârnWorld material.
Once you’ve read (or re-read) the article, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. And next time, I’ll discuss why the saving of Tashal as a commercial hub by building a port is also its death knell.
Gargun – An Ecological Disaster?
January 20, 2008
The gargun, also known as Hârnic orcs, were brought to Hârn by Lothrim the Foulspawner from some other realm of reality, probably through the Godstone under the Earthmaster ruins in his capital of Elkall-Anuz. However they arrived, by 250TR, they had spread throughout the island. In other words, they are an introduced species, a non-native life-form the local ecology hasn’t evolved to cope with. What can we learn from the introduction of foreign species on Earth that we can apply to the game world of Hârn?
There are a number of examples we can use from our own history to provide us with information. An introduced species can adversely affect its new environment in a number of ways. Gargun are pure carnivores (they don’t eat plant material of any kind), they are intelligent and have a racial memory, and they swarm when numbers grow too large. At a brief glance, this sounds like a recipe for disaster.
Let’s look at some examples from Earth to see if we can build up a better picture.
Introduced pure carnivores, feral cats and weasels, have had a devastating effect on the native bird populations of New Zealand, because these birds evolved for millennia without any natural mammalian predators. Many became flightless and relatively slow moving. On small islands of that archipelago, there is no doubt that cats have wiped out all native birds. On the two main islands, bird life was also adversely affected, but few species have been extinguished (although a number are close).
Hârn isn’t a small island; its landmass is quite extensive, and the distance from a major continent isn’t nearly as far as New Zealand from Australia, its nearest big neighbour. The Hârnic ecology is also more varied than New Zealand; there have always been predators of all sizes, so prey animals have learned to adapt. Gargun are pure carnivores but so are mountain cats, wolves, yelgri and wyverns, all of which are native to Hârn. Once you’ve learned to dodge a pack of yelgri or a hunting wyvern, prey animals like deer can probably cope with smelly gargun.
Cats have also had a negative effect on the reptiles and small mammal species of Australia, although just how great an effect is debatable. Population density is low, probably because cats need a lot of protein (meat) and there just isn’t enough to sustain higher numbers. Inland Australia is mostly semi-arid or full desert and native species are widely distributed, so most of the time a mother cat simply can’t find enough food to support more than one kitten from a litter. In fact, the largest concentrations of feral cats occur where there are also large concentrations of rabbits, another introduced species. There is some research that shows feral cats appear to have reached a kind of equilibrium with the indigenous fauna.
Hârn isn’t a barren land like Australia. Its forests are teeming with life because there is abundant rainfall. There is also a wide variety of habitats, from heath, through mixed forest, right up to alpine conditions in the deep mountains. There are many large rivers and countless streams and brooks. And let’s not forget one very large lake in the central interior. The soils around river valleys is fertile and, as a result, life is fecund indeed. Hârn can probably support another carnivore.
Goats strip the land bare, eating everything green. In the resulting harsh conditions that they themselves help produce, they even strip the bark from the last trees thus compounding the situation. In a very real sense, goats are responsible for the deserts of the Middle East. Gargun have a similar effect. They will strip all available prey animals from an area that they can find (and that means everything; deer, bears, wolves, everything). This means that most large, and many smaller, meat-bearing animals would vanish from the area surrounding an active gargun colony; either because they’ve been killed and eaten or they’ve fled.
However, gargun have a couple of traits that mitigate this problem. They are known to keep prey animals in pens. This may mean they practice a crude form of animal husbandry, although this has not been expanded upon in the source material. I don’t see a couple of hundred gargun subsisting on a few tethered goats; there would be a need for a great many animals to sustain a viable herd over the long term, so this probably means that a few animals are not eaten right away, but kept by order of the gargun king for special occasions.
The second mitigation is much more radical; gargun are cannibalistic. This practice would drastically reduce their impact on the surrounding environment in two ways; it reduces the need for meat from outside the colony and it reduces the number of mouths that need feeding.
Nature is incredibly resilient; after six hundred years of the gargun living on Hârn, the natural ecology of the Isle of Hârn has probably returned to an equilibrium of sorts. The in-built cannibalistic trait of the gargun means they provide their own checks and balances—to a degree. The relatively low numbers of gargun that survive for any length of time in a colony probably have an impact on the local area, but that impact is counter-balanced by the reduction in all levels of the food chain.
A reduction in prey animals outside the colony means the attention of diners turns naturally to inside the colony, and the old, slow, weak, and the unlucky get to be the main course at lunch. Thus the colony’s numbers are further reduced (until the next hatching, anyway) and the pressure is further eased on the animals outside the colony. Nature rebounds and repopulates the vacant niches, meaning the colony population increases, meaing increased pressure on the prey animals…and the cycle starts all over again.
So how can we use this information in our games? Here are some thoughts I had; feel free to add more in your comments.
- The heroes are travelling through the countryside, living off the land. Any wilderness experts in the party will suddenly realise that they have been travelling through an area where there are far fewer bird calls, and less recent sign of game. The environment has an odd stillness about it, as if frightened of something. The cause is a newly established gargun colony, spawned from whatever existing colony is the nearest.
- The reduction in larger carnivores has led to an explosion in the population of a small pest species (voles, dormice, lemmings, or whatever you feel fits best). Having eaten themselves out of house and home in the wilderness, these pests invade outlying manors, destroying grain and vegetable stores, gardens and crops. If they aren’t stopped, the manors will face an uncertain winter.
- Herd beasts are disappearing, and there is little sign of their where-abouts. A nearby gargun colony (say, a couple of days march from here) has a new king, and he plans to raise these herb beasts in the manner of humans. He has told his warriors to collect as many herd beasts as possible and bring them back-alive-to the colony. Meanwhile, other gargun are clearing fields around the colony to house the beasts.
Do you not agree that gargun have settled into their niche and that Hârn’s ecology is regaining its balance? Does this post have any value apart from (maybe) an interesting topic to think about? Please share your thoughts and leave a comment.
A New Settlement in Kaldor
January 3, 2008
Looking at the various regional maps of Hârn, one could be forgiven for thinking that the island is ridiculously sparsely settled. In fact, the books tell us there are 800,000 humans – including 150,000 barbarian tribesmen – 40,000 gargun, 5,000 Sindarin and 5,000 Khuzdul (all figures approximate) for a total humanoid population of under a million. And Hârn has a surface area of over half a million square miles, so that’s…um…about 3 individuals per 2 square miles. Consider the fact that the United Kingdom currently has approximately 570 people per square mile and you begin to see the difference.
Now, there are lots of mountains and hills, sure. But there’s still a heck of a lot of vacant ground that can be settled and farmed. So where in Kaldor would new villages and manors be established, assuming the current borders don’t change much? Let’s look shire by shire and see where new settlements might be established by brave and noble (or greedy) PCs.
The western bank of the Kald River is almost totally ininhabited, except for the small settlements of Charyn, Swune, Wendel and Scoa just across the river from Tashal. Even the larger settlement of Kathane is about 2 leagues from the riverbank. There’s plenty of room to expand here, and this would likely be a priority development area for the Crown of Kaldor, since it would squeeze the barbarian tribes out, especially the Kath. But for just that reason, it is more dangerous to establish a settlement here. However, the eastern bank of the Kald, between its confluence with the Shem and the Nephen Rivers, is also part of Semethshire, but this area is heavily settled. In fact, there is very little room left in this part of the shire.
The GM could have the Kaldoran Crown finance and build a string of wooden forts along the Salt Route from Kathane down to Geleme Ford, each about a day’s travel apart. These forts would become settlements, and would serve as spring boards from which to establish new settlements. The Chelmarch Army would use these forts as staging points to attack inland (north and west), driving out or slaughtering the Kath (current estimated population: 1,500).
As the forts were pushed further west along the Salt Route, the opposition would come from the Chelni, a tribe that’s only twice as large, but with horse power. The Chenli would be a much tougher proposition, and it might be easier to suborn them than to eradicate them.
Wooden forts are relatively easy to build, and could be slowly converted to stone as time goes on. Firstly, the log palisade would be covered with clay, and the clay painted with lime. As time goes on, this process makes the walls fire proof and quite hard, but the basic core of wood maintains it’s flexibility. Eventually, each fort would expand and become a proper keep, probably with a noble, or at least a constable, in charge.
Within the next century, the Salt Route could be secured all the way to Trobridge Inn, and Kaldor would finally have a realistic claim on that community. The forts would also spell the doom of the Kath; they are a small tribe and would eventually be squeezed out of existence between Kaldor to the south and east, the Taelda to the north and the Chelni to the west.
There’s already quite a significant amount of this shire settled, but even so, Meralace and Arien Hundreds are practically vacant, and Myamen Hundred has a lot of territory to fill in, especially near the river. The area near the confluence of the Shem and Kald Rivers appears to be a little boggy, but these kinds of small marshes could easily be drained; the technology certainly exists to do so. It is likely that new settlements in this shire will follow the Fur road north from Loban or south from Ovendel and Airth. But another possibility is to follow the road between Olokand and Gardiren. There are mines around that region which could be serviced by small communities, and the area may be relatively free of barbarian tribes and gargun.
There’s also a bit of vacant land north of Yeged, but if you look closely, you can see it’s all hills. There might be isolated barns and byres in these hills, but I think it’s unsuited to agriculture. Still, there’s a nice little lake in southern Navintas Hundred that would probably be nice to settle.
Once again, there is plenty of vacant land in Nephshire that can be filled in before Kaldor broadens it’s borders. Nephshire butts up against the Sorkin Mountains, home to raging hordes of gargun, so it’s not a terribly safe place. In fact, the Sheriff of Nephshire, the stolid and unimaginative Baron Chimin Indama of Getha, runs patrols from his shire seat in Bidow to Naniom Bridge and down to Getha. Taelda warriors, gargun and bandits all know that, as long as they stay away from the roads, they are safe from the Baron’s predictable patrols. Unfortunately, the Baron is unable to see his own weaknesses, being a thick-witted individual. Still he is unswervingly loyal to the king, and will undoubtedly be just as unswerving for the next king. After all, unswerving loyalty requires no thought. And so, while there is a lot of land available for settlement, there will be none while Baron Indama remains Sheriff, not even in Kirsta Hundred, which lies within what would normally be a fairly safe area. The Taelda won’t venture this far into Kaldor, and gargun coming this far will be after domesticated livestock, not deer or boar.
This leaves the bandits, who prey on isolated farmsteads in the surrounding hundreds. While not as prevalent as in the Hefiosa Highlands of the Thardic Republic, nevertheless they are a problem that is now coming to the attention of more capable nobles, such as Earl Dariune of Balim, and Earl Curo of Neph. Although these two great nobles don’t get along – in fact, they rarely speak to each other – they are agreed that “something must be done” about the bandit problem.
The Crown could help in this area by establishing new settlements on royal lands in the area, and maybe by granting parts of the land to the great Clans, on the understanding that they make an effort to see these new settlements properly established. Maybe they could provide tax incentives, because that isn’t a new idea. A period of, say, 10 years where all revenue generated by the new settlements is not taxed at all. A smart steward would also plough a fair amount of revenue from other parts of the demesne into the new settlement, because it would ease the tax burden there, too. With this kind of financial startup, the new settlements would be producing in no time.
The smallest shire, centrally located, Balimshire is almost fully settled. More villages and manors could be supported, since there is a fair distance between exiting settlements even here. But the only really open space in the shire is Lonemor Hundred. I count three iron mines and no settlements, although there are a couple of patches of the orangey colour which indicate worked farmland in that Hundred.
There are also some nice lands in the north of Chyle Hundred, along the road between Uldien and Getha, where the road follows a tributary of the Nephen. This appears to be a fairly largish river, and its watershed drains the valley in which Getha is located. This could easily stand more villages.
There are also two forests, probably Royal Forests, so these will be inviolate. They are Annan Forest in Cholas Hundred, and Malvern Forest in Marindas Hundred. Both forests actually stradle the shire boundary between Semethshire and Balimshire, but would be administered by a Royal Forester who is part of the King’s household. As such, he would not fall under the jurisdiction of either Sheriff, so the fact that it crosses the shire boundaries is irrelevant.
There are large expanses of vacant territory right next to the Kald River between the villages of Lunt and Burrdan in the north of Habimas Hundred, and south of Forean in the same one. Forest and hills cover the southeastern quadrant of Habimas, and while Taniran Hundred is quite well settled, Tarial Hundred has a lot of vacant area in its southern and eastern flanks. Only the western third of Cedmyme Hundred is settled. The eastern two thirds is all forest, with hills in the north-east feeding rivers and streams that will foster plenty of growth.
But the biggest Hundred, Rethelsyne, is even emptier than Cedmyme. Only ten or eleven villages can be found on it’s western extent, and these are fairly widely spread. Probably 80% of the Hundred is unsettled and still forested. Since the northern border of this Hundred is the Nephen River, it might be that it floods often. But if so, the soil will be extremely fertile and so productive and profitable for some noble. It’s also in the middle of the kingdom, alsmost certainly safe from any external threat, unless the entire kingdom is conquered. Of all the areas of Kaldor to remain unsettled, this makes the least sense to me, and would be the first place I’d place new settlements.
Vemionshire is so under-populated, it’s a wonder this shire can produce anything. It is one reason why I think Vemionshire is the perfect place to be the biggest wool producing area of Kaldor. The populated area runs in a strip south from the Selene River, gradually swinging southeastwards at Athelren. All the reast of the land around that is open and unsettled. There is a single settlement between the outskirts of Vemionshire and Thelshire, and this is probably a stopping point for wagons and carts travelling between Nubeth and Athelren.
North of the Selene River lie hills and thick forest, home to Taelda and gargun. The expanse is only broken by the Silver Way, the road to rocky Azadmere. I doubt this will soon change, until the more hospitable areas of the kingdom are occupied. By then, the problem of the Taelda and gargun might have gone away. I wouldn’t expect any significant settlement of the area for another 75 to 100 years.
The wide open plains of Oselshire, a place I feel is perfect for herding of all kinds, especially cattle. The land quality here is lower than the rest of the kingdom, but still above the Harn average. The map shows quite an expanse of grassland and mixed woodland, with occasional forests here and there, and lots of low hills in the southeast, sloping gentle down to the river lands around Jedes in the west. Settlements here surround a single major center; Jedes, then east to Hutop, east some more to Qualdris, then southeast to Kobing. The isolated stronghold of Oselbridge is very, very far from help, but probably represents a toehold in what is essentially still Pagaelin territory.
Role Playing Opportunities
What kinds of ideas could GMs use in a campaign based on the establishment of a new settlement? If you have other ideas, feel free to leave them in your comments.
- Vicious attacks on the new settlement by barbarian warriors, especially the Kath, Taelda and the Pagaelin (PCs as mercenaries or yeomen farmers).
- Counter-attacks by nobles and the Chelmarch or Oselmarch Armies protecting the new settlement (PCs as soldiers, knights, or militia).
- Sweating over the meager budget and how are they going to afford the new palisade (PCs as newly enfoeffed knights and retainers, or stewards, or bailiffs).
- Establishing a new mine out in the howling wilderness (PCs as guildsmen: miners, salters, etc.).
- Determining the boundaries of a new settlement (PCs as rangers or scouts escorting engineers and government agents).
- Trying to entice people to come to the new settlement, and politicking to get established nobles to let them leave their current home (PCs as nobles, or retainers).
There are lots of different ways to run a game that involves establishing a new settlement. What would you include in such a campaign? How would you challenge your players? What obstacles would be common to many (if not all) of these types of campaign? Please share your ideas.