link for writers / gamers – medieval demographics

This is perhaps one of the most useful fantasy tools I’ve run across in a long time. I’m just sorry that I didn’t have it for last year’s ‘World Building Month’ event.

Medieval Demographics Made Easy, by S. John Ross.
“Numbers for Fantasy Worlds.”

Basically, this page discusses how many people can fit onto so much land– medieval population density, how big a town must be to support certain occupations, and how this all pertains to world building and specifically, gaming or writing in a fantasy setting. For anyone who ever wanted to add realism in an economical set-up, this is for you.

world building: weapons

Weapons, like clothes and architecture, fall into and out of fashion. The weapons described here are what is usually used in Vastii at the time of my novel.

Knives, Daggers, Dirks
These weapons are not only common, but expected. A man walking around without a blade of some kind is just asking for trouble.

Knives are most common; commoners make their knives from rock, bone, or iron, if they can get it. Steel is prized, and knives made out of it are prized, as are very well wrought bone dirks, and they’re a common form of currency (the most common being steel coins, not for their mint, but for the material– more on that later). Handles for humans are usually made of braided rope or wood, as the cold of frozen metal still penetrates gloves.

Noblemen tend toward larger blades, and while they carry knives, they probably also carry something larger. Dirks are currently very popular weapons, while throwing knives are not common.

Swords come in a variety of styles. Because the city is underground and open space can’t be taken for granted, short swords are prevalent, and they don’t make anything approaching the size of a claymore. Stabbing is often more effective than slashing.

The common sword is shorter than a man’s arm, with a small or nonexistent hilt. The sketch of the Roman Gladius (from wikipedia) is a fairly good depiction of this style. Patrols that move along the Spiral Highway and the larger caverns often carry longer swords, taking advantage of the common short blade.

There are also much thinner swords that resemble needles or icicles than ordinarily blades. These are easy to shatter with larger weapons, however, and have fallen out of style.

Hammers, Axes, Splitting Mauls
The biggest problem with these weapons is that they require room to swing. Small axes, pick-axes, and hammers are less restricted than larger equivalents, but also do less damage to an opponent. Holding a very large hammer or axe is also considered a sign of power at the time my novel takes place in.

A splitting maul is an axe with a large blunt weight on the opposite side of the blade, which can also be used like a war-hammer. These are great for splitting large amounts of wood. They’re better as weapons of war, if there’s enough space to swing them.

Polearms have largely fallen out of style. The exception to this rule is hunting on the surface.

Tigers have adapted to the cold, and know that a warm cave entrance will likely have prey inside if it doesn’t smell of gas. Human communities (the troglodytes) fight them off frequently with long spears, cross-guarded so that a stabbed tiger is held at bay much like a boar-spear. The Mordache have taken their idea, and navigators that travel between the cities on the surface carry these weapons on their runs (traveling on a sled pulled by teams of dogs– the spear snaps to the side, and most sleds are made to hold at least two).

Polearms are also used in the arena. A troglodyte forced to fight a tiger will be given a spear and a long, curved knife made of bone.

The half-spear
The half-spear competes with the short sword as the weapon of choice. Fast, agile, and ideal for stabbing forward, the spear is an aggressive weapon and is associated with speed and cleverness.

The Crossbow
The rise of the crossbow was the downfall of the throwing knife. Currently, crossbows are made in several styles. Large crossbows hold bolds an inch in diameter and come with gears to wind the string back in the mechanism. Small crossbows hold much thinner bolts, and can be held in one hand and loaded more quickly.

Ordinary crossbows are made for short range. Since the limit of its use is dictated by the available light, most are not accurate at long ranges.

There is a specialty crossbow that is designed to hit far targets. It requires a second machine to draw its string back, since it puts several hundred pounds of force on the draw. The bolts are very long, carved special. These are hard to find, expensive, and illegal; they’re primarily used for assassinations, aiming at a lit target from over a long distance.

word building: troglodytes

Troglodyte: someone who dwells in a cave [syn: caveman, cave man, {cave dweller}]
(Pulled from — very cool site for quick definitions)

The Mordache have decided that anyone who does not live under their rule is a troglodyte. The common (erroneous) belief is that all troglodytes are roughly similar.

It is a tradition in the Mordache cities, Vastii included, that every first day of the new year celebration a large Mordache city will hold an event where a wild troglodyte is pitted against a fresh tiger, where they will fight to the death. If the tiger wins, which it usually does, the celebrations continue unfettered. If the troglodyte wins, it is an omen of change and a testimony to the strength of men. The troglodyte is freed afterward (the Mordache require their slaves to have sold themselves into slavery through debts, oaths, or as a criminal punishment, so stolen cave-boys must be released by law). Then the Mordache conduct a religious ceremony to strengthen themselves for the days to come. Some Mordache believe that this is just a form of entertainment. Others take the event as a way to test the waters for the next year.

At the start of the novel, Rylan (my protagonist) admits that he did not live in Renideo when Princess Arielii died, twelve years prior. He arrived in the city several months after the princess’ death for the new year’s ceremony. He does not elaborate, though he could have; he had been the troglodyte thrown to the tiger that year. He had been fifteen, married younger than was generally accepted, his beard thin and half-grown, and his training in local medicines had been incomplete when he’d been stolen from his tribe. He’d never been able to find his home again.

Rylan is one of two (known) troglodytes in the novel. The other is a woman from another tribe, and though she is Rylan’s companion and ally Rylan tries to avoid her whenever possible.

Saffira paints her face with purple cream and wears colorful, loose robes, dozens of beaded necklaces that clank when she walks. Her command of Danache (the Mordache tongue) is so minimal that only Rylan’s companions can understand her. Rylan and Saffira are similar the same way that all the different Native American tribes resembled each other (not at all). Saffira’s people practice cannibalism and are notoriously more war-like than Rylan’s more agricultural community. Her sort of tribe was a subject of scary bedtime stories when Rylan was a boy.

Each tribe speaks its own language, and most troglodytes are recognized by their inability to speak Danache clearly. By the time the book starts, Rylan has completely shed the last vestiges of his accent and has largely forgotten most of his original language.

world building showcase, part ii

Here’s round two of the world-building showcase. We’ll have two more after this, on Monday if all goes according to schedule.

Eliza Wyatt found some pictures that resembled Vastii, and wrote a long post on her novel’s magic system (before getting ill last Thursday).

Merrilee Faber posted some maps she’d created.

RG Sanders has been posting on his project, Arbiture.

Nils has been posting on his world, Arnâron. Thus far he’s passed by most of the terrain-building and moved to people, animals, cultures, ect.

Nymeria posted pictures and maps for her project.

Cirellio has written more on divination, and the creatures in his world.

AC Gaughen has been posting about Shalia.

Natania Barron has been working on her story’s setting, the Aldersgate Cycle.

Agarithia has neatly collected each of her current posts (of which she has eight) into one page (here). We have three new topics this week.

Writer has added a post detailing the Beat Hotel.

SMD wrote about magic and geography.

Goldirocks wrote about government and religion.

JanVanHove is working on a sci fi setting.

M.C. Williams has written on Mythania, as well as an essay on magic in world building.

Jenniedee started with mythology.

Storytellingofravens has made two posts.

And that’s it for this week! I’ll post again next Monday with the third part of this series, and the final showcase will be displayed early September.

world building: the mordache art

The Mordache Art is the biggest reasons that the Mordache rule the cities; their monopoly on what I’ll call ‘magic’ here for the sake of simplicity. It is a very limited set of skills, and there are only three ‘spells’ that can be performed.

The first, and most common use of the Mordache Art: almost all noblemen are trained in this. Thread refers to the string that ties a person’s body to their soul. This is a long, usually very tangled string specific to one’s body. It dissolves after the man dies, and their soul disappears beyond the Mordache’s field of vision. They also need to be able to visibly see the person to be able to see their Thread, so it isn’t useful for knowing how close people are either.

Threading is an offensive attack where a Mordache will mentally pluck at the Thread of someone else. They may simply grab it and remain still (an icy, tight, painful sensation to the victim, and lethal if they try to move), tug gently (intensely painful), or sever the Thread, which will kill the victim almost instantly. The only advantage to using Thread instead of a ranged weapon is that humans won’t be able to see what’s happening, and may not know who has them. Like a weapon, a Mordache who also knows Thread will be able to counter or block once they’re aware of their danger.

An expert at torturing and killing with Thread may eventually develop the skills to be able to half-kill; to pull the soul partway out of the body and trap it there. This leads to paralysis, a disconnection with the body, until the soul can be put back. Even an expert risks killing their victim when attempting this.

A short lead-in to ghosts and spirits in my world. This is considered common knowledge among the educated: this is an explanation that would appeal to a superstitious commoner.

Ghosts, when they appear, sometimes wear the clothes they died in. Why is that? If they are returned souls, then what makes their clothes or their killing blows an intrinsic part of their being? Do they appear like that out of choice? What binds them to the world?

The truth about ghosts is that any spirit visible to the naked eye is no longer a person. The most fundamental part of their being has gone insane, driven beyond their most basic instincts to return to the Black, beyond the sight of even the Mordache. They are memory and thought, spirit and soul, no one part distinct from any other. Therefore, to see a ghost is to see their soul, their mind, their memories and their nature all at once. Ghosts manifest in clothes that their crippled minds imagine for them, yes, sometimes the clothes they died in, but not always. They come accompanied with music inside their heads, with even fainter images of people that they had once known, which float like lifeless dolls. They carry things that might be important in some way, or are tormented by beasts manifested. Ghosts are to be pitied and mourned; they are lost, and can not go home.

But what one must keep in mind is that they are all crazy. If a spirit can look past their own dementia and see you, if they grow strong and solid enough to know where they are, run. Run, and don’t look back, crash through the darkness if need be, and know that to fall to one’s death is preferable to being drawn into their world.

A man who dies, whether Mordache or human, very good or very evil, and no matter how tragic their death, will ordinarily fade. The Mordache have a presence on the spiritual aspect of the world, but not one so deep or strong as to see what happens to a man after he dies.

Necromancy, the study of the dead, is almost entirely a theoretical branch of the Mordache Art, with one exception. If a Mordache can not perform the Art correctly, if they are sloppy or make a mistake, they will drip out life. Usually these amounts are minuscule (else they would die quickly) and what they leave behind will fade. Their life force is too strong, though, and it’s been known to kill plants that touches it. For this reason, Mordache are never used as farmers or doctors. Even the highest-ranking doctor, surgeon to the king, is and will always be human.

But in some cases, their life will gush out all at once, into a pseudo-liquid that a human can not spot, but a Mordache can. Too much, and this liquid will begin to crystalize, grow and harden into a substance too sharp and strong to get near. The Mordache simply call this ‘Crystal’, and they destroy it whenever they can, partially because Crystal is a deadly threat to the humans who can not see it, and partially because Crystal is a strong substance linked to life. A soul that comes too near will begin to gain strength, and slowly loose their mind. Crystal creates ghosts. It gives them strength to remember what life was.

That is what the Necromancers are trained for. It is not a highly useful skill. Removing Crystal can be a dangerous proposition, and Necromancers are usually Bastards with little regard among the nobility, and can have a difficult time alerting the proper people if a problem appears that they can not handle.

The last branch of the Mordache Art. A Mordache trained in Desolidifcation can see the physical objects from their own memories, the spirit of those objects following and impacting those that they’ve been touched, used, or studied by. This excludes anything living: a person may not be manifested, nor an animal, but a man’s bones that have been seen can be. The Desolidifier can not read it in memory form, or study it any more effectively than they can study their own memories.

However, by taking the physical mass of an existing object, a Desolidifier can transfer the mass to something in their own memories. A rock may be discarded in favor of a grain of sand, replicated over and over until the mass balances. A small pile of sand may be transferred to a golden ring.

For this reason, Vastii uses a barter economy with no set form of currency. Money, to be effective, must be small, and the smaller an item is the more easily it can be replicated. This is also the reason that craftsmen are highly regarded. Any man that makes a new, original item makes something far more valuable than jewels, as pretty as they are.

Desolidification has harsh restrictions:

First, a desolidifier can not make food or drink. What they create is always laced with their life, and though it can be touched and interacted with, it is not something that one would want inside their body. Even as a poison, no respectable desolidifer would want to try creating food unless it was a last resort; doing so encourages Crystal, and if the source is discovered many who would not have gotten involved would hunt them down.

Second, the mass transferred must be exact. Even the difference of a fraction of an ounce will cause a terrible backlash on the caster. Desolidification is even more dangerous than Necromancy.

Third, the larger an object is, the more difficult it becomes to use Desolidification on. An accomplished Desolidifier might be able to replicate jewelry with ease, but will be at a loss if asked about a chair. Small knives are relatively easy to procure, but a sword is not.

Fourth, the object in question must be standing still. Desolidification is not effective as a weapon unless at very close range with a stationary target. Thread is a better choice, and failing that, a knife would do more damage with less risk to the wielder.

Fifth, a Desolidifer has a short life expectancy. They could kill themselves at any time even after mastering their craft.

Given these restrictions, most noblemen do not practice this art. Most of the city of Vastii is carved out of stone, and Mordache Bastards do most of the work, using Desolidification to turn stone to sand, which is carted out. These bastards are pampered to and given good lives. Their overseers know that they don’t have long to enjoy it.

world building showcase, part i

Apologies for taking so long!

My original plan was to have this out on Saturday, after a full week since the start of August. That was moved to Sunday, and only then did I figure out the full extent of the sheer, vast quantities that people have been working on this project! I’ll have to start earlier next week. 😀

Eliza Wyatt has been spending the last week detailing the basics of her fantasy city Vastii, which is on a cold, inhospitable, lightless world.

Saint Know-All has been working on her dragon species, the Taal.

Kaya Alder began by introducing the Faercourt.

RG Sanders wrote about some of his ideas for his world Arbiture.

Nils has been posting on his world, Arnâron. The sheer volume of his work speaks to how much he’d put into this so far…

Nymeria wrote an article about epic versus simplistic worldbuilding.

Cirellio has been working on Lura (an old project– going further back in his archives will get several more months of world-building posts).

AC Gaughen has been posting about Shalia.

Natania Barron has been working on her story’s setting, the Aldersgate Cycle, focusing on religion.

Alex Moore wrote about the setting and creation of magic.

Ken Kiser wrote about his creation myth, the making of Kreggoria.

Aeronwy has started with a world called Tria.

Agarithia has neatly collected each of her current posts (of which she has five) into one page (here). The topics thus far are: Brief Intro, The Jaden Kingdom, The Yellow Nation, Map of Agarithia, and The Southern Green Noses.

Writer has written two world-building posts thus far, set in historical Paris.

Otempora has started her own list of world-building projects.

SMD posted about what he’d like to do for the month, and posted a map.

Goldirocks began with some research links, and a continent.

JanVanHove is working on a sci fi setting.

Selonus is working on a fantasy world, and has gone over his map, races, and feel that he wants to achieve.

M.C. Williams hasn’t written anything specific to World Building Month (yet), but has several articles on world building, with a focus on steampunk fantasy.

And that’s it, for this week!

Having gone over everyone’s projects, I want to say that I’m really, really impressed by the things that people have come up with! I’m looking forward to the rest of the month!

world building: the mordache

My heroine (anti-hero?), Wyrren Jadis The Mordache are the last very important thing to know about this setting before I can go into detail about how the people of Vastii live, and like the other topics (food, light, environment) they are essential to understanding the basics of this city.

The Mordache are a race distinct from humans for three reasons: the first is their ability to live comfortably in the cold. While humans will be bundled up in several layers of fur, the Mordache have indulged in fashions that leave their backs and arms bare, their heads free and their hands unencumbered. A Mordache that does not keep humans in their home may simply go without heating. That isn’t to imply that they can withstand temperatures on the surface (even Mordache will freeze up there) but in the relative warmth of the city they can survive quite comfortably.

The second distinction is that pureblood Mordache are gentlemen, nobility, and royalty. They rule the cities, and the humans work under them. This is particularly true in the city of Vastii. Pureblood Mordache are Mordache that have not interbred with humans. The partial-breeds are called Mordache Bastards, and are noted because they have Mordache traits with the exception of human coloring: any Mordache who do not have snow-hued skin is called a Bastard, regardless of their parentage and legitimacy. Bastards can also be nobility, but it is not common.

It should also be noted that occasionally pureblood Mordache will have variant traits: tails, strange ears, claws, scales, horns, fangs, and perhaps most dramatically, large feathery wings. The last of these are especially rare, and such children often kill their mothers in childbirth.

To have a human in that sort of position is very rare. Humans are considered good for menial labor, craftsmen, merchants, and slaves, even advisers, doctors, and second-in-commands. But they are not the rulers, nobility, or heads of state. As far as the Mordache are concerned, they never will be. A city that is not ruled by the Mordache is seen as a backwards, primitive, unwashed place. The humans who live there are known as troglodytes, cave boys, and it is generally assumed that each instance of troglodyte communities will result in finding the same backwards people. (I’ll post more about the people outside of the Mordache’s rule later, if I have time).

The last, and probably the most important difference between the Mordache and the humans are that the Mordache have access to The Art, the magic in the novel (of sorts– it’s actually much more complicated than that). Without going into the details of the Mordache Art yet, only the Mordache can use it, and it is a dangerous practice. A small child who is not quick to grasp control of it will die. Thus, the Mordache’s mortality rate is not far above the humans, despite the difference in wealth.

world building: meals

Last post I wrote about where the people of Vastii got their food. This is a continuation. As this is all new material, I don’t think this will be a very complete list.

Noblemen and Royalty
Noblemen have the most varied diet, as their wealth and status provides them the best that Vastii has to offer.

A meal that a noblemen might eat for breakfast, for example, is flatbread, baked with slices of redroot and stuffed with slices of goat and cheese. Alternatively, one might receive shrimp, or eel with bread. This is served with a small garnish of fish eggs, which are traditionally placed on a square of dry seaweed. Breakfast is a light meal, and is usually accompanied by a pale tea made from various plants and a very weak alcohol, called sap wine (which tends to range from one-half to two percent alcohol).

Dinner is the largest meal of the day, and this is when the most impressive food portions are served: on special occasions, a whole shark is brought into the noble’s dining room, garnished with tart roseate berries, which are cooked in their waxy skins until they turn to jelly inside and their red skins turn mostly transparent. Oyster tends to be cooked on the half-shell, pearls are lucky, but not valuable. Squid is prepared in one of several ways, from fried to raw. This is also the meal that ice worms are served in, and these are usually fried in oil and mixed with redroot and occasionally bits of ochii (explained below). Supper is a lighter repetition of dinner, and the food that is not eaten earlier in the day are often put into stews. The fish heads and tails are used the make stock. Bread is traditionally served with the soups.

The well educated have set a trend of eating a small chopped portion of a rather vile tasting plant called ochii (Oh-shee; all ch combinations are soft in Danache), as the university in Vastii has declared that it promotes longevity (after noting that those who work in the vine farms tend to be healthier than men elsewhere in the city). It has become fashionable to eat them because of this, through the mistaken idea that ochii makes one smart.

The noblemen’s beverages also have more variety than the other classes. In addition to sap wine, they also drink goat milk, fermented goat milk (an acquired taste), fire wine (from roseate berries), and tar drop (a sweet dark beer), and starlight, a rosy herbal juice from a variety of vines. It’s also one of the only beverages that does not contain alcohol.

Food in the craftsmen’s district
Craftsmen don’t get the fancy dishes, nor the access to milk or cheese, unless they are very wealthy or buying it for a special occasion. Fish, decent sized whole fish are roasted, stewed, and baked. They have bread, oil, assorted roots, and some spice up their dishes with sauces based on some of their wines for variety. Sap wine, fire wine, and starlight are the common beverages.

Common Fare
Common men eat the same basic meal over and over, unless they have access to a fishery, the lake, or the vine farms. Frozen kippers, mashed root, goat’s feet, and small cakes of bread feed them, and they usually have the choice between sap-wine and plain water. The water is not considered healthy to drink, even in ice form, and the common men prefer the former if it can be had. Those in the vine farms eat the most plant-matter, and as the university had noticed, are physically healthier for it.

world building: sources of food

This is where the food comes from– it’s a big topic, so I’ll be touching on what meals would be like next.

Wild Fish
As opposed to domesticated fish. 🙂 Fish outside of mariculture (as well as other types of seafood– eel, crab, clams, shark, spoon worms, squid, ect.) are caught in the outlying lake, and is the farthest out that Vastii reaches away from the Pit; getting there from the center takes hours of walking. Still, as it is a source of food, many of the commoners live and work there, trying their luck and hoping for something large and expensive. The lake is over-fished, but it is also extraordinarily deep, and a majority of the water is not accessible by the air. Some experts believe that the lake accessible to them is less than a tenth of its true size.

There are various types of fish farms, but all of them must keep their water at a certain temperature, which is the most difficult part of the trade. Clams, eels, and certain fish are the easiest to farm, and for those that can afford to buy them they make up a significant portion of their diet. They also farm seaweed and other marine plants.

Creatures large enough to provide decent meals require feeding, and the best tasting animals are herbivores, so livestock are expensive and the selection is limited. Farmed animals also provide fur and leather, and most good clothes come from these farms as well. Animals kept include goats (well, furry goat-like creatures prized for their milk), dogs (a principal source of labor, transportation, fur, and food), moles, and cave-hares (these are blind, with plenty of very long whiskers).

Vine Farms
With so much fish and meat in most people’s diets, vine farms are usually used for other things besides food: various types of wood, pitch, oil, medicines. Still, there are several plants also used as food; hardy root vegetables thrive in mixtures of volcanic soil, mixed in with goat and hare manurer, and some of the climbing vines produce waxy red fruits that drop down and would otherwise be eaten by hares (who would spread the seeds after exiting their digestive system). Plants are not regarded as a meal, however, and other than a flat bread is made from the easy-to-grow root vegetables, it is not consumed nearly so much as is fish except by those who work cultivating plants (who tend to be healthier than most).

Ice worms are small, white creatures that are found on the surface between the earth and snow. They are particularly difficult to gather in any quantity, and eating them with a meal is a display of wealth and social status: they are regarded as a delicacy, despite their bitter flavor.

It should also be noted that almost everyone below the craftsman’s district will practice cannibalism at least once. Some communities within Vastii eat their own dead to commemorate them, to obtain their wisdom and experience. Some are just hungry, and see a frozen body as meat. And then there are a few that develop a taste for human flesh, who know that hunting men is easier than stealing livestock.