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View Full Version : A city coveted by many, but owned by none. (concept for review)



Aristotle
07-23-2008, 02:27 PM
I want to know how far out of the field a concept this is. It'll ultimately affect the layout of a city map, which is reason enough to ask the question here I think.

I have a city in my campaign, the center of it actually, that has become a sort of nexus for world trade. It was originally a far flung colony of an empire, but the empire fell and the colony grew into an independent city-state.

The city is surrounded by sea and wilderness. Primitive cultures abound, but the nearest kingdoms and young or crumbling empires are either across the sea or much further inland. The only reason the city has gotten it's reputation for trade and not been forgotten entirely is it's position to facilitate trade between those isolated inland cultures and those across the seas.

Why this would matter for a city map? I was thinking of keeping major defensive measures to a minimum. A wall to protect against the primitives, and a small military force, but no real standing army. The idea is that the real threats, all of whome certainly covet the wealth of the city, simply won't allow any of the others to claim it for themselves. Independently it poses no real threat and everyone gets rich... Those making the money would prefer it go undisturbed.

Now. Reality check. How plausible is that?

jfrazierjr
07-23-2008, 02:39 PM
I want to know how far out of the field a concept this is. It'll ultimately affect the layout of a city map, which is reason enough to ask the question here I think.

I have a city in my campaign, the center of it actually, that has become a sort of nexus for world trade. It was originally a far flung colony of an empire, but the empire fell and the colony grew into an independent city-state.

The city is surrounded by sea and wilderness. Primitive cultures abound, but the nearest kingdoms and young or crumbling empires are either across the sea or much further inland. The only reason the city has gotten it's reputation for trade and not been forgotten entirely is it's position to facilitate trade between those isolated inland cultures and those across the seas.

Why this would matter for a city map? I was thinking of keeping major defensive measures to a minimum. A wall to protect against the primitives, and a small military force, but no real standing army. The idea is that the real threats, all of whome certainly covet the wealth of the city, simply won't allow any of the others to claim it for themselves. Independently it poses no real threat and everyone gets rich... Those making the money would prefer it go undisturbed.

Now. Reality check. How plausible is that?

I think it's perfectly acceptable. Given the distances you mention both overland and water, any type of attempt at subjugation would require a sizeable force and supply line. Also, any one faction which took over would then threaten the balance of trade. What good is a subjagated trading center of the world if trade suddenly stops because it has been taken over by X faction, and your not sure how well, if at all, your goods will be able to pass through the new city power centers.... To me, it's a nice standoff. Now, this assumes that the rulers of the other places have an understanding of free markets and economics; madmen generally understand neither and just go to war to compensate for something else in their life.

Joe

Sirith
07-23-2008, 03:18 PM
How primitive are those primitive cultures exactly? What do they have to offer kingdoms and empires far away, and what do those powers have to offer them? How do they look at trade culturally? These factors will influence the economy and culture of the city itself, which can be used as a basis for your city. In itself I think it's a definitely plausible, these are just questions that popped up while reading your and jfrazierjr's posts.

DanChops
07-23-2008, 03:30 PM
Sounds like a great basis for an intrigue-filled campaign!

I'm trying to think of real-world analogies to what you're describing, but having difficulty coming up with one. Perhaps Mombassa in the 1500's if the Sultanate of Muscat had fallen to the Persians instead of the Portuguese, and the Portuguese had never shown up? Or maybe Goa from 50 years later if the native inhabitants were much more primitive, and the Portuguese empire had fallen?

Aristotle
07-23-2008, 04:07 PM
Their are basically two groups of local natives. The first is less advanced and highly tribal. Some tribes play nice and others are just as likely to eat you as trade with you. The other culture has a smaller population but is more advanced, having developed masonry and basic metal working, and are generally accepting (if not a bit naive about the intentions) of the cities inhabitants.

I'm sticking to a "strangers in a strange land" theme with a vaguely european culture building a thriving city on the perimeter of a rain forest on a tropical continent. I'm borrowing heavily from similar situations in history, including the crusades, the discovery of the new world, the wild west, and numerous examples of the british empire throughout africa and the near east. My natives will be influenced by the cultures of the natives in most of those examples.

Most of the trade I'm talking about happens between those more advanced but distant cultures to either side. The city is just a convenient gateway to both or, more often than not, a neutral center that lets both sides come half way. Local products have a market too though. Those 'old world' crops that can grow in the harsh 'new world' environment (and wouldn't otherwise survive the trip) have found a market. New world crops that can be grown right outside the city have to travel less distance and are that much easier to get to market. The primitive locals cash in on locally grown spices, though plantations are becoming more common and cutting out the locals.


I think I'm comfortable saying that most of the other cultures accept, despite their greed, that the current situation is profitable and best left alone. The mad man who just doesn't care? Sounds like a campaign story arc to me, and is sort of the reason I developed the idea. With no formal army it falls to mercenaries, including the heroes of my campaign, to sort things out before things escalate to a seige.

Valarian
07-23-2008, 04:10 PM
A city like this would become a hub of trade and negotiation between tribes. A great fair of tents would rise outside the city walls, as tribes come and go to trade at the city.

Steel General
07-23-2008, 04:11 PM
Just to throw out anotehr idea, instead of a small military, you could have a small civilian constabulary (or whatever), and then each of the merchant "factions" could have their own private "security forces". Disputes between factions could be handled in the "boardroom", so to speak, or could spill over into deadly street brawls between the "private armies" of the factions.

Ascension
07-23-2008, 04:41 PM
In such a city, it's my thought that the guilds would run the city as a defacto government of merchant princes or maybe left over nobility. In either case various factions have their own agendas and I would think that some sort of walled off sections for the various feuding families/guilds would be present despite lack of immediate exterior threats, sort of like enclaves. Also, despite its distance, a city with that much wealth would be highly coveted and always under a threat...even freemen will protect their homes from marauding tribes. So, I would think that this city would be walled nonetheless, taking into account the evolution of the city. On the other hand, a Great Fair (a la David Eddings) is a town of tents under the control, and policed by, one certain kingdom thus needing no walls. So those are 2 options that I see: walled city with walled enclaves and private armies of feuding factions or a great fair type of tent city already under the rule of a kingdom. To go out on a limb, it could be a thieves den or pirate city with slapdash and shoddy construction and the usual lawlessness, debauchery, and villainy with tunnels under the walls, secret entrances, bribed guards etc. that in reality remove the effectiveness of any security measures. Or lastly, it could be a nomad city...sort of a city on the move, depending on the season, where all of the buildings are actually wagons and they migrate up and down the coast.

My 2 cents

Aristotle
07-23-2008, 04:53 PM
A city like this would become a hub of trade and negotiation between tribes. A great fair of tents would rise outside the city walls, as tribes come and go to trade at the city.
Great idea. The city is already home to the largest market in the world, but a second less official market established just outside might be fun. I'll have to include tent town on the map.

The guilds have been disbanded and free trade reigns, so most anyone can come and try to sell whatever it is they think they can make money on. Of course, space in the main market requires a license. These side-markets might skirt the rules and have no regulations. Shop outside the market at your own peril.


Just to throw out anotehr idea, instead of a small military, you could have a small civilian constabulary (or whatever), and then each of the merchant "factions" could have their own private "security forces". Disputes between factions could be handled in the "boardroom", so to speak, or could spill over into deadly street brawls between the "private armies" of the factions.

Absolutely! The senate runs the city, but mostly just to maintain it and mediate as needed. A police force of baton wielding constables keeps the peace. I considered a division of Inspectors that investigate crimes, but I'm not sure if that might feel too modern. I was toying with using it and D&D 4e to run a CSI style campaign in a fantasy city.

The merchant houses hold most of the real authority, having the influence to gain licenses to maintain large armed forces for the purpose of guarding caravans, warehouses, and so on... I'm definately interested in setting the trade houses up as corporations.

Aristotle
07-23-2008, 04:57 PM
some sort of walled off sections for the various feuding families/guilds would be present despite lack of immediate exterior threats, sort of like enclaves.
I'll likely go with walled enclaves for the trade houses. As for the rest of your post: Gold mine! Seriously, cool ideas. If not used here, I'll save them in my notebook for later use.

Ascension
07-23-2008, 07:35 PM
Heh heh, you n me both :) Funny how stream of consciousness brainstorming works. Think I'm gonna do me up one of these ideas.

Mulliman
07-25-2008, 10:03 AM
In such a city, it's my thought that the guilds would run the city as a defacto government of merchant princes or maybe left over nobility.

That would only make up half of the power of the city. The other part would have to be the embassies of the over-sea empires. These would contantly try to encroach on the local power structures, such as the guilds or the town council.

Being based so far away from any civilized lands, the city could not be very large, but as you say, economical and political terms, extremely important.

Have you given any thought as to what kind of trade this city deals in? There must be a reason for why the city's is so important, even though trade with nomads and barbarians was extremely profitable in ages past (fur and other un-processed resources). Perhaps the tribes bring wares from an advanced kingdom even further away, such as spices, precious metals or whatnot? If the resource is some kind of drug or narchotics, that has made the upper classes of the civilized continent addicted (with perhaps supernatural side-effects, as well as negative ones), things become very interesting.

ravells
07-25-2008, 10:05 AM
I really love the concept. It will make for an interesting city design to accommodate the underlying power structure.

Aristotle
07-25-2008, 11:02 AM
The other part would have to be the embassies of the over-sea empires.
Yeah, I don't want to completely forget that various powers exist outside of the city, even if most of them have agreed to not attempt to take the city directly... they would still be among the most influential buyers and sellers on the market. I want to be careful though. I'm purposefully leaving other continents, and even the bulk of the one the city sits on, vague for development as the campaign progresses.


Being based so far away from any civilized lands, the city could not be very large, but as you say, economical and political terms, extremely important.
Hmmm... The plan is for the city to be quite large actually. Likely one of the largest in the world, though nearly half the current occupance are temporary residents: Merchants and dignitaries from abroad, travelling craftsmen, and so on...


Have you given any thought as to what kind of trade this city deals in? There must be a reason for why the city's is so important, even though trade with nomads and barbarians was extremely profitable in ages past (fur and other un-processed resources).
All sorts of foreign goods are brought in for sale to city residents, sale to the primitive natives, and export deep inland to a series of undefined (and not primitive at all) kingdoms and small empires. Those same kingdoms and empires export goods out to the city for use there as well as export. Those inland cultures are isolated, and prefer it that way, so most of the trade into and out of the interior of the continent is handled by the trade houses that have developed relationships on both sides. My city just happens to be the most convenient, established, portal to that region. Mostly due to it's placement at the mouth of a river that (like the Nile) has a prevailing wind that goes opposite the current to allow for sail upriver and faster travel in general.

The area directly outside the city is also seen as a 'new world' filled with riches to be had by those willing to manage the risks. Local farming and hunting are profitable. Possibly logging too. A mountain range full or ore and gems has brought a flood or prospectors, though the mountains are a bit further away and certainly dangerous.

I'm basing a lot of the trade off of what little I know about early silk and spice trade The romanticized view of the city and surrounding lands is being influenced by early settlement of the americas.

su_liam
07-25-2008, 01:10 PM
...To me, it's a nice standoff. Now, this assumes that the rulers of the other places have an understanding of free markets and economics; madmen generally understand neither and just go to war to compensate for something else in their life.


...The mad man who just doesn't care? Sounds like a campaign story arc to me, and is sort of the reason I developed the idea. With no formal army it falls to mercenaries, including the heroes of my campaign, to sort things out before things escalate to a seige.

It's probably happened more than once. With the long supply lines through hostile territory(see below), it usually ends in disaster. Somewhere in a capital far, far away, a formerly insane former dictator winds up hanging from a light pole or impaled on a long stake. Not to say it isn't a disaster for your city too...


...I'm sticking to a "strangers in a strange land" theme with a vaguely european culture building a thriving city on the perimeter of a rain forest on a tropical continent. I'm borrowing heavily from similar situations in history, including the crusades, the discovery of the new world, the wild west, and numerous examples of the british empire throughout africa and the near east. My natives will be influenced by the cultures of the natives in most of those examples...

Think, "Fever Swamp." Malaria and all that rot. Natives trying to to invade the city get tooled by the superior technology(or magic or whatever[I'm not a fantasy type, really])of the defenders. Also, under threat of invasion, most of the local factions band together. When a faction tries to strike out into the wilderness to carve an empire it's usually defeated by disease, morass, and ambush by natives unseen in the dense undergrowth. The plantations mentioned below are the result of some of the more successful military adventures as well as diplomacy.


...Local products have a market too though. Those 'old world' crops that can grow in the harsh 'new world' environment (and wouldn't otherwise survive the trip) have found a market. New world crops that can be grown right outside the city have to travel less distance and are that much easier to get to market. The primitive locals cash in on locally grown spices, though plantations are becoming more common and cutting out the locals.

Any food items shipped in from afar will be ridiculously expensive. Local options for food will do well in competition. I can see local kingpins munching on fruit shipped from some far country, expensively preserved by sophisticated magic. Part of the, "White Man's Burden," might be to eat nasty native fare like guava paste, taro root, and roast leg of giant spider.


...Hmmm... The plan is for the city to be quite large actually. Likely one of the largest in the world, though nearly half the current occupan(ts) are temporary residents: Merchants and dignitaries from abroad, travelling craftsmen, and so on... ...


Read Years of Rice and Salt, it has a great description of Mecca in the off-season...

Ascension
07-25-2008, 04:35 PM
I was having another idea until I read that you want this to be near trees and mountains. I was thinking this could be a port city on a delta near the edge of a desert, sort of like Alexandria. That way the only real way to attack it is from the sea with a navy since overland marching would be stopped by the desert. But after reading that you want a more Euro-temperate climate I'm shot down again except for making it similar to Florence or Milan or some of the other great Italian city-states of the Renaissance.

Aristotle
07-25-2008, 04:46 PM
Actually the people are from a euro-centric, leaning toward the nordic actually, continent. This city is actually on a tropical continent. I'm mashing up lots of south america and africa here, and saving near and far east inspired regions to the unmapped east. I am however pretty married to the idea of the area for several hundred miles inland being dominated by thick, overgrown, rainforests. I've just always wanted to run a game in a jungle...

The mountain barrier beyond, that makes all of that rainforest possible, has a desert on the other side though. Most of the 'civilized' cultures on the continent would lie beyond the desert to the north-east, on the savanna to the south south-east of the jungle, or beyond both.

*grumble* I need a regional map. I started a thread in regional where I posted some concepts, and have even posted a request for commission... At the same time I'm looking at tutorials and thinking of taking another stab at making the map I want. It's so clear in my head. If only photoshop could read minds.

Weero
10-05-2008, 04:44 AM
This sounds somewhat like the Ten-Towns of Icewind Dale, only the Ten-Towns isn't a international trade-hub.

Anyways, I think I might just use this idea(or the equivalent) for my campaign.