World Design Questions
I'm writing a novel and I'm only in the beginning stages of creating the specifics and layout of the world (e.g. distance between cities, biomes, temperature, lakes/rivers, et cetera).
Assume a medieval setting (fantasy world).
Here are some things I've read:
Cities/towns should *generally* be spaced about half a day away from each other (so as to allow for travel to trade and return home before dark). So, assuming a wagon travels 3-4 miles per hour and the person leaves at 6 a.m. (give him two hours in town), the round-trip should take 10 hours. Making the towns roughly 35/2 (17.5) miles apart. Based on this, I would make other towns the full 35 miles apart so the trader/traveler could still easily make the journey during daylight. [This seems a bit odd to me. That is insanely close. It makes sense that people would live within these two ranges, but not that cities would be that close to each other. Historic maps don't support this either. Then again, maybe I'm just looking at larger cities.]
Truthfully, I hadn't really given much thought about biome placement before visiting this site. Even now I'm unsure how to handle them. Nature does some weird **** and for every rule there seems to be an exception. Using my own judgement, would I be pretty safe to place my biomes as I please, or is there a tool/rule I should know about?
Temperature is closely related to the biome concern. As with it, I would just assume I can trust my own judgement and common sense.
What about lakes and rivers? Again, I would just use my own judgement and common sense.
So, for now, I'm just going to keep using my own judgement and common sense on all of these points. This is a fantasy story after all, so some things are allowed to be inaccurate! If anyone has any advice on world design, please share it.
Originally Posted by Krix
My first bit of advice would be to decide right at the outset how far down the realism rabbit hole you want to go. If your fantasy world is nothing more than a pretty backdrop to your story, the details really don't matter, realism (within reason) doesn't matter, and you should just go with what you want to go with.
At the opposite end of the spectrum you can meticulously create a fully realised world in intricate detail.
I personally tend towards the more realistic side of things, so I've put pretty extensive work into these sorts of things. I'd never do it any other way, but it's worth pointing out that going down that route means a LOT of extra work. And I put "lot" in capitals for a reason. Seriously, you cannot underestimate how much work it is.
To answer your specific questions above though:
The first thing is to understand the structure of feudal medieval living, and the different classes of habitation, because they're quite distinctly different. Towns and cities are not the same thing, at all.
The first thing is that both towns and cities are significantly smaller than what you or I think of as towns or cities, and the second thing is that villages are much larger than you or I think of them.
Medieval society existed in dense networks of villages, about 2-3 miles apart, in every direction. The villages only stopped when they encountered land that couldn't be cultivates. Villages were quite large, typically around 700-1,000 people.
Towns appeared at random, in the midst of these dense village networks. The primary purpose of the town was to serve the immediate area; it was a central trading centre for the villagers to buy produce that they couldn't make themselves, and to sell excess grain/wool/fruit/whatever their village produced. As such, towns were quite small, and there were a lot of them. A typical medieval town will only be between 1,000 and 8,000 people.
Cities are a different beast all together. While towns serve regional trade, and emerge based on local requirements, cities serve inter-regional trade, and emerge based on the routes that feed goods into the towns. Typical sites for cities include points where routes to multiple towns meet, and ports and harbours that bring in goods from overseas.
The key thing about cities is that they grow from towns, and originally would have functioned to serve only the local territory. So your best bet is to establish towns first to serve local villages, and then determine your major trade routes (which will be based on what the region produces, what it needs from elsewhere, and where good travel in and out of the area) and that will tell you which towns would become cities.
Your travel distance is off because primary traders - that is farmers and so on who sell produce they make themselves - don't travel between towns, they travel from their village to town. The distance you've calculated is probably about right for the area that a town would service, but that makes the probable distance between towns twice as far (35 miles), which is much more believable (actually it'd be more like 37 1/2 miles because you've got to factor in the 2 1/2 miles between the furthest villages for each town).
The distance between cities is going to be much greater, as cities only appear at major convergence points. Secondary traders (i.e. merchants) don't need to return home each day to the farm, but rather their sole job is transporting good between places (in fact they'd probably mostly hire cartage companies to do the actual transporting), and the goods they're trading may embark on journeys that last months or even years from where they're produced to their end user. The merchants will tend to live and have offices in cities, with their product dispatched out to various towns.
As far as climate zones, again there's degrees of realism, but it's relatively easy to do the basics, which will already put you well ahead of 99% of fantasy worlds (including Tolkien's Middle-earth).
The single most important factor in determining climate zones is prevailing wind, which is dictated by the direction your earth spins. If you want an earth-like world you're best to keep the same planetary characteristics as earth and just change the landforms, as altering the orbit, size, axial tilt, and anything else like that has a pretty enormous impact on your world's viability for supporting life.
So if you know where your patch of land is on your planet, you can use the prevailing wind patterns on earth to determine climate patterns. If you want to get more detailed you can also determine your major ocean currents, although that's a bit more complex than prevailing wind.
Basically, when it comes to wind, there's a couple of key things to remember; the air collects water as it passes over the sea, and loses it (as rain) as it passes over land. Where the air is forced up over mountain ranges it loses water more quickly, while over flat land it tends to retain water for longer.
There are two basic directions when it comes to wind; windward, or upwind, and leeward, or downwind (upwind being towards the direction the wind is coming from, downwind being in the direction the wind is blowing to).
We can establish two basic characteristics of land; land on the windward side of a mountain range will be wetter, while land on the leeward side of a mountain range will be drier. The taller the mountain range, the more pronounced the difference. South America probably illustrates this better than any other place on earth, because of its clear linear shape and very tall central mountain range (the Andes). Take note of how the wet and dry sides of the range reverse at lower latitudes because the prevailing wind direction reverses.
If you want to get more complex, ocean currents play a part too, increasing or lowering local water temperatures which affects how easily the water is absorbed into the atmosphere. For example the Gulf Stream current makes the east coast of the USA much wetter than it otherwise would be.
Rivers, obviously, tend to form more on the windward side, where all the rain is going. They will flow always downhill, and as a rule rivers will join but not divide. Lakes form only where there's a recession in the land that a river or rivers drain into, but can't immediately drain out of. The basin will fill up until the water level finds a way out of the basin. Lakes only ever have a single outlet. (The best way to think of a lake is as a section of river that has briefly got very wide).
That's the basics, you can go into a lot of detail with all this if you wish.
This really surprised me I would've thought they'd be farther apart, but that is probably because being from North America I default to western frontier when thinking in these terms. Anyways I did a search due to my curiosity and found this site. It basically gives your answer only with more details which may help the OP should he choose the rabbit hole. (The rabbit hole is super tempting :) )
Originally Posted by Gumboot
There's a nice thread around here somewhere that analyzes the settlement pattern around, I think, Herefordshire in England.
There was a bit left out of the above analysis regarding feudal settlement patterns, and that's the manorial system. Often, towns would grow up in service to a feudal lord's estate if the lord permitted it. A city, as a self-governing unit, required a charter from an authority capable of granting freemen the right to settle, typically the crown. Cities are full of middle-class professionals, who as a class were a threat to the aristocracy. Therefore, cities were somewhat rarer through most of the middle ages than those small town networks. As we enter the high middle ages, the middle class rises to prominence, more cities arise, and the existing cities grow. We also see a corresponding weakening of the monarchy, at least in England and France. I am less familiar with the history of other parts of Europe.
I just want to point out that the era described by Gumboot mostly reflect the end of the medieval era, when the population expanded due to technical advances. The Europe from before the 13th century was different as villages where more or less isolated from each other. Many regions where mostly unsettled before that. As an example, the population on England tripled in 150 years or so.
Central place theory is always a fun place to start.
Thank you for your input, everyone. Gumboot, thank you especially. My world is certainly high fantasy, but that doesn't do much to dismiss my need to make things logical. I realize how much more planning I need to do the further I get into writing.
My main issue with population and civilization concerns was my own misreading of maps I've seen in other fantasy novels. They're not like Google Maps. They don't show you every little village - just the big or important ones. I think that was my biggest problem.
I found the page that Falconius linked shortly after I made this post. Gumboot's interpretation and personal insight definitely helped too.
As for the climate stuff, I didn't get a chance to research much about that, so the information Gumboot provided will be a great start to (re)designing my world.
Man, that might be too much research. But I'll probably make myself read it...
Originally Posted by waldronate
Hmm, that is definitely an interesting note, but I don't think it will matter too much. My civilization may include a bit of industrial elements to it so it shouldn't be too great of a concern. If anything I need to look into what the population did after that, but I think it's important to know the origins as well.
Originally Posted by Azelor
That is also very interesting and important to note. I'll see if I can find that thread.
Originally Posted by Midgardsormr
I want to be done with the specifics already and just start writing again, but I know it would kill me if I didn't do it right. Thanks again for the help and pointing me in the right direction!
Edit: Gumboot, why do you say rivers don't split? I know they do, but is it just rarer than I realize?
Thankfully, I'm not as far behind as I thought and I don't have to change my plans too much. I have a better understanding than I expected, though I still have a long way to go. Again, thank you so much for your help!
This touches on a pretty important point; when people talk of the "Middle Ages" they're talking about hundreds (thousands, probably) of states over many centuries. We tend to think of "medieval life" as a single monolithic entity but it was enormously varied. That view's particularly distorted in the Anglosphere where "medieval" really means "medieval England", and that's what most informs fantasy. Life, for example, in the the City States of Italy was rather different and rather more urban.
Originally Posted by Midgardsormr
I'm not sure I'd completely agree with this. Villages still existed in dense networks where land was cultivated, there was just less settled land, as you say. The general guides as far as density still applied for the areas that were settled, so you'd tend to get high density areas with wilderness in between, and over time, as populations grew, that wilderness was cleared and cultivated, thus while the average population density of large regions (such as entire states) increased, the local density of cultivated areas remained pretty constant at around 180 people per square mile right through the entire period (the reason being that local population densities are driven more by grain yield). Great Britain's population may have increased significantly through the first half of the middle ages as the heavy mouldboard plough was introduced, but England's didn't increase quite as much as you suggest. There were about a million people there in Roman times (England was one of the empire's biggest grain producers), and this had increased to about 1.5 million by 1000AD and peaked at 3.5 million in 1348 (in other words it tripled over a period of about 1,200 years). The big difference is that by the 14th Century all of the British Isles was equally densely populated, while during the "Dark Ages" only Roman Britain was so densely populated with most of the remainder in wilderness state.
Originally Posted by Azelor
Rivers may split occasionally and form small islands but they always meet up again and given enough time will go back to one channel. Where they split for real is in river deltas that empty into the ocean, I suspect because the land is too flat for one egress to handle the volume of water being emptied, and because it's so wet it has no where else to go. Here is a link to a discussion about these issues.