Terrain and the Limits of Civilization

In designing my campaign world, I have noticed that geographic barriers such as mountain ranges, heavy forests/jungles, badlands, swamps, etc. seem to provide no impediment to the growth of civilization or trade. If I set down a city in the shadow of a chain of towering mountains, 50 miles worth of hexes within and beyond those mountains are every bit as civilized as if they were broad expanses of grassy plains. The same is true of trade routes; so long as a road through the mountains exists, the terrain seems to have no effect whatsoever on the viability of trade between two markets on opposite sides of the range.

While searching the forums for prior treatments of this topic, I came across a discussion in which it was mentioned that terrain types once had an effect on population densities, but that it required too much hex-by-hex book keeping in service to dubious notions of historical accuracy. While I can see how that would be the case for population density, I think the same need not be said of trade routes and the ranges of civilized/borderlands areas stretching forth from cities.

The apparent solution would be to double the value of every hex containing such terrain when calculating commerce and civilization ranges. This would allow for such terrain to create natural borders, while still avoiding the problems inherent in placing hard limits on the level of civilization possible within such places.

My only concern in instituting this as a houserule immediately is the possibility that I may foul up the balances of some other aspect of the world building/commerce system. So I bring it to the Autarchs.

If every hex of “impassable” terrain were to count as 2 hexes for the purposes of calculating trade routes and the ranges of civilization, how would this impact the other assumptions of the campaign building system?

You are completely correct. This is an area of the rules where I hoped to offer more detail than I ultimately ended up putting in the rule book.

For a better simulation, calculate the range of trade by counting each hex that the road passes through, appllying the inverse of the Terrain Movement Multiplier to each hex’s distance.

Terrain Movement Multiplier
Desert, hills, wooded areas x3/2
Thick jungle, swamps, mountains x2/1

The only impact on the assumptions of the system will be to have more realistic trade routes, e.g. it’ll be a good thing.

Excellent. I think that I’ll forgo the more detailed and accurate simulation you offer, since it’s rather more book keeping than I’d like, and also because the existing requirement of a well-maintained road to facilitate a trade route seems to suggest that much of the impediments to travel through desert, hilly, or wooded country have already been mitigated by that very road.

For my purposes, a simple doubling of the hex’s value for mountains and other truly difficult terrain should more than suffice.

Thank you for your advice.

I’ve got a somewhat odd but closely related question, myself. Lets say you’ve got a city on a river surrounded by inhospitable terrain that’s home to nomadic herders. Would the pastoralists enjoy a higher population density within the radius of “civilization” around the city, or would the land be treated as wilderness because it doesn’t have a sedentary, agricultural population?

It’s kind of a corner case I know, but I’d like to hear your opinion, because I could see it working either way. On the one hand having a city around isn’t going to magically create more forage for the nomads’ herds, but on the other hand the nomads might have access to other resources acquired through trade with the settled folk around the city.

CatDoom, great question.

Functionally speaking, a hex’s classification as civilized, borderlands, or wilderness has three in-game effects:

  1. It determines maximum population density
  2. It determines the cost to garrison the hex
  3. It determines the frequency of random encounters

Hexes can become civilized or borderlands in one of two ways:

  1. If the hex is located near a city, a domain can begin as civilized or borderlands
  2. If the hex and its surrounding hexes gain enough population, the hexes can upgrade to civilized or borderlands

In the case at hand, there is a city present, so the nearby hexes would be civilized hexes by default.

However, you’ve determined that the surrounding terrain is inhospitable and held by nomads. You would be well within your rights to simply specify (by Judge’s fiat) that the surrounding terrain is too inhospitable to become civilized, and to say that all those hexes are borderlands or wilderness (depending how inhospitable you make it).

Since bad, inhospitable terrain is likely to be tough to police and more populated by monsters, this seems to me to be the more reasonable way to handle.

The rules can’t/don’t cover every corner case so you should feel free to modify them to reflect the reality of your game world.