Friday, May 22, 2020

Wilderlands - Baronies - further considerations

Ian Borchardt, whom I consider one of the luminaries over on MeWe, provided some excellent
Wolvesey Castle, Winchester
feedback on my last post.  So good that I asked for permission to address it directly in a post, as it gives me a chance to elaborate on my background thinking and intentions with my Wilderlands posts.

Technically a baron is anyone that holds land directly from the sovereign (or as an allodial [Rod - had to look this one up.  Land ownership by occupancy and defense of the land.] baron owns the land in freehold).   So counts, dukes, and marquis are also barons (but naturally socially outrank a mere Baron).  They just have larger holdings and greater responsibilities as officers of the sovereign.  Anyone else is a vasavor (a vassal of a vassal) [Rod - this one I knew] and holds from one of these barons, rather than the sovereign directly.

Rod - absolutely correct.  At Runnymeade, the most common title of nobility held by the rebel barons, was actually 'Earl'.  And looking at it that way, using the Chivalry & Sorcery domain rules, the largest possible 'barony', is 142.5 square miles for the main demesne PLUS 10 of the largest (118 square miles baronies) for a total of 1,326.875 square miles, rounding up to 62 five mile hexes.  [This tracks right on the figures from D&D and the Wilderlands baronies I calculated in the previous post, but it's a maximum rather than an average.] A strong king could control 2-3 times this amount of land.

I didn't pursue this for a couple of reasons, one of which I should have addressed.  The obvious one is that 'Baron' is a specific noble title in the Wilderlands, C&S, ACKS and the real world.  The one I should have addressed, and may have in an unsaved draft, is buried on page 59 of the CSIO booklet, under Boons and Duties.  One boon is a 'Bookland Grant'; Bookland being an alienation of common land into private ownership, a practice from Saxon England.  The boon grants a building in the city or 1-6 acres outside.  I had already decided that a grant of 1-6 HEXES to a noble man made more sense than acres.  Six acres being only half the size of a small Roman farm, it's not enough to support a nobleman.

I tend to use a six hex approach.  Something that is easy to patrol in a day looking for encounters.  Although I may deform the hex shape.  It will tend to avoid dedicated terrain hexes and follow rivers.  [I consider the "clear" hexes to be still heavily wooded, just not impenetrable forest.  It takes a lot of effort to clear land.]

Rod - personally I like to have natural borders for feudal polities.  It's much easier for the king to say
New Forest, Hampshire
you own from the river to the forest, than to give accurate geo-coordinates.   It still leaves a lot of room for dispute, but at least you can see the border.  Alas, the Wilderlands maps do not really provide much in the way of terrain to draw those borders, so I used a lot of hex sides myself.  I conceive of the clear terrain as a mixture of plowed fields, pasture and open woodlands with light underbrush - like the New Forest in Hampshire; rather than the heavy pine forests I grew up in in northern Minnesota.

On a quick note about patrols, please remember that whilst the local villagers may never have been more than a days journey from their home, they generally know that area very well, and are quick to note any irregularities.  A lord (as long as they don't actively mistreat their peasants), can usually rely on pretty good intelligence from the locals (after all anything bad is likely to affect them as bad or worse, and it is the responsibility of the lords to protect them, not for them to deal with the problem).

Rod - yep and I plotted the regularly visited boundaries around the villages, although I haven't gotten to the stage of assigning villages to rulers yet.  It's actually one of the issues I haven't resolved on how to treat in my Wilderlands - the D&D rules call for 4-6 villages within the "barony" when the character develops the territory, yet Wilderlands shows villages of as few as 20 (Whan, hex 1005, Map 6 Viridistan).  I don't see a rational to add additional villages since the canon goes down to this level.

There is plenty of wilderness between actual settlements in this area.  [This isn't wilderness as D&D players define it, but rather natural undeveloped areas.  These are often quite vital for inhabitants, especially the supply of firewood (generally only dropped wood) and for foraging and licencing to bodgers  [Rod -"skilled itinerant wood-turners, who worked in the beech woods on the chalk hills of the Chilterns", yeah I had to look this one up myself too] or even lumberers.  As the and becomes more civilised the wilderness diminishes, often causing problems (but fortunately saved by the blessings of technology and civilisation).]

Southampton Town Walls
Rod - yes, this is reflected in my maps as the difference between Market Area and Patrolled.  The Market Area contributes resources to the village or town, but isn't necessarily traversed often enough by the population to be considered patrolled, monsters, barbarians and invaders may be able to pass through without raising an alarm or being pursued.  They'll probably be noticed, but word doesn't get back quickly enough for the village to take effective action as long as you don't tarry.

Depending on the technology level (remember "medieval" covers five centuries or so), will affect the location of the individual settlements (manors), which will be concentrated around rich arable bottom land. As irrigation (especially drainage in England), crop rotation, and plough development improves more land becomes arable.  Settlement on an estate will be scattered in hamlets, as well as the central village (which mainly exists to supply resources for the estate/manor), which are no more than a half-day walk from the central village/manor.  These will be concentrated around the resource to be exploited (food or rarely something else).  The fields will surround the hamlet/village.  Dedicated pasturage may be more distant, but animals are often pastured in fields after the harvest.  Long term projects (such as orchards) will always be around the manor/village since the lord is the only one that can generally afford such an endeavour.

Whitefield Moor, Brockenhurst, Hampshire

Rod - really parallels my thoughts, reading and experiences growing up in rural Minnesota, the vegetable garden was near the house, then the cow pasture and then the woods.  BUT, see my comment above on how Wilderlands already has located every small village, and they don't correspond with the citadel and castle locations.  One option I'm considering is relocating the citadels and castles on the maps for my own version.

I haven't visited many real castles, in fact the only ones I have visited were built to control cities, rather than arable land - Edinburgh, Wolvesey and the Tower of London.  While I don't argue that barons were primarily landowners, my impression has always been that the defensibility of the castle site was more important than proximity to the best farm land on the manor.  This is something for me to look into, it could be a reading bias as storming well sited fortifications is more memorable than taking a keep in a valley.  Well, the fall trip to Scotland has been postponed until 2021, I'll do some more field research then.

The baron (and the surrounding small town) will always be in a pretty centralised location.  It will have a weekly market  (given most of the surrounding villages are up to a half day away).  Traditionally this is on the holy day so that the villages may also attend the baron's magnificent stone church. A baron may even be able to afford an actual small castle (or hill fort) that serves as a mustering point for the barons troops when they are called up.  It may even actually be on a road (second or third class) in more civilised lands.

Rod - I'm inclined to phrase it that the fortification is the centralizing influence (po-tay-to / po-tah-to), especially in the context of a D&D campaign where there really are parts of the map that should be marked "Here be Monsters".   For the same reason, I would state that a fortification must exist in a barony.  

For my world I define roads, trails and paths.  While a road may or may not be paved, ala a Roman road, or even a post-apocalyptic freeway, the distinguishing characteristic of a road is that it will cross rivers via bridges or ferries, while a trail will detour to a natural ford.  Both can handled wheeled traffic, whereas a path is usually only passable on foot or mounted.  I was very happy when Rob Conley posted his map on MeWe showing the secondary roads (trails) in the Wilderlands, as the road network from the originals never made much sense to me.

A baron has  the resources (excess food) to create specialised villages that may exploit  larger resources, such as a dedicated lumber camp or mine.   [On the other hand a lord might dedicate a hamlet to a small version, such as a quarry or clay pit if they have this resource, but they will also need to hire a mason or potter to exploit them.

Rod - hence the rules for Specialists since 0e.  I hadn't really given this any thought, it's a good point only the nobles have the capital (land) to exploit new resources.

That's pretty much my take on it at this lower level.  The higher level stuff depends on the overriding sovereignty and general level of civilisation (which is generally lacking in the wilderlands).

Thank you for your input, Ian, feedback always makes a work better and more enjoyable.


  1. > I haven't visited many real castles, in fact the only ones I have visited were built to control cities, rather than arable land - Edinburgh, Wolvesey and the Tower of London. While I don't argue that barons were primarily landowners, my impression has always been that the defensibility of the castle site was more important than proximity to the best farm land on the manor.

    This agrees with my impressions from visiting rural German castles; seemed to be mostly hill-top overlooking town and river. But they may have also been from a later era, and there was one very distinctive small round stone tower visible from the autobahn on the way to and from Frankfurt, which was on a hillside right in the middle of a vineyard.

    Sounds like I ought to be on MeWe, for Conley's map with paths at very least.

    1. Come on down, there's a fair number of RPG groups in addition to the Wilderlands group.

  2. As an aid: Chiltern:

  3. That's fantastic, thank you for sharing it.

  4. Regarding adding villages, the map only shows prominent or important villages and Hamlet's, in addition to cities and towns. There are usually at least one or more hamlets, in addition to thorps and steadings, in every hex, sometimes more. This information is found in the Ready Ref Sheets and various other products.

    So feel free to add steadings, thorps, hamlets, manors, or even villages and castles as you wish. Bob never intended the listings to be complete by any means, though most towns and all cities were depicted.

    1. Trust me, I feel quite free to make the setting my own. What I've been doing is drilling down into the original descriptions to follow Chesterton's advice on fences - before you remove one, understand why it's there in the first place. I'm really working towards a description of a defined feudal Wilderlands, as opposed to the original fantasy background which juxtaposes a number of elements I have trouble reconciling - like barbarians wandering around the demesne.