Civilization in the Dreaming Age: Cities, Towns, and Villages


Civilization in the Dreaming Age

Cities, Towns, and Villages

Welcome to what I hope will be a regular series of blogs breaking down the Dreaming Age campaign setting, which may in the future be compiled and expanded to form one or more new sourcebooks for the Wasted Lands: The Dreaming Age Role Playing Game. This first section will look at the nature of cities, towns, and villages. 

It is a mistake to think about civilization in the Dreaming Age as the same as other typical fantasy (and even swords and sorcery) settings. While the descriptions of the regions-cum-kingdoms do mention rulers and major settlements, they are absolutely not true kingdoms or empires in the sense that we think of these things. Nor are there many true cities throughout the world - quite frankly, there are simply not enough proto-humans to support such things as metropolises. 

The vast majority of settlements in the Dreaming Age are villages and hamlets with potentially hundreds of miles of untamed wilderness between them. Larger, named settlements tend to be more along the lines of small- to medium-sized towns than true cities. 

Of those settlements, those that could be considered true cities include: 

  • Babyl (population: roughly 50,000)
  • Mephit (population: roughly 20,000)
  • Mixteca (population: roughly 30,000)

Other named settlements, though they may be of major geographic import and could even function as centers of trade, qualify only as tiny to mid-sized towns (though their inhabitants may refer to them as "cities".) Each of these may have anywhere from 600 to 2,000 inhabitants, depending on the importance of the city as a center of trade or its strategic importance. 

Artwork by Luigi Castellani. Used under license.

Royalty (Such as It Is)

Royalty and aristocracy, such as they are, are quite a different thing in the Dreaming Age than we think of when we consider societies based on the Medieval period. A "king" or "queen" may have absolute power over their individual domain, and nominal power to demand fealty for the surrounding areas of a region (kingdom or empire), but their true power is extremely limited. 

Quite simply, such "royalty" have no true military power to maintain an empire because the numbers simply aren't there to maintain standing armies. Regions, kingdoms, and the like are divided mostly by means of custom and linguistic groupings and far less by military or political power. This is why no borders are drawn on the world map - hard borders do not exist and where one country bleeds into the next there is considerable melding of peoples and cultures, so that one experiences a far more gradual shift, often marked by hundreds of miles of wasteland, forests, bogs, even mountains and hills before they find themselves in a new region. 

Thus, Ashurii, for example, is a region marked by many shared customs, a shared language, and a shared recognition of "how things work" but much less by any sort of true political border or military enforcement. Of these, language is the key factor - those who share a common language tend to develop similar overarching customs simply because of their baseline ability to communicate (and thus agree) on what is best for society. Often, the customs, law and government of individual settlements come from what the Janah (mayor/burgomaster, etc.) has learned from visiting other towns. The Shakh, or the nominal head of state, resides in Babyl, where the majority of the Muqqarah or military are located. 

Ashurii is a bit of an exception to this rule as the current Shakh does have aspirations of creating a true empire, particularly in the reclaiming of Minoa and Athenea, but that is beyond the scope of this article. 

Similar situations exist across the world and sales permitting I hope to release sourcebooks covering the socio-political breakdowns of the various regions of the world. 

Lesser "nobility," such as they are, tend largely to be town mayors (whatever title they use) who either hold their position by the will of the people or by force of arms, sometimes possessing a loyal group of retainer (or mercenary) warriors to enforce their will. Some may take on titles of their own. Some are warlords, some are diplomats, and some are simply respected citizens. Rare are those granted lands and titles by a greater noble (though in regions throughout the Eastern and Western Cradles of Civilization such things are not entirely unheard of).

Far more common are the tribal chieftains one encounters in areas like Kun'ata, Nun'atil, Fortriu, Hyperborea, Fennokarelia, Rossika, and across the northeastern continent, and tribal groupings still form an exremely common means of defining settlements and smaller borders-within-borders.  

Artwork by Luigi Castellani. Used under license.

Commerce and Trade

Within a 30- to 50-mile radius of the various villages, towns, and settlements can be found farmsteads which provide the food and animal husbandry required for those who live in the cities. Unlike medieval circumstances, those who work these farms are as yet rarely any sort of serf or servant, but free farmers who maintain their own land with their families and potentially hirelings. Violent confrontations over borders are not uncommon. 

While the Dreaming Age does have a "coin" system based on weighted nuggets of ore (mining is another common and viable occupation), barter is still the primary means of commerce across the entire world. The Old Ones, during their reign, would force their protohuman subjects to create and craft items, which the Ancient Masters would simply take at their whim, and secret away in places to be doled out as needed (or even at their whim). No one truly understood the motives or thought patterns of why the Other Gods did what they did. 

As such, many who undertake the Calling and adventure through the world seek these hidden caches of items to bring back to cities and redistribute among the now-free people. Meanwhile agriculture and animal husbandry are two of the few skills that proto-humanity has mastered out of a need for survival. Weaving, knitting, and the creation of textiles are not far behind, with other forms of craft such as blacksmithing, leatherworking, carpentry and the like a close third. 

Science, engineering, and architecture still elude most of humanity, though some cultures such as Khem and Huitzilopochtitlan are making vast strieds in these areas, and it may not be long before proto-humanity is building their own domains rather than repurposing those created for them by the Other Gods. Currently, however, outside of smaller villages and hamlets where people construct crude homes of adobe, waddle and daub, or even wood and straw, most larger settlements are built around former strongholds of the Other Gods where people already lived and worked before the Cataclysm that freed them.

Between the Settlements

Artwork by Luigi Castellani. Used under license.

Outside of the 30- to 50-mile radius, as stated above, the world is largely wasteland. Random caches of manufactured goods secreted away by the Other Gods, stolen by Serpentfolk and Deep Ones, or otherwise removed from population centers can be found in strange and seemingly random places, as can caches of ore that will become quite valuable in terms of coin, smithing, metallurgy, and crafts in the future. 

The world of the Dreaming Age is temperate to subtropical year round. There are very few hot, dry deserts and even fewer truly frigid climes. Earth's mean temperature is much higher and there is much more water to go around in this era, meaning most places are fertile to some degree, and even desert regions are marked by moderation in temperatures and are simply dry due to a lack of precipitation. Many are covered by scrubgrass and inhabited by hearty creatures who can handle little water. The extreme north and south of the world do get chillingly cold winters that can last for months, but not to the degree with which we associate the poles in the modern era. 

While traveling between settlements, almost anything can happen to a group of adventurers, from facing packs of raging wild beasts to encountering apresaurs, lingering minions of the Other Gods, or even the undead remnants of former protohumanity, left to wander the wastes in search of something to sate their ravenous hunger. 

The Wastelands are rife with Bleeding Sites, with comparatively fewer sites of Radiance, though the latter are gradually taking a greater hold in some of the more remote regions of the world. It is these wild regions that the heroes in a Wasted Lands game are called to tame, to close the cracks between the worlds, eleiminate the Bleeding and allow the world's own Radiance to spread. 

That's all for this brief look at civilization in the Dreaming Age. Stay tuned for more! And don't forget to check out Elf Lair Games to get started with your games that are Powered by O.G.R.E.S.!

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