Thursday, 27 October 2016

the village and the village

just another bullshit day in feudalism city
This is a ‘village’. Yawn. ‘The village’ is a key campaign location, and being able to come up with a quick and interesting one is a useful skill, but villages are very static: occasionally someone has something nasty in a rootcellar or some social event goes rapidly south, but mostly it’s somewhere to loop back to between dungeons, somewhere quirky NPCs dole out quests and grumpy innkeepers provide rest, recuperation and gossip. If fights do happen, they’re generally narrow ones: they happen in the rootcellar or in the inn during the wedding feast or in the town square, which is mostly featureless, with maybe a well that you can push the werwolf down if you outmanoeuvre her. The village is the anti-dungeon, a scattering of individual rectangular spaces that mostly never even need mapping or even describing, an area where the constant mental calculations of a good adventuring party are basically pointless. Yawn.


This is a tulou – a kind of fortified, ring-shaped building, several stories high: most of them were built by the Hakka people in Fujian, south-eastern China, for the usual obvious defensive reasons (and many of them are still inhabited). You're gonna want to google them a bit more to get a sense of their of their massive scale and presence.


Planwise, they look something like this:


And this is a pueblo – a form of sprawling, abode-built structure, often partially underground: built in the south-western USA by various Native American groups often broadly called Puebloan peoples (many of these too are still inhabited). You're gonna want to google these to to understand their diversity and their organic, agglutinative feel.


Planwise, a typical historic one looked something like this:



Despite the total cultural separation of the people who built these structures, and the fact that they look and are extremely different from one another as buildings, the tulou and the pueblo have something in common beyond still being in use: they are both simultaneously a single building and an entire village. Now we’re talking. These villages are the anti-anti-dungeon: they are constant potential dungeons, ready to kick off into (literally) wall-to-wall chaos at any time. An encounter here becomes a claustrophobic chase through a succession of rooms, filled with panicking civilians and a rapidly shifting selection of props and arenas.

The pueblos, for instance, have regular large round chambers: these are kivas, ceremonial spaces
Many pueblo buildings have T-shaped doors. Theories abound.
where an audience could easily be gathered around the sides to watch an impromptu duel. Pueblos also have - hard to show on these maps - ladders reaching between the rooms to form different floors, with routes popping in and out of spaces that don’t really conform to our senses of ‘public/private’: a fight in a pueblo would be a constant literal experience of snakes and ladders. Some of them also have culturally specific niftiness like built-in macaw pens (!), but the cultural specifics are less the point than the massive potential for swashbuckling, high-intensity fun inside one of these things.

Same goes for the tulou, which is a kind of natural amphitheatre, as well as a set of terraces that are the dream of a party with a grappling hook and a can-do attitude, as well as of NPCs with crossbows. Equally, the insides of one - an endless loop of rooms encased between two massive stone walls - is a chase through flimsy interior partitions that goes on forever.

Both of these can also function as a ‘standard’ village, because as mentioned the physicality of a
There are also multi-tulou clusters. Boom, megadungeon.
standard village doesn’t matter much until it suddenly does. Conversations with the village priest can happen perfectly well in one section of the tulou: the suspiciously wealthy shepherd has a room in the pueblo like anyone else. And as the very different origins of these two show - there are all manner of other examples too, from jungle longhouses to this town in Alaska - you can put a one-building village into any kind of cultural analogue: fantasy pseudo-Germany would be massively improved by giant half-timbered barns housing c100 intertwined wenches and yeomen. Down with the dungeon-village binary! Every space is a dungeon!