Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Building Pitsh

Wherein Trollsmyth waxes anal-retentive and probably humiliates himself by screwing up some very simple maths. ;)

Pitsh is the largest “civilized” community on the island of Dreng Bdan, where my Thursday night Labyrinth Lord game is currently taking place. The PCs are likely to find themselves there on our next game, so I thought it might be a good idea to think about what the place looks like.

Normally, I don't bother with maps of cities. It's usually good enough to know vaguely where things are, and what is available. This time, however, I thought it might be interesting to do at least a rough map of the place.

Most of the following information is public knowledge, so my players should feel free to read on, without it causing problems in the game.

First, a bit of history: the current Pitsh is the third community to exist on the site. The first was a small elven port town destroyed during the Third War Against the Monsters. Most of the ruins are now under the bay, though you can find the occasional pot shard, bit of jewelry, or foundation in the city.

The second community was built at the height of the Second Lizardfolk Empire. Many buildings still show their architectural influence, and the fan-and-palm motif that was popular then. It was abandoned during the Coming of the Ice, when the water levels fell and left the port high and dry. By the time the sea returned to the city, the Second Lizardfolk Empire was already in decline.

The current city takes its name from its previous incarnation. It was founded by pirates and adventurers, looking to plunder the ruins or prey upon shipping in the Turquoise Sea. Following on word of the ruins, the god Uban sent an expedition to see what other secrets might be found. They based themselves in Pitsh and soon discovered that the entire island was a trove of lost wonders. The expanding base turned into a temple, and it served as the nucleus of the reborn city.

Today, Pitsh is home to some 10,000 souls, mostly human with a few lizardfolk, dwarves, and goblins. Within the walls, most of the buildings are baked brick and stone. Outside, walls are fashioned from woven reeds stretched on frames of bamboo and thatched with palm and banana leaves. The primary industry is supplying goods for the temple of Uban and the numerous adventurers who sell the priests whatever junk or treasures they manage to spirit out of the jungles. Shipping is the second largest industry, since Pitsh imports a lot of grain, cloth, and metals. The temple defrays some of their costs by exporting spices, fruits, and nuts.

That's a good start. I came up with the 10,000 number by using The Domesday Book. That number is based on northern Europe, so it's probably a bit on the low side, but we're still talking about a community based on peasant farming and muscle power, so I doubt it's that far off. The page also tells me that my city is roughly 165 acres in size. But what's in those 165 acres?

Finding data on the dimensions of Iron Age dwellings is an exercise in frustration. First, these places were not exactly built to plan or firmly regulated codes. But beyond that, nobody really seems to talk about it. However, I do have the Handbook to Life in Ancient Mesopotamia by Stephen Bertman. Yes, ancient Mesopotamia is a mostly arid environment, and Pitsh is in a jungle, but the basic architectural style, “a central roofed courtyard around which smaller rooms would be grouped”, is pretty similar to what's been the fashion in India for thousands of years. So I feel pretty good about using this book as a resource. If you feel strongly about it, feel free to buy me the Mayan one, or preorder the Indian one. ;)

Anyway, the book I do have says this about the dimensions of these houses:

In ancient Babylon, such a courtyard might have measured something like 8 by 18 feet or as much as 17 by 45 feet, giving the overall house plan a rectangular shape.

Ok, not everything you might like to know, but it's a start. If we assume the courtyard is a third of every dimension, that gives us buildings that range from 24' x 54' up to 51' x 135'. These are probably on the large side, honestly, but we'll go with them for now.

Here's some interesting math based on this. If we assume our city is laid out in a perfect grid, with 6 feet of clearance on every side of a house for streets/alleys (and simplifying our dimensions on the smallest dwelling to 30' x 60', making each 1,800 square feet), our 165 acre city can hold up to 3,993 of the smallest homes, or roughly 2.5 people per home. Obviously, there's going to be a LOT more to this city than just small homes.

Ok, so how many people did live in one of these houses? Unfortunately, my handbook doesn't say, so I'm going to go ahead and say that a man and woman who marry are expected to move out on their own; no extended families in the same home. Besides, with much of the population moving to Pitsh, rather than having grown up there, the rest of the family is probably back in the old country. So these families will tend to be small. Within the walls, the average burgher family will be eight strong: the burgher and his wife, their three children, plus two apprentices and a servant or slave. Outside the walls, it's probably six, with the married couple having four children but no servants. There will, of course, be lots of folks who don't live this way, larger and smaller families, plus the priests, the freebooters, and larger slave gangs that might work the docks or for architects. So within the walls, we're looking at something like 875 families. If we round the footprint of each family to 2,000 square feet (just to keep the math easy), we end up with a total area of 1,750,000 square feet, or a little over 40 acres making these homes take up roughly a quarter of the city. That leaves lots of room for markets, docks, warehouses, orchards and fields, temples, brothels, taverns, inns...

But we don't need to make much room for workshops and the like. Most of these burghers probably work out of their homes, with space set aside for practicing their trade. The Domesday Book page gives us a nice spread of trades that might be found in our city, but Pitsh isn't your usual sort of place. The primary businesses are supporting a priesthood dedicated to knowledge and learning, and supporting the ships that bring necessities from civilized lands. So I'm thinking that papyrus farming is probably a bigger business in Pitsh than demographics based on northern Europe are likely to represent. But they'll still need buckle makers and sandal makers, tailors and fishmongers. Actually, there are likely to be more than the usual 8 fishmongers, since this is a coastal port city.

And this post is already huge, so we'll stop here and talk about drawing the actual map tomorrow. Unless I run out of time. ;p


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Chgowiz said...

You had me at the word "Mesopotamia". I tend to get deep into details like this if I need to. Thanks for sharing the info. I'm going to have to go buy that book.

trollsmyth said...


Wow, the spiders are fast these days. I suspect you and I are in similar, if not identical businesses, so I won't delete your post. Anything to get that Google ranking up, eh?

Best wishes for your future,

trollsmyth said...


Yeah, I've been fascinated by Mesopotamia since I first read about it, probably in the fifth grade. And I'm wallowing a bit in the world building I'm doing for this campaign: city-states ruled by gods, the rise and fall of empires, hierodules, goddess mythology... I'm afraid I'm going deep purely for the joy of going deep. I'm sick that way. ;)

Thanks to you, I finally broke down and got that associates thing through Amazon that the Evil DM told me about. I mean, hell, I'm already giving them the advertising with the link, I might as well get some free books out of the deal. And now I can show you what the book looks like without stepping on anyone's toes. I hope it's helpful.

And now I'm off to your blog to find out what the heck ars ludi is on about, calling us old school DMs tyrannical. I love ars ludi, but I think this one is gonna make me guffaw.

Chgowiz said...

The Oriental Museum in Chicago has a huge wing about Mesopotamian culture and artifacts. Real clay cylinders with the seals, tablets, statues, artifacts... I could spend days and days in that place.

And Ben on Ars Ludi was fine, it was that comment that tilted my box. Ben continues to be thought provoking, but without the useless stereotyping that the comment engaged in.

Oddysey said...

I got my hands on a similar tome about daily life in ancient Rome over the summer, but I didn't realize there was a whole series on the topic -- and my school's library even has a copy of the Mayan one. Excellent.