Worldbuilding: Local Area Design: Technology and Communication

Return to the Worldbuilding: Local Area Design main page.

You should also note the area’s technology level. Have firearms been invented yet or made it to this area? The longbow? Heavier types of armor? Steel? Bronze? These are some examples of military technology, but other technologies may also impact the game.

Technology level can be broken down between the Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Medieval Europe, Renaissance and Age of Exploration. These are typical fantasy setting technology levels. Some simple research on the internet will best breakdown what tools and knowledge was available during each period of time. Exclude and include various equipment and knowledge based on each local area culture’s technology level as appropriate.

Communication is another factor to consider that is related to technology. How does news spread throughout the region? How accurate is the news? Most commoners throughout the dark and middle ages never traveled more than 20 or 40 miles from home, and even these trips were rare.

Merchants who travel from town to town selling their wares can easily be good sources of information, but that information will depend on where the merchants have been and will be skewed by each merchant’s perspective. Similarly, merchants in a village or town who travel to a larger settlement to stock up on items to sell in their own store will probably bring news home. Other typical travelers are soldiers and adventurers and pilgrims. These would all be informal communication methods.

Obviously the area’s military (unless it is completely dysfunctional) will have messengers who run messages between commanders. It is probable that these messengers will pass on some of this information throughout their travels as well as some unofficial information. It is also possible that some other group will have a similar communication network. A religious organization is a prime candidate, but any guild with outposts in most towns can fill this niche. Technologically there is no reason some group couldn’t expand their network to deliver messages for others for a price. Such a network could be very similar to the pony express.

Alternatively an organization could use carrier pigeons to transport messages great distances between that organization’s outposts. Then that outpost could send the messages by rider throughout that outpost/facility’s area or wait for the message to be picked up periodically.

None of the above communication methods consider the impact of magic. Depending on the magic level of your campaign world, magic may be so limited that it isn’t applied to communication at all or at the other extreme it could be that everyone has the equivalent of a telephone-like crystal ball in their houses. But most likely rapid communication is reserved for very powerful mages and priests. These people may be in the employ of others (the local king or prince) and send messages on their behalf or they may deliver send messages quickly using magic for a fee, but in most campaign settings these options will be rare.

“Communication difficulties” leads to one other technology related issue: maps are not set in stone. Take a look at antique maps and you’ll see that the landforms are disfigured and some things (rivers, cities, etc.) aren’t always quite where they belong. Keep this in mind for later. It is the easiest way to explain why your map may have changed slightly. You might have change your map to fit a specific location for a story/adventure you come up with, but “in-game” you can blame any map changes on updates done based on a new explorer or a better cartographer.

Banking is another issue related to technology. While it isn’t an invention, it is a concept that had to be “discovered.” In a fantasy world the practical question “Where can the characters store their treasure?” must be answered. Fortunately, banking goes back thousands of years in one form or another. Evidence suggests that temples served as the earliest banks. In villages and small towns, temples might be the only well-built buildings so from a practical perspective temples would make the best place to store treasure. The religious aspect of the buildings gave would be thieves another reason not to attempt a theft. The ethics of fees for storing the treasure or interest payments vary by religion.

If no temple is available in a small town or village, there are few other treasure storage options. The characters can bury it anywhere and make a map to it of course. But another option is to store it with another tradesman or business. The blacksmith, general store, inn, etc., all have to store a small amount of money. If the characters have a good relationship with any of these shop keepers the shop keeper could agree to store a small amount of treasure with his other things. The shop keeper won’t want to store too much additional treasure for fear of making the store a larger target of thieves.

If the characters are near a manor or city, there may be a noble, sage, or some others with their own need to store treasure. As with the shop keeper example, any of these people may agree to store some treasure, and because they are likely to have sizable treasures of their own they may agree to store a larger treasure. Keep in mind that if the person storing the treasure is a noble of some sort, that person may be obliged to charge a tax on the characters’ treasure.

But real banking dates all the way back to the Greeks when someone could get a certificate in one city from one money-lender or banker and exchange that certificate for currency from another banker in another city. The Romans improved on this practice including charging and paying interest. Banking fell apart in western Europe during the dark ages, but it came back around 1100A.C.E After that time, long distance trade became important again and the Templars’ honored notes that could be taken to any of their castles and traded for local currency. Likewise in a fantasy world a religious organization can serve the same purpose. But just like a communication system, any organization with a large reach (a large government, an organization of mages, a widespread guild, etc.) can serve in this role.

Return to the Worldbuilding: Local Area Design main page.

Leave a Reply

NPC Portraits Decks:
Adventurers, Townsfolk, and Hirelings

Non-Player Character card decks for any RPG. Portraits on the front. Personality and background on the back. Late Pledges Possible!

Follow us on Twitter

See our YouTube videos

Support us on Patreon!
Get new icon sets each month and vote on icon set themes as well as upcoming Worldographer features.

Newsletter Subscription

If you want to subscribe to our monthly newsletter, please submit the form below.