D&D General Need wheat. Too dangerous. (worldbuilding)

Guang

Explorer
I've been having a suspension of belief recently over a commodity that is buyable just about anywhere - bread.

Here's what got me stuck:

1. Bread is a cheap, freely available staple food.
2. You need huge fields outside the walls to make lots of bread.
3. Huge fields outside the walls will inevitably be attacked and overrun.
4. No more bread.

Assuming 1-3 to be true, how do you fix this problem while keeping bread generally cheap and plentiful?

Long distance trade from a fabled land of wheat where there are no monsters? Dwarven underdark wheat, grown in deep basements, if there is such a thing?
I'm just drawing a blank, since every town should be surrounded by acres and acres of wheat fields, and so many places in many different settings, that just isn't possible. 1 cup of flour would need maybe three square feet of wheat plants. That's an awful lot of land to protect.

ideas pls?
 

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Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
I've been having a suspension of belief recently over a commodity that is buyable just about anywhere - bread.

Here's what got me stuck:

1. Bread is a cheap, freely available staple food.
2. You need huge fields outside the walls to make lots of bread.
3. Huge fields outside the walls will inevitably be attacked and overrun.
4. No more bread.

Assuming 1-3 to be true, how do you fix this problem while keeping bread generally cheap and plentiful?

Long distance trade from a fabled land of wheat where there are no monsters? Dwarven underdark wheat, grown in deep basements, if there is such a thing?
I'm just drawing a blank, since every town should be surrounded by acres and acres of wheat fields, and so many places in many different settings, that just isn't possible. 1 cup of flour would need maybe three square feet of wheat plants. That's an awful lot of land to protect.

ideas pls?
So, you are talking about wheat, but really, what you are concerned about is agriculture. It doesn't matter if you are growing wheat, rice, barley, turnips, or you have sheep grazing, agriculture need lots of land.

Agriculture cannot co-exists with large quantities of rampaging monsters. You are completely right about this. This means that there has to be "civilized" areas where agriculture is possible. Areas with lots of monsters simply don't have a lot of humans living there. It's "the wilderness".

The best solution is to have "wild" areas and "agricultural" areas. I will note that there is a LOT of bad world design out there.
 


The firstborn of every farmer is taught that on the winter solstice, a human sacrifice must be given in each small town to He Who Walks Between The Rows, to ensure the fields and harvest are protected from the monsters that stalk the wild. The chief minister of nearby cities know this, and quietly make condemned prisoners available. But some years there aren't enough prisoners, or some prisoners escape en route, and then the harvestmen don their mouthless masks and wheatsheaf crowns, and with sharpened scythes seek out travellers whose blood can feed the soil for the coming year.

Or else, more prosaically, what @Ancalagon said...
 
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Remember that in the real world, or at least in Europe, the vast majority of war and battles happened between Spring planting and Fall harvesting. Maybe your fantasy kingdom maintains that same large army during that time of year and no one is foolish enough to attack while the crops are growing. Or in a fantasy world, maybe the monsters are only active when the weather turns cold, and in the hotter part of the year, they stay inside their deep, dark tunnel systems.

It was also not vast fields of crops, like in modern times. The individual farmer, with a small section of planted land, or maybe a local lord with a decent, but still relatively small area, that their serfs farmed for them. So a village or two, or some small farms, getting pillaged and burned will not have an effect on the bigger cities.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Everyone else has made great points, but I’ll add some fantasy ideas that don’t require blood sacrifice (as much as I like the harvestmen with their mouthless masks).
  • Urban farming is a real thing and the only modern tech it requires is plumbing, and even that can be arranged in a high precipitation area. Lots of flat roofs with earth and crops, hanging “gardens” full of produce, fruit trees in every street, etc.
  • Walled farms. Corrugated brick walls can be quite strong with fewer bricks by not being as thick as a strait wall has to be, and intelligent birds can be trained to keep watch and summon help.
  • Standing armies that protect the land as their primary gig.
  • Greenseers (civilized druids) that command beasts to protect the farms.

 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
Another element of answer - one that is very 5e:

Large number of humans are scary as heck. A hundred archers will murderize most monsters with ease. So it is conceivable that a portion of the wilderness has been cleared by humans for agricultural use.

Who cleared it? Maybe by those archer levies. Maybe there is an empire with legions. Witchhunters, monster slayers, adventurers.

In some cases perhaps there are alliances, or compromises, between monsters and humans. There IS a troll under the bridge, and you better pay the toll - that's his job. In Warhammer you can hire ogre mercenaries. Feys fed with offering of milk and cookies by peasants, keeping other monsters at bays. Goblins given free reign of the sewers who naturally defend them from other monsters. A dragon, who demands a yearly tribute but defends the valley. A vampire who has a blood tax.
 


Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
To give a more serious answer, 3 is just not compatible with 1 and 2. If you feel this discrepancy needs addressing, you need to change at least one of those three world building assumptions. Either bread must not be a cheap staple food, the wheat fields must be built within well-defended walls, or attacks on wheat fields that overrun them must not be inevitable.

There are many ways you could go about this. Maybe bread is actually very expensive, and its role as a staple food is replaced by something else that can be grown more safely, or produced magically. Maybe developed cities make defense of their wheat fields a priority, protecting them with sturdy walls, well armed and trained militias, and/or magic. Or, maybe attacks on wheat fields just aren’t very common.

EDIT: Or you can just, you know, handwave it away. I’ve never seen a player even pay attention world building details like this, let alone care about them.
 


I always felt that Gygax and company resolved this in Greyhawk rather nicely, and many classic modules sprang from these conflicts. Urbanite vs Ruralite: in Greyhawk this was often a religious conflict between Cleric (urbanite) vs Druid (ruralite). Two particular modules immediately come to mind: Steading of the Hill Giant Chief and The Liberation of Geoff. These two modules, and in particular the latter, express the rural life of free folk who are farmers in a fantasy realm. Giants regularly raiding their villages for food is a common occurrence. The anti-Giant Ranger of early D&D is at home here. Nature magic is a central part of life; and while everyone is not an ordained Druid, nor are they a theocracy, they all respect the Old Ways and live by them.

I loved these themes and held onto them when crafting stories and world building. These free folk hold onto their traditions and resist outsiders as a means of survival and prosperity. For a desert people create food and water would be a miracle spell. For farmers in temperate lands it's a waste of time. Plant growth and purify water are both more beneficial as a field of wheat feeds more people than a cleric spell. Spells like spike growth are better at deterring Giants and monstrous beasts than scorching ray, the latter revealing your position.

Growing up with Greyhawk I'm glad I got to experience these themes early on, combining mechanics and fluff to mold a cohesive fantasy society. It's refreshing to get away from the tired old narratives that are pushed in the real world and ignore them completely.
 

MarkB

Legend
Real-world farmers historically used scarecrows and other defences to ward off pests, so you just need some equivalent method that will ward off low-level wandering monsters. Maybe animated scarecrows (straw golems), along with nasty traps and other measures on the outermost borders of the fields.
 

aco175

Legend
The large cities have smaller towns a day's ride from them and those towns have smaller villages another day or two out from them. The towns and villages grow the food and animals needed by the city. The city offers protection and sends soldiers and adventurers out to protect things. If a village finds a goblin den within 10 miles of its border, the villagers will want something done. Traditionally, monsters would have been pushed further and further out from these civilized places but D&D also needs them to be close enough to have resupply options.

Grain and flour can be stored and saved for some time if protected from giant rats in the basement and such. Good governments are supposed to save some in good years to ride out bad years, which includes monster attacks. This is why a good siege burns all the fields as they pass through.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Little known fact: most monsters have gluten intolerance.

Your fields are safe.

Your farmers, however...

Therefore farmers need to be made of animated bread!

I am glib, but there is a point here - who has wild, rampaging... herbivores? Your wheat fields are safe from the monsters, because everything that rampages is looking for flesh, not semolina. Even the orcs and hobgoblins that are traditional humanoid raiders are going to wait until that grain is harvested. The townsfolk and food storage are what you need to worry about.

Enter - the farmforged. Not meat. Monsters leave them alone.
 
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So, you are talking about wheat, but really, what you are concerned about is agriculture. It doesn't matter if you are growing wheat, rice, barley, turnips, or you have sheep grazing, agriculture need lots of land.

Agriculture cannot co-exists with large quantities of rampaging monsters. You are completely right about this. This means that there has to be "civilized" areas where agriculture is possible. Areas with lots of monsters simply don't have a lot of humans living there. It's "the wilderness".

The best solution is to have "wild" areas and "agricultural" areas. I will note that there is a LOT of bad world design out there.

i don’t know. This depends on on how much monsters actually approach settlements and destroy fields or attack people. I mean we live in a word with crocodiles, bears, tigers, venomous snakes and insects that pose risks to agriculture. We have large animals capable of disrupting agriculture (elephants have been known to rampage). Obviously if every month your fiends are destroyed by a tarasque then that is going to put a cap on agriculture. But if such types of attacks are rare or more in the rhythm of big natural disasters, agriculture could be possible on a large scale. And if it is a regular threat to agriculture, you could world build around that with a variety of agricultural defenses.
 

MGibster

Legend
I don't know if many D&D settings really make a solid attempt to explain where all the food comes from and I don't know if most players really care. We're playing a fantasy adventure game not Sim Farm with the downloadable fantasy expansion. I also don't take things like random encounter tables as the norm for everyone in the setting. If farmer Brown wants to go visit his brother Eustace in the next village, nobody's going to bother rolling on some table to see if he runs into an owlbear or a traveling minstrel. The game is designed for high fantasy adventuring not simulating a realistic economy.
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
I think the frequency of item 3 is the real sticking point. If the city in question has enough raiding or monster attack events to make yearly agriculture not feasible, then the city is either currently sinking into famine, or has another source of food.

Since massive famine and starvation aren't the baseline for most settings, I think we have to assume that monster attacks and raiding on farms are a relatively infrequent occurrence. The whole reason an adventurer might get called into looking into those events is because they've become disruptive enough to threaten livelihoods.
 


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