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The impossibility of Point of Light settings

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
I think that's the whole point. Because the economy has shrunk to a scale where it can't normally support itself, salvaging high quality materials and tools from ruins is necessary for survival.
Exactly this. A PoL setting hasn't grown into its current state, it's devolved into it. Monsters encroaching into the farmland needed to support the city is exactly the sort of threat the PCs are there to counter. Without the PC's, it's quite probable a lot of the points of light will collapse in the next few years.
 

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Points of Light as a setting idea always crops up from time to time and D&D 4E heavily advertised with it. But what always bugged me with that is how it ignores how much interconnected infrastructure (to avoid the term civilization) is required to achieve something like the default technological level in D&D.
Especially when you get to the extreme end of Points of Light where it is literally just one city surrounded by monsters.

Farmland
Medieval farming is inefficient, especially when you base it on European crops and thus do not have access to rice or potatoes. Most of the food grown is consumed by the farmer and his family with only a fraction reaching the market. So even in a city of 5.000 you would need at least twice that number of farmers in the surrounding lands to support it and all land around the city for several miles would be devoted to farms.
If that land is already dangerous and monster infested the city would starve.

PoL settings I've heard about aren't very detailed, but from what I gathered the points of lights weren't literally surrounded by monster. A small, less than a day's walk from the city, could still be safe. Danger would lurk outside the settlement, but maybe not the point of having monsters within viewing distance from the city walls. As you pointed out, much of the crops was used to support the farmer themselves (and, not marginally, to reseed the next year), so the effectiveness of Plant Growth, doubling yield, would more than double the amount of surplus to feed the city, reducing the necessary hinterland. There is also no reason to suppose the PoL was subjected to the DM's "sorry, you're on the wrong continent, you can't grow potatoes" curse that affected Europe. Even going by the low yield of the relatively barren England farmland, 14 acres were enough to support a family in a three-fields system (median of 6 persons), including reserving a fourth of their surplus for seeds. Using Plant Growth, they would double their output, supporting 13-14 persons. Your 5,000 inhabitants city would only need 9,300 acres of arable land, less than 40 square miles (that can be lessed to yield double by a single spellcaster working a month each year. They would need a safe area of less than one hour's walk from the city walls to support the 5,000 person city, less if more efficient crops are available.


And its not only food that needs to be farmed. Flax is a very important crop as you need it for textiles and also would take up large tracks of farmland

The 40,000 inhabitants city of Cologne had a catchment area of 5,000 square km2. Doubled yield would reduce that as well. In a post-apocalyptic setting like PoL, it would certainly force more selective subsistance farming. It would make trade caravans (a staple of PoL settings) more important and justified.



Animals
Animals are also needed to support a D&D level of technology. Not only as beast of burden to even allow all the products to be transported to the city, but also to supplement the food sources and, important for adventurers, as a source of leather and also other products like glue. And those animals also need land to graze on or even crop to be fed in the case of larger warhorses.

With the distance needed from the city, I am not sure much howling to the city would be needed. Pasture would be made easier with enlarged plants all around. Plus, easily available safe drinking water would reduce the need to grow barley, freeing space for pasture very close the the city walls.


Wood
Nearly all energy demands are met by wood and especially for smelting this demand is huge.
For cooking and heating other resources can be used like manure or coal (if your point of light has access to coal) but as coal contains sulphur it is not suitable to make steel which the equipment of adventurers need (unless you coke it, but that is outside the D&D technology level). Even wood needed to be made into charcoal first which required even more wood.
One example of the amount of wood needed I found is that to equip one roman legion you needed 44 metric tons of iron which in turn required 600 tons of iron ore and 5100 tons of wood to make

So when your forests aren't safe no iron weapons for you.

Yes. That's why you dont need weapons. Just go in a battlefield and use the ones widely available from the last great war against the monster invasion that created the PoL setting in the first place. Medieval cities used roman marble monuments as source of lime, reused stone for construction works, so there is no reason the same wouldn't happen with weapons (that you can restore easily with the Mending cantrip). You're right a legion would be difficult to field in a PoL settings, but I don't think such a huge military unit -- the 60 million strong roman empire never fielded more than 30 -- would be idiosyncratic of a PoL setting. It would be "one of the legendary armies of old".


Metals
The other required resource for iron smelting is of course iron ore. And you also need a lot of it as during smelting there is a big loss of mass. Luckily iron ore is rather widely available. Still, we are talking about a point of light. Some other metals would of course also be nice like brass. Bronze is hard to make as it is an alloy requiring two metals which not tend to appear in the same place.
And if you want to pay with gold and silver coins a source of gold and/or silver would be highly appreciated.

You'd mostly abandon coinage and go with barter for your PoL economy. Absurd number of coins lies waiting in dungeon. For regular metals, dwarves probably have not only better mining technology than in the middle ages but better mining technology than ours. Look at the cantrip Mold Earth for the sheer amount of stone you can clear by round to reach the metals veins when building your Moria.


Stone
Want a stone wall? Or paved streets? Then you require a source of stone and a quarry there.

Said cantrip can extract a 5 ft cube of stone each round, easily cut into panes. Stone Walls wouldn't be needed: most cities would be already surrounded by huge, pre-catastrophe walls, when the population was much more important. The PoL isn't in a phase of expanding, it's being regressing into oblivion [barring heroic intervention].

Chemicals
Often overlooked, even in medieval times people know some chemistry. For example tanning leather required several (smelly) chemical processes which caused those workshop to be located away from the city. That ranges from simple "chemicals" like sides to sulphuric acid to some rather exotic components like gallnut (the remains of insect larves incubating inside tree bark) to make ink which is rather important to wizards. Other required resources was gum arabic and and iron vitriol. Paper and parchment on the other hand are made by animal hides or out of flax (which also required chemicals).

And there are probably many other things I forgot like having access to tar when you want to have ships, etc.
The point is, medieval technology, and with it the technology in D&D, is already so complex that a point of light settlement can't support it, even if that point is the size of a kingdom.

I don't see PoL being dangerous to the point of having dragons sleeping just outside the city walls. They are designed to reflect the supposed feel of strangeness and dangerousness of going into the saltus outside of settled area, a fear of "civilized people" when confronted to a dark forest... but not necessarily more common than that. You could encounter a dragon or a violent fey, it would be assured death but it's not necessarily more common than encountering a bear in a real life forest. It would be the feel of a hobbit (PoL: the Shire, Rivendell, the Rohirrim encampments) traveling the wider world. Most of them wouldn't cross the path of Nazguls.
 
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Yora

Hero
In my setting, the supernatural forces that govern the weather and plant growth in the wilderness are exceptionally pronounced and unpredictable. Rituals and prayers to the gods of the forests and the sky, and sorcerous wards can decrease the severity and impact on farming, but every domain is on a timer and eventually the land will no longer be able to support the population, leading to decline and eventually force migration to other places. Since the constant environmental changes create as many new farmable areas as they destroy, there is an equilibrium for how much space is available for farming. And over time the cultures have figured out how much societies can afford to grow and still be able to adjust their food production to deal with environmental changes, and to read the signs to migrate away before an area becomes permanently unsustainable.

There are no thousand year old cities in that setting. The oldest ones are maybe 500 years at the most, and with people knowing that cities more than a couple centuries old have their days counted, they don't see any new immigration and have no opportunity to grow really big.
A side effect of this is that over the aeons, there's been a buildup of hundreds of abandoned and ruined small cities throughout all the known lands. And in many places, the current city is the third, fourth, or fifth settlement build on the same place, as it's suitability for farming comes and goes.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
The Fall of the Roman Empire, the ensuing Dark Age, and the Rise of Charlemagne may help, at a high-level view. Presume even the peasants will fight rather than be eaten / whatever by monsters and you get a reason why "the tide is turning" when new supplies of extra monsters / barbarians / whatever stop arriving in the region.
The “Dark Ages” is just a term that refers to an bit of time where we have few useful records, because those records were lost. Even Italia wasn’t all that “dark” for very long, and the rest of Europe mostly went about their business.

But as to the OP, the cantrip Mold Earth exists, as does Shape Water. Medieval European irrigation doesn’t exist, the irrigation is vastly better than that.

Control Flame helps with smelting and other heat-reliant tasks. D&D has common magic items, that can do cantrips 1/day or more, or mimic effects of cantrips.

And that’s just to start.

When I run a Points Of Light game, the points of light are wonders. They are the bastions of a lost world or the first great wonders of what will someday be the early history of a world, so things like hanging gardens growing much of the food, supplemented by semi-domesticated fowl, hunting parties bringing home the deconstructed carcasses of megafauna, fishing boats, and trade with the small farming villages close enough to be protected by regular patrols, where every able bodied person is a trained combatant.
 

Grakarg

Explorer
Goodman games put out a couple of good sourcebooks called Points of Light and Points of Light 2: The Sunrise Sea. They were basically hexcrawl settings. The rpg Forbidden Lands by Free League games is similarly a points of light hexcrawl. I've found all of these great inspiration for Points of Light campaigns.

The important take away from these sources was in HOW and WHY the safe havens are so isolated and cut off.
Yes, as the OP points out, from a historical context the roman legion would take a huge infrastructure to support. But that isn't what makes a PoL setting interesting. Take the same roman legion and ship them off to a distant colony. Now you have a PoL campaign where they are just trying to hold out against the darkness with the tiny lifeline of occasional shipments of supplies. They have to put in extra care for their tools and weapons as they aren't easily replaced. And thus, you have a more interesting campaign. Just think about the how and why and let them guide you in setting up the foundation for a good story.
 

GuyBoy

Adventurer
I think Points of Light is plausible even by applying real world history, but only if it is seen as a dynamic situation of continued slow decline after the collapse of a former empire ( a la Rome). That provides enough “technology” to be acquired and aspired to but any local rulers lack the resources to project authority beyond a local radius.
It is even more plausible if you figure in magic, particularly Druidic magic.

Besides, PoL is fun. It allows a sense of pervading threat and a fear of what lurks beyond the light of your campfire, or in the looming forest beyond the village fields, or in the ruins built by ancients that crumble slowly away.

The Anglo-Saxon poem, The Ruin, dates from the C8th or 9th. For me, it evokes a PoL vibe, being a description of Roman Ruins. Enjoy....
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Yora

Hero
The plausibility of it all really comes down to how big your central city is, and how large the supporting agricultural area, and I guess the level of luxuries and advanced amenities. Neither of which is specified in the general concept.
 

Malmuria

Adventurer
The “Dark Ages” is just a term that refers to an bit of time where we have few useful records, because those records were lost. Even Italia wasn’t all that “dark” for very long, and the rest of Europe mostly went about their business.

But as to the OP, the cantrip Mold Earth exists, as does Shape Water. Medieval European irrigation doesn’t exist, the irrigation is vastly better than that.

Control Flame helps with smelting and other heat-reliant tasks. D&D has common magic items, that can do cantrips 1/day or more, or mimic effects of cantrips.

And that’s just to start.

When I run a Points Of Light game, the points of light are wonders. They are the bastions of a lost world or the first great wonders of what will someday be the early history of a world, so things like hanging gardens growing much of the food, supplemented by semi-domesticated fowl, hunting parties bringing home the deconstructed carcasses of megafauna, fishing boats, and trade with the small farming villages close enough to be protected by regular patrols, where every able bodied person is a trained combatant.
Yep. 5e is very much the "don't think about it too much edition," exacerbated by forgotten realms (in which massive cities, rather than straggling towns, are the "points of light").
 


Yora

Hero
Yep. 5e is very much the "don't think about it too much edition," exacerbated by forgotten realms (in which massive cities, rather than straggling towns, are the "points of light").
Forgotten Realms started out as a setting of prosperous merchant citiy states. Monsters were never a real threat to civilization. Even orcs were an issue only in the most remote borderlands.
All the major villains were evil human organizations.

Maybe they tried to change that with whatever they tried in 4th edition, where they blew up all kinds of cities and kingdoms, and who knows what it's supposed to be in 5th edition.
 

Bayushi_seikuro

Adventurer
Goodman games put out a couple of good sourcebooks called Points of Light and Points of Light 2: The Sunrise Sea. They were basically hexcrawl settings. The rpg Forbidden Lands by Free League games is similarly a points of light hexcrawl. I've found all of these great inspiration for Points of Light campaigns.

The important take away from these sources was in HOW and WHY the safe havens are so isolated and cut off.
Yes, as the OP points out, from a historical context the roman legion would take a huge infrastructure to support. But that isn't what makes a PoL setting interesting. Take the same roman legion and ship them off to a distant colony. Now you have a PoL campaign where they are just trying to hold out against the darkness with the tiny lifeline of occasional shipments of supplies. They have to put in extra care for their tools and weapons as they aren't easily replaced. And thus, you have a more interesting campaign. Just think about the how and why and let them guide you in setting up the foundation for a good story.
This is one reason I always loved the setting for the original Twilight: 2000.

At first, it seems ridiculous the amount of loot and gear, ammo, cool guns you get... but then you start realizing that every time you use any of it, you're depleting a resource that will be very hard to replenish, if you're able to at all.

Combined with the rules they put in for foraging and how great - you got 1000kg of raw food, but once it's prepared... 250-500
 

pogre

Legend
OP - you are probably correct.

I love history. I teach history. If you reflect on the consequences of magic and more it will drive you mad.

I learned a long time ago not to worry about it too much unless it makes game prep more fun for me. Very, very few players care about this stuff IME. The background and internal logic of the world are pretty much things that bug GMs only.

My big hang up is mass combat. I love fantasy mass combat, but it really makes zero sense to have medieval-style battles in a fantasy setting. Does not stop me from doing it though ;)
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
Points of Light as a setting idea always crops up from time to time and D&D 4E heavily advertised with it. But what always bugged me with that is how it ignores how much interconnected infrastructure
I see Points of Light as "fill in the blanks" design space, or as a "coloring book".

It isnt that the setting has gaps. Its that the DM and players decide how to fill out these gaps as they explore them.

Same goes for leaving quadrants of a city empty. When they adventure there, their interests decide what things they will find there.



Heh, it is like a "Shroedingers Cat" game design.
 


pemerton

Legend
I think spending time on the realism of social processes in FRPG settings is not much more profitable than worrying about the physics of dragon flight and giant spider respiration.

JRRT did not create realistic economies for his world; he relied on clear and evocative tropes. I think this is the way to approach FRPG settings.
 

I think spending time on the realism of social processes in FRPG settings is not much more profitable than worrying about the physics of dragon flight and giant spider respiration.

JRRT did not create realistic economies for his world; he relied on clear and evocative tropes. I think this is the way to approach FRPG settings.
And yet, weren't you praising just that kind of digging on race issues?

As for spider respiration? Book Lungs exist in Arachnids already. They are relatively scalable. The scale issue is the exoskeleton and the square/cube law.
 


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