D&D General Travel In Medieval Europe

Hussar

Legend
@Faolyn - ok, let's run through these.

1. I'm sure that local areas patrol their local area. I could easily see lots of roads leading into each major center. Totally buy that. And, I'm sure there would be some connection between each local network. But, again, why would I send iron from the Nashkel Mines through Beregost (overland of course) and then take it overland to Waterdeep and not put it on a boat in Baldur's Gate?

2. Why do you think a boat is more expensive than walking? It certainly isn't. There are very, very good reasons you ship by boat and not overland. But, beyond that, what percentage of the population of, again, say Nashkel or Beregost, ever goes to Waterdeep in any fashion? Walking or by water? Would you expect a significant portion of the population of Beregost has traveled farther than Baldur's Gate? Heck, what percentage of the population of Baldur's Gate do you think has traveled to Waterdeep?

3. Sure, the trade road might be a collection of paths. But, if that's true, then your whole argument about large amounts of traffic heading north and south overland kind of goes out the window.

And, if I'm travelling form Calimport to Waterdeep, is there a reason I don't stop in Athkala or Baldur's Gate and get on a boat? Why am I walking the entire way? And, again, what percentage of the citizens of Calimport have traveled to any of those destinations? Do you think that the average person in Calimport has been to Waterdeep?
 

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Zardnaar

Legend
Most riads weren't actually sealed. The Roman system was the exception not the rule.

Hell a lot of cities did t have paved streets.

FR it's the trade way not trade road.
 

gamerprinter

Mapper/Publisher
Celts had roads before the Romans did, though their's were built atop earthen levies with horizontal timbers as the road surface, and the local kings were responsible for ongoing maintenance of those roads. Common in wetland areas where roads are difficult to achieve at best without levies. Similarly old Russia had timber roads and streets, especially needed after the spring thaw when everything on the ground turns to mud. Some cultures had substantial roads, Rome wasn't exclusive, though improved engineering certainly.
 

Hussar

Legend
Oh, hey, I certainly don't mean that roads or overland travel didn't exist. I'm not saying that at all.

I am saying though, that overland travel in a D&D world would be far, far different than what we see in the real world. Particularly what we see in Europe where, pretty early on, you have absolutely no threats to travelers other than, well, other travelers. Like I said, traveling by foot through England or France in the 15th century might not have been 100% safe, of course. But, I'm going to take a stab and think it's a heck of a lot safer than traveling between Waterdeep and Baldur's Gate where you have lots and lots of things that think that people make tasty snacks.

Which, honestly, is the point I've been (very badly) trying to make all the way along. We don't really take that sort of thing into account when world building. We tend to build worlds where it's sort of broadly assumed that if you could do it in 15th century England, you could do it in D&D Land. And that really tends to fall apart.

I mean, heck, it's true that naval travel would be incredibly dangerous in a D&D world. Absolutely. But, the idea that overland travel would be any safer isn't really accurate either. There are at least as many threats on land as there is on water. Travel in D&D Land would be incredibly dangerous. Heavily armed caravans and well armed ships should be the norm. Massively walled towns with multiple moats and standing armed forces should be the norm. But, we tend to gloss over all of that because, well, we want our fantasy Theme Park.
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
. Heavily armed caravans and well armed ships should be the norm. Massively walled towns with multiple moats and standing armed forces should be the norm. But, we tend to gloss over all of that because, well, we want our fantasy Theme Park.

Um we do see massively walled towns and armed caravans in DnD. Waterdeep and Baldurs Gate have walls and magic. Isnt that the whole point of PC adventurers being hired as guards or investigating attacks?
A quick google of the Sword Coast turns up “The Baldurs Gate Merchants league that promoted safety on the caravan routes throughout the region surrounding the city.”

And the Seven Suns Trading Coster, a coalition of merchants who merged their caravans for safety and offered transport to other merchants.
And“ Costers were companies that gathered smaller merchants together to form temporary or permanent alliances focused on safety and protection while traveling. Typical services provided included wagons, beasts of burden, guards, guides, and warehouse space.”
 

Hussar

Legend
Um we do see massively walled towns and armed caravans in DnD. Waterdeep and Baldurs Gate have walls and magic. Isnt that the whole point of PC adventurers being hired as guards or investigating attacks?
A quick google of the Sword Coast turns up “The Baldurs Gate Merchants league that promoted safety on the caravan routes throughout the region surrounding the city.”

And the Seven Suns Trading Coster, a coalition of merchants who merged their caravans for safety and offered transport to other merchants.
And“ Costers were companies that gathered smaller merchants together to form temporary or permanent alliances focused on safety and protection while traveling. Typical services provided included wagons, beasts of burden, guards, guides, and warehouse space.”
And yet, town after town isn't walled. Phandelin for example. Greenest. Nashkel. Beregost. Nary a wall to be seen.

And, one more time, wouldn't most of the goods be traveling INTO places like Baldur's Gate or Waterdeep and then being bought and sold there to be then shipped to parts further on by ship?

Again, why is someone mining iron in Nashkel and then taking it overland to Waterdeep?
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I'm pretty sure that the Roman Empire built roads as a public good (in some sense of that phrase), at a net fiscal cost to the state. To the best of my understanding, the roads weren't paying for themselves in virtue of tolls they generated or even taxes levied on the trade that they may have generated.

And the public good the Roman Empire acted on, as I understand it, was not that their roads would make small-scale local trade viable. It was that roads permitted the imposition of imperial administration and the projection of imperial power. In this respect Roman roads seem to bear some resemblance to Britain's maintenance of its navy, which depended heavily on indirect taxation levied within Britain, not on the navy having to generate sufficient revenue to pay for itself.
It isn’t especially important whether the Roman govt built roads for one purpose or another.

The roads were used to more safely and reliably trade with settlements with a week or so travel of your own, and occasionally to larger settlements further away. That they also make it easier to project power and control territory only strengthens the point that the Sword Coast Tradeway isn’t especially difficult to believe.

I don’t understand how we keep going from, “here’s a list of interested parties who would contribute to upkeep of the many roads that make up the Tradeway, and some basic reasons they’d do so” to “this one specific reason by itself wouldn’t justify the maintenance of the entire Tradeway” or whatever weirdly specific thing.

Like can we have a thread where just talk about travel in D&D worlds and how to make it fun using cool things from history?

Is that really so much to ask?
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Um we do see massively walled towns and armed caravans in DnD. Waterdeep and Baldurs Gate have walls and magic. Isnt that the whole point of PC adventurers being hired as guards or investigating attacks?
A quick google of the Sword Coast turns up “The Baldurs Gate Merchants league that promoted safety on the caravan routes throughout the region surrounding the city.”

And the Seven Suns Trading Coster, a coalition of merchants who merged their caravans for safety and offered transport to other merchants.
And“ Costers were companies that gathered smaller merchants together to form temporary or permanent alliances focused on safety and protection while traveling. Typical services provided included wagons, beasts of burden, guards, guides, and warehouse space.”
This, and also…the supernatural threats just aren’t that common. We can know this, because society is pretty healthy and small farm communities prosper for hundreds of years without walls of significant military force and lone travelers are canonically extant.

That doesn’t make FR a “theme park” 🙄 it just means FR isn’t monster world.
 

It was a silly joke. For the most part, I've found that religion doesn't play a promiment role in D&D. Which is odd for a game with clerics, gods, and all sorts of supernatural forces. Oh, sure, there's evil cultist, and even gods directly meddling in the affairs of mortals. But religion? Not really. At least not in my experience. D&D is oddly secular.

I think it's the direct meddling by real deities that makes it secular. It's the same as the tonal difference between a fire and brimstone sermon about Sodom and Gomorrah versus a matter-of-fact documentary about the atomic bombings at the close of World War II
 

gamerprinter

Mapper/Publisher
Well on the discussion regarding overland vs. sea travel, consider Dal Riata, an Irish kingdom based in Ulster (Northern Ireland), but because overland travel is so difficult over mountainous terrain, it was easier to get in a boat and go around to the other side of Ireland rather than going over it to get from one place to another. Dal Riata is a kingdom that while based in Ulster actually held the Isle of Man, as well as the western isles of Scotland and southern Scotland. At least the initial Scottish nobles were actually Irish lords of Dal Riata. Dal Riata existed centuries before and up to the Roman invasion of Great Britain. So there was an Irish kingdom that stretched across Irish sea, rather than ruling over other kingdoms of Ireland - it was easier to rule that distance across the sea vs. overland...
 

Faolyn

(she/her)
@Faolyn - ok, let's run through these.

1. I'm sure that local areas patrol their local area. I could easily see lots of roads leading into each major center. Totally buy that. And, I'm sure there would be some connection between each local network. But, again, why would I send iron from the Nashkel Mines through Beregost (overland of course) and then take it overland to Waterdeep and not put it on a boat in Baldur's Gate?
Well, according to the FR Wiki, Naskel doesn't export iron. It exports caravan equipment, pelts, sheep, wool, barley, and beer. So why would a town export caravan equipment via boat?

2. Why do you think a boat is more expensive than walking? It certainly isn't. There are very, very good reasons you ship by boat and not overland. But, beyond that, what percentage of the population of, again, say Nashkel or Beregost, ever goes to Waterdeep in any fashion? Walking or by water? Would you expect a significant portion of the population of Beregost has traveled farther than Baldur's Gate? Heck, what percentage of the population of Baldur's Gate do you think has traveled to Waterdeep?
The PHB puts the cost of traveling on a sailing ship at 1 silver/mile/person. That says nothing about the cost the space for cargo. People on this reddit post did some math and probably the cheapest option was 4 cp/mile/ton, which sounds acceptable to me, but you know what--we'll dop it to 1cp/mile/ton for ease of math. If you're carrying animals, you also have to pay for their upkeep in addition to renting their cargo space. Boat tickets aren't free and it's unlikely that the merchants in a mountain town (pop 4.5k, 1.5 of which are rural farmers) that is many miles from a coast own their own boat.

The Sword Coast is about 700 miles long and 200 miles wide (according to World Anvil). By my own crappy measurements involving measuring with my fingers, Waterdeep and Baldur's Gate are about 500 miles apart. It's a nice round number, so we'll go with 500. It's late and I'm kind of tired and math is hard but I think that means that it would be 50 gp to travel there by boat. Per person. I don't even know if that includes food and drink, or anything fancier than a spot on the floor to sleep in.

And say these Nashkel merchants are carrying one ton of cargo--say, one ton of barley--they'd have to pay 5 gp for that. Now, there's no price for barley in the PHB, but wheat is listed at 1 cp/lb., and I did some checking and wheat is, in modern times, nearly twice as expensive as barley is. So the shipping cost for a ton of barley would be about 10 gp or so, so they'd spend basically all of that on shipping.

Walking is free. If you use animal labor, you still have to pay for their upkeep, but depending on the animal they can at least do a little grazing. You can do hunting and fishing along the way to offset meal costs, and if they sometimes camp out, then they won't be spending money on inns and hostels every night.

So what's more cost effective? Free walking, occasional stays at inns and hostels, and hunting or occasionally buying food, or a hundreds of gp spent on travel costs.

And what percentage of the population travels? Exactly as much as is needed for the game.

But! Here's the actual point. Someone from Nashkel isn't going all the way to Waterdeep or Baldur's Gate. Instead, they'd get on the Trade Road maybe travel 50-100 miles, stop off at the one or two dozen small villages that are along the road, sell off their goods, buy stuff that they can then sell in Nashkel and then go back home. The vast majority of merchants will do the same. Despite what you seem to think, most people are not going from Waterdeep to Baldur's Gate or Calimport. And nobody but you claimed they would be.

3. Sure, the trade road might be a collection of paths. But, if that's true, then your whole argument about large amounts of traffic heading north and south overland kind of goes out the window.
A collection of connected paths. You have a series of towns. A road goes from town A to town B, then from town B to town C, then from town C to... you should get the picture. What we have all been saying is that there was no highway commission that built a road from town A to town Z. Instead, all of the existing roads became, over time, one long route.

And, if I'm travelling form Calimport to Waterdeep, is there a reason I don't stop in Athkala or Baldur's Gate and get on a boat? Why am I walking the entire way? And, again, what percentage of the citizens of Calimport have traveled to any of those destinations? Do you think that the average person in Calimport has been to Waterdeep?
I thought we were talking about merchants, pilgrims, and the like, not "average people".

Anyway, those average people are going by spelljammer ship.
 

Hussar

Legend
I thought we were talking about merchants, pilgrims, and the like, not "average people".
But... the whole point of the thread was to show that travel was common. If it's not being done by "average people" then it's not very common is it? Isn't the whole point of this thread to claim that pilgrims are just "average people"?

If your point is that only a tiny minority of people travel, then we're in 100% agreement. That's been my point all the way along.

And, doesn't the existence of things like the Seven Suns Coster kind of prove my point about how dangerous overland travel is? After all, if overland travel was easy and safe, you wouldn't need to band together for safety when traveling.

And, lastly, I totally agree with you. That person selling something travels a short (ish) distance and sells those goods. Then the next person takes it the next leg. My point is that that next leg is generally always going to gravitate towards the major centers. Again, why would wool sellers send wool overland all the way from Nashkel to Waterdeep? Remember, every time those goods change hands, you're going to mark it up for the next guy. Your point about cost of travel gets swallowed up by the fact that you've now marked up your goods about 900% because it's changed hands fifteen times from beginning to end. As you say, those goods are only travelling 50 - 100 miles each time they're being sold.
Now, if those goods aren't being resold - or only being sold two or three times, then those goods only travel 300 miles at the outside. And probably far less. Which means any goods produced in Nashkel never travel farther than Baldur's Gate (which is about 300 miles away IIRC). So, why do I need a road further north?

The only reason you'd need that road further north is if goods continue up the line. Which means they are changing hands over and over and over again, being marked up each time. That's just not going to work is it?
 

Ixal

Adventurer
Oh, hey, I certainly don't mean that roads or overland travel didn't exist. I'm not saying that at all.

I am saying though, that overland travel in a D&D world would be far, far different than what we see in the real world. Particularly what we see in Europe where, pretty early on, you have absolutely no threats to travelers other than, well, other travelers. Like I said, traveling by foot through England or France in the 15th century might not have been 100% safe, of course. But, I'm going to take a stab and think it's a heck of a lot safer than traveling between Waterdeep and Baldur's Gate where you have lots and lots of things that think that people make tasty snacks.

Which, honestly, is the point I've been (very badly) trying to make all the way along. We don't really take that sort of thing into account when world building. We tend to build worlds where it's sort of broadly assumed that if you could do it in 15th century England, you could do it in D&D Land. And that really tends to fall apart.

I mean, heck, it's true that naval travel would be incredibly dangerous in a D&D world. Absolutely. But, the idea that overland travel would be any safer isn't really accurate either. There are at least as many threats on land as there is on water. Travel in D&D Land would be incredibly dangerous. Heavily armed caravans and well armed ships should be the norm. Massively walled towns with multiple moats and standing armed forces should be the norm. But, we tend to gloss over all of that because, well, we want our fantasy Theme Park.
Why should that be the norm? Because you repeat it over and over again with nothing to back it up outside "But the Monster Manual exists"?
Everything we know about the FR points to it not being exceptionally dangerous so that you can hardly set foot outside a city and get murdered.
 

Dioltach

Legend
By the way, are you aware that this road doesn't stop in Baldur's Gate? It continues down to Calimport. If Calimport wanted to take a boat to Waterdeep, it would have to go through incredibly treacherous waters filled with "shoals, currents, small exposed or submerged islets, and other hazards [...] most of the islands were surrounded by perilous reefs." (So sayeth the FR wiki) The wiki goes on to say that Asavir's channel is a well-traveled sea lane but treacherous because of the many pirates.

Hmm, it's almost like this road was at least partly made so that people could travel between Calimport and Waterdeep without having to go only through incredibly dangerous waters and risk losing their entire cargo. Baldur's Gate is just a stop along the path.
In The Halfling's Gem, Drizzt, Wulfgar and the rest cross the Calimshan desert overland because they can't get a ship - the assumption is that anyone going to Calimport will go by sea.

And of course they get set up and attacked by bandits.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Well on the discussion regarding overland vs. sea travel, consider Dal Riata, an Irish kingdom based in Ulster (Northern Ireland), but because overland travel is so difficult over mountainous terrain, it was easier to get in a boat and go around to the other side of Ireland rather than going over it to get from one place to another. Dal Riata is a kingdom that while based in Ulster actually held the Isle of Man, as well as the western isles of Scotland and southern Scotland. At least the initial Scottish nobles were actually Irish lords of Dal Riata. Dal Riata existed centuries before and up to the Roman invasion of Great Britain. So there was an Irish kingdom that stretched across Irish sea, rather than ruling over other kingdoms of Ireland - it was easier to rule that distance across the sea vs. overland...
Absolutely.

I don’t think any of us think that the Sword Coast is especially similar to Dal Riata, or that the average experience of life on the British Isles was the same as that of the people of Ulster, though.

It’s interesting stuff, but doesn’t really impact the nature of travel by road and footpath in a psuedo-late-medieval fantasy world.
 

gamerprinter

Mapper/Publisher
It’s interesting stuff, but doesn’t really impact the nature of travel by road and footpath in a psuedo-late-medieval fantasy world.
Why wouldn't it impact the nature of travel by road and footpath in a pseudo-late-medieval fantasy world? Even the discussion between the "realistic" travel considerations between Calimport and Water Deep. Almost nobody made that trip, those who did, almost nobody did the entire trip on foot or horseback, compared to those who travel between those by ship. Considering Forgotten Realms is a magical realm, the number of walkers or riders which is probably less than 1% of those who traveled between those cities, or probably significantly higher than the number of people who have "flown" or teleported between the two. Magic certainly exists in a fantasy setting, but unless it's gonzo magic that everyone has access, the likelihood of the number of people who travel via arcane means as immensely less than those who travel via mundane means. Thus what's the real difference between real world cultures, and those of the Forgotten Realms, at least for the majority of people?
 

Faolyn

(she/her)
But... the whole point of the thread was to show that travel was common. If it's not being done by "average people" then it's not very common is it? Isn't the whole point of this thread to claim that pilgrims are just "average people"?

If your point is that only a tiny minority of people travel, then we're in 100% agreement. That's been my point all the way along.
No, that's not my point. People travel. I don't claim to know percentages because that's entirely up to the DM. But only pilgrims and merchants (and adventures) are likely to travel hundreds of miles.

And, doesn't the existence of things like the Seven Suns Coster kind of prove my point about how dangerous overland travel is? After all, if overland travel was easy and safe, you wouldn't need to band together for safety when traveling.
No, it doesn't, because you've been claiming that overland travel is so dangerous that nobody travels that way. Why absolutely nobody has been claiming it's so safe that you don't need protection to walk. What we have been saying is that it's safer than you think, and that random encounters are a tool of the DM to spice up the game, not proof that every night outside of city walls you have a significant chance of being eaten by an owlbear.

And, lastly, I totally agree with you. That person selling something travels a short (ish) distance and sells those goods. Then the next person takes it the next leg. My point is that that next leg is generally always going to gravitate towards the major centers. Again, why would wool sellers send wool overland all the way from Nashkel to Waterdeep? Remember, every time those goods change hands, you're going to mark it up for the next guy. Your point about cost of travel gets swallowed up by the fact that you've now marked up your goods about 900% because it's changed hands fifteen times from beginning to end. As you say, those goods are only travelling 50 - 100 miles each time they're being sold.
Now, if those goods aren't being resold - or only being sold two or three times, then those goods only travel 300 miles at the outside. And probably far less. Which means any goods produced in Nashkel never travel farther than Baldur's Gate (which is about 300 miles away IIRC). So, why do I need a road further north?
What on earth makes you think those goods aren't being resold a lot? Or that a merchant from Nashkal doesn't sell to a merchant from Baldur's Gate, who then resells to a merchant from Waterdeep? In the real world, there's evidence of lots of medieval trade even from very far-off places (medieval coins from Asia or the Middle East found in England or Scandenavia, for instance).

I seem to recall that, in Aurora's Whole Realms Catalog, you could buy pretty much anything from anywhere from her shops, including things from far-off Maztica or Kara Tur or the Underdark. Of course, she used teleportation to move goods, at least between her stores. But that just proves that magic is heavily used in the Realms when it comes to travel and transportation--as well as maintaining roads. You (I think it was you; could be wrong) earlier asked how casters could get those expensive spell components. Well, I can imagine some merchant guild and a wizard being willing to trade gemstones or other strange materials for a few castings of move earth or transmute rock to help maintain a road. Or even a long-term deal where a wizard sends out their apprentice to cast mending and mold earth on potholes.

The only reason you'd need that road further north is if goods continue up the line. Which means they are changing hands over and over and over again, being marked up each time. That's just not going to work is it?
Except that, of course, a lot of real-world trade was done in, you know, trade, not with coins. There's no reason to suspect that it's any different in the Realms. Or that the prices in the PHB aren't horribly inflated just for adventurers.

And again, you're thinking only about humans. Do dwarfs like boats? Do humans let orc traders come aboard?
 

Hussar

Legend
@Faolyn - ok, that's where the issue lies. We're both taking each other's points to extremes and then arguing that. We're basically just talking past each other.

I never said that overland travel was so dangerous that no one could ever do it. I DID say that overland travel in a D&D world would be MUCH more dangerous than in the real world, which I do believe is true. I do think that travel overland in a D&D world should be much more difficult than it's typically depicted in the source books and that setting guides should do more to reflect that.

But, I would point out that you cannot argue that the prices in the PHB are horribly inflated for adventurers while at the same time use the PHB prices to show that shipping is more expensive than walking.

And, I will note that I am perfectly fine with the notion that people travel a day or two to a local center. That's totally plausible. I do have more of an issue with the idea that pilgrims are walking from Waterdeep to Athkathla without that being a major undertaking with lots of guards and whatnot.
 

Oofta

Legend
Trade routes have spanned continents since the stone age, when being eaten by the local fauna was a very real danger.

I also can't find any reference to the trade road being a paved two lane highway for the entire route. It has changed and shifted a bit as different artist were brought in for each edition, but that's to be expected.
@Faolyn - ok, that's where the issue lies. We're both taking each other's points to extremes and then arguing that. We're basically just talking past each other.

I never said that overland travel was so dangerous that no one could ever do it. I DID say that overland travel in a D&D world would be MUCH more dangerous than in the real world, which I do believe is true. I do think that travel overland in a D&D world should be much more difficult than it's typically depicted in the source books and that setting guides should do more to reflect that.
I think this is the main point I and others disagree with. There are areas that are dangerous. There have always been areas where traveling is dangerous. Just as Otzi the iceman.

But there's no reason to believe travel in settled areas is particularly dangerous.

But, I would point out that you cannot argue that the prices in the PHB are horribly inflated for adventurers while at the same time use the PHB prices to show that shipping is more expensive than walking.

And, I will note that I am perfectly fine with the notion that people travel a day or two to a local center. That's totally plausible. I do have more of an issue with the idea that pilgrims are walking from Waterdeep to Athkathla without that being a major undertaking with lots of guards and whatnot.
Most people probably traveled less than 50 miles from home for much of history. But there have always been exceptions.
 

Faolyn

(she/her)
@Faolyn - ok, that's where the issue lies. We're both taking each other's points to extremes and then arguing that. We're basically just talking past each other.

I never said that overland travel was so dangerous that no one could ever do it. I DID say that overland travel in a D&D world would be MUCH more dangerous than in the real world, which I do believe is true. I do think that travel overland in a D&D world should be much more difficult than it's typically depicted in the source books and that setting guides should do more to reflect that.
But you're continuing to ignore that a lot of the road is in patrolled land and that some of the patrollers are magic users. You're also forgetting that monsters are actually going to be a lot less common than it seems, because adventurers go out of their way to seek them out.

But, I would point out that you cannot argue that the prices in the PHB are horribly inflated for adventurers while at the same time use the PHB prices to show that shipping is more expensive than walking.
If you take the prices in the PHB as the actual prices, then shipping is more expensive, at least for low-value goods. If you assume the prices in the PHB are not the actual prices non-adventurer's pay, then that's a different thing.

And, I will note that I am perfectly fine with the notion that people travel a day or two to a local center. That's totally plausible. I do have more of an issue with the idea that pilgrims are walking from Waterdeep to Athkathla without that being a major undertaking with lots of guards and whatnot.
And it may very well be a major undertaking with guards, and nobody has claimed it isn't. Literally nobody has said that some 0th-level peasant can walk that distance unarmed and alone and never be harmed.
 

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