Off the Path: City Construction, Part 4: Polyhedral Process

In discussing city wards in my last post, I said that each ward could have up to three qualities. This was partly to keep the total number of qualities in a multi-ward settlement to reasonable levels, but also to prepare for this step: applying the polyhedral process (introduced in Polyhedral Pantheons) to settlement design.

It is reasonable to expect that while settlements within a culture will vary, that they will also have some similarity between them. For instance, a militaristic culture could be expected to have that reflected in the settlement scores or in common qualities. Not all settlements will have the same, or even all, qualities that are commonly found, but it’s reasonable to expect that there will be recognizable elements.

Here, it can mean having wards present in multiple settlements with the same qualities. It can help having certain pairs of qualities present, each pair being associated with a different third quality.

In other words, the polyhedral process can be a good fit.

Applying the Polyhedral Process to Settlement Design

Choose twelve qualities (possibly doubling up on some if you want to reinforce them or have them very common). Assign these qualities to the twelve points of an icosahedron (d20). This can be done randomly, deliberately, or a mix of the two (if I want to have Fortified and Religious associated at least once I make sure of that pair, then randomly assign the others).

The Polyhedral Pantheons Worksheets can be handy here. They say ‘pantheon’ and ‘domains’ in the sheets, but the sheets will work with ‘wards’ and ‘qualities’ just as easily.

When you’ve done that, each face of the icosahedron will have three qualities associated via the points of the face. This provides a set of twenty ward configurations that are common across the culture.

Assigning Priority

A later step in the process will involve rolling for wards present in a settlement. You could use the numbers on the faces of the icosahedron, but things will work better if you order the wards from highest priority (i.e. most important or common across the settlements) to lowest (least important or common).

If you want to get really fancy you could assign a prime number to each quality, then multiply the quality values for each face. This will give you twelve unique values that can then be ordered from lowest to highest. The first twelve primes are (2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31, 37). I’d say this is getting pretty geeky, but you are reading this right now….

In any case, assign the most important or most common ward configurations to the lowest values in a twenty-row table, less common to higher values. This will be useful in the next step.

Ward Selection

Now that you’ve got a table of twenty ward configurations, arranged from most common to least common, grab a number of dice equal to the number of wards you want. I’d start with 1d4, then add 1d6, 1d8, 1d10, 1d12, then as many d20s as are needed (or d4, d8, d12, d20, or d6, d10, d20, etc.). Roll them all at once on a piece of paper, keeping them reasonably close together (I roll them in the lid of an old box set, with a piece of paper in the lid).

This is why you want the most common wards with lower numbers, and less common with higher numbers. The small dice cannot roll high, but all dice can roll low. It is certain that you will end up with at least one die rolling 1..4, quite likely the d6 will roll 1..4, and so on.

If you roll doubles you might change one of them to a different number (bump it to the next higher unassigned number, or next lower unassigned number), or keep the same ward numbers but tweak the quality values — perhaps there are two dockyards, one for commercial trade and the other for industrial purposes.

Dice Physical Placement

In Cörpathium
In Cörpathium

When rolling the dice, you rolled them all at once and in a constrained space, on a piece of paper. Draw a rough circle around each die, and extend a line from the point of ‘each triangle’ on each die to see if it intersects another die. If it does, draw a line between the circles of the two dice.

I’m borrowing a picture from Logan’s most excellent In Cörpathium post to show what this looks like, kind of. You can see the dice used, the physical arrangement, and the lines drawn between them. He doesn’t show circles drawn around the dice but I find they’ll be useful when moving this to another medium.

From here we can fall back on the previous steps of assigning settlement scores, allocating points to the ward qualities (we now know what wards are present, where they are, and some of the connections between them), and so on.

Closing Comments

This process makes it easy to quickly assemble a toolkit that can be used to design settlements with a consistency you might expect to see in a strong, distinctive culture. There will be elements common across many settlements, with variation within that to keep them from being too homogeneous.

Logan’s dice drop mechanism makes it easy to determine how the various wards are placed and how they connect to each other. The connections might be physical (gates in walls, bridges over water), social (the ward of higher artisans provides services and crafting only to the nobility, while the ward of crafters serves the rest of the city), or other. Sometimes the dice placement will suggest things about the settlement (this particular ward is well away from the others, is that because it is full of pariahs and other social outcasts? Or is it just located on an island in the middle of the bay?).

Sadly, I don’t have time to work up an example right now (lunch break ends in a few minutes). If I were to do so, based on the example of Port Elren I might devise a culture with the Mercantile quality highest priority, then Skill (Craft) and Industrial, with Fortified and Religious somewhere around the middle (Port Elren does after all have a Fortified ward, despite having only three wards altogether). This could mean that most settlements generated under this mechanism would have one or more wards with Mercantile and Industrial wards (and possibly Mercantile/Industrial, if they’re paired on faces), while only the larger places might have major Religious wards.

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