Room at the Inn (of the Harpy’s Roost)?

Here is the first in a series of Ecology posts.  One of the things I love doing as a ref, as I have stated before, is making worlds and settings.  This is mostly going to be Top down type detail, but it is of use to the bottom up crowd, and any in between, as well.  However, they will be very broad stroke and should lead a setting builder to many questions.  Hopefully, it will help them with a logic that will underlie their ideas and answers to those questions.  The concept of these posts was brought up with one of my kids when we discussed how far apart to place inns on the road…and I realized that these kind of questions come up all of the time, and they are ones that I spend significant (OK, maybe too much) time on.   Some of these ecology posts will focus on a particular setting, a particular creature or ecosystem and sometimes it will cover general “Suspension of Disbelief” type questions…like inns on a road in a fantasy campaign setting…

How far apart should I have inns along the king’s road?

First off, look at your question.  You already have made a couple of assumptions based on your setting, or at least the setting you are contemplating.  You know that 1: The ruler of the land is a King. 2: The kingdom has roads that the King claims. 3: There are inns along the king’s roads.  Next, you need to figure out what you are asking, or define your need a little better.

Let’s say, you want there to be inn’s that are privately owned along the roads.  These inn’s can receive incentive from the king (tax breaks, annual stipend, supplies, etc.) if they meet a certain security standard and will house a given number of the the kings guard, who patrol the road, for no charge.  So, in breaking down that question, and thinking about why we asked it, we have come up with a better definition of what we are asking.  It has also laid out a few other things that we might want to know.  Is there a standing army, or only road patrols?  do these patrols travel in large numbers, or just pairs?  What is the required security standard and so on. 

As you can see, like in top down world building, a simple task can branch and grow into a month long exercise just to work out roads and inns and so on.  While you could go there and work all of these questions out, you have a few ways to approach it.  Top down and you will be working out details like where the wood/stone/iron comes from to determine how much could be afforded at any given inn, that we still haven’t located….and so on.  For Bottom up, ( or even an episodic story?  more on that in another post) why worry about how far apart they are.  Does the story call for a fortified road side inn?  Then, the characters arrive at the inn you have detailed (as well as close surroundings, staff and owner) and they will have the encounter/information/adventure that needs to happen there.  But either of those still don’t really answer that question.  So, how do we get there?

Lets re0look at the question:  and state it as a need.  I need there to be inns along the kings road separated by a reasonable distance from one another.  The simple answer might be to look at your kingdom.  Do people walk, ride horses (or ostrich, or camels, or xubecks), or drive wagons?  If the inns are there to support the kingdoms travellers, then they would be about a day apart.  maybe 20 miles if most people walk…40 if people ride, or maybe only about 15 if the inns are in place for the much needed merchants and their wagons.  Simple.  BUT…now you have the basic answer to the original question, you have opened up a consideration of other issues.  If most people ride, are there established roadside camps along the road at walking distance?  Do these inns, or indeed these camps, have wells?  What about firewood or coal?

By looking at this simple question, you can add a lot of detail to a setting.  Let me elucidate:  Our setting is a typical fantasy, based on medieval Europe. So, we have magic available, probably no fire arms, at least one other kingdom at war or unease as well as the roaming monsters and bandits.  Because of these threats, or king has determined that trade needs to be protected, and he has teams of Rangers patrol the roads in bands of 6 – 10 men.  The typical caravan consists of three wagons and as many as a score of people (merchants as well as guards).  The mounted rangers can cover roughly twice the distance that a wagon caravan can.  So, there are inns that are somewhat defensible, heavy reinforced doors, shutters that can be bolted with arrow slits.  Stables as well to house a score of animals, assuming that the caravan and a team of rangers may sleep there all on the same night.  Water is available at every inn.  These inns are places that messages or packages can be left to be picked up, effectively making them a post office.  The rangers are not charged for their stay, but the caravans are.  The supply caravans, that bring food to these inns, are always escorted by rangers and they receive a substantial discount to their room and board.  The  Inns are built by the crown and the innkeeper is considered a royal appointment.  They are far enough apart that if a party is delayed more than an hour, they will be arriving after “Travel hours” so may encounter a barred door.  Half way between each inn, is a road camp.  These camps have a fire circle, and all travellers are expected to replace at least some of the wood they use.  some have wind breaks, or defensive log walls.  Most have a well or spring located at them, but some have water butts.  Tampering with the water source is considered a crime equal to highway robbery…which means summary execution.


Lot of information from a very simple question…but with simple effort, a whole new aspect of the game setting comes to life!  What do you think?  More of these ecology’s?  or is it too far off base?  Let me know!  I AM going to try to get at least two posts out a month from now on…So, until next time!