Welcome to the fourth installment of my world building series! I hope you are enjoying them so far. To re-cap, I’ve developed an easy “plug and play” system to build cities, towns and villages for fantasy role-playing campaigns. The first post in the series highlighted the system itself and each post after will layer the system onto specific building types.
Today we are looking at farms. Unlike the Inns and Blacksmiths of the world, farm levels should be interpreted through what I call “intended yield.” We can’t judge a farm’s level by what a farm produced in a given harvest. A Level 4 Farm struck by a blight could yield no crops but that wouldn’t drop it down to a Level 1 as it had all the infrastructure and resources to be a Level 4.
Instead, we look at the purpose of the farm and what those who operate the farm intend for it to produce. The reasons they grow won’t come into play, but we’ll get into that later on in the post. Keep in mind these are always subject to tweaking for your world but this is how things would work in my home-brewed world of Volaiya. Let’s go!
Level 1: Personal Survival
Level 1 Farms are operated by individuals or family units in order to survive. These farms are what the homeowners have been able to plant and harvest with the intention of stockpiling enough food to survive the winter. Unfortunately, they do not always succeed. Think about the surrounding landscape. Is the land fertile enough to sustain these single unit plots? Harsh climates would not have Level 1 Farms on them as the families would have either died off or been forced to migrate.
Story element opportunity: The players come across a flat, dusty patch of earth holding up the skeleton of an old farm house. What do the players find in that old house? A diary of the farmer who tried to make it work? The remains of an outcast forced to make it on his own? One note left by someone outside the party that describes the environment they were in can add so much depth and immersion for your players.
These farms do not take up much more than an acre of land. When functional, there will be a wide variety of vegetables and smaller livestock. Grains and fruits are too exotic or inefficient to warrant the work that goes into maintaining those kinds of crops. Livestock options would include goats, chickens, pigs, perhaps rabbits. Larger livestock like cows and horses would be considered more of a luxury and limited to one per farm.
Level 2: It takes a village
These farms are larger in size and are established in order to feed the local populace of the small town they are near. They would typically be family-owned but require and employ locals from the village to work the crops come harvest time.
There is potential for these farms to end up with more than is needed to get the village through the winter (or feed them for the year if the icy talons of winter spare your setting). As the DM, it’s your call if the owners of the farm sell that surplus or save it for the town.
Role play opportunity: Present the players with a moral choice. The owner of the biggest farm in town is providing enough for the villagers and getting paid for his labor, but he always sells the surplus instead of saving it. The last two winters they’ve come up short and people have died. Some villagers ask the players to convince the farmer to not sell the surplus. It is, however, his farm and his option to sell. He always has enough to get through himself and he asks why should he have to also make sure everyone else is ok?
These farms may be more specialized. They tend to be corn or grains in order to provide bread and feed to the local village. If they grow vegetables it’s because they’ve carved out a section from the main crop in order to do so.
The intention of these farms is to first feed the local population and maybe come away with a profit in the end. Ultimately, it is still about surviving.
Level 3: Economic gain
Level 3 Farms are there to produce for profit. The fact that the products they produce go to feed other people is a secondary concern. They will be run by wealthy families or a guild. These farms take up a lot of land and also get into ranching large herds of livestock like cattle and horses. A Level 3 Farm can cover anywhere from 50-150 acres depending on how successful you want to make them.
The crops they grow will be diverse and rotate depending on season and soil. Large swaths of wheat, barley, corn, apple trees and more could all find a home at a Level 3 Farm.
They will employ many workers and need to be near a larger town or city in order to have enough of a labor force around to make the farm function. There will be multiple buildings on Level 3 Farms. Buildings could include: worker housing, barns, processing buildings, slaughter houses, guard towers or anything else you’d like to add.
At this level, the farms are about making money for their owners, not helping a particular populace..
Level 4: It takes a city
These are the major farming operations in the world of Volaiya. Stretching across hundred of acres, these farms are only found in proximity to the three major cities in the Northern Sanction. In Carran for example, both of the Level 4 Farms are owned and operated by the military dictatorship that runs the province. (There is a non-military government but everybody knows who holds power there). With a population over 10,000 in the city, these farms need to produce enough to keep everyone fed.
I bring up this example because I see two main reasons for farms of this size to exist. There are the government/military operated farms that are kept in service to the population (though in Carran they would feed their warhorses and griffons before starving peasants, if forced to choose). On the other hand, in the largest and wealthiest city, Erast, there are multiple farms of this size run by the trading guilds. These guilds own both the farms and the means of transportation to move the goods. Like a Level 3 Farm, it’s purely for profit as is the nature of these trade guilds.
While one is meant to keep the population fed and free of revolt, and the other is to pocket as much coin as possible, both intend to grow and distribute vast amounts of produce which is why they are both labeled Level 4 Farms.
Level 5: Exotic goods
Much like blacksmiths, Level 5 Farms are not distinguished by their size, they are in fact smaller, but they separate themselves in wealth due to the rarity of what is grown there. Level 5 Farms would be somewhere between 20 and 50 acres and produce goods that might only be found in a few pockets of the known world.
It’s the Level 5 Farms that produce the variety of exotic fruits and spices found in the wealthier parts of the world. Here we can begin to see the connection between the levels of the other buildings. Did you place a Level 4 Inn in the city you created? They should definitely have a contact or supplier from a Level 5 Farm that supplies them with the rubs and spices for that dinner they are serving the players. From there you can start connecting NPCs and watch the adventures blossom.
Quest opportunity: The players have been gifted a stay in the Level 4 Inn in town after helping the local blacksmith. However, the bartender states that they can’t have the usual meals he serves as the wagon from the Level 5 farm, which is always heavily guarded, never showed up two nights ago. What PC would let that stand!? No fresh meats and spices?! Not on our watch!
I hope the concept of labeling the levels by “intended yield” makes sense to everyone. Please feel free to leave comments below with suggestions for improvements or other role playing opportunities!