Winter: What if?

As the topic of farming, food, and seasons come up in discussion of M’Kal it raises an interesting dilemma. Winter does not exist in M’Kal. It has not for the entire 3,500 years the current civilization has been around.(Did I just say current civilization?) Snow only exists in extreme elevation, or near the city of White Roost. For all but the citizens of White Roost, snow and frost is so uncommon that most have never seen it. If it ever happens it’s the result of magic or a white dragon. Both of which are so uncommon there is no reason to prepare for it. It’s not a normal part of life. You wouldn’t build all the houses in a city to be able to endure a falling dragon just because it happened once 67 years ago to somebody at the edge of town, would you? No. It’s insanely expensive and is likely to never come up.

Get to the point eh? M’Kal has never had problems with cold. The majority of the continent lacks the geography that contributes to extreme weather conditions. Aside from the mountain rainge that forms it’s spine it’s weather is relatively mild year round. Summer, warming spring, and a cooling spring. But no winter. That technically means there is the potential for three growing seasons. So you have a mild wet season, a hot dry season and a cool dry season. Allowing three different crop sets to be grown on a farm each year.

What does this mean, and why does it matter? Storage. M’Kal lacks the culture, technology, or expectations to have to store food. Sure, there are trail rations and such which theoretically have an infinite shelf life. But for the majority of the citizens, their food is farm to plate in a week or two. With no winter there is no need to practice storing food for 2-6 months at a time or more. The worst case scenario that is a normal part of life is some uncommon crops being traded 10 days down the road. SO being able to keep fresh crops from rotting for a couple weeks is uncommon, but happens.

Yeah yeah, I know I have not gotten to the point yet. Farms. M’Kal has fewer farms than a continent with a proper winter may have. This is because if a farm can put out 3 waves of crops a year, you need only one third as many farms to do the same job. But let’s just say for arguments sake that M’Kal has half as many farms instead a third as many. This means we now have a surplus of food, but the surplus is so common that it likely goes to waste. Either being tilled back into the ground or used in rituals and offerings. What we have here is a logistical system that can handle minor setbacks, like a couple farms being burned down. Then the surplus just fills the gaps.

But if something bigger were to happen such as, a level 20 druid decides he wants a winter wonderland and creates a 50 mile wide patch of snowy weather that is perminenced.. that could easily put a thousand farms out of comission. Each of those farms might have fed 9,000 people year round. (My modern technology a 1 season that is 1 square mile can feed 10,000 people. But adjusting for 1400s era technology and wastage I think it’s fair to assume a 3 season farm might do 9,000) That So, 9,000 people per farm that will lose food, and 1,000 farms inside of a 50 mile circle. That’s 9 million people without food. Now, realistically speaking expecting 1 mile square farms to be set up in checker board patterns so that practically half that circle is farmland is unrealistic. Maybe it’s more realistic to say every 1/4th plot of land… Or hell, for simplicity and optimism sake let’s say it’s every 9th plot of land. That way it’s 1,000,000 fewer people that can suddenly be fed. That is still 2-3 MAJOR cities worth of people that suddenly lost their food. Nevermind the fact that the area being permanently frozen will likely make an additional 10 mile area around that area, that is to cold to have a proper summer. Which will increase the total effected area by another 900 square miles, almost 50% more.

Alright, so if that’s not problem enough lets consider some of the other possible implications. Let’s say the insane druid that’s willing to utterly wreck an area so it can make a snowman is a bit more considerate and goes to an area with much less sense farming. So only 1 in 90 plots of land is farm. So he’s only knocking out 100,000 citizens worth of food. That’s still perhaps half, or third of a major city. Enough to create regional shortages for sure. But not likely to result in mass deaths. Some neighboring surplus can solve the problem. Yes it will lead to continent wide rises in food prices. But over the course of a decade farms in other parts of the world can grow to pick up the slack… but farms are not the only problem. Rivers.

For 3,500 years on M’kal the rains come in fairly predictable patterns. We know when there will be flooding and when water levels drop. We know when to irrigate and we know when to get our boats out of the rivers if we want to keep them. Sure it differs back and forth by a couple weeks each year but we know roughly when it will happen. But if this winter wonderland happens to be straddling a river, that river freezes over. With a perpetual winter it will eventually freeze solid. Water flowing into the area from up stream will freeze and pile up creating a damn, resulting in a lake that will continue to grow annually with no way to let it out. Meanwhile down river there… will simply not be a river. Water won’t be able to escape. It’s permanently froze. Irrigation will become increadingly difficult for other parts of the continent. And, depending upon where on the river it is that could mean a village and a few dozen farms, or it could mean several entire cities, dozens of villages, and tens of thousands of farms. That also means shutting down many of the major trade routes so getting in emergency relief in. Because boats.

But, let’s step away from the shit for brains druid and look at something a bit less absolute but just as extreme. Some people want to change an area to have the traditional 4 seasons instead of the 3 that is normal for M’kal. That is going to result in 2-3 months of snow and unworkable cold. The progression into and out of this winter is going to knock another month at least out of 1, but much more likely 2 of their 3 growing seasons. So all farms become 66% less productive. Now it’s likely the entire region can only support half the population it has been supporting for thousands of years.

But for a large chunk of the year, the water ways are not safe enough to bring in extra food. Part of the year the rivers are going to be much lower than they used to be because water is being tied up in ice in the winter areas. During frozen times there is ice in the way. During thawing times there is the flooding and the rivers are unusually high. This difficulty of navigating rivers will result in forcing more caravans to take dangerous slow land routes. The greater difficulty in getting food will lead to more aggressive and more frequent road encoutners too. This makes trade more dangerous for merchants, leading to a need for more guards. Also, the winter leads to it taking much longer to get from city to city. Meaning the traders and their animals need more food per trip. The risks of death are higher due to weather and raids. The risks of accidents such as breaking a wheel is greater due to the snow and ice hiding obsticals. The chance of injuring an animal is higher for the same reason. It’s easier for bandits to stop you by hiding such a trap in the snow on purpose.

By the way, the alterations to the rivers is another big point. With the rivers partially freezing over and thawing on a regular schedule as is normal for a river means effects down stream. less water during what is already a dry season because it’s tied up further up stream. Then when what comes as the normal wet season arrives and flooding is already expected, now you have much worse flooding because all that water retained up river is now coming down more aggressively as it melts, combining with all the heavy rains that normally are part of the seasonal flooding to begin with.

On top of that the wildlife in M’kal has not seen a winter in several thousand years either. Trees have likely evolved to no longer shed and go dormant in the fall. Most of the animals likely have lost the hibernating instinct. scheduled migrations are not a thing. Animals and plants don’t know how to deal with this. Now you have massive amounts of plants dying out, very little of which will recover. You have massive amounts of animals dying off from the cold, and even more dying off from lack of food.

Now.. What is M’Kal have as the best possible chance to fend off this problem if winter starts to occur in a region? Well the first line of defense is to send some druids to dispel the results of the winter and return things to normal. But if that can’t happen then the druids could avert some of the disaster. Help with food, help with water, help with rescues from flooding, and help with disease. But most druids get their magic and power from nature, and nature just got it’s face blown off locally. Will the druids still be as powerful when their power source just got butchered in the area? Sure those down river dealing with only the flooding, drought, and diseases may not be impacted as much. But.. Are those druids in the area effected by sudden winter even going to want to help when their struggling and dying forests are suddenly being butchered by the very cities asking for help, because those cities suddenly need immense amounts of wood to burn to keep themselves warm? Plus it’s not just the trees. The animals are being decimated by the weather too, and now those pesky city folk want a bunch of furs to keep warm in too. The local ecology will become a smoking crater.

Even if it is exactly 1 city and it’s 5 outlying villages that are suddenly struck by having 4 seasons it will hurt. Even if it’s a mathematically perfect 4 seasons so each of them are exactly 3 months long to the day, that 3 months of winter will have such a brutal effect on that city and it’s territory that it’s population of both wildlife and citizens will fall HARSHLY be it from mass die offs or mass exodus. If the time between the last snow of a winter and the first snow of the next winter is 9 months to the day, it is extremely unlikely that the city in question would have time to recover before it is hit again. The city would likely never truly recover.

I think if one region were to suddenly attain a winter, the entire population of the entire continent would tank. It would then take decades for the citizens to develope the technology to store food for long periods, and develope the sustainable farming techniques needed to reclaim the lost areas.

This started off as a small thought experiment. It was only supposed to be a couple hundred words and was going to share it with 2 people. I went a bit overboard and it got bigger than I planned. I am fairly confident to say I have hit about half the points that matter but I am going to stop now. I look forward to feedback, input, and thoughts.

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2 Responses to “Winter: What if?”

  1. Sanctus says:

    Well, this is news. How did I miss that we didn’t have winter? This is a stark reminder for me that we need a M’Kal document written by the creator, on its culture, geography, history, etc. It’s OK if it’s rough and unfinished. In fact, that’s better, because we need to start off with some big issues like NO WINTER and not wait for a well-polished 30-page document.

    Personally, I don’t think it would take as long to recover. In a magical world where you have some really hefty magical options for intervention, I would hope that some response could be organized. I don’t think her Imperial Majesty would let a single month go by without mobilizing every resource at her disposal to address the issue.

    Local governments also, depending on how well they understood the problem, would also rally to address it. If they understood what was going on, they would respond at least as vigorously as they would to an invasion force. Because there is at least as much at stake.

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