little people in a grand forest fantasy!

moocow

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Lately I've been obsessed with the idea of little civilizations. Inspired by Epic, the Borrowers, Final Fantasy, and that Roald Dahl book about those small people living in the trees. If only one person is interested then I'm fine with doing a 1x1 as well. Feel free to shoot ideas: the plot isn't set in stone this is just what I thought up at the moment.


Here's some background I thought up:

The land of Beliad! The gods fertilized the earth with creations of their vision and through their guidance, the many tribes lived an everlasting peace. In those days, fruit would never spoil nor the leaves know to wither. The endless summer brought with it an aura of tranquility to Beliad. But the gods were not without their enemies and as powerful as they were, their eternal adversaries had spent the long years practising a new magic, one that would bring the mortal understanding to the inhabitants of Beliad. The long winter had begun and with it, chaos. As the gods wrestled with this newfound darkness, the people splintered and knew war--they began to split the land amongst themselves.

Many generations passed and with them, their mighty dominions. Now Beliad is predominantly split into two great states: the High Kingdom of Yaren and the last vestiges of the late Akaran Empire. Though many minor realms remain throughout the land, both nations seek to absorb them into their respective territories. You are a citizen of the High Kingdom of Yaren. More specifically, you have been hired to be part of an expedition to research a troubling new rumour… news of the Akarans making a pact with giants from across the sea to regain their glory. The King of Yaren has sent this group to scout out the Principality of Cairn--recently sacked by the Akaran Empire.

The people of Beliad have long been familiar with the forest. They make use of what materials they can find--shaping bows with twigs and plant fibers, boats with bark and leaves, and clothes with furs, reeds, and spider-silks. They rely on creatures for both manual labour and transportation. Dragonflies are common steeds for the air, while large beetles are preferred for land. Fish are hard to tame and harder to ride but turtles have been known to be used as great wartime battleships. Braver warriors may try to tame wilder animals--the founder of the Akaran Empire was known to terrorize his neighbours atop an eagle.

My character:

Mawgi wears a simple long tunic made of woven plant fiber and bay leaf. Her traveling cloak is made of moleskin, her feet protected by woven reed sandals, and she carries a long spear made of sparrow bone. Her steed, a steel-blue coloured dragonfly, is named Jee. Her skin is the colour of the soil; her hair borrows the hues of freshly sprouted clovers.
 
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moocow

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More small thoughts:

I'm not sure on the existence of larger animals. I guess if there were any, they would be viewed in an almost god-like way. Worshipped. Their carcasses would be a blessed scavenge. Their fur, meat, and bones reserved for various religious rituals. Or reserved for elite soldiers? Deer skin would be a lot tougher than oak leaves for armour.

Coinage made from stone? Amethyst? What other shiny rocks lie in the ground? Or maybe this economy functions on trade and not coinage at all... but with the presence of kingdoms and empires I think they'd have coinage. Maybe shaped from wood and polished.

Food... lots of plant material. Berries. A single apple could feed like a village. Bug meat like crickets. Although I've kept crickets before and they don't have a lot of solid meat. Mostly just guts... but maybe it gets solid like crab meat when it cooks? Actual meat like from mice or moles would be prized food. You could make mini loaves of bread from seeds maybe. Would we have fire though, as small as we are? Maybe little embers or a big communal kitchen? Or maybe we live mostly on cold food? Obviously morning dew for drink. Sap for stronger drink.

Shelter could depend on the kingdom you're from. I can imagine a lot of different cultures having different houses. Like some tree colonies aping the way ants make leaf homes. Using spider silk to tie leaves together. Or tunneling into the wood itself like termites... or chasing moles out of their little dirt caves for our own usage. Some could be nomadic even. Herding aphids or moving on with whatever else they rely on for sustenance. Maybe just migrating with the fish or something.

Clothes from whatever you can cobble together from the forest. Lots of plant material here. Fur is good too but maybe some furs would be reserved for royalty or religious figures or gendered or aged. For example, bear fur (if large animals exist) could be reserved for shamans, kings, or elite religious guards. Or special cicada shells for the rich as some species only come out once ever twelve years. A lot of people would learn to fashion their own gear I'd imagine since materials are so plentiful. Maybe that would make occupations like tailors non-existent? Or just highly specialized: they would only work with materials not available to the public or hard to shape like big animal furs.

Weapons from bones! Lots and lots of bones. Maybe arrows made from bird bones since they're hollow. Or just pine needles. Or rose thorns or little pieces of spiky chitin. Clubs made from little sticks with small pebbles. I was picturing a lot of animal warfare as well. Perhaps kingdoms have certain ant herders in their repertoire. Ant herders that will sick huge colonies of warrior ants to tear apart their enemies. Or wasp herders or sending mice in to raid villages. Lots of sticks and rocks and bones too though I guess. I'm not sure what else can be used as weapons. I don't think there would be any metal use. I actually have something in mind for metal and how the Akarans are being outfitted in never before seen materials.

I'm picturing a pantheon for religion. Maybe the state religion would be centralized around one figure? Like how the Romans worshipped mostly Jupiter? I'm also thinking of a lot of hero-cults spread out in the different realms. And how different cities worshipped different gods in ancient Greece. Basically a lot of variety. For the Akaran Empire though, I was thinking of a sort of ancestor-worship primarily around their founder, Akara. Of course they would mix some elements of the Gods with him/her, like perhaps claiming Akara was descended from God A or B or something like that.


edit: oh yeah the most important part about the setting! the forest. I was thinking since this is a fantasy and I don't want to inhibit anyone from materials they want to use if they aren't in a specific type of forest... maybe just a magical blend of pinetrees and rainforest and grapevines and everything? there would still be seasons. and heavy rain and snow even though it would be a rainforest blend.
 
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Zarko Straadi

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I really like this idea! A lot would depend on the size of the Little People (and variations between their species if there are more than one). E.g., a difference in size between 1 and 3 inches seems small to us, but would be huge to them! If they're small enough to ride and/or be carried by dragonflies, a housecat would qualify as a very large animal, and a bear or elk could host an entire culture, like a walking island.

Physics would work very differently for them (if you want to incorporate realistic physics...). Due to the square-cube law, a Little Person would be able to lift several times their weight. Falling would be a lot less dangerous (apart from the threat of being snatched out of the air by a bird or flying insect) because wind resistance would be much more powerful relative to weight than it is for us, and the physics of materials strength at small scale would be favorable to them (e.g. bones would not break on impact). The surface tension of water would be a serious force. On their scale, water would behave more like jello, and a person could make little leaf-snowshoes and walk on water. Which would be a pretty dangerous sport, since fish, frogs, dragonfly nymphs, and birds would be looking for just such a treat. A gust of wind would be much more powerful for them, and they could fairly easily make gliders/wingsuits out of maple seeds.

Use of fire would probably not be common. I'm not a hundred percent sure, but I don't think it would be possible for an individual Little Person to start a fire with a bow drill or the like because their arms and the size of a bow they could use would not be able to generate the friction heat needed to make a fire. Physics would also intervene, in that the air currents, etc. generated by even a small fire would be more powerful on their scale (i.e. one of our candle-flames would be nearly as tall as one of them, and it behaves very differently than a campfire on our scale). Furthermore, fire would be a weapon of mass destruction if it got loose and spread through the forest. So if it's used at all, it would be their equivalent of nuclear energy. The efforts of a fairly advanced civilization would be required to create and operate a proper 'containment structure' like a furnace or rocket stove, which would be their version of a nuclear power plant.

Metals wouldn't be much of a thing, unless they got them from humans in trade. Mining for ore would be a truly titanic project, and given the issues with fire, refining it into metal would not be very practical. They would have a very hard time generating the kind of forces necessary to make a rock-crusher or pound metal into any sort of shape. Surface tension and viscosity would limit the utility of casting metal. They might be able to make a casting for an indestructible fortress (though moving it from their forge facility to a strategic location would be a vast effort, and probably not worth it since a tree is just as defensible), but not things like armor, weapons, and jewelry. It might be possible for a people to find flecks of gold or a gold nugget in a river. Quite the quest to collect them though, so a ruler might have gold some as a status-symbol. With considerable labor from their subjects, they might even be able to have it hammered/carved into a throne or a crown, but working it would be too difficult to do on a large scale for things like coinage, weapons and armor.

Symbiosis with/domestication of insects and other animals would take the place of industrialism for them. The Termite Clan could live in climate-controlled comfort in great termite-mound cities, while the Bee Clan trades honey, beeswax, and royal jelly for silk from the Spider Clan. A big tree like a redwood or rain-forest canopy tree could be a kind of vertical Nile, host to a mighty civilization that sails groundward on leaf-gliders and parachute-ships, while supply convoys of beetle-pulled sledges and fast cockroach-chariots climb back to the heights. Dragonflies, hummingbirds, etc. provide air transport, and trained squirrels provide rapid transit and heavy cargo lifting.

Shaman-alchemists who can mix insect pheremones and other useful compounds would be in high demand. If there's magic, then the ability to telepathically communicate with or magically control animals would also be very useful. "Builder-creatures" such as eusocial insects (ants, termites, bees, wasps) spiders and silkworms, and small birds would be the core of the Little People's economy. Symbiosis with fungi could also be a major part of their culture (look up some talks by Paul Stamets on YouTube for the many ways fungi could serve the Little People). With some magic, they might be able to use the mycelial network as a forest internet.

Money as we know it probably wouldn't be practical for them, though at some point they might be able to make some equivalent of paper currency. The challenge would be in trying to develop the industrial manufacturing processes needed to create mass amounts of uniform objects ("coins," paper bills) without widespread use of metal-working or fire. Paper money (since its value is entirely symbolic) would require a large, centralized government able to establish its value by fiat ("fiat currency"), supervise its production, and enforce laws against counterfeiting. In our world, that didn't happen until the era of Imperial China and the Renaissance in Europe.

They could trade in weights of commodities (honey, nectar, bolts of spider silk, mushroom meat, bone, insect venom, armor-quality chitin, etc.) and keep accounts on wax tablets, some equivalent of paper (silk fabric, wasp-nest "paper," or some such) or knotted strings like the Inca did (quipu). Prior to the development of coined money, most ancient civilizations incorporated trade, proto-banking, and many forms of production into the services of their temples. For example, a person who had a cow couldn't trade it for a flagon of beer, but they could give it to the temple as an offering, and then be given the right to eat and drink at temple feasts for some given period of time. The temple would have its own butcher shops, breweries, staffs of artisans, physicians, etc., and the priests would keep track of incoming offerings and out-going services.

A secular government or other arrangement (Anarchist syndicates or the like) could presumably perform the same sort of service. Since many Little People cultures will probably live closely with social insects, they might develop decentralized systems of stygmergy to organize the production and distribution of goods and services algorithmically, without anyone actually being in charge.

Anyway, I've gone on long enough. I hope this is helpful and inspires ideas, rather than being negative in any way, and of course it's your game, so you're free to use/not use elements of this as you choose.
 

Zarko Straadi

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Some more thinking on money: since you could easily have more than one species of Little People, and they wouldn't all have to be miniature humanoids, you could do something like have a species of insectoid mathematical savants that serve as ATM's. They could have telepathy, communicate through ley lines/magic or the mycelial network, or have some kind of natural radio. In exchange for food or something else valuable to them, they could chew up fungus, wood pulp, or some such, mix it with saliva and/or other bodily secretions, and produce monetary tokens (not necessarily coin- or bill-shaped) whose value is indicated by the precise mix of compounds that only they can produce.

Alternatively, the "money" could be more like Bitcoin. It is created by giving desired resources to the Savants (equivalent to "mining" Bitcoin). Every store, bank, place of employment, etc. has at least one Savant on staff. The Savant Collective keeps track of how much Antcoin is in circulation, and how much of it each individual "owns." In order to spend Antcoin, a person tells a Savant how much of their Antcoin they want to spend and who to give it to. The Savant registers the transaction with the Collective's hive-memory, and the Antcoin is exchanged without any physical tokens changing hands. The Collective stores everyone's account information in their memory, and is able to identify individuals by their unique scents, face, etc., or maybe some equivalent of memorized passwords.

This would require that the Savants be highly trustworthy (extremely accurate and virtually incapable of fraud and cheating) and have no ambitions for world domination (unless overthrowing their iron tyranny is the point...). They wouldn't necessarily even have to be sapient; they could be like a biological computer network that lives in symbiosis with the player-character Little People.

Incorporate the possibility of "hacking" the Savant Collective, and you could give the story a bio-cyberpunk flair, especially if the SC can produce "robots" (worker drones) and killer robots (warrior drones in various sizes, and flying drones able to attack with stingers, webs, sprays of toxins, etc.).
 

Chess Von Checkers

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I'm pretty interested in this! It looks like a lot of fun and has the potential to be really cozy.
My only concern is that there seems to be an inconsistency in size. Being big enough to ride on a dragonfly and ride on an eagle are two VERY different things. Stuff like that might need to get straightened out, but otherwise, I like the Dahl-esque feel to it. It's very unique!
 

Kattzillaa

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I'm also really interested in this! Maybe they could ride mice or other small animals?