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In my world, humanoid races are an afterthought added by the gods only after they'd spent millennia treating the world as their personal canvas, designing it however they found most interesting. This resulted in an extreme and hostile environment, with large forbidding mountains, deep impenetrable forests, and wildly tumultuous rivers. Furthermore, the exceedingly fertile ecosystems have larger trophic chains than on Earth, resulting in a proliferation of large animals, including many predators and magical beasts– monsters, in short.

To be specific, in this world it is difficult to travel, colonize new areas, expand settled areas, and maintain current holdings due to:

  • Hostile ecological elements, such as large animals
  • Natural barriers, such as mountains and forests
  • Difficult-to-tame environments, such as forests with high regrowth rates

My question is this: in such a dangerous and difficult-to-navigate world, where would civilization be located and how would it be distributed? I assume it would have a stronger focus on navigable waterways than our world, but I'm trying to figure out the scale and population distribution of nations. Would there be tiny, isolated city-states? Could thinly-spread dense population centers become a larger nation despite the difficulty of travel? Or would a world such as I have described not deter human expansion at all, to the degree that humanoids have settled a significant portion of the world's arable land?

Civilization has been developing for several millennia and is currently in the late Middle Ages, technologically and culturally. Magic is present, but should not be a significant factor in any answers.

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  • $\begingroup$ This question as written is meaningless. You are asking "where would civilization be located and how would it be distributed", but you gave no description of the geography. How could anybody tell you "where" when there is no map? If I told you that civilization will begin on the valley of the Buranuna, at Shuruppak, Zabalam, Eridu and Girsu, and later extend to Eshmunna in the valley of the Idigina, how could you tell whether I am right or wrong? (Ours did.) And BTW, we hunted the mammoth, we battled the cave lions and cave bears, we drove apex predators to extinction... on Earth. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Mar 17 '18 at 17:46
  • $\begingroup$ I don't mean absolute position, but relative position. In a dangerous world, where would population centers be relative to each other? If it was Europe, would you get one small area of the continent (say, Belgium-sized) covered in cities and towns and farmland with the rest wilderness? Or would you get small, scattered, isolated city-states with few larger nations? $\endgroup$ – Syric Mar 18 '18 at 13:12
  • $\begingroup$ I'm thinking of a response - spoiler alert, you're looking at very isolated city states - but I need to know more about what you mean by "Civilization has been developing for several millennia and is currently in the late Middle Ages, technologically and culturally." 1250 -1500 in Europe? China? India? Somewhere else? Are the hostile environments so diverse that groups within an area the size of Poland might begin to display racial differences? The potential for wildly differing cultures in a relatively small area is intriguing $\endgroup$ – KernelOfChaos Apr 5 '18 at 8:19
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Jared Diamond's book Guns, Germs and Steel gives a detailed description of how different combinations of geographical variables influence the degree and rate of technological advancement possible.

ETA: Climate uniformity is among the most important criteria for Diamond. If natural barriers are such that your civilizations are spread over an east-west axis, they can exchange crops and livestock and technologies easily because no climate adaptation is required. But if natural barriers are such that your civilizations are spread over a north-south axis, exchange is extremely difficult because domesticable food sources, clothes, and some technologies are climate-specific.

ETA: Domestication of animals is extremely tricky. There's a complex combination of factors that need to be just right: the aggressiveness of the animal, its lifespan compared to human lifespan, its willingness to live in enclosed areas, its willingness to live in herds, its food requirements, the timing of its fertility, how long it takes to reach adulthood, etc. This is why, for example, hippos and bears, which would in theory provide abundant meat and workforce, cannot be used as livestock.

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  • $\begingroup$ Do you have any examples from that book that you can share in your answer? $\endgroup$ – Green Mar 17 '18 at 15:44
  • $\begingroup$ Climate uniformity is among the most important criteria for Diamond. If natural barriers are such that your civilizations are spread over an east-west axis, they can exchange crops and livestock and technologies easily because no climate adaptation is required. But if natural barriers are such that your civilizations are spread over a north-south axis, exchange is extremely difficult because domesticable food sources, clothes, and some technologies are climate-specific. $\endgroup$ – Carlos Arturo Serrano Mar 17 '18 at 15:50
  • $\begingroup$ Put that comment in your answer and I'll up vote you :) $\endgroup$ – Green Mar 17 '18 at 15:52
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the answer, but I'm asking about where people live (density, centralization, etc.), not how: levels of technological development are outside the scope of my desired answer. $\endgroup$ – Syric Mar 17 '18 at 16:42
  • $\begingroup$ Diamond covers those topics too: availability of food and ease of trade have effects on population density and societal complexity. $\endgroup$ – Carlos Arturo Serrano Mar 17 '18 at 18:52

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