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I have a traditional quasi-medieval fantasy realm where a few generations back improper use of magic lead to creation of monsters throughout the land. Our main countries have had to figure out how to hold, or reclaim, land back from these monsters in order to thrive.

The Kingdom solution was to train up highly skilled soldiers to fight and drive back these monsters, and while they suffered loses from this it's worked relatively well. However, the other major country, the republic, had monsters that are naturally stronger, due to being closer to the epicenter of the disaster that created them in the first place, than those faced by the kingdom, strong enough that attempting to fight them off directly would lead to heavy casualties.

Instead the republic's solution has been to jeryrigg older magical devices, originally used for communication between settlements like a magical telegraph, to create a sort of magical resonance that is annoying to monsters. While not directly harmful to them it caused enough distress to discourage monsters wandering too close to settlements. In addition to this, every settlement has militia trained with a sort of magical musket that can take potshots at any monsters that get too close. These shots degrade in damage done the further away from a target they get, so at maximum range from the monsters (the closest any militia member wants to get) they do little damage, but the pain of being shot, combined with the general annoyance of the jerry rigged communication device, is generally enough to discourage monsters from wandering too close to settlements.

What I need to explain now is how merchants and caravans successfully travel between settlements. Since the monster annoy-o-tron devices are based off of previously-made magical devices, which the republic can't create from scratch anymore, there is a limited number of them, basically one per settlement prior to the magical collapse, and settlements are not going to willingly give away the only device that keeps their settlements safe. I'd also imagined these devices being bulky enough to not be easily transported. This means that caravans between settlements won't have the magical protection to discourage monster invasion. They can still shoot at monsters with rifles, but I'm not convinced the pain of the rifle pot shots alone would be enough to keep monsters from attacking when humans 'invade' their territory.

In theory the monsters could be fought and killed, but these monsters are supposed to be strong enough that only a very small number of elite fighters would stand a chance of defeating them, again I'm not sure it's reasonable to expect every caravan to have such skilled solders to defend it. I intentionally want the republic's available solders to be less skilled compared to the kingdom's so that the kingdom would look to have an advantage when they invade, as such I don't want to imply there is a large standing force of elite mercenaries used to guard caravans which could be drafted in time of war.

No one uses magic any more, it has a significant stigma against it after the last disaster. The republic does have a few devices that work like magitek, but they too are limited and not fully understood. This limits the availability of a magical solution to protecting caravans.

What other tricks could I use to make it possible for people or goods to travel between settlements safely? I'm okay if travel is harder due to monsters, or limited to only large caravans or otherwise require more logistical overhead to do safely, but I need some means that it can happen.

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    $\begingroup$ Is it determined why the monsters attack the humans (be it settlement or travellers) in the first place, or are you okay with answers modifying the monsters to make it possible? For example if the monsters hunt for food, the answer could simply be: monsters found better more reliable source of food, so they no longer get into the trouble of fighting merchants. $\endgroup$ – Kolaru May 22 at 15:44
  • $\begingroup$ Likewise, are your monsters intelligent or instinctual? E.g. are they "wolves" or "orcs". If the latter do they have bows (or similar long range attack)? How prevalent are the monsters on average in any given area? Do they move and attack in a large mass, or small parties? $\endgroup$ – sharur May 22 at 16:28
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    $\begingroup$ @sharur monsters are instinctual and usually move in small packs or alone. I'm basically justifying an eastern style RPG, where everywhere you go you get attacked by monsters you need to defend against so think final fantasy or any other RPG. $\endgroup$ – dsollen May 22 at 16:54
  • $\begingroup$ @Kolaru I am fine with modifying the monsters in some ways. However, this is all justifying an eastern style RPG, where the main characters are attacked by monsters whenever the travel. So any modification which would prevent monsters from attacking my main group of PCs is out. $\endgroup$ – dsollen May 22 at 16:55
  • $\begingroup$ They don't; some of them die. Supply and demand will base their salaries accordingly. The threat of death never stopped anyone from trying to make a living, and those that did are why everything is so expensive. - Unless you're going to accept an answer that says money and you forgot to ask for justification, then this is story based (not that that wouldn't be also). $\endgroup$ – Mazura May 22 at 23:26

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Your magical 'telegraph' system has magical 'telegraph wires'.

The Settlements are covered by a net or field of magic, emanating from the central device. This used to allow 'sub-stations' in telegraph offices to send and receive messages, instead of everyone having to go to the central office - useful in larger town and villages. It is this field which is now establishing the resonance to drive back the monsters.

To connect the devices to each other, you had thick 'ropes' of magical energy networking them, in the same way that we use high-power electricity pylons to shuffle electricity around national grid systems.

These inter-settlement connections also generate resonance, albeit on a narrower scale. This creates passageways of safety between settlements, which have developed into the new road network. Travel too far from the road, and you run risk of ambush by monsters. Some monsters, experimenting with ranged attacks, can even hit you while you are on the road. Sufficiently hungry, angry or otherwise determined monsters can push their way further into the field without being repelled, so the roads still pose some risks.

This does mean, however, that travel between settlements can be somewhat circuitous - instead of travelling directly from Village A to Village B (10km), you may have to travel from Village A to Town C (12km), and then from Town C to Village B (14km - total of 26km)

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This question is really quite open ended in that there are many possible solutions that are entirely setting specific. But since you are asking this question I will assume that those are not what you are looking for, that you do not want to make up anything special to explain this, and answer accordingly.

The easiest solutions is to look for a historical parallel. During the world wars crossing the Atlantic was perilous due to the mons the Germans. The Germans mainly used submarines that were difficult to hunt down and fairly impossible for civilian ships to fight or flee from. This is fairly similar to how your monsters would compare.

The solution adopted was to use convoys. A convoy could be given an escort powerful enough to deter attack and until wolfpack tactics were adopted worked fairly well. A single submarine would not be capable of destroying significant portion of the convoy or outfighting its escorts.

Its important to note that this was not a new invention. Similar tactics were used by merchants throughout history to protect themselves from robbery and piracy. So your people would know of this approach and at least try it. Reading the linked wikipedia article should help in determining what you want your convoys to resemble, which you can then use to help you figure out what you want the power balance between monsters and escorts to be like.

Note that the timing and routes of the convoys are fairly important consideration. One benefit of convoys is that most of the time there will be no human prey to attract the monsters, so it should be possible to plan for low monster levels based on availability of natural prey.

Another consideration is the intelligence of the monsters. Are they intelligent enough to adopt wolfpack tactics? Can they call for reinforcements to fight the escorts? Can they do recon?

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  • $\begingroup$ Can they figure out a pattern if the convoys leave regularly? Is it feasible to introduce random variation in the departures if so? $\endgroup$ – Mary May 23 at 15:03
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    $\begingroup$ The problem is, "convoys" are just caravans at sea. That is exactly what the caravan concept (many travellers grouping together for mutual protection) is about. The escorts are just the caravan guards. The question was "how to protect caravans when the caravan guards are just not able to drive off the monster". This answer amounts to "form caravans with caravan guards strong enough to drive off the monster". $\endgroup$ – Paul Sinclair May 23 at 17:38
  • $\begingroup$ @PaulSinclair Correct. I probably should have explained the rationale more. First, as mentioned in the answer (in the beginning) this question is open ended and "up to you" unless you assume that minimal change is wanted. Second, the fact that caravans can be powered up to convoys capable of fighting the monster is non-obvious enough that writing an answer felt justified to me. The difference in safety is bigger than just thinking "more guards" would suggest. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi May 23 at 17:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Mary Depends on the monsters and how intelligent they are. (ie. I do not and cannot know.) But the fact that you can alter schedules and routes for safety is one of the benefits of a convoy system. So yes, if the monsters can adapt to schedules, the convoys will randomize. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi May 23 at 17:52
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    $\begingroup$ I suppose so, since the OP is wanting trade without having the PCs protected from attacks, just saying trade is done by large caravans able to support enough protectors, while the PCs are travelling in a small group would be enough. $\endgroup$ – Paul Sinclair May 23 at 17:52
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Deception and Bait

The usual purpose of a "caravan" is mutual protection (the principle of mass) against a mobile attacker (robbers) in unfriendly territory.

That doesn't apply here. Your monsters may be clever, but they are not intelligent, and the question specifically rules out massed rifles as an effective deterrent or defense.

Instead, place a bait to lure monsters well away from the travel route for a limited time. For example, the bait could be on the far side of a protected village. Then the caravan races to the protection of the next village.

In addition, you don't want the presence of baits to simply alert monsters (who are ostensibly subject to classical conditioning) to start looking for a yummy caravan. So that means the occasional decoy baits and even decoy caravans of stringy old oxen pulling poisoned cargoes.

  • Baits and decoys are expensive, but must be used regularly. The entire caravan chips in to pay to the local village for the service.
  • Speed is vital. A slow caravan won't reach protection before it is discovered and attacked.
  • The caravan offers mutual support to maintain that speed more than protection. Instead of troops to deter robbers, support is on-the-spot mechanics, earthmovers, decoys and scouts, spare beasts, and spare wagons -- resources to overcome the inevitable problems and delays in order to get the people and cargo through the danger zones as quickly as possible.

Note that this means travel time between protected areas is critical. One-day trade routes will be popular, oases of overnight protection (caves, old fortresses) will be key to longer travel. Routes may be circuitous because of the limitations.

Caravans must be staffed and prepared to keep moving most of the night instead of camping: Relief beasts and drivers, pre-prepared food, etc. Routes must be passable at night.

Trade goods and travel will be very expensive. This implies that the Republic may actually be a federation of republic-villages if it's too expensive to send an army through monster-infested lands to enforce central authority. This may even define the boundary...the Kingdom ends where it's too expensive to send his army; beyond that is Republic, with the nearest few villages living in chronic threat of invasion or subversion by the Kingdom and not much support from nearby villages.

Over the decades, this means that the Republic (with less trade due to higher expense) will become relatively poorer while the Kingdom (with more trade and lower expense) becomes relatively wealthier...which will lead the King to expand his boundaries to match his fatter purse. The Kingdom must be corrupt and inefficient to absorb this wealth if you wish to maintain stable boundaries...but not so corrupt as to let the monsters win a town.

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All trade is done by ships

A ship can transport a lot more goods for the overhead than wagons which means that you can afford to invest in heavy cannons that a caravan would not have. We saw a lot of this in the age of piracy where common cargo gallions were often armed just as well as proper ships of war. While a squad of footman with 1/2" muskets might only be able to sting a giant saber-toothed armadillo, a broadside of 6" cannons would tear it to shreds. You could also have most monsters stay out of the water; so, you don't need to risk direct conflicts most of the time anyway.

Medeville towns were almost always built along coasts and rivers anyway; so, any town that started off well developed enough to have one of these sonic devices would likely already have water access.

For purposes of your war, the Republic could easily have a much stronger navy than the Kingdom, but still have a negligible army. What starts out as necessity means that the Republic would build a fleet so vast that they monopolize naval trade across the region. This hegemony status plus a little too much capitalism means that the Republic now owns (directly or indirectly) nearly every port authority in the region. If a Kingdom ship wants to conduct trade, they need to pay punishing tariffs, port fees, and "protection" fees to the Republic's Trading Commision. This not only answers why the Kingdom would have such a stronger army than the Republic, but also makes the Republic wealthy enough to be worth conquering, and gives the Kingdom the motivation they need to feel justified in this invasion.

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    $\begingroup$ This is a realistic answer to primitive level trade anyway. Travel by land is slow and dependent on surface conditions, which might include monsters but predictably include waterways and mud. Travel by water is much more predictable. If you don't want this you should have oceangoing monsters even larger than the land ones. I personally think ocean monsters bigger than land ones are great because when you need some energy you can have an unsuspected ocean monster surge out and grab the land monster chasing your characters. $\endgroup$ – Willk May 23 at 16:13
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Trade caravans could be flanked at some distance perhaps up to several miles by small groups of special forces troops who know roughly where to expect the monsters and provide diversionary incidents at the time of caravan passing. This might include generating loud noises, lighting fires, creating a lot of smoke, providing stashes of the monsters favourite food in difficult to reach points away from the caravan or if really needed by the more dangerous hit and run tactic to distract the monsters if they do get too close.

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Speed, Scouts, & Leapfrogging Routes

Trade is a necessity for any kingdom above a certain size, so they'll need to trade for certain. The key, then, is to figure out how to minimize the risks, and there's three components to it. The first is speed. Obviously, the faster you can go, the less time you spend between safe zones, and the less time between safe zones, the lower chance of monster attacks. This is not only making sure that all the trade wagons are state-of-the-art, but also having small elite bands of roadbuilders creating and mantaining smooth roads for travels. The roadbuilder core themselves will also have to follow these guidelines.

Scouts - this are a single person on a fast horse which scouts around the caravan. During travel, a caravan might have around a dozen of these who ride near the caravan, on alert for monsters, and willing to fire up a signal arrow if they find one to warn the main caravan to switch routes or to pull back in the event of danger. When not escorting caravans, the scouts' jobs are to maintain the roads, as well as looking for dangerous monster hordes, updating each village, town, and city as to what roads are dangerous and what aren't.

The last component is leapfrogging. Instead of going the direct way from point A to point B, any caravan would make the journey is as many steps as possible by traveling from safe point to safe point, ensuring that, while their journey was much longer, it also keeps them as close to the safe zones as possible so they wouldn't have as much risk, and if they did, they'd be close to safety.

This would, naturally, make trade goods more expensive and require upkeep on the kingdom's part, which would likely come from taxes on the trade goods, making them even more expensive. However, this would also mitigate most of the risks involved with travel or trade and allow for it to still happen.

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This things can help caravans to move between cities:

Speed

Magic monsters are big, nearly invincible and powerfull, and ruining city is effortless to them (houses cannot outrun them), but, they are not very good at running.

Ordinary healthy human with 30kg backpack and walking stick can easily do 6km per hour on good terrain, and with some training, he/she can pass at least 20 km per day. And what if monsters cannot move faster than 2 km per hour? They are dangerous, but they are easy to outrun.

Bad perception

Monsters are big and powerful, but they are not very good at seeing things. Monster can see houses and buildings, but it cannot see people around them, so, if caravans use some simple camouflage or at least spread on terrain, they can pass between monsters undetected.

Humans are not tasty

What if magic monsters are more interest in eating wood, metals and stones, usually used to build fortresses, and they are not interested in eating flesh? So, if your caravan members do not have anything on him/her that lures monsters, monster will not attack them?

Monsters are not dangerous

Probably, bloodthirsty monsters are hoax made by conspiracy of traders to allow them to raise cost of transportation?

Even if there are city guards firing big magic musket into gigantic magic abominations roaming on horizon and magic telegraph humming all day, can you recall, when monster attacked city last time?

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Greed and bribery: Are the monsters open to bribes? If caravans pay intelligent monsters, smart monsters will make caravan routes their territory, maybe even erecting toll booths. Less intelligent monsters recognize caravans leave dead sheep outside their camps at night, and feed off these easy meals, leaving the caravans alone. Perhaps monsters even guard caravan routes as their territory, feeding off easy meals, and driving off other predators from these easy pickings. Monsters know if they eat the humans, they get shot at a lot and then the dead sheep go away. Monsters off major trade routes have no issue eating people, so your adventurers will still have a hard time getting around - not to mention the average adventurer party doesn't bring dozens of sheep and goats with them.

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The magic-based monster repellent/weapon system that you've described sounds a lot like a modern-day LRAD - a non-lethal weapon that uses highly-focused sound waves to incapacitate or repel a target. Your communication devices generated vibrations in the magical aether at extremely high frequencies, and they could focus these vibrations in a general direction (similar to a directional antenna). The frequency is adjustable and if turned down too low, stops interacting with the aether and interacts with normal matter instead. Interacting with air creates rather intense sound waves. Ages ago, magical practitioners were experimenting with this technology and inadvertently caused several catastrophes. Perhaps they deafened half a village, accidentally found the resonant frequency of the castle's wall and vibrated it to collapse, or perhaps they stumbled across the legendary brown note. After that, this magical technology was removed from use and further study banned.

The monsters that currently plague your kingdom are known to have a highly-developed sense of hearing. They rely on it for hunting, navigation, and communication, like a bat or a dolphin. Some of your soldiers remembered these ancient communication devices and secretly experimented with it. They tuned them down to generate sound at a frequency that monsters are very sensitive to, but is well outside the range of human hearing.

Sound intensity drops with the square of the distance to the target, so getting hit with one of these things at close range is devastating but at a distance is barely noticeable. Focus one in a particular direction and you have your "magic musket", or leave it omnidirectional to create a bubble of sound around you.

Your LRAD devices are powerful enough to induce permanent hearing damage at close range, anything from severe tinnitus to complete deafness. Hearing damage of this magnitude is a death sentence for one of these monsters. They would be partially blind and forced to rely on their under-developed senses of sight and smell, and they would be unable to communicate with each other. Your monsters are intelligent enough that they warn each other about the danger and most will shrink away at the mere sight of one of these devices.

How do your caravans travel safely? The Republic has produced enough of these devices to outfit every caravan with at least one. At least, that's true as far as your monsters know. The Republic has no way to build a functional unit, but duplicating the chassis is a fairly simple process for a blacksmith. Some caravans carry a working unit but most carry a dummy unit. Your troops are trained to never turn one on until a monster is practically within melee range. From a monster's point of view, every attack against a caravan is a game of Russian roulette. There's no way to know if it's real until it's too late to survive the damage. It's much easier to avoid caravans, towns, and other large groups of people and wait for small groups of travelers instead.

The weapons/decoys are quite large, however, and need to be mounted on a decent-sized coach or wagon. Individuals traveling on foot or horseback would have no practical way to carry one with them. Individuals can carry a tuning fork, pitch pipe, or other musical instrument tuned to the same frequency as the weapons. A short chirp can sound just like the warning shots that your soldiers fire from the real weapons, potentially scaring off an attacking monster (potentially a consumable item for escaping fights).

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Monsters could be inactive/away at certain times, say during night, or during a full moon, or during storms.

Maybe they dislike moonshine or they gather every week for some monstrous social event)

Anything that make the monsters a little bit predictable can be used to sense when is it a good time to travel.

How easy it is to understand the monster behaviours is up to you. Maybe only specialized people can predict when/where is it safe to travel.

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If you want to move through hostile territory there really are only five options:

  1. Stealth. Avoid detection with camouflage, clever routes, speed or by taking out enemy scouts.
  2. Staying out of reach. If the monsters live on the ground only you could use aircraft, boats, underground tunnels, teleportation, magical pathways …
  3. Defend the caravan with armed escorts.
  4. Bait. (Mis)lead the enemy away from your caravan with misinformation or dummies.
  5. Overwhelming numbers. If your enemy can only be in 5 places at once, send 50 caravans through different routes and accept 10% losses.

I think all of those methods were used to some extend to protect transport ships during World War 2.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is pretty comprehensive. $\endgroup$ – Willk May 23 at 16:14
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Tame monsters

You have a fiction in which your expect your readers will dig monsters. Your characters have a problem? Solve it with more monsters!

https://cramgaming.com/ark-survival-evolved-pvp-review-29642/

tame monsters

See how the TRex back there is having second thoughts? Just like that.

The monsters created by your event vary. Some of them can be captured, and in exchange for food will come along with the caravan. Some can be tamed and serve humankind in other ways as well. Taming monsters is a risky endeavor, and itself can go south or backfire in unpredictable ways. Also, probably none of the tame monsters will be the equal to true monstrosities shambling about the wilderness. But the monsters pressed into human service will at worst make the wild ones work for their dinner and at best induce them to avoid the party entirely.

And monsters fighting monsters makes for great fiction!

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A bit of an unconventional approach that slightly modifies your expectations, but what if those who are specialized to fight monsters really aren't all that great at dealing with humans?

Based on what you've described in your question and comments, the monsters are solitary or small pack hunters, don't have any kind of tool use, and probably don't have any kind of magical ability except some really rudimentary stuff. Learning to effectively fight that doesn't necessarily translate well to fighting a well equipped army backed up by skilled mages. It's like the real-life issue of people who trained for single combat not being all that great at dealing with a group of foes, or those trained for historical maneuver warfare being kind of useless against modern guerilla tactics.

So yes, the elite warriors are probably terrifyingly effective in fights with no magic against only a few people, but it's not like they could realistically take on an army backed up by good mages by themselves.

Of course, this requires that the kingdom not go to the effort of training these elites to fight people as well, but it's easy to come up with reasons for that to be the case. The best one in my opinion, which also preserves your requirement that the kingdom has an advantage over the republic, is that they do it as a show of good faith so that the republic pays to have the kingdom send these elites to guard their caravans. That by itself is a huge advantage in favor of the kingdom because it gives them trivial way to extort the republic to do their bidding (along the lines of "if you screw with us, we'll stop guarding your caravans", which could be further reinforced by the republic being more dependent on internal trading than the kingdom is on trading with the republic).

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Repellents

Tear gas.
Pepper powder.
Acid spray.
etc.

Nothing that's really dangerous to humans. You need the stuff easily accessible on the caravan, and you don't want to wipe the caravan out just because some bumbling idiot accidentally opened the canister with Greek Fire.

There could be plot hooks here:

  • Stuff that works only against specific monster types.
    Maybe depending on weather, time of year, mating season or not, etc.
  • Monsters coming from upwind could be problematic (fortunately many species of hunting animals tend to attack from downwind, to avoid warning they prey; monsters might be similar, though there may be exceptions).
  • Different caravans use different tactics, some get through, some don't.
    People are going to place bets on which caravans get through, and how quickly.
  • Caravan rivalries may be played out by sabotaging the repellent. Which would generally be considered a heinous crime since caravans are so important, but there's always those few who don't have a conscience.
  • Sabotage may also happen to rig a bet...
  • Weather can have a profound effect on the effectivity of the repellents.
    Moist conditions could prevent your pepper powder from dispersing, for example.
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I am reminded of an idea I had long ago for zombie apocalypse scenario. The monsters would require sight of a person before they act, essentially if they can't see a person they just act as if nothing is there. So it would be possible to create corridors out of almost anything and travel safely through them between areas.

My idea was that initially people started joining up buildings using sheets hung over washing lines or stacked cardboard boxes, but you could extend it to be between settlements. Some parts would be well made and robust, others would be flimsy or in need of repair. Of course the monsters wouldn't be the only problem, normal animals would not be "blinded" by them, rain or fire or accidents could damage sections that are then very difficult to repair. There would probably need to be doors in long ones so that the failure of one section wouldn't mean the whole thing was compromised, but that also means that ever now and then you have to open a door with no practical way of knowing what is behind it.

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Since it was not ruled out, let see how the monsters (rather than the traders) could be engineered to fit your requirements. One way to do it is to make them predictable: careful planning based on the behavior of the monsters (learnt by the people over the few past generations) can drastically reduce risks, but it is easy to imagine reasons why some group of adventurer may not have the possibility to prepare well enough or to choose the less risky options.

To enable that the idea is to make monster dangerosity varies on some parameters. Here I briefly explore monsters that are either sensitive to the location or to the time.

(a) Location sensitivity

Assume your monsters prefer or are more effective in some terrains than others. Nosajimiki water trade routes and Chronocidal repulsive telegraph lines fall in that category. The former assuming the monster can not easily go through body of water, the later making them repulsed by some feature of the land (that very elegantly reuse some of the features of the given universe).

Many combinations can be imagined, monster clustering only around lake, or avoiding land without protection from the sun. Maybe they would even dislike rocky ground because they have soft feet. Of course this may lead to the roads being quite convoluted and some adventurers may decide it is worth taking the risk to cut it short through more dangerous land.

While defining dangerous areas through terrain is rather straightforward, it is not the only possibility. For example you could engineer you monster to have well defined territories. Safe area could then be the one going through territories of less agressive monsters.

Another example is having your monsters themselves modify the terrain, typically through nests. If nests are far enough from each other and monsters are unlikely to wander far from their home, then following the borderx of "nest territories" should be relatively safe.

(b) Time sensitivity

Monster do not need to be dangerous all the time. Regular events could perdiodically make them less dangerous, with the travels clustering around these events and being shut down the rest of the time.

The monsters may be affected by external events or by their own internal life cycle. An example of the former, would be full moon weakening them, making the trade safe for few days a month. As for the later one can imagine that during their reproduction period they are too busy fighting each other to secure a mate that they mostly ignore travelers.

Of course the events must happen often enough and weak monsters long enough to make trade feasible and sustainable. But as long as you have full control over the world, nothing prevent your monsters from reproducing for 4 days every 3 weeks and travelers having to hop from one settlement to another during that window.

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