I have a city on the edge of the sea and an ancient forest. The forest was protected for generations by local rulers but current ruler get bribed by foreign guilds to allow logging. The trees are old and huge and the water for transport is near so the guilds are reaping huge profits allowing to continuously sponsor the ruler.

There are some "forest people" that oppose the logging but I want the city people to join the struggle and I wonder what could motivate them to take up arms in such conflict and then protect the forest later if they win?

The city people are supporting themselves most from the sea and the trade so there is not much financial incentive to fight. I would say that some would have incentive to continue logging for profit if foreign guilds monopoly would be broken.

The local ruler is passive do not have much enforcers of his own and is a vassal subordinate to higher level lord. His superior would wholeheartedly opposed to logging but have his own bigger problems and cannot afford any internal struggle at the moment. So if the guilds can be kicked out quietly then nobody would make a fuss.

The forest is considered the most beautiful in a continent and to some extent considered a cultural treasure but I think such sentiment would speak more to aristocracy and not to common people who I want to risk their lives and who do not get much direct benefit from it themselves.

The city people do not have to come up with the impulse by themselves, there some outside forces that try to rouse them but they have to have convincing argument.

The social and technology level corresponds to medieval/renaissance.

Clarifications The city people follow religion which emphasizes order and hard work, in the forest there is a sect spreading that focuses on self sufficiency and living in harmony in nature but it is foreign religion and have only handful of adherents. The local religion is well entrenched so I think making population switch is the same question - it needs some strong impulse to happens.

The woodcutters are foreigners, have similar culture and follow different branch of local religion. There are a lot of them about 2000 for a city population of 5000 (and most of woodcutters are young and strong whereas city population includes children, old and infirm).

The city "merchant" elites have reasons to oppose the logging guild but are week and few and bulk of city population is made from poor warehouse workers, sailors and fishermen.

Disclaimer: This is a scenario for a RPG but I feel it fits wordbuilding SE much better.

  • $\begingroup$ If the forest holds some religious or nationalistic significance then city people will happily join the struggle. This always works. $\endgroup$
    – Rolen Koh
    Sep 19, 2016 at 5:16
  • $\begingroup$ Ask this about ANWR and the Keystone Pipeline on Politics SE. $\endgroup$ Jan 1, 2021 at 0:23

6 Answers 6


In Medival England common folk had the right to use commonly held woods and forests in certain ways.

Pannage-pigs could be turned out into the forest to eat acorns and other wild produce in the autumn.

Estovers-they were allowed to collect wood for fuel and to build and repair homes.

Turbary-cut turf to use a fuel.

Marl- collect clay to use as a soil Conditioner.

For medieval people's the ability to fatten their pigs for the winter, to get fuel and building materials were very important and in some cases. Were the only thing that stopped them starving.

These rights are still exist today in some places, for instance the New Forest National Park. http://www.newforestnpa.gov.uk/info/20089/rich_cultural_heritage/48/commoning

There were then several Inclosure Acts that took these rights away from people that in some cases lead to unrest.

People in your city may have been using this forest in a similar sustainable way for centuries, are are now going to lose them.

  • Tradition: As you said, generations of previous rulers protected the forest. For that reason the citypeople feel that preserving the forest is part of their cultural tradition.
  • Religion: The forest people could spread their faith in the city and convince the city people that the forest is holy and chopping it down is a sacrilege.
  • The foreign logging guild is unpopular: Maybe the leader of the guild insulted the city. Maybe the guild lumberjacks regularly visit the city after work, get drunk, harass the womenfolk and start brawls. Maybe they are supporting a rivaling sports club. Maybe they are of a different race and the locals are racist. Whatever the reason, the citypeople dislike the guild for reasons completely unrelated to their logging activity and thus oppose them on principle.
  • Economic interests: Some of the cities most wealthy and powerful aristocrats might have economical interests to oppose the logging guild for reasons which are quite indirect. The forest might not be directly their business, but maybe the foreign guild is competing with them for the market of other products. They want to prevent them from becoming more powerful. They might also be afraid of the slippery slope: When they allow the foreign guild to do business around their city, it's a very small leap to allowing them to do business in the city and compete with them directly. This gives them a reason to agitate the commoners against the foreigners.

Event Sequence:

Event 1: The entry of the foreign guild along with its workforce displaces local population deriving sustenance from the forests(Local lumber jacks, gatherers etc.,). This is a very small minority.

Event 2: The guild has begun monopolizing the lumber trade, they begin hiking lumber prices in the local markets as they get better rates for exports. This begins to affect the local shipbuilding industry, which in turn affects the fishing industry causing price rises of sea produces.

Event 3: Petitions to the local ruler are being dismissed as he is already being paid up. Ruler's apathy begins to sow seeds of dissent.

Event 4: Powerful aristocrats sniff an opportunity to snatch power and establish control. They begin seeding local news and rumor mills with campaigns against the ruler.(Much like today's politicians influencing the media.)

Event 5: Once the scene is set, all it would take is for a bunch of people acting as members of the logging guild to do something stupid enough to rouse the people. (Maybe set fire to a few buildings or burn down a warehouse.)[This can be done by the scheming aristocrat or the forest people.]

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @AGrzes: Can you give me a little more clarity. How foreign are these foreigners? Are they from the next village or a different country? i.e., 10KM away or a 100KM away. Distance affects how culture and religion spread. Further are you looking for a realistic prediction model or is it essential that we stay in-line with the given setting? Further different branches of same religion may still have varying principle.(eg. Catholicism vs Protestants in medieval Europe) and this can be used to arouse resentment in the populace. $\endgroup$
    – Rudhra
    Sep 18, 2016 at 12:43
  • $\begingroup$ The foreigners are from different country about 100 KM away. They share language, history and religion (group). I would compare it to different city states in Italy before unification. As for religious difference your example is good it would be local (protestant) versus foreign (catholic), only there was no schism or direct "religious" wars before between the factions. I would prefer to stay with the setting. $\endgroup$
    – AGrzes
    Sep 18, 2016 at 14:02
  • $\begingroup$ I have attempted to give a scenario progression given your setting. Hope it helps. $\endgroup$
    – Rudhra
    Sep 18, 2016 at 15:53

You say your city makes its living from the sea and trade. In which case, they will need timber for ship-building. There may therefore be all sorts of ancient and complex agreements between the forest people and the shipwrights, on when and where it is appropriate to log some trees for ship-building. Only take 1 giant tree per acre, for instance. Or to plant 100 acorns for every oak you fell.

There could be other, equally ancient agreements, which are all about forward planning. When York Minster's roof was struck by lightning and destroyed by the subsequent fire, people who owned and/or managed ancient oak forests offered their trees to build a new roof. An archaeologist told me that in one case, the forest in question had been originally planted for just such eventualities - to provide oak timber decades or centuries after the acorns were first planted.

So the foreign loggers could be violating ancient/traditional pacts and agreements. The local folks could just know about them, but not have them written down anywhere. Or you could make a plot point of someone digging out a dusty manuscript from a forgotten shelf in a local monastery/castle/guildhouse which proves that only Guild X or Family Y has the right to harvest timber from the ancient forest.


They probably wouldn't even know it was happening. There's a reasonable chance the common people are illiterate even if there is such a thing as a newspaper, travelling any distance is pretty much unheard of for common people other than the traditional migration from country to city. This is just not a thing they'd know about and if they did, they may well not want to get involved with the problems of their "betters".

Migrant labourers have always been unpopular though, it's likely they wouldn't be allowed into the city after dark.

I'm struggling a little with your basic premise

  • Timber was the greatest strategic resource of the period, it would take a lot more than bribery to allow a foreign power access to it
  • Woodcutters are peasants, you don't move peasants internationally, you just find some local ones
  • Rebelliousness requires free time and spare money, common people on the whole have neither in the period you're talking about, it's a luxury of the wealthy

You're going to need to bring up some real leverage to get the ordinary street people with no connection to the forest to care about something happening more than a mile from their front door in this period. One of the key ways to do this would be to downgrade from "city" to "county town" or even "village", the populations of these smaller urban environments are more likely to still have a connection to the surrounding countryside and depend on it more directly for food and fuel, and Sarriesfan's considerations about common law come into play.

You'll also need a real rabble rousing speaker, these are harder to find and liable to be hanged quickly if caught. Your technological period overlaps the Bloody Code years in England where just about everything was a hanging offence.

  • $\begingroup$ First "You're going to need to bring up some real leverage to get the ordinary street people with no connection to the forest to care about something happening more than a mile from their front door in this period" - this is exactly why I'm asking for inspiration. For other reservations - the logging was considered unthinkable before so there was no perceived strategic value. When the liege will deal with current external threat the local ruler would probably have to pack the gold and flee for life. $\endgroup$
    – AGrzes
    Sep 19, 2016 at 19:22
  • $\begingroup$ ... The local people know about the logging simply because they can see the work with the naked eye and know that forest that two years ago reached outskirts of the city now is hardly visible looking from highest hill in town. As for "city"/ "county town" / "village" I called it city because of population (~5K) it have a ruler castle, a port, some masonry buildings, a temple and a lot of warehouses. What it does not have is an outside wall. As for foreign workers, they serve additional purpose as they are 2000 able bodied men (with axes) that outnumber local guards by 10 to 1. $\endgroup$
    – AGrzes
    Sep 19, 2016 at 19:32

Another option, similar to religion, might be the fear to be cursed, if the forest is damaged.

The fear of supernatural beings was common in medieval times. Every region had their own versions of tales that were told, e.g. to keep little children away from dangerous places and to tell when drinking with others. Sooner or later most of them became so common that all people in the region believed in them. So if you can make the townspeople fear for their lives, because the "supernatural guardian of the forest" might get angry you have a reason for them to take up arms.

This might be better suited for your situation than religion because religion was normally wide-spread. So if the forest was sacred people from other guilds should know about the sacred forest, too. With a local legend of the supernatural you can make it so that only your people are afraid and not the foreign people coming to cut down your "cursed forest".

  • $\begingroup$ In traditional Scandinavian lore, harming the "guardian tree" led to misfortune; crop failure, disease, and any number of similar ailments that could strike a family. Farm gnomes often lived very close to the guardian tree as well, and angering them could also lead to misfortune. Now, the guardian tree was usually local to one farm or possibly small village, but there's no reason you couldn't possibly have a village consider the forest their collective "guardian trees". Swedish Wikipedia has a bit on it; maybe Google Translate can help. sv.wikipedia.org/wiki/V%C3%A5rdtr%C3%A4d $\endgroup$
    – user
    Jan 18, 2017 at 20:58

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