We have two – one the former colonial master of the City States, the other as yet vague. We also know that grain is transported from one to the other. Why feed your potential enemy? That suggests poverty and poverty suggests the grain producing power needs cash. States traditionally need cash to fight wars.
For the other power having to buy in food suggests a heavily populous state perhaps having lost it’s own ‘bread basket’ region? Such a state would have to tread carefully with the grain producing empire that’s sell it the food. To trade back the ‘hungry’ Empire will need something.
For some reason I’m seeing the ‘hungry’ Empire as quite Norse, that makes me think of Dwarfs, Dragons and Gold. Okay – let’s say the Norse (and their maybe sundry other subject peoples in the Empire) are engaged in a frontier war against barbarians/orcs/dwarfs* on the far side of their borders to the City States. In this raiding Cortez like they get a lot of gold which together with other products likes timber, other minerals, pelts etc; they trade south. (Maybe a blend Norse & Celtic tropes..) The Barbarians will have taken the grain belt of this Empire.
The Reich is in lower altitudes and this being a Fantasy world are further from the sun and hence have the poorer climate.
The Southern Empire is starting to feel quite Egyptian – if only because the Egyptians don’t get much of a look in. As Egyptian society was quite communistic in its view of personal liberty (and commerce) it gives another impetus for the city states to have rebelled, especially the middle class. Perhaps they need cash as they fight Babylonian (or Zulu style Nubian or both) on other borders.
The Tawny are on a high plateau and as such benefit from a hot climate while the lower down
The city states as feeling a little bit Hebre
So to clarify it’s the Tawny on the plateau basking in the warmth of sun, while the hungry Reich shiver in their shadow and the Valley people over the temperate foothills between them…
w, a little bit Greek and a dash of renaissance Italy blended with politics of the American West and the Revolutionary France.
Okay I’ve probably been a bit unclear. I’ve had people asking me why the land smuggling if there is a ruddy great canal. Truth is I didn’t see all the towns clustered along the canal. Given the Canal’s role as a trading artery it was probably a very place to have your settlement if you wanted to be strongly governed and fought over…therefore I imagined many of the towns would be set away from the Canal which is where the VCs come in. Also cargo on a river/canal is quite stoppable and searchable whereas you have more room to avoid patrols on the land.
As an aside on the smuggling I think a number of towns won’t outright ban ale and other drugs but tax them heavily. This opens up all sorts of grey economy and contraband fun for the VCs and the city based gangs.
Back to the canal, given the altitude difference perhaps the canal can feature some striking (well huge) falls and the designers have put in a water wheel powered by those falls which power the lifts which carry cargo from the Highlands to the valley. It’s always good to have some fantasy ‘wow’ geography. Such power could also power workshops and mills used by the Tawny to craft goods from the Reich’s raw materials and mill grain on a massive scale. There should still be enough winding passes for the Reich and Tawny to get at each other if needed or for contraband to be smuggled.
Of course this set up means that the Tawny could also starve the Reich if they wanted by damning the canal. Reich are looking less of a superpower and more a weak client state. How to generate some conflict? How about theology?
Let’s say that rather than traditional syncretism the Reich and Tawny have come to view their neighbour’s pantheon as in opposition to their own. A shadow/parody established by their respective trickster/villain gods (Loki/Set.) Not enough for regular crusades but enough for continued tension and suspicion.
And back to the Valley people. They are monotheistic. Now if we go back far enough there is historical confusion* over whether the God of the Jews was ‘just’ the tribal god of the Jews or the sole god of the universe with all other deities demons at best, a sham at worse. What if this confusion for the purposes of the game is a real debate between the city states of the Valley? Effectively some are true monotheists while some just believe they follow a tribal deity. It could be formed into part of the theological debates of Valley and resulting conflict. Furthermore the extreme monotheists going as far as wanting to convert non-believers opposed by the ‘tribalists’ who don’t want the worshipping population polluted by infidels/gentiles etc;