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Author Topic: Forest World  (Read 3769 times)

Offline Yora

Forest World
« on: December 15, 2015, 06:37:54 PM »
An idea that I find very intriguing and I want to use in my stories is to have a world where almost all the land is forest, except for the highest mountain ranges and small rocky islands. I love the idea, but realized that I don't really know how to bring that to the attention and consciousness of readers or what all the implications of such a world would be.

Ecologically and from a weather and climate perspective, I think it's not too much of a stretch that such a planet could exist. And it's really only required that everyone believes that all land is covered by forests. If there are savannahs or tundras in unknown parts of the world that have never been discovered it wouldn't make a difference. Also Magic!

Since people have to work fields to grow food for settled populations, the overall population would have to be really quite small so that no major land clearing has taken place yet. Few people over vast areas also means little trade, which leads to little specialization within self-supporting settlements, and therefore limited technology.
Since I already planned to have mostly societies with early Iron Age culture, I think I am not going to get into any trouble there.

The second implication that comes to my mind would be a lack of roads. Some trails, but with big and old trees standing everywhere, settlements being long distances from each other, and very few people travelling between them, actual roads would just not be worth the trouble. Instead rivers become super important as they are already free of most barriers, boats can carry huge loads, and any village next to a river also has a reliable water source.

If pretty much everything is forest, you also would not have horses. Instead of donkeys you would probably have domesticated deers. Llamas and alpacas make exelent working animals and are similar in stature. (Though actually related to camels, not deers.) Not sure about cattle and sheep, but goats and pigs should be doing very well in forest settlements.

That's about as far as I've got yet. What else would one probably expect from people who live entirely in forest and on the seacoast that would make life different from any other average fantasy world?
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Offline Raptori

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Re: Forest World
« Reply #1 on: December 15, 2015, 06:58:08 PM »
I like the idea of a densely forested world, definitely has a great aesthetic.

One thing that might be worth considering is arboricultural farming. They could easily harvest a large proportion of their diet from edible trees - fruits and nuts obviously, staples like breadfruit or sago, etc - which would allow you to increase the population without losing the dense forests. Instead of clearing land to replace forests with fields, people would just selectively weed out inedible trees to create areas of forest in which all the trees produce food.

If you want to find out more, a place in the real world that puts that concept into practice is the pacific island of Tikopia. The island is extremely isolated, and a few hundred years ago their population was growing to the point that they would no longer be able to feed everyone. To ensure their continued survival, among other things, they replaced the natural rainforest with an ecosystem in which all the trees produce food. They also made sure that they duplicated the natural structure of the rainforest - different canopies, flora for the forest floor, etc - to ensure that it was sustainable and did not make the forest more vulnerable (to things like fires for example).
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Offline Yora

Re: Forest World
« Reply #2 on: December 15, 2015, 07:21:03 PM »
Certainly an important factor in food production. But I think you probably can rely on it as your primary food source only in tropical climates where you have multiple growing seasons. A wonderful thing about grain is that you can store it for the winter and spring while fruit is more difficult to preserve. Another drawback is that fruit trees can relatively easily be destroyed. If a field of wheat is destroyed and you make it through the winter, you can have another harvest next year. But when someone cuts down your trees it will be decades before you can replace them. And I know in parts of Indonesia that is considered a legitimate method of revenge in clan feuds when they are not yet fully committed to straight out murder each other in great numbers. (Could easily be inserted into stories.)

Big advantage of fruit trees is that harvest is relatively easy and you don't have to sow in the spring at all. Once you have your trees they will produce food all by themselves. Maybe some grow fruit better if you cut the branches regularly, but I think that's far less backbreaking work than plowing.
Unless you live in a tropical area, I probably wouldn't rely on trees as the main food source. But you should still try to have as many as you can.

A minor detail that comes to mind is that you probably would have a lot more hemp than cotton for textiles, as you can get much more hemp per square meter than cotton. But not sure if anyone would even be able to tell the difference between cotton and hemp without actually wearing it. :D

In warfare you probably wouldn't have any field battles. For the lack of fields. Instead mostly raiding and maybe the occasional siege if you really have to destroy an enemy. Also probably no siege engines as you won't be able to move them through the forest.
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Offline Raptori

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Re: Forest World
« Reply #3 on: December 15, 2015, 08:00:02 PM »
Actually I get the impression that breadfruit and sago can be stored quite effectively, not 100% sure though. I did think of the climate issue, but there's nothing stopping you just coming up with a fantasy version of something like breadfruit or coconut that can grow in more temperate climates, or coming up with something completely new that ends up with something more similar to grain!  :P
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Offline Yora

Re: Forest World
« Reply #4 on: December 15, 2015, 08:14:25 PM »
If you can do without any land clearing, then cattle and sheep would probably be completely impossible to keep. They wouldn't even be around without open spaces where gras can grow. Goats would do better, though.

Speaking of big animals, dragons and similar giant flyers probably wouldn't be able to land in dense forests, confining them to mountains.
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Offline ArhiX

Re: Forest World
« Reply #5 on: December 16, 2015, 07:56:16 PM »
Pigs are quite strong and fast. I'm sure they are stronger than any deer can ever be. They can even jump over REALLY high hurdles - I was a witness of a pig getting through a 2,5 m high fence... They are also very intelligent and can distinguish people (i.e pigs on my farm always hated my father - because of reasons - but were 'friendly' for me). In many places pigs are trained to look for food (like a truffle) or even landmines. The only downside for this 'theory' is that pigs get exhausted quite fast and can die because of it. That's propably only a problem with modern breeds as they are bred only for meet, so they are walking balls of fat and meat...
Pigs can also grow REALLY big 'tusks' - just as boars. Normally those teeth are pulled out when pigs are infant.

So I see no problem for a pig to be used for transportation - if purposedly bred for such means. I would even said, that they could be used one-of-a-kind animal guardians - instead of dogs :v

There's also one more thing. Modern days boars are just hairy angry pigs (well not really but let's say it is true). Prehistoric pigs were... a little bit bigger. And more dangerous.
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Spoiler for Hiden:
And Archaeoterium:
Spoiler for Hiden:


And if anyone is worrying that big animals are not able to live in a forest... Well - there are Aurochs (exttinct) and Wisents (still here).
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Offline Yora

Re: Forest World
« Reply #6 on: December 16, 2015, 09:38:38 PM »
Elephants and rhinoceroses are also doing just fine in forests. Not all forms of forests, but many are open enough to let them through.
Generally speaking, the denser the canopy of the foliage is, the less undergrowth you will have because of the lack of light that reaches the ground. You can have bushes and brambles that are literally impenetrable, but these will be in places that are open to the sky. An important difference between natural forests and most forest that are close to inhabited places in the industrialized world, is the diversity and lack of uniformity. In a natural forest trees will eventually die and fall over, allowing sunlight to reach the ground, which first will be covered by small plants and eventually young trees. For that hole to be closed again will take centuries. If you're in an area where there has been logging in the last 300 years, that's not a natural forest. All the trees are about the same age and therefore of the same height and the canopy closed without holes. There hasn't been any opportunities for a second generation of trees yet and there also will be very little, if any trees, that have fallen over and are in the process of decomposing (which again takes decades or even centuries). Most forests near human habitations are way too clean and tidy compared to natural forests.

Spoiler for Hiden:
One of these is not like the others:








It should illustrate quite well why you most probably won't have any conventional field battles in a forest world. Unfortunately, there seems to be very little information around about warfare between groups native to forest landscapes. The best we have is one example of an army used to forest combat completely annihilating another army that was completely unable to fight in forests. That doesn't tell us what they did, but it tells us at least some things about what they did not do.
There is just no way move warriors in formation. And while you might quite well be able to ride on an animal along a trail or even through very light underbrush, you can't really use cavalry units. A scout on a mount would be able to race back very quickly to the rest of the army and warn them of enemies ahead, but you won't be able to do any fancy flanking or circling with 100 or 400 riders. They just can't stay together as a group and still make quick maneuvers.
Shield walls might work, though with a negible threat from cavalry probably only to block narrow passages. If you just want to prevent your enemy from going forward and the terrain doesn't allow them to just go around you at the sides, then a shield wall should be very effective at blocking and holding a tight spot. Bridges also make good spots when you can be reasonably certain that the enemy doesn't just walk through the river somewhere else.

Spoiler for Hiden:
Two classic examples from the ancient period.




Something that also won't work is masses of archers. Even with tree trunks relatively widely spaced, branches and leaves still affect arrows and you probably can't see far anyway. Archery would be more in the way of hunters, where you pick out a specific target and aim directly at it and your arrow has to hit the spot where you aimed or it will hit nothing.
To me, that all idicates that warfare would almost certainly take place between armies of pretty small size. If you want to assault a fortified town or hill fort, you'd of course get as many men together as you can as you will have to face the entire adult population fighting back. But big marching armies seem very unlikely to me.

Speaking of fortifications, as defenders you have to clear all the trees outside of your walls or pallisade so that you can see anyone who tries to get close with ladders or battering rams and shot them with arrows before they get to you. It might also be smart to clear the ground only for as far as people on the wall will be able to shot their bows. If there is open space where your archers can't reach, those will be perfect spots for enemies to build catapults and balistas and the like. They won't be able to shot them at you from inside the trees and when you can decide what the minimum shoting range will be, it should be close enough for you to shot back at them.

Another thing that I believe gets always ignored in fiction is that it's close to impossible to silently sneak up on someone in a forest. Dry leaves are the loudest surface you could possibly walk on. You probably need a good, and loud, distraction to get close to someone in a forest without him hearing you from a few meters away.
On the other hand, it's really very easy to not be seen in an old forest. Which makes it super important to have trackers who can spot signs of other people having been in the area. Making an ambush is pretty easy and since most of the forest floor is difficult to walk on, you can make very good predictions where exactly anyone would walk and what spots they would be able to see or not see from that trail.
Oh, and forests at night are freakishly dark. Even without any streetlights, moonlight provides a good amount of light to walk by. But the canopy of the trees often blocks out 80 to 90% of the light and unless you have a perfectly clear sky and a full moon high in the sky, a forest at night will be super dark. You might be able to see your hand in front of your face and even be able to stumble around without tripping, but unless you're following a cart trail or know the area extremely well, you probably won't be able to tell where you're going at all. It really gets pitch black. A torch or lamp will light a small area around you, but then you'll be 100% blind towards everything outside that small area, which might even be worse than being almost blind at a much larger range.
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Offline NinjaRaptor

Re: Forest World
« Reply #7 on: December 20, 2015, 02:54:58 AM »
I am very fond of jungle settings personally, though they don't have to cover the whole world. In fact I was brainstorming ideas for a jungle setting myself the other day. I'll share what I have myself:

- My jungle covers a vast basin bisected by a river with many tributaries, rather like the Congo or Amazon. Many of its sources cascade from a volcanic rift along one side of the basin, thereby depositing fertile silt of igneous origin on the riverbanks. Though there are primates like monkeys and apes present, the jungle's dominant megafauna are sauropsids like dinosaurs, giant snakes and crocodiles, and pterosaurs.

- The human inhabitants are lithe of build, dark-skinned, and kinky-haired like Central Africans. They live in treehouse villages almost like the Korowai of New Guinea, and they subsist on horticulture, hunting, and fishing. These communities are headed by councils of elders headed by an elected chieftain who possesses spiritual as well as political authority.

- In their culture, men are responsible for gardening and protecting the villages while the young women hunt in the jungle. Older women are expected to watch over and nurse the children. Huntresses may use spears, bows and arrows, throwing knives, or nets to cooperatively hunt all kinds of prey, even the largest and most dangerous dinosaurs, and they can swing on vines or "surf" down mossy branches to travel through the jungle. Most weapons are forged from iron, though steel is their most prized material when they can get their hands on it.

- As for war, the huntresses are often in fierce competition with the predatory theropods, most of all the intelligent raptors, over hunting grounds. Bloody inter-specific skirmishes may break out if they bump into one another.
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Offline xiagan

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Forest World
« Reply #8 on: December 20, 2015, 04:46:38 AM »
One of the Malazan books, Blood and Bone takes place on a jungle island (climate is more Amazonian) and it's really well made and big troops kind of vanish without much enemy contact because it's quite hostile if you don't know the stuff indigenous people know.

If you are looking for warfare in a more moderate climate, don't forget the German/Roman battle in the Teutoburger forest. In fact, a lot of Germany was covered in huge forests in that time - but you probably know that. ;)
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Offline Yora

Re: Forest World
« Reply #9 on: December 20, 2015, 09:26:33 AM »
Yes, but it's a bad example of how people native to forests would make war. Nobody would use tactics as the Romans did. Because those just don't work there.  :D
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Offline xiagan

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Re: Forest World
« Reply #10 on: December 20, 2015, 09:52:50 AM »
Yes, but it's a bad example of how people native to forests would make war. Nobody would use tactics as the Romans did. Because those just don't work there.  :D
Yeah, if it's about two forest-native opponents you're right. :D Dunno if it is worth looking into German/German feuds...
"Sire, I had no need of that hypothesis." (Laplace)

Offline Yora

Re: Forest World
« Reply #11 on: December 20, 2015, 10:03:31 AM »
I've not been able to find anything of that kind. The only reports are really from where Romans had been involved.

But maybe there's some clue in Swedish sagas.

I did find a book caled War Before Civilization. It's already 20 years old and the main aim seem to have been to start a paradigm shift regarding the idea of noble peaceful savages (which I believe nobody in anthropology really considers anymore these days) and it deals mostly with America and New-Guinea (because there the evidence is the freshest), but it does have quite a good amount of information on how tribal warfare works.
« Last Edit: December 20, 2015, 04:10:32 PM by Yora »
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Offline Adrian_Selby

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Re: Forest World
« Reply #12 on: December 20, 2015, 10:16:19 PM »
If the whole world is fully forested I imagine you'd have a hard time defining nation states.  It would be hard for the apparatus of state institutions to arise out of the tribal structures that would do well in such a habitat.

It's likely, if you believe the world to be sparsely populated, that slavery wouldn't be strong, as coercion works only where there isn't anywhere easy to escape to.  This applies also to any state apparatus that tries to exert sovereignty over a dispersed area or multiple tribes.

Offline jefGoelz

Re: Forest World
« Reply #13 on: December 21, 2015, 01:07:56 AM »


Ecologically and from a weather and climate perspective, I think it's not too much of a stretch that such a planet could exist. And it's really only required that everyone believes that all land is covered by forests. If there are savannahs or tundras in unknown parts of the world that have never been discovered it wouldn't make a difference. Also Magic!
I don't think it would be a major deal breaker if nearly the entire world was forested (some denser, some more mediterranean) except for rain shadows of major mountains. Maybe you don't have terribly tall mtns. You could have tall mtns that run parallel with the prevailing winds (forests N and S of the Alps, for example). And you need prevailing winds that bring moisture to the continents.

Since people have to work fields to grow food for settled populations, the overall population would have to be really quite small so that no major land clearing has taken place yet. Few people over vast areas also means little trade, which leads to little specialization within self-supporting settlements, and therefore limited technology.
Since I already planned to have mostly societies with early Iron Age culture, I think I am not going to get into any trouble there.
To me, this is a bigger problem. Agriculture came long before iron (You might want to read Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs, and Steel").

The second implication that comes to my mind would be a lack of roads. Some trails, but with big and old trees standing everywhere, settlements being long distances from each other, and very few people travelling between them, actual roads would just not be worth the trouble. Instead rivers become super important as they are already free of most barriers, boats can carry huge loads, and any village next to a river also has a reliable water source.

I'm not sure how you are defining roads, but if there is trade between villages, there will be roads.

If pretty much everything is forest, you also would not have horses. Instead of donkeys you would probably have domesticated deers. Llamas and alpacas make exelent working animals and are similar in stature. (Though actually related to camels, not deers.) Not sure about cattle and sheep, but goats and pigs should be doing very well in forest settlements.
Are you saying no horses because they evolved in grasslands in the real world? That's the only reason to exclude them that I can think of. I think that would apply to donkeys, sheep and goats. There certainly are forest bovines. In the real world, humans domesticated the animals they could domesticate (cattle, yes; american bison, no). However, in your world you could have an animal that looks like a bison that was more tractable (if you wanted an excuse, say that forest bison were in smaller herds and thus easier to manage).  Or war pigs.  yes, definitely war pigs. ;)

That's about as far as I've got yet. What else would one probably expect from people who live entirely in forest and on the seacoast that would make life different from any other average fantasy world?
It really depends on how (real world) realistic you want to make it. I don't think there was a literate forest people.

Offline jefGoelz

Re: Forest World
« Reply #14 on: December 21, 2015, 01:36:47 AM »
If you can do without any land clearing, then cattle and sheep would probably be completely impossible to keep. They wouldn't even be around without open spaces where gras can grow. Goats would do better, though.

cattle, sheep, and goats could all graze on understory plants, bark (and fruit that fell).
I'd have to check to see if there were domesticated grazing animals before agriculture.  There were dogs. Dogs would be another possible draft animal.