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Small, isolated village near a mountain. What do the people there do for a living?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Panda, Feb 21, 2015.

  1. Panda

    Panda Troubadour

    My story was initially going to start out in a small, rural village consisting mostly of farmers. It recently occurred to me that this might be a bad idea: not only is it cliche, but it might not be feasible given the village's proximity to a mountain. (The mountain is important to the plot, so I can't change the location of the village.) I'm guessing the ground might be too rocky for farms, and there might not be enough sunlight for crops to grow. The mountain is part of a range on the western edge of the kingdom's border, so the village would be in its shadow for part of the afternoon. (This isn't important to the plot, but I don't want to change my mental image of the kingdom's map.)

    So what sort of occupations might this village revolve around? Mining? Quarrying? Goat-herding? Keep in mind the village is small and, while I'm sure they export something to the larger cities, there isn't a steady stream of trade going on. (The relative isolation is also important to the plot.) The area is also heavily forested; could hunting or lumber be a source of income?
  2. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

    Volcanic soil is actually famous for its fertility, so the slopes of a volcano would work fine if the farmers terraced it. They might even cling to it if the lowland areas are less fertile than the volcanic slopes (this is common in tropical regions with heavy rainfall).
    Panda likes this.
  3. Panda

    Panda Troubadour

    Cool, that might work. Would it make sense for a volcano to be in a mountain range, though? I thought they were usually on islands.
  4. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

    On the contrary, volcanoes do form mountain ranges within continents. You can find them near tectonic subduction zones (the Andes in South America) or continental rifts (the Rift Valley in East Africa).
  5. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

    Goat herding and sheep herding will definitely keep folks alive (and clothed). Even if the soil isn't ideal for large-scale agriculture, you'll still probably be able to get some subsistence farming done. There could certainly be mining going on, copper, tin, and iron being the main suspects, but you'd have to do some research on mining techniques (or lack thereof) in the historical time period you're writing in the vicinity of.

    But what kind of a mountain is this? It'd be good to know if it is a volcano, but is it extremely rocky and snow-capped, like all those grand epic fantasy mountains seem to be? Or is it a bit softer, with more soil cover and vegetation up its slopes? I might suggest that this be a village in a valley, which is a more probable location for settlement, especially if there's a river fed by snowmelt--and you get better sediment, and thus arable land, that way. Adds fishing to your list of occupations, as well.
    Panda likes this.
  6. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

    There is also Charcoal making if you wanted something to trade. The sides of mountains are often wooded and if unsuitable for terracing [and farming] would produce lots of wood.
    And on a small scale Gold Panning... keep the finds small so no-one gets the idea to strip mine the area and your locals could be laying out sheep and goat fleeces in every stream to collect the grains.
    Both of these are not jobs that would run all year but could be useful alternatives/additions to farming.
  7. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    Obvious suggestion: current or former mining town, or a base for prospectors hoping to strike it rich
  8. K.S. Crooks

    K.S. Crooks Inkling

    There can still be farming at the base of a mountain or in a valley between mountains. Mining is obvious as you said. If you use this then make it an unusual. The villagers could also works as guides through the different mountain passes, transporters of goods to different locations, with the mining perhaps they are expert metal workers for swords and other items. Hope this sparks a few ideas.
  9. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

    I would think life would revolve around most of what was already mentioned above. You'd probably have miners, sheepherders, lumberjacks, hunters. With mining likewise you would have smithing. With lumber you have carpentry, scrimshaw, carving and of course making spears, bows, arrows.

    Hope this helps.
  10. Butterfly

    Butterfly Auror

    I would add, with it being a mountain range there will undoubtedly be watercourses, lakes, waterfalls and rivers. Might be the ideal place to build some mills, lumber mills, paper mills, corn mills... and fisheries.

    There would also undoubtedly be some sort of trading post in the vicinity, maybe one or two days away. Otherwise they wouldn't be able to do anything with their surplus harvest.

    Also look at Hill farming
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2015
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  11. AndrewMelvin

    AndrewMelvin Scribe

    Crafters, maybe, who use the knowledge gained over generations to turn volcanic rock into unique items/weapons or magic ingredients.
  12. phantommuseums

    phantommuseums Scribe

    I love the idea that this village is in the shadow of this mountain for part of the afternoon.

    I don't think it's cliche at all: you see this type of village all over Peru and Ecuador. There's a lot of llama herding, and from this comes elaborate weaving. Even the children have teddy bears made of the softest llama wool you could imagine.

    Also, a lot of mountainous areas are prime growing areas for the plants found in teas. This happens all over the world, Japan, Peru, and the Himalayas.
  13. Panda

    Panda Troubadour

    Thanks, everyone.

    I actually got the idea when I saw something a while ago about a town in Europe that had to build a giant mirror so they'd have sunlight. The lack of sunlight isn't relevant to my story's plot, but I like the imagery. I think it adds to the feeling of isolation. Although part of me suddenly wants to write a completely different story too now: What if there were a mountain that was literally an enormous sundial?

    Cool. If the villagers can feed and clothe themselves without relying on frequent trade with outsiders, that works out better for me.

    I will definitely do some mining research as well. I have a character who was supposed to be an escaped galley slave, but geographically it might make sense for him to have been forced to work in a mine instead.

    It's your standard epic fantasy mountain, although I'm not averse to changing it to something less cliche. I like the idea of the village being in a valley, with fishing and farming; I will steal that idea from you. :D
  14. Terry Greer

    Terry Greer Sage

    Collecting something (e.g. plant, fungus, lichen that only grows up the mountain?
    Maybee its something really unusual - such as a fossil outcrop that has a small but specialized clientele (much like Alnif in Morocco from where a unique selection of wonderfully preserved Trilobytes come from).
  15. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Inkling

    Small isolated villages on the side of a mountain don't just spring up just because of lumber, good soil or a quarry mining magical gems. They spring up because it's the best point along the path or road winding up the mountain to stay overnight or if the weather turns bad. Sometimes they spring up because the local hot springs are perceived to have healing powers so the local clergy, aristocrats, merchants and even the royal family come here to soak themselves. The village may be near a small lake or river which has a legendary fish or creature that adventurers come to fight.

    Regardless of the purpose of the village there are some things a village will need to survive: a tannery (for all your leather needs including leather armour), a dressmaker (to make and repair clothes), a baker, a butcher, a stone mason (roads and walls need to be built or repaired and headstones to mark the location of the dead), a lumberyard (for building repairs, coffins, repairing carriages and carts, making utensils and items for the preparation and serving of food), a metal smith (for nails, hinges, locks, tools, utensils, repairing or building armour and weapons and horseshoes), a market place (for open air meetings and for villagers, nearby farmers and passing merchants to buy, sell or barter for goods), at least one inn (for people to stay overnight or longer and for the villagers to socialise) and somewhere for people to worship. They also need someone to dispose of the dead.

    It's worth bearing in mind there may not be enough work to warrant making these businesses separate so a single family may be running the tannery and making/repairing the clothes of the villagers. The undertaker may also be the local stone mason and temple priest.

    While the village itself may be safe the road it's on and the surrounding area will almost certainly have its fair share of bandits, wild animals and rogue mages that won't hesitate to rob or kill nearby miners, farmers and travellers so there would also be a small group of soldiers (maybe a platoon or two at the most) patrolling the area. In times of conflict the village may be a place of refuge for people living and/or working nearby.

    The village may also have niche businesses that are intended to serve the needs of people using the hot springs, the adventurers coming to try their luck at killing the legendary lake monsters (including sorting out what's left after the creature schools them in who's number one) or even skiers who come here during the winter.

    It's vital to work out the reason(s) why the village exists because that will determine the type of businesses that will operate,
  16. TheKillerBs

    TheKillerBs Inkling

    Out of curiosity, what is your source for this?
  17. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Inkling

    This is mostly from reading about the history of towns and smaller countries (both past and present) which had their origins as villages. I used what could be called a composite village. That is, I didn't base it on any specific real world location but borrowed elements from various villages in different parts of the world without any specific time frame.

    I did notice a glaring error that I was unable to correct after it was posted: artisans would've done many of the jobs. They would've included cobblers, tailors etc.

    There are no hard and fast rules as to what constitutes a small village so I worked on the assumption it was about 500 - 750 people and that the village was located on a mountain road where access was often cut off for much of the year. I also assumed it was a pre-industrial village.

    If a person is looking for absolute accuracy in what a small village in a medieval society (or pseudo-medieval) society would've looked like then The Fifteenth Century 1399-1485 by E F Jacob is one of the best books on the subject as it looks at how the ordinary person lived and how society functioned at all levels.
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  18. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    There were different kinds of villages, some of which were extremely isolated. They don't have to be on trade routes--they can travel to rural markets, plus there are peddlers. You can pretty much make is as isolated as the story needs it to be.

    Mining is a quasi-industrial enterprise. You don't really get villages in the usual sense of the word, but you do get mining communities--almost entirely male, with the buildings almost entirely about the work. A modern shale oil mining town might come close.

    Volcanic soil is also great for wine growing. Actually, any sort of rocky, lousy soil works for vines. And olive trees. You just can't put them in snow.

    Livestock also works. Cows (think Heidi) or sheep or goats, as someone else pointed out.

    Villages also could grow up around something. I'm thinking here of a monastery or of a fortress. A wizard's tower could work, too.

    You have lots of options.
  19. D.G. Laderoute

    D.G. Laderoute Dreamer

    Dusting off my geology degrees here. Mountains are inherently unstable things. They certainly APPEAR solid and eternal, but even within the timeframe of human experience, they're not. Mountain ranges (which tend to occur along the margins of continents where they butt-up against either oceanic plates--e.g. the Andes or the Cascades--or against other continents e.g. the Himalayas) are caught in a perpetual war between the forces building them, and gravity. Gravity inevitably wins, so erosion in the form of rock-falls and landslides are common. The tectonic forces involved in mountain-building also cause frequent earthquakes. Finally, along the oceanic margins of continents, mountain-building tends to be accompanied by volcanic activity; volcanism also builds mountains along mid-oceanic ridges (e.g. Iceland) and, sometimes, in the middle of tectonic plates over hot-spots in the planet's interior (e.g. Hawaii).

    All this is to say that, in addition to the reason for your community being where it is, you can certainly expose your characters to any number of geological troubles, such as: rockfalls and landslides; avalanches (if there's a lot of snow accumulation at higher altitudes); earthquakes; volcanic eruptions and related phenomena such as explosive eruptions, ash-falls, pyroclastic flows (super heated clouds of gas and rock particles moving at high speeds down-hill) and lahars (mud-flows triggered by eruptions. These dangers, along with the general difficulty of building and sustaining a settlement in such a remote location, mean that whatever the reason for your village/town being there, it would need to be valuable. Placer gold deposits occur in mountain rivers; there could also be veins of valuable metals or gemstones. Or, if a particular type of stone is especially prized in your world by artists/sculptors, and there is only a single deposit of it suitable for use by sculptors, then you'd have an excellent reason for your community to be there. Finally, a usable pass providing a means of traversing otherwise impenetrable mountains could easily prompt the development of a community as a sort of "way station" for those traveling the pass.
  20. chrispenycate

    chrispenycate Sage

    Having lived about forty years in Switzerland I've known dozens of these places - often inbred, and now soaking tourists as mountain guides or ski instructors. Nowadays there's always a guy (well, very occasionally a woman - traditionalism rules in these regions)to mend car suspensions - if you check back his social ancestors (frequently biological ancestors too) were wheelwrights or grooms, back when the only practical way to arrive was on foot, with pack mules, but every few years some optimist would decide to bring in something that was too bulky to carry. Frequently they speak a patois which is quite different from surrounding regions, and the peripatetic priest and doctor, serving six or eight communities, teaches children and adults distant tongues (a mile or so away) and letters.
    Some of the communities have got left behind by invasions - both Turks and Mongols I know of, and probably others- others were running away from invasions, possibly the same, possibly different ones, or were crossing mountain passes in autumn and got snowed in centuries ago, and when the thaw came couldn't raise the energy to move on – not reasons like 'This is a good place, we could come back and settle here.' Not planned, passive tense, it happened to them.

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