Following ‘Cyclic Calendar‘ and ‘Currency‘ I decided to explore weights and measures, namely: length, volume, area and weight. I’ve yet to consider measurements of time, and expect I’ll stick to second, minutes and hours.
We have several options when implementing measurements in a fantasy world. I considered metric, imperial, hybrid and a made-up system. From my perspective, the metric system is too contemporary for typical fantasy–though it will work for some settings–and a hybrid system is unnecessarily complex and convoluted. Therefore, I’m left with imperial, which is very common and is used blockbusters like A Song of Fire and Ice, or creating my own system. In all honesty, the imperial system is a great choice because a reader is generally familiar with it. That said, I thought it was worth exploring the option of creating my own system for both the experience and enjoyment of it.
It isn’t difficult to create a new system, but, before forging ahead, I decided this is only worthwhile if a system is easy enough to understand and relate too. I don’t know about you, but when I’m reading I don’t want to have to refer to a chart every time a unit of measurement is mentioned. Therefore, I decided any system I build would grow from a unit of measurement we used in the real-world.
In my first attempts–calculations in the slideshow–I used the system of 28 units of A into 1 unit of B; 13 units of B into 1unit of C; 4 units of C into 1unit of D; and 25 units of D into 1unit of E. Though this worked to some extent, each measurement type (length, volume, area and weight) grew without consistency, and when I went higher or lower than the 5 tiers shown, issues were clear. I won’t hang on this point any further, but thought it important to share the first step.
Note: Red boxes indicate easy to understand measurements.
To improve consistency I decided since I have four numbers (28, 13, 4 and 25) and four areas of measurement (length, volume, area and weight), I’ll apply one number to each. Since area can grow rapidly I decided to use 4; I picked 13 for weight because there are 14 pounds in a stone; leaving 25 for length and 28 for volume. Here is what I came up with.
Note: I blacked out boxes with results of no tangible value and the bright yellow box indicates the value I started with. Also, number are rounded and not exact.
Knowing if I divided a foot by 25 I’d be left with almost half an inch made it the best place to start. The important figures I ended up with were a unit smaller than a mm, one practically half an inch, a foot and one equal to 2.96 miles which is essentially a league (3 miles). I then decided to create a sub-unit of 2.96 miles–divide by 3 to get a mile–and 0.48 inch–multiply by 2 to get what’s essentially an inch.
For the smaller units I decided to name them using body parts. It’s lore friendly and allowed me to use foot. Tenstride is made up–the average stride of a man is 2.5 yards, so ten strides is 25 yards. I used ‘lige’ for league and ‘myle’ for mile, which is a min cheat I guess, but is still lore friendly–throughout history words with the same or similar meaning have evolved and changed slightly in their spelling and use. Here is some information on mile.
Volume turned out to be a very easy as numbers worked quite well. 0.05ml is exactly a drop in the real world. Its multiples included 40ml, which roughly shot of alcohol (typically 25ml or 35ml in the UK, but it varies across the world); 2 pints–very relatable; and 56 pints which could be viewed as a keg, which come a variety of shapes and sizes.
I decided to add two sub values. One to equal a modern-day pint and another close to a barrel, especially since barrels are used a lot for transportation and therefore important to a fantasy world.
I kept the naming simple using drop, drip and splash, which are relatable, then a variety of containers people are familiar with: mug, jug, keg, barrel and vat.
Weight also worked out well because there are 14 pounds in a stone and I was using 13 to divide my units. This gave me something exactly 1 stone in weight, a unit which was half a kg and another unit that was roughly a ton.
To name the units I used terms for different sizes of rock. Firstly, because the terms are easy to understand and visualise, and secondly, in my mind it is lore friendly that in times gone by, people would used rock and stone as a measure of weight. The exception is ‘grain’, but a reader will understand the term.
Research tells me a cobblestone, used for paving, weights 12-15 pounds, which meant I didn’t need to ‘cheat’ and use the term ‘stone’, though I guess I could, and may well do. Adding the unit ‘boulder’ (2.5 times a the size of a block) may seem unnecessary, since a block is a ton (close), but, an average cubic metre of stone is 2.5-3 tons, which is why I added it (easy to visualise).
Update: I’ve decided to rename ‘chip’ to ‘chipping’ since it weights only a few grams. I’ve also renamed cobble to stone. People are familiar with stone and it fits with the naming theme I’ve used.
Acre is the most common term we see for describing land area (in fantasy books I’ve read at least), so I decided I would work from there. As I was using multiple of 4, land area units grew nicely.
The amount of land to feed a person is impossible to tie-down to a figure, because there are many variables, such as climate, size of the person, the quality of soil and the crop planted. However, 1 acre seems an acceptable figure. Research also showed the average size of a Manor in feudal Britain was 1,200-1,800 acres.
To name the units, I cheated and used ‘acher’ in place of ‘acre’, however, I’m happy with this for the same reasons I explained regarding ‘myle’; and used estate and manor for larger units. Part of the reason is I could use minor-estate, estate, minor-manor and manor as areas of land given to, or owned by, a family depending on the status within society.
A plot is a decent size for an average family to farm and feed themselves, while a holding would be a step-up. Finally, a parcel of land, roughly, 1012 square metres, is plenty big enough for multipl-homes to be built. All-in-all, each works well as a descriptor for an area of land a reader can understand.
Creating this system has been fun and a worthwhile experience. If you are worldbuilding, I’d recommend going through the process to see what you come up with. Ultimately, you may decide to stick to an imperial or metric system, but the journey is worth it. Early in my process I was thinking ‘this isn’t going to work’, ‘forget it’, ‘use imperial, its easier and much less work’, but, by the end I’m glad I went through the process. I may never use my system, but I do believe I have a system which is usable in my world. I’m happy with the terms I’ve decided upon and the division of units, to the point where I believe a reader would be able to relate to the units I’ve created.
I’d certainly be interested to hear your views and any concepts you’ve created!