Greyhawk, Greyhawk Wars Research

It’s All About the Trade, Part 2: Factories

I was thinking a bit more about factories in the City of Greyhawk last night and it occurred to me that some people might not understand the significance of having factories in the city as they’ve never worked in a factory, and might not know anyone who has, so they may not understand the sort of people who actually work there.[1] So let’s discuss factories, how they operate, and the sorts of people who work there.

The goal of any factory is not to create a pleasant environment for the workers. There are no fringe benefits to going to work for a meat packing plant. You’re going to see people who put in long hours, at a back breaking pace, in an environment that can kill them.[2] The work is often hard, sometimes intricate, and the margin for error is razor thin with people often judged on errors to the millionth degree.[3]

The people who tend to work in factories are not college professionals – though you will find them there as well – but tend to be people who don’t mind hard labor and have little sympathy for those who aren’t capable of doing the jobs they do. They’re largely good people who are trying to provide for their families and that are doing so in a profession that can maim or kill them.

They know they can die at work.

They know that doing the wrong thing in building a car, or putting together a couch, or processing meat can kill the people that are buying their products. They know this because it’s constantly drilled into their heads through “safety classes” where they watch videos of people losing eyes, limbs, and lives. They’re just trying to make it through each day as safely as possible for all concerned. They know the dangers they live with and they’ve accepted the risk.

They often have a dark, perverse sense of humor built around the intense pressures they’re facing. You’ll sometimes hear them mock people who don’t handle blood well because they’ve forgotten what it was like when you weren’t exposed to it as often. They’ll also take up donations for those injured and help take care of their families.

For factory management there is intense pressure to produce. They have to meet their daily, weekly, and quarterly goals.[4] There is no sympathy from their bosses for failure. They can, and will, be replaced if they can’t meet the goals. Breaks are only given because they’re mandated and lunches are as short as possible so they can get people back to work.[5]

The factories themselves tend to cluster tightly together. Partially this is because of zoning laws that keep them near each other, but more often than not, it’s because they attempt to position themselves as closely as possible to the ports, main roads, and railways out of town. Their products have to be produced ahead of schedule and get to where they’re going faster than expected.

I hope this has helped give you a better idea how to think about factories in your own games.

Notes

[1] I’ll be drawing on my own experience working in factories during my early 20s and on the experiences of the friends I still have in the industry to help illustrate what it’s like in factories.

[2] I worked in a cabinet factory when I first left high school. My second month there I saw a woman pulled into a rip saw and lose most of her left hand. A few years later I had friend at another factory lose all of the toes on his left foot when a steel tumbler fell off a pallet and caught him behind the steel toe of his boots. Both factories at the time were noted for their outstanding safety records in their respective industries.

[3] I mean this statement literally. I once worked for a factory where our errors in picking products were judged by the millionths with an overall error rate of six miss-picks, picking the wrong product, over the course of six months would result in your termination. At the time the average picker was able to make 14,000 individual picks a week. This meant that you could only make 6 miss-picks out of every 84,000 picks. they now expect their pickers to make 125,000 picks over the same period of time with no more than 8 miss-picks.

[4] These goals can be reasonable or completely untethered to reality. It all depends on the nature of the plant and upper management.

[5] I had a manager at a warehouse I once worked at tell me, “I hate breaks. Completely unproductive. We should see about getting them banned.” He was not joking.

5 thoughts on “It’s All About the Trade, Part 2: Factories”

  1. This is a very, very useful and succinct write-up for those not familiar with the environment (my time working for a food testing kit manufacturer wasn’t quite as bleak, but not for lack of effort on management’s part, and there’s certainly enough overlap that it feels familiar). However, I’m wondering what, exactly, becomes different in a pre-industrial factory. I don’t know whether, in actual history, ‘meat-packing plants’ were a thing before the industrial revolution (though I can certainly imagine them), but Earth historical accuracy hardly matters to Oerth. On the one hand, it seems like there’d be even less concern for the well-being of the workers, unless the Laborer’s Guild or an equivalent covers them in some capacity; on the other hand, the tech isn’t really there to allow the factory to try and push past the human limits of perfection. (Though, given that the city of Greyhawk has a university churning out Level 1 Magic User schlubs at a steady rate, it can’t be that hard to secure some basic cantrips from unambitious mediums too knock-kneed to go adventuring for their money.)

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    1. The first meat packing plants formed in the early 1600s according to wikipedia. From what I know of early factories they heavily employed children, migrants, and anyone who couldn’t stand up for themselves. Unions weren’t really a thing so they just abused the hell out of their employees.

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    2. As for the tech I think it depends on how you view Greyhawk’s technology levels in your game. We know that humans were able to supply themselves over long journeys that lasted months during the late medieval and certainly by the Renaissance period. And it’s certainly possible that salted meats could make that time. Smoked meats could be produced in abundance as long as they had the raw materials and those can last a year or more depending on the process and the eater’s constitution.

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  2. I can easily imagine a textile mill in the Free City of Greyhawk packed full of women and children run by a greedy priest of Zilchus, who uses the Slave Lords of the Pomarj to supply him with cotton.

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