[CONAN] Mapping Quandary

I don't know why I've never thought of this before. Probably because I haven't created landscape in a populated and tame area for a game in a long, long time.

Background: How I came upon the quandary--

I am creating a map for my upcoming Conan game. I'm setting the game in Argos, which is an old Hyborian kingdom. It's been settled land for thousands of years, ruled over by different peoples, all the way back to the time of the Acheronians (who were overrun by the Bori barbarians, who eventually evolved into the Argosseans, the people who inhabit the land today). The point here being: this is not the frontier. This is land has long been settled, and, in fact, the interior of Argos is generally considered very peaceful, free of bandits and most monsters.

But, this is a fantasy game (well, sword & sorcery, to be more precise), and adventure can be had anywhere during the Hyborian Age. My last campaign centered on the true frontier of the known world, in Cimmeria, and it was primarily a wilderness setting. This time, I wanted to go the opposite direction where I had a mix of races (the cosmopolitan nature of the Argossean port cities) and big cities to explore as well as the wilderness. Plus, there aren't a lot of ruins in Cimmeria, and in for this campaign, Argos is littered with ruins from the various peoples who have conquered the land dating back to the time of the Acheronians. That means, unlike my previous campaign, I'll be able to add dungeons to explore.

So, I've set game (will start the game), in the border region of Argos near the border with Shem. In my game, the region is a bit more lawless than the true interior of the kingdom. This is what passes for the "frontier" in Argos, although it is, in no way, as savage as Cimmeria was/is.

Here's my quandary:

Part of designing a campaign is setting up places to put the PCs in jeopardy. Part of creating jeopardy is isolating the PCs, cutting off any support, so that they have to rely upon themselves. Well, a town of villagers can be quite a resource for PCs, depending on what it is that has them in jeopardy. The villages typically aren't isolated places. They have alliances and are maybe protected by the local lordling. At the least, the village is a safe place to sleep and resupply--maybe even gather NPC help.

Ever seen a map of a fantasy world where the villages and towns were very close together? Typically, no. It's usually a trek to the next town.

Quandary: But, in reality, especially in antiquity and medieval times, towns and villages were usually spaced very close together. You typically can't go 10 miles without hitting some small village. This lattice network of villages and towns provides a support network for populated areas.

Have you ever thought about that? Unless there is some terrain feature to prevent it (even then, in real life, villages will pop up in the damnest places, on the sides of mountains, in the center of swamps, etc), populated areas usually have a town or village every 10 miles or so from each other. And, if I follow that pattern for my roleplaying game, "help" is never going to be that far away.
S4, here are a few reasons i can think of:

While, Argos is considered a "civilized" land, that does not mean the entire land is "civilized".
Don't confuse "Civilized" land with "entirely mapped out land. Yes, ancient towns would have been spaced about 10 or so miles apart, but the entire nation of Argos is not littered with towns about that far apart. A good chunk of it would be considered abandoned, or fallow.

Most towns of this era would be built along trade routes, to receive necessary goods and services (think tinkers), while also being able to ship their wares back to their lords for taxes and other services. The further they get away from major centers, the less they receive necessary support. Look up the history of salt to see the impact this may have.

The land between lords could be disputed. While Argos is it's own country, there is nothing like the petty squabbling between lords to keep sections abandoned as people fight over it.

The land could be set aside for some lords pleasure. Think of the King's Forest from the Robin Hood stories, where huge swatches were set aside for his pleasure. What lost mysteries could lurk within?

The land could be abandoned as it has been plagued with disease or devils - after all, only the insane or the Zamorian would have any truck with Dagoth Hill. But seriously, there are sections that could be declared cursed and lost to memory by sensible people who don't have the time to find out if the myths are true.

The land might not be "people" habitable. By this, I mean it's full of rocks and uneven hills. Yes, people, can live on the side of a mountain in a village but the question is "why"? If they farm goats and other wildlife and can subsist off of what the mountain provides, then yes. But not every mountain has a village on it's side (most don't).

The geography has shifted. We know that Hyboria's landscape has sifted in the past, with the fall and loss of Acheron, but even more recent events could have an impact. Earthquakes could reroute rivers, and what was once a bustling metropolis and trade city now finds itself twenty miles from the waters that provide it life. The city and the towns it supported die off as people move elsewhere, and the city lies forgotten.

Mistaken terrain features. By this, I mean everybody "knows" that's a mountain or mountain range, but is it really? Remember the Conan story of "The Servants of Bit-Yakin", where the cliffs were impassible to all but a Cimmerian, hiding a lost city within.

Think of what lies buried beneath, lost Acheronian cities ... now home of Ghouls.

Yes Argos is civilized compared to Cimmeria ... but there are sections that men still fear to go.

Also, don't think of the these small town/s villages as a good place to continuously retreat to. A lot of those villages lived hand-to-mouth. And while they could put up the odd traveler for a night or so for some coin, their resources -are- limited. They can only slaughter so much of their livestock to provide meat, and all that extra silver means nothing if they will starve to death before they get to spend it. In fact some of the smaller villages will look on travelers as pests, or something just shy of bandits.
And just have the player's explain how they are camping there for "safety" to really make the villagers nervous - let's face it, anything that can threaten the party, a bunch of farmers aren't going to have much luck dealing with. The villagers may decide the safer action is to kill the party and leave them outside for whatever is coming for them. Sure, their lord is "supposed" to protect them, but he's several days away and really only comes out to collect his tithe.

Of course their is always the added fun of paranoia, where the players enter the village to find it deserted ... as in several hours ago. Food still hot on the plate, fires going in the fireplace ... just no people. Added fun if they actually go to sleep in a village full of people, and wake up to find this scene.

Ok, I've rambled on, and i hope I've helped you open up sections of your map that the players can wander into and find adventure.