Saturday, April 29, 2017

A World From Scratch ~ Valley of the Djombo

Copied from the last post.
Expanding the map from our last post, we want to stay within a couple of boundaries.  My measuring stick for the tech system was based on simple population density.  Tech-5, I wrote, consisted of regions that had a population density of less than 160 persons per 20-mile hex.  Since we're working in 6-mile hexes, that number is reduced to only 23 persons.

This seems absurdly low, but we are talking about the extreme low-side of civilized culture . . . and these numbers easily correspond to large parts of the world four hundred years ago.  Odd as it may seem, the density we've established so far for our map indicates an all-too-crowded space.

So far, I've given ranges for population.  Let's nail those numbers down, rolling 60 inhabitants for the original hex, containing the settlement at Ai, and 150 inhabitants for Bodo-Cai.  This gives us a total of 70 per hex. That is too high for tech-5.

Therefore, let's isolate our starting area, drowning it in with a hinterland that is much greater in area.  Since this is a desert, obviously we want mostly desert hexes ~ but we also want to remember that the Djombo river starts somewhere and goes somewhere.  I never did give the direction of the river ~ but we'll say it is flowing towards the bottom of the above map.

To bring our density down below 23, we'll need six more hexes.  I propose this:


Even though we're just making this up as we go along (I'm not making any random rolls, I'm just putting in hexes where they feel good, as I know this is what most world-makers do), we want to pay attention to ratios.  Obviously, we can just go ahead and plunk in as many number six hexes as we want to, but eventually that kind of thinking is going to make a uniform, unvarying and dull world.  The key to different adventures and different experiences is to create extreme inconsistencies ~ by working towards an ascetic design here, full of self-discipline, we can look forward to letting ourselves off the chain further on.

We can keep adding to the map, naturally ~ but we want to keep to the ratio above for now: for every occupied hex, 0-2 hinterland hexes (with no number showing); and for every four hexes of habitable hexes (those that potentially produce food), 6-10 desert hexes.  If this was a boreal region, we'd replace the desert with inaccessible swampland, unproductive tundra, rock-strata mountains or snowfields.

We've extended the intermittent river off the map, through the desert; there's nothing odd about this.  Remember, the river itself does not produce food: the soil the river flows through does.  Where the river passes through a non-producing desert, we may imagine a canyon, areas of bare rock, barren or sterile silicate sands or unfruitful gravel.  We are identifying habitable areas as hexes with relatively productive soils, and we are identifying those that actually produce food by giving them a number.

Let's move forward and add three more hexes to the map:


Here I am more or less keeping to the ratios I've just described, adding a desert hex, a water hex (sea) and a hex that is both desert and habitable.  I want to discourage the reader from thinking that a 6-mile area has to be homogeneous in its terrain or vegetation.  The type-7 hex I've created here doesn't need a big spread of hinterland, since for food they have the sea.

I could have designated the hex as a type-6 or even a type-5 ~ in which case it would make sense to increase the habitable coloring to match the increase in population.  I felt, however, it would be more instructive to indicate an access point on the coast that is not a port.  After all, we are talking only a population of 210 persons in the interior; hardly enough to make a port worthwhile. Therefore, the little settlement of Eom (65 people) is nothing but a little fishing village.  Fishing, some readers will remember, is available at tech-5.

This, incidentally, is also the reason why Eom doesn't get a coin.  I've established that type-7 hexes aren't big enough for even the minimum of commerce (the party would be a rare exception); a hex on the sea would have to be at least type-6 to generate such interest.

Eom does have one industry that a tech-5 culture would also possess: boatbuilding.  Not ships, mind, but simple fishing boats, the sort that are safe for travel up to, we might stipulate, a distance of three water hexes.  These boats would be crafted from a hard-wood that grows in the small area where the Djombo river flows into the sea, at the point where the fresh-water table is just a few inches below the surface.  Anywhere around Eom, it is possible to dig down a few inches into the soft earth and find fresh water.  This sustains the trees, which in turn sustains just enough boats for a small village like Eom to use for fishing.  Likely, there is one family within the clan that is dedicated to making and repairing boats.

The sea hex is not technically a part of the region ~ but it is productive, in the same way that an unoccupied hinterland hex is productive.  In hard times, boats would have to go out to the more open sea to enable a catch; and of course those boats would sometimes be lost if a storm came up and it was too far to come home.  As well, the deeper sea might produce less overall fish (who tend to shoal in shallower waters), except that a great fish may occasionally be caught, providing many days of food for the whole settlement, or a great fish may sink the fisher's craft.

Now, let's talk adventures:
  • The journey to Eom itself is an adventure.  It may even be something that a few residents of Ai do every year as a religious ceremony (remember, mysticism is also available at tech-5). The party is therefore encouraged to go to the sea, obtain a vessel of seawater with a live fish and a basket of clam shells to bring back to Ai for the making of jewelry.  The continued survival of the fish (which need not be a big one) might be seen as a good omen ~ and obviously the more salt-water brought back, the longer the fish will survive.  Eom might be a source of gourds in which the fish and the water could be carried.
  • The party could contact a boatbuilder in Eom who could build a vessel for them.  There is a world out there, after all, and perhaps the party would like to see it.  We might stipulate that it is well known that there is an island culture somewhere "out there" that is more technologically advanced that the region we've depicted (tech-6!).  What might that hold for the party and where, precisely, is it?  It would be too easy to simply say that one of the Eomites know ~ perhaps they've seen the island, once, but they're not sure they could find it easily and they can't just abandon their responsibility to the settlement to find food.  So no, the party cannot hire a fisher as a guide.  But they could collect hides, spirit gum, fresh meat, honey or other products from the interior and use these to encourage a boatbuilder to make them a craft.
  • Where before we had just one desert hex, now we have eight of them.  Whereas one might have the dungeon we discussed in the previous post, there might be something else out there: a small desert village of humanoids who have, themselves, a hidden, fertile little valley, who do not trade with the "civilized" parts of the map that are shown.  We wouldn't want to put it on the map, but we might have a group of orcs or some such attack a pair of hunters.  Too, we could put a shrine out there, one that was built by the Djombo Valley people but was covered by sand and lost.  It could be sought out and restored to the people, winning the party great prestige.

This is going to go on.  I don't see any limitation to how many posts I could write along these lines.  I'm finished with my day off, however, so I may not write another of these until Friday.  Please keep the comments coming.  If I know what the readers like about what I'm doing, I can concentrate more energy towards those things.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Such Fun

Rest assured, I do intend to continue the World from Scratch posts ~ but meanwhile, I'm going to post what I've been wasting my time doing.  Well, it is better than playing video games ~ though it really is a sort of video game on its own, since the results are substantially random.  Here is a 6-mile map of southern Norway, from Tonsberg to Stavanger:

6.67 mile hexes, approx. 140 mi. x 200 mi.

Now, it would be very difficult to explain the color scheme, as it adjusts for climate, vegetation and type of hex, 1 to 8, as I have been explaining.  The bottom is dominated by green, the gentle reader will note, but this turns to taupes and tans in the upper right.  The indistinct dividing line marks the change between warmer, wetter forests and colder tundra forests, what the Koppen Climate Classification calls "cbf" and "dbf."  Research is a wonderful thing.

As a hex becomes more civilized, it drifts from green (or tan) towards greenish yellow, yellow and then white.  There is only a single type-1 hex in this whole map: the town of Stavanger.  Oslo, or Christiania as it was called once, is just off the top of the map on the right.  The area around it will be very dense, the equivalent of several Stavangers.


A World From Scratch ~ A Bigger Place

Following on the previous post, let's add another hex:


I've made one aesthetic change, by drawing in a bit of green where occupation has taken hold.  All the other changes have to do with the hex added on the bottom, marked "6."  I haven't changed the tech level, here; we are still in tech-5.  But the level of settlement has increased from a seven to a six, remembering that the most dense hexes have low numbers, "1" being the most civilized.

The six-level hex has a number of new features.  The most noticeable is that I've added an intermittent river, of the smallest possible size.  This is nothing more than a dry-bed stream that fills with water three or four times a year, depending on rain occurring in mountains that ~ as of yet ~ are an unknown distance away.  The hex also has two population centers, each of which could be termed a clan.  There is more food here and there is a new symbol, a gold coin.

A type-6 hex is considered to be advanced in a number of ways.  To begin with, it receives a bonus food, in part because there are two centers but also because the hex itself clearly has more food (else a greater number of people would not be living here).  Some readers may remember that I read the number of food as a binary number: 2 food showing on the map equals "11" in binary, equal to 3 as we would normally express it.  Therefore the type-6 hex has three times the food that the type-7 hex has.

This is not due to the stream; a type-6 hex may exist without the need for a stream, due to a number of factors, including ground water that is easily accessible, a particular kind of vegetation, the breeding grounds for migratory animals, particularly birds.  The hex may also be a travel route for migratory animals.  In any case, the inhabitants have learned how to exploit the benefits of the hex and have increased their number.  With three times as much food, we may assume there are three times as many people here: perhaps 90 to 200.  This is large enough to be deemed a tribe.

Note that the number of hammers has not changed.  This is because no special industry has been created.  While the hammers described the necessary activities of the community to maintain itself in the type-7 hex I described in the last post, the hammers in the new hex still describes that maintenance.  There is more maintenance, but the sum of maintenance to population hasn't changed.

This brings us to the coin.  Some will remember that Civilization IV gave a gold coin for hexes with rivers in them ~ I am simply continuing that process here.  The river, however intermittent, represents a tremendous adjustment to the community.  Water will flood, bringing an explosion of plant growth, which may then be gathered with less work ~ and some of it may be traded away, to persons up and down the stream bed, which forms a natural road through the desert.  Thus, without being specific about how much money actually exists, we can be sure the money's presence has produced a "building" ~ we'll call it an outpost.

An outpost isn't a market; there is virtually nothing here that can be bought, except for food, skins and some wooden products, such as can be made from willow branches and rattan.  We might have other things that are washed down or revealed with the river's flooding: placer deposits of copper, gold or silver, perhaps salt that accumulates when the river dries, perhaps gums and aloes that don't require agricultural know-how to exploit.  These products don't produce a plethora of buyers, obviously; just the few who will come through, collect four to six months of accumulation in exchange for a little metal, a few trinkets, some housewares and perhaps a few other things to make life easier.

Now, before we get to the party's experience, let's give a few names to things.  This gets complicated, so we apply easy to understand labels that will allow us to communicate.  We don't want fabulously difficult labels, so let's keep it simple:

There, this is beginning to feel normal.  Our players come from the little settlement of Ai, which we'll say occupies a lush little gorge some seven miles north of Bodo.  Bodo is a large clan settlement on the Djombo river bed and the secondary settlement of Cai is its satellite.

Let's have a look at the adventures we can offer now:
  • Presuming the party has made a bit of a name for itself in Ai, gone out into the unoccupied hex to the north and come back with food and skins, perhaps they can now take the skins they've collected to Bodo, where they can be traded for spears with metal heads, a small shield made of leather and willow branches, then sit in a mgahawa ~ a drinking bar ~ where they can have lightly salted fruit juices, just the thing on a hot day when one is going to relax. Here they can meet a merchant who will offer to buy as much leather skins as they can provide in the next four months.
  • Or they can learn that there is an old man in Cai who once entered into the desert, top left, and found a series of buried tombs and catacombs, but he could not carry home all the gold himself.  He is the only person the party has ever seen who had a gold necklace as wide as a person's wrist, so he would seem to know of what he speaks.  He cannot make the journey himself, but he says to take little birds in a cage; when the birds die, the party will know they are very close to the catacombs.
  • We might have a flood that occurs while the party is there, offering more water than the party has seen in their lives ~ and encourage the party to stay long enough to see plants bloom and give forth seeds; which can then be carried back to Ai to see if they can be made to spread in that valley.  While a sort of agriculture, it is minimal at best, and certainly what a neolithic culture would have done.  This may lead to a number of things the party can do to enhance the Ai and make themselves more important.
  • They may be asked to sort out a dispute, being outsiders; they may be allowed to demonstrate their cleverness by coming up with a solution that would enhance their status in Bodo and Cai.  Perhaps they might become "Those people from Ai," who are greeted as friends whenever they return, perhaps to be given an important role in expanding the economy of the whole region ~ even being made part of Bodo's tribe and encouraged to marry and rise as war chiefs.

There is always a tendency to think the game is about finding the dungeon, and of course that option exists. But there is status, too, to be gained, the respect of others and authority over them. Wealth is not a question of how much one owns, but how one's personal wealth compares to the wealth of the system.  In the closed system above, great wealth is fairly easy to obtain.  What's more, we might imagine that these two hexes are separated from the rest of the world by a hundred miles of empty desert, a long, long way for a single merchant and two camels to cross to collect a little salt, hides and gum.

Yet obviously, we are not done.  I will be returning to this, to expand our little world farther.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

A World From Scratch ~ Sign Posts



For the moment, let's dispense with my world-making apparatus, as it is mostly a lot of detail designed to use the Earth as a template.  We don't need that.  We can start a sandbox world with a minimum of effort, one that will carry through a couple of runnings.

And let's keep it very simple.  I've been thinking a lot on the tech level concept I proposed eighteen months ago . . . so let's say that the world we're building allows for a tech-5 culture.  That means technologies associated with hunting, gathering, living in the wilderness, fishing, crude boats and technology so low that the only class our characters can take is fighter.  But no matter, we don't need real players, this is theoretical.

A tech-5 culture is very low density; we may depend that this will be in a boreal or a desert environment.  I'll choose desert.  Suppose we start with 6-mile hexes.



I'm getting a little fancy with the design, but let's not worry about it.  Here we have a triangular world just large enough to walk across in a day.  There are two kinds of terrain/vegetation represented: the darker, yellow hex is pure desert, lacking any sort of water or plant growth.  The remaining two hexes are a bit more lush, like this:



So, the first thing we want to do is to establish that someone lives here.  We'll want the bare minimum of settlement.  I rate settlements on a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 being the most intensive possible, so we'll have a size-7 settlement: between 40-80 persons.  We'll add a little 7 to the map; and we can add a little circle to establish the exact location of the settlement.


This makes the two like hexes distinct from one another.  One is "civilized," or perhaps better described as occupied.  The other, which we can call a hinterland hex, is not.  Our few citizens are much more familiar with the nearer, occupied hex . . . but they would be somewhat familiar with the other.

They would be less so with the desert.  It isn't productive and it is dangerous for a number of reasons.  There might have been forays into the desert, to make sure it is all desert, but by the time our characters come around, that would have been well-established.

Of the two productive hexes, the nearer one would be more intensely exploited.  Let's introduce some of the features I've used for defining hexes in the past: food and hammers.


Why one hammer and one food?  I'm basing this on the Civ IV game.  An unexploited, productive dry plain starts with one hammer and one food.  We can think of this as a hex that provides for someone, but is minimally developed.  It has some development, however ~ the hinterland hex has the same potential as the occupied hex, but as it isn't occupied, we don't make note of that potential.

Okay, what does the food and the hammer mean?  Well, the food we've talked about in the past; we can keep it simple by saying it provides enough continual food for the settlement clan, but no more.  Because we are talking a tech-5 culture, none of these people are farmers or herders.  They are much more the level of tribesmen, occupying a sufficiently food-dense space, with a producing water well (not large enough for an "oasis" as we usually imagine them).  They live on honey, bush tucker and occasional animal kills, with a wide range of scavenging.  This is desert, so there's no water for fishing (even though that's available with tech-5).

I've been thinking about this constantly while cleaning and making dough this past week.  I think we can establish hammers as indicative of specific social features/buildings/services without needing to calculate their existence.  The hammer in this case, in this tech-level, would be a "camp."  It represents the industrial culture that is making tools, weapons, leather from the animals killed, redigging the water well and similar activities.  All that work counts as a "hammer"; which, like the food, is just enough to support the clan's needs.

From this, we can now propose three straightforward adventures:
  • Go out and get food.  The members of the party, using the bare minimum of weapons (no metal!), are sent into the hinterland to forage around for an animal kill.  The bigger the better. Bringing back meat will do more than feed the village, it will give the party prestige in the eyes of the clan, so that they may be given special privileges, such as bodyguards and even, potentially, the decision-making right for the whole clan.
  • Take a group from the clan and try to establish a second clan in the hinterland hex (making it into an occupied hex).  This requires finding the water source, potentially fighting non-meat producing animals, maybe even a small, unknown humanoid group, creating further prestige by promoting natural population growth (and the right to procreate from every woman in the clan).
  • Investigate the desert.  Who knows what might really be out there?  Virtually anything, really, which might be very hard to kill with ordinary wooden weapons.  But then, the reward might be a treasure trove of ancient metal weapons, unimagined tools for the tribes' use, perhaps something that might change the clan's destiny.
And there's a start.  We can move on from here, and I mean to . . . if this post gets any response.  I hope that I've helped the gentle reader to understand that a vast amount of information can be interpreted out of a few sign posts.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Warning Buoys

"I would actually agree with most of his points if you wanted to play an old-school, high-lethality, players vs. world, DM as an objective referee style dungeon crawl. However, most of them can be safely ignored if that's not the specific game you want to run."
Adam McCabe, from Reddit


Let me be forthright in writing that this is not an attack or a rant on McCabe himself or on the Reddit community.  That was addressed in the last post.  Rather, this post is intended to highlight only two words that appear in the above text: "safely ignored."

I have never thought that anyone who ignores any part of this blog does so at their peril.  I think that the entire blog may be ignored quite easily without any potential for injury, loss of life or even the burden of emotional pain.  It may be that a reader would miss an opportunity from ignoring this blog, but so long as the reader continues to read something, I feel confident that any notion that appears on this blog will eventually make its way into the noggin of any self-educated person to the point where it cannot be ignored.

Nor have I considered that someone might give advice to someone not to read this blog by proclaiming that it is safe to do so.  I would expect someone to say, "Don't read this blog."  I would not expect someone to argue, "It is safe not to read this blog."

The explanation for this is not far afield.  We live in an advertising world that seeks to make the act of reading a specific, paid-for product so vital as to make the claim (in so many words), "That you may NOT safely ignore this!"  If you don't watch the news, if you don't take our word for it, if you do not attend our meetings, if you do not buy our product, then doom and gloom will certainly be the result.

From that, it is easy to designate everything else in the world that a person might read as safely ignored.  Along that vein, I can state with certainty that the writings of John Stuart Mill may be safely ignored.  Personally, Mill is one of my favorite writers, a genius of such remarkable insight that much of modern law, jurisprudence, politics and communication is based upon his writings . . . but since virtually no one I meet in the common world even knows who J.S. Mill is, apparently it is quite safe to ignore him.

It would be equally safe to ignore that the play Coriolanus by Shakespeare.  It is never a play that people quote, it never comes up as required reading in a university course, it is never presented by anything but off-off-Broadway and, in fact, most people are not only utterly unaware of the existence of the play, they have no idea that Coriolanus was a man, a general, a remarkable politician who once saved Rome, etcetera, etcetera.  Plainly, having lived most of their lives without having any idea of this, the written play can be quite safely ignored.

In fact, we can make this argument over and over, right into perpetuity.  We need not confine ourselves to the limitations of artwork or intellectual discourse.  If we give it a little space, we may include entire nations in our list, bordered regions like Angola, Kiribati, even Ecuador.  Yes, there exists the possibility that we may meet someone from one of those places, or that someday we may be asked to do a job that will exploit the people or resources from such a place, but we are in a state of such enlightenment in the West that it is certain we can merely pass by such knowledge with a mere flip of the consciousness, obliterating them out of existence even as we shuffle money from there to here.

That is because knowledge, unlike a rapidly passing car and our spatial relationship to it, the curb and the speed with which we are crossing the street, very rarely has the opportunity to break bone, smash flesh or otherwise render us unconscious or dead.  True, the steady onslaught of a particular kind of ignorance, such at that which leads inevitably to war or the damnation of millions of souls through mass execution and death, will have consequences for those who are not wise enough to avoid the path of destruction.  But the connection between the warning of such events and the events themselves is so vague, so riddled with misinformation, so tremendously difficult to understand for the ordinary citizen who just wants to get their latte and start work without being yelled at by their boss, that it is easy to decide that such connections do not, in fact, exist, or that consequences are inevitable, or that misery is something that no amount of knowledge can sidestep. This is easier to believe, "safer" in many respects, since setting out each day with the awareness that it is up to all of us to acquire knowledge to make the world a better, more decent place to live, with less chance for misery in the long term, is a burden of proportions far too great for the mass of people to bear.

Let us remember what we all got into this life to obtain.  From the beginning, we were weaned onto a tit that promised to sustain us so long as we took the time to suck it ~ and from thence we have steadily moved from tit to tit, sure in the knowledge that there will always be another one there, presented right before our face by someone, with exactly the consistent sweetness that we were promised from the first time we pursed up our lips and got started.

And if that sweetness should fade, or come on too strong, or in any way deviate from our expectation, and if the presenter of the tit should hesitate, or waver, or in any way inconvenience us with its uncertainty, then it is only right that we should declare that situation reprehensible, intolerable, incredible in its moral perversity and deserving of the highest opprobrium that we can muster.

Anything else ~ and everything else ~ that does not fit the description of a tit can, without the need for evaluation, be safely ignored.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Alright Advise [sic]

If this had not made the top ten list last week, I would not be posting this ~ but I am tickled at the response that reddit gives to my 8 Tips That Will Let Any Idiot Improve Their D&D Game:


My favorite is the commenter who feels that I don't like D&D.  I love the affirmation that implies: that someone who doesn't approach a complex, difficult and largely obscure and socially fringe game the same way as "me" must be someone who hates it.

Obviously, people who "hate" the game do not comment on it, they don't blog about it, they don't offer advice in any way except to say, "Stop playing that fucking retarded game."

I have, from time to time, tried to make friends on reddit, tried to bring attention to the blog on reddit or otherwise use reddit for dialogue . . . but this is the sort of response I always find.  I presume these people actually play RPGs.  I can't imagine what sort of play they indulge in ~ undoubtedly something a long, long way from my perspective.  I'd like to say there is room for all of us under the great big shelter of the gaming tent, but frankly, no.  In gaming terms, they're as relevant as the jet trail left behind the mechanical marvel that is flight.  They think they're part of the experience, they make an extravagant, expressive impression, which widens and widens until it ultimately just goes away.

Ah well.  I thought the reader might enjoy seeing how disappointed the greater community is with your choice of posts.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Confirmation

Very well.  For those who may doubt the veracity of my continuing to work on my book, The Fifth Man, for which I created a Jumpstarter campaign in February of 2016, I can offer confirmation of the existence of the book and of my efforts in the way of Ozymandias of Crossing the 'Verse, who is a regular contributor to the comments on this blog.

I have sent Ozymandias a copy of the book thus far: 49,000 words of third draft, 30,000 words of second draft and another 20,000 words of the completed first draft.  Let me be clear: there is a book.  I'm not just farting daisies.  And there will be a finished, published novel when, I am sorry to say, I'm satisfied with the writing.

But I have been in a state of increasing angst for many months now as the length of time between the Jumpstarter and the finished book has widened, as I am deeply conscious of having taken money from good, wonderful people without being able to give them a damn thing to show for it. For that reason I sent Ozymandias, someone I have never met in person, but whom I trust implicitly, a copy of the book thus far so that someone, someone, can come online and say yes, the book exists.

I am tremendously gratified by this.  A part of my concern has been laid to rest.  I hope that the reader who has helped me, who has stood by me, who has stepped up to support me, who has gone the best measure towards helping me go on and move forward, will feel gratified as well.

Thank you to all.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Good Fruit Grows on the High Branches

I've now been posting the Campaigners comic for two months and the honeymoon is definitely over.  I don't mean that I'm done with posting.  I'm working on the comic every day.  Rather, I mean that the sense of it being something weird and profound with every comic I post has greatly diminished.

Some of you, I'm sure, have encountered this feeling.  The first dozen or so posts on a blog are a huge thing.  We find ourselves checking for comments every five minutes and wondering who will think it is the most amazing thing they've ever seen, expecting something big to come out of every post.  At first, that is.  Then, gradually, if we keep at it, the process of posting and checking the post becomes a routine.

With the comic, my first few weeks were spent in the height of anticipation.  The time between comics felt like a long time, as I anxiously waited for the moment when I would be able to post a new one.  But that feeling has gone now.  Now, it feels that the comics are barely up at all before it comes time to post a new one.  Whereas before there was no sense of missing a deadline, because I was ready to work on comics that would be coming out weeks and weeks after the one I posted today, now it becomes more and more evident that the train I'm on is moving faster and faster while I'm creating slower and slower.

This is what everyone experiences who sets a target for producing work.  Even as the regular practice of creating and setting a quality standard imposes itself, so does procrastination.  A day goes by without working, then another day, then a comic is posted and we remind ourselves, "Oh shit, I better make something right now.  I don't want to have to be putting in work last minute!"

But we know that day is coming.  At least, if we don't sort ourselves out and behave responsibly.

Just now, I'm not worried about getting comics out in time.  I still have a back-log that will keep me going a couple of weeks (which is down a long way from when I was five weeks ahead) ~ but I live in fear that I will get stuck for a joke.  And that is what this post is really about: writing jokes.

The one thing I don't want to do is get into the habit of creating what I call "low-hanging fruit."  I'll give an example from the Dragon Magazine #191, having found an archive just the other day:


This comic is an absolute piece of shit.  First of all, it's sexist.  Second, its a pathetic cliche, which itself started as a fabricated urban myth that got picked up by television and then repeated many, many times.  Everyone asks for directions.  I know this, because I am asked for directions very often.  So it doesn't even ring of truth.  Finally, for some reason, even though the cliche makes an argument that men are the stupid ones, the woman is made out to be embarrassed by the dialogue.  For fuck's sake.

Pillsbury, the author of this dreck, had a month to come up with this.  For fuck's sake.  I wish I had a deal to draw comics for the front-line magazine in the game culture, so I could phone in a decades-old joke.  This is the worst kind of low-hanging joke to reach for; it only requires watching reruns of old Johnny Carson shit and stealing from it.

But, sadly, there were many people ~ boys ~ who laughed at this.  Some of you, just now, smiled.  Low hanging fruit is out there, people use it and make a career out of it, just like Johnny-fucking-Carson did, as everything he spewed out for decades was stolen from the generation before him.

The same Dragon issue had three other comics: I'll post them together:


These are three jokes written by three different people.  Yet they're really just the same joke.  They are all three anachronisms.  Take something modern, slap it into the fantasy realm, point at it with an image and then have someone say something perfectly ordinary that is only funny because it's a thing belonging or appropriate to a period other than a fantasy existence.

Bleh.  

Yet again, some of you smiled.  That smile is worth deconstructing, because if we're going to tell jokes, we ought to know a little about why they work.

First of all, we smile or laugh in part because we know it is supposed to be funny.  The joke is framed as a comic and for that reason we are given the cue to a certain type of behavior.  Those pathways have already been driven into our brains by a million comics that we read when we were soft, easily persuaded children at a young, easily impressed age.  As such, even by the time we get old and jaded, we can still relate to the format even if the actual joke itself is trash.

Secondly, jokes are built on the unexpected.  The joke I put up last night, the latest comic that can be found on the sidebar, is built on three unexpected results, one after another, only the last two of which are actually funny.  I'm going to spoil the comic now, so if you haven't read it, pause here.

First, we don't expect the adventure to work things out with a succubus and get married.  But the better twist is the pun based on a common phrase that parents use to describe other people's children (a cliche).  It works, because the cliche doesn't carry the joke, the pun does.  This is then followed by the double-entendre regarding baby-sitter fees.  If you don't see the entendre, think about it.  I did.  It took me an hour of patient thinking to nail down that joke.

Jokes work best when they confer fridge logic: when the joke isn't completely gotten on the first try.  This is what I aim for: a joke that has to be mulled over, where the whole joke isn't evident at once.  The British culture is brilliant at producing comedians who do this naturally, which is why I watch far more British comedy than North American.  There used to be a fair Canadian culture that produced this kind of humor, too, but that has been gone for more than a decade now.  Sadly, the best Canadian humorist working right now (obviously, in my completely non-humble opinion) is Katherine Ryan ~ and she abandoned North America for Britain.

Searching for that unexpected twist is the difficult part of writing humor.  If I have a favorite for this, it would be Jimmy Carr, who is a class by himself.  Here is the sort of classic twist he has the habit ~ meaning something he does so regularly that I am in awe ~ of producing:

"If only Africa had more mosquito nets, then every year we could save millions of mosquitos from dying needlessly of aids."

That is 21 words.  And in it he sets up the standard patter of NGOs asking for use to care and be concerned, only to slap us down.  The writing in those 21 words is so tight, most people I know won't realize it.  Look at the word groups in the one sentence:  "If only Africa" (the set up), "more mosquito nets" (the standard NGO request), "then every year" (building the immensity of the cause), "we could save" (the heart of the pitch, lulling us to expect the usual end of the sentence), "millions of mosquitos" (mid-twist, where it should be millions of people), "from dying needlessly of aids."  Bang.  A four-word punchline.

You can see Carr deliver the joke if you're willing to sit 1 minute and 10 seconds through this toxic bullshit.

I dream of writing like this.  If you haven't seen Jimmy Carr do stand-up, go look for him on you-tube and be ready to laugh very, very hard: because he is not like American comedians.  He doesn't spend three hours setting up a joke.

Time and time again, I find myself thinking up the low-hanging fruit for a comic and then I tell myself, "No, you can do better.  You can definitely do better.  Then I think for a few hours, or days, and slowly hammer out the difference in my head between what counts for low-hanging fruit and what doesn't.  And I live in fear that, in the end, after too much time, I will drift into that because I have burned out on writing things that are actually funny.  And I will know that people will smile and laugh anyway, because ~ hopefully ~ by then they will be trained to know that I'm funny, even when I am not.

That is why so many comics, both mainstream and internet, limp on for years long after they've ceased to produce anything noticeably clever.  Because, once, they did.  And as humans, if once a dry well had water in it, we will keep going back to that well over and over, hoping that one day we'll look down into the hole and water will be there.  It takes a long, long time for us to stop doing that.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Reverse Sides

Let's try a thought experiment.

Instead of the usual game, we'll have the players run a group of humanoid monsters located in a subterranean lair.  We can call them "orcs," but any group will do.  We'll assign two adult males, two young males, three adult females and four children to each player ~ and we'll say that orc children grow quickly enough that these children are all mobile on their own, though we could force one of the females to be burdened with an infant if we wanted.

We'll start by assigning each individual hit points and combat abilities according to their status.  Each player should then designate one of their adults (male or female) as a "leader."  Then one of these leaders can be designated the "chief."  Orcs don't usually have stats, so we can forego those, making the character creation fairly simple.

Now assign some weapons and have the characters pick ten pieces of basic equipment for each adult and each young male ~ no more than two weapons, a suit of armor, and 7 pieces of whatever else they feel they'll need (including a shield), but with this limitation.  It has to be something made without an industrial or academic process.  No metal, no alchemy, no poison, no magic, no unusual tools, etcetera.  If we want, we can argue that one of the weapons each orc has was stolen from the outside culture, so they can have a sword or an axe.  Treat each article of clothing as a separate piece, so most will just wear a hide shirt that reaches to their needs.

We will also make one stipulation.  The orcs have two picks.  Without these picks, they wouldn't have been able to dig their lair out of soft rock.  So they'll need those.

Good, now ask them to make their lair.  They have to create tunnels that connect certain necessary points together: a breeding place for young (orcs are birthed from mudpits), a food-producing chamber (fungus or whatever other imaginary food can be grown underground), a place for each orc to sleep, a place to eat, a place for tools to be made, a pen for animals and one or more entrances to the outside.  Give dimensions that these rooms have to be to support the lair's food/shelter needs ~ such and such an amount of space per inhabitant.  Then limit the distance of connecting hallways to 10 feet per person.  The animals can be whatever exists in a dungeon environment that we feel can be reasonably domesticated (lizards, salamanders, weasels, carnivorous apes, worgs, whatever we want).  Fit the number of animals to the space you'll let them build.

Give the players time to draw out the lair.  While they're doing so, explain that they won't be able to carry weapons and wear armor all day long, for months and months of non-fighting time on end, so they will have to store these somewhere that they can be reached in time of crisis.

Let the players devise any crude traps they want to create, giving a 35% roll per trap set of the trap going off, potentially killing one of the members of the tribe.  Make sure that the players understand that any trap in a commonly used corridor (the shortest distance between any of the above required places) will mean a 1 in 10 chance of killing a random resident, from child to chief, because of its ill-considered inconvenience.  Remember, too, that the traps have to be fashioned from ordinary goods.  No complex rock digging, however - we're talking soft rock and the orcs only have picks.

Still, they can make pits with logs over them for daily use and fill the pits with offal or spikes (since wood is easily obtained from outside).  They can make rope from the fibres or sinews of animals that will make springs and stuff.  They can make doors of every variety.  We might want to limit them to a set number of traps, perhaps five, ten or fifteen.  Of course, anything really vicious will start to take its toll on the population of their lair, so they'll think twice about really deadly things.

Good.  Now, give the players a bunch of gold and silver coins, with jewelry and gems.  Give them each a minor magic item.  Once again, point out that they can't carry any magic weapons with them all the time.  They'll need both hands to work.  Have then show where precisely all the money is hidden.  Let them be as precise as they want about hiding it, so long as they keep to the rules of no special means that can be made from the tools they have.

Finally, have the players identify where their orcs are at a given time of the day.  Stipulate that such and such many have to be tending the food making, the animals, the children, maintenance on the tunnels and tool fashioning.  Tools are always breaking and need to be remade.

Now, attack the lair.  Use the players' own characters.  We could create some of our own.  We may want to pick ogres or giants as our humanoids if the players are high level.  Have the players defend the lair with their humanoids while the DM attacks the lair with the adventurers.

If the orcs (or whatever humanoids) are easily killed, or if the treasure is found easily, find some way to penalize the players.  Get them to talk about how they could have done better.  If we want, we can hinge the player's success as orcs to how much experience the players' characters get at the end of the session.

Our goal here is to demonstrate that if the players had to play orcs all the time, they would be a lot smarter about where they stored their goods or how difficult it was to get into their lair.  Even the weakest humanoids could create insanely difficult lairs for a player to break ~ and the above experiment could demonstrate to players and DMs alike what to build and how to break it.

This is the sort of thing that provides empathy for both sides, player and DM alike, while vastly expanding the possibilities of presenting the game.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Lurkers Corner ~ To Tell or Not To Tell

At last I have an excuse for another of these posts.

Here is the situation on the Juvenis campaign.  The players have clearly awoken something as a result of their actions at Mimmarudla, the dungeon they've plundered.  It has been clearly described now, today, that there is at least one group of frog-humanoids attacking people in Rogaland, the province of Norway where the party presently adventures.

No one in Rogaland seems to know what it is that was awoken or where these things have come from, though the party knows.

The question is this: should the party own up?  Should they go to authorities, identify the location of the dungeon and express their actions?  Or should they keep silent in the face of multiple deaths that have occurred thus far.

I love dilemmas like this, though the online party has barely acknowledged that there even is a dilemma.  The cleric, Engelhart, has expressed the questions I've just asked, but seems quite content to keep silent.  To me, a situation like this speaks to more than the character in the game: it speaks to the character of the player, as well.

Granted, everything that has happened is fictional and in game ~ so the dilemma has to be, what is the best way to continue the game?  Volunteer what we know or not?  Which offers the best opportunities, the best reward, the best survival expectation?  We can't argue morality (though there is a moral question here), but we can argue the nature of the game characters and what this says about their selfishness vs. their social responsibility.

I want to add that the most successful parties in my decades of game experience were those who consistently chose one of these options, though I won't say which.

Please weigh in.

UPDATE: the party has begun to discuss the dilemma now.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Top Ten Posts in Place

On the sidebar, the reader will see that I have created a list for the top ten posts, as voted on by the readers.  I'm going to remove the poll as soon as I publish this - but I wanted to take time to thank everyone who helped choose the 54 titles for the poll and for voting in the poll itself.  I think the Gentle Readers made good choices ~ these are at least some of my favorite posts to write, to be certain.

All of them, I notice, represent a big chunk of writing.  The two 10,000 word posts, the Preparation and Petard posts (both 7,000 words+), the posts that were the start of a string of posts, all demonstrate that the argument tl;dr is not part of the lexicon of my readers.  You like a lot of writing.  I will remember this in the future, particularly since most of the longer posts on this blog rarely yield more than two or three comments.

It has been an educational experience.  I believe that next year around this time I will encourage readers to make a list of 2017 posts, then see if any of those challenge the top ten already posted.

Thank you again.  I'm going to think now about what else I can write.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Notes on Stavanger's Economy

A very long time ago, I wrote a series of posts that I called "never too much economics."  I have to apologize to start: if you have not followed past posts I have written on hex generation, economics and my trade system, I'm going to lose your attention very quickly.  There's nothing I can do about that.  I have been working on this method for logically calculating the structure underlying any part of my world, very large world that it is.  The work shown today represents just a few hours of work for this particular region in my game, that created for the Juvenis campaign.

I'm going to use some of the details of that post in order to address this map:



This is a part of my larger game world expanded from 20-mile hexes to 6.67-mile hexes (6-mile for short), using a hex generator I've talked about on my blog before ~ though not for a long time.

The map shows production for food, hammers and coin, similar to the same measurements for the old game, Civilization IV.  Five years ago, I defined one food as sufficient to feed 167 persons at a minimal rate of sustenance, a very unpleasant 1,700 calories per day.  We may assume that is for any period, as we're not actually measuring the weight of food, only its consumption vs. its production.

Back in the day, I also wrote that a hex with two food symbols showing should be read as the binary number "11" ~ which would be 3 in the base-ten system.  A hex with three food symbols showing would equal the binary "111," or 7 in the base-ten system.  Thus, three food showing will feed not 500 persons, but 1,167.  The greatest production on the map above is the hex surrounding Stavanger, showing a loaf and two slices, or "1111111," or 127 in base-ten, enough to feed 21,167 persons.  That's not bad, but the county of Rogaland, depicted above, has a population of 25,627.

How much food is showing, in base-ten numbers?  I may have miscounted, but I get 392 food altogether, enough to feed 65,335 people.  That is, at sustenance level.  That 1,700 calories is fairly low, so we can double that amount for the people around Stavanger and still have enough food for export.  This makes sense.  Norway is a relatively rich country, with productive forests, plenty of water, excellent soil (where there is soil) and a relatively low population.  It ought to be an exporting region ~ even if it is only enough to feed 7,040 persons at a comfortable 3,400 calories a day.  There are many more people than that in the world.

The coins showing work the same way as food.  The number of coins in a given hex show an exponential progression, so that the hex with Stavanger in it would have 63 coins (binary 111111). Altogether, the region shown has 115 coins - so Stavanger by itself represents more than half the total wealth of the region.  This, too, makes sense.

My post on coins argued for a fixed rate of 2,500 g.p. per coin showing, with the understanding the the principle of money is that it flows through the hands of people on a continuous basis.  In effect, I argued, this would mean that the total income for all the persons in the region would be three times the actual physical wealth ~ arguing for a low velocity that would correspond to a 17th century world.

I'd like to deviate from that old number, however, as it was based on an ill-proposed Player's Handbook reference.  I should be able to do better.  For this, I'll turn to my trade tables, specifically the list of goods and services that are produced in Rogaland.

As it happens, Rogaland has a very poor collection of references for my trade tables:



That is a very sad collection of things. Clearly, the encyclopedia I drew from did not have much of a description for Stavanger ~ but the trick is not to rush forward and change it, because that seems best, but to presume that the region is economically depressed, regardless of how much food it produces or the number of people.

At present, my overall trade numbers (subject to change as I add more regions) indicate that one reference is worth 941.18 gold ounces, or 7,647 gold pieces per reference.  Since the total value for Rogaland is only four times that, or 30,588 g.p., it is plain that the number per coin shown on the map is going to be less than 2,500.  30,588 divided by 115 equal 265 g.p. per coin.

With a per capita income of only 1.19 g.p. per person, we have to wonder how anyone can afford to buy books and statues from the party for 1,750 g.p., as recently happened in the campaign.  I admit, that is a problem; but I paid out that money before making the above calculations.

We can push the velocity of the money in the region by 1, to a total of 4, then presume that the total income of the region passes specifically through the hands of the merchants (along with the upper class, the nobility and the hoi polloi, as detailed in my original post).  If the merchants represent 0.1% of the total population, this makes the average yearly income for a merchant in Stavanger (they would all be in the trade town) a total of 1,190 g.p. per year.

We can also assume an accumulation of wealth, arguing that gold (and everything else that doesn't spoil) is steadily mined and added to the system, where it spreads outwards in the form of trade and ultimately collects in the hordes and savings of people.  We might argue that if 2% of the total coins in the world is irrevocably lost to monsters, lost hiding places and being sunk in the sea every year, then there is something like 51 years worth of accumulated gold pieces in the world (at that point, loss more or less equals production).  That is more than enough for an apothecary to dig into their accumulated 56,000 g.p. of wealth to buy something very special.

This could mean that the monetary assets for Rogaland are considerable, even if much less than other regions with far more references to goods, services and manufacturing.  Like any good economist, it depends on how we propose to juggle the numbers.

I think I would want to create additional regions, then spread the income over several regions and not just use Rogaland as an isolated measurement.  I'd argue that the loss of coin from the system was higher, just to reduce the pure wealth available.  I think a combination of factors could lead to a better approximation.

What we want, of course, is to be able to identify the wealth produced by a specific hex, giving us a number as to how much coin is a) regularly flowing out of that hex, if the player wishes to start a venture of some sort, and b) how much gold is buried in the hex, in terms of plundering it from monsters and/or dungeons.

This lets the gold of the hex determine how much product is sold in Stavanger, if the party decides to go fishing or lumberjacking, rather than trying to figure out specific production figures for every imaginable sort of product.  The player spends x time in this forest, which produces y amount of money per year for z number of people (determined by food supply).  This makes a very simple calculation for how much money the player can make from time spent, without the fuss of guessing how much fruit or flax or feldspar a given hex can produce.

Finally, I come to hammers.

I am at a loss here.  My old thinking has one primary problem: the system does not generate what sort of buildings have already been created, or what has been done with the hammers generally in the last 750+ years of Stavanger's existence (founded 862).  If we are only talking of the hammers being used for civic improvement, then they are only available to those who actually control the hex.  If so, I can safely ignore them for the time being.

I would like another value attached to the hammers, however ~ a problem I haven't considered for a very long time and thus also a problem I have distance on.  Since I've only rediscovered the problem in the last couple of days, I haven't even begun to solve it.

What I'd like is some meaning that is applicable to player characters at any point.  It could represent the amount of labor in the area, available or otherwise.  It might somehow represent the present existing infrastructure, but I'm not sure how.  It is easy to add it all together to get the size of Rogaland's military, the work force directly under control of the upper classes or even the amount of original created artwork that can be found (related to the bard).  I just need to think about it.