Friday, October 24, 2014



Just received a comment on yesterday's post literally minutes after listening to part of Ric Burn's history of New York City, released between 1999 and 2003.  It's a massive, 17 and a half hour chronological study.  This is Part 7, which I'm just completing.  Anyway, first the comment:

Doug writes,

"I wonder how much of this is a result of players who don't bother fleshing out their characters. Giving a character a place to call home is an invitation to a DM to mess with that home. Sort of the reason why so many characters seem to be orphans so the DM can't kidnap a dear sibling."

The passage in the documentary above that I've finished was the demise of Robert Moses, after devastating much of New York in the interests of traffic flow and housing despite the destruction of lives and long-standing communities.  In effect, Moses was a real-life DM - urban planner, planning authoritarian, all-around self-righteous asshole on the grandest scale possible - whose greatest happiness in life was the destruction of things that people held dear for the sake of 'the good' as defined by Robert Moses.

And having listened to this and learned a great deal, along comes Doug to write about messing with the home.

It is very easy for DMs - and television script writers - to leap to the easiest, repulsively overused plot device in the history of serial writing, the destruction of anything the player appreciates.

The player has built a castle?  Immediately - and here I mean in the very next running after the castle is built! - set forces in motion that will destroy, or at least seriously threaten to destroy the castle.  Nevermind that there have never been any forces in the region or that the land has stood unoccupied for millennia, as soon as a castle appears, the DM must wreck it.

The player has an object of power?  Immediately set about having something steal it, dis-empower it, produce something of equal power and go head-to-head with the player, whatever works.  DON'T let the player enjoy it!

The player has managed to establish a rapport with an ally, local authority or guild?  That's a death sentence.  The ally or local authority must die immediately, the guild's management must change immediately, and to someone who obviously must now HATE the player, there must not be any sense of gain or status that the player can enjoy!

We must maintain the player character's inconsequentiality, we must ensure that the player NEVER has a chance to expand from a foothold that they have established, we must always see to it that there's always a higher power or entity that despises the player's success and makes moves towards eradicating it.

Player characters must not be allowed to obtain power.  Even if the DM does allow the player to enjoy it temporarily, the decision will be made immediately about how long the player will be allowed to enjoy it and when the door will be shut.  There's no question about that.

Why?  Because power is an annoyance.  It requires, first of all, that the DM must adapt to new circumstances.  A party that has acquired a host of magic items and followers is now difficult to kill, meaning that all the old patterns of humanoid squads and a few giant beasts aren't enough to threaten the party anymore.  It will take companies of humanoids and a great host of beasts to really challenge the party!  Hell, that's a lot of fighting, a lot of planning, a lot of rolling up hit dice.  Fuck all that. We'll just destabilize that follower base, deprive the party of all the magic, leave them naked on the street again and then MY adventure, Caves of the Cave-loving Cave-dwellers of Cave Cavernous will be relevant again!  Hooray for good DMing!

Having to allow the player who's obtained a minor nobility to attend meetings organized by the Duke or King is just too much trouble.  Damn, that means the world would need to make some sort of sense, it would mean that I'd have to portray a campaign that demands a knowledge of how governing works.  I'd have to read a book!  The king would have to speak respectfully to a party member!  There'd have to be armies and mass battles and - holy shit - what if the party actually tries to get married and have children?  Jeebus, that's pretty freaking squicky!  I just can't deal with that.

Ah, I know what to do!  Okay, first the king dies, then his evil brother marries the queen and together they set out to clean out the kingdom, and of course first they'd start with the newest lords . . .

Listen.  I know why a lot of you run worlds.  Some of you have done the above without knowing any better.  Some of you damn well do know better.

I can't figure out how the people who know better still have players.  But then, I suppose a lot of your players don't know any better.

This 'immediately' shit is really most annoying.  The decision that's made not even to give the alternative role-playing campaign a try, but to immediately destroy the first steps towards that with undermining the player's efforts . . . this really bothers me.  We should really understand that the immediate destruction of things that people have fought for and risked for and invested their time and mental faculties for is a really, really, really shitty thing to do.  It's a poisonous DM's strategy, a self-aggrandizing, miserable thing to do.

It ought to bother your players.

I hope some of them have gotten furious and shouted at you.  They ought to do more.  They ought to break your jaw.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Origin of Identity

Indulge me a moment and study the map below.

It's quite an ordinary map, the sort usually created by DMs, though arguably it is probably more tightly compacted than most fantasy maps.  Rather than vast, empty hexes, such as might be found with a map like this, the makers of Divine Right were creating a wargame.  There was a strong desire to make as many of the hexes strategically important - and so the hills in the south part of the country do not spread over 40 hexes, but only 4.

Suppose these are 20-mile diameter hexes.  There are 64 hexes altogether, so in size Pon would be about 10% bigger than Switzerland, or half the size of Indiana (about 17,000+ sq.mi. or 43,000, if that helps any).  It's much like Switzerland, that had a population of 1,664,832 when the French started counting census - and since population numbers tend not to shift that much until the industrial revolution, a million people is not a bad guess for a decently organized and defensible region like that above.  Of course, three measly cities for a million people seems ridiculous (compare with the number of important cities in Switzerland), but we can presume there are other places that just aren't written on this map.

If all we want are places for adventures to occur, the map is already sufficient.  The Gathering is a convenient nest of gnolls waiting to be killed, the Barriorr Mountains of the Mountains of Ice can be filled with as many dungeons as we want, the Border Forest cries out for bandits and raiders across the border from Mivior (the yellow part of the map) in either direction and the Lost City of Khos (sorry, the map cut off the words in the middle) beckons.  We have three convenient towns for the party to retreat to in order to lick their wounds and everything is nice and closely spaced, so everything can be reached with just a few days walking.  What more could we want?

I dearly want to answer that question, though I encourage the reader to do some self-investigation as well.  If all the hexes indicate are the terrain and the distances between places, then why should anyone care what Pon is or what it stands for?  If its nothing more than a splat-kingdom for marching out for nickels and dimes, it's immediately interchangeable for any other place in the player's mind. The map in the player's head is as blank and empty as the hexes themselves.  Those four hill hexes in the south are cut from the same cloth as the hills in the middle of the country or the hills west of Marzarbol, just as Marzabol, the Heap in the Hills and the Crow's Nest may as well be identical.

What makes us love a country?  What makes it feel like home, or a place we dream of being, or something we would fight and die for?  The great big mall that's conveniently 40 miles south of us? The beach ten miles to the north?  The stadium close enough that we can walk the distance?  Is it conveniences, services, things to do, opportunities and so on that make the land what it is?  I feel the answer is no, for those things are everywhere.

Love the Buffalo Bills if you must, but it's only a trick of fate that you were born in Buffalo and not Pittsburgh or - horrifically - in some city in Canada.  I want the players to ask themselves what it is that makes us cheer, put up with the shit and viciously defend our city, even when that seems irrational.

It seems silly and stupid to argue that plunking in a few industries and products will give a region character, but is this not the case?  Is Chicago not defined by hog butchery and its transshipment docks, as well as the industry that accelerated jazz music there and construction boom that built the city skyward?  Is L.A. not defined more by its industry than by its beaches and weather?  San Diego has the same beaches and the same weather, but who gives a shit about San Diego?  It's damn near as big as Detroit and Philadelphia, but when was the last time you heard anyone mention that city outside a sports reference?

What we do makes us who we are.  What a country or city does gives that place an identity.

Do your players want to walk over blank hexes to the next combat, or do they want to live in a place that gives a sense of identity?  And while you ask yourself that question, O Reader, along with the others of this post, piece together the problem that creating an identity is a hundred times harder than creating a dungeon.

Perhaps that's the reason why so few DMs have given it's creation an effort.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


There is a natural resistance against things about which we cannot know for certain.   The effectiveness of certain weapons over others, particularly in terms of personal experience with the use of those weapons.

How interesting is it that we have so little context from the men who actually used swords and axes to kill other men.  How resistant those men were to writing down the details, or how resistant were editors to publish books containing such information.  How few soldiers today return from the fields of war to write detailed accounts of enemy's heads blowing open or the pleasant, comfortable way the rifle felt in their hands as it warmed steadily through a fire fight.  How is it that such accounts are not commonplace, given the number of soldiers in the world who have shot or fired such weapons, who have been educated enough to at least write an account of it?

Perhaps there is some knowledge that is better not to share.  It is better that the descriptions of war are not associations between cock and gun, but reconciliations between normal perception and the scattered, irrational experience of being under fire.

An officer came blundering down the trench:
"Stand-to and man the fire-step!"  On he went . . .
Gasping and bawling, "Fire-step . . . counter attack!" 
Then the haze lifted.  Bombing on the right
Down the old sap: machine-guns on the left;
And stumbling figures looming out in front.
"O Christ, they're coming at us!"  Bullets spat,
And he remembered his rive . . . rapid fire . . .
And started blazing wildly . . . then a bang . . .
Crumpled and spun him sideways, knocked him out
To grunt and wriggle: none heeded him; he choked
And fought the flapping veils of smothering gloom,
Lost in a blurred confusion of yells and groans . . .
Down, and down, and down, he sank and drowned,
Bleeding to death.  The counter-attack had failed.

From Counter-Attack by Siegfried Sassoon

Strange that the efforts to settle upon changes the the damages or use of weapons never takes into account the battle itself.  What DM proposes that players, set to enter combat, will forget that they even have a weapon?  Or that they may, stunned and confused, wander throughout the melee, axe dropped heedlessly upon the ground, until they are cut down or they find themselves hours later, lost, having forgotten where they are?  Where is the madness of fighting?  Where is the unreason?  Where are the clumsy, untrained dupes who have been conned into coming who are now unable to bring themselves to kill anyone?

Where is the humanity?

Let's not pretend any of this game is real.  It is as far from real as anything gets.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Production Figures

I'm setting up to create another video on Friday, describing my mock-up of Pon, the region within Minaria, as promised in my last video.  I should have a map for Pon that I can post sometime soon. For the present, I've added a couple of pages to my wiki giving the number of total references in my world broken down by product and most common, as well as numbers I use for total production, which should be viewed as separate from references.

I think I'm a bit short on text for both those pages.  If someone wants to make a point about something that should be expanded upon, for the sake of information, give me a poke and I'll update.

The smart reader will note that there are hundreds of things notably missing from the production list that are certainly on the references list.  For example, I have 45 references for armor and 48 references for weapons, but no numbers whatsoever for how much of either are actually produced. That is because all figures I could find for manufactured products were unreliable in terms of the Renaissance period (or the medieval before), meaning that I had to build a completely different methodology for working out the cost of manufactured products.  This did not, unfortunately, work out the total amount produced of manufactured products, but then that was never my intention.  I wanted prices, not amounts, and as it happened I did not need to produce the latter in order to produce the former.  This is a subject I will go into more deeply at a later time.

I am sorry for where the amounts for produced goods are listed in ounces rather than pounds or tons. I know this makes it difficult to assess how much is produced at a glance.  The numbers work for the system, however, as I am more concerned about the price of things in terms of copper pieces per ounce than per larger amount.  By breaking things down to their smallest numbers, it is easier to multiply against a given product's total weight.  It just is.

Why ounces and not metric totals?  Why do I insist on handling 16 ounces to the pound or 8 pottles to the gallon?  Flavour.  The metric system was not invented until the 18th century and my world takes place in the 17th.  Thinking in terms of the old Imperial system actually helps me understand why certain objects were fashioned to be a certain size.  I feel it is worth the mathematical hassle.

As the link says, I post the production numbers strictly as a guideline.  I truly am sorry about not being able to reproduce my source material - much of it came from library reference basements or shelves that in fact don't exist any more.  My local university library, for example, has eliminated much of its original reference material for the sake of the internet, or modified those original papers so that they're now found in other forms.  To reproduce my data I would have to go back to scratch - and since my data is fine for me, I don't feel that's necessary.  The reader is more than welcome to produce whatever data the reader is prepared for, if the reader feels evidence is necessary.  I suggest beginning with expansion of industrial power in Western Europe post 1750.  You'll find it hard to find any data on industrial expansion in the rest of the world, even America, prior to 1800.  In all truth, America's industrial power in 1750 was virtually nil, so it doesn't give much value as far as working out a ratio against the total production of things in the present day.  Insufferably, no one felt it was important to keep reliable statistics for how much metal or cereals or even sugar was produced worldwide in 1650.  What the hell were those people thinking?

Thus, any numbers you produce for your system will be - unfortunately - in part dragged out of your ass.  There just aren't any numbers.  You'll find a number for something made somewhere (Toulon produced some nice numbers in the 17th century), but that won't help if your world's culture is that of Asia, Africa or even western Russia.  You'll just have to face it - making up a production number is the best you'll be able to do.

I would argue strongly that you trust my numbers, at least in terms of their comparative ratio.  I've been doing this a long time, I positively HATE making up things and I've worked hard to get good comparisons that work well for the world.  If your world is more medieval or ancient than renaissance, I would recommend going through and reducing a lot of the numbers based upon what technological innovations your world will precede.  For example, you had better cut your grain production considerably if your world does not include the horse collar.  You might want to toss certain staple crops altogether, if you want an ancient Rome feel, as there shouldn't be any potatoes, chocolate, tobacco and so on.  On the whole, for pure fantasy's sake, there are a number of things you might want to pump upwards, such as turtles for turtle soup, while ridding yourself of products just to make things 'weird.'  Remember that any changes you make to the production will have potentially drastic effects upon the price of things if you don't consider references as well.  There's no point in increasing the number of turtles in the world if you don't also increase the number of people who think eating them is important.

That should give you food for thought for a day or two.  There will be more.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Dollar Voting

I received a message this evening from a source that cannot be named, asking if he can start a dollar vote on my next book being How to Run Adventure Hooks.

And he donated a dollar.

Well, I am working on something along those lines, with a larger perspective.  I felt I ought to reassure the good fellow.  Of late, I must confess, I've been having some trouble hooking a party and getting them to bite - so remember that everyone can have trouble with this.

I wanted to post a youtube vid with Hoagy Carmichael singing "There Ain't No Fish," but this is the best I could do.

Dogs & Cars

I must say it.  I don't care about weapons.

I'm a D&D player, so I know I'm supposed to, but somehow I just can't get interested.  For me, it's been four decades of people declaring that a 'long sword' is 'this' or that no, it's actually 'this,' that it is used with two hands - er, I mean one hand, or both one hand and two hands, etcetera, etcetera.  Four decades of the sword weighs this much, no this much, well in fact this much, except that you're all wrong and it weighs this much.  Four decades of every sword is basically the same weapon, except when they're not, except when every different culture seems to have invented their own version and stuck with that version for centuries, for apparently no reason whatsoever, since every sword is the same and training with every sword is the same.  Except for all those people who say it is not.

Four decades of meeting people who 'train with weapons,' who teach others how to use weapons, who make their own weapons, who unearth weapons from archeological sites, who all strangely tell me different 'truths' based upon their 'real experience' with the use and manufacture of weapons.  Four decades of opinions that distinctly differ from the opinions of others, in a culture where everyone has to begin their personal 'truth' about weapons with some form of the statement, "Let me begin by saying that everyone else is wrong . . ."

I don't know why the scholarship in this field is so universally fucked up, but I have been around long enough and heard enough now to know to doubt anyone who argues from the position of, "I know this to be true because I have done this or read that."

Any argument that requires a resume before starting is highly suspect.

Where this sort of thing dominates in other fields, there is an opinion that I believe has credibility: "We just don't know."  Strangely, in a macho-male dominated field like weapons, however, the number who are willing to say that are very few.

We don't know.  We don't have reliable records made and kept by contemporary sources, we don't know for sure that the weapons we have pulled out of ground were made for fighting, despite the nicks on such weapons (how do we know the weapons weren't used to hack and cut things to impress visitors, the same way 'weapons' are used in thousands of basement apartments today).

We do know there has never been a universal policy or philosophy in weapons manufacture, ever. Consistency in weapons didn't begin until long after the industrial revolution - and even today the value of the world's best weapon is not based upon its accuracy, range, muzzle velocity or rate of fire, but upon its ability to be made cheaply and remain functioning in absolutely shit conditions.  Even as I write this, however, someone, somewhere, is readying an explanation for why I have that wrong - and moreover, why the exceptional distribution of the weapon in all environments and among all cultures doesn't prove anything.  Nor the fact that the weapon was first put into service 65 years ago, despite all the technology developed since then.

We don't know.  Three words that most of us don't know how to say or don't like to say.  We just don't fucking know.  For me, where it comes to D&D, or the made-up justifications behind the changing of the weapons rules in D&D, every argument for why something needs to be changed about damage or weapons use comes down to a series of elaborate justifications to produce nothing more than ass-generated results.

We just don't have to work this hard.

Allow me to provide a game example.  I do this in the hopes of expressing how very, very little the actual use of actual weapons in actual history matters.

How fast does the roadster piece move in Monopoly?  And how fast does the dog piece move?  Look at that!  The same amount.

Did that require thousands of hours spent training with dogs and cars to establish the movement of either in a game?  Would thousands of hours help make better rules for the movement of either?  Does it fucking matter?  Or is it all just a lot of crap spewed out to satisfy the unhappy whims of people who are so bored with the game they have to fiddle with nonsensical rule changes?

Because I think it's spew.

My 'long sword' does 1 to 8 damage.  It has always done 1 to 8 damage.  It always will.  Why?  Who cares.  Because it does.  Because it's a game piece and that's how much damage it needs to do to make it different from another weapon that does 1 to 6.  Isn't that enough?

There are a million complex things in this game that are pretty hard to manage:  tension, character development, managing players, keeping abreast of what's happening and setting a pace that presses for player emotionality and enjoyment, just to name a few.  The accuracy of damage that a sword does seems pretty far down the list - particularly when changing that damage will have no appreciable effect on the game except - from what I've seen done in the last four decades - to fuck up the original balance.

That balance was simple.  You have hit points.  You have a weapon.  The weapon removes hit points.

And the dog goes as fast as the car.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Time Wastin'

I said I'd be busy.

I have been hammering away at the remake of a table that, honestly, confirms the sentiment that I'm completely crazy.  I won't go into it, but suffice to say that it involves creating travel routes for every market city in my system - hundreds of market cities, at an average of 8 market cities per hour.  I have this vacation spent about 55 hours setting up 400+ said cities and I am not quite halfway through yet.

Still, this post is about how easily I get bored with things.

Of late, it has been de rigueur to write long posts upon the manner in which food and electronic manufacturers are redesigning their products in order to make them more addictive to the general population.  The term 'addictive' has grown to be quite positive in describing anything that we'd like the general public to buy.  Manipulating the public, encouraging them to ignore advice about nutrition so that they'll eat another hundred pounds of sugar a year, or inducing them to microspend themselves into the poorhouse is all the rage - and it is just as much a rage to spend plenty of words talking about what a seedy, evil, unholy practice it is.  After all, we've all had five decades of television drama to pound home the principle that if someone is addicted, then someone in the equation must be the pusher - and pushers are bad, bad people.

I am the first to step up and say that big corporations are evil.  Mostly, however, they're evil because they serve as shelters to keep sociopathic personalities from having to spend any money to clean up the damage they cause in the process of making the goods that the general public supposedly finds addictive.  You know, the pollution they cause, their resistance against sharing wealth, their unwillingness to contribute to the general welfare and that sort of thing.  I personally feel that the damage the creation and management of unregulated plastic does to the environment is a greater evil than that the plastic is tranformed into a shape that makes people spend too much money on candy crush.

But this is just me.  I'm very different from everyone else, as is evident when I read anything that anyone else writes on the matter.  I don't care that people spend too much money or eat too much or get horribly sick and die of liver failure or whatever else.  I care that I don't do these things, but I don't see the habits of other people in this regard as evil.

I view it as normal.

Being that I'm old, I look back on the television that was available to us in the 1970s and I wonder how the hell we spent so much of our lives watching it.  I don't think the 80's or 90's is any better. Please don't start me on the last decade.  Television has always been shit and yet people have always watched many hours of television.  I won't say 'too many,' because my point here would be that it doesn't matter.  One way or another the 10,000+ hours I've spent in my life doing absolutely nothing besides watching television isn't coming back to me or anyone else.  At the time, I didn't know any better.  I remember I tried to do other things than watch television, but in the long run the time I spent hiking or hanging out at the mall or trying to date girls who had commitment issues was just as much a waste of my time as television.  All the baseball or football I played is as much a write-off - and hell, I spent time practicing to do those things.  What difference does any of that make now?

People would say that in practicing such activities, I built up good practicing habits.  We were told that at the time.  It is a load of shit, of course - since practicing to watch television is just as useful in building good habits in finding the best shit to watch from among enormous piles of even worse shit. It's no different now, since we practice using apps that make us better at whatever the hell purpose for which the game is designed.  No matter what you decide to 'waste' your time on, you're going to get better at it, oh yes.  Which will only be important to people who also spent time practicing that thing.

Please understand that.  All the time I spent learning about history is only important to people who have also tried to learn about history.  The effort I have put into writing is only important to people who care to read writing.  For other people, for people who dislike history or reading, then all my time was 'wasted.'  I might just as well have drank heavily and watched more television, or spent more time on facebook or twitter.  To some group of people, somewhere, everything is a waste of time.  Everything.

The only thing that makes spending any time doing anything worthy is when we don't get bored.  Television in the 70s was, mysteriously, not boring to us.  Fuck knows why, it's awful.  Football and baseball fascinated me, books fascinated me, writing fascinated me, sex certainly did and D&D has been a terrific fascination all around.  On the whole, I've been able to find a great many things these last four decades that seized and shook my imagination, keeping me from being less bored.

Facebook, not so much.  Twitter, even less so.  It took me about two hours, spread over three weeks, to get completely bored shit of twitter.  It's supposed to be addictive, but it bores me.  The internet, largely, bores me.  I have a few pages I check daily and I research a bunch on it, but besides that I search mainly for movies, documentaries and university lectures.

I've been on vacation for 8 days and I have hardly touched my cellular phone.  I don't miss it.  It's a phone.  Sometimes it serves as a camera.  When I owned an ordinary phone and an ordinary camera back in the 1980s, I didn't use either all that much.  I don't get interested in other people's photos and unless something really unique happens, like the snowstorm last month, I don't care to take pictures of it.  That bores me.  I just don't see my cellphone as addictive.  I know I'm supposed to.

But writing line after line after line of market cities and how far this is from that - hell, I can get fanatical about that.  Borisoglebsk is 8.9 days from Voronezh, so cell E917 equals 8.9+E920 . . . damn, that's good time wastin'.

I'm going to do more of that now.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Another Shot At It

I'm going to be failing to explain this post for the rest of my life.  You'll need to read that post to follow this one.  This is nothing but another attempt to offer a clearer example - but I will be covering all this in further detail with later videos.

Let's say we have these numbers:

Total amount of grain: 7,800 tons
Total amount of gold (regardless of the number of references): 2,000 oz.

Number of references for grain or gold: whatever number we say.

Let's use these numbers to start:

Number of grain references: 6
Number of gold references: 1

Total value of both grain & gold = 14,000 oz. gold.

Total grain tonnage per grain reference: 7,800/6 = 1,300 tons

Total value of grain in gold per ton:

1,300 tons = 2,000 oz. of gold.

We do NOT divide the total grain into the total gold.

Now, IF we add another gold reference, WE DO NOT increase the total amount of the gold.

IF we add another grain reference, we DO increase the total amount of gold.

That is because gold is the standard.

1 more grain reference would create an additional value of 2,000 gold oz, but would not in fact create any more gold in the world. Moreover, a 7th grain reference would reduce the total amount of tonnage per reference.

7 grain references, not 6, would mean:

7,800 tons of grain/7 references = 1,114 tons per references.

Which in turn would mean,

1,114 tons = 2,000 oz. of gold.

On the other hand, IF we add that second gold reference, then:

Each gold reference = 1,000 oz. of gold.

Each grain reference would then equal 1,000 oz. of gold.

The more gold references you add, the more the whole system declines in price.

More gold references means that the gold is more widespread, or 'moves faster' in the system, so despite the actual total amount of gold NOT increasing, the total value of all other commodities apart from gold DROPS in value.

Let's go with the new numbers:

Number of grain references: 7
Number of gold references: 2 (*sorry about the typo)

Total amount of grain and gold has NOT changed. Total gold is still 2,000 oz. Total grain is still 7,800 tons.

NEW total value of both grain & gold: nine references multiplied against the total amount of oz. of gold per gold reference:

9,000 oz. gold.

Let me be as clear as possible:

The value of 7 references of grain (regardless of the actual tonnage of grain produced) equals:

The total amount of gold produced divided by the number of gold references multiplied by 7 = 7,000 oz. gold.

The other 2 gold references are then equal to 2,000 additional oz. of gold, the actual gold in existence.

I know it sounds strange and weird to twist the value of gold versus other things in this way, but BELIEVE me, where it comes to making the system work, it is freaking brilliant.  The backwards perspective of "more gold references makes everything cheaper" took a long, long time to hit on - but when viewed from the perspective of tens of thousands of references, where only a few hundred are gold, it really works.  Remember for the future, keep control of your gold references!  Don't add dozens of them.  It will only wreck your economy.  I recommend that only 1-3% of your total references be actual gold.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Role-playing Trade 01

Here would be my first video, Role-playing Trade 01: Placing Goods & Services:

It runs 20 minutes, which I hope is not overlong.  I have a tendency to ramble when I'm voicing a video.  The discussion covers in a very general way the placement of commodities and the social effects some of those commodities might have on the system as a whole.  This is meant to be no more than an introduction, certainly not a detailed account of what the player ought to specifically do.  I hope, however, that it leads to some thinking and consideration on the first problem, as I move forward towards what will undoubtedly be a more detailed discussion of one of the regions above.

I  was asked about what common products, resources or such, ought to be included - and rather than read those off into the video, I'll just give a list here:

Precious metals - gold, silver, copper
Building Stone
Animal products - cheese, meat, leather
Milling - flour, animal feed
Oils - lamp, cooking, perfume
Fibres - wool, silk, hemp, cotton
Tools & woodcraft
Alchemy (including magic)
Weapons & Armor
Livestock - cattle, horses, pigs, sheep, camels, dogs, elephants

That's 49, if we count all the individual forms.  That's half the 100 I suggested.  Obviously, these can all be divided - and they don't include luxuries such as caviar, opium, jewelry, spices and whatnot.  But then, I do expect the reader to work out their own general list and at least begin with a sense for where some of those common or odd things ought to be coming from.  Remember, a single commodity will often come from multiple places!  Some things will cluster around one area, others will be scattered everywhere, still others will have only a few sources.  Something very special will come from only one place (high quality swords from Muscaster).

Play around a bit and I'll post again when I have done the necessary work.

Dungeon Descriptions/Notes

The following is an answer to Harvicus, who asked on the previous post,

". . . after seeing the thought you put into the goblin village and how open ended your world is, does your world contain dungeons in the classic sense? If so, I would love to see an example or two of the type of maps and area descriptions/notes you would use to run one."

(If anyone else has a good question like this, leave it on the Vacation Eve post and I'll start a new thread; this is for those who have anything to say about my dungeons).


I rarely draw out dungeons in the traditional sense.  Like the pathway to the village, I have a conception of what the dungeon's tunnels and chambers would be like, how they would be designed, where various channels would lead and what obstacles would exist for the party to overcome.

Having this clearly in my mind, knowing the left door leads to such-and-such and the right door leads into the 'bad area,' I then draw the dungeon as the party goes forward on a 3x4 foot whiteboard that's next to my gaming table.  I draw things quickly, from cut view and top view as necessary, sketching out dimensions with arrows and drawing simulated sizes for the characters themselves to gain a sense of scale when moving through a cavern or standing at the edge of a cliff.

When combat occurs, I pull out a hex-map template on Microsoft Publisher, slap a few walls up and run the combat on the program with my desktop duplicated for the players to see.  The image on the right shows the level of depth that I'll employ - this one is from the online campaign where the party fought two minotaurs and their pet bull.

Setting up a map like this takes me about 10 to 15 minutes from scratch, which makes a good time for people to take a break, stretch, talk about the combat they're just about to start and get themselves worked up as they watch me design the images.  In the last three years I've been forcing myself to be more creative with my imaging, so that I'm not just drawing boxes.  The players gave me a lot of abuse at the beginning, as everything I drew looked like blobs, but lately they have expressed their approval and complimented many of my figures.  I think the minotaur at the bottom looks quite good.  The one at the top is supposed to have been killed, but I still haven't got the hang of drawing dead bodies from the top down.

So, in a sense, yes, I will run a 'traditional dungeon' - I had one of my offline parties running in one for a year, which they escaped just lately.  On the other hand, I don't run traditional dungeons in traditional ways.  I get the party through empty rooms by NOT having them move their miniatures along.  I draw as much as is needed to make the party understand where they are and how the space relates to them.  I am a really crappy artist, but even I can draw a hill and a pond clearly enough to give them a sense of where the dungeon entrance is visually.

Vacation Eve

I am starting a vacation tomorrow - my last vacation that I'm getting from my present company.  I have, at most, three months left at this position and then I am cheerfully out the door.  To be completely honest, I am happy to get the fuck out of TV.

A print job is unlikely.  Print is dead.  So I will probably be managing a data base somewhere, for someone, about something.  Hopefully for a much smaller company, where managers can use the word 'bad' as opposed to 'not good' and where they can use the word 'fired' as opposed to 'sunsetted.' Small companies, I find, can afford to be honest about their disapproval.  I could stand a little honesty.

Chances are that because I have more time, I will post less.  I usually dig deep into my world or my writing during vacations, happily investing myself for twelve to fourteen hours at a stretch - this is how I get many of the big tasks done.  I'll post a video tonight on youtube starting off the trade series, eat some turkey on the weekend (we have Thanksgiving at the height of fall in Canada) and then dig into the rework of my distance calculation table.  Yay, number crunching.

Seriously, I get obsessed with such things.

I'd add something else, but for the moment I'm out of topics.  Anyone got any ideas?  I could answer questions.  That would probably use up some of the day.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Village Defenses

This would be my last post regarding adventuring for a time.  Good thing, because I believe I am just about out of gas.

Despite what I said about finding the two women or about the tired cliche of finding the lair, destroying the lair, let's presume that this is just what happens.  The women are still missing, the party has chanced into the location of the goblin village and they are now free to take action.

At this point there's little to do regarding the set up.  The party is champing at the bit - so much so that they're almost certain to do something stupid just so they can get on with things.  Hey diddle diddle, right up the middle is almost certainly the tactic the party will employ, because parties are like that.  Parties tend to convince themselves that there are only two possible kinds of assault:  divide up the party (bad) and attack head on (also bad, but at least we're together).

But . . . we're not responsible for what the party does, or how meritoriously they die.  We're responsible for the situation and the information the party has.  Regarding this, there are a few things to remember.

Let's consider the village's defenses.  The goblins need a wall, certainly - but against whom? Character parties wandering off the road looking for them?  Usually, the standard module assumes this is the case, but it's rather silly, as though the goblins have nothing better to do than wait for characters to turn up..  The goblins have not settled here, built walls, given birth to children and accumulated coin and property just so they could be cleaned out occasionally by wandering adventurers.  Realistically, the village is hard to find and it's likely been here a generation, perhaps two or three.  Does the reader really believe that the goblins are going to have guards standing outside the front gate month after month, year after year, in case marauding strangers appear?

Defending guards do not stand in front of gates!  That's confoundingly a stupid place to be standing. The only reason to have guards there is to fleece customers (visitors) entering a town.  That is certainly not the situation here.

The U.S. cavalry did not post guards outside its forts.  The French Foreign Legion did not, either.  We have no reason to believe that people were stupider hundreds of years previously.  This is a trope created by Hollywood because it looks pompous and impressive on camera; dump it.

If there is a guard - an issue I'll come to in a moment - then the guard is in a tower.  It doesn't have to be a very high tower; a fifteen foot platform over the ground will be good enough.  But why would there be a guard?  This isn't a military compound; the goblins aren't readying themselves for war.  They're herders and peasants, just like any group of humans, working the area to feed themselves.  If they were fundamentally hunters and raiders, why would they build a permanent home?  Hunters and raiders are much better off with temporary shelters, so they can keep on the move.  These goblins aren't moving - because, as they understand it, they're safe.

If there are walls around the village at all, chances are those walls are to keep out the local wildlife.  A bear is a greater threat to a village of goblins than an off-road party would be.  Bears, wolves and gawd knows what other existing monsters (giant ticks, for instance) would be raiding the village regularly if that wall wasn't there.  And because some of those monsters can climb (giant ticks, for instance), it's probable that the walls overhang or are fitted with spikes or some other system to keep the creatures out without there needing to be guards.  Alarms, for example.

There ought to be snares, traps, alarms and so on all over the place, set up to capture animals, warn of big things that are incoming and generally to let the goblins know there's something out there.  It takes far less time for one goblin to make the circuit of the village traps (fifty or sixty of them) to make sure everything is in good working order than to have half the village standing guard all the time.  Moreover, every kid in the village will know where the traps are, so that if they're caught in the woods they'll know exactly where and how fast to run in order to lead a pursuer into a dead-fall or some other surprise.

Oh yes, there will be goblins outside the perimeter, since they'll be hunting for squirrels and deer and what have you.  They may be in parties of two or three or all alone - and many of them will be children as young as six or seven.  You may rest assured that when the party comes clanking up in their heavy armor and weapons, the six year old goblin that hears them or sees them is going to fade invisibly into the foliage.  Being about two feet tall, the party could walk right past the kid without knowing - hey, this kid knows its' home ground!

There don't need to be any guards.  The gate doesn't need to be closed and barred.  The nearest trees will be cleared because they'll be needed for fuel; the nearest grass to the walls will be cropped by the goats and sheep the goblins keep for meat, milk and fibres.  It's not as if the chief has to say, "clear out the area fifty yards from the walls - this will happen naturally.

As the party rolls forward, they're going to change the balance of the forest.  A deer is going to appear inexplicably on the verge, bounding left or right, moving in a hurry.  A covey of partridge will be put up, the starlings will get agitated, the herd animals will sniff something in the wind.  If the party doesn't constantly keep one scout moving ahead, alone, but insists on marching forward in pure military fashion, the goblin villagers will probably know something is up before the party knows there's anything to find.  If the first glimpse of the village comes to the whole party at once, it's already too late to send thieves forward to 'surprise' the residents.  They've already sent out a scout or two to see what's coming, while calling a meeting of the whole village.

Players and DMs simply fail to recognize what it is like living in the great outback all alone.  The wilderness is not 'wild' if you live there.  It is predictable, measurable and - most of the time - intensely quiet.  Given the right conditions - a clear, calm day - it is entirely possible to hear people galumphing through the woods and talking to each other up to a mile away.

While I'm on the subject of defenses, let me also stress that the homes the goblins live in would be fireproof.  It has long been known that if you mix pitch with enough grit, then smear it on wooden timbers, the timbers don't burn.  I am so tired of parties that believe everything can be set aflame - as though in three generations of living in the forest the goblins have never faced a forest fire.  For the love of goblin marauders in pink petticoats, don't have the village be made of convenient matchsticks.

Fuck the roll of the die where it comes to weapons.  The goblins will have accumulated an excellent stock of whatever weapons their intelligence and technology can provide.  There will be plenty for all.  By the time the party arrives at the village (unless they wisely sent scouts, removed their armor and took precautions such as travelling at night, in properly windy conditions or by magical means), the goblins will be armed and ready for them.  Chances are, they won't suffer a penalty for firing at any point inside the verge, since every one of them will have a very clear understanding of how far away is that stump or tuft of grass next to the party - they've all shot hundreds of little animals that wandered into sight.

Think of it like the Battle of Cer, where the Austrians attacked the Serbs on the Serb's artillery practice range.

As with other entries in this series, that I now draw to a close, try to think outside the 'adventure' format.  Try hard to imagine what it must be like to be a goblin boy tending the sheep, seeing a group of the adults suddenly appear with two human women in tow.  Is that unique or is it something that happens perhaps once a year, before a given festival?  Imagine the fascination; the opportunity to see these giant women begging for their lives, seeing the chief strutting before them, demanding that the women be bound and readied for the sacrifice.  How cool is that?

Think about the boy's thoughts the next day as he's out hunting squirrels with a knife, like he does all the time, only to see appear a group of humans, dwarves or elves, armed with weapons and so on.  He drops down into the bushes; judges his distance from the village; thinks about the best circuitous routes he can use to get back and warn people.  Or perhaps how he could move fifty feet closer to the village, shout at the party and lead them right into the patch of bees that swarms around the great dead tree.  He might figure he can leap the tree and arouse the bees, then be gone and past them while the bees attack the party mercilessly (I'm stealing chapter and verse from Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, but a good idea is a good idea).

Even a tough, high-level party is going to be surprised when they're each stung fifty or sixty times before the goblins attack . . .