Thursday, May 18, 2017

Touring Numbers, Notes

A brief addendum to my last post.

To encourage a greater distance travelled between cultural sites, making distance a condition of the experience gained by a player, we could include this table:

This counts as 20 miles per hex.

Thus, a party of characters reaching for the easiest fruit, moving from close town to close town, could still benefit from week to week investigation, but if they chose to move great distances before touring again, they would gain more per week.  This, of course, would not increase the total amount of experience available from a cultural center, but it would increase the speed with which cultural gains were made.  That would incorporate a cultural shock into the learning experience.

As a second feature, we could use this list of places from Wikipedia (making your own up, of course, if it is your originally created world) as a guideline for pilgrimage sites.  The adjustment here would be to double or perhaps triple the amount of experience-gaining potential for true believers of the given faith.  Therefore, though Rome in my game is not the largest of cities in Europe (it has 313,786 people in my world), by giving it three times the potential experience gain, rather than having a maximum experience base gain of 3,137 x.p., it would have 9,413; and if persons were to travel 100 hexes to reach it, or 2,000 miles, that would be increased further to 16,944.  Though it would take a total of 94 weeks and a day to gain it all.

That would include time looking at art, visiting churches, attending ceremonies and festivals, reading in libraries or conversations with religious leaders and scholars, etcetera.

Would players really want to do it, though?  Would they be willing to sacrifice a year of life in order to gain a "safe" boost of experience?  Or would they rather just adventure.  On the whole, I see these rules being something that low-levels, up to 5th say, may jump at, but in which those higher than 6th would probably lose interest.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Grand Tour

I'm still writing bard posts.  Here I'd like to address a problem that came up the last time around as I stumbled over bard mechanics for artwork experience gains.  Fundamentally it is this: if art has been created over a very long period of time and exists all over the world, and if seeing, hearing or otherwise experiencing art can contribute experience to your character, why not just wander around, look at stuff and go up levels?

Remember that the idea of experience being transmitted through art came about as a desire to make bard creations meaningful.  Spend a lot of time as a bard creating something, affect others.  Simple.  But given that the transmission of experience would apparently break the system, some kind of limitation is necessary ~ and in the end, I did not like any of the limitations I proposed when I wrote the linked post above in early April.

As such, I'd like to try again.

Now, this "fix" may seem contrived, it may seem impractical for a more localized world than mine, but I'm only concerned that it provides a measurable limitation for the viewing of art outside the party's personal creation.  The idea is more or less based on the idea that the bard you know can be more effective in transferring experience (as a player character bard has relatively the same perspective on life) than a lot of old, disconnected artists producing stuff the characters are perceived to see as less meaningful.  Some will disagree; but like the concept, don't like the concept, I'll go ahead and describe it as best I can.

First and foremost, we want a measure that can be used to determine how much experience a player character can gain by visiting a given city anywhere in the world.  This has to be a universal measure and I can think of only one: the city's population.  Stavanger, for example, where the Juvenis party is adventuring [sorry, friends, I will get on that as soon as I get my commitments under control], has a population of 9,573 in my game.  To compare, Copenhagen, the seat of the monarchy for Denmark and Norway, has a population of 109,756.

Suppose that we say that a tour around either city has the potential for netting a character, player or non-player, 1% of those numbers in experience.  Visiting the artworks of Stavanger could push the character up 95 x.p. (fractions don't count), while Copenhagen could add 1,097.  Characters would want to visit Copenhagen under those conditions, yes?  Much more so than Stavanger.

But that doesn't solve our problem.  There are thousands of cities in my world, so moving from one to the next would be like an experience smorgasbord, to use the Scandinavian term, making ordinary adventuring a thing of the past.  I will have to limit the scheme somewhat.

It might be possible to see all the art that Stavanger has to offer in the space of a few days, but obviously not Copenhagen.  We could set a harsh limit of 100 x.p. gained per week of "sightseeing," which would mean it could take two and a half months to get out of Copenhagen all that it had to offer, while Stavanger could be seen in just seven days.  This at least creates an expense to exchange for x.p. gained, in the form of food, lodging, perhaps taxes and, of course, the cost of actually entering the churches, palaces and salons of the city in order to get the most out of it.   If we also take steps to increase the cost of lodging in larger cities, this can work to discourage long visits (and push the players towards traditional adventuring).  As well, the players would get older from such activities.

But we're still talking about an experience feast that's everywhere, so let's also remove Stavanger from the list of potential tourist spots.  According to wikipedia, this is the only significant building to be found in the city that was built before 1650 (on the right).  And while it is pretty and perhaps unusual for the area, is it worth 95 x.p.?

We can limit the number of cities that can offer meaningful sites to those that meet a certain status: perhaps national capitals, large religious and palatial monuments (of a given size), buildings of sufficiently early origin (a minimum of 800 years old), that sort of thing.  Thus, while the barrow Mimmarudla that the players found near Stavanger is really old, it isn't large enough to provide x.p. just by being viewed.

Well, that helps.  The party now has to make sufficiently meaningful trips between historical/artistic sights, which requires at least some dangerous travelling/opportunities for adventure.  What else can we do?

We could limit the amount of experience gained from an outside bardic source per level of experience.  For example, we could argue that a 2nd level fighter wanting to be 3rd, needing 2,000 x.p., could only gain 500 through visiting Copenhagen.  This would narrow the amount of effect that experience could have ~ and once the player leveled, they might have reason to return to Copenhagen and have another look around.

We can also say clearly that Copenhagen can only offer that 1,097 once per character's entire lifetime. That might not have been clear.

Finally, we could say that a character can only take advantage of this increase for the first quarter of their needed experience.  This is going to sound tricky and may not be fully understood at first.

Let's say that our 2nd level fighter, John, has 2,149 x.p. and needs to reach 4,001.  Now, it would seem that he could spend 5 weeks in Copenhagen, collect 500, then go adventuring for the rest, yes?

I'm suggesting instead that once John hits 2,500, he's too sophisticated as a 2nd level to get more experience from artwork.  Thus, when he tops out at 2,500, he can't gain any more from visiting sites until he reaches 3rd level (whereupon he could gain up to 2,000, provided he gets started early in his level gaining).

Arbitrary?  Of course!  It is all arbitrary.  It is designed to encourage John, once he has accomplished his level, to spend some time resting, improving his mind, expanding his consciousness, visiting some sights on the Grand Tour as he trips from Copenhagen to Aachen to Paris, before deciding he's full of high-mindedness and is ready to get on with destroying some monsters.

It is at least a limitation.  A weird one, but then the bard thing has been threatening to break the system in all kinds of ways.  Obviously, John doesn't have to go touring.  He can just fight orcs in the same old way, if he likes.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Brass Carrots

Gentle readers, no doubt, will have heard of campaigns that eliminate level progression. It is argued that level progression is unnecessary to role-playing and character building, that it creates friction among the players, that too much focus is placed on advancement and that games don’t need level-advancement to be enjoyable.

So we beg the question, what value do levels have?

The title embraces the supposition that levels are a motivation. The characters want more power, so we have created a set of arbitrary plateaus, obtained through an arbitrary award system we call “experience,” which can be adjusted on a whim of the DM at any time by awarding more experience arbitrarily at the appropriate moment.

It is this capriciousness that creates friction. We understand the clear, simple notion that players would like more powers and abilities in the future than they have today. We can lately remember a time when we did not possess a given skill, a well-paying job, a prized possession or other milestone ~ evidence that we’re doing better, that we’re smarter, that our lives are more comfortable and so on. Level-advancement reflects this. The fighter hits a little better, the mage has more spells, the general character is made safer with more hit points and there is status to be gained in the form of titles and game recognition.

But the steps themselves ARE subjective. Why should a fighter advance at 2,000 experience and not 1,500? Why should a given dead monster be worth 100 experience and not 200? And if DMs can just wave a hand and award experience at a whim, they why shouldn’t they, right now, as we’re sitting around the table playing? The very fact that the DM won’t is proof that we’re getting ripped off! We only want what’s coming to us! All we want is our fair share!

So eliminating the level gets rid of all this subjectivity. The players will advance in level when the adventure calls for the players to be a higher level. The players will advance at the beginning of every fifth running. The players will advance when the quest is completed. These principles are still arbitrary, but they’re unilateral, affecting every character at the table the same, and they don’t require nearly as much math.

There is a major drawback, however, that many do not consider a drawback. These substitutions eliminate insecurity. We know we’re going to advance ~ there is no uncertainty about it. Advancement does not hinge on the choices we make, nor the effort we give, nor the risk we’re prepared to take. If we climb aboard, the train will arrive at our destination and the ticket will be stamped.

All the doubt is washed away, as is the frustration we feel as time between upgrades spins out and challenges our composure. We’re not driven to take a bigger risk, to make something happen that doesn’t seem willing to happen ~ and when the achievement is obtained, we don’t think of it as something we did ourselves, accumulating all that experience. We don’t get excited about things we think of as entitlements.

The carrot is a reward, yes, but it is also something we only get after a very long day of dragging a very large load at the expense of our comfort and our privilege. It dangles right in front of us, aggravating us, making our mouths water, while at the same time we can’t get it. In every sense, for anything but a dumb animal, the carrot is a kind of abuse, one we can’t ignore.

The brass ring is a reward also, but only because it is so damn hard to get. We miss it and miss it, leaning out further and further, risking a face-plant in the dirt, because it takes a big risk to win a big reward.

Experience levels work because they’re hard to obtain; and the arbitrary limits we create to put them further out of reach are there to make it very hard. We don’t appreciate anything that is easy to obtain. Naturally, we carp about it. Carping about a lack of something is a part of life.

DMs should not bow to that.

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Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Game

Any serious discussion about rules must start here:

Ah, rules.  I could write a hundred posts about their value, their construction, the decimation of same by market forces and the misunderstanding of same, all the while accomplishing nothing.  
People hate rules . . . or to be more precise, children hate rules and are poisoned for the rest of their lives.

Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes is unquestionably brilliant ~ particularly in the manner that it deconstructs moments of childhood like the example above.  It grasps that both making and breaking rules is FUN, even when both occur simultaneously, evidenced by this being one of Watterson's most successful themes.  Calvinball returned again and again in the comics, highlighting childhood cruelty, shame, glory, triumph, deception and inventiveness.  Add to that the physical enthusiasm which children possess when throwing themselves into activities and the comic fairly sings on the page.

Make no mistake, however.  To anyone but a child playing solitary games with a stuffed animal, Calvinball would be awful.  Remembering, as I do, the number of fistfights that broke out between my 7-year-old friends over games of baseball, capture the flag, guns, hide-and-seek, tag or any of the other physical games we played, a game without rules would have ended in a bloodbath. Where there are no rules, there is too much to fight over.

But I do regularly hear and read people say the game, D&D, has too many rules, even when referring to games utterly unlike mine, where considerable patterns of human behavior are glossed over with simplistic die concepts like "perception rolls" or "advantage."  On some level, I can understand the "too many" argument ~ but I'm baffled where it comes to a game where a player can do anything, literally anything, with the expectation that the DM should then step up and run it.

And that, there, is the issue.  It isn't that there are too many rules, it is that the sand box in which we play is too damned big, for both DMs and Players.  Players argue constantly that they don't know what to do when given the opportunity and DMs argue there's no possible way to prepare a game properly if the players can shout out anything without limits.  The scope of the game is phenomenally beyond all who play it.  Therefore, the history of D&D's rules has been a struggle to contain the genie in the bottle.

Thankfully, for most, this is easy.  The expectations of most players is so absurdly low (there's a room and a monster?  Cool!), it's entirely practical to argue that so long as the players can pretend-speak in voices that appeal to them, while either killing or talking their way past a threatening creature or two, to be rewarded with treasure or character upgrades, regardless of the amount of mental cognition actually used, then the game is "fun!"  Players buy this because, well, how the fuck would they know?

And that is the thing.  How would they know?  Who is telling them that there is a better game to be had?  Certainly not me.  I'm telling them to make a setting that is impossible to make, to spend time that is impossible to find, to obtain a legitimate education and then a self-generated education on top of that, only to finally argue that sorry, yes, if you want a good world you will have to work, all the time, there's no way out of that.  I'm preaching the impossible, to people who like impossible.  I'm not speaking to the grass roots player who's made deliriously happy if they can find a +2 sword to replace their +1 sword.  Or whatever the hell counts for phat loot in 5th Edition.

For that player, more rules than Calvinball allows do seem like extra obstacles to their quest.  Any rule that limits their perceived choice in how to use their given power or how much power they're allowed, from swings to movement to gathering data, just seems like a great big hassle in something that is intended to be a fantasy game.

For that player, this is all about the fantasy.  Rules screw with the fantasy the way a morning after can screw with great sex, when one lover has fallen asleep and failed to escape before the sun rises, so that they meet a three-year-old kid staggering into the kitchen, asking for Captain Crunch.  For that player, fantasy is supposed to work with all the thrills and fast-paced fun of Calvinball, cognitively dissonant from any notion that others will find it "annoying" or "dissatisfying" if "my character" stabs at them haphazardly in a moment of whim, starts screaming at the local monarch to poop his pants immediately or leaps wildly into the sky with the expectation that the DM will ensure the ground does not then become an obstacle.  Calvinball does not only argue no rules, it also argues no consequences, because we're just kids playing with a stuffed toy and no one is going to die.

When stepping forward as a DM to play games with Players who complain about both rules and consequences, there is little one can do except to give away the levels and magic items by the armload, to create scenarios where gods are humiliated with massive catapults of large porridge-bowl-slinging and to encourage backstories that run for fifty pages or more.  Hell, three players can enable four or five whole runnings to pass unimpeded by just talking about their backstories to one another, in detail, while the DM pretends to have them chat to a potion-dealer, then a magic armor dealer, then a ring of purposeless spells dealer, so long as its funny and everyone gets to argue a bit with the guard posted by the front door.

Something I failed to realize when I began blogging, returning to the community as it were, was that when DMs would step forward to say they ran their campaigns "on the fly," this is the sort of campaigning they meant.  Not a substantial world being presented or that the players would be forced to pry themselves out of some conundrum, but that "on the fly" they would make up a goblin king who would perform a dance before commanding his own men to attempt fornication with the players (cue laugh) ~ players who would then, naturally, butcher all the goblins after a few symbolic die rolls.

Once I had realized it, however, and realized the nature of "fantasy games" for the vast majority, and the manner in which these games are presented as a mastery of role-playing genius, I began to take a step back with my attitude and my blog.  Up until then, I had been banging my head against others with a theory that even if these players did not think like me, they might, if they were shown how.  I know now how foolish that thinking is.

The players out there, who think they are playing Calvinball, who despise rules or feel that counting numbers on paper is disgustingly dull and anathema to the real purpose of the game (which is to create backstory and then live it, over and over), don't get that Watterson's creation is not about two living beings, but about one distortedly-minded child and a stuffed animal that doesn't actually talk.  A hilarious, wicked child, but very different from the norm.  Calvin is not Charlie Brown. Calvin is me, when I was a child.  But I'm not a child anymore; so while I was once like Calvin, I'm not like Calvin any more.  I no longer find fantasy alone to be enough ~ not even really brilliant fantasy, like the sort Watterson creates.  I need more than fantasy.

That's perhaps why the gentle reader won't find me describing D&D very often as a fantasy role-playing game.  More and more, of late, I am not even keen on describing it as "role-playing," largely because the co-opting of that term has come to mean something other than what it does.  As I put Calvin and his tiger farther and farther behind me, D&D is only a game . . . or to be honest, it is the game, the only one I want to play.

In all its complexity.  In all its scope.  With all its endless list of rules, which must grow and grow until the rules accomplish what they were intended to do ~ not to put the genie into an itty-bitty bottle, but to make a bottle big enough to completely envelop the genie.

But that is enough metaphors for today.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Management of Stress

Like Tim commented on the previous post, I am also very much declared to be in the rule-based game camp ~ but then, this was the original design of Dungeons & Dragons.  A reader will be hard-pressed to find any paragraph or suggestion written in any of the books of TSR about the importance of a "back-story" or the game being "character-driven."  These are film-and-book maker terms, designed for crafting non-interactive art pieces for a passive audience.  Playing a "role" does not ask for the participant to do more than to imagine his or her self to occupy that role for the present . . . the psychologist who asks that we pretend, for a moment, that we are the driver on the freeway who flipped us off, so that we can imagine what it might be like to be in someone else's shoes, does not first require that we sit down and carefully craft the driver's back story.  It is presumed that we can, with a moment's notice, imagine being someone else.

Back-story is the mutation of gaming play to social participation.  The back-story philosophers play a character and not a game and fail to recognize that although the same word may apply to both activities it is not the same thing.  The nuance is lost, however, because it is claimed that it is the same thing.  The back-story philosophers, with their assertion that RPGs are "group storytelling," want and demand the recognition that they are playing a game, for without that appellation they would have to confess that they are really just playing make-believe.

There are no rules in make-believe.

But we don't want to avowedly reject the entitlement culture entirely, though I understand Drain's feeling here.  I have already turned around many people on the subject of back stories, story-telling, campaign building and the importance of both dice and rules.  We need to remember that RPGs were not made popular by the back-story philosophers but by millions of participants who love their dice and love gaining levels, because these things create massive quantities of endorphins and dopamine.  We're quite safe pitching activity that promotes the creation of positive, boundless drugs.

I will confess, until working it out through the podcast's brief exchange on the subject and the general discourse surrounding character building, I did not understand the appeal of the back-story philosophy.  With my comments in the last post, I tried to lead people away from the obvious subject of talking about what's right with a rule-based system and what's wrong with character-based entitlement, because I want us all to get it.  This is the challenge of our times, gentle reader.  It isn't that playing a character or wanting to experience oxytocin bonding with a theoretical character is wrong, because it isn't.  It is just a different drug, a pleasant and positive drug, so naturally we should expect many people to reach for it.  You and I, dear reader, may roll our eyes with disgust at the idea of the participation ribbon with which we were awarded as children, but many children, needing affirmation more desperately than ourselves, treasured that thing.  We need to acknowledge this and NOT trash the desire for some players to play characters that interest them.

The question we need to ask is why any player feels they are able to create a fictional character more interesting than themselves.

Ponder this for a moment.  We, each of us, have a "back-story."  We didn't write it, we lived it.  It did not go entirely the way we would have wanted ~ and for the most part, we haven't any power to do anything about it.  We can't hunt for the persecutor responsible for the failings in our back-story because, for the most part, the villains are all dead, or they are our beloved parents and family, and they are ourselves.  Real life doesn't allow for solutions like "hunting down the man who killed our father," which can only be a solution if the story ends at the moment that the man is dead and we're not forced to answer the question, "Now what?"  Because now what means getting up in the morning and doing something next, something not as clear, something that will hopefully improve our condition or allow us to reach some reconciliation with our general misery.

"Character" is the result of a lot of events that resulted in our making choices about how to react to hundreds of situations, most of which we've had to manage over and over.  We wound up thinking like we do, acting like we do, responding as we've thought best from moment to moment.  Sometimes, we've regretted our actions.  Sometimes, we're proud of our actions even if others regret them.  Most of the time, we don't know if we're right or wrong.  We just don't know.

When we find ourselves in a circumstance that is strange or unclear or threatening, our bodies are designed to push us into some kinds of behavior by creating chemical stresses like panic, adrenaline and anxiety; our bodies are also designed to reward some kinds of behavior with pride, joy and relief.  These are hormonal responses in the form of drugs.  In a safe, comfortable, social environment, playing with these drugs is FUN.

The more uncertain the environment, the greater the stress; the greater the stress, the greater the potential reward for handling that stress.  We want a social environment that massively increases our stress to the highest limits that social environment can handle.  If we lose that feeling of safety, it gets "too real" and we want to bow out.  But no worry: as humans, we've created a social construct that permits higher than normal stress levels for a social activity that will restrain the fear of too much reality.

It is called a "game."

The game incorporates rules.  Rules promote security and a feeling of restraint.  Remove the rules and the social construct flies apart and participants begin to feel less safe.

One tactic to manage this destruction of the social construct is to bring the level of stress down to where it can be managed.  We do not permit anyone to be a bad person.  We do not demand persons to participate in activities that are difficult, like math.  We do not allow anyone's role-playing to touch on subjects that are uncomfortable.

It is not a surprise that the back-story philosophers invariably run games where the permissible character types are Heroes, where open racism or sexualism is not permitted, where the principles of right and wrong are clearly understood.  "You're not here to be the bad guy.  You are all good guys.  I will not run my game unless it is this way."

This choice is necessary to maintain the social construct.  Because the lack of hard rules regulating die rolls and choices forces the DM to maintain the stress level of the participants by reducing the amount of possible stress.

I do not play this way.  I push stress to the maximum by pushing rule-making to the maximum. The more rules there are, the safer my players feel, meaning that more elaborate subject matter can be brought to the table and managed.  I can run a group of serial killers because they have to obey the game rules and the tacit understanding that a complex, largely law-abiding world will quickly slam down hard on them if they're even a little bit sloppy.

There's no room for sloppy in my game because the game is designed to create stress.  Knowing that there's always a die to be rolled discourages players from feeling that they can "talk their way out of a problem," as happens in character-driven make-believe.  Knowing that there's always a die discourages players from being sure that a plan will work, or that they'll live, or anything else that might serve as a comfort in a low-stress character-driven environment.  In my game, there are no heroes, there are no villains, there are just people who want things, who may resort to violence and subterfuge to get them, and there's no telling who will do that or how much they'll employ.

It isn't that the back-story philosophers don't understand that or don't get it.  They're afraid of it. They're "playing" the activity they can handle.  It is up to us to lure them into understanding that they can come play with us and still feel safe.  It can be a hard sell, but as I say, I've convinced many, many people already.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Two Philosophies

During the aforementioned podcast from the Lurkers' post, beginning at 59:45, Chad and Carl get into a disagreement about whether or not the DM is a player.  I have made my position on this matter known before, but let's have a look at the discussion as it is discussed on the podcast.

Chad takes the position that because the DM "plays" a character, because the DM provides all the other voices, this makes the DM a player.  Carl is put on the spot, asserts that he's completely opposed to this idea, but yet he's forced to admit he hasn't got the argument he needs.  That's as far as the discourse goes.

So, if I step in.

There is an excellent moment where Chad is emphasizing the "character" aspect of "non-player character" to emphasize that, because he plays a character, the DM is a player.  This is a remarkable moment of disassociation, because the right answer is, "Yes, a non-player character." But we shouldn't fault Chad here.  He's a victim of language, as are so many participants of role-playing games.

Over the decades, a severe disconnect has occurred in the development of games by independent DMs, creating largely isolated games throughout the world.  This is the mistaken belief that "playing" is a adjective that modifies the word "role" and not the word "game."  In turn, this has caused tens of thousands of participants to believe that an RPG is a "game" in which persons "play" a "role" ~ rather than the adjective "role-playing" that describes a specific kind of game.

The problem derives from the dual use of the word "play" in both aspects.  We play games.  We play roles.   The word itself is a derivation of a West Saxon word, plega, meaning quick motion, recreation, exercise or any brisk activity.  The last was employed most often in terms of "swordplay," meaning to fight one another as training (though of course, now, swordplay is often used to describe the real thing).

The use of plaga was employed for a lot of purposes, as it still is today.  Children play, we play with words, we have sexual play, we play with ourselves, an object that is free and unimpeded has a lot of play, we play instruments and so on.  The idea of play as taking part of a game dates from 1200 and the idea of play as a dramatic performance originates just a century later, so both meanings have a great deal of history and it is up to context to sort them out.

When we look at the manner in which a game functions, we see that there are challenges, options, obstacles and ultimately payoffs in making a choice or being lucky with a die.  I've written extensively about D&D and game theory so I don't want to revisit that just now.  I will take a moment and emphasize two particular conditions that we tend to associate with "games": the possibility of both winning and losing and the fundamentals of a payoff, or a reward that is received for making the right choices.

These do not strictly apply to all games, but they certainly apply to D&D.  Characters can die.  Characters can make the wrong or the right choice.  Characters can be rewarded.  The concept of the RPG as a "game" inherently evolved from these basic principles.

When an individual declares that RPGs are about "Playing a Character," they have restructured the game completely.  Now, we have no necessity to "make the right choice" since all choices that are made by a character are either a) decipherable as appropriate in the player's opinion or b) measurably permissible in that the player's character is entitled to grow, adapt, change or otherwise progress in whatever way the player desires.

There are no wrong ways to play a character's motivation or a character's belief system.  All ways, by definition of the player's personal volition, are "right."  Therefore, all rewards are not given because the player made the right decision as opposed to a wrong decision, but because the player is entitled to a reward for having taken the time to play the character openly in a public forum.  I participated, and therefore I deserve to be rewarded.

Here we have an unconscious head-to-head between two theories of RPG participation, divided between those who believe that RPGs are games, with the structure and accountability of games, or that RPGs are a form of personal expression, with the permissiveness and social affirmation that comes from expressing oneself as a person.

Both are legitimately means by which participants can obtain validation and "fun."  But they are absolutely not compatible.

Before letting anyone participate in your game, you should be absolutely clear about the philosophy to which they ascribe.  It is quite clear that there are far, far, far more Chads in the world than Carls . . . and there are reasons for that, which I choose not to go into at this time.

Lurkers' Corner ~ PvP

Recently, one of my regular readers, Carl Olson, was the guest on the Whose Podcast Is It Anyway? podcast of May 5th.  His participation was excellent and I would strongly suggest for any reader of mine that you tune in and give it a listen, particularly after minute 30.  Chad, the podcast host, launches into the argument that role-playing is "communal storytelling" and Carl digs in and goes toe to toe with him on this.  Great stuff, don't miss it.

There is a moment where Chad responds to an argument that player-vs-player is wrong by answering, "What's wrong with that?  Now that's fun!" (39:05)

And I want to ask my online players, in this Lurkers' Corner ~ does anyone want to have a go at each other?  At all?  Wouldn't it be fun to kill one of the other players?  Have you even considered the question?  And if not, why?

I believe that something about my game completely suspends the motivation, but I could definitely be wrong about that.  Let me know.  Obviously, anyone with a point of view should jump in here.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Keeping Track of My Writing

On the sidebar it reads,
Each day I'm going to describe how far I am getting, in terms of words. 110,000 words ought to finish the book. I will be counting only firmly self-edited content that is put to bed, as I am mostly reshaping words at this point and not plot or character development. I'll record the number of words from the day before and the total number of words so far, as well as the chapter I am moving through. I will update every day.

In addition, I'll be working ahead on later chapters while editing, as I find this helps keep the whole book fresh in my mind.

Basically, I'm going to record each day how much real writing I've done.  I won't be counting the rework of chapters that haven't reached the best of possible quality, only the actual distance the finalized (pre-outside editing) number of words that I have written.  But as I say, I usually write for a bit, then I edit when I start to tire, before quitting for the day.

This is my plan for torturing myself.  I am making progress on the book but not as much as I'd like; and as the method has nothing to gain by my being dishonest (if I claim words I haven't written, sooner or later I will have to pay the price anyway, so I might just as well write all that I claim, or confess daily that I'm not writing), I expect that this will be a motivating factor in my day.

Everyone who knew I was writing today was kind enough to not comment and let me have at it. From that I sense a strong support from my fellow man.  Thank you.  I will not let you down, however much this hurts.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Comic Temperature Taking

Are you still finding the comics funny, interesting, different, something to look forward to?  I'd like to hear some feedback there.  They feel like they go by very fast to me; I am eleven weeks into this project.

WfS ~ Ooredoo and Tech-6

At last, I'm ready to start forward again.  I'm going to be introducing a new region, Pangaran, that is tech-6. The first step is to identify Pangaran's relationship with Jawanda, as we want our world to fit together. Therefore, we start with this map:

Depicted: 18-mile hexes

I have reduced the scale of the above map to 18 miles per hex, in order to create a 90-mile separation between Ooredoo, an island at the edge of Pangaran, and Jawanda.  Thus the island is marginally close enough for a dangerous journey in a fishing boat, which we presume our party of fighters will try to accomplish, bringing them to this new place.

[as an aside, I have made the decision not to attach intelligence to tech levels after all.  I know this is something I discussed back with the first implementation of the system, but after all this is a learning experience.  I know some will miss this note, it was meant to be included in the last post, but I'm remembering to add it now]

I've made only a rough drawing of Ooredoo above.  I have a more detailed version in 6-mile hexes to present; I could have updated the map above with the map below, but I felt at this point it was a detail that wasn't really necessary.  The important point here is the distance between the two places.

Here is a 6-mile hex map of Ooredoo:

Depicted: 6-mile hexes

My goal here is to depict familiar hex-types as they manifest around tech-6.  The deserts have become dry, unproductive rifts and sinks, which still offer the potential of meeting monsters in the hills and back country, but which have little influence on the island's infrastructure apart from inconvenience.

I have also divided the island into two terrains.  On the west, a flat watered plain, with a base supply of 2 food.  Should I start describing that as '11' food? To emphasize I'm referring to the number of 1s in the expression and NOT the number of food?  This seems to be really confusing some people.

On the east, we have a dry hill-plain, hardly better than the best lands in the previous desert culture, with 1 food and 1 hammer per hex.  The type-7 hex around Sayur has precisely the same productivity that Ai had in Jawanda (our starting hex).

But does it?  Unlike Ai, Sayur produces cereals, vegetables and at least one type of livestock: goats, sheep or swine.  Reindeer is pretty much out, as this is still close to the tropics.  See the link for where I'm getting this from.  We can further identify these things, if we want, by defining cereals as maize, vegetables as sweet potatoes and even a specific kind of goat, sheep or swine ~ but the point is that the small amount of food production in Sayur comes from these things and NOT from hunting and gathering.

How is this different?  Well, archery is now a skill set that the locals have, so the population is likely to defend itself with bows rather than spears.  If attacked, an inhabitant of Sayur will likely run away, then return later with bow and try to chop the party down one by one from a distance.  This is a new mind-set.

As well, Pangaran in general has no religion.  They've abandoned mysticism, so they are largely a pragmatic sort, much like one would expect of frontier settlers.  These are hardened, rugged individualists, living more in families than in clans, as there is less need to depend on others in order to eat.  We defend better and our food supply is more secure and diversified, so we can afford to be in it for our personal gain.

Moving on to the type-6 hex surrounding Qimo and Raya Pos, we have again the same relationship as Bodo and Cai in Jawanda . . . except that now the increase in food supply creates the existence of fruit trees, which will be scattered along the heights above the sea, where they can catch the morning dew.  Both the cereals in Sayur and the fruit in Qimo enables fermentation, so drinking now becomes a thing to do.  Drinking brings the option of intoxication as well as other social problems.  Qimo does remain a transshipment point, like Eom and Guba before it, but now it has more interesting things to ship.

Turning to the other end of the island, the type-6 and better hexes produce a great deal of food: 111 food, so that instead of merely a large settlement, we have made villages of Tangarang, Umar and Vekasi.  The latter two of these, however, lack hammers altogether.  Obviously, this means the table I posted earlier today and which I have already linked with this post will need an adjustment (learning process), as these can't be "nomadic hunting and gathering" cultures.  I will adjust "subsistence farming" from 1 hammer to 0 hammers, fixing that hole.

The lack of hammers would indicate no animals, but we still have plenty of cereals, vegetables and fruits to supply a food source.  The population of Umar and Vekasi, both of which produce coins, is at least able to exchange food for bare necessities, such as the most simple of weapons, skins and the occasional maintenance of objects they have to pay to replace.  Life for these people is very primitive, but in a very different way that Jawanda: there are lots of people surrounding these two villages, 400-1000.  That's more than probably the whole region of Jawanda.

Tangarang is a little better off.  It has one hammer, gained from becoming type-5: but there is a lot of pressure put on that single hammer, so we can assume that a lot of extra goods must be brought in from outside to support the needs of all of West Ooredoo.  Still, none of these people are starving.  They are just living very simple lives.

For the time being, I think that covers it.  I'll make some rolls and determine that we have 1,301 persons in Ooredoo, in an area of about 12.3 hexes: about 105 persons per 6-mile hex.  This is much higher than the maximum should be for tech-6, which is around 49 per hex.  But Ooredoo is just a part of a larger region, so we can offset the density by adding additional hexes elsewhere.

I'll be taking a break from this for a bit, not producing another post tomorrow.  I have a general idea what to do next, but I want to contemplate that a bit, and see how this one plays.

Further Notes to Tech-5 and Some for Tech-6

I had meant to start on tech-6 today, but I have yet a small issue to manage first, to keep the reader in line with my thinking.  The gentle reader must please remember that I am creating this as I am going along ~ this felt like the best way to both work out the various elements of the tech-system and the world-building experience at the same time.  This way, the reader can progress with my interpretation, I can identify problems as they arise and are questioned, while at the same time a world can take shape slowly and steadily, showing that worlds can be made from the ground up in a fully rational manner.

In creating a table for tech-6 that would reflect the table I created for tech-5 in the last post, I found that it was clumsy and unworkable.  As such, I've rebuilt the tech-5 table so that it can match what I mean to do with tech-6.  And just so the reader doesn't feel that nothing has been added with this, I'll put up the tech-6 table also . . . and then begin on a map and design for the tech-6 region I plan to lay out.

Here is tech-5 again:

Instead of basing the indications for civilization based on the type of hex, I've instead chosen to base it on the amount of food, hammers and coins.  This is more logical, since different base terrains can radically change how much food and so on there is compared with the type of hex.  Readers who are ambitious can compare a type-7 hex on various parts of the recent Stavanger map with those on the recent Crimean map, where the base hexes are very different.

Now let's have a look at tech-6:

I won't go far into this: the reader can see at once that there are a great many more things to be found and used with a tech-6 culture.  As a reminder, I will point out that tech-6 adds agriculture, animal husbandry, archery, mining and the wheel to the mix.  I will probably need to update this table a bit in the future (I see I've forgotten roads), but I will post it again once I've gone through the process of outlaying the tech-6 region that goes with this.

Finally, I've left out a table indicating bonuses for hex-type.  Here it is:

This doesn't mention the +1 bonus coin for coasts or rivers (intermittent included), though not both. That is really a footnote, but an important one.

Good, that's fixed.  Let's get started.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

WfS - Closing Up Tech-5

If you are new to this series of posts (WsS stands for "a world from scratch"), see the first in the series and work forward chronologically.

Now, a few housekeeping chores.  First, let me post an image from the Civ IV universe, dictating the base production of hammers, food and coins:

I've been reading the productive parts of the desert as "plains-flatland," but others may not concur with that.  No matter.  I don't expect anyone else to run things as I do.  The main thing is that the above template will work for most climates and features.  These are the 'base-line' productions, to which more production is added with type-6 hexes and better.  Speaking of which, I'll post this second guideline, which I've been describing with the previous posts:

Thus, if the flat land plain starts with 1 hammer and 1 food, then the type-7 hex will show that; the type-6 hex will then add a food and the type-5 hex both a food and a hammer.

The above should make something else abundantly clear.  If we consider a flatland/river hex, running across from desert, that is supposed to indicate a floodplain, with three food and one hammer.  Remembering that three food is seven times the amount of one food on the chart, this means that a type-7 hex in a floodplain is massively more productive; a type-6 hex on a floodplain would have five times the production of the type-6 hex we posited in the desert.

Therefore, when we talk about a richer, higher tech level country rushing next door to seize the goods, we're not talking about travelling to a poor country like Jawanda.  We're talking about the next hex over, where the amount of food produced is vastly more abundant.  A single hex could produce more food than all of Jawanda put together.  But this will become more evident as we move forward.

I've added a series of products that a tech-5 area ought to produce.  It should be noted that all techs above tech-5 would also have the technology to fish, hunt for furs and so on, but it might be interesting if we concentrate these references on tech-5 cultures and say that higher techs, though they may produce some of these things, will prefer to concentrate their hammers on other, more worthy products.  It is really up to us.

I think that covers tech-5 for the moment, except for one addendum.

I haven't yet talked about the great monoliths that a tech-5 culture might produce: Stonehenge in Britain, Altamira in Spain, the collected heads of the Olmecs or Easter Island (from which we stole one) and so on.  I'm not sure how to determine when one of these should exist, or even where.  I'm still thinking on this.  Surely, they would have to be insanely rare, perhaps one or two truly immense ones per continent.

Take note that monoliths, both great and small, can exist in high tech cultures; they're just not as celebrated ~ or perhaps they are celebrated, but by a select group of fanatics.

Whatever the case, we say good-bye to tech-5.  When I take up this series again, we'll begin on a tech-6 culture, across the water and about 100 miles to the north.  I'm just doing the work to get ready for that; I have Friday and Saturday off, so I'll be working during those days while watching over the online campaigns.

Techs Living Side by Side

Each time that I make noises about regional tech-levels, I find myself facing the same bugbear: that the existence of a higher tech level will force a confrontation between one region and the next, for no other reason than the disparity between tech levels.  If we have swords, then we must attack the next region over that has only spears.  If we have the benefit of courthouses, organized religion and the alphabet, then we must immediately attack those regions that do not have these things.  This is an imperative . . . and there are many readers who find themselves asking, over and over, why wouldn't this happen?

What keeps the tech areas from bleeding into one another?  How do two different tech areas exist alongside each other, or trade with each other?  How does that work?

I'm quite sure that the reason this is a mystery is based upon the more dramatic instances of historical emigration.  Europeans encountered primitive peoples living in Asia, Africa, the Americas and the Pacific and began a conquest that was greatly enabled by a superior technology.  So it is assumed that if we have a superior technology, we will certainly rush in and take land away from those who have an inferior technology, yes?

Sort of.  It is interesting to note that these indigent peoples who were eventually conquered were discovered three hundred years before most of the actual conquests took place.  For a hundred years, the Dutch, English and Portuguese existed as nothing more than outposts in Africa, India and the Far East, even though they had vastly superior weapons and social organization.  What they did not have were numbers.  Therefore, until the industrial revolution made mass production possible, it was more practical to trade with backward regions than to attempt conquest.  Most of the actual conquest of Africa and Asia did not begin until the early 19th century, post the Napoleonic wars.

There are exceptions, of course.  India was greatly occupied by Britain in the mid-18th century, but only with the aid and benefit of the local Rajahs, who saw their own way to power by supporting the British.  More than half the subcontinent was still under strict native control in the year 1800.  South America is a better example, as the Spanish began smashing apart the native regions almost at once ~ but then, these regions were greatly under-populated compared to Africa and Asia.  More to the point, South America had vast, unexploited resources, untapped by the natives, which served as an encouragement to conquest.  Most of the resources in Africa and Asia were already exploited.

The same can be said of the United States, which had a motivation to take away the lands of lower tech societies because those lands were of great, unexploited value.  Australia's conquest of the interior was quite different, given that most of the interior was uninhabitable and undesirable.  Thus, while the American natives were exterminated or pushed out as soon as the higher tech Europeans arrived, the Australian natives experienced a longer period of co-existence because they did not have anything the Australians were inclined to take ~ whatever the disparity in tech levels.

Those parts of the world that did not have meaningful resources of any kind were left virtually untouched until the 20th century.  Even though the British had gunboats, rifles and pistols, they did did not set out to exterminate the native Inuit in the 19th century because there was no reason to.  In fact, there are no examples of acquisition or massacres by Europeans of Inuit in northern Canada and Greenland, as there are in southern Canada.  Because the resources just aren't there.

As far as persons of different tech levels living side-by-side, I'm surprised that readers can't see the more obvious examples, those staring them right in the face.  The depressed regions of West Virginia and Kentucky have existed right alongside Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia for two hundred years . . . yet the disparity between services in Maryland and southeastern Pennsylvania and West Virginia are still pronounced.  Even the present day existence of computers and other technological innovations are sadly lacking in places like Tucker or Randolph counties, in the mountainous part of the state.  How is it that the "invasion" of tech industry and social progressiveness hasn't caused these places to universally adopt ideas like free abortion, embraced homosexuality or social liberalism?  Why are the hospitals of depressed areas not of a quality of hospitals in New York or San Francisco?  How is it that these places of greatly different tech-level co-exist side by side without one bleeding into another?

If we remove the communication of instruments like the internet, television, radio and the telephone, taking us back to the 1870s, how much more backward is West Virginia compared with Washington?  How is it that most people living in Washington city can read but most in Huntington West Virginia cannot?  How can universities exist in Boston and New York but there are no great Universities in Morgantown or Charleston?  And if we go back another century, to the time before the revolutionary war, how is it that there are Europeans living in Bucks County in Pennsylvania but there are none living in the Appalachians?  How is it that these Europeans exist side-by-side with the vastly inferior tech people of the interior?

With the last post, I was asked about foreigners arriving in the fictional Jawanda interested in trading for slaves.  I would ask in response, why would they go there?  I've described the total population of the represented Jawanda being about 700 persons, scattered over an area the size of Rhode Island (about a fifth of Wales).  How rational is that?  It costs money to build boats and fund soldiers to go get slaves.  Would it not make more sense to bypass Jawanda and go to another place with more food production and more people?  There are no accounts of Europeans landing on Greenland's shores and seizing Inuit to be slaves on plantations in America.  Certainly, it would have been easy to conquer the Inuit.  Why did they not do so?

There are also parts of Africa ~ the depressed coastlines of Mauritania and Rio de Oro ~ that waited until the 19th century to be "conquered" by Europeans.  Actually, the Europeans just showed up, pointed guns and were allowed to do whatever they wanted.  But it took four centuries after the discovery of these lands for outsiders to bother.  Until then, Rio de Oro was nominally under the authority of Morocco.  And how did they interact with their overlords?  They paid tribute in the shape of salt, skins and gums, in exchange for food.  Just as I've described.  And they did so for centuries, without the higher tech Morocco culture bleeding into Rio de Oro and Mauritania to any extent at all.

Because there were no meaningful resources!  This is what readers just cannot understand.  You cannot propose a motivation to conquest if there is nothing of value to take from the conquered region.  Do you imagine that Europeans want to live the hard, unforgiving life I've described as the existence of Ai, Bodo or Cai, in the interior of Jawanda?  Have we not already learned that white people in America do not want to take the jobs that illegal Mexicans are willing to perform?

Even if we handed Jawanda over to a higher tech region, lock, stock and barrel (though none of these things exist in Jawanda), the region would be abandoned within a year and the natives would move right back in.  The higher tech skills of Europeans did not enable Jamestown, Port Royal or any of the other failed first colonial attempts on the American seaboard to survive ~ because Europeans just weren't strong enough or willing enough to survive in that kind of harsh, untouched wilderness.  It took time and effort to remake even a golden land like America into a comfortable place to live: this still hasn't been done with the parts of the world that I am describing as tech-5.

This is what readers just won't get.  These tech levels do not exist arbitrarily.  They exist because the region itself, without the modern measure of information exchange, won't support a better tech level.  Even if a better tech level is right next door.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

A World from Scratch ~ Stretchy Minds

Begins the next step in our world-building experiment.

I've started by expanding the region, adding in a second valley, the Hatafi, with a type-6 and a type-5 hex, as well as enough desert to further isolate the region to separate it from the rest of the unknown world:

Take note that as these hexes are only 6 miles across, we've not represented a very large area yet.  The whole map expanded above would still easily fit into an area about the size of Rhode Island or about 1/5th of Wales.  Presumably, the deserts will continue to extend outwards, though that isn't important just now.  It is enough to know of their location.

Before I get to details about the Hatafi valley, we want to explore the difficult business of naming things.  So far, I've deliberately named only the habitable settlements and the intermittent rivers.  We have more work to do.

We can spend a lot of time talking about Typonomy, the process of naming things, including all sorts of interesting angles like how names change over time and how names eventually stick, but I'd rather not sink into that subject just now.  The problem with creating a fantasy world is that everything has to be named and coming up with names is a troublesome thing.  It is probable that there are so few settlements, villages, towns, nations, rivers, mountains, bays and so on to be found on fantasy maps because of the simple pesky problem of having to invent so many names.  I suggest stealing names from very old books, from technical treatises on things, from actual maps (using street names or very small places that aren't well known to your players) and so on.  I once named all the planets in a traveller-type world that I ran once from Xenophon's Anabasis, so that all the planets had either Greek or Persian names.  Worked great.

For now, we certainly want to concentrate on the largest features: we can use the river names to identify the two valleys, so we needn't be concerned with that.  But the rivers divide the desert into three parts, while of course the whole region needs a name.  And the sea as well.

In my usual world, I have the benefit of using names that are already familiar.  Here, we want to pick names that will be easily remembered and will convey a certain amount of verve and size.  The deserts should be threatening.  The sea should reflect the love that most sailors feel for it; and the region should be prestigious and a little awe-inspiring.  Three expectations upon which we are sure to fall short, but let's give it a try anyway.

I've been playing with shadowed text to give some names more stand-out appeal; I find territory names in particular seem to get lost on my maps.  I've used Jawanda as the region name: three syllables are common where regions are concerned, particularly in regions without the suffix of "land" or "-ia", which will often extend a name to four syllables.  I felt four syllables gave enough love to the sea, which stands out because it is the only name with four syllables.  And regarding the three deserts, the actual names will probably be forgotten, but the players will remember that one is cliffs, one is a sand sea and one is a desert.  This tagging helps.

Let's have a close-up of the Hatafi valley, adding the production (which does not show on the map above).

The type-6 hex we know: this is like the Bodo-Cai hex on the Djombo river (note that you're already becoming familiar with these names, though I just invented them last week).  Falou and Io are much like Bodo and Cai, representing a similar outpost.

The type-5 hex is a different animal.  First, it produces the same amount of food as a type-6 hex, so we would expect it to have the same number of inhabitants.  No, actually.  The type-5 hex is more densely populated, outstripping its food supply on account of the specialists that have occupied the hex.  These are represented by the second hammer, meaning that a type-5 hex is three times more mechanically productive than either a type-6 or type-7 hex.

It would be easy for us to simply make the food supply equal the population ~ playing god, as it were.  But I remind the reader that some places should have a food deficit.  This encourages a change to the status quo, giving a particular region character and creating need and tension.  What can the type-5 inhabitants do?  If they take from the other, lesser, hexes, than the people in those hexes will starve.  And they can't eat hammers.

They can send forage parties into the unoccupied hinterland hexes, which can allay the food issue somewhat.  They can also count on a portion of the greater population living on 1700 calories a day or less, slowly starving, in order to enable the more productive inhabitants to thrive.  More importantly, they can trade their production for food from the outside, perhaps from that tech-6 entity that I spoke of with the last post.

However, the tech-5 culture can't support trade; they don't have the education to build vessels to import goods, or even use domesticated animals, as that is a tech-6 ability.  These are very, very simple people.  They understand fishing, hunting and mysticism, and that is all.

Productively, however, they know how to dry meat and skins, they know how to collect and tan leather, they know how to build boats.  These things can be collected and transferred to vessels from more complex societies who will bring food for exchange.  This is the simplest economy. Guba isn't a market place, but it is a transshipment point.  This is why the number of coins does not increase, even though trade occurs here.  The trade is not for durable wealth, but for wealth that is quickly lost.

Incidentally, some might suppose that the river should bring Guba one coin and that the river should bring another.  I have chosen to follow the original system from the Civilization IV game, where either a river or a coastline increases the hex's number of coins, but not both.  This is a good thing, I think, because we don't want to drench the countryside in excessive coinage.  If the connection between river and sea is that important, the hex will be a type-4 or better, and that in turn will increase the number of coins a hex has [but this is for later].

It is unlikely that most readers' worlds will include a place as primitive as Jawanda.  Nonetheless, I want to make it clear how such a backward part of the world would function, without most of the services that D&D players take for granted.

I have just one more thing to add before I can put tech-5 societies to bed: and that is the technology of mysticism.  I have written about this a few times, specifically here and here.  Therefore, let's not concentrate on what mysticism is.  It is a belief system and certainly doesn't fit into the scheme of food, coins and hammers.  But following the path of Civ IV, it does invoke the existence of a monolith of some form: a cairn, an obelisk, a monument and so on.  We might include any number of possible variants, from the large stone heads of the Mayan culture to Easter Island.

We can suppose that a tech-5 culture would celebrate such a thing, where a higher tech might see it as just a curiousity.  This is how I like to see it.  If we imagine a giant stone head (Moia) at Guba, perhaps 13 feet high, this could be a central dominant image in the whole culture of Jawanda.  Those natives who have seen the head, have touched it, might be changed; they might have the benefit of a +2% to their experience gained for all of their lives.  They might fight at +1 to hit and damage when defending the hex surrounding Guba against outside invaders.  They may be prepared to throw themselves in desperate, self-sacrificing attacks that might repel enemies.

And then we can say that no one from a more advanced culture would have these benefits, because they were from an advanced culture.  For them, the Guba Head would just be a large block of carved stone, nothing more.  They have lost the sense of mysticism, or wild magic, that makes such dedication to a monolith like this have meaning.

Adventures?  I can think of several.  But I think at this point that I should encourage the readers to come up with a few of their own.  Try to stay within the scheme I've offered thus far.  DON'T add additional materials, personages, ideas or technologies that don't already exist.  Don't suppose a great leader, a great medicine man, a soldier or any single individual because the social structures needed for these things hasn't been invented by this culture.  There is no monarch, no right of heredity, no cleric, no soldier (the idea of combat training doesn't exist), no charismatic entity of any kind.  The adventures need to be about survival, obtaining food, seeking information, fighting off dangerous animals, exploring deadly, lost deserts, communicating with outsiders who are easily more deadly than our party of only fighters, who cannot imagine armor, missile weapons and so on.

It is hard to think on this level of adventure, but give it a try.  I expect that most of you will fall short, but it isn't necessary that you succeed in this.  It is necessary only that you stretch your ideas outside of the bounds of what you've been thinking makes an adventure thus far.  We want the title of this post to be what you have.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

A Kind Request

Of late, I cannot help noticing that many of you are enjoying the content of this blog.  While there is no immediate danger of the content ending, not while I am employed, I must ask the gentle reader a direct question?

What is this blog worth to you?

If you really like this blog, and what I've being writing about and doing, let me remind you of my patreon account and encourage you to donate $1, $5, $10 or more to what you consider to be a worthy cause.  And as always, thank you for reading this blog, for contributing to this blog with your comments and for all your emotional and confidence-giving support for these last months during my unemployment.

Right now, I need bus tickets to get to and from my job, and I am flat broke until my first paycheque.  Thought I should mention this.

Patreon's timetable processes donations in two days time, otherwise not again until the 1st of June. Forgive me please, but time is a factor.

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.