Sunday, June 16, 2019

Describing the Weather

The survival times, I admit, aren't very clear; I haven't
yet sorted out my thinking on these.  See it as a
placeholder for the present, please.
It's my intention to post the charts shown on separate pages on my wiki, as the goal is to have a page for each temperature grade, to describe fully how a given temperature affects the character (this is a lot harder than it sounds, particularly if the goal is to do it without using either fahrenheit or celsius).  Degrees are given here for the benefit of the reader's use, who may not wish to be as orthodox as I intend.

The thermometer as we know it wasn't invented until 1714, by the Dutch scientist Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit.  Prior to that, there were devices that had been developed and used by scientists, notably Galileo and Giuseppe Biancani, but even as various thermometers were created throughout the latter half of the 17th century, there was no standardized scale.  Moreover, these were either curiousity pieces or objects specific to scientists and laboratories.  No peasant or common townsfolk ever saw a thermometer or imagined they would ever relate the relative feel of the air to such a device.

For that reason, I've been challenged to build, memorize and convey a system to persons who are so rigidly based in measured thinking where it comes to weather, including myself.  It is virtually impossible to get a pure description of weather that doesn't turn to the thermometer to produce clarity, so that it's been uphill to explain what frosty, icy or wintry temperature "feels like," in a way that doesn't require me to say, "Oh, you know, like -6 degrees celsius."

On the whole, my goal of creating pages for each temperature grade has been a bust.  The language isn't there, the information isn't there ~ and there doesn't seem to be anyone left to contemplate that for most of human history, people never used the word "degree" to describe the weather.  It makes me wonder what that must have been like, given that I can't find any extant documents before the 16th century that discusses the "feel" of the weather in any fashion (science seems to have discovered weather in the late 1500s).  We mention storms and winter and such, and sometimes someone will say it was a nicer summer than summers past, but there's no effort at all to actually, and at length, describe any such phenomenon.  When that comes, everyone rushes to measuring the weather; it is obviously too subjective to meaningfully describe.

Try it.  Sit down and try to write three sentences that could apply to weather that's "icy," as defined above, that can't be mistaken for "wintry" or "frosty" [without using degrees, obviously] ... and yet you know perfectly well from the measurement that it is a distinctly different weather.

Even here, when I've brought up the subject on the blog, mentions of the subject have landed with a silent thud.  I seem to be alone in my curiosity about this, and certainly alone in any compulsion to address the matter in D&D terms.

Post Script,

I'll bet that the first thing you turn to if you try to describe weather is the clothing you'll wear.  No good, that's cheating.  I said describe the weather, not your tactics for dealing with it.  We can recognize the Americans by how much they're wearing here in the spring.  I remember a story that my uncle from Saskatchewan went to Las Vegas one winter ~ and was stopped by the cops there because he was wearing shorts and a t-shirt when the weather was only 58 degrees!  They thought my uncle had to be drunk.

The Scholar

I've always thought that if there was going to be a new character class, it should be something truly different.  Not just another fighter or spellcaster, not another version of the thief, but a concept utterly divorced from previous templates.

And because I've never thought of such a deviation, I've never proposed a new character class ~ though that is a major sport of RPG bloggers everywhere.  It isn't possible to go down a long blogroll on a site without finding someone who has recently written about a new character class.

This said, I might have an idea.

I hesitate, of course.  I don't want to make this sort of thing a habit.  But I suppose once every 40 years is okay ...

I am imagining a character class with no combat ability, no spells, no special physical capabilities, no role-playing or conversational talents ... very little, in fact, that might provide any real help in a fight.  And while there would be a facet of the character that would provide some healing benefit, none of that would be magical and virtually none of it would apply to restoring hit points.

But, lots of knowledge.  Lots and lots.  The character class would be "Scholar," an individual who possessed a ton of academic knowledge, not "practical" knowledge.  A scholar could conceivably be a physician, an engineer, a merchant, a politician or an historian (these being sage fields), but such things would not instantly apply to the most difficult of skills.  A 1st level would not be a full-blown professional, no.  But I think there would be a larger number of sage studies to draw on, and more sage points gained than other classes.  Because, basically, knowledge is all the character would possess.

There would be very little weapon training, no ability to wear armor and no special powers.  The combat table would be the mage's, with comparable weapons, and little else to keep them alive.  Experience needed to go up a level would be low, however, perhaps lower than the thief, which would fast-track the sage abilities.  Hp, d6 (because I'll give this one small benefit over the mage/illusionist).  It would be a tough row to hoe (though a scholar could tell you how to hoe it).

Basically, the other characters would be needed to keep the scholar alive.  But in the games I play, that would be seen as a feature, not a bug.  A scholar would be a great henchman.

And a very different sort of character.  With a different outlook, and different goals.  Someone who might step up and do their part in a fight, but wouldn't need to base their character's aspirations on raw physical and mental power.

Might be interesting.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Food for Powder, Food for Worms

The abusive behaviour of most players towards hirelings is well known in the community, with most DMs noting ruefully that while player characters may survive a dungeon, NPC men-at-arms and hirelings usually don't.  This is part due to the weakness of non-levelled characters lacking in hit points, but it's also because players tend to consider hirelings and followers as material to be spent rather than a resource to be preserved.

There are a number of reasons for this, beginning with the poor fighting quality and usefulness of men-at-arms, who are barely able to fight one-on-one with a lowly orc, what with penalties to hit and low hit points.  Both DMs and players running men-at-arms also set them up to die, having them rush directly into combat, traps, ambushes and what not, so that they are more like budgies in a coal mine than combatants.  Practically no effort is made to give a man-at-arms as much personality as the local grocer has, so that these persons are easily expendable in that they are faceless, replaceable fodder.  As such, many players don't see the point ~ men-at-arms are going to provide much benefit and they're just a pain to maintain or keep track of.

These issues evaporate in a grittier system, as players begin to understand that hirelings are highly needed in support roles, to carry gear, to hold the light sources, to drag the wounded out of combat and to serve as a last-ditch reserve when the combat goes sour.  Rather than sending in the fodder first, the support team of men-at-arms holds the rear while the main body takes the front blow.  To make this work, however, there have to be things for a man-at-arms to do.  If there are no encumberance rules, no wounds to bind, no attention paid to light sources in game and no chance of the party ever losing a combat, then they're right ~ a man-at-arms is useless.

Therefore, it's not surprising that the "reward" of retainers at a given level is often looked at by players as a hindrance rather than a boon.  They may be useful at some point, but probably not on the next adventure, where probably half of those or more that we brought along would be dead.  Better to record their number and leave them safe at home, where they can push around our peasants and make sure the taxes are paid.  And this is what my players have almost always done once my characters obtained retainers, for years and years.

My perspective is different now.  It wouldn't be enough any more to simply reach name level and expect 160 retainers to "show up."  A character would have to be a resident, would have to prove themselves deserving of local recognition, would have to receive some sort of recognition from the higher lords as well, for why should they part with some of their lands for the sake of interlopers?  I can see the players ingratiating themselves to a prince or a duke, but that would have to be role-played in a manner that impressed the upper noble.  The players could dive into the deep wilderness, trying to find themselves a piece of tillable land that no one else had thought to clear and plant on, but again, there'd have to be a reason why strangers would show up and seek to serve.  Providing land for them is a start.  If one were in America or the African colonies, a boatload of slaves or deportees might provide the basis of a retinue, if they were freed or otherwise granted status that won them over.  Whatever the method, the "adventure" would include demonstrating that the players deserved the retinue that turned up, by the way they played, by the choices they made as characters and by the arrangements they made with other NPCs, but below and above them.

Moreover, none of that needs to wait until name level, not in my game.  As far as I'm concerned, a 1st level party can strike out for some part borderland, arrange to purchase or "claim" land, build a farm, gain followers, build small scale fortifications, clear the land, wipe out some vermin or worse residents, adventure a little for a stake, build relationships with the local magistrate, then the baron, bey or rajah of the region, perform some services, gain more followers, pick up some henchmen, increase the number of their hirelings, gain permission to posses a heraldic sign through some deed, work their way up through levels and have the whole infrastructure perfectly in place so that, upon hitting 9th level, royalty or what similar force that exists would finally get wind of the situation and send out 150 soldiers or like supporters on cue.

And no, I don't see this as limited to some classes.  Why shouldn't a Bard establish a college, or a druid a gathering of forestals?  Why shouldn't a mage or illusionist establish a thaumaturgical school, with a set number of fresh new students being enrolled, who then become an important alumni?  Why shouldn't a paladin gain a pack of crusaders?  Why these classes, but not all the classes?

Obviously, I don't think that every class should get a raft of soldiers.  The cleric should get less soldiers and more zealots and believers, but probably this was a bit creepy for the 1979 company.  I'm not limited by such prejudices.  I can cheerfully allow an "evil" cleric player character to gain eighty or so deranged, murderous thuggees ready to konk women unconscious and burn them alive in monthly festivals ... because I just don't care.  This was done in reality, once; no reason it shouldn't be done in a player's imagination.

It would really be something to concoct 80 meaningful personalities for these retainers ... and I'm not talking about some silly list where "pious" or "slothful" count as a personality description.  I mean names, habits, persons you'd like to have with you in a given circumstance ... and 80 random collections of six stats that YOU, as player, would have full access to, so that you could choose the one with three 17s and a 16 to join you on your raids, while assigning the fellow with no stat greater than 10 to manage the gong pit.  You'd have full control; these are your retainers.  I think watching you manage them, get to know them, figure out how to delegate them into tasks and expand your personal control over a small fief (made of a number of hides, which could expand into a hundred), sounds like great fun as a DM.  And meanwhile, the ranger is managing a different crew, the paladin another, the mage another and the thief still another.  Crazy, wild, engaging stuff.

It doesn't sound like work.  It sounds like perhaps the best campaign I ever had.

It's nice to have friends.  Try to bring most of these back alive, hm?

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Retinue vs. Followers

I'm sure most of my readers will remember that old D&D included the concept of reaching "name level," where the players were supposed to settle down, build castles and such, and gain "retainers."  What some like to call the End Game ... though I don't see how this ends anything having to do with play.  The only thing that seems odd about it is that Gygax and others proposed it ~ since nothing they did or wrote as far as real game material seems to have taken that into account.

Perhaps I'm wrong.  Can anyone recall a module written for 10+ level characters that begins, "An emissary approaches the party while they're hanging out in their castle," or, "After you've assigned persons to look after your lands and fortifications, you set out for the adventure."  Anyone?

I couldn't find the comment where someone lately asked me about retainers.  I thought I'd begin with discussing what retainers are and how they differ from followers, hirelings and henchmen.  I another post, I'll talk about how one gets them.  Please don't expect me to follow the guidelines established in early D&D.

The word relates to "retinue," which is an old French word meaning a group of followers or a state of service.  The concept is that the followers are taken into feudal service, and thus "kept" or "retained" through the granting of lands on condition of services.  It isn't that the character suddenly gets a mess of instant obedient followers ~ it is, rather, a contract.  You provide the land, they provide the service ... not as serfs, but as men-at-arms or as knights.  The number of "hides" that they're given (see the previous post depends on their status and the landholder's generosity.  It's not really clear in wikipedia, but every five hides could be expected to provide a soldier in times of war.  Nothing about feudalism ever worked out that sure, but it's a guideline.

The retinue did not consist of only soldiers, as the old DMG suggests, but also of servants, artisans, professionals, estate officials, treasurers, stewards, lawyers and generally all that was needed by the normal operation of society.  And, as the lord grew in status, so did the retinue; so that a sort of "bastard feudalism" developed, in which middle ranking figures under a king or major noble would compete for money, offices or influence.  This is how the French court of the 17th century grows organically out of the more rural France of the 12th and 13th centuries.  The collective name for these retainers was "affinity," which also happens to be a word that began in c. 1300 as "relation by marriage."  In a sense, the retinue were "kin," or part of the "neighbourhood," words that have developed other meanings over time.  For this post, we'll go on using the word retinue and retainer, but try to keep affinity in mind.

Prestigious items such as the Dunstable Swan Jewel above
were given to highly important persons within the lord's
retinue.  Jewels such as the above are rare.  I find it likely
that many were melted down in times of crisis.
To identify the relationship between the lord and the retinue, often livery badges were bestowed upon the various retainers; these were heraldic badges or devices that granted status and some legal protection for the wearer, while advertising the power of the lord.  The appearance of hundreds of such badges, given out for a variety of reasons, would quickly establish the lord's importance in an area, while at the same time producing opportunities for rivalry with other retainers wearing another lord's badges.  We need only think of Liverpool and Manchester football to gain a clear idea.

Many of the symbols we recognize began this way; the Lancaster or York roses, the Prince of Whales's (er, Wales's) emblem, the boar, the lion, the Maltese cross, etc., all started as this sort of "advertising," or team making, among nobles and other like authoritarians.

Obviously, this would mean that many persons outside the retinue, would always be seeking to be a part of it, if they had no affinity of their own.  This meant that outside the retinue were an amorphous group of general supporters and contacts, most of them completely unknown to the lord, but known to the various members of the retinue.  Thus, even a minor lord could potentially affect hundreds, even thousands of persons, simply by their existence at the heart of his or her retinue.  This made political maneuverings and the raising of an huge army a realistic possibility, as the War of the Roses proved, as Henry the VII was able and again as Cromwell demonstrated.  In D&D, we tend to think that to raise an army, we need to scatter out agents and interview people.  In fact, the more likely truth is that there would be large numbers predisposed to our cause; we would need only to canvas our own connections, gain the support of other nobles and let them canvas their connections, and thus through specific persons already in our employ, we would dredge up the very people we needed from both our lands and from those wanting to be part of our lands.  Thus, every war begins with a promise of land ~ which we will naturally take from the losers, when we win.

All this makes the retainer far, far more valuable than the follower ~ though, it must be said the retainer has less reason to be directly loyal.  Ultimately, the retainer serves the office, not the individual.  A lord is sure to be surrounded by trusted, reliable followers and henchmen, the "inner circle," while sorting out the trusted members of the retinue from those not quite so trusted.  In general, the retinue is expected to fall in line because the lord has the retinue's general welfare at heart; if the lord fights to preserve the lord's lands, he or she also fights to preserve the retinue's lands.  So all join together in the common cause.

The complexity of this is doubtlessly beyond the tenacity of DMs and Players who are only interested in adventuring ... but I find the concept utterly fascinating, myself.  And I positively adore the idea of building a system of land ownership and management of such persons in a way that would empower me to influence the actions of a very large kingdom, such as Sweden or Poland, even if I am not the king and have no interest in deposing the king.

I am far more excited by this sort of thing than I am by disarming another trap.


What follows are definitions of measurements, objects and units that are standardized in my game world, particularly for use with my equipment prices table. As my world takes place in the early 1650s of Earth’s history, the measurement units used are imperial and not metric. Metric equivalents are not given below (they would not exist for characters dwelling in the 17th century). The list includes some items whose characteristics enable their use as shorthand through the game (such as the common parlance of “a flask of oil”).

Please leave a comment about any measurement or item that may be missing, so that I’m able to add to the list.


     Acre: an area of land that is one chain (66 ft.) in width by one furlong (660 ft.) in length. Described as the total area that could be ploughed in one day by a team. A “bovate” is an amount of land that a single ox can plough in a season, in time to get crops in (15 acres), whereas a “virgate” is the amount of land a pair of oxen can plough in the same time (30 acres). A “carucate” is 120 acres.
     Combat Hex: a map-hex used for combat, five feet in diameter and equal to 21.7 sq.ft.
     Flemish Ell: a cloth measure, equal to ¾ of a yard. Approximately the same as a cubit.
     Hide: an area of four to eight bovates (60-120 acres); a unit of crop yield rather than area, equal to 1,620 bushels of grain. It measures the amount of land able to support a single household (2.5 mil. calories) for agricultural and taxation purposes.
     Hundred: consisting of 100 hides, which might be anywhere from 40 to 60 sq.m., with non-arable or untilled land included. Theoretically able to supply or support 100 men under arms. Multiple hundreds are grouped together to form “lathes,” which are then subdivisions of “counties,” each of non-fixed sizes. Most manor estates are between a half and a full hundred.
     Knight’s fee: consisting of five hides, approximately 0.7 sq.m. A knight’s fee was expected to produce one fully equipped soldier for a knight’s retinue in times of war. The amount of land deemed sufficient to support one knight.
     Six-mile hexa map hex used to provide regional-sized maps. Approximately 6.667 miles in diameter, with an area of 2¾ hundreds (or ten 2-mile hexes).
     Square foot: A small area 12 inches by 12 inches; see length, below.
     Square mile: An area of 640 acres. Used for measuring large areas.
     Square yard: An area of 9 square feet. Typically used to measure cloth.
     Twenty-mile hexa map hex used for large scale sheet maps of the world. 20 miles in diameter, with an area of 346 sq.m. (24½ hundreds), or ten 6-mile hexes.
     Two-mile hex: a map-hex used to provide local details surrounding player lands and adventures. Approximately 2.222 miles in diameter, with an area of 2,737 acres or 30 hides.


     Chain: a distance of 4 rods, or 66 feet (22 yards), equal to the length of an acre as it is usually measured for farming. Surveyors used 66 ft. long chains in their work.
     Combat hex: a distance of 5 feet, used to measure distances in combat; see above.
     Foot: equal to 12 inches, based upon the averaged foot length of 16 random adult males, as described by Jacob Koebel.
      Furlong: a distance of 10 chains, 40 rods or 660 feet (220 yards). Described as the distance a team of oxen could plough without resting. A popular measure for horse and foot racing.
     Hand: equal to 4 inches, based on the breadth of a human hand. Used to measure the height of horses.
     Inch: equal to 1⁄12 of a foot. Approximately the width of a human thumb.
     League: a distance of three nautical miles, variously 3 miles (on land) or 3.452 miles (at sea). Said to be the comfortable distance a person can walk in an hour.
     Mile: a distance of 8 furlongs, 80 chains or 5,280 ft. (1,760 yards). Most common unit to measure large distances.
     Mile, Nautical: 6,076 feet, used only in maritime navigation, as a knot (see below) is defined as one nautical mile per hour.
     Rod: a distance of 5½ yards, or 16½ feet. Used to measure an acre for ploughing, which is typically equal to 40 rods by 4 rods (long furrows reduced the need of turning a team of oxen, which was difficult). There are 19 furrows in the width of a rod.
     Yard: equal to 3 feet or 36 inches, rarely used, typically for the measurement of sports events.

Mass & Weight

     Carat: equal to 4 grains, not to be confused with the unit of purity of gold alloys, spelled “karat.” The most common unit for measuring pearls and precious stones. A “paragon” is a flawless stone of at least 100 carats.
     Grain: a measure based on the weight of a single grain of barley, considered equivalent to 1⅓ grains of wheat. A unit used for medicines and sometimes by jewellers to measure pearls, diamonds and other precious stones.
     Dram: a measure equal to approximately 27⅓ grains, used for measuring coins and precision metalwork for clock making, tools and detailed work. A gold coin weighs 1.836 drams.
     Dose: a measurement for poisons, gripcolle, Epson salts and more, varying from 1 to 4 drams depending on the substance.
     Ounce: equal to 16 drams and 437½ grains, used to measure hundreds of different materials and foodstuffs.
     Pennyweight: equal to 24 grains or 6 carats, like the dram used for the measurement of precious metals. Jewellers, lapidaries and engravers prefer to use the pennyweight over the dram.
     Pound: equal to 16 ounces or 64 drams (7,000 grains). Standard unit of weight for most heavier objects and for calculating encumbrance.
     Stone: equal to 14 lbs., standardized units for merchant trading in raw materials such as wool, fibres, ores and other cart and wagon loads. Live animals are often weighed in stone.
     Ton: equal to 2,000 lbs. or nearly 142⅞ stone, used for the measurement of large capacities, loads and seagoing vessels. Not to be confused with the “tun” used to measure capacity.


     Knot: used when travelling on water, measures one nautical mile per hour, derived from measuring speed with a knotted rope (the knots 47 ft., 3 in. apart) and a 30-second sand glass.


     Barrel: made of oak or comparable material, 63 gallon capacity, with bung and six iron hoops for strength. Used for brewing and carrying water. Also called a hogshead.
     Basin: made of glass, stone or pottery, standardized size for a religious font (32 fl. oz.).
     Bottle: glass container with cork for beer and other liquids, 12.7 oz. capacity.
     Bottle (wine): unusually sized glass bottle specifically for wine storage, with a 25.36 fl. oz. capacity.
     Bushel: a dry measure of volume equal to 4 pecks (about 0.822 cub.ft.). A bushel of coal weighs much more than a bushel of wheat grains.
     Cord: a unit of dry volume to measure firewood, describing logs that are “racked and well stowed,” measuring 128 cubic feet. Depending on the density of the wood, this is typically a woodpile 4 feet high, 8 feet long and 4 feet deep.
     Cup: a cooking measure equal to 8 fluid ounces or 64 fluid drams.
     Dram (fluid): an apothecary’s measure, used to define the volume of medicines and powders. Equal to a teaspoon (which in the 17th century was smaller, so that there were four teaspoons to a tablespoon).
     Fishpot: ceramic pot, 2½ in. tall and 3 in. diameter, 4 fluid ounce capacity, with softwood lid sealed with pitch. Used for fish and very pungent substances.
     Flask: ceramic bottle, 6 in. tall, 2½ in. diameter, 8 fl. oz. capacity, used for lamp oil, magical potions and other liquids.
     Gallon: equal to 4 quarts or 8 pints (160 fl. oz.), used for measuring large amounts of liquid.
     Gallon (dry): a dry measure used to measure grain and other dry commodities, equal to about 8 lbs. of wheat grain (being a measure of volume, about 0.103 cub.ft.).
     Gill: equal to 5 fluid ounces, or 40 drams; a standard measure of small amounts of distilled spirits.  A “nip” of spirits is ¼ of a gill, or 1¼ fluid ounces.
     Gluepot: pottery container for soft pastes and resin, 3 in. tall, 4 in. diameter, with softwood lid sealed with pitch and 8 fl. oz. capacity.
     Hogshead: equal to 63 gallons; see barrel.
     Inkwell: bottle for ink, 2 fl. oz. capacity, 1 in. tall, 2 in. diameter, with cork plug. Also used for magical ink.
     Jack: one half gills, or 2½ fluid ounces. Used to measure tiny bottles of medicine or spirits.
     Jar (glass): short container for multiple uses, 3 in. diameter and 3 in. tall, with 8 fl. oz. capacity. Includes cork lid (which, when lost, is usually replaced with piece of cloth and a tie-string).
     Jigger: equal to 1½ fluid ounces, typically used to measure spirits in a tavern.
     Jug: ceramic container, equal to 16 fl. oz., commonly used as a temporary container for serving.
     Keg: wooden with 6 narrow iron bands, has a 21 quart capacity, or five gallons plus one quart; used for transporting water and beverages on the backs of animals.
     Ounce (fluid): equal to the weight of 1 ounce of water, or 8 fluid drams. Customarily used to measure liquids.
     Peck: a dry measure equal to 2 dry gallons (about 0.205 cub.ft.).
     Phial: glass vessel, 1 fl. oz. capacity, used for essential oils, acids, apothecary’s ingredients and other precious contents.
     Pint: equal to 4 gills or 20 fluid ounces. Popular for steins for tavern beer, also standard for clay flasks.
     Pot (apothecary’s): usually fashioned out of clay, 3 fl. oz. capacity, used for paste and poisons. Features tiny feet and a clay lid that is tied in place or cemented with sealing wax.
     Pottle: equal to 2 quarts. Used for the storage of milk and sometimes wine.
     Quart: equal to 2 pints or 40 fl. oz. Used commonly as a measure for sold cream or milk, or to measure the capacity of large cooking ware.
     Tun: describes a enormous cask used to measure wine, oil or honey, with a capacity of four hogsheads or 252 gallons. In some parts of France, three puncheons equals a tun.
     Vial: glass container, 4 fl. oz. capacity, used for various apothecary’s contents.

See Adventure, The

Post Script,

The organization above is intended to clear up endless discontinuities between British and American imperial systems, avoirdupois vs. troy measures, as well as Scotch, Irish, French and other national digressions.  The metric system cleared up these things, thankfully, but since I'm not using the metric system for my game, having some standards for game purposes only was ultimately necessary.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019


Traps are a fetish.

Earlier today, Dennis Laffey posted about them, citing a few comments from this blog.  There he discusses the logic of traps, their general value and how we ought to consider them.  My feeling is that he skips over certain factors about traps; factors that we'd rather skip over because, to be frank, they spoil the show.

If we can forget for a moment the irrationality of moving parts still in a state where not only can they function after centuries, but apparently reset themselves, how was this trap even made?

This is screenshot from the movie, just as Indy dives for the floor.  Note the slot on the same floor.  Here's the same shot a split second later:

This is the second blade cutting across the floor [apparently, it's not enough to kneel before god, it's also important to forward roll immediately thereafter ~ I don't remember that move in church, but to see a whole congregation doing it would have been pretty funny].

Where is this light coming from?
Again, how was this trap made?  We get a shot of these wooden gears above what appears to be a pit, but Indy doesn't give this possible accessway a glance.

It's painfully evident from both shots that the center of the blade is equal with the rock face, which means the fulcrum of the blade would have to skim the edge of the rock ~ the need to provide the folcrum with space would have made a huge slot in the rock that would have been immediately obvious.  And where exactly is the mechanism?  Buried in solid rock?  Plus I must point out the glistening quality of the steel, plus the SIZE of the blades, whom someone brilliantly fashioned on an anvil to be so perfectly flat that it would disappear in a slot so narrow it isn't supposed to be visible.

But ... NONE of that matters, because it isn't supposed to matter.  We're supposed to overlook it, because this is fantasy adventure, because the Grail isn't real either, so who really gives a shit?  The film insists that we are supposed to just go with it, because it's fun.

But here's the thing.  The Last Crusade spends about half an hour of screen time doing everything it can to feed the theory that the Cup, for all it's magical properties, is real.  We're fed a steady stream of semi-literate history, we're pounded with the magnificent genius of these two archeologists, his dad's life work, the incredible research it took to get the diary together, the necessity to have this profoundly detailed and researched diary ... all to feed our sense of immersion and believability.  And after all that, we're shown these two ridiculous blades and told, "Hey, look, fuck it, it's fun, don't pay too much attention."

Uh uh.  Stories don't work that way.  You don't get to spend an inordinate amount of time building credibility here so you can piss it all away there, and have me turn a blind eye.

Here's our next trap.  I won't go into the use of "Iohovah" being used by Crusader soldiers (which is a diatribe in itself), or that if "J" was the first letter, that small "E" is a long, long way away.

[and I thought Indy read the book; you know, the book that explained everything?  Was it written "J" in the book?  No, I don't think so]

Oh well, I'll continue on the mechanics presented.  So we have the fakeroo, we get to see Indy almost fall ... giving us this shot:

It is plain to see that there is no supporting pillar for the "I" that he has to step on to get past ... so how was this floor laid?  If with scaffolding, how was the wood removed, and why aren't we getting into the tomb that way?  And how is Indy hanging on, if the whole floor is unsupported?  Shouldn't the whole floor simply give way?

I presume this is a continuation of the earlier passageway behind the gears ... but again, where the hell is all this light coming from?  And why is this room lit from above?

Yeah, yeah, adventure, fun, suppress logic, blah blah blah.

How was this floor painted?  To get the right perspective would have been a clever trick, given that the only access is the bridge itself.  Scaffolding again?  Okay, so where is all the wood.  Plus, we have that downward light, which looks like sunlight.  Couldn't we just rapel into this cave at this point?  Would have saved us a lot of trouble, what with the grail crossing the seal and all that.

But yes, the plot had to show that Indy was worthy.  So the traps had to be about worthiness ... those good ol' American values like being able to perform gymnastics, spell and

The trip around the barn is to emphasize that where it comes to traps, we don't care if it makes sense.  Any of us who have been around at least five years have seen our share of nonsensical traps, and puzzles, and combinations of the two, ignoring the engineering marvel that would be necessary to put in traps that, apparently, a group of high school level students can solve and get around.  This is not a practical way to block or at least stymie access.

It doesn't begin with the movies, either (though everything from camp Batman back to cheezy films from the 1930s would have influenced the godfathers of RPGs).  The traps generation table shown is emblematic of the same problem.  There isn't room in the book to explain how any of these traps actually work, how complex, or heavy, or intricate the workings are, where the gas comes from, how exactly the door falls outward of the illusionary wall sustains itself when magic spells and wands have a shelf time, etcetera. We're expected to take these things at face value, it's just a game, the arrows just shoot out or the oil just falls from somewhere.

Yet that hypocrite Gygax writes this for the DM on page 20, when it's YOU making the trap:  "Whenever a thief or assassin character desires to set a trap, require him or her to furnish you a simple drawing to illustrate how the trap will function."

When those drawings of traps began to appear in the Dragon Magazine, then in various modules and splatbooks, it was plain to any thinking person that these Rube Goldbergs were farcical in concept and for their intended purpose.

Proper trap making is not about big, complicated death traps with multiple moving parts.  If we really want to lay down traps to keep people out, it's all about the numbers, baby.  Lots of traps, designed to wear soldiers down and wear on their resolve.  And no, I'm not talking about "contact poison," which was a huge and constant rage all through the 1980s before quietly going away.  Poison takes very little time to dry and become inert.  But dozens, scores, of simple, spiky, stabby little traps, with bamboo and hawthorne coated in feces, will make a hall unpleasant even after you know what's there.

But we don't want to make traps like that, because it's not "fun."  It's not silly.  It's not a challenge.  It's not "adventure."

Key point here.  When people start using the word "adventure" as an argument, we might as well paint unicorns on the road signs.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

People Ruin Everything

Yesterday I had a skin mole on my back.  Today I don't.  I had a doctor at the nearby clinic cut it off, freezing it with some anesthetic, slicing it flat to my skin with a knife and cauterizing the wound so it wouldn't bleed.  And, as I will never tire of saying so to my American readers, all for free.

I have no problem at all with doctors.  They're educated, I'm educated.  We speak the same language.  This needs to be cut, spliced, operated on, with needles, and pain to follow, I see it the way the doctor sees it.  The body is an organism that will sustain manipulation and pain is a process of healing.  Whatever happens ~ if the mole turns out to be a tumor and a sign of cancer ~ happens.  Not the doctor's fault.

There are two things, however, that drive me crazy about seeing a doctor.  Two things that I'm sure drives the doctor crazy as well, which just makes it doubly ridiculous.

The first is the requirement to treat me with kid gloves, like I'm an infant.  I understand the need for a consent form and I have no idea why I wouldn't agree to a procedure I'm there to receive ... but the language that I'm forced to assent to: "I understand that I have the right to terminate the procedure at any time before the procedure occurs without concern or fear."  Really.  And, knife instructions, pick up by handle only.

It doesn't stop there, obviously.  The doctor wants to warn me he's going to need to use a needle to freeze the skin around the mole.  He warns me that I'll need to lay on my stomach.  He warns me that there will be some pain.  He warns me that after the freezing, there'll be more pain.  He warns me that the pain will last for a day or two, possibly longer.

Yeah, I get it.  People are made of candy floss.  And the doctor has to deal with those people.  But through the doctor's endless warnings, I have to deal with those people too.  I have to endure this sickened pandering because other people can't bear up to a needle or the amount of pain that a removed mole causes.  It's annoying, I have to put up with it every time I see a doctor, it's time wasting and it is particularly galling in that in various professions, I've been injured so often that things like a needle prick barely register.  I have burn marks up and down my forearms and my hands are a nest of scars from burns and knife cuts, screw edges and saw blades.  And those scars are a fraction of the hundreds of times I've been spot burned by oil or nicked with a knife blade.

Then, there's the other annoyance.  The one that treats me like I have no education at all.  For example, I have to have what lidocaine is explained to me.  I have to have cauterization explained to me.  I have to have the danger of post-procedure infection explained to me, and what to do if I get an infection.  I have to have what a skin mole is explained to me, and why it might be a sign of cancer.  I have to have every tiny facet of every part of the procedure explained to me, to be absolutely sure I understand what's going on.

And yeah, I get this too.  People are stupid.  Very, very stupid.  Uneducated, unaware, ignorant, usually deliberately ignorant, and very mistrustful because of their enormous ignorance.  They haven't spent a minute of their lives understanding one thing about how the body they inhabit works, what drugs are, what a procedure involves ... and usually, if they've tried to understand it, they've understood it wrong.  Plus they lie and say they understand, when they don't.  So the doctor can't my word for it when I say, "Yes, I know what lidocaine is, I've experienced lidocaine before," because of all the stupid, fucked up, annoying, ignorant people in the world who have said those exact same words as a lie.

So between me and the doctor there are all these stupid people that neither of us want to deal with, but we have to, because they exist, they need medical attention and they have to be placated.  And this is why I usually leave a doctor's office somewhat put out.

The one mitigating factor is the empathy, the enormous empathy I feel for the doctors, who have to go through this routine hour after hour, for the whole of their career.  I have to put up with it for ten, twenty minutes.  Those poor, educated people.  I really feel for them.

At this point, I should make a connection to the kind of idiocy a DM has to put up with from a certain kind of player.  But, if you agree with me, you've already made that connection.  And if you don't, well, you're the idiot we have to remind to turn off the lawn mower before checking the blades.

Monday, June 10, 2019


Fiction writing can be more absorbing than any other sort of writing I do.  I can begin a passage at five or six o'clock in the evening, not break to eat, not break to go to the bathroom, and suddenly find that it is a quarter to one in the morning.  It is a little freaky that way, like with the sensory deprivation chamber featured in the title sequence of the 1981 film, Altered States.

I'm feeling pretty good about things lately, so I wanted to write to say that, first of all, I'm changing the title of my long-suffering five-year novel from the Fifth Man to "Fallow."  Steadily, it has drifted in theme from my original concept and I don't believe that the title works any more.  Instead, I'm adopting a simple solution: since the whole novel takes place in the fictional kingdom of Fallow, that works as a title.  To fallow a field is to put it to rest ~ until it is ready to be used.  In several instances through the book, this pattern fits fairly well.  I'm comfortable with the new title.

I've just passed the 100,000 word mark, working now through my third draft.  I'm feeling very good about it, working every day, with plenty of time to work and with sufficient money in the bank that I'm not fretting about the lack of a job.  I've had some good luck and some quiet benefactors not connected to the blog, so I have time to work and to find a proper, stress-free frame of mind to work in.  The last threads of the novel are coming together, though I do fear that there's some continuity errors in the multiple changes that have been wrought year by year.  My hardest task has been to try to envision the whole book as a single gestalt ... but like a sheet of paper that has been crumpled and flattened, and crumpled again and flattened, my mind cannot quite rise above the corruption that's blown apart the original conception.

So it goes, as Vonnegut would say.  The project continues apace.  I'm so ready to finish getting my hands around the book's throat and throttling it into passivity I cannot begin to express the emotion.  I will be glad when the thing is at an end.

Saturday, June 8, 2019


There's less and less reason to post on a Saturday; my numbers fall, people who read me are playing D&D, it makes more sense for me to hold off on a post until mid-day Sunday.

But ...

I was just thinking about the favorite explanation of some, that profound treasures are placed at the bottom of dungeons, "to protect them."  Adventuring players must then battle their way through a host of rooms to reach the fabled treasure, that usually turns out to be a profound magical item, or group of items, laying atop a big pile of treasure.

Only, I wonder if any player has ever felt, after getting this item, artefact or whatever, a great need to build a dungeon and fill it with monsters to "protect" this item they've just obtained.  I think not.  Players seem to prefer keeping the items with them, and employing them, flagrantly carrying them along roads and through towns, casually hanging out in taverns with the items in their pocket or hanging on their belts, while spending the treasure on things rather than keeping it in an enormous pile in an isolated place.

So where does this motivation come from that NPCs, having acquired the treasure themselves, and the items, feel such compulsion to sequester such things so far from themselves that when the plunderers break in, the NPCs don't even know the item is gone?  Hm?  Surely, the last room, with all the treasure, should include a magic mouth or something that suddenly shouts, "Oh, so you've found my treasure, that I was keeping here for a week or two while visiting my mother.  Well, I've just cast clairvoyance and clairaudience, so put everything down if you don't want me to kill you in a day or two.  And I'll thank you to round up a bunch of golems, ghouls, kelpies, crayfish and sphinx to repopulate my dungeon. Thank you, have a nice day."

Just saying.

Why is it we never find one of these enormous, underground civilizations
while they're still active?

Friday, June 7, 2019

The Last Word ... for Now

My daughter asked me last week to rework the action points system on my wiki, which proved a long and unpleasant task.  I finished that Wednesday.  I know some of my readers use the page, so have a look, because it has been updated.

There were two placeholders on the page: one that related to stuck doors, that I've now written rules for (found on the action points page under "open a stuck door"), and the other for "parley & negotiation," that started off this series of posts.

For the present, I'm not going to incorporate "capital" into my game, for the reasons I gave: it is too much information to process while managing other DM's duties.  I appreciate that people are making proposals for me to "fix it," when "it" doesn't even exist and was never meant to exist ... in any case, I don't see how something can be fixed if it hasn't been playtested, either by me or anyone else.

The set of rules that I've settled on for the moment are those I will playtest.  I have no idea if they will work, but at present these are rules I think I might work.  After playtesting, I might expand them ~ and certainly not any time soon.  The rules are posted on my wiki.  The rules are not randomly made or randomly considered.  I'm only posting them here to close the subject so we can get onto other things ~ blazes knows what, but we'll see.


A parley is a discussion between potential and ongoing enemies regarding the possibilities of free passage, a truce or temporary cessation of hostilities.  When offered, enemies with an intelligence of 11 or more will nearly always accept the offer, except where a blood feud or like desire for personal revenge is involved.  Too, persons of any intelligence are very unlikely to agree to a parley with any known malevolent entity such as a demon, devil or known member of the undead.

Parley provides opportunity for negotiation, in which parties barter to gain benefits for themselves while giving reassurance and benefits to the other side.  Negotiation is carried out almost wholly through role-play … but wise player characters will put themselves in the shoes of the other party, actively listen to what’s being said, speak with a purpose, find opportunities to act inconsistently with their own positions (bend to another’s will to gain advantage in a different way) and strive to “save face,” which is to present an assumption of strength while avoiding humiliation.

A successful parley or negotiation requires a willing listener.  The most likely listener is one that shares the character’s outlook, profession, religion and background.  Thus, if there is a sailor in the party, that would be the best candidate to talk with sailors; a fighter should be the choice to speak with a guard; a thief with members of the criminal element and so on.  The table shown gives a list of modifiers to the character’s charisma, based on the listener’s relationship to the speaker.  These modifiers are cumulative.

These modifiers are based on the “first impression” the character makes.  Prior to any dialogue, it would be best for every player character to apply these modifiers to their own charisma, to know whether or not beforehand if they should speak.

To “open a conversation,” the character must succeed in making a charisma check, as modified.  A failure gives a further -3 modifier to future rolls (from the speaker or other player character), so that an initial failed check can quickly ruin any chance to ask for a parley or initiation negotiations.

A charisma failure with an acquaintance, associate, hireling or follower will produce a dispute or an argument, which will escalate with each further attempt that also ends in failure.  With strangers this will end all chance of negotiation, permanently, short of physical force.

Acquaintances are store clerks or other known persons where there exists no real relationship, so a series of failed checks could result in gaining an enemy.  Associates are persons of equal status with shared interests and purposes, so a series of failed checks could result in a cutting off of all ties and sharing of information. 

Most of the time, there is no need to make any check to have a negotiation with a Hireling.  Negotiations are only opened when some part of the hireling’s status or role changes ~ they are asked to do something that is not their job, or their pay is diminished or not being made for pecuniary reasons.  In such cases, a series of failed checks would result in the hireling actively quitting; add 3 to their morale.  A day after the argument, the hireling can be approached with a “fresh” check (no penalties for earlier failures); if the check succeeds and the hireling succeeds in a morale check, they will come back and work for the employer.  Morale will drop by 1 point but the remaining two-point penalty will remain until lost through further actions.

Checks need only be made for negotiations with Followers if they are asked to retain new responsibilities, such as leading a party off somewhere or managing an estate.  Because followers are not fanatic like henchmen, they must be convinced.  Note that most retainers, when gained by players, have a specific duty ~ such as acting as a standing army for clerics or fighters.  These followers do not need to be negotiated with to follow these duties.  A series of failed charisma checks will follow the same pattern as with hirelings, except that a week must pass before the follower can be spoken with again ~ during which time they are likely to have set off for another place, whereas a hireling is almost certain to have remained nearby.

See Adventure, The

Stat Videos

This is pretty cool:

The source is listed as The Angus Maddison Project & World Bank, so I have my doubts, particularly in that several regions on the list were together part of a single entity at various points on the chart, particularly all of the Soviet Union, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and so on.  Historical regional borders are NOT part of the data and for that reason, I wouldn't put much stock in the numbers.

I've looked at GDP numbers for decades, however, and they do fit in the ballpark of figures I recall, so the chart is a fair estimate for what's gone on, particularly in the last twenty years. I've no doubt the figures are much more accurate for the dates after 1999.  The chart continues well past 2019, however, and such projections almost always wind up being garbage ~ but again, what the hell, its fun.

The channel WawamuStats, plus another called Ranking the World, has a pile of these videos.  I've been watching them with the annoying sound turned off and the speed reduced to 0.25, so that there's time to think about what's happening in a given year.

Worth a look.

Thursday, June 6, 2019


Having cleared my thoughts of misgivings, let's tackle the matter of conversation.

Let us set the scene.  A group of players in the harbour of a small town wishes to obtain passage across the bay to reach the tip of a difficult peninsula that would be hard to access by land.  There are no official passenger boats, only working boats, so some negotiation will be necessary to convince an otherwise busy captain to take the party onboard and deviate from the intended course to drop them off where they wish to go.  Additionally, the players would like to get back, so they'll need to arrange a rendezvous with the same captain.  For this, they'll need to know: a) that the captain can be trusted; b) what a fair price would be; c) how long the trip will be; d) what the shore is like across the bay; and e) particulars like how much space can the captain offer, both going out and coming back, for equipment, food and, ultimately, treasure.

None of the party happen to have come from sailors or indeed any seagoing background; however, the druid's family were woodcutters, so at least hard labour is well understood.  Moreover, the druid is human, like the fishing folk here, and is from around the area, so that there is a shared accent.  Finally the druid understands the wild and has a little sage knowledge of the sea; so these things together are presented to the DM and the DM agrees, that's good enough to get a charisma check.  The druid succeeds and the prospective captain, whose boat seems large enough, agrees to climb out of his boat and onto the dock, to chat with the druid.

In ordinary D&D, the remainder of this discussion would be carried out as pure role-play.  Most likely, the DM would want the players to succeed, so they could get out to the intended place of adventure, the very purpose for which tonight's session was begun.  By far, most DMs would contend that there is no reason to delay the party or deny the party passage, so the matter is simply sewn up.  The druid is given a price, the players agree, they climb on board and five minutes later they're told the captain has dropped them off on the desired shore and that they'll be picked up, two days later.

But suppose we ignore such red carpet treatment and presume the world is not deliberately designed to revolve around the players' needs.  Instead, let's suppose that this is as difficult an obstacle to overcome as any puzzle inside a dungeon would be ~ only in this case, the puzzle is to sort out how to talk to the captain in such a manner that the player can get what's wanted, as we've listed.  Suppose there's a real possibility that this captain, and indeed all the captains in the marina (once the water is muddied by a bad interaction), to refuse to grant passage, forcing the players to adopt the difficult overland route.

Let us further suppose that charisma will play a part in this dialogue ~ and that, having opened the conversation, the druid and the captain will talk about things.  Since the things discussed will determine success or failure, it stands to reason that the same weight must be given to these things that we would give to the success of discovering and removing a trap, forcing our way through a stuck door or figuring out how six levers ought to be pulled in order to turn off the rushing water from an aperture so that it can be entered.

Very well.  What does conversation consist of, in concept rather than in precise words?  If I turn to wikipedia, I find that we have small talk, banter, questioning, informing and discussion of ideas, facts, other people and oneself.

The druid will want to inform the captain about who he is and about the members of the party, their purpose, their time line and their willingness to be flexible.  The druid will want to question the captain about cost, space, time of departure, willingness to take a contract and one or two personal questions to get a sense of trust.  And on the side the druid will want to make small talk, to set the captain at ease, and banter a bit to perhaps put a smile on the captain's face, and perhaps gossip or make observations that will assure the captain that the druid is a good fellow with shared perspectives and motives.

Put that way, it is plain to see that charisma is strongly represented in banter, small talk and light discussion.


Let's view what follows as a thought experiment and not necessarily a rule set.  The very worst proposal at this point would be a system supported by numerous die rolls, where the druid rolls and the captain rolls and matters are resolved thus.  At the same time, we already have a system where there are virtually no die rolls; the player role-plays freely, with the player's charisma hardly mattering at all, while the DM pretends for a while that the captain isn't willing to take them, gruffly making complaints, until ultimately agreeing because, as we've said, this is what the DM wants too.  For my money, this is a very annoying process, particularly the pretend-we-won't-but-ultimately-we-will trope.

A desirable system will allow the players to improvise what they say, but will apply real weight to the consequences of their decisions.  For example, choosing to make small talk, and how that small talk is made, will have a measurable effect, and not be thirty seconds of life that no one at the table will get back.  At the same time, however, this measurable effect has to be something the player can manage, that isn't a random shit-show of "Oops, I rolled a 2, now he hates me."  How can we do that?

Let's put you in the druid's shoes.  Consider your choices as you are walking along the dock to speak with your selected captain.  He's directing the stowing of lobster traps aboard his schooner by his mates, smoking a pipe.  We might as well have all the cliches.

Are you going to open with a question?  Or small talk.  Are you going to introduce yourself, or make a random observation about the harbour.  Suppose I tell you that there is a right answer here and a wrong answer.  Would that surprise you?

On the whole, people don't like to be questioned, particularly by strangers; making an observation can be taken as patronizing; and talking about yourself can be seen as attention-seeking behaviour.  So while either of these won't likely end a conversation, they might with the wrong person.  The safer course is the make an observation or make small talk.  "Those are some fine lobster traps."  "Looks like it's going to be a nice day."  That sort of thing.

Suppose we grant this approach as giving the player "capital" ~ which is as good a word as any for what I'm proposing.  We leave it up to the DM how much capital is received, depending on the player's choice of words.  If the DM rules it as banal, the player gets 1d4 capital.  If the DM rules it as genial or thought out, the player gets 1d6.  And if the player manages something very good, even amusing, but yet in good taste, the player gets 1d8.  These rolls then take into account that the while the DM may not be amused, the captain might not be.  Even something jovial could gain the player only 1 point.

Okay, what do we use capital for?  Let me provide a clear list of the player's options:
apology ~ ask a general question ~ ask a personal question ~ banter ~ discuss objective facts ~ give an opinion ~ give information ~ small talk ~ talk about oneself ~ talk about others

I'll go easy on the definitions.  A general question concerns anything that is not directly related to the captain or the captain's life choices: for example, a question about the value of his schooner is personal, but a question about it's size isn't.  A question about the cargo or the captain's chosen profession is personal, but how much lobster he catches a day isn't.  It's a fine line.

Banter strictly describes wit (and is hard to produce, particularly if it's in good taste).  Objective facts, opinions and information refers to meaningful subjects; like things that are not meaningful are small talk.  Anything related to our agenda ~ desires, purpose, our sore feet, etc. ~ is talking about ourselves.  Talking about others refers only to people who are not present in any way.

Everything on this list is a risk except small talk.  A general question is -1 capital, as is talking about yourself.  A personal question is -3 capital.  Banter, objective facts, opinions, information and talking about others gives +1 capital if the captain agrees, and -2 capital if the captain disagrees.

And there is one other element here that isn't specific to a form of parley: giving offense.  Twice in this post I've added the qualifier, "in good taste."  Anything in bad taste, or anything that sounds like condescension, ignorance, refusal to answer, etc., can be rated as "giving offense."  And that's -1d4 capital.

Got it?

So you come out on the dock as a druid and say to the captain, "Hello, I'm Drake the Druid and I'm looking for a boat."  -1 capital.  You start with zero and so you're already in the hole.  Any time you're in the hole, you make a charisma check.  We've already agreed that you've got some in common with the captain, so your tone of voice when you introduced yourself wasn't that off, so we'll grant you your full charisma for the check (but -1 from your capital).  You fail and the captain says, "Who cares, get off my dock," in a tone that makes it pretty clear that you've already goofed.  You succeed and the captain says, "Yeah?  So tell me how that matters to me?"

Careful now.  You're still at -1 capital.  If you ask a question, it's another minus, so that's not a good idea.  You can give information, but it's up to you the player to pick words that the captain will find to his liking, or that's a stiff penalty.  Small talk is safest ~ gets you out of the hole.  But what do you actually say that sounds like small talk, when you've just been asked for information?

That's your problem.  I'm just measuring the numbers as DM.  If you sound insipid, I'll roll 1d4 and reduce your capital for giving offense.  But you realize, suddenly, that you can give an apology.  "I'm sorry, that was rude of me.  You have a fine boat.  It looks fit and trim."  This observation is bound to obtain agreement from the captain, so you gain +1 capital and you're back to zero.  No checks needed.

The captain growls, "What would you be wanting my boat for?"

Talk about yourself?  Risky.  "I was just thinking," you say, struggling to find small talk.  "It is a fine morning.  Fresh air, talks of opportunities, doesn't it?"  Hard to disagree, basically it's small talk, though not the greatest.  Roll 1d4 capital.  You get a 4.

Awesome.  You've got room to play.  You can ask a direct, non-personal question ~ hell, you can ask four of them.  Do you know the peninsula, how far is it, what's the ship's tonnage and what is the shore like over there?

But we can ask a personal question, one about the captain himself: do you take passengers?  That's -3 capital ... and for the record, ALL personal questions require a check.  But preferably not a charisma check.

A lot of you ought to recognize this.  I don't mention it much, but I did steal some from B/X in my early days playing, as I had a copy of these rules.  I used the reaction table from B/X for a few years after I finally ditched the horrible notion from AD&D.

I'm puzzled by the "roll again" result, which seems time-wasting.  My goal is to repurpose the table, anyway.  Offer refused simply means a loss of -1 or -2 capital, in addition to the question asked.  A positive answer gives a bonus of +1 or +2 capital.  "Yes, I do take passengers!  How many?"

The result of 6-8 can simply be, the captain answers the question, according to the DM's take.  A 6 might give the answer, "I never have before," with an 8 being the opposite.  "I've been known to do so."

But some of you will notice that the best result still leaves you down -1 capital overall ... whereas the worst result leaves you at -5 capital overall.  Well, to that I say, life isn't fair.  The captain is balanced against you to start; he doesn't know you, you threaten to create problems, he's risking his vessel to a bunch of strangers, whatever.  Whereas pushing you off is safer and he loses nothing he didn't have.  That's a sentiment you have to get past.  But as long as you've got positive capital, you can keep trying, keep making small talk or offering observations the captain would like.  "Surely, sir," you say, "A value of 3 g.p. for me and my four companions, plus what we can carry ourselves, would help your situation this month with regards to the harbour fees and such."

"Yeah," agrees the captain.  +2 capital, 5 total now.  Captain rolls reaction, gets a 7.  "5 g.p. each would help my books even better."

Is this the moment to close this deal?  We don't even know how far it is, yet, or if there's even a beach.  Does the captain know where we want to go?  And who says the captain isn't going to slice our throats.  Did we think about that, with our 5 points of capital?  This isn't just about closing the deal.


This may be too complicated for legitimate play ~ and I realize a fair number of DMs couldn't tell an observation or a statement of fact from small talk if their lives depended on it.  There's a lot of deconstruction going on here in a few seconds of chatter, that quite a few would find hard to manage in terms of numbers ... and, of course, there's still that pesky truth that the DM doesn't want to ditch the players here on the quay, if adventure is right across the bay.

But, as a thought experiment ... capital drops into the negatives and it's a charisma check to manage a willingness on the other person not to end the parley over a choice of words.  Whereas on the other hand, gaining capital is the player's responsibility; the player has to come up with good sentences and decide how far to press their luck with regards to opinions, ideas and hard questions.  The player who manages everything through small talk has no right to complain when the captain turns out to be a pirate.  Play it safe in a parley and risk not protecting yourself in advance.

Post Script

Let me just add that this post must seem a little strange after the bitter pace of my last one, written early this morning.  This is a part of my thinking process.  There may be things I put to paper that make me look like a raving lunatic, or reveal me as an embittered cynic ... but for all those emotional quandaries, they don't describe the whole person.

Whatever hateful natures I have broiling in me, this is part of a simmering brew of creativity and innovation, unrestrained by social mores and appropriate emotional discourse.  All that I have written this morning, ALL of it, came into my mind in the last four hours.  I got out of bed at nine having not one iota of any of this thought experiment in my head ... and yet, like a muse possessing me, I sit down and all of the above comes out, without my knowing how or why this appears so thorough and pre-planned.

I still question my posts of bitter free associations, but I can't deny that there is something in my personal creation process that demands a rampaging pillaging first, to lay the ground bare for the construction that follows after.  It astounds me as much as anyone.  These four posts have been my creating in real time, word by word, paragraph by paragraph.  I think better when I write than I do at any other time; and so, when I can't think, I settle in to write and things ... come out.  So it goes.