Monday, June 18, 2018

Update to NPC's Lie

If you have access to the masterclass blog, I just wanted to give a head's up that there is a small update that I have added to the end of the post, which should have been included in the post.  It was overlooked because I forgot to take note of it.  This is a mistake I am taking steps to ensure I don't make again.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Point and Click ~ Remaining Dev-6 Graphs

Father's Day and I am happily sitting at home working on projects that I love.  I'm not a fan of the day; I don't make my daughter cater to me, which puts her in the position of having to cater to her in-laws instead.  Which is a shame, but ... c'est la vie.

I'm completing the remaining knowledge tables that apply to regions with a 6 Development: animal husbandry, archery, mining and the wheel.  Here's the four of those things, all at once:

Animal Husbandry



The Wheel

Saturday, June 16, 2018

NPCs Lie

I want to say as a DM that there is little that frustrates me as much as role-players who must treat every encounter with excessive dramatic importance, that see every NPC like a pantomime villain or themselves as the center of the setting's universe.  Of course, this is trained into players, who are the center of the universe as far as most settings go.  It is no mystery for a player that the king of the country wants to meet with them personally, or that some powerful wizard has taken the time to choose this particular no account group of wanderers for the most important adventuring business imaginable.  The tropes surrounding role-playing are as anvilicious as they are common, particularly in that savvy players ~ most of all ~ come to expect the anvil to be dropped right on their heads, all the time.

So much that they can't help themselves from looking straight up at the DM, waiting for it.

This is a trial and a half if the goal is to run a nuanced, subtle campaign where the NPCs have their own lives, their own agendas, and couldn't care a whit for the party's involvement ... in fact, the party's involvement is often directly not desirable.  Yet with some parties, as the DM sets up the scene where the townspeople all appear to say, "Get out, you're not wanted here," we can count on the players to hear that with a *nudge nudge* *wink wink* no matter what we say or how we say it.

This is probably the hardest issue I have with experienced players.  It is a problem I never have with newcomers.  This tells me that it is a problem that is trained into players, most likely by badly designed adventures, supported by poorly written exposition to enable the most cliched of motivators.  The ever-present MacGuffin, for example, that we cling to as DMs because it's easy and players understand it.

All too often when we don't use a blunt instrument to put the adventure into the player's skulls, it just doesn't get there.

Antoine le Nain's Three Strangers

At the start of my online campaign in 2009, members of the party stepped out of the town of Dachau and into the nearby countryside.  Whereupon I described this simple scene:
DM: You find a small collection of eight cotter's shacks, cotters being landless people allowed to occupy the lord's land in exchange for their perpetual labor. This being Sunday, none are at work in the fields, but are instead commanded to not work at any activity.
Despite your efforts to remain hidden, your darker appearance against the white boughs is noticed rather quickly. Several men, who had been lounging and waiting for the sun to fall, rise now, grasping the nearest club like object to hand and stand staring at you distrustfully.

Here we have a perfectly reasonable reaction on the part of the cottagers.  This is their home.  It is Sunday and they are surrounded by their families.  Strangers show up, armoured and with weapons, in a place where no one with the money to buy armor has any reason to go.  Of course they're going to be distrustful!  Of course they're going to be sure they have hold of a club or two.  Being that its a party, there's no livery on these strangers, no indication that its the guard.  The party could be anyone!

continued elsewhere ...

This is the first of two such posts I will be writing in the month of June for the Tao's Master Class blog, where the rest of this post can be found. Examples on the Tao of D&D blog can be found here and here.

To see the rest of this post, you must pledge at least $3 to my Patreon account. This will enable you to see all material to date on the Master Class, but you must do it soon if you wish to see this post before July 1st.

Because it is difficult to keep track of who is donating $3 to me each month, I am no longer accepting small direct donations for the Master Class blog.

Working ...

I just want to drop a note to say that I'm working on the masterclass post for mid-June and should have that post up by tomorrow.   I want to give it my best effort and I am rethinking some of the ideas inside the content.

I'm also preparing for a podcast I've been invited on, that's being recorded tomorrow.  I'll keep the reader posted on that, of course.

This is just a matter of several things coming together at the same time, making my mid-June somewhat pressed for time.  Rest assured, the content is coming.

In the meantime, as I met a player of D&D who had not seen the D&D content that appeared on Sixty Minutes in the 1980s, I offer this:

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Agriculture Graph

When I started this process, I thought the layout was going to be nit-picky and arduous, but to tell the truth I'm rather enjoying it.  Most of this research was already done; so most of what I'm doing here is reformatting ... but I am finding that process more relational and comparative than the collection of notes that I have.  True, the notes are more copious, as is the source material for this.  But working on the charts has been fun.

Agriculture comes into existence with development 6; before that, it is technically "gathering," which is covered on the hunting page.  I have four more of these, before going back to my description of Stavanger ... but even then I have ideas for more visual aids on these same lines, that I look forward to working on.

I am experimenting with different backgrounds.  This seems too washed out for me; a more stark design is called for, but I haven't settled on what that would be.

Incidentally, when I do get to development 7 cultures, and that is in the future, I'll be expanding on all these pages and adding still new ones.  It's all very interesting for me; it locks together several juxtaposed pleasures: history, visual design, game play and worldbuilding, as well as raw creativity.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Mysticism Graph

This covers details on development-5 cultures in my game.  For those who might be interested, you can find further information on shamanism and animism on my wiki, as well as wild magic.  I do recommend searching tokens, totems, ancestor shrines (African) and ancestral shrines (Chinese), the manner in which frankincense is cultivated, sacred places, geoglyphs and sacred isles.  All of this makes good adventure fodder, whatever world you might happen to be running.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Hunting Graph

Like the fishing chart, we have the collection of building blocks for the wilderness, in which predatory hunting is the only "knowledge," participated in singly or in groups (such as by wolves or other carnivorous family groups).

Hunting expands technologies and that makes more building blocks at the very bottom level of development ... and that in turn changes when hunting is adjusted by the presence of archery, animal husbandry and agriculture.

I swear.  I'm showing these charts around to my immediate families and players and all I get back is a blank stare and a vague compliment.  I feel like Syndrome.

Fishing Graph

My biggest issue with the development system is keeping the content straight in my head, so that I can tailor changes that enter in with new developments.  Everything in the diagram above is related to just fishing knowledge ... though certain things throughout might be applied to other things, such as bows for hunting or boats for military raiding.  The goal here is only to provide a visual relationship between the actual technical knowledge, what physical things that creates, how that affects culture, what improvements exist, what trade references the improvements derive from and what building blocks are created by the composite of the above.

The table isn't complete, even for the development stages meant.  This includes merely that which I've been able to think of, or which was tagged by something I researched.  There's always room to add something else if the notion of it presents itself.

Just a quick run-down.  References are invented products that are integral to my trade system.  Hexes that serve as physical locations for the presence of these references are called "improvements" ~ which are a special form of building block, which I have been describing at length for many weeks now.  Improvements increase the amount of food, labor or wealth, as well as more esoteric things such as culture, health or happiness, depending on what the reference is.  Most hexes, regardless of possessing an improvement, will have some degree of food, labor or wealth production.  Improvements just improve that.

Building blocks largely derive from technology; but may potentially derive from anything.

Here I'm dividing "knowledge" from "technology" so as to distinguish what is known from what is built with that knowledge.

Finally, cultural aspects derive from the use of technology or knowledge.

Beyond this, I think the table above is self-explanatory.  Please do not hesitate to ask questions about it.

I plan to begin constructing tables like this for every type of knowledge that applies.  So far, apart from fishing, I have introduced hunting, meditation, agriculture, animal husbandry, archery, mining and the wheel.  I then intend to update these as I progress with development stages, while continuing to add more sources of knowledge.  So I have a job ahead of me.

I was originally trying to build the table above in excel; but it was simply getting visually out of hand.  I am hoping this more graphic example is clearer, more flexible and ultimately more readable by people who don't have the benefit of reading my thoughts.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Starvation & Half-Rations

Recently, the online party in the Juvenis campaign miscalculated the depth of the dungeon they were entering and found themselves unexpectedly short of food ... and to deal with the problem as a DM, I found myself turning to a very old methodology that I'd developed more than two decades ago.  All this time, I had never actually built a set of rules to manage starvation.  As I write this, the trial has passed for the party, but I find myself wanting to settle on a hunger-starvation system nonetheless.

The principle problem is that it can take humans an extremely long time to die by starvation, particularly if they are able to get at least a little food.  For example, 19 men survived a journey of 1,500 miles on an ice floe for six months at the close of the disastrous Polaris expedition, from 1871 to 1873.  These are men who had been on bare rations for a year prior to the loss of their ship Polaris, who survived by straining just enough shrimp from the sea to give them each as little as an ounce a day, supported by the killing of a very rare seal, which might be gotten once in three to four weeks.  And a seal does not go far between 19 men.

Some people do just give out ... but many will survive, though they may not find the energy to act.  The goal, then, is to not to build a system of saving throws, in which the character simply dies, but a slow, grinding means of eventually killing a character off, while giving the potential for that character to survive a long, long time.

My idea is that the character would suffer acutely right at the start.  That going without food initially has a severe effect, dropping the character's ability stats badly on the first day of feeling the pinch, and an equal amount on the second day.  However, while this penalty doesn't go away, the severity of the increase diminishes as time passes.

Suppose the character is reduced to acting on half rations, and we want to know precisely what sort of effect that will have.  I propose the table on the right as an initial proposal ~ there's more to come on the subject, but I want to be sure this part is understood first.

"Half-rations" is defined as an insufficient amount of food, below the amount that is required, but more than half that amount.  If we suppose the character needs 2 kg of food in a given day in order to do heavy work, spread between two or three meals, then half rations would be anywhere between 1 kg and less than 2 kg.  How much less is really up to us; but for game purposes, we don't want to reward the clever player who figures out that we will handwave two grams below the amount needed.  We should then consider the numbers to be absolute.

Still, if we want to quibble, there's room for it on this table.  If a day of half rations lowers your ability stats by 10%, we can argue that 1.9 kg should reduce the stats only 1/10th of 10%, or a mere 1%.  It depends on how fine we want to split that hair.  We can argue that even 1% less than a 17 is 16.83, which we can state is a defacto 16 for game purposes.  That would discourage players from splitting hairs ... but we can go full game, too, and say that any deficiency in the amount of food is enough to cut stats the full 10%.  I personally lean to this approach, as I just don't want to reward cheap players.

Okay, let me explain the table.  As I say, that 1st day hurts, as does the 2nd day.  Both see a severe drop in the character's stats.  But then the idea of living with hunger begins to take hold, so that the 3rd and 4th days cause an additional penalty of only 5% each.  The 5th, 6th and 7th days add a penalty of only 3.3% each.  And finally the 8th through 12th days cause further penalties of only 2% per day.

I am extrapolating this on the Fibonacci series (endlessly useful), so that further 10% segments are successively divided by 8, 13, 21, 34 and 55.  Altogether, that would create a starvation that would kill everyone in 143 days, or just under five months, somewhat crueler than the measure of the Polaris expedition survivors, but in line with other, similar experiences, such as Shackleton's adventure or John Franklin's first expedition ~ the one he wasn't lost in ~ overland through the Northwest Territories.  However, this doesn't take into account the effects of eating less than half rations.  How would that work?

My choice would be to count quarter rations up to half rations as two days of starvation; and then to count one-eighth rations up to a quarter rations as three days.  Anything less than one-eighth would count as four days.  That would bring starvation around a little faster than the Polaris expedition, but then we're not dealing with the healthier 19th century human.  In any case, one could live a long, long time on one-eighth rations.

My food rules say that a sedentary character, one who needs to do little more than rest, make food for themselves and manage the small duties of living in a camp, must eat two pounds of food a day (my 17th century system uses imperial units).  One-eighth of this is a mere 4 oz. per day.  If the character tried to do hard work, that would require twice as much; and if the character were to take a part in battle, three times as much.  But let's say we're sedentary characters, with little food, waiting to be rescued before we all die of starvation.  Or by some other means.

How would this work, exactly.  Well, that's a very long table ... but let's go as far as 33 days.  From day 13 to day 20, the character is losing 1.25% of their stats each day, and from day 21 through day 33, the character is losing only 0.77% of their stats each day:

Here we can see the days of reduction to stats applied to a real character, that of Rob Munro the Scot from my Juvenis campaign, a druid.  The numbers drop precipitously at the start, quickly flattening out at the high scores drop into the sixes and sevens after two weeks.  The reader can see that I've highlighted the ability stats as they drop, in lighter orange for the most part, and under the dexterity at one point, in a darker tone.

The first shading indicates the point at which the druid no longer has the necessary stats to act as a druid.  Being old school regarding D&D stats, the druid needs a 12 wisdom and a 15 charisma; and every other stat has to be 6 or higher, as the old Player's Handbook indicates.  Here, the character's wisdom, dexterity and charisma all fall off the minimum on the third day.  That is sobering.

On the 19th day, the character's dexterity falls below 3, typically viewed as the minimum roll for any character.  I see that as significant, as the point in which the character must make an ability check to perform any dexterous activity, even walking or feeding themselves.  And since that check is going to fail 90% of the time, this particular character is going to suffer very badly from any long-term starvation.  That 7 dexterity is a harsh disability.  Still, there's nothing that says a check to see if the character could walk can't be done as often as necessary, noting the time this would spend as the character eventually got the strength to rise, only to collapse again a few rounds later.

That brings me to the subject of ability checks in general.  When the party was starving in the game of late, I had the active members all make an ability check against a random stat, once per day.  For example, I had the druid here make a check against constitution, which the character succeeded.  On some level, because the characters were following a route through a familiar, cleared dungeon,  I could have asked for more than one check (as it is a dangerous place) ~ but normally, I wouldn't ask for any checks unless the players did something purposefully dangerous.  My logic was that they did not "feel like themselves," and that this justified at least one check.

I think I'd increase the number of checks being made per day over time: perhaps 2 checks per day on the start of the fifth day, then three checks starting on the 9th day, and so on.  After a while, though the characters could manage to stay alive, they'd yet become virtually helpess ... particularly as every stat dropped below a 3.

That 3 could be treated as another threshold, where constitution was concerned.  Breathing is a constitutional action.  Just as the heart beating is a strength issue; or being able to think is an intelligence requirement.  At some point, having to be constantly making a roll for these things ought to end in the body just giving up the ghost.

The question is when, or how.  I haven't quite worked that out yet.  I like this scheme so far ... but it still has holes that I need to fill.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Authentic RPG Podcast, with JB

Introducing another episode of my first series of podcasts, with JB from the B/X Blackrazor blog.  JB has been blogging for nine years and playing just about as long as I have.  I get more viewers from his sight than from any other site on the web, 'cept straight from google.  He's an ardent supporter, a regular reader and commenter and in this podcast he does most of the talking.

Please raise a glass to JB's efforts, enjoy the podcast and take a moment or two to consider whether or not you'd like to get involved with my second season of podcasts, which I'll be explaining in about two weeks, when I publish my last podcast of the first season.

I'm sorry that these have gotten further and further apart.  I think with my personal style, I'm comfortable with putting out a podcast when it is done, and not when a schedule dictates.  I guess I'm just too much of a Bohemian to respect schedules.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Stavanger Development 6: Introduction

If you've not been following along with this series, you'll want to start with this index post, with a list of the foregoing content relative to what's written below.

I can't say how much readers would like me to continue expanding on the Stavanger village adventure, regarding the wolf, the Sand clan, the shaman and the chief.  If that's to your fancy, let me know and I'll write a post outlining the rest of my plans there.  If I had a prize to give, I could create some sort of challenge to come up with the best set of possibilities ... just now, I'm anxious to move on with the next part of my program.

The year is 1237.  The settled lands and population of Rogaland have expanded considerably over the past three and a half centuries.  Stavanger itself is now a town of 1,628 people.  The whole population of Rogaland has tripled, to over 3,900.  New clans have come into existence; old clans have expanded their importance.  Rogaland is now considered to have a development of 6.

How, I'll ask, should we contrast the above with the previous map?  It isn't enough to say there are more people, or that three and a half centuries have passed.  What exactly does that mean?  How has Rogaland changed?  What about it matters to us as DMs, and the way we're going to run this region?

These are questions I've been asking since 2015, that I've failed to succeed answering in two previous attempts. I have better answers now, from research that I've done, but the answers are deep, complicated and far reaching.  And this still isn't a land of complex development.  But the full measure of that will have to be managed at another time.

My starting place has been the technology growth itself, so I will start there.  In the past 345 years, Rogaland has developed agriculture; animal husbandry; archery; mining; and the wheel.  They did not invent any of these; but their use has spread into the region, so that these things are typical now, complete with social effects and the knowledge that comes with knowing how to do these things.

Let's look at these things one-by-one, starting with the old technologies of fishing, hunting and mysticism.

Fishing has changed.  Where once the settlers simply did their best to catch the fish that were there, using primitive boats, now the boats have expanded into Viking warships ... these, however, at least in Rogaland, lack good sailing technology.  Some adventurers from Rogaland have raided outwards in these last two centuries, but primarily the coasts of Denmark and northern Germany, lands that can be reached by coastal journeys.

Some old fishing grounds are played out.  However, better and stronger boats now enable the residents to reach further out from the shores, finding other fishing grounds in deeper water.  The old Stavanger fishing ground continues to sustain the population ... however, common practice now selects stocks, in order to ensure a larger stock of fish.  Inland, the widespread presence of the bow (see Archery, below) has resulted in widespread bowfishing ... which is now seen by some as a recreational activity, rather than the old desperate efforts to ensure food for the clans.  With agriculture (see below), food is plentiful; so some activities have taken on a new bent.

Hunting, for example, is not what it was.  There are still bands of pure hunters, particularly in the wildest areas, but far more meat is now obtained by professional hunters, who use the bow and improved techniques to track and kill game, which is then sold in the village of Treborg, in the northwest, or in Stavanger, or to some of the larger rural clans.

Hunting has developed a new purpose, as well: the importance of keeping wild animals from feeding on croplands, or encroaching on civilized areas.  These things combine to initiate the development of the ranger class, who operate as scouts and foresters, learning to know the wild and protecting civilized places from it.

Mysticism is a strange adjustment.  Rogaland has been declared Christian.  The Christian church of St. Svithun's was completed some 90 years ago.  But is Rogaland really Christian?  Or is that in name only.

My call is that the religion is meant to be Christian, but like most fundamentally pagan cultures, the old ways continue to possess the minds of the people.  This dichotomy is called "folk religion."  A certain class of persons in the region do believe in Christianity; but the majority hold onto their pagan beliefs, ideals and cultural touchstones.  Most in Rogaland will never have seen St. Svithun's Domkirke in Stavanger.  To them, it has little meaning in their lives.

At the same time, however, the shaman seeks to withdraw from this mix of expressions, seeking greater unity with nature and a more enlightened perspective.  This is the beginning of the druid class.

Agriculture is the most notable development.  It is hard to fathom what a game changer it is.  It greatly increases food supply and makes the population sedentary instead of moving.  This advances the permanency of housing; and the elaboration of rooms designed for different purposes within the house.  The year becomes cyclical based on the requirements of agriculture: planting, harvest, different crops grown at different times of year and so on.  The crops need tending, which creates a different social structure from the previous clan life. Where before, everyone shared, no matter who obtained the food, now the principle is everyone works for their share; those who refuse are exiled.  The need to control and manage labor creates a structure for controlling and managing disputes of all kind.  Division of fields creates notions of property and private ownership.  These are considerable changes guiding a culture than what we saw with Stavanger in 892.

Animal Husbandry, too, increases the food supply, adds to ideas of ownership and helps specialize part of the population as herders, fence makers, protective hunters, tanners, leather workers and butchers.  The proliferation of animal products increases the need to trade for other sorts of food, creating a bartering economy ~ where regular exchanges, rather than individual negotiations, are common.  We always provide a certain amount of eggs or milk through the year in exchange for our stipend of grain; such-and-such an amount of leather is always exchanged for this much fish; and regular tributes in foods and products are given to members of the community who have certain entitled positions.

Horses are raised for transport, but not for war (not yet), in some cultures associated with the wheel (see below).  Dogs as companions, (but not war dogs) with minimal herding skills,  are bestowed as puppies throughout the clans, sometimes between clans.  Buildings protecting and controlling animals (sheep, pigs, fowl, goats) create "yards" around houses, further enhancing the idea of privacy and ownership.  This privacy begins to disrupt clans, as immediate families become more precious than extended families.

Archery is practiced for a number of reasons; defense and hunting, yes, but also for sport and as a competitive activity.  Contests inspire seasonal festivals, supported by the agricultural cycle, as gatherings for mass consumption of food, or the effort needed to plant many fields, naturally bring whole communities together.

Mining encourages individualism, as single persons separate from the main community to seek gems, placer metals or ores that can be exchanged with foreigners in Stavanger.  This is a whole different economy; while the residents of Rogaland in 1237 have no need for such things, being unable to smelt metals, and seeing gems as merely objects, such things can bring in very small supplies of outside goods, which will be possessed by a few but not by the majority.  One fellow in a clan may have a sword or a metal-headed spear ... but most would be limited to wooden weapons.

The mule does not exist, but donkeys do; and primitive sluice boxes are within the ken of the region's development.  There are no laws that govern mine extraction or taxes, but little protection exists for prospectors who work alone in the wild.

The Wheel creates changes of its own.  Carts are built, causing the proliferation of cart tracks between close communities.  Being that Stavanger has no overland connection with any other village or town (Treborg is more easily reached by water), cart tracks are few.  Some would exist around both Stavanger and Treborg.  Carts are built by carters and wheelwrights, further increasing the barter economy.  The use of donkeys and horses to pull carts increases the transfer of materials and communication.  Along with better water craft, the region of Stavanger is more closely in touch, both within and without the community.

The region of Stavanger is not developed enough to have a monarchy ~ it is too primitive and rural to sustain a local lord.  Rather, it would be a tribute province of outside kings.  So long as a certain amount of tribute is produced each year, to be collected in Stavanger, the local customs and privileges would be more-or-less ignored.  There simply isn't enough wealth to encourage an outsider to more purposefully fleece the population.  Even the agriculture isn't excessive.  There are no kilns to make bricks and no central planning to create public buildings, like granaries.  Instead, it is a quiet, primitive country backwater, but obviously much improved these past three and a half centuries over what it was.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

10 Years

On May 28th, 2018, this blog passed its tenth year of existence.  More than 2,600 posts, more than 2 million page views, quite a lot of flame wars that are now falling further and further in the past, several efforts to sustain a wiki and an ongoing campaign to change minds about the game and what it's capable of giving.

Strange to think of the size and scope of this thing.  I used to regularly get readers who would let me know they were reading the blog from the beginning.  That's not happening much, lately.  I wouldn't recommend it.  My best stuff is definitely in the last four years, plus what readers have voted on as worth reading.  Most of the rest is lashing out, mumbling, struggling to make things clear to myself and a whole lot of attempted ideas that crashed and burned.  But ... it is all part of the process that leads to having a clear vision.

It takes me about an hour to write a thousand word post, a bit more if there are plenty of links or research involved.  2600 posts at 600 words a post (which, for me, is very conservative) is 1.56 million words ... or 1,560 hours, all by itself.  Triple that to account for thinking about this blog, posts that got ditched rather than completed, time spent in the comments section, plus the actual slower pace that I probably had when writing here and we're half-way there to the ten thousand hour rule for blogging.

I fully expect to still be doing this ten years from now.