Thursday, October 30, 2008


Lately, the task of moving has been eating up much of my time, not to mention the process of packing away books, papers and various other source material. Thus, I have not been posting here.

In my free time, I continue to research my way through India and China, and am sad to say there is less on the internet regarding either than I would wish. However, working my way through Sichuan Province (old Szechwan), I ran across this:

Amazing. This is the Leshan Giant Buddha, which measures 233 feet. According to wikipedia, "Construction was started in AD 713, led by a Chinese monk named Haitong. He hoped that the Buddha would calm the turbulent waters that plagued the shipping vessels travelling down the river."

Note the stairwell next to the Buddha. I'd love to see this as a battleground, which is my nature. But the image is pure inspiration.

Wouldn't it be interesting to have the Buddha rise (a hundred-times stone golem) and quell a flood just before it destroyed the river vessel of the party. Would the party be grateful, I wonder?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Cards for Gear

On Saturday, I introduced the element of using cards to represent pieces of equipment into my D&D campaign.

This has involved, so far, having the party write out legibly their equipment, so that I can replace their lists with cards, each marked with encumbrance values. I plan to have these cards ready for the players at the beginning of our next running.

It also involved the first time that treasure obtained was given to the party in the form of cards. I had made them up ahead of time, and once the baddies were all nicely butchered, the cards were made available to the party.

Now, a little background, if you will. Up until this last running, the party has been neatly dividing up treasure, highest roll claiming the choicest pieces and so on. I was not certain how the cards would change this arrangement…but I can describe the result.

Or rather, I can give you a sense of the result.

It was necessary for me to make the rule that if the card was damaged or bent, the item would be considered broken or destroyed.

This immediately calmed the free-for-all.

It is profound how quickly the prospect of a physical card made getting a hold of the +2 hammer a much more immediate thing. People talk of somehow adding emotionalism to the general role-play…you should watch five people dive for a stack of cards once given.

I realize now, of course, that the actual physical distribution of the treasure is going to be an issue. Rather than presuming that bodies are searched, and coins are gathered from sacks or from piles on the floor, then added together and tallied, I really will have to distribute my treasure according to the physical placement of characters in the room.

I admit, I’ve gotten lazy about that. After so long of dealing with people wanting to search bodies and open chests, I’ve lost all interest in detailed descriptions of what is in the small belt pouch as opposed to the backpack…and now I have been duly corrected in that. Because if I don’t carefully manage how the various loot is found, there are going to be fist fights during my campaigns.

What I did like was the after trading that went on once the cards were gracelessly distributed. Although there were more than sixty different items of treasure, the actual distribution was accomplished in very little time. The trades were made quickly and quietly, with everyone keeping silent about what they had actually found in their hands. It was impossible for anyone to tell if they had the better or the worse of the deal…since they couldn’t see what others had.

Since I’ve adopted the rule proposed by Jim of Lamentations of the Flame Princess, that wealth receives no initial X.P., getting it only when it is spent on character-building purposes such as establishing homes or getting drunk, I did not need to distribute experience after the fact that would allow players to compare how well they did. And since my world does not have a “one-item one-price” methodology on account of my trade tables, the items DO NOT include a g.p. value, either.

So if someone has a card that says, “silver snuffbox with six amber carbuncles,” how valuable is that, really? Of course they can’t know unless they hie thee to a jewelers, or they have some legitimate experience themselves. At which point I can give them the local value…secretly.

Thus, this has been a rocking success. The party has discovered how desperately greedy they are, the new concept is quick and workable, and there are unexpected variants to how players will react and inter-play.

What more could a campaign ask for?

Friday, October 17, 2008


I know weather isn’t very interesting. I know that writing about it for two posts won’t win me any awards for viewership. And for that I apologize.

But I can’t run this blog on the subject material I find elsewhere on more “popular” blogs. I couldn’t begin to review the endless parade of sad products dumped out by the various RPG companies, nor pause to give credit their authors; I’m not prepared to enter into long debates on the virtues of one fictional magician book series over another; or propose whole new kinds of RPGs based on the movie I saw last week. These are the things that bore me.

I’m not connected to the whole media side of the game. There is in this city a local fantasy gaming store that has been in existence since 1979. When I was fifteen, I would enter it all agog and frustrated that I didn’t have gobs of money with which to buy the product one shelf at a time. When I was 18 and working, I spent those gobs of money…but I slowly grew jaded as I became more familiar with what was available. Since my friends were spending their gobs too, we all had access to pretty much anything.

By 21, I had made my choices about what my world was going to be and what kinds of games I wanted to play. Having a “new” game to play didn’t make much sense to me…like having someone show up to every baseball game with the suggestion that we try playing it by different rules. I didn’t want any new rules, and neither did my serious players. We wanted to get “good” at the game we had. We wanted to get skillful at it.

By 24, I’d stopped going to the gaming store altogether. It was just the same stuff on the shelves, year after year. Another module, another round of miniatures we didn’t need (we had lots, and we were spending money on other things); more gaming aids, made more cheaply than the ones we had at home. More dice. Always, more dice.

I could never find the sort of thing I really wanted: an intelligent system for siege warfare or mass warfare…not just for a few hundred warriors, but for thousands. Something that would include seagoing vessels, which would give me practical rules on how many hits they could withstand from a ballista in relation to their size (not just for one pre-determined size of ship). A miniature that wasn’t another freaky looking thief, that was just a goddamn human soldier. An ordinary, everyday human fucking soldier. Maybe fifty of them, with a convenient number on the base for telling them apart…


Other things too. But really, I found most of what I needed at the university. Almost everything I’ve ever done with my world came out of a library, not a store.

I could talk for a long time about my world…that’s why I started this in the first place. Not because I really care if anyone reads this. I have to talk, to get it off my chest. In person, it just bores people glassy-eyed.

I had been thinking…why do I care about weather, really? Yes, I do think it makes things real, but why is that important? Clearly, real isn’t a big requirement for a lot of players. The recent go around about heroes was enough to prove that.

I think I care about weather because I want my world to be a world. I want it to be a place where a player can stand on at a crossroads and know two things:

The first is that no matter which way they may choose to go, what happens to them will depend on their decision and not on some predestined schedule dreamed up by the DM. I’ve played in enough worlds where the DM had it all set up in advance: west road, east road or south road, they would all lead to a village, where lizard men would be terrorizing the population and the players would have to throw off that tyranny…

If there are three roads, I want clearly in my mind three possibilities—and I want to be limited as a DM to the adventure the party chooses. Tough luck for me if it isn’t my dream-running.

The second thing I want is that everything is a part of a whole. I’ve also run in too many campaigns where, once the lizards are removed and the village saved, none of that remotely matters in the next campaign. I don’t want my world to be a series of individual stories, loosely tied together with geography. I want a single unified adventure, one that reaches forward into an uncertain future and leaves behind a rich and varied past.

The idea that there isn’t an “end” to an adventure is paramount for my world, I think. I always knew as a player that when we were told to get this jewel or save this princess or whatever, that was what was going to happen…like sitting in a film and knowing in the first five minutes that no matter what happens, Brad Pitt will still be standing when its all over. And bored as I might have been as a player, I can’t imagine running that as a DM. After all, as a DM, I don’t go up levels.

To make any of it happen, I need to run a “world”…not Adventure A followed by Adventure B followed by Adventure C. I’d rather the party discussed going south for the winter and establishing a second defensive depot in the off-season than standing around listening to yet another dull description of how such and such a kingdom was once happy until the blah monster arrived. I’d rather the party coming to blows with each other over what official religion the fiefdom will declare (there are two religions in the party, one among the common people) rather than paying lip-service to NPC gods. I’d rather the party contemplate their own plans for global domination, rather than foil the plans of NPC villains. If someone in the party does good, I want it to be for their own reasons, not mine. If someone does evil, I want no more retribution for that act than a real world would offer…either the individual wisely covers their tracks or they make enemies. I myself am wholly impartial to the event.

For that kind of world, I need weather, and an economy, and social structures large enough to allow for tours. An adventure is too small a thing. I want a campaign.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Measuring Helsinki

All right, as promised, here goes.

I do not apologize for the roughness of these tables; I conceived of this method only about a week and a half ago, and all but one of these tables was created last night. You can consider that it means those tables are probably junk…but no worse than the weather tables I’ve seen in 3e editions. I think that this group works pretty well together, and I’ll try to demonstrate that after completing the explanation.

If you’ve read yesterday’s post, I made the proposal that the appearance of cold fronts could be used as a singular method for determining the weather. I’d like to state again that this is a simplification. That is the point. Obviously the science of meteorology cannot be simplified to the consideration of cold fronts alone. But I don’t hope to explain meteorology…I just want a working system that will enable me to easily incorporate weather into my campaign.

The first requirement would be to determine the likelihood of a front occurring:

This table would be consulted on the day after a cold front occurred, and each day following, until a successful roll indicates the arrival of another front. You will note that the likelihood increases as the days pass; this likelihood could easily be adjusted for specific areas of your world or earth…more often for mountain regions, less often for areas nearer to the equator. That would depend on how turbulent you believed were the conditions on your world. For myself, I wanted a reasonable possibility of a front every 4 to 6 days, with a chance (however unlikely) that two weeks of steady weather might occur.

The modifier to wind strength is there so that fronts that follow immediately on top of one another are unlikely to be violent ballbusters. Again, this modifier could be dropped if you thought appropriate, or rearranged to reflect a specific region.

In any case, this brings us to the wind strength table:

The effects indicated are from the Beaufort Scale, which you can research to your heart’s content; various online descriptions of the scale give slightly different wind speeds—I’m using the numbers from my encyclopedia. The effects are merely there to give an impression of what the conditions might be like during travel or during an encounter. It’s interesting to imagine a battle during a strong gale, with bits and pieces of roof tile bouncing off the combatants causing damage.

Please note the front strength given on the left, as it is needful on the storms table.

First however, the level of humidity of the entering cold front and of the pre-existing warm front must be determined:

I’ve arranged this table to show the most common weather provinces. I admit that the numbers are almost entirely ad hoc—I give them here only to get an idea of what they might be. At some point, when I have a week or so, I might dig up some data on humidity of fronts moving into given regions and do the table more accurately; for the moment, however, this is good enough to show how the table ought to work.

It’s quite simple. Roll a % die to see if the cold front is composed of moist air…a failure indicates that it’s dry. Sorry about the cut off headings. They should read,

“% chance that arriving cold front is moist” and “% chance of moist air mass at point of arrival of front.” The latter refers to the pre-existing warm front.

It is also necessary that I post the following table, describing weather grades. This is based in part on the system first proposed in the Wilderness Survival Guide from AD&D, but the numbers are my own:

This is pretty straightforward and easy to understand also. I constructed it a few years ago as I was struggling with cold and heat effects and how they’re mitigated by clothing; but that’s another story.

Okay, there’s only one table left:

This table is suitable only for the turbulent zone between 30 and 60 degrees latitude…and it quite general in its descriptive effects to allow plenty of latitude on the part of the DM in describing just what the conditions are. This table should be used as a guideline. Again, at some point I may sit down and devise a much more complicated and detailed descriptive table of the specific results, for each season and for each weather province, but that’s not necessary for this demonstration.

The temperature drop refers to the number of grades that the temperature falls below the average temperature for a given locale. Since in the days following the previous cold front the weather has been steadily improving, the actual drop will be greater…unless fronts have followed two days in a row, in which case it is possible that the second, more likely weaker front would actually be warmer than the first front. If you follow me.

Regarding the rainfall modifier given: if we presume sixty cold fronts in the space of a year, which would be five per month. To determine the given rainfall of a specific locale, divide the monthly average by five and then multiply against the modifier given to determine the number of inches of rain.

Yeah, I know. This is all as clear as mud. Let’s work out an example using all the tables.

Let’s say the party is in Helsinki, Finland, or in a region very much like it. It is October the 16th. A cold front arrived last Friday, and since that time—up until yesterday—the weather has been steadily improving. But for today we’ve rolled a 3 on a d20, indicating a cold front.

There is no modifier to the wind strength, so we roll a % die, obtaining a 64, which we compare against the “maritime” column, as Helsinki is within 100 miles of the sea (its right on the Baltic, for those who don’t know). The wind strength table indicates a fresh wind, with small trees swaying and moderate waves on the sea—a “weak” front.

Helsinki is in a humid cool continental zone; in the autumn there is a 15% chance that the cold front is moist, and a 73% chance that the existing warm front is moist. We roll a 35 and a 22, indicating that a dry cold front is moving against a moist warm front.

As it is a dry cold front, the wind would originate in the north to northeast, blowing from the east ice cap/north Russian land mass (a moist front would originate in the Barents Sea, still open at this time of the year). Remember that all cold fronts originate from a easterly direction and are turned counter-clockwise by the motion of the earth.

We compare the relationship of the fronts to the Weak Front Effects table and we find that, in the autumn, it begins to rain. This rain will increase in intensity through the day and overnight, while tomorrow will be cool and the skies relatively clear. By tomorrow afternoon the cold front will have passed entirely, whereupon we can roll to see if the warm front that flows into the air space behind the front is moist or not; we roll a 51 and find that it is. We get no cold front for Friday or Saturday, so the warm front raises the temperature a grade or two, bringing with it the cloudy skies (and gentle rain) associated with the Baltic Sea basin. For each day that a cold front does not occur, there is a 50% chance per day that the temperature will rise one grade, until a maximum of 4 grades above average is reached. At some point, the next cold front will interrupt this increase, and the pattern begins again.

All there is left to determine is the actual temperature and the actual rainfall. For that, we go to the climate table for Helsinki, where we discover the average temperature for October is 5.5 degrees Celsius, or 41.9 degrees Fahrenheit. That makes the average temperature grade “M”; the temperature drop from the front that occurred today is to drop this 1-2 grades; we roll and find the temperature today is “K”.

I haven’t mentioned it yet, but it should be obvious to some that the temperature K would refer to the mean temperature for the day…the daily high would be one grade better, and the daily low would be one grade worse. Thus, during the afternoon, the temperature would be “L”, meaning rain during the day, turning to “K” in the evening (whereupon the rain would turn to sleet), then “J” overnight (meaning snow) and “K” the following morning. At that point there is a 50% chance that the mean daily temperature would rise to “L” with a high of “M” tomorrow.

Greater increases are possible from the onset of warm fronts…you might want to try an initial increase of 1-4 grades in the summer, 1-3 grades in the spring, 1-2 grades in autumn and 1 grade in winter. Play with it, see what results work for you.

We can now discover the average rainfall for Helsinki for the month of October: total, 68.5 mm or 2.7 inches. Divided by 5, and multiplied by a modifier of 1x according to the table, indicates that during the 24-hour period of this cold front, 13.7 mm or 0.54 inches of rain falls.

Now, how simple is this system? Very simple. In no time at all it’s easy to see that Helsinki is nowhere that a party wants to be in October. Time to get on a boat and head south.

Oh, incidentally, the temperature in Helsinki at the moment (I believe it is 5 P.M.) is grade “O” and the wind from the SE…one of those Baltic Sea moist warm fronts that bring occasional rain.


I need to fix the flaw in my reasoning above. IF the warm front that follows a cold front is a moist front, then rainy weather follows sporadically, with cloud cover, until the next occurrence of a cold front. The skies clear following a cold front only if the warm front that follows is a dry front.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Damn Right I'm Going to Talk About Weather

One of the convenient things about using the earth as a template for a world is that a vast resource of climate data is readily available for temperature, precipitation, humidity, winds and so on. This climate data, further, continues to increase in its detail and availability online. It would be impossible to create a world from scratch which would include, as part of its structure, the sort of detail available for earth—the best that one could do would be to estimate regions of an invented world based upon earth models…and therefore it is still useful to have at least a beginner’s understanding of meteorology.

Climate does not, however, completely describe the picture, as weather is turbulent and unpredictable. The easiest way to devise a system for the game would be to pick a date in the modern era (say, 1981), and then have exact weather reports for places on earth for that year, so that on March 23 as a DM you could say the weather in Lisbon was “this.” It rained all day, the temperature was 9 Celsius, the humidity was 64% and so on.

I’ve never liked that idea. I have wanted a system that could be random, something that would surprise the DM as well as the player…because it would be more fun that way.

I’ve already said that the benefits of having weather in a campaign help make the experience real. There are other reasons. How does weather affect a party that chooses to travel in various environments? How does heat or cold affect the equipment a party can carry or wear? What are the effects of wet weather on health and disease?

Admittedly, weather is such a pain. Virtually every system that has ever been advanced is cumbersome or useless. There are so many variables to weather that a detailed, random system is virtually impossible without dozens of die rolls being made for each day in order to provide results which aren’t irrational or worse, blandly repetitive. DMs can’t be bothered to memorize the tables involved because they can’t see the benefits to their campaigns.

Shelter is one of the three basic necessities to the human condition, but D&D by and large ignores it completely. A typical campaign has a party moving along through the environment, even through a driving rain, with all the concern of someone crossing a living room. It is always presumed that the characters are somehow brave, hearty souls who are unaffected by the wind in their face…but I argue that a wise character has the sense to get out of the rain. Weather is, I believe, another obstacle to be overcome, like traps, lairs or monsters. An untapped obstacle for many campaigns.

A simple system would seem impossible—but I want to make the attempt anyway. For me, if not a simple system, then no system at all.

I have been concentrating, to date, on the turbulent zone between 30 and 60 degrees latitude, where on earth the prevailing westerlies of the horse latitudes are turned northwards by the turning of the earth, coming into conflict with the polar easterlies turned southward. The former manifest as warm fronts, the latter as cold fronts…the conflict between the two creates storms. This conflict creates most of the weather of the United States, Europe, China and Japan. It is the weather with which we are most familiar and it is the weather most difficult to define through a system of dice.

Rather than creating a temperature based system that determines if the weather is warmer or colder than the average with a 50% chance of each, I’ve decided to base the system on the arrival of cold fronts. This is because, inevitably, a cold front will arrive at some point…the question is how long between fronts, how quickly the cold front will be moving and how warm and moist has the warm front become when the cold front arrives. It is the latter two conditions that determine the violence of weather conditions, including blizzards, thunderstorms and tornadoes. The exact moment of interaction between a warm and cold front is the most significant weather event in the turbulent zone.

Typically, a continental region experiences between 50 and 70 cold fronts a year. An intermontane region, such as Tibet or the southeastern American desert, can experience up to 180 cold fronts in a year—most of which will “break up” upon crossing over the large mountain systems of the Rockies or the Himalayas. The number therefore can fluctuate greatly depending on the region.

Cold fronts may be weak or strong; slow-moving or fast moving; massive or small. These things are determined by the season, by the topography of a region and by chance. Cold fronts lose their power as they move southward or as the air mass loses its integrity.

Cold fronts may also be moist or dry. Winter cold fronts moving over icy terrain from the frozen Arctic Ocean are typically dry. In winter or summer, cold fronts originating over the north Atlantic or Pacific are typically moist.

When interacting with warm fronts within this system, it is important to know the origin of the warm front to determine its humidity. Most large warm fronts of Earth are moist, as most originate from the Indian, Pacific or Atlantic Oceans. Warm fronts originating in the Sahara are dry, however; and many warm fronts, passing over mountains such as those of Iran or the Rocky Mountains, lose their moisture and are also dry.

Desert areas experience both cold and warm fronts which are consistently dry, either because of the origin of the fronts or because they are surrounded by mountains which leech the moisture from the air. Turkestan, Western China and southeast America are good examples of this.

Rainforests experience both cold and warm fronts that are consistently moist. Many jungles experience only warm fronts, as they are located at the equator. For places like Japan, Britain, Norway or British Columbia, moist cold fronts from the central Pacific and Atlantic consistently provide a great deal of rain with cool—not cold—temperatures.

It is a simplification, but for the sake of sanity, I’m going to argue that warm fronts move in this system only when the cold front has fully moved past a location, leaving a “vacuum.” This means that only cold front movement must be determined.

The following applies to slow-moving cold fronts:

Wherever a moist cold front pushes out a dry warm front, there is cloudy weather and gentle precipitation may result. Whenever a moist cold front pushes out a moist warm front, heavy precipitation results. Whenever a dry cold front pushes out a dry warm front, cold or cool clear skies result—potentially very cold, in winter. Whenever a dry cold front pushes out a moist warm front, a steady rain will result, increasing as the fronts push against one another.

In each of the examples above, a fast-moving cold front increases the intensity of the storm.

A moist cold front rushing at a dry warm front will produce cool, light rain over a long period. A moist cold front rushing at a moist warm front will produce a highly violent series of thunderstorms, known as a squall line, often three or four in one day, with considerable amounts of rain. A dry cold front rushing at a dry warm front will produce very brief thunderstorms (often without rain) associated with windstorms, funnel clouds or tornadoes. A dry cold front rushing at a moist warm front will produce a large, lasting and very violent thunderstorm, associated with hail and tornadoes.

So, the task would be to A) determine the chance that today a cold front is arriving; B) determine the humidity (moist or dry) of both the cold front and the dry front—both having specific likelihoods depending on the season; C) the strength of the front (weak or strong…I don’t want to be more specific than that) and D) the speed with which the front is moving, determining the violence of the results.

I haven’t actually crafted the table that will designate the speed with which a cold front is moving; I believe I’ll sit down tonight and do so. The table would have to include the expected effects associated with the speed—should be interesting. I’ll try to post have it done and post it tomorrow. Should be interesting.

I’ll also want to begin discussing the after effects of the cold front moving through. The day after, its presumed that the resulting weather would reflect the humidity of the front that’s passed, clear skies or cloudy…which would then lead to steadily clearing weather as the cold front moved farther away, replaced by the warm front bringing either clear skies or humid clouds, which would then be hit by the next cold front.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Food For Thought

Some thoughts on encounters, organized a bit. These are by no means all-inclusive (how could anything be?). But its a start. I've applied some of these to my basic maps before (examples of which I've posted).

Four types of encounters:

Fabricated encounters include all engineered features which have been built by intelligent hands: bridges, dams, single houses, population centers, plowed fields and so on. Fabricated encounters generally include a cultural component.

Fixed environmental encounters include all natural features which are permanent in nature: rivers, cliff faces, glaciers, chasms, deserts, quicksand, muskeg, lakes and so on.

Unfixed environmental encounters include all those natural conditions which are constantly changing, such as weather, flooding, astronomical events, seismic events and so on.

Biological encounters include meetings with zoological or botanical species, singly or in groups, where divorced from their fabricated surroundings, including the contraction of diseases.

A great many hexes have a pre-determined fabricated component and all hexes have a pre-determined fixed environmental component. Pre-determined fabricated components include villages, towns, cities, croplands and paved roads. Pre-determined environmental components include elevation, drainage, hydrography and vegetation. Both must be treated selectively according to type, to determine the likelihood and nature of biological encounters or unfixed environmental encounters.

Predetermined Hex Types

Human or Demi-human Population: city, town, village, authority centers, scattered, wilderness.
Infrastructure: road, crossroads, bridge, navigable watercourse, pass.
Topographical Variation: plain, hills, highlands, mountains, valley, depression.
Drainage: creeks, streams, rivers, wadis, deltas, braided channel, marshes.
Hydrography: seashore, lakeshore, seasonal lakeshore
Vegetation: grasslands, deciduous forest, tundra, evergreen forest, rainforest, jungle, arid semi-desert, high mountains, barren rock, snowfields, boglands and swamps

Human Population

Cities, towns and villages (CTV) are marked on the map and include statistics for their population. Hexes adjacent to a CTV have a 64% chance of being occupied by d4 authority centers (AC) (commonly thought of as “hamlets” in medieval European terms). This chance is reduced by half for each further hex…for each change in elevation of 400 feet (round down), consider the hex to be one further distant. Reduce the maximum number of AC by 1 for every two distance. For example, a specific hex is 2 hexes from the town of Newar and at an elevation 850 feet higher (a lower elevation would be judged the same); the total distance from Newar would be judged to be four…thus the chance for 1-2 AC would be 8%.

Each AC includes a permanent structure commensurate with that culture (manor house, long house, cliff dwelling, etc.), usually larger and more defensible the greater its isolation. It is presumed that a successful habitation at a greater distance exists due to its profound religious or fiscal success. An AC typically has a population of 60-180 serfs and 20-50 elite, including servants, guards, professional artisans, clergy and master. Children younger than fifteen will equal an additional 17% of the number rolled.

All otherwise unoccupied hexes adjacent to a CTV or an AC are considered to have scattered populations, consisting of hunters, woodsmen, herdsmen, prospectors, cotters, criminal elements, druids and so on.

All other hexes are considered wilderness. Wilderness hexes may be inhabited by non-human/ demi-human ACs or ungrouped monsters.


The presence of a paved road doubles the likelihood that an AC will be present. A crossroads, where two roads meet in a hex where there is no CTV, triples the likelihood than an AC will be present and gives a further modifier of +1 to the number of ACs rolled (if indicated). It is 50% likely that one AC will be a provisional military outpost (MO), whose business it will be to examine carried goods, assess tariffs and credentials, charge tolls and impound contriband materials.

Bridges include only those structures which cross large watercourses. Treat bridges as crossroads when determining the presence and number of ACs. Bridges will include small docking facilities for riverboats, except where topography makes this impractical.

Navigable watercourses are sorted according to the depth of keel they allow. A 2-point stream will allow various rowboats, barges, skiffs or flat-bottomed sailing boats. A 3-point stream will allow ketches and other keeled vessels not large enough for seagoing travel. A 4-point river will allow snaikas or small galleys (single-tiered). Larger rivers will allow the passage of cogs, full galleys, deep-bottomed Veneti and so on, depending on the exact specifics of the river. (for additional information see “drainage”)

Passes are considered only wherever they are traversed by a paved road; they are defined by the presence of two adjacent hexes on either side of the road having a minimum elevation of 1,000 ft. above the road hex. ACs indicated on a pass are always MOs.

Topographical Variation

In each of the following cases, consider that a hex is 20 miles in diameter. The designated topographies are:

Plain: indicated when a hex is surrounded by three or more adjacent hexes with elevations deviating no more than 400 ft. from that hex’s benchmark. Thus, a hex with an elevation of 750 ft., surrounded by six hexes with elevations of 600, 850, 900, 950, 1200 and 1400 ft. would be considered to be on a plain.
Hills: indicated whenever a hex is surrounded by three or more hexes with elevations deviating 400 ft. either above or below that hex’s benchmark.
Highlands: indicated whenever a hex is surrounded by three or more hexes with elevations deviating 800 ft. below that hex’s benchmark.
Mountains: indicated whenever a hex is surrounded by three or more hexes with elevations deviating 1,200 ft. above or below that hex’s benchmark.
Valley: indicated whenever a hex is surrounded by 4 or 5 hexes having elevations greater than 200 ft. above that hex’s benchmark.
Depression: indicated whenever all a hex is surrounded on all sides by hexes with a greater elevation.
Rolling: a hex is said to have a rolling topography where none of the above are indicated.

Note that some hexes can potentially have more than one designated topography. A hex can be a mountain valley or a mountain highland; or a hill valley; or a plains depression or a mountain depression.


Watercourse sizes are determined by the total area of land which they drain:

Creeks (1 point) are typically from 1-3 yards in width and a maximum depth of 5 feet.
Streams (2 points) range from 4-15 yards in width with depths of 5-9 feet.
Small rivers (3 points) range from 12-30 yards in width with depths of 8-14 feet.
Medium rivers (4-5 points) range from 24-95 yards in width with depths of 10-23 feet.
Large rivers (6-7 points) range from 76-265 yards in width with depths of 15-32 feet.
Great rivers (8+ points) are a minumum of 212 yards in width with minimum depths of 20 feet.

Seasonal watercourses are called wadis, and correspond to the above dimensions when source rainfall occurs.

Wherever a watercourse drops more than 400 feet between hexes, it is unnavigable to all except small boats (less than 20 ft. in length), unless evidence indicates otherwise (remember, I’m using Earth as a reference). Such a course is presumed to include at least one set of rapids; ascending such a course requires “bushwhacking,” the process of pulling the boat along by ropes from the shore. Watercourses which drop more than 600 feet between hexes are assumed to be unnavigable to all watercraft (again, unless there is evidence to the contrary). This holds true regardless of the watercourse’s size.

River deltas are large, flat areas where watercourses break up into multiple channels. Depending on their latitude, they may be choked by ice or vegetation, though the size of the watercourse suggests that it may be navigable. Braided channels are similar in that the watercourse separates into multiple channels within the confines of its valley before reforming.

Marshes are submerged areas which are the result of drainage, and are considered separate from bogs or swamps for the purpose of this system. Marshes most often occur at the mouths of watercourses, but may sometimes occur where the elevation change causes the channel to inundate a wide area.


Seacoasts and lakeshores increase the likelihood that an AC will be present by 50% (a hex adjacent to a CTV and on the shore of a lake has a 96% chance of having 1-4 ACs). They are further defined by the elevation of the seacoast or lakeshore hex:

Hexes less than 12 feet above water level would be heavily subject to tides…for special places, tidal effects could be higher than 12 feet.
Hexes less than 100 feet above water level will have good harbours and water access, and depending upon the specific region in question will have stony, gravel or fine sand beaches.
Hexes that are 100-500 feet above water level will have moderate access to the sea, generally through wide clefts in cliff escarpments or rock pillars. Poor harbours will be the rule, while beaches will be stony.
Hexes of 500+ feet above water level will have very difficult access to the sea, limited to narrow crevasses through high rock cliffs or broken rock terrain (such as parts of the Greek coast). No harbour will be available unless indicated by the presence of a CTV.

Lake elevation is accepted as the lowest elevation lakeshore hex. For lakes occupying only one hex, assume that the lake and the hex are the same elevation.

Seasonal lakes are found in arid regions. They are often alkali in addition to being highly salty in nature. As such areas alternately flood or remain sterile for large periods, divide the likelihood of an AC being present by three. Thus, a hex adjacent to a CTV and containing a seasonal lake would have a 21% chance of including 1-4 ACs (the presence of one AC would indicate that the lake boundaries were stable and, while seasonal, non-alkali and suitable for irrigation).


There are three levels of vegetation: those which are habitable and are largely arable (type 1), those which are habitable and largely non-arable (type 2), and those areas which are inhabitable and entirely lacking in arable land (type 3).

Type 1 lands include grasslands and deciduous forest, such as the Europe Plain, the Russian Steppe, the Ganges Plain, eastern and southern China, the South African Veld, the African Savanna and so on. In many of these areas, the original forest has been cut down to make space for cropland.

Type 2 lands include tundra, evergreen forest (coniferous), rainforest, jungle and arid semi-desert, such as appears in Saharan Africa, Arabia, Turkestan, the Congo, Southern India, the East Indies, the Amazon, Siberia, the Arctic Circle and so on. While some areas of this type, particularly those which have been inhabited for more than 4000 years, have been oversettled, most type 2 lands have not. Because such areas tend to be “metropolitan” and highly urbanized, reduce the chance that surrounding hexes will include ACs by half.

Type 3 lands include high mountains, barren rock, snowfields, desert ergs, boglands and swamps (coastal mangrove growth or mud flats subject to tides). Type 3 lands will not include human or demi-human habitation of any kind.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Keep It Simple, Stupid

I have had as a policy that every rule I add to the game, those that affect the players directly, must be something that takes virtually no time to play. For example, while my trading system is extensive, from my players point of view, it's just another equipment table (albeit one which the player's can't presume the prices from session to session--they have to look them up). My combat system is likewise. Although took me three hours to write out the details of two combat rounds, we would play those rounds out in a couple of minutes, with most of the time taken up in the players deciding what exactly they wanted to do. The system would not be the time-waster.

That's mostly the reason why I hated Rolemaster and the various systems that were birthed from those early attempts to add detail to the game. They were simply unplayable, as we sat around for hours waiting for the gamemaster to look up table after table. I remember one 24-hour session where we got into a combat involving dozens and dozens of troops against an attacking company of I don't remember what...and us sitting around and sitting around waiting for hit locations to be rolled and critical hits and Elvis in his sidecar knew what else. Killed that campaign.

Sometimes I struggle and struggle with a game idea that fails inevitably because it just takes too long to roll up the results. My efforts at treasure tables, for instance...where you want interesting, complex and bizarre treasure results, but it just gets tiresome at the end of a battle rolling and rolling and rolling out various pieces of jewelry, gems, furnishings, storeroom vittles, luxuries, armors, weapons, magic items, blah. Give me a system where I can produce an easily deliverable list in less than five minutes and I'm there.

I've been playing with the idea of just creating cards, possibly with pictures, or just blanks neatly cut by a print shop, which I can write up all at once, ready to shuffled and be dealt out at a session. Then the players can sift through the pile on the table and divide them up. The logic would be, it wouldn't be satisfactory for the player to write down the item any more...if he wanted to sell the item, or use the item, they better damn well have the card in their possession.

The hold up is that I'd have to create cards for everything they own now, and that's work I'm too lazy to do...but some session I'm going to get a complete list from them and go forward from there.

Another simplicity nightmare is weather. I've done enough interesting things with the weather in this campaign, since it started, to prove two things: A) parties fucking hate weather effects, no matter what they are; B) weather makes everything REAL.

About two years ago, the much weaker third-level party bought passage aboard a ship bound down the Volga river; the pirates aboard overcame them, jacked their possessions and threw them onto the bank--in November. The particular area, about 120 mi. north of Astrakhan, had a terrain much like the swamp from Lord of the Rings...ankle deep water. I worked for many hours prior to the session to produce believable weather tables, temperatures, rainfall, humidity, based off climate statistics from the area--and what followed was a very long session of absolute hell as the party staggered for mile after mile, trying to cross the great flat, ankle deep in freezing or near-freezing water, without proper gear or clothing. Without cantrips they would never have made it. As it was the half the party collapsed from pneumonia within a week and it was touch and go keeping them alive.

Did the party like it? No, they swore through the entire process. Was the adventure memorable? Damn straight. They remember it like they were there. They remember it because every day the weather changes marginally adjusted the nightmare, enough that they were praying for good weather--it really meant something to have it.

Although I've produced similar effects with adventures through deserts and, up until my hiatus (scheduled to end in two weeks, when I can run again, yay), through a snow forest, the actual creation of the weather is a superior bitch. As is the exact effects the weather has on the party depending primarily on what they are wearing and what climate they were raised in. So far, I haven't found an accurate, easy way to manage those variables and for the most part, they get ignored. That is, I unhappily treat the fur-coat wearing player far too similar to the player too stupid to buy himself a jacket, and is now wrapped with leather strips and deerskins.

But I feel I'm close to solving the problem. I hope I can sometime in the next few months, and maybe post the whole system here (that would be nice). At the moment, however, I'm stoked by the discovery of something called "clo"...which fits into an ad hoc point-value system I had earlier been using for clothing. Nice to find an accurate measure.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Hit Points

Just had an interesting thought strike me. It's occurred to me in the past that certain injuries, broken bones, snapped tendons, organ failure and so on isn't particularly reflected by the hit point structure--though because I don't see any system being an improvement on the HP idea, I haven't seen a simple, easy way of handling those injuries. Thus, they are usually "overlooked" while gaming.

Part of the trouble is that healing spells ought to be able to "fix" those things as easily as simple wounds. If a character heals at 1 hp per day normally, then the first level spell, cure light wounds, serves to heal anything which might be conceivably healed normally in six days.

Of course, a broken ulna (bone in your arm) takes twelve weeks to heal, but who's counting, right?

What if we take the very simple approach of saying that certain injuries (how they occur is your problem) require 10x as much healing to repair? For example, suppose your 2nd level ranger with 22 hit points sprains his wrist. And let's suppose we call those points which heal at 10% normal speed as "hard points." To give some measure to the sprain, let's say a sprain is 1d4 hard points...we'll roll the dice and assess the damage as "3".

Normally, to heal 5 hit points, it would require 5 days of rest or a simple healing spell. But in this case, 3 hard points require 30 days of rest. The ranger is temporarily at 19 hp maximum, adding 1 hp more to his maximum each time that 10 equivalent hit points are cured. On average, that would be six days of rest and cure light wounds spells to bring him back to normal.

Not much of a hassle for a sprained wrist, but what about a broken leg? Or gall stones? (what, you've never given your player gall stones?). It would be hard for a 2nd level player group to get 200 healing points together.

The rule has, I think, interesting possibilities.

Sunday, October 5, 2008


When I research areas for my maps, to identify the various kingdoms circa 1650 and how they are mastered, I can't help but stumble into profound things--including yesterday's pic. Here's what I've found today:

Found this associated with the city of Pathankot within the region of Nurpur in northern Punjabi.

Wikipedia: "Fought for 18 days, the Battle of Kurukshetra involved almost all the Kingdoms of the known world. Shown here is Lord Arjun, the ancestor of the Pathania dynasty and his cousin, and charioteer Lord Krishna between the two warring armies."

This associated with the Northern Areas, Pakistan:

Wikipedia: "There are more than 20,000 pieces of rock art and petroglyphs all along the Karakoram Highway in the Northern Areas, concentrated at ten major sites between Hunza and Shatial. The carvings were left by various invaders, traders, and pilgrims who passed along the trade route, as well as by locals. The earliest date back to between 5000 and 1000 BCE, showing single animals, triangular men and hunting scenes in which the animals are larger than the hunters. These carvings were pecked into the rock with stone tools and are covered with a thick patina that proves their age."

I love pictures like this, from Alwar, Rajasthan:

Yes, that appears to be some sort of fortification on the top.

Almora is a city at 5,400 ft elevation in the Himalayas; this picture was taken in 1860, of the town bazaar. The city was founded in 1568. I doubt the bazaar had changed much:

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Battle Settings

Cliffs overlooking the Hunza Valley in northern Pakistan. Simply incredible.

Thursday, October 2, 2008


Sooner or later I was going to get around to this subject. It has to be the most reflexive, silly, pervasive accusation within the community—leveled more often in the flaming heat of an online discussion than any other insult…and meant, for reasons that escape me, to end the argument by irrevocably branding the opposition as a tyrant.

What I find funny is that it isn’t merely a part of the RPG community…it is as equally pejorative in the BDSM community. There are strange parallels between both groups of people, in that they have a great deal of emotion (and money) invested in an activity for which there is no overarching authority.

If we are going to talk about onetruewayism, I need to pause and establish a position: for the purpose of this post, that position is going to be strictly neutral. Oh, I have an opinion, but that doesn’t matter just now. Just now, I don’t care if there is a one true way or not; I don’t care if in the past this has been leveled at me as an accusation or not; I don’t even care if you, reading this, are convinced, or not, that I am a onetruewayist. That’s not what I want to talk about.

What I’d like to talk about are two completely different communities than RPGs and BDSM, both of which include hundreds of thousands of individuals, both of whom have a great deal invested in terms of both emotion and money, and both of which are far more visible. One of these I have terrific amounts of personal experience with; the other I have almost none.

Neither include an overarching authority. Both have multiple channels dedicated to them on television.

I am talking about home renovations and cooking.

Consider for a moment the various comparisons. A vast number of practitioners. Different people preferring very different foods or home design. Literally thousands of books on the market, ALL of them describing the exact way to cook pasta Florentine or how to lay carpet. Google “chocolate chip cookies” and you will get 3,280,000 hits…with nearly every recipe arguing that it is THE real, award-winning, favorite, home-style, very best chocolate chip cookie recipe in all of creation.

If, however, you search “chocolate chip cookies” & “one true way”, you will get…84 hits.

If you search “dungeons and dragons” & “one true way” you’ll get 1,230 hits.

Okay, okay, that’s not fair. If you search “cooking” & “one true way” you’ll get 3,740 hits.

And “cooking” alone?: 187 million hits. “D&D” alone? 11.8 million.

What is the point of all these ridiculous statistics? Oh, probably nothing, if you haven’t understood yet. I’m certainly not building up the one true way to define the level of onetruewayism in D&D. I’m just throwing thoughts out there.

I worked as a cook and later, as a sous chef, for 12 years in a variety of restaurants ranging from 1 star to 5 stars, and I found one this was always true: there is a ONE TRUE WAY to make everything…for each restaurant you work at.

The entire restaurant industry has as its fundamental structure the competition between eateries, and while every restaurant will boast loudly and with conviction that they DO have the one true way to make lasagna, it wouldn’t occur to anyone in the business to complain that other restaurants are guilty of onetruewayism.

And while Iron Chef or that fanatic angry freak in Hell’s Kitchen might be rather picky about right and wrong, no one gets upset about it. Of course he thinks he has the right way: he has experience, he has a successful kitchen, he has EVIDENCE that people like the way the lasagna is prepared.

Not all people, no. But like any long-time cook, his opinion would be that people like that are STUPID.

(You know, it’s no different among people restructuring houses…I’m only concentrating on cooking because that’s what I know. The principles are, however, the same—ever talk to three different contractors for the same job?)

Most of the really good cooks or chefs I’ve known (based on how emotionally satisfying their food was) have felt that way. Don’t like my cooking? You’re stupid. The Italian I worked with for a year, who had a 5-star rating and who’s restaurant was filled with mafia, certainly thought that way. I can hear him in my head, answering the accusation that he was wrong to think there was only one true way to make cannelloni: “What the fuck do you know? You own a restaurant? Do people eat your food? Get the fuck out—get out of my place! Get out. Stupid dumb shit.”

(Working with Italians…there’s a post sometime).

But that same Italian would not have said the same thing to someone in THEIR restaurant. That’s respect.

Making a distinct, definitive statement about how a thing is done is not, as it is so often accused of being, a detraction on the way others are doing a thing. So often it’s taken that way. No one likes having someone in their kitchen. My maternal grandmother, who was a terrible cook of the first order, honestly one of the worst cooks I have ever known, was so territorial about her kitchen that she did not draw the line at throwing wooden spoons at little children. She could not be told anything about cooking.

My father, on the other hand, is the exact same way about renovations. Trained as an engineer and entirely competent in wood, steel, concrete or plaster, he has probably rebuilt his house twice from the ground up in the 42 years he’s owned it, one piece at a time. He can’t be told anything about renovations, either. Contractors have tried.

Having the genetic pattern from both sides of my family, I probably have some of the same characteristics regarding both D&D and BDSM. I can certainly understand my father better than my grandmother—before spending a week at her house every Easter, I would have to mentally prepare myself as a ten year old for a long fast. You wouldn’t believe someone would boil steak, would you?

More than once, I assure you.

The only reason anyone has, for themselves, a one true way of doing anything, its because they have reason to believe it really is the one true way. And they think someone else is going to have to make a pretty good fucking argument to prove there’s another. (In the case of my grandmother, that argument was going to have to involve the reappearance of Jesus in some degree). What I or you might think is a good enough argument may not be…not for them. We can only do the best we can, and when we fail we can only shake our heads and tell them to get the fuck out of our place.

Most of the time, my arguments fail. I’m good with that. I have my limitations as a human being. I take comfort in the fact that occasionally, other people’s arguments succeed, and I find that I have reason to change the one true way I’ve been doing something. I appreciate that other people are willing to keep trying with me.

Somehow in the midst of their trying with me, and my trying with them, I’m convinced that there really is a one true way…somewhere.

Shame none of us practice it.