Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Perfect? HAH!

Carl, who has come back from PAX, tells me that rule systems are dead and that the money is in campaign settings. And meanwhile I am thinking of a post by Trollsmyth in which the principal theme is that he is not like me – which is fine, of course, since being me is worth a bevy of headaches for anyone. Bit of a shame that I wouldn’t have known the post was there but for a friend of mine.

The post is both praising and damning and well written – but sadly inaccurate on many points, chiefly in this line: “Tao achieves (verisimilitude) by creating amazing, intricate clockwork worlds where everything hangs together perfectly.”

Would be that were true. But the fact is my world is a lumbering, blind and sick golem staggering along its way through every campaign session I run. I never have the tables done that I wish were done, I’m never fully prepared: there are always hit points to roll and some file that has disappeared from my lap top that must be inconveniently downloaded from the computer in my room, if it can be found at all. The encounter tables are shit, the treasure tables are shit, the details are never quite up to form and – worst of all – my memory is starting to go.

Having the ambitions I have tends to make it impossible for me to finish anything. Whenever I conceive of some new method for creating, well, anything, it usually promises to be a two-year process. Before the process is even half done I’ve thought of a better way to manage it, requiring that I return to the beginning and start over, as I’m a rabid perfectionist and I have both dedication and time. Added to that behavior is my own plodding resistance to working on mundane matters, so that the long promised design on the mage’s fief and the local map that accompanies it still isn’t done, no more than the cost estimate on the cleric’s menhir-inspired holy circle or the stats on the party’s self-created ‘home guard’, twenty elven men-at-arms trained to defend the fief.

In my defence, unless they’re actually in a fight, they don’t really need stats.

The only way my world works is by hook and by crook, aided from time to time by some table I have actually accomplished, which isn’t in the process of being reformatted to make it easier to read and therefore easier to expand.

For example: today I finally completed a monumental task. Last December I published what I called the Evil, Insane Killer Distance Table. A table which since that time had some additional 35 trade cities added to it, bringing the total number up to 494.

I have now completed the table which dictates the distance which every city on this table is from every other city, in average days of merchant travel. The final file in excel is 15 megabytes in size. In order that I might accuracy check it as I went, there are additional lines of data (showing each connection), so that the total dimension is 495 by 3,122.

Having completed this table, I am now able to determine the effect of distance on prices for any city in my world in the space of about sixty seconds. I tested it out this morning and it works beautifully.

There are only two problems.

The first is quite minor. Previously I made the decision to reformat the prices table, the one that converts those distance figures into the actual prices of things and creates the table which the players see. Otherwise I would thrill and amaze all the gentle readers with tables showing how the price of beer and frankincense changes from Germany to Egypt to Pakistan to Moscow. The table is in disarray for the time being – and will be worked on over the next two or three weeks to bring it up to form. At that time I shall attempt to knock your socks off.

The other problem is mindboggling.

The distance table I’ve just described only includes that part of my world that I’ve been able to map so far. It does not include China, Japan, India, Indochina or Southeast Asia. It does not include Africa or any part of the New World. It does not include Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, the Low Countries or the British Isles.

In other words, there are at least 700 additional trade cities which need to be compared with those trade cities already framed in the table. I estimate that this would mean I’ve accomplished approximately 17% of the actual task at hand. It also means that the excel file necessary to handle all the changes would eventually have to be some 90M in size, which is of course too big for my computer.

What’s more, it has taken me somewhere between 540 and 720 man hours to accomplish the table so far – admittedly while watching television and listening to the radio, so not time entirely wasted. Those hours were stretched over a period of about six months.

I don’t really mind the time spent, by the way. Before I found the methodology that would allow me to create the table in the first place, I spent eight months making tables which turned out to be complete wastes of time. That’s how it goes sometimes.

If you are at all sane as you read this, you will no doubt be thinking that I’m a nut job. I’d like to point out that while doing all this, I’ve also been making maps, working on tables for my monsters, written over a hundred Tao blog posts (some requiring research, most over a thousand words), started an online campaign, spent an inordinate amount of time playing video games and I have completely rewritten a 69,000 word novel. Oh, and search for fantasy porn:

All without the use of amphetamines.

But a perfect world I do not have. Not remotely close. I haven’t had enough time, I haven’t completely solved every puzzle, I haven’t conceived of the right method for every instance and I do get tired from time to time. I just can’t rely on my ‘world’ to pull me through the process of running a campaign.

Thankfully, I think very well on my feet.


E.G.Palmer said...

It's madness, I say! Madness!

Zzarchov said...

For the trade size table, consider having "choke points"

places like constantinople, where all trade from one side of the world goes through to reach the other (or if it doesn't there is a specific reason and specific cost you can take the time to work up).

With each major region only having a few "export points" to the next major region, you can keep the size of the file down, and for those few items from truly exotic locales (really, how any items from China are they buying?) you can just add a few numbers (no more than 2 or 3 tops)

Alexis said...


While I do appreciate the advice, I'm not looking to simplify the system. The overall format is not based on how many things any particular market is buying from any other market, but rather the slow drift in price of commodities as they radiate outwards from their place of origin.

Recall that I have, as part of the system, 850 original products, which are then combined to produce more than 1,500 manufactured 'industrials' - which, once the prices table is reformatted, will automatically change every time I input new data from the distance table. I am then able to take these industrials and combine them into goods for the players to buy.

I'm operating a system here meant to capture not just a few goods and services, but every imaginable good and service. Whatever you might want to buy, I want to be able to calculate its price logically - and once that price is calculated, it should continue to do so automatically for every place in my world.

Consider something like 'black powder', which can be manufactured anywhere. The price is not based merely by the place where the powder is made, but also on how far one is from the availability of charcoal, saltpeter, sulphur and grain (used to create a mill cake for the powder). The complex system compensates for the possibility that one manufacturer who grew up and was trained to make black powder now resides in the city where the party is.

As complicated as all this sounds, the creating of the distance table makes this so simple. As I said, I can now calculate these prices in less than a minute. If some genius were to take this data of mine and slip it into a program, they could calculate both the distance table from my design and the prices table as quickly as I was able to input the data.

This is only slow because I am not a programmer and I am forced to do this in excel, which I understand.

Until I meet such a programmer, however, whom I can trust and who would like to make a little money from this, I'll continue to do this the hard way.

No reflection upon you personally, but I am concerned with the tendency of people thinking the solution is to make things easier. I should blog on that at some point.