I am posting this second version of my Civilization Posts, because for me this is what I'm thinking on. I have been giving a lot of thought to the one I ought to be writing, "Theology," but it will have to wait for awhile. I run the blog, it does not run me.
Here's the thing. I was raised the son of an engineer who became very disappointed when he son decided not to go into engineering, but instead into writing and other Bohemian pursuits, such as acting and journalism. But as it happened he did manage to instill into me certain characteristics that, clearly, continue to define the manner in which I approach a problem ... such as, how does one establish a trade system, or how does one define the qualities of an NPC.
There is an old joke, that goes as follows:
A mathematician, a philosopher and an engineer were asked, what is the sum of 2+2?
The mathematician replied that the answer was '4', but specifically it could be defined as '4.000' or however many zeros you wished to add to establish the accuracy of the reply.
The philosopher answered that we could not be certain of any particular definition, since reality is defined by perception, but we could reasonably judge within a common framework that the answer might be given as more than three and less than five.
The engineer answered, "What do you want it to be?"
When I told this joke to my father, he did not laugh. Instead he answered, "Damn straight." I remember we had a discussion afterwards in which he explained that when he was in university (he went to the Colorado School of Mines), those who were flunking out of engineering courses were not those who 'couldn't handle the math,' but rather those who just didn't get the fundamental principle that engineering is not about assessing, it is about doing.
With regards to the disaster in the Gulf, I have spoken to a few engineers who assure me that a) the technology in existence operates like it does because it is what the money wanted built; and b) the solution is straight forward and practical - but it does involve a second hole and it will take months. And finally, that the second hole could be drilled beforehand, as a precaution, for every deep water platform in existence, but that no one wants to spend that kind of money.
Money is the universal limitation on engineering. I am told that everyone in the field knows this.
Well, okay. I make a D&D world, so I don't have to worry about money, and I don't want this to devolve into a long discussion about social political and technological recent events - so please make the comments relevant to D&D, at least obliquely. What I want to talk about is the inaccuracy of my world, and why it doesn't matter.
I did touch upon this with my last post about peasants and so on ... but reading through the link on the last post, about the sociology of political divisions, I am struck by my approach vis a vis towards producing a solution to a world-design problem.
Let's take something not so simple, that I have not yet solved: given a hex size of 20 miles across, with an approximate area of 309 sq.m., how many monsters of a given type ought to exist in the hex? This is to say, IF the party is going to 'clear out a hex,' as suggested in several places in the original DMG and Player's Handbook, how many creatures will the party have to fight until they are a) mostly eliminated; or b) completely eliminated?
Now give me an answer that applies to all types of hexes, from tundra to jungle, that takes into account the increase in animal size with regards to open-vegetation environments, as well as animals which are not large enough to be considered 'monsters.' At what point is the hex 'clear'? When there are no dangerous creatures larger than a dog? Are giant centipedes, throat leeches, ear seekers or rot grub to be cleared, or not? Can you answer? I mean, without pulling the number from your ass?
Fact is, you can't. No one can ... not that I've seen so far. The answer ought to lie in the biomass of a zone - for which I can find total tonnage/hectare - but how precisely is this biomass deconstructed so as to give numbers for elephants, sphinx, dopplegangers, ochre jellies, ixitxachitl and dragons? Ideas, anyone?
The general point of this post is to emphasize that a portrayal that accurately gives answers to any of the questions above is a matter of entirely no relevance whatsoever. An correct number for dragons? Huh? Define correct.
It is exactly that which justifies the rectally derived numbers that virtually no DM, anywhere, ever bothers to write down for any part of their world. Why bother? Why not just say, when the party has to clear the hex, "Uh, sure, there's a dragon and a keep that has six ogres, two roving bands of brigands and a few hundred giant rats." There, done, problem solved, please go away now.
And yes, this is engineering, by definition. Problem solved. It is rather piss-poor engineering, something like dropping two boards over a chasm and telling the driver that as long as he keeps his car wheels on the boards, no problem. My father tells of how he did exactly this over a Colorado gorge back in the 1950s, and it obviously worked, he lived long enough to make much of my life unpleasant. But even he wouldn't recommend it as a standard. It would be better to build a bridge.
Where it comes to building bridges to solve problems in your D&D world, it helps to remember that there are a wide range of solutions, ranging from the two boards to complicated archways designed to handle all manner of traffic. The principle to be followed is this: what does it do, and what does it allow?
The above example of what is in a hex, dragons and ogres and what not, answers the question, and lets the DM get on to other things. I personally don't see the benefit of that. I'm not anxious to 'get it over with' and move on. Instead, I want to make THIS the interesting thing, the thing that draws the party in and compels them to burrow around and find every last fucking thing until they KNOW the hex is clear. I want them to feel like they have accomplished something outlandishly difficult, so that when they are sitting by their hearth in their home, they FEEL like they've goddamn owned their land.
So I want the structure of my full hex to be better thought out ... hell, I want it to be randomized to the point where there are things in that hex that I, as DM, don't want to be there! I want to roll up a lich and shudder to myself, thinking, uh oh. Be damned if the party is ready for it. Or if I'm ready for it, for that matter. And when I find out that the lich has a vampire buddy, I want to be thinking, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit ...
Obviously, I also want a table that spits out the result that the only relevant thing in the hex is a set of caves populated by only kobalds. I don't want the table to be necessarily brutal. But I want the possibility of brutality, and when the dice comes up that way, I want to point at the table and say, "Guys, I hate to tell you this, but the Gods don't like you."
Okay, that's what I want a system to do. What do I want it to allow?
A nice thing about an overall system is the continuity it provides. Many DMs don't think it's true, but a party can tell when they're being jerked around by an irrationally constructed world, and it gets exhausting. Oh, look, we thought we would be safe here in this peasant village where we came to rest, but there's five wraiths feeding off the peasants. Oh, look, I've spent months building up my fortress, and now its being attacked on the day its finished by a huge army that has conveniently appeared on the horizon. Oh, look, we thought we cleared out that dungeon but a whole group of demons and devils have popped out of the ether and made it their new home. Oh, look, it doesn't matter what we do, everything we've created is being torn down for the sake of story. Oh, yay.
It is comforting to the party to know that if they cut down or burn down or blast away everything that lives or moves in the adjacent hex to their own that the number of attacking creatures would actually go down and stay down, and not ramp up on the whim of the DM. It is comforting to the party to know that if they deviate from their route to avoid the dark woods, that they won't be attacked anyway - you know, because this hex was presumably cleaned out by someone, at some point in the past. It would be nice to think that since every civilized hex is occupied by various lords of the manor, that the lords of the manor would do something to kill the nasty horrible creatures living in their own domain, so they couldn't attack random travellers on their way through. You'd think that would be something the local lords would want, you know, to facilitate trade and such.
I want my parties to have the reassurance of that. That going from wilderness to civilization is the sort of thing that makes them feel safer - that falling prey to a nasty creature living in the sewers of a city is something that doesn't happen every time they drop into town to buy supplies.
So I'm thinking that an engineered system that took account of these things would help provide a stronger structure to my world, and create a balance for the players so that they knew that if they did this, or went there, they could expect such-and-such. As opposed to a DM who's bored or whimsical or prejudiced in favor of one kind of monster (Another otyugh? For shit's sake!), who forever plays with the results to satisfy their constant need for self-importance.
(What am I saying? I create systems to satisfy my constant need for self-importance. Bad Alexis! Bad!)
In any event, the long and the short of it is engineering some kind of system that works and provides a valuable result. Engineering as a technology is more than the sum of the mathematics that goes into the construction of a bridge or the development of a methodology for the removal of oil, or what have you. It is a mindset, wherein the end result is the issue, and not necessarily the minor details. This has occasionally had some disastrous effects where it comes to building things that one would hope to remain standing, or applying efforts to extract things that one would hope not to leak out all over the environment. Such considerations are necessary for the engineer who doesn't want to kill people and such. But engineering itself is not defined by competancy. It is defined by adequacy. A bridge that remains standing without falling down is the minimum degree of adequacy desired; just as an effort to model something in order to determine how much money the project will need is, equally, not made inadequate by its degree of inaccuracy. It is accurate enough. It serves the purpose for which it was designed.
That is the only measure.