Friday, July 30, 2010


A couple of things.

I want people to know that if they find a desire to ask a question in the comments on something that I wrote months, or years ago, they should do so with the reassurance that I will do my best to answer, under that same post.  All comments feed to my email, and I usually check there and not the blog itself, so a comment on something I wrote in June 2008 has as much chance of being noticed by me as a comment on something right now.

I don't have that many people crying out for my attention that I can't answer everyone that asks.  If the day comes and I become a national celebrity (yeah, like immediately before someone shoots me dead), then you might be disappointed asking a question in a comment.  But for now, none of us need worry about that.

Alexis, the Day he becomes famous.

A second point, which has been brought up in three different emails in the past week, would be in reference to the trade tables post from some weeks ago

It is a question about the number of "references" that a thing has, the confusion arising from my assertion that the greater the number of references, the greater the value of a particular thing.  If the system has 20 references to grain, and you double that number, shouldn't the price be reduced to half?

The difficulty is in the natural assumption that more references is equal to a greater supply, and we all know that as the supply climbs, price falls.  That is the error.  'References' does not refer to supply at all.  It refers to importance.

I dreamed up the term to describe the number of mentions that different products got from the set of encyclopedias I used in order to create the system.  An author writing about, say, Barcelona, only has a certain amount of space in which to list the various things that the city makes.  He will naturally center on those manufactures that have the greatest importance, as determined by the economic value the item represents.  I'm not suggesting that the author has taken the time to measure this importance, but I am suggesting that there is a sociological habit of grading things automatically.

As a culture, we place a high value on gold, or the manufacture of steel, or certain types of food.  I was virtually guaranteed that anyone writing about Holland would mention cheese and chocolate a great deal, while anyone writing about Spain probably would not; it isn't that Spain doesn't produce cheese and chocolate, it is just that in that region those two items don't amount to very much importance.  In Spain, there are many references to wine, olives, fruits, spices and so on ... things that wouldn't be mentioned in Holland.

If I were pulling the information from a few dozen sources, this would be utterly worthless.  However, I went through the encyclopedia page by page, and identified every article that was written about a city, a province or region, a country, a river, a sea, mountains, plateaus, forests and so on.  And because the encyclopedia I chose was from 1952, the emphasis of the encyclopedia itself was not extraordinarily on science and technology, but upon social science and history - such as it was with encyclopedias in that day and age, when space was still viewed as an impossibility, when oil was not yet discovered in many parts of the world (and much of the industry still ran on coal), when medicine and biology were still comparatively in the dark ages ... etcetera.

Thus, the Colliers Encyclopedia from 1952 is rife with descriptions of far away places, down to the smallest cities and with special emphasis on every geographical and cultural entity that was known to exist in that day.  The total number of articles describing geographical features (and their production, which I also believe was a more important consideration then) exceeds five thousand.  Holland has more than fifty references, and Spain has around a hundred and seventy five.  And I have methodically and pedantically combed through each one, starting with Russia and the old parts of the Soviet Union in 1998, writing down each reference when I came to it, occasionally stumbling across a reference I never heard of before and finding myself pressed to fitting it into the system as need be.

This is why, when finding more than 500 references to wheat and more than 2,300 references to every kind of cereal (including barley, gram, millet, sorghum, teff, tucusso, rye, oats, maize and wheat), I tend to think that the total importance of cereals is a lot greater than the exactly 2 references I've found for paprika.  And yet, pound for pound, the tremendous total value of cereals being 1150 times that of paprika, it is paprika that is far more expensive than wheat.  Paprika, even when it is produced, is not grown in great amounts.

That is why the greater the number of references, the greater the value of the product.  If the thing is mentioned at all, it is accorded a greater value than things which are not mentioned.  It is a sociological logic, similar to counting words in educational textbooks to get a grasp of what words have the greatest familiarity for readers, and therefore should be used in political stump speeches to obtain the greatest possible comprehension from the greatest number of listeners.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

My Parents Are Dead

Yessir.  Yes, and I do have a hunger for revenge.  No sir, I wouldn't lie about that.  I very much want to join your party.

Sorry sir?  Yes, I am a dwarf, that's obvious sir, but ... yes sir.  I do hate elves.  Oh, absolutely.  Can I work with them in the same party?  Of course sir.  I'm ready to help them, heal them, keep 'em from falling in pits and all that stuff, and at the same time repeat often and to the point of annoyance that I hate 'em.  Yes, sir, I can count dead as we both fight, if it's important sir.  Well, I admit, I'm not overly laconic ... oh yes sir, I can do the stomping and pouting part fine, but at just the point where I'm supposed to insert a bit of humor, well sir, I never seem to think of anything.  Right sir.  I am willing to work on that.

Do I love gold?  Pretty much sir.  Helps a fellow along, don't it.  I'm sorry sir?  Do I love gold just for the sake of having it?  I don't know, since you put it that way - well, most people do exchange it for things, and most of the time I like to pick up an extra thing or - no sir.  No sir, I'm not trying to be difficult.  Well how much gold would I be expected to faun over, say, in round figures sir.  That much?  I don't know about that ... I suppose ...

Yessir, I want to be part of your party.  I'll hoard whatever gold you tell me to sir.

Do I love ale?  Now, that is an issue, sir.  To be honest, I have a physician that tells me ... well he tells me that it's a lot easier to march long distances if ... pardon me sir, just prattling on.  How many a day would I have to drink?  That many.  Could I have a little time to work up to it, sir?  Maybe one a day to start and then ... okay sir, if you want me to drink ten a day, I'll drink ten a day.  Just let me write that down.

Yes sir.  Got my quill right here sir.  Why, I've always had it.  My father always says that a dwarf ought to have an education, that it's good for him to - sir?  No, I mis-spoke.  I meant to say my father always said ... yes, that's right sir.  Yes he's dead sir.  Yes they're both dead, sir.  I'm feeling an urge for revenge right now sir.  Seriously.

No, sir, I don't have a battle axe.  I've always used a bill hook, sir.  Yes sir, with a much shorter handle - kinda improvised it myself sir.  Well, if you think it isn't right ... I can learn if I have to... though sir, if it's all the same to you, it does sort of take a long time to get the hang of a battle axe.  Would it be okay if while I was learning I could go on using the hook--

No, of course not sir.  I'm really not wanting to be difficult.  Yes, I was told in advance some of the things that were expected ... no, not all the things sir.  I admit that I didn't think that a lot of this was ... yes, sir, it's important if you say it's important.  I do want to join your party, sir.

Yes, about the beard.  I'm sorry sir ... what are you trying to say sir?  If you could just come right out and say - oh, no sir.  No, cut it off years ago.  Well, it gets in my soup, sir.  Itches at night too sir.  No sir.  No, I can't do that sir.  No, it's not a religious thing, I just don't see what difference it makes.  Well hell sir, I'm willing to learn the battle axe, drink 'til I'm drunk on my feet, not spend my gold, hate elves and learn to be funny - I think that's a hell of a lot to ask for already, if you don't mind my saying so.

Well that's pretty much intolerant, sir.  I'll just say it right out, that's as fat-headed as anything I've heard.  To hell with your party, sir.  And even if you do mind it, to hell with you.  Take your party and stuff it.

You don't like that?  You don't like me?  Well you know what, sir, you know who does like me?  My parents, that's who!  Yes, they're alive.  They're alive and they're pretty decent people and I don't have any revenge in me at all.  I think I'll go home right now and have a big bowl of my mother's SOUP!  Without the hair!

I hope an otyugh farts in your face, SIR.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Hey, I Know You

This is a long and varied cliche, but let's do it all at once (I've edited the below to suit my needs - the exact wording can be found here):

"Hey, I Know You!:" You will accumulate at least three of these obligatory party members:
And so, we're going to talk about 'roleplaying.'

What I want to say from the outset is that developing a worthy, interesting character, either as a player or as a DM, is a difficult proposition - difficult enough that it has stumped writers for generations, leading to the kind of cliches above that have been presented by everyone from bad 17th century playrights, right through cheesy Hollywood Serials writers and the sort of hacks now writing for video companies.  A good character takes time and it takes enormous effort.  Realistically, it takes the writer who is able to bend the events of unreality in order to make the character seem plausible and likeable.  When I am writing fiction, my chief concern is the motivation of my characters - to make those motivations clear, and to draw my reader into the mindset of the various players in the story, I twist and turn the story in just such a way as to provide the characters to show their bravery and chicanery, their strengths and their flaws, their altruism and their selfishness.

RPGs are shit for producing this sort of nuance.

And thus you are stuck with the sort of crap where Mighty Knight #1 talks in Bravado English ("I have come to rescue the FAIR princess") only to be answered in like manner by Posing Bad Guy #3.  Speaking for myself, I find the whole affair a little vomit inducing ... as do my players, who aren't interested in performing the equivalent of cheap street theatre.  None of them consider themselves to be actors; not a one has any ambitions in that direction.

I have at least had experience with the foolish process of standing in front of audiences and improvising; so I will throw it into my campaigns, delivering a speech by so-and-so or playing up an NPC so as to give the campaign some color.  But I don't demand this of my players for one simple reason.  They don't like doing it.

Quickly I've been covering two different things: it isn't easy to invent a good character, and often players have no interest in trying.  That is because, realistically, most self-aware people know their own limitations, and would feel like a fool playing either the gruff mercenary or the soft-spoken princess - the best they feel they are likely to invent, if pressed to do so.

Now, at this point some jack-hole is going to pipe up in the comments and say, "Hey!  It's fun to be foolish, and an RPG is there to give us the opportunity!  Hooray!"  He probably won't hear me here, now, when I say beforehand, fuck all that.  I know there's a hugely vocal contingent of RPGs who somehow think that D&D is really just a gateway drug to LARP or the Society for Creative Anachronism, but I and my players don't roll that way.  We're the sort of sardonic, cynical bastards who see fuckwits cavorting around in said manner and wonder what's happened with their medication.

'Roleplaying' - for us - does not accurately describe the game as we play it.  We do not view D&D as our great chance to shine the flashlight on our egos, but as a problem-solving game.  I do not think we are alone in this.  I suspect there are many thousands of players who would like to go to conventions without having to dress up like a freak.  I also feel there are many who feel the 'pretending' that has been incorporated as a must-have feature of the game smacks of infantile, childish regression.

You know, back to an age when cheesy characterizations looked fresh and noble.

I can't say I expect to make a lot of points with this argument among a lot of those I've seen; the internet tends to pull the reality-challenged to its warm and porny bosom.  But if the gentle reader does find that they're running in a world that seems to skirt over the issue of roleplaying in favor of straight gamesmanship, realize that you are not alone.

It is enough that we know what our characters can do.

It is enough that we puzzle out the world and gamble our character's talents to that solution.

It is enough to watch our characters grow in power and possibility.  It is enough that we achieve through our efforts and dream up greater goals as the game goes on.  It is enough that we love our characters for the time we've invested.

We need not bark like actors on the lighted stage if it doesn't interest us.  We need not fabricate pathos and angst, nor concern ourselves with motivation.  We can leave that to the playwrites if that is their thing.

We only need play D&D in the way it makes us happy.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Don't Bug Me, I'm Working

Reality intervenes.

Of late I have been furiously working on maps, sketching out large areas and purposefully choosing to work on India, a large region that is habitually forgotten when it comes to myth or culture.  I admit, I would find running a campaign in India a difficult task, despite the reading I've done on that part of the world.  It all seems to sink out of sight when compared with what's needed to know - like throwing stones into the water, hoping someday they'll pile up and let you build a bridge.  If a party ever wound up there, I'd do my best, but I'd fall far short of the real thing, I'm sure.

Sometimes, when I know I should be doing other things, I lose myself in map-making, or rewrites, or some other design feature ... and very little gets posted on the blog because, for the most part, everything is in mid-creation and nothing is good enough to print.  Sometimes it is because I won't spend the time to transform the material into something the web will recognize; I work on computer, but it takes time to reformat a publisher file or to tidy up things from Excel ... and so it doesn't get done.

But I am working, and creating, and thinking up new things that I'll eventually get onto this blog.  I know that many the gentle reader comes here to find the meat and potatoes I've asked for from other blogs, and I do think I've done that well this last month ... but at present the meat is still on the hoof and the potatoes in the field, so there's little to show.

For far too long I have been meaning to write a post on 'Theology' which would fit into the civilization posts, but I need a particular set of resources to write it from, and those books are sitting on a shelf in my study, untouched and gathering dust.  At some point when I'm at home I'll think to write it out.

In the meantime I have my sardonic, hateful nature, meaning that I'll probably write another post about cliches this week and I'll likely choke out a post about something else that annoys me as well - as soon as I can find something that annoys me.  Lately I've been uncommonly content, which is good for my nature and those close to me but lousy as an inspiration for written posts.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Hooks Galore

Because two of my players have officially hit name level, I am now at that point that many people think characters should be retired ... the ‘endgame.’ I’ve read the squad of people calling for a ‘restoration’ of the endgame, as though somehow DMs couldn’t work out for themselves and their players whether this is something the party wants or doesn’t want. And I’ve read about the difficulties (boring accounting) with regards to players building strongholds and having to work through the procedure of working out the production value of their lands, the multitude of soldiers and other hirelings, taxes and general management of the whole headache.

And I think, how small these imaginations be.

It is as though the fiefdom the characters create somehow exists in a bubble. They build their castle, they hire, they pump out food for the hirelings to eat and now and then they fend off some entity that invades. And that, my gentle readers, seems to be it.

A siege mentality IS a dull campaign, particularly when it comes after adventuring, plumbing the depths of the earth and ascending to the skies. Why would the characters now care about stone and food? They have solved great puzzles, turned back the tides of evil, hurled down villains from heights that would dizzy the eagles and they have scourged the seas and lands clean.

And you offer them ... farming.

Now, I don’t downplay the importance of food production, or of fortification building. They have to have somewhere to store their stuff. By now, they’ve accumulated an awful lot of stuff ... and beasts, and possibly princesses (why is it no one ever keeps a cute prince in a tower?). So sure, there’s going to be a few runnings where these living arrangements get hammered out; my party is crying out for this right now, telling me they want a running or two just to do accounting.

No problem, you know I’m ready for them.

But I’m not building the rest of my campaign on accounting, and damn it, I’m not going to launch into another five month battle scenario anytime soon. So what is to be done?

Let’s parse it out:

My party’s land does not exist in a vacuum. They requested some aid from the Graf (or Lord) next door to lend a hand in wiping out the military force equivalent to a sizable town: 450 regulars in all. Despite considerable losses, the Graf’s men who survived improved considerably in strength and power and the Graf walked away with a substantial pile of treasure. Because the Graf lived, and because the party was seen to act bravely and respectful of the Graf’s soldiers and the Graf’s interests, they’ve made themselves a friend – one who is more powerful than he was at the outset.

A friend who was already on the ‘inside’ as regards to the Kingdom’s power structure.

In the game months following the combat, the party can expect to be introduced to a number of interested parties – some who will come to look at the devastation out of interest, and some who will come for the currency the battle generated. For awhile, this is the most interesting thing to happen this season. The party will find themselves visited by the high mucky-mucks of the kingdom: the Archbishop, a Cardinal or two, the Magician’s high councilmember, the kingdom’s general and probably half his staff, the heir to the throne (who has the time and would come to learn), representatives of virtually every artisan’s and merchant’s guild imaginable, the Burgomeisters of a dozen large towns surrounding the fief where the battle took place ... and so on. Because this particular fief shares a border with the Ottoman Turks, there will probably been the right-hand subordinate of the nearest Emir (administering the bordering province) and a messenger from the Sultan himself (on a fact-finding mission). Minor lackeys from a number of kingdoms around (Poland, Hungary, Hapsburg Austria and the Grand Duchy of Kiev) might show up for similar reasons, as those kingdoms learn of the event from their resident ambassadors – very likely, an ambassador might pop around just out of interest. No doubt, the local thieves guild and assassin’s guild will drop by without announcement, along with secret members of a dozen groups such as the Illuminati and the Gnomes of Zurich, the Jesuits and other fraternal orders, the Servants of Cthulhu and heaven knows who else ... skulking around, asking questions, assessing the possible threat offered by these newcomers, all to determine whether they are friend or foe.

Each of these individuals and groups will form a first impression of the party, depending on how that first meeting goes. Each individual will have questions to ask, and expectations, and promises, and offers ... and somewhere down the line, inside information, alliances or threats – depending on how they were affected by the party.

More than that, all of these people will have problems ... investigations that need doing, information that needs finding, groups that need putting down and groups that need capital and support. They will be asking the party to ‘back them’ when they make a threat against such and such. The party will be expected to take a part in ‘posturing,’ or throwing their weight around with little expectation that it really will come to fighting ... for the good of the kingdom, or their allies, you understand.

They may be asked to ‘look the other way’ when they casually put a knife in the Prince in the adjacent city ... and to conduct a search for the murderer in a slipshod manner – something the party will need to accomplish without arousing the suspicion of some do-gooder amongst their own soldiers.

Or asked to pursue, or not pursue, particular persons ... which either way will piss someone off, who won't seek compensation through battle, but through spreading rumors.

After all of that, a stand up fight will be a relief. In any case, anytime the party wants to start one, there will be plenty of opportunities to go around, what with every cretinous power-hungry crew rattling their sabres at each other, not to mention the occasional oblivious group of adventurers stumbling through the landscape haphazardly cutting down a critical member of this secret council or that.

Endgame? What the hell are you talking about?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Computers And Tao

Mincer of Logic asks, “At what point did you change to managing everything electronically.”

There's an obvious answer, and that would be six years. But that cheats me of being allowed to talk at length about myself, so I’ll take Option B and attend to my own ego.

My first experience with computers pre-dates my involvement with D&D. I was 13 years old, and as part of a unit for school we learned how computers worked and were taught to do basic programming – with punch cards. For those lucky souls who have no experience with it, they were cards that were a little larger than 7x3 inches, where the calculations were accomplished by little holes that were punched into the cards and read by computer. We were taught how the machine worked that punched holes in the cards, and we were taught how it took one card to provide one line of programming.

Yes, I literally grew up in the dark ages.

On some level everyone knew that computers were going to expand and get more complicated, but I want to say that the attitude in 1978 was much the same as the attitude right now – that it is all changing very fast, that most of the ‘big’ changes had already been made, that paper was obsolete and so on. Time marches on but the song remains the same.

I don’t want to get into a history about computers, but we’re going past that particular event at the moment so I want to get my licks in before moving on. Computers got to be more common by the time I entered high school, the cards disappeared and we moved into that glorious time when everyone was told that if they didn’t learn Fortran and Cobal they’d be LOST in the future – incapable of doing, well, anything. But around my last year in grade school a friend of mine got a VIC 20 and we used it for his Traveller campaign ... mostly to do math, like a big calculator.

But I knew enough about basic programming that as I got access to computers through the first half of the eighties, I knew how to use it to generate random results ... I remember spending untold amounts of time programming the random dungeon from the DMG into basic, to the degree that it worked ... though it always seemed to have one more bug in it, so I was always fixing the code. But I am getting ahead of myself, describing something I did about ’87.

I have long, long since forgotten how basic works, so don’t ask me.

My parents, being the odd sort that they are, bought an Amiga while I was still living with them – which was a piece of crap by all accounts. But the word processor worked, so I was writing fiction and working on my D&D world on computer by 1983. Up until then I’d been all paper and pencil. In 1984 I got a job with Gulf Canada as a statistical clerk, calculating well porosities for tapped-dry oil fields in Alberta and finding those that fit a certain set of parameters, all for an economic forecast that the engineering department was putting together for the future of practical drilling. The forecast was finished by March of ‘85 and I was let go ... but in the 9 months that I worked there I was introduced to Lotus ... with which I fell in love. Lotus, for those who don’t know, was the progenitor of Excel.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have the money for a computer that would run it, particularly since I was pursuing a questionable relationship throughout the Autumn of ’84 with an high maintenance harpy. In March of ’85, also, I fell out with my parents and at last left home. I was 21.

So following three years of destitution, having taken my income from Statistics Canada (whom I worked for in ’86) and throwing it away on my first year of University (started mid-term of Jan ’87) ... and getting married in the interim (Nov ’86) ... the only computer I could afford was a Commodore 64. This is a computer that you could, without any real knowledge about computers at all, open up and diddle around with like a toaster. But it carried me through four years of writing and gaming design, despite my never having gotten a Lotus program for it.

But the University I was attending solved that for me. You understand, I was going to university because I’d been all around the real world and I hated it – like Dan Ackroyd said, they expected ‘results.’ University was a nice womb for me, particularly when they filled the place with hundreds of Macintosh computers, all loaded up with Word and, yes you guessed it, Excel.

As a student I had unlimited access to any computer that wasn’t being used by another student ... and so many nights when I had the chance I would spend long, long hours at the university, working on D&D. Everything was on floppy disk, and I still had my Commodore at home, but between the relatively up-to-date Macs and my own piece of shit, I got a lot done. Virtually all the preliminary work that I did on my trade system (the research part) was done on a University Library computer with the whole Library at my elbow. They were good times.

In ’92 I got tired of being a student (I was starting to deliver results, that pissed off my profs, so I realized it was time to go back to the real world) – but I went on using their computers as an alumnus. In ’94 my wife’s MS ceased to be in remission, reducing her to the status of a quadriplegic, so everything else in life got put on hold. I worked, got some freelance material published, got work as an editor on a local magazine and learned how to work in MS Publisher, and watched my partner drift downhill. The magazine folded and we got very broke – and life got very hard for my daughter, my wife and I. The Commodore stopped working and D&D ceased to be any real part of my life. Then I found a government-provided nurse abusing my wife, I tossed her out the front door and was brought up on charges of assault – for which I was found guilty, because my home was technically the nurse’s place of employment. I couldn’t afford the sort of lawyer that could help me prove the abuse, you understand. My sentence was suspended in favor of my taking anger management classes – because it isn’t good to get angry at abusive caregivers – and all government services for my wife were cut off as long as she lived with me. So we separated, and I went into a very bad tailspin that lasted throughout 1997.

Finding myself alone (my daughter was living with my wife and her parents), and with lots of time, working crummy jobs that I didn’t handle well, I found myself returning to D&D for solace. In early ’98 I started using my brain again, and found the means to raise money so that I could start a business of my own. With a partner, I bought a Pentium III computer and started a small coffee shop magazine, for which I sold ads and provided intellectual content ... reading material on humanities and social science subjects, very much like the blogs I write now. We did very well, we made money, we picked up a reputation and things were looking very good after nine months. Unfortunately, old story that it is, my partner cleaned out the bank accounts to pay a court fine that was levied against him for drunk driving – an incident that coincided with my breaking my forearm and having to spend three months in a shoulder-to wrist cast. Between the two circumstances, with no one else to rely on, the magazine died.

But I had the computer, I had time (again), and in the end of 1998 I discovered the Internet. I did not like it at first – not until I discovered porn (yeh!), and soon after the possible applications for D&D. At that time I had no players, no connections to the community remaining, no relationship with anyone else playing D&D at all – and only the old AD&D books in my possession. I unearthed my papers and the old work I’d done on a variety of procedures and began to coalesce it all together into the single unified concept that I have today. Most of the first level of work was done on the Pentium – the motherboard of which still works, to this day, all 1.2 gigs of it, hooked into a different tower from a 2001 PC that I inherited from my present partner.

And now, as I said in the last post, I am practically hip deep in computers. I was able to turn my experience starting my own magazine into a job working for a national magazine, that paid nicely and made possible the existence I live at present – something in the neighborhood of low middle class.

But I want to finish this all with a last note, directed straight at Mincer.

That economic forecast that took nine months to create back in 1984/5 – I asked one of the engineers working there how long it took to do that same forecast ten years later (just about the time Gulf Canada ceased to exist) ... and he told me it would take about five minutes.

I spent nineteen years working on my world before starting in earnest in 1999. If I had had a Pentium to work with, and the Internet, in 1980, I could have done all of that 19 years of work in about as many months. When I think of all the time I spend scratching out lists by hand, and then having to do it again when I updated the list, and then having to do it again when I thought of a better way, I weep. Pen and paper, for all their nostalgic quality, is a rotten process when it comes to revision.

It is a process, in fact, that prevents revision, since as DM you are loathe to open up those tables again, to consider editing anything ... since it means useless hours copying, sore hand and all. So the tables that get made by the paper and pencil crowd are short, sketchy, limited, unimproved and overall, backwards.

Dump it. Get over the hard part, teach yourself the damn programs and get on with it. Throughout every limitation in my life, where most of the time I haven’t even had a computer, I’ve gone on learning how they work, mostly how to make them work for me.

You owe it to yourself to do the same.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Out With The Old

I was watching an old movie yesterday - The Front Page, with Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon, based on the play written about eighty years ago.  I recommend it.  The significant point here is, however, that at one point in the film the diminuative fugitive from the law hides himself in a roll-top desk - and seeing that, I remember that once upon a time I had dearly wanted to own one of those.

My uncle had one, and I loved the feel of it - the polished wood, the rolling lid that would come down and lock, the enclosed writing space and all the little drawers.  I imagined myself filling drawers like those with pens, pencils, erasers, little rulers and geometry tools, clips, clamps, tape, little bottles of paint, brushes and a dozen other things.  Tools that would I use for writing, and making maps, and drawing tables and painting miniatures for combats yet to come.

At this stage in my life, where with a little scrimping and saving, I could afford a desk like this.  But I will never buy one.  The computer has killed it.

I no longer have any use for any of the drawers.  I don't draw maps by hand, I don't work with sheafs of paper, I don't need clips to hold them together and I don't have miniatures anymore - the computer does it all.  Every graphic design need I have is managed - with superiority - by the glowing screen and my deft, easy movements with the mouse.  I don't even write with pen and paper any more.  Once, I had a massive callus on the middle finger of my right hand.  I would show it to people, who would open their eyes and whisper, "wow ..." as it was the size of a raisin.  I built it up through thousands of hours with pen, scratching out pages and pages of material for fiction writing and for D&D.  But it's gone now.  I rarely use a pen more than once a week now - and it always feels strange to have one in my hand.

Moreover, the rolltop desk isn't designed for a computer.  It isn't deep enough and it isn't wide enough - none that I have seen would be.  I need space for the keyboard, the tower, the two monitors I always work with, the mouse pad, the desk lamp, the books piled on both sides of the keyboard and mousepad that I'm referring to as I create, the extra lap-top when one more screen is required ... and my coffee.  Working on anything is a complicated, crushed dance that demands I don't spill my drink into anything critical - which doesn't always work out.

I am a modern designer.   I apply all the same features of design to the game that I ever did when I was designing layout for magazines ten years ago - awful, thankless work that it was (avoid if at all possible).  It is getting simpler in that with the scanner I have (something else that wouldn't fit on a roll-top desk, not to mention the printer), the books are more practical to digitalize and then refer to on-screen.  Not always, but more and more often - as scanners have softly improved over the years.

So the process isn't nostalgic, it isn't comforting and homelike, it is brutally technological and getting moreso by the decade.  I need a room twice the size of the one I'm working in now just to stretch out and get comfortable - which isn't going to happen anytime soon.

What would be really fabulous would be a room so large that the desk where I always worked was automatically at the head of a table that would seat at least eight to ten people.  Where I could swivel one of the screens around and start playing without having to schlep my books or modify my daily workstation.

Sadly, I live in an apartment, with a marvellous view of the downtown core, immediate convenience to the heart of the city and without any rooms of real dimension.  It's all about trade-offs.

Still, I might get it together to move into a house someday, with a very large, single-roomed basement.  Sounds like heaven to me.

Girls Are Geniuses Too

I'd like to throw out a quick encouragement for readers to have a look at the new link on the right, Girl Genius.  This is something I started reading about two years ago; but after reading fifteen or twenty panels, I lost interest and quit.  There wasn't a lot of text, the continuity and transitions tended to be jumpy and overall the storyline seemed like it was going to go places that didn't interest me.

I was so wrong.

A couple of weeks ago, out of boredom, I took another crack at it.  Almost immediately after the point when I'd first quit, the story started to kick in, and after about forty panels I was completely hooked.  As a story it is crazy complicated, with many, many characters and a great deal of in-story references that must be grasped to get what the story is about (and the artist seems in no way willing to stop adding characters and complexity) ... but it is funny, clever, smart and the story lines do eventually get wrapped up - or so I assume, because its two weeks later and I'm still reading.

That's because the first panel begins in November, 2002, and the happily insane artist has been producing three panels a week for the last eight years.  I'm about half way through the story at present, thoroughly enjoying that I have another comfortable week or two of reading ahead of me.  The comic is still in production, so at some time I will catch up and find myself hanging like everyone else for my weekly fix.

Give it a good try.  For those fascinated by steampunk, this is required reading.  I kid you not.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Kleptomaniac Hero

I confess.  Where it comes to the RPG cliche, "The Higher the Hair, the Closer To God," I have nothing to say.  It is a visual cliche, I don't have any real connection with anime and I'm just going to skip it.

That brings us to:

"Garrett's Principle:" Let's not mince words: you're a thief. You can walk into just about anybody's house like the door wasn't even locked. You just barge right in and start looking for stuff. Anything you can find that's not nailed down (or on fire) is yours to keep. You will often walk into perfect strangers' houses, lift their precious artifacts, and then chat with them like you were old neighbors as you head back out with their family heirlooms under your arm. Unfortunately, this never works in stores.

Morality in D&D has always been highly questionable, but all the more so when characters of so-called 'good' alignment casually walk off with the same treasure as any other character at the adventure's end.  Thou shalt not kill ... actually, its more of a guideline.  Thou shalt not steal ... listen, on the QT, this one is really for the common folk - don't you worry about it, I know you're going to have to take stuff to get the job done.

I don't play alignments, so for the most part I don't give a shit about whether my players are decent people or not - nor do they.  And treasure IS a central feature of the game's dynamic, along with ripping off the prized possession of every temple and isolated tribe from here to Panjot.

Admittedly, some players do possess a certain righteousness where it comes to treasure - thinking about the second Indiana Jones film, the 'right' thing is done by taking the stone from the evil cult and giving it back to the peaceful village ... but no one questions, ever, how this particular peaceful village obtained the stone in the first place.  They obviously did not dig it out of the ground.  Given the early history of India, I find it more likely that the bad people who like to burn people up are actually the legitimate owners ... having probably been given the stone by Shiva thousands of years earlier - who's nickname is, after all, the 'Destroyer,' and not the 'Happy Village Giver.'

Origins are important.  It is particularly laughable when Indiana, at the beginning of movie 3, shouts righteously about the Cross of Coronado (or whatever damn thing it was), "THAT SHOULD BE IN A MUSEUM!"  And then makes sure that it goes to one - an American museum, of course.  Not a Mexican Museum.  Or a Spanish Museum.  Oh no.  Let's not get crazy with our righteous indignation.

My point is that treasures actually originate from somewhere.  Tell me if this sounds familiar.  A village is raided by a party of seventy-five kobalds; the villagers appeal to the strong-looking party members to help them, and the party goes out and does that deed well, slaughtering the bad guys and plundering the treasure. They return to the village, who cheer and welcome the conquering heroes with a great feast.  The heroes re-equip and head on their happy way.

So let me get this straight.  The kobalds steal the villager's wealth; then the party steals the villager's wealth from the kobalds, calling it treasure.  They don't give ANY of it back to the village, and in gratitude for this great achievement, the villagers give food and entertainment.  Hurm.

Naturally, parties view that sort of selflessness as 'payment' or some such ... the village is rid of the kobalds, right?  Heck, they can make more money next year.  I need a sword now.  What's the problem?

Players do have a bit of a blind spot where it comes to this sort of thing.  The treasure I described in the last post, that my party just collected from the drow and their goblin horde was itself collected from neighboring hexes - and the people dwelling in the party's fief - over the previous year.  Some 500 ordinary human and elven villagers (men, women and children) were systematically massacred one village at a time, and 800 more elves, humans and other residents were driven off from an area of about 900 sq.m., in order to amass the coin and other treasure found ... but I'm sure the party hasn't considered giving a single coin to the distressed families.  Not yet.  I'll point it out, and they'll hand over some token sum.

But in fact ALL of it originated otherwise from the villains who were just killed.  However well-intentioned the party might be, a considerable number of residents have lost their homes and their possessions and won't see them returned.  Which is all well and good, this is D&D.  But is it heroic?

Face it, the answer is no.  I don't have a problem, I've always argued the players aren't expected to be fucking heroes, haven't I?

Not that there aren't proud players out there who adhere to Francis of Assisi's inspiration of poverty, who would hand back the whole kobald treasure to the village - or, at least, their share of it.  Most times, these wonderful selfless players sort of overlook their association to the more possessive members of the party, while spouting such 'worthy' rhetoric as, "Each must come to understand the goodness of generousity for themselves," or "I am here to help them see the light."

Uh huh.  To put it another way, their character is there to shore up the left flank, and help these as-yet-selfish bastards the opportunity to enrich themselves, with your character as dupe.  You know, Father Francis didn't hang out with the Pope, or the Medicis, or any of the mulititude of self-serving Italians who were around in his day.  You don't aid charity by helping plunderers plunder.  Just a small point there.

Yet this is D&D, and we have to overlook things like hypocrisy and such ... good ol' Francis would have made a pretty dull player character.

As a DM, however, I'd suggest making the local NPC's a little less grateful to players who are just thieves who steal from the local thieves.  How about when the players return to the village, the villagers tone down the joyous celebration for a bit until the party answers a simple query: "How much of OUR stuff did you get back?"

It's a fair question.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Done With That!

Seems like this is the time to end things.  The explanation point in the title is not for ending the online campaign, which I've only just done this morning.  Rather, it is to commemorate the ending of the player's mass combat battle, that started in February and has ended this last Saturday, a total of TEN runnings.

The battle ended with most of the party within one or two blows of being killed.  The 9th level druid was killed.  Very nearly also were the 6th level illusionist and the 5th level bard.  But the illusionist was able to use his wand of paralyzation against the drow Queen (a 9th level fighter/magic user) - the second blast got past the Queen's magic resistance and she blew her saving throw.  The road not taken was that if the second blast had failed, the Queen would have gotten a hold of the paralyzation wand, would have used it generally against the party and things would have gotten very bad.  She ventured out to get the wand once she had ascertained that the illusionist possessed it - and rather than use her wand of fire to destroy the illusionist (which might have ruined the wand of paralyzation), she exposed herself.  If not for the on-the-spot arrival of the 5th level paladin on her warhorse (moving awfully fast), the illusionist would have died.

It was all downhill from there.  The 9th level fighter, who had joined from the other fiefdom (and who broke his arm during the combat) was able to sustain the West Gate, and kill off the drow 6th level fighter enjoying the benefits of a haste spell.  The party at the southeast gate finally broke through, and flooded the map with fresh fighters, who wrapped up the small combats quickly.

Surprisingly, the total time for the whole combat was 35 rounds.  As I said, the combatants were about 225 friendlies against 450 unfriendlies ... but that didn't lengthen the combat time very much.  Ballistas in the enemy hands did prove their worth, but the reload time was so slow that I'm thinking about changing that - even if its illogical, a faster reload time would make seige weapons more worthy of the cost and effort.  To match believable movement rates, rounds are 12 seconds long; the reload time for a catapult was set at 6 minutes and a ballista at 4 minutes (times suggested by source materials).  But that's obviously way too long.  I would lower them each to once every six to eight rounds if I were ever to do this again.

I really don't know if I would.  It took up a lot of campaign time, five months of my D&D running career (I'm not going to live forever).  The party seemed to enjoy it ... and they were certainly happy about the final result.

What follows is primarily for the party's benefit, and for posterity (so I can look at this some years from now).  Here was the fallout.

There were six players in the game.

Kat began the combat as a 1st level assassin, Lorell.  As I was giving experience out for damage done and damage taken at the end of each night, she had made it to 2nd level assassin by the end of the 9th session.  She was given 1/32nd share of the treasure, commensurate with her level, but because she had no henchmen to share it with, she was able to keep all of it for herself.  This amounted to 18,000 experience, making her quite comfortably 5th level.

Melissa began the combat as a 1st level mage, Falcon.  She, too, was able to rise to 2nd level, and she, too, got the share that Kat got.  She also jumped to 5th level.

The justification for both those players to increase so much wasn't contested by the party; they had both managed to survive in the thick of the action in spite of being first level, which meant good playing and avoiding a quick and rapid death, which could have hit either of them at any time.  It was only through smart play that they lived.  And since I feel that in real life, a huge amount of experience is gained by surviving through such an ordeal, I didn't have a problem with it.  This is a game, after all.  I know that many in the past on this blog and elsewhere have bitched and rowed about why they shouldn't be entitled to go up more than one level ... I don't really care about those people.  Both girls, playing in their first campaign, were very happy.  And after all, just because they're fifth now, doesn't guarantee they'll survive their next combat.

The next lowest level of the party was Chris, who has had a 6th level monk (Shalar) for what seems forever, along with a 6th level cleric (Widda) as henchman.  The cleric goes up levels much faster than the monk; so while Shalar was at 59,000 X.P. at the start of the combat, Widda at half that, just over 29,000, was the same level.  Chris' characters received 7/32 of the treasure, which was enough to bounce the monk Shalar up to 90,000 X.P, and Widda to 47,000 (distribution was 2:1).  Unfortunately, neither character went up a level - which was highly unusual.  However, this was appeased somewhat by Widda finding a potion of longevity, which reduced her age from 63 to 53 - enough to kick her strength and constitution up by 1 point each.  Since this increased Widda's strength from 17+1+1 to 18+1+2, and her constitution up to 16 (giving the character six more permanent hit points from bonuses), Chris was happy enough.  And both characters should go up soon.

For anyone who has played a monk, they know that 7th level is the Holy Grail: 2 attacks per round, a better fighting table, the first time the open hand damage exceeds a normal weapon average (6, as opposed to a halberd's 5.5).  Chris is champing somewhat at the bit, now being only 8,000 X.P. away.

My Wife also got a 7/32nd share.  Her 8th level mage, Garalzapan, and her 5th level paladin, Neema, both went up a level; her 4th level fighter, Hig, fell 3,000 X.P. short of 5th (distribution was 4:2:1).  My Wife is deliriously happy.  She also found out just how close she came to dying throughout the whole battle.

Jumping the whole campaign to six weeks after the combat, so that the magic could be identified and therefore distributed rationally, she learned that the drow Queen had been carrying an arrow of slaying designed to kill magic users.  Only chance meant that my Wife had never happened to cast any spell where the Queen could see her do it; the arrow of slaying has no saving throw, and a 9th level drow fighter would have hit Garalzapan's AC on a 4 in 20.  This is information I have been sitting on for six months, ever since I rolled the item and put it in the Queen's possession, without ever breathing a word of it ... wondering every session if this was going to be the one where my Wife's mage was to die.

Sometimes it is hard to be a DM.

My daughter's characters got 8/32nds of the treasure.  This was enough to boost her 7th level ranger, Falun, to 8th level, her 4th level thief, Ariana, to 5th, and her 2nd level mage/thief, Frederick, to 3rd - but her 6th level illusionist, Pen, did not go up a level ... a cruel act of fate, since Pen ultimately saved everyone, including himself.  He was given a +2 ring of protection in compensation.  My daughter was of course adamant that we roll up the ranger's followers RIGHT THEN AND THERE, though it was past 1 a.m. - so we did.  The most interesting result was two werebears, which are going to prove very interesting in the future.

And finally, Kevin received the same treasure as my daughter.  This jumped his 9th level druid (revived by a death's door spell); Pikel, to 10th level; his 5th level bard, Lyrial, to 6th; and finally, his 1st level fighter, Urlgel, to 3rd.  I'm fairly certain that his 6th level thief, Ivan, did not go up to 7th, but I'll have to ask.

More than anyone, Kevin took the hardest hit in the combat, though he acquitted himself very well.  He did lose a low level henchman, Dinin, during the combat.  Though his main character went up a level, Pikel is in the doldrums as far as a druid going up levels (I don't play the rule where druids must fight other druids), since the spells aren't that much of an improvement, and getting stronger is just a process of a few more hit points each level.  And the worst moment of the night was when Urlgen rolled his 2d10 for increased hit points, and rolled two's back to back.  Total increase, adding constitution: 8.  There was much gnashing of teeth.

So, all told, 15 levels gained.  Four characters are entitled to new henchmen: Lorell, Falcon, Garalzapan and Ariana.  Pikel is entitled to a henchman to replace Dinin, who died.  His druid Pikel is entitled to another animal friend, to join his wolf, bear and sabre-toothed tiger.

Thus, a massive haul.  The final total for X.P. was in the neighborhood of 576,000 total ... which matched with a trade system treasure algorithm I've been working on, based on the strength of the defeated enemy as a percentage of the total strength of all persons accounted for in that trading zone.  No single player got more than 32,000 X.P., which was Garalzapan - who received most of the arms and equipment because, technically, the battle was fought on land for which she is the fief lord.  She doesn't know it yet (not being that steeped in D&D detail), but as she has reached 9th level, that is name level for mages, and her character is about to be made a Landgraf of Transylvania ... that is, lesser nobility.

(it's a Holy Roman title, but I can't find the equivalent in Transylvania so that title will do; I'm sure my Wife won't mind)

32000 was more than two thirds the total she needed to go from 90,000 to 135,000 ... but it's a short level for a mage.  I compare it with giving a 2nd level thief (another short level) a mere 900 X.P. for a single encounter.  Considering that it took ten runnings to play out the battle, I find the final totals fair, reasonable and encouraging for the players.

A last note: there are so many changes in the party, so many new people and so many increases in levels that I find myself pressed to manage all the changes.  The fief that needs developing, the things the party will wish to buy with their sudden wealth, the need to rewrite spell levels for druids, bards and mages (spells need to be updated for how they work in my campaign, and I haven't done the spells the party has just climbed up into), plus an enormity of other details.

Funny, I could have been doing this for the previous six months.  But it never seems important at the time ...

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Let's Try It From The Beginning Again

Let's begin with a simple map, with simple place names, and proceed from there.

This is the kingdom of Hothior, from Divine Right, scanned from my original copy bought used in 1982. We can use it to establish the trading system exactly as I designed it, on a small scale. For my system, I used real data gleaned from two primary sources: an ancient, 1952 encyclopedia, and a United Nations Statistical Yearbook. But we don’t have to get that technical in order to demonstrate how this works. We can hedge and fudge in whatever manner that’s needed.

To start, every kind of produced good in the world has a source. For our needs, from the map of Hothior, we can define eight sources: the four cities, Port Lork, Tadafat, Lapspell and Farnot; the two rivers, the Flood Water and the Ebbing; one forest, the Bad Axe; and the entire country itself, Hothior. There are other sources on the map, namely the Sea, the Shaker Mts., Mivior on the west, the Waterless Downs and so forth (along with the sea) ... but we can ignore all of those and concentrate on just these eight localities. Note that sources do not need to reflect a single geographical point or hex ... because it is not that which determines the value of a produced good.

The trading system starts with gold. Let us say, for simplicity’s sake, that there is only one source on the map that produces gold, and let’s say that that source is the Bad Axe forest. It doesn’t really matter where in the forest, but let’s say two hexes west of Port Lork, where the forest butts up against the Shaker Mts. There you go, we have 1 reference for gold in the kingdom of Hothior. Indeed, for the entire closed system we’re about to build.

Now, it is going to occur to you to think that the gold ought to be more valuable the further from this source that you get, but if you try to build a system on that perfectly realistic assumption, you’re going to drive yourself freaking nuts in very short order. So let’s say, rather, that gold is such a valuable, precious item that the crown has established a ‘gold standard,’ so that no matter where in the kingdom you are, all gold is the same value.

What you need next is a number which indicates the weight of gold that is produced by this one source. Any number will do, really – and your system will very much depend on whether this is a high number or a low number. For our example, we’re going to say that the mine in the Bax Axe forest produces 2,000 ounces of gold.

Very well. Let's say that for the moment, we'll assign 2,000 ounces of gold for each reference we add.  Later, we can change the gold per reference, but we'll start with this.

A good first commodity after gold is grain. Let’s specify some references for grain. I think it very reasonable that the Ebbing and the Flood Water would both have grain farms along their valleys, and that Port Lork and Tadafat on the River are both surrounded by farms. Farnot looks like a fishing town, so let’s say there’s no significant grain there, but there might be some grain produced in the east end of the kingdom, around Lapspell. Of course, the Bad Axe forest is right out. Finally, we can say that Hothior, over all, produces grain.

Altogether, that’s six references: the two rivers, Port Lork, Tadafat and Lapspell, and all of Hothior. Six references at 2,000 ounces of gold per reference gives a total value for all the grain produced in the kingdom as 12,000 ounces of gold.

Now, the tendency will be to think that the total grain should be divided into the total gold, but I’m going to urge you not to undertake that idea. I’ve tried it, I wasted ten years on it, and the logic is faulty. All the gold in the world is not equal to all the grain in the world. It just isn’t. If you compare the value of all the gold mining companies against all the oil drilling companies, you’ll realize the truth of what I’m saying.

For those gentle readers who are saying to themselves, “Well that’s obvious,” I’m so glad. It wasn’t to me. I had to reason it out the hard way. But I’m there now, and hopefully we’re all agreed here and we can move on.

Like gold, we are going to need a weight for all the grain produced. I get these weights from source material, calculated to reflect the 17th century, but we can just make numbers up. Let’s say that Hothior produces 7800 tons of grain. That may not seem like much, but we’ll agree that Hothior is a small country, and technique is the watchword here, and not realism. We could easily say that Hothior produces 20 references, or 30 references, more in meeting with the population it has, but that is of no importance now.

So we’ve established that 6 references of grain = 7,800 tons, and therefore that 1 reference of grain = 1,300 tons. Thus,

2,000 ounces of gold = 1,300 tons of grain. That’s simple enough. If you add another reference of gold, you decrease the cost of grain, and if you add another reference of grain, you increase the cost of grain.

Hold on, what now?

Read that again, very carefully. More gold in the system deflates the price of everything else, as it deflates the value of gold. An increase in the supply of anything always deflates its value. It is sound reasoning, once you recognize that "references" do not equal value, but importance.  They are merely a method for comparing value.

If another reference of gold is added, it does not change the amount of gold in the system. It is an interesting circumstance, one which I solve by already knowing the total amount of gold, everywhere. Thus, the number of gold references is divided by the pre-determined amount of gold, and this determines the value of all references throughout the entire system.

Thus, with 1 reference of gold against 6 references of grain, all the grain in the world would be worth 6 times the value of all the gold in the world. Which, if there is 2,000 gold ounces in the world, would be worth the 12,000 gold ounces we said earlier.

But if we increase the number of references of gold to 2, each gold reference would be equal to 1,000 gold ounces (because the total gold is static). Therefore, the grain in the system would then drop in value by half.

This is why it is good to sprinkle a fair number of gold references throughout, and to have an intial static number that is fairly generous ... so that if you choose to add a gold reference, it isn't a shocking change to the overall system.

Good. This gives you the basis for producing a single list upon which to base gross commodity prices on, which could apply to any part of your world. We’re ready for Step Two.

What I do at this point is to assign the references to a particular product into the centers that market that product. For the purpose of this template, let’s say that all four towns are markets.

Thus, we assign the river Ebbing and the grain fields around Tadafat to the city of Tadafat itself. We assign the grain around Lapspell to Lapspell. We assign the river Flood Water and the town of Port Lork to Port Lork, and we assign the whole kingdom to Port Lork as well, since it is the capital of Hothior.

Thus we have:

You can get as detailed as you want with assigning references or tenths of references to specific hexes and calculating out the exact amount of what hex is transported to what city, but none of that is really necessary. At any rate, what we have here is a distribution of grain produced in Hothior according to what center accounts for it.

What we do not have is a distribution according to how much it costs. That is another matter entirely.

Let us consider Farnot, which has no grain references. We can see from the map that it is 2 hexes from Port Lork, 3 hexes from Lapspell and 5 hexes from Tadafat.

Suppose we divide the total grain references above by those various distances, in order to get a comparison of geographic convenience to grain sources for the town of Farnot. Now, for reasons that will become evident later, we add 1 to each distance, so that Farnot is ‘3’ from Port Lork, ‘6’ from Tadafat and so on.

Thus, we can calculate that from Port Lork, 3/3 = 1.00; from Tadafat, 2/6 = 0.33; and from Lapspell, 1/4 = 0.25. We’ll keep our numbers at two significant digits (I typically use four for my system), and the total pricing references for Farnot can be established at 1.58.

We can do the same for the other cities as well. Port Lork is zero distance from itself, but we add 1 to make this distance ‘1’ (Aha!); it is ‘4’ from Tadafat and ‘5’ from Lapspell. Thus, Port Lork gives 3/1 = 3.00, Tadafat 2/4 = 0.50, and Lapspell is 1/5 = 0.20. Total: 3.70.

Calculating for all the cities gives us these results:

Tadafat manages to remain quite significant, since it draws more from Port Lork than the reverse. And Farnot is not so far behind Lapspell, since it is much more centrally located and has better access to the Port Lork market.

As an aside, for distance calculation I would tend to say the trip down the Ebbing and Flood Water to Port Lork was more easily accomplished than the reverse, and that both cities were closer together because of the water. The same would be true for Farnot and Lapspell, which are much closer by sea than they are by land. I’d also take note that the sea route from Farnot to Port Lork would not be so helpful, since the long peninsula necessitates a long journey by that means. I’m dispensing with all this because of trying to keep things simple ... but by rule of thumb, I calculate a distance over water at 1/3 the distance over land. I also have a calculation for moving down river as opposed to moving up river, but none of that is important right now.

Fair enough. The observant viewer will take note that the total of all the pricing references is more than 6. It equals 10.13, in fact. You may make use of this dichotomy by proposing that the movement of goods increases the overall value (it’s true! I read it in an economic textbook), but for my system the sum of pricing references is irrelevant – the market is fluid, and there can be more ‘value’ in it than there is actual commodity. Each individual city has the price of grain calculated for that city alone, so it doesn’t goof the system anyway. Try to hold onto the knowledge that the value of grain at this point is merely a base number, to be modified by additional calculations.

Things may appear to get a bit rickety at this point, but the purpose here is to calculate the pricing reference value against the total value of all gold vs. grain, and calculate it into gold pieces.

We already know that the value of grain in the world is 12,000 gold ounces; say we want to determine the base price, in gold pieces, for Farnot. We take the pricing references (1.58) and divide them into the total produced grain references (6) and multiply them against the total value of grain (12,000 gold ounces) – which is 1.58/6*12000 = 3,160.

And just for interest, we divide the local value of grain (3,160 gold ounces) into the total quantity of grain (7,800 tons).

For this next bit, I botched it up entirely the first time that I wrote it. I'll try and get it right this time.

To get the price, we start with the base world price, which is the value in gold of the world's grain (12000 gold ounces) divided by the total weight of the world's grain (7800 tons), which gives ounces/ton, or 1.5385 oz./ton. This is then multiplied by the number of gold coins per ounce. In my world, that’s 8.715 (3.56 grams/coin), but you can make your gold coin any size you want. Let’s say there are six gold coins per gold ounce, and for good measure lets remember there are 200 c.p. per g.p. in old AD&D. Thus, if we want the value in copper coins, we have 1.5385*6*200 = a base price of 1,846.15 c.p. per ton.

This is actually a bit high. I apply (because it proved necessary to control my pricing) a completely ad hoc base line that says a center whose pricing references equals 5% of the world’s total references should produce an average price; Farnot, in our little system, has 26.3% of Hothior’s total. Thus we take that percentage and divide it by 5%, and then we divide that sum by the base price given above – which is 1846.15/(0.263/0.05) = a price ‘adjusted for travel’ of 350.54 c.p. per ton.

Thus we produce a different price for every city, that price not being based on a random system, but upon flat calculations that change based upon the city's physical position in the world.

Well, if you can catch your breath, we can move on to Step Three.

This last price is, in fact, the price I would use for the farmer to sell his hauled, unprepared grain to the town market. This would be grain that, while the chaff was largely removed, would yet have to be cleaned. This is typically done by the miller, who then might sell the prepared grain whole, or use the prepared grain to make flour.

I’m insane, so I take the time to calculate out all three prices: uncleaned grain, prepared grain and flour. I could work out a price for meal and groats also, but let’s not go there right now.

Now, as it happens, my world has sets of references for hundreds of different goods and services, and one of those groups of references is for ‘foodstuffs;’ like grain throughout the example above, foodstuffs too would derive from sources at specific cities, and be gathered together at markets, and be subject to the same system to create a unique pricing reference for each place of sale. Unlike grain, however, foodstuffs are a service, and work differently from raw material goods like grain (or ores, stone, fruits, fish and so on).

To save us the enormous hassle of working out just what the foodstuffs references there are throughout the kingdom of Hothior in this post (like I want to do this for another five hundred words), let’s just assume that chance means the foodstuffs pricing references = 3.00. There tends to be a lot of foodstuff references in my world.

In calculating the price required to clean grain and make it prepared, we take the adjusted price above - which is the price of uncleaned grain (350.54 c.p./ton) - and divide it by the foodstuffs pricing references (3.00); then add it again to the uncleaned price. Thus, 350.54/3.00+350.54 = 467.38. The difference is the miller’s mark-up for cleaning the grain (‘prepared’ grain).

If the pricing references for foodstuffs is higher, there are more millers and the mark-up is reduced. If there the pricing references are lower, there are less millers and the mark-up is increased. Couldn’t be easier.

Once you know the price of prepared grain, you adjust it again for turning it into flour, once again based on the number of ‘flour’ references, as opposed to ‘foodstuffs.’ The price is then increased again if you’re buying cakes made from the flour by a cakemaker. Cakemakers, too, have their own pricing reference. In all, counting it up for posterity, I find I have 857 different types of pricing references for my system ... each one calculated exactly in the manner above, although I use excel to make most of the calculations automatic.

At this point, I have worked it down that I’m able to calculate the number of references for each individual market center, by dividing it by that center’s distance from every other center, cutting and then dividing it by all the sources everywhere in the world, and then pasting that set of numbers into the first page of an excel spreadsheet that is my pricing template. This then automatically calculates all the prices for the more than 1,200 objects I make available for my players. With cutting and pasting, I can do this in, as I say, less than 60 seconds, saving the new equipment list to a flashdrive which my players can then use.

All of this can be attested by Carl at Three Hams Inn, as he was in my study about a year ago, when I showed him the tables in question and walked him through how they worked.

As you can see from the above, it really isn’t that complicated a system. The complication comes in how many different specific options you wish to add to your world. For example, I have 15 different types of wine, and 12 types of distilled liquor, and that’s without adding Spain, Africa or the New World to my system. Spain undoubtedly has more kinds of wine – hey, I don’t have sherry yet!

Add to this the possible combinations of references, such as wine soaked cakes, which would again increase the price of the cakes in the example above (the price of the wine and the flour are added together, in the right proportions, before they are modified by the cakemaker), and you have an endless potential for automatically generating the prices of things, all within a single, unified system.

Fun, eh? Have I got you thinking now?


Adam Thornton seems duty bound to provide me with subjects to write about, and for that I am grateful.

His comment on my last post ended with him wondering what the payback might be for the “immense amount of labor” that I do to create my economic system. “I don’t know where your work-to-reward equation balances,” he says.

It balances in three ways.

First and right off the cuff,

Adam’s self-same comment expresses pleasure at reading my economic posts. I get a fair amount of interest for them from people on the web, including people trying to reproduce my work, and people making the effort to understand and/or discuss directly the foundation of the system.

In other words, I’ve created something original that has many people scratching their heads, agreeing or disagreeing with the value, either praising me or damning me. It feels good to generate discourse among intelligent people, and to be recognized as the creator of that discourse. I’m as vain as anyone; I like having people describe my efforts as either insanely “crunchy” or “jaw-dropping.” It is a very tiny celebrity, but I like it.

I am better known for this particular windmill that I joust with than for anything else - with the exception of my prickly, backbiting, pitbull-gone-rabid attitude that I spray like a garden hose on any luckless fellow who dares to make a small point on my blog. And yet, in spite of that, I’m respected for the hard work that I do, for my honesty in tackling the subject of D&D and for my refusal to cater to authority.

I have worked very hard at this system, and I’ve demonstrated that work to an extent that shows my commitment to producing solid numbers and practical returns. This means that, whatever my personality, no one can casually dismiss my work without themselves looking like an idiot. The gentle reader may hate me, the gentle reader may disagree with me, the gentle reader may find me irritating, and irrationally focused on things of baffling irrelevance, but the gentle reader cannot dispute my sincerity. It is a question of what we find important. I don’t expect the world to come along for my ride; but goddamn it, the world is going to step back and let me go where I want, or there will be hell to pay.

When I recognize that people have seen that, I feel paid back.


That isn't enough, not by half.  I started this system back in 1986, twenty-two years before beginning this blog ... so clearly, I'm not doing the work to get the fame.  I did not start back then thinking someday I'd get the chance to show others.  The only people I ever expected to see any of this were my players - and my players back then were tortured by the dozen or so faulty and disastrous incarnations that preceded this one, the one that works.

But I feel I am breaking ground, and fundamentally adding something to the game that wasn't there to begin with.  When I used to play, I was always enormously frustrated with the short, lame presentation of the laughable equipment list in the Player's Handbook.  Here I was with hundreds of gold pieces to spend, and sometimes thousands, and already possessed of all the weapons, armor, dungeon equipment and horses that I could reasonably expect to use.  Buying a ship is an expensive proposition, sure, but once you've bought one what do you do with with the next 25,000 gold pieces?

I was highly dissatisfied with DMs rattling off random numbers whenever I would ask about anything like wanting a velvet dress for my female character prior to visiting with the Duchess who was expecting her, or an altar for my male cleric's church that would include my clan's heraldic system carved into the front of it, or how many books I could buy in a town - and their contents - for the "world's greatest library" I had committed my monk character to building as my contribution to a sandbox campaign.  DMs seemed to be universally at odds and sods when it came to providing any information about purchase items, and overall seemed to downplay the importance of my materialistic interests when it came to building up my character.  But hell, it was important to me what my character wore, and ate, and carried ... and I took it with disfavor that the numbers shooting out at me - a hundred gold for this, fifty gold for that, a thousand gold if you want this done - were random punishments for my being particular.

Obviously, I expected to pay more for things that were rare, or artistically fashioned ... but the lack of any framework for how much more seemed to me pretty ad hoc and ridiculous.  And made worse by the fact that if the DM had chosen to say "30 gold" that day rather than "50 gold," I could afford to buy two swords in the 'everything-breaks-like-glass' world that I was running in.

So I felt I owed it to my players to have more to say about the outfitting cost of their recent venture than, "Because I said so."  I felt that on some level, to make my world more fair and open and legitamately a place where players could apply their imaginations without getting fucked up the ass for it, I ought to produce a level of equanimity to the single most important aspect of gaming after combat: BUYING THINGS.

Yes, admittedly, my ambitions for how crunchy said equanimanous system would ultimately become were far reaching.  And it did take a great deal of time to fabricate and implement ... during which time I have vastly increased my knowledge about the creation of ordinary, everyday objects - not to mention the means by which everything from concrete to fireworks is made - the working of economic systems and a great many other things.  So I have been paid for my time right there.

But I am also watching my players expand their knowledge about these same things, and I am encouraging a greater knowledge overall among other DMs, suggesting that perhaps we should start seeing things in their complete capacity.  My players are growing quite adept, and this in turn is promoting a wider resource for their imaginations, encouraging them to pursue adventures that are more creative and deeper than the ordinary killing of dragons.

So I feel very well paid indeed.

And Thirdly,

In Adam's comments, he made reference to things like the Perseus Project, and mercantile records that I might seek out for more information, specifically from the ancient world.  I have been there, for as I've said on this blog many times, I was a Classics graduate.  I was thrilled when I ran across such things back in '88 and '89 in my second and third years.  But the fundamental point I want to make about this is that Classics is a pursuit that people undertake because they love it.  Whereas it's study is a great contribution in things like law, politics and public speaking, for those people who stay in the field, they need little other encouragement to continue piecing together parts of the past than the simple love of the material itself.

It is a love I can relate to, as for seven years, during my time as a professional student, I was deeply steeped in the subject.  As a student who had no intentions at that time to ever stop going to school, there were many subjects that I undertook to understand; I took quite a number of options for no other reason than because I wanted to learn.  When it came time for me to leave university, I had a number of different choices as to what to finally declare as my degree ... and that did happen to be Classics.

But leaving school did not mean, for me, ceasing to learn.  I have continued the pursuit of scholarship, which I learned did not require professors or yearly fees.

In the late '90s and up until 2003, I worked on my trade system when I had no players at all ... proving that the subject has such an appeal for me that I don't actually need to apply it to Dungeons and Dragons.  There is something compelling, indeed, hypnotic, about determining the source of materials, tracing them through their manufacture and movement over a simulated map - the creation of which is, itself, enthralling - and then establishing their final value according to a wide range of natural and geo-political conditions, expanding my comprehension at the same time.  Hell, I don't even care if the results are accurate - though they repeatedly seem to coincide with alternate source materials which have no influence on my trade system - such as the matter of the Khyber Pass, which I recently posted about.

And lastly, now and then I am able to solve the error in some calculation that has been poisoning the system for some period of time ... causing me to feel, for a day and a half, like an amazing fucking genius.  Major payback.


If I could be allowed to sum up: I have created something that is original and which brings me respect, while causing people to see in a new light a game which they love, while at the same time providing my world with clarification and depth and indulging myself in a complicated puzzle that fascinates me to the core of my being.

Not to mention that I have been pursuing a singular, constructive commitment that has carried me through more than twenty years of pleasure and time that I see as being well spent ... with every expectation that the complexity of the problem will allow me greater insight and greater opportunities for achievement in an unlimited future.

Let me ask, then, for the gentle reader who does not 'get it':

"What the fuck have you done lately?"

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Workers Of The World ... Stand Up And Be Counted. Please.

While it happens that blogspot seems incapable of producing comments on the last post (I know of two that are not showing on the page), I'll just repeat here to Adam that while I found his comeback very funny, I don't actually have any intentions of incorporating any of the things he suggests from point (3) on down.  Ever.

He is, however, quite right about point (1): I do know the amount of raw materials available in my world.  Sadly, point (2), that I have a pretty good idea of what kind of labor any given item will require to produce, is dead wrong.

In actual fact, I haven't the slightest idea.

Consider, if you will, a sword.  It is made of metal, which is fashioned from a variety of ores - namely, an alloy of iron, nickle and manganese.  I know how much of those three substances are produced in my world, and I can calculate the price of the sword from the availability of those substances, and from the availability of services to make the weapon.  Unfortunately, that 'availability' is calculated according to an abstract economic model which does NOT incorporate labor.  Why?  Because stats for labor don't exist.  They simply don't.

Let us say that we know how much rock a miner can clear in the space of a day.  Does that give us any idea of how much ore he produces?  No.  Ore exists as a percentage of the rock, a percentage that varies widely from mine to mine, worldwide.  Whereas one miner might find that 4% of the rock cleared is valuable ore, another miner might be working a vein where every ounce is.  Or it may take weeks, months, even years of solid work to get to that vein ... work which produces no economic value at all.  Knowing that a set amount of ore is produced from a given mine gives me no idea whatsoever how much labor was needed to produce that ore.  It doesn't even suggest how many miners might be involved.

Farming is exactly the same ... though some might assume otherwise.  But while the grain in a particular field might grow over a given, measurable period, this does not tell me how many people were employed in sowing, weeding and harvesting that grain.  I have anecdotal accounts from the medieval period that says one family typically lived on 30 acres of land - but how large is the family?  How many of the children contributed to the labor?  To what degree does the production of the grain depend upon temporary workers, which we know were employed by peasants? (cotters and such were landless peasants who performed labor in return for food)

And in any event, knowing how much labor it required to produce a field of grain gives no clue or comparison to the number of men needed to produce the ore in the above example.

Add to this that even if I knew how many laborers might work in a mine that produced such and such an amount of ore (which I don't), this wouldn't be any help in knowing how many it took to puddle the ore, or smelt it into the alloy, or even how long it took the blacksmith to hammer the metal into a sword.  How much of the blacksmith's time was wasted in having to reforge a weapon in which an impurity in the metal itself occurred?  How much longer did it take to make a broadsword as compared to a cuirass?  Was it less time?

We simply don't know.  Such information, for every conceivable item that a D&D player might purchase, has never been recorded.  Modern measurements of time to do work are useless, since they are post-industrial ... and at any rate, they'd be a lie.  For instance, how long does it take to do your job, compared with how long your boss thinks it takes?  Why would the medieval world be any different.

It has been a long-time head-scratcher, to be sure, contemplating how to calculate a day's wages from the production of goods.  It is frustrating that I can know a particular city is responsible for the production of a given percentage of the world's swords (or processed tobacco or apple cider or felt hats), but I haven't the first clue how many swordmakers there are.

I'd love an encompassing strategy to solve it, because all too often my parties want to hire people and I'm stuck throwing darts at a dartboard.

Monday, July 5, 2010

"Sorry, We're Out"

This last weekend I spent most of my free time working out an algorithm for my equipment table, intended to make things a little more interesting. Principally, I mean to have it calculated automatically whether or not a particular object will be available for sale, based upon the actual prevalence of that object in the area where the market is to be found. What this means is not a flat random result for every object - certain things will always be found in certain areas, without fail. Beer, for example, will always appear on the list if one is in Germany, or indeed most anywhere in Europe. Wine, cattle, cereals, leather goods and a wide variety of other things will also be constants on the list. Anything that has worldwide distribution, in short.

Beer isn’t worldwide, so if I’ve done the table right, the further away from northern Europe one gets, the more likely it would be to start appearing on the list as not available. If all goes well, at any given time about half the number of obscure things on the list should wind up being unavailable a lot of the time ... and some things being virtually ALWAYS unavailable ... unless one moves into the sphere of that item’s production.

For example, a lot of the gems which I listed two posts ago. Although they are fairly common, and cheap, many of them are highly localized in their availability and as such I woudn’t expect to see them on my equipment list. Other things that I expect to see drop off for my European based characters includes fur clothing, foodstuffs like spices or various distilled liquors, plus many of those things to be found at the apothecary’s and so on.

I am looking forward to what this will mean when it comes to player expectations. The game is usually played so that wherever one might happen to be, there’s no trouble buying a silver mirror or a bit of wolvesbane. What happens when you need something desperately from the local market town and it just isn’t there?

And worse, there’s no definite expectation a shopclerk can have of when the stuff may arrive next - unlike even the late 20th century, there’s little or no means to determine if foreign goods are going to arrive. Anything produced locally will always, pretty much 100%, be available for purchase, but stuff that is shipped in will be there ... well, when its there.

I do expect that the equipment table for any region can be generated again once per week ... which potentially different results. However, in the case of things that might have a less than 10% chance of being there, another week probably won’t help. Players may have to wait months for some items, mostly because some things in my world are painfully rare.

A particular example is a metal prosthetic hand which one can purchase to replace the appendage they’ve lost - that matches the function of a real hand by virtue of magic ... magic that is maintained by the monthly use of a expensive substance called ‘faerie oil.’ This is not a substance that is famously available.

Which, off hand, gives them a reason to keep agents or trustworthy henchmen in a particular town. “Wait here, Schmidt, and when it arrives, buy it!” I can see players keeping five or ten agents in various local trading towns throughout a given region, in the hopes that one of them will get lucky where it comes to very specialized goods - such as medicines or certain addictive substances - such as opium.

It does also suggest that a player should determine for themselves where certain substances come from - such as faerie oil or opium - in order to be more certain to get a hold of them, if waiting fails miserably. I have already come across a couple of items which have a less than 0.8% chance of turning up in Luneburg, the location of one of my two online parties. That would mean an average wait of just less than two years.

It occurs to me that within this new feature there must be some means of creating a random treasure table that works. As I’ve said in the past, the thing I hate about treasure tables is that they are functionally dependent on handing out gold - this being the only practical wealth for both party and DM. It is all well and good to talk about creating treasure that is more complicated, such as beer barrels, carved furniture and sheep ... but a problem arises in determining how many of these things to hand out, and how much they’re worth when the party attempts to sell them in the local town.

And there is a problem in WHAT to give. You can’t have twelve treasures in a row that all include 20 complete cowhides and forty silver spoons. If you produce a random table that hands out random items, you’re going to get repeats of things and those repeats are going to be treated by the party as a joke. “Hey, I’ve got fifteen silver plates with the image of the king - how many have you got?”

Trust me ... if you’re going to create a table with non-gold and non-gem items, you need to have hundreds of items, or you’re wasting your time. Go big or go home.

There may be a solution to all three problems - a) that the random generator decides what to give; b) that availability may lead to a determination of ‘stock’ that would solve the how-much-to-give-out problem; and c) that bringing objects into a town that are not available, versus those that are available, might give a clue as to how much a party gets when selling those items off.

In short, for the last, something rare and comparatively low cost might bring in a higher gain than something expensive, yet common. What an interesting effect that might have when it comes time to divide up the treasure after a campaign?