Thursday, June 30, 2011

Blacksmith's Shop

This is the fourth table today, and I think the last.  I am posting these as I complete reworking the calculations in upgrading the back-table designs, as well as adding the occasional item.

Much of this table is quite self-explanatory.  It could also be much, much longer.  The hardest part was tracking down the specific weights of these items, which I was largely able to do on the internet by looking for the "shipping weight" of items which could be considered made of materials closer to medieval standards.  China, I must say, and their whole economy, was enormously useful for the creation of this table.

I can still see I have some issues with the availability algorithm.  There are 166 whetstones available because whetstones are comparatively cheap.  It is not fully accurate since I doubt a blacksmith would keep so many in stock ... but short of going through and fixing such things item by item, for the time being I can leave it stand.  It would not be a problem if a player insisted on buying all he or she could buy.

I think a useful thing here is the coal, charcoal and peat requirements for monthly fuel requirements.  It assumes an ordinary hearth kept burning 24/7, for cooking and warmth.  From experience, this would be large enough to warm a 25 ft. x 25 ft two-story space, provided the space lacked for anything other than the most modest dividing wall.  Admittedly, some of the corners would be cool, particularly in winter, but for the most part the space would be made tolerable for people in clothing.  The numbers are not random - they were researched specifically with this guideline in mind.

Most things like pots, pails, the hammers and so on are NOT sold with a handle.  It is presumed that for a hammer the buyer can cut a handle from any piece of convenient wood and then spike the handle in place with a wedge.  This is what was done prior to the industrial revolution.  The only thing a person would purchase from the blacksmith was the single part he or she could not easily make themselves - the metal head.  Pots were not lifted out of the fire when things were served, pails were strung with cords to poles through holes the blacksmith conveniently included.  There are only a few items I've provided handles for: the spade, the saw, the scythe and the plow, because these things had a handle that was balanced, unique or specifically designed for strength.

Many of these things also are important for the creation of properties, such as the fencing, the iron door, nails and so on.  I've tried to make these reflect more than just the amount of material, but also the difficulty of manufacture according to guidelines I have tried to apply consistently throughout the system.

That's about all for the day.  I am open for questions.

Baker's Shop

As a heads up, this is the third list I've published today.  This is what might be called a "fun" list or perhaps a frivolous one.  At any rate, it fits into the post I wrote awhile ago about ways to play with the nutritional intake of the player characters.  A list like this offers a wider variety of possibilities for what a mage or fighter might eat on a particular day, or how they might view their character's personal habits.

I mucked around a bit before posting this today working out the price of an apple pie.  It might seem strange to think that anybody would bother including an apple pie in their trade system, but if you think about it there's no bother.  The price of the apples has been calculated, as has the price of flour, yeast, sugar and so on, and those things are already incorporated in the cost of the luxury baker who makes pies and cakes.  All that is needed to determine a price after that is to follow the recipe.

Sometimes I love my system.

I only included an apple pie, but I could calculate a peach cobbler, a mince-meat or a pecan pie if it came to that.  I would if a player expressly asked me to (would take about 90 seconds) ... which doesn't mean the baker would have it in stock.

I like that most of the things on this list can be sold to citizens on the street.  A player could make a few coin buying it in a shop and risking the guards by selling it to a passerby - if a silver piece or a few coppers was worth the risk.  It helps explain how a lot of the lower class hawkers might make their income, or how much income they might have on their persons at a given moment.  "Yes, you step up to rob the goodwoman; she has no money, but she's carrying a pie ..."

Wouldn't be bad.  Even the shopkeeper would buy it for 3 g.p.

Of course, there are certain principles to be followed here.  The "shopkeeper" in this case wouldn't be the baker himself - but it would be the local inn or tavern-keeper, who might take it off your hands to sell to his customers.

I want to make a point here that also applies to the apothecaries' table.  It might be noticed that the cake and the pie are served on a plate and in a pan.  These are bought an paid for by the patron, too.  The price for each is included in the price of the object.  At the apothecary, a lot of the items are contained in jars, vials, phials, pots, flasks and so on.  These are also included in the price of the object in every case.  They are worth money, too, if you try to return them to the glassmaker or the potter (tables I haven't posted yet).  Otherwise, one might imagine the party leaving behind a litter of objects, never thinking that the earthenware plate holding the cake is worth almost 2 g.p. (it's the pan that makes the pie more expensive).

Well, that's enough to write about a baker.

Assayer's Equipment

This is the second equipment post today, and probably not the last.  So if you are just now stumbling across it, you may note that I also added an artillerist's equipment post earlier.

I really like this table, as it helps solve a problem that has been around D&D forever.  The various prices are weighted so that the price is for the metallic value within the total amount of ore (1 ton) that is mined.  The price is equally weighted to describe the richest likely ore that the players are most likely to find.

Thus, if the players remove 1 ton of stone from the interior of a mountain (which is not as much volume as you might think), and that stone is positively dripping with the metal indicated, this is the price the shop would pay (the green column) the players for bringing the stone ore in.  Specifically, the shop would not require the players to smelt the ore (that is a different problem completely).  All the party would have to do to get this price would be to load the ore onto a cart and get it to the shop.

Having a price for ore means that a random number can be generated to determine the richness of the ore.  That random number could be a simple percentile die, as a percentage of what is rich ore and what is not.  Or it could be a little more complicated, as follows:

If this simple table is used first, there is a much greater chance that a particular bit of earth will contain traces of the metal, but not enough to make it worthwhile mining.  Thus, the players would first prospect for an element in a place where that element was known to exist.  If no such availability had been specified by you, then the metal content in the ore is always zero.

6d6 are rolled, and then the % die.  The idea would be to make finding a really rich vein of any material an unusual thing.  Thus, if the party were prospecting for gold, and rolled an 18 on 6d6, and then a 32 on the d100, the value of the ore would be 0.716 g.p. per ton (36664/4096*0.32).  In my world, I have 12 c.p. per s.p. and 16 s.p. per g.p., so that's a total of about 137 c.p. per ton.  Probably not rich enough to mine.

Even at this, I am probably being too generous, and making the 'motherlode' too easy to find.  The chances of rolling either a '6' or a '36' is only one in 23,328.  If the player were allowed to roll once per week, on average that would take 448.62 years to have an average chance of hitting the motherlode.

Wouldn't it break your heart to roll six ones on the dice, then roll a '02' on the percentile?

Of course, when the overhead is considered, a mining operation must pay for the food, the timber necessary to shore up the operation, the broken tools, the danger and so on ... even a payback of 5 or 10 g.p. per ton might not be worth it.

And none of this determines how far the paydirt might go.  I'd say probably another roll on the table above (6d6) to determine the number of tons, again modified by a percentage, so that the odds would be the paydirt would go on a long time.

Incidentally, panning would work the same way.  I have some comments about panning for gold that can be read here.

I have intentionally listed the various ores without specifying the metal itself.  I feel that if a player wants to get involved in mining, he or she ought to learn what the ores describe.  Incidentally, some of the ores (such as galena) have the benefit of producing more than one kind of metal.

I had almost meant to mention that the material bought from the assayer is also in the form of an ore.  So if the players wanted to smelt their own metal, the price for what was available is here.

Artillerist's Equipment

I've thought sincerely about including all the prices on these lists, but honestly it wouldn't do the reader any good.  The prices are calculated and would not be the same from place to place anyway ... wooden articles being more expensive in desert areas, for instance.  Besides, I know that most players would rather just assign their own prices to things, on the basis of wanting to keep said object out of the players hands by making it very expensive.

Lately to get the prices I use I've been breaking the objects down into smaller and smaller bits in order to assign a price.  For example, the catapult is rated according to the amount of wood, ironmongery and rope needed to create the object.  This means that objects which are created from a large number of different materials tend to keep a steadier price - as one material may increase in value as one travels, another material may decrease.

The reader will note that the trebuchet and the catapults are relatively cheap.  I think this is more accurate than earlier efforts I've made which have resulted in these things being expensive.  By decreasing the iron pieces and nails (I found some self-made siege device webpages that convinced me the percentage of the whole project would be smaller), the price dropped - wood, particularly in Europe, is cheap.

If the trebuchet is considered, yes, the price is low ... but consider the steady price of paying artillerists to maintain and fire it, or the sixty wagons necessary, with drivers and oxen, to move it once disassembled.  The initial price might be doable, but a party would soon find it wasn't worth the effort.  Oh, incidentally, the reason why the counterweight is not included is because it's size depends upon how much you're interested in throwing.

Black powder was discussed in the comment section of Apothecary's Equipment a couple of posts ago, so I can let it go.  The smoke bomb is exactly as it says - not particularly lethal, and fairly reliable, though useless in on a windy day.

The land mine has been described on this blog before.

One thing I love doing, which my players really, really hate, is the continued use of the Imperial system.  Kind of funny, really, as it makes more work for me too, but somehow inherently the metric system doesn't sound right for use with D&D.  I'm not an anti-metric system fanatic, but if the world is supposed to take place in the 17th century, I insist upon 17th century units of measurement.  Thus, a 'stone' is 16 lbs ... for those readers who may not know.

The rest, I think, is self explanatory.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Armorer's Equipment

It may disappoint some readers, but I'm afraid there are very few usual or rare types of armor on this list.  I wouldn't have any use for them (since they would provide the same armor classes as the traditional armors from the original books) unless the party ventured into parts of the world where metal and leather were very rare, or useless due to the environment.  At some point I might calculate how to make armor out of rattan or thatch, if the matter came up.  It hasn't yet.

The daraq on the list is formed of turtle shell, and is included because the hardness is virtually equal to a wooden, metal-reinforced shield.  Druids traditionally can only use wooden shields, and therefore are exempted from the metal ... it seemed reasonable to me when it was argued that a druid could fairly use a turtle-shell shield.  Although not wooden, it is 'natural.'  It's fairly rare, but apparently the armorer has some in stock.

The location for these tables, incidentally, are modern day Brasov in east Transylvania - in 1650, called 'Kronstadt.'  The main routes into Kronstadt are over the Carpathian mountains, where the majority of goods are shipped into the Danube delta to Qalat (modern Galati), then overland.  From Germany, goods come down the Danube and are transhipped from Turnu Severin to Krajova, and then into the south of Transylvania through Herrmannstadt (modern Sibiu).  From the north, including Poland and the Baltic Sea, goods tend to follow the routes from either Gdansk through the Carpathians and into Klausenburg (modern Cluj) or from Stettin (modern Szczecin) through Dresden, Prague, Miskolc and then again, through Klausenburg.  Kronstadt is a bit of a backwater, so the faster routes tend to flow north or south around the Carpathians through other more active trade cities.  Kronstadt is an important collection point, however, for Transylvanian goods to be shipped to the Ottoman Empire, and there's a good bit of smuggling that goes on through the lesser used, higher mountain passes.

As if the reader needed to know any of that.

No doubt it will be seen that the prices are very high.  That's because if the table is going to charge a couple of gold pieces for something like a fishhook, that weighs a tenth of an ounce and requires some trouble to make is going to cost a mere 7 c.p., then something that is 6,400 times the weight of a fishhook, and a bit more trouble to make, will cost upwards of 300 g.p.  That's just the way it is.  One problem with randomly pulling numbers out of one's hat for an equipment table is that it rarely accounts realistically for all the various features that fit into a particular object.  For example, merely to poke a number of gold at "splint mail" as a measure against its armor class value hardly takes into account the difficulties of creating the joints between the chain links and the splints ... which are a great deal of trouble.  It's useful if some sort of logic can be applied.

Point in fact, the mithril armors listed here are NOT magic.  They are, however, highly durable, and very likely to survive a dragon breath or similar attack which would burn away lesser armor.  The mithril isn't pure, not by any account - it is an alloy, of course.

The skullcap was included for magic users.  I have a rule that says when a natural 20 is rolled, double damage occurs.  Moreover, the d20 is rolled again, and if either a 19 or a 20 comes up as a subsequent result, the damage is tripled.  However, if the second roll is a 19, and if the individual is wearing a helmet (or a skullcap), the damage is NOT tripled, it is only doubled.  By including the skullcap on the equipment list, expensive as it is, I made my mages happy.

Regarding the chausses and the hauberk.  I use these names to describe the linen underclothes that must be worn beneath metal armor.  It is a bit of extra expense, a bit of extra weight to the whole character, and in general something people tend to forget to buy.  I usually remind them, but if someone who has been playing for a long time and fails to remember, I'm not above telling them they can't use their armor for awhile.  It encourages players to think deeper than the usual books ... and it is like catching players who forget at the start to buy boots.  I don't know if others have that problem, or if they forgive players and let them buy retroactively.  I'm not always so kind.

Enough for now.  I am always open to good-spirited questions.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Apothecary Shop

I have noticed lately a lot of attention paid towards an equipment list I posted three years ago.  It really is due for an upgrade, if for no other reason than as an example of what an equipment table looks like for my players these days.

As I said in the last post, I'm in the process of upgrading the whole table, so now is a good time to post the various tables as I build them.  This time, I won't try to post them all at the same time.

Sorry, the prices will not all appear on the list below.  The new equipment list doesn't include items that are rare or unusual for the market zone for which the list is generated (some facets of the table are random).  As I said, this is what my players would see.

There are three portions.  The first, in grey, includes what is available for purchase.  The number column (a darker grey) shows the number of items per player that are available that week (the next week I generate a new table).  The second section is the number of items and the price that the shop will pay the players, should the players be able to sell.  If nothing appears on that row, the shop isn't buying.  Period.

Finally, the third section is what the player is able to sell to persons on the street, either to vendors, other shops or individual people.  There is a 1 in 36 chance of the player attracting attention from a guard for every sale, which would lead to an arrest (or a chase) if the player does not have a vendor's licence in that city.



I feel I am somewhat at fault here for not including a further description of this table, rather than merely leaving the table up to be viewed and perhaps investigated.  It behooves me to do some of the investigation myself.

To begin with, the table includes a number of herbs which I investigated to determine what medical effects have been attributed to them throughout history.  This is a painstaking process, and that is why there is a limited number of herbs here.  I began work on the DMG's long list, throwing out anything I could not find effects for.  Those things listed above on the table, such as acidum boricum, alder catkins, aloe vera and so on have ascribed merits.  One of the things about a world of magic and D&D, whatever false effects may exist in reality, in fantasy can certainly have much as the DM allows.  For the present, I have not sat down and worked out what those exact effects are.  But in a game, should a player try the application of this or that, I would make a call that was readily positive.  For example, devil's dung - which is listed as protecting against demonic possession - might offer a +3 saving throw vs. suggestion, magic jar or some such, if it could be eaten prior to the event (perhaps having an effect of an hour or less).  I feel this list is stronger than the one from the DMG, since it offers a price for what's available and the method by which is it stored.

There are a number of spell components included in the list - not because I am interested in using spell components, but because I feel these are important items to have if the player wishes to write and additional spell into their spellbook, or research a similar spell for creation, or even to create a scroll - which I think should require components even if normal casting of the spell does not.  The various prices are based upon real world commodities, tweaked in workmanship or by the cost of preparation.  For example, the cost of the eyeballs is based upon the cost of a human slave, since one living person would need to be sacrificed in order to obtain both eyes.  The slave price serves as a stand-in for the bother or danger of even creeping up on just anyone and committing murder for the sake of their ocular organs.  These dangers must be reflected in the price.

Some of the items are stolen outright from 3rd edition equipment lists: gripcolle and quicksilver, for instance.  I'm not above stealing if the idea is good.

There are two interesting potions that exist in actual alchemy.  Blue mass was a medicine created and sold in the 19th century (but is too interesting not to include in my 17th century world) which contained mercury, but was nevertheless used to treat tuberculosis, constipation, toothache, parasitic infestations and pain resulting from childbirth.  It was ingested, although of course mercury is quite toxic.

The other, Four Thieves' Vinegar, is a plague remedy dating from the Middle Ages.  Wikipedia does not do the subject justice, particularly as it does not include the recipe, which can be found here.  It is less likely to kill you, although wormwood is a critical ingredient of absinthe, which will eventually cause some rot to your brain.  Undistilled, however, wormwood is less harmful.

I apologize for not including this discussion when I first posted.  In future I shall try to include more commentary on the equipment lists as I post them.

Waiting For The Renaissance

Stretching my mind over the weekend on things of my own choosing felt good, very good.  Yesterday in particular I was a font of creativity, which I applied mostly to my long-ignored trade tables.

It has to be understood that given more than 1,400 items, all of which are calculated according to their materials and workmanship, its a long-term plan to upgrade the table even a little bit.  Last weekend, while making up my mind to post everything about Conflict on the blog, I began with fixing the wood-price calculation section of the table ... and that has tripped massive reworking all over the place.  So for the next month - while I have some vacation time and three separate long weekends (ah, July!) - this is what I'll be doing.

The reason for the changes to wood calculations came about because the party took half a session - their choice - to begin building up the infrastructure of their lands in eastern Transylvania.  The date turned to January, 1653, and I had explained they had more than 2,000 g.p. taxes coming (the fief has 1,400 residents, and the income is based upon the gross GDP of not just the peasants, but the wealthier citizenry as well).  That caused them to creak open their own pockets, and to start spending the tens of thousands of gold they've been accumulating over years of adventuring.  To put it in hard currency terms, they did not balk at the 16,000 g.p. price tag I put on a 3-story half-timbered merchant house, 2,520 square feet not including the cellar.  It would have been cheaper if they had bought one already built in town, but they wanted it in their fief, which meant a complete design from scratch.  Like in Traveller, this tends to increase the price.

Trying to work out some personal features in the cost of certain elements in housing and other property developments pushed me to streamlining my wood calculations, which I am happy to say that I've done now.  I do not know what people do where it comes to ordinary D&D ... I suppose most players in most worlds are not all that particular about the personal circumstances of their character's houses.  It does not matter to them that there's a gable on the third floor, or how large the windows are, or that it is made of granite and not limestone ... or even that the timbers in the mess hall are cedar and not oak.

I was talking this over yesterday with my wife and she admitted that she finds it hard to picture the various elements of her fiefdom, or the central courtyard and gatehouse that serve as the fief's Manor.  I can appreciate that.  I am creative as a matter of course, and for me cobblestone roads and the trees being dead and barren at the time of my world right now are ordinary things I always have in mind.  I don't have trouble at all imagining her fiefdom.  I see the mountains in the distance to the east, the frozen stream and the dusting of snow on the wild hay that has grown along its banks, the stubble fields stretching towards the open forest in the south and the hills that form a ridge that swings from the Manor towards the west and then north.

What is needed for people without my imagination is a kind of Sims format for D&D.  I don't have any talent in this direction, but it amazes me that in ten years no one has simply sat down and programmed the thing into existence.  After all, the actual people are not needed.  What is needed would be the design features allowing the DM or the players to work out exactly how a given space should look.  Not a top-down, sterile concept, but something in perspective that would give a tactile, visual sense of the surroundings.

A tool like that would be immeasurably useful ... if it was as simple and direct to use as the Sims design system is.  And maybe I don't know for how much I'm asking.  It would still be convenient to quickly build up a setting for a particular evening, or a series of settings, which I could show visually to the players, right down to the light sources on the walls.  And it would be convenient to the players, who were not blessed with draftsman skills, to design their house or their castle three dimensionally and present it to me for pricing.

I can't ask for said design scheme to fit my pricing system, and therefore calculate prices out automatically like the Sims does.  That would be very useful to other people, I think, but my prices change from town to town and - inconveniently - with every overhaul of the trade system, like the one I'm doing now.  Still, to be able to count the number of lights, chairs, fireplaces, doors, beds - and of course defensive fortification additions - and so on would be just fucking A.

Seems to me this should have been done ten years ago.  Seems to me that the real advances in D&D are there to be made, but the community is wasting its time with one more rewrite of a module printed in 1981.

I wonder if the game is ever going to climb out of the Dark Ages.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Conflict No. 6: Card Templates

The visual templates for all the cards are available here.  I'm afraid that it will be up to the reader to print them.  Best of luck.

See notes in the previous post.

Conflict No. 5: Special Cards

From what I hear, the jury is out until this weekend or the next, when people actually try the system.  At present, it hasn't exactly stunned the D&D blogger world.  People have given me some considerate praise (thanks all around to everyone, I mean that sincerely), but if I were to judge the response in terms of market surveying, then yes, I made the right decision in not putting money behind this thing.

It might be a grass roots thing, with people getting interested once they test it ... who knows?  To that aim, however, I am pushing myself to get a printable set of cards up today, hopefully by 6 PM Eastern Time.  Then if anyone wants to get the set printed (there will be 19 pages, or 171 cards, suitable for a typical party of five players) tonight or tomorrow, they can.  Card stock is best, 100-110 weight.  It'll cost a pretty penny if you have someone else do it, so shop around.  The lowest price I found was $1.10 a page, but that's a shop I know in Montreal, and the quality is about 80% of very good.  (I got the cut for free, too, since I'm a friend, but it has to be mailed out to me).

A note about that (something I should probably say again, but I might forget): I wouldn't exactly say the cards are "publication ready."  I hurried a little this week, so there might be a spelling error or something worse.  I'd have a look at the cards if you can, if you're going to have someone else print them.  Let me know and I'll fix them ASAP and get the corrected copy up.  People, if you love your D&D brothers and sisters, you might want to help me by checking them yourself.  (Incidentally, the word 'defence' on the images below has been fixed already).

On to a quick discussion of the more unusual cards, then.

These cards were created to compensate for those characters who find they have a low charisma or intelligence, and are therefore short on action cards.  Its not to suggest a character can't "lie" if they don't have the card, but if they want a bonus for lying, they have to sacrifice a defence card.  Since you need action cards to pile up modifiers, it pushes people without high natural stats into a less upstanding manner of discourse ... which I think works for me in the game.

Sex doesn't generally mix with D&D, but my players loved this card as soon as they saw it.  The notes at the bottom are compressed for space.  It means generally that the greater your success with the card, the more expectation your listener will have.  If you try to seduce and you roll an 11 against resistance (and there are no modifiers), then your listener is going to want to go neck somewhere.  If you roll a 12, your listener will want you to go find somewhere private for fifteen or thirty minutes.  And if you roll a 13, well, the rest of the party just won't see you until tomorrow morning.

Of course the listener might want to reduce what they expect of you by the use of defence cards, but the DM might not want to have them do that.

One element you might want to impose is that the card is only effective against the opposite sex, or - alternately - against the same sex when the proclivity is there.  Otherwise you might want to impose an immediate insulted & violent response ... this is up to how you run your world.

This card was never intended as the sort of thing that would be used in ordinary discourse ... indeed, it is here to open the player's mind to the possibility of others interactive rules for specific circumstances.  Here, the effect of a bard upon a room full of relaxed people.  This, too, can be a conflict, if the audience doesn't like strangers and the bard has to win them over.

The tendency would be to think that the bard should get extra bonuses as the bard increases in level, but I would argue that what makes an artist better is not combat level, but experience levels.  The gaining of experiences, and therefore modifiers, would compensate for the bard's increased ability with game play.  For example, once the bard had taken steps to join a guild, that would prove an increase in the bard's play and thus a better result when telling a story to the bar.

In answer to the query about the the number of cards indicated.  The notes here are just to say that an individual with an 18 wisdom should have 3 cards for use.  It does not mean that when the card is played the user should get three more.  Players with higher wisdoms, therefore, are more likely able to quell others when they get insulted or violent.

This has to be my favorite card.  The means in which it is gained requires that the player must be trying to convince at least two listeners; that in rolling 2d6 that box cars are rolled twice in succession (that is, a 12 once, and then once again), and that both rolls result in overcoming the listener's resistance.

The chance of rolling 12 twice in a row on 2d6 in 1 in 1296.  It would really suck if one of the listeners were able to pull out the necessary resistance cards to spoil the player winning the card.

Where it says that any die roll may be re-rolled, that means anywhere on the table (I had intended it with regards to the combat system only ... but a DM might rule otherwise).  The re-roll only affects one die, however, and not both dice.  Thus, if an opponent rolled a '1' and a '6,' the 6 could be discarded in favor of another roll.  Also, the roll need not be against the holder of the luck card.  It can be any die that is played in the luck holder's company ... a friend's die against someone else, or an opponents die against a friend could be re-rolled also.

The card works particularly well in conjunction with pretending to be a member of the guard or some such (see the 'Heraldic Sign' card), since any '3' that was rolled could be mitigated by the luck card.

The key element for both these cards is that, upon choosing to do so, the defender can simply throw out the successful roll of an opponent altogether.  I included these cards because I wanted there to be the possibility of such stubbornness on the part of the listener that they would need to be succeeded against twice.  This would make it difficult to win a conflict with a high official, a noble, a general and so on, since they'd have a high resistance to begin with ... and when that resistance failed, you'd have blown your best modifier/action combination by having it just dismissed out of hand.

The equivalent ability in the hands of someone with a low intelligence just seemed obvious.  And I do understand the irony of associating someone who is very stubborn and intelligent with someone who is very stupid.  Neither are inclined to listen.

This card sticks out like a sore thumb, since it is used neither to influence nor intimidate others.  It is designed solely for use in situations where the individual might want to get one round's advantage against an opponent.  It is the equivalent of pointing over your enemies shoulder and shouting, "What on earth is that?", whereupon your enemy looks and you take off running; or attempt to surprise by attacking; or shove him off a cliff; or whatever use you can make of it.

The card can be modified as other cards.  It's effect is fleeting at best - only one round.  It too is here to suggest that a wider set of cards could be developed for use in special circumstances.

So, that's what I see that obviously needs discussion.  Are there any other cards I've missed?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Something Else

I would imagine that some regular readers would wish now that I would talk about something else.  All week I've been at this one subject, and they have already decided that it isn't for them.  So patiently they wait for me to finish with this and move on ... to another screed, to more history, to something else about ordinary gameplay, etcetera.

I have been happier these last three days than I have been in the last three months, not because I am talking about this subject that I am terribly excited about, but because I am getting rid of this 'thing' that has been haunting every other project I'm interested in.  There is no one more than me who wishes to get the hell onto something else ... since I haven't been able to since inventing this system five months ago.

My first impressions were the same as many who have made comments.  It was clever, it was potentially universal to a lot of systems, it could have influence on computer games, I could sell it, I could create expansion packs and go on selling more and more ideas forever and ever.  But I must tell the gentle reader that if something truly is remarkable, you don't get bored with it in five months.

I have finished novels ten years ago that still compel me to think about the characters, and how I would write them today if I were to start all over again.  Truly compelling things don't get tiresome for the creator.  The mere fact that this got tiresome for me in just two months, and the fact that it is obviously not something 'amazing' to most of my readers proves that I just haven't reworked RPG's as much as some might say.  Those saying it are only reflecting my own mood in the two weeks after my inspiration.  They haven't had time to grow bored.

On the whole, I think I've done good work.  The cards are creative, there's are a number of them that think out of the box and in general they have done something to teach some of my less experienced players about roleplaying.  I'm happy about that.  But right now I am happier to put them down, or rather to leave them to the gaming table, where they can't rule the rest of my life.

I am happy to start thinking about maps again, and monsters, and trade, and most of all about writing novels.  I am happy to be free, at last, to work on something else.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Conflict No. 4: Cards

At this point it would be a good idea to include a list of the cards I've developed for use with the game.  I am working on creating sheets which the reader could use for producing hard versions of the cards, but I don't quite have that yet.  What I do have is a complete list of the cards, with the various elements of the cards recorded on that list.

Blogger isn't so great for posting tables like this, but thankfully I have the SU Wiki.  The table can therefore be viewed here.

I would suggest a careful inspection of the cards.  Several have unique properties, the play of which may not be self-evident from the table.  I will be taking that up soon (I wouldn't mind suggestions for which cards I might discuss more in depth).

In the meantime, I've posted a few cards on the blog here, and I'd like to take this opportunity to present a breakdown of what the various parts on each card are called and how they apply:

I worked with a bunch of templates for separating the various descriptions into separate boxes and frankly, it all looked very busy and crappy.  My original mockup included a box at the bottom which designated the modifiers, but I found that during play no one ever looked over their cards like they would a poker hand.  Since there's no need to conceal the cards in the game, at all, all players I took note preferred to spread the cards out in front of them, so they could see them all and pick out what they wanted.  Therefore it only required that the modifier be placed in a central location on the card where it could be easily seen.

Well, the cards themselves should keep the reader busy for awhile, so I'll sign off on this post.

Hurm.  As an afterthought, I wanted to say that I knew back in January that if I didn't get a jump on the general idea before revealing it to anyone there'd be nothing but arguments about what would make 'appropriate' cards.  D&D players tend to be very oriented on the same pellets-for-pressing-the-bar, and not generally open to a new set of rewards.  Most would tend to think the cards ought to be somehow based upon level or class.  I have made a few cards that apply to certain classes that have social characteristics .... but I would not encourage a card for fighters, or a card for mages, etc.  A strong element here is that the reward system - gaining new cards - is NOT based predominantly on class or level, but upon active achievement of GOALS.  Status is far and away the most fluid possible gain for most players, and the goals there are about social influence and gain.  I recommend to any DM making use of the system, and inventing their own modifiers/cards, that they should generate cards according to individual success, and not the standard D&D mileposts.

Conflict No. 3: Crowds

I knew the system was good when it started solving problems for me, without my having to come up with additional stop-gaps and fixes.  Yesterday, shlominus proposed a problem that I must admit had me scratching my own head for awhile.  That question is essentially this: If you address enough people at one time, won't the odds ensure results right across the board?  If, for example, I stand up in a street square and speak to 36 persons, with a 1 in 36 chance that one of those persons will fanatically change sides in my favor, doesn't that guarantee that I can walk away from every like situation with friends, followers and fanatics?

As I said, that worried me.  And then I realized I was looking at the world as a static entity, as though the players were the only participants in it.  Generally, D&D is presented as though the world were made up of a bunch of cardboard figures that only come alive when the party speaks to them.  It's a habit that's been exacerbated over many years of poor design.

Any crowd I speak to is already going to be friends, followers or fanatics of someone else!  I began this description two days ago by saying that the system cannot compel anyone to do anything they would not be willing to do.  That is because the interactive is not a charm person spell.  And I have been making the point that all of the interactive results are temporary.  In other words, the guard in the previous post who might have become infatuated with the party, or that 1 in 36 person in the crowd, might, for the space of five minutes, become infatuated with your character as he or she speaks openly in the square.  And then they'll remember that they have a wife, or kids, or that their mother wouldn't like it.

The point being that the interactive cards are not designed to just randomly influence people walking by on the street.  The cards are there to resolve conflicts.  The party can create a conflict by stopping people and then insisting those people do something the party wants instead of their own agenda, and while they are in the presence of the party they may acquiesce.  But given a chance to be alone, and to remember their actual obligations, they will probably just run away.  They have to be given a real reason to stay - like pay, good treatment, a recognition of their needs and so on - to make them want to stay and obey.

Emotions are fluid things, and what one feels watching a big tough adventurer speak eloquently to the crowd can cause infatuation.  But unless it is done with a lot of modifiers, it will also cause many of the people in the crowd to get angry, and throw things.  Let me point something out that may not be recognized.

Let us say that Caleb puts his modifiers together and, using Jest, decides to amuse a crowd as a comedian.  As before, he gets his +4 and he speaks to the 36 people as mentioned.

We'll say the dice fall exactly according to the odds, so that he rolls a 2 against one person in the crowd, and a 3 against two others.  The 3 becomes a 7 with his modifier, but ... if those persons have any bonuses to their resistance, they can at will drop that 7 back to a 6, and they will be angry too.  And if any of the three people Caleb rolls a modified 8 against has a +2 resistance, well they will be angry too.

It is a mistake to think that Caleb will simply need to roll modified 10's for every person in the crowd.  Chances are that most of the people will have a +1 or a +2 resistance for various reasons, and Caleb will have to roll modified 11s and 12s just to get some of the crowd accepting of his humour.  Something near to half the crowd won't be that impressed, and chances are someone in that crowd is going to have just as many Purpose cards (actions and modifiers) as Caleb.  A deacon, say, or a town official.  One that already knows everyone in that town, and who has already gotten a +1 or +2 bonus with them, just as Caleb might have gotten with Danielle two posts ago.

Thus, that Deacon is going to be able to turn back a lot of the people Caleb influenced, reducing them to non-entities in the conversation, which will become a back and forth between Caleb and the Deacon ... which is exactly what happens in real life.  Most people listening in a crowd will take no part and have no influence whatsoever.  Anytime you try to convince a crowd of people, you always wind up arguing with just one or two ... the ones who don't like you.

Tackling a crowd without a lot of cards and modifiers is a dangerous thing.  You're more likely to make enemies, and those enemies are more likely to stir a strange crowd against you than you against them.  Sure, there might be one or two in the crowd who really like you, but they are likely to be the ones with the least resistance, and therefore those who have little or no power to influence anyone else.  In other words, you'll pick up the easily swayed, while the hard-biters will eat you for lunch.

As ChicagoWiz pointed out, players will have to be a lot more cautious around NPCs.  Jumping up and calling attention to yourself may not be a good idea ... at least not until you know a lot of the crowd too, and you have the cards to back your play.

The next stage in this process is to get a round idea of the cards that are available, and that will take me some time yet.  I will ask the reader to please bear with me.  I meant to have something up last night, but I let myself get distracted for some hours.  I propose to have a list of cards up later today.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Conflict No. 2: Small Groups

Hopefully it will have occurred to the gentle reader by now that there are reasons why Caleb, from the previous post, might want to hold back the number of modifier cards he uses to affect his chosen actions.  This is part of the game strategy - is it better to pile all the cards together in one hit, which if it fails will leave you with no more gas, or it is it better to carefully reserve your cards so that you have a number of lesser tries, each of which might produce a result.

Of course, this has to be weighed against Danielle's response, when it comes.  I did not go into great detail about that response on the last post, but she might have had enough to dissuade Caleb completely when her round comes ... in which case Caleb would not get to use his carefully reserved cards, since he'd be driven away from the scene by Danielle's play.  This too is part of the strategy.

An important reason to use 2d6 instead of, say, 1d12 is that the pair of dice produce odds that first ascend as one uses actions and modifiers, and afterwards descends once the roll needed to succeed drops below 7, or the average of the two dice.  The player has to calculate whether his use of a particular card now is better for his odds of winning than it would be later on, when played on its own or in conjunction with other cards.  This element allows for greater strategy than just piling up all the cards you have.  Remember that a pile of action and modifier cards has to face a pile of defense cards in the long run.  You may have a +7 or a +8 modifier to your die roll, but that doesn't help if your opponent has +5 resistance and on your first roll you goof and roll less than a 6.

I wrote once about the success/fail problem where it came to devising interactive systems.  This I believe solves that problem.

Very well, let's consider a wider scenario.  Let's suppose that Caleb has friends.  We'll call them Charles and Clement.  And instead of Danielle, we'll introduce three guards, Edward, Eric and Ethan.  The conflict might be anything, but we'll pick something D&D-like:  Caleb and his friends wish to cross a bridge, and Edward and his friends are there to stop them.  Who knows the reason?  I leave that up to the game's referee.  For the sake of the example, we will suppose first of all that Caleb and his friends are the Player Characters.  We'll also give them the initiative.

Choosing what to say has changed.  Caleb is no longer limited to his own resources.  He has friends, and if they have a better chance of convincing the guards, he can rely on them.  It must be understood that not everyone can speak at the same time and expect themselves to be heard.  Caleb, Charles and Clement have a talk among themselves as they approach the bridge, and decide that it would probably be best if Caleb used his charismatic cards and went first.

So Caleb pulls out his Persuade card, adds his Beauty, his Able-body and his Land like before, which like before gives him a +4 modifier.

Aha, but there's a difference.  Caleb is now standing next to Charles, who is a cleric.  And as he is a cleric of the same religion as the guards, and as he is standing next to Caleb, the guards cannot help giving Caleb a bit more respect than they might otherwise.  It is up to Charles if he wishes to use his 'Piety' card (see below) to lend Caleb this respect (he could, if he wished, conceal for the moment his clericism, or even stand a bit off so that it's not clear to the guards that Charles supports Caleb's desire).  Note that Charles' modifier is one of status:

We'll say that Charles stands next to Caleb smiling and slightly bowing as Caleb speaks, lending an additional +1 modifier to Caleb's argument.  Caleb therefore has +5 overall.  He opens his mouth and he says, "Good sirs, please stand aside and let us pass.  We have important business upon the other side, and you would be the best of gentlemen if you could allow us to be on our way."  After which, he rolls against each guard individually.

They are, after all, each listening to Caleb with their own ears.  They are not one person, and so they do not respond as one person.  They can all hear and see Caleb, so they all have an equal chance of being affected by Caleb's appearance, his manliness, his obvious confidence and his persuasive tongue (which may be more persuasive than the player who runs Caleb).  What's more, the cleric is standing right there.

Caleb rolls three times, therefore, against Ethan, Eric and Edward.  Counting the modifier, he rolls a '9,' a '12' and a '14.'  Thus Ethan is indifferent, Eric is accepting and Edward is friendly.

As it happens, each of the guards has a +1 resistance (which will be explained in a moment) because they are, after all, 'guards' ... they are trained to resist people.  If one of the guards was a sargeant, he'd have a resistance of +2, being specially trained to keep his head while others were losing theirs.  In this case, however, they're just ordinary guards.  And in all three cases, none of them has any reason to use their +1 resistance (since it won't make a difference anywhere), so they don't.  They keep those cards close and we get to move on.

Now, in the framework of the conflict, Ethan is indifferent to Caleb's argument, but he ISN'T indifferent to his duty as a guard.  He will not at the moment release the bridge.  Eric may be accepting of Caleb's argument, but he isn't friendly or accommodating, so within the framework of the conflict, he has become a non-entity ... having been influenced by Caleb into acceptance, he is taken right out of the conflict and is no longer considered a participant.  He is therefore put to one side.

Edward, on the other hand, is friendly ... and what this means for the Conflict is that Edward has effectively 'switched sides.'  At this point, he is more apt to argue in favor of Caleb's group than to oppose them.  What this means is that Ethan now stands alone against four others, Edward included.  Eric is unimportant.  He will go along with whomever wins the Conflict.

Ethan has limited resources at his beck and call.  He hasn't much of an intelligence, he isn't all that great to look at and in the great scheme of things he's only a guard.  He has two cards.  He's 'Able-bodied,' just as Caleb is, having also once delivered a great blow to an enemy, and he's able to 'Bellow,' as shown below.

As you can see, the card can be used either as a defense card (+1 resistance, as mentioned above) or as an aggressive action.  As an action, Ethan can put it together with his able-bodied modifier and gain a +2 to his die roll.  He shouts, "No one is getting across this bridge.  We are under orders by the town council and we shall obey those orders!"

Ethan then rolls against all FOUR of those standing opposed to him.  With the modifier included, he rolls an 8 against Caleb, a 6 against Charles, a 12 against Clement and an 11 against his compatriot Edward.

Edward can use his own +1 bellow card but it doesn't help.  He falls into the 'fearful' category (remember, Ethan is using an aggressive action, and is therefore intimidating the others, not influencing them), and like Eric becomes a non-entity.  Clement, too, might have a +2 resistance, but that's not good enough.  His character is considered to have been bullied by Ethan, and therefore fearful.  He no longer has the heart to continue this.  He backs down, and he too ceases to matter in the Conflict.

This is an important element to the overall system, as for the first time a player character's freedom to palaver is limited by circumstance and the die roll, just as if Clement had been struck down with a sword and was now no longer able to fight back.  He is cowed, he experiences a weakening of spirit, he no longer feels this is the right course of action and so on.  Perhaps in a bit, once the situation is resolved, he might feel better ... but in the framework of the game, this would be as if Clement afterwards said to his friends, "I wanted to stand by you fellas, but I found myself looking at his uniform and thinking, 'what are we doing!?'  I just lost my nerve."

The idea of a player having 'nerve' or being able to lose it has long been considered undesirable or even impossible by any system ... but I think it incorporates a reality to the game that also serves as a motivator.  Clement has every reason thereafter to go out and adventure not just for money and experience, but to have the GUTS to stand up to guards like Ethan.  A few hard-bitten adventures and Clement will begin to mass cards which give him greater resistance, and he won't go down to a lucky roll from some minor guard.

Now, the reader will take note that Ethan rolled a 6 against Charles, which engenders the Insulted reaction.  Here the system is a bit of a one-way street.  Charles may feel insulted, but as a player character Charles does not have to respond the way that an NPC would.  If the situation were reversed, Ethan - being the insulted party - might slowly draw his sword and threaten with it, to wave the party off.  But in this case Charles the player character can decide to react however he likes ... it is treated as Charles being unconvinced.

However, if we suppose that the player were to choose to draw his weapon at this point, what would happen?

First and foremost, if the reader will remember the previous post, we have to ask ourselves, does Ethan have a fortitude card?  If he does, then he will be able to play it, and Charles will have to resheath his sword and resist using it.  Yes, that's right, Charles the player character will be convinced not to overreact at just this moment, just as a player could force an NPC to do likewise.  The force would remain in effect only for Charles' next round ... but he would be restrained from taking a combat action for that one round.

But let's suppose that Ethan doesn't have a fortitude card?  What then?

Well, combat of course.  Initiative had already been determined previously and Caleb and his friends had chosen to use it for talking, so initiative does not need to be used again.  Charles simply draws his weapon and attacks.  Caleb takes his cue from Charles and he attacks also.

Clement, however, cannot.  For one round, the fear he experienced from Ethan's warning will keep him from joining into combat.  The following round, when he sees his friends in trouble, the fear will dissipate and he will be able to take action then.  But he's lost the first round.

Ethan's friends, however, were not intimidated, they were merely influenced.  As soon as they are attacked, all three will return the fight, just as though any ordinary D&D combat were going on.  Once again, the interactive mechanic is designed to work seamlessly with the combat mechanic.

Very well, but what if Edward had not been turned back by Ethan, but had remained friends with the party?  In that case, Edward like Clement would have found himself hesistating for one round about what to do ... he'd want to help his compatriots, but for that round he'd find himself wanting not to hurt these people he quite liked.  It would be similar to losing his nerve, but for different reasons.  After one round, however, his loyalties would reassert themselves and Edward would join in on the side of Ethan and Eric.

Okay, but what if at the beginning Edward had not been made friendly, but had been made accommodating?  Caleb could have managed that, if he'd rolled an 11 or a 12 in the first place.  Ah, then in this case Edward would not fight, but he would use his next round to shout at everyone to stop fighting and listen to him, using his measly +1 bellow card to intimidate both sides.

Unfortunately for him - and this is VERY important - once combat is broken out, the situation becomes a confusion.  The card is an intimidation action, and therefore Ethan would only be able to speak to one person at a time, hopefully cowing them into fear before moving on.  He would still be able to use his card against each person (it can't be used twice against the same person - but using it for person A does not preclude using it for person B), but it would take one round for each person to do so.

Edward could decide not to use the card, but to instead influence everyone without any bonuses ... in this case, he could affect everyone at the same time.  This is equivalent to shouting out loud for everyone to calm down!  And if he could roll a 10 or more on 2d6, and if no defense cards for additional resistance came into play, every person Edward affected in this manner would stop fighting ... for one round.  They would pull back and listen ... foolishly, perhaps, as they would then be attacked by someone who did not listen.  But then this is what happens when your resistance to authority or a call for peace is overcome.

Lastly, the question arises, what if somehow Edward had been made infatuated with Caleb at the beginning.  The answer should be obvious ... he would turncoat against his original compatriots and throw in with the party.  Obviously, these are much better people than the ordinary guards.  Since this is a very unlikely option, and will tend to occur only once a party has reached a sufficient level of power, and will usually only affect persons who in turn have very little power, the rule really only manifests as a powerful individual causing minions to change their allegiance.  This did happen occasionally, as when the fickle mob turned against Pompey in favor of Caesar.

But let us set that all aside and assume that Charles does not draw his weapon.  We now find that he and Caleb stand alone against Ethan.  Caleb has used his main cards.  Again, he has only his Jest card left.  Charles has a high wisdom, and we will suppose he had two unused Fortitude cards.  He had the status card for his clericism, but that has been used for Caleb's attempt.  If he is a first level, this might be all he has going for him.  We will give him an additional modifier, the fact that he is middle aged:

This card, too, can be used either as a modifier to an action or as a means to resist the arguments of others.  As a modifier, it gives Charles a +1 ... which isn't any better than Caleb's Jest card.

However, either Charles or Caleb could decide to buy an action ... that is, a Bribe.

I have four levels of bribes, deliberately designed to make the highest level very undesirable to use by players.  My intention has been to leave the exact amount of coin off the card, so that it could be tailored to the game referee's individual world, with a suggestion for the size of the bribe in the rulebook I was writing (I much prefer the easy style here, where I can discuss more than what would appear in the rules - the various strategies and outcomes as well).

Bribes are either 'small,' 'large,' 'huge' or 'great.'  A small bribe would be 10 g.p. for each person who would need to be bribed.  If Charles or Caleb took Ethan to one side, on the quiet - and the referee ruled that Ethan were willing to go - they could offer the money to Ethan alone.  But if they were to do so openly, both Edward and Eric would immediately be insulted AND angry, regardless of their previous accepting condition.  Of course, Charles could dispel this with a fortitude card (it would use both his cards), assuring them that he felt certain Ethan would share.  The sharing would then become something that wasn't the party's problem.

A small bribe would give a +1 to the die roll.  A large bribe, equal to 100 g.p. per person, would give +2 to the die.  A huge bribe, being 1,000 g.p. per person, would bring +3, and a great bribe, being 10,000 g.p. per person, would bring +4.  Obviously, if you're going to really, really bribe someone, you've got to get them alone, so that no one else knows about it.  The increasing scale of the various bribes is there to discourage, as I said, the constant use of bribes to achieve everything.  Once a party has massed a large amount of money, it becomes too easy to simply pay one's way.

Of course, the problem with even private bribes is that others learn about them, and then approach the party for a bit of their own.  Refusal once again creates the insulted and angry response, which the Fortitude card might be able to quell for the moment ... but the party will have gained an enemy and the interactive system is useless against someone who distantly maintains a grudge, and cannot be spoken to or convinced.  The game referee would be free to allow that insulted person to continue to be insulted for as long as they did not receive their share of the money.  This is still D&D.

But let's say that Charles buys the bribe, gives it to only Ethan, plays his two Fortitude cards to quell the other guards and rolls the die.  Maybe not the brightest move, but Charles feels confident.  He rolls an 8 on the two dice, and his bonus increases this to a 10.  Ethan has no more resistance card, since he used it to intimidate, and he accepts the bribe.  The party crosses the bridge and the conflict is over.

On several occasions during the playtesting both sides completely ran out of cards ... which of course did not end the argument.  It went back and forth after that, like two people shouting at each other, "ISN'T!"  "IS!"  until one of them back down.  The original plan was for the base resistance to be higher, and this resulted in more of these exchanges.  Funny as they are, by lowering the resistance one point they are more rare, but still potentially possible.  Rolling a 10 or greater on 2d6 is only a 1 in 6 chance, and that could go on for awhile if both sides were unlucky.

From this point I plan to start posting lists of cards.  I'll need to do some clean-up on the card design that will take a day or two, but nevertheless I hope to have templates for the card sets up by the weekend.  I believe I might tone down the color a might.  I had brightened them up from the originals, but I may have done that too much, and I'd like to play with it a bit.

Meanwhile, I'll spend some time talking about specific cards and the special rules behind them, which may take several posts.  Eventually, all in good time.

Several of my readers have suggested that it is a mistake to take this course of action, that the system is too valuable to just give away and so on.  I understand that point of view, but I'd like to take a moment to explain my position.  It has been discussed at length between the principles of my operation on my end (my wife and my daughter), and it comes down to this:

I have not chosen 'sales' as a profession for a reason.  I am actually an excellent salesperson.  I can do it because, well, I can lie with proficiency and I generally know what people want to hear.  However, I don't like being put in a position where I have to say what people want to hear.  I would much rather have a profession where I can say what I want to say.  I know this is virtually impossible, but the closer I am to it, the happier I am.

I have had many people say, "Just be a salesman until you're wealthy, and then say whatever you want."  The be-unhappy-now so you can be-happy-later plan.  Unfortunately, while you are unhappy you wind up attacking and destroying everything you love, including yourself, until you've gotten so in the habit of lying to people you can't remember what you would have said if you'd been free enough to say it.  Thanks, but no thanks.  I'll be happy now.

Now, to sell this system effectively, I will have to spend the next years of my life in what amounts to a trade show circuit.  I know that many readers get anxiously excited about conventions and such, but to me they are just trade shows where I might go to do what I don't need a trade show to do: play D&D.  Sure, I might get the chance to play with people I don't know.  But I wouldn't get that chance if I were sincere about selling at the trade show, now would I?  Every second that I wasn't selling would be money out of my pocket, and if I had the attitude that it didn't matter, then what would I be doing at a trade show in the first place?  All or nothing, that's my position on it.  I'm not going to be hundreds of miles from friends and family selling a product only to blow my time on not selling the product.  And friends, I don't want to sell this product.  I don't want to sell anything.

If I did want to sell for a living, I'd be selling something BIG ... like cars, or real estate, or electronics, appliances or furniture.  That's where you get the bigger buck for your bang.  Any other kind of sales is wasting your time ... unless you love sales more than you love money.  That's common, by the way.  People get a terrific rush from making a sale, or from pleasing a customer, or otherwise being of service.  Small level sales is a kind of servile occupation, like waitering, where the happiness of your client brings you happiness.  I understand that kind of life, but I don't want to live it.  I, unfortunately, tend to be happiest when I am happy.  And I am happy when I am writing and creating, not when I am serving others.

Now, I love this D&D game.  And I love creating ideas and rules for this game, along with devising the world behind it.  Five months and three ago I didn't have this rule system in my head.  Then it all hit me, at a go, pretty much as I've described over this and the last post.  I talked to Carl on the phone about it, the Carl who comments here regularly, and he can assure all of you that when I described it I was on fire.  But I told him then, as we talked about keeping it quiet and not letting others know, that this would NOT be the last idea I ever had.  And it won't be.

So next time it comes, I may change my mind.  I doubt it.  I'd much rather sell a book.  That would mean sales, too, and it would mean trade shows.  But somehow, I don't think I would mind sitting around and pitching my book all day and all night to people.  I suppose when I get down to it, writing is a religion for me, and D&D is just fun.  They both make me happy.  But I could conceive giving up D&D for writing.  I will never give up writing.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Conflict No. 1: One on One

I shall begin by saying that all the material that follows in this post, the comments of this post, and additional posts written on this subject, are copyrighted according to the law. All the necessary actions have been taken to ensure this. While I myself have no intentions at this time to turn a profit from this, I should like to give warning to others that if you wish to lift this material for the purposes of selling it, you do so at your own risk.

Secondly, I’d like to say that while I could probably explain this system well enough for the reader to play it in ten minutes, it is harder to explain everything that applies in text. The system is easy to play, and fairly easy to understand ... but there are a number of ins and outs that make it complex enough that it takes time to fully explain.

What’s more, the order in how to explain it has baffled me for many weeks. I had not entirely worked it out to my satisfaction in attempting to create a rule book. Thankfully, the blog is more fluid a medium, with the opportunity to answer questions and make clearer matters where they are unclear, than static text. So I think we shall do fairly well.

Next, I wish to point out that the system was intended to be used in association with original Dungeons and Dragons and AD&D, particularly with regards to ability stats equalling from 3 to 18, classes and ‘name-level.’ I have no doubt that the modifiers could be very easily changed to appropriately fit other systems, even non-D&D systems such as Traveller or the Masquerade ... but as they stand now, they have been tailored for D&D.

Finally, if I could ask the reader to please take note that many things which may occur to the reader as alternatives are most likely things which were tried and discarded once it was seen not to work in play. May I please emphasize that more than thirty players, many of them long-time players, have had an opportunity to put in their two cents. No part of what follows has not been arranged haphazardly or without due consideration. I suggest that you consider first the system as a whole before rushing to make changes to it.

I am fairly confident I won’t be able to complete the whole description with one post written at one sitting, so expect further posts along these lines as I write them. I shall write as many posts daily as necessary to completely reveal the whole system.


Conflict is a turn-based system, organized according to the ‘round’ system in D&D. In any given round, a speaker relates his purpose to one or more listeners, which the expectation of causing them to yield to the speaker’s position. The purpose might be anything: who gets the larger piece of cake, who should stand aside and let the speaker pass, who should join the speaker to go attack the goblins, who should give the speaker a few coins out of charity, who should offer the speaker a lift and so on. In any situation where the speaker’s purpose works in opposition to the listener’s purpose, a conflict results and the system comes into play.

The system is intentionally flexible and open to interpretation, both by the players and the DM. The spirit of the system should be adhered to, but losers are not magically compelled to obey the winners. For example, the speaker cannot go up to a listener, demand a thousand gold pieces, roll a die and expect to have it handed over. In the first case, the listener probably does not have a thousand gold pieces, and even if the listener were ready at just that moment to go get it, after a few minutes the effect of the system would wear off and the listener would come to his or her senses.

As a general guideline, the listener is willing to accept the speaker’s purpose provided that the speaker’s purpose does not seriously tax the listener’s life, liberty or happiness. Asking someone on the street for a few coppers is hardly a risk to the listener’s happiness. A thousand gold pieces would be. I believe that most referees would be capable of drawing the appropriate line for their campaign, and that they do not need to be delivered into a straightjacket.

What is more important about the system is not what the player can force others to do, but what others can force the players to do. D&D does suffer from player-immunity to the trials and tribulations of life. Players are not forcefully affected by the sad eyes of little children, they are not affected by patriotic fervour for a kingdom’s well-being and they are not intimidated by things like class, loyalty, privilege and so on. Players can normally scoff at such things and throw them off without a moment’s hesitation, when of course their characters would have great reason to recognize their responsibilities or their fears of other persons than themselves. More than anything, the system is intended as a hazard to play, to restrain low-level characters from having anything they want, while rewarding play and adventures undertaken by the players in the course of a campaign.


I think the best approach would be to provide an example of play and then to later go back and explain the various elements, one by one. This way the big picture can be understood, so that the individual details can be fitted in and understood as well.

Let us therefore imagine two persons having a disagreement. Let’s call them Caleb and Danielle. The might both be players, they might both be NPCs. It does not matter.

Both have a group of cards which have come to them according to various exploits they have accomplished, or characteristics they possess. We shall come to this in time. Both wish to make the other understand. Like any D&D combat, they roll initiative to determine who speaks first.

Let’s say that it is Caleb. He has, altogether, five ‘Purpose’ cards. Two of these cards are ‘Action’ cards, and three are ‘Modifier’ cards. He must choose from what he has in order to change Danielle’s mind.

For the sake of the example, Caleb’s action cards are ‘Persuade’ and ‘Jest.’ He can attempt to persuade Danielle to his point of view, or he can make jokes, cause her to laugh and thus give in out of consideration.

Caleb cannot both persuade and jest at the same time. In any particular round, he cannot use more than one action card at a time. He must choose between them, or choose not to use an action at all (bear with me). Whichever action card he does choose, however, he can adjust that card with one, two or all of his modifier cards.

For the sake of the example, Caleb’s modifier cards are ‘Beauty,’ ‘Able-Bodied’ and ‘Land.’ Rather than explaining specifically how Caleb obtained these cards, let’s have a look at them.

Please, forgive the image’s bleed. I couldn’t get rid of it for blogger.

We can tell something about Caleb’s personality. To begin with, his charisma has to be 12 or higher in order for him to possess the first three cards. Secondly, at some point he got into combat and successfully caused 12 damage or more to a foe. Finally, he’s a free landowner.

Let me pause here and point out that there are five kinds of Purpose cards in the game: the two kinds shown here, ‘Charismatic’ (supposed to be purple, but looks awful pink on blogger) and ‘Status’ (blue); and three others, those being ‘Intelligent’ (yellow), ‘Aggressive’ (grey) and ‘Wealth’ (orange). There are both action and modifier cards in every category.

The reader will please note that if Caleb’s charisma is 12 (and we’ll say that it is), either his jest or his persuade cards will give him a +1, as will his Beauty card. He would get more from them if his charisma were higher. If his charisma were only 10 or 11, he would only possess the persuade card. If his charisma were less than 10, he would have none of these cards.

I will break down the cards later. For the moment, note that either action card will ‘Influence’ others. This is to say that the card may be used to positively (non-aggressively) convince listeners to fall in line with the Speaker’s desires.

Going back then, Caleb may decide to use either of his action cards. He may then choose to use 1, 2 or all of his modifier cards to increase the bonus he receives when beginning his attempt to resolve his conflict with Danielle.

There are reasons not to use all his cards, but let us say that he does. He wants Danielle to go walking along the lane with him, and so he uses his persuade action modified by his attractiveness, his able body and his material wealth. In the roleplaying sense, Caleb would say, “Oh, Danielle, don’t you think it would be just a great good time (persuasion) if you spent time with a good looking guy like me (beauty) along the road near my property (land)? I’ve got some wood chopping to do (able-bodied) and I could use the company.”
I could be more subtle here, but I’m making a point so the last thing I want to be is subtle. Hopefully, the reader gets the idea.

Now, Caleb has to roll against Danielle’s RESISTANCE. This is something everyone has to hold up against the arguments and propositions actioned by other people. For the purpose of the Conflict game, EVERYONE has a resistance of 10, regardless of their circumstance, abilities, level or any other imagined superiority. Resistance is 10, no more, no less.

Caleb rolls 2d6 against Danielle’s resistance, with +4 on his die roll. He compares the result against the following table:

This is a fairly simple table, and is made simple on purpose. No attempt has been made to assign a specific response to a specific number, because the exact response should be left open to the referee’s discretion. For example, it would be possible to describe grades of ‘insulted’ to the various numbers between 2 and 6, but this would then straightjacket Danielle’s possible responses. If Caleb were to roll a 2 on 2d6, indicating the insulted response, then the referee should then be allowed to have Danielle’s response fit the actual suggestion of Caleb’s words, where role-played above.

Before I can cover the possible responses, I must address a word towards the ‘Intimidate’ column. While influencing is soft peddling, intimidation is out-and-out threatening, throwing one’s weight around and so on. Caleb has no action cards that give him bonuses to intimidate, but it is still possible for him to do so. Intimidation is the negative, flip side of Influence. If you will remember, I stated above that Caleb could choose not to use either of his actions. He could, instead, choose to express himself in any way that he wishes, waving his arms about and yelling at Danielle – only he will not receive bonuses for that. Still, he could wish to frighten her for some unforeseen reason.

IF he did not want to use an action card, he could still use one of his modifier cards. However, the rule is that if Caleb does not use an action card, he cannot piggyback multiple modifier cards together. He can only use one of them.

The reader will please take note. It is not required for Caleb to use any of his cards. He can still, in that event, roll 2d6 with the intention of either influencing or intimidating Danielle. This is very, very important, as will be recognized later on.

Very well. Let’s go back to the Response Table.

An ‘Insulted’ reaction can vary from relatively passive aggressive responses such an unwillingness to answer or simply walking away, to loud and violent responses such as shouting, brandishing weapons, threatening the speaker if the speaker does not go away and so on. A character who fails awfully with a monk in a monastery should expect a different insulted reaction than a guard defending a fortress.

The Insulted reaction is, in any case, the complete refusal of the listener to listen any further to anything the speaker has to say from that point forward. The speaker has only one recourse – and that is the employment of a very specific Defence card: ‘Fortitude.’

I have not yet spoken about Defence cards. These are cards in the deck which serve either the situation described above (the ever-important Fortitude card) or which serve to  increase the Resistance of the listener. I will speak more about the second type soon. First of all, let’s have a look at the Fortitude card:

In effect, at the moment Caleb finds that he has insulted Danielle, he is able to ‘bring her back to the conversation’ by his perseverance. It is as though he made his suggestion, where upon she responded with, “What do you take me for!” Caleb would then answer with his Fortitude card (if he had one), saying, “No, no, please, you misunderstand me!” And Danielle would be mollified enough to continue the conversation. Otherwise, she would speak her piece and storm off, and the conversation would be over right then and there.

Now, from the Response Table, the ‘Indifferent’ response. This is nothing more than having neither succeeded nor endangered the ongoing discussion. The attempt to persuade (with Caleb’s three modifying cards) simply doesn’t work.

The ‘Accepting’ response is simple enough: Danielle agrees. She’s not necessarily overwhelmed by the suggestion, but she’s willing to at least walk along the road, as long as he doesn’t change the program along the way. If he does ... well, we’ll take that up later.

‘Friendly’ would mean that Danielle sincerely wants to go along with Caleb’s suggestion. The reaction itself suggests that the two of them have now become friends in fact, and that as long as Caleb doesn’t actively do something against Danielle’s continued existence, he can expect to receive a +1 bonus to all future conflicts with Danielle. Note that it does not mean that Danielle also gets a +1 ... she must earn that herself, when it is her turn to try to convince Caleb of something. So far, we are still in the first half of the first round of interaction between them.

‘Accommodating’ would mean that Danielle wants more than just a friendly walk; she has grown deeply attached to Caleb. Note that he has only a 1 in 36 chance of succeeding at this, and only IF he uses all his influence over her. The response indicates that he gains a +2 bonus with all future conflicts he has with Danielle (this is not cumulative with the +1 bonus from friendship).

Finally, ‘Infatuated’ would clearly mean that Danielle has fallen in love with Caleb. He can’t quite receive that yet, but perhaps by piling up a few other bonuses, and perhaps increasing something important about himself, he could ‘win’ her love at some future point. The bonus at this point would become +3.

If Caleb were to attempt to intimidate Danielle for some reason, threatening her if she did not come with him perhaps, then the responses are potentially different.

‘Insulted & Angry’ clearly means that a deeper, more violent response would be expected should this result occur. Spitting in Caleb’s face, perhaps, or striking at him. It is important to note that at this point in the conflict, a combat could immediately break out, as Danielle strikes him, rolling to hit and causing damage. This would be Danielle’s round, and Caleb would then be free to attack back ... or possibly step back and use his action card ‘Jest’ to break the tension. As such, an encounter could consist of combat and talking back and forth, depending on how each participant decided to play their actions and modifiers. The Conflict system is intended to work simpatico with the D&D Combat system, and not necessarily indifferently towards it.

‘Fearful’ would, again, indicate Danielle’s willingness to comply with Caleb’s wishes, only now she would be fearful and would likely attempt to run away at the first opportunity. In any case, Caleb would not receive any future bonuses with her, as she would not want to be in his company after this at all (though she might not be able to free herself, and she would be ‘fearful’ ... and therefore willing to let herself be led away).

‘Obsequious’ would, in this case, indicate that she wanted to please Caleb to keep him from hurting her, being too fearful to run away. She might try to speak with him to get her way (her turn is coming), but she would accept him in her life. A long-time obsequious person might ultimately become a toady, accepting their place in life – but that would be up to the discretion of the referee. Note that in a long-term relationship, with intimidation and influence, Caleb could conceivably build up both a +3 bonus in dealing with Danielle, in addition to her being both obsequious and loving towards him.

Hah! Show me the interactive mechanic that accounts for that!

Sorry, I’m starting to enjoy this.

Now, whatever the response, Caleb must temporarily discard the cards that he has used. He has achieved all the influence he can with them – if they did not work the first time, they won’t work in the future, and if they have worked, he has the result already. My standing rule is that he could use the same actions and modifiers with Danielle the next day, with regards to something else, but he must change something about himself, or with her circumstances (convincing her father, say, to speak to her, which would be a different Conflict), before he has any chance to roll again.

Now we can talk about the other kind of defence card. Let’s say that Caleb rolled a ‘6’; with his +4, this becomes a ‘10’, which would overcome Danielle’s resistance. Except for her defence card:

It so happened that as a young girl, Danielle nearly died of a disease, which was circumvented by the local physician arriving at the last hour, hurriedly throwing together the ingredients for a potion, and feeding it to Danielle as she started to slip away. There was perhaps a 1 in 20 chance at that point that she would survive ... but survive she did. And ever since she has always felt a certainty that she was spared for some great purpose. A greater purpose, in this case, than taking a walk with Caleb past his stupid land just to watch him chop wood.

Defence cards do NOT need to be played unless it is absolutely necessary ... that is, if it will actually apply in the listener’s favor. There would be no point in Danielle playing the card if Caleb had rolled a 4 on the dice, right? In this case, Danielle increases her resistance to 11 ... or to think about it in terms of the Response table, she forces Caleb’s roll down to a 9. She remains indifferent to him.

Caleb’s round is over. Danielle must also discard temporarily her ‘flirt with death’ card, as it has had as much influence over Caleb as it can. Danielle must now look over her cards and select an answer to Caleb.

Whatever those might be, let us put that all aside and assume that she has put together an action and modifiers for that action. We can imagine that she wishes to wheedle something out of him, or that she simply wants him to go away. But she has rolled her dice, and was unable to overcome Caleb’s resistance (which is, of course, also 10). She, too, got the indifferent result. Now we can return to Caleb’s situation.

He has used all his cards, now, except for his Jest card. He has no modifiers for it. It gives him a +1 modifier, which means at this point he will need a 9 rolled to overcome Danielle’s resistance. He tells her she’s cute when she’s all full of herself and everything (reference to her use of the defence card), and makes a silly face and does a quick funny dance. He rolls a 9, as it happens, which means that Danielle laughs. She shrugs, and says, “All right.” They’re not friends yet, but maybe the next day he can try again, offering to do a favor for her or some such (but not asking her for a walk). That’s how courting works, after all. He can always find a way to get another card, which would enable him to jest about different things, and that might win her heart.


This is getting up past 3,500 words, and I am reaching my limitations for the day. I hope this begins to show the potential of the system. Tomorrow I will start by explaining how this system works among crowds of people, and following that I will start on a run-down of all the cards and how they are obtained.

Considering the various comments about money and sales that were put up on the previous post, I would hope the gentle reader could please keep such in mind over the next little while.  I have contacted those people who contributed money to the project thus far and have taken steps to return their money.  If you are someone who has not been reached, please contact me through email at or leave a comment.  If you have not made a contribution, but considered yourself willing to buy the game when it came out, I wouldn't mind a contribution / donation if you are willing.  I leave the matter in your hands.