Monday, June 27, 2011

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.

10 comments:

Ian said...

When designing a campaign setting I usually start with photos and artwork, building up from there. At the beginning of the campaign, I often create a little slideshow to introduce the players into the setting.

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

One of the problems I see is that it would have to be compatible with a wide variety of mapping tools, or it's going to be fairly hard to get the basic terrain right.

Other things include: You'd have to program in a way for people to set extremely precise levels of racial, locational and economic tensions, all without knowing what races people might have made. (Possible solution: An easy to use race builder, with plenty of variables. This does create problems in texturing it and making the meshes, but it's better than nothing. Perhaps something similar to Spore, but with more pieces, and designed for humanoids would work for this process, alongside the other?)

You'd need to program in variable levels and systems of magic, as well as having a spell builder. Again, problems with texturing and meshes, and you probably can't use a Spore-like system this time.

You would need to include several different types of hitpoints, as well as levels, skills, etc., but with an option to turn things like skills off.

You'd need to include a very wide range of tech levels, for obvious reasons.

Government would have to be assignable by location.

Provisions would need to be made for inputting a trade table and then calculating cost based on that, or if the person using it didn't have one, having a variety they could choose from.

All that said, if someone were willing to do it, it would be very useful.

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

"Governmental system will have to be assignable by location", that should be.

This also raises the question of how to include a government builder, so that people can include whatever wonky system they've made.

shlominus said...

At the beginning of the campaign, I often create a little slideshow to introduce the players into the setting.

that's a pretty awesome idea.

Alexis said...

C'nor,

What in the hell are you talking about?

Ian,

The moment I discovered the internet I jumped on exactly that idea. It also helps that youtube has extensive videos on many common parts of the world, and many uncommon parts.

Carl said...

There's lots of top-down stuff available for the fantasy gamer. Tons of mapping and floor plan software out there.

If you wanted to produce a 3-D view of your new castle or manor house, you have the option of using any one of the 10,000 3D Home Architect programs which are all pretty cheap and fairly easy to use.

The sticky part of the problem comes when you try to apply costing models to your contructs. In the construction industry, there's a simple cost-per-square foot estimation that you can use, depending on the building type. One of my players majored in construction management and has a big book o' construction facts that he breaks out from time to time. In our last session we found out that a laborer can move, on average 4 cubic feet of loose soil per hour using a shovel. The book broke down all the individual measurements of the movement, and then had adjustments for rocky soil, loam, wet soil and so on. It was amazing.

If you're simply trying to envision what your new place might look like, I recommend doing images searches with the Internet search engine of your choice. If you're looking for something that you can use to build your own buildings, there are a handful of programs out there built by RPG gamers for RPG gamers. If you're looking for software that will allow you to design a building and then tell you how much it will cost, you are shit out of luck.

However, stop for 30 seconds and consider the complexity of that task. Here are some very basic considerations that should help: how many calories does a construction laborer need per day to survive? How about to be healthy and adequately nourished? What type of money are you going to use? Are you going to use money at all?

The costing of a fantasy building is so monumentally subjective that such a piece of software would only service the specific game for which it was designed. Even then, that game would have to have a well-designed economic and trade system to withstand the rigors of complex ventures like building a castle. Imagine building something really complex, like an iron mine or a 500 mile aqueduct with a road.

Here's what should have happened 1o (or more) years ago. In fact, I'll say that this should have happened instead of Unearthed Arcana being published: AD&D should have had an economic and trade system developed for it. Someone at TSR should have stepped up to the plate and created a three-tier system of raw materials, intermediate and finished goods and produced rules for trade. A rudimentary macroeconomic model and a more detailed microeconomic model would have done great things for the game and been the final word on immersive world building.

But no. Instead we got the Theif-Acrobat and the Barbarian and the Cavalier. By my estimate, that's about 2 hours of game designer time for something that almost any DM over the age of 14 could have (and likely did) come up with on their own.

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

@Alexis:

What exactly is the question? I need to know which part you have a problem with.

In general, I was saying "these are some of the reasons why it hasn't happened yet, but if whoever makes it can get around them, it's a cool project.

Alexis said...

C'nor,

The part I had problem with was where I failed to see how anything you said had anything to do with anything I said.

Carl,

I did say in the post I wasn't looking for something to price things. But if you know of a competant program that allows me to make walls, move around tables and chairs and other things in a D&D setting just like in Sims (without any need for 'sims' to exist at all within said system), I'd like to know about it.

The real problem, however, is not actually the house structure, but the things in it. It is easy enough for player to imagine the dimensions of a house. It is very difficult for many D&D players to image buying a vase to put on top of the table inside the doorway to the study on the second floor. I don't need any system to give me the skeleton of a house. A system that allowed the player to visually fill that house with furniture, on the other hand ... gold.

It could be done with the Sims, I suppose, but it really doesn't have that D&D feel, does it?

Carl said...

Alexis,

Sorry for the misunderstanding. I get passionate about these things.

I have seen top-down perspective programs that have furniture. Campaign Cartographer is pretty advanced and might be worth another look. It's expensive, though.

If you're looking for a Sims that provides medievalness, try The Sims Medieval for that castle and manor house flair. Actually, scratch that -- you can't build buildings in Sims Medieval, you can only furnish them. Still, it's kind of a fun game.

My wife and I are pretty serious Sims nerds. We play it like a live-action reality show where we get to choose some of the actions of the participants. Sometimes we play as though we were vengeful and capricious gods.

I'm certain I could build and decorate a medieval manor house using the content available for that game. I could probably build a castle, too. I built a passable Roman Villa once, furnished it and even decked out the Pater Familias in a toga.

The Sims was originally intended to be an architectural simulator, allowing architects to mock-up buildings and then see how people would move around in them. It lends itself well to building buildings and filling them with furniture.

The Sims 3 is pretty great, but you'll have be mindful or you'll wind up spending a ton of money on digital representations of dishwashers and hanging lamps. Some criticism has been levelled at the game for this pay-as-you-go model, but I kind of like it.

It might be cheaper to recruit an artist to play in your game.

-Carl

5stonegames said...

Five reasons such software doesn't exist.

#1 Gamers are often low income.

#2 Gaming is often retro and as such limits on what tech is used are part of the fun. Playing like its 1981 is actually intentional as it improves the imagination

#3 I don't think most gamers care all that much about the details of the setting or the RP aspects and just want to slay stiff If they are really into the setting they have Harn and Chivalry and Sorcery and GURPS to tide them over

#4 The required effort being high and the market being a minuscule part of a stagnant or shrinking hobby its little wonder no one feels like the effort.

and last #5 there are plenty of free tools already out there. No need to have complicated software when you can download a "good enough" image from the web and print it or paste into a presentation as Ian does.