Thursday, January 10, 2013

...And The DM Is Pushed Aside

Something that I have been saying since playing D&D in the early 80s is that a DM must take his or her self 'out of the loop.'  That is to say, the less immediate influence you have over your own world, the better.  That influence should be moved towards the rules, towards the dice and towards the setting of your world.  Specifically, how should things be if the setting of your world, and not your own feelings about it, makes the final ruling?

This, however, is mostly impossible.  There are too many circumstances, too many ad hoc decisions which must be made, too many times when the 'last word' of the DM is the only word there is.  And still, I am tickled pink when my world 'over-rules' me.

This happened to me last night, while making a determination about a player's horse, and I felt I had to write about it.

One default position I tend to take is to reduce virtually all vague characteristics about a thing to its lowest common form.  If the party finds a sword, it will probably be a short sword.  If a player character has failed to note on their character sheet whether the crossbow is light or heavy, I will definitely rule that is light.  Ill-defined chests will always be small, as will quivers, saddle-bags, shields and holy symbols.  And most of the time, horses will be riding horses before they are warhorses, and they'll be light warhorses before they'll be heavy ones.

Perhaps, after a fashion, it's my way of being a dick.  I prefer to think that the smaller or lighter version of anything is bound to be far more common than the larger or heavier version, so unless there are some specific circumstances regarding the size of something, I will tend towards the least rather than the most.

So, it was determined from the character's background that the character's father had been an outrider, and that the character had inherited a warhorse upon leaving home.  I hadn't specified the size of the horse, so when the character asked, I was inclined to say, "light."

However, I had also generated the character's place of birth, so it seemed logical to first find out what sort of horses came from that area.  The locale was Andria, in the modern province of Barletta, in the historical region of Apulia, which at the time of my world was under the authority of the King of Naples, himself subject to the Emperor of Spain.

The most common sort of horse that originates in southern Italy is by far the Neapolitan breed, so it only followed that I would supply that horse.  The appearance is very definitely "Roman" in the sense of statuary from the ancient period, and the horse is somewhat short, just above 14 hands ... as you can make out from this image.

But here was the real kicker.  Wikipedia, it should be noted, says this about the breed:

"Between the 16th to 19th centuries, Naples and the surrounding regions were known for their high-quality Neapolitan horses. The best horses were bred by nobles for transportation and cavalry. At the beginning of this time period, the horses were likely small, coarse and heavy, suitable for carrying heavily-armored warriors. However, as elsewhere, the use of firearms brought on the desire for a more attractive, agile horse."

And of course, because I don't have fire arms, I had to accept - quite happily, I might add, because as I said I love when my world pushes me out of the way - that the player character's free horse - one which the player would have known since it was foaled - was a heavy warhorse, and not a light one.

The player was understandably happy about this.

1 comment:

Butch said...

Very happy. ;)

This reminds me of a story about rabbis arguing over whether a particular oven kind of oven can be considered kosher.

According to the Torah, a majority of rabbis would determine whether or not something was kosher. However, the most respected Rabbi of the time, Rabbi Eliezer, presents his argument that it is kosher. Despite this, the majority of rabbis still vote to overrule him and say it isn't.

Then there are a succession of "divine signs" indicating that it is kosher. The majority of rabbis still say it isn't kosher.

Finally, God himself thunders from the Heavens, "it's kosher!"

The rabbis then point to the part of the Torah that says whether something is kosher or not has to be determined by a majority of the rabbis -- not by Rabbi Eliezer, not by divine signs, and not by God. And they say it is not kosher.

God's reaction? He laughs and says, "My children have defeated me!"