Tuesday, January 31, 2017


I don't want to distract from my last post about England, as I'm deeply proud of that ~ but I can see that there is a strong resistance to the idea of letting time pass rapidly in a game, for reasons I hadn't considered.  Thus I find myself addressing it again.

It seems that most do not seem to understand what I'm saying. I would say that Samuel Kernan has the right idea, stated in the second comment: "I could see a certain group of players interested in spending less time engaged in resolving combat . . . they might spend more time ordering others to do violence than actually engaging in fights themselves."

Yes, that's very much a part of it.  To which Embla responds, it sounds like a lot of accounting; and Agravain adds that there's a lack of a framework.

Um, what do these people think this blog or the wiki is intended to accomplish?  Put together a thousand pages on the subject, build up a sage ability system intended to create a framework, figure out where every detail fits into the class system . . . and then have that ignored utterly, as I'm told there are "absolutely zero rules" about managing a manor.

Really.  None at all.  And let me just point out that all that material was in a book in a common, every day, ordinary library.  Like this one.  Or this one.  Or this television series.  Or this television series.  That's right, there's nothing out there, zero ~ because when DMs don't have a rule for something, they throw their hands up in the air and they tell the players, "NO, that can never, ever happen, because I don't have a rule for it."

Or we could, like, educate ourselves and just make something up.

And yes, it could be a lot of accounting.  D&D is accounting: subtract the hit point, subtract the arrow, add the gold, add the experience, increase the hit points, divide the treasure by the group, buy things and add them to a list, change the numbers for what adjustments to make to the die . . . what is all this but accounting?  What we really mean is that is sounds like boring accounting, as in, no one will necessarily die, so who cares?

I'm curious, why did Farmville get to be so popular?  Why do games like the one I keep mentioning, Europa Universalis, get invented?  Because, on the whole, RISK wasn't gritty enough so we wanted Hearts of Iron.  Fable II is grittier than Fable I.  Urban Empire over Tropico.  Project Sylphead. Factorio.  Complex games, where logistics are forced on the user, because we want to spend all our time decided on tiny, tiny details, in order to affect a larger landscape.

Why should D&D be any different?  Don't the armies have to eat, don't we need farms to grow food, can't we decide how big we want our farms to be based on our income, can't we designate an amount of seed to be planted and amount of yield to be obtained?  Hell, you want crop yields for everything from beets to yams, it's called Google.  Google isn't robust enough?  We can send our players off on their phones to look that shit up, no?  Irrigate the land, costs money, more yield, right?  Roll a die for blight, roll a die for hailstorms, roll a die for perfect weather, give the players a bumper crop, let them feed their army.  I'm confused ~ why can't this be done without having to run each day of watching the plants grow?

LTW is worried that the players will ask, "How many rich merchants or nobles have I befriended?"  What is wrong with the answer, NONE.  No rich merchants.  No nobles.  Why?  Because meeting those people requires an effort and that is role-playing.  It doesn't come for free.  Meeting the farmer that's your neighbor over the back fence, yeah, no problem, his name is Fred.

But how many rich merchants and nobles are in the area?  Easy.  People all around talk about them constantly, having rarely even seen them.  There are three.  Two rich merchants and one noble.  The merchants names are Jack and Hank, one owns a huge flock of horses, cows and pigs, the other owns virtually all the land in the region.  The noble's name is Bob.  He's a total asshole.  He got his money from his Dad.  What else do you want to know?

Heirs?  Yeah, they each have one.  Or, at least, they've got one lined up.  You can be pretty sure it isn't YOU.

I guess this is "a lot of work" because the reader has totally ignored me about taking advantage of the work I've already done, creating a trade system, creating a wiki, putting it all online (yes, I've been a complete asshole this way) and explaining in over 2 million words of blog how to do it.  Yes, I can see how that's a real bitch, having someone stamp down a pathway for you so you can stand fifty feet from me in the snow and claim "there's nothing, nothing at all, to tell me how to do this!"

Sorry, that is pretty cheap of me.  Sincerely, sorry.  Sometimes, just sometimes, I just feel I'm writing for the air.

Let me try to explain about "manorial management mechanics."  You have some land. You buy something to grow or raise on it.  It costs you.  Then you look up on Google how long it takes to grow into an adult, how long it takes before we can kill it for meat, how much meat it produces, how much we have to feed it, how many people can watch how many animals, how much room it needs and so on.  Then we buy the feed, we build the barn, we hire servants, we build a slaughter house, we find out the price we'll get from a local merchant and then we pocket the cash.  Is that so hard?

What system?  Why, the one that already exists, everywhere.

A couple of months ago I had a question about how sharply you can turn a horse at a gallop.  I looked online but I couldn't get a good answer.  So I picked up a phone and I called the International Horseshow Venue here in the city and asked to talk to someone who knew about horseriding.  I was in a conversation in three minutes.  I explained that I was designing a game and that I was working out a mechanic to do with horses.  How sharp can you turn a horse moving at a gallop?  360 degrees.  Basically, as sharply as you want.  There is no limit, not in terms of the horse's ability to turn on a dime.  I got the low-down on that.  You can rear the horse and turn it in the other direction in a space about as wide as my combat hex.  The real problem isn't the horse's ability to pivot, but in how much time in a round the rider has to dedicate to managing the horse.  Can't swing a sword if you're veering off in the direction you've just come.

Now, here's my point.  There it is, the whole world, and all the Answers in it, on your phone, on your desktop.  And the reader is asking, "Where am I going to get these answers the players want?"

Really?  Gee.

I guess I just see this whole game far, far too differently than other people. I guess I'm just some special autistic idiot, who has some ridiculous notion that if a player says, "I want to do this thing that I'm perfectly able to do as an ordinary human being," I'm supposed to make that happen.

I just don't want to answer, "Um, no, sorry, I never thought about that until this very minute, so I can't let you do that.  Yes, I suppose there must be small bits of land for sale; yes, I suppose that a merchant probably would be interested in buying sheep from you if you buy a ram and a ewe and get them to mate and produce a bunch of lambs.  Sure, yes, if you want to run them in a meadow, I guess there must be meadows around ~ I mean, heck, what do the other shepherds do?  And yes, the merchant has a name, and yes, the merchant has family and friends, and yes if your charisma is 14 he's probably going to look at you better than the average shepherd.  That sounds logical.

But, look, I can't actually let you keep following this line of reasoning because it sounds pretty hard to keep up with.  It's a lot of work for ME.  You understand.  So listen ~ let's just put on a sword or something and walk down some stairs to an empty square room with a trap and a puzzle in it that I got from a local game store.  That's really more my speed.  Okay?  Fine?  Good.

No, no, no.  I don't want to hear any more about sheep.  If you want, I'll let you buy a lamb and you can keep it in your backpack on the next dungeon adventure.  That's as far as I'm going.

Is this me being nasty and cold and mawking?  Yes, yes, I admit that.  But I'm not trying to make anyone feel stupid, I'm trying to wake you the fuck up.  It is a much, much bigger world out there than the one you've been fed.  And in some ways, it starts when TIME isn't necessarily as rigidly played out as the game normally demands.  This is all I'm saying.  We can measure time any way we want ~ and we can use the endless resources of the whole universe to answer the player's questions, one by one.

Hell, I was doing that long, long, long before I had a trade system.  I only built the trade system so that I wouldn't have to pull a number out of my ass.  But before the trade system was built, my ass was all I had.  This was 1983.  There was no internet!  But I sure as shit wasn't going to tell a player I didn't have an answer when they asked for something.


LTW said...

"Meeting the farmer that's your neighbor over the back fence, yeah, no problem, his name is Fred." I had a chuckle with that one.

I figured you would have a hard boiled answer to those questions, something I would have belabored and belabored. A personal problem, I know, that admittedly brings me unnecessary worry. If you are picturing someone wringing their hands over a keyboard, you are not far off. This is why I had to ask Alexis, I knew you would provide needed perspective. Thanks for responding.

I am hardly an amateur game designer or story teller. So when I answer the question about nobles, my water is not hot enough to boil. The eggs are runny. I haven't the succinct answers you've earned over the years in or under my pot. Your approach to the question of nobles is superior to my own. I can appreciate and learn from that.

For the record, I have created my own manorial system. Researching the net for sources, including your own. Even though I've put much work into the system, I feel its not good enough, its not expansive enough and it feels like it all came right out of my ass. I want it to be Farmville, but my attempts at game design feel as painful as my attempts at creative writing and narration. (I've never played Farmville, maybe I should give it a try)

You asked if building the manorial management mechanics is so hard. It was, for me. Figuring the price of land to the price of a steak from the butcher? Yeah that's hard for me. I have shelved working on my own system of frustration, until I can get better perspective on it. It wasn't something my players needed to begin with, just something I wanted to have in my back pocket for when they do want it.

One source of frustration was marrying the manorial management mechanics with my market place. The other problem, that I see now, was that my design goals were details, accuracy, and breadth instead of simple answers.

Alexis Smolensk said...

That "accuracy" thing is the killer. I think more potential systems and game design falters due to the bugbear accuracy.

Accuracy is the quality of being correct or precise, the degree to which the result of a measurement, calculation or specification conforms to the correct value or standard. Accuracy is very important if we're building a table or a house. It really matters when we're trying to decide if surgery is necessary or if Jim, Jacob and Jules were the three guys who robbed the 1st National at the corner of 7th and DeKalb. But this is a GAME. Moreover, we're talking about something that happened a long time ago in history, when proper records weren't kept, where details are scant, where accountability was shockingly lacking and where the evidence itself has dissolved over the centuries.

Accuracy in such things is impossible ~ that's why it's a bugbear. But most of all, it doesn't matter. The players want a number, they don't need THE number. They want a process, it doesn't have to be THE process. Players want something that works ~ it does not need to be all inclusive, it does not need to fit the so-called facts of a university professor's life's work and it definitely does not need to adhere to Earth's reality.

Take that map of Britain I put up yesterday. There's lots and lots that is inaccurate about it: not all the trade cities I've identified were trade cities in the 17th century, and many of the cities that I haven't made trade cities were important commercial centers. The rivers don't follow the exact courses of Earth's Britain, the coastlines are a bit off, the borders are flat-out creative in some areas and the elevations are awfully generalized. But none of that matters, because the map isn't of Earth's Britain ~ it is of MY Britain. Which smashes all the arguments against the inaccuracy of the map at a blow.

All I care about is that it has enough semblance to Britain to let the players pretend they're in Britain. So I'm not a simulationist; I'm a semblancacist. It is close enough for me.

Embla Strand said...

That bugbear has also stymied my own efforts in this direction - working without an empirical framework feels like "cheating", which proves ridiculous under close examination yet still niggles around in the back of my brain.

And I clearly did not express myself previously, for which I apologize. I very much like spreadsheets and accounting, and your willingness to be nitty-gritty (your willingness to work) is one of the things that initially attracted me to your blog. My challenge has been figuring out how to present both of those things to my players in a way that they feel comfortable engaging with these kinds of materials.

Thus, I am very interested in where this line of inquiry takes you.

Agravain said...

It's not like I'm not putting any effort on it. I worked for a year on a generator for cities so that I can have everything ready, from the number of leveled people (inspired by a post you did a few years ago) with their gear, skills, characteristics, etc. to the general relationship and power groups. I have my trade tables (not as complex as yours) so that I can know or calculate the price of (most) items. I made a 400 pages manual with spells and skills streamlining all of 1e and 2e material.

So yeah, I'm working and I appreciate your work, greatly.

And I was not trying to say there is no data about manors,or castles,or managing. It's just that I am pretty sure I could not handle that kind of game right now. What worries me isn't the fast forwarding, it's the net of relationships, reputation and social behavior that I would have to represent to create a believable community that my players would like to spend time with.

I am sorry if it seemed like I was considering it wasted time - that is not what I meant.

Alexis Smolensk said...

And I'm sorry if I roughed you up a bit much, Agravain.

Surely, you could fake it if you had to. Maybe it wouldn't be the greatest running you'd ever accomplished ~ but you could get the players to the other side, pump them up a bit, give them a smattering of the experience and make them feel it wasn't all wasted time.

Remember what I said about pulling it out of my ass. My players at the time thought it was amazing. I'm sure they'd feel the same about you, if you gave yourself the credit. You're likely a lot better of an improvisationalist than you suppose.

Would it satisfy you? Ah, it might make you feel your game is a little half-baked. But it is from time to time, isn't it?