Thursday, January 26, 2017

College Life

So I had some energy to work on the bard today ~ this is a long, long struggle that does not feel like it is going to end.  However, I did fill out some important points and make some important pages, including copying some material from the blog and making it official on the wiki.  For anyone interested, I include pages on Art vs. Product, Sukha, Upeksa, Making Art (needs much more work), Criticism & Composition, Tutoring, Conducting and Audition.

It is this last I want to talk about.  It was the first I started on today and it started off the rest of the work.  The idea came to me just recently, with the idea that a "college" could be a resource for a player character, but one that could only be accessed through the character having a specific kind of knowledge and only by the character applying for access.  In terms of the bard character, the main resource I'd expect a player to access would be to give modifiers to the creation of making art and towards improving the quality of the bard's performance.  Basically, drop by the university, let a few weeks of game time pass, take a few courses, then head off to the next adventure.

This is the kind of thing that could be done in fifteen minutes of a campaign.  All too often, I find that players treat time similarly to the way they do in real life.  I very rarely have players who realize that they can, if they want, simply decide it is four or five months later, enabling them to spend a winter in a state of half-slumber until the spring arrives, or take part in farming to raise food for a half-years' campaigning, or some other reason that simply calls out for the party to sit and LEARN for a time.

This seems anathema to most party thinking, however.  They seem to think that I'm going to run the three months of the dead of winter as though it is happening in actual time.  I don't know if its because other DMs do this, or players cannot reconcile the movement of time without relating to it as though the time is really passing.  I don't know what is wrong with players thinking, "We spend the next three years tilling our land, building up our homestead, getting to know the neighbors, finding out how the world works in this corner of the globe and generally relaxing, perhaps getting married and raising a few kids before heading off.  But there must be something wrong with that, because players don't do it.

All the same, I'd like to extend the college idea to other classes.  A cleric may have access to a seminary or a monastery, a fighter to a military academy, a mage or illusionist to a magic academy, a thief or assassin to a guild of sorts (or some equivalent I haven't considered yet) and a monk to yet a different monastery or perhaps an ashram.

The benefits could be legion.  As yet, I'm sure I haven't conceived of most of them, yet.  Still, perhaps this is the way to have access to spells such as resurrection or remove curse, to the restoration of spent magic items, to trusted sources of information, to small improvements in the character's sage abilities or status . . . in all, each of these resources could insist upon a yearly stipend that would, in turn, provide unlimited access to various benefits, even though these benefits would be geographical in nature and tend to tie a player down to a specific region.  As it says in the description I gave for Audition, the player could have access to only ONE seminary, college, academy or conservatory.

Some might dispute the phrase, ". . . all colleges throughout the game world will be informed of the acceptance."  But why not?  I conceive of a magic book that would exist in every such institution, that would define membership by requiring individuals to sign in upon arrival.  The book might betray a non-member, or it may transfer knowledge of the membership to every other similar book in the world, all of which are interconnected by design.

Therefore, we may have access to a wonderful conservatory in Edinburgh, but right now we happen to be in Egypt and it hasn't been much use for a while.  Still, one day when we get a chance we'll be going back there ~ and when we do, we'll have a lot of questions to settle.  Perhaps we may even spend a few months getting them settled.


Embla Strand said...

This is very interesting.

Samuel Kernan said...

Continuing to read these with great interest.

Ant Wu said...

Isn't one of the more interesting applications of complex social organizations the minutiae of those organizations? Having a player resource that is unchanging like a college, academy, or conservatory is nice, but may not be completely believable. It is a game-inspired resource, not necessarily a narrative one, especially if you can just fast-forward time.

If you run minutiae, though, then there is the conundrum of splitting the party. Short of the entire party's admittance into a college or the entire party's interest in committing to a rogues' guild, you're going to have some splitting.

I find the idea of organizations fascinating in either case, but I can understand why players in tabletop RPGs may find such organizations troubling to accept, either because they are gamers who are surprised by the organizations that change fluidly and unpredictably without their input, or because they are simulationists who are surprised by the organizations that are unchanging and globally connected.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Leaving aside the fast forwarding on time (I think I'll cover it again), you're right. It is a game-inspired resource . . . but it also corresponds to my personal experience with my own university, both during my attendance and afterwards as an alumni.

There are still people at my university that I can go up and visit, get advice from, discuss angles on a book I'm writing, say, or gain guidance regarding some bit of expertise that a prof has that I do not. I can still use the library, I can still drink at the pub or attend concerts, use the pool or the Olympic-level speed-skating track (we had the Olympics here in '88) and so on. That is a real resource that is not just "gaming." That's an opportunity to improve myself intellectually, emotionally and physically.

As far as party splitting, again you're right. But you must acknowledge that I'm running a very different game than what the WOTC imagines. I don't see that fighting things and swaggering back to town are the only emotions/goals a player can pursue. I think the game can also be about building, like minecraft, or interaction, like the sims, or conquest/politics/logistics, like Europa Universalis.

I can't see that it matters if players are surprised. You're describing the game landscape as it's expanding massively past the ability of a few companies to control. EVERY kind of game is being invented now, surprise is almost always the default.

I'm only concerned that it works. How it is used, that's actually not my problem. Think of it like a skateboard park; we build the curves, the angles, the tracks and the bowls. We have a fair idea of how most people are going to use these ~ but it is far, far more interesting to learn what some self-directed artist is going to do with them: things we never imagined, but are possible, because the vista was open and encouraging.

But sure, splitting. It always comes back to splitting, doesn't it? I find I get this particular argument a great deal, because the game is very hard to manage ~ and doubly so if the players won't play together, if they insist on splitting all the time.

I don't think the solution to splitting is to fear it. I don't think the solution to the conundrum is to resist adding game options. I think the options themselves have to bend to the party's needs ~ so that, to get something out of the college, it doesn't take any more time out of the game than going to the market. No one fears that purchasing things will split the party. Perhaps the college, and what it offers, can be made to fit the same principle.

Discord said...

I'm currently trying to find ways to add supporting organizations/factions into my game, so this idea very interesting to me. Having handed out physical badges when the players joined an adventurer's guild, the idea of a book that could track membership across the world is very welcome!

I'm also intrigued by the fast forwarding of time section. When I've used this in the past, it's either a couple of hours spent resting or re-equipping, or a couple of days until the blacksmith finishes a product. I'm anxiously awaiting your take on the matter.

Jonathon said...

I too look forward to seeing you expand on this. When I was working on a skill system last, it had some elements in common with Sage Abilities in that it was profession-based and had four tiers of mastery, but at the time I was divorcing it entirely from the standard leveling system. If you were an Apprentice level sailor and wanted to get better at it, going up a level in Fighter did nothing for you - you necessarily had to take an extended break from adventuring and work at it. And of course more time and expense was required to ascend each step in the chain. (I was inspired at the time by the concept of '10,000 hours to mastery', so the top tier required the accumulation of several years of study.)

I think the trick to downtime is getting each player invested in some aspect of it - the party might be reluctant to say 'we take a break so the bard can spend 2 months at the college,' and instead the ideal is 'the party agrees to take 2 months of down time from adventuring' and while the bard goes to study at college the fighter works on the estate, and the mage studies that spell she's been working on, and the cleric does good works among the poor', all of which have some impact on the characters and/or their role in the world.

Oddbit said...

Ah, but what about players wanting to MAKE a college. I mean, part of Lukas's goals was similar.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Oddbit, that is part of the sage abilities also. Note that the conducting, tutoring and criticism links are to enable players to act the superior role in the college, to be the person who has the authority, the ability to teach others, the skill in increasing the rolls that others need to make with regards to performance and making art.

I've already started to formalize the answer to your question.

Archon said...

Interesting point on the time-skips - D&D 3.5 seems to consider it almost cheating to do so in the context you are talking about. The idea of spending time farming to build up resources for adventuring (or really any other extended downtime), is a way to violate the "Carefully Balanced" measures of how much wealth a given player should have at a time. One of the first types of cheese or unfair play I saw criticized was a plan to make a party of elves, who would farm for several hundred year (and gain a few dozen silver each week of those years), and thus build up a substantial sum of cash with which to buy magic items or hire mercenaries.

Alexis Smolensk said...


Interesting that it was assumed that farming for hundreds of years wouldn't just produce the zero-sum gain that it does in real life, as things break down, food gets eaten or spoils, disasters and famine eat into the gains made during the good years and so on.

Farming is by no means a guaranteed win; at best, it can provide a lot of food in the short run. The Romans knew that one season was enough to build up the goods to campaign, which was the best way for food to be turned into gold (food feeds the armies while they plunder).

Jeff V. said...

I ran across an RPG system a while back (unfortunately I can't recall for sure the title off the top of my head...was it Torchbearers? Beyond the Wall? I can't remember!) that addressed this area within the rules themselves.

Game time was split up into three types; adventure time, camp time, and Winter Quarters time. Basically everything was run normally during the actual adventuring time. At night you made camp, and then handled two or three "maintenance" activities during that time; and then you went into winter quarters (during the winter, obviously; but you could actually do it at any time) and time passed in "quarterly" chunks (3 months at a pop), during which you handled long-term maintenance issues (learning, healing, researching, gathering rumors, etc.) and usually ran out of money too. Healing time varied by the accommodations you took (you don't heal as fast in a flop-house as you do in a private room in a ritzy inn), and, in turn, that tended to dictate how fast the money ran out. I think they had some good ideas in there about story telling during the period too (encouraging the players to tell "war stories" to each other about their adventures, which earned them a few experience points and let each of them have some spotlight time to recount their exploits). It was intriguing enough to allow me to remember it anyway, though I haven't played it obviously. I think Cubicle 7 did something sort of similar with it's version of the Lord of the Rings (The One Ring); you have planning periods and adventure periods which are two different time scales mandated in the rules.

In short, I'm thinking that time is what you want it to be, and why players would get all confused and resistant to such a thing is somewhat of a mystery to me! Especially given that they tend to nonchalantly accept playing a day of wilderness travel in 15 or 20 minutes (barring major encounters). I think the real secret of success for this is simply to introduce it early as a concept and USE it frequently -- then the players get accustomed to it and start to figure out ways to make it work better for them.

Archon said...

That's Torchbearer - I got a copy for christmas.

I agree that time can be flexible on two different scales, but the point of torchbearer is that town life is unsustainable for you, and you must go back out of town or starve. Its also very structured in a way that will annoy many players - the list of viable actions, and the times and places you can do them, is quite restricted. Switching scales is hard to balence - torchbearer does so by preventing many options in town (settling down could never be an option - the nearest thing the game has to it is basically a lose condition similar to dieing). But if you can figure it out, that would be very nice. The point, I thought, was to make settling down something a player might actually do.

Alexis Smolensk said...

You've named one of the core problems with virtually all games when comparing them to role-playing, Archon. Games are about winning, specifically according to a program that the makers design.

Role-playing games are about SUCCEEDING. At no pre-specified goal. The game structure lets the players and DM remake the game as it moves forward, so that options that wouldn't be available with a game like Torchbearer CAN be pursued in D&D.

I'm not going to rush out and dig up a 3 decades old game that I don't remember anyone playing when I was in my teens and twenties, only to learn that it is painfully simple in its trade mechanics.

I appreciate your comments, Jeff V ~ but you do seem a bit old school. I repeat, you really should look at my own trade system. Links in the sidebar.

Jeff V. said...

"Old school?" I would think in a blog frequently discussing OSR that wouldn't necessarily be a negative thing! ;-)

I look for systems that allow me to replicate, not perhaps in exhaustive detail, something approaching economic activity. The games I mentioned have systems, written for non-computer games, that do this. The primary point of my posts was to contend with the idea that no one had ever done such a thing prior to the computer game revolution. Nothing more. I wouldn't expect you or anyone else to go out and "dig up a 30 year old game" just on my say-so. If that's what you got out of my posts, then clearly we had a failure to communicate.

Your trade systems seems to be a list of commodities with relative exchange values (if I'm reading it aright). That's useful, but doesn't address fluctuating market demands much, which is what at least two of the systems I suggested (which, by the way, I think you can download for free in places like Grognards or BoardGameGeek) do provide. However, thank you for reading my posts, anyway.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Jeff V., I think you'll be hard pressed to find any references celebrating "old school" on my blog.

But point taken. Perhaps "conventional" would have been a better description.