Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Risk vs. Reward

My players should read this.

I don't think I've properly written a post that compares experience obtained from combat vs. experience gained from treasure.  If, say, a group of 2nd level characters were to kill four bugbears, how much treasure would they get?

Let's begin by calculating how much experience might be gotten from the actual combat.  It doesn't really matter, but let's say the bugbears had 20 hit points each and that during the combat, they eradicated an average of 10 hit points from each member of the party.  We'll say there are five players in the party.  Each bugbear can't die until reduced to -4 hit points, so that is 96 damage caused and 50 damage received by the party.

In my experience system, we calculate these numbers to arrive at a total of 2,960 experience.  This is an average of 592 x.p. per player character.

Now how much treasure should the players get?

The interesting word here is "should."  When I began initially playing D&D, that "should" seemed like a logical application to the problem - and I spent literally years developing a wide range of tables and calculation systems which would ask for a die roll and spit out a number.  I roll a 3 and, ptoop, it says here the bugbears are carrying gold, gems, jewellery and magic items worth 3,552 g.p., which is then worth that much in experience.

Gawd, I was so naive.

For some time now, I haven't used any system for this sort of calculation ~ not because I wouldn't give my I-teeth for one, but because the computer needed to spit out a meaningful number would need to be as complicated as my brain and as experienced in the game at least as much as I was 17 years ago (ah, erm, 20 years).  That is because the circumstance in which the bugbears are killed matters more than every other consideration.

I began by realizing that, obviously, if the bugbears were wending their way along a forest path as a hunting party, they wouldn't take their kit and kaboodle with them.  What would such a bugbear be doing with 1,500 g.p. on his person?  Why would he even take his +1 mace?  Are maces any good for killing deer?  No.  So first we have to begin by deciding that treasure depends on the practical amount of goods that a creature (whatever it is, bugbear or otherwise), would logically have on them depending on what they're doing.

Consider that meeting a group of bugbears tromping through the wood and killing them is a fairly casual encounter.  The players are not invested.  Or, if the reader prefers, the players haven't committed themselves.  This, I feel, is the 2nd most important element of treasure giving.  To what degree have the players steadfastly applied themselves in this situation.

In the case I've just described, probably not at all.  They were walking along, the bugbears happened by, a fight ensued and the players ended it.  Job done, collect a few trifles and move on. Basically, we can look at this as the players "scratching the surface" of the bugbear situation. Without having given any consideration to this prior to about a paragraph and a half ago, we can call this a "Status-1" encounter.

A Status-2 encounter would run thusly.  The players examine the bugbears and find themselves presented with a clue that tells them where other bugbears (or perhaps another related creature) might be located.  The players must then make a decision: do we pursue this situation or do we shrug, count the gains as gains and move on.

It is the decision that matters.  Let me repeat that.  The players must commit themselves by deciding to exacerbate the situation.  The situation is NOT exacerbated if more bugbears come out of the woods to hunt down the players!  By the principles I've established for practical treasure carried, a bugbear posse would distinctly carry NO gold of any kind and certainly not a lot of gems and jewelry, among other valuables.  They would carry a +1 mace, though, so we can make allowances for armor and weapons.  But we've got to stay in the confines of practical gear for the bugbears to be carrying.

On the other hand, if the players take the fight to the bugbears, entering the fringes of their lair/homeland, the players are stepping up their involvement and, importantly, their risk. Because the game can only be won if the risk creates the right amount of entitlement.

So, where does Status-2 end and where does Status-3 begin?

[do remember, I'm making this up as I go along; I've never thought of this in stages before, I'm just creating stages to make it easier to teach the concept).

Status-2 comes up to the point where the party has engaged elements of the enemy in its lair/homeland in such a manner that an easy exit remains present.  If the players can stop without fuss, back out, quit and go to town, we're still in Status-2.  This means the players have been able to chop a few bugbears, maybe a worg or two, perhaps killed a few other random dungeon beasties, but at no time were the players legitimately overwhelmed.  They're making skirmishes, nothing more.  They haven't been forced into the kind of stand-up fight that makes retreat near-impossible.

Now, we can definitely award them more treasure for Status-2.  They're actually killing bugbears in their homes, so we can figure out how much wealth a bugbear ought to have and award treasure in line with that.  For killing four bugbears in a personal lair, I'd probably award the players about half the x.p. in treasure that they'd get from combat x.p.

So, Status-3.  The players find themselves having killed a small outpost and see, from the map in the solitary lair of the four bugbears, an outline of the nearby village, where there are 50 bugbears with about 100 goblin servants.  The 2nd level players look at that and think, "Let's leave."  They take their treasure, having probably acquired 3rd level, and rightly save their lives.

But let's argue that these are 2nd level characters who are the henchmen of a bunch of 6th and 7th levels.  They go back to their lieges and show the map, and the players have to make another decision.  This is definitely a Status-3 situation.  Once that hornet's nest gets woken up, no one is getting out of there easily.  Do we go in?  If we do, then this won't be a jaunt.  We'll have to attack, grab what we can, then probably hack our way out of there, hopefully getting back to our horses and clear before the bugbears and goblins can fully rally themselves.

What sort of treasure should they get for that?  Well, certainly the kind that can be grabbed quickly, as they'll be moving while pillaging.  A smart party will set it up so that the higher levels can rush in, hack, plunder the houses, then drop the stuff for the lower level characters to grab and high-tail out of town, while the upper level characters move fast and draw the fight to them.

I've never actually encountered this kind of smart party.  Usually what happens is that the players insist that every character, follower and hireling they have will join the fight together, without any attention given to communication with the outside or transfer of supplies or treasure, convinced they can take the whole town . . . and then all the lower level characters die and half the upper level characters, while three manage to cut their way out, taking no treasure with them.

BUT . . . there ought to be considerable treasure if the party hits a tower and perhaps one or two other key buildings, grabbing all they can find, running whenever they stun a single bugbear (instead of staying to fight again and again, even though that means being found by twenty more bugbears), then getting the hell out in ten or fifteen rounds.  Treasure for a Status-3 encounter?  About double the amount of experience gained from actual combat.

Now, another type of Status-3 encounter would be getting into a dungeon and finding the way out spoiled, so that the party was trapped and couldn't retreat easily.  That's a more likely situation for readers, as that's one the modules like to set up.  But the principles are the same.  The party's focus is on getting out . . . so while they're plundering as they go, they're not heading purposefully for the heart of the beast.

And that is a Status-4 encounter.  Kill everything.  Clean the dungeon out.  If the players keep at it and keep at it, returning after their first, second and third forays, until finally they kill every bugbear, even as the bugbears have abandoned their village and are now dragging all their wealth into the hills for a last stand, then the players deserve the ultimate amount of treasure.  For my game, that would probably be about 5 to 8 times the amount of experience earned through combat.

This ideal, then, rewards players who don't quit.  That's the key.  If the players are content to move from place to place, meeting the occasional creature, getting bashed around and then retreating to town, without investigating the matter further, then the amount of treasure should logically be minimal.  Perhaps none at all, depending on the party's exact moves.  But if the party gets the bit in their teeth, keeps digging and won't give up until every last miserable creature is either disenfranchised from the lair's treasure or dead, then the party deserves a good, solid, level-promoting treasure trove.

That's how I see this process.  It is risk vs. reward.  A decision to risk it all, risk the maximum, gets the highest possible gain.  A decision to play it safe, just poke at the fringes of the thing and turn tail rather than take the next step, deserves the minimum.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Fame

Though it may be somewhat self-indulgent, there's an experience that I have been having lately that I feel compelled to talk about - a writer's experience.  It is this:  I have noted a certain souring of interest or positivity when I have expressed to friends, acquaintences or co-workers, even some members of my extended family, whenever I mention that I have recently made money as a writer.  This isn't exactly distaste, though it is nearer to that than disinterest, which used to be the reaction I received for many years when confirming to people that I wanted to be a writer, long before actually earning money at it.

Moreover, this is not a feeling I got when I was writing for trade magazines or writing journalism articles, when I worked for companies that paid me regular wages for basically uninspired work.  No.  This is a response that is directly linked to work that I am doing for myself, specifically in connection to the money I earn through Patreon or book sales or direct donations.

It is not a pleasant response.  I have received it now from enough people that I can't help noticing it.  There is a clear message being sent: "shut up about it already."


Now, obviously most people don't want to hear about the jobs that other people do.  This, however, does not keep people from going on and on about their jobs - an experience that we, as a group, all accept as normal and deserving of a certain amount of mutual respect because we know that at some point in the future we're going to want to go on and on about our jobs, too.  The thing about that is, however, that most of this going on about our jobs is all bad going on: our boss is a prick, the hours are crap, we don't get any respect, we had to work overtime every day last week, the asshole who works there is an asshole and so on.  People do not tend to go on and on about how great their job was last week or how much they look forward to going in again on Monday while talking to us over beers Saturday night.

Fact is, I don't have anything bad to say about this particular job.  And I do consider it a job, as some days it makes me more money than my actual job does (granted, I have a pretty cruddy day job right now).  I earned ~ and yes, that's how I view Patreon and other donations ~ as much as $400 last month and it was flat out wonderful.  It is this, I think, that tends to produce the sour response.

I would feel more sympathetic if it were not for all the years of being treated as a moron and deluded nut job because I would tell people openly that I wanted to be a writer one day.  Even now, when I explain that I actually earn money from book sales, from books that I have written and published myself, I get fewer questions than spoken assumptions that I am participating in a hobby that isn't actually a) serious; or b) worth respecting.  And having faced this sort of myopic, idiotic criticism in a world full of libraries, bookstores and bookshelves in many, many homes that are full of hundreds of millions of books, I feel a certain spiteful urge to rub my moderate earnings each month into every face that screws up a bit whenever I mention that yes, I don't feel the necessity to pick up an extra shift tomorrow because, in fact, I earned money writing.

As I write this, it is late at night on the 27th of May.  Tomorrow, the 28th, will be the nine-year anniversary for this blog.  That is 2,340 posts, not including this one, with 15,004 comments from readers and 1,779,308 page views.  I have good reason to celebrate.  Since the time I've started this blog, I have written four books, I've added a wiki, I've run an on-line campaign off and on for six years, I have attended Conventions and Expos as a vendor and done extraordinarily well, I have pissed off an enormous number of people and yet I am still here, still writing, still being read and still coming up with ideas that are so startling and different that I turn heads on a monthly basis.

I have done as much of it as I can without hiding myself from anyone ~ and on occasion I've been beat up for it on levels that most of my readers can't imagine.  Out there somewhere there is still a very unpleasant, abusive image of me with breasts (must I link it?) that is never going away.  If ever I actually achieve success and fame, that fucking thing is still going to be there and it is going to get shown.  So I might as well embrace it, because that is a part of my experience now.  I remember it caused some very sad days, particularly for my partner Tamara, who was heartbroken to see something she loves treated that way.  I had more to do helping her deal with it than helping myself deal with it.

This is what happens.  Any sort of success breeds a particular kind of resentment; which I see expressed again and again by those who have achieved success, in the nicest, kindest, most gentle of expressions possible.  No one, not even those with a little bit of success like mine, want to think for a moment that there are others who might be jealous or frustrated about their own efforts or otherwise just unhappy to see someone get money for something they don't view as being actual work.  We would ignore it, except that we keep getting slapped in the face with it.

And of course, we feel guilty and a little dirty because we wanted to be famous.  I certainly did.  I imagined that long before I was 25, I would be a celebrated author like Hemingway or Herman Hesse, or maybe Kurt Vonnegut, standing in front of groups of people and talking about the themes of my book and how I hoped to send a message that it would be great if we would just all treat each other like people who have feelings and not like dirt and inconveniences.  I liked the idea that people would think well of me and speak well of me to other people that I didn't know, who would then come up and want to meet me.

Who doesn't want that?  Even if art and celebrity isn't your thing, everyone would like to be told by some stranger, "I was asking for a good mechanic and a guy name Charlie Schwartz said that I couldn't go wrong with you."  That is an enormous boost to our self-esteem.  If any of us are lucky enough to have that happen more than a few times in our lifetime, however, it is bound to cause others to feel that we're getting a "swelled head" because we want to talk about how great that feels.  Because it does feel great.  It is the kind of thing that will turn an ordinary person suffering in a crummy, unpleasant job into someone who will actively decide they're going to spend the rest of their lives doing that unpleasant job amazingly well.  We ought to celebrate that.  It is simply a very sad thing that there are many people in the world who have never experienced it.

And it is sad that there's an industry that has turned that experience into an industrialized process, so that we feel pressured by the people that we're supposed to like, even when we don't know who they are.  I'm sure that a lot of people, hearing about the late bombing in Manchester, had no idea who Ariana Grande was or why the news felt the need to tell us, amidst reports about people dying, that this rich pop singer was okay.

That was perfectly understandable, however.  When we do find out who these famous people are, and watch them and like what they're doing and give them a little space in our minds, we will recognize their faces and begin to see them as someone they know.  An enormous number of people listening to the news do know who Ariana Grande is and what she is all about to them. They probably don't know a single other person at that concert, but they do know her and it is only natural that they should worry about the one person they DO know.  That's why she gets a special place in the news.  Not because she's better than the other people who were frightened or injured or who died, but because her name is one that's recognizeable.  If your cousin Edyth was at the concert, and you knew it, the first person you'd want to know about regarding her health would be her.  That's how it works.

The issue isn't whether or not Ariana Grande deserves to make money for what she does; obviously, someone thinks so, even if it doesn't happen to be you.  As far as my own, much smaller income goes, those people who have been kind enough to encourage my well-being and welfare monetarily obviously feel that I deserve to have the money also.  It doesn't matter what it is for except those people.

The awful creatures in the world who think that there should be some measure about who "deserves" fame and who doesn't are in the dark where it comes to humanity.  For all the cruelty they try to inflict (and I'm sure Ariana has experienced millions of times more cruelty than I have at the hands of would-be judges), it is they who are the problem, not the rich and famous.

It shouldn't matter to me that I get a pursed face and a dismissal whenever I express my happiness at my circumstance.  It does, however.  I've been doing this for a long time and the long nights of despair, year after year, accumulates.

Yesterday, I put this image together for my comic:


The art is all me.  None of it was copied or traced or otherwise cobbled together from other things. I conceived of the characters looking up and somehow, some way, I managed to make it look real. For someone who, nine years ago, had the artistic talent of a three-year-old drawing for a refridgerator, I fairly exploded with happiness yesterday about this.  I am enormously proud of myself.

But the response I got from others in the real world was strange.  They approved of it; they told me it was good.  But then I got this weird lecture about not "trying so hard" to get attention or to blow my own horn.  As if I did not have a reason to.  At least I did not get that from my partner.

Fundamentally, I wasn't "cool" about it.  I was thrilled, a little too thrilled.  I should have presented the work and acted all, "Hey, no big deal," but I couldn't be bothered.  I wanted to do the Snoopy dance.

I feel like that a lot.  Just now, the writing, the blog, the feel I get from being a part of this, is the best part of me.  So I want to talk about it.

Now, it is the end of the month.  And I will ask the gentle reader, what has this nine years of experience been worth?  Can I encourage you to donate $1, $5, $10 or more to my art and my efforts?  This is the best of times to do so on Patreon, for there are only a few days before the end of the month.  I'd like to turn this "hobby" in a living wage and readers are the only way I can do that.

What do you say?


Saturday, May 27, 2017

A Separate Mindset

"The first prehistoric farmers of central Europe, the so-called Linearbandkeramik culture that arose slightly before 5000 B.C., were initially confined to soils light enough to be tilled by means of hand-held digging sticks.  Only over a thousand years later, with the introduction of the ox-drawn plow, were those farmers able to extend their cultivation to a much wider range of heavy soils and tough sods.  Similarly, Native American farmers of the North American Great Plains grew crops in the river valleys, but farming of the tough sods on the extensive uplands had to await 19th century Europeans and their animal-drawn plows."

- Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: the Fates of Human Societies


If the reader has spent any time reading material regarding the rise of civilization and the development of human technology and culture, the above quote will not stick out.  The sentiments expressed by Diamond are those that can be read in hundreds upon hundreds of other sources.  They are not wrong.  That is precisely the change that increased the food supplies of both Europe and North America, as well as many other familiar cultures that can be found around the world.

The paragraph jumped out at me last week, however, in light of the continuing controversy I seem to be having about the explanation of my tech level proposal.  If I may express the argument some have made, it would seem obvious that, once the technique could be intellectually shared, the food supply of every region would be increased as the ox-drawn plough was introduced.  Why would anyone continue to plough with hand-digging sticks once the ox had been domesticated?

Diamond is making an assumption in the above; he knows he's making the assumption and it is no problem for him, because the argument he makes is not challenged by the assumption.  That assumption is that heavy soils and tough sods exist in the area where ox-drawn ploughs are introduced.

That is by no means a guarantee.  There are many places around the world where such soils don't exist, where hand-digging sticks are sufficient.  It is true that oxen will till much more soil than hand-digging sticks, but many places in the world do not have enough tillable soil to make the introduction of oxen an efficient addition.  Oxen eat.  Some parts of the world can't produce enough food for both the humans in the region and oxen, so if cows exist at all they are not the sort that are made into working animals.  A working cow gives less milk and far less meat, and because it must be fed in and around the place where it works, it must be fed with food that is produced on the local soils.  On the other hand, cows that are not used as working animals can be taken far afield, to eat natural grass on lands that cannot be tilled at all, since they are composed of too much stone.

If the habit of using a cow to till isn't pursued, then the region will possess no residents who know how to employ a cow as a working animal.  Do you know? You don't, because you don't need to know.  An impoverished, agriculturally-stunted environment doesn't have that knowledge either, not because it doesn't exist, or because it isn't known about, but because it isn't needed.  There are no parents to teach the technology to their children, so for all intents and purposes, the region continues to exist in a technologically backward state.  It is irrelevant what technology exists elsewhere.

Far too often, we presume that different parts of the world advanced at different rates because the knowledge was lacking.  To some degree, this works for parts of the New World prior to the 16th century . . . but how does it explain the continued backward cultures of Persia, North Africa, even Lapland and Pictish Scotland up until the 1400s?  People elsewhere in the world knew how to read ~ why didn't a typical Icelandic herdsman?

Well, what good would it have done him?  It required all of his daily labor, in those hours when light was available, to accomplish the tasks that would keep him and his community alive.  When he was done, it was dark.  He could not afford candles ~ what a waste that would have been.  It requires a tremendously intricate commercial and civilized culture to enable a very small number of persons to possess the capital to waste on candles for no other purpose than to read or otherwise occupy themselves at night.  The typical resident of Iceland did not have access to that culture until the early 20th century.  No resident of Iceland possessed it in the 15th.  That is why Iceland had an oral storytelling tradition.

This notion that knowledge overwrites everything about an existing culture's technology and status is a 20th century one.  We cannot free ourselves consciously from it because it represents so much of our personal identity and cognitive experience.  We see something new and we have adapted to immediately embrace it ~ because everything that we see can be embraced, implemented into our lives and made useful.  This has not been true through the majority of human history; something demonstrably true from the accounts written by hundreds of travellers into foreign places: Conti, Przhevalsky, Leo Africanus, Marco Polo, even Lewis & Clark, if an American example is needed.  In a world without mass communication or easy travel, a distance of a hundred miles must be, for most people, as far as a trip to the moon.  Most people did not possess enough food at any given time in their lives that would enable them to walk that far and back again.

That is hard to get our heads around, when we get on a flight in the morning to attend a funeral 500 miles away, then to get on another flight afterwards to be home in time for dinner.  To us, every farmer's field is the same, every collection of livestock is the same, every weapon is the same ~ and if there isn't iron to be mined in the area where swords might be made, obviously it would be imported, right?

But am I right?  What would Ooredoo, my most recent tech-6 contribution, do with a lot of swords?  To be used against who?  Invaders who would come to seize . . . what, exactly?  And if the invaders took over, and demanded taxes from the residents, how would that actually change anything?  They pay taxes already.  If they spend their hard-earned food on swords, the swords would just be sitting in rooms, where they could not be eaten.  What good would that be?

We simply can't imagine a world without nationalism, without identifying ourselves according to our traditional belief systems, without getting angry because an outside country has done something inside our country.  But no one from before the 15th century would have cared about that. Nationalism is a very late cultural development.

I urge the reader to try to think as a medieval or renaissance individual would have felt, when faced with technologies that did not substantially improve their lives, or were impractical for reasons such as available resources or social interest.  Things were not always the way they are today.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

How Do You Write?

There hasn't been much writing here this week.  There just hasn't been time for it.  The book is taking form steadily, patiently; I would like to hear anything people might have to say about the sidebar updating my progress.  Good idea?  Bad?  Waste of my time?

It has accomplished one thing for me.  I feel absolutely awful if I have to put a zero there.  Sometimes, that's because I don't do any work at all.  Sometimes, because I'm writing some part of the book doesn't qualify as "progress."

I'll try to explain my thinking on this.  Typically, I write a very rough first draft of anything I take very seriously.  Then I will write a much better second draft, fitting in all the details and additional concepts that have arisen since the first draft, along with extending the descriptions, the general pattern of the characters and extending or adding scenes where warranted.  I'll also butcher scenes with the second draft; I may remove whole characters who don't fit into the scheme or which I decide are superfluous.  It is sometimes very hard to nail down all the details of the second draft.  This particular novel has been a nightmare in this regard, particularly as the last third of the book has snaked around like a firehose that has broken free and is now breaking windows.

The last third of this book exists much more in my mind than on paper.  I work at parts of it, I rewrite, I adjust the order of events, I change the specific setting itself, I calculate the transitions and how to get characters in and out of scenes without it looking obvious.  The movement of the characters should appear natural, not forced and definitely not dependent on one of them carrying around an idiot ball or some other awful writing trope.

So, still working on the second draft for that last third.  There are notes in abundance, pieces and bits of detail, passages where I've written out what happens and some things still relevant from the first draft.  I'm about 95% certain about the end of the second draft, now, but it still challenges me.

After the second draft, I'll work on the third draft.  This is where I work primarily on the language. For this book, I'm doing my best to keep word use so that the vocabulary is no later than mid-18th century.  For reckoning, every word in this post, so far as I know, would qualify ~ so I'm not writing in a pre-18th century style but I am keeping my idioms and references clear of post 18th century slang and usage.  For instance, lately I had to change my intention of using "mindset," as that is 1920s jargon.  I wanted to put another example here, but frankly I can't remember one.  Most of the time a word is fair game.

I clean up the extra words and struggle making things clearer.  I am getting better at this.  Part of me wants to go back and rework the language of How to Run and other things I've written because have the 18 months with this book I feel like I have better defined myself than ever before.  But that is probably also due to the blog.

After the third draft, then I do a read-through, preferably with time lapsed between writing and reading.  This read through tightens up the language still further and helps identify continuity errors, which are a terrible problem in any long work.  He took off the ring in chapter three but he is still wearing it in chapter four, that sort of thing.  That stuff is still likely to slip through.

Finally, there are words that get missed, even though the passage reads perfectly to me; I just don't see the missing word.  Or the typo.  Or the small spelling error.  It isn't that I haven't read the passage at least a dozen times, it's just that my mind and the text are hopelessly mutable.  At some point in the past, that word was probably there or it was spelled correctly. But after shifting and changing and adjusting and rewriting, it gets taken out even though my brain rates it as still present.  This is why someone else is always needed.

Anyway, it is only this final reading that I am counting as "progress."  So if I go work on some passage of the book that isn't part of this final edit, it isn't progress, not yet.  As such, I try to work on some rewriting each day, then a small bit of progress on top of it, to feel like the book is making headway.

Hope that clears up some things for the reader ~ and I hope that for some writers, they can compare their own habits to mine.  Being asked, "How do you write?" is a very common thing for a writer.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Touring Numbers, Notes

A brief addendum to my last post.

To encourage a greater distance travelled between cultural sites, making distance a condition of the experience gained by a player, we could include this table:

This counts as 20 miles per hex.

Thus, a party of characters reaching for the easiest fruit, moving from close town to close town, could still benefit from week to week investigation, but if they chose to move great distances before touring again, they would gain more per week.  This, of course, would not increase the total amount of experience available from a cultural center, but it would increase the speed with which cultural gains were made.  That would incorporate a cultural shock into the learning experience.

As a second feature, we could use this list of places from Wikipedia (making your own up, of course, if it is your originally created world) as a guideline for pilgrimage sites.  The adjustment here would be to double or perhaps triple the amount of experience-gaining potential for true believers of the given faith.  Therefore, though Rome in my game is not the largest of cities in Europe (it has 313,786 people in my world), by giving it three times the potential experience gain, rather than having a maximum experience base gain of 3,137 x.p., it would have 9,413; and if persons were to travel 100 hexes to reach it, or 2,000 miles, that would be increased further to 16,944.  Though it would take a total of 94 weeks and a day to gain it all.

That would include time looking at art, visiting churches, attending ceremonies and festivals, reading in libraries or conversations with religious leaders and scholars, etcetera.

Would players really want to do it, though?  Would they be willing to sacrifice a year of life in order to gain a "safe" boost of experience?  Or would they rather just adventure.  On the whole, I see these rules being something that low-levels, up to 5th say, may jump at, but in which those higher than 6th would probably lose interest.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Grand Tour

I'm still writing bard posts.  Here I'd like to address a problem that came up the last time around as I stumbled over bard mechanics for artwork experience gains.  Fundamentally it is this: if art has been created over a very long period of time and exists all over the world, and if seeing, hearing or otherwise experiencing art can contribute experience to your character, why not just wander around, look at stuff and go up levels?

Remember that the idea of experience being transmitted through art came about as a desire to make bard creations meaningful.  Spend a lot of time as a bard creating something, affect others.  Simple.  But given that the transmission of experience would apparently break the system, some kind of limitation is necessary ~ and in the end, I did not like any of the limitations I proposed when I wrote the linked post above in early April.

As such, I'd like to try again.

Now, this "fix" may seem contrived, it may seem impractical for a more localized world than mine, but I'm only concerned that it provides a measurable limitation for the viewing of art outside the party's personal creation.  The idea is more or less based on the idea that the bard you know can be more effective in transferring experience (as a player character bard has relatively the same perspective on life) than a lot of old, disconnected artists producing stuff the characters are perceived to see as less meaningful.  Some will disagree; but like the concept, don't like the concept, I'll go ahead and describe it as best I can.

First and foremost, we want a measure that can be used to determine how much experience a player character can gain by visiting a given city anywhere in the world.  This has to be a universal measure and I can think of only one: the city's population.  Stavanger, for example, where the Juvenis party is adventuring [sorry, friends, I will get on that as soon as I get my commitments under control], has a population of 9,573 in my game.  To compare, Copenhagen, the seat of the monarchy for Denmark and Norway, has a population of 109,756.

Suppose that we say that a tour around either city has the potential for netting a character, player or non-player, 1% of those numbers in experience.  Visiting the artworks of Stavanger could push the character up 95 x.p. (fractions don't count), while Copenhagen could add 1,097.  Characters would want to visit Copenhagen under those conditions, yes?  Much more so than Stavanger.

But that doesn't solve our problem.  There are thousands of cities in my world, so moving from one to the next would be like an experience smorgasbord, to use the Scandinavian term, making ordinary adventuring a thing of the past.  I will have to limit the scheme somewhat.

It might be possible to see all the art that Stavanger has to offer in the space of a few days, but obviously not Copenhagen.  We could set a harsh limit of 100 x.p. gained per week of "sightseeing," which would mean it could take two and a half months to get out of Copenhagen all that it had to offer, while Stavanger could be seen in just seven days.  This at least creates an expense to exchange for x.p. gained, in the form of food, lodging, perhaps taxes and, of course, the cost of actually entering the churches, palaces and salons of the city in order to get the most out of it.   If we also take steps to increase the cost of lodging in larger cities, this can work to discourage long visits (and push the players towards traditional adventuring).  As well, the players would get older from such activities.

But we're still talking about an experience feast that's everywhere, so let's also remove Stavanger from the list of potential tourist spots.  According to wikipedia, this is the only significant building to be found in the city that was built before 1650 (on the right).  And while it is pretty and perhaps unusual for the area, is it worth 95 x.p.?

We can limit the number of cities that can offer meaningful sites to those that meet a certain status: perhaps national capitals, large religious and palatial monuments (of a given size), buildings of sufficiently early origin (a minimum of 800 years old), that sort of thing.  Thus, while the barrow Mimmarudla that the players found near Stavanger is really old, it isn't large enough to provide x.p. just by being viewed.

Well, that helps.  The party now has to make sufficiently meaningful trips between historical/artistic sights, which requires at least some dangerous travelling/opportunities for adventure.  What else can we do?

We could limit the amount of experience gained from an outside bardic source per level of experience.  For example, we could argue that a 2nd level fighter wanting to be 3rd, needing 2,000 x.p., could only gain 500 through visiting Copenhagen.  This would narrow the amount of effect that experience could have ~ and once the player leveled, they might have reason to return to Copenhagen and have another look around.

We can also say clearly that Copenhagen can only offer that 1,097 once per character's entire lifetime. That might not have been clear.

Finally, we could say that a character can only take advantage of this increase for the first quarter of their needed experience.  This is going to sound tricky and may not be fully understood at first.

Let's say that our 2nd level fighter, John, has 2,149 x.p. and needs to reach 4,001.  Now, it would seem that he could spend 5 weeks in Copenhagen, collect 500, then go adventuring for the rest, yes?

I'm suggesting instead that once John hits 2,500, he's too sophisticated as a 2nd level to get more experience from artwork.  Thus, when he tops out at 2,500, he can't gain any more from visiting sites until he reaches 3rd level (whereupon he could gain up to 2,000, provided he gets started early in his level gaining).

Arbitrary?  Of course!  It is all arbitrary.  It is designed to encourage John, once he has accomplished his level, to spend some time resting, improving his mind, expanding his consciousness, visiting some sights on the Grand Tour as he trips from Copenhagen to Aachen to Paris, before deciding he's full of high-mindedness and is ready to get on with destroying some monsters.

It is at least a limitation.  A weird one, but then the bard thing has been threatening to break the system in all kinds of ways.  Obviously, John doesn't have to go touring.  He can just fight orcs in the same old way, if he likes.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Brass Carrots

Gentle readers, no doubt, will have heard of campaigns that eliminate level progression. It is argued that level progression is unnecessary to role-playing and character building, that it creates friction among the players, that too much focus is placed on advancement and that games don’t need level-advancement to be enjoyable.

So we beg the question, what value do levels have?

The title embraces the supposition that levels are a motivation. The characters want more power, so we have created a set of arbitrary plateaus, obtained through an arbitrary award system we call “experience,” which can be adjusted on a whim of the DM at any time by awarding more experience arbitrarily at the appropriate moment.

It is this capriciousness that creates friction. We understand the clear, simple notion that players would like more powers and abilities in the future than they have today. We can lately remember a time when we did not possess a given skill, a well-paying job, a prized possession or other milestone ~ evidence that we’re doing better, that we’re smarter, that our lives are more comfortable and so on. Level-advancement reflects this. The fighter hits a little better, the mage has more spells, the general character is made safer with more hit points and there is status to be gained in the form of titles and game recognition.

But the steps themselves ARE subjective. Why should a fighter advance at 2,000 experience and not 1,500? Why should a given dead monster be worth 100 experience and not 200? And if DMs can just wave a hand and award experience at a whim, they why shouldn’t they, right now, as we’re sitting around the table playing? The very fact that the DM won’t is proof that we’re getting ripped off! We only want what’s coming to us! All we want is our fair share!

So eliminating the level gets rid of all this subjectivity. The players will advance in level when the adventure calls for the players to be a higher level. The players will advance at the beginning of every fifth running. The players will advance when the quest is completed. These principles are still arbitrary, but they’re unilateral, affecting every character at the table the same, and they don’t require nearly as much math.

There is a major drawback, however, that many do not consider a drawback. These substitutions eliminate insecurity. We know we’re going to advance ~ there is no uncertainty about it. Advancement does not hinge on the choices we make, nor the effort we give, nor the risk we’re prepared to take. If we climb aboard, the train will arrive at our destination and the ticket will be stamped.

All the doubt is washed away, as is the frustration we feel as time between upgrades spins out and challenges our composure. We’re not driven to take a bigger risk, to make something happen that doesn’t seem willing to happen ~ and when the achievement is obtained, we don’t think of it as something we did ourselves, accumulating all that experience. We don’t get excited about things we think of as entitlements.

The carrot is a reward, yes, but it is also something we only get after a very long day of dragging a very large load at the expense of our comfort and our privilege. It dangles right in front of us, aggravating us, making our mouths water, while at the same time we can’t get it. In every sense, for anything but a dumb animal, the carrot is a kind of abuse, one we can’t ignore.

The brass ring is a reward also, but only because it is so damn hard to get. We miss it and miss it, leaning out further and further, risking a face-plant in the dirt, because it takes a big risk to win a big reward.

Experience levels work because they’re hard to obtain; and the arbitrary limits we create to put them further out of reach are there to make it very hard. We don’t appreciate anything that is easy to obtain. Naturally, we carp about it. Carping about a lack of something is a part of life.

DMs should not bow to that.


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Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Game

Any serious discussion about rules must start here:



Ah, rules.  I could write a hundred posts about their value, their construction, the decimation of same by market forces and the misunderstanding of same, all the while accomplishing nothing.  
People hate rules . . . or to be more precise, children hate rules and are poisoned for the rest of their lives.

Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes is unquestionably brilliant ~ particularly in the manner that it deconstructs moments of childhood like the example above.  It grasps that both making and breaking rules is FUN, even when both occur simultaneously, evidenced by this being one of Watterson's most successful themes.  Calvinball returned again and again in the comics, highlighting childhood cruelty, shame, glory, triumph, deception and inventiveness.  Add to that the physical enthusiasm which children possess when throwing themselves into activities and the comic fairly sings on the page.

Make no mistake, however.  To anyone but a child playing solitary games with a stuffed animal, Calvinball would be awful.  Remembering, as I do, the number of fistfights that broke out between my 7-year-old friends over games of baseball, capture the flag, guns, hide-and-seek, tag or any of the other physical games we played, a game without rules would have ended in a bloodbath. Where there are no rules, there is too much to fight over.

But I do regularly hear and read people say the game, D&D, has too many rules, even when referring to games utterly unlike mine, where considerable patterns of human behavior are glossed over with simplistic die concepts like "perception rolls" or "advantage."  On some level, I can understand the "too many" argument ~ but I'm baffled where it comes to a game where a player can do anything, literally anything, with the expectation that the DM should then step up and run it.

And that, there, is the issue.  It isn't that there are too many rules, it is that the sand box in which we play is too damned big, for both DMs and Players.  Players argue constantly that they don't know what to do when given the opportunity and DMs argue there's no possible way to prepare a game properly if the players can shout out anything without limits.  The scope of the game is phenomenally beyond all who play it.  Therefore, the history of D&D's rules has been a struggle to contain the genie in the bottle.

Thankfully, for most, this is easy.  The expectations of most players is so absurdly low (there's a room and a monster?  Cool!), it's entirely practical to argue that so long as the players can pretend-speak in voices that appeal to them, while either killing or talking their way past a threatening creature or two, to be rewarded with treasure or character upgrades, regardless of the amount of mental cognition actually used, then the game is "fun!"  Players buy this because, well, how the fuck would they know?

And that is the thing.  How would they know?  Who is telling them that there is a better game to be had?  Certainly not me.  I'm telling them to make a setting that is impossible to make, to spend time that is impossible to find, to obtain a legitimate education and then a self-generated education on top of that, only to finally argue that sorry, yes, if you want a good world you will have to work, all the time, there's no way out of that.  I'm preaching the impossible, to people who like impossible.  I'm not speaking to the grass roots player who's made deliriously happy if they can find a +2 sword to replace their +1 sword.  Or whatever the hell counts for phat loot in 5th Edition.

For that player, more rules than Calvinball allows do seem like extra obstacles to their quest.  Any rule that limits their perceived choice in how to use their given power or how much power they're allowed, from swings to movement to gathering data, just seems like a great big hassle in something that is intended to be a fantasy game.

For that player, this is all about the fantasy.  Rules screw with the fantasy the way a morning after can screw with great sex, when one lover has fallen asleep and failed to escape before the sun rises, so that they meet a three-year-old kid staggering into the kitchen, asking for Captain Crunch.  For that player, fantasy is supposed to work with all the thrills and fast-paced fun of Calvinball, cognitively dissonant from any notion that others will find it "annoying" or "dissatisfying" if "my character" stabs at them haphazardly in a moment of whim, starts screaming at the local monarch to poop his pants immediately or leaps wildly into the sky with the expectation that the DM will ensure the ground does not then become an obstacle.  Calvinball does not only argue no rules, it also argues no consequences, because we're just kids playing with a stuffed toy and no one is going to die.

When stepping forward as a DM to play games with Players who complain about both rules and consequences, there is little one can do except to give away the levels and magic items by the armload, to create scenarios where gods are humiliated with massive catapults of large porridge-bowl-slinging and to encourage backstories that run for fifty pages or more.  Hell, three players can enable four or five whole runnings to pass unimpeded by just talking about their backstories to one another, in detail, while the DM pretends to have them chat to a potion-dealer, then a magic armor dealer, then a ring of purposeless spells dealer, so long as its funny and everyone gets to argue a bit with the guard posted by the front door.

Something I failed to realize when I began blogging, returning to the community as it were, was that when DMs would step forward to say they ran their campaigns "on the fly," this is the sort of campaigning they meant.  Not a substantial world being presented or that the players would be forced to pry themselves out of some conundrum, but that "on the fly" they would make up a goblin king who would perform a dance before commanding his own men to attempt fornication with the players (cue laugh) ~ players who would then, naturally, butcher all the goblins after a few symbolic die rolls.

Once I had realized it, however, and realized the nature of "fantasy games" for the vast majority, and the manner in which these games are presented as a mastery of role-playing genius, I began to take a step back with my attitude and my blog.  Up until then, I had been banging my head against others with a theory that even if these players did not think like me, they might, if they were shown how.  I know now how foolish that thinking is.

The players out there, who think they are playing Calvinball, who despise rules or feel that counting numbers on paper is disgustingly dull and anathema to the real purpose of the game (which is to create backstory and then live it, over and over), don't get that Watterson's creation is not about two living beings, but about one distortedly-minded child and a stuffed animal that doesn't actually talk.  A hilarious, wicked child, but very different from the norm.  Calvin is not Charlie Brown. Calvin is me, when I was a child.  But I'm not a child anymore; so while I was once like Calvin, I'm not like Calvin any more.  I no longer find fantasy alone to be enough ~ not even really brilliant fantasy, like the sort Watterson creates.  I need more than fantasy.

That's perhaps why the gentle reader won't find me describing D&D very often as a fantasy role-playing game.  More and more, of late, I am not even keen on describing it as "role-playing," largely because the co-opting of that term has come to mean something other than what it does.  As I put Calvin and his tiger farther and farther behind me, D&D is only a game . . . or to be honest, it is the game, the only one I want to play.

In all its complexity.  In all its scope.  With all its endless list of rules, which must grow and grow until the rules accomplish what they were intended to do ~ not to put the genie into an itty-bitty bottle, but to make a bottle big enough to completely envelop the genie.

But that is enough metaphors for today.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Management of Stress

Like Tim commented on the previous post, I am also very much declared to be in the rule-based game camp ~ but then, this was the original design of Dungeons & Dragons.  A reader will be hard-pressed to find any paragraph or suggestion written in any of the books of TSR about the importance of a "back-story" or the game being "character-driven."  These are film-and-book maker terms, designed for crafting non-interactive art pieces for a passive audience.  Playing a "role" does not ask for the participant to do more than to imagine his or her self to occupy that role for the present . . . the psychologist who asks that we pretend, for a moment, that we are the driver on the freeway who flipped us off, so that we can imagine what it might be like to be in someone else's shoes, does not first require that we sit down and carefully craft the driver's back story.  It is presumed that we can, with a moment's notice, imagine being someone else.

Back-story is the mutation of gaming play to social participation.  The back-story philosophers play a character and not a game and fail to recognize that although the same word may apply to both activities it is not the same thing.  The nuance is lost, however, because it is claimed that it is the same thing.  The back-story philosophers, with their assertion that RPGs are "group storytelling," want and demand the recognition that they are playing a game, for without that appellation they would have to confess that they are really just playing make-believe.

There are no rules in make-believe.

But we don't want to avowedly reject the entitlement culture entirely, though I understand Drain's feeling here.  I have already turned around many people on the subject of back stories, story-telling, campaign building and the importance of both dice and rules.  We need to remember that RPGs were not made popular by the back-story philosophers but by millions of participants who love their dice and love gaining levels, because these things create massive quantities of endorphins and dopamine.  We're quite safe pitching activity that promotes the creation of positive, boundless drugs.

I will confess, until working it out through the podcast's brief exchange on the subject and the general discourse surrounding character building, I did not understand the appeal of the back-story philosophy.  With my comments in the last post, I tried to lead people away from the obvious subject of talking about what's right with a rule-based system and what's wrong with character-based entitlement, because I want us all to get it.  This is the challenge of our times, gentle reader.  It isn't that playing a character or wanting to experience oxytocin bonding with a theoretical character is wrong, because it isn't.  It is just a different drug, a pleasant and positive drug, so naturally we should expect many people to reach for it.  You and I, dear reader, may roll our eyes with disgust at the idea of the participation ribbon with which we were awarded as children, but many children, needing affirmation more desperately than ourselves, treasured that thing.  We need to acknowledge this and NOT trash the desire for some players to play characters that interest them.

The question we need to ask is why any player feels they are able to create a fictional character more interesting than themselves.

Ponder this for a moment.  We, each of us, have a "back-story."  We didn't write it, we lived it.  It did not go entirely the way we would have wanted ~ and for the most part, we haven't any power to do anything about it.  We can't hunt for the persecutor responsible for the failings in our back-story because, for the most part, the villains are all dead, or they are our beloved parents and family, and they are ourselves.  Real life doesn't allow for solutions like "hunting down the man who killed our father," which can only be a solution if the story ends at the moment that the man is dead and we're not forced to answer the question, "Now what?"  Because now what means getting up in the morning and doing something next, something not as clear, something that will hopefully improve our condition or allow us to reach some reconciliation with our general misery.

"Character" is the result of a lot of events that resulted in our making choices about how to react to hundreds of situations, most of which we've had to manage over and over.  We wound up thinking like we do, acting like we do, responding as we've thought best from moment to moment.  Sometimes, we've regretted our actions.  Sometimes, we're proud of our actions even if others regret them.  Most of the time, we don't know if we're right or wrong.  We just don't know.

When we find ourselves in a circumstance that is strange or unclear or threatening, our bodies are designed to push us into some kinds of behavior by creating chemical stresses like panic, adrenaline and anxiety; our bodies are also designed to reward some kinds of behavior with pride, joy and relief.  These are hormonal responses in the form of drugs.  In a safe, comfortable, social environment, playing with these drugs is FUN.

The more uncertain the environment, the greater the stress; the greater the stress, the greater the potential reward for handling that stress.  We want a social environment that massively increases our stress to the highest limits that social environment can handle.  If we lose that feeling of safety, it gets "too real" and we want to bow out.  But no worry: as humans, we've created a social construct that permits higher than normal stress levels for a social activity that will restrain the fear of too much reality.

It is called a "game."

The game incorporates rules.  Rules promote security and a feeling of restraint.  Remove the rules and the social construct flies apart and participants begin to feel less safe.

One tactic to manage this destruction of the social construct is to bring the level of stress down to where it can be managed.  We do not permit anyone to be a bad person.  We do not demand persons to participate in activities that are difficult, like math.  We do not allow anyone's role-playing to touch on subjects that are uncomfortable.

It is not a surprise that the back-story philosophers invariably run games where the permissible character types are Heroes, where open racism or sexualism is not permitted, where the principles of right and wrong are clearly understood.  "You're not here to be the bad guy.  You are all good guys.  I will not run my game unless it is this way."

This choice is necessary to maintain the social construct.  Because the lack of hard rules regulating die rolls and choices forces the DM to maintain the stress level of the participants by reducing the amount of possible stress.

I do not play this way.  I push stress to the maximum by pushing rule-making to the maximum. The more rules there are, the safer my players feel, meaning that more elaborate subject matter can be brought to the table and managed.  I can run a group of serial killers because they have to obey the game rules and the tacit understanding that a complex, largely law-abiding world will quickly slam down hard on them if they're even a little bit sloppy.

There's no room for sloppy in my game because the game is designed to create stress.  Knowing that there's always a die to be rolled discourages players from feeling that they can "talk their way out of a problem," as happens in character-driven make-believe.  Knowing that there's always a die discourages players from being sure that a plan will work, or that they'll live, or anything else that might serve as a comfort in a low-stress character-driven environment.  In my game, there are no heroes, there are no villains, there are just people who want things, who may resort to violence and subterfuge to get them, and there's no telling who will do that or how much they'll employ.

It isn't that the back-story philosophers don't understand that or don't get it.  They're afraid of it. They're "playing" the activity they can handle.  It is up to us to lure them into understanding that they can come play with us and still feel safe.  It can be a hard sell, but as I say, I've convinced many, many people already.


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Two Philosophies

During the aforementioned podcast from the Lurkers' post, beginning at 59:45, Chad and Carl get into a disagreement about whether or not the DM is a player.  I have made my position on this matter known before, but let's have a look at the discussion as it is discussed on the podcast.

Chad takes the position that because the DM "plays" a character, because the DM provides all the other voices, this makes the DM a player.  Carl is put on the spot, asserts that he's completely opposed to this idea, but yet he's forced to admit he hasn't got the argument he needs.  That's as far as the discourse goes.

So, if I step in.

There is an excellent moment where Chad is emphasizing the "character" aspect of "non-player character" to emphasize that, because he plays a character, the DM is a player.  This is a remarkable moment of disassociation, because the right answer is, "Yes, a non-player character." But we shouldn't fault Chad here.  He's a victim of language, as are so many participants of role-playing games.

Over the decades, a severe disconnect has occurred in the development of games by independent DMs, creating largely isolated games throughout the world.  This is the mistaken belief that "playing" is a adjective that modifies the word "role" and not the word "game."  In turn, this has caused tens of thousands of participants to believe that an RPG is a "game" in which persons "play" a "role" ~ rather than the adjective "role-playing" that describes a specific kind of game.

The problem derives from the dual use of the word "play" in both aspects.  We play games.  We play roles.   The word itself is a derivation of a West Saxon word, plega, meaning quick motion, recreation, exercise or any brisk activity.  The last was employed most often in terms of "swordplay," meaning to fight one another as training (though of course, now, swordplay is often used to describe the real thing).

The use of plaga was employed for a lot of purposes, as it still is today.  Children play, we play with words, we have sexual play, we play with ourselves, an object that is free and unimpeded has a lot of play, we play instruments and so on.  The idea of play as taking part of a game dates from 1200 and the idea of play as a dramatic performance originates just a century later, so both meanings have a great deal of history and it is up to context to sort them out.

When we look at the manner in which a game functions, we see that there are challenges, options, obstacles and ultimately payoffs in making a choice or being lucky with a die.  I've written extensively about D&D and game theory so I don't want to revisit that just now.  I will take a moment and emphasize two particular conditions that we tend to associate with "games": the possibility of both winning and losing and the fundamentals of a payoff, or a reward that is received for making the right choices.

These do not strictly apply to all games, but they certainly apply to D&D.  Characters can die.  Characters can make the wrong or the right choice.  Characters can be rewarded.  The concept of the RPG as a "game" inherently evolved from these basic principles.

When an individual declares that RPGs are about "Playing a Character," they have restructured the game completely.  Now, we have no necessity to "make the right choice" since all choices that are made by a character are either a) decipherable as appropriate in the player's opinion or b) measurably permissible in that the player's character is entitled to grow, adapt, change or otherwise progress in whatever way the player desires.

There are no wrong ways to play a character's motivation or a character's belief system.  All ways, by definition of the player's personal volition, are "right."  Therefore, all rewards are not given because the player made the right decision as opposed to a wrong decision, but because the player is entitled to a reward for having taken the time to play the character openly in a public forum.  I participated, and therefore I deserve to be rewarded.

Here we have an unconscious head-to-head between two theories of RPG participation, divided between those who believe that RPGs are games, with the structure and accountability of games, or that RPGs are a form of personal expression, with the permissiveness and social affirmation that comes from expressing oneself as a person.

Both are legitimately means by which participants can obtain validation and "fun."  But they are absolutely not compatible.

Before letting anyone participate in your game, you should be absolutely clear about the philosophy to which they ascribe.  It is quite clear that there are far, far, far more Chads in the world than Carls . . . and there are reasons for that, which I choose not to go into at this time.




Lurkers' Corner ~ PvP

Recently, one of my regular readers, Carl Olson, was the guest on the Whose Podcast Is It Anyway? podcast of May 5th.  His participation was excellent and I would strongly suggest for any reader of mine that you tune in and give it a listen, particularly after minute 30.  Chad, the podcast host, launches into the argument that role-playing is "communal storytelling" and Carl digs in and goes toe to toe with him on this.  Great stuff, don't miss it.

There is a moment where Chad responds to an argument that player-vs-player is wrong by answering, "What's wrong with that?  Now that's fun!" (39:05)

And I want to ask my online players, in this Lurkers' Corner ~ does anyone want to have a go at each other?  At all?  Wouldn't it be fun to kill one of the other players?  Have you even considered the question?  And if not, why?

I believe that something about my game completely suspends the motivation, but I could definitely be wrong about that.  Let me know.  Obviously, anyone with a point of view should jump in here.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Keeping Track of My Writing

On the sidebar it reads,
Each day I'm going to describe how far I am getting, in terms of words. 110,000 words ought to finish the book. I will be counting only firmly self-edited content that is put to bed, as I am mostly reshaping words at this point and not plot or character development. I'll record the number of words from the day before and the total number of words so far, as well as the chapter I am moving through. I will update every day.

In addition, I'll be working ahead on later chapters while editing, as I find this helps keep the whole book fresh in my mind.

Basically, I'm going to record each day how much real writing I've done.  I won't be counting the rework of chapters that haven't reached the best of possible quality, only the actual distance the finalized (pre-outside editing) number of words that I have written.  But as I say, I usually write for a bit, then I edit when I start to tire, before quitting for the day.

This is my plan for torturing myself.  I am making progress on the book but not as much as I'd like; and as the method has nothing to gain by my being dishonest (if I claim words I haven't written, sooner or later I will have to pay the price anyway, so I might just as well write all that I claim, or confess daily that I'm not writing), I expect that this will be a motivating factor in my day.

Everyone who knew I was writing today was kind enough to not comment and let me have at it. From that I sense a strong support from my fellow man.  Thank you.  I will not let you down, however much this hurts.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Comic Temperature Taking

Are you still finding the comics funny, interesting, different, something to look forward to?  I'd like to hear some feedback there.  They feel like they go by very fast to me; I am eleven weeks into this project.

WfS ~ Ooredoo and Tech-6

At last, I'm ready to start forward again.  I'm going to be introducing a new region, Pangaran, that is tech-6. The first step is to identify Pangaran's relationship with Jawanda, as we want our world to fit together. Therefore, we start with this map:

Depicted: 18-mile hexes

I have reduced the scale of the above map to 18 miles per hex, in order to create a 90-mile separation between Ooredoo, an island at the edge of Pangaran, and Jawanda.  Thus the island is marginally close enough for a dangerous journey in a fishing boat, which we presume our party of fighters will try to accomplish, bringing them to this new place.

[as an aside, I have made the decision not to attach intelligence to tech levels after all.  I know this is something I discussed back with the first implementation of the system, but after all this is a learning experience.  I know some will miss this note, it was meant to be included in the last post, but I'm remembering to add it now]

I've made only a rough drawing of Ooredoo above.  I have a more detailed version in 6-mile hexes to present; I could have updated the map above with the map below, but I felt at this point it was a detail that wasn't really necessary.  The important point here is the distance between the two places.

Here is a 6-mile hex map of Ooredoo:

Depicted: 6-mile hexes

My goal here is to depict familiar hex-types as they manifest around tech-6.  The deserts have become dry, unproductive rifts and sinks, which still offer the potential of meeting monsters in the hills and back country, but which have little influence on the island's infrastructure apart from inconvenience.

I have also divided the island into two terrains.  On the west, a flat watered plain, with a base supply of 2 food.  Should I start describing that as '11' food? To emphasize I'm referring to the number of 1s in the expression and NOT the number of food?  This seems to be really confusing some people.

On the east, we have a dry hill-plain, hardly better than the best lands in the previous desert culture, with 1 food and 1 hammer per hex.  The type-7 hex around Sayur has precisely the same productivity that Ai had in Jawanda (our starting hex).

But does it?  Unlike Ai, Sayur produces cereals, vegetables and at least one type of livestock: goats, sheep or swine.  Reindeer is pretty much out, as this is still close to the tropics.  See the link for where I'm getting this from.  We can further identify these things, if we want, by defining cereals as maize, vegetables as sweet potatoes and even a specific kind of goat, sheep or swine ~ but the point is that the small amount of food production in Sayur comes from these things and NOT from hunting and gathering.

How is this different?  Well, archery is now a skill set that the locals have, so the population is likely to defend itself with bows rather than spears.  If attacked, an inhabitant of Sayur will likely run away, then return later with bow and try to chop the party down one by one from a distance.  This is a new mind-set.

As well, Pangaran in general has no religion.  They've abandoned mysticism, so they are largely a pragmatic sort, much like one would expect of frontier settlers.  These are hardened, rugged individualists, living more in families than in clans, as there is less need to depend on others in order to eat.  We defend better and our food supply is more secure and diversified, so we can afford to be in it for our personal gain.

Moving on to the type-6 hex surrounding Qimo and Raya Pos, we have again the same relationship as Bodo and Cai in Jawanda . . . except that now the increase in food supply creates the existence of fruit trees, which will be scattered along the heights above the sea, where they can catch the morning dew.  Both the cereals in Sayur and the fruit in Qimo enables fermentation, so drinking now becomes a thing to do.  Drinking brings the option of intoxication as well as other social problems.  Qimo does remain a transshipment point, like Eom and Guba before it, but now it has more interesting things to ship.

Turning to the other end of the island, the type-6 and better hexes produce a great deal of food: 111 food, so that instead of merely a large settlement, we have made villages of Tangarang, Umar and Vekasi.  The latter two of these, however, lack hammers altogether.  Obviously, this means the table I posted earlier today and which I have already linked with this post will need an adjustment (learning process), as these can't be "nomadic hunting and gathering" cultures.  I will adjust "subsistence farming" from 1 hammer to 0 hammers, fixing that hole.

The lack of hammers would indicate no animals, but we still have plenty of cereals, vegetables and fruits to supply a food source.  The population of Umar and Vekasi, both of which produce coins, is at least able to exchange food for bare necessities, such as the most simple of weapons, skins and the occasional maintenance of objects they have to pay to replace.  Life for these people is very primitive, but in a very different way that Jawanda: there are lots of people surrounding these two villages, 400-1000.  That's more than probably the whole region of Jawanda.

Tangarang is a little better off.  It has one hammer, gained from becoming type-5: but there is a lot of pressure put on that single hammer, so we can assume that a lot of extra goods must be brought in from outside to support the needs of all of West Ooredoo.  Still, none of these people are starving.  They are just living very simple lives.

For the time being, I think that covers it.  I'll make some rolls and determine that we have 1,301 persons in Ooredoo, in an area of about 12.3 hexes: about 105 persons per 6-mile hex.  This is much higher than the maximum should be for tech-6, which is around 49 per hex.  But Ooredoo is just a part of a larger region, so we can offset the density by adding additional hexes elsewhere.

I'll be taking a break from this for a bit, not producing another post tomorrow.  I have a general idea what to do next, but I want to contemplate that a bit, and see how this one plays.

Further Notes to Tech-5 and Some for Tech-6

I had meant to start on tech-6 today, but I have yet a small issue to manage first, to keep the reader in line with my thinking.  The gentle reader must please remember that I am creating this as I am going along ~ this felt like the best way to both work out the various elements of the tech-system and the world-building experience at the same time.  This way, the reader can progress with my interpretation, I can identify problems as they arise and are questioned, while at the same time a world can take shape slowly and steadily, showing that worlds can be made from the ground up in a fully rational manner.

In creating a table for tech-6 that would reflect the table I created for tech-5 in the last post, I found that it was clumsy and unworkable.  As such, I've rebuilt the tech-5 table so that it can match what I mean to do with tech-6.  And just so the reader doesn't feel that nothing has been added with this, I'll put up the tech-6 table also . . . and then begin on a map and design for the tech-6 region I plan to lay out.

Here is tech-5 again:


Instead of basing the indications for civilization based on the type of hex, I've instead chosen to base it on the amount of food, hammers and coins.  This is more logical, since different base terrains can radically change how much food and so on there is compared with the type of hex.  Readers who are ambitious can compare a type-7 hex on various parts of the recent Stavanger map with those on the recent Crimean map, where the base hexes are very different.

Now let's have a look at tech-6:


I won't go far into this: the reader can see at once that there are a great many more things to be found and used with a tech-6 culture.  As a reminder, I will point out that tech-6 adds agriculture, animal husbandry, archery, mining and the wheel to the mix.  I will probably need to update this table a bit in the future (I see I've forgotten roads), but I will post it again once I've gone through the process of outlaying the tech-6 region that goes with this.

Finally, I've left out a table indicating bonuses for hex-type.  Here it is:


This doesn't mention the +1 bonus coin for coasts or rivers (intermittent included), though not both. That is really a footnote, but an important one.

Good, that's fixed.  Let's get started.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

WfS - Closing Up Tech-5

If you are new to this series of posts (WsS stands for "a world from scratch"), see the first in the series and work forward chronologically.

Now, a few housekeeping chores.  First, let me post an image from the Civ IV universe, dictating the base production of hammers, food and coins:


I've been reading the productive parts of the desert as "plains-flatland," but others may not concur with that.  No matter.  I don't expect anyone else to run things as I do.  The main thing is that the above template will work for most climates and features.  These are the 'base-line' productions, to which more production is added with type-6 hexes and better.  Speaking of which, I'll post this second guideline, which I've been describing with the previous posts:


Thus, if the flat land plain starts with 1 hammer and 1 food, then the type-7 hex will show that; the type-6 hex will then add a food and the type-5 hex both a food and a hammer.

The above should make something else abundantly clear.  If we consider a flatland/river hex, running across from desert, that is supposed to indicate a floodplain, with three food and one hammer.  Remembering that three food is seven times the amount of one food on the chart, this means that a type-7 hex in a floodplain is massively more productive; a type-6 hex on a floodplain would have five times the production of the type-6 hex we posited in the desert.

Therefore, when we talk about a richer, higher tech level country rushing next door to seize the goods, we're not talking about travelling to a poor country like Jawanda.  We're talking about the next hex over, where the amount of food produced is vastly more abundant.  A single hex could produce more food than all of Jawanda put together.  But this will become more evident as we move forward.

I've added a series of products that a tech-5 area ought to produce.  It should be noted that all techs above tech-5 would also have the technology to fish, hunt for furs and so on, but it might be interesting if we concentrate these references on tech-5 cultures and say that higher techs, though they may produce some of these things, will prefer to concentrate their hammers on other, more worthy products.  It is really up to us.

I think that covers tech-5 for the moment, except for one addendum.

I haven't yet talked about the great monoliths that a tech-5 culture might produce: Stonehenge in Britain, Altamira in Spain, the collected heads of the Olmecs or Easter Island (from which we stole one) and so on.  I'm not sure how to determine when one of these should exist, or even where.  I'm still thinking on this.  Surely, they would have to be insanely rare, perhaps one or two truly immense ones per continent.

Take note that monoliths, both great and small, can exist in high tech cultures; they're just not as celebrated ~ or perhaps they are celebrated, but by a select group of fanatics.

Whatever the case, we say good-bye to tech-5.  When I take up this series again, we'll begin on a tech-6 culture, across the water and about 100 miles to the north.  I'm just doing the work to get ready for that; I have Friday and Saturday off, so I'll be working during those days while watching over the online campaigns.

Techs Living Side by Side

Each time that I make noises about regional tech-levels, I find myself facing the same bugbear: that the existence of a higher tech level will force a confrontation between one region and the next, for no other reason than the disparity between tech levels.  If we have swords, then we must attack the next region over that has only spears.  If we have the benefit of courthouses, organized religion and the alphabet, then we must immediately attack those regions that do not have these things.  This is an imperative . . . and there are many readers who find themselves asking, over and over, why wouldn't this happen?

What keeps the tech areas from bleeding into one another?  How do two different tech areas exist alongside each other, or trade with each other?  How does that work?

I'm quite sure that the reason this is a mystery is based upon the more dramatic instances of historical emigration.  Europeans encountered primitive peoples living in Asia, Africa, the Americas and the Pacific and began a conquest that was greatly enabled by a superior technology.  So it is assumed that if we have a superior technology, we will certainly rush in and take land away from those who have an inferior technology, yes?

Sort of.  It is interesting to note that these indigent peoples who were eventually conquered were discovered three hundred years before most of the actual conquests took place.  For a hundred years, the Dutch, English and Portuguese existed as nothing more than outposts in Africa, India and the Far East, even though they had vastly superior weapons and social organization.  What they did not have were numbers.  Therefore, until the industrial revolution made mass production possible, it was more practical to trade with backward regions than to attempt conquest.  Most of the actual conquest of Africa and Asia did not begin until the early 19th century, post the Napoleonic wars.

There are exceptions, of course.  India was greatly occupied by Britain in the mid-18th century, but only with the aid and benefit of the local Rajahs, who saw their own way to power by supporting the British.  More than half the subcontinent was still under strict native control in the year 1800.  South America is a better example, as the Spanish began smashing apart the native regions almost at once ~ but then, these regions were greatly under-populated compared to Africa and Asia.  More to the point, South America had vast, unexploited resources, untapped by the natives, which served as an encouragement to conquest.  Most of the resources in Africa and Asia were already exploited.

The same can be said of the United States, which had a motivation to take away the lands of lower tech societies because those lands were of great, unexploited value.  Australia's conquest of the interior was quite different, given that most of the interior was uninhabitable and undesirable.  Thus, while the American natives were exterminated or pushed out as soon as the higher tech Europeans arrived, the Australian natives experienced a longer period of co-existence because they did not have anything the Australians were inclined to take ~ whatever the disparity in tech levels.

Those parts of the world that did not have meaningful resources of any kind were left virtually untouched until the 20th century.  Even though the British had gunboats, rifles and pistols, they did did not set out to exterminate the native Inuit in the 19th century because there was no reason to.  In fact, there are no examples of acquisition or massacres by Europeans of Inuit in northern Canada and Greenland, as there are in southern Canada.  Because the resources just aren't there.

As far as persons of different tech levels living side-by-side, I'm surprised that readers can't see the more obvious examples, those staring them right in the face.  The depressed regions of West Virginia and Kentucky have existed right alongside Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia for two hundred years . . . yet the disparity between services in Maryland and southeastern Pennsylvania and West Virginia are still pronounced.  Even the present day existence of computers and other technological innovations are sadly lacking in places like Tucker or Randolph counties, in the mountainous part of the state.  How is it that the "invasion" of tech industry and social progressiveness hasn't caused these places to universally adopt ideas like free abortion, embraced homosexuality or social liberalism?  Why are the hospitals of depressed areas not of a quality of hospitals in New York or San Francisco?  How is it that these places of greatly different tech-level co-exist side by side without one bleeding into another?

If we remove the communication of instruments like the internet, television, radio and the telephone, taking us back to the 1870s, how much more backward is West Virginia compared with Washington?  How is it that most people living in Washington city can read but most in Huntington West Virginia cannot?  How can universities exist in Boston and New York but there are no great Universities in Morgantown or Charleston?  And if we go back another century, to the time before the revolutionary war, how is it that there are Europeans living in Bucks County in Pennsylvania but there are none living in the Appalachians?  How is it that these Europeans exist side-by-side with the vastly inferior tech people of the interior?

With the last post, I was asked about foreigners arriving in the fictional Jawanda interested in trading for slaves.  I would ask in response, why would they go there?  I've described the total population of the represented Jawanda being about 700 persons, scattered over an area the size of Rhode Island (about a fifth of Wales).  How rational is that?  It costs money to build boats and fund soldiers to go get slaves.  Would it not make more sense to bypass Jawanda and go to another place with more food production and more people?  There are no accounts of Europeans landing on Greenland's shores and seizing Inuit to be slaves on plantations in America.  Certainly, it would have been easy to conquer the Inuit.  Why did they not do so?

There are also parts of Africa ~ the depressed coastlines of Mauritania and Rio de Oro ~ that waited until the 19th century to be "conquered" by Europeans.  Actually, the Europeans just showed up, pointed guns and were allowed to do whatever they wanted.  But it took four centuries after the discovery of these lands for outsiders to bother.  Until then, Rio de Oro was nominally under the authority of Morocco.  And how did they interact with their overlords?  They paid tribute in the shape of salt, skins and gums, in exchange for food.  Just as I've described.  And they did so for centuries, without the higher tech Morocco culture bleeding into Rio de Oro and Mauritania to any extent at all.

Because there were no meaningful resources!  This is what readers just cannot understand.  You cannot propose a motivation to conquest if there is nothing of value to take from the conquered region.  Do you imagine that Europeans want to live the hard, unforgiving life I've described as the existence of Ai, Bodo or Cai, in the interior of Jawanda?  Have we not already learned that white people in America do not want to take the jobs that illegal Mexicans are willing to perform?

Even if we handed Jawanda over to a higher tech region, lock, stock and barrel (though none of these things exist in Jawanda), the region would be abandoned within a year and the natives would move right back in.  The higher tech skills of Europeans did not enable Jamestown, Port Royal or any of the other failed first colonial attempts on the American seaboard to survive ~ because Europeans just weren't strong enough or willing enough to survive in that kind of harsh, untouched wilderness.  It took time and effort to remake even a golden land like America into a comfortable place to live: this still hasn't been done with the parts of the world that I am describing as tech-5.

This is what readers just won't get.  These tech levels do not exist arbitrarily.  They exist because the region itself, without the modern measure of information exchange, won't support a better tech level.  Even if a better tech level is right next door.