Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Qi

I feel I'm getting steadily closer to a monk sage ability structure ~ I do not think there is going to be anything like the sort of leap that pulled together the bard, but the bard really did lack any meaning or connection to the idea of adventure whereas the monk does not.  We have all grown up on Chop Sockey in one form or another.  We're comfortable with the way of the loner warrior who challenges authority and adventures into the heart of darkness.

Before we can talk about that structure, however, I feel I should address the matter of qi.  I can't imagine an educated, present-day RPGer not knowing what this is, but I've linked it.  Apart from its association with martial arts, qi derives from the much older concept of atman, which is fundamentally the breath entering and leaving the body.  Stop, take a breath, and imagine that you have no modern concept of what is happening to the body (because we are going back thousands of years in human knowledge).  The emotional sense you have as breath enters, how a deep breath will seem to expand your consciousness, your energy, giving you life, filling you with the essence of the universe (as the source of the breath comes from outside the body) ~ that is atman.  It possessed a mystical quality that any person alive can experience, IF the effort is made to clear the mind and concentrate on the purely physical experience.

It is this experience that seems to give evidence that there must be gods, there must be a greater force in the universe outside ourselves, not because everything was made by something but because we are right now being kept alive by this force.  Breathing is life.  The absence of breathing is death.  This clear distinction is universal.

Qi, too, is defined as breath, or more figuratively as "material energy."  The body functions more powerfully as the amount of oxygen that can be taken in and burned off increases, so that martial arts focuses on breathing in order to strengthen the body and prolong endurance.  The imagination then carries this forward to where a body immensely strengthened can perform seemingly impossible feats, even magic, merely through comprehensive and committed training of the body.

Qi is almost perfectly designed for point-buy systems where the amount of qi can be measured and spent according to how much you have and what you wish your character to do.  A good example of this (and one I can find that everyone can read) is Palladium's Mystic China.  In it, the character calculates their "chi points," then spends tem according to what the character wants to do.  I hate this sort of system, but I appreciate the work behind this particular rule set ~ and I'll be stealing from it without hesitation.  I'll go through the book with a fine toothed comb, get rid of the chi buys, then redesign the abilities so that they are toned down and made into something that won't unbalance my game.

I have no interest in limiting the monk through any point system ~ though it has been recommended to me through the years.  I intend to limit it the way all the classes are limited; though the monk is going to be tricky.

In the early levels, a character will gain that one amateur study that will enable them to do a few things.  This will be limiting.  But I have found that by the time a character reaches 6-8th level, they are typically an amateur in everything, even outside their fields.  This is because the character gets 1d4-1 points (an average of 1.5) per level even in the unchosen studies.  1.5 x 6 is 9.  10 points are needed for becoming an amateur, so that by 7th the average for every study makes it better than average that the character will acquire that study.

The path from 1st to 7th level is, then, a rapid accumulation of very minor abilities, which as a group can be quite beneficial.  In creating those abilities, this must be kept in mind.  An amateur ability cannot be very important, else a whole pile of them will greatly overbalance the challenge needed to make the game work!

We don't expect the players to have a core set of super-powers and be ignorant about everything else.  We expect the character will have a core set of super-powers AND have a fair knowledge about everything else.  Trying to manage something like this with a point-buy system would be crazy.

Conversely, there are also games where a character has "positive" qi and "negative" qi, obviously confusing the concept of qi with karma.  My recent post about monks being evil was intended to emphasize that I won't be playing with any of that, either.

Therefore, I have no intention of making either qi or karma into game elements.  Qi would just be another version of the crummy point-buy system that created munchkins with 3rd edition, whereas karma is just another version of alignment.  Neither have any place in my game.  I felt I should make that clear.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Comments

"You cannot make change someone who doesn't want to change."

Familiar words.  Words that would seem to imply that change is difficult to obtain, that we should surrender the effort and recognize that it is up to ourselves to change.  We must leave others to change themselves.

My contention with this is that most everyone I've met in my life wants to change.  Most everyone is unhappy with their choices, most everyone would like to make different choices.  They just don't know how.

This doesn't mean they'll listen to me, or the reader, or any specific person.  It does mean that the option is there, that is it possible, even likely, that with the right message, the right set of plans, the right delivery, that we can not only make one person change, we can make hundreds, thousands, even millions of people change.  We have evidence of others who have done exactly that.

This is a very alluring prospect.  As such, there are many who aspire to it.

I have also found in my experience that most of those who do not want to change, ever, are precisely the same people who greatly aspire to change others.  Some of this is so that they can tailor their universe to themselves, some of this is because they are terrifically deluded into believing they really have all the right answers and that it is their duty to show others.  Mostly, however, it is because these people lack self-awareness.

Self-awareness is the ability to look at oneself from a perspective outside one self.  When I write, it is not enough to write what pleases me.  I must look at every word from the perspective of someone who is reading this, who is made interested by it or incensed by it.  I have to make decisions about what sort of reaction I want.  I must couch my phrases and words with the awareness that I am speaking to persons other than myself, who have experiences I do not have, who are knowledgeable about things I do not know, who have the power and the will to stand up and correct me.

If I don't want to spend all my time being corrected, I have to BE correct.  I don't mean I have to sound correct or delude myself into believing that I am correct.  I mean that I need to speak in terms that ring true.  I may speak opinion, but it must be an opinion that others are prepared to adopt.  This is a difficult thing.  It is an impossible thing for anyone who are, themselves, unable to change.

Such persons cannot comprehend the adoption of someone else's principles, of someone else's beliefs.  They must have, once, but those days are past.  They are far too immersed in their present world view . . . and being immersed, they must challenge everything that threatens to compromise that world view.

Now, this certainly sounds like me.  Very often, I seem to lash out at those who appear to disagree with me, or who present a point that is at odds to statements I defend.  And I am often accused of immobility, of "always having to be right," of browbeating others when they dare to raise a voice against me.

Except that I don't.  I am disagreed with all the time and I welcome it.  Often, as some will defend, I change my point of view completely, often on a dime.  Often, I embrace the Greek practice of debate, as I feel that Western civilization is founded upon the principal of attack and defend, until the truth is known.  It does not matter if this goes on for eternity; where opinion is the only evidence for a thing (and it often is), then the dialectic is the only weapon we have in which to acquire knowledge.

More precisely, I find myself angered by insignificance.  Pedantry.  Personal bias.  The need to pick apart semantics or to fail to look past a single word to see the whole picture.  The assumption that a first impression is ever accurate.  Or that it needs commenting upon.

I identify this habit with trolls.

Lately, I have been fooling with moderating comments.  I took off the moderation about two months ago, without fanfare.  Last week, having acquired a troll, I said I was returning to it.  In fact, I never put it in place.  I wanted to see what would happen.

I do not want to put the moderation back in place.  This leaves me with two options:

One

I can delete troll posts as I have for the last five years; but it means that you, the gentle reader, will see me doing it.  And some of you will disagree with my decisions.  This will mean that I am subject to your criticism for it, as I have no intention to ask anyone to "trust me."  The dialectic must apply here, too.

Two

I can let the troll posts stand.  I truly do not like this option.  Trolls prefer to derail conversations into their own bias, meaning that the value of the comments sections of my posts will ultimately prove valueless to the reader.  As well, it will discourage many readers from answering, if they feel they are subject to the abuse of others.  It is hard enough for readers to overcome their fear of my abuse.

As well, it is the broken window problem.  One troll is annoying, but it encourages others trolls to believe that they are welcome.  As such, they proliferate.  I have had no serious trolls on this blog in years.  Eventually, knowing they would not be allowed to speak, they stopped trying.  They just went away.

Therefore, I intend to continue to delete any comment that I think derails, compromises or resists a post's theme due to purely personal bias.

Commenting on my removal is acceptable (though keep in mind the comment that is commented upon will not be there to see) so long as it, too, does not seek to derail the comments section away from the post.

If I post about monks, I expect the comments section to be about monks.  I expect the reader to expect that; in fact, I feel the reader wants to expect it, as they've enjoyed the post and now they'd like a little bit more.  So let's keep the comments on topic.  Let's keep them relevant.  Let's be scholars and not trolls.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Monk's Four Fields ~ Sorta

As I turn the monk over and over again in my thoughts, I find myself settling on the same four fields of endeavor, all of which were mentioned in the previous post.  I have no name for these.  I don't want to use either Chinese nor modern designations, which seems to leave out everything.  But that said, we have this:
  • Hostile or forceful action, fighting, combativeness or aggression: those abilities that apply directly to attack and damage, either in terms of how the fighting is done or how effective it is at reducing an enemy.
  • Resistance to the above, defensiveness, resiliance: those abilities that sustain the monk against the enemy, from hit points to saving throws, avoiding attacks or the reduction of the damage taken.
  • Consciousness of the self, things that apply to the body and mind of the monk: healing, meditation, inducing catalepsy, limitations, patience, equilibrium, fearlessness and fortitude - it is what causes monks to be deliberate enough to take careful actions, such as moving stealthily, that others cannot.
  • Awareness of the universe, that which applies to everything else, consciousness of all that is happening: that which keeps the monk from being surprise, that which makes the monk able to see the world as a construct rather than a sense of physical laws, as these laws can be broken (completely stolen by many films, not just the first one that the reader thought of just now).

I've been dissatisfied with the above, however, because they seem so murky ~ but also because they lack sub-categories, which I need to make the sage system work.  Every field has a group of studies, and every study has a group of abilities.  It's all well and good to say that a monk can scale the corner of a wall in three jumps like Jackie Chan, but what study does it fit in?  What other abilities does that study include?  What makes it distinct from other studies?  And does it belong in Consciousness, which enables the power to come from within, or does it come from Awareness, knowledge the world's laws can be overcome with training?  Perhaps it is resistance, as it is certainly a defensive movement in a crisis.  How do we know?

It is the categorization here that is the struggle.  Not what abilities does a monk have, but how do we separate them out so that we limit the players at low levels to just these abilities and not those.  We're not going to give the player everything.  Especially since "everything" will include a lot more than was conceived of in the original book, just as I have done for the other classes.

The Wuxia page from wikipedia has a useful list, which I will reorganize without the least respect to the original page (so the reader better follow the link if a legitimate list is wanted).  I am thinking only of my game, not a faithful representation of actual Wuxia.  Using the Chinese names:
  • Zhaoshi: real life Chinese martial arts, using a variety of weapons, intending for attacking the enemy and causing damage, but obviously also for defense and resistance against attack.
  • Qingdong: the physical capacity to exaggerate ordinary human limitations, enabling monks to circumvent gravity, fly, possess impossible balance and bring force to bear without the need of a solid platform from which to strike.
  • Neigong: internal skill and function, to possess superhuman strength, speed, stamina, durability, healing, control elemental forces, dodge or catch arrows and thrown weapons, break stones and bricks, shadow-blending, chasing down a horse, this sort of thing.
  • Dianxue: the use of super-precise attacks to kill, paralyze, stun or even manipulate characters by targeting their acupressure points with bare hands or weapons.  These techniques can be used to halt wounds, relieve pain, remove fear or restore consciousness.

This is a more precise list, but it is heavily weighted towards Neigong, whereas it would be better if the four fields had more balance (that is, the "power" field wasn't immediately obvious).  The second proposed list gives a better idea of what the studies might be, however ~ so if it were possible to somehow mix the first list of four fields with the second list, then come up with meaningful, somewhat game cool-sounding field names, I think I could start working on a list of studies and thereafter abilities to fit under those studies.

This is as far as I've gotten in my thoughts so far.

Monks Can Be Evil

Picking up the monk again.  I think I've been overlooking an important cultural perspective, that being Wuxia.  This is the centuries old tradition of martial arts warriors roaming the breadth and length of China, fighting evil, pursuing romance, overcoming horrible childhood tragedies and following the codes of loyalty, honor and duty.

I don't mean to say that those codes are something that should matter to the players.  I have been opposed to "appropriate behaviour" for a given class since it was first put in place for the paladin, thereafter becoming a major set piece of the corporate game forever after.  If you want to play a cavalier, a barbarian or whatever, you must behave according to these precepts that absolutely deny you any freedom of will or purpose.  It has always been nonsense, no matter how many people like the code.  Codes, even in the real world, can always be broken ~ and it never ends in losing our knowledge or our ability.

This is, in fact, a fundamental conflict in Wuxia: that the evil master in the story is just as capable, just as dangerous, as the honorable master.  In the stories, for the protagonist to win, there must always be some other thing that compromises the evil master: a minion of the evil master, a helper of the honorable master, circumstance . . . and most commonly someone sacrificing their lives in order to win.  Most often, the evil master is killed at the cost of the honorable master, producing a zero-sum gain that is treated as a bittersweet victory.  Yes, Li Mu Bai is dead, the romance is shattered, but the evil has been stopped.  Everyone else may now live in peace.

I have no interest in restraining any character in my world with such melodrama ~ if they want to pursue it, that's fine, I'll create that adventure and give it the nuance it needs.  But that has to be a player choice.  Wuxia likes to teach that the ambitious master must always be taught in the end that true satisfaction demands a quest of peace, love, family or the simple life, lived simply.  I have zero interest in that for D&D characters.  As monks wandering the world, having adventures, they should not be held back, but allowed to act as they will.

It is my role to give them their abilities, not to dictate how those abilities should be used.

This is why I hesitate to pursue things like the monk eschew attachment and gaining pleasure from the real world.  That is a trope. That is not the freedom to adventure.  The literature is full of proof that monks can be evil, that they can still be tremendously able yet interested in acquisition and power.  Just because the stories all insist that these people must die in the end doesn't mean role-play has to work that way.

Players should be free to be as evil ~ or as good ~ as they personally desire, without paying an penalty regarding their ability whatsoever.  The danger comes from combat against the other, not the player's agenda against moral-making rule systems.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Monk

At last, the monk.

Each time I plunge into one of these sage abilities posts I feel self-conscious.  I'm know I'm writing about something that certainly applies to only my world, so that for the gentle reader these posts are merely academic.  Many have said some wonderful things, expressed their support, and I am grateful.  Yet this is still seems a voyage that I strike out upon alone.  I wrote many posts about the bard, struggling that out, with a lot of good advice and help from others.  Now I mean to do the same thing with the monk.

That is because I am even less clear about the structure underlying the monk than I was about the bard.  The monk is a functional mess.  It is a splatter mess of martial arts, religion, eastern mythology and game mechanics.  It is part cleric, part thief, part spellcaster, with an unclear agenda and a murky social status within the D&D game world.

For the most part, I've been able to ignore that.  Monks are hard to roll and are usually not taken when the rolls are sufficient.  Since the year 2000 my campaigns have included only three of them.  And only one is active right now.

So what is it?  What defines the monk?  Rather, how do we want to define it.  I'm just not sure.  I will interject here and say that the monk has always been my favorite character.  In terms of combat prowess, I think it holds its own.  But I'd like to give the class a motivation that doesn't depend upon any one culture's honor code or martial arts discipline.  Why?  Because that presses the monk into existing as a stereotype that has to fulfill a cliched game role.  I'd rather my players felt they could design their own monk, their way, without needing to be buddhists, ninjas or some other form of Oriental stock character.

Let's start with how the original player's handbook defined the class.  The monk wasn't allowed to gain strength benefits from the 15 or better strength the monk had to have, or armor class bonuses from the 15 or better minimum dexterity.  This was a way to limit the class.  The character started with a 10 AC that improved as levels were gained, so very slowly.  The character had 2d4 hit points, a little better than a cleric. We used to apply constitution benefits per hit die, so if the monk had a constitution of 15+1, the +1 was applied to each die 4.

The monk also got "open hand," which meant causing damage with the open palm, matching the kung fu martial art that was popular in the 1970s, the way of the open hand.  If the monk scored 5 or more higher on the attack die above what was needed to hit (against humanoid opponents), then the opponent was "stunned" for 1-6 rounds, effectively knocked unconscious.  As well, the monk got a +1/2 hit point bonus per level to damage caused with hand-to-hand weapons.

The monk also got a saving throw as a defense against missile weapons, had thieving abilities (except pick pockets), a very slight, steadily improving chance to not be surprised (-2%/level) and, starting with third level, a series of other abilities that included speak with animals, falling from various distances without taking damage, minor healing and, ultimately, the infamous "quivering palm" that would enable the monk to outright kill someone by touching them once reaching 13th level.

I remember the monk was pitifully weak back in the early 80s, something that had been noticed by others.  There was a Dragon magazine article about the monk that made some suggestions, some of which we adopted for my campaign at the time.  Specifically two: we raised the starting AC to 8, then had it progress at the same degree per level, just 2 better than the book stated; and we changed the hit dice to a d6, so the monk started with 2d6.  Those two changes smoothed out the character and made it work.

Yet here I am now, bent on restructuring the monk with sage abilities.

Part of the sage ability practice is to spread the original abilities of the class around to various fields and studies, then set it up that the character doesn't start with all of those.  Clerics, for example, don't necessarily start with the ability to turn undead.  Oh, every cleric gets a watered down version of the ability, but if you don't choose dweomercraft as a study, you can't turn the really big, dangerous things.  With the sage abilities I've defined, not all thieves have a special ability to sneak up on opponents and if you don't study backstabbing, you get a watered down version of that too.  If an assassin doesn't study murder, then its a watered down version of assassination.  And so on.

So what we want is a monk that doesn't necessarily have all the abilities that the monk character does in the original game.  In turn, IF the monk specializes in one of those abilities, then they will ultimately do it better than the book states.  The sage abilities do take away, but they also give more and more.  With high level, you more or less get lots and lots.

My first problem is this.  How to take the small pile of monk abilities that existed previously, divide them up logically, then add more abilities that aren't described.  Remember, we're not talking about random chance skills, like in 3e and later editions.  We're talking the monk can absolutely do these things, with no fail possible.  Those are more difficult abilities to come up with, because we don't want to break the game.

I have a mess of ideas on that front.  What I don't have is the organization.  I can imagine fields called the path of the stick (combat), the path of the reed (defense) or the path of enlightenment (meditation) or the path of knowledge (clarity) . . . but these seem trite.  Combat and defense are easy, but meditation and clarity are difficult if we don't want to drift into religion and telling players what to think.

I've spent a bunch of time reading Buddhist texts lately and I am convinced that the earlier steps of Buddhism form a rational philosophy, but the later steps of Buddhism proceed to go right up its own ass.  I can see more clearly why there is a discrepancy about whether or not Buddhism is a religion or a philosophy. It is a philosophy . . . in the beginning.  But if you manage to convince yourself, the available option to start taking things totally on faith are right there waiting for you ~ making it no different than any other religion you must accept on faith.  It is all very disappointing after a degree . . . particularly as Buddhism has its blind, fundamental pundits just as Christianity or Islam does.

I had hoped for a path there for developing the monk, as I had stumbled across some very interesting things when I wrote my mantraism post last year.  Unfortunately, no.

So now I don't have a rational structure for the monk, not yet.  I'd like four clear, easy to define categories (fields) that would each offer a meaningful option to a player who chose to take a monk character.  Fighting, yes, with either an offensive or defensive option, along with a more religious (practical) set of skills, the meditation path, and finally a set of challenge-the-reality of the universe options, such as being able to fall without taking damage, a la Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  If I can get these fields sorted, I'm sure I can conceive of the abilities that should fit within them.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Lurkers' Corner - The Well

The Juvenis Party has figured out that the well contains water that will enable them to walk through poisonous gas and continue onwards into the dungeon.

Did anyone guess?  How long did it take.  Were you following it and I just gave it away right now?  I admit, the idea is pretty old school, not really my usual thing.  I don't like puzzles, largely because people tend to overthink them and then we're going around in circles for ages.

I try to suspend overthinking by simply identifying it when it happens or jumping ahead to produce the experiment and demonstrate it has failed.

Whenever possible, I will try to emphasize the correct solution if a player mentions it in passing, as I did in this case.  I had an NPC repeat a specific question stated by the player, and that broke the deadlock.

Am I wrong to do this?  Say so if you feel I am.  I do so because it is often necessary to make the game move forward when the players begin to feel lost.

If you haven't seen it yet, there's a comic.

E1


Monday, February 20, 2017

Don't Jog My Elbow

I think those who read this blog three years ago can agree that, on the whole, I've been a much kinder, more patient person than I used to be.  I've tried to resist the sort of ranting posts I used to write, I've gotten much better in handling trolls and I haven't had a flame war on this blog in a long, long time.

I do have my triggers, however.  We all do.  One of mine is what I'll call the new reader assumption, or NRA.  (what, that's an acronym for something else?)

The blog wants new readers, no doubt.  New readers are the bread and butter of every writer.  And it is a necessity that new readers should be welcomed, encouraged and coddled . . . as it is certain that most new readers will not have read the back-log before jumping in to comment.  All the worse when that backlog is really, really long.  A long back-log is bound to increase NRA.

It is even harder with my blog, as I tend to refer to myself with reckless abandon.  I try, rather lazily, to link to a concept I've introduced on another post, but I fail for the most part because it doesn't occur to me that the reader doesn't know exactly what I'm talking about.  That can be off-putting.

Still, every now and then an NRA pops up and I . . . well, I have to clamp down on my first response.

Let me explain what an NRA is.

It is a visitor to the Sistine Chapel having a look around while Michaelangelo is part way through and muttering, "You know what would be great here?  Something about God giving life to Man.  I bet you could get great ideas about that from my cousin Guiseppe."

It is a theatre manager looking over the first three pages of Shakespeare's as yet untitled Romeo and Juliet and saying, "Wow, this is great stuff ~ I can't wait for when Romeo gets it on with Bianca.  What a great set up you've written here!"

It is an architect showing up at the offices of Washington Roebling seven months into the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge to explain how important it is that the bridge be built four blocks to the north.  It HAS to be.

It is a kid showing up for his first day at work and taking it upon himself to spontaneously reorganize the store room, to make it better.

It is a reader who thinks they have the problems of my world solved because once they played a trade-based game in the 1980s.

It is giving an opinion without asking questions.  It is formulating without investigating.  It is a kind of arrogance, one that supposes that now that I am here, everything will be easy.

I struggle with this.  When I started on the internet, I used to do this.  Let's face it, the internet encourages this sort of behavior.  I'm glad that I've left it behind.  It is a terrible habit to fall into, particularly as it is almost impossible to correct from the designer's point of view.

Robert Heinlein had a great phrase for this.  It's the title of this post.  Sometimes, it's all we can say without screaming the fellow out of our presence.

They mean well, after all.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Rest

I should write something.

Of late, I've been hacking at a number of different projects, none of which are getting done.  I've left off the bard sage abilities, catching my breath on those; I'm digging a bit at Iceland but not going at it full bore; I've been working out the sea distance trade routes for the islands of Britain but those are a huge bitch (many, many trade towns) and it is going slowly; I've left off the writing of pages about weapons and armor on the wiki [finished the armor at least] ~ and, I've been working on my book.

This last has been the priority and as of a few days ago, I solved a HUGE problem with a late in the book climax that has been bugging me for a year.  Swear to gawd.  A year.  More about that in a moment.

I want to explain, first, that not finishing things does not need to be a crippling disease.  One of the reasons why the various features about my world or my writing gets done is because I haven't "quit," I've taken a rest.  I read around the 'net and I seem to find that people believe that if they don't start a project, work on a project, then finish a project, all in one grand push that lasts for weeks, then they've failed and they quit working on the project forever.

That just doesn't make sense.  We have to pace ourselves.  We have to expect, ahead of time, that we're going to put down the project that we're working on, deliberately, with the expectation that we'll pick them up in a few months or even a year from now.  Some projects take years.  The trick isn't to bury ourselves in a succeed-or-die mindset, but to prepare the project in a way that it CAN be put down, when we're ready to rest.

Rest is vitally important.  Rest gives us time to think about what we've done so far, to appreciate the work we've done, to address issues that are making the project difficult or ~ after a fair time has past ~ to re-evaluate the structure and intended function of the project.  What will it accomplish?  Is it the best we can do?  Are we going about it in the most efficient way possible?

I will be honest.  Those first few days of returning to a new project are difficult.  The immensity of the project, the feeling that it can't be finished, the sense of not really remembering what was going on when we were working on it before, these things can be daunting and it can overwhelm us.  My present book has been like that, but more about that in a moment.

The trick is to go at it slowly, in bits and pieces.  If all we can take is ten minutes of the project we put down last summer, then ten minutes it is.  Maybe tomorrow, or Friday, we can look at it again.  Maybe for twenty minutes.  Sometimes, it is just a matter of looking over what we've done ~ and remember that we DID that.  WE did.  We need to remind ourselves of our accomplishments.

After a few rough goes, a few tries, a glimmer will arise about the project; a memory of what we liked when we first started at it.  Soon, there will be a little leap in our hearts, a little excitement . . . and soon enough, we'll find ourselves working away at the project again, vigorously, wanting to work on it with the same intensity that we did all those months ago.  And the work will fly forward again, doubling in size . . . and we'll recall that experience when we apply ourselves to some other project we put down a long time ago.

This is how things get done.  Not all in one try, but in many tries.  In spurts and gobs, just like you won't manage all the orgasms you'll have in a lifetime in one afternoon.

I'm sorry.  I couldn't get that metaphor out of my mind once it got in there.

Just now, the Fifth Man is like that.  A year ago, you wonderful readers helped me in a very troubled time and I promised you a book.  And there is a book coming . . . in spurts and gobs.  I've been reworking the language of the preview I sent out in late April of 2016 ~ which now seems like a long time ago.  The writing, well, the writing has needed some work, but on the whole I am pleased with the structure and the characterization.  Mostly, I've been working on the beginning again because it helps to keep the whole book in my mind, not just what's left to make.

I wish I could think of a way to reassure those who supported me, that I'm not going to disappear or declare that the book is off.  I'll pay everyone back first, before I do that.  Since it is easier to just write the book, that's what I'm doing.  I don't hate this thing, not yet (though it always gets there, I'm afraid; that's the business).  I'm happy with it.  I'm going to be very happy when it is done.

I'd like to find some way of proving that it is being written that doesn't include actually putting up the content somewhere.  That would make me feel better; would make me feel that people who supported me were comforted in the knowledge that support wasn't in vain.  I continue to think about how that might be managed.

Good.  Post written.  On to some other project.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Iceland, Step II

Having gone through the 19 centers of Iceland, twice [once in English and once in the Icelandic version of Wikipedia] ~ and finding one more center shown on a different map of my source material (1952 Colliers Encyclopedia), that being Neskaupstadur, I have the following information in hand:


With regards to the five places at the bottom, I have definite information that these places were founded after 1650, so in my world they don't exist.  Having them on the list is still important, however, as the balance of their presence is subtracted from the total in order to determine the population for the remainder.

I have 10 places where I have a vague knowledge of when they were founded.  Traditionally, Reykjavik was the first place in Iceland that was founded, and traditionally that year is 874.  Who knows when it was actually founded or even if it was first; but for D&D purposes, I like using the myth over what may or may not be fact.  A similar example occurs everywhere, so that is policy.

Of these 10, I have six that are described as appearing in the Landnamsold (linking the Icelandic page), which describes the first settlements in Iceland.  Here is a pretty map:

By Abraham Ortelius, cartographer, titled Islandia, circa 1590
Those places listed as being founded in 880, 930 or 950 are, at best, guesses. Those that were described as being founded in the 9th century (about as accurate as it gets), I listed as the first round number after Reykjavik.  Hafnarfjordur (or Boots, as it was called), was described as late in the Landnamsold period.  Seydisfjordur was described as "10th century."  But I don't have to be supremely accurate here; I just want an approximation.

Most places have the same name today as they did long ago, with very few exceptions.  That is also probably not quite true ~ but since I am working with English and not Icelandic (which must have variations), I don't care about too much nuance.  Again, we're just looking for an approximation.

I've divided the place names into the four traditioning Farthings of Iceland, the old name for the provinces.  The next step is to look up their latitude, longitude and elevation, so the places can be plotted on a map, and the map adjusted for the elevation of the hex that the place name will occupy.  I'll be looking that information up on a glorious site called fallingrain.com.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Iceland & Greenland

The poll is closed:


There was a late surge for Southeast Asia and there is a clear interest in my mapping the far east in general.  That won't be overlooked ~ though for the time being, obviously, I'm going to be working on the North Atlantic.

Before I feel I can potentially move onto Canada, I want to clean up all the lands surrounding Iceland and Greenland.  I did complete the Fritz Josef lands a long time ago (I call it Humutya and I know precisely what lives there).  I've never tackled Svalbard, however.  That is mostly just plotting the coastline.

The same is true of the Faeroes Islands, which lie between Scotland and Iceland.  There's just one town on those; there are a mess of islands to create, but it's fairly simple once the lines are drawn.  After the Faeroes, there are two little islands ~ Bear and Jan Mayan ~ that I'll have to plot and figure out where they are.

These are things I can do before or after Iceland, it makes no difference.  I'll probably insist on working these out, however, before I apply myself to the Greenland Coast.  That is going to be a bitch.  I did get some of the west side done just for giggles a while ago, but it is a long, long coast that stretches over about five sheets.

What to do about Greenland, that's the question.  The occupants in 1650 were the Thule Culture, that settled into Greenland after migrating from the area around Alaska.  By then, the Norse were all gone, driven out by the Little Ice Age.  The Thule were a very primitive hunting culture, perfectly suited for the environment but . . . well, dull.  I'm not much interested in letting them have all of Greenland ~ and I have a rule about my world design that big, empty areas ought to be occupied by non-humans.  So here is what I imagine.

We begin with 13,000 years ago, when the svirfneblin of the Dovrefjell (Norway) reached a point of cultural cohesion following breakthroughs in subterranean food cultivation.  After 3,000 years, these spawned the surface gnomish people, who migrated outwards across the northern forests of Europe.  These encountered halfling cultures who moved north out of Britain and Denmark ahead of the spread of human culture; the halflings and gnomes, both relatively passive as races, quickly made pacts of friendship.  Since the gnomes preferred forests and the halflings dells and pastures, there was room for both peoples.

But humans continues to spread and their population increased in Scandinavia.  Steadily, the gnome and halfling populations were isolated and the surface lands fell to human tribes.  This diminished the surface hunting lands for the subterranean Svirfneblin, who themselves began to migrate westward and north to the lands of Spitsbergen, Iceland and Greenland.

Iceland proved to be unpleasant to the cold-loving Svirfneblin, being highly volcanic; but Greenland was excellent.  They began to create a new stone-and-ice dwelling culture that reached its height around 100 BCE.

The culture was in long decline, growing extremely passive until the arrival of the Norse in the 9th century.  The warm weather had driven the Svirfneblin further underground, where they were able to find enough heat to sustain their subterranean agrarian culture.  The Norse, who had developed friendships with the gnomes, proved to be more tolerant of the Svirfneblin than their forebears had been; trade was developed between the surface and the subterranean, which lasted for six hundred years until the change in the weather broke the Norse culture.

The increase in cold, however, has resulted in the Svirfneblin occupying many of the surface villages of the Norse.  They drove the Thule (who are not human) from their hunting/fishing grounds and in the last 150 years the Svirfneblin population in Greenland has tripled.

Now, Iceland.

The first step to mapping the island is to research the individual towns, gathered from this map:


I count 19 settlements: Akranes, Akureyri, Bildudalur, Blonduos, Egilsstadir, Hafnarfjordur, Hofn, Isafjordur, Keflavik, Kopasker, Oddi, Olafsfjordur, Olafsvik, Raufarhofn, Reykjavik, Seydisfjordur, Siglufjordur, Vik and Vopnafjordur.  These have to be individually looked up on the web, wikipedia most likely, but elsewhere if wikipedia has no record.  We also want to look at any provinces or regions included, since we'll be figuring out how it is divided politically for the final map.

We're looking for when it was founded, what disasters or troubles it may have suffered and who owns/runs it.  Iceland is simple for this last: Denmark owns the whole island, and will for a long time.  In the bigger sense, however, we want a "feel" for Iceland.  This is one of the best parts.  Having researched the place, I begin to feel like I've been there.  Like, if I went in actual fact, I would be ready for what I found.  I get a real kick out of meeting people from the places where they come from, only to describe their country to them, accurately.  Most people who travel a great distance are surprised if someone has even heard of the place they're from.  I'd enjoy meeting someone from Hofn in the next six months, after working on this map.

So, I'll get started researching Iceland.  Won't take long.  Why don't you give it a try.  Just go through Wikipedia one name at a time.  You might find some very interesting plot ideas.

In fact, as I go along, I'll include the links.

Oh, and forgive me.  Please reconsider supporting me on Patreon.  If you can't help me out this month, perhaps you might consider giving me a hand in April.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Where in the World Should I Go?

Having finished Britain, I have no particular concerns about where I should map next ~ so I thought it wouldn't hurt to ask.  In the sidebar, the Gentle Reader will find a poll, asking what part of the world I could build.  The only necessity is that a new map connect to a part of the world that I have already made.

If I work on Iceland (and the Faeroe Islands), then Greenland, I will be in a position to start working on Canada sometime in the future, starting with Newfoundland.  That, no doubt, will appeal to Americans, who might want me to start working along the eastern seaboard.  Be warned, however, that the amount of coastline and research needed for that seaboard is immense, so that there wouldn't be much payoff for a long time, perhaps a couple of years.  After all, it took me 18 months to put Britain together (I do get distracted).

I had started working around the west coast of Africa already, getting as far as Senegal.  I'd probably keep going at least as far as Ghana, though of course the dream would be not to stop until I'd gotten all the way around the horn, then connect it up with Arabia on the east coast.  Reversing this by going down the east coast would ultimately have the same end goal ~ but it is also a fairly unpopulated part of the world, as as I learned with Mauritania, west Mali and Senegal, it is fairly dull mapping.

I did Burma and that was interesting, so it would follow that I would work my way through the rest of Indochina, then ultimately down into Indonesia.  That's a LOT of coastline, I know I'm not going to enjoy that.  Coastline is the hardest detail to add . . . but it would be interesting to add Indonesia to the trade system, since there are a lot of odd and rare products that originate there.

Interior China is a big hole in the world map I posted last autumn.  It would be nice to fill that hole, but I know that researching China is going to be a big pain ~ not because it is more work per area covered, but because the one source I'm working from is from 1952, before pinyin changed all the Ch's to Q's.  Since Chinese names are so similar, it is going to be hard trying to piece together the city dot on the old map I have with the name in the present day . . . and as far as I can tell, modern linguists are intentionally trying to make this very difficult.

But I'll give it a try if the vote goes that way.

I do ask two things.  First, that if the kind reader votes, that you might tell me why you picked the area you did in the comments below.  It would help if I knew what your interest is, as encouragement to go at least that far in my designing.

Secondly, if you ARE willing to ask me to pick a place and work on it, I would ask that you donate one, two or three dollars monthly on my Patreon.  I haven't mentioned Patreon in months, but it is still a part of my income that I depend upon.  It won't hurt much to give the price of a cup of coffee, but a dozen or so readers contributing will make a big difference to ME.  If you could be so kind.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Hiding

The cheap dresser in our room suffered an injury a few days ago.  But that is no problem, as it makes a nice home for Himije.