Tuesday, May 1, 2018

How Much Can You Search?

I have deliberately not included a scale on the map shown.  Because of this, it might be a village, a town or a city.  It really depends on how big the roads are, or the river is, in the readers' imagination.

Let me explain.  Last post, I ended by explaining that for a party to truly understand the ins and outs of an urban space, they should have to search that space diligently.  The question emerges, then: how much space can a party search properly in the space of a day?

A square mile?  A hectare?  A neighborhood?  I'm asking because I want the reader to answer it for themselves ... remembering what I said in the last post.  That there are no street signs and virtually no advertising.  And being medieval in form, likely as not the streets aren't gridded.  There are back lanes and alleys, which might also have doors in them that lead to a strange shop or some unexpected, but important "find" that might make the players very happy.

Ask yourself: how many hours do you need to sit in a pub to know what sort of pub it is?  Or if you like it?  How well do you need to know the servers; or what does it take to know if the menu is good?  And once you're fed, how many hours can you spend poking around in shops, seeing what's there?  How many hours can you waste chatting up the patron about things you're looking for?

And once you have that in mind, how many hours can you walk around, opening and closing doors, stooping to look at things, moving from walking on stones to sprung wood, bending down to rest your pack, picking it up again ... and how long can you stare at hundreds of things before you get sick of it?  How does that cut your search time short?

Once you've searched, how well can you remember what you've seen?  Have you ever changed your mind about buying something, but then you can't remember what store you saw it in?  Are you really sure you can remember every detail of dozens of stores that you searched yesterday?  Or a week from now?

How long does it take to really get to know a specified area in a urban area?  You tell me.


9 comments:

Ozymandias said...

I want to start with a few assumptions.

1) The PCs are total strangers to the area. They do not know the locals, nor do the locals know them. They have no reputation. They are visitors, dressed in an appropriate fashion, not bearing arms or armor; further, the locals are not inherently hostile toward strangers.

2) The PCs are not looking for anything specific; they are just looking, trying to gauge the lay of the land, as it were; to get a sense of the culture and the people.

Based on my experiences wandering through the downtown areas of places like Indianapolis, Nashville and Washington, D.C. ~ where the streets are paved and orderly, with signs on every building ~ where I have maps and reviews and recommendations in my pocket ~ I think it's fair to say it would take a long time to really get to know an area.

Base value: 28d6 hours. A character can devote a total of 16 hours per day toward this task. The task can be repeated once per month for a given area. The DM makes the roll in secret and provides information after the character has reached the required limit.

The size of the area would be inversely proportional to its population density. Thus, a denser area would limit the character to a smaller square footage per attempt. I'd look to your development levels for a starting point on population density.

After nailing down the baseline rule, I'd identify a few modifiers that account for variables, like prior familiarity with the area, the general attitude and openness of the culture, or a character's skill (or lack thereof).

Alexis Smolensk said...

You're somewhat vague where you describe "an area." It takes me very little time to get to know an area of one square foot. Suppose the area of the map is 1 hex = 25 feet in diameter, and the lines are survey markers. If there were 50 people standing in that space, or two people, the time to "know the area" would be about the same. Obviously, it would take longer to know 50 people, but that was not my question.

Suppose the area of the map is 450 miles per hex; and the lines are major roads. How long would it take then?

Area is everything. What's the role-playing sweet-spot?

Lothar Svensson said...

I think 2d6 or 3d4 "locations" per hour might be a good starting point. Sometimes you step into a shop and half an hour goes by while you're browsing, and other times you poke your head in, look at what's on display and scoot along. This time would also include noting the streets and alleys connecting your locations (which would of necessity be adjacent to each other, at least linearly). Perhaps there is a chance every hour or every day (1 in 20) of finding something really unique or useful. That would mean about 7-8 places explored in an hour (a square, perhaps, or a single street), making searching out 6 or 8 streets a day quite manageable, at least from a "mapping" perspective. Then spending more time in an area, say the same number of locations in two, three, or four hours would give more detailed information.

Another type of search would be to find a particular kind of shop - an apothecary or armor smith - of the highest repute, so finding the best of a particular kind of location might be possible, depending on the time spent looking - the best baker (by reputation, size, ostentation) on four streets in an hour, or the best baker on 32 streets/squares by looking all day.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I think you might be a bit ambitious there, Lothar.

Maliloki said...

Exploring a small section of the city I've been to a few times, I totally screwed up the street a shop was on I had been interested in several months before.

That said, my wife and I wandered the area before my tattoo appointment doing basically just a walkthrough of various stores (some stores caught our eye and we stayed there a bit longer than others) and got through about 6 in a small, gridded area with signs displaying their basic concept in about an hour. I think. But that was about as best case scenario as you can get without running from place to place and just poking your head in and leaving, let alone winding streets, no/minimal signage, and back streets.

You can get through a lot more if they're just row upon row of stalls (much like a convention), but without taking at least a few minutes per vendor, you won't see anything special.

2d3 or 2d4 locations per hour might be a little more appropriate if just wandering to see what's around, but I don't think there'd be a huge amount of retention or knowledge on what's actually there other than knowing you might want to do more investigation in that area.

... But turning that into useful gaming information (like the chance of any of those locations actually being something the player would be interested in) is beyond me at the moment as the sickness my children have inflicted upon me has prevented me from doing any real D&D work for the past week...

Sorry for the ramble

Alexis Smolensk said...

Much appreciated, Maliloki. Ramble any time. You've reminded me of something.

I think players will underestimate how easy it is to make a snap judgement of a shop from the sign outside and the modern logic of a sales-designed modern day vendor.

In an artistic part of Calgary, there used to be a shop I would drop in from time to time, the owner of which would wander around small towns in the province (and the next province over) and pick up anything that was interesting. I bought one of those lamps that train conductors used to wave back in the mid-20th century there. It was a legitimate oil lamp with white, clear glass; I wish I still had that lamp today.

This store owner did NOTHING to organize his store. It was a huge jumble of objects, from front to back, looking something like a hoarder's house ... with endless things stacked on endless things. The owner wasn't friendly; he was hard to talk to; and he did not like to get off his stool ... so you were on your own. There was no practical way to search that shop. You were there five minutes, or five hours, depending on your stamina.

This is probably more what a general shop would have been like hundreds of years ago ... but on a smaller scale, as it wouldn't have been the standard modern shop size, like the dealer I've described. And having been waiting helplessly in my life, many times, while three women looked over every piece of kitsch in a tiny shop, I have no trouble believing you could spend all day exploring one side of one street.

That might be excessive. I have an idea of the measurement I'd like to use; but I wanted to test the waters with my reader before going ahead with it.

Ozymandias said...

I mentioned population density as a starting point because I imagine there'd be a strong correlation with the density of buildings or structures.

My question now is: what, exactly, are we thinking the players will learn from exploring an urban environment?

Alexis Smolensk said...

I'm certainly getting to that, Oz,

But see my new post, first.

Agravain said...

I used to have a randomly generated and randomly ordered list of goods, that in the biggest cities could be over 20 pages. The idea was that it would take time to find what you wanted, and you could miss some stuff, especially in big cities.

Turned out to be too much time wasted during play, so I now switched to a list divided by shop, and require every characters to use up a day for each shop they visit. Doesn't solve all the problems but it's a decent compromise until I find something better.