Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Hobgoblins of Little Minds

I continue to be baffled that some of the blogs I read associated with D&D care a whit who might be the president of a gaming company, or about their marketing policies. I realize that this reflects the hard-core video gamer mindset, but I can’t think of another example in any other fetish market.

For example, does anyone give a shit who is running Penthouse or Oui this year? Are porn-fanatics sitting about debating the number of times that twat-shots are being incorporated in late-produced magazines as opposed to good old-fashioned boob spreads? Does anyone interested in porn really care?

Or how about music? Yes, there are a small group of fanatics who probably care about the future strategies of record companies, and who might be directing those strategies, but when I hear interviews with musicians I don’t hear a lot of questions like, “Do you think the head of your record company is taking your band in a good direction?” We all know, of course, that the band is totally being controlled that way…but its not interesting so we ignore it.

I don’t think there’s ever been a time that the inner workings of TSR or its sold intellectual property meant anything to me. I’m sure that the present company that retains the rights to D&D feels very strongly about its ownership, but I can’t be bothered to care. The game, in my opinion, is MY game…at least as far as my world goes or the rules by which I play. I view D&D the same way I’d view chess or baseball or solitaire. It’s a game I play. I play it with other people and we have mutually accepted perceptions about what the game’s about. That there is an organization that produces chessboards and pieces and booklets is a given; do I give a crap what the name of that organization is when I’m reaching for my knight?

Yet apparently I’m supposed to know the company’s name of the halfling thief miniature I’m pushing towards the orc’s back, along with the name of the artist that designed it and the name of the paint company providing the yellow for the thief’s back pack. And I’m apparently supposed to have long debates about the quality of my thief miniature versus other thief miniatures available on the market.

I’m just not enough of a geek. Oh, I’m nerdy enough to spend untold hours crunching numbers to give you the price of a wooden candlestick in Prague, but when it comes to the money someone else is making selling me shit, I’m not there. I’m just not.

I long ago memorized every picture in the monster manual without ever once looking at the signature of a single artist. I don’t think I’ve glanced for more than a tenth of a second at the credits of the DMG, though I’ve owned three copies of the book that have been read to tatters (I need a fourth right now). I realized very early on that I didn’t have the patience, interest or talent for painting miniatures, but I still have pieces I bought in 1981 that are now individually recognizable lead lumps that continue to find use during sessions. I don’t use dungeon master screens, I have no pre-made dungeon maps, I don’t buy modules, I don’t attend conventions and I haven’t the slightest idea what are the legal policies regarding this game. I’m pretty sure if I don’t copy material and sell it, what powers that be don’t have the money or the time to sue me for copyright infringement…whatever illegalities might be involved.

The community, perchance, has lost its way, involved as it is with cheesy details about product lines and the identification with second-string commercial artists struggling to make a buck (first string artists are busy working on beer ads). I don’t think the game is so simple and so obvious that we have run out of more useful matters that might be discussed—such as a treasure table or encounter table that works.

But perhaps there are too many players who sit and wait all alone, for whom the trivial details are all that remain.

It’s a little sad.

Monday, July 28, 2008

More Dwarves

Well, I admit that a lot of this will seem like gobbledygook, unless you have a solid grasp of western Siberian topography, but here goes.

In 120 B.C., Ulath the Unshriven, a heretic Dwarven priest, drew together a group of three hundred devout followers from the land of Croft and sought westward for lands unsettled. Eschewing the theology that had grown around the worship of Moradin, Ulath claimed to have had a vision that revealed to him the “First Fathers” as he called them: Motsognir, Durinn and Dvalinn. These were the Dvergar…whom Ulath believed had lived in the west ten thousand years before even the duergar bred in the mountains before the founding of Khath.

For seven years he and his followers travelled westward, encountering human tribes (Turks), orc tribes (Uighurs) and goblin tribes (the Maglosh of the Vasyugan swamp). Their journey was epic, taking them far to the south, through the desert of the Kirgiz, then north again into the foothills of the Eastern Urals. It was there that the first permanent settlement was founded, at Kord.

For two centuries (called ‘the Gathering’) thereafter the dwarves settled through much of the Eastern Urals, through the lands we associate with the Chelyabinsk and Ekaterinburg oblasts; the land became known as Hoth, and was miraculously unsettled before the arrival of Ulath’s people. The Gathering was marked by the arrival of tens of thousands of religious and other Dwarven refugees, who made the long journey west (more than a thousand miles) to settle in Hoth. Even as Altslok successful reacquired lost territories, Hoth expanded also.

Beginning in the 200s A.D., however, the vast movements of peoples, pressured by the Mongols (and to a lesser extent by the expansion of Altslok), would eventually bring about the end of the Roman Empire would also inflict upon Hoth a series of homeland struggles. The Hun orc tribes (substantially orcs with human Turkic leaders) appeared and were driven south and west after failing to defeat the dwarves, whose numbers were perhaps a mere 30,000.

The Huns were followed by the Avars, a human Turkic people, sieged Kord in 320, plundered the city of Toothsmark and were finally driven out.

Other tribes followed: the Cumans, the Pechenegs, the Magyars. In 890 A.D., the Bolgar nation which had been established in the upper Volga (not to be confused with the “Bulgars”), a tribe of ogres, led by ogre mage, migrated northeast into the upper valleys of the Kama and Balaya rivers. They poured over the Ural mountains into the lands of Hoth, which was not strong enough to withstand them. The land was conquered in 895, and held in thrall for until 1022 by a Bolgar aristocracy. Very little settlement occurred, and after the decline of the Bolgar state due to the War of the Horns (ogres against gnolls) and incursions of the Seljuks, Dwarvish independence was won at the Battles of Ramslok (our Kamyshlov) and Magnith (Magnitogorsk).

During the period of 1238-1240 Hoth defended itself (at great cost) against the invasion of the Mongols (haruchai orcs), in which much of the population escaped into the forests of the north. Two centuries thereafter they were again attacked by Tamerlane, whom they successfully turned back.

Since 1400 the kingdom of Hoth has existed in relative peace (there continue to be battles against gnolls, ogres and orcs in the south and west, and goblins in the east), expanded greatly in population and succeeded in establishing firm trade routes with Moskovy through the city of Khlynov. The lands between Hoth and Altslok have fallen entirely into the hands of goblins (the kingdom of Magloshkagok, occupying the middle and lower Ob basin) and hobgoblins (the empire of Vostoch, occupying the upper Ob and the Yenisey basins). As such, trade and indeed nearly all communication between the two dwarven kingdoms has dwindled. Both exist as islands of civilization a sea of lesser-developed but violent humanoid cultures.

Friday, July 25, 2008


There is a discussion going around about D&D and fantasy fiction, that the two don't seem to encourage one another. I don't write much fantasy fiction myself; I'm not driven by it, I don't read it and generally the attempts I've made have not been well liked.

Nevertheless, for reasons having to do with nothing else, in the process of cleaning out old, old files, I've found this story, which is about ten years old. I cleaned it up a little, as I'm a better writer now...and I figure, what the hell, I'll post it. Don't feel at all compelled to read it. This is as close to fantasy fiction as I've ever gotten.

White Sea

Warning came when the sun broke horizon’s rim, due south. Midwinter’s day lasted an hour, no more. The word was given. Gnolls would approach after the sun set—they had chosen a new moon for their raid.
In the starlight the Belomorsk villagers could see them come on, single line after single line, approaching over the ice.

The White Sea was frozen solid. The defenders stacked their snowshoes, drew their weapons, and waited. The brutal north wind frosted their beards and their hair’s ends. This was their home. They knew the wind and were not afraid of it.

The youngest had never fought gnolls before. They saw, with terror, the giant, shuffling monsters approach, seven-feet tall, with goat heads and horns like rotted teeth, yellow and gnarled with age. They wore bearskins tied with strips of reindeer leather, and hardened pieces of hide stitched together over their huge forms for armor. Tree branches, as thick as a man’s two fists held together served as weapons, the knots sharpened and dipped in pine resin.

The men wore heavy padding, leather boots waterproofed with whale blubber. They carried swords that had been forged by men in the south. The blades were new to them, lately purchased. The villagers held them resolutely, believing that hard metal would cut through that which wood could not penetrate. For months they had trained, readying themselves, each trusting the man from Novgorod who waited with them.

He was a stranger who did not know their ways. He had gained their trust. Gregor Dmitrovich was tall as a gnoll himself. He was unconcerned with the wind or the approaching battle. His sword did not waver. The others looked at him and stood fast.

The forces met equally. It was told afterwards, however, that the gnolls hesitated. On the ice and in the darkness, the lines split and scattered. All fought in every direction. The work was hot and steady. The enemy fought coldly, thoughtless of themselves. Men fell, their heads crushed. Gnoll could be told apart from man by shape alone, less and less by that as the white flooring grew black with blood. Villagers hacked at the limbs of the invader gnolls, broke their bodies and ran them through. They proved metal’s worth against leather.

The gnolls did not give, even when it was known the men would kill them all. The beasts fought stupidly, clubbing men long dead—then screaming as a man’s blade cut their shins, bringing them down, a villager ready to strike off their head. They fought without order. Again and again they were drawn singly from the combat by only children, throwing stones and fleeing, leading them to crevices where women waited with knives. The gnolls would stop and feast on what human meat they’d gained, forsaking their comrades who died without flanking guards. By such means the host was slaughtered.

Half the men of Belomorsk were dead or dying. They lay scattered over the ice amid the gnoll dead. The blowing snow covered the bodies as fathers searched for their sons, brothers for their sisters. Sledges were brought up and the wounded covered in fur blankets to be hurried to shelter. The dead were collected to be carried home at a slower pace.

The sun turned around the clock, ever below of the horizon, and Gregor Dmitrovich could not be found. Search parties went out. Every direction was hidden by hummocks of ice, pushed up by the sea beneath, still churning under winter’s grip. Amid the cracks and crevices of these hummocks, the villagers sought Dmitrovich. They found a blood trail and followed it, telling of the Novgorod’s way, marked by the corpse of many a gnoll.

The deepest night approaching, their cold limbs defeated the men of Belomorsk, driving them to surrender the search until the narrow light would improve. They returned home, dried their clothes, ate, embraced their families and gathered provisions.

Gregor Dmitrovich did live. Four dead enemy lay within a body length of himself. The final chase had ended when they had cornered him. He had taken them, but they had also killed him. The ribs of his one side were smashed and broken. The bone of his hip was cracked. A blow to his skull had blinded him in one eye. His blood froze against his cheek, a hardened, icy lump in his beard.

He pushed himself with one leg and found he could not rise. He lay in the snow, no longer white, only pale blue in the darkness. Frost grew over his limbs. Soon he would be dead if he was not found. Gregor knew he would not be found. Too many turns had been taken in the chase.

How long he waited to die, he did not know.

He felt warmth on his eyelid and opened it. The snow near his face grew brighter. Not from the sun on the horizon, but from a light that glistened within the crystals themselves. The frozen sea glowed. He had never seen its like.

With immense effort he lifted his head and threw an arm over his body, turning himself on his back. He was not alone.

Bathed in the snowlight was a woman, as tall as any man in Belomorsk. Her boots were fashioned of the newest white sealskin and showed no sign of wear. Strands of silver, weaved into cords, had been wrapped around her ankles and shins. Her thighs were bare, and over them hung a mail of fine workmanship, the rings so tiny that Dmitrovich could not make them out. A deerskin belt tightened the mail to her hips. In the belt’s loop hung an axe, whose massive adamant blade reflected the blue of the snow in beams. The axe handle was carved of whalebone and set with amber stones. The axe was carved with runes that Dmitrovich, from the south, did not recognize.

Her upper body and forearms were wrapped in fur and sealskin, tight to her body for easy movement, but the skin, pure white, of her upper arms and shoulders had no covering at all. A necklace of wolf and bear’s teeth hung around her neck. And over all, like a cascade, fell her blonde, flaxen hair, like wheat from a rich harvest. On her head was a silver helmet, the like and beauty of which Dmitrovich had never have imagined. The metal was encrusted with gemstones. An ivory horn rose above each ear.

Most startling of all was her eyes, which showed no pain from the slashing wind, nor the brutal cold that would crack iron. Her face was gentle, speaking of warmer places or of the spring when flowers bloomed. It was the face of a mother, a beauty forgotten since he was a small boy, when mothers were important. He stared at her in wonder. She did not speak, though he had held her eyes for a long, long time. He finally found his tongue. “Who are you?” he asked.

She seemed to ready herself. She lifted the axe from its place.

At once Dmitrovich understood. Where before he’d had no strength, the realization that death was at hand brought him to lift his sword. Very nearly he did not turn aside the axe’s first blow. It fell past him and into the ice, cleaving it open.

Wild-eyed, he rolled away and miraculously found his feet. His side twisted him with pain. The cut on his face broke open and his throat felt wet with fresh blood. He knew only his terror. The woman slipped to the side and circled him, seeking the side of his blinded eye. She shifted her axe from hand-to-hand, unconscious of its weight. Dmitrovich knew it would take him two hands to lift it.

Her rush came. He met the axe with the sword, near its handle. He felt the woman’s strength. She turned her axe, nearly tearing his sword from his hands, striking him across the shoulder with the axe handle, throwing him across the frozen scape. He stumbled over blocks of ice, and tumbled, sliding, still holding his weapon. A puff of snow covered his face and he couldn’t see.

Gregor heard her come on, quickly, giving him no time to think nor rest. He swung his sword and was amazed when it struck metal. He leapt away to avoid being cut in two. He swept the snow from his face and cleared his vision, then hastily parried her attack.

Blood splattered about him and over the snow, yet in him a fury grew. It was a fury he’d never known. Her axe and his sword came together squarely and her weapon was turned aside. Gregor did not wait for her to swing again. He struck at her. She drew back, eyes calm, certain of victory. Her gaze did not make him falter. His sword seemed driven of its own spirit. He was berserk. He rained blows on her, each falling on her axe, never touching her, but always on the attack, pushing her back and back between the icy blades and drifts.

And then, as though it were a thing unthought of by the gods, the axe came loose from her hands. It fell away and he could not see where.

She did not move. Her eyes, unchanged, held his. Her chest did not rise and fall, nor give any sign that she had fought. She did not sweat. Gregor was covered in sweat and was wet with blood. He held his sword raised over his shoulder, for the final blow that would kill her.

“GREGOR!” he heard call. The sound stole his attention. He turned, staggering as if with fever. He saw men of Belomorsk, in furs and dragging a sledge. They stopped apart from him and the woman.
She sighed, a beautiful sound, and he looked at her. Her hand lifted, fearless of his sword, still held ready. Her fingers were quite real. He did not think they would be. She touched the side of his face, where he was blind. Then he was not blind.

His sword fell to the ice.

“Live, Gregor Dmitrovich,” the woman said. The sky and world turned blue-white, and she was gone.

He did not move, even as the townsmen clambered forward towards him. Their faces were bright, their eyes blazing. They did not believe what they had seen.

“A Valkyrie!” said the oldest one. “A Valkyrie came for you, and you live!” The villager’s voice told all. Even witnessed it could not be truth, the voice said.

Dmitrovich turned. He felt no pain, no injury. He felt nothing. He collapsed into their arms, felt himself loaded onto their sledge.

“I want to go home,” he said.

All Right, If We Must

Max of Malevolent & Benign asked me in a comment, “Is Jesus a historical personage and/or religious figure in your world? Or do you just prefer those terms to BCE/CE?”

To begin with, I’ve never understood the need to introduce the terms BCE and CE. I recognize the argument about the exact date of Jesus’ birth, and that the change is supposed to reflect that, but since we’re continuing to use the Catholic Church’s assessment as the baseline, does it make much difference that we say “Christian Era” instead of “Christ”?

I haven’t gotten into the swing of that, as it were; and since almost all the texts I use predate the change, I’m somewhat ambivalent. But regarding the more interesting question:

YES, Jesus was a historical person in my world. He would have been, I suppose, a highly charismatic (20?), high-leveled cleric with a penchant for mass congregational spells. I should also like to point out that Zoroaster, Zarathustra, Confucius, Mohammed (ahem, no pictures please) and Prester John were also historical figures.

It seems strange to me that the D&D universe is more than willing to co-opt the existence of Amaterasu, the Shinto Goddess who appears in the Deities and Demigods, but that western mythological figures are somehow off limits. Not being religious, but having a solid religious education, I’m loath to separate out my myths on their political correctness.

My perception of religion in D&D is fairly loose, as I don’t play with alignments and I’m not keen to force my generally atheistic players to follow a path of intensified preoccupation with the day-to-day rituals their clerics might follow. Clerics are needed, of course, as I don’t have any silly rules about surging one’s own hit points at will (wow, that’s Hollywood, where the bullet wound in scene 4 is suddenly gone in scene 12)…and because they are needed someone in the party must invariably be one.

Every now and then I get to punish a cleric who decides he wants a little heavenly intervention, and I get to say, why would the heavens give a shit?

You’re probably asking, if the gods aren’t keen on the cleric to begin with, how is the cleric recharging their spells?

As I’ve said, it’s a big world and there are a lot of people in it. A cleric before they reach 9th level isn’t very unusual or particularly important; so the gods overlook the details in returning those spells. If it should come up later that a cleric has started a church and is still playing fast and loose with their religion, well…things could get pretty nasty.

I tend to see everything leading up to that as a sort of grace period.

A cleric may, if he or she wishes, choose to be Christian or Jewish or Confucian…or they may choose to follow the various mythologies from the Deities and Demigods or the much larger mythos from the actual planet earth (Wikipedia can be very helpful). Ultimately, of course, “God,” the monotheistic being, is ME. Think of it as the people in the world some 29 centuries before the time my world takes place suddenly having a vision that the dungeon master exists. Oh, and that Einstein would ultimately be wrong: god DOES play dice with the universe.

All the other gods, the “old gods,” also exist, in effect vastly powerful monsters and well worthy of being revered. Most of these old gods have multiple names, and many of their followers fail to recognize that different groups are actually worshipping the same god: Odin, for example, is also Zeus AND Ra and Shiva; apparent discontinuities are entirely the fault of those who worship, who cannot see the whole picture.

I do not have clerics take individual gods, but rather pantheons; if you are Celtic, you call on the god that applies in the situation that you are in. Diancecht if you wish someone to recover from an illness, Silvanus if you’re hunting for food and so on.

The great dominant religions tend to be those that are monotheistic, though not in India or Japan. Clerics choosing old god religions must nearly always be prepared for hysteria, hatred, intolerance and possible execution if they’re too obvious about their beliefs—particularly in the Christian world, which is by far the LEAST tolerant. In many parts of the world, the state religion is utterly passive about other religions that might present themselves.

That’s a quick overview. I might come back to the subject, but it isn’t a terribly important subject in my world, simply because most of what anyone needs to know about the specific religion is in any textbook one cares to find—as a DM, I’ve found it so far very easy to adhere to those mythological systems and bend my world to fit them. I suppose because there has been thought that went into their original design…not like the recent design of some rather clumsy and poorly educated publishers.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


It is hard as a DM to get out of my own head and out of my own culture when I am running a session. Last year I was running an extensive campaign through eastern Persia, and no matter how hard I tried nor how my thought I gave to it, I could not make the people nor the environment seem appropriately Persian, either to my party or to myself. The party might differ: they did not like the extensive aridness or deserts, nor the perpetual struggle against that environment…so to some degree they might feel that they really did eat a little grit while adventuring there. Comments about hating the desert came up often.

But I personally felt I could not capture the “romance”…exotic animals, treasures, women, tribal conflicts and so on. I am, sadly, too westernized and too twentieth-century; it is hard to get into the headspace of a truly Moslem person.

That, I think, is a great difficulty in D&D. If it is hard for me to find the romance, having actual examples to point to and pictures I can produce for the party to see as they are moving through various habitats, how difficult is it to produce a truly unique perspective from the point of view of another race.

Yesterday I described Gnomes at length, hoping to create something of a motivation for that race and how they could be expected to act as NPCs. I see them as a nostalgic people, the one kingdom somewhat embittered or saddened by the violence of the world, the other insanely driven to destroy all who might threaten them. The former somewhat similar to those Jews who went passively into the ovens rather than fight, the latter similar to the state of Israel as it is today.

We have only the examples of the real world on which to draw…it’s not likely that I could invent a fully new cultural history, as it is the real world’s cultural history that’s likely to influence me. The best I could do would be to make myself aware of as many different possible cultures as possible. Which is what makes an historian.

When it came to making a background for dwarves, I found myself with two potential habitable (unoccupied) places in my world…neither of which would suit what most people would prefer. Dwarves, I think, would be put in Europe by most DMs…but Europe and European history is inconveniently occupied with Men. I was forced by my own premise to put the Dwarves far, far from Europe. I have no Dwarven kingdoms in Europe at all.

Both are in Asia.

The Paleolithic development of Dwarves somewhat reflects that of Gnomes. Dwarves, too, have a “deep” race living in the bowels of the earth (Duergar); they, too, came into existence with the end of the last Ice Age. Unlike gnomes, however, Dwarves did not “scatter.” They remained in tight-knit social organizations and very mountain-oriented…at least in their early history.

In the period of 11,000 to 6,000 B.C., Dwarves were clustered in the mountain knot of the Altai, at the northern end of the Tien Shan. This a region which would later be known in human history as “the birthplace of the Turkic peoples.” It is up to you to decide if that means the Turks who moved westward in the last half of the first millennium A.D. possessed in part Dwarvish blood…that has been the subject of much dispute.

The first Dwarvish migrations were modest in extent…a general drift eastward along the Western and Eastern Sayan mountain ranges. Several tribes, circa 3500-2500 B.C., reached the Khingan Mountains in northern China.

The first developed culture of Dwarves, however, began in the so-called Khakass Hollow (the Minusinsk Depression), a rich-soiled basin where the Abakan and Yenisey join, notable for a large number of lakes (including some which are saltwater), sparse hillocks and high grain production. The outflow passes through a deep gorge in the Yeniseysk Mountains before descending to the lower Yenisey basin to the north.

In this basin the Dwarves developed a culture—called “Khath”—to rival Egypt or Mesopotamia, circa 4,100 B.C. It would thrive for more than 2,500 years, passing through fourteen dynasties, delving deep into the mountain ranges on every side, trading with lands as far away as China, India or the Elves of Anduin.

It was this last association that steadily diminished after 1900 B.C. There were three races who would migrate south and east from the vast Tunguskan plateau of what we call Evenki: bugbears, hobgoblins and norkers. These races appeared quite suddenly after 2,000 B.C. and expanded quickly in numbers and ferocity. During the next three centuries, various benign Elven cultures along the Lena River were shattered by marauding norkers; bugbears swarmed up into the Eastern Sayan mountains and many of the Dwarven communities there ceased to exist by the late 18th century B.C.; Khath found itself sieged by tens of thousands of hobgoblins…for century after century war against the invaders would consume all the history of the period.

The end would come in the year 1114 B.C. with the Battle of Yaxjasso Knob; the cream of the Khath army was destroyed by twenty times their number. Khath was invaded, cities burned and great towers destroyed and hundreds of thousands of Dwarves were put to the blade. Tuvath, further up the valley of the Yenisey, would fall the following winter. As the spring of 1113 progressed, all cohesion was lost; remnants of the civilization fought for their homes and family; some would succeed and create enclaves of long-lasting resistance. Some would disappear forever.

A substantial number would move steadily westward and south into the foothills of the Altai, eventually finding peace in the valley of the Irtysh. They would found Croftshelm in 868 B.C., which would become the point whereby the Dwarves would re-establish their culture. Rothering (in Roth) would be founded in 601 B.C.

It was also during this period (which came to be called “the Mourning”) that great leaps in religious identity and knowledge were made. Prior to this period dwarves had paid little attention to spiritual matters…after this period their peoples would be led by great Patriarchs. They called the kingdom Altslok, meaning “Godsmen.”

The Patriarchal Awakening of the next age, from 100 B.C. to 300 A.D., coinciding with early wars against the Chinese of the Han Dynasty, would lead to a return of the Dwarves into their former eastern lands. Much of the warlike spirit of the hobgoblins had diminished; they had grown soft and disorganized. After several campaigns into the Kuz Basin (Kuznetsk) and over the Khakassian Range, the Altslok kingdom reconquered Khath (162 B.C.) and Tuvath (67 A.D.). These lands have remained part of Altslok since that time, and have many times withstood assaults by various races.

I love dwarves. They have to be my favorite…which is why I’m probably more detailed about them than with Elves. I haven’t yet gone into the rise of the Kingdom of Hoth, but that can wait. This is enough to digest for now.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Failings of Gnomes

I don’t understand why there is such an adherence to the various books that have been put out over the years by Wizards of the Coast and their predecessors, which somehow says that these monsters have to have these characteristics or that those monsters have to have these behavioral patterns or what have you.

I’ll take a very old, old example: dwarves and elves do not get along.

Who says?

Well, Tolkein for a start, along with the Player’s Handbook and god knows how many oblique and direct references in modules and material I’ve read and I haven’t read. But you know what? I don’t care about any of that. I have party members who are dwarves and elves and really, when it comes down to it, they’d rather not squabble their way through every session. It’s boring.

More generally speaking, I don’t really give a shit how Forgotten Realms portrayed the svirfneblin, or how drow elf society is supposed to function according to R.A. Salvatore (whom I’ve never read and whom I’m not going to read), or how many troll races are capable of being invented by all and sundry. None of those things have anything to do with my world, or how I choose to use and portray the monsters and humanoids wandering over my landscape.

I guess I’m just not enough of a nerd to try to make the discontinuity of hundreds of opinions make some kind of unified sense. Or perhaps I have better things to spend my money on than pulp fiction and reprocessed modules (scratch out “orc” and write in “bladerager troll”…change module approval from 1st to 9th level characters).

For me, with no recognized precedent whatsoever, svirfneblin came into existence some 13,000 years ago. How they did is unclear; legends say they were made by gods, but it may be that they blundered into this plane of existence from some other. In any event, for more than two thousand years, they did little more than dwell in tunnels deep beneath the Kjølen, or Kölen, mountain range that runs through the Scandinavian Peninsula. During that time they did not see the sun nor even, according to myth, know of the existence of the sun.

Explorations upwards did eventually lead svirfneblin explorers to the surface; some of their number remained at or near the surface, changing their diet to include surface animals and plants. Various genetic changes affected those who came to the surface, who began to call themselves “gnomes.” Fertility increased also with the new diet and their numbers expanded quickly over the next millenia.

Circa 10,000 years ago, with the retreat of the ice of the last ice age, from population pressure Gnomes began to migrate south and east, crossing the frozen Baltic Sea during the winters of this period and eventually settling in the river basins of the Vistula, Nemunas and Daugava; this area would not be occupied by the Balts for more than another five thousand years. During that time a great Gnome culture would spread from the Tatra Mountains to the Volga River…though not far beyond, for at that time much of what is today Bashkiria was occupied by cave trolls, only vaguely tribal but too great in number to permit Gnomish settlement in the foothills of the Urals.

At no time did the Gnomes ever create a single empire that occupied their extent. Various kingdoms dwelt in relative peace until the 3000s B.C., their southern extent ending at the narrow parklands separating the southern steppe from the boreal forest. In all, the great failing of the Gnome race was its all abiding pacifism; too slow to mobilize, they were steadily consumed by more aggressive races (trolls, gnolls, humans) who burned their cities or conquered them, selling many Gnomes into slavery.

The last grand empire of the Gnomes was that of the Vepsians, the Veps being a noble family which ruled in succession for a period of 15 centuries, beginning circa 650 B.C. until 972 A.D., when the last Vepsian emperor—Borin the Crippled—died without heirs in battle against the Varangians of Kiyev.

The Vepsian kingdom was one of many in the central highlands west of the Dneiper Basin. Rurin the III, the fifth king of his line, was instrumental in consolidating the Gnomes and joining with the Elves against the gnolls at the Battle of Silver Lake; during the next century, several kingdoms peacefully conjoined with the Vepsian, which came to control all the lands from the Nemunas to the lower Kama.

The arrival of the Rus, who were essentially Vikings, in the 9th century was the beginning of the end. The peace-loving Gnomes eventually fell apart against the continued human incursion into their lands, until finally by the 14th century they had divided into two remaining kingdoms.

The first, the official remnant of the Vepsian, is that of Vepses which occupies the valley of the Svir River between Lake Ladoga and Lake Onega. The other is the martial kingdom of Harnia, whose capital Harn is in the location of the city we call Penza. Harnia eschewed the ways of its forefathers and adopted a more formal military structure; this structure enabled Harn to remain steadfast against the onslaught of the Mongol (haruchai) invasion of 1240-42, and to this day remains an outpost surrounded on two sides by orc-held territories.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Elves in the Old World

I’d said previously that I had decided to make those areas of my world which had a low population density inhabited by non-human races. I don’t have a need, you understand, to be deadly accurate in my portrayal of Earth…

I like there to be some parallels, but we can assume that since there is magic and monsters and so on, any sense that this is actually EARTH or that it should subscribe to some detailed perfection is just silly. Every now and then I change some minor detail as it suits me and as it makes my world more playable. The inclusion of non-human races does allow some interesting takes on history—which, I suppose, might insult some peoples, but I’m not concerned much with that. 

 This is my world, and it obeys my whims. For instance: the Old World continent has, as far, two specific conglomerations of Elves. I’m not a big fan of Elves, and because my system demands they occupy low-density forest areas, I didn’t choose to make one of the major countries in Europe the home of some Elven kingdom (I suppose the high country in Italy or somewhere in the Carpathians would have done well enough). I’m also not a great fan of immortal Elves or Elves that live for two thousand years, as that would fuck up a lot of my history; therefore my Elves have normal lifespans, like humans. 

 None of my players has ever particularly cared about that…probably because no one has ever campaigned long enough to live to old age anyway. No, in my case, Elves occupy the great forests of Karelia and Finland, discounting the lands along the coast of the Baltic, which are Swedish. Long ago the Swedes and the Elves of Ulthua fought a nasty war that the Swedes won, largely through their mastery of military tactics and sheer numbers…but they could not penetrate deep into the forest. The border runs more or less from Saimaa to south of modern Oulu, an Elven city called “Ulea.” That information is for the benefit of LOTFP, who is probably the only one who knows what I’m talking about. 

The other concentration of Elves in the Old World is on the very eastern edge of what we call Siberia, presently the territory of Chukot. I call it “Anduin,” stealing from Middle Earth; these Elves dwell more or less unmolested, surrounded on the south by an ogrish humanoid called a cavewight (I used to love Thomas Covenant), on the southwest by Flinds and on the west by Norkers. This outpost of Elvenkind is the last vestige of what was once a great Elvish prehistoric race, existing in the same period as Cro-Magnon man and establishing its first Paleolithic culture some two million years ago on the shores of Lake Baykal. 

Like caveman, cave Elves took a considerable time before developing into the recognizable Elf of the present…the first historically relevant action of this ancient tribe was the crossing of the land bridge into what is now North America some 18,000 years ago (7,000 years before the humans in our existence did so). Yes, that’s right. Instead of Native American Indians, I have Native American Elves. Elvish races occupied the whole of the New World, just as their human counterparts did.

When Columbus landed in 1492 on the shore of a small Caribbean island, it was a party of Elves that he met. It was these same Elves who, in and about 3500 B.C., moved by sea across the North Atlantic, exploring first Greenland and Iceland and finding both unsuitable. They would find themselves unable to establish themselves in the Fjords of Scandinavia on account of early tribes of Gnomes who dwelt in the mountains of northern Norway and Sweden; so the Elves moved further eastward, where they settled at last in the lowlands surrounding the White Sea and extending along the Barents Sea (I don’t bother to make up Elven names for these things, though no doubt there would be one. The world is complicated enough as it is without there being five names for everything). Those Elves in the White Sea Basin called the land “Ulthua”…they would later lose contact with their brethren to the west (Canada), but they would establish a highly developed civilization in and about 1100 B.C. around a city called “Colyan-Ar.” 

This city would thrive in the north of Europe at the time when human civilization was crumbling, with the disappearance of Mycenaean, Minoan and Hittite culture. It was hubris that would end the Colyan culture, along with the migration of gnoll tribes that crossed the Ural Mountains in huge numbers during the 9th century B.C. Lands that had been Elven, such as those along the upper Dvina and the Pechora rivers, were steadily lost over a period of four hundred years, as the central authority broke down. 

A civil war erupted circa 550 B.C., resulting in a stronger government based in the city of Aenaria (the location modern day Murmansk), much farther from the gnoll-lands. The solidarity of the new kingdom was established; a treaty with the gnomes to the south (along the Oka River) and with those of the west (northern Sweden) greatly increased the Elven forces. Halfling mercenaries (I feel no need whatsoever to limit the perceptions of my races to those of Tolkein) came from the lands around Lake Vanern and thus all fought in the “Last War.” 

The elves/gnomes/halflings won the Battle of Silver Lake (near Beloozero) in 501 B.C. Thereafter the power of the gnolls were broken…in centuries thereafter the gnolls became more preoccupied with the southern migrations of ogres and later haruchai, while the Elves of Ulthua contented themselves with the region of Lapland, Karelia and Kola Peninsula, no longer interested in empire building. There have been continued wars with the gnolls since that time, as they gnolls still dwell in Bjarmaland west of the Urals.

A number of the Halfling warriors settled after the Last War in the delta of the Dvina. None of these settlements would develop into large cities…2,000 years later, human explorers from England would arrive, settle among the halflings and establish trading towns (such as Archangel). And that is how history goes in my world. Some of it from actual reality, some completely invented. The mesh works rather well.

Equipment Notes

I’m not surprised that some of the numbers appearing on the equipment list would be disputed, nor that those numbers might reflect on my system as a whole, indicating that the system is obviously flawed.

I think I need to point out a few things, by way of clarification. The first would be that the equipment costs are not necessarily the results you might get from the system as you create it. Likely, your own design would be simpler and more tailored to your world: therefore, gold would be less expensive, say, along with animals, food or what have you.

In many cases my numbers are high because I am taking into account things which most may not consider. The apparently incredible cost of my horses and other livestock, for instance, is based on the cost required to feed these animals for upwards of three years. A horse MUST be three years old before it can be ridden into war, or else its back will be damaged; during that time it will eat 19 lbs. of food a day. I considered that 90% of the food it would consume would be in the field, and I still got a terrific number for the cost of the food…producing a very expensive horse. This price was further inflated by the fact that horses were not common in Eastern Europe during the period in which my world takes place.

You might find both the cost of the food and the availability of the horse to be different. This brings me to the second point about the equipment table shown:

If I were to show the table for another part of my world, say, central China, there would be very different numbers. That is because THIS equipment list, unlike every other equipment list a D&D player is likely to have seen, is geographical in nature. That means things are going to be markedly different in price depending on where you are on the planet. This is made more pronounced by the fact that my planet—Earth—is VASTLY larger than most D&D campaign maps. Compare the Greyhawk Map, the long axis of which is 170 hexes, with Earth, where the distance from Italy to Kirghizia (a mere 1/8 of the circumference at that latitude) is 180 hexes (20 miles per hex).

So certainly the price of equipment in Kronstadt, Transylvania, is in no way indicative of the price that would occur four thousand miles away.

My final point would be that the prices shown were not invented out of my head. In many cases I found the prices to be rather high, just as some readers have…I have had to consider both the table itself, and my own preconceptions, largely subject to thinking of the economic structure of the world as it is today, not as it was in the 17th century, when transportation was much much more difficult. It was not uncommon for a European merchant to lose two cargos for every one which made it back from the Far East…such things tend to inflate the price in ways we have no experience with today. Nor was it as easy to puddle metal, saw wood, process flour, cut stone or harvest grain as it is now. Animals had a tendency to die rather irrationally of disease.

We live in a remarkably cheap world with cheap services and cheap goods. It would be amiss to think that this in any way reflects against the cost of such things in a much less industrialized world.

I cannot blame people for leaping to conclusions about the prices shown. We have all been propagandized by poor research on the part of companies or individuals who have not considered any of the above, slapping prices and names together and calling it an equipment list. I have been through every list I could find over the last twenty years, and I have found both good and bad information in them.

Before leaping to too many quick conclusions about what you see, check your premises. You might find some of them are wrong.

Mine certainly have been in the past. Please, present rational arguments and I will recheck my premises as necessary. But mere scoffing, by saying, “jeez that sounds like too much!” Well, what good is that to me?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Equipment List

This is my last contribution for the day and my last contribution for trade tables, for the time being at least. I’ll go on answering questions as need be, but I’m going to move onto other things.

This is nothing special. It is the equipment list I’m working with at the moment; occasionally I add things to it, as the party requests. The list is broken up into the district of the city (or the shop, if you prefer) in which the item would be sold. I like to keep it this way, rather than alphabetically, because it enhanses the sense of the party having to actually search for the items.

I have considered making up rules for how many “shops” can be bought from in the space of a day, but I haven’t gotten that anal yet.

There are mistakes here; anything this big, there are bound to be mistakes. Some of them are programming errors, some are just simple translation problems. I would imagine most would be in the dimensions part of the list. Let me know about them and I'll make the necessary fixes.


For those who may be interested, later Equipment lists that are updates of this table appear throughout the months of June and July of 2011.


This last Saturday I missed a party, the second party I’ve missed this summer, because it was our night for D&D. This particular event was the birthday party for my best friend…though it was not her birthday. The actual birthday is Tuesday.

Most would think that I should have gone to the party, and they’d be right. Except that I have a commitment to the people I play D&D with, and my best friend, who does not play, understands that commitment. I am responsible for entertaining a small group of people who would be very disappointed if I were not there. As it was, the running was excellent, first rate, everybody had a hell of a good time and I still expect to see my friend on her birthday.

It is a bit annoying that the only practical night for playing D&D seems to be Saturday. For years, when I was going to University and when I was working odd shifts, I ran my world on Friday nights…which were, on the whole, more convenient. They are not convenient now—not for me, not for my players.

And for adults in general, for parties, Saturdays seem to be the only night when it is convenient for them.

Which means making a decision…just about every weekend.

If you figure you have two parents and two siblings, and eight friends, you have to expect that 13 weeks out of the year there’s going to be some kind of birthday party you are expected to attend. You might get lucky and have two of those parties on the same weekend, and luckier still if your friends happen to know each other; but the fact is most people have more than eight friends. That is, more than eight who would be unhappy if you didn’t appear for their party.

There are, in addition, about thirteen holidays in the year that will eat up other weekends: camping trips in the summer, ski trips in the winter, Christmas and New Years and Thanksgiving (not on a Thursday here in Canada). Before you’re even out of the gate, half the year’s Saturdays are shot.

If you have ANY other interest other than D&D, such as baseball, hockey, mountaineering, drinking…you can pretty much count on random non-birthday parties and social events that are going to cost you a Saturday…probably a fourth of your Saturdays throughout the year. And then there are weddings to attend.

Why can’t people play a serious, effective D&D campaign? Because playing 12 to 14 times a year doesn’t work. It just doesn’t.

In my youth I played with such a gang of nerds that we had no interest in doing anything on our weekends except to play D&D…or some other grognard standard which was around at the time: traveller, top secret, car wars, ogre…whatever. If one of us had a birthday, the birthday was scheduled around D&D, not the reverse; and if that wasn’t possible, we played D&D and had the birthday “party” at the same time. Sometimes a magic item (usually something of one-time use only) might turn up in the treasure if that were the case.

Those heady days vanished as we moved into our 20s. One player found God, another went to University in California, another got work with the Lottery in Vietnam…things fell apart. We got older. The ten-year campaign, begun in ’84, was gone and ended by ’95.

I played spottily here and there for the next ten years…there was life to live and things to do, and an absence of serious players: meaning, basically, an absence of nerds. Ordinary people are too preoccupied with things like parents and birthday parties to really get serious about the game.

The argument is usually that “we have lives.” But I can think of any number of other past-times where that isn’t remotely considered: Olympic athletes, for instance, who train 8-14 hours every day. Musicians who practice 4-6 hours every morning, or who get together to tour for weeks at a time. Or chess players who think of nothing after work except finding opponents.

The failing of D&D is that it has not, in 30 years, managed to establish in itself any of the credibility of these other past-times. The game is still seen as a joke—more and more of a joke, in fact, as it is continuously dumbed down for the buying public. Having a fanaticism about watching reality television or soap operas has more credibility.

For myself, I realize that from time to time I’m going to annoy someone by saying, “Nope, can’t do that. Playing D&D.” Or, “Yeah, that sounds good, but I’m playing D&D on the weekend and if I don’t have this table ready by that time, I’m fucked.”

It might make me a little less socially viable. On the other hand, I’m not scrambling around on Saturdays trying to think of something to do. I’m not sitting in a bar having the same conversation over the same beer with the same drunk friend I’ve known for ten years, both of us working the same job and having nothing new to talk about except what how the Pens are doing this season.

I’m setting up people to fight dragons. That makes me happy.


I admit that this whole system is a bitch to get across without being able to demonstrate in real life, in which I could use a blackboard. If anyone wants to get into contact with me by email, so that we might share chat information and speak directly over the internet, I am at

This is in answer to Carl, who was wondering about something I wrote in my post on Prices: “To this, I apply a travel modifier divided by 1% of the world’s total; Kronstadt’s comparative availability is 2.1% of the world’s total…”

Carl asks where does this 1% of the world’s total come from? He correctly judges that it is the total iron ore produced in one year. But he also wishes to know, why 1%?

Well, I confess that the 1% is a completely arbitrary number. It could as easily be 2% of the world’s total or 0.5% of the world’s total. Some number was needed by which it was possible to compare the relative availability of whatever product or service existed.

If you consider my post on Haulage, I drew a diagram and demonstrated the comparative availability of grain for Cities A, B and C. I did not (and this was a failiing on my part) explain how I used this to compare availability.

It is, simply, this: that one city will have more availability that another: and that if the price is set according to the total product of the world divided by its total worth, then that must in turn be adjusted according to the availability of that product depending on what city you are in.

In the example given, if City A has 4,500 tons of grain available, and City B has 6,750 tons of grain, you could say that the price of grain in City B is equal to the world price of grain that you have worked out according to the value of grain (so many references of grain compared with so many references of gold and so on), and that therefore the price of grain in City A is 6750/4500 times the price.

Or you could say that City A is equal to the world price of grain, and that the price of grain in 4500/6750 times the price.

Or you could set the world price of grain at whatever the total would be if 1% of the world’s production were available, and divide all the cities on your world against that standard. Which was what I chose to do.

Thus, yes, the travel modifier is taken from the haulage formula.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Player's Wrongs

Taking a break from the trading stuff for a moment, I’d like to address the things I’ve read about “player’s rights.”

Jeez. Is this ever a politician’s phrase.

How exactly did the playing of this game become about the use of this sort of language? I mean, I can understand the prats in the marketing departments for various gaming companies inventing this sort of tripe, but when the use of it becomes prevalent among the actual players…

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I don’t get together with my group for the purpose of raising the social consciousness of the neighborhood. The whole of my “player’s rights” include throwing empty cans at me during my runnings for the bad puns I make, making fun of my odd attempts at various accents for the Italians, Russians and Transylvanians they meet and generally treating my recent efforts to create a random system for the composition of road surfaces (17: cobblestone road, medium-sized red granite stones mixed with square blocks of slate) with contempt. I, in turn, belittle the crude artwork on their character sheets, their ability to roll dice successfully and the untimeliness of their arrival.

Yes, that’s right, we’re friends. We’re not lawyers.

The seriousness of my world does not extend to the point where I try to control their behavior beyond, “Will you guys shut the fuck up for three minutes?” My world is serious in its design. I don’t limit their use of language by demanding overmuch that they phrase every word as though it were spoken from Shakespeare, I don’t limit their use of lap tops in a session or their hopeless dependence on cell phones. I can’t imagine thinking that as a DM I somehow have the right to tell such-and-such he can’t step out of the room for a smoke while I’m computing treasure (though I will kill the fucker if he does it during combat), that he should wait for a “formally established break-period” to do so.

Yes, it’s annoying sometimes. But my player’s don’t get given “rights” by me…they have rights according to the society we live in.

One of the dumbest, most ridiculous ideas supported by the DMG was the predesignated caller, who was supposed to take everyone’s suggestions and then direct them towards the DM, as though we were not all sitting at the table together. This was supposed to overcome the chaos that can be a running, with everyone talking at once. It’s the sort of rule that only helped crush the overall excitement of the game, trying to hammer it into some kind of ritualized activity.

I think it is the responsibility of the DM to know his books well-enough that he can answer most questions right off the top of his head…and to be able to find the pertinent data quickly if he doesn’t know it. The incorporation of a lap-top into the game as I play it now is a god-send…I can quickly find obscure files with obscure rules and read them off, even print them off if necessary, within a couple of minutes. We have not yet begun to run LAN cables between people’s computers—mostly because not everyone has one yet—but we look forward to doing so. I would like it because I could rid myself of the map, for one thing…how excellent it would be to display combat electronically, having the ability to move people around so they were able to see where they were on their screens.

I’m often pressed with questions, and often questions that players could damn well look up themselves: How much experience do I need to be next level? How many proficiencies should I have? Which one is an eight-sided dice?

I could growl and snarl that the players ought to read the books, but I don’t. It takes seconds to answer, precious seconds that are much briefer than the ten minutes it takes them to find the information themselves (or for me to find it in the books for them, as often happens). And they don’t retain the information any more than they retain the page number where the information is found: they’re players.

Look, I’m the expert. I better be. They’re more interested in their new dice and character sheets.

Rights? I have no rights, they have no rights. I DM because I must…they play because I don’t bore them. And the dynamic is based on our mutual regard for one another, NOT on our recognition of each other as political entities.

I don’t control them because I CAN’T control them. And woe betide the DM who tries. They will find themselves running a campaign for no one.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008



We have numbers for where goods and services are, and we have a method for how to get translate that into numbers. And we have a system for the distribution of those articles. Any questions so far?

Let’s move on, and see about how to work out the price of an actual item. This is going to get fairly complicated, so get out a pen and paper and follow along. In this case, showing the work is de rigueur.

Thankfully, I don’t have to work through this process every time. I have it on excel, with each formula automatically translating the numbers; but I’ll go through it here, so it can be understood how its done. Sadly, my price table is behind my source table, the one I posted yesterday, as I spent last week adding France. Therefore, these numbers will not fit; that doesn’t matter. I’m not in the mood to update my price table at the moment, which will take three or four days…I’m working on other things. It is the SYSTEM that matters, not the numbers.

(You wouldn’t be using these numbers anyway—you’ll be using the numbers generated by your world).

The numbers apply to Kronstadt, where I believe I’ve mentioned the party is near. The importance of the town is that it occupies a gap in the Transylvanian Alps, as a gateway between the Great Hungarian Plain and the Black Sea.

Okay, disclaimers done. Let’s start with iron ore.

Total Iron references (at the time of the making of this table) are 319. Of this, Kronstadt imports 6.565. You’ll remember that this is the product of various market zones all feeding into Kronstadt depending on how far away they are.

The 6.565 is computed against total world production, and we find that Kronstadt has access to 1,622,076 stone (16 lb.) of iron ore (metal equivalent). This is worth 13,727 ounces gold; translating this into copper pieces per stone (64 c.p. per g.p., plus 2 grams gold content per g.p. which means 15.55 g.p./ounce of gold…remaining coin content is typically copper) gives us 8.42 c.p. per stone.

To this, I apply a travel modifier divided by 1% of the world’s total; Kronstadt’s comparative availability is 2.1% of the world’s total…that means the 8.42 c.p. is divided by 2.1, giving us a cost of 4.09 c.p. per stone of metal content for unprocessed iron ore.

Okay. Pig iron:

The smelting references for Kronstadt are those for smelting in general and for smelting specifically iron ore, which adds up to 4.743. (From this point on we ignore the world’s totals…those only apply to the raw materials). The base price for smelted iron (pig iron) equals (ore price)/4.743+(ore price). In other words, the greater the number of references available to Kronstadt, the lower the service cost of transforming it into pig iron; a reference of “1.0” would exactly double the cost.

Thus we have (4.09)/4.743+(4.09) = 5.0 c.p. per stone. However, it requires 5.67 stone of coal and 0.72 lbs of limestone added to the blast furnace to make one stone of pig iron. The cost two raw substances is also worked out, and in total they add 64.8 c.p. to the final cost…giving us a final total of 69.8 c.p. per stone of pig iron.

Wrought Iron:

So far, all we have is puddled metal…it is not even as far as it needs to be for it to be smithed. It has to be mixed with other metals…specifically manganese and nickel. There are hundreds of wrought iron combinations; I use one I found in the old encyclopedia, which is common enough for use here: 93% pig iron, 6% manganese and 1% nickel. 0.93 pounds of iron costs 4.1 c.p.; 0.06 lbs. of manganese is 1.2 c.p., and 0.01 lbs. nickel is 0.9 c.p. This is 6.1 c.p. total for the raw materials.

The availability at Kronstadt for metallurgy, or the making of alloys, is 1.806 references. Once again, 6.1/1.806+6.1 gives an adjusted price of 9.5 c.p. per pound of wrought iron. Now we can move on to smithing.


The availability of iron smithing in Kronstadt is quite high; Transylvania was famous for its metal working, which was part of the reason it was able to oppose the invasion of the Ottomans for so long. Even as Hungary fell in the 1500s, Transylvania continued as a “client-kingdom” of the Ottomans, enjoying soveriegnty in their own country in trade for the occasional force of men and the much needed metal goods it was able to provide the much, much larger empire.

Transylvania’s references for ironmongery is 3.72. Applying this to the price of wrought iron (9.5/3.72+9.5) gives us the quite reasonable price of 12.1 c.p. per pound.

This can now be translated into actual goods. Of course, the party could, if it wished, buy bars of wrought iron. At 9.5 c.p. per lb., a 20 lb. bar of iron would be a mere 170 c.p., or less than 3 g.p. Of course, if a first level party broke into a smithy and found a stack of 400 such bars, it would make a tidy little treasure. Moving it, on the other hand, might be interesting…but a smart little adventurer might figure that out, and just how high a level can a blacksmith be?

Well, I’d estimate fifth level. But if a thief snuck up behind him at just the right moment…

But I digress.

Lets take a very simple piece of ironmongery: a catapult ball. For a small catapult, my sources tell me this would weigh 57 lbs. All we need do is multiply the catapult ball’s weight against our known cost for ironmongery, giving us 689 c.p., or 11 g.p.

Of course, not all ironmongery is built equally. Some things are harder to fashion than others: for different things I assign a level of workmanship. I try to keep the numbers low…twice as hard, three times as hard and so on. An anvil might be 1.5 times more difficult to craft than a catapult ball; a door, being nothing more than a poured square with a hole for the handle, 1.75 times. A cauldron, which must be balanced, 2 times. A chain, 4 times. And so on.

Here is a list of the ironmongery items I’ve added to my equipment list:

This is not exhaustive, by any stretch of the imagination. I’m sure there are things missing. But to get the price for those things, I do not have to pull one out of my ass. I can judge its workmanship by other items on the table, determine its weight and there you are. Plus the comparison between the objects makes sense.

The above list, you'll also notice, contains no tools...that is the next tier, in which tools are more expensive than ordinary iron objects.

And if the party moves to a place where iron doesn’t happen to be common…say the Guinea Coast of Africa, the reference numbers go down and the costs go up. Or the reverse, say in Alsace-Lorraine in France—where every party ought to go to buy their weapons.

Does this help fill some of the holes in how my trade works?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Sources Table

This is the link to my Sources file [dead link], that I posted a portion of on Sunday. It seems to work.

However, you will need Vista to see it. I had been working in XL, but I moved to Vista about a year ago and, after some months of trial and annoyance, in which I needed to go into the system and turn off every FUCKING automatic feature, I now find myself quite comfortable with it. Mostly, for the excel file in question, I'm not limited in my number of columns to about three hundred. I now have three thousand at my disposal...and instead of 64,000 crummy rows, I have more than a million.

So yes, I like Vista.

I would post a file readable by XL, but I can no longer duplicate the file into XL.

If you can see the file, you may notice that there are some blocks which are oddly colored for apparently no reason. These are notes to myself. This is only the first step of the next program, which is to take all the references noted on the Sources table and apply them to the "Prices" table. That is, the table which automatically generates the prices of all the goods in question, providing the players with the equipment list, the only part of this process they ever see.

All of the numbers are references in the 1952 Colliers Encyclopedia I use for this. My back posts explain why (I'm too lazy to link it here, it was only a couple of weeks ago).

The file is not complete. Nor will it be complete any time soon. Great Britain, the Low Countries, Iberia, most of Africa, Ocean and the entire New World has not been added (though there are a few random references from other entries I've read...such as a country saying it imports timber from America). This makes it difficult for someone to "steal" it and publish it for themselves. Obviously, I would be hiring a lawyer if that were to happen.


Saturday, July 12, 2008

Commodities List Part II

Well, I ought to finish this list.


Alkali: bitter salt, sal ammoniac, soda ash
Black powder: Greek fire, fireworks
carbon black, catechu, henna, indigo, madder, murex, ocher, more
Medicinal plants and drugs: bromine, healing earth, iodine, nutgall, perilla seed, santonin, senna, tonic, more
Lamp oil
attar of roses, civet, lotus, musk, more
(including borax)
Sulphur (refined)
Wood alcohol

Yes, I know, not the list you were hoping for. These are the main chemicals produced in actual reality, which were not invented in the 20th century…so obviously none of the polymer group is included.

Most campaigns wouldn’t allow black powder; I accept that it can be pretty useful and that it could spoil a campaign. The best use I think comes from putting the black powder into a small, tied bag, upon which is then cast a fire trap spell. The bag is then tossed into the middle of a group of humanoids, using an audible glamer, causing the bag to make a definite clinking sound. Money! The humanoids open the bag, setting off the fire trap, which sets off the black powder…boom!

Remember, anything that can be used by the party can also be used by the DM.

Building materials & stoneware

earthenware, pottery
Faience & majolica
Ivory carving
Jade carving
Sculpture & statuary

Strictly speaking, ivory is not stoneware…but it has more in common with that than anything else, so I include it with this group.


Pig iron
(includes lapidary)
bells, cannon, statuary
Precision tools

Massive section, and the most complicated. That is because iron ore is made into pig iron which is made into ironmongery which is made into tools which is made into armor (yes, I consider armor a tool). Each step modifies the price, so that the price of armor is based on the availability of toolmakers, who depend on the availability of blacksmiths producing ironmongery, which depends on the availability of smelted iron, which depends on the availability of ore.

Good thing most of that is common.

A similar pathway has to be followed for copper ore smelted into brass alloy, smithed and then made into tools and precision tools. But I will be going more into all of this later.


barley, gram, maize, millet, oats, rice, rye, sorghum, teff, tucusso, wheat
coffee, chicory, harari
cottonseed, linseed, mustard seed, poppyseed, safflower seed, sesame, sunflower seed, tamarind seed
alfalfa, castor beans, chickpeas, clover, flowers, fodder, hay, lentils, peas (dry), soybeans, vetch

I decided to lump all the cereals together because, basically, most cultures just eat what is local. Later I did the same with fruits and vegetables. It’s true, one type might be worth more than another, but for the purposes of the game, it just made sense to assume that if the players were in Norway, the bread would be made of oats, and if they were in Ethiopia, it would be made of teff. This is especially true of fruits and vegetables, which do not transport well in a medieval setting.

Fruits & vegetables:

Citrus: citrons, grapefruit, lemons, limes, mandarin oranges, oranges, tangerines
Orchard fruits: apples, apricots, blackberries, cherries, currants, juniper berries, grapes, peaches, pears, plums, raspberries, strawberries, whortleberries
Tropical fruits: avocadoes, bananas, breadfruit, cantaloupes, dates, figs, guavas, loquats, mangoes, olives, papayas, pineapples, pomegranates

You can argue about whether or not a particular fruit is tropical or temperate (orchard), but I don’t really care. You organize them however it suits you.

Tubers: arrowroot, potatoes, sugarbeets, sweet potatoes, tapioca, taro root, yams
Vegetables: asparagus, beans, cabbages, cucumbers, eggplants, garlic, lichee nuts, lily roots, melons, mushrooms, onions, peas, peppers, radishes, rhubarb, tomatoes, turnips, watermelons

Treenuts: almonds, betel nuts, carobs, cashews, chestnuts, coconuts, filbert nuts, hazelnuts, palm nuts, pistachios, tung nuts, walnuts

Some of these groupings may seem strange to you. That is because the FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization) does not include potatoes with “vegetables,” yet does include watermelons, which are clearly fruits. That is because the organization of fruits, nuts and vegetables is dependent on the manner in which the crops are grown, NOT in their biological classification. Since I am using FAO statistics for my production numbers, I have simply adopted their methods.

Livestock & animal products:

buffalo, cows, water buffalo, yaks
chickens, fighting cocks, cormorants, ducks, geese, turkeys
(hippogriffs, that is)

Bear paws
(from pigs)
Wax: candle & beeswax, vegetable tallow, ozocerite (which is a mineral, but fits here)
Ostrich feathers
Sea Ivory
(walrus, narwhal, whale tooth)
Tortoise shell

Pretty straightforward. The list above doesn’t quite include it all, but other creatures, such as griffons, oliphants and so on can be extrapolated from the above group.

And yes, I include “slaves” as “livestock.” I’m really not hung up on the fearfulness that some seem to have about the prospect of slavery and culture. It had been going on for 10,000 years and I think the prospect of having slaves is as relevant to fantasy as the prospect of owning a twenty foot high oliphant.


This is a long list. It is as long as references I have found for each of these different creatures or products:

Fish: anchovies, barbel, bonito, bream, carp, catfish, cod, crabs, crayfish, cuttlefish, eels, flatfish, flounder, gudgeon, haddock, hake, halibut, herring, lamprey, lobster, lungen, mackerel, mullet, navagu, oyster, perch, pike, roach, salmon, salon, sardine, shark, sturgeon, tilapia, trout, tuna, vogla, whitefish
Fish fins
Sponges & sea slugs

Like fruits and vegetables, I would assume the culture would eat whatever fish was local. Quite a number of those listed are extraordinarily local.

As I said, I don’t have to adhere to these groupings. I could break them down, work out a specific trading model for any one of them and add it to my system.

The problem with that is that my system is huge as it is, and I’m not anxious to make it more complicated.

The file which has all these references listed is an excel file with 14 pages. It’s 4.3 megabytes in size. So while I would love to send a copy to people who requested one, that might be difficult through email (but not impossible).

I don’t really care about the copyright on this. It’s useless without further development (adding in those parts of the world not yet added) and without the table that follows it.

I just can’t reproduce it here, except in a lot of sections. To give you an idea, I’ll take part of one table, the one that lists off the trading cities in the “organized” part of my world. Please note that I have done very little to edit these. I am reproducing them as they appear on my computer…some of the figures are in red or pink, indicating that these are not finalized numbers:

This looks like a lot of work, but it wasn’t put together in a weekend. It was built up over a period of about seven years, since 2001. I have completely reorganized it twice. I never want to have to do that again.

You may also see that it is impossible to define geographically some of these areas. Some are historical, such as Terra Scania, part of Denmark in 1650. But other parts, such as the first one on the list, Altslok, do not exist on Earth.

This is because I made a decision years ago that in any part of the world where humans numbered less than 1 person per square mile, that area would be occupied by non-human races: orcs, goblins, dwarves, elves, what have you. Since my population figures depend on the spread of human beings in 1650, that means vast areas of central Russia and Turkestan are occupied by non-humans, particularly Siberia.

Altslok, for example, corresponds to four earth-territories. The first is an area of Kazakhstan formerly called East Kazakhstan (which I call Croft). The others are three parts of Siberia: Gorno-Altaysk (Roth); Khakassia (Khath) and Tuva (Tuvath). Together these are arranged along the Altai Mountains, comprising a Dwarven Kingdom: a civilized, densely populated island of civilization amid orcs to the west, haruchai to the south and east, and hobgoblins and bugbears to the north.

I remember what these territories are and where they are because I have another huge table, called “Cities”…from which I extrapolate the population figures noted here. You’ll see that Altslok only has two primary markets: Croftshelm and Bokoth. The products of both Roth and Croft are together gathered at Croftshelm before they are traded outwards; because war cannot go on always, I have a world where orcs trade with dwarves—although tensions are necessarily a part of such arrangements. The limits in trade are indicated by the “1” which appears beside both Croftshelm and Bokoth.

Not like Archangel or Astrakhan, just below. Both relatively small populations, but profoundly important trading cities.

I could spend a long time just talking about the kingdoms…and I will, but not now.

Mostly I want to end this by pointing out that the table is extensive. This should provide some evidence of that.

Don’t hesitate to ask questions. I can’t remember to explain everything.