Sunday, August 31, 2008


At last, I find myself working on D&D. It’s been a very dry three weeks.

Oh, I’m not doing any hard core problem solving. I have to build up to that. No, for the time being, I’m quite happy to work on map-making…the long struggling effort to map the earth in 20-mile hexes. I thought the most useful thing I could do here would be to outline the process.

This has been honed considerably in the last few years, and as a measure of where I’ll be five years from now, I think it will be useful to look back at this and see where I was. So unless you’re of a cartographic frame of mind, prepare to be bored.

The first step begins with the accumulation of data from the link on my blog, This lets me know the location of all the towns, cities and elevation points everywhere, including their latitude and longitude; elevation is of great importance to my maps. As far as I know, I’m the only person making a D&D map that includes them.

Presuming that the first hex of the world map has, as its center, the North Pole, the rest of the map is a series of concentric circles moving outwards; there are 310 and a half hexes between the Pole and the Equator, so that each concentric "ring" represents approximately 0.29 degrees of latitude (or 20 miles). Each ring has a designated number, so that "Ring 1" is the Pole and as one moves southward the ring numbers increase. Archangel is located on Ring 89; Moskva on Ring 118; Budapest on Ring 147 and so on. The only ring that does not have a number is the "Equator Ring," which I named for my own convenience. (The ring north of the equator is 310; the ring south of the equator is 311).

Each successive ring as one moves towards the equator has six more hexes than the previous ring. Thus, Ring 147 has 883 hexes; Ring 247 has 1,483 hexes; and the Equator Ring has 1,867 hexes.

Each hex ring is still 360 degrees in longitude, regardless of how many hexes it might include. In order to plot the position of each piece of data from fallingrain, I have to divide the various rings by the longitude in order to determine which ring accommodates which data. To put that another way:

Ring 155 is almost halfway between the pole and the equator. In latitude, it encompasses all points between 45.04 and 45.32 degrees N. In total it includes 931 hexes. I divide 360 by 931 and end up with a number equalling approximately 0.38 degrees of longitude per hex. Each of these 931 hexes are then listed on a BIG file I have on Excel, as is every ring. Thus, when I want to locate a particular settlement, such as the city of Brod in Slavonia (latitude 45.16 N; longitude 18.02 E), I find the corresponding hex and locate the city.

Now, if you can picture the circular hex map that is the northern hemisphere, then you know there are going to be six points on each ring where the map "shifts 60 degrees"…a hex is not a circle, and thus pressing a circle into a hex shape causes some distortion. This is a problem working with a sphere on a flat surface. I don’t worry very much about the distortion, since the travellers "on the ground" don’t recognize it when it occurs—although I will admit it is sometimes a bitch to draw coastlines so that they are both properly distorted AND accurate. Oh well.

I literally have tens of thousands of pieces of data regarding elevations, and these are sorted into their appropriate hexes. What generally happens is that each hex has a "maximum" elevation and a "minimum" elevation…often with dozens of points in between, which are catalogued but which don’t interest me much. The benefit of having the minimum elevation for each hex is that I can trace the general course of the rivers (this is not always so, a canyon will often need to be considered and the river directed correctly), particularly streams I do not have a map for because, well, most atlases concentrate on Europe and America and not much else. is a godsend for this sort of thing; it helps get the rivers in the right place.

I section the planet into squares that are 30 hexes by 35; this is a convenient map size for me to work on, making each file approximately 2-5 megabytes in size and not overwhelming the computer’s ram while I work on the map. Ultimately, I suppose I could eventually have a large enough computer that I would need only two maps, the north hemisphere and the south, but I’m not there at the moment.

So much for background stuff. Now I have the template. I make a small note on each hex denoting its elevation. The next step is to place the cities.

Which cities I "use" is determined by those recorded in the 1952 Collier’s Encyclopedia I’ve mentioned before. Virtually no list of cities you could choose to use would be complete; no atlas or encyclopedia gives a complete listing for every settlement worldwide, along with its population, so at some point one has to say, "I’ll use this list" and have done with it. The list from the encyclopedia is extensive; typically a region such as Germany will have about 300 settlements listed.

I research each city on the list through wikipedia (I used to use other, printed sources, but wikipedia is fucking brilliant) in order to determine if a) it was founded before 1650, eliminating any cities listed as being modern; b) who was in possession of the city in 1650, to establish my borders; c) what its name was in 1650; and d) how often the city has been razed, pillaged, burnt to the ground, destroyed by an earthquake and so on.

The older the city, the larger the percentage of its population as listed by the encyclopedia I include. Thus, if a city has a population listed as 10,000 and was founded in 1636, that will be a small village (100 people); if, on the other hand, the city was founded in 1200 BCE, that city’s population will be quite substantial (6,000). I have a system that takes into account the number of times the city was destroyed by invaders, fires and disasters, along with its age, that gives me its size.

This does not always correspond to actual earth estimates in 1650. Fuck it. It’s more important to me to have a consistent system than to rely on inconsistent data from 400 years ago.

It is fiddling, annoying work to place the cities just so on the map, and in which corner of the hex in question, but I’m crazy so I do it. Having the location of the cities enables me to take traces of coastlines from Expedia and distort them into shape, and to determine the correct courses of the rivers. These I then draw onto the map. Now and then, these too are not exactly as the earth, but it is my world and I’m not willing to spend the rest of my life making the rivers just so. Close enough is close enough.

Wherever a river passes through a hex, I use the minimum elevation to designate that hex. Hexes without rivers are designated by the maximum elevation. This enables me to get a better sense of the level of the land and helps determine the location of roads (which avoid higher elevations).

For marketing purposes (my trade table), I measure distances between cities by the number of hexes. An elevation change of 400 feet is equal to +1 additional hex to the distance. Thus, if a road were to climb 3200 feet to ascend a pass, which would be 8 additional hexes added onto the travel distance. Descending an elevation is precisely the same; it may seem easy to walk down hill, but moving a loaded wagon downhill is just as difficult as dragging it uphill. Thus, if the other side of the pass were just as much of a drop, moving the two linear hexes over the pass would be the equivalent of 18 hexes distant.

Such considerations help define the network of roads I have in my world. Since water hexes are equivalent to 1/3 of a land hex, it becomes quite clear how sea travel is more practical—and also in which parts of the world it is not. For example, which is shorter: the overland distance between the Persian Gulf to Palestine, or the distance completely around the Arabian Peninsula?

Well, I don’t know yet, as that is the section of the world that I’m mapping at the moment. History tells us the overland route was shorter. I have little doubt, as I discover just how fucking big Arabia is in 20-mile hexes, that this will be the case.

Using this system to tell me where the roads ought to be has been an awakening. I have been peering habitually at maps since I was seven years old, as I have always loved them. Yet it has only been in the last five years that I have deeply comprehended the three dimensional nature of regions such as Russia, Eastern Europe, Turkestan and Western Siberia. Making maps this way is very much like doing it by Braille; I have such a sense for the physical, as well as the cultural aspects (I do a lot of reading on wikipedia), that it is like actually travelling. Sometimes I get so deep into the place that I have to physically jerk my mind back into my own temporal space when I rise from my computer.

It’s very fulfilling.

P.S. I hope to be loading some maps onto the blog soon, so you can get a look at what this looks like. I am waiting on an updated copy of the program that will let me do that, as the present "convert to jpeg" format in my present program apparently has a bug.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


I would write something, but since my accident I've done pretty much no work on D&D. I am, in fact, finding it difficult to concentrate on the subject. And so, no postings here.

I've given some thought to what I wrote about monsters, and am aware of a monumental task ahead of me; one which I'm likely to put off for a few months and then take three years to finish. That's no big deal. I have a lot of projects that take that kind of time.

Somewhere along, I began to realize that a lot of the things I wanted to do with this game were going to take extraordinary amounts of time to accomplish. Rather than thinking I would sit down for a few weeks and dash off a wilderness events/encounter table, I've worked on and off such a thing since around 2003. The maps covering my world I've been working on since 2002. The general descriptive encyclopedia of my world I began in 1998. And my trade tables I began in 1987.

Those are not, by any accounts, my only projects. I continue and fail to produce a working treasure table (though I feel I may have something by this time next year). Rewriting and reworking the classes I use (only the same old eleven from the original player's handbook), along with the spells, has been a monumental effort, never seeming to end. The combat system I use took forever to is the only thing I think is truly complete. There are mass army combat rules, the ever-frustrating seige-engine combat system and endless random generation systems that never seem to measure up.

By all accounts, D&D is, for me, broken. The game is broken. It doesn't work. At best it limps along (pretty much like me at the moment) and I tolerate and make up for its multitude of flaws by glossing over them when the critical moment arrives. This game has to be played by the seat of your pants, gentle reader...because you work and fix and design and make and the fucking thing remains broken.

Which is why I love it, I suppose.

But not at the moment. At the moment, I'm not even writing into this blog. But I'll heal and I'll pick up again, inevitably.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Isaac Asimov wrote an excellent essay some decades ago about the size of living creatures which never left me. The thrust of the essay was this:

When things increase arithmetically in size (double, treble, quadruple and so on) they increase geometrically in volume. What that means is that if we start with a creature which is five inches tall, and we increase it in every dimension by double, making it ten inches tall, the newly enlarged creature will be eight times the weight of the original.

This is the reason there are no insects or crustaceans living on land which are more than six inches in length—and those that are that long are narrow, with lots of joints. Insects have an exoskeleton, an outside plating which the meat within the body must be attached to; massive insects have a much greater meat-to-exoskeleton ratio...and after a certain point, the exoskeleton simply cannot sustain the size of the insect against the earth’s gravity.

Crustaceans also have an exoskeleton; but it is aided by the fact that most crustaceans larger than a few inches across spend all of their adult lives under water, where the water can support their weight and not the exoskeleton. Even so, crustaceans have a size limit.

Human beings and all vertabrata have an “endo-skeleton,” meaning one that is built from inside. Rather than hanging our flesh from an outer shell, our systems hang our flesh from an inner framework of bones, tendons and cartilage. This skeleton also has a practical limitation. The larger the animal, the heavier and thicker the bones must be which support the animal as it moves over ground. The lithe, graceful movements of human beings could never be managed by a hill giant, twice its size. A hill giant, attempting to do a dismount from the uneven bars (assuming the uneven bars could be flexible and still able to support the weight of the giant) would smash both his ankles as he landed.

Most of the movement in D&D which is attributed to large creatures is flatly impossible. For an example, take this: if you are ever in a jeep being chased by a tyrannosaurus, stop. Hit the brakes, then jump the vehicle three feet to the left. The tyrannosaurus, weighing around 30 tons, will simply keep right on going. It simply could not stop. If it were able to turn its head to look at you—and its far more likely that it could not—it would unbalance itself, turn ass over teakettle and then flop several times over quite a lot of landscape, ending its tumble with a broken back and well on its way to an excruciating death. The tyrannosaurus is not designed to catch small, mobile creatures which would be unable to meet its energy requirements anyway. It needs to catch very large, meaty, dumb creatures like itself which are also unable to stop once momentum is built.

In short, for most massive creatures, the concept of battle involving pivots, counter-thrusts, lunges and retreats are simply fairy-tale in concept. Which is fine. I am more than good with hill giants able to do gymnastics, as long as it contributes to the overall dramatic of the game.

Which is why I am ever astounded that a hill giant, according to the monster manual, runs at the same speed as an ordinary human being. This seems to support the argument that large creatures must necessarily move slower than small creatures because of their bulk; an argument which I’ve just made and which, I think we can agree, gets in the way of the actual playability of the game.

It has always been obvious that the original speeds of all the creatures in the books amounted to little more than random dart throwing. Why are leopards, minotaurs, swimming nymphs, owlbears, shadows and fire elementals all judged to be moving at the same speed has men? And what exactly is the logic of the original estimate for how far this distance is?

The original rule, as I remember it, was that a 12” move indicated the number of feet that a creature could move underground in the space of a minute (round), and the number of yards a creature could move above ground. I could never understand why my ability to move was suddenly cut by one third simply because I was below ground surface. Because its black? Because there are corners? Arguably I should be able to run to the edge of a well lit chamber at the same pace as the outdoors, and in a straight line too.

In any event, 120 yards a minute is the startling rate of 2 yards a second; meaning that a 100-yard-dash should take me some 50 seconds to run, roughly the same time it takes for a well-trained college athlete to run the 400 meters. I myself, at 17, ran the 400 meters in a 1:03, and I wasn’t a serious athlete. At present, in my crippled condition, I’m sure I could manage a hundred yards in not much more than a minute...keeping in mind that I am on crutches and my surgery was only four days ago.

For a game based on combat, where in hell was Gygax’s brain while he was working this out? In Cuba for the weekend? Even the OD&D fanatics must have come up with something better on their own by now...for my group, we shortened the combat round to six seconds, did a few tests with fifty pound packs and settled on a base rate of 25’/6 seconds as the speed one could be expected to sustain in combat while completely unencumbered. Oh, that’s outdoors and in.

Even that doesn’t account for running. It works out to a mile every 21 minutes, which is still slow: but we long ago worked out a method for which by the second round, you could double your speed, triple it in the third round and quadruple it in the fourth...with rules for slowing down quite similar to 3rd edition. That would mean that your top speed, unencumbered, would allow you to run a mile in just over 5 minutes...not bad, since you’re an unhealthy, medically unfit individual living in the 17th century.

How many miles could you run before you had to quit? Well, it’s never come up. I’m sure something like 1 mile per constitution point above 8 might be a place to start, with checks for stupidity after you’d managed ten miles (all long distance runners are fundamentally stupid—I was when I did that).

The point is, once we dispense with all the inconveniences of physics and its limitations on the sizes of creatures, assuming that some special magical field enables tendons to be stronger and such, we must argue that a hill giant, being twice as tall, can run twice as fast as a human, right?

I’m prepared to say yes, but with a stipulation. While I’ll go so far as to say tendons can be made stronger by the influence of bizarre magical DNA, I’m not ready yet to argue that the laws governing momentum can be tossed out of a window. Ultimately, the giant can run twice as fast: but it should take him longer to build up speed from a position of rest and longer to reduce speed once he’s attained maximum. Which creates a problem. Does the giant require 4 rounds to reach maximum run, or 32 rounds (8 x 4 for a normal creature)?

Oh, fuck it. It’s a fantasy game. Let’s just admit that all the creatures in the monster manual need to have their speed almost every case, upwards!

The Unified Theory: HD = m + e

I haven’t tried out any of the ideas of the previous post, for though I’ve been thinking about them for some time, apparently it took a great deal of pain along with time and some percocet to clarify my thinking.

It seems strange to me that after 30 years I would remotely reconsider reshaping the basic starting hit points of not only the player characters, but of all the creatures in the Monster Manual. But I also admit that I have been looking for a unified theory that would not fundamentally change the concept of the game, as many of the ideas advanced later on have. I coughed for several minutes after reading the premise behind “surges”...anyone who thinks they can defend them AND hold their head up high needs a good slapping around.

Handing out hit points, or the potential for nearly bottomless damage, is an adventure in reducing the meaning of any competition. It is as if saying about soccer, a game known for low scoring, that what the game needs is for there to be a point every time someone’s foot touches the ball, and whenever the ball rolls more than twenty feet without interruption, or if the ball bounces twice before going in the net, or ten times points if the scorer hits it with his head, or twenty times points if the goalie touches it before it goes in, or five points to the goalie every time he makes a save. In short, points would very soon begin to mean NOTHING, as hit points now do in the vagaries of “surges” and other such nonsense.

So my impulse would not be to increase player hit points. But if it allows me to unify the irrational hit points handed out to levelled characters to the hit points handed out to creatures, I am all for it. Since mass is universal, all that is required is to work out a comparable mass for every creature, by body shape, species and so on.

I must pause and make a point about corporeal vs. non-corporeal creatures. It is all very well to work out the mass of a hill giant and assign it hit dice on that basis, but how does one assign hit dice on that basis to a wraith or a spectre, neither of which have any mass at all?

Aha. For this we must accept an ancient premise, that all such creatures are merely manifestations of their actual selves on their own planes of existence. While a wraith on earth has no mass, a wraith on the Negative Plane of Energy can be said to have a mass equal to whatever creature the wraith was before descending to that plane. Thus, if a wraith were fashioned from a hill giant, a creature human like and 12’ tall, the wraith would thus have the mass of a hill giant.

(The hill giant’s mass, incidentally, for a male, would be the same as a 6’ male of 175 lbs. multiplied by eight times, as it is twice as large in height, width and breadth...a total of 1,400 lbs. Divided by the human female of the last post, this is 48.46 hp on average, or rounded up to the nearest hit dice, 11)

The wraith, if an ordinary human on the prime material plane, would have only 1 hit die. But it could have more, if that ordinary human was an experienced 7th level fighter, with 7d10 hp of additional combat experience.

In other words, non-corporeal creatures could be of virtually any hit dice, with virtually any additional human abilities, just as a lich retains the human abilities of its mage predecessor. Why, then, shouldn’t a spectre potentially have aspects of the cleric it was in life, or the quasit have the characteristics of the monk whose soul has been twisted into that form, and so on? We thus eliminate party rules lawyers who know by heart the hit point totals of every monster in the book, while at the same time vastly expanding the complexity of design of monsters we already possess, without the need of creating new, cumbersome monster descriptions. The solution is not NEW monsters, but monster mash-ups, on a grand scale.

If we argue that the combat ability is NOT commensurate with the monster’s hit die, a constant and annoying circumstance of AD&D, but with the monster’s experience, we then have the dull, 11 hit dice hill giant that attacks as a zero-level, on the zero-level table. We also potentially have gnolls of 15th level, along with every other race and character class that you, as DM, care to admit. Dumb monsters such as bullettes, catoblepas, oliphants and so on, for all their size, would still hit only according to their experience, while brilliant creatures such as twentieth level gold dragons would have hit points and combat skills far more commensurate with their abilities (obviously, the breath weapon would have to cease being based upon the dragon’s total hit points, always a fairly weak proposal).

Two weeks ago I wrote a post bemoaning the availability of monsters. I feel that is solved now. Along with other aspects of the problem I have not begun to address yet. Such as MOVEMENT.

New Concepts in Hit Points

I have had the opportunity of late to think a great deal about hit points—specifically because a diving board causing 4-16 damage recently laid me up—or at least that was my first impression.

There has always been a great deal of controversy about what hit points ARE: obviously, abstract interpretations, but of WHAT, exactly? Actual damage caused by weapons, or merely a combination of exhaustion and mere chips taken off the character’s physique. The latter has produced a notion that the only actual “hit” is the last hit point taken off: the one that represents a severed limb or pierced bodily organ.

The DM’s Guide defines hit points as “The number of points of damage a creature can sustain before death (or optionally, coma), reflecting the character’s physical endurance, fighting experience, skill or luck.”

Well, I’m not a Gygaxian, so I have some problems with the above. First of all, why should “luck” have anything to do with what hit points are? The luck is obviously in the die: the player rolls a “7” on a d10 upon becoming a third level fighter instead of a “4.” That’s luck in determining how many hit points the character has, or the creature; once the number is generated, there’s luck involved in whether the character or creature is hit or for how much...but that luck has zip to do with the nature of hit points. It is like saying that the driving speed of a car reflects the presence of gas.

The next contention is “skill.” Hm. Which skill, exactly? Strength is added to damage done, and dexterity to the reduction of chance of damage being done, but neither indicates any change in the number of hit points. Constitution isn’t a skill (strictly speaking, it isn’t an ability either, but I’ll not quibble), it is an inherent nature. None of the weapon proficiencies nor combat proficiencies add to hit points, certainly not in AD&D. So, basically, was this word was pulled out of Gygax’s ass, because it sounded like there ought to be four things rather than three?

“Fighting experience.” I’ll buy the second half of the phrase...experience. Why fighting? If a mage never picks up a weapon, they still can rise to 20th level through the use of magic alone. So ditch the fighting argument. A mage who has never picked up a weapon knows how not to take damage, right?

What we have left is “physical endurance.” Well, this really is the constitution...putting that completely out of the running for character “skills.” But if the constitution merely adds hit points on top of what your character or the other creature already has, where do the original hit points actually come from?

Didn’t get that? I roll up a dwarf with 8 hit points, whose constitution is 16, which adds 2 to hit points.  Thus the dwarf’s hit points are 8+2 = 10. Where did the eight come from?

Not intelligence or wisdom, that’s for sure. The stupidest creatures imaginable have 80 or 100 hit points –purple worms—and those don’t come from “experience,” “skill” or “luck.” It is just a big, dumb, lumbering creature that flattens whatever it rolls on or eats.

Hm. Big...

My contention is that hit points for corporeal creatures (non-corporeal creatures are another matter, which I will get to in due time) comes from mass...which is how Gygax should have defined it years ago. My character’s mass of 175 lbs. of fighting weight will endure as much damage as it takes to rip it to pieces with a sword. That means the actual, physical damage represented by hit points are the first hit points the character receives on account of its race and physical size. Hit points added on later represent the character’s ability to avoid damage by expending the additional hit points they’ve earned through experience in exchange for the hit points they started with.

Why does any of this matter? It matters because I’m beginning to realize that the entire monster manual (along with its addendums) has its head up its ass because it fails to take into account mass in its calculations of hit dice, movement and particularly damage.

I know that there has been a change in the original three size classes: I can’t recall what they are; I’d have to look them up. I wasn’t very impressed...and I’m about to step past all of that. Instead of recording the size of the monster according to some ad hoc category, why don’t we just use the one that seems to work well for everyone else on earth...why don’t we just record its weight in kilos, or pounds if you like (I like using the old system for D&D, it reflects the age)?

Because the first place it falls down is in the demi-humans vs. humans.

ALL of the demi-humans are ridiculously small in stature, but equal to the humans in combat ability. Say what? Is this the “skill” that Gygax was referring to? Irrational racial abilities, based on a single book written by a writer who’s 1,800 page book includes about 20 actual pages of combat references? If that? (I haven’t counted). Why do elves have 1+1 hit dice while humans have only 1-6 hp...the same number as halflings, which are one-third their size? Why do dwarves, who are twice as massive as elves, who dig in the earth and spend their time in forges, have 1 hp less on average?

Why, it’s the elf cult, that’s why. Well, fuck the elf cult. If elves want more hit points, let’s have them beef up a little on the constitution. May I point out, if elves have so many hit points, why is it that the Player’s Handbook indicates you should subtract one constitution on becoming one? Hm? Shouldn’t an elven player character fighter automatically have more hit points than a human, dwarven or halfling fighter?

Let’s rearrange things and make them a little more orderly, shall we?

Let’s set an ordinary human female, 130 lbs., as 1 hit dice...or more specifically, an average of 4.5 hit points. This would make the lightest potential player, a halfling female, at fifty pounds, as having an average of 1.73 hp. I prefer to round up all my fractions in this case, giving the halfling female an average of 2, or 1-3 hit points as a base number. The heaviest character, a human male, at 175 lbs., would have an average of 6.05 hp, or 6.5, being a d12.

Now, doesn’t that fuck with your brain?

This does not mean that a thief would not still start with 1-4 hp, or a cleric with 1-8 and so on. It would only mean that the mimimum hit points the creature would have would be the base number, determined by their mass, and then added to that number the appropriate die roll for the class.

In other words, the first level human fighter would roll a d12 (mass), then a d10 (level) and then add his or her constitution bonus. If, like me, you give maximum hit points to start, you could give the level points as full...thus, d12+10+constitution.

The genius of this system is that it punishes each character individually. If a human character winds up being thin and weedy, weighing only 150 lbs., then the number is calculated against 130 to give the result. If an elf is determined out at 115 lbs., they will have MORE hit points because of their weight.

Of course, players will think that by gaining weight they will gain hit points...but they need to have it pointed out that their character’s weight is their fighting weight; that extra mass in the form of fat would be mere baggage, not an aid, and would only reduce their fighting ability.

Well, I’m lying on my back with nothing better to do, so I’ll send this off with my better half to get posted and I’ll start on the next piece.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


I broke the quad-tendon attaching the main quad to the patella...that's the very large tendon on the front of your thigh, making it possible for you bend your knee. I am doped, and back from the hospital only an hour ago. It is too difficult to write. I will explain everything in a few days.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Weird Posts

The appearance of some strange posts on this blog today was the result of something I'm doing on my other blog, Why is Alexis. I was not hacked. I mistakenly posted some posts on this blog. That has been repaired.

On my other blog, I am attempting fifty posts in a day. I don't know if any of them will be about D&D. There is a post about Panzerblitz here.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

About Encounters

Here is what I have to say about encounter tables. They don’t fucking work. You can spend weeks sorting out the monsters according to the climatic, vegetative or demographic region you want; you can assign them frequencies and number appearing; you can carefully construct the tables so you can roll a hundred sided or a thousand sided dice…but when you start rolling on that table because a party is stumbling through some forest, you can bet your ass that “wolf” is going to come up the dice every fucking time.

Fact is, you won’t like the results, they won’t fit into the campaign that day and you’ll find yourself rolling again and again on your carefully constructed table until you toss the piece-of-shit table out and just pick the monster you like.

This frustrates me endlessly. It has done so for the past thirty years. Whereas my world is intended to be a self-acting system, it just doesn’t work out that way when it comes to monsters and to this day I haven’t been able to fix it.

And oh, I’d like to.

I know that a great part of the problem is the relative number of monsters. There just aren’t enough. And there aren’t any new ones.

Oh, yes, I know, there are hundreds of “new” monsters in all the books that have been printed. So I am told. Except that they don’t seem very “new” to me.

I don’t need any new dogs, cats, golems, demons, dragons, jinxkins, humanoids (christ in a sidecar, tieflings?), jellies or plants that capture things with tentacles. These are not new monsters, these are the same old monsters with marginally different characteristics. They don’t add anything to the existing three-dimensional environment because most of them are too silly to a) be taken seriously; b) to be anything other than kill-the-party drones; or c) include any graspable dramatic quality not already present in the original tomes. Books like Monster Manual III are just long complicated descriptions of what are, effectively, “flail snails.”

I have read over them several times and I can’t see how their inclusion will help “fill up” the empty places in my world.

But perhaps you don’t understand what I mean by that (I haven’t really explained my problem yet).

When I take the profoundly usable original AD&D monster manual (where every monster actually makes sense) and add to it the Fiend Folio (about 50% useful) and a scattering of other monsters from other books, I get a total of about 800 useful, original monster types. Dividing this into vegetation (desert vs forest vs prairie), and further dividing this into climate (dry-hot from cold-rainy from cool arid and so on), then finally by season (winter vs. summer), I typically get from 5 to 60 monsters per region. Jungles and forests have the most types (with the exception of subterranean), but arctic/tundra regions have very, very few.

Thus, “wolf.”

I have, for the past year, given up on the idea of a die roll to randomly determine the appearance of any monster. I have been trying to think outside of the box, and this has led me to rethink monsters in many different ways. I have come up with a few conclusions, mostly about frequency and number appearing.

Any 20-mile hex, being about 313 sq.m. in area, would have to have a healthy number of every kind of monster present. In a wilderness forested area, there would have to be dozens of bears and hundreds of deer. Those would be earth numbers. To what degree would they be supplemented or replaced by the massive herbivores and carnivores that supposedly exist? If a hill giant is 8 times as massive as a human being, would 20 hill giants be more or less easy to locate than 160 people?

These are questions that I have been as yet unable to answer. If I set some total of hit dice as the base upon which I should gauge the population of a hex, then we’re looking at a hex allowing thousands of hit dice.

How is that?

Well, 150 acres of arable land will support 75 cattle, which, as every knows, have 1-4 HD (let’s call it 2 HD, for simplicity of use). There are 640 acres in a square mile, and 313 square miles in a 20 mile hex…that’s 640 / 150 * 313 * 75 * 2 (for hit dice) = 200,320 HD per hex.

Ah, but most land is NOT arable. And forests are very not arable, at least as far as humans go. But what about treants? What do they eat? If dead leaves, then a forest could feed an awful lot of treants. Still, we ought to limit the above number somehow…lets say that 5% of the land in a forest is practical for the feeding of the monsters therein. That leaves us with 10,016 HD per hex.

If we distribute this equally throughout a given encounter table, say the temperate table of the DMG (p. 186-7), where there is a 1% chance of encountering a hill giant, then we find we have 100 HD distributed towards the hill giant population—resulting in a total population of some 12 to 13 hill giants…in every hex.

Hm. Seems a little high for me. Perhaps you could adjust the “arability” of the land downwards some…to the point where every hex would have it’s prerequisite hill giant. That would be a total of 801 HD per hex…or approximately 0.4% of the forest actually being arable.

Which seems…low. Especially for somewhere that has such a reputation for being thick with growing things.

All right, so we lower the frequency of hill giants. To what, exactly? Because to be honest, I have no idea. And it wouldn’t matter anyway, because the problem is that a hill giant encounter is going to be a LOT more interesting than a wolf encounter, though wolves are clearly going to be more common in their occurrence (thus there is an 8% chance of encountering them on the DMG table referenced). But I know of no party who would be interested in going through 8 wolf encounters (a total of 32 wolves) before encountering one hill giant.

So, clearly, there’s nothing to be gained by following any system of logic. A useful system would have to be designed on the encounter’s “interest” quotient.

Which is where I’m stuck. I’ve thought about intelligence as a guideline, on the argument that the greater the intelligence the more desirous the monster would be in bugging or attacking the party…but I’m still waiting for the scales to fall from my eyes.

Friday, August 1, 2008

On Rock Throwing

Carl is making some fine arguments with his comments on my last point, and in some ways he’s right. I probably shouldn’t slam others for what they want to write on their blogs. I should be tolerant.

I guess where I fall down on the whole thing is in the words, “other practitioners”…because, chiefly, I’m questioning the whole premise that they ARE practitioners.

In those long off and sad days when I used to attend conventions, in the 80s, where most of the participants were the sort who were renting hotel rooms in the hopes that one of the “nerd babes” without a place to stay for the weekend might crash there…I did a lot of questioning about practioners. And it comes back to things I’ve said about a completely different lifestyle, to be found on a completely different blog of mine other than this one.

People put on a pretense of having an interest in something for a number of reasons: they are lonely and want company at any cost; they lack the ability to do more than manage a pretense; they are pure evil.

This is a bit of a jump: It may seem strange, but with the development of the internet, I went looking for D&D stuff and ran slam bang into websites designed wholly to keep information out of my reach. Everything was “official”…there were no peoples actually sharing useful information. You could find groups chatting on bulletin boards, but it was pretty much like those sad nerdy groups sitting around and not playing games at conventions. The people we looked at back then and thought, “potential suckers designed by god for the purpose of buying our shit.”

So I stopped looking for D&D stuff on-line. I just stopped searching for it. For seven years.

When I decided I’d stop putting my D&D stuff on the blog I was writing, where no one wanted to read it, I thought I’d better find out if there were any D&D blogs out there…because if you want to get read, you have to comment on other blogs. That is how readers online find you.

And what I found…appalled me. Until I found “Lamentations of the Flame Princess,” I was disgusted beyond all reason. Before LOTFP, I could not find one individual who was not busily masturbating themselves over the eventual appearance of 4e (this was three months ago)…and I admit, it left a sour taste in my mouth. And the last few rants I have posted have reflected that.

Carl is right when he says the solution is not to flame but to produce solid work. But he’s wrong in that it is perfectly possible to do both. I’m prolific enough to handle that.

I think the reason why I feel I must is that there have to be thousands (I hope there are thousands) of potential readers of D&D blogs out there who, like me, have not found LOTFP or even this blog, who are saddened and angry and greatly disturbed by the unmitigated shit pile that represents the RPG blogosphere. Where are these people to go? What are they to think? What is to stop them from failing to type “D” “&” “D” into a search engine for seven years?

Well, me, hopefully. LOTFP, RPG Corner and possibly Carl if he ever gets his Three Hams Inn up and running. It is awfully important that that poor lost soul out there knows that there’s more to the net that what they ARE likely to find.

Incidentally, it was pointed out to me yesterday that there IS another group that reflects the sentiments of the blogs I was trashing with my last post. Another group focused inanely on the petty details of who published or printed or drew or fixed their trademark.

That group would be the “collectors.”

People pathetically bent on the collection of St. Anne Spoons and Computer Parts from the 1960s, spittoons and old car manifolds and beer bottles from Georgia in the 1930s. People for whom “to have” is far more important than the utter uselessness of the articles they have travelled over half the country to obtain. People who never get tired of talking and talking about which family member hand built which chair in Waterbury Connecticut during the civil war.

Could it be that all these people buying miniatures and modules and books have a completely different motivation? That it is more important to HAVE than to USE?

I think so.