Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Dachau Market (Updated)

I tell you, it is easier to generate these tables than it is to format them for blogspot.

Below you will find the present list of prices for the city of Dachau, wherein my online campaign was running. When decided which city to choose for producing numbers for equipment, that seemed the natural choice. Now that the creative portion of my book is behind me, I'll be wanting to get my online campaign running again - I figure on a Sunday somewhere on or before the 20th of October.

Like before, I expect a wave of people writing to tell me how ridiculous some of these prices are. I would encourage those people to a) check their premises; and b) recognize that none of these numbers were 'invented' by yours truly, but were in fact generated after considerable research and designed to reflect prices as they would occur in the 17th century. The prices are not reflective of the present state of the Industrial Revolution, they are not beholden in any way to any RPG system in existence and they are not meant to 'fit' the pretense of any campaign, including my own. Moreover, what difference does it make what the price is? If the party finds it hard to avoid the thing, or feels they can live without it at that price, then that works rather well, doesn't it? Is it really necessary to make everything automatically convenient for the party?

Conversely, if something is just too cheap, you might remember that prices vary in my world, as I demonstrated on the last post. You might also consider that the cheapness of a thing is not always bad, as it enables the poor people a little more comfort in their drab and miserable lives.

That said, I am eager and happy to answer any honest, interested questions which might occur to the gentle reader, and to accept criticisms that don't begin with opinions about the price. I do make mistakes. There will be errors I've made on this table. I'm quite flawed as a human being. Please point them out so I may fix them. The more we both know, the better.


Monday, September 28, 2009

Insanity's Fruit

I have waited until I’ve had all my data prepared before writing this post, and I warn you: it is going to be a long one. It shall be full of statistics, so feel free to duck out now while the going’s good.

I have finished what I call my ‘pricing table’; this is the calculation for each individual piece of equipment that determines the cost. Each item has a substance from which it is made and all manufactures are modified according to the craftsmanship involved. For example, rock salt is refined, and that refining adds to its cost.

I’ve prepared a series of tables which will enable the gentle reader to compare prices in different parts of my world for selected items. I’ve chosen 21 trading locations. It took me about half an hour to input all the locations and calculate the raw data – which leaves me breathless. I never had it so good. Used to be, calculating a new city was an immense headache.

I should take a moment and give the list of cities, and a quick explanation for those which may seem unfamiliar – due to their location and my insistence on using their 17th century designation. And so, beginning in Germany and moving eastward:

Cologne is located on the Rhine in Western Germany; this is as far west as I’ve mapped so far – I don’t intend to add Italy and France for another year, as it is a huge task (many cities, many roads), so Cologne represents for now the one end of the earth.

Nuremberg was a vastly successful trading city throughout the Middle Ages until the opening of India to western Europe. It links the Rhine and Danube valleys, and Venice with the North and Baltic seas. More or less the center of Europe.

Copenhagen in Denmark is an important link between the Baltic Sea and the Atlantic. Without question it is the best connected city in northern Europe – explaining why the Danes were very successful throughout the late Middle Ages.

Ragusa, modern Dubrovnik, is located on the Adriatic Sea in modern Croatia (Dalmatian coast). It long competed with Venice. I can’t include Venice in this list because, as I’ve said, I haven’t added Italy.

Beograd, modern Belgrade, is the capital of Serbia and the Balkan center of the Ottoman Empire’s European territories. It’s location on the Danube River makes it an important trading link.

Krakow is found in southern Poland. Historically it was a larger, more cultured city than Warsaw; it is at the navigable head of the Vistula River, and thus connected the Carpathian mountains to the south with the Baltic Sea to the north.

Archangel, modern Arkhangelsk, is on the White Sea on the north coast of Russia. It is the most northern city I’m including, but not the most northern trading city in my world. That would be Dik’don, in Siberia.

Novgorod was once the gateway to Russia. It declined as influences on Russia from the east and south strengthened Moscow. It still is on the trade route from the Baltic to central Russia.

Kazan is found in central Russia, about 240 mi. east of Moskva (Moscow), on the Volga River. It was a highly successful trading city on the central trade route through the heart of Russia, on the Volga to the Kama River, and thence to the Ural Mountains and Siberia.

Kiyev is located on the Dnieper River, straddling the trade route between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea; below Kiyev, the Dnieper became impassable to large ships, so that at Kiyev products were loaded onto wagons and dragged to the Black Sea shore (this is why the south Ukraine was historically a backward region – no practical water routes).

Constantinople, modern Istanbul, is the center of the trading world; it straddles the Black Sea and the Mediterranean basin, and as such as access to Russia, central Europe, Africa and the Mid-East.

Rhodes, on the southeast corner of the Aegean sea, on the route from Europe to both Africa and the Mid-East. I add it here to allow the gentle reader to gauge the value of products as they are shipped from Constantinople to Alexandria (where Rhodes costs more than both, goods come from alternate directions).

Alexandria, probably the most familiar city on the list, historically. At the mouth of the Nile River, the gateway to Africa and one of the largest export markets in the World.

Edessa, modern Sanliurfa in eastern Turkey, is an very ancient city, more than 10,000 years old; it is on ancient trade routes between the Mediterranean and Iran, being on one of the “silk routes” to Europe. As my world is based on the 17th century and not the 14th, the silk routes are past – silk is common in Europe (though still expensive), aided in its making by druidic knowledge.

Astrakhan is on the mouth of the Volga river where it enters the Caspian Sea. It has long been one of the world’s great trading cities, as it is Russia’s gateway to Iran and the Middle East.

Esfahan, or Isfahan, is on the high plateau in central Iran. Once it was on major trade routes with the east, but its day has past; by the 17th century it was a royal center and the destination of many trade routes from Arabia, Turkey and Turkestan.

Crater, modern Aden, is an old city in the state of Yemen, on the far southern edge of the Arabian Peninsula; it’s hinterland is a region called “Arabia Felix”, or lucky Arabia, as it is a comparatively well-watered, fertile land. Crater has good access to Africa, Egypt and India.

Ormus, or Hormuz, the link between the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf. While a great trading city, it suffers from a lack of industry – most of the goods which made Hormuz rich were unusual luxury items, such as coral, pearls, indigo and the like.

Sibir, modern Omsk, in Siberia about 600 miles east of the Ural Mountains. Sibir is located on the Irtysh River from China, and was integral to the route between China and Moskva.

Lahore, in the Punjab of modern Pakistan, the southeast edge of my world (India, just beyond, has been sketched out but not completed). Very high population, but comparatively isolated in relation to the rest of the cities on the list – and therefore high prices. Once India is added, I expect many of the raw materials prices to fall.

Hodzhent, modern Khujand in northern Tadzhikistan, is probably the most obscure city on the list. It is located on the Syr Darya river between lower Turkestan and the Fergana Valley, a very fertile plain below the Pamirs mountains on the border between what was once Soviet Russia and Sinkiang (Xinjiang), in China. This is truly the Eastern end of my world at the moment – which explains the generally high prices which occur here.

I should also emphasize the pricing code for the tables which are soon to follow. 1 g.p. is equal to 16 s.p., and 1 s.p. is equal to 12 c.p.. Thus, there are 192 c.p. per g.p.

As it happens, I noticed a certain pattern running through all the material. Whereas the rarity of the raw material does have an effect on the value, as well as the rarity of the craftsmanship involved, the real influence on the general table is the distance between localities. For example, if we consider an area where sheep are common, and therefore wool, we might expect that the price of wool clothing might be low.

But if that wool clothing is produced in Europe, where the number of establishments producing that clothing are very close to one another, the price is considerably lower than in, say, Turkestan, where density of manufacture is very low. There may be many sheep in Turkestan, and much wool production, but each trading city is effectively an isolated universe, up to 20 days apart. There is no competition between them, and therefore the price is high:

Considering those places where travel times are greatest - Hodzhent, Esfahan, Sibir, and Lahore - the prices are high even if wool is cheap. Note that in these locations most clothing is self made, and therefore virtually the entire population would wear homespun clothing made from sheep they themselves owned. The table is meant to reflect that, rather than simply assuming that because there's a lot of wool the clothing would be cheap also. Much wool; few tailors.

Note also that the lowest price is found in Copenhagen, Constantinople and Ragusa - trading ports placed where shipping distances are at a minimum. Many, many tailors.

Compare this with another woolen product:

Here we find many similarities. Prices are still extravagant in the eastern cities; but much lower for Esfahan and Lahore than for Sibir or Hodzhent. Although Esfahan and Lahore are carpet making centers, the price remains high because they are the only carpet makers for hundreds of miles in every direction.

There is one weakness to the table, here, and that is we are speaking of two kinds of carpets. Those from the east are much more extravagant from the common types made in the west (which are much lower priced). This is because I haven't made a designation between the two types, which would involve some additional calculations on my part. The division can be made (and probably will be, eventually), so that the player will be able to choose between "western" and "eastern" carpets ... but honestly, there are so many examples of this type of division that I'm not ready to make them all. I add this to show that changes can still be made to the table to improve it (revising is never done).

At any rate, if you just want any carpet to cover your floor, they're definitely cheaper in Europe, where industry is in high gear. Note, however, the price in Constantinople - Turkey is carpet central.

Here is something more fundamental to the overall system. You will notice at once that there is less range in the prices, as land is somewhat available everywhere. It is least available in the far north (Archangel, Sibir), where much of the land is unworkable tundra, in the desert (Esfahan, Edessa, Ormus) or in the high mountains (Hodzhent) or where population is very high (Lahore).

The cheapest land is found in those river valleys or coastlines where there is much fertility and a relatively low population: Beograd, Ragusa, Constantinople and Copenhagen. Nuremberg and Cologne are comparatively more densely settled than Eastern Europe. And the considerable fertility of the Nile delta is the reason for Alexandria's low price, despite the obviously dense population.

Again, there is always the influence of many nearby localities with land to sell; Lahore's proximity as the only market in its area (most of Asia is very homogeneous) helps keep the price high.

From this you can see the price of grain corresponds to the price of land. Tilled land is calculated from the local value of grain. Remember as you look over the table than 1 g.p. = 16 s.p., so that the price for a sack of grain in Esfahan and Hodzhent is 32 s.p.

Let's compare a few other items of produce:

Excellent Kiyev, land of borsch. It's nice when a table fits with one's personal bias. I don't manipulate these tables - in fact, I don't mind if the numbers fit with my perception or not, as long as the overall system is consistent. But it's nice when the numbers do match. Here the prices are low throughout Eastern Europe, and Denmark too, where beet sugar is made in preference to beets used as a staple.

Naturally the price is high in those places that don't grow beets - much higher in Lahore than in Sibir or Hodzhent. Edessa, Crater, Ormus and Esfahan represent the steady eastward distribution of said beets, and their increased price (though why anyone would want to eat foreign beets when they did not have to, I can't guess).

I neglected to put on this table that a bale is 364 lb., which helps explain the high prices. For once, Lahore has the jump on the world market - the Indus River valley in Pakistan is a center for the world production of cotton. Egypt, also - Alexandria having the lowest price here (and probably for any trade city in my world, I would guess). Note the high prices in Cologne, Nuremberg, Copenhagen and Novgorod ... all places which are far from production.

The low range in prices is due to there being a great variety of source points ... more than 200 in my world. This tends to 'even out' the value of products, so that they change little from place to place, often imperceptibly for the players as they steadily make their way. Often prices don't change, not as they appear to here. These are cities thousands of miles apart. Most players won't recognize the changes unless they travel great distances, and even then they may not be keeping notes.

Compare the above table with one where there the whole product comes from very few sources:

Clearly the majority of caviar originates at the mouth of the Volga, where the Caspian sturgeon spawns. Other caviar comes from the south end of the Caspian, and a small amount from Berat in Albania.

Astrakhan, you'll remember, is at the mouth of the Volga. If a party wants to buy a portion of caviar in Astrakhan and drag it to Lahore to sell it at a fabulous profit (12069%), I am all for it. Caviar is notoriously difficult to keep fresh, however - and the journey would not be a stroll. As well, though cheap, even caviar is in comparatively low supply. Unless the party were to go seek their own from the marshes of the Volga mouth, they would probably have trouble obtaining more than 400 oz. from the local market.

The Ragusa price reflects its proximity to Albanian caviar, while Kazan and Constantinople are relatively the closest trading cities to Astrakhan.

Lapis is another commodity with a low number of sources - this time centered in Afghanistan. Thus, both Hodzhent and Lahore are nearby the source. As lapis is a gemstone, it tends to retain its value over great distances ... so that though it is less pricy in the east, it has a relatively consistent price among the cities in Europe (most of which can be considered to be relatively the same distance from Afghanistan for trade purposes).

Obviously, a trading city where lapis was mined, such as Bactra in northern Afghanistan, would have a lower price than any shown here.

Let's look at another gemstone:

Here is an example of a luxury good from Ormus. Most gems do come from far Asia, Africa or South America. Cat's eye occurs in a number of places, in Balkan Europe, Greece, Arabia and elsewhere. Note the price in Rhodes and Crater.

Now, another bulk commodity:

Here we have a similar situation to the price of cotton, except that the focus has been shifted from south to north ... with one difference. Timber grows as far south as almost Kiyev, which is as I've said at the navigable downstream end of the Dnieper River. Beograd has the benefit of the Danube (which is also a wooded valley), while Copenhagen and Constantinople get timber from everywhere (thus, the lowest price). Many of the northern cities, where wood ought to be cheap, are hamstrung by their isolation.

Historically, Denmark was central to the timber trade from which England and France built their navies. Keep in mind that these numbers do not represent the possible extremes in price - in fact, I don't know what those extremes are. The calculations are too complex; unless I did them individually for every five hundred existing cities, I couldn't know. Granted, it only takes me sixty seconds per city, but I don't care to spend 8 and a half hours doing only that.

Let's consider a few other products made from timber:

This is something really expensive.

This would be a massive ship, almost four times the size of the Mayflower - so, obviously, not the sort of ship most players would buy. For those places where the cost is irrationally high, obviously the markets are far inland, where the ship could not exist. Just as obviously, the cost can be ignored on an equipment list.

Keep in mind that the overall system is not based on capitalism, but mercantalism. While supply is relevant, demand is not computed - it is presumed that if the player doesn't buy, then the demand isn't high enough. Sorry if that disappoints some people ... it is the only manageable system I could design.

This is a time in history when a mortgage is possible. Thus, in exchange for collateral (not the ship itself), a 20% downpayment on a ship will enable a party member to obtain the vessel - with a fairly safe expectation that the mortgage will be recouped by the bank. The ship (description, with glyphs) would be registered with ports from the Baltic to the Mediterranean, the Atlantic and even the Indian Ocean. Anywhere, in fact, that shipbuilding was carried out. If the party wants to ever have their ship repaired, they will pay their mortgage.

A smart party would travel to ensure their ship was built in Ragusa or Copenhagen - obviously. As the Caspian is not connected to the rest of the world, Kazan would be best - the Volga is large enough to allow such a ship to navigate to the sea.

While Ormus seems very expensive for a seaport, the price is based on European vessels. The cost of a dhow is somewhat less. It should also be remembered that virtually every culture other than European gets by with much, much smaller ships.

Carts, being much smaller than ships, fit the European = cheap motif very well. Here we have a good example in Archangel of the wood being inexpensive where it comes to a local industry ... a cart made in Archangel, for the purpose of hauling goods into the heart of Russia, is very cheap. Kazan, even better, takes great advantage of its wooded hinterland. Astrakhan, alternately, has an open steppe for hinterland, and the cost is greater. Markets in the Arabia and Persia suffer from a lack of wood and expertise.

Then there's this product:

Here is a most interesting table, defining the comparable distance to centers of learning. Constantinople beats them all out, of course. Rhodes, Alexandria, Ragusa and Beograd all take advantage of the Eastern thinking tradition. In the west, Cologne is part of the German printing industry - Nuremberg and Copenhagen less so.

Most of Europe does fairly well: Krakow, Kiyev and Kazan demonstrate that. Astrakhan begins to suffer from a dearth of books, whereas Persia and Arabia truly suffer. Historically, many Persian writers of Medieval tradition did not do their writing at home.

It occurs to me that I haven't done any processed food:

Couldn't forget this table. If it seems strange that Beograd, and not Germany, has the lowest price for beer on this table, I can only guess it is because Munich and Heidelberg are not on this list. Both Beograd and Copenhagen have big breweries inside the city limits - Cologne, an intellectual town, has only a few minor ones, and that's reflected in the cost.

Now you know why you associate cows with Denmark. The price is further influenced by the dominance of dairy farming in Holstein and southern Sweden. But the price remains fairly low across the board; again, dairying is a well dispersed industry. Only in those desert areas of Persia and Arabia is it expensive - and note the low price in Arabia Felix (Crater).

The Lahore price is, again, influenced by the absence of India. That should drop also.

Compare with the another product from a cow:

These tables should be starting to look familiar. You just can't overcome the dominance in industry that Europe has over the rest of the world. It helps to remember that these prices are relative. Leather armor might be cheaper in Beograd, but armies from Serbia are not likely to threaten Turkestan in the 17th century (a circumstance that would change in centuries to come). Thus, the price may be very expensive in Hodzhent, but that also increases the likelihood that your enemy isn't wearing any.

Plus, leather simply takes on a greater importance, especially when you compare these prices:

Obviously, no one is going to be wearing chain mail in Turkestan, Persia and Arabia. But no one did, not historically. The price of founded iron was too great to waste on such things, and it was too hot.

The dense European supply of armorer's guarantees a lower price, so that if you do want to take a gift to the Sultan of Qandahar, you know what. This set of lists might actually give you a number of ideas.

I'm pretty much done now, and a bit played out by all of this. I hope it has been an eye-opener. I'm going to work towards publishing an entire, updated list of my equipment table tomorrow. It will have to be a number of images, as blogspot can't print a large pic.

As a closer, I leave you with this last table, depicting the value you could expect to obtain if you found a mother-lode mine. Draw your own conclusions.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Daughters, DMs & Henchmen

For those who might be able to read between the lines, I have a daughter. She turns 21 years of age tomorrow, Sep 26. She is quite happy about it.

Because I have been playing D&D so long, she grew up in a household where it was played every weekend by both her parents. I played as serious a game in those days as I do now, and I had a firm belief (still have) that the game really was not for children. This is not because I feel it is inappropriate, or that it damages minds ... I don’t believe any of that nonsense when it comes to children. I don’t believe in censorship of ideas.

My rejection of the notion of D&D for tots instead derives from my strong belief that the game requires a considerable amount of experience and knowledge in order to be played properly ... and that early play will only incorporate bad habits – such as the sort of habitual simplification which becomes a kind of crutch for some players.

I feel vindicated in this belief, and I will explain why.

While I did not sit my daughter and her friends down to play when she was very young, I did discuss the game whenever she asked questions. Any questions she asked I did my best to give her the full answer, even if this took considerable explanation. My daughter was used to that from me, just as you are used to reading it on this blog. Thus, my daughter grew up comprehending the game, although she did not play it. This may seem strange to some, but she did not resent this. There are many things which, as a child, we learn are the province of adults ... and as long as we are given the privilege of these provinces once becoming adults, we recognize there is a right order to things.

There was never any question that my daughter would play someday. The someday I set was her eleventh birthday.

I did not know, when I was running every Friday night, that my daughter was sneaking forth from her room to lie very quietly in the laundry nook near the dining room, in order to listen to her mother and I, plus our friends, go through the campaign. My daughter did not tell me about this until about three years ago. According to her, she would listen for hours. This would mean, of course, that she heard all the roleplay, all the hacking and killing, all the squabbles over treasure, all the swearing and catcalling and pissing contests invariably going on among players – a complete education, indeed. Note please that it was also a voluntary one. She could have stopped listening whenever she chose. She certainly knew that any sound that gave her away would have resulted in her immediate return to her bedroom, and an increase in vigilance on our part. She was a most capable thief in that regard.

As it happened, before her eleventh birthday, my daughter’s mother had a medical condition which would destroy the family unit we once possessed. To obtain the care she needed, mother and daughter were forced to live with her parents – this is a long story and not a happy one; I have outlined parts of it on my other blog and don’t wish to do so here. As it happened, however, my daughter and I did not live together afterwards. We remained, and remain, extremely close ... which I shall also further describe. But we’ll keep things chronological for the moment.

Because I was not there, and because for some years after ’97 I did not run any campaign (I half-heartedly continued to work on D&D), my daughter did not learn to play by me. She learned instead to play among her peers, just as I did. A bit earlier than me, as she learned in Junior High School ... but the game did not exist in my part of the world when I was in J.H.S., so I can’t be blamed. My daughter learned many things – she began with 3rd Edition, for that was what was popular. Then she played 2nd Edition for a year with some resolute players, by the end of which she begged me to introduce her to 1st Edition. She brought some players, to which were added other players, which today amounts to the campaign I’m running off-line.

From what I hear from her, and the various connections she has made apart from me (she’s been to conventions in the past ten years), the youthful generation (her and those younger than her) craves OD&D, in any form prior to the introduction of 2nd Edition. Craves to the point of frustrated desperation. It is the older generation, the one between her and I, that loves 3rd Edition ... a system which, my daughter tells me, her generation spits on. And 4E ... well, 4E is a belly laugh.

Anecdotal as that is, I find it reassuring.

Before I can move onto the next part of this narrative, I find I have to explain something about my world. I went and searched my blog and am stupefied to discover that I have never said anything about my henchman system. This seems a glaring error.

For some years when I first played I could not help sympathizing with players who were forced to play a two-year-campaign as a single class ... a situation which no doubt encourages rules for the acquisition of skills and all the evils that come with those. In and around 1985, I conceived of a system which I still play. It is quite simple.

Upon achieving 5th level, a character’s natural power and confidence encourages some local noob first level in the first population centre encountered to immediately wish to devote their life to the player character in question. This is done by having the player roll up the henchman, as a 1st level, and to choose the henchman’s class and interests, as another character for the player. The henchman is considered to be absolutely fanatic in terms of wanting to serve the principle character.

This also happens as the original character reaches 7th level, and 9th level, and every two levels thereafter.

Such henchmen receive half experience from combat. They are not allowed to obtain more than half the experience of the main character from treasure gained; thus, if the main character takes 400 g.p. from the chest, and tosses the 230 g.p. gem to the henchman, the henchman’s gains 200 x.p., no more. He can be given more treasure, but he can’t get experience for it.

Seems simple enough, nyet?

Now, if it so happens that that henchman reaches 5th level ... then yes, I break all the rules that most DMs would impose and allow that henchman to gain a henchman of his own. Ad infinitum. As the main character develops, his henchmen gain henchmen who gain henchmen, and so on and so on, until a veritable army is marching forward to adventure.

Well, not quite. There are rules.

Let’s begin with the main character, and call him Albert; let’s make Albert a fighter. He gets to 5th level, and gains a cleric as his henchman, Barjin. If we make a few calculations, we know that it will take 17,000 X.P. for Albert to get from 5th to 6th level. Half of that is 8,500 ... if Barjin gets all 8,500, we know that Barjin will be about 4th level when Albert hits 6th.

This means that Barjin will hit 5th level before Albert reaches 7th (it takes Albert another 35,000 to go from 6th to 7th). This means, when the player’s characters increase, it will be Barjin’s hench who joins. Let’s call Barjin’s hench Beren.

In terms of relationships, Beren Is fanatical about Barjin, and therefore must recognize Albert’s influence in Barjin’s life. Therefore Beren is just as fanatical ... as long as Barjin lives. If it so happens that Barjin dies, then Beren very kindly thanks Albert for all his kindnesses, and then goes. Very cruel, that. But Beren never did give his fealty to Albert in the first place. Now, it’s possible that Beren might stick around, as an NPC, but that’s the best Albert can hope for. Just the same, with the loss of Barjin, Albert is still entitled to a henchman, so he rolls up a brand new 1st level.

In terms of treasure division, Beren gets half of what Barjin gets ... so, a quarter of what Albert gets. If Beren is a paladin (let’s say he is), he’s going to go up levels quite slowly.

All right then ... Albert hits 7th level and rolls up his henchman Cailwainn – a thief. At this point, assuming all combat experience and treasure is perfectly shared, Albert has 70,001 x.p.; Barjin has 26,001 x.p. and is very nearly 6th level; Beren has 6,500 x.p. and is 3rd level; and Cailwainn, of course, has none. I will leave you to check my math, if you care to.

Let’s discuss relationships again. Cailwainn and Barjin are both fanatical towards Albert ... and therefore will work very well together when Albert is present. However, they will not work in tandem by themselves! Where Albert is not involved, the player must choose either group B or group C.

In digesting this, consider the death of Albert. In such an instance, I am ready as DM to allow the player to continue playing Barjin OR Cailwainn – but not both. If the player should pick Barjin, he gets to continue playing Beren as well; but Cailwainn must be retired.

You can see from this how a single main player can eventually develop a complex collection of different characters who can then split off to participate in different parts of the campaign. The high level characters can gather together in some location and put down roots ... while the second or third-tier characters can go off on adventures and self-determined quests. As a DM, I can then pick at the beginning of the running or at the end of the previous running who we will be playing. If I need time to design a vast army to attack the A Party’s fortress, I can run party B in the North African campaign for a month or two.

My parties have consistently loved this idea, since its creation. They get to play a lot of different characters, and to pick additional classes to augment their own plans and tactical needs. One player’s 8th level mage, for instance, is taking exclusively fighters for henchmen, and building up a fair little army with NPC men-at-arms included.

As all the members of the party are 7-8th level, they are all running four or five characters.  These are distrubuted in various campaigns.

Which brings me back to my daughter, and our recent plans.

My daughter has expressed a desire to a) learn better how to run as a DM; and b) how to run my world, specifically, as she would like it if it didn’t disappear with me. She’s been running other parties for years, but not in any established campaign nor in any established world – she only runs the occasional module and has participated as a DM for tournaments.

Naturally, I’m pleased. My plan would be to have all the players roll up new characters for her campaign, which would then go on somewhere in my world (the real world, so what’s the difference?) ... but she and the rest of the party has decided against this. They don’t want to roll up new characters. Rather, they would like to run their C-level characters in my daughter’s campaign. In turn, they would run their A and B levels in my campaign. My daughter’s C-level characters would remain as support for her higher level characters, and I would roll a 1st level character to run in her world.

So I may play for the first time in 15 years. We’re set to begin this experiment in two weeks. Only –

Well, I won’t be rolling up that character just yet. For the first few runnings, my daughter has asked that I don’t run, but rather that I sit over her shoulder and give her suggestions and hints on how to get her campaign going. This will be tricky – I can’t push, but I have to be quick with suggestions. We’ll see if this works as a tutoring model. If it does, it could mean interesting possibilities for the future.

If it was anyone but my daughter and me, I’d be worried. But we are awfully alike.


For those who are interested, further word about my novel can be found here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Through It

At last. Goddamn, I have made it through reading and editing the book, which was done twice from beginning to end. I find it interesting that the story is 3,500 words longer than when I started, but it is still tighter and flows very well now. I got to the end, the second time, just minutes before posting here, so I have a record of when.

I really doubted getting to this point.

I have still, regretfully, some technical issues that need researching, but that shouldn't take more than a day, perhaps two.

Best novel I've written. No doubt about that.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Land Mines

Just because it is so interesting.

From Wikipedia, "Land Mines":

"The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) text of the Wubei Zhi (Treatise on Armament Technology), written by Mao Yuanyi in 1628, outlined the use of land mines that were triggered by the heat of a slow-burning incandescent material in an underground bowl placed directly above the train of fuses leading to the mines buried 3 ft beneath.

The booby trap of this mine system had a mound where weapons of halberds, pikes, and lances were dug in, meant to entice the enemy to walk up the small mound and claim their stolen prize of war booty. When the weapons were removed from the mound, this movement disturbed the bowl beneath them where the butt ends of the staffs were, which in turn ignited the fuses.

According to the Wubei Huolongjing volume of the 17th century, the formula for this slow-burning incandescent material allowed it to burn continuously for 20 to 30 days without going out.

This formula included 1 lb of white sandal wood powder, 3 oz of iron rust (ferric oxide), 5 oz of 'white' charcoal powder (from quicklime), 2 oz of willow charcoal powder, 6 oz of dried, ground, and powdered red dates, and 3 oz of bran."

Incidentally, the sandalwood makes this quite expensive.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


It has been suggested to me that I ought to consider hiring out as a professional DM. This is in recognition that others do it; that others do it very badly; and that a service is a service, even if it is the running of a 'game.' It has further been explained to me that a fair price runs about $100 a session, plus whatever fees to rent a conference room (or other space) for four hours. Split between five people, this isn't so bad a price.

While I don't mind being paid for doing something I like, I can think of a few things that worry me about it. First off, that I would probably, to save time, have to provide the players with pre-generated characters, probably at some level above first. I know this is a common thing for those readers out there, but I tell you honestly that in 30 years I have never done it. Every player who has ever run in my world A) has rolled up their own character; B) has rolled up a character of the FIRST level; and C) has never been privileged to run a character from another campaign. Moreover, I'm happy to say I've witnessed personally the action of creating every character - no one has ever done rolled any of the critical dice (abilities, background, hit points and so on) before arriving, or while in another room or even unwitnessed off to the side during a campaign.

Frankly, the thought that I might have to hand out a bunch of pre-made characters of fifth level in order to save time fills me with, well, loathing. But let's get past that.

Problem two: I might have to run an adventure. Something with a hook, a railroaded party and a definite end, timed to fit four hours of running. Ugh. Is that getting paid for something I like? No. Apparently, the reality would be being paid for running a sick imitation of my campaign; a processed, diluted version of everything I've tried to make this game into for my players through the years.

I don't see the point, really. If it isn't the real game, why bother?

But then I had a thought, seconds prior to beginning this post. It came from a news story about a taxi driver, Eric Hagen, who asks his passengers to pay whatever they feel is a fair price for his services. This gets me to thinking.

The principal reason to have pre-made characters and to have a cut-and-dried adventure for those who might have to pay to play D&D begins from the recognition that people want their money's worth. They don't want to lay down $50 in order to sit around watching other people roll dice and blandly stumble around a local town while they figure out what they want to do. They paid money, they want return.

Add to that some of the horror stories about some 'professionals' I've heard about and naturally a few players who have been burned before are anxious to protect themselves.

But why not establish out front that they don't have to pay? If it's made clear that pay would be desireable, and that effort doesn't come cheap, might they not be willing to give some amount out of a sense of guilt? Particularly when you consider that if they feel my services are worth nothing, they get one free running and that is it. I'm not inviting people back who aren't pleased.

You're probably thinking I'd be out of pocket for the conference room rental. I'm not so sure a conference room is really necessary. There must be other places, where arrangements can be made for space. I'd love to hear any ideas. I'd also like to hear about how it might all work from an 'non-profit/business by donation' perspective. And, of course, is it practical?

Monday, September 14, 2009


Just a note to explain where I am, and why I'm not posting here. I've been working on my book (forever, and ever), and on my 'pricing table', which converts the cost of raw materials into the manufactured goods a party might want to buy. It's painstaking work, but it's rewarding also.

It's a lot of time looking up the density of substances, to figure out how much fits into a box the size of your hand; to determine the weight of a bottle of linseed oil; to estimate the weight of one week's peat fuel and the weight of a mutton chop. There's much research, into the average size of gold nuggets; the dimensions of gem cameos; the common size of truffles; the names of local common distilled spirits; the price of a local acre and the number of acres necessary to grow a bale of cotton.

I'm quite proud of the latter. The price of the bale is right there, so the player can decide to buy land, and whether it's worth it to grow a cash crop; or calculate the number of cattle the player can put on it and what is the price of cattle at the local market - and whether its worth it to the player to butcher the cow and sell it as meat instead.

Obviously, this is nothing important to the non-simulationist crowd. But there was a debate lately on various blogs about the 'after-adventure' character, and why it seems pointless to 'retire' them to a castle and men-at-arms. I don't know about that. I've met quite a number of players who, if given the chance to calculate a few numbers, enjoy the accounting that comes with handling money.

After all, that's an activity many people like to do in the real world, and it does not differ much from monopoly. Only that monopoly has rules to cover it, and D&D never has.

I'm just trying to fill that void. It's keeping me busy. But the gentle reader is on my mind, and I trust you are all doing well.

Tomorrow, an hour and 22 minutes from when I post this, comes my 45th birthday.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

My Reward

Part of the Evil Distance Table

In the eighteen months since starting this blog, I have had a number of very well meaning suggestions, many of which have been quite brilliant and much appreciated. All have been sincere – even those which were given with less than charitable consideration. Some have been to suggest different ways that I might do things – easier, less complicated ways. As I said in a comment a few days ago, I find myself somewhat disturbed by the trend in players to seek shortcuts where they’re not needed.

I don’t mean to abuse those who make suggestions for simplicity. I do wish to convey why I resist these suggestions.

There is an emotional response which I sometimes have towards my world that makes every long effort more than worthwhile – and that response is stunned disbelief that I have managed to create something so beautiful that it is difficult to look away. Yes, I know how self-aggrandizing that is ... but if you are a DM and you have worked dozens, scores or even hundreds of hours at a project which is now completed, you know exactly what I mean.

Take the image at the top of this post, which is a small chunk of the much larger market/distance table I made reference to recently. As I gaze at it, I am legitimately unable to wholly grasp that it came out of my mind. Yes, it wasn’t created in a day, it was slowly managed over several additions, often months apart – but it is a single entity now, one which I recently spent a great deal of time slowly and steadily sorting out.

Go on, if you dare, and tell me the shortest distance between Marburg in the bottom right hand corner and Bielefeld in the upper left. Keep in mind that the blue lines with an arrow are rivers, so that if you go with the arrow the first number next to the arrow applies (downstream), while if you go against the arrow the second number applies (upstream). You will make note that this means the shortest route from Marburg to Bielefeld may not be the same as the shortest route from Bielefeld to Marburg.

I’m happy to say I know the shortest distance, both ways, not just between these two cities but between every two cities you see on the table. Since this is a part of the table, some of those shortest distances are to be found by going around and outside what you see here.

Oh, just to clarify, the ‘distances’ you’re seeing are not in miles, but in days of travel, assuming an average of 20 miles per day, and given that a change in elevation of 400 ft. equals one additional day’s travel due to terrain. So where you see in the bottom right that Vienna is 20.4 days from Graz, that is because the Alps must be gotten over.

When I think about all this, and about the craziness of spending all the time figuring that out and the effort in making this table, I am quite content just to stare and stare and let my eyes follow the routes laid out. Moreover, I remind you that every place on this table is a real city, whose actual trade relationship with the rest of the world reflects quite closely the pattern represented here. The reason why Nuremberg was an incredibly rich and successful city during the middle ages was because of its central position between the Danube on the right (river ports Ulm, Ingolstadt, Regensburg, Passau, Linz, Vienna, etc,.) and the Rhine on the left (river ports Basel, Freiberg, Speyer, Heidelberg, Worms, Mainz, Bingen, etc.). A similar connection can be made regarding Brunn (modern Brno, in the Czech Republic) and its relationship to the Danube and the Elbe (river ports Pardubitz, Usti, Dresden, Dessau, Magdeburg, etc.).

I have a grasp now of how these cities relate to the political situations and strategic importance of their day because I have been down on the ground and have measured it, patiently. I am richer as a person, for when they speak of knowledge being power, I’m the drunk they’re describing.

Yes, of course this could be done more easily. I could separate all the cities in Germany and call it one block of trade, and have only one price for the whole region. But what would I learn from that? How much more ignorant would I be now?

And how much less a thing of beauty would be this table?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


The Civ IV tech tree makes a distinction between writing and alphabet, and rightly so. Writing in English means nothing more than the old Saxon word from which it comes - writan, which means “to tear.” From its earliest beginnings, writing was the practice of scoring or carving a shape into a surface. There was no separate word for “symbol,” which all writing was for thousands of years – nothing more than a sign, a representation of some concept, most likely a warning or a brand.

Anthropologists make a distinction between the artwork of primitive and civilized peoples and pre-hieroglyphic symbols. The dividing line is gray, at best. Anthropologists will also say that writing ‘began’ as a means of keeping records, for we have those records, tics written on shards of pottery, to prove that it is so.

But pictures repeatedly drawn for thousands of years are simplified and worked into line drawings habitually committed onto whatever surface presents itself. The archaeological record does no justice to the practice, since it is far easier to write or draw on surfaces which do not remain for the convenience of researchers. Millions of images have been carved throughout the prehistory of humankind on trees, in mud and dirt, on beaches and the skins of animals. The simple practice of a child marking their height on a door frame has been no doubt practiced for thousands of years, with few frames left to prove the fact of it.

It is a mistake to limit one’s perception of writing to that which endures for centuries. We often see writing at the beginning of history – because we define writing as that which was done on stone for our benefit. Writing is a living thing. Long before it was harnessed to keep records it was more an act of sculpture than of message. The gentle reader is perhaps unaware of the practice of ‘fetishism’, the belief that an object is possessed of supernatural powers, and that a man-made object possesses the greatest power. The act of writing is the creation of such power. A tree so marked has power over other trees; a marked sword defeats swords without markings; the incised block erected before the home has the power to turn back animals, to defeat the very elements, simply because a hand has changed it and made it into a great spirit.

The glyph in D&D is the iconographic magic that begins the manufactured power that will later become spells and dweomercraft. It is the technological revolution that enmeshes the various elements of shamanism and transformation into a single binding principle – the mark of an intelligent being, inscribed onto a surface to claim the ownership of that surface, to harness it to the will of the intelligent mind against the chaos of nature.

If you grasp magic as an inherent process of the material plane, its manipulation cannot be regulated by an ordinary creature’s hopelessly unfocused thoughts. Meditation can focus those thoughts, but meditation by its method removes one’s interaction from the world. The greater one’s success at meditation, the less stake one possesses in the material surrounding world ... so that at the point of greatest power through meditation, so too is the greatest measure of disinterest and disregard.

Magic as a technology demands a hands-on approach. Facere, from the Latin, gives us the word “facility” ... as we make so shall we function. The glyph presents as the primitive methodology by which humanoids facilitate magic for the first time in history. A series of glyphs follow, to manage the magic and increase the finesse by which is applied to the varying crises one faces.

This may all seem very odd, as I speak of magic as though it really exists. On some level it does. I am a writer. Words, which are only collections of glyphs, have the power to resurrect, to frighten, to drive victories and horrors, to bring comfort and express love, to manipulate terrible forces and to alleviate terrible consequences. We take all this for granted. We have education and technologies which serve to jade us and blind us to what a truly amazing thing this process of communication is. We understand the source of emotions, of responses – whereas our earliest ancestors could not comprehend why the sight of a particular image brought them feelings of terror, while seeing a particular shape or curve would make them laugh. It did seem true to them that the symbols themselves had a unique power, that clearly did not exist in nature prior to their being put there.

How strange is it to perceive a world where nothing changes except that which we ourselves change? Where there is no interaction with others for months or years at a time, so that every mark on every surface one sees can be identified to the time it was drawn and to the very person who put it there. We cannot conceive of it.

A D&D world should be filled with such symbols, put there by friends and strangers; by established, open religions and by hidden cults; as gang signs; as things to ward off evil and as things to encourage good; glyphs to announce the presence of a special guild, glyphs to designate where the dead may haunt; glyphs speaking of rats and other vermin; effacements to describe lovers and body parts, to suggest disgust at an inhabitant or give sign that it is a good place to beg; directions to the toilet, directions towards other desired places, and caricatures of foolish persons or kings. A thousand and one hooks for adventures, a reason for investigation, a pattern in which the players read the behaviours of a town or a nation, by which friends are sorted from enemies and by which trails are followed to lairs and treasure. A simple drawing, sketched out during a session and then given meaning by the coins it brings and the player characters who die in its wake ... to be resurrected ten runnings hence, or fifty runnings hence, to bring a shudder or a wry smile when the DM trots it out again on cue.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Perfect? HAH!

Carl, who has come back from PAX, tells me that rule systems are dead and that the money is in campaign settings. And meanwhile I am thinking of a post by Trollsmyth in which the principal theme is that he is not like me – which is fine, of course, since being me is worth a bevy of headaches for anyone. Bit of a shame that I wouldn’t have known the post was there but for a friend of mine.

The post is both praising and damning and well written – but sadly inaccurate on many points, chiefly in this line: “Tao achieves (verisimilitude) by creating amazing, intricate clockwork worlds where everything hangs together perfectly.”

Would be that were true. But the fact is my world is a lumbering, blind and sick golem staggering along its way through every campaign session I run. I never have the tables done that I wish were done, I’m never fully prepared: there are always hit points to roll and some file that has disappeared from my lap top that must be inconveniently downloaded from the computer in my room, if it can be found at all. The encounter tables are shit, the treasure tables are shit, the details are never quite up to form and – worst of all – my memory is starting to go.

Having the ambitions I have tends to make it impossible for me to finish anything. Whenever I conceive of some new method for creating, well, anything, it usually promises to be a two-year process. Before the process is even half done I’ve thought of a better way to manage it, requiring that I return to the beginning and start over, as I’m a rabid perfectionist and I have both dedication and time. Added to that behavior is my own plodding resistance to working on mundane matters, so that the long promised design on the mage’s fief and the local map that accompanies it still isn’t done, no more than the cost estimate on the cleric’s menhir-inspired holy circle or the stats on the party’s self-created ‘home guard’, twenty elven men-at-arms trained to defend the fief.

In my defence, unless they’re actually in a fight, they don’t really need stats.

The only way my world works is by hook and by crook, aided from time to time by some table I have actually accomplished, which isn’t in the process of being reformatted to make it easier to read and therefore easier to expand.

For example: today I finally completed a monumental task. Last December I published what I called the Evil, Insane Killer Distance Table. A table which since that time had some additional 35 trade cities added to it, bringing the total number up to 494.

I have now completed the table which dictates the distance which every city on this table is from every other city, in average days of merchant travel. The final file in excel is 15 megabytes in size. In order that I might accuracy check it as I went, there are additional lines of data (showing each connection), so that the total dimension is 495 by 3,122.

Having completed this table, I am now able to determine the effect of distance on prices for any city in my world in the space of about sixty seconds. I tested it out this morning and it works beautifully.

There are only two problems.

The first is quite minor. Previously I made the decision to reformat the prices table, the one that converts those distance figures into the actual prices of things and creates the table which the players see. Otherwise I would thrill and amaze all the gentle readers with tables showing how the price of beer and frankincense changes from Germany to Egypt to Pakistan to Moscow. The table is in disarray for the time being – and will be worked on over the next two or three weeks to bring it up to form. At that time I shall attempt to knock your socks off.

The other problem is mindboggling.

The distance table I’ve just described only includes that part of my world that I’ve been able to map so far. It does not include China, Japan, India, Indochina or Southeast Asia. It does not include Africa or any part of the New World. It does not include Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, the Low Countries or the British Isles.

In other words, there are at least 700 additional trade cities which need to be compared with those trade cities already framed in the table. I estimate that this would mean I’ve accomplished approximately 17% of the actual task at hand. It also means that the excel file necessary to handle all the changes would eventually have to be some 90M in size, which is of course too big for my computer.

What’s more, it has taken me somewhere between 540 and 720 man hours to accomplish the table so far – admittedly while watching television and listening to the radio, so not time entirely wasted. Those hours were stretched over a period of about six months.

I don’t really mind the time spent, by the way. Before I found the methodology that would allow me to create the table in the first place, I spent eight months making tables which turned out to be complete wastes of time. That’s how it goes sometimes.

If you are at all sane as you read this, you will no doubt be thinking that I’m a nut job. I’d like to point out that while doing all this, I’ve also been making maps, working on tables for my monsters, written over a hundred Tao blog posts (some requiring research, most over a thousand words), started an online campaign, spent an inordinate amount of time playing video games and I have completely rewritten a 69,000 word novel. Oh, and search for fantasy porn:

All without the use of amphetamines.

But a perfect world I do not have. Not remotely close. I haven’t had enough time, I haven’t completely solved every puzzle, I haven’t conceived of the right method for every instance and I do get tired from time to time. I just can’t rely on my ‘world’ to pull me through the process of running a campaign.

Thankfully, I think very well on my feet.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Furthest North

I'm guessing that another map can only bore the gentle reader, but it is the escapism that's holding my attention for the time being. I would show another part of the globe, but the Arctic Coast continues to be what is next, so the Arctic Coast is what I'll post today.

This is the Kara Sea, which I spoke of a few posts ago. The very top right corner of this map has a latitude of 82.62 degrees, which makes it very far north indeed ... further north than any human was known to have travelled until the 19th century. This is the most northern piece of land I have yet mapped. Much of the 'sea' on this map is covered by a permanent ice pack - north of the small island of Sergeya, close to the center of the map.

I continue to argue that most D&D maps do not include territories like this. However empty it may be, its emptiness promises a difficult, dangerous campaign, cut off from the world in pursuit of some distant, lost point on the map. Note that there are only two towns. I assure you both are small, with less than a thousand inhabitants ... and in my world, both are occupied entirely of gnolls. The small bits of green along the coast are the only humanoid habitations of any kind, each representing a clan of some 60 to 100 members. Beyond those few hexes, the only residents are monsters adapted to the most extreme conditions.

Incidentally, if you turn this map 60 degrees, it will fit neatly with the map I last posted.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Simulationist, I

Admittedly, I am a simulationist.

I’m not sure how that came about. I have never questioned, from the beginning of playing D&D, that that was fundamentally what the game was about, the creation of a ‘world’, a place where adventures were meant to take place. For me, that meant a whole interactive milieu, without borders. It seems silly to contemplate a world of disconnected localities, as the marketers successfully sold to the playing public beginning in the 1980s, because it suited their bottom line and created the demand for more and more product.

But I do understand why the simulation was not the popular conception. It is, without question, utterly impossible. The construction of a world is too vast a project, an unending one, and it takes little imagination to feel completely daunted before one begins. Manage the construction of a huge civilization, pulled from one’s mind? And do it during a lifetime where one expects to work, love, raise children, maintain a house, travel, see the world? Ridiculous.

I do it because, well, I’m obsessed. My world is an excuse to research virtually every subject, which in turn gets applied to my world in ways most wouldn’t bother. To make my obsession work, I’ve had to take shortcuts, such as using the Earth as a template in order to avoid having to create my own imagined landscape ... but of course the shortcut backfires because I find myself installing overarching economic systems and anthropological explanations for the existence of troglodytes.

Still, this is how I get my jollies.

I believe that a simulation, even one that is weakly developed, serves to enhance the activities of a player characters. I don’t think that is a particularly insightful point – I don’t doubt that nine tenths of DMs believe the same. And so they start ‘worlds’. They conceive of a unifying ideal – a post-apocalyptic landscape, a bronze era culture, what have you – and begin making maps. The maps include a scattered array of cities, plotted ruins, holy places, mountains, rivers, seacoasts. A particular kingdom is selected and mapped out in greater detail. The DM spends a few weeks, off and on, sketching out a cultural background, then sets down to invent an adventure.

And most times that is as far as it goes. Because an adventure which breaks down to Jack and Jill going up a kill to fetch a pail of coin doesn’t flesh out a simulation. In creating the hook, moving the party to location, solving the puzzle and killing the bad guy, the best we’ve done is create a level from Mario Bros. All that we’re left with is to create another level. Which is what most DMs do.

Which explains why for the most part it’s easy to create another NEW world every other month and retain the same players. Since they have nothing invested in the Mario scenarios that have been run up to now, they have no reason to disregard a new scenario. Gets so that players crave a change in milieu, since repeated adventures in the same formula begins to drag.

Often, however, a DM really does get into world construction. Some of those I’ve seen are extensive and detailed, with tens of thousands of words of description. It is clear that the maker is as obsessed as me ... and I trust that they conceal most of this data as something they themselves use. It does no good to dump it on players.

When mastering a game, I am nothing like I am here on this blog. You might get some sense of my style from the blog-campaign I started, but not really – since that format gave me plenty of time to think before answering. The offline campaign I run is faster paced, higher on combat than I’d like, lower on role-playing that I’d like (the players want it that way, and I go along), but very intricate in terms of plot development. There are always several adventures on the go at any one time ... very rarely to they include a linear set up where players are expected to go to a place, kill a monster and collect a treasure. Most often, players are stumbling around, trying to get out of some situation they’ve blundered into or created, with no clear path in sight.

Invariably the players are running the campaign, deciding what to do and where to go. My simulationist model doesn’t give them lengthy descriptions on how to behave in particular cultures, since its assumed that most people in those cultures don’t care about individuals. This is helped considerably by the fact that players are often familiar with these cultures.

Not completely, of course. The on-line campaigners admitted that their experience with actual feudal/renaissance culture was limited, along with their familiarity with the church and with Germany. I did not think this was a big problem. I didn’t expect the party to behave as Germans so much as I expected them to tweak to odd behaviours displayed by NPCs – perhaps unfairly. But having dropped them into Germany, it was my responsibility to set the stage. If a player wants to go out and do research to enhance their character as an ethnic stereotype, that is up to them. But I don’t insist on it.

In short, the NPCs will be stereotypical in general ... it helps set the stage. A few odd NPCs will not fit the mould, so as to muddy up the water. I play by the ‘North By Northwest’ method of plot development. Players are mistaken for somebody else, or they stumble into a game played by much bigger players. They’re blown back and forth, cutting and hacking their way from clusterfuck to clusterfuck until light dawns, the situation clarifies and everyone gets a chance to rest.

This is the simulationist’s method. The worst moments in any person’s life come when something happens that’s wildly unexpected, and unavoidable. You’re injured, your benefactor dies, you’ve lost your job, someone close to you creates a situation that you have to help manage ... in every situation there’s no clear solution. You have to try different things, make the most of the situation, manage others as best you can and put your priorities in order.

In a D&D campaign, one without quests, the emphasis is for the DM to create those situations for the player, almost always from outside the player’s sphere of control. A spontaneous revolt arises in the countryside against the local lord – join or flee? A dishonest villain plots to push an innocent farmer off his land – help or oppose? Forces seek to undermine the local church and establish a blood thirsty cult – defend the innocent or join the bloodbath? Your friend is inexplicably your enemy – cut him down or investigate the reason why? And once you discover why, forgive or condemn?

It is much less about how NPCs around the players interact with the players, and how NPCs interact with each other. Players are not and should not be the center of the universe. Picture every culture and every place, having created them in your simulated world, as various factions struggling for power against each other, then force your players to make moral decisions about which side to oppose, or whether to let them hack each other to pieces. Make it clear that EVERY action will have, in the end, the possibility for reward – titles, power, wealth – and then watch them squirm as they wonder if they made the right decision.

Join the lord against the peasants and possibly receive a knighthood and reward. Or join the peasants against the lord and have a chance at plunder. Or do nothing and sell weapons to both sides at fabulous profit. Make it clear to your players that ALL are possibilities, without knowing which one will be the most lucrative in the end. Throw hints constantly that they’ve backed the wrong horse and the fun begins.

So, I’ve begun with an admittance that simulation is virtually impossible and ended with explaining why it works for me. At least, I hope I’ve done that.

The rest is up to you.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Tech & Intelligence

I want to consider racial intelligence for a moment. How exactly is it defined?

The only example of racial intelligence is given in the Monster Manual, where humans, gnolls, gnomes, orcs and so on are given an average intelligence meant to convey a characteristic of their race. Troglodytes are very stupid (low), goblins a little smarter (low to average), elves are quite bright (high) and titans are ridiculously gifted (genius to supra-genius).

Why ‘average’ intelligence as defined by the manual is not 10 to 11, the most common results on 3d6, continues to baffle me. But average is defined as 8 to 10, and very intelligent as 11 to 12. Thus humans are necessarily “average to very” in intelligence, in order to fit the character generation model.

In terms of race, humans are not restricted to intelligences of 8 to 12. Humans may be either geniuses or very stupid; but these extremes are meant to be rare. In terms of racial intelligence, humans are presumed to be in the range where most would not make good magic users.

Obviously, however, the technology used by humans is not limited to the intelligence of most of the population. Technological leaps are created by those who have extraordinary or genius intelligences, who then make those technologies available to the lesser gifted. Thus, although humans may be of average intelligence, they have access to virtually every technology known.

This creates a difficult problem. If elves have a high intelligence, and are thus more clever than humans, can we assume that particular elves have a ‘higher than genius’ intelligence – in the range of 19 to 22? And if that is so, why is it that this higher intelligence has only been used to address the qualities of magic and peculiar intoxicating beverages? Why is it that the elves have not also invented mechanical flight, or superior weapons of destruction, or mass production? Where are the technologies that intelligent humans were able to create, but which elves seem unwilling to explore?

Naturally, it is presumed that elves aren’t interested in such things, for reasons pertaining to the goodness of the earth and for pure knowledge and blah blah blah. But why do dwarves also eschew the same advancements? Why is it that night hags, with exceptional intelligences, do not bring their enormous knowledge from the lower planes in the form of gas grenades, along with their other magics? Why do mind flayers not have wire-guided missiles in their arsenal? If the average for a mind flayer is 17, couldn’t a gifted mind flayer have an intelligence of 25? And if humans were able to invent these things, and to teach average intelligence humans how to use them, they why do mind flayers not do the same, using orcs?

Obviously, because the game would cease to be D&D.

Let us postulate, therefore, that humans (and possibly other character races) are fairly unique with regards to the spread of intellectual prowess. Perhaps mind flayers and night hags, in the upper ranges, are as bright as they get. Perhaps they don’t know anything more than what humans know because when all is said and done, the average mind flayer and the smartest mind flayer are hard to tell apart ... and neither is any smarter than the smartest human.

After all, there’s no rule that the spread must be applied to every race.

The reverse then might also be true ... that the smartest troglodyte has a 7 intelligence, because that is the maximum of that race’s intelligence spread. There are no genius goblins wandering about – or if there are, they are extremely rare mutants, like the Mule of Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy. Still, a goblin Mule may not be any smarter than a player character’s mage, but still – that particular village might be a bit better outfitted than the average goblin lair.

I want to define how better outfitted, but for the moment let’s put it on the shelf and take up another part of the question.

At different points in human history, extraordinary intelligence can be defined as leading to different levels of technology. It depends on what template for intelligence you care to use. Me, I’ve always favoured the argument that intelligence is a genetic trait – but if left in a box, without stimuli, there isn’t much it can do. The smartest human on the planet 18,000 years ago might have made the leap forward in order to design a bow, but he or she wasn’t postulating upon the theory of relativity. Einstein may have been able to do that, but he had the benefit of some education regarding Newtonian physics and mathematics. If his intelligence had been reversed with the first inventor of the bow, perhaps both would have still achieved either leap forward.

Therefore, we cannot define technology strictly in terms of intelligence. No matter what sort of genius Einstein may have been, his accomplishments were limited to whatever pre-existing technology was already available. As such, intelligence can only be used as a measure to determine how much of a population might have been able to grasp a particular principle, once it was defined.

In other words ... Einstein was the only genius to have comprehended Relativity at the point of its inception – but right now, there are hundreds of physicists able to grasp the concept, and millions of individuals able to do the mathematics, even if they can’t explain how they work.

The first potter was a genius. His son was clever. His grandson was talented and his later descendants were capable. But with each passing generation, the practitioners of a particular technology slide down the scale towards stupid.

All right, we are getting the meat and potatoes of this post.

If we select a given point in history, say the late Renaissance and the Elizabethan period, we might say that a genius intelligence had created all the technology that was available on the Earth at that time. We can then use the scale of racial intelligences to determine how technologically advanced each of the other races are. We can award elves, dwarves, gnomes and halflings with a slightly superior development in the form of technologies reaching into the Age of Enlightenment, and judge every other race according to its limitation as listed in the book.

Which would mean that, in fact, a Shedu (extraordinary intelligence) was actually slightly less advanced than human culture, except where it had made use of those technologies provided by humans. It would not fully understand the pinnacle of those technologies (Newtonian physics and Keplarian astronomy being produced late in that period), but it would do better than, say, an orc.

Postulated, then, if we rank the technologies discussed so far as part of this intelligence scale, we can produce a technology limitation for each racial intelligence to be found in the book. We can even do one better, by dividing the general descriptions of ‘low’, ‘average’, ‘very intelligent’ and so on into exact numeric descriptions.

Thus, consider a low intelligence culture, the aforementioned troglodytes. We can presuppose three different troglodyte cultures, based on intelligences of 5, 6 and 7. For simplicity, we can call them trog-5, trog-6 and trog-7.

Trog-5 cultures have managed to invent the wheel and have undertaken primitive mining for flint. Their food production includes fishing, agriculture and hunting, and their perception of the universe is based upon mysticism.

Trog-6 cultures have augmented their fishing though the production of fishing boats and rudimentary sailing; they’ve adapted the wheel to the cart, and have developed animal husbandry. They’ve also mastered pottery. While still fundamentally mystics, they have developed aesthetically towards the carving of bone, horn, ivory and wood, and are raising menhirs for the purpose of defining their importance.

Trog-7 cultures have developed masonry, using mortar now to bind together their stonework and brick, along with crude bronze casting (arsenic and copper). While metal weapons are limited (metal casting hasn’t been invented, so neither has forging), these cultures have developed archery and horseback riding. Trog-7a has moved forward into meditation as a religious practice, while Trog-7b has developed polytheism.

Obviously, using the template you can mix and match the technologies as you wish. But you see how this allows you to devise a complicated association between different troglodyte tribes. For one thing, you can see how Trog-7 cultures prey upon or manipulate Trog-5 cultures, and how both groups might represent an aristocratic/slave class system, particularly with the more advanced troglodytes accepting the existence of a particular early pantheon compared to the lower troglodytes who still fear many elements of nature they don’t understand.

Thus, the next group of posts I’ll be doing would apply to cultures of 8 intelligence. A few of the things I’ve written about already do, such as priesthood and monotheism. Tentatively, I would judge 8 intelligence technologies as including writing, mathematics, alphabet, metal casting, and iron working.