Sunday, May 30, 2010

Filling The Hex

Here is the direction of my fun lately:

This is still the same map I usually post up here, except that it has been recolored in order to depict the principal vegetation of the given hex.  Whatever benefits my usual maps may have estimating distances, it isn't enough to provide the very important perception of what 'fills' the hex - and filling the hex is a nightmare I've heard from many a DM.  Obviously, vegetation isn't enough either ... but I am of the opinion that the local flora is the de facto determiner for what is the local fauna.  The above map gives the added benefit of dividing those hexes that are heavily populated from those which are comparatively 'wild.'

I like the above map very much.  It represents some ten million inhabitants, and over three hundred communities.  Because I never do anything the easy way, I've steadfastly computed from my own population statistics (remember, having very little to do with the real world) versus the comparative topography to determine where the intensely cultivated places ought to be.  Not having any idea myself how this would look when I started (the numbers were generated, the rest was simply following rules suggested by a system), I'm pleased that it has given me an interesting scattering of densely populated centers and adjacent forested zones, the combination of which makes for adventure possibilities (along with added features should I ever turn these maps into some immense wargame!) and to suggest ready obstacles to travel.

The specific vegetations are appropriate for those parts of real Germany, applying the formula created by A.W. Kuchler, who created a classification based on whether plants were woody or herbaceous - and if woody, whether they were broadleaf or needleleaf and evergreen, or deciduous.  By and large the system has fallen out of favor with biologists since the 1980s (I couldn't find a decent representation of it on line) but it works excellently for my D&D world (and that would be one more F.U. for those people insisting that what I'm making here is a model).

Just as a side note, and without going long into the subject, I have much the same trouble as everyone else as regards determining what is inside a hex.  If you consider the map, and each hex having a diameter of 20 miles - the reality is that you can put an awful lot into just one of those hexes.  One need only mark out a distance of 20 miles on a real map, and then go out and walk it, to get a sense of just how huge one of these hexes is.  When you consider that what you would see during that twenty mile walk is only a ribbon of the proposed width of a hex ... we are all tackling a gargantuan task just to define the contents of ONE hex, much less the multiples that many of us work with - such as the example above.

As such, however in depth my efforts may seem, they are pathetically shallow when it comes to proposing the events of one day's walk through a world.  I try not to worry about it.  99% of what I do in a running is flat-out right off the top of my head (or from the seat of my pants), and not derived from maps and charts.  However, it is through designing and describing my world in different ways, and forcing myself to obtain new data to do BOTH activities, I am loaded up with new ideas daily which I then have a chance to implement later, when it seems appropriate.  This keeps my mind active - and more importantly, pushes me to think beyond my usual prejudices.

For those DMs who claim proudly that all this work isn't necessary - because they make everything up anyway - I must suppose that the well they draw their water from must be pretty dry, or stale to say the least.  Same 2D characters, same 2D adventures, same 2D arguments about 'what this game is about.'

But to those of you out there carrying water in from new sources, keep at it people.  Water that you sweat for is always sweeter.

Really? You're Effing Kidding Me.

Some well meaning reader has pointed out to me that there was a protracted discussion on another blog regarding my erstwhile post a couple of weeks back about peasants and my world's class structure.  I am loathe to post the link, given that my regard for the blogger has dipped about as low as is possible, but you can find it on Monsters and Manuals.  That's as much advertising as I intend to do.  I wouldn't recommend chasing it down ... the discussion is between a very silly person and a person who is obviously intelligent (since he has, rightly, a very low opinion of me) but whose willingness to beat his head against the wall baffles me utterly.

It seems to me that I've made a very poor choice in choosing the word 'peasant' to refer to the most impotent member of the society - the word itself is charged, it seems, with so much meaning that I was a fool to call my weakly minded, poorly educated, unhealthy, socially distasteful world inhabitants by that name.  I should have picked some other moniker ... but I did not see any need to refer to 68% of my population as the 'snot-people.'  Still, that might have provoked less reaction.

It has been argued by some that I am trying to create a 'ultra-realistic model of the world,' and that it is impossible to do that, and therefore I am deluded and wasting my time.  Huh.  I'm not sure where it came from that the real world was remotely of any interest to me.  I am trying to create a D&D World.  I am not trying, on any level, to create a representation of the actual world in any way, shape or capacity.  Where it comes to D&D, and to this blog for that matter, I really don`t care if I`m creating an 'accurate' model in any sense of the world.  What I am actually doing is creating a basis for rolling dice to determine what type of person one might encounter.  If you are on a random road somewhere in my world, I'm suggesting that it's grossly more likely that one would meet a peasant before one met any other type of person.  And if you were in a throne room, on the other hand ... well, that should be obvious.

What the difference between this model and any other encounter table would be, I haven't a clue.  I only want a little more rationale for why the number is '01-68' than that I pulled it out of my ass.

It has also been argued - with the fervor of dogmatic belief - that 3d6 is somehow the only legitimate basis for rolling stats, period.  I am astounded at this, for even the Dungeon Master's Guide, written by that asshole Gygax, says quite clearly (p.11):
"While it is possible to generate some fairly playable characters by rolling 3d6, there is often an extended period of attempts at finding a suitable one due to quirks of the dice.  Furthermore, these rather marginal characters tend to have short life expectancy - which tends to discourage new players, as does having to make do with some character of a race and/or class which he or she really can't or won't identify with."
He then goes on to suggest four methods of rolling characters, all of which are designed to make characters which are clearly above the average ... plus other comments about NPCs that suggest from the outset that player characters are clearly meant to be 'better' than the common man.  Then there is this little gem, same page:
"You should, of course, set the ability scores of those NPCs you will use as parts of the milieu, particularly those of high level and power.  Scores for high level NPCs must be high - how else could these figures have risen so high?"
Now, certainly Gygax gives further rules for how to do this, but frankly I came to the conclusion that his rules were shit and rather simple-minded.  So taking the spirit of what he wrote above (the boldface is my own), I came up with my own methodology in order to create a more meaningful D&D world.

Not, as has been suggested, to make any 'model' for anything else.

Now and then, I firmly believe these bloggers get their heads so far and deep up their own asses that they fail to remember that the reason we do all this work is to create a more playable, deeper game.  And not to satisfy the rectum-derived philosophical leanings of people (names not given here) that have zero to do with D&D.

So, to recap:
  • Heard: a lot of noise about the way die rolling has always been done.
  • Not Heard: specific reasons why the players would find the modified stats for NPCs unplayable or impractical.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Globetrotting In Italy

Really, I have nothing else to write of late; working on projects, and investigating into Italy (researching 433 different cities takes time) ... so the gentle reader gets nothing but more pictures.  Between you and I, however, I feel that things like this should be inspirations towards those dungeons and settings you're all so on about.  How big is big, I think the question ought to be, particularly considering this immensity from the small town of Monreale, Sicily, built in the 12th century by the Normans (those who weren't conquering England):

And this would be a spectacular shot of the town of Cefalu, also in Sicily, on the north coast:


I've only just realized.  This is two years, today, that this blog has been in existence.  Just chance that I remembered the anniversary.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


I am researching the various areas of Italy, which is why I have lately posted a few pictures of castles from Latium.  This picture below is from the region of Apulia, or Puglia, in Southern Italy ... specifically, the locale of Gravina.  I just felt the need to share it.  I'm adding other pictures as I find them.

Incidentally, part of the reason why I have not been posting heavily this last week has been that I am working on some new projects, and hope to have a few things to show within a week or two.

The Citadel at Matera, in the region of Basilicata:

And for my friend Carl, here's a map of Ancient Lucania.  Note the city of Metapontum, on the far right, which was not heard from or seen again after 207 BCE.

In terms of where I'd rather be right now - and to keep with the latest trend of publishing images of castles - this would be the Citadel of San Stefano in Monopoli, on the 'heel' of the Italian Boot:

Following a link about karst topography, I came across this picture, from the Kravice Trebizat River in Bosnia-Hercegovina:

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Videogame Settings

“The Compulsories:” There’s always a fire dungeon, an ice dungeon, a sewer maze, a misty forest, a derelict Ghost Ship, a mine, a glowing crystal maze, an ancient temple full of traps, a magic floating castle, and a technological dungeon.

If you will follow the link, you will find a long, long list of cliche'd videogame settings - any one of which, if worked upon with imagination and a glimmer of originality, will probably win you the 'design your own dungeon' contest of your dreams.  As I look over the list, it occurs to me that there are a lot of them that I have used for D&D in the last two years, notably Chokepoint Geography, the Shifting Sand Land (when my players were in a Persian desert) and a First Town.  I've used quite a few on the overall list in thirty years, so I don't claim any innocence.  A setting like those named is easy to create on the spur of the moment, easy to grasp for the players and typically fairly direct in terms of running through a number of scenarios, one after another.  I will probably use them again.

But my opinion of them?  I mean, how do I feel, as a DM, after running as long as I have?


Remember that as I write this that I've been running a single combat with my offline campaign which has now gone continuously for 8 runnings.  So I am clearly insane.  My players, too, are clearly insane.  I was told over the weekend by another DM that he wished he had players with the sort of resolve and commitment that I have.  I suppose I should be grateful ... except that it seems to me that I've always had players like that and I am therefore guilty of taking them for granted.  Naturally, as they read this they will agree that I am very ungrateful and that to show my gratitude for all their years of loyal playing and appearance at sessions I need to grant them all one level and their choice of three magic items ... each ...

Ahhh ... fuck 'em.

But keeping this steadfast, plodding behaviour in mind, I have no strong desire to subject my players to a lengthy dungeon, of any variety.  Online, it would make the most sense that I would put my new players inside some underground hole and have them fight their way out ... and then let them find some tiny village, and only after that let them find their way to some significant city.  In that way they would've had the opportunity to guess my playing style and get comfortable with it.  But did I do it that way?  No.  I screwed them by dropping them very unfairly into this greatly random environment with unlimited choices and opportunities, and then expected them to adapt.

Even when I dropped one group onto a moving ship, without any chance to move about, I still didn't give them a clear set of objectives.  I gave them nothing.  And in the space of a year, with three different parties, I still have not employed a single lair of any sort ... not one that was underground, or on a mountain top, or anywhere else.

I am such a selfish bastard.

The reasons for this selfishness is simple.  I am bored stupid with the video game format of get this, grab that and go there.  I don't even play that sort of video game any longer - mostly because I consider myself spoiled by games like Sim City 4, Zoo Tycoon, Civilization IV and yes, the Sims (not the recent version, however, where everything was grossly dumbed down for the popular people).  I call these things 'maintenance games,' since they mostly force players to fix and replace and fiddle and what have you to keep the game going optimally.  Civ IV is of course the most linear of them, but I am a fiddler at heart - I want to play games without clear guidelines as to winners and losers.  I don't have the necessary testosterone to give a shit who shoots who in Call of Duty or any other first person shooter game, based on the seratonin-induced thrill of pretending to kill.  My seratonins are long since dried up - except for actual, real life sexual activity - and I need diversions for my brain.  To many guys, I know, that makes me a bit of a pansy.  Twas ever thus.  Who knew that someday jocks would start defining manliness where it applied to video games?

As a result, the more two-dimensional the format, the harder it is for me to get interested.  This massive combat I'm playing is anything BUT two-dimensional.  It is complex, non-guaranteed strategy played at its limit, with no promise of victory.  That fascinates the hell out of me, and it fascinates my players.

I am reminded of the first time the game of D&D was explained to me, back in September of 1979, using these approximate words: 

"Imagine that you're standing in front of a door and beside the door there are three buttons.  And you have to pick the right button, or a big block falls down from the ceiling and kills you.  But if you pick the right button you can go through the door and live.  What do you do?"

Well, back then, when I was fifteen, that sounded pretty cool.  Now it sounds stupid.  It sounds, in fact, moronically insipid to the extreme ... and it begs me to ask, "Do I have to press a button?  Couldn't I just walk away?"

But for most DMs, of course, you DO have to press a button.  That is the whole point.  You are not permitted any non-button-pressing privileges.  This format is designed that a button must be pressed and you are to do the pressing.  You are told, "If you look very closely, and very carefully at the clues that I have spent half the night before concocting in my brain, you will know exactly what button to press.  Go on.  Make up your mind."

I have.  I've decided to play the game differently. 

I've decided that, now and then, I will create such moments if the party insists on getting themselves into such a trapped situation - but I won't trap them there, and chances are they haven't really trapped themselves, either.  Chances are, there's a different way out - most likely, the way they came in.

In other words, if the party really wants to explore an underground lair, I won't stop them.  But they've got to want it.  They've got to want it enough to seek out such a place, and enter it all on their own ... in which case, they are welcome to stay for as long as they want.

Personally, I can think of other things to do.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

More Grist For The Mill

Now, this is my fourth post on this subject, and I think it is time for a few ground rules. It should be quite clear by now that I am bent on continuing with this system regardless of my critics, so those who wish only to piss and moan at this point are invited to take their comments on the road, to post them on their own blog, where they can speak to their hearts delight about how I am fucking with the laws of nature or whatever.

Comments criticising the methodology will continue to be entertained, but any comment which disparages the overall system on principle will, henceforth from this post on, be deleted.  This sort of stick-in-the-mud thinking (however dressed up as intelligensia) is destroying the potential for rational discussion.

Very well.

The principle flaw in those numbers for classes given on the last post would be that they represent only the minimum age possible with regards to a candidate successfully mastering their class. In the case of mages, where the age range is from 26 to 40, in actual fact only 1 in 64 candidates would succeed at becoming a mage in that time (the DMG gives the age range as 24 +2d8).

So, if you really want to get ambitious, you can work out the number of mages according to their actual successful completion.  This isn't as easy as it sounds; I thought I would calculate it out by a) multiplying the total that had reached a certain age by the chance on 2d8 (age 26, 1 in 64: age 27, 3 in 64; age 28, 3 in 64; and so on), while continuing to remove 5% of the candidates for failure ... because they could get to age 36, say, and still fail to become magic users.  That's just the way the ball breaks.  Some doctors make it through pre-med and med-school, and they fail their internship.  Life is a bitch.

But I found out that even without any failure rate, with everyone who reaches age 26 eventually becoming a mage at some point, there are virtually no candidates after age 37.  Here's the table I was able to generate (these numbers continue to be per 100,000 population):

Clearly, only a player character has any likely chance of being 40 (rolling on the DMG's table).

Anyway, this is just an exercise to get us warmed up.  I had wanted to answer a question from Jhandar, who asked, "What is to keep a lord from mandating magical training for citizens of prerequisite Intelligence?"  And now I can answer that.  Nothing.  Except that, quite probably, the time it would take for the plan to reach fruition, and the likelihood that most of the candidates would fail before reaching the mark.

But then, some of those would-be mages who failed would still possess some cantrips (though probably not any spells), as well as book larnin' (according to my sage tables) and the general increase in the population's well-being.  It wouldn't do that much, however, to influence a country's economy, or their military prowess.

A different question I haven't been asked, and which I haven't answered, would be what level would all these classed/leveled persons be?

Ah, now this is fun.  And if the last posts riled the credulity of the gentle reader, these are not likely to fare any better.  Mind the warning in the first paragraph.

Rather than creating a random table and assigning each level a random chance, I conceived instead of the following table:

This table is fixed on the very simple principle that individuals with higher statistical strengths, and with greater resources on account of their opportunities and wherewithall, are likely to gain more experience than their stay-at-home cousins.  The numbers are not so unlikely - my party members, in the space of a game year, are quite able to go up seven or eight levels ... it really depends upon how ambitious they are.  Where it comes to some social constructs like the nobility, which is free to go hunting daily and have game (and x.p.) scared up for their convenience, it is obviously much easier to reach second level than a poor student who has lucky to find a position at an obscure pastor's country church.  And, of course, there is experience for treasure.  A celebrity (hero) or adventurer may do well in that capacity, but the noble or liege's cut from the treasure trains of a conquered foe would be unmatched.

This table is also based on the total experience earned falling off as the individual tends to settle down and travel less.  No doubt an individual would be at the top of their game in their late 30s, but that would be on account of everything they had done up to that time - not because they are still out razing dragons and such.  Of course, they might be - one quest in two years for the local hero still pulls down a healthy 29,000 x.p.  Not to be sneezed at.

The pleasant thing about this table is that it establishes the NPC's level upon his or her age, and not upon their particular authority.  Thus, a grizzled 47 year old sargeant might actually be higher level than the 26 year old regiment commander ... which fits better with things that I have read on such matters.  Playing this encourages players to think twice when dealing with old NPCs - you don't know where they have been.

The other convenient application is that it does not, as many random tables do, equate a 7th level paladin with a 7th level thief.  It is the x.p. that is indicated, and therefore compared with the class requirements.  A total of 47,000 experience, therefore, does indeed indicate a 7th level thief, but only a 5th level paladin.

It might also be helpful to point out that knowing the NPC's experience points is useful for hirelings and so on, when the party wants to know how tough is their purchased sargeant-at-arms.  The calculation can be made swiftly, starting with whatever age you want to spontaneously assign the sargeant ... now you know his experience, his level AND his stats.

There is much more to this NPC generation thing than rolling up six stats and hoping one of them in strange enough to create a character out of.  Age is relevant ... and how helpful is it to have age, stats and experience all linked together in one system?

One last table.  This is not meant to be anything except a showpiece.  It takes the average x.p. required for all classes, and compares it to an age arc based upon a 3% death rate ... and then calculates the number of individuals who would be at each level, and arranges those numbers according to the individual's status.  This, then, is the general distribution per 100,000 leveled persons:

But of course this table is flawed, for reasons I've already given - it doesn't make the valuable distinction between differing classes needing differing amounts of experience (and the 'average' is not determined according to the distribution of classes as given in the earlier post).  As I said, this is nothing more than a demonstration, to show what sort of table could be calculated, having been given the figures.

It is interesting to note that the higher strata stutus groups jump quickly through the lower levels at a young age, peaking at a certain level before dropping off again.  That, to me, was proof positive that the data produces the sorts of results I need.  If you encounter a liege lord, it would be possible that they would be 1st level, but highly unlikely ... and they would be no older than 15, and would likely have a regent commanding the kingdom.  It wouldn't be possible to have a liege, actually in authority over the kingdom, who was less than 8th level.  And that's as it should be.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Pile Of Stones

Let's all calm down and look at a nice piece of architecture.

The Baronial Castle at Fondi, Latium Province, Italy:

Why not ...

The castle of Rocca pia in Tibur, Rome Province, Italy:

And hell, I had to add this: the Villa manlio vopisco, near or part of Tibur.  I know nothing about it, but what a picture:

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

It's Really Just An Encounter Table

Applying the methodology from two posts ago, where a child grows to age 10, I gave an average of 42 for the six stats gained. It does occur to me that some of earlier’s misconception could be cleared up by pointing out that the distribution of strength and other abilities progressively would allow for any particular stat to be above 12, even for a peasant ... and I said as much on Monday, though I failed to bring this up earlier. C’est la vie.

(As an aside, I’d like to mention at this point that the number 42 resting on the backs of peasants is a rather apropos coincidence – but I digress)

But going over it, we have given the child collectively from 12 to 72 points of abilities (average 42), bringing it to age 10. This is the moment of decision. For most of the population, the child has effectively reached its full, mature potential. Without further training of some sort, the child will not get any more intelligent, or wise, or strong, etc. If a classic peasant, he or she will get about the business of living, tending the cattle, sowing and reaping the field, etc.

On the other hand, the child may have some opportunity to improve – because of its social class, or through familial connections, or through gaining an apprenticeship and so on. The child may run away and take work in a chain gang, as a hawker, collector of materials, a porter, a street harlot or successful beggar. Any one of these would suggest a greater strength (raw labor), intelligence (the hawker), dexterity (prostitution) and so on. It is the progression from youth along some moderate profession that allows the youth to continue to improve his or her ability stat.

At no time did I state emphatically that a peasant was doomed to remain a peasant from the moment of birth. I made no genetic argument. I said clearly that is it the lack of education that limits the peasant to the suggested stat distribution.

And as such, the offspring of any existing person could establish themselves in any given ‘status,’ depending upon how they are treated from the moment of birth. A peasant child could rise to the level of king – given the necessary training and opportunity – as easily as a king’s bastard child tossed into the wood could find itself raised to be a peasant.

There is the typical story of Oedipus and hundreds of others, where blood tells the tale of how abandonment cannot hide the truth of a great being – but these were tales, after all, told to soothe the egos of the upper class. I think it quite likely that Oedipus, his feet nailed together, should have died exactly he was meant to die. Certainly, most abandoned children do die.

That said, I still leave room open for Oedipus to get lucky and climb the social ladder anyway. The system as designed works both ways.

Now, Carl has asked how I distribute the classes, having determined the number of leveled persons, and to that I answer, loosely. I have sat and thought about it, and made calculations, that I will include here, but with this provisal – I don’t use these figures, except in the widest sense. At no time have I felt limited by the numbers in determining what class of NPC a party may run across. I admit, I don’t give very many of those classes which, by these numbers, do not occur often.

In calculating the likelihood of a specific class, I apply two characteristics. The first is the likelihood of an individual possessing the stats necessary to BE a given class. A cleric needs a wisdom of 9, a paladin needs a charisma of 17 (and other minimums), an assassin needs a strength of 12 and so on. All of these minimums are available in the player’s handbook.

When you calculate the likelihood of a particular individual of adherent status (3d6 for all stats) or better having the necessary stats, you get the following table:

The hardest classes to qualify for are the monk, the paladin and the ranger, in that order. The fighter is slightly harder than the cleric, mage or thief because the Player’s Handbook adds that the fighter must have a constitution of 7 or better, while those other three principal classes have no second required characteristic.

Obviously, there would be people who would qualify for more than one class, but I don’t need to calculate that, since I am only working out the pass/fail ratio for those who wish to be each specific class.

Moving onto the second characteristic. This would be the minimum age for the class in question – and for simplicity, I use the human table for ages. Obviously, I could create a separate age system for every kind of race, but I don’t need the headache – one template works well enough for me.

I have modified the starting ages for character classes in my world from the DMG, but they are approximately the figures the gentle reader would expect. The youngest age each class can be are as follows: cleric (21), druid (23), bard (26), fighter (15), paladin (20), ranger (18), mage (26), illusionist (31), thief (19), assassin (20), monk (24). These are slightly higher than p. 12 of the DMG, but not adversely so.

This presumes that our 10-year-old child starts at once, that he or she has the necessary statistical minimums (or will have them by 15 – see Monday’s post) and that they can keep up the level of work. If they don’t develop those minimums, it is assumed they failed.

Taking each class, and presuming a 15% drop out rate per year for the first ten years, and a 5% drop out rate thereafter, I get a series of numbers which limit the likelihood of classes based upon how long it takes to learn the class. Far fewer mages, therefore, make the cut than fighters, because a mage must keep at the training for 16 years, while the fighter is done after 5.

Admittedly, the drop out rate is fairly ad hoc – and I could mess around with it in a number of ways to produce numbers I’d be happy with. But what I say is fuck it – its my world and I will produce the numbers I want. You reading this can go produce the numbers you want. All I really offer here is a methodology.

All right. I’ll try to make this as simple as possible. Monday’s table gave 215 leveled persons out of a total of 29,092. I calculate the remaining ‘graduates’ for each class by starting each class with the same number of persons and reduce them by the above drop-out rate, and then multiply that number against the class minimums table given above.

So now I have a a different figure for each class, allowing me to compare them to each other. Using Monday’s table for the ratio of leveled persons to non-leveled persons, I can calculate out the number of each class per 100,000 persons:

Crazy, huh?

The Specifics of Status

I wish to be very clear that I do not run my D&D campaign according to egalitarianist principles.  No doubt, the many social problems that do arise in the world come from social inequality, but nevertheless a class system does exist and is, for good or for bad, an intrinsic part of a Renaissance world.  I would not fault players who wished to establish a government based upon egalitarianism, but they would be forced to work with the materials they had, just as the founding fathers of every modern country in the world did.  It may be well to wish that all men and women are created equal, but the fact remains that some persons come up through the world as peasants, and some come up through the world as the 'upper classes' - whatever term one may wish to use.

Intrinsically, D&D itself is a system based upon inequality.  Stats and character classes provide exclusionary privileges to some while denying others.  Said classes provide opportunities to some to join guilds or religious organizations, which necessarily are conditionally secretive and manipulative of the general society.  These things do create a great deal of evil - more evil than good, I would argue.  And yet I cannot see a system working any other way.  I do not desire my world to be a utopia.  A utopia would not create conflict and drama.

This may seem all very obvious to the gentle reader, but since I am about to outline just how some persons in the society are technically stronger than others, I feel I need to make myself clear.  To me, a peasant being less than a king is no different than a goblin being less than an ogre.  There is a social hierarchy, and each being has its place within.

That said, consider the following table:

I have given a description of the various status groups before, so I will skip doing it here.  Suffice to say that as you move down the list, the status increases, the relative rarity increases, hit points increase and so on.  I should have created a line on this table between the attendant and the adherent - as this is the point dividing zero-level persons from leveled persons.

Please note that in no way is this list limited to humans, or indeed to any particular race or even hit die.  It would be just as easy to calculate a night hag's stats on this table as anything else - assigning the hag according to what status the reader felt she held in the social system.  Obviously the hag is leveled ... and would have to have a high intelligence.  What is presented here is a gauge for determining the rarity of a night hag Queen vs. a night hag minion.

Also note that more than 99% of the population is NOT leveled.  I have had reason to reconsider that occasionally ... but the reader must be careful in using the table where it comes to a given segment of the population.  The table does not mean to give the suggestion that in a town of 29,000 persons, only 216 would be leveled.  Members of a town would be the elite individuals of any given state - and it is presumed that a town (pop. 5,000 or more) would be surrounded by a great many manors and other centers of industry.  Where a town might have 5,000 persons, the likelihood is that the surrounding environs would have another 25,000, so that within the town itself 1 in 25 persons might be levels (the remaining levels distributed about the hinterland).  I know this is not D&D canon - the Monster Manual in particular seems to suggest that leveled persons, even persons above 6th level, are as common as hay - but I find this system works for my purposes.

Moving along.  The hit points (HP) column I think is fairly clear, but I would point out that the hit points listed for peasant through exemplary are part of my hit points for mass system ... with comparatively sickly peasants having few, and healthier individuals having more.  Attendants and better add hit points according to their skills (with leveled persons adding a lot more hit points), and so it is listed as 'variable.'

Now, the Roll Distribution column may not be clear.  What this gives is the number of dice rolled to determine each ability stat.  As I said yesterday, a peasant rolls 2d6 for their stats.  A laborer does better in that one of their six stats is rolled using 3d6.  The artisan gets two stats rolled with 3d6 and so on, to where the adherent, being leveled, gets a jump over the attendant and has all their stats rolled with 3d6.

The zealot, being somewhat better than a mere adherent, is shown here having 1 die roll for stats being 4d6; this would mean the standard practice of rolling four dice and discarding the lower die.  The adventurer (which should not be confused with the player character) does better than the zealot in having two stats rolled with 4d6.  And so on.  Thus the player character fits into the system as being having the best average statistics in the world ... and this I find quite correct, as players are special.

For comparison, the reader can see how the Average Stats go up as status increases.

This is a fair bit of meat, so I'll leave off here - having answered Carl's question - before moving on.

Extra Credit: Consider how this above might be applied to these figures here.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Child Growth

Sorry. It’s time for a little more arithmetic.

(sounds of mice clicking as readers find other websites)

This bit of calculation occurred to me four or five years ago, when I was attempting to figure out how different a child would be from an adult where it came to ability scores. Without really trying, I stumbled across a methodology for determining exactly that. I felt, in all humility, that it was one of my more brilliant moments.

And then I did nothing about it. I did not write it down, nor make notes about it. In fact, I clean forgot about it. Until last Friday, that is, when it popped unbidden back into my brain.

You understand, I am that sort that gets up from my computer desk to get a drink; and finding the coffee cold in the coffee maker, I’ll put it in the microwave. While it’s heating, I’ll get the cream out of the fridge and as I’m reaching for the sugar in the cupboard, it will occur to me that there’s just one thing I should add to the spreadsheet I'm working on. Then I’ll think of another thing, and then another ... and at some point my wife will come into my study, mention that she’s found the cream in the cupboard - again - and ask if I want the cold coffee I’ve left in the microwave (where it has heated up and had time to turn cold again).

This is my life.

So I had better get this written down before I forget it again.

If we start with a baby, zero years old, we may assess the newborn’s ability statistics as all equal to zero. I know for certain that there would be some who would argue that the newborn’s statistics ought to equal at least 1 point each for strength, intelligence and so on, but I would respectfully disagree. It may be true that the baby has a certain potential for intelligence, wisdom, etc., but I would argue that at the point of birth, none of these things could possibly be known. I would ask the gentle reader to consider this a system which does not depend upon ‘an end result’ being pre-determined, and worked towards. It is one of the things I particularly like.

Now let us move forward through the child’s first year. Suppose that we roll some dice, 2d4 +2 to be specific. This gives us a minimum of 4, a maximum of 10 and an average of 7. These are those points gathered by the baby as it ages to one year. Now let us take a d6 for each point, and assign to each number of the die an ability stat.

If the child is typical, it will gain 7 points, and these points will disperse themselves throughout the infant’s statistics. It may find itself with (let’s say) a 1 str, a 2 int, a 1 wis, a 2 con, a 0 dex and a 1 chr.

A couple of salient points. No doubt some reader would pronounce the child’s charisma as necessarily more, since children are beautiful creatures (which is true and good, otherwise we would drown them) ... but I must argue in response that charisma is not all beauty, and it is not exactly the sort of beauty that one would equate with a full grown adult. We can presume a certain childish comeliness, but let’s not confuse this with charisma.

Secondly, would an infant conceivably have a 0 dexterity? I’d argue yes. Not all babies walk at eleven months of age, even in this modern era; in a medieval setting, some children would suffer from all variety of maladies, and these could account for a baby having a slow growth vis a vis any of the given stats. So let us accept the 0 as a permissible result. (Those out there who disagree could assign 1 point to each stat first, before assigning them randomly ... but this will not help if the infant does not roll at least six points initially).

Now, if we judge that the change from birth to age 1 is the most significant growth period in the human being, we can move on thusly: as the child reaches its second year, we modify the increase in stats by a die roll of 2d4 -1. This generates a number from 1 to 7, with an average of 4. We again distribute these numbers randomly.

It might be interesting if this 2-year-old, like Hercules, rolled the maximum gain possible and miraculously distributed all its points into only strength. This would give our budding strong man a strength of 17 (and zero in everything else). Not very likely ... but one of the things I do like about this system is the degree of wild randomness that could occur.

To control that randomness, I would argue that the maximum any stat could be raised to would be 18. It would seem to make sense that any additional increase to strength, specifically, past 18 would push it up to 18/01, 18/51, 18/76 and so on (AD&D, remember), but there are reasons this shouldn’t happen. I shall explain.

If we give the child as it ages an additional 2d4 -1 stat up until the age of 15, we will find that the total average of all the statistical points given to the child is 63, (7 for the first year, and 4 for each of the years thereafter). This is, coincidentally, the same average that is gotten from six rolls of 3d6 each. What we have done is to work out another method of achieving that average, but doing it one year at a time. We have also allowed for a system to work out the ability scores for any child of any age, presuming that after the age of 15, that child is effectively an adult.

You could, if you wished, play a group of 12-year-old children by this method, rolling up a character normally and then subtracting random stats until achieving the desired age. Why anyone would wish to do this, I don’t know, but here is your method for affecting the immaturity of the players.

This is really just the beginning of a series of articles that I'm writing to answer two questions from two different readers: Carl, who asked how I determine the number of levels in my world, and Jhandar, who asked me how well my population was able to accept magic, and what obstacles might stand in the way of converting a large part of the population into magic users.

You see, I divide my population into types, based not on race, but upon social status.  I believe that, past a certain age, one's ability scores would only increase through schooling ... and not naturally, as suggested above.  The cut off date would be, I believe, the age of 10.  And at that age, I would propose an additional -1 modifier to the gained ability stats ... so that at 10 without formal education, the total added would be 2d4 -2.  This would make an overall average of 7 + 32 (4 x8 years) + 3 ... or 42.  This is the same average that would be achieved by six rolls of 2d6 each.

Why is that significant?  These are the stat totals I assign to my peasant class: a 2d6 strength, intelligence, wisdom and so on ... very much limiting their serviceable usefulness for most everything.  Peasants make up the largest part of the population, have no education and suffer from maladies beyond number.  The DMG does not make any explanation for why an average peasant couldn't chuck his hoe and go be a fighter - but I do make a distinction.

It's not impossible: a member of the peasant class has a strength of 2 to 12; on average, 10 in 36 peasants would have the minimum 9 strength necessary to become a fighter.  They could thus go off to the wars, like Nym, Bardolph and Pistol, and possibly do well for themselves.

Of course, following the Player's Handbook to the letter, if they had the minimum strength, they could not be fighters if they did not have a wisdom, dexterity, constitution and charisma over 5.  The chance for any one of those to be less than six is 1 in 6; calculating out the likelihood, then, 2/3rds of those fighters with the necessary strength wouldn't have the other necessary stats to succeed.  But then, Bardolph was hanged (insufficient wisdom).

If by this time I haven't lost you, I'll get into some numbers and status figures with the next post.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Keep 'Em Hungry

Well, it is clear that we can talk on this subject for a long, long time. So let’s not stop now.

Here I quote from Jhandar again,

“The trafficking and sale of actual magical items within the realm of commerce ... this may be an easy opinion to suppose given the relative expenses of other luxury items within your world. Simply put, is it that they are rarely, if ever, available, and cost quite literally a king’s ransom to procure?”

However logical it may be that any produced commodity by a rare segment of the population ought to have a price attached to that commodity, I am forced to confess that in this case I adhere to the enormous elephant in the room: that this is a game. And being a game, there are limitations which I apply for the sake of playability. And for this particular circumstance, I believe that playability presumes that the game must have a certain level of challenge AND theatrics.

As such, I don’t allow players to buy magic items. I do allow them to SELL them ... but I’ve never had a player do so, not in 24 years of having economics incorporated in the game. Now and then, I’ve had a player barter an item in exchange for a resurrection, restoration, regeneration or raise dead spell - they’d rather have back their level, or their arm, or their life, than the magic item. But this is the only case where I’ve had a player agree to surrender a (non-cursed) magic item willingly. They will otherwise keep a weapon or other item they can’t personally use, in the hopes they might give it to someone else in the party (a henchman or another player). Most magic items, however, will be useful ... eventually.

For the record, I’ve had parties gain magic items through bartering, also ... almost always in exhange for some service they’ve performed. I see that as likely; a master of a realm is likely to have extra swords and things laying about, reserved for just such an occasion. Still, one must wonder why they don’t distribute them to their minions - unless it is that they don’t trust their minions. But then, why should they trust the party?

Only one reason I can think of. The game is more playable that way.

Let me give a universal example of how playability trumps possibility where it comes to games.

I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the game of monopoly, although I haven’t played in years. It is a clever game in concept, but I think that where the game falls down is where it depends upon the competance of the people you play with. Invariably, as you are fighting to win the game, Harold on your right does something unbelievably stupid, like trading away Marvin Gardens to Jeremy on your left for Mediterranean, giving the yellow properties wholly into the hands of your chief enemy while gaining the pathetic mauve properties in return. Result? You’re fucked, and you weren’t part of the deal. And you don’t have any right to be part of the deal.

Worse, if you’ve ever played with the sort of miserable people who decide that since you’re a problem, they can simply give their properties - lock, stock and barrel - to your primary competition just to see you lose, you’re well aware of the faults in the game. There are no rules that say they can’t do that. But there’s no point in playing once they have.

As a result, I spent many years seeking to play the game with alternate rules, which limited trading or simply removed trading altogether - such as allowing the building of houses on single properties, or limiting how many houses you can build a turn in order to even out the competition, and so on. And generally, rules like those made the game better for everyone.

Now I know that there are people out there who ADORE the property-trading aspects of monopoly, who swear vehemently that the game is ruined by limiting or otherwise eliminating that aspect. But I’ve never enjoyed playing with those people. Mostly because Jeremy, who is able to persuade the stupid ass Harold into thinking Mediterranean-Baltic is a winning strategy, is actually sort of an asshole.

On many levels, I feel that the DMs out there who have kiosks in their world selling the Ring of Gaxx or the Sphere of Annihilation (we’re overstocked this week, selling at half price!) are, again, a different sort of asshole. I want that very clear because when I get comments from DMs that tell me that THEY do allow players to buy magic items, I want it clear how I feel about them. I think they’re assholes.

There will always be a very special response from a magic-starved party when a particular enemy is using a wand of such-and-such against them. They may hate the damage, the saving throws and the general threat, but said party will be slavering to get their hands on that wand of ... whatever. This is what I meant earlier when I spoke of theatrics. It is a tremendously charged moment in the game - a magical moment, if you will - when you tell a successful party that there is magic within the treasure.

It takes a real asshole to reduce this part of the game in exchange for allowing other assholes the privilege of buying +1 daggers from the bargain bin down at ‘Enchantorama.’ I’ve had the opportunity, now and then, to watch such groups play, and it is a pretty pathetic collection of non-thinking boobs solving all their problems with whatever they’ve remembered to shop for - rather than with their brains.

So I don’t allow buying magic, and I keep my parties pretty magic scarce. For example, the online party has YET to see a magic item; I know they’d love for me to give them one. And I will. When the time is right.

See? Theatrics.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

All The Magic In The World

The question I received from Jhandar goes as follows:

“While I understand that economic spread sheet calculations represent trends and pricing guidelines for your world, I wonder at various magical spells that would have fairly large impacts on certain items. From basic agriculture benefiting from a plant growth spell which is available to both druids and mages, the impact of this and frequent application would lead crop yields centuries into the future ...”

A large impact? No, not really.

While mage spells are able to effect an immediate change upon the environment, in all reality the world is simply too big a place for it to be productively influenced by the presence of magic. There are not enough magicians, particularly of high enough level to cast spells that have permanent effects, and they are too scattered throughout the civilization of my world.

Take the first, best example, plant growth, which was specifically mentioned. According to my player’s handbook, it requires a third level druid to cast the spell, as it is a third level spell. Now, this is not so unlikely - druids are uncommon, but I would estimate there are three for every hundred levelled persons, and one third level druid (or stronger) for every eight druids encountered.

Given the previous post, the reader must remember that not every third level druid in my world would take plant growth as a spell, particularly their first spell - but there are less than twenty third-level druid spells that I use, so it would probably get taken by a fair number of druids who were eighth level or better. The ninth level druid in my offline campaign has the spell.

Plant growth is described by the book as affecting a 1” diameter square per level. I always consider that 1” = 10 feet, but the DMG is clear that in the outdoors, 1” = 10 yards. For the purpose of this post, let’s use the DMG’s definition.

This sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t. Let us say a 12th level druid (call him Troy) decides to influence the local crop production by casting the spell every day on the local Lord’s fields. Each day Troy grows 10,800 square feet of ground, enabling that land to be immediately harvested. In the space of a month, Troy can affect 324,000 square feet.

However, when you consider that one acre = 43,560 square feet, this is a total of only six acres. A typical, poor peasant will normally influence the growth of 30 acres, which will grow a crop of hay in as little as 60 days. Most other crops take less than 100 days. In 100 days, Troy can affect all of 24.7 acres - less than an ordinary peasant can accomplish by applying simple labour and time.

Since there would normally be forty times 30 acres on a typical manor, and as there are literally tens of thousands of manors in my world - from which the grain supply derives - we’re talking about a paltry effect where it comes to the casting of the spell. This is reduced further when it is considered that I don’t rule that a spell has a different influence depending on whether one is outdoors or not, so that a plant growth spell in my world cast by a 12th level druid only affects 1,200 square feet per day. Troy would be far better off paying attention to other things, and letting his hired men raise crops ... and very occasionally stepping in to influence things when the weather needs a kick in its ass.

Even at that, spells like precipitation and cloudburst affect comparatively small areas of land, and produce vastly reduced amounts of rain, when compared with natural phenomena. It takes a very high level druid to really bend the weather around - and one has to ask, why would he bother?

Wouldn’t it come to light for many very high level druids that, philosophically, there is as much a logic to death, decay and drought as there is to abundance? Drought clears land and reduces the population - people being, always, the worst enemy of druids. And while not all druids would have this outlook, it again reduces the class influence.

So, when you add up the variables - the number of druids, the minimum level of the druid, the likelihood of the druid taking that spell, the very high level the druid needs to be to have even minimal effect, and the inclination of the druid ... we are talking about no real effect on the economy at all.

Remember, it is a very large economy. I think the scale of my world is really what is at question here. The vastness of what hundreds of millions of people can do in terms of manufacturing washes out the special influence of a few powerful magicians - who, on the whole, represent perhaps 0.01% of the population.

Similar examples abound. The creation of both a wall of iron or a wall of stone, for instance. These are both fifth level mage spells, and so they are naturally rarer than plant growth. The Player’s Handbook describes a wall of stone as a 5’ square surface, 3’ thick (I think - I may have to go home and look this up). While this has a marvellous use for an instant wall in many situations, and where it will help throw up a shelter in a matter of days ... but a single casting still represents only the amount of work that could be expected to be done by any ordinary labourers in the space of a day. And day labourers are MUCH easier to come by than 9th level mages who happen to have the spell in question. Construction goes on everywhere, all the time ... and I can also imagine the labourers are a LOT cheaper than finding, recruiting and compensating the mage would be.

And there is a consideration in terms of engineering acumen. A mage may be able to throw up a twenty foot stone wall, three feet thick ... but who’s to say it has been properly settled on a good foundation? Would that wall have exactly the necessary shape, taking in account of the stress factors that tons of stone creates? I would wonder how many foolish mages would spend weeks throwing up a castle, only to die in the night as it collapsed under its own weight. A mage would also have to be a mason if any structure magically created in this fashion was expected to exist permanently. And that combination makes the likelihood even rarer.

There are similar concerns about a wall of iron. Most players would imagine that the iron could be used to easily plate the outside of a tower - but iron is many times the weight of stone. Medieval iron is not equivalent to the prehensile steel we use to make office towers. Any permanent fixture made of iron would have real problems.

These are the sorts of things that I know many other players disdain to consider. But I find my pleasure in thinking about how these things would work within the existing frame of reality. There it is, and if you read this blog you won’t be surprised.

Now, coming to Jhandar’s question about technology - yes, there is much to be said for the effects of magical research. Magic would allow for considerable investigations into every scientific field ... including mathematics, but I will let the theoreticists argue about that. I believe that a magically fuelled world would be technologically beyond the natural world as it was in the mid-seventeenth century (my world’s time frame). Chemistry and medicine would in particular be understood to a far greater degree. And this is why I do consider, fundamentally, that every imaginable technology could conceivably exist on my world, however difficult it may be to find.

That difficulty I believe is based upon another consideration in magic, which does not exist in the real world - not all magic works for good. Yes, a group of magicians should be able to research the method and build a ‘space elevator’ into space. Hell, why not? It is cutting edge technology for us, at the moment in development stage by a company working in Seattle. But that company does not have to deal with something that a magical world must consider - that any apprentice fool with a change cantrip can weaken the chemical structure of the metal holding up said elevator, such that it need not crash down this minute, but at any time. Anything delicate could, quite easily, be spoiled by the simplest of magic - the very magic that a boy is taught before he learns his first full spell.

If you accept the existence of cantrips (and I do), then the argument must be made that as a mage gathers knowledge, he or she learns these little cantrips. And there would be many more half mages or quarter mages running around with a cantrip or two than there would be actual mages in the world.

And so if the world had flintlocks and arquebuses, it would only take a few apprentice mages to dampen their powder and cause those weapons to blow up in the user’s face. Any sort of delicate instrument, from motors to light bulbs to whatever you will would be at the mercy of unravel, tarnish, tangle and so on. This is a main reason why a fighter might be more interested in a durable, reliable broadsword than in a pistol.  A crossbow, fucked with, just falls apart.  A pistol, fucked with, blows up.

The power of magic to destroy invented technology is far more pervasive than its power to create technology. It is not only the magic we would like to have, but ALL the magic, possessed by every kind of creature - and many more creatures and actual gods (unlike this world where we have only mock gods), all with an agenda, with a purpose, far beyond what the players can realize.

For every force increasing crop yields, there are forces capable of poisoning or curdling the world in order to keep the peasants starving and weak, to undermine kingdoms or to bring down other competitors.  The only thing that keeps this chaos in check is that, over it all, there exists a supernatural hierarchy having one all-consuming interest:


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Spell Gathering

It was recently pointed out to me that I have few posts on this blog on the subject of magic, and there is one simple explanation. This is one very large part of the original AD&D system that I don’t have a problem with.

To some degree, I have over the years sat down and done rewrites on many of the spells, tweaking them here or there to make them moderately more powerful, or moderately less powerful, as I feel necessary to keep a level of playability in my campaign. I have dumped the somatic and material components, something I’ve mentioned before. Beyond that, however, I can think only of one other significant change - and it doesn’t seem like a change to me, since it follows a practice that virtually everyone I knew adopted decades ago.

Before I get into that, however, I just want to say I’m going to be writing a number of posts in the near future about magic, all in answer to a very long email from a fellow named Andy, asking me quite a number of questions. It seems better to answer them here, since it is that email that told me I don’t write about magic.

As I understand it, according to either the Player’s handbook or the DM’s Guide (I haven’t bothered to look it up, I’ve never played by this rule anyway and I leave it to the ambitious reader to go find the passage), a mage is supposed to roll a percentile according to his or her intelligence for each spell - to see what they are capable of using. Out of the thirty first level spells given in the PH, a mage with a 17 intelligence (75%) would be expected to miss seven or eight.

(for clerics, druids and illusionists, the limitation is I believe the complete spell list)

Then, each day, the caster would ‘memorize’ the spells of his or her choosing, from among those which were successfully added to the spell book. If the caster were to be powerful enough to use two spells, then this morning they might choose jump and magic missile. But tomorrow, they might choose instead to take find familiar and shocking grasp. The logic is that the caster would take whatever spells from the list which seemed most eminently practical for that day.

The problem arises, always, in that the mage will generally fail to announce what spells they have taken that day ... until, of course, the encounter arrives. And then the caster will conveniently say that they have taken whatever is best for that moment.

For some of you that are out there, who write blogs and who comment on this one, that is all well and good. From what I’ve read, many soft-hearted DMs would insist on the caster taking the best possible spell. Why not give the caster precognition? Hell, why not give the caster the privilege of using ALL their spells, and as often as they want?

I learned to play this game with some rather stiff-necked folks, who got testy when the caster suddenly decided they had taken feather fall on precisely this day. And from there the arguments would start. Which led to soreness, which led to everyone agreeing to set a ‘default’ on the spells they would take IF it turned out they’d failed to announce them.

Well, obviously, the default was used more or less continuously, particularly as spellcasters gained in level to the point where they had ten or more spells they could use each day. Anyone would get tired writing them out over and over, in the world of pencil and paper - and most everyone just said fuck it and kept the defaults. Until, obviously, the group of DMs I played with (me included) made the final decision that everyone would use ONLY the defaults, and to hell with this picking spells every day.

And that is how I play it.

Most casters in my world have three first level spells to begin with (instead of one as in the PH), and these spells are unchangeable. I have been doing it this way for so long - and I have no complaints. I am flexible enough in my use of magic that mages feel, in the long run, as powerful as fighters, and so the methodology is accepted.

But it does assign a lot of the spells in the lists to the scrap heap. Who would take mending as one of their first three spells? Or as their fourth, fifth or sixth spell? Recently I am bitterly struck with the thought of those who might do that - a post I am saving for another day. The players I have wouldn’t.

The only time when mending might come up as a spell would be on a scroll. Who is making this scroll, I can’t imagine - perhaps some very low intelligence mage who failed every spell except mending. In any case, I can easily see such a person pumping out dozens, hundreds of scrolls for a local lord, who would then give them as gifts to other people.

The economic effects of this ‘giving out’ might be seen as significant - but I don’t think it would be. And it is the effect of magic on economics that I will be talking about next. This post was only to establish how casters obtained spells, and which spells they might be expected to have.

Friday, May 7, 2010


There may be a few people out there who felt that, since my first few cliche posts were negative, that I intended to rant about all of them.  So it might have been odd that the last couple weren't especially vitriolic - I may have disappointed some. 

As it happens, my acidic responses are not something I have on tap.  I have to actually despise something before I can rail against it.  I know, I know - if that's the case, what am I doing on the internet?  Sometimes I'm not sure.  Just waiting for a streetcar, I guess.

That said, we'll move forward.  This is the first multiple cliche I've tackled - because they are connected:

"Some Call Me ... Tim?:"  Good guys will only have first names, and bad guys will only have last names.  Any bad guy who has a first name will become a good guy at some point in the game.  Good guys' last names may be mentioned in the manual, but they will never be referred to in the story.

"Nominal Rule:"  Any character who actually has a name is important in some way and must be sought out.  However, if you are referred to as a part of a possessive noun ("Crono's Mom") then you are superfluous.

Naming is often a novelist's pet subject, and has been ever since Dickens taught us we could name characters Honeythunder and Skimpole - the conception that a character's names could mean something significant to what the character was.  I have named survivor characters "Seth" (Adam's 3rd son), unlucky characters "Murphy" and heartless murderers "Kelt" (invaders from the north, remember?), only to have readers scratch their heads and miss the point.  For the most part, I might as well have named them Bob and Rick ... but I keep trying, since it's more fun for me.  These days, you still have to incorporate names as unsubtle as Dickens for them to be noticed, but with a modern flavour, like calling a gay pimp "Dick Joint."  But I digress, and I haven't even started yet.

The two cliches above can be explained easily.  Last names are colder and have less emotional attachment than first names.  Coming up with meaningful names for people is hard.

A lot of the time, we never do find out a person's name ... particularly if that person is just scenery for us.  We chat with the girl in the coffee shop every day before work, but it can be months before there's a convenient moment to find out their name - which we then forget promptly as it isn't that important (unless we plan to date her, right?)  We don't care about the names of bus drivers, the asshole driving the sportscar that just cut us off, the kid in the ticket booth or the poor slob emptying the garbage outside the bathroom at the sports arena.  When the usher tells you to get your feet off the seat in front of you at the movie theatre, you don't ask for their name, do you?

If you do, you have serious confrontation issues.

So it is convenient enough to make some grunting statement about the guard telling you to move it along or the tax man clipping you for two gold for that shiny mithril helmet you must wear every place and won't leave in your room at the Inn.  If I gave you a name, you wouldn't remember it, and I wouldn't remember it.  I have better things to do as DM than to make endless notes about what the tax man's name is until - yes, he's relevant.

Deciding who is relevant can be a tremendous hassle.  Fact is, for every forty names that I give a party, there is perhaps one that gets remembered - and still usually with a dialogue like, "Who's Gracco?"  "You know, the guy who ran that Inn in the town outside Brawnick."  This is usually how it goes, off-line particularly, since my online players can look shit up.  I've given the city as Brunswick, not 'Brawnick,' the town was Wolfenbuttel and the Inn was named the Red Roan.  But who remembers?

Give the party a hireling, tell the party to name the hireling and they will remember the hireling's name.  But tell the party the hireling's name and they'll be saying for three sessions, "Rudert?  Rugert?  Which is it?" - when the fellow's name is Goethe.

The whole first name/last name thing breaks down a little, since the more bad ass we want the good guy to be, the more likely you remember him by his last name ... particularly if the guy's name gets shouted at lot by his partner or by the bad guys.  McLean was the Die Hard, Riggs was the Lethal Weapon, Porter went after the Payback and both Angel and Butterman are the Hot Fuzz.  It has ever been such: we remember all badass historical figures by the last name: Patton, Lee, Rommel, Wellington, Wallace, Custer (not as much a badass as he thought he was) and so on.  American Presidents get both names, but the last is still more important.  Kings get a first name, which is why it's 'Napoleon' and not 'Bonaparte.'  King Louis XIV, Philip II and Queen Elizabeth had last names, but they don't get mentioned unless the whole line is being discussed.  When you're really big, people think that your title is your last name; Genghis Khan, or Augustus.  And finally, the Gods get to use their only name, always.

So unless it is a king or a god, the tougher and nastier I want the NPC to be, the more likely I am to give them a last name.  Makes them more distant, more obscure.  I have a paladin named Eberhardt Hornung, I'm going to call him by his last name.  But I want his girlfriend to be softer, warmer, more emotionally attached - so she gets called Serafina.  If I want a sort of pleasant, clerical fellow to be met along the way, he gets named Jan.  If its a brother and sister pair of murderers and con-artists, they get to be known as Herieux.  And so on.

So it isn't so much protagonist vs. antagonist.  More like threatening vs. non-threatening.  When I was young I used to dream of the day when I would grow up and be called Mr. Such-and-such, like I had to call everyone older than 18 when I was just a kid.  But by the time I got old enough to be called that, my culture got all soft and sympathetic, deciding that Mr. This or Ms. That was just too threatening for everyday contact ... and so we are all reduced to the general arrangement first established in kindergarten.  Makes me bitter whenever I think about it.

I like being known by my last name.  Makes me feel badass.  Yeah.  Don't fuck with --.  He'll hurt you.


In the comments section of a post from my online campaign, I am dealing with a player who is considering suicide.  So this is as good a time as any to address the subject.

Character self-execution is a problem in D&D, most commonly with players who find themselves saddled with poorly rolled statistics - something that does occur through no fault of their own.  It is not enough to say that players 'should' play with whatever they are given, or that stats have nothing to do with the game, or any other such blatant nonsense.  It is true that character is relevant, but it becomes sickeningly dull to always be the druid who must constantly be saved by the rest of the party for lack of hit points, while always standing next to the strapping killer with the 18/86 strength and the 18 constitution.  Let's face it - if every player in the party had poor stats, the whole 'stats don't matter' argument would have a little more relevance ... but any long time player of the game knows what its like when everyone else has three 17s or better, and you are stuck with a player who's best stat is 15 and there's only one of those.

A significant portion of the game does hinge on chance, and while the fellow with the three 17s would play his character as thoroughly if he had only one 15, even he is aware that it would suck to be left with no fallback where it comes to attack, damage, thieving abilities, knowing spells, anti-poison saving throws and so on.  Stats are hugely important to many of the survival qualities of the game ... and the player with the single 15 isn't fooling himself or herself - chances are, they won't live to see 4th level.  So why bother now?

This is less of an issue for you people out there playing one-off campaigns and who don't play week in and week out with the same players.  Next time, for you readers, you'll be the player with the 18 double-ought and someone else can play the tag-along.

This is not so in the sort of sandbox campaign I play.  My characters can expect to live, and live, and live ... the main four members of the party, as they stand right now, have all been alive for two and a half years.  That is a long time to put up with crap stats.

So players get reasonably upset when they get short shrift on their die rolls.  And since I don't let them simply kill themselves, they consider running pell mell into the next combat, hoping an orc will kill them instead.

I've had players that this was so bad with that any grouping of stats less than four scores over 16 wasn't enough - and they'd try to self-execute until finally they got the Holy Grail of die rolls.  Generally, I've asked such people to leave my campaign.

The dependence that some players have upon die rolls has caused me since almost the beginning to insist that I am watching, personally, the six rolls a player makes to create a character.  This is something I can't do online, and it bothers me a little.  I've just known too many people to reason with themselves along the lines of, "if the stats are decent, I won't want to play anyway - I will be a better player if this is a 16 instead of a 14."  Unless you are new to this game, don't tell me you haven't met them also.

I do have a couple of principles I follow to try and mitigate disappointment.  To begin with, I usually insist that any group of six stats rolled have at least one 16 and one 15.  Once upon a time, I would have the player roll one of their middle rolls - preferably a 10 or an 11, until they rolled above 14.  I didn't like to replace low rolls, since I feel numbers below 9 are excellent in adding character, and I didn't like to have them re-roll a 13 or a 14, since these stats are also very useful in providing for a character's survival.  There is often a tendency among new players to think that anything less than a 15 is a throwaway stat - which is a sad commentary on the game.  I think probably later editions tried to play against this with skill selection and the like, but I'm not really sure.  It is, in a good game, a self-correcting perception; a player will learn that every stat has value, once they have learned to play.

I do believe that giving players a variety of personal skills not based on the stats helps to mitigate a selection of poor stats - which I accomplish with my character background lists.  But the long and the short of it is, a player needs to be happy.  I want the player to be happy.  And I have found that most decent, reasonable players can be happy with the minimum of a 15 and a 16 stat - even standing next to the thief with the 19 dexterity.

As far as the tendency to self-destruction, I feel a DM has to live with it to a certain degree.  I am adverse to outright suicide - my opinions are given in the comments section of the linked post above, but I'll reprint them here, with some expugation:

"You cannot be so certain that you would succeed at committing suicide. The act of self-murder is not comparable with the act of killing someone else. It requires resolution and a level of constitution, as the body is full of natural instincts and resistances against anti-survival ... I could not allow the character to toss it away without first having to roll dice to determine if the character had the strength. Now this is a bone of contention with many people, who believe firmly that a character should be able to do anything, and not be affected by doubt, or indecision, or anything else that every human would be afflicted with if the thing to be done were REAL. But my world is an addressing of the REAL, and I would fail in my conceptualization of this game if I allowed characters willy nilly to do everything that seized their Hydeian fancy at a given moment - I don’t care who they kill, but cutting their own arms and legs off, our gouging out their own eyes - simply because the character has a restoration spell - I draw the line at making these things common and ordinary only because a player cannot for five minutes consider that a character would never truly do a thing like this, whatever healing powers existed. There would have to be a pretty good reason for someone to kill themselves, trusting to a resurrection spell, before it would make sense - and in any event, that player would still have to roll dice to succeed. Every uncertain thing in the game requires that dice be rolled to determine success."

Perhaps the word 'Hydeian' is a bit obscure ... I refer to Mr. Hyde, the traditional character without any sense of guilt or conception regarding the consequences of his actions.  I feel that many players would like to have a sort of 'Mr. Hyde button' that they could conveniently push whenever it was necessary to move past the mundane and inconvenient circumstances of their own characters.  "Out of Character" is not a stipulated restriction in the game.  Even the most flower-loving halfling maiden character will sidle a half-step to the left in character if a little brutal butchery will bring in a little gold and experience.  And it is not the DM's pervue to nix such behavior, however much is it irrational given all the time she talks about fuzzy bunnies, or waxing on about the occasional doe drinking from the nearby pond.  The player does indeed have a certain right to cry out adamantly, "But hacking off my own arm IS what my character would do in this situation!"  And I am willing to buy that ... in this situation.

Problem is, players want to argue that the situation is that the guy at the next table made a five g.p. wager that the player wouldn't cut off his arm, and pride demands that now he must, that being that player's character.  And somewhere along this line I start to feel like, what the fuck am I doing running these morons in my campaign?  I could be having sex instead right now.

Not because they should be running their characters to suit me, but because they should be running characters who have more on the ball than what prideful proof they can offer with vivisection at the local tavern.  Sorry, it's just not the sort of thing that amuses me.  Whereas DMing is effort, and I don't want to waste it on characters bent on proving their general idiocy rather than acting as rational beings.  And so it is invariably at that moment that I'd like to have the nimble stranger in the corner throw off her robes, demonstrate herself to be a night hag, and use the character's recent loss of limb as an opportunity to enhance her general dining experience.  Just because.

I don't mind if the character wishes to self-execute by orc so much as I despise the practice of suicide - but either way, the player should manage it in such a manner that I am impressed with the thought given, or I am duped by the apparent innocence of the plan.  I repeat, again, that I am in the role of the opposition, there to provide obstacles to whatever the characters may wish to do - and self-destruction is no less of a goal than any other.  If the character will do it, I will thwart it, by whatever reasonable means I have available.  If you will insist a character must be clever in order to kill an opponent, I will insist that a character must be clever to kill his or her self.