Monday, July 5, 2010

"Sorry, We're Out"

This last weekend I spent most of my free time working out an algorithm for my equipment table, intended to make things a little more interesting. Principally, I mean to have it calculated automatically whether or not a particular object will be available for sale, based upon the actual prevalence of that object in the area where the market is to be found. What this means is not a flat random result for every object - certain things will always be found in certain areas, without fail. Beer, for example, will always appear on the list if one is in Germany, or indeed most anywhere in Europe. Wine, cattle, cereals, leather goods and a wide variety of other things will also be constants on the list. Anything that has worldwide distribution, in short.

Beer isn’t worldwide, so if I’ve done the table right, the further away from northern Europe one gets, the more likely it would be to start appearing on the list as not available. If all goes well, at any given time about half the number of obscure things on the list should wind up being unavailable a lot of the time ... and some things being virtually ALWAYS unavailable ... unless one moves into the sphere of that item’s production.

For example, a lot of the gems which I listed two posts ago. Although they are fairly common, and cheap, many of them are highly localized in their availability and as such I woudn’t expect to see them on my equipment list. Other things that I expect to see drop off for my European based characters includes fur clothing, foodstuffs like spices or various distilled liquors, plus many of those things to be found at the apothecary’s and so on.

I am looking forward to what this will mean when it comes to player expectations. The game is usually played so that wherever one might happen to be, there’s no trouble buying a silver mirror or a bit of wolvesbane. What happens when you need something desperately from the local market town and it just isn’t there?

And worse, there’s no definite expectation a shopclerk can have of when the stuff may arrive next - unlike even the late 20th century, there’s little or no means to determine if foreign goods are going to arrive. Anything produced locally will always, pretty much 100%, be available for purchase, but stuff that is shipped in will be there ... well, when its there.

I do expect that the equipment table for any region can be generated again once per week ... which potentially different results. However, in the case of things that might have a less than 10% chance of being there, another week probably won’t help. Players may have to wait months for some items, mostly because some things in my world are painfully rare.

A particular example is a metal prosthetic hand which one can purchase to replace the appendage they’ve lost - that matches the function of a real hand by virtue of magic ... magic that is maintained by the monthly use of a expensive substance called ‘faerie oil.’ This is not a substance that is famously available.

Which, off hand, gives them a reason to keep agents or trustworthy henchmen in a particular town. “Wait here, Schmidt, and when it arrives, buy it!” I can see players keeping five or ten agents in various local trading towns throughout a given region, in the hopes that one of them will get lucky where it comes to very specialized goods - such as medicines or certain addictive substances - such as opium.

It does also suggest that a player should determine for themselves where certain substances come from - such as faerie oil or opium - in order to be more certain to get a hold of them, if waiting fails miserably. I have already come across a couple of items which have a less than 0.8% chance of turning up in Luneburg, the location of one of my two online parties. That would mean an average wait of just less than two years.

It occurs to me that within this new feature there must be some means of creating a random treasure table that works. As I’ve said in the past, the thing I hate about treasure tables is that they are functionally dependent on handing out gold - this being the only practical wealth for both party and DM. It is all well and good to talk about creating treasure that is more complicated, such as beer barrels, carved furniture and sheep ... but a problem arises in determining how many of these things to hand out, and how much they’re worth when the party attempts to sell them in the local town.

And there is a problem in WHAT to give. You can’t have twelve treasures in a row that all include 20 complete cowhides and forty silver spoons. If you produce a random table that hands out random items, you’re going to get repeats of things and those repeats are going to be treated by the party as a joke. “Hey, I’ve got fifteen silver plates with the image of the king - how many have you got?”

Trust me ... if you’re going to create a table with non-gold and non-gem items, you need to have hundreds of items, or you’re wasting your time. Go big or go home.

There may be a solution to all three problems - a) that the random generator decides what to give; b) that availability may lead to a determination of ‘stock’ that would solve the how-much-to-give-out problem; and c) that bringing objects into a town that are not available, versus those that are available, might give a clue as to how much a party gets when selling those items off.

In short, for the last, something rare and comparatively low cost might bring in a higher gain than something expensive, yet common. What an interesting effect that might have when it comes time to divide up the treasure after a campaign?