Thursday, September 30, 2010

A *Great* Campaign

Talking about this with my partner last night culminated in her hitting me in the arm repeatedly ... because she still has not forgiven me.

If I could explain.

When my party discovered a huge carved stone in the shape of an altar (though it wasn’t one), part of the description was that the word ‘Xalmoxis’ was written on the stone 22 times. In the course of puzzling out the meaning of the stone, naturally someone – my partner as it happened – locked onto the ‘beetlejuice’ theory. That is, “What if we say Xalmoxis twenty-two times?”

To which I answered, “That’s an idea.”

This was enough to get everyone interested, and my partner thus launched into repeating the word twenty-two times, out loud of course, as the party counted ... and when she got to twenty-one, pleased that it was done, she paused and said it the last time with dramatic effect. During this whole time the room was quiet, waiting in anticipation for what might happen when she was done.

But nothing happened. That was good for several minutes laughing, conjecture and puzzlement, in the middle of which I said, “You did pause, right at the end.”

Which, naturally, encouraged her to do it all over again, without the pause. And as she did, I was thinking to myself, I bet I can make her do it a third time.

Because still nothing happened.  It was never my plan for anything to happen that way (which is why I say a DM has to be principled), and so the player, my partner, was left with egg on her face, which explains why my shoulder hurts this morning.

I have tried to explain this before by declaring myself an asshole, and saying that I like to fuck with my players heads.  But in truth, what it really comes down to is teasing the hell out of people, and doing it in a way that will drive them crazy.

When I said, "That's an idea," I meant literally that.  It was an idea.  That's all it happened to be, but a player will read into something like that and believe, with faith, that I wouldn't say it was an idea unless it really mattered somehow.  And when I said, "You paused," again it was assumed, the DM wouldn't point that out unless it was absolutely relevant.

I am always careful to say these things in deadpan mode.  No expression, no change in voice, no inflection, no indication whatsoever that I mean anything except the literal truth of the words I'm saying.  It isn't easy.  It takes practice.  But the art of inscrutibility will pay off in D&D (and in poker).  You've got to bluff your players, and you've got to resist grinning in sheer pleasure when they're running around, chasing their own tails.

I have mentioned withholding information in the past, but most of the time with reference to macro-information - wide lens campaign stuff.  Withholding micro-information is equally important.  Someone a hundred yards away stops, kneels, and takes something out of his backpack.  "What?" asks the player.  "You can't tell."  "It is big?"  "No."  "Can I tell anything about it?"  "No."

The guy could be taking a comb out of his pocket.  If you say, "He's combing his hair," the player will relax and the moment is gone.  But if you say, "He's passing his hand repeatedly over his head now, and seems to be in deep concentration," you will now spend the next twenty minutes listening to the party talk about there's no damn way they're going anywhere near that guy.

This is the principle of terror.  That we fear what we do not understand.  More precisely, we fear stimuli to our senses that we cannot reconcile with the world as it appears.

You wake in your own house and for no immediate, apparent reason, the bedside light won't turn on.  Naturally you think, power outage.  We're familiar with that, and it doesn't terrify.  But then you see the lights of the house across the street are on.  That's weird, you think.  You go to the window to increase the angle of your view and look around ... all the lights on the street are on.

Okay, wait, you know what it is.  It's the circuit breaker.  You have no idea why the circuit breaker would be off, since no one's up ... but it has to be that.  You look for a flashlight and the battery's dead.  There are candles downstairs.  No problem, you go get them.

Lighting a candle, you descend to the basement.  You're noticing noises all around you.  It's only the house settling.  You hold the candle up to the circuit breaker and see that every circuit is on.  That's odd.  You stare intently, doubting your eyes, doubting the available light from the candle.  No, they're all on.

Then the basement door slams shut and you jump straight out of your skin.

Some moron at the power company turned your power off by mistake, because you have a similar name to someone who didn't pay their bill (it's happened to me) - and your wife, hearing you get up, has come downstairs to find out what's going on.  She walks into the basement door, which you left open.  But now you're downstairs, the candle is out, its pitch black and  you'll be lucky if you don't let out a good shout.

Whereupon you'll hear the basement door open and your wife ask, "Ned?"

Which will really scare the shit out of you because your name is Joe.

I'm building this narrative to explain how the order of information, and the amount, is absolutely important to the way a campaign is delivered.  It's no story if the phone rings and the voice on the other end tells you your power is out because the company made an error.  It's no story if you tell your players the massive, elegantly dressed fellow coming down the middle of the street with an entourage is the local Count.  Don't tell them. 

Unless they're from here, don't tell them it's the Count's insignia on the bodyguards, just tell them it's an insignia.  Don't describe the Count as regal or imposing ... describe him as indifferent and inconsiderate.  Don't describe the good things the party sees, describe the flaws - one of the horses needs a new shoe; some of the guards seem unhappy to be there; between the peasants cheering are certain artisan types who are deliberately looking away, or walking away.  Give the information carefully.  There's more story in the old man bitterly watching the scene with his arms crossed than there is with the gorgeous woman on the Count's arm looking adoringly at him.

And don't be obvious about involving the players in the scene: don't have the soldier push a player out of the way ... have the soldier push a little girl out of the way.  Don't hire the players to kill the count - hire the group of adventurers at the next table.

Does this jumble of advice seem, well, jumbled?  Of course it is.  Dungeon Mastering is not a science.  Take it from the fellow with the maps, the tables and the rigorous systems for trade ... the actual mastering of a game cannot be broken down to figures.  It is temptation, the art of waving suggestive images at a party in such a manner that they feel fear, distrust and a breakdown of personal control.  When done right, a player will feel brave when they dare to take on the challenge; they will feel triumphant when they beat the odds; they will feel downcast when the price has been too high; and they will feel a rush of hatred when they've been swindled.

Whatever I wave at them, be it a bar of gold under their noses, or the promise of greater
riches, or a real threat that worries them - it is up to them to calculate their risk.  I am only here to say, "There are people who hate the Bishop;" or, "I have six wands here ... you can have your pick if I can count on you;" or, "It's unhurt and walking away ... but you could easily catch it."

Other people call them rumors; I think the word temptations are better.  The better I am at drumming them up on a moment's notice, the faster my world moves and the more levels it moves upon.  I never have only one plot line running - there are at least six or eight unresolved issues that stem from previous adventures - when successes were achieved or mistakes were made.

All I need do is invoke one of them at the start of an evening and we're off and running.

Now, if you can't do this, and you're wondering how you can, I have a straightforward recommendation.  Become more worldly.  Travel, adventure, soak in knowledge, study things, study your fellow human, be introspective, gain insight.  View your players adroitly and accurately and play to their strengths and their weaknesses.  You may not see how to do that now, but if you take my advice about becoming more worldly, you will.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Proposal to Raggi

Not too exciting, I know, but I felt the need to write the previous post outlining those metals and minerals that I incorporate into my trading tables.  It's nice to have that finished.

In fact, it's nice to have anything finished.  One of the realities of working on the kind of world I run and build, nothing ever is.  I tend to think of projects in terms of years.  For some of the projects that I conceive of, it is doubtful that I'll live to complete them.  But c'est la vie, the pleasure is in the effort.

I was reading Cyclopaetron's blog, where the discussion was going on that modules are better than self-made adventures because they're written by professionals.  There seemed to be a lot of support for that position.  I gave it a big belly-laugh ... but perhaps that was premature.  Perhaps it's true.  After all, I don't run in most people's worlds, and I wouldn't run in their worlds either.  I have to admit that virtually all the worlds I've ever had contact with were unmitigatingly awful.

'Course, that was during those years that the Old School movement claims to laud and worship; could be that things have changed out there.  But I'm not getting any local invitations, and those that I know who have witnessed the games going on Sunday afternoons at the local gaming store are just ... yes, again, awful.  But that's not personal experience, that's second-hand ... and from my players.  I don't feel the need to go and find out first-hand, however.  I can just see another horrid little in-party battle scenario, people butchering each other and wasting half the afternoon looking for secret doors.

As I remember it, the modules were pretty much the same shit as the home-made stuff, mostly because the homemade stuff was always doing it's best to copy the principles and methodology of the modules.  Same rooms, same hallways, same throne rooms and treasure rooms.  Same gang of monsters approaching, same puzzles and tricks and 'oh look, another trap.'

Lately I've been hearing considerable gushing over Raggi's module work - which I can't comment on myself because I haven't read it.  I've heard its good.  I've heard it is low on combat.  I've heard much excitement.  I haven't heard anything bad.

But I'll never know first hand, because I'll never buy it.  I quit reading Raggi's site because it became sell, sell, sell all the time.  Raggi, if you want to send me a copy, I'll review it (fairly), but I don't think I'll like it.  I'm pretty sure I'll have lots that's bad to say about it.

And this from someone who just spent a week describing rocks.  Gawd help me if I ran my world that way, huh?

Half the time I think about writing down the events going on in my world and I sigh, and think, it's too boring.  D&D is not a game that translates well to after-campaign descriptions.  "And then they found the stone, and they dug down beneath it, and they found a huge empty chamber below the ground, and then they found out the stone was a mechanism, which they unwittingly started, and woke up an unstoppable half-golem-half-mechanoid that started tunnelling its way in an apparently random direction through rock at one foot per minute."

It took five hours to run that scenario, with lots of concern, terror and puzzlement on the part of the players.  Lots of yelling and high running emotions at several points, also.  But the gentle reader, right now, can't get it, because the gentle reader wasn't there.  There's no way for you to judge if that was a good running or not.  And I could give the particulars, but that wouldn't guarantee that you would provide my facial expressions, my tone, my acting ability or my cold-hearted indifference - which was mentioned several times during the running - to get the right emotional impact.

There's NO WAY this game is built on the quality of the 'dungeon' or the 'scenario.'  This game is built on the clever dissemination of information in a tactical, rationed manner.  Indeed, information given in a principled manner, also.  It takes confidence to run a session, certainty that you ARE giving the right information in the right order.  If you have that, you could run the crummiest piece of written shit in the world and it would still come out like roses.

But if you hem and haw your way through an adventure written by the Gods Themselves, it's going to suck as a game.  It's just going to be awful.

I'm waffling my way through this.  I'm a bit punch drunk from finishing the previous post and I hadn't intended a rant at the beginning of this.  I'm only trying to say that it's not the material, its the job done with it.  I advocate people making their own setting because it might help them develop some of that confidence necessary to actually run a campaign well.  But some people, well, you can't help them.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Mining - Metals & Minerals

Ever since I wrote this post about ornamental gems, I've been thinking about what else I could do.  I have a number of substances, commodities, products, services and so on that I've made reference to regarding my train system, and I've been making unconscious plans (the best kind) to eventually describe them all.

The problem has been that the task is tremendous in scope ... the gentle reader just cannot imagine.  It's not something I can do in an afternoon.  Moreover, I don't want to wait for the whole thing to be finished before getting feedback.  And I want to be able to rest.

So this will be a series, and it will get done in sections ... but since each section I plan is still considerable in scope, I'm going to be posting this in the middle of working on it.  That is, I'll update the post daily until I'm ready to move on ... so check back from time to time, there will be new stuff.

So here goes.  I'll start with mining - though this particular grouping does not include ALL the mined substances in my world.  Some are included elsewhere, because of their peculiar industrial application.  However, most are included here.

I carve them up into sections to make easier reading.  Where helpful, I'll add a picture.  Overall, I'm going to keep descriptions to a minimum.


Gold.  What can I say about this that hasn't been said?  It is the most important commodity in D&D and in any medieval economic system, useful in it malleability, reliable nature and its ease of smelting.  Gold ranges in color from bright yellow to white gold, and in Medieval settings is found mostly in placer deposits, or as 'native' gold.  I've often thought that a logical advantage for dwarves would be their ability to 'mine' gold, which was not generally done except in the New World, where said deposits were easily worked.  This is not to say it wasn't done ... but panning was much easier than mining.

Silver.  Like gold, this too was more commonly found in native form - significant mining operations for silver in Europe began in Saxony and Silesia in the 14th centuries, when silver was the relied-upon economic standard.  The 'taler' was a silver-coin, and the word that gives us 'dollar.' 

Copper.  Far more common and less precious than either silver or gold, copper has historically been considered a precious metal due to its potential lustre for ordinary objects and jewellery.  It too is found in native form, but copper ores like chalcopyrite (copper-iron) or cuprite are so common (and easily smelted) that copper mining was common even in periods going back to the Phoenicians and Mesopotamians, 5-6 thousand years ago.

native platinum
PlatinumFor ages platinum has been mistaken for silver and white gold ... so that even though its been mined since ancient times, its actual 'discovery' - when it's nature was understood - did not occur until the 17th century.  The Spaniards kept coming across it, considering the platinum to be a 'nuisance' to their gold mining, that sparked the investigation.  It's easy enough to understand the error - platinum is wildly rare, occurs in similar circumstances to silver and looks like silver.  It is more lustrous, however, and has other unique properties.  'Platinum coins,' therefore, never existed (it's too rare a metal anyway).  I only have the metal in my world because my present takes place in the 17th century, and I use a rule that any metal 'discovered' prior to 1800 would be known to the mage profession, who are better alchemists than those of Earth ever were.


Gold, silver and copper along with lead, tin, iron and mercury (quicksilver), were known in prehistory, and have since been described as "the Seven Metals of Alchemy."  Each were assigned to 'planets' ... silver with the Moon, gold with the Sun, iron with Mars, quicksilver with Mercury, tin with Jupiter, copper with Venus and lead with Saturn.  They're included here in order of their rarity.

Iron.  I've written about iron before, and I don't need to go on about it here.  It is the most common metal, has endless applications and is pretty nigh useless until it is founded and forged.  The most common ore is hematite, but pyrite and others are also widespread.  Iron also occasionally turns up magnetized, as 'lodestone.'

Lead.  While tremendously dense (heavy), lead makes a poor metal for the fabrication of most everything ... plus the fact that it is poisonous.  Lead dust can be breathed into the lungs, lead can rub off into the skin, it can be transferred to water when used as a container - yes, lovely stuff.  But used extensively in the Medieval world for anything that could be heavy and didn't need working parts - bullet stones, goblets, water pipes, cisterns ... and because of its low melting point it made good soldering for window glazing.

TinThe inordinate value of tin is largely overlooked ... in fact it was a very rare metal, and very expensive.  The English economy was founded upon it (but they had conveniently conquered the world before the supplies irrevocably ran out).  A considerable portion of the world's present supply comes from parts of the world (China, Malaysia, Zaire) that were beyond European tradesmen until the 16th century.  Silverish, it is much too soft to be mistaken for silver, and does not occur natively.

Mercury.  Or quicksilver, as it was known for most of history, due to it's splendid habit of remaining a liquid at room temperature or lower.  Almost as poisonous as lead, which didn't keep it from being used as a medicine to heal a wide variety of diseases, where it was introduced directly into the body.  it was included in medicines as late as the first half of the 20th century.  Your grandmother was probably fed some as a child.  Which might explain a great deal.  In a D&D world, it seems a natural additive to everything magic.


Presented in order of identification.  Many of these were used long before the nature of the metal was identified ... mostly because the ore was recognizable and could be used in the smelting process, even if the metal was not.  The ores served as chemical agents, to enable copper to become brass, or to harden iron, or to otherwise change the cohesive qualities of recognizable metals such as those above.

Zinc.  The principal use of zinc was for the manufacture of brass, the most common ore being sphalerite.  The triangular crystal of the ore is instantly recognizable.  The metal itself was not identified until the 14th century in India, and the 16th century in Europe.  While zinc has some marvellous uses as spelter - an alloy that allows hard soldering or brazing, such uses were not widespread until the 19th century.  However, it might be a talent elves, or some other races have for the use of zinc.

Antimony.  Isolated in the 16th century, the metal increases the hardness of lead, has practical applications in the coloration of glass, as a substitute for tin (when tin is present).  It's highly toxic, similar to arsenic poisoning ... read the link for more about that.  It is a soft metal, and although it has been used for coinage the coins do not last.

Bismuth. Lustrous silver in color, the ore was used in cosmetics, medicines and as a substitute for poisonous lead ... though it is by no means as common. The metal was known to the Incas. It was often confused with both tin and lead in ancient times, but became a distinct metal in its own right in 1546.

Cobalt.  Used as a pigmentation in jewelry, glass and paints since ancient times to give a deep, blue color; the isotope cobalt-60 is radioactive ... something I use to justify cobalt's importance in the making of magical ink.  Curiously, the word comes from the German kobalt, or the very familiar 'kobald,' which was an appellation used to describe the bent over miners of the ore.  The isolation of the metal was accomplished in 1735.

Nickel.  Used as a hardener for many metals (gold is soft and useless for jewellery without it), the red mineral from which it comes, nickeline, was commonly mistaken for copper.  Since the mineral would beset copper (make it unmalleable) when mixed, or so German alchemists discovered, they blamed a mischevious sprite who was believed upon occasion to inhabit instances of copper ore.  Nickel wasn't identified as a metal in its own right until 1751.

ManganeseAs an agent Manganese (manganesum or pyrolusite) was used primarily to decolorize glass, as 'glassmakers soap,' thus cleaning it and making the glass clear.  As manganese dioxide it was used in experiments for centuries, tht the actual metal was not identified until 1774.  It would later become useful in steel production.

Molybdenum.  Yet again a silvery metal, with a very high melting point, it was formerly known as molybdena, which comes from the Greek word for lead - with which molybdenum even today is often confused (and with graphite, too).  The Japanese used it to alloy with steel as early as the 14th century (though rarely).  It produces superior armor plating.  The metal was isolated in 1781.

Tungsten.  Remarkably dense, heavier than lead, the metal was known better as an ore than a metal - wolframite, which in German is lupi spuma, or "wolf's froth" (froth being a clean word for 'sperm'), the name suggested by Georgius Agricola.  The ore had few historical uses, but at present it is importantly alloyed with steel.  It was not isolated until 1783.

ChromiumA highly lustrous metal, it's speculated that the ore was used as an anti-corrosive - however, the metal has very little history at all until the 18th century, and was not identified as an isolated metal until 1798.


I don't dare to list all the fantasy metals that are out there.  I use only two: adamantite and mithril.  all my magic items are made with the latter ... and I don't play adamantite as a substance that 'breaks down in daylight' as suggested by the fiend folio - merely as a kind of intensified iron that doesn't break (which I believe was the original concept.

The correct term is adamantine, as described by Virgil describing the gates of Tatarus.  Cronus, or Saturn, was said to have castrated his father Uranus using an adamantine sickle.  The term 'adamantium' was invented for use by the Marvel Universe.  Adamantine had developed a reputation by the middle ages for being as hard as diamond, and it was believed to have the power to block the effects of a magnet (something I've never seen proposed in a D&D campaign).

Mithril was invented entirely by Tolkein, and as far as I know it has no historical precendents whatsoever.  But it's such an accepted metal, I've always included it.


An abrasive is a substance that is used to shape or finish a workpiece by grinding, polishing, buffing and a variety of other means.  Abrasives are added to gemstones for tumbling, and made adherent to paper as sandpaper or incorporated into polishing cloth.  They're also used for cleansing and scraping our own bodies.  But when does a player buy a nail file?

EmeryUsed most often in crushed form, emery is a very hard rock that can be crushed to form various sizes of grains, from coarse to fine, each of which can be used to smooth to a differing degree.  The island of Naxos has been a source for emery for over two thousand years.


Pumice.  A volcanic rock that is solidified in a frothy condition, trapping air and making pumice a rock that floats in water (makes a good 'magic stone' and with a string, as an aid to detect movement in apparently still ponds).  Although it is soft, it makes an excellent abrasive.  It can also be added to cement, and a particular variety, pozzolana, can be mixed with lime to make concrete.


There are four primary building stone types that I use: granite, limestone, marble and slate.  Each has a variety of forms, as described below.  Following those four are three additional kinds of 'hard stone,' which are much rarer in occurrence.
GRANITE.  Forms I call 'granite' include basalt, porphyry, sandstone, syenite, trachyte and tuff.  I know better, but I enjoy being able to use the simplicity of Renaissance catagorization in order to lump most volcanic materials together.  Hey, any way I'm willing to simplify this system is good, right?

Basalt is an extrusive volcanic rock (meaning that it's formed from magma), forming a variety of interesting rock formations, including the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland and pillow basalts on the Pacific seafloor.  It is used to make building blocks, cobblestones and statuary.

Porphyry is a large grained igneous rock, purplish-red in color, prized for monuments and projects in Rome.  The Hagia Sophia made extensive use of porphyry.  Roads, columns, stone decorations and sarcophagi are among the stone's uses.

Sandstone is a long way from granite, being a sedimentary rock and not igneous.  But it's red (or reddish) - remember, Renaissance period science.  In any case, as an easily carved or cut stone, it has a variety of building uses.  Sandstone includes brownstone, popularly used throughout America and parts of Europe.

Syenite is granite-like, with ancient quarries in Upper Egypt (Syene, from where the name comes).

Trachyte quarries have been exploited in a considerable number of places, however unfamiliar the name sounds (most everything gets ascribed to 'building stone.'  To the layman, it is often indistinguishable from porphyry.

Tuff is formed from lava and tephra (solid material ejected from the volcanic cone), pressed into stone.  It is fairly soft, useful for carving, and was used for portals and key points in cement buildings for strength.  The term 'tuff' is used loosely, and sometimes applied to tufa (which is a limestone) ... and often contains trachyte, andesite, basalt and other minerals.  Basaltic tuffs were used to fashion the heads on Easter Island.  Artyk (mentioned in my encyclopedia but not in wikipedia) is a common form of tuff used in Armenia.

LIMESTONE.  Forms I call 'limestone' include dolomite, gypsum and tufa.  Limestone is a sedimentary rock, very common, and often associated with stalactites and stalagmites in caves.  It's available in great amounts, cheap, and therefore excellent for massive structures.  The Great Pyramid at Giza is made mostly of limestone.

Dolomite is a carbonate rock common to the Dolomite Alps of northern Italy, ranging fron yellow to brown tint, even a rosy pink color.  It is sometimes used as an ornamental stone, as flux for making iron, an aggregate for concrete and of course for construction.

Gypsum is common stone, central in the production of cement, concrete and plaster, occurring naturally in crystalline form (unsuitable for gems, but used in ornamental work).  It isn't actually a limestone, I only lump them together due to their mutual use in making concrete.  Other uses are extensive, as indicated by the link.  Alabaster is a remarkably white gypsum, commonly used for stone household articles and decoration.

Tufa, often confused with tuff, and sometimes called travertine, is a precipitated limestone commonly associated with springs, waterfalls and other bodies of water ... wherever bits of calcium are allowed to build up in the form of reefs or stromatolites.  It's used for stone articles and as a mix for concrete.

A particular form of limestone that I've found references for is lithographic stone, a hard limestone sufficiently fine grained to use for carving printing plates.  Lithography is in fact a late invention (1796), but Earth did not have the benefit of magic.  As I said above, anything before 1800 is a potential technology, and so I include the use of stone-based lithography (albeit used rarely).  Wood-block printing is far more common.

MARBLEMarble is a metamorphic rock commonly made from compressed calcite or dolomite, used most commonly for sculpture and construction.  For colors (and there are a lot of them in the real world) I willingly provide prices for black, brown, crimson, green, grey-pink, white and yellow (this isn't as hard as it sounds).  No doubt the gentle reader is familiar with many of the different colors, and with veins in marble, of varied color.

SLATESlate is a metamorphic rock that cuts so that natural, smooth flat sheets of stone are produced, suitable for flooring, roof tiles, wall coverings and so on.  Slate can be split from the quarry in very thin sheets.  It appears in a variety of colors from green and grey to black ... but unlike marble, I don't give separate costs.  It makes excellent tombstones.

That wraps it up for building stone; I don't have prices for gravel, sand or ordinary clay in my world because I consider them so common in a Renaissance economy that the only worthy mention for construction cost would be paying people to dig it up.


Flint.  A non-gem form of the mineral quartz, useful in making cutting tools and crude weapons, such as those used by primitive man.  The flint edge is also useful in the production of fire, sinde striking a flint against steel will produce sparks.  Flintlocks were fashioned so that the hammer, holding a piece of flint, would strike the 'frizzen' and produce a shower of sparks which, hopefully, would ignite the powder of the weapons.  Flint, when available in great supply (as England has), has been used to build stone walls.

MagnesiteThis has few Renaissance applications, the chief among them being its use in making fireproof bricks for kilns, as the stone has a high melting temperature.

Obsidian.  Naturally occuring volcanic glass, generally black in color and potentially sharp to the touch.  It was used to make weapons and edged tools throughout history, and has ornamental applications as a gemstone, objects and for floor tiles.  It can be polished and rounded with abrasives.


This are a collection of minerals that have other applications than construction.

Chalk.  A soft white sedimentary rock, resistant to weather and useful in the making of quicklime (a component of cement), as a writing (tailor's chalk in particular) and artistic tool, as a restorative for soil and for the making of putty.  The application of powdered chalk to the hands is an aid to climbing (but when does a thief ever buy it?).

CoalA black or browning sedimentary rock used chiefly as a fuel - it is falsely believed that coal was not used extensively throughout history, but evidence of its use reaches back up to five thousand years.  The dependence was on outcroppings of coal.  Deep coal mining, on the other hand, occurred with the start of the Industrial Revolution when easy sources of coal quickly played out.  Dwarves would certainly mine coal for their furnaces.  Hard coal, or black coal, is called anthracite, with a high energy content.  Brown coal is lignite, which has a low energy content.

Kaolin.  A hard clay material, chiefly mined for the purpose of making porcelain, dependent on the higher quality clay.  It is soft, earthy and usually white, though iron oxide will color it pink, orange or red.  Beyond its use in ceramics, it has been used in medicine, cosmetics and in the production of paper and smoking pipes.  It has been used to fashion masks, and believe it or not, eaten for pleasure or to suppress hunger.

floating meerschaum
Meerschaum.  One of the more bizarre productions I've found, meerschaum is a soft white mineral which is found floating on the Black and Aegean Seas (and elsewhere), suggestive of sea foam.  If you're ever looking for a justification of the Aphrodite birth-from-the-sea myth, in which she was created from the sea and her father's ejaculate, the existence of meerschaum is probably the source (in Sweden its called aphrodite).  The material is hard enough to carve into pipes and other objects (it hardens when allowed to dry in the sun).

Salt.  A mineral essential for human life, of great value in tropical and deserted parts of the world (where the inhabitants sweat a great deal), and yet with world-wide distribution.  It is useful in curing food and in the processing of animal hides and skins.

TalcA soft metamorphic rock used in paper making, paint, cosmetics, ceramics and otherwise, and for ornamental carvings.  It is widely used in the glassmaking industry.  The rock is soft enough to be scratched with a fingernail, can be cut easily with a knife, and is not soluble in water.  Soapstone is composed primarily of talc.


guano deposit
Guano.  The excrement, both feces and urine, of seabirds, bats and seals, collected for its nitrogen content for the regeneration of soil.  Guano is an important gunpowder ingredient.  The accumulation of thousands of years of deposit creates significant collections of guano for economic recovery.  The Inca civilization mined guano extensively.  By and large, however, a cart full of guano is not an ordinary party's idea of treasure.

peat brick
Peat.  Forming in wetlands - bogs, moors, muskegs and peat swamps, peat is harvested as a source of fuel.  Once compressed to remove water and allowed to dry, it forms bricks sufficient to heat kilns and everyday firepits.  It is formed by the thick layer of plant growth and decomposition of the lower levels - in effect, a short term form of the same sort of energy that over millions of years eventually becomes oil.


Hooray ... this being the last section for this post.  These are minerals chiefly mined for their chemical properties.

Alum.  Obtained from a mineral called alunite (among others), this is a terrifically useful substance which was well known to the ancients.  It mades an astringent that stops bleeding in small cuts and canker sores, a flame retardant (and a component of baking powder) and the purification of drinking water.

ArsenicKnown first and foremost as a poison, arsenic is a metalloid (qualities of both a mineral and a metal.  It also hardens bronze and lead alloys (good for sling bullets).  Like lead, arsenic was once used in a variety of products without the users being fully aware of its inherent danger (even in very small amounts).

Niter.  More familiarly known as saltpeter, niter has been known since ancient times.  It is a principal component of gunpowder and was likely used as soap (or at least as a bathing additive).  It has been famously attributed to suppress the sex drive, but according to snopes it's pure fiction.

PhosphorusThe first form of phosphorus was isolated in 1669 by Hennig Brand, an alchemist who was working with urine under the mistaken belief that the golden color of that fluid would somehow lead him to the distillation of gold, ala the 'philosopher's stone.'  In the process he distilled out phosphorus.  The element burns super-brightly, but not for very long (the reader can find films on youtube).  It a feature in explosives, nerve agents and fireworks.

Danikil Depression, Ethiopia
SulphurA bright yellow crystalline solid, an essential element of life and a component of black gunpowder, matches, poisons and fungicides.  It would be effective like holy water against a wide variety of monsters: green slime, violet fungi, shriekers and yellow musk creepers, to name a few.  It is abundant in native form, and whole landscapes (the Danikil Depression) are composed of it.

WitheriteA colorless, milky white, grey, pale yellow, green or pale brown mineral - and shades in between.  It is found in low-temperature hydrothermal vein deposits, particularly the shorelines of alkali lakes.  it's primary use is in the manufacture of glass.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Random Map Generator - Elevations

About the same time that I was deciding to use the Voronezh Oblast as a start for my campaign (see previous post), I was playing around with a system for the random creation of topography.  Initially, the first map I did for the County of Voronezh included some of this system ... but then I came across the data on falling rain and didn't have to rely on random generation.

However, I thought I'd include this idea here, because it may be of use to some people.  The idea for it came to me literally before falling asleep at night - I do much of my thinking in the dark - and it works something like this.

Suppose we begin with a single hex, and we set the lowest elevation for that hex at a given number.  We use the 'lowest' because it becomes relevant later on.  The starting elevation can be anything from zero (sea level) to, well, whatever number above sea level you'd like.  Tibet averages between 16,000 and 19,000 feet above sea level, for reference.  For the purpose of this example, we'll start with a nice round number: 3,000 ft.

(I use imperial for D&D because it seems more folksy.  You can use metric if you'd like)

We then mark our center hex as 3,000.  We're going to determine the elevation of the adjacent hexes using 6d6 ... which gives an average overall of 21.  You don't have to use 6d6 ... 4d6 or 2d6 will do as well, but I prefer a greater number of dice because it allows for more variation while maintaining a strong bell-curve average.  You'll see what I mean as we go forward.

If a '21' is rolled on 6d6, then the elevation of the adjacent hex being determined is the same as the origin hex.  For each number above 21, the elevation increases.  For each number below 21, the elevation decreases.  The amount of the increase/decrease is up to you.  It can be quite a lot, anywhere from 400 to 1000 ft. per point above or below 21 ... or it can be very little, like 5 ft. per point.  The former will give you wildly varying terrain, like mountains; the latter will give you a flat plain.  But the jist of it is that if, say, you designate the change to be 250 ft. a point (which I will use), and you roll a '24', the next hex over will be 750 ft. higher than the origin hex.  24 is three points above 21.

All right then, let's generate the six hexes around the first.

There, nothing complicated.  We have three hexes with a higher elevation (B,D,G), and three hexes with a lower elevation (C,E,F).  You will note that I've added a blue arrow that points from A(elevation 3000) to C (elevation 2250).  This is meant to indicate drainage.  As a rule of thumb, wherever three higher hexes surround a lower hex - as we have here, as A is surrounded by the three higher hexes, B, D and G - then that hex becomes a 'source hex' for the formation of a creek.  The direction of the creek is then designated to flow into any other hex which is lower than the source hex.  I rolled randomly, and found that it flowed into hex C.

Typically, I like to apply this system so that the creek flows into the lowest adjacent hex ... but in this case that is both C and F.  However, there's no real reason why it can't flow into hex E, or even into hex E and then into F.  But for this table we'll have it flow the direction as indicated.

You can see already that you have a feel for the origin hex, A, even though all we have are a group of numbers.  We can put into the hex anything we like, from a city to a town to a small cluster of houses.  Even one lone farmhouse ... whatever works as an origin for your players.  We can make the hex as wide as we want, too - this hex could have a diameter of one mile or twenty miles.  Obviously, if it is a 1-mile hex, then G is an imposing mountain, looming over the players.  If it is a 5 mile hex, G becomes a high group of hills, dominating the northwest.  Remember that the elevation noted for G, 4,750, is the lowest elevation of that hex ... the highest elevation could then be determined separately, rolling 6d6 again and determining the highest elevation as 250 times the deviation from '21', either positive or negative ... and if a '21' is rolled, then G becomes a bluff, a high plateau overlooking the valley, even a gigantic mesa if it turns out that this hex is higher than all those around it.

Moreover, the origin hex is a kind of 'pass' between the heights of G & B on the one side, and D on the other.  Travellers would thus move over the hump from F to C, passing through A, making A a chokepoint between the SW and the NE.  It would be a natural place for a fort or larger military outpost, not to mention a meaningful trading gap and tax & toll generating opportunity for whoever rules over this place.

Let's extend our small world then, by following the river out of hex C.  This hex now becomes the origin hex for H, I and J.  Before I show the increased map, I want to throw in a curve ball.  We want our mountainous region to spread out into plains (because that's what happens), but we don't want to keep things as random as possible.  Our elevation deviation was formerly 250, which is 1/12th of the origin hex's elevation of 3000.  For these next three hexes, let's use 1/12th of 2250, which is 187.5, or 188 ft. per point.

Also, one of the three hexes being generated must be equal to or lower in elevation than our origin hex, as the river must go someplace ... so let's roll randomly, 1, 2 or 3.  I get hex J, so for that hex, the change is the deviation from '21', whether higher or lower.  Bringing the gentle reader into the equation, I'll reveal here that my three 6d6 rolls were 20, 22 and 22 ... which gives results as follows:

Hex J, you'll notice, deviates 1 from 21 and is therefore 188 ft. lower, exactly as hex H.

I'm adding something else to the above map.  You will notice a blue text-box in both the A and C hexes.  This is the relative flow of the stream.  As an ad hoc rule, I tend to think of it as equal (in a 5-mile hex) to 5 cubic feet per second per point.  Thus, as an example, the 9-mile-long Woodbridge Brook in England has a flow of 20.5 cubic feet per second.  I've never seen Woodbridge Brook, but this is the idea.  If these were 10 mile hexes, then they would be equal to 20 cub.ft. per second per point.  A higher rate than the aforementioned example, but that brook is down by the sea, while this water course is in the mountains.

The point system is assigned by the number of adjacent hexes which are higher that the river hex.  Thus, B, D and G are higher than hex A, giving the stream 3 points.  As well, B, D and I are higher than hex C, adding 3 more points.  Note that both B and D are able to add two points to the stream ... this representing water runoff coming from two different points of those hexes.  A central, high hex is able to generate up to six points of water overall.

We still have little more than a group of numbers, but the overall terrain is starting to assert itself.  Let's add more detail.  We can do so by going in any direction ... but I use a rule-of-thumb that I generate all the hexes outwards in a widening circle, in the order of 1) the river hexes; 2) the lowest non-river hexes; and 3) the remaining hexes.  Thus, before I can determine H, I will do F, E, D, B and G, in that order.  Mind you, there's nothing that says I can't work off G first, or H, or follow the river J until it literally reaches the sea.  If I work consistently on the highest hexes, I'm likely to get a more topographically varied map.  And if I follow the river all the way to the sea, I'm going to have to keep calculating the flow over and over, as other rivers will be found to flow into it as I go.

For example, let's say the three hexes around H are all higher.  In that case, H becomes a source hex (with 5 river points), which has nowhere to flow except into C.  The second source would then increase the river's flow in hex C to 8 (5+3), so that it would quickly become a fair stream.

One of the interesting and annoying things about this system is that as you go, you have to keep reassessing the rivers ... but nothing is perfect.  It is for this point that I prefer to widen out from a specific location.

So let's add from hex F.  Before I do that, let me ask, what if the other three hexes above F are all higher than 2250?

Noting that this doesn't occur in topography (depressions right next to river sources), there are a couple of choices.  One, the hex could be raised to the level of A, and used as the actual source for the river flowing into J.  Two, one of the new randomly generated hexes could be determined as the necessary outflow to F.  Three, the bottom of F is the depth of an existing lake, while the surface of the lake is even with hex A (this being my favorite).  Or four, this is D&D and so what?  Hex F then becomes a deep, swamp-filled depression, full of ghoolie monsters.  In any case, three of those options force a considerable rethink on the status of the former pass that we designated for hex A, right?

Like I say, more information tends to change things around.  Let's generate and find out what happens (remember, 1/12th of 2250 still gives us a change of 188 ft. per point).  On 6d6 I roll 23, 23 and 14.  Note that I've lettered the hexes in clockwise order:

Well, that drop-off into hex M is startling, isn't it?  I'm not muffing these rolls as I go along, I'm just making them to see what happens and then explaining each element.  There's room for plenty of strangeness, such as having that marvellous 934 elevation hex M right next to G's 4,750.  Turns out the gap at A appears to be pretty significant, and an excellent place for a town.  Of course, hex E suggests that it too could become a river source (if both one higher and one lower hex is generated) ... which would make A, E and F a comfortable little plateau, even the start of a Barony or a County, depending on the width of the hexes.

The terrific drop into hex M could mean waterfalls along the course from hex F, and would also mean that the sea could be potentially close ... although the system I'm using the elevation change for adjacent hexes from M would only be 78 ft.  You can see from this map how it makes a big difference whether M or G is used next to determine the next hex over.

Of course, you can use an average of adjacent hexes to determine future hexes, but I have found that tends to flatten the map, and thus reduce the potential for significant features.

I think I'll stop here.  I could go on with the determination of hex E, but I've made enough of my point here to get you, the reader, experimenting.  Let me know what problems turn up, and I'll try to give suggestions for how they could be solved.

As I've been saying, remember - these are only numbers.  But they suggest where to put the little bits of civilization, what hexes would be logical for shrines or dungeons, how the farmland might spread outwards or where you would plant orchards as opposed to cereals.  Contours are only numbers ... and in mapmaking, elevation is king.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Start

I feel sometimes I get run down for having a 'realistic' approach to the game of D&D, mostly because there is an implication that realism is all I want.  It gets missed that I clearly use magic in my campaigns (I blew up Dachau with a demon during my online campaign, while offline I've posted about my party making a tour of the first level of the Abyss).  That rankles me.

If I spend less time posting and creating profound magical aspects to add to the game, it's because I believe that these parts of the game actually work, as opposed to that which I do post about.  I like the spells from the books, I don't feel the need to add new spells (except for the bard), I like the magic items list and on the whole I am happy with the degree of magic employed by monsters and other entities.  Because I do not bitch and moan about these things should not be taken as an indication that I do not use them.

That said, I am of the opinion that a world based on ALL-MAGIC all the time soon becomes unbelievably dull, as it is hard to relate to.  Magic is cool and all, but we are ordinary human beings playing the game and we are naturally affected by things that are familiar.  It is not the magic that makes the game, it is the interweaving of conflict into the ordinary day-to-day pursuits.  A plethora of magic tends to make things too easy (why bother ... the magic will do it) or too hard (why bother ... the wizard will kill us anyway).  Worse still, everything ultimately devolves into the last scene from Dark City, where the wizards duel, the world is shredded, all purpose is obliterated and the character's either dead or promoted to godhood.  All very well for a movie, but it quickly destroys an ongoing campaign.

So while I appreciate the excitement of places such as the City of Brass or the profundity of the Black Gate and the Land of Mordor, my tastes tend towards a surface reflecting the very mundane.

I did begin my world back in 1986, but the present incarnation - the maps I use, the approximate time-period, the economic structure and the forces at work, began in September 2004.  Believe it or not, the beginning was a very small part of the world, chosen primarily because it was a fairly long way from the sea, in a semi-populated region.  I wanted a land-locked area for no reason except that I had no practical rules for seagoing combat, or even random weather tables - and therefore did not want to get caught up with buccaneering adventures.  Land was easier than water.

As far as civilization went, I went with an old standby - some bastion on the 'borderlands.'  I had worked previously on deciding where humans resided in my world as opposed to other races, and I knew that there was a dividing line down the middle of Russia - where the humans on the west had retained the country against orcs, haruchai, ogres, gnolls, goblins, hobgoblins and bugbears ... each of whom held kingdoms in various parts of Siberia and on the near side of the Ural Mountains.

So I picked a province on the dividing line - determined by population estimates I'd made.  If the territory had a population density of 1 person per square mile or better, it was human controlled - if less than that, non-human controlled.  For many, I know this seems unnecessarily deliberate.  Why bother making calculations at all?  Why not just make sweeping gestures at maps?  Well, let's put this down to my nature, my long-time experience playing with almanacs and my experience working professionally and non-professionally with statistics.  I like statistics.  If I can find an application for them, all the better.

That dividing line, as it happened, ran northward from the eastern end of the Black Sea - specifically the Sea of Azov - including a large portion of the lower Volga River and then veering both west and then east through lands that, then, I did not know very well.  The gentle reader, I'm sure, will have heard of the Volga River, but probably not the Kama, the Vetluga, the Oka or the Sukhona.  Moskva is familiar, but perhaps not Khlynov, Nizhni-Novgorod, Chernorech, Samara or Tsaritsyn.  I'll give their names as they are known (and not the 17th century) during the period of Soviet occupation: Kirov, Gorkiy, Dzerzhinsk, Kuybyshev and Volgograd (or Stalingrad).  That last, of course, is always very familiar.

One small territory, or oblast as it is in Russian, that I landed on was Voronezh.  The city is, in the modern period, well over 400 thousand in population; my calculations gave it 5,000, making it a fair sized town but nothing immense.  It was - is - 20,000 square miles, making it a bit bigger than Vermont and New Hampshire combined, half the size of Tennessee or about the size of Oregon's orchard country.  There were no other comparable towns, only a dozen villages with a few hundred people each.  A small hamlet, Borisoglebsk (got to love these names) had 52 permanent residents but swelled to over a thousand in the summer as it was a trading junction ... something I discovered entirely by accident.

The oblast of Voronezh was managed by a Russian count in 1650, so it became the County of Voronezh.  My first hex maps of the area had a 5-mile diameter, allowing me to be quite precise.  The principal river was the Don, that flowed through the center of the County on its way to the Sea of Azov.  Another river, the Khoper, passed through Borisoglebsk before meeting the Don in the rolling lands to the southeast, out of the County.  Most of the County was open prairie with hills - steppe.

To the west of the Don were the foothills of the Central Russian Plateau - which I'd never actually heard of before starting to map it.  These are hills five hundred to eight hundred feet above the bottom of the Don Valley through the County.

The hills cover a huge area of European Russia and form a substantial barrier to travel.  Most of the travel is northwest towards Moskva and southeast towards Tsaritsyn on the Volga.  A large area on the east, near Borisoglebsk, is controlled by orcs; a large area on the south is controlled by outriders, the Don Cossacks, whom the Russian government was unable to control - they existed for a century as a sort of client-kingdom, paid by the Russians to attack their enemies, like mercenaries.

I saw this as a strong area to start a party.  Both the cossack raiders and the orcs promised good adventuring; the hills were there to offer caves and isolated valleys for investigation.  Voronezh made a good homebase for purchasing goods and Borisoglebsk was bound to be a source for violence and passion, full of caravans, gypsies, humanoids of every nature and foreigners from both the distant south and the north, all dwelling in tents and wagons.

As time went on, I added bits and pieces in an outward spiraling circle.  I reduced the size of my map by using 20-mile hexes, mapping out the Don river from where it started above Voronezh all the way to where it entered the sea.  I sketched out the Cossack lands, and then the orc lands, where the party ran for a time, merrily slaughtering their way across the country until getting involved in a seige at Saratov on the Volga.  I worked northward and mapped out the hills west of the Volga, and then the small Gnome Kingdom of Harnia, which occupies the hills and forests of modern day Penza.  From there I began to follow the course of the Oka River, which empties into the Volga, but starts in the Central Uplands west of Voronezh, near Kursk.

As I went, I researched, learned, discovered new things, got a feel for the land and a detailed sense of how it went together.  This naturally influenced my long-suffering trade tables, as I realized how goods needed to be moved and how the land would affect the 'distance' between trading cities.  History I had read for years began to have new value to me as I discovered - hex by hex - why Kiyev was able to remain an independent duchy for so long, and why the Greeks never expanded north of the Black Sea coast (the hinterland is too dry, the rivers largely unnavigable).

So please understand, if I emphasize overmuch on this blog the realistic characteristics of my world, it is because I am fascinated with the actual world as it exists.  I am not merely inventing a world, I'm discovering one - and in the process presenting it, with magic and all, to my players.  If the end result seems more granular than the ordinary world out there, it is because I'm not inventing it.  This was the reason for my choosing to run in the real world in the first place.

But I still have dragons.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Launching T +15

I've been quoted a tentative start date of November 16, 2010 for the launch of this database I proposed  15 days ago.  That is by no means written in stone ... at best you might say its scrawled in sand, and not that high above the tide.  But things are moving pretty fast.

I think it needs to be pointed out that most everything I've been a part of that mattered began with someone saying, "we should do this" and getting an answer, "yeah!"  It is really the answer that matters.  I could sit here bitching and moaning all day and if I don't get an answer, nothing happens.  The rant fades into the past and I go on posting maps, tables and further opinions.

I much appreciate the answers.  I want more.  I don't want anyone to feel that they've been left out of this process.  Yes, I did make the argument that quality must be the principal consideration - but in my experience quality has the potential to come from every corner, and not just my own.

I have been an editor, twice before, and I have been responsible for viewing, editing and printing other people's work, and that often being their first paid-for published work in a magazine.  That, I can tell you, is a great feeling, to give a writer his or her first cheque.  Now, I know I don't have any of the credentials that have been thrown at me lately - I haven't won any awards, I don't have three million hits monthly on my site and I'm not making money at this.  My blog has been what it has been.  Not a business, but a calling.  I don't measure its success by the number of viewers I have or by the number of viewers I stroke.  I measure its success by the amount of material I can get on it that I'm proud of.

So here's what I suggest.  I'm going to be looking material initially along the lines of this template.  For any launch that is to occur, I won't be interested initially in anything about rules or different ways of playing.  That is something that can be gotten to once we get the thing off the ground.  The primary focus has to be getting worlds other than mine on the database.

DON'T send me reams of material.  I will look at whatever you have, written in the template above (any of the six topics, not necessarily all of them), but DON'T write me more than 1,000 words.  Make it interesting and be brief whenever possible.  If I find myself nodding off after three paragraphs I'm not going to read any more.  The first presentation isn't what's important.  Just write me enough to get me interested.  If I like it, we'll talk about you writing more and getting it on the database.  But first write me a query.

Send it to

Feel free to use attachments, and please concentrate on how your world is different from other worlds.  Please remember that if you use an existing published template, such as the World of Greyhawk, we will only be able to publish embellishments of that world, and not pre-existing images.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Decisions, Decisions ...

And now there are two offers on the table.  The one from Alexander of The Escapist, and by proxy Zak of I Hit It With My Axe and Playing D&D With Porn Stars; and the other from my friend Carl and his friend Kyle from Three Hams Inn.


I can see the appeal. The Escapist seems to be a significant force online, as several people I've spoken to these last days have heard of it, without my having to even give the context. The question has been, "Have you heard of a website called 'The Escapist,' " and the answer as been, "Sure. Gaming site. What about it?" So Alexander, you can feel good that up here in Western Canada they've heard of your work.

So here's a recognizable platform, plenty of expertise, experience in creating an online presence, and opportunity to launch the proposed 'association' with a bang. No doubt, once it was started it would gain a lot of attention, what with eyeballs being driven there from your site - membership would take off within the first six months, I have no doubt, and there'd be significant opportunities to take advantage of that membership to do all kinds of things ... perhaps increase my own notoriety and even find my way into the Escapist family somehow, as Zak has done. Zak’s blog is booming and I Hit It With My Axe is an obvious success. I feel an honest temptation to reach out and grab on, however that might work between you and I.

However, and here I have to be honest … I really dislike the look of the Escapist website. I found I had to explain to several people that those weren’t ads on the site, those were links to articles and reviews. Unfortunately for me, upon reading those articles I found them trite and juvenile, as well as pandering to the industry you’re representing while at the same time purporting to slap it around. As a money-making venture I have no doubt as to its success, but where the very nature of the site badly taints your proposal. It light of the website, how can I take your word that commercialism and ultimately merchandising a D&D database is something in which you have no interest?

You may very well be sincere. All the worse for you, since you’ve chosen to present your sincerity side-by-side with this eyesore. I’m unable to correlate my expectations with what I’ve seen there. I see it, and because it exists I just don’t trust your word.

I recognize that I may be creating an enemy. For that I apologize. I feel that you may be reassured that the idea I advanced in my blog is not unique, and as such you are free to pursue it to your heart’s desire without my involvement. I don’t feel that I would be of any help to you in that regard. I am too academic, too particular and too prickly. Frankly, I don’t wish to wallow.


I should like to repeat my belief that I am in no way the appropriate face for any organization of this nature. People read this blog mostly to see just how far I’ll go towards alienating nine tenths of the community while trying to figure out how a frothing lunatic is still capable of churning out good work.

I shall try to demonstrate.

For those gentle readers who may still be reading this post …

If I rescind my challenge that you provide any capital at all, but provide an opportunity to present your world in context with other worlds, who reading this would step up and make an effort to provide me maps and descriptions of that world, to go on afore-described database?

Who would be prepared to produce thoughtful (not opinioned!) material comparing specific rules of various fantasy gaming platforms, such as D&D (all editions), Tunnels and Trolls, Rolemaster, S&W and what have you?

Who would be prepared to develop tables and methodologies for practical use regarding dungeons, encounters, treasure, combat, adventure, NPCs, magic, world design or otherwise?

Would you be prepared to submit to my judgment on whether said material was worthy of being published?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Alexis' World

This week I have this database on the brain.  Don't lose faith with me, in a week or so I'll settle down and start churning out random material again.

In the meantime, I've been giving some thought as to what would qualify as 'world design' in the big picture.  If there were a database or an organized wiki, how could the subject matter be divided?  Mind you, I'm thinking along the lines of the world itself, and not rules or charts intended to run the world. 

Rather than produce a large number of headings, I've tried to limit the number to six general categories.  No doubt there would be material that didn't fit, but additional categories could be created as needed.

I don't think I'm entirely out to lunch with these six.  They correspond to most of what I see people doing on their blogs through the system.  Whatever the world the gentle reader is making, these questions are bound to come up.  I've written the questions in blue, and an outline in black.  I could write a great deal, but I'll keep my comments general.

Heirarchy of Existence & Power:  what relative status do characters - and by extension, intelligent humanoids or alternative ecological organisms - have in relationship to real or unreal 'gods' or other perceived creatures of greater power?

I see a three tiered system of power.

1) Most creatures are mortal, without any comprehension of the world around them.  Those with higher intelligence have, in almost every case indirectly, come to recognize the existence of gods.  They have created a variety of explanations, often incorrect, for how the gods interact with the world, and how the gods may best be served.  I like the conception that the power of the gods hinges upon the number of believers they possess, so the proselytization of a particular god's agenda and the destruction of other god's agendas acts as the fuel that runs many people's lives.

2) Between the lower orders and the higher gods are a group of entities that possess some immortal characteristics and a much clearer perception of the workings of the world.  These would be entities or intelligences who have divine knowledge of the gods, who might in fact be in communication with the gods ... but who continue to have corporeal structure.  This includes a great many whose power and fame has won them the title of 'god' with the lower orders, but the appellation is incorrect.  Creatures that might fit this level would include many of the non-human's deities (such as Lolth and others), titans, hecatonacheres, muses, certain heroes and such that fall under the status of demi-gods and so on.   All these entities have substantial 'bodies' and could be killed - but it is so difficult and these creatures have lived so long that there is a pervasive belief in their status as divine beings.

3) Actual gods.  Entities that are immortal, have no corporeal existence - in the usual sense - and capable of widescale destruction or creation by means not generally covered by the magic described in the game.  Acts of this sort do not occur except according to set agreements or arrangements as established by a 'pecking order' among these greater entities.  The very function of the world and the universe - such as the turning of the world, the forces that bring out weather, annual flooding, the growth of plants, knowledge, procreation and so on - works according to these agreements in a manner that is largely incomprehensible to the lower orders.  At any given moment, any of these presumed arrangements can be suspended - which creates a momentum among the ignorant not to challenge the gods, though appeals through prayer and ritual ultimately have little effect.  The gods hear everything, and bring forth their beneficence generously, but that would not stop them from plunging a meteor into the world if it suited their ultimate and incomprehensible goals.

History:  what events have transpired in order to create the world as it is now?

Most of the history of my world is in some way recognizable with that of the Earth - except that in many cases certain peoples, cultures or migration patterns have been distinctly altered.  For example, humans in my world never slipped across the land bridge into North America some 25,000 years ago.  The pre-history human cultures from Asia that would have done so were stymied by the presence of pre-goblin cultures that dominated the mountainous regions of Siberia, so that northern migration and the development of human polar tribes never occurred.  In any case, elves evolved from uncertain beginnings some 300,000 years ago in the lower Mississippi valley, and prior to that lizard, snake, cat and bird people cultures developed throughout the Middle and Southern American continent.  My world has Mayans, Incans, Olmecs and Toltecs, but none of these cultures were human.

Thus, while human cultures still developed in the four primary basins - the Hwang Ho, Indus, Tigris-Euphrates and Nile - in every direction upon expanding out of these basins they encountered non-human tribal cultures of various intelligence that had to be overcome.  When speaking of invasions of the Saracens, the Semites, the Aryans, the Huns, the Parthians, the Mongols and so on, I am speaking of non-humans.  But at the same time, there were many human-tribe invasions also: the Dorics, the Slavs, the Magyars, the Turks and the Vikings.  It gets complicated, and I've never sat down to specifically define which invader fits which race ... in part because in many cases, the race is mixed, as would be the case with the Khazars and the Uighurs.  Overall, I use the guideline that if the race continues to exist and occupy lands which are now considered human in my world, then that invader was human (the Bulgars still occupy Bulgaria); but if the invader was ultimately destroyed by the present inhabitants, then that race was non-human (the Avars have been elimated from Europe's Balkan region).

Beyond this, I still had the Romans, the dark ages still occurred, and the medieval period followed.  But without the new world and a helpless Africa to give Europe energy, and without expansion into Asia by the Russians (the Mongols, being haruchai, have proved too tough to destroy), the medieval period has been extended into the 17th century.

Geography:  what is the physical nature of the world?

Substantially unchanged from the existing Earth.  I have accepted this for the granular quality it offers to my campaign, the simplicity of having weather and other features easily researched and incorporated, and because human beings playing in my campaign have prior associations with specific places.  Thus, when I say the party has arrived in Ireland, they can visualize the country, the people, the dress and the general culture without my having to explain all this from the beginning.

While my blog spends a lot of time discussing this aspect of my world, and the maps, that is mostly because I've always had a fascination with maps, which predates D&D for me by 9 years.  Consider that I started playing D&D at 15.  I was actually given my first almanac as a Christmas gift when I was 8 years old.  When I first started playing D&D, I saw it as a way to feed my pre-existing geographical fascination.

So, always been crazy.

Technology/Magic:  what technological potential has the world achieved?  What forms of magic exist?  Have all parts of the world reached equal status in both magic and technology?

Discussing magic, first: in most every case this is where I and the AD&D books maintain the closest association.  I have no problem with the magic formats of the Player's Handbook, and I use about half the spells from the Unearthed Arcana, along with cantrips.  I haven't seen any other spells on any site, magazine or source that I think is worthwhile adding to a campaign.  This is not to say that there aren't decent created spells out there, its only that I don't see the benefit in giving dozens and dozens of extra spells for characters to use.  The rules that allow characters to make their own spells is a fair principal, and when I've had characters approach me about this, I've always tried to be accommodating.  The same thing can be said about magic items and artifacts.  I've added a few of the latter, but for the most part I'm happy with the offerings in the DMG.

As regards technology in my world, it is mostly swords and armor.  I have black powder, and even cannon, but these things are dangerous to use and are easily affected by magic.  It's a brave individual who carries gunpowder when any magic fire attack is going to make you dead very quickly.

In any case, there really are no limitations on what additional technological possibilities could be incorporated into a game.  I have always been a fan of Fineous Finger's 'wand of magic missiles' (M-16 rifle), and I actually had party members in a prior campaign stumble across a tank and fuel for it.  Made for some interesting gaming.  Multiple universes linked together through the astral plane allows for a lot of possibilities.

But still, I stick to the ordinary combat equipment because, overall, it makes the game most playable.

Biology:  what creatures, intelligent or otherwise, exist?

Once again, I'm close to the books, at least with regards to what monsters exist.  This last couple of years I've made some significant changes to monster hit points and combat, changes I intend to carry forward in the next few years as things occur to me.  I want to create some encompassing table to identify how much damage creatures do according to battle technique (claws vs. horns vs. club-like limbs and so on).

My problem with new monsters is that they are almost always just rehashes of old monsters.  I'm not looking for any new humanoids, golems, dragons, demons or undead.  I am looking for completely new kinds and classifications of creatures, but those ideas aren't out there, as far as I can tell.  I use virtually every monster in the Monster Manual (the only exceptions are psionic creatures) and about a third of those in the Fiend Folio, plus what I've incorporated out of the Deities and Demigods.  I have between 30 and 40 monsters of my own construction, mostly large versions of Earth-creatures.

Culture:  how is population distributed, what municipal groupings exist, what are the principal civil organizations, what laws and customs are observed and what is considered socially acceptable behavior?  How do these vary between intelligent species?

Here, again, I fall back on Earth norms, but I'm not married strictly to that formula.  Still, I have massive cities, huge countries and empires, mixed with tiny duchies and city-states.

Beneath the predictable Earth cultures that we're all familiar with, I have a wide range of organized counter-culture groups, some human (Illuminati-like) and some non-human (like the doppelganger conspiracies that are impossible to number ... there's always one more).  I draw heavily from movies and literature for my imagination in creating these groups.

Primarily, my chief motivation for most of the creatures in my world are survival first, and money and power after.  Those who have grown comfortable and reasonable ensured of their survival will tend towards exploiting those around them, sometimes honestly and very often dishonestly.  If I were to point to someone as a template for what a player would expect, I would recommend the gentle reader pick up a copy of Voltaire's Candide or De Sade's Justine.  I don't say that life is always a parade of people offering kindness with one hand and a knife for the back in the other (I do believe honor and justice motivate many people in my world), but it is hard to tell those who do employ this two-faced method from those who are legitimately kind.

For the game, I see culture as a motivator for events and interactions affecting the characters.  There are lots of rules, which are much harder on foreigners (who don't know what they are) than on locals.  Rules are mainly there to keep down the weak and poor, while promoting the wealthy and strong.