Wednesday, May 11, 2011


"The world is his, who has money to go over it. He arrives at the sea-shore, and a sumptuous ship has floored and carpeted for him the stormy Atlantic, and made it a luxurious hotel, amid the horrors of tempests. The Persians say, "'Tis the same to him who wears a shoe, as if the whole earth were covered with leather."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Yesterday on Anthony's site I made the point that he had done good work, and I stand by that.  However, today I want to argue where the work is flawed, because ... well, that's the way things are discussed in the adult world.  Solutions are advanced, and solutions are shot full of holes.  And then better solutions result.

The Emerson quote above it meant to convey certain central issues I have with Anthony's calculation of attrition * topography * climate * season * road * situation * provisions + base damage.  The very purpose of creating a road is so that travellers upon that road need not experience the topographyI put it to the reader that walking upon a road through a set of hills is in no way different than walking upon a road through an open plain.  Particularly if the road in question has been built in such a manner as to reduce the grade of the road, as the Romans did with the various Vias that extended throughout the empire.  Now there are roads and there are roads, but if we are speaking of an engineered project that lays stone in a fashion so to make travel easier, then the various travellers making their way through the malarial swamps of western Italy along those roads are not affected in their comfort in the least.  That was kind of the point!

Moreover, I'd like to point out that roads through mountains and hills tend to follow along the valleys, where the rivers generally provide easier grades.  Yes, the possibility of a mountain pass adding to the difficulty is a possibility, but roads can lead through a hundred miles or more of mountainous terrain without ever going over a pass.  So it's ridiculous to assume a mountain road is automatically in some way made more difficult.  I live right next to a group of craggy mountains - the Rockies - that were very dangerous to traverse when there were no roads.  But since there are roads now, and since the Canada Highway goes right through the Rockies, the Selkirk Range and the Coastal mountains having only to climb and descend three passes over a journey of 800 miles, I can assure you that while riding a bike from Calgary to Vancouver involves a lot of up and down, it isn't a terribly hazardous trip.  In fact, it's pretty damn cozy.  Given good weather, I don't think you could argue taking damage over the journey.

"Road" should definitely negate "Topography."

All right, let's look at the next pairing: climate vs. season.

To begin with, "season" is a misnomer.  Many parts of the globe don't have seasons in the temperate sense, with some parts of the world having only two, and some parts having three.  Moreover, what is the distinction between the 'winter' that I experience up here in Alberta and the 'winter' that others experience in, say, Oklahoma.  Here, we are living in a world where the trees still haven't come into leaf, whereas Oklahoma's trees did months ago.  So am I still living in Spring?  Winter?  In parts of Europe, on May 1st they celebrate the first day of Summer.  That was ten days ago.  Is it Summer here?

No, of course not.  Seasons are completely nominal words which are applied generally in different parts of the world to different phenomena, and do not reflect any sort of measurable condition.  Sometimes, we here in Alberta experience a warm, pleasant spring and the leaves come out on the trees in late March and early April.  And sometimes we have years like this one.  Doesn't mean a thing.  So toss out the 'season' modifier entirely.  It is simply worthless as a measure.

Now, climate.  An absurdly generalized thing which, like spring, hardly describes the day to day experience of living with weather.  Some parts of the world have a 'climate':  the northern coast of South America, for instance, where it is 90 degrees every day, without exception, for six months at a time.  Venezuela, Guyana and Suriname sit on the Carribbean where it meets the Atlantic and the weather is always sultry with humidity.

Alberta, I can say from experience, is not like that.  And while in the winter the December temperature can drop to -35 C with a windchill of -20 C, the December temperature can also climb to +9 C with a warm, marvelous wind that makes you want to walk home from work.  These are both part of the same 'climate' ... and since either can occur at any time throughout the winter here, it is again completely ridiculous to label the country as "cold" and apply a modifier as though the temperature never changes.  Temperature, wind, humidity and precipitation DO CHANGE, and wildly, throughout the temperate region ... and therefore, designations like "cold" or "warm" are absolutely and without exception utterly useless as a general reflection of any particular day of walking in the wilderness.  You can get lucky, and have several nice days in a row, and you can get unlucky, and probably die on a road within 24 hours.  This sort of Darwinism happens here, regularly.  When the authorities here close a road, and they're ignored, it doesn't take long for this country to kill you.

So again, throw out the 'climate' modifier and put one there that makes sense.

Now, a few notes about topography.

Leaving aside for the moment that not all mountains are the same, and that not all swamps are the same, let's instead talk about the differences between the topographies themselves.  For example, let's compare the differences between my walking through the forests of western Alberta, and the mountains of western Alberta.

Oh, look.  It's forest, either way.

If you shoot off across a bit of wild terrain in the forests up north and west of Calgary, you will find yourself walking through a lot of deadfall, peat bog and brush, and crossing narrow, six to eight foot deep cold water streams without any fords.  And if you shoot off across a bit of wild terrain in the mountains straight west of those forests, you will find yourself walking over a lot of deadfall, and crossing three to four foot deep cold water streams with plenty of fords.

Yes, in fact, the mountains are easier to trek in many parts because A) there are fewer streams; B) the streams tend to have rocks that provide a means across; and C) there are no peat bogs and no brush.  Of course, when you actually climb up into the mountains, to the high places, there are cliffs and pressure rapids and rock falls, but isn't it up to the party to say whether they want to travel in the river bottoms or in the high mountains?  Shouldn't there be different modifiers for either?

Incidentally, it isn't that hard to walk through the mountain country around here - though it is considered some of the roughest mountain country in North America - but it is slow going.  That is, if you're stupid and you hurry, yes, you'll hurt yourself.  But if you're patient and methodical, you have nothing to worry about.  The pine trees tend to drop a lot of needles, and the needles - plus the lack of sunlight - destroys all the undergrowth.  So you can walk hundreds of meters just as though you are waltzing through a park.  But then you have to drop down through some deadfalls and a few angular slopes to get back into said 'parkland.'

I'm being specific about this instance to point out that you cannot designate 'forests' as any particular modifier as opposed to 'mountains.'  The Alps are higher and craggier than the Rockies, but the valleys are full of meadows and deciduous forest, and therefore provide a completely different sort of walking experience.  The high mountains of Afghanistan are full of cliffs, but there's no vegetation at all - so it isn't comparable with the Rocky Mountains in the least ... though of course, Afghanistan rises 6,000 feet higher.  You can't call them low mountains.  Moreover, the kind of brush and bracken in the thicker parts of the Smoky Mountains of Virginia and Kentucky make for much harder travel than many parts of the Rockies, even though they're lower.  It isn't the mountains that make that country hard to traverse, its the forests ... so do you designate them as "low mountains" or as "forest."

Rather than using these rather generalized and difficult to apply modifiers, can't something more practical be used that would describe, say, the actual difficulty of traversing the terrain?  Such as, "impassable"; "difficult"; "with obstacles"; "easy-going"?  Assuming, of course, that the topography needs to be represented at all?

My point in my last post was that, if the amount of damage per day is increasing automatically, wouldn't a particular terrain that was hard to move through simply increase the damage by virtue of it taking more time?  If I take 2 damage per day moving at 2 miles per day to cross a hex, then the hex would cause 20 damage.  If I take 2 damage per day, but I can cross the hex in 3 days, then the hex only causes 6 damage.

If this were so, why then oh why would I need to add another modifier to the hex?  Obviously, the difficulty of passage is accounted for in the time it takes to cross the bloody region ... and therefore it does NOT need to be accounted for again.

If there is any adage that applies in creating any sort of table like this, it is Keep It Simple, Stupid.  Throw out modifiers that wouldn't apply.  Throw out duplicate modifiers.  Simplify the modifiers that remain.  Make the system better.


Anthony said...

Two broad thoughts here:

Without trying to sound flippant, I know that there are numerous variations on similar terrain and no two mountain systems, or wetlands, or even plains are the same. In the face of this reality, where do we draw a line between investigating every unique terrain versus using a broad generalization? You belaboring the point provides us with numerous examples, and I can provide many more from personal experiences in the countries and states in which I have lived. This line drawing exercise cuts through this design (and most systems really) at many points; do we simulate accurate conditions down to increasingly smaller regions or stop at generalizations? What serves our needs better?

Second, I can see the merit in collapsing the system down into fewer modifiers. So do we establish a baseline progression of hp damage and minimal amounts of modifiers? You use just 2 modifiers, weather and route. How are you going to distinguish between the severity of weather and ground conditions? Do we not want to consider climate, terrain, time of year, and so forth to come to a value? And again, are we going to settle on broad or unique definitions?

I can see where my system double penalizes a tough trip; it takes longer and does more damage. It is certainly not realistic to make every hex take 1 day to travel, so it would be better to focus on duration.

Your turn :D

Alexis said...

“How are you going to distinguish between the severity of weather and ground conditions?”

The difference is the severity, not what causes the severity. Therefore, two completely different conditions which produce the same degree of severity can be represented as the same severity. A difference which makes no difference is no difference.

“Do we not want to consider climate, terrain, time of year, and so forth to come to a value?”

We definitely want to. But instead of making these several modifiers, they should be applied as additive components of the same modifier. Thus, a rainy day (or any other weather) can be scaled as 0.01 to 0.40, which is added to the base modifier of 1.0. Most ordinary terrain is immaterial since that is accounted for in the number of days of travel. Excessively difficult terrain can be also be scaled as above. Time of year has zip to do with anything – a 10 degree day in August and a 10 degree day in December are the same temperature. An argument can be made for a daily change in temperature, such as a 15 degree night in the desert, which is very hard after a 40 degree day. But a yearly change? Pshaw. We want to be careful picking and choosing our scaled components.

“And again, are we going to settle on broad or unique definitions?”

Obviously, the components can be very precise and unique. From your own trials, an expressly terrible component can add 1.0 or 1.5 to the base severity and it would certainly get the point across. It wouldn’t need to be made into a whole new modifier.

Therefore, by adding these components together and creating one “severity modifier” we could truly simplify the overall system – and reduce the unrestrained arithmetical/geometric progression of the daily travel.

Anthony said...

Ok, so instead of

F1 * F2 * F3 * F4 * F5

we go with

(F1a + F1b +F1c) * (F2a +F2b)

I like the arithmetic better in this case. So if F1 is the weather function, a is temperature, b is rainfall, c is humidity, for example. Or maybe a is the high, b is the low, c is precipitation.

You do realize we are going to have to use Kelvin for absolute temperatures, right? ;)

Either way, a range on these can be pulled out of a climate classification system or just historical data and subjected to variance.

I'll have to think on this some more. Unfortunately, the power is out at my house and there are numerous trees lying in the front yard. I think I might be out of commission for a while after I leave work...

Alexis said...

Okay, but don't suffer any damage from the severity of the conditions, all right?

Glad we're on the same page.

Alexis said...

Hurm. Thinking on the temperature, I believe we're looking for a deviation from room temperature, not an absolute temperature. So if 20 C or 70 F is defined as zero, the remaining severity can be determined from there (taking note that temperature up tends to be more deadly than temperature down).

Anthony said...

Yea, you are right. The math would be actual temperature minus reference temperature; -5 - 20 = -25 and 40 - 20 = 20, giving you the magnitude of the deviation from reference as well as its sign. Then maybe divide the result by 100? Assuming you want 1 degree of temperature difference to be 1/100 of a hp (well, not exactly since it is one additive factor in a multiplicative factor, but you get the idea).

Anthony said...

Whoops, you would need an absolute value function in there as well. F1a = |[T(a) - T(r)]/100|. Plus an if/then statement if you want higher temperatures to be more deadly than lower temperatures.

Anthony said...

Math-geek overload! Define a system with 2 functions, one for T(a) < T(r) with a larger divisor and one for T(a) > T(r) with a smaller divisor.

Sorry for the comment spam! I'll leave now...

Alexis said...


Not being a math geek, I don't know what you're talking about precisely, but don't stop! Gotta let that spark be free ...

The Jovial Priest said...

Like many others I am following with enthusiastic interest.

I am wondering if it is the risk of attrition and damage, that is the key modifier rather than the specifics.
As you pointed out, no two forests are the same, nor are two winters.
The wilderness travel risk is broadly a factor of terrain risk and a weather risk. Both could be divided into minimal, moderate, high and lethal risk, each having a certain modifier.

The determination of daily risk could be randomised on a table with modifiers for the season or topography as desired; but would allow for warm easy walking in the middle of winter, and a day of more open forest in a hex that just says forest.

I'm not sure I need to know the temperature exactly to tell may players what their risk of travelling that day is. In the end the system must be capable of allowing players to determine whether they proceed that day or in that direction, a choice based on the players' ability to understand and weigh risk.

Good luck to you both, you are definitely onto something. It would be nice to hear from Zak S on how he does it?

Alexis said...


I agree, it must come down to choice. Any description of an expedition moving through a wilderness includes diary notes like, "Stopped for three days upon the banks of the Luwamba River. The game is good here and the party's spirits have improved."

While the attrition could be ongoing, stopping completely and making no forward movement would be an option for players, if they found that area of "open forest." This would allow the attrition level to deplete some (provided the weather stayed good) before continuing further.

On the other hand, stubborn continuous movement would swiftly bring death.

The Jovial Priest said...

Alexis, with your current system of negative hit points leading to falling ability scores not immediate death, is there even a reason not to have a 1hp character lose that single hit point after one day of travel? One day of travel they feel wrecked. Two days they feel weak and slow witted.
Rest overnight in an inn, can offset that days loss.
Maybe why, in England anyway, everyone could reach another village (or town) easily in one days travel. So my Ian Mortimer book on Medieval England I am reading keeps telling me.

Alexis said...

In my world, Jovial, only the leveled characters have negative hit points. Zero levels die at -1.

But no matter since, as I pointed out yesterday, the idea I suggest wouldn't kill someone in one, or even two days ... unless the weather was really, really bad.