Friday, July 29, 2011


Why has this not occurred to me before?

No matter how you cut it, the rules for damage from unarmed combat for AD&D always seem a little ridiculous, don't they?  If a dagger does 1 to 4 damage, it seems the grossest of overkill to give a fist 1-2 damage, or even just 1 ... especially if the character is allowed the benefit for strength.  If 1-2 damage, then the fist is doing an average of 1.5, and the dagger is doing an average of 2.5.  Those two things seem too close together.

So you're pushed into rules like trying to account for punching damage being less effective, either by saying that it's really recorded in tenths of hit points or, alternately, the damage from it is regenerated or some such.  I've seen both, and I have always thought of it as a pain.

Generally, because there are no rules for it, people tend not to punch one another in the game.  It's a sort of gentleman's agreement.

The whole problem is with zero being the lower minimum for damage.  You can't give a fist less than 1 damage on a hit, can you?

Can you?

Listen, probably someone has come up with this before, but I haven't seen it.  Why not make the fist a d4 minus 3?  Then the strength bonus can be added, making the punch effective 50% of the time for 17 strength, 75% of the time for 18 strength and 100% of the time for 18/percentage strength.  The average would then be -0.5, which would be 3 less than the dagger, so significantly below the dagger in power regardless of the character's strength.

I like it.  I may have to stage a bar fight for the first time in 20 years of running.

Thursday, July 28, 2011


This is too good not to discuss ...

But before we do, I'd like to confess something of which many blogs seem to feel I'm unaware.  Yes, I am an asshole.  I am.  And yes, it actually IS the reason why I am not a world famous something.  I am aware of that.  I feel I must indicate that I am aware becuase of the people writing me comments explaining that to me.  If the gentle reader could, imagine the most exhausted voice possible being used when I say, "Yes, I know my failure to be rich and famous is because I am an asshole."

In my defense, it also has something to do with a lot of people willing to cheerfully exploit me and my efforts also being assholes.  But no, no, no we do not want to concentrate on that.  We want to keep my own assholesque nature directly in the path of the headlights here.  We want to give YDIS a boner for inspiration on the very next post he writes about me.  He deserves it.  He works so hard.

So, you see, no one needs to tell me that I am.  I know I am.  And I have a theory about it that goes like this:

I don't think people mind that I'm an asshole.  I think what people really mind is that I am unashamed of it.

Earlier today, on the post I wrote about Eric helping me with my equipment tables, I received a helpful comment from The Pon'farr Spock that went, "Opensource yoru equipment table project and people like Eric could contribute for free -- he seems to be doing that anyway."

Any one who jumps on the Pon'farr link above will take note that the fellow does not have a blog, so his contribution to the improvement of D&D is pretty minimal.  That's how I took it, anyway.  And I took it as an insult.  I'm sure many people reading this wouldn't have a clue why, and they can if they wish ascribe that to my being an insult, or they might consider this:

Suppose that you have just won the lottery.  Hey, it was pure luck, you don't even buy a ticket every week, the universe just turned your way and now you're $10,000,000 richer.

Now, suppose someone you've known all your life, that you've spent hundreds of hours getting drunk with, who attended your wedding, whose wedding you attended, who several times you helped with moving and with house repairs, came up to you and explained in a moment of woe that he needs $10,000 to help with his flooding basement.  Hey, you'd probably give the money.  You're pals.

Now imagine that someone who you've never met, who read about your good fortune in the paper, came up to you on the street and said, "Hey, you ought to give everyone you've ever known $10,000."

On some level you might think that's a good idea.  "Ever known" might apply pretty specifically to people you've known well, and not the kid who used to live down the street from your parents.  It's more likely, however, that you're going to look at this stranger and recognize a bit o' self-interest a brewin' there.  And if this is the fiftieth person you've heard make a similar suggestion, you're probably going to say "fuck off" to the stranger's face, then have your attendant manhandle the fucker into a light pole.

Alas, I do not have an attendant, nor a convenient light pole, so I wrote this:

"Total time spent on trade tables:

Alexis (including conception, development & implementation): 14,000 hours over twenty years.
Eric: 20 - 40 hours, being generous.
Pon'farr (who would get the benefit): 0 hours."

Because, well, I'm an asshole.

The answer I got from Pon'farr later was unprintable.  I would discuss it, but I deleted it, so I won't say what he said.  He's probably pissed right now that I'm writing this post without having printed his answer.  A lot of you readers out there are probably pissed too, at me, even though you wouldn't know about any of this except for me telling you.  It is sort of like the Republican Party coming forward and admitting all the shit they've done, and the listener getting pissed off for the first time, as though it wasn't already plainly obvious what the Republican Party was all about.

I am not interested in popularity.  I am not interested in being liked.  With regards to my career, I have earned more money from my writing than 99/100ths of the would-be writers in the world who ever put words to paper in the hopes of the tiniest bit of recognition.  With regards to my self-image, I am quite pleased with myself.  This, I know, is appalling.  It is as though the television universe you bought into about morality and comeuppance just isn't real.

No one, absolutely not a soul, reads this blog because I'm a nice person.  This I promise you.  People read this blog for only one reason, and that is because I put things on this blog that cannot be found anywhere else in relation to D&D.  This is my single distinguished reason for existing as a recognizable blogger in the community.  I produce unique, original material which you, the reader, cannot find elsewhere.  And believe me, I know you've looked.  How wonderful it would be to find all this great material on a blog not being published by an asshole.

Well, good luck.

For all the Pon'farr's in the world, let me make something clear.  Don't ask me for stuff.  I don't care if you're doing it for you, for some stranger you met on the 'net, for your pet Snippy or your grandmother that's got three weeks to live and desperately needs it to play the last game she'll ever play.  You get what you get, and not a drop more.  I'm not a tap you can turn on.  I'm not your go-to guy.

You want me to work for you?  Fucking pay me.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Luthier's Shop

Oh yes, the name is definitely a misnomer - by no stretch of the imagination would all these things be available at the luthier's shop.  At the same time, however, I just felt that "instrument maker" lacked flavour, and flavour is important where it comes to a fantasy campaign.  Thus all these instruments are gathered together here.  A reminder to the gentle reader that they wouldn't all be found at the same shop anyway, only in the same general district of town.

The bard, I felt, deserved a wide selection.  The price for some of these instruments may seem astounding for those who are not familiar with the cost of musical instruments in general ... the precision in making, the materials and the timbre of the sound require more than simple expertise, and the prices reflect that.  Several of the instruments, the squeezebox or the pipes, are quite cheap.  The viola or the violin is not.  Please note that in those two instruments, it is less the amount of materials that determines the price versus the amount of precision involved in their construction.  Thus they are almost the same price although the violin is smaller.

Most of the instruments are unavailable and would consistently be hard to find without actually going to the location where the instrument is made.  I have some trouble sorting out the Asian instruments vs. the European instruments for the time being; at some point I shall have to make a distinction between the two on other tables, but I haven't yet because - heck - I've got other things to do.

Finally, a word about the organs.  I'll be honest, the 'magnificent organ' is too big an expensive to be 'found' in a shop.  The price given is the cost it would be to construct it, and its availability would be the chance of finding someone willing to do so.  I priced this according to a huge organ I was able to find details for at a cathedral in Germany ... but I did the research for it about four years ago and I can no longer remember the specific building (memory goes as you get old, you know).  Anyone familiar with organs will tell you that 29 stops is just immense.  Note the 40 ton weight of the item.  It is really just included to indicate the likely upper end of the craft.  A 3-stop organ would be fairly common, the sort of thing a good-sized church would raise money to buy.

The next list would be the mason, which I think needs a bit of work.  I'll post it tomorrow or Friday, depending on how the rest of my week goes.  Wow, it's Wednesday already.

Locksmith's Shop

Stupidly, I shall post another.

This represents very little research, actually, into the subject matter of locks and lockmaking.  I would expect someone to correct me (Eric) along the way to tell me that in fact a four-pin tumbler lock is harder to open than a warded lock, or that a skeleton key will in fact open a bunch of different kinds of locks, or that warded locks would probably not be 3 inches in diameter or whatever else.  I suppose that's how things go.

Give me some data, and I'll change the table.

The double and treble locks idea hit me last night; I have no historical precedent for them, but I like the idea of a lock that requires the thief to have to make a successful open locks roll twice or three times in order to open.  I have priced these locks accordingly, using a base modifier of 4x for the double-lock and 16x for the treble-lock.  And of course they are larger than the ordinary lock.

I think the duplicating key price and the 'service call' price are a masterstroke.  I don't know why I never thought of them before.  Quite obvious, really.  I considered "lock installation" but in the period there were no door locks of that variety.

Hm.  I suppose I could have included brackets and a timber for blocking a door from the inside ... though that's really more of a carpenter thing.

Next would come the Luthier.  I might manage that today.


These last few weeks the presentation of my equipment tables has been run ragged by Eric, whose online presence I won't go into; you can follow the link of his name through any of the recent equipment posts.

Today I've been reposting the tables for Brewer, Cobbler and Leather Worker, wholly due to the tenaciousness of the fellow's apparent belief that if I'm dumb enough to concoct tables like this, he's damn well going to keep me honest.  As things are, if I had the money to hire someone at $40K a year to come and work on my world as an employee, I'd hire Eric.

Oh, Eric, for the record ... I did a bit of reading about the malting issue and adjusted the price of that, too.  I hope you find the new numbers more satisfactory.

I can't let this opportunity go by to point out how I have been wrong in a number of instances this last post-heavy month, as demonstrated by Eric, and that I have been willing to A) admit it; B) set about spending my time fixing it; and C) not get mad about it.  The thing is in this instance, Eric is putting forth arguments that are actually arguments, giving me reason to reconsider my previously held position and ultimately change it.

Oh well.  I don't suppose anyone noticed.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Leather Worker's Shop

At last, a new table.  Sorry it isn't spectacularly interesting, it is only the leather worker's shop, but there are some things here that are some very old D&D standards.  For example, the different between a low soft and a high hard boot.  Or how much a bear skin would fetch if a player bothered to skin one.  I should say the cost here is for a brown bear ... that should be in the description, which I'll be sure to add (but it isn't worth updated the table just for that).

Also, what is a wineskin made from?  How big, precisely, are things like backpacks, saddle bags, pouches and so on?  Which reminds me about coins.

The coins in my world are a LOT smaller than standard D&D.  A typical gold coin is only 7 grams, a typical silver coin is only 10 grams, and a typical copper coin is about 16 to 20 grams.  Yes, historically coins were made that were much larger, but I can remember from my time working in a numismatics museum at university that the coins were generally quite small.  Obviously, this means that 250 copper coins are much larger in volume than 250 gold coins, but this is the sort of thing which for playability's sake I am prepared to overlook where it comes to deciding how many can fit into a back pack.  Some ages ago I did some math on the volume of coins and measured it against the described volumes in the above containers ... but that math might be wrong and someone else might get different figures.  If anyone wants to show me math that shows the average number of 10 gram coins that will fit into a square inch, I'm prepared to update the figures.  For now I'm not unhappy with them.

Last thing; it should be obvious that leatherworking is common in East Transylvania.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Jeweller's Dilemma

Here I am back in harness after vacation.  And I will be getting started on the equipment tables again, for those readers who might be concerned.  The only reason I haven't been doing so this last week has been the problems associated with the Jeweller.

Price this.
My idea was to produce a simple table that would randomly generate jewelry varieties, then determine randomly what the materials would be; and then determine randomly the workmanship; and then determine randomly if there were any gems, what kind of gems, how many gems and of what size.
And it is in the matter of gems that I ran straight in quicksand.

See, part of the problem is that in reality, most jewellers don't sell jewellery that is wildly valuable.  Oh, sure, 'Tiffanys' exists somewhere, but most of the time the jeweller of a small town is going to make their money on selling trinkets to the masses, things made of copper, brass, pewter or bronze, with a bit of silver thrown in.  Gold is very expensive, even white gold, so likely only a few pieces would exist, usually white gold, 14K or 18K.  Platinum might turn up, but that might be just one or two pieces in the district.

That's no problem, but when determining which gems go into what items, the considerations start to produce a lot - and I mean a LOT - of individualized tables.

For example, if the jewellery item is a ring, it can only have a stone that is so large; a brass ring wouldn't have a precious stone set into it, and a gold ring wouldn't be set with an ornamental stone ... but excellent workmanship that's present in the former might mean a better setting while ordinary workmanship in the latter might mean that something like a citrine or a bloodstone wasn't out of place.  If the piece is an earring, the stone can be much larger than the setting, since it can hang from a tiny bit of gold, so the balance of what kind of stone can be mixed with what kind of base metal is different.  If the item is a necklace, it might have very little metal and a lot of gems, or it may have only a few gems set in lots of metal.  Moreover, a necklace could be one string, or it could be ten strings, so there has to be an algorithm for determining the actual size of the item, which has to be a separate algorithm for determining the size of a tiara or a locket, since obviously the range on a necklace is far greater.

And all this is in relation to the trade tables themselves, which determine the type of gem or metal according to the part of the world one is in, so that turquoise would be common in jewelry here but rare over there, while over there pewter would be common but over there pewter would be non-existent.  And so it goes.  With all these different comparisons and random elements and circumstances and associations mixed together with the costs for lapidary and gemcutting and so on and so forth, I did reach a point last Tuesday where - after four days of fighting with it - I wanted to scream and stop trying.  And since I was on vacation, I did.

I have not felt a need to pick it up since, so I may leave off the jeweller's table (and probably the lapidary's as well) for now and just move forward.  At this point, that seems healthy.  Then, when it no longer is holding up the posting of the grand table, I can get back to it and work at a half-rate version which can be steadily improved.

Look for me to get something up for the tables tomorrow or the day after.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Military Tradition

Here is a technology that is going to get me in trouble.  To even begin to talk about this subject I am fighting eighty years of Hollywood and three or four centuries of dramatic writing before that.  Thinking on G.B. Shaw's play for example, Caesar and Cleopatra, the dialogue is loaded with officers addressing subordinates and subordinates saluting officers, all completely anachronistic but thoroughly taken for granted as "The Way It Was."

Not that I think Caesar and Cleopatra is a bad play.  I love Shaw, and the play is well worth watching ... provided one remembers that its a tale about how the British Army arrives and occupies Egypt with the aid of a bratty English schoolgirl.  It bears about as much similarity to Caesar and the Roman army as the film Starship Troopers describes the future development of the U.S. Army.

Hey, I like that movie too.  But it is as realistic a depiction of a future military organization as the recently dead Amy Winehouse is a representation of ...

No, I'd better stop there.  I could do this all day.

Now, look.  Drama demands that to make any military force familiar to the audience, officers and subordinates are key.  Therefore a Centurion is not only a recognized military veteran and an acknowledged and respected peer (which he was), he is someone with RANK who is SALUTED and OBEYED without question, who furthermore has the right to CONDEMN any subordinate soldier who does not immediately obey him.

I'm going to get comments, but I am sorry people.  It is all bullshit.

If you want a more realistic depiction of the military prior to the early 18th century, I suggest you find a copy of Homer's Iliad or Odyssey.  I suggest reading some lengthy first-person accounts about the Crusades - particularly the military cluster-fuck that was the First Crusade.

I'm not saying that men did not lead men.  I am not saying that Alexander's troops did not obey Alexander, or that Caesar's troops did not obey Caesar.  I'm not saying that Alexander wouldn't have had a man executed for not obeying orders.  I'm saying that there was no established, ordered, defacto system which ranked soldiers that gave person A absolute power over person B.  In fact, throughout the Greek period, and for the majority of the Roman Republic, soldiers were part time, very often not paid at all, who were gathering together to defend their land, such that it was.  A standing, paid army was not part of the Roman state until the time of Marius, about 107 B.C.; prior to that, it was an unheard of concept.  Discipline was uncoordinated and on the whole confused, and managed better by the Roman legions than by its enemies on the whole because Romans were educated, held the same political views and sought the same results.  There was never any Roman boot camp and the soldiers never received any 'training' in the sense that we understand military training.  They did learn to march together, and they did learn to fight as a unit ... but very likely not with the crisp perfection of a Kubrick production, or any other Hollywood representation of Romans on the march.

O gentle reader, if you find yourself immediately disagreeing with me, it only shows how much absolute second hand shit you've read or watched about the Roman army.  Admittedly, I haven't read my Polybius in awhile.  I know that my regular reader Carl has ... and he might jump in and correct me with a few points.  Carl, when you do, please quote Polybius, 'kay?

It is not as though I wanted to write this particular essay.  Too many readers and D&D players in the world are ex-military, and thus steeped (indoctrinated) with misinformation about the measure and means of military organizations that have existed since the dawn of time.  I am reminded of a song I learned when I was a young boy, having memorized the words even before I knew what they meant:

"Some talk of Alexander, and some of Hercules,
of Hector and Lysander, and such great names as these,
but of all the world's great heroes there's none that can compare,
with a tow, row, row, with a tow, row, row, of the British Grenadiers.

"Not one of those ancient heroes ever saw a cannon ball,
or knew just how much powder to destroy their foes withal,
but our brave boys do know it, and banish all their fears,
with a tow, row, row, with a tow, row, row, of the British Grenadiers."

There's about a hundred verses, and the version I checked myself against online hasn't got the same words exactly as those I learned, but what's above is enough.  There's a definite association there between the present military tradition and the past (of which two of the names mentioned are mythical), with the added joy of proving that 'our boys' are obviously superior.  Fact is, it took a military tradition to create a song like this ... we don't know what songs the Romans or Crusaders sang, because, well, apparently no one wrote them down.

Wikipedia writes military tradition as a habit that grew out of the chivalry and courtliness of knights in the Middle Ages, but I don't know if I buy that.  I find it much more likely that military tradition grew out of the increased complexity of the instruments of war, particularly the flintlock, which required that men be trained to coordinate the action of loading their weapons so they could all fire together and at the same moment.  The effect of a single volley of weapons fire upon the enemy's morale was far more spectacular than the effect of skirmishing fire - as demonstrated by Gustavus Adolphus during the 30 Years' War.  Existing European powers were sold.  But to manage the organization of men along these lines - to compel them to stand shoulder to shoulder, to load and fire without flinching while being fired at, to brave even cannon fire while doing so - required more than army pay.  It required that the men in that line were compelled to obey beyond merely their willingness to do so.  It required the institutionalism of Nationalism in their hearts and souls, the imposition of officers with absolute power, the arrangements of rank and so on.  The application of this was imposed on every level of the service, from musketeer to cannoneer, and imposed with great success.

But ... and I wish to state this very clearly ... this military tradition and the success thereof had very, very little to do with actual battle.  Tolstoy's War and Peace is a brilliant testament against the supposed organization of war.  In it, the reality is that persons in battle are emotionally thrilled with the battle, and though habitually inclined to load and fire as they are trained to do, there is very little opportunity for officers in the midst of utter chaos to pass orders that really mean anything.  In Tolstoy's depiction of the holding battle prior to Austrelitz, the artillery is not under the direction of an officer, it knows nothing about the orders for withdrawal, it IS described as a very warm place and it becomes clear that this is part of Tolstoy's overwhelming theme that life is lived in the moment, and not under a grand direction from either man or god.  Tolstoy, who had reason to know, berates and scoffs at the idea that military commanders control their men in the field ... and there are endless films produced and made to this very day that argue likewise.  In battle, 'command' comes down to moving in the same direction as the individual who seems to best know what he's doing.

You don't need ranks for that.  Military history is full of incidents where the army moved not in obeiance to the officer, but towards the most capable seeming man at the moment of crisis.

However, when the army is NOT in battle, military tradition becomes a very powerful force for the political organization of nationalistic military goals ... which thankfully I don't have to talk about, because this is a D&D blog.

Where does all this come down for D&D?  First of all, most of the arguments about mass combat organization and orders between combat units is a pile of ripe dingo's kidneys.  They are arguments made by ex-military gamesters or by wannabe pro-military gamesters who haven't any real understanding of either medieval military tactics or real warfare.  I myself am not ex-military.  I am a student of war history, but thankfully I'm also a student of sociological history and of philosophical history, and I have read extensively beyond the very tiny framework that comprises the military section of human knowledge.  I don't know anything myself, beyond that which I have read.  I have read modern military accounts which disagree with what I've written above, but in general those accounts have been written by people who have a political interest in the positive depiction of the military (that is, they are still IN the military).  In this age, with the military tradition that now exists, speaking about the military without having performed military service is a NO-NO ... I don't really care, since I don't consider the military establishment to have the final say in that matter.  I do expect the military establishment to rush pell mell to crush any opinion that stands out against their own - since, after all, control of opinion is the first step in crushing any investigation into military practice.

So, as I said, most of the military arguments about what commanders in the field would do in a D&D universe is just plain modern-inspired nonsense.  Armies would be disorganized masses of men with very little interest in dying, who would yet feel the excitement of battle take them.  This would lead to terrific mauling sessions of absolute bloody mayhem ending in probably both sides fleeing the field, but almost certainly one side more than the other.  The actual events of the battle would be virtually unknown to the participants; there wouldn't be time for group A to receive any communication from group B that would matter.  On this subject Tolstoy is also clear: even if Napoleon could see some element of the battle going on, by the time word was sent to the commanders to take this action or that, the nature of the battle would have resolved itself and such orders would be worthless.  Even in the present age of immediate communications, this is still largely true ... not because officers with eyes and ears back at base can't see what's going on, but because now there are so many persons taking part in a widescale battle that not everyone's communication can be addressed at the same time.  (Insert military apologist's argument to the contrary here).

But whatever.  Modern age aside, even Napoleon aside, there certainly wasn't any way to control hordes of participants in the D&D age (no, not magic either).  Do we know that Jenghis himself ordered the holocaust butcherings and cities in the 13th century, or should we not realize that such things could have happened without orders?  We only 'know' that Jenghis gave the order because that has long been the generally held belief.  It isn't a fact.

If your players do create an army, and that army invades a foreign power, you are in your rights as a DM to cause that army to perform any action of any variety, and according to history describe the events ever after as ORDERED by the player characters.  Because that is how command goes.  If the army succeeds, the players get the credit.  And if the army murders women and children, the players get the credit for that too.  Because that is how history works.

Now, I've been writing for awhile.  I trust the reader can work out a few things on their own about how this applies to the presence of serjeants and lieutenants in the DMG, and other anachronistic issues with Gygax's fanciful historical knowledge.  I've created enough knee-jerk circumstances for people to flake out on me.  I don't mind if those readers ready to snap the comments button disagree with me ... but I am going to politely ask that you try to at least make some sense in your replies, that you address them to the D&D period, and that you refrain from making personal comments about my non-military service.  I swear I shall try and publish everything that isn't stupid and abusive.

All right.  Bring it on.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Seasonal Considerations

There was a friendly discussion about seasonal prices for my equipment tables in the comments for Innkeeper, and I thought I'd describe my position on it.

Up front, it seems like a good thing to set the availability of items according to the four seasons, but in truth this couldn't work.  To begin with, there are parts of the world that don't experience four seasons ... and there's the consideration of crops grown in the southern hemisphere.  Truth is, no simple general solution exists.  Even where it comes to northern crops, hay does not come off the fields at the same time as oats, or as wheat does.  Apples are not picked at the same time as raspberries, the sheep are not slaughtered at the same time as the cattle and so on.

No, the reality is that every single 'natural' item would have to have a seasonal date from which the availability was calculated, individually determined and measured upon the calendar.  As the date passed, availability would soar, then taper off through several months, depending on the product, and then disappear altogether (though of course not in every case).  Ale would boom in the fall, last throughout the winter and be gone as the days warmed up and what was left went bad (if it wasn't deliberately consumed!)

I see in my head how the algorithm could be dropped into the present system.  The size of the calculating file would balloon and it would be a lot of research to work out the important dates for every item (some would have more than one), but yes, without question, I could do it.

I'm not going to do it.  Not any time soon, anyway.  I'm not convinced there's a benefit to justify the work, though there might be if there was a higher cause to be served ... an MMO based from the system, say.  But not enough for just D&D.  I can't see that, not yet.

But I appreciate the thought people have put into it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Right On The Button

xkcd describes the proliferation of RPGs:

A War Story

I am on vacation.

Which means for me I am at home, defragging my brain, presently working on the headache of the Jeweller's table, a solution for which is not presently in sight, which is why I haven't posted in four days.  It seemed it would be quite simple ... randomly determined item, material, workmanship, special features, gems.   I'm on that last bit now, realizing that the table has to be tailored for specific size gems to be added to specific sized bits of jewellery, requiring a different algorithm for every type of jewellery that is randomly indicated.

Oh, yay.

So putting that aside, I am also trying to write the first few bits of the book I'm right now calling Yonder, which may be problematic since there's already a 13th century graphic novel called Yonder that was released in 2008.  It's a shame, as the title really fits my theme well.

Anyway, it is not going well.  I have been working for 18 months without a vacation and I have noticed an increasing inability to focus deeply upon given tasks.  I am now in day five, and I am hoping I start to relax soon.  I have to be back at work on Monday.  My hope is that I can at least start the book, enter it onto my other blog and talk about the problems of starting it and the reasons I'm incorporating various elements into the opening.  I hope this kind of information will be useful for others.

My offline campaign went rather well on Saturday, building up a number of themes that have been coming together for some time.  I'm not usually the type to tell war stories, but I'm stretching out my mind and I thought I'd settle into describing what's been happening with my party.  I know some out there like to read this sort of thing.  I really don't, but then I'm writing, so it probably won't be as boring for me as listening to someone else.

Hah.  Well, now that I've set the gentle reader up to be really fascinated ...

Last winter, the party began poking under a huge stone carved as a single piece with the name Xalmoxis written on it.  It was fairly clear from the beginning that it was some kind of altar, but they found it partly buried in the remote woods and Carpathian foothills about ten miles from their borderland fiefdom.  For a whole running the futzed around with it, eventually tunnelling under it into an immense hollow cave.  There they woke up - not intentionally - a large steampunk-like machine that fired a barrage of metal stones at them and then began tunnelling its way horizontally out of the cave.  The party felt they were unable to destroy it, so they retreated to their home.

When it emerged, it did so by a pond in the valley; it reconstructed itself into a 'factory,' and began sucking water up from the pond.  The party found it by stumbling across a tin golem which was roving the countryside gathering boulders and bringing them back to the factory.  The party discovered there were three of them, and after destroying the first followed one of the others home.  By this time the factory was sixty feet long and thirty feet wide.  After much conjecture on how to destroy it, they settled on a lightning bolt, which succeeded in creating an explosion that blew the riveted roof of the factory open.

Inside they discovered the factory had been producing a kind of slurry, which poured out onto the ground from the exploded source and began spontaneously producing flesh golems.  Due to the slowness of the golem production, the party was unable to unload a lot of magic attacks into the mass of golems as they coelesced, so that even though 45 golems were ultimately formed, most were low on hit points by the time the party faced them in hand-to-hand combat.  As well, being able to encircle the main body with a wall of fire, the golems were able to emerge only a few at a time in the wall's opening, and this helped the party enormously.  Still, there were about ten or twelve golems that simply ran off into the wilderness while the battle raged.

As the golems died, the bodies began to melt, releasing a lot of heat.  What was left behind was an egg-shaped oval about a foot long and looking very much like obsidian.  When the battle was over, the party investigated these.  The cleric Widda decided to strike one with her hammer; it exploded, destroying the hammer, obliterating Widda's hand and killing the 6th level assassin and the 6th level mage that are standing nearby.

Returning to town in search of raising and regeneration spells, the party found Kronstadt (eastern Transylvania) in a tither.  The Archbishop of Transylvania had arrived with an entourage, and was said to be in congress with three odd wisemen from a distant land.  This information was given because a member of the party is a Landgraf, a minor noble, and has the benefit of such inside knowledge.  Word got around about the flesh golems, who were killing innocents with abandon, and the party confessed its involvement, and ultimately were approached by the wise men.

These wise men are apparently not human, and they describe their own journeying as something not done by overland; the party still isn't clear.  In appearance, they look somewhat like the mummy before the mummy is quite reconstituted - but has most of his human face.  The wise men became aware of things happening when the space under the altar had been opened and the tunnelling machine had been activated.  These men explain to the party that 1) a gate has been opened between the plane of Pandemonium and Earth; 2) creatures on that plane have sought to awaken the god Xalmoxis for eons; 3) the god Xalmoxis is thought by myth to be sleeping somewhere beneath the south Carpathian Mountains; 4) the gate was opened when the cleric destroyed the egg; 5) the cleric has made herself the perfect tool to awaken the god, and the Xalmoxian creatures will now be seeking her out.

The party long ago required a book that enables them to escape detection by scrying (their names written in the book allow the magic to work), which the acquired to avoid another enemy they gained in an earlier adventure.  This book now keeps the cleric safe, but it is known the cleric is somewhere in the area and she is being searched for.  The wise men promise to consider the matter, including their new knowledge of the party's book.  They regenerate the cleric's hand.  The party gears up for things getting worse, the assassin and mage receive raise dead spells.  But the assassin fails the resurrection survival and dies permanently.  The player rolls up a new character.

Three members of the party stumble across a weird creature moving through the town and upon approaching it find themselves face to face with a frog-like being about seven feet tall (it straightens from its original appearance).  It pointed a stick with two handles at the party and sling bullets come flying out.  One of the party members suffers 23 damage.  The others chase the creature until it turns onto a street, whereupon an opening appears in space like a door, floating about two feet off the ground.  There is a blinding white light in the opening, and another creature which is waving one hand.  The fleeing creature jumps through the opening and it disappears.

The party returns to the wise men who explain that these are the creatures and they are obviously poking around to find the cleric.  They suggest the cleric needs protection, and becuase the cleric is not a Roman Catholic, she should try to obtain the mcguffin for the next couple of runnings, the spike that was driven into the left hand of Christ.  It is in a castle under a deweomer that will allow its recovery by a Christian, for reasons that are not given.  The deweomer was cast 250 years ago by St. Anthony of Alba, who had some reason not to allow Catholics to have the spike.  The party discusses the matter and decides to get the item.

This brings them to a castle near Brod, which they enter, fight a lot of skeletal warriors and hell cats, and ultimately get the item in hand.  The cleric gets a feeling from the spike that it will work perfectly in a godentag, which is the cleric's perferred weapon; at this point I reveal to the cleric that this makes his godentag +4 to hit and damage, which pleases the cleric immensely.  I also explain that the spike is sentient, but isn't awake, and this worries the cleric immensely.  It is clear the item is an artifact, and probably has both good and bad powers.  The party discusses the nature of these powers, and it is surmised that the spike was 'created' but the unusual events that occurred with the crucifixion of Christ.  In fact, it could be said that the crucifixion was a sort of 'experiment' that required certain elements to come together to form the spike and bring it consciousness.  The party agreed - with some obscured hinting from the DM in the form of the wise men - that the blood of Christ could not create an evil item ... that ultimately the item would have to be made holy by its creation.

The party also found in the castle six maces of profound mastercraftsmanship, worth about 4,700 g.p. each.  They are not magical, but they are associated with a legend, and thought lost.

The legend is that the Avars, in the 7th century, a tribe of eastern Europe, was nearly wiped out by its enemies (here I am not keeping with Earth history in time frame, but it does not matter).  The last Avar tribe was comprised of the people's wisest and most brilliant scholars, and they fashioned a means by which they could escape to another plane of existence.  The maces were - the legend goes - the means by which the gate was opened.  The party does not know how this works.  However, the wise men upon seeing the maces propose that the Avars might be an aid to the party against the other creatures ... allies, if you will.

The wise men have offered the party a group of options: 1) flee, and hope the cleric is never found; 2) kill the cleric; 3) gather all the power they can and find Xalmoxis and send him from this plane before the god can be awoken; 4) prepare for a seige, for the creatures will ultimately gather to destroy Kronstadt and find the cleric.

The party has decided (not surprisingly) to seek more allies, and the Avars seem to fit that bill.  The wise men leave to hunt down the last of the golems and to return to their home to seek a greater wisdom.  The party investigates and reasons out that if the Avars are to be found, it must be discovered where they disappeared from ... ie, where it the last place on earth they were.  They hope to find clues there.

I have to say, the party and I have already agreed that the solution can't be sticking the maces into 6 convenient holes and making a machine work.  That's how Hollywood would do it.  I'm trying to be more clever than that.

Two sessions ago the party left Kronstadt for the great libraries of Europe, deciding that Vienna would be a good choice.  Knowing from experience that it is very difficult to cross the frontier between Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire, they decided to go by ship from the Black Sea to Venice, and move up through the mountains.

Last session, on Saturday, the party had trouble getting over the pass into Austria, as it is late winter, but they did reach Salzburg.  They looked into the libraries there, and found they needed to speak to a man named Belisarius who is a scholar in Padua.  The book the party needs, The Tale of Carrol, supposedly tells the exact location of the departure of the Avars.

The party goes back over the pass, encounters some hill giants, which they avoid (though they could easily take them).  They find the hill giants watching them from a distance (the party is 21 persons, retainers included, along with horses and one hippogriff), wary of approaching.  Thus stalked, the party gets down the far side of the pass and there meets an entourage of 100 soldiers.  In one of those coincidences that I love, they find the soldiers are attendants to Belisarius, the same scholar, and he is looking for a hill giant lair because he is looking for an undisclosed object said to have been in the possession of some large hill giant clan these past 120 years.  He does not say what the object is.  The party knows where the lair is, because the druid using commune with nature was able to locate it, about five miles to the west, over a mountain saddle.  They offer to tell Belisarius this location if he will provide the book they need.  Belisarius sends a man back to Padua for the book (it will take 4 to 6 days) and the party agrees to lead the army to the lair.  That is where the session ended.

Interestingly, as the party will now approach the lair, one of the party members is 8 and a half months pregnant.  She joined the campaign two runnings ago.  The background to her character indicated that she started six months pregnant.  With travel times, ten weeks have passed, and she is now due the 6th of April.  It is the 16th of March as the party sits at the bottom of the mountain saddle.  There is some discussion of what will happen if the character gets hit hard.

Okay.  I've done my duty, I've written a post.  Tomorrow, I may write another one.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


The staple of the fantasy RPG, obviously I'd have to include this.  I've divided the table into four parts; I found that the services that I've placed in stabling and lodging tended to get lost in the cloud of other things for sale.

Nothing on this list can be sold to the Innkeeper; a deal already exists with the local providers, who have exclusive delivery rights.  And obviously nothing from the Inn can be sold to people on the street.

I have tried to think of some other service the Inn might provide under the lodging category.  I suppose under stabling I could add grooming the animal ... but I'll save a price for that until I can think of something else.

The prices here are higher than the same goods and materials purchased from the brewer or the fishmonger or elsewhere.  The reason for that should be obvious.

But there isn't much else I can say ... we know how a hotel and a restaurant works.

Friday, July 15, 2011


I have a lot to say on this subject, and not all of it has anything at all to do with D&D; but having opened the door, I feel I should walk through as far as I wish to go.  Get comfortable.  I will be writing for awhile.

To begin, this is the first 'technology' (for we will remember that these are all listed at technologies in the Civ IV game) that is unquestionably past the framework of D&D.  Here is the dividing line between the Middle Age and the Modern Age.  The Constitution was written in the late 18th century, one hundred and fifty years after the end of the Renaissance.  It was written at the dividing point between the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution.  For some who have been reading these posts from the beginning, here is the moment when the question gets answered, "What happens when I hit technologies that wouldn't exist yet?"

Well, we keep going.  But I feel I must be Devil's Advocate for just a moment, and wonder how it is that D&D is related to any historical time period.  For some who play the game, the insistence upon this campaign being 'medieval' or that one being 'Roman' must rankle greatly.  Tolkein did not designate his writings with Earth's history in mind.  There is no technological continuity for Conan.  Narnia does not bow to an historical era, nor does Oz, nor Lankhmar.  Why should there not be a constitution written for a land in any of these states, or any fantasy world of the same cloth, where citizens live together in a condition of freedom and unity?  Obviously, there is no reason.  I could incorporate an America into my campaign as easily as I could incorporate the underworld Wonderland of Alice.  So when I say the Constitution is "past" D&D, I don't mean it is outside the range of D&D.  I mean that for most people who sit down to conceive of a D&D world, they think in terms of kings and the doctrines of kings, and not in presidents and the doctrines of representatives.  It is simply how it is.  Search the long-standing blogs of the D&D world and find out how often the Constitution is mentioned in context with the writer's D&D world.  Very little I should say.

Now what are my views upon the Constitution, and indeed upon the whole experiment of the United States.  I am a Canadian.  I view the document with much respect.  I recognize the brilliance of the men who moved forward upon the ideals recorded in the document, and upon their resolve in forcing their position successfully upon the rest of the world.  But I do not revere the document.  It is not a holy article in my religion.  I view it as a 223 year old technology, with in some measure the same flaws as a 223-year-old rifle or a 223-year-old pair of spectacles.  Brilliant in its time; a beacon for the ensuing period that followed; but today a crumbling bastion that has failed to be improved upon to the measure necessary to maintain a vibrant, healthy nature.  In particular, I point to the deep, impenetrable fall in the document that could not mend the rift between the political division of the southern states against the unified federalism of the northern.  To achieve consensus against the British, to win the Revolutionary War, compromises were made that would eventually lead to the dissension of the south and the Civil War over the issue of States' Rights and the perceived regional right of self-governance.  The argument that all men were created equal was then subverted in order to compel by conquest the decision of free men to separate themselves from the northern Union, choosing to make the will and dictation of the state of greater importance than the will and dictation of the ordinary individual to live in the state of his or her choosing.  The crime was committed and it cannot be undone.  If you will argue that a man is free, you cannot then draw a gun and compel him to remain in your house.

I am a Canadian, and at the time the Civil War was being fought, between 1861 and 1865, this country was in negotiation with its Mother England to obtain self-government in a manner different than through Revolution.  In 1865, at the end of the Civil War, Canada looked at the American Experiment and made this observation upon the 600,000 corpses it created: "Well," said Canada, "That didn't work."

The average reader will probably not be aware that this country of Canada obtained measured self-government in 1867, a mere two years following the American Civil War.  The name of the country upon July 1, 1867 was The Confederation of Canada.  Note the similarity in name to the Confederate States of America.  Upon reflection, and upon viewing the battles waged by both sides of the question, it was decided in this country that individual regions would be in control of their own affairs, joined together by a Parliament that would manage those affairs which could not be managed regionally.  This didn't last - through the 20th century Canada was moved into a similar federalist position as our neighbors to the south ... but this is another story.

The decision of the northern 13 Colonies to adopt a federalist policy was a logical one.  They were proposing something that had never been done:  the deposition of the English King from authority over the United States, without instituting a King in his place.  Oliver Cromwell of the previous century had failed in the attempt, finding himself compelled to declare himself king under a different title.  Prior to America, no political entity of any sort of size had ever recreated itself as a kingless entity.

I am going to take a moment and pause, and mention that the real genius of the Constitution was not the declaration of freedom for all.  This had been done before in various documents which were upheld in various parts of the world.  I recognize that it is this feature that is most sold to the American people as the raison d'etre of the Constitution, but I assure you this is not the crux of the technology.  The crux was the effective replacement of the monarchy by a document proposing a society founded upon very different philosophical principles, those being outlined in the Preamble.  This new society would not be based upon restraining the King's rights, the direction Europe had been moving towards for the previous century.  The abolition of the king altogether would require a different perception of the state altogether.  It would not be a state that had as its policy the betterment of any single group of men, king, nobles, aristocrats, or those of class or breeding.  It would be a state that would relegate portions of its energy towards the satisfaction of matters of specific importance: the welfare of its citizens; the defense of its citizens; the preservation of its citizens from tyranny that might arise from any quarter - and bearing in mind through this the permissive nature a state would require in order to assure that these things, and the freedom of citizens within, would not collapse or become the instrument by which future tyrants might seize control.

The Constitution is not a set of laws.  It is a philosophical proposal, reasoned out stage by stage in each part to ensure these goals would be met.  It is for this reason that it has tended to be romanticized and, as I say, revered.  If I were a person with any religious bent, I should argue that the Constitution is as worthy of reverence as any other philosophy of the east or west ... but alas, I am not a religionist.  I am a scientist, and my perception is that a philosophy carries its worth only as long as the belief holds back the wolves.  America is thick with tyrants, and they are not restrained by the Constitution, which was not modified to resist the compulsory force of later technologies (or innovations if you like), such as the Corporation or Industrialism.

But let us not get ahead of ourselves.  The conversation must be dragged back to Dungeons and Dragons, or in the very least to role-playing games, and with this in mind I should like to ask why it is that the 18th century receives such a very bad rap.

The 19th century has the representation of Steampunk and the Old West, the 20th century of Gangsters and war tales, the present age of superheroes, spy adventures and cyberpunk; the near future has paranoia and other games of 1984-like conception, and the far-flung future has its wide array of space adventures.

The 17th century and earlier makes D&D and various fantasy games that steal technology from the periods that come up to that time.  But the 18th century is the bastard child of RPG history.  What gives?

The Constitution and the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the rise of Liberalism and the demise of the monarchy, the discoveries of science, the brutal colonization and equally brutal rebellions of Africa, India and America, the exploration of deep forests, jungles, deserts and mountain vastnesses, primitive peoples, imaginative peoples, great empires crumbling, great empires expanding, the machine of the world changing from water to steam, the weapons from saber to rifle, the unification of nations like Germany and Italy, the world itself emerging as a single entity for the first time in history ... what in the world more could be asked for by any player in terms of adventure?  But somehow what is there is stolen down by D&D or stolen up by Steampunk.  Either the game obeys the will of gods or the game recognizes no gods at all.

It is an anachronism that the founders of the Constitution continued to believe in a god who could in all good conscience endorse their venture - to believe this, a rather considerable cognitive dissonnance was necessary.  It was well understood that the kings of England, France, Austria, Russia and so on ruled with the Divine Right of God ... the approval of kings by popes and their national representatives assured this, for as the archbishop placed the crown upon the king's head, it was understood that God's representative performed this duty to indicate to all and sundry that God Himself has approved of this message: this man, or this woman, rules by a divine will that has ensured this man or this woman's place upon this throne, upon this material Earth.

Where, one must ask, is God's representative at the conference in Philadelphia in 1776, or the signing of the Constitution in 1788?  Where is the man in the Archbishop's robe at the signing of the Declaration of Independence?  He is nowhere to be seen.  He has no place in the collection of delegates from the states because God is not represented.  The people are in this place and with this document represented.

And yet the authors were victims of their own pasts, of the delusion that incorporated the existence of God in their minds.  And though in getting rid of the king, they conveniently rid themselves of the archbishop, they could not make the last great leap altogether that rid the state itself of the deity.  In effect, they absolved the contradiction of opposing God's representative upon the throne of England by rewriting God into an impotent form that could yet be invoked when wished for, and yet be ignored when convenient.  In God the American State may trust, but the trust is that God will not call upon the door for afternoon tea unless first invited.

If you will propose a Constitutional amendment to your world, you must first begin with the condition that Gods shall no longer have a say upon your world, for the people of your Constitutional state will have no daily use for him.  The gods in your D&D world can remain conveniently in other planes of existence, but gods are tyrants too, and if you will outlaw tyrants with the dictates of your philosophy than your world cannot tolerate the existence of gods.

But if you will perceive a rag-tag group of rebels opposing an empire of the D&D RPG, then you may perhaps consider that the power of the gods themselves must be broken - and that it is a nation that wish to hold the welfare of its people sacred who will set about the work of doing so.  It is, after all, the work of the Modern Age to destroy the will and power of gods.  Whether you will acknowledge those who will use the word of God to advance their own power upon this Earth, or those who will outright laugh at the proposal of God's existence, the bloom is off the rose.  None of us now here on Earth truly fear gods as they were once feared hundreds of years ago.  We may or may not believe in a god.  But we do not give real thought or effort towards avoiding the wrath of a god.  We are immune.  We are in control of this world ourselves.

We have the document that says this is so.

I would be remiss if I did not complete the point that in your D&D world, your players have reason to fear gods.  They actually exist.  But it is very likely that the kings of your world do not rule by Divine Right.  It is not a conception that RPG'ers have adopted with widespread abandon.  As I have said before, we are too much the residents of the modern world to believe fervently in kings being in authority upon the will of gods, and we do not manifestly design our worlds with that in mind.  We see gods as have been taught to see them by our forefathers; as quaint little entities that bring us comfort when we want them, like comfort on tap, and not as entities to be accorded all that much authority.  Kings have been usurped through the ages, and your players would not see any more Divine aspect in the deposing of a King than they would the deposing of a hawk from its nest.

The Age we live in was birthed by the deposing of kings.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


The development of banking begins to mark the outer edge of what would usually be considered 'fantasy' vs. the cold, hard reality of the modern period.  Tolkein certainly never mentioned banking.  Glenda the Good Witch did not have her funds in an institution earning interest.  Xanth had no consortiums that I can remember.  When people conceive of fantasy role play, banking is mostly off the radar.

(radar doesn't exist either, but that is for a much later post)

I have for some years now encouraged my players to make use of banks, to no avail.  I have pointed out that with the credit advanced by a bank, they could set about building the castle in the middle of their fief, they could preserve their coin against attack and they could arrange payments to persons in other cities to buy difficult-to-find products for them.  They could even make arrangements to have ready funds waiting for them in such and such a location once they arrived, if they chose not to carry lumbering pounds of gold with them as they traveled.

To date, I have not had one player use a bank in any way.  I presume they do not trust me.  I presume they feel they will have to pay through the nose in order to obtain all this safety and convenience.  I have never indicated that they would - in fact, to the contrary.  I have also attempted to reassure them about the reliability of banks, that they had no reason to feel concerned.  Besides, if there is a certainty that the bank would fail, why not borrow the money with the expection of never having to pay it back?

I am convinced that players, as a matter of course, do not trust banks on principle.  I am further convinced that they would view taking advantage of the existence of banks as a sort of cheating.  I shall try an example, hoping that the video game I quote is popular enough.

If you have played SimCity 4, you know that the way to make your citizens use a parking garage and a subway is to remove all the roads between the city and the industrial park you've built.  It makes no sense that any people anywhere would allow a mayor to zone a distant industrial region, connect it up with a monorail and subway and provide no roads whatsoever for people to get there, but you can in the game and sure enough, people will use your subway system.  It's pretty good for your transit budget.

But if you are like me, you won't do it.  The game may allow it, but it feels wrong and it feels like cheating.  Just because the game designers are stupid enough to make it possible, doesn't mean I think that's a rational way to build a city.

There are power gamers in the world, of course, who see it only as a game and who will respond to the above argument with catcalls of stupidity and shooting myself in the foot and so on ... but I get a kick out of seeing my cities progress in the game and I get a personal feeling of satisfaction knowing I built them up without using a programmer's game glitch.  It is the way I am.

For a lot of D&D players, I think that building up a castle is an important esoteric part of the game, and on some level they'd feel cheap and even a bit ripped off if when the castle was up and functioning, they had to admit to anyone that in fact their equity on said castle was a mere 17% ... but that they hoped it would be paid off in fifteen or twenty years.  There's something very creepy about that, something that smacks much too much of reality, to have any place in D&D even if the DM allows it.  Most of us with house payments or car payments or credit card payments don't want D&D infiltrated with the least little bit of that mindset.  In general, I think most players would rather had three orcs pop out of the bushes and get away clean with the 347 gold pieces they had in three backpacks than to know the money was safe and sound in a bank.

Particularly of late, banks do not have what might be called any status of 'fun.'  If, at the gaming table, players could confidently cease to think of banks altogether, I think they could be happy.

But I suppose I have enough fondness for more modern fantasy games that I don't feel quite so bad about working out with the mythical banker how my agent in a city four thousand miles away is being sure to send me a bag of ostrich feathers once a month.  I need those feathers for my research, they are terribly expensive here, I can never get enough, and having the feathers arrive on spec is a great weight off my back.

Heh heh ... feathers ... weight ...

That's funny.

Hacker's Shop

In the last post, Eric questioned my results and thanks to him, the results were corrected.  I can't express how much I appreciate that a few gentle readers are really looking at the tables and helping me edit my work.  If any of you out there have worked with code, you know what I'm up against.  I may program in excel, but at the moment I estimate I have about 13,000 calculations in amidst 80,000 pieces of data.  Some of them are going to be wrong.

If there is one thing I hope from this table, it's that some reader will say, "In a million years,  I would never have thought of including a yule bough on an equipment list."

In the last few posts there's been a few questions about some items being found on the shelves next to other items, and with this in mind I'd like to explain a bit about how the shops work using the above table.

Medieval cities were generally organized so that artisans of a similar nature tended to populate certain quarters or certain streets in a given town.  If the reader would imagine, you come upon the start of such a street, and turn into the first 'shop' on the way, looking for a wood axe.  A shingled roof with a hole in the roof is attached to the front of his house, with coal burning upon a large stone brazier.  He is patiently hammering the head of an axe on his hearth, but you see that it isn't the axe you want.  "I don't make those," he says, "It's been five years, I work steady for the mount'n corps now.  What you want's further down the road.  Look for a man called Hengist."

You ask about an ice axe, and he quotes 25 g.p. as a price.  That seems high, so you move along.

Next to that shop is a shop selling pitchforks, and beyond that is a large lot with a pile of firewood as large as a gatehouse.  There are three boys throwing logs into the back of a wagon, and a man's holding the bridle of a horse harnessed to the front.  The man waves at you as you pass, asks about whether or not you want any wood this fall.  "Winter's comin', you know," he reminds you, though its only late August.  You note that there's a massive bough, weighing more than a ton and a half, resting beside the woodpile, and you ask if it isn't early for winter.  "Dryin' it out," he says.  "Be ready for the festival when it comes."  You reply that you're not looking for wood, that you are looking for an axemaker named Hengist and the woodseller sends you further along the road.

That's how it would be; not just one shop, but several specialized workers and such strung along a road, possibly mixed in a bit with others who might be selling coal or wood oil or what have you.  The collection of shops that wouldn't be 'general stores' would make buying everything a real hassle, the kind that would take you all day, but if you lived in the environment you'd know already where Hengist was, and Hengist would know you.  You'd wave to Branden the woodseller and he'd nod and say that he'd have your wood for you before the snow flew.

And as such, truffles and confectionary would never be in the same shop together.  The shops selling each would be side by side on the same street ... or groups of shops upon adjoining lanes in a larger city.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Grocer

This is great fun.

Of all the lists I have posted so far, this I would say is the least complete; and yet I don't have players insisting on my adding more items, such as a lemon for instance, which I'm noticing isn't there.  What IS there is primarily assorted spices and fruits, mostly packed in small paper boxes (or packages, typically tied together with string) which are useless to the players once the contents are expended.  There are a few small tools, such as the artist's brushes, the whisk or the rat trap - it would be nice to include a few other things, limited of course to items which are primarily of use around the home for normal daily activities.  My mind is a blank, however.

Note the tremendous cost of saffron.  That is based upon the world production of that spice, which is much rarer than every other kind I could include prices for.  It, ginseng, anise and mustard would make some nice treasure if found in quantity, and coffee too ... which is obviously expensive because of Transylvania's inconvenience from Africa.  And it is a significant amount of coffee that's indicated here.

If there's something ignored on the list that ought not to be, it is salt.  This is a much overlooked part of D&D, largely I think because in the modern age we have a surfeit of salt incorporated into all our foods.  Obviously, if you're going to feed your players on salt pork, salt isn't a concern they should have, but if they insist on eating fresh foods, it needs to be pointed out that salt is added to nothing in the middle ages.  To avoid getting sick, they will have to buy some.  It's not expensive ... but if they're supplying a whole castle, these things add up.

I doubt I'll have the time to put out another table today.  The next would be the Hacker's Shop, which I shall try to get to tomorrow.

Goldsmith's Shop

As hard as the last one was, this was a cakewalk.  It's nothing more than a collection of marvelous items for treasure.  The pieces can be realized as ornate and marvelous in appearance as one's imagination allows.  The serving bowl, while large, would be comparatively shallow, much more so than the glass basin two tables past.  The candlestick is quite large for a gold item, and thus the considerable cost.

Nothing compares to the gold vase, which the reader must picture as being equisitely engraved upon every inch of its surface.  I haven't talked about engraving yet; it is priced according the square inch, so if the vase had but one design upon one part of its surface, the difference in price would be much less.  An object like this would be exceedingly rare ... I include it here merely to indicate that items exist which could reasonably stop the heart of a high level character.  After all, there isn't a single gem encrusted into the object - that would be really something.

The Glazier

This is a deceptively simple table that took quite a lot of research work.  Windows and mirrors are quite difficult things to estimate in price, as they are put together with frames, lead solder (for stained glass), transoms and so on ... all of which had to be measured in creating a final price.

Of course, some will say that mirrors do not belong on this list.  They are technically not the purvue of glaziers, but I wanted to put the paned glass-working products together on one list.  So here it is.  I'm really not worried about the lack of perfect accuracy.  Shutters, too, should be part of the carpenter's list, technically, but they are included here for player convenience.

A couple of items, which probably require images.  Here is a lunette, the window above the door, one that would be much bigger than the one identified on the list (but it is an excellent old image, I couldn't resist):

The temporary orangery was difficult to find; most of the ones on line are permanent examples built generally in the 19th century.  Still, the general appearance would be something like the below, except that I conceived it as an free-standing octogon (calculating the wood and glass from that basis):

These things were built to be immense, particularly in later centuries, but even in the 17th century some examples could be large enough to stage a campaign battle inside.  I think it might be marvelous to have players fighting among orange trees while separated from the freezing outdoors.  It would be memorable, particularly if pieces of glass began to fall from the ceiling as the structural integrity started to decline.

The half-glazed window would be this depicted below, where the bottom wood section opened as two doors:

What possible purpose a lot of this table could serve for a party, I don't know.  I suppose it depends upon how much it helps to visualize the exterior of the houses you buy, perceiving the windows to look just so, by specializing prices for varying types of window.  I always think more is better, particularly as I don't know how it will be used when I add things to the table.  That is up to the players, really.  My job is to give them as many options as are reasonably possible.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Glassblower's Shop

A table with a little more bang for your buck, including some items which make good treasure pieces, some items which your average mage should need to create a laboratory, and one or two useful tools.

I've been thinking of late that the whole subject of laboratory research needs tackling, in the sense that the only real rule I've ever seen on the subject is cost vs. roll for success.  I think it would be great if there was an expection on the part of the player to start with a combination of laboratory tools, and that the DM had listed what number of what tools were necessary to complete the research.  For example, if three alembics, two pipettes, a prism, a glass jar in which liquid must be kept stirred constantly, a glass bowl with a crystal ball floating in some substance made somehow to not touch the sides, etc.  The rejoiner would be that as the player tried out combinations over the course of perhaps a couple of runnings, the DM would be required to indicate whenever a combination was correct ... and provide other hints as well.  What those hints might be is anyone's guess, but I'm sure if I have it some headspace for a couple of weeks, and then took a really hot shower, I could come up with something.  Especially if I took the shower on a Thursday, apparently.
I seem to get my best ideas during a shower I take on Thursday nights.

The lead crystal objects are much more expensive, the price being determined by the cost of the lead and the difficulty of getting the formula just so.  The best crystal manufacturers are in France and Ireland (Waterford), and the expertise is somewhat removed from Transylvania.  The price would drop steadily as one travelled west, both due to the craftsmanship and the increased availability of lead.

Not that lead is unheard of in Transylvania.  It just doesn't compare to the lead resources of, say, Spain.

I have included several 'standardized' vessels on the list, notably the bottle, the jar, the phial and the vial.  Where these are referred to elsewhere in the equipment list, the dimensions and capacities for each are defined here.

Finally, with respect to the glass bladder for the holy water sprinkler.  I have modified this weapon for my world so that it is a club-like rod with a knobbed frame at the top, where a glass ball can be tied into with twine.  The glass ball is pre-made for this purpose, and contains the equivalent of a vial of holy water.  It cannot spill out because the bladder is made without an opening.  When the rod and glass ball are used to attack an enemy, upon striking the enemy the glass ball makes saving throw against crushing blow, and if it breaks the holy water is splashed onto the enemy's body (causing 2-8 damage against certain creatures).  The ball cannot reasonably be replaced in battle, though a tie cantrip would probably suffice.  Without the ball, the holy water sprinkler causes damage like a club.  Otherwise, the damage is 2d4.

Furrier's Shop

A bit of a repetitive table, but my original intent was to give all the options for possible furs, given that in different parts of the world some furs may be plentiful and therefore preferable for the players.

As well, having a list of fur pelts, with the number that the shop would buy from the players should they decide to do a little trapping, seemed like the best way to go here.

The choices of fur (or skin, in some cases) was limited to those places I had references for.  All other furs not on the list are, regrettably, to be treated as the muskrat pelt (the most common).  That incidentally doesn't mean a lot of leather types, such as snakeskin or alligator skin ... those things can be found at the Leather Worker's.

Incidentally, the cost of the various coats is reckoned in the number of furs necessary, and those furs in turn are weighed differently (loads of research there).  That's why the actual weight of the various coats differs slightly.  Something else I should mention would be that the coats listed here have no special tailoring, nor are they especially luxurious as players might imagine a sable or an ermine coat would be.  That sort of exquisite tailoring would cost extra.  These are coats fashioned primarily for warmth, not beauty.

The wolf pelt, compared to other pelts, might seem a bit dear; I'm afraid that's an influence of the same system that determines how highly prized something is.  That is just how it goes.

Furniture Maker's Shop

Back to business.  I've been sitting on this for a day and a half, and I'd like to get it going.

Certain frustrations with this table forced a new analysis of the wood algorithm (which has been my problem these past weeks), but I think I have it solved now.  I will have to repost the previous tables, since the prices for wood are now slightly adjusted upwards across the board.  I'm a little happier with how it lets be 'build' things.

None of the things on this table will cause any great stir, I think, but for those people who like to get gritty about their homes, this should be good.  Establishing how big a mess hall should be, for instance, by virtue of the number of tables that can be fit inside it, with the number of men each table will serve.  From the mess hall one can work out the size of the kitchen - based on the necessary number of cooks needed to serve a set number of men in a set period of time - and from both of those the size of the whole castle.  If, as I say, grit is your thing.

Naturally, the item I'm most proud of is the four-poster bed.  It's nice to see it come out at a price which suits my preconceptions (not that those preconceptions affected the math), particularly since Transylvania is thick with furniture manufacturing and has plenty of wood.  The same bed in a desert environment would be considerably more costly - though the linen for the canopy and drapes would be cheaper.

If anyone can think of something that truly needs to be on the list, for general purposes and not just from interest, I'd appreciate a heads up.  I can't think of everything.

I'm Not Quitting

Well, I pretty much lost it yesterday.  I'm not sure at what point I completely lost my patience ... to me, it doesn't matter.  I talked it over with my partner and she told me, "You've been holding it in for months - have your say and get it off your chest."

So I guess I did.

Apparently a lot of the people who like me took from yesterday's post that there was some chance I would be quitting the blog.  I would like to reassure people that I have no intention of doing that.  Particularly after the series of conversations this last winter that gave me the inspiration to put the Conflict system together, it's clear that dialogue on this blog has helped me structure rules and concepts that help my own world and keep it going.  I very much wouldn't want to stop.

But ...

With the comments yesterday that turned up on other posts than the rant, which clearly ignored the sentiments of the rant and which just pissed me to blazes, I'm afraid I'm going to have to introduce comment moderation into the blog.  If people want to know why, they can look at tsojcanth's telling me that a truffle is a mushroom (duh) and that it doesn't belong in a confectioner's shop (don't see why not) and that surely I must mean a chocolate truffle (like I'm an idiot who doesn't know the difference).  I mean, there's no evidence I've researched these tables, or the manner in which things are made which gives them a price.

Yet I feel vindictive if I delete his completely unhelpful, personally insulting comment since it doesn't actually use any abusive words, and it is completely polite.  Beyond the sentiment which clearly indicates his feeling that I have to be told what a truffle is, the comment is obviously well-meaning.  It's not trollish, it's not 'horrible,' it's not a vampiric suck upon the life of the blog.  How can I possibly delete it?

The answer is that I can't.  And at the same time, my personal feeling is that I can't just let it go.  The rest of the world can respond to patronizing bullshit like this and tolerate being spoken to as though they were children, but I can't.  I'm just built in a way that insists I be respected all the time.  Not just some of the time.  All the time.

Oh, yes, it is a hard world to live in.  Are you finding it easy?

Drance can't understand why I react to praise and criticism with equal suspicion and disdain.  I shall try to explain that.

As a very young boy, just as I was making my way through first grade, it became evident to my teachers that I was unusual.  Over the next few years this unusualness caused quite a stir.  I was tested quite a bit.  My teachers wanted to jump me over the third and fourth grades (my parents refused), so that I would be going to school with people who were reading at the same level.  My teachers wanted to put me on ritalin to counteract my hyperactivity (it wasn't called ADD yet).  Some teachers encouraged my parents to put me in a special school (again, my parents refused).  And throughout all this, I was praised constantly.

Not by my fellow students, mind.  No, they did not praise me.  They were quite vociferous in the manner in which they did not praise me.  I think a fair number of readers, since this is a D&D-rich environment, might understand exactly what I mean.

Throughout the early period of my life, the only thing that made sense to me were the books I read.  And the books I read told me two things - the world is a much richer place than most people ever dream of; and most people in the world will try to control you somehow.  The latter I got from reading people like Thomas Payne, Hermann Hesse and Karl Marx.

And wow, was that ever true.  All the teachers who thought I was this terrific super-genius kid, who praised my intellect to the skies, saw me as some sort of little pet who would work on little projects that they thought would be good for me, or do extra work that they thought would be good for me, or win prizes from educational contests which they thought would be good for me.  Those things I was interested in - geography and politics - were not things you could win academic prizes for.  Karl Marx and Hermann Hesse were not approved.  And besides that, I had a deep love for pure science ... not applied science that could win me accolades at science fairs and so on, but pure science.  The philosophy of science.  The history of science.  The morality of science.

By sixth grade a very definite pattern had set in between my teachers and me.  Meet new teacher.  Demonstrate intelligence to new teacher.  Receive pep talk about all the things I could do with my intelligence.  Ignore pep talk.  Do what I liked doing.  Disappoint teacher.  Receive second, querying pep talk wondering why I did not use my intelligence as desired.  Explain flatly that everything the teacher found important was of no importance to me.  Greatly disappoint teacher.  Change nothing about my behavior.  Obtain resentment from teacher which increased steadily over the course of the year.  Age.  Enjoy the summer thinking and reading what I liked free of teachers.  Meet new teacher.

When I say that I ignored the pep talk, I mean that I didn't bother to work on school projects any further than what was flatly required to get my minimum required grade to move on.  My only relationship with schoolwork was its annoying habit of getting in the way of my doing what I wanted to do ... read voraciously every detailed thing I could get my hands on, work on my own projects, devise my own interests and so on.  School essays in particularly were an annoyance I could get rid of the morning an assignment was due, done in thirty minutes or so in the library before classes started.

Believe it or not, this pattern continued right through entire educational career, up until the day I completed university.  As soon as my professors learned that I had my own agenda, and not the one they thought I should have as their darling little protege, resentment raged.  And as ever, I did not put the 'effort' into the assignments - essays or tests - they felt I should have.  I did the work I felt I should have done, and I've never regretted it.  I sailed through university with a 3.3 average (of 4, or a B+) and that was more than good enough for me.

Being praised has been such a common event in my life that I do look with suspicion at the people who give it.  Particularly when I feel I haven't done anything for which I deserve to be praised.  Much of the time, the effusiveness of the praise causes me to wonder what the agenda is of the person who seems to think its important to praise me.

Now, this will not seem like a big leap, and it will help Anthony understand my motivations.  I am equally used to be attacked, abused, hurt, vilified and condemned for being someone who won't shut up when he thinks something needs to be said.  I was pushed around and harassed every day I was in school, by people who knew how, at a time when I was much more vulnerable than I am now.  A significant portion of the face-to-face population I grew up with hated me with the passion of a thousand suns, a hate that makes the little flame wars online and around the internet seem like parlor games by comparison.  Psychologically, it was so continuous and pervasive that - I freely admit this - I was forced to adapt to it to such a degree that if people are not actively hating me, I'm not really sure what they're thinking.

Now that should get the pop psychologists in the crowd going.

The combination is highly flammable.  On the one hand, my education (received from uncounted thousands of hours spent in university libraries and talking face to face with people much smarter than me - whenever possible) has caused me to look at the world very differently from those who see career-family-status-comfort as their goal in life.  My personal experiences have dulled me to personal pain.  My fascination with writing and expression has enabled me to present my position as nastily as I like and as warm and receiving as I like, depending upon my mood.  My fascination with statistics, geography and D&D has manifested as an increasingly complex abstract that channels the things I've learned.  My derision of praise, and my own sense of what is praiseworthy, denies me ever feeling that anything I've done is 'enough.'  And my lifelong experience as someone disliked has driven me to insist on being respected as a compromise.

I don't really give a shit if people like me.  But people will respect me.  They will because I've fucking earned it.

Things had been coming to a head for months.  I had been restraining myself as much as I could because I had some silly notion of turning out a game system that people would be interested in.  I recognize now just how much that gaming system was pearls before swine.  C'est la vie.

But posting it let off a pressure valve that had been building for months.  Several times I had found it necessary to write some rant about something, but the truth is I never quite said as much as I wanted to say.  Yesterday I took all the brakes off.  I'm certain I took off too many brakes.  I'm certain its the kind of thing I'm going to feel affecting this blog for quite some time.

Strangely, however, I think this post will actually be worse.  But that's what you get for honesty.  People can't wait to crucify you.

So for awhile I will try the comment moderation.  I expect that it will kill the number of comments I receive.  I personally hate commenting on a blog and having to wait until my comment is permitted.  I personally hate that I can't feel confident that people will comment in a manner that assumes I'm smart enough to know what a truffle is.  People assume all sorts of bad things about me.  I can't understand why it can't be assumed that every item that appears on the table is perfectly known to me.  If people think I copied these table out of a book, without any knowledge of what these things are, I'd like to know where this book is.  It would save me a shit load of work.

Drance, my poor deluded critic, it's not a schtick.  I really am this insane.  I really am "on guard" all the time.  Try to realize that I view this material with the same life-and-death fanaticism as a doctor views the right and wrong of surgery, or as an engineer who views the right and wrong of bridge-building.  I recognize that D&D isn't viewed, normally, as life-and-death, but what the fuck.  I didn't want to be a doctor.  I didn't want to be an engineer.  I wanted to do THIS.  I wanted to WRITE.  Should I view it with less passion because it is something other people don't think is very important?

As far as "taking the time to think about what the critic is saying," I feel that you may be missing that a blog gives plenty of time to think.  There's usually five minutes to an hour between comments.  And I usually don't need five minutes.  I think awfully fast.  And the reality is that if something CAN be torn apart, then it isn't worth very much to me.  If someone poses something that's actually clever and intelligent, I don't take it apart because I can't think of a way to do it.  Those are the comments I like.  But there's nothing to be gained from giving some poor schlub the benefit of the doubt when there is no doubt.  The thing that was said was stupid.  I said this yesterday: dipping it in sugar and calling it cake doesn't make it go down easier.

Drance, you are asking me to change.  Most people do.  They don't want to say it outright, because they've been socialized and trained to be polite and not say things like that outright.  But it would be better for everyone, everywhere in the D&D universe, if I changed and just pumped out my tables and my prepared material so other people could use it for their worlds.  If only I would follow that agenda, and no other.  If only I could be the D&D community's protege.  Instead, I have to go on doing what I think as important, and get the resentment that you and others feel, that I am not following the program that is good for me.

I'd like to believe that sentiment is in my head, but you can read it in the comments list of the Hill Canton's post I linked yesterday, said just about word-for-word by Brad.  If you look around, you can find that sentiment expressed in a lot of places.  But the gentle reader is just going to have to trust me when I say that what I have to offer is more than meets the eye.  These rants, and the explanations that follow, have a greater purpose than to just make me feel better about life.  That the purpose isn't immediately obvious is kind of the point.

I am trying to educate here.