Monday, October 31, 2011

Player vs. Player

I have been thinking lately of the old trope of players vs. players in D&D campaigns, primarily because it has emerged in a few games like an unwanted relative.  I have been playing one particular campaign in which everyone is a friend for so long, I haven't had to deal with this.

I've played in, observed and heard about campaigns where this is a common theme.  Online comics like to play it up for all its worth, particularly the trope about the thief slipping into the treasure room and pocketing the nicest stuff before the party sees it.  You see players killing one another a la Treasure of the Sierra Madre, but its there ... and of course quite a few DMs think its hilarious.

For myself, as a player, I've always found it a little difficult to stomach.  After all, I am interacting socially with a person who is either gloating or otherwise behaving like an asshole as they kill something I've worked to keep alive and healthy, and that I've grown attached to ... and I'm expected to simply consider it 'part of the game.'  I'm not to consider the action boorish, or proof of a lacking character.

When I was a boy, I had a grandfather whose favorite game in the world was cribbage, and who took great glee in being able to call 'muggins' on my 10-year-old self.  For those of you who may not know, in the game of cribbage, if you count your cards for less points than they're worth, and then peg the total you've counted incorrectly, your opponent can declare "muggins" and count those points themselves.  Thus, if you are a ten-year-old boy, and you have not played cribbage for sixty years, and have therefore not had all this time to train yourself to be a self-serving asshole, you can expect to lose a couple of points a game to a grandfather whose belief system includes taking advantage of this difference.

My grandfather used to tell me that it would "smarten me up" to the ways of the world, clearly with the expectation that someday I would be able to skin players with less skill - or commitment to winning, I suppose - than I would eventually have under my grandfather's tutelage.  It was supposed to teach me to count cards more fastidiously.  What it taught me was not to play cards with my grandfather.

If today I found myself playing cribbage with someone who called 'muggins' on me, I believe my first inclination would be to punch them in the face.  I wouldn't do that, of course.  I haven't punched anyone in the face since grade school.  But my second inclination would be to tell them what assholes they were, rise from the table, and never play cribbage with them again.  Or anything else, for that matter.  I don't associate with people like this.

My parents, incidentally, played cribbage all the time, and the house rule was that if a hand was counted improperly, other people helped to make sure the count was right and the game continued in a friendly, competitive manner.  So I guess my grandfather's influence on his children didn't go very far.

It isn't that there aren't people playing cut-throat D&D.  It's only that I would like these people to be hit by a bus or something ... if they can't learn the error of their ways, that is, and smarten up.

To discourage this behavior, I usually try to play a wide-open game ... that is, I don't often share secret information with one part of the party and intentionally keep others in the dark.  I used to do this all the time - it seemed like fun, taking people out into the back to describe something only they could see, or encouraging players not to be open about their characters, or encouraging secret messages to be sent around the table.  In the long run, however, all this really did was to create a level of distrust which eventually disrupted the game and drove off players.

Some gentle readers might react to this assertion with the sentiment that players who would quit a game over something like this weren't good enough to play.  Or 'mature' enough.  Or some other belief my grandfather would have appreciated, that 'strong' players don't crumble because their characters are killed.  That is, that 'muggins' is part of the game, and if you can't play with muggins then you don't deserve to play.

I have found, generally, that without all the running around behind other people's backs, players form a camaraderie that is much, much stronger than backstabbing and player-from-player theft will allow.  Games tend to improve with time, rather than fall apart.  Players respect one another.  Players treat each other with compassion and concern.  This doesn't seem like a bad thing to me.  It sounds a game that 'adults' would play.  Adults who can work for long-term goals and not short-term gain.

And I'm funny.  I prefer to play with adults.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Character Calculation

Let's tackle this big table.  This is one that definitely needs some work by me, which I am putting off because I must tell you this table is a persnickity bitch and I don't enjoy working on it very much.  Still, the results are good and I like what it does for the campaign.

Incidentally, this is called 'Chararacter Calculation' because there are files on my drive called 'Character Generation' and 'Character Background' and 'Background' and so on already.  This is the last of a long line of similar attempts, and all the good names have been taken.  I'm just about ready to throw out all the past work, but for some reason I keep holding onto it.

All right, here's the idea.  You input the race, the class, the stats and the gender, and the table pumps out a background, a secondary skill learned from the father (and possibly the mother, too), age, weight, birthday, starting capital, your credit rating (17th century world, remember) and some special things about your character.  It is all calculated on random rolls based on the player's stats, and it is all neatly meant to be packaged on the 'Display' tab so that it can be printed when the character is rolled up.

At the moment the copy you have has the Display tab updated for Strength, Intelligence and Wisdom.  I am in the middle of working on Constitution, and could do it in an hour or two.  Dexterity wouldn't take long after that, but at the moment Charisma is a virtual nightmare.  I have been avoiding this because I know that creating a character appearance that matches the charisma is going to be just hell.

Hey, I procrastinate.  I did at one time join Procrastinator's Anonymous, but for some reason I just couldn't get out to the meetings.

If you want to muck around with it, putting in some stats and hitting F9 several times, you can see the results will change fairly widely.  Certain aspects, such as family, not much.  I don't promise there isn't a glitch somewhere - I find them from time to time, and fix as I do.  There's a lot of calculations going on to make this table.

Starting with the 'Str' tab, the first one I did, you can see it is in two parts.  Part 1 covers columns A through M, and Part 2 columns O through V.  The orientation is different, because I tried this first one way, and then the other.  I liked the second way better, and kept that for the rest of the file; eventually I may take the time to reformat the first part of the Str tab, but for now I don't care.

Strength affects two aspects: genetic background and physicality.  A d20 is rolled against strength, and the difference determines the result.  This is really nothing more than making this table (or this earlier version) automatic.

What is extremely pleasant about this set up is that if something new occurs to you to add to the table, you just create another window and set up a random generator.  If you look at the cells P10 through U10, you can see that I've done this, making one result occur on a roll of 1 in 6, and the other 5 in 6.  Extending this with a little imagination could make hundreds of possible results for each roll, without having to write the table from scratch - making the excel file infinitely better than a stiff table.

If you don't know excel, this is going to seem like gobbledygook to you.  If you're a programmer, you're going to scratch your head and wonder what the hell I was on ... since my knowledge of excel is imperfect and I've had to create workarounds that use aspects of excel that I understand.  A programmer could have a field day streamlining this, I'm certain.

Nevertheless, I've tried to make a lot of determinations automatic.  When you lose a hand, it determines which hand; if you have a sibling, it determines whether its a brother or a sister.  One thing it does not do is determine if you're the oldest or the youngest sibling ... it could do that, but the trouble isn't worth it.  If anyone cares, I can roll that out with dice.

Throughout the file, I try to use yellow highlighting to show final results.  Orange highlighting is usually a temporary crucial results, light tan is for description, blue for principle random results and gray for secondary random results, green for die rolls ... but believe me I break this rule as much as I use it.  I tried to include a lot of description for what this die means and that, but I'm afraid I was more interested in producing results than copying them.  But if you need me to tell you what something particular means, give me the cell and the tab and I'll try to answer it.

You'll note the father's table (the 'F' tab) is a random generator for character skills.  It selects from your stats the background of your father, and if you stat is less than 11 your father will begin from some other stat.  If all your stats are less than 11, you won't have a profession.  Your father determines your starting capital (though it is modified by certain events that might occur as a result of your intelligence and your wisdom) or your credit ... if you father is a banker you can borrow tons of money.  It is possible to be nobility or royalty.  That is worked out too, along with how much land you own or if you're in charge of it (you might not be the eldest sibling in the family after all, or your parents might still be alive), or how big a country your family runs.  I leave which country up to the DM - not all worlds are the same.

Hitting F9 on this page will show the random descriptions change; there's quite a number of possible options, and of course more can be added.

There's a chance on the Intelligence table of having both learned a father's profession and a mother's, and so the father's table is duplicated on the 'M' tab - M for Mother - so that a completely different result can be generated.

It's possible to start with men-at-arms, so these are generated on the 'Men-at-Arms'  table.

If you constitution is low, or through a bad roll, you could have between a mild and a severe chronic disease ... this is determined on the 'Conditions' table.  These include blindness and deafness, but those aren't likely.  Color confusion or a low tolerance for spirits is more probable.  Conditions can modify your height and weight, which are themselves calculated on the 'Biology' tab.

Here is a long bit of calculations that determines the height and weight for your race and your gender, according to the tables in the DMG - but again, made automatic.  It adjusts your height/weight for other variables in the table.  Columns AR through BB calculate your age, and also your birthday ... with a rejoiner that if you're born on February 29, that's the birthday that counts.  I could have made a lot of programming to make this automatic, but it struck me as a huge pain in the neck, for something that would happen so rarely, so I didn't bother.

What is really a pain about this table is that something on this tab affects something on that tab, and that each modifier requires more programming and more fixing and so on, with all the inter-relationships piling up and getting difficult in the long run.  But then, that's what makes the results interesting, as they actually have something to do with one another, and are not simply random collections of tables giving unrelated results.  Everything is hinged to your character's base stats, race, gender and class, so things tend to group together to form logical characters.

But I don't pity anyone trying to go through this and decipher it.  You do so at your peril.  If you intend to make changes, I would suggest saving two copies, so you can change one and refer to the other.

Meanwhile, I'll push myself to keep working on this and getting it done sometime ... soon?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Map Files

I must admit - since I knew it was going to be easy to send the material out, and that size wasn't an issue, I grabbed the whole map file as it was and made it available.  Subscribers will take note there's a lot of junk in there, maps that should have been deleted, or maps that are duplicates because I intended eventually to change them to some new format (climate or otherwise).  And I must also confess that when I look at these files, I see a lot of work I haven't done yet, and that makes me feel lazy.

But on the other hand, you can see how not everything I put together looks 100%, and that the fabrication of junk goes hand in hand with the fabrication of good work.  That's a good thing.

Bypassing the 'Maps' folder, which is the work in the last stages, I ask the reader to look at the 'Map Rings' folder first.  These many files represent the composite collection of the data on this website, which you can look over to see how the data is arranged there. is in general use by Wikipedia and other sites, and is a marvelous resource for simple and immediate information for any place in the world.  That's how I stumbled across it, looking for elevation numbers.

The 'Map Rings' files, then, gives the relative elevation for every hex in the world, my having divided the hexes up according to this scheme here, which itself includes links to earlier posts on the subject.  Hexes appear either white or grey, for no purpose than contrasting one ring on the documents from another, or in yellow on black for hexes that have been mapped already.  This is an extremely useful check on the maps, to make sure that the hexes properly line up ... and it is a constant resource that I use while mapping to make sure I am producing accurate results.  It is also helpful in the 'skewing' of the map to fit the projection effected by hexing the earth and flattening it, the reason why my maps don't look like those out of ye common Atlas.  They do have a bit of medieval feel in the coastlines, however.

There's tons and tons of data there.  Two things:  you can find the equator on the file marked '301-320 4sep07 Done' ... its the centre tab.  Also, for some reason a chunk of the western hemisphere was deleted (or failed to save back in 2007), so that rings 281-300 are missing it.  I have the file elsewhere in the process of being corrected ... it isn't super important, however, so I just sort of work at it once in awhile.  You can see from the dates on the files that I appear to have worked on creating this between Nov 2007 and October 2008.  Those are just the latest file dates.  In actual fact, the real mapping process began in 2005.  It really took me three and a half years to gather the information and finish making this file.  But no big deal.

Before I can create a map, however, I need to know what cities will be on it, who will control those cities in 1650 and how big those cities will be.  Thus I research cities and towns shown on the maps of my olde, friendly encyclopedia (one must limit the work to some source, I'm not researching every village in the world!).  The 'France Cities Workbook' is an example of my research - I am working on France to map that part of the world next.  I haven't copied all the cities out of my encyclopedia yet ... only 194 of them, which would be the southern third of that country.  This, too, is a task I only work at in bits; it can be quite dull to look up town after town, only to find out when it was founded and who controlled it and how many times it was burned or suffered from an illness or destroyed completely.  But it does help me understand these regions more in depth as I read and read.  Most of the main research, I admit, comes from wikipedia - quick search and extensive information on small, nothing places is very useful.

This information gets put together into a file like the 'Cities 22oct11' you have there.  It too has little bits of floating junk on some of the tabs, such as a bit about Siberia, China, 'The Other India' (which means bits of India I actually need to make sure I've included - I think I have) and so on.  The 'Compiled' tab is a mostly complete list of the cities, when they were founded (in many cases estimated), how big they are ... all the things that I put under the wikipedia months ago.  This is collected together into the 'New Provinces' tab, (there used to be an old provinces tab, but its deleted now, and I never get around to changing these names), and the 'Kingdoms' tab.  On the latter, you can see combined information for the population of the world at the point of latest update, and partial data on the total hexes which have been mapped for their vegetation.  Again, I have so much of the world to work on.

The little box in green shows I've mapped the vegetation for just over 4 million square miles.  Only 47 million square miles to go.

I have actually mapped a great deal more of the world, but I haven't determined its vegetation, and until I do that I don't record the actual size.  It's just a little quibble for me - but I can see the size of a region just by looking at the map, can't I?

So, at present, there are 117 independent entities, the largest of which in population is the Moghul Empire (61 million people), mostly because it rules the heavily populated India.  The Ottoman Empire comes in with nearly 30 million, and after that the Holy Roman Empire totals 14.5 million (which includes a lot of semi-independent entities).  Europe has a great many people in it, but they are split and separated and usually at war with one another.  The total population at present is 188 million ... which you will take note differs from the 115 million indicated on the Sources table.  I added India to this, you understand.  The numbers will go up again when I add the rest of Asia, Europe, Africa and all of the New World.  I am estimating a world-wide total - now - of about 350 million, but that may be conservative.

This leaves the 'Map' Folder, which I'm going to cover quickly.  Most of it is empty or junk, experiments or otherwise, but there are two folders worth looking at.  The first would be 'New Hexes', which contains the elevation maps, and 'Terrain Maps' which includes all the vegetation maps (lord know why it's called 'terrain' ... don't worry about it).  These you definitely want to look at.  You can find a number of different keys for the meanings on the vegetation maps.  Most of them are false, old, or flotsam before fixing them later.  The one you should trust is found on the 'Ter D 06 - North Caspian' map.  It is the one I think is most up to date.

Feel free to ask questions here or on email.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Prices Template - Part D - End Goods & Market Page

Now we can go to the 'End Goods' section.  Here we have the page where the actual items are calculated.  The principle idea is that items have a given weight and quality of workmanship, and that these are multiplied against the value created on the 'Raw Material Cost' page.

For example, we've determined that 'aloe' has a price, that being (in Astrakhan) 100.16 c.p. per oz. (line 6, column C & D).  The description of the item describes it as 'aloe vera' and the fact that it is '4 dozes contained in vial' and that its purpose is 'protects from the sun.'  A vial is 4 oz., so column I indicates the size of the vial.  There's a 10% increase in the cost for the trouble of putting the raw material in a vial.  That would make the value of the aloe at 100.16 x 4 x 1.1 = 441 c.p. ... except it's not.  As you can plainly see, the cost is given as 550 c.p.  The reason for this is that the vial itself costs, and that cost is worked out on the 'Pre-Goods' tab.  There, we see 'vial, glass, 4 oz. capacity, 1" diam., 5" high' in the 'Containers' section.  You will notice that the price for this object is slightly higher than buying the glass vial alone (you can find it on line 522 of the 'End Goods' tab), and this is due also to the fact that the vial on the 'Pre-Goods' tab includes the cost of filling it, as opposed to the cost of merely buying it.

Believe me, this would all be hopelessly complex if it wasn't for the fact that when the calculation is put into the system ONCE, it is there forever and doesn't need to be worked out again.

Thus the aloe and the container together are 550 c.p. (or some other amount in some other market).  Most of the time players don't think about the fact that the oil or the holy water or the wine or whatever else they buy fits into containers that apparently get thrown away once they've been used.  Granted, a lot of them get broken, but when was the last time a player said he or she broke a wine bottle after drinking the wine?

550 c.p. is obviously an inconvenient number for use, so the table automatically converts this into silver or gold, rounding the number accordingly.  Typically, if it is 24 c.p. or less, I record the price as copper, and if it is 384 c.p. or less, I record it as s.p.  There's 12 c.p. per silver, so 384 c.p. is 32 s.p.  There are 16 s.p. per gold piece in my world, so 32 s.p. is 2 g.p. ... and therefore any price less than 2 g.p. is recorded as either silver or copper.  Anything more than 2 g.p. is rounded to the nearest gold piece, even if that isn't quite accurate.  550 c.p. is 2 g.p., 13 s.p. and 10 c.p., but giving prices like that would be inconvenient and would probably drive my players crazy.  So I round them off and everyone is generally content with that.

If someone wanted to buy bulk goods for trade, and wanted to haggle, I suppose an exact price could be quoted ... though the exact price might actually be higher than the gold indicated.

Thereafter you see the venue, and then the weight of the items. The weight of the vial is included in the weight of the aloe in the example above, so the total weight is 5.3 oz.

Now it gets complicated.

To work out the shop selling prices, we go back to column E & F. Column E, 'Avails,' gives the total references for the item type, obtained from the 'References' tab (you see how this all pulls together). Column F generates a number between 0 and 0.25, so that if the number of references is higher than that, availability is 100%. On the other hand, you can see that aloe has an availability of 0.013, so there's only a 13 in 250 chance that aloe will be present on the seller's table.

If an item is made of more than one thing, such as a metal axe with a wooden handle, I usually set the avails to whatever is the most necessary material to make the object (or the rarest material, since this is the choke point). I'd set the material for a metal axe with a handle as the references for neither wood nor metals, but for 'tools,' which I have a reference for. That gives me a simple measure. You can see other decisions I've made throughout the table - some you may agree with, or not - but you can change them to suit yourself.

Looking at column S, then, this is merely a calculation for determining the number available, multiplied against a random number (column T), all based on the cost of the items.  Large items that are expensive occur in smaller supply than smaller, cheaper items ... and may not be available at all, even if the avails indicate items of that variety are there.  For example, you may be able to find various furniture, but that doesn't mean you can find an intricately carved four-poster bed.  It depends on how available it is ... or how far column E is below column F.

The item description is repeated for easy importation to the next table, along with the price, coin, weight and then the total number available.

Columns AC to AJ then does the same in reverse.  The cost of the item and its availability determines how many the shop vendor will buy from the player, and for how much.  Then columns AL to AS determines it all again, for selling to passers by (or for selling in a village or on the road, anywhere that there isn't a market present).

I was reworking this table through the summer, so you should be aware that everything after shipbuilder (lines 1170 and down) haven't been upgraded to the present detail (the 'Pre-Goods' table hasn't been incorporated yet, along with other inconsistencies that I didn't get to.  I simply got tired of working on goods, as it is exhausting and picky and takes a great deal of time.  I did get more than a 1100 objects done before quitting, right?  I'll pick this up again sometime, I promise.  Only 450+ to go.

Also, please note that Jeweller is a mess and has been put on hold for the moment.  This is a more pressing issue, and really needs some solid attention.  I'd like to work on this before Christmas, but I'll probably work on the Character Generation Table first.

Finally, a quick word about the 'Market Page' tab.  This is obviously the only page which the player's sees.  I usually copy and paste this first as values on another page, then paste it as format, so there are no calculations remaining.  Takes just a few seconds.  Then I can show it to the players.

So, to recap: if you want to make a new market, there's the two actions on the Selected page, which ends with pasting the data on the 'Input Data' page on the Prices Template.  Then you can move immediately to the Market Page, copy that and post the new prices for the players.

Like I said, a pistol.  The actual calculation and presentation for the players doesn't slow the game down at all.  You generate a new table and provide it.  It takes new players a long time to go through 1,600 buyable items, but I've found with time players get quite used to searching through and finding what they want.  Mostly that works because I've anticipated a character's need, and most things are certain to be there - and can be searched for with Ctrl F.

I once had it set up so that changing one thing on the Selected table changed everything else automatically, but this created huge problems in excel, as I always find when there are multiple tables open or not open.  It is an issue with excel.  I would have all of this together on one single page, except that the computer I have still can't handle the capacity and the number of calculations slows everything down.  But tech is moving forward, so I suppose with my next computer I'll be able to convert these together ... and one day with the sources table also.

The rest is all junk.  Make what you will of it.  For the present, that's the last trading file.  From here we move onto mapmaking.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Ah, India

And don't it look weird:

A Land of Silly Putty

The bizarre appearance is, as ever, the distortion of flattening the northern hemisphere into a hex disc, caused by strange things like shortening the circumference from pi to 3 times the diameter.  It also helps to remember that the direction North is somewhere at the top left of the above, and not the centre top, which is typical of maps.

All I care about is that it is a standardized reckoning within my world in every capacity, in playability, in representation, in comparison to other regions world-wide, and of course my trade table.

Getting this done feels like a tremendous weight off me.  I actually started India about three years ago, then stopped to do other regions, leaving it half done.  That proved to be a mistake.  I changed certain aspects of my mapping in 2009, and since that happened I practically had to do all that I had done before one more time.  So for me, this is a map done with one and a half times the work shown.  Feels good to have that all finished and sorted out at last.  There's still the Maldives and Laccadive islands to do, and the Andaman & Nicobar Islands too, but they wouldn't look good on the blog anyway - they're too small.

The map shown is a collection of 14 separate sections that I've been working on a couple of months now (which is why some labels appear twice, and why there's a pink glitch in the middle of Nepal ... colored on one map and not on the other - has to be fixed).  Some of these, as they were previously, can be found on the Wiki, linked on the right hand side.

The strange twist on the right is the 90th parallel, that forces the map to 'turn the corner,' as I have described elsewhere on this blog.  It was unfortunate that the turn went right through the middle of the the Bengal delta of the Ganges from the left and the Brahmaputra, which swings out of Tibet (where it hasn't been drawn in) at the top of the map and then down into India.  That too makes the map look weird.  This is the first large area I've done that's this close to the equator.  I begin to wonder how this will make Indonesia look.

Well, the map speaks for everything else, so I'll shut up.

A Note To My Readers

Yes, it's true.  Since last week it seems that this blog has been all about the subscription and the data I'm providing off line, and I don't doubt there's a little unhappiness about that.  But the gentle reader must admit, if people have given me a sum of money, I am somewhat beholden towards servicing the needs of those people, at least as far as my responsibilities demand.  And if there hasn't been more general information here in a week, well, I could just as easily have not posted at all, right?  Quite a lot of blogs take a week or a month off, and I haven't done anything like that.

But I would like to reassure my loyal readers that I am here and I haven't made any plans to stop blogging about all the things I typically blog about.  I came within a hair's breath of finishing India last night, with plans to publish it today ... but the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta proved more daunting than I expected and at 11:00 PM last night I knocked off.  I don't know if I can finish today, but I'll post the whole map of the area this week.

I'm up to writing a post about Gunpowder for my civ IV technology posts, and I meant to write something general about the online campaign - which is also content I'm adding to the Internet daily, I hasten to add.  I also have plans for one other thing ... if I dare do it.  So all I can say is please be patient, don't lose faith, the blog and my interest in communicating about D&D to the general readership has not been compromised.

I can't help wanting to share everything, however, and if people are willing to pay for the gritty in depth stuff, who am I not to take advantage of that?  I've been working hard at this hobby for more than 30 years, and I don't know any craftsperson anywhere who doesn't start to think eventually that it might be worth putting a few things on a table at a flea market.

Finally, one special note to the happy, wonderful people at YDIS who eagerly anticipate my being diagnosed with cancer.  A hooker will charge you $100 to fuck you.  I would be happy to offer the same service.

Prices Template - Part C - Raw Material Cost

The 'Raw Material Cost' tab is the crux of the table, and indeed the crux of the whole trade system.  These is the practical calculations I've been holding back all this time.  As you can see, there are a lot of them.  As I said before, they've been built up one by one over time, until you have what you see here.

in each case, the references from the previous table are used as a ratio to calculate the price of various items, usually per ounce or sometimes per specific object.  Furs, for instance, are calculated per pelt, animals per head, gems per cubic centimeter and so on.  Much of this table uses other parts of this table in order to calculate the total price of things - probably the best example of this is the cow.

If you go to lines 922 and 923, you can see the price of a cow or a calf outlined.  The price of the cow is based upon the basic cost per head (determined on the reference table), then augmented by the cost to feed the cow for a two year period, whereupon it will be at the height of its meat, leather and milk production ... though it may be kept for a longer period.  A calf, you will notice, is fed for only three months, and that is why a calf costs less.

The price of the forage for the cow can be found on line 782, this price being based upon the total 'cereals' shown on the reference table, which is used in calculating the cost of 'preparing' the base cost of general cereals.  You will note there is also a 'inkeeper feed' cost, which is calculated by the number of market references in this particular market city.

The price of milk is then hinged on the price of the cow, and how much milk it is predicted it will produce in a year (all production figures for the reference table are annual, which determines all prices throughout the system).  You can find raw milk costs on line 208, along with the cost of cream & kumiss, butter & ghee, and ordinary cheese.  Other cheeses of course are calculated against these prices.

The price of cowhide can be found on line 370, as opposed to horsehide or sheepskin and so on, which are all determined by the price of those animals as opposed to cows.  The cost of salt is added (from line 591), then the cost of tanning the hide, plus the size of the hide and its cost per ounce.  This is then used to give the cost of cowhide leather craft, found on line 388.  That line shows the cost of leather armor there, along with the costs of gloves, hats and boots, which are considered more expensive to produce than leathercraft.

If you want, you can have your leathercraft embroidered, which would mean my creating a calculation for it using the reference for embroidery found on the 'References' tab, line 493.  You could have it embossed (again, I'd have to make the calculation, but that's actually quite easy), from 'References' line 492 ('artworks').  You could also have it sewn with gems ('References', line 809, 'lapidary') or fitted with fur ('References', line 361).  It is really all up to you, and the prices are all worked out according to the general system.  Obviously, once I create a new calculation for a specific thing, I leave it in the system.

If you want the cost of cow meat, you can find it on the 'Raw Material Cost' tab on line 252.  'On the hoof' means the price paid to the rancher who brings in a live cow.  The 'Stockyard' price is what you pay if you buy the cow unslaughtered.  The 'Abattoir' price is what you pay for a side of slaughtered cow that hasn't been cut into steaks for you.  The 'Butcher' price is the cost for cut up and ready to cook.  'Inn Fare' is the additional cost the inn charges you.  'Smokehouse' is the cost of drying or smoking ready meat.  Sausage is the cost for the meat in that way, where as Pates are more expensive still.  Pates de foie gras is the cost of goose liver pates (which has its own cost track, naturally) made in that particular manner.

So you can see that everything is hinged together.  The number of stockyard references determines the mark-up on cows, the slaughtering references determines the mark-up at the abattoir, and so on and so forth, so that each stage has a specific price and each price is logical for the place and condition for which the meat is sold.  And every part of the table works exactly the same way.

Thus if you think of a combination of things that doesn't at this point exist, you can follow the process of mixing those things together to get the appropriate, logical price.

Now, there is another calculation here that might seem a little unreasonable, but you'll have to believe me that it works.  Part of the problem, as I said yesterday, is not having proper figures for a lot of specific items.  Fruits, for instance, the same thing as yesterday.  I have references for fruits, but I don't have total production for every kind of fruit, not even from the U.N., which tends to skip some items in their annual report or simply mixes them together.

I used to solve this by having a 'fruit' price on the table and telling players it was whatever was local.  But then I reasoned I could assess a price for fruits (or other things) on the number of references I had for that particular fruit measured against all other fruits.  If I then used a log calculation to work out a ratio, I could keep the difference in price from getting out of hand, and get specific prices for specific varieties of things ... like fruits, or cereals, or vegetables or kinds of stone or what have you.

Thus you can see on lines 839 to 871 that each type of fruit has a ratio, and that this ratio is multiplied against the general price for all fruits (line 831).  This gives me a price for things as obscure as whortleberries or citrons, for which I had no world-wide production statistics.

The rest of this is pretty much just familiarizing yourself with the massive number of calculations on this page (there are about 2,200 of them), determining the raw price on a wide variety of goods and services.  I am probably better off answering questions here than attempting to guess what things need to be deciphered.  Good luck!

Prices Template - Part B - Spells

Working out the price of spells was tricky business.  What was needed to fit the system was a level of supply, which could be determined by the number of clerics who had a given spell (or ability to use a spell), which then denoted a 'production' of that spell.  In order to determine the number of clerics of given levels, I turned to my own demographic efforts - a table which, for the present, isn't in the accessed folder but which I shall endeavor to locate before the weekend.  You can read something about those demographics, and the explanation of Adherents, Zealots and so on, here.

It follows that certain statuses of cleric have certain levels, and that higher level (and more able) clerics are less accessible to the general public.  It is easier to see a local priest than the clerics dwelling in the monastical order, or those in the service of an archbishop.  Thus, it's easier to get a first level spell from a poor friar (adherent) than a crusader (adventurer) or a cardinal (title holder).  This table is meant to reflect that.  Of course, a friar won't have 5th level spells at all - if you want a 5th level spell cast, you will need to see someone more important.  You'll also note that 7th level spells aren't available ... they are just too rare, given the population of clerics among even 2 million people ... so if your party can't get there to be raised, don't count on resurrection as an alternative.

The second half of the table defines the number of 'references' for clerics based upon the total number of 'market' references for that particular market zone.  Thus an area like Germany has more markets that are close to each other, and thus a greater likelihood that prices will be reduced on things like cast spells.  A place like Astrakhan should be expensive.

You will also note that I've added a feature where you may have to wait to obtain the spells you want.  You can read about this here.

I trust you can work out the remainder from the excel spreadsheet.  Obviously, any questions you have I'd be happy to answer.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Prices Template - Part A - References

Now, all the previous work I've been describing since yesterday exists in order to drive this table.  It all comes down to the data you've inserted on the 'Input Data' tab, which is then converted into prices and availability.

Let me first say that this file is a mathematical disaster.  Not only is it indecently complicated, but it represents several incarnations of data creation, each of which vary in some degree and each of which - I am sorry to say - tends to leave some bit of calculation that manages to survive into the next incarnation.  So it goes.  I do my best to update things when I see them, but the reality is that there's more here than I have time to update, or care to take the time, and in any event it can wait for the next time to come along that I make this file even MORE complicated.  The subscriber will please observe that this table was created one patient entry at a time, starting about 2006, and has experienced now six overhauls since its original creation - one which I started and did not finish just this summer.  At this point I don't even want to look at this table to finish that overhaul until after I can add Italy, India and the Low Countries to the Selected table.

So, things are unfortunately messy, but if you are patient you can pull them apart and probably make my life unhappy by bickering or identifying errors, things that don't seem to make much sense and outright unreasonable assumptions that are found there.

Here is the original problem.  The first efforts were based upon the production numbers I had available from the United Nations International Statistics Yearbook and from the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization's Agricultural Yearbook.  Between the two, I could get an idea of the production of cereals, fruits, vegetables, oils, treenuts, crops, fish, livestock, metals & alloys, materials, chemicals, textiles, woods, foodstuffs and mining in the world at the time of the yearbooks.  This was then modified in a rather ad hoc fashion to reflect the world in the 17th century, in a completely inaccurate way that really doesn't matter anyway, this is Dungeons and Dragons, and not my doctoral thesis for Harvard.  Ultimately, all I really cared about from the beginning was getting kind of close.  Since first mucking about with these statistics in depth (researching beginning around the year 2000), I feel justified in believing that I am close enough, and a damn sight better than some other perfectionist could probably manage.  Where there seem to be irrational gaps in the prices template, you can believe the gaps probably exist there because there were insurmountable gaps in my research ... or possibly the later research hasn't yet caught some glitch from an earlier incarnation.

Am I getting across yet that there are many reasons why something might look illogical?  Sorry, but as it is the only way I can tell the reason for a bit of illogic is by trying to remember why I did it a particular way four years ago ... and in my old age my memory is going.  Usually the best thing anyway is to just try and fix it the best way it can be fixed.

With all that out of the way, let's start by looking at the 'References' tab.

This tab simultaneously groups and breaks down the raw data into convenient bits that can be addressed and reworked in the 'Raw Material Cost' tab.  At one time this was supposed to give me a base price for everything ... now it is only supposed to give me a base price for commodities that don't experience any premier industrial development.  However, there are things that still remain that are semi-industrial - like artworks and embroidery.  Eventually the pricing for these things will be moved forward, but for the time being they can remain as priced on this page.

An explanation for the calculations on this page can be found, as ever, about three quarters of the way through this really useful post.  The number of references for the specific market are divided by the number of total references and then multiplied by gold references to get their innate value, then adjusted for distance (the percentages in column K) and ultimately assigned a base "cost."  Adamantite, for instance (the mineral and not the metal), has a base price of 98.36 copper pieces (column M, the coin not specified).  All prices, except on the 'Market Page' tab, are specified throughout the table in copper pieces, then translated for convenience for the player.

The columns that refer to 'Second Tier References' is a development meant to compensate for the lack of proper reliable information.  To see a complicated example of this working, see lines 967 through 1016 - FRUITS.  From the encyclopedia I have references for sources producing 'fruits,' 'citrus fruits,' 'berries,' 'orchard fruits,' and of course a wide variety of particular fruits such as apples, apricots, oranges, grapefruits, raspberries, dates, figs, loquats, juniper berries, tangerines, guavas, pomegranates, olives, grapes, currants and so on.  Obviously it doesn't work to have separate prices for 'fruits' and for 'tangerines,' so we must presume that references for fruits are distributed into whatever the local fruit of the area is ... and the local fruit is in turn also determined by the inputed data from the Selected table.

Thus, the 'Second Tier References' is the redistribution of more generalized references (citrus, fruit, berries) into more specific references (bananas, breadfruit, limes), according to the availability of these fruits.  If the market is in a part of the world where there are more bananas than apples, the distribution of 'fruit' references will reflect that.  If you understand excel, you can see how the numbers are thus redistributed.

Other places where this was necessary include tubers, metallurgy (where 'founding' could refer to any metal and not just iron), distilling and 'building stone' ... which could really be anything.  A few places did not need this redistribution because of the way the table uses the data.  'Cereals,' for instance, could be applied to the general cost to fodder for animals, and because of this did not need to be sorted into its particular kind of grain ... the larger, cheaper price could be applied to groats and such to define it from grains which were specific and therefore eaten by people.  Whenever I could generate a separate price that provided a unique item, I did this.  It added depth to the general availability for the players.

Because the 'world value in oz. gold' column (column H) is determined by the number of gold references divided into the total number of ounces gold, when I rework this table to include new information from Africa, Spain/Portugal and England (from a reference I made on the encyclopedia post) there will be a dramatic change in many prices throughout the system.  I admit that I don't know if it means the prices will rise or fall ... because there are so many changes that will come from the bulk Italy/India/Low Countries regions being separated out as well.  In any case, prices will adjust and I expect the players will too.

For the moment I'll stop here, and pick up the next tab, 'Spells,' on the following post.  I know that for subscribers this is a huge amount of information to take in all at once; but I am bringing you up to speed on a world that has been in a state of creation for 27 years.  I began running 'Earth' in 1984.  I've had a lot of time to think about these things and steadily bring them forward.  You've had two days to see what's here.  It will take time to understand what exactly you're looking at in the general picture.  And once I get past the trade tables, much of the rest is quite simple.

Selected Table

Moving on.  The Selected table refers to selecting the data which determines prices for a market city.  The City distances and the Source table totals are put together here to come up with the distribution for the desired market city.

The first tab, called 'Selection,' determines the shortest distance to market zones that have more than one market city.  For example, you can see that the Archangel zone (zones listed across the top) has two markets in it, "Archangel" and "Sudborough."  Now I must admit this table is a hang-over from before I discovered the MIN function in excel, and I haven't updated this since last year.  Again, I will update it after working out the market city distances, which should be after Christmas.

In the meantime, if a given city - Astrakhan, say - is closer to Sudborough than to Archangel, than the Sudborough distance is used for determining distribution out of that zone.  It's really pretty simple, so I'll move on.

The 'Market Provinces' tab, then, shows the distances that will be used.  Take note that distances are shown on this table to Africa, America and so on - these are average distances to these places, which serves somewhat to smooth out the results for the present, until these areas are properly divided out.  If a city is equi-distant to everything in China, then the distinctness is lost.  There's nothing I can really do about this - until I can map China, it is either consider it all one portion, or discount it from the table altogether.  Neither is very desireable.  I could subdivide China now, but that's a lot of trouble and I suppose I feel I need to save work where I can.

Note also that Italy is still listed as a single unit on this table.  The upgraded version will divide Italy ... and probably the Low Countries and India also, since I can get those separated and made ready for this table through December.

Very well.  As an experiment, lets get ready to highlight a line and copy it.  I'll highlight Astrakhan, line 5, so you can follow along with me.  Don't highlight the whole line, just the numbers between column C and column ND.  At present, that's 351 zones.  There will be many more when the new zones are added.

Move to the next table, 'Input Distance.'  Paste the data as a 'VALUE' ... but the only thing that will happen if you paste normally is that the highlighting will change.

You can look over this sheet but there is nothing you need do.  You can see that the Sources table data has been copied here, and that the products are listed down the side.  If you move to the 'Collect Index' tab, the distances that you have entered from Astrakhan have been divided into the Sources data, and that collected in a series of numbers running down column B next to the products in column A.  If you've done it right, you should see a population of 2,152,088.1 and a Total References of 404.5.

At this point you will want to open the Prices Template table.  On that table you will see that the first tab reads 'Input Data.'  (ignore the gobbledy gook on the 'Jewellery' tab ... that's just leftover from when I was trying to solve this problem.

You will see on the Input Data table a similar list to the one on the Selected table.  They line up perfectly, so all you need do is copy the data from the 'Collect Index' on the Selected (column B, lines 4 to 907) and paste them AS VALUES to the 'Input Data' page on the Prices Template.  Get it lined up, or you'll have problems.

There you go, you have just created all the prices for everything for the market of Astrakhan.  It takes less than 30 seconds to create a price list for any city - you just copy and paste twice.  This is the goal for all the work I do otherwise.

A bit more here and then I'll move on to the Prices Table next.  And that will be a long, long post (or possibly two or three).

You'll note two tabs marked 'Birth Process' and 'Sheet2.'  This is a half-done effort I have put down for the time being that determines the birth location for a new character depending on what market zone the character is generated in (you've just learned how to change the data for a market zone).  I've been sort of juggling the numbers, not being happy with them, so I've left off making this table properly.  but you can see from 'Sheet2' a list of zones and what dominant race of humanoid controls that zone.  Thus, it is unlikely that a human character will be from a zone where the population is made up of gnolls.  You can wander through the other bits of tables there - it should be evident what I was trying to do.  Eventually I'll get around to fixing all this and making it pretty, but for the time being it isn't a priority.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Market Cities New Start Table

I was going to start the New Selected table, as I said, but I have to write about the Market Cities table a bit first.  You will note that it says "New Start" ... that is because I'm keeping all the old data for a little while until I'm sure this new system works.  It seems to, but one can never tell.  When I feel confident, I'll change the title to Market Distances, a name that at the moment is being used by the old file.

Before going into it, you will probably have found that you are getting a 'circular reference' warning when you open the file.  There's nothing wrong here - the file is fine.  But you will have to go into your computer and tell it to stop resolving circular issues.  I admit, I'm not sure this can be done on everyone's excel; I use Vista, which I am not sorry to say I love, however others feel about it.  I can tell you how to fix the problem in Vista.  In other formats you're on your own.

The way you do it is to open the Office Button and select Excel Options at the bottom of the pop-up.  Once there, click on 'Formulas,' second from the top on the left.  Then, on the top right of the pop-up for changing formula options, you'll see a button for 'Enable iterative calculation.'  Click it.  Then change the 100 in the box below to 1, and change the 0.001 to 0.  There, you're all set.  No more circular arguments.

However, be warned about randomly messing with this table.  The formulas are interactively sensitive, so if you type the wrong thing on the page you'll get error messages which will cascade everywhere and ruin the data.  At the moment, testing it, I can't seem to think of a way to make it do that (I removed formulas to make it more streamlined, so it might be immune now).

You'll note that if you hit the function key F9, the numbers will change.  This is because there ARE circular functions, but they can't cascade back and forth and crash the files because the iteration has been set to 1.  Each time you refresh, the numbers calculate.  There's a lot of calculation here, so it can take a long time for them to stabilize.  I made some changes last week so they haven't stabilized since that change ... but they will eventually.  It usually takes about five or six minutes of hitting the button.  This is much less time than the manual calculations I used to have to do.  But recently my life got a whole lot easier, and I'm very happy about that.

This table is still in the process of being reformatted; that is why there are only about one fifth of the total cities included.  I'll be getting the rest up in the next few weeks.

The lines in orange are the accurate distance between the cities, selecting the shortest route.  The others are calculations, as the post I linked talks about.  These numbers are used for the Selected table, so I needed to talk about them here.

If you want to mess with this and get the numbers to stabilize, do.  Then change one distance, making it lower, and watch them restabilize.  It's fun.

Someone who's a programmer could probably do this easier than on excel, but I asked for that two and a half years ago and got no comments back.  There are times I hate programmers.

But the guys who invented excel deserve deification.

Sources Table

Because of the size of this table, I used to have it chopped into parts ... but that has become inconvenient and now I just keep it in one piece.  It's 21 megs, big for an excel file, so if your computer is slow you're going to have trouble with this one.  What's really annoying is that it is all empty space.  This format is easiest however for the whole thing, as it can be filtered and compared most easily.

Along the top are 954 possible products and services, and down the side are the various locations for references identified by the aforegoing Encyclopedia folder.  Thus, if you scan down to lines 20 through 26, describing the Archangel "zone" (as I call it), and column AHW ("fish") you can see the Encyclopedia makes one reference to Onega Lake having fish, one reference to "Sudborough" having fish, and three references to the White Sea having fish.

Now, I'd better explain about the names you'll find here.  There is no 'Sudborough' anywhere near Archangel that you'll find on a map or an encyclopedia.  In mixing my world and the D&D world together, certain weird aspects get applied to names of some regions.  Modern Archangelsk, for instance, in actual history was founded as Archangel in 1584 by English traders in a big empty land on the south shore of the White Sea.  In my D&D world, Archangel was founded in 1584 by English traders who stumbled across a small area of winter halflings who had successfully retrenched a region surrounded by gnoll-infested forests.  The English joined with the halflings and the region still battles off gnoll raiders.  The city of 'Sudborough' is a halfling town which in the real, modern world is called "Onega."  So where it says in the encylopedia that Onega produces fish, I write down on this Sources table that Sudborough produces fish.

There are quite a lot of examples of this.  The first two zones, Croft and Khath under ALTSLOK, are four modern oblasts in 1952 Russia: East Kazakhstan (Croft), Gorno-Altay (Roth), Khakass (Khath) and Tuva (Tuvath).  Because in the real world the human population was so low, I filled these regions up with dwarves, being that they are mostly the Altai-Tuva mountain ranges separating modern Siberia from Mongolia.  Croftshelm, Rithdome, Rothering and Bokoth are towns.  Moth Basin is a river valley in modern Khakass.

All of these equivalents are found on the Cities file, in mapmaking, if you want to look and compare.  I'll be getting to a description of the Cities by and by.

For the moment, take note that the KINGDOMS are in capital letters, while the name of the trade zone is in bold, highlighted more darkly to distinguish it.  Totals for the zone are gathered from the individual locations for references (thus the Archangel zone has 5 references for fish, 1 reference for cod and 2 references for herring).  There is a column then for total fish (AJR, darker than the other fish columns), which shows Archangel as having 8 fish references.

So goes the whole table.  Various groups of things are added together for later application in the system, such as grains, pulses, fruits, medicinal plants, woodcrafting, skins, meat and so on.  This is done partly to compensate for having only a certain number of things for which I have adequate production figures, letting me estimate the base amount of said product or group of products being produced in 1650.  There will be more about this, later.

Sorry, I'm jumping around a bit.  Going back to the far left of the table, column D, 'TOTAL REF.', the subscriber can see there are totals for each location.  It would be nice to think that these totals could be used to determine the economy of a specific locale, but this isn't so.  The data simply isn't precise enough for that.  It is good enough (because there is so much of it) for me to apply the later system of distances and availability to get a good set of trading tables ... but this source table is really completely unreliable as hard data.  You can muck with it if you want and try to pound it into that, but I suspect you will be disappointed in the grand picture.  Still, some places do produce a lot of different types of things, and some are much more heterogeneous in products, and something might be gleaned from that.

As you can see, there are a LOT of different places that sources come from.  The sources listed here are in two forms.  Those where the place names have been sorted out into 'zones,' and a second group where they haven't been.  Starting on line 2768, you can see Africa is listed all as one big body (not including Egypt), along with America, China, East Indies, England, France, Greenland, India, Ireland, Japan, Portugal/Spain and Southeast Asia.  These are places where I have gathered the references, so I know those totals, but I have yet to map these areas and thus distribute the sources into their market zones.

You'll note there are references for America and for the East Indies, but that I had said in the Encyclopedia post that I hadn't done those areas yet.  Still, entries in the encyclopedia for European, African and other areas make a general reference here and there to the Americas (especially a long article about gemstones in the book), and those references were duly recorded here.

So what makes a 'zone'?  To begin with, it must have a market city.  Column F shows the number of encyclopedia references to a city being a 'port,' a 'trading centre,' a 'market' or a 'commercial' hub ... and these are all interpreted as 'market.'  Search Hamburg and you'll find 15 references in the markets column.  Bremen in turn came out a 14.  London came in at 12, Barcelona and Lubeck managed 11 and both Shanghai and Constantinople amounted to 10.  I didn't decide how many these places had ... this was the encyclopedia referring to their trading statuses over and over.

You can search out other places in the old world for their totals.

I drew the line at dividing up secondary territories into tinier and tinier zones, so some zones have more than one trading city in them - such as Cuxhaven and Hamburg both being in the Hamburg zone, or a region like Transylvania having six markets: Grosswarden, Hermannstadt, Klausenburg, Kronstadt, Neumarkt and Sathmar.  Those are their 17th century German names.  Klausenburg is modern Cluj, Kronstadt is modern Brasov and so on.  I try to keep the 17th century name for use, but sometimes the actual name is the one shown on the table - I simply haven't gotten around to fixing it.

So, a zone is a secondary region with however many market cities there are, one that has at least one trading city (this is as much because I have stats for population for that region as anything else).  What about a region without a market city?  I then assign that region to a nearby market, one that seems most logical.  Thus, at the very top in the zone of Croft, the region of Roth has no trading city, and is then assigned to Croft.

These zones are the outsource for the trading tables that determine the price of everything.  The subscriber can see that the 'Totals' tab on the table shows only the totals for the various zones, and not the lesser locations within those zones.  It also shows the total number of references for each product:  2,903 market references, 70 tin, 19 raisins, 24 tapestries and so on and on ... 14,879 references in total.

One thing, however,  This table has been updated since it was used to create the next table, called NEW Selected, which I will be talking about soon.  I like to refer to these things as 'incarnations.'  The Incarnation of the pricing table is dependent on the latest updating of the Selected table, which is dependent upon the latest Incarnation of the Sources, Cities and Market Cities (distances) tables, which are in turn dependent upon work done before those tables can be updated.

Thus, if I record from the encyclopedia into the Sources table, and update it, we can assume that the pricing table is now out of date ... until the next time I fix the Selected table based on the new sources I've found.  THEN I can update the prices table.

At the present, I've most recently added much of Africa and Spain to the sources table, but I have yet to upgrade the prices to accept them.  This is typical ... I don't like to update every time there's a change, so I wait until there are a lot of new sources, and then work up through the tables to get them all up to date.  Right now, I am thinking I might get the pricing table up to date sometime after Christmas.  I'll have holiday time to really work in December.

Oh, I was going to say that you can see I've started to sort India into zones.  This is because I'm nearly finished mapping India, and I was interested in seeing - initially - how it would go.  I actually get a kick from this, wondering where the largest numbers of references will come down, even if it isn't hardcore economics data.

Encyclopedia Folder

Might just as well start at the simplest, least interesting thing.  Let me just say I had a bad copy of the folder up the first time - an older version.  The newer version is now in the files, so be sure you're looking at what I uploaded later.  You can tell because Ireland is in the completed files.

Having grown up with a particular encyclopedia my parents possessed, the date of which goes back to 1952, and having been familiar in my youth with all things geography in a really big way, I had long before stumbled across lists of products produced in certain areas at certain times.  If you take a look in the 'Complete Entries' folder, and past that into 'Completed Regions' (there are no other regions at the moment, with completed describing what has been put into the sources table, which we'll get to next), you'll find a long list of the regions I've researched for 'references', as according to the system I described back here.  This is merely the raw data for those references.

Back in the 1990's, when I started recording this information in order to be sure that it was complete, I did not have the internet.  For earlier, failed incarnations of trade tables, going back to the late 80s, I'd just copied the material straight out of the encyclopedias ... but I was always losing pages and I couldn't easily check something that should have been in an area, so in '97 I started writing everything out, straight copying the material out of the encyclopedia.  It made sense, because if I needed to search something other than trade, the data was digital.

This became less and less necessary as the net, and particularly wikipedia, got thorough and reliable.  Finally I started just writing out the products themselves ... though most of the files have a few entries at the beginning when I was copying everything that was relative to 1650 (no later history copied).

Some of it is flotsam and jetsam, a note here or there of something that should have been copied on some other file, but is still a file of its own ('Alba Iulia' for instance).  True to my word, I'm providing the rough data, so I'm not bothering to fancy up the material any more than I need it to be fancied.  I have no real reason to waste time fixing the few bits here and there, I can search them all anyway and they can be just as they are.

You can see an example of me writing everything in the Russia files, and me writing just the products in the France files.  It's been an ongoing project all this past 14 years now.  When I haven't got anything else to do, I just work on more of this.

Going to the top of the 'Encyclopedia' folder, what's there are things I haven't copied out yet (in complete, anyway): Canada, America, the East Indies ... all short, partial files.  The places to be researched - everywhere that has a geographical entry in the encyclopedia - can be found in the 'Working Index,' just a long list of names.  Teal and some brown for Canada/United States, Pink for Latin America and Green for the East Indies and Oceania.  There used to be lists like this for Asia, Europe and Africa, but those have been researched, item by item.

Subscriber's Introduction

This is general information for the subscribers who have come onboard with my proposal.  You now have access to half a gig of materials which I've built and which have accumulated over the years.  This does not represent everything that I've done, or everything that I plan to put forward, but for the time being its a lot to poke through.  I'm going to be describing the tables in a series of posts that can be read here.  If you have questions, please address them here so that I can build up a popular FAQ for the future.  Obviously, if you have anything personal, you can still email me at ... but I'd be just as happy to answer general questions out in the open.

I'd like to say that virtually all of this material is in some state of flux, which me making changes on a non-regular basis.  I tend to work at something until either I dry up on it and need a break for awhile, or until a moment of inspiration hits me on some other project and I go rushing off in that direction.  I will try to outline what's missing, what's half done, and what I hope to do in the future ... and then as I update tables there should be some evidence of my working on those things.

Some of this material is dry, dull data that may not look very interesting.  I've included it so that it can be seen how A becomes B and is turned into C ... like the showing the math work example I gave in a comment a couple of days ago.  I've included my general information for both the maps and the trade tables; at present all the maps ... including many vegetation maps which are not online ... are up to date as of yesterday.  I am nearly finished India.  I only have the Bengal delta of the Ganges and Brahmaputra to do.

Dropbox seems to work excellently ... so WickedMurph, if you're out there somewhere, I'll give you a 20% discount on a subscription for being enormously helpful in this.  It is appreciated.

I'm sure something else will occur to me, but right now I'm going to get started on table descriptions.

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Generated Weather Table

Yes, for a few days I'll probably harp on the proposal I've made this week ... but in the meantime I'm still working on the weather tables.  I'm fairly happy at the moment with temperature, precipitation and wind speed ... I'll be wanting to work on wind direction, probably, and unusual events occurring during storms next.

At the moment, however, the below table is generated from inputing the average low, the average high and the number of days per month with precipitation.  These are very easy statistics to gather, easy to create yourself for your own campaign, and easy to steal from a part of the world you're having your campaign occur.  True, at the moment they are detailed for temperate and arctic weather conditions - deserts and tropical jungles will need changes to be made, based on Koppen's Climate Classification system ... but one thing at a time.

Here is the table, generated for weather in Cuxhaven, where my offline party is, for August.  Observers will note that the party has already experienced those conditions shown for the 15th.  I can generate the rest of this at a click, so these are probably NOT the conditions the party will experience when they actaully wake up on the 16th.

Rainfall times occur at some point during the period indicated, which can be divided into 6 hour periods for convenience - though not necessarily.  A day's typical low occurs just before sun rise, and the high usually mid-afternoon, points in the day that are typically only 9 hours apart.  But since those float, a DM is justified in working the details out as desired.

Obviously, this is only going to get more and more complicated the more features I add to it over time.  And I should add that this table is meant to be fitted seamlessly with the wilderness damage effects table which I have spoken about from time to time.  Development never ends.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Putting It Right Out There

Seems to me that there is little reason to wait.  If subscribers would like to jump on board with the offer made in the previous post, I will have time to start delivering material to you in some form this Sunday, October 23 - understanding that the data will be delivered in exactly the format and state that it exists at present on my computer.  I'm not going to spend time cleaning up things, though I will post upon each file so that the subscriber can understand what they're looking at and how it is applied.  I don't want to spend my life answering questions about how to use excel/publisher or how excel/publisher works, but I will explain how I've used it and what the various things are meant to accomplish and even how they might be altered by the subscriber for their own purpose.

Donations can be delivered to me using the "Donate" button on the right; please remember to calculate the surcharge for paypal.  If you want to pay me by some other means, you'll have to contact me through and work that out with me.

For those who don't know, and who may or may not be having trust issues, my name is Alexis Smolensk.  To the best of my knowledge most of the google references on the web do in fact refer to me, including my IMDb listing.  I hope not to encourage any stalkers, but you never know.

I am offering a piece of me for sale.  I am completely sincere.  I do not believe that anyone who has an interest in granular game design will be disappointed.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

With Greater Consideration Towards the Subscriber

So, here is the proposal:

1.  You pay me $100.

2.  For six months, I will send you whatever tables I am working on, plus whatever back tables necessary to understand what I'm working on now.  This will include the present weather tables, the wilderness damage tables I will be working on, my character sheet table, my maps in Publisher format, and ALL my trade tables.  I will send you anything that has been updated every two weeks as I move forward, and you will get access to any new idea or table I start in that time.

I'm quite serious.

The offer is restricted to people whom I can reasonably trust.  It also depends on my getting a large enough response, so comment if you'd choke up the cash.

Tell me I'm crazy.


In consideration, I see three principle problems.  The first would be that the total collection of all this material represents hundreds of megabytes of information.  Using email, this will take a great deal of trouble to send to subscribers.  Not in the long run, where what I can create in a two-week period email would probably handle.  But the initial dump of information is daunting.

I could use a central server to dump information on, which could then be retrieved; however, any server could then be hacked for the material, and so the need for security creates possibly more problems than it solves.

The second problem would be that I have not taken the time to write down how some of the material is used and applied.  The trade system, for instance, requires several files which I know how to use to support the others ... this would have to be described and written about, probably on this blog, so that it could be implemented by subscribers.  This is by no means impossible.

Finally, there is the matter of my contractual obligation.  How does the subscriber know that I am sending 'everything.'  Does 'everything' include material on my computer that is not D&D oriented?  Does it include material I would consider resembles the copywritten text of published books, written out for my benefit but not suitable for distribution in exchange for money?  This is a problem.  I want the subscriber to feel he or she is getting his or her money's worth, but I don't want to feel 'owned' or compelled to break my own personal codes about privacy.

All I can say is that my wish is to send 'everything' that I have personally created that is as original to D&D as I can make it, and to send the material I am producing on a bi-weekly basis.  So 'everything' does NOT include material that is not created by me, or material which is not related to Dungeons and Dragons.  So the agreement must be one of mutual trust and regard; that the subscriber trusts me to be forthcoming, and that I trust the subscriber to keep the information and not distribute it flagrantly to others.  In terms of business, the subscriber's hundred dollars is not a 'payment' but a 'donation,' and my returning material in kind is a 'donation' also.

I've sold many a subscription to magazines that had no more contractual obligations than that.  I trust this will satisfy the readership.

Big Ego

While the readers of YDIS are taking bets on how long it will take before my head explodes and I crumble into a weeping pool of jelly locked up in an asylum somewhere; and while I am threatened with the destroying the livelihood of some people; and while I am chastised one more time for being a bad person with bad motives who needs to learn how not to be bad ... I have to tell you all, the internet is a funny, frustrating, wonderful place.

As much as I feel we will all soon be serfs forced to work by law for some company who will deny our right to quit, seek a better position or even advance from within, and as much as I feel the future holds the promise that things will get much, much worse than they already are, I am glad that I live in the time that I live in.  I am glad for the proliferation of porn, for the opportunity to speak to large numbers of persons without the need for spending cash out of my pocket, the fingertip response to the obtaining of information on every possible subject, both approved and disapproved.  I am glad for the opportunity to speak my mind and to have others, for good or ill, speak back their minds to me.  This is a great time.  This is more fun than the inventors of barrels and monkeys could have ever hoped to devise.  It's a thrill to know that having my mind entertained for a lifetime requires no more than a chair, a computer and an internet connection ... mostly because my mind knew how to do it before the last of those things was invented.

And so a word for the sake of general information.  I am an extraordinarily happy person.  Yes, I know, I'm not the writer I still hope to be.  I don't possess world domination.  But when I am writing about something that matters to me, I'm happy.  And when I am kicking the shit out of someone for pissing me off by saying something stupid, I'm happy.  There is nothing worse in this world that stupid people saying stupid things and not being called on them.  (This is why Jon Stewart ought to be given a personal channel in Canada, government funding and global distribution - so he can go on kicking the crap out of stupidity in the states and he wouldn't have to occasionally kow-tow to the people who pay his salary, something he has to do now and then, like fingernails on a blackboard).

If those persons who I have kicked and hurt find glee in writing blog posts about me and my insanity, my blindness or my obvious mental retardation, good for them.  If, however, they feel that somehow said blogposts will affect my behavior in such a way as to hurt my ego, it might help if those posts were not written within hours of my writing something here.  Oh yes, woe is me, my ego has been well and truly crushed, so many times, by such instant and - I have to say - predictable attention.

Sometimes I think I am providing a small cottage industry for bloggers who have run out of things to say about things that really matter, so that they can gain a few more followers and a little bounce on their blog hits - and thus their own egos - because I am there to hate.

Well, let us all lift our egos together in song.  These are wonderful days, and they will not come again.

Not Simulation & Not Prediction; Just Presentation

It's not that I'm harping on this subject, it's only that I have a sustained attention span, and since weather is what I'm working on when I'm not posting, working, eating, sleeping, having sex and so on, I'm going to write a little bit more about weather.  I know those gentle readers with ADHD will suffer a little, but brighten up - it looks to be a short post.

A number of people have suggested sources associated with modern, scientific weather prediction models and prognostic climate charts, etcetera, and while I appreciate the interest I have to tell you that anything associated with meteorological prediction models is of no use to me at all.  I'd like to explain why.

The purpose of mathematical prediction of the weather as carried forth by scientific meteorologists is to produce a wide-scale model in order to gauge the effect upon a large number of people, or upon crop production, transport, communications and so on.  If temperature goes up, how will that affect the creation of hurricanes, say, and how will that affect the eastern seaboard of North America?  Can we expect a bad winter if there's increased sunspot activity?  Whatever.  In any event, like I said, it is of no use to me.

I am not attempting in any way to build a weather model that takes into account the weather for the whole coastal region of, say, Lower Saxony and Denmark, which surrounds the online party.  The only thing I need to know is what is the weather like in the fifty foot circle surrounding the party.  Beyond that, I don't care.  Because of this, the weather chart I make has to be party-centric.  I need to know if it is raining, or snowing, or hailing, or sunny.  I don't need to know if there's a complicated storm front moving across the whole continent and how that is slamming against the low originating in the Norwegian Sea.

There might be something to be said for devastation caused by a particular storm ... but the facts are that parties in the 17th century move pretty slowly and over a small area in a given length of time, so if the party itself isn't actually devastated by the storm, I don't care if parts of Denmark are.  I can assume they'll be fixed by the time the party gets there.

There is a tendency to overthink tables in general.  My trade tables, for another example, are designed to do one thing: produce a price at the counter the party needs to pay.  They do provide some information about the movement of goods and services in general, but this information - I have to say - gets a little wonky if you look at it too closely.  If you try to apply the 'sources' of trade exactly as written, you will discover two towns of the same size right next to each vastly differing in production and services, and therefore real value ... which means the system breaks down if used to try to determine per capita income.  I don't worry about that.  The system wasn't designed to deliver that kind of information.  It is designed to have an axe cost this much in this market, and that much in that market, and that is all.  And in this function, it works marvelously.

A few days ago I made reference to the frontages movie studios made of towns for the camera to see when filming the actors walk along a street.  For the purpose of the game, I don't need tables that looks behind the buildings any more than the camera does.  This is game design, not abstract modelling for the real world, and it helps to remember the purpose of that design.

If you let yourself get bogged down in things that really don't matter, you'll never get anything you try to do done.  Which won't matter anyway, because it won't serve a purpose your players will care about.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Avoiding DTER

If you want to create a more elaborate table, the first thing you must dispense with is the flat, linear construction of "die total equals result."  You see the table everywhere:  roll a d6; 1 = bugbears, 2 = goblins, 3 = orcs ... and so on.  And then, when you have completed the die roll, and the encounter, you go back to the same die roll to produce another encounter.  And after you've played using a table like this for a long time, you get sick of tables and go looking for some other aspect of D&D in which to get interested.

Now I want the gentle reader to recognize that even a board game, the thing that most D&D players decry as the evil thing that D&D has superseded, is more complex that what the DTER (die-total-equals-result) methodology offers.  Let us consider, because it is familiar, the game of Monopoly.

Let's postulate the car, the thimble and the iron sitting upon the GO square.  Two dice are rolled for each.  The car gets a four and a five and moves to Connecticut Avenue and buys it.  The thimble gets a two and a three and moves to Reading Railroad and buys it.  The iron rolls two threes, landing on Oriental Avenue - buying it - and then rolls again, getting a five and a two and ending up on States Avenue - which the iron also buys.

When the next turn starts, the pieces do not move back to the beginning and start again.  No, they proceed from the point where they are at and new results occur.  Each turn is a stepping stone towards the next turn; each previous turn creates a formula that changes the position of the pieces for the rest of the game ... and in this formula a multiplicity of games results that are unpredictable and therefore consistently interesting to people.  Monopoly is still played as a game for this reason.

However, the DTER method does NOT provide this.  When you roll the die that determines that you throw orcs at the party, DTER tables do NOT then provide a stepping stone for the next roll.  The next roll occurs completely separate from the previous roll and for that reason the table is absolutely and completely useless for the construction of a sandbox world.

What would be the alternative?  Well, to describe that, allow me to propose another example, also from the familiar file.  Consider the game twister.

Here we have an extremely simple catalyst.  We have four fundamental body parts: your left and right hands, and your left and right feet.  And we have four colors: blue, yellow, red and green.  When the arrow is spun, determining this particular body part must be applied to that particular color, we have 16 possibilities.  This does not seem like very many ... but the game transcends the possibility in favor of something more important:  the building up of result upon result.  It isn't just that you put your left hand on the yellow circle, it is that then something will need to be done with your right hand, and then your right foot, and so on, while other people are also attempting to contort their bodies likewise.

If you are going to design tables for D&D you must think at least along the lines of Monopoly and Twister.  How does this result lead to the next result?  How does the combination of these results ultimately create new and unique sequences or troubles that are, at present, unexpected or unfamiliar?

In making a weather table, for instance, if I randomly produce a likelihood for high humidity; and I randomly produce a temperature; and I randomly produce the occurrence of a warm front or a cold front ... then how does the combination of these things produce OTHER results, such as fog, violent storms, high winds, a beautiful dry sunny day, and so on and so forth.  To simplify it, if I roll three d6, they give me 16 possible results, balanced on a bell curve.  But if I roll three d6, and the specific results of each of the three dice affect the result of the other two, then I produce 216 possible results.  To make that more clear, if I designate the first die to be a type of vessel, and the second die to be a given weather result, and the third die to be a tactic for avoiding the oncoming vessel, then the combination of all three becomes a necessary interpretation of how A affects B which is in turn affected by C ... and not just designated possibilities.  Do you see?  The results are logical possibilties, given the perameters of the model you construct.  If A lands at Connecticut, and B lands on Reading, and C lands on States, we have a model to guess at who is the most likely person to successfully obtain the Electric Company.

And if the next die 6 I add to this mix does NOT reset the game back at GO, I have 1,296 results to interpret.  And the next die produces 7,776 results that can be interpreted.

Finally, if we then understand that the individual constructions which produce the interpreted results can then be balanced to fit a given circumstance, so that 3d6 can be used to determine the type of vessel, and a number of different dice and results can be used to determine the weather, and player choice can determine the tactic, we have an untallied number of results ... with possibilities worthy of making the game forever interesting.

No, obviously, it isn't easy.  But the payoff is greater than crappy DTER tables can offer.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Sandbox Magician

I hear it expressed fairly often that the principle reasons for a sandbox campaign being difficult to run is the vast number of possibilities that present themselves, which the DM cannot possibly account for, or present.  It is generally perceived, for instance, that if the party is on a particular street, that every building on that street must have a ready-made account of who lives there, how they fit into the campaign, what adventure hook they offer and so on and so forth ... BEFORE the party makes a choice about what to do.  When blowing this up to a world-wide scale, it makes it look like a sandbox is insanely impossible.

A sandbox is nothing of the sort.

It help to think of old movie lots where most of the buildings were cleverly designed facings, which had no actual contents behind them.  The windows might appear to have wares, people might come out through the doors or lean against the frontages, but it was all camera angles and carefully concealed falsehoods.  Building half frames is much cheaper and saves a lot of time.

In a movie, obviously, we know the actors aren't going into the bank or the general store, so they can be designed solely for how they will appear on camera as the lead walks by.  The question arises, how do we know the players in a campaign won't do otherwise?

Perhaps it is giving away too much of a secret, but the principles lie in the same presentation as that offered by an illusionist or other form of magician.  You raise the left hand, you wave the hell out of it, you draw the player's attentions to what you going to do with the left hand, and then you hit them with the trick.  You don't let them walk into the bank because something really, really interesting happens on the street that draws their attention.

There are a couple of reasons this works.  To begin with, chances are the players are not invested emotionally by the prospect of walking into a bank just to see what is there.  Chances are, the players in your half-made town are only kind of wandering around seeing what there is to see, and as such are not terribly certain that the bank is going to be all that interesting anyway.  If something interesting happens on the street, the player is likely to think, better the interesting thing I can see, than the maybe-probably-boring not-definitely-interesting thing I can't see.  And in any case, whatever might be in the bank can wait.  Right now, this terrible accident/fight/mud-throwing or pie-throwing contest happening in the street right now seems to be something they really ought to catch while its ON.

The magician knows the audience will be looking at the stage, because the stage is where stuff happens.  He or she can count on the audience not excessively looking about them at the ceiling, or the drapery, or the other people ... and just in case they feel compelled to do so, the lights are brought down to focus attention on the stage.  When you are running a sandbox, you have to learn to do the same thing.  Yes, the whole street IS available for examination, but most players really just want something of interest to occur that will take up their attention for the moment.

Another thing the magician knows is the audience's habits.  Knowing how people will respond to certain stimuli is of HUGE importance in running as a DM.  Reading a few texts of psychology, or expanding your knowledge of human behavior, and testing that knowledge, will do more to improve your dungeon mastering than a hundred half-thought-out treatises describing being a better DM.  Human beings are in fact very predictable.  Magicians and other sales-pitch artists KNOW this.  You can, with a little talent and patience, learn to make people jump and change their minds by feeding them exactly the right information ... and D&D is tailor-made for inventing information designed to misdirect or correctly direct your players.  The hand waving can get immensely enticing, and if you wave that sucker just right, you can get your players to fall for it every time.  Why?  Because they WANT to fall for it.  Falling for it is FUN.  That's what magicians know.  Audiences are willing, happy, cheerful dupes who want to be duped.  It's what they pay for.

Of course there's the cynic in the audience trying to figure out how its done.  And your players will usually include at least one cynic who raises an eyebrow every time a cart falls over, or an NPC staggers in the door bleeding from a wound, or a child stumbled through the scene calling for its mother.  A cynic only does this because he or she believes they have seen it all, and that they can 'guess' at what's coming next.  So the sniff and snort at the pie-throwing in the street and stomp into the bank anyway.

What's really funny about this behavior is that it, too, can be predicted.  Once you know the player is a cynic, and once he or she has made it clear that they WON'T be fooled, you can lay the trap for them again and again, only with a little more subtle handwaving than before.  A very good magician knows that the cynic in the audience is intensely looking for anything that looks out of place in the scene ... and so all the magician has to do it hang a second very subtle oddity on some part of their person, to draw the cynic's attention.  "Hah!" says the cynic, "It isn't the hand, it's the piece of metal on their hat!  Look at it!  Can't you see it?"  And then the cynic spends the next three weeks trying to figure out how that metal was absolutely necessary to making the trick work.  When of course it wasn't.  At all.

Really.  Penn & Teller are absolute masters at this sort of thing.  They usually have four or five fake elements in view, to screw with your damn head.

As a DM, you're probably not going to be Penn & Teller, but you will do very well to have something in the bank that is also 'interesting' and attention-drawing, which could easily be in the tavern, or the inn, or in a back alley, or anywhere at all in fact that the cynic insists on going anyway.

It isn't necessary to have a different something in each possible pathway - its only necessary to have something that can fit in ANY possible pathway ... that can be there to lead the player forward into some inviegled idea of your own making, which the player will cheerfully pursue because it sounds interesting.

The problem with railroading doesn't come up because you haven't got something that fits into every box ... the problem with railroading happens when you, the DM, haven't got a second trick up your sleeve - and you push and push the players to watch the one trick you have to show.  A good magician should be full of tricks - and if the audience doesn't like this one, there should always be one more up the sleeve that can be slipped out while the hand is waving.