Friday, November 20, 2015

Stumbling Blocks II

Okay, back to brass tacks.

My second stumbling blog in the algorithm again puts me in the position of having to explain the presence of something not accounted for in the tech 5/tech 6 descriptions I've offered: market cities.

It says very clearly on the tech 6 page, quoted, "There will be no market, no money exchange, no services of any kind, nothing that can be bought . . ."  We can presume the same is true for the lower tech of 5, so what the hell.  How can there be markets?

Hm, yes, it is a puzzlement.

As with the first stumbling blocks post, the brand spanking new tech system has no direct relationship to the very old trade system - a trade system that established where market cities were located long before I remotely conceived of the present technological limitations.

So, as before, we have things to consider:

a)  Even though the tech in an area is very low, this doesn't keep outsiders from establishing trading posts within a given territory.  The Arabs did it along the coast of East Africa, the Chinese did it throughout the East Indies, Europeans did it in West Africa and the Caribbean, etc.  Other examples would be the Portuguese in Japan and Oman, the English trading post at Archangelsk and Venetian traders in the Crimean Tartar.  Many of these trade posts never developed as a political entity, so that they were under the suzerainty and legal system of the region with which they traded.  Some did develop political hegemonies (the English, Portuguese and French in India) but often after as much as a century of being at the mercy of the locals.  These foreigners did not freely share tech with the locals for damn good reasons; we shouldn't think that magic isn't treated with all the restrictions of chemistry and firearms (which didn't become widespread in native populations until the 18th century, a hundred years after my world takes place).'

b) Many of the low tech regions are part of larger political entities; it follows that trading posts would be established by higher tech masters in order to usefully exploit resources in low tech regions.

c) Players want to buy stuff.

All three of these, particularly the last, are reasons to maintain the presence of market cities.

Prior to this tech idea, I've allowed players to buy provisions and a limited number of artisan services (farrier work for horses, blacksmithing repairs, things an inn would sell or whatever local goods might be produced in an area) in any village, town or city, regardless of its trading status.  If, however, the players want something more sophisticated, they have to make a trip to a specific town designated as a market.  Not all markets are large cities and not all large cities are markets.  The encyclopedia I use must make specific reference to a city being a port, a junction, a commercial or economic centre, a trading center for the region's products and so on - which the encyclopedia describes readily as this is one of the chief ways in which to describe a city's value and importance.  If the encyclopedia makes no mention at all of a city's economy, I've chosen to read that as saying the city exists for some other reason than trade.

The change for a tech 5/tech 6 culture would be that NO products or services of any kind are available in ordinary settlements, period.  The markets, however, would still import and sell goods as they did previously.

Before an assumption is made about these markets, however, I must rush to assure the reader that these have never been market towns of great importance.  I had already designed my market/trade system to severely punish any town, even a market town, if it was out of the way - and most of these towns really are.

Garka, for instance, mentioned in the previous post, is a market town in the tech 5 region of Lungos Nad.  It is located on the Yenisey river and imports/exports with just two other market cities:  Yaxjasso, a city 18 days upriver, also on the Yenisey, and Dik'Don, an outpost on the Kara Sea some 140 miles beyond the Yenisey's mouth.  Dik'Don is 11.8 days away.

This may not seem far, but in terms of available products for purchase, it is crippling.  Dik'Don is literally in the middle of nowhere and connects to no other trading city except Garka.  Yaxjasso is a really big hobgoblin city, 49 000 people, with as many as 44 references (the world possesses more than 31 thousand total).  Yet Yaxjasso is 20+ days from any other trading city beyond it.  What actually reaches the market of Garka is not much. Mostly, Garka exists as a distribution point, gathering the goods of Lungos Nad (15 references) and pushing them up river.

So when I say the market towns in tech 5 regions are active, that's not saying much.

Some markets in tech 6 regions are more important.  One notable example is Tsaritsyn (modern day Volgograd, also Stalingrad), on the Volga river, a connecting link along the northern Silk Road from Astrakhan to the Black Sea.  Tsaritsyn cannot be described as off the beaten track - it is dead on the track as 'beaten' is defined.

Yet Tsaritsyn wasn't founded until 1589 (look it up).  The place where goods are transferred from the river to caravans heading west was used for centuries before anyone built a city there.  Thus, most of the trade going past Tsaritsyn bypasses the town - and no wonder, since it only has a population of 6,794.  It is a burg, hardly worth noticing, even though it does gather in 32 references from all over the territory it masters.  None of those other towns in the territory have as many as 650 residents; these are scattered over 94 hexes.  So while Tsaritsyn logically does have some trade, tech 6 perfectly defines the rest of the territory.

The question is, does the presence of a market make the town of Tsaritsyn itself better than tech 6?

I don't think so.  Even if there are goods that are available for purchase - a sword, say, which wasn't included in my tech 6 description - I would argue there's no one to teach a local resident how to use the sword.  If a local bought one, they'd pretty much use it as a club; and I'd define it as a club in a battle for combat rule purposes.  Only, given the cost of a sword vs the cost of a club, a sword would probably be kept as a decoration in this tech 6 province, not as a weapon.

But compare this argument (and this system) with actual history regarding the region of the Don Cossacks, which I've also defined as tech 6.  History, actual history, says that I'm wrong. That the cossacks did use swords, in fact they were famous for using swords.  And I've said so right on this blog.

Uh oh, what do I do now?  The algorithm has failed, hasn't it?

Bullshit.  I'm not running a simulation. Guess what - the details surrounding the lifestyle and practice of Don Cossacks has just been changed.  What a pity.  I guess all those sword details now apply to other cossacks, from other regions with a higher tech.

I don't feel a bit bad about that.  The algorithm, to me, is more important than maintaining historical accuracy.  I'm running a game here, not a history class.  I'm quite content to deviate from the world's reality if it means nailing down, at last, just what life for the Players will be like in a given part of that world.

Some people online will shake their heads and care about that.  But my players?  They won't feel a bit bad about it, either.  Plenty of places in the world will still exist that use swords.


  1. Hi Alexis,
    Youre welcome.

    Question about higher tech enclaves within a lower tech region...

    Would it be useful to distinguish between available tech goods/services (what the PCs can readily buy, get repaired, get trained for)from what exists but isnt available to outsiders?

    What sort of leakage of goods could occur from an enclave (and how far)that would not change the signature Tech of the region? How porous is the enclave?

    What comes to mind is a WW2 miliary base on a pacific island. Local natives may be able to readily obtain medical attention, tobacco, matches, petrol, tinned food and modern trinkets but not firearms. Local chief may wear a pistol as a symbol of authority, but wouldnt sell it and would not necessarily be able to use it (lack of ammo, maintenance or training).

    If PCs were to establish their own enclave, market town or whatnot, what would it take to begin to impact on the Tech of the region, intended or unintended?


  2. kimbo,

    That would depend on the size of the territory the players were attempting to change. Remember that there are going to be regions side by side with different techs that are no more than one hex in size, compared to the huge size of Lungos Nad. It would be easier to upgrade one of those smaller territories than a big one.

    But if you're asking, would I allow it, the answer is yes. If the players want to do it.

    The markets will leak goods into a lower tech area - and I might set up so that some of this leakage will accumulate as treasure the players can acquire - so long as that doesn't diminish the campaign's tension.

  3. It seems that readers have a hard time figuring you out Alexis. You're very open about your philosophy and design goals, but I know a lot of people in the gaming hobby just don't approach the game anything like how you do. You may very well be unique.

    I think people expect you to prize "realism" over accepting results, as the detailed systems that you create are similar only to systems considered "simulationist." Your complex systems focus on creating predictability and verisimilitude in your game world so as to better arm your players to interact with it without having to rely on the kludge of DM fiat, but because your changes focus on the world it seems people have a hard time seeing how it benefits the player.

    It's probably because so many of us are relying on the same kludges, the same structures, and the same stories we always have.

    It is fascinating watching you integrate your algorithms and systems though. It may seem like madness to when you change or even throw out old things that you've worked on for so long, but the world would be a better place if people were willing to rebuild things that were no longer working, regardless of the work already put into them.


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