Thursday, November 19, 2015

Stumbling Blocks

I'm coming across my first hurdle with the technology levels - the sort of hurdle that matters to me but which makes a lot of my readers pound their heads on desks wondering why in the hell I care.  Let's just remember I'm both crazy and a nerd.

It's my trade tables.  These are based on an encyclopedia, giving me a list of references for resources and services throughout my world.  The actual things that are connected to their geographical source are not determined by me, but by that encyclopedia - and as such, are in no way limited by the so-called tech system I'm developing.

I'll give an example.  There's a huge region that I've identified in my world as Lungos Nad.  This corresponds to the central part of a modern day massive Russian territory (krai) in Siberia, Krasnoyarsk.  It's the sort of world region that people in the west have never heard of.  In the 17th century, when my world takes place, it was mostly empty - so I filled it with gnolls (in the far north) and hobgoblins, just to give the region some flavor.

In the krai, in the far north, there is a city called Norilsk.  It was founded in the 1920s and quickly expanded into an important coal-mining centre, particularly during the World War II when Russia removed its industrial complex from the German front.  A host of valuable mineral deposits were also found there and are now exploited extensively.  At the time my encyclopedia was published, however (1952), the only thing worth mentioning - apparently - was the coal.  My encyclopedia mentions coal mining there on five different occasions, making it pretty important.

When I made the area into hobgoblin land (Vostoch), I naturally located a hobgoblin city where Norilsk is, presuming it would have been founded centuries earlier (after all, hobgoblin culture originates in central Siberia, right?).  I gave it a new name, Gilkask, something I think sounds more hobgoblinish.  In my world, it was founded in 746 AD and has a population of 6,780.  And in keeping with the spirit of the location, to give the city some dimension, I awarded the five references to coal mining in the region to 'Gilkask' that were given to Norilsk.  Only, these are now hobgoblin coal mines, for the hobgoblin ironmongering industry that is to be found in the environs of southern Vostoch.

Follow?  Well, even if the reader doesn't . . .

A couple of days ago, I've just designated that whole area as tech 5.  No mining.  Mining, I wrote yesterday, is tech 6.  Do I:

a) call Gilkask an exception, creating a precedent for endless exceptions whenever things get inconvenient, until the exceptions basically break the system and make it worthless?

b) remove the coal from Gilkask - and all mining references from any tech 5 region - in order to refine the previous trade system to reflect the new tech system, dovetailing the two systems together.

I'm inclined to do the latter; in fact, that is my desire.  There's just one problem.  As it happens, of all the areas defined as tech 5, Gilkask/Norilsk is the largest single habitation.  The next largest is a place called Garka (pop., 3035), also in Lungos Nad, based on a Russian city called 'Igarka.'  Gilkask is incredibly off the beaten track and surrounded by the Tunguska plateau - a huge mass of ancient, extruded volcanic rock that doesn't even get a Wikipedia entry, it is so remote - known chiefly for the event that occurred there in 1908.

If I take away the coal, Gilkask has no reason for being there.

I would normally argue that it is therefore some sort of religious site or institute of learning, but neither of those exist in a tech 5 region, either.

So why is it there?  Well, yes, because I'm shoehorning the real world into D&D, but buy into the fantasy, people!  For what reason could it exist, that far north, if not for economic, academic, political or religious reasons?  For my part, I can't embrace bullshit handwaving: "The Gods want it to be there" or some such crap.

My best argument is that the mammoth herds in the area are simply gigantic.  Hunting is a tech 5 technology, so Gilkask could be a central gathering place for scores of clans that gather there in tough times to hunt meat and skin mammoths.  However . . .

That should mean that Gilkask deserves a game meat or hides reference on the sources table, which would mean making one up and adding it, even though it isn't mentioned by the encyclopedia.  That sounds fine - except that it would be making an exception, creating a precedent for endless exceptions whenever things get inconvenient, until the exceptions basically break the system and make it worthless.

Yes, something I care about.

Ah well, no party player is ever going to go there, right?  And no player has the least understanding of any of these tables I post, or any concern about them, so if Gilkask is a big hobgoblin tent city in the middle of nowhere with no purpose at all, who is going to care - except me.

Sigh.  That's just poor, lazy thinking.  I'm sure I can do better.  I'm sure, if a player ever does go there, for whatever reason, I will have a damn good reason for Gilkask existing.  Maybe the hobgoblins just go there to pointlessly make tools.


  1. "The area is tech 5." (A) contradicts "Gilkask is a developed settlement." (B) The idea that letting Gilkask be a developed settlement while being in a tech 5 area makes it an exception is true only if you came up with A before you came with B. If you didn't, then it means that the mistake resides in making the whole area tech 5. Maybe the area designated as tech 5 is too large. Maybe the mere presence of Gilkask makes it not tech 5 at all. After all, even if such areas of lesser technological and civilizational still exist in the 17th, they are still steadily shrinking in the face of the conquest, colonization, and simple interaction with a more formalized way of life, making them the exception. In any case, maybe you needn't make an exception, but adjust the size and/or configuration of areas according to pre-existing material, or make a systemic modification that would cover any possible problem of this kind, by giving an area several tech levels with coefficients, making it work like the encounter system : "In this area you have X chances to meet a person from a tech 5 culture, and Y chances to see traces of a tech 9 culture." This would make it useful to determine how players deciding to settle a comparatively primitive area affect the tech level thereof, such as what might happen for the players of the online campaign.

  2. Montagne,

    The words "developed area" were meant to be taken in the context of the tech 5 post. That is, where a residency has collected based around impermanent structures and a communal familiarity, where the residents were largely migratory and there only part of the year.

    The "mistake" as you call it is fundamental to the algorithm I'm designing. The point in designing an algorithm is to force me to adapt myself to thinking differently about areas, so that I don't constantly rely upon what is familiar in terms of world design - i.e., the hammering of what immediately seems either inconvenient or unexpected into a preconceived notion such as "the mere presence of Gilkask makes [the region] not tech 5 at all."

    Obscure regions were not "steadily shrinking in the face of conquest, colonization and simple interaction" in the 17th century. You're thinking of the late 20th century. The region around Norilsk experienced NO encroachment until 325 years after my world takes place. So, argument not relevant.

    Adjusting the size of the city is also an exception. City sizes are based off another algorithm. It is an error to suppose that any of my world design is based on my whim.

    If I adapt a tech system based on a random number, as you suggest, I can count on the players seeking out the highest number that can randomly occur, rather than be forced to accept the hard limit of the lower level.

    I wrote the post to give a sense of my head space (crazy and nerdy) in terms of world design. I'm perfectly aware of all the options you propose - and equally aware of how others cling to these justifications in THEIR world building. Obviously, I could just scratch out anything I want.

    This post is an effort to explain why that is a bad idea. Because it makes it easy to do this EVERY TIME, until the world just becomes one big heterogeneous beige.

  3. Alexis,

    I in no way meant that you should scratch out anything in favor of blindly throwing dices. I did not, in fact meant that you "should" do anything. I suggested that that areas be not uniformly of a tech level (thus addressing your algorithm rather than its results), in the same way that entering a given hex doesn't necessarily mean "You encounter a manticore." That would make Lungos Nad Tech 5: 1; Tech 9: 9 to convey the general prevalence of the tech levels within that area. As I see it, either Lungos Nad is tech 5, or it is tech 6 or higher, or it is both tech 5 and tech 6 or higher depending on where, when and other points of context which could be modelized, not randomly, but the procedurally. In other words, dices would not create any part of your world, but merely represent the player's chances of interacting with epiphenomena of predetermined tech levels, making it similar in spirit to your encounter system.

    Too, I meant that the low-tech areas had been steadily shrinking not with regards to the 17th century, but with regards to human history as a whole. That does not take into account Dark Ages, Die-offs, Migration Periods and the like, so "Steadily" was a poor choice of words, but the point was: since interaction between cultures (and their tech-levels) blur the designation of areas with regards to their tech-levels, why not make that interaction part of the algorithm in the first place ?

  4. Hi Alexis
    I can see that this issue will keep cropping up because of the 1952 source material, I understand the desire for an in-principle elegant solution rather the ad-hoc.

    Option (C) substitute an equivalent that fits the other criteria

    Peat, coal and jet could be collected from abundant surface deposits. Would this strictly require mining tech?

    This opens up other questions as to why hunter-gather type group would extract & use this stuff and how it would sustain a large settlement.


  5. Montagne,

    You don't understand that the algorithm supposes that the region's boundaries are fixed according to the degree of uniformity I'm applying.

    It is all nice to say that the area be not uniformly based on a single tech level, but based on what? Where are your figures? Please show your math. Please give me a solid, absolute definition for when this non-uniformity applies and how it applies differently to separate areas of the world in a manner that does not rely upon your given judgement on a given day!

    I don't know how to make you understand that the opinion you're exposing, while reasonable, is also completely ad hoc and based upon your whim at the moment of writing. I'm basing my algorithm on density numbers that were created outside my opinion. I'm not saying that Lungos Nad is tech 5 because it sounds good, I like the idea, I'm saying the numbers say this and now I have no choice about it.

    Let me repeat. I have no choice about the tech level that exists in Lungos Nad.

    I'm quite sure you don't understand that point of view. I've tried to explain it in another post, but I have very little faith that it will clarify my position.

    Having proposed the structure, I have no decision making process for determining what tech level any part of my world is. At present, the only power I have is to make a reasonable claim as to what tech level 5, 6, 7 and so on is - but having decided that, each tech level (and regions corresponding there to) must be universal in obedience to that decision. No compromise can be made regarding one city in one territory that doesn't conveniently fit the formula. It must fit the formula, by definition - thus I must change how I view Gilkask, rather than change how Gilkask exists in order to fit my personal notions about how a place like that is.

    Regarding world shrinkage - I don't think you have a very clear idea of how HUGE the world really is. I can tell you from mapping the world based on present day habitation statistics: the world is unimaginably empty of civilization.

  6. Let me try a different argument.

    I have hundreds of regions in my world and they will correspond to every tech level I can create. I don't need a Gilkask to exist at tech six or more because there will be plenty of other cities, towns and villages (more than 13,000) that can fill the role of a higher tech community.

    I need a tech 5 Gilkask, because it will be the ONLY ONE in all of my world. Why would I compromise that?

  7. kimbo,

    That is a DAMN good idea that I admit I missed!

    In fact, that does apply universally across the whole resource situation; where possible, reduce the tech level of the resource produced in the same category (in this case, fuel) to the highest possible tech level equivalent (peat for coal).

    I am most grateful. I believe I shall do that.

  8. Alexis,

    Please (and I ask you to believe me when I'm saying I am not being flippant), please don't presume upon my understanding or lack thereof. It is wrong, especially since willfully or not, you have mischaracterized my words several time : Again, I in no way suggested that you should change the data to fit your whim, rather than change your views to fit the data. If I had suggested such, you would be able to quote me on that.

    If I propose that you impart a change on your algorithm, then by the definition of algorithm, the solution (whether appropriate or not) is not ad hoc but systemic.

    For example : "Let me repeat. I have no choice about the tech level that exists in Lungos Nad."

    I did not, in no way, shape or form, say or suggest that. What I did say was that Lungos Nad's tech level was either 5, or whatever the tech level of Gilkask is, or both. The problem stems from the fact that your algorithm, it seems, cannot account for the fact that two or more distinct populations with distinct tech levels cannot occupy the same area. Therefore the solution is to change the system so that it can account for that in this Lungos Nad instance and for all other instances to come, which is what systems are for.

    I can suggest, and again this is merely a suggestion, that you could index the tech levels of any given area upon the population numbers, GDPs and general mobility of the groups of creatures tied to those tech levels, thus allowing you to determine, not choose, determine the general state of economy, military readiness, lawlessness and such, in any area at any given time.

    That is not, of course, doing the math, but I am limited by the fact that I do not have access to the same data you do. I'm aware that suggesting leaves all the work to the suggestee, but this is after all a comment section, and I cannot shoulder that work in any significant way from my position of mere reader of your blog, without access to your sources and a sure understanding of your aims.

    Regarding world shrinkage : I assure you I know (even if only the abstract) that the world is huge. Not did I ever say or suggest otherwise. All I said was that the areas empty of civilization were growing smaller. Not small.

  9. Montagne,

    Look at comment rule 2.

    I'm not asking for an alternative to my algorithm. I'm not looking to change my algorithm. I never suggested that I was. My frustration comes from your insistence that I should consider changing it. Why? I don't agree with your premise that the algorithm can't account for the fact that two or more populations with distinct tech levels cannot occupy the same area.

    I don't agree because that is not the purpose of my algorithm. I don't want my algorithm to do what you say it cannot do - because it was designed not to do that.

    You find that a problem. Very well. Go solve it. I don't think it is a problem. I think it is a Design Feature. I think it produces the player behaviour I'm looking for.

    Either get on board with the algorithm or please find another blog to comment on.

  10. @ Alexis:

    Could hobgoblins of a higher tech level (with mining technology) have emigrated to an area of the low tech level? I understand that Gilkask may have been founded in ancient times due to the existence of plentiful game or whatnot, but couldn't higher tech hobgoblins (who understood the value of coal) have moved in at a later date, enslaved the local populace, kept them at a low tech level, and put 'em to work in the mines or something?

    I suppose I'm asking, is there a way for exceptional tech levels to exist in regions of a particular tech level?

    But perhaps I'm still not grokking what the tech level represents. A combination of resources, population level, and population intelligence? If hobgoblins have average intelligence (8-10, per the MM), why are they in a tech 5 region?

    I guess I'm just lost here. Sorry.

  11. JB,

    That is because both you and Montagne are caught in the perception that the tech level's purpose is to create a realistic simulation. Of course higher tech level persons would exist in the lower tech level environment. The players will be higher tech level and they'll be there, right?

    The important thing here is not "could hobgoblins of a higher tech level emigrate" - it is that they DIDN'T. The higher tech level hobgoblins dwell in other parts of the vast Vostoch Empire (2000+ hexes), in the regions of Chust, Lungos Sog, Ollajax and Joslex, where the tech is higher.

    The players are ENTITLED to adventure where all the occupants of a given region are backward, limited, unable to provide services, etc., because stark, absolute differences in environment is what we're going for here, right? I did argue in the very first post of this idea with,

    "At the moment, I tend to think while running in three conditions of 'civilization': virtually none, backwards and advanced. There are obviously more degrees than those, but in the moment of describing some peoples or environment, I tend to default to those."

    Yet when I propose an algorithm that will restrain me from doing the above, immediately others rush forward to propose how to compromise the algorithm to rid the system of distinct culture tech levels.

    Um, when we design to solve a specific problem, isn't it a good idea not to quibble over non-problems?

  12. I must be missing something.

    The tech 5 post says it's for hexes with less than 171 people in them.

    But here, you say the town in question has over six thousand people in it

    Should that have read 171 people per square mile, not per hex before?

    Also, I don't see anything ad hoc about using your trade system as an input to your technology algorithm. All that is required is assigning the lowest technology level that can produce the goods that hex produces. It seems that this is both leveraging work you've already done, and allows for more interesting, unexpected results.

    It just seems odd that you'd rather throw out a proven system (your trade system) to make it conform to an arbitrary new system, when the new system can, with a little more work, mesh harmoniously with your existing work.

  13. I don't think the new system is 'arbitrary.'

    A 'population density' usually refers to the total population divided by the total number of hexes and is therefore an average of all the hexes in the region. Therefore, an AVERAGE of up to 171 persons per hex.

  14. You either have to accept the fact that the encyclopedia would've mentioned mammoth products had it been printed in a better reality; or you must explain both the population and the coal in a palatable, consistent way.

    Economy of motion makes me lean toward a story hook...

    The Brass King, a hobgoblin chief from a mining-tech-level area, has a fortified outpost, Gilkask, hidden deep in the tundra where his primitive cousins toil in open pits for the "black fire".


  15. And what about the two or three THOUSAND other tiny inconsistencies that arise in the truly massive world I'm building, Mujadaddy?

    You have failed to grasp that the importance of Gilkask is NOT in its existence as a part of the campaign. It is more than a 1500 miles from the nearest player character and no player has the least interest in going there. Sandbox campaign, remember?

    The products of Gilkask, however, DO affect the players . . . those products serve to adjust the price of things throughout the world.

    Look at the maps I am making. Look at the 900+ trade cities scattered across those maps. Does "economy of motion" seem like something I consider important?

    I am striving for legitimacy - a principle that completely baffles virtually everyone who seeks to design a world. I want a totally air-tight explanation that I can offer the party that goes like this:

    "No, I didn't choose what exists there or how big Gilkask is. The details were defined by a source OUTSIDE of me, your DM. I am just as restricted by those details as you, the players are; I must fit myself to the structure of the world based not on what I want, but on how I am limited by the researched existence of the world."

    So that I can get a response from the party that goes, "Well, I guess it is what it is. Oh well. Anybody have an idea?"

    An offer/response format that I get every day that I run my game.

  16. I was just laying out your options as I saw them. I hear and understand your objections to just shrugging your shoulders and moving on; I originally had about eight different scenarios come to mind, but your demand for rigor deflated their respective potentials. Flatly, yes, the first thing I said was known to have been rejected by you.

    Economy of motion was something I said would influence me, and it led me to the particulars of my suggestion. Though it might seem to be the same as JB's, I feel that mine keeps the Tech Level of the area at your discovered value while explaining the economy-scale presence of the locally anachronistic resource. More high-tech hobs aren't moving into the area; there is a fixed monopoly in place to bring the coal to markets, and no incentive to further "tech" the region (until the right PC catches a glimpse of the volume of coal exposed). THIS is what I was interested in your thoughts on; the problems that this idea does NOT solve.

    I did see that you're leaning toward "teching down" the resource (ie, peat or surface gathering), which works too (although I suspect you have a few issues you've not raised to us when it comes to implementing it); I just thought you might consider an alternative that let you keep the resource as-is. The potential story hook was just a bonus.

    As a side note regarding "inconsistencies", I don't have to tell you that they'll naturally arise for various reasons, the prime two being a) 1952 lens on 1690 & b) fantasy world. I get as much as anyone that you don't want to break the rules you've set, but doesn't scientific progress teach us not to value dogma over evidence? You seemed ready to make the hard choice (remove the coal entirely, and the town), which probably is the most consistent one.

    Although it occurs to me that a pre-agricultural society probably wouldn't have a settlement anywhere near that concentrated, but that might be a topic for the Tech 5 post.

    And good morning!


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