Monday, February 8, 2016

How to Start a Trading Town VII - Dreambuilding

I don't want to draw attention away from yesterday's crowdfunding proposal.  I encourage readers to have a good look at it and to join in.  I've had some great conversations today with some all-in contributors about book characters and whose name might fit best and I've had some first-rate praise for the module: "Shadows?  You gave the furniture shadows?"  It is great stuff.  The reader shouldn't miss out!

At the same time I want to ensure the reader that I am still thinking about the blog.  Do remember that I love to write, it is my most endearing skill.  Where it is lighthearted and conversational, such as on a blog, it's a lot of fun!  So let's finish off the trading town series - but do not worry, I have another series I'm going to start soon that I think players will like very much and DMs, well . . . depends.

We're down to the last question - why go through all this business of making a trading post, despite the adventuring it might bring and the different way it would have of looking at role-playing.  In the end, what has my character won?

Like everything in the game, this depends on how both player and DM sees the final result.  Be sure that some DMs will resent it.  An ongoing trading town takes preparation investment, number crunching, a different way of looking at the game and the need to introduce characters on a regular basis that are much more cosmopolitan and interesting than Zeke the second-rate trapper.  The bigger the town gets, the more employees or sycophants the players are going to collect - carpenters, rat catchers, farmers, bartenders, bounty hunters, wardens, reeves, lackeys, bootlicks, heralds, rent collectors and so on.  Something like this balloons into a large bookkeeping hassle for both DM and player if someone on both sides isn't ready to sail into the job and find shortcuts.

And most DMs will quickly see a very easy alternative to that . . .

When I was a boy and about 40-inches tall, I owned several sets of a sort of girder and panel building set.  Wait, I'll find a picture:

My friends owned legos but I grew up on these.  It's not mechano - these were light plastic sticks that locked together to make cubes that could be built one upon the other.  Like the image in the picture, we built them high; a story of pegs and girders would be about 3 inches high and we built these things up to sixteen stories - taller than we were.

My friends and I would spend all afternoon putting together cities with hot wheel tracks for roads and various other toys and building things.  We were diligent little engineers and we worked like dogs to get those cities built.

Then it would get past four and my mom would shout down the stairs that it was almost time for everyone to go home.  We knew what that meant: it was destroyin' time.

Destroyin' time meant sharing out about a dozen tennis balls and obliterating the hell out of our city.  This was done in a period of mayhem that lasted five minutes and was great fun.  What the hell, we were eight.

Then we'd pick up the shattered remains of our city, pushing it into a pile and loading the sticks and toys into the big trunk where my toys were kept.

It is fun to destroy things.

It is almost as much fun to destroy things as it is to build them - and for some people, if they could just have someone else build the thing, they'd be happy to handle the rest.  These are the people who, when they get older, get a kick out of smashing up the snowmen in front of someone's house.

If we get our trade town built, if we get the buyers in from across the sea and set up the tavern where we'll come home after a hard day's adventuring and kick off our high hard boots and have the bartender call us "Sir," we'll still have to contend with the DM whose imagination will go directly towards the most obvious 'adventure': having someone come along to tear it all down.

Pirates from across the sea, a horde of orcs, angry townspeople from the nearby city who have decided our trading center threatens their livelihood, the Lord's guard who just wants to take it over, whomever.  For most DMs, seeing that pretty map form and take shape, growing into civic buildings, docks, roads and warehouses, it's just too tempting to march an army over it.  It's so easy for a DM to think, "The players will get a great kick out of that!  Defending their homes against savages, that drips adventure!"

Perhaps it might, but it's the sort of adventure players will enjoy on the level of, "Hey, what if a plague attacked the trade town!  That would be great!  The players wouldn't know who was going to die and who wasn't . . . drama!"

We have to be careful going to this particular bag:  if the players bring it down upon themselves, that will tend to play fairly well.  My players once left their territory for 16 months in order to save the life of a friend and associate; when they came back, they found that a passel of goblins and orcs had been built on their doorstep.  Not in their actual keep, mind, but near enough that the players felt they had to go out and destroy the nest before it got any bigger.  The time spent away justified the change and the players were able to prepare for the battle rather than having it forced upon them.

If they had come back to find their home burnt and the goblins living on the site, they probably would have destroyed the goblins, sure enough - and then left.  The imagined idea of "We'll build it up again, better than ever," is probably not the mind-set the DM would get.  More like, "Why bother?"

Introduce a group of pirates come to destroy the player's homes "just cause" and you might as well be throwing meteor tennis balls at the player's work.  When we were kids we destroyed our own buildings - we knew we were building them up to destroy them because we knew everything had to go back into the box anyway when it was time to go home.  It wasn't like my mother was going to let us leave our city up in the rumpus room until the following Saturday.

We don't play by the destroy rules any more.  We can leave the thing up - period.  We can make beautiful renderings of the town we built, make it into posters and keep it in cherished folders or even post them in some out of the way, semi-private part of our man-cave.  We can pull out the sheets ten years from now (I have some I can say are literally 33 years old) and marvel at them, point to things that our friends made and about which we can still remember the friendly banter.

Why dump on that?  Why not, instead, use such an arrangement to build up better adventures?  Sure, it's paperwork, but I think that a DM will find that after the initial pleasure, breaking things down into coins and labor earned per month will satisfy the players.  They don't really want to be accountants.  They just want to feel that the thing is growing, getting better, bringing in people from far away (with plot hooks), bearing books for the library the players are building (books full of plot hooks), enabling the characters to get involved in the local tribulations of administrators (who have plot hooks to offer) or in local wars where strong, able adventurers are needed for the PHSS (plot-hook special services).

Destruction is fun but it lasts such a brief, brief time.  I think that as kids, if we could have had a room in the basement where we could have built and left it in place, we wouldn't have had to build so many versions of the same city every week.  We would have made amazing places that even our parents might have - someday - appreciated.


  1. I was a bit worried as I started reading the post. Never threaten the trade town with destruction? But then you brought in the caveat - if the players bring it on themselves, there are ways to do it that brings about more engagement.

    I particularly like the "less is more" approach. The goblin fort close, but not too close. Threatening, but not a direct threat (yet). It leaves the resolution up to the players: Attack or diplomacy?

    You've earned the legos, put them together as you will. The cat may knock a couple pieces over while you're gone, but it won't destroy your creation. And mom will let you pick up the little one-brick pieces before she vacuums around the table.

  2. This is one of the reasons I don't play RTS games anymore. Even civ sometimes seems too short. I've never been keen on wiping the board.


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