Monday, May 30, 2016

A Database of Traits

Hm.  Well, I didn't know it was Memorial Day weekend.  But Trump is still a problem, no matter what war ended 151 years ago.  Still, I apologize for that.

I was thinking about ship captains yesterday and today.  When last I played with my party on the south coast of Morocco, they had discovered some things about the ship's captain they hired to manage the caravel they bought.  At the time, I had thrown together a three prospects, each NPC with a bit of information with the party and a story behind them, that would play out as the party continued with their quest.  The captain they settled on was Genoan; he knew the Canary Islands, where the party wanted to go, and the party learned he had been at sea for most of his life and that he had little desire to go home.

The party has since discovered that he's a wanted man in Genoa - but that's how it goes sometimes.  They're nowhere near Genoa or a Genoese ship, being in Spanish and Portuguese waters now (neither of those with much love for Genoans), so they're satisfied they can control the situation.  These are 10-11th level characters; they can handle themselves.

But as I was working on my trade tables last night, taking a break from trying to work out some troubles in Chapter 17 of the book I'm writing, I found some notes surrounding the ship prices regarding the payment for captains.  I had made these on the fly for the party when they first hired the captain - so I decided to add the price for a captain to my tables.

That got me to thinking.  There are captains and there are captains.  Some will know navigation and others not; some will be excellent pilots and others not.  Some will have naval training; some will have only worked on merchant ships.  Some will be prepared to look the other way when the party does something questionable and some will not - and there will be different degrees of discipline, risk-taking, knowledge of sea lanes, knowledge of odd areas, knowledge of big oceans vs. little seas, better skill in storms, better skill in getting the most out of selling cargo and so on.  Not to mention that some will steal or stab an owner in the back, while others won't.

For most, the thinking only goes so far as these being interesting possibilities for characters that party may have to deal with.  But I think it is more than that.  Unlike other professions, there aren't that many captains able to manage a ship; and the number is small enough that some captains acquire a reputation - and that reputation affects how much they will ask for at the barrel head.  It isn't just a matter of captains saying they'll take 200 g.p. per month: some will ask for more because they can get it - and some will ask for less because they have to.  When some captain has been four months in some backwater, just this side of quitting straight work and becoming a pirate, there's a chance that the hiring price could be less than that of a good crewman.  Which the party may accept, because they're in the same backwater and there's no one else.

I'd like some sort of system for working out prices based on those issues raised above - simplified, of course.  Much of it can be piled together into "reputation."  Much of the rest can be applied to "competence" and the remainder to "experience."  We can't use the word experience, of course, because in game terms its always easier to come up with a new word that refers specifically to that thing - I like "seasoning" because it has the suggestion of weather and the sea in it.  A young captain may be competent and have a good reputation, but without a lot of years on the sea, it's not the same as an old sea dog.

Three qualifiers is enough.  Just now, I'm not sure how to reflect them in the costs - or how much each should balance.  The idea is new and it deserves further consideration.  But I think (and this could be important) that this sort of framework could be important for determining the value of non-player characters as a whole.

What's wanted is not just a standard that applies to ship captains, but to everyone.  Some universal framework that would establish (preferably in a random fashion) the likelihood of a particular individual's "personality" - and from there a set of rules for the likelihood of a given personality to respond in a particular way.

Let's say we start with a simple cubic diagram, with an x, y and z axis.  We could roll 2d6 upon each axis, defining a result of 7 being equal to 0.  Therefore, 12 = +5, 11 = +4, 10 = +3 and so on down to 2 = -5.  All negatives upon our axis would suggest bad personalities and positives good personalities.  Someone with poor seasoning would be either young or sheltered; someone with a high reputation would be stable and perhaps of high status.

With three axes, we would define 1331 different personality types, with 116 of those personalities having no deviations more than 1 from center (in none of their three traits); 394 would have personalities that would not deviate more than 2 from center; and 770 would not deviate more than 3 from center.  The number of total psychotics, where all three traits were at their maximum deviation, would only be 1 in 1331 personalities, or slightly more than 2 per 100,000 population.

I think there's a remarkable potential here: but a huge amount of leg work defining just what those 33 deviations are for each axis (+1 for no deviation at all) - and then further work defining pairs between deviations.  Such as, what does it mean when someone has a -2 reputation and a +1 competency?  A person could go crazy just figuring out all 363 of those pairings.

What a database it would be, though?