Monday, June 6, 2016

Hiring Hirelings

Next problem.

I think I've got a fair handle on the effectiveness of crew quality on the turning of ships.  This brings us to the question of how to determine the crew's quality?  How do characters know how qualified their crews are?  It isn't enough to just say that a captain knows what weaknesses and failings the crew might have, because that is provably not true.  Outright mutinies are rare, admittedly, but individual discipline for individual crew disobedience or incompetence is not, nor is it rare that either causes the loss of equipment, time, battles and life.  Often it can be quite innocent: consider the message of this folk song.

At best, we can guess at the quality of a crew and accept that often we have to take those with less than ideal skills/personalities because of circumstances - i.e., not enough of the kind of labour we'd like.

Let's come back around to the database of traits I had proposed last week.  I was screwing around this morning with combinations this morning, starting from a premise that created this table:

Remember from the earlier post, if we set the number 7 on 2d6 as zero, then the best possible result is +5 with boxcars and -5 with snake eyes.  Taking 3d6 to determine our x, y and z axes (regardless of what personality traits those three rolls give us), then we have 46,656 possible combinations that, together, will add up to a number between -15 and 15.  On the table, the numbers show the possible combinations that get a positive or negative result in that range.

It's interesting, but it also means that someone whose first two traits are +4 and +5 can have a trait that's -5 . . . which produces a sum of 4 overall but doesn't make that person a desirable person.  Such a person is potentially capable and cheerful, but they might be intensely dishonest; or they might be a very positive person and be scrupulously honest, yet be hopelessly unqualified at everything.

For the record, I am rethinking the original three traits that I proposed with my first post on this plotting traits' concept.  I think perhaps we can wrap competency and experience together; we can take honesty as a second axis; this then gives room for the person's nature: are they, by and large, positive or negative?  Friendly or taciturn?  Genuinely helpful or self-serving.  A person may easily be completely honest and yet unfriendly; or a person could be very positive and yet profoundly dishonest.  This eliminates the conflicting ideas of a person being experienced and yet unskilled (which happens, but seems 'wrong' at first glance).

What's really wanted are three traits that can't be accounted for in the character's ability stats.  Are intelligent people necessarily capable?  Are charismatic people necessarily friendly?  Are wise people necessarily honest?  I don't think so.  There are familiar associations we make between these things, but it is easy to imagine an educated dishonest person or a hateful, charismatic demagogue, and certainly a smart person who seems to fuck up all the time (personally, I only need a mirror for this last one).

So I reconsidered the organization of the personality traits, to get a better handle on who might hold a given position/role/responsibility in a vocational framework.  Towards this end, I imagined that we might organize these traits as a series of "shells."  The first shell would be occupied by the 1 in 46,656 persons who had +5 on all three axes.  Progressing outwards, each successive shell would include those persons who had a minumum of +4 in each axes, +3 in each, +2 in each and so on (always including those of the smaller shells).  This produced this table:

Note that persons without any negative traits consists of less than 20% of the total population.  This makes it virtually impossible to run any sort of entity without at least a third of your people having negative traits and another third having really bad negative traits - that you have to take on because you can't run a big concern without having to hire a lot of people.  If we consider that 10% of the population being unemployed is a bad thing, from the numbers above we have to consider that more than 10% of the working population are people with a -4 personality in something: either they're incompetent, dishonesty or naturally cruel, vengeful, jealous or greedy (pick the deadly sin).  This is a sobering thought.

We need 30 or 40 sailors to serve aboard our frigate; we don't know the market city where we're hiring our crew because, like most adventurers, we're far from home.  It's a port town and most of the town already has a job.  Those that don't, who are trying to get on as sailors, have probably worked for someone before if they're at least competent enough to know one end of a rope from the other.  Some of those will be looking for work after visiting their poor, dear mother for a month inland, but most of them are going to be people who were turfed when the ship they served aboard reached port.  And now they want to hire on with us.

In the last few posts, I've used the Wooden Ships & Iron Men designations of poor, green and average designations for crew.  It's very important that we don't see "poor" as meaning less experienced or able that "green."  A green crew has an excuse: they haven't shipped out together, not for long anyway, they're young, they haven't had a chance to become experienced.  A poor crew are a bunch of miserable, brooding, unscrupulous malignant and potentially hostile misanthropes, whose miserable speed at turning the ship around has less to do with inability as it does with willful disobedience or apathy.

And these are the sort that will get hired, even if we don't want them.

Thing is, for the interview, they'll trick us into thinking they're merely second-rate and not third-rate hirelings.  We need a table that a) determines how many of these we'll get; b) how likely we'll be able to detect them with our own experience; c) how spells like penetrate disguise or know intent will work in this context; and d) how much will such people of each personality shell will cost.

As yet, I don't have this table.  I'm thinking on it.  I know that morale will figure in the mix . . . and I'm also thinking about practical rules for changing people's personalities and behaviours.

I know that last will seem, well, inappropriate.  But there are some institutions that specialize in making persons see the world in a different light, adapting them to becoming more decent, more reliable, more effective as participants in ventures of every kind.  Some of these institutions fail miserably at it, but it seems to me that evidence of some success means that success is possible.  Therefore, rules ought to exist that will enable us to redirect an individual's cynicism, clumsiness and calumny to make them a more effective hireling.


  1. Excellent example of a successful institution: the army. Course, a reason they're successful is that they really have limited roles: move, shoot and communicate. The modern army is changing, so I'm thinking of the training tactics used in the 70s and 80s, following on the lessons learned from Vietnam and Korea. Another example of institutions that get results (in terms of changing people) could be just about any cult or religion. They recognize specific habits that encourage long-term growth/change and they teach those habits through rote behavior.

    But how this translates into gaming... I dunno, maybe a series of die rolls, adding up toward a target value? Seems like that's a good go-to method for measuring incremental progress toward a goal.

  2. I don't know about those simple roles, Ozymandias: to the three you mention, you can add logistics, psychology, medical triage and innovation.

    But perhaps I should have used the Dutch/English navy as examples - since I am largely talking about ships. Read Herman Melville's 'Billy Budd'? Most don't know that the actual author of the Mutiny on the Bounty was William Bligh himself (and it is well worth the read). The navy - going back to the Romans, probably - has always had the problem of forcing people to live and work together continuously at sea.

    I'm thinking of linking the morale check to a roll that improves one's personality. I already have a rule in place that improves an NPC's morale: perhaps, when morale improves, a roll can be made that also improves one aspect of an NPC's personality. It could be heavily weighted: 1 in 100 to go from -5 to -4; 1 in 50 to go from -4 to -3; 1 in 25 to go from -3 to -2 and so on. As it gets better towards zero, it then gets harder as one goes away from zero, so that to go from +4 to +5 would also be 1 in 100.

    Those numbers are just for demonstrative purposes. The real odds ought to have something to do with the first table I posted in the post; instead of improving a particular trait, we could look at the addition of traits overall. Just right now, however, I haven't worked out how those ratios should work.

    Too, I didn't mention in the post: there has to be a chance of the personality going DOWN. Some fellow's parents are murdered as all three are heading back from the theatre: what would THAT do to a boy's personality, hm?

  3. Well, it could turn him into a wealthy technophile who dedicates himself to striking down crime and patenting bat-themed crowd control devices. At least, I think that's what you are referring to...

  4. So, the sum of modifiers ranges from -15 to 15, correct? Perhaps, when morale improves, you could roll 6d6 and normalize it so that a result of 21 is 0. Rolling over the sum of a hireling's modifiers would then indicate some improvement?

    Likewise, whenever morale decreases, make the same roll but now rolling under a hireling's modifier sum would indicate some detriment.

    With regard to which of the three axes are chosen, I feel that the best course would be to determine that randomly.

  5. Nonsense, Adam - who would ever spend money on a story like that?


    Not sure there's a need there. It would make the morale system grittier, but there are other details to consider; the improvement of a follower's morale is proving to be about as slow as I want it to be. It takes about three to four combats for a given follower to actually get stunned and then have a morale check, to succeed at it and lower their morale from 9 to 8. By deepening the morale numbers, it would take a really long time for anyone to get a good and loyal follower.

    I think the two systems can work in tandem without having to match up: but it is a reason why I turn consistently to d6 when d20 has too many numbers.

  6. It looks like I didn't fully get my point across - whenever morale would change, that would trigger the 6d6 roll to see if their personality shifts, as well. As morale increases, so too might their personality, whereas when morale decreases, their personality might shift as well.

    This is a proposal for the ratios you mentioned, a fairly straight-forward way to determine progress.

  7. Ah, you're right. I read that completely wrong.

    To be sure we're on the same page: a hireling with a personality of -5 has an improvement in morale. A 6d6 roll above 16 (5 less than 21) would cause their personality (one random trait of the three they possessed) to go up 1 point.

    There's merit there - except that the lower the trait total, the easier it would be to improve their personality. I can't say I'm in agreement. Let's suppose that we have a person with a -15 personality: this person is the very dregs of humanity. Such a person would not change easily. Any change would happen so rarely that it would be truly a momentous occasion.

    Now, let's suppose this person's morale is 12. My morale system is based on rolling the morale or over, so a very high number means the morale is LOW. It's been argued that I should reverse this, make the morale something that has to be rolled under - but everything else in D&D - saving throws, armor class, etc., has to be rolled over. Like a very low number for AC is a better AC, a very high number for morale is a crummier morale.

    So our fellow with the -15 personality and the 12 morale gets into a combat. He's attached with some bunch of Bashi-Bazooks, criminals working as plundering gangs for the Ottoman Empire. Our Bashi gets hit and he's stunned; he makes his morale check and rolls boxcars. His morale drops to 11 (making it easier to roll in future) and we roll 6d6 for his personality.

    Of course that personality is going to improve! It can't not improve. But look at prisons; people survive fights all the time, they get less frightened and more vicious . . . it doesn't make them better people.

    Sadly, it isn't that simple. But it is a very, very good thought. There must be a way to make that 6d6 roll work. Perhaps if they roll EXACTLY the number needed? Our bashi's personality improves if he rolls six 1s?

  8. I just put together a system using these traits for my players (they are building a stronghold and an army; this discussion has proven very timely).

    I was thinking of your wage issue. I modified the individual's base pay by the sum of the traits, and further modified it by honesty (negative honesty takes more money, positive honesty takes less). This had the happy side effect that an honest character who is incompetent takes significantly less pay (perhaps acknowledging his lack of competence and/or difficulty working with others).

    I used Nature to help determine starting Morale, and also determine the Trait Adjustment probability. This adjustment is further modified by the health of the character, and on a very good (or very poor) percentile roll, a trait moves up or down 1.

    Competence goes directly to the character's effectiveness, and that effectiveness is also modified by Morale.

    I am still working it all out (started today), but it has led to a new glut of ideas.

  9. Alexis, I see where you are coming from. You originally indicated a negative parabolic-type arrangement of probabilities. We could replicate that with the 6d6 roll such that for negative values, one must roll equal to or under, and for positive values one must roll equal to or over. Thus, the dregs of society are virtually irredeemable: a 1 in 46656 chance of improving! But those odds will improve to 3 in 46656, 6 in 46656, and so on until those with a -3 modifier have a much higher chance (63 in 46656).

    Given, as you said, how slowly morale improves, this will mean that personality change will be an incredibly slow and (potentially) much-celebrated event.

    If you wanted something close but not quite as brutal, you could open up both ends of the spectrum: one must roll either greater than or equal to the absolute value of their personality score or less than or equal to the negative absolute value of their personality score. For example, if a hireling has a score of 11, whenever their morale changes, they must roll equal to or better than 21+11=32 or they must roll equal to or less than 21-11=10, odds of 10/23328 (twice what they were previously). Still very slow, but much more achievable within the next ten years.

  10. That was a beautiful song. I've never heard of Stan Rogers, thanks for the introduction.

  11. Baron Opal,

    Look for Barrett's Privateers, Maid on the Shore and Northwest Passage; then look for everything.

  12. A college friend, himself an amateur sailor, would host singalongs with his ukulele for the whole dorm, at which he sang many a folk song including Barret's Privateers. Thanks for stirring that memory up, you two (he's graduated now while I remain.)

    Baron, you might also enjoy South Australia and Fiddler's Green.


If you wish to leave a comment on this blog, contact with a direct message. Comments, agreed upon by reader and author, are published every Saturday.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.