Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Wilderness Problem

The other day, Pandred left me a comment on the Sand's Block post: "I'll be honest I'm at a loss how I'd even begin to run such an area ..." that has left me wondering about my agenda.

My goal is not to create impossible-to-run scenarios that highlight my personal creativity, which has been developed over many long decades of eschewing public discourse and human interaction in favor of writing in a private domain while reading writers who preferred to live and die in a private domain ~ which is absolutely nothing more than practice, practice, practice.  Anyone can do it.  It just takes 30 years.

What I'm trying to do is to make the reader understand that a world-building process is not in the making of the whole world, or in the high-flying conceptions that so many role-playing designers try for, such as having all the people in the world believe in some notion about old gods someday arising and killing everyone, or that the world is divided into set groups of people with calcified social moralities that clash in great swoops of important world-changing battles ... but that actual world building is creating that tactile experience, that game feel, of actually living in an environment that can be reconciled with our day-to-day thoughts, making suspension of belief and immersion possible.

Listen, I know that many people don't like me, that I am arrogant and abusive, that I'm impatient, that I use words to cut people and that I am very opinionated ... but if you want to make your world better, you have to get past that and realize that what I'm telling you is what you need.  You're not going to hear this anywhere else.  No one else is writing about this.

D&D is a highly personal form of human interaction, scaled down to the fictional characters who directly connect with other characters and the setting in which they exist.  To make that setting seem real, you've got to grasp what "real" is.  You, dear reader, a human being, are not actually capable of grasping the world as it exists, except for how the various medias you consume appear from your limited, monkey-brain perspective.  You, I, and everyone else can grasp intellectually that these things are happening, that the world outside our personal experience exists, but you cannot subsume that into your emotional consciousness in any real way.  The events and art you're witnessing, that's telling you about things, only exists to you as wallpaper ... unless it is happening to you, personally.  In which case, if you were actually a part of all these events, you would understand too clearly how the media is wrong about everything.  It's packaged, prefabricated for your enjoyment.  It isn't real.

When you make your world, your tendency will be to create the prefabricated package, because you've been taught from a young age to see the package as "more interesting" than the real world.  The real world is going to work, opening the fridge to get food, getting in your car and driving, going to sleep at night ... and hundreds of other things you've done thousands of times.  This repetition dulls.  You don't want to create a dull world.  This drives you to try to create the media-fueled fakery that sounds really good on paper but just doesn't run well when you try to DM the hugeness of that conception.

You can't manage that conception in every interaction, in every possible incarnation ... and so it ends up being phony and false, which you're frustratingly conscious of, which taints your game-play and undermines your confidence as a DM.  Each and every time you try to "create a world" as though it is one great conception, you fall on your face ... because "a world" is more complicated than your monkey-brain can handle.  You weren't built for it.

I went looking for the example but the video seems to be lost. When John Stewart stepped away from his show, he walked the camera through all the back rooms of the studio and introduced the hundreds of people who were involved with writing, producing, researching and developing the show.  Behind the false front of one presenter, creating an easy to understand package, were tens of thousands of weekly conversations between an army of people we never got to see ... because this wasn't necessary for the package.  But when we set out to make a game world, we're now responsible for all that.  And trust me, we're not up to it.

For the D&D universe, this limitation has created a cliched standardization of game moments and events that have become embraced through repetition ... what we are most prone to recognize when we think, "Dungeons and Dragons."  The trope starts with a desperate attempt to capture the "feel" of the game with images and low-quality CGI, intended to impress with their packaged idea of what we imagine in our minds as the "thrill" of being a terrifying, murderous killer, with axe dripping blood ... but this fakery quickly descends into the actual reality of sitting around a table in anachronistic t-shirts, water bottles, prop mugs, painted miniatures and general clutter.

A world where even famous players of the game, whose careers hinge on their participation, sit around looking bored.

This is your game.  Not the bullshit imaged package that is used to sell you, that's been around since the original books, through pictures, tried to depict what the game should look like or what it was about.  That was marketing.  Your players are these five people (or six) sitting here waiting to be told what they see, and what they're supposed to feel.

The pressure on us as DMs is to make paper and pencils, imagination, possibility, doubt and fear feel good.  To enable the process of players feeling happy, or disoriented, or tense, we have to create something with which they can directly relate ~ not vast ideas like trade routes or world maps.  Those things exist for us, the DMs ... not for the players.  The players want something they can ... touch.  That they can directly understand, and manipulate, and ultimately change, so that it becomes something else.  This gives the player a sense of empowerment.  This makes the player feel engaged.

Game feel is about making the players feel powerful; or reminding them that they are not.

This is what I've stumbled across as I've worked through the fabrication of these building blocks on this series of game posts.  How does a space this small, that can be flat-out run across in just twenty seconds, exist as a living, thinking, relevant space in which the players participate as characters, both enabling them and potentially humbling them?  How do we, as DMs, think in such small spaces, when those small spaces are not dungeon rooms?  We're so used to putting the players in a 20 foot square box, adding monsters and shaking the box to make game play happen.

What I've done is demonstrate how the direct, full-on world operates in exactly the same way as the dungeon, by shrinking down the HUGE space of the world into these little boxes that can be ... understood.

Naturally, this is going to smash all conception of how to run such a place, as Pandred noted, because no one else, anywhere, is seeing the world this way.

Sorry for the emphasis.  I'm excited.  This shatters all conception of how the game is played.  After many long decades of fighting with it, I feel I have solved "the wilderness problem."  How do you run in the wilderness?  Build it so that the size fits the player.  Define what is relevant about a piece this size.  Then do it again.

It is all new.  And frightening.  It is enough to make a DM lose their sense of direction.  And perhaps, I am thinking, that is a problem.

My position here is weird.  Most DMs are oblivious to the wilderness being "a problem."  The wilderness exists as space that has to be crossed between dungeons, and that's it.  As you and I conceive it, in the real world, as that immense, inconceivable space that we would not want to be lost in, the wilderness in a fantasy world is just empty, blank space.  It is like the filing cabinet in which all the cities and dungeons are stored.  Like most other games, that space is irrelevant.

The contrary will seem wrong, or irreconcilable with their pre-conceived packaged ideal.  Comparing the above image is fundamentally no different than the WOTC's version of what a "game map" should include.  Names, circles, orientation ... and done.

I proposed that a world could be made out of recognizable, cookie-cutter building blocks, but with this recent Stavanger village series I'm turning that on its head and arguing how an individual block can be made thoroughly unique ... and with that, I fear I am leaving some readers behind.  A lot of readers, I worry.

Perhaps I'm going too fast.  Just now, I'm not sure of any other speed I can go.  This is as new to me as it is the reader.  A month ago I had no idea I would wind up here ... but that is why I start these series in the first place.  By making myself think something through, by explaining it to someone else who is not a part of my thoughts, my thinking clarifies and creativity kicks in.

We just have to see where this takes us.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Needing a Tiger

Before starting this post, I want to apologize for the unavailability of the Senex campaign blog on line. Several blog participants, including those who played the cleric Andrej and the bard Delfig, have revised their nicks on the blog to "Anonymous," as clearly they are not enjoying the deconstruction that these posts are offering.  This was done without any heads up to me.  Since I do not want to lose the content entirely, by having one or the other systematically go through and destroy content, I have removed the blog from public availability.

These are relevant further into today's post.  I'm just putting them here as a teaser.

Let's talk about hooks that don't work.  On the whole, this post will be about why ideas I had didn't pan out, and why that was my fault.

Hook #1

Let's start with a situation from 2010, which for some reason managed to hook a lot of readers, but not the players themselves.  The players were moving along a road in southern Switzerland, when they hear a scraping sound nearby.  Andrej hears a scraping sound that suggests metal scraping on rock.  When investigating, they arouse the attention of a hippogriff, hiding among the rocks above them:
DM: Andrej catches sight of something big - and black - about ten yards up the mountain from where he's standing right now; Avel is about halfway between Andrej and the wagon, and Delfig and Serafina a few yards further away than Avel.
Its body has the appearance of an emaciated horse, showing ribs, covered with dark grey hair, long and matted in clumps over its body. The front legs extend so as to be horse like, but end in hooves that are longer and more narrow than a horse's hooves, claw-like but falling short of being claws. The head of the animal is predictably avian - except that it is the head of a large, black crow, with sleek feathers, a strong, slightly hooked beak.
It is a fair guess that it is one of a many breeds of hippogriff - the animal is not limited to eagles, when mixed with birds.

The party engages with the hippogriff, damage is done back and forth.  The beast is seriously hurt, so it flies away; the party licks their wounds.  As my experience system does not require the actual death of the opponent, the party picks up some experience.  In the character department, I was able to demonstrate that the woman attending the party, the bride the party was sent to fetch for their benefactor, was able to look after herself pretty well.  The encounter was exciting and threatening enough; and the player fell for the hook afterwards ... or so I thought.

continued elsewhere ...

This is the second of two such posts I will be writing in the month of May for the Tao's Master Class blog, where the rest of this post can be found. Examples on the Tao of D&D blog can be found here and here.

To see the rest of this post, you must pledge at least $3 to my Patreon account. This will enable you to see all material to date on the Master Class, but you must do it soon if you wish to see this post before July 1st! June 1st is the day after tomorrow, and you must pledge $3 in the next 24 hours if you want to catch Patreon before the window closes.

Because it is difficult to keep track of who is donating $3 to me each month, I am no longer accepting small direct donations for the Master Class blog.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Sand's Block

If you've not been following along with this series, you'll want to start with this index post, with a list of the foregoing content relative to what's written below.

In the morning, after a long chat with the chieftain of Stavanger the night before, the party will be gently asked where they spend their second night, as the chief's long house will be closed.  Two options will be given: that they can visit the shaman, and possibly be allowed to dwell in his house, or they can seek their clans people and seek their hospitality.  Either will do, but we'll start with the clan of Sand, which the reader will remember is the party's clan.

Now, parties will tend to wander about aimlessly, making enemies with the Verda or the Orre, by stumbling into those parts of the village.  As the party will be recognized instantly as Sand clan, by the way their clothes are made and the motifs on their leather garments, as well as the shape of their head and their noses, the party will get little out of this rubbernecking except to get themselves thrown out of Stavanger by a chieftain who wants only peace.  So I suggest that we create a guide, a nice big fellow who can clout a rude party member in the chief's name if someone gets too friendly with people who don't want to be friends.  We'll call this person Nidhogg, because it will be remembered (as at least extravagantly different, until heard often enough).

Nidhogg takes the party over to their people and they are immediately met by their cousins ~ no direct family, those are all in Haugaland.  The party means three young men named Knut, Dag and Ulfmaerr, and two women named Alfdis and Norna, and of course Mother Yulene, who is the head of the clan.  I've gotten all these names from this invaluable site, which can be sorted by name origin.

Let's define the block's character.

  • Personality: welcoming, loyal, friendly, supportive.  This is the party's family ... and they will act like a family, because they will also recognize the features of the party that define them as Sand.  This is a low-development characteristic, that helps define the 9th century Stavanger culture (and cultures in my world that exist at this level in the year 1650).
  • Player Needs: a home, food, company, potential allies, information about Stavanger in the way of rumor and story.

To unlock the rewards the block offers, the players must adventure; and when they arrive in the block, as DMs we must measure their worthiness of that adventure before revealing what the reward would be.  We want to play our cards close to our vest.

The players can't stride haughtily among their people, led by Nidhogg, and then stick out their hands and shout, "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!"  Though that's exactly how I've seen parties act, when told, "This is your game family."  We've all seen players who treat their family like some third arm that exists to perform instant favors ... which is strange, given that families are usually the last people in the world willing to do anything for you without strings attached.  Families are often prone to high expectations, giving advice, refusing aid "for your own good" and otherwise resisting our choice to pursue this adventuring life when we ought to be at home, working, marrying, producing kids and acting all respectable and like.

So we should expect Alfdis' father to push the girl on the most attractive member of the party, and to have Norna's mother waiting to do the same when it is her daughter's turn.  We should expect Mother Yulene to break it up, with, "It can be talked about later," while starting a litany of inquiries about home, family, who's recently been married or whatever else she can get out of the party.  We don't need to concentrate on details ... but we do want to measure the players' love of their existing family in Stavanger.

Yes, love.  If the Sand clan is ready to feed and house these strangers, who happen to have similar habits, it's only fair that the players show pleasure at meeting their family, a show of generosity, some curiosity about how old Alfdis is (she is quite attractive) and appreciation for that which they are receiving.  This is almost impossible for players.  Embarrassing, even.  Words like, "I pick the little girl up and swing her around, and ask how old she is, and tell her she's a brave child," just do not turn up on the lips of strong tough adventurer fighters ... which is all the more reason why this is a unique and interesting situation.  And why a lack of friendliness should be noted.

Oh, no one should say anything outright.  But we should describe the appearance of the Sand clans people as diminishing: "They seem disappointed; they are looking at your suspiciously; the way you're all sitting together, in that aloof way, has caused your family to draw away from you; several are looking at you, then talking about you, then looking away with worried, upset or judging looks on their faces."

We might mitigate this a little by saying, before Nidhogg shows the way, "People, these are your family; they are very close to you in ways and speech; you feel comfortable around them.  You've heard tales about these people told by your fathers and mothers.  These are not wholly strangers ... so be careful to show them respect and kindness."  But, sigh, I know parties, and that probably wouldn't work.

But let's say that it does, and the party gets a tour of the block.  They spend the night around the fire in the wide clearing, they see the forest and take note that there's an eight foot high wall of brush and thorns that has been built between the trees, they are shown the tanning tents and at one, the tent on the hex boundary in the map above, they meet two friendly fellows from the Orre clan: Ingharr and his brother Ingemar.  The discourse is brief and suggests there's some tension, but this tanning area is nevertheless shared.

The party is shown the enormous rock, marked by the letter A.  This rock is 20 feet long and ten feet high.  It it like a cairn laying on its side; it has been carved and it serves as a monolith for Stavanger.  The whole village has permission to come and read the rock, and touch it. The images tell of the destruction of the froglings, the final successful battle of Harald Fairhair that made him King of Norway, the Viking tradition and, most recently, the founding of Iceland, that took place 18 years ago.  These things hardly touch Stavanger directly; this is just too backward a village to take part in such escapades.  But the villagers know about it, and Chief Horik certainly has ambitions to teach his people how to build galleys and sail.  Those things will not come to Stavanger for centuries (in my world), but they will come.

Marked by the letter B will be a tanning tent that will, instead, contain an enormous cage that contains a large wolf.  This is the wolf that killed the child, that the party learned about in Horik's house.  The wolf was not captured, it gave itself up of its own accord to the Shaman, who led it into the village two nights ago and then into this cage (built ready for the Shaman's return).

The wolf is snarling and vicious, and obviously dangerous.  When it howls, the air shakes.  It hurls itself at the wooden wand bars of the cage, made of saplings, and the cage trembles as though it will break open.  The story is told that the spirit of the child that was killed is still tied to the wolf; that it is the child trying to break free, not the wolf.  The Shaman has been in communication with the child and has learned what must happen, for the good of Stavanger.

The party is told that in two days, the wolf will be released into the woods east of the village, where it will be trapped between the village and the sea, except along the south edge.  Every hearty male in the village will be waiting in the forest, to hunt the beast.  Whoever succeeds in killing the wolf will become the child spirit's guardian. This male must then take the place of the child's father, and lay with the child's bereaved mother, whereupon the spirit child's kin will be implanted into the mother and the spirit child will be freed.  The clan that kills the wolf, and the Harald clan, will be bonded together forever.  If a member of the Harald clan destroys the wolf, this will be an especially good omen, telling that the newborn child will one day become Chief of Stavanger.

If the wolf escapes, surely, this will be a Bad Omen.  There is no telling what will happen.

Whereupon the party should be asked, "Will you hunt the wolf with us?"

The unlocked reward of the block, then, is the opportunity for experience, combat, the respect of the village even if the players takes part, and the risk that a player will have to perform in bed with a woman of the Harald clan.  Obviously, this would result in a connection with the Haralds, and other opportunities. Status is involved, but more especially wealth, as success in this venture would bring many gifts.

Friday, May 25, 2018


Three cheers for Agravain, who found the lost tarot content that I'd created in 2010.  The material was printed and I just received images of the content.

Thank you.

And to all of you, who are finding this content worth saving.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Horik's Block

If you've not been following along with this series, you'll want to start with this index post, with a list of the foregoing content relative to what's written below.

There are still some threads I need to pull together before I can start creating an adventure around this old Stavanger village I've posited.  First, we need to return to those four keys that a village block ought to possess.  I'll just repeat them here, adjusting the language a bit.
  1. The block should service the players' needs.  In the construct of the world, think of the block as being a microservice ~ functioning as an application to provide for a particular need.  This could be a market, or an embarkation point, or a source of information, or whatever other everyday service we might expect the world to provide for the busy player on the go.
  2. The block should have a personality ... a recognizable, though interesting environment with a character that can be predicted, examined, interacted with and challenged, according to the basic "rules" of behavior and respect that the inhabitants require.
  3. The block should offer an opportunity for adventure.  Essentially, this means the presence of a conflict of some sort that the players might choose to resolve, if they're willing to risk failure.
  4. Finally, enacting the value the block provides, winning over the inhabitants and successfully resolving the conflict should "unlock" some sort of reward.

This Stavanger village from 892 is not the Stavanger of my world.  It is an exercise that I am employing in order to demonstrate block and adventure creation to the reader.  If this were my game, I would set up a few of these blocks initially, then add more as they were needed.  The concept of the module, where every block needs to be specified, is the model that says the DM should not learn how to fish, but to let others do the fishing so the DM can eat.  My purpose is to teach the DM how to fish ... and I don't need to make every block here in order to do that.

I would like to make seven blocks; this will enable seven types of reward, as stipulated by the link above: wealth, toys, power, status, novelty, enlightenment and purpose.

Because I intend to go through this process with each development level of Stavanger that I intend to show going forward, over the next few months, I'll ask the reader to continue to imagine running characters that are very low-tech and crude in terms of both motivation and worldliness.  Let's say the player characters are all fighters, all from the clan of Sand in Haugaland.  We can make more sophisticated parties later, when we discuss more sophisticated environments.

Let's start with this hex.  On the above map, it would be 0302.  This is the hunter's lodge, or perhaps more correctly the chieftain's lodge.  The residents of the hex are overwhelmingly of the Sauda clan; most of the lodge itself is Sauda, or owe fealty directly to the chief.  This numbers about 55 persons.  Three of the sod houses are Sauda; the other three belong to the Loda clan. While the Sauda also stretch into other hexes, these three sod houses are the whole Loda clan in all of Stavanger.  All of about 15 persons.

Now, remember, this hex is only 435 feet across. That's 142 yards.  I used to be able to run the 100 yard dash in just over 12 seconds, when I was in Junior High School track.  So remember how small this area represents.  And yet, seeing the map, having a grasp of the scale, we can imagine we're here, can't we.  We can see the boats moored on the mud flat, the grass roofs of the houses; the smell of the trees as we lean against the side of the lodge.  That's the sort of tactile understanding we want.

We can talk about the smell of the fish drying, or the fish guts, which are used to attract sea birds that are then killed.  But really, we should talk about what sort of person the chieftain is.  Remember, point 2 is that the hex should have a personality.  The personality of this hex relies on the chieftain's character.  As I said, we have those 24 motivations to choose from, each positive or negative; we want to start there.

Because this Stavanger was founded only 20 years before, and because we know it is going to develop into an important city, I'll visualize this chieftain ~ we'll call him Horik ~ as possessing social intelligence.  That is, he's empathic of others, and he's very concerned with directing the behaviour of his people towards a better, more comfortable life.  Horik has some understanding that a better existence involves everyone working to improve the village, make it more secure, promote the birth rate, build new and better boats (though how is an issue) and bring everyone else to his way of thinking.

He isn't any smarter than his people, but he knows that others are smarter and he knows a good future is in acquiring knowledge.  But he doesn't know how to read, or do much of anything, except to hunt.  And thus we are setting up a conflict: Horik wants, but he doesn't know how to get.  And between Horik and the village, he sees, but the rest of the village potentially does not.

Horik's block is the most diligent.  The Sauda work hard, as do the Loda ~ though the former are hunters and the latter are fisher folk.  There's virtually no conflict with these two groups.  There is a conflict with the rest of the village.  Most of the clans support Horik and such, but there are six young men ("bully boys") in the village that do not.  Four of these are Orre clan; one is Erfjord; the last is a Verda boy.  The chieftain Horik has had trouble with these; but he doesn't want to start a clan war and he needs everyone.

As the party arrives in Stavanger, they are pressed to visit Horik and declare themselves.  They may wish to visit their relatives first, but these are distant relatives and what there might be to say is put off in favor of letting the chief know there are strangers in Stavanger.  The party meets Horik, hopefully acts properly (respectful, supportive, curious, perhaps moderately generous in giving a gift if it occurs to anyone), and Horik offers his hospitality for one night.

So, we have conflict; and we have personality.  The party watches everyone work to make a meal ready for 100 people and wins respect for themselves if they help.  They win respect if they ask good questions. They win respect if they give a gift.  They win respect if they listen to what others have to say and do as they're told.  The puzzle here is for the party to win respect.

If they get it, they will hear a story, told during dinner, by several Sauda clanspersons.  The party is seated no where near Horik, but everyone talks about the chief.

About two months ago, the bully boys were told to rebuild one of the enclosure fences, a defensive line make with brush and thorns, near the clan of Harald.  About a week later, a big wolf broke through that defense and killed a six year old child belonging to the Harald clan.  Everyone suspects that it happened because the bully boys slacked off and didn't properly mend the fence.  But no one knows for sure.  And now the issue has hung over the village like a cloud, without anyone knowing how to resolve it, Horik included.

The available reward here is STATUS.  Status comes in many forms.  Winning respect is one.  It lets you be recognized by clan leaders, who then treat you well, and potentially share information.  It makes what you say matter to the listener.  It entitles you to stay in Stavanger, and to come and go as you please, knowing that when you return you'll be welcome.

Having privileges given is much more.  Privilege gives the right to do things, like build a house, walk freely around the town, teach others how to do things, take part in hunting parties, ask for a place to sleep, sit near the chief and thus speak freely with him.  Eventually, you may be allowed to build here.  Or marry someone.  And have your children be considered part of the tribe.

In a role-playing game based on only this much technology, these things are very, very important.  Not having them means being completely outcast.  There is no other village in Rogaland; and the next village might be no more advanced.  It might be run by a real bastard, and you'll have no clan of your own that you can turn to if you're in trouble.  You really don't know what's out there, because this is 9th century Europe and things like trade, learning, an abundance of food, even actual population centers, are very few and very far between.  Most of Europe hasn't been founded yet; and it's a long, long way to the parts that are, without roads.  It's very important that the people around here like you.

So Status is something that you're going to want.  And the person who can grant it is Horik.  So in effect, you need him a lot more than he needs you.  He has a whole village under his control?  What have you got?

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Seeking some Lost Files

Quite a long time ago, in 2009, 2010, I had another wiki called "the Same Universe Wiki."  It included a list of tarot card results.

Those results are lost, except for what I posted on this blog.  These three pages:

And now I am forced to ask ... did anyone out there in the world save the complete list?  If you did, I would like to have it please.  I'd hate to have to rebuild the concept from scratch.  I remember it took a lot of research.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Authentic RPG Podcast, with Fuzzy Skinner

Good to be able to get another podcast onto the blog, at last.  This one features Fuzzy Skinner, who has been a reader here for sometime and was willing to step into the limelight.  As ever, I ask you to say a kind word for her, as she's poured her all into this podcast and been terrifically forthcoming as she talks about herself, her players and the games she runs.

Give her some support, and keep listening for these podcasts.  I will be pushing to get the next two done ... and then after a break I will start to talk about how the second season is going to be framed.

Thank you for listening and for all your support.


Let's talk about comedy.

Comedy is a construction in which subjects with particular characteristics are placed in jeopardy which, ultimately, never comes to pass.  The jeopardy is played upon, usually up to the very last scene, to give the impression that it might occur ... for comedic effect.  In some cases, when the jeopardy does "occur," such as in one of the film cuts of Army of Darkness, the jeopardy is played for laughs.

The protagonist of a comedy is usually someone that is incompetent, occasionally due to a lack of intelligence but more commonly from a lack of social intelligence ~ due to being of some other culture, social class or pattern of thinking.  Or planet, as in Third Rock from the Sun.  A good example, taken to a clever extreme, is to bury Brendan Fraser in a time capsule for 35 years in Blast from the Past, so that his "incompetence" can play off the familiar perspective of the remaining cast.  Usually, such a plot is resolved by having the incompetent characters achieve competence through luck in some fashion, or by having it revealed by the third act that the character was actually the most competent ~ or at least empowered ~ of everyone.

In tragedies, incompetence, in whatever form it takes, usually results in death.  When Cinna is murdered by the mob in Act III of Julius Caesar, because his name happens to be the same as one of the villains, his death is nothing less than pathetic (or pathos).  When Juliet is too incompetent to tell a dead Romeo from a live one, she has no chance.  When Patroclus pretends to be Achilles, he ends up being killed by Hector.  In tragedy, incompetence is a death sport.  In comedy, the incompetent is protected by plot armor.

The point of comedy is for us to enjoy the protagonist as a stranger in a strange land, so that mayhem might ensue.  It is possible to turn this on its head.  The Marx Brothers were able to make everyone else feel that they were in a strange land, as the dialogue was controlled by Groucho and Chico.  The Three Stooges are a threat to everyone who comes near.  In all cases, however, the point is to make the observer feel smarter than the people in the film or play, who just don't understand what's happening.  We know, so we enjoy the joke.

Irony occurs when the participants of the comedy act and speak as though they know what is going on, when in fact, they don't.  Seinfeld is a good example; but we're innundated with ironic comedy now, in the form of Archer, Rick and Morty, The Family Guy and so on ... all of whom make the audience feel terrifically expert, in that the characters on the screen are so wonderfully dense.

Ironic comedy used to be marked by having the characters brought to task for their folly; and this explains the final end of Seinfeld, which was lost on most of the audience who had bought into what the cast was saying as "truth."  When they wound up in prison, this was justified by these having been horrible, awful people; but by then, the only audience left were fundamentally horrible, awful people, who did not understand the final scene.  This is a problem with much modern irony.  Audiences don't know the characters are being ironic.

The folly that these ironic characters speak is hubris; the certainty of being right because, well, I'm me.  In tragedy, hubris again usually ends in death.  But not in the pathetic sense of Romeo and Juliet, but in the, Oh Christ, can't-this-guy-just-please-die-now of Richard the III.

Okay.  In D&D, most players are concerned about dying due to incompetence.  They second check everything, they plan, they worry they're going to make the wrong choice ... and because they do their best to control incompetence, it is usually only bad luck, which cannot be accounted for, that brings about death.  (fudging, however, introduces plot armor, so this can't happen)

But hubris is another animal altogether.  There's no sense in arguing, "don't be hubristic," because if you're capable of realizing you might be hubristic, you're not.  Hubris is not merely being conceited or narcissitic; it's the willing disassociation that comes of failing to see this trait in one's self. And then, ultimately, being hoisted upon your own petard.

A petard is a bomb.  To be "hoisted," or "blown up," by your own is the act of conceiving the bomb, building the bomb, putting the bomb under one's own chair, setting the timer and then waiting for it to go off.  See the aforementioned Richard the III.

Players will occasionally invent the idea of being blown up by petards, but they are almost always imagined as a result of the DM's conceptions, and not their own.  Thus, all the focus on incompetence.  "We didn't make this bomb, but if we're not awfully careful diffusing it, the bomb will go off."

The trick to creating tragedy out of a sandbox campaign, where the bombs are mere parts in the hands of the DMs, and constructions in the hands of the players, is to induce, through game play and suggestion, that building the bomb should sound like a good idea to the players.  "Hey, if we take this part, and pour this into that, and shake it up really good, that would be just what we need ... uh oh, why is it ...?"  BOOM.

This isn't easy.  Done right, the players should be able to recognize "this isn't a good idea," but be willing to go with it because it's the best idea they have.  That way, if at some point, someone does have a better idea, there's still a chance of avoiding the bad play.

Of course, a large number of players, not being very bright, will seize on the "not good idea" algorithm and just start killing whatever NPC is talking.  And there is only one answer for players like this:


It is easy to kill an incompetent party.  They read the situation wrong, they act hastily, they use 21st century logic in speaking with 16th century aristocrats and ... well, that sort of thing should go wrong for the player.

It is harder, much harder, to get the competent party deeper and deeper into their own mess, as they keep trying to fix their situation only to find they're making it worse, because they really are hubristic at heart.  They really do think, "This will work!" ... only to find it doesn't, because it wasn't thought through.

The point of tragedy, unlike comedy, isn't to make the audience feel smarter.  It is to make the audience feel dumber.  Because, we hope, the audience will get caught thinking, "Woah, if I had been in Richard's situation, I would have done just what Richard did ..."  [trust me, it did seem rational for a 17th century audience].

I'm sure you can think of a film you've seen, which ended badly, where you realize, if you'd been there, you'd have done no better than the protagonist.  That's the point.  You're meant to empathize. You're meant to feel that you're not really as bright as you think you are.

Once you get players into that mindset, your game is going to get a LOT more meaningful.

Dump the comedy.  And all that that entails.

Monday, May 21, 2018

A Curious Thing

Like most boys of my generation, of my part of the world, I learned to read in the first half of first grade, when I was about six.  But I don't remember not knowing how.  And I don't remember when I learned that I liked reading ... but certainly by grade two I was reading, because I have memories sitting in Mrs. Nichols' class reading a book.  And I remember writing fiction by grade three, as I remember doing it in Mrs. Zachariah's class.  I've read constantly and ever since.

When we begin to read, everything is new.  The stories are all new, but so it the non-fiction.  We decide to read a book about dinosaurs, and everything in that book is new.  We read about ants, or the human body, or stories about Abraham Lincoln, and every page contains something we've never seen before or heard.  Knowledge is fresh and exciting as it pours from hundreds of books into our heads.

Then, a curious thing happens.  We begin to fill up.  Stories become old and familiar.  Facts about what the heart does, or who travelled across Asia to China, cease to be special.  But it's no problem, not really.  When I went from Elementary to Junior High, there was a whole new library, a bigger library.  And it happened again with I went to High School.  And then, even before I graduated, I found the University of Calgary Library.

Of course, we have the internet now.

But if we keep reading and reading, another curious thing happens.  As we dig deeper and deeper into something we love, more and more we keep finding the same old stuff, over and over.  Where once every page was fresh, now whole chapters just repeat things we already know.  We find ourselves reading whole books and learning nothing new.  Nothing new at all.

Most, here, decide that's pretty much it.  Oh well, that was interesting; but it seems done.  I know everything I'm probably going to know about butterflies.  Or gemstones.  Or D.H. Lawrence.

There are those who will tell you that it's impossible to know everything ... particularly if it is a very deep subject, like engineering and medicine.  But see, these things have their specialties too.  And eventually, when reading a whole book only yields the odd sentence or two that tells something new ... it stops being worth it.

Or rather, it starts to frustrate.

Because, if the reader is anything like me, the answer is no, what I know isn't enough.  It isn't.  I started reading content about D&D in 1979 and burned through just about everything in about six years.  By ten, every book, every new game, every adventure, just sounded like more of the same. And I know that many reading here know exactly what I mean.  But I wanted more; I always wanted more.

If TSR and game stores couldn't put books on the shelves that would tell me what role-playing was, well, there were books about role-playing that had nothing to do with games.  And if the company couldn't tell me more about medieval life and people, there were books about that too.  And if the company couldn't explain why there was no economic system, there were books about economics. And about games.  And about anything in the world that I could think of that might eventually come back around to giving me something new that I could know about this game.  Because for me it wasn't butterflies, or gemstones, or D.H. Lawrence.  It was D&D.

Again, with reading, something curious happens.  We read and study and follow and collect our collective bits of new things, until we finally get right out there on the frontier ... where we stand and everything behind us is what we know, and everything in front of us is what nobody knows.

From there, we're on our own.  From there, the process is to stop looking for new things in books, but to start making new things with our hands.  Because no one else is left, but us.  If we've done our work right, we're ready.  We're not following, we're leading; and we have a responsibility to think and work and make things well.

Yet ... well ... it's not as though we had any choice.  When I picked up those first books as a boy, I might have been led anywhere.  I might now be making any thing.  Somehow, through twists and turns, I would up here.  With this obsession.  When once I read with delight, now I make with delight.  And write it down with delight.

So it goes.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Bend Your Mind

If you've not been following along with this series, you'll want to start with this index post, with a list of the foregoing content relative to what's written below.

Here we are.  On the precipice of making an adventure.  The adventure of the town of Stavanger.  And you, Dear Reader, are naturally waiting for me to get started, supposing through all this build up that I have some sort of plan, a sequence of events that will enable the party to overcome some set of obstacles that will make them into heroes.  Or rich villains.  Or at least alive at the end with more experience.  Any of which will do at this point, because for most of you, all this build is still just a blank sheet of paper.  Which we have to fill by writing something.  Somehow.

I could just "write" an adventure for Stavanger; it's just time and effort.  And having something to say.  I've been practicing at having something to say for four decades.  But I do not propose to make an adventure here for its own sake, so that it will simply exist.  I want it as a template used to teach others; to empower them past that blank sheet of paper.

Let's talk about "game feel."

Apart from the mechanical construction of the game, or the theoretical supposition that is the metagame, or the kinesthetic process of learning the game through actual game play, there is a deeper, underlying aspect that is almost entirely missed by most players.  Throughout the game's play, the structure and function of the game must transmit messages through its design that produce an emotional response, often one that is invisible to the participant.  Here we're talking about the way the die hits the table and bounces before you find yourself hunching over to look at it; or the hesitation in the DM's eye before you hear what monster has walked through the door; or the tone of voice of the other players as they respond to ... whatever.  The quality of everyone's game is tempered by how much of this emotional "feel" is positive and enticing, and how much of it is missing.  Completely missing.  And you've been there.

The reason why a DM tries to change tone of voice while speaking about the dead that has just risen is game feel.  It isn't just that the dead monster is rising; or that dead monsters, once they have risen, will roll such and such a die when they attack; or that you're encountering this monster for the first time in the game, or that the monster resulted because of something your character decided to do.  If that was all D&D offered, it would be a dull, uninteresting game.

But it isn't.  Because human beings have the capacity to make other human beings feel or believe things instinctively, in an off-handed and spontaneous way that video consoles can't do.  A dedicated, talented video designer can spend thousands of hours building a game that will get this response out of you (as something like Limbo can), but human beings can do this in mere seconds, even without being good at it.  Even an uncertain DM can make the dead rising sound scarier with a slight tonal shift, as we human beings are built to respond in just that way.  This is role-playing's strongest suit; that it is played with human beings.

Okay ... but how does the uncertain DM know to sound scarier in that moment, or how to sound scarier?  That, O Reader, is cultural memory.  The DM doesn't have to think about it; the dead rising, that's a cultural thing.  We've grown up with it.  The dead are scary.  We've all thought about it.  And when you think of it, even enough to feel it a little, you know exactly how you're supposed to sound when you want to scare someone else.

We like being cheered on, to do well, before rolling the dice.  And to cheer on others.  Why?  Because it feels good.  It makes no sense.  And now and again, a player will remark on how little sense it makes.  The die isn't going to roll differently.  It has nothing to do with what we say before or after we roll.  But we feel that is does; and we feel the urge to cheer others on.  Because we have a long cultural history of that; and we like that the game gives us a place to express ourselves, in that way.

When our sword hits an opponent, we make a swing with our arm, like we really have a sword in it.  If we're at a table where it feels safe to express ourselves that we, the game is better.  When the DM encourages it with similar movements, the game is better.  When the die roll is emotionally interpreted, the game is better.  When we can yell and shout when things are going well, or grumble when they're going badly, or be emotional in the face of adversity, the game is better.

When someone reads something I write about building blocks and trade systems, or removing the story, or having more rules, they perceive in their imaginations that this will turn the game into a boxed-in, calculating, soulless, bookkeeping nightmare, which will suck out all of the fun.  Most gamers have sat through games where DMs spent the night digging through reams of paper for small answers to uninteresting questions, or comparing every die roll to yet another chart, or tediously demanding players account for every arrow fired, every morsel of food eaten and every ounce carried.  And when the DM is incapable of handling that density of information quickly, immediately and directly, the game is bad.  Oh, so bad.

So here is where we must start in using these building blocks.  They must be alive.  They must breathe.  They must be human beings.  They must possess the juice that makes the mechanical aspect of their existence recede into the distance, leaving only the satisfying feel that they might offer the players, who are enacted to live part of their lives in this place.

How ... oh how, do we do that?

To begin with, we have to bend our minds around corners. We are so used to thinking in the mechanics and theoretical aspects of the game, we forget it is about feel.  Feeling is life.  Life is made meaningful by moments of having control; by reacting to stimuli; by having a context, like the terror of the dead rising, in which the players can believe and which reflects the players' other life; by adding details that influence the players' senses ~ how does this feel, smell, move, grab, sting, whatever sensation we can convey with words; by having actions mean something, consequence, reward, a reason to feel proud, a reason to regret; and finally, by boundaries, limitations, things that players can bang their heads against and find, sometimes, that they're real and that, sometimes, they're not.

We can write a long time on these six things.  And I have, on this blog.  For now, let's just try to keep them in mind: agency; response; context; sensation; meaning; and boundaries.

[In the interest of disclosure, I'm paraphrasing work that has been done by others.  In my defense, this is a new concept; it is sadly applied only to video games, and rather prejudiciously in my opinion; and that RPGs require a different language to make the meaning clear.  So I have proposed it]

I know this isn't very helpful.  Rest assured I'm not done.  But you've got to bend.  Because this stuff isn't easy; it is only now, late in life, with the help of an endless internet flow of material, and contact with very smart people, that I'm getting a handle on this, on how it formulates and manifests.  It isn't going to be ten simple sentences and the clouds will part and you'll understand how to invent things.  It doesn't work that way.

Try, as best you can, to keep this game feel stuff in your head, and recognize that anytime you can get any of those six elements in your game, your game will improve.

Now let's talk about tragedy.

Those people who are telling you, Reader, that the game is about "story," are very sadly misinformed about what a story is, or how it happens.  When stories are not comedies (and let's understand, comedy is when we're certain that the story is sure to come out all right), they're tragedies.  Very few role-players are interested in running their characters through comedies ... and though it has been "tried," it hasn't really been tried, because even if you think you've run your character through a comedy, you haven't.  If you think you have, you don't understand comedy.  I suggest you read a book.

Very well, tragedy.  Tragedies are dramas based on human suffering.  The tradition has been that misfortune is brought on by some decision that is made, or fundamental depravity, character flaw or frailty, that ultimate comes to fruition with the result that the character dies, others die, kingdoms fall, people suffer generally and the audience is both amused and reconciled with their own weaknesses and mortality.  This is exactly what players play to see if it will occur.

There are many kinds of tragedy, and many kinds of drama that are supposed to not be tragedy, such as melodrama, epic drama, mystery plays, morality plays, farces and miracle plays.  Understand, for everything except tragedy, it is absolutely necessary that the story plays out in a single way, in which the main character cannot fail or die.  In tragedy, anyone can fail and everyone can die.  So if we're going to talk about "story" and "role-playing," we are absolutely talking about tragedy.  I know some will disagree.  But they're wrong.

As the reader knows, I don't believe in "story-telling" games ... but I will concede the point that every non-player character, prior to meeting the party, has stories to tell: about their own life, about the lives of their friends, about people and fantasies the teller has never met.  These stories are both truths and lies; they are signposts of character; they are clues to adventure; they are deceptions designed to lead players to their deaths.  These stories are many things; and just as I can say this about all the stories we could collectively tell together, O Reader, these stories are legion.

What we need to do is to put these stories into the heads of the people who dwell in Stavanger; and then leave it to the players to decide which stories are true and false; which stories are empty or full of intent; which stories are designed to enlighten and which are designed to obfuscate or mislead.  Some of our villagers are, yes, signposts.  But some are inaccurate signposts.  As DMs, we're here to know which are which ... and to let the players make the wrong decisions, and perhaps pay dearly for that.

Some of these stories do exist to help the players; but not because the players are heroes, but because some of the people in our little village have an honest and willing motivation to be friendly and helpful.  NO ONE exists because the party exists.  These people, we must think, would exist if the party were never here.

This way, the player characters are the enactment of their own deeds, and not our deeds.  They are the victims of our generosity and our malevolence, both, but most of all, the victims of their own insistence that we, as DMs, surely tilt one way or the other.  The player who will insist everyone in the world is a villain, because the DM prefers villains, will lose chances at friends ~ while the player that insists everyone is a friend, because the DM is the player's friend, will soon fall victim to a villain.  This is not our problem.  We are gifted with the privilege of deciding for ourselves how many villains and friends our world will possess, and in what number, and the balance be damned.  The player's dilemma is never knowing one way or the other, or how many, and that is just too damn bad.  For that is the world we live in now, friends.

So in deciding the residents of our village, let us keep tragedy firmly in our thoughts.  Let us dwell upon how agency empowers the player to ward off tragedy or succumb to it.  Or upon how the player responds to tragedy.  Or how the player will find context for tragedy, making or not making sense of it.  Or how tragedy feels, or looks, or tastes in our mouth, or suggests itself in the faces of strangers, or in the change of the wind, or the darkness of water when black clouds gather.  Or in what it means about other tragedies that might be waiting.  Or what boundaries tragedy has thus made, which can be overcome, or cannot.

Let your minds be fertile, O Tragedians.  We are not done yet.

Let's talk about unpacking characters.

Because we are going to have a lot of characters in this village.  And if we are going to have some idea of how the players are going to interact with them, and what the players will want to do in order to get on the villager's good sides, and unlock some of that sweet, sweet adventuring goodness, we're going to want to identify what motivations the villagers have.

What do they need?  Or want?  What knowledge do they possess, and in what form?  Are the players a match for the strongest, the most courageous or aggressive of them?  Are the players kind enough, understanding enough, fair enough.  Should a player show mercy or indifference, when the time comes?  Is this a time for prudence or rashness?  Can the players be properly grateful for less than they wanted?  Can they give back, if they get more than wanted?  Where are lines the players must walk, always understanding that too much this way or that will mean confrontation, loss of respect, humiliation or exile?

Remember, we want a village that exists in and of itself.  If the players enter, make a bargain, stay nearby a night or two, accept hospitality and choose to move on, without investing themselves, the village remains as it was, content and unchanged, as if the player had never been there.  As DMs, we lose nothing.  It is up to the players to investigate, take risks, engender good will, stir up confrontation and come away with gain that they have earned themselves.  It is our role to place the gains, make the lock, determine how it is unlocked and then cover it up with slime or flowers, whatever we think will obscure the view of the buried lock from the players.

They ought to know the locks are there; one in each building block.  But we won't stick signs in the ground to say where they are buried ... well, perhaps a few, if we're generous.  The players will have to dig.

That slime, those flowers, these are the villagers.  One villager is the creative sort, who knows where the lock is but needs encouragement, support, or perhaps a moment of straight talk.  In another place, the players must be curious, to hear a story a few times and guess where the lock might be.  In another block, the right move might be inaction, as the players watch a little girl beaten half to death, for a "crime" that seems harsh and wrong.  Yet this may be the culture, and the players must be open minded here.  Players may be asked to give their perspective, and may give it poorly.  Or players may find their love of learning has come to the wrong, or perhaps the right place.

I am not simply drawing these out of the air.  Two years ago, I put up a post of 24 character strengths, which sits conveniently in the sidebar, voted by readers as one of my ten best posts, ever (at least up to 2017).  Those strengths are reflected by 24 weaknesses.  Where there is bravery, there is cowardice.  Where someone in the village may be in love, others will hate.  While one resident may be a loyal citizen, another will be a traitor and a scoundrel.  Where one chief might forgive, another will condemn. Where there is spirituality, there is doubt and nihilism.

It is our task to settle on which of these is the strength, or the weakness, or more than one, of the personality I suggested each block, and each clan, should possess.  The guidebook is already written.  We only need to decide what the consequences of each are.  How does "hope" play out; what is wanted, or needed, by those who hope?  The return of someone who is lost?  A cure for an illness?  A win in an upcoming tournament?  The restoration of someone's reputation?  It is up to us.  Sit for awhile, wrap your minds around the idea of hope, and things will come.

Then we only need to make that hope manifest.  We, as DMs, know where the someone is.  Or if the illness can be cured.  Or who will most likely win.  Or if the reputation deserves restoration.  We know everything.  But the players don't.  They're bound to find out.

Each block has a story.  A story of despair, of integrity or criminality, of social wellbeing or social destruction, of humor, of ugliness, of 48 different categories of human motivation.

Throw in some monsters for color, some influence from outside quarters, the eternal issues of man vs. nature, and all you have to do from then on is make it all make sense somehow.  Then you'll understand why making an adventure is just "time and effort."  The paper is already full of words.  You only have to bend your mind so you can see them.

For more on this narrative, see this post on Comedy.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Adding People

If you've not been following along with this series, you'll want to start with this index post, with a list of the foregoing content relative to what's written below.

I can hear what you're thinking.  We've created a map that is substantially no different from any other urban map we might find online.  That's not right.  All that writing and thinking and explaining, and what the hell is this?

Thankfully, this is not the end.  For this post, I wanted to start with base outlay of the town, to help explain how we're going to add depth to it.  The reader will remember that we divided the town into three groups: the fisher folk, the hunters and those who found themselves in the orbit of the shaman.  In this series, I haven't explained shamanism; for the present, I'll leave it to the wiki.

In reality, the division of labor is simple, but not so simple as that.  I had also said there was leather to be tanned, primitive weapons and other tools to be made, raw materials to be gathered (firewood, sapling wands for fencing, peat, fresh water, reeds and more), enclosures to be maintained and boats to be repaired or built.  We know the fisherfolk are near the water; and that the hunters are settled in the outside circle of the village, against the forest, but what can we do to make sense of this ... mess?  How does this become an adventure?

Okay, let's step back.  There is one matter I have not brought up, which would seem pertinent to the map above.  Who lives in Stavanger.  Each rural enclave that we explored was dominated by a single clan; where is the single clan that occupies Stavanger?

I'd argue, there isn't one.  In the mere 20 years of this Stavanger's existence, members of the other clans have walked or paddled their way into Stavanger.  They came as warriors, as marriage partners, as petitioners, as impoverished, as people looking for a better life, as slaves and tribute, or just to see what was there.  And stayed.  So the answer to the question is all of the clans are represented in Stavanger.

But not to the same amount!  Some clans-people came in small numbers; some dominate the town.  The clans from the sea make up the fisher folk that are here; the hunters come from the south and from Haugaland.  The chief himself is a member of the clan of Sauga.  Let's look at the map again ... and this time, I'll add the clan names, with the size of the name denoting their importance in Stavanger:

Let me stress that the handicrafts and occupations on the map are not trade references; these are subsistence
pursuits, needed to keep the residents alive and well.  References refer only to things produced in enough
abundance for trade.

This gives us a lot to work with.  The four principle clans, Harald, Sauda, Osthus and Orre, represent the four parts of Rogaland: west, north, south and center.  The Osthus are fishers and boatmakers, but they live on the lake (Breiavatnet) and not the sea (called Vagen, or "bay").  The Orre are toolmakers and hunters.  The Harald are fisher folk, and dominate the long house.  And finally the Sauda are hunters and the chief clan.

The Verda and Randa clans are hunters, and somewhat important; the Sand, who are tanners, also have some sway.  Erfjord is hardly represented here; they are toolmakers; perhaps weaponmakers and perhaps also boat makers.  The Vormed, too, are unimportant. They are hunters and tanners.  The Skudea are fishers, but on the wrong side of the mud flats ... but still, it is only a few hundred yards from their boats.  Finally, the Loda are fishers, too.

Now compare the groups with each other.  Orre and Verda, remember, are adjacent clans in the south; here, they settle far away from each other.  Perhaps they are relatively unfriendly?  And the Skudea, despite being from the coastal grouping of the Loda, the Harald and the Osthus, are utterly isolated. The Sand stand apart from the Sauda, though they are adjacent clans in Haugaland; and the Sand support the Vormed, and to some degree the Erfjord.  Perhaps this helps explain the politics of Haugaland?

Or is it that Haugaland clans have settled in a way that enables them to control both sides of the village?

This helps a lot.  For one thing, we can set ourselves to giving personalities to whole clans, rather than struggle with five hundred individuals.  Not that everyone in a clan is the same, but we can use some generalizations to help establish the base personality of a group of inhabitants. Which parts of the village are friendly?  Which clan is most likely to approach a stranger with a greeting or with a weapon?  Which is the most diplomatic, or energetic, or indomitable?

Is there a pecking order?  Who pays tribute to whom?  Do the clans intermarry?  And if so, who has the chieftain married?  Who has married the chieftain's sister?  We have plenty of opportunity for making a mistake and stepping on the wrong toes, if we're not careful.

This does not, however, actually create an adventure.  And we have all these blocks to define: not just those containing houses, either.  The hex 0204 could, if we want, be a potential block.  Who knows what's out there in the bushes, just a hundred yards away?

This is something we can take up with our next post.

Post Script

Been a lot of crickets out there this week; and hey, I don't mind, I'm certainly challenging a lot of stereotypes and bringing mounds of ideas and information into the conversation. It would be hard to address that without already having been part of the conversation.

I will remind the reader, however, of when I asked if you could please spread what you're reading and liking to other people.  Post this series on reddit.  Mention it, with as little fanfare as you like, on a bulletin board.  Wave it, hash tag it, write it to a game writer on twitter.  Help a new person see it.

Building Stavanger with Blocks

If you've not been following along with this series, you'll want to start with this index post, with a list of the foregoing content relative to what's written below.

The next goal would be to create an urban map of the dev-5 Stavanger that we've described, made of building blocks, then apply some of those base needs that those blocks need in order to create player experience and adventure.  Remember: we're not making the town for its own sake, but as an interactive tool ... something the players can walk through and thus become invested.

Before getting into that, however [and sorry for the tease], I must address some relative points regarding scale and the actual town of Stavanger ~ because whatever system I might try to create, it is never going to reflect, or simulate the real world.

This is a google image of Stavanger's downtown, centered on the oldest building in the city:

Note how we're allowed to call the Norwegian name, St. Svithun's Domkirke, "Stavanger Cathedral," but
we're still required to pronounce "Qatar" as cutter.  Pedantry is inconsistent and stupid.

St. Svithun's Domkirke
According to my reading, the church was built between 1100 and 1150; with the principle architecture and towers in place by 1125.  It creates a problem for me that I'll address later, but that's not important just now.

The reader may recall that I had settled on a block size of 3.7 acres for my town map hexes ... and that has been a devilishly hard thing to conceptualize.  Thankfully, Google Earth has come to the rescue.  The circle above, centered on the cathedral, is a space of 3.7 acres.  Which is rather clear.

Additionally, I've come across this marvelous document, discussing (among other demographic things) the number of persons per housing unit in various cities, as well as the number of rooms per housing unit, in obscure places around the world.  I have come across several references to low density villages possessing four housing units per acre; and the document here gives me reason to settle on a convenient number of 2 to 5 residents per housing unit (as it gives data for very low development parts of the world, such as Gambia and Malaysia-Sabah.  It's not a fully reliable number, but it is ballpark enough that if I say that a primitive culture might have 32 to 80 persons per urban game block, I'm not utterly talking through my hat.  This may not matter to some, but it matters to me.

Okay, let's get around to mapping Stavanger.  I know this is the part that starts to get out of control.  Everything up to here is conjecture ... but we are, effectively, going to build an adventure, and we're going to need a map to do it.  I'll see if I can't give the reader some tools to handle the problems that arise in creating an interesting framework upon which to hang pre-made adventures and on-the-fly adventures alike.

Let's start by superimposing the map above onto a field of hexes:

Now, all the hexes are the size of "blocks."  We can decide from here how dense the village of Stavanger is going to be.  We know from the links, and other content that I've covered, that 225 people per block would be very dense; some of the blocks above, of downtown modern Stavanger, probably are that dense.  But our village will be a lot less so.  I've suggested that 32 persons per block would be the low end; that 80 would be high.  I've already described long houses in a previous post, saying that there are three in my Stavanger of 892.  We can say that those three each have 80 or so people; and then stipulate, say, the independent family dugouts have an average density of 32 per block.  And I said that Stavanger had 553 people.

That makes 13 blocks; 3 big ones and 10 smaller.  Good enough.  But where do we put them?  Randomly scatter them over the map?  That's a very poor idea; we have a map of an actual place.  We can do a little forensics and decide for ourselves how to arrange those blocks ~ and use some of what we already know about Stavanger to do it.

So here's Stavanger again, only now I've muted the real city so that I can label some of the local colour that we can take into account:

If this is your fantasy world, you can always take any real place from anywhere in the world and deconstruct that place a little.  That's all I'm doing here; I'm just taking advantage of the real Stavanger to create a fictional one.

I have no idea if the land between the lake (Breiavatnet) and the sea was swampy; but that seems likely, particularly as the modern images show the lake shore and the sea shore have both been encased by concrete.  I'm suggesting, then, that 0402 and 0403 are left empty ... except as places where fishing boats could be landed during the night, where they could take advantage of the tides (which are not a great change, but critical).  0402 could be a mud flat, barely a foot above sea level, which might rise enough to let the fishing folk ease their boats out in obedience to the tide.

The best access to both the sea and the flat would be 0301 ~ which becomes the future market, someday.  That's a good hex for the fishing folk's long house.  The hunter's longhouse can be nearby, where present government buildings are ... with fair access to the fresh water of the lake and the forest.  A grouping of lodges (the secondary density blocks) can encircle the hexes between these two longhouses and the forest, following around the edge of the lake.

The present location of the church (which will be built 200 years later) can serve as the shaman's longhouse.  The access to the sea is up to us.  We could stipulate that the mud flat extends into 0401, 0501, even 0601, cutting the shaman's house well off.  That could serve the shaman's purpose, however; the shaman is, in a sense, the balancing power against the hunters and chieftain, and certainly doesn't need access to the sea.  We can then stack the remaining lodges behind the shaman and have our village laid out (knowing why it was built that way).

I'll let the reader think about that for a bit, while I go and make a map ... then we can get into further methods of sorting out our adventure building.

Building Blocks & Stavanger Index

The series on urban adventures and the description of Rogaland/Stavanger is getting so long that I feel I need to organize the relevant posts.  Read the posts from the beginning and bookmark this page.  Here they are (and I will expand the list as new posts are added):

Part One: Building Blocks

What Good are Town Maps? ~ Introducing why town maps don't deliver on all they promise regarding adventure support.

Putting Down Roots ~ How are towns formed; how do people and processes accumulate over time?  And what sorts of conditions create what kinds of towns?

The Steady Urban State ~ Misconceptions about how towns are laid out, discussing how money and labour divide the motivations and designs of one neighborhood from another.

Dogpiling ~ Why it is hard for players to adventure in a town, what makes a town especially dangerous and how a DM can circumvent those issues.

I'll Ask Again: What Do We Want a Town Map For? ~ What do the players want?  What informs them about how to see the environment, and what matters when it comes to adventure.  How time presents as a factor in town adventures, and how urban environments in real life defy our ability to effectively explore every nook and cranny.

How Much Can You Search? ~ What is an ideal scale for designing a map that will separate out the bits and pieces of how a player can search, given limitations on time?

Building Blocks ~ Defining a city block, both in terms of its size and why that size is the subject of study for urban planners.  What can we know about density and how can that knowledge inform our game design?

A Day at the Beach ~ An example of how a particular, obscure urban block can be expanded into a role-playing and adventure opportunity, just by knowing how the people in that environment live, and what they know.

We Know Already How This Works ~ Using city blocks as a tool, what are the four purposes that we should keep in mind when having a party hex crawl through a town, or through an game space?

One Block at a Time ~ A conclusion to the subject of building blocks, with what a designer should keep in mind.  Some examples of blocks, with the understanding that such a list could easily contain hundreds of possibilities.  My intention to keep expanding the list in the future.

Part Two: Building Rogaland

The Failed Plan ~ My original plans for explaining and expanding on my development-infrastructure worldbuilding concept, which I have tried before without success.  I had a new strategy, it got bolluxed by the death of wikispaces and now it is my intention to unveil the process piece by piece.  Includes a 6-mile hex map of Rogaland.

Haugaland ~ Introducing 5 development cultures (dev-5), starting with the NE corner of Rogaland. I discuss wilderness vs. rural lands, and how the wilderness can be subjected to a random die roll to create building blocks of adventure.  Relating the way adventures can be designed according to topography, terrain and relationships between wilderness and civilization, as opposed to whim.  Description of rural/wilderness blocks.

Making a Standard that Creates Distinctions ~ Further discussing how to breathe life into a low development culture, to make it into something that players would care about and feed adventures.  What makes this primitive rural clan hex different from a slightly less primitive rural clan hex?  How nuance is all important.

More About Rogaland's Dev-5 Culture ~ Describing the rest of dev-5 Rogaland, excepting the settlement of Stavanger.  How isolation creates separate entities that can, in turn, build conflict ... and that although different rural blocks may have similar characteristics, that does not mean that we can't invest those blocks with unique ideas.

Stavanger's Initial Growth ~ Describing a primitive settlement in a dev-5 culture, and how that settlement morphs over time to become slightly less primitive, with an influx of people and without any fundamental change in the environment, culture or technology.

Building Stavanger with Blocks ~ Once we decide to make a village map of Stavanger, how do we decide to lay out the various buildings?  This post gives a shorthand way of thinking it through.

Adding People ~ Buildings and even occupations are not enough. A settlement is made of people, who interact with each other, promoting group personalities and conflicts.

Bend Your Mind ~ Setting the mindset for building an adventure from scratch: what are we looking to achieve, how is the adventure going to make our players play, and what sort of motivations will the players uncover as they investigate the adventure?

The Village of Stavanger, 892 AD

Horik's Block ~ Introducing a short adventure surrounding the village of Stavanger as it existed in the year 892.  We meet the chieftain, Horik, and examine the benefits gained with Status.

Sand's Block ~ The players meet their family, and learn a little more about what's going on in Stavanger, and what is about to happen.

The Shaman's Block and More ~ A discourse on the wider Stavanger adventure, told from the perspective of the six principles of game feel, expanding on earlier posts discussing this idea.

The Town of Stavanger, 1237 AD

Stavanger Development 6: Introduction: An overview of what's changed in Stavanger with the introduction of certain technologies and culture, in the last 345 years.

More to come ...