Monday, March 4, 2019

Good Things to Say About G&G

I promised to write a positive post about the Goods & Gear splatbook.  I'll try.

Truth is, if you write enough book, you're going to hit on things that will be useful for a game maker.  This is true of a lot of historical documents as well, plus good solid historical textbooks.  For example, the simple, common textbook on the right was highly instrumental in my trade system design, not because it affected the math but because I started to get a grip on the whole of the European economy ~ which provided a background for me, as DM, to imagine how markets worked four centuries later.  This was not the only book I read, obviously.

Sadly for most D&D gamers wandering about on the internet looking for material for their games, they'd rather spend money on a splatbook than read the original text ... partly because the original texts are not light reading.  A splatbook is.  Yet while that lack of density is easier to read, it is also lacking in meaty detail.

The very best I can hope to gain from a splatbook is an attempt to make lists and provide a categorical breakdown of objects or ideas.  For example, Goods & Gear (G&G) has 6 marvelous pages of ship descriptions, details and numbers, describing the length, beam, seaworthiness, time of construction, tonnage and so on.  As a list from which to work, in order to create elaborate descriptions and details for my own ships for the naval combat system I continue to build, it's very helpful.  It gives me ship names.  It gives me a list of details I ought to address.  I should know the draft of vessels and how many decks they have.  I should know how many heavy weapons can be placed and the number of crew a ship should have.  I thank Kenzer for putting the book together, as it is very helpful in that regard.

Where it is not helpful is in the actual research and accuracy of these vessels ~ the numbers are way off, or ridiculous, the crews in particular are excessively too high, there's no consistency in size versus the number of ship hit points ~ and quite often the ships descriptions are, well, wrong.

Gawd knows I've researched ships, fairly continuously for the last 20 years, as I love sea battle games (which is why I own a copy of Wooden Ships & Iron Men, as well as Trireme).  At university I did three papers on Roman, Greek & Far Eastern shipbuilding and sea trade because the subject pulled at me.  And while it is true that numbers for anything having to do with historical shipbuilding are mostly pulled out of a hat (we know virtually nothing about galleys apart from what they looked like), these numbers don't synch with each other.  But ... that's not important.

What matters is having material to build on.  I don't have to take G&G's word on it, I can look up the ships on the internet and get right numbers.  Where G&G doubles both the length and width of the ship, then only doubles the tonnage, because apparently 3-D is a mystery, I can fix those numbers easily enough.  Sorry, if a 60-foot barge carries 20 tons, a 120-foot barge does not carry 50 tons.  And it does not have the same number of hit points.

What matters is that these things can be fixed.  Splatbooks are a signpost outside an abandoned restaurant where the equipment still works.  If we break in with our own food, we can still cook it.

So there is plunderable material throughout.  The Foodstuffs and Meals list includes "brides' finger,"  which I never would have thought to include.  Sadly, many things on the list don't seem to be on the internet.  I don't know if this is because the thing is so obscure it can't be looked up, or if the makers invented it.  Under the clothing list, there's a thing called a "narja"; it sounds like a burka, and on the internet I can find the words linked together; but I can't find a picture of a narja so that I can tell the difference.  A burka is not on the G&G list.

Perhaps they're things in other languages.  I don't know.  That's not helpful.  It IS helpful to be reminded to add a beekeeper's raiment, a semiphore flag, a sounding line, ship charts, boarding hooks, a full sized loom, a shepherd's crook, a tooth wrench, insect netting, a feather mattress, a coffin, a wooden tub, a book stand, finger symbols and hair dye to my equipment lists, which are all things I didn't think of.  There are other things too ~ and I will pour through the lists with a fine-tooth comb until I'm satisfied I've copied what I want.

As a book onto itself, no, I wouldn't recommend it.  I can't imagine lugging this thing from place to place along with other books in case something came up and I had to address this book to find it.  Yet splatbooks can appeal to a wide range of people ~ most of whom get their 500 words of content out of the book and feel easy tossing the rest away.


Lance Duncan said...

Totally agree as far as most books of these types go; they are generally vague and don't give the kind of details you need, or where detail us provided, it is incorrect/poorly researched. However they can serve as a basis for further research, kind of like Wikipedia(though I find Wikipedia to be correct in most cases).

You may have noticed I used data from the splatbook A Magical Medieval Society as a basis for populating businesses in the town of Threshold. It used a system similar to that presented in Medieval Demographics Made Easy, though I'm not sure which came first or if they even referenced each other. The system is based on the assumption that a settlement has to have a certain number of residents(ie market size) before a type of business will be present. I don't think that's an entirely accurate model, especially for a Medieval Society, but it provided me with numbers and a workable basis to flesh out who lives in this place. So yeah, splatbooks are useful, but they shouldn't be the main source for 'worldbuilding'.

Ozymandias said...

I had the same experience with ... and a 10-foot pole. It's a supplement for Rolemaster, consisting primarily of lists of equipment according to "era," like Ancient, Medieval or Renaissance. The numbers, of course, are static and there's no system for making them dynamic; but the lists themselves provide ideas for the sort of variety you can find in the world. I've been combining it with your list, the goal being a master document of goods and services ~ which will then need to be broken down into regions, tech/dev levels, relative rarity (based on materials and labor) . . .

it never ends . . .

Jorunkun said...

Are you familiar with the Low Tech series for GURPS? I think they are among the best-researched books in gaming,l and useful regardless of which system you use.

Also, Fernand Braudel might interest you.