Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Sword Teacher

I recently obtained a copy of 1977's The Duellists, directed by Ridley Scott.  Here is a taste:

While the fight shown goes against every Hollywood cliche about swordfighting, it is interesting to note that the fight director, William Hobbs, is also responsible for another favorite film of mine, featuring, again, some unusual swordfighting.  Alas, no decent fight example exists on youtube; I have to leave you with this, which is fair but doesn't begin to compare with the best scenes from the two films, 1973's The Three Musketeers and 1974's The Four Musketeers.

Some old timers might remember the Sean Connery and Robert Shaw film from 1976, Robin and Marian.  I wouldn't count the film as a good one, and the fight scene needed some work, but I know you D&D players.  The scene gives a good sense of fighting with heavy weapons.  And yes, it is William Hobbs again:

There's a reason why I'm not linking Hobbs' name to IMDb, and some of you will have leapt there already.  If so, you'll have found this standard for D&D players, the swordplay of which most of you will be very familiar:

And yes, this sword fight too:

This one too:

Gets a little freaky, doesn't it?  According to his bio, William Hobbs began as an actor in London and was told by Laurence Olivier, "Give it up."  He stayed with Olivier's company, however, as a fight director, and became ~ in my opinion, because he won no awards ~ the best.  His belief, quoting from IMDb, was that "the actors have to be working mentally on a conscious level of coolness, with complete body relaxation and control, so that their acted aggression can be performed with conviction and at the same time in absolute safety."

After Ladyhawke, Hobbs worked on Willow and Dangerous Liaisons (among other movies I won't mention).  The fight scene between John Malkovich and Keanu Reeves is highly reminiscent of scenes I've just watched in The Duellist. 

That brings us to another brilliant fighting film, and excellent throughout, 1990's Cyrano de Bergerac, directed by Jean-Paul Rappeneau.  If you haven't seen the version, shame on you; nothing else compares to this version of the story and no other version I've seen comes remotely close to the depth of the romance or characters.  But here's the highlighted sword fight for today's post:

Hobbs captures every nuance of the poetry and pacing, to perfection.  Sliced apart from the film, the viewer will fail to capture more than a quarter of the full emotion here; I saw it in the theatre in 1990 and was blown away.  If you can see this on a big screen, ever, treat yourself to it.

Hobbs was 50 when he did the work for Gibson's performance in Hamlet, which I've never seen (and won't) and for the obscure 1991 Robin Hood with Patrick Bergin and Uma Thurman, which I've never seen.  It's a bit sad to think he's the sword fight "arranger" for the Man in the Iron Mask, which is all flynning ... though I suppose there are some tight moments.  Interesting to think he was working with both Depardieu and Malkovich again.  That might explain an actual Frenchman's appearance in that movie.

After a series of so-so and meh films (and yes, I'm counting Shakespeare in Love in that number, a classic example of a Oscar Best Picture that retains absolutely no interest whatsoever for a modern audience), his last contribution was 2005's Casanova with Heath Ledger.  I saw that film; I cannot remember a sword fight in it.  But the film was pretty forgettable.

If you go looking up his IMDb listing, take note of his stunts, too.  Hobbs was a dedicated film artisan.

He passed away on July 10, 2018, just about a year ago.  The man brought me a lot of enjoyment over the years.

Last clip ... here's the man himself:

Friday, June 28, 2019

What I Learned about Running Estate Design

Between 1988 and 1992, I ran a name-level party with holdings in Viana do Castello in northern Portugal, Bissau on the Guinea coast and Barbuda in the Leeward Islands, all with the express support of the Portuguese king, to whom they rendered service in a peninsular war.  In establishing their holdings, the party fought drow elves living below the Cantabrian Mountains, as well as Spanish insurgents, and they fought various jungle beasts, as well as jackalwere interlopers from the Mali Sahel.  The party possessed two sailing vessels, which they used to work the golden triangle: tools and materials from Portugal to West Africa, labor from West Africa to Barbuda, sugar from Barbuda to Portugal.  They did not traffic slaves; but they bought them from the Futa, freeing them before offering them a new life in the New World.

The party had a good time.

For me, however, all of this was awful.  I had no trade system beyond a list of goods and futile attempts to make sense of the scant numbers I could find (I did not solve my trade system problem until 2003).  I had no map zooming system like I have now, only modern maps of the three areas that I redrew as rather simple representations of what the party was doing.  The maps I worked from were road maps, which had to be ordered special, as a 1:500,000 map of Guinea-Bissau is not the sort of thing one normally finds in a Canadian bookstore.  I had part-time use of a Macintosh 128K and full-time use of a Commodore 64.  And I did not have access to the internet ... what there was of it.

This meant that every question the players had, about hundreds of things, had to be hammered out of random books, guesses, logical proposals, my imagination and a lot of the time out of my ass.  The party would want to build a road inland into the jungle, upgrade the bullfighting arena in Viana, refit their ships for weapons, figure out how much labor they needed to produce so much sugar, have a price for goods bought and goods sold, which had to be different from place to place ~ and not only for the three places they semi-controlled, but for any other place along the way they might stop.  Ship repairs, stores, spoilage concerns, costs for men-at-arms, costs for fortifications, amount of food produced and used, crop yields, the occurrence and effect of storms, teaching religion to the natives, building a church in Africa, building a church in the Caribbean, hiring pirates not to attack their ships, prospecting, making rum, wine production in their vinyards, building schools, building hospitals, building houses, making treaties with other colonies, disease erupting among Europeans living in Africa, disease erupting among the natives in Barbuda ... the list went on and on and on.  Every session began with about twenty questions from the players, who thought of things while we weren't playing, half of which had to be put off until the next running; so that after the players' new questions, I had to give answers to the players' old questions ... and this was never ending.

Those people who argue they can run D&D "on the fly" have never had the kind of parties I've had.  It was not my idea to colonize Bissau ~ the party asked for the town as a gift from the Portuguese king and he was glad to give it to them, provided they kept it peaceful and his ships could rely on the port having supplies.  It was the party's ideas to find an island in the Caribbean without a European colony ~ and as it turned out the French and English didn't form a colony there until 1666, the party was totally free to do so first.  Running an agenda-free campaign, I was on the hook to answer all the questions they asked; and because I was willing to answer, and let them build up as they wished, they were encouraged to expand and expand.

Much of the various systems and rules and game designs I've put in place have emerged from the impotence I felt each week as I found myself with questions that no DM could reasonably answer using the game's books.  Quick, off the top of your head: how big is a bullfighting ring?  Now, how big is the one in Viana?  The map said there was one.  Now, without the internet, find out if it existed in 1650, how big it is, and how much wood and stone goes into it, then estimate a reasonable lack of maintenance so that you can guess how much it would be to make it new, then look at the plans the player has drawn up for you to show how more seats can be added.  Once you've got that, settle on a price per seat vs. the number of visitors, the cost of bulls and matadors, the balance sheet of the enterprise and expected profits for the party, plus status in giving great shows and how that status can be used to gain more favour at court.  Do that off the top of your head, with one player who works in the real world as an accountant and another who works in the real world as an engineer.  Go.

Players could build this.
I was surprised when I began this blog that most players don't ask questions like these, given that all my parties have.  I was surprised to discover that DMs don't seem to have players who are professionals in the real world, who know firm details about things, who are not to be fobbed off on a DM's nonsense demanding "simplicity" as proposed by the old school books.  If I'd attempted to collar my players with the original elementary-school versions of the game, they'd have scoffed and railed at me, and certainly wouldn't have considered me "the best DM they ever played with," which I used to get a lot.  99.9% of the time, I boggle at the willingness of the modern player in the modern game, to put up with the monopoly-level grittiness of the average D&D world ~ and this is what I mean when I say that RPGers are "robbing themselves" of an experience they should want to appreciate.

They claim they're having "fun."  They could be having the philosophical experience of their lives.

When I address the problem of an "estate system" now, I have to stress that we shouldn't be thinking only in terms of European farm country.  My players were hacking out roads and plantations in jungles; they were building docks in river estuaries; they were reworking urban landscapes; they were sawing trees out of the forests on the upper Lima River and using the logs to build towns and harbors thousands of miles away.  A proper estate system can't be measured by any one product; food cannot come from one kind of harvest; the materials produced cannot be limited to what's in the game book's equipment list.  The system has to be air-tight and yet flexible enough to handle a baffling array of possibilities, that might allow a player to send an email in the middle of the night asking, "If I want to capture and train oliphants to defend my settlement of Tarfaya from the hinterland of south Morocco, how would I start?"

Because hey, why not?

In the background, I'm doing some work in creating some proper wiki posts to describe the process of determining infrastructure, which in turn breaks the 20-mile hex into the 6-mile hex, that creates the pattern of settlement for the 2-mile hex, so that I can re-interpret that pattern in terms of the build hex, which I need to establish solid guidelines for the systemic design of estate land values.

So that when I get questions, I'll know how to answer them ... no matter where in the world the players settle.

The Bad High

I've heard from various sources this week about the compulsion to wage war against things we don't like, a compulsion that surely I possess and that others feel.  It has to be remembered that while we get a hit of hormonal comfort when we sense or think things that are good and beloved, there is a like hit that we get from a shared despising of something else.

We're built this way.  We're built to cheer when the primitive beast that is one of our clan caves in the skull of an enemy beast with a rock.  We're built to urge on our clan members to keep hitting with the rock again and again, getting that sweet, sweet oxytocin with every wet crack of the stone.  The body's chemical bonus kept us working as a team, it kept us watching out for each other.  Us, the great Us, and the very bad Them, is hormonal.  And natural.

But nature, Mr. Allnutt, is what we are put in this world to rise above.  It is well to remember this.  The temptation to give into hate, because it feels good, is a damnation ... one that we are all, all of us, guilty of pursuing.

My purpose in fixing a final word on 5e is not to promote hatred, but to promote indifference.  Not to say, "Don't play 5e," but to say, "I don't care what you do."  You understand?  We not playing 5e on the blog and I'm not talking about it.  It is immaterial to my existence.  I may hate it, but ranting endlessly about it is a waste of my time.  And by extension the same is true of hundreds of other subjects related to D&D that I just don't care about any more.

This has not been an easy place for me to reach.  I don't think I'm here yet.  But I want to be here.  I want to be only here, where the only talk is positive.  But that is damn fucking hard, not because this is the internet, but because I'm human, and I want to get my hate on just like anybody else, for the same chemical hormone as anybody else.

This has got me thinking about the late 1970s, that I experienced and I know a lot of readers didn't.  This isn't about D&D in the 1970s, this is about culture in general, and television in particular.  I was 10 to 16 years old between 1974 and 1980 ... and I don't know why it shames me to admit it, but I watched variety shows, and Fantasy Island, and the Love Boat, and a mess of other ensemble shows.  It's awful stuff now but I was young, and there wasn't much to compare it to.

But there was a condition of television back then that I really, really hated.  Specifically, there were people, very popular celebrities, that I just ... well, we'll just say hated.  If you'll forgive the example, I really hated Sammy Davis Jr.  He was such a phony, cheap, sordid, pandering black sambo insult to my early conceptions of anti-racism and equality.  Maybe it seems strange that I cared about those things when I was a pup, but I was indoctrinated in politics very young.  Debate club at 12, political clubs at 14, aggressive young communist by 15, with Marx in my pocket.

Now if you don't know who Davis was, this won't mean much to you.  His schtick was to be "Black," with a capital B ... every repulsive stereotype of being black, massaging it hardcore every time he opened his mouth.  People thought he was funny.  And cool.  I thought this public persona was a walking atrocity — and I thought of it as a persona, because I couldn't believe that the real Samuel George Davis would present like this.  Going back to his work in the '50s, he didn't; but by the late '70s, his voice was like a fucking dentist's drill.

And because he was popular, he'd turn up on some show I liked.  Some show I waited all week to see.  Only to find it ruined by his presence.  And that happened a lot, with different people.  Charo.  Zsa Zsa Gabor.  Steve Lawrence.  Liberace.  Phyllis fucking Diller.

Now that I've demonstrated myself to be a complete asshole ... again ... what's my point?  It's basically this.  Growing up in the 1970s, there was no way to express that hate.  We really did live in a bubble.  People talk about how we surround ourselves now with people who think alike, and that makes a "bubble," but seriously, I grew up in a time when there was no one to surround yourself with.  You got your hate on for a celebrity, maybe you could find a friend who also didn't like that guy, but friends always end up liking someone you don't like.  

It's like an itch you can't scratch.

The internet lets you scratch that itch all you want.  You can find mountains of hatred for anything or anyone you hate ... and if that doesn't do it for you, you can go stir shit up and find others who will write messages like, "Hey, yeah, I fucking hate that too."

What's more, if all you want is to stir shit up, if you don't even have a belief system you're pushing, it's just goddamn fun.  We piss on them, they bitch, we piss some more, we don't fucking care, we're not invested in what we're defending, we just want to see people get worked up.  It's hormonal.

And now 20, 22 years on the internet, I guess I'm just getting older.  It's harder having something positive to say.  It's way, way easier to rail on someone else's post and make that today's post ... and understand, I've goddamned done that, not long ago, but last week.  And the week before and the week before that.

I look at my blog, I'm trying to think of a post ... and when it doesn't present itself, there are all those other posts on the internet to open and feed off.  There's the 5e handbook, right there, just waiting to be chewed up.

Thing is, though ... I don't get much fun out of it.  I ... feel it too much.  I angst over it.  When people get pissed at me, I don't laugh and point and enjoy myself ... I get sore and defensive and borderline.  I want people to play a better game of D&D.  When they don't, I think they're stealing something from themselves.  I think, whatever fun they're having, what social aspect they appreciate, they're missing the real party.  And I think it's a fucking tragedy ... made worse, because they're so fucking obtuse.

In my mind, I think Sammy Davis could have had a serious career, one where he didn't have to monkey it up for the white folk.  When I was a kid, I hated him.  But as an old man, I don't think it was him at all.

I think those were the tracks laid down for him; by the '70s, whatever he'd had in the '50s was flanderized out of proportion.  And that at the time, riding the tracks seemed the safest bet.  He got to stay in the spotlight.  You weigh the costs against the gains.

I want to apply that to D&D.  I want to argue that Mentzer, Katz and the others of their ilk are just old men trying to stay in the game, and that the guys who work in the company that made 5e are just hanging on to their paycheques and thinking about their homes and retirement.  I want to see how, from their perspective, it just all seems to be working out great.  They don't see any damage.  They don't see any fault.  They made a game, people play it ... that's all it is.

They don't see what I see.  And if they do, they've made peace with their demons.  They've weighed the costs.

I've got to weigh costs too.  I've got to settle on what my boundaries are; and I know part of that is letting go of that hormone.

Post script,

It was hard finding just the right pictures for this.  The celebrities that Sammy Davis worked with, who were close to him, loved him ... which only proves that the version of person he was in the late 70s was all an act.  Going through the pictures of him on line now, that period between 1970 and 1985 has been scrubbed clean; the images are all late 50s and early 60s, when he was close to the Rat Pack, Martin Luther King, the gods of Jazz and so on.  In the '70s, though, his name was synonymous with "the Candy Man," a horrible ditty that went huge at the time but is all but forgotten now ... but anytime he appeared in public, he was expected to sing it.  I notice his footprint online has had the song removed from his popularly remembered persona in the present, who want to believe that he was never forced to go down that road ... the way people want to believe that Stevie Wonder didn't perform those songs in the '80s.

History is funny.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Forester's Perspective

"In the 1950s, Forester wrote only two novels about Horatio Hornblower, so the patience of his fans was severely tested.  And not just his fans; there's a story that whenever his American publishers found their profits threatened, they dispatched an envoy to California with orders to stay with Forester until he finally agreed, however reluctantly, to write another Hornblower.
"Writing was Forester's life.  And he was extremely successful at it.  But he never talks about writing without using words like, hard, exacting and exhausting.  'I would rather be in the dentist's chair,' he claimed in the Hornblower companion.  After completing his daily quota of words, he felt sick, weary, flat.  'There is no pleasure left in life,' he wrote.  'I am drained and empty.' "
historical note by Bernard Cornwall, describing C.S. Forester,
author of Hornblower and the Hotspur

Oh, how I relate.

It is easy to write a blog.  There is little fear of being held to account for what's written, partly because the media's legitimacy is so lowered by people writing about their cats having kittens or the latest rant about paying tolls on an empty highway on a Sunday.  And partly because another post can be smeared on top of the post before, and in good time the bad posts can be smothered out of consciousness in favour of what's new today.  Like they used to say, today's newspapers will be used to wrap fish tomorrow.

But published works have their own significance.  A writer is measured by a novel in much the same way that we are measured for a coffin.  It is impossible to unburden ourselves from that implication, as sentence by sentence we structure a work from beginning to end.  If I write a bad line in a series of blog posts, something that years later makes little sense, no one will judge me as a writer for that; but if I make a similar mistake in a published book, I will be damned for it for eternity.

It is well there is no afterlife.  If there was, I pity Shakespeare for the misery he has suffered in the butchery of his work, the criticism and the groans of undesirious children.  There is no heaven for a famous writer.

Not that I wouldn't want to be one.  Which, of course, is the center of the trouble.  This blog post will not make me famous, it will not cement my value or promote me to the stars.  But there's an idiotically slim chance that my novel might, a chance that can't be rooted from my mind no matter how indifferent I try to be.  And this makes every choice, every sentence, every scene resolution an abiding misery.  Writing is perhaps the only art where, the closer one comes to the completion of the goal, the less pleasant it becomes.

But.  Tasting it now.  I can fucking taste it.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The Determined Dullard

I'd like to take a moment and explain my present stance on 5th edition, calmly.

I've drawn a line.  I'm no longer interested in debating whether or not 5e has merits or content that is worth looking at.  It doesn't.  After nearly 40 years of playing and designing the game, anything "good" that 5e has to offer can be dismissed as not worth bothering about.  An auditorium of people interested in seeing Nickleback in concert may have one or two people with intelligence, but it isn't worth sorting through all the dreck to find them.  Think of it like a gold mine that isn't worth mining ... not because there isn't any gold in it, but because the process of eeking out that gold from a mountain's worth of dross would bankrupt us.

I enjoy a good discussion on virtually any subject, so long as there are factors involved that need further consideration and examination.  But with any subject there comes a point where the examination of the material fails to dredge up any new information or perspective, and further reaches an impasse where more talking and discussion won't change the individual's mind ... for reasons having nothing to do with the argument.

To be perfectly clear, I'm am not saying that we should, at that point, "agree to disagree."  This is one of the most toxic phrases ever invented by humans, because it presupposes that both sides of an argument have equal merit.  They don't.  One person is wrong, or both people are wrong; but there is no possible instance in reality where both people are "right."

We embrace the argument that persons in conflict can both be right because that sentiment makes it possible to work together towards common goals, while mitigating the likelihood of spontaneous violence between stubborn, mule-headed sociopaths.  Of course, spreading a doctrine that "When encountering someone who believes something with such vehemence that they're prepared to scream in my face, I should retreat from the situation and calmly self-inspect my position to see if it has flaws, because plainly there is a perspective that I don't understand," would also work, but it doesn't fit into three meter-friendly words.

My opinion about 5e results from that self-inspection.  I've read the books.  I've compared the books to other games, to other versions of D&D, to the way the English language works and to much material I've read about game theory and game design.  I've played 5e, I've watched others play 5e, I've watched live stream games of 5e and I've seen the way that 5e has affected game store play.  I have read company policy about 5e and I've read interviews about the designers talking about 5e.  And I've read hundreds of threads online in which people defend 5e.

5e is garbage.  Any rational, informed, game experienced person, that being someone who has played multiple RPGs and other non-RPG games, can see almost immediately that it is garbage, without further investigation.  But the kicker to that is, and this is the really important part, further investigation will not reveal that 5e is something other than garbage.

Before I'm going to believe in a thing, I need evidence of that thing.

If you believe that 5e is inherently, on its merits, better than other role-playing games, then you are wrong.  There's nothing to be debated.  Not because I can't explain why you're wrong, or argue the point ~ but rather, because I have argued the point.  And so have thousands of others.  And so, as things stand, further argument is wasted ... because you, the defender, are incapable of the self-inspection necessary to see why you're wrong.

Please address that shortcoming.

[but not here]

Monday, June 24, 2019

June Housekeeping

If I may, I'd like to draw the reader's attention to the sidebar, where I've added a list of links to the most recently completed pages on my wiki.  Going forward, I'll be updating this list as pages are added on the wiki, and cease to copy pages of the wiki here.  The double posting was causing extra work for me and my main point was to get the reader's interest going in the wiki.

It worked.  Page views have doubled there in the last four months, up to about 200 a day.  I think the point was made for some readers that if I wasn't posting here, I was likely posting there ... that's a trend that's bound to continue and just to be sure the reader doesn't miss anything, I'll keep the links updated.

Secondly, regarding my Patreon.

After much soul-searching and research, I'm going to have to bow to the will of the majority and start posting the names of my supporters.  I have the choice of keeping a permanent list on the sidebar or publishing the list of my supporters in a blog post monthly or bi-monthly.  If the reader has any opinions about this, now is the time.  I'm going to make up my mind about it with the 1st of July.

I don't want anyone to feel used, so please, PLEASE, email me at if you don't want me to post your name.  I don't want anyone killing their donation in order to protect their anonymity.  Above all, I consider your needs and your generosity more important than any decision I might make.

I do plan to provide a "special thanks" list apart from my other wonderful supporters, for those who frightening me with their donations, so please ~ if you're concerned about this ~ feel free to ask in private if you're on that list.

And of course, if anyone has anything to say in the comments about this that needs to be said now, such as a last ditch effort to change my mind or publically shame me, please take this last minute opportunity to say it.  'Course, I accept pats on my head and doggie treats too, if you have them.

Some of you will be glad to know that I got a taste of my own medicine over the weekend:  someone made me feel very stupid, and I would count it as completely lacking in empathy.  Held up a pretty harsh mirror to my face and I've been chewing it over since.  I know that the "feeling stupid" is my own fault, it's my own head fucking with me, and does not originate with the other fellow ... but it is a damn hard thing to shake.  Anyway, there's a little schaudenfreude for the peanut gallery.

I'm pleased about the weather pages on the wiki.  I plan more, but they're in a constructive phase.  I'm thinking of the next matter with players creating an estate and I'm considering rewriting some general history to reshape my world.

For those who may be interested in the online campaign, and who wonder if it is buried forever, I'm sorry: not until my book is finished.  It is progressing steadily.  I was up until 3 AM writing it last night, overcoming a rather delicate scene that I feel went well.  I can almost taste coming around to the last scene ... it is just over the hill.

That's good for now.  Going to work on some other stuff now; I'll keep an eye on the blog.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Estate Scale

Some of you will remember this post from last year, in which I discussed the dimensions and contents of village blocks:

To quickly recap, each hex above is 145 yards in diameter (133 m), which makes a convenient scale for the location of houses, streets, and various other details, if we need to orient ourselves.

I thought this map would be of use in expressing the size of a "build hex," of which I spoke Friday.  Here is the above map in the scale of a build hex:

As you can see, the build hex provides plenty of space, but not so much that it dwarfs the much smaller block.  The build hex is, as I said, 1,304 yards (1,192 m) across ... and the "sub-build" hex is 435 yards (398 m) across.  Incidentally, the sub-build hex corresponds to the size of the fortification improvement that was part of Friday's list.

From this, it's easy to see how the player can begin with a simple cottage in a very large empty, and yet properly affect the surrounding hexes in a steady, growing manner, by clearing or preparing land for farming, setting the location of a mill upon a river, building up a hill or levelling one off to establish a fortification, and yet see these changes in a scale that will still allow the player to draw lines, sketch houses, build roads and streets, define what areas have been searched for valuable materials and so on.

And because the size of the sub-build hex is only 494 steps on your Fitbit, it's easy to see that the party is in no way limited to the size of the build hex where it comes to exploration.  In fact, if the party were to find an outcropping of stone only two build hexes away (2,963 steps) in one direction, and a source for fish in another, both could be exploited by hacking a path (at 4-8 times the speed of a rutted road) to either.  The party could, therefore, build a series of tendrils outwards, ignoring the immediate hexes for specific hexes to be exploited as needed.  The manner in which this is done, and where the roads are built (along with depots, perhaps, and who knows what other improvements the players would care to make) entirely fits with the players' agenda as they expand their territory and interests.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Estate Work will Continue

Before I progress any further with these posts about estate development and management, I would like to explain my motivation and thinking process.

I would rather not adapt these concepts to produce a book, for three reasons.  First, a book will require illustration and I simply don't have the assets for that.  I could produce the assets through kickstarter, as Baron Opal lately proposed, but that would only mean that my readers were being asked to cough up money for someone else, and not me or my work.  If the readers feel motivated to donate, please do it directly to me and not for artwork, but for the things I do.

Second, much of the material I'm basing my work on originates with the game, Civilization IV.  I've considerably adapted the material and expanded its value, but still it is something the game company could haunt me for.  To escape that would require much reworking of the material to produce a less recognizable result ... which would not improve the material, it would only require a lot of skull sweat and clever writing.  I doubt that Fireaxis gives a damn about my writing about the game on a blog, as much as it might if I published a book, so that gives me reason to discuss the material here.

Third, on the blog I'm free to upgrade the material at will, as ideas present themselves and as adjustments need to be made.  The value of a blog is that it provides a living, breathing process of creation, whereas a book calcifies the moment it is published.  I don't see my being able to complete all the ideas I have regarding how to manage an estate within a stale time frame, because I know I haven't, and won't have had, all the possible ideas that will occur to me on this subject.  So again, it is better that I simply blog the process out, piece by piece.

I am keeping a running document on the side that is organizing all the material being discussed here without the sidebars I'm writing.  I find that useful for keeping my thoughts organized; if asked, I can make that document available any time for those interested.

Of course, publishing a book means that I'll be paid for that book.  But that is really up to the reader.  We can remain trapped in the 18th century publishing model forever, or we can realize that I am publishing the equivalent of a book in blog posts every three months.  I leave it to the reader to give value for those "books" in my Patreon and through direct donations.  Providing free material for all gives me a sense of well-being, so I intend to keep doing it, whatever I happen to write about.  For the present, I'm content to write about this subject, just as I've written on other things.

When the reader feels assured that I've written "a book" relating to the managing of estate ventures by player characters, then take a moment and give a direct donation equal to the value of that book.  Were I to create a singular work, I'm sure the cost I'd attach to it would be about the same as my book, How to Run ... about $30.  So take that as a suggested donation, but don't feel bound by it.

In the meantime, I'm going to work on my book Fallow today (remember, retitled from the Fifth Man), along with detailing how both unimproved and improved land is worked.  It is only logical that persons should be able to build a cottage anywhere and then sustain themselves with foraging, hunting and fishing.  Each of these already has a sage ability associated with it, so I'll be basing unimproved figures on those wiki posts.

Be well and keep reading.

Friday, June 21, 2019


This material isn't ready for the wiki yet, but I'd like to try it out.

For this next bit, some background:
Labour is measured in points, with 1 pt. = 1 person between the ages of 15 and 65, possessing the necessary sage abilit to be considered "trained."  
Workers who are not trained count as 0.4 points of labour and are limited to crude developments or buildings (see below).  Adult workers older than 65 subtract 0.08 points per year.  Child workers younger than 15 subtract 0.15 points per year.  One trained worker is able to oversee two other workers lacking the necessary sage knowledge so that they can act as nearly trained; each of these semi-trained workers count as 0.9 points of labor each, and will gain 0.01 points per week, towards tasks they’ve already learned.
Build hexes are 1,304 yards in diameter and are nearly one-half square miles in area (305 acres).  The diameter of three build hexes = one 2-mile hex.  A hex this size provides a good context for the size of hide-units discussed earlier.  The largest possible hide on the worst possible land would stretch over three build hexes; the best land would allow three hides to fit comfortably inside one build hex.  Thus the "build hex" defines the manor estate, or at least the kernal of one.

That looks about 1,304 yards in diameter.

The next goal is to construct a time-frame for "improvements" that can be made on the land, such as these listed below (necessary sage study listed in brackets).

I've crunched some numbers on the worker-unit and build-times in Civ-4.  Nevermind the particulars, but the times listed below for the amount of work done seems appropriate from other readings and my gut instincts.  Naturally, these will seem "off" to some, and "dead on" to others; there really are no definitive numbers possible, given that we're speaking of 17th century mechanics, materials and know-how.  Anything can always be adjusted if it does seem like too long a time, but in each case I've tried to error in the ballpark of making the work take longer that it could under ideal circumstances.

That's partly so that any benefits that might accrue to labor skills will retain some realism in construction times.  Do keep in mind that in any of the examples below that the times and labour requested do not include the acquisition and delivery of materials, which would be extra labour and time.  When materials on-site are used, such as earth, sand or general filling material that is presumably available and non-specific, the time to obtain that material IS included in the time given.

         Communal land [faith, leadership, ritual].  Organizes six or more farming families so that materials, ability and experience of the whole group can be applied to every task, intensifying the value of farmed land. Harrowing, fertilization and irrigation of crops can be improved, fostering healthier, vibrant plants and greater crop yields progressively over three years (+⅕, +½ and +1⅓ in succession, remaining at that level thereafter). Requires permanent hayward and 4 adult workers per virgate.

         Cottage [carpentry]. Crude development, with varying immediately available materials used for construction (sod, rough-hewn timber, wattle & daub, thatch, etc.). 1 week’s labour per 10 ft. section of wall or 5 x 5 ft. section of roof. Trade materials optional.

         Fortification [logistics]. Used to solidify and defend a plot of land, not necessarily including buildings, in order to create a fortified camp. This includes earthen or turf ramparts, including baskets filled with dirt or stone, a wooden palisade, trenches, a rampart, stakes, wooden towers at intervals, pits and potential traps. The effect is to reduce practical approaches to one twelfth of the surrounding perimeter, allowing a strong defence. Does not include stonework or castle-making. 150 weeks labour to ready an area of one block, 87 combat hexes in diameter with a circumference of 273.3 hexes (1,367 ft.), which can then be effectively defended by 50 soldiers, two-deep at the entrances, with 6 commanders.

         Hacking [woodcutting]. Clearing a forested build hex sufficiently so that it can be made ready for other improvements, with room for roads, farms, mills and all. Includes some grubbing of stumps. 45 weeks labour.

         Hunting camp (scouting). Crude development, serving as an outpost and slaughtering area for hunting, with smokehouse and post-holes for tents. 2 weeks labour.

         Mine [mining]: Crude development, for preparing a space for the extraction of minerals following discovery of the ore body. Strips surface vegetation, building access shaft, sluice boxes and more so that buried ore deposits can begin extraction. 10d6 weeks labour, as precise location of ore cannot be known without exploration. Requires 2 cub.ft. of wood per 125 cub.ft. of mine space below ground, plus tools and haulage. Following labour spent, mine may be deemed unproductive.

         Orchard [plantation culture]. Crude development for the purpose of producing labour-intensive crops such as citrus, coffee, tobacco, cotton, tree nuts, spices, grapes, hops and so on. Areas must be clear-cut and protection from the elements for labourers, walkways, freshwater wells and in-filling of mosquito infested ponds must be provided. 75 weeks labour per bovate. Requires tools, baskets; materials specific to area.

         Quarry [mining]. Crude development, for preparing for the pit mining of materials found near the surface, most likely building stone. Establishes initial benches for providing access to the richest material. 90 weeks labour before ore or stone can be removed. Requires tools and haulage.

         Road, cobbled [logistics]. Finishes out an existing rutted road with cobblestones, sand and clay, without paving (see below). Produces a hard, pitched causeway that drains in bad weather, providing a good surface for wagons, carriages and horses hooves. Surface is yet rough and is subject to necessary shoring in 6 to 12 years (equals 10% of original work). Width of 9 ft., with 2 ft. roadbed. 1 week’s labour per 1¼ chains of distance (⅛ furlong). Requires 845 cub.ft. of stones and 211 cub.ft. of sand per chain of distance.

         Road, paved [logistics]. Lays broadly rectangular quarried stone overtop of rutted roads, cemented with mortar, to produce a solid, durable causeway that serves as a pleasant and smooth surface for carriages and wagons. Is subject to necessary reworking every 11 to 40 years, but will endure decently for more than a century. Width of 12 ft., with 3 ft. roadbed. 1 week’s labour per 2 rods (½ chain) of distance. Requires 277 cub.ft. of broken rock or gravel, 178 cub.ft. of paving stones, 119 cub.ft. of sand and 20 cub.ft. of mortar per rod of distance.

         Road, rutted [logistics]. Crude development, with digging out and grubbing a route through forested and non-forested land to create a furrow or track sufficient for cart-travel, ending with a serviceable road. The result is often uneven and loads will sway in places. Width of 8 ft., with room for passing. 1 weeks labour per 2½ chains of distance (¼ furlong). Requires 2.2 cub.ft. of crushed rock, stone, broken pottery or other material per chain of distance, for packing soft places.

         Stabling & corrals [animal husbandry]. Crude development, providing shelter and pens for domesticated animals. Enclosure size depends upon animal type. Materials may vary, but usually consist of stiles or broken rock. 2 weeks labour per ton of animal, at a rate of 20 cub.ft. of wood per ton.

         Tillage [farming]. Crude development, incorporating well building, irrigation, fertilization and grubbing of rough-farmed land for good-quality cultivation. 4 weeks labour per bovate. Requires a plough, one shovel per worker and 10 cub.ft. of rough-hewn timber.

         Watermill [carpenter, mason]. A structure that uses a water wheel to drive a mechanical process such as milling, rolling or hammering. Watermills require the development of a backwater, a dammed body of water within a main river, that ensures continuous steady flow through the water wheel channel. The mill encloses a mechanism that turns a horizontal shaft, used to drive machinery. 60 weeks masonry work and 60 weeks carpentry work, each of which requires sage knowledge. Requires up to 240 cubic yards of broken material for dam construction, 350 cub.ft. of mortared stone and 400 cub.ft. of wood, plus tools and shop materials, depending on the purpose of the mill.

         Windmill [carpenter, mason]. Consists of a brick or stone tower, on which sits a wooden cap or roof, which can be rotated to bring the sails into the wind. Typically includes a four-sail frame, with crude cloth work. The interior encloses a mechanism that turns a vertical shaft, used to drive machinery for manufactures, most typically a cam. 60 weeks masonry work and 30 weeks carpentry work, each of which requires sage knowledge. Requires 824 cub.ft. of brick or mortared stone, 200 cub.ft. of wood, plus tools and shop materials, depending upon the purpose of the mill.

         Workshop system [artisan]. Organizes a “cottage industry” to bypass the guild system by creating a homespun rural labour force. Workers in home shops fabricate articles from raw materials, which are brought to a central market to be assembled and sold. A trader supplies raw materials and collects the finished goods. Popular for cloth production, pottery and ceramics and chintz. 11 weeks labour per home-shop. Requires 33 cub.ft. softwood, 150 cub.ft. thatch, plus tools, work table, stools, shop materials.

Obviously, this is expandable, if something else is needed.  I have it in mind that labour is needed to cause the above improvements to produce goods and materials, sort of reversing the Civ-4 way of doing things, since I need actual products to sell, not "hammers."  So the next step would be to go through the above and describe how that production manifests, per worker.

After that, the third step would be to work my way through the vast list of buildings and structures, determining how long they require to put into place, adjusting the size as needed (since obviously a barracks or library of any size can be created).  Like the examples above, I'd want to break down any given building to its core elements, and then allow the player to decide how large the structure would be built according to the player's needs and budget.

I think this hangs together.  I'm counting on the reader to tell me if this sounds clear and functional.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Programming an Estate

Tuesday's post got little response, so I feel I better explain.

In describing the bare bones of managing an estate, there are a host of things we need to know.  These can be broken down into a few general categories: 1) how much of whatever can the estate produce; 2) how much of this will go to the support of the estate vs. how much can be sold; 3) how many people will it take to watch over this production; and 4) how much will we pay in maintenance/wages.

From this, we'll be challenged to use our resources to create permanent assets that we hope will be productive, then produce a profit.  But every time we create an asset, we increase the number of persons that we need.  We increase the cost of maintenance.  We increase wages.  And most of all, we increase the chances that something in the organization will fail.

Make a hand mill, and operate it yourself, you can assess immediately how it needs to be handled and what may be wrong with it.  But hire someone else to work that hand mill, and trouble starts.  Build a watermill to grind grain and there are bigger problems.  Now you're relying on the river to run, and at a certain speed; you're relying on several people to keep the wheel and the cams in working order.  More people, more chance of incompetence, laziness, theft ... and ultimately that something will go wrong, which will be deliberately hidden from you because the worker doesn't want to be blamed.  Suddenly the mill goes up in flame ... or the wheel breaks and jams ... and while you think this was random, it's more likely because of who you hired or how much reliable oversight the mill received.

And the more you build, the more ventures you jump into, the greater your risk becomes.  Someone comes along and creates a friendlier, more manageable program, or delivery system, and *poof* ... Amazon or Facebook are gone.  No matter how big you are, there's no such thing as security.

When asking the question, "How do I manage an estate?" the assumption is usually that the players keep pouring money in so that money comes out, until it is boring.  OR, the DM keeps creating so much trouble with the process, strangling the profit, that the players quit.  We want a system that lets the players manage the troubles, and yet the management itself creates more troubles that the player can foresee, but can't easily escape.

We want the players to be laying in bed at night on a Tuesday, four days from the next game session, running it through their head: "If we shut down the mill in November, and pull the wheel from its mount then, we'll have four months to rebuild the housing ... and if we commit Jerome to it, we can trust him not to screw that up; but if Jerome's working on the mill, we'll need someone else to oversee the mine through the winter ... maybe if we concentrate on shoring up tunnels until we can get Jerome back, and suspend digging the shaft down to the third level; 'course, the second layer's starting to play out, and we'll need a fresh vein if we're going to get the foundry started next summer.  God, it sucks that we're fifty miles from another source of iron.  We should have taken August and September and prospected that south ridge.  Too late now.  Then again, we could still do it, but that's going to need a foreman too.  Who's going to keep a crew of twenty prospecting those hills in December and January.  Davis?  Nah, he gave us trouble on the mine.  Somebody new?  Not sure ... new people can be very unreliable.  I guess I could do it myself, let my henchman run with the party when we tackle the keep.  Then I could be around to oversee Davis every few days, and could plumb the third level.  But if I'm here, why not just manage the mill, and leave Jerome where he is?  Hm."

None of this means a thing if we don't nail down the principles upon which the game is founded.  What land produces how much food and raw materials; how much does it cost to build something; how long do built things last?  How much damage can a random person do, and how do you choose people you can count on?  All the games that we play like this work on the same principles: find the resources, make the resources, allocate the resources, reduce spoilage, fire incompetents when we find them, find ways to make more capital or streamline costs, etc.

The main difference is that, because this isn't a video game, there are no technical limits on what strategies a player can try.  Video games are full of arbitrary boundaries: the map is just so large, the buildings are this big, such and such always costs this much ...

There's no way for YOU, the player, to program the system.  But with a DM, that should be possible.  In fact, that's what makes this format in D&D a massive upgrade.  The player is the programmer.

That doesn't mean we can suspend the niggling bits, however.  A solid, reliable baseline has to be established in something very like concrete ... and that baseline has to be as simple to grasp and understand as it is in any video game.  That's why we don't want to fiddle with comparisons between food calories, soil yields and consumption.  Once we establish what a "person diet" is, we can then adjust one number to manage health benefits, famine, distribution, value, space required and so on.

We want to simplify the base factor so that we can adjust that factor to manage far more complex problems than crop yields.  This is the goal across the system.

We don't need to know the exact cubic footage of mine we've dug; we need a ratio between one miner, production of raw material and the cost to shore up what a miner can mine in a day or week. Then we can produce one number that tells us the cost and the effect at one time.  We can then rate individual miners at 0.98 "ert" [excavation rate], 1.01 or 1.05.  That helps the player decide if this miner needs to be replaced or if it isn't that big a deal.  Replacement means time training, unknown qualities in the green worker and possibly ill feelings among those who are now worried they'll be let go.  It isn't just the ert that matters.

I trust this helps put Tuesday's post in perspective.  I'd rather not write post after post about how to manage fifty different land improvements/buildings that could be emplaced ~ though that would be the goal in the long run.  A goal that, I admit, I've considered for a long time and have been making incremental movements towards.  It's only that my interest was rekindled this week by the retinue post.

My Daughter's Screen

My daughter is a luddite.  She keeps her footprint on the internet to a bare minimum, has no facebook account, barely tolerates email.  She doesn't even want me to say her name online because she'd rather not be found.

But once in awhile she gets an urge to share.  So here is a post written by her, expressing a recent experience she had.
"I would like to scream and rant about all the obvious reasons not to use a DM's screen: the expected elitist perspective of the upper hand that most DM's seek to provide themselves, by providing yet another layer of control to compensate for more BS railroad storytelling ... but let's put that down.
"For the first time in about eight years I unexpectedly found myself playing with a screen.  Currently my party is facing a giant owl and after some debate on how I wanted the "arena" to feel, I decided I would build a three-dimensional landscape. This would allow the owl to move up and down the 3-D plane. 
"Normally, I play very traditionally; hex grid vinyl mat, miniatures, no fog of war.
"Not wanting to put my players where they wouldn't be able to see, I decided I would be the one blocked by the solid side of the cube.  Suddenly, I was in my own isolated world.  Not only was I playing towards them with my arms reaching like a puppeteer, but I was losing their attention in pulling my gaze away, as I ducked behind the screen.
"I remember the days of a screen ... I do.  Hiding behind that orange wall with tables staring me in the face, papers and notes everywhere.  I don't look back on that memory with a fond gloss; I'd rather look back on it like one of many things I did early in the game ("Remember the days I needed a screen?  Haha ... ya, well, I was still learning).
"I pose this to you: how honest are you really?  Both to your players and yourself: have you ever fibbed a roll?  I would be lying if I said I hadn't.  Sometimes you just don't want to kill someone.  You roll the die and pick it up again, pretending you didn't see it.
"That's what a screen is to me.  I separate myself from the player, I see myself as a greater entity rather than a conduit for the game.  I know this is a point of debate, but regardless of how you see yourself, you owe it to your players to be there with them.
"The truth is you are selling them your world and no one would buy from someone who kept saying, after every question,"One second, while I look behind this screen."

Instant Pool

If you haven't seen this fellow work before, this is the most impressive stuff:

It just screams sage ability.  Much of the opportunity comes from the soft woods of the area and the sort of clay that can be carved in this way, neither of which are universal.  Yet still, given that the fellow manages to construct these things in a few days (there are multiple videos from the same artist), I'd love to invest a ranger with this set of skills.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Estate Farming

Let's suppose we have a group of characters, 1st-3rd level, who are prepared to suspend their usual adventuring ways and instead take some time to settle themselves upon a plot of land.  This creates an interesting decision to be made, one that could easily intrigue a party for an hour or more, once they fully grasped the question.  We'll assume I'm asking the question of you, dear player.

Where would you like to settle?

We have the question of whether or not you'd like to find some land within the existing settled environment, or truly virgin land.  I have plenty of both to offer.  Being the 17th century, there are very few places in the world where every acre of ground within a 20-mile hex has been broken.  All around Holland of course, and the environs of Paris, London and Vienna, and a good deal of Italy ... but still, there are options.

You can buy an existing farm anywhere, for a pretty penny.  You can find some sliver of untilled land between existing farms most everywhere except those few places I've mentioned.  And you can find quite a lot of virgin land if you're prepared to settle on the borderlands ~ and the further out you go, the better the chance that those virgin lands will have a lovely rich soil.  America is virtually untouched in 1650.

Of course, you don't have to choose farmland; you could decide upon a whole range of possibilities.  There are varying kinds of forest land (which you could clear, or not), desert lands, jungle, tundra ... even an oasis, though you'd likely have to wrest that away from some tribe by force.  And each of these have a hill option: grassy hills, hill plains, hill forest, hill desert, hill tundra ... even the hills of some arctic wasteland.  There are mountains as well, though unless you intend to mine these, you would be looking at the valleys between the mountain ranges and not the mountains themselves.

And all of these have a coastal and river option as well.  Rivers produce possible trade, but they do offer fewer options if virgin territory is your intention.  The coast provides islands, too ... but again, more often than not, the best islands are already settled.

You can see that this offers a lot of choice ~ but it is a bitter choice, because you can't really have them all.  True, you would probably want to shoot for a forest-covered grassland adjacent to some hills and a river, not far from the sea, with good soil in case you do decide to farm, and hopefully a chance at other raw materials like an iron, copper or gold mine ... but it isn't like every place like this hasn't been found and settled already.  Chances are, wherever you choose to settle, you'll have to settle for the best you can find.

I've been considering some measurements for this, keeping with work I've done in the past with food, hammers and coins, plus reading I did lately on the subject of hides.  The hide isn't a specific unit of area, but rather a unit measuring the land sufficient to support a household, including obligations for food-rent, maintenance and so on, paraphrasing wikipedia.  In the real world this is hardly a consistent thing, but I'd like to codify a hide in terms of actual food supplied, for game purposes.

To do that, I'd like to propose a unit, called "person diet," or "pd," this being equal to a sufficient number of calories necessary to give one person enough food over a period of one year.  It doesn't matter that we don't know how many calories that is.  We can argue that it's still possible to live on 0.9 pd per year, but that this is unpleasant and unhealthy; we can also argue that many children of various ages can survive on 0.2, 0.4 or 0.6 pd per year, depending on their age and to what degree they are starving.  These are details that can apply to other matters ~ they don't need to apply to the mean average comfortable food requirement for a theoretical "normal" person, which we can then use to guess a the production of one hide of land.

After some consideration, I'd like to set a hide-unit as equal to 15 pd.  We don't even need to know the exact nature of food being produced.  This number allows 2.5 pd to replant, 3.75 (one quarter of production) as tax, rent or maintenance, 7 pd to support a ten person family with six children and older dependents, eating various ratios of pd, plus four fully grown adults, or some combination thereof.  That leaves a cushion of 0.75 pd for storage against famine (4.5 pd in six years) ... plus more if the family is smaller, or the taxes are lower, or the particular kind of food doesn't have a 6:1 replant ratio.

The actual size of the hide then depends on the land itself.  We can rate dry plains as producing 2-7 pd (d6+1) per 120 acres (known as a "carucate," so that the physical size of a hide-unit would measure between 257 and 900 physical acres of land.

Grassland is better soil, and we can divide this into two kinds.  If the grassland has already been settled, then the best land is already part of a farm ~ so the best virgin land that can be found will give 8-14 pd (2d4+6) per 120 acres, so that the physical size of a hide-unit would be 129 to 225 acres.  On the other hand, if the grassland were truly virgin and untouched, the best sort of grassland could be found, offering 15-21 pd (2d4+13) ... in which case a hide-unit would be 86 to 120 acres.

Potentially, even better land could be found, upon flood plains that would offer between 22 and 49 pd per 120 acres, but those are most likely already occupied and in any case, would be quite small in size.

But why use a "hide?"  The unit itself is the actual tilled area within the greater physical area ... so that a 900-acre hide would still expect to have 120 acres of tillable land.  This land was divided into 8 bovates of 15 acres each, the amount of land that could be tilled by 1 oxen in a season ~ that is, between the time the land was ripe for ploughing and when the seed had to be in the ground.  An acre itself is defined by how much land an oxen can plough in a day, so the window of days to plant a bovate is 15.  Two oxen could move faster, ploughing twice as much in a day.  With six oxen working, three working ploughmen could manage six bovates (three "virgates) within planting season ... and the fourth plot, at least by 1650, the time of my world, was left fallow.

My suspicion is that the window was not as tight as described, and that more than an acre could be plowed in a day, as I've seen documentaries that depict more land than a bovate being plowed by one team of two-oxen, but these are the measurements as dictated ~ perhaps accurate to the 9th century, then overcome by horses with horsecollars and such.  Teams and animals likely made their rounds of the neighbourhood and more research will probably reveal the actual amount of land an ox team could plough circa 1650 ... but for my purposes now I'd like to stipulate that it requires three grown workers of age 15 to 65 to farm a hide, of which one must have the farming sage ability (which I realize now has to be rewritten to fit this model, but that's how it goes), so that a farmer and his two sons/daughters could manage the space.  Each, then, can till enough land to produce 5 pd of food supply.

That works also, though it's a bitch if that one farmer has more than 4 other pd to feed, but life can be rough.  My goal is to argue that the characters, if they wished to till land, would need one of them to be a farmer ... in which case three of the characters could pitch in and help farm.  And if enough animals could be found, the characters could manage perhaps more than a hide.

And if the land was truly virgin, so that no taxes were required, that would produce 7.5 pd that could be sold or stored each good season.

Incidentally, ballpark, using the food rules I've postulated, and assuming half the year spent at labor and half the year spent at relative rest, a pd = 1,080 lbs. of food.  Not realistic, I know, for real life, since different foods have different calorie values, but this is a game and overall the concept works.

It would need some moderated mechanics for plantations, but that's doable, eventually.

None of the second half of this post addresses the other possibilities than farming.  Lands could be hunted, they could be mined and the coasts fished, the main purpose may be clear-cutting a forest, or building a desert castle, etcetera.  I'm only giving an example of how the numbers might be managed, and quite simply, so long as we're all willing to circumvent the need to be too precise with our definitions.  The above can be quickly expanded to fifty, a thousand or ten thousand farmers without much adjustment.

And do note, that if the players are free to explore virginal lands, they don't need to settle for 2 or 4 pd per 120 acres.  They can settle on the best dry plains, or the best grasslands, once they've explored enough.  Noting of course, that the lands immediately adjacent may not be as wonderful.  It's a question of how much exploration the players want to do before they settle down.

What Purpose Does it Serve?

The next question becomes,  what purpose does the fief serve?  Why should the player undertake the process of managing land, house, hirelings, financing, accounting and more for the sake of a character who can hardly experience comfort or the sensory impact of looking out upon one's own estate?

Wealth?  Characters rarely lack for plunder
 Prestige?  Characters tend to be lone wolves, without the compulsion to prove their value.   Raising an army?  There are so few rules in place for conquering campaigns that any outline of raising money and force that we're in a hole even if the method of recruitment is put in place.

Persons of the period saw title and land as a ticket to "the good life."  To appreciate the experience, the character must want more than the accumulation of prowess.   There must be a visceral response to watching a project grow, for its own sake.   Can players be satisfied with laying out money to "build" the estate piece by piece,  as nothing more than diagrams, lists of assets and liabilities, along with tiny details recording outputs, shortages and spoilage?

I have my doubts.   I'd like to make the process "sexy," but without the physical manifestation of the real property, we're stuck with representations in maps,diagrams and numbers.

Just think about it.  Give me some feedback.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Fief Real Estate

It's a pity when the book pages don't line up.

Before anything can be written about the management of fiefs, we've got to look at the problem from the perspective of intentions and motive.  Before the player buys into both the costly title of the above concept and the willingness to believe that this will be a valuable, useful venture on the player's part, there are a few obligations that need to be discussed on the DM's part.

In effect, the DM is the real estate agent, whether we're talking about a piece of bald land that the player will build on, or we're purchasing the above tranquil scene a month after it's been burned to the ground, leaving only the stone standing, or this is something brand new that the character has come into.  And being the AGENT, the DM cannot, should not, act solely for the DM's benefit.  The DM must not be Snidely Whiplash here, callously viewing this whole thing as a means to line the DM's metaphorical story-telling pocket.  The player should be able to feel reasonably secure that this parcel of land, like hundreds of other like parcels of land in the same kingdom, will not be monster-central, the first place where monsters get off the adventure train.  As an agent, the DM has an obligation to protect the player's interests ~ fairly, decently, respectfully and as an interested game partner.

This means that if the player thinks to hire an NPC whose an expert on land rights or property laws or masonry or whatever, the DM should credibly offer real, legitimate, honest advice, addressing all the details being asked about, so that some future point the DM cannot simply step up and claim the land belonged to someone else, because we checked that, thank you.  The DM must be candid and willing to disclose all information about the property, and I mean ALL.  For any sort of fief management to work in game, the DM must see that the better course of action is to work towards the player's instructions or wishes, and let matters like cost, weather, inability to find workers, the player's own bad habits in managing their land and such like to determine the success or failure of the venture.  The DM should not plan to upset the venture just because it exists.

Therefore, if the player decides to determine the value of their property, and then adds to that value with effort and sound behaviour, the DM should not arbitrarily then destroy the housing/products market, or deny the player the benefit of their labor, or in any other way refuse to give compensation in value for effort and time the player has taken.  IF the player makes bad decisions, refuses to grow local crops, or takes risks that are clearly defined as risks at the outset, then the die can decide on the success of the risk.  The DM should not be in a position to do so.

If the DM knows things about the property, the DM cannot, should not, invest that information into any NPC dwelling in the DMs world, without due respect placed upon the process of that NPC getting that knowledge ~ along with a reasonable chance the player will see the NPC make the attempt.  The DM is not entitled to use any knowledge of the player's property in the creation of events happening in and around the player's estate.

Failure to follow these principles should entitle the player to kick the DM in the balls, of course metaphorically speaking [so that it still applies if the DM is a she].  Mostly, I just want to make it clear how much legitimacy the player would have in performing this most physically abusive act.

If you've ever bought a home, and given a moment to think about how you'd feel towards your real estate agent if they behaved like many DMs would, you get a sense of this post's sentiment.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Describing the Weather

The survival times, I admit, aren't very clear; I haven't
yet sorted out my thinking on these.  See it as a
placeholder for the present, please.
It's my intention to post the charts shown on separate pages on my wiki, as the goal is to have a page for each temperature grade, to describe fully how a given temperature affects the character (this is a lot harder than it sounds, particularly if the goal is to do it without using either fahrenheit or celsius).  Degrees are given here for the benefit of the reader's use, who may not wish to be as orthodox as I intend.

The thermometer as we know it wasn't invented until 1714, by the Dutch scientist Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit.  Prior to that, there were devices that had been developed and used by scientists, notably Galileo and Giuseppe Biancani, but even as various thermometers were created throughout the latter half of the 17th century, there was no standardized scale.  Moreover, these were either curiousity pieces or objects specific to scientists and laboratories.  No peasant or common townsfolk ever saw a thermometer or imagined they would ever relate the relative feel of the air to such a device.

For that reason, I've been challenged to build, memorize and convey a system to persons who are so rigidly based in measured thinking where it comes to weather, including myself.  It is virtually impossible to get a pure description of weather that doesn't turn to the thermometer to produce clarity, so that it's been uphill to explain what frosty, icy or wintry temperature "feels like," in a way that doesn't require me to say, "Oh, you know, like -6 degrees celsius."

On the whole, my goal of creating pages for each temperature grade has been a bust.  The language isn't there, the information isn't there ~ and there doesn't seem to be anyone left to contemplate that for most of human history, people never used the word "degree" to describe the weather.  It makes me wonder what that must have been like, given that I can't find any extant documents before the 16th century that discusses the "feel" of the weather in any fashion (science seems to have discovered weather in the late 1500s).  We mention storms and winter and such, and sometimes someone will say it was a nicer summer than summers past, but there's no effort at all to actually, and at length, describe any such phenomenon.  When that comes, everyone rushes to measuring the weather; it is obviously too subjective to meaningfully describe.

Try it.  Sit down and try to write three sentences that could apply to weather that's "icy," as defined above, that can't be mistaken for "wintry" or "frosty" [without using degrees, obviously] ... and yet you know perfectly well from the measurement that it is a distinctly different weather.

Even here, when I've brought up the subject on the blog, mentions of the subject have landed with a silent thud.  I seem to be alone in my curiosity about this, and certainly alone in any compulsion to address the matter in D&D terms.

Post Script,

I'll bet that the first thing you turn to if you try to describe weather is the clothing you'll wear.  No good, that's cheating.  I said describe the weather, not your tactics for dealing with it.  We can recognize the Americans by how much they're wearing here in the spring.  I remember a story that my uncle from Saskatchewan went to Las Vegas one winter ~ and was stopped by the cops there because he was wearing shorts and a t-shirt when the weather was only 58 degrees!  They thought my uncle had to be drunk.

The Scholar

I've always thought that if there was going to be a new character class, it should be something truly different.  Not just another fighter or spellcaster, not another version of the thief, but a concept utterly divorced from previous templates.

And because I've never thought of such a deviation, I've never proposed a new character class ~ though that is a major sport of RPG bloggers everywhere.  It isn't possible to go down a long blogroll on a site without finding someone who has recently written about a new character class.

This said, I might have an idea.

I hesitate, of course.  I don't want to make this sort of thing a habit.  But I suppose once every 40 years is okay ...

I am imagining a character class with no combat ability, no spells, no special physical capabilities, no role-playing or conversational talents ... very little, in fact, that might provide any real help in a fight.  And while there would be a facet of the character that would provide some healing benefit, none of that would be magical and virtually none of it would apply to restoring hit points.

But, lots of knowledge.  Lots and lots.  The character class would be "Scholar," an individual who possessed a ton of academic knowledge, not "practical" knowledge.  A scholar could conceivably be a physician, an engineer, a merchant, a politician or an historian (these being sage fields), but such things would not instantly apply to the most difficult of skills.  A 1st level would not be a full-blown professional, no.  But I think there would be a larger number of sage studies to draw on, and more sage points gained than other classes.  Because, basically, knowledge is all the character would possess.

There would be very little weapon training, no ability to wear armor and no special powers.  The combat table would be the mage's, with comparable weapons, and little else to keep them alive.  Experience needed to go up a level would be low, however, perhaps lower than the thief, which would fast-track the sage abilities.  Hp, d6 (because I'll give this one small benefit over the mage/illusionist).  It would be a tough row to hoe (though a scholar could tell you how to hoe it).

Basically, the other characters would be needed to keep the scholar alive.  But in the games I play, that would be seen as a feature, not a bug.  A scholar would be a great henchman.

And a very different sort of character.  With a different outlook, and different goals.  Someone who might step up and do their part in a fight, but wouldn't need to base their character's aspirations on raw physical and mental power.

Might be interesting.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Food for Powder, Food for Worms

The abusive behaviour of most players towards hirelings is well known in the community, with most DMs noting ruefully that while player characters may survive a dungeon, NPC men-at-arms and hirelings usually don't.  This is part due to the weakness of non-levelled characters lacking in hit points, but it's also because players tend to consider hirelings and followers as material to be spent rather than a resource to be preserved.

There are a number of reasons for this, beginning with the poor fighting quality and usefulness of men-at-arms, who are barely able to fight one-on-one with a lowly orc, what with penalties to hit and low hit points.  Both DMs and players running men-at-arms also set them up to die, having them rush directly into combat, traps, ambushes and what not, so that they are more like budgies in a coal mine than combatants.  Practically no effort is made to give a man-at-arms as much personality as the local grocer has, so that these persons are easily expendable in that they are faceless, replaceable fodder.  As such, many players don't see the point ~ men-at-arms are going to provide much benefit and they're just a pain to maintain or keep track of.

These issues evaporate in a grittier system, as players begin to understand that hirelings are highly needed in support roles, to carry gear, to hold the light sources, to drag the wounded out of combat and to serve as a last-ditch reserve when the combat goes sour.  Rather than sending in the fodder first, the support team of men-at-arms holds the rear while the main body takes the front blow.  To make this work, however, there have to be things for a man-at-arms to do.  If there are no encumberance rules, no wounds to bind, no attention paid to light sources in game and no chance of the party ever losing a combat, then they're right ~ a man-at-arms is useless.

Therefore, it's not surprising that the "reward" of retainers at a given level is often looked at by players as a hindrance rather than a boon.  They may be useful at some point, but probably not on the next adventure, where probably half of those or more that we brought along would be dead.  Better to record their number and leave them safe at home, where they can push around our peasants and make sure the taxes are paid.  And this is what my players have almost always done once my characters obtained retainers, for years and years.

My perspective is different now.  It wouldn't be enough any more to simply reach name level and expect 160 retainers to "show up."  A character would have to be a resident, would have to prove themselves deserving of local recognition, would have to receive some sort of recognition from the higher lords as well, for why should they part with some of their lands for the sake of interlopers?  I can see the players ingratiating themselves to a prince or a duke, but that would have to be role-played in a manner that impressed the upper noble.  The players could dive into the deep wilderness, trying to find themselves a piece of tillable land that no one else had thought to clear and plant on, but again, there'd have to be a reason why strangers would show up and seek to serve.  Providing land for them is a start.  If one were in America or the African colonies, a boatload of slaves or deportees might provide the basis of a retinue, if they were freed or otherwise granted status that won them over.  Whatever the method, the "adventure" would include demonstrating that the players deserved the retinue that turned up, by the way they played, by the choices they made as characters and by the arrangements they made with other NPCs, but below and above them.

Moreover, none of that needs to wait until name level, not in my game.  As far as I'm concerned, a 1st level party can strike out for some part borderland, arrange to purchase or "claim" land, build a farm, gain followers, build small scale fortifications, clear the land, wipe out some vermin or worse residents, adventure a little for a stake, build relationships with the local magistrate, then the baron, bey or rajah of the region, perform some services, gain more followers, pick up some henchmen, increase the number of their hirelings, gain permission to posses a heraldic sign through some deed, work their way up through levels and have the whole infrastructure perfectly in place so that, upon hitting 9th level, royalty or what similar force that exists would finally get wind of the situation and send out 150 soldiers or like supporters on cue.

And no, I don't see this as limited to some classes.  Why shouldn't a Bard establish a college, or a druid a gathering of forestals?  Why shouldn't a mage or illusionist establish a thaumaturgical school, with a set number of fresh new students being enrolled, who then become an important alumni?  Why shouldn't a paladin gain a pack of crusaders?  Why these classes, but not all the classes?

Obviously, I don't think that every class should get a raft of soldiers.  The cleric should get less soldiers and more zealots and believers, but probably this was a bit creepy for the 1979 company.  I'm not limited by such prejudices.  I can cheerfully allow an "evil" cleric player character to gain eighty or so deranged, murderous thuggees ready to konk women unconscious and burn them alive in monthly festivals ... because I just don't care.  This was done in reality, once; no reason it shouldn't be done in a player's imagination.

It would really be something to concoct 80 meaningful personalities for these retainers ... and I'm not talking about some silly list where "pious" or "slothful" count as a personality description.  I mean names, habits, persons you'd like to have with you in a given circumstance ... and 80 random collections of six stats that YOU, as player, would have full access to, so that you could choose the one with three 17s and a 16 to join you on your raids, while assigning the fellow with no stat greater than 10 to manage the gong pit.  You'd have full control; these are your retainers.  I think watching you manage them, get to know them, figure out how to delegate them into tasks and expand your personal control over a small fief (made of a number of hides, which could expand into a hundred), sounds like great fun as a DM.  And meanwhile, the ranger is managing a different crew, the paladin another, the mage another and the thief still another.  Crazy, wild, engaging stuff.

It doesn't sound like work.  It sounds like perhaps the best campaign I ever had.

It's nice to have friends.  Try to bring most of these back alive, hm?