Friday, December 30, 2022

Proposal to Make Maps

In light of today's earlier post, I have a puzzlement.  Some here are familiar with my attempt a couple years ago to apply myself to writing adventures on another blog, "Authentic Adventures," that sat behind a $10 patreon tier.  The motivation to add to the blog refuses to materialise ... so I intend to remove the tier from my patreon before it can mislead others who are hoping I'll continue to write there.  Sorry.  I just cannot get into the traditional production of a "module"-like adventure, no matter how non-module it might present.

The blog isn't going anywhere.  Someday, who knows?  Maybe I'll be hit with a building girder or a really big fish, changing my whole outlook on life.  In the meantime ...

I have an empty tier on patreon without anything in it.  I've wondered what to do with it.  It occurs that the mapmaking has been progressing apace, and that several readers have expressed a direct personal material with the content being presented.  The reader's request, for example, for me to create a map of said area south of Kyiv.

I could make an easy offer of one map section per month per person offering a set donation on my patreon.  This offer would be good for any part of the world that's rendered in 20-mile hexes on this map:

The map is a bit out of date.  I can also manage all of the British Isles and Iceland also.  I can do any part of the world above as easily as the maps I'm making now.

I'm not ready to do places not on this map, though perhaps some kind of negotiation could be arranged for the future.  In any case, a regular contributor could keep adding to an earlier map, expanding and expanding it into a large enough region to run in.

One thing.  I have a fair number of $10 donators, most of whom contribute without anything special in return.  Providing for all these is a good-sized ask ... but doable, given the amount of mapping I've been doing on the map-blog these last two months.  Mostly, it would interrupt the thread of work I've chosen for myself.  I don't believe it would be more work, depending on how many took advantage of the offer.

I do worry about getting more patreon contributors along these lines, however.  I have to think hard before deciding to go ahead.  Asking for a $15 donation instead of $10 is worth considering.

But this post is market research.  Seriously, if this sounds like something you'd want to advantage, you'd better speak up now, before it's too late.  I'm honestly happy to map anywhere, so the change in world-focus shouldn't worry you.  If you've been watching me map the Ukraine and you're not that interested in my mapping Bulgaria and Serbia, which will come next for more than a month, say something.  Make an argument for why it should be $10 and not $15; or make an argument why it should definitely be $15.

And please, raise your hand if you'd use this opportunity to get work done.  My best way of making a decision on this is to know in advance how much commitment I'd be accepting.

I'm listening.



This 40x20 mile section of Kiyev Oblast was created for a reader because he asked.  I suspect he's living in the city of Obukhiv as we sit, which is all of 21 miles from Kyiv.  And he is a D&D player.

The map isn't accurate to GoogleEarth.  There, the Stuhna appears to be a trickle that never reaches the Dneiper.  I suspect it's part of Kiyev's water supply, or perhaps just for the area which is quite dense.  The valley is clearly there and suggests a much larger river, which I've created.  The lake near Obukhiv isn't included because it's too small, barely a mile across.

All the towns are real places.

I make more of these kinds of map on this blog.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022


This is just interesting enough to make it worth a post:

It gives an alternate place for player characters to gather, in communities too small to believably support an actual tavern.  One has to remember that much of the game world ought to be very sparse, that it doesn't take place in 19th century England where every tiny community has a pub.  From my perspective, there's something prosaic in having the players sit outside a bakery, snipping off a bit of onion with a knife and popping it into their mouth, before taking a bite of bread.

I need to add a page under "small beer," as I'm sure most people don't know what that is.  The "small" refers to the amount of alcohol; the beer was a safer drinking alternative to well water, with something like half-to-one percent proof.

Monday, December 26, 2022


And so a completely frivoulous post-Christmas post, not about D&D.  It is about a game however, though it feels less like a game and more like an exercise in maintaining one's attention.

The game is Euro Truck Simulator 2, which I got for myself, just before Christmas, when I was assured it wasn't "under the tree."  I'd played it a bit; enough to drive from Luxembourg to Braila, through Poland and Slovakia.  It's definitely interesting to drive through areas that I've mapped.

I won't talk excessively about the game, except to explain that you're provided with a truck, you have a choice of roads to drive, so you can transport goods from one place to another.  The truck is quite pleasantly realistic; a physical driver's wheel, pedals and gear box can be purchased to play the game, or it can be played on the keyboard or with a mouse.  Being Christmas, the wheel I wanted wasn't in stock, so I'll have to wait to get it.

Beyond that, one learns how to manipulate the vehicle to keep it on the road, maintain speed, avoid breaking the law and avoid damaging the truck and the goods therein.  One has to find places to sleep, find gas, get around difficult turns with sometimes two trailers, handle strange European road configurations (unless you are European) and generally be a good driver.

However, NOT being a good driver has few actual game consequences.  The early game enables you to learn how to drive by charging you nothing for your mistakes, allowing your "employer" to fix the truck for free-to-you no matter how many times you roll it, and paying for most other mistakes you'll make.  It doesn't get serious until you buy your own truck, thus making yourself responsible for your own mistakes.  Until then, you can drive the truck off cliffs, into other cars, across country (as long as the vehicle lasts), ignore and smash other traffic out of the way, ignore police tickets, arrive super-late with cargo and so on ... without meaningful consequences.  The way the game is set up, you can play this way indefinitely.

This evokes an elucidation on my part.  To repeat, consequences only result from the game IF you choose to accept a path that creates consequences.  This suggests a psychology experiment in my mind, one worthy of a PhD thesis.

As it's a videogame, theoretically ALL the actions taken by a given player could be recorded, exactly, within whatever parameters a research could want to set.  We could, for example, record how many times a person broke the speed limit, how many accidents they had, how often they forgot to use the turn signal, how long it took when the sun set to remember to turn on the headlights, how long they left the wipers running after the rain stopped ... and hundreds of other extraordinarily detailed aspects of the game that applied specifically to a person's attention span, respect for others on the road, respect for the rules of the road, respect for the importance of the cargo being transferred and so on.

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that we decided that instead of computer driven cars, it was possible to get a job as an "online driver" of an actual physical truck moving along highways in the real world.  The terrifying aspect of that would be that you, as said truck-driver, would crash this 50-ton vehicle through someone's house ... because, not being in the truck, YOU'd have nothing to lose except your job.  Unless, of course, we could ask you to sign a waiver accepting personal responsibility, and costs, for whatever damage you caused.

On some level, it wouldn't be such a bad job.  You'd be a "truck driver," but you'd do it from home, which would mean you wouldn't have to abandon your wife and children.  When you slept, it wouldn't be in a truck cab, it'd be in your own bed.  You'd eat meals out of your refridgerator, not in some miserable truck stop.  When you needed to pee, you'd pull the truck to the side and pee in your own bathroom.  We could strip a lot of crap out of the cab that wouldn't need to be there, because you're not there.  But then, how could we trust you?

This goes back to the assessment of your driving the truck simulator.  Every aspect of your ability to drive would be interpreted intensely, and after, say, 500 hours of investment on your part, which you could put in after work at your present day job, you'd be able to prove that you have characteristics that demonstrate your trustworthiness.  Those things would absolutely be measurable.  By example, you don't forget to check the mirrors.  You don't bang into things.  You always hit the wipers when you ought to.  You don't speed.  Ever.  Because you're the kind of person that doesn't.

There'd be tens of thousands of people who wanted to do the job I've described, who simply wouldn't make the cut.  The computer would note dozens of things they consistently failed to do ... things that demonstrated how many people wouldn't be the sort that could be trusted.  It wouldn't matter how desperately they wanted the job or how many hours they put in.  Their own choices and movements would demonstrate, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they absolutely shouldn't be granted that kind of responsibility.

Okay, so, let's ditch the concept of a remote truck driver.  That part of the argument isn't relevant.  What matters is that no matter what sort of job you wanted to do, a program like the truck simulator, which offers no punishment except the standards by which you measure yourself, defines who and what you are as a "responsible person."  Imagine a universe where you're not permitted to sit in the cab of a real truck because, basically, your own actions over hundreds of hours told employers what kind of person you really are.  Nor would it matter if you wanted to be a driver.  The same standard applies to EVERYTHING.  Would you make a good cook?  A good doctor?  A good counselor?  A good assembly line-worker?  We could tell in no time.  Even 20 hours would give us a quick predictor of what sort of responsibility you ought to be given, since after assessing millions of people, a computer would recognise certain habits you were going to retain from just the difference in hundredths of seconds regarding your pressing the gas pedal when the lights changed.

This idea no doubt frightens a lot of people.  Truth is, it exposes what you and I are.  There are no resumes, no letters of recommendation, no application process, none of that crap that's supposed to tell a future employer that you're reliable or that you're able to do the job.  We have already built the program that can tell us that.  And right now, it's been played by probably a few hundred thousand people.

Think about it.  You may cringe at the idea ... and obviously I doubt this particular program's going to be used for this purpose.  But the world is not full of only stupid people.  Someone else very smart, very connected and with capital is working on a process like this, right now, that you're going to have to step up and face, probably in the next decade.  If not, then I think that makes me the smartest person on this planet.

Personally, I'd be for it.  Assess me.  I'll own whatever the assessment is.  For the record, I'm a terrible driver.  My son-in-law, who plays hand-eye-coordination games rapidly performed two jobs in short order without any mistakes.  Having never played the game before, and without any training except five minutes of my telling him what buttons did what.  Took him 20 minutes.  He's an electrician, in his 30s, expecting a promotion to a management position on an office-building site in the next year.  He'll probably get it.

Meanwhile, I've flipped the truck unintentionally about ... 11 times?  Thereabouts.  I'm getting better.  In any case, I don't know how the blinkers work yet.  From a physical manipulation perspective, I'd be overwhelmed trying to remember to turn them on.  I'll remind the reader, I don't have a driver's license.  I've never had one.

But I'm absolutely certain that any assessment of my skills as a truck driver would prove that I'm responsible enough to be a stay-at-home writer.  Especially if the door were locked from the outside.

Friday, December 23, 2022

The Bigger Lesson

Here we have the hamlet, which shares characteristics with the thorp, yet which is decidedly different:

Some have watched me build this on the wiki, so it won't be a surprise to find it here.  It's taken me some time to build up the back information for each element described, so that links to the windmill, winepress, communal holding, debt, socage and so on aren't dead red links.  There's a terrific pile of information here, none of which tells the reader how to build an adventure around it, how to encourage the players to care or how to make it "fun."

Some will be goggle eyed.  Some will scoff.  And some will want me to explain in detail how to build an adventure around it.  Today I'd like to address this last by pouring some cold water over heads.

D&D is not a board game.  Recently, I stumbled across this excellent and funny video on youtube from eight years ago.  I figure it's worth posting it, even though it's very old, because it has only 12,000 views.  In comparison, this piece of trash from 4 years ago has 379,000 views.  Youtube is a gong pit.

If you haven't the patience to watch the video from Selinker's presentation, force yourself to jump to the 30-minute mark.  Failing to do so will rob you of learning the absolute positive truth about what sort of half-assed amateur fuckwits designed D&D.

Sorry ... sorry.  This isn't a rant.

Selinker's talk is good; it addresses the importance of being exact and simple in one's language, with the understanding that game-board logic is crucial.  What might appear to be obvious phrasing can be so easily mistaken for something else, in ways that you'd never, ever see without play testing.  I've been there, I've bumped against that, and there are elements in D&D that have to be described according to that standard.

But regarding these recent posts I've written about fulling mills and saw pits, these things are not rules.  Nor are they fluff.  They're setting elements I'm providing as an effort to fill out the game world.  For the most part, they're off the top of my head.  In many cases, the actual information regarding the matter isn't clear, it isn't understood, as we don't know how actual medieval persons managed most of this material.  Go looking for information about the authority of elders over a village and you're going to be extremely disappointed by the sweeping statements you'll find historians are prepared to make.

Historians, however, deal in facts.  They can't, or won't say things that aren't factually in evidence, because that's their profession.  I am not limited by that.  Nor are you, if you're a DM.  It doesn't matter to us whether or not we know for a fact how elders ran a village.  We need to know it anyway, because unlike historians, we run people who are going to be in that village and are going to ask us.  "What happens if I try to kill the elders?" is not a question historians ever have to answer.

Your answer, probably, just got a lot better with the content I'm writing.  Even though we're talking about some awfully empty, easily dismissable hexes, like this dreamboat of an adventure plan on the right, suddenly there's a host of information on my wiki that you can draw on to provide description and importance for the player characters.

In the largest sense, however, you're on the hook to interpret what I'm writing here.  In no way are you limited by what I've proposed, nor is it going to be enough for your game if you do try to run some event here.  I'm not going to be there to help you out ... and just to be clear, if you texted me and asked, I'll tell you to be a fucking DM and to fuck off.

'Cause you've got to do it.  This isn't a board game.  The rules for AD&D or some other edition are all nice and pretty, and they will bail you out of some troubles, but in the end, you can't go to the rules and expect answer to the question, "What do I do if the players want to kill all the elders?"

The more you know, the better off you are.  But that's not the lesson you should be getting from the material I'm providing.  The right lesson is that even if the stuff isn't out there; even if you can't find descriptions for what you want; you CAN invent descriptions that work.  You can take a few sentences about elders, just as I've done, and go way beyond what those sentences say.

The game's rules won't build a world for you ... nor will watching every episode of Game of Thrones, nor reading the books of R.R. Martin.  Nor can I.  The game world is too big and too complex for me to do anything more than scratch the surface.  You have to learn to make things up for yourself.

Don't be a board game designer.  Don't waste your time trying to get the language perfect or endlessly trying to hammer down every inconsistency.  It's a guideline, you'll fix it in post, you'll half-ass it when the time comes, you'll make this paragraph work if it ever actually matters, which it might never.  Get the general information down, revisit it next year or the year after, and concentrate on covering as much of your game world as you can with the time you have.  You'll never finish.  None of it'll ever be good enough for another person.  That's a good thing ... because anyone who's a DM will want to change half of what you've done anyway, to make it fit their ideal.  The most we can do is wake other people up to things that wouldn't have come across their radar otherwise.

Now go get on it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

De-stress and Christmas

Sorry that I've left this blog to laze about a bit ... it's only that while I've been working on the wiki, I haven't found something "sexy" enough to post here.  Recent writings include socage, the barter economy, fulling mills, notes payable, land ownership, windmills, debt and elder authority.  Individually, these are dry, dry subjects, some of which are probably wholly unfamiliar ... but the collection of these things helps to establish a vision of the game's setting apart from the majesty of cheap adventure writing.  But because I understand the lack of excitement these things convey, I've held back discussing them here.

Still, it's work done, in case people have wondered why I haven't posted here in many days, especially with my leaving such a crummy post to carry the load of appealing to new readers.  Ah well.

Coming into Christmas, my "job" requirements are down to about four hours a day (I'm on salary), and I have straight time off coming the day after tomorrow, which should last until just after New Years.  I'm on "call," but last year that amounted to my editing two paragraphs.  Sorry, sorry.  Shouldn't talk about work.

That doesn't mean I'm going to be writing more here or on the wiki, or on my mapmaking blog either.  I'm seriously thinking about investing some money into the European truck simulator game, which I've been talking about for about a month and which someone might buy for me for Christmas.  I'm unhappy that there's a time compression element to the game.  In my mind, if it takes 116 hours and 23 minutes to drive from Lisbon to St. Petersburg, then that's how long I should have to play.  But I'm obsessed with these stupid ideas.

If we can talk about the process of design and the effort of work for a moment, a lot of my day is a gentle up-and-down slope of stress, de-stress, stress, de-stress, with the goal to create a flow that has no serious peaks.  In real terms, this means getting into a task that requires intense concentration and problem solving, followed by periods of getting a cup of coffee, chatting for an hour with my partner Tamara, digging again into a different hard task, putting that down and playing a light video game, then taking up another hard task and so on, as steadily I move from awake and alert in the morning to drowsy and resistant to another hour spent on some kind of work after nine p.m.  I take a shower, tell myself there's time to work tomorrow, recount how much I've done in the day and read myself into the grave of sleep.

Overmuch de-stressing can lead to self-doubt and depression, which causes the mind to resist any possibility of engaging in new stress.  But sometimes one has to take two or three days to quit everything, even when there's no pressing need to get out and do something.  I'm not like most people.  All my family from the previous generation has passed on now.  I don't communicate with my siblings, nor have I associations with any cousins.  I have a younger clan that plays D&D with me, a few friends that are, like me, no longer interested in going to bars in the evening.  We don't see each other often because we're all working on our art.  It's what we wanted to do when we were teens and it's become central to our lives now.

The younger clan is likewise busy:  they rush around, they go to bars, they shop all day or slave at jobs.  I see them to play D&D.  I see my grandson once or twice a week, when we take care of him so my daughter can rush around.  These are my connections to the outside.  I have one event for Christmas: I'm making Christmas dinner on the 25th.  Apart from that, all my time belongs to Tamara or to myself.  So of course I have a lot of time to spend here, or on one of the other projects, or playing a truck-driving game.

I remember when all my Christmas days were filled by someone's calendar:  working without time off, dinner with this family, dinner with that family, nights out with these friends, nights out with those friends, Boxing Day parties, New Years' Eve parties, office parties, volunteer events, school plays, church plays, seeing the philharmonic play Handel's Messiah, all of it.  But hell ... I got, um ... tired of it.  I mean, how many years can you sit in an auditorium and listen to the same musicians play the same piece, before realising there's more to life?

Being broke for those years after 2015, then being forced inside through Covid, I've come to realise I rather like a quiet, event-less season.  I enjoy the idea of Christmas, of course ... I watch my favourite Christmas movies, buy gifts, get a tree together ... in fact ...

We didn't buy one last year, too much Covid ruining the holiday.  We prefer one that's real, and we like not to put too many ornaments on it, because it's the tree that's the decoration.  Here it is, sitting next to our big TV, diapers on the old beat-up coffee table I always think I'm going to renovate, cars on the floor though my grandson was here two days ago, gifts under the tree ... if ever I have doubts, the tree's there to remind me that yes, it's Christmas.

Recognise the picture behind the tree?  I've had it more than 20 years now.

Yes, those are boxes behind the TV (they have books and magazines), and that is and AC unit tucked under the table, reminding us that it was summer.  It's -25C outside and it's supposed to be -40C tonight; was last night, and is supposed to go on like that all week.

All this is to explain that while I work all the time, I also don't work all the time.  The prospect of sitting quietly for four hours driving a make-believe truck strikes me as very relaxing; I can ponder the next wiki page or blog post, I can stack my thoughts about how the hamlet page gets organised, I can plan a road trip next year, I can think about longer term projects, and still feel not bored.  I'm doing something.  If there's anything I hate in this world, it's not doing something.

Feels like a tremendous waste of my time.

Thursday, December 15, 2022


On page 90 of the original DMG, Gygax spent more than half a page going over the use of taxes to bilk the player characters of their income.  I've always appreciated that page ... not for its fleecing opportunities, but because its a rare glimpse into the campaign world as a functional society.  This was unusual even at the time ... later on, as D&D morphed into the player-minion that it's become, guidelines such as these vanished entirely.

In some manner, I've included taxes, fees, tolls and tariffs in my game world ... but recent work on the wiki has expanded the possibility of how these things can be incorporated.

The coin symbol table I proposed a week ago included a dead link for "taxation."  That's been removed and replaced with "socage," as well as 13 new links for additional kinds of taxes added to the player's world.  And it must be said that whatever players might think about encumbrance, I think we can be certain they like the idea of taxes being introduced into D&D a lot less.

But ... as the page shown argues, the value of taxes in the game is not as Gygax conceived, but rather as an enticement for players to buy land, clear forests, build up properties, achieve local status and set themselves up as landlords.  The players are naturally rich, and taxes FAVOUR the rich.  Taxes do not exist to make the rich poorer, as Gygax foolishly imagined, but to make rich people richer.  We have plenty of evidence of that.

In this regard, taxes are a great opportunity for building game adventures.  We can start with taxes as a plot device, such as was done in the Blues Brothers, pushing the players to take extreme actions to raise enough money quickly, in order to save an orphanage ... or whatever they can be induced to care about.  In a grander sense, however, there are opportunities for players to increase their reputations by paying the taxes of other people.  There's always a noble family down on their luck, who need a mere 40,000 gold pieces to save their family's reputation.  There's always hundreds of ordinary land owners who have to get through the season somehow, who would be tremendously grateful to the party for coming forward and being generous.

Remember that one of the reasons murder hobos like Jesse James, Butch Cassidy, John Dillinger, Bonnie & Clyde and others were looked upon graciously by a rural population is because these crooks were generous with the wealth they stole.  They poured out money to all sorts of people, who were then willing to lie copiously to ensure these murderers got away scot-free.  The murder-hobo players can take a lesson from this.  Not only does it help with narrow escapes, it builds up fame and opportunities in other ways ... developing an army, for example, as was done by numerous rebels in the 15th and 16th centuries.

DMs, of course, often hate this sort of thing.  DMs hate it when the party is rightfully popular, or if the party cares less about greed and more about invulnerability.  DMs count on NPCs to tattle-tale on parties ... it sucks when the NPCs are tattling on the good guys.  So if you're a player trying this gambit, count on the DM pretending that Jesse James' notariety was never "a thing."

If you a DM, however, keep in mind how much fun this can be for the players.  And how much fun they can have building their own tax farms and paying corporations, giving them something more to fight for than just another dungeon.

There's one other possibility as well:  taxes are a good way to pull at a decent player's heartstrings.  True, if your players are the sort to slaughter all the orc children as well as their parents, because "no one gets out alive," you won't get far with this ... but many of the rules associated with pre-17th century taxation is grisly to say the least.  Bad year on the farm?  Too bad.  Still taking all your food.  And making you a slave for ten years.  And selling your ass to someone who'll make you work on a plantation in the tropics until you die of diptheria.  Tough luck.  Don't worry, we'll sell your children too.  Into prostitution.  Because we can.

When this becomes the players ... when the players see that their actions perpetrate this kind of system ... the discomfort is rather consuming.  Nor is it a matter of losing money they don't take from their own people, because they'd rather not charge taxes if it means making their tenants destitute.  It's the other nobles coming forward and challenging the party for NOT being cruel, vicious bastards, encouraging the party's tenants to talk about their wonderful overlords, reminding other peasants what shit heels the other overlords are.  This kind of thing starts a national crisis.  Next thing you know, all the peasants will rise up.  Then where will the rich be?

Some games don't have room for this kind of "adventure."  Mine certainly does.  I rather enjoy forcing the players to confront the question of what's more important to them ... defending a status quo they hate, or risking a national crisis that they'll be responsible for starting.

Decisions, decisions ...

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

New Logo

This is the recently created new Authentic Wiki Logo, created by Kelly Schwartz, who is very close to one of my patreon supporters:

Kelly's done a terrific job, based on my earlier version of the idea.  Rather than figuring out how to navigate mediawiki, I've sent the pic off to my server manager, who should have it up as soon as possible.

Looks just like I think D&D should look.  Death, hack, gold.

The Weeds

One thing about dedicating myself towards pure game design, I find myself getting into the weeds with the content I'm creating.  Having completed, sufficiently for now, a page on type-7 hexes, I considered those pesky red links that appear on the wiki, indicating there's no page to visit yet.  Before going ahead with further descriptions of facilities, I should address those.  After some thought, I decided the "settlements" page was very sparse, and that the 6-mile Hex Map page could definitely use developing.

With both, the difficulty of those subjects quickly become apparent.  Using a blog post about settlements I wrote some months ago, I built this settlements page on the wiki.  On the surface, it looks fairly short, but the issue is that to describe what I do, I have to invent a number of terms, and then explain what those terms mean.  I'm never completely sure I'm being understood, which makes me anxious.  Explaining even very simple arithmetical formulas can easily confuse a reader, so that I find myself becoming desperately pedantic, without knowing if that approach even works.

As such, I hated writing the wikipedia page.  I hate the page itself.  I know of no simpler way to describe what is, for me, a very easy process ... but that's because I built it to serve myself.  Then again, it makes sense to describe my approach as best I can, since others could and probably will benefit from it.  Still, it's not nearly as fun as writing a page about gong pits.

With the settlements page behind me, I undertook the 6-mile map page.  This was absolute hell.  It requires a lot of different pictures showing lots of different bits of information, all of which has been collected and built since twenty years ago, which I haven't had to explain to anyone, ever.  There's something exposing about not only explaining what I do, but why it's the right thing to do.  I find myself getting defensive and there's no reason for it; yet this is partly the effect that the internet has on all of us.  We're doing something that no one else, anywhere, is doing, and yet we feel we have to defend it because we know there are voices out there who are ready to cry out, "Stop doing that!  It's bad!"  For reasons.

Fitting the various images with the text, to make it look accessible ... well, it looks good on my monitor.  I use a zoom of 110%, so that letters appear on my desktop rather small.  If I push the view up to 150%, the pictures jump all over the page and it looks like crap.  I have no solutions for that.  I would have it that wikimedia would let the text be adjusted by the reader without adjusting the size of the pictures; if someone knows how to do format that, let me know.

I have a characteristic that says if I'm going to get into describing something, I should describe it all.  This is not always a good thing.  It's like describing a fictional character's clothes by getting into how the buttons were sewn into the character's waistcoat.  Still, with mapmaking, it feels like skirting over an issue is going to leave the reader going, "Where the fuck did that come from?  I don't understand why he decided to do this ..."

There's no winning, I suppose.  Chances are, I've forgotten to explain some part of the process along the way and I'm going to get the response anyway.  These are, after all, only a first draft.  I can make them better.  Though I need some distance.  I've stopped editing anything I created in the last three months.  It's just better if I edit that same content as much as a year later, when like a reader, I have no idea what I meant.

Well.  I need to do a post about rivers, but I'm going to kick that can down the road awhile.  Two of these explaining technique posts are enough for now.  I'll be happy to dig into a page about something as simple as cloth mills.

Monday, December 12, 2022

World Description, part 1 of a billion

This is the beginning of a very long headache:

But it's also a template, one that can take us a long way.  We start with the policy of making individual parts, one at a time, so the pieces can be fit together into a structure.  Here I started with isolated farms and built towards a thorp, until I had enough to create the page above.  There are pieces that were bypassed along the way, but these can be managed too.  This is the power that a wiki provides: it keeps track of everything that hasn't been done yet, so I know my next steps as a designer.

I won't lie and say I wasn't challenged by the writing of the above page.  It's highly detailed and undeniably dry in parts ... but as a DM, the opportunities are there to take a simple bit of information and apply it meaningfully.  Meanwhile, it provides a transition between the "village" and the "dungeon" that's all at once familiar and yet mostly overlooked.  Of course the players should pass through an area of backwardness before getting truly into the wilderness ... but since there's a lack of how such places are formed, or what they find important, it's difficult for a DM to present it in game terms.

My goal is to provide a concrete example of worldbuilding posts I set out to write a year ago.  Here is where the people live, here's what their homes look like, here's what they do, here's how many of them there are, here's the size of the civilisation footprint.

The trick is to take this template and move forward with it.  Hexes only become increasingly more intricate and diverse from here.  Type-7 hexes are, by comparison, staggeringly simple.  But I'd like, imaginatively, to ultimately be able to define a whole city in these terms, not as a whole unit (which would be impossible), but by constructing the social strata out of which the city — and the realm — is built.  Not an easy task.  And I'm sure I'll take long breaks from it, as my motivation dries up.  I think, however, my readers have learned that tasks I leave eventually get taken up again.  And each time I come back around, I always have new ideas, new ways of looking at it, and new energy with which to work.

It just takes time to recharge my batteries on any given thing.

I'm quite sure that, for as long as this go-round lasts, my readers will be thankful for every bit and piece of this puzzle as it's created.

Thursday, December 8, 2022

... And You Thought Hammers were Crazy

 Check this out.

I'm the sort of fellow who likes to throw the ball over the wall and then figure out how the wall's climbed.  I don't have any pages for any of the above links, but of course the concepts all exist in the real world, so it's a matter of applying those concepts to the D&D world.  All of these things existed in the 17th century.  Nearly all of them were present in the 13th.  Most of them are totally ignored where D&D is concerned.  Gygax's understanding of medieval economics has served me well for many years, but it's time to throw out those crutches and examine the higher concepts of gaming.

One thing I like about D&D is that I'm not limited to the game maker's perception of how an object or a social practice functions.  Unlike a video game, where the local inn operates in very specific ways, enabling me to rest before returning to the game's rigid programming, I can take a D&D inn all apart and examine every facet of a truly functional inn from every angle.  There's no game rule that exists saying I can't buy an inn, run it, supply it with liquor, use it as a cover for illicit political activities (a la The Tale of Two Cities) and as much else as I conceive.  It's only blind, unwritten convention that constrains me from breaking free of the frigid game's non-evolution.

Who knows what games might sprout from ideas like accepting state contracts or investing my money in war bonds to support my country of choice?  Only my imagination.

I hear D&D is a game of imagination.

Monday, December 5, 2022



I'd imagine this would drive many traditional D&D players crazy.  They'd see the rigidity of the concept as incredibly limiting, though obviously it's anything but.  Whereas we're usually given a rough population figure, say either 20-80 people or fewer than 20, here we have detailed numbers that dictate a thorp might have anywhere from 3 people to 38, accounting for things that might exist.  No river, no dock, no mill.  No trees, no sawpit, no woodcutters.  Hell, no farming, no anything, except perhaps a well.  One that's natural, of course.  No point in sinking a well if there's no one around to draw water.

Everyone has a reason to be here.  Thus, if the players are here, they know what those reasons are ... and the very nature of the thorp defines what benefits the players might derive.  They can barter for food here.  They might be able to catch a boat here.  They can get a sack of grain turned into a sack of flour, all at rates far below city prices.  The party can make arrangements to bivouac here with their tents, more assured than usual that they won't be harassed.  They can make friends here; find a servant here, if there's a youngster older than 14 who's desperate to get out and see the world, all moon-eyed at these players who've been to the big city.

It's a useful place.  And they're scattered all over.  If I go back to the original sentiments for this blog, it's a place that offers the players the opportunity to build something.  Not that they should assume the locals are pushovers, just because they're isolated.  Any one of these might be an ex-soldier, whose seen and done things the party hasn't yet.  It's not a good idea to push around strangers.  You don't know where they've been.

For me, I like seeing the hammer concept come together.  Collect the individual parts, fold them together and create a thorp.  Collect more parts and make a hamlet.  Collect more and make a village.  Keep going, right up until we're building palaces.

Hope I can do that.  Some of these descriptions are really going to tax my imagination.

Friday, December 2, 2022

Garners and Hovels

Along with the hovel below (and this is the whole page), I've also completed the garner, for those interested.  And I've set up the facilities category page, so keep an eye on it as it populates.

I know I'm supposed to be creating new spells and monsters, but somehow I feel these are the things that have been overlooked for insane amounts of time, and should have been put together as a splatbook 40 years ago.  It's not just a general description of a simply-built house, either ... it's the expectation that I'll be adding other houses, more elaborate houses, explaining various wood and stone constructions, and eventually providing floor plans for dozens of buildings.  Why has this not been done already?

There's little understanding, I think, how this sort of reality — a dangerous word to use — provides a grounding for players who find themselves in the actual game world.  If the fabric of the setting is allowed to endure as a sort of greyish smudge, the players cannot help but assign the same characteristics to every building, every location, every group of people.  Thus there's no sense of place, because the DM wouldn't know how to begin describing the interior of a peasant's house, or remotely explain how farm goods end up appearing on a shelf at Equip-o-Mart, the Adventurer's Convenient Retail Store.

But, as many rpgers will tell us, the game isn't about "reality."  Sometimes I wonder if that's because it's so damned hard to produce a believable setting that we've lampshaded the whole idea that conveniently permits the lazy DM an excuse to do fuck-all.  Not to mention the company as well.  I can't speak for the fantasist, but I actually live in reality, a place I rather like, the general ignorance of American courts and youtube film critics notwithstanding.  One of the things I like about reality is how gawddamned tactile and real it all is, enabling me to put my coffee cup on its heater, knowing it'll be warm and joyous next time I reach for a drink.

Knowing is a pretty darn good thing.  Much of a players' time in a campaign is spent not knowing a bloody thing, either because the DM has forgotten to explain it, or conceive of it, or because the game itself is a sort of tourist bus the players board until they're let off at the dungeon's entrance to begin their "adventure."  Please, everyone, the bus leaves in three hours.  Please remember the name of your tour company and set your phone alarm to remind you when it's time to come back.

Everything between town and the dungeon is like that stuff a tour guide mutters at the front of the bus, pretending you care.

But, yes, I'm not blind.  I know that hovels and garners are pretty dull things.  It's not like there're going to be adventures like White Plume Garner and the Secret of Salt Hovel.  I get that.  But the reason I take time to fill in these boring details is so you don't have to.  Then, if something someday occurs to you that you need to give the players some kind of rumour or a place to stumble into when coming out of a forest, maybe you'll remember that page about the building that stores grains, fruit and vegetables before they're moved onto town.

That'll be a nifty detail to give your game world three dimensions.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Boat Docks, Travel by River and Freight

What an enormous headache:

No doubt, there are details involved in the above that I hadn't considered.  But the nice thing about a wiki page is that it can always be improved.

The reader might wonder why I would take so long to outline what most games would consider a very simple situation.  Most DMs, no doubt, would be ready with a boat whenever the party got to a river, as the main thing is to get the party across and off to the adventure.  Who in the hell wants to sit around waiting for a boat when there are dungeons to be plumbed?

I see the question in the same way that encumbrance is viewed.  In reality, boats aren't waiting conveniently for party members.  What's more, in a wide and complex world, there are dozens of different circumstances to account for.  Obviously, it's easier to find a boat in a big city than it is at some obscure back-country cart track dead-ending in a river like the Mississippi or the Loire.  I've tried to account for that in a way that's predictable for a party familiar with the area, but very difficult for complete strangers.

Consider the effects of arriving, by surprise, at a river too wide to cross safely.  Yet there's a small dock here, and a few souls around in the "thorp" to tell us when the next boat is expected.  They tell us it'll be 26 hours.  It's four in the afternoon now, on a Wednesday, so that means, what, Friday noon?  Thereabouts, given that the boat might be early or late.  Do we go back to town and try a different route?  Do we wait?  If we ask the locals about going following the river in one direction or the other, what do we think if they say the next place across is six miles down river?  What if it's 12 miles, or 20?  Do we wait?  Do we go?

And if the boat won't stop where we want, do we wait for another boat?  Do we act as pirates, seizing the boat for our own purposes, hoping that if we give it back to the boathandler, he'll forgive us?

These questions may seem mundane, but a party will argue about it vociferously if given the opportunity.  Because they'll care what they do.  Yes, they may hate the situation; they may wish there was a game-story boat waiting for them, but there's a bigger gain to be made rather than assuaging their immediate wants.

Whatever they decide, they'll be in control.  Do not underestimate the emotional effect of this.  There's something soul-crushing about knowing that you're constantly in the DM's charge as he or she shuttles you from place to place, without your freedom to make the decision.  If you go back, or wait, or follow the river, the DM has to adjust to YOUR choices.  YOU'RE in control here, not the DM.  Over time, with multiple situations beginning with boat docks and reaching to much larager facilities, this provides a feeling of ADVENTURING that being shuttled across the river to the next prefabricated dungeon can't provide.

It's hard to grasp that for a lot of DMs ... especially if they're the sort that's moving the party along because it's the DM who hates having to wait at the river more than the party does.  Believe me, that's a thing.  More often than we'd like to admit, the momentum of a game is based less on what the party wants than what the DM wants the party to want.

You can detect this rather obviously if your DM ever says impatiently, "Make up your minds, dammit!"  Hm.  If the party isn't in such a gawddamned rush, why is the DM?

Is it because he or she knows everything already, and is bored by the unpleasantness of the players enjoying the game world?

Saturday, November 26, 2022


Chose to dig in last night and a bit this evening and build a page for "farmland" on the wiki, the lowest level "facility" on the hammer page, as encouraged by yesterday's post.  In keeping with the traditions of approaching D&D, I'd write a paragraph that was dead obvious to a person who'd ever watched a television show not about crime.  Something like,

"Farmland consists of fields, houses and storage buildings, where food is grown for the general community.  Crops are harvested in the fall and that not consumed by the farmer and family are generally sold in the nearest village."

We need to get away from this kind of "design."  Like any other part of the game, what's needed is hard information the players can exploit, as well as setting standards for the population's diet.  This means knowing the amount of food that's grown and the number of farmers that exist, and not in a homogenous, every-farm-is-the-same manner.  Thus, the page below, which attempts to capture a gradation in farms according to the environment they're located ... based, of course, on the maps I've created.

Adding more it probably necessary and eventually, maybe, I'll come round to that.  Nonetheless, this is the general idea I need to incorporate in all the facilities that need development and explanation.  It's not just, "what is it?"  It has to be, how precisely can the players use this knowledge to their advantage, and how does the fact of this thing establish order within the game's setting ... from how many people live here, to how much excess food can I produce in a year from as much land as I can plant?

Recently, with a short back and forth on JB's blog, Jacob72 chose to testify about worldbuilding in a way that's emblematic:

"Having read both replies several times I've concluded that we're probably going to have to disagree on the degree of world building that a DM has to put in to provide a fun and satisfying D&D experience to their players.

"World building can be fun. My entry into the hobby was influenced by the maps in the Hobbit and the campaign maps of WW2 in my Dad's history books. As well as wondering how these places were pronounced (especially Eastern Front ones) I would wonder what the terrain was like, what goes on in these places and what the people did. Peter Fenlon's maps for MERP and the world building detail in the MERP supplements fascinates me and continues to do so. I even try to sketch out fragments of these maps to get a feel for the places.

"But is it necessary that the DM needs to do it in order for the players to have fun?"

It was clearly necessary for someone to engage in an incredible level of worldbuilding so that Jacob could enjoy his fun.  The map in The Hobbit took a lot of hours to design and draw, probably going through multiple incarnations.  The campaign maps from WW2 he cites were created by people who gave their lives to mapmaking, sometimes within the time space of WW2, since those designers remained close enough to the fighting in some cases, and certainly within the scope of being bombed in London and elsewhere.  Fenlon and others burned midnight oil aplenty to produce the work they did ... even I recognise that, and I don't even like it.

In effect, the answer to Jacob is that, apparently, so long as someone else does it, no, it's not necessary for a given DM to work for the players to have fun.

My typical answer is that this is the kind of fun that's okay for the first few years, but for a nutjob fanatic like me, it fell way, way short by the time I was in the hobby for ten years.  Undoubtedly sooner, since I did all that I could to advance my world as much as possible based upon the work that others had done.  They buried themselves in work; it seemed right that I should do the same, to achieve the best possible result.  Folks like Jacob have a tendency to think on the scale of "good enough."

But there's a wider point to be made.

For many, I know from personal experience, most game DMs don't engage like this because committing themselves to this degree of scale seems unimaginable.  For them, there's no possibility of putting in this kind of work.  True, they haven't the time ... given what they choose to put their time towards.  But more importantly, they haven't the will.  Since they are having fun, they can't see the point of it.  So they invent an argument that states, "I don't have to."  As if having to has anything to do with this level of dedication.

Just now, I'm well within the understanding that much that I've started to design will NEVER achieve completion.  I will never finish all the sage abilities that I can envision.  Nor will I finish creating the world in 6-mile hexes.  Nor can I conceivably write all the pages on the wiki for which I've created links.  The vision I have for D&D's development is too large for the time one person has.  All that I'm doing is going to end being unfinished.  There's nothing I can do about that.

Some might think, then, that I'm going through the motions to entertain myself.  Obviously, I'm entertained, but that's not the goal here.  If I were doing this to suit me, I'd hardly need to spend extra time explaining it in blog posts, or posting it in a wiki.  In reality, it doesn't matter if I complete the work.  The work I do is merely a stub for the work that someone else will do after I'm gone.  And the more I do, the more others will have to work with.  Just as it is with everything related to humanity.  We did not make this society in a generation.  It took millions of people who were able to envision a world that would exist after they, personally, were gone.  And so they worked towards making that world possible.  Not because they'd be able to sit back and enjoy the fruits of their labour.  They died before those fruits matured.  No, they worked, knowing others would gain.  Others would comprehend how the world is made ... not by any one person, and not in projects that last only a lifetime.

Jacob, and many others, can't see that.  They can only measure the value of things in what they do for themselves.  Thus, when they see something bigger, something too big to scoff at, they make excuses for why they don't want to climb aboard.  They don't need to.

But the Jacobs of the world can't see how they might provide knowledge and value to others.  It's not just what Jacob does for his world.  It's what Jacob might do for every world.  Everywhere.  He can't see that.

He can't see that this is how humanity functions.  That this is a greater reason to do everything we're capable of doing, as designers, as workers, as people committed to a better world.  I make cute little maps and write annoying little wiki pages.  That's my contribution.

What's yours?

Friday, November 25, 2022

Whole Facilities List

I've finally complete this page:

Personally, I consider it a work of absolute genius ... remembering that every facet of the page depends upon a random generation determined by my infrastructure distribution rules, which in turn are entirely developed out of information on encyclopedia-determined towns and cities, systematically calculated population figures and a distribution of "settlements" that I apply according to GoogleEarth, not my own reckoning.

Thus, the whole system builds and functions spatially in the setting without my personal intervention.  I build as the numbers tell me.


Thursday, November 24, 2022

An Unhealthy Dependency

Now the reader can see why I wanted to put these maps on another blog.  And it's evident that I'm not dead, since I've posted there every day since November 9th.  But yes, I understand, I'm not posting here.  I'm not saying how to build a world or be a DM, or what rules to make or why rules are important.  I'm not counselling the reader on how to manage their players, or how to prep, or what's wrong with the game company.  I'm not bellyaching about someone else's blog, module or perspective.  It's all terribly dull because instead, I'm making maps.

But, if I must have some thoughts ...

This, said very earnestly, by a young woman leaning repeatedly into the camera to hammer home just how gawddamned earnest she is about what's she's saying:

"We want to continue to reach out to folks who are interested in fantasy, who love storytelling, who enjoy spending time with their friends and creating these collective stories that they can remember for years to come."

Not what appealed to me from the beginning, no.   Myself, I liked the depth and complexity of the game; the widening of possibility for action, the requirement to express one's actions in words, accurately, regardless what the actions were.  When I think of D&D play, I see it in very thin slices:

Me: "You see this, and this, and this ... what do you do."

You: "Fuck.  Do I have time to do, um, this?"

Me: "You can try.  Roll.  High."

You: "Omfg ... a 20.  Shit."

Me: "They shield their eyes and fall back."

You: "We fucking run!"

Clickety-click.  There's little time to think.  The back and forth relies on the space described; the limits are what's possible based on believability, rules, precedent.  Jump in, fight, defend, back out, escape.  So much happens, with so many people speaking, that there's no time to remember anything except in sweeping generalities.  We might remember that Tamara threw the critical when it was really needed, but after the fact, the details get muddled in the other hundred things that happen.  From the beginning, I've never been interested in one "amazing" narrative.  I'm interested in fifty narratives.  When my sessions really work, they're like those stage farces with people popping in and out of doors, each with their own agenda, where the audience gets lost remembering which of the four identical suitcases had the diamonds and which had a bomb.  The players jump from frying pan to fire to shark-infested tank and so long as they survive, we keep going.

As near as I can tell, I'm the only person in the history of the game to see it this way.  I'm the only person who doesn't give a flying fuck if the players want to hear a story or not.  I do not care if the game is memorable after ... "after," I'm not running the game.  As far as I know, no one has time for a collective anything, except to figure out in the immediate what's going on, what they need to do and whether or not it worked.

I'm definitely not interested in creating D&D as a "legacy."  My daughter has become a DM, but that's because she heard me doing it a hundred times, she had an opportunity to play it with her friends and she likes to run.  She plays in my game, likes the patter and duplicates it as best she can.  She's nowhere near as obsessed with it as I am (obsession = "unhealthy dependency").

In truth, no, I don't think of D&D as an "edition."  I don't play "AD&D", or "old" D&D, or "original" D&D, or any other manifestation of the game that someone else has invented or labeled.  I certainly won't play "One" D&D.  I don't play the game I played ten years ago, when I didn't play the game I played ten years before that.  I won't be playing this game ten years from now.  The game is too far-reaching, too full of possibility, too rich, for me to restrain myself or my practices when designing or running it.  It's always just been "D&D."  But in truth, it's "my" D&D.  It's better, deeper, more flexible, more advantageous to both me and my players than any set of rules in a book ever will be ... even my own book, since to publish something, I have to stupid-simplify its structure.  It takes someone obsessed to play my D&D.

Like anyone whose self-reliant, it's a joke when I hear someone talk like this:

"The sort of change you're going to see isn't about taking anything away from you, it isn't about changing any of that stuff you love.  It's much more about giving you more.  Giving you more options, giving you more choices you can make, more character types you can play, more magic spells you can cast ... basically, you know we're very happy with the game the way it is today."

More "choices" and more "options" are the same thing.  As is listing the example of what the choices are.  With acknowledgement that this is the same "more stuff" the company's been providing since 1977.

As an obsessive, self-made, self-sufficient, self-supporting, self-sustaining, independent, self-contained, autarkic DM living on his own hump (all the words, straight out of the thesaurus, that mean the same thing), I've chosen to create my own options.  When I want more, I'll make more.  Myself.  Using my brain.  I'd like to see the company come into my game and tell me how to run it.  That'd be a hoot.

But you see, none of this is new.  I've been saying this sort of thing for years.  The maps are new.  The maps are a steady, comprehensive investigation into the game world on a ground level.  They're not just opinions spouted for the sake of opinions.  The world being examined, taken apart, rebuilt, is the real world.  It's places where you or I could fly to, and look around, and see how the goblins would look rushing out from the trees ... those trees, right there.

I appreciate that the mapping seems somewhat repetitive.  Or that it lacks verve.  In reality, every section has a distinctive character; every tiny corner of the world has some element that's worth examining with a magnifying glass.  None of these corners are a "story."  They're framed pieces of setting in which events have or might take place.  Where history has already left its mark over millennia.  The very place where I mapped today was once visited by Huns, who slaughtered the residents there, who looked at those same mountains, who fought with the ancestors of the people living on the map in my game time.  It's all a fathomless tapestry ... but to use it, to gain from it, to discover what sort of DM it can make a person, it has to be seen and puzzled over.  The daily constructions of map that I've been doing are far more valuable than the boilerplate deconstruction I've just written above.

This is why, at present, I'm not driven to write here.  I have the splat book to design.  I have the maps to draw.  I have the ongoing game responsibilities I've lately assumed again.  I just don't care to write another chapter on how the reader should dungeon master.  You want to worldbuild?  Get down on your hands and knees and look at the dirt on which you stand, and grok it's fullness.  Action, not words.  Comprehension, not counselling.  Get out your shovel and dig.

Friday, November 18, 2022

Next Step Unknown

This post occurred to me while doing dishes with my partner Tamara, talking about video games.  The conversation reminded me of a comment from JB's blog, a week ago, from Jacob.  This was in answer to something I said about how I'd want to play in a campaign, but that's not relevant.  Here's the paragraph that needs attention:

"All of that commitment by the DM to generate systems to provide the sort of rational and believable campaign world that you are after would be better spent coding it up and selling it to the masses as a game rather like Sid Meier's Civilisation."

Funny that Civilisation still gets attention as the height of believability, given that it's woefully out of date.  There are far more elaborate and complex logistical games in existence now, such as Europa Universalis ... but of course, no game is remotely as complex as D&D.  This evening, for my running, the party is going to be travelling through Hades, participating in a series of meetings that I've conjured in the last two weeks.  If I'd spent my time trying to code these events into a computer program, the result would be (1) half-assed, because I wouldn't have near enough time, even if I could spend 80 hrs. a week at it; (2) cheesy and crappy, because I'd have to predict all the players' responses to code them ... and of course I can't know what the players' responses would be, because I'm not omnipotent; and (3) non-existent, because I can't fucking code.  Moreover, I wouldn't have time to earn a living, love my partner, play with my grandson, cook dinners every day, make maps and write these posts for people like you, the gentle reader.  So fuck coding.

Still, that's not the point of this post.

For a time, up until 9 years ago, I was pretty heavy into Civilisation, especially Civ IV.  I used the game to build multiple concepts into D&D worldbuilding, the reader will remember.  Since getting the game on Steam, about seven years ago, I've played 2,038 hours of it.  Before that, I owned the disk.  There have been times when I was so down and disinterested in life that I could wake up in the morning, start a standard size game, finish it, start another game, and finish that, before going to bed.  Unemployed, broke, depressed, unable to find work ... 2009 was a very bad year.

When I'd spend four or more hours playing Civ, afterwards I always felt worse than when I'd started.  During the actual game, I'd fall into the flow that comes from managing all the details of a game, but the end result of that management was destructive of my soul.  This is because, for all Civ's elements, the game itself is fundamentally button-sorting.  I understand that sounds counter-intuitive; sorting buttons is usually seen as gathering different objects together according to their type ... and yes, this is what Civilisation is.

Initially, there's problem-solving, yes.  Mostly in figuring out how the rules work, but also in determining the best combinations of units to fight with and more importantly, how to make each centre as productive as possible.  The only thing is, there's a finite collection of city types and forms of development ... and if you play enough of the game, eventually it becomes a matter of taking that button and putting it in the box it belongs.  This can be distracting ... and if I find myself in a mood so that I just want to be kept busy, then Civilisation is "okay."  But I'm not solving problems any more with it.  Mostly, I'm remembering what I'm supposed to do when this situation occurs, or when the bastards next door are the Chinese vs. the Persians ... since we know, eventually, the Chinese ARE going to stab us in the back.  That is, unless we keep them scared.

But, because I'm going through the motions, I'm basically just a Civ-playing machine.  I'm not really playing, since I know that if I don't do this, I won't do as well.  So, when I'm done ... I feel like the previous four hours, or ten, or whatever, were wasted.  For all the intellectual value the game has left to offer, I'd do better spending ten hours selling phones at the mall.

On the other hand, let's take another game: Oxygen Not Included.  Most of you will have heard me refer to this game now and then.  Since I bought the game around Christmas, 2019, I've played 2,368 hours of it.  Some of this includes forgetting the game was still running ... I once left it run overnight and unattended for 13 hours.  Without a dupe dying.  I think that's an achievement of some kind.

What I like about it is that the game provides endless opportunities for problem-solving.  The systems it's built are remarkably intuitive and interactive, so that with time it's always possible to create a better solution or practice for a problem the game provides.  Whenever I think of a "right way" to do something, soon enough I'm deconstructing that way to make it better.  This includes how the rooms and levels are laid out, and how the oxygen, water, power, morale and aesthetic are managed.  Except for the obvious limitations of the premise, I find it the most sandboxy game I've ever played.

When I put it down, I feel fine.  The game sparks my desire to solve problems, so that if I get a game going in the late afternoon, after an hour or so I'll find myself closing it so I can work on something real ... some passage that needs new copy, a map, a blog post, even working on the splatbook.  When I designed the menu, I'd take breaks by playing ONI.

For those who might be interested, here's what happens when you introduce the enormous sea on the bottom of the map to the magma layer beneath:

Still have two dupes left.  Surprisingly, quite a lot of the base, the part around the  is still fairly cool.  See?

Most of the base is trashed, though.  I've been trying to figure out how to rebuild and vent the heat, especially the open hole.  See, the system has become stable, with the steam condensing and falling out of the air, back down into the magma pit where it boils out at 650 degrees again.  So the natural engine isn't cooling.  And if a dupe steps into it, it dies.  I mean, it becomes incapacitated almost instantly.  The heat in the red areas is 250 F.

Here's the thing.  A game like Civ is designed to be played correctly or lost.  A game like ONI is designed to be played badly and struggled back from.  There's always a way back, because the way back depends on the player's creativity and intuition, NOT the game's design.

This is D&D.  At least, the way I play it.  Most see the game as a collection of things the players are supposed to do in order to succeed, such as clean out a dungeon and get the treasure, or recover the McGuffin.  Whereas I see D&D as an endless set of possibilities, where the players can do anything, while I'm able to "code the game" instantly and on the spot, without needing a computer.  Because I am one.

Thus, if the players enter into a valley where anything might be happening, including a volcano having just exploded, the player's responses are ... um ... unknown.  I mean, absolutely unknown, just as I have no knowledge of how to solve the base problem above.  There's no "guidebook" on the internet that will tell me how, because none of the various pundits who blabber about the game have created the situation I've just shown.  The solution has to be mine.

That's what we want the players to feel.  There is no dungeon, there is no pile of buttons to be sorted, no bottles to wash, no pre-set monsters to kill, no thing to get.  There's the situation, there's the players ... 

Have at 'er.


In all fairness, I should show the hole:

Wednesday, November 16, 2022


Okay, if you're not into maps and demographics, get ready to be bored.

An element of my mapmaking requires that I create the infrastructure that's assigned to each hex.  I've shown how this is done previously, here and here, so I'm not going to do it again here.  But I am going to talk about a step I've added.  [Sorry if this feels like I'm rewriting a post]

The area to be calculated is Nyatria Principality, a medieval province of western modern Slovakia.  Here's the map with 20-mile hexes that I made long ago:

Pozsany is the old name for the modern city of Bratislava, for reference.  Nyatria is very heavily populated, 668K people, making it very heavily infrastructured.  It shares hexes with Budapest Sanjak (under Ottoman occupation in my game world), which is also heavily populated (531K).  The three notes at the bottom, 172, 253 and 465, describes the infrastructure of those hexes as calculated from the south side of the Danube, under Budapest authority.

Briefly, infrastructure is calculated by determining a base infrastructure number for each settlement (Pozsany, Komorom, Nyatria, etc.) and then halving that number as we move outwards for each hex.  For example, if the base infrastructure number equals 64, then one hex away it would be 32, two hexes away it would be 16 and so on.  Thus the numbers drop very quickly.  Think of it as each hex dividing the number to the power of 2.

There are numerous changes in elevation throughout the principality above, with each change of 400 ft. adding +1 to the exponent described.  If the adjacent hex is more than 400 ft. above or below the first one, then the number is divided by 4 (2 to the 2nd power, not the 1st).  It gets fairly complicated to sort this out, comparing each hex to the one adjacent ... especially if the province happens to be very up and down, like Nyatria.  Thus, I spend a little time and add some symbols, thusly:

Yes, it still looks complicated, but I'm quite used to this.  If no black line exists, the difference is x2(1), or 2 to the 1st power.  A double line indicates x2(2) ... and where a number exists, that indicates the exponent.  Thus, as I start calculating the various hexes, I can quickly see how much change each hex crossing produces.

I've added the amount of infrastructure that each settlement hex produces as well.  Pozsany has a base of 1348, Komorom & Guta of 230, Nyatria & Galgoc of 333 and so on.  Here's what it starts to look like as I distribute the infrastructure across the map:

As can be seen, it gets very cluttered, very quickly,  Here I've only calculated out four settlements.  What I usually do is that once I collect five totals in a given hex, I condense those totals before moving onto the next distribution.

Those who know me have seen this before, so I won't waste any more time.  I've finished Nyatria, which was affecting the edge of a map I'd been creating for tomorrow's post on my new mapmaking wiki, so now I can put down this sort of calculation and go back to designing 6-mile hexes.

Here's Nyatria, finished.  There are two hexes that need the adjacent territories done before a final infrastructure can be known.

It all looks so simple, doesn't it?