Monday, February 28, 2022

The Work So Far

Feels a bit like I'm milking this, but I've had such positive respons for the maps that I feel it's useful to provide updates when they occur.  Now and then, I find some time to expand it, moving in a clockwise circle as I go.  This is the 6-mile map again: 6.67 miles per hex.

I find it easy to stare at.

The reader should be able to see now the density of Transylvania in the upper left, and the core of Moldavia forming on the right.  Muntenia's density happens off the bottom of the map, as the Danube River is approached.

For those who might see and wonder, the "3" that appears in the Shassburg hex was an accidental copied cell.  There's a "1" underneath the 3 that can barely be seen.  I've fixed it.

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Worldbuilding 5d: Facilities

"Facilities" are spaces, stations and establishments that serve a particular purpose — that is, they facilitate a purpose.  This is done for clients, members, associates, supporters and investors, among others.  Facilities include taverns, inns, blacksmithies, guard houses, barracks, wet markets, stockyards, theatres, dockyards, auction houses, schools, law courts, arsenals, churches, gong pits and many, many other places.

On the whole, in the source material, these places are treated like convenience stores or background scenery.  Little or no attention is given to the underlying sense of such places or their fundamental place in the social strata.  Yet each of these places have to be supplied, staffed, protected, maintained, patronised and respected ... or else they cease to be, eliminated by competition or incompatibility.  None of these things are easy to achieve.  Proprietors keep these places alive through sweat and experience, or through the influence and goodwill they receive from locals.  Some facilities are merely a front for much larger organisations, starting with guilds and consortiums and reaching upwards through the upper classes and nobility.  Every person connected with a facility is someone's relative, someone's friend — and potentially someone's puppet.  All existing facilities trade on these relationships, and their presence in the community, to receive favours and influence decision-making, either on a local, regional or immeasurable scale.

By treating them as mere boxes with signs and faceless, nameless clerks who take the players' money and return goods like a medieval fantasy Starbucks, we divorce ourselves from understanding how the macro-society functions.  Each facility, after all, is a pool of money.  Some are small pools, some are large ... but every pool has its hold over some part of the game world.  By understanding how the pools work, and how the money is shared around, we see who are the masters in a community and who are the slaves.

This aspect of worldbuilding is kicked aside, however, because the players are viewed eternally on the "outside" of things.  They are foreigners, strangers in this town, without friends or allies, without the understanding of how things work around here or even the right clothes to wear.  Presumedly, the players will be here today and gone tomorrow, wisps of smoke without leaving even a memory behind.  That's how the game functions in the minds of many, many designers, writers, content creators and pundits.

As a result, whatever work we do to give the game world flesh on its bones, the face of the game world is empty and lifeless.  Every NPC is depicted as a cheat, a pawn or as chattel.  All NPCs serve only two purposes:  to facilitate the exposition or to block the player's purpose.  Anyone else can be discarded as decor, a pleasant collage of painted figures meant to decorate the scene.

In large part, this is understandable.  There are many difficulties to being a dungeon master.  Knowing what an innkeeper's life is like, or what matters to an apothecary with regards to business, or what palms must be crossed with money in order to maintain a functional brewery are not in the wheelhouse of the average 12-year-old DM — and since a 12-y.o. is the measure for what designs rise to the level of publication, the argument is eternally, keep it simple, stupid.  As such the main of us never paused to consider the deeper matrix underlying the daily happenings surrounding a keep, beyond the immediate flimsy woodenness of the characters with which the keep was stocked.  That was good enough.  Hell, it is good enough, for most people.

Conflict, however, is built from various starving factions competing for dwindling materials, which describes every aspect of a pre-industrial world.  "Dwindle" is the watchword for the region's food until the next harvest, which made harvest time very happy in the face of abundance.  Dwindle is the watchword for the small market when a counted-upon ship fails to come in because it was plundered by pirates, or the coin that's left to pay the soldiers when we're thousands of miles away from home and there are no ATMs.  No resource in a fantasy world ever achieves "enough" for very long ... and there's a serious group of serious people who are ready to use serious methods to keep what's left out of everyone else's hands.  No scheme or subterfuge is off the table.  So facilities getting what they have is only half the battle; the other half is keeping it out of the grasping hands of those who want and cannot pay.

This plays out in a continuous drama recognisable from 20th century gangster films ... only the  gangsters are dressed as city guards and church officials, high-minded nobles and as always, guildmembers and tradespersons.  Stealing off the carts of others is de rigueur; crippling an excellent silverworker's hand is perhaps a necessity of our staying in business.  This is why it's necessary not to stand alone, to have friends, to pay tithes and tribute: because if we pay it willingly, our enemies don't have to cut our hearts out to get it.

Some would rather believe the world was not like this once upon a time.  That, for example, the burning of witches, who happened to be recent widows of rich husbands, whose money went to the church responsible for describing them as witches, is an outlier.  Not business as usual.  Certainly not indicative of a general mindset.  No, the common people wore flowers in their hair, and played with animals, and sang nice madrigals together.  They weren't anything like those terrible people in Shakespeare, Chaucer or Grimm's Fairy Tales.  Those were just stories.

I don't ask the reader to undertake making this change in their game worlds ... but if a new angle on what the players can fight for is sought for, here it is.  Protection is a racket.  And everyone needs a little.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Worldbuilding 4f: Muetar

What with everything going on, it's a good time to write about government and authority in the game world.

Many DMs don't like to consider the subject at all, wishing their worlds not to be tainted with ideology and moralism.  At the same time, most DMs casually use non-player characters in authority as leverage to force the players into adventures and other actions.  We're familiar with the trope of players standing before a king promising, a la Conan, riches if the party saves his daughter from the terrible cult, while implying prison and execution if they don't.  But that isn't the sort of authority this post means to address.

Large-scale entities, like kingdoms, provinces and even cities, rely upon a shared identity among their citizens.  This identity is accumulated over history through heterogenous occupations, like farming or seafaring; or through moments of crisis, like a war or the act of rebuilding after an invasion, a flood, an earthquake; or through a shared religious belief; and most importantly, through shared tradition.  Tradition describes the sense of possession a population feels with regards to their place of origin ... specifically, the sense of home.  This is our city, our land, our country, our people.  And we know who belongs within our corner of the world by how we eat, how we raise our families, how we wear clothes ... and outsiders are those who don't live by these things, or recognise their importance ... to us.

Now, within our shared community, each person has his or her portion, according to his or her role — and these roles are also defined by tradition.  The baker is entitled to the baker's portion, along with the city guard, the laundress, the accounts clerk and the beggar.  The portions aren't the same; and in many cases the stake controlled by one may be seen by others as more than appropriate, while our own may seem less ... but in a community defined by tradition, we don't choose the manner in which our share is allocated.  Time, and history, and circumstances choose it for us.

Why does this matter for our D&D world?  It's because the players are, in many ways, the anti-traditionalists in the mix.  The fly in the soup.  First, because by definition of the game, they owe no fealty to anyone, not even the monarch of the land in which they were born, because the players don't feel this fealty — and the game doesn't expect it of them.  In addition, because the players are creatures of the 21st century, with a 21st century viewpoint, where traditionalism has either been abolished or weaponised through the media.  We can't live comfortably in a 15th century world because it rankles our liberal sensibilities ... and here I mean "liberal" in a sense that applies to every person not now living in a completely subservient culture.  What we perceive to be "oppression" is a hysterical joke compared to the ordinary, accepted shared traditionalism of the fantasy world's time period.  We, as products of our time, naturally chafe against the principles upon which earlier periods were founded.

Which helps explain why some players insist on viewing the time-travelling element of returning to an earlier time like a sort of Disneyland of freebooting murder and rampage ... because the lack of infrastructure and media made it possible to raise an army, slaughter a town, carry away the loot and get away with it.  More than that, such persons were often praised and delivered social status, in the way we might put a corporate raider's name on a stadium or a city art gallery, no matter how many innocents they worked to death in however many hidden, obscure sweatshops and slave mines.  Why shouldn't players see the game's backdrop as a legitimate shelving of liberal sensibilities in order to wallow in a little good old-fashioned bloody pillage and slaughter?  "After all," says one, "I've got a shift tomorrow with my supervisor Bob, the prick, that I'm not looking forward to.  Why shouldn't I massacre some fictional peasants?  They'll suffer a lot less than me in my nine-to-five under Bob."

We can't imagine the isolation that earlier cultures accepted as a norm.  We might want to ignore it, and all the foundations of traditionalism that sustained it, pretending our fantasy worlds can be as liberal and socially minded as our present one — where the players live — but there is no logic that can explain how people who can't read, who don't have the time to travel by foot, and couldn't travel very far if they tried, are able to perceive the world in any sense beyond "us" and "them" ... this being the only safe way to view the more primitive medieval world.

Yet this is a dynamic that must be understood in order to provide a sense of verisimilitude for the players.  On the one hand, we need them to relate to the setting; on the other, we need the setting to be frank and honest with the players.  This game world operates according to principles and belief systems that are recognisable to the players, but distasteful as well.

Consider, for example, the matter of privilege.  Search privilege on the modern internet and we find ourselves challenged to find a real definition beyond, "It's something some people think they have, which they ought not to have, as it's a very bad moral sense of entitlement."  That's it.  We won't find an explanation for how modern privilege is structured, or how it's sustained, or who has it legitimately, even though it's expressly obvious real privilege exists for certain people who have it.  Instead, the internet approaches the subject by putting its fists in its ears and shouting na-na-na-na as loudly as it can.

Privilege is based upon three factors.  We start with privilege of movement, that defines whose allowed to go where; those without privileges are shut out, or denied passage, or literally imprisoned in one capacity or another.  A serf was considered tied to the land by the feudal system, a tradition that maintained its authority effectively until the rise of towns.  Formerly, if a peasant left the land, there was no place to go — except to another collective, whose inhabitants didn't eat and didn't dress like us, nor us like them ... so even a better landlord wasn't an option.  With urbanisation, however, came a tradition based on money and skill; if a peasant could reach a town, and find work there, then he or she might find an authority who would swear that yes, the peasant had managed to remain in this town for a set period of time, abolishing that peasant's fealty to his or her former lord.  [Though, let's be honest; we really mean HIS former lord, as it was virtually impossible for a single woman to travel or find work in a town, without falling under the authority of some man.  But let's not get into that.]

We grant the players privilege of movement because they're players.  It's hardly ever discussed; the players aren't expected to possess patents, which are open letters or official documents granting permission to do something, such as walk freely on a road, buy property, build a house, have a particular name and so on.  If we had such an expectation, the DM would rightly conjure them instantly out of thin air; instead, we pretend that such game settings don't need patents, that peasants and merchants were free to wander as they choose, like a family of four going to see the biggest ball of twine in Minnesota.

The privilege of action limits our freedom to make use of things; in the modern world, this means things like driving cars and flying planes, where and how to shoot guns, and how much ordnance we can legally buy.  In the medieval tradition this also applied to weapons, and strange to us most persons were denied the use of the halls of power for their benefit.  Even if they somehow had the money — and having money was a red flag that drew institutions dedicated to take it from them — they couldn't hire a lawyer to have their day in court.  Pre-16th century, persons might not have the privilege of speaking in court at all, even as the ones being charged; they were at the mercy of voices who had privilege, who could say what they wished, and decide fates without the victim's say.  That's the world that was.

Persons had to be recognised by a guild before they could open a shop in a town; and recognised by the lord if they attempted to do so in the country.  Freedom was something that was granted according to our role, our place in the tradition, our permissions to act as we were expected to act, as our ancestors acted and as our peers allowed.  We could not just do whatever we liked.

Again, we overlook this because the players need a considerable latitude if they're going to accumulate money and freely pursue their ambitions.  The mere presence of a rude patrol demanding to know the player's business is seen as a violation of the player's freedom to act as gamers.  Yet the institution of this very thing is a terrific way to smarten up a party towards recognising the world is against them; that privilege and freedom is something they don't have, but which they'd like to sincerely acquire, and right away.  Take away something the players take for granted and watch them move to get it back, so they can once again take it for granted.

The privilege of association reflects some of what we've already said.  The freedom to enter a place, or be considered an institutional member of a place, is part and parcel with being allowed to speak and relate to persons of equal status and importance.  But not being allowed to communicate with even a courtier, much less a noble or a monarch; or not being able to force our enemy into court, even though he or she is plainly a villain; is a grinding, frustrating experience.  We take it for granted that a reporter can approach the most important political leader in the country and ask a question; but we're speaking of a medieval setting where the reporter can be executed, forthwith, for daring to speak any words at all to the lord or monarch, without formal express permission to do so first.  And remember, this punishment can be very painful, it can be wide-reaching into our family and associates, for it's based upon the whim of someone with privilege, who has the power to act brutally and stop our power to communicate or be recognised.

We can hardly conceive of such a thing; and so, for the game world, we pretend it doesn't exist.  We pretend the king is a chuckling, lackidaisical fellow, who has the time and inclination to chat up a few adventurers and confess his troubles — that he would bother to explain his or her self, ever, for the sake of looking good in front of the media.  There is no media.  There's no written word, and no literacy with which to read it.

The invention of the printing press took 60 years to create the kerfuffle of propaganda in 1520s Germany surrounding the defense of Martin Luther vs. the Pope.  The result was a steady escalation of destruction and violence as various entities fought over the privilege of enforcing silence and obedience over the privilege of stirring resentment and aiming it at an enemy.  Neither side cared much for ordinary people ... though many millions of all sorts of people, privileged and unprivileged alike, were massacred in the century and a half of war deciding which privilege would have its triumph.

I expect the reader knows which did.


Let's summarise this and move forward.  Society is held together through different types of tradition, which includes religion and shared historical experiences; and some persons of that society are alloted certain amounts of privilege, according to where they're allowed to go, what they're allowed to do and whose ear they're allowed to address.  Within this structure exists the players.  The players begin at first level with what privileges we allow; and seek to obtain privileges we withhold, if we choose to include withheld privileges in our setting.

From this, we can understand that the strength of a city, a province or a kingdom depends on the wherewithal of its citizens to support their own tradition.  In a merciless setting where the weakness of a given entity is certain to be exploited, Machiavellian-like, by stronger, more rigid states, we must permit that any weakness the entity feels within itself must be as brutally cut out as a foreign power would do, if that weakness were allowed to fester.  Therefore, if I'm a magistrate, and I wish my city to live, and I know that fighting in the streets would permit an enemy to march in and easily overcome my city at a loss to us all, I should feel no compunction at all not to hard-heartedly and ruthlessly exterminate every enemy of the city I can, no matter how many innocents are also callously killed along the way.  After all, if this city gets attacked by an outsider, the outsider won't care how many innocents are killed.  Why should I?

This kind of world represents a game puzzle for the players.  Do they join in?  Do they fume against the system?  Is a better system even possible?  And if so, how?  Where could it exist?  And to what extent?  Are we talking a whole province, a valley, or just within the confines of my own castle?  And how much challenge would exist if my castle, with its liberalism, was to be perceived as "weak" by my neighbours?

These are substantive, long-term fundamental brain-twisters that a lengthy D&D campaign can offer; the sort of troubles that sustain the players' awe and immersion, for these things do not only apply to the game setting, but to the real world as well.  How my player acts becomes a reflection of who I am, and what I believe, and what I'm ready to fight and die for.  And when my player acts expediently, because it seems the necessary thing to do, my knowing that I made that choice at that time, with those consequences, has the potential to prey on my imagination because the player character is still alive, still participating in the online campaign, still subject to the consequences of that action.

It is vastly easier to be a murder-hobo when the player character will be discarded for another next week, when we get together to play some other role-playing game.  Or some other adventure.  Where the moral slate is conveniently wiped clean.

Let's look at Muetar.

While Hothior is the financial center of the continent, astride the combined land and sea trade, Muetar is the continent's military center.  Like Germany, it's surrounded by enemies on every side.  Every boundary represents a danger, from every direction.  Yet in compensation for this, Muetar is the richest and most powerful state, for it has the resources and the cultural stability it needs to fight a war in every direction, for as long as it must.

Consider.  A war with Muetar cuts off Hothior's inland trade, devastating its commitments and manufacturing.  The country has grown fat and dependent on Muetar's production of foodstuffs, facilitated by two great rivers and by what we should assume are expansive wheat fields growing upon well-watered flat plains.  The sheer quantity of food in Muetar assures a fast-growing, hearty population ... whose social tradition is built upon the toiling, resilient practices of farmers.  Every corner of Muetar is farmed in the same way, by the same culture ... thus the people of Plibba identify with the needs of the distant Basimar, and the reverse also.

Like Hothiar, Immer too is dependent upon Muetar.  Immer is a cold land, lacking in easily grown food, and equally lacking in the rich literary establishment that grows fruitfully in places where much of the population can occupy themselves with research, philosophy and inventiveness.  Muetar's food supply ensures that many specialised professions will sprout like grapes on a vine.  Immer may have the most elite and experience soldiers in the world, as I explained earlier, but Muetar can put more soldiers in the field than any other, with better equipment and available resources.

Should the goblins of Zorn, the dark green entity atop the map, choose to raid into Muetar, they will find themselves crossing the river "Deep," or forced to round Lake Carth, many miles from their homeland.  Once they cross the Deep, the lands around Basimar are very unlike home ... a rural land with no place to hide, in which their presence is recognized by farmers and shared in every direction.  
And when the goblins are forced to retreat by the armies of Muetar, they will find the Deep at their backs.  I'm sure many goblin armies have been slaughtered on the Deep's left bank, encouraging the goblins of Zorn to raid, but never to commit.  Though I don't doubt that the small forest of Tanglefoot has numerous expatriated goblins within.

That leaves Pon and Shucassam.  Pon is a hodgepodge kingdom; we've spoken very little about it, since it's far from those places we've examined.  The kingdom is made of three parts: the Mountains of Ice, the Border Forest and "The Scab," a hilly scrub-land.  The peoples from these parts are very different from one another, with different expectations and different traditions.  As a kingdom, it lacks the cohesion Muetar possesses ... so although Pon is highly defensible due to its geography, it is really three kingdoms bound together.  Alone, it can never be a real threat.

Shucassam is a southern, desert kingdom ... and though it shares a long border with Muetar, much of Shucassam's claimed land is desolate and dry.  At 40 miles a hex, Adeese and Khuzdul are 280 miles of desert from Beolon and Yando.  And between is the Stubstaff Keep, a Knights of Malta like entity that must be overcome before Muetar can be truly challenged.  The distances are simply impractical; the supply lines too long; the needed water not available.  Shucassam needs a considerable motivation to join in a war against Muetar ... which, as we've seen, is in nobody's interest.

Still, two or three of Muetar's neighbours wouldn't hesitate to join should Muetar begin a war ... and as with Germany, this would mean a war on two, even three fronts (since there are no Alps to protect Muetar's southern flank.  And so, a contented peace develops, as the people of Muetar occasionally flex their might knowing they habitually keep five enemies at bay.  Their tradition is to be ready for war; to expect war; and yet to be completely sure they will win any war that happens.  For they are one people.  One single culture.  A culture not based on exploitation, like Hothior; or upon aesthetic resilence, like Immer.  The people of Muetar are not petty raiders, like Zorn; or discordant malcontents, like Pon.  Nor are they fat olive oil-and-date merchants, like the people of Shucassam, lolling around in their hot climate through the long days.  No, the people of Muetar are creative, active and industrious ... and whatever happens, the day will come, they know, when they will rule the world.

For everyone out there, I appreciate your support of my patreon or for your input in the comments.  I have more things to write about worldbuilding and I just want you to know that I'll continue to make the material the best I can.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Berridge House

Start with an upscale three-story inn upon Ladybridge Avenue in the city of Trosk, a generational, sprawling lot called The Berridge House.  The streetlevel floor offers a block-stone facing; the floor above a mixture of broken stone and mortar.  The top floor, made of solid wood, hangs out into the street over our heads, shading our shoulders from the sun.  From here, we climb the inn's porch and poke our heads inside.

Though an upscale guesthouse, this is no 21st century hotel.  Instead of a palatial foyer, we find ourselves in a cramped, narrow passage ending in an iron grate.  This passage is as long as the walls are thick.  The floor is cold, paved stone.   Behind us, the inn's entrance door, though open now, is ready to be barred shut ... and all around is gloom lit by an oil lamp sitting on the ledge of a small window by the grate.  From long experience with these places, the fellow in our party who keeps the purse will be at the fore.

Behind the window is a tiny office, where sits a bored clerk on a stool, scratching out the day's accounts.  He looks up, sees his new guests and out of habit begins to prate out the costs of rooms and services in the inn.  Here they are, for the benefit of the reader.

We agree to two private rooms, cramped though they may certainly be — we don't expect to stay long.  Quietly our bargainer slips four gold coins into the clerk's hands, our down payment for the night, and the clerk pulls a twine that starts a dim, clashing chime.  Moments later, a guard with keys appears, and the clerk tells him that we're to be led to our two private rooms.  The guard grunts assent, opens the iron grate and permits us passage into the bowels of the inn.

Now, with an inn that's been improved by a dozen generations, suffering fires, town sieges, peasant uprisings and plagues, its natural that within these walls there are rooms ... and there are rooms.  Our bargainer gains the attention of the guard at the stairs that will lead us upwards and puts a silver piece into his hand — to ensure we get a room that's 8x7 and not 8x6; or a room nearer the front of the building and further from the stable; or a room that's on the second floor and not the third, if that's our taste.  The guard contemplates us, measures our apparent worth in his eyes, and tromps up the stairs.  We follow.

The Berridge is the epitome of a crooked house, with crooked halls and crooked walls, which we clamber through like rats, rubbing our shoulders on either side of the stairwell and corridors above.  The guard shows us a room, which does well enough for two of our party.  We're told there's only one other room in the inn of this size that's not taken, and it's on the third floor.  Two of us remain, shuffling into our room, while the guard mutters some directions on where we can obtain services, and describes the route we'll need to follow to find the tavern and kitchen.  Then he leads our friends upstairs.

First we notice the room's windows: there are two, eighteen inches apart.  Each is six inches wide and nine inches high, with brown glass that lets in enough light to see the room ... and not much more.  Surely too small for even a halfling thief to crawl through; but thankfully, the windows are hinged so we can open them and look out.

The wooden pallet — little more than a shelf — is a comfortable 42 inches wide and nearly six feet long.  This includes a canvas mat, three inches thick and nearly conforming to the dimensions of the bed; this mat is stuffed with wool, feathers and gawd knows what else, but as we press down on the padding, it's surely more comfortable than the ground under a camp tent.  We decide if we should sleep together, or if one should take the mat on the floor while the other sleeps on the pallet.

Since we intend to remain in Trosk for some time, and commit to meeting and greeting persons here, we admit we'll need a bath.  This requires that one of us — me, I suppose — return downstairs the way we've come, turning left, going down another half-flight of stairs and informing the laundress that we wish to take a bath.  She informs me that there's hot water ready for two, so I ask her to prepare two baths and send a messenger up the stairs to my room.  Through habit, and there being no door numbers, I tell her its the second door on the left, beyond the first turn to the right, on the second floor.  The laundress sends a girl and I bend down to remove my shoes.

Some minutes later my friend and I are freshly lathered in hot water, in separate tubs, while our two remaining companions fume beyond a hanging, waiting for us to finish and for new water to boil.  This is not so long.  My tub-mate decides on a massage while I get dressed, as it's my intention to speak with the innkeeper.  This takes some time.  I try the front clerk, who suggests the kitchen, which I find by chance after trying several passages ... mostly by following my nose.  The tables in the kitchen are empty, for there's no food to be served for two hours I'm told.  Fresh bread is baking in an unseen oven and I'm directed further on to the tavern, to find the innkeeper.  Here I'm disappointed again, for I learn that he's purchased two sides of hog that haven't been delivered and he's gone to see why.  So I stand at the bar and pay for a pint.

... and here we must stop, for the description of the tavern must wait for another day.

Sunday, February 20, 2022


Coming off a rush of work, I can breathe air again ... and since I haven't posted since last Tuesday, I feel ready to shove something onto the blog.  In the basket, I have in mind that post about Muetar, and a post about "facilities" and micro-worldbuilding.  However, these seem like too much work for this particular Sunday, so I'll write another post about mapmaking.

Come around the end of day, I'm not up much for D&D rocket-science, so I pick tasks where the skull-sweat's done and I can plug-and-play build.  This describes the map generation I've been describing for awhile now.  The generation system was hard, with a lot of contemplative design involved, but the build itself has unexpected moments, includes an easy creative element and is pleasantly satisfying.  So it's easy to plug away at it for an hour here, a half-hour there, and let the general picture take form.  Here's where the 6-mile version is now (complete with extraneous, bothersome notes):

When you're working on something like this, write your notes directly on the work; think of it like scaffolding that you put up around the building during the construction process, knowing that you'll inevitably pull it down at the end.  If you're keeping too many notes on pieces of paper or in other windows, you're only increasing the number of times you're being distracted while working, undermining your general creative flow.

As the map unfolds, I've recognised a creative stage that's occurred for me many times before, and that's partly what this post's about.  See, in the beginning, there are doubts about the methodology as I begin to apply it.  Plus there's a stage of adapting myself to the method.  For instance, remembering to draw in the streams and add the hills and include the borders, as well as the extra little villages and then the roads, plus the hex numbers and oh, the hammers and food and coins.  At first, I forget something or put the wrong figures in, or forget to set up the background guides so the numbers fit consistently ... and this means going back over and over to fix and add and fix and add.  Which can be frustrating.

This can be a threshold to get past — as for a time we can believe our mistakes prove the fault of the method or vise versa.  This may cause us to step back and re-evaluate the method, either wasting our time doing that or even dismembering a perfectly good method by inventing reasons not to like it.  This thinking can stymie forward progress for years.

So, when encountering the frustration, I tell myself I'm in the "educating myself" stage and keep moving forward — knowing, as I do, that if there IS something wrong with the method, this will become self-evident, inevitably.  Perhaps I will have gone down a long road before that happens, but in fact I'm gathering knowledge as I go ... so if it IS the wrong road, I know exactly why.  I'm not guessing.

I'm pretty much through this stage, however.  Oh, I'll go on making small mistakes and fixing them, that happens forever with slightly diminishing frequency.  The stage I'm reaching now is quite different.  The above indicates the expansion of thirty-five 20-mile hexes ... and the process is beginning to set in as a routine; meaning that I'm less and less moved by each new hex as it's added.

Anyone who's settled in to create a megadungeon knows this feeling.  There's an uncomfortable growing feeling that "sameness" is becoming an issue.  In my case, because the world's being generated from a complicated series of templates, it has to be remembered that sameness is an expected consequence of the world itself being, well, very much the same over large areas.  If the reader has a strong familiarity with places like Nebraska, upper Sweden, central Spain or most places, they should know that the scenes don't markedly change over mere 20 mile distances.  The changes that exist, if they exist at all, are tiny and subtle, which can kill motivation over the long haul.  That "wow, this really looks good" feeling dissipates as the creator's thoughts turn to, "Sigh, all right, one more hex."  Inevitably, this becomes, "I'm done, I think, for awhile."

At the speed I'm mapping 6-mile hexes, I could literally spend the next ten years sketching out Europe.  The map on the right, the base 20-mile hex sheet map that the above is from, has more than a thousand hexes.  Imagine how long this alone would take.

The combination of apparent pointless repetition and impossible-to-achieve scale provides a devastating combination, axing the wherewithal to keep going ... which is why most creators don't.  They let the size of the project infringe on the enjoyment of carrying forward, thinking the goal is to "produce" rather than to "experience."

I suppose I'm lucky that it's the latter with me.  I started this post by saying that I find the mapmaking calming and satisfying at the day's end.  Adding one bit after another created the big sheet map in the first place, and the other 75 sheet maps like it.  Time lets us accomplished many things ... particularly as we stop being conscious of that time.  When we let it work for us instead of against us.

Comprehending this, we see life in a much larger sense; we stop worrying about a particular day or how much time was lost in a given week.  One week is merely a part of five hundred weeks, or a thousand weeks ... they don't matter in and of themselves.  With all the weeks left to go between the reader's present age and when they reach my 57 years ... there's so much that can yet be accomplished.  So don't worry about it.

Of course, if you are my age, then ... if I can make plans for the next 20 years, without worrying about the reliability of those plans, you should be able to as well.  You've lived long enough.

But ...

Let's put all that away and address a different bug.  Which isn't one.

With reference to my roads & routes page, take a look at some of the results I'm getting for a backward part of Wallachia.  As an explanation, the large white numbers are just the infrastructure totals for the 20-mile hexes underlying this map.  As I work, I go back and forth between having the background showing in the Publisher program as I work, and it's helpful to always have these numbers showing when laying out roads.

There are several places where routes on the map end, without making a connection.  This is intentional.  Since by the generation method, each 20-mile hex is responsible for its own roads and routes, and since priority for those go to the most important adjacent hex ... sometimes, a minor hex will build a route to the end of that hex, which the next hex over fails to connect, because it's priorities are more important hexes.  Thus, we get a situation like the one below.

To the right of Brebu, there are a cluster of hexes in the upper right of the picture.  These had a total infrastructure of 19 (number not showing, because I don't need it on the top map any more), with a group of type-5 hexes.  By the routes page, this meant it only has 4 outgoing roads; and since two adjacent hexes had an infrastructure of zero (being all mountains), the 19-pt. hex could afford to lavish routes into Brebu and south to Tiparesti and the group of hexes marked "12" in the pic.  Granted, not great routes, but routes nonetheless.

Unfortunately (if you look on the top map of the post), that 12-pt. group is surrounded by hexes that have 115, 108, 61 and 56 infrastructure ... and it too is limited to only four routes.  So it can't afford to send routes to that 19-pt. group.  The result?  A broken road, divided by a 6.67 mile gap, or one "6-mile" hex.

Is it a bug?  On the surface, we tend to think so, because we imagine that someone would have come along and fixed that gap by now — which is fair.  So far, I've failed to explain that every hex is connected by a kind of route not shown: a "path," which my wiki defines as

"very uneven, narrow routes over a hard clay surface and are impassable to carts. Mounts must be ridden single file. The width is typically between 4 and 6 feet wide. Surfaces are covered with roots and scrub, with brooks and rivulets that must be jumped. There are occasional places, every few miles, where the path squeezes between trees or rock outcroppings."

Which means there is a route over that gap, the path described.   The upper route is a "cart track," while the lower is a "dirt road."  Presumedly, there are depots between the two ends, that really only need to be occupied for about 4-6 weeks a year, during the harvest season.  At that time, some farmers from the north bring their produce south to the depot, where they sell it; then their produce is loaded on animals and transshipped to the south road head and parked at another depot ... where it's loaded on carts and wagons for shipment further south.

But that doesn't answer the question, "Why doesn't someone just complete the road?"  Well, because it's barely used 11 months out of the year.  We know that, because the combined infrastructure is only 31 pts., and much of that looks to other hexes, such as the routes to Brebu and Tiparesti.  Only 1/7th of both hexes is really concerned about that broken route, which only represents a total infrastructure of 4.42.  And really, the connections means less to the southern link than it does to the northern one.

We live in a car-focused infrastructure system, which means everywhere must have a road ... but much of North America didn't have that as recently as my father's generation.  By 1995, every shitwater town in Canada and America was replete with three or four gas stations, Burger Kings, McDonalds, Tim Hortons and what else ... but even I can remember a time from my teens when "gas alleys" didn't exist at all in towns with as many as 10,000 residents.  Imagine what it was like in the 17th century, when my world takes place, or the 14th and 15th centuries, when most people set their D&D worlds.  A lack of services is NORMAL ... something we don't even think about as we include an inn in every village, along with a blacksmith, an apothecary, a jeweller and a grocer selling weapons and armour, for lawd's sake.

Even in Europe, large parts of the game world ought to be completely devoid of the most basic services, including a tavern or even a rentable bed.  Here I'm saying that even roads are a luxury.

And if the players feel they can use their coin to build a road, picking from a dozen disconnected but potentially linked ends, all the better.  It's one more thing for them to spend their money on, isn't it?  And make the world a better place.  And build some contacts with an area.  And some credibility and status.  Yes?

Which I've argued is the reason for building a deep and varied world, with lots of weird "irrational" bits in it.  Because "gaps" are opportunities ... and in a believable world, there are always gaps.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Worldbuilding 5c: Denizens

Before getting onto the main post, here's the 2-mile map as it looks after today.  I had plenty of time to work on it, but not so much tomorrow or the day after.

Changes include: (a) adding a coin to village/town hexes, so Garalzapan's hex gets three symbols/7 coin x35 after all; (b) drawing a cart track to all type-5 and better hexes, and a cart path to all type-6 hexes; and (c) creating a "hamlet" of 80-120 people for all type-4 and better hexes.  The vast majority of the map consists of wilderness, though much of it should be termed "hinterland" — land under a warden of some kind, used as a resource for woodcutters, game hunters, mushroom hunters, pig herders and for general foraging.

I don't need all of it for this post, so let's take out a section near the bottom:

When I rolled Sankt Georgen, as explained yesterday, the entire infrastructure was generated into the single hex.  Quite unusual, a 1 in 64 chance.  Works rather well for this post, however, since the 1,131 person town is a sort of Keep on the Borderlands.  Within this region, it's an outpost of workshops and handicrafts, fulling wool, cutting timber, making furniture, raising pigs and tanning pigskin.  The river isn't large enough to float logs downstream, but logs are sawn and shipped out.

For the time being, however, let's forget the town and concentrate on "recognisable" D&D.  We're a party and we've arrived in Sankt Georgen.  Four miles to the southeast we can see a big ol' mountain, and a string of mountains extending in a line beyond.  There's a stream about five meters wide flowing through town, shallow enough we could cross it without getting our knees wet — but quite cold.  It's May, the beeches and oaks are in full leaf and the ground beneath the trees is so well tailored by centuries of woodcutters and charcoalers that all is grass and crocuses.  We're assured that the land isn't wild at all for the first four or five miles, and that if we stay on the path, there's enough traffic and patrols that we needn't worry about bandits.  Most of the carts coming down along the path have nothing more valuable than building stone — but we're also assured that along the streambeds in the bottom valley, lucky prospectors have found deposits of amethyst and, in the river muck, lumps of amber.  If we want to try our luck.

Now, what happens?  The party decides to load up and head out in a totally random direction; and as the game setting is intended to making things interesting, we traditionally put a group of something in their way (some kind of Caves of Chaos), which they can kill as a foreplay to getting treasure.

And from the look of the land, it appears we have few options except to do that.  Don't get me wrong; I'm definitely not above running this kind of adventure ... in fact, it makes a good first adventure for an early party with no previous setting experience.  But it's also the very least we can provide, setting-wise, for the players.

We can do much better.

Keep in mind that this little area, 18 or so miles by 12, is fundamentally no different from a whole country like Immer, Hothior or Elfland.  The people and creatures living here have problems, they have issues with each other, they have ambitions they'd like to achieve and those ambitions conflict.  The party has the same potential I've been describing all along: the chance to dive in, lend somebody in this setting a hand, fix some problems, enable some ambitions and set themselves up as important persons or establish a place of safety.

The problem with the traditional adventure isn't that it, itself, is wrong or that it doesn't work to keep the players entertained ... it's that ordinary adventures are addictive.  Problem-solving and addressing local issues in order to get ahead in the community is a murky, taxing, often thankless task.  Bashing goblins on the head with a stick is easy.  Once players adjust to the game reality that death is going to occur occasionally, and that it doesn't matter because new player characters are an inexhaustible resource, then ho hum, they don't care if they die entering another dungeon, so long as the game doesn't ask for much.  For player to give more, they've got to be motivated off the proverbial module-upholstered couch.

Look.  Players want more.  But they don't know what "more" looks like, because forty years of adventure padding and cheesy role-play overlay has convinced them the couch is as good as it gets.  "Meh, it's not great, but it's so-so fun and anyway, it's just a game."  As such, players have to be moved.  Roused.  Incentivized.

Pissed off.

And look at all that big, empty landscape.  What can we put out there that's going to make the players sit up and take notice, get interested and feel some enthusiasm.  What can we put out there that's really going to get under the players' skins?

That's what we, as dungeon masters, have to figure out.  We can decide what setting has a dungeon in it, and maneuver the players towards it ... and count on them to follow the clues like a sober alcoholic promised a drink once picking through garbage for cans first.  Or we can cure the poor soul, inventing something better than alcohol.  This is, after all, why alcoholics fight so hard to stay sober ... because after a time, they begin to realize the alcohol — however bad they want it — really isn't all that great, while the benefits of sobriety, such as having a life, prospects, comforts, health and so on, are worth the fight.

But, no, not an easy fight.

Suppose the players decide to make the cart path even safer for the carters bringing stone into Sankt Georgen.  Bandits, as we said, aren't a problem ... but as they head up the route, they can see places where carts have fallen off the path.  They can see dead animal carcasses fifty, a hundred feet below.  They learn from the carters that yes, no bandits, but every few months, an owlbear roams along the road, coming across the carts one by one until half a dozen or more carters are killed.  Moreover, many of the carters and the quarry workers are wage slaves to merchants in Sankt Georgen.  Most came out here because, in the rock of these mountains, there are seams of rhodonite; most quarriers hope and pray for the day when a few large rhodonite stones will free them from their bondage.  Meanwhile, those who might try to escape have no place to run to ... and yes, there are goblins in these mountains.

Perhaps they could try to escape, if there were armed guards to help them.  But where would such workers find such a party of well-meaning souls, in these mountains.

After all, what use could a party possibly find for a group of grateful, free, experienced miners and quarriers, who are used to cutting rock and spying valuables in it.  There are certainly no other rocks to mine or examine in this valley surrounded by hills and mountains, where other gemstones are said to exist.  Certainly it's not worth following up the legends of some of the quarriers that there are goblin placer diggings in the mountains, where they search for amber — and that if these diggings could be found, and taken over, by workers who knew how to work those diggings, why, everyone could get rich.

But, hey.  What are they going to eat?  And what enemies are we going to make in Sankt Georgen?  And there are patrols.  And we don't have a clue where the goblin diggings are, or even if they exist.  Sure, we're up for hunting around for an owlbear, maybe, though we're only first level ... but we don't want to make any enemies, do we?  No, it all sounds like a lot of work and risk and problem solving.  Just give us a dungeon.  We'd be happy with a dungeon.

It takes time and work as a DM to create situations the players can recognise as opportunities.  The scenes have to be crafted.  The way the dead animals down below look.  The crosses on the side of the road.  The episode where the players actually save a cart from sliding off the edge.  The generosity of the miners, slaves though they are.  Their stories.  The attitudes of their handlers, and the laziness patrols that half-heartedly "protect" the road against owlbears.  Each part is a carefully designed puzzle that plays the player's heartstrings like a lyre.

This isn't an easy skill for a DM.  Takes time.  Takes a conscious understanding of how players — even very lazy, selfish players — don't like to see unfairness or indecency.  'Course, if you have players who love to wallow in those things, um, turn everything around and set the players up to push the cart and the carter over the side.  Either way, moral or immoral, there's always a way to tease a player into doing what they think is right.

The setting is an empty slate that gets filled by little notes and places as the players wander about and meet the people and creatures within.  In the valley above, there are prospectors, hermits, criminals, escaped wage-slaves, hidey-holes, hunting parties, a druid or two that knows everyone and everything, ruins and discarded equipment, Ottoman spies, zealots and aesthetics, woodfolk, at least one ranger, half a dozen mercenaries down on their luck, a greenhorn hunting for gems and who knows what else.  They're all wandering around and they all have problems; they all have dreams and they're all ready to fight or follow a party wandering through looking to make something of themselves while hoping this animal trail leads to an actual dungeon.

After all, maybe there isn't one.

Monday, February 14, 2022


 My partner and I don't celebrate Valentine's Day, so ...

Going to get fairly self-indulgent here, as I explain what's going on with the above.  This is still in the draft stage; but I'm far enough that I feel I want to keep going.  But as others are interested, I'll take some time to explain what's going on.

But first, I've gone back to the old colour scheme.  The above is a "2-mile" map; each hex is 2.22 mi. in diameter.  The above shows the expansion of six mile hexes surrounding Garalzapan's land. 

Here's an image of the 6-mile map covering the same area:

And to the right is the same area, as it appears on the 20-mile map.  Isn't it nice that a section of blank map can be transformed into something tactile and interesting?  Sorry, that's self-aggrandising.  I'll resist.

The hex marked "2388" has an infrastructure of 46.  This can be distributed in a number of ways, but in the case of Garalzapan's land, it produced one "type-3" hex, three "type-4" hexes and three "type-6" hexes.  How is this distribution calculated?  Well, a type-3 hex costs 16 infrastructure; each type 4 hex costs 8 infrastructure; and each type-6 hex costs 2 infrastructure.  16+8+8+8+2+2+2 = 46.

Potentially, this could have been two type-3 hexes (32), three type-5 hexes (4 each) and a type-6 (2), which also equals 46.  The seventh hex is a type-8, wilderness, no infrastructure.

So, when infrastructure is very high, we get a bunch of type-1, type-2 and type-3 hexes, which appear brown; middling infrastructure hexes get multiple type-4 hexes.  And low infrastructure gets 6s, 7s and 8s.  No infrastructure is all 8s.  Follow?

Okay, showing that Garalzapan type-3, 6-mile hex up close.  The idea is to translate this into 2-mile hexes according to a process that can be applied to any other hex.  For a long time now, I've operated on the principle that a type-3 hex is made of five civilised hexes and two wilderness.  This is the reason it's called a "type-3" hex.  With a type-8, every inner hex is wilderness; with a type-7, one hex is civilised and six are wilderness; type-6 has two civilised hexes, type-5 has three, type-4 has four, type-3 has five.  Get it?

This has been a central core of my mapbuilding logic for 10 years.  And the map I built Saturday was built according to that principle.  But ...

What's been breaking my balls for two days has been what to do with those coins, hammers and food in the upper corner.  How are those distributed among the five civilised hexes a type-3 has?  Are they distributed?  Well, they have to be.  The food is grown somewhere.  The hammers represent labour and the physical results of that labour; the coin is generated somewhere.  But ... how?  I could make some ad hoc table that gives a weight to each hex according to how far it is from the central authority of that hex, in this case, "Garalzapan."  But what about hexes that don't have a village?  How do I distribute them?  Consistently, in every case, regardless of what hex is being sorted?  Is there a different table for each type of hex?  That really seems inelegant.

When the original distribution of 46 infrastructure was made, it looked like this:

This is elegant.  Type the number, the hexes result, they're distributed in order according to the randomly generated hexes below.  This tells me where each type of hex goes.

I wanted something like this ... and only this morning I realized how that was possible.

Look.  A type-3 hex costs 16 infrastructure.  Why not simply input "16" on the table above, and have it generate a distribution of those 16 infrastructure among 2-mile hexes?  And then, reassign hammers, coins and food according to the new 2-mile distribution?  So that's what I did.  And this is what that looks like:

Sorry it doesn't look better, but alas, it's a tiny part of a big picture.  Anyway, the reader may note this has three type-8, or wilderness hexes.  In other words, throwing a ten-year concept into the trash can here.  And I don't give a damn.  The old plan got me here, but when a plan ceases to get us farther, we drop it and move on.  This is a critically important element of design, one that makes it worth my going through all this process chatter that can't possibly matter to anyone but me.  Half the time, in design, we're crippled by something we think has to be so, but in fact has to be pushed out the car door.

We have to talk about translating production now.  I'll remind the reader briefly that one food symbol = 1 food; that two symbols equal 3 food; that three symbols equal 7 food and so on.  This also applies to hammers and coins.  On a 6-mile map, "1 food" will feed 70 people for a year; "1 coin" represents a production of 70 g.p. wealth, which I go into with this post.

Garalzapan's type-3 hex on the 6-mile map showed 3 bread slices, 3 hammers and 2 coin-symbols ... or, 7 food, 7 hammers and 3 coins.

And the type-4 hex on the 2-mile map seems to show the same; but, of course, we've zoomed in.  We've expanded the size of the map by 300%.  How does this apply to the former numbers for food, hammers and coins?

Yes, well ... not as well as I might have hoped.  Adjusting two bread symbols to three more than doubles the number of "food" indicated.   I'm taking the position that each symbol is reduced from representing 70 to "35."  Garalzapan's two coins on the 2-mile map represent only 105 gold ... but the type-5 hex at the top is also Garalzapan's, so that increases the total to 140.

On the other hand, according to the 6-mile map, Garalzapan's land had 7 food and could feed 490 people.  The 2-mile map shows 44 food ... which at 35 persons per food, is enough for 1,540 persons.

The way I see it, the 6-mile hex is an estimate.  A practical shorthand for large parts of the world I intend never to translate into 2-mile hexes (unless I either get rich enough to own a team of creators or I live to 300).  The 2-mile hex is, on the other hand, more accurate.  And that's what I'm going with.

I have a good idea for what to do with the hammers.  As I said, 1 hammer would indicate something like a well, 2 hammers a mill for grinding grain, 3 hammers a storehouse or a shrine.  Garalzapan's total hammers in the hex are 16; I'm just thinking how to assign specific facilities according to the total hammers within each hex ... or possibly, in a circle of seven hexes.  I'll be "hammering" out a formula for this in good time.  I want to give it a bit more thought.

Okay, that about covers it.  What'll we say we get back to worldbuilding now?

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Succeeding Well

By the age of six, I did what all little boys did.  I tied a sheet around my neck and ran around pretending to be superman.  I built forts out of chairs, couch pillows and blankets.  By eight, it was playing guns, cowboys & indians ... and because it was 1972, Star Trek.  I liked being Scotty.  By the age of 10, it was chess and RISK.  At 13 it was Squad Leader, Panzerblitz and Tractics — this last being a set of wargaming rules for conducting WW2 style combat using armour miniatures.  We did it with model tanks we built from box kits; tanks and artillery pieces that we painted diligently.  By 13, I'd probably built between 50 and 75 model tanks, planes and ships, the last being everything from 15th century clipper ships to the USS Missouri.

Then when I was just nine days shy of 15, I encountered D&D.

Recognize the trajectory?  It starts with make-believe but as I mature, the subject material becomes increasingly more mature — and the rules' set grows denser and more exacting.  At eight we're designating parts of a schoolyard jungle gym as "the bridge" and "sickbay" and "engineering," with everyone respecting those designations.  Five years later, we're measuring the carpets with tape measures, recording distances down to the millimeter and holding each other account for the exact distance a tank can move or fire.

More to the point, as children we're bent on increasing the substance of the decisions we make.  At eight, I'm shouting into a pretend comm during a battle that "Engineering's been hit!  I'm wounded!  I need help!"  Five years later I'm speaking in low voices across the room with my co-commander, building strategies for my mauler, artillery units and guards to draw fire into the woods (this area carpet) so his faster panzers and panzerkampfwagons can move rapidly along the couch and come out around the coffee table, flanking the enemy.  We're collaborating.  We're making important decisions.  We're assuming responsibilities way, way past our maturity.  Leading soldiers; deciding upon acceptable losses; concerned about looking like morons in front of our peers, believing somehow that our ability to lead a battle matters with regards to who we are and what we say.

Why?  Why go down that road?  We read stories about war.  We had hundreds of examples from movies and comics that told us what men did and what men faced ... and whatever the later cultural resistance to all that macho-bullshit, as boys we ran towards that stuff, because it made us feel great.  We felt magnificent, raising our sense of self-importance through the activities we chose to enjoy.

What we felt certainly wasn't as clear-headed as a psychological calling for "adventure."  No, we wanted to be Scotty, to be Sgt. Rock, to act the way our heroes did, when we were still young and dumb enough to believe in heroes.  Rest assured, I do recognize that a 40-something today, growing up in the 80s the way I did in the 70s, could never have had things as black and white as we did.  But none of our assumptions about "taking charge" tacitly recognised the difference between which side we fought for.  Note the "I'm playing the Nazis" in the example about Panzers given above.  No, in the comics, the German soldiers were always portrayed as soldiers, and never as "Nazis."  Nazis were horror villains who died in Weird War Tales at the hands of enemy zombies.  And to be honest, we understood perfectly well that "soldiers" were just ordinary men.  Look at that comic cover: "Easy Company's newest recruit ..."  Soldiers were ordinary human beings who did extraordinary things, because they had to, not because they wanted to.  We grasped the pervading myth that rising above what we were, that being children, depended on the standard to which we held ourselves.  And when we played wargames, that meant winning by ability, honour, innovation and effort.  No one thought winning by dumb luck was praiseworthy.  We wanted to succeed well.

And then ... Dungeons and Dragons.

For all the interest they held for us, wargames were comparatively limited.  The focus, the necessary winning strategy, even the morality, were two-dimensional compared to D&D.  The units in wargames were based on real equipment, or at the very least mechanical elements of types and models of military designs.  Being table based, the limitations were the space allowed by the map board or, in the case of Tractics, how big a space we could play in.  And the number of units were limited by our physical capacity to own physical equipment, or move hundreds of little chits on a board in a space of time, before we had to take it down so the dining table could be used for eating.  These limitations were obliterated by D&D.

Keeping in mind, unit-based wargames required a degree of skill and strategic foresight.  We all remember the one player in RISK who decides, "enough of this patient approach, I'm going all in."  Their next turn, they start attacking, and attacking, and attacking, until every last attack they can possibly make is gone, even as they use three armies to attack ten.  Every territory is left with one army on it; and while the others cheerfully gobble them all up, there's also a question of, "what the fuck?"

Reaching back, there's the eight-year-old on the playground who can't play the Star Trek fantasy pretend game on the monkey bars, because he or she doesn't know what a "warp drive" is, or doesn't understand going to the transporter first before leaving the ship.  As children, we're not very forgiving about this sort of thing.  When Todd decides to run all his tanks out of the wood in a full-frontal assault against hulled-down troops, like Pickett's charge, and gets destroyed, there's a general consensus to stop inviting Todd to any further games.

Fellows like Todd find a new life in D&D.  They still rush headlong at orcs; they still stupidly cast fireballs in their own face.  D&D doesn't make them smarter.  It does give them room to be stupid, however.  There's an adjudicator to say, "Um, Todd, that will kill you."  Whereas in a war game, like chess, you touch the piece, you have to move it.

With the beginning of my experience in D&D, there were players who continued to treat it like a war game.  There are still such people.  They crave the fighting.  The two-dimensionality of it.  The "touch-a-piece-you-have-to-move-it" standards they invent.  But D&D offers much more.  We can't start a cult in a war game.  We can't pretend to be a prostitute to kill clients.  Or reunite lost lovers, or restore a king to his kingdom.  In a wargame, we can't organise a town against a plague.  We can't break into a castle at night and sneak around, thieving and assassinating.  There are so many things we can do in D&D that we can't do in any other game.  It and games like it take the generalised, non-specific parts of pillow-fort building, cowboys and indians, chess, RISK, squad leader and a thousand other games and makes them DENSER and MORE EXACTING.  So much so that most of us don't understand what's going on when we play.

Yesterday, JB wrote a brilliant, strategic investigation into what D&D offers, that the reader should definitely read.  But even at that, he misses a big, fat point that I need to add here (though he almost makes it himself).  At one point, JB uses his American Heritage Dictionary to describe adventure.  I'll repeat them here:

1. An undertaking of a hazardous nature.

2. An unusual experience or course of events marked by excitement and suspense.

3. Participation in hazardous or exciting experiences.

4. A financial speculation or business venture.

JB then elucidates upon the benefits of taking risks — the hazard, the excitement, the suspense, the fact of the undertaking, adrenaline, seeing other places, having strange experiences ... all definite truths and, unquestionably an important part of the game.

But it's not THE game.  No.  The game is not the risk.  The game is what we accept the risk to achieve.

And again no, not just the prestige or the sense of accomplishment, or wealth, or being a "hero," all things JB mentions, though only in passing.

We don't cheer Luke going down the trench, we cheer when the shots go down the exhaust port.  We cheer when the risk is over.  When we've survived.  As happy as a skydiver is falling, it's always a little bit better when the chute opens.  And better still when landing safely.  The fall is a terrific rush ... but it's still only foreplay.

When my players talk of an adventure they had, they don't talk about the risk.  They don't say, "Oh, hey, the best moment was when I thought I was going to die when surrounded by fifty goblins."  No, they say, "We wrecked that fort!  Blew it all to hell."  It isn't just a sense of accomplishment.  It's THE accomplishment.  The one we lived through.  And while others might think we're heroes, we know what it cost.  "Dagnar died.  I miss Dagnar."  They worry more than a bit about having to go through something like that again.  And when they are faced with a big risk, my players hedge and plan and hedge some more.

Because we don't run towards risk.  We run towards getting something we want so badly that will risk the bad stuff to get it.

D&D gives us so many cool things we can want and try to get ... more than any other RPG, more than any other game in existence.  We can literally get anything we can imagine.  The shackles of everyday life are off, the way the D&D struck off the shackles of being a kid under the tutelage of parents and teachers.  We can think of it, we can realise how to get it ... and then we can go get it, our way, using our wits.  Risk?  Risk is just something that happens along the way.

Like Sgt. Rock says, "Livin' is hard, soldier ... it's dyin' that's easy."

A considerably number of early D&D players recognised that the way the game was being structured it was far too easy to die.  This led to an increased sentiment that what these players wanted was the achievement, not the constant reminder that player characters can die at the drop of a hat.  From this sentiment came a host of poisonous game fixes: starting at a higher level, stressing "role" playing over "roll" playing, storytelling and backstories, fudging, matrix-determined ability stats, collaborative storytelling, the "rule of cool" and so on.  These philosophical approaches grew out of the ignorant brutality of early modules like the Tomb of Horrors and Vault of the Drow, complimented by the Dragon Magazine's constant stress upon all the things JB preaches, risk, excitement, et al.

There is a third path.  Lessen the risk.

Don't get rid of it.  Don't smash the game all to pieces in an effort to make sure characters get everything their hearts desire.  Don't eliminate the thrill, the suspense and the hazard.  But get it out of the players' face.  Find another kind of hazardous and exciting experience that gets the players' blood pumping without constantly putting them in fights where being killed has a greater than 5% chance.

I ran my online game for a decade.  Amount of excitement and fear felt?  Lots and lots.  Number of actual player characters who died?  One about every two years.  Granted, there was an incident where three of them died in one fight ... and another when I should have killed them all.  But, I find that killing a player makes a very poor use of game time.  The best use is to make a player think I'm going to kill him or her ... and then kill just enough players to remind them it's always possible.

This is how I'm always able to start players at 1st level, but they mostly manage to reach 12th.  Because not every risk is "life and death."  Players also risk loss of wealth and equipment, loss of opportunity, loss of face, loss of status ... and loss of surety and confidence.  It isn't always necessary to kill them.  In fact, it's hardly ever necessary.

Crying out as Scotty, I didn't decide to be killed, did I?  Where's the fun in that?  But I also needed help, didn't I?  It wasn't this bullshit of shaking it off either.

To use another example, consider the removal of Luke's hand in Empire.  Would it have been better if Luke lost his head?  Or if he fell hundreds of feet to hit the hard steel of the bottom?  No.  No, he loses his hand, he falls through a convenient port that allows him to retreat and fight another day ... but he's suitably chagrined.  He's upset about his father.  He doesn't feel he's "won."  There's excitement.  There's hazard.  There's the hard fact of livin' as opposed to the easiness of dyin'.  It makes a better game.  It allows the player character to try again, to make a better job of it, to succeed.

And it's succeeding well that matters.

Teaching Myself 2-mile Maps

Teaching myself how to make 2-mile hex maps: zooming in on the 6-mile map the way I did the 20-mile map.  Don't like much of this so far.  I want to portray forests but I don't like the colour scheme.  Haven't figured out how to roads on this scale work.  Finicky, unsatisfying, unstandardized work.


But this is how worldbuilding goes.  We try different things, experiment ... and slowly set practices for how the map will look going forward.  We go back to the old way of doing things and give it more time.  We play around.  Each new discovery is a step forward ... and becomes a formula for solving problems in the future.  It takes time.  It's frustrating.  There's a tendency to throw it out; but don't.  Keep working at it.  The shape and solutions and appearance we want will emerge in its own time.

Friday, February 11, 2022

Thursday, February 10, 2022


No worldbuilding post today, but might just as well record the map's progress.  Here's where I am now:

Because it's a map in progress, there's always something undone, along with bits of flotsam around.  Tweaks are made in the location of a hill or a river ... gawd-like powers, don't you know.

I am working from another map that's in the background, that hasn't been shown yet ... I thought the reader might be interested.  So here's the background without my recently added foreground:

And now here's the background and foreground together:

And now here's the completed part in the same dimension, so the pictures can be seen as a slideshow:

Interesting?  I hope so.