Saturday, April 30, 2022

Village No. 2

The last village came together so quickly, the temptation is to adjust the table to ensure a few less cottages and hovels.  Making tables for yourself, you'll bump into that inclination constantly.  Experience teaches not to fiddle, but to trust one's instinct for the original numbers until getting a decent sampling of test runs, at least 20 or 30.  That's not enough work that we can't throw it away and start from scratch, if we feel that's needed, or that can't be let alone, since in the long run it will remain as a tiny aberration in the overall process.  As such, I'll go with the table as written.

I'll start with a real village this time, a place call Pufesti.  Three hammers, on the Siret River in Bukovina, eastern Romania.  The scale of the small map is 6.67 miles per hex; but obviously, like before, we want block-sized hexes, 435 ft. per hex.

Just as a 20-mile hex makes a group of seven "6-mile" hexes, we can continue that zoom further.  Zoom once to "2-mile" hexes (2.22 mi. diameter), zoom a 2nd time to "uberblocks" that are 0.741 mi. in diameter, and zoom a 3rd time to block-size (0.247 mi., or 435 ft.).  This translates to the same hex shown on the left to a 27-hex diameter area, as shown below.  First, with the old Pufesti hex & details showing:

And now with no background, with the circle indicating the location of Pufesti:

Essentially, all I'm doing is taking the old Gygax suggestion from p.47 of the original DMG:

Coming from mapmaking long before I started playing D&D, I read such snippets of possibility with considerable interest, finding ways to apply this idea in my own way.

As noted from the pictures above, we can see the small circle of Pufesti isn't a symbol that's markedly bigger than what a village might be; if anything, the tiny brown circle of Pufesti is smaller than the actual place.  Overall, I'm hoping this assembly of map scales and the use of hexes helps the reader comprehend a tactile sense of how big a 6-mile hex is, and how translatable this is to much bigger scales.  Remember, each of the 435 ft. block hexes above is only 81 combat hexes across — that's the size of the large partial black hex on this combat map:

Ah, okay, but we're here to generate a village.   We can start by assigning Pufesti an even 500 people, for simplicity.  Unlike our earlier example, Pufesti has 3 hammers, not 2; this means a few things are certain.  There's a town center but there's also a church; there's also a market, and there's a small bridge across the river.  Because there's some cottage crafting here, there's at least one group of cottages.  So before we start, we've already accounted for 105 people.  That's okay, we have plenty of room for others.

Laying out these places, arbitrarily laying out the village center and the bridge first (and giving no weight points to the bridge, but you may feel otherwise) we get the shown collection of places. I've adjusted the three incoming roads (later, I'll transform the colouring of these). They'll need to be tweaked as places turn up. The unfamiliar brown hex near the bottom of the map is the market, which is little more than an open dirt pad with pens for animals and a wall surrounding a few permanent buildings. I can't say my artwork here is astounding, I only want to get the point across.

The process works just as it did before.  The main question is, do we take another market if it shows up?  Do we take another village centre?  The answer is yes, if we can make it make sense, given the layout.  A second market must go next to the first; a second village centre can go anywhere.  Because of the size of the village, a second temple wouldn't make sense, unless this were a polytheistic region.  As it is, this is western Romania, so we'd expect to have only one church.

I'll repost the random table.  Whatever the results are, and should we later consider expanding the idea here into further details, one thing we must remember is that the table is made for us; we are not made for the table.  I don't recommend ignoring a roll, but occasionally there will be good reasons for deciding there are too many material yards or village centres.  Additionally, we should always strive to think of something new that can be added for later instances of using the table again.

Rolling, then, I get a "garden" between the village centre and the market.  This isn't the sort that people visit, but a space where vegetables and other intensive produce is grown; often such places were communal.  There's no reason not to locate this directly adjacent to the village centre, as "density" isn't part of the overall scheme — whereas food growth is essential.  A village isn't just a small town; it has different priorities, a different outlook.  Later, should the village grow into a town, where space may become a premium, the garden hex would be pulled out and townhouses or workshops put in its place.  But vegetable gardens are fine for a village.

Then we add another set of cottages between the bridge and the village centre (pop. 155) and we have a simple star.

In all honesty, the actual laying out of the hexes, even the upgrading of the weighted hexes around the outside, is quite simple.  I've built this nice collection of image hexe that can be turned this way and that to give some sense of shape and colour.  But the process of writing about the generation is losing my interest, fast.  Even though I haven't shown all the little symbols I made, I'm going to call the post at this point.  And I don't believe I'll make a third village [sorry], because I don't see it as adding anything new to the concept.

It's very simple from here.  What matters is building a believable, richly designed space for the players to occupy, going beyond every village being immediately associated with the inn, tavern and convenient market.  Make the players comprehend the feel of life here — try to shake them out of the complaceny so they stop taking your world for granted.  These are people living in this village, whose small problems may not be dungeon rooms or vast treasure hordes ... but they are potential companions for those dungeons.  There are youngsters here who want to learn, friends who want to feed the party and look after their wounds and hear their stories.  It's a place for the players to ground themselves, to identify as something worth protecting, and think whistfully about when everything in the dungeon goes sour.

I know that for many players, those who think the shallower the campaign, the better, this seems all maudlin and time wasting.  I assure you, it's not.  Dungeons are what you fight against.  Villages are what you fight for.

Monday, April 25, 2022

The Biggest Page

I apologise.  I owe the reader two villages and I'm acutely aware of it.  However, in my free time I'm also working on my D&D wiki ... the recent work upon which this post discusses.

One thing I adore about working on a wiki is that slowly, steadily, the hundreds of pages of random notes and ideas I have pours steadily into this one source.  The process is normally slow and requires much deliberation and reworking of the idea, to make it comprehensible and of value.  Yet I don't tire of the process, so I don't worry about it's chronological aspects.

A practice that I follow for existing content is to use the "random page" feature to bring forth posts that need editing and rework.  This dredges up pages from the nether regions and puts them to the fore of my attention.  Part of this process is to commit to the page when it appears — and not merely click the random button again for a page that's more "fun."  Nope, gotta fix the page as it appears, no matter how unpleasant that prospect is.

Some months ago I promised myself that when the Character Background Generator rolled into view, I'd make a written version of the excel file, complete with tables.  Well, the day came on Friday afternoon ... and for three days, I've been working on it.

No, the wiki-version of the Generator isn't done.  It isn't even close to done.  It's 80,000 characters, which averages to better than 1,000 characters an hour for the last 72 hours (the number of hours it's been between starting and writing this paragraph).  It's now the longest page on the wiki.  I am just at the point where the next section will be generating the character's secondary skills and social heritage ... and this, my dear readers, is a deep, deep well of a process.  Deeper than most realise, since the version most have seen is the 2012 version of the generator ... whereas I'm working from the unfinished, never revealed 2019 version.  And later on in this process, I'll be writing completely new content for the source material from 2012, which is woefully out of date for my campaign.

So, I'll be adding to the page for awhile.  I ask the reader to view it, to come back here and discuss anything that seems odd to read or any spelling/grammar errors that aggravate.  I don't mind being edited or encouraged to do a better layout with this sort of thing.  There are some changes to the bigger hair/eye colour tables that I'm undertaking.  I want things to be better.  It's only that I've been working at breakneck speed on the material and in some cases I made a few bad early choices.

Well, that's all.  I'll get back to the villages.  I'm just focused elsewhere for a little while.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Generation: Village No. 1

So I had this idea.  Then I got busy, then I got back around to it ... and yeah, why do I have these stupid ideas?  Let's make this clear:  I'm not offering a practical way to worldbuild with this post, because I can attest from experience that it's NOT practical.  What I'm trying to do it give insight into my thinking process, to enable the reader to gain perspective.  

I didn't particularly enjoy this project.  II have no intention of taking it up for town and city creation.  Maybe someone else might ... but without better resources and the ability to draw, I found making representations of hexes very unpleasant.  What you're going to see should be taken as representational and NOT accurate in scale.

Starting with a generation table.  This one is tailored for a small village in a type-4 hex with two hammers.  Also, since there's no shoreline, there's no waterfront block.  The manor block is combined with the village centre.

I haven't tested this out yet.  I'm going to test it with this post and see how it goes; all I can offer is that I've made many hundreds of tables as a DM, giving me a sense for what a table needs.  I want this to be heavy on hovels and cottages, for those things determine when the village generation ends, when we've placed all the people.

We only need one temple block, so the table gives an alternative to the temple once it's generated.  I'm suggesting that for a small village, there's a good chance a temple won't be generated.  This doesn't mean there wouldn't be a local priest; only that the religious guidance in the community takes the form of a friar or a minister operating from a cottage, probably gathering the means to eventually build a temple.

I propose to make three villages, not necessarily all with this post.  I may leave off later villages for another post; each will require an augmentation of the shown table.  For the moment, I want to see how hard this goes.

Let's begin with a village "stub."  As shown on the map, we have a village centre already; if one occurs when we roll on the table above, that would be a second village centre block (with a very low chance of that).

Because we're starting with the smallest possible village, exactly 201 people, I'm not including a bridge block in the random generation above.  Instead, we'll suppose a stream so small that it can be easily crossed without needing a bridge.

The image shows the red-roofed bakery and the large manor house, the gallows platform and four cottages; effort has been made to make the ground look worn and muddy in places.  Not sure the effect works.

Naturally, the next block has to be placed somehow in relationship to the centre ... and here's what I propose.  Zooming out, with the map showing below, I've assigned "weighted" importance to hexes surrounding the one we have. 

Level ground adjacent to the village centre gets a "3."  Stream hexes, with their access to good water, get a "2."  And other hexes within two of the centre get a "1."

The total for all hexes showing is 32.  Of course, we could assign the numbers different, giving more stress to the river or counting all the hexes three out from the centre.  There's no "right" way to do this ... but by picking this method, I'm demonstrating how any method might work.

As I see it, the goal is to produce a pattern that creates the greatest amount of individuality.  We could have every added village block automatically attach to an existing hex ... but that's certainly going to make a dense clumping pattern for every village.  Remember, the distance across a hex is only 435 ft.  We can imagine the first immigrant watching the place where the squire or first residents chose to build their places, and then comparing what might offer personal opportunities for the new builder.  Keep in mind, too, that villages are NOT made as a body like a modern subdivision.  They form over a lot of time, with former fields and orchards being bought and then built upon.  Our random generation should reflect that.

So, counting each hex horizontally and then vertically, and using excel to generate a number between 1 and 32, I roll a "31."  This puts me two hexes straight south of the village centre.  Rolling a "09" on the percentile die, I get cottages.  Let me add those, and then adjust the weighted numbers for further generation.

It's like a separate little community.  Maintaining the new river hexes as 2 each, the cottage block adds +1 to each of those hexes that already had a weight.  This supports the idea of a continuity being created, without guaranteeing that one will.  Even if one does, we can imagine a path between the two existing hexes; that could be drawn in later to "fill out" the design once we know where everything is.

Let's count people.  The village centre block has 40 residents (going by the last post).   The cottages have 50.  That's 90 people accounted for.    Three more cottage blocks and we're done.  Meanwhile, weighted hexes add up to 39.  Now that we've provided some idea of how the weighting works, let me generate two hexes before updating the map.  I roll 1-39 and get "28," creating the bridge in the right-handed 4-weighted hex.  I roll a hovel block.  That's 70 more people; 160 total.  A single cottage block could end this.

Just for fun, we'll say that LOWERS the adjacent hexes with a penalty of -1 (who wants to live next to hovels?)  That lowers the total weighted hexes to 31 ... a roll on excel gives an "8," on the river right and above the village centre block.  I roll a 92, which is the temple.

Hm.  The temple block includes a cemetery, and that can't be built on a stream hex.  I thought something like this might happen.  Okay, we keep the temple and re-roll the location.  A "14" puts the temple immediately to the left of the village centre.  Good.  Let's put up what we have so far.

The temple is as important a block as the village centre, so it adds +2 weight to adjacent hexes and +1 to hexes two distant.   Rivers are always 2, regardless.

The temple hex added another 10 residents, which puts us at 170 total.  There are only 31 people to account for.

Yes, the village ISN'T a big place.  It shouldn't be.  When it comes to making a village of 500 people, obviously we'd just be getting started.  There'd be plenty of opportunity for rolling a yard or market block, which is why I'm keeping the likelihood of those small.  As it is, the market can be managed for a village this size in the village centre.  Anyway, let's keep going.

Total weighted numbers are 42.  Because of the temple mixup, better roll what we're placing first.  Oops, I get hovels.  Oh well, game over.  That's everyone.  I roll a "19" for location and that puts them beside the temple.

Not the prettiest little village in the world.  We remove the weighted numbers, add in a main road and a path to each hex (the temple sits amidst a lawn, so the many tiny paths to it aren't showing) and we have something of a settlement.  The next step would be to create a random generator for the adjacent "rural" hexes, a system that would work the same way.  Assume there's probably more than a few adjacent fields next to this set-up ... it wouldn't be right if I didn't get around to building that idea out, so rely on me to get there.

The main question remains, one that I've addressed before.  What use is this?  In game, I don't need a map so I can tell the players, "There's a small centre with four cottages and a manor house, while nearby are a collection of hovels.  Beyond the hovels, there's a group of better looking cottages; a road goes to it.  You came in by the west road; the road continues past the village to the northeast.  There's a temple and another collection of hovels on the other side.  The whole is surrounded by a bend in the river, but the village is recessed back from the banks.  It's a very small place."

Granted, the players won't have the tactile impression the above map offers, but do the players need it?

I can think of two situations where the above is useful.  The first would apply if the players decided to build here, or wanted to settle.  Choosing which hex to put a house, or where to build a fortification if the players were in authority over the region and liked this village.  After all, we can't see from this map where we are in the bigger picture.  Maybe this is the right distance from a big trade town or it's conveniently isolated.

The second might be a situation where some large-scale attack was taking place.  Consider: the hexes are 435 ft. in diameter.  That's 87 combat hexes.  Running all out, by my movement-stride system, a character with 5 action points can run 40 combat hexes, or 200 ft., in a combat round.  Imagine seven players, supported by 40 hardened semi-trained villagers, a la The Magnificent Seven.  Because the enemy might come from any direction, characters are posted around the village ... in the centre, by the temple, amidst the hovels and the cottages.  A first wave of raiders, 90 altogether, come from three different directions.  The mage by the temple sends a message spell, "HELP!  Fifty attackers!", as the balance is coming from the north.  The two players amid the cottagers decide if one of them can handle the 20 coming from the south, or if they should send one of the villagers with a message.  How long will that take?  How many rounds can one of the players by the cottages fight it out here, before running off to join the other fight?  If he or she has only 3 AP, that's only 24 combat hexes a round at the best of speed; the temple is 174 combat hexes away!  That's seven rounds to cover the distance.  Even longer if we don't want to go through that bit of "rural" country that's straight between the cottages and the temple.  Is that a forest?  A planted field?  An orchard?  We'd have to generate which.

There's a grittiness offered by a map like this, but ONLY if the exact space is measured.  Nothing annoys me more than being given a high quality artwork city map without a scale, or on a scale so big (1 inch = 500 yrds) that it's useless for the most important duty a map serves ... as a MILITARY strategy map.  I don't need a collection of tiny boxes and street names for gaming.  I need something that can serve as a grand battle map, into which I can fit little battle maps for individual fights taking place between villagers and townspeople against raiders or uprising citizens.

Okay, I need a break.  We'll do a bigger village with the next post.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Inventing Village Blocks

Okay, let's build a random generator.   This is going to be for laying out villages.  To help, we have this list of facilities to place.  My plan is to build a system that uses hexes, in the way I've described before, demonstrated here and also here.  Only, we'll try to do better than I did in 2018.

A "block hex" is 435 ft. in diameter, or 145 yards, or 132.588 metres.  In area, a block hex is 3.899 acres, or 0.006 sq.m., or 1.578 hectares.  Counting an extreme urban density for the medieval world is 40,000 persons per square mile, supposing a density of 10,000 per square mile puts 60 persons per block hex.  Therefore a village of 240 persons would have four "residence" blocks.  A village of 720 would have twelve.  This should be simple enough.

Note this village link on the wiki.  I worked on it today as a stub.  Be sure and read the details there; you'll need them for this post.

Okay, let's look again at those facilities available for villages, those in type-4 hexes:

From recent posts, and from the wiki, it's understood that a village not located on a river has 2 hammers and that one located on a river has 3 hammers.  Settlements may also be villages, depending on the size of the settlement, but settlements may also appear in any type of hex (though I haven't found one yet in a type-7 hex).  By my system, the only way a type-4 hex can have 4 hammers is if it includes a settlement.  There's no way for it to have 5 hammers (at least, not now; I may make a change in the future, but let's not think on that).

As per the wiki page, a village with 2 hammer is a "small village"; one with 3 hammers is a "large village."  The wiki explains the population generation for these.  A "settlement village" has a predetermined population, as the settlement link above explains.

Everybody in good and deep.  Excellent.

The next step is to make "block types."  For the record, I'm writing this post while solving the problem.

Residences.  The most obvious is a collection of houses, though finding a suitably archaic term is difficult — "neighbourhood" is 1620; "residential" is 1856.  Let's make two kinds of residential and call them "cottage blocks" (50 residents, 8 cottages) and "hovel blocks" (70 residents, 12 hovels).  Cottage blocks would be responsible for cottagecrafting that occurred.

Waterfront.  For this, we can gather together the boat dock, the quay and storehouses.  The quay is two or more boat docks, so we can toss that out ... unless we want to make a rural block with a boat dock in it.  Let's save that for later.  Let's option the public house to the waterfront, though this can only occur in settlement villages.  We can add the hostel also.  A hostel is a minimal wooden frame supporting a common room of bunk beds, a place for public washing, a hearth for cooking and warmth, plus and an exposed animal enclosure and a wooden shed for storage.  All this and an outhouse.  A small village is limited to one waterfront block, a large village can have two.  10 residents.

Yards.  This doesn't describe the space in front of a house, but a dumping site for materials, such as a log yard or a ship yard.  Believe it or not, the verb is "yarding" when describing the depositing of stores there.  We can start with the "farmer's yard," including garners and the granary, the grain mill, the shearing station, a windmill and a well.  We can scatter wells in several blocks.  Including two hovels plus living space in the mill, call it 20 residents.

We can make a second type of yard, the "material yard" that includes the sawpit, ox tethers, the carter post and again a well, the cloth mill and the wine press (or their local equivalents).  In a small village, run on wind power, in a large village, run on water power.  Likely a gong pit is tucked in somewhere, fifty or sixty yards at least from the well (and downstream, if applicable).  Again, 20 residents.

Village Centre.  Very easy: the bakery, the blockhouse, gallows, well and the gamewarden's house, clustered together with four cottages.  This ''village centre" has a compliment "market," which includes the area supporting the day market, the blacksmith, two wells and an inn, which only occurs with settlement villages.  The two would most likely be adjacent, but we might suppose they could be separated by one hex.  We'll get to placement of these blocks in time.  Packed a little tighter, 40 residents.  Limit of 1 per small village, 3 per large village.  There would only be one market block, with only 5 residents.

Temple Block.  Gravesites have been replaced by the cemetery, adjacent to the temple; the temple includes an adjoining cottage and well.  10 residents.

Manor Block.  This includes the manor, and with settlements two adjoining blocks of walled-in land.  The guardpost is located on the edge of the block.  One per village, regardless of size or type.  7 residents per 100 population.

Okay, altogether, we've identified the following blocks: cottage, hovel, waterfront, farmer's yard, material yard, village centre, market, temple and manor.  That's 9 types.

Let's add some more, not based on facilities.  If the village is adjacent to a river, it would have a ford, a bridge or a ferry, which would include a guardpost on the opposite side from the village.  Obviously, there's only one of these "crossing" blocks.

Because villages aren't "designed" so much as collectively joined together, we can break up the continuity of occupation by placing farms, primarily for market gardening and growing vegetables, though tilled land is an option.  If we want, we can distinguished "tilled" blocks and "garden" blocks.  To these, we can add "orchard" blocks.  We can also add a "village green" block that includes animal enclosures, a space used for meetings and mini-pasture lands.  Finally, we can include "natural" blocks, where the land hasn't been worked; this kind of place should have a high chance of including a pond, or some rocky feature that makes adaptation next to impossible, such as commonly occurs along the Mediterranean coast.  We could also think of places surrounding shrines or beautiful natural features, but let's leave these off our list for the present.

By my count, that's 15 block types.  As I see it, the next steps are to create a random table to generate blocks at different rates, then to make up rules about which must exist, and how random additional blocks are placed.  This, I believe, I'll leave for another post.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Two Studies

After working straight through, 10-11 hour days, I took up the mantle of addressing the wiki again, which I haven't done since January.  Rewrote nine spells yesterday and then addressed the elaboration of two sage studies that haven't gotten much love since their proposal.  That's how it is with a lot of work I create.  While inventing the idea is necessary, there's often a very long hiatus before I come around to fleshing out that idea.  Especially with things that don't resonate with players.

Here are the two elaborated sage studies, Mammals and Motivation.

Essentially, the first provides the skills on how to become Princess Mononoke, while the second provides how to become Jenghis Khan.  Obviously, the many links must someday be translated into pages and rules, but for now this is enough for the player to make an informed choice and for me to work from the base material and expand it, should the player want to pursue these studies.

There are many other studies that still deserve attention, but I also have scores of other things altogether to do.  There is never an end, but I work with a mindset that everything gets done eventually.  Keeps me going.

Monday, April 11, 2022


Now is a good time to talk about Lent, as it comes to an end in three days.  Many of us in the D&D community are a little more conscious of Lent this year, as we lost one of our esteemed colleagues to it on March 6th: Jonathan Becker of B/X Blackrazor.  I write this knowing that he won't be able to answer until Thursday, which is Passover ... but I'm sure that having gone 37 days so far, he'll make it to the end.  I'm very sure his typing fingers itch awfully.

I haven't thought about Lent in some 39 years, what with being a fallen Lutheran and all.  Still, I remember the rules of Lent, and back in March I compared my memory with the dogma of the Catholic Church, pleased to find myself vindicated.  Still, I've held back on this research until now, as I'm somewhat sympathetic with poor Jon's quest; but like a good agent of Satan, I want to try and sabotage his plans to do the same next year.  Here's a relevant text from, the monthly magazine of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, published continuously since 1831; and I quote (stress added by me):

"Many know of the tradition of abstaining from meat on Fridays during Lent, but we are also called to practice self-discipline and fast in other ways throughout the season. Contemplate the meaning and origins of the Lenten fasting tradition in this reflection. In addition, the giving of alms is one way to share God’s gifts—not only through the distribution of money, but through the sharing of our time and talents. As St. John Chrysostom reminds us: “Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours, but theirs.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2446)."

Sorry, Jon, but in choosing to sacrifice what you view as a habit, you deprived us of your talents.   You deprived us of a treasured zest of life.  Some of the talents you possess are not yours, but ours.  So says St. John, your own namesake.

No condemnation, no resentment.  But your choice in this season of Lent was a sin, by definition.

I ask only that you add it to your confessions when the next opportunity arrives.  Be well, may the Lord bless you and keep you, may the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious unto you; may the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

We look forward to your return.


Friday, April 8, 2022


"The principal rules designer for Dungeons & Dragons is hinting that future rules updates will see hit dice used in different ways. Last week, Wizards of the Coast posted a new "Sage Advice" video for Dungeons & Dragons, in which host Todd Kenreck discussed various design elements seen in the recently released "Heroes of Krynn" Unearthed Arcana playtest. Near the end of the video, Crawford and Kenreck discussed the new ways proficiency bonuses have been used in recent rulebooks, starting with the 2020 release Tasha's Cauldron of Everything. Crawford noted that one of the design goals for that book was to find new ways to use existing elements of the game. Near the end of that discussion, Crawford hinted that we'd see other design elements find new uses in the coming months, specifically naming hit dice as an example.

"Referencing how the D&D community has embraced the new uses of proficiency bonuses, Crawford said that players will likely embrace the coming changes even more. 'I think we'll see a similar thing in the months ahead as we start exploring more and more ways to use hit dice and other elements of the game," Crawford said. "We are basically looking at everything on the character sheet and asking if this piece is doing enough. Is there something we're doing in the game that we can actually hand to [those elements]. Then, the whole game gets tighter, easier to teach, easier to learn, more fun to play, easier to balance, etc.' "

Get ready for some serious bullshit.  The word "easier" was repeated three times.  THREE times.  This is an excellent example of what I meant when I wrote last week, "The more a DM can be influenced ... because a DM respects decisions and advice given by a company ..."

The company will go on smashing every part of the game into smaller and smaller broken pieces, making the whole utterly useless.  From statements like the above, we can be sure than one day soon, there will be tumbleweeds blowing through the offices of the WOTC, as the world moves on from "official" D&D.  Like us, people who started playing D&D in 2015 will learn in 2030 that the game is completely unrecognisable.

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Worldbuilding 4g: Shucassam

It's been since February when I did the post about Muetar.  I always meant to get back around to this series within a series, but then I got pulled into other things.  However, there are a series of macrosubjects relating to culture that still need addressing where worldbuilding is concerned, and I'd be lax if I failed to do so.

With Immer we discussed the military tradition of a culture poised on the goblin frontier of Zorn; and with Muetar we discussed the manner in which tradition serves as a guiding principle underlying a culture's solidity.  Today we can talk about religion, which forms the fundamental tenets determining which characteristics and beliefs become traditions, and in turn strengthens the valuation of tradition in the minds of the people.

I know for a fact that many of my readers have chosen not to include religion in their game worlds — or they have committed to making religion an afterthought:  it's there, but the whole of it consists of occasionally performing a minor ritual and otherwise paying lip service to god who have no interest in day-to-day matters.  In many ways, this reflects the characteristic religions of high-brow classicism.  We have plain evidence of the temples, we know the Greeks and Romans performed sacrifices, and plainly religion was an important part of their lives ... but in their literature, Greco-Roman religion is a fictional shadow, at best.  The Hellenes and Italians did not commit themselves to teaching the people how to "properly" worship the gods, or condemn their fellow citizens for lapses in religious fervour, or write endless tracts nitpicking the characteristics of Zeus, Posiedon, Venus or Athena.  The Judeo-Christian Bible screeches for 700 pages about the people not obeying religious laws or keeping their pact with god, which in turn takes effort to justify god punishing the people, driving them into exile and then rescuing them again with superhuman figures.  There are no Greco-Roman equivalents to this thinking.

When the Christians first appeared in Rome, the locals shrugged their shoulders and treated them as just another cult.  Live and let live was the practice.  But the Christians weren't willing to live and let live, period.  Just like today, they made themselves an infernal pest, decrying pagans in the streets, screaming their superiority over others, insulting their neighbours and turning themselves into such hated persons that Roman audiences cheered when these arrogant, pissy, screeching bastards were thrown to the lions.  Naturally, the Christians learned zilch from this consequence, turning up the dial of hubris and self-importance to 11, calling the Romans "persecutors" [which is what the Christians did to get themselves chastised] and spinning the whole scenario into a martyrdom that's still believed, hook line and sinker, today.  After all, after the Christians won the cultural struggle, they carefully covered up their early behaviour in Rome like a poop in an apparently clean cat box.  Christians have likewise been screaming their innocence for the last 2000 years, right up to last week as evangelistic Republicans demanded to know who would think of the children in the case of Ketanji Jackson's nomination.

I know, I know.  This is the second screed I've launched against Christianity in the same number of weeks, but bear with me.  The tactic used by Christians to displace the previous existing Greco-Roman religion was REVOLUTIONARY.  It changed everything.  In the 4th and 5th centuries, Rome was definitely going down on account of the various tribal invasions from the east, but it only lasted as long as it did because of Christianity!  And when Rome did crash and burn, it was Christianity that sustained the long-standing Roman culture of laws and cultural practices.  It was Christianity that overcame and pacified the Franks, Lombards, Goths and Visigoths ... and later the Saxons and the Danes.  Christianity, as a single traditional framework, supported kings and popes in pulling Europe together and lifting them out of the Early Medieval "dark ages."  The only serious threats to Christian Europe in that period was another religion, a comparable religion structurally and economically, that exploded out of the Middle East and conquered vast regions and many distant peoples of African, European and Asiatic descent.  Without the consolidating power of Christianity, Charles Martel could never have pulled together a sufficiently sized coalition of forces to defeat the Moslems in 732.  Europe would have been overrun, converted to Islam and our history would have never been.

Depending on your point of view, that's a good thing or a bad thing.  Doesn't matter, it's what is.  My point is to demonstrate that religion is both a curse on thought and decency AND a force for defending thought and decency.  As a concept underlying world events, it's a spectacular game changer.  Deciding to empower religion in the game world provides opportunities to highlight events of great goodness and great evil.

Stepping back, however ... Shucassam.

It's clear from the layout that Shucassam is meant to be a desert country — dry, harsh, full of vast difficult to travel distances and even a border that doesn't make much sense.  The narrow string of hexes between Khuzdar and Zefnar on the Sea is clearly meant to indicate a caravan route; we wouldn't expect more than a few oases strung along that course.  At 40 miles a hex, the distance between Adeese and Zefnar is 560 miles ... 80 miles further than the distance from Riyadh to Mecca.

There's a connection between parts of the world like Shucassam and religion.  Has the reader ever contemplated how the world's Great Religions have all originated in hot, near-tropical climates?  Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism and so on ... places with intensively hot climates.  The only notable exceptions is Confucianism; though arguably Protestantism, the offshoot of Christianity was definitely founded in a north temperate climate.  All the rest started where it was hot.  Christianity, Islam and Buddhism all moved north, so that they have representation in cold climates, but they started in the south.  Coincidence?

All religions are invented out of thin air ... and as such, they've used the creation out of thin air as a selling point.  It's called "having a vision."  Stuff pops into the mind, it sounds cool, has next to no connection with anything we knew before and so, must be from ... um ... a "higher power."  Yeah.  That's it.  Higher power.  Definitely not made up.

Having the time to make stuff up requires special circumstances.  For this, consider dates.  The fruit.  To grow dates, we surround them with manure in the Spring.  Camel manure works fine.  We watch for pests and diseases.  We need to keep weeds and turf away.  Camels are good for that too.  Date palms like dry soil.  Before they ripen, pluck half the fruit.  The result is nice, fat fruit.  The early dates we pluck, we plant.  That's it.  Very low effort.  One tree yields a hundred kg.

Eat a lot of dates in a very hot climate and you'll get high.  Not from alcohol, but from the sugar.  A date weighing 24 grams contains 16 grams of sugar.  100 grams of dates have 314 calories.  Dates and the date palm are mentioned in the Qur'an 22 times; dates nourish the land, dates are healthy, dates stave off the effects of poison, etc.  Mostly, dates enable people to be well nourished and sit around in a hot, hot sun and do nothing.  Nothing that is, except to think.

While cultures in the semi-tropics do suffer from a "work ethic," by Protestant standards, what they don't suffer from is a lack of food.  India does, but that's because India has so much food that it can support a billion semi-starving people.  When Siddhattha sat under his tree and invented Buddhism in the 5th century BCE., India did not have a billion people and it was drenched with food.  The land of milk and honey that produced Juddaism and the oases of Mecca and Medina that produced Islam where chock full of food.  These peoples didn't have to get up with the twilight every day and plow fields; they did not have to pick acre after acre of weeds, or struggle in the winter-time upon the harvests they made four and five months ago.  They were food-rich and time-rich ... and they dwelled in a place where moving about during the day is very, very unpleasant.  Even at night, the drop of 80 degrees fahrenheit makes life outside the tent so onerous that resting on sheepskin and woollen carpeting, where we talk and talk and talk to pass the time, seems more than practical.

Between the cities of Shucassam is nothing.  The land is hot and dry and only the very desperate spend any time in the open.  Merchants travel unmolested because who would rationally wait in this wilderness for a caravan?  To travel anywhere takes enormous amounts of time.  Time to sit, time to think, time to talk, time to consider the words of a conversation that took place weeks or months ago.  Time unending.  With nothing to do.

Getting on our knees five times a day gives a way to break up the long days.  Forcing ourselves to fast on Ramadan gives us something else to wrest our thoughts one month in the calendar.  Memorising the Qur'an seems like a thing to do rather than an impossible feat.  We, with our westernised expectations of time and activity, cannot imagine what it must be like to have this much time.

Religion is not merely giving the gods their due.  Much of religion is contemplation, deliberate asteticism, evaluation of self, the acquisition of patience and purpose, and of time — the long history of a hundred generations that lived in this same desert, in the same way that we do now, doing the same things, thinking the same things, facing the same difficulties.

This is the deeper strength of religious tradition.  Not that we obey the laws because they are moral ... but that we obey the laws because our ancestors did, and who are we to criticise our ancestors?  Without our ancestors, we wouldn't be here.  Religion binds us, not only as people living together and believing the same thing, but as generations of people who got us here.  They knew what they were doing.  They built everything we see.  Their collective wisdom far surpasses the voice of any single person alive today.  They made us.  They ARE us.

This underlying motivation potentially exists for every NPC in the game world.  It is the universal "story" that establishes the peaks and valleys of the game's narrative.  Setting a story of that kind in your game world gives depth and strength to every word an NPC speaks.  It provides argument, justification, drive and conflict between forces and entities that surround the players.  It's the wind, the sea, the land, the fabric of social discourse.

Include it.  

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

More of Romania Mapped

Personally, I don't need more than two people to urge me to throw out a map.  I learned in communications classes many years ago that for every person who writes into the editor, there's a hundred people with the same notion.  Of course, this is pre-'net; there are no letters, there are no editors ... and I'm sure the 1:100 ratio must be updated.  But enough of this line of thought.

Let's turn to some mindfuckery instead.  First, an image from the excel files I created between 2005 and 2007.  This file gives the latitude and longitude for every hex on my game planet, plus the highest and lowest habited elevations.  The data was methodically compiled from this site, located on the sidebar as "global gazetteer."

Pretty boring, eh?  The hex containing Turnu Severin is between 44.46°N and 44.74°N, and between 22.55°E and 22.92°E.   The other is between 22.93°E and 23.30°E.  Both are part of the "province" of Oltenia, with the upper hex containing some of Serbia.  Turnu Severin and Strehaia are "settlements."  Ring 157 is the number of 20 mile lengths from the North Pole; each ring, obviously, makes a circumference around the world.  Note the elevations shown: 75-1312 for Turnu Severin and 360-1010 for Strehaia.

I used this data to make this part of my 20-mile maps:

This is tilted on its side because it happens to fall very near the 30th meridian E., which requires that my map bends 60° so I can make a flat hexagonal disk rather than distorting it like a traditional Robinson's or Mercator's projection.  There's still a distortion, but this one works for me; anyway, we don't need to worry about that.

In the bottom left corner of each hex is the infrastructure number; in the upper right is the elevation.  The "75" corresponds to the lower elevation in the Turnu-Severin hex; it's also Turnu-Severin's elevation.  "425" is Strehaia's elevation.  The reader can discover more about the meaning behind elevations on my 20-mile maps, and my mapmaking approach, by reading this post from 2015.

While a hex doesn't correspond to a square, for the purpose of plotting hexes and settlements I treat hexes as squares anyway.  It's simply practical.  Let's take both the hexes above and see how they correspond to GoogleEarth, using the latitudes and longitudes I've listed.

There.  That's pretty engaging.  The four corners correspond to the latitude and longitude numbers.  I've removed the map labels to give a general sense of the terrain.  Of course, you can locate this on your own copy of Google earth by punching in the coordinates.  Only, be warned, the coordinates I have from are in decimals, while Google Earth records in hours, minutes and seconds.  I created a simple excel file that converts for me, so I can plot the corners of any hex from my excel document.

The above is what I've started to use to place hills, mountains, villages and some rivers in my 6-mile hexes.  Rather than get a general idea of the area, it became necessary for me to create boundaries to work from.  All the village names on my 6-mile map are actual villages and towns, and no where near the sum total that occur in the real world.  More on that later.

Okay, so, here's the same section that we've looked at as a 6-mile map, generated according to the system I've discussed and augmented with notes from GoogleEarth:

Fun, yah?  Sorry about the little white hex mid-bottom, this is the very edge of my map so far and I haven't determined the kind of hex that one is.  The rest of it is a trip.  Some of the above is fictional, though the names aren't; the hills and rivers don't exactly correspond to reality, and I'm okay with that.  The bend in the Danube (the huge river) is a little far south for the GoogleEarth map, and "too wide," but in fact it's representative in size and not intended to be dead accurate.  If I zoom in and make a 2-mile map, then the width of the Danube will be more accurate.

I count 11 towns and villages on the map, and 2 settlements.  That is a lot of damned places, and really, for a game world, TOO MANY to run.  Players would go crazy trying to remember the difference between Jignita and Jidostita, or keeping them all straight as to the order they occur when travelling along a given road.  As a DM, what do I need all these places for?  After all, could I seriously make them truly individual settings ... surely, they'd blend into one another easily.  Nor is it likely I could find more than a sentence on any one of them, except maybe the settlements.  So why?  Why include them?

Because, damn it, they exist.  Not only these, but dozens of others I didn't include; I cherry-picked which village name I'd take for each six-mile hex, usually from between 2 and 5 options.  I could dumb down the countryside for the players, but I'd be taking away from what's really there, and the fact of having to acknowledge that there's a shit-ton of people living in this small accumulation of hexes.  And, more to the point, this isn't even a densely populated collection of hexes.  The area in central Transylvania, that's crowded.

Why shouldn't the players feel confronted by a dozen villages?  I'd guess the whole 6-mile map I've made so far has about three to four hundred.  There are so many "runable" places that I could maintain a campaign in what I've done so far for at least a decade ... provided I could keep the players here.  And oh, just as an aside, I began laying out this map on the evening before February 9th, when I published this post.  That's not even two months ago.  Since that time, here's what I've accomplished.

Oh, and as a reminder.  If you want to see the map close up, left click it to expand it on blogger, then right click the expansion to open in a new tab, so you can zoom in and see the whole map clearly.

I'm laying the map out concentrically, moving clockwise around the outside, doing it now in two-hex pieces (like the two hexes shown above).  Thus I'm spiralling out, which is why the Danube River appears in three parts on the left, bottom right and right.  The overall map has poured onto four sheets, which need to be overlaid together to produce a whole; right now, the complete image is 17mb, because the detail is making my computer sweat.  Eventually, I won't be able to display the whole map in 100%, because it will be too big to load to blogger.

There are at least a dozen places where an interesting campaign could be set; my worldbuilding designs allow for the translation of hundreds of villages into moderate differentiations (which have an inn, whic have a way station, etc.).  And this is just a tiny part of my 20-mile game world.  If I keep going concentrically, I'll bump into the Black Sea, I'll expand south into Bulgaria and Greece, west into Hungary, and north and east into Ukraine.  Somewhere out there is the Mediterranean, the Adriatic and the Baltic Seas.  And there's really no part of it that I can't just keep adding to this map.  I have the preliminary work done, I have GoogleEarth and depending on the occupation of a given hex, I can add it to the map in between 30 seconds (a sea hex) and 25 minutes (an intensely populated multi-village and road hex).  Two hexes a day?  No sweat.  That's close to what I've been doing, plus a few days where I've dug in.

I'll make this a regular feature, updating the map what, once a month?


The nearly white hexes on the map that have no number or production are empty steppelands, too dry for cultivation and without the trees of other wilderness hexes that also don't have numbers.  All of these hexes are "type-8."

Tuesday, April 5, 2022


For those who might be wondering, yes, I'm still running a contest.  And yes, I'm still selling a menu.  If it seems I don't care about these things, because I haven't spent the last three-four months hammering away, marketing the products, even putting them on the site's sidebar, it's because I don't care.  Not really.  The menu is brilliant.  Everyone who's had it in their hands says so.  And the money for the contest sits comfortably waiting.  The contest reaches its deadline in 56 days, with the end of May 31.  There have been no entries yet.

Am I worried?  No.  Why should I be?  I'm not entering the contest, so the deadline means nothing to me.  And as I've explained, I can do far better with the menus selling them in person than I can do online.  In person, at a game con, I can easily get $70 a copy free and clear.  Online, I have to pay a third of that to mail it, with it being impractical to sell it for more than the $45 I'm asking.

This blog isn't about contests.  And even as I work on possible products to sell at a con, this blog isn't about products, either.  I am eternally grateful to those who committed to my kickstarter.  Thanks to you, I have menus I can move when I'm ready, I have excellent terms with a menu folder provider and I'm in great shape just as soon as we can move on from Covid.  Thanks to people who support my Patreon, I've been able to turn my offline writing job into a sustainable part of my life, so that every day I can get up, sit at my computer and work.  Of course, this means that some days I work for other people, but I can do it here.  I can drink my own coffee, I can monitor emails and comments, and I have no one physically looking over my shoulder.  I'm probably living in the best circumstances of my life right now, which is pretty amazing for someone who was living in the worst circumstances 3 years ago ... and with me transforming that circumstance, I must stress, during Covid.

This blog is about content.  Those who support me deserve to see that content as many days of the week that I can produce it.  I write as much as I can think to write, covering as many topics as I can think to cover.  I've come to see this blog as a "get my feet wet" process of book writing.  So far, it hasn't actually spawned any books in that regard, but ... I think it's going to.

Once upon a time, I lived my life way in the future.  Two, three years hence.  What I did today was a part of what I would have written in completion years from now.  Somehow, I've lost touch with that.  Oh, it's still here.  I've just forgotten ... exactly ... how to do it.  Too much living day-to-day, hand-to-mouth.

These last four months, writing about worldbuilding, feels like a dry run ... and at the same time, it also feels like a disconnected collection of thoughts stumbling in the dark, looking for a structure.  I keep thinking one's going to emerge, like Topsy ... but so far, not yet.

The contest, the menu ... these are things behind me.  They're done — though there were two pages I owed to the menu that didn't manifest, and that eats at me a little.  I do have to get on those.  Did some preliminary work.  Just ... got a little sick of writing menu items.  Anyway, it's in the back of my head.  I was saying, I'm thinking mostly right now of things in front of me.  Despite feeling good, being on my feet, unworried for a change, I'm not sure just now what I want to work on in the big picture.

If anything feels like it needs attention, it's committing myself to a game con that would present sometime post-October.  Something I'd need to sign up for in April.  Something in Canada would be easier, but I think with Patreon's support to date, I could do Chicago, Seattle, Denver ... maybe San Francisco.  I have to look into it.  If anyone has any idea of a con in your town, or near your town, that can boast at least 60,000 guests, let me know.  Not worth the travel time to go somewhere smaller.

Oh.  I've been working on that Romania map.  Anyone want to see how far I'm getting?  Or are we all bored with that now?

One other thing.  I haven't worked seriously on the wiki for a few months now.  I gotta pick that up again.

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Worldbuilding 6b: Goals

Ian Danskin discussing Chris DeLeon:

"Sports and board games have rules, but video games have laws.  That in soccer, you don't touch the ball with your hands because you've agreed not to, but in Fifa [vg] you don't touch the ball with your hand because it's impossible.  There's no button for it.  So in a sport, you can do anything that is not expressly forbidden by the rules.  In a video game, you can't do anything except what is expressly allowed by the system."

In D&D, the "system" is the Dungeon Master.  The DM assigns rules to things, the rules act as a guideline to the players' choices, but the player also knows that if an argument can be made, the DM can be influenced to allow something to occur that is outside the rules.  If the DM allows it, the game being played is still D&D.

This is why there is no standard D&D game.  This is why we get hundreds and hundreds of game and rule variations, and this is why most people's campaigns never work.  The more a DM can be influenced, whether by arguments made by the players, or because a DM respects decisions and advice given by a company, the more actions are allowed.  As possible actions increase, especially when those actions require little to no effort on the players' part, the more broken the game becomes.  This is not a black-and-white measure.  We don't have "whole" and "broken" games.  We have hundreds of thousands of games incrementally occupying fractional spaces on a line between whole and broken.

Moreover, it's not just a matter of resisting influence.  "What" rules a DM defends, and what arguments he or she refuses to be influenced by, changes the players' willingness to play with that DM at all; and if no players will play, again, the game is broken.  So many of those fractional spaces are occupied by shitty, inflexible and wooden-headed would-be DMs.

We're not done.  In my experience, the vast majority of DMs are persons who do not especially want the role — but who accept the role because of a group of people, these are the best person available.  Such persons are not as committed as other DMs, and in turn are eager to maintain the support and respect of their friends ... and are therefore highly subject to being influenced.  The same can also be said of many, many DMs who are simply weak people, who are needful of attention, who haven't the backbone in anything they do to stand up to the wants and demands of players with a negative answer.  Negative self-assessment runs rampant through the culture; there's no reason to assume that DMs automatically fail to suffer from poor self-esteem merely because they wish to be DMs.

So, on that line between whole and broken, we may suppose (without knowing) that the median among all DMs is considerable off-center, towards broken.  Given this, we may further suppose that among players, the expectation of the majority would be that DMs are, by and large, open to influence.  And further that DMs not open to influence are, post hoc ergo propter hoc, bad DMs.

Logically, therefore, most players out there looking for a DM wants one that can be easily influenced, with a reasonable expectation that the player will succeed in finding exactly that sort of DM.  With players wanting to influence, and DMs in turn being willingly influenced, most reports on the quality of a game are sure to be generally positive.  We won't hear the words, "I push my DM around and he likes it, so the game is great," but this is essentially the dynamic.

But we are here to speak of worldbuilding.  When discussing what rules a DM should embrace, we're confronted by several familiar arguments — and one of these says that the DM should be true to "reality."  As it happens, "reality" is the game world, not actual reality, but this nuance is often confused by the speaker.  Magic, hit points, bardic colleges, actual gods, the flail as a practical combat weapon, the presence of ring mail and many other things can be in no way confused with Earthly reality.  They are, however, perfectly realistic in the framework of the game, just as it's "realistic" in Monopoly that a house can be bought and erected before another person has time to move.  Or that it's equally practical to pile 60 armies on either Southern Europe or Yakutsk in RISK.  Why not?

If the DM uses "real reality" instead of "game reality" as a measurement, then he or she is bound to receive lots and lots of pushback from players on the basis that something isn't "true to life" and therefore ought to be changed.  Conversely, if "game reality" is made superfluid and simplistic, the DM will receive many, many suggestions from players on how to make it MORE fluid and MORE plistic. [er, sorry]

The world being built must find a path between extremes.  We don't touch the ball with our hands in soccer because we deliberately want to make the game harder for the players.  Of course they're able to pick up the ball.  Of course, if they were allowed to do so, "soccer," or "foot-and-hand-ball," would still technically be a game ... but would it be a good game?  The consensus is in that it wouldn't be.  "Keep-away" is sort of a version of foot-and-hand-ball and there are no international leagues for it.  I can't head down to the local community centre and sign up for a keep-away team.  Nor would I want to.  Nor would it make a particularly good spectator sport.  The art of using a body part to do something normally done by the hands would be lost.

There is a difficulty with explaining to people who don't understand how a role-playing game works, or why it works, why certain changes will break the game.  Especially any change that increases the survivability and ease of the game.  When one choice is overwhelmingly better than every other choice, "choice" as a game concept is effectively eliminated.  These were the problems inherent in the 3.0, 3.5 and 4.0 systems.  Transforming game rules to an economic platform with a point-buy metric will always incorporate an interest in what powerful feats can be purchased most cheaply.  When every character class is awarded combat actions that function like spells, then every character is effectively a spellcaster, regardless of their class title.  Any single metric that's overwhelmingly used to make a system will simultaneously break the system by its lack of additional metrics.  These things are obvious to professional game designers ... and yet equally tempting to professional game designers, as they save SO MUCH WORK.  Designers crave fetishistically for the super-successful game that requires a minimum of effort to design.  It is their Holy Grail.

Such games appear, explode in popularity, make hundreds of millions for the designer ... and then vanish as the simplicity turns the game into a boring, hated, soon-to-be-discarded thing.  Anybody up for a game of Angry Birds?  How 'bout Farmville?

[Yes, yes, I know, I know ... people out there play Angry Birds every day.  They reach for it first thing in the morning, before getting out of bed, and get in a few last games before lights out.  I know.  Fuck off.]

D&D works and endures because it consists of dozens of metrics spliced together, enabling uncertain but nuanced possibilities.  However, these metrics rely upon constraint, suppression and denial.  Like soccer, the players need to be able to act effectively, but not easily.  The combat system needs to be complex, bloated, difficult to interpret and expressly uncertain in what tactics work best against which monsters.  This disallows the players a feeling of safety or surety.  Of course players will hate it.  Players want to feel safe.  They want to feel sure.  They want the game world and the rules to be immediately comprehensible and solvable.  They will always argue and attempt to influence the DM in this direction.  It's so predictable it's laughable.

Tell the players they must choose three weapon proficiencies.  Make the penalties for a non-proficient weapon so onerous that the players will grumpily conform to the weapons they've chosen.  Listen to the players groan about how few weapons they get.  Listen to them hedge and haw about the cost of the weapons they really want, vs. the weapons they can afford.  Listen to them refuse to get weapons they can afford, then assign this as the reason why the system sucks.  Listen to them ask for more weapons.  Listen to them carp about a weapon that needs two hands, that disallows a shield.  Listen to them ask if they can use a two-handed weapon and a shield at the same time.  Listen to them argue why that should be allowed.  And so on.

But change the system to say that there are no proficiencies and that every weapon, regardless of type and form, causes 1d6 damage, and the complaints vanish.  Because it's easier.  Because there's no wrong choice.  We've given them one choice.  One choice, the "right" choice, is what they want.  Not because it's really the best choice, but because they're absolutely SURE that no one else is playing the system better than they are.  Or that there even is a better way to play the system.

Constraints, suppression and denial humbles the player.  Multiple system metrics which deny an obvious solution humbles the player.  As they should.  It's not a game if you can "win" by choosing the only option.  In D&D, the "lose" is conceived in the certainty players have that they're destined to choose the wrong option.  Most players do not look at their list of abilities and think, "What am I able to do?"  They look inwardly first, think, "What do I want to do?" — then looks through their list of abilities to see if they can do it.  When that list disappoints them, they look to the DM and ask, "Even if I can't do this thing, can I still do this thing?"  Whereupon the DM hears their desire, relates to the player, throws out the whole system and says, "Sure, I guess so."

If the DM says, instead, "Your character can do all these other things, why don't you try one of those?" ... the player looks at the character sheet, sighs inwardly that it's not nearly as good as what his or her imagination imagined, and grumpily say, "Well, okay I guess."  The DM hears the lack of commitment.  The DM knows this player shouldn't be here.  The DM habitually counts the players who are here and wonders for a moment if the campaign will survive if the player leaves.  The DM knows not to say any of this.  Instead, the DM tries to make the player's character sheet ability sound as impressive and exciting as possible, to "win" the player over to the side of playing by the character sheet.  The DM may even go as far as increasing the character sheet power by enough to impress the player.  And there we are.  The DM has compromised the DM.

Sometimes, I really wonder, why the fuck anybody plays this game.

On the surface, it's doomed.  As a teenager, playing this game with other teenagers, I loved the way the rules came together, the way the character sheets brutally limited the player's options, the way that succeeding eventually produced more options that allowed greater successes.  DMing, if a player asked to do any of the rule-of-cool dumbfuckery I hear from sites all over, I'd have laughed viciously in their face, told them "NO" in a cruel and patronising tone, and then taken steps to humiliate them repeatedly for the rest of the session by prefacing every ask of what the character did next with, "Oh, and no, you still can't do that idiotic rule-of-cool dumbfuckery."  Because I had standards.  Because I would rather have a player slink out in shame and mortification, with my laughter in their ears, than contribute to the regular kind of bullshit I see and read all over the internet.

You'd think with behaviour like that, I'd have trouble getting players.  You'd think, with my being contemptuous and bullying, that no one would ever play with me.  As it happened, the reverse was true.  Instead of losing all my players, I gained more than I could handle.  Because I bullied out all the riff raff, and never the serious players who wanted to approach the game as I saw it, serious players flocked to play with me.  My players would hear others say, "The game I'm in is so stupid!  Everyone farts around and no one gives a shit what they're doing."  And my players would answer, "Fuck, man, you've GOT to come play with Alexis.  Alexis is the bomb, man.  He's fucking psychotic.  His game is the best thing you've ever seen!"

And when I'd humiliate someone, and they'd rage quit and leave, all the other players would say, "Fuck him.  Fuck that noise.  Glad he's fucking gone.  I take a battle axe as my proficiency."

You get the players you cultivate.  I wanted to cultivate assholes like me, who loved the game, who didn't want "easy", who loved that there were fifty types of weapons to choose from and only eleven character classes.  When I said, "No," they made a new plan.  They changed it up.  They played like their lives depended on it.

My offline players still play this way.  People shout.  I mind fuck them with a dilemma or a consequence and they call me names.  I say I'm playing and they're always there.  They tell their jobs that they can't work and they tell them why.  They make time.  They love it.

But they wouldn't if I made it easier.  The "hard" is what makes it great.

In worldbuilding — and I guess this hasn't been much about worldbuilding — the world has to be as hard as the rules.  It has to maintain a character that won't roll over and play dead.  The authorities have to wield authority; the villains have to be truly spine-chilling.  The monsters must be DEADLY.  The world must be too big to fathom or navigate.  There must be many friends, many enemies and there must be both an unease AND a certainty about which is which.  The rules must be fixed and the DM should never, ever compromise about anything or any part of the game world.

So make the game world well.  Make it solid.  Build it to last.  Build it to intimidate ... and enjoy that the players are intimidated.

Saturday, April 2, 2022

Worldbuilding 5j: Country Towns

Whether or not the reader chooses to go the route I'm taking, i.e., building a thorough generated world that goes on and on, I encourage creating as much distinction as possible between one habitation centre and another.  All towns are not the same!  Some are frenetic, some are sleepy, some are old and staid, others are new and bursting with energy.

On the whole, I've decided to classify my world's common towns into three forms, occurring in type-3, type-2 and type-1 hexes.  These forms are "country town," "artisan town" and "commercial town."  Commercial towns are filled with middle-tier entrepreneurs buying and selling goods accumulated from others.  Artisan towns make things; they're Medieval industrial centres.  Country towns are of the "third rank," being inactive, tranquil places whose defining qualities are administrative.  Yes, there's some manufacture, and yes there's some commercial taking place ... but these things are happening on such a small scale compared to first rank and second rank cities and towns that country towns are still essentially self-governing.

That is, most of the decisions are still being made by local authorities, without much intercedence by provincial lords or monarchs.  Wealth is generated by agriculture; from this, the authorities skim payments in the form of taxation, returning writs, farming payments of fee (food turned over to the local noble), selling offices, presiding over the marketplace, holding land, issuing by-laws, wielding a minor degree of judicial authority ... which minor authorities gain while being ignored by the greater authorities elsewhere in the realm.  A small stipend is sent up the chain, but most of it remains in the local lord or lady's hands, to be spent as they will.  Ultimately rents contribute more income than taxes, creating payments that are not sent upstream into the general coffers of the realm.

In this environment, a wealthier class dwells in "messuages," a dwelling house with outbuilding and land assigned to the owner's use for various applications — tanning, perfuming, quarrying, raising horses and so on.  These messuages are dispersed over a wide area and not contained by a town wall, allowing the residents to be "part of the town" while according a considerable autonomy.  Paths and roads wind through the "suburban" dwellings towards a central "main town," with this arrangement being different from the semi-clustered and relatively smaller village.  A country town has a population of anywhere between 500 and 2,000, though in and around 1,000 is most common.

The inner center is marked by two-story houses, usually half-timbered, workshops, commercial buildings such as a public house, a bakery, an inn and a blockhouse for a small constabulary.  Adjacent to this center is a large bare area for the by-weekly market and stockyards, with areas for temporary pens to be set up ... and near the market is the "demesne," consisting of the lord or lady's messuage, potentially complete with small moat, tower or low walls.  A legitimate noble dwells here, most likely a baronet or baron, very rarely a count, though such persons are most likely represented by a bailiff or steward.  Attached to the demesne is a barracks with the noble's retainers, including a hayward and a reeve to manage the fields and enforce the noble's authority.  Unlike the village, the local authority has almost entirely fallen out of the locals' hands.  There is still a town council and elders, but these gather to decide how best to put their requests to the noble, not to pass edicts.  Townspeople do not regain their power again until the election of a burgher and the presence of a town hall, which occurs when manufacturing expands the country town into an artisan town.  We'll talk more about that another day.

The best times for the residents are market days.  Games and contests (not jousting, but things like apple bobbing and blind man's bluff) are complimented with opportunities for public bathing and eating rare foods — sometimes offered as free samples or gifts on holy days.  The noble might lay out a meal once or twice a year.  Younger members of the town might steal away into the bushes surrounding the town's centre, especially in the summer.  In winter, there may be no market days for two months at a time, since there are no products to sell and the weather may be onerous to potential customers, particularly those from outside the town.  This suspension is broken by feast days like Christmas, Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday.

A "bailiff's court" is held on market days; often called a "three weeks court," because it meets only every three weeks.  The bailiff adjudicates disputes, orders payments that haven't been made, consigns individuals to the town stocks if need be, and holding others for final judgment by the lord or lady if torture or death is commended.  One or two cells may exist in the demesne, but often those awaiting judgment are confined in an outdoor gibbet or weighed down with shackles and chains, making flight from the town very risky and impractical.  Everyone outside the town, encountering a stranger dressed in heavy chains, would have no reason to trust such a person as anything but a deserving criminal.

No house or building could be built, nor sale of land made, without approval of the bailiff and, by extension, by the local lord or lady.  The players would find it difficult to "move in" to such a place without having first established a positive reputation through service or action of some kind.  Nonetheless, they would find it more comfortable than a village, with more to buy and with greater opportunities to acquire good labour.  Setting themselves up with a sizable messuage, then hiring a steward to look after the day to day, the party could provide a reasonable regular income for themselves while continuing to adventure — along with a sound, strong place in which to store goods and hoard some of their wealth.

Here, then, is a break-down of the facilities to be found in a type-3 hex, where a country town exists:

Everything on the list above would exist in a country town, many things in multiple numbers.  For example, there'd be more than one bakery, more than one temple and probably more than one religious group (though the secondary group would be no more than 3-8% of the whole).  A waterfront would have 2-3 quays, creating a wharf and adding warehouses.

I've changed "modest temple" to "lower temple;" this is a one-room worshipping space relying on an adjacent house and outer building for tools and seasonal materials.  The "middle" temple takes these and puts them in one building, so that the priest lives in a back room with an attached kitchen and yard for a dairy animal, chickens and workspace.  A cellar stores food and offers room for church stores, festival clothing and other items, wine, host and so on.

But as before, I'll be writing overview posts for most of these things that I haven't touched upon yet.  For those unable to search a dictionary, a "glebe" is a piece of land forming part of a clergy's benefice ... essentially, land the cleric is able to work or give to others to work.  This can be managed however the local priest sees fit, as it's his or hers, to raise money for use as charity, improvement of the parish or otherwise to exploit in an unbefitting (but all too common) personal manner.

Until the next post, then.