Saturday, March 2, 2024

Saturday Q&A (mar 2)

Maxwell in California writes,

I found this new framework of yours both inspiring and practical.

Last night I spent an hour or so trying to write up the “foraging” motivation across the eight hex types. Got about halfway; I went too fast and kept struggling to come up with the less-than-literal interpretations of foraging which would make sense in the more civilized types of hex. I’m returning to it now and just trying one hex type.

Suppose a type 7 hex: “homestead.” The homesteading race — the one whose presence grows with the hex type; let’s say they’re humans — is still establishing their grasp on the land. To keep hold, they must spend all day in the backbreaking labor of pulling stumps, carrying water, plowing and sowing, inspecting the crops for pests, etc.

Their “foraging” was to come out into these lands in search of somewhere to settle, but now they’re attached to the homestead. Foraging presumably minimal. However, among the few dozen people in a thorp there will be a few hunters, maybe shepherds and prospectors too — and those are foraging activities. Good hunters earn respect for bringing home precious meat; they have a well-understood position in the family unit that compliments farming. Shepherding may not seem like foraging, but I think it would count if we imagine the shepherd as seeking good pasture land, venturing further from the homestead than other inhabitants. Prospectors would be itinerant, probably not part of the family units, possibly less well-respected— and if on their irregular returns to the thorp for supplies, they bring tales of strange creatures in phenomenon, they will likely to get written off as fibbers. (And where there are prospectors, there’s the chance one actually does find something; that leads to a dash to a more civilized hex to register the claim, if such authorities exist, as well as the possibility of claim jumping.)

If there are longer-term nonhuman inhabitants of the hex, even if they’ve developed agriculture, they probably must also forage in order to feed themselves. They may have names or myths for each and every berry bush and fish-filled river, and would see all of those as their property — even ones that happen to grow right by a new homestead.

Imagine a farm boy walking the boundary fence to check if anything needs mending. Each day he’s been pausing to note the progress of the wild blackberries growing in a wagon-sized bramble just ten paces past the fence, eager for the day when he can pick them — and today ought to be the day, but when he arrives he sees all the ripest berries have been taken.

There may or may not be snapped branches and foot prints. I think that’s a little on the nose, and we would expect goblins or similar to be utterly adept at moving without trace (though young, excited goblins could make mistakes.) Either way I expect a boy would be curious; he might sneak out that night to post up, nervously clutching a hoe or some other improvised weapon, trying to catch a glimpse of the thieves.

Another kind of foraging: unintelligent or low intelligence creatures doing their thing, in whatever way befits the creature. Wildcats stalk birds, birds and squirrels gather nuts, owlbears shake the trees to catch and eat squirrels — and so on.

Another kind: “foraging” for somewhere safe. A prisoner on the run from a higher-type hex could take refuge in a type 7. You yourself have brought up a few times the example of robbers and highwaymen being hidden and fed by country folk, in defiance of any authorities, because the robbers share their ill-gotten gains. A man who escapes from jail in a neighboring higher-type hex could make for the type 7, seeking refuge.

There. That’s a lot further and deeper than yesterday; I’m glad I tried again. I’ll definitely be applying this framework to flesh out Tenerife: my party landed there last session and will start exploring it tonight.

Answer: I think it's helpful to go back and look at the etymology of a word, to perceive how it might be differently defined in a connotative, rather than a denotative sense.

"Forage" comes from the 13th century French "forrage," which is fodder for animals, pillaging and looting. The 12th century German is "fodr." Roving in search of provisions in English is the late 15th c. "Provisions" in the sense of something provided or necessary is attested to the mid-15th c. I'd suggest that the primary concept here is the searching for something that is needful ... so I think you're dead-on with the sense of would-be homesteaders searching for a place to settle. On the other hand, however, they ought to still be in the condition of searching, not in the condition of pulling stumps or cutting trees. That, I should think, would be technically "building."

Beyond food, then, what else do we search for that's needful? Well, security, knowledge and understanding, spiritual fulfillment, purpose and meaning, freedom from strife, material wealth, proof of being brave or honorable, inspiration. If we think only in terms of how many NPCs engaged in a thing that's necessary to produce a "situation" or an "adventure," we find that we can do that with 1 person, or 100, or 10,000. So with your would-be homesteaders searching a wilderness hex, we can add prospectors looking for metals, priests searching for enlightenment, a herbalist searching for an extremely rare and valuable plant (which makes Rapunzel's hair magical), refugees fleeing from persecution, a lone knight in search of a jabberwock and so on. Carefully thought out, any of these would also satisfy the "foraging" structure for a wilderness hex.

Shelby M. writes,

I have a couple of questions regarding a scenario my players are facing and talking through at the moment. They have been mistaken by smugglers posing as licit bargemen to be allies of a fence the smugglers know. The party is debating whether to entertain the delusion (in which case they would all board a barge and proceed to another location to pick up the goods) or to throw back the cover and kill the men here. My questions are these: 1) how do I appropriately communicate the danger they might be in by going to an unknown and extremely isolated location where there could be an unknown number of pirates (suddenly hostile, as the ruse would be up) without explicitly stating so? 2) In your trade system, how would you generally determine what goods a trading vessel would contain?

Answer: I could do with a little more detail, but I'll offer what I can. So, the party aren't a barge crew, but they must have access to a barge enabling them to pretend it's their own. Except for the scenario where the party might turn on the smugglers (who ought to have a fair experience and level-ability), I don't see much danger in going to an unknown and extremely isolated location. Smugglers (a) want to ship stuff and make money; and (b) don't want to be exposed to the authorities. So long as the party helps with (a) and avoids (b), the smugglers will be happy and in no mood whatsoever to hurt the party. After all, like all criminal groups, they rely on like-minded people's aid and work to get (a) to happen. If they kill everyone who meets them in an obscure location (and where else could smugglers meet to avoid (b)), they'd be poor.

So what "ruse" are you speaking of? That the party members aren't the smugglers they're pretending to be? If they take the barge and load up the stuff, they're no longer pretending. From that point, they ARE smugglers. So long as they then don't rush off to the authorities to tell them everything, there's no "ruse" to expose. Pirates, smugglers, et al, aren't "suddenly hostile." Why would they be? Oh sure, Cap'n Flint killed his men to keep his treasure hid, but not until those same men helped him get all that treasure. And too, there was a LOT of treasure involved in Treasure Island. It took Ben Gunn months and months to move it all. So unless the players are going to be in the room with that sort of hoard, they're fairly safe ... and if there were that sort of hoard, why would they be invited there.

The danger is in being inspected by authorities after the party has picked up the goods. That's what they should worry about.

To answer the other question, the trade system is designed to price items, not randomly determine them. I'd ask myself, what would smugglers be smuggling? It ought to be things that are either (a) not allowed in a country, like alcohol or opium, or (b) things the country taxes very heavily, like salt and other spices. Different countries have different issues here. If a kingdom is in turmoil, efforts will be taken to keep weapons out of the hands of ordinary persons, so those are good things to move. If guilds control monopolies on clothing, metal goods, medicines or food, then those are good things to smuggle because, selling them comparatively cheap, they're easy to turn over into coin. If a region is dead set against science or education, then books and pamphlets are good. If there's religious persecution, then artifacts and holy writs from the persecuted peoples make a good smuggling choice. And of course, there's always the movement of stolen goods, where the country being left is a bigger threat than the country being hurried towards. You need to assess what the target country wants, based on your worldbuilding concept, and then create the smuggler's motivation accordingly. It definitely shouldn't be random.


Thank you for your contributions.  I like weeks with responses.

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