Monday, February 20, 2017

Don't Jog My Elbow

I think those who read this blog three years ago can agree that, on the whole, I've been a much kinder, more patient person than I used to be.  I've tried to resist the sort of ranting posts I used to write, I've gotten much better in handling trolls and I haven't had a flame war on this blog in a long, long time.

I do have my triggers, however.  We all do.  One of mine is what I'll call the new reader assumption, or NRA.  (what, that's an acronym for something else?)

The blog wants new readers, no doubt.  New readers are the bread and butter of every writer.  And it is a necessity that new readers should be welcomed, encouraged and coddled . . . as it is certain that most new readers will not have read the back-log before jumping in to comment.  All the worse when that backlog is really, really long.  A long back-log is bound to increase NRA.

It is even harder with my blog, as I tend to refer to myself with reckless abandon.  I try, rather lazily, to link to a concept I've introduced on another post, but I fail for the most part because it doesn't occur to me that the reader doesn't know exactly what I'm talking about.  That can be off-putting.

Still, every now and then an NRA pops up and I . . . well, I have to clamp down on my first response.

Let me explain what an NRA is.

It is a visitor to the Sistine Chapel having a look around while Michaelangelo is part way through and muttering, "You know what would be great here?  Something about God giving life to Man.  I bet you could get great ideas about that from my cousin Guiseppe."

It is a theatre manager looking over the first three pages of Shakespeare's as yet untitled Romeo and Juliet and saying, "Wow, this is great stuff ~ I can't wait for when Romeo gets it on with Bianca.  What a great set up you've written here!"

It is an architect showing up at the offices of Washington Roebling seven months into the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge to explain how important it is that the bridge be built four blocks to the north.  It HAS to be.

It is a kid showing up for his first day at work and taking it upon himself to spontaneously reorganize the store room, to make it better.

It is a reader who thinks they have the problems of my world solved because once they played a trade-based game in the 1980s.

It is giving an opinion without asking questions.  It is formulating without investigating.  It is a kind of arrogance, one that supposes that now that I am here, everything will be easy.

I struggle with this.  When I started on the internet, I used to do this.  Let's face it, the internet encourages this sort of behavior.  I'm glad that I've left it behind.  It is a terrible habit to fall into, particularly as it is almost impossible to correct from the designer's point of view.

Robert Heinlein had a great phrase for this.  It's the title of this post.  Sometimes, it's all we can say without screaming the fellow out of our presence.

They mean well, after all.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017


I should write something.

Of late, I've been hacking at a number of different projects, none of which are getting done.  I've left off the bard sage abilities, catching my breath on those; I'm digging a bit at Iceland but not going at it full bore; I've been working out the sea distance trade routes for the islands of Britain but those are a huge bitch (many, many trade towns) and it is going slowly; I've left off the writing of pages about weapons and armor on the wiki [finished the armor at least] ~ and, I've been working on my book.

This last has been the priority and as of a few days ago, I solved a HUGE problem with a late in the book climax that has been bugging me for a year.  Swear to gawd.  A year.  More about that in a moment.

I want to explain, first, that not finishing things does not need to be a crippling disease.  One of the reasons why the various features about my world or my writing gets done is because I haven't "quit," I've taken a rest.  I read around the 'net and I seem to find that people believe that if they don't start a project, work on a project, then finish a project, all in one grand push that lasts for weeks, then they've failed and they quit working on the project forever.

That just doesn't make sense.  We have to pace ourselves.  We have to expect, ahead of time, that we're going to put down the project that we're working on, deliberately, with the expectation that we'll pick them up in a few months or even a year from now.  Some projects take years.  The trick isn't to bury ourselves in a succeed-or-die mindset, but to prepare the project in a way that it CAN be put down, when we're ready to rest.

Rest is vitally important.  Rest gives us time to think about what we've done so far, to appreciate the work we've done, to address issues that are making the project difficult or ~ after a fair time has past ~ to re-evaluate the structure and intended function of the project.  What will it accomplish?  Is it the best we can do?  Are we going about it in the most efficient way possible?

I will be honest.  Those first few days of returning to a new project are difficult.  The immensity of the project, the feeling that it can't be finished, the sense of not really remembering what was going on when we were working on it before, these things can be daunting and it can overwhelm us.  My present book has been like that, but more about that in a moment.

The trick is to go at it slowly, in bits and pieces.  If all we can take is ten minutes of the project we put down last summer, then ten minutes it is.  Maybe tomorrow, or Friday, we can look at it again.  Maybe for twenty minutes.  Sometimes, it is just a matter of looking over what we've done ~ and remember that we DID that.  WE did.  We need to remind ourselves of our accomplishments.

After a few rough goes, a few tries, a glimmer will arise about the project; a memory of what we liked when we first started at it.  Soon, there will be a little leap in our hearts, a little excitement . . . and soon enough, we'll find ourselves working away at the project again, vigorously, wanting to work on it with the same intensity that we did all those months ago.  And the work will fly forward again, doubling in size . . . and we'll recall that experience when we apply ourselves to some other project we put down a long time ago.

This is how things get done.  Not all in one try, but in many tries.  In spurts and gobs, just like you won't manage all the orgasms you'll have in a lifetime in one afternoon.

I'm sorry.  I couldn't get that metaphor out of my mind once it got in there.

Just now, the Fifth Man is like that.  A year ago, you wonderful readers helped me in a very troubled time and I promised you a book.  And there is a book coming . . . in spurts and gobs.  I've been reworking the language of the preview I sent out in late April of 2016 ~ which now seems like a long time ago.  The writing, well, the writing has needed some work, but on the whole I am pleased with the structure and the characterization.  Mostly, I've been working on the beginning again because it helps to keep the whole book in my mind, not just what's left to make.

I wish I could think of a way to reassure those who supported me, that I'm not going to disappear or declare that the book is off.  I'll pay everyone back first, before I do that.  Since it is easier to just write the book, that's what I'm doing.  I don't hate this thing, not yet (though it always gets there, I'm afraid; that's the business).  I'm happy with it.  I'm going to be very happy when it is done.

I'd like to find some way of proving that it is being written that doesn't include actually putting up the content somewhere.  That would make me feel better; would make me feel that people who supported me were comforted in the knowledge that support wasn't in vain.  I continue to think about how that might be managed.

Good.  Post written.  On to some other project.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Iceland, Step II

Having gone through the 19 centers of Iceland, twice [once in English and once in the Icelandic version of Wikipedia] ~ and finding one more center shown on a different map of my source material (1952 Colliers Encyclopedia), that being Neskaupstadur, I have the following information in hand:

With regards to the five places at the bottom, I have definite information that these places were founded after 1650, so in my world they don't exist.  Having them on the list is still important, however, as the balance of their presence is subtracted from the total in order to determine the population for the remainder.

I have 10 places where I have a vague knowledge of when they were founded.  Traditionally, Reykjavik was the first place in Iceland that was founded, and traditionally that year is 874.  Who knows when it was actually founded or even if it was first; but for D&D purposes, I like using the myth over what may or may not be fact.  A similar example occurs everywhere, so that is policy.

Of these 10, I have six that are described as appearing in the Landnamsold (linking the Icelandic page), which describes the first settlements in Iceland.  Here is a pretty map:

By Abraham Ortelius, cartographer, titled Islandia, circa 1590
Those places listed as being founded in 880, 930 or 950 are, at best, guesses. Those that were described as being founded in the 9th century (about as accurate as it gets), I listed as the first round number after Reykjavik.  Hafnarfjordur (or Boots, as it was called), was described as late in the Landnamsold period.  Seydisfjordur was described as "10th century."  But I don't have to be supremely accurate here; I just want an approximation.

Most places have the same name today as they did long ago, with very few exceptions.  That is also probably not quite true ~ but since I am working with English and not Icelandic (which must have variations), I don't care about too much nuance.  Again, we're just looking for an approximation.

I've divided the place names into the four traditioning Farthings of Iceland, the old name for the provinces.  The next step is to look up their latitude, longitude and elevation, so the places can be plotted on a map, and the map adjusted for the elevation of the hex that the place name will occupy.  I'll be looking that information up on a glorious site called

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Iceland & Greenland

The poll is closed:

There was a late surge for Southeast Asia and there is a clear interest in my mapping the far east in general.  That won't be overlooked ~ though for the time being, obviously, I'm going to be working on the North Atlantic.

Before I feel I can potentially move onto Canada, I want to clean up all the lands surrounding Iceland and Greenland.  I did complete the Fritz Josef lands a long time ago (I call it Humutya and I know precisely what lives there).  I've never tackled Svalbard, however.  That is mostly just plotting the coastline.

The same is true of the Faeroes Islands, which lie between Scotland and Iceland.  There's just one town on those; there are a mess of islands to create, but it's fairly simple once the lines are drawn.  After the Faeroes, there are two little islands ~ Bear and Jan Mayan ~ that I'll have to plot and figure out where they are.

These are things I can do before or after Iceland, it makes no difference.  I'll probably insist on working these out, however, before I apply myself to the Greenland Coast.  That is going to be a bitch.  I did get some of the west side done just for giggles a while ago, but it is a long, long coast that stretches over about five sheets.

What to do about Greenland, that's the question.  The occupants in 1650 were the Thule Culture, that settled into Greenland after migrating from the area around Alaska.  By then, the Norse were all gone, driven out by the Little Ice Age.  The Thule were a very primitive hunting culture, perfectly suited for the environment but . . . well, dull.  I'm not much interested in letting them have all of Greenland ~ and I have a rule about my world design that big, empty areas ought to be occupied by non-humans.  So here is what I imagine.

We begin with 13,000 years ago, when the svirfneblin of the Dovrefjell (Norway) reached a point of cultural cohesion following breakthroughs in subterranean food cultivation.  After 3,000 years, these spawned the surface gnomish people, who migrated outwards across the northern forests of Europe.  These encountered halfling cultures who moved north out of Britain and Denmark ahead of the spread of human culture; the halflings and gnomes, both relatively passive as races, quickly made pacts of friendship.  Since the gnomes preferred forests and the halflings dells and pastures, there was room for both peoples.

But humans continues to spread and their population increased in Scandinavia.  Steadily, the gnome and halfling populations were isolated and the surface lands fell to human tribes.  This diminished the surface hunting lands for the subterranean Svirfneblin, who themselves began to migrate westward and north to the lands of Spitsbergen, Iceland and Greenland.

Iceland proved to be unpleasant to the cold-loving Svirfneblin, being highly volcanic; but Greenland was excellent.  They began to create a new stone-and-ice dwelling culture that reached its height around 100 BCE.

The culture was in long decline, growing extremely passive until the arrival of the Norse in the 9th century.  The warm weather had driven the Svirfneblin further underground, where they were able to find enough heat to sustain their subterranean agrarian culture.  The Norse, who had developed friendships with the gnomes, proved to be more tolerant of the Svirfneblin than their forebears had been; trade was developed between the surface and the subterranean, which lasted for six hundred years until the change in the weather broke the Norse culture.

The increase in cold, however, has resulted in the Svirfneblin occupying many of the surface villages of the Norse.  They drove the Thule (who are not human) from their hunting/fishing grounds and in the last 150 years the Svirfneblin population in Greenland has tripled.

Now, Iceland.

The first step to mapping the island is to research the individual towns, gathered from this map:

I count 19 settlements: Akranes, Akureyri, Bildudalur, Blonduos, Egilsstadir, Hafnarfjordur, Hofn, Isafjordur, Keflavik, Kopasker, Oddi, Olafsfjordur, Olafsvik, Raufarhofn, Reykjavik, Seydisfjordur, Siglufjordur, Vik and Vopnafjordur.  These have to be individually looked up on the web, wikipedia most likely, but elsewhere if wikipedia has no record.  We also want to look at any provinces or regions included, since we'll be figuring out how it is divided politically for the final map.

We're looking for when it was founded, what disasters or troubles it may have suffered and who owns/runs it.  Iceland is simple for this last: Denmark owns the whole island, and will for a long time.  In the bigger sense, however, we want a "feel" for Iceland.  This is one of the best parts.  Having researched the place, I begin to feel like I've been there.  Like, if I went in actual fact, I would be ready for what I found.  I get a real kick out of meeting people from the places where they come from, only to describe their country to them, accurately.  Most people who travel a great distance are surprised if someone has even heard of the place they're from.  I'd enjoy meeting someone from Hofn in the next six months, after working on this map.

So, I'll get started researching Iceland.  Won't take long.  Why don't you give it a try.  Just go through Wikipedia one name at a time.  You might find some very interesting plot ideas.

In fact, as I go along, I'll include the links.

Oh, and forgive me.  Please reconsider supporting me on Patreon.  If you can't help me out this month, perhaps you might consider giving me a hand in April.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Where in the World Should I Go?

Having finished Britain, I have no particular concerns about where I should map next ~ so I thought it wouldn't hurt to ask.  In the sidebar, the Gentle Reader will find a poll, asking what part of the world I could build.  The only necessity is that a new map connect to a part of the world that I have already made.

If I work on Iceland (and the Faeroe Islands), then Greenland, I will be in a position to start working on Canada sometime in the future, starting with Newfoundland.  That, no doubt, will appeal to Americans, who might want me to start working along the eastern seaboard.  Be warned, however, that the amount of coastline and research needed for that seaboard is immense, so that there wouldn't be much payoff for a long time, perhaps a couple of years.  After all, it took me 18 months to put Britain together (I do get distracted).

I had started working around the west coast of Africa already, getting as far as Senegal.  I'd probably keep going at least as far as Ghana, though of course the dream would be not to stop until I'd gotten all the way around the horn, then connect it up with Arabia on the east coast.  Reversing this by going down the east coast would ultimately have the same end goal ~ but it is also a fairly unpopulated part of the world, as as I learned with Mauritania, west Mali and Senegal, it is fairly dull mapping.

I did Burma and that was interesting, so it would follow that I would work my way through the rest of Indochina, then ultimately down into Indonesia.  That's a LOT of coastline, I know I'm not going to enjoy that.  Coastline is the hardest detail to add . . . but it would be interesting to add Indonesia to the trade system, since there are a lot of odd and rare products that originate there.

Interior China is a big hole in the world map I posted last autumn.  It would be nice to fill that hole, but I know that researching China is going to be a big pain ~ not because it is more work per area covered, but because the one source I'm working from is from 1952, before pinyin changed all the Ch's to Q's.  Since Chinese names are so similar, it is going to be hard trying to piece together the city dot on the old map I have with the name in the present day . . . and as far as I can tell, modern linguists are intentionally trying to make this very difficult.

But I'll give it a try if the vote goes that way.

I do ask two things.  First, that if the kind reader votes, that you might tell me why you picked the area you did in the comments below.  It would help if I knew what your interest is, as encouragement to go at least that far in my designing.

Secondly, if you ARE willing to ask me to pick a place and work on it, I would ask that you donate one, two or three dollars monthly on my Patreon.  I haven't mentioned Patreon in months, but it is still a part of my income that I depend upon.  It won't hurt much to give the price of a cup of coffee, but a dozen or so readers contributing will make a big difference to ME.  If you could be so kind.

Thursday, February 2, 2017


The cheap dresser in our room suffered an injury a few days ago.  But that is no problem, as it makes a nice home for Himije.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Drawing Board

Take this phrase in reference to creating a world for a role-playing game:

"Working without an empirical framework feels like 'cheating' . . ."

In response, let me quote my encyclopedia about empiricism:

"The doctrine that all knowledge of fact is derived from experience.  Experience is made up of the following elements and the relations between them: 1) sensations; 2) memories; 3) willfully created images; 4) emotions and feelings; 5) acts of will; and 6) thoughts, judgments and beliefs (including expectations) about the first five.  Empiricist philosophers defend their doctrine by successively examining all alleged types of factual knowledge and, for each of these types, either reducing it by analysis to terms of experience, or else rejecting it as not really knowledge after all, but only an ungrounded belief.
A classic example of empiricim is Hume's analysis of the concept of causality, published in 1739.  It had been believed, for instance, that when one touches a hot stove and suffers a burn, one can observe two relations between the touching of the stove and the pain of the burn; first, the touching precedes the pain in time, and second, the touching causes (produces) the pain.  But Hume analyzed the concept of cause and found that it was composed of two parts: 1) the time relationship between the touching of the stove and the subsequent pain; and 2) the expectation that pain will follow such an act, since in the past a similar contact has always been followed by a similar pain 
This analysis involves both reduction and rejection.  What we actually do experience, when we say that we know causality, is reduced in the above manner to sequence and expectation.  But if anyone clings to the belief that there is something more to causality, such as a "necessary force" or "power" whereby a cause inevitably "produces" its effect, this belief is flatly rejected on the ground that a close scrutiny of experience reveals no such force, and that therefore the quoted terms have no meaning."

I fully acknowledge that there is a strong sentiment to relate game design to the empiricism of the "real world" ~ the effort to do so is all over the internet, not only with relation to RPGs but with dozens of other passions as well.  And I can personally empathize with that sense of "cheating" . . . otherwise, I would not be plotting cities on a map using latitude and longitude as a guide.  I like that the placement of things on my maps, or in my trade system, or related to any system I create, reflects the real world.

But we have to face it; no matter how impressive my maps may happen to be, or how extensive my trade system may be, none of it is ever going to get recognition from anyone who is "empirically respected" in the real world.  I really don't have to worry about cheating anyone.  Reality has as much to do with game design as "necessary force" has to do with empiricism.  Reality is a bugbear.

My maps are useless empirically.  My trade system has no relation whatsoever to the actual movement of goods and services.  If I make an adjustment anywhere in that system, no one suffers.  Hell, for the most part, the player can't begin to imagine the processes that lead to a given substance having a given price . . . so I can't even take pleasure that the small audience I have will understand what I'm doing.  Empirically, I'm a total failure.  I have to be.  Nothing about what I'm doing can actually be applied to anything except to what I'm doing.

It makes a game.  That is all.  And I have to keep my focus on that truth continually, or it won't even accomplish that much.  That is the mistake that many would-be game designers keep making.  The sense that they're "cheating" someone ensures that they are also cheating themselves and their players.

We have to keep focused on what we're actually doing.  We're not writing a thesis on the practical use of weapons and their comparison; we're not building a model that will prove the superiority of one weapon over another.  We're not providing a framework that will enable a medieval simulationist to run a Tudor farm for five months . . . hell, if we were, we better get the hell out of numbers and graphs and go buy a damn farm in England.  Monopoly is not an accurate representation of real estate metrics in Atlantic City, New Jersey, during the 1920s.  Chess is not an accurate representation of political and religious influence in war during the Persian/Sassanian era of the 6th and 7th centuries.  Game design is not, not I say, an academic pursuit.

And to this, let me add that I've been at this game design thing a long, long fucking time.  I can afford to get a little interested in a reflection of accuracy (at best, a semblance, nothing better!) because I've smashed dozens of would-be systems in the past, all of them because they sucked as game systems.  I have my eye firmly on the principal importance of everything that I make: that a player can understand it, a player can use it and a player can feel the importance of its use.  When something doesn't work, I don't hesitate to smash it, no matter how much work went into it . . . because that's how design works.

We go back and back and back to the drawing board.  And we remember that games are about variables and constraints, decisions and payoffs.  It is not about proving or demonstrating that a pole-axe is a better weapon than a battle axe.  We want to get close to reality, but in the long run, reality is the first head on the chopping block.  It has to be.

Let me explain it another way.  Those designers who have put together massively detailed and complicated games, researched extensively and exhaustively, did not start with those games.  They started with tools like playing cards and game boards; they learned game theory first, they got good at it, and then they went on to try new and different things.  They had critics, they had powerful voices ready to correct them when they were wrong, they had a passion that needed servicing and they had the wherewithal to go back to that drawing board a hundred times if need be.  THEN, after all that, they decided to start researching a game they felt like creating.

I could add that they didn't spend half their lives reinventing the wheel.  More to the point, they learned their business first, then dared to subvert it.  Try to keep that in mind as you apply yourself to your business.


I don't want to distract from my last post about England, as I'm deeply proud of that ~ but I can see that there is a strong resistance to the idea of letting time pass rapidly in a game, for reasons I hadn't considered.  Thus I find myself addressing it again.

It seems that most do not seem to understand what I'm saying. I would say that Samuel Kernan has the right idea, stated in the second comment: "I could see a certain group of players interested in spending less time engaged in resolving combat . . . they might spend more time ordering others to do violence than actually engaging in fights themselves."

Yes, that's very much a part of it.  To which Embla responds, it sounds like a lot of accounting; and Agravain adds that there's a lack of a framework.

Um, what do these people think this blog or the wiki is intended to accomplish?  Put together a thousand pages on the subject, build up a sage ability system intended to create a framework, figure out where every detail fits into the class system . . . and then have that ignored utterly, as I'm told there are "absolutely zero rules" about managing a manor.

Really.  None at all.  And let me just point out that all that material was in a book in a common, every day, ordinary library.  Like this one.  Or this one.  Or this television series.  Or this television series.  That's right, there's nothing out there, zero ~ because when DMs don't have a rule for something, they throw their hands up in the air and they tell the players, "NO, that can never, ever happen, because I don't have a rule for it."

Or we could, like, educate ourselves and just make something up.

And yes, it could be a lot of accounting.  D&D is accounting: subtract the hit point, subtract the arrow, add the gold, add the experience, increase the hit points, divide the treasure by the group, buy things and add them to a list, change the numbers for what adjustments to make to the die . . . what is all this but accounting?  What we really mean is that is sounds like boring accounting, as in, no one will necessarily die, so who cares?

I'm curious, why did Farmville get to be so popular?  Why do games like the one I keep mentioning, Europa Universalis, get invented?  Because, on the whole, RISK wasn't gritty enough so we wanted Hearts of Iron.  Fable II is grittier than Fable I.  Urban Empire over Tropico.  Project Sylphead. Factorio.  Complex games, where logistics are forced on the user, because we want to spend all our time decided on tiny, tiny details, in order to affect a larger landscape.

Why should D&D be any different?  Don't the armies have to eat, don't we need farms to grow food, can't we decide how big we want our farms to be based on our income, can't we designate an amount of seed to be planted and amount of yield to be obtained?  Hell, you want crop yields for everything from beets to yams, it's called Google.  Google isn't robust enough?  We can send our players off on their phones to look that shit up, no?  Irrigate the land, costs money, more yield, right?  Roll a die for blight, roll a die for hailstorms, roll a die for perfect weather, give the players a bumper crop, let them feed their army.  I'm confused ~ why can't this be done without having to run each day of watching the plants grow?

LTW is worried that the players will ask, "How many rich merchants or nobles have I befriended?"  What is wrong with the answer, NONE.  No rich merchants.  No nobles.  Why?  Because meeting those people requires an effort and that is role-playing.  It doesn't come for free.  Meeting the farmer that's your neighbor over the back fence, yeah, no problem, his name is Fred.

But how many rich merchants and nobles are in the area?  Easy.  People all around talk about them constantly, having rarely even seen them.  There are three.  Two rich merchants and one noble.  The merchants names are Jack and Hank, one owns a huge flock of horses, cows and pigs, the other owns virtually all the land in the region.  The noble's name is Bob.  He's a total asshole.  He got his money from his Dad.  What else do you want to know?

Heirs?  Yeah, they each have one.  Or, at least, they've got one lined up.  You can be pretty sure it isn't YOU.

I guess this is "a lot of work" because the reader has totally ignored me about taking advantage of the work I've already done, creating a trade system, creating a wiki, putting it all online (yes, I've been a complete asshole this way) and explaining in over 2 million words of blog how to do it.  Yes, I can see how that's a real bitch, having someone stamp down a pathway for you so you can stand fifty feet from me in the snow and claim "there's nothing, nothing at all, to tell me how to do this!"

Sorry, that is pretty cheap of me.  Sincerely, sorry.  Sometimes, just sometimes, I just feel I'm writing for the air.

Let me try to explain about "manorial management mechanics."  You have some land. You buy something to grow or raise on it.  It costs you.  Then you look up on Google how long it takes to grow into an adult, how long it takes before we can kill it for meat, how much meat it produces, how much we have to feed it, how many people can watch how many animals, how much room it needs and so on.  Then we buy the feed, we build the barn, we hire servants, we build a slaughter house, we find out the price we'll get from a local merchant and then we pocket the cash.  Is that so hard?

What system?  Why, the one that already exists, everywhere.

A couple of months ago I had a question about how sharply you can turn a horse at a gallop.  I looked online but I couldn't get a good answer.  So I picked up a phone and I called the International Horseshow Venue here in the city and asked to talk to someone who knew about horseriding.  I was in a conversation in three minutes.  I explained that I was designing a game and that I was working out a mechanic to do with horses.  How sharp can you turn a horse moving at a gallop?  360 degrees.  Basically, as sharply as you want.  There is no limit, not in terms of the horse's ability to turn on a dime.  I got the low-down on that.  You can rear the horse and turn it in the other direction in a space about as wide as my combat hex.  The real problem isn't the horse's ability to pivot, but in how much time in a round the rider has to dedicate to managing the horse.  Can't swing a sword if you're veering off in the direction you've just come.

Now, here's my point.  There it is, the whole world, and all the Answers in it, on your phone, on your desktop.  And the reader is asking, "Where am I going to get these answers the players want?"

Really?  Gee.

I guess I just see this whole game far, far too differently than other people. I guess I'm just some special autistic idiot, who has some ridiculous notion that if a player says, "I want to do this thing that I'm perfectly able to do as an ordinary human being," I'm supposed to make that happen.

I just don't want to answer, "Um, no, sorry, I never thought about that until this very minute, so I can't let you do that.  Yes, I suppose there must be small bits of land for sale; yes, I suppose that a merchant probably would be interested in buying sheep from you if you buy a ram and a ewe and get them to mate and produce a bunch of lambs.  Sure, yes, if you want to run them in a meadow, I guess there must be meadows around ~ I mean, heck, what do the other shepherds do?  And yes, the merchant has a name, and yes, the merchant has family and friends, and yes if your charisma is 14 he's probably going to look at you better than the average shepherd.  That sounds logical.

But, look, I can't actually let you keep following this line of reasoning because it sounds pretty hard to keep up with.  It's a lot of work for ME.  You understand.  So listen ~ let's just put on a sword or something and walk down some stairs to an empty square room with a trap and a puzzle in it that I got from a local game store.  That's really more my speed.  Okay?  Fine?  Good.

No, no, no.  I don't want to hear any more about sheep.  If you want, I'll let you buy a lamb and you can keep it in your backpack on the next dungeon adventure.  That's as far as I'm going.

Is this me being nasty and cold and mawking?  Yes, yes, I admit that.  But I'm not trying to make anyone feel stupid, I'm trying to wake you the fuck up.  It is a much, much bigger world out there than the one you've been fed.  And in some ways, it starts when TIME isn't necessarily as rigidly played out as the game normally demands.  This is all I'm saying.  We can measure time any way we want ~ and we can use the endless resources of the whole universe to answer the player's questions, one by one.

Hell, I was doing that long, long, long before I had a trade system.  I only built the trade system so that I wouldn't have to pull a number out of my ass.  But before the trade system was built, my ass was all I had.  This was 1983.  There was no internet!  But I sure as shit wasn't going to tell a player I didn't have an answer when they asked for something.

Monday, January 30, 2017

At Last, Britain

Sorry to say that I took French leave on my online games for two days; people must be wondering what the hell I'm doing, what I'm up to.  I apologize.  I've been a bit down, a bit distracted.  It's encouraged me to focus on something I love, namely this.  I've finally finished off that corner of England that I left undone back in October, I've added the market city icons and all the roads on the two islands.

The Islands offered a lot of different challenges.  This last, to add roads, makes England look like a modern road map.  There are simple reasons for that.  Most of England is, first, near to the sea.  I think I remember reading that no part of Britain is more than 72 miles from the sea.  This encourages trade, since every port all around the two islands encourages the creation of a line of cities across the island to a port on the other side.

Second, the islands are largely flat.  This makes travel overland far easier in England, in particular, much easier than it is for nearly every other part of the world.  Few hills to climb, and few substantial rivers to boot, made nearly England terrifically accessible.  Only Wales and Scotland offer difficult terrain.  The corners of Ireland, on the other hand, were a refuge for rebels and tribalism (and poor in land), so that it was politically resistant to trade rather than geographically.

I'm glad to have this part of the world behind me.

In terms of trade, the map above creates this land travel map:

The small distances represent the number of market days between the various markets, due to both distance and terrain.  The next stage after this, before I can add Britain to my trade system, is to figure out the sea distances between this and the rest of Europe.

I was also going to say, I started working on this map sheet about ten years ago, about the winter of 2006/07:

Steadily, I've added pieces.  I remember when it was just Poland, on the right side of the map.  Then I added Bohemia and Moravia, Hungary, the parts of Yugoslavia, and finally Germany.  I remember what a headache Germany was.

I've talked about adding pieces on this map on the blog: Switzerland, the Low Countries, France.  I remember working on Italy and it just took up a tiny piece in the bottom right.  And now, at last, I've finished that tiny piece of England on the top left.  Done at last.  This is my biggest map, in terms of sheer complexity and memory.  This thing is 4 mb of data.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Fast-Forward Time

The title of this post comes from an answer to my previous post, written by Ant Wu:

"Having a player resource that is unchanging like a college, academy, or conservatory is nice, but may not be completely believable. It is a game-inspired resource, not necessarily a narrative one, especially if you can just fast-forward time."

It does strike me as odd that the writer perceives that a narrative is something anathema to "a fast-forward," but that is not my goal here.  Nor do I want, especially, to dispute the writer's point.  I only throw it up to highlight the apparent dismissive idea of fast-forwarding the campaign ~ as though it is, somehow, a sort of cheat, or bamboozle, or reach around that circumvents the all-important tempo that the players must subscribe to if they are to role-play.

Suppose that we are running in a campaign ~ yours, perhaps ~ and we have accumulated a comfortable pile of wealth, enough to sustain ourselves for at least a year.  And suppose the question arises, "You arrive at the little town of Liddick.  What do you wish to do?"

And if we, the party, wish to answer, "We settle down," is that allowed?

I suspect that in most campaigns, it isn't.  I suspect that most DMs would ask, "Do you wish to retire your characters?"  I suspect most DMs would quickly transform Liddick into a town full of adventure.  Suddenly, there would be hidden passages leading to dungeons, there would be criminals of every stripe come to rob we players of our money, a host of intrigues, unexpected hordes invading the town and what not.  I feel confident that we would be compelled back into the narrative because it must be so, else what is a DM for?

Yet suppose we don't have a DM that rattles the cage, but that we adopt the ordinary, expected lives of everyone else in the local community.  What ought to happen?  Rolls for wandering monsters?  Day-to-day encounters?  With what?  We're in a town.  We're paying our bills, paying our taxes, buying food for ourselves, investing in the local economy, perhaps buying some land, perhaps buying some animals, perhaps taking a little time to improve ourselves.  Where is the wrong in that?

But there is "wrong" ~ one can hear the implication in Ant Wu's words: especially if you can just fast-forward.

Now, I don't mean to deconstruct the writer; I very much doubt that his intentions included any special read into this particular assemblage of words.  We are dealing here with an habitual perspective, not a premeditated one.

The passage of time in most campaigns is fixed.  Time passes very slowly in the dungeon, then at a median pace between the dungeon and town, then very fast in town.  It can take four or five sessions to play out an hour or two in a dungeon.  It can take just enough time to describe the journey (the first time) between the town and the dungeon, where we roll the possibility for an encounter or two, potentially filling up one whole session.  Then, in the space of an hour or two, a week goes by in town.  Then we are headed off to the dungeon again.

In most campaigns, this is it.  Town, road, dungeon, road, town.  We might vary it with town, road, town, road, dungeon, road, town, road, town, road, dungeon, road, town and so on, but the pattern is there.  The game, according to every source we can read, every source we can buy, every source espoused by the manufacturer, fits the formula.  The town for supply.  The road (path, trail, whatever) for narrative and creating tone.  The dungeon (ruin, caves, lost city, whatever) for the actual game.  This is it.  More to the point, for the general community, not only is this all we're allowed, this is all we're entitled to want.  If we want anything else, if we challenge the formula, we are a pariah upon the very community in which we dare to commit our voices.  There's no room for us.

So why would the passage of time ever need to pass more quickly?  To what purpose?  Getting to know the community, establishing an enterprise, castle-building and anything else not having to do with a dungeon are not game elements ~ that is why the rules for such things always stress two conditions: how much does it cost to build and how much does it cost to maintain.  There are never any rules for what it produces, who it attracts, what status is offered or what purpose it might serve, because the fundamental reason for the player castle's existence is that it is a money sink.  It costs, thus emptying the player's wallet, thus requiring more dungeoneering.

Fast-forwarding to things like the harvest, or the taxes we might gain (always described as paltry), or an education we might pay for, these things circumvent the strict town-road-dungeon formula.  They seem, therefore, weird, different, even surprising.

Yet isn't life-span just another resource that should be available to the players?  Isn't the number of years they have left just another limited supply ~ apparently unlimited at the start of the game, but steadily less and less so as the player moves towards the age when they will lose their strength, constitution and dexterity benefits.  Why shouldn't this, and this alone, be the only meaningful price to pay ~ along with, of course, the price of feeding and supporting oneself?  Why is this never considered?  Players in the game never seem to age . . . primarily because they are go-go-go all the time, living fast and dying young.

Why not live slow?  Why shouldn't we enjoy a little good life, a few months, a year, between our adventures?  Why shouldn't we make friends in the community, engage ourselves in their struggles, gain their perspective, apply ourselves to preserving them as well as ourselves, all the time living a year a session, until we reach our sixties?  Why must everything fit the timeline of the dungeon?

By my count, most games I've seen hardly last forty sessions.  If each session covered the events of a full year, a campaign that ran every two weeks would last 18 months.  And would the DM not be challenged to come up with a meaningful set of events to make a year seem important?  Would the players not be put to problem solving, if the challenge was how to steadily expand their assets year by year, rather than their experience or the number of magic items they possessed?  How would the game actually be any different?  Would we not still be role-playing?

Apparently not.  Perhaps we can't imagine four persons engaged in a unified struggle against an enemy unless they also happen to be trapped in a room between hosts of monsters.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

College Life

So I had some energy to work on the bard today ~ this is a long, long struggle that does not feel like it is going to end.  However, I did fill out some important points and make some important pages, including copying some material from the blog and making it official on the wiki.  For anyone interested, I include pages on Art vs. Product, Sukha, Upeksa, Making Art (needs much more work), Criticism & Composition, Tutoring, Conducting and Audition.

It is this last I want to talk about.  It was the first I started on today and it started off the rest of the work.  The idea came to me just recently, with the idea that a "college" could be a resource for a player character, but one that could only be accessed through the character having a specific kind of knowledge and only by the character applying for access.  In terms of the bard character, the main resource I'd expect a player to access would be to give modifiers to the creation of making art and towards improving the quality of the bard's performance.  Basically, drop by the university, let a few weeks of game time pass, take a few courses, then head off to the next adventure.

This is the kind of thing that could be done in fifteen minutes of a campaign.  All too often, I find that players treat time similarly to the way they do in real life.  I very rarely have players who realize that they can, if they want, simply decide it is four or five months later, enabling them to spend a winter in a state of half-slumber until the spring arrives, or take part in farming to raise food for a half-years' campaigning, or some other reason that simply calls out for the party to sit and LEARN for a time.

This seems anathema to most party thinking, however.  They seem to think that I'm going to run the three months of the dead of winter as though it is happening in actual time.  I don't know if its because other DMs do this, or players cannot reconcile the movement of time without relating to it as though the time is really passing.  I don't know what is wrong with players thinking, "We spend the next three years tilling our land, building up our homestead, getting to know the neighbors, finding out how the world works in this corner of the globe and generally relaxing, perhaps getting married and raising a few kids before heading off.  But there must be something wrong with that, because players don't do it.

All the same, I'd like to extend the college idea to other classes.  A cleric may have access to a seminary or a monastery, a fighter to a military academy, a mage or illusionist to a magic academy, a thief or assassin to a guild of sorts (or some equivalent I haven't considered yet) and a monk to yet a different monastery or perhaps an ashram.

The benefits could be legion.  As yet, I'm sure I haven't conceived of most of them, yet.  Still, perhaps this is the way to have access to spells such as resurrection or remove curse, to the restoration of spent magic items, to trusted sources of information, to small improvements in the character's sage abilities or status . . . in all, each of these resources could insist upon a yearly stipend that would, in turn, provide unlimited access to various benefits, even though these benefits would be geographical in nature and tend to tie a player down to a specific region.  As it says in the description I gave for Audition, the player could have access to only ONE seminary, college, academy or conservatory.

Some might dispute the phrase, ". . . all colleges throughout the game world will be informed of the acceptance."  But why not?  I conceive of a magic book that would exist in every such institution, that would define membership by requiring individuals to sign in upon arrival.  The book might betray a non-member, or it may transfer knowledge of the membership to every other similar book in the world, all of which are interconnected by design.

Therefore, we may have access to a wonderful conservatory in Edinburgh, but right now we happen to be in Egypt and it hasn't been much use for a while.  Still, one day when we get a chance we'll be going back there ~ and when we do, we'll have a lot of questions to settle.  Perhaps we may even spend a few months getting them settled.