Tuesday, May 26, 2009


So, what time period is your fantasy world set in? Do you have plate mail armor? full plate armor? Are they using high grade or low grade steel? Most people assume that their worlds are in the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries. This usually works with the level of weapon and armor crafting available. Now, how long has it been there? Think about it. Have you set wars in your world that occurred 500 years ago? 1500 years ago? 4000? Most of our fantasy worlds have been stuck in the fantasy genre for a long time. Compare that to Earth where the days of metal armor were at best 1,000 years. (This assumes that from 500-1500 they wore metal armor, but this is likely inaccurate, and only used to be conservative.) What’s the point? The point is that something is keeping your fantasy world from becoming a modern world.
On Fletnern, that something is the titans. 4,000 years ago, the titans had a civil war, where the mages and the mentalists (who valued learning and self induced power) fought the enchanters (who crafted and made wondrous items that anyone could use). An enchanter weapon exploded taking the enemy army, their army and the entire continent with it. Yep, the entire continent. That continent is now known as the Great Archipelago. Anyways, some of the titans survived. The enchanters were banished from the planet, and the mages and mentalists moved to another continent.
While the remaining titans might be in “retreat”, they are not completely cut off from the world. They went back through their histories and decided that it was gunpowder and steam power that allowed the enchanters to accomplish what they did. The remaining titans have dedicated their lives to stamping out every gunpowder (or gunpowder-like) experiment and every steam engine (even those cute ones that spin around). By doing this, they have managed to hold the entire world at a technology level of steel armor and steel weapons for 4,000 years.
But! and it’s a big “but”! They don’t care about other things. Weaving has moved forward. Animal husbandry has moved forward. Smelting has moved forward. OK, not a lot, but forward. The titans are also not going to let electricity come into its own, so there are no telegraphs, etc.
So what? So Fletnern is in many ways a mixture of the High Middle Ages, the Late Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Colonial Period, and even the Wild West/Frontier Days. Why did I just waste my time typing all of this? Two reasons: 1) If you read Grain Into Gold, it helps to give you a perspective as to why I use examples that really pertain to the early 1800s to justify fantasy era industry. 2) I think game masters need to think about why their worlds are “stuck” in a fantasy era. If the elves have been battling the dwarves using basically the same tools for over 2,000 years, and no one bothered to invent a machine gun or even a laser rifle, something must be holding them back. It might be the gods, the titans, the Mages’ Guild. Maybe the physics behind saltpeter work differently in your game world.
So does this make any sense? Hopefully. Remember that when the Europeans “discovered” the Americas, the natives were basically at the “stone age”. This is important as not every culture needs to be at the same level of technology. For all you Civ players out there, this makes perfect sense. But this mixture doesn’t actually pertain to the original issue. Does it make sense to have a knight in shining armor return home to his grandfather clock and green house? In Fletnern it does. Maybe it should in your world too.


Just to let you know - The plan is to average four or five posts a month. I’m not going to try and say “every Friday” or something like that, but we should be around four.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Peasants

Another long posting. I wrote this for Fletnern, but since it is unlikely that that book will ever be published, I wanted to post it here. To me it is important, because writing this made me want to write Grain Into Gold.

The Peasants
It is important to both forget the peasants and to not forget them. In this discussion, the peasant are those people who provide for their families by farming or some other nature oriented occupation and their families. Some might be gatherers, hunters, woodsmen, shepherds, or pig farmers. The occupations are numerous and often run together. The common thread is that they are poor and live in the places between the cities.
Because this is a world of high adventure and high fantasy, it is important to forget the peasants. Too much time would be spent in the tedious bookkeeping of trying to track how many peasants there were, if they were getting enough to eat, what their general morale was, etc. Other than waving to them while passing them on the road, adventurers will hardly ever interact with these people.
It is important not to forget them, because there are a lot of them. They might not be worth robbing, but when a petty lord is forced to defend his castle against a horde of skeletons and zombies, he is going to go out into his lands and form the peasants into a militia. When a drought ruins the crops in a region, the peasants are going to be looking for food. When scouts are attempting to sneak across the countryside unseen, the peasants are going to be in the woods, going about their everyday lives.
Like other people, peasants do not care about those things that do not affect them directly. If the lord’s brother usurps his throne, the peasants will find it interesting, but it will not spur them to action. If a plague wipes out half the population of the capital, same level of disinterest. If a dragon burns the next village to ashes before being slain by the local wizard warrior, the peasants will only care if it opens up some better farmland.
Raising taxes will get a rise out of the peasants, possibly even causing a revolt. Food shortages will encourage them to act. While these might seem obvious, not all reactions would be. Most peasants would not rise up against their lord(s) even if the lord(s) were unjust. Small amounts of pillaging his own people would be allowed. Peasants are remarkable in their ability to thank their gods for deliverance from their own rulers. As long as the self-sufficient peasants can continue to provide for their families, they have the ability to forget what happened to their neighbors, or worse yet, rationalize how their neighbors deserved it.
Almost all races have peasants. It would be a rare culture indeed that did not have some forgotten people living their meager lives. They will find a way to survive and do so, without contact with the nobility or warmongers. They fill the empty spaces, even when those empty spaces seem uninhabitable.
The end result is that peasants are important as plot devices and as barriers to the free travel from one place to another. Certainly they cannot stand up to adventurers or any other trained military force, but they are often in the way. Game masters should feel free to ignore them, unless and until they are actually pushed into action, though that should take quite a bit of effort.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Grain Into Gold FAQs

We had another email asking for some GIG details, so here are the answers:

How much can an ox plow in a day? an acre - Maybe its an old wives tale, but that was how an acre was measured: the amount of land an ox could plow in a day.

How much land could two oxen plow in a day? Good question! Problem is, being a city boy, I don’t know. The best I can tell from the literature and my research is that two oxen could pull through more problematic soil (like clay), but the whole point of oxen over horses was that they maintained a slow steady pace and weren’t as fast and jerky as the horses. Therefore, I would think that two-oxen might not speed the labor so much as allow for tougher soil and probably save the ox’s strength so together they could keep plowing for a much longer time.

When does he farmer need more help than his family can provide? We had been basing our estimates on the plowing issues. The idea was if you plowed every day for a month, you would have plowed 30 acres. At some point, you’ve missed the planting season, so we were putting the family farms at up to 30 acres, and historic references were supporting this number. But what happens if you have three teen age sons? Well, then you can likely do a lot more, even if you only have one plow. (A stat we found claimed it took a man 40 days to “plow” an acre with a hoe.) The answer to the question really lies in the question of crops and how long they need between seeding and harvesting dependant upon the climate. (That’s a cop-out answer, by the way.) There is also a factor of will your crops grow better (produce more) if you weed better than your neighbor does? I assume they will. So how much extra attention to weeding does it take to have a materially better harvest?
In writing background material for adventures and cities, I have used the idea of up to 40 acres can be handled by a mid to large sized family. More than 40 acres likely needs more than three or four adults. This has simply been an arbitrary number without any true documentation.

How much fish can a family who catches fish off a boat catch? I have to go with another cop out answer here - It really depends on where you are. The question seems to come down to not how many fish can you catch, but how many fish can you afford to get to market. If the market is near the source of the fish, then likely the fish have been fished out or at least down. The more wilderness areas will have a more plentiful amount of fish, but then you have to get them to market. In Fletnern, I’ve tried to avoid having big fishing vessels, because I don’t think they could get the fish back to port while they’re still fresh. I know I’m dancing around the point. Let’s try a stab at the meat of the situation (pun intended) - Assuming that the region allowed for it, a man with a net and a boat could fish out more fish than he and his family could eat. If the fish are running, they talk about families being able to catch all their fish for one year in a day or two. Again, the issue isn’t the amount of fish you can catch, but how fast can you gut them and smoke them or salt them. In an effort to actually answer the question, it seems reasonable that a fisherman with a boat and a net could go out into the sea and catch as many fish as he could carry. If we think he catches a “boatload” of fish and cleans them to be salted or smoked, he could walk away with about 30-40lbs of fish. (I’m only counting meat here, not all the guts, bones, heads, etc he threw back into the sea.) This sounds like fishing all morning, cleaning all afternoon and evening and spending the next day salting and smoking the fish, which is actually a multi-day process. Honestly, I don’t like this math, but it might just serve.

How much would the fish in a barrel weigh? You asked about a 32 gallon barrel. Well, there is a standard series of measuring where they use a 26.66 gallon barrel filled with pickled herring. Here 9/11ths of the barrel is fish (considered 220-262 pounds, sometimes 100k, but all generally in this ballpark). The rest is salt and brine.

How many square feet to a pigskin? 12. Actually I had that in my research notes. Not sure why it didn’t make it into the book. Wow! Your guess of 1/3rd was spot on!

What is the cost of cream? On the Production chart, you’ll see that 8oz of cream was worth 1.5cc. You’re right, that should have been on the price chart.

How much does a plow cost? Damn, another good question. First - What is the level of technology in your world? Are they using wooden plows? Some farmers thought iron plows would poison the ground. Anyway, it is likely that a farmer using a wooded plow made it himself. This is likely just a fire hardened pointed stick intelligently lashed to a steering device that can be harnessed to the ox. Depending on the soil, this could be good enough. If they are using iron plows, it is more likely strips of iron hammered onto the front of a device, not unlike the simple plow just described. Assuming two days of work (for the blacksmith) and about three pounds of iron/steel, you’re looking at 25sc for a plow blade. I assume the farmer is still making the rest of the thing and just buying the blade. For an all steel plow, first your world needs a John Deere (no he did not invent the tractor; he invented a better plow). I can’t find much about how he crafted his blade, but I’m thinking that at this point you’re in a similar spot to the weapon smiths. The battle axe isn’t entirely different than a major plow blade. Depending on the wealth and culture, 75-90sc seems a fair estimate.

There have been a few criticisms of the book. One of them is basically that Grain Into Gold compares to no Earth historic period. We not only concede this point, we revel in it. There is no reason that your fantasy world would not grow corn (that’s maize for all you non-Americans) next to wheat in a feudal society. So what? Well, no matter what we think, you need to make it work in your world. If you want the ground in Elfland to be magical, then by all means, have the elven druids growing 16x the amount of grain that the dwarves are. Or have the lakes in the Ogre Territory so rich with beaver and fish that humans are willing to risk life and limb to get to them.

I hope this is useful to people. At the very least you can see a little more of how we came to some of the conclusions we came to. We’re currently working on Coins of the Road, a trade good supplement very similar to Grain Into Gold, and Facets of Wonder, another companion piece to GIG that goes in depth into gems and precious stones including what they are worth and what magical properties they all might have. If it weren’t for life in general, they’d both be out this summer, but there is little chance that there will be time enough to accomplish that.