Thursday, June 25, 2009

Indian Names - Not the joke

OK - many of you have probably heard the joke about the Indian brave who asks the chief how he comes up with the names for all the new born babies in the village, and the response is something to the effect of: “I name them after the first thing I see upon hearing that the child has been born, such as Dove Flying or Running Deer. Why do you ask Two Dogs F___ing?” So I spent the week with my son at Boy Scout camp, and was racing out of there at 5:30 this morning to get back home and to work. I saw the mists over the lake, different mists over a field of tall grass, heard the birds calling to each other, and watched the sun rise over the Tennessee hills. I’ve written Forge of Imagination and Character Foundry trying to get people to spark their imaginations. If you can’t just walk out into the world and come up with some of the most wonderful names and ideas, you’re just not trying. Need names for a tribe of kobolds - Walk into a park and just sit quietly for a while, then pretend you’re the old Indian chief. If you don’t have at least a dozen names in five minutes, you really need to loosen up, because you are way too stressed!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Coke and Coal #2

Before I get too far from the discussion of coke and coal, I do want to address the fact that I understand that coke was not commonly used in England until the 1700s and really widely used with the Industrial Revolution. So why is it used in fantasy Fletnern? The main reason people switched from wood and charcoal to coke was that the forests of England had been depleted. It really wasn’t the technology. On Fletnern, the Central Plains and the Gold Mountains both have lots of coal but very little in the way of trees. Therefore it makes perfect sense that in these regions, coal and coke would be used as fuel, whereas in the Rhoric Plains and the Marilick culture surrounding the Slyvanian Forest, wood and charcoal would still be the chief fuel source. This all leads back to that 4,000 years of no gunpowder or steam power, but other things have moved forward. Hopefully that makes some sense.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Coal vs. Coke

One of the people who put some time into reading Grain Into Gold criticized our use of coal in the home. While I still feel that there would be some cultures that would use coal to heat their immediate living area negligent of the health risks (though somewhat mitigated by good ventilation), I have come to believe that what many people call coal is not coal. In many historic references to coal, I believe they actually mean coke. (No - not the beverage) Coke is to coal what charcoal is to wood. You burn it without air and all the junk burns off leaving a nearly pure carbon behind. Coke is far less likely to kill you from breathing its fumes.
In order to recognize this change of strategy, I’m planning to write up coke as a fuel alternative in Coins of the Realm. Since this book is not expected to be immediately available, let’s give you some of the ideas now:
First off, Grain Into Gold assumed that people were deep mining coal. On Fletnern, I typically assume they are strip mining it. This means that instead of 500lbs per day, the unskilled workers can mine and load about a ton a day. This drops the “at location” cost of a ton of house heating coal to 10sc (from 15 - sure it seems like it should be only 7sc for a miner’s daily wage, but what about the wagon drivers and the foreman and the other support staff?). I assume that the coke ovens are relatively close to the coal strip mine, since there are no trains. You move the coal, likely down the side of the hill and pour it into a coke oven. Three Fletnern days later (about 60ish hours) it has been burned down from coal to coke. Trying to get yield rates prior to 1900, the best source I saw said 65%, so if you fill an oven with 3,500lbs of coal, you get 2,300lbs of coke (rounded). Each coke burner can usually handle six ovens or loading and unloading two a day. Having spent some of my youth shoveling gravel and asphalt, I think a man working himself harder than his body wants to work could have accomplished this if the production lines were intelligently handled. The historic references seem to imply they did quite a bit more, but they did have some help from coal cars and train tracks. So anyway, assume that a 9sc a day burner supported by the equivalent of another 9sc guy (this is the foreman, wagon drivers, brick deliverers, etc.) burns two ovens a day effectively. 17.5sc worth of coal went in. 9sc worth of labor applied, and our 2,300lbs of coke is valued at 26.5 or roughly 23sc per ton of coke.
OK - so, the at location price of coal is now 10sc per ton and the at location cost of coke is 23sc per ton. If the burners did everything perfect, then about 1,300lbs of coke should provide the same fuel as a ton of coal. Let’s estimate that where a ton of coal heats a small home for six to eight weeks, a ton of coke would likely last eight to ten weeks. Using more modern information, it is likely that as equivalent fuels coke is about 75% of the weight of coal.
For transport, I’m going to have 15 ton wagons pulled by teams of 10 oxen driven by two men with no guards that move about 18-20 miles a day on a very good road. The city of Forsbury is 115 miles from the coal mines, so a ton of coke in Forsbury would run about 29sc.
OK - lots of numbers, lots of math. In case you haven’t bought Grain Into Gold yet, this is why you want to. We’ve done the research on historic products and how they were produced. We then back everything into the full economic system, beginning with what the cost of a loaf of bread is. By the way - a loaf of bread (16oz) costs one silver coin. That wasn’t a coincidence!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Civilization and world building

OK - I admit it. I have played Civ 1, 2, 3 and 4, plus various other versions and related games. There’s just something I really love about those games. So what, right? again with the “so what”s. I think Civ thinking can really help you with world building.
Who came first in your world? On Fletnern it was the titans - head and shoulders above everyone else (physically, mentally and culturally). You heard about what happened to them. Now, second came the goblins (ogres, orcs and goblins). The elves and dwarves were sort of next. Humans were titan slaves, so in many cases they have a refugee culture where they scrounge what they can from the remains of the titan civilization. You still don’t see it do you? How far did the Goblin Empire get before it collapsed in civil (racial) war? Did they use bronze weapons? iron weapons? steel weapons? Did they ride horses? use chariots? have bows? crossbows? How was their mining? If they had iron weapons was it because they didn’t have coal or didn’t have smelting knowledge?
These questions can sometimes be answered in a very intelligent way if you just think of each of the cultures as a Civ game. OK - Goblin Empire - in the plains with mountains and hills. Definitely had coal and iron and copper deposits. Probably did not have cattle, but did have sheep and goats. No shoreline, so no boats or sailing or fishing.
Take a look at the tech charts and start assigning the progress they would have made. Of course, your fantasy world is NOT a Civ game, so don’t forget to consider magic. I usually think of druidic and shamanistic magic as being more primitive. Necromancy is towards the beginnings of magic as well. Healing would be sort of in the middle, while sorcery and conjuring would be at the high end. Does your game separate herbalism from alchemy? Enchantment is probably higher than sorcery. Assign the levels of magic too.
OK - sounds interesting, but who cares, right? You do. Honestly! Your world likely has a history and that history has wars and other conflicts. Did the elves defeat the goblins 700 years ago? How? If you can kind of map out the Civ tech chart on your cultures, it might be obvious that the goblins had archers, but the elves had longbowmen. Maybe the elves never got their hands on iron because of where they were geographically and that is why the dwarves have dominated the battles between the two foes. Of course, we’re likely not going to gunpowder, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still use the ideas up to that point.
The reasons you care are: you want to be able to justify why your cultures are currently where they are and you want to be able to understand what went on in history. There are very few ancient elven enchanted weapons in Fletnern, because the elves primarily used wood for their weapons and magical items. The wood was not preserved and did not hold together over hundreds of years. The ancient ogres however were skilled necromancers, and their undead creatures still roam the ruins of their lost empire. If the dwarves have had control of steel for 400 years, there are likely some ancient forges around, possibly abandoned when the iron in the area was mined out.
I’m not going to pretend that Civ can create a great world for you, but by thinking about your world as though it were a Civ game, you might just fill in some of the gaps and come up with some fantastically great ideas for adventure!
For those of you who don’t play Civ - you should try it. However, think of games like Warcraft (not WoW, the original). Before you can build soldiers, you need a barracks. Before you can build cavalry, you need a stable. This is incredibly more simplistic than Civ, but some of the same concepts are there.