Sunday, March 27, 2011

Relating Grain Into Gold to Reality

If you multiply it out, the rules in Grain Into Gold seem to indicate that the fantasy farmer and his family (of mother, and two children) can produce enough food to feed themselves and seven other people. This means that just over one-third of the people were engaged in farming, but all the history books tell us that nine out of ten people were farmers. In some GIG circumstances, this number can go as low as 20% of the people were farmers. So what’s the deal? Well, it’s simple, though the math isn’t. The 1 in 5 or 1 in 3 numbers are dependent on a couple of issues. First, they assume that farmers only grow food. This obviously isn’t true as farmers also grow cotton, linen, sheep and goats for wool, hemp and various other textiles. They also grow spices, and though spices may not contribute to the “food” of the region, they were important crops that took labor and land. The farmers also grow all manner of specialty items such as tobacco, coffee, tea, indigo, etc ad nauseam. We didn’t even start on wine, beer and hooch.
Second, the Grain Into Gold production rates specifically do not take into account things like plagues of locust and droughts. Think of how much more food a farmer has to produce and store if every seven years a plague of locust wipes out pretty much all of his crops. This isn’t a silly notion, but part of the cycle of life. OK - so Americans may only have to worry about insect plagues every 17 years, but these farmers did not have insecticides to fight off these plagues. What about droughts? Depending on your definition of drought, they can occur as far apart as every 20 years or as close as every seven.
OK, so you need to plan out your world. You’re thinking - My world’s locust/cicadas are different from Earth’s, so I’m going to make them appear in huge numbers every ten years, because ten is an easy number to work with. And in this region of the world, where it’s usually pretty hot, I’m going to have a minor drought every ten years (easy math) and a major one every 20. So 1 in 10 years brings a reduction of 75% of food production (locusts), 1 in 20 bring s a 50% reduction (minor drought) and 1 in 10 brings a 80% reduction (we’re not planning to hit them for a minor drought and a major drought in the same year, so they’re really every 20 each). These events cut an average of 14% off the farmer’s production every year.
Lastly, and we’re not going to do the math on this, what about all those bandits out there? A nice calm country may not need to worry too much but an area that needs adventurers is likely going to see frequent bandit or orc attacks. Those damn bandits never just steal your stuff, they typically have to burn the crops and buildings. Not only are the crop lost, but if the farmer needs to spend time rebuilding, that’s time he likely isn’t growing stuff. What about taxes? Funny how I put bandits and tax collectors in the same paragraph, huh? Yes, the farmer is producing food, but the local lord is going to take some of it. This doesn’t change the fact that the local farmer is producing enough food for lots more people than live on his farm, but it shows how the redistribution happens. If the farmer is taxed at about 30% (20% civil and 10% religious), then his family of four is directly “sponsoring” one and a third governmental/religious person. Let’s look at our 3 out of 10 people are farmers. Well, 1 out of 10 is likely religious or supported by the religions. (Do they foster the poor?) 2 of 10 is government, likely one is a bureaucrat and one is a soldier. We just identified 60% of the population without including those who produce textiles or luxury goods, none of the miners, none of the craftsmen, and probably none of a lot of folks I’m not thinking of right now.
One final note - I never pretended that my fantasy worlds are like Earth at any age. Fantasy worlds need to be more than “The Middle Ages”. Whether it is magic or superior technology or the existence of elves, don’t let your players dictate something they learned in their history books. Earth history does not control your fantasy realms!

How Big?

If you’re reading the Rhum Supplements, you’ll read that each sector is 1,000’x1,000’. That makes the city more than five square miles inside the wall. With 40,000 people, that puts the population density somewhere around that of a modern suburb - a nice suburb. That was never the point. The density I’m finding for ancient London and historic Paris are both pretty close to 87,000 per square mile. Let’s remember that London burned because of its narrow streets, and how many plagues did Paris have due to its overcrowding?
So the answer should be somewhere in the middle! We’re ret-conning all the Rhum supplements. Each sector will now be 500’x500’. That brings the size of the city down to one and a third square miles and the population density up to about 30K per sq. mile. That’s about the density of NY or double the density of some of the parts of Chicago I lived in. That makes sense - All I have to do is half the size of the houses that a family of 4.3 lives in, and shrink the streets a bit. Hey some of them can still have gardens, just not big ones. I’m a lot happier with this!
Look for the City of Rhum, the base upon which you can hang the modules, some time when the weather gets warmer.

Monday, March 21, 2011

How old?

So I have been going through some boxes that are cluttering up the office. The idea was to image all of my hand written notes so I can throw out the paper, but still have the stuff on them. I’m up to scanning over 600 pages, so it is a fair amount of “stuff”. So I’m trying to figure out if any of this stuff is already in a file somewhere, and I’ve been opening up files on my computer that haven’t been touched in a while. How long? 20+ years. Yeah, creepy! Forsbury was created over 20 years ago, and the campaign we started there at that time is still running. Fletnern has been around for about 30 years, and Rhum and Brinston were the first cities. That doesn’t bother me as much; I guess because it hasn’t been one set of characters running the entire time.
Have I learned anything? Sure - type everything into the computer when you start, so you don’t have to scan or re-type it later! Thank goodness that Adobe makes cutting and pasting images simple!
Last week I posted about permanent enemies. One guy who we normally classify as a permanent enemy (even though he is now more of an ally) is still active in the campaign. When did he show up? the third mission! Not too many of my NPCs have survived and stayed interesting for two decades. (OK, there is a handful, but probably not too many more.)
Why am I doing this, the whole scanning thing? Because there are a couple of things I want from these old adventures. Some include towns and places that I put a little time into, but then didn’t use again. I’d like to get those on the maps and have them available for future use. Same with a couple of new monsters and spells. Every game/campaign can always use more of those. Some of the stuff isn’t old adventures, but instead notes and ideas I was generating. Some of them are even good.
I’m a better writer and game master than I was 20 years ago, but that doesn’t mean I should take that old source material and allow it to come back to life. Maybe a little polishing is needed, there are still a lot of diamonds in that rough! That reminds me of the review Legend Quest got in Dragon Magazine all those years ago: A real gem of a game. One of the best systems I’ve ever seen.

100 Bar Drinks

Hey we’ve just released our latest product - 100 Bar Drinks - on RPG Now and e23. Are your bars dull? Want to get your players interested in their characters and what happens outside of combat? Introduce your players to these beverages, and you’ll see a huge change in the role-playing! Hey, everyone likes to argue over what’s “best”. Best team, best song, best movie, and best beverage. This is exactly the kind of thing that will help spark in-character conversations. It’s only $1.99, like the rest of our cheap books.
Don’t get confused. This isn’t some cheesy one-page thing with some names on it. This is 20 pages of drink descriptions. There are tons of beers, wines and the hard stuff, including some things that you might not have considered. There are even a few magical drinks.
100 Bar Drinks is probably the best representation of Board Enterprises and our products. Our products are focused around the folks who are interested in something more than melee rules, and our stuff isn’t intended for 11 year old kids. Check it out and get a flavor for what we do! (pun intended, though not a very good pun obviously)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Bad Guy “Levels”

There comes a point in any campaign world where it isn’t OK to just keep making the bad guys bigger and tougher. A couple posts ago we talked about experience. Fortunately, in Legend Quest, you can customize your character, so there are circumstances where a 600 point deadly knight can easily overwhelm a 1000 point adventurer. This mainly comes when the adventurer is more of a jack of all trades, while the bad guy can be straight melee. But what about a 1,000 point character? Where did 1,000 point characters get to be so tough? They’re either 100 years old or they’ve been in a LOT of nasty scraps. How do guys like that “fly under the radar”? The point is, whether you’re using character points or levels, how did the guy with the huge experience get to be the guy with the huge experience. And assuming he did, wouldn’t the player characters know about him?
Not that I haven’t done it myself, but I always feel wrong about a mission where you go into the desert and fight a huge number of really experienced desert nomads. How did they get to be so good out in the desert where no one really knows of their existence. Now, if your game rewards you for challenges and not necessarily for actually killing people, then you can say they have overcome great challenges out in the desert, but what challenges? Staying alive is a big challenge and can teach a lot, but not how to wield a sword. Are there horrible sand eating desert monsters out there that need to be killed? If not, it’s not like they were fighting off all the other people in the desert - Tons of people don’t live in the desert (we’re not talking about LA here).
I’m not just arguing about experience methods here. I’m encouraging GMs across the industry to try and have some reasonable explanation for where all the really high level bad guys come from. Other worlds or hells are always good, but no tactic can be used over and over. Any really powerful creature that can be created through magic is good. Veterans of major wars are fine, but they should likely be known - maybe not individually, but “The Greenwood Company” from the six year satyr war. If powerful bad guys are coming into the area from distant lands, why?
This argument also encourages my on-going theme of “permanent enemies”, you know, those enemies who keep escaping and coming back again. Where did the bad guy get all that experience? From fighting the player characters over and over again.
One last point - as they have said on “White Collar”: No reputation is the best reputation. Certain bad guys only survive to be powerful because they are secretive. OK, that’s fine for the rogues and assassins, and maybe even the necromancers, but not for the rest of them. I hate arguing both sides of an argument!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Merchant War 2

We haven’t brought the story up to date, so we’ll do that briefly now: Clearly Zeke Competine was the major instigator of the issues between the various merchant cartels. He even telegraphed that he was expecting problems when he hired a minotaur and a troll as bodyguards. The various cartels were starting to make their secret plans when all of a sudden, Zeke vanished from view. Conflicting rumors said he was dead or simply sick. Spies noticed all sorts of odd movements around the various mansions of Forsbury, including something that was interpreted as invisible people coming and going. The prevailing rumor (from the Forsbury cartels) is that Zeke was killed. There were no signs or sounds of conflict, and it appears some major league magic was used. The question at hand is who did it, and was Zeke the actual target? The story from the Competine Cartel is that Zeke became ill and returned home to Brinston to seek magical healing, because he didn’t trust the abilities of the healers in Forsbury. But now his assistant Violet is in charge of the cartel’s Forsbury operation and she is ruling with an iron fist. Rumors are starting to swirl that Violet may be behind Zeke’s problems in order to get her chance to take over.
Is it over before it started? Is Zeke dead? Was Zeke dead, and now returned to life? Who is to blame? If everything is done, why are there still tensions in Forsbury, Brinston and Nanerette (the city between the two)? The biggest question right now is who is that guy following Yemour Masterhill around and what are his intentions?
Is this a soap opera? Is it a detective story? Does it sound like an “adventure” that you would run? Have to admit, this is exactly the kind of “urban adventure” that we love!