Sunday, November 29, 2015

Time in Fantasy

From a role-playing aspect, we need to make sure that we don’t place modern concerns on fantasy era people. I am thinking today mainly of time.

In the modern era, everyone either has a watch or a phone that acts as a watch. We know what time TV shows start and when someone says, “I’ll pick you up at 8:00” we expect to see them at 8:00, plus or minus ten minutes, maybe. We know when to be at work and what time is considered late. We even know what time it is in other countries and factor that into some of our communications.

But the fantasy folks don’t have it that easy. Even in my world of Fletnern, where there are grandfather clocks and semi-reliable time keeping devices (hour glasses, water clocks, and measured candles), the average Joe on the street doesn’t know exactly what time it is. I usually represent this by the way they talk about time: It’s noon; It’s two hours after dawn; It’s four hours after midnight, etc. Minutes are rarely discussed because they are too hard to measure.

This forced me to rethink my fantasy era factories. I do have fantasy era factories, but they do not use the assembly line. For example, if your job is to make ceramic bowls, then that’s what you do all day long. There may be someone who brings you the clay and someone who fires the pieces you threw, so sort of assembly line, but not. Maybe a better example is an enchantment factory. The enchanter makes the item from start to finish. They may have access to shared tools, be guarded by shared guards, and have shared buyers purchase their materials, but they do not do one process and then have someone else do the next process, and so on.

So why does this matter? Well, if you don’t have reliable clocks, then you cannot pay people by the hour, or even by the “full day’s work”. I think you need to pay them by the piece. Maybe you can establish a quota - making 15 stoneware platters is considered a day’s work - but still it has to be more piece work. This actually fits most of my fantasy cultures anyway - being paid for work accomplished and not for time spent at work. But this is an important change!

The other place that this really matters is in long distance trade. When you need to be on a cruise ship in this day and age, you need to be there at the specified time. And you can expect to disembark at the established time. Planes seem a little less reliable, but even still, nothing on the fantasy era. A ship could be off schedule by three to five days before most folks would really start to get nervous. A caravan could be delayed by rain, washed out bridges or fords, or any number of setbacks. Especially with the ships, this probably means that there would be a job of “ship watcher”. Some apprentice would sit on the docks and wait to spot ships coming in. Then he hightails it to the ship owner to let him know his cargo is on the horizon, giving the owner time to get up and get over to the docks to meet his ship and captain. Is it an apprentice to the merchant or the harbor master who does the running and spotting? I think it depends on the town.

Are there other jobs? Yep! History tells us that some factories would have wakers - people who would walk the streets of the city with a staff and bang on the windows of the factory workers in order to wake them up so they could be to work roughly on time. The various guilds would probably have rules or guidelines set to make the piecework rates “fair”, or the quotas. That probably means they would need to have some manner of auditor go and check on the guild members. That’s what is coming to mind now, but the more you think about life without watches, the more cultural impacts you can think of.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

High Fantasy - Gods

Switching the high fantasy gears for a second (see previous article and the one before that) - The gods in a high fantasy RPG need to be more important!

In a FRPG if you worship the goddess of dawn, you would believe that the dawn will not come if that goddess decides not to bring it. For a modern person who believes that the world circles the star - this seems foolish. Of course dawn will come tomorrow - it is a matter of physics. But not to the FRPG character. Physics be damned, if the goddess either decides not to bring the dawn or is in some way defeated or prevented from bringing the dawn, then the night will continue eternally. Therefore, every time the sun rises, this character would give thanks to their goddess.

But if it is a high fantasy game, it should be possible to prevent the dawn from coming. I don't know all or what implications would come of that, but it must be possible. If it isn't possible, then magic doesn't work. The same needs to be true of the other gods. If the god of the harvest decides to shift the rains, then a drought comes. Forget the weather men (they're never right anyway). If the harvest god wants the harvest to end, it ends. This might be easier to understand because we can more easily picture a drought or pestilence than dawn not coming, but they should be equally possible. That’s why there are gods. That’s why worshiping them matters. Because if they don’t get what they want, then they take away the things that mortals need to survive - like the sun, water, sleep, dreams, death (OK, obviously not to survive here, but there are some cool fictions about death taking a holiday).

This influence should be all over the place. Wine does not make you drunk because it has alcohol, but because the god of wine deems it so. My best example of where I have actually put this to use in is Rhum. Despite the spinning of the planet and the weather patterns, the winds near Rhum blow from west to east. This is because the more powerful spirit of the east wind (the wind that blows west or from the east) has given his younger sister (the wind from the west) this region as her own and he will not interfere, at least not too much. Yes - This causes weird weather patterns in this area! But again, the wind does not blow the direction it blows because of planetary physics, but instead because of magic and the “gods”.

This does work both ways. There is a humongous earth spirit deep beneath the surface on the continent of Hughijen. He is moving northwards at a very slow pace (because it is not easy to displace that much earth and rock). Every once in a while, about every ten years, the forces of the plates and rock layers shift to allow him to push forward, causing massive surface earthquakes. So are the earthquakes caused by a god/spirit? Yes. Are they caused by tectonic pressures of the plates rubbing together? Yes - but that pressure has become personified in this spirit. So since it is a high fantasy world, I still have some idea of the physics, I just give them different reasons for acting the way they do. High fantasy = Magic over science!

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Thursday, November 26, 2015

All that Crap

So - it’s a FRPG. A gang of thieves (likely the player characters) busts into a house and starts searching it for the big diamond they know is hidden somewhere inside. They check the underwear drawers, the cookie jar, the freezer ... the freezer? What do a group of modern players know about searching a house in a fantasy world? They don’t, but they shouldn’t need to.

OK - So the diamond is hidden in a secret pouch tied to the bottom of the outhouse seat. How do I know that? Well, ignoring the fact that I was the GM, I know that people put their human waste in outhouses. Sometimes they use the outhouse, sometimes they use a chamber pot and dump it in the outhouse later, but they still have an outhouse in the yard.

When an outhouse gets filled up, you have to do something. It is far cheaper to hire a guy to empty the waste out of the outhouse than to dig another one and use the dirt to fill in the old one. So I now know that there need to be professional outhouse emptiers. Sounds like a shitty job, huh? (Sorry, had to go there.)

I also know that nails are expensive and screws are astronomically expensive, so normal folks don’t use them. Since the outhouse is probably only emptied once a year, they don’t want to have a big cellar door behind it taking up space. All this together means that the seat lifts off, so the pro outhouse guy can have access to the big pile of waste material. (The whole seat, bench and all.)

So, in the modern era, Louisiana Congressmen roll up their cash in aluminum foil and hide it in the freezer. You know what? They aren’t the only guys to do that. (I don’t have any money, so don’t bother checking my freezer.) In a fantasy world, people hide things in a place they can get to relatively easily, but that no one wants to search: the outhouse.

But the point of this post is honestly not about where fantasy folk go potty. It is about how your player characters would find the diamond. Ignoring the use of magic, you cannot use any manner of senses skill to find the diamond, because it is not in plain view. It is hidden inside of something. (We assume X-ray vision is magical.) So how do you know where to look? In Legend Quest, you use your Scrounging skill. While scrounging is most commonly used to figure out where to buy what you need to find in an urban setting, it can absolutely be used here. This is not an incredibly uncommon hidey hole; it would probably be rather normal for a thief or investigator to check the outhouse. If it is less common, then maybe it is a Scrounging task with a modifier, but it is still scrounging to use your urban skills to figure out where something might be.

What’s point of all of this? If you are playing a role-playing game that does not have skills like Senses and Scrounging, then you cannot play detective style missions. No, you are not Batman, no matter how well you say the line, because all you can do is attack; you cannot detect. You cannot investigate; you probably cannot even question or interrogate prisoners. If you want to expand the types of missions you can do, you need a full role-playing game. Obviously we suggest Legend Quest, but I won’t take it personally if you have found a different game that still allows for non-combat related activities.

You know what else? Knowing stupid stuff like there are no toilets but there are outhouses (all those mundane things) can matter. You don’t need to know everything and constantly be talking about it, but you need to have some of this knowledge in the back of your mind in order to run your game properly.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

High Fantasy - Enchanted Items

OK, so the last post tried to establish that as long as anyone can learn to enchant (no special birthmarks needed), you will have a high fantasy game because there will be greedy or ambitious people who will want to make lots of money. But we (intentionally) glossed over the fact that there would be people willing to buy the enchanted items. Let’s look at that!

We established in Book of Wishes that an illumination enchantment would cost about 300sc. We established in Grain Into Gold that the average guy earns about 10sc per day. So for the average guy to buy an enchanted lamp, it would cost about a month’s salary. Seems out of whack, right? Well, we never wanted to portray this as “the average guy” is buying enchantments. But, we do think that the upper middle class and the upper class could be buying these. Here’s how and why: An enchanted lamp (as we showed last time) saves a person about 9sc per month in candles, so over the course of about three years, the lamp pays for itself. But only people with enough disposable income can afford to invest in this manner. The poor slobs at the low end of the economy can barely afford rush lights - they aren’t forking over the money for a magic lamp or even beeswax candles.

Skilled craftsmen, like locksmiths and distillers, would likely average ~15sc per day. (If this doesn’t make sense to you, you really need 100 Professions!) But that’s for workers. If you are the master of the lock making shop, you’re going to be making more. In fact when I’m trying to figure out bigger operations, most of my “bosses” (managers who don’t own the place) are often making 20sc a day. Now, you’re only talking about half a month’s salary. Healers and full on spell casters are closer to 50 a day. Beginning adventurers probably only get paid about 10sc a day like a sentry would, but they get all of their money at one time (after basically camping and living off the land for months on end). That’s why they can afford to buy magiced weapons and armor - because they effectively saved for a couple of months while they traveled to and from the zone of danger.

But that probably makes you wonder why we’re talking about magic lamps and not magic swords. That’s easy - I can tell you down to the last copper penny what you save by having a magic lamp that lasts forever. I cannot easily monetize the value of a magic sword. With the sword - The value is in the eye of the buyer. It should increase his chances of survival (by killing his enemies quicker), but what’s his life worth? More importantly, what’s the extra “edge” worth? Probably everything he has. Therefore, it’s tough to intelligently quantify and doesn’t work economically. Also - I have said often that while adventurers are an important part of the fantasy world, they are a very small part of it. Economics is about strong and steady business, not the “rock stars”. Knowing what an up and coming merchant would do is actually more important when figuring out prices and values than what a crazed sword swinger would do. (“crazed sword swinger”? that’s redundant)

All right, we’re going too far in that direction. Who would buy a magic lamp? The upper crust. So what do we know? They are not going to buy a piece of scrap leather even if it glows brightly. Minimum is probably a brass lamp or hooded lantern. A cheap brass lamp with a glass chimney runs about 5sc. But would a rich guy have one in his home? Maybe, if it were deep in his office somewhere and only seen by him. But if it is out somewhere it is going to have to be prettier. Truth be told, by the time you get done with the fanciest of lamps, the 300sc for the spell might not be the expensive part.
Is there a moral to this story? I think there is. In a high fantasy world, some magical items are going to be worth buying, as long as the person can afford it. Light, heat, clean water, these things are valuable and have a cost. Sometimes magic is the cheap way to get things done, at least in the long run.

Next time - What to do if your magic lamp burns out - or does it ever burn out?

Sunday, November 8, 2015

High Fantasy - Enchanters

OK - So first off, let me say what I think the difference between high fantasy and low fantasy is. I think the main thing that separates the two is who can learn magic. If any person can learn to perform magic - specifically enchantment - then you have a high fantasy game. If only a small percentage of people can do magic, then you can have a low fantasy game.

So why? Small divergence - Most of you are familiar with the stuff I write. Grain Into Gold is my best selling book (having surpassed even Legend Quest) and sets out to show anyone how to build an economy for their fantasy world. Pockets was intended to be a random treasure supplement for pick pockets, but more of the readers seem to see it as a guide to what over a thousand common items cost. Even 100 Professions is an economy supplement. So you’ll probably forgive me when I lay it out this way, but ...

Modern example - It costs a $#!+load of money to go to law school. It’s also a lot of work and probably only the top third of folks could do it. (That might not be true because I’ve met some stupid lawyers!) So why spend the money? Because you make a $#!+load of money, far more than the school cost you. It’s the same with enchanters. Even if it costs huge to learn to be an enchanter, you’re going to make it all back once you start working. Now we’re focused on enchanters, because it is easiest to sell their magic. Finding a way to monetize sorcery can be more difficult, but anyone can sell magic items.

But does it make sense? I like to lay it out like this, and yeah - I do focus on money: An illumination enchantment costs 300sc - why? because an enchanter typically makes about 300sc per day and it takes about a day for them to make an illumination enchantment. Actually, it also costs 50sc for the materials, but it is such a common enchantment that the supply has lowered the price. Is that worth it? It would take three candles to equal the illumination enchantment, which means you would burn about a pound of wax a day in order to match the enchantment (actually three candles - you would get 16 hours out of a pound of beeswax). So assuming a pound of wax a day, it would take about three years to save enough on wax to pay for the enchantment. But if the enchantment works “forever” then from your fourth year on - you’re saving money.

Did you get that? Spending 300sc for a lamp eventually saves you money, but it also makes the enchanter incredibly rich - at least 25 times richer than a mundane craftsman. That’s why you would spend the time and money to learn to be an enchanter - to get rich. And if anyone can learn magic, then there will always be those folks willing to beg, borrow or steal the money needed to learn the skills in order to become enormously rich later on. That’s why I said earlier that if anyone can learn magic, then you have a high fantasy game. Anyone who does not see this is really ignoring one of the main motivations in life.

More on high fantasy stuff coming very soon!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Crappy Governments

Notice - This is not just an anti-government rant, but instead a rather serious approach to placing enemy powers in your game world.

There’s something I’m really bad at - writing and role-playing stupid folks. I just recent mentioned in a blog post that you need to remember that some folks are losers and you can’t have everyone in your game world be both brilliant and successful (that would be the DC universe). But I’m really bad at crafting the stupid folks - specifically, the stupid winners.

In our modern world, I think these “stupid winners” are best seen in crappy governments. Look, I’m not going to wave the flag here and tell you how my guys are the best in the world. My guys suck. I am embarrassed that my fellow citizens continue to vote for people that say one thing and then do another after being elected. I’m embarrassed that my fellow citizens elect people based on such high ideals as political correctness and the “cool factor”. I strongly support either an IQ test or a current events quiz before allowing people into the voting booth, but the politicians in office now will prevent that from ever happening - They wouldn’t be able to get reelected.

But what am I talking about? As bad as my guys are, there are worse out there. There are worse here too - We have a guy who loudly tells people he’s going to raise the tax rate into the 90%+ range and people cheer for him. You can fool some of the people all of the time! But I’m thinking more about things like: financial policy hacks who specifically and purposefully caused the housing bubble but strongly believe that it was not their policies but instead 70 year old regulations that caused it (having never caused it before); politicians who are so heavily invested (and I mean monetarily) in passing laws about climate change that should they ever succeed, they become billionaires - whatever your beliefs about climate change, did we really want it to be about profiting from cap and trade?; or politicians who’s strategy for avoiding public scrutiny is to have so many massive accusations of fraud, greed and incompetence that they all blend together in this Wonderland that no one can quite figure out. OK, I got a little distracted there. What about countries where the government is a minority, whether racially, religiously or something else, and they use the military to control the majority while seemingly well intentioned neighbors sit on their hands. What about countries that have legitimate military power and weapons of mass destruction, but their leaders are noticeably insane, but their people never try to rise up against them?

What does this all matter? In a fantasy world, especially one where military coups and royal lines are likely to be the most common initiation of governments, you would have to have some of these crazy #@%&*#s in charge of armies and regions. I’d like to believe that when a country views their leader and they all look at each other and say, “This guy’s off his freakin’ rocker” that they find a way to get rid of him. But they don’t. At least they don’t in the real world.

So how do we put these crazy, crappy governments into place in our fantasy worlds? Well, it’s not like they have the internet. Most peasants don’t even know what the king looks like, unless his face is on the (copper) coins. The nobles and ministers who profit from the king’s idiocy will make sure that people outside the palace don’t learn what a moron he is for fear of losing their piece of the power. Meanwhile, they keep the king imprisoned in luxury and rape the country. When diplomats and ambassadors grow to understand that this guy is both insane and a danger to them, they still have to contend with a country filled with uneducated semi-patriotic serfs who haven’t learned what they know. You cannot get the citizenry to rise up against the rulers when they think everything is OK and refuse to think far enough out to see that their entire country is headed right towards a cliff. Sounds familiar to me.

So WHY do you want to put these crazies into your world? These are perfect targets for you adventurers, but it is vital to remember that simply sneaking in and assassinating the crazy _____ at the top is not enough. As the modern world has been seeing recently, eliminating one crazy often allows and even crazier into the vacuum. Unlike most movies, the peasants will not come out into the streets and cheer for the “heroes” who have liberated them from oppression. A well placed assassination would likely be the excuse those ministers needed to go to war with whomever they think they can steal land from, whether they are the right culprit or not. A quick war can cull those peasants, especially any that might actually be thinking about how bad their government really is. Don’t worry - the war slaves can do their jobs once the fields have been cleared of bodies.