Sunday, September 25, 2016

Propaganda - Can it work?

So I was working on my world and wanted to make certain that the small river (large creek?  medium sized stream? whatever!) that supplies water to half of my world’s biggest city (Brinston - pop. 800K) was legitimately supplying enough water so that it made sense.  So I was wandering the internet, as I am known to do, and I chose the UN’s site on water.  I expected the standard BS of how we need to conserve water, but I was struck by how they laid out their propaganda.  I offer it up here as an example of how you can use these tactics in your own world:

First, they start by telling you that of all the water in the world, only 3% of it is fresh water, and sea water is (paraphrasing their terms) useless to humans.  OK, let’s just ignore that because it’s silly, but moving on.  Did you see what they did?  They took water, probably the most plentiful thing we can think of (besides air) and started to make it seem rare.  Wow!  Only 3% of the water is of any use to us.  But wait, there’s more!

Then they tell you that 2.5% of the world’s water is locked up in the ice caps and glaciers.  So that is apparently useless to humans as well.  You thought water was common?  Well, only 0.5% that’s 0.005 is of any use to us.  All of a sudden, this thing that seems so common is starting to feel rare.  They never mention how much is out there that is useful (I’ll get to that later).  By only focusing on what is theoretically useless to us, they have made this enormously plentiful resource sound scarce.

Then, they tell us that every human needs two liters a day to survive.  I am at least happy that they didn’t go with the whole “drink a gallon of water a day” mantra, and honestly if you’re eating fruits and vegetables you don’t need even two liters, but let’s pretend that two liters is right.  They then compare two liters per day to the 215 cubic meters of water used every year by every person in the USA.  Did you see the subtle change there?  daily use to annual use.  If you’re not paying attention, you could make the misstep of thinking that those are apples to apples numbers when in fact they’re grape seed to grapefruit numbers.  They also lay out how people in Mali only use 4 cubic meters a year, so us horrible folks in the USA must be monsters!  or maybe we just don’t live in a desert.  Maybe we chose not to live in a desert on purpose!  Not counting all you folks in LA who apparently have purposefully chosen to live in a desert.

So what are the facts?  Well, there are places in the world where there is not enough clean, drinking water.  The USA (certainly my part of the USA) is not one of those places.  Since we do not have tanker ships sailing drinking water from the USA to other places, my usage of water in the USA has absolutely no impact on the people of Mali.  None.  I can stop drinking water, I can stop watering my grass, I can stop flushing the toilet.  Who do I help?  NO ONE!

But if you fall for their propaganda, you now think that water is scarce, and we spoiled Americans are using up far too much of it.  We need to conserve some for the people of Mali!!  But you’re not that dumb.  You’d never fall for that.  I had hoped people were smarter than that, but they aren’t.  An entire generation of college students (you might be one) has been raised being told that we should conserve water, conserve water because the people of the Middle East don’t have enough.  That really is the same as “Eat everything on your plate!  There are kids starving in China.”  My consumption or lack of consumption in North America has no impact on starving children in China, just as my consumption or even waste of water has no impact on the people of Mali.

Just to lay everything out there, let’s do some math.  168,000 cubic meters of water goes over Niagara Falls every minute.  For those of you not good with metrics, that’s 168,000,000 liters per minute (168 million).  So that’s 10 Billion liters an hour and 242 Billion per day (Big B).  Assuming there are 7B people in the world and they all need 2 liters a day, Niagara Falls churns more than 17 times the amount of fresh water needed by the entire world.  That’s Niagara Falls.  I’m not talking about the Amazon or the Mississippi or the Danube.  Now I don’t want to live in upstate New York or southern Ontario.  I have nothing against this region, but I don’t suffer winters like that anymore.

So the issue isn’t water or water conservation, but instead water distribution.  But that’s not what the propaganda told you.  They showed examples of industries who were reducing their water consumption, as if a paper mill’s consumption of water in Finland had anything to do with anything.

Look - I have no idea why the UN or the various governments around the world (USA strongly included) want to trick people into thinking that water is scarce.  I don’t get the logic.  Maybe they’re just pushing for some guilt because our ancestors were smart enough to move to where the water was.  But what did they do, and what can you copy:  It’s not what you say - Everything they said was a fact, possibly spun, but by some measure factual.  It was what they didn’t say!  They didn’t tell you that any river in the world could produce enough drinking water.  They didn’t tell you if the cubic meters of water attributed to Americans including hydroelectric power plants.

Think I’m cherry picking?  Just watch the news tonight.  What gets reported, but far more importantly what did not get reported.  (You can usually figure that out from the internet.)  The MSM picks and chooses which stories you get to hear about.  They balance their ratings with their political agendas.  The UN only has to consider its political agenda.  Because I want this to be about how world designers can use propaganda in their game worlds, I am not going to go through any lists of suppressed news stories, but there are a lot of them out them, and no, I don’t own a tin foil hat.

How do you use this?  The one that jumps out at me is precious metals and gems.  If someone made it clear to the people exactly how much gold there was in your fantasy world, people would probably be overwhelmed.  But if you tell them that 6,000x more iron is mined every year compared to the total amount of gold ever mined, WOW gold looks scarce again.  Or that some mining operations are currently sifting through a tonne of gold to get 5 grams.  WOW, right?  (Those seem to be true on Earth, but your world really should be different - Fletnern is or the whole 1=10=100 gold/silver/copper doesn’t work.)  And who needs to make gold seem scarce?  The gold miners!  The same would be true of any precious substances, up to and certainly including diamonds.  and don’t forget magical ingredients

See, it really was about fantasy worlds!  But seriously, in real life - don’t get taken in by the lies of omission; you really are smarter than that!

Speed Character Creation

Pretend you’re trying to create characters for a point based game like Legend Quest.  (Point based means you are given a certain number of points to create your character and you spend them on the things that will make your character super tough.)  Compared to rolling four dice, ignoring the low one, rinse and repeat to six stats, choose the only class that fits, and then buy equipment - point based characters can take a little while, especially with new players.  We’ve been at this for 25 years, so we know a couple of things.  Too many choices make things more difficult.

So Board Enterprises has come up with a nice little tool for speeding things along:  Speed Character Creation.  Here, instead of trying to figure out a back story and picking the right skills that go along with it (or picking the skills you want and trying to force a backstory on top of them), you follow this:

Choose:  1) Race; 2) how you spent your youth; 3) how you were trained; 4) how you want your attributes; and 5) starting money.  Now the character design is pretty well built, and all you have to do is add what you need for your actual profession (bandit, sword&board, druid, etc.).  Is it that simple?  Yeah, it really is.  The youth and training choices hand you small sets of simple skills, so you don’t wind up with that character that could not have possibly survived to adulthood.

Hey, we admit it - We wrote this for Legend Quest.  But you don’t need to use it only for Legend Quest.  But it is a role-playing tool.  If you play with a style that min/maxes every attribute, and you’ve never had a character who actually had a Carousing skill, this might not be for you.  It is a role-playing tool!  (I think I heard that somewhere.)  If you are looking for an efficient tool to come up with back story and the skills that make sense under that back story, this is it!!

Check it out at RPG Now and Warehouse 23 (link coming soon!).

If you don’t want to have to come up with your own backstories, even with our tool, check out 100 Character Histories.  You can even roll a d100 and pick one randomly.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Of the Sciences in Fantasy

So what era do I set my gaming world?  Thirteenth century?  Fourteenth?  Fifteenth?  Probably more like the Eighteenth Century, early 1700s?  Yep, that feels right, but with a healthy mix of the Victorian era!

But that can’t be!  It’s a fantasy game!  Well, yes it is.  But I have a very specific history for my world.  Like so many fantasy worlds, my medieval period lasted a lot longer than the one on Earth did.  How long have your cultures been at the swords and sorcery age?  Well, in many ways, armor crafting has not truly advanced in my world in the last 600 years.  There are some eras previous to the “current” era (the last 500-600 years) where things were different, but pretty much stagnant for the last half a millennia.  So if that’s the case, why is everything expected to match Earth’s rate of technology?

OK, let’s focus less on the why and more on the how.  I personally believe that two major “discoveries” (call them innovations, sciences, inventions, whatever) have truly changed the world:  the steam engine and gunpowder.  Gun powder changed the way that battles were fought, and steam power changed the way work was done.  In my world, the spooky, scary, titan overlords don’t allow either of these to develop, going so far as destroying any lab working on them.  It’s not that no one knows how to do them; the alchemists could make gunpowder tomorrow.  But they won’t, because they like their shops not blowing up.  So all I have to do is figure out what changes and what stays the same.

I mention the Victoria era because I like how the Pax Britannica allowed peace and prosperity, at least in England, and speaking English, it’s the history I know best.  I have the North American colonies for when I want to think about the frontier lands, and the information from London when I want to know about sweat shops and the middle classes.  Plus this was a period of the growth of the middle class and therefore emerging urban sites, including entertainment, some travel, and some really screwed up morality.  You know what else helps?  There’s a lot known about it.  It really helps to understand an era when people other than the king’s advisor kept journals that are still around today.

Very briefly, the steam engine changed a lot of stuff!  One of the biggest things was when seed drills became steam powered.  With the steam powered seed drill, you can take an enormous amount of farmers out of the fields and into the cities.  That’s a big reason that I need steam to stay out of my fantasy world.  Trains, tractors and mechanized metal working don’t work in my mind.  How important is steam?  Well, it powers your smart phone!  No, really.  Electricity generating plants simply burn something to create steam to move the turbines.  Coal fired plants burn coal to create steam to move the turbines.  Nuclear power - yep - steam!  Those of you out there running on solar or hydro - congrats, but you’re in the minority.

Why does it matter?  It matter immensely!  Are there movable type printing presses?  If there are, literacy goes way up, and that can be a game changer!  The flying loom, the cotton gin, canning - all really important, though maybe not in the same way that others mentioned are.  But these are part of my point.  OK, there’s no steam engines or gunpowder, but does that mean there are no telescopes (typically considered a 17th century invention)?  Should the two be related?  It may not seem like these are important questions, but they are.  When were the hourglass and the magnetic compass invented in your world?  Were they ever?  Hourglass may seem like ancient tech, but it does not seem to have been used aboard ships until the 11th or 12th century.  The compass was more 14th century.  If your world is earlier than this, then ocean going ships are in extreme danger.  It seems that ocean travel or simply following the coast lines is vital to knowing how your world works.

OK, so you might be thinking, “I don’t care.  My world has ocean going ships, and I don’t care how they work.”  Well, OK, but what are you going to do when one of your players requests a level of technology that might be too far advanced?  “I go to the local apothecary and I buy a magnetic compass - I know they have them because you have ocean going ships.”  Now what?  Does that change the way the wilderness mission is going to go, because the smart ass can now claim that it is impossible for him to get lost?  (By the way, just having a compass is not a fool proof plan, but this is just an example.)  You might think I’m stretching a bit here, but these things do happen.  Knowing where your world is on the tech scale is important for controlling the game.

I am going to try to keep adding tech comments to the Fletnern pages, so you can better understand where things are in Fletnern.  It’s just an example, but it is an example that has been fairly carefully considered for 35+ years.  You don’t have to take my decisions, but in learning more about how I did it, you can make the right decisions for your world.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

How to find your next idea

I have touched on this before, even writing a book on it, Forge of Imagination: Spark of an Idea.  For some of us focus challenged folks, ideas come very quickly and easily.  We have trouble staying on one idea long enough to complete it, but we often have tons of ideas.  Some of you don’t get them that easily, so I will try to give you some advice that has worked for me.

First off, read Spark of an Idea.  OK, commercial over.  For me, different types of ideas come from different places.  Ideas for characters seldom come from main characters in books, TV or movies.  I think it is that these characters are often more established and leave less for me to “make my own”.  However, comic book characters really seem to give me some great ideas for FRPG NPCs.  I also like to base NPCs on real people.  There are a lot of dangers to this one, but sometimes taking a real person (typically one you actually know) and sticking them in a FRPG situation and thinking about how they would attempt to survive it can give you some really cool characters.

My best source of cultural or object ideas most often come from watching “brief” shows.  What I mean by that is those shows that give you only a few minutes on each interesting thing.  Mysteries of the Museum is great for this as are many of the Youtube top ten lists.  Let’s face it; you’ve created a mythic world.  Knowing everything about the Shroud of Turin is not going to help you because that object would never fit in your world, but hearing about mysterious stone spheres or an unexplainably large wolf in Russia for a couple of minutes might spark an idea for you in your game world.  The other good thing about these is that you get hit by dozens of idea sparks in an hour, some good, some to be ignored.  In the end, you have a broad pool to pull from and then make them your own.

I seldom get mission sparks from external sources.  This is one of the reasons I spend so much time in these blogs talking about developing your world and understanding what is going on in it.  For me, while I am working on some cultural aspect of a river town, the mission ideas just start flowing.  While I’m thinking about the bridge, I wonder if they need some special zinc covered iron bolts, then I think about where those would come from and who they would need to get them past in order to bring them in.  If the travel isn’t dangerous are others trying to steal the technology?  If I am trying to protect the town from bandits or dragons, I often think first about whether the protection is valid (will it work).  If it will work, then those bandits or that dragon are going to go somewhere else to make their living and they will need adventurers to put them down.  These are actually some pretty poor examples.  A better example was when I was writing a blog post about zombies and how they work as monsters for civilians and then came up with a whole campaign based on this.  (Check it out here.)

For ideas/sparks, quantity is more important than quality.  Quality can come later.  But this does work from a critical mass perspective.  The more you have figured out in your world, the more you will be thinking about other things (either that you haven’t figured out yet or brush against what you have done).  More and more world details generate more ideas.  Stuck for some ideas - Re-read your own notes on your world.  Something in there is going to stimulate the creative juices and get you moving forward.