Sunday, June 26, 2016

Grain Into Gold versus Coins of the Road (or why fantasy trade goods are really tough to figure out)

I’ve touched on this before, but due to a recent review of Grain Into Gold I thought I might address in more detail why GIG doesn’t have a full blown trade goods system:

Grain Into Gold was always intended to be the “micro-economics” book. Those of us who had to take Econ in college probably took both micro- and macro-, and each of the books was probably 200-300 pages. I still don’t believe in economics. It’s like sociology to me. It’s not that it doesn’t exist, but it sure as hell isn’t a science. Two professions where you can be wrong all the time and still keep your job: weathermen and economists. Oh, and every government job, but that’s a rant for another day.

So Grain Into Gold specifically and intentionally does not discuss supply and demand. OK, but why no macro-economics? We’ve been working on Coins of the Road off and on since finishing GIG back in 2006. Coins of the Road was always intended to be the companion piece to GIG. Coins of the Road would discuss barrels of whale oil, instead of pints, and discuss getting it from one place to another. Sounds simple, huh? Yeah, try and do it.

First, you need to figure out what something costs at its source. Well, GIG did a lot of that, but there would be more needed. Ignoring that crucial and most important part, let’s think about the rest of it. A barrel of whale oil isn’t just the oil, it’s the barrel. You need to figure the cost of that. And you need to figure out the logistics of the barrel. How wide is it, both at the rim and in the middle? How tall is it? How much does it weigh? We said how much does it cost, right?

OK, so how many of those barrels can you fit on a wagon? Well that probably depends on the size of the wagon. And while you’re at it - are these 50gal barrels? 30 gallon? 25? 10? What sizes are those? What if you use a crate instead of a barrel? Don’t try to tell me that a fantasy era economy has an established barrel size that is consistent from culture to culture, because that would be BS! OK, so figure out all the barrels. (I actually have that done) Figure out all the wagons (I have a really good start on this). Now you’re ready to travel.

But how do you travel? A reviewer pointed out years ago that I neglected to discuss river transport and how river transport was vitally important throughout European and American history. He was right! But I originally built the economy for Fletnern, which only has a few trade rivers, since it never had an Ice Age. (Don’t argue with me on that right now, I’m too exhausted to start another fight.) But Coins of the Road would need river travel, land travel and sea travel. OK, land and sea - now you have to figure out the ships instead of the wagons.

But land travel is easy, right? Not so fast my young friend. There are wagons, there are pack animals, and there are porters. There are also push carts. Is the wagon pulled by an ox? a mule? a team of horses? How many horses? and what does that do to the speed of said wagon? And how do you write this so that it’s still generic even though a lot of games have established speeds of travel? Let’s assume that you figure out how much a wagon can hold, how many animals it will take to pull that weight, and how fast it will go. Done? Nope! How much does it cost to feed those animals? How fast can they really go if you expect them to pasture at the end of the day vs being fed feed?

That’s just the logistics of engines and containers. We haven’t even started on the political impacts of trade. Taxes and tolls? Bandits and how does the risk of bandits affect what the merchant wants as a profit (risk management)? How good are the roads? Should you consider camels going across the desert?

But I haven’t even touched on the real issue when trying to determine trade in a FRPG: It’s fantasy!! At what point does a golem horse make sense? What about pegasi pulled wagons, or maybe blimps? Does every merchant ship have a wizard who can summon up the winds to fill the sails or is it that just some of them? Do dragons act like bandits or like warlords?

But wait! There’s more! Everything from can you legally fly over a city’s walls to can you teleport into their cities should be considered. Is teleporting a legitimate form of transport? Can you use carnivorous beasts of burden? What is illegal and what is smuggling? and if you think that’s easy, we still have to discuss the additional trade goods that would come from a fantasy environment. Is the selling of dragons slavery? Are there races who trade in human flesh as they would beef jerky? Is it illegal to be undead? Slavery in general? What about zombie slaves? and to top it all off - What about brand names? Do you just talk about “wine” or do you start thinking through which wineries have the best wines? Is beer worth carting around the continent? What about the best beers?

OK - so this is huge! Hopefully you can see why Coins of the Road is only partially completed. It’s not dead! but we don’t have an expected release date either.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

On Grain Into Gold and Horseshoes (it’s not really about horseshoes)

OK, so Grain Into Gold is Board Enterprises’ best-selling product of all time. Well, OK, maybe second to Legend Quest, but certainly our best on-line seller. Because of that, I take all criticism on it very seriously! (Maybe too seriously!)

So a reviewer pointed out that he got confused with the way that I described the cost of horseshoes. He’s right. I started getting into all manner of specifics about what could raise or lower the cost of shoeing a horse, and it got confusing. But here is what I’ve learned over the years:
It is better for me to simply state something I believe to be true as a fact, rather than try to show people why it’s true. Case in point: Another review of GIG (and several of them seem to go this route) mentions that I use “unsubstantiated” details. That is true. I do not give references for where I determined the pounds of wheat that can be grown in a fantasy field in a fantasy world during a fantasy time period using fantasy methods. Look, I’m not just trying to be a jerk here. I have researched things - WAY!! too much research! I’ve touched on this before in this blog, but the crop yields in California are vastly different than the crop yields in Michigan. So how do I present a tool for GMs to use? I mean a useful tool, not one with fifteen grids showing temperature, rain fall, weight of manure, etc. Really something that they can use!

In Grain Into Gold, I say that we’re using averages and that averages are never right. I thought I pounded on it too hard, but it is true. I know it seems that I’ve wandered quite a bit from horseshoes here, but here’s the point: The average cost of steel is 1.6 silver coins per pound of steel. Where is that the cost of steel? Well, theoretically nowhere. It’s the average. What does a farrier charge for his time? Again, on average about 4sc. What does that include? That’s where I confused this original reviewer, because I threw in ideas of traveling to the farm, recycling the old shoes, quality of workmanship, etc.

Rather than try to argue that I did it all right, it really is better for me to present the best averages I can, using the most consistent pricing models that I have built, and just leave it at that. For 95% of the people with the book, that’s all they want. For the other 5% of you: I will happily engage with you in the privacy of email and walk you through exactly how I came up with all this nonsense.

I have to give this latest guy credit! We got in contact with each other, and he admitted that he misread a couple of things. He really carried himself as a gentleman. As we all know, that’s pretty rare on the internet.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Loot aka Is Trade Really that Important?

If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’ve seen my other posts and know that I think money makes the world go round, both in the modern day and in a fantasy world. But many of you may not share my belief system. You might think that trade, whether it is loot, raw materials or manufactured goods just aren’t that important and aren’t that fun for FRPGs. Let me try to prove I’m right.

I’m going to use a little studied part of North American history: The Beavers Wars, also known as the French and Iroquois Wars. Things kicked off in 1601 when the French allied with several Indian tribes (yes, I’m using the word “Indian” - try not to be so easily offended) against the Iroquois. The Dutch sort of did the same thing about 10-15 years later. These are called the Beaver Wars, because the Europeans were so interested in the beaver pelts that the Indians had to trade, that they were willing to trade firearms to the natives. Traders were getting rich back in Europe by selling the beaver pelts, and the Indians who were able to trade with the French or Dutch were able to get weaponry. Weaponry is power, and those tribes with guns began to dominate their traditional enemies in the region. This was partially because might made right, but also because they were depleting the beaver in their own territories and needed to take over new territories in order to get access to more beavers. More beavers meant more guns. More guns meant more power. More power meant more land. The Beaver Wars went on through to 1701 when they agreed to a peace in Montreal. The only reason they agreed to peace was that they needed to go to war against the English. So was this really the 100 Years War? (Just kidding)

What’s my point? The French, Dutch and many tribes fought their way through the entire Great Lakes region. This is an area I’m estimating at over 460,000 square miles. That’s about 15% of the USA or an area about the size of Sweden (and not that far off of Spain). Huge area, 100 years of war, over what? Beaver pelts. Thousands dead - over fur.

So do I think trade is important? Yes I do. Do I think it has an important place in FRPGs? Yes I do. But how? Stuck for ideas for missions? Here’s something easy. Pick a spot in your fantasy world that is uncivilized, probably dangerous - like the place where the trolls or the dragons all seem to live. Have someone discover gold, diamonds, or any other precious resource in that area, and set up a Gold Rush. Adventurers and other killers will come from every corner of the world to either set up mines, get rich protecting the miners, or to rob the miners. Meanwhile, every dragon in the region is going to be thinking, “Hey cool, lunch is coming to me now”. Yeah - They’ll think that right up until a couple of them get killed. Then they are going to have to start wondering what they can do to stop these crazy humans on their turf. They will start thinking about allying themselves with the other dragons in the region even to the point of forming a dragon army or at least raiding groups. If you cannot set up a dozen quests having your PCs work for the mining operations against the dragons (or trolls or whomever) as they begin to organize and counterattack, then you probably should be playing and not game mastering.

That’s just one example. Let’s face it - there are a lot of standard “bad guys” out there who are already based on trade. Pirates prey on sea trade. Bandits prey on land trade. What party hasn’t guarded a caravan once or twice? One of the top campaigns I’ve ever run starts as a rescue mission - Go find and rescue two prospectors now missing in goblin territory. That led directly to: guard the prospectors and miners as they take over the mine from the orcs who are there. Later on it was, go back to that mine and save the miners from the orc warlord who has enslaved them. Your players are not going to see this is “a trade based adventure”, but it is. And if you can follow the money, you can come up with more adventure settings than your players will be able to accomplish!

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Fantasy Tech - Light Houses and whether or not it matters

I’m working on how they do mundane things around my world and I have been forced to invent some things - These civilizations have been “stuck” in a fantasy era for thousands of years. They must have come up with some solutions that we would consider anarchistic. One is theaters. I don’t want all of the theaters to be outdoor things like the Greeks. But how do I do indoor theater? I could just say they have powerful illumination enchantments, and for some of my cultures, that is exactly what they do. But some should have other stuff. So I added acetylene lamps (like they had in the 1880-1920 era of America). But they need to get their fire up over 2000C - so I invented efreeti’s powder. What is this - it is an alchemical that causes things to burn hotter, which actually makes them burn for shorter periods of time. Now I am also planning on adding this into some weapons or other ideas, but for right now, just for this.

Why? Well, it is actually a lot more than just for the footlights. I’ve been trying to figure out how I should do light houses. Again - different cultures are approaching this from different styles, but at least this one (who already are known for their chemistry and the fact that the chemical workers who make up a good portion of the middle class are willing to be sickened at work so they can maintain lives or the middle class as opposed to lives like lesser paid craftsmen) will use acetylene. Yes, others will use whale oil or magic, or possible huge pyres of wood. But as you pull into Brinston - it’s acetylene burners.

Before you think I’ve gone completely crazy with this - check out carbide lamps. This is a bit of steam punk, but I think it works pretty well for my chemistry oriented folks. Absolutely you can ask why it’s OK to use magic in the chem lab but not in the theater. Because the one controlled use of magic (in this case efreeti’s powder) produces a material that can be used in multiple applications by some not so magically inclined folks. The enchanted spotlights should (in my opinion) require some manner of understanding of enchantment.

FYI - the dwarves have actually lit natural gas vents for some of their underground lighting, and because (at least for now) there is no oxygen in the “vaults” the gas is coming out of, the fire cannot follow the gas back and cause an explosion. The dwarves do not fully understand the chemistry of this, but they do understand enough earth magic that they know it won’t happen here. They don’t always do this, in fact most natural gas vents are vented using magically powered vent fans so as to avoid anything metallic that might cause a spark that could cause an explosion. It’s actually a lot safer than it sounds, because ... well ... magic, but magic that sounds like it has a reason!

What’s the point? Who really cares about theater lighting or even light houses? That’s not the point, just an example. The point is, when you think about how things really work in your world, a lot of the times, you come up with ideas that can actually be really cool for your campaign world. I don’t know where I’m going with efreeti’s powder, but I’ll bet it will get really cool!

Monday, May 30, 2016

Adventures vs. Soldiers 2 - Weaknesses and Benefits

First - No discussion of soldiers today should begin without some mention of the incredible number of men and women who gave their lives to insure our freedoms today. If you have never been to Arlington National Cemetery (or the equivalent in your home country) you do a disservice to yourself. It is both inspiring and horrifying to imagine the number of people who have died for us. While I pray we may never need to put them into harm again, I know that there are those in the world who believe our freedoms are not ours to keep, and we will again need to rely on our soldiers to protect us and those freedoms.

But this is about fantasy soldiers! OK, in the last post Adventurers vs. Soldiers - Men of Steel or Wheat?, I was going on about game mechanics, but that’s not everything to discuss here. Why should adventurers nearly always defeat soldiers? Well, magic! No, that’s not a cop out answer. Here’s why:

Most commonly a party of adventurers will be well rounded: tanks (aka bricks aka meat shields), mages, maybe a rogue. Soldiers are primarily just fighter types. While the adventuring fighter types are probably a little better than the soldiers, they are also backed up by spells, magic items, healing potions, etc. etc. etc. etc. That’s a huge advantage! Now I often give my military officers some minor magic, because my world has a lot of enchanters, so I think it makes sense. But the rank and file are probably on their own.

Also, soldiers are typically outfitted and trained for a particular style of combat. Adventurers are a bit more of the “adapting to chaos” style. Soldiers in a bar fight are less likely to see a chair, table or full beer barrel as a weapon than adventurers are. An archer unit expects to be able to get off a few flights before the enemy closes, but if the adventurers ambush them, this may not work out so well. Similarly, shield and spear infantry expect to be able to move in formations. If the adventurers can sucker them into battle in a ruined city and keep moving as the battle goes, the infantry unit is going to break formation and lose at least some of their best techniques.

So what do soldiers have going for them? Well, maybe not as much on the battle field (unless they get to choose it), but if you’re role-playing, they do have some great advantages. It may seem odd to start here, but history (even recent history in Egypt) shows us examples of where the military staged a coup and then went on to run the government. Adventurers cannot get the support of the people in that fashion. If adventurers stage a coup, they become “warlords” and you should count on the people being “liberated” by some force within a generation. Now a generation can be pretty long if you’re the warlord, but historically, it just doesn’t work.

But it’s more than just coups. Soldiers (unless the government is unjust - and no, I do not yet think the US government has gotten there yet) have the support of the people. If a soldier were wounded in battle and bleeding to death, if they could do it safely, most citizens would drag him to safety and dress his wounds. They would probably loot a mercenary (adventurer). They would let a soldier sleep in front of their fire on a snowy night, and probably make him breakfast in the morning. There are countless ways that simply being seen as a “good guy” by the people is helpful. Maybe some adventurers can get this (I’m thinking paladins or Robin Hood characters), but for the most part, adventurers are on their own.

Let’s not forget the other side to soldiers. If they lose a battle but escape, they can call for reinforcements. In fact they can probably be replaced by reinforcements (fresh troops). I haven’t seen an adventuring band able to pull of that maneuver yet. It may sound like I’m giving adventurers a lot of advantages and making the solders out to be less effective on the battlefield. I am. If not, why hire mercenaries, other than you don’t want your own soldiers to die. Both have their part to play in your fantasy world, and drawing distinctions between them makes each of them seem far more important when it is their turn to take action.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Adventurers vs. Soldiers - Men of Steel or Wheat?

In Team Cap - and why it’s FRPG, I started talking about adventurers vs. soldiers. That’s a key theme both in the role-playing conversations between characters in my campaigns as well as between players outside of the games. So I wanted to get deeper into it!

One of the biggest problems I had with that original game was that adventurers got to be so much more powerful than everybody else, nearly right off the bat. By level 3 a fighter typically had four times the hit points of the common soldier and (I don’t know if this rule is still in those rules) could attack three times in a single round simply because they were common soldiers (level 0). Let me complain about that for a bit, but then I’ll tell you how it might be possible to justify it.

The urban legend when GENCON was still in Kenosha was that hit points were meant to be rolled at the start of every mission or every day. The idea was that you might be feeling poorly or you might have gotten a great night’s sleep and be ready to kick ass. I never used that rule, but I always kind of liked it. I do think that if you rolled poorly that morning, you should be able to get a cure disease spell or something of the sort and get to roll again, but that’s just me using role-playing and not trying to min-max every opportunity.

But it is HP that is the issue. You take a guy with 70HP and he gets cornered in an alley by four city guards. The city guards are packing heavy crossbows which they have aimed at the PC. What does the PC do? He charges them! He has nothing to worry about. He has 70HP and the best they can do is 2-5 x 4 = 20. He slaughters them. Now here was how I played that as a GM (after having that BS happen one too many times): If someone has the drop on you, they get to use the assassination rules. You charge straight into a line of guys planning to shoot you with crossbows, they each get to roll to assassinate you. Admittedly, they are unlikely to get the instant kill, but then they fall back on the “backstab” damage which was at least double. It’s still not enough to stop most guys with 70HP from charging, but even a 1% chance of instant death (multiplied by four guys) should make them think first.

So here’s how I would justify it if I were still playing that game: Think of the adventurers as Jason Bourne or Black Widow. They go flying into the pack, sliding here, dodging there, throwing fists and people around, etc. It is high fantasy, so let her rip. After all, HP is not supposed to represent the physical damage the body can take, but instead how they use their luck and abilities.

But then why is a character supposed to rest for weeks in order to get all of their HP back? Do their skills not show back up again once they catch their breath, or at least first thing tomorrow morning? Shameless plug here, but in Legend Quest, you have a certain amount of damage you can take physically based on your Endurance attribute (your “Life’s Blood”). As you take damage you bleed, fatiguing you and eventually sapping your Life’s Blood even if you do not take additional hits. But those skills and abilities you have are represented by your skill levels, and they are back every turn. So this turn, I can use my shield levels to block an incoming crossbow bolt, use my sword levels to parry a thrusting spear, but still use my Strength attribute to slash at the spearman. Or I can just take the bolt and hope my armor stops enough of it and focus my shield’s parrying against the spear so I can use strength and skills on my sword attack. What’s the difference? Well - You get to decide on strategy. It is better to not get hit than to simply assume you can take huge damage. You also get to use your skills over and over in the day, deciding how it will happen. Look, the HP thing is a simplification of combat, and that works for a lot of people. It just doesn’t work for me, and from our sales figures, it doesn’t work for a lot of people.

But we were talking about adventurers vs. soldiers, right? Yep. The question is: Should the difference between adventurers and soldiers be 70 to 8 or 36 to 30? If you have any respect for the warrior NPCs, I think it has to be 36 to 30.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Official Announcement: Legend Quest Omnibus

We are now confident enough in our release date that we are willing to make the official announcement:

Legend Quest Omnibus Edition will be released October 2016!

So what’s “omnibus edition”? We’ve taken the Legend Quest rule book, Book of Wishes, Optional Weaponry and all of the optional rules that were published in various supplements, city books, and quests and bundled them altogether into one massive book. But wait! There’s more!

We’ve also gone through and clarified rules that either we thought might be a bit vague or we’ve had questions on over the years. We’ve also had the original game designer John Josten go through the entire book and add his comments here and there. He’s been doing this the whole time, and he’s giving you the inside scoop on some of the best strategies for PCs and NPCs as well as how to make the game run smoothly. PLUS!! Optional Rules! Yes, for the first time ever, we’re publishing the optional rules to Legend Quest, previously only seen by the play testers and designers. This means the critical charts and the fumble charts (both combat and magical) will be there as well as all manner of other tweaks these folks have been adding into the game over the years. But they are clearly marked as optional rules, so you can take them or leave them - your choice.

Need more? Well, how many of you have the rules to The Forgotten Hunt? These are in there too - the rules for using Legend Quest in the modern day including firearms, explosives (yes, the blast radius rules), and vehicles. We did leave out the campaign stuff about the modern day dinosaurs, but the rules are in there.

Why now? 2016 is the 25th anniversary of Legend Quest. Yep! two and a half decades of “a real gem of a game, one of the best systems I’ve ever seen”. (That’s a quote from the Dragon Magazine review of the game back in 1992, don’t quote me on the date, but the quote is dead on!) So this is our silver anniversary, but we’re not calling it the silver edition, because we called the digital version the “gold edition” and that feels like going backwards. “Omnibus” is both better and actually descriptive, so be on the lookout for Legend Quest - Omnibus Edition!

Keep watching this blog for news, or go to the Legend Quest page on our website and follow the progress there.