Monday, October 24, 2016

Desert Shots

In this New York Times article about the desertification of Northern China, there are some great drone-camera videos of the landscape. The article is light reading and the imagery is top notch. Have a look.

Got it?

As the players have decided to undergo a journey of perhaps a hundred miles to return an old man to his hometown, I've taken a stab recently at the roughest, crudest possible first version of my own wilderness/travel damage system (as originally conceived by commenter Zzarchov, and implemented by Alexis here and elsewhere, and discussed here too.) Thus I find this kind of material inspiring. Traveling from place to place should not be a cakewalk for the characters. It should sap their energy and wear them down so that that every roadside inn, oasis, fellow traveler sharing food, or friendly forest creature is a boon.

So far my version is very simple. I'm just about ready to program basic clothing items into my economics system, so there will be a few different options for shirts, pants, types of shoes, and other things. The better protected you are, the more the base damage (which grows faster the more days you spend away from civilization) will be mitigated ... but spend too long in the wild, roughing it, traveling on backroads or in shitty weather, and the daily tick-tick-tick of a few damage here, a few damage there will catch up with even the hardiest character.

Luckily for my players there are a couple major towns along the way ... but they're only first level, and they're headed for areas with tropical and monsoon climates. I've lived in a monsoon area before and it was miserable enough without having to go trudging along dirt roads which are quickly turning to mud, knowing that you've probably no chance of finding a dry-ish place to camp tonight. In that scenario, any kind of shelter would be welcome. But, with some of your HP missing, you'd be in no shape to oust some bears or goblins to claim a cave ... unless you were really desperate.

Better to pay some cash at the inn, and go treasure hunting when the weather changes.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Cultures and Skills

As I go along I am starting to think that the knowledge skill system has more potential than the (admittedly massive) task of defining exactly what information the player character knows about the world, and exactly what capabilities the character has as choices for maneuvering and manipulating in the game world.

I think the knowledge skills could also serve to define the knowledgeability of a society. And this could, for starters, be based on the Intelligence (or other scores) of the society's inhabitants.

Human intelligence, assuming you use 3d6, is an average of 10.5, which we could treat as meaning the maximum number of knowledge points a human can accumulate in any one discipline is 105. In addition, I also note that we could round 10.5 down to ten so that human character scores can go up to 100, a nice round number. I've been treating 100 as the maximum number for my knowledge skills, so maybe I'm biased, but it's nice to have a maximum number is easily understandable by everyone while still having lots of room for fiddliness.

Of course there may be techniques beyond the human racial limit. And furthermore I suggest the limit be based on the average of human intelligence, and not be subject to decrease or increase based on individual character intelligence.

In this case, then I believe that technological and industrial knowledge, in the "Civilization" videogame sense, should definitely be included as types of knowledge ... or, from a different perspective, I believe that the character knowledge skills should fit into and draw from a wider cultural framework. Not just adventuring-type stuff, although some things can be just about that. I'm talking things like pottery, weaving, combined arms attacks, civics, bureaucracy: material, political, and cultural "technologies," i.e. types of knowledge.

This implies that the knowledge skills are accessible to NPCs, which I have already been doing. That's where the "sage skill" concept comes from, after all: the idea that some NPCs have expert knowledge. Knowledge skills as they work now are just granting that knowledge to the player characters, too.

Now let's look at a non-human society.

Suppose the book lists goblin intelligence as 6. Taking that 6 as an average (a die roll of 2d5), then we determine that goblin cultural practices (and the knowledge skills of individual goblins) can't go past 60 points (again, per-discipline.)

If we have skills for theology which actually reveals true facts about the fantasy game world, for the burial of the dead to prevent their rising or to have them go to heaven, for the rituals of marriage which actually bring a real mathematical effect into how characters are played --

-- then those skills in that category which goblins can't access are things which goblin culture has very little of. Only the most advanced goblins (who had actually achieved a 10 on 2d5 for their Intelligence) would even be capable of conceiving of, or exploiting, the social and ritual practices laid out in higher tiers of the religion skill. Thus goblins do not bury the dead "properly" except in one or two goblin towns which have hit on the practice, and thus zombies plague goblin settlements more often than they do human ones. Thus goblins have not grown to be as large a society as humans.

Likewise, goblin society may have not arrived at magical or scientific processes to reliably cure disease, make stirrups, have a political system more advanced than that of individual clans or chieftains, practice advanced alchemy or undeadcraft, and so on. Whatever stuff is located beyond 60 points in the knowledge trees.

The most elite of goblin intellectuals would be arriving at conclusions which are commonplace in human society, but the bulk of ordinary goblin society -- religion, politics, defense, military tradition, sexuality, etc. -- would be based on a max of 60 points in those subjects for the average goblin.

And yeah -- that does suggest there should be a knowledge skill for the social conception of sexuality. The low ends could be "low tolerance for abnormal or unusual sexualities and preferences", with appropriate mechanical constraints on character behavior. Pass a certain threshold and your character is considered tolerant of said features of other people.

Human characters could start with whatever level you wanted in this skill, whatever is appropriate, maybe based on their Intelligence score or Wisdom or Charisma or whatever you want. Setting a base level of points in this kind of social skill would be an interesting way to replace the background result Alexis (and I) use in our character background generators, in which characters of low to middling Int have a chance to be racially or religiously intolerant for the first few levels of their life.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Thief and the Cobbler

I watched plenty of animated movies as a kid, but only one has stuck with me for years and years: The Thief and the Cobbler. It wasn't a Disney movie, it wasn't any big-picture studio -- I always had the vague idea it was some small British outfit -- and it was totally surreal and artistic and unlike the other movies I was exposed to as a child.

Today, while talking with my friend Caroline who is heavily into animation, I learned that the version of the film released on video, as I saw it, was a cobbled-together, big-studio-driven money-recouping edit of a piece of handmade animation art that one guy worked on for years.

And as he has grown old, other animators have come together to realize, at least in part, the vision that he grew one frame at a time for more than 30 years, all by himself. This version, called the "recobbled" cut, can be viewed below, but note the following:

  • YouTube blocks some of the middle segments of the movie and you'll have to go to Vimeo to see them, or use a country-spoofing browser extension of some kind
  • for us the audio was about 15 seconds behind the video, so we opened two tabs and delayed the video in one, then muted it and ran audio from another copy of the video. Worked fine.

Go have a look, it's gorgeous. Completely gone are the songs they put in to make it a kiddie movie, and gone (as far as I saw) are the speaking portions for the main character. Try and remember as you watch that everything you see was hand-animated. Hand-drawn, one fraction of a second at a time.

And if you can't find twenty D&D-able ideas within this movie, you're not looking hard enough.

Final note: you can watch the documentary Persistence of Vision here. It is about Richard Williams and his quest to realize this film, his magnum opus. I have not watched it yet but I shall. And what a good title, too.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Chew on Some Undead

First off: this isn't an apology post. Here's something a bit substantial which I tackled lately: the rules for handling the creation of undead. They're not complete but the concepts are there.

Most of the work I've done on D&D in September is just adding miscellaneous rules the website -- and I've barely even been doing that for the last couple weeks. Things aren't hectic at school, and my free time hasn't decreased too badly, but what's happened is that my spare mental energy has gone down. And I've been running a game again for five or six weeks now, after not actively DMing for three years.

You can read the intro below.


Undeadcraft is the study of techniques used to create the undead. As deadly and utterly loyal servants, undead may seem to be simply the mage’s answer to the druid's golems. But the comparison goes deeper than just the creation of servants. Many aspects of undeadcraft are tied to phases of the moon and other lunar phenomena, making this study a kind of twisted counterpart to druidic magic.