Thursday, September 24, 2020

Rules And Regulations

I apologize (again): I have a half-written post on the subject of (Blood Bowl) players and rosters that I meant to get up two days ago, but I've been distracted by actual play. Quell surprise, right?

The boy and I have been play-testing and tinkering with the 2E rules for more "football like" play, what with kick-offs and snaps and downs, etc. He really likes them...they make the game more like actual gridiron football...but they aren't without problems. Most of which are related to time: it took us more than 90 minutes to play through a single kick-off and two downs yesterday!

[as a point of reference: when using the "official NAF rules" of 2E, there are 16 downs per half, 32 in a full game, not counting kick-offs. You can extrapolate the math from there...]

Here's the main problem: a "down" of play (using Rules As Written) does not constitute a single turn. Turns alternate between players until the ball is actually downed: the ball carrier is tackled, or runs out of bounds, or scores. And if the ball is fumbled (a possibility on any tackle), then it may be picked up, continuing the play until it is finally, mercifully downed.

At this point, we THINK we may have fixed the issue by simply making one exchange of turns a single down: wherever the ball ends up at the end of the defenses turn is the spot of the new line of scrimmage. It has a couple issues: one is doesn't take into account "big plays" (the receiver that catches the ball and streaks down the sideline for a 70+ yard TD), and it doesn't account for the occasional "extended" or "broken play" which occurs when the defense fails to get down the ball carrier in the backfield and a bunch of random chaos and mayhem ensues (c.f. Russell Wilson, especially in his early years).  

But I think there are fixes for both these issues, mainly boiling down to focusing on the play. Which brings me to the second, secondary problem: helping the rules of the game emulate the spirit of the (American football) game. Especially in 2E, there is so much less emphasis on scoring touchdowns compared to destroying (literally) the opponent: in fact, without attention to casualties and attrition the BB game (prior to the institution of turn limits) generally lasted a loooooong ass time, until the bodies started piling up on the sideline. The original game had no set "win" scenario: you and your opponent were supposed to simply agree on a number of scores that would settle the game. In my experience, the game always devolved into mindless carnage long before that.

The spirit of American football is to move the ball (if you are on the offense) and down the ball carrier (if you are the defense). The offense gets four tries to move the ball an arbitrary distance, and if they fail to do so, they have to give the ball over to the other side...although the defense is allowed to capitalize on an offensive mistake and "steal" the ball back. Tackling, knocking down, and injuring non-ball carriers (generally) results in penalties because that's not the point of the game; despite any similarities to skirmish warfare, in the end it's not about a big brawl. 

Of course, this doesn't mean I want to get away from the violence, the fouling, the casualties, etc. that make BB so much fun. Unlike the real NFL, I have no interest in "player safety;" quite the opposite, in fact! But the game still has to be played SOMEwhat like football. And that means cleaning up some of the messiness that exists due to lax regulations.

It's coming together, folks. As my rules and regs get ironed out, I'm compiling them in a document that should hopefully hopefully be made available in the very near future. 

And now for some fun: here's a video that shows a typical Blood Bowl play, featuring the real life Seattle Seahawks and my favorite quarterback of all time (though I wouldn't trade Wilson for him):

Orcs in the Kingdome

Happy Thursday, folks!

Monday, September 21, 2020

Gates And Fans

Pretty good day yesterday starting with the fact that there was blue, smoke-free sky for the first time in a week or so, thanks to the pouring rain of the prior 30 hours. Probably should have taken a photo, as it's gone today. At least we got in a good bike ride.

Football was good. A little disappointing to watch the dwarves (49ers) curb-stomp the halflings (Jets), despite the former missing half a dozen starters (Kittle, Sherman, Mostert, Bosa, Solomon Thomas, Dee Ford, Jimmy G) but they are hobbits, after all...I mean what was I expecting? If Durin's folk invaded the Shire the battle couldn't have been more lopsided. The J-E-T-S absolutely S-U-C-K.

Then there were the Seahawks. Oh, Seahawks. I've explained before why they're orks, but man O man did they play like orks. 14 year veteran pro-bowl tight ends butter-handing the dark elves a pick six to start the game. Blatant fouls on defenseless receivers (with a well-deserved ejection). Jumping off sides no less than FOUR TIMES...while playing AT HOME...with NO CROWD NOISE. How does that happen?! Orks. Plus giving up 400 yards through the air to ex-kroxigor Cam-freaking-Newton.

Yes, a win is a win is a win, and Russell Wilson is still spectacular, and it's downright ungracious to whine about a 2-0 start to the season when other teams would love to have our "problems."

Still, it's a fan's prerogative to complain, even when their team is doing well; it's all part of the entertainment package. And I've been a Seahawks fan since the family has had season tix since '77. When my parents divorced, they split the tickets (my mother eventually selling her set), and I've managed to go to at least a handful of games every season since...till now. 

[yes, even during the "dry" years of the 90s when I had to suffer through Kelly Stouffer and Dan Maguire and Stan Gelbaugh. Talk about orks. Oh, yeah...Rick Mirer, too. Oh the humanity!]

It's strange to watch games with empty stadiums and phantom crowd noise though, perhaps, no more stranger than anything else in this strangely awful, challenging year. But, of course, it leads my mind to yet another discussion of advanced Blood Bowl and another dive into the 2nd edition Blood Bowl Companion rules.

Modern Blood Bowlers (folks who started playing in the 90s or later) should be familiar with the term Fan Factor and its importance both to determining "gate" (i.e. attendance) for a match and - indirectly - its influence on the match itself. Each team has a fan factor score, purchased at the time of roster creation for 10,000 gold pieces per point. In 3rd edition, gate was calculated by rolling a number of dice equal to the team's FF and multiplying the result by 1000; in the 5th edition you simply roll 2d6 and add the FF to the result before multiplying by 1000. Regardless of the particular edition, having a greater number of fans in attendance than one's opponent results in bonuses to certain results on the kick-off table (generally leading to a bonus re-roll). Regardless of the particular edition, fan factor can only be increased or decreased based by actual results (as one might imagine, your fan factor has a chance to go up with a win and down with a loss).

Things are a little different in "old" Blood Bowl (i.e. 2nd Edition). For one thing, a team's FAME, representing its popularity based on performance, is different from a team's fan factor. For another thing, fan factor is broken down into three distinct categories describing a fan base's characteristics: chanting, hooliganism, and loyalty

Do I have to gush about how cool such distinctions are? Sure I do! While I understand that having a single FF score is easy, quick, and streamlined (which might be what you want...more power to you), for a richer campaign experience, adding this complexity gives you some depth. Again: consider the NFL, the professional sports league that BB is trying to model (and, yes, parody). Clearly, most fan bases are passionate about their teams, but that passion manifests in different ways. Some crowds are REALLY loud (*ahem*), some intimidate by throwing batteries and beer bottles, some bleed their team colors even after decades of living in a different city or exhibit a willingness to travel cross-country in order to cheer their tea. In 2E Blood Bowl, each of these aspects of fandom is given its own score (rated from 1 to 4) and affects different parts of the game: for example, loyalty is added to a D6 roll and the result cross-referenced on a table to see how many fans of the team show up at the gate. 

[winning three games in a row entitles a coach to increase one fan characteristic by one point; conversely losing three games in a row requires a coach to remove a characteristic point. Each fan characteristic has a maximum of 5 and a minimum of 1]

Gate in 2E (unlike later editions) has no effect on the appearance fee paid to a team; instead it provides a number called "fan factor" (unrelated to the later edition term) that is modified by the team's Fame and is used to influence crowd noise (along with chanting) and fan riots (along with hooliganism). While the results of the gate roll determines attendance in terms of an actual number (from 15-40 thousand fans), you might think that number is simply color, i.e. "fluff" of no importance next to the actual system modifying fan factor. Au contraire mon frere! In the 2E game, both pitch invasions AND riots can result in fan casualties...yes, the players fight back in old school Blood Bowl. And for every 50 fans killed in a game the team's fan factor goes down by a point (that's one way to quiet down a crowd).

Which I love (duh)...that was always part of the "lore" of old Blood Bowl: star players kept stats that included player casualties inflicted, referee casualties inflicted, and fan casualties inflicted. Record for referee casualties appears to have been held by Zug (31); record for spectator casualties is claimed by star mummy blitzer Ramtut III: 1,851,900. However, there is a note that his record is under official review.

Causes fan stampeding panic...and tomb rot.

Just about the only thing I DON'T love here is that 2E doesn't take into account home field advantage with regard to the gate (and, thus, with regard to fan factor influence). Yes, loyal fans travel, but the majority of spectators in any given stadium should be for the home team, (well, in years where there ARE spectators allowed). I don't think it's necessary to worry too much about alternate "stadium upgrade" rules like you find in later editions: most NFL team stadiums ended up being financed in some sort of unholy public/private "partnership" (i.e. the taxpayers get fleeced for the cost of the stadium), and that's really outside the purview of the coach: have a random roll based on a team's Fame, sponsorship, and bribes (yes, there's a heavy set of rules in the Companion specific to bribery). But hometown fans? Yeah, they should never be the minority in their own stadium, even in Arizona.

[there are rules, by the way, for fans to switch sides DURING the match...which is a good model of how NFL games go down in Arizona in real life]

[also there are rules for fans leaving the stadium, mid-game, in disgust...damn I love this book!]

I know, I know...I should start posting actual rules (or rule changes) rather than just write about them. I will, I promise...I've just been, well, busy lately ("Yeah, busy sitting on your ass watching football, JB..." *sigh*). Plus wouldn't you rather something written up all nice and organized? Maybe in a downloadable PDF?

I'll try to have something concrete in the next day or two. Really.

[all right...let's go check Monday Night Football]

Friday, September 18, 2020

Developing (Blood Bowl) Players

Let's dive right in, shall we?

Since the 3rd edition of Blood Bowl arrived on the scene in 1994, player development (that is the players on the pitch, i.e. the little dwarf and ogre teammates, etc. NOT the real people sitting opposite each other across the game board who are referred to as "coaches")...*AHEM* Since 1994 development of BB players has followed pretty much the same rules:
  • Coach purchases a ROOKIE player for a set cost, depending on species and position. Large monsters (ogres, minotaurs, etc.) are more expensive, as are skill positions (throwers, blitzers, etc.). Each player has a different stat line and skill set based on its species and position; the baseline position for all teams is the lineman, the in-the-trench grunt who gets beat up while the fancier guys skip around the field scoring touchdowns. 
  • Players earn STAR PLAYER POINTS (SPPs) for accomplishing notable actions in-game: completing passes, scoring touchdowns, intercepting balls, and inflicting casualties. As players reach certain break points, they advance from "rookie" to "experienced" to "veteran" to "star" status with each advance earning them a a stat bonus, a new skill, or (for chaos mutants) a new mutation...the specific advance is determined in part by random die roll.
  • Players eventually "max out" after six or seven advances (depending on edition). Some editions use different titles for "star" status ("developing star" versus "superstar" etc.) and different SPP values for advancement, but the basics remain the same: if your player survives and makes plays they advance and become a bigger and bigger star. In some supplemental rules (4E and 5E) this also results in the player costing the team more and more money ("appearance fees"); in ALL editions starting with 3E it results in an increase of TEAM VALUE which is how teams are measured against each other for handicapping purposes.
  • Conversely, players who accomplish nothing NEVER develop. That basic human lineman that has played and survived a dozen games is still a rookie, has no SPPs, and no skills. The player adds nothing to the team and is easily replaced with another rookie lineman (for the same cost and value) if some mummy or troll splatters his skull all over the field.
Twice owned
by yours truly

The concept of player skills was introduced in the Blood Bowl Star Players book in 1989 (for 2nd edition Blood Bowl) but the objective appears to have been an attempt to model the superstar players (like Griff Oberwald or Morg n'Throg) of the setting fluff (derived, or course, from the real world NFL). Unlike later editions of BB, position players in 2nd edition had NO SKILLS...newly hired thrower had no "Pass" skill, receivers had no "Catch" skill, nada. Instead, 2E Blood Bowl players have an expanded stat line that includes TS (throwing skill), CL ("cool"...catching ability), and SP ("sprint"), all of which varies from position to position. Compare for example, a 2E human blitzer to a 2E human thrower:

Blitzer: MA 4 SP +3 ST 4 AG 3 TS +0 CL +0 AV 9
Thrower: MA 4 SP +3 ST 3 AG 3 TS +1 CL +0 AV 8

Meanwhile, the same players in later editions read like this:

Blitzer: MA 7 ST 3 AG 3 AV 8, Skills: Block
Thrower: MA 6 ST 3 AG 3 AV 8, Skill: Pass, Sure Hands

The blitzer's high strength (used in determining block ability) has been knocked down from 2E, but the addition of the Block skill makes it a wash. Similarly, the removal of TS from the stat line makes the thrower less accurate when passing BUT the additional Pass skill provides an automatic reroll when failing a pass.

All well and good: different methods of accomplishing the same end. Now let's look at the basic lineman in each:

2E: MA 4 SP +2 ST 3 AG 3 TS +0 CL +0 AV 9
3E: MA 6 ST 3 AG 3 AV 8, Skills: None

The 3E lineman is actually a little faster (since he can sprint an extra 1 to 2 spaces in addition to his regular Movement Allowance), but is a little easier to injure (roll over Armor Value)...however, since you don't have Big Guys dropping a +2 (or higher!) Mighty Blow skill on you, the latter's not as big a penalty as you might think. 

But here's the difference: the BBSP doesn't offer any rules for development of a character. At all. The player is either a star or he's not; he either has skills or he's "just a guy." Forever and ever, Amen.

A "star" in 2E has from one to seven skills and/or stat advances, the exact number determined randomly. Regardless of whether you are a one skill star or a seven skiller (like the aforementioned Griff Oberwald), you're a "star." And a team is limited to having a maximum of eight star players, unlike later Blood Bowl which has the potential to develop every member of the roster. 

[and given the gradual nerfing of death rules through the editions, possessing a team with a dozen or more "stars" isn't terribly unlikely over the long haul, even getting really draconian with appearance fees and retirement rules...something I suspect most Blood Bowl leagues don't last long enough to really implement]

But just because there's a limit to the number of skilled "stars" in 2nd edition doesn't mean half your team is composed of "rookies." Au contraire, a rookie is a specific type of player in 2E (more on that's in a moment)...most non-star players are either "experienced" or "veteran," neither of which means what it means in 3rd+ editions (i.e. the stepping stone to "star player" status). 

Hit pause for a moment: consider the National Football League. All the players are top athletes: the best of the best of best players. But how many are bonafide stars? Not every QB is Russell Wilson or Patty Mahomes or (*sigh*) Ben Roethlisberger. Not every receiver is Julio Jones; not every running back is Barry Sanders (for you young 'uns, he was pretty good). Amongst stars, yes, there is a pecking order: not all stars are equal, even at the same position. But there are also a lot, a LOT of "just guys" in the NFL, at every position. Ryan Fitzpatricks and Robert Woods. Not every tight end in the NFL has the potential to be a Rob Gronkowski...sometimes you just end up with Tyler Higbee, you know?

In 5E BB, a Journeyman player is "some guy off the street" willing to play for nothing, with no skill and no potential. 2E has a different term for these roster fillers: Makeweights (and they are aptly named). 5E's use of the term "journeyman" is, frankly, an insult to journeyman players in professional sports who are top athletes with little star potential but skill enough and discipline enough to have lasting professional (if not extraordinary) careers. Such players are well-modeled by the development rules found in the 2nd edition Companion book

Players hired when building a team in 2E are assumed to be "experienced" unless you pay extra to hire a "star" (in which case you build the character randomly using the rules in BBSP). Rather than earn SPPs, players earn experience points (EPs) which can be turned into training points (TPs) between matches, so long as the team isn't playing exhibitions or actively seeking sponsors (both of which activities are used to drum up extra funds for the organization). EPs are earned for doing the flashy things one earns SPPs for in the later editions, but also for simply surviving a match and handling the football (1 EP is earned for each, assuming playtime). TPs can be used to turn an experienced player into a veteran, or teach a skill position to a lineman (converting the lineman to a thrower or catcher, for example), or to learn or practice "special tactics" that will gain the team bonus re-rolls in their next match. 

Veteran players are savvy SOBs who receive one individual team reroll every game.

Rookies in 2nd edition are a different beast: these are those fresh faced kids being drafted out of college that have the potential to become stars...but might not. Available rookies are determined randomly by the league coaches, dicing for species, position, and star potential. Rookies are bid on by coaches (unlike an actual NFL draft) and then added to the roster as one of the team's starting sixteen (First Team) or on the practice squad (Bench Warmers). However, a coach doesn't know if the rookie is going to develop into a star or not unless the kid gets some playing time and training.

Here's how it works: a rookie's star potential is determined by rolling a D6. Once the rookie has 5 training points (only possible after earning 5 experience points...see above), the coach can convert the rookie into an experienced player. The coach then rolls 2D6...if the roll is equal to or less than the rookie's star potential number, the player becomes a star with additional (star) skills being determined randomly and added to its profile. If the 2D6 roll is over the player's star potential, then the player simply becomes "experienced" (and may become a veteran later)...but will never become a star. Sorry, Charlie: sometimes you end up with Aaron Rodgers, and sometimes you just get Colt McCoy.

And I have to say: I like this a lot better than latter edition Blood Bowl. Not only is it EASIER than trying to track a whole roster of players with myriad potential skills and customizable content, but it better models the reality of football: most players are "just guys" at their position, while others exhibit spectacular advances over their peers. This might be better speed, greater strength, pinpoint accuracy, soft hands, or MULTIPLE talents...but you never know. How many number one draft choices have the Seahawks taken in the last decade that have been "busts?" Most, if not all. And yet, sometimes you "hit" on a late round pick (Russell Wilson in the 3rd round, Richard Sherman in the 5th, etc.). Do you draft for position of need? Or position of potential? I find that particular aspect of the NFL draft fascinating, and would LOVE to have it in Blood Bowl. You can get it with these rules.

That being said, the 2E development rules aren't perfect: certainly it can takes years to develop a star NFL player to their fullest potential...five or more when you're talking real world quarterbacks. I don't think it's quite right that a rookie develop ALL their new skills in one shot...probably a gradual system is needed using the TPs to "buy" upgraded abilities once a coach has discovered the rookie is a bonafide star. There might also be a way to model "careful" training, or learning behind a veteran starter to increase a rookie's star potential (like Rodgers learning behind Favre or Steve Young learning behind Joe Montana). Lots of possibilities here.

Even so, it's pretty exciting stuff. To me, at least.
; )

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Advanced Blood Bowl

And now for a bit of much needed levity.

It long ago ceased to amaze me the dramatic impact sports can have on individuals and communities. A dramatic win can boost positive vibes in a city for days; a crushing defeat can likewise deflate morale and cast a pall over...well, everything. It took me damn near a year to get over the Seahawks defeat in Super Bowl XL...though that was due as much to the manner in which they lost as the loss itself. These days, my lows don't get nearly that low (have to set some type of example for the kids)...although I do still allow myself the luxury of basking in joyous throat-stomping victories.

Being able to watch the NFL on Sunday was a great balm to the whole family, not just because our team won, but because we could watch other games and pick sides and cheer and stomp and run around like crazy people having fun, eating breakfast food all day and hanging out in our pajamas. Even my six-year old (whose attention span for televised sporting events wanes around the 90 minute mark...on a good day), had a blast, throwing the Nerf football with her brother and dressing up stuffed toys in game day apparel. It all provides a nice break from the dystopian present; bread and circuses, perhaps, but I for one was happy to switch the channel from the CNN for a day.

But enough prattle! What's with the title of this post, JB? What the heck is "Advanced Blood Bowl?!"

Let me, once again, take you on a journey in the Way Back Machine of JB's personal history and nostalgia. The year is circa 1990. D&D is still owned by TSR but the brand has become crap and I haven't played the thing in YEARS. I am in high school, and I've got lots of other stuff on my brain. 

Maybe? Ugh...memories of 30 years ago get so mixed up. Maybe it was 1991. My father left the family in the Spring of that year, and I don't remember him ever seeing my Blood Bowl stuff. My first BB game was purchased at Games & Gizmos in the University District with my own money as an "impulse buy." I carried the box home (in a big paper bag) on the bus. But I stopped taking that bus that same Spring because I commenced from high school, and started bussing through downtown to get to college...and I definitely wasn't making side-trips through the U-District in the summer of '91 (too busy with work Maybe I got it right before the end of high school.

[actually, I now recall that in both the Fall of '91 and the Spring of '92 I was performing in theater productions of See How They Run and Guys and Dolls at my old high school and probably was taking the bus through the U-District on my commute home. So, yeah, probably circa November 1991]

ANYway...sometime around then I picked up a copy of the 2nd Edition Blood Bowl game, a big box set that I retain to this day. It was the first game with miniatures I'd ever purchased; I wasn't much into minis back then (I'd played RPGs for a decade or more without ever using a single mini), and I'd grown out of toys and "action figures" around age 10 or 11 and had zero interest in painting my own (mainly because I had zero confidence in my ability to paint). But the juxtaposition of fantasy warfare and American football is a powerful aphrodisiac, and I had the money in my pocket, so why not? I'd already become used to picking up new games from G&G, having amassed quite a collection of Rifts and Vampire books since their arrival in 1990.

Still, I doubt that would have been enough to make the buy (I'd been seeing the box on the shelf for years) if it hadn't been for a new, hardcover supplement that I purchased at the same time: Blood Bowl Star Players. Not only was BBSP a book I could thumb through (rather than a dubiously painted box of mysterious contents), it included rules for creating all sorts of different teams: halflings, elves, undead, and - my favorite Games Workshop property - chaos mutants. It also provided various skills for players, showing BB wasn't a simple board game but had aspects of role-paying and promised long-term campaign play...although the latter wouldn't be expanded upon until the publication of another book: the Blood Bowl Companion.

Unfortunately, the Blood Bowl Companion was a book that I would never see in print until last year.

Despite that, I've never been disappointed with my acquisition of Blood Bowl: it led to a love and enjoyment of the game, and other miniature-based gaming (Warhammer 40,000, specifically), and my painting did manage to improve over the years. And I have purchased every published edition of BB since (mainly for the new minis included with every box), and found the rule updates to generally be "for the best," i.e. they've resulted in streamlined, faster play, and (in some ways) brought the rules more in spirit with the fluff of the game...specifically, emphasizing the scoring of touchdowns within a time limit. How well I remember the long, blocking battles of attrition that would occupy the 2E game for hours.

However, as I've written before, there are plenty of aspects of the Blood Bowl game that disappoint. The game doesn't really play like American football: there are no downs, for example, no resets after change of possession, no point variations (touchdowns vs. field goals vs. safeties), no punting. The game often feels a bit more like rugby (albeit with forward passing)...though I won't pretend I know more than the barest minimum of that sport. Of course, there's also the lack of movement of fantasy races between teams, which doesn't echo the state of free agency in professional football (though perhaps that only appeals to NFL fanatics like myself). And point-based tournaments and play-offs are definitely more reminiscent of soccer tables than American football's conferences, divisions, wild card races, and single elimination championship.

Considered mythical
till 2019.

Now, as I said, I finally found a copy of the Blood Bowl Companion last year, used, at my local game shop, and I purchased the thing having long suspected its existence to be mythical: I figured that, like certain other Companion books, it had just never materialized before the publication of 3rd edition game and its Death Zone supplement. But I did so only for the sake of curiosity: I had (sometime in the past 30 years) sold or lost my copy of Blood Bowl Star Players, which one needs to make use of the Companion. As such it simply sat on my shelf gathering dust until a couple weeks ago, when I was able to (again) pick up a used copy of BBSP from my local game shop, thinking now I could read them together. Instead, they both ended up on the shelf (together) gathering dust.

Until Monday. That's when I started actually reading them.


Reading the Blood Bowl Companion is a bit like reading all those OD&D supplement books copies of The Strategic Review and seeing how Gygax got from OD&D to AD&D. It is chock-full of rules, extremely crunchy rules, all for the love of adding a deeper, richer experience. And a much more FOOTBALL experience: here are rules for quarters and halves, downs and possession changes, free agency and rookie drafting and player development. Here are rules for kick-offs and field goals, punting and kick returns. Here are rules for hooligans and cheering and fan loyalty, for salaries and player disenchantment, for using referees in play, as well as secret weapons, dirty tricks, and magic items. Here are rules for managing the economy (cash money) of the game, giving you all the powers of a GM (general manager) without resorting to the simple randomness of drawing cards. Here are rules for mixing species on your teams, explaining why an orc might end up on a dwarf team, for example.

Here are rules for turning your Blood Bowl game into an Advanced campaign

It's pretty awesome. Like, really awesome. While I can see how the 3rd edition helped create a faster, more streamlined game, readily accessible to any buyer off the street, the info in the Blood Bowl Companion (along with the Blood Bowl Star Players book) corrects issues with the 2E game while providing the basis for a rich, detailed campaign of fantasy football. 

I know that's not everyone's cup of tea: in fact, considering how little interest there is in Blood Bowl in general (compared to GW's Warhammer lines), I can see how the intersection of American football style gaming, league management, and snarky fantasy violence has an extremely limited appeal in the marketplace. EXTREMELY limited...probably didn't emphasize that enough.

But it appeals to me. And just skimming through the rules with my kids, it appeals to them, boy is completely down with running an "old school" Blood Bowl league.

And anyway, it's football season. I'm inclined to give it a whirl anyway. Expect a few more posts on the subject over the next few weeks. 

: )

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Dystopian Present

Well, this must be what it would be like to live on Venus. Yellow clouds of poisonous air obscuring the view from my windows, and being unable to step outside my habitat without a spacesuit.

Yesterday evening, I was very angry...very, very angry. Angry about the state of things in my country, in my world. Angry about how they got this way, angry about the ignorant, selfish people that have caused so much of this, angry even at my own culpability for not doing more, for not actively working against the ignorance and selfishness.

I proceeded to stay up late and drink heavily and did NOT write the rant I meticulously plotted in my head, most all of which was aimed and belittling and insulting people. Not very constructive that.

Anger isn't just a coping mechanism (we tend to get angry to feel like we are in control, to stave off our fear of helplessness) is a tool, given to us by our Creator. Used properly, it helps us to transform ourselves, bringing focus to our will, spurring us to do the hard work that ends up being needed when we have procrastinated in doing what should have been done all along.

And it's only by changing ourselves for the better that we can change our world for the better.

Not that most of us are willing to do that. Heck, many of us lack the capability for it (as with all skills, it's something that requires practice, and atrophies from disuse). But as I look outside my window this morning, I force myself to repeat a mantra in my mind:

Things can always get worse. Things can always get worse. Things can always get worse.

There is nothing more true or more sure in this world. Suffering will continue to increase the longer we allow suffering to continue. Because of ignorance. Because of selfishness. Because of our lack of love.

Sorry if that's a downer. 

By the way: Happy birthday, AB. Hope you're doing well, wherever you are, my brother.

Friday, September 11, 2020


 September, huh? Guess it's time to throw some content up on Ye Old Blog.

While gaming in the time of Covid must certainly suck (I wouldn't know, since I have zero opportunity to game), school in the time of Covid sucks worse. Does it suck as much as this new Blogger interface that I am finding it tricky to decipher at the moment (WTF Blogger)? Yes, more...because it affects the entire household, not just the education and developmental years of our children's lives.


So, yeah, school started up for the kids last week, and I've been dealing with that since the end of August. Oh, and a few other things. But fortunately the fam had a chance to get away for a mini family vacation in the mountains (far away from Covid country) and THAT as much as anything is still keeping my batteries charged up the last couple weeks. Oh, and the return of sports on the TV.  Everyone's happy when the Storm or the Sounders can take someone apart (as has become my custom the last few years, I have ignored the Mariners since they fell under .500 and will continue to do so until they can put together a respectable season), and hey football season started! I wear Seahawks merch all year round, but at least now I won't look like such a tool (or, rather, I'll have company with the rest of Seattle).

Mmm. None of that is really "content." Apologies.

Just because I haven't been blogging doesn't mean I haven't been reading (and listening to podcasts) from other folks. Thanks to all of you who have continued to entertain helps keep me sane.

On my own front, well, as said, we've been pretty darn busy the last couple weeks

[ugh...just as an aside, I'm listening to my child's remote learning class in the next room. Is there anything more obnoxious than a 4th grade teacher that claims to love fantasy and cites Harry Potter as her favorite book series? Well, yes, there is...a 4th grade teacher who also touts her Nintendo Switch as her favorite game/toy. Gosh, I am a crusty old man...]

...but before things started heating up, the kids really REALLY wanted to play a superhero RPG. And not just any RPG but, specifically, Heroes Unlimited. Because, as everyone knows, Palladium has the greatest design for an RPG ever. I mean EV...ER😉

Actually, here's the deal: an inventory list that includes Real World equipment, especially FIREARMS with ILLUSTRATIONS is pure nectar of the gods to my children, especially the boy. The random character creation which allows one to create a Soviet agent with enough money to buy a Yugoslavian assault rifle (wow, dated) is more adolescent geekery than I can stand, but for my kids, it is FAN-fricking-tastic. Heck, what they wanted to start with was Ninjas & Superspies, but got overwhelmed with the extensive martial arts lists, and decided they'd prefer to make mutants and robot pilots and whatnot.

[no, my kids haven't gotten to that stage where they argue about which culture's kung fu is better. Maybe some day they'll get into the Hong Kong action theater, but right now Lego Ninjago is about the extent of their cinematic martial arts experience]

Anyway, I just decided to "roll with it;" that is, I figured I'd just run the game By The Book, rather than complain about the thing. But, as has happened before, things fell apart in the usual places: character creation and adventure creation. I know, right?

It's actually the latter issue that I wanted to write about. Character creation, despite being convoluted, is still relatively straightforward. And depending on the character type you rolled (or chose) it might even be fast, other than the skill selection process which is O So Awful (sorry, Kevin is). For a guy who's owned, read, and played the game over three decades...well, it's still a laborious process (depending on the type of character being created), but it's doable. For newbies (like my kids) there's a lot of hand-holding required...unless you want to circumvent it with your own rules (which I did).

Adventure creation...or rather campaign another matter, though related. Basically, the problem is this: you can't prep anything until after you've got the characters created and the team established. Which may be a big "duh" from long time GMs of the supers genre but was a bit of an "ah ha" moment for Yours Truly.

See, I'll let you in on a not-so-secret secret of mine. I'm not a fan of "Session Zero;" quite the opposite, in fact. When I sit down to play a game, I want to play the game, not "prep" for the next game session. That is a big fat waste of my time. It's what makes D&D such a great go-to game: there's plenty of time to create dungeons, scenarios, adventures, etc. in one's free time (or read and familiarize yourself with a pre-written module), and then when come to the table you simply pull out something that matches the characters' general level. Even for campaign play, you can have multiple established adventures or scenarios ready to point a party towards...or let them choose amongst...based on their comfort level with various risk/reward factors ('No, we don't feel like tackling the Necropolis of the Dead, seeing as how the party cleric got eaten in our last session.'). Hell, even if the party takes a left turn from where you expected an adventure to go, it's fairly easy to come up with something "on the fly" just using random tables.

But that doesn't fly with the supers genre. Unless you're playing a pre-written scenario that includes pre-generated PCs (for example, any of the old TSR adventure modules for Marvel) there's no way to come prepared to the session until AFTER the characters have been created. Starting a basic D&D game? You show up with adventures suitable for 1st level characters (and then let the players put them together in 5-10 minutes). But with supers characters the range of divergent power levels is so wide that you can't do that. You can't prep for a street level Daredevil style game when players are creating Thor-level characters...and vice versa. 

Likewise, there's no way for a GM to set-up a campaign until AFTER you see what the characters are you're dealing with. Diego's robot pilot ("Red One") is a Soviet special forces soldier driving a prototype power vehicle with the explicit sanction and blessing of the military institution that developed it. Sofia's  tech-savvy inventor is British secret service. While this in itself can be an interesting dilemma to resolve, given an 80's Cold War setting, how the heck am I supposed to have an adventure prepped for that prior to play? Or, rather, how do I prep for the possibility that these are the characters that will be generated at the beginning of the game session?

Oh, yes, yes...I understand that one could say at the outset: "Hey, everyone: your team of superheroes is a special task force put together by the American government to deal with alien invaders" (for instance) "so make sure you create a superhero to match." But, again, what if someone rolls up the equivalent of a masked vigilante while another gets the equivalent of Superman? Point buy? Okay, that's just conceding (again) that the entire first session is going to be spent in character creation as people hammer out concepts and figure where and how to spend points in order to build some sort of coherent, consistent team.

And if you're going to do that, you might as well let the players use their own imagination (rather than set parameters) and prep your adventure based on what they come up with.

This is, in the end, my point: you need a Session Zero (i.e. a game session where no part of the regular game "play" happens) if you're going to run a campaign of any longterm value in the supers genre. You need to establish origins and relationships and how characters complement (or don't) each other and what the power level is going to be. Regardless of the planned scenario (or "story arc") for the campaign.

At least if you plan on running a game that allows for a wide range of different super characters with disparate power levels, i.e. something that emulates the superhero genre. Because in the genre, you DO have characters with divergent power levels: Thor and Iron Man with Hawkeye and Black Widow. Superman and Wonder Woman with Batman and Black Canary. Dr. Manhattan and Rorschach. Green Lantern and Green Arrow. Etc.

And I hate Session Zero. I just do. And I kind of hate pre-generated characters (at least, for this genre of game) because I do NOT want a game to be about how well the players can role-play a particular established piece of intellectual property. Don't give me your Tony Stark impression, pal.

Hmm...that's a lot of hate (probably grumpy due to, you know, everything going on in the world. Lot of smoke outside my window at the moment). But it explains why I've always had difficulty getting superhero campaigns off the ground, despite personally enjoying the idea of running such a game. And it explains why (for me) D&D is soooo much easier to run. 

My next post should be on that particular topic.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Sold Out -- Again

Apologies for the spotty posting lately. Pretty busy with something at the moment.

However, just wanted to say my last print run of The Complete B/X Adventurer is totally sold out. Not sure when I'll be able to get another order; however, the PDF is still available at DriveThruRPG. Some on-line retailers may still have print copies...interested folks can check with Noble Knight or Wayne's Books.

Sorry about that, folks. Thanks to all my wonderful customers who've given me their business!

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

"New" Stuff

"New" being pretty much a relative term.

My world building has taken a small backseat to a couple-three other projects the last week or so. Part of this is normal delay and procrastination, of course: the work is hard, with very little immediate reward, and so it gets put aside in favor of the latest hotness. I am used to my proclivity for this type of distraction, and it bothers me less these days (i.e. I don't feel as guilty about it as I did in the past), knowing that I'm in for the "long haul" and shall be returning to it soon enough.

However: publications! As I mentioned, oh, sometime last year (or two years ago...time is slippery recently) I have a couple books that want publishing and the sole thing they're waiting on is the artwork. My artists have (understandably) been preoccupied in recent months (as have we all), but I have been in contact with both in the last week, and received a number of "final" illustrations.

Which is exciting and amazing and makes me want to do stuff with those (B/X based) books.

Thus, the last few days have been spent repurposing a certain classic adventure (hint: the title begins with the word "Keep" and ends with the word "Lands") with the idea of doing a little play-testing. The fam and I are heading out on a mini-vacation tomorrow (we'll be up in the mountains...far away from the densely populated plague lands), and I'm hoping to have some D&Dish fun with them. Depending on how it goes, I might write up the notes in some useable form, to be released with the book (when it's finally finally ready). We shall see.  Here's hoping.

Oh, yeah...and I have an idea for a "new" project (again, very loosely defined). It is (duh) rather masochistic of me to work on yet another book when I already have 2+ in the hopper with no publication date in sight, but what's a guy gonna' do? Just sit on my hands and bitch&moan? One of these days, perhaps, I'll have an idea for an actual non-gaming product (like a novel or screenplay or something), and I'll bang the thing out and sell it on Amazon. But that's not today. The concept needs a little tinkering and a lot of polishing, but...well, it IS interesting. If I find the thing has legs, I'll write more about it.

All right...that's all the updates I have time for at the moment.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Elves in Red Earth

Still lots and lots to talk (and rant) about these days, and I haven't yet gotten to around to the subject of elves in my Red Earth campaign; I just can't seem to help but get sidetracked.

Let's go ahead and get to it.

The original draft for this post spends the first thousand words quoting all the information found in the OD&D books as a foundation; but I've since decided NOT to go down that road. Here are the basic takeaways of note (with regard to OD&D elves):

  • They are never noted as having an exceptionally long life span; there is no mention of longevity at all in any of the books (nor are there special notes regarding elves under the entries for the potion of longevity or the staff of withering as there are in later editions, like B/X).
  • With regard to appearance, there are no notes stating elves have pointed ears or that they are beardless (contrariwise, the illustration labeled "ELF" on page 32 shows an individual with a longer beard than the "DWARF" on page 8). Per Greyhawk, elf skin color ranges from "tan to fair" with "wood elves being the darkest." Height is given as "five or more" leaving open the possibility of rather tall individuals.
  • The original books state that "elves are of two general sorts, those who make their homes in woodlands and those who seek the remote meadowlands." No distinction is made between these two types. In the Greyhawk description of the elf class, four types of elves are listed: wood, high elves, meadow elves, and fairies...this last being a term found in the Chainmail fantasy supplement where it was used interchangeably with "elf," much as was done with dwarves/gnomes, goblins/kobolds, and pixies/sprites. The 1E Monster Manual will "clarify" this by stating "faerie" is the term for Grey Elves, even as it removes the term "meadow elves" from the game lexicon. Aquatic elves are added (along with a host of other underwater variant monsters) in the Blackmoor supplement.
  • Elves are "not naturally adapted to horseback." While they have the split-move-and-fire ability found in Chainmail (and originally used to model the speed of horse-born archers like Huns, Mongols, etc.), it only applies to elves on foot.
  • In the wilderness encounter tables, elves are on the GIANT TYPES sub-list (along with dwarves, gnomes, and treants). It would appear that the "giant class" of monsters (i.e. the enemies against whom rangers receive a special damage bonus) was meant to apply to ANY type of nonhuman humanoid. 

It is highly interesting to me that elves, as originally presented in Chainmail, were NEUTRAL in alignment (albeit with "a slight pre-disposition for LAW"). By OD&D, of course, they appear on both the Law and Neutrality lists, but this explains why elven clerics (only available as NPCs) are limited to 6th level of experience...per OD&D no cleric may progress above 6th level unless aligned with either Law or Chaos.

So it is with MY elves: these are not the goody-goodies found in Tolkien, but something far more aloof from humanity. An ancient race, not in terms of longevity, but in terms of culture...these elves have been around for a looong time, and have already passed the apex of their civilization. Not demihumans but protohumans...another species of humanity (like neanderthals or denisovans) destined to one day be extinct or subsumed into what we know as the modern human race.

The main inspiration for my elves are Moorcock's Melnibonean fantasy race (Elric and all his kin). I've written before about the general similarities between the Elric books and D&D, and the specific similarities between Melniboneans and the D&D elf. For my campaign world, I am embracing these parallels, although they are not an island or sea-going people (I already have my Numenorean/Valyrian sea king-types in the descendants of Atlantean refugees...and they are all "normal" humans). Instead, elves are a coastal-mountain folk living in the Chilean region of the Andes...though I admit to being tempted to move them farther north.

Another inspiration for my campaign setting is the artwork of Bob Pepper, and specifically his illustrations for the old Milton-Bradley card game, Dragonmaster. Each of the "suits" found in the game provide visual clues and inspiration for distinct factions of my campaign setting. Considering the Moorcock influence, it should come as no surprise that the DragonLords are the model for my elves, although they are not literally "dragon lords" in the Melnibonean sense.

Still, they are an ancient culture with access to metallurgy and sorcery that is hard to find (or equal) in the young human kingdoms. Though they ceased their wars of conquest centuries before the coming of the Sea Lords to the temperate eastern plains, the elves maintain enough might to remain independent from the ever-expanding Red Empire of the north, and most human communities continue to hold them in superstitious awe.

[the Sea Lords being a notable exception]

For once upon a time, the elves were conquerors, and the early humans of the continent little more than primitive, nomadic tribes and a ready slave population. These slaves would eventually throw off the yoke of servitude, using lessons learned from their decadent masters to forge their own kingdoms in the lowlands (thus was the Red Empire born), but the animosity and dread of their former oppressors remain.

Nor is this their only legacy, for in elder days the elves experimented with dark magics and sorceries best left unknown. The result: fell beasts and twisted monsters, demonic enchantments and dangerous pockets of enchantment that continue to plague and bedevil those who stumble upon them. It is said that dragons were created by elvish magic, but most sages consider the possibility unlikely in the extreme. However, it is a certainty that both the orc and gnoll species were products of the elves' attempts to create pliant slave races that would not rebel as their human servants did. Unfortunately (for everyone), this was a disastrous failure.

In these latter days, the elves are very much a diminished people, but they still retain secrets and powers unknown to the younger human race. It is unlikely that they will ever return to their former splendor, but the occasional elvish adventurer has been known to come down from the mountains, searching for treasure and glory among humans of like mind.

These are the elves of Red Earth. They are otherwise as found in the OD&D books.
: )

Friday, August 7, 2020

Elegant Design

I don't write a lot of posts about "the biz" of publishing books, but this is a little strange...there seems to be a slight resurgence in interest in my books.

The B/X Companion for sure: just checked the PDF sales report on DriveThruRPG, and it's on pace to have its best year since 2013. Just to put that in perspective: my Companion was only made available as a PDF in 2012, and the total sales for the first two years exceeds all sales combined from 2014-2019.  

[which is still peanuts, of course (total sales over the life of the product is a bit north of 1000), but considering my lack of business skills and marketing savvy...not to mention the niche market to which my product belongs...I'll take pride in my home-baked slice of the pie]

If I had to guess about a reason for the recent sales spike, I'd probably give credit to the expanding popularity of the recent Old School Essentials (B/X) retro-clone. Back in "The Time Before Covid" I had a chance to take a look at Ye Local Gamestore and it was a pretty nice set of books. Didn't purchase it myself (money's a little tight for picking up products I already own in their original form), but I've heard plenty of praise for the thing, both in-person (from actual people) and on-line (from virtual people). 

ANYway, that's the only reason I can think of...I don't see any reviews or internet mentions of the Companion more recently than 2012 or so. Regardless, my thanks to all the people doing the purchasing...considering the many pirate PDFs of my book floating around the internet these days, I appreciate the money some folks are actually willing to put in my pocket.

Now the stranger part: while OSE offers some explanation for my B/X Companion, I don't know what could account for the renewed interest in Five Ancient Kingdoms, which is also on pace to have its best sales since 2013 (the first year it was published). 

Are people actually playing 5AK?

Allow me to be a skosh amazed at the idea. I mean, I'm not playing the game at the moment, though maybe I should be. I spent much of yesterday reading through the PDFs (for the first time in years) and, man, there is some good stuff in there. Elegant design, if I do say so myself (and I do).  Yeah, yeah...patting myself on the back again. But I like how I solved a lot of particular design issues I had with D&D, adding interesting nuance while still keeping the system streamlined and abstract.

Why did I abandon this line of gaming? 

Now THAT is a good question. I definitely remember feeling a bit pingeon-holed by the setting...even thought the books themselves offer ways to modify the system for other settings. But mostly, I think, that I felt the game lacked appeal...I could never get more than 2 or 3 players together that were willing to give it a go, back during the play-testing stage. Compare that with the offer of most any edition of D&D and you get half a dozen hands (or more) go up in the air, crying to join the table.

*sigh* I'm such a slave to what is trendy.

But no, it's more than that, I think. I worked hard on the probabilities and dice outcomes for 5AK, and they work well, but they're not as intuitive to grasp as a more granular, incremental system based on a D20 or percentile dice. Or perhaps it's just me...I am too used to these simpler granular systems, having been steeped in them for decades. Rolling 2d6 and tossing out "zeroes" just seems too "weird" from my perspective. I need some sort of damn chart/matrix to reference or I feel naked out there!

*sigh again*

As I continue to work on my own world and tinker the rules to better match the parameters of my design needs I read through these books...the three volumes of 5AK...and I keep coming across things that make me wonder "is there a way to add this to D&D?" A way to somehow incorporate these ideas into the standard D&D design without upsetting the entire apple cart? Sadly, I'm not sure there is. Systems in 5AK are built to inter-lock with each other. D&D is a hodge-podge of mechanics created on a "need" or "cool idea" basis (and often as patches when "cool ideas" ended up creating other "needs"). Functional as D&D is, fun as D&D is, its very nature precludes the addition of elegant mechanics.

Doesn't it?

Mentzer's BECMI tried to file off a lot of the "rough edges" and the game suffered for it (in my opinion). Same with 3rd edition...and 3.5 and 4th and 5th. The more well-oiled the machine becomes, the less room there is for imagination. 5AK works because it is, in the main, small scale and firmly based in its fairy tale genre. But D&D's heritage is founded in a wilder and woolier period of imaginings. 

What was it I was listening to the other day? Oh, yeah: Mother Love Bone. Andrew Wood is one of the greatest singer/songwriters that...unless you're really deep into musical've probably never heard or heard of. Unless you're, like, my age (mid-late 40s) and grew up in Seattle and liked rock music instead of pop and rap. Because Wood died right on the verge of becoming famous, and his bandmates ended up becoming Pearl Jam instead. And Vedder's a great singer and frontman, don't get me wrong, but Wood was a special talent. His music mixed the sacred with the profane, at time profound at times adolescent, all combined with sincerity and humor and beautiful singing ability, emphasizing love in all its expressions (for God, for children, for sex, for the world). I found my old CD in a mislabeled box and ended up listening to it 3 or 4 times through, just feeling...sad.

Because even if I played their CD for, say, my children or some 20-something year olds, there's just such a depth of meaning that would be lost on kids from a different generation. They just wouldn't grasp references because there's so much that doesn't exist anymore in this day and age of internet saturation and multi-hundred TV channels and social media bubbles. It's like: once upon a time the world was a smaller place, but so much more specific...and now its not. Once upon a time, every kid watched Bugs Bunny or Scoobie-Doo because you were a kid and you watched cartoons and there was only a couple channels and a couple times a week that you could watch them. Once upon a time there was only a handful of news outlets and rather than market themselves to a particular "fan base" they tried to report as quickly and accurately as possible. Once upon a time everyone knew the same songs because radio stations that catered to a particular taste only rotated the same handful of bands. We had shared understandings, shared touchstones.

We have so few of those these days, except for world-shattering events. Good things? Or fun things? Or nice things? Those are all over the board. You might know something about it if you're In The Group that cares about a particular thing (role-playing games, for example)...otherwise, it's outside your bubble, outside your sphere of interest. And you chance of having a shared knowledge with someone outside that thing is...slim. I can bitch about Trump or Covid with the other soccer parents while watching our kids practice or I can talk about soccer and soccer kids. Anything else? Chaff in the wind.

D&D...the D&D that I play and that I prefer...belongs to that older time. It wasn't created to be elegant or universal or easily consumed. It gained ascendance by being pretty much the only (or main) game in town at a time when the world was a much smaller place, when choices were more limited, and when people...players...had more shared understandings. Me writing 5AK was an attempt at...hell, I don't really know (or remember) exactly what I was attempting. But with regard to mechanics, I tried to make it as "elegant" as possible, while maintaining some sort of soul and imagination. I just don't know if imagination can exist alongside "elegant" certainly seems more readily found in the inelegant systems of the wilder, woolier past. 

Ugh. This post has gone completely off the rails. Probably need to reset (and maybe eat some breakfast).  Later, gators.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Working Cycles

Been doing "world building stuff" the last few days. It's slow going.

The advantage of using a real world setting is that a lot of things have been done for you: placement of natural features (mountains, rivers, lakes, etc.), lists of resources, climate maps, topography, vegetation, etc. All that stuff is "in place" and easy to suss out given access to the internet and a decent atlas (which I have).

The hard part is dealing with the people of 11,000 years ago. Not a lot of info about that period of time, and "accepted" archaeology would make the indigenous populations a bunch of tiny family units and "tribes" of neolithic cave folk.

Which is definitely NOT what I'm doing. Prehistoric: yes. Stone age: no. This is a prehistoric iron (and bronze) age, based heavily on a mix of Atlantis mythology mixed with sword & sorcery fiction. It's not Kull the Conqueror...more Edgar Cayce, MZB, and Peter Timlett's Seedbearers trilogy...the main idea based on the idea that there was a more advanced civilization that will (eventually) fall on a very hard dark age long before our (current) recorded history begins. Call it the Orichalcum Age of man. Or, perhaps, the Tumbaga Age (since tumbaga appears to be the orichalcum equivalent in South America).

[oh, yeah: plus dwarves and elves and goblins, etc. It IS D&D after all. My world has dragons...though maybe not blue ones, as lightning-breathing monsters are a little too "Friday night monster flick" for my taste]

But, of course, there's no record of communities in South America from more than the last couple-four centuries, and precious little info from pre-colonial times that would be useful to world building. Furthermore, my deliberate placement of the setting at the beginning of the Holocene epoch, means the climate (especially in the region I'm concerned with) is far more cool-temperate in range, resulting in vastly different flora, fauna, and agricultural practices.

So I'm cheating. I'm operating under the assumption that life moves in more-or-less regular cycles. Communities (towns and cities) tend to form in the same places for the same reasons (convenience of landscape, access to resources, etc.); populations are greatly reduced in number but, so far as glaciation allows, they're more or less the same as today. Livestock and crops might change over 10,000 years, but not their presence, nor placement in the overall geography. Mined resources are the same, of course, though with reductions in the amount of ore produced.

[I'm actually using 16th century gold production rates, divvied up proportionally by region based on 21st century percentages...calculates out to a bit more than 3.3 tons (107k ounces) of gold per year in regions south of Panama. This works under the assumption that the population is pretty close to the same, that Atlantean/dwarven/elven mining methods are at least as advanced as Spain's in the 1500s, and that there was more gold and gold more easily/conveniently found.  Consider that modern accounts of pre-modern gold mining generally ignores what was being done in the Americas prior to colonization, and that a LOT of gold was found when Europeans did arrive]

Names of places are a problem, of course. Wikipedia states there are about 600 indigenous languages in Latin America, and I don't see myself learning Quechua-Mayan just to make the setting feel more "authentic" (and it's doubtful that any of these languages were the same thousands of years ago anyway...). On the other hand, making up "fantasy names" for towns is a pretty ridiculous prospect. I suppose I could simply research the etymology of existing names and come up with English equivalents, but that poses its own problems. For example, Cochabamba (the 4th largest city in Bolivia) takes its name from a transliteration of the Quechua word for the region which means "Lake Plain." However, the city itself was called Llajta which just means "town." There's probably more than a few llajtas in South America.

In the short term, I'm using the modern names for places, landmarks, etc. because it would be damn near impossible to locate things otherwise using modern maps and atlases. If I told you to locate Antofagasta (in Peru), you could easily do so with an internet search; if I renamed it Salt Lake City (which is, more or less, how the name translates)...well, you can see the difficulty there, right?

Maybe I should organize communities
around language isolates.
Still, work progresses and I'm enjoying the world building (despite my complaints). And parts of it are fun (locating dwarves in a hilly region of Brazil known for its titanium deposits, for example; who needs mithril-steel!). It's just slooow going.

Okay, my kids are up. Got to go.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Morality and the Cosmic Struggle

[quick note: I've decide to try moderating comments for the time being as I've been getting an excessive amount of spam lately, and it's become a real irritation]

This isn't really what I planned on writing about, but after reading Father Dave's recent post, I figured it was time to finally throw down my two cents on alignment, my (current) thoughts on the concept, and how it will apply in my game setting.

Over the years, I've gone back and forth on the subject many, many times. My current stance (which I've had for less than six months) is to use alignment in my game. Multiple reasons go into this decision that I [still] don't want to enumerate [yet]. However, I will assure the reader that NONE of those reasons stem from a personal desire to simplify the game ("Rules As Written!") nor make my DMing life easier. Finding a way to use alignment in a meaningful and effective way is actually more difficult and not a headache to be readily embraced; it certainly isn't a headache I've found terribly enjoyable.

Still, I think alignment is important to my game world, as the cosmology of the setting is at least as important as the physical geography to its overall design.

SO...having said that (and having spent the last few days going though the OD&D monsters and figuring out the IFs and HOWs needed to slot them into my setting), please indulge me a moment to talk about my personal viewpoints on evil and how it works in a game context.

Father Dave's post discusses the importance of evil as a concept for an RPG; how reducing the game setting to one of moral relativism (if I may be allowed to paraphrase) makes the struggle between selfish individuals (and the stories told of those struggles) both boring and pointless. I assume some folks would take umbrage with this statement, as "boring" can be recognized as a matter of taste (television shows that I find tedious are undoubtably stimulating to others) and "pointless" ...well, what can be more pointed than watching humans (and/or tieflings, etc.) struggle in the face of adversity? That IS the point of The Game, after all.

But I understand the good padre is writing from his stance as a Christian theologian and I respect his perspective.

[ooo...I can see the potential for this discussion to get nasty. Lots of people get LOTS of things out of D&D besides any potential "meaning" or morality lesson, people who hold the game on an equally high (or higher) pedestal. I really, really don't want to have that debate here. Please don't go down that particular road in the comments; yes, I understand D&D holds a lot of juice for a lot of people of all stripes and persuasions...]

For ME, it is important that my campaign setting is sensible; if the setting doesn't make sense to me, I will (eventually) become tired of and frustrated with the nonsensical elements until I chuck the whole thing...something that has happened many, many times to me in the past. I'd rather have a game setting that will last, oh say, a hundred years or so (enough time that it should outlive me) and my best strategy for doing so is picking an epoch in our real world past that is so far removed from today that who knows WHAT might have happened "way back then" (knowledge does tend to get lost after a few thousand years...). However, making use of our Real World means using a real world cosmology or, at least, a close approximation given the circumstances of the setting and the rules of the game; that, to me, is sensible.

So then what is "evil" as I believe it? Father Dave defines evil as the absence of God. "Goodness" is the same as God...God is the source of all goodness. The more you remove good/God from the equation the higher the degree of evil; the padre compares evil to cold, and God/goodness to warmth. Cold increases the more you remove yourself from the source of heat; add heat and cold is diminished. Easy-peasy...that's a fairly typical Christian perspective on the way the cosmos functions.

My own take is a little more New Age-y (I'm not the world's greatest Christian by any stretch): God is All; All is One. "Evil" comes from denying this separating ourselves (through thought and/or action) from the truth (or Truth) that All is One. Forgetting our place and our purpose as "higher beings," parts of God's whole, destined and designed to do God's will because we are one with God. Forgetting our higher purpose...or ignoring it, or working against it...results in the only "sin" that matters: selfishly separating ourselves from God. This causes suffering in the whole (for All is One) is a sin against God, against ourselves, and against our fellows for we are all part of a single whole.

But why does such sin (or the possibility of it) exist? Here, I'll take a page from Tolkien and draw the analogy that Eternity is like a grand symphony, composed of many notes, chords, rhythms, and movements. Only with an omniscient understanding can its whole be observed at once; only with the perspective of God can it be seen how one part leads to the next, how each portion is necessary to the whole. The struggles and challenges of those humans residing on our planet may seem terrible and terrifying...or petty and sordid...when viewed with only a limited ability to perceive. But that limitation, too, is part of the overall scheme and design of the composition.

Putting that into D&D language: I am using the three-point alignment system of Law, Neutrality, and Chaos in my setting. A Lawful person is one who actively does God's will (purposefully, though regardless of whether or not there exists understanding). "Persons" mean creatures with a level of intelligence rising to the level of sentience; "God's will" generally means living in harmony (with others and with nature), and generally promoting the same. There are very few species in my game that are (culturally) of the Lawful disposition; most are angelic beings.

By my definitions, anyone NOT actively doing God's will would be in the "evil" category (to greater or lesser degree), but the difference between Neutrality and Chaotic is a preferred distinction for my setting. While there are certainly selfish people out there who are more interested in their personal  desires than following the Law of One, not all are so wicked as to actively be working AGAINST the cosmic design (i.e. trying to create MORE separation from God). This, then, is the distinction: a Neutral person is not working to create a closer bond with God, nor are they working to undermine oneness (and, generally due to ignorance and disinterest, these may perform deeds at various times that move the needle one way or the other: helping an individual in need one day, while cheating someone else another). These maintain the "status quo" of life on Earth, perpetuating its cycles, and maintaining the possibility to join one side or the other. In contrast, the Chaotic person, by thought and deed, continuously pushes to destroy One-ness through selfish aggrandizement, exploitation of others, and general awfulness.

Regarding non-sentient beings: most are of the Neutral alignment (all "natural" creatures, for example) unless their very nature is an offense to the natural order: undead creatures, for example, or certain magical abominations created by stray and terrible magics (like trolls). "Demons" are not "fallen angels" in the Milton sense, but there are certain ethereal beings whose interaction with humans usually take a malignant turn (for the humans), much the same way that interacting with other "forces" (fire, gravity, etc.) have the potential to cause harm to the unwary; such forces are labeled as "Chaotic" due to the danger their interference poses to humans attempting to follow God's will. Such creatures (and those who harness them as tools in their quest for personal power) provide a steady source of conflict in the setting.

Hope that all makes sense.

This, by the way, has brought up other, "interesting challenges"...with regard to the design of the campaign's mega-dungeon. Licancabur is a natural formation, one that in recent centuries has been sacred and holy to the people of the region, much as such sites (Olympus, Rainier, Danali) have been sacred to other peoples throughout history. Moreover, nature may be aloof and uncaring to the wants and needs of human beings, but that doesn't make it evil...merely dangerous. So what "lawful" reason could there be for adventurers to delve its ancient depths, explore its hollowed out volcanic tubes, slay its denizens, and pillage its treasures? If Licancabur is not some sort of gateway to hell, what gives them the right to ravish it, sword in hand?

Corruption. Perversion. The temple has become a den of inequity. The hallowed halls are defiled with mutants and monsters of the vilest sort. Something must be done to return the place to a state of grace, though it may take years, and the blood of many would-be heroes, to do so.

And, for now, that's enough to kick-off a campaign. Because my setting takes place some 9000 years before the time of Christ, there are no Judeo-Christian-Islamic religions in the game, but there are religious orders and clerics. The line between magic-users and clerics is very thin, in my setting, the difference being mainly one of perspective and mission. Only followers of the Law of One have access to the full range of healing powers; worshippers of false gods and natural powers are little more than hedge wizards, and idolatrous demon-worshippers have no access to healing magic at all, being only capable of harnessing the powers of malice and harm for their personal "benefit."

Magic-users as a class hold themselves aloof from matters of the spirit and worship, but they are aware of the way the cosmos works, and ignore it at their own peril. Many wizards, lacking wisdom or lost in their pursuit of knowledge and power, will tread the path of chaos. Bad things undoubtably await them (in this life or in the next), but such a road will not curtail their progression.

My use of alignment in D&D isn't meant to dictate behavior, neither with regard to players, nor their characters. With regard to player characters, alignment is a stamp and statement of where their souls lie in terms of the cosmic struggle. There is no requirement to "act one's alignment:" presumably, a character's actions will stem from a [Lawful/Neutral/Chaotic] motivation, and even if not, so what? Individuals slip up, make mistakes, and act against type. Lancelot sleeps with the wife of his friend and liege. Hercules gets drunk and kills his family. Darth Vader decides he'd rather go out a hero than watch his son be murdered. Do such deeds make up for a lifetime of goodness/badness? Maybe, maybe not...the player is free to discuss a possible alignment change with the DM (me) if she wants to entertain that possibility.

Regardless, I'll assume that the character is doing plenty of acts "off-screen" that readily bolster and justify the alignment chosen.

Actions have consequences...all sorts of consequences. Kill all the lizard men in the local swamp and you have no lizard men. In some ways, this is a good thing: fewer dangers in the swamp (if the lizard men were apt to ambush unwary travelers), perhaps more game to be found by the locals (since the lizard men aren't hunting it). Perhaps, though, the lizard men acted as a natural "buffer zone" between the local village and a different threat of some sort, a more dangerous tribe of creatures that will now take their place. Perhaps the lizard folk worshipped a black dragon and their occasional "sacrifices" kept the thing from looking for prey elsewhere. Perhaps they hunted a particular type of animal that is difficult for a non-scaly hunter to eradicate, and now the unchecked pest threatens to overrun the swamp...maybe some sort of giant spider whose venom was ineffective against the lizard people (but is fatal to humans).

The point is: the genocide of the lizard people isn't necessarily may have been an expedient solution to a very real problem. But actions have consequences, and there may have been more than one solution to "the lizard man question." Finding a harmonious approach is, generally, the Lawful way, as I'm defining the term...but sometimes, stamping out a Chaotic threat IS the "Lawful" method needed.

But that isn't to say my world is one of moral relativism; I personally don't believe in moral relativism, and since my setting is my own, personal creation, I get to determine the truth of the matter. So there are absolutes of good and evil, right and wrong, broadly defined as moving in alignment with God or against God. And unfortunately, for most humans trapped in a fallible bodies of limited perception, having actual knowledge of what is God's will is pretty much impossible to fathom. Which is why we rely on the wisdom of priests and the teachings of religions for guidance. It's only too bad that the priesthood and writers of religious tracts are (mostly) composed of fallible humans of limited perception.

*ahem* Anyway, having a system of alignment allows me to shape the scope of my setting in (morally) absolute terms: these creatures are an abomination, these magic items are designed for the use of Law, these spells can only be used in the service of Chaos, etc. Alignment allows me to steer the tone of the game and provides a convenient shorthand for defining the nature of the cosmic struggle in my own morally absolute terms. It provides another layer to the physics of the game world, an extra dimension of challenge to be navigated, an additional meaning to the experience of play.

Again: its purpose is not an edict of player (or character) behavior.

That being said, it would probably be strange to have both Lawful and Chaotic characters in the same adventuring party.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Regulating Chaos

*sigh* Down the rabbit hole again...

I've been doing a lot of "work" on movement and encumbrance the last few days. Turns out, I'm just not satisfied with the rules as written.

Which rules, JB? Well, here I'm mainly considering OD&D, AD&D, and B/X. Holmes Basic has the fewest rules on encumbrance and movement, but may actually be closer to accurate.

Why does any of this matter, JB? Okay, it probably doesn't matter especially. Dungeons & Dragons is a game, and playability is as important...if not more so...than accuracy. "Playability" doesn't necessarily mean "easy," but it does have to promote a challenging, engaging experience for the players. We provide challenge so that the game does not become so easy as to become tedious. We provide engagement to spark interest so that players care and bring their "A" game to the table.

I wrote about the importance of encumbrance to the game a couple weeks ago. Encumbrance provides a third dimension to game play. Folks aren't just worried about choice of weapon and armor for how much it costs them (in imaginary gold coins), but about how it impacts their character's movement and ability to carry other gear/treasure. Without encumbrance, "cost" eventually fades (experienced adventurers have plenty of imaginary gold and often acquire magical equipment for "free" anyway), and "choice" is limited to a question of "effectiveness" (i.e. what weapon does the most damage, what armor gives the best protection)...which is too easy a challenge to provide engagement to a mature, seasoned player. Fine for kids, not so much for adults.

[yes, yes story gamers...y'all don't care about "accounting exercises." You play a different version of D&D from what I do. This post isn't for you]

So how do encumbrance rules, when used (they are OPTIONAL in the B/X system, probably because it was scaled for kids), impact the game?

  1. The rules restrict what gear can be carried by a player's character by placing a hard limit on carrying capacity. This requires players to make choices as to what is necessary for an adventure, especially as acquiring treasure is the objective, and treasure found will need to be carried as well.
  2. The rules restrict movement in two different ways: First,  it restricts the distance that can be covered over time, which creates more opportunity for wandering monsters to appear (wandering monsters being a drain on party resources while providing no great reward...they don't carry treasure!). Second, it reduces the distance one can move in encounter situations, impacting the ability to maneuver and, thus, succeed at tactical objectives (whether that means destroying one's opponents or fleeing to fight another day).

Note: there are some adventures where rule situation #1 doesn't apply: in many time-sensitive missions (say, rescue the hobbit captives from the orcs, deliver the message of the impending invasion, destroy an evil artifact before it falls into the wrong hands, etc.) acquiring treasure isn't a goal. As such, rule impact #2 (limiting movement) must still be important...or even more prominent! order to provide the appropriate degree of stress to the challenge.

Here's the thing, though: being encumbered doesn't have nearly the impact on an individual's movement as the rules state.

Let's be perfectly clear. I am, by my own admission, both overweight and not in fantastic shape...not even good shape, really. The rest of my family (especially my skinny, athlete son) is in far better shape...and none of them are carrying the extra belly and jowl fat I am. Even so, I can still outrun, out-hike, and out-bike them. On the soccer field, my kid can do all sorts of fancy moves and has a dead hard shot, but I can still outmaneuver him...and out-quick beat him in one-on-one games (and my victories are even more decisive when we play on a larger field, rather than our front yard). I'm bigger, stronger, and faster, despite being an old fat man with bad knees, a bad ankle, and back pain.

Unencumbered, I can advance in a straight line, weapon(s) in hand(s), and cover 40' of ground in approximately ten seconds. If I do a "controlled charge" (i.e. moving as quickly as I can to engage, while taking care not to trip over my own feet or impale myself on something), I can cover the same ground in half the time (approximately 5 seconds). Having actually worn armor a time or two in the past, I know that it would not affect my ability to walk hardly at all, and would only slightly impact my ability to charge...probably not enough to make a substantial difference, especially in an actual combat situation with adrenaline pumping through my veins.

How do I get these figures? I spent a couple day running simulations with my kids. Yes, folks, all sorts of Covid entertainment at the JB household. My boy, by the way (who's a foot and a half shorter than me), advances and charges at about the same rate, maybe slightly slower due to stride length.

But let's talk encumbrance, shall we? I had the kids fill their backpacks with all sorts of "adventuring equipment" in order to run tests on speed and movement. The original impetus for this was wanting to see how fast one could retrieve a specific item from a filled pack in a chaotic, stressful environment (like combat) because I'm tinkering with the combat turn ("round") structure of my game. However, my kids were "all in" on this experiment and insisted on outfitting themselves in full-on regalia, including armor, weapons, etc. The results were interesting.

[I took pictures, but my spouse does not want me posting photos of the kids on Ye Old Blog. Not that this stops her from putting their pix on Facebook, but whatever...]

Not my children...just
some kids on pinterest.
My boy's "kit" included multiple layers of padding and plastic "armor," a shield, a wooden sword (long sword equivalent), a bow (no quiver), helmet (plastic), and a 20# backpack. My daughter was wearing an ankle length wizard robe (over clothes), pointy wizard hat, along with a 15# backpack (contents included a thick hardcover to represent her "spell book"); in my daughter's hands she carried a (plastic) sword and an actual camp lantern (battery operated). Although the weight was only a small fraction of what a "real" adventurer would carry, the bulk was certainly equivalent. And the weight they were carrying was more than a third their actual body weight...closer to 40% for Sofia. If I had been proportionately geared, I would have been carrying closer to 70#. And, of course, actual mail weighs a lot more than my kids' thin plastic and padding.

However, even burdened as they were, the kids weren't especially slower. What they were was uncomfortable and in pain from shlepping so much weight on thin shoulders. They couldn't wait to shrug off their backpacks...which they were able to do fairly quickly given a "combat situation" (me shouting "go" and starting the stopwatch). Carrying a bunch of weight...especially weight they're unused to and untrained to carry...did NOT slow them substantially. But it DID tire them out...cue my typical rant about the lack of proper fatigue rules in D&D.

That's my takeaway from our "experiments:" Movement is far more affected by bulk and distribution of gear than from actual weight carried or an individual's strength. It's tough to move quickly when you're worried about tipping over from an unbalanced pack. Or (as my daughter told me) "I actually run faster with my backpack because it pushes me forward!"

[this appears to be a literal truth; walking WITH his pack (only), Diego shaved half a second off his time...same when he was running]

But fatigue IS real...despite being faster and stronger than my family members, the old man gets tired. My son can play soccer all day (comparatively), whereas I cash in my chips a lot sooner. Likewise, my wife doesn't run the 5Ks half-marathons she used to, but she can still go twice as many laps around Green Lake (at least!) as yours truly...though to be honest, I was never a fan of distance running. Ever. to model this in the D&D game? Well, what does the D&D game model anyway? Depends on which edition you're tweaking. Assuming a 10 second combat round (as in B/X), 40' per round (encounter speed for a 12" movement) seems plenty fair. The OTHER speeds, though (30', 20', 10' for 9", 6", and 3" movement, respectively), seem grossly inaccurate. Even for a fat adventurer.

Where do these movement rates come from? From OD&D originally...although the idea of a 10 second round is from Holmes Basic ("Each turn is ten minutes except during combat where there are ten melee rounds per turn, each round lasting ten seconds."). But as with many of the mechanical bits found in OD&D, these rates are adapted directly from the Chainmail wargame.

Chainmail provides rules for "medieval miniatures." It uses a time scale consisting of 1 minute turns (just like the combat turns of OD&D and the combat rounds of AD&D) and a distance scale of 1" being equal to 10 yards. Different movement rates are given for different troop types in Chainmail; for example, "heavy footmen" can move 9" (12" when charging), while "armored footmen" only move 6" (whether charging or not). All reports of Gygax state that he was a voracious reader that enjoyed researching old history books for information to add to his games (in an age where there was no internet), but games that attempt to regulate the chaos of war require a certain amount of abstraction to ensure is difficult to know, just from reading Chainmail, what was thought to be an accurate model and what was considered an expedient necessity.

Attempting to find field movement rates for medieval troops using the internet alone has been difficult. Most rates are given only in miles per day which, admittedly, is probably more than most people need for their history lessons (it's enough to know who fought whom and where and how many died). However, what IS clear is that with regard to troop movement (soldiers marching in groups), distance traveled over time comes down to a combination of organization, discipline, and baggage carried, coupled with the terrain traversed. Ancient troops could make 10-25 miles per day with decent (Roman) roads, while medieval foot troops (up through the 17th century) only moved 7-15 miles per day. A troop could be "forced marched" at double that rate, but risked being too fatigued to fight effectively upon reaching their destination.  Medieval soldiers generally marched in their armor and carried at least a hand weapon or two; gear (everything else a soldier might need) was "baggage," carried in carts or hauled by a soldier's wife or girlfriend (camp follower). But none of that tells me how far or fast the soldier could move on the battlefield...and anyway, battlefield movement would have been in formation, with a pace set by the force commander and the necessities of battle.

Gygax's Chainmail movements appear to be an estimation based in part on how one assumes these forces to behave as a troop/group. Light footmen include peasants, noted as being "unreliable" and "unwilling" warriors: they only move 9" (12" charging) despite probably having the lightest loads (in terms of arms and armor)...of course they would be an undisciplined mass to bring to a battle. Armored footmen with their 6" movement includes "dismounted knights;" Chainmail notes that "feudal knights were ill-disciplined and generally refused to take orders from anyone -- even their liege lord;" presumably by the time they were dismounted the battlefield mud would have already been churned up, making the footing even more difficult. Meanwhile, the fearsome Landsknechte troops are given a move of 12" (charge 15") apparently to model their superior discipline and training...this despite many of their troops (certainly the zweihander-armed frontliners) being dressed in plate armor!

Wives have advantages
over other henchmen.
A party of D&D adventurers...even one with a number of retainers and henchfolk...isn't the same as an unwieldy mass of hundreds or thousands of troops. Training and discipline should be assumed to be at least as good as elite mercenaries and house troops...this is, after all, what the PCs are supposed to be. In Chainmail, both heroes and superheroes (the basis for the 4th and 8th level fighters respectively) have movement of 12" (charge 15") regardless of armor wornWizards (of any level), likewise have a move of 12" (though no charge). When mounted, these fantasy fighters have the same movement as medium horseman...again, regardless of armor. To me, it's clear something other than encumbrance is being used in these calculations.

The D&D movement rates are even more strange when used in conjunction with dungeon or "exploration" ANY edition of the game. There are many subterranean caves and cavern trails available for hiking in the United States, most with surfaces and elevation changes far more difficult and treacherous than the smooth 10' by 10' corridors found in your average D&D adventure. Trail times seem to be pretty universal: individuals can expect to hike about 1.25 miles per hour in such environments. The most difficult "hike" I could find on the internet was the Wild Cave Tour at Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. This physically grueling tour requires hikers to spend a lot of time crawling on their belly, wriggling through tight spaces, traversing sharp, uneven terrain, and dealing with water and subterranean canyons. It is guided by professionals and there are breaks (for rests, instruction, and lunch), but even so it's a six mile tour that requires six hours to complete.

Not a 10' x 10' corridor.
How fast is that in D&D terms? Well, one mile is 5,280 feet, so that would be our hourly "rate" of travel. Assuming the usual five (ten minute) turns of movement followed by one (ten minute) turn of rest, we can see the party making about 1,056 feet per turn; there is, presumably, no "running" during the tour, but no mapping necessary either (since the party has an experienced guide). With normal caution being exercised we can translate that to game movement as follows:

OD&D: 52" (two moves per turn)
AD&D: 21" (rate of travel divided by 5 for "following a known route")
B/X: 106" (158" if movement rate considered 2/3 for being "broken terrain")

Even presuming "unencumbered" movement (hikers aren't carrying any more than a hardhat, flashlight, and sack lunch), these rates far outstrip the 12" movement rate found in the D&D texts. The speed is more than double the rate given by Holmes for an "unarmored, unencumbered man" that is "moving normally" in a dungeon (480' per turn). An adventuring party moving this slowly and this cautiously should probably be discovering every trip wire and loose flagstone in the dungeon!

So, yeah. Movement rates as given are too slow, and carrying a bunch of weight doesn't make you all that slower if all you're doing is walking/marching. What encumbrance does is tire you out (fatigue) making rest more important.

I spent a lot of time yesterday watching videos of Medieval MMA and IMCF combat. Despite the limitations of sport combat, I find these to be instructional especially this M-1 championship bout in Moscow. Three minutes of fighting per round, followed by one minute of rest, and both these dudes are completely gassed after three rounds. And they are, presumably, wearing lighter gear than a true medieval warrior and have all the benefits of modern sport science (including nutrition and cross-training regimes). Turns out that Chainmail's fatigue rules seem a fairly close approximation of how melee (by itself or in combination with movement) can tire you out...even for lightly armored fighters (who would, I assume, need to work twice as hard as their heavier armored counterparts).

Beating on each other just plumb tuckers you.
Yes, yes, I know...everyone hates fatigue rules. And we already have an (imperfect) model of fatigue in the form of hit points. And, in the end, this discussion seems to be aimed in the direction of rebuilding the game from the ground up, which is really NOT what I want to do.

I just want something that won't bug me and be a constant source of irritation.

But let's go back to the premise here: the rules as written provide two different means of challenging/engaging the players of the D&D game: they add an extra consideration to choices made with regard to logistics (carrying these iron spikes and a crossbow are going to cut down on how much loot I can haul), and affect the character's ability to maneuver tactically (not only in combat, but in evasion/pursuit situations). Both become an issue of resource management, the particular resource being time...precious time that will necessitate additional wandering monster checks that carry the possibility of fatal attrition for little/zero reward. Game-wise, these are not rules to chuck with abandon, as they are fairly imperative to running the game in the manner intended!

Still, as mentioned, logistics become far less important when characters have a mission that promises reward after the adventure (return the captives and get paid! Bring me the head of the bugbear chieftain to the Duke for a chest of gold! Etc.)...and even less so as characters rise in level and acquire gear that offsets logistics (the sword +3 that is unbreakable, the flaming sword that takes the place of torches, the slippers of spider climbing that replace 10 pounds of rope, the decanter of endless water, etc.). When logistics fail to matter, only tactical issues need be considered...and time can continue to be a manageable resource with the use of fatigue and mandated rests. More so, it becomes an additional area of player engagement if parties can choose between RISK (pressing their luck, losing effectiveness by acquiring fatigue) in exchange for REWARD (making better time, rolling fewer encounter checks).

Sorry, folks, but this is a line of thought I want to continue following for now. I'll probably have at least one more post on the subject (in which I'll lay down some concrete rules for "testing"), but it's important to me to get this stuff right. NOT because it is so all important to be accurate or "realistic" in modeling this stuff...but because, well, hmm.

Because (I suppose) it's important to not be wrong. I say hit points are an abstract measure of staying power and that's fine and dandy; that's defining a game mechanic (we're not trying to model rules for broken bones and pints of blood in the body). I say 15 gold pieces buy a decently-made sword and that is fine, too...that's the fantasy economy in this particular region at this particular point in time.

But I say a human with a 40# sack of gear only moves a certain distance at a brisk pace, well, then it better be damn close to the laws of reality. Because time and distance and weight on a planet with Earth's gravity is something that can be measured. And because D&D isn't a board game, and it's not a wargame, and we're attempting to simulate an experience, there's SOME reason why carrying heavy stuff is detrimental, but it better be a real reason...and not a "wrong" reason, not just for the sake of adding options. The choices have to be valid, and valid choices do why not use them?

All right, that's enough. I've been writing this for four days, and it's time to get on to the next thing.