Tuesday, May 24, 2022


Apologies for not posting recently. Currently working on something. 

Meanwhile: everyone's good in the 'hood round these parts. The kids want me to run them through N1: Against the Cult of the Reptile God and I have agreed. It's our first venture into the "Idaho Deathlands" because (of course) Orlane might as well be Coeur d'Alene. Problema is, that I was using Potlatch for Hochoch which is ridiculous as Coeur d'Alene is about 50 times the size of Potlatch. Maybe Nampa? Except that Nampa isn't old enough (being founded after Coeur d'Alene)...

*sigh* I'll figure it out. Hopefully before their characters are all killed.

SO...busy, busy, busy.  More later.

Monday, May 16, 2022

On Acting

Ewan McGregor has had a great career. I assume that...financially...he is comfortable (Alec Guinness bemoaned being known for Obi-Wan Kenobi at the end of his life, but even he admitted it had been lucrative), but while any working actor would aspire to comfort, that's not what I mean by "great." Actors act because they love acting, and he's had such a great career when it comes to the wide range and variety of roles he's been able to play. Films like Moulin Rouge, A Life Less Ordinary, Velvet Underground, and Down With Love are some of my favorite McGregor vehicles (I do like him as Kenobi, too) but he's also had the opportunity to do horror, historical, and war stuff...great, juicy roles, big and small, in films ranging the gamut from indie to blockbuster. It's as if, by diving headfirst into "Scotland's Worst Toilet" he signaled to the film universe that he was willing and able to do anything...and not take himself too seriously in the process.

I don't know how easy or hard any of the productions were for McGregor and his fellow actors...how rough or stressful or frustrating it was to get things to the screen. None of that (generally) matters terribly to an actor...at least, it never did to me when I used to do the "acting thing." Directors screaming at you, fellow actors unprepared or straight flubbing their shit, delays and issues with costumes and sets and tech, and the tedium of running and memorizing lines. But in the end, none of that really matters. It doesn't even matter so much whether people like the final product that's put on stage, or like the bit that you, the actor, does. I mean, it matters, you do care and (if this is your profession) it certainly matters whether you and your colleagues are getting paid. But you act to act. Even if no one came to see you. That's what and why you do it. To embody a role, to become someone else, to escape...for a moment...stepping into an alternate reality and playing in it. I look back on the roles I've had the opportunity to play, some couple dozen parts in plays and musicals and film and there was nothing I wasn't glad to do, nothing I didn't enjoy doing in the moment, when I was doing it. And none of it was done for applause or accolade.

[ego, yes. Fame and fortune, no]

I wonder...right now, at this moment...how much of my love of role-playing is tied to my love of acting. Not much, really. Both role-playing and acting are creative endeavors and I definitely have a deep need for a "creative outlet." But the two don't correspond to each other. It's not like I chucked acting and took up RPGs (the reason I stopped acting is one of prioritizing: it was more important to me to have a house and a wife and a family then putting in the hours that acting consumes...that's the honest truth. If I had already established some sort of stable career; well, that might have been a different story. Such was not the case...). I've enjoyed acting on stage since I was 7. I've enjoyed role-playing since I was 8. Whether I've gamed or not over the years has largely been determined by A) time, B) opportunity, and C) money. My acting (or not acting) has had nothing to do with it at all, except in so much as it sucked away (gaming) time during a show run.

I write all this preamble in order to get back to some comments made by JackJackJackJack in my February post Why D&D...I didn't have time to address them at the time (I was prepping for a family vacation) and then there was my 40 day hiatus after that. Time to come back around to setting records straight.  Jx4 takes the stance that the clear point of playing D&D is:
...to portray a character, to embody them as much as possible, claiming "each of you will become an artful thespian as time goes by."
Jack cites Gygax's own words in the '78 PHB (page 7), as well as the foreword from Moldvay's Basic book as evidence that acting...portraying a particular character (and doing so well) is a major point and emphasis of game play if not the point of play. He also provided this helpful link to Tom Van Winkle's blog, discussing...well, if not a similar stance, at least a defense of the stance that play-acting be incorporated as a component of RPGs generally, and D&D specifically.

Jack is wrong. Tom is missing the point and effectively defends only that which needs no defense. As a person who spent four years at university earning a degree in acting, and as a role-player of 40 years, I find a lot of this discussion (and other, similar, hot takes) fairly offensive. 

NOW...before I go any farther let me acknowledge a couple things. People play RPGs (and D&D specifically) for all sorts of reasons. Different people enjoy some aspects of RPG play more than others. It's okay to make "your own kind of fun." Some folks watch films in silence, some like to turn a screening into an active participation event. Whatever turns your crank, okay? You want to make a game session some sort of soap opera improv exercise (whether in the privacy of your own home or for your public YouTube channel)...whatever. Have fun. Do it. I acknowledge that you're having a good time, and nothing I write is going to have much impact on how you run/play, regardless. And That Is Fine.

The rest of this post is for other folks who are trying to understand my understanding.

First, let's clear some semantics: when Gygax writes 
You act out the game as this character
There are multiple ways to read this. You can interpret it as acting a role in the theater sense of the term (clearly some individuals do). You can also simply read it as taking action. That, after all, is what it means "to act." As my Webster's lists the definition:
1. The process of doing : ACTION. 2. Something done: DEED. usage: Act and action are distinct in meaning. An act is the deed accomplished by means of an action
The discussion of act as in acting (i.e. assuming a dramatic role) comes in as the 7th definition of the word "act" (after judicial enactments, formal writs, distinct divisions of a play/opera, and manifestations of insincerity, i.e. "you're putting on an act"). 

Gygax's semantics were poor, as was (often enough) his ability to communicate specific, clear concepts. Personally, I find it forgivable given the circumstance (trying to explain a radical new medium without a background in technical writing), but at times the issues caused has led to frustratingly divisive results. 

Humans LOVE to anthropomorphize objects. We name our cars. We talk to our food. We bestow personalities on our firearms and tools and houses. We do this from a young age and we carry it on into old age. It's whimsical...it's imaginative. ALL humans have imagination to one degree or another.

If play-acting and using "funny voices" has been with RPG hobby since its very beginning, it is only because play-acting and using "funny voices" in game play has been around since LONG BEFORE RPGS WERE EVER CONCEIVED. When my Eastern front repels the boy's panzer blitz in Axis & Allies, I like to say "Tanks for coming, comrade" in my best fake-Russian accent...it's simultaneously amusing and annoying and part of the fun of playing out fake war. When my (non-RPG playing) wife plays a game of Blood Bowl, she has her players "huddle up" on the pitch and has the captain give a pep talk to the team in a (usually) silly voice.

It is both logical and inevitable that participants in an highly imaginative game played through verbal communication will identify with characters played, imbuing them with personalities, and (even) speaking in particular voices that best express their concept of the character. BUT THIS IS NOT THE POINT OF PLAY.  When Gygax writes (again, on page 7 of the PHB)
Each of you will become an artful thespian as time goes by -- and you will acquire gold , magic items, and great renown as become Falstaff the Invincible!
he is speaking hyperbolically. No, you will NOT become an artful thespian by playing D&D, just as YOU will not literally "acquire gold," nor suddenly transform ("become") Falstaff.

And regardless: that's not the point. The POINT of play is using our imagination to experience adventure...to have experiences that we normally could not (or should not or would not) have in daily life. Sure, you might create a personality and voice for your character that resembles something like a stage actor performing Shakespeare. Then again, you might not (not every PC acquires gold, magic items, and great renown either). In the end, whether you do or not doesn't matter because that's NOT the reason the game is played. It is not the point of play.

For players, imagining yourself as your character IS a requirement of play...because if not, you cannot act (i.e. take action) as your character. If you cannot imagine yourself in an underground dungeon, you cannot properly act and interact with the (imaginary) features and (imaginary) beings you encounter during your (imaginary) adventure. You must be able to put yourself in the mindset of the character so that you can properly act...not to perform as an actor, but take action in the game as we play.

Taking action is the point. Dungeons & Dragons is a game. It is not (or should not) be folks sitting around a table while the DM reads pages and pages of narrative. This is not 'story time;' the DM is not a kindergarten teacher. The DM presents the world, the players present their actions in the world, and the world (though the DM) reacts. Action/reaction, action/reaction. Not acting (performing) in the theatrical sense.

The theater is a different animal from D&D and theatrical acting is a different thing from participating in a role-playing game. The goals of the activity are not the same. An actor on stage (or screen) performs to communicate the director's vision, to tell the writer's story...either to entertain, to inform/educate, or both. Even improvisational theater has rules that are followed by the actors on stage, although such lighthearted theater generally aims only to amuse and entertain the audience. 

RPGs that are treated as games of "let's pretend" or as improvisational acting exercises (with dice) are forgetting the "G" part of RPGs. "Role playing" describes the TYPE of "game" being played. Not a board game. Not a card game. Not a video game. A role playing game: the medium through which the game is experienced is the assumption of an avatar, or "role." Some participants take on the role of Dungeon Master. As the role of DM requires playing of MANY individual characters, I find it helpful to sometimes use "funny voices" to distinguish between different (imaginary) persons, lest my players become confused when determining which particular non-PC is talking.

But that's not "acting" in the thespian sense. That's playing the game. I'm not concerned with an NPC's motivation because I want to embody the character in as "true" a fashion as possible (as I would in preparation for performing on stage). No, I am concerned with an NPC's motivation because I need an idea of how that NPC will act and react in the game to the actions and reactions of the players. 

People who conflate theatrical acting with role-playing bug me and is (probably) the main reason I prefer the term "Fantasy Adventure Game" to "Role-Playing Game." It's just confusing as shit to some folks.

My son's class, by the way, will be performing Romeo & Juliet this Friday (an abridged version...they're only 5th graders after all). Diego was cast as Mercutio which (some would say) is one of the best, juiciest roles an actor can play. I'll be interested to see how he does it, especially in contrast to Lord Montague (who he also will be portraying). The kid's memorized his lines for both parts, but I don't think he's intending to do a lot of "specific characterization" to distinguish the roles...instead, I think his plan is to let the lines (and the costume change) handle all the differentiation for him. I don't know...it's his thing (he doesn't ask me for advice regarding school stuff), and I just intend to sit back and enjoy the performance. 

However, given my topic here, I can't help but be amused that the kid draws ZERO connection between D&D and performing on stage, even when he gets to do a sword fight. My kid has always been a bit of a ham, but he's not one to do funny voices in D&D...regardless of whether he's playing or acting as Dungeon Master. And I can say unequivocally that the lack of theatricality at our game table has hurt neither his immersion, nor his enthusiasm for the game one single iota.

Action, not acting.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Dragons & Hoards

This could probably have been entitled "Fantasy Economics (p.3)" but I thought the subject deserved a catchier title. 'Cause today we're talking dragons.

While it's easy to grasp how treasure might be mined, minted, and circulated in coin form (and thus acquired by adventurers) a more pressing/nagging question for some folks is certainly 'why do monsters hoard treasure?' While ancient tombs guarded by undead Midas-types are self-explanatory (reasons why they're un-looted remain unclear), what's less obvious may be the desire by living folk...the orcs and goblins and giants and whatnot...to acquire chests full of the local human currency. Surely they're not a part of the local economy, right? You don't find hobgoblins drinking at the tavern or shopping for knives at the local farmer's market, do you?

[well, you could, of course. The DragonLance books have occupying soldiers (including hobgoblins and draconians) interacting with the locals, buying food and drink, harassing the barmaids, etc. But injecting this kind of symbiotic relationship with sentient humanoids into one's campaign might make the players feel more like murderers than they already do!]

The mistake here is in assuming that the monsters have no economy of their own. Okay, slimes and golems and owlbears (probably) don't...but the sentient races most certainly have something. These are tool-using societies. They build, they manufacture, they eat food, they wear textiles, they have a language for communicating with each other. And remember what coinage is: an easy, portable medium of exchange for goods and services. Coins are certainly useful and practical for ANY sentient species, both within their own community and with other communities...at least those communities that aren't as xenophobic (and murderous) as your average human town or village.

[remember that bit in Tolkien about some goblins/orcs having alliances with dwarves? Forget "racial animosity" for a moment and consider that two subterranean species are most likely to simply be fighting...when they ARE fighting...over the same prime territory/resources/food supply. Kind of like real life humans]

Dragons, however, are a different matter.

Even mind flayers have societies (though probably not one you want to visit). Dragons, on the other hand, are solitary creatures, only occasionally being found with a mate or clutch of young. And yet dragons are renowned for their treasure hoards...in fact, it is the promised acquisition of vast wealth that can entice foolhardy adventurers to brave certain death in a dragon's lair.

[I mean, except for the grossly stupid 5E version of the game, with its empty-handed dragons]

But WHY do dragons have hoards filled with thousands upon thousands of coins? That is the question. Because it's a fairy tale trope? Because they collect shiny stuff like a magpie? Because they just want to deprive humans of their precious wealth?

The film Flight of Dragons (loosely based on Dickson's The Dragon and the George) suggests dragons covet gold to act as "fireproof bedding" on which to lay. I'm not buying it. Lizards and snakes suffer little discomfort sleeping on hard rock (they prefer it, in fact, as it helps warm their cold blood on a sunny day)...and, anyway, dirt is softer than metal and just as fireproof. Plus, dragon breath is extremely destructive...certainly hot enough to melt gold (in the case of red dragons). Besides, D&D dragons aren't exclusively fire-breathers and is a gold bed really going to help against acid saliva? How about electricity?

Let's start with biology.

The first thing everyone should understand is that dragons need to eat. However, they appear reptilian, which would generally means a slower metabolism. Large snakes (like boa constrictors) can go three to four weeks without eating. Crocodiles can go months (though they generally eat every other week). Komodo dragons eat only one meal per month.

So dragons probably don't need to eat all that often...which is a good thing because, being large creatures, they're going to need to consume large amounts of food when they finally tuck in. A snake will eat 15-20% of its body weight; Komodo dragons can eat as much as 80% of their body weight in a single day. Crocodiles and alligators generally eat as much as their prey supply allows (they'll just keep eating), but they can get by on 5% of their body weight every couple weeks and they're just fine. For me, I'm inclined to go the Komodo route (with long periods of sleeping/dormancy) in order to prevent the countryside from becoming too devastated.

Well, then how much does a dragon weigh? An excellent question, and one without an easy answer. Lots of editions of D&D provide numbers on length for the various dragon types, and some even give out wingspans (I think it's 2E that notes span as approximately the same as length), but there isn't any hard weight measurements...unless you go by 3E's size charts which are, frankly, preposterous. Dragons have to be able to fly, after all, and so weight in relation to wings becomes incredibly important.

Here's a good article on wing loading, applicable to both animals and aircraft. Wing load is expressed as a ratio of mass (in kg) to wing surface area (in square meters), and with regard to birds (who don't benefit from jet propulsion) the practical limit for flight is about 25:1 (some particularly ungainly gliders, like the albatross, might exceed this a bit). That is to say if the mass exceeds 25kg to the square meter of wing surface area, it ain't getting off the ground (hello kiwi!). As such, clocking a "colossal" red dragon at 12+ tons (per the 3E MM)...well, it ain't happening.

I spent the good part of the other day estimating mass based on comparable reptiles and various sizes of wings to arrive at sensible conclusions. In the end, I ended up going with ratios provided by the greatest dragon ever to grace celluloid: Vermithrax Pejorative from the film Dragonslayer. Created by Hal Barwood and Matthew Robbins, the idea behind Vermithrax was to make the creature as frightening as possible while still making it fairly realistic and practical. The scale they decided on was a 40' length (which is more or less the scale of a D&D dragon) with a wingspan of 90' which, based on images I calculate to have a rough surface area of 107 meters square plus change. Given a scaled up Komodo for weight (something in the range of about 3 tons...Vermithrax is skinnier/tapered after all, and female to boot) gives us a wing load ratio right at the edge of the 25:1 mark...enough to get Vermithrax off the ground where she can soar on the air currents.

With these figures in mind and using the same proportions (in conjunction with the length measurements provided in the Monster Manual), I came up with the following average weights for various dragons (and, thus, the amount of food they need to consume):
  • White: 1,620# (1,296# per month)
  • Black: 2,531# (2,025# per month)
  • Green: 3,645# (2,916# per month)
  • Blue: 4,961# (3,968# per month)
  • Red: 6,480# (5,184# per month)
There are better pix of
her wings...I just like this one.
These figures are ROUGH estimates, and don't take into account the vast range that can occur between size and age categories (not to mention dragons of different sexes...in the reptile kingdom males are generally 15-25% larger than females). However, it gives me an idea of what such a creature might be eating based on its natural habitat. 

[for example, a white dragon would do well with large seals or the odd polar bear, whereas a red dragon will need two or three cows, and a black dragon would be constantly eating whatever it can find in the swamp...much like a croc. Blue dragons would find it impossible to survive in a desert climate, unless eating some sort of fantasy critter (bulettes? small purple worms?)...in my own world, I'm more inclined to make them island dwellers and have 'em hunt pilot whale and similar aquatic mammals]

"But, JB...what does this have to do with a dragon's lust for treasure?"

Right...back to the point! This concept of dragons and their hoards are based on fairy tales, going all the way back to Fafnir, if not earlier. But fairy tales are stories and self-contained. They entertain us, perhaps impart a moral lesson, and then they're done...folks live 'happily ever after' or (like Beowulf) they don't. 

But with advanced gaming, we are engaging with the campaign world, living in it and experiencing the thing. The treasure of a dragon (for treasure they must have, it is part of what makes a dragon a dragon and part of the raison d'etre of adventurers braving their lairs) must make some sense. Certainly the size of the hoard being comparable to the dragon's age and might is sensible...it takes time to accumulate wealth, and dragons are long lived. But what about the HOW and WHY? Dragon claws aren't really designed for subtle manipulation, like picking up and counting coins. And while I can understand the odd magic item or piece of jewelry being the remains of would-be slayers that found their way into the dragon's den, surely those dead adventurers weren't carrying hundreds (or thousands) of pounds of coin on them...they went seeking death with EMPTY sacks, not ones already bursting.

It seems clear to me that for a creature that doesn't mine, and doesn't manufacture (or mint) that the best explanation for the treasure hoard is that it is TRIBUTE...tribute paid by lesser beings, bribes (in a way), to prevent the dragon from destroying villages and consuming both citizens and livestock. Of course, dragons don't go on shopping sprees, so the tribute simply accumulates over time (the hoard grows larger and larger) but dragons are an intelligent species...even the stupidest having an intelligence of 8 or 9...so they must have a reason for wanting and accepting such offerings:
  1. Being an intelligent species, they understand the value of treasure and the size of their hoard is a matter of prestige and pride. A larger hoard symbolizes more power, thus a "better," stronger, smarter dragon. Dragons don't appear to have a society (though they might, just one invisible to the average human) but hoard comparisons could be used to determine rank and status among their own kind.
  2. Size and composition of hoard would certainly be a factor in determining the suitability of a mate. D&D dragons are found in mated pairs, suggesting a form of monogamy or "mating for life." Not only does a dragon's hoard describe a better (more powerful) partner, but the joining of two dragons requires one to leave its hoard behind (they have no way to transport it!), so the dominant of the two must have a hoard of sufficient size for the both of them.
  3. Dragons, as stated, need to eat...a lot!...even though (like reptiles) they can experience long periods of dormancy. While human-sized prey is hardly a snack for any size dragon (and a halfling isn't even a mouthful), a party of humans, plus their mounts and pack animals, might prove enough food that they can go without leaving their lair (thus conserving energy) for a longer period of time. A treasure hoard is thus an enticement for "intelligent" (i.e. foolhardy) prey to come to them
  4. Finally, D&D dragons are portrayed as "cowardly" because of the rules for subduing dragons; however, this just shows their intelligence and sense of self-preservation. While dragons are loathe to relinquish any of their treasure (because a diminished hoard size is detrimental to the motives already listed) bribing powerful individuals is better than dying. Should a party prove too strong for an individual dragon, the hoard can be used to "buy off" the invaders. Being an intelligent being with a lifespan measured in centuries, dragons can afford to take the "long view;" better for a young dragon to seek greener pastures, establishing a new lair and beginning (again) the acquisition of tribute. Thus, the hoard also represents a bit of a "safety net," though some particularly old and curmudgeonly dragons might find it worth dying for ('I ain't moving!').
And so we have yet another reason that monsters will have a desire to accumulate treasure: living in wilderness areas inhabited by dragons, such creatures (goblins, trolls, ogres, etc.) will need all the money they can mine, borrow, or steal just to keep the dragons from devouring their villages. Human towns...what with their curtain walls and towers, armored knights and wizards...are too dangerous (or too much of a pain in the ass) for the average dragon to bother with. But out in the wilderness...in the swamps or mountains or jungle or arctic regions...a dragon can get by, hunting large game and reaping the rewards of subservient, fearful lesser beings who also make their homes far from the murderous humans and their allies.

Makes perfect sense to me.
; )

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Fantasy Economics (p. 2)

Apologies for the lack of writing the last few days...was a busy week, PLUS had a sick kid at home (sick wife, too, which didn't make things any easier). Thankfully everyone is on the mend and life is settling down.

Back to fantasy economics.

In my last post on this subject, I made note of the fact that Washington State (the basis for my campaign world) contains an estimated 519 metric tons of gold. So, just how many coins are we talking about? Well, one metric ton weighs a smidge less than 2,205# which (more importantly) converts to 32,150.7 troy ounces. As there are 400 troy ounces to the gold ingot (bar), that means about 80 ingots per metric ton...a bit more than 41,715 bars in total if ALL the gold in Washington was mined and smelted.

Now how many coins per bar requires one to figure out how many coins can be struck from a single ingot. However, we've already established that in DragonLance (well, in DL2) each ingot of gold found in Pax Tharkas is worth 1,000 gold pieces, giving us 36 coins per pound of metal (about twice the thickness of the old Spanish gold doubloon, a coin with a diameter of about 1.5"). So, if using DL has a base (which is fine...for now) one can say there's enough gold in "fantasy Washington" to cast 41.7 million gold pieces.

Except, of course, it doesn't. Gold mining and smelting isn't solely concerned with the minting of coins. Gold is used for everything from decoration (gold leaf, gold plating) to...well, decoration (gold jewelry). But it's still mainly used for currency (for a medium of exchange) while wearing gold is a sign/show of wealth and ostentation. It's saying, I can afford to decorate my home with money.

The original D&D game only had three types of coin as "standard:" the gold piece, the silver piece, and the copper piece. Pretty solid reasoning considering all of these were used as currency at various points in history (the "gold standard" only really ended in the 20th century). Washington State has plenty of silver and copper in its mountains: roughly 4,040 metric tons of silver and 13,200 metric tons of copper. That's plenty of precious metal for coinage of lesser value. Proportionately these aren't quite the 1/20th and 1/200th you might assume would be laying around (given the relative value of gold to silver to copper in the AD&D game)...however, "value" can be based on a LOT of factors, besides just weight of metal. Ease of acquisition for example (how hard is it to mine silver or copper compared to gold), or the amount of coinage already in circulation. Just because there's only 7-8 times the amount of silver as gold, doesn't mean you can pick up a gold piece with 8 silver coins. Silver does tarnish after all.

Anyway: if we assign the same number of troy ounces to a silver/gold coin as for a piece of gold (which we needn't do, especially given the density of gold in comparison, and the necessity of smaller, more portable coinage for lesser "everyday" transactions)...*ahem* IF we were to assign the same figures (400 troy ounces to a bar of metal, each ingot being worth 1,000 coins of its type), then we could come up with finite figures for the amount of monetary treasure that can be pulled from the campaign world:
  • 41.7 million gold pieces
  • 324.7 million silver pieces (16.2 million g.p.)
  • 1.061 billion copper pieces (5.3 million g.p.)
For a total value far, far north of 63 million gold pieces. That's a lot of experience points to be acquired...a campaign that features 20 characters could each end up taking home 3M (or more). Even cut down to one-tenth (call it "available adventuring treasure") we've got something in the 6.3M range...for coinage alone...which is enough to get eight well-played (surviving) PCs nearly 800K in x.p. apiece, leveling even paladins and rangers up to 10th level.

Pretty respectable gains for a finite money supply? Thing is, it's really only the tip of the iceberg. While valuable metals stripped from the Earth may have an absolute limit, money in circulation circulates. Here...let me paint folks a picture:

PCs spend their starting wealth to acquire supplies from the local merchant. Merchant puts together a caravan of goods for a trip "over yonder" (including a supply of coins for expenses/purchases). Caravan is waylaid by bandits (orcs, humans, whoever). PCs raid bandit hideout and acquire treasure (including coins from merchant). Back in town, PCs spend coinage to acquire henchmen, armor upgrades, fresh supplies, etc. Coins make their way from various vendors into collection box at local church. Apostate devil-worshipper steals temple treasury to help finance secret cult. PCs break into cultists' lair, kill cultists, take treasure. More wealth is spent or paid in taxes to the local ruler. Ruler distributes largesse, pays hefty salaries to staff, including his chief vizier. Vizier's daughter goes missing in the town's sewers/catacombs whatever...vizier hires PCs to bring her back alive using the same treasure they've already recovered twice already. PCs spend money for local spell-caster to remove curse of lycanthropy inflicted on party member by the wererats in the sewer, Spell-caster pays off debt to local merchant owed for supplies and spell components. Merchant puts together a heavily armed caravan to make it to next town (no chances this time) and hires PC adventurers as escorts using the same money as salary (though much of it has also been used to pay for horses, tack, feed, new wagons, etc.). 

The same hundreds or thousands of coins can easily end up being the same "loot" over and over again, allowing players to level far beyond what one might assume possible given the supply of coin currency in the region. No, money may not grow on trees...but there are things that do (I'm sure farmers in eastern Washington looks at the fruit in their orchards and see dollar signs), things that money acquires. And, as I've written before, adventurers have costs, and the proper running of a campaign requires enough world building to ensure enough costs to eat into all that treasure the PCs find along the way. It's the steady diet of want and need that drives a campaign onwards.

Okay, more later. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Fantasy Economics (p.1)

Let's get right to it:
36. Tharkadan Treasure Vault

Having detected the secret door, locating the concealed latch is a simple matter. It releases with a soft click, and a section of the stone wall swings silently inward. The room beyond is fairly large, and nearly filled with yellow, brick-like objects that glitter through a layer of dust.

Stacked 25 high, 25,000 gold ingots line the walls around the room. Each contains the equivalent of 1,000 gp of the metal. Gold was valued highly by the dwarves of Pax Tharkas in the Age of Dreams, but it is of little use to the current adventurers.
[from DL2: Dragons of Flame by Douglas Niles]

25,000 gold ingots, each containing 1,000 gold pieces worth of gold. A total value of 25 million gold pieces, and absolutely worthless (by DL campaign rules) in the Seeker Lands.

NOT, however, in the case of lands conquered by the dragon armies. From Appendix I ("Rates of Exchange") in DL1: Dragons of Despair:
In the lands conquered by the Dragonlords, no coinage is used; the gpw [gold piece weight] of the metal is used for exchanges. Steel is the basic metal, but gold does have some value...  
1 gpw of steel equals 10 gp
[emphasis added]

So...25 million gold coins are worth 2.5 million steel pieces (and thus 2.5 million experience points) in the lands occupied by the dragon highlords. Places like, for example, Tarsis on the southern continent (encountered in DL5 I believe)...or even Haven and Solace after the events of DL2.

Of course, that's not how the hoard in the secret treasure vault is supposed to be handled. Presumably, the players are supposed to discover a pile of gold bars, stand in awe and wistful sadness for a few moments, and then leave to get on with the "glorious adventure story," rescuing an elven princess from durance vile.

Such trash.

In my estimation, elven princesses are much more conducive to rescue by wealthy, well-dressed heroes who can afford a bevy of servants to wait on her every need and provide fine meals prepared by expensive chefs. You know...the kind of hero that lives in a palace? Does the princess really want to be returned to her soon-to-be-ashes forest home, just to become a hunted refugee with the rest of her people?

[yes, yes, I've read DragonLance...I realize Laurana is made of sterner stuff than that, going on to be the Golden General and all. I'm just saying: this is what the adventure is telling you to do. The novels are a different deal]

Anyway, since my campaign world is a bit more...mm..."pragmatic," these gold bars mean a bit more to me. Time to do some math.

How much does a "gold ingot" weigh?
Well, it doesn't say, so one might simplistically figure that having "1,000 gp of [gold]" means it weighs 100 pounds, since in AD&D 10 "coins" of weight is the equivalent of 1 pound. 

However, while I know gold is heavy and all, 100# gold bricks do seem rather excessive. Per Ye Old Internets, a standard gold bar (as used by central banks and traded by bullion dealers) contains 400 troy ounces of gold. A "troy ounce" is a bit heavier than a standard ounce, there being only 14.58 to the imperial pound. Thus, a standard gold bar weighs about 27.5 pounds...heavy, but each freed slave from Pax Tharkas could probably shlep one or two on their way out the door to freedom. 

"But wait...if the bar only weighs 27.5 pounds, than how can each have a value of 1,000 gold pieces?" Simple enough: because a gold "piece" (aka "coin") need not be composed of 0.1# of pure metal. Let me give a few examples:
  • The gold sovereign (worth 1 British Pound) has 7.32 grams of fine gold...less than one-quarter of a troy ounce. A standard gold brick thus has enough gold to make almost 1,700 gold sovereigns.
  • The Spanish gold doubloon ("double shield", worth 4 Spanish dollars or 32 reales at the time) contained .218 troy ounces (about 6.8g) of fine gold. One gold brick could thus make more than 1,800 such coins.
  • The American gold eagle (largest size) has 31.1g of pure gold...1 troy ounce. Only 400 such coins could be minted from a standard bar, although the half ounce size could (obviously) increase that number to 800 coins; that's pretty close to 1,000, no?
"But, JB! We are talking about D&D here! The rules are explicit that 10 gold coins weigh one pound! Clearly one gold coin (value: 1 g.p.) must weigh 1/10th of a pound (1.46 troy ounces) with a pretty close amount of fine gold being the base of its substance. These bars MUST weigh 100# each."

Okay, first off let's all remember that the AD&D encumbrance system is an abstract game system, measuring not only weight but bulk. Why does a folded robe have an encumbrance value of 50 while a worn robe has a value of 25? Did the thing lose 2.5# of lint when you shook it out from being at the bottom of your armoire? No.

Presumably, this is why a long sword...a weapon whose average weight is 2.5 to 4 pounds...is given an encumbrance value of 60 to 100 (the latter being the given value of a bastard sword which - surprise! - is usually just another name for a long sword). This doesn't mean the weapon weighs 2.5 times the weight of a real world equivalent, but the thing has bulk...and a cumbersome scabbard sloshing around as well!

This same abstraction can apply to the gold coins in one's treasure vault. Coins may be in lined boxes, neatly tied bags, sturdy wooden coffers...whatever!...and take organization and attention in one's backpack to make sure they're not getting loose and lost in various nooks and crannies. 1,000 g.p. may require 1000 coins of encumbrance...the equivalent of 100# of weight...but the actual weight of such a sum might be considerably less. 

SO...let's just call these ingots standard, shall we? 400 troy ounces a piece, which (by the way) we can then use to work out the math of just how much gold is in the Krynn-ish gold piece...about 12.4g of fine gold...making the DL gold piece about twice the size of a doubloon, giving you something like 36 coins to the (actual) pound.

Good to know. Now back to that vault: 25,000 ingots is a LOT of gold. At 27.5 pounds per, that works out to 687,500 pounds of gold...nearly 312 metric tons

Now here's something you might not know...there are a lot of gold mines in Washington State. A lot. Per U.S. Geological surveys, there's about 519 metric tons of gold in the Evergreen state. That's quite a bit...and many of those mines are in Kittitas County, which happens to be the location for the ancient ruined elven fortress that is Pax Tharkas. 

Thing is...many of them aren't. Not 60%. That 519 figure is for the entire state...and Washington has an area of 71,300 square miles. Kittitas is only 2,333 square miles in area...barely more than 3%.  Now, as said, Kittitas has quite a bit of gold...historically, there are records of nearly 50,000 ounces being pulled out of the Swauk district alone. 

50,000 ounces would make 125 gold bars.

So, methinks that this veritable Fort Knox fantasy vault is probably a wee tad bit overstocked, especially for my campaign world. Probably by a factor of 2,000. Especially considering it's only really guarded by a single wraith, a giant slug, and a few dozen zombies. Sheesh.

Of course, we don't know how long the gold mines at and around Pax Tharkas were in operation. My Pax Tharkas is a ruined, elven fortress (elves are still an "elder race" in my world, having a cultural history stretching back 10,000 years despite only human length lifespans). The ancient Egyptians are thought to have mined 6.7 million ounces (just shy of 209 metric tons) of gold from the Eastern Desert over their many-century history, with 120 ancient mining sites known. Although the desert dwarfs Washington State with its 86 thousand square mile expanse, Kittitas County still has more than double that number of mining sites.

[that's not to say they're on the same scale, or have the same ratio of gold to ore, or same quality of deposit or...well, you get the point]

Unfortunately, I could not find a county-by-county breakdown of mining information to find the proportion of gold that might be natural to the area...the closest I could get was this map showing density of placer mines in the state. Using the average numbers for yellow (30) and blue (5.5) squares, I can see that there's some 440 mines in the whole of the state...and 136.5 of them right in the region where I wanted to place Pax Tharkas (in the mountains just north of Lake Cle Elum). Proportioned out based on averages, I might thus say that the area could account for 161 metric tons of the Washington's 519 Mg gold total, which would amount to nearly 12,910 ingots worth of gold...which assumes every scrap of gold in the region had been dug up, smelted down into bars, and then stored in the dusty vaults beneath the crumbling fortress. Not likely.

How about 2%? That would be 258 bars. Still an incredible amount of wealth...more than seven thousand pounds (3.5 tons) of pure gold, a quarter million gold piece value to the adventurers that find it. Of course, getting out more than a handful of bars will necessitate doing away with the stronghold's patriarch and his pet dragon(s). And there's always the possibility some ancient curse has been laid on the gold by long-dead sorcerer elves...

Now, I'm sure there are Dungeon Masters reading this who quail at the thought of releasing so much wealth into their fantasy economy in one shot. Why? What's 258,000 g.p. split six or seven ways? 40K apiece? That spends pretty fast, assuming you're in a city large enough to exchange gold bars for cash. My world has three such major cities (pop. 15K+): Seattle (natch), Spokane (seat of the Red Empire), and Tacoma. The smallest (the city-state of Tacoma) has a population of 18,000 and a median per capita income of 1,447 g.p. annually. Median income is not, of course, the same as average income...but regardless an extra 14 g.p. per person added to the economy doesn't suddenly drive up the stock price of normal goods and services. It's not even a month's income!

[for the sake of the curious: I've got Seattle's population pencilled in at 24,000 at the moment, and Spokane at 21,000. Annual median per capita income for these rival city-states is 1,955 g.p. and 1,246 g.p. respectively]

All right, that's enough fantasy economics for now. Later, gators!

Monday, May 2, 2022

Another Bard

In addition to curating spell lists (and deciding the difference between "normal" clerics and their devil-worshipping counterparts) I spent a lot of March/April doing deep dives into the various 1E classes and how/if they needed to be modified for MY particular game world. For the most part, the answer came back: nope.

[in a future post, I'll discuss my deep dive on the whole of race-class-level interactions which was the FIRST thing I scrutinized. However, since I ended up with almost ZERO changes to the PHB standard; I'll save that for a different day]

In some cases, this is just "being practical." Take the monk class as a prime example: there's a lot about the class as written that I dislike. The way it "breaks" normal rules (like ability score adjustments) over and over again. The hodgepodge of special abilities that range from Remo William to David Carradine to St. Francis of Assisi. Surprise adjustments. Just a lot of stuff that could stand to be cleaned up.

Thing is: it doesn't matter at the moment. None of my players are playing a monk. I have no experience playing monks. I don't have any experience running games with players who had monks. I just haven't seen how monks unfold over time in actual play. Yes, I've run NPC monks, both as antagonists and as allies. But if you're not starting them at level 1 and seeing the actual progress, it's difficult to judge just how the character is going to turn out.

So I'm leaving it alone for now. Well, mostly. Originally, the monk was a subclass of cleric and I've put it back into that category (my monk uses the cleric tables for both attacks AND saving throws). And I'm considering upping the hit die type to D6s rather than D4s based on what hit points represent, how they function, the monk's role, and general consistency with other subclasses. But otherwise, if a 5th level or 10th level or whatever level NPC monk is encountered, it will be exactly as written in the PHB. I'll worry about revamping the class if and when I have a chance to observe one in the campaign.

[as a side note, I'll say that I'm quite satisfied with the monk class's unarmed combat skills and how they model within the AD&D combat system...but that, too, is its own discussion]

The bard, however, is a completely different story. 

I've had a LOT of experience with the 1st edition bard. I played bards pretty much exclusively in the days of my youth (well, after we started playing AD&D). And I wasn't the only one. At least three other bards (not played by myself) made prominent appearances in our games, although one (Rob's bard, Taliesin) was short-lived as he was sacrificed by the other PCs to the Machine of Lum the Mad in order to power its planar travel ability. Ah, yes...good times...

A lot of folks look at the 1E bard as written and consider its requirements so onerous as to make playing one prohibitive, but such just isn't the case in my experience. Assuming one has the proper ability scores to qualify, a character can hit the 5th level fighter / 6th level thief mark necessary to begin her bard career with a mere 38,000 x.p. ...hardly daunting when you consider several classes (including rangers, paladins, and magic-users) require more than 40K just to hit 6th level. And a bard that spends the time to get to 7th / 8th level (the BTB maximum per most folks' interpretation) only requires 140,000 x.p.; that sum wouldn't even get a fighter to 9th level.

So...easy-shmeazy. I advanced one of my bards from 0 x.p. in his first class all the way to the high teens in our first "all AD&D" campaign (i.e. our first "by the book" stab at running AD&D with no B/X rule influence/interference). Considering racial level restrictions, it was always a good choice for players who wanted to play half-elves (who didn't?)...and for folks who liked a lot of options (fighting, thieving, spell use) it was quite the no brainer, although the bard's abilities were generally dwarfed by straight fighters, magic-users, and clerics especially at the higher levels.

However, despite the bard class's functionality in play (based on my actual, non-theoretical experience), the design of the class doesn't work with the paradigm of my campaign world in two major regards:
  • the class switching aspect (based on my assumptions of how an adventurer's class skills are learned), and
  • the connection/ties to the druid sect
The latter issue is due partly to world building (I really want these two classes to be separate entities) and partly due to practicality (in practice, I don't like bards using the same high level abilities of the druid...like shapeshifting...and I don't see the class using the druidic spells in the same spirit/form as a true druid). It makes the bard feel like a subclass of druid...and the druid is already a subclass. I find that distasteful these days, though I could learn to live with it (we had no qualms doing so as youths).

However, the class switching bit is the real stickler. As I wrote the other day, I've gone through and rewritten the age tables, partly because I've shortened nonhuman lifespans considerably (most are now more-or-less human scale), and partly based on what I feel are appropriate lengths of learning time for a young person to be singled out for training and then complete a course of study and practice such that they'd qualify to be a 1st level character of a given class. 

As such, I find that I dislike the standard "dual class" rules given in AD&D (which are based on the simpler form of class switching given in Volume 1 of OD&D) that allow any human to automatically become a "new class" for which they meet the required ability score minimums. No, that doesn't work for me that (for example) you are suddenly a magic-user based solely on your possession of a high intelligence score. Un-uh.

With regard to dual class characters, my solution has been to do a bit of retroactive imagining for any player that wishes to go down this path: instead of the character "suddenly learning" the new skills, we assume that the new class was, in fact, the character's original training that (at some point, for some reason) was set-aside to pursue her current adventuring class...and NOW the character has decided to return to that "original class," forever giving up the progress she made on her "side career."

And then we add seven years to the character's age...the PC is (retconned) to be older than previously assumed.

That's the easy fix; dual-classed characters still get to be played, but they take an age penalty (in addition to the normal restrictions) in order to maintain the integrity of the (game) world functions. Unfortunately, that doesn't work for a bard who is supposed to progress consecutively through three classes, learning skills and retaining them as an eclectic jack-of-trades. Hence the need for a rewrite. 

In figuring out a "better bard," I looked at the original class (as found in the The Strategic Review) which is different from the AD&D version and includes justifications/references for its design. I also looked at later Dragon magazine articles suggesting various "fixes" of the class, including the variant bard ("Singing A New Tune") and curated spell list ("Songs Instead Of Spells") both found in issue #56. 

Taken in conjunction with the class as presented in the PHB, I decided on a relatively simple rewrite:
  1. The bard is a single class.
  2. The experience table is the same as that given on page 117 of the PHB (the bard starts at 1st level and requires 2,001 experience to reach 2nd level, etc.).
  3. The bard is restricted to 23 levels of experience. It uses 6-sided hit dice and receives one hit die at every level of experience (as is the case with all limited level classes) to a maximum of 23d6. This means that my bard's hit point will, on average, be less than the 1E bard as written (with a lower maximum).
  4. Number of spells by spell level are the same as listed on page 117; however, I have curated a specific "bard spell list," drawing spells (songs) from a variety of lists, not limited to druidic magic.
  5. Bards attack as a fighter of one-half level, rounded down (a 1st level bard attacks as a 0-level man); they do not receive multiple attacks.
  6. Beginning at 2nd level, bards have the same abilities as a thief of one-half their bard level rounded down; they have no backstabbing ability.
  7. Armor is limited to non-bulky types; weapons are as per the PHB. Three weapon proficiencies to start (1/4) with a -3 penalty for non-weapon proficiency.
  8. Charm ability as per Bard Table II (page 118); legend lore ability same but with slightly higher chances up through level 7 (10% at 1st level). Other bardic abilities as per the PHB.
  9. Minimum ability scores: STR 9, INT 12, WIS 9, DEX 13, CHA 15. Dexterity adjusts thief abilities as normal. Charisma 17 adds +5% to charm; charisma 18 adds +10% to charm ability. Wisdom adjusts spells known as per cleric/druid (and affects spell failure chance). Additional languages known are per INT, but the bard knows them beginning at 1st level.
  10. Humans and half-elves may progress to a maximum of 23rd level; dwarves, elves, and halflings may progress to a maximum of 8th level. Demihuman bards may not multi-class.
This bard has yet to be play-tested, but I have high hopes for it.
: )
"Want to join our party? We
don't play with alignment."

Friday, April 29, 2022


So, yeah...after very little deliberation, I've decided to re-write DL2: Dragons of Flame for use in my home campaign. As has been detailed ad nauseum (here and elsewhere) the thing has problems, most due to DragonLance in general (duh) some for stuff I just find a little nonsensical; for example, there are not one but TWO chambers containing a huge, ancient red dragon, but no easy means of egress/ingress for either (no treasure hoard in their lairs either).  


However, I rather like the Big Bad Leader, "Verminaard" (well, except for his name). I'll admit I'm a fan of "dragon highlords" as a concept anyway, but an evil 8th level patriarch battle commander is right in my wheelhouse. 

[remember I'm also a fan of Jagreen Lern]

But the "battle commander" is the important bit. Waaaaaay back when I was a kid, before I even knew there was such a thing as "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" I don't remember ever having a cleric in our games...not until I got my hands on the Mentzer/Cook Expert set. Remember that my understanding of "D&D" as a concept was mostly informed by playground gossip/play (which featured fighters, magic-users, and assassins), the Dungeon! board game (elves, heroes, superheroes, and wizards), and the occasional comic strip advertisement (which, to that point, had yet to feature "Serena the Cleric" or whatever her name was). 

[films like The Hobbit, Clash of the Titans, and various Sinbad films also played a role in my understanding of "fantasy," of course]

But the cleric class? Um...huh? Doesn't really seem like Friar Tuck does it? Certainly didn't seem like my parish priest...my encounters with "the undead" at a young age were mainly limited to the occasional Dracula re-make on television...my parents did NOT expose me to a lot of horror stuff.

And so, since I didn't have a good grasp on the concept...well, it didn't see action in my games either. 

However, this changed when I got the Expert set. All Moldvay wrote as a description was:
Clerics are humans who have dedicated themselves to the service of a god or goddess. They are trained in fighting and casting spells. As a cleric advances in level, he or she is granted the use of more and more spells. However, clerics do not receive any spells until they reach 2nd level (and have proven their devotion to their god or goddess).
Yeah, why would I want to play THAT instead of an elf?

The Expert text, on the other hand, gets things fired up:
At the first 3 levels of experience, the power of a cleric is extremely limited. As characters advance to higher levels...[they obtain more spells of greater power, having proven their faith to their god or goddess. Because of this, it is very important for clerics to be faithful to the beliefs of their religion and alignment. Should a cleric behave in a manner that is not pleasing to his or her deity, the deity may become angered and punish the offender. This punishment could take many forms...[examples]. The DM may decide what punishment might be in such a case. To regain the favor of the deity, a cleric might find it wise to donate money and magic items to the religion, build a church or temple, gain large numbers of converts, or defeat some great foe of the religion...
All that is heady, world-building stuff. This isn't just some dude with a list of healing spells and a weapon restriction...dude's got responsibilities to a god (or goddess). Failure indicates consequences! Compliances yields great rewards (like fanatically loyal FREE troops, and half-price strongholds!)! DMs are given major leeway to punish and persecute such characters, sending them on quests, whatever-whatever.

The first new character rolled up using the Expert rules (for my buddy Matt) was a cleric. I made sure of that. And because I was 10 years old and had no patience for waiting for someone to reach "name level," he was created as a 9th level character with a troop of devoted fanatics and a small stronghold. His first adventure: he and his men were ordered by his god to enter the desert and confront a blue dragon in its lair. Now, forty years later, I can't remember how the mission turned out (I suspect there was a lot of death by electricity), but I'm sure it was glorious. I know this: for the rest of the time my original group hung together (about five years, mostly AD&D), Matt nearly always played a cleric of some sort.

Fast forward to today.

I have some pretty solid opinions on the cleric class, basic assumptions on what it is, how it works/functions, and the justifications for various systems. These "solid opinions" have definitely changed/evolved over time, and I would happily enumerate their current standings if I thought anyone would really care terribly (I don't). However, I previously mentioned that one of my Lenten activities involved curating the PHB spell lists, and since the clerical list was the FIRST one I culled (and because it somewhat applies to Verminaard), I thought I'd detail a little of that particular bit.

In brief: I'm not using alignment these days. Lots of reasons for that. Nor am I using Deities & Demigods in my game, except for its rules on ability scores outside the normal range (and I'm thinking of cutting those as well). What then are clerics, and how do they function? Are they just a different type of spell-caster (i.e. another magic-user with a different list of spells and a different set of weapon/armor restrictions)?


They are still clerics...priestly types, in other words. But there is no pantheon of deities/alignments to choose from. There are acknowledged "lords of light:" life-giving, creator gods (or God, depending on the particulars of one's religion). Clerics have access to a standard list of spells based on healing and protection and generally all the (non-reversed) usual spells available in the PHB. They don't get to animate dead or cause wounds or slay living creatures...none of those powers are granted by the lords of light. They are tasked with spreading light, fighting darkness, making a better world for all. 

Pretty simple, pretty straight-forward, pretty easy. It's more-or-less "acting in aid of The Good" which doesn't necessarily mean killing orcs and building civilization...in fact, sometimes it means saving orcs and destroying civilizations. But well-fed, harmonious communities growing in wisdom and acting with simple kindness to each other is...generally...the desired end result.

Then there are the anti-clerics.

Some folks just don't want to get along with others. They'd rather subjugate and destroy, dominate and command others and aggrandize themselves. Rather than follow the lords of light, they pray to diabolic or demonic powers, who can grant them many of the same powers. Many, but not all. 

Anti-clerics in my campaign world are clerics with a different spell list. They still have some of the lower level healing spells, but for the most part they use ONLY the reversed spells found in the PHB. The dark gods aren't big on creating light and life; anti-clerics cannot raise the dead for example (although they can animate corpses in a gross parody of life). In simple terms, anti-clerics are bad apples who, for whatever reason, have decided they'd rather have the power to inflict fear and death on others, though losing their soul in the process.

The whip is not an
edged weapon.
This then is Verminaard (or rather Hanse Werner...that's his name in my game world). Being an 8th level patriarch he has his own band of loyal followers (who will take the place of various draconian and hobgoblin denizens of Pax Tharkas). Seeking to carve out his own small kingdom, harboring ambitions of grand conquest, he works to rebuild an ancient elven fortress, from which he can launch attacks (especially raids for slaves and supplies) on the local communities. Control and conquest is his aim.

An adventure for 1st level characters.