Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Medieval Demographics (or, "The Peasants are Revolting")

If you don't know about this, well, you're fucking up. I don't know what to say. This shit (the Domesday book) has been up for a long-ass time, I vaguely remember consulting it regularly when I was running my d20 Cormyr campaign (which was a LONG-ASS TIME ago), and it's sprouted features since then.

What I'm interested in here is "how many people can [x] hexes of arable land being worked at [y] relative efficiency feed?" Domesday Book takes easily-arrived-at figures and gives you projected data on how many settlements the land will support (and of what size), how many fortifications will be required to hold the land, what size standing security force (guards, watch, etc) will be present, and how many of several key professions will be supported by this domain. (It's not ideal, for my purposes, that it uses kilometers, but beggars can't be choosers.) (Pretty sure it says that in the DMG somewhere, at any rate.)

Now, I'm actually using Midkemia Cities to generate my city professions, and there is some assumed demographic info there, and there's some figures from the Wilderlands booklets that have other figures, so I'm still kinda juggling all 3 just to see what feels right. The irony in all of this is that this shit won't matter for quite a while, but once players are at the "worrying about domains" stage of the game, it'll be too late to change all of this crap without serious re-working, and I'm gonna want a clear picture of the situation at the commencement of full-on armies and politics shenanigans.


P.S.: Oh yeah, the map is from Darklands, the best open-ended sandbox RPG set in the Holy Roman Empire that nobody's ever heard of.

P.P.S.: Oh, and here's Michael Bolton as Captain Jack Sparrow.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Medieval Professions by Social Class (or, "Get a Job, Hippie")

This is pretty sweet. A list of medieval professions at They're grouped into broad specialties (farmer, artist, etc.) but the actual professions themselves are nicely granular (as the very guild-oriented professional classes tended to be).

This is relevant to my interests, BTW, because I'm attempting to cobble together a rough profession-based "no-system skill system" for D&D (or "insert your pseudo-medieval European fantasy game here"). Basically, just a roll on the social class table from the Unearthed Arcana, and a second roll on a social class sub-table of professions - each one gets a handful of skill names (some of which you might have only a 25% or 50% chance of actually acquiring), and that's it. No numbers, no rules whatsoever, you just have those skills, write'em down. If it comes up in a game, we'll deal with it during the game.

Luckily, I'm the proud owner of Gary Gygax's Living Fantasy, and that book lists an astounding array of medieval professions, and it groups them using the same class hierarchy (lower-lower through upper-upper) that the UA does. (Shocker, huh? :D) so between that, the above link, and a few other online resources, it shouldn't be a huge chore to at least put together fairly comprehensive profession lists. From that point, I can pretty much just fill in the interesting ones as I go along - if "land court bailiff" or whatever isn't represented on the skill list, I'm sure nobody will kick.

We did a very tentative test of this at the game tonight; we know know that the fighter is from an upper-class military background, the thief is the son of a well-to-do merchant, and the elf's parents were wealthy antiquarians. (Which of course means so far nobody knows how a shovel or a mop works, or how to navigate by the sun or the stars, for example.) (Should I run a polo-themed adventure, they're all set, though!)


Monday, June 20, 2011

Dirty Dungeons, Done Dirt Cheap


It's not too terribly dissimilar from a double handful of similar tools (and the more the merrier as far as these go, the usefulness increases along with the variety), but this one a) creates a fairly tight "maze"-style dungeon via geomorph, b) stocks them with B/X creatures (or just Basic, or d20), and c) creates some detail with results from the DMG dungeon dressing tables. The dungeons definitely have a certain style, and wouldn't use them for everything, but for a couple of quick "just in case" dungeon levels to toss on the wilderness map? Perfect.


Wilderness hexes as dungeon rooms - Putting the "howl" in "howling wasteland"

I have a million good resources to stock wilderness areas. Choosing between them and then deciding how to apply them is the trick. My main source material for this latest campaign has been the monster encounter tables from the B/X rulebooks, and the Judges Guild random ruins tables to give the areas some character. Once you're used to the JG tables, one line can easily provide a launching point for tons of spot detail. But every ruin having a monster ends up being a bit excessive. And you certainly don't want a substantial treasure at each location. Nor do you want every entry to be a deathtrap. Of course you can just use your judgement, but the programmer in my likes to have a methodology to start with (which I then freely ignore to taste).

Then it occurred to me - why not just stock the hex like I was stocking a dungeon?

Using the dungeon room contents table from B/X, 2 of 6 rooms have a monster, 1 in 6 a trap, and 1 in 6 have "special" contents (the remainder standing empty). Rooms with monsters have treasure fully half the time, while trapped and empty areas contain loot less frequently (2 and 1 in 6, respectively). This, for me, is a perfectly acceptable ratio for outdoors areas, and it's scalable to whatever level of detail / population density / ruin frequency you want.

For example, I needed to stock a 10 hex x 10 hex area in a hurry for our last game. I went through every hex in order, rolling d2 ruins results for each one. For each of these ruins, I rolled the standard d6 dungeon contents roll - if monster was indicated, I stocked the lair from the Expert Set tables (note that more than a few of these end up being men or demihumans). If it came up trap, the item/location was described as being potentially harmful to the players (this is a great way to throw in wilderness hazards like rockfalls and quicksand, BTW). "Special" results got "lost world" / weird fantasy-type stuff (gates, lasers, dreamworld crap, etc.), and empty "rooms" just got an unihabited / unguarded ruin or relic.

This process went smoothly enough with a notebook just jotting notes - when I added Tablesmith to the mix, it got a hell of a lot faster. has the Ruins & Relics tables in TS format, which is just beyond fucking awesome. (TS is free to use, but there's a $10 registration to disable the nag - I STRONGLY advise you to check out the program and see if you don't think 10 bucks is actually a steal, and to consider registering.) This is an amazing piece of software for anybody that loves tables. You know you want it.

So, basically I end up with 100 hexes, each with one or two "somethings" in it (on top of the handful of locations already included from the Silver Princess wilderness map). Enough of those are monster lairs that you can get in a fight in maybe every other hex without me adding new creatures to the map, which is about right for the "first stock" by my tastes. As the players wander they'll uncover (and/or slaughter) map contents gradually, but the timed encounters will also _add_ new results to the map - so "restocking" is, I guess, almost automated? We'll see how that works in play, at least.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Saving Throws (But Were Afraid To Ask)

Hahaha... So, every once in a while, dredging through the open sewer that is yields a nugget of wisdom, nestled gently amongst the turds. This is pretty great:


It's a discussion of old-school saving throws, and the perceived reasoning behind them. I've seen this kind of thing on Dragonsfoot here and there, but not with this level of thought and illustration. Worthwhile reading, I'll have this in the back of my mind next time I pull an, "ok, save vs. [THING]" out of my ass in-game.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Valley of the Silver Princess (or, "How to See Gulluvia On 50cp a Day")

Running House D&D this Wednesday, or so I'm told. ("House D&D" being "Basic D&D with housemates and associates, including girlfriend-types and not specifically aimed at super grognards the way we usually roll around here".) Last time (the first time), we ran one session of the (banned) orange-cover version of B3 Palace of the Silver Princess (weirdness very much in - see HERE for details (UNLESS YOU'RE PLAYING AND THAT MEANS YOU, YOU SNEAKY ENGLISH K'NIGITS)). They spent most of the session getting there (jumping around city roofs and playing 007 before getting to the green dude with the hook), and then proceeded to make it a hundred feet or so in, blunder into a pit trap, and get their asses more or less handed to them by militaristic kobolds. Barely managing to force a failed morale check, driving the overly-effective dogmen away, the party limped back to the entrance, short a player character.

So now they're in need of warm bodies and an outfitter. (Besides the dead PC from last time, we may have one or two new players.) They're in poor shape for the "wander around until we inevitably run across imprisoned adventurers" thing, so that means travel. I'm loathe to handwave such things - sure, you can say "you get to town X with Y random encounters on the way", but I dig when things evolve a bit more organically. TO THE MAPPING CHAMBER.

I'm basing this on the overland map in (orange-cover) B3, sort-of-mostly shoehorned into the corresponding area from the Mystara map included in the D&D Rules Cyclopedia. Which is not to say I'm giving much if any weight to the Mystara stuff that's gone before - the material from B3 is pretty clearly out of line with what's been published for this area since, and I'm not a huge Mystara scholar anyway - but I figure I have the RC, and the pretty map pages in it, I may as well make use of it for the surrounding areas. Most of what I've done here is actually just North of the extreme Northwest corner of the RC Mystara map - which also means that the Western border of my map is "off the charts", even in the source material. So that's where I can get freaky-crazy - I'm envisioning a vast, weird steppes area populated by barbarians and giant animals (stolen from Judges Guild, natch), with a spice road across it and lots of "on the road" zaniness. With a nice, dangerous reputation to keep folks away from it before I've actually done any of the design work, of course. :D

With that context in mind, I spent some time mapping the locations and routes (roads, paths and rivers) from B3 onto my RC-based hex map. (Using the 5-mile Judges Guild scale for this.) (Yes I know it was supposed to be 15 miles, no I don't care.) Some map distortion crept in getting things to fit where I wanted them, but I managed to more or less preserve the distances between locations, so fuck it. From there, we have a pretty bare map. Time to flesh it out.

Using the "habitation" table from the AD&D DMG (pg. 173), I rolled the "chance of habitation" for every hex in a 15 x 15 hex area. Any weird results (assuming that the main towns were those on the map, and that there weren't a bunch of extra cities, for example) were massaged out (either moved somewhere useful, or ignored). Got a bunch of small thorps & hamlets, a ton of individual settlements / camps, and more than a few ruins. Using the "race of settlement ruler" table from Kellri's GDD#4, we find that there are a lot of displaced dwarven settlements in the area (presumably refugees from the Palace's fall) (used tons of Dwarf Fortress names for these, of course), and a couple of powerful retired adventurers living in the valley as well.

And here's where we're at (with water colored in, figuring not much there is gonna change or need erasing at this point):

With the terrain and main settlements arrived at, I have a pretty good basis to fill in the blanks with lots of results from the Judges Guild ruins & relics table, and then it's hexcrawl time. YEEAAAAAAAAHHHHHH


Edit: I figured it'd be illuminating to include the map I based my work off of. So there.