RPG-ology #18: Waterways

This is RPG-ology #18:  Waterways, for May 2019.


We mentioned rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water in connection with maps when we talked about Country Roads and again when we were talking about the placement of Cities, but we barely touched on them, more from the perspective of their influence on other aspects of our maps and our worlds.  Maps and worlds, though, are complicated things, in which everything influences everything, and understanding how waterways work will help us put together better maps.

This is difficult for me, because so much of it seems obvious to me so I expect it will be obvious to everyone else.  However, I have the advantage, as I think I mentioned in Shock, of over a thousand miles of long-haul canoeing, so I am perhaps intimately familiar with rivers and lakes and ponds and how they work.  I thus hope that I’m not telling you too many obvious points, and that some of this proves to be practical.  Let’s start with some terms.

A river is pretty much any waterway that flows downhill.  They can be big or small, swift or lazy, shallow or deep, straight or meandering, rocky or clear, in any combination.  Smaller rivers are often called brooks, streams, creeks, and similar diminutive titles, but the only significant difference is the attitude of the people toward the waterway and the probability of it going dry, which rivers rarely do.

Lakes and ponds are usually found as interruptions in rivers, and they are distinct from rivers in a significant way.  A lake or pond is formed in essence when water pours into a natural basin and has to rise to the level of an exit point.  Because of this, the surface of a lake or pond is level, while that of a river is always sloped–if you look at the accompanying photo, you can see that the downstream end is downhill.  In the vernacular, lakes and ponds are generally distinguished by their size, but technically they are distinguished by their depth:  a pond is shallow enough that water plants such as waterlilly pads can root on the bottom and grow on the surface, while a lake has at least some areas in which it is too deep for that.  Lakes and ponds are sometimes created intentionally by the use of dams, built by people or sometimes by animals, most typically beavers.

It is difficult to distinguish a sea from a lake in many cases.  Seas tend to be the terminus of rivers, at least one and often several, but most of them either drain into or are contiguous with the oceans, which are also sometimes called seas but which as a word tends to refer to the vast expanses of water separating the continents.  The two exceptions to the drainage rule are the Dead Sea, which is constantly evaporating and so is too salty to support marine life, and the Mediterranean, which also loses its water to evaporation but is large enough that its salinity, although elevated, is not inimical to such life, and fishing and the like are active there.  (It is easy looking at a map to suppose that the Mediterranean drains into the Atlantic Ocean through the Strait of Gibralter, but the water there is mostly flowing very rapidly in the opposite direction, salt water from the Atlantic constantly replenishing the losses in the Mediterranean through what some have called the world’s largest waterfall. There is an undercurrent flowing westward as a small amount of dense saltier water goes from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, but the bulk of the volume is inflow from the Atlantic.)  It is also the case that seas tend to be salty while lakes tend to be fresh, but this is not a hard and fast rule, there being a number of salt lakes in the world.  Part of this is because the distinctions between lakes and seas are not made in all Indo-European languages, and English has often translated words strictly that were used loosely.

A passageway that connects two bodies of water of the same or similar level is usually called a strait (or sometimes straits), usually unlike a river because water flows in and out both ends generally with the shifting tides.  If it is wider or longer, it is often called a channel, but this word also refers to the best path through a river—rivers tend to carve a deeper groove through which most of the water travels, and boats and ships navigate through these deeper sections either with or against the current. In modern times, these channels are marked by buoys, red buoys to the right when traveling upstream (“Red Right Returning”), black buoys marking the other edge.

A bay frequently appears as a brackish (that is, salty but less salty than the ocean) body of water connecting a river to a sea or ocean.  As the tide rises, water from the ocean pours into the bay, often forcing its way upstream reversing the “normal” flow of the river; the Delaware River is brackish as far upstream as Trenton, New Jersey, about eighty miles upstream, about fifty feet above sea level, and this reverse flow is often used by ships to navigate to inland ports upriver.  As the tide ebbs the bay drains into the ocean, and the river into the bay, and fresh water makes its way downstream to wash away the salt.  Because of the backwash, those upstream ports have rising and ebbing tides, but these are out of phase with the coastal tides that drive them, often by as much as six or eight hours, depending on how far upriver you go.  A very small bay-like inlet is usually called a cove; a lagoon generally is a type of coastal pool that fills from ocean spill when the tide rises over its banks, and then slowly evaporates, frequently not completely before being refilled.

A wadi is something like a river, but significantly different.  Common to inland tropics such as Africa, the wadi is a watercourse that floods and dries in a seasonal cycle.  During the “rainy season” water falls in the highlands and flows down very like rivers, working downstream and gradually covering thousands of acres of ground, pooling but flowing, spreading over wide expanses of open space.  Animals are aware of the seasonal cues, and migrate toward the anticipated flood; plants desiccated from drought spring to life and blossom.  For a few months it is a lush wet marshy world, water plentiful, wildlife active.  Then gradually it all evaporates, leaving the dry grassland to wither in the heat, as the animals scatter to places better able to support them during the drought.  The water from a wadi never reaches the seas, soaking into the earth and evaporating into the air long before joining any other watercourse.  Wadis do not support ship traffic or permanent settlements, because the water level is non-existent for a significant part of the year and rarely deep enough for more than the smallest craft.

Swamps, marshes, bayous, and deltas all tend to be areas where a river spreads out to a shallow wide area, usually with a channel passing through it somewhere but often a confusing labyrinth of waterways leading to dead ends and shallow muck.  Wadis do support marshes and swamps during their wet periods; bayous and deltas tend to be at points where the river meets the sea, and are brackish like bays.

Now, this might sound obvious, but water falls from the sky.  Really all of it does.  Water in wells and water coming from springs is water that fell from the sky and soaked into the ground, then collected atop or between layers of rock and either sat waiting to be collected or built up pressure from gravity until it spurted through an exit.  It gets into the sky by evaporation, the vast majority of this from the vast expanses of tropical oceans—if your world does not have vast tropical oceans, you will have a lot less rain, and a lot less fresh water.  Evaporated water, water vapor, is held in greater quantity in denser warmer air; if the air cools or becomes depressurized, it cannot hold as much water and so releases it.  This is why so much precipitation (rain and snow) falls on mountains:  warm moist dense air currents are shifted upward into cooler low pressure altitudes, and can no longer hold as much water.  From there it collects in streams or soaks into the ground.

There is an interesting atmospheric phenomenon at this point.  As water falls, it washes carbons out of the air, turning into mild carbolic acid.  It has always done this; this is not a modern result of air pollution, although air pollution does contribute to it.  Carbolic acid which lands on dirt and soaks into it decays and releases its carbons back into the atmosphere.  That which lands on rock and flows into streams dissolves the rock, creating calcium carbonate which washes downstream into the oceans, burying the carbon for millenia.  That’s not really useful to this discussion, though, so ignore it.

Technically, a well is a hole dug deep enough to hit what is called the water table, the level under the ground where bedrock prevents water from seeping deeper, and so has water refilling it constantly from the surrounding lands.  It is sometimes confused with a cistern, which is a dry hole usually lined with stone designed to catch rain when there is rainfall and keep it deep and cool in the ground during the dry seasons.  The famed Jacob’s Well is actually a cistern.

This is also obvious:  water flows downhill.  Because of this it is constantly “seeking” the lowest point, and that means it collects into fewer larger rivers.  If it pours into a low point—call it a basin—it collects there, rising as a pond or lake until it rises over the lowest edge.  A lake can have several rivers feeding it, or no rivers feeding it if it is fed by a spring or springs below its water line, but rarely does it have more than one draining it—odds are good that there will be one lowest point, and once the water starts pouring through it erosion will make that point lower.  If the lake is filling faster than it is emptying, it might rise high enough to begin spilling from another point.  However, most typically these are near enough each other that the streams soon join creating an island at the head of the river.  If the two streams are headed in different directions, it is most commonly the case that one of the outlets will erode until all the water passes through it, the other becoming dry unless it is fed by other water sources below.

Where the ground is steeper, the water moves faster and generally straighter.  It follows the lowest ground, but in doing so carves the path deeper, sometimes wider, removing the dirt and softest stone.  If it comes into a pocket of harder stone, it will be turned, but the turning will create swirls and eddies which often drill deep spots in the riverbed.  The northern reaches of the Delaware River are frequently shallow enough to wade through, but where it turns sharply at Narrowsburg, New York, there are whirlpools during flooding and the depth at the curve is over a hundred feet deep.  Rocky rapids form where the ground is too hard to erode easily and the slope is steeper, as the river becomes forced into a narrow space often between high banks and spreads over the area to become swift and shallow, the irregular bottom redirecting the current in directions difficult to predict without surveying in advance.

Where the ground is less sloped, the water spreads to cover a wide path and flows more slowly, but still tends to follow the lowest ground and carve a channel.  In older sections of the river these channels are often meandering, and as the water ultimately settles into them they form snake-like slow rivers with very little noticeable current, frequently surrounded by marshy ground, meadows, and flood plains.

As rivers join, they become wider and deeper, and usually become straighter as the land is less able to resist the flow of the water.  These wider deeper rivers which ultimately reach the sea are frequently navigable by ocean-going vessels, and as we noted are also subject to reverse flow when the tides rise, thus brackish but also easier to navigate upstream.  They will carve deep sections particularly at curves and bends in the river, as in Narrowsburg, creating good ports at such curves, considerably more so than along straight paths.  Upstream of a certain point ocean vessels, which have deep drafts to provide stability in rough seas, give way to shallow-draft river boats, able to navigate farther upstream.

The same currents that form harbors on rivers do so where rivers hit the seas, which makes such points doubly convenient for trade, as a port there accesses both the oceans and the river.  Such harbors are also created where the coastline recedes sharply, as ocean currents form eddies which create depths near the shoreline, although if the surrounding ground is low there will probably be a river outlet there, and if not the deep water is likely to be surrounded by cliffs, making for good anchorage but a bad place for a port.

So to summarize, most rivers begin from streams in mountains, flowing downhill and collecting into larger rivers, forming lakes in low spots, rapids over steep rocky ground, meandering courses over flatter softer ground, ultimately becoming large enough to support riverboat trade and then ocean vessels, subject at the downstream end to tidal backflow, emptying into seas and oceans sometimes through intervening bays.  Harbors form where currents have carved significant depths, usually at the mouths of the rivers and at river bends.

Now you have some idea of how to put the waterways on your maps.

I have omitted canals from this discussion.  Men build canals usually where there are two disconnected waterway systems near enough to each other that it would be commercially profitable to be able to run boats or ships between them.  Usually these involve mechanical locks which enable the control of the flow of water between the two systems, particularly if they are not at the same level, and typically because such canals often have to cross ground that is higher than either of the waterways (the reason the waterways haven’t flowed into each other).  Sometimes canals are built to get around sections of a river that are not navigable, if there are navigable sections upstream of falls or rapids.  They are a lot of work to build, operate, and maintain, and if neglected gradually deteriorate.


Previous article:  With the Odds.
Next article:  Treasure Auction.

Tracks on a Moonless Night

It’s been a while since we heard from the Winchesters. We now return you to another thrilling adventure in Northumbria!


Background

Sir Garrett of House Winchester and his retinue have been in the region around Blackwater Lake for months now, searching for Sir Garrett’s lost ancestral estate, named Falconridge, which once lay somewhere near the shores of the lake. After several adventures and misadventures, the Winchester party is now split into several groups. Cousin Modrak, Maggie, and Myles the Minstrel have taken ship southwards to the bustling city of Yarrvik, where they will meet with Myles’ rather wealthy merchant family, perhaps to cement a business relationship between his family and House Winchester. Meanwhile, Brother Lambert remained at the shrine of St. Cuthbert in Blackwater Keep to serve the curate of that shrine, Father Godfrey. In his spare time, he continued to browse through the small library there, looking for any old records on Falconridge. Master Magnus remained in the village, lodging at the Welcome Wench Inn and gathering any rumors that he could find on Falconridge. Yeoman Guilliman remained with him to keep the old man safe. The young elfin warrior-mage, Talvion Cormallen, was in the forest near the ruined Temple of Pholtus, which the party recently explored. Tal was waiting for the Winchesters’ impending return, keeping an eye on the temple complex and noting any enemy movements thereabouts. The Winchesters were confident that his elfin stealth would enable him to avoid detection and capture. The rest of the Winchesters and their new unlikely allies, about two-dozen pilgrims of Pholtus, were to advance on the abandoned temple in force. The Winchesters, after reuniting with Talvion, would serve as the advanced guard that would lie in wait, hoping to flank the evil forces that would certainly attack the pilgrims of Pholtus, who formed the main body.

From the DM

This encounter grew from the fact that I, as DM, was not fully prepared for the group to explore the temple further. Scrambling for time, I thought of a fun way to slow their progress—one that they would not mind. The previous session had been largely housekeeping so I thought to get started this time with combat. I also used the opportunity to introduce the PCs to the evil cult that has been operating behind the scenes. Thus far, they had only run into the goblyn hordes, controlled by the cult. To make the most of an otherwise routine trip, I also threw in a new NPC group that I wanted to introduce. That would allow them to role-play, and it would also eat time. Read more

Faith in Play #18: Order

This is Faith in Play #18:  Order, for May 2019.


A lot of people think that lawful (and specifically lawful good) is The Christian alignment in Dungeons & Dragons™.  They think this because they associate it with keeping the rules, and they think that Christianity is about keeping the rules.  I would disagree on two counts.  First, I don’t think Christianity is primarily about keeping rules—in fact, it might be that keeping rules has almost nothing to do with Christian faith.  Yet at the same time, I don’t think that the law alignment is really quite about keeping rules, either.  It’s fundamentally about something else entirely.

This is a continuation of our series on alignment as the True Religion in the Dungeons & Dragons™ game world, begun a year ago.  Since then we’ve considered Goodness and Wickedness, and I hope discovered that they were not what they are often thought to be.  We are now turning our heads sideways toward the other axis of the alignment graph, looking at law, which is opposed to chaos on the chart.

Somewhere C. S. Lewis contrasted two perceptions of humanity and society.  On the one hand, he said that if it were true that people are born, live a few decades, and die, and that’s the end of the story, they aren’t terribly important as individuals.  Some of them achieve greatness, and perhaps as Churchill said some have greatness thrust upon them, but even great men are small in the total picture.  They matter only to the degree that they serve the larger entity, society, the nation, perhaps the race.

It is this thinking which gives rise to the famous saying attributed to Mister Spock, The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.  In this conception of the universe, I don’t matter, and you don’t matter, but we can hope that humanity matters, that somehow we will as a people survive the planet, survive the sun, populate the universe, possibly become part of the larger society of intelligent creatures scattered among the stars.  It is not the individual that matters, but the collective, the sum of all individuals.

Therefore, by this thinking, the individual exists for the benefit of the society, and the society can sacrifice the individual, use the individual however it believes will best benefit the total.  As Caiaphas says, do you not see that it is better for one person to be killed for the sake of the nation?  People individually do not matter; society is what matters.

That is the core of the lawful alignment.  It expresses itself in many ways, including that there will be structure within the society, rules which bind the members.  It is important that the society function smoothly, that the society itself is healthy and prosperous.  It achieves that by laws, by customs, by taxes, by restrictions and permissions, by castes and privilege, by masters and slaves, employers and employees, and by anything else that keeps the society functioning as a society.

This sounds rather bleak, but it’s not all bad—it’s just not all good.  In fact, it’s neither good nor bad, in itself.  It’s simply a way of seeing the world in which we are more important than I, more important than you, or him, or her.  It is about whether each of us matters within the context of all of us, whether a government should put the whole of society above the needs of individual members.  It has the effect, pushed to the extreme, of making us cogs in a machine, but it can make the machine much better for all the cogs if it’s done right.

Of course, that is, as I cited from Lewis, the one hand.  The other hand is the view that people are at least potentially immortal, that we will outlive the universe.  That gives rise to the other side—but we’ll have to wait for another article to address that.


Previous article:  Narrativism.
Next article:  Simulationism.

An Invitation to Contribute to the CGG Site

Today happens to be the fifth Tuesday of April, and that actually creates a hole in our article schedule.

I write two series, the Faith in Play series that appears on the first Tuesday of every month, and the RPG-ology series that runs the third week.  Other members of the Christian Gamers Guild typically fill the second and fourth weeks, most notably Mike Garcia with his game stories and special rules and setting information, but we’ve also had quite a few contributions from R. C. Brooks and his D20 game setting, guild board member Eric Vandenhende, guild president Reverend Rodney Barnes, and our webmaster Bryan Ray.  They all have real-world jobs, though, so it’s understandable that they don’t keep pace with someone who spends nearly all his time writing and reading things others have written.  It thus sometimes happens that there’s nothing to post.

I’m writing this not merely to fill a slot that would otherwise have been empty, but to recognize—and to get you to recognize—that we welcome contributions from other writers.  We had a wonderful piece at the end of last month from Stephen Taylor, not a member of the guild but head of Games for All in the United Kingdom, about how to launch and run a games or hobby ministry.  We would love to have more perspectives on more related subjects from more Christians, and if you have something to say about faith and leisure activities, and don’t know where to say it, the invitation is extended to you to give us your idea here and we’ll try to slate you into one of our openings.

Probably the easiest way to let us know you’re interested is to post a comment at the bottom of this page; we’ll see that you commented, and follow up somehow.  You can also reach either Bryan or me through Facebook, such as messaging the Christian Gamers Guild’s Facebook page or contacting us personally.

I look forward to reading your thoughts, and I’m sure our many readers do so as well.

Treasure Division: A Case Study From Northumbria

This scene takes place between part 2 and part 3 of “Terror in the Tower.”


Background

The session began with the PCs back in the village of Lakesend, in between forays to the ruined temple of Pholtus. At some point, the PCs had an interesting discussion on treasure division, and I, as DM, played the various NPCs in the party. It was an interesting rebirth of an age-old dilemma, namely ‘How should treasure be divided?’ I submit that by letting players grab whatever they want without forcing them to think, you miss some good role-playing opportunities.

Cast of Characters

Most party members are part of one large extended family—the noble Beckett family. A few are retainers.

Granny Beckett: Witch, eccentric matriarch of the family
Jade Cormallen: Half-elf ranger, distant relative to most
Lord Roger Beckett: Ranger, new family head
Acolyte Denston Beckett: Cleric of Pholtus, grumpy and dour
Daniel Beckett: Assassin, passionate and protective
Sir Callum Beckett: Cavalier, burly and jovial
Sir William Beckett: Cavalier, sarcastic and brave
Brother Lewie: Cleric of St. Cuthbert, erratic but insightful
Sven Ragnarsson: Barbarian, bastard of Granny, Bjorn’s twin
Bjorn Ragnarsson: Barbarian, bastard of Granny, Sven’s twin
Brother Liam: Cleric of St. Cuthbert, comrade of Brother Lewie
Sir Raynard: Cavalier, handsome and witty
Raymond: NPC (Fighter 1), stoic and responsible
Owen: NPC (Ranger 1), introverted and self-sufficient
Kieran: NPC (Magic User 1), gentle and intelligent
Sergeant Blaine: NPC Fighter, porter to the Beckett family
Dagis: NPC (Fighter 0), new squire to Sir Callum

Narrative

Day 25, Eighth Moon

That evening after supper, the family casually discussed treasure division. Here are some bits of the conversation:

KIERAN BECKETT: “We are a family, and we have always worked as a team. Some of us perform very basic and very boring duties so that others are free to perform tasks for Lord Balin or to further the family’s interests. Owen has led a few of our kin on hunting expeditions almost every single day. Elwood and I have been gathering food, fishing, and caring for the shepherd’s sheep every single day—part of our agreement with Lord Balin. Since we share duties—exciting or otherwise—perhaps we should share spoils to some degree. Personally, I am less concerned with spending money than I am with restoring our family’s wealth by discovering the secret to those Cimbrian blades that we captured. Perhaps, each time we come into some wealth, we can put a very small percentage aside for those efforts? There is so much that I need to purchase or to acquire for proper research.”

SERGEANT BLAINE FORESTER (from his sick bed): “The Becketts will always have my loyalty and my halberd. I need no fancy trinkets, but some coin to buy a beer each day would be welcome. That is all. I used to serve for pay when you had your estate. Of course, when we were displaced, I did not expect you to pay me a wage. Now that we are coming into some coin though, perhaps a few coins each month would be possible. It is a small matter at the end of the day though.”

OWEN BECKETT: “Granny has kept us all on our feet more times than we can count. All those herbs and strange concoctions must cost something. Something tells me that we shall need her services many times in the future. It might be wise to take a small percentage of whatever we gain and put it towards restocking her stash of elixirs and such. Elwood and I could probably find all of her herbs for free, but feeding the family every day has consumed all of our time and energy. I am exhausted, by the way.”

RAYMOND BECKETT: “Along similar lines, it would not hurt to make small regular donations to both the Temple of St. Cuthbert, here in the village, and the shrine in the Keep. Sooner or later, we may need more than Granny’s healing, and the clerics will have to ask themselves why they should help us. Sure, Brother Lewie has connections with the curate and Brother Liam has ties to the vicar, but do not forget that we are newcomers here. They barely know us, and they are preparing for a major siege. Healing us with anything beyond minor salves and poultices may not be very high on their priority list.”

ACOLYTE DENSTON BECKETT: “From experience, I do not expect you heathens to worship the one true God (Pholtus), but it is only fitting that you allot me the same amount of coin that you dedicate to your temple or shrine. I must have something to donate on our behalf.”

DAGIS: “I require no coins. Sir Callum… and you all… have provided me with meals; a warm, dry place to sleep; and protection; as well as some armor and a weapon. I need little else.”

SIR RAYNARD BECKETT (throwing a handful of walnuts at Dagis): “That’s because you are a squire! We are supposed to provide for you, and you are supposed to be poor until you make something of yourself some day… maybe… if you live. The rest of us are not squires. I’m not greedy, but I like gold as much as the next man. I shall happily accompany or lead the next expedition. I need a break from hunting anyway. As a sport, it is good fun. As an occupation, it is drudgery.”

KENRICK THE KENNELMAN: “I have felt rather useless as a kennelman since we lost our pack of hounds back home. On your advice, I found employment with Lord Balin, assisting his kennelman and caring for his hounds. I need little else, but I agree with Blaine that a few silver moons to buy a drink would be nice. As much as my employer treats me well, I am still your man as long as you would have me. Say the word and I shall return to your active service.”

FINN THE FARRIER: “I too am working each day for Lord Balin, on your orders. Though I sought employment with the armorer, seeking to learn some of his trade, they had need of my skills with horses so I work each day in the baronial stables. There is no pay, but I have shelter, food, and drink. They even offered me permanent employment, but I told them that I remain in the service of the Becketts. A wage of some sort would be nice though. I leave the details to you.”

MARIN THE PILOT: “I will take whatever you give me. I am grateful that you tried to save my pa. For that, you have my service. As long as I have food, drink, a place to sleep, and some protection, I am yours. I never had no armor or more than a staff or sling, but I get by just fine. I can ferry your anywhere on the lake, run errands, and find out many things from the locals. I am a decent cook too.”

ELWOOD BECKETT: “I have been talking with some of the locals, and I heard of a few people that live together in the forest, sharing all of their food, clothing, and equipment. Each person contributes what he can, depending on his skills, and takes whatever he really needs. When they get donations or gifts from new members, they divide it equally among them all. When they need coin for something, they all decide what to do.”

RAYNARD BECKETT (throwing walnuts at Elwood this time): “Like that would ever work. Be quiet.”

KIERAN BECKETT: “My good cousin is correct in that we cannot go leaderless. The idea of equality is silly, but we might learn something useful from even these strange forest denizens.”

RAYNARD BECKETT (picking up more walnuts): “Forest what?”

KIERAN BECKETT (his hands raised to shield his face): “People that live in the forest, cousin. We could learn even from them. We might take a small percentage of each windfall and divide that equally so that all have at least a few coppers to spend in the village. In this village, we may need to make it a few silvers, as everything is so overpriced. With a small percentage going to spending money and a small percentage going to research, Lord Roger could divide the rest as he sees fit, paying for training, buying supplies, or awarding more coin to those that deserve it most. ”

Sir Raynard put down his handful of walnuts, but discussion continued for some time…

GRANNY: “While we have just come into considerable coin it has been spent on debt and training. We are barely out of the red. Though once the family is once again profiting, the whole family will profit as well as those who have served us and become as family in our darkest hour. No one’s loyalty will go unrewarded. As for tithing to the churches, the gods are always generous, but their clergy still needs to eat. We will remember them as well once the income we are receiving exceeds the debts we are incurring. The family will prosper again, our reputation will shine once more, we will be restored.”

JADE (playing with her arrows): “As much as I like gold in my pocket, I agree to share the wealth. Our debt is still there, but we have paid off a large portion of it already. Training should be a focus. Plus, I am quite curious to see how the rest of you handle a battlefield.”

BJORN: “I share the coin, but never the glory! The glory and accolades belong to me! Okay, maybe me and Sven. Yeah, the glory all belong to me and Sven! Well… and some of the good weapons and armor. Okay… All the glory belongs to me and Sven and some good weapons and armor! Oh… and some coin for new boat. Okay…  All the glory belongs to me and Sven and some good weapons and armor and some coin for new boat. Oh… and the good booze! Okay…  All the glory belong to me and Sven and some good weapons and armor and some coin for new boat and the booze. Oh… never mind! Bjorn share some of the loot. Let us go smash something interesting!”

SVEN: “And pie! I like pie… And maybe some private time with the bear cub that we saved… once she gets older that is. I’m not some sort of a freak you know! We make strong kids!”

Sir Raynard threw a handful of walnuts at the grinning Varangian.

RPG-ology #17: With the Odds

This is RPG-ology #17:  With the Odds, for April 2019.


A few years ago I launched the mark Joseph “young” web log with post #1:  Probabilities and Solitaire, which talked about how to improve your success at that and other card games by considering the odds of any particular lay of the cards.  I do use those rules when I play the game, and this evening (by now probably a year ago) as I played I was in a situation in which the two black queens (with other cards descending from them) were atop the two right-hand piles, one atop five cards and the other atop four.  A red king appeared to the left, and I had to choose which queen to move.

Recalling the rule, I moved the queen from atop five cards, and continued play as the cards which were freed were one after another moved into other positions.  The fifth, the bottom card, was the other red king, and I immediately shifted the other black queen to open the other pile.  As I did so the phrase against the odds came to mind, which was in a sense true, as it was improbable that the red king would have been on the bottom of that pile given all the places it might have been—but my mind immediately corrected me that this was with the odds:  I had recognized that the red king was more likely to be in the pile with more concealed cards than the pile with fewer, and it in fact was.

Of course, it might not have been, but Damon Runyon said, “The race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong, but that’s the way to bet.”  If you know the odds, and you want to win, you act in accordance with your best chance of success.  Bridge players learn the odds of cards being one way or another, and play to the best chance to win.  Knowing the odds of success, and knowing how to make them better, is the best tool for winning in most games.

It’s different with sports and casino betting.  The house sets the odds according to the probability of success, such that although you will probably lose betting on a longshot, if you win you get a better return on the bet.  That helps lure gamblers into “sucker bets” so they will lose a lot of money in small wagers on long odds, and the big payouts are a small portion of the total take and an incentive to others to take the chance.  It also helps cover the winners who bet on the favorite, as if it’s obvious who is going to win and he does win, there will be a lot of winning bets to cover.

Having recognized this many years ago, I devised ADR’s and Surv’s—calculations of the average damage per round an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons™ character could deliver and the number of attacks he could survive as comparative numbers.  It enabled my characters and the others in my party to identify which were their best attack forms in various situations, and let us build strategies on who could deliver the most damage and who could survive the longest in a fight.  I still use a spreadsheet version of the program today when I play or run that game, and while the calculation itself doesn’t port well even to other editions of the game, the factors may well help you recognize the strengths of your own characters in other games.

Even if you don’t care to stretch your math skills to calculating odds, you should try to get a genuine feel for them, to know when things are likely to fall in your favor, and when they are likely to fall against you.  If the odds favor a particular course of action, that’s the way to play; if the odds are against you, it’s time to retreat.

That seems obvious.  What is not quite so obvious is that in life we have to guess quite a bit about odds involving factors outside our knowledge.  In a game, we can quantify enough of the information to do the math, quite literally, and know the probable outcome.  Of course, probable outcomes are not guaranteed, but they are always more likely than improbable ones.


Previous article:  Creatures.
Next article:  Waterways.

Compendium of the Land Surrounding Blackwater Lake — Table of Contents

 

An Introduction, and Of the Barony of Blackwater

Of Blackwater Keep, and the Inhabitants Therein

Of Lakesend Village, and its Commerce

The Blackwater, its Denizens, and the Lands Surrounding

Various Peoples of Northumbria, and the Cultures

Of Elves

Of Frangians

Of Zeelanders

Of Varangians

The States and Rulers in the Western Lands


In addition to the materials in the above Gazetteer, here are some further notes and systems useful for adventuring in Northumbria:

Languages of Northumbria

The Moons of Northumbria

Rules for an Exorcism Ritual

 


Dungeon Master Michael Garcia runs two games in Northumbria. These are a few adventures featuring the Winchester family:

Screams in Store

Battle on the Beach

Brigands Rock

 

Here are some tales of the Beckett family:

Ants in the Darkness

Treasure Identification

Terror in the Tower, Part 1

Treasure Division (Still to come!)

Terror in the Tower, Part 2

The Investigation Falters

Terror in the Tower, Part 3

Trial by Combat

The Battle of Heinrich’s Horn


The Editor would like to extend his warmest thanks to Michael for sharing his setting and these play reports. We hope that many more are forthcoming! If you’re enjoying the adventures, please let us know in the comments sections!

States and Rulers of the Western Lands

One final entry in the Compendium on Lands Around Blackwater Lake.


Northumbria, Frangian Province of

His Grace, Jonathan Prestwick, Duke of Northumbria

Capital: Yarrvik (pop 6,000)
Population: 70,200
Population Density: 12-13 people per square mile
Area (in square miles): 50,000 (only ~5,460 controlled)
Hexes: 7+ (population controlled)

Hex with Yarrvik (780 x 40 = 31200)
Hex with Albanton (780 x 10 = 7800)
Hex north of Yarrvik (780 x 8 = 6,240)
Hex with Kingstown (780 x 2 = 1,560)
Hex with East Hampton (780 x 10 = 7800)
Hex with Middleton (780 x 10 = 7800)
Hex southwest of Yarrvik (780 x 5 = 3900)
Hex south of Yarrvik (780 x 5 = 3900)

Other Notable Settlements:

Albanton (3000)
Kingstown (2250)
East Hampton (1680)
Middleton (1260)

Fortifications: Yarrvik’s citadel
Resources: Lumber, furs and skins, fish, horses, rye, oats, fruit, superior building stone (basalt), syrup, and manufactured goods (ships)

This vast province, only recently claimed by the Crown, has great potential for wealth and power, but it also holds great danger. King Richard personally appointed his long-time friend, Jonathan Prestwick, to rule this sprawling frontier province. In actuality, the Duke only controls the regions around the major settlements. Read more

Faith in Play #17: Narrativism

This is Faith in Play #17:  Narrativism, for April 2019.


Two months back we started seeking what might be a Christian approach to what is called Creative Agenda, by discussing gamism. Our conclusion was that gamism was not inimical to Christian faith, insofar as it encourages us to be our best and meet the challenges we face.

We did not conclude that it was “The Christian Way” to play; we did not touch on the other two identified agenda, narrativism and simulationism, at all. This month we’ll continue in the order in which they are commonly listed and look at narrativism.

Lady Macbeth Seizing the Daggers. 1812 Henry Fuseli

People mistakenly equate narrativist play with storytelling, but the gamist group will tell of the time they rode into the mountains, trapped the dragon in its cave, and after a hard-fought battle killed it, and how is that not a story? What distinguishes narrativism is more the focus of the story. Narrativists thrive on moral and ethical issues, emotional responses, and human relationships and interactions. Did you risk your life because you were in love with the princess? Did the sorceress accompany you because she hoped to tap some of the dragon’s power for herself? Was the dragon a proven danger to the community, or was this done simply because we wanted to be famous as dragonslayers? Stories of love and betrayal, of ambition and greed, of nobility and flaws, plots which could be ripped from the pages of Shakespeare, are the heart of narrativist play. It isn’t that you risked your life but why you risked your life that forms the story.

In that sense, narrativism is about posing life questions and exploring possible answers—and in that sense we discussed this long ago in Faith and Gaming:  Answers, that role playing of this sort allows us to practice making moral, ethical, and personal decisions, in a petri dish environment that allows us to consider the consequences without suffering them. It permits us to communicate about our beliefs and explore alternatives in ways that are non-confrontational.

Anything that facilitates communication about beliefs is a worthwhile pursuit for Christians, both among ourselves and in groups with unbelievers. Narrativism thus has much to commend it as a Christian approach to play.

There are hazards, however. Just as the context of play enables us to express beliefs, it enables others to challenge those beliefs, to explore the weaknesses in what we claim. C. S. Lewis once said that at any given moment the weakest doctrine in Christianity always seemed to be the one he had just successfully defended, because at that moment it seemed that the truth of that doctrine depended entirely upon his own meager abilities to defend it, and not on God. Any time we put our beliefs in front of others, we can expect that they will be attacked, and the weaknesses uncovered. It might well seem that what you believe is not unassailable, as others bring their beliefs against it within the context of play. This, too, though, can be beneficial, as our beliefs are strengthened by our recognition that God, and not we, is the foundation for truth, and our understanding is imperfect but improving. Narrativism gives us this opportunity, if we can grasp it.

So again it appears that narrativism is also an approach to play that is not unchristian.

We’ll look at simulationism in a couple months.


Previous article:  Mourning.
Next article:  Order.

Yolo Swaggins

This is the backstory for a character in my house rules game. It’s much more detailed that the average backstory, but then a character with a name like Yolo Swaggins, Master of Swag End, demands some explanation.

In a hole in the ground there lives a hobbit er, hafling*. It is a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell; he could only wish it was a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it rotting or molding: it was a halfling-hole, which should have meant comfort. But it didn’t. It had a warped round door like a porthole, painted with peeling green paint, with a once shiny brass knob mostly in the middle. The door opened on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel: a once comfortable tunnel, with crumbling paneled walls, now stained with water marks, and floors of broken tile and moldy carpet, strewn with decrepit furniture, and lots and lots of pegs for hats and coats—though the halfling hated visitors. The tunnel wound on and on, meandering randomly into the side of the hill—The Hill, as all the people living there called it (though that didn’t really distinguish it from the other hills nearby as those residents referred to their hill as The Hill too)—and many little round doors, all in better shape than this one, opened out of it, first on one side and then on another. No going upstairs for the halfling: empty bedrooms, dirty bathrooms, damp cellars, moldy pantries (lots of these, though sadly there was little in any of them), musty wardrobes, counting rooms (he had whole empty rooms devoted to counting and storing his non-existent wealth), dirty kitchens, dim dining-rooms, all were on the same floor, and indeed on the same passage. The best rooms, which is not saying much, were all on the left-hand side (going in), for these were the only ones to have windows which at least let in the light, through deep-set round windows looking over his weedy garden and beyond, sloping down to the mere pond. Read more