Saturday, 17 August 2013

Shared Knowledge

The question of "shared knowledge" popped up during my last post.

There are some who allow the printing press in their Greyhawk, but I am one of those who are still uncertain. The printing press was the "death" of the Scribe in our own Real World and yet Scribes are still plentiful in Greyhawk and other gaming worlds. Scribes spent a great deal of time copying manuscripts. This "career" proved unnecessary with the advent of the printing press. (see link)

As any familiar with Greyhawk knows, "learning" is not so easily accomplished. For instance, the students of the University of Magical Arts arrive at an appointed spot outside the wall and are then teleported inside by their teacher. There is no gate in the wall, nor is there a door in the pyramid. One does not simply walk up, then walk in, then knock on the door of the dean's office and say; "I'm thinking about attending school here. How much is the tuition?"

In addition, the various schools and colleges are located in the major cities of Greyhawk, usually the nation's capital. So one does not simply go to "any" city for an education either. That's why the master/apprentice relationship is still strong in the World of Greyhawk. It's still the way most people learn there.

It's one of the reasons why – in the World of Greyhawk – you still find Heralds and can hire your own Herald! Why? No printing press, apparently. Heralds no longer exist in our Real World thanks to the telephone, television, radio, newspaper and fax . . . among other things. Internet anyone?

So there is a question of "shared knowledge." How prevalent is it? I'm guessing it depends on how "real" a DM wants to play it.

If shared knowledge is so prevalent, why does one Scholar boast knowledge that another does not have? Why go to him instead of the other?

Why does one Apothecary boast a cure that another does not have? Why go to him instead of the other?

Why does one Alchemist boast of the ability to create the Elixir of Life when another cannot? Why go to him instead of the other? I mean, surely they "share" their knowledge?

I say that knowledge is jealously guarded in the World of Greyhawk, else, why does any Scholar know something another does not? Why does any Apothecary possess a cure that the other does not? Why does any Alchemist possess a potion that the other does not?

Many of our "character" Wizards find spells in their journey that they cannot yet cast. The point? A person's level does not accurately reflect what that person knows, but rather, what that person can do. A 4th level Wizard – through adventuring – has the spell Fireball in his spell book, but, at 4th level, he cannot cast the spell. So, the 4th level Wizard knows, but he cannot do.

So character level, or NPC level, would not reflect what a Scholar knows, or what an Alchemist knows, it would only affect what that person could do. And this filters down to "lesser" knowledge too, "blue collar" jobs.

I spent two years in a wood working shop learning to build furniture by hand. The Lathe became one of my favorite tools. I actually built a dining room set for a person who thought it was "great." I've built more clothes trees than I care to think about!

There are many others on the blog-o-sphere that possess such skills. Each will tell you that "skill" refers to whether or not you can keep your hand steady. But it is knowledge that decides whether or not you can actually build the thing in question.

So, why isn't everyone in the town/city/village proficient at building their own furniture? Not that rough, carved out stump looking thing, but a real chair? Could it be that the Master Craftsman passes his knowledge on to his apprentice, but not to everyone in the town/village/city? But what about "shared knowledge?"

I would say that it's not so "shared" after all and that means that "knowledge" is not so wide spread as a person might believe. And that's how I like to play it.

Friday, 16 August 2013

1066: The Year of the Conquest

Having done a piece on meta-gaming and realism, I find myself needing to provide some reference for my position in certain matters. I've never found a better description for my type of "world" than that given in the book "1066: The Year of the Conquest," by David Howarth.

In this publication, Mr. Howarth gives us a description of village life at the time of William's invasion of England. He uses the village of Horstede to demonstrate the lifestyle. Horstede was located in Sussex and very near to William's landing spot. Life in this small village went something like this:

"A village was surrounded by a fence, and its land by another outer fence.  Beyond that were miles and miles of primeval forest and heath, empty and wild, where men would venture by day to herd their pigs or gather logs for winter, but would not willingly spend the night for fear of wolves and spirits . . . For ordinary people, to see the nearest town might be the event of a year or even a lifetime, and to meet a stranger was a nine days wonder. If a traveler approached the village, he blew a horn before he crossed the outer fence to show he was coming openly." Page 12.

"Within his own village, an Englishman knew everybody and almost every tree and animal . . . But he had no conception of a map, no mental image of the shape of the country as it might be seen from several hundred miles above, or of the relative positions of places in it. He lived in a world that had his own village as the center of it." Page 13.

"Conversely, the news of the outside world that came into the village was vague, brought by peddlers, or filtering down from mouth to mouth from the house of the lord, or rumored at the occasional district meetings. The great events of the time were written down by monks in their chronicles and so became history; but to the men and women who were living in the villages of England then, they were only oral tales of distant happenings, more or less twisted in the telling." Page 13.

"The thane, whose name was Ulfer . . . was the only man in the village likely to travel far. He had to appear and share judgment in crimes and disputes in the hundred court, which met once a month,  and perhaps in the shire court which heard more serious cases twice a year." Page 19.

"Above all, Ulfer was the man who had to give military service. Thanes, or perhaps their sons or deputies when they grew old, were the mainstay of the fyrd, the army the King could call out, or the earls on the King's behalf, to defend the realm . . . Horstede was less isolated than many of the villages of England; for one thing there was another separate and rather smaller village only a mile away on the other side of the millstream. It was called Gorde, and was held by a thane named Helghi . . . Only twelve miles away . . . was the town of Lewes which may have had as a many as a thousand people. The Roman road from Lewes to London, which carried a good many travelers, passed with a couple of miles of Horstede; . . . Thus, physically, Horstede people could reach the outside world without much trouble in they wanted to. But isolation, imposed on most villages by distance, was also an attitude of mind. There was no reason for them to go to Lewes, except on an annual expedition to sell the produce they could spare; no reason ever for them to cross the river to the Roman road." Pages 20 & 21.

"There was only one link that joined Horstede to the social system of England, but it wasn't the town, it was the hundred. Horstede . . . organized its own affairs at a village meeting, a moot, and if they had a problem that they could not solve they took it to the hundred moot. Above that was the shire moot, and above all the witena gemot . . . One senior citizen of Horstede would therefore ride out once a month . . . to solve the problems  . . . in the hundred. But his way was not to town (Lewes) . . . (but) in the opposite direction, into the forest . . . its moot was held in another village called Flesching, no larger than Horstede." Page 21.

"Thus the ten mile trek through the woods to Flesching was Horstede's source of help and justice and news, the tenuous thread that bound the village (Horstede) into the life of England." Page 22.

And there you have it. Though only a few miles from anywhere, the villagers felt little need in traveling. Their news and "justice" did not come from "the big city," but from another village where their "hundred moot" met to reconcile matters. This is how I view my Greyhawk. My Flanaess is not a place of six billion people.

So let us place the village of Horstede near Greyhawk's Hool Marshes. A young man growing up in such a "Horstede" would no doubt learn about Lizardmen and Bullywugs, but why would he grow up knowing about Orcs (hills), Bugbears (mountains) or Quaggoths (underdark)?

So our young man decides to be "different" from his fellow villagers and . . . leaves! Ta da! We have ourselves a 1st level Adventurer! Now, just how much is this 1st level Character going to know about the world's monsters? As I said above, he's not even going to know a great deal about "mundane" monsters like Orcs, where does that leave the more exotic kind?

It has been said that our Adventurer would have at least heard of such creatures, but would he? My world works much like what is described above. Storytellers of any stripe do their best to captivate their audience. This is done with stories of Dragons and Sea Serpents, Unicorns and Faeire Princesses, Vampires and Ghost  stories, not with Orcs and Bugbears. Why, even our visiting Peddler may not have heard of those creatures. It would depend upon how widely travelled he was and if he wasn't the "stranger" spoken of above, then he probably wasn't that widely traveled.

Even the long lived Elves will be occupied with the denizens of the Underdark known as Drow, not Quaggoths and Illithids. That's why you see the "young" adventuring Elves questioning their elders in all the movies and books, getting information that only the "most learned" among their people know; the "ancient" tales.

And the Core Books, themselves, tell us that very few -- apart from the Illithids themselves – know about Alhoons, the Undead Sorcerers of their kind. So how would a 1st or 2nd level character – even a Wizard type – "recognize" an Alhoon when he saw it? The information on such a creature would, in itself, be hard to come by. Getting such information could be an adventure in itself!

Characters from the "big city" have their own limitations, which we can discuss in another post, since I'm sure this one won't be the last of these. But this should give a clearer view of why I don't like my 1st and 2nd level characters to know too much about the more exotic monsters of the game. In my world, they really haven't had the opportunity to learn about them.

That's why they're adventuring.

Oh! Horstede is still there, by the way. Today it's called "Little Horsted." It's not far north of Beachy Head.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Realism II

I can see this subject becoming a recurring topic on this blog, as I think of things that just don't seem "right" – to me.

I'm rethinking Fortitude Saves.

I was watching an episode of RivermonstersUnhooked this morning. Jeremy Wade was hunting for river dwelling sharks and rays. The rays are what got me to thinking. Their spines contain flesh rotting venom as well as flesh rotting bacteria. You will get lifesaving medical attention promptly, or cut your leg off at the knee. There is no amount of "constitutional fortitude" that will let you survive it. So . . . why an automatic Fortitude Save in the game?

It has been suggested that I go "back" to 1st Edition's "Save or Die" method, but that's not really the case either, since you can be "saved." No, I'm just thinking that there needs to be some adjustment, at least in my game. In some cases, you're going to need a successful Heal check – or a Cure Light Wounds – or your companions will be amputating your leg/arm. Such a situation adds realism to the game, even more, it adds spine tingling suspense! Will your character survive? Don't touch that dial!

Where Fortitude Save will come into play is . . . buying your character time! Will the poison kill your character before your companions can get him/her some help? In real life, some people make it to the doctor . . . but some people don't. To me, that represents "constitutional fortitude." So, the Fortitude Save roll will indicate whether or not you survive long enough to be saved by "medical treatment" (Heal and/or Cure Light Wounds) or whether your character dies before your friends can get you any help.

At present, I'm thinking that Heal or Cure Light Wounds will be sufficient to stop the progression of the damage, but something stronger -- like Cure Serious Wounds -- will be needed to reverse the damage. Haven't quite decided that point yet.

This position adds the right amount of Realism to the game for me. The way 3.5 Edition does it . . . doesn't. Roll a Fortitude Save and the poison doesn't even take effect, except that's not how it really works. That method isn't even close. I think the method that is evolving in my mind is a truer representation of how it really plays out.

Then there's the DC 15 Fortitude Save to see if you remain conscious while they remove your leg. Another Fortitude Save DC 15 to see if the poison spread past the leg. Leg removal will grant a +5 to the player's roll.

I feel another "House Rule" coming on. Yeah, my players are going to love this!


Sunday, 11 August 2013


What do I mean when I talk about "realism" in the game? I appreciate that it means different things to different people, so what do I mean by it?

Realism exists in the game, whether you want it to or not. How so? Well, you're walking to where ever it is you want to go, unless you have a Fly spell handy. Yes, exactly . . . gravity exists in your game too! Wow!

Of course, this is a fantasy game – as many people enjoy reminding me – so gravity only exists in a certain sense. Gravity exists so that your character can't fly, but it doesn't exist in that your character can't be hurt when he falls out of a second story window, or down a flight of stairs. Even though, in the real world, you'll probably break your neck and die.

Well, guess what? In my game . . . you're probably going to break your neck and die. At the very least, you're going to roll the dice to see if you break your neck and die. And that's what I mean by "realism." People argue that point with me. "Oh, that can't happen!" Sorry, but it happens all the time in my game.

The "newer" Editions seem to have "deleted" the possibility; at least, that's what the people I game with tell me. I dislike that. The same thing applies to the Dodge Feat. Sorry, but in my game, if you wish to move like Kwai Chang Caine, you can't dress like Lancelot. For this, I definitely use the Encumbrance table.

If there isn't just a little bit of realism in the game, then nothing in it is believable. And if you can't believe in it – just a little bit – then how can you get caught up in the story? How do you get involved with your character?

Some things just have to be "real," in order to become immersed in the game. At least, that's the way it works for me.

Then there are the demi-humans. Halflings and Gnomes that are a strong as Conan and who, when in their defensive posture, have an AC of 26. Really? Edition 3.5 drives me absolutely nuts with its Feats. I despise any 3 foot nothing character that's as strong as Conan; it is simply too much B.S. for me to swallow. Demi-humans simply must be better than humans at every frickin' thing! Why didn't – and why don't – the self-hating a-holes who make these rules just go out and cut their own throats? Nearly every one of them believes in reincarnation, why, if they believe hard enough, they just might come back a Gnome! Hey, it's worth a try!

Sorry, but in my game, no 3 foot nothing Halfling or Gnome is going to beat Conan in an arm wrestling contest. It is not realistic under any circumstances and there is going to be a certain amount of reality in my game. Demi-humans have their advantages, but they are also saddled with a great many disadvantages.

If you're not ready for the disadvantages, then don't play a demi-human in my game.