Monday, December 11, 2017

Metal

Hi, I'm an Iron Worker!


OK. So, most of anyone who knows me probably knows that I work in a steel mill, and that my job is some sort of fancy inspection thing where I give ultrasounds to pipe. That's not the whole story, that's not even a fraction of it, but I've learned that the only people who will ever understand what it really is, are other people who do the job. Outside of my coworker peers, I am alone in this experience. And that makes me sad, not out of loneliness, but because experiencing the triumph of the modern manufacturing process is something I believe everyone should have in their lives- especially regarding pipe in this age. Today, I'm going to talk to you about my area of expertise:

Steel.

I'm not a metallurgist, welder, or smith, but I work with their products. I know how the material works, and I know how their processes work, even if I haven't got the practiced hand or memorized knowledge to replicate it myself. You've got to be humble when you tell a welder of 30+ years that he botched it.

Why are we talking about this in a game design blog?

Let me answer that question, by asking you what you think of when someone mentions "crafting" in an RPG. Most people immediately think of a blacksmith. (Some people jump to a carpenter, alchemist, or mechanic first, but the blacksmith isn't far behind) I think this is because they often assume "crafting" means "shortcut to fancier combat gear".

The folly of crafting systems.

Have I ever mentioned how much I hate crafting systems in RPGs? I haven't written a detailed blog about this? Wow. I think about this like once a month. OK. Here goes. The main problems with crafting rules in an RPG are as follows:

  • RPGs are typically built to focus on some sort of adventurous narrative experience. Crafting is the opposite of that. Being a skilled craftsman demands decades of practice, study, training, and research. In other words, while an adventurer runs out on a whim to chase adventure, the craftsman stays home to make yet another slightly better quality version of the same thing he's been making in the same shop for 20 years. That's pretty hard to reconcile with the normal flow of play.
  • Crafting is time consuming, tedious, and boring. For example, I am a trained artist, specializing in dry media and drawing techniques, especially graphite, metal point, and ink. I love art and I love my artwork. But I hate drawing, in the same way that I hate mowing the lawn or washing dishes. It's a pain in the ass, but the results are worth the effort. Basically, there is nothing fun about the process of making something- it is the opposite of fun.
  • Crafting is almost never focused on as a primary function of play. It is almost always an after-thought brought on by simulationist tendencies in the dev team. Eventually, someone goes "Wait, if the players can be blacksmiths, shouldn't they be able to make swords?" the answer to this should (almost) always be "Only if the game is actually about artisanal weapon smithing". (That actually sounds like a really cool premise for a non-traditional RPG...)
  • Crafting is not game-balanced. I'm going to put it plainly: In real life, a craftsman with good, experienced hands and a mind for business, can put almost no material or time investment into their work, and sell the product for a fortune. For evidence, please read about Yves Klein. The man made a fortune painting sheets of blue. His most famous of those bland blue squares is worth 760,000 - 1,200,000 USD. It's just a sheet of blue canvas. So, given that product value is not equivalent to investment, and not all trades are equal, how do you balance that in game terms? These days, pussies players demand fairness balance in the form of arbitrarily stratified power advancement. Character wealth typically plays a role in that. You realistically should can't have a shortcut to golden glory in the form of a single character option, or people will call it cheating imbalanced.
  • Real life craftsmanship is actually pretty hard. Naturally existing materials don't normally want to become chairs, or candelabras, or dildos. (You know, what with all that momentum, conservation of mass and energy, thermodynamics, & etc.) You have to force those materials to your will. Most trades demand more than knowledge, they demand a certain personality type. Who you are needs to mesh with the nature of the material and work. If it's a bad fit, you'll never be especially great at it. Unfortunately, things that are both difficult and subtle like this don't translate well to exciting play at the game table. Because it isn't fun.


Oh yeah, party central, right here.
Grab a hammer, let's pour our souls out into a piece of the Earth so a horse can walk in comfort.

So, given that crafting is boring , excessively difficult, and totally unfair, how can we represent this concept in play? Up until 2014, I said "You don't, because it's a stupid little niche thing that only some players care about anyways." but then 5th edition D&D came out, and I now have a new answer: "You don't, unless you plan to rip off D&D as shamelessly as possible." So, what did D&D 5e do? Basically, they codified bluebooking without calling it that. Instead, they called it what bluebooking actually is: downtime.

Bluebooking is the practice of playing a group game solo while you are away from the table and/or while your character isn't with the group. Basically, the player makes a "bluebook" which they share with the DM, and is available to the table to read if they like. The player writes what they want their character to be doing during their off-stage time, or between sessions, and the DM responds by writing the results of that activity between sessions. It's an obscure practice used mostly by OSR grognards and roleplay elitists. (Interesting that two unmixable fandoms both invented the same technique simultaneously. I guess outrageous pretension just tends to create thematic trends.)

5e codified this concept in their downtime mechanic. The DM awards player characters with "days" of downtime as if it were a currency. (When I say currency, I mean the RPG theory term, where HP and XP are types of currency as well.) Between sessions, players can "spend" days on pre-structured downtime activities, which produce various results based on how many days you spend on them. When you spend a day, you choose a quality of lifestyle that you'd like your character to live in during that time, which the DM is supposed to use to figure out what societal strata you fit in with, and you have to pay lifestyle expenses (actual game-coin) for each day spent.

This system is brilliant because it does the impossible: It allows gameplay to represent crafting without playing through craftsmanship. It removes the whole process from play entirely, but still represents and handles the process. Bloody smart is what it is.

In an effort to be simple, easy, and balanced, they have intentionally ignored any connection to actual craftsmanship, instead focusing on paying in downtime to make monetary progress toward the complete value of the crafted object. Since the most expensive lifestyle has the same value as your progress rate, which is arbitrarily fixed at 10gp per day, you will always get a discount on a crafted item unless your character is a complete fop. So not only is it efficient, it's also magically pretty close to balanced!

Unfortunately, this leads to some pretty piss-poor roleplaying when the players have absolutely no idea how things are actually made. Now, you can't blame them. Most gamers are kids, and even the greatest polymaths can't learn it all. Even so, if you're going to play a character whose whole schtick is that they are a metalworker, and you're going to run the character for a while, at least have the decency to mine wikipedia for some technical jargon!

The rest of this is just going to be me rambling about the steel manufacturing process. Read on if you have any interest in just how fucking badass humanity really is.

We made this. We do this, all around the world, every single day. And we are really, really good at it.


So what is steel?

Steel is an iron alloy containing primarily carbon as the alloying element. All metals containing iron are "ferrous" metals because that's just latin for "iron-y", which is good, because irony is already a totally different word, and we already have too much of this homophone-homonym horse shit as it is.

Steel is unique because it is possible to make an extremely wide range of physically different steel products from very small changes in the process. Other metals, such as aluminum, are more difficult to alter on a molecular level. A grade of steel  has its properties determined by the following:

Carbon Content. The more carbon in the steel, the harder it gets. Sort of. Usually. With conditions. We add carbon to iron during the smelting process by burning coal.

This is why simply "not using fossil fuels as fuel" isn't enough to stop climate change. Fossil fuels aren't just fuels, they're manufacturing materials, inherent to many industries. We don't just burn this stuff, we make stuff out of it. If you can think of a better way to get the carbon into the steel, you're a fucking genius, because we've had engineers trying to find a profitable workaround for hundreds of years, to no avail. Coal (actually coke, it's more efficient) is still the primary method of controlling carbon content in raw steel.

Not an especially detailed thing, but it covers the broad strokes.

Crystal Structure. When steel cools, its molecules form a crystalline lattice on a microscopic scale, alternating with fields of iron and carbon. These alternating crystals form in clumps, called "grains". The size of the grains of carbon and iron, and their shape, have significant impact on the final mechanical properties of the product.

Crystal structure is primarily controlled through heat treatment; raising the steel to a given temperature to let the molecules move more freely, holding at that temperature for a controlled time to let the molecules move around, then quenching at a controlled rate to form crystals of a desired size and lock the molecules in place. Different types of crystal structures sometimes have specific names as though they are different materials, such as martensite.

Additionally, we can shape the grain structure of the steel through forging, which changes what those properties are like at different places in the product. This is why forging is often favorable to casting; you can make a product that is not only hard/strong enough, but also has its strength/hardness directed at the work surface.

Hmm. Looks like the forging has some sort of non-metallic inclusion in there...

Other Alloying Elements. Of course, you can also make other types of steel alloys by mixing your base steel with some other stuff to interfere with the crystal lattice in new and interesting ways. Stainless steel contains at least 10.3% chromium, for example. (The chrome interferes with corrosion on a molecular level by filling particular voids in the lattice, and thus interfering with the movement of individual atoms, preventing them from being chemically dislodged. This also makes the metal very hard and thus fairly difficult to work with once made.)

Look, it's complicated, OK? There are huge regulation code books full of this shit.

Removal of Impurities. During the smelting process, we go through all kinds of insane effort to get rid of elements which were trapped in the metal during Earth's formation and cooling. Raw iron ores and recycled scrap are full of all kinds of useless mineral and gaseous crap that interferes with the crystallization of the steel, and creates concentrated points of tension or residual force inside the metal. Some of this stuff is poisonous as hell, too, so it often isn't enough to get it to precipitate out of the metal, you also need to make it go somewhere safe, or mix it with something that makes it safe.

When I'm inspecting steel with ultrasound, significant impurities and voids trapped in the steel (inherent defects) are one of the major things I'm looking for, along with existing failures (cracks) and process defects (insufficient weld penetration, etc.). Voids and non-metallics dramatically reduce the structural integrity, and thus the operational life span, of a steel object, and can lead to premature failure. These failures can result in thousands of dollars of property damage, environmental damage, and possibly even cost lives if the part in question was between a person and a large amount of potential energy. As a consequence, many steel products used for hazardous or essential purposes; including pipelines, aircraft components, bridge parts, boilers and pressure vessels, boat hulls, power plant piping, crane rigging, and many other things I've probably never even heard of; have international standards which codify their proper manufacturing and inspection. Most nations have laws demanding industry adhere to these standards as a minimum.

Super-duper simplified.

By standardizing all of the above properties to create a type of steel with the exact qualities needed for a given product, you can make a codified "grade" of steel that can be trademarked, patented, manufactured, and sold. This is what metallurgists do. Today, we have fancy (and pretty) charts which show the exact physical properties generated by all the different known heat treatments for a given alloy of steel.

This property, the ability to make steel suitable for so many different applications, is why it has reigned supreme as a manufacturing, industrial, and structural material for thousands of years. To get an idea of how much it matters, consider this: we weren't able to make a grade of aluminum strong enough for a truck frame until 2013. Sure, we could make very hard aluminum alloys, but strength and hardness are not the same thing.

A hard metal has very high resistance to deformation of any sort, but is also typically very brittle. That means that once you apply force beyond its deformation limit, it isn't going to bend much before it just snaps. Imagine trying to bend a granite rod.

A strong metal, conversely, has very high deformation tolerance. In stronger metals, we can more clearly see the distinction between elastic and plastic deformation. Elastic deformation is a range in which the material bends, but returns to it's original shape. Springs have very high elastic deformation tolerance. Beyond the elastic limit however, you have plastic deformation. When metal plastically reforms, the molecular structure is being shifted internally, and the steel is taking on a new shape. Plastic deformation is what we achieve when we forge metals. Imagine bending a metal bar.

Strong, but not quite strong enough against mother nature.

For a sword, you want both. You want a piece of steel that is as hard and as strong as possible, so it will almost never get damaged, and when it does get damaged, it'll just get bent or pitted rather than chipped or snapped. Unfortunately, for a very long time, it seemed as though the two were inversely correlated. The stronger the steel got, the more flexible it became, (Like how gum is soft but you can stretch it for miles) and the harder the steel got, the more brittle it became. For centuries, the forefront of metallurgy in iron and steel was driven by weapon and armor smiths looking for the right alloy and process to get just a little more hardness per strength.

Not that weapons actually snapped very often. More likely, they'd splinter or chip.
...
You know, like real tools?
...
You have used real tools before, right?

Folding your steel, like what the Japanese used to do with their katana and other similar swords, was one technique smiths invented to overcome the limitations of the material available to them. See, back in the day, we didn't know atoms were a thing, and we didn't think of smelting as chemistry, so we didn't really fully understand why iron from one place might be better or worse than the iron dug up from some other place, or why some smelting operations just made "better" steel. So, when raw iron rods arrived at the forge, they were... inconsistent. At best.

The solution was to flatten out several bars, however many you need for the product, heat them up to some ungodly temperature, and then smash them together with a hammer, forming a forge weld. Then you heat it all up and twist the structure. Then you heat it and flatten it. Then you heat it and twist it. Repeat arbitrarily. The Japanese opted for flattening it out lengthwise and folding it back on itself to create repeated forge weldings, each layered on top of one another. Do enough folds or twists, and you'll have the crap steel and good steel pretty thoroughly mixed, with roughly even properties. To be clear: folding of steel does not make it any stronger. It just spreads impurities more evenly. (And looks really pretty) If you live in a civilization with access to a Bessemer blast furnace or better, this is a lost art, and sadly, there's a good reason for it: we're just too good for that primitive crap.

A fairly elaborate forge welding being done for a decorative work.

So how does smelting work?


Smelting can be described, most simply, as melting metal out of gravel. It works, because most minerals, aside from silica and a few others, have insanely high melting temperatures, much higher than those of most metals. (This is why lava is capable of killing you by sheer radiant heat before you ever get near it; it is composed primarily of molten minerals that are well above even their own melting point.)

How did we figure all that out?!

It wasn't easy. On the scale of human history, from the time physiologically modern humans appeared, it took us over 10,000 years to do it. All of modern industry is standing on the shoulders of countless forgotten giants, lurking in our prehistoric past.

What is casting and founding?


This process is called continuous casting.
Molten steel is poured down a slide and cooled as it falls.
This thing runs as fast as the steel pours- it ain't slow.
Once solid enough, it rides on rollers.
Successive rollers shape the steel.
Somewhere down the line, a machine cuts it into billets. This is the process EVRAZ uses to make its base material.
Casting is a manufacturing process in which molten metal is poured into a mold and allowed to cool. It is... an imperfect manufacturing process. Cast iron and steel products have a random, coarse, evenly distributed grain structure that is typically not useful in any particular way beyond its generic mechanical properties. The cooling of the steel involves significant shrinkage, which puts serious restrictions on what shapes can be cast such that the steel does not become trapped in the mold or deform in ways which reduce its structural integrity.

All steel begins its career as a cast product, typically as a billet (giant flat slab) of raw steel. This initial casting is called founding, because it is all tied up with the smelting or recycling process preceding it. A foundry is a generic term for any facility that casts billets from a smelting or recycling process.

The old process was done in "heats". You'd cast a billet as a big block, and let it cool from the top. The top would experience most of the shrinkage, and is the primary point at which inclusions are accumulated. This malformed and defective top portion is cut off, leaving a clean slab from the bottom. The top is then thrown back into the start of the process, to try and extract more usable steel from it.

Most modern facilities just continuously cast the steel, as explained earlier in this article. It's faster and produces no intentionally defective portion for redundant recasting.

What is forging?


This is an industrialization age diagram of 3 forging steam hammers.
They basically still look like that, but blockier.
Forging is a process by which a cast (or sometimes partially forged) base product is shaped by force into a new shape. This process actually bends the crystal lattice with the steel, shaping and directing its mechanical properties. In this way, we can make products with high shear strength in one direction and high compressive strength in another. We can make 3-storey tall drive shafts and jet engines.

There are 2 types of forging.

Hot forging is the classical technique of heating and hammering. The strength of the metal is reduced with heat, and then restored by a quench. With a hot forging process, you can apply a heat treatment simultaneously through careful timing of the heating and quenching process.

Cold forging is just shaping cold steel with brute violence. Cold forging can broadly be categorized into machining and finishing. Finishing is the fine artisanal work done on a base piece, such as carving the threads into a bolt, or grinding out the cutting edge of a blade. Much of a jeweller's work is technically finishing, as are most of the decorative arts in metalworking, such as polishing, etching, and engraving. Meanwhile, machining is much more like carpentry, where a base piece of metal is manipulated by tools. Machining often uses more cutting and grinding techniques to remove material and make a positive from the remaining space, but they also use tools to bend, fold, upset, or squash the metal as well.

Cold forging has a significant impact on the mechanical properties of the base material. Shaping cold steel crushes the crystal lattice, creating concentrations of varying mechanical properties. This is called work-hardening, as it makes the shaped area harder, but weaker. Cold forging also has a tendency to create areas of residual stress inside the steel. If these localized stressors are exposed to cyclical loading, (repeated impacts or pressure) they will quickly reduce in structural integrity, leading to an eventual failure. As such, cold forging must be done in a careful manner, with the intention to work-harden the steel into the intended properties.

EVRAZ Red Deer Works uses a combination of hot and cold forging to make steel pipe from steel sheet. The steel comes in a giant roll, which we unwind and flatten out. Then we cold-forge it with rollers to turn it into a tube. Where the two edges meet, we heat the steel with an electrical current to nearly melting point. Finally, while still screaming hot, the roller system forces the two soft edges together, forming a forge weld. This is called Electric Resistance Welding, or ERW.

What is the difference between a furnace and a kiln, anyways?


Boy, I say, BOY, do NOT make me come over there!

I have seen this mistake made enough times to be insulted by it. The difference is primarily in the shape of the thing, but the reason behind that shape matters more. Furnaces and kilns move and concentrate heat in different ways, to suit the demands of the manufacturing process. Furnaces and kilns are used on different materials, and have different objectives, so have unique structure- they aren't even made of the same materials!

I repeat: not fun.

A furnace is designed to concentrate heat in a focused work-area on the product being worked. By definition, it must achieve this while being open to the surrounding atmosphere, so the craftsman can manipulate the fire and product during the heating process, and so the product can be periodically heated and removed for working. This means, in order to get those high temperatures, you need to focus the path the air takes through the fuel and flames, to concentrate the heat as much as possible. This is why furnaces are often tall and skinny, they're trying to squeeze that fire into a tight column. It is not just a hot box, it's a vertical wind-tunnel of flame.

Today, we actually don't use these much, because we have invented far more efficient heating systems. Even people practicing traditional blacksmithing generally only use real forges for show purposes only, while they do their real work with a heating or cutting torch to heat the metal in whatever way they want. Because such torches can be set to produce a specific, invariable temperature, and will sustain that temperature without any input of effort, a task that would take several men in ancient times can be done in half the time by one man today, even using traditional methods. Torches are instantaneous, igniting at working temperature from a single click of the striker, while furnaces of coal or wood could take hours of work to reach useful heat. A torch directs and concentrates heat exactly where the Smith wants it, and can even be picked up and placed directly on the surface of a large piece while working. It's portable, it's versatile, it's consistent, and it's easy.

Some among you may balk at this knowledge, thinking these "traditional" artisans are somehow "polluting" their trade with modern technology, but this is just an uninformed knee-jerk reaction. A trade is not its materials, components, or its product, but the abstraction between them; the task the artisan carries out to translate materials through tools to product. What most people think of when they imagine an atrisanal trade is nothing more than its cosmetics. Blacksmithing isn't a system of tools used. The tools don't matter. Blacksmithing is the hand-forging of ferrous materials by any means. Whether the Smith uses a forge or furnace; or whether his hammer is of the peening or hydraulic variety; doesn't matter to the work in its finished form. One way or another, the steel was heated and shaped by human hand, not an engineered machine press, and that's what makes the difference.

For the record: When I did this, we didn't get fire spewing out of the chimney.
We ate hot dogs and marshmallows.
These guys are crazy.

A kiln, on the other hand, is designed to achieve a specified temperature uniformly throughout its total volume, and sustain that temperature for a planned duration. It really is just a (very, very) hot box. Kilns are often made of insulatory materials, usually a form of brick or cement, because they want to hold that heat as consistently as possible. They also direct airflow, but instead of concentrating it, they try to spread it and the flames evenly, and then direct the heat from the fire evenly up and outward through evenly distributed vents. There is usually some system of racking inside a kiln, (as opposed to the open interior space of a furnace) to support the individual pieces being fired during this process. This racking is not just a haphazard grid, it is also an integral part of the air flow control system, to try and ensure the heat moves evenly around and through each individual piece. (Games with crafting systems which include pottery, that allow you to make one finished item at a time, are totally out to lunch. Individual pieces are fired in large batches, all together, all at once.) Finally, most kilns are sealed during the firing process. When I say sealed, I don't mean they close the door, I mean there is no door. They brick it shut. It becomes a fully enclosed vault of fire. Kilns that have doors are usually pretty small pre-made things that colleges and manufacturers purchase, and they're usually gas-fired. Artists, for some reason, have this absurd obsession with building their own kilns, to the point that I'd call it fetishism. (This is one of the many reasons I hated ceramics back in my colleges days.)

They are NOT the same thing. You can not fire a vase in a smith's furnace. You can not heat a sword for forging in a kiln. If you try, you will soon wreck something. There's one more misconception I'd like to clear up while we're on this topic. There are two types of furnaces.

Blast furnaces are huge.

I already explained what a forging furnace is like; a vertical wind tunnel full of fire. This type of furnace, along with the surrounding equipment necessary to make useful products from it, is called a forge. People in a forge shop generally would not refer to the furnace as a furnace, unless it was specifically damaged somehow. This is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT from a smelting furnace! A smelter is not just a fire tube or hot box; it is a complex and highly specialized machine. Modern smelters aren't just a single machine inside a building, they ARE the building. You can not simply smelt ore in a forge! You can not easily heat a steel rod for forging in a smelter! Think back to the section about how smelting works. A smelter needs to concentrate heat, achieve a specified even temperature for a specified duration, contain the liquid product during the heating process, expose the liquid product to oxygen, and all sorts of other tasks. It has multiple moving parts, and there are many variations on this system for making various steel materials.

Monday, December 4, 2017

An Apocalyptic Tradition

In the beginning, there was darkness.

A gorgeous view on one evening's drive home.
What do Gygax's Greyhawk, Vance's Dying Earth, Arneson's Blackmoor, Barker's Empire of the Petal Throne, Bledsaw's Wilderlands of High Fantasy, and Bakshi's Wizards all have in common?

The end of the world.

But hold on, I need to qualify something here. The word "apocalypse" and "world" are being used in a particular way here, which you might not agree with. Specifically: I am using these words in a very old, archaic sense.

First, when I say apocalypse, I am not talking about an atheist's nuclear haulocost, where all meaningful life ends and there's nothing else to tell. D&D assumes literal souls and a bodily afterlife in a similar sense as ancient religion. In ancient times, an apocalypse would simply be a mass transition of life to afterlife; a metaphysical exodus, if you will. Generally, they'd mean all life in the world, all at once, but then again their storytellers did enjoy exaggeration a bit too much.

Second, when I say world, it might help to understand that for most ancient people, in their minds at least, the world ended at the horizon. Even the most well travelled of men still drew maps of the whole "world" in which land could be seen extending off the edge of the page, sometimes even with notes of what lies beyond! In this ancient sense, "world" is not synonymous with "planet", "universe", or "dimension". Rather, one's world is merely that part of existence which is considered to actually matter. And yeah, a fair dose of nationalism, racism, and other tribal tendencies are what produce the distinction.

So, when I say all of these games are apocalyptic, or postapocalyptic, or that an event brings about the end of the world, don't get all up in arms- I'm speaking in a foreign tongue.

The End. Again.

Here's an article to give you an introduction to the roots of this tradition. Unfortunately, the guy's editor isn't a fan of citations apparently, so if that isn't enough evidence for you, here's some of the stuff that got cut. For further info, Grognardia brought the topic to discussion, from another blogger's campaign plans, and it was this discussion which led to the initial link above. Some other highlights budding off from that and going back in time is this colorful description of the birth of D&D, and this brilliant memorial to Dave.

If you want a broader discussion of the implications rooted in the assumptions the game system is built with, take a look at this old forum discussion.

But this isn't just the ramblings of some dude and his audience who noticed a coincidence. This guy understands it personally; he used to game with the original development team and received credit in the 5e corebooks. He knows this game like it's in his blood. But more than apocalyptic or postapocalyptic, D&D isn't even medieval! It's a bizarre sort of American fantasy. Its inherently American nature can even be found in its fundamental drive: the hunt for holes in the ground full of treasure.


The whole Darksun campaign setting is explicitly postapocalyptic, and is one of the most iconic and beloved settings ever published, even after being abandoned. (Something that can not be said of settings like Birthright, Council of Wyrms, or Spelljammer, which are typically remembered as boring, incredibly gay, or both.)

Need some more? Since the very beginning, each edition has made references to ancient histories full of fallen empires as the basis for all of the ruins. This theme stands true through to today.
How to build a classic.
In the first D&D book, we get this description of what the early game was about:

"First,  the  referee  must  draw  out  a  minimum  of half  a  dozen  maps  of  the  levels  of  his  'underworld',  [...] When this  task  is  completed  the  participants  can  then  be  allowed  to  make  their  first descent  into  the  dungeons  beneath  the  'huge  ruined  pile,  a  vast  castle  built  by generations  of  mad  wizards  and  insane  geniuses'."

Later, in the third book of that set, not quite the "DMG" by name yet, we get a glimpse into just what Greyhawk's underworld really was like:

 "'Greyhawk  Castle',  for  example,  has  over  a  dozen  levels in  succession  downwards,  more  than  that  number  branching  from  these,  and  not less  than  two  new  levels  under  construction  at  any  given  time.  These  levels  contain  such  things  as  a  museum  from  another  age,  an  underground  lake,  a  series  of caverns  filled  with  giant  fungi,  a  bowling  alley  for  20'  high  Giants,  an  arena  of evil,  crypts,  and  so  on."

In 4th edition, civilization persists only in small gatherings and clumps, known as "points of light". The world surrounding is untame wilderness and the ruins of empires past.

The 5e DMG contains the following assumptions, which can be found in the first chapter:

"Much of the World Is Untamed. Wild regions abound. City-states, confederacies, and kingdoms of various sizes dot the Iandscape, but beyond their borders the wilds crowd in. People know the area they live in well. They've heard stories of other places from merchants and travelers, but few know what lies beyond the mountains or in the depths of the great forest unless they've been there themselves.

The World Is Ancient. Empires rise and fall, leaving few places that have not been touched by imperial grandeur or decay. War, time, and natural forces eventually claim the mortal world, leaving it rich with places of adventure and mystery. Ancient civilizations and their knowledge survive in legends, magic items, and their ruins. Chaos and evil often follow an empire's collapse.

Conflict Shapes the World's History. Powerful individuals strive to make their mark on the world, and factions of like-minded individuals can alter the course of history. Factions include religions led by charismatic prophets, kingdoms ruled by lasting dynasties, and shadowy societies that seek to master long-lost magic. The influence of such factions waxes and wanes as they compete with each other for power. Some seek to preserve the world and usher in a golden age. Others strive toward evil ends, seeking to rule the world with an iron fist. Still others seek goals that range from the practical to the esoteric, such as the accumulation of material wealth or the resurrection of a dead god. Whatever their goals, these factions inevitably collide, creating conflict that can steer the world's fate.

The World Is Magical. Practitioners of magic are relatively few in number, but they leave evidence of their craft everywhere. The magic can be as innocuous and commonplace as a potion that heals wounds to something much more rare and impressive, such as a levitating tower or a stone golem guarding the gates of a city. Beyond the realms of civilization are caches of magic items guarded by magic traps, as well as magically constructed dungeons inhabited by monsters created by magic, cursed by magic, or endowed with magical abilities."
The Corbinet ("Apocalypse Stone") in captivity

Following through with the theme

But aside from the need of vast ancient ruin to adventure through, there's also a tradition of smashing the current empires into ruins as well.

Wrath of the Immortals is a boxed set adventure for the basic series of D&D. For those unaware of it, think of Basic as pre-1st-edition D&D. It evolved directly out of those little brown pamphlets sold by Gygax and Arneson back in the 70s. (First as a compilation, then as a series of revised editions, eventually culminating in the Rules Cyclopedia and Wrath of the Immortals) The adventure completely remodels the geography of Mystara (The default campaign at the end of Basic and early Advanced editions.) and creates a new, mostly undetailed world. Since this was pretty much the last rules publication for the basic line, it essentially set up the fans of that game with an empty world that they can play in, develop, and explore for decades to come.

Have you ever heard of the Rod of Seven Parts? It's a classic D&D magic item, and a sad loss for the 5e DMG. Here's a guy who already compiled everything I was going to tell you about it. In all of that though, he kind of misses one important detail: several versions of the Rod have the capacity to destroy the world as it currently exists, and several of the adventures centered on it could result in similar consequences if the players fail. The rod spans every edition until 5th, and even appeared in 4th, albeit a very strange iteration in its last appearance.

The Apocalypse Stone for 2nd edition is an absolute apocalypse scenario which unravels the multiverse on a cosmological scale. It is truly a complete end-times event. It's one of those "fuck you, hotshot" games in a similar spirit to Temple of Horrors. It is designed to eliminate broken characters with players who think numbers are all it takes to play D&D. This one teaches dice-happy players a lesson by using their murderhobo ways against them, by tricking them into kicking off the end of all things. That'll teach them to use their brains before they blindly loot everything in sight just because someone asked them to.

This adventure gets a lot of flack for being rather railroady and antagonistic to the players, which isn't actually true. Much of the criticism is actually resolved within the text itself, but the information is not provided in a linear fashion, so unless you really read the thing and its appendices, you'll only get half the story. (The #1 complaint, that the stone itself is a dumb idea, or that leaving it in the hands of mortals is foolish, is actually inherent to the story of the stone! The #2 complaint, that the trials seem pointless, is also justified by the nature of deities in the assumed D&D setting, something most players don't actually understand.)

Tales of the Outer Planes is a book full of mini-adventures which includes an adventure called to Hell and Back, which has the potential to unleash a terrible wave of diabolical evil across the outer planes.

Although not cannon to its content, players have found that Curse of the Azure Bonds has the capacity to ruin a whole campaign world, should things go terribly wrong and Tyranthraxus (or worse, all of the enemy factions together) gets his way.

Die Vecna Die!, also for 2nd edition, serves to explain why multiple worlds and their cosmologists were rewritten in the transition to 3rd edition. It is also the conclusion of a trilogy of Vecnan adventures, including Vecna Lives! and Vecna Reborn, which document his rise from arch lich to lesser god, and his attempt at reshaping the entire multiverse.

But even once we got to 3rd edition, the world just couldn't stop ending! In the later stages of the game, after it grew its ".5" appendage, we were treated to Elder Evils, a book filled to the brim with literal world-enders on a scale somewhere between Vecna and the apocalypse stone. And as if that wasn't enough, they had to add a few more elder evils through Dragon Magazine!

In 5th edition, publication entered seasonal (quarterly) releases of major adventures and campaign supplements. Generally: 4 adventures per year, 1 other book per year. These are significant publications with massive production value. Thus far, over half of the seasons have had apocalyptic potential. Tyranny of Dragons covered two seasons and focused on a 2-part adventure (Hoard of the Dragon Queen and Rise of Tiamat) to kick off the new edition, and pretty much invariably ends with the summoning of Tiamat, the 5-headed god of evil dragons- and leaves it to the group to decide where to go from there! Elemental Evil featured the adventure Princes of the Apocalypse- I'll let you guess what the cults of elemental evil are up to in that one. Rage of Demons contained Out of the Abyss, an adventure where multiple demon princes rise in the underdark and try to take over the material plane. Nothing like saving multiple planes of existence, to make you feel like a real hero, amirite?

I think this tradition really says something about what makes an exciting and interesting fantasy world: the greatest of heroes must triumph over the greatest of adversity. A lot of beginner DMs create these beautiful, perfect, peaceful worlds that are only really threatened by some external threat. In the absence of this "devil" element, there is no true conflict, the world is static and plain in its comfortable genericness. Let me give you a suggestion: don't be afraid to end the world. Don't hold so tightly to your fantasy world that you refuse to allow it to be threatened. Don't be a cowardly DM. Grow some balls and tell the players: "If you die, all is lost, and the world shall fall to ruin." ... and stand by it.


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Tired Old Life Story

This post is for my sake alone. Nobody should read it unless they really want to. This started as an article about how I became a game designer, but I quickly realized that my story had more to do with my upbringing and youth than it did with gaming. I had almost no contact with the actual gaming hobby until I was already well versed in game design. My design philosophy is derived almost entirely from life experience, not actual knowledge of games, and this is why I chafe at many of the assertions of professionals, like Gygax, Mentzer, Perkins, & etc. I am from a different tradition entirely.

So, lots of other gamers and game designers have this big sweeping narrative of their first game and how it changed their life. A lot of these stories show off how old-school they are as well, like it's some kind of contest for street cred. I aim to tell a very different story: an honest one that revels in the ugliness of sincerity. It is long, and gaming did play a role in changing my Life, but most of how I became a game designer is awkwardness, violence, and accident.

When I was a little boy, I was isolated. It was nobody's fault but my own. I don't know what the hell was wrong with me, I was just deeply antisocial for a very long time. I absorbed nothing from the surrounding culture. I never put 2 and 2 together. I didn't know any popular music or TV shows. My knowledge of games was limited to the card games my parents played and the few board games in the house. (Actually, even that was dodgy. I didn't learn chess until I was in my 20s) I knew nothing of sports, and hand games looked like some sort of arcane ritual. I was... strange. I didn't understand social cues, so I believed everyone could read each other's minds and I was the only person who lacked this ability. (This led to me believing everyone was actually omniscient and shared a single mind, forcing me to "cleanse my thoughts" fearing the world might discover some weakness or error in my beliefs. I worked very hard to not think in words.) When other kids tried to play with me, I didn't know what they were talking about, so I assumed they were attacking me.  (I even attempted to strangle one of these kids, believing myself to be in real danger) Looking back, I see an alien of a child unlike any person I've ever met, and I sometimes wonder why I was like that, and how I managed to escape from it. It's like I turned 13 and spontaneously became a different person.

Anyways, I had a few brushes with video games. The first video game I ever played was a mouse in a maze game on old black-and-green apple computers. In grade 1, while we were walking in single file between classes, I accidentally switched to a second grade class, and spent an hour doing one of the most wonderful classroom lessons ever: learning how to use a computer. When I was found, I was told computers is a second grade class. They sold all of the computers before I got to second grade and never bought new ones while I was there.

My favorite handheld game got stolen and eventually returned by some unknown person, but began to malfunction after a few more months. I wish I could play it again. My second favorite handheld game was taken at an airport because it (EXTREMELY VAGUELY) looked like a gun.

My mom had a friend nearby, and she used to take me and my siblings to her house when they visited each other. They had a genesis. Sonic the Hedgehog was amazing and I loved it... I never beat the first stage until I was maybe 15 or so. They also had Mortal Kombat  (I was awful at it) and a hockey game that made no sense. (I went back and played it again when I was older- it really makes no sense at all.) They also had a NES, but it hardly ever worked, and the games for it were ugly and cryptic. It always confused me how Nintendo could get the light gun to work 100% of the time, but couldn't get the cartridge reader up to even 50% success rate.

Later, my buddy Eaan had an original playstation. I didn't even know computers could do 3d graphics when I first saw it. He had FFVII. I was so shocked by it, I basically forgot about the friend I was visiting. More striking to me at the time than how enchanting the game machine was, is how my friend found it to be so mundane. He looked at me like I was some ignorant peasant who lived under a rock. (I basically was, but I didn't know it at the time.) He owned a personal computer and had been playing video games for years at this point. My knowledge of video games peaked with 2d things at school, like Math Blaster and Lemmings. Through him, I first heard of Dungeons & Dragons. He played some computer games based on it. I'm not sure if he had actually played D&D yet at that point. I should ask him some time.

Then my family bought a computer. I remember sitting in front of it with my brother and sister just watching screen savers. For hours on end. We were stunned that one of these things was in our home and we could do whatever we want with it.

In the background, behind all of these minor brushes with actual games, I was pretty bored. I had few friends, because I had nothing in common with the human race, and I couldn't really spend much time with those few friends. I couldn't ride a bike, and I couldn't remember the layout of my hometown to walk much farther than the path between school and home. (Those who know me: you think my memory is bad now? Imagine a kid who turns a corner in a linear hallway and forgets what building he's in. I spent a lot of time wandering lost in the fog of my own absent-mindedness. You probably remember this, Nick.) When I went to a farther-away school, I was dependent upon the bus to get me close enough to find my way home. So I mostly stayed inside and played with my siblings or by myself. My siblings mostly made me angry, and honestly I remember almost all of my time growing up with them as a never ending fight. We got into some pretty bad scraps, especially as we got bigger. So I spent almost all of my time alone. Reality sucked, and I knew it, so I would escape into fantasy. I figured, as long as I don't think anything real, and occupy my mind with fantasy, nobody will be able to telepathically intuit anything to criticize about me.

As I got older, I started to make up rules to my imagined games. I didn't know It, but I was making actual games. Some of them were even role playing games! I had rules for comparing the physical capabilities of characters, and I had figured out how to gauge powers against one another and limit power access to characters to keep them balanced- all by intuition, and mostly without any knowledge of RPGs. I had a friend who used to walk home on the same path as me, and we used to play pretend together. I tested my ideas on him, and we would play imaginary duels with characters we made up on the spot on the way home. He sometimes made his own rules, and I usually adopted them into our later games. We were basically making a LARP. We were kindred spirits. And neither of us knew each other's name. I don't think anyone ever knew about our friendship. We spent all of our time together in the woods. One day, he moved away. I never saw him again. I continued to walk that path every single day until I graduated, with the faintest hope that I might see him again. I still remember the lessons he taught me about game design on the occasions where he won the duel.

Around this time, before I graduated of course, I moved to a new school and computers suddenly fucking exploded. My family got dialup, and school computers were constantly online. Every grade had mandatory computer classes. (Though the instructors still seemed utterly clueless as to what to do with this class.) I remember that teacher lost his job because he molested some girl. The thought that I was so close to someone so sinister for years on end is upsetting. My family got a PlayStation due to my pestering. This went along with my gameboy from a few years before.

I was still a broken little child though. Whenever I felt I had failed somehow, I would punish myself, typically by pounding my head against a hard surface. Apparently my teachers felt that was pretty normal because nobody ever said anything, and I was never taken to a councillor. I probably should have been. I broke my gameboy by bashing my head against it until the screen broke when I lost at the end of the last level of a Mario game.

The PlayStation opened my eyes to how the world actually was, at least in the realm of gaming. I was finally able to play more than a couple of hours into a game. With all the time in the world, I could play games until I gained skill and completed them. With the internet, I was able to connect with all kinds of information about gaming. A world of knowledge flooded toward me... and I squandered it. I made the most minimal use of the internet possible: pornography and cheat codes.

Oh, yeah, I started looking at porn when I was really, really little. Started swearing pretty young too. I didn't hide either of these things at all, and still nobody saw anything wrong with me. Yup. Just another typical antisocial, self-destructive, delusional, physically violent, verbally abusive, perverted 10 year old. Never you mind me throwing furniture and books, openly wishing death upon my peers, and insulting instructors- everything's fine!

It wasn't until high school that I would finally play actual D&D. At this point, I kind of thought D&D was some sort of weird gamer subculture based on some old games that had loose connections, like the Final Fantasy series. I had no idea RPGs predated computers, I had never seen polyhedral dice, and "let's pretend" was considered so childish, I had been abandoned as the only person I knew who still did that. I had some inclination that there were these weird fantasy board games with funny dice, thanks to select appearances of D&D style games in Dexter's Laboratory and Disney's Recess, but I didn't know they were references to D&D, I thought they were just exaggerated fictional games. Then, during a class at school, a new friend of mine asked if I wanted to play D&D. I had no idea what he was talking about, but I wanted to impress him (I hadn't made new friends in YEARS) so I pretended to be on the level and said yes.

What followed was not really D&D. None of us owned the corebooks. My friend had read the PHB and DMG for second edition, but they belonged to someone else he knew, so we had no reference material whatsoever. The whole game was his memory. We also had no dice. There were no gaming stores in Sylvan Lake, (there still aren't, actually) and the half-hour drive to Red Deer was apparently such a burden to my parents that they avoided it like the plague. (I now realize that the reason is likely the gas expense of my father's work commute to Red Deer. Why make a separate trip out with the kids, when the father can just make any necessary stops before he comes home from work?) So instead of dice, we tore up bits of paper, numbered them 1-20, and put them in my buddy's fedora. (I was weird, but this kid wore a full suit, hat, and tie every day. He outclassed me in weirdness every way I can think of.) The game we played was, essentially, the same game I had played with that friend in the forest years before, and the same game I played with my fictional characters on paper at home- but with dice as a neutral arbitrator, rather than some vague rule about arbitrarily inverting a guaranteed success or failure any given number of actions. It was awesome. We fought a flock of giant crows that assaulted us as we escaped a dungeon, and I was an elf, and I was finally playing the game I loved with people who understood again.

Then I asked him more details about D&D and he leveled with me: he couldn't remember the rules very well, so he basically just made it all up as he went! I asked him if I could take his ideas and make my own game, and he said he didn't care.

I've been engaged in nonstop game design ever since. The rest of my life is basically just logistics to me. Without something to be passionate about, I'd probably have died at age 16 when I became aware of the concept of suicide. Life offers little of value to me, even to this day. Things people are deeply passionate about rank as nearly irrelevant in my mind. The only reason I am here at all, the only reason I am motivated to have a life of any sort, is because I was able to find a few people who I could understand and who understood me back.

My first design took the d20 roll-under check and turned it into the core mechanic. (I wouldn't hear that term until 3rd edition came out, but that's what it was) Then I swapped the d20 for d10s because they look cool and I wanted simpler numbers. Then I doubled the ability scores and switched spellcasting to a FF style MP system. Things get blurry after that, there were just so many revisions.

My first ever game was run for a friend of mine with Tourettes syndrome. I bought a video game walkthrough that I thought sounded cool, and had halfways detailed explanation of the underlying math. Then I improvised dice mechanics to emulate the video game and took him through the whole story. The game was called Orphen, in case you're interested- and yeah, I really did find a way to turn that into a game using lined paper and a box full of d6s. I wish I'd taken notes so I could remember how, because looking back, I have no idea, and I doubt I could replicate it.

By the time that campaign had run its course, my pet project was playable, and I'd made enough setting material to run a session. I gathered some friends- different ones than those who'd introduced me to RPGs, I didn't want to embarrass myself -and ran a game. At this time, I had not played any sandbox games, and I wanted to push my system to its limits, so I decided it would be brilliant to just dump them in the environment and let them have at it. One started the first international bar chain the world had ever seen. Another started his career as a hero, but accidentally became a vampire's slave- and then betrayed his master, stealing his power to become an elder vampire, and slowly began to take over the world. A third became the most intrepid explorer the world had ever seen, singlehandedly sailing a home-built sea dinghy through a hurricane to a distant continent nobody had ever seen, where the entire ecosystem was a self-sustaining cycle of predation.

By now, I'd realized that negative logic, (roll under checks, negative bonuses, subtractive penalties, etc.) was counterintuitive and took longer for players to compute, so I reworked all of the math to function in positive values only.

I took that world as it was back to my other friend, and he and his brother gave it a shot. He set loose an ancient weapon possessed by a demon in return for a position of power in its service. Though evil, the demon repaid him in spades for his loyalty. He eventually became a dragon-riding arch-lich commanding armies of thousands of undead in the name of Gaullock the Ancient Death. His brother was playing a heroic-to-the-core good guy though, and he wasn't having it. He consulted the gods for a solution and chose to summon a rival demon. Posing as its mortal general, he redirected the undead armies from invasion to fight against the rival demon's golem army. At the climactic war scene, he tricked the two demons into direct conflict with one another and sealed the two of them away in the same artifact that had once held only one of them! After this, the two characters confronted one another atop Gaullock's crumbling tower. They had opted to have their characters be brothers as well, and they played one of the most heartbreaking scenes I've ever seen- without any input from me. The two duelled, but each refused to deal lethal damage with their attacks. They fought and argued until the tower collapsed with them inside it, each trying desperately to sway the other to see things their way so they could escape alive together. At the end of the campaign, I hadn't added any input for over two hours. I described the fall of the demons, and started the countdown to the tower's fall, then watched this story unfold before me until I was forced to bring it to an end. I've never seen anything like it since.

Currently, that system has been split into a dozen different versions based on similar principals. They all are pretty much finished and functional, but I can't decide which one I like most. Because I keep flipflopping between systems, I can't commit to making detailed setting content for fear that my time will be wasted.

Now, it might sound like I was a bit of a Monty Haul, but keep in mind, this was all test-play. In order to test as much of the system as possible, I massively accelerated the passage of time so players could see the fruits of their labor within a single session, and so that I could test aspects of every level of play every time I played.

My first game of actual by-the-books D&D was 2nd edition under a new DM who definitely thought his purpose was to kill the players as quickly, gruesomely, and pitifully as possible. One player slipped and drowned crossing an ankle-deep stream. My character died of some disease due to wearing plate mail in cold rain. We never even got to the adventure. We barely got out of town alive. I walked out. Later at that same party, after the session was over, I apologized  (rudely) and asked to read the books again. I was disappointed. THIS tangled morass of arbitrary, internally inconsistent, dysfunctional GARBAGE was Dungeons & Dragons?! And the second edition of its advanced version as well?! The game I'd made was already faster, smoother, tighter, and more comprehensive. I got an ego and assumed I was just smarter than Gygax. As it turns out, I am only smarter than corporate bureaucracy- and so is just about everyone else.

Then a bunch of teenage drama BS happened. Five years worth of it, all crammed into 8 months. Tried to murder a friend, stole another friend's girlfriend, had that girlfriend stolen from me, got laid for the first time, then I went to college for the fine arts and moved out of my parents house. Tried drugs for the first time. (Note: acid is not a good choice for a first time trial.)

In college, I reconnected with Eaan, and he was definitely playing RPGs now. He was also a hobbyist game designer, and had created a 3.5e inspired PvP tactical tabletop game called SQUIGL. I should feature his game here simetime. It's freaking fantastic fun. I played 3.5e D&D under him as DM for 2 campaigns, one a standard fantasy and the other a planescape adventure generated entirely at random by a program he wrote for Inspiration Pad Pro. Then we switched to Mutants & Masterminds. In between campaigns, we tested SQUIGL. He introduced me to Forge Theory, (Though he admitted that I read it in far greater detail than he ever did.) around the same time that I was learning aesthetic theory, moral philosophy, and Scott McCloud's comics theory. I came to the conclusion that these theories, as well as what little I learned of music theory, were compatible. I now believe very strongly that games are simply another aspect of aesthetic theory, and aesthetic theory itself is merely a a small portion of an as-yet-undefined unified theory of humanity. I believe games are one of the highest forms of art, and that games can not only change the world- they have the potential to save the world.

Then I graduated and started falling into a bit of a depression again. Started cutting myself off from friends.

Then I met the woman of my dreams. Five years down the line, I'm married, in my own house, and have a professional career in a technical industry. I am happy. I have comfort and security- more than I've ever had before. I lost a couple of friends in the shuffle. (Sorry about the comic, damage deposit, and rent, Rez; I'd go back and do it all different if only I could. I miss you dearly, Xaos, rest in peace or come home soon. Shawn, grow up and call me back, I'd like to share a beer some time, and I don't give a damn about your debt any more! Cam, it doesn't matter what gender you want to be if you're still a dickhead and a pussy either way.) Overall though, I can't complain too much.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

NotCoup: A Generic French-Suit Bluffing Card Game

Coup is a card game that is made and sold by an indie games company. Well, actually, they just make specialized cards with fancy thematic card art to play the game with. However, because those rules are "attached" to the cards in copyright, they have effectively usurped copyright law to claim ownership of the idea of the game. I'm not cool with that, because it's technically not legal. You cannot copyright an idea, only the form it takes. (I am aware that most courts recognize coordinated behavior and performances as a "form". I do not accept this recognition, as it implies all of human behavior could potentially be copyrighted in one way or another at some point.) So, in the name of vigilante justice, I am presenting to the public domain: NotCoup, a generic bluffing game for a standard pack of french-suited cards. This game requires no purchase nor licensing, as it has been released directly to the public domain. It does not represent any particular fictional setting or situation, and has nothing to do with The Dystopian Universe line of games by Indie Boards and Cards. Please do not ever give that company or its employees any money or further recognition. The game also features a different deck composition of 18, rather than 15 cards, which allows it to support up to 6 players. Now, on to the game:

NotCoup is a card game for 2-6 players.

NotCoup is a bluffing game, a variant of Coup, with the objective of being the last player with any cards in their hand.

First, remove all but the following cards from your deck:
King
Queen
Jack
Ace
Joker

This should leave a deck of 18 cards: 4 faces of each suit and 2 Jokers.

Throw all of the remaining cards into a heap, face-up, in the middle of the table. These will be used as score counters, representing how many points each player has.

Shuffle the remaining deck, and deal 2 cards to each player. Each player takes 2 points from the pile.

Set the remaining deck aside to be used as stock.

Decide amongst yourselves who goes first. Play proceeds clockwise.

On a player's turn they can either take a game action, or claim a card is in their hand and take a card action.

Certain actions can be countered if a player claims they have a particular card in their hand.

Any time a player claims they have a card, anyone at the table can call shenanigans on them. If a player is challenged on their claim, they have 2 options:

1. Reveal the card they claimed in their hand, return it to the deck and draw a replacement, and carry out their declared action. The challenger fails the challenge.

2. Admit they lied and do not have that card. They fail the challenge.

Whoever fails a challenge must permanently reveal a card from their hand by discarding it face-up on the table in front of them. A discarded card obviously is no longer usable in play. So, while you can still claim your other card is the same type, you can't use your discarded card to defend that claim.

Now, let's get to those game actions! Remember: on your turn, you can ony take 1 action.

Income: This action cannot be countered. Take 1 point.

More Income: This action can be countered by the King. Take 2 points.

F.U.: This action cannot be countered. Pay 7 points to the pile. Target player must discard a card from their hand face-up on the table in front of them. If you have 10 or more points when taking an action, you MUST take this action on your turn. If you have a problem with cussing, rename this action to "Discard".

Now for the card actions. Remember, you can take any 1 action you want, even if you don't have that card- but declaring a card action is also claiming to have that card.

King: Take 3 points. Counters More Income.

Queen: Counters Joker.

Jack: Take 2 points from another player. Counters Jack.

Ace: Draw 2 cards. Return 2 cards back to the deck. Counters Jack.

Joker: Pay 3 points to the pile. Choose another player. That player discards a card face-up on the table in front of them.

Obviously, the joker is the most dangerous of the bunch, that's why it has half as many as any other card type. (Rather, that's why it was assigned to the short-counted non-pip-card.)

One last rule: You cannot target yourself with any action which would cause you to take from your own points pile, or to discard your own card. Should be obvious, but some people are clowns.

Once a player has no cards in hand, they are eliminated from play.

So, yeah, that's about it! Winner is the last person holding a card!

Haven't had enough? Here's some variants!

3 or less: If you have 3 or fewer players, and feel that there is too high signal-to-noise to deduce an opponent's hand, you could further remove 1 card of each type except Jokers.

Square Jokers: If you feel the reduced probability of a Joker makes them too random, you can increase their population to match the other cards. You can do this by adding Jokers from another pack, (It's not like you're planning on playing knock euchre any time soon anyways, amirite?) or by reassigning the Joker's card action to a 4-suited card, such as the deuce.

Teams: Each player draws a card from the shuffled points-pile, and places it face-up next to their hand cards. The color of the card denotes your team. Alternatively, players can just decide their teams by picking partners. Players on the same team can't target each other.
Co-op: The players who are on the same team win if all opposing team members are eliminated.
Snake Nest: The players still play to the last man standing. A new game action is added: Switch: Pay 2 points to the pile and force another player to switch teams. (This can be represented by turning your team card sideways.)

Heist: The players choose an action type that costs points to act as the "crime" action. Every time a player pays points for the crime, those points are paid to a separate pile called the bank. A new game action is added: Steal: Take the whole bank unless you have a king. If you take this action and are challenged for ownership of a King, you fail if you have it, and pass if you don't. Some actions pay better than others. For example, if there are no Jokers in play, and the joker action is the crime, then the bank will likely remain empty unless someone bluffs. At the preference of the players, multiple actions can be selected as crimes, allowing the bank to grow faster.

Slow Start: Games going too quickly? Tie an anchor to the players! Everyone starts with 1 point instead of 2. Still too fast? First player starts with 1 point less.

Risky Reward: Challenging an opponent, even if you fail it, earns you 1 point automatically. This gives people even more enticement to make riskier challenges while acting as a boobie-prize when they fail. It also accelerates point movement.

Buyout: A player who loses a challenge may pay 5 points instead of discarding. This gives players more reason to hoard coins, while also making the game draw out longer.

Shuffle Time: If you like the strategy of using the ace to deduce the hands of others by frequently redrawing cards, but dislike the abject risk of doing so by bluff alone, you can add a slower version of that tactic to play. Redraw: Pay 1 point to the pile, draw 1 card from the deck, and return 1 card to the deck. Now you can still do it without bluffing, and you can still do it after getting caught bluffing on ace possession.

Zombies: Instead of being eliminated, a player who has discarded their hand continues to play as a "zombie". Zombies can not use card actions on their turn, but can still use game actions and challenge card actions. The winner is the last non-zombie player.

Transformer: This version of the game features alternate card actions. You can also optionally replace any single card action with one of its equivalents from the following list. The Transformer variant has each player take their first turn to decide which action will be used for 1 card type. Once all types have been decided, play begins. The original forms of each card action remain valid options.

Variant Kings:
Gambler King: Take as many points from the pile as you have already (5 points maximum). If you are successfully challenged, the points taken are given to the challenger.
Reluctant King: Takes 4 points from the pile. Then any other players may also claim King. Once all claims have been made, challenges are resolved for new claimants in clockwise order from you. Then you give 1 credit to each remaining claimant.
Friendly King: Take 3 points from the pile and give 1 point to another player.
Fancy King: Take 1 point from the pile and can then take a different action of your choice. If you have 10 points after taking a coin, you must take the F.U. action as your additional action.

Variant Queens:
Wall Queen: Take 1 point from the pile and then place it in front of you. While that credit is in front of you, you can not be the target of any action other than F.U. You can still spend that point as if it were in your pile.
Alliance Queen: Take 2 points. Place one in front of you and one in front of another player, both sideways. As long as these points are in place, you and that player may not target each other with any action unless you are the final two players. Either player can spend the point as if it were in their pile.
Survivor Queen: When you must discard for any reason other than F.U., and there is at least 1 card in the deck, set this card aside as the lost life and draw 1 card from the deck to your hand. If challenged, the card claimed as the Queen is revealed. You may claim your remaining card is a Queen in response to a failed challenge of your bluffed Queen.

Variant Jacks:
Wild Jack: Take 1 point from each other player.
Friendly Jack: Take up to 3 points from another player, give those points to the player with the fewest points. In the event of a tie for fewest coins, choose 1.
Asshole Jack:  Take 2 points, placing one in front of yourself and one on another player's card in play. If a player claims the use of a card with a point on it, they must first give 1 point to you, otherwise they can not use that card. If a card with a point on it is discarded, put both points into your pile.
Graverobber Jack: At the end of any turn on which a player is eliminated, take all their points before they are returned to the pile. If multiple players claim Jack, the points are divided equally amongst those players with any excess going to the treasury.

Variant Aces:
Assface Ace: Take 1 card from the deck and 1 card from another player. Give 1 card to the deck and 1 card to that player.
Expensive Ace: Take 1 card from the deck and looks at it. You may pay 1 point to take an additional card from the deck. You may pay to draw as many times as you want and can afford. Return the number of cards you drew back to the deck.
Rich Ace: Take 1 card from the deck and 1 point from the pile. Return 1 card to the deck.
Super Ace: Pay 1 credit, then take 3 cards from the deck. Return 3 cards to the deck.

Variant Jokers:
Expensive Joker: Pay 4 credits. Target player must discard a card.
Extortion Joker: Target can choose to gives you 2 points or they must discard.
Mega Joker: Pay 5 points, all other players must discard.
Slow Joker: Pay 3 credits. Target takes a point and places it in front of themselves. On their turn, if the point is still there, they must discard and return the point to the pile.
Friendly Joker: Give another player 3 points. That player discards.
Teamwork Joker: Pay 2 points and target another player. If not successfully challenged, then any other player can pay 3 points, and the target discards. If no other player pays, the action fails. Cannot be blocked unless another player pays.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Reimagining the D&D Economy

In D&D, there is a global economy shared by all nations with a unified currency of standard value based on (and for one coin, made of) gold. The coins are of standard size, weight, and value in all nations, with minting being used as a way of devaluing the economies of other nations while overvaluing your own, through the prejudice of salespeople alone.

The weirdness of all this got me thinking. At first, I was just concerned with how such a system was formed and sustained. That was solved fast: in my settings, dwarves invented the first currency based economy and basically forced everyone else to use it in order to trade with them at all. The mountainhomes are all connected by the deep roads, linking dwarves settlements and ruins around the globe. Because everyone has to trade with dwarves, everyone is making the same currency, so they might as well use it with each other too. While nations use minting of coins to engage in economic warfare, dwarves wouldnt give a crap, gold is gold, and if you shape youre coins right, they are symbolically worth it. If you don't want one of the coins they use in a deal with you because it has an enemy's mark on it, they're happy to squash it smooth for you. Simple done. The dwarves are basically the hub of the global economy. It does not exist naturally, and is sustained by their arrogance and stubbornness alone.

But then I started to wonder. Imagine, for a second, that we used the Gygaxian currency, based on fractions of gold weight, in our modern society? How would the prices of things look?

Right Now, a pound of gold is worth 19,892.8 USD. Let's call that 20,000$.

A gold piece is worth its weight in gold, literally: 0.1lb, which comes out to 2,000$. Holy shit. If you're paying for something in gold pieces, that ain't no joke!

Silver pieces are worth 1/10th of the value of a gold coin, so they have the same value as 1/100th of a pound of gold, or 200$

And, if you haven't seen the pattern, a copper piece comes to 20$.

Oh, and platinum pieces, representing 10 gold pieces, would have the same value as a 1lb gold bar- 20,000$ worth of stuff. If you're paying in platinum pieces, you're making one of those major life purchases, like the down-payment on a house, or a brand new sports car.

Wowzers. The world would certainly be strange! For one thing, we almost certainly would have either expanded the coin range, or reduced the weight value of the non-gold coins. We would need coins to represent 1/10,000th and 1/100,000th the value of a 1lb gold bar, otherwise our economy would be outrageously inefficient due to value loss on lower value items!

But D&D isn't modern, it's medieval. And 5th edition is dark-ages, with technology and global populations matching the time just after Justinian's plague cut the world population in half. Let's see what some of those items are worth relative to what we value a pound of gold in reality...

Shortsword: 20,000$ (Same price as a shield)
Plate Armor: 3,000,000$
Shortbow: 50,000$ (that is also the value of a BOOK.)

A bundle of 20 arrows is worth 1gp, or 2,000$, so that works out to 100$ an arrow.

A mine's pick is 4,000$.

An ink pen is 40$! A single vial of ink to write with it will run you the same cost as a sword or shield!

A flask of oil comes to 200$.

A magnifying glass is worth a staggering 2,000,000$!!!!

Bagpipes cost 60,000$.

Riding horses are 150,000$, and a warhorse comes to 800,000$.

The most expensive item in the PHB, a galley, comes to 60,000,000$.

But all is not lost! The people are also paid in this currency! What kinds of wages would we have?

People in D&D get paid a daily wage, not an hourly one. There are two standards of pay, aside from bounties: unskilled and skilled. Unskilled is anything you need no external training for. Burger flippers, delivery boys, shelf stockers, cashiers, general laborers, etc. Skilled is anything you need special training for, including what we would call professionals, so that would be lawyers, soldiers, doctors, police, bankers, geneticists, barber's, taxi drivers, welders, etc. Anything that demands a license or certificate.

So, entry-level teens get 2 silvers a day, or 400$. That's 32$ an hour, guaranteed, every day they work.

Professionals? They get 4,000$ a day. They get paid 500$ per hour.

A modest lifestyle costs you 2000$ a day, so unskilled workers will still be living in cramped apartments with multiple room mates. However, if you manage to get hold of a professional license, you literally have a golden ticket to permanent comfort and economic safety. Saving 1000$ a day, you could buy a riding horse in about 5 months. That's the medieval equivalent of getting a car- a car you can breed with other cars to get new cars for free- a car you can eat if the winter gets too cold and you run out of food. That's not bad!

So, what would it take for someone to become an adventurer? I'm going to say a sword and shield are all that is required, bare minimum. At 40,000$, a professional of any stripe can afford to become an adventurer after a little more than a month. Unskilled workers, if they lived a truly crummy lifestyle while saving, could do it in half a year.

On the other hand, the least you could pay for a burger is 20$.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

On the Gygaxian Coin

In the original D&D product line, Gygax decided gold coins weigh 1/10th of a pound. He did this to make it easy for himself to calculate treasure weight for encumbrance rules. Basically, he was being lazy. The story gets weird though. Gygax liked this so much, he decided to measure the weight of everything in the game in coins. This is simply bizarre for a multitude of reasons, but mainly because 0.1lb doesn't match up with any other extant measuring system. It brought extra attention to the unusual coin weight.

The Gygaxian Coin has gotten a lot of criticism because of its weight though, with people poking fun at the thought of dinner plate sized gold coins. Now, I'll agree, a tenth-pound of copper or silver will indeed make coins in the 5 to 6 inch diameter range, no doubt. But gold is damn heavy. Excuse me while I pull out my ultrasonics text book and do some volume calculations based on material. Let's see just how big these would be.

1lb. of gold has a volume of ~25 cubic centimeters. So 1/10th of that has a volume of 2.5ccs. That's not much! Ok, let's say a Gygaxian Coin has 2mm thickness, same as a Canadian loonie. We now have 3 of the 4 values needed to calculate volume, we just need diameter. Luckily, the calculation for cylindrical volume is straightforward, and we just need the first value, so we can just reverse the calculation. I'll just plug this into math calcumalator...

At 2mm thickness. A 1/10th pound Gygaxian gold coin is 4cm across. About 2 Canadian loonies across, or about an inch and a half, around the size of a poker chip. That means the 1/50th pound coins in 5e are actually thin little wafers of gold, barely even coins, and probably quite easily damaged.

It also means you could literally spray paint poker chips gold and have to-scale accurate coin props.

As for coppers and silvers, they have about half the density of gold, so they'd have to be twice the volume. The easiest way to do that is to double the thickness to 4mm. That is one big, heavy, crude, primitive type of coin. It'd be more like a miniature precious metal bar than a coin. Platinum on the other hand is actually more dense than gold, but not by much, so those coins would be about the same size as the gold pieces.

Edit:

I made one. Sans minting, this is what a Gygaxian tenth-pound gold piece would look like.