Tuesday, May 26, 2009


UPDATE: This is old, old news. The book is now published by Pyr, with significant revisions.

My book is now for sale on Amazon, under Lulu's marketplace (just search for Sword of the Bright Lady). They've decided to list their entire catalog there - at a 30% markup. (which, of course, I don't get any of). This is either a genius of marketing or a crass cash-in, depending on how you view it. I think it's OK; I get more exposure, and I guess Amazon deserves to be paid for that.

Oddly, you can't buy the download version on Amazon despite the fact they are pushing their Kindle super-hard, and my book doesn't have an ISBN, despite the fact that everybody seems to think you can't sell through retailers without one. And here's the oddest part: Lulu charges so much for shipping that buying the book through Amazon is about the same price - and it gets there in days instead of weeks. I've heard of people with less expensive books where the %30 increase + lower postage actually makes it cheaper.

Now just think - if GM put this kind of economic absurdity in his game, his players would never buy it. Truth is, indeed, stranger than fiction...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Whoops... I've decided I need a little correction to the medieval coinage to Prime currency chart found in the WorldBook.

Medieval England Prime
Farthing 2.5 coppers
Pence (d) 10 copper
Shilling (s) 10 silver
Crown 50 silver
Mark 132.5 silver
Pound Sterling (£) 20 gold

This is much more reasonable. I think. At least it matches up better with the famous Medieval Price List by Kenneth Hodges (here's one link to it: Medieval Price List).

This explains where they got the price of a cow at 10 gp. But if they used this list for the cow, then why not use this list for the price of beef (1 sp a lb.)? It doesn't matter - the cow just has to sell for more to make sense. Also, .75 d (or 7.5 coppers) for a lb. of wheat is unimaginable, when a pound of beef allegedly sells for 1 d. I'll have to ignore the wheat price in favor of D&D's 1 cp per pound.

Interestingly, these numbers are 10x what I originally used. Just after I'd talked about how much less valuable precious metals were on Prime.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Verisimilitude (part 2)

(This is the second part in a discussion of why a game world must be realistic. )

Once players know what their actions are likely to create, they need to care about those results.

Engagement (caring about the quest)

In a world where NPCs exist to a) advance the plot and b) be killed, it's hard to make your players actually emotionally connect to your NPCs.

NPCs need to have lives outside of their interactions with the PCs. This doesn't mean you sit around and roll dice when your players aren't there, but it does mean you need a realistic world. That NPC needs to have a reason why he is the level he is and why he is doing the job he is doing. Your players need to believe this, and you need to be able to create it on the fly when they start asking questoins. To that end, you need a set of rules that produce results logical enough for you to interpolate from.

I've gone through great lengths to explain why laborers make 1 sp a day while adventurers make 1 gp a day. I've worked out the economics of farming, including what happens to the tax base when some smartass starts casting Plant Growth everywhere. Fortunately you don't have to; you can just download my campaign materials. But WotC really should have done that in the first place.

Once your players realize those laborers are working as hard as they can, and their low wage is a result of socioeconomic factors beyond their control, then those laborers become more like people and less like scenery. When the guards are as tough and effective as time, money, and a burning desire to live can make them, but are stuck at 1st level because of iron-clad rules of physics (rather than being genetically "incapable of progressing upwards"), then your players will respect them more. When the King uses his levels to defend his people against monsters, then your players will think of a throne as more than an excuse to make the rules and collect the taxes.

And when they ask why they can't get rich casting Remove Disease for 150 gp a day, you'll have an answer for them. One that makes them try harder to invent something new, rather than giving up and accepting DM fiat. This will spark creativity, rather than sessions of "guessing what the DM will allow". It also means they won't consider the fate of the NPCs at the hands of the monsters to be DM fiat either.

Responsibility is the heart of engagement, and your players need to feel responsible for the world they play in. This means the NPCs need to live up to their responsibilities, too; otherwise your players figure out the game is rigged, and they stop caring as much.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Why does realism matter in a game? It's just a game, and it has magic; so who cares if it is realistic?

I've come up with two main reasons: your players must be able to predict the consequences of their actions, and they must feel responsible for those consequences. Both of these are necessary to make a fun game (as opposed to a narrative, where the players are merely passively listening to a story).

Decisions (picking your own battles)
Games are about making choices. But it's only a choice if you understand the consequences. If you want to play a character that bullies the little people and knuckles under to the big shots, you have to be able to tell which are the little people and which are the big shots. If taverns are run by retired 9th level fighters, while kingdoms are run by 3rd level aristocrats, guess what: you can't tell.

D&D is a game about power; and therefore, you must pay particular attention to the power distribution in your world. City guards can't be 1st level here and 5th level in the next kingdom, nor can they auto-level as your players go up in level. The wizard with a shop in town must not be more powerful than the Duke and his entire army, and yet pay taxes to the Duke. People must act like people, and that means the powerful must be at the top.

Unfortunately, the introduction of the NPC classes convinced DMs everywhere to use them for NPCs. These classes are deliberately gimped so as to be the same level as a real class, and yet never an actual threat to a real class. That, in and of itself, is stupid: why would anyone level in Warrior when they could be a Fighter? Now, you might say they just don't train as hard or have as much native talent as the PCs - but then, why not simply make them a lower level Fighter?

So now we have entire kingdoms run by NPCs armies and nobles, threatened by both goblins and demons, and utterly unable to defend themselves. They have to depend on the low-level PCs to kill the goblin tribe, and conveniently, the demons will wait until the PCs are high level before attacking the town.

This makes no sense. And because of that, it diminishes the choices the characters make. The contract that WotC enforced on DMs is called "level-appropriate challenges," and what it means is that nothing the PCs do ever matters, because the next encounter will still be level-appropriate. They can't get in over their heads, which might be a good thing, until you realize they can't knock one out of the park, either. You can't have reward without risk. The risk in a realistic game world is that your players might do something terribly clever, and defeat the demons at 1st level (like my party once defeated a dragon at 1st level with borrowed equipment and a really good plan). This could upset your campaign plans. On the other hand, your players will love it.

The other risk is that your players could make a mess of it and die. If the first thing they do is threaten the king, then they are going to be hung, drawn, quartered, and burned beyond all hope of a Raise Dead. This could also upset your campaign plans, and not incidentally, your players.

But here's the secret: if they know the King is a bad-ass - if they know the guy is the King specifically because of his bad-assery - then they will blame themselves when the King chops them down for insolence.

And your players will love it.

(Tomorrow: part 2!)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


One of the most amusing absurdities of D&D is the shopping list.

Other people have pointed out how gold in the D&D world is hardly a precious metal. Coins are huge, fifty to the pound, which is an improvement over the old days when they were ten to a pound. (In real life gold coins are 250 or so to the pound).

And of course there's the fact that a 10 ft pole sells for more than a 10 ft ladder...

But what bugs me the most is the price of a cow. Apparently there's only 16 lbs of edible meat on a cow, because a 1/2 lb chunk of meat sells for 3 sp, and a cow sells for 10 gp. What this shows is that when they sat down to make up the prices for trade goods, they didn't even try. No doubt someone will exclaim "This isn't Dungeons and Cowherds!" but that's no excuse. Why even list a price for a cow unless it's going to fit into the game somewhere? Notice I'm not complaining about the cost of pane of glass. Not because I don't have panes of glass in my game, but because they didn't list a stupid value for it.

So now I'm working on a price list that a) stays as close to D&D canon as possible, and b) makes some kind of coherent sense. I couldn't save cows (they have to cost at least 125 gp), but I only doubled the price of a goat, and I managed to keep wheat at 1 cp a lb.

Which, by the way, explains how laborers make 1 sp a day. Because a subsistence diet is two lbs. of grain a day; assuming an average family of 5 people, that laborer can feed his wife and kids just enough to stay alive. (The kids will probably eat a little less, leaving a few pennies left over for clothes.)

Adventurers, of course, make and spend lots of gold. This is reflected in the price of things they buy that no one else does - like spells. What cleric charges his own faithful 150 gp for a Remove Disease spell? Most of his flock can't afford to pay for that, not even once in a lifetime. Would a Lawful Good cleric really sit there and not cast his free 3rd level spell that renews every day just because nobody had a 150 gps to give him? The price for spell-casting services is for adventurers; random armed weirdos who wander into town and want stuff. The people who live there get it for free, if the cleric likes them. This is the sort of thing the DMG should be making clear. And what if your character is from that town, and worships that religion? Is it really game-breaking that he gets a healing spell for free once in a while?

Since 1st Ed, D&D has been avoiding any sense of community action. The players were always supposed to be laws unto themselves, free agents who were responsible to no one and could look to no one for aid. Which begs another question: when the monsters threaten the town, why is it the 1st level players are apparently the only swords around? But that's a topic for another post...

Saturday, May 9, 2009


Over to the left you can find a link to Frank & K's Dungeonomicon, one of the cleverest (and brilliantly witty) attempts to make sense out of the D&D world that I've ever seen.

I took a different route. I started playing with 1st Ed, and so when I wanted to fix the glaring weirdness in 3rd Ed, I went backwards instead of forwards (not to imply there wasn't plenty of weirdness there, too). The most important thing I took from the old edition was the rareness of levels. In the good old days, only one out of ten thousand was fit to be an adventurer. Everybody else was a peasant, largely indistinguishable from a piece of furniture, or at best a low-level hack "incapable of progressing upwards." Seriously, you could hire those guys to be your soldiers. It said so, right in the book.

I never figured out how those guys knew they could never get more levels, or for that matter, how they got their levels in the first place. But I always felt sorry for them. How much would it suck to be that guy? And of course, the peasants, the ordinary people, who existed solely so the heroes could save them from being eaten by monsters. You could hire an army - in fact, as a Cleric or Fighter, you got one for free - but it was useless. All those zero level dudes could do was die when the monsters looked at them.

Then, being me, I started wondering what effect that would have on society. How could you have a feudal, medieval world with teleporting magic and flaming swords? How would people actually live in a world where the King could walk away from an airplane crash..twice? Just think what that does to the time-honored tradition of regicide.

I was never content to just kill the dragon. I wanted to know why the dragon was there, and what possible good it could get out of a pile of gold, and why adventurers who could magically summon food, clothing, and everything else they needed would even care that there was a dragon eating people. As you can imagine, this was a trial and a tribulation to my game-masters, but they suffered nobly.

Now I have an answer... tael. D&D always implicitly assumed that XP = Gold, anyway, and once I decided to go ahead and make it explicit, lots of things just fell into place. Why do Kings defend peasants? Why do mages sell magic items? Why do Gods empower priests, and pay attention to what mortals do? Why are some people super-heroes, and others mere peons? Why is technology still stuck in the middle ages even though elves are thousands of years old?

Check out the World of Prime worldbook for the answers. Or join my hero, Christopher Sinclair, as he finds out the answers the hard way in my novel "Sword of the Bright Lady."