Daniel over at Mailanka’s Musings has a nice post on Map-Making in Theory and Practice. In short: a million times yes. I have to echo his throughts on Maps and Inspiration: a good map is really, really inspiring.
Started with a Map
It works both ways, too. In my Torengar/Nordlond setting for Dragon Heresy and Hall of Judgment and Lost Hall of Tyr, the map came first. I set up a history using Microscope and another “game to play a game” kit that I can’t remember anymore that helped set up the long prelude to the current state of the main realm. I drew up some key terrain features that appeared to be important, and then commissioned Cornelia Yoder to make me some maps.
I have since been leveraging those maps heavily in making the details of my setting sing. This is particularly true of the mini-setting I’m working on for what will hopefully be my first-quarter Kickstarter: The Citadel at Nordvorn.
Featuring the titular town of Nordvorn with its adjoining citadel, there are also three other important towns and villages of note, one of them destroyed.
The town of Ainferill (Riverbend) sits about 40 miles south of Nordvorn on the Jotunnain (a river; áin means river; I think properly conjugated it should be Jotunná, but I have it as “fun” that the northern areas use áin and the southern areas use á, as sort of a regional accent thing). It’s a town of about 1,000 souls, or about 200 families, give or take. It’s the seat of a Jarl, the second tier of noble, but they still have to get the king something like $10M per year in GURPS moneys, or about 200,000 gp in D&D moneys, as a Duty to keep the title.
Just north of Ainferill is the slightly smaller (750 people) town of Vegghofn (Sallyport), which marks the last easily-accessible break in Audreyn’s Wall (think in between Hadrian’s wall and the Great Wall of China) until the other side of a mountain range that the wall jogs around for Reasons.
Anyway, point is: I am detailing these three settlements. What are the important guilds? Why have guilds at all? What industries or products make each town unique? Why should there be a town here at all?
This is my realm map. What can I say about it? Well, it’s got heavy forest, plains, and lightly wooded or intermediate areas. These divide out nicely into “logging and forestry,” “grazing lands,” and “farming” when it comes to surplus products for more than just surviving. It’s a high-level thing, but it’s informative.
The cities cluster densely in the farming area (blue). More food, better climate, more trade, higher population density. The capital is also there.
A Slice of Nordlond
Hey, what do we have here? A slice of Nordlond/Torengar, with Isfjall from Hall of Judgment in the west, and stretching to Midgard in the East.
Northwatch is Nordvorn – one means the other. But it’s maybe 250 miles east of Isfjall, so it’s a hike if you walk it. But why would you? Take a boat and sail down the Wodenain to Nethanfoss, then it’s maybe 50 miles along the “Palisade Road,” which isn’t shown on the map. That should be an exciting trip, since the area to the Northwest of the Palisade is called The Hunted Lands, home to marauding faerie and more than its fair share of monstrosities, undead, constructs, and other things that wish to eat you.
But the map informs this. How long will it take to get there? Well, big rivers tend to move at a few miles per hour, 1-5 mph not being unusual. So the 200 mile trip on the river could be as fast as 40 hours, or two days, or as long as a week. Plenty of time in either case for a few encounters with river raiders or river-dwelling monsters, but not so long that the game will drag.
That last 50 miles to Northwatch from Nethanfoss is probably a few days hike as well, and while the path/road is guarded, it’s still dangerous lands.
That makes Nethanfoss a very interesting market. It has access to both grazing lands, water, and abuts the Einmanna forest. And it’s a crossroads, being the natural departure point for goods to come east from the settlements along the Wodenain.
All this from the map.
Now we venture south from Nordvorn, because there’s been a rumor that the Jarl is hiring adventurers. Or maybe killing them. It’s Nordlond: perhaps it’s both.
In any event, what’s going on at the Riverbend? Well, it’s got woods. It’s adjacent to a metal-rich mountain/range. It’s got grazing land. And it’s at a convenient stopping place for ships coming upriver to rest and get ready for a hard pull into the faster-flowing stretch of the river from Ainferill to Nordvorn.
If you do a bit of line work, you can see that the Jarl probably controls about 265 square miles of land, and about half of that is grazing land – ideal for sheep – that is mostly plains. The other half, to the north and west, is lightly wooded, leading to thicker woods in the Einmanna Forest.
OK. So we have wood, metal, wool, and cattle and goats. This is a shipbuilding town. It’s also one of the towns (the two south of Ainferill and west of Jarngardr are two more) from which a whole lot of sheep are raised and turned into wool, cloth, clothing, and other products.
This is a jarl whose income depends on wool, cattle, ships, and trade. That’s what he’s going to care about, and that’s where threats to his power – or extensions of it – will come from. Does he mine in the hills just across the river? Does the hajarl of Midgard resent this? Ainferill could sit in the demesne of either Northwatch or Midgard – are the jarl’s loyalties solid, or being tested?
What about bandits? Or monsters? If you do the work, something that between some expert help and the Adventurer Conqueror King books domain rules make easy, you can see that monsters or monstrous people killing or taking livestock will really honk off our jarl, as as much as 25% of his Duty – maybe more – can come out of the income stream from wool and cloth.
But . . . karls (freeholders) own their own lands. How does that work? Well, that’s where the guilds come in. That worked out nicely too.
I spent a lot of time last night working with the map, agricultural data, and conversing with some experts to turn this slice of Nordlond into a living world. Not only is it living and hopefully provides some immersive detail, but it becomes something from which you can really see how folks might wish to bring an adventuring party on board to deal with problems.
Suffice to say that the tie of personality, economics and trade are all made more obvious with a good map. A map, a knowledge of what can be grown and made with certain natural resources, a feel for the personalities of the leaders and citizens and what they care about . . . and the adventures flow easily. Especially when the area in question has recently undergone some . . . rather dramatic calamities.
Stay tuned. Hopefully you’ll see this one pop up in the first quarter of this year!
Glynn is hard at work on new maps for Lost Hall of Tyr (2nd Edition), and below you can find a bit of history on the old maps, how he and I got to collaborate, and some WIP he’s willing to show.
Maps and Expenses
When Lost Hall of Tyr (1st Edition) was being made, I budgeted for a Kickstarter that equaled my first: about 300 folks. I also spent a bunch of money on a really prime piece of artwork that was (and still is) the most expensive single image I’ve yet procured.
Even so, I couldn’t afford bespoke maps. Bogie Maps – and Dan was a pleasure to work with – had stock maps in hand, and was able to mildly customize a few for me using assets he already had.
As an example, he created a generic location for “Rival Claim” using a stock map. The advantage was obviously cost. The disadvantage was that it had no real tie to the adventure description: it was just a big map.
That has its charm, as it’s portable. And the full-scale combat maps are still part of the book package. But when I got the opportunity to upgrade content of the book for the Dungeon Fantasy RPG as Hall of Judgment, the project required more maps. Specific maps, that would let the linear convention-style demonstration adventure – Lost Hall’s purpose was to demonstrate the concepts in Dungeon Grappling – turn into something much more non-linear and sandboxy. Not a true sand-box; it is a quest adventure, after all. But something with more geography, and a lot more detail and options on the approach.
Glynn Seal’s The Midderlands
I got to know Glynn through his Midderlands kickstarter(s). I was impressed by his high production values on the book, and also with the quality of his cartography and artwork. Very evocative, and really brought the feeling he was going for to the work.
When I decided to produce new maps, and new locations, from the Village at Logiheimli to the Goblin Warrens (two of them!) to make mincemeat out of adventurers . . . um, provide a suitable challenge for adventurers . . . I reached out to see if he was available for commission.
Well, he was.
Logiheimli; an Easy Choice
He was (and remains) extremely easy to work with. I sent really, really coarse sketches of what I was looking for – I’m a stick-figure kind of guy when it comes to de novo art creation, though I’m a fair hand at digital compositing of existing work.
I can’t recommend Glynn enough as a creator and a collaborator. You can see the first of seven new maps below . . . stay tuned for more, and of course please help steer your friends and Favorite Game Store folks to the Pre-Order page!
Thanks for staying with me!
Update on Surveys
The “Smoke Test,” which vets the survey for effectiveness and function, is nearly complete. I will likely send it out to all backers shortly.
It will run for three full weeks, during which time I hope you’ll help me get the word out, as the Pre-Order Store is open, and if we can hit extra stretch goals during that time, I’m all for it.
I should be seeing the initial Kickstarter campaign funds settle sometime between today and Sunday. That will allow me to, in earnest, get cracking on the finalization of text, maps, and printing.
That’s it! Hope you guys had Holiday breaks that were eventful in only good ways.
Also, if you’re curious to how 2018 treated Gaming Ballistic, read about it below and see what’s coming next.
I got back into D&D after a long, long time with GURPS (though I did not, and will not, stop creating for that system) by joining Erik Tenkar, Peter Dell’Orto, Tim Shorts, Joe the Lawyer (I never actually got his whole name), and several others in Erik’s “B-Team.”
We played once a month, and compressed a whole lot of gaming into 2-3 hours. We used the Swords & Wizardry system, a retro-clone that showed me how much fun rules-light gaming can be, and helped me appreciate Fifth Edition a bit more when it came out.
S&W taught me to think simple, think fast, and think light. It helped me shape my grappling rules into something anyone would want to pick up, and could either “play easy” or add as much modular awesome as they could.
I got to know Matt Finch through Erik, and I believe other than the Wednesday night Tavern Chats, we started to get to know each other when he started “ambush interviewing” me for his D&D Neighborhood YouTube shows. While the first interview was me chatting with him about Dragon Heresy and related stuff, he tapped me for a few other shows like “How to write a player’s guide.” He’s a good guy, drives a good interview (maybe the legal training), and runs a good game, which I got to experience at GameHole Con in November of 2018 (this past year).
When it came time to introduce this second edition of Lost Hall, I asked him if he would be willing to contribute a Foreword, and he agreed.
Here’s the laid-out Foreword for your image perusal, followed by the text and a link to a PDF as well.
Some longish time ago, I was talking with Doug Cole via Google Hangout. As the conversation went on, it started to dawn on me that he was sitting in the middle of what looked like a small armory of blades, axes, and shields—all of them made of wood. So after a while, of course, I had to ask about this clutter of weaponry piled up all around him. Now, anyone who knows Doug already knows that “enthusiastic” only vaguely succeeds in capturing the essence of Doug. Seconds later, I was looking through my computer screen at a sword-wielding, shieldbearing warrior in fighting stance, delivering an energetic lecture on the proper way to use a Viking-type shield. As the lecture evolved into methods of using the sword in concert with the shield, I started to realize why there’s no furniture anywhere near his computer. Or, at least, what happened to it if there once was. As I’ve said, “enthusiastic” doesn’t quite capture it.
Doug manages to infuse his writing with the same effervescent energy, making for a wild ride through his game world and the adventures to be found in it. Since I’m no expert on Vikings or Norse mythology I can’t speak to how much of Doug’s exploration into the wyrd, wild world of Viking adventure is based on history and how much of it is just a sheer, fantastic Norseplosion of adventure. It doesn’t really matter, of course —this book is a mix of pure mystery and adrenaline for RPG gaming, and that’s what counts in the long run.
One is always tempted to write a long foreword to a good book, sprinkling spoilers here and there in an effort to tell the reader how to enjoy what they’re about to encounter in it. But I don’t think that’s the purpose of a foreword. A foreword is for setting the mood: giving the reader that last deep breath before the plunge into strange worlds and vivid imagery. I can assure you, even though the world of Norse adventuring might seem familiar on the surface, what lies beneath that surface is strange and mythic indeed. And so, consider that last, deep breath to have now been drawn—it’s time to turn the page and let yourself go a-Viking in the rich sea of ideas you’ll find beyond!
Jason Hobbs, of Hobbs and Friends of the OSR, linked me in to a grappling duel that he was going to run in an ongoing game he runs. You can see it here, from about the 5 minute mark to about 10 minutes, maybe a bit longer. He used concepts from my book, Dungeon Grappling, to execute the duel.
Check it out. I’ll wait.
A few things about it that struck me, or that I really liked:
First, Jason looked at the rules ahead of time, trimmed them to his needs, and clarified the function with the other player in the duel
He made them his own: dividing the HP of each fighter into a few bins of a size that made sense to him. There seemed to also be a “no effect” zone up to a certain level, too
He eliminated modifiers to the damage roll: “just roll your Hit Die for control damage.”
He made the contest one-way: no way to counter-grapple. The player asked about it, and was informed not to worry.
It was fast, and especially in the duel, the “miss, miss, hit/damage, miss, hit/damage, etc” sequence was as fast as it should be, with no bizarre lookups.
That’s the point, really: everyone who plays any version of D&D knows the hit roll vs AC/damage roll paradigm. It’s basically in our blood. And with the relatively low number of HP in Old School games, using HP as Control Maximum is equally well understood.
The player was able to ask for things to do: “get in and take him down.” That was glossed over, but it could have been attempted as soon as the fight moved from “grabbed” to “grappled.” Make an attack roll, spend the CP to represent the effort of throwing him to the ground, and poof. He’s now prone (and presumably embarrassed) on the ground. Easier to hit, harder to hit you, and worse Dexterity-type saving throws.
I liked what I saw, and as the players and the GM get used to it, I can easily see adding some of the optional detail for more fun.
Roland Warzecha has a new Patreon video out; it will likely be publicly available sooner or later. It was shot at the Berlin Buckler Bouts over the last few weeks. In it he emphasizes the similarities between weapons used in the off hand, and shields are definitely a weapon.
But in it, he really emphasizes how the motions you use with a center-gripped shield are essentially the same training as with the primary-hand sword. “The shield-fighting is really no different than fighting with two weapons.”
So if you swapped out the shield for an axe or sword, there are only mild differences. Slight stuff due to the character and balance of the weapon.
But this is a gaming blog, so what does that mean for RPGs?
This suggests that a “one-handed weapon” skill with reasonable defaults would apply to swords, axes, and the use of the Shield (Buckler) skill. And that much of the training that at least we do (most of the stuff I learn is based on Roland and Arthur’s fighting style, obviously, as they’re our head instructors), we’re using the tools in a way where we more or less train “right-hand weapon,” and “left-hand weapon,” with emphasis on primary-hand sword, and secondary-hand shield, but it translates fairly well to sword-and-axe.
It does help that my own teachings emphasize symmetry of ability (OK, 50 cuts primary hand with the axe. Next, 50 cuts to the pell off-hand with the axe. Repeat for 2-4 angles of cut!). But really, what you’re doing, what works, etc is very similar.
In GURPS, at least, including most of its variants, there’s been recent discussion on a “Melee Weapon” Talent, with everything appropriate defaulting from that, in one way or another. I find this credible for most things (I find it less credible for knife-fighting, but that’s mostly because in my experience knives are utterly unforgiving and utterly quick, so it may be credible still, but at the extreme edge of penalties to be bought off). I mention that D&D handles this easily, and why it mattered recently, below.
In any case, there are some neat and subtle points in the video that I think lend some degree of support to reducing the number of skills. Much as Hans-Christian Vortisch published an article collapsing many Guns skills into “Guns (Longarm),” I think that at least for the right framing: “Reach 1 weapons,” or “1H Reach 1 Weapons” that such a thing fits in with two things:
It fits well with how folks wish to build characters in GURPS: put most of the points in one skill. It’s efficient, and effective. It’s how all the Dungeon Fantasy RPG characters tend to be built.
It fits well with how real people are going to apply and learn their skills. In a combat, adrenaline-filled situation, you will not wish to flip back and forth between two vastly different mind-sets and physical stances/procedures. That way will introduce openings to get you killed.
I got a quick bit of feedback on using Conditional Injury in actual play. Recall this article was not playtested, and mostly theoretical. Granted I was musing on it for years, but it never really got a good stress test. So someone wrote me with one:
Dingo (Discord Forums) wrote:
A lot shorter than planned and got a ‘longer’ fight expected which I’ll do a proper play writeup for; but regarding the Conditional Damage it worked really well. It encouraged superior fighters to allow themselves to take more risks because being hit for low-damage hits wasn’t as threatening as before where 7 hits alone was enough to have you suffering penalties; there were a lot more all-out attacks and all-out defenses to set up counterattacks. It felt, to put a word to it – a great deal ‘meatier’. A 3v1 fight of one skilled fighter with just DR 1 on the torso involved a lot more hits than before without worrying about an instant escalation. Weak hits were still dangerous due to failed-HT rolls potentially making injury condition worse, but in practice this meant that the immediate danger wasn’t HP (a limited resource) but shock penalties, stunning, and knockdown – both attacking and defending these became priorities. Jabs to the face (using Defensive Attack) became a very effective tactic in the 3v1 for the trained fighter. So all in all, a good fun fight that didn’t cause the GM panic of ‘well it could end in 3 hits’.
Interesting. I’d not have figured that.
This report suggests that the GURPS Death Spiral has perhaps been tamed a bit. Risking more wounds, rather than fewer, wasn’t really a design goal. But then, it wasn’t not a design goal either. Some of the emergent behavior, such as more strikes to the face looking for knockdown and stun, are outstanding results, the kind of emergence one hopes for. An increased use of All-Out-Attack (I will take a minor wound in order to deal a major one!) seems more accurate for a game that tends to have to remind GMs that mooks, unskilled mooks, will not do the math on defending like players do. They want to hit you, and will happily fling Telegraphic All-Out or Telegraphic Committed (+8 and +6 to hit, respectively for the Determined option) blows to do so.
So this is a good report. I still have to do my Designer’s Notes commentary on the article; hopefully I’ll get to that today.
Ooo! Follow-up comment by Dingo (Discord Forums)
yeah it quickly became very appropriate to approach the fight less from ‘put hurt on the opponent’ and instead shift to ‘control your opponent’. The player I was testing it with wasn’t so confident with the grappling rules as to put that entirely in scope (It’s what we’re gonna add in for the next test to see how it comes together); but quickly made realizations like the importance of hits that risk stunning, or in a group fight – the fact going for more dangerous hits can be worthwhile if you’re confident you can handle the backlash.
Ultimately the fact victory comes down to a status game rather than a counter game meant you immediately had to shift tactics away from damage/attrition and instead towards control and disabling.
Especially if your opponent has a high enough HT that you can’t rely on Cumulative Wound severity increases without All Out Attack (Strong); one exchange against someone with 13 HT resulted in the player doing -repeated- Defensive Jabs to the face, solely waiting for a stun and outlasting their counterattacks. Once the stun hit – AoA (Strong) to the face over, and over, and over until they either were crippled from a sufficiently high damage hit, or recovered from stun (at which point it returned to jabs and defensive)
So really interesting stuff here, in that “go repeatedly to the face, and when stunned, ground and pound” is rather nifty because that’s exactly what you see in MMA fights with two skilled foes that are pretty tough, by dint of repeated experience.
When putting together some of the cities and towns in Dragon Heresy, I used an article by S. John Ross called Medieval Demographics Made Easy.
It’s pretty much what it says on the tin: a tightly-presented metasystem and consolidated research finding on the population of medieval towns, villages, and cities. It provides die rolls, tables, and other necessities to quickly understand how many of what profession are going to be in a given place, as well as talking about castles, agriculture, and more.
When S. John restructured his website, The Blue Room, it became convenient for him to offer this file to host on other blogs, and I asked if Gaming Ballistic could be one of them.
I intend to keep using this for Dragon Heresy, and I recommend it strongly, if for nothing else to avoid the trope of medieval villages that feel like 21st century suburbs and strip malls.
This continues the actual play report by Simone De Bellis, the first session of which was transcribed here in a prior post (mildly edited by me), and here in the GURPS North America Facebook group, which thankfully is used by folks well beyond North America.
As before, he takes what I gave him in Hall of Judgment and makes it his own. Some of the changes – such as making the thurs (a kind of fae troll-kin) into minor jotuns are pretty inspired. The other is using the natural freedom of the setting to plunk down needed resources, such as a village he needs for reasons to be revealed later, I suppose!
It’s great to see someone so obviously having fun with the material.
Hall of Judgment was a successful Kickstarter that produced a – even if I do say so myself – fine, playable, good-looking product. Even so, it’s nice when a creator gets feedback, and my ego appreciates stroking as much as the next man. Even better than compliments on the book itself is that most Fremen of compliments: “Your plan worked, Muad’Dib.” In short, as Peter Dell’Orto would say: “Did it work in Actual Play?” So what follows is a bit of an instigated post. Simone De Bellis posted that he was playing Hall of Judgment with his group, and had gone through several sessions worth. I nudged him to write up a play report, and he willingly obliged. So here’s a Hall of Judgment actual play report!
What follows is an example of how to play Hall of Judgment while dropping it into a very unique and self-sculpted campaign world. He didn’t feel the need to conform to my assumptions of the world of Norðlond, and did things his own way.