Saturday, October 9, 2010

House Rule: Rest and Recovery

The ease of a full recovery after just one extended rest (6 hours) is one of the most commonly criticized game mechanics of 4th edition. I feel it removes an important element of danger from the game and indeed I have never been a fan of the ease of magical healing in prevoius editions of D&D either.

Therefore, I'm introducing this house rule into my 4e game:

Per extended rest, a character may recover either one healing surge or may remove one failed death save. A short rest has no effect on recovering failed death saves.

The doesn't have a major effect on the tactics of an encounter but it does change the players' overall strategy between encounters. This puts 4e players in a more perilous position than players of eariler editions as there are no easy means of magical healing to speed up long term recovery. Any such magic would also have to be house ruled as well if used at all. Perhaps a new ritual or new magic item could be introduced to improve the recovery rate but I'm not inclined to include such items. I've always liked the "major wound" mechanic of the Pendragon RPG and I think this rule lends a little of its flavor to D&D.

Any 4e players or DMs out there have an opinion of this?

Friday, October 8, 2010

World Building: Tech Preview of Ubisoft's "From Dust"

This looks fun. Hope it comes with a "Print to giant hex map" button.

This reminds me not to try to compete with video games when it comes to building and simulating worlds. While a lot of my posts here have been very crunchy on mechanics, the end goal is to create a framework for aiding immersive interactions between human players sitting together face-to-face, bringing a world to life in an unpredictable and spontaneous manner which with computer games can't compete. Death to Lord British!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Prospecting for Metals

Access to rare metals could make or break the fortunes of a civilization. When PCs wish to secure a stronghold, it is natural they should seek out these resources. Propecting on their own holdings may reveal hidden sources of stability and wealth.

Prospecting requires a successful 5th level complexity one skill challenge. (The skill challenge is a 4e mechanic but can be adapted to any AD&D edition with the use of nonweapon proficiencies or skills.)

Prospecting for Metals Skill Challenge (5th Level)
Prospecting is time consuming, back breaking work with little chance of overnight success. Long hours are spent in cold mountain streams and dismal bogs sifting for rare materials.

1 (4 successes before 3 failures)
Primary Skill:
Dungeoneering - Moderate 5th level DC (15)
Secondary Skills:
History (1 use) - gives +2 bonus, Knowledge of past assay attempts.
Perception (1 use) - gives +2 bonus, A close eye is kept out for tell tale signs.
Endurance (1 use) - gives +2 bonus, Extra hours of back breaking labor.
All Moderate 5th level DC (15)
Time Required:
1 month
Area Covered:
1 five mile hex
No results.
200 XP

% chance / metal / frequency
01-94 Nothing of value in this area.
95-99 Iron 5% of Crust


% chance / metal / frequency
01-50 Zinc 75 parts per million
51-91 Copper 60 ppm
92-97 Lead 10 ppm
98 Tin 2 ppm
99 Arsenic 2 ppm

% chance / metal / frequency
01-57 Antimony 0.2 ppm
58-78 Silver 0.08 ppm
79-97 Mercury 0.07 ppm
98 Platinum 0.004 ppm
99 Gold 0.003 ppm

metal / suggested effect
Fey Iron (Radiant)
Shadow Iron (Necrotic)
Star Iron (Psychic)
Orichalcum (Force)
Mithril (lighter)
Adamantium (stronger)
Uxoricore (Fire)
Uru (Thunder)
Black Orichalcum (Psychic, Force)

Prospecting is a time consuming undertaking and the appropriate random encounter rolls should be made.

Once a metal is discovered, it must be extracted which I'll detail in a future post. Placer mining was the most common method but shaft mining is also a possibility, especially in Dwarven operations.

I leave it to the DM to determine the details of any fantastic metal discovered but the rewards for successful extraction should be significant.

These charts should be taken with a grain of salt. For example, historically lead was collected at several times the quanity of copper, despite being more rare. This probably was because lead was in some way easier to extract than copper. Also, lead was often found with other metals such as copper, zinc and silver but this chart only produces a single metal on a successful role.

For more detailed information on various metals one might encounter in a D&D game, check out the recent post on The Tao of D&D about mining and metals.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Research Material on Medieval Economies

Today I received three used books in the post purchased to help me research the ins and outs of medieval urban life:

"The Commercial Revolution of the Middle Ages, 950-1350" by Robert S. Lopez.

"Medieval Cities, Their origins and the Revival of Trade" by Henri Pirenne.

"Economic and Social History of Medieval Europe" also by Henri Pirenne.

All three look quite helpful. I've already started the Lopez book which 20 pages in seems like a quick and surprisingly entertaining read. The conclusions Lopez makes confirm that I'm on the right track. (Very reassuring!) He has some interesting material on post-Roman barbarian economics which will soon become a post here much like the manorialism posts for you Conan and orc marauder types. I'm getting a lot of new-to-me information on the Roman Empire and some context on today's credit driven economy as well. Hopefully, the Pirenne books will be as inspiring.

I read "Life in a Medieval City" by Frances and Joseph Gies years ago and found it great fodder for D&D background material. I recommend it if you're into this sort of thing.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

On the Use of Guild Marks as Sympathetic Fetishes

"In Ilova, the City of False Doors, it is the custom of the Honorable Fraternity of Bakers and Pâtissiers to brand freshly baked loaves of bread from their ovens on one end with the Sigil of the Tortoise and the other end with the Sigil of the Hare. These marks serve to identify the loaves as legal goods free of taxes and are the subject of much superstitious speculation by the hungry Ilovian populous. In the markets, wandering among the citizens adorned in their funereal togas, one can hear much talk of the boons, ills and sundry other effects attributed to whether one spreads one's lard across either the tortoise side or the hare end of this bread. In fact, the sigils do serve as sympathetic fetishes to aid in targeting the loaves for enchantment by the guild Athermancers in accordance with the Laws of Contagion. These rituals can aid or hinder the rising of the bread, the length of its life upon the shelf and even, once consumed, the vigor of its consumer. It is by these means that the Honorable Fraternity of Bakers and Pâtissiers and her sister guilds exert influence and direction over the welfare of the entire economy, all at the behest of the Grand Guilder and High Officers of the Greater Confraternity of the Plen River Traders."

From The Codex of Surviving Imperial Livery Patents of Moranth, circa 17 AC.

Game Effect: Upon entering a city in which a single Guild controls the majority of the economy, make a saving throw to resist the effects of the arcane policy control mechanisms in currently place. To randomly determine the current policy effects, roll a d10: 1-3: -1 to skill checks, 4-6: no effect, 7-0: +1 to skill checks. These effects remain in place until the character leaves the city or until the end of the season. Abilities and powers which grant additional saving throws may be used to negate these effects normally.

The Post In Which Guilds are Sundered in Twain

For the last few weeks I've been at an impasse as to how to proceed with highest levels of economic activity for my game world. My original idea was to create a plausible system of economics linking the small scale of manorial production of actual goods to the larger, playable game pieces of Birthright style guilds. My feeling has been that guilds have been rather poorly defined in both description and game mechanics. Are they confederations of several small livery companies? If so, how deep down does the regents control extend into, say, the inner workings of the Honorable Fraternity of Bakers and Cake Frosters? The Hanseatic League seems like the best historical analog for a guild but along a more mono-despotic vein. The regent acts as both CEO and Chairman of the Board of a holding company composed to numerous sub-guilds who shoulder the gritty responsibility of the realities of production and labor. That leaves our regent free to... to what exactly?

I had assumed to make money. It's becoming clear with research that is a false assumption. Or rather it's better to say, their ideas on the production of wealth are far from my modern views on wealth. Guilds practiced mercantilism, not capitalism. They were strict monopolists wielding letters patent to force out and stifle competition and innovation. Foreign trade was considered a bane unless the exports always, always exceeded the imports. (An unrealistic as well as undesirable goal.) They imposed strict social order to control the balance of haves and have nots. They saw ruthless development of internal markets as the only route to wealth and when these markets stagnated, acquisition of foreign markets by force of arms was the common solution. Guilds were less concerned with money than they were with control.

And here I was trying to figure out how they profited on the free market. Under the guild system, the free market and the black market are both the same and criminal. Guilds are really a type of urban law holding. Criminal networks and the traditional D&D thieves' guilds are where the real inter-realm economic trade action is at, which is good as far as dramatic purposes are concerned. It looks like I'll be splitting the Birthright guild into two pieces and repurposing them into new roles.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

World Building: Macro-economics (Part 2)


This post is a dump of fairly raw data on the amount of goods produced by a manor.
This data is meant to be scaled up to the province level, not detailed down to Harn-like granularity. My long term aim is to create price indexes for a few broad ranges of goods from which I can derive prices for items on the equipment lists and for trade should the player wish to try their hands as merchants. The information here will be used to set the production values of the base index.

The manor produces Food, Metals, Raw Textiles and Timber and exports these items to local urban centers where they are consumed or worked by craftsmen into manufactured products. These are the average amounts produced per manor, not every manor's output will be strictly as described below. In a small barony of five manors there may be only one mining operation which produces 1500 lbs of metal per year and no mining at all in the other manors.

Amount of Food:
  • 1 acre produces on average 500 lbs of foods per year.
  • A person consumes about 5 lbs of food per day.
  • 20 acres supports 1 family adult and dependents with 10000 lbs of food per year or 5 tons. (Includes feed and seed.)
  • A manor of 100 feeds 50 city families which is 500000 lbs of food per year or 250 tons.
  • This food is produced on 3000 acres.
  • Includes grains, meat, grapes, milk, fruit, etc.
Amount of Metal:
  • Iron produced at 3 pounds per capita per year.
  • A manor of 100 produces 300 pounds per year.
  • This is mostly iron but can include gold, silver, copper, tin, zinc, etc.
Amount of Textiles, Furs, Hides:
  • Linen from flax.
Flax 1000 lbs per acre of which there is spinable flax for 25 yards of linen.
5 yards per outfit.
Acres of flax per manor = 10% of 3000 = 300 acres which produces 150 tones per year or 7500 yards of linen or 1500 outfits.
  • Leather
Pigskin is common.
10' sq per pig.
400 pigs per manor, 25% butchered a year.
50 lbs of meat per pig
5000 pounds of meat per year or 2.25 tons (as apart of total food)
1000' sq feet pigskin or ~100 yards of leather, 20 outfits.

Cowskin from naturally loses only, i.e. 10% of herd.
Herd of 100 cattle.
40' sq feet per cow
400' sq ft leather per year
~45 yards of leather or 9 outfits

Deer, Elk
Hunt 50 a year
20' sq feet per animal
1000' sq feet deerskin or ~100 yards of leather, 20 outfits.

200 sheep per manor, 10% loses
5' sq ft leather
10 lbs of fleece per year, 15 yards of wool or 3 outfits
2000 lbs of wool per year or 1 ton or 3000 yards or 600 outfits
100' sq ft or 9 yards or 2 outfits

  • Furs (beaver, rabbit, fox, ermine, etc)
Hunt 50 per year
~4' sq ft furs
20 yards per year

Amount of Timber:
  • 200 trees per acre, 30' tall 10" diameter, 500 lbs. or 100 tons per acre total.
  • Sustained harvest at 10% = 20 trees weighing 10000 lbs. or 5 tons.
  • 200' board feet per ton. (Board feet 144" cubed.) 10' 2"*4" is 960' cu. is 6.66 board feet.
  • 10' by 10' wooden wall (30 2*4s) is 200 board feet.
  • Acres of timber per manor = 10% of 3000 = 300 acres which produces 1500 tones per year.
  • A 20' by 30' for wooden house requires 22 tons of raw timber.
  • 1 urban family burns 20 tons of wood as fuel per year reducing available timber to 500 tons per year.
  • Building upkeep for 100 dwellings reduces available timber by 200 tons.
  • 300 tons of timber available per year.
Total yearly exports of a manor:
  • Food: 250 tons (Mostly grains, some meat, fish)
  • Metal: 300 lbs (Mostly iron)
  • Textiles: flax for 7500 yards of linen, 3000 yards wool, ~250 yards of leather (Pig, Deer, Cattle), 20 yards of furs (Beaver, Rabbit, Stoat)
  • Timber: 300 tons
Total Value of Exported Goods: ~1800 GP per year
  • Food 1CP @ 50lbs - 100 GP
  • Metal(iron) 2GP @ lbs - 600 GP
  • Timber 1GP @ ton - 300 GP
  • Flax 1GP @ "42 yards" - 180 GP
  • Wool 1GP @ "25 yards" - 120 GP
  • Leather 1GP @ "1.5 yards" - 375 GP
  • Furs 10GP @ "1.5 yard" - 133 GP
Next post will look at urban wages and will determine prices for common adventuring items based off the information provided here.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

I Attack Magic Missile With My Darkness

The forthcoming post on building economic systems is still in R&D mode but I decided not to let that stop me from posting about something which has recently raised a red flag for me.

In the 4e rules update from July 6, 2010, Magic Missile gets a major revision:

"Page 159: Replace the Attack, Hit, and Special
entries with the Effect and Special entries in the
power below. This update reflects an effort to restore
the power to its classical form.


Effect: 2 + Intelligence modifier force damage.
Level 11: 3 + Intelligence modifier force damage.
Level 21: 5 + Intelligence modifier force damage.
Special: If the implement used with this power has an
enhancement bonus, add that bonus to the damage. In
addition, you can use this power as a ranged basic attack."

To me, this sounds like an extraordinarily bad idea for several reasons. The stated thinking of restoring the spell to its "classical" form seems flawed. While granting the traditional "automatic" and "unerring" aspects to the spell with one hand, the other hand removes the just as iconic d4 damage dice. More importantly are the game balance aspects which didn't feel particularly broken in the first place. Pre-4th edition, it had limited availability in accordance with the number of spell slots the caster wished to devote to the memorizing the spell. In 4e, Magic Missile is an at-will spell that can be cast without limit at first level. No other character class has anything approaching this general guarantee of combat effectiveness. It certainly steps on the turf of the ranged attack based strikers. It also indirectly nerfs the threat of minions who will be dropped in a steady manner like clockwork. Is the archetypal image of the mage really akin to this?:

But of course with MM, the ammo never runs out.

I suspect this is one rules "fix" I'll ignore.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

World Building: Politics and Macro-economics (Part 1.5)

Establishing the Gold Standard

The Tao of D&D author Alexis' posts on his extremely detailed economic system have been a large influence on my thinking for the economic system in my campaign. In his recent post Let's Try It From The Beginning Again he summarizes his approach. While I'm not interested in the achieving the same level of granularity his system explores, I am fascinated by some of the mechanics he uses. In the comments of his post, I asked,

"How do you define the total gold in the system? Does it include non-circulating coin such as in a dragon's horde or buried beneath the sands of a lost city? If players recover a significant amount of wealth and spend it, do you add it to the system? Do you have any mechanic for varying the amount of gold in the system via loss or new mines?"

His response was,

"I calculate my total gold in the system by the use of the United Nations International Statistics Yearbook 1988, which gives the gold produced for that year as 1,771,000 kg. In comparing 1988 with 1650, research I’ve done suggests that the increase in industrial production during that period increased approximately 50,000% ... giving me a nice, round number with which to divide; so 1,771,000 kg over 500 gives approximately 311,000 oz of gold distributed through my system (I use imperial measurements for my world, so the metric is converted).

I’m not dead sure about those numbers, I don’t have my work in front of me, but it is somewhere around those.

It does not take into account ‘circulating gold,’ which I estimate is 9 times the gold produced in a year ... this based on the principle that 1% of all made or resourced material becomes unusable per month. This doesn’t hold for agricultural goods, obviously, but I overlook that because the system demands as much simplification as possible, and I don’t give a shit. I get around the issue by comparing the total gold produced in one year against the total of everything produced in one year.

(adjusted, of course, for industrial development to 1650)"

I'm particularly impressed with his 1% monthly loss rule which elegantly and simply solves a nagging worry I had about "excess" wealth building up.

But another worry of mine is that while Alexis is conquering his entire world, I'm only taking on an Europe-sized section of mine and I need to develop a system of determining the circulating wealth of this fractional land. I have attempted to solve this problem by determining an average gold production per capita.

I started with some numbers on the Roman economy and picked 9 tons (288,000 ounces) of gold output per year and a population of 50 million which gave me 0.00576 ounces of gold per person a year which I rounded up to 0.006. The average mass of a gold coin I set at 5.7 grams or 0.201061583 ounces giving me 5 GP per ounce.

Now let's look again at domain Lisonne and populate it:

Name Level Population Coin
Gaent 7 60k 18000 gp
Goldfeild 4 10k 3000 gp
Greencliff 5 20k 6000 gp
West Reach 2 4k 1000 gp
Riverbend 6 30k 9000 gp
Mirror Shards 3 7k 2000 gp
Otts 3 7k 2000 gp

The coin column is the amount of hard currency in the province as determined in the last post.

Lisonne has a total population of 138000 people and should have 41000 GPs worth of coin in circulation. But can our gold production numbers support that? Let's find out: 138000 times 0.006 gives us 828 ounces or 4140 GP of yearly gold production. Multiply that by 10 to find the total amount of gold in circulation and we get 41400 GP. Not bad at all! It certainly gives me confidence I'm on the right track.

Next post in this series will detail the actual goods tracked and why, the effect of distance on price, the effects of borders and law level on trade and how I'm setting myself up for coding up some complicated shortest path algorithm in the near future.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

World Building: Politics and Macro-economics (Part 1)

The economy of the fantasy world in which my campaign is set consists of a network of interconnected economic forces: the feudal system, the guild controlled markets of the free cities, the economics of the various church holdings and the working of the various non-human cultures. Each one has its own unique political structure. Part one of this series will focus on the sub-economy which is among the most self-sufficient and the most familiar to players of fantasy RPGs.

(A warning for those playing editions in which characters gain experience through the acquisition of gold pieces; the economic system about to be described was not designed with character level advancement in mind. I suspect that this system will hinder character leveling if strictly followed and will collapse if characters are given enough wealth to level normally.)

Feudal Economics

Building from the previous series, we have obtained the population levels from the building block of manor farm to the level of the province. Now we will determine the economic power for those holdings.

The Economics of the Manor

The manor is mostly capable of supporting its self. Any surplus raw goods it produces, it trades with urban economy and receives manufactured items or coin in return. The value of a manor's agricultural surplus is based on the following:

The raw material cost of supporting the family of one urban dweller of average means equals one silver piece per day.

The cost per month is thus three gold pieces and the yearly cost is 36 gold pieces or 9 gold pieces a season. With the 1:2 urban to rural population ratio we previously established, it takes two rural farmers to produce this wealth. A manor house with a population of 100 could thus produce an agricultural surplus worth 450 GP a season and 1800 GP a year. Note, much of this wealth is in perishable form, such as taxed grain. We'll say only half one-tenth is in coin. Most coinage in circulation is copper and silver. Gold is very rare and platinum is never seen.

Each season, the lord of the manor may choose to tax this production lightly (1/4), moderately (1/3) or severely (1/2) and collect 112 GP 5SP, 150 GP or 225 GP respectively. The remainder is then divided among the manor population. With moderate taxation, 300 GP of value is returned to the community of 100 per season.

It follows that the family wage of an average rural dweller is about 3 copper pieces per day.

These wages are not completely out of step with the price list given in the 4e PHB. It helps to think of the value of a single copper piece as worth about 1 to 5 USD. One may think at first that the value of a longsword (15 GP) may be a bit steep (over 1500 USD) but its modern equivalent, an AR-15 assault rifle, costs about that much. Some items listed are off base, I think, like the longbow is probably far over-priced. Certainly player starting funds are far too high. Continued use of the existing treasure bundles listed in the 4e DMG is suggested. Characters who are actively adventuring are bound to get very rich, very quickly in comparison with manor bound landlords but the risks should offset the rewards. ;)

An important part of a manor lords obligation to his liege is his military service. It is in meeting this obligation that entire manor system exists. The wealth a manor generates in coin is not its only output; it provides the following military might for one season's worth of campaigning a year:

1 knight (manor lord) 10th level leader/soldier - Heavy Cavalry
2 knights bachelor 5th level soldiers - Heavy Cavalry
3 squires 3th level soldiers - Light Cavalry
1 cleric 3rd level leader/controllers - Medium Foot
10 Yeomen militia 1st level minions - Medium foot or Archers
17 total, 6 mounted, 11 foot

Can I get a stat box, please: Yikes, nevermind...

Manor, Low level law holding
A manor is a self-sufficient stationary estate, or fief that is under the control of a lord who enjoys a variety of rights over it and the peasants attached to it by means of serfdom.
1 knight (manor lord) 10th level leader/soldier
2 knights bachelor 8th level soldiers
3 squires 3th level soldiers
1 cleric 3rd level leader/controllers
10 villein militia 1st level minions
17 total, 6 mounted, 11 foot
1 manor house, fortified on 4, 5, 6 on d6
d4 manor out buildings
d4 craftsmen workshops
1 communal stockade
1 church, fortified on 5, 6 on d6
5d6 + 6 Small houses or huts
Goods Available
Food and drinks
Farm livestock
Clothing and material
Simple melee weapons
Military and simple ranged weapons
Leather armor
Simple tools
Population 100
Income per season 450 GP
GP Limit 225

Politics and Management below the Provincial Level

We will now build bigger political units such as baronies upon our manor base. First we should look at the limits of what a character can control directly and the political structure that has developed to extend the limits of power.

A character, PC or NPC, may only directly manage five (plus or minus the character’s int modifier) holdings or vassals directly. Vassals are limited by this rule as well. A manor lord at least holds the rank of knight. A manor lord granted more than one manor is usual also given the title of baron or baronet. Those with noble titles may invest lesser titles upon their own vassals. A vassal baron or baronet may control up to five manors. A viscount may control up to five barons or manors. A province is ruled by a count who may control up to five viscounts, barons or manors.

When a character grants holdings to vassals, the character loses the direct income on those holdings but may tax his vassals at 1/4, 1/3 or 1/2 of their incomes and can require the normal season of military service from them and any sub-vassals. If a vassal uses his sub-vassals' season of military obligations and is later called upon by his liege to provide all his military obligations, the vassal must pay his sub-vassals for their additional service or he risks angering his liege. Manors granted to a vassal may be scattered across the land, which may be desirable if the liege doesn't fully trust his underlings to concentrate their base of power.

For example, if a character, a viscount, controls 12 manors, he may directly manage 3 manors and must divide the remaining nine between two vassals as each vassal is also limited to five direct holdings. He invests two new barons and grants them five and four manors each. He loses the the direct income on the nine manors but my tax his new barons' income on those manors. The first baron provides 5 sub-vassal knights, 10 knights-bachelor, 15 light cavalry, and 55 footmen. The second baron provides 4 sub-vassal knights, 8 knights-bachelor, 12 light cavalry and 44 footmen. Both barons set moderate tax rates and earn incomes of 750 GP and 600 GP per season. The viscount taxes the first baron heavily for 375 GP and the second baron lightly for 150 GP and receives an income of 300 GP by moderately taxing his own manors. He receives a total of 825 GB this season and has 2 barons, 10 knights, 24 knights-bachelor, 36 light cavalry and 132 foot at his call. He may, in turn, be taxed by his liege, the count.

At this point, we have determined the average income of a lowly villein to that of a count!

Information at the Provincial Level

Let's review the Provincial population chart:

Level Population Largest Settlement
0 <> Thorp
1 1000 Hamlet
2 4000 Village
3 7000 Small Town
4 10000 Large Town
5 20000 Large Town
6 30000 Small City
7 40000 Large City
8 60000 Large City
9 80000 Metropolis
10 100000 Metropolis

Suppose we have a province with a population level of three ruled by a count. Of the 7000 able-bodied souls in that province we know that 2 in 3 are apart of the feudal economy. That gives us about 4620 people living on about 46 manors. With 46 manors, we know there is about 20,700 GP floating about in the local feudal economy of which only half one-tenth is in hard currency. (All those copper pennies...) There are probably nine barons in the province, and at least one viscount beneath the count.

I'm tempted to go into law holdings and domain play at this point but I think I'll save that for after the current series.

Thanks for reading!

Update (7/14/10):

I reduced the fraction of hard currency of the total wealth from one-half to one-tenth. I suspected one-half was a bit high and while doing the numbers for the next post I discovered a happy reinforcement between the one-tenth of total wealth number and a separate calculation for the total amount of actual gold in the system.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

World Building, Mapping and Population (Part Two)

Birthright Style Provinces...

In the 2e AD&D Birthright campaign settling, political domains such as kingdoms and nations are subdivided into provinces. Birthright provinces are typically about 900 square miles in size and have a maximum population of 100,000 people limited by terrain. Provinces are the smallest unit of land in Birthright 's strategic level of play. They are also a game mechanic abstraction rather than an attempt to closely model a historical entity.

This post is apart of an attempt establish a context between the smaller manor sized holdings player may acquire on beginning Paragon tier (i.e. name level) and the larger holdings on the nation/state level the players should be able to influence by the end of the Paragon tier. (BTW, this system is not edition specific.) In this system, similar provinces will be created with the difference that the target population maximum of each province will be set at 100,000 people and it will be allocated land to support that population. This system will not be slavishly followed, a margin of error up to 15 percent over and 50 percent under is acceptable. (Acceptable to me anyway...) Building on the last post, let's see how we can get to that point.

...on the 25 Mile Hex Scale

From the last post, we established the maximum self-contained population density of our High Middle Ages era culture. It was determined that 750 able-bodied adults could be supported in one 5 mile hex which includes rural and urban dwellers. This assumes that our ideal hex is in a temperate climate and located on fertile land. Let's tackle land first.

First let's define some terrain types:

Plains - are open flat lands well suited to farming.
Deserts - are open flat lands unsuited to farming due to an arid climate.
Badlands - are extremely rough, rocky terrain with poor topsoil and often subject to flash flooding.
Woodlands - are flat lands with light tree cover which does not block sunlight from reaching the surface.
Forests - are flat lands with heavy tree cover whose shade covers the ground layer.
Marshes - are flat low lands near coasts and rivers subject to heavy flooding.
Swamps - are flat low lands with greater expanses of water than a marsh and more tree cover.
Hills - are rocky low land masses extending above the surrounding terrain.
Grassy Hills - are low land masses extending above the surrounding terrain with decent topsoil. They can include tree cover.
Mountains - are high land masses extending above the surrounding terrain. They can include tree cover.
High Mountains - are very high land masses extending above the surrounding terrain. They are above the tree line.

Now let's determine the land available for agriculture:

We are going to assume that each 25 mile hex never really reaches its full population potential. For example, plains are given a maximum of 23 5 miles hexes available for farming rather than 25 to allow for cities or towns and to account for small patches of unsuitable land and land use inefficiencies.

Maximum number of 5 mile hexes available for farming in a 25 mile hex:

Plains, 23
Desert, 2
Badlands, 3
Woodlands, 14
Forests, 10
Marshes, 9
Swamps, 7
Hills, 6
Grassy Hills, 5
Forested Hills, 5
Mountains, 5
Forested Mountains, 2
High Mountains, 1

Of these hexes, there is at least a minimum of 13 of the 25 available 5 mile sub hexes are given over to the primary terrain type. This is true also of the 5 mile sub hexes and the 1 mile sub hexes, etc. (It's hexes all the way down...) The computer programmer in me wants to generate a Ruby script with an randomly variable recursive algorithm which determines land use down to the pebble or until the stack overflows but fortunately I've gotten that sort of thing out of my system elsewhere. I'm setting the modifier statically at .75 for now.

If you're wondering where these numbers came from, it was by a melange of shallow wikipedia research, guesswork and reverse engineering to fit my preexisting map. (In truth, I did have to fix my map in several places.) If you wish to replace these numbers with some other numbers more to you and your maps' liking, you now have a framework with which to get started.

So the maximum population per 25 mile hex looks like this:

Plains: 12937.5 (Probably a halfling...)
Desert: 1125.0
Badlands: 1687.5
Woodland: 7875.0
Forest: 5625.0
Marsh: 5062.5
Swamp: 3937.5
Hills: 3375.0
Grassy Hills: 4500.0
Wooded Hills: 2812.5
Mountains: 2812.5
Wooded Mountains: 1125.0
High Mountains: 562.5

For the sake of example, let's look at the Domain of Lissone, from my DIY campaign world called Moranth:

Lets determine the maximum population of Gaent:

(The Wyrd River is the border between Gaent and Otts if it isn't obvious.)

There four woodland hexes each with 14 5 mile hex farming plots available.
4 * 14 = 56 farm plots

Next we have four plains hexes each with 23 5 mile hex farming plots available.
4 * 23 = 92 farm plots + 56 farm plots = 148 farm plots

Now we have two forest hexes each with 10 5 mile hex farming plots available.
2 * 10 = 20 farm plots + 148 farm plot = 168 farm plots.

Lastly we multiply the 168 farm plots by 750 people and then multiply that by the .75 that represents minor terrain variance.

168 * 750 * .75 = 94500

This is a little under the ideal Provincial maximum population of 100,000 but that's what happens when you draw the map first. ;)

More to come!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

World Building, Mapping and Population (Part One)

This first in a series of posts describing a simple system of determining the maximum population levels of large hex-based map areas inhabited by cultures with a High Middle Ages style technology and culture. This is good for European-like human or even halfling lands but is not really suitable for barbarian cultures, elves, and more magical based societies.

This system makes two important major assumptions:
  1. The primary means of agricultural production is the manor house which entails open field farming with two crop rotation and communal serf labor.
  2. The rural to urban population ratio is 2:1. Every two farmers can feed one urban dweller.
This post focuses at the foundation levels of land use at the 1 mile hex and the 5 mile hex scale.

Each manor has a population of 100 able bodied adults and occupies one 1 mile hex. In each of the hexes surrounding it, there is a zone of exclusion in which no other settlement may occupy. Two manor's zones may overlap however. This zone represents the area in which shepherds graze animals, game is hunted and firewood is collected. All of the inhabitants are considered apart of the rural population regardless of occupation or station. Most of the population are serfs with limited personal freedoms. Each manor consists of a manor house, a small hamlet, a church, a few craft workshops such as a small smithy and a perhaps mill. It farms approximately 500 acres of land and may have a small scale mining operation on the side as well. This sort of settlement has been well described in Dungeon and Dragon terms in The Village of Hommlet.

Villages are the smallest self-sufficient urban settlements and contain the hexes' urban population. It occupies one 1 mile hex and in each of the hexes surrounding it, there is a exclusive zone of exclusion which can not be shared with any other settlement. The total population of the village is 350 able bodied adults. 100 of these villagers are engaged in the same sort of rural activities as manor populations and the other 250 villages are the hexes' urban dwellers. They urban population is engaged mostly in trade and manufacture. All of the village population are considered freemen.

Here is an example of a 5 mile hex with the maximum self-contained population level of 750 able-bodied adults living in 4 manors and and one village:

Here is an example of a 5 mile hex supporting a maximum population level of 1050. 700 able-bodied adults live in this hex in 7 manors and they are able to support 350 urban dwellers in a town or city in a nearby hex:

Each town or city occupies at least one 1 mile hex and has a zone of exclusion extending for two hexes around it that can not be shared with any external settlement. Small suburban settlements may be located within the zone of exclusion but their population must be included in the total population of the main town or city. Thus, towns and cities occupy one 5 mile hex in total.

In any settlement larger than a village, the entire population is considered urban and totally reliant on imported food from the country side. Dungeons and Dragons defines towns as having populations of 1000 people or more so the smallest town would require a minimum of 21 manor houses to support its citizens. If those manors were packed together at maximum density they would require three 5 mile hexes of plains.

The next post will look at population on the 25 mile hex scale and at Birthright style provinces. Also, terrain will be consider in determining the maximum amount of arable land.

Related links:

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Defining Goals for the DIY Game World

The Roadmap

I've been in the process of using the excuse of 4e D&D to seriously revamp and retool my DIY campaign world and turning it from 20 years of notes and maps crammed in three ring binders, notebooks, memories and stray digital files into a coherent digital form. These are my design goals for this project.


The result of this project should be a document which is able to convey to the reader a sense of place via an understanding of its internal relationships to a point that the reader can become an active participate in the game world. It should also serve as a reference for the DM and a source for adventure ideas and opportunities.

The project should emphasize that this is a living world and the document is just a snap shot of its present state. The reader should not be bombarded with over detailed backstories of places, kingdoms and NPCs but presented with just enough information to establish flavor and the current relationships of power within the world. It should lay bare the mechanisms of those power relationships should the players choose to manipulate them in advancing their own agendas or resist in becoming the pawns of the agendas of others.

Inspiration for the DM should come from highlighting tensions in these power relationships. At heroic tier of play, the settling should provide backdrops and motivations for the actions of NPCs. At the Paragon tier, players should have the influence necessary to engage in political sandbox style play.

It should also provide the DM with reference materials for practical details like calendar and timekeeping material, weather, cultural quirks, province stats, price lists for special items, etc.

Look and Format

I'd like the final form of the project to be a pdf file with letter size pages which can be sent to a short run printer for bound hard copies. It should look nice, with considerations to graphic design and it should include art work.

I've been using the same table design and color coding that the 4e D&D books have been using for easy of use and that's been working out well. I've chosen the Democratica and Minion typefaces, the same ones from the Birthright setting. I considered using Souvenir, one of the OD&D fonts, but it felt too out of place for a 4e project.

Having a clear mental image to help convey the mood for my campaign has always been important to me and I'd like that to reflect in the finished project. I've been to art school and I have some talent for drawing but it's not what I really want to be spending my time on right now so I've decided to loot and steal from the Internet instead. I'm not really a huge fan of most modern fantasy illustration. If I could commission an artist, I'd pick someone not known for RPG industry illustration like Zak Smith. But I can't. The fantasy images I have been drawn to are older things like Arthur Rackham's illustrations for Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, which is fortunately as Rackham died in 1939 making his works available to the public domain as of January 1, 2010. Problem solved.


I'd like the political, economic and religious aspects of the campaign to be playable simulations in their own right, and suited to be simulated with a computer program.

Much like Birthright, only better, or the Civilization computer games. This means clearly defining from vague notes and murky memories who the political actors are, what greases the economic engines and deciding which gods and their followers care to enter they fray at this level. I would like the structure of these organizations to be defined from the level a starting player character would first encounter them to the level a paragon level player character would interacting with them while ruling one. It's important that these organizations can be made to bend to player whim and not just be collections of powerful and unchanging NPCs. I'd like to allow sandbox style play at the nation/state level too.

Getting it running on a computer will probably be a secondary but parallel project once all the initial mechanics are worked out. I'll probably use Ruby on Rails and make it web based.


For the world map, I want the political granularity of the Birthright campaign setting's provinces and domains with the practicality of the Wilderlands setting's 1/5/25 mile hex system.

Over the years I've gone back and forth on hex mapping verses free hand mapping verses using digital tools such Adobe Creative Suite or some unholy combination of the three. Aesthetics has been my primary gripe with most hex based systems. Hand drawn or Photoshop drawn maps have looked the best but they can get labor intensive to plot out and constantly update. Hex maps have the advantage of years of acceptance within the RPG industry with lots of literature available on using the abstraction of a hex based world to a DMs advantage. Plus it's nice to be able to pin point a one mile hex in relation to the campaign map; i.e. one mile hex xx,yy of five mile xx,yy of 25 mile hex xx,yy. (So nice, in fact, I named a blog after it...)

I've been using Java based Hexogrpaher to map an 80 by 60 25 mile hex map of Moranth and I'm very pleased with the results so far. Running them through Photoshop for some post processing is getting good results:

I've been putting the most work into fleshing out economic base of Moranth and I feel I've got the rural/feudal/agricultural bits down in a fairly solid manner. The urban and trading parts are still a bit of a haze to me as are the magical/fantasy considerations. I'll save that for next time.

Welcome to the 25 Mile Hex!

The 25 Mile Hex is a fantasy role playing game blog concerned with custom campaign design and world building. The focus is primarily on the 4th edition of Dungeons and Dragons but material from older editions and other games system will be regularly discussed as well, such as the Judges' Guild Wilderlands setting, the 2e AD&D Birthright setting, the 1e AD&D Wilderness Survival Guide, M.A.R. Barker's Empire of the Petal Throne RPG, and Marc Miller's Traveller science fiction RPG.

Expect musing on design, playing styles and DM resources for building their own worlds.

Thank you,

The Hex Master