Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Magic In Design

So we have magic in D&D, and we have D&D's implied setting. We have a continuum of responses on how to reconcile magic and how it affects the daily existence of our fantasy constructs:

On one end, magic doesn't alter the fundamental fabric of an implied setting. This could be accomplished in a number of ways, but at its extreme, the affect of magic on the setting is completely ignored on the macro level. Society runs like our anachronistic notions of how medieval life might have been.

One justification here could be that magic has no net affect on the history and development of a setting. For example, Alexander the Great gets a Raise Dead on 323 BC, but a weak later an assassin hits him with a Disintegrate spell, so the whole affair is a wash. Or use any other justification one desires.

The other end of the spectrum, easily enough, is a setting that is devised, designed, and developed with the affect of magic in mind. For example, continual light spells function as medieval gas or electric lights, so work can be performed at night, leading to a more advanced industrial capability, etc etc etc.

Your mileage may vary, feel free to pick any point on that continuum. I hope this is all very obvious.

This campaign leans heavily towards the "no net affect" aspect of magic. I want to play in a pseudo-historical 17th century, so why would I want to drastically alter the social and technological fabric of the world? But I also want to play D&D, so magic is definitely in. So there's your justification for why I hate science. Or magic. I can't even tell at this point.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Magic Users Don't Make For Better Scientists

A comment by Alexis got me thinking. Here's what he said:
But how is it that in a world of magic it isn't obviously possible for a few bright-thinking mages to invent the equivalence of kerosene or sterno?
Magic and magic users don't make for better scientists. Sure, by the rules, magic-users are highly intelligent, so this isn't a knock on character. The main problem with magic is that it doesn't help advance science, so I don't see how it could have a significant, sustained push on science.

Magic doesn't help with discovery. There are no spells that would allow sight deep into the cosmos compared to or better than a telescope to advance astronomy or its application for ocean bound navigation. Conversely, there are no spells for microscopic vision to advance the fields of biology or medicine. There are no spells to isolate, refine, or process elements and compounds to advance materials science. And so on and so forth.

Magic doesn't help with measurement; scientific inquiry is built on measurement.

Magic doesn't help much with generating, controlling, and applying energy. I'm thinking in the form of engines here. Well, maybe the use of a Permanency and some sort of fire spell could create a fuel-less flame. But magic wouldn't help with the invention of gears, cams, and other power transmission systems to deliver work from the heat generated.

You could look at it the other way too. How would magic have helped classical man devise a method for creating concrete? How would it have helped to create new steel and metal alloys (beyond creating higher temperature forges)?

Magic in D&D is geared towards combat, exploration, and all the fun things that go with the game. It could have just as easily been geared towards science (but what kind of game would that be?). It is not like what I am saying here is any big revelation, but it is both a common sense and convoluted answer to how we can have magic and Medieval/Renaissance technology side by side.

Note that I am making a slight distinction between technology and science. An enterprising magic user can use magic to create some wondrous things, but their magic is not advancing (or creating) science or the scientific method.

Again, I'm not saying that an inventive use of magic couldn't create effects that resemble technological advances, but said effects are not advancing science qua science.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Greek Fire

Pursuant to the comment section of the lamp oil post, I looked into Greek fire. Admittedly, I only did some cursory Google and Wikipedia research, so this is not definitive. However, it helps to illustrate a point.

Here's a diagram of a theoretical Greek Fire launcher fitted onto a Byzantize Dromon:

Notice two important aspects of this diagram, pressure and temperature. Even Greek fire had to be heated before it was combustible. Again, like oil, it is not a weapon at room temperature and it would not ignite from a spark or existing flame. In order to employ this weapon, it had to be heated and in order to fire it had to be pressurized.

This is the key point I want to make for flame weapons: they require processing and work (in a thermodynamic/mechanical sense) before they can be employed. So anyone who wants to use incendiary weapons in this world (or any world in which you want to pay attention to such things), is going to have to set up a system more elaborate than a wick and bottle. And even heated oil/Greek fire/etc is not going to be easy to handle and use safely, thus the pressurized launcher. If the history of the boiler and steam engine is any indication, I am sure many a Dromon exploded of its own accord.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Lamp Oil Doesn't Burn

Pure fantasy: blazing walls of lit oil, bombs fashioned from bottles of oil with a lit wick, tossing oil on an enemy and setting them on fire.

None of this is even close to realistic. Lamp oil is made from vegetable oil or maybe fish oil. These oils have a flash point in the range of a two to three hundred degrees. What does this mean to the non-engineer? OIL DOESN'T BURN.

Flash point is a property of liquids; it is the temperature at which the vapors from a liquid will burn when in contact with an ignition source. When oil is underneath this temperature, it cannot be ignited. So all of these oil bombs and puddles of oil suddenly turning into a raging conflagration are all wrong.

Quick science experiment for people who do not believe me: Grab some vegetable oil from your pantry and pour it into a dish. Light a match and hold it above the oil. Does the oil burn?

No, seriously, go and do this then come back if you don't believe me. I'll wait.

Oil does burn, that is why lamps were fueled by oil. However, the oil has to be heated first before it will ignite. How do we accomplish this? With a lit wick. The wick heats the nearby oil above the flash point causing the oil to give off enough vapors to sustain a flame. That's why you start an oil lamp (or candle, same principle) by lighting the wick for a few seconds with an external fire source before the flame will catch.

[On the other hand, modern petroleum products ignite easily. The flash point of gasoline is around -44 degrees. Kids: don't play with gasoline.]

If you just had a bottle of oil and poured it on the ground, you are never going to get it to ignite with a torch. If you stick a wick into a bottle of oil and light it, the wick will burn. But if you throw that bottle and it shatters, the oil will not ignite and the flame will be snuffed out. Remember, only a tiny portion of the oil very close to the wick is hot enough to burn.

Ok, so that is a mild pet peeve off my chest. If you are bothered by basic physics, don't let your players and monsters toss around molotov cocktails made from vegetable oil. I don't.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Languages in the EMP - Germany/Holy Roman Empire

In my previous preliminary write ups on race, I decided to cut down languages to common and racial languages. However, I feel that there is room to have languages play a role within a sandbox without becoming prohibitive or creating a market of magic users who only memorize comprehend languages and sell their services in every major city.

So we will break languages down into two arenas, national and regional. National languages will be a fantasy construct that prevents languages from getting in the way (What, no one in our party speaks the same language?!?). Regional languages will provide some granularity to make language an aspect of the sandbox that can have some impact on play.

For example, there will be a national language for all Germans, but there will be plenty of regional languages such as Czech, Upper German, Low Saxon, Rhenish, and Low Franconian.

Player characters will begin play with a national and regional language dictated by where their character was born. So anyone born in a Holy Roman Empire state will speak German and the corresponding regional language. NPCs will follow the same pattern for the most part. Rural, backwards, or otherwise isolated NPCs might only speak their regional language and not their corresponding national language.

This setup should make 90%+ of play go on without worrying about languages. However, it still leaves the door open for interesting linguistic play should the PCs start globetrotting and dealing with foreigners at home or abroad. Plus, regional languages can play a role in role-playing.

Since the EMP campaign will start in Germany, let's go ahead and (broadly and in a condensed form) define those languages.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Simplified Shock Tactics

So I like the concept of having charges act as an attack on morale. However, I am not happy with my convoluted matrix for adjudicating the results of a charge. Let's simplify that beastly chart and make something that is easy to remember and put into play at the table. We will keep all of the mechanics already in place, but change the results of the 2d6 morale check.

On a successful moral check, the combatant makes a normal melee attack. On a failed morale check, the combatant must withdraw from combat for a number of rounds equal to the roll's margin of failure. Withdrawing combatants may only take a normal movement action away from combat, but can defend themselves as normal (no penalties to AC). After the prescribed amount of rounds has passed, combatants may act normally.

If both parties fail, then neither may take any further action for that round as they reorganize.

So that pretty much sums up that whole chart without all that mess. One wrinkle for the attacker though. A failed charge wouldn't require a literal withdrawal, but I would put them out of combat for those rounds as they attempt to regain control of their mount. Maybe the attacker could abandon their mount to skip the rounds of lost activity, but the mount would flee the battlefield.

All in all, if you charge an enemy and win, you dislodge them from their position and get a few attacks. If you charge and fail, you take yourself out of combat for a bit and are vulnerable for a time as well. Overall, this tweak is easy to remember and implement during play, so I call it mission complete.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Brief Programming Note

I've gone from posting once a day to about once a week here lately. I'm not dead yet, just up to my neck in contract writing which invariably eats up my free time. I will be back in full swing eventually. Hey, we all have to wait out this lame A to Zzzzz blog contest somehow...

Friday, April 1, 2011

Goblin Settlements

I had a comment on the previous post about goblins asking about lairs. I've been a little vague on that, referring to them a few times as an underground race but also mentioning that they do some farming and keep some livestock.

A small portion of goblins living in Lesser Poland on marginal land near the Vistula have settled into agrarian lifestyles. They are not the focus of this post. Instead, we focus on the goblins who live along the Carpathians who are semi-nomadic and utilize raiding for a portion of their subsistence. I mean come on, why would the PCs be mucking around with farming goblins? Sheesh...

Goblins settle in out of the way places, in rough terrain where they can hide themselves but still range out and raid when necessary. They will settle below ground in natural caves, abandoned mines, and any other subterranean locale. Goblins rarely work the ground where they settle since they often move their tribes. In addition, they will settle above ground in crevices, escarpments, canyons, and other sheltered areas and erect tenting. Either way, they choose areas that are easy to hide their tribes in, command a view of the surrounding area, and have multiple avenues to escape.

Their economy revolves around periodic raids. Goblins are decent metalworkers, able to break down tools to fashion arrow heads, darts, spears, and other weapons. Otherwise, most goblin tools are made from animal products such as sinew, bone, and hides. Goblins also prize other manufactured and refined products to fit specific needs, especially salt and sugar to preserve food.

Goblins raid along a seasonal pattern. Throughout good weather months, they collect a menagerie of livestock. They focus on animals that are easy to keep, such as pigs, goats, and chickens. Goats and chickens also provide a steady and easy source of food. Larger livestock, such as cattle or horses, are typically worked for a bit, then slaughtered for food and materials. Goblins do not feed and keep animals through the winter, instead, they conduct large slaughters in the late fall and then dry and preserve as much food as they can to last the winter. Once the next spring bring favorable weather, they raid again to replenish their livestock.

Goblin tribes pick up and move as a response to raids, both to search for fresh targets and as a response to retaliatory raids.