Saturday, 19 May 2018

Spell: Dream Quest

Philippe Druillet

Dream Quest (Alteration)

level: 7 (I), 9 (MU) Components: V, S, M
Range: Personal Casting Time: 6 turns
Duration: Special Saving Throw: None
Area of Effect: Personal  

Explanation/Description: The illusionist prepares for this spell by burning incense (costing 100gp) and meditating before going to sleep. During the course of the casting, any familiar within 12“ will also fall into a deep sleep. The spell may only be cast on a plane which touches the Ethereal Plane.

Once asleep (at the end of the casting time), the caster will find themselves lying on their bed (or whatever) on the ethereal plane and will be able to rise and move about on that plane. The only possessions they will have will be the equivalent of what they were wearing when the spell was cast. The spell can not be cast while wearing or holding enough to encumber the caster at all.

If a familiar was within range, it too will be active on the plane so long as it remains within 12“ at all times thereafter.

Magical items taken to the ether in this way are unlikely to work unless they originate from one of the Inner Planes. For each item not so sourced, the caster must make a saving throw against spells modified by their wisdom Magical Attack adjustment. Artefacts and relics will always work, although their characteristics may alter (perhaps radically) at the DM’s discretion.

Magical weapons and armour will normally operate at one plus less than normal unless cursed. Again, items from the Inner Planes will not lose their enchantment and may even gain.

The spellcaster must choose a destination as part of the casting process and the spell will take them there using the normal procedure for ethereal travel (i.e., check three times for encounters at start, middle, and end portions of the journey). However, the chance of actually arriving in the correct location depends, like teleport on the familiarity of that location:

Familiarity Illusionist Magic User
Very Familiar 5 5
Studied Carefully 6 6
Seen Casually 7 8
Viewed Once 8 10
Never Seen 12 16

The number indicated or higher must be rolled (by the DM) on 1d20, modified by magical attack adjustment. If a lower score is produced, then the traveller arrives in some other location. It is not possible to give exact details since the intended destination could be anywhere on any world or plane which touches the Ethereal Plane but in general the longer the journey from the caster’s location and the larger the margin of failing the roll, then the greater the error. Thus, if the spell was cast in an inn near a castle the user was intending to spy on, and which they had studied carefully on a previous occasion, a score of 3 might indicate only that they arrived in a forest near the castle. If the castle had been in an alternative reality, then s/he may have arrived on a different parallel world where it might not be initially obvious that anything had gone awry. Similarly, if the destination had never been seen by the caster, such a roll could indicate arrival almost anywhere.

The caster’s perception of any plane, including their own, from the Ethereal will be of psychic impressions only - living things will appear like ghosts, with higher intellects being more life-like and animals as little more than shades of colours with little form. Spells like wizard eye or clairvoyance can be cast from the dream form to allow perception of an adjacent plane. Notice that most normal types of shielding against such spells (metal sheeting, for example) will not prevent entry of the ethereal caster.

Contact other plane may be cast from the ether, in which case any appeal to the elemental planes has half the normal chance of insanity (after Int modifiers).

By and large, however, the sights of the ethereal plane for the dreamer will be those native to it, with the addition that other dreams will be visible when near creatures engaged in sleeping and dreaming. These dream-forms may be interacted with but they will generally exhibit dream-logic and only the most intelligent such dreamer will be able to act sensibly and with planning. Even these, however, will seem insubstantial and ghostly. The only exceptions to this will be other users of the spell, certain psionic individuals, and the insane.

The dreams of the insane will always manifest in a substantial form on the ethereal. This does not apply to mild forms of insanity (see DMG p83).

Once the character has reached his or her intended destination, s/he may choose to awaken at any point or continue on to a new destination on the ethereal realm. In any other case, return from the dream state may be difficult or impossible. Any attack on the dream-self which causes damage or results in a failed saving throw (such failure may not be deliberate) will allow the character to make a roll of 3d6 to attempt to awaken - if the result is less than their intelligence score, then they succeed.

The only other way to wake up is to “die” in the dream state, but this is dangerous to the character’s mind. Being reduced to exactly zero hit points will awaken the dreamer with only a mild shock requiring bed rest for a day. Being reduced below zero causes shock akin to a psionic blast. The character must save as if the blast was at short range (with the usual modifiers, and +3 for illusionists), and if that fails they must roll for the effect as normal. However, both save and effect are made as if the character’s wisdom and intelligence total was reduced by the amount by which they went below zero hit points.

In any case, being taken below zero hit points increases the amount of bed rest needed by days equal to the excess damage, i.e., a character struck by a fireball and reduced to -6 will require a full week before being able to do anything more strenuous than walking to the privy and back (initially they will need help even with that).

No dream-damage will otherwise be reflected on the character’s real body.

Marvan the Miraculous (Int 17, Wis 13) has entered the dreamlands and there encountered a rakshasa. In the resulting fracas he is reduced to -5 hit points. His saving throw is made as if his combined score was 25, although he gets +3 to the die due to being an illusionist. On rolling a 6, he must roll on the effects table. A score of 98 causes him to awaken in a panic state for 2d4 rounds, at the end of which he collapses in a state of exhaustion and will require 6 days rest.

Any normal attempt to awaken the sleeper on their home plane will be futile, although any damage done there will be reflected in the dream-state and that may have the desired effect.

However, time on the Ethereal Plane passes differently - roll d100 each time the spell is used to find the ratio between the planes. Thus, a roll of 34 means that every 34 minutes, hours, days or whatever in the ether will represent only one such unit on the original material plane of the sleeping body.

Finally, each full (real-world) day spent in the dream state will reduce the character’s level by one (until rested) and at level zero there is a 10% chance per day, cumulative, that the physical body will die, and the dreamer with it.

The Dream Lands

The ethereal plane is inhabited by many strange beings, demons, devils, druids, forgotten or shunned gods, and travellers from unknown worlds and alternative realities. Although it is influenced by the material planes where they are close by, the nature of reality in the ether means that it may contain many strange things unbound by any material physics. Although many who pass through it view it only as a means of transport, it truely is the realm of dreams and, of course, nightmares.

Some inhabitants are entirely disinterested in the material realms, as most denizens of they are of it, and some such as the nighthags use it as a fishing hole for prey. Dream empires exist which defy comprehension, while a few insane or gifted poets have woven new hells and paradises to explore.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018


Here's some pictures I took at the British Museum one lunch time in 2015. They're all reconstructions of ancient Athenian statues of their patron deity, the great Athena. The golden statue is based on the work of Phidias for the Parthenon and is called Athena Lemnia, which is now lost but known from copies of varying ages and certainty. The purpose of this (and the other statue below) was to give some idea of how these works would have looked when new. Marble was painted and bronze gilded or polished to a high shine, with glass for the eyes. In fact, the eyes were the most striking aspect of the first statue and the second photo only hints at the life-like quality of the statue's gaze.

Both statues show the goddess wearing her aegis, a sort of shawl with snake heads attached (and the head of Medusa embedded on it too, on the first statue. In the second example it's on her shield). The Phidias version has the snakes almost as broaches around the edge and they're easy to miss, especially when distracted by what is certainly a great evocation of what I suppose is the supernal origin of the goddess. If it wasn't so golden it would be a superbly realistic creation in bronze and it's easy to see why later generations would assume that the Greek masters "cheated" and used casting of living people.

Naturally enough, the Christians despised it in much the same way that they hated anything bright or positive and it was destroyed, probably in the orgy of book-burning and murder which led us into the Dark Ages in the name of the Prince of Peace.

But I digress. The second statue is based on a marble original and is a good deal less sophisticated, suggesting that the arrival 40 years later of Phidias must have been something of a revolution on the Acropolis. However, the very primitiveness of the pose makes the aegis much more prominent and its purpose as something to be thrust into the face of attackers, human or giant, more obvious. And of course the colour is striking. The museum notice said that the white areas were thought to be unpainted but it's hard to believe that there wasn't some skin tone applied. Phidias is mentioned by Himerios as having applied blush to Athena's cheek and the stark contrast between the coloured aegis and the white skin really cries out for it, IMO.

The so-called "Golden Age" of Athens was no such thing, in basic human terms. Inequality was worse than anything Donald Trump could wish for, with slavery a routine part of life while the elites of the city had no need to physically exert themselves except for that other stain on their world: constant and never-ending war and it's peaceful equivalent of politics. Alternative facts were the coin of the political classes and Athen's democracy was repeatedly undermined and subverted by lies and plain old misconceptions - to accuse was all to often to condemn, and Phidias - possibly the greatest artist we know of before the renaissance - was ultimately accused of a highly unlikely crime and exiled. During his exile, towards the end of his 60 years he created his masterpiece and one of the Wonders of the World: the statue of Zeus at Olympia. This the Christians destroyed too but for once art defeated pig-ignorance and Phidias's evocation of the ultimate deity was too strong to resist and the face of the master-sculptor's Zeus became the model for the equally mythical Jesus, and his flowing locks, beard and moustache can be seen in billions of images around the world to this day. So, that's some consolation, I guess.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Random Monster Tables and The Mega-Dungeon

The mega-dungeon is a staple of early D&D. Not only were there tales of the semi-mythical dungeons under Castle Greyhawk, only a few partial levels of which have ever seen the light of day even now, but there were explicit instructions given for starting DMs that basically outlined the construction of such playing spaces.

The mega-dungeon is not a random artefact of early play; it is a mechanism with a specific function and that function is carried through to the DMG’s appendices A and C. Not understanding this can have unfortunate consequences for anyone trying to build non-mega-dungeons along the lines given for Dave’s Dungeons, or any other method that uses the DMG tables as-is.

The Function of the Dungeon

The obvious function of a dungeon is as a play area for the game, not much different from the board in Dungeon! So at that level its function is simply “fun”. The physical structure of a classic dungeon: rooms, corridors, heavy doors which are hard to open, darkness and so forth are all conducive to a game that centres on exploration of a hostile environment but that’s just the type of fun.

But one physical aspect of a dungeon is interesting at a more meta-level: it’s underground and self-contained. Whereas the wilderness outside (or the city, in many early cases) has the potential to allow the characters to roam at will, the dungeon is much more curtailed, giving the potential to the DM to channel the player characters. This channelling is not only in the sense of forcing parties to go down one corridor or another, but simply in entering the dungeon and returning to it.

For the mega-dungeon is a campaign setting in and of itself. PCs can enter the dungeons of Greyhawk as spotty teenagers, and continue their career there until they are ready to found a barony. The city is simply “basecamp” where gold can be converted into xp, and which exists perhaps entirely in the DM’s head.

In this context, the stairs in a mega-dungeon are vitally important for carrying out this campaign function. Look again at how Arneson stocked dungeon rooms:

Lv CR Av (Max)
1 7 (12)
2 14 (24)
3 21 (36)
4 28 (48)
5 35 (60)

Now challenge ratings for PCs are very hard to calculate because of the effects of magical equipment, but at 1st level I’d say that a PC is probably a CR of 2, averaged across the classes. So a party of 6 should be able to take on any room on the first level of such a dungeon, with only the toughest rooms posing a substantial risk.

However, the same party only one level down faces an average challenge greater than their combined strength. So, that 1st level party does not want to go down those stairs just yet. They need xp and/or magic to boost them up to a collective CR of 24 in order to be able to treat the second level the same way they did level 1. And similarly for the deeper levels.

But, if the dungeon itself (and only itself) is to be the setting, then the dungeon itself must provide that xp and/or magic. It takes the average PHB character 2026xp and 1500gp to achieve second level. For a party of 6, that’s about 12,000xp and 9,000gp in a world where a Type VI demon is worth 4128xp (officially, I make it more like 7828).

That means large levels with many rooms and opponents, not to mention treasure, which collectively adds up to the needed xp. In other words, each level has at least one specific function: to prepare the party for the next level or kill them trying. That’s sort of two functions but they’re closely related.

We can work back form this and see what it tells us about dungeon design. For one thing, if you want the dungeon to be the source of every experience level, then it has to be a mega-dungeon. By the reverse of that coin, small dungeon levels can not be tackled by parties who are not already able to handle the worst it can throw at them.

That is, small dungeon levels which increase in difficulty as outlined above, must either be entered by parties able to cope with whatever is on the deepest level, or must be left and returned to after some other adventuring has granted the needed capabilities.

Gary’s view

But the DMG wasn’t written by Dave, it was written by Gary and he didn’t provide us with the above system. The system he does give us departs from Dave’s version in several ways:

  1. The level of the dungeon has a different effect on the number of monsters appearing,
  2. The basic number appearing is set per monster.
  3. The challenge rating of each type of monster, even on it’s “own” level, varies wildly.
  4. Monsters are rated by “level” based on XP, rather than direct CR

As an example of these items, let’s look at the master table from page 174:

1 up to 16 19 20              
2-3 12 16 18 19 20          
4 5 10 16 18 19 20        
5 3 6 12 16 18 19 20      
6 2 4 6 12 16 18 19 20    
7 1 3 5 10 14 16 18 19 20  
8 1 2 4 7 10 14 16 18 19 20
9 1 2 3 5 8 12 15 17 19 20
10-11 1 2 3 4 6 9 12 16 19 20
12-13 1 2 3 4 5 7 9 12 18 20
14-15 1 2 3 4 5 6 8 11 17 20
16+ 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 10 16 20

What does a level I monster encounter look like? Well, the easiest probably-hostile item on that table is probably the 1-4 badgers or 1-4 giant fire beetles. I rate both these as a challenge of 1½ to 6, depending on the number actually rolled.

The top end is almost certainly the 5-20 giant rats which come in at a CR of 6¼ to 25. The orcs are pretty tough too; each orc is a CR of one so the orc encounter averages 10½ (the giant rats average 15⅝).

Calculating CRs is not an exact science by any means, and the simple formula on DMG p84 is a bit too simple - I count exceptional abilities as 2 HD - but in any case weaknesses are not accounted for at all. So, very low intelligence, or fear of simple things like fire do not reduce the rating. Meanwhile, clever or dumb play (on either side of the screen) will affect the difficulty of an individual encounter, or a whole campaign.

To get back to the point, lets look at what the book tells us to do on level 2 of the dungeon if a level I monster is rolled. It tells us to double the number appearing, just like Dave’s system.

What happens if a level II monster is encountered on level 3? That’s not so clear. The text seems to suggest that the number is doubled again, but an argument could be made that the increase is 3/2, or 50% and that the doubling of 1st to 2nd level is simply 2/1. This implies that a level II monster encountered on level 5 would only be increased in numbers by 5/2, or 2½ times, rather than 8x (x2 for each level, three times).

I would suggest that this second interpretation is the correct one. Not only does it mean that one doesn’t encounter 112-192 orcs roaming the 5th level of a dungeon (merely 35-60!) but it means that, when going down, the DMG works the same way as Dave’s system. The ratio of level 3 to level 2 CR points in Dave’s system is 21/14, or 1½. The ratio of level 5 to level 2 is 35/14, or 2½.

Gary finesses things slightly by stating that level IX monsters are not augmented by duplicates but by attendant monsters of a different sort, and a similar purpose is served by my suggestion of limiting numbers to the maximum value listed in the MM.

A second difference is what happens when you roll a level III monster on level 1. In the system I outlined in “Dave’s Dungeons” you simply roll the 2d6 and “buy” the appropriate number, so the ratios are reversed from the “level I monster encounter on level 3”: 1/3 instead of 3/1.

Gary simply reduces the number appearing from the DMG table by one for each level of dungeon closer to the surface than the monster’s own level rating (I-X), so the ratio of difficulty is really based on the number appearing at the “natural” level of dungeon. This is further reduced by the fact that the DMG tables generates very few encounters with large numbers of monsters. It’s all well and good to say that you reduce the number of vampires encountered on level 1 compared to level 8, but the table only generates a single vampire, so you will encounter 1 at any level from 1 to 8; the rule has no effect.

The take-away is that both Dave and Gary’s systems are geared to producing quite similar levels of difficulty per encounter. The match isn’t perfect and Gary’s seems harsher at low levels and easier at high levels, but not by much.

This means that both systems are geared towards the mega-dungeon. The step-up in difficulty from one level to the next is enough to suggest that the party is expected to have themselves increased in level since tackling the previous one. This, in fact, is pretty well a one-sentence definition of a mega-dungeon, at least from the PoV of the players.

We can get all dry and analytical with this idea and, in combination with a rule of thumb that 25% of xp comes from monsters and the rest from treasure, plus a guess that an average group will find only 80% of treasure to get this “how to build a mega-dungeon level” chart for a four-member party:

Level Needed Monsters Treasure Total
1 8104 2026 7598 9624
2 8200 2050 7688 9738
3 17100 4275 16031 20306
4 35600 8900 33375 42275
5 65000 16250 60938 77188
6 128200 32050 120188 152238
7 207800 51950 194812 246762
8 362000 90500 339375 429875
9 580000 145000 543750 688750
10 782000 195500 733125 928625
11 986000 246500 924375 1170875
12 1156000 289000 1083750 1372750
13 1386000 346500 1299375 1645875
14 1286890 321722 1206459 1528181
15 2206667 551667 2068750 2620417

“Needed” is the average amount of xp that the level needs to grant the four members of a party enough to be ready to tackle the next dungeon level. The other columns are self-explanatory and include the 25% mark up for only finding 80% of the treasure (I assume that 100% of monsters are defeated one way or another). Naturally, a 6-member party would need 50% more.

It’s interesting to note that a single +1 sword, if sold, garners 2000gp/xp, or over 20% of the needed amount to move a party of 4 up one level.

Given Gary’s xp categories, this table implies more than 100 1st level monsters, although in fact the DMG suggests 80% 1st level, 15% 2nd, and 5% 3rd so we actually get a mix of something like 90 1st, 17 2nd, and 5 or 6 3rd level monsters.

That’s a lot of monsters.

The Sandbox

Let’s say that, like me, you don’t actually like the idea of a mega-dungeon. Even then, there is still plenty to learn from all of this. The first one is that the above chart doesn’t actually have to apply to a single dungeon. If a party needs 782,000 xp to get from 10th level to 11th level, then that’s what it needs and it doesn’t matter whether it was all gained in the 10 level of The Infinite Pit™ or in a dozen adventures on the high-seas.

When setting up a sandbox campaign that doesn’t centre on a mega-dungeon, this means that the DM has to think about both how the dungeons (and I’m including things like the Hill Giant Steading here) are structured and how many there are.

It’s an easy trap to fall into to just do a single “introductory” dungeon that is a challenge for 1st level characters, only to find that the party survives it…and is still 1st level and unable to enter the nice 2nd-3rd level module you intended to play at the next game session.

In effect, the mega-dungeon has to be cut up and distributed around the initial setting and one approach is to use the given tables to construct “inverted pyramids” which are essentially mega-levels divided into areas and stacked. To take the 1st level example from above, the 90 1st level monsters, 17 2nd, and 6 3rd level monsters could be divided into:

  • A pair of 3-level dungeons each with 2 3rd level monsters, 5 2nd level monsters, and 30 1st-level monsters; in each case the monsters are found on the “appropriate” level.
  • A lair of 30 orcs with three orc-leaders and an ogre.
  • A one-eyed bugbear bandit raiding border villages.
  • Four angry mongrel men who have taken a village priest hostage.

These would all be close to, or within, the borders of the PC’s nation and no major expedition would be needed to physically reach them. Clearing those would bring in enough xp and gold to level up and try their luck in the deeper wilderness using the 2-3rd level row of the DMG encounter table.

Notice how little difference there is between 1st and 2nd level. There is a major step up, in terms of xp needed, when trying to move from 3rd level to 4th.

I would probably change the encounter table for this approach, and eliminate all the 5% chances from the left hand side at deeper levels, so we get:

1 ≤16 19 20              
2-3 ≤12 16 18 19 20          
4 ≤5 10 16 18 19 20        
5 ≤3 6 12 16 18 19 20      
6 ≤2 4 6 12 16 18 19 20    
7   ≤3 5 10 14 16 18 19 20  
8     ≤4 7 10 14 16 18 19 20
9       ≤5 8 12 15 17 19 20
10-11         ≤6 9 12 16 19 20
12-13           ≤7 9 12 18 20
14-15             ≤8 11 17 20
16+               ≤10 16 20

This would mean that a 11th level dungeon or set of dungeons, which need to provide 246,500xp in monster xp (for a four-member party), would be “stocked” with:

Monster Lv xp Approx #
V 73,950 196
VI 49,300 66
VII 36,975 19
VIII 49,300 11
IX 36,975 4
X 12,325 1

And, again, these could be divided into any number of individual adventure locations. The above result could be used as the basis for a single 7-10 level dungeon where levels 1-5 are almost all 5th level monsters with some “inspectors” from lower levels sprinkled around, with the whole lot centred on some deep chamber where something lurks.

It’s tempting to view these sorts of pyramids as video-game affairs with “boss” monsters at the end of a long trail of minions to kill, but such things are too linear for my taste, so I’d probably make the thing quite hostile to everyone else, including most of the other monsters. But I’d be more likely to split the whole thing up into different areas.

And it’s worth remembering that these numbers are all pretty loose - for example, level X monsters by definition grant 10,000 or more xp for defeating them, so with a budget of 12,325 you can only buy one and you’ll have to do something with the other 2,325xp in terms of lower level monsters. Or, you can use two and claw back the 7,675 somewhere else.

Regardless, however, of what method you use to create the dungeons - hand-placed, Dave’s point system, or Gary’s random charts, or (more common) a combination of methods, the mechanics of the books’ experience charts, rewards, and item values means that these are the sorts of numbers you will have to deal with in order to maintain character progress.

Campaign Scenarios

So, you want to plan out a campaign scenario which takes the party from 1st level up to 10th or even 15th?

Here’s the grand totals needed for that:

Level Needed Monsters Treasure %
1 8104 2026 6078  
2 16304 4076 12228 201
3 33404 8351 25053 205
4 69004 17251 51753 207
5 134004 33501 100503 194
6 262204 65551 196653 196
7 470004 117501 352503 179
8 832004 208001 624003 177
9 1412004 353001 1059003 170
10 2194004 548501 1645503 155
11 3180004 795001 2385003 145
12 4336004 1084001 3252003 136
13 5722004 1430501 4291503 132
14 7008893 1752223 5256670 122

In other words, your party of four will need about 1,412,004xp to get to level 10 (the amount needed to move up from level 9). In the process they will collect in the region of just over 1 million gp’s worth of treasure (I’ve left wastage off this table) and defeat 353,001xp worth of monsters (about 2½ solars’ worth).

So, if you’re new to DMing, maybe start smaller :)

This, in fact is where I came in on this post. I’ve been plotting such a scenario for levels 1-9 for a while and struggling with the individual parts. Once I sat down and started thinking about the numbers it became clear that I was underestimating the amount of material needed for such a task both in terms of depth (total encounters) and breadth (number of encounter areas).

Thursday, 22 February 2018

The Old School Reformation and Issac Asimov

One reason for revisiting things that have been apparently done to death (such as D&D or AD&D) is that the perception born from living through literally years of publications and development is often wrong. It may seem that TSR-era publications and magazines dug out all the gold, but the reality is usually closer to a single exhausted shaft rather than the whole mine.

In the UK there’s a fairly strong sense of this for people my age who remember when White Dwarf was not a steaming pile of shit designed to bilk gullible children out of their pocket money with homeopathic paint and planned-obsolescence applied to miniature figures (which technically makes Games Workshop illegal in France, but I digress).

Although the mainstream of D&D development was very much an American trajectory with all the hypocrisy and paranoia about sex and real youth culture that implied, Brits remember the punk sensibility that had itself become fairly mainstream by the time that D&D arrived here.

But rewind to the core three books, whether they are Men & Magic, Monsters & Treasure, and The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, or The Monster Manual, The Players Handbook, and The Dungeon Masters Guide. Neither set has much in the way of setting.

The DMG, in its encounter tables, has perhaps a little bit more of a clear divergence from a “real world” mythical Europe and towards what would become a type of fantasy that was really unique to D&D, but it is still mostly a construction kit, just as the original release was. The final few pages of the PHB and, especially, Deities and Demigods’ detailing of The Outer Planes were certainly the clearest steps away from a generic rule-set and towards something with its own assumptions and axioms.

It was these little nubs and bumps of uniqueness which were at the same time not radical upon which all that followed was built. After the game became a name there were some attempts to try something different but they were all “high concept” approaches: Dragonlance, Dark Sun, Planisphere, and similar. Instead of trying to go back to punk-rock, the designers went for prog-rock and concept albums. To push the analogy a bit further, Forgotten Realms was just a cover version of Greyhawk.

But we had mostly all had enough of big, detailed settings. The problem had become the style, and although Dark Sun and its ilk had their supporters they were not enough to keep the game alive and it finally died a sad and lonely death.

Meanwhile, in Gotham Science Fiction Land, a similar path was trod. By the time one had all the supplements, all the adventures, and all the expansion books, it was hard to remember what Traveller was like when we first saw it. Even now, for the majority of people even in the so-called OSR, “Traveller” means “The Third Imperium” and, in particular, “The Spinward Marches”.

Traveller too collapsed under the weight of its own development and tried a couple of re-boots but it has struggled despite at least still being owned by the actual creator. Whereas the label “D&D” can, and probably will be at some point, stamped on the side of a frozen chicken, Marc Millar has control of Traveller and his vision still guides it.

Like D&D, part of the reason that Traveller failed was that it simply became too expensive and even too heavy. If a newbie GM wanted to set up a Traveller campaign, it was likely that they would believe that they needed not just the core three books (in fact, by then the books were replaced by the large hardback “The Traveller Book”), The Spinward Marches, Library Data books, books of advanced ship design, and some key scenarios like Research Station Gamma. And there’s an obvious reason why the publisher’s marketing would be suggesting that this was in fact what was needed.

In the days before owning a car the accumulated books for running a Traveller game were expensive and a pain to transport to friends’ houses for the action game, although not so much as the AD&D hardbacks which threatened to create an event horizon when packed into a single bag.

The investment was too much and both games imploded.

Apropos of this, I have just re-read Asimov’s Robots and Empire and, as I have been many times, I was struck by the degree of tonal similarity with Traveller. Not the Traveller of that shelf-full of books, but the Traveller of the three Little Black Books where it all started.

In those halcyon days when the world and clichés were still young, the expectation was that the Traveller GM would run a game inspired by their favourite SF stories. The fit would never be perfect out-of-the-box, and so the jump drive might not work exactly as it does in Vance or Asimov’s works but it wasn’t such a big deal, any more than the working of communication devices really were. And if it was a big deal to you, then you just changed the rules. Or added new ones to support things you wanted to have in the setting.

The Foundation Trilogy, of which R&E is an extension, a prequel, is particularly similar to Traveller for one obvious reason: neither had robots as any noticeable or significant presence. For a writer famous for his robot stories, this was the bridge that Asimov was building between the two series with R&E and explains the title of the book. But when Traveller came out that book had not been written and there was an obvious harmony there which was amplified by the generally primitive feel of computers in both contexts - in Asimov’s case it was because many of his best-known stories had been written when slide-rules were still cool. The reason for Traveller’s room-filling computers was not quite so obvious.

Games Designers’ Workshop, the publishers of Traveller, had a choice then just as TSR did with AD&D and they both picked more or less the same option: develop a consistent background and sell both scenarios set in it and sourcebooks about it. The stream of material produced swept away almost all memory of any other option that could have been taken.

Some of those options were, of course, simply developing a different setting. Or paying an author for the rights to use one of theirs (probably a cheaper option in those days than it is now with multi-million dollar deals being made to license content for computer games), but these are all “long-form” options, the equivalent of the multi-volume novel series. What about short-form?

Both AD&D and Traveller are well suited to the short-form. AD&D is inherently and almost inescapably episodic. The training rules make it very difficult to run a campaign in any way that does not require time to pass quite rapidly between adventures.

The same is true of Traveller, where the fact that a jump through hyperspace takes a week (no matter what the distance involved is) means that unless the GM has some specifically ship- or spaceport-based scenario to hand, there will usually be, like D&D, no more than one adventure per calendar month, once ship re-fuelling and general resting-up time is taken into consideration.

Traveller’s jump-drive makes each planet into an island, effectively, and islands are excellent places for adventures, as is anywhere the PCs can not simply phone for help, as it were.

The fact that the “islands” are whole worlds also means that they can be quite individual. While it might seem that the nature of adventure modules for D&D and Traveller is similar, in fact there was a major difference which, to my mind, was most clearly seen in the scenarios printed in the Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society, probably my all-time favourite gaming magazine.

Traveller scenarios in general, and particularly the JTAS ones, were able to evoke a sense of uniqueness even within the increasingly confining “campaign setting” of the Third Imperium background. Want to set a scenario in The Caves of Steel? No problem! Just set up a world with a population index of 10 or 11 and make it so. How about a world like Solaria where humans are outnumbered by robots 10,000 to 1? Again, no problem, and you can explain why this world is the only one with robots by saying that something about hyperspace scrambles their positronic brains, so they are only really useful to humans to are xenophobic enough to want to ignore the great galactic empire that may or may not be out there and are determined not to travel.

(Incidentally, the huge Traveller computers can be explained similarly - the same problem means that computing in space has to be done with out-sized and specially shielded components which make it impossible to fit them into humanoid forms and also require large amounts of space to be devoted to them.)

Each world can be as bizarre or strange as the GM likes while at the same time being safely isolated from any other simply by distance. If the GM wants a culture to not spread and become typical of the setting generally, then there is a simple mechanism to aid the hand-waving involved: expensive, time-consuming, space travel based on relatively small ships.

But D&D does not have quite such a mechanism, at least at lower levels. Even a campaign world which literally was made of islands would not easily justify the sort of short-story quirkiness that can be routine in Traveller. Players know that in a civilised world, travel just isn’t that hard and it would be unlikely that very strange cultures would not be common knowledge unless those cultures were dangerous or clearly sub-optimal. This makes islands that are special only in a tonal or background way hard to justify without making every race and people xenophobic.

Once the PCs are high level they can often zip around by magic anyway, but there is then also the possibility of the Outer Planes and the Alternative Prime Material Planes, either of which (but primarily the latter) can take the place of Traveller’s isolated worlds.

A great deal of the alien can be salvaged in D&D by simply not having a civilised world. The greatest failing of Greyhawk as a published setting, IMO, was it’s inability to evoke the implied state of low civilisation.

Despite being an almost completely uninhabited world with isolated kingdoms and duchies with mile after mile of wilderness between, and “borders” drawn based on distance from capitals rather than any ability to project control, Greyhawk feels very much like a civilised continent in the published modules.

There is nothing aside from terrain, for example, to distinguish the land of the fire giants in G3 from the village of Hommlet. If you’ve adventured in the latter, there is no feeling of anything alien in the former.

Part of this is the encounter tables in the DMG - monsters are split by terrain, but not by region. Since there was no assumed setting it would not have made much sense to try, really.

Traveller avoided this by being a right pain in the arse when it came to encounter tables, mainly because there were no “monsters”. With a potential galaxy of worlds, there was no hope of producing even the generic encounter tables of AD&D.

The solution was to replace monsters with “Animal encounters” which were a combination of animal size, damage, weapons (horns, claws etc.), and in a bit of a genius move, tactics.

Thus, an encounter could be with a huge, armoured, pouncing carnivore which attacks its prey for 12d6 damage by physically shaking them to death. The GM would have to decide on how to narrate that beforehand (and the system really was an object lesson in the value of pre-rolling encounters and preparing for them rather than floundering around at the table trying to explain some of the combinations that might come up).

And again, it was pretty easy to explain why some particular monstrosity was not encountered anywhere else: only nutters would transport them off-world. And that, in turn, was a good excuse to re-use a particularly good one somewhere else.

But, starting with the publication of The Spinward Marches, GDW set off down the path that TSR was blazing: the “house campaign” and ever-increasing uniformity within the official scenarios. JTAS was affected by this but the scenarios there always, or nearly always, managed to maintain a self-contained feel that the main line of publication gave up on very quickly.

A Chance to Begin Again in a Golden Land of Opportunity and Adventure

So, let’s imagine none of that happened. Where could you have gone with Traveller? Since I’ve dragged Issac’s name into the title of the post, let’s look at his Robots/Galactic Empire/Foundation setting.

As that set of slashes implies, there’s various options along the timeline. The robot stories start on pre-jump-tech Earth, then there’s a period of colonisation which gradually peters out, followed by a growing rivalry between the colonies and Earth as their cultures and technologies diverge. The colonisation period has lots of potential, and the period of “Earth Vs the Spacers” is rich in options for the sort of political scenarios that were fairly common in Traveller play, IME.

As Earth starts a second, robo-phobic, wave of colonisation there is a crisis as the Old World overtakes the New Worlds, spurred on by the Traders who see a galactic empire as a golden age waiting to be brought into being. Trading is naturally going to be a high-profit profession as new worlds need equipment and people, and substances rare on one world need exchanged for those common on others. Again, rich pickings for Traveller play.

The Galactic Empire period itself is probably the least different from what we actually got from GDW’s official line of products and something which I think is an underplayed influence on Traveller from Asimov is the relative unimportance, at least initially, of intelligent aliens. Asimov was constrained by his main editor, John W. Campbell, who reportedly would not accept the possibility of intelligent aliens. Whether he felt it was too unlikely a coincidence to have multiple intelligences in the same galaxy at the same time, or he just refused to accept that Scotland could have any rivals in the galactic conquering stakes, I’m not sure. In any case, the stories that started Asimov’s empire off were published under Campbell’s aegis and thus could have no intelligent life not derived from Earth, and that axiom had to be inherited by anything that tried to fit into the continuity regardless of who was the editor or publisher later.

In early Traveller the real “aliens” are the Zhodani, a human culture which split from the dominant imperial culture over the use of psionics (an idea that appeared a couple of years earlier in D&D’s third supplement, Eldritch Wizardry) and which itself is reminiscent of Asimov’s series, which included a few psychic robots and humans, although Asimov’s characters were much less capable than many of the PC options in Traveller or D&D.

Traveller did eventually have aliens in the normal sense, but the only interesting thing about them was that they were completely uninteresting.

The Imperial Bureaucracy in Traveller also seems to me to be inspired by the material that we see in the Asimov stories, but both may simply be taking their leads from the real-world examples of empires.

The decline and fall of the Empire leads us into the Foundation sequence and it would seem that there’s rich pickings for the GM there, which brings us to the next problem with published settings.

Traveller did in fact go down the route of the collapsing empire in later supplements, but by then it was too late. Anyone who didn’t like the Imperium setting had left and those that remained generally speaking didn’t want the empire to fall.

This is another pitfall for the long-form game world, or maybe just another example of the broader problem of ossification as things get filled in or people wait for things to be filled in, rather than rolling their own.

If TSR had specifically committed to only producing, say, scenarios set within 100 miles of Greyhawk city and left everything else as just the Darlene map, I think it would have been a much better compromise. It would have had almost no effect on any published TSR module, at least up to the final collapse of the company and the release of “2e”. At the same time it would not have polluted any DM’s mind with the idea that there was a “Greyhawk style” other than around that city. With the other nations just names on a map with large areas of wilderness between them, the effect would have been much more like the island-effect of Traveller and DMs would have felt, I think, much freer to construct wild and strange areas and races of their own.

Going back to the original materials and thinking about what you can do now, knowing both what the official route taken was, and also that the official route is now a frozen museum piece is at the heart of the OSR for me, and why I choose to use “reformation” as the “R” rather than “renaissance”.

For Traveller, the options range from Blade Runner to Valerian via Forbidden Planet.

For D&D, they cover science-fantasy, weird fiction, punk sensibilities, and essentially anything that can be imagined.

But in both cases, the strength lies in short-story formats of isolated scenarios which give the players variety rather than some sort of “consistency” which builds up into a stultifying set of continuity problems for the GM. Players like reading background material, but they sit at the table to have an adventure.

As ever, REH’s Conan is an exemplar. Conan has many city adventures, but they’re never in the same city. He encounters many strange things on islands, but they’re different islands, and so are the crews he sails with. The background really exists only as a tone and a style with the details experienced only as, yes, islands in a shadowy sea. Howard might have been stitching it together as he went along into something bigger, but he never forgot that he was being paid for the adventure of the moment, not the future Encyclopedia Hyboraca.

Sunday, 31 December 2017


Following on again on the CSIO trade theme, I got fed up with adding "if we assume that there's nothing off the west of the map" to any conclusions. So it was time to add the City State of the World Emperor - AKA Map 6.

The guidebook for map 6 isn't quite up to scratch in some aspects. Firstly, it has no "civ" rating for the settlements. Secondly, and rather more dramatically, it has no entry for the City State of the World Emperor (CSWE) itself! No population, no overall alignment, or civ rating. Nothing.

After a brief discussion on Dragonsfoot, I went with an "able bodied" population of 30,000, giving a total population of 120,000, and a civilisation rating of 10 - the max. For other settlements I rolled or picked a civ rating. I set the CSWE alignment as LE.

As an example of picking, I put the military settlements such as Moon Tower and Midwall at 0 on the grounds that they are not in fact producing anything at all and since civ is defined in the CSIO guide as being primarily a rating of manufacturing ability that seemed reasonable.

One thing that jumped out at me was how much lower the population levels on Map 6 are. Aside from the huge CSWE, only Targnol Port breaks the 1,000 level. There's nothing to rival the City State in the way that Warwick or Ossary do for the Invincible Overlord.

A consequence of this is that although the CSWE does end up with more trade that CSIO, it is not as big a gap as the guidebook seems to imply - just over 20% more. Since the CSWE has an estimated 50% more people in it, this means that on average they are poorer than their eastern counterparts, at least in terms of traded GDP. The specific values for the combined maps are 26 to 33.

Here's the base map (light blue is withing 5 miles of land):

Are we there yet?

One big question was whether the main trade route from CSIO to CSWE would be by sea or land. Although the land route is shorter, the northern route past Warwick and into Quiff looked like it might work. As it turned out, it works for Warwick but it's too far for CSIO ships to compete with a mostly overland route.

That route runs west through Darkfield then across country, over the Battleplain Gwalion to cross the River Bucknol at the lower Quoth Crossing from whence another day and a half's march brings it to Caelam and the start of the Emperor's road network. Two days pounding pavement brings the route to the port of Augge where it embarks for the big city.

See sketch (click to enlarge):

The significance of this route to actual play, of course, is that it is the route that the annual tribute from the Overlord to the Emperor will follow - an event that is sure to be accompanied by much activity both in the wilderness and back in the city where many of the troops and higher level NPCs will be absent, assigned to protecting the caravan.

The trade from Warwick goes via Smitten, making it the 5th most important transshipment port on the combined maps (Augge is #1).

In terms of transshipment, Targnol is 15th and the city generally fails to live up to its billing as a major port, although it does come 4th in terms of trade volume. Augge is a much more important port. Adding the sparsely populated maps to the south won't change this, especially since those areas will sail directly to the port in CSWE itself.

Is This Making Sense?

As an almost final note on this subject, I would say that this examination of the trade routes and populations has confirmed what I had always felt about the setting: as demographics, it simply doesn't work. CSWE almost works in the sense that the are labelled "Emperor's Farmlands" is just big enough to support even a population of 120,000. Sadly, the city is not big enough, I think. Even with 5-story buildings of the sort the ancient Romans resorted to for packing the population of Rome into its footprint is probably not enough. The situation in CSIO is even worse. There's no way to fit 20,000 into CSIO, let alone the 80,000 total that the books suggest is the whole population including women, children, and the old.

Likewise, the lack of roads in the east means that getting food to CSIO from outlying settlements is pretty tough if the production is not hard by a river or the sea. With no equivalent to the Emperor's Farmlands, it's hard to see where the city's food is coming from. On the scale of the maps I've used, there is a need for 16,000 pixels of farmland (using JG's rules, which are not far off reality for the tech level). All the land west of the city between the hills, the Mermist, and the Troll Fens adds up to just under 6,000 pixels (60,000 acres). And that's not even open plain, it's "light woods". The city has no visible means of support.

The settlements of these two maps are very isolated from each other. There's very few towns that have more than one neighbouring settlement within a day's travel, at least for bulk trade purposes. As such, there's unlikely to be much shared culture and the "common tongue" will be very limited outside of trade subjects such as counting, quality, and dates. Discussions of ancient civilizations (and where to find them) is not going to be easy.

The length of trade routes means that caravans will be the norm, as overnight stops will be routine, and defensive measures absolutely vital. Likewise, the large towns will have to patrol wide areas to help keep much needed trade safe from gnolls, orcs, and dragons.

Ultimately, the Wilderlands is not about demographics, it's about adventure. This analysis is aimed at end-game factors for domain clearance. Where is the Overlord or Emperor likely to grant lands? What long-standing monster lairs would they want removed as part of such a deal? Where would the PC be able to offer colonists some economic future? And so forth.

The problems identified with the setting are really not too obtrusive and can even be handwaved away - the City States' listed high populations are perhaps just the total troops they can draw on across their whole domains; the cities themselves might be very much smaller. Perhaps magical food production allows the Overlord to feed his city.

Anyway, that's enough demographics for now. More religion next time.

Oh, one last thing. I did some maps to the south to test whether Ossary would take that route (it did not). I've only really done the coasts so far but in case anyone wants it, here's the larger map:

Sunday, 24 December 2017

How Wild are the Wilderlands?

The Road to Wildwood (0633)
Following on from last time, I had a look at the population density of Map 1. With 64347 "Able Bodied" people listed on the map, we get a total population of just 257388 people living in an area of 38,000m². That's just over 6¾ people per square mile.

In mediaeval England, just before the Black Death struck, there was probably about 4-5 million people living in that amount of space - at least 16 times more heavily populated.

There's not a huge number of countries today with population densities that low. Kazakhstan is slightly less and The Central African Republic (AKA The Congo) is a shade higher (see illustrative image). The UK value is 640/m², the U.S. is ~84, and even Canada is only half as populated as Map 1 of the Wilderlands which is itself the second highest population density of the 18 map set.

There is a certain amount of hidden population on the map as each marked settlement has some small but unspecified number of hamlets of 10-60 inhabitants, but that doesn't change the overall picture much.

So, yes, the Wilderlands are pretty damn wild and the trade routes shown in the previous post should be regarded in that light. Away from the handful of really busy lines between the big cities of Warwick, Sticklestead, the CSIO itself, and Ossary, trade is going to be light indeed.

Next time: does the JG Wilderness setting "make sense" as a demographic simulation and should we care? Hints: no and no.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Trade in CSIO

1 Introduction

I’ve been wanting to do this for a very long time indeed. The City State of the Invincible Overlord (CSIO) came out in the 70’s and a revised edition in 1980 or thereabouts. Over the course of several publications and 18 maps of about 38,000m² each, Judges Guild mapped out and gave basic population statistics for an area (“The Wilderlands”) about the size of modern Libya, or the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, and a bit of Belgium put together.

One thing that was never clear to me was just how wild the “wilderlands” were. There’s not much in the way of roads, and the basic terrain is not open plains but light woods, with some plains interspersed. Did the towns marked trade with each other much? How dominant were the handful of city stats and how dependant on their satellite towns where they in turn? Where would a pirate or bandit lurk and by extension where would patrols be placed to protect the trade routes?

Around 1989 or so I bought a book - Settlements by Meyer and Huggett - in a Cancer Research charity shop which introduced me to Reilly’s theory of retail gravitation (from 1929). The idea was that trade between two settlements could be modelled based on the product of the populations divided by the distance between them raised to some power. Add in some constant multiplier to scale it to specific units and the resulting formula looks a lot like the standard Newtonian one for gravity, hence the name.

The specific reason I bought the book was that I thought that I could use it to somehow model the trade pattern in the Wilderlands of the CSIO. Nearly 30 years have passed since that day and finally I’ve gotten around to it! What can I say? I had a long list of things to do.

The catalyst for finally doing this was two-fold: firstly I had been nursing an idea for a path-finding algorithm for a couple of years which I had hopes for, not only for geographic path finding but for broader applications in code optimisation. Secondly, I stumbled across von Thünen’s model of the “Isolated City State” and how he showed a city state’s surrounding economic area could be seen to diverge from a theoretical model under the influence of terrain and transport factors, something I was seeing in my reading around mediaeval London and its trade patterns. I even found a couple of websites that demonstrated this with some limited path-finding algorithms.

One attractive aspect of von Thünen’s model was that it is essentially pre-industrial and focused on agricultural questions which were broadly applicable back into the mists of time.

2 Method

So, Reilly used distance, but what is “distance”? Straight line distance is clearly nonsensical; as von Thünen emphasised, the real distance should be measured in time. Since we’re dealing with D&D here, that meant looking at movement rates. But underlying this was a deeper question about the nature of trade. In the von Thünen model, different sorts of produce are segregated into bands around the city state, primarily by their perishability and this maps directly into Reilly’s theory where the power distance is raised to relates to the urgency of delivery. The obvious example is that fresh milk, especially before refrigeration, simply has to be produced near or in the city.

By extension of this idea, it’s clear that on the scale of the Wilderlands maps very little trade is done in such products and if the CSIO needs milk it must be producing it itself in the surrounding hex of farmland or getting from very close-by up the Twilight Road or down the Old South Road. In any case, such things would not make up a huge amount of the trade on the map as published, where roads are very rare indeed.

For the sort of bulk non-perishable goods I was thinking about - timber, grain, metals, wine etc. - the value drops of linearly. Which is to say that the value of the product is constant, at least on a time scale of a season or two, and profit is eroded as much by the costs of the fifth day on the road as it is on the first. For milk, the second day erodes profit much faster than the first, and by the fifth you’ve got nothing left to sell.

This makes Reilly’s power simply equal to one. Since I’m only looking at relative levels of trade I don’t need a constant to convert into units (yet), so the final version of the formula is just


and all I had to do was calculate the travel time between every city on the map (all 98 of them).

I looked at how to do this using the hex map. I tried a lot of things but eventually I had to admit that the hex map simply wasn’t good enough. Forests and especially rivers did not follow hex sides and trying to encode them as side data ballooned. Eventually I realised that “hexpath” would have to be come “pixepath”, and the map would have to be some sort of bitmap image where each pixel was given one and only one terrain value.

2.1 A Star is born, then dies, is reborn, and finally discarded

I had been mulling this path finding idea for a while. I have written a few chess playing programs over the years, including a Dragon Chess written in M68000 assembly, and had been struck by the whole idea of quickly finding a move, and then progressively trying to find a better move. If the first “guess” move is sensibly chosen then the search time is drastically improved as candidates can be discarded early.

What, I thought, if we took a direct line from Point A to Point B over a map as a first guess, and then tried to refine it from there?

I constructed a test map and gave it a go. Well, to cut a long story short, it didn’t work. Looking back, I was gradually approaching the correct answer but my biggest problem was actually the direction of travel. Going from start to finish, my algorithm was constantly tripping over itself because the square it had “come from” at each step was not itself in a resolved and final state so it ended up looping over and over again. Adding flags didn’t help as that left the previous square as an unknown, preventing any objective early cutting out of paths by comparing them to the first guess.

I gradually started peeking at the Internet for help and found the A* algorithm. This is based on Dijkstra’s algorithm and like his it starts at the end and works backwards. Since the search starts with an objectively completed square (the destination, who’s cost is by definition known to be zero), it avoids the problem of tripping over its own tail and can always complete.

So I redid the code to use A* and things were good. For a while.

As it turns out, A* is a very fast way to find the distance between two points. But to find the distance between 97 points and a 98th, it’s not so hot. In my earlier code I had cached a lot of data in the hope of re-suing it, but A* doesn’t do that, so each run through starts from nothing again. For my code, once there were about 7 cities on the map, A* was getting slow.

Once I switched from a small test map to the map included in the code, which is 1807x1349 (8px = 1 mile), with lots of terrains, A* died a death. Going back to Dijkstra’s original algorithm, I realised that it in fact caches the whole map. Once Dijkstra’s has run once the output is the cost of moving from any point on the map to your chosen city. This means that finding the route from Thunderhold to CSIO takes 3 minutes - much longer than A* - but those three minutes also get you the distance from every other city and point on the map. Over all, this is a huge advance over A*.

2.2 Drunken Sailors, not Bee-lines

The first runs with the code generated trade routes all right. But they didn’t look very realistic. Partly this is because Dijkstra’s algorithm is known to behave slightly odd on a grid like a bitmapped image, but also because the transition between two pixels of light wood, or between light wood and open plain, always costs the same. So the trade routes were all made of horizontal, vertical, or 45° lines.

Adding a small pseudo-random factor to the cost of each square had a much larger effect than I had expected and the routes now look quite good, although not perfect.

2.3 Plains, Boats, and Roads

The next problem was that everything went by boat as far as possible. It’s certainly true that river and sea trade were extraordinarily important for mediaeval trade and one thing that modern people really don’t appreciate as they fly along the motorway at 70+mph is the humble bridge.

Until the 13th century, Britain had a massive shortage of bridges over rivers. If you have a one-ton cart being pulled by a couple of horses, even quite a small stream was an obstacle. If you were using oxen it was even worse as their short legs meant they would drown in a stream that a man could probably wade across.

So, yes, rivers should be important but they were insanely so when I first started to add significant numbers of towns to the map. The solution was to think more about what was being modelled: bulk goods.

One does not simply throw a ton of goods onto a barge and demand to be taken to Modor Modron. You generally have to wait for the tide, the ship to be ready, perhaps for other goods to be loaded up etc. So there’s a delay. There’s also a delay at the other end, albeit a smaller one.

Similarly, where an adventuring party might simply build a raft and enter a river or even the sea almost anywhere, if they needed to, 10cwt of barley needs something more sophisticated. So, rivers became a barrier again, except at settlements. And at settlements, the assumption is that on average goods set off on the boat/ship/barge, the day after they arrive, and 6 hours are needed to get unloaded and underway at the other end.

Cobbling together transport is still possible but it’s madly expensive. Similarly, switching from or to river transport at a ford can be done but it takes a week.

Finally, there is an assumption that the boats in question are quite small and do not handle the larger swell of the open sea as well as they do the more sheltered areas near the coast, so movement rates for the former are reduced. At the moment, I’ve defined (using the map) “open sea” to be anywhere more than 5 miles from any coast.

Movement aside from the special delays for transshipping is defined using D&D scaled inches so that it’s easy to relate to. Normal overland movement in D&D is 2xMv. So, a move rate of 12“ translates to 24 miles per day. I’ve pre-calculated the 2x part in order to allow some finer-grained rates as shown in the code snippet below:

\ These values are effectively 2 x the normal D&D move rates
+terrain impassible
infinite impassible self!
32 " opensea  \ slightly more risky, so avoid if possible
18 " city
48 " coastal
18 " plains
 9 " woods
24 " roads
12 " ltwoods
 9 " hills
 6 " wdhills
 1 " mts
 1 " swamp
 6 " desert
 4 " scrub
 6 " rough
30 " river
12 " ford
1 " jungle
4 " snow

I’ve not used snow yet. Note that the order of these terrains matches, and defines, the code used in the bitmap, so impassible is zero, open-sea is 1, city is 2 etc. When the program starts up it displays the combined movement table, which looks like this at the moment (probably best in the print-friendly version):

    opensea city coastal plains woods roads ltwoods hills wdhills mts swamp desert scrub rough river ford jungle snow
1 opensea 15 960 12 53760 53760 53760 53760 53760 53760 53760 53760 53760 53760 53760 15 53760 53760 53760
2 city 3840 26 3840 26 39 23 33 39 53 253 253 53 73 53 3840 33 253 73
3 coastal 12 960 10 115200 115200 115200 115200 115200 115200 115200 115200 115200 115200 115200 13 115200 115200 115200
4 plains 53760 26 115200 26 39 23 33 39 53 253 253 53 73 53 115200 33 253 73
5 woods 53760 39 115200 39 53 36 46 53 66 266 266 66 86 66 115200 46 266 86
6 roads 53760 23 115200 160 36 20 30 36 50 250 250 50 70 50 115200 30 250 70
7 ltwoods 53760 33 115200 33 46 30 40 46 60 260 260 60 80 60 115200 40 260 80
8 hills 53760 39 115200 39 53 36 46 53 66 266 266 66 86 66 115200 46 266 86
9 wdhills 53760 53 115200 53 66 50 60 66 80 280 280 80 100 80 115200 60 280 100
10 mts 53760 253 115200 253 266 250 260 266 280 480 480 280 300 280 115200 260 480 300
11 swamp 53760 253 115200 253 266 250 260 266 280 480 480 280 300 280 115200 260 480 300
12 desert 53760 53 115200 53 66 50 60 66 80 280 280 80 100 80 115200 60 280 100
13 scrub 53760 73 115200 73 86 70 80 86 100 300 300 100 120 100 115200 80 300 120
14 rough 53760 53 115200 53 66 50 60 66 80 280 280 80 100 80 115200 60 280 100
15 river 15 640 13 115200 115200 115200 115200 115200 115200 115200 115200 115200 115200 115200 16 26880 115200 115200
16 ford 53760 33 115200 33 46 30 40 46 60 260 260 60 80 60 26880 40 260 80
17 jungle 53760 253 115200 253 266 250 260 266 280 480 480 280 300 280 115200 260 480 300
18 snow 53760 73 115200 73 86 70 80 86 100 300 300 100 120 100 115200 80 300 120

These costs are scaled to the 1px=1furlong of the bitmap. Notice that it’s not symmetrical: going from city to river costs 3840 movement points, and from river to city costs 640.

When considering these movement rates bear in mind that they’re for a horse-drawn wagon when on land.

2.4 Hard Border

The biggest limitation of what I’ve done so far is, of course, the map edge. The results below all assume that there is nothing beyond the map, including the western edge where of course the City State of the World Emperor lies.

2.5 Moving House

Beyond adding in a “wooded hills” terrain in a couple of places, the main changes I made to the map was to move some of the towns to more logical places. I never moved any outside of their own hex but, for example, Seasteadholm was moved to the coast instead of being a couple of miles inland. I assume the cartographer had to fit the symbols into the map and there wasn’t always room when there were also wood’s rivers, and coastal cliffs to show. Similarly, if a settlement is elven and there are woods in the hex, I moved them into the woods at least a bit.

2.6 Here Don’t Be Dragons

The biggest lack of this iteration of the code is the lack of monsters and castles. In some way, both of these should affect trade. Both are given in the guidebooks but their effect must be based at least partially on movement - a group of ogres three miles away across water is unimportant, while the same group by the side of a road is going to have an impact on trade. Castles may reduce the effect of monsters, but may also impose their own tolls.

Given that the 98 towns require something like 5hrs to analyse at the moment, this is going to have to wait.

3 Other Factors

Once the raw data was calculated, giving a basic figure for the trade between two settlements, a couple of other factors were added in which Reilly probably didn’t spend much time on: race, alignment, and civ (tech) level.

3.1 Race

The race relations were based on the tables in PHB and DMG with some fiddling to join them together, as well as the addition of balrogs - a feature of the wider CSIO. The letters used in the game (P, G, T etc.) were mapped to specific multipliers (100% for prefer-ed,; 32% for hated; 10% for feared, a new category).

100 constant p
95 constant g
86 constant t
71 constant n
55 constant a
32 constant h
10 constant f

\ dw el gn  he  hb  ho  hu  gl  go  og  or  ba
p , a , g , n , g , h , n , h , h , h , h , f , \ dw dwarf
a , p , t , g , t , a , n , a , a , h , h , f , \ el elf
g , t , p , t , g , h , n , h , h , f , h , f , \ gn gnoll
n , p , t , p , n , a , t , a , a , h , h , f , \ he half-elf
g , g , t , n , p , n , n , f , h , f , f , f , \ hb hobbit
h , a , h , a , n , p , t , n , t , g , h , g , \ ho half orc
n , n , n , t , n , n , p , a , a , h , h , f , \ hu human
h , h , h , h , h , h , a , p , a , g , t , g , \ gl gnoll
h , a , h , a , h , t , a , a , p , h , n , g , \ go golin
f , f , h , f , a , t , t , t , a , p , t , n , \ og ogre
f , f , h , h , a , g , t , n , t , g , h , g , \ or orc
h , f , h , f , n , g , t , n , g , n , g , p , \ ba balrog

Since the race relations are not symmetrical, they’re calculated for each side of the trade and combined, so that if trade occurs between orcs and goblins the overall modifier is .95*.71=67.45% of normal.

3.2 Alignment

Alignment is handled the same way but the percentages were loosely based on the loyalty modifiers in the DMG. On that note, I resolved the question about “1 step, 2 steps, 3 steps” by ruling that changing any letter to N was one step, but that someone at N could move to any alignment in a single step. So LG->LE is two steps (LG-LN->LE) but LG to CE is three (LG->NG->N->CE). Fudge-a-rama.

create aligntradetab
\ N    LG  NG   CG   CN   CE   NE   LE   LN
85 , 100 , 85 , 80 , 75 , 65 , 70 , 90 , 95 , \ N
70 , 100 , 85 , 65 , 50 , 30 , 35 , 75 , 95 , \ LG
85 , 100 , 85 , 80 , 60 , 50 , 55 , 75 , 80 , \ NG
70 ,  85 , 85 , 80 , 75 , 50 , 35 , 55 , 60 , \ CG
85 ,  85 , 70 , 80 , 75 , 65 , 55 , 75 , 80 , \ CN
70 ,  65 , 50 , 65 , 75 , 65 , 70 , 75 , 60 , \ CE
85 ,  85 , 70 , 65 , 60 , 65 , 70 , 90 , 80 , \ NE
70 ,  85 , 50 , 45 , 40 , 50 , 70 , 90 , 95 , \ LE
85 , 100 , 70 , 65 , 60 , 50 , 55 , 90 , 95 , \ LN

Generally, people trust Lawful and Good -types most, and Neutrals are suspected a bit by everyone.

3.3 Civilisation Level

Each town is given a civ rating in the guidebooks and I’ve modelled this by simply them together, adding 1, and then multiplying trade volume by that. So a civ 8 trading with a civ 5 gets a 14x multiplier while a civ 9 trading with civ 9 gets an 19x multiplier.

The median civ rating seems to be about 5, so x11 (5+5+1) is the “normal” rating.

4 The Results

4.1 Trade Routes

This was the original target question: what are the trade routes? The current base map is (note: these maps are not opening when clicked on but if you select "Open in new tab" you should get the full-res versions):

Overlaying trade routes, with the boldness of the route being proportional to the amount of trade, gives this (open sea removed for clarity:


Figure 1: Graduated Trade Map

Here’s the same map but with the routes shown at the same boldness regardless of the amount of traffic:


Figure 2: Un-Graduated Trade Map

The next map is one that relates mostly to von Thünen’s model a bit more. This is a graduated tint overlaid on the map and centred on the CSIO itself, each step from light to dark indicating one day’s travel to the city.

I’ve pushed the bounds of copyright here to allow some of the original map to show through under my coloured version and the tint.


Figure 3: Days Travel To CSIO

It’s worth looking at this map for a while and visualising how much you know about places that are 5½ days travel away from you - the distance that Thunderhold is from CSIO. Assuming that you can think of anywhere that would take 5½days to get to in the modern world!

The final map is just for interest and superimposes a map of Kent on Wilderlands map 1 to show the scale. Basically, each Wilderlands map covers an area of 24.3 million acres (38088m²), which is about ¾ of the size of England.


Figure 4: Kent for scale

4.2 Trade Volumes

Trade is measured in arbitrary units for now and the program captures two main numbers for each settlement: the amount of external trade it engages in itself, and the amount of trade which passes through it on the way to somewhere else.

Since each town has a listed population we can translate these numbers into a measurement of wealth, even if we don’t have a specific ratio to convert it into gps. Another obstacle to making too much of these numbers - creating a measure of GDP - is that these numbers are all for external trade and don’t capture anything at all about internal trading within each town.

Taking tax on passing trade at a rate of 5% (1 shilling per pound) and adding it to the main trade figure gives the following table ordered by total income per person:

City Trade Per Person Via +tax
Darkfield 21199 121 117863 149
Haghill 7150 47 54507 63
Sea Hill 11342 38 153155 62
Modron 59829 48 59973 48
Bier 7187 42 7187 42
Thelamie 5778 35 21603 40
Croy 18179 39 18179 39
Brushwood 4614 34 4614 34
Wolfstone 13457 33 13457 33
Sticklestead 81295 32 82366 32
Woe 8431 31 8431 31
Seastrand 12553 30 12553 30
Ottersgild 5460 29 5460 29
Dearthmead 9288 29 9288 29
Zarthstone 12170 29 12823 29
Tain 11034 27 16507 28
Armagh 7741 28 7741 28
Fireside 9373 28 9373 28
Luckstone 6270 27 6270 27
Warwick 259121 27 259121 27
Anvil 4846 26 4846 26
Goodhap 5726 26 5726 26
Smitten 10539 22 25241 24
Tegal 5340 23 10672 24
Byrny 10923 23 22016 24
Muskholm 8985 23 8985 23
Rockhollow 4821 22 4821 22
Gaehill 9021 22 9021 22
Oakenbridge 6847 21 14383 22
Swarin’s Cairn 3211 20 5226 21
Flint 6264 21 6264 21
CSIO 435882 21 435939 21
Ryefield 2773 21 2994 21
Omen 4500 19 15445 21
Mill Haven 3713 19 5869 20
Shewolf 3276 20 3276 20
Sea Rune 2591 19 2742 19
Troth 3523 19 3796 19
Dorn 4259 18 4259 18
Thunderhold 36340 18 36340 18
Orlage 2894 17 7012 18
Foremost 5957 17 5957 17
Bernost 8304 17 8304 17
Carmage 3931 16 3931 16
Greybeard 7277 16 7277 16
Sunlitten 7429 16 7440 16
Limerick 2230 14 4288 15
Finmark 4510 15 4510 15
Lakenheath 8126 15 9226 15
Wormingford 1751 10 20486 15
Heatherbush 2883 14 2883 14
Bulwark 4267 14 4267 14
Hlymadle 4887 14 4887 14
Varin’s Firth 6304 14 6331 14
Ossary 47768 14 47777 14
Benobles 3859 14 4775 14
Irungsway 2501 13 2501 13
Springle 5081 13 5081 13
Landmarch 5904 13 5904 13
Red Cliffe 1568 12 1599 12
Ashenshaft 5372 12 5445 12
Charnock 5795 12 5795 12
Seasteadholm 1889 12 2037 12
Hankam 2031 11 2031 11
Hel 5131 11 5131 11
Bondmaid 1953 11 2094 11
Atwan 3266 10 3266 10
Hindfell 3362 10 3365 10
Elixer 4188 10 4188 10
Boughrune 2154 9 2154 9
Guilding 2809 9 2809 9
Doom 3028 9 3028 9
Caelam 4432 9 4432 9
Catalan 4604 9 4604 9
Shavenoar 1192 8 1192 8
Serpeant Little 1209 8 1209 8
Havocia 1313 8 1313 8
Jasonyria 2110 8 2110 8
Karn 2296 8 2296 8
Goblin Hill 3817 8 3817 8
Grita Heath 810 7 810 7
Smite 2404 7 2404 7
Anguikan 2975 7 3031 7
Lightelf 3057 7 3057 7
Elf-burn 975 6 5122 7
Forecastle 939 6 939 6
Adderwood 1873 6 1873 6
Palewood 571 5 571 5
Sunfells 2280 5 2280 5
Hunwood 2615 5 2615 5
Wildwood 741 4 741 4
Ered Chimera 1032 4 1032 4
Crucible 521 3 521 3
Hledra 799 3 799 3
Trollslore 486 2 486 2
Wenlock 608 2 608 2
Skaney 742 2 742 2
Dart 293 1 293 1

Re-arranging the table to give the top 20 cities by raw trade gives us:

City Trade PP +tax
CSIO 435882 21 21
Warwick 259121 27 27
Sticklestead 81295 32 32
Modron 59829 48 48
Ossary 47768 14 14
Thunderhold 36340 18 18
Darkfield 21199 121 149
Croy 18179 39 39
Wolfstone 13457 33 33
Seastrand 12553 30 30
Zarthstone 12170 29 29
Sea Hill 11342 38 62
Tain 11034 27 28
Byrny 10923 23 24
Smitten 10539 22 24
Fireside 9373 28 28
Dearthmead 9288 29 29
Gaehill 9021 22 22
Muskholm 8985 23 23
Woe 8431 31 31

4.2.1 CSIO

There’s not much to say about the City State itself. As expected, it is the largest economy and it draws in some trade from basically everywhere on the map. The biggest trading partner is Warwick at 26.2% of all trade. Here’s the whole list, down to those with 0.1% share:

City % CSIOTrade
Warwick 26.2
Sticklestead 7.6
Modron 6.0
Darkfield 4.3
Ossary 4.2
Thunderhold 3.8
Tain 1.6
Woe 1.5
Croy 1.5
Haghill 1.4
Dearthmead 1.4
Bier 1.4
Gaehill 1.3
Byrny 1.1
Luckstone 1.1
Seastrand 1.1
Sea Hill 1.0
Fireside 1.0
Lakenheath 0.9
Flint 0.9
Goodhap 0.9
Wolfstone 0.9
Foremost 0.8
Varin’s Firth 0.8
Smitten 0.7
Zarthstone 0.7
Oakenbridge 0.7
Charnock 0.6
Springle 0.6
Landmarch 0.6
Bernost 0.6
Bulwark 0.6
Omen 0.6
Muskholm 0.6
Rockhollow 0.6
Sunlitten 0.6
Armagh 0.6
Greybeard 0.5
Hlymadle 0.5
Goblin Hill 0.5
Hel 0.5
Dorn 0.5
Ashenshaft 0.5
Caelam 0.4
Shewolf 0.4
Anvil 0.4
Atwan 0.4
Carmage 0.4
Ottersgild 0.4
Brushwood 0.4
Tegal 0.4
Finmark 0.3
Elixer 0.3
Hindfell 0.3
Catalan 0.3
Anguikan 0.3
Hunwood 0.3
Troth 0.3
Thelamie 0.3
Limerick 0.3
Ryefield 0.3
Guilding 0.3
Benobles 0.3
Mill Haven 0.3
Jasonyria 0.2
Irungsway 0.2
Hankam 0.2
Doom 0.2
Bondmaid 0.2
Smite 0.2
Sunfells 0.2
Orlage 0.2
Adderwood 0.2
Boughrune 0.2
Wormingford 0.2
Heatherbush 0.2
Lightelf 0.2
Swarin’s Cairn 0.2
Sea Rune 0.2
Havocia 0.1
Shavenoar 0.1
Wildwood 0.1
Red Cliffe 0.1
Karn 0.1
Elf-burn 0.1
Seasteadholm 0.1
Serpeant Little 0.1

4.2.2 Warwick

Yes, so. Warwick. No one ever talks about Warwick, but it’s one of the biggest cities in the whole setting, not just Map 1. Bigger than Tarantis, bigger than Valon by miles. It dominates the north coast and the only reason it is not more important as a trading partner is that the map ends just north of it.

As it is, it has more trade per person than CSIO and has a higher civ rating too.

4.2.3 Modron

Much smaller than Warwick, or even Ossary, the model used doesn’t, I think, give Modron due consideration for potential tax collection from passing vessels but since they don’t literally pass through the town the program doesn’t catch them. Even so, it has the second highest ratio of direct trade to population, after Darkfield, and on that measure the citizens are more than twice as wealthy as those of the CSIO.

City % Modron Trade
CSIO 44.4
Warwick 18.5
Sticklestead 12.7
Ossary 2.8
Croy 1.3
Seastrand 1.0
Thunderhold 0.9
Brushwood 0.8
Wolfstone 0.7
Byrny 0.5
Zarthstone 0.5
Fireside 0.5
Sunlitten 0.5
Armagh 0.5
Smitten 0.4
Tain 0.4
Varin’s Firth 0.4
Ryefield 0.4
Oakenbridge 0.4
Greybeard 0.3
Flint 0.3
Muskholm 0.3
Sea Hill 0.3
Hel 0.3
Rockhollow 0.3
Ottersgild 0.3
Ashenshaft 0.3
Tegal 0.3
Charnock 0.2
Finmark 0.2
Lakenheath 0.2
Bernost 0.2
Gaehill 0.2
Darkfield 0.2
Anvil 0.2
Dearthmead 0.2
Woe 0.2
Troth 0.2
Thelamie 0.2
Dorn 0.2
Benobles 0.2
Caelam 0.1
Springle 0.1
Hlymadle 0.1
Elixer 0.1
Hindfell 0.1
Landmarch 0.1
Catalan 0.1
Foremost 0.1
Smite 0.1
Omen 0.1
Orlage 0.1
Shewolf 0.1
Haghill 0.1
Goodhap 0.1
Luckstone 0.1
Ered Chimera 0.1
Atwan 0.1
Bier 0.1
Karn 0.1
Carmage 0.1
Limerick 0.1
Seasteadholm 0.1
Boughrune 0.1
Guilding 0.1
Wormingford 0.1
Heatherbush 0.1
Mill Haven 0.1
Lightelf 0.1
Swarin’s Cairn 0.1
Sea Rune 0.1
  1. Pareto Curves

    The question naturally arises from the above observation as to how the uppermost members of society compare between the CSIO and Modron, given that the (external trading) economy of the former is 7¼ times the latter.

    If we use an 80/20 split (80% of wealth is owned by 20% of people) then we get the top 20% of Modronites are sharing 47863 between them, which is 129.7 units each. The same calculation for CSIO gives 348705 to the top 20%, which is 87. When looking at percentages this disparity holds, but for the CSIO the number of people sharing that wealth is much higher and the true picture comes out when looking at it from that PoV.

    So when we look at the top 20 people in each place, the difference between the two cities’ elites is clearer. For Modron these people represent 1.6%, whereas for the CSIO they represent 0.1%. The 20 Modronites have 1695 units of wealth each, the City Staters average 8405 units each.

    Ultimately, the top guy in Modron can expect to control 22424 units of trade while the Overlord grabs 111204 (assuming that the Overlord is as content to share as Anoethin is).

    I’ve glossed over many questions here, not least of which are what slope to use for the Pareto calculation and how applicable it is to very small numbers of people in autocratic societies. Not to mention that populations listed in the guides are for able-bodied men of fighting age, not full populations. Perhaps "top families" would be a better way of looking at it.

4.2.4 Ossary

Although Ossary is big and technically advanced (civ 8), its alignment of CE costs it a lot of trade. Still, it dominates the southern area to a degree which can only increase once Map 2 is added. The largest city there, Antil, is just over ⅓ of the size of Ossary and somewhat backward with a civ rating of 4.

City % Ossary Trade
CSIO 39.0
Warwick 23.5
Sticklestead 5.8
Modron 3.5
Croy 1.6
Swarin’s Cairn 1.4
Sunlitten 1.1
Sea Rune 1.0
Oakenbridge 0.9
Heatherbush 0.9
Mill Haven 0.8
Lightelf 0.7
Smitten 0.6
Armagh 0.6
Varin’s Firth 0.5
Hel 0.5
Seastrand 0.5
Tegal 0.5
Greybeard 0.4
Bernost 0.4
Catalan 0.4
Byrny 0.4
Muskholm 0.4
Tain 0.4
Zarthstone 0.4
Wolfstone 0.4
Guilding 0.4
Ashenshaft 0.4
Caelam 0.3
Lakenheath 0.3
Dearthmead 0.3
Thunderhold 0.3
Woe 0.3
Thelamie 0.3
Rockhollow 0.3
Ottersgild 0.3
Dorn 0.3
Wormingford 0.3
Serpeant Little 0.3
Charnock 0.2
Finmark 0.2
Hlymadle 0.2
Hindfell 0.2
Landmarch 0.2
Gaehill 0.2
Flint 0.2
Darkfield 0.2
Anvil 0.2
Goodhap 0.2
Karn 0.2
Fireside 0.2
Benobles 0.2
Jasonyria 0.1
Irungsway 0.1
Springle 0.1
Elixer 0.1
Doom 0.1
Hunwood 0.1
Foremost 0.1
Smite 0.1
Sunfells 0.1
Orlage 0.1
Shewolf 0.1
Haghill 0.1
Ered Chimera 0.1
Troth 0.1
Atwan 0.1
Bier 0.1
Sea Hill 0.1
Limerick 0.1
Seasteadholm 0.1
Boughrune 0.1
Ryefield 0.1
Forecastle 0.1
Palewood 0.1

4.2.5 Darkfield

Being on the road to CSIO as well as being physically close to it gives Darkfield a huge boost without being too incompatible on race, alignment, or civ.

4.2.6 Haghill

Like Darkfield, Haghill is near the city and gets a bigbump from that despite being small and undeveloped.

4.2.7 Sticklestead

Sticklestead is another large settlement that doesn’t get much of a look in, although an official scenario dealing with the area did come out in 2010(!). Bigger than Modron, it’s important because it allows access to the river and thereby to the sea, CSIO, and Warwick. I’ve also given it a bridge and a ford over the local rivers.

5 So what?

What to do with all this information? Well, the trade route maps show, for example, that Wormshead point is a good place to go a-pirating, and a place to send patrols to prevent it. There’s a line of small islands south of Croy which might make interesting bases for this sort of activity too, if the keyed encounters are not enough to put the players off.

The same goes for the land, with various crossroads apparent where PCs can prey on caravans, hire on to protect them, or where the DM can place inns or similar out-of-town bases.

PCs hired to locate lost cargoes or kidnapped merchants may be able to use their wits to learn of likely places to start a search.

The major cities will have rivalries and intrigues aimed at getting an economic advantage. Guilds from the cities will do likewise.

The information gives some idea of how likely it is to be able to learn something by locating a native traveller. So, finding someone from Warwick won’t pose too much trouble in most locations near the sea but finding people from Tegal to ask about its manor might be hard.

Even Thunderhold has only a 3.8% share of the City State’s trade.

There will be other uses, but for now I need to look at making the code multi-threaded so that I can hope to tackle adding on at least Map 6 and see what that does to the trade routes to the west.

All the Forth code is on Github (