Traveller: The Bureaucrat Mini-Game

Some of the published Traveller games from the 80s include a mini-game where the PCs must navigate a government bureaucracy. For example, one of the two sample adventures in the Traveller Book, called “Exit Visa”, is a bureaucracy navigation scenario. One of the sections in the Traveller Adventure, called “Zilan Wine”, contains an even more extensive bureaucracy navigation scenario.

In these scenarios, the PCs must find just the right bureaucrat to give them the MacGuffin they need (an exit visa, permission to export something, lifting a court injunction, whatever). They start with one bureaucrat who, given proper plying, will refer them to another one, or perhaps to more than one. Most bureaucrats they encounter, true to form, are unable to help and have only a sense that the correct person isn’t them. Navigating the system, the PCs eventually, hopefully, find the bureaucrat who actually has what they need. And through good use of interpersonal skills, they manage to secure the MacGuffin. It’s basically like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, except most of the endings are bureaucratic dead-ends, and there’s a slim space for application of skill.

Photograph of a hedge mazeI’ve never actually run or played in one of these scenarios. To be honest, this kind of scenario reminds me (naturally enough) of mazes I used to draw when I was designing dungeons for D&D. Mazes look really fun on paper, but it’s hard to imagine them actually being fun in play:

“Do you go left, straight or right?”
“We go right.”
“Okay, now you’re at another cross juncture. Do you go left, straight or right?”
“We go right.”
“Okay, ten feet later and you’re at another cross juncture. Do you go left, straight or right?”
“We go right.”
“Okay, another ten feet and you’re at another cross juncture. You might have been here before, but you’re not sure. Do you go left, straight or right?”
“We go off the deep end. We go up the wall. We go home.

With bureaucrats, it might allow for a tiny bit of roleplaying, so it’s not as bad as all that. The Traveller Book specifically recommends avoiding a purely mechanistic approach, and to aim for as much roleplaying as possible.

But really, is there anything more deprotagonizing and demoralizing than having to navigate a bureaucracy? Even if the PCs get to use their skills to convince bureaucrats to be helpful, or browbeat an official into giving them information they need, it’d be all too easily turn into a series of skill rolls. And it seems that these scenarios often start with the premise of the PCs trying to get out from under a bureaucratic boot, rather than actually trying to get ahead. Not especially fun in my book.

I’m curious: have you ever played through one of these adventures? Does the reality at all match my perception of what it’d be like to play? What did you enjoy about playing them?

Snippets from Calteir: The Compact of Sipich

A lone spire of rock in the oceanThe Compact of Sipich (Middle Western Archipelagan “Holy Stone”) was an agreement that occurred among the leaders of about twelve pirate groups in Yolatra in c. 600 SR.

The Compact outlined that various raiders of Yolatra would not raid each other. It also gave some historical background, mentioning recent wars with Morensia and how the people of Yolatra cannot be their own worst enemies. Finally, it outlined some principles of cooperation, such as that Yolatran fishers should always rescue each other, regardless of their village, and that marriages and adoptions should occur between villages. To this day, Yolatran marriages are sworn “before the Rock of the Compact”.

The agreement was at a holy spire of rock. The exact location is lost to history. The most common belief is that Darturi the Bold ripped the spire off at the root and then threw it far away into the sea. Some people believe that finding and destroying the spire will cause Yolatra to descend into civil war. Others say that if the spire is discovered, Darturi will reappear and protect the unity of the Compact.

Categories: Pirates, History

New Traits for Blade & Crown: Funny

I suppose an argument could be made that this Trait overlaps with some or another skill, but I think it’s clear enough that it’s a personality trait all its own:


You’re Funny. Other people often find your words or actions hilarious. Is it intention or not? Are you aware how funny you are?

Others may take you less than seriously. You might be clumsy — in words or movement — at inopportune times. It can be hard life as someone else’s comic relief.

But you may also bring increased joy to your compatriots, and you may be good at defusing tense situations. Your humor may hold hidden insights into the nature of things. You may be something of a holy fool, or a court jester, empowered to speak the truth where no one else can.

Could be fun to combine this with World-Weary or Serious. Hard to come up with dry enough humor on the fly, but if you can pull it off, it’d be great!

Review: Star Traders

I’ve mentioned Star Traders here before, but it’s high time to do a fuller review.

First, the name: The game I’m discussing is Star Traders. Not Star Trader, the insert game from Ares magazine #12. Neither is it Space Trader, Space Trader, Space Traders, Space Merchant, Space Merchants, Star Smuggler or Merchant of Venus. Whew! What a big genre. Because there are so many games with nearly the same name, for a long time me and my friends tended to call it “Star/Space Trader(s)”.

Photo of a Star Traders game in progress

Whatever the name, it’s a pretty wonderful game. It’s fun during play (at least if you’re in the right mindset), and it generates hilarious, convoluted situations that make great stories later on. Read my report on Method Con 2 for a relatively recent example. Another example from the vaults of history: It was the endgame, where someone was almost certainly going to win within the next turn. Two players had their Imperial Cargoes, each worth at least 15 stellors, ready to be delivered. (The average payout for a cargo is about 16, so plenty are worth considerably less.) I had a card that would easily defeat either of their attempts. It wouldn’t win me the game, but it could mess with their plans. So I asked them to bid against each other; I would play the card on whoever lost the bidding. I ended up making something like 150 stellors, the most I’ve ever had at one time in this game. Did I win? No, but I had fun anyway.

You might get the impression that the game is mean-spirited. A lot of the rules are designed to put players into direct competition with each other, and a lot of the actions you can take in the game are messing with your fellow players. You can sometimes compete with other players for contracts, destroy their stations, stick them with a useless cargo or make their hyperdrives go kaput. The game is definitely pretty PVP. But that is, I guess, just the spirit of the game. If you don’t like PVP action, then Star Traders might not be a good game for you.

Even if it involves a lot of PVP, it’s not necessarily mean-spirited. The many things you can do in the game include putting a banana into someone else’s hyperdrive (yes, this is an actual thing in the game), giving someone an Avoid Calamity card in a mutually-beneficial trade or allowing them to use your station out of pure magnanimity. Also, nothing actually requires you to mess with other players, though I think that may make it more difficult to win.

Star Traders has a strong capitalist streak. The basic way to win is through delivering cargo, making deals and earning galactic prestige. And the PVP aspects make it feel like a capitalist’s fantasy of a free market. The useless, obstructive, arbitrary government (in the form of the Emperor and their underlings) add to this feeling that it’s a galaxy viewed through a libertarian lens. But it’s plenty of fun regardless.

For an abstract representation of the galaxy, a bunch of cardboard chits and some pieces of plastic, it has a pretty good amount of flavor. There’s a surprising amount of immersion. The game gives a real sense of expanding your trade empire, with increasing numbers of stations, more powerful engines, rising and falling prestige, etc. The cards all have some sort of flavor reason for working the way they do.

The setting, our galaxy, makes a fair amount of internal sense. (It doesn’t match our current picture of what the galaxy looks like — it’d be interesting to see a reworking of the board to look this way — but it’s definitely a recognizable spiral.) Many of the star systems are named for SF contemporaries of Asimov: Heinlein, Niven, etc. (NB: Be careful not to say the name “Niven” out loud during play, though, or you’re likely to invoke the hyperspace gnomes responsible for thwarting jump attempts.) The system of Bradbury produces dandelion wine; Kluge produces hyperdrives; Shower produces fungus; and the backwater system of Terra only produces tourists. (Someone was having fun there.) It all hangs together, in an enjoyably goofy way.

The whole flavor of the game also hangs together with its basic premise:

In the year 3250, the Galactic Empire is at peace. Mankind’s heroes are not warriors – they’re the daring Traders who journey between the stars. With your trusty hyperdrive ship, you are a Star Trader. You will build trading stations on alien worlds, and race the other Traders to be the first to deliver cargoes from planet to planet. Your goal: to earn great wealth — and please the almighty Emperor — until you can earn the title of Imperial Trader!

Galactic-scale trade doesn’t make much sense, of course (see Greg Costikyan’s “The 11 Billion Dollar Bottle of Wine: The Possibilities of Interstellar Trade” in the aforementioned Ares Magazine #12, or on his website, for more on this). But given the conceit of cheap, fast intra-galactic travel, it makes a fair amount of sense, and the rules do a good job of evoking the setting. Many boardgames feel like the mechanics were designed first, then the flavor elements were bolted on later — sometimes poorly. But Star Traders was clearly designed with trading in mind from the start. Some of the mechanics are a little clunky, or even poorly spelled out, as a result. But like I said, the flavor of it is quite coherent. Playing it, you really do feel like you’re building a galactic trading empire.

For that reason, I would also classify it as a pseudo-RPG. Adding to this is the fact that every player gets a different personality: the Psychic, the Navigator, the Insider, etc. The abilities — and thus, the choices — available to the Navigator are significantly different from the choices available to the Psychic, and to the other personalities. This adds to the immersiveness of the game, which is again amazing for such an abstract representation of an entire galaxy. And the personalities add a lot of replay value.

Another thing that adds to the pseudo-RPG feel is the fact that players can make deals about anything. Want someone to give you the right to use their stations any time you roll a 4 or better on a jump attempt? Totally acceptable within the rules. How about borrowing 10 stellors from someone, on the promise that you’ll pay them back 11 stellors next time you land on one of their stations — and then deliberately avoiding their stations for the rest of the game? Also totally plausible. The open-ended nature of the deal-making means that you’re negotiating with your fellow players, allowing for human-scale levels of complexity and nuance, and lending the game that much more depth and subtlety. And adding to the feel that you’re really a space star merchant trader.

The game isn’t perfect, of course. First, the graphic design is very pretty — bold 1980s colors — but somewhat confusing, in that it uses the same colors for three different things (player token, cargo markers and jump lines).

Second, and a bigger deal, is that the rules as written need some errata. I pretty firmly believe that the groups I play this with have done more playtesting than SJG ever did with it. For example, the rules state repeatedly that doing something “ends your turn”, when they clearly mean that doing this ends your movement. This is a very important difference! Someone who had read the rules through casually might well cause themself a huge amount of frustration by trying to play the rules as written.

Another example of the errata needed: when you petition the Emperor, some higher die results are plainly worse than lower die results. In almost the entire game, you want to roll high; and most of the time when petitioning, you also want to roll high. But if you roll one particular way, you actually want to roll low. And your current Prestige gives you a positive modifier to your die roll. Do you have to take the modifier? The rules don’t clarify this, even though they prompt the question.

Read the annotated version of the rulebook on Matt’s Star Traders website for ways in which our playtesting has revealed more edge cases. We eventually discovered that we needed an entire new mechanic to sort out one particular kind of edge case! Playing Star Traders has sometimes made me feel like a constitutional scholar.

When we aren’t arguing about the rules of the game, the groups I play Star Traders with are enjoying it in other silly ways. If you play Star Traders, I recommend getting into the right mindset. Here are some ways to help yourself get into that mindset:

  • Don’t start playing until it is Inadvisably Late. This will help everyone get into a nice goofy mood.
  • Be ready for a long game. Star Traders seems to take ~1 hour per player playing. Indeed, in some ways, the game is won by the player with the most endurance, not the best strategy.
  • Be prepared for others to screw you. Star Traders wouldn’t be Star Traders without the occasional PVP action.
  • At the same time, look forward to goofy deals and silly situations. You may spend your last Stellor to buy a card that the person who sold you the card then instantly negates with a different card they already had. Someone may propose that, in exchange for competing with them for a cargo, they pay you 1 Stellor for every stanza of “Ozymandias” that you can recite from memory. You may even discover that you have an offog missing.

All in all, Star Traders is a pretty wonderful game — well worth playing if you ever get the chance.

It’s also thoroughly out of print. The game is usually available on eBay or Noble Knight, though the prices aren’t always great — seems this game is still in a fair amount of demand. But who knows? Several of my friends and I got our copies on eBay for about US$5.00 — someone had apparently opened a storage locker of Star Traders. Maybe it’ll happen again! Or maybe someone will swoop down from the stars and offer you a set in exchange for removing a banana from their hyperdrive.

Took a while to finish this; I wanted to cover everything in a single post.

Tip jar!

A coinLong story short: I’ve decided to add a tip jar to this site. It should appear in the right-hand toolbar.

More explanation: I’ve been pondering how to make more of a living from gaming. How would I do it?

  • Ads? I’m opposed to them in a whole bunch of ways for a whole bunch of reasons.
  • Publishing lots of games? Well, I’d rather do a few games well than keep pumping out products just to get paid, and that’s unfortunately what it’d take. I like to think that this blog is pretty high in quality, but it doesn’t generate much income.
  • Working at one of the big publishers? Probably not going to happen anytime soon.
  • Patreon? Very tempting, but I honestly can’t think of a way to work it. Funding per article? That creates a perverse incentive to write a bunch of short, shallow articles. Funding per X words? That just creates different perverse incentives. I’m still thinking heavily about this, but haven’t worked it out yet. I welcome your suggestions!
  • Kickstarter? The most tempting of the bunch. In fact, I have a Kickstarter project in the works, but I need to do quite a bit more before it’s ready for prime time. So, while Kickstarter might be on the horizon, it won’t work in the near-term.

For now, a tip jar seems like the right way to help make this blog lucrative. And it’s nice when creators get paid for creating!

So if I’ve helped enrich your gaming experiences somehow, please help me in return. Thanks! :)

Worldbuilding How-To: Starting with principles

Picture of a CGI planetDiscussion about where to start in building a world (for gaming or whatever else) often starts with the same question: top-down, or bottom-up? Do you start by detailing a little village, or by diving right into millennium-scale histories? There are very strong arguments for both modes, from “only work on what you’re going to use first” to “paint in broad strokes so you know the general lay of the land”. I think a lot of people dive into one or the other ends of the pool, often ending up with a great world, but almost as often ending up with a confusing morass that doesn’t accomplish what they really set out to.

Instead of either bottom-up or top-down, I’d like to advance the notion that there’s a better place to start: with your principles and purposes.

Too often, people forget to ask — or at least, just don’t ask out loud — what their purposes in building this world are. It it for a specific gaming group? For general gaming use in the future? For a novel? For a gaming group with an eye towards writing prose fiction in the future? For pure fun? Some combination of factors?

Quite often, people seem to rush into either the top-down view or the bottom-up view. Either of these approaches can lead you away from the reason you’re worldbuilding in the first place, and the kind of world you create should vary depending on what your reasons for building it are.

I’m going to follow two different scenarios here: one, a world being created for a novel; and two, a world being created for a tabletop RPG.

A novel world

This example world is for a novel that you’re contracted to finish before August 1. You are the sole author, and you haven’t done much thinking about the worldbuilding yet, except a brief synopsis you sent to your agent. That synopsis implies a large dose of action and adventure, with good flavor but not necessarily a lot of consistency. Themes will be in line with the books you’ve already written.

Already, this implies a lot of requirements and freedoms for your worldbuilding:

  • It needs to be done by a certain time. While there’s nothing wrong with worldbuilding for its own sake, that August deadline puts a hard limit on when the worldbuilding has to be mostly done.
  • Because you’re the sole author, you have a lot of creator agency. You get to decide broad swaths of history, regardless of what your characters may wish. You can, if you want to, subject your characters to long-term debilitating diseases, firestorms that trap them without food for days and irreversible teleports that land them on the Moon.
  • Because the novel is supposed to include a lot of action and adventure, the world therefore needs to allow those things. So no utopias where everyone is actually quite happy; and you can’t have a world where individuals are unable to actually do anything or affect change.
  • Since your readers aren’t necessarily expecting a lot of consistency, you don’t have to work out the industrial base to support that dirigible fleet that appears in the seventh chapter. (Unless you feel like it, and have time.)
  • Your readers are expecting themes in line with what you’ve created before, so you just need to live up to the standards you’ve already set for yourself.
  • You will be able to rely on prose techniques such as internal monologue, expository paragraphs and careful rewriting to make your worldbuilding work.

A world of adventure

Our second scenario: You’re the GM for a group of friends who’ve been playing tabletop RPGs together for a long time. Last week, the group played Microscope and came up with a world that everyone really enjoyed. So much so that they’ve asked you to start a long-term campaign in this world.

The PCs will rise to become major power-brokers, and the players want to explore every corner of this fascinating world. You know that Sarah and Liz both want game worlds to hang together logically, while Mikah mostly just wants to kill stuff. They all prefer open-ended, player-driven games, and they want to start in a small part of the world where their PCs will grow in fame and status.

The players understand that you’ll put your own spin on things, and they trust your GMing, but they’re also enthused to play in this world you’ve all begun. You’re set to start GMing a few weeks from now, and everyone is hopeful that the campaign will go on for several years.

These factors imply a different set of worldbuilding requirements from the novel:

  • The PCs will need to have a lot of agency. Debilitating diseases and charm spells may be off the table.
  • At least two of your players are going to desire a lot of consistency, so that means you’ll need to think through some things. The Microscope established that Alderlund is rich with silver, but somehow they use gold as their main currency. These and other topics might require some cogitating.
  • Another player is looking for combat action, so this world will need to be a place where that can happen. Perhaps the PCs will be outside the law? Or maybe it’s just a violent part of the world where conflict is usually settled through violence?
  • You’re starting with a pre-established canon — the Microscope you played together — so you’ll need to respect that as you create the world. The players understand that you’ll be changing some things, but major alterations are probably not going to be okay. Also, everyone agreed that the neatest thing about the Microscope was how the whole world supported feminist ideals, so that’s definitely something you’ll want to keep in the world you build.
  • Because everyone wants to start in a small corner of the world, you might want to detail that more before going to the larger scale.
  • You need to get the basics of an adventure laid out in the next few weeks, but more detailed development can happen in stages — maybe over the course of years.

Contrasting worlds

So, two different scenarios, two very different sets of constraint and flexibility. Different worldbuilding situations are going to imply very different requirements, and therefore different ways of achieving them.

It might be useful to try and break down the elements of variation. Here’s what I can discern:

  • Audience: Who is your audience for this world, and what are they hoping for out of it? Readers who will buy it in prose form, gamers who will be playing in it? Are you your own audience? (Certainly nothing wrong with that! And if you are your own audience, it’s still interesting to think about what your audience is looking for.)
  • Agency: How much room for action will the characters have, if indeed there will be any characters at all? (Worldbuilding doesn’t, of course, have to result in narrative.) Will characters be able to tear down continents, or will they have a hard time getting to the shop to buy milk?
  • Consistency: How much do your audience expect the world to hang together logically? Are they willing to accept inconsistencies for the sake of fun?
  • Detail: How much specificity do you need, and when? Does this imply a top-down approach, or a bottom-up approach, or a different approach altogether?
  • Starting materials: Are you beginning with a true tabula rasa? Has JRR Tolkien already done most of the work for you? Or somewhere in between? Is there a pre-existing canon that you need to respect, or do you have free range in this creation?
  • Time frame: How long have you got? Can you continue worldbuilding as time goes on, or is there a hard deadline coming up?
  • Feel: How do you want this world to affect your audience? Horror, fascination, escape, justice, love…?

Like any kind of creation, it can be good to have your end product in mind before you start. (Even if your end product is “whatever I come up with today!”) I hope this helps you think through that a little better.

2014 gaming round-up

What games did I play in 2014? I don’t really try to track all the different games I play, mostly just to enjoy them while I’m playing them. Still, it’s interesting to think about what all I’ve played recently. Here are the games that I remember playing over the past year:


    Image of New Year fireworks
  • Blade & Crown: Unsurprisingly, this is still the game I play the most. My ongoing monthly group have finally rescued Count Dobros from a shipwreck. But will they be able to prevent Morensia from falling into civil war? I also ran the Mountain Monastery Mystery twice this year (one at Con of the North and once at WisCon). I think I also playtested the Bandit Map with the weekly group this year.
  • Fate of various sorts: Dresden in the Twin Cities, Tekumel, Pilgrims of the Flying Temple, Ringworld and others. At least two GMs in my weekly group use Fate regularly, and John especially is a big fan of the system, so we’ve used it to play lots and lots of different games.
  • Quiet Year: I think this has taken the place of Fiasco as our standard one-shot game. Interesting, in that it’s in some ways less versatile than Fiasco. But it produces a fun game, and at the end, you’re left with a very evocative map. :)
  • Classified: Also known as the James Bond 007 retroclone. We’ve recently been playtesting it as a prelude to Alan’s game at Con of the North.
  • Night’s Black Agents: We have a pretty extensive ongoing campaign in this. Our PCs are exposing a worldwide vampire conspiracy, jetting from Berlin to Oman to various spots around the former Yugoslavia.
  • Microscope: Had a good, albeit somewhat intense, game of this at Con of the North 2014. I’m also pretty sure the weekly group has played this at least once this year. Used to be a common game to pull out, but we haven’t done it as much recently.
  • Og: Don’t think I’ve played this with the weekly group recently, but there was a very memorable game at Con of the North.
  • Fiasco: The weekly group has played this at least once over the past year. It used to be quite a mainstay of our one-shot library, but we haven’t been playing it as much recently.
  • Dungeon World: Eric ran a multi-session game of this. I don’t really like the basic systems, but Eric’s scenario design was good.
  • Hari Ragat: This was a one-day playtest, but quite good.

Board & card games

  • Dominion: The super-popular deck-building game. Quite a few of my friends are into this, and it’s a pretty quick-playing game, so I’ve played it a fair amount this past year.
  • Timeline: A very fast-playing game of trying to remember historical dates — or at least trying to predict when the game authors will date a particular event. Enjoyable and quick.
  • Star Traders: I actually played considerably more of this over the past year than I had in the past few years, largely thanks to a trip to Chicago. Star Traders continues to generate hilarious stories through its often silly, convoluted and at times very PVP play.
  • Roll Through the Ages: This is still one of my favorites. It plays pretty quickly, and works very well as a solitaire game. It also manages to combine nice flavor (you are a bronze age civilization, trying to become prosperous and powerful) with good strategy and just enough luck.
  • Battleground: An interesting card-based miniatures combat game.
  • Zar: I must’ve played this at least a few times over the past year, right? Zar is still one of the major social lubricants for my main group of geeky friends.

Computer & other games

  • Settlers of Cataan: If I’m honest, this is probably the game I play most often… because I play the Linux version of it on my home computer, quite a lot. A game against three AI opponents usually takes no more than 20 minutes. It has all the frustrations and rewards of the face-to-face version, including “Why did you build a road there?!? Now I’ll never get my third village!” But Pioneers eliminates the wear-and-tear that Settlers can cause to real human friendships.
  • Skyrim: I played this some last summer. It was nice to get back into that immersively beautiful (but sometimes obnoxiously hostile) world.
  • Artemis: The only place I actually got to play this in 2014 was Con of the North — I missed out on the Convergence sessions. Still, a thoroughly enjoyable and, I still feel, revolutionary game.
  • Kerbal Space Program: Such a fun game. So fun. The thrill of putting together rockets, launching them, nervously working to prevent them exploding, then flying them into the far reaches of space is really just great in a lot of different ways. The cute Kerbals add to the enjoyment in interesting ways… I’ll have to do a fuller review of KSP at some point. And KSP has helped my understanding of orbital mechanics rather hugely. Apparently the beta, soon to come out, will get rid of the angle snap problem while assembling rockets, which is one of the few real annoyances remaining in the program.
  • Minecraft: Yep, I’ve been sucked in by this. The possibilities for building, playing, exploring, making your own goals and following them… it’s the consummate computer-based sandbox game. Lots of goodness.
  • EVE Online: In the past couple weeks, I’ve finally managed to get EVE Online running on my (Linux) system. So far, the beauty of the space scenery has been enticing. I doubt I’ll be enamored with the more PVP-esque aspects of the game for very long, though.
  • Let’s Build a World: Did this at Minicon and at MethodCon. This continues to be fascinating, hilarious, evocative and just generally wonderful.
  • Moneyduck: It’s been harder to get together a group to play this recently, but when we have, it’s been just as great as ever.

I’m sure that I’m forgetting other games, but those are the highlights. Or the ones I remember, at least.

None of this, of course, is to imply that anyone has to play lots of different systems. If you like one game and stick to it, more power to you! And I certainly would never say that play is the only way to enjoy a game — reading an RPG is just as valid as playing it. Still, it’s interesting to think about what exactly I’ve been playing this past year.

And hopefully I can say this without bragging: This continues to be the most bountiful time for gaming in my life. I’m having more varied, more amazing, just plain more gaming experiences than I’ve ever had before. That’s a very nice thing.


Quick and easy healing rules for Blade & Crown

Image of a bandaged statue lying on its sideI don’t think I’ve ever met a healing system that I like. My ideal healing rules would need to perfectly balance a bunch of factors:

  • Player agency: The rules can’t make it feel like your healing is completely out of your hands.
  • Healer agency: At the same time, the skill and care of the person helping you recover should matter for something; a PC healer shouldn’t just feel like a machine that vends restoration.
  • Speed: Wounds should heal faster than they do in the real world, so that major damage doesn’t become effectively permanent.
  • Slowness: Wounds shouldn’t heal so quickly that players rush into combat without a care for consequences.
  • Detail: Enough to keep it from feeling like a generic bucket of “hit points”.
  • Ease of tracking: To make sure healing doesn’t feel like accounting.
  • Simplicity of system: The healing system should also work basically the same as the rest of the game, without needlessly adding mechanics.

That makes it hard to come up with a really good set of healing rules. The rules in B&C are okay, but I’ve never been especially enamored of them — they’re the sub-system I’d most likely change if I brought out a second edition.

But that’s what blogs are for! Here’s a simplified healing system that I’ve been toying with:

Once per week, you heal a total number of points equal to 1 + the Physician skill of whomever is attending you.

That’s basically it! Some specific considerations:

  • If the physician has skill 1, you (the person being healed) decide where to allocate the healed points. If the physician has skill 2 or more, they decide.
  • Following the Rule of Four, a physician can attend up to 4 patients with no penalty, up to 16 at an effective skill level of 1 less, etc.
  • You can substitute Herblore skill for Physician; Herblore functions here as Physician skill of 1 less.

There’s no die rolling involved here, and for some players, that might mean a loss of agency. (Some people want to roll dice every chance they get, even if it means potential harm to their character!) But hopefully that’s balanced by the choice of where to allocate the points.

If you want a grittier system, make it “per month” instead.

As always, I’m interested to hear how this works if you put it into play!

Snippets from Calteir: Morensian mercenary traditions

Illustration of warhammerIn Morensia, mercenaries are fairly common. In fact, it is arguable that Morensia was founded by mercenaries. Many large towns will have hundreds of mercenaries headquartered in them, usually in several large or many small companies.

Since the reign of Thardan IV, mercenaries are required to register with the overarching Mercenaries’ Guild. Also, by considerably more ancient tradition, mercenaries in Morensia are required to keep headquarters in one or another town. This has the political effect of preventing them from being completely mobile, and thus of giving them a vested interest in maintaining at least a modicum of loyalty to the local lord. This makes Morensian mercenaries less likely to be trouble-makers rampaging through the countryside and deposing lords when they see fit.

It is quite common that a company of mercenaries has multiple squads or troops out escorting caravans, pilgrims or even low-level lords. In fact, most mercenary headquarters are inadequate to host all their constituent mercenaries at the same time.

Another effect of mercenaries having headquarters is that potential clients often judge them by their buildings. “Oh, this company has a stone palisade!” “Ooh, this one has a stone palisade and a stone tower!” That sort of thing. A small, shoddy mercenary headquarters building is usually considered a sign of a small, poorly trained rabble.

Mercenaries usually recruit in the spring, around the time of the Flower-Dance. It is common for mercenaries to sponsor recruitment fairs, at which all legal comers are allowed to prove their mettle in archery contests, tests of agility, etc. Mercenaries usually band together to do common fairs, to avoid overlap and to spread out expense. Because of the timing of these fairs, “First of the Flower-Dance” is a common way of saying that someone is tops, the pick of the crop, the elite of the bunch.

Categories: Armies, Mercenaries, Professions

Fictional nonfiction 2: The Dune Encyclopedia

Snippets of poetry from the Imperium; a sample folk tale from the Oral History; brief biographies of over a dozen Duncan Idahos; two differing approaches to Paul Muad’Dib himself and to his son, Leto II; Fremen recipes; Fremen history; secrets of the Bene Gesserit; the songs of Gurney Halleck — these are just some of the treasures found when an earthmover fell into the God Emperor’s no-room at Dar-es-Balat, and are now included in The Dune Encyclopedia.

So begins one of my favorite examples of fictional nonfiction: The Dune Encyclopedia.

Dune Encyclopedia coverWhen I discovered this book in the high school library, I proceeded to serially check it out for months. I think I ended up checking it out for a full year, or close anyway. It’s well-presented, as a thorough encyclopedia with articles about history, linguistics, monetary policy, music and much more. Pretty much every named entity in Herbert’s books, as of 1983, is described in detail — often considerably more than was available anywhere else in 1983 (and, thus, often with a great more embroidery than Herbert himself had done). Articles include plenty of “see also”, making the whole thing like a wonderful expository choose-your-own-adventure work.

The Encyclopedia never had much official status in the Dune canon, I think. The official website for the new novels by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson stated:

THE DUNE ENCYCLOPEDIA reflects an alternate “DUNE universe” which did not necessarily represent the “canon” created by Frank Herbert. Frank Herbert’s son, Brian Herbert, writing with Kevin J. Anderson, IS continuing to establish the canon of the DUNE universe. This is being done with the full approval of the owner of the DUNE copyright, the Herbert Limited Partnership.

I don’t think its canonicity was ever particularly strong to begin with, though; after all, Herbert himself said in the foreword,

As the first “Dune fan,” I give this encyclopedia my delighted approval, although I hold my own counsel on some of the issues still to be explored as the Chronicles unfold.

Still (or perhaps because of this), it’s a pretty amazing work: 525 pages, hundreds of articles, vast amounts of speculation and filling-in of the details of Frank Herbert’s Dune universe. There’s a tantalizing in-world bibliography at the end, listing such works as Memoirs of a Sietch Woman, A History of the Fremen Language, “Recombinant Research in the Tleilax Tradition” and Pre-Guild Stories for Children. The almost hidden list of authors at the very end — I’d never actually noticed it until now — includes 40-odd names, implying that it was a large project; Dr. McNelly was truly the compiler, not the sole author.

Dune Encyclopedia: illustration of a harvester, by Matt HowarthThe Encyclopedia has also got some superb illustrations by Matt Howarth and other artists. Interestingly (and frustratingly), it’s hard to tell who exactly the other illustrators are; while Howarth signed his full name to his work, all the other illustrations are signed either with just “Walters”, an unreadable cursive name, or nothing at all. I can find no list of artists in the book.

Part of what makes it hard to tell who’s responsible for what is that the book was written pretty thoroughly from an in-world perspective. The Introduction, quoted at the beginning of this article, is credited to one Hadi Benotto, writing in 15540 AG. The article on the Rakis Finds is kind of amazing; it describes the finding of the God Emperor’s no-room, containing vast amounts of books (on Ridulian crystals), and the great amount of information suddenly accessible within, leading to the creation of the Encyclopedia itself. The in-world origin of the Encyclopedia reminds me of the ‘story’ of Borges’ “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”; the layout of the Imperial library reminds me of Borges’ “Library of Babel”. Both very apposite allusions.

It’s interesting how that in-world perspective changes the feel of the work. It adds a whole layer of flavor to the worldbuilding. Rather than getting an objective stance on Dune, we’re seeing it through the eyes of people who are, themselves, trying to interpret events long after the history itself. (Remember that the events of Dune supposedly happen in about 10191 AG, or about 5000 years before the Encyclopedia is written.) We don’t get the objective truth on all the mysteries of Paul’s life, or Paul II’s life; instead, we get people long after the fact speculating based on their own limited information at hand. So the mysteries feel all that much more mysterious.

It also does a lot to increase immersion. Lacking that artificially objective vantage point, it helps us see the information presented from an in-world perspective. The concerns of the Dune universe aren’t presented at a remove; for the authors of the Encyclopedia, they’re real, pressing, interesting concerns. In an interesting way, the fictional author’s concern with the material helps make it all the more compelling.

All in all, a thoroughly fascinating piece of fictional nonfiction — perhaps one of the best.

The Dune Encyclopedia is periodically available on Amazon or Abe for nearly-reasonable amounts. Or maybe you can just check it out from the high school library for a few months.

Another long delay since the last post; it’s been another extraordinarily busy week.