Tuesday, May 24, 2016

No, Your Fantasy World is NOT Just Like Manhattan, but with Orcs! A Fevered Rant

  Since I am not trying to criticize a person and the contemporary internet can't seem to be capable of telling the difference between "I disagree with this idea as presented" and "I think the person who wrote this idea is a horrible monster" I will NOT be linking to anything.

  As I have mentioned before, modern people have this amazing tendency to assume "the past was Just Like Today, but no one was smart enough to be like me and my friends!" This can lead to all sorts of silliness ranging from a guy dressed as a punk rocker in a fantasy Japanland to characters in a fantasy Medieval Europeland Deeply Concerned about topics that are niche political concepts of the 21st Century.
  Certainly this can be fun. I have quite fond memories of a player in one of my 1e campaigns in the mid 1980's set in a faux Europe. The character's name was Sean O'Malley of Malibu, a straight fighter whose samurai armor was made of body panels from an old VW beetle and whose battle cry was either 'Mitsubishi!' or 'Toyota!'.
  I mean - one the one hand it is just a game.

But on the other, I have a strong personal aversion to playing Papers & Paychecks skinned to look Medieval! I have a personal conviction that thinking about how different things were in Medieval times/would be in a fantasy setting can do a lot of things - make our campaigns more entertaining and immersive; give us an opportunity to learn and understand more about history; understand the contemporary Real World better.
  As much accuracy as possible also makes for better roleplaying, so NO! Horses are not bicycles; 100 miles is not a short day trip; families do not average 1.2 children; magic isn't technology + bad Latin; [and for today's rant] medieval systems did not use faddish contemporary economic concepts!
  Friendly note: I had a thesis titled "The Impact of Theological Anthropology upon Microeconomic and Macroeconomic Activities of Post-Christian Populations". If you wish to discuss economic theory in general with me, reach out but please keep the comment sections for gaming. 
  The article that triggered this rant had it all;

  • The assumption that so many people had the money to commission +1 swords that people could make a living doing nothing else but making custom items
  • The assumption that so many people were capable of making custom items that ideas like supply chains and competition were important
  • The assumption that this actually affected the behavior, professions, etc. of entire local/regional populations of demi-humans
  • A structure where wizards 'sell spells' for a living
  • The idea that a mage could learn a spell and not know what it actually does until it is cast a few times
  • That local/regional governments are concerned that 'the value of spells in the open market might drop to 0 g.p.'
  • That spells might come with EULAs, usage fees, etc. that could be, and would be, enforceable
  • That wizards have 'R&D shops, that wizards 'acquire' others, etc.
  • This leads of course to the idea of Open Source Magic, etc.

  Don't get me wrong - if you wanna' run a campaign where wizards in high-rise towers buy out young upstart mages' new spells, put their own 'brand name' on them, and resell them all with an entire floor of lawyers ready to do patent trolling using the King's cavalry - don't let me stop you.
NOTE: Hackmaster 4th Edition had a section on spell licensing, Open Source, and Dweomersharing in their Spellslingers Guide back in 2002 that was about as in depth as the article I read andhad the Hackmaster humor, too.
I have NO IDEA why you are playing a fantasy game where when your wizard says his henchman is 'Agile' he means 'he knows the project management methodology' instead of 'he has a high dex score' but - whatever

  But the Ancient, Classical, Medieval, and Pre-modern world looked nothing like this! A fantasy setting set in anything but an Urban Fantasy 'just down the street in 2015, but with faerie' would look nothing like this!

First, let's discuss how much I hate some of the core assumptions. A world awash in cash looks nothing like reality. Let me be even more blunt - a lot of the contemporary world has no idea what having enough cash to custom order luxuries looks like! If you look at Medieval history you will see that in the early Middle ges a king  might only have 2-4 outfits of clothing, let alone a mercenary! A large volume of trade was done in just that - trade using goods, not coin, meaning even many nobles with great (true) wealth were cash-poor. Having an economy awash in coins without inflation just makes money within the game effectively meaningless.
  We see this in the article itself with talk of 'well, since NPC X can make such a good, steady income by making +1 swords to order, why would she ever adventure?'.
  Yeah. Good question, isn't it?

  A world awash in magical items is simply a game-breaker in terms of roleplaying.
  "Why would that be, Rick?"
  Thanks for asking!
  Because this means there is even LESS reason to adventure and to even want things.
  Look at it this way - if the economy is so awash in cash that there is enough steady business in making custom +1 swords to create a market large enough to drive suppliers' prices down AND there are enough people capable of making magic items at a volume to meet these criteria, THEN magic items are going to be all over the place outside places filled with murder-death.
  It gets worse - this would rive the need for/utility of adventurers down AND mean that they hav less potential earnings, too.
  Walk with me:

  1.   The economy produces enough wealth that adventuring is a bad idea for anyone capable of crafting magic
  2. Magic items can be purchased for cash broadly
  3. Low-level people going into danger for money and magic must be niche, desperate cases
  4. If they fail, they die. If they succeed they cease to be niche, desperate cases
  5. Once they are no logner niche, desperate cases they too, can do the non-dangerous things that provide more money than does adventuring
  6. This will allow them to accumulate wealth more quickly and at less risk than adventuring
  7. Which will allow them to buy ever-more-powerful magic items, etc.
We aren't even talking about how if magic items in general are purchasable then any town militia can be prepared to handily deal with things like vampires, the undead, etc. removing reasons for adventurers to adventure.

  Example:  Adam, Bertram, Charlie, and Denise had heard a rumor in an inn about trouble in a remote village - something about a flying creature that could not be harmed by steel. They had set out at first light and ridden hard - they were nearly broke and needed the money.
  They entered the village three days later - good time for the 60 miles! Although tired from the ride they immediately sought out the village elder.
  "The trouble, you say? Oh, the local shire reeve came the very next day, what with him having Boots of Speed and all. He handed all 8 of the local levy  +1 Spears from his Bag of Holding and they went out and killed the gargoyle that very day! He took its stolen gains for the crown, giving the men 10% to split, a'course."
  "It is a real shame you folks rode all that way for nothin', too."

  Adventurers are supposed to exist because they are both unusual and needed. A world that rich in magic, money, and people of high enough level to turn money into magic items? They are neither unusual nor needed!

  Now, can you have fun in a world where mages and clerics and such are, well, really common and the campaign is all about trying to find a way to break out of the grind and make it big in a world of corporations, spell licenses, etc?
  Sure! That game is called "Shadowrun". It is explicitly set in the modern world with modern concepts.

  But Shadowrun and 'FRPG as the modern world with 'Thee and Thou' both have a problem I call the Traveller Paradox. TheTraveller Paradox is roughly this:
  Traveller does a really good job of building a system that incorporates contemporary economics, trade, and such into a game world. It does it so well, as a matter of fact, that huge numbers of players realize that their characters can do very well for themselves by engaging exclusively in in-world economic activity! In the end you wind up with the paradox of a game of epic adventure where the best class/skill combo is 'Merchant/Broker' and campaigns often devolve into.
'this session is about how an interstellar war between two vast empires... is disrupting your business's' supply chain and will reduce quarterly profits if you don't find an alternate distribution hub! What do you do?'
  If you want to do this, feel free.Personally, I don't think it belongs in a game with knights, dragons, and kidnapped princesses.