January 21st, 2002



Yesterday, five of us got together to play Tribes.

In terms of earlier discussion, Tribes is a game that I would consider realistic, but not detailed. It is self-evidently not detailed, since it has only two turns per year and abstracts away most detail. On the other hand, it is fairly realistic--not completely so, because there are a number of inconvenient ways to die that the game doesn't represent, and the probabilities of various things may be a bit off--but realistic in the sense that it is easy to imagine events to match the outcomes of the die rolls. (This may be a weird sense of the word "realistic"--is there a better name for this property?)

Anyway, we played Tribes for five hours or so. For much of the game, we had an extraordinarily successful tribe, but then at the end, we ran into a famine that killed 13 children of 17. Ouch. But we were still pretty successful as a tribe.

I found myself playing according to the personality I've used when demoing Tribes at cons, in which I play more for the good of the tribe than for my own good. This probably helped bias the whole group towards a more communist system. It would be interesting to try a game with people paying more attention to their own good and being less generous towards others.

We didn't get nearly as much into the roleplaying aspects as some groups I've played with have. In particular, other groups have shown a lot more roleplaying for sexual propositions and great hunts.

One of my regrets about Tribes is that it takes so long to play a game that it's hard to see the effects of player strategies and tribal laws. (In fact, every game I've played has been by players just learning the game rules, and saying "let's make up the laws as we see the need.") I wish it were possible to play in, say, an hour, so that you could play several games in a day and experiment with different rules.

More D&D Thoughts

At the moment, I've been thinking about my D&D campaign, with a particular eye to what I might leave out.

For example: there are no Monks in the party, and I rather suspect that there will be very few in the world. I'm going for a more classic fantasy medieval Europe feeling, and Europe has very few traditions of monks who do massive damage with unarmed attacks.

I'm also planning to have few Barbarians, at least in the semi-civilized lands that most of the early campaign is focussing on.

Some other things, then, will be very rare--and this might even include PC qualities.
- Gnomes, I think, are going to be fairly rare--only the biggest cities will have any sort of gnome community, and there will be few gnome communities.
- I've got a half-elf in the party, so there should be some elves in the world, but I'm not sure how much I need dwarves.
- Sorcerers also are going to be very rare. Since the spells are more or less innate (compared to those of wizards, at least), there's no particular need for there to be a community of sorcerers to support each other. And from the journal entries Monica has posted, Larissa has grown up as a girl with very exotic powers--it makes a certain amount of sense for her to stay exotic.
- Rangers will probably also be exotic. Paladins too, but I think paladins will be more familiar in legend than rangers are. (At least, to be identified as paladins. Rangers may just be identified as "damn, that guy is *obsessed* with killing orcs", which is not particularly what 'ranger' connotes to me.)

Most prestige classes will be exceedingly rare, if not entirely absent--I'm not yet convinced that I want to use prestige classes at all.

The NPC classes listed in the DMG, though, will be exceedingly common. I'm sure that no one will be very surprised that the world includes plenty of commoners.

And Yet More D&D thoughts: Spellbooks as Recipes

For some reason, I've been thinking about the difficulties of learning a spell from another mage's spellbook, and looking for a model that explains that. Here's what I've come up with:

A mage's spellbook is like a book of recipes. And like most medieval recipes, it's written more as a reminder to the mage than as a guide to someone else. So when the recipe says the equivalent of "put near the top of a hot oven and bake until done," the mage trying to decipher that recipe is going to be a bit challenged.

The wizards' Spellcraft skill includes the skill of deciphering such a recipe. If you fail to decipher a recipe, you really won't be able to do so unless you learn more about the deciphering of recipes. You may be able to learn that technique through other methods, like getting the original creator to show you how it's done.

Having the original caster show you how a spell is cast (prepared then cast, in the D&D spell model) would give you a significant bonus on the Spellcraft check for learning a spell. But it still would not be a sure thing, because the two of you might not realize some critical detail that needs to be communicated.

Sorcerers don't use recipes. They're like the cooks who can make wonderful items, but can't read a recipe or effectively imitate another cook.

Classes who don't cast arcane spells are basically unaware of the whole kitchen of arcane magic.

To continue this metaphor to magic items:
- Potions are like wholly prepared foods. They need no kitchen smarts; just unwrap and eat. Other things like rings fit in this category too.
- Wands are like instant hot chocolate or coffee--anyone with a bit of kitchen familiarity can trigger them. This is why sorcerers can use wands.
- Scrolls are like the 'meal-in-a-box' products. (There are some that are like Hamburger Helper, but include all the ingredients required. I can't think of a product name at the moment, though.) It doesn't take too much cooking skill to make one of these (which is why sorcerers can use scrolls). These products also include the property that their ingredients are evident enough that it's conceivable for someone clueful in deciphering recipes to be able to reconstruct an equivalent recipe from the set of provided ingredients, which is why wizards can learn spells from scrolls they find. And it's possible to prepare the recipe from the box even if you can't reconstruct the recipe, which is true for scrolls too.

Hey. This all kind of makes sense. Imagine that. This doesn't always happen with D&D.

Some corollaries of this metaphor:

1. There's no particular connection in this metaphor between those three types of food products and the three types of magic items. So maybe I will have things that behave like potions but aren't flasks of liquid to be drunk, or things that behave like scrolls but aren't portable rolls of paper. (Imagine a scroll-effect item that someone has thoughtfully carved on a large boulder...)

2. Someone who was trying to write for the benefit of others could be extra-clear in their recipe-writing, making spells that were easier to decipher. This, though, is not the normal case.

3. If you failed a Spellcraft roll to decipher another caster's book or spell, having that material would still make it much easier to research that spell than doing research without that guidance.

4. Research wizards will generate a lot of notes on "recipes" that went wrong, and they'll only copy the ones that went right into their spellbooks. This means that wizards' libraries will could have a lot of notebooks and papers without being wall-to-wall spellbooks.

I rather like this metaphor. What do y'all think of it?