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Medieval Stasis


Mr. R
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When I have a wide but diverse setting, I pick one region that's suitable for the particular game I want to run, and develop it as I need to. I've posted about a few Turakian spots I thought suitable for certain game styles.

 

Now, not invalidating any of the legitimate concerns expressed here, but there is the other side of the game-group coin, the longtime experienced group who don't want to climb the XP ladder from the bottom again. They want new challenges for their pro-from-Dover PCs. Having a setting with ready high-level challenges, or one that readily expands around them as their capability does, can actually be easier for a GM to use.

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2 hours ago, Duke Bushido said:

 

 

This is the third or fourth time I have seen that name mentioned here.

 

At the risk of sounding like a peasant, who is he?

 

Thanks.  :)

 

Just some guy who I stumbled upon in YouTube. I think the videos are several years old now. The premise of the Running the Game was to entice NEW people into GMing because a lot of people will play but not GM. Now of course some of the advice was geared specifically for D&D 5th however he has wonderfully ideas that could be used in any game. The other thing is you may not like D&D but his enthusiasm makes you still want to get a group of players together and PLAY!

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So now I want to run a campaign where the PCs are all Elves or some other long lived types and there's an adventure once a century.

 

The PCs get to not just deal with the adventure but also the changes in the landscape (political, technological, geographical.)

 

"I swear there was a teeming human metropolis round here just a century or so ago. And a river."

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When Dean Shomshak created the Devil's Advocates supernatural villain team for Champions, one member was Vilsimbra, an immortal Dark Elf from the dimension of Faerie. She attempted a coup against the Prince of her Clan Ectol which failed, and she was exiled. She came to Earth to build a power base for her next attempt.

 

"In a stalactite-hung cavern of the Onyx Kingdom, the Ectolian Prince watched a mirror of black glass. It showed the Demonologist introducing Vilsimbra to the other Devil’s Advocates. She was young, the Prince thought — only a thousand years old, as mortals reckoned such things. He was much older, and remembered the ages when the svartalfar freely meddled with humanity. In time, the errant Contessa-Minore would also learn the futility of playing with shortlifers: just when you put yourself in a position to push a few of them around, they’d die of old age, the continent would sink, or something similarly tedious would spoil everything. It was so hard to build anything enduring. In the meantime, it might be amusing to make sure Vilsimbra didn’t gain too much power. Being murdered was so inelegant. The Prince smiled, without cruelty or compassion, and blanked the glass." (Champions Villains Volume Two p. 92.)
 

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On 9/15/2021 at 1:27 PM, Spence said:

Adventures do no happen at that scale.  A smaller setting book that actually has smaller focused information is far far more useful.  The Sword Coast is what?  The map is around 1200 miles north/south and maybe 600 miles east/west not including the ocean.  The islands are in an area around 300 miles N/S and 100-150 miles E/W?  And even then the SC is an immense area where most of it will never be actually used.  And yet so many settings seems to think mapping out and entire world in even broader wide strokes is "better"??

 

Apropos of this, my experience writing and developing for Exalted suggests to me that some game writers -- though quite bright in other ways -- have a dubious grasp of geography and scale. Like, one writer who was creating a new country described it both as "small" and "a thousand miles wide." I reminded him that 1,000 miles is the distance between Chicago and New Orleans. This may be "small" compared to some countries in the setting, but it's a bit large and spread-out for some of the institutions he wanted the country to have.

 

Part of the problem, I think, is that Exalted started with a world map and design went down from there -- and when you start sketching borders on a mpa whose scale is 1 inch = 800 miles, you tend to get pretty big countries.

 

Discussing this on White Wolf's forum, I came up with this comparison for people who think you need big places for big stories. On the Exalted map, Ireland would fit within a quarter-inch square. Ireland, with all its weight of history, from the Tuatha de Danaan to the Troubles. Is Ireland too small for a Fantasy epic?

 

Okay, you say it is. Half an inch on the map can include most of the Ancient Greek world. Most of the Greek myths and epics happen within a half inch square, with a few excursions B eyond the Fields We Know such as the Argonautica or Odysseus sailing to the Underworld.

 

The Biblical Middle East fits within a one inch square. And all of China fits within a two inch square.

 

Now, Exalted campaigns are supposed to operate on a hyperbolic scale. Threats to the entire world are a thing. But that doesn't mean that everything needs to be gigantic. (And indeed, every place that isn't sprawling is a city-state, because then you just put a dot on the map.)

 

I also suspect that some cases where settings have huge spans of time but not much seems to be happening within them derive from a similar top-down approach, and would benefit from more bottom-up design. Like, don't start with 6,000 years or whatever and try to fill it. Start with now, decide what incidents are absolutely needed to explain current conditions (or to plant as story seeds, ore just as bits of atmosphere to help show what kind of setting this is), and figure out how much time you actually need to fit it in. Like, if the kingdom's leaders seethe in anger for a past military defeat and want to start a new war to avenge it, does the defeat need to be from a thousand years ago? When 10 or 20 would work as well? Or if the defeats did happen centuries ago, is it a point of the adventure that someone is deliberately dragging up and inflaming old grievances because they really really want a war?

 

Dean Shomshak

 

 

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On worldbuilding I recommend starting very small: one valley, one lake, one community.  Make them make sense within those confines, then based on that, begin to spread out.  Get one really well defined, interesting area and you can have lots of adventures without needing to travel much.  Skyrim?  About 6-8 square miles.

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9 minutes ago, DShomshak said:

Part of the problem, I think, is that Exalted started with a world map and design went down from there -- and when you start sketching borders on a mpa whose scale is 1 inch = 800 miles, you tend to get pretty big countries.

 

Discussing this on White Wolf's forum, I came up with this comparison for people who think you need big places for big stories. On the Exalted map, Ireland would fit within a quarter-inch square. Ireland, with all its weight of history, from the Tuatha de Danaan to the Troubles. Is Ireland too small for a Fantasy epic?

And now you mention my second (bigger) pet peeve; the scale of a setting. Some settings are scaled way too small for the scope they cover; Aventuria (The Dark Eye) is an example of this. You look at the map, the breath of the geography, the diversity of cultures, the number of polities and you feel this place is big. Could it be as big as Africa? South America? Europe maybe? Nope, it's the size of Western Europe or India. Now I have no problem with a setting the size of India, it's a big area, but the scope of Aventuria with "endless" frozen wastes in the north, a "massive"desert in the middle and mainly unexplored steaming jungles in the south just doesn't feel like it all fits in Western Europe.

 

Others feel like they are way too big. I don't know Exalted but Banestorm (GURPS) comes to mind. In this case, the continent is huge, the size of Canada, and the geography and climate are believable but the nations feel way too big and monolithic for a medieval level of development.

 

The impact of scaling is worse than the length or stagnation of the history because it has a direct impact (travel time) in play.   

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This map, done in 1986 for my FH game,  was scales so that each square  took about 5 days of travel by foot or oxcart. Less by horse or by river, but in general 5 days on foot. North to south would take several months.  East to west, the entire continent would take maybe about 3 years to travel west to east, bit that is another two or three sheets. In general most countries in Europe would take a week or two to cross on foot. with the exception of France. It took fewer in the Holy Roman Empire.  countries were the size that the local noble could gather resources and men to defend, within their cultural framework.

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On 9/15/2021 at 11:07 AM, Christopher R Taylor said:

An isolated, relatively small land like Japan has a better chance of having a long continuous history but they still were wracked with wars, changes of government, etc.

 

I wonder what Australian history looks like prior to the arrival of Europeans.

 

On 9/15/2021 at 5:57 PM, Chris Goodwin said:

In a web serial I've been reading, there's a running joke that in game sessions, someone will inevitably stop the GM in mid-description with "Blah blah blah, politics."  It would seem to me that one could write that in one's world notes and save a lot of typing.  😂😂😂

 

We could compromise.  Keep the 48 pages in the sourcebook, but title it "Chapter VII:  Blah, blah, blah, politics".  If you want that in your game, read it.  If not, chapter VIII, "Blah, blah, blah, meteorology" awaits!

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From experience as a GM I can tell you that its an awful, crashing feeling in your soul to begin to set up what you think people will like and excites you... then have someone make a snide comment because they figure that stuff all sucks.

 

Like going into a beautiful description of landscapes or architecture to try to paint the setting and someone interrupts "whatever, dood when do I roll to hit?" or a smart phone pings with a text that the phone zombie instantly grabs to attend to.

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Another thought about stasis:

 

People are not stagnant.  

 

Person/group A develops a new weapon that makes some form of combat easier.  Then person/group B responds with some modification that neutralizes that weapon (you can reverse this order).

Another possibility is that merchants desiring greater revenue will travel beyond their current boundaries in hopes of developing new customers.  Sometimes this works other times they discover some unknown enemy or land. 

Or some leader might call for a war somewhere.  As a result,  entire societies will gather together for the purpose of destroying this enemy. It might require them traveling LONG distance before the first sign of the enemy,  but that is what the leaders desire. 

 

Those are just some thoughts about why the stasis can't ever remain for more than one or two generations,  if that long. 

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And another thought.

 

Is it really stasis?  Or just a change in terms and cosmetics such as clothing style. 

From the peasants perspective in the fields what is the real functional difference between ancient Roman, ancient Greek, medieval Saxon or medieval Gaul?  

For the fighting side it is mostly strategy and tactics.  Swords, spears and armor are close and don't show spectacular differences.  Until the advent of gunpowder, beyond the scale of the battles which goes up and down through history like a drunken wave, there is not too much difference. 

 

So what is really stagnant or in stasis?

 

Oh I know, the Lords of Minutia will now lay into me about all the differences between different cultures.  But on the technology and common living technologies scale what it the real difference between the US, UK, Germany, France, Japan and Korea? Not much if anything the differences are culture driven.  As for their military's, they share much of the same capabilities with the major differences in capability being the degree of fine tuning of those technologies and the willingness to expend the resources to build them.

 

In the US there were small towns and counties that didn't actually receive electricity or had indoor plumbing until the 1970's.  Let alone telephones.  Think about that.  One of the reasons that the small towns shrank so quickly and the cities grew could be arguably laid at the feet of getting a hot shower not having to walk out to an outhouse in the middle of the night in the winter. 

Edited by Spence
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On 9/16/2021 at 12:36 AM, Ninja-Bear said:

Just some guy who I stumbled upon in YouTube. I think the videos are several years old now. 

 

Thanks, N-B.

 

I just watched a couple of his videos; pretty solid stuff.  I had to adjust the playback speed, though.  I didn't think it was really possible, but I can't hear as fast as he can talk.  :rofl:

 

 

 

 

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Anyway... Just as you don't need to create an entire world if the campaign happens in only one or a few countries, you don't need to create millennia of history that won't be relevant to current events. In which case, questions of "stasis" don't arise.

 

My first "Magozoic" campaign was an exercise in such focus. Setting: Earth, 250 million years in the future and gone magical, a la Dying Earth, Gondwane or Zothique. Or, no... It's the northeastern quarter of a region called Zilaya, and every country that will be involved fits on a single 8 1/2 x 11 map (scale of 1 inch = 64 miles, same as the Goode's World Atlas from which I cut-and-pasted my geography). About equal to Washington State, Oregon, Idaho and a bit of Northern California. The little country of Aleiros (I did this before Jim Butcher wrote Codex Alera, so don't snip at me for that) is under attack by the new and rapidly expanding empire of Shavos. Some other smallish countries nearby, some already conquered. On the western edge, the duchy of Stimroth, vassal to the ancient and decadent empire of Zaav, which I didn't expect to get involved.

 

Now the history. I decided there were only six points of history that needed addressing. In order, going back in time:

1) How the dilettante prince of a Shavan city-state turned into a genius tyrant conqueror.

2) How the current royal family of Aleiros obtained the throne, to the annoyance of an older noble family that expected to take it.

3) How a dragon created a zone of wilderness between Aleiros and another country, that has lasted even though the dragon was killed some decades back. Because it mattered that that wilderness area was there.

4) The archmage Sith Korosh, whose descendants are now a whole family of wizards ruling a pocket palatine from their magic-soaked mansion.

5) Skipping back several centuries, the swift rise and catastrophic fall of the short-lived Medusa Empire that once ruled the whole region.

6) And a couple millennia before that, how the demigod Zaav founded the empire named for him, and established the divine covenant that let its emperor of the time destroy the Medusa Empire. (And that one sentence is actually all I wrote for this bit. It didn't matter how; he just did, okay?)

 

How did the present countries arise after the destruction of the Medusa Ampire? What wars and changes of border and dynasty happened among them? Didn't matter, so I didn't bother. No need to write the history of the royal family of Voysos, when the only point that mattered is that one princess maybe escaped the massacre following the country's conquest.

 

It was actually a bit refreshing *not* to go spinning off into irrelevant tangents. And nobody ever asked for more information.

 

My current Magozoic campaign is a bit more involved, both geographically and historically, and I don't yet know which parts will matter. I am writing timelines. But that's just to keep things straight for myself: I expect that most of it will never matter to the PCs, and so will remain unknown to the players. But if something does come up, I'll be ready.

 

Dean Shomshak

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1 hour ago, Asperion said:

And what about creatures with millennia long lives?

 

Wondering Dragon asking. 

 

In actual game play, they are "points of interest" for a moment or two.  If the Players are forced To interact with them, then they just want to get through the exercise and hop back off the rails as quickly as possible.  If players take an actual interest or bother to remember the existence of such creatures, the use them as libraries, but even then, they tend to focus on the hear and now and what is immediately relavent to the plot at hand.

 

I have never had inquiries like "tell me about the dynasty seven generations before this one" or "who lived here before the great wizard of the last age  raised the  mountains from the earth?"  I have never even had the question "was there a time before these mountains?"

 

Effectively immortal beings get questions like "have the elves ever been defeated?"

 

Ah, yes... Back in the days of Etrofian, there was a master tactician in the armies of the hill people-  some say he was connected dir--

 

Yes or no, Dude.  Have the been defeated?

 

Yes; they have.

 

Great!  How was it done?  What took them out, and can we adapt it to this situation?

 

 

And that's about it.

 

 

And really, it doesn't bother me.  They didn't sit down to read a book; they could stay home and do that.  They didn't come hear to listen about ancient politicians and geological events and mighty warriors buried in time.  They sat down here to be their own kind of hero, and to live their own story.

 

I get it.  Sure: it's always disappointing when some of your favorite material never comes to light, but I totally get their point of view.  Besides, I tend to view all that un-uncovered (it's a word!  Probably.) material is just a leg up on the next build anyway.  Recycling and all that....

 

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I have never had inquiries like "tell me about the dynasty seven generations before this one" or "who lived here before the great wizard of the last age  raised the  mountains from the earth?"  I have never even had the question "was there a time before these mountains?"

 

Right.  Player characters generally have a very different set of goals and interests than a setting designer.  The purpose of lore and history in a role playing game setting is to create plausible sources for adventure and lore behind objects and places. Its not there because of huge player demand.  When people go visit Egypt to see the pyramids, they want to see the amazing structures, not hear a 5000 year history of Egypt.

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A lot of times I start with a cosmology.  How did the *verse come into being?  Then from there I figure out parts of the magic system.  Sometimes I start with the magic system and figure out what kind of cosmology could have brought it into being.  

 

But I know I run the risk of hearing "Blah blah blah, cosmology."  

 

Sometimes I really do want to hear parts of the 5000 year history of the pyramid builders.  

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2 hours ago, Duke Bushido said:

 

In actual game play, they are "points of interest" for a moment or two.  If the Players are forced To interact with them, then they just want to get through the exercise and hop back off the rails as quickly as possible.  If players take an actual interest or bother to remember the existence of such creatures, the use them as libraries, but even then, they tend to focus on the hear and now and what is immediately relavent to the plot at hand.

 

I have never had inquiries like "tell me about the dynasty seven generations before this one" or "who lived here before the great wizard of the last age  raised the  mountains from the earth?"  I have never even had the question "was there a time before these mountains?"

 

Effectively immortal beings get questions like "have the elves ever been defeated?"

 

Ah, yes... Back in the days of Etrofian, there was a master tactician in the armies of the hill people-  some say he was connected dir--

 

Yes or no, Dude.  Have the been defeated?

 

Yes; they have.

 

Great!  How was it done?  What took them out, and can we adapt it to this situation?

 

 

And that's about it.

 

 

And really, it doesn't bother me.  They didn't sit down to read a book; they could stay home and do that.  They didn't come hear to listen about ancient politicians and geological events and mighty warriors buried in time.  They sat down here to be their own kind of hero, and to live their own story.

 

I get it.  Sure: it's always disappointing when some of your favorite material never comes to light, but I totally get their point of view.  Besides, I tend to view all that un-uncovered (it's a word!  Probably.) material is just a leg up on the next build anyway.  Recycling and all that....

 

I think it’s related to a couple of elements: 1.). The class of the party, 2.) The current stakes, and, 3.) the provider of the information. Sure the heroes are the stars of their adventure, but the above do have a bearing on the delivery of lore. 
 

An upper class party will put a greater emphasis on historical knowledge than a lower class party looking for immediate answers to a specific problem. Few of the lower classes can afford the time to pursue knowledge for its own sake. 
 

How much time before doom is visited upon the land?  Is this even a save the world campaign, or is it just regional politics and diplomacy? The higher the stakes, the more importance is put on finding only relevant information focused on the situation at hand. Having some relaxation time to be able to talk to a friendly near immortal, can be a great roleplay opportunity. If time is tight, things tend towards grabbing the Librarian by the caller and yelling book or information requests at them. 
 

Finally, is there a difference in quality of the information provided by different sources? If it is a book, how old is it? How biased is it? Has there been significant linguistic drift since the time of publication?  Is it even in a language legible to anyone in the party? If it is a person, or creature, how is their interaction with the party? Are they mentally focused, and understand the nature of the parties question, or are they digressive and pendantic, droning on and on about the Seventh Dynasty, to prove their erudition and smarts?  Are they friendly, indifferent, or hostile? How do their biases and agendas flavor the information delivered to the party?  How reliable are they? 
 

All of these factors can put a different spin on a simple info dump. It’s important to treat the info entertainingly, so the brains in the party want more. Start with an odd bit of description thst sparks questions from the party. Then respond, who do you ask? They then will try and figure it out. 

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As has been alluded to, not all change is equally meaningful. A lot of RL history is what I call "churn": Borders change, one dynasty succeeds another, kingdoms appear and disappear, but the events don't change the social pattern.

 

It's the difference between coup and revolution. A country can have a dozen coups and change not a bit. Violent overthrows of government can even be one of the chief enduring elements. (And as assault's link shows, that's nothing new, either.) Real revolutions that change the political and cultural order are far more rare.

 

What's that line from Somtow Sucharitkul's "Inquestor" series? "History there is, and no history." Apparent change that maintains a greater stability.

 

So in designing a setting's history, what events will actually still matter? And which are just churn?

 

Dean Shomshak

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