#RPGaDay2020 Day 20 - "Investigate"

 


The essay for today's word, "Investigate" was inspired by a conversation I had literally today with John, the co-creator of Trinity. We were talking about how civil magic would work in a large city. Would there be large scale magical or non-magical projects that purified water and sewage? Would people just take what they got? Would the rich have better choices than the poor--and what would those choices look like? We weren't trying to solve the problem--we were just bouncing ideas off of each other with the understanding that we needed some answers eventually, rather than now.

And as we spoke, some of our conversations went to how things would have worked in Rome. Rome was an ancient real-world large city with large city problems and rudimentary technology by today's standards. They had a series of aqueducts to bring in fresh water. They probably had wells, as well, which were clean or not depending on the source of those wells.

That, in turn, got me thinking about how much of my creation is looking at how things really work, and tie it to my fantasy worlds. Of course, it's my world, and I can have things work how I want, but I usually want it to start with an accepted reality, unless I'm specifically going for something obviously surreal. In the case of water and waste management work in Rome, I'd want to understand that, and then I can apply magical enhancements that make it more accessible or reliable than the original systems.

To keep this essay shorter than the last two, I'm going to focus on just a few examples that spring to mind.

Maps

Growing up, I loved social studies. I loved maps. I especially loved ancient maps, and how people tried to construct them when they didn't really have the tools to do so. And when I started creating my own world, I thought it was so much fun to create areas and fill them in with cities and lakes and countries and roads and such.

But just because I thought they were neat didn't mean I had any idea how to do it well. The first time my wife looked at my world map, she said "You know that river is going uphill, right?" Well, sure, if you're going to point it out. But I spent some time learning about continental divides, how rivers actually tend to flow, how mountains and hills and lakes all tend to interact, and while my world is by no means perfect, I am much happier with it. It was good to know, for example, that one of my biggest lakes wasn't going to be filled with salt because I hadn't given the water any outlets.

I now have books on world building and as I go through them, I tweak things that don't quite work...or I improve things as I do new local or regional maps.

Cities

Cities are another major element of RPGs, and its easy to just create cities give them roads and guards and wizards and urchins...but if you want your entire game to be based out of a single city, you start having to put more thought into them.

My current campaign is an urban story, and runs out of the city of Jadir, which is a fantasy city of 250-500k people. Just agreeing on basic details has taken several discussions and exchanged maps between John and I. How old is it...then how has it evolved. How does it relate to the nearby landscape. How do supplies come in.

I've spent a lot of time looking at maps and articles on the evolution of London and Rome, and what they represent to the areas around them. I've gone a couple books that describe the evolution of a fantasy city from a few huts to a metropolis. I've looked at actual maps of cities as they exist currently, as well as representations of what they may have looked like in the past. Cities like Amsterdam are particularly interesting, because the fortunes and politics of the area evolved and changed over time, and the city evolved at the same time to match.

Languages:

Languages are something I really enjoy. In an effort to create better and more interesting languages, I have attended the language seminar at GenCon at least 4 times, and read through the materials they provide or link to. I've downloaded several language generators, including signing up for a Vulgar account.

I'm especially developed an interest in the concept that languages evolve to represent the ideas that the people speaking it want to express. For example some languages might only have words for one, few or many--with no concept of "14" versus "38". Some languages might have no words that express ownership, which would imply that personal ownership is a priority. Others languages are so much more detailed about family is expressed. For example, in English, we have "uncle" Other languages have "brother of father", "brother of mother", "husband of father's sister", "husband of mother's sister." Such a language implies that precise, well-documented and well understood familial relationships are more important to the people who speak that language than to those, in general, who speak English.

I've collected some of these concepts in trivia form, and when I create a new language, think about what those people want to express, and try to build that into the language. Not that the languages are ever used or even seen by players, who generally speak the languages natively or magically. But it helps me understand the people and their culture and way of thinking, to give a better and more realistic experience.

Guilds

In early D&D, there was "the thieves' guild" and "the mages guild." Not only was there one of them for a given town, there was often one that spanned multiple cities. This was emphasized by things like the "one true" druid and "one true" monk concepts.

But as I looked more into this, I saw that in the real world, there were conflicting guilds, small guilds to handle specific subsets of work--some of which overlapped. While you could have the artisan guild in Amsterdam, for example, that was a very specific set of skills limited to one area.

As far as thieves guilds go, the idea of "one thieves' guild" wouldn't occur except in the smallest town--and if such an organization did exist, they would be able to challenge the city or regional leadership for power. Rather, they'd spring up where people found money to be made by providing services or protection or where people see opportunities that are outside the law and worth the risk. And those pockets might group up, but they'd quickly overlap and struggle...and even centralized power wouldn't end up with one lawful organization that everybody paid tribute to.

I heard a great podcast episode that opened my eyes a bit. It was the Incantations podcast which is about the Invisible Sun RPG. In one episode they talked about alchemists--and specifically, how real-world alchemists would write books with their methods and secrets to sell to other alchemists. There was no formal alchemy guild...just people who shared an scientific art. But they would write these books in such a way that other alchemists could understand or figure out what was being discussed, but a random person off the street would not. The goal was to sell as many books as they could, while not giving away their secrets to people who hadn't paid their dues.


This essay is about investigating real topics, to better present a fantasy world to my players and honestly to myself. So I've read formal and internet articles and books, looked at maps, listened to podcasts, and talked to people who understand the subjects better than I do. I've also paid attention to the guilds/unions/informal economic structures when looking at other things. Not to become an expert, but just to add realistic structure and details to what I present.

As a final story, there was a fantasy wedding ritual I was asked to put together. I emailed a Canadian professor of medieval studies, with whom I had no prior connection. I told her what I was after. She was thrilled at the request, and sent me a couple of articles and a fairly long note that really got into a level of depth I never knew existed. I certainly didn't become an expert in medieval studies or even medieval weddings, but I was able to deliver an absolutely fantastic experience for the people who participated in that event.

About the Art

Today's header art comes from Eva of Celebril Art, where she hosts and sells her beautiful personal and commission art. This particular work of a robe-wrapped dragon fitting together details from obscure texts just perfectly fit the theme of the day. 

There are numerous dragon-in-library works around, but this one had several specific elements that caught my eye. The fact that it's wearing a robe, has hair, and is really looking at the scrolls as if it is wise enough to look, but not smart enough to know everything yet. Plus the dragon itself is rendered just beautifully, especially around the head and claws.

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