Category Archives: Other

World-Builder’s Toolchest II: Networking and “Marketing”

I am bad at networking.

In fact, I totally suck at it – especially when it goes beyond networking and goes into the realm of self-marketing. It’s one of those skills I’ll have to learn – and would love to outsource to someone more talented at it if only I could afford to do so.

Still, world-building (and creating other stuff) in a complete vacuum is not nearly as much fun – and in a way is fairly pointless. What good is your awesome con world if there’s no one there to enjoy it?

This is what I am doing – and I am sure there’s more to do, so I’d love to hear your comments and advice:

  • Blog: Well this one is a no-brainer. Try to post on a regular schedule. Don’t be worried if you have zero readers for a long time. Create quality content and they will come. And the opposite is true as well: Stop maintaining your blog and your readers will disappear quicker than they arrived. If you have a productive phase, don’t hesitate to queue up articles for the future – a (semi-) regular schedule is much more effective than a burst of postings because you have an overall higher chance to get noticed.
  • Twitter: Get a twitter account. Follow people who post informative material you are interested in. Learn about good twitter manners. Don’t do “follow for follow back” or anything like that – it’s mostly worthless. Don’t spam twitter with advertisement (now and then is okay, but don’t overdo it) nor with trivialities. Nobody cares about your bowel movements. Do automate notifications to twitter when you post to your blog.
  • Facebook, Google Plus: These do not work for me, but I dislike Facebook and do not put much effort into either of these. It probably makes sense to build both up – once you start having a following, especially if it’s a consumer-based following, Facebook especially is probably still a must.
  • Forums and other Blogs: Find a handful of forums and other blogs that actually interest you. Contribute. Make sure you have a signature on the forums. But do not use them for self-promotion; be part of the community. If you like someone’s work, give them feedback. If you think something can be improved, give them feedback. Don’t flame or have bad manners – people will remember, and they will ridicule extreme cases. You don’t want to become known as the “worldbuilder who had a meltdown”. Common sense, really, but there you go.
  • Gravatar and Identity: Brand yourself. Come up with some sort of name you operate under. Can be your real name, or the name of your setting, or whatever. Do at least a Google search to see what else your identity is used for. Trademark protection is probably too expensive unless you are really serious about it (and even then it’s probably too expensive). But whatever you do, create a custom twitter background, pick a nice theme for your blog, pay attention to colors and font choice. Sign up with Gravatar and upload an icon for the email account you use on forums and blogs – a lot of sites pull them in and it makes you stand out from the anonymous and/or auto-generated icons.
  • Give to the community: If you are reasonably good at something, consider releasing content you create under an open license. Public Domain if you are really generous, or a Creative Commons license. The later is well-suited if you require people to credit you (with a link to your blog). Post to relevant forums and/or twitter about it. If your content is at all usable, people will latch onto this. It gets you referrals, new followers, and above all, a lot of goodwill over time.
  • Sign up for a blog network: The RPGBA is a fairly strong blog network that covers role-playing sites. Worldbuilding almost always fits that niche. It’s not a huge traffic source but it helps – plus there’s hope the RPGBA will become more of a networking tool. There are probably also blog networks for other topics – fiction, movies, whatever – but I haven’t looked around much.

That said – I am hardly an expert on any of this. I am probably naive, but I firmly believe that making your content the best you can is the best long term strategy, but of course it doesn’t help if people notice you.

What do you guys do to “promote” your work?

World-Builder’s Toolchest

I use the following for my worldbuilding:

Software!

  • LibreOffice – Free, cross-platform, can export PDF – what more do I want?
  • PagePlus X6 – Ah, yes. A (relatively) inexpensive software that handles layout (relatively) well
  • Inkscape – For vector drawing (mostly maps but also some diagrams)
  • FreeMap – For mind-mapping
  • The Gimp – Bitmap graphics editing (the background for my star map was made with this, for example)
  • Subversion – for creating backups; any other solution will do as long as you have one that actually works.
  • Google Earth – For reference, and for testing out my maps on a sphere!

Alternatives:

  • If you have enough money (or can get it inexpensively, say, on a student’s discount) the Adobe creative suite might be a better substitute for some of the above, but I am not wealthy enough to buy them.
  • MS Office is an adequate replacement for LibreOffice, and OpenOffice is a decent replacement.

Websites!

  • Well, anything from my link sections really – Plus Wikipedia.
  • News websites like the BBC or CNN or Google News are the best sources for plot ideas ever invented. A newspaper will do, too, if you are stuck in the mid-20th Century.
  • WordPress for blogging. Other blog providers will work too, pick what you are comfortable with, but personally I can recommend WP.
  • Cartographers’ Guild is worth its weight in gold and then some.

Physical Tools!

  • Lots of paper for sketching out ideas and taking notes – sometimes a quick diagram with a pencil is the best way to work on something, because it frees you from distractions
  • Binders into which I sort those, plus “WIP” printouts of maps and so on. Never throw anything away that you might use at a later time.
  • Cheap inkjet printer/scanner for WIP prints and for scanning stuff if I need to. Will replace this with a cheap color laser/scanner combo device as soon as I have the spare money for it.
  • Small Wacom Bamboo tablet (buy the largest tablet you can afford and can fit on your desk if you intend to do graphics or mapping at all. Trust me. You will never look back.)
  • Tons of reference books – A lot of expert knowledge is not or not easily accessible in digital form yet, and books often contain a lot of photos and other pictures as well that you won’t easily find online. Do not be afraid to check out the kids/teenagers’ section – those books are lighter on the details, but usually contain a lot of cool pictures.

Other stuff!

  • I use the “post it” notes function of my iPhone to take notes on world-building when I am on the road, then email them to myself every now and then.
  • Write down everything, every idea you have – every cool name you hear – even if it’s just individual words or one-liners. Sort them at home – I have several huge collections of ideas, name lists, and so on.
  • Make backups of everything! – My PC has 2 Harddrives that run as a Raid 1 (meaning if one dies, the other still contains all data) plus all my data is in a subversion repository that I synchronize securely to a server in a datacenter in Bavaria. If you don’t want to – or can’t – run your own infrastructure, there are plenty of cloud storage providers nowadays. Just make sure you are comfortable entrusting your documents to a third party – read their terms & conditions carefully.
  • Always respect copyright. Don’t use what you do not have explicit permission to use. This is both out of respect for the original author, but also because of copyright laws – breaking them can get you into hot water nowadays. When in doubt, ask your lawyer (and I am not kidding). When I collect stuff for inspiration (images, text, etc) I always save a plain text file with the same name as the work itself (but with a .txt extension) which notes author, source URL, and what license the work was released under. That way, when I go back to it months later, I know if I can put it on my blog or not, for example.
  • Whatever office suite you get, learn to use it. Use styles instead of manually formatting, automatic table of contents, foot- and end-notes, and so on. You will spend a lot of time in there; make your documents the cleanest to use you can. You will thank yourself later.
  • I am not a fan of fractal map generators. The maps they create look cool at first glance, but they are decidedly not natural, and this breaks suspension of disbelief quickly.

What do you guys use? Any tools or software you use that’s not on the list?

Skills

The characters in our hypothetical game system already have Abilities – characteristics such as Strength, Dexterity or Intelligence – but they also need to have experience and training: Skills.

Untrained Use: Skills that can be used untrained receive a -3 Dice modifier. That makes dice checks one category harder. That’s pretty much the gist of our task resolution system, and it fits with the -3 for absolutely abysmal ability scores.

Basic Training: In the post on skill and ability modifiers, we determined that rank 0 in a skill is equivalent to basic training without practical experience. Rank 0 avoids the untrained penalty, and allows use of skills that can not be used untrained, but does not give any bonus to the check.

Flexible Skill Coupling: Some game systems strictly associate a skill with a particular ability, such as Dexterity for Archery. Other systems make it entirely dependent on situation. I prefer the flexibility of the later, but admit that some skills should usually depend on certain abilities. In our archery example, a ranger who tries to keep track of several identical-looking targets may have to substitute his Intelligence modifier for his Dexterity modifier.

So how do our characters gain skills?

Remembering that the maximum our system can comfortably support is a +8 skill rank, we do have to limit the number of skill ranks available to a character in some fashion. An easy solution would be to use skill points and to escalate the cost of skill points for higher ranks. However, I believe there are disadvantages to this: We either have to allow characters to “save up” skill points until they can afford to buy an expensive skill rank, or we have to accept a high level of book keeping, if skill points have to be spent directly on skills, even if it does not result in an immediate skill rank increase.

Both methods also mean that a character who is waiting to improve an expensive skill will not see any character improvement in quite a while.

Instead, I had this idea to keep character improvement at a fairly steady pace, but to reduce the magnitude of improvement over time. The only way I can come up with to implement this are character levels, something I wanted to avoid. But I think it might work, especially if we do not hook other power increases (“hit points” come to mind) to levels.

Let’s whip up a table.

LevelExpSkill PointsMax Skill Rank
1042
21043
32034
43035
54026
65027
76018
87018
98018
109018

(And so on for levels beyond 10.)

So basically, the Game Master decides what level the characters start on. Each level, they receive a number of skill points that they can directly spend to increase their skill ranks. Since there’s a maximum skill rank, based on level, players can not start their characters out with unrealistically high skill ranks.

The game master then rewards the players with experience points – say, 3-5 points per game session. Every 2-4 sessions, all characters advance by one level.

There’s another benefit to this system: Newer characters can actually catch up to older characters, at least to a point..

LevelTotal Skill Points
14
28
311
414
516
618
719
820
921
1022

Older, more experienced characters will always have more skill points in total, but assume a character of level 10 and one of level 1. 18 points difference, but the maximum difference in a skill is 6 points.

By level 14 and 4, the difference will be 12 points; by level 17 and 7 it is 10 points. After that, the difference stays constant. That buys the more experienced character one additional skill at maximum level, or a total of three “+3’s”. It seems hardly game-breaking, especially if you consider that higher skill levels are subject to diminishing returns anyway.

In addition, the game master could reasonably hand out a few Rank 0 Skills to the “younger” characters. This is entirely within the scope of our definitions. Imagine if the newer character travels with an expert swordsman, the older character. Just watching him “in action” should give the young protege some basic hints about sword-fighting. It doesn’t really give the new character a big boost; spending even one skill point on a skill raises it to Rank 1 anyway, no matter whether the character had it at Rank 0 or not.

Such Rank 0 “Bonus Skills” should be awarded at the Game Master’s discretion. However, as a rough guideline, a number of Rank 0 skills equal to half the level of the level difference to the highest character may be appropriate. So if your new character starts at level 2, and the old hand has level 16, the Game Master could assign you a maximum of seven bonus skills at Rank 0. These should be in areas that other characters have high skills in, and should be awarded after you have traveled with your companions for some time (which might well be before the first session, if your Game Master allows it).

The exact numbers for skill points et al probably need to be based on how many different skills the system actually uses – and, of course, this all would have to be play tested to see if it actually works.

Abilities

We still need to work out our actual abilities and their modifiers. In the last post in this series, Skill and Ability modifiers, I worked out a system of modifiers and how it affects task resolutions. I concluded that I have a +0 ..+8 range for positive modifiers, which includes both skill and ability modifiers. My gut feeling is that this should be split roughly into +2 for abilities and +6 for skills. By the definitions of the Skill and Ability modifiers post, +2 from abilities gives a talented person an advantage of 1-2 years of training, which does not sound unreasonable if you view a person’s entire career. Of course, in an abstract simulation such as an RPG this means high ability scores “front-load” skill use – that is, you gain a large boost to many skills before you ever receive any job training – but that’s okay; especially since I firmly believe that skills that realistically require training should also require so in a game; we can compensate with an “untrained skill use” penalty.

Anyway. Abilities. Since this is a genre-less game system, we will only define a few basic abilities. Specific genres could add abilities, such as a fantasy genre adding a magic skill. Also, I am a fan of having physical and mental abilities that roughly mirror each other.

  • Strength
  • Endurance
  • Agility
  • Intelligence
  • Willpower
  • Charisma

Let’s use 2d6 as our random generator for attributes. This gives us a range of 2-12, average 7, with a bias towards the middle of the spectrum. We have a few options on how to proceed, all based on what ranges we define for what modifier. I like symmetry, so I came up with the following:

ScoreBonus%
0-1-3N/A
2-3-28,34
4-5-119,64
6-8+044,45
9-10+119,64
11-12+28,34
13-14+3N/A

Using random ability generation and this modifier system almost half of the characters will have a +0 in any given ability. Close to 20% will have either +1 or -1, and 8% will have a +2 or -2. Almost 28% in total will have a low ability modifier, another 28% a high ability modifier.

I think this should work fairly well, especially if you consider that player characters will likely improve ability scores that are vital to their “roles” – be that strength for a sword fighter, agility for an Imperial marines sniper, or intelligence for a wizard. Player characters tend to be trained professionals, who would hone their abilities and skills as best they can. John Doe, his only hobby being slouching in front of his TV every night, rarely ends up packed with muscles.

Point Buy: Not everybody likes to generate characters by random. Since the average roll would be 7 per ability, six ability scores mean 42 points on average. Let’s give our Point Buy characters those points to spread among their abilities. This actually results in slightly above-average characters, since 6 is still a +0 modifier, and such a character could buy two 9’s and four 6’s. Two other optimized sets would be:

  1. 1x 12, 5×6
  2. 2x 11, 2×6, 2×4

These all work out to an overall of +2 in ability modifiers. You can easily assign your character low scores in abilities you do not expect to use much, but this still doesn’t seem to be excessively powerful.

Larger Than Life: In a very “heroic” campaign, the Game Master may simply let players buy abilities for a higher point value (see Point Buy system), or let them roll 1d6+6 instead of 2d6. That eliminates negative ability modifiers altogether. Besides improving chances for high end abilities considerably, it also has the side effect of eliminating negative numbers from the character sheet, simplifying matters ever so slightly.

Skill and Ability Modifiers

A few months ago I began to theorize on task resolution and dice mechanics for a hypothetical game system. In those two posts, I concluded that using 3d6 seems to be a good dice mechanic, and for task resolution I decided on the following difficulties/target numbers:

DifficultyProbabilityRoll 3d6
Trivial100%3+
Easy95%6+
Routine74.07%9+
Difficult37.5%12+
Very Difficult9.26%15+
Impossible0.46%18+

However, these decisions require that the bonuses given by skills, attributes, and so on stay within certain boundaries. Or, in other words, the capabilities we grant the characters need to be balanced against those difficulties.

So what happens when we modify dice rolls? We just shift the probability of achieving a certain result around. The following table shows the percentage of success for our difficulties for a range of dice modifiers of -6 .. +6:

DifficultyTrivialEasyRoutineDifficultVery DifficultImpossible
Roll..369121518
Dice Mod.
-674,07%37,50%9,26%0,46%00
-583,80%50,00%16,20%1,85%00
-490,74%62,50%25,93%4,63%00
-395,37%74,07%37,50%9,26%0,46%0
-298,15%83,80%50,00%16,20%1,85%0
-199,54%90,74%62,50%25,93%4,63%0
0100,00%95,00%74,07%37,50%9,26%0,46%
1100,00%98,15%83,80%50,00%9,26%1,85%
2100,00%99,54%90,74%62,50%16,20%4,63%
3100,00%100,00%95,00%74,07%25,93%9,26%
4100,00%100,00%98,15%83,80%37,50%16,20%
5100,00%100,00%99,54%90,74%50,00%25,93%
6100,00%100,00%100,00%95,00%62,50%37,50%

Judging by these numbers, +4 to +5 is the range that a trained, experienced professional will have. +5 turns Routine tasks into (almost) automatic successes, and lowers the chance of failure for difficult tasks to just under 10%. If our hypothetical trained professional can take things slowly, prepare, or otherwise gain a situational bonus, Difficult checks quickly become automatic successes for him.

At the same time, our +5 professional will still fail Impossible tasks 75% of the time. They are truly challenging, and will require good preparation or a lot of experience to complete successfully.

Freshly-created characters should probably have most of their skills no higher than +1 to +2, and their core skills – their specialization – should be +3 for a few skills, maybe +4 for one skill if they are really pushing it.

Bonus
Definition
0You took the basic course or picked up some basics informally, perhaps as a hobby.
1You used the skill professionally for some time, or as a hobby for many, many years.
2You used the skill professionally for a year or two.
3
4Your professional specialization for several years, or a side skill used regularly for many years
5
6Expert in the field
7
8Top of the field

That’s not a very big budget for handing out numbers. It has to cover skills and, presumably, attributes. And we have to keep in mind that it has to allow for improvement during actual game play; if a character starts out “at the top of his field”, the players will quickly get bored with that.

It also means that attribute modifiers either need to be kept very low – if, say, an exceptional intelligence were to give +3 to all knowledge, science and similar skills it is easy to see that attributes would quickly dominate the game’s balance. That kind of bonus should be limited to exceptionally “gifted” individuals.

Perhaps there is another solution, though. For certain things, I will not argue that natural ability will give a person a head start. To continue our intelligence example: A really smart person has an easy time picking up mathematics. But math is not something you just invent for yourself (unless your are a Newton or a Leibniz, and even then you basically spend years teaching yourself). A less intelligent person who spends time studying math will outperform the smart person who has no training very quickly.

So instead of applying ability bonuses to skills, perhaps we should see the two independently from each other. A high ability score could make acquisition of associated skills easier, or it could perhaps allow for higher overall skill levels for this particular character. In the later case, though, we will have to allow a player fairly fine control over his ability scores, and the possibility to raise them in-game – doesn’t have to be easy, but it has to be possible.

However, this is getting to the point at which we have to formulate an actual character generation system and to actually play-test it to see if all this theory works out after all. And that’s for the next post in this series.

Poster-sized Star Map print

Got the A1 version of my star map. Again, as with the small test version, the photos simply don’t do it justice, but I had to post some anyway.

You can see some dice in one pic, and the small test print in two others, to compare the size. And, yes, I really need better lighting in this apartment.

But I’ve also learned two lessons more to the subject matter:

  1. I am very happy I did not edit the image – the test print seemed dark and the labels hard to read; on the A1 map both the color and the readability of the labels are absolutely perfect in my opinion.
  2. It was an excellent choice to go with matte photo paper, over the glossy stuff.

I’ll get two A3 matte versions printed in a few days (Saturday) as well. One is going to go to Lex Mosgrove, because he claimed that he wanted one.