30 November 2012

Let It Be Cubits

In my fantasy role-playing, I have an aversion to anachronistic units of measurement and the out-of-character dialogue they encourage. Although I have nothing against the metric system, I find it unacceptable in the context of pre-Enlightenment settings. Alchemists did not measure their concoctions in milliliters and moneylenders did not weigh precious metals in kilograms. I find it hard to immerse myself in a medieval setting in which Robin Hood takes aim at a target 50 meters away and it's x kilometers to the nearest river.

I could always resort to the units of measurement still popular in the States (and used in Dungeons & Dragons and its ilk), many of which are appropriate to a medieval setting (e.g. ounces, pounds, feet, yards, miles, etc.), but this renders the rules a little less accessible to gamers more accustomed to the metric system. What to do?

The solution is to use a system that is equally unfamiliar to everyone. Allow me to reintroduce the cubit. Based on the average length from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger, the cubit has varied over time and from nation to nation (the ancient Egyptian royal cubit was between 20.6 and 20.8 inches, the Aztec cubit was 20.7 inches, the ancient Chinese cubit was 20.9 inches, the ancient Greek cubit was 18.2 inches, etc.), but it has commonly been rendered as 18 inches (or 46 cm), especially in the Old Testament, and this is the cubit we shall be using.

The 18 inch cubit is perfect for fantasy gaming use. It does not evoke mood-breaking modernity, yet it is easy for gamers to translate into units they understand. For the U.S. gamer, a cubit equals one and a half feet or half a yard. For most other gamers in the world, a cubit equals approximately 0.5 meters. If the rules were to use cubits, it would make them truly universal. International gamers would not need to be annoyed by movement rates of 120' and U.S. gamers would no longer need to argue about whether 12" was 120 feet or 120 yards and why it was being expressed in inches. (Yes, I know the answer to that, but I'm trying to make a point rhetorically.) For the sake of simplicity and sanity, let it be cubits.

1 cubit = 16 inches = 0.5 yards = approximately 0.5 meters

Do you need a unit of measure smaller than a cubit? The Old Testament cubit also provides the answer, being divided into 6 palms of 4 fingers each for a total of 24 digits.

1 cubit = 6 palms * 4 fingers = 24 digits

So, a palm equals 3 inches and a finger equals 0.75 inches. At any rate, when in doubt, one can always just use one's forearm, palm, or fingers to estimate!

27 November 2012

Displacer Cake Insinuation

Not to alarm anyone, but I have made a minor change to the wand of wonderment (q.v.) [and the wand of surprise (q.v.)]. Previously, effect #53 read "The target becomes invisible for one day." This would not be an issue were it not for the fact that there are already two effects involving invisibility for varying periods of time, and the purpose of the random table is to maximize unpredictability (at least in the case of this magic item). Therefore, I have replaced that line with the following:

53. A displacer cake materializes before the target.

To those unfamiliar with displacer cakes, they are merely cakes (of any type) that always appear to be 1-3 cubits (or more) away from their actual position. Perhaps this is due to their "molecular vibrations," an uncanny optical illusion, or a special type of pixie dust. No one knows for certain. All that is known is that they appear to be as delicious as they are elusive.

15 November 2012

Mid-NaNoWriMo Report

It is halfway through National Novel Writing Month and I am still in the game, although I confess I have fallen behind. [Excuses deleted.] At any rate, I am lagging, but I haven't surrendered. If I fail to meet the 50,000 word goal by the 30th, I will continue writing until I finish my novel and I will set a secondary, personal deadline of December the 31st.

The setting for my novel is evolving incrementally in the same manner as some of my past campaign worlds. One starts with the immediate vicinity, then one expands the details of the world as the player characters travel to new places and meet people from other lands. This, of course, is the opposite of another method of worldbuilding, which is to map and populate the world first, usually including topography, boundaries, roads, cities, nations, cultures, resources, etc. before the first adventure is even written. I have tried that method in the past, but I have found that it is often more of a hindrance than a help to my creativity. The very first sessions of proto-Dungeons & Dragons began as adventures within a single location (Castle Blackmoor), gradually expanding to encompass larger regions as those details were needed. It is a strategy that has worked well for me in gaming, and it seems to be working well for my novel, which is fortuitous as I intend this novel to serve the dual purpose of being the basis for my next campaign world.