Tag Archives: scale

[CFMS] Scale of Play

Over the last couple of days we’ve talked about how the manor system scales size and time. But there’s one more scale-related facet to explore and that is the scale of play-styles.

There are many ways to play the Chronica Feudalis Manor System. Largely this is because there are many elements that can scale in complexity based on how interested you are in the element. If the tenants of the manor are villeins who work on your demesne, then you roll each season to see how they do with their farming / fishing / sheep herding. If they are free peasants, you roll nothing and just collect flat rent payments from them every year. The choice between the two has as much to do with the play style you’re interested in as anything else. If you’re interested in mining and lumbering, you can hire laborers to do these tasks for you or you could just buy the materials outright and avoid the hassle.

And because of the way that the system scales in size and scales in time, you have some choices in this regard. Are you telling the story of a family of peasants working one virgate strip of land – because the system can do that – or are you telling the story of several wealthy barons, each with their own manors, because the system can do that too. Or maybe each player is a peasant with their own virgate or perhaps all the players collaborate on running one baron’s manor. Are you playing with the manor system as a framework for your adventures or are manors something that work in the background of your role-playing focused campaign?

So what’s the problem? Lots of choices and scalability are good things, right? Well the issue that comes up now is how do I write this? At any one decision point, I feel the need to spell out not only all the various options, but also how each previous decision impacts all those option. Choosing between villeins and free peasant tenants is a different choice depending on weather you are playing the tenants or the lord.

My decision – for the moment anyway – on this issue is to create a default play scenario and write the manuscript targeted at that play-style. The scenario will likely be the one that most engages with the rules. It’s not that this play-stye is any better than any of the other options, it’s just that it hits on nearly every eventuality. Likely we’re talking about a knight’s fief (allows you to see every facet of manor life but still gives you room to grow) with the players sharing responsibilities of running the one manor (to illustrate how responsibility sharing can work) that uses the manor system as inspiration for short, episodic adventures (so that we can explore epic time-frames of castle building and generational play). I will of course hint at and imply the various other play options – probably including a section that introduces several of them – but it seems like it would make the writing of and learning of the system too muddled if I map out each path linearly through each chapter.

[CFMS] Scale of Time

Yesterday I tackled issues that deal with the scale of size in the Chronica Feudalis Manor System. Today, let’s get into the issue of time.

How do you match the hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute urgency of adventure stories with the long time-frames needed to see results come from your manor? Ploughing and planting fields will take up a full season. Then it takes almost a year (from the autumn planting season) before those crops are ready to be harvested. Building something like a church could take a few years. Building a castle or a cathedral takes decades.

The solution here, if you really want to engage with the manor system, is to let the manor system frame your adventures (and fortunately games like Pendragon have paved the way for this option). You’ll start play using the manor system and end play using the manor system. In the meantime, you will have periodic and distinct adventures. What I mean by distinct is that no urgent plot threads are left dangling. Are you really going to let five more years go by if your spouse is still held hostage by your rival?

So, how can adventures be inspired by the manor system? Well, we talked about hardships the other day: these are temporary aspects that can be compelled whereby you turn whatever obstacle your people are facing into a problem to be solved. Also, the GM can always compel the lord’s aspects. To be a lord, you either have to be a noble (which implies some obligations that might be the impetus of a compel), be a knight loyal to a noble (which has its own compel-worthy obligations), or hold some high office in the clergy (which again is full of obligations).

But another source of inspiration is having a rival manor run by the GM. What happens when the rival needs a resource that the player manor has? Or vice versa? Are deals made? Are raids planned? Do the two factions go to war? Conflict breeds stories, and conflict on the manor level can instigate adventure after adventure.

[CFMS] Scale of Size

The manor system presents a few big design issues that seem to orbit around the concept of scale. I’ll be talking about these over the next few days. My first issue has to do with the scale of size.

How can you represent a few acres of farmland and an administrative division of a county in the same system? How can you represent a single family of people and a full town of people in the same system? How can you represent enough stone to build a modest home and enough stone to build a cathedral in the same system?

Anything that needs to be measured in the manor system is measured in step-die ranks: d4 through d12. That’s five distinct measurements to use. Five measurements does not give us much to work with if we use a linear system:

  • d4 – 10 people
  • d6 – 20 people
  • d8 – 30 people
  • d10 – 40 people
  • d12 – 50 people

So the obvious next step here is that each step should increase exponentially in what it represents. The purse in the core rules already works this way. Each step is worth two of the step below it. Two d4 purses can be combined to form a d6 purse. If we use the same 2:1 ratio for population sizes, we get the following:

  • d4 – 10 people
  • d6 – 20 people
  • d8 – 40 people
  • d10 – 80 people
  • d12 – 160 people

This is much better – we start to get the sense that each rank tells a different story. A d4 is about a (large) family. A d8 starts to be a pretty big crowd. A d12 is a good sized work force. But you would still need a lot of d12s to fill up a town. You could make each rank represent more, but then you loose the smaller end of the scale.

So my next step is to increase the ratio. This is what we get when we use a 4:1 ration of one step to the next highest:

  • d4 – 10 people
  • d6 – 40 people
  • d8 – 160 people
  • d10 – 640 people
  • d12 – 2560 people

And now we hit the sweet spot for what I want each step to represent. When they fight, d4 populations can get involved in skirmishes and d12 populations are clearly at war. The numbers just feel right.

The downside is that keeping track of this just got a lot messier. If you have three d6 populations of people it’s not quite enough to combine into a d8, but it’s still significantly more than one d6. So now a particular measurement is tracked using three dice instead of one. Now if a d4 population leaves that 3d6, you end up with 2d6 and 3d4 people. It all turns into a strange decimal system of dice. Like I said, it’s messy.

I sometimes play around with the idea of a 2:1 ratio of dice conversion but keeping the 4:1 ratio of representation. Would it be okay to combine two d6s of 40 people into one d8 of 160 people? There’s a big disconnect there, and while it could be explained away as an abstraction, it feels strange. Where do those other 80 people come from?

For now, I’m sticking with a strict 4:1 ratio. But this is something I keep coming back to trying to find a cleaner, more elegant solution to.

Check back tomorrow as I bring up scale in another dimension: the dimension of time.