Thursday, August 25, 2011

Why Wait 'til Name Level to Build a Skateboard, or a Stronghold for that Matter?

From your itinerant Spawn of Endra, now living in PA.

So I'm now living in the mighty state of Pennsylvania, where a singular legacy of democracy and freedom somehow sits comfortably with Kafka-esque liquor laws. I may eventually tell of a few of the highlights of the journey from Oregon, but my sense of humor about that last 4 weeks no longer exists. Don't move, folks. It sucks.

Last night I pulled out my Lab Lord stuff and was trying to figure out what sort of a stronghold, or even just a house that my PC Innominus, the Level 6 Cleric of Endra, could build with the ~6300 gp of loot so far accumulated. I looked over the table of construction costs on p. 127:
I figured, well, maybe I can just get a 100' of castle wall 20' high, and then I can put a moat around that, and just pitch a tent in the middle for the time being. I started sketching this on a new pad of A5 0.5cm graph paper (Wuh-whoa! I'm suddenly making an LotFP supplement!) and quickly remembered from 9th grade Trig that a circle encloses the largest area of a given circumference. Then I saw how a castle wall is 10 feet thick! Great! I sketched out something that looked like a donut:

That was mildly amusing, considering there are no gateways or doors ... and I hadn't even put the moat on there ... but then a morbid feeling began to grow and I thought "This is such a stupid thing to do, you should save up your money and do it all at once. What good does a castle wall with no doors do you? You can't do anything with that." Huh, that sounds familiar. And unbidden: a scene from 1984-85 came to me, when I was dead set on buying a single wheel for my skate board, despite the attempts of several people to dissuade me. Compare:

Ring any bells? Useless cylindrical thing? No function on its own? Tower with no door? Right. These are not the exact Bones wheel I was trying to buy, I think it was the Bones III, even bigger and fatter things. The wheel was for my Kamikaze skate board. "Oh!", says my generous reader -- who thinks far too highly of me and over-estimates how rich/cool I must have been in early 80s Fresno -- "you had a Sims Kamikaze! That is so old school, gnar-gnar, etc.!"
Ah ... no. It was the cheap-o Action Sports Kamikaze that my mom bought at Gemco for me:
BUT! It was not the NASH 1970s banana board that they still sold at Gemco and was owned by this kid we knew to be white trash from Parlier or Turlock or Coalinga. As long as there was someone else to shit on, then one could maintain his or her dignity. I know I did my part to maintain the dignity of some neighborhood shitbuckets. But I also severely sabotaged their BMX bikes, and paid them back in other ways. Such was life in Fresno.

Anyway, one time I had $8, and my friend Reggie had held up his end of some deal with his parents and so was going to get a new board or something ... maybe just the deck. So I went along to probably Wavelengths, not the one in the mall, the other one off Blackstone (at Griffith? Maybe Telecanter remembers the fair city then?) and was determined to buy some non-cheap stuff for my board that would give me status and cred (for a 10-11 year old). In the event, $8, even then, would not go far in a shop like that. After the obligatory T&C yin-yang stickers, the sex-wax pucks that smelled like coconut oil and served no purpose to anyone in Fresno (but were reputed by my friends to be an aphrodisiac if you ate it ... both for males and females ... for males, at least, I know it doesn't work folks) there's not much to buy.

But I gradually narrowed it down to some Bones III wheels. I think they were at $6 each. I had $8. The guy asked me what I wanted. I said one wheel.

He said: "Why do you want one? If you buy four you can get them for $5 each."

SoE: "No, I just want one. I've only got $8 dollars. I'll buy the rest later."

Reggie's mom weighs in. "But you can't do anything with one wheel. Just save your money."

SoE: "No, I can put it on and use it."

Store guy: "But you'll wear it down before you get the other three, then you'll need to buy four anyway."

SoE: "No, I just want that one."

Store guy: "Okay. Here it is." Plops it on the counter.

SoE: "Wait this is different. How does it go on my trucks?"

Store guy: "You need bearings to put in 'em. That's a dollar each and you need two."

(These were, I should add, genuine Powell/Peralta bearings, and as much as the price burned me, I was glad to get the good stuff.)

SoE: "Okay"

The total price was then $8. Fine. I had my wheel with bearings. It was a hard won victory but a victory nonetheless.

Store guy: "That's $8.48."

SoE: "What?!?"

Well, yes, that was the era where I didn't figure taxes (6%) into things. Crap.

I managed to borrow 50 cents from Reggie or his mom, and dealt with the disapproval and being berated not only by her, but by my MOM when she got home from work. I had to explain why I had wasted HER money. She always thought my money was her money back then ... crazy.

SoE: [To his mom]: "Yeah, maybe I'm 10 and I don't have a job, but you GAVE me the money and so it's MY money now."   [Living with this crazy Mutternweltanschauung (as it were) is probably why I stole my first d30 and several Go-Bots that same summer rather than paying for them.]   "Fine, mom, I'm not spending YOUR money, I'm just shoplifting! So these aren't YOUR Go-Bots now and you can't take them away from me!"

My latent mutant power was Jesuit-like argumentation, it turned out. But it was stupid. I bought the Bones III wheel, but I never used it. I remember the receipt sitting there for quite a long time, but I never returned the wheel.

Back to D&D
Anyway, what does this do for me now? I'm not going to build Innominus a stupid fortress like this, because neither Innominus nor I are that stupid nowadays. But I like the idea of building a dwelling and connected dungeon piece-meal, as the builder could afford to do it, say at 3000-15000gp at a time, and see what comes of it. The builder may not be mad, but is single minded, obsessed. Maybe the Winchester Mystery House is a useful model. The builder (s/he) is also not name level, and has to devote a great deal of time to getting loot to support the project. Because s/he is away so much, the construction supervision is often lax in the early stages. At any rate, any available money is put into construction. If there's only 450 gp for the month, all that is built is one 10x10x10' passage of the dungeon.

That's the longer term project. I'll sort out the details in ensuing posts.


  1. That's not crazy at all, historically speaking. In fact, it would have been quite inconceivable for a medieval lord or bishopric to save money over the long term to pay for building a large castle or cathedral; the economical thinking of the time wasn't nearly there, and as the building itself would take years upon years anyway, it didn't make any sense to wait on starting the project until you'd gathered sufficient money to pay for all of it. Of course, this is part of the reason for why some of these building projects took several decades, as leaner times forced the builder to downsize the project temporarily.

    If anything, your piecemeal stronghold is more realistic than the name level character who plunks down however many hundreds of thousands of gold coins to buy his castle from a contractor.

  2. A hilarious and tragic tale. :) Unfortunately I can't help on the local history because I immigrated in my 20s. And I was apparently much dorkier than you, never had a skateboard. I did steal some books at the elementary school book fair, though. Long live the nerdy criminals!

  3. Isabout is right - castles, palaces, even monasteries grew in stages, starting with a central keep and then adding and expanding as funds would allow.
    I'm not so sure about the economical thinking not being there - it was more a sense of urgency. Having a central keep built without a wall now is better than having a fully concentric castle in 20 years time if there are enemy raiders coming at you this afternoon.

  4. @Isabout and John L: Yeah, I think you're both right about starting with what you can afford and accreting structures as you go. As an archaeologist this should be obvious to me since I've seen it so many times myself and teach students how to interpret construction sequences. I guess it's one of those gaming blindspots. This reminds me of the original Presidio in San Francisco, that the Spanish struggled to build 4 walls around for something like 40 years and never could get it together. Maybe I'll post on that as well.

    @Telecanter: Nerd criminality is best kind of criminality! You're stealing something you really love!

  5. " pucks that smelled like coconut oil and served no purpose to anyone in Fresno..."

    Love it. I think I'm going to gnaw on a stick of wax and see what happens to me.

  6. Your constipation is your own problem, Christian.

  7. I keep messing about with stronghold ideas. I've never liked the idea of waiting until 9th level to build an impressive fortified structure. I'm partial to the idea of adventurers renting a barn from a farmer, rooms above a shop, or even buying a half share in a tavern. They may get to stage where they can build something big but along with it goes the headache of getting the labour, land and permission to build and probably being heavily taxed.

    Many of the castles I've visited in England this year were built bit-by-bit and often across several centuries. Others were never finished - my local castle at Kirby Muxloe was started by Lord Hastings but he never finished it. He did manage to build an impressive gatehouse and tower with a moat around the whole section. Something like that would be just fine as a base for a party of adventurers that they could add to over time.

  8. Historical note: many strongholds were built without doors because they were constantly defended by a tribe. The tribe let down a ladder from a high place when allies needed entrance - the tribe pulled up the ladder when enemies were near.

    So a tower with no door is historically accurate.

    Also some Norman keeps started out as square towers without doors, then built doors on the second story.

  9. I would add that a walled fortress with no door is ideal for somebody who has the ability to levitate , fly, or teleport.