Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Unity vs Division

I've been sitting on this idea for a couple years now but I've only ever had an abstract conception of it. Now I have some concrete systems to apply it to. Sorta. This will build off of my previous post as well as various things I've talked about here and there throughout the blog.

It starts with the idea of "campaign qualities." See, most people have an idea of what handful of qualities they'd like to see characterize their campaign as a whole. "I want to play a game that makes me feel like a Greek demigod." "I want to play a game with serious acting and drama and consequences." "I want to play a low-magic game that's heavy on survival." That sort of thing. Some games are built entirely around achieving one playstyle. Other games are a bit more flexible, and can be played in different ways. Most of the time, people recommend you achieve your intended feel by way of smart Level Design, so that the rules don't need to be changed from what people are used to. "You play the horror genre in an RPG by making scary scenarios!" But sometimes all it takes is a tweak here or there to the rules and systems of Game Design to have major consequences. A very popular houserule for 5E D&D is the "gritty realism" variant described in the DMG (along with some tweaks people have suggested) in order to achieve a more slow-burn, resource-management focused game than the vanilla version. And apparently it works great!

One dichotomy I think has a great deal of potency is a concept I call "Unity or Division." Each of these has a broad definition that can affect a wide range of factors in gameplay, from economics to exploration to politics and more. They can be thought of as a template that you apply to an entire country, modifying the details of many rule systems to give it a distinct identity of gameplay. 

Let's jump in.

Characteristics of a Country in Unity or Division

First, here are some characteristics of a country in Unity:
  1. There is more common law and bureaucracy.
  2. Everything is more expensive.
  3. There are higher rates of literacy.
  4. Larger maps are available.
  5. Wars are massive (battles of tens of thousands or more, cities burned to the ground) but more methodical and final (a period of peace may follow for decades).
  6. There's more communication and travel (both mostly due to better maintained roads).
  7. The various lawful alignments generally have more power.
Now, here are some characteristics of a country in Division:
  1. The law is more localized and often weird.
  2. Almost everyone belongs to a faction, tribe, or some kind of sectarian loyalty.
  3. More languages are spoken. That doesn't mean that the average person speaks more than one or two languages, but the diversity of languages overall is greater. Less cultural homogeneity in general.
  4. There are more pockets of isolation.
  5. Wars are smaller and battles are less devastating (battles of dozens or hundreds) but they’re constant.
  6. There's no common currency.
  7. The various chaotic alignments generally have more power.
Getting the picture? Lots of these qualities can directly affect gameplay. If players are going from a country in one template over to a country in the other then it'll be obvious, just from how the rules and numbers shift.
Be careful not to mistake these for being objectively better or worse than each other. I specifically avoided the terms “Golden Age'' and “Dark Age” because I think they're really misleading. They've both fallen out of favor with many historians because they imply a moral judgement over an entire era and social makeup that isn’t necessarily accurate or fair. For example, plenty of “Golden Ages'' of Unity might be quite oppressive.

Why is it that ancient Rome got to enjoy a long age of peace and prosperity for a while? Because they were invading, colonizing, and exploiting everyone on their borders. Why was the Islamic Golden Age so productive in all areas of science and culture and philosophy? Because the early Arab conquerors started the African slave trade and didn't have to do their own labor for several centuries, instead enslaving others. And a country that appears to have perfect cultural homogeny almost always actually has a lot of cultural erasure going on at the margins. And let's not forget: common law isn't necessarily just law.

Of course, looking at the characteristics of a country in Division, anyone can see that they're all perfect ingredients for xenophobic conflict. But Division often characterizes a "frontier of possibilities" area like the Old American Wild West. That's not to say that it's not unjust (let's not minimize what was done to the Natives), but that exploration, lack of authority to boss you around, and a diversity of cultures and locations to interact with is the natural stuff of adventure. Oddly enough, I think the Sword Coast of the Forgotten Realms would be in a period of Division, since it seems like it's mostly home to a handful of independent, competitive city-states and then nothing but dangerous wilderness between them. Yes, there are roads, but they are constantly under attack.

The inner galaxy in Star Wars is in a period of Unity during both the Republic era and the Empire era. The outer rim of the galaxy is in a period of Division pretty much all the time.

So the main point is this: both templates will create their own style of gameplay, but neither will be lacking for conflict and opportunity. And perhaps even more interesting is a country that's transitioning from one template to the other. Those are the cool parts of geopolitics. The Bronze Age Collapse, the rise of Classical Greece, The Fall of Rome, the rise of the Holy Roman Empire, all that stuff.

Translating Ideas Into Gameplay

So our first problem is answering this question: with this idea, does that mean there are now two types of country or three? Allow me to explain.

It seems intuitive to me that I've just described the two versions your country could be. I used the word "dichotomy" after all. But then you have to ask yourself, "looking at the rules I'm using for my own system, have I been playing in a country in Unity or a country in Division?" Like, if you're playing something like B/X D&D, do you think the prices, language rules, warfare rules, etc. are assuming a Unity default or a Division default?

So if there are three types of country, then there's a middle step in between the two templates. It would certainly be simpler to design this way, because then we can just say, for example, "Increase all default prices in the book by 10% when in a country of Unity and decrease all default prices in the book by 10% when in a country of Division" and it would be easy. The rules-as-written are the default state, and then Unity or Division is applied on top.

But on the other hand, some of these qualities seem like an either/or question. Either there is a common currency or there isn't, y'know? I think I'm instead going to move forward with two templates, with one always in effect. The only "middle ground" state is the state of war or catastrophe that typically happens whenever Unity turns into Division or vice versa.

So let's try working on these one by one. Let's take my rules for Brave and ask if they seem more like Unity or Division, and then create the complementary version.

1. Common Law and Bureaucracy:
I think this is just a question of coming up with a list of national laws that are always in effect, and having factions whose presence spans many settlements rather than just one or two. One faction could just be "Keepers of the King's Peace" who are present in every city and maybe town. I think I've mostly been treating this subject as a state of Unity rather than Division. Here's some stuff on law I've drafted before:
Common Law (during Divided Times, remove 1d6 of these from every community):
  1. No disturbing the peace
  2. No public drunkenness
  3. No trespassing
  4. No assault (using a sword instead of a club carries a higher penalty and is thought of as aggravated, with an intent to kill)
  5. No battery
  6. No kidnapping
  7. No theft
  8. No vandalism
  9. No arson
  10. No heresy
  11. No murder
  12. No rape
  13. No robbery
  14. No sedition
  15. No treason

 Optional Laws:

  1. Every man aged 7+ has to own and be trained to use a weapon
  2. Not allowed to carry a weapon in town
  3. Not allowed to wear a mask
  4. Poaching - Cannot hunt in the lord’s woods
  5. Bell for curfew is at 8 PM, no one can be out past then
  6. Sumptuary laws: forbidden from dressing above your class (and probably other forms of consumption, I dunno)
  7. No sodomy or sexual deviance
  8. No incest
  9. No openly referencing or implying the possibility of the king’s death
  10. No witchcraft
  11. No vagrancy (joblessness/homelessness)
  12. No gossiping/slandering
  13. No infidelity
  14. Stealing crops is a bigger deal than normal theft
  15. No gambling and gaming
  16. Marriage Crimes (outside your class, religion, without your lord’s permission, etc.)
  17. No working on the sabbath
  18. Big sales tax
  19. Mandatory military service for one season of the year
  20. No breaching the Underworld without a permit

Weird Laws:
  1. No physical sporting. It’s too chaotic.
  2. No intentionally provoking the Fair Folk
  3. Must defend the city when attacked
  4. Mandatory pilgrimage once every 7 winters
  5. No milking of cows in the street or city (or other animal-related work)
  6. No dying in court. It’s a breach of decorum.

These lists are a bit flawed. I'd like to come up with more weird laws, and make the list of common law be something that matches a die size (like 20). You can see I had made a note of how to apply the Division template (remove 1d6 of them), but it raises the question: which ones? Is that random too? Or should it be something like, "roll on this list 4 times to determine which common laws aren't in effect." That could result in some pretty wild results like a town where murder isn't illegal, or even arson or treason. Maybe instead there should be a core list of laws that are always common in either template, but then in a country of Unity there are a handful of items from the list of "optional laws" that are made universal, whereas in a country of Division the "optional laws" list is rolled on separately for each settlement visited. I'll have to revisit this one.

2. Prices: I think that the prices in Brave are for a state of Division, and to adjust them for Unity, they should all be increased by either 10% or maybe 50%. Let's see how that would affect some common adventuring gear (rounding up in case of fractions):

ItemsNormal Prices10% increase50% increase
Dagger, staff, sling568
Sword, mace, axe101115
Helmet or Shield404460
Chain armor120013201800
Full plate armor8000880012000
1 day of rations568
50 ft of rope101115
8 candles8912
Riding horse100011001500
Fighting hireling6 (per day)79

I'll be honest, the 10% increase looks pretty negligible to me. The 50% increase, on the other hand, looks like it would be meaningful and yet not punishing. Common adventuring stuff still seems affordable but someone coming from a Divided country will notice the difference in their wallet. The good stuff is definitely much more out of range. Actually, maybe that's a bit unrealistic. Should it be easier to get a suit of full plate armor in a country in Division than in a country in Unity?

The original rationale for why things are pricier during Unity is that there's probably more capital in the economy overall, since it's all one large economy rather than many small neighboring ones. As you grow an economy, the cost of living increases as well. Now, hypothetically, wages also increase accordingly so it should even out. Increasing prices on the item list should be pointless if average income is going to increase by the same amount. But in reality, wages never increase uniformly. As an economy grows, so too does the wealth gap of its population. And this especially becomes apparent when you move from a country in one state to the other. Yes, the average wage of this country has gone up ever since it became a grand empire, but you are not from around here. You came from a tiny isolated valley and have never seen a gold coin before. The big city will be really expensive for you.

So yeah, it does make sense that the cost of living for an adventurer in a country in Unity will be higher and that might suck. BUT... there are also more opportunities to get rich. Like, if a PC wants to one day own a stronghold and a nice suit of plate armor and a warhorse, how are they gunna find that money? Even in a country in Division where the costs are lower, they're still really high. A country in Unity has business opportunities you can get in on like investing in trade and luxury goods and mass production and whatnot. Stuff that just isn't even around during a state of Division. So yes, plate armor is cheaper in a country in Division, but it's also more rare anyway. I'm gunna stick with the +50% rule for the Unity template, I think.

3. Literacy and Language Diversity: Here are the current rules on literacy and languages in Brave as they appear in the text:
Knaves begin fluent in one native language + bonus language fluencies/literacies = to half their Intelligence (rounded up). Points are spent to either gain verbal fluency or to gain literacy, one at a time. If INT increases from leveling up, 2d4 weeks of downtime must be spent studying a language to learn it (again, either verbally or literate). 
Characters who speak related languages can communicate but still have a -2 on disposition and cannot be affected by verbal Charisma checks. Reading a related text will leave gaps or multiple interpretations. The referee should make a list of languages used in their setting and their relations.
For context, normally characters who don't share any language at all have a -4 disposition penalty, so having only a -2 is an improvement. Anyway, this is another rule based on sandbox play where choosing the languages you know will matter to how you experience the whole campaign because the campaign itself is shaped by where you choose to go, what you choose to do, and who you choose to interact with. Then, I added in the concept of being able to partially understand "related" languages to throw you a bone so you aren't screwed for only knowing 3 languages in a country that has 30.

So all PCs start out knowing how to speak one language. Assuming the average level 1 knave has an INT of 1 or 2, then your most likely starting position is to either 1) have literacy in their main language and then maybe learn to speak one more, or 2) learn to speak one or two more languages, still illiterate in all of them. I did this because I wanted illiteracy to be common but also acknowledge that multi-lingualism isn't uncommon in, y'know, places outside the US. Anyway, this is another rule that seems like it's based on a period of Division, to me.

For Unity, I would either automatically grant literacy in their starting language or I'd just grant a free +1 language point to start. I think a tweak that small can go a long way. As for the question of language diversity overall, this falls less on the rules and more on the referee's worldbuilding. A region in Unity should have 1 or maybe 2 official languages, if not a state language then at least a trade language. A region in Division should just have tons of languages. Honestly, maybe 1 major one for each city is a good start.

On the other hand, maybe the default rules I've written here are more fitting for Unity, and instead I should be proposing changes for how to make it Divided. One way would be to take each major language (in medieval Europe this is Greek, Latin, French, and German, in the Middle East it's Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Aramaic) and give them all 2+ regional dialects. They're always treated as related to one another, so while everyone who speaks a dialect of German can understand each other, even a Low German speaker isn't guaranteed to be able to argue coherently with a Bavarian speaker. That's pretty harsh because it would take away your ability to even attempt CHA checks on lots of folks in your own home country, but maybe that's fitting?

4. Larger maps or more pockets of isolation:
 So I already tried to account for map size prices. A map of a 24-mile area in detail costs 100 cp, which means it's only available in towns and cities. With a 50% price increase, that should go up to 150 cp during Unity, of course. Maybe that one should be exempt, honestly. But any maps covering an area larger than 24 miles are always undetailed and cost = (length in miles + width in miles) × 2 cp. Thus, a map that shows a 100 mi × 100 mi area (enough to fit about 16 of those hexes) should cost 400 cp, which is also in the price range for only towns and cities.

If you wanted a map of central Europe, with Britain and Denmark at the top, Gibraltar and Sicily at the bottom, Portugal on the left and Constantinople on the right, then that would be a rectangle 1,500 mi tall and 2,000 mi wide. With this rule, that should cost 7,000 cp, which is only in the price range for cities. I mean, that's a lot for a knave. But it's still less than a suit of plate armor.

I'd like to explain my price rationales a bit. While I often want my prices to be realistic, I also think of them in terms of "player accessibility." If an item must be bought then players must save up for it, and thus, the price of the item determines how much adventuring the player must do to save up enough. So purely in terms of "game balance," I thought that 100 cp was a decent amount to ask for a 24-mile area when compared to other adventuring assets they could buy for themselves at a similar price.

You also might be wondering why the price scales arithmetically rather than exponentially. After all, that equation says that a 24 mi square should cost 96 cp, and thus a square map with 16 of them should cost 1,536 cp. Why can you get it for only 400 cp? Because I'm assuming that details decline exponentially. That 100 mi × 100 mi area map shows you practically nothing. It'll mark cities and maybe towns, but pretty much nothing else. And any map with 1000 mi in either dimension may only have enough detail to show country names.

And yet, there are limits that even "the map is undetailed tho" cannot account for. You definitely could not buy a full map of Europe in just any city in the medieval period. Even during "golden ages," and even with the map being undetailed, they're still pretty rare. Travelers relied on itineries a lot more than maps, back in the day.

These are definitely Unity assumptions. There were periods, such as during the Roman Empire, when cartography was more accessible. Ptolemy's Geography was a popular book for a long time (relatively speaking, in as much as any single book could enjoy "popularity" before the printing press). But a period in Division should have way higher prices for these things. Maybe even only a few copies in existence for some of the larger ones. And to be honest, even just basing prices on that idea of "balance" and "pacing" I was explaining, a map of all of Europe costing less than the price of a suit of plate armor... may have been a miscaculation.

Maybe the answer is that I just need to beef up those prices, regardless of Unity or Division. Maybe a detailed map of a 24-mile hex should cost 1,000 cp instead of 100 cp (comparable to a horse, or chain armor) and the larger, undetailed map cost should be = (length in miles + width in miles) × 20 cp. At 10 times the price, now a 100 mi × 100 mi area map would cost 4,000 cp (the price of half-plate armor or two imported camels) and a map of Europe would cost 70,000 cp (the price to construct a temple, or about 20,000 more than an imported elephant). And if we take the rule that, "anything that costs 1,000 cp or more can only be bought in cities" a little further, we might also say that "anything that costs 10,000 cp or more can only be bought in megacities," like Paris, Constantinople, or Baghdad. That would definitely make continent maps and world maps be much, much rarer.

One of the upsetting takeaways from this is that I may need to keep my players from seeing that fun map I made in the last post because it would be metagaming. And that's a shame because I really like that map and I want them to think in geopolitical terms. Like, when you watch Game of Thrones or read the books or whatever, don't you also have a copy of the map of Westeros open on the side to look at every now and then to keep track?

Maybe the answer is to set them up around a hub area that conveniently has access to a remarkably detailed map of the kingdom, at least to get them started. I did put a megacity into the center of Andolia, after all.

I'm generally preferring the Unity version of things for gameplay purposes, but related to maps is the question of isolation, one of the hallmarks of Division. This has lots of affects on things, of course. We've already mentioned language and we'll talk about roads. But cultural isolation tends to make exploration more interesting because everywhere you go is different. Every village has their own god, you know?

Like, shipping trade during medieval Europe took a while to get off the ground. Eventually England started trading with Flanders and some Italian merchants and stuff. But it was still weird and exotic for a while. In Le Morte de Arthur, whenever a ship shows up it means something spiritual is about to go down. This might sound weird to us, but it makes sense if you don't get many ships from overseas. That person on the boat could be a wizard or the Devil or something. How would you know?

Another interesting quality of isolated communities is that they tend to be more self-sufficient, largely because they have to be. They probably don't engage in much, if any, trade with their neighbors. Everything they need to survive is right there at home. Of course, trade is always more economically efficient than self-sufficiency (mathematically provable because of comparative advantage), but it does present a vulnerability. Goblins attacking merchants on the trade road is more disruptive during a period of Unity, but it's so routine during Division that it prevents any regular trade from being established at all.

And because of isolation, you can also have more adventures about exploration and discovery. The Kingmaker adventure path from Pathfinder 1E is a modern classic, and Ben Robbins's West Marches campaign is now iconic to the genre. The Forbidden Lands RPG is another popular example of living out the fantasy of adventurers exploring the lost secrets and weird, hidden magic of a region in Division. In a way, a campaign that doesn't have large maps available could be even better because it creates an opportunity for the PCs to be the ones who make those maps. I also think it could, arguably, be one of the best approaches to making the fabled "pirate campaign" work so well. Not just piracy, but exploration of new and strange islands à la Odysseus or Sinbad the Sailor is the kind of adventuring hook that I think can drive a seafaring campaign for dozens of sessions.

Just, you know, be careful not to accidentally do a colonialism along the way. Maybe get ahead of the problem and make the main villains be a bunch of violent conquistadors so that the players can align themselves against the most harmful of possible outcomes that can come from "sailing adventures."

5. Warfare and Stuff: Fuck alright ummm so I actually don't have any kind of mechanical framework for this yet. I mean, I have an idea where I'll be going with it but not to the extent of these other things. Like, to answer the Unity vs Division question here, i.e. being able to change the scale of warfare and the factors which determine how long-term it is... well, that would be hard even if we did have some warfare rules we'd settled on. Like, when I studied Conflict Analysis we learned about a theory popularized by scholar Paul Collier called “the conflict trap,” which asserts that the conditions which create conflict are often themselves created or reinforced by conflict, leading to a vicious cycle where one violent outbreak will only feed into the next one, and the next one, and so on. The most popular example familiar to common folks is that WWII is usually considered to have been "caused" by the outcome of WWI. The ways in which resources are affected, populations are changed, grievances are deepened or neglected, economics are reconfigured, vulnerabilities are created, new group identities become psychologically cemented, etc. are all things caused by war and which can themselves cause the next war.

That sounds like kind of a high-minded, complicated theory that spans factors across all of society, right? Like, Game-ifying that sounds fucking hard.

Hopefully it could be enough to satisfy these warfare-related traits of Unity vs Division merely by defining the limits of technology and numbers. For example, we know that one of the reasons that castle-based warfare became a thing in the early Medieval period is because there just weren't enough people to fight massive wars anymore. The Romans could afford to send tens of thousands of conscripted soldiers to fight the enemy in an open field, but a migration-period warlord could not. Just as a natural consequence of the resources they had to work with, they came up with a new model of fighting wars. Thus, could we see similar strategies emerge just by limiting or expanding the number of troops that could be summoned by whatever rules we make for raising an army? Oftentimes, strategy follows means, so if we just set the means accordingly then the strategy should follow.

Currently, my idea about what I might make my "warfare rules" like would be modeled after the game Diplomacy, likely borrowing from some of its variants like Machiavelli. I think it's simple and accessible for people who aren't into war-gaming and keeps the focus more on roleplay-type stuff instead of nitty gritty logistics and military technology and whatnot. And if that's the case, then maybe our ideas about Unity and Division can be sufficiently represented merely by changing the scale of the Diplomacy game.

For example, in classic Diplomacy, every turn represents 6 months and every province is about the size of a standard European country (like Belgium or Serbia), while the bigger countries (like France or Germany) get split into 5 or 6 provinces. So we're talking about warfare on a scale where you can conquer a whole country or two in about half a year to a year. Sounds like Unity to me. But for a region in Division, maybe you'll want turns that are more like a week or two (maybe a month?) and provinces the size of a single county in England. Zoom in a bit and play out the war week-by-week, taking one town or city at a time. Maybe another way to represent Unity vs Division is the number of factions even involved. Unity should have one of those nice, board-gamey, manageable numbers (about 3-7) and Division should have, like, a dozen or two.

I'll revisit this topic one day. In the meantime, those of y'all who are more wargame-inclined can begin hashing it out.

6. Communication and Travel and Alignment: This is where my last article becomes especially relevant. If you read it, you should remember that I was trying to design the hex map of my Overworld by 3 degrees of general safety: settled, tamed, and wild. And I also had the thought that the roads connecting one settlement to another could have the added benefit of increasing the safety of any hexes they pass through by one degree. These images might be familiar:

Gradations of control radiating outward from the settlement

Proposed effects of a road running from one town to another

Two versions of the same example map. The one on the left doesn't have the proposed road effect. The one on the right does. You can see that the version on the right has substantially more "settled" hexes, whereas the one of the left definitely has more "tamed" hexes than anything else.

Honestly, just this one change alone could, I think, be the difference between Unity and Division. All you have to do to convert a regional map from a state of Division into a state of Unity is to just upgrade all the road hexes in this way and BAM—instant shift towards more "Lawful-oriented" random encounters during travel gameplay. Much easier to send messages between settlements or initiate trade routes without the concern of bandits attacking them.

It also means there'll be lots more tolls and road stops and random chivalric knights standing on bridges challenging you to a fight for weird, honor-related bullshit.

On the downside, the "Division version" of the map without the road effects, which is allegedy better for a "Points of Light" campaign, doesn't increase the amount of CHAOS in the world very much. It's almost a difference between "settled" hexes and "tamed" hexes in either version, and remember that in the previous article I asserted that Chaos has a strong presence in Wild hexes. So if we went with this rule, we'd really be saying that Unity belongs to Law while Division belongs to Neutrality.

A different approach, especially to reinforce the Law vs Chaos contrast a bit more, would be to change our original assumptions about which encounters you find in which hex types. The previous rule was:
  1. Law has a presence in Settled and Tamed
  2. Neutrality has a presence in Tamed and Wild
  3. Chaos has a presence in Wild and the Underworld
What if, instead, it became:
  1. Law has a presence in Settled
  2. Neutrality has a presence in Settled and Tamed
  3. Chaos has a presence in Tamed and Wild
The only reason why I figured in the Underworld at all to begin with is because it's an important part of my own campaign setting. But if I'm building a ruleset compatible with most people's worlds, then we can sideline it.

So this would definitely make Chaos a lot more powerful on the Overworld. Law would only really have firm control in settlements themselves, and in the case of cities, in their most immediate surrounding hexes. But then, if during times of Unity, roads are able to boost the level of all hexes they cross, then Law would massively increase in presence at the direct expense of Chaos's presence, by replacing Tamed hexes with Settled ones. And Neutrality would be largely unaffected by this, since they have a presence in both Settled and Tamed hexes.

Actually, as long as we're throwing out assumptions of my own person setting, then try this one instead:
  1. Settled hexes have a Lawful presence
  2. Tamed hexes have a mixture of Law and Chaos
  3. Wild hexes have a Chaotic presence
And fuck Neutrality as a faction, because most people don't treat it as one anyway. That's just a weird thing I like to do. So now we can stop overthinking this. Start with this as your baseline system for determining random encounters during hexcrawls and then apply the "roads upgrade the hex" rule when you are using the Unity template on a country.

7. Number of factions, tribes, loyalties, etc.:
 So it's supposed to be that in Division, there's a lot more sectarianism in general. I think that a lot of this can be automatically accounted for just by increasing the diversity of languages in Division, which affects NPCs' reaction rolls and, thus, creates a but more xenophobia from settlement to settlement.

As for the number of factions in play, I guess the main difference is that, in Unity there'll be a handful of factions with power reaching across the whole country, whereas in Division there'll be a handful of factions at each local region and settlement. I already have been operating on a mix of these two, where I make sure that each settlement has a handful of its own local factions but then one or two factions with national-level representation. For example, the city of Visbelot that I created for my post on urban gameplay had plenty of local gangs, mercenary groups, political parties, guilds, and so on. But it also had much bigger factions like the Keepers of the Queen's Peace (those who maintain the Crown law, functionally the "feds," if you will), the bishop of this diocese of the Church, one of the largest merchant companies in the world, and so on.

Even just having the 5 noble families controlling each Duchy can be treated as a national-level arena of factions, much like the competing loyalties of the Houses of Westeros in Game of Thrones. You wouldn't see that kind of thing during Division. But when you're in a state of Unity and travel is fairly common and easy, the most important variable when you meet a stranger is to find out, "which of the 5 major houses are they loyal to?" But if I had made Andolia in a state of Division, those 5 duchies would more likely have each been a kingdom to themselves.

Once again, this sounds like more an issue of worldbuilding and Level Design than an issue of Game Design. But it can be incorporated into Game Design if you rely on a system that procedurally fills the sandbox with content, rather than making it all up yourself. For example, you could use a generator to populate each 24-mile hex when the players arrive there, rolling several times on a table like this one:
  1. Castle
  2. Dungeon (I have an enormous collection of one-page dungeons, Trilemma Adventures dungeons, favorites from different modules over the years, etc.)
  3. Abundant natural resource
  4. Major monster lair
  5. Faction headquarters/stronghold
  6. High-level class trainer
  7. Sage (roll on another table to determine their field of expertise)
  8. Battlefield
  9. Major temple (e.g. cathedrals for Law, Stonehenge for Neutrality, etc.)
  10. Underworld entrance
If each hex has 1d4 of the above items, then you should get a good diversity of adventurous content populating the sandbox. Some of them are adventure hooks in and of themselves (dungeons, monsters, Underworld entrances, etc.) while others are tools that can be leveraged (sages, natural resources, class trainers, etc.). And of course, there should be a good amount of factions spread across the world with a tool like this.

Thus, the Unity template would dictate that each time you generate a faction stronghold, you assign it to one of the national-level bigtime factions (or maybe roll on a table of them), so it's always a manifestation of something huge like the Church or the House of Habsburg/Medici or the Knights Templar or the Iron Bank or something. But using the Division template would instead dicate that every stronghold you generate is for a unique, small faction instead. Maybe if you roll multiple strongholds in one hex then they can belong to the same faction, indicating a stronger-than-average organization.

8. Number of Currencies:
Shit, that one's easy. Unity = there is one common currency. Division = there's a different currency for each sub-region. Simple enough, right?

I've already advocated for the strengths of having two separate currencies in your world instead of just one, but again, this is based on the assumed dichotomy of Overworld vs Underworld that characterizes my setting. The cool effect of two currencies is that the PCs have two different financial standings to maintain, and are forced to go to one market for some things and the other market for others. However, this sort of thing has diminishing returns. Having to maintain a separate "bank account" in three or four or five different markets and manage your finances in all of them sounds pretty rough for an "adventure game." I like adding a little bit of granularity sometimes when I think it can create a small but interesting new choice. But it's really easy to go overboard.

Of course, there shouldn't be anything difficult about playing in a sandbox campaign with 7 or 8 or 9 different currencies if the PCs can just go to a currency exchange every time they enter a new country/region. But if it's super easy then the distinction between different currencies is functionally meaningless, and we'd return to the streamlined, "a gold coin is a gold coin" rule instead. So we'd be right back where we started with (functionally) just one currency! How do you make having a bunch of currencies matter without being too burdensome?

Look, currency economics are some of the most arcane, confusing shit in the entire field. It's easy to get bogged down in exchange rates math, which is pretty much the exact opposite of interesting gameplay fodder. Luckily, the modern global foreign exchange market isn't something we have to worry about in a pre-WWII-type setting. In premodern times, if all the cultures we're dealing with are using commodity money (such as copper, silver, or gold coins) and they're all using the same commodities as each other, then exchange rates aren't really a huge problem*. Instead, we might deal with the more interesting and easily-understood role of money changers.

The money changer was a pretty important profession for a long time. You might have Italian gold coins but you're in a Spanish market, and even though the Spanish also deal in gold coins they won't accept yours because it has the wrong king's face on it. Enter the money changer! Let's steal a short description from Wikipedia that says a lot:
During the Middle Ages in Europe, many cities and towns issued their own coins, often carrying the face of a ruler, such as the regional baron or bishop. When outsiders, especially traveling merchants, visited towns for a market fair, it became necessary to exchange foreign coins to local ones at local money changers. Money changers would assess a foreign coin for its type, wear and tear, and validity, then accept it as deposit, recording its value in local currency. The merchant could then withdraw the money in local currency to conduct trade or, more likely, keep it deposited: the money changer would act as a clearing facility.

As the size and operations of money changers grew they began to provide a lending facility, by adding the lending-fee to the foreign exchange rates. Later the Knights Templar provided this service to pilgrims traveling to and from the Holy Land.
And of course, there were times where there were more widespread currencies, like when Charlemagne began issuing the "silver penny" as the coinage of his entire empire. It stayed the main currency of Western Europe for about 400 years.

So we could make a rule that every time the PCs enter a settlement within a new currency region, they can't buy anything at market until they either sell some stuff (to gain a little bit of local currency to work with) or they pay a money changer's fee to convert the coinage already in their possession to the local currency. You always lose a little bit on every exchange since the money changer has to make some scratch of their own, thus making traveling even more expensive. Maybe let's say that money changer's always take 10% of all money you're seeking to get converted. But the point is that the market value of your money stays the same from settlement to settlement and kingdom to kingdom. No exchange rates, just pay a fee to change the face on the coin. A helmet still costs 40 cp no matter where you are, it's just gotta be the right kind of cp. That's a pretty usable rule for D&D purposes.

Of course, we once again run into the counter-intuitive nature of Unity vs Division. It sounds as though a Divided region with many currencies would need to rely on lots of money changers for commerce to happen. Except that the presence of money changers as a profitable and common enterprise implies that a lot of trade must be going on, which sounds more characteristic of Unity. But during Unity, if there's only one currency in circulation then there wouldn't be a money-changing industry! What gives?

It's really all about scale. Let me put it this way: there are going to be money changers no matter what. But the real difference between Division and Unity is whether those money changers are helping you convert Italian to Spanish to English coins, or if they're helping you convert European coins to Middle Eastern coins. Yes, the region in Unity may have only one unified currency in circulation, and thus, travel within that country is convenient and simple. But due to the other characteristics of Unity, such as road infrastructure, great maps, bureaucracy, and all that crap, they'll likely be trading with and traveling between other surrounding regions, which each have their own currencies. After all, if the home front is so stable and secure that the king can issue a single currency to everyone in his own kingdom, then it must be time to branch out into larger markets.

Thus, the map should be divided into "currency zones," with the number of zones being greater in Division and lesser in Unity. In our example of Andolia, there would be one currency for that whole kingdom during Unity, but 5 currencies (one for each duchy) during Division. 


I presented an abstract concept, I tried applying it to a tangible example (my own RPG), and I worked through the ways in which we might create that concept through the rules and systems themselves, point by point. Most of my thinking should be pretty easily applied to similar games like B/X D&D or something.

It's still pretty messy overall, but I think it's a very potent idea for anyone interested in large-scale sandbox campaigns like me. Rather than sculpting every detail of your world piece-by-piece, one NPC, location, item, or encounter at a time, there are many benefits to instead creating your world through rules and systems. If the world follows consistent rules, such as patterns of what kinds of encounters happen where or how culture changes from one place to the next, then it can help both the GM to run their world smoothly and the PCs to navigate it intelligently.

I don't think of most of the things I covered in this article as being central to the "main substance" of what the game is all about. I still think the heart and soul comes down to doing quests, running through dungeons, slaying monsters, gaining powers, and all that stuff. But the larger scale, campaign-level aspects of play can go a long way towards shaping the general experience of things. That's why it can be worth your time to tweak stuff like item prices, language diversity, local laws, and so on.

Of course, as we saw with my own RPG, it doesn't exactly fit either Unity or Division as it currently exists. Should I retrofit it into one of those two, and then create the complementary version of the rules so I have both? Maybe. I'm sure many people are interested only in playing in one of these templates, not a mixture. They know that their campaign is a grand empire firmly set in a time of Unity and that's that. But hopefully it was still helpful to their understanding of their own grand empire to see what it isn't.

Of course, I'm a lot more interested in having a world with both Unified regions and Divided regions, and putting my players into situations where they'll have to go from one to the other now and then. Hence why knowing the rules for both is valuable. I want fantasy England, fantasy France+Southern Europe, fantasy Eastern Europe, and fantasy Middle East all in my setting side-by-side, but I also want to be able to tweak each of them separately when, for example, fantasy England expands into fantasy Angevin Empire (Unity!), or when the fantasy Middle East's Caliphate collapses into multiple competing kingdoms like the fantasy Fatimids, the fantasy Abbasids, and the fantasy Seljuks (Division!).

And if you're making or adapting your own RPG, maybe you can decide early on whether you'll be using Unity or Division as the default state, and then later create the template necessary to adapt your rules into the opposite state. It could be an interesting exercise to take whatever game you're currently running and go through this list point-by-point, asking yourself whether it seems more Unity or Division-based, and what it would take to flip it to the other.


*Exchange rates between coinages of different metals within the same currency system, however, was a very real problem. The availability and value of copper, silver, and gold within one country like England would fluctuate and cause the value of each one in relation to each other to fluctuate accordingly. However, it never fluctuated so much that copper ever became more valuable per coin than silver, or silver more valuable per coin than gold. It's just that you might see 1 gold = 15 silver one year and then 1 gold = 22 silver the next, or something.

But I hate that anyway and refuse to incorporate that in my game. 10 copper = 1 silver and 10 silver = 1 gold and that's final. Monetary economics be damned.

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