Friday, September 21, 2018

The Ergonomic 3 Mile Hex

So if my blog numbers are correct, everybody loves the six mile hex. It has the top number of posts with the most comments. All in all the 6 mile hex is handy for marking continuous Cartesian travel. However, while the 6 mile hex is computationally handy and conforms to base horizon calculations, my third point in that post is total bunk: the sub-hexes are far to numerous to streamline things and actually undermine the core feature of the 6 mile hex which is easy distance measurement. When you add the sub-hexes, you have stopped using the handy distances of the 6-mile hex and actually switched to a discrete model.

Early versions of the game are somewhat undecided on how hexes get used. On one level the hexes are discrete units with contents like spaces on a game board. Reaching a hex more often then not grants access to the contents. The other paradigm is where hexes are used for measurement of distance. The 6-mile hex falls squarely in the second which is great if you are tracking travel in a continuous Cartesian method.

However human beings generally don't think about travel in a continuous Cartesian way. We think of it in a discrete linear way. That is as lines between origins and destinations. The rivers, roads, passes, trails, and other linear routes that we use to navigate about our day are really just lines connecting origins and destinations with sequences of landmarks we are familiar with. This is why the point crawl is such a powerful and familiar idea. The most important thing we ask ourselves about these lines is not the question "How far?" but rather "How long?" And this question should drive how we determine hex size.

Lets take a page from Delta's book and look at the ergonomic and mathematical factors we are dealing with again with the idea that we want to keep the hex as a discrete object:
  • Humans leisurely walk  about 3 miles in an hour. 
  • Humans can see 3 miles to the horizon on a completely fictional smooth side of a sphere approximating the size of the Earth with a completely clear atmosphere.  
  • People think about travel in lines and landmarks rather than areas of Cartesian space.
These factors indicate a 3-mile hex is the superior measurement and here is why:
  1. Travel from the middle of one hex to that of the next takes 1 hour over open terrain. This makes counting time easier. Time to cross can be adjusted to allow for various terrain features.
  2. The center of the next hex can be viewed form the current hex rather than the edge as is the case in the 6 mile hex.
  3. This allows for all movement to be discrete and informed - we no longer need measurements.
  4. A smaller size (approximate to 1/4 of the 6 mile hex) allows for a better focus for what is in the hex and thus a better discrete location. 
  5. A 3 mile hex is still easily converted to metric and this is advantageous if you are using metric as your standard of measurement. There will be another post about why metric is superior for measurement later.
 In conclusion I would suggest the 6 mile hex if you were using continuous Cartesian movement. The 6 mile hex is large enough to have the positions of its contents mapped and then use the hex as a measurement tool for continuous Cartesian movement. If your game is not that detailed I would suggest the discrete movement offered by the 3 mile hex for wilderness travel.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

What's the Big Secret? Concealed vs. Secret Doors

Secret and concealed doors have both long been a part of the game. If I recall correctly the difference between a secret door and a concealed door is that the secret door is designed not to be noticed, where a concealed door is a normal door covered up by stuff. I am not sure if it was in OD&D, Holmes, B/X, AD&D, or BECMI where I first read this difference.

Secret doors are really just very elaborately concealed doors. Somthing blocks the observer from immediately noticing the door. But how does this separate it from the door that is hidden behind say a curtain or tapestry?

It seems like the real difference is that one kind does not have it's camouflage built in while the other does. The door to the Lonely Mountain, the gates of Moria, the bookcase that swings out to reveal a hidden passage, the fireplace that rotates to do the same, the door that is designed to look like part of the wall etc. etc. on and on are all just concealed doors that exist on the cleverness of the concealment spectrum. And so the classic roll to spot a secret door in my mind should be combined with the roll to detect a concealed one.

And this could work quite well in any system. For example with "Set Design" method you can establish a clue that exposes the door when someone investigates an area in the right way. The roll to notice is the roll to notice this clue right away - but with the clue still discoverable through careful investigation. This streamlines the flow of game play a bit - rather than being an "only chance" roll the roll to detect becomes something that speeds up the game.

But what is interesting about all this is that there is still space for the "secret" door. That is - the thing that makes a door secret is not that it is concealed (or not), but rather that the means to open the door itself is secret. And this bears out in the trope- the doors to both Erebor and Moria are known to the protagonists. But in both cases how they opened was the deeper mystery. For Erebor the big secret was the location of the key hole. For Moria it was the word that opened the gates. With the bookshelf it is finding out what book to pull, or where the catch is on the fireplace.

So from now on in my games:
A door designated as hidden is one where someone has taken effort or nature has accidently concealed a door. A door designated as secret has some riddle about its opening rather than just being hidden.