guilds

This is a bit of a deviation because it’s not about tabletop games, but rather about video games. Specifically big multiplayer “role-playing” games and a specific element of them: the guild. And honestly there’s a little political science in here because I think some people misunderstand the politics in them because they are not remotely like real world politics at their core. The drama is of course the same.

izh_classicWe want to look at power and at legitimacy. Legitimacy is the part that works similarly to the real world (in that there are no game mechanics to create legitimacy) except that it is so easy and so cheap to change your guild, that abandoning a failed leadership is not remotely the same as in real life. The end result of that is that there is no real need for democracy to establish legitimacy because the consequence of a failed leadership is not actually all that interesting. In part this is because there is very limited power.

A guild leadership cannot imprison you. It can’t take your stuff. It can’t injure, torture, or kill you. And if it does anything you dislike outside those bounds (like demand your stuff, ghost you out of events, or be cruel to you verbally) you can leave. So even the game mechanical power that is held over you (like inviting you to raids, determining what loot you can get, removing your ability to invite/kick members) is transient. You can always go somewhere else. This is something that a lot of guild leadership has not embraced: the incredible weakness of their position.

Things that increase the power of a guild leadership are social and organizational and not game mechanical then.

So if you have a guild that is regularly running large raids (which are a substantial organizational challenge) then being allowed in that raid is a desirable thing that can be withdrawn. So that’s a real power over a subset of the membership. Finding another guild that is achieving the same things is not as easy as just finding another guild. But it’s not all that hard either, and so this power is not as strong as we sometimes imagine. The mechanical power here is in the distribution of loot and is restricted to raid behaviour. And you can get what you want elsewhere.

If you have a guild that creates a comfortable, welcoming, and safe social environment in some ways you have even more power since that is somewhat more rare than a solid raiding behaviour. This develops some genuine loyalty (rather than the material loyalty that raiding offers — if someone offers you more, absent any social element, you of course take it) that has some durability. You come to like the people you are playing with and you want to continue associating with them. And the mechanical power a guild has here is the threat of ostracization: you can be kicked from the guild and therefore its social space (chat window, discord server, and so on). But again, you can get what you want elsewhere. But it can be much harder to find a safe friendly and active social environment than a raiding environment that delivers loot.

So a guild controls weakly access to loot. It controls strongly the social environment.

fact 1A successful guild then has to be competitive in raid management (if that’s your schtick) but there are potentially more gains to be had by excelling at social management. Of course there are people who don’t care about the social environment, but because of the very limited power a guild has through loot control alone, these players will move between guilds at will anyway. There is nothing you can do to keep them that someone else can’t do as well or better. The people who are likely to stick, are going to stick because of other reasons. And those are the people you want to stick anyway.

This also means that the work of the guild members to expand a guild is social work. Not just the leadership, but the whole guild. People have to prefer being in your guild even if it’s less attractive for loot generation than another guild (because that is certainly the case) and the only attraction there is social. That also means that the membership that does not raid (and therefore does not impact loot availability) is at least as important as the membership that does. A guild that leverages their social power necessarily attends to its whole membership.

It is easy to forget the social element when you are concentrating on raiding. But that is where your core is and if you reflect on your time in game (what you find fun, who you interact with, what you say and do that’s not raiding) you’ll see that that is true.

Any competent player can get into a raid. Not everyone can find a home.

∆v

Okay so now we can talk about delta-v (∆v from now on because it looks cool) in a larger context. We can see from the last post that the thing that really matters in space travel is how much you can change your velocity before you run out of gas. And I’ve talked previously about orbital mechanics. Let’s tie these together. First a diagram I have lifted from a much more detailed article about the topic at Wikipedia:

Delta-Vs_for_inner_Solar_System

This is a map of the solar system from Earth to Mars assuming you are travelling using orbital transfers — that is, you don’t care how long it takes and your plan is to burn just enough to enter the orbit of your target eventually. Exactly which way you point and how long you travel depends on many factors that are largely out of your control — at a given time with a given rocket you have essentially one choice.

The numbers on that map are not distances but rather costs in ∆v. And this is why ∆v is the critical resource both tactically and strategically in Diaspora Anabasis: it’s the only resource that matters for planning. Everything else is roughly fixed. Everything you might do to influence travel is going to boil down to changing your ∆v resource or cost.

So to get from the surface of the earth to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) you need to go 9.3 kilometers per second faster than when you started. Soak that in. Notice that almost every other transfer is somewhere between cheaper and vastly cheaper. This is why starting your trip on a planet is so incredibly expensive and why space and low-gravity-planetoid bases are essential to industrialized (and certainly private) space travel: this is an unnecessary expense that dominates everything.

If you have a space craft with 11km/s ∆v in resources, you can reach orbit and sit there. If you built the same ship in orbit, however, you could go to Mars with resources to spare. LEO is 2km away. Mars at its closest is 56,000,000km away. It’s 20 million times more efficient to travel with orbital transfers from Earth orbit than it is to orbit the Earth. When people talk about how hard it is to go to Mars and how we so handily went to the moon remember that: those Mercury and Gemini project orbits were actually the very hardest part of the whole endeavour. Everything after that is vastly simpler.

Now what if you don’t use orbital transfers? What if you want to spend less than 18 months to go to Mars? Well, you spend more ∆v. You can speed up any orbital transfer by burning harder at the start and burning again at the end to slow down. It changes the path of the transfer substantially — you’ll get there faster because you’re going faster but also because you’ll take a physically shorter path — your lazy elliptical arc will straighten as you dump reaction mass into the fire. But it costs twice as much because you have to slow down at the end.

You can think of an orbital transfer as basically matching courses with your destination (since planets are moving too). Imagine you want to catch up with a skier further down the slope than you. You can dig in the poles a little so you’re going faster and take an arcing path down the hill so that you slowly catch up, with friction equalizing your speed at intercept. It’s a lot of calculation and might need a little correction and it’s not the fastest path but it takes very little energy. That’s the orbital intercept.

Or you can drive on your snowmobile straight at your target. You’ll have to correct continuously as they move but you will arrive much sooner. You’ll also have to figure out how to slow down or you won’t be matching courses at all. That’s a “hyperbolic” intercept.

The other interesting thing on that map is the “aerobrake”. This is a way to steal ∆v from planets with an atmosphere: you can use that friction to slow down. We know that slowing down is just ∆v spent pointing backwards. So friction is free ∆v for slowing down! In the last post we talked about slingshotting, which steals ∆v from planets for speeding up. So the natural universe provides a landscape that can lighten the load and this is where strategic play will happen: we have a determination problem in that the math tightly constrains exactly how much ∆v a maneuver costs and you ship defines how much you have — so where are the player choices? What knobs can you turn to defy (rely manipulate) the math? The natural environment provides two.

We’ll talk about how the artificial environment can help next time.

moving space ships

Let’s say we have a space ship and it’s moving at some velocity. It’s not accelerating — its drives are off — it’s just drifting. There is nothing to slow it down in space (no air resistance or other interesting friction sources) and nothing to speed it up. There’s no reason for it to change direction. It’s just going to keep going at this speed in this direction forever. For simplicity we’ll use units of meters per second and consider time in 1 second increments.

We can represent this situation like so:

v1
It just goes ON like this.

On the right is our space ship and on the left is a vector indicating its velocity. In one second, the ship will be at the end of the arrow: its length indicates how far the ship will move in our 1 second tick. It’s predicting  the future for our space ship. This will go on forever.

Now if we want to turn, we can’t just steer — there’s no surface to get traction on, no wheels to redirect our momentum. The only tools we have are rotation and thrust. So that’s what we do. We rotate and we turn on the drive for a while, adding more velocity which we represent as a second vector in the direction of our burn. We can use the vector to find out where we’ll be next: we add a vector to the end of the existing one but at the angle of our burn.

v2
I want to turn left 40 degrees so let’s just rotate 40 degrees and burn, right?

So where will we be after our next tick? Well the trick with vectors is you add them nose to tail, preserving the angles, and then find the hypotenuse (sticking two vectors together gives you two sides of a triangle, and your new vector is the missing side of it!)

v3
Imagine our little space ship travelling along that new line forever.

 

And we’ll see that with that little 40-odd degree turn and burn (adding velocity!) our new vector has us starting to turn to the left. But we are also going faster than before! And we’re not pointing in the direction we’re travelling. This, in my opinion, summarizes a great deal of what’s weird about travelling in space compared to a road vehicle — you can only add velocity, the direction you’re pointing in determines the direction of acceleration and nothing else, and you need to spend an awful lot of fuel to make an interesting change of direction. Let’s try that turn again but much more sharply.

v4
Burn baby burn!

We’re really cranking the wheel over here! The same rules for adding vectors apply of course so we get a final vector of:

v5
Again, we should imagine little triangle space ship forever moving in the direction of the arrow, at a speed indicated by the arrow’s length, and oriented at a sharp angle to the direction of travel. Forever.

Well that’s a tighter turn! Notice a few things. We’re totally pointing away from our direction of travel for one. For another, our vector is shorter: we’ve managed to slow down by adding velocity in a direction that partially opposes our initial vector. So now we know that the only way to slow down is the same as everything else in space travel: add velocity.

This is why in the latest rev of Diaspora we only track a space craft’s “delta-v” or its total ability to change its velocity. Everything about how it moves, how fast it moves, and where it goes depends on this value. It’s how you start, how you steer, and how you stop. And, when you’re out, you just follow that vector forever.

Well surely not forever. What if there’s a planet in the way? I’m glad you asked. Same rules.

So when you travel near another significant mass, it continuously adds a vector for you, whether you accelerate or not. So let’s say we’re passing by a planet. We have our existing vector but we also add a new one that points to the center of the mass and has a size (magnitude, we say) related to the total mass. Planets add pretty big vectors.

v6
We just wanted to fly by this featureless planet but apparently the universe does not allow such things. Note that it’s only by happenstance that the gravitational vector touches the planet. It could be any length depending only on the mass of the planet.

And the result is:

v7
Planets are powerful attractors! It’s going to be close.

Wow! Notice a few things here. First, you don’t fall into the planet if you already have a big enough vector. If we had a smaller (or no) vector, we’d splat on the surface. But we fall past it! Precisely choosing altitude and vector is how we go into orbit: we just keep falling forever around the planet. But that’s not what this maneuver is going to do. The other thing to notice is that we are going way way faster than before — we’ve taken a ton of delta-v from the planet itself! Since delta-v is in such short supply, this has to be a useful move! We sometimes call it a slingshot maneuver, and it’s a very common way to get real spacecraft long distances in a relatively short period of time. Let’s look at the next second in this picture.

So now our two vectors are our original vector and the gravitational vector, which points to the center of mass of our planet:

v8
Now we are going to be going around this planet a bit but way too fast to orbit it.

Which gives us a result of:

v9
Zoom! If you do the next iteration yourself you might be surprised at the result.

We are going even faster now! All for free! And in a radically new direction.

Now, reality doesn’t actually progress in one second increments, so to find our actual path of travel we’d need to start looking at smaller increments. Do the vector addition every tenth of a second, every millionth of a second, refining and refining the path. This would be calculus, and we would see our actual path is a smooth curve. But the principle is the same and the result we care about is the same: we can steal velocity from planets.

In space all you can control is the change in your velocity, but you can steal velocity from planets. Another time we’ll talk about stealing negative velocity.

a note on gaming

This post is not about a game. You could game this way — it’s easy to see how you could do that, using counters or miniatures. It’s already been done too — Traveller, Triplanetary, Mayday, and even in 3-dimensional space in Vector-3. It’s not news for gaming. But my game targets people who don’t know the physics and maybe don’t care about it, but need a context to understand the design decisions that are based on physics. I will be leaning heavily into abstraction but you need to understand what you’re abstracting first.

splitting an infinitive

Why not?

Well these days (as opposed to a hundred (good to one sig fig) year period of conservatism around which the language is fluid as hell) that’s maybe not a useful question. We do what we please with English and the language is sort of famous for surviving it. For a long time, however, and currently amongst the sort of pedant that has a strong opinion about Oxford commas, the split infinitive was Not Allowed.

But English is really good for splitting infinitives.

The infinitive form of a verb is its naked form, unconjugated. So in English the infinitive “to go” is conjugated as “she goes, we go, they go, you go”. That infinitive is apparently never allowed to have a word inserted between “to” and “go”. It’s to be treated as though it’s un-fucking-divisible. A single word with a space inside it that apparently acts like a letter.

This is, I think, mostly an effort at linguistic political correctness to avoid drawing attention to the fact that many (maybe most) lesser languages do not have this feature. Their infinitives (aller, for example, en Français) are really one word. Which means they do not have the tonal equivalent of “to boldly go” which delivers a mood distinct (to my ear anyway) from “boldly to go” or, worse, “to go boldly”. It’s perhaps the proscription itself that lends this tone (which totally undermines my argument by making the proscription necessary in order to have the feature) by undermining the formality of the “correct” structures. Kirk in the Star Trek opener is established by his linguistic choice as an everyman who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about ancient style guides nor, by extension, Robert’s Rules of Order. We know in our viscera before we even see him that he’s a hero we get to aspire to be. He shirked his way through college and the academy (which later we find out is true). He must have.

And some infinitive busting structures don’t even have correct variants. Consider “I’m going to fucking shoot you in the face.” It’s distinct from “I’m going to shoot you in the fucking face” in that the rude word modifies face instead of shoot. And obvious you can’t say “I’m going fucking to shoot you in the face.” Then you just get laughed at. You’ve descended below the low bar of lovable rogue to incomprehensible villain. “I’m fucking going to shoot you in the face” is weird acceptable, modifies the wrong word, and seems like a grammatically worse choice than splitting the infinitive even though it’s fine. It’s more of a hipster bandit move; an attempt to get you to argue with their usage so they can produce evidence it’s correct. Before shooting you in the face.

So let me suggest that we need not be polite to our compatriot languages who are stuck with indivisible verbs. Our verbs are naturally divisible and this division begs for modifiers. Every space is a possibility for a slightly different tone. It does not invite confusion but rather establishes the writer’s intent clearly and efficiently. The space in the middle of our infinitives is a tool to be wielded however we like to use tools.

Of course, once we get to this point we have to wonder what the “to” is for anyway. What does “to go” mean, decomposed? What work does the “to” do? In the phrase “I’m going to go” it seems to have more to do with “going” than “go” to my ear. That is, as the sentence proceeds, “I’m going to…” is still sensible — I’m certainly going somewhere and to is a somewhere word. I’m going to the store. I’m going to outer space. I’m going to sleep. The “to” is independent — it doesn’t need a verb at all to be useful.

So rather than knuckle under to linguistic equivalentists who would hobble English in order to put it on equal footing withe French or, heaven forbid, Latin, let’s instead celebrate the feature of the English infinitive. Split it at will. It’s already split.

factions as a template

So I was thinking about how to make a generic faction, like for any game at all, and around the time I was thinking about it Takuma Okada tweeted something similar and pointed at Apocalypse World style moves. This is very smart, obviously: moves are certainly a great way to generically encode what things do without having to address specific system mechanisms because the ref’s moves in AW are not really part of the mechanism, per se. They have only narrative structure, giving the ref permission to make a particular thing happen in the story. They don’t engage dice (though that can obviously cascade on from the move when a player reacts) or remove points or add points. They pivot the story. Well that’s as generic as you ca get, so here’s a faction template. My “methods” are moves.

This is a quick hack. What’s it missing?

20180203_155028
Alien space bug faction needs fleshing out.

Faction Name

Start with a description here of the faction. Get flowery. Add a little micro (really micro mind you) fiction maybe. Good place for your illustration. Anything in this spindly typeface should be replaced with your own text. Also the title, unless “Faction Name” is in fact the name of your faction.

Interface

This section outlines the things your campaign needs to provide to make this faction work: just because it’s generic doesn’t mean it actually fits anywhere. State these up front so that a potential user can quickly disqualify it if it’s inappropriate.

Location

What terrain does the faction need to make work? Where are they headquartered? Robin Hood needs a forest. Rogue Armor Five needs a space station. Deepness Sentinels need a mine in a remote mountain.

Necessary allies

Is there anyone that has to be on their side? Think in general terms — a leader with certain characteristics, a revolutionary organization?

Necessary enemies

Is there anyone that has to be opposed to them? Can the user just plug in any old opposition and it will make sense?

Magic requirements

Are we assuming magic? Are we assuming certain kinds of magic?

Technology requirements

Are we assuming technology? Are we assuming certain levels of technology?

Objectives

What is the faction trying to accomplish? Keep it generic; the most specific you should get is to reference a “necessary ally” or “necessary enemy”.

Opposition

What sort of organizations oppose this faction? Keep it generic; the most specific you should get is to reference a “necessary ally” or “necessary enemy”.

Strength

How tough is this faction? Can it field armies or only lone assassins? Estimate its membership and its influence.

Military

What kind of strength can the faction bring to bear in a military context?

Political

What kind of strength can the faction bring to bear in terms of bureaucracy, diplomacy, espionage?

Popular

What kind of strength can the faction draw from the common people?

Wealth

How much money or local equivalent can this faction bring to bear on a problem?

Methods

Add methods if you need to but at least name and expand on the following ones so that they suit the specific ways and means of the faction. Take into account the Strength parameters to add detail: a militarily weak faction won’t act militarily — they will act to their strengths and protect and disguise their weaknesses. The ref can pull any faction method out and stuff it in the narrative whenever they feel that seems like a swell idea.

Wreck a plan

The faction ruins a player plan by doing something — inadvertantly or otherwise — that undermines their assumptions. Of course, the players won’t know the back entrance is full of Deepness Sentinels on their own mission until the players pry off the sewage grate.

Impede travel

The faction is interrupting a regular travel route, ideally one the players want to use or are expecting news or goods from. This must affect the party to be deployed. It’s not just a news story, it causes the players grief.

Recruit

The faction tries to recruit the party.

Harm a faction you care about

The faction does some harm to a faction the players are allied with. Maybe the players themselves! Burn down the magic college. Call the cops on the oxygen hoarders.

Be the villain

In a surprise twist, this faction is the real enemy!