Tomes and times 11: overview
by, 11th July 2012 at 08:17 PM (477 Views)
So, another long break from Tomes and Times. Sorry, life intervened.
I feel like I’ve covered everything I wanted to, and barring a sudden outburst of commenting there’s not much more I can add. I promised a wrap-up post to summarise what’s gone on, and there are also several changes that’ve cropped up as I worked through my ideas. So in what will probably be the last T&T, here's a tidier version of the whole business.
Tomes and Times was designed to help Keepers give more consistent reading times to books in their scenarios, and in passing ended up touching on the mechanics for successfully understanding the contents. It has three main components:
- A system for working out reading times based on the book’s properties (or conversely, designing a book to fit a reading time).
- A tweaked system for skill changes due to reading, making incremental changes during ongoing study, rather than applying them all when the book is finished.
- A tweaked spell-learning mechanism, making it more predictable.
This system is fairly complex. First off, here are three clunky new terms:
Base reading time: time to physically read a specific copy of a book.
Study time: time to read and comprehend a specific copy of a book. This incorporates the base reading time.
Personal reading time: time it will take a specific investigator to read a specific copy of a book. Incorporates all attributes of the book, modified by the investigator’s abilities.
This system gives a book six attributes, three for the physical book, and three for the content.
The properties of the book determine the base reading time.
Length: How many words, symbols, pictures etc. are there to plough through? All copies of a book are the same length, barring damage. Concise or abridged editions, “introductions to” and so on will be shorter. Editions “with notes and commentary” or expanded editions will be longer.
Condition: Is the book intact and unmarked; is it heavily underlined and annotated by an earlier reader; or is it dog-eared, crumpled, smudged, badly repaired with opaque materials, smoke-damaged, bloodstained and partly burned with various pages missing? (a book with a lot of missing pages becomes significantly shorter as well!) Condition varies between copies. Poor condition can be alleviated by sourcing alternative copies, getting copies of missing pages, or checking other references to find out what pages said.
Legibility: Is the text clear, neat printing with labelled diagrams, or is it illegible, ink-spattered scrawl with many unexplained abbreviations? This varies with edition, often depending on period.
The properties of the content influence the study time.
Madness: How much sense does the book make? Is the content lucid, clearly-expressed and comprehensible, or is it the ravings of a lunatic? This is an intrinsic property of the text; a high POW helps readers to keep focused and to work out which elements are relevant.
Difficulty: How accessible is the book? Is the writing a well-organised development of ideas, or a dense academic fog of cross-references, assumptions and jargon? Is it a compelling narrative with vivid scenes, memorable characters and accessible metaphor, or is it a highly allegorical, stream-of-consciousness poem with impenetrable layers of meaning? This is an intrinsic property of the text; a high EDU helps readers follow the thread of the text.
Complexity: How technical are the ideas contained in the book? Does the work discuss a few straightforward ideas and accessible facts; is it a complex tangle of hypotheses of vast and sweeping importance to a whole field; or does it present an entirely new angle on reality, meaning and the human condition? This is an intrinsic property of the text; a high INT helps readers grasp the ideas inside.
Length is the actual reading time. It varies with genre, because fiction is usually easier to read without getting tired than non-fiction or poetry.
- 10 minutes for a pamphlet, brief report, picture book or the text of most speeches.
- 1 hour for a children’s book or introductory work, as well as most plays and the classic slender volume of poetry.
- 2 hours for a slim novel.
- About 4 hours for an average novel, school textbook or biography.
- About 8 hours for a heavy novel or average academic work.
- About 16 hours for your brick-like fantasy novel or comprehensive handbook of metaphysics.
- About 32 hours for encyclopaedias, multi-volume academic works, and the kind of novel that you put on the shelf but can’t quite be bothered to read. A Suitable Boy and War and Peace clock in over 500,000 words.
- About 64 hours for the very longest works. Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the Bible and In Search of Lost Time are around the million-word mark.
Condition and Legibility modify this time. That might be because the book needs delicate handling, or because puzzling out the words gives you a headache. On the other hand, it might be a solid, cunningly-annotated copy that’s a joy to read. Add these modifiers together, then adjust the reading time of the book accordingly.
- -20% for exceptional quality, and helpful underlining or marking-up
- +0% for works in normal condition
- +20% for damage affecting the text, distracting annotations, or works in generally bad condition
- +50% for a heavily damaged work where significant content is missing, for frail and delicate works that need special handling, or those with pages uncut or stuck together
- +100% if the book is so damaged that most of the words have to be puzzled out
- -20% for exceptionally good layout and printing, good text size and clear illustrations
- +0% for normal quality
- +20% for small, dense printing or good handwriting
- +50% for poor quality printing, bad or antiquated handwriting
- +100% for very poor printing or illegible fonts, confusing illustrations, or archaic handwriting that needs palaeography to decipher.
So a book with length of 16 hours, exceptionally well-formatted (-20%) but fragile and with uncut pages (+50%) will have a total +30% modifier, giving a base reading time of 20.8 hours, i.e. 20 hours and 48 minutes.
Madness, Difficulty and Complexity determine how long it takes to understand what you’re reading. They are themselves subject to the reader’s capabilities, as explained later.
- -2 for works of unusual clarity of thought or those very compelling to read.
- 0 for normal works.
- 3 for questionable arguments, implausible plots, or incoherent imagery, which distract the reader.
- 6 for incoherent arguments, nonsensical plots or incomprehensible examples; and for work peppered with bizarre, unrelated and disturbing elements, as if written by someone half-mad.
- 12 for works of the truly insane, with confounding descriptions and more baffling proclamations than meaningful content.
- 0 for works of exceptional quality, with natural and captivating narratives, scintillating poetic imagery, or arguments that fall perfectly into place.
- 3 for normal works.
- 5 for works that assume considerable background knowledge, require a lot of cross-referencing, use specialised language, or lean towards symbolism.
- 10 for works designed for professionals, those with many footnotes and references to check, and highly symbolic or metaphorical works.
- 15 for works written for a very limited audience, the densest academic texts and manuals, and cryptic allegorical works whose true messages are deeply buried.
- 0 for introductory works, straightforward poetry and very familiar narratives.
- 3 for normal works.
- 6 for basic academic works, or stories with points to make.
- 9 for advanced academic works, detailed technical manuals, poetry portraying complex ideas about the world, or stories with very complex plots.
- 12 for the most specialised textbooks, comprehensive new philosophies, or narratives with radical points to make about reality and the universe.
Multiply each factor by the base reading time and add this to the total to get the study time. So an ordinary book will add +0, +3, +3 modifiers, giving +6xBRT. In the example above, this is 20.8x6, or 124.8. Added to the existing 20.8, this means the study time is 145.6 hours, or 145 hours and 36 minutes. For simplicity, the Keeper can round this however seems most useful.
The modifiers should be adjusted by the reader’s characteristics. The most focused can pick out meaning amidst insanity; the scholar is accustomed to academic texts or complex metaphor; and the sharpest intellect can follow even the most challenging ideas.
How well do you understand the language it's written in? How good are you at grasping complex or allegorical ideas? How much experience do you have of reading similar works? How good are you at concentrating, and picking out meaningful elements from gibberish?
- Each point of POW above 10 cancels a point of Madness.
- Each point of EDU above 10 cancels a point of Difficulty.
- Each point of INT above 10 cancels a point of Complexity.
So an average investigator (INT 13, POW 10, EDU 15) cancels out 5 Difficulty, 3 Complexity, and 0 Madness.
The example book only has 3 Difficulty and 3 Complexity, so that’s the most that can be cancelled. The simplest way to do this here is to subtract 6x20.8 from the study time. That’s 145.6-124.8.
This gives a personal reading time of 20.8 hours – exactly what we started with as our base reading time. In effect, an average person can understand an average book about as fast as they can read the words. Whether it’s completely realistic is up for debate, but it isn’t half handy.
In theory, the Keeper can work out personal reading times for each investigator separately. In practice, they might prefer to ignore that, and just use the average investigator as a handy benchmark to see how quickly investigators are likely to get through their tomes. This gives a rough idea of how much time is needed during the scenario or between scenarios (if they want the tomes read), or how quickly they need to push on with events (if the investigators shouldn’t have all that knowledge yet).
Reference works might alleviate Madness (highlighting important sections and perhaps indicating nonsensical elements), Difficulty (clarifying ambiguities, getting a basic grasp of topics, elucidating metaphorical language), or Complexity (checking what implications ideas might have, relating ideas to other works).
Unusual properties of books – such as those written in obscure dialects, poorly translated, or otherwise outside the general run of things – are best handled as simple exceptions with special notes.
The basic mechanic for learning spells involves reading and then making an INTx3 roll to learn the spell. If you fail, you start again. I felt that an incremental approach might be more useful; it’s more forgiving when spells are very important to the plot, and makes things more predictable. I also felt that the default 2d6 week, 30-hour study period was too inflexible on the one hand, and (for many scenarios) too damn long on the other. Rather than have rules that scenario-designers and Keepers ignore entirely, I thought creating a more helpful set of guidelines might help someone.
There are two simple elements to this system.
Firstly, the time to study a spell is equal to 20 hours, multiplied by the average (mean!) SAN cost of casting it. If a spell has no SAN cost, it is 20 hours. Once the time has been spent, they can roll INTx3 to learn the spell.
Secondly, a failed INT roll does not mean all the time was wasted. This is not how learning works. The investigator must spend 20% of the original time on further study and practice. For a simple spell with a 20-hour cost, a failed roll means they must spend a further 4 hours before attempting the INTx3 roll again.
Under this system, three attempts will allow three-quarters of average investigators to learn a spell, spending about one-and-a-half times the original time to do so.
Skill changes, Other Language rolls and finding spells
These three ideas are grouped together because I think the best way to handle them is to relate them to one another.
The core rulebook requires a roll to read Other Language books. A success lets you read it fully, while a failure means you lose “some” Sanity but gain no benefits. While simple, it’s potentially punishing and unclear on what ‘failing to read a book’ means in practice, since if you spent a year studying it full-time you must have found something to do. It also allows readers to be driven mad without learning anything...
A related problem is the way skill changes and spells are applied. By default, Cthulhu Mythos is gained, SAN lost and spells identified only when someone finishes reading a book. This makes it harder to use major tomes in campaigns, since even if investigators are reading them between adventures, they gain nothing from it. And again, that’s not how learning works.
My solution (largely suggested by Emrys) is to combine these problems.
The reading time is divided by the Mythos bonus, giving a number of ‘sessions’ of equal reading time. At the end of each session, the reader makes any necessary Language roll. If successful, they gain a point of Mythos and incur a proportional amount of any San loss, as well as gaining access to whatever spells the Keeper deems appropriate. If they fail, that session’s reading time has to be repeated and another roll made.
SAN loss might be calculated by the Keeper beforehand and allocated as reading proceeds. Alternatively, Keepers might save them for the later sections of the book, when the reader understands more of what is going on. In either case, SAN loss should relate directly to Cthulhu Mythos gained.
So a book giving +3 Mythos and with a personal reading time of 36 hours is divided into three 12-hour sessions. After each session, the reader gains +1 Mythos, and any proportional SAN costs, and possibly identifies some spells.
This system spaces out the effects of reading, makes reading major tomes less of a thankless (and suboptimal) activity, and allows some benefit from reading during scenarios.
Hope it helps someone.