Announcement! Moving!

The cat is out of the bag! The Murder Hobos with their Transmuter Banker and Spy Bard and Undead King friends are moving to their new permanent home on Critical Hits under their dedicated column, Dungeonomics! They produce some of the premier RPG content on the Internet and I’m proud to join their collective and become part of the Borg.

Being part of the DC gaming scene is super cool. Washington DC is turning into the Silicon Valley of RPG game development. So many awesome people live here and contribute to the constantly living and growing body of RPG content, it’s amazing.

I started blogging in 1997 (I went and looked it up) and most of the time it’s been about random slice-of-life stuff. And then up in a bad chain Mexican restaurant in Michigan I went off on how I couldn’t stand D&D5e Tieflings because they weren’t true to the (superior) Planescape originals. That worked, so I decided, hey, it’s my blog, I’ll write about what interests me. Turns out it interests you, too.

But! Since now about 1000 of you are hanging out, you deserve a FAQ.

Also, big shout out to Illuminerdy, another excellent online RPG blog you should follow. Like, now.

Will you be tweeting/G+ing/FBing your links on a weekly post?

Yep. I will still personally man some of my personal social networking. You don’t need to go anywhere if you get the links from twitter or G+. If you get them from RSS or an email on posting, you will need to move, unfortunately.

But if you sign up to the Critical Hits RSS feed, you will get even more great content! This is like an everything for nothing deal.

Do you have enough ideas to keep this going for a while?

Where power, money, violence, and magic intersects is a well with no known bounds. Although I take people’s ideas and expand them all the time.

Will you still be sticking to your schedule?

I’m still writing on Sunday mornings with plans to publish on Mondays.

Are you planning on publishing your essays?

Not in the first half of 2015.

Are you making any money off this move?

Well considering I’m going from -$10.99/month for hosting to $0 a month, it’s a net gain of $10.99 a month.

Although if I ever get a logo, I am printing it and “Given an infinite amount of time and actual economic pressures, all adventuring groups become neutral evil” on a t-shirt and selling them.

Is your old blog coming down?

It’s expensive to maintain and I will likely start ignoring it. But I am going to wait until the traffic moves over cleanly.

I don’t know. I don’t know what I am going to do with it. If anything.

What about your Nephilim FATE Conversion?

Yes, I have a mostly finished conversion of Nephilim to FATE. It gets constant traffic all day. If I shut down this blog it will need a new home. I’m not sure what that new home is. That is TBD.

Are you attending any cons?

Gaming conventions? Dunno. I’m well-known hermit who never goes into public like Thomas Pynchon.

What is the best place to find you online?

Twitter. I’m a junky. Follow me at @multiplexer.

Do you truly have a dog named after Arthur Schopenhauer?

Yep. He helps me write. It’s his job. He also really likes reading /r/economics.

Review: Don’t Turn Your Back Boardgame

We offered to Playtest the new Evil Hat Kickstarted Board Game, “Don’t Turn Your Back”. The version we played is functionally complete: all the cards, the board, and the accessories contain final art exercising the final ruleset. The game board came printed on test backing but that made no perceptible difference to game play. What does make a major difference is our third player, age 10.

Is Don’t Turn Your Back easy and fun enough for a 10-year-old to play? If it is, than anyone can learn to play and enjoy the game. If not, then the game is too fiddly with too many over-complicated rules.

Opening the Box

Our box is actually a manila envelope, so we cannot make any comments at this time on the unboxing experience. The overall game art is consistent with the art direction and themes from Evil Hat’s Don’t Rest Your Head RPG — that sort of dark, dreamy, gothic horror found in this genre of Horror RPG games. Note: as the game wore on, I felt it looked and felt less like Don’t Rest Your Head and more like Fallen London with manipulated photograph art.

The game has a board, four decks of cards for up to four players, four card organizer/tableaus, and a score counter sheet. The game board is bright with clear iconographic queues on what happens on the board while backed with the same photo-manipulated art from the cards. The Victorian Gothic art direction of the game drew in the 10-year-old, a bit of a proto-goth.

We laid out the board, the organizers, the decks, and the score card. Our copy did not come with score counters for the score card so we improvised.

Setting Up the Game

setting up the game

Don’t Turn Your Back is a combination deck-building game (Ascension, Star Realms, Legendary, Dominion) and Worker Placement (Lords of Waterdeep, Agricola) except with a twist – the workers are the cards in the player’s hand. During game play, players place workers from their hand in one of five possible depot: the Bazaar, District 13, the High School, the Wax King, and the City Slumbering, each with a different effect. Game rules restrict cards to depots based on identifiers on the left side of the card. For example, a player can place a card with the pink “HS” tab in the High School.

The depots have different effects:

  • The Bazaar activates on-card effects. Some effects help (draw more cards, add more buy) while some attack (force others to discard, remove a card from another depot).
  • The High School gives players end game “candle” points.
  • District 13 allows a card to exercise the “law” of the turn.
  • Wax King eats characters like tossing a card into the Void in Ascension – except cards fed to the Wax King add up to big end of game benefits.
  • City Slumbering allows for card buy from the tableau at the end of each round.

To start, each player sorts their deck. Several of the cards have the word “START” in the upper right hand corner — these are the player’s starting (FAVOR) deck. The other work as a private (ACQUISITION) tableau. Much like any other deckbuilding game, players start with a small deck and purchase into that deck from a tableau (private, not shared) by generating buy costs. Purchased cards migrate from the tableau deck to the player’s in-play deck starting in discarded and shuffled into their main play deck.

Players play DTUB in rounds. At the start of every round, players draw up four cards from their FAVOR deck. They then play in turns, going around the table clockwise, until every player has exhausted all the cards in their hand — ie, placed cards as workers. Then effects take place (buy, score, etc.) Then played cards go to the discard and players deal four more cards.

Games are 9 or 8 rounds depending on the number of players. Each round, a new “Law” comes into play which has a special end of the round effect. When the law runs out, so does the game.

We are hyper familiar with both the deck building genre and the worker placement genre (even the 10-year-old, both a Waterdeep and Ascension fiend), so once we had decks, the board, and scoring tokens, we were ready to play.

Playing

playing a round

First Round

We found Don’t Turn Your Back a bit confusing in the first turn. We understood the card buy mechanic but we weren’t certain what to do with all these depots on the board and why we cared. It’s a little less intuitive at first blush than other games with similar mechanics. We also spent a bunch of time explaining the game to the 10-year-old. We also did some hand waving to figure out how to resolve all the workers at the end of every round.

However, after getting past the initial round of “Why would I ever buy into District 13” or “Why would I ever sacrifice a card to the Wax King,” the game went quicker and much smoother.

Rest of the Game

Like all games, we found positives and negatives about the game play. Overall, we played 9 rounds with a game lasting approximately 45 minutes. The positives strongly outweight the negatives.

Positives

Combining deck building and worker placement feels fresh. Interesting, but once we got the hang of game play, not confusing.

The rounds go markedly faster as the game progresses and players get used to the game style. By the end of the game the rounds flowed quickly.

Every round, the “law” changes and the strategy of the turn changes with it. This makes the game feel a little strange — it’s not 100% possible to plan turn to turn. But the wacky feeling made the rounds feel fresh.

The game feels well-balanced between the different cards, the five depots, and the card actions. No card felt outsized for its cost. Nothing felt ridiculously overpowered or a sudden “winning strategy.” The game felt extensively playtested.

Flexibility – where a card can go based on where a player can place it – is a major piece of strategy going into buy, placement, and deck building. Cards don’t feel haphazard — they all work into some sort of overarching play style.

To build on that, Don’t Turn Your Back does lend itself to the Enlightenment-Only Draw Your Whole Deck strategy from Ascension. Buying more cards means buying more workers, and workers lent itself to flexibility on the board. And because everyone has their own private tableaus, everyone can run this scheme leading to “land rushes” on the board when something that turn popular.

Negatives

We were occasionally confused between pain number (card strength) and cost number on the cards. We went maybe 3 rounds before realizing the pain costs != cost. Pain is on the left, cost is on the right. One runs up buy with pain, and then uses pain to buy cost. It’s a mildly confusing mechanic.

One of our players bought up nearly his whole Acquisition deck during play. Don’t Turn Your Back is a little light on cards (and variety) per deck. The game needs a little more variety — or simply a few more Acquisition cards.

Depth of strategy was a little less than I wanted because of the dearth of variety of cards to buy — although, I, personally, want games with insane depth, so your mileage may vary.

We also lapped the points board. The points board goes to 50 and the winning player had a score in the mid-80s.

The art is dark and at times the characters on the card are hard to make out. However, the graphic design picks out game play cues on the cards in bright colors so the art doesn’t get in the way of playability. It does mean spending a bit of time staring at cards going “Wha?”

end game madness

Should You Kickstart This Game?

Katie’s opinion after playing the game: “I loved it.” We bought the game.

That’s really the question, isn’t it? If you’re a fan of deck-building games or worker-placement games, it’s a worthwhile addition to your collection. If you’re a big fan of horror based board games, especially if you enjoy the Victorian Goth art style, it’s also a worthwhile addition to your collection.

Keep in mind, this is a deck building game with worker placement strategies, not goth Agricola. It lacks the competitiveness of the fight over the cards in the tableau and exchanges that same fight with worker placement combat on the game board. It’s an interesting twist and breathes some new life into a mouldering genre.

Kickstarters are a risk. If you’re worried the game will not materialize because the game is not complete, the game is complete. You’re dealing with professionals and mostly paying for printing. You will receive your game.

If you’re convinced, go and kickstart “Don’t Turn Your Back”.

Overall

Not quite a Waterdeep or a Sentinels of the Multiverse and little light on game depth. I wanted more out of the cards and the strategy. I want expansion decks. But Don’t Turn Your Back looks professionally polished, it was fun to play, and it was accessible to our most easily bored member of our board game group. We will likely play it again and foist it upon unsuspecting board gamers.

The Murder Hobo Investment Bubble

The Murder Hobos sit across the table from the Old Man in the darkened, road side Inn. The Old Man proposes a mission to the group: goblins infest the hills outside town. And goblins, as we know, are horrific fiends who steal babies and chew on children’s heads. Real nasty characters. They also gum up the place with goblin smell.

The Murder Hobos must travel to a nearby mountain, breach the Goblin Stronghold, kill all the goblins they see, and defeat the Goblin King. Roet Mudtwister. That King is a nasty bit of work with a bad reputation for foul language and a snaggle tooth. Then, the party must return to the Inn with proof of the deed. No time cap on this but make it quick, please. The goblins destroyed our fields. Think of the children. There is a reward.

In victory, the Murder Hobos will receive:

  • all the magic loot they find;
  • all the money they roll from goblin bodies
  • and a payday of 4000 gold pieces, cash.

The Murder Hobos weigh the risks of this mission against the worth of the payday. On one side of the risk equation, they face possible death at the hands of furiously angry goblins (less risk with a Cleric who can cast Raise Dead although if the Cleric dies, risk rises). Goblins are noxious characters and Goblin Kings doubly so. On the other side of the equation they bag:

  • Cash payout;
  • Possible magic upgrades;
  • Experience;
  • Heroism! Save the village and win the day!

This is a pretty sweet deal for the Murder Hobo party of the exact right level. Too low-level and the goblins will obliterate the Murder Hobos. Too high level and the side quest provides neither enough payout nor reward enticement for the Murder Hobos. The Old Man prices the Side Quest to a party of a precise level band.

For this particular group, the rewards vastly outweigh the risk. They have a deal.

The Old Man puts up no money up front. The Murder Hobos buy their supplies with their own cash, suit up, and follow the road to the mountain. A week later, they return with the head of King Roet Mudtwister, snaggle tooth and all. They’ve paid themselves back on their pre-adventure loan to themselves and made a bit more. High risk paid off with high reward. Murder Hoboing is lucrative business.

The Old Man hands over the coin purse with 4000 gold pieces. The village is, theoretically, saved.

But what’s in it for the Old Man?

Let’s assume for a moment the Old Man is not an altruistic lover of villagers and hater of all goblinkind. Nor is he sitting in the same Inn with the same offer of 4000 gold pieces waiting for the level-correct Murder Hobos to wander in for his health. What’s in the side quest business for the Old Man?

This particular Old Man has a story.

The goblins moved in under the mountain a century ago. Then, they established their village and Goblin King. The goblins quietly toiled away in their underground community while human and demi-human farming villages popped up around them. Separate but at peace.

A few years ago, while mining, the goblins discovered their mountain sat on a highly valuable hot salt vein and spring. Applying a little goblin ingenuity and goblin Rube Goldberg-like mechanical engineering, they extracted the salt slurry into a high-grade and highly valuable salt production line. Even goblins need salt to preserve food. They had a handful of magic spells and items keeping food preserved but, much like people, goblins pack fish and game into giant barrels of salt. No longer did goblins venture out to deal with humans to purchase salt or scoop up salty sand from far-flung beaches. Salt was here, under their mountain.

The salt production was so efficient, salt overflowed goblin storerooms. So, the goblins started selling salt in the nearby village markets for low prices. They undercut local human-based salt production and into the local Salt Merchant Guild’s profits. Goblin salt was clearer. Goblin salt was better. And Goblin salt was cheaper.

Sensing a possible business deal in the International Side Quest Industry, the Old Man traveled to the Goblin’s Mountain with a party of his favorite and most trusted Dwarven surveyors to perform a property assessment. “10,000 gold pieces,” the Dwarf told the Old Man. “That’s how much this mountain is worth considering the roads and the layout of the tunnels — and not including the salt business. Just the land. 10,000 gold pieces. Need to get rid of those goblins, though. Nasty business, goblins.”

The Old Man met with the Transmuter Bankers who turn anything, including Goblin Mountains currently full of Goblins, into gold. And they gave the Old Man a loan on this security — an investment on a future, essentially. They fronted the Old Man cash on his possible land investment. The Old Man found a buyer for his contract on the mountain at the assessed price: the local Salt Merchant’s Guild. They exchanged their margins on the futures contract on the land through the bankers.

All the Old Man needed to maturate were some Murder Hobos. The Old Man took a gamble. His risks were:

  • in the land deal between him, the Bankers who hold his loan, and the Salt Merchant’s Guild who will buy the Goblin Mountain;
  • that the right Murder Hobos would come along and take him up on the deal.

This worked out. The Salt Merchant Guild paid the Old Man 10,000 gold for the contract to get the salt mines plus the goblins exited their business. The Old Man paid off the Bankers the 4000 gold plus interest. The Old Man walked off with nearly a 60% profit which he shared a percentage with the Dwarves. Everyone (except the goblins) won.

Isn’t Murder Hoboing profitable?

Once this deal wound up, the Old Man moved on to the next land speculation deal.

Speculative Investment in Murder Hobos

The Murder Hobos are the agent of change in Side Quests land swap deals. The giant in the cave? He’s blocking further silver mining. That evil temple over there? Send some Murder Hobos to clean it out and renovate it as an excellent open air mall and dining experience. And that castle owned by one of the Lich Kings? Kill the Lich King, take the castle, and invest in a valuable hotel and resort destination!

But getting Murder Hobos off the ground is expensive. That starting equipment isn’t free. They economy requires Murder Hobo patrons.

Murder Hobos are highly speculative investments; if one of the Patron’s teams happens to cash out on taking out a high value and annoying monster while the Patron is holding the contract for that land, the bet pays out big. The monster is gone, the land is his, the Patron pays out to the Old Man on his contract, uses whatever he will with the land deal (hint: nothing good), and makes more money to invest in more Murder Hobos. The Patron only needs a handful to pay out to finance his entire enterprise.

The chain starts with speculative investment in Murder Hobos in a hodge podge corporation known as “Adventuring Guilds.” Patrons pay up front to clothe, lodge, train, and arm potential Murder Hobos. Trainers group the potential adventurers together into teams who work reasonably well together. This is a non-trivial investment in energy, money and time.

Then, the Patron sends the 1st level characters out into the world while promptly investing in the next set of Murder Hobos. He hopes his teams see the advertisements of the various Old Men with side quests — the typical rumors, roadside signs, and the people bribed to point Murder Hobos to the local Inn.

And of course, in the example above, the Salt Merchant’s Guild has monetary investment and receives dividends on success from the local Adventuring Guild. Not only do they cut a competitor in the goblins, they pick up land, they acquire the already pre-built goblin facilities for harvesting salt, and they receive a payout on guild dues from the Side Questing Murder Hobos. Not bad for their money.

The Murder Hobo Bubble

Once people get hold of this highly unregulated, largely under ground, and puppeted by Bankers financial system, it’s a matter of time before anyone with a bit of money invests in the local Adventuring Guilds hoping to cash out on land deals from Side Quests. More Murder Hobos means more shots at completing the quest means reaping more land back from Evil while receiving a payout. And the Old Man doesn’t pay out to Murder Hobos unless they succeed in their Quest. It’s win-win.

Like all highly speculative markets with no regulation and no sanity, this is bubbly market. Bubbly markets leads to investment mania. And in investment mania, everyone eventually has a good time then loses their pants.

And this example goes something like this…

More people invest in creating more Murder Hobos teams through Adventuring Guilds hoping for more Side Quest payouts from possible futures land contracts while they simultaneously buy into Goblin Land Contract Market. Investors realize they can make money at both sides of the Murder Hobo economic system. And it’s not hard to get gullible people to sign up to an Adventuring Guild to feed the investment maw. Being a Murder Hobo is more lucrative than, say, farming or tanning. More deadly, but certainly more lucrative.

Because suddenly it’s an Old Man sellers market from the spike in Murder Hobo buyers, payout prices for successful Side Quest completion crash. Hey, it’s an elastic price! Instead of 4000 gold pieces, maybe the Old Man can offer 400 gold pieces to passing Murder Hobos and get takers. High Level Murder Hobos pass on these Side Quests (risk to reward is too low; see above on Murder Hobo Risk) but low-level Murder Hobos try for it. Most 1st level Murder Hobos die in their great short-lived 1st level glory but some do level up in time and survive. Land deals cash out at an increasingly frantic pace. The investment cycle lives on.

Meanwhile, the payout price crash means plots for land acquisition under the humanoids balloon – the Old Man will see 90% profit if he can get some 1st leveled Murder Hobos to take his quest and survive. That’s too much reward for the risk. More Old Men (where do they come from?) get in on the contracting and selling of currently-owned land business to get a piece of the action.

More Old Men handing out Side Quests means a space crunch in the Inns. They cannot sit next to each other like Side-Quest-giver kiosks. That would be weird. And a space crunch means more Inns which needs more land. No doubt that land is being held by some nice family of Kobolds. It will look fine as an Inn. More quests! More Murder Hobos!

Dwarves running land assessment and appraisal businesses see business boom.

Everyone is in on the game trying to either become a Murder Hobo (easy but quick way to die), get in on shares on Adventuring Guilds (less easy and expensive), taking up space in an Inn as an Official Old Man (few by now actually old or, in fact, men), or speculating on all the ancestral land of the various humanoid and otherwise so-called “evil” species. Inns turn into the Starbucks of the Adventuring world — Inns are across the street from Inns in towns made entirely of services catering to Murder Hobos and Inns. It is Inns all the way down.

Eventually this happens.

  1. People realize Murder Hoboing is a good way to die and quit trying for easy and quick loot, drying up the Murder Hobo supply;
  2. Side Quests disappear as the hordes of 1st level Murder Hobos destroy the “evil” races;
  3. Old Men run out of money paying interest on loans on land they do not own as real Murder Hobos become scarce;
  4. Inns take up all the land in villages;
  5. Investors no longer seeing big and fast payouts for land contracts exit the market.

Not enough land or murder hobos or speculators are left in the market to support it. People bail out of the market in a panic. Overbuilt Inns go out of business. Old Men go back to retirement. Farmers stop trying to learn how to use a Bec de Corbin. Adventuring Guilds close. Salt Merchant Guilds must contend themselves with selling regular salt. The Goblin Land Contract Market slinks back into obscurity. Professional Murder Hobos are enormously annoyed.

And the Murder Hobo/Side Questing economy crashes. Decades pass before anyone receives any new Side Quests. Murder Hobos are stuck doing the main quest only. Many die on final bosses from being under-leveled in this sad and trying time.

Transmuter Bankers make one hell of a pile of money.

But what of the Old Man?

He’s still in his corner of the dark gloomy Inn, shilling out Side Quests for which he can no longer pay.

Ozmo’s Magic Hospitality Company and Reality’s End

“We have been seeing a big uptick in these lately,” the Diviner at his kiosk says as he pushes the scroll over the tiny desk to the Paladin.

The Paladin feels confused. The little Wizard is alone. There are no other Wizards in sight.  Perhaps the Diviner refers to himself in the Royal We.  He is a Wizard and Wizards are weird.

“This scroll casts Leomund’s Tiny Hut.  If you cast it, you get about eight hours of protection.  Useful, because it’s portable, but it doesn’t manifest any particular creature comforts.  See this mark here?”  The Diviner points to a small scrawl and a happy little printed cartoon mage on the base of the scroll.  “Ozmo’s Magic Hospitality Company produced this scroll.  We’ve been tracking these scrolls with great interest.”

The Paladin thanks the Diviner, pays for the identify spell and leaves.  The Paladin doesn’t share that he has eight more identical Tiny Hut scrolls in his pack.

The Party found Leomund’s Tiny Hut scrolls everywhere: in dungeons, on suddenly dead orks, in raider’s backpacks, and one inside a particularly nasty gelatinous cube.  No one thought much about this except, perhaps, they simply had reached the level in which Tiny Hut scrolls became pervasive. And those scrolls weren’t without their use. The party could stand up a small protected zone wherever they went.  It didn’t provide them the comforts of an Inn but it gave them the on-demand protection of one.  The magic huts were at least comfortable and dry. 

Whoever left these scrolls all over did the Party a real solid.  And free, too. These were third level spell scrolls, not some mere cantrip or Light spell.   These were worth something. And that one weird dungeon had a barrel full of Tiny Hut scrolls graced with a hastily written sign sporting the scrawled letters: “Free!  Take one!”

While Inns provided food and, more importantly, booze, the Party no longer spent much gold on Inns.  Sure, Inns were the purveyors of suspicious old men with quests and bar fights, but the adventure was on the road.  As long as the Party had a *Cleric who could whip off the Create Food and Drink spell, and someone was smart enough to pack a bag of salt**, the party rarely returned to town.  The Fighter could pack his own flasks of whiskey – he had the carrying capacity for it, and he could resupply his precious booze supply from rolling bands of evil humans (those guys are always loaded). 

Happily and not thinking too deeply about it (although the Wizard did make mention that this was all very weird), the Party took free hospitality from the mysterious Ozmo’s Magic Hospitality Company.  Thank you, Ozmo, you crazy magical nut, wherever you are.  We raise a toast of magically summoned but cosmically bland bacon to you from within our toasty Tiny Huts.

Until finally, months later, the Party returns to town.  Downtown, in the main square, stood the magical equivalent of a food truck – right next to the Inn.  The big, colorfully decked wagon sold all sorts of useful scrolls courtesy of Ozmo’s Magic Hospitality Company at a marked down discount: the not appearing in this edition Leomund’s Secure Shelter, the also not appearing in this edition Leomund’s Hidden Shelter, and the grand daddy of them all, the rarest and best, Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Mansion. Buy five and get 10% off!  Buy 10 and get 25% off!  It’s a fantastic deal! 

“For gold you, the rich adventurer with a party loaded with spell casters, can sleep every night in an enormous mansion with enough food (and booze) to feed 100! Perfectly secure from roaming monsters and hordes of orks!”  comes the sales pitch.  “No longer must you sleep in uncomfortable Inns with variable heating, bad beer, mysterious old men and smelly common rooms!  Instead, use this scroll and sleep like the grand Lords you are!  Also Ozmo’s Hospitality Magic Company is available for lucrative franchises.  Inquire inside!”

And really, who wouldn’t turn down 10 Magnificent Mansion scrolls for 25% off?  It’s just gold and they can find more on adventure.  While the party’s Wizard protested that this much trans-planar magic is potentially bad and he should start a study, the party’s Sorceress forked over the cash for the scrolls. If unseen servants could serve her and she could sleep on a feather bed while on Adventure instead of sleeping on the hard ground and eating whatever the Cleric summoned, she’s all for this.

She’s not the only one.

Ozmo’s Magic Hospitality Company, purveyors of the World’s Finest Hospitality-based Spells, Scrolls and Items, provided a great service to the world’s adventurers, travelers, and murder hobos.  It’s the Wizards, sick of being poked and prodded on adventures led by over zealous Fighters and vengeance-driven Paladins while sleeping on the cold ground, who take up the call of the franchise. Why have space-filling and noisy Inns taking up valuable downtown real estate when a Wizard could read off a cheap scroll (which he sells) and pop up a full service, safe, and hyper comfortable Inn (a service he provides with the scroll) down the nearest blind alley?  Hell, it’s not merely Wizards – anyone with some Arcane got into the act. And rogues might have a 17 check to open up their own instant pop-up Inns, but that doesn’t stop them from selling Ozmo’s Hospitality Magic Company scrolls out the back of shady run down lean-tos on the seedier side of town (or at least knock-offs which may or may not work roll d20 to find out.)

Welcome to chaos in the heretofore stable hospitality economy.  Inns, forced with sudden competition from without by Ozmo’s Magic Hospitality Company, raise their offerings, too: bar fight free Inns, Inns with better beds, meals by celebrity chefs.  The Inns must advertise the stability of their location over convenience.  They adjust their prices to a new competitive low. 

And when a certain percentage of Inns go out of business – Inns run on profit margins and a little mass-market competition puts them in a bind – what happens to the old men hovering in dark corners giving out Quests?  Has anyone thought about them?  The Inns helped subsidize the living costs of the Old Man Quest Givers Guild.  Systemic Inn closures forced old men to set up kiosks in the street with signs saying “QUEST GIVEN HERE 10 gp” next to the Diviner Kiosk and the guys selling the Ozmo scrolls.

The Diviner had some opinions about this development but for now he quietly feds his data back home

Someone, the Party’s Wizard pointed out every time he saw one of these new trendy Ozmo-based businesses pop up, figured out the core production problem with shelter spell scrolls. 7th level spell scrolls are not trivial to produce.  Look at the economic chaos.   What about the silver that went into that dozen Magnificent Mansion scrolls we just bought?  What about the ivory?  All those hunted and dead elephants to feed the unquenchable maw of the market?  What about them?

“Don’t worry about it,” says the Rogue (who now sells Tiny Hut and Magnificent Mansion scrolls on the side at a reasonable mark up). “You worry too much.  It’s all good.”

It’s not good.  The Party’s Wizard discovered, through careful observations and experimentation, that abuse of Planer spells lead to a weakening in the walls of Reality.  “Continued use of Ozmo’s spell scrolls,” the Wizard says, “will cause a slow but certain degradation of reality until it all collapses into a single, final, Big Bloop.”

“But when?” asks the Sorceress.

The Wizard does not know. Letters passed back and forth with his Guild back home confirmed his worries. His home Wizard Guild (those left not making a killing selling insta-Inns) issued a warning.  Continued use of products from Ozmo’s Magic Hospital Company will cause reality to degrade.  While the tears  in reality are tiny at first, the rips will expand until the entire world unravels.   It may be next month, next year, in the next ten years, a hundred years, a thousand years from now… the Wizards cannot tell since measuring the effects of spell scrolls on reality is fraught with math.  They need more funding for further studies – which they can raise by selling Inns.

“How will this be any different from those of Evil who open portals to other world to bring forth fiends we must fight in battle?” asks the Paladin.  “How do we tell between an extra-Planar fiend summoned here by an evil Wizard and one who entered through a rift in a weakening of reality caused by millions of Tiny Huts?”

The Wizard conceded.  The fiends will be the same fiends.  The fights will be the same fights.  The evil wizards summoning hordes from beyond the same evil wizards summoning hordes from beyond.

The Rogue pointed out the Inns of old already disappeared.  It’s too late to think about the end of reality now.  Someone should have thought of that before everyone bought into the Ozmo franchise. Besides, if the rifts in reality will not consume the world for another thousand years in a “Big Bloop” does it matter if the Party uses the scrolls today?  Who much cares about a thousand years in the future other than a handful of Elven Wizards who always have their panties in a wad?

Isn’t a thousand years long enough to figure out a fix to this problem?  Why do we care today? 

The party doesn’t care today.  Or tomorrow.  Or once they reach level 20 and retire and their children become the next great adventurers.  Except for a few, Inns go out of business.  Ozmo’s becomes a Corporation of amazing wealth, reach and power.  Adventurers adventure.

Sometime later, a great expose published by a group of bards uncovered Ozmo as a deeply Chaotic Evil Wizard dedicated to destroying the realm’s hospitality industry. Far in Ozmo’s deep past, he visited an Inn and had bad shrimp.  After days of incredibly uncomfortable difficulties no Chaotic Evil Wizard should ever endure, he swore eternal vengeance on all Inns, Resorts, Lodges, and Hotelry.   Driven by hatred, enslaving planar demons by the hundreds to his bidding to craft spell scrolls, he concocted a plan. He decided to destroy all Inns everywhere.  His method of destruction? Freebies.

Buying from Ozmo’s put money into the pocket of Corporate Evil designed to destroy the hospitality industry!  These revelations divided the populace.  Some pointed to the body of growing Wizard research about the End of Reality and cried for corporate regulation from the King.  The government must reign in Ozmo to save the world. Others claimed they had a right to use and cast whatever spells they wanted. Who cares what a handful of Wizards say? Just because Ozmo is evil doesn’t mean his spell scrolls cannot be for the greater good. Look at the amazing lift to the adventuring economy since Ozmo’s began!  So many fewer orks!  Sure, there’s been this eruption in extra-planar creatures lately, but we have all these adventurers to keep it under control!

A political rift opened.  The two sides yelled each other.  One side called their opponents government-abetting control freaks who would not let adventurers adventure without the burden of regulation.  The other side called their opponents “Bloop Deniers.” In marketplaces they came to actual blows. No one noticed when the entire Diviner Guild simply left the Realm entirely.

And it was a shame when all of Reality came to a sudden and unannounced end sometime during lunch two weeks later.  

Roll new characters!  Time to adventure on the Planes!

* Theoretically we could measure the economical worth of a Cleric by the number of Create Food and Drink spells she can whip off in a day against the amount of money spent on actual food.  Where does the food come from?  Is she lowering the price of food everywhere by being able to create food from thin air?  Is magically created food Vegan?

** Magically created bland food requires salt.

Murder Hobos and the Supply Curve of Evil

A party of more or less good-aligned murder hobos gets wind of some organized slavery going on in a far off land – something vague about fish people, industrialized farming and pearls.  The slavery operation aims are relatively immaterial to the party. Slavers are over there and smashing them in the face is a generally good-alignment thing to do.  The party hops on the first boat to guaranteed adventure and loot.  Zoom!

For this adventure, the GM (who is also an economist and is, therefore, unbelievably sadistic and evil) assumes the demand for the pearls remains a relative constant – it does not suddenly dip or climb.  Whoever is buying pearls will continue to buy pearls at the same pace. Those farming pearls will have a constant demand for slaves to farm and fill that constant supply of pearl buyers.  She also assumes the price for fish people slaves into the industrialized pearl farming operation is elastic.   Either a sudden change in supply or an increase in demand will see a rapid delta upward in slave prices.

She writes these facts on a convenient 3×5 note card.

Once landed in the far off land after an exciting encounter with pirates (required by law), the party debates how to deal with the massive slavery operation going on. They come up with three options: kill slavers, slave redemption, or kill master slave dealers. They try the first one since it is the most straight forward and level comparable.

Killing the slavers, who are largely hobgoblins to reflect parity with the party’s level, is, for a while, a satisfying experience with party-level XP and treasure.  The party jumps slavers with advantage, they have exciting fights, slavers die, and the murder hobos roll the bodies for loot. A couple of fish people slaves go running off into the waste – free-ish for now.  Total victory, right?

These slavers are only feeding slaves into the greater system of slave-run farm ownership a handful at a time. These guys are small fries. And, whenever the party kills one slaver it gives another entrepreneurial hobgoblin a new day job. The party back of the napkin calculates they need to exhaust the entire hobgoblin race before killing slavers one at a time is an economical slave-ending practice in this corner of the world.  This activity is too small and localized to have impact on supply or demand. It does, however, line the party’s pockets with some small magical trinkets and a magic pair of boots they will somehow unload.

Several levels later, the bard gets a better idea.   The party will find the slave dealers and exchange some of their hard earned loot from rolling slavers and set slaves free. What is better than directly freeing slaves from the penury of pearl farming slavery?  And with minimal combat?  Guys, the bard says, this plan is awesome

The party exercises their now established contacts and has some interesting adventures with the local underground and Thieves’ Guild (hope the party Thief isn’t operating without a local license or they’re going to have words…). They fight some interesting monsters in some sewers because why wouldn’t the exotic city in the far off land have sewers, and finally discovers a hidden slave market.  The party bids on as many slaves as they can afford, buys them, and then releases them into the fish people slave Underground Railroad. 

Look! A great heroic deed!  Slaves freed!  Slavery solved!  Someone buy the bard a drink!  They’ll just roll slavers, buy back any other slaves, and drain the supply from the farmers!

Except now the party has introduced a new strong thread of demand into a system with an otherwise constant and predictable slave demand.  Slave prices are inherently elastic (says the GM) and until the system reaches a new murder hobo induced equilibrium, slave prices shoot up and up and up.  Incentivized by the climbing worth of their kidnapped victims, more hobgoblins become slavers to fill demand at a nearly 2-to-1 rate.  Entire fish people villages are torched and their populations forced into captivity.  The problem becomes immeasurably worse.

Good news, though – it might be possible to kill the whole hobgoblin race! 

Slave dealers send happy fliers for slave auctions direct to their murder hobo inn!  The more the murder hobos buy slaves to set them free, the more the lower echelon of the economy blows out trying to meet that demand.  And those original pearl farmers still need their replacement slaves at the same rates as before so they buy their replacements at the higher prices and then adjust their prices upward. The entire economy of this small country reacts to more money washing around by hiking prices on staples. Behold, the murder hobos are living agents of inflation!

(This causes a knock-on effect of passing this price down to the pearls which angers the traders who pass the price hikes to their customers but screw those guys. They’re just wizards. Right? Angry wizards don’t have any future bad political effects, right?)

Now slavery is more lucrative than ever before.  More evil humans and humanoids are participating in the wider economy.  Everyone is charging a bit more for everything.  Good going there, bard.  Why do we even listen to this guy?  All his plans are bad.

While waiting for the slavery economy to level out, the murder hobos go to work on their third, and best plan: killing the slave dealers and choke off supply.  If the pearl farmers cannot buy their slaves from slave markets then surely this whole land will come to its senses, right?

These slave dealer guys, the murder hobos discover in the course of the adventure, are like taking down Mafia bosses – they have enough scratch to hire themselves some serious protection and they’re not afraid to use it.  They’ve built themselves little empires on the backs of slaves and their clients, the farmers. As prices shoot up, the percentage of take the dealers extract from the sales is going up.  The slave dealers are making serious bank on the murder hobos.

The GM runs the party through a pretty thrilling adventure. Suddenly, the party has a mysterious benefactor who sends them directions to a slave dealer stronghold – a big, heavily armed manor house. The party makes plans.  They ready spells.  They break into the house in the dead of night and they take down a slave dealer in a serious boss fight with tons of cinematics.  And that guy, he has major loot in his basement.  Magic scrolls up to here

It’s when the murder hobos leave with their arms full of slave dealer loot they discover their mysterious benefactor was another slave dealer wanting to consolidate his position*.  The slave market is now making so much money the dealers are incentivized to gank each other through their favorite weapon of choice – the ANSI standard good aligned, heroic wandering murder hobo.   Now the mysterious benefactor picks up all the dead dealer’s clients and slave supply. Maybe he’ll hire all these new slaver Hobgoblins to fill out his ranks, too. 

Better yet, because supply will take a momentary hit while the slave dealers adjust to the new reality on the ground, slaves will now become even more expensive until the economy, once again, hits equilibrium.  

Murder hobos are agents of economic chaos. 

The supply curve and the base elasticity of the price of slave fish people screws everyone equally. Looking at the tally, the murder hobos have:

  • Killed some slavers and taken their stuff (good)
  • Killed a slave dealer who was totally evil (super good)
  • Set some slaves free (good)
  • Incentivized more slavers to re-capture all those slaves set free (bad)
  • Pushed up the value of slaves (pretty bad)
  • Helped to consolidate possibly warring slave dealers (really bad)
  • And walked off with armloads of loot (the best part!)

Remember the note about the GM being evil, above?  The GM is evil. Someone give her a cookie.

What’s actually the solution here?  Killing the low level slavers is fun but long-term ineffective.  Buying slaves and setting them free makes things worse. Killing slave dealers feels effective but makes the remaining slave dealers even stronger. 

Clearly, the rot is at the top.  The problem is the local government who allows all this evil to flourish with its tacit and ineffectual approval.  We need an armed military solution says the Paladin of Vengeance.   Only applied force at the top and a strong hand of wise guidance will free the fish people from their chains of slavery. 

And the murder hobos return to this blighted inflation-riddled land 10 levels later with their army and their enormous magic items. The local government never has a chance. Vengeance is meted out with a black armored fist. Those government officials not executed by the good murder hobo party are torn apart by the citizens in the streets.  The party declares themselves the Just and Wise Rulers of this Blighted Land.  Now, dammit, there will be freedom.

The murder hobos outlaw slavery.  They free the fish people.   The murder hobo’s army and police force round up the slave dealers, throws some into horrible dungeons and chase others out of the country.  The pearl farmers must now provide the fish people a wage of some sort or face the same fate.  They tax the pearls to pay for their righteousness.  Freedom is imposed.  You, people, will be free.

The price for pearls shoots up astronomically.

Sure, now, the murder hobos have to contend with an angry enemy navy made of pearl buyers on their coast, pearl price wars from other neighboring countries who allow slavery, and internal uprising from both the farmers and the private armies of the ex-slave dealers operating under ground.  Oh yes, and remember those pissed off wizards?  Well, here they are.  Pissed off. The bill came due.

This will work itself out with a little heavy handed dictatorship, military occupation, unlawful price controls, and a ruthless smothering of discontent.  This is nothing a Paladin as the new head of Government cannot handle.  Paladin’s are Good. This is for the good of this terrible land. Someone get that bard out of here.

And the fish people?  They live forever in horrible apartheid poverty. But at least they have their freedom.

The party totally prevails over the tyranny of the Supply Curve of Evil.   Level up!

* Because the GM also watches tons of HKAT.  Time for some Triad action!