Datini’s Wares in GURPS

Two soldier crush silverware for easier packing as a comrade throws more loot out a window
Want to know whether helmets of scales like Mr. Red wears were just artists’ fantasies? Check out Medieval Warfare VIII.1. British Library, MS. Royal 20 C VII (painted in Paris between 1380 and 1400)

Last spring I published a two-page article in Medieval Warfare VIII.1 talking about the kinds of concealed armour which were for sale in the Avignon of the Babylonian Captivity. As far as I know nobody else has talked about these sources in any language except Italian, so I hope translating them was helpful! Now, I am interested in the real things and how they were made … if I ever have money I might commission a few reproductions. But what if your interest is in gaming? How might you represent this armour, say in GURPS?

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Historical Prices for Gamers and Writers

Photo of cloth dealers in the old bazaar of Isfahan
Isfahan’s glory days are young, within the last thousand years, but a nice shaded place to set up shop is a luxury in any period! Photo of the Old Bazaar in Isfahan by Sean Manning, May 2017.

One of the big problems facing anyone studying ancient economies is that it’s very difficult to tell how much things cost at any given time. Records of market prices are sparse at the best of times and often nonexistent, and even where such records exist, they’re usually exceptional or represent only a single transaction. But sometimes historians get lucky …

– Matthew Riggsby, GURPS Hot Spots: The Silk Road p. 34

Gamers and novelists often want to know something which historians are not eager to answer: how much did practical things cost in the past? Historians of older periods tend to be very aware of the limits of a source which just says “five pounds of iron nails worth thus-and-such,” and admire the work of specialists in recent times who construct methodical serieses and statistics and turn them into charts with lines and inflection points. But characters in a short story or an adventure game are much more likely to buy a drink or a sword than ten bushels of barley. The writers of roleplaying games almost never have time to do the research, unless the game is set in very recent times and they can mine their collection of old Sears Catalogues and Baedekers. (Also, their customers tend to become just as attached to “a longsword costs 15 gold pieces” as they are to “magic missile always hits,” and in our decadent and decimalized age they sometimes revolt against something as simple as pounds/shillings/pence). So this week, I thought I would honour the release of Matthew Riggsby’s GURPS Hot Spots: The Silk Road with a list of some resources which I have found.

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How Much Does the Protection of Low-Tech Armour Vary?

A selection of images from tactical displays in Star Wars: A New Hope
Despite all of our technological terrors, we still can’t predict the outcome of hand-to-hand combat very well. Graphic courtesy of Dr. Mike Reddy 2013

Designers of roleplaying games who are interested in learning how the real world works, and not just studying other people’s stories and games, usually put a lot of thought into the combat mechanics. One old argument is about how to handle the performance of armour. Fairly early on (sometime in the 1970s or 1980s?), the idea of a damage roll was combined with the idea that armour could provide a penalty to damage. However, this tends to bother people whose archetypical combat involves modern firearms and armoured vehicles or kevlar body armour.

Bullets and shells have a very predictable ability to penetrate armour, and modern industrialized, standardized-tested armour has a very predictable ability to resist it, and the damage-roll-minus-armour model tends to let some things get through which should be stopped. While sometimes this can be abstracted away (“eh, maybe those few points of damage represent bruising”) other times that is difficult to justify (“did the shell explode inside the tank or outside? Did the Deathly Dagger of Draining touch his flesh or not?”) One solution to this is to treat both penetration and resistance as more or less fixed, then generate the effect of the wound based on their interaction. GURPS fans often refer to this as armour-as-dice, because armour can be treated as reducing the predictable number of damage dice which the attacker rolls instead of the variable results of that roll.

However, models which treat penetration and resistance to penetration as more-or-less fixed tend to make people who are more interested in combat with hand weapons uncomfortable. In this post, I would like to explore what we know about how much the ability of hand-made armour to resist weapons can vary, even within a given piece of a known form and quality. If you want, you can skip to where I sum up.

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The Information Density of Cuneiform Tablets

A photograph of a cuneiform tablet against the backdrop of 1 mm graph-paper
Tablet HS 643 in Jena.

When I was visiting the tablet collection in Jena (as one does) my mind naturally turned to fact-checking GURPS books. Back in 2007, some of the thoughtful writers at Steve Jackson Games put together an article “How Heavy is Dense Reading?” on the density of information from medieval manuscripts to modern printed books in words per square metre, words per kg, and words per cartload. They included some guesses about Greek papyri and cuneiform tablets, but did not seem to have as much data for those. Their house style discourages mentioning sources, but I am pretty sure that their medieval data comes from a survey of all surviving medieval European manuscripts which a professor mentioned in my undergraduate days. Today, I would like to put together some evidence on the size and capacity of small cuneiform tablets to help them fill in the gaps.
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Some thoughts on “GURPS Fourth Edition Low-Tech”

Cover of GURPS 4th Edition Low-Tech illustrated with Greek hoplites in combat, a First Nations man in bearskin cloak standing in front of a fire with a spear, and an eighteenth-century ship firing a broadside

William H. Stoddard, with Peter dell’Orto, Dan Howard, and Matt Riggsby, GURPS Fourth Edition Low-Tech. Steve Jackson Games: Austin, TX, 2010. Link to publishers’ online store.

Its a hard time for small publishers. On November the 12th Steve Jackson Games released its annual Report to the Stakeholders and announced that in a year with their second highest revenues ever they could not afford to print their fully typeset GURPS Discworld. Apparently they have a much harder time selling their roleplaying games than their card and board games. I think that is a shame, because many of their books would be valuable outside the small number of people who play games with the GURPS rules. One of these books is GURPS Fourth Edition Low-Tech.
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