Monday, October 17, 2016

10 Points of Flavor

In my recent games I've started giving out '10 points of flavor'. These are to be spent on things the player doesn't expect the character to use. I view them as a tool for fleshing out a character, and hopefully for reducing the tension between building a realistic character and working with a low point budget.

 What people buy with these points varies. Area knowledge (home) is a common choice. Its only valid if the action doesn't take place their, but it lends a fair amount of flavor. I've seen an awful lot of people buy games. The specialization is usually video games, table top games, or chess. High Academic skills often get thrown in: I had one guy buy History (Occidental magical traditions), and musical skills are common. Animal handling (dogs) is another favorite, used by dog lovers. Cooking and housekeeping show up as day to day skills. I've also seen things like driving in a campaign where the planet is covered in ice (and thus snow mobiles are used). I think the weirdest one I've seen has been Professional Skill (Fire extinguisher maintenance).

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Lawmen Of Borlo: Reflections on Setting Choices

I just finished my "Lawmen of Borlo" game, and last post I talked about how gameplay went. Today I'm going to look at the setting decisions and work I put into it, and how they turned out.

The things that went best were the way I handled races (which was a trick to get right), and the FTL system (which never got used). The books I actually ended up using were interesting, and there were some places where I did too much work, or too little. I also let the standard adventure be something I didn't plan. In this case, it worked well, but that fact is worth being cautious of in the future.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Lawmen Of Borlo: Reflections on Gameplay

I just finished a campaign: Lawmen of Borlo. Its an interesting time when you finish a campaign and move on to a new one, and a good time to consider what went well and what didn't. This is also a big learning experience for me, because its only my second roll20 gurps campaign.

The campaign premise was:
The planet of Borlo was a backwater for over 40 years. Then about 3 weeks ago, a citizen found alien ruins-- the first alien ruins to be had in humanities long and lonely search of the stars. Now there is a rush like has not been seen for centuries: men and women are flooding into a formerly barren wasteland in search of wealth.
The PC's were planetary marshals given cases to solve, spread out over the planet. They solved two cases, each with multiple stages of finding suspects. They did pretty well, all things considered: of the 9 criminals they chased, one was left with a warning and remained a police informant, three got comparatively light sentencing (all in exchange for names and  or testimony), one got away, and four got hit hard.

Things the Players Enjoyed

Negotiating with prisoners was a large part of the game, and one the players really seemed to enjoy. A lot of the time you never know if an NPC is going to grab their attention or not, but each time they picked up a batch of crooks, one of them grabbed the attention of the PC's, and they connected with a string of criminals, and actually cared about what happened to them in the end -- even if  'cared' means 'I want to make sure you don't get off with a lite sentence'! A good part of this was how much work they put into figuring out who the NPC was before they ever met them. PC's generally connect with NPC's they remember, and making the goal of the adventure finding someone is a good way to make them memorable.

I insisted that players come up with the questions to ask, rather than just rolling against, say... computer operation and finding out everything they needed to know. This was intentional stylistic choice for a cops game. It really helped to bring the world to life -- players cared about the details, and we had lots of fun extrapolating what WOULD be known in a given science fiction situation.  It also helped to keep players involved -- one player usually had the spotlight, but everyone else was thinking of questions they wanted asked. This isn't for every game, but I highly suggest it for a mystery game.

GMing Lessons

This game saw a bit of player drama. And I finally bit the bullet and realized that my job as a GM is NOT about merely presenting adventures, but about balancing personality issues, ensuring that everyone else speaks up, and generally being the social grease. This is not something that I wanted do. I wish I could just play a character called "The world" and present challenges for the players.

I'm glad I bit that bullet. Its helped with the game a lot, and its helped build that camaraderie between players I've always assumed was natural. If you are trying to GM or looking for a GM, you are there as much to help the players get along as you are to present a world. The good news is that gaming culture gives you the tools to make that easy, and it actually hasn't been that much work. It was just essential for me to realize that its my job, no one else will do it, and when you have a grab bag of players off the internet, it needs to be done.

Why didn't I pick this up before? Well, my prior GM experience is either on PbP, which tends to minimize personal issues in favor of the game (typing is much more expensive than talking), or with my relatives. And with the relatives I played with, I'm pretty much the alpha by dint of age and longstanding relationships. And everyone knows each other really well.

I also started keeping track of time this game. It worked really well, added an aspect of management, and helped in organizing NPC actions. I'll probably continue to do it.

The other big lesson was: Play what you want to play. When I started playing on roll20, I intentionally went with 'popular' (meaning common) options with the intent to switch to something I personally wanted more later. I don't think I got more interest with the generic, and I certainly had a lot more. So I'm going to play what I want to play.

This isn't to say that "bad games" don't exist. Many ideas won't be valid, or will require extra out of your players.  Before you go ahead and play, make sure its a good idea that will be fun for everyone. but that has very little to do with setting, and more to do with making sure the focus is still on the players and they can have fun. So from now on, I'm saying goodby to generic and playing in whatever setting I please! (which is not to say that players don't get a say. I've been vetting multiple ideas and giving them a choice first).

Things I enjoyed

I learned that I get tired of playing in the same setting for too long. Last game I played I was all played out by the end. I still needed to finish the mission, and if you're tired of a game, it can really drag. This time I watched for that effect, and ended the campaign before it got old. This let me do a proper ending, and we had a nice 30 minutes at the end where we talked about what happened to each of the characters after the campaign.

The PC's had lots of decisions, and the combination of "you can do anything" and "you're supposed to be doing this" was fun to watch. They tracked down people out of order, caught me by surprise, and completely missed possibilities. This was entertaining to watch in a way that combat just can't match.

It was also really nice to watch players get immersed in the setting, and understand where they were and what the world was like. I think the key was to make those things matter to the plot.

Last of all, and I'll talk about this in a later post, I ran a game with two minor combats that still remained tense and engaging. I don't enjoy slaughter fests, and I consider doing a non-combat-oriented game in real time with multiple players to be a personal success. Ironically, lives WERE at stake. They just weren't decided by who had fancier gun-play.

Things I Could Have Done Better

We had a player than kept notes. It was in many cases a life-saver: we'd start each session by reading the notes that he took and that would usually be enough to jog my memory. I could have kept my private notes better. A GM has a lot that he's doing, but in this case, I think we would have had a stronger game if I had kept more than the most minimal of notes. This became very apparent when our note-keeper couldn't make a session, and we had to remember what happened earlier.

I also have come to the conclusion that player knowledge of numbers matters. Secret rolls may be ominous, but there is a strength to declaring exactly what a PC needs in order to succeed or fail. In some ways hidden rolls can make GMing easier, but I'm realizing its a crutch. Game-play is about making decisions, and without information, there is no decision.  So I'm going to need to work on that.

In Conclusion

I learned a lot, and I enjoyed the campaign. While I pride myself as a setting builder, I'm a newbie GM. I'll soon be putting up info on setting, and a few more thoughts inspired by the campaign.

I hope you can learn from my mistakes.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Seige Crab

Siege Crabs are massive beasts bred, cursed, enchanted, or who knows what else by some wizard as weapons of war. They're actually a fairly practical design if one wishes to take a castle. They look like your typical great hulking monster with too much armor and too little speed, but adventurers not expecting them are in for a few surprises. The first, and this really shouldn't be a surprise, is that while they move from place to place slowly they're quite agile in hand to hand combat. The second is that they climb walls like a much smaller creature. The third, and nastiest, is the reverse missiles spell they generate. Most adventurers will think "Big Slow Ugly" and start shooting at the thing, only to have their attacks fly back in their face.

Seige crabs  are territorial and generally try to drive intruders off. They'll happily munch on the remains of foe, but for the most part they'll leave fleeing intruders alone. They do have an instinct to get to high ground and to assault heavily fortified positions, so Adventurers who think they're safe for the night may find a crabby monster trying to drive them out.

ST30         HP30          Speed7
Dodge      8Parry12DR10
Slice (14): 3d+3 cutting, -1 to defenses. Is considered a grapple against a foe that it hits.
Pound (14): 3d+3 crushing, -1 to defenses.
Traits: Constriction Attack, Reverse missiles Spell, Extra Attack 1, magic resistance 2, 2 strikers (reach 1,C)
Skills: Brawling - 16, Climbing -18,
Class: Dire Animal
Notes: Not Sapient. Seige Crab carpaces can fetch $200 dollars as raw materials, and they have Prothoratic Mana Organs that power the reverse missiles effect. If you can get these out, they're worth $ 1000, but the thaumatology roll is at -2. Its a tricky job! Siege Crab eggs are worth about $100 a piece, but transporting them back requires precautions not to stunt the magic of the creatures (Thaumatology roll), and odds are that half  or more of them are dead already! A successful Naturalist or Thaumatology roll can identify which ones are good and which ones aren't.

But bigger. Much Bigger

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Thoughs on Realm Magic

Realm magic promises simplicity. But requires some GM work. It sometimes feels like a different game. Does it deliver? Is it balanced?

I'm looking at a number of different ways to use realm magic, and comparing it with some of the other systems gurps has.  I have the thought process behind very small magic system I built using the stub of a realm system (phage magic), the skeleton of a much larger system I've used in the past, and thoughts on realm magic on the wing. I also compare realm magic with the standard system and look at how 'Gurpsy' the whole thing is, and how its really at the root of RPM.

Phage Magic

When I built phage magic for Stornuso, I had a very small subset of magic I needed a price for.  In the post I 'estimated the number of realms at 12' and moved on. Here is the actual thought process I used in the estimation:

All of my realms so far were energy based: light, heat, and motion. Rather than come up with every single realm, I figured I'd do the realm of energy and then figure just as many categories in each 'sister' category of energy. I divided up into Energy, Matter, and Mind/knowledge. I felt confident I could put any effect into one of these. Then I tried to think of other categories in energy. At the time, All I came up with was electromagnetism. I debated using life energy, but threw that out. Looking back, I would have done it the other way around, but the point is we had four energy realms, and then two more categories (presumably) the same size gives us a total of 12 realms.

Then I had to decide on levels. I noticed the limits I had placed where that the magic took time, had to happen right next to the mage, and no creation of energy was allowed. That was 3 upgrades that theoretical future levels could give, for a total of four levels. So I decided my 40 point total would be split up into four pieces, and assigned each ability the cost of 10 points each.

Did it deliver? well, it gave me a number, and all things told, the number wasn't that hard to get and it doesn't look unbalanced 

Standard Magic

An interesting comparison is comparing standard magic to realm magic. The standard magic system is divided up into colleges -- 24 of them to be exact. This is well over 12, which means we use 60 x 1/2 = 30 points for each category. 30 points to know every spell in a standard magic college, plus any that may be made up.

That's... actually not too bad. Particularly if we're using the 6 level system the book provides. Its probably a little more expensive than buying all of the spells you actually want individually, but you get the benefit of the doubt on what you can do. And at 5 points per level per realm, character building is looking pretty simple. It also provides us with what is probably better balance than the standard system, with cherry picking spells no longer on the table. Spell energy cost, the primary balancing component of the standard system, remains pretty much the same or exactly the same if you use that option.

Is Realm Magic Still Gurps?

In some ways, realm magic feels like a cop-out to many (including sometimes to me). Gurps has traditionally been about being able to both do everything and retain concrete effects and prices. Gurps is good at the blow by blow detail oriented aspect of gaming. In matters when someone gets punched in the face as opposed kicked in the stomach. So does realm magic betray us with its fluffy 'any effect within this range'?

I'm going to have to say that its very much gurps.  Realm magic still requires discrete, distinct effects. You still pay energy for those effects, and it still takes a distinct amount of time. In fact, RPM, which feels like a gurps-like system, is based in part on realm magic. Actually, the crunchiest part, the building of the cost of a ritual, is the part that takes the most from the rules for realm magic. Does it still sound wimpy and fluffy and narrative-based? It certainly earns its way back.

No, its not as developed as RPM. RPM is a worked example with the realms per-chosen, a lot of options toggled, and with a more robust pricing system, but it still has as one of two main roots realm magic. The great difference between RPM and proper realm magic using energy gathering is that you don't pay for the realms, but the skills are harder than you'd expect and quite difficult to raise. Which means that RPM is generally more finicky about balance than proper realm magic. So if you love RPM, at least go back, look at the realms, and see if it doesn't change the way you feel about one system or the other.

As for whether crunch means gurps, no it doesn't. Its not the powers system, but only one powers system really is, or two if you count sorcery seperate from magic as powers. And realms gives you all you need to build a much more complex system.

Techno Magic

When I first got Thaumatology, I was exploring gurps and I somehow got the feeling that the technomancer setting should use the standard magic system. Yes, I know, I maligned the poor system and tried to replace in in an area where it was literally the base of the setting. And I got my hands on realm magic.  Actually, I was pointed towards it by Faolyn on the GURPS Forum.

I had three types of realms:
Energy: Heat, Motion, Electromagnetism, Fuel, Mana, Life
Matter: Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, Metal, Synthetic, Elemental
Thought: Mind, Computer, Demon, Measurement, Meta-Magic

I forbade prediction of the future and creation, added magery ability that decreased distance costs, built some tables for converting between various forms of energy and the various difficulties of doing different things, and so forth. I ended up with the following costs:

magery (raw power): [5/level]
energy : [4/level]
matter : [4/level]
Intellect Magic: [3/level]
Measurement Magic: [3/level]
Meta Magic: [7.5/level]

I've used it in various places, and it feels modern, complex, and reasonably balanced. The thread where I did it is here, though I may do a proper write up in the future.

Just Winging It

Recently I saw a thread on how to stat up stone-age gods without everything getting too complicated. It was suggested to just use realm magic. My first thought was 'that sounds perfect'! The person actually running the game shied away from using it, but its still worth considering realm magic when building fast and loose characters.

I've never actually run or played a game where that happened. But it sounds like something that would work really well. The biggest problem is figuring out the right point cost for realms. You don't have time to figure out the entirety of the realm system, because you're winging it. Estimate the size of the realm, and then think about how forgiving the realm is. In some cases its helpful to think in terms of colleges from magic. Is the realm bigger than a college? how about 4 colleges? remember that colleges usually overlap. If the realm includes transmutations or effects that would be cross college, you may need to expand your estimate. When you have your estimate, divide 24 by that number and you have a number of realms to base the price on.

Did it Deliver?

We've looked at 4 different ways realm magic can be done. Were they simple? I would say they're simple enough. More to the point, they did things no other system let us do. Just as they give flexible effects, they also give a flexible set of parameters to work with. At the same time, they're at least as balanced as standard magic or RPM ... and probably more so. These aren't exactly the Gold standard for balance in gurps, but they are "good enough". And when you get down to the details, yes! this is gurps. Stats in real numbers, point costs, and oodles of customization.

So Why Don't People Use it More?

I would say simply because its in the least accessible part of a very dense (but awesome book). I did not pick up on realm magic the first time I read it. I was too excited about threshold magic, book/path magic, and ritual magic and too disinterested in noun-verb magic to really soak in this system. Which is really a gem. Its rules are worth getting to know, quite simple, and quite flexible. Most interestingly, its generic. The only system that comes as close in customization to it is the powers system.

Another reason it doesn't get used as much is because its a terrible source of inspiration: it needs an idea before it becomes useful. While it adapts well to source material, its poor source material itself. This is in contrast many of the per-existing flavor-rich systems gurps can offer. This is a feature -- because of this it can handle lot more source material, but be aware going in that you need to provide fluff and setting. 

So next time you need a magic system, ask your self if realm magic will work. You may be pleasantly surprised by the answer.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Monster Hunters: Between Man and Wolf

While the classic werewolf of legend is a man that turns into a wolf, there is another tradition: that of a monstrous creature that is neither a man nor a wolf, but the animalistic features of a wolf framed on hunched, powerful frame of what's mostly a man. This is a modern take, but no less of a legitimate one.  Monster Hunters provides us with  several animal templates, but not much in the way of wolf-men. Or rat-men. We technically have the feline template in basic, but lets do a proper monster Hunters template as well.

The most important thing to remember here is that the points should total up to 125. Its also worth noting that unlike a wolf, bear, or eagle, this creature is monstrous, and will be reacted to as such -- a wolf may draw calls to animal control, but a monster will generate even more extreme reactions.

Basic Man-Monster [125]
ST +2, DX +2, HT +2, Speed +.5, Teeth (sharp), Claws (sharp),  Night vision 5,  Damage Resistance 4 (tough skin), fur, Social Stigma (Monster), Ham-fisted, spoken language drops to accented, 32 point animal lens

were-men tend to have a lot of similarities: Teeth, claws, fur, and an animalistic fury. They're bodies are pretty much in a monster shape rather than an animal form, and the focus is really on building a monster, not an animal. The spoken language at accented reflects an appropriate animal voice, and while it doesn't drive people away (your looks already do that, and you can turn it off whenever they want) it can make it difficult to communicate with teammates.

Because we retain the human shape, a lot of the statistics are lower. But we keep fine manual dexterity, which means the character can use weapons and open doors freely. These types of monsters are made to use weapons, be they guns, blades, or something more exotic, and that can make these things terrifying. Night vision 5 is the higher than any of the natural animal templates. Once again, this is because this creature really isn't half-man half-animal, but a monster.

The remaining points spent on a combination of senses and movement abilities, flavored for the appropriate animal. While these abilities are only about a quarter of the point total, they keep the monster tied to its animal roots.

Animal Lenses [32]
Wolf-man: Acute hearing 3, Enhanced Move (ground) .5, Discriminatory Smell, Penetrating voice
Cat-man: Acute Smell 1 , Perfect Balance, Discriminatory Hearing
Rat-man: Discriminatory smell,  Perfect Balance, Night vision raised to 7

Other animals are quite possible, and should be appropriately themed. Smaller animals are particularly appropriate, as they can be made into a monster capable of making up for the animals natural small size.

More than one Template
Adding another template to a were is an additional 27 points. This is a big investment, but its also a very powerful one, giving a very different set of capabilities to the lycanthrope. The template taken should almost always be an intermediate or completed form of the creature. The lycanthrope should also specify which form is reverted to during the full moon.

As a Monster

ST 20       HP 20        Speed: 8.25
DX 15      Will  12     Move: 8
IQ 5          Per 13       Weight: 150-200
HT 16       FP 16        SM: 0

Dodge: 12    DR 6 (tough skin)

bite (15): 2d-2 cut, reach C, -1 to defense
claw (15): 2d-2 cut, reach C, -1 to defense
Improvised Club (14) 4d+1/2d+1 cr, reach 1

Its worth noting this sort of Lycanthrope is weaker than the classic forms -- unless it can get its hands on something. This monster is more dangerous in an urban or semi-urban enviroment than in the wilderness proper. Although the IQ is low, these monsters are quite willing to pick up an object and beat their foe with it.

This sort of were is most dangerous as the semi-rational or rational head of a larger pack -- one with multiple forms, and who has combined human and animal into a single monstrous form using the benefits of both. While all weres are more dangerous in this form, half-men get particularly more dangerous, as they are able to take full advantage of weapons.

 Last Howl

I hope you find this useful ... I certainly wished someone else had done this for me on occasion!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

What is my TL anyways?

What's the TL on a full-auto crossbow?
First of all, ask yourself why you need to know the tech level. Tech level has a few pretty different purposes: setting starting wealth, letting players know what kind of tech to expect, and pricing people with a different tech level. If you don't need any of those, or can settle them without using the number, you don't need to figure out what the actual Tech Level is. Of course, you frequently need to do all three of those, and in that case Tech Levels provide a framework for you to work with.

Tech levels are a tool, not a limitation. If you find them getting in the way of what you want to do, you should either throw them completely out, or you should figure out why they aren't letting you do what you want to -- and that can help you to better understand your setting. I hope that this article can help you view and use Tech Levels as a tool and not a troublesome number you have to set.

What Tech is Important?

When looking at technology, there are lots of things that are good to look at, but it can be worrisome to wonder if you're looking at enough technology and if you've looked at too much. I use the following list when I'm comparing technology: you should probably know how each of these work.
  • Weapons and Armor
  • Transportation and Communication
  • Medicine
  • Survival Gear
  • Spy Gear
  • Economic Robustness
Each category represents something that adventurers use. There are certainly other categories of Technology, but they aren't as important to adventurers! If you're spending an extra amount of time on a category, be sure its interesting to the players.

Weapons and Armor: The ability to kill and stop killing. This is very important to most adventurers, and includes not only automatics and armor, but tanks and tactics. Consider law enforcement situations, military situations, and fights in the wilderness.
Transportation and Communication: This includes getting silk from china, sending messages from London to Baghdad, and the written word. Some adventurers spend an awful lot of time delivering messages, exploring far off places, and trying to read ancient tomes. Transportation and communication also go a long ways to setting a feel for a setting. Consider not only how the rich and powerful communicate, but also how the common man communicates, and both how grain gets to town and how silk crosses the world.
Medicine: Medicine isn't just about undoing weapons and armor, but also about combating plagues -- a necessary part of exploring foreign lands. A smaller category than most, its also the most likely to be more advanced than reality. Be sure to remember both injuries and illness.
Survival Gear: Artificial lights. Tents. Water skins. Scuba Gear. Winter Clothing. Food preservation. Adventurers are constantly going inconvenient places, and this gear keeps them alive. This type of gear is easy to forget, so be sure that you include it! Consider typical camping gear, winter gear, cave exploration, swimming in water, climbing cliffs, and other tasks that may come up while adventuring.
Spy Gear: Finding out things people don't want you to, and ways to stop that. Most of the obvious cases are high tech gear: hidden microphones, cryptography, and alarm system count. but don't forget locks, primitive ciphers, and signet rings. Telescopes and radar also count. This tech can be very important for adventurers!
Economic Robustness: This is about how rich a society is, and its certainly part of the tech level. Its about how hard it is to make something, and how rich the average man (and more importantly soldier) is. The things to watch are food, shelter, clothing, pottery, and tools. How long does it take to make one of them. It is very possible to spend too much time here, but its worth at least stopping in to check.

What Tech to Expect

The most important part of a tech level is setting player expectations. It can be frustrating for a player to think that something is available, only to have them realize it isn't. Even moreso when it happens again and again. The converse is no better: the NPC's constantly one-uping the heroes through superior understanding of their technology.

So for scifi, are we using this....
Most GM's have better things to do with their time than make lists of every single item of gear in a campaign. This is one of the places where the TL number becomes a tool: you can give the number and a set of expectations are made. Its a fantastic starting point, and for a lot of games, its sufficient.

But you probably didn't come here looking for advice on a run of the mill game. The TL number can still help. You give the TL number and then you modify it. In historical games this isn't too hard. You can also say things like "TL 4 without gunpowder". This is particuarly true for Ultra-tech games.
....or this?

And then you have crazy settings with a large amount of tech described in no other book. This includes settings like star wars (which doesn't seem to have all the tech we do), Magitech, and glowing Atlantean crystals. So what do we do here? Sit down with the list of categories and specify what's available and what's not. If you struggle with one, think about it for just a moment and then come up with something or be sure it won't come up. Economic Robustness... lines up pretty well with starting wealth. And we'll cover that in a lower section.

Pricing Primitives

This is at once the hardest and easiest part to do: +/-[5] points per tech level different from the campaign standard.  If the campaign standard is TL 8 and you are TL 7+1 -- don't pay anything, it all adds up to eight. Of course, this requires a number for you to compare to... kind of.

In some campaigns its possible to just wing a TL difference based on 'better tech'. This is particuarly applicable in space opera where a more advanced race is better only in terms of smaller gear that does more damage with better armor on faster ships, but is otherwise pretty much the same. This is almost never more than two TL's worth of advancements.  A tool, not a limitation.

Starting Wealth

Starting Wealth is an interesting concept. It controls how much gear a character has access to. Which is a big deal. Part of what makes DF use a 'fantasy TL' is the cost assumptions in the genre. Starting wealth is normally not a big deal: most of the time you know about what TL you are at and you can just use that number -- or tweak it to your taste. TL is a tool, and this is never truer than with starting wealth. Occasionally though, you need to know what the proper starting wealth for a character in a totally alien technology paradigm is. For that-- figure out the number, and then use the normal tools.

Coming Up With a Number for Magic Carpets and Zombie Farmers

Ok, now we need to come up with our number. This can feel nervewracking, but is actually not that hard to get right. The most important thing before you start is to know what the tech level you are trying to set is capable of. If you don't know that, you can't figure out the TL.

The trickiest part in all of this is often taking magic into account. When I say magic in this context, I don't mean 'anything that breaks the laws of physics'. I mean 'abilities restricted to a small portion of the population'. When working out what technology requiring specialized mages is like, ask yourself: "how does a middling merchant do it?" In the end, it all comes down to access: if merlin and al'Hazin use crystal balls to talk in london and baghdad, but everyone else uses couriers with a long a dangerous journey, you don't have instant communication. On the other hand, if a middling merchant can find a local witch to bridge the distance with her own crystal ball, you should count the technology.

Pick a TL you think your own compares to (I suspect 6 or 7 is best for you), and compare each of the technological categories of the historical TL to the TL you choose. If one aspect is lots better in one setting (often communication or medicine) that's fine, but if one setting routinely outclasses the other, move the 'equivalent TL guess' up or down and compare again. Don't worry about this being exact. If you can't decide if a setting is better or worse than another in a given aspect, just declare them equal and move on.

You can certainly compare the TL's yourself and by ear, but I have a list. Its nothing new, but it puts the technologies into categories so that its  easy to compare and so all the information is in one place. Once you have the list and know what the TL can do, matching them up is fairly simple.

when the balances are even, you have your TL equivalent! This doesn't mean you have that TL, only that your TL is 'about as good' as that TL. If it seems like a lot of stuff seems to fall between TL 5 and TL 6 --- that's not a coincidence. The industrial revolution saw huge changes in what mankind could do. In some cases one technological area will be more advanced. While this doesn't matter on the small scale, it can be worth it to say that a setting is TL6, but TL7 in weapons technology. Use this sparingly though -- once you have a split tech, everything is fairly fuzzy. Slight advances (or primitive fields) work best when fairly close to a core TL -- or if they are close to a TL that exists elsewhere in the setting.

Making the Number Look Fancy

 The numeric equivalent is good for most purposes, but a lot of people will want to go even further and come up with one of those fancy TL3+2^ names for their TL. We can do that too.

Once you have your TL equivalent, figure out the last standard TL where most of the technologies exist. For example, If you don't have coal power you probably don't have TL 5, but you might have TL 4 -- particularly if you do have gun powder and clockwork. This tends to be easier than the first comparison, but once again, don't get stuck over thinking it.

Now take the two numbers and build the TL X+Y. So if the first number was 7 and the second number was 4, you have TL 4 +3 (=7). And if you have supernatural aspects add a ^ to the end of the whole thing.

The ^ is kind of a funny thing. It represents breaks from the laws of reality as we know them. If it is put on a TL without a '+', as in TL7^, it means that you have TL 7 plus some extra things, be that broadcast power or   psionic mind reading tech. The ^ will always indicate raised technology. But if you've got a TL X+Y^, the ^ doesn't indicate addition, just that the alternate tech isn't of the normal variety. In some ways its redundant, but its always good to have, because it tells the players to beware of tech.

Don't be Discouraged

Remember, this is a game. Its supposed to be fun! If you don't think figuring out your TL is fun, or doable, just use TL 5. Actually, use the alternative number than popped into your head when I suggested using what's obviously the wrong TL. But if you really like this sort of stuff (like I do), then read over the article and start thinking beyond flintstones level technology. Think up alternate ways of running a civilization, and set your players loose in the results -- assured that you can give this place a number.