Ideal Advance Design: Discussion and Example

From the beginning, one of the distinctive features of Strategic Primer has been what I’ve called “limitless possibilities for discovery”, the ability of the player to introduce new scientific, technical, or even cultural ideas to “his people,” rather than them having to discover all such ideas “the hard way.” As such, a large part of the bulk of some players’ “strategies” in some turns has been the new “advances” they wanted to “discover.” The strictness of my criteria for accepting or rejecting such intentions has varied, but today I’d like to illustrate what a perhaps-ideal “advance design” might look like.

First, let’s look at “the situation” again. You’ve been inserted as the commander of a small military force. Like Calvin Morrison in Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen, who remembered the formula for gunpowder from high-school chemistry, you can use your knowledge to help pull the locals up “by their bootstraps”; unlike him, however, for two reasons (which I’ll get to in a moment) you can (through some sort of device to communicate with the group that sent you) consult your own world’s reference materials to supplement your immediate knowledge, though everything still has to be reproduced “in your own hand” (though I often waive that for diagrams in the Internet era) and in terms that your scientists can understand.

(The first reason that the game doesn’t limit players to their own personal knowledge is that such a rule would be absolutely unenforceable, even if played using pen and paper with everything handwritten, like in the first campaign. But there’s another reason: as frustrating as it is to have to invent rules and develop tools to deal with what the players come up with, it’s very interesting for me to see what the players can do with wider resources available to them.)

The most important thing, as you should already gather from the above, is a clear, preferably concise, but complete description in your own words, in terms that your scientists can understand. Define any necessary terms, take incremental steps, and so on—like a patent application (in the days before patents were deliberately obfuscated), in at least some respects.

In many cases, descriptions should be supplemented by a diagram. As I mentioned above, I generally don’t actually require you to draw this yourself, but it should ideally be a diagram, not just a picture, and having more than one diagram can help.

It’s also often nice to include a section discussing the uses of the advance. Many techniques and technologies are more widely useful than for the narrow purpose they are first discovered.

Now let’s look at an example. The catapult is in the Starting Package of advances with which all players began the current campaign, so it’s safe to use as my example without giving anything away.

I found several diagrams on a page advertising an early “ebook” of The Book of the Crossbow, one of which I embed below. Ideally the accompanying text should explain what all the parts are, how they fit together in the various “subsystems” (so to speak) of the siege engine, and how all those systems work together to drive the machine as a whole.

(As an aside, I mention here that in researching this I’ve discovered that some of the impressions I had gathered and used in the advance as it stands today are not quite accurate, so it will change in any future campaigns.)


Catapult: A siege engine that throws a weight a long way, though not to a great height.

See attached diagrams: the machine stands on a sturdy, somewhat mobile (wheeled) base, with a frame above. A skein of ropes twisted together stretches between the two sides of the machine below that frame. A wooden beam runs from the ropes to a bowl (in which the projectiles are placed); when the machine is at rest, the beam rests upright against the frame, but by means of cranks attached to either side of the machine the rope is twisted to rotate the beam back until it is parallel with the ground. When the tension is released, the bowl end of the beam flies up, releasing its payload when it hits the upright frame.

That’s quite brief, especially for such a complicated machine, but should give you an example of what kind of thing I’m looking for.

Any questions or comments?


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