Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Mining Knowledge in GURPS : Part II. Designing sources of information

In this post, I propose a way to generate the content of sources of information such as books, libraries and collective knowledge within crowds. The GM can plant any information in such source, the rest is randomly generated only as needed.  



Topic Plan

Designing books, libraries, etc.

We'll use the example of a library, but the source of information can be a book, a crowd, anything that can contain information will work. Unless that you want to completely define the content of a library, it is best to treat it as an entity with its own "stat block". Similarly to the process described in the post on character knowledge, the actual knowledge stored in a library is finite, but not fully defined. Here is a template statistics block:



Property
Type
Note
Research Base Time
Time
Time of typical search
Research Modifier
Check Modifier
Base modifier to any search
Knowledge base
Skill-level, research modifier
Any number of skills
Specific content
Topic, research modifier
Any number of pre-determined topics


To discuss the statistics, let's consider as an example the actual library of Bilbo Baggins.


Property
Type
Research Base Time
4 hours
Research Modifier
-2 (messy)
Knowledge base
History(Shire)-14 [+0 research]
Area Knowledge(Shire)-12 [+2 research]
Herb Lore-10 [-4 research]
Hidden Lore-8 [+1 research]
Naturalist-13 [-1 research]
Specific content
Trolls, Ecology
Wargs, Ecology [+2 research]

The research base time for this library is the time that it would take to make a superficial survey of the collection such that someone can get a grasp of the library's overall content.  In this case, let's say that it could be done in about 4 hours.  A neat table estimating base time with respect to TL and corpus size would be sexy right here, but for now I'll leave it as a value to hand-wave. 

Bilbo has not maintained much of a filing system, but has kept some kind of thematic order in his collection. Finding material on a specific topic is thus very unfavorable (-2), a modifier that applies to the entire library. 

The library mostly focuses on History of the Shire. It contains a lot of encyclopedic content that is particularly well organized (hence +2 research). The content in Herb Lore is scattered (-4 research) and fragmentory (level 10 only). There are, hidden in these books, a little of information about Hidden Lore (Level 8 only), but Bilbo has bookmarked most of these (+1 research). The library as a whole is a rich source of scattered information on animal and plants (Naturalist-13, -1 research). 


Determining presence/absence of specific content

This is the same thing as asking to the library if it knows the answer to a specific question. This check is done in secret, either on the fly, or during preparation.  The procedure is identical to the that of performing the check for any character. Determine how specific the content is, apply the appropriate modifier and check against the library's appropriate skill. The margin of success (or error) becomes the research modifier for this content.

Example 1: the GM needs to determine what is in the library about the battle of Bywater. This is a History(Shire) check done at +4 as most (90%) hobbits knows about this famous chapter of recent history. History(Shire)-14+4=18, roll 16. This is a success with only a +2 margin. 
Example 2: Learning about the motivations of dragons is an obscure topic even for Hidden Lore. Let's apply a -3 modifier to this. Hidden Lore-8-3=5. Roll: 13, a failure by 8. There is nothing in this library about dragons but mere mentions of the word. 
Example 3: Is there a map of Northfarthing with all streams and roads? It is an Area Knowledge which is rather specific. Let's give it a -3 penalty and assume that about 15% of the hobbits could indeed reproduce this map from memory. Area Knowledge-12 -3 = 11. Roll: 6, success by 5. 


After completing these examples, we can update the stat block as follow (only if done during prep work).


Property
Type
Research Base Time
4 hours
Research Modifier
-2 (messy)
Knowledge base
History(Shire)-14 [+0 research]
Area Knowledge(Shire)-12 [+2 research]
Herb Lore-10 [-4 research]
Hidden Lore-8 [+1 research]
Naturalist-13 [-1 research]
Specific content
Trolls, Ecology
Wargs, Ecology [+2 research]
Battle of Bywater (history) [+2 research]
Map of Northfarthing, streams and roads [+5 research]
Dragons, Not there.


Researching

The main idea here is to use research to determine how much time it takes to either find a piece of specific content, or confirm that it is not there. The key principle is that a good researcher is efficient at finding information. The skill check emphasize the time factor more than whether the research will work or not. Sometimes, researching is more than seeking, but collating and summarizing information: there is more to research than just looking things up. 

Searching for a given piece of information is done in a few steps. 
  1. The PC declares what he/she is looking for.
  2. If the topic is not listed in the Specific Content section, determine whether it is, and add the topic to this stat block field. 
  3. The Research skill of the PC is modified by the library's base research modifier, then further modified by the modifier for this specific content.
  4. The researching PC rolls a check against the skill related to the Specific Content. A failure of this check incurs an additional -1 penalty. This is due to the effect of not being able to navigate efficiently the subject matter.*
  5. Before the check is done, ask the PC how long is he/she willing to research. 
  6. Roll 3d6, the time to complete the research task is equal to the base time, doubled as many time as the margin of failure, or halved as many time as the margin of success. 
  7. If the time to complete is smaller than the allowed time to research. Announce the outcome (whether positive of negative).

Research Skill modifiers


Adjustment
Type
-1
+1
+/- var
+/- var
* Failed skill check
Familiarity : spend more than base time
Resource base modifier
Content base modifier


Example 1: Searching about the ecology of trolls in this library will be done at -2 (base modifier). Searching about wargs will be done at +0 (-2 base, +2 content modifier). Arnadil has a Research-12. He doesn't have any point in Hidden Lore, and this skill has no default. He thus gets an additional -1 on both checks. He rolls a 6 for Troll Ecology (target=9), a MoS of 3. He zeroes on the troll information in a mere 30 minutes (four hours divided by 2^3). For the wargs, his net target is 11 and he rolls a 9: a MoS of 2. He gets the relevant passages together from a few books in 1 hour (four hours divided by 2^2).
Example 2 : Arnadil now wants to know about the exact location of the Battle of Bywater. He already checked against his own skill and failed. He must thus research the topic. To do this, he has History(Shire)-11, rolls a 11 and pass. The final target score is thus 11 -2 (messy) +2 (specific modifer) = 11. He rolls 15, a failure by 4. Finding this details will take 64 hours, or about 8 days of hard work. Maybe it is because the location has to be pieced from many vague scrawls scattered over many books. 
Example 3 : For good measure, after overstaying his welcome for more than 8 days, Arnadil starts searching for details about dragons. He still has no points in Hiden Lore (-1), but is now familiar with the library (+1), there is -2 for the messy place. Research-12-2=10, rolls a 6: a MoS of 4. After searching around for 15 minutes, Arnadil can assert positively that there is no real information about dragon anywhere in this library.

More examples

Treatise on Fire arts


Property
Type
Research Base Time
2 hours
Research Modifier
-4 ( obfuscated )
Knowledge base
Hidden Lore(elementals)-14 [-1 research]
Thaumatology-10 [+1 research]
Specific content
Ignite, spell [-2 research]


This book is a compact source of information. It is a thick book: a superficial scan through would take about 2 hours. It is about various topics on fire: a superficial coverage of thaumatology and thoroughly covers fire elementals.  It is written to be intentionally difficult to follow: has no logic flow, table of content or index. A very frustrating book to work with.

A PC with Research-12 and Thaumatology-10 attempts to determine whether there is a spell hidden in the book. The PC rolls 3d6 against his Thaumatology (relevant skill), get a 8. Success. The research roll will be done at -6 (-4 because the book is intentionally obfuscating the information, -2 because the spell is particularly fragmented into passages all over the work). The check against Research-6 gives a 10. A failure by 4, or a search time 32 hours. It will take a while before bringing all the pieces together into a coherent whole. The PC gets himself a large coffee, a ham sandwich and gets to work. 

What was the name of that Breelander that Alexi Proudfoot bought a horse from?


Property
Type
Research Base Time
45 minutes
Research Modifier
-5 (drunken party)
Knowledge base
History(Shire)-14 [+0 research]
Area Knowledge(Shire)-12 [+2 research]
Area Knowledge(Bree)-12
Specific content


The party at the Green Dragon just got a little wild. Finbert has to find the name of a Breelander that he suspects to be smuggling barrow-down cursed gold through the Shire. He knows that the smuggler is a horse trader from Bree. It is already 11PM, the place will be cleared by 1AM.

Step 1 - Does anyone at the Green Dragon knows the answer to this question? 
Well, there is not a lot of horse trader in Bree, so about 75% of Bree lander would know (+2). The crowd as a whole has Area Knowledge(Bree)-12+2=14. Roll: 10, MoS of 4. Apparently, zeroeing on the right people won't be too hard. The party's stat block looks now like this:


Property
Type
Research Base Time
45 minutes
Research Modifier
-5 (drunken party)
Knowledge base
History(Shire)-14 [+0 research]
Area Knowledge(Shire)-12 [+2 research]
Area Knowledge(Bree)-12
Specific content
Clary Marsoon [+4 research]

Step 2 - Finding out the answer.
This is getting interesting and different. Research here is the skill to parse through people to find the right folks and get the answer out of them. The GM rules that there will be two relevant skills at play here: Carousing-13 and Interrogation-9. The respective rolls are 4 and 10. A critical success and a failure by 1. The GM rules that great carousing cancels poor interrogation tactics. Finbert has Research-10, -5 because it is a party and +4 for the subject's modifier: a net target of 9. He rolls 11, a failure by 2. Unfortunately, the 3 hours required to find the information is more than the time left in this evening. Finbert, a bit dejected, tries as hard as he can but the right person eventually slips out. He'll have to find this name another way... maybe somewhere where people aren't so drunk. 

Conclusion

The purpose of this mechanics is to generate randomly and on demand the content of books, libraries, or even collective knowledge in a group of people. I have applied my early ideas on research in a real game once and the dice were lucky: the Palantir Commission  folks got their hands on the book rather quickly. I was hoping for a multiple-day search, but hey... Halin didn't put all these points in Research just so I railroad him into something else. Of course, my library's base modifier was not large and negative enough.


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