Sunday, July 23, 2017

Horses, deer or antelope? Why world building matters

A sane GM would ask why I spend so much time figuring out things like cuisine, clothing fashions, and art.  The quick answer is simple:  Because this is high fantasy.

This is high fantasy.  There are orcs, elves, dwarves and far crazier creatures like centaurs, vampires, and minotaurs, not to mention dragons and giants.  Are orcs humans with green skin?  Are elves humans with pointy ears?  Are dwarves short humans with beards?  If so, what is the point of even having them?  If this is high fantasy, then the subtle differences between a human and an elf will have to have an impact on their culture and their lifestyles.

Let me take the easiest first:  animal locations.  I expect that took you off guard, but I think it has the biggest impact on everything.  There were no horses on the continent that the titans (and giants, and humans, and halflings) came from.  So there were no cavalry units in the days where the titans ruled.  That makes sense, because there aren’t any giant or titan sized horses on my world.  Horses (all equines) come from Hughijen.  Once humans moved to Hughijen, they started domesticating horses and pretty quickly formed cavalry units.  Actually they started with horse riding explorers because they needed to cover ground quickly, but an explorer with a bow is a soldier, or an adventurer.

So horses from Hughijen, antelope from Drentae, and deer from Koaluckssie.  Ignoring the domestication of the horses, these are relatively similar animals - large herbivores that act as prey animals for large carnivores or packs of carnivores.  But the elves came from Koaluckssie (that is a hugely long story and greatly debated).  So did they domesticate deer and use them as steeds?  Yes, they did.  Steeds rarely, but beasts of burden more commonly.  But the elves don’t plow fields, so the idea of a beast of burden should probably only be seen as a pack animal and not as a vehicle engine.

This becomes important in that all of the horses on Drentae were imported at some point.  Sure, there are wild horses there, but they are like the American mustangs - descended from domesticated horses that escaped.  There were thousands of years in which this could have happened, not just the several hundred Earth had, so it is entirely plausible.  But the dominant prey animal on Drentae is the antelope.  So when the Barons of the Council of Baronies go hunting, they are going out after antelope, not deer.

Does it matter?  Well, let me get into the whole ‘they are all different’ thing again.  The elves actually imported deer so they would have something to use as pack animals and to hunt.  So an elven adventurer will most likely have venison pemmican as the meat of his rations.  A Velesan from Parnania (where they breed hogs) would have pork sausage or salt pork.  From the Council?  beef jerky.  From Scaret or Brinston?  those are sea ports, so expect to have salted fish.  Does it matter?  Maybe not, but there is a difference between humans and elves, and between different humans.

What else?  Well, the Lats live farther south and have trouble growing “bread wheat”.  So they grow “pasta wheat”.  So while a Rhoric will likely have hard tack in his rations bag, a Lat is going to have dried pasta.  Meanwhile, the dwarves have trouble growing any grains, and most of theirs are imported (traded for metal goods).  Because of this, their government basically mills and blends the various grains together to form a more uniform “meal” (because they are communist and believe in that sort of uniformity).  Meanwhile, the Bortens are growing corn and having cornmeal mush for their morning meal.  They make too much so that when lunch rolls around, they shape the leftovers into patties and fry them up.

Does it matter?  Again - they are different.  The cultures are different.  If you come from Traigar, you probably drink mead.  If you’re Rhoric, you drink beer.  Lat = red wine; Marilick = white wine.  but how does this affect the games?

Here are some ways this all affects the games:  The Rhorics love cinnamon, but it doesn’t grow anywhere near them.  So caravans transport the cinnamon from Caratok to Rhum and Snobist (and Rock Cove).  Now you have an idea of what might be on a caravan.  Silks come from the Quassim Islands and Dalavar.  Now you know what might be on the ships crossing the oceans.  Knowing imports and exports often helps GMs design guard quests.

An antler handled knife made in Forsbury will be from an antelope, while in Slyvania it would be from a deer.  This changes the look and feel of the weapons and tools.  Further, steel has become scarce in the southern central region, so Bortens from Scaret have turned to using bronze weapons in many cases.  The elves don’t typically do metal crafting, so they are using various alternatives, including flint tipped arrows and ironwood (semi-magical tress with the strength and durability of iron or low grade steel) maces.

This same lack of steel production in some areas leads to trade (again with the caravans and ships), but it also makes getting massive steel armors very rare in towns like Garnock and Scaret.  So their militaries are being outfitted in old armors that have been “repaired” or recycled or in leathers.  But since leather is not as good as steel, they are boiling the leathers and looking for alternatives, like dragon hides.  The orcs have no looms to speak of, so they are fully into wearing hides and leathers whether for war or normal use.  They also have the dragon hides and in some cases are trading them to Garnock.  Are we getting a little closer to the things you care about now?

The best emeralds in the world come from the jungles in the south, but they’re incredibly treacherous and there is no organized trade.  Sounds like a good mission for adventurers, huh?  But the elves do mine emeralds, lower quality emeralds.  Would the elves take action against someone trying to establish a trade in higher quality emeralds?  That would make for some good adventuring ideas!

There is a cartel out of Forsbury that is bringing in wagonloads of ivory from the north.  Mastodons in the far north and elephants in the far south.  Elephant ivory is better (whiter - and that’s not racist), but rarer.  Will someone try to compete with her?  And what trouble will they run into that far south? 

The Gold Mountains no longer contain gold, but they do still have silver mines.  So most of the gold was mined by the dwarves and transported to their current location in the north, while the orcs are mining silver in the south.  So you’re not going to find orc chieftains decked out with gold chains or other gold jewelry unless they found some sort of dwarven cache left behind.  So if you find an orc with lots of gold chains, does that lead to a much bigger exploration mission to figure out where he got it from?

The point is this:  There should be a difference between the cultures of tropical and temperate peoples.  There should be a difference between dwarves and elves and humans, and not just a couple of tweaks to what their attributes are.  These differences will not only serve to make the different races and ethnicities more fun to learn about, but will help the GM drive new missions and develop characters, their gear, and their loot.  If characters, gear and loot aren’t important to your game, then you and I are playing very different games.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

It’s Christmas in July!

Hey everyone!  We’ve been trying to keep this blog from becoming a commercial for Board Enterprises products, but every once in a while, we do want to remind you of where everything is.  This is a great time to do just that because one of our distributors is having a big sale right now:  It’s Christmas in July!  Click here to go out to RPG Now and take advantage of the sales on our products (and we guess on other stuff too!).  Or you can click right here to go get the Legend Quest Omnibus edition for only $ 22.50.  That’s over 300 pages for 25% off.

We also posted out latest Small Bite out there:  The Communist Clans of Rock Cove aka All About Dwarves.  Click here to check that out as well!  Yep!!  This is the FREE World Walker edition.  Tough to go wrong with free!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Is a horse just a horse?

The time will come when as a GM (or a player) you just want to call something a horse.  You don’t want to call it by the name of a breed, or what it does, or whatever.  It’s a horse.  It’s probably a “mutt” horse and thus of no particular breed anyway.  It’s just a horse!

And that’s OK!  Look, we have all sorts of breed names for horses.  We have stats for horses, and stronger or faster horses are going to be better than average horses.  When you’re getting deep into cavalry battles, these types of details can be important.  But guess what - It doesn’t always matter.  Sometimes a horse is just a horse and not a Rairbridair heavy draft horse.

This is true of far more than just horses.  There is a point at which all the details we seem to be including in everything we publish are in the way.  We give our customers as much detail as we can cram into a book, but we do so hoping that GMs are not going to bother getting into that much detail with their players.

Case in point - The party is walking down the road and sees a farmer leaning on the fence.  They say, “Which way to Rhum?” and the farmer points over his right shoulder.  That should be the end of that encounter!  The party does not need to know that Benjamin Mackersson is having trouble with his wife or that his children are now 38, 37 and 34, or that he enjoys fishing and rye whiskies.  They don’t need to know that the horse in the field is his plow horse, or that he bought it six years ago for 80sc and a promise of six dozen eggs.  Even if we put all of that in one of our books, don’t use it!  It’s there in case the party comes down the road and says, “Our friend will die if you don’t sell us your horse right now so he can be raced to the nearest town.”  Now the GM has an idea of what Ben thinks the horse is worth.  Or if they say, “Hey, what’s your name?”  “What do you do around here?  We’re looking for someone willing to make us dinner for a gold coin - how good a cook is your wife?”  OK, hopefully our level of detail makes more sense that that, but details are not always necessary.

There are different styles of play, and there are different players.  Some role players want to know what the farmers are wearing, and some couldn’t care less that the farmers exist.  Overdoing the detail is a mood killer!  We’ve mentioned it before, but I will never forget the time (I was playing, not GMing), that upon arriving in town, the party wanted to go into the bar.  We saw the sign with the beer mug and went in - or so we thought.  The GM kept describing the door to us.  We wanted to know our characters were inside drinking and flirting with barmaids and he kept telling us the dimensions of the door, what wood it was made of, how the bolts held it together.  Don’t be that guy!  Your players will never let you live it down, and the entire session that night was a mess.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Monsters & Other Menaces

The first expansion product announced for Legend Quest back in 1991 was Monsters & Other Menaces.  We knew that we had included all the stats for the monsters but not the text and background to use them all the way we hoped they might be used.  M&OM was going to fix that.  But the feedback at the time was that no, players wanted adventures and possibly a city to be based out of.  Well, we had those too, and we released The Endless Dungeon and The City of Rhum.

But I’ve been working on M&OM for over 25 years now!  Some of it you saw in the Omnibus Edition of Legend Quest, but there is still a ton of material to go.  You see M&OM was actually four parts:

Part 1 - Creature Expansions - The text in the rule books is scant, so here we were going to get into it a lot deeper.  For some of them, elves, dwarves, halflings, this may feel like us forcing our campaign world cultures on these races, but it was always intended to be a much broader dive into what the races were like and what benefits they could take advantage of.  For some of the creatures you may not have seen before like aldar and tumataurs, these longer descriptions may have been exactly what you needed to get these creatures living in your world(s).

Part 2 - New Creatures - This is probably what you were expecting this book would be about.  Here we would lay out a huge number of extra creatures, though most commonly they would have the same one or two paragraph descriptions.  Whenever possible, we based our monsters on a more myth based history, so here we were able to continue adding all manner of monsters from myth and urban legend.  This would also have been our chance to expand the dragons beyond fire breathers, etc. etc.

Part 3 - Characters with Character - Just like we’ve always done, these were to be NPCs who could come alive during a game.  Not one-dimensional character classes with stats, these were going to be full back stories and interesting quirks.  This is where we’ve been filling out the Small Bites M&OM sections, because we just have so ____ many of them.  And personalities and character backgrounds are not dependent on game rules.  You may not be able to use the Celtic inspired brownie creature we developed in your old school rules, but you can absolutely use the vigilante horseman archer who dresses in blue.

Part 4 - Starting Characters - We know - character classes produce player characters more quickly than point based characters, but I’ve been doing this for closing on 30 years now.  I typically have a pretty good idea of what will and what won’t work, and I have all the charts memorized.  So I can whip out a couple of 250 characters in some pretty blinding speed.  Why not let me prep the starting characters for you, so you can just grab one and go?

We went through this to give you a better idea of what the Small Bites M&OM articles are going to be like.  Expect all of the first three, but starting characters have been absorbed into Wet Behind the Ears.  So you’ll still get those, just not in the same space.  With the latest (currently only available to Patreon patrons) edition of Small Bites being All About Dwarves and the next one being All About Equines (horses, unicorns, pegasi +), you know Monsters & Other Menaces has come to the forefront!  Not to be too commercial, but if you sign up as a patron before the end of July, you will get the dwarves issue.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

My Favorite Archetype

When you play RPGs as much as I do, you tend to lean in one direction most often.  I try to play all sorts of characters, but when I play a game long enough, I do have a style of play I prefer.  Admittedly I mean when I play a game that doesn’t restrict role-playing by forcing you into taking some “class”.  Classes really are intended to just make the game easier for casual players who don’t like to put too much thought into their characters, so not for me.

So what is it?  I love to play Treasure Hunters.  What’s a treasure hunter?  It’s a style of Rogue Mechanic.  The 100 Character Histories book describes them like this:
Rogue who specializes in the use of tools to accomplish his tasks.  When in combat, they tend towards archery.

Let me tell you about treasure hunters.  They tend to annoy most party members because they think you should look into a room before you enter.  They think you should check for traps before you simply open the chest.  They try to sneak, but at times, this is difficult from all the various “tools” they are carrying.  But it’s these tools that make treasure hunters so much fun - for me.

To me, a treasure hunter is the real adventurer.  They spend their off hours in libraries, searching for clues about where ancient treasures are, then they lead their parties out into the wild in order to find these.  They are the nicest “thieves” you are ever going to find.  They need to be able to pick locks and defeat traps, but they aren’t out picking pockets.  They tend to be smarter and less brutish, so they rely on missile weapons more than melee, though they do still backstab when necessary.  If the rules allow it, I prefer to use knockout blows or hamstring more than just killing the guy, because questioning people leads to clues and clues lead to treasure.

But my fun comes in with the toys.  Start with caltrops in case someone tries to follow you.  You see treasure hunters know how to retreat in order to turn around and pepper their pursuers with arrows right when they wander into a mine field.  It’s the mine fields that make treasure hunting so much fun.  Early on it’s caltrops, but later it becomes alchemical mines, bear traps, mini-catapults, and other treats; anything that will make the enemy’s life really crappy.  Nothing better than having some jerk think he’s getting the better of you, only to have him soil his pants when he turns the corner.  These toys are fun in an offensive style too.

Anything else?  Well, treasure hunters tend to loot everything and everyone.  It’s not that they’re greedy; they really are just curious about what’s there.  You never know when you’re going to find a key in some guy’s pocket that’s going let you into the secret treasure vault.  OK, they’re a little obsessive compulsive, but that’s part of the fun too.

I hope you see the fun of these characters.  They’re rogues; they’re researchers.  They keep the party safe, even when the party doesn’t know they are being kept safe.  They also drive the missions by finding out where the best stuff has been lost for centuries.  Anyone can wield a big sword.  Treasure hunters are smarter than that.  Think Indiana Jones with James Bond’s toys - that’s how I see the treasure hunter.

Last point:  When you’re smaller, there is nothing more thrilling than running away from someone, racing up (or down) the stairs and hopping over that trip line you put there.  The jackass nears the top of the stairs, only to get tangled up and then go rolling down the stairs.  If that didn’t finish him off, this is the perfect time to shoot him full of arrows while he’s down and certainly not getting his shield in the way.  The only character art of mine in the LQ book is “Penthor the Kick”, half elf rogue so named because he would hide at the top of stairs and kick people as they came to the top.  Falling down two flights of stairs is more damage than he could have pulled off with his dagger!