Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Cost of Magic

Check out The Cost of Magic, an article from BE writer John Josten on the GMS Magazine site. John is likely to do several articles for these guys because we think they’re cool!

Campaign Calendar

I am always stressing, here and in my books, that the world does not revolve around the adventurers. As a way of forcing that issue, I like to make out a calendar for the year (in the game world). That way, I have certain major news items happen, no matter what is going on in their lives. These typically aren’t the major wars and battles, but more of the softer side of life. For example - One of the main characters in our longest on-going campaign is a major noble. As such certain things are expected, such as attending weddings and other social gatherings. Right now it is the first month of the game year, and I’m planning the noble weddings for the year. As the year goes on, adventures and other missions might put this character on the other side of the world when a socially important wedding is occurring. That causes drama in the character’s life.
I think about this like Stan Lee did for the early Spiderman stories. You know how real life kept interfering with his adventures? He also had to figure out how to pay the rent. He got fired from his job(s) if he kept vanishing into a broom closet to change into his superhero suit. The question is - Do you want your adventurers to have lives like Batman, where every social gathering that occurs is really only an excuse to have the PCs start a mission, or do you want them to have to role-play realistic characters that have back stories and players who are strongly attached to them? (All anti-DC statements are directed against the DC comics from decades ago and not necessarily recent movies that make up all of what some of you youngins know about comic books.)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Patrons of Adventure

I believe very strongly that adventuring parties need patrons or sponsors. Here’s my thinking: The local Duke’s daughter has been kidnapped and he needs someone to go rescue her. So he turns to this group of cutthroats who answered an ad in a bar somewhere and entrusts them to return his daughter to him safe, sound and still virginal. WHAT!?!? But that’s how adventures often times work, right? Someone needs something very important done and they hire a group of mercenaries that they have never met, but that they believe can and will kill for them in cold blood. Is that really who they want to trust? How many adventures start with, “I need you to do something for me, but you have to keep it a secret.” Right - Someone important has a secret to keep, so they trust a stranger, let alone a group of strangers?
I think adventuring parties need a sponsor or patron - a person or organization that frequently employs them. This lets the employer come to trust the group, and perhaps on occasion vouch for them to other organizations in need of help. But who am I talking about?
Merchants are probably the best for this. They have money and frequently need mercenaries for a variety of reasons. They are also masters at organization. They have allies among other merchants and often into the political arenas, so they can “lend” their teams to others.
Churches are good too. They may have various needs and are unlikely to have the right style of people who can take on the more dangerous or violent tasks. They also have allies among the other churches who might have needs as well.
Obviously, political powers can be patrons too, but they usually have standing armies of their own. This means that the jobs they need done would have to be something the army cannot handle on their own, which may put a heavy influence on what will and won’t work intelligently.
Let me give an example: The players find a treasure map on a mission and decide they are going to sail to the deserted island and dig up the treasure. They now need to go to the docks, find a ship and/or a captain, likely hire a crew, arrange for supplies and logistics, possibly worry about the import tariffs that will exist when they return and a whole slew of other really boring things that the PCs are probably not cut out to take care of in the first place. However, if their patron says, “I want you to go retrieve a buried treasure”, the patron will have already taken care of the ship, crew and supplies. If you let the PCs do it, what’s to say they won’t hire Long John Silver and his crew of pirates? While the patron is arranging for the ship and crew, he probably has arranged for the players to stay at a particular hotel and handled many of their living expenses.
Patrons shouldn’t make the campaign boring, but they help to pull it all together. When a new patron approaches, he will likely want to try them out on something less important and as he grows to trust them, then he uses them for the really important and profitable stuff. If they show loyalty back, they will find themselves tied to the patron and embroiled in whatever intrigues affect the patron (allowing for more adventures). A campaign shouldn’t have just one patron. Maybe after proving themselves useful to the Mayor, he tells the Baron about them, and later, the Baron tells the King, and as they grow in experience, they get passed up the chain of command.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

What’s a Noble to Do?

Thinking back on historic nobles - In a lot of ways we think of them as soldiers and tax collectors. But if you read some of the histories closely, you find out about the kings granting this deed of land and that deed of land to the nobles. Sure, sometimes these were just tracts of land filled with sharecropping peasants, but sometimes it was more. Sometimes it was towns or villages. Sometimes it was mills.
I’ve made no secret that the nobles in my world are also merchants. I think this makes really good sense. I think the lesser nobles would have controlled the mills, so that not only did they collect the tax on the crops, but then they also get a share of the profits from milling the grain. This works even better when the noble lord is the soldier and his younger brother is the miller. But extend it - The nobles control all the land so they make perfect ranchers. Think back to the Old West where the ranchers controlled the law in the towns and no one could stop their cattle herds from wandering into corn fields.
In Fletnern, the major noble activity is the crafting of wines. They own the vineyards, they control the serfs, and they are the ones making the wine. Of course, if they produce enough wine to export, they are going to be the ones transporting it, and likely taking others along with them for the ride. After all, they have private armies, why not split the army during times of peace and send half to protect the caravan from bandits?
Don’t stop here. Think of all the commerce driven mainly by land ownership. Quarries, mines, any water powered mill, lumber camps, shipyards. The logic is this: If nobles control most of the land and some guy discovers a diamond mine, wouldn’t the noble who controls that land simply take over, no matter what agreement he originally had with the prospector? And if he didn’t control the land, he’d contact his buddy the king and have the land granted to him and then kick the prospector out. If it’s a valuable enough diamond mine, the king might even send an army to help the noble take that piece of land away from the neighboring king.
I’m not saying that only nobles can be merchants, but when you’re the one who gets to make the laws, why would you be content to simply collect taxes, while others got rich, especially if they might be getting richer than you?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Great Material

In our book Character Foundry, we set out the concept of “Great Material”. Surround yourself with great ideas and they will spark ideas within you. Further, you can take bits and pieces from other things and incorporate them, making your job as GM easier and often times better. An example was using the annoying friend from an old sitcom and marrying him to the real estate broker from a current movie to make an NPC couple you need in a city. Poof - You know what they look like, sound like, and probably how they will act in many situations. But when do you do this? You do it for the really big games.
Take our merchant war. There are so many characters buzzing around this thing, many of which have never entered into play before. How does a GM intelligently guide the NPC actions and reactions? By knowing the characters. But you can’t do that (at least not easily) for three dozen made from scratch NPCs. Giving some of these new NPCs personalities from movie characters, I can far more easily think, “What would Draco Malfoy do?” This does a couple of things - Mainly, it gets me there quicker. Also vital - It stops everything from being logical. What a boring and easily defeated world you would have if all of your NPCs were logical. Sure, the smart move might be to forgive and forget, but if the NPC is brutal and vindictive, that ain’t gonna happen! Maybe some NPCs are cowards and even though they have the might to force their will, they might be afraid to risk it. Or the reverse might be true, and the character might be the world’s greatest bluffer and his assumed might is really all illusion (maybe literally).
Personalities aren’t that important for NPCs you expect to be killed before they utter a sound, but for the big games, especially the ones that don’t involve a “dungeon”, you need to know more about the bad guys!