Saturday, April 23, 2011

Merchant War 3

OK - So the Brinston Merchant Houses have been spreading all manner of propaganda against the Forsbury Cartels. A lot of this stuff is about how they’re all over extended and cannot pay their bills, but some of it is to try and minimize the abilities of the entire region. People like to think their rivals are stupid and weak, and the propaganda war is playing on those feelings. But it appears that they went too far.
One of the rumors is that last summer’s war was a loss for the Council of Baronies. (Forsbury is one of the baronies.) The war was against a group of spiritualists who used some massively powerful magics and tried to take one of the baronies as their own. (Centuries ago it was their ancestral homeland, so they felt they had a right.) The Barons beat them, but not according to the story tellers in Brinston. In rumors short on details, it sounds like the Council lost the war and a sizeable piece of its territory to a weak adversary.
Now we’ve talked about motivations here a lot, and this is exactly the kind of motivation that works - They’ve pissed off the Barons. While Baron Forsbury was already “all in” with his cartels, the other Barons are now branding themselves as merchants and therefore assuming that any attacks against Council merchants are against them as well. This isn’t farfetched at all, since each of the Barons is a merchant. Honsdeck is a Cattle Baron, Cifisdoan runs coal mines, and others control corn, cotton and other plantations. If Brinston really is coming against the merchants of the Central Plains, the Barons will be affected, and one by one, they’re all agreeing to help the cartels in whatever way they will need to.
In other related news, a night club owner in Brinston who was rumored to be a blabber mouth was killed “by robbers”. They didn’t hit his strong box, slit his throat from ear to ear (no other marks on him), and a new owner was in place the next morning. Yeah - Sounds like robbers to me. Good investigative work there Brinston! Then again, that’s one information source that Forsbury won’t be able to use.

Offensive vs. Defense

It seems to me that most FRPGs are all about offense and not enough about defense. What do I mean? When’s the last time one of your players used cover as he advanced on a foe? Do your players want super powered weapons or super powered shields? (OK, they want both, but which one more?) Which has better bragging rights: I did 400 points of damage or He swung at me six times and never touched me? If your players are balancing a good offense with a good defense, then I think you’re in the minority. Even adult players would rather be bare chested barbarians than shield and armor types. What about the whole “glass canon” mage types? It’s not that they never consider defense, it’s just that the standard defensive strategy is to bring a healer.
My biggest problem with this is the shield rules in most games. Shields in most games are a flat modifier to defense. In Legend Quest, you use your shield levels, so you can be a skilled defensive fighter. Not surprising seeing my biases. In college, my character was known as the “damage sponge”. I was a paladin with way too much armor, who would keep the bad guys busy while my damage dealing friends knocked off the other bad guys. Now a days, the computer games have taught us the value of a “tank”, and yes, I often play one.
I think it comes down to an experience I had in my late teens. I have to say I was more of a leader than a follower in my youth (hopefully now too). We were somewhere we should NOT have been, and the other guys looked at me and said, “You go first.” Man, that sucked! While this was going on, we accidentally walked into an even more dangerous situation, and I was the dude in front. (The statute of limitations has likely passed, but I do not want to give details for fear of encouraging bad behavior in others.) After that it has always occurred to me, that no matter what the standard party formation is, it takes some balls to stand in front, especially if you expect that a lot of nasty guys are going to try and kill you.
My point is simply this. In real life, people avoid getting hurt. They do this by hiding behind barriers, advancing in covering teams, using shields and other protections, and countless other means, not all of them all that beneficial. It just seems that characters should do the same. No, it’s not as heroic, but it might add a level of strategy to your game that could be very interesting!

Saturday, April 16, 2011


The whole sugar/wine shortage thing is really more about cause and effect than about imports. Brutal slavery led to a revolt - makes sense. A revolt led to a loss of an important product - makes sense. Loss of something vital led to an uprising - makes sense.
What about your adventuring activity? What if your PCs go out and destroy a horrible slave trading business that has been stealing farm girls and turning them into cotton picking slaves? Well then there will no longer be those cotton picking slaves, which means there will no longer be cotton, which means that cloth and clothing will become either scarcer or really more expensive. This may not end a king’s reign, but your player characters will have just affected the economy of their homeland.
Game example that happened in Fletnern - What if your PCs come up with a way to hunt and kill a large number of mastodons? All of a sudden, ivory is flooding the market. Well, pretty quickly, the price of ivory nose dives, and their hauls, while still valuable, are no longer as valuable. This probably wasn’t that important of an issue, but I do have to keep track of the fact that ivory will never again be as valuable as it indicates in my own rule book.
Think smaller - campaign starting mission is to wipe out the wolves that are harassing the shepherds in the region. OK, they succeed and kill dozens of wolves for the bounties. Well, next year, either the deer and other prey animals are going to have a population explosion or some more dangerous critter is going to move into the wolves’ territory. Same if they wipe out a neighboring group of bandits, outlaws or raiders. Soon enough someone is going to move in there.
This can actually be easy for you as the GM. Draw up a ruined castle. Stock it with low level bandits. Send in the PCs. A year later (game time), restock it with mid-level orc raiders. A year later all this bloodshed has caused some undead to drift out of the castle’s catacombs and they are now terrorizing the countryside, possibly with their cult of freaky followers. One map, three adventures, the dominoes all fall in line.
The moral of this story: Don’t let your players’ actions happen in a vacuum.

What happens in the colonies matters!

I was reading up on the slave trade as part of the merchant war that is building in intensity. I’m not going to argue the historical fact of this, but according to a fairly academic source, the brutal nature of the French Caribbean sugar plantations (huge slave colonies) caused the slaves to revolt. The slave revolt turned Saint-Domingue into the free state of Haiti. The loss of Haiti caused a shortage of sugar in Paris which in turn led to riots. It was these riots that turned the French Revolution from a high minded endeavor into an authoritarian regime (the government needed to crack down on the riots, and then never let up).
Doesn’t matter if it’s right (though it likely is) -It’s still a heck of a story. It made me think - What imports are going on in various areas that if someone were to “turn off the tap” would cause rioting? I mean - we’re not talking about blocking flour, we’re talking about sugar. Sure it’s a need, but it’s a lot more of a want. Booze came to mind. If you have a region that is a major wine drinking culture (or beer) and all of a sudden they can’t get their alcohol, you’re likely going to see some discontent. Now discontent doesn’t turn into riots without overcrowding, but still.
Why do you need riots? Why do you need stuff like this? You having any trouble motivating your characters to get involved in the politics of their homeland? This is a mini-campaign in the making: Wine has become scarce in the home city. The last few merchant ships that would normally have had it have been carrying grain instead. The news is that there was a bad grape season in the wine country. After several months, the stores have been depleted, and the alternatives are also running low. The country’s national dish requires wine, and there just isn’t any to be had. The king is getting nervous, because a mob just burned down a wine distributor’s warehouse when they found it empty. The city is fraying at the ends. The party needs to go get some wine and deliver it safely. Along the way they learn that this was in fact just a ruse by the wine producers to cause unrest. They are stockpiling wine barrels which they will deliver as soon as the king’s evil cousin is put on the throne. Could a revolution succeed simply because the people wanted wine and one king could give it to them while the other couldn’t? Depends on how much they love their wine! Governments have fallen over lesser issues.

Monday, April 11, 2011

How Big 2

One of our faithful readers who usually comments in emails and not in the blog asked if there had ever been a major fire or disaster in Rhum. Certainly there have been disaster: fires, plagues, etc, but nothing major enough to wipe out more than a couple of neighborhoods. That was until the war 26 years ago. When Garnock advanced north, taking first Parnania, then Nanerette, then setting their sights on that little nothing town called Rhum, things went poorly. The majority of the city was outside the “walls”. The only reason the wall lasted was that the maze of streets and buildings surrounding it prevented an organized army from moving against it. Besides the siege itself, the battles were mainly skirmishes. By the time help arrived and the combined armies battled, Rhum was in ruins.
Rather than rebuild their not so fair city where it was (mixed in with some hills), they decided to move the entire city about two miles to an open plain with a strong running stream. While some of the buildings were literally dragged the two miles, most of the buildings in Rhum are less than a generation old. That was part of the dilemma; Rhum was supposed to have been built “too big” so it could grow the population, but how big was “too big”.
Right now I’m still feeling good about the size and density. Most likely before we release The City of Rhum, I’ll have sketched out one of the residential neighborhoods and I’ll feel better about whether or not the density works. The Narrows is a neighborhood that has always been described as similar to London, where the people built the upper floors bigger than the street level floors, so there is very little air between the houses, even those across the street from each other. Depending on how that works out, I’ll know a lot more!

Monday, April 4, 2011

So what are the enchanters doing anyway?

As I’ve mentioned before, I once had a magazine article turned down because the editor thought I was kidding. The article was how magic (and this was magic from that really big FRPG that everyone played at least once) could be used to beauty and health care - two HUGE industries. Obviously this still bothers me. So many GMs believe that enchanters are going to hide themselves away in their little labs crafting huge swords for their buddies to use. That’s ... what’s the word ... stupid? ... dumb? ... ill-conceived? Whatever!
What would a mage (or alchemist or enchanter, etc.) lock himself away in a tiny tower for? Money? OK, yeah, that would lead to big hulking swords. But I think they’d be a lot more likely to do it for personal power, fame or knowledge; and to a mage, all three of those tie together. The more knowledge the more power and the more power the more fame. Look, these guys aren’t studying so hard just to become flunkies to some sword swinging dolt. They want to be “the man”. So what do they need to do that? Well, some of them would be developing new battle magics. But I think that a lot of them would be like modern research scientists. They would be trying to find that next thing, that next development in magic that would be the start of a new generation of magic or a revolution in the way magic is practiced.
So what is the enchanter doing? I think he’s trying to use his magic to learn more magic. He’s experimenting; he’s researching. I just finished watching the entire series of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. The whole series comes down to the fact that some alchemists were trying to gain immortality, so they created a life - a homunculus. The homunculus helped them figure out how to gain immortality, only he tricked them and gave the immortality to himself. What’s my point? Well, that magic types develop their magical powers for themselves. The alchemists basically summoned up a demon in hopes of learning from it. Learning what? Learning more magic.
In my world I have created a few magic items and enchantment spells that actually help alchemists and enchanters make stuff, either easier (faster) or more powerfully. While I have to admit that I haven’t exactly created hundreds of items (only a few), I think the reality of a fantasy era would be that there were a few spells that helped the military, and a ton of spells that helped the researcher.
My last point on this - Think about the wizards in movies. You walk into their lab and books are floating in front of him because the desk is so cluttered. Little creatures wander around stirring pots and watching over his experiments. Remember Merlin in the Sword and the Stone? His “best” magic was to shrink his entire home/library so it would fit in his satchel. He didn’t create magical swords, just knew where to find them. If you think about it from the wizard/enchanter’s point of view, you’ll make them more selfish, more self-centered, and develop more magic for magic’s sake, not for a warrior’s sake!