Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Merchant War vs. Military War

You’ve seen the posts where we discuss the current merchant war brewing on Fletnern. I’ve done “real” wars before – You know, thousands of soldiers charging across a plain against thousands of soldiers. Truth is - I don’t think that role-playing characters belong in the middle of several thousand soldiers. Few if any games handle that well. The glass cannons become the only effective pieces and the warriors are reduced to shields for the mages.
So why a “merchant war”? Well, when the really big firms/cartels/merchant houses go at it, they are:
1 – very likely to hire adventuring type people – including assassins and small unit fighters
2 – very likely to be sneaky and mean if not outright evil
3 – very likely to have a lot of money
4 – very likely to be fighting against similarly odd groups of enemies as opposed to a huge number of reasonably identical soldiers
OK – 2 and 3 are likely in either type of warfare
We’ve talked about militaries retreating before - it’s not easy. Merchant wars lend themselves to smaller battles, often fought in city alleys or warehouses. If anything, they favor the subtle mages; fireballs will bring in guards from every neighborhood, but a disintegrate spell will do the job quickly and quietly. Adventurers fighting a merchant war can make a major difference, something they really shouldn’t be able to do in the major military actions.
Watch how our current mini-campaign work itself out. You’ll see what I’m talking about!

Role-players vs. gold farmers

You’ll see a lot of my posts have to do with adding a bit of role-playing into role-playing games. Who’d a thunk, huh? The truth is, I get it. There are a lot of players out there who couldn’t care less about the role-playing aspect. They get annoyed when the GM tells them they need a character history, and they only care about the gold coin value of that really cool ruby necklace. I’ve been trying to come up with a way to classify the two styles, and the best one I can come up with is borrowed from the on-line MMO games: role-players vs. gold farmers.
If you play a MMO, you’ve likely seen them. (OK, if you play a popular MMO, then you’ve seen them.) These gold farmers are the jerks who wait for you to engage an enemy so they can grab the treasure behind the guy. They likely have bots running their characters, and they only care about the accumulation of stuff. Are they all in China? Probably not. A lot of them are similar to the rest of us, but they’re people that never even notice the art of the scenery in the game.
Don’t get me wrong – I may role-play by trying to figure out what a particular character would do in a particular situation, rather than try and figure out what the best strategy is from a die rolling point of view, but I’m still a little freaked out by the guys who have a different voice for each one of their characters. We all have our levels of involvement! Some folks might want cool sounding treasure and think it is wonderful for the mood and scene, but they still only care what it’s worth. I’m sure that there are a lot of folks out there who think the fact that I have documented what is on the heads and tails side of each major coin in my world is an enormous waste of time, but there are a lot of folks who think it’s pretty cool too. (If you do, check out Coins of Fletnern - it’s FREE!!)
So – From now on, when I refer to people who think more like me, I’m going to talk about “role-players”, knowing that there are extremes and moderates among us. When I talk about “gold-farmers” I’m going to be talking about those guys who know exactly what they need to hit an 18’ dragon while it is flying at 112” off the ground at 23mph in a light breeze, but have no idea what the name of their home town is.
I’m not set in stone on this! If someone has a better name than “gold farmers” I’m willing to be open minded.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

How do they gamble?

I often think about things in the real world and try to figure out how that would happen/work in my fantasy world. Silly little ideas about clothes later grow into the culture impacts of fashion. Too often we (myself included) forget that the fantasy world would have to be enormously different than the modern world. Here’s one that occurred to me:
Gambling: Cards would have to be the gambling style of the nobility. Why? Well because there was no mass production. A deck of cards should be an extremely expensive item. Each card would be a hand painted or inked work of art. Plus, what are they printed on? At best (cheapest) they are probably painted on slivers of wood – slivers that are exactly the same size and thickness. Cutting things that thin is not an easy (inexpensive) task. All this bubbles up to a deck of cards being very expensive!
So if only the nobles are playing cards, what are the commoners playing? Well, probably dice games. Two dice (d6 for all us gamers) are easy to carry around, and they work in most settings, probably even dirt. All sorts of dice games can be played with 2d6, often the kind that can be started or stopped very quickly, such as when a legion takes a 30 minute water break while marching.
What else? Well, in the bars there would be darts. Chess would likely be a nobility game because of the cost of a hand carved set, but checkers could be more reasonable for the commoners. Dominoes or other tile games might be more of a middle of the road (middle class) type of game, because they would be cheaper to produce than a chess set but more than checkers. (Think dominoes; mahjong seems too expensive.) Some tile games are based on card games, and might be a substitute.
What’s it matter in your campaign world? Well, it doesn’t if your game draws no distinctions between the haves and the have nots. In most cultures, the wealthy/nobles will always want to demonstrate their “superiority” over the lesser folk, even those lesser folk who have risen to high position (perhaps by killing dragons and taking their vast treasures). How? Well, the common warrior may be a great craps player, but have little idea how to play poker or chess. The snobby nobles will attempt to exclude or embarrass him because of this. Yeah – it’s a role-playing thing. If your players and your world have no role-playing, well, then I guess it doesn’t matter to you, but are you really playing a role-playing game then?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Why doesn’t anyone run away?

Building on the last post - Why doesn’t anyone ever run away? I’ve touched on this before, but how many times have good guys or bad guys run away when in a FRPG battle? The problem is that without games geared to players acting defensively, it is usually suicide to back off. I know a lot of game systems that hand the aggressor a free shot (often undefended) if the enemy retreats. Think about the comic book villains. If they couldn’t retreat without hero whacking them for free, well, a lot of story lines would be different.
I think this is most glaring when you think of larger scale wars. If wars were fought like FRPGs then they would last about an hour. Once everyone was there, they would whack each other until one side was dead, or more likely both sides were dead. There’s none of this - retreat because of bad positioning. There’s no battle and withdraw and battle and withdraw. By FRPG standards Lee was an idiot during the Civil War, though Grant does seem to have been playing.
I really think that one of the major reasons this stuff doesn’t happen is that GMs don’t have time to properly prepare maps and scenes. If the GM fully knew what the terrain looked like, then either side might decide after a couple of bow shots that they were going to get shanked and high tail it out of there. Who has the high ground? Who has cover? Are there any places to hide? Dips? Ditches? Boulders?
Look, I get it. Especially having grown up in the flat lands, I don’t put culverts and hills into my maps, because they are tough to manage. We don’t sell mapped out locations, but maybe we should. Maybe it’s worth buying a fully detailed map of a place, so you can better run the area. Maybe just zooming in on Google Earth will get you there too.