Sunday, December 16, 2012

Dwarves - at least in Fletnern

We’ve been working on Gods and Demons - which is behind- and have been referring to the dwarven gods and their issues. I thought, maybe we should talk about them more fully, but it doesn’t belong in the book. So here we go: Some time ago, there was a revolution in the dwarven Rocchairian Nation. The noble clans had ruled over the commoner clans for centuries, and the commoner clans were done with it. Over two or three generations, they had begun to form themselves into a communist or socialist society, or at least the beginnings of one. The inevitable revolution (armed - violent) occurred. Several of the noble clans had seen the writing on the walls and joined the rebellion in order to preserve their standing in the new government. The revolution was successful, and the nobles were overthrown. A council of clanmasters was established, and the nobles lost their lands. Well, it wasn’t as clean as that. Some of the nobles managed to hold on to certain pieces of land, and a peace was established. In any case, the new communist government was quick to put down any ideas or traditions that they felt would enable the nobles to build a power base. One of the ideas they wanted to put down was religion. The communists insisted that no dwarf was beholding to any god or noble. While this was originally established to prevent nobles or churches from taxing the commoner clans, it served to nearly outlaw religion. Fast forward to the current, and the dwarves within the Rocchairian Nation are non-worshipping atheists. While the dwarves outside the Nation (mainly the remaining, weakened noble clans) still worship, they are too few to maintain the power of the dwarven gods, and without the adoration of an organized religion, the gods are weakening, weakening to the point of heading towards oblivion. So, when you read Gods and Demons - now you’ll know!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Why Legend Quest - part 4

This will be our last of these, but if you have any questions, please just let us know in comments or at Magic - hugely important for any FRPG. So how to use it? Well, I have always hated the “spell leaves your memory” model. Never understood that! I guess it’s from some forgotten fantasy novel series. Anyway - I wanted the mages to be able to customize just like the warriors (see the last post for details on shield fighters). So how? Well, in LQ, you need power levels in order to cast a spell. For attack spells, the more power, the more damage. So you can get your power way up and become a spell casting monster. OR you can get your control levels up and be more of a sniper. Instead of doing huge damage, you can get your accuracy (or range or area of effect) way up. That was always the intent, but wise spell casters learned to ride the middle - balance power levels and control levels to get fairly good on both sides. Here’s where the players have used the system to customize: number of spells. Some players get phenomenally good (control levels) with just a couple of spells. Others go for having dozens of spells at their command. These are the guys who love the Book of Wishes magic supplement. But this is a fun balancing act. Do you want to be a wizard with heals, fireballs, teleports, etc. or do you want to be a focused sorcerer with fireball, but a fireball that always hits and can be bigger and go farther than everyone else’s? It continues with which magic items you use, because those talismans are expensive. Which do you use to assist? Focus or broad ability? Further - What type of “magic” do you want? Mentalism, the “pure” magic of the mages and wizards, spell singing, alchemy or enchantment, etc. This affects whether or not you can use steel, how your spells are cast and a number of other influences, that may not seem important at first, but affect both the role-playing and the game. Mentalists don’t have to speak, while spells singers not only speak, but aren’t allowed to whisper. That matters! Both of them are unaffected by steel, while the wizards are, so if you want more of a fighter/mage, you are likely looking at a spell singer. Then again, a wizard with a glass sword (magically hardened of course) can be just as deadly in a duel. I wrote these posts to try and let some of the newer folks see “behind the curtain”. Everyone does things for a reason, and my reasons strongly influenced the rules of Legend Quest. Clearly, we think it is the best. Even when we started two decades ago, others agreed: “A real gem of a game. One of the best systems I’ve ever seen” - Dragon Magazine

Monday, December 3, 2012

Why Legend Quest - part 3

Legend Quest is a percentile system and only uses d10s. Several reasons for this, but the top two are: most female gamers have expressed that they hated the idea of different dice for different reasons. Since we had several ladies playtesting, d10 and d% seemed the best way to go. My personal opinion has always been that using 2d6 or 3d6 made the “pluses” silly. If you need to roll a “7” or better on 2d6 and you have a +1 modifier, it is a huge modifier. If you have the same +1 but need to roll an 11 or better, the odds are completely different. The +1 doesn’t mean as much. It’s the whole bell curve thing. On a % system, +5 means +5 whether you’re at the top or the middle or the % chance. This also then goes into damage. Damage dice are not 2d10 for a bell curve from 2-20, but instead 2D or a multiplier of “2”, so the damage is a smooth line from 2-20. In the first case, you will most likely do about 11 damage. In the LQ case, you have even odds of doing 2, 10 or 20. Yes - Average damage is the same, but the results are more dramatic. Plus, with multipliers, you can do a “half” die damage for 1-5. No need for a different die. Damage also comes with bleeding. If you are hurt, you will bleed, possibly to death. Why? Because someone with one point of life left should not be able to stand toe to toe with the bad guy and be perfectly the same as if he were fully healed. In LQ, bleeding first affects your Fatigue, slowing you down and making you less likely to succeed at things. Then it affects your Life’s Blood, meaning you could die. Don’t be stupid; go see the medic and get that thing bandaged! Armor blocks damage as it is coming in. The heavier the armor, the less of that damage gets through to you. Isn’t that what it is supposed to do? It doesn’t make you harder to hit, just harder to damage. It will slow you down as well, but you can get armor skill levels to offset some or all of the negatives. This means that a knight trained from birth to wear armor is going to be vastly better in it than some joker off the street. Little more realistic? We sure think so! Lastly (for this week) - Shields. I hate nothing more than in that historic first game where shields are +1. All shields were +1 to defense. No more, no less, didn’t matter if you were a moron or Captain America. Didn’t matter if it was a hand held buckler or a Roman legionnaire’s full bodied scutum. In LQ, different sized shields give different base benefits and the shield user’s skill levels (in Shields) dictate the added benefits possible. Why? Well, now it makes more sense, and now you can have a defensive fighter. You can set your guy up to have a huge shield and really know how to use it. Then he can “tank” or whatever you want to call it for the group. When I did it I was referred to as the “damage sponge”, soaking up damage for the rest of the party, but hardly ever killing anyone. next week - part 4 - magic

Monday, November 26, 2012

Why Legend Quest? Part 2

So once the player character creation was established, we had to figure out what the NPC creation would be like. For most of us long time players, think back to the roughest, toughest fights you had as a party when you just started playing. What were the most difficult? Other parties, right? Facing off against rival adventurers was always the most difficult. That was the level of challenge we were trying to put forward. Not a dungeon crawl mentality where there was room after room of variable monsters that made no sense and could be wiped out fairly easily. Most dungeon crawls are battle of attrition: how far can you go before your priests’ spells run out. There was another aspect to this too: Rule lawyers. The guys I played with were typically intelligent (well, me too), and we all new the monster books. Face any one of us off against something that was in the books, and we could tell you its points to kill, its strengths, and its weaknesses. I hated that as a GM. Also, and I’ve used this example before, not every tiger is the same. Some are aggressive, some intimidators, some stealth fighters, etc. Why not give the enemies skills too? It is simply this - a tiger with move quietly is different from a tiger with intimidation which is different than a tiger with only attack skills. And none of them are predictable. Players of LQ still count damage points with a decent idea of how much damage it is going to take to drop a bad guy, but in many ways that’s sort of like looking at the guy to see how bloody he is. Some parts of gaming can never completely match real life or the movies. What else can we tell you about LQ “monsters”? Well, they are far more likely to be based on the original myths and not a modern book series. Dwarves and trolls are related, just like in the Norse myths. I still cannot figure out where this concept that trolls regenerate came from. Anyway, there are a lot of tweaks along those lines. Also, I think some of the deities in some of the original games cast such a huge and strange shadow over the monsters. Take the dragons. They all worship one side or the other, have strange colors and are very limited in their use of breath weapons. Fighting dragons was less a battle and more a challenge of figuring out how we were going to get it to waste its three attacks so then we could finish it off. I get the game balance issue, but really? three shots and it’s done. Every dragon - three shots and it’s done. They are all the same, they are all predictable. There’s that word again. So, in summary - Legend Quest monsters and bad guys - NOT predictable.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Why Legend Quest? Part 1

We feel we need to explain Legend Quest. No, not really the game itself, but why it came into being and why (for those reasons) it works the way it does. First, as many who have read this blog for some time know, I was plagiarized. A game company I was beta testing for stole a handful of my ideas and published them. I wasn’t flattered; I was pissed off. But as I nursed my beer(s) at GENCON that year, I came to the realization that my ideas were clearly good enough to be published. Thus Legend Quest (which was named something very different at the time) was on its way to actually leaving the basements, cafeterias and other places where it had been played. So why go with a completely point based system? #1 - I am very unlucky, at least when it comes to cards and dice. (Unlucky in cards; lucky in love! worked for me and I can’t be too upset.) I could never roll well enough to get the characters I wanted. and I always felt that whatever means we used to skew the results, 4d6 or place them where you want, felt like cheating. I didn’t want luck to determine a great character from a lousy one. It really was about the attributes and not even the skills that the character point generation system was a requirement for me. Stay tuned and we’ll go through the other factors of LQ and why it turned out the way it did.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Red Herring

You know you’ve seen it! The published module has “clues” in the public (typically known by the people sitting in the local tavern). By asking folks in the bar, you learn a random clue. Too often, they are either false or true, but always related directly to the mission the players are on. I hate that. Where are the red herrings? Where are the clues that are true, but have nothing at all to do with the mission? Are these towns and taverns so boring that there is never anything happening that doesn’t relate? Wait chaotic life - Only one mission concept at a time. Yes - Red herrings can take up valuable game time by making the PCs go off in the wrong direction. Yes, typically the GM has not fully developed that line of adventure. So there’s more GMing off the cuff. But not doing it is actually treating your players like children. Hey, if they are children, maybe they can’t juggle diverse clues and you need to make things a little more straight path. But if they aren’t ... I work really hard to make my campaign world(s) seem like living entities. Things have to be going on “in the background”. These things do not have to relate to what the players are doing, but often times, they will intersect. Deciding to not do this really seems to be a cop out. Then again, some of these published adventures I’m complaining about have dangerous creatures living 60 yards away from a town of civilians unable to fight. I probably have a lot more to complain about then not having multiple story lines.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Value of the Soul (in FRPG)

This one might get a little controversial. What’s the value of a soul (in a fantasy role-playing game)? In literature, we always hear about some foolish mortal selling his or her soul to a demon. This is considered bad. Sure, he gets power in the mortal realm, but he is tortured for eternity. Sometimes, he sells his soul a couple of times over, and the demons rip him to shreds when he dies. What do you get for a soul? and is it always bad to sell it? If you “sell your soul” to a good god or angel, do you earn heaven? I mean - if the missionary spends his entire life dedicated to bringing new folks to the religion of a good god, wouldn’t he earn a spot in heaven? In a FRPG, wouldn’t that missionary be gifted with priestly magic? Did he sell his soul for his magical powers? Reverse that. Bad guy spends his life toiling to corrupt the foolish to worship his demonic lord. The demon gives him power in life. Wouldn’t the demon reward the mortal on death? He might still go to hell, but wouldn’t he be one of the tormentors and not one of the tormented? So then he sold his soul and still sort of wound up on top! What about sacrifices? Can you buy yourself a better afterlife? In our modern Judeo-Christian culture, we see the concept of sacrificing as bad, but if it grants any benefit to the pagan gods (who actually exist in FRPG) then couldn’t they be bought? My campaign allows one side to sacrifice folks from the other side to their gods, and this binds the soul of the sacrificed. This usually lasts about ten years, so eventually, you get to go enjoy (or suffer) your eternity, but for ten years, you are a slave to the god you were sacrificed to. What about a more figurative view of sacrifice, such as toiling on behalf of the god. Well, go back a couple of paragraphs. But what’s it worth? These are games where divinities can have a certain number of points at which point they die. (I hate this! but a lot of games allow it) How do we put numbers/stats on the value of a soul? Game balance is the big question. and wouldn’t characters that were more powerful sort of be more valuable? So would you get more for your soul if you waited, or do you get more soul coinage as you advance (gain levels)? I think it matters if there is a form of purgatory too, but now I’m probably getting WAY too complicated. I’m wrapping up Gods and Demons, so you can see where my mind is at. Still, I’m weighing different ways. I think the most important part is going to be if eventually you run out. In other words, at what point do the divine creatures decide there isn’t enough of your soul left, or they have you anyway and don’t need to bargain? Tied to this is whether the other side will be forgiving. In the Judeo-Christian culture, last minute, honest repentance can work. I don’t think I’ll allow that in game!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Expanding on the Evolution of Magic

The more I build on the concepts I introduced in The Evolution of Magic, the more I love this concept. Magic really needs to be used more as technology is today in modern high action/adventure. Missions can center around a new form of magic - either better, faster or cheaper. Sending the players out to recover a stolen magic wand - a new proto-type or a potion capable of more or different results - These make great adventures. Think about your spy missions - Evil guy steals the new explosive and turns it over to his scientists so they can reproduce. This works perfect as “Evil guy steals new fire potion and turns it over to his alchemists”. Or it works as evil country’s necromancer escapes his handlers and is trying to bring the plans for the new hideous zombie to the “good guys” and someone needs to protect him. Or the beautiful herbalist is on the verge of developing a new herbal potion that will enhance farm yields, but the bad guys are planning on kidnapping her and taking her back to their country. Any spy plot will work. I guess my point is simply that too often magic is considered static in most games or campaigns. GMs come up with new, cool magic items, but they are mainly for the PCs to keep them interested. Magic that doesn’t specifically affect the PCs can make for good missions too. Maybe you already do these missions, but I really haven’t. If you haven’t, I think the best way to get the new ideas is to check out other system’s magic supplements. There should be tons of ideas there that your game hasn’t used, at least not yet. (Check out the Book of Wishes) This is just another in my eternal use of genre switching methods to liven up a game.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Bucket Shop

Why do I do what I do? I get these weird thoughts in my head, and I have to figure them out to determine if my books and rules make sense. Take the bucket shop. Every morning, the workers march off to their jobs and leave their buckets at the bucket shop. Every evening they march home and pick up their buckets of beer. How big? Well, three pints for a husband and wife seems “normal”, but when you’re talking about buckets, they could be any size. We’ll stick with three pints. The brewer needs to sell to 88 people in order to make his 12sc per day. Where did that come from? Well, I worked it out. Grain Into Gold tells me that a pound of barley is required to make a gallon of beer. It also tells me that a pound of barley costs 2.75cc (copper coins), and a pint of beer sells for 1cc. That was based on a cottage industry model of tripling costs. (2.75cc x 3 = 8.25cc for a gallon or 1cc for a pint) Then I looked at everything that goes into turning barley into malt. It takes a couple weeks, and lot of space. It also takes a cistern and a good sized oven/kiln. I’ve recently priced malt at 4.35cc per lb. I worked it out as whether it was done by the local farmer or by a malthouse and both really seemed to work at that level. So the brewer, seeking to make 12sc per day buys malt at 4.35cc per pound and over the course of weeks/a month, produces beer that he sells for 8cc per gallon. Thing is, he has multiple batches running all the time, to produce reasonably fresh beer for his customers. His profit margin is 3.65cc per pint, so to get his 12sc, he needs to sell about 33 gallons (thus 264 pints or 88 customers). If each customer bought four pints, then he’d only need 66. Doesn’t seem like a lot does it? one guy making 33 gallons of beer? if this is his full time job? But think about it this way: #1 - he likely lives very well on 12sc a day (that’s often considered skilled craftsman wages). #2 - assuming it takes about 30 days to brew the beer, he has over 400sc invested various ingredients in his brewery or well over a month’s wages. That’s a lot to risk. #3 - he had to invest in all the equipment to brew the beer at the multiple stages and store it. While it may not seem like a lot of output, you have to wonder how long it took this guy to put together the capital to have all these ingredients and all this equipment. Could he afford to have more going at any given time? Now, when I expand this to the big breweries, they’ll be able to process far more than 33 gallons per person. That means that they will make more profits, the kind of profits that pay for all those bosses and brew masters. Why do I do it? Because it works! Grain Into Gold has been on the market for about six years now, and while it isn’t 100% perfect, it works in just about every scenario I’ve tried. If you’re looking to avoid doing all this math for yourself - You might want to pick up Grain Into Gold.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Curses and Diseases

I remember that original FRPG. Lost in the game master’s book was a rule that said that every player character had a chance of catching a disease every month (and a chance of parasitic infestation). I think it started at 1% and went up depending on conditions. I kind of liked that rule; thought it added flavor. The problem is, I remain curious how diseases run in a fantasy era. Oh sure, the priests can cure diseases, but I don’t think that should be a 100% chance. (See this post) So I’ve been doing a little research on diseases and trying to put them into game rules. I also want them to all be a little different, not just have each one reduce Endurance. But another thought came up and I’ve been developing the two together. What are curses? I’m going to make curses magical diseases. Now many of the curses will be identical to the diseases, except that you can only cure them through magic. (You can get over a real cold, but not a cursed cold.) So now I’ve given myself the task of not only figuring out what diseases will do, but of assigning spell like stats to them as well. There will be some wildly magical curses too. Stuff like every time you sneeze, you turn blue. That would be a fun curse! A thought has come up in all of this though: Can you curse someone with lycanthrope or vampirism? I think so! I think the curse would be a pretty powerful spell, but I think so. Pretty nasty thing to do to somebody, but pretty cool too. I’m thinking that killing the curser (OK, “witch”) will remove the curse. That makes curses better mission starters. The prince insulted an old hag and now every time he sneezes he turns blue. Go capture the hag and get her to remove the curse, even if you have to kill her. OK, not the most original, but not too bad for a little filler mission. I’m still working on developing curses that will reduce luck or something like that. The game balance on something like that could be very difficult, otherwise the curse becomes incredibly powerful. Any ideas?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

When is magic a lifestyle?

In Legend Quest, the main spell casters are the mages. The mages/wizards have six schools of magic: conjuring, druid, healing, illusion, necromancy and sorcery. Now the way I see it, sorcery, conjuring and illusion are just tools to getting a job done. Sorcerers are out there casting fireballs and such and wiping out vast numbers of people. OK, that’s not normal, but being a killer isn’t based on sorcery. Similarly, the conjurers and illusionists are using magic as a tool, though more indirectly than the sorcerers. That leaves the others. Most games see druidic magic as a religion. Well, most games see healing magic as religion as well. Although we don’t see either of them necessarily as a religion (it can be, but doesn’t have to be), I think either of these disciplines does inherently cause the user to think and live in a different manner. When you are actively controlling the magical forces of the world in order to heal injuries or assist nature, it changes you. For most, it would make them more reflective. Maybe this is a philosophy and less religion, but there has to be something there. Magic is no longer just a tool to get your job done. It is a force for good. On the other hand, those who use necromancy or use druidic magic to cause harm (“despoilers”) would also have it change them. You cannot alter the flow of magic in the world to tap into the power of death and divert death magic to create zombies or drain the life from a person without it changing who you are. Even the sorcerer is actually using the magic to create fire; he’s not directly using the magic around his target to deliberately pull the life out of him. Compared to the necromancer, the sorcerer is using magic indirectly as well. He may know the fire will kill his target, but he’s making fire, not making death. You get into the whole deliberate vs. intentional argument here. What’s the point? I think the point is that healers naturally have to be different from “normal” folk. They have to see the world differently. So do necromancers. They aren’t just creepy because they wear weird robes; they think in creepy ways and understand the universe in creepy ways. There will always be those whose lives are affected more by something else than by their magic, so not every necromancer is going to have the exact same personality, but there will be an underlying current of death running through the necromancer’s life and personality.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Evolution of Magic

OK - Since I don’t know how I would ever get this into a book, I have to publish this here. Just stay with me for a little bit: What if magic were new, like technology in the modern age? What if sorcery had only been invented 75-100 years ago? So, in your battle mage’s grandfather’s time, magic was wearing garlic to fend off the evil eye curses from witches - You know, just superstition. The enchanters and alchemists are a new phenomenon. The world and the world’s cultures are just now starting to burst forth with magic. Why does it matter? Well, I’ve always been a little antagonistic to the idea that some people have massive amounts of magic (think the adventurers not only decked out in magic armor with magic swords and wands, but also casting magic and fighting hugely magical creatures) compared with the peasant farmer who is no more advanced than Europe’s peasant farmers just before the Black Death. Does that make sense? If magic has been around for thousands of years, why is it only in the hands of a few? Don’t give me that stuff about secrets. Look at technology. How long did it take from the invention of the transistor to the proliferation of cell phones? Magic is easily as powerful as technology. Think about it this way - About 90 years ago, some guy in some university figured out that you really could make a philosopher’s stone and change lead to gold. This began a surge in the ideas of magic and was quickly followed by illusionists creating magical lights and conjurers summoning odd beasts. (Skipping an enormous number of evolutionary steps here.) Fast forward to today in your fantasy campaign and magic works as indicated in your game rules, but has only been at this level of sophistication for 5-10 years. Here’s what this brings - good and bad: There shouldn’t be a plethora of old/ancient magical items. Anything enchanted is relatively new. People and governments would just now be starting to consider the ramifications of magic in war and trade. Since relative few of us protect our campaign castles and cities against the common magics, it seems more reasonable that magic is new and the defenses are only being considered in the present campaign time. This also allows the player characters to be on the forefront of magical “science”. Sort of like James Bond is always just that extra touch ahead of us on technology. Stealing magical secrets and using new enchantments (that may or may not work exactly as planned) seems great for any fantasy campaign. And it settles the peasant farmer issue. Magic is still being developed in the magical universities and has not yet filtered out to the poorer and/or more rural folks. I’m still developing the next application of this concept in my head: I think it would work if one continent had been “mundane” until trade opened up 100 years ago, so there would be a fully magical continent and a newly magical continent. It might work for magical elves and newly magical humans, but then the elves would have truly needed to have been isolated until that recent point in history. I think it also works that some type(s) of magic were around but kept secret. Necromancy comes to mind. Maybe the necromancers have been around for centuries, but because they were so hated, they kept their magical secrets to themselves. The whole thing really screams for witch hunters too. There would have to be some cultural push back, where magic was all seen as necromancy or just plain evil, and needs to be eradicated.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Military Magic

I have been criticized in the past for publishing “useless” information. By useless they mean something that does not increase the chance to hit or the amount of damage. I guess they might be slightly placated by things that give your more damage absorption potential, but they don’t really communicate that well. More about that later. I’m a big believer in role-playing games having a role-playing element to them. Funny, I seem to be in the minority about that. But even on the battlefield, I think way too much energy and effort is put into the less important things like accuracy and damage. Don’t get me wrong. When the arrows are raining from the sky and the blood is running in currents, I realize the value of doing a ton of damage, but we’re not war gamers here. Those guys died off in the last generation. So what do I think is important? Communications! I think logistics are hugely important too, but they are not as exciting. How do the units get their orders from the commanders? Sure, the charge call can be trumpeted out, then everyone roars and races forward. But while they’re roaring and running and smashing metal weapons into metal armor, how do you call retreat? Are the trumpets loud enough? What about the units that were flanking and might be out of trumpet hearing distance? If the trumpets are so important, why wouldn’t the enemy fake trumpet calls to mess soldiers up? I mean if one side sounds retreat, are they using a different retreat than the other side? Because once retreat is sounded, wouldn’t both sides fall back? OK, so we’ll assume they have different bugle calls, but still, are they secret bugle calls? Does the other side not know them? Seems kind of odd. And if it were that the bugle calls were secret, wouldn’t a clever enemy kidnap one bugler just before the battle and torture the answer out of him? I mean, we’re typically talking about enemies willing to consort with the undead and demons. Torturing some young bugler boy seems right up their alley. OK - That wasn’t the point of this blog entry. The point was - isn’t it time that the enchanters started working on means of communication and espionage instead of +1 swords? If not, shouldn’t intelligent commanders have telepaths sitting next to them at the battles, so they can send direct and secret information into the fray? Back to magic. Think of a telescope that also provided sound. That sounds like something magic could do, and WOW would that be beneficial when spying on your enemy camp. Every game has differences in the magic system, including what spells are available. In some games, spells that don’t do damage are either forgotten or considered useless. My players typically prefer to grab those “crazy” spells and find ways to make them work in the oddest arrangements. In Legend Quest, you cast spells until you pass out - none of this forgotten spell stuff. Therefore they can afford to be really good with one or two combat spells and then learn all the quirky ones. Not to get off track, but with sleep spells being so common in games, why doesn’t anyone ever spend the time to interrogate and then ransom hostages? I could easily write an entire book on the use of non-damage causing magic, with multiple chapters on how it affects warfare. How I do it doesn’t really matter in your game. What matters is if you recognize that reconnaissance, communications, and logistics have a much bigger part in military matters than the size of your sword. The sword matters! but not as much as the attention it is given.

Friday, September 14, 2012

More Ideas Everywhere

I often complain that what is listed on internet sites as “top news stories” is pathetic. These are not “news” and if they are the “top” then it just shows how vapid our society has truly become. However, from time to time, I click on one. It’s like a car fire. You just have to slow down and look. So this latest one directed me to a news show, about 10 minutes long, from a resort community in the Midwest. This was pure gold as background material and possibly even mission starters. The stories included (from memory, so don’t look for too much brain power here): a 3yo child was beaten to death by his parents, a young girl drown when she wandered off, idiots in a speed boat got thrown around inside their boat but it was caught on camera, where the fireworks were going to be that weekend, where the bands were playing that weekend, who won the speed boat competition, and the local boat and 4wheeler store has a new model. Please understand, I am not reveling in the misery of two dead children here (maybe in the idiots who were driving their boat so fast across wakes that they got chucked around, but still). But small town news like this always seems more “fantasy era” to me than big city news. How does this become background or mission starters? I hope you don’t really need this part but: The upcoming weekend is some sort of minor patriotic holiday where people will be off work and picnicking. During the festivities, a young girl wanders off, and a huge search begins. The girl is found the next day drowned, but on the shore. How did that happen? Are there evil creatures in the lake who killed her then hurled her out of the water? Someone needs to investigate! (I’d go with the girl drown on her own and the peaceful water creatures were trying to save her at great risk to themselves.) Let’s add some other items to it: There was a big race (rowing or canoeing?) on the lake, and the participants had no idea that while they raced a young girl was in such danger. So when they finished, they started their party anyway. Those people who were searching for the girl believe the racers to be extremely cold hearted for partying while the girl was dying, but the racers didn’t know. So there is a lot of resentment between the two factions (racers vs. picnickers). This will give the whole region a palpable tension that will greatly interfere with finding out what happened to the girl and getting the girl’s “people” (the picnickers) to work with the only people with boats (the racers) to get an expedition to the middle or bottom (or both) of the lake. Is that how you saw it? As long as you saw some of that - then you know how to never run out of ideas.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

A Moment in History

Campaigns take place during a moment in history. This makes it a little more difficult to believably implant several different wars and other major world conflicts into a single campaign. When you look back at Earth or your campaign world history, there are very few moments in time when one person’s life span (we’re talking normal human life spans here) encompasses multiple wars. OK, maybe they’re still alive, but not in their fighting prime. So should there only be one war in a campaign’s “life”? No, but the player characters might have to travel to the war zone. That’s pretty much true in our modern age as well, there’s always a war of some manner burning somewhere, you just have to go find it. Having too many invading armies all attack your character’s home city is, well, cheesy. It’s like a bad comic book or TV series where ALL of these horribly bad things all happen to this one place. That’s why Dr. Who works - He can go to any period, any planet. He goes looking for trouble; it doesn’t keep coming to him. I mean, I love Scooby Doo, but how many times was the Mystery Machine going to break down in front of some haunted house? All I’m suggesting is that GMs make the players work for it. Make them travel to some other places to face down the bad guys. It seems more reasonable, and you extend the campaign over the course of time. After all, those travel times make the campaign longer and the players a little bit older. Becoming super powerful over the course of ten years is perceived as more realistic than if they did it over the course of two.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Too much on one plate

We’ve been diligently working, but working on so many things, we cannot possibly finish them all. So we’re accepting defeat, or refining our priorities, however you want to see it. We intentionally avoid GENCON, as everybody is dumping new products on the market for the con season. So we’re still OK, but we need to get focused if we want to get anywhere with the rest of the year. No - we’re not telling you what they are, but we’re planning on getting two new books out this year still, just not what we planned to be releasing. You can always email us at if you want to try and influence us. Honestly, Grain Into Gold never would have hit the market as early as it did if it hadn’t been for the feedback we got from fans. By the way, thank you - GIG is our best seller to date, not counting the free Coins of Fletnern.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

What is magic?

Every GM needs to at some point think about what the nature of magic is on/in his world. Usually it comes at some point when a world threatening use of magic is about to occur, and the GM really needs to think - Is this how magic works? For a lot of game worlds, magic is controlled by the gods - not in the priestly way, though that happens too. More in the way that the gods allow magic to function. I never liked giving gods that much control. Some fantasy book worlds claim that magic is conscious, some sort of super entity or the blended consciousness of all things. I think this misses the point. I think that magic is the sub-conscious blending of all living things. Some of the Legend Quest books (Book of Wishes magic supplement mostly) refer to magic as being a vanetil source of power, eternal and replenishing. The source is stated as life, and as long as there is life on a planet, there will be magic. In some ways, this is a chicken and egg debate, but I think life first, then magic. If you read between the lines of the Legend Quest magic system, you’ll see that magic resistance comes from trying to keep the world “right” by your perspective. Same as using magic - You are trying to bend the magical power sources (various depending on the type of magic) into doing things that aren’t “normal”. But this normal is completely one person’s perspective. Back to the slightly more concrete discussion - If magic is the blending of all sub-conscious thought in the world, what does that do to it? Well, it establishes the way that people resist magic, as previously mentioned. It means that while gods and other super beings may have more sway over it, they do not have complete control over it. It means that most magic shouldn’t work on the moon - effectively a dead planet - but some magic (spell singers come to mind first) control magic from the spell’s target, so they might not be affected. You might also have to let some magic function if the spell caster is enough to power the spell - likely at some fairly serious restrictions. Maybe it’s more important to ask - What doesn’t it allow? Well, the spirit of magic cannot change the rules of how it’s power is used; it is not a conscious entity. Any spell that would affect the entire world would presumably be resisted by the entire world, and thus nearly impossible to cast. (Not impossible - just nearly so.) LQ utilizes “natural spirits”, basically locational elementals. If the water spirit Naumoui controls that river, then that river has some manner of subconscious, as opposed to the natural power of water simply residing in the river. Maybe I’m splitting hairs, but this means that simple manipulation of elements is really the manipulation of some manner of thought. If you think this is complicated, you should see how I determine weather patterns on Fletnern as a combination of science and the will of various weather divinities. I don’t know if I made a point here - Other than to suggest you figure out where all that magic comes from. Obviously, your game rules will help dictate, but you’re the GM - add your own color and style to it.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Note on Culture

You are in a theater in Myork watching an Anglic play. The sheriff walks into a public house (bar) and orders a beer from the bartender. The bartender says, “How’s the war effort going?” The sheriff grumbles back, “None of your damn business!” Who’s the bad guy? Well, it’s obvious: the sheriff is drinking in a bar when he should be off fighting a war, leading his patrol. Plus he swore. He’s evil to the core - in Myork. You’re in a different theater, this time in Garnock watching a Latvich play. The extortionist walks into a bustling bar and demands money from the bartender/owner. The owner says, “I don’t have the money to pay you.” Who’s the bad guy? Again, it’s obvious: the bar owner. I just said the bar was bustling. He doesn’t have enough money to pay the extortionist off? That’s a lie! And after all the extortionist is doing for the community. No, really! In Garnock, the organized crime families do extort money from the shop keepers, but they also run the community watch program (no one else better rob a store in their territory!), the fire brigade, and handle most of the civic programs. They also pass money upwards to the bigger crime families who pass it on to the government, so they are the tax collectors. Confused? I hope not. In one city the sheriff is considered derelict, while in the other the extortionist is Robin Hood. It all depends on the culture. Why write this blog entry? Because if your world has only one culture, you need to do some rewriting!

Book Length

Back in the old days, in an age long forgotten, there were no word processors. GASP!! No really! and everyone had to type things ... wait for it ... on a typewriter. NO!! The horror! OK, I’ll stop. I remember the submission guide for submitting adventure “modules” to that first RPG company. One of the things it said was (as I recall it): It takes 100 typed pages to make one book. If you have trouble getting to 100 pages, then you probably shouldn’t try. If on the other hand, you have trouble keeping it to only 100 pages, then you just might be the kind of writer they want. I’ve been having that trouble lately! A Baker’s Dozen isn’t enough ideas for me. I need to write more in order to feel that the book is complete. You saw that in The Royalty, which was a Baker’s Dozen plus two 100s books all rolled into one. Look for some “double Baker’s Dozen” supplements coming in the relatively near future. Oh, and recently, some really good work has been accomplished on Coins of the Road. This project, almost scrapped after so many rewrites, is now back on track.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Going off the map

Last week we talked about maps and the party staying on the road. Now I like to let the party do whatever they want, but I also believe (very strongly) in punishing them for not doing what I wanted in the first place. So how do you punish the party for going off road? It’s really easy. First, they would likely be moving at a third of the rate of what they could on the road. Slow them down in other ways. If they have horses, they might need to lead them, not ride them. Branches have a tendency to catch on backpacks; in other words, hand them equipment failures. Tell an adventurer that his backpack won’t hold loot before he gets into the adventure, and you’ll find an adventurer willing to turn around and go home. As you slow them down, their provisions will not go as far. Now, they will insist that they are hunting or fishing as they go. OK - Check their hunting or fishing abilities, but then have them spend all the daylight hours hunting and fishing. If they succeed at their gathering abilities, then they don’t go hungry, but in any case, they don’t progress towards the ultimate goal. In the end, they will likely start running low on provisions, but not be near anywhere they can refill them. I normally won’t have them run into real trouble with the wildlife. It is not as though a pack of wolves is going to attack and run combat. Instead - the pack of wolves will follow them for a little while, howling and forcing them to post watches, just in case. Would those wolves spook the horses? I know it’s a fantasy RPG and all, but there are no cases of wolves killing humans in the US’s history. (OK, the Old World was a little different.) So avoid the combat (which the PCs would likely win), and just harass them. Then there are the opossums and raccoons who will steal those precious provisions. Skunks? Bees? Mosquitoes? You know in real life, I’m willing to do quite a bit to avoid mosquitoes. I’d bet the fantasy characters would be too. Doing damage is not the point; I mean how much damage do you take from a bee sting? The point is to fill their time with things that are disadvantageous to them. At the same time, if they divert from the main road to avoid an ambush, then I congratulate them, but get them back on the road ASAP. Skipping encounters has a tendency to make those encounters come back later, but only if properly role-playing the bad guys would lead to that. Sometimes it can be more fun to have that encounter they missed form the basis of next week’s adventure/mission. The adventurers feel so smart for avoiding the bandit trap, only to find out that the merchant and his family fell into it and now need to be saved. (After all, you made up those bad guys anyway, might as well use them.) Actions and decisions have consequences, even inactions.

Saturday, July 28, 2012


The first maps weren’t anything like what we know today. Instead of being big pictures of the land as if you saw it from the sky, they were lists of how you got from one place to another. Think more along the lines of an online set of directions telling where and when to turn. (Terry Jones did a show on it called the Great Map Mystery, which is free on YouTube.) They were called road script maps. So what? I know, it always comes down to that. I think it is vastly better for GMs to use these for planning missions. First, if you’re giving the players a set of directions, you should use these road strip “maps”. Here’s how it works - I’ll bet you’ll feel it’s familiar: Start in the city of Forsbury. Travel 3 miles north long the caravan road. Stay right/NE on the road north, avoiding the NW road to the castle. Continue traveling 12 more miles NE to the town of Tabler. Do not take the Forest Road east (one mile north of the castle). There are good inns in Tabler. Continue NNE for 17.5 miles to Redwell. Redwell is a large town with many inn and entertainment alternatives. Along the way there might be some land marks to help keep the reader on course: bridges over streams, religious spots, road markers, etc. Second, you as GM now know exactly where they are supposed to be going. You put a little thought into it, so now you know where you might want to put that ambush, or place the fake ambush that you want to use to keep them on their toes. You can also plant the NPCs who are going the other way at the inns and they might have the clues you need to pass out. These maps will not replace the overall “normal” maps. You still need those for when the party wanders off the route and tries to off road it. The problem is that if you give them a more modern map of the area, you give them way too much information. They can look ahead for where the hills press in on the road (that ambush we talked about). They might see what they think is a short cut, that will make you play way more off the cuff than you wanted to. And besides - it’s not like they just photocopied the other map. To produce a real map could take a cartographer weeks. Producing a road script map would more likely be a day, at best. Here’s a pic of what they looked like:

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Game Master Screens

We talked about screens a short while ago, but I just want to throw out some ideas on making your own. Now a days with such easy access to scanners and copiers, anyone can so easily craft their own screens. As much as we feel that LQ does not require screens (because the rules are pretty simple: Attribute x 10% + Skill Level x 5% = Percentage Chance of Success), there are charts that you’ll want in front of you. Clearly this is also true of other games. Plus, you need to keep those maps and die rolls hidden from the players. You do need to make certain that the screens to do not serve to hide their rolls from you, because there will always be that temptation to cheat. OK, that was darker than this light little blog post was supposed to be, so on to other things. Screens are as easy as taping copies of charts onto cardboard. While you could use a cereal box (with the top and bottoms cut off), I prefer to use sturdier cardboard. Anything will do, but my favorite is to use the backs of legal pads. When you’re done with the pad, just cut off the stapled part at the top and the bottom is not only 8.5”x11” (perfect size for storing), but it is fairly sturdy cardboard. The cardboard they use to support most calendars is stronger and bigger, but tougher to transport to a game. Just duct tape the “pages” together. Duct tape is strong and will endure the constant folding and unfolding of your screens. While most published screens are three “pages” I prefer two page ones. They fold up easier. They adjust their size easier, and in my experience they just last longer. So go for three pairs of two pages. Get two binder clips, so you can hold them together and there is far less chance of them falling down. The binder clips let you change the size of the three screens, because you can have one screen completely block another if you’re squeezed for space. Plus, if you need to hang your map or something vital to the game session (but not the game as a whole), you can clip it up and in front of you without cluttering up your work space. Does it sound like we put too much thought into screens? OK, maybe we do. But what charts? The ones on the outside (facing the players) should be for the players. Usually this is character building/improving charts, but you might also want to put a gear costs charts. (The most frequent and thus annoying question from players is “How much does _____ cost?”) Meanwhile, the really juicy stuff like damage tables and critical tables can go on the inside where they are all yours. As silly as it sounds, decorate them. Find little illustrations and put them in here or there. We’re not talking about wasting two panels with a picture of a dragon or an army marching; we’re talking about heraldry shields, tiny dragons, and pictures of weapons. These tiny additions break up the monotony of tables and charts and prevent your game table from becoming boring. Boring is NEVER good!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

NPC Personalities

I’ve previously described how one time I had too many bad guys and couldn’t keep track of them, so I assigned them all the names of professional wrestlers (they were ogres - so it seemed to fit) and had a much easier time tracking them. Also, the party fought them, ran away, fought them, then was sieged by them in an inn. Using the wrestlers’ personalities made things so much easier, as I simply assigned the personalities to the same guys as had the names. Sweet - easy, great, right? I think the reason this worked for me is that each of the wrestlers is a melee warrior, so they were going to act in a semi-similar fashion. Where this doesn’t work is if you miss the types. The easiest one would be where you intended to overlay the personalities of folks from a comedy show onto NPCs in a more serious situation (or vice-versus). Overlaying Grandpa, Lillian and Eddie Munster onto NPC vampires, is probably a mistake, as is using characters from your favorite cop show to overlay on a squad of bandits. The cops are likely more intelligent and less violent than you want your bandits to be. The tone here really matters, because the tone of the characters you overlay is going to affect the tone of the mission. Here’s some that I think often work: The Four Musketeers, Robin Hood’s Men, Cop show characters for soldiers (where they need to be disciplined and most listen to the boss), and one of the better ones: using soldiers from a war movie for your combatants in game. The whole point of this technique is that #1 - You sort of know what these story characters would do, so you can more easily role-play them, and #2 - Who has time to make up personalities for every soldier your players will come across. Not even if you use my previous Myers/Briggs method. After all, if things go right, these guys will be dead soon, so don’t put your energy into their back story. (Don't worry - This is the last NPC one we're doing for a little while.)

Sunday, July 8, 2012

How to Name NPCs

Names can be the toughest part of NPCs. Somewhere (I think in Character Foundry), I mentioned that I created a template with various “sounds”. Six columns would each pick a random sound, mainly consonant sound, vowel sound, consonant sound, consonant sound, vowel sound, consonant sound. There were blanks in there too to come up with shorter names. I had a “base” one, and one I altered to sound more Germanic for the Rhum names. This works for huge lists of names, but remember, it’s still like I mentioned in the last post - This is only a spark of imagination - it does not control you. (I originally wrote this in BASIC in order to name all the folks who worked at the Rhum factories. You can see I have been using this technique for a LONG! time.) The other thing I like to do is translate English words describing the character into a language that sounds similar to where the character is supposed to be from. I never use the literal translation, but I alter it (normally into something I can pronounce). Combine words, split words, use pieces parts of the foreign words. I love how this works. For example: “black” “smith” is schwarz schmied in German and noir forgeron in French and zwart smid in Dutch. Well, I think everyone knows schwarz means black (probably because I had several years of German as a kid), so I’m not using that, but Zwart is a useable name in my mind. Murrisch means grumpy in German - now that will fit my Rhoric blacksmith: His name is now Murrisch the smith. Very few players will catch on, but the name fits the region. Eons ago I mentioned something along this line to the wife, and she changed it around and made it her own. The majority of her MMO characters have names that mean “evil” in various languages. She modifies them to sound more feminine, but the root words are still there and obvious to anyone who speaks that language. My biggest problem with this method? That I have no idea how to handle Greek and Russian letters, so I cannot use most online translators for those languages. The other one is that pretty much every Polish word sounds the same to me, so I don’t think I’m getting enough variety in my Velesan names.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

How to create NPCs

It’s been a while since I gave away the “keys to the kingdom”, so here I go again. First off, let me say that my ADHD (no not that game system) enables me to come up with dozens of ideas in a day. I write down as many as I can, though this can be an issue when driving. I will never write a novel, because I cannot stay focused long enough, but coming up with characters - I pretty much kick ass. But even with this, I sometimes need either more characters than I can generate quickly or I’m just stumped a little bit, so here is what I do: Open a spreadsheet program that allows for a random number formula. Here are your columns: Extrovert, Introvert, Sensing, Intuition, Thinking, Feeling, Judging and Perception. Anyone recognize these as the Myers/Briggs test? That is what they are. If you don’t understand anything about Myer/Briggs, look it up and sort of review what they mean by these. In many ways, this can be used to describe any person’s personality. So now what? You have eight personality descriptions. For example - If they have a high extrovert and a low introvert as well as high scores in Sensing and Perceiving, then you have someone who can stand up in front of folks but is also very logical and concrete in their thoughts - sounds like a college professor to me (a stereo-typical one, not an actual one). I hope you saw how I did that. By looking at the highest two or three scores, I make wildly inaccurate decisions about their personality. But is doesn’t matter if they’re inaccurate, because the personality grows out of what I decide. If these personality types don’t work for you, look up the 16 general categories. Instead of trying to make the assessments yourself, just randomly choose one of these 16 personalities. But wait, there’s more. Because of the adult way that my campaigns usually twist, I have to have a morality score for people. People of low morals, have a low score here. I also usually use a beauty score. Both of these are less on a straight line, and more on a bell curve. To be really ugly, you need to score in the low teens. A 33 in beauty makes you more plain than really ugly. What else - Well I sometimes use a couple of different columns as well. In Forsbury, they have a 70% chance of working for one of the major cartels, so I determine which cartel they work for. I often throw a 10% nobility chance in there too. If I’m really looking to create a character, I will have three columns for skills. Yep - A quick look up table determines which three skills they randomly have. I almost always throw out one of these. This gives me a personality, a couple of skills they likely know, who they work for and if they’re noble, as well as looks and morals. Sometimes, it is fun looking at the more challenging ones: An extrovert, noble with mining experience and upstanding morals. She is actually a pretty cool character now. The point of this is NEVER to force you to accept a character you don’t want. The point is to instantly create a couple dozen character concepts, and you choose the three or four you want to flesh out. Then hit the recalc button and instantly make up dozens more. The randomness keeps throwing new ideas at you until something appeals or fosters that “spark of imagination”. You’re a GM - You should only need the spark, and you’ll be up and running (at least mentally).

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Why does Urban Developments Matter?

People who read Board Enterprises books will likely remember that I ask the question “So what?” quite often. I think it’s important. Why did you just read three paragraphs about wheat farms and millers? Because bread is the basis of the entire economy. That’s why it matters. So we wrote and published Urban Developments. Why does it matter? So what? First, it really is one of the most efficient ways to design cities (or towns, villages, hamlets, etc.) from the 10,000’ level. You can make them quicker, but you won’t know what you need to run them off the cuff. But in the back of the book is a huge amount of math. One of the main things it computes is: How much land do the farms needed by the city take up? For example, a city of 25,000 people requires in or around 725 square miles of land to feed it and the farmers. That means that the circle of “influence” around the town is out to about 15ish miles. I doubt anyone will really have an issue with that. But that’s only 25K folks in the city. Let’s go to 100,000 people. Does your world have any 100K people cities? Now you’re talking a circle that goes in every direction out for the city for 30 miles. (30.4 actually). What if the city is on the shore of the ocean? Well, some of the food will come from fishing, but that 30 mile circle is going to get a lot bigger. Let me give a specific example. Brinston is a coastal city and has 800,000 people in it. That means that they would need 86 miles in all directions to feed those folks (more than 23,000 square miles). But the elven forests are 20 miles north of the city. And the South Pot Mountains start about 50 miles south of the city. And obviously the ocean is parked right there, west of the city. So the farmlands that support the city of Brinston follow the river east for a lot more than 80 miles. In fact the food to sustain this great city is imported from all over the place. So what? Brinston is the center of trade throughout the world. So what if they need to import their food? Well, what if they get attacked? The barbarians didn’t wander up to Rome and sack it. They first messed with the capital of the greatest empire’s food. Read up on the Vandals if you want more details. With Brinston’s food supply stretched so far along the river, if someone wanted to besiege the city, they just need to stop the river traffic. What if eager nobles start cutting into the elven forests in order to plant more crops? Wow- can you say international incident, and all over a couple hundred trees. We touch on this in the book, but think about this one: OK, so the land required to feed the people extends out at least 60 miles in all directions (that’s feed, not clothe, etc). An ox cart moves at 15-20 miles a day (on a good road). That means that the majority of the food is coming from more than a day’s journey out, and some of it is at least three days on a cart before it hits the marketplace. Some things you can explain. You can lead livestock into the city and butcher them there. But you can’t have dairies in the city. Well, you can, but then you have to bring the feed to them, and there are a bunch of other issues. You probably can’t have orchards in the city. What’s my point? Well, it’s that the city folks might not have the slightest clue what fresh fruit is like. They’re eating potatoes and flour, maybe with some ham or salted beef, but they aren’t biting into a fresh peach. Even if they get peach preserves, they still don’t drink milk. Three day old milk - Do not include me on that one! We’ve just started to scratch the surface of the issues here. A lot more detail and explanation can be found in Urban Developments. We are also looking at developing a book that walks through the mundane and magical lives of people in a fantasy realm. It will get into a lot more of these types of things, but it isn’t going to be our next book. (Read, not likely 2012)

Saturday, June 16, 2012

It has been a long time coming, but we are in the midst of our website rebuild. Our previous host doubled the annual fees between 2010 and 2012, so we intelligently decided to leave them behind (shaking the dust from our electronic sandals), and have switched to a new vendor. But this means that we must rebuild the site. Trust us - It was not worth copying to the new vendor! So - while the site is fully functional, it lacks all the content it once had. We’re fixing that, and will announce when it is fully rebuilt. And there will be more news about the internet shortly as well. Something we think will really work for all you LQ and Fletnern fans out there!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

When is it Plagiarism?

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while will know why I have such strong feelings about plagiarism. I actually started in this industry because others were plagiarizing my work. I figured if my stuff was good enough to be in print under someone else’s name, then it was good enough to be in print under my name. Even in the beginning, people thought I was stealing ideas from other folks. In 1992 at GENCON we were advertising expansions for Legend Quest. One of them was “Dynamite Dinosaurs”, which eventually morphed into The Forgotten Hunt. As you might imagine, in 1992 (after Jurassic Park the book but before the movie) the few people aware of Crichton’s novel asked if we were copying it. I wasn’t one of those people aware of his novel and had actually gotten the idea from watching The Valley of Gwangi. I had been debating between two plot lines, and eventually included them both in the book. Neither is close to Crichton’s. I described the yazzteea to someone, and they thought I was stealing the idea from Aliens (pick a number). The yazzteea are a race of social insects/spiders in Convergence. They were born out of two things - my fascination with social insects and the thought that four foot tall spiders tck-tck-tcking their pointy legs down a cave or hallway would be REALLY creepy. So what is my problem? Well, it’s not being as prolific as I wish I was. Had I published The Forgotten Hunt in 1992 instead of advertising it, I would have scooped the movie. I write a lot of stuff! at least by my measure. You’ll likely never see it all, because while much of it is the basis for the products that come out, a ton of it is more background or sourcing material and not the “big deal”. The problem is that there really aren’t that many original ideas out there. Sometimes really famous guys and I get inspired by similar stuff and produce somewhat similar stuff. Sometimes I get inspired by their stuff, but think I can do it that much better. In those cases, you likely won’t recognize the inspiration. I’ve always supported the idea of letting other stuff inspire you, but then making it your own. Don’t steal an idea and use it, let it initiate thoughts that you improve upon and change into something that winds up being entirely yours. We hope that is exactly what our products are doing for you! And if you think I stole an idea - point it out. I’ll let you know where it really came from!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

100 Bar Foods

We wrote and published 100 Bar Drinks. Why? Because we thought that GMs would like to have a long series of beverages that they could offer at their game world taverns. But now we’re writing 100 Bar Foods and 100 Bar Flies. Why? Because we think that once we bundle those three supplements together, GMs are going to have more than they could have hoped for in running their in game bars and inns. They’ll have more than enough drinks, menu items, and people to fill the stools. Someone asked the very reasonable question: Why not just publish a tavern? Good question. Answer: I think everyone has their favorite in game bar figured out. You probably know the owner and the layout and likely the bartender(s) and waitress(es). You might even have a couple of specialty drinks or menu items. But what about the rest? The rest of the drinks served. The rest of the food available. The rest of the folks taking up space. For that matter, what about the rest of the bars that you haven’t put so much time into? Truth be told - I don’t expect people to race to their computers to download 100 Bar Foods, but that doesn’t make it worthless. #1 it will be a fine supplement to make menu creation a lot easier for GMs. #2 by working on it, I’ve been forced to document a lot of foods, spices and other items that will bleed over into Coins of the Road and Fantasy Lifestyles. Oddly enough, I need to write 100 Bar Foods, so I can expand Grain Into Gold.

Friday, May 25, 2012


I remember the old days when we all used screens to block our die rolls and maps. I had some homemade ones I made myself (yes- I’m cheap). This was before photocopiers, so I had to type out all the charts myself. During college, one of my buddies bought me the official screens, but I didn’t like it because it didn’t have all the tables I wanted. I wound up using a mix of my screens and theirs. Now a days, I mainly use my laptop. So again, I have a “screen” concealing everything. I still use paper character sheets for notes and recording damage, but the mission itself is usually on the lap top. I guess I’m a touch confused about tabletop RPGs. I’ve played them on-line, I’ve played them at a big table, and I’ve played them with everyone in chairs using TV trays. I don’t know what’s normal any more. Obviously I like my mix of laptop and paper on clipboard. For years I had to keep a file cabinet next to me for when I needed to check something. Now I have everything on my thumb drive, and I can search, a little bit faster (never fast enough). Any other ideas? You know, I’m still willing to learn new things.

Legend Quest- Full Rules

In hopes of getting more people involved at a better price, we’ve bundled Legend Quest (Gold Edition) with Book of Wishes, and added Optional Weaponry, The Amberrose Incident, and Empty Crypt. That’s more than $ 25 worth of stuff for $ 15. Yep, everything you need to learn the rules and start your game for $ 15! Check it out at RPG Now! (e23 doesn’t bundle, but we’re working on them.)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Is there anybody out there?

Many of you know that we are working on Legend Quest Modern. This is actually a series of four books, and we will not be releasing them until at least three are ready for publication. The four are: Legend Quest Modern - a rule book for playing the Legend Quest game in a modern era with machine guns, cars and grenades; The Forgotten Hunt - now a campaign book to go along with LQ Modern in which dinosaurs are alive and well in the modern era (TFH was released back in the ‘90s as a rule book and campaign unto itself); Convergence - An Alien Armageddon - a campaign world where aliens are coming to Earth and wars are erupting; and Dark Hour - an LQ Modern campaign world where magic works. One rule book - Three campaign worlds, each with their own additional rules. In working so diligently on C-AA, all sorts of alien questions have been arising. We want to establish our take on UFOs before the book comes out, so here it is: (that was a trick) - We would rather establish doubt in the minds of believers and non-believers than actually state (as though it were a fact) whether there really are UFOs or not. Look, some of the research and explanations are very compelling. They would lead a sane, thinking person to believe in UFOs. Then again, the debunkers out there have incredibly compelling arguments too, and so far they have been able to generally explain or even recreate the UFO phenomena, though admittedly, the “faith” in the agreement typically comes from the previous beliefs of the listener. Does it matter? Well, Jethro Tull (the group, not the inventor) said: “I may make you feel, but I can’t make you think.” It would be fun to make them think though. Now, a game about aliens attacking Earth would be pretty boring if there were no aliens and no UFOs. But the issue of whether or not UFOs were real or not in real life can still be questioned. Here’s what we mean: Take a real life event or reported UFO encounter. Use as much of the real life information about it in the mission as you can. In the end explain what happened and how it happened in what would be a completely believable pattern of events, even if they conflict with the people’s reports of events. I always thought Tom Clancy did a great job of this - taking events that we think we know about or understand and then playing on our distrust of the government to “reveal” the truth behind what “really” happened. (Lots of “quotes” in that sentence.) So why should a GM waste his/her time even thinking about this junk? First - role-playing real or semi-real life events is fun. It makes it a little spookier. Second - it provokes discussion at the table. Pen and paper games are social events - players interact. Even if they interact (that means talk not text) about unrelated stuff, it still serves to bond the players together and make them want to come back the next time. If you didn’t realize that we see the main goal or a role-playing game as keeping the players coming back, then you just haven’t been reading this blog!

Monday, May 14, 2012

No post ths week

Our apologies. Minor family emergency - no post this week

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Constructive Criticism of Legend Quest

Years ago, we had a very good customer who came and saw us every year at the cons and bought whatever we had published. We love people like that! One year he had his two sons with him, and we confidently asked him if his sons played. He told us that they were just starting, D&D. We were of course offended. Here was one of our biggest fans and he was teaching his kids that out of date game. Here was his reasoning, and unfortunately, he was right: D&D’s class system was easy for the boys to learn. They were only like 6 and 8. They wanted to be “fighter”, “thief” or “mage”. Easy - You can do this; you can’t do that. In LQ, with our character building process, you can build anything. He told us that his boys didn’t know what they wanted for their characters, so he wanted them to have it nice and simple. Sure, he loved running stealthy elven archers who were great runners and climbers, and his adult players loved having useful skills that made sense, at least to them. (I think there was a massively powerful warrior who was a gem and jewelry expert.)
Why am I pointing out this seeming flaw in our game? Because we want to stress that LQ is not for eight year olds. It’s not that is any more violent than other games, in fact it is the opposite. But young kids haven’t learned enough to strategize how much of their skill they should be applying to defense/parrying vs. offense. Or how much of their skill they need for their spell’s accuracy vs. area of effect. This spell does X damage to one guy! That they can wrap their brains around. You can do a lot more damage now, but it might make you pass out from the effort, or you can coast now so you can cast more later - not something for little kids!
Now, if you are an adult (even a younger one), and you want a game with a huge amount of dynamic opportunity - try Legend Quest!. No classes! No alignments! You craft the character to be what you want it to be, trading off this for that. Best of luck, and enjoy!

Friday, April 27, 2012


When I was a kid and running games (13-15 - brand new to it), my favorite thing was drawing maps. I’ve watched my son and he seems to have that bug too. Truth is, I think as we get older, we start shying away from all that mapping. You’ll see my previous post about leaving white spaces on the maps. While I use to think that GMing off the cuff was lazy, I’m starting to think it really is the mark of a good game master. OK, sometimes it’s lazy, but not always. I remember eons ago, I was at NIU Con. (Yes, the one and only time my university held a con, and I was still in high school, but I went anyway. Warning - Do not eat sandwiches out of the vending machines at Northern Illinois University! You will be sorry!) Anyways, they were supposed to have an event, three sessions of the same mission for up to 12 people per session. We had six guys. So the GM, OK he was a DM, decided he’d run it anyway, but since the other two guys who were ready to run the game were going to play, he had to adjust the dungeon as he went. Took him all of five minutes. In five minutes he had moved everything around including changing traps to other things and putting in a secret corridor. Oh, I’m sure he didn’t have it all set in five minutes and he was just throwing crap at us as we went, but it worked beautifully. And the prepared DMs may have known the characters that we met at the end, but they had no idea what order anything was coming in. I guess the point is, as you get older and especially if you really understand your world, you do a better job off the cuff than with a huge plan. You react better. You think of things you didn’t plan for, because you’re in the moment. Best of all, your interaction with the players is a lot more suited to what they want. You aren’t nudging them to stay in the mapped areas. One warning! At least to myself. You must preplan the characters. It is too difficult to try and make up characters on the fly. NPCs who do not fight are easy and fine to make up on the fly, but those who’s stats, spells or magic items matter - Either preplan them or write them down immediately. The number of times, I’ve allowed the NPC mage to know that one spell that the PC wanted to learn and later thought, “That doesn’t make any sense!” Well, you get the picture. Undocumented NPCs become everything needed at the moment instead of challenging you as the GM or your players to make do with what they have, not what they wish they had. Wow, that really got off topic!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Law and Order

I’ve been complaining lately about crony capitalism and other modern “issues”, but I keep thinking, “There’s nothing new about this!” How does the law work in your game world? In mine - It depends on where you are.
In Rhum - The courts are run by the priests of the god of justice - justice, not legalities. There’s no getting off on technicalities with these guys. They are allowed to use detect lie mentalism and other “spells” to determine the truth, and then they act. This was built when I believed that there was this thing called “fair”.
In Brinston - The courts are run either by nobles (criminal) or priests of the god of cities (civil). Both these groups are completely biased for their friends and peer groups. Actually, both the nobles and the wealthy merchants in Brinston are the same group, so both courts favor them. Now the nobles can be blatantly unfair, but the priests are supposed to follow the law, every technical little point. Well, maybe not every technical point. They only bring in the technicalities that help the guys they favor.
In Forsbury - Here the courts are run by the Baron or his cronies, and they can be pretty blatantly slanted. But they are typically slanted against certain actions, not necessarily people. Anyone playing with fire or rustling cattle will find themselves under a death sentence. But they also believe in “Forsbury Justice”. What’s that? Well, the merchant wars in Forsbury get pretty bloody. Think of this example: The G family attempts to assassinate someone in the M family. The M family catches the assassin, tortures him, he gives out who hired him, and the M family kills not just the person who hired the assassin, but everyone (man, woman, child, servant) who happened to be in the house that night. When it comes out, the M family is not charged with murder, because they were defending themselves. See? Brutal, but the “Forsbury Justice:” aspect is that the G family brought it on themselves for starting the whole thing. Had the assassin been successful, then likely only the assassin would have been guilty of murder, and the G family could have proclaimed their lack of involvement.
In Helatia - They are considering the use of psychic seers to predict the future, and arrest people before they commit crimes. This is still being debated in their Senate, and likely will not be approved under the current sentiment. Of course, one major crime, prevented or committed, could swing the popular opinion.
Any other fantasy related, dysfunctional legal systems out there?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

How does healing work?

Here’s some excerpts from an article I had published elsewhere (I forget where). It helps define how I as a GM handle healing. This isn’t necessarily the rules of Legend Quest, just the rules of me:

First, healers can only heal diseases that they can identify. This prevents a healer from casting cure spells on a person not known to be sick. The magic may be powerful, but it must be directed. This means that healers must have some knowledge of medicine or physiology. The healer does not need to know the name of the disease, but he or she must recognize that the disease is there.
The ultimate question seems to be, can magic cure cancer once it has started to spread? The quick answer is, no. Chances are, a healer would not identify a disease like cancer in its early stages. Perhaps the healer might be able to cure a cancer “lump” and prevent the disease from spreading, but if it were to spread, the patient would be doomed. As the disease attacked different parts of the body, the healer might be able to cure pieces of the disease, but would not be able to keep up. When the disease had taken hold of the bones or internal organs, the healer might not be able to identify enough of the disease to cure it.
Cancer is just an example. Many of the medieval plagues might be much easier to cure. Most of them were accompanied by symptoms that could be seen on the skin. It would be much easier for a healer to see and cure the disease that causes large, red splotches than the disease that weakens bones.

Building on Necromantic Surgery - What about spells that will transfer the soul of a person into someone else’s body? I frequently think of taking some old, brilliant (and evil) wizard and transferring his mind into the body of some 20 year old athlete. Boom! Now he has the best of both sets of attributes. No longer a quick kill, he’s now attractive and a pro-wrestler.


I’m not going to talk about alignments. I have to keep telling myself that.
Priests - In Legend Quest, healing magic is performed by mages who have power levels in healing magic or by wizards who can cast all six schools. Healing magic does not come from the gods. The main reason for that is that when I wrote LQ, I wanted each religion to teach things that made sense to that religion. Yes, the god of healing teaches his priests to be healers. But the god of evil magic teaches his priests to be sorcerers. And the god of war teaches his priests to be warriors. And the goddess of beauty teaches her priestesses to be artists, or possibly illusionists.
Not every priest should be a healer! OK, I only really know my religion well, but there are a billion of us worldwide, so I’m going to claim some common ground. We have those who lead the parishioners. They preach, they hold services, they even counsel. But we also have those who work primarily as teachers - lots of those! We do have some who run hospitals (healers). We have some who pray all day long, often in seclusion. We have some who administer the workings of the individual churches or the larger regional or national or global communities - yes, bureaucrats. Most have other things they do. Some coach kids, some maintain the grounds, some cater to the poor or sick (by going to them, which is different than just being a healer). What about the ones who study the scriptures? These guys are historians, detectives and translators all wrapped in one. There are lawyers and diplomats, and I think I’m done going on and on. (Can add musicians? organists, singers, etc.?)
Here’s the point: Are we supposed to assume that every priest, no matter who he or she serves, learns magic? So in order to run a decent sized church, you must be a powerful spell caster, likely with the ability to bring the dead back to life? What if you’re just charismatic and have a great speaking voice? Can’t minister to a flock of believers? How did all those high priests get to be high priests? Did they all wander the countryside slaughtering horrible monsters? Isn’t that the only way to gain experience points? I tend to think that while adventuring priests are fine, it isn’t for everyone. Someone needs to stay home and tend to the faithful, the church itself, the books, etc. The adventurers and the missionaries (I forgot to mention missionaries?) can go out into the wilds.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Slightly Interesting

I’m working on a few projects based on Grain Into Gold, including the long awaited Coins of the Road. So I’m trying to make certain that I am consistently using the same prices and reasoning. The list of prices for Grain Into Gold is between 590 and 600 items depending on how you count. 600 prices for individual items, and clearly I don’t think that this is enough. Stop me before I continue!
Oh well, no one stopped me before I posted this, and now we’re at >1,500 and growing fast. The truly crazy thing is that I have the narrative written for so many more things that are not yet on the charts.

Wonders of the World

A lot of us GMs have played some version of Civilization. I think that game has had a major impact on the way I design cultures. It has made me think of what technology level different cultures might be at, especially in comparison to other cultures, and what the impacts of those differences might be. It has made me think about what resources might be available to a city and how ample resources really make a difference between a city succeeding or failing. But oddly enough, I guess it never made me think about wonders of the world.
Fletnern’s got a couple of wonders of the world, but they’re not very impressive. Port of Brinston is supposed to be the biggest in the world and perhaps more impressively the longest pier in the world. The Cathedral of Lady Vlodsdock in Parnania, considered the most beautiful temple in the world. If I thought really hard about it, I could probably come up with a couple more, but really, I’ve never documented those brazenly enormous projects that seem to mark previous civilizations (or current ones).
I think it’s because I’m way too practical to think about stuff like that. You’ll never catch me on the side of a mountain blasting stone away to carve four presidents or three generals. I don’t see the point of throwing away money on “spires” to pretend that some building is taller than it actually is in hope of tricking others into thinking you have just constructed the world’s largest building. I was going to say “vain hope”, but lots of stupid people were tricked into believing that the world’s tallest building was in Malaysia. Now it’s in Dubai. The building’s empty, but it’s really tall. See - I don’t have the whimsical (foolish) personality for these enormous wastes of time, ego building projects.
But role-playing isn’t about what I would do; it’s about putting yourself in that situation and acting as those people would. So I guess I have some work to do.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Urban Development now Available

Hey everyone! Urban Development is now available at RPG Now. Urban Developments does for your cities and towns what Grain Into Gold did for their economies - and it does it in almost the same manner. It starts you out at the most basic concept - Why do you want to create this community? - and it takes you all the way through crafting a complete and realistic place for your world. I love how this works! I have been fretting over the thing for a couple years now trying to get it just right, and I am now content that I have gotten there. It even has you use decisions made in the Terrain and Climate chapter to determine what type of military forces you would have. After all, if they live on a plain with relatively few trees, are they really using long bows? Probably not, because there aren’t that many of the right types of trees. Anyway - please go check it out! We’ll post an update when it is available on e23. (RPG Now is entirely automated, so I can put stuff out there whenever I want. e23 requires human intervention, so, I have to wait for them to be at work. Please don’t think I favor one distributor over another!)

Ages and Longevity

First let me say, that it has been about twenty years since I played that first and most popular FRPG. In know a lot has changed, but not everything. I have a bone to pick with the age of the characters. In my games, elves, dwarves, humans, halflings, etc. all have about the same lifespan. That other game has elves living over a thousand years and dwarves going on for centuries. The problem is - They don’t give them any credit for it.
Here’s what I mean: A human is ready to go adventuring at age 18-25. I forget what it is for elves, but it’s about 300 I think. Within five to ten years of adventuring (assuming survival), a character can get to level 10+ depending on the GM. OK - So let’s assume that the human adventurer calls it quits as he/she approaches middle age. The elf is just getting started. He’s got hundreds of years to go before he hits middle age. But look at your books. The average elf is about as experienced as your average human. All they get for hundreds of years of training is +1 with bows / +1 with swords. Oh, and some extra languages. Same with dwarves. A one hundred year old dwarf is considered ... wait for it ... only as good as some 21 year old human. What? The dwarves aren’t training their militias? Fifty years of dwarven drill sergeants and the guys is level 1? I don’t get it. Oh, it’s game balance. call the PC police, it’s game balance again.
What about the cultural impact of eternal life? If I were going to live for 1400 years, I would be a pacifist. Why would you ever risk another 1,000 years of life over a battle? Don’t worry if the orcs enslave your entire people, you’re going to outlive them, or at least outlive this current empire. After they are all dead from civil wars, you can go back to your gardens. And if all the oak trees are dead, grow some more. After all, oak trees would be like corn to a 1400 old elf. OK, maybe like a rose bush. (For those of you who don’t know, you cut rose bushes down to next to nothing every year. It’s the only way to get them to really grow.)
What about retirement? Do they amass huge sums of money so they can live in retirement for 400 years? OK, the dwarves would. What about the really active ones? I know there are good GMs out there who have monumentally powerful elven wizards and druids. After 1,000 years of learning and experimenting, you should be beyond incredible.
So how do I balance the game? Well, not by being a slave to Tolkien. Everybody lives the same 75-100 years (depending on the state of their health care abilities, both mundane and magical). I mean, I like Tolkien too, but my world isn’t Middle Earth.
I can’t help but think about the elven peasant. Here is a guy who farms a plot of land for 800+ years. I mean, really, 800+ years on the same plot of land. The assumption from that old style game is that after being there for, let’s just say, 500 years, he’s a level 1 guy. If he were really going to farm that piece of land for centuries, wouldn’t he go to night school for druidic magic? I mean, ten years of night school should triple his crops for the next 1000 years. Even if he didn’t, he’d probably have named every earth worm who lived on his land or at least know its genealogy.
OK, I’ve gone on long enough, but I really am interested -What am I missing? Did they fix the game so much that any of this actually makes sense now?

Sunday, March 25, 2012


So I’m torn. I’ve been working on Brinston, the biggest trade city in Fletnern. While trade is important and there is likely enough food - Why do 800,000 people live there? What is there for them to do? So most of that is honestly working itself out, but I turn to gates. The city is about 7 miles by 4 miles and has 9 gates. Still - this seems way too few. Historic Paris only had six gates, so I guess nine sort of makes sense. If you want to pretend that the city wall has any defensive use, you can’t make it into Swiss cheese by adding dozens of gates. So is 9 the right number? I think I’m going to have to live with it for a little while to figure that out.
I admit that Rhum’s gate situation was partially accidental and partially intentional. There are only two gates (north and south), but there are only 40K people in the town. The gates are also small - only about 12’ wide when both halves of the gate are opened. There was supposed to be something about rival breweries (from other towns) using wider beer wagons, and the gates were intended to stop the competition. (If you think major industries don’t control public policy in this fashion, then you aren’t watching your government. That goes for just about every current world government.) Anyway, once I started mapping the city, it became pretty clear that a third gate was going to be needed and I had accidently left the perfect spot for it. (The west gate is due to be built in 657.)
I like that there is a problem in the city. You need to wait in order to pass through the gate. They try various things to get around this. If the city ran too smoothly, I don’t think it would be realistic. Ever try to get a driver’s license? But in the Brinston issue, a major wagon could have to travel an extra 10 miles to get from the northwest side of town to the main gate on the eastern wall. (The gates on the NW side of town are either pedestrian gates or for military or noble use only.) That’s almost a full day’s travel for a huge wagon. That seems excessive. Also - what does it mean within the city? If the city is seven miles across, do the people who live on the west side stay at inns outside the eastern wall before they travel onward? So it’s more than the gates - it’s the size too. Groceries on the west side of town would have to be more expensive than on the SE side of town, because they have had to travel further. I’m still working out the bugs. I think I’m on the right track, even if I’m doubting. Then again, I’ve only been working on Brinston for, oh, let me see, 31 years. Yeah - Rhum too. I use to have Brinston’s rough map painted on my gaming table. Good thing I never did that with Rhum; I’ve changed that map at least five times.


I have a bone to pick with a lot of game designers out there. What’s this about invisibility being canceled just before the person takes an action? That rule is like a politically correct version of game balance. There is no reason that picking a pocket, shooting a bow, opening a lock, etc should cancel out someone’s invisibility. What’s the point? No where in fantasy fiction (ignore the books based on these same stupid rules) is there an example of an invisible creature becoming visible, just because he was going to kill someone else. Was Bilbo visible? Frodo was fighting with Gollum but stayed invisible until the finger bite happened.
OK - So since no sane rule of magic should negate the spell due to activity - How do you keep it fair? Well, it does make sense to me that only those things that you actually possess at the time of the spell would be turned invisible. This means you cannot turn invisible, pick up a sword and have it automatically vanish from view. This also leads to fun situations like a sword “flying” through the air as the invisible thief runs. But this rule is far more important. If you (the one not invisible) can give the invisible person something new, you can mark where they are. We especially like flour. Throw a few handfuls of bread flour into the air, and they will tend to land on the invisible guy like snow - marking where he is. You can also just listen really carefully. You may not be able to know exactly where he is, but you’ll have a good idea of the direction. What about dogs or any other smell sensing animal? In a high fantasy world, there should be dog trainers who train dogs to give an alarm when they smell something but do not see it. Water is good too - Make the person walk through a small stream, and the water will flow around their feet, marking their position. And what’s wrong with fighting a person who’s invisible anyway? Sure they’re tougher to hit and a lot tougher to parry, but you can slash around wildly (just like they do in the movies) hoping to connect. If you do, then the blood drips on the floor and connection itself will make the next attacks that much easier.
Invisibility is one of those really cool, really powerful types of magic, and its power needs to be given back to it! Don’t be the PC Police and downgrade it simply because it’s powerful. Attack it in genre; not with some silly rule!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Necromantic Surgery

As you can probably tell, I sit around and ponder the silliest uses of magic. Here’s one that occurred to me: Necromantic Surgery. What do I mean? Well, most games have some manner of necromancy - making dead things come to life again, well, unlife. In Legend Quest, a healer’s resuscitation will not work if the body is in a state that cannot sustain life. So you cannot resuscitate a body without a head or with a spear still sticking in the heart. You have to repair the damage and then bring life back to the body.
What if the reason the person died was more normal? What if they had a bad heart and it failed? I guess in some games, they would just resurrect the guy and everything would be alright, but that isn’t how I work it. Imagine this: A necromancer casts a spell similar to zombie on a heart inside someone’s chest. The zombie heart then starts beating as would have been considered “normal”. He then heals up the chest cavity and resuscitates the person. The guy with the bad ticker now has a zombie heart keeping him alive. There should be a risk of disease from the undead thing sitting inside his chest, but wards against disease are damn near common.
Truth be told, there are probably other ways to accomplish it - curing the diseases of the heart, “healing” the damage to the heart (something I always think is WAY too easy in fantasy games), something like that. But for a strictly “cool factor”, I love this idea. Maybe the guy is an evil warlord and none of the goody goody healer priests will do a cure on him, so he has to resort to the use of necromancy. Don’t get me started on alignments, because I hate those, but evil gods aren’t usually too quick with those healing spells.
There are more applications to this possibility, even undead “people” that function as lab equipment. Sure it’s gross, but this is HIGH fantasy right? Sometimes you need something way over the top or your players will just “been there/ done that”.