Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Royalty

The Royalty, our newest supplement is now available for sale. The Royalty is a combination of our Baker's Dozen and our 100s. There's A Baker's Dozen Royal Persons, 100 Noblemen, and 100 Castle Staff. That's 213 NPCs to fill any castle, palace or capital that you can use together, alone or as adds to your existing campaign. That's a lot for only $3.98. (Get it, $1.99 per book - so it's buy two get-one free.)
Click this link to learn more.

The Details of History

I get accused of focusing on the unimportant stuff a lot. You can go back and see my opinion of role-players vs. gold farmers for more on that. A huge part of why I do it is simple - It makes everything else easier!
If you wrote the history of a small town you were creating and it went like this: First there was a mill on the river at Point A, but that place kept flooding, so they rebuilt the mill at point B. For a while the bridge at Point A was the only one, so everyone kept going by the old mill anyways. Eventually they built another bridge and then the Duke decided to put a wall around the community that had sprung up around the new mill.
Many people would find this pointless, after all, are any of the players going to ask you for the history of the mill? No, but now you know the name of the major roads in the area - Old Mill Road and New Bridge. You know there are two ways to get across the river - the new bridge by the town and the old bridge in the low country. The old bridge is probably in disrepair and may flood from time to time, but the new bridge probably has a toll.
Why is the town here? Because the mill found a good spot to harness the power of the river, and then they put up a bridge. This most likely implies that the river is narrower here, and therefore likely faster. What else do we know about the region because of these few lines of history? Well, that they have been growing grain here for a very long time, otherwise why would you need a mill? You know that either the mill or the bridge is considered strategic to the Duke, or he wouldn’t have bothered to build a wall. You know the river floods, but not so bad at the town.
By writing just a couple of lines, the rest of the stuff is really easy to figure out. Please understand that when I’m advocating GMs play as role-players, I’m not suggesting you need a 600 page document to run your world. In fact, if the doc is too long, it impairs your ability to run your world. But by having short notes that seem unimportant, you have the sparks you need to run anything off the cuff -and that is where a good GM needs to be!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

How to develop your cities - businesses

A lot of people have trouble coming up with businesses for their cities. I mean how many butcher shops or blacksmiths does a city need? The way I like to do it is to pick a kind of shop and then figure out how they might be different. In writing up how they are different, you will know what they are like.
OK - An example seems to be in order: I thought that the city needed some form of elementary education. Where were these kids learning to read or write before they went to those big universities? Well - a lot learned from tutors. I haven’t fully developed all the tutors yet, but how are they different? Well, some are strict and some are easy. The easy ones might simply be weak of will or they might be sycophants who want their rich employers to think they have brilliant children. That’s at least three tutors right there.
More importantly, I created two schools. How are they different? Well, just like in our world, one is secular and one is run by a religious order. Therefore one is in it for the money and one is in it to better the community. This also changes which classes they will teach or at least focus on as the religious one is definitely going to stress religion or theology. Both teach the three “r”s, but the secular one will get the children into much higher mathematics, because they are being trained for business. Likewise, the religious school will be teaching them more poetry and music, because their religious services include these. Both are strict, but the religious school is stricter. Why? Because the secular students are customers; the religious students are members of the flock, and their parents don’t want to be embarrassed in front of the local priest.
This compare and contrast works really well when you’re trying to come up with businesses. The more differences you can come up with, the more stores and shops you’ve just described. Good service or bad? Merchandise made here or brought in? Clean or dirty? High end or basic? If it’s a leatherworker, does he only work in cow hide, pig skin, lamb skin or horse hide? or all of them? If he’s a smith, does he work only on tools and ag (agricultural) based items or is he more interested in machinery? Is he secretly dreaming of being an armorer, but never got the chance? Even if you just come up with one business, think of how it could have been different, and you’ll likely have one or two more written up!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

How many holes are in your maps?

I strongly believe in something that will sound blatantly wrong: I believe that a GM should never finish his maps. I’m talking mainly about world maps, but it goes for regional maps as well. Leave some holes in them! By holes I mean certain areas that have never been described. You don’t need to put a big “Dragons dwell here” or “Mystery Region” on them, just leave them blank, for now.
You know what a completed map is? Stagnant. You can’t add anything else. You can’t place that really cool town you thought up or that evil cult’s temple or even the barbarian’s hunting range. Take a quick look at the map of Fletnern. See that spot on the right continent, above the lakes but below the mountains? Yeah - No clue what’s there. Pretty much the same with the area below the lakes. I know it is the transition region between the grasslands to the west and the desert to the east, but I really don’t know what’s there. Same with the northern most section - not a clue. You see most of the campaigns run on/in Fletnern have been on the left continent. There are very few open spots there. Oh I can always fit a small town in here or there, but most of it is considered “designed”. Now having said that, I still have the other three continents that are not on that map that I can always use for wilder adventures.
Without beating a dead horse here, I’m simply suggesting that you don’t detail out every single square mile of your world and determine who the feudal lord is. By leaving some open holes, you leave yourself the ability to expand your world, liven up your ideas, and keep the players entertained.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Going off the reservation

Just because a spell does not exist in the rule book does not mean it cannot exist. One of the best spells I ever used was in a campaign where the high powered characters had begun to trust their fortune tellers to predict major events for them. Just as an army was invading one of their allies, the invaders had their fortune tellers cast a powerful spell. As long as the spell was maintained, anyone trying to use fortune telling or a similar style of magic to see what was going on would get horrible images of an old crone instead of the information they sought. Card readers saw the crone’s face on their cards. Crystal ball readers saw evil eyes staring back at them out of the ball. Tea leaf readers saw the crone’s face form and then dissolve in the leaves. Not only was this creepy for the players (and therefore fun for the GM), but it got them involved. They wanted to know how it was done.
By hitting them with a spell of this nature, they were at a complete loss. They had begun to rely on a power that had been unleashed in the game. Instead of trusting to fortune tellers, they had to trust their own instincts. Of course, the enemies had fortune tellers, and by that time, the GM had learned several tricks on how to use them (from the players). Never hesitate to use a player’s ideas against them. At least make sure you use one group’s ideas against your next group.