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”.

Watering the People

Here is a section that I took out of Urban Development because I felt it got too detailed. Urban Development is intended to generate a 10,000’ foot view of the town or city (or village) and not get into all the minutia. However, I think the questions are still valid.

So let’s go straight to water. A community needs water for drinking, for cleaning, and for irrigation. They may also need water for power. It’s not really reasonable to figure out how much water people or crops need, but you can work on how they get the water to where they need it.
If a river runs through or past the town, how do the people get that water to their homes? If this is a large city, chances are they aren’t all using the main river. Are they using smaller streams that feed into the river? If so, you’ll want to start drawing those in on your map. The location of the creek is probably less important than the way it is going to affect the roads and bridges.
If you’re going to have the fields irrigated, how do you want it to work? What’s the technology level or magical ability of this place? Do you want to have an Archimedes' screw? a shaduf? a water elemental? buckets on ropes with donkey power? aqueducts? Possibly more important, would they have dammed a river or stream and redirected it? Maybe the irrigation of fields is controlled by the dam and not by a more manual movement of water. If it is a dam, who controls the dam? A local merchant? the farmers? most likely the government. Again, it is less about the amount of water (because you likely already said there was enough) and more about how the water moves from one place to another.

For the record - Brinston, my biggest city, uses a variety of methods. They have deep wells that have hand pumps to bring the water to a cistern. They have a dam that directs water either into the nearby river or into the city, and if into the city, into the nobles’ quarter or the military quarter. The water travels through canals, not necessarily aqueducts. Plus they have a major river. Now most of the city is up on the cliffs. Only the fishermen live down by the river. This means the fishermen can get their water directly from the river, at least some of them. Some of the fishermen are too close to the sea and the river is brackish near them. They have to cart their barrels upriver to where the water is more drinkable and fill up there. Then again, the river is cleaner during low tide, so the fishermen might not be fishing then anyway (depending on when they got out in their boats).
Rhum has wells. The wells either work on rope and bucket (with a winch most often) or on a type of Archimedes’ screw that brings the water up to a “fountain”.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Dangerous Adversaries

Eons ago, I bought a new (at the time) book written by Gary Gygax about all these sorts of monsters. I think the older folks understand what I mean. There was a monster in there - I can’t spell it and I certainly can’t pronounce it, but it was like the creature from the black lagoon, only from the deep seas. From what I remember, one paragraph was devoted to the description of the creatures and several paragraphs were devoted to how many troops each type of noble led.
See it through my 13yo eyes for a moment: “Hey - That’s 40,000 of these things! That is going to be the most boring battle ever! 40,000, underwater with no fireballs, my die rolling hand will cramp up.” I used them, but in a very altered form
See it through my 40something eyes now: “40K troops? How many fishermen do they need? Even if it’s only 200K fishermen, why aren’t they bumping into everyone else? They’re really aggressive and raid, so they should be a common nuisance. They are tougher than humans, elves or dwarves. Why haven’t they taken over the world?”
I ask that a lot. When I was building Fletnern and wanted to put in something that seemed super powerful, I had to ask - Why haven’t they taken over the world?
So that’s what A Baker’s Dozen Dangerous Adversaries (still working on that title) is going to be about - Why haven’t they taken over the world. Hopefully you’re familiar with our Baker’s Dozen books by now. They’re a few pages fully developing an idea, typically a person, a group of people, or some setting. Obviously there are 13 of them. In many ways, these are source books or perhaps you might think of them as summary source books. Tons of info to get you thinking, and enough details so you don’t have to work that hard.
Each entry in Dangerous Adversaries will lay out a couple of different paths by which one of these seemingly unimportant races could pose a threat to the world at large. It will lay out their powers, their weaknesses (assuming they have some), and some strategies that just might gain them world domination. As a GM, you don’t want to use them all in your world, but a legitimate threat to the “human-elf-dwarf” world might be just what you were looking for to spice things up in your campaign world.
Look for it soon! and if you have a better title suggestion - I’m all ears!!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Urban Development

Our Urban Development supplement is being pushed ahead of Coins of the Road for a couple of reasons - #1 - It is practically done. #2 - I’ve discovered a fantastic source book on medieval economies, and want to see if there is anything I need to add or tweak in Coins of the Road.
To save you the trouble of searching back - Urban Development is a step by step approach on how to build villages, towns and cities for your world. Whether you are building from scratch or taking a look at cities that you’ve been playing for some time, this book will be a great source of factual information and more importantly idea sparks that you might not have thought of before. The book is laid out in the same fashion as Grain Into Gold, and we’re hoping it will be as popular as Grain Into Gold has been for us! Expect it in the spring!


{Read the title of this blog like that old Queensryche song - all ominous and stuff! Oh, sorry, back to the blog.}
How long do empires last? Seems an odd question, but I have a point. Looking at a ton of different empires throughout history, I’m going to say 400 years. OK - It’s not a real estimate or anything, but it’s not a bad estimate as things go.
Who cares? Right - You’re wondering what in the world this has to do with anything. It really comes down to the history of the world. I have a lot of time in the history of Fletnern where there really isn’t much history written. I’ve sort of designated it as a “dark ages” kind of thing, but that is a little cheesy when it sucks up too much time. It works similarly to the holes in the map (see the earlier post), but I feel I have way too many holes in the history.
So I need to know how long empires typically last, so I can establish a couple without having them become too much a part of the history of the world. Well, a part, an important part, but not the focus. Example time, because this isn’t making any sense: The Mughal Empire - ever heard of it? Probably not, at least you can’t place it. They really didn’t change the world, but they left a whole bunch of ruins behind. (still not clicking for you? The Taj Mahal? You know that one right? The word “mogul”?) So what does this mean? Well, they were really cool, or at least are very interesting to us modern folks, but their rule probably didn’t bring world peace, except maybe to India for a couple of generations. But you’re likely a game master - someone looking to create interesting adventures, which typically have interesting loot and interesting back stories. Yeah - the ruins of an ancient empire fill in a lot of that. Even if the ruins are gone and not taking up space, the artifacts left over form those empires can be great adventure hooks. Whether it is a priceless treasure or a magical wonder, old empires make for great loot!
So if each empire lasted between 150-450 years, now I can plan out some of these historical empires. You know, how they ended can make for fantastic story lines too. After all, when an empire collects taxes and tribute for four centuries and then gets conquered, the conquerors will likely move all that wealth and treasure somewhere. Well, maybe not all of it, unless that is the adventure.