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?