Monday, January 28, 2013

Easter Eggs (the literary kind)

I’m a fan of Stephen King - Not a huge fan, but a fan. As such, I do not always get his little nods to his other works in each of his stories. That’s OK, it doesn’t ruin it for me. But for the huge fans, they love every little mention that crosses from one story to another. I think Easter eggs are fun. They’re little puns that some people will get and others won’t. But I think it is incredibly important that they are “little”. What’s “little”: Having a scribe in the back room of a lawyer’s office who’s name is Bartleby. If the players know the famous Melville story, it’s funny. If they don’t, no one cares. Having a newspaper reporter that is NOT key to the story line who’s name just happens to be Clark Kent is cute. If he actually is Superman, you probably just ruined the campaign. The issue here is that very few players are such great role-players that they can forget their own opinions and have their characters treat things on a fair basis. Example: I hate Green Lantern. I’ve always hated Green Lantern. I think the whole concept of that super-hero is silly and foolish. If one of my characters were in a campaign, superhero or not, and met up with a character named Hal Jordan, I would hate him. Doesn’t matter what this game character was supposed to do for or to my PC, I’d hate him. You run the same risk using known literary or film characters in your game. We went over this in Character Foundry - You can never be sure how a player is going to relate to a character if they see through your thinly veiled reference. There, we were talking about the use of real people as personalities in the game, but it works on both sides. A couple of more examples that work, because they are small: Mithrandir’s Staff in a museum (don’t give it any powers, other than possibly light emitting), a small hill outside of town known as Jacquesenjyll Hill, the blacksmith for the mine who’s name is John Henry, or a book about ghosts written by S. King. They’re kind of like puns, sometimes funny and sometimes not, depends on the eye of the beholder. If there is one moral we really want you to take away from this, it is: Don’t allow known people or characters from outside the game become important inside the game. That’s a rookie mistake, and it will cost you down the road.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Time to Change the World

Does your game world change? Is it completely stagnant? What about after adventures the players are a part of? Can they change the world? Very important point – I’m not talking about changing everything! Little changes can be good too. Example: For several adventures, you make your players go the long way around a river, because the fording spots are few and far between. Maybe you even slow their return from an adventure because rains have made the ford swollen and they have to wait to get across. Then, you let them know that someone is building a bridge. There’s a narrow spot where they can put up a bridge without affecting the river travel. To the players, no big deal, at least at first. Now they can travel more quickly. But so can everyone else. There will be new roads cut leading to the bridge. There will likely be new towns building up around the bridge. New towns come with all sorts of issues, plus the jealousy of the other towns that use to have all the travelers. Seems a small thing, but within a couple years of the bridge going up, you will change the populations of your towns along the river. If you ran adventures where the players rescued the architect behind the bridge or held off an attack from bandits/pirates/rivals, they will feel attached to the bridge. Seems like a small thing, right? It is. But it makes the world feel more real. What about the wars the party has fought in or around? Do the towns change hands? What are the impacts, both role-playing and adventure starting? Was there a drought? Did the players have to deal with rations being a lot more expensive because of the food shortages? Did the king get old and die? Is his son really old enough and wise enough to rule in his place? Was there any attempt to put a pretender on the throne? Maybe it’s just a duke or baron that has been switched. Is the new guy as supportive of the king as the old guy was? I’m not suggesting you need to immediately go and check the health of every one of your rulers, but if the campaign (or multiple campaigns) has been based in a certain city for 18 years – don’t you have to do something? OK – Let’s give some suggestions for starting small: Do your players and their characters prefer on tavern in town and dislike another? Have something happen to the other one. It caught fire. The owner died and his widow sold it. Whatever. Then you create a different tavern in that spot. Maybe your players will like this one better. Next – If your players have a good relationship with a contact, especially a highly placed political one, have him lose his job. Maybe he said something or maybe there is a full change in the local politics. Now, they are behind the eight ball for getting things fixed politically. Will they still do missions for him if he can’t pay them as much? Remember that the world will change, typically for the worse. Things happen that the adventurers have absolutely no control over (or maybe they did). Especially if the change is an unintended consequence of some mission they ran, then it just gets better to make them pay for it. One last note – Make sure you keep good records of what dates these things happen. If you ever run a campaign in the same general region, but it starts before the other one ended, you’ll need to duplicate the changes in the new campaign.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Perfect Families (rivalries within organizations)

If you look at the write up for Fletnern, you will see many organizations within the world. Religions, merchant cartels, military organizations, governments, etc. Each is written up with its powers and abilities as well as its goals and desires. But are they really that uniform? Are they really “perfect families” or is there some strife in there? The militaries - do they all believe the same things? More to the point, are the leather clad archers ever jealous of the steel armored heavy cavalry? Rivalries are a natural part of life. Some are good natured, but often they are not. Seldom are they based in fact, but they could be. Maybe the knights make up the cavalry and they come mainly from noble families. Well those guys are going to be eating far better food than the infantry or archers. In fact, the horses might be eating on par (or better) than the archers. They may all work together during the battles, but afterwards, their various officers might be willing to do some underhanded tricks to try and advance their units. Come on - This is politics after all! Especially when it comes to the bad guys, loyalty and fairness go right out the window. If some organization is generally underhanded, then they will be underhanded within their own organization too. So why does it matter? The different factions within an organization can lead to missions. A couple of examples: There is a weapons manufacturer associated with the “evil” army. They craft all the armor for the men and some magic for the officers. They also have an R&D department. The R&D guys should be the smartest smiths and enchanters. What if they start doing some evil testing on the townsfolk, but they are keeping it secret from the military? If you send in stupid player characters, they might get into a fight with the entire army, when the smart, detective-like PCs will figure out it is only a handful of bad guys within the bad organization. They might even get military commanders to help them stop the R&D guys. What if the captain of the archers is jealous of the captain of the infantry? What would he do? Would he kill his rival and create a detective mission? Would he hire assassins (creating that style of mission)? Would he discredit his rival causing the infantry officer to seek help from the PCs? And these examples are only within the military. Religious, political and economic organizations could be equally bad. The point is this - You have probably created a whole bunch of organizations within your game world. When you need more conflict and strife - try looking within those organizations. A handful of traitors can cause all sorts of trouble, requiring an “independent” group (of PCs) to be needed to sort the matter out. And the best thing, is that you probably wrote out half the stuff you needed already.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

RPG Waiting

This may be obvious to some of you, but from conversations I’ve had with some game masters, not to everyone. What do you do when the party separates? There are always those times when player characters have to go in different directions in order to get the job done. Urban missions, especially in modern games, seem to be the most common “party splitters”. So what do you do as a GM? Whispering or throwing notes back and forth are both inefficient and boring to the other players. The best thing I have found is this: We always played in the basement. So when the party split up, the players who were not involved go upstairs (any different room) and watch a movie. What kind of movie - well, if you want them to come back when they are needed, it has to be a movie everyone likes, but they have already seen a couple times. That way when it’s their turn, they aren’t telling you as the GM to wait. This has all sorts of advantages: First, the movie helps drown out the sound of you talking to the players who are “active”, plus they aren’t right there. Second, the players who are not active are not bored, or at least not as bored as they would have been. Third, you can swap players in or out of the movie room as their characters enter the action, and all the time, you are right there with all your notes and paperwork. If you take a couple of players off to a corner, you probably don’t have all your papers. Not being part of the action can be boring, and your players don’t show up to be bored, but everybody recognizes when the party needs to split up for short periods of time. By distracting your players with a decent movie, they don’t notice the time flying by as much. One warning - it is best to make sure that you always have three people in the “movie room”, especially when its co-ed. No point in letting the down time turn into a romance!