Sunday, March 31, 2013

Too Much of the Same?

I’m on the wrong side of 40. I created Fletnern when I was 13. I started with the city of Rhum and started expanding out from there. So 30+ years in, you’d think I’m done, right? Ah ... no. Not even close. Just this year, I decided what to do with the region south of the Dragon Lakes. Anyway, is this campaign world that has seen at least a dozen major campaigns workable for an adult after having been created by a kid? Yes, because it has evolved with me. I learned early on, that when new people jumped into a campaign, I had two choices - teach them the entire campaign world and all the idiosyncrasies there were, or keep it simple. I went with keep it simple. I mean that elves live in the forests. Dwarves live in the rocky hills. The two don’t really like each other. I could have gone with all elves being desert dwellers who worshipped water, but then I would have needed to explain to every new guy, that no, his elf could not be a green tighted forest bowman. It probably helped that I started running games at GENCON at 16, and got fairly well known. Dealing with folks outside my basement really forced some realism and restrictions on me. So what’s the point? Well, the more I study history - and I do study history - the more I see that I really didn’t put enough variety in my world. At one time, one major religion (the Dinsthain Pantheon) dominated the world. I started changing that back in college, and the results will soon be available as Gods and Demons (a book of 200 divinities). That’s kind of the point, though. I can still make changes to the world, but the biggest places are kind of set. I just don’t feel that I can change the political structure of a place that I ran a four year campaign in, unless it’s for a really good reason. Sometimes I have that reason. Right now the city-state of Parnania is recovering from a generation of military control by its enemies. That has a profound impact on the people and their culture. For the other ideas - I still have the “white space”, those “holes” in your maps I talked about in a post a while back. There are always nooks and crannies where you can put smaller and less important cultures. They can’t be empires of millions of people, or they would have impacted all their neighbors, but you can run a pretty solid campaign in a 50 mile long and 20 mile wide river valley. I’m suggesting that you do this! I have several places in Fletnern where I specifically made the cultures of the places open to having very different cultures right next to each other: The Great Archipelago - Once a continent ruled by titans, now a series of jungle wasteland islands. Some have weird monsters. Some have weird cultures. Some have weird ruins. The Townships - a “between” place between the dwarven empire, several human city states, and the ogre hinterlands. Here warlords can conquer “townships” that probably have populations of less than 2,500 people and run them however they want. and then that southern part of the continent - Here in the warmest part of the semi-civilized world there is enough food that foragers can live well. That means that raiders can steal everything you have, and yet you can survive and continue on. From the Boundless Jungle in the west through the Dismal Swamp and into the Broiling Mountains, there are humans, orcs and trolls, as well as centaurs, and whole list of new races I’ve made up just to fill out the region. Every time I read a Tarzan or Allan Quatermain story, I seem to come up with some new race of jungle dweller or gorilla creature or mix of the two. Yeah, they all get piled into the southern regions. Summary, because this is way too long: Even though Fletnern is specifically developed to be quickly understood by the largest group of fantasy enthusiasts, it still needs to have those things that are odd and weird. Weird and unusual needs to have a place in your world, if for no other reason than to make it more chaotic and therefore exciting. Too much of the same is not good for adventurous role-playing, so make sure that you leave room for the different.

Arms Dealers

Admittedly - I love spy movies. Well, movies, stories, TV shows (if you’re not watching Burn Notice, you need to!). A common character in spy stories is the gun runner. In modern times, it is often that the gun runner is a combination of an armorer - providing necessary equipment - and a smuggler - providing things that are not easily available due to the laws. I have wondered what role the arms dealer held in a fantasy world. I think the arms dealer is probably one of the most important contacts for adventuring types in a fantasy world. Why? Well, who else is buying these looted weapons from them? A smith is not going to buy someone else’s work for resale - too much of a risk that they will get branded by a bad weapon. The arms dealer needs these looted weapons. Why? Because when someone is putting together an army or even just a band of mercenaries, they need to put together a large number of weapons. Smiths take a long time to hammer out a large number of weapons, so having an arms dealer who has a large number of new and used weapons on hand and ready for sale becomes vital. But how accepted are they? Well, if you were the legal government, would you want someone inside your “kingdom” who could arm a small army overnight? Maybe not. Sure, you could use them to arm a militia that would help repulse that invader, but the risk of a rebellion would be pretty high. This will often put the arms dealer back into that grey area of legality, or completely make him a criminal. I like arms dealers having all manner of stuff that you can use “off the shelf”. That means weapons, shields, poison, ammunition, etc. But not armor. Armor needs to be fitted, so it doesn’t work in a warehouse. This also means magic, assuming of course that you allow folks to buy magic. <-- That’s a whole series of posts, so we’ll avoid that subject for now! So they’re important from both sides of the situation - the buying and the selling. Want a customized long sword with a grip balanced perfectly for your hand? Go to the weapon smith. Want two dozen short swords and three dozen crossbows to outfit a small military - Go to the arms dealer. Want a good role-playing encounter? Have your characters visit the arms dealer looking to swap some looted weapons for something better. They’ll walk the aisles of the warehouse drooling over everything that is available! Better figure out how you plan to protect all those weapons from thieves before you let your players know where they are!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

About Board Enterprises Products

This blog is mainly here to support our books, available on RPGNow and Steve Jackson’s e23. If we stop making money from our games and supplements, this blog will dry up pretty quick. So we would like to encourage you to support this blog by buying our stuff. We work really hard not to beat you over the head with it, but it’s the honest truth. BUT! Please don’t buy our books if: • You don’t really role-play, but instead like to play junior accountant by adding up all the gold pieces and experience points your character has on his sheet. • You don’t buy books to read them, but instead buy them to look at the pretty pictures. • You feel that anything that does not specifically relate to your single set of rules (as modified by you) has no relevance to your game and cannot help you even as inspiration. Know what? We wouldn’t have to say this if it weren’t an issue for us. There are a number of people who have complained that we waste space by describing things. Instead, we should just have the price charts at the back. We also get a lot of abuse for producing books that are easily printed on a black and white printer. I guess that now a days if it prints neatly in B&W, then it is not professional. Our books are intended to be used! Not set on a shelf and adored; used! Print them! write on them! read them when you get stuck for ideas. Have them next to you during a game session so you can refer back to them. We’ve done a lot of soul searching. We thought about jazzing up the books, adding all sorts of art, backgrounds and borders. That’s all cute, but it doesn’t give you the content that you actually bought the book for. We’re not going to change. Buy a Board Enterprises book for content. Buy a National Geographic if you want to look at pretty pictures. We’ll never be as good at the pictures as they are, and we’re not going to try.

The Myths of Washington

Just some ideas on handling myths, or if you prefer tall tales, since the objects of the stories are not deities: I am a VERY patriotic person. I believe the USA is the greatest country on Earth, at least currently. However, I hate the propaganda that we call grade school history. Clearly, those writing the history books believe that either the students or the teachers are too stupid to understand what really happened, so we need to tell exaggerated stories. Chief among these are the Washington myths. Washington could not tell a lie. Washington slept nearly everywhere. Washington was a hero at Trenton and not a terrorist. Washington had wooden teeth. Actually the myth that he had wooden teeth stands out, because it admits that he wasn’t a perfect, angelic being. The point of this is not to attack the cult of Washington, because they are out there, but instead to point out that not all myths are about the divine. You can also make up myths about the founders of your cities, famous generals, famous mages, the founders of schools and other important civic institutions. Why does it matter? By making up some of the stories told about the important historic folks, you begin to craft the culture. Washington was (for the most part) an honorable man who attempted to live an honorable life, but he was also a child of his era. Those parts of his era that we now dislike, we tend to ignore and replace with stories. The same would be true for your fantasy world. We see Washington as unable to lie even when it was going to get him in trouble. Is that the culture of your city? Or would the founder of the city be a little more Br'er Rabbit and be famous for his clever lies? Perhaps he showed incredible piety or faith. Maybe he had magical powers nearly equal to a god and gave them up, showing that humility is the true value. But how do you get these cool stories in front of the player characters? With statues and monuments. Every time they go to the city hall or baron’s castle, they will see the major statue of the founder, in a pose reminding the people of the greatest accomplishments. That huge block of marble with his best quote(s) carved into it, sits right in front of the courthouse. What about inns and taverns that bear his name or some reference to him, even the “demigod slept here” signs? You don’t want to sit them down and read the city’s history to them, but you can easily sneak it in. and it does matter, because it teaches them about what the people (all those NPCs) think is important.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Who Should Play Legend Quest?

Board Enterprises has been in business for over twenty years, and we’ve learned a thing or two. One of the things we’ve learned is that some people won’t like our game. Who are they? They’re the folks who couldn’t care less about an enemy’s name or motives. They only want to know how many points it takes to kill them and how many points of experience they get for killing him. We call these people “gold farmers”, because they don’t care if a piece of treasure is cool, only what its coinage value is. Legend Quest is not written for gold farmers. They would look at the list of character skills and wonder why in the world someone would take Carousing or Research. Legend Quest is written for role-players who want a game that is dynamic enough to figure out what their percentage chance of success is for any proposed action - quickly. Determine CoS (chance of success), roll, move on. It’s a role-playing game, but you don’t have to feel like you need to take acting lessons to play. Something else we’ve learned - Most people don’t like the level of detail we go into in some of our products. I’m especially thinking of the original Rhum supplements. These would contain the descriptions of ten buildings and cover about 30 pages. Whether they don’t have time to read all that or they don’t find it necessary, I’m not sure, but they don’t seem to like it, because they don’t sell as well as say 100 Towns. People speak volumes with their dollars, and we’re focusing on the products that follow the same formats as our more successful stuff (100 Towns, Grain Into Gold, or Urban Development). So we haven’t really answered the question: Who Should Play Legend Quest? People who like to control how their characters will be, not get slotted into one of a dozen character classes. People who want a role-playing game, not just a combat system. People who want the game mechanics to work the same for rogues, warriors, mages and craftsmen, not systems where you need to learn each character style differently. and People who want enough realism that they can maintain that blissful suspension of disbelief, rather than thinking how stupid the game rules make everything. We really hope you’re our kind of people!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

“Rock Stars”

In our modern world we have rock stars, well and movie stars. These are folks that are so famous that people want to know everything about them. People buy magazines to read about them and watch “reality” TV to see their everyday lives. So who are the “rock stars” of your world? It should probably depend on the culture of the region. If they are very religious, the most popular people are going to be the best preachers. Best may have different definitions, but if the folks spend a good portion of their lives in a church or in prayer, they are going to be most interested in the life of the guy with really stirring sermons. If the town is into highbrow entertainment, it is likely to be the opera star, or perhaps the conductor, maybe the best musician. A powerful soprano, belting out the notes, will be the toast of kings and dukes. If they’re decidedly lowbrow, well, maybe it’s the town’s “best” stripper. Say what you want, but strippers can be extremely famous, though typically for a very short time. What if this is a military town? Is the general of the most famous (or infamous) regiment the rock star? Maybe a hero from a recent war. Maybe the military hasn’t fought in a while and the rock star is instead an athlete. An athlete might compete in a military exercise, such as archery, jousting, spear throwing, etc. Or he might be an athlete of a different type, more focused on games and not on the more practical military skills. Gamers can be rock stars too. If the town is one big casino, the best poker player may be the guy. Then again, think about how the Russians treat their chess players. One last look here - never forget the gladiators. So why does it matter? Well, I always think that “the talk of the town” is important. When my adventurers (player characters) hit a tavern in town, I want to have an idea of what they are all talking about. Otherwise the role-playing is flatter than a pancake. So when someone enters a tavern and sits quietly for a few minutes (as any intelligent person would do, unless they know everyone), I can say, “Everyone seems to be talking about the jousting tournament last week. It seems that they all have their favorites.” Also, I have a few PCs who make extra money as minstrels. The bards need to know the news of the day and the most popular songs. The songs, even the bawdy ones, are likely about someone. On rare occasions, the adventurers themselves might be the rock stars. Fame is not as much fun as it seems. Sure a couple of free beers are great, but do you really want people coming up to you all the time? Fame is also a very fickle creature. Fads change fast, and the former rock star could easily be superseded by any of the ones mentioned above.