Sunday, September 29, 2013

Feeding Forsbury

A stream of consciousness blog entry: So I was trying to figure out what they eat in Forsbury - the main city for my main, currently running campaign. The easy answer is “beef”. The plains around the city are filled with cattle herds. Not only are there a lot of them, but they grow ‘em big in Forsbury; steers are generally 20% heavier than steers found elsewhere. But what else? Forsbury is a depot town - the caravans roll in, dump their cargos in warehouses, pick up different loads, and head back where they came from. So with that much trade and that many foreigners, there need to be a lot of different types of food around. The problem is, this is the plains. Not the worst farmland in the world, but not the best. And nobody is wasting good pastureland on an orchard. So what are they growing? Well, mainly feed for the livestock. Some snow falls in Forsbury during the winter, so there is definitely a need to have feed stored for the coldest months. With all those caravans rolling into and out of town, food is imported, which works for all the foreigners in town. But is there any fresh? Not really. There would be a small amount of fresh fruit available (seasonally - blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries, both wild and domesticated), but almost all fruits would be preserved in some manner. This is both because locally produced is still several days away from the end user (without any means of refrigeration), and because of the caravan culture that expects everyone is constantly traveling. Think raisins, prunes and dried apricots. So do they have any fruits? Sure, but mainly as preserves and jams. They also drink their fruits in apple cider and wine. They do have vegetables, but again, the kinds that are “built to last”. Potatoes, carrots, turnips; root vegetables that will keep if stored properly. There will also be several styles of pickled vegetables. To be honest, I’m thinking I don’t know if I want to eat there, so let’s liven it up a bit. Protein - Here they know what they’re doing! Fresh beef is available, and possibly even to the upper lower classes. Now the poorer folks are probably buying beef bones for soups and stews, but the middle class folks should be able to have corned beef or beef sausage. One of the largest producers of pork sausages is in town, so all manner of those will be available as well, including fresh, dried, pickled and smoked. Walnuts and pecans are grown in the region, both wild and domesticated, so there will be a mess of nut recipes. (Sorry for any of you peanut fans, but peanuts are considered slave food and probably not sold to free people.) Just north of Forsbury, they have wheat fields as far as the eye can see, and breads (really rolls) are easily found. Just to the south, though not as prolific, are the fields of pasta wheat, and dried pastas would be easy to come by. No one really trusts tomatoes, so don’t think of a tomato sauce - more likely a cheese sauce over that pasta. This is just a start, and I can hear the gold farmers out there asking why it even matters. OK, They probably stopped reading before this point. It matters to the roleplaying. You cannot sit down in an inn and expect a fresh salad, especially not in January. It also matters for when the players go off-road. If they are chasing bandits through the “wilds” of Forsbury, what’s out there? Well, cattle and plains. Do they need to worry about riding through an irrigated field that might have hidden canals? Nope, just plains. Will the bandits have forests to hide in - not many. Not every region is built the same way, and now you as a GM know what this region is like, and can far better run your campaign through it. But no, none of this adds to the damage modifier on your sword.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

What can be Gleaned?

I have been running campaigns in the campaign world of Fletnern since 1981 - yeah - 32 years. Not surprisingly some things have changed. Not as much as you might think. More has been enhanced rather than changed. Also not surprising, some things have been forgotten. With 30+ years of missions, campaigns, notes, etc., a lot of paper accumulates. I have spent some time over the last couple years trying to cut down on the paper. Rather than have four boxes of paper in closets, I scanned everything and have been sorting the pages into individual files. Sometimes it’s easier to just retype some stuff, sometimes, I leave them as images. But something important is happening - I’m remembering (maybe relearning) about my world. Many missions have some notes on a small town here, a famous battle there, or a description of the countryside in a region I haven’t thought about in decades. When I stumble on these items, I copy and paste them into my “Gleaned” file. The Gleaned file every once in a while gets cut and pasted into the master file for the world, so that the things I wrote up years ago, but were lost in the reams of paper are now finding their way back into the official accounting of the world. Why? Well, I spent time on them. They further enhance the world that my characters live in. Why wouldn’t I want to recapture that work and those thoughts? But there’s more to it. In a lot of situations, story lines simply ended; ended before they were truly completed. Maybe the player characters moved on. Maybe that mission was done, but questions remained. Sometimes there are notes on the paper: “This guy got away”, “delivered to sheriff for trial”, “mercenary never hired”. Leaving fully developed characters in a vacuum is against my beliefs. I am driven to ask - well, what happened next? Sometimes, it is easy - the trial resulted in him being executed - done. But what about those missions where the party did something important? Did the party defend a castle against bandits? Assuming so, did any bandits escape? If so, where are they now? An actual example: The party defeated a clan of rebel dwarves who were trying to take over a mine they considered theirs by inheritance. The rebels were defeated, but the rebels owned a castle not too far away. With the rebels all dead (or awaiting execution) who took over the castle? What happened to it? Is another rebellion brewing there? The mercenary is a real example too. She was intended to help the party, but they didn’t trust her. Where did she go? Well, I decided she became a gladiator, but worrying that she was becoming too big in her home town, she decided to move to a city where she could fight lesser opponents with better odds. Thus she will run into the PCs again. Assuming you haven’t thrown out or deleted all your old missions, take a look at some of them. Is there an urban adventure that details a bunch of businesses in your city that you forgot about? Any characters left hanging? Any descriptions of minor kingdoms that no one has visited since? Use them! Use them again if you can. Maybe they saved the Kingdom of Whateversville three years ago. The king is going to know who he can trust if some new threat rises. And you already have all the background completed, maybe with a couple of brief updates. Saves you time, and adds a richness that every fantasy world needs.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Organized Crime

I have a problem in my {fantasy} world. Nothing is illegal. OK - that’s an exaggeration, but certainly not a lot of things. Sure, murder and theft are illegal. But drugs are legal. In some cities, you need to have a pharmacist’s license from the druggists’ guild, but other than that, anything goes. Prostitution is legal in most cities. Gambling - legal. Drinking age - Can you hold the stein? See, nothing’s illegal. Why is this a problem? Well, because I want organized criminals. I grew up in a Sicilian neighborhood in Chicago - Yeah, that one! We had organized crime. They were great! They kept the gangs out. Now they’re all politicians. Guess what - That really makes sense! So what do I do in my fantasy world? Well, I start with smuggling. Since there really are no goods that aren’t allowed, then smuggling is just about getting past the customs officials without paying tariff. Since tariffs can be as high as 20%, this can still be a good business. What else? Well, the prostitutes still typically have pimps. Without them the girls are too much at risk, so networks of pimps make sense. So far this is pretty small potatoes. The big money is in the protection rackets. Here’s the business model: Guy walks into your store and says, “You have a lot of nice things here. It would be a shame if anything were to happen to them.” Then the store owner hands over a percentage of his perceived sales and the hood goes down the street to collect at the next place. But here’s the thing - The organized criminals actually protect your place. This is their neighborhood. Nobody steals stuff from you in their neighborhood. Even the pickpockets better know to stay out of their neighborhood or they may be sleeping with the fishes. You see my organized criminals - they’re family men. They want their kids to live in safe neighborhoods - neighborhoods made safe by the local boss. In one city, this goes so far that there are no police. The city guard has been completely replaced by the crime families. There’s a lot of back story to how this came to be - a big war, lots of soldiers needed, deals made, etc. So let’s rethink the protection money: insurance and taxes. We may pay insurance and taxes in the modern age, but in these fantasy settings, the same things are being provided by the crime families. If someone steals from you, you tell the local boss who hunts the guy down and roughs him up. Next thing you know, someone returns your stolen goods. It’s better than insurance, because the criminal is no where near as evil as a modern insurance company. You pay taxes to make sure the police patrol your streets. They pay the mob boss to make sure his thugs patrol their streets. What if the local well goes bad? Tell the mob boss, he’ll take care of it. The really nice thing about this is that you don’t have to worry about some written laws. Say your 19yo daughter decides to run off with some loser. The police won’t help you, but the mob boss will. These guys actually believe in customer service. OK, so the thug collecting is probably about as likable as an IRS agent, but still, you’re even up there. Look, my world has cities with city guards. In one city, the guards are controlled by the local noble families who once owned the lands that have become the neighborhoods. Those guards brawl with each other more than the crime families do. In some cities, the guards are even good at their jobs, but they are constrained by the laws, and they still cost you in taxes. You see, here’s where I tie organized crime to politicians. Both get paid the same way - by taking money out of the pockets of the producers. Now what they do needs to get done, otherwise there would be chaos and anarchy. But who do you trust? The local mob boss who’s kids are playing in the street with yours, or the politician who’s never worked a day in his life. I’ve lived under both, and I can tell you, I don’t trust politicians.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Player Characters and their “Bench”

A while back I wrote how I would love to have a campaign where the main party had a “bench” - a group of other adventurers they could use is they ever needed to. Why? Well, what if the mission is to sneak into the enemy castle by scaling a wall, picking the lock on the castle safe, and escaping without ever being seen. Not exactly a job for a pally, now is it? In fact anyone in heavy armor is a detriment to accomplishing the task. But, if you had a bench, then the guy who normally plays the hulk in heavy armor can just pull out his thief or illusionist character and be of help to the party. For me, being a role-player, this matters because there are missions that I just don’t think my character would want to go on. (I do normally play characters that in other game systems would be considered pallys.) So, how? OK - This is NOT realistic or perhaps even reasonable, but imagine if every player in the party had three characters. Every time the party had an adventure, the player would choose one character to use. But, at the end of the game, every one of the three would get the same experience and possibly even gold. They would not (in my opinion) get extra magical items, and would be forced to pass any items they might have around. So does this work? Well, it eliminates the issue of trying to keep the characters all generally at the same level of experience, though admittedly in a very artificial way. It probably under powers the party, because they would have fewer magical items (since they are likely sharing them amongst more characters), but the GM could compensate for this in some fashion. It also weakens the party because the player will not be as good at playing that type of character as they might have been, but this seems a little too whiny. If a player is good, he/she should be able to play one of three characters without being a fool. Problems? Oh yeah! Now that you have three characters, what if you want to bring two on a particular adventure? In fact, you’d most likely want to, and the rest of the party might think it is a good idea too (OK, everyone bring their huge fighters and their healers!). Now, the GM might allow this, and then cut the experience by splitting it amongst the number of characters in the mission. (My game tries to measure threat when awarding experience, not simply tally up points for dead monsters. So the idea of losing points due to more guys only affects experience if it lowers the presumed threat level.) Is this too big a problem? Maybe not. So what is the excuse? the rationalization? While the main party is off adventuring, the ones who stay at home are doing similar, but undefined tasks. I think the whole team (players times their three characters) would have to be an organization of some sort to make this work. Maybe they are an adventuring guild, or a military unit, or an organized crime gang, or a religious organization (a cult, but not in the bad sense of the word), anything to tie them together and justify them staying together as a team. Hey - It works for the Avengers and the Justice League, why not fantasy heroes?

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Politics are Fun! They Cause Wars!

I mentioned my Anglic people in the last post. When I was establishing my culture cheat sheet, they were to be based on the Knights of the Round Table and Camelot. They were also to have issues because military based cultures do not do that well during peace time. Any way I want to make a point about using modern cultures and clashes as templates for in game cultures. Forget Camelot. The Angles of Myork have turned in the USA in my game world. Every time some culture finds themselves under attack or in danger from natural disasters or even monsters, the heavy cavalry of Myork rush to help them. The knights and their men at arms come sweeping in, defeating the problem (even if it is just hunger) often at great sacrifice. Then six months later, the saved culture starts to forget. They start to think that they could have handled the problem themselves and didn’t need the knights to save them. They start to forget that they begged for help. They start to resent the knights for being powerful enough to fix their problems when they were too weak to do it themselves. Admittedly, the knights are probably heavy handed. They have a tendency to try to stick around to make sure the problem is really handled. They’d hate to get back on their ships and then go home, only to have to come back and finish off the now returned problem. Sure this is based on sound logic and strategy, but no one wants a foreign military presence in their city. Correction - No one wants a foreign military presence in their city when they are no longer under attack. And that is what the problem is - forgetfulness. Col. Jessup (Nicholson’s character in A Few Good Men) had it right. It is not for the person “who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it!” So did The Kinks: “I came to feed you, but now that I need you, you won't give me a second glance.” Third time and I’ll stop: No good deed goes unpunished. Why does this matter? Actually a good example: The Hobbit - the book, not the movie. The Battle of Five Armies. I know, Tolkien wanted the story to have a somewhat happy ending, so the end is different, but bear with me. The armies are gathered because the dwarves have stirred up enormous troubles (Smaug). The men of Long Lake need treasure to rebuild their homes. The elves simply wanted treasure. The men and elves wind up helping the dwarves, but the dwarves were ready to fight the men and elves over keeping the treasure. The dwarves didn’t kill Smaug, the men did, well, Bard did. Bard kills the dragon, and the dwarves are willing to go to war with him because the men expected some compensation for their torched town. Before I divert too far - Here are the take aways: First and most importantly - If there are any members of the US Armed Forces reading this - Thank you. Some of us still understand the sacrifices you make and appreciate what you do for us! I have seen what it does to your families for you to be away and in harm’s way and it is no small price. Second - Allies are not always happy. Saviors today - enemies tomorrow. Admittedly, it is not “tomorrow” on WWII, but look at the politics of Europe and Asia. Japan is our ally. Russia is our enemy. Europe thinks the USA is evil while they run headlong into the Communism we spent so many years fighting against. OK, so we’re running headlong into the Communism we spent so many years fighting against as well. Europe just has a head start. See? Politics - It’s Fun! It starts wars!