Saturday, November 30, 2013

Coins of Fletnern Review

Coins of Fletnern has been out for five years now. (WOW, time really does fly!) We recently found this review of the FREE product, and well, he liked us! Coins of Fletnern can be found (for FREE!!) at RPG Now and at Steve Jackson's e23


Hollywood - No, the one in Fletnern. It was named because it is a huge forest (“wood”) with a lot of holly. I have no idea why the Hollywood Hills were named that; I hope it is a reasonably similar reason. In any case, don’t criticize Fletnern for naming things what makes sense. I guarantee, there is no film industry in Hollywood; not even a group of actors. Do all your place names make sense?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Why Enchantments Work the Way They Do

I wanted to explain a couple of things as a game designer. Try as we might, most people wind up being reactionary instead of, well, action-ary. I played many RPGs before I wrote Legend Quest. So I had a much better grasp of the pros and cons of certain gaming functions then Gary Gygax did when he first wrote D&D (and AD&D). That’s not a slam - I had the benefit of hindsight that he did not. I never liked the whole wands and staves thing. Case in point - the wand of fireballs. If the party gets one at lower level, it takes the game balance of restricting the number of spells a mage can cast and throws it out the window. Now the low level mage is constantly throwing one of the better spells in the game, instead of waiting until the most opportune time. On the other side of the spectrum, if higher level mage gets his hands on one, it is mainly useless because it only does damage of 6d6, when his spells are likely doing double that or more. At that point it is effectively a lawn mower for eliminating rabble you don’t care about. I forget if there was a level required or not, but I recall having an enchanter in the game open his shop during a siege of the city and a bunch of apprentices went walking out to the city walls and annihilated an attacking army. One item I did like was the staff of power/magi - I know - two different items, but they were very similar. As a GM, I would assign extra powers to these staves. Not only did it cast a whole bunch of spells for you, but when you cast your spells through it, it enhanced your spells - It made it as though you were a higher level caster. That was the way I wanted wands to work: They enhanced the magic you were using, not giving you magic you had never had before. It was this point that created the talismans in Legend Quest. In LQ, talismans (and they can be anything, including wands and staves) can add to the power of your spells or to the area of effect, range, or accuracy (or some combination). So there’s some strategy here, not simply putting nearly limitless power in the hands of a young mage. (For those of you who think 100 charges in a wand of fireballs is putting a limit on it have never actually played a D&D mage.) Honestly, the Jurassic Park concept of having to have some concept of the power (knowledge of science in their case) you are wielding instead of just wielding power that others developed and built on plays here. You cannot use a talisman in Legend Quest to cast a spell you never learned. Another one in the same style - I remember huge fights erupting around finding gauntlets of ogre power and/or belts of giant strength. Let’s say you have a fighter with a 18/88 Strength. You find ogre gauntlets, this will take him from a +2/+4 (I think) to a +3/+6. I would argue that the thief with a S 14 needed the gauntlets far more than the warrior guy did. After all, he would go from +0 to +9, not +6 to +9, and when those extra points were doubled or tripled in the back stabbing, the +6 damage went to +18. Clearly, the fighters opposed this idea. And I should have too, but not for the same reason. According to those rules, I could take a five year old and have him start heaving boulders. Again, I wanted Legend Quest’s magic items to enhance the player, not remake him. Strength or Agility items add +1, +2, +3 - not automatically go to Strength of 10. What’s the difference? I think Legend Quest’s use of enchantments gives power bump ups, and ones that can be controlled. The control lets you increase the power as you go, but in multiple ways. A character with a S 7 and a +1 enchantment could get a +2 strength enhancer and use character points (experience) to increase his attribute score. So yeah, that looks like he got a lot better, but it was only through the normal character progress and a touch more magic. I like to think that while our magic items are definitely beneficial, they don’t put the character completely outside the ability of a non-magically enhanced character to compete. Humility amongst player characters is important!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Rant against that other game

You know what I hate? Alignments! You know what I hate more? Game writers who don’t understand their own games. Case in point - Chaotic evil or chaotic neutral creatures who have their societies and governments (rules to live by) spelled out. Guess what - Chaotic creatures wouldn’t form societies. They wouldn’t agree to live by rules. OK - I haven’t played that other game in decades; I was only reading something on a campaign for that game where it was talking about the slaadi, you know the CN “demons”. Look - Slaadi should not be able to form societies. Slaadi should not be able to be classified into a limited number of forms. Slaadi should be more like Lovecraft creatures where you cannot describe them and would never be able to understand their motivations. Lovecraft creatures - those are chaotic. I wish if those guys were going to pretend to write about these alignments, they would have some concept of what they were writing about!

Fads in Fantasy

Anyone who reads my posts will have seen that I like modern ideas brought into fantasy games, but only when they make sense. One thing I have added from time to time is the notion of fads. For you gold farmers out there who are thinking, “This is going to be another one of those posts about culture and who needs that in a role-playing game” stay with me. I may just thrill your gold lust. What’s a fad? Something that becomes culturally significant, but only for a short time. Why do adventurers care about fads? Well, because depending on the fad, they could make a huge amount of money. When a fad hits, the merchants go crazy. They are willing to pay any sum and risk anything in order to fill the market (and make huge profits). For this they most always need adventurers. Why do they need adventurers? Well, even in the most mundane fads, the fad desired product will become so expensive that the risk of robbery will skyrocket (as will the cost of robbery). So that dull caravan guarding mission now becomes an actual adventure. What is the fad item? Well, they are seldom common things. Some of the fads I’ve used have been certain colored clothing (the dyes become extremely expensive - this one is more mundane), bearskin rugs (certainly a good adventurer type of product), and dragon meat (which is really an adventurer required product). But think for a moment: bearskin rugs need to have as few holes in them as possible. Sword swingers are of no use. (Yes - I have actually had adventurers who using a touch of magic wrestled and strangled bears. Oh they got hurt, but they did the job.) With dragon meat - It’s not like it stays fresh for weeks on end. So you either need to find a local dragon (nearly impossible if there is an army around) or find a way to either transport it without spoiling or transport it extremely fast. These are the challenges that make what might seem like a grinding type of a mission into something with a little problem solving. The risk is always that the fad will end before you get back. Once it’s over, it’s over! This means that if they get lucky and do a couple of runs, the third one (you know, the one where they’ve got it down now and know what they’re doing) is usually a bust as the fad ends. So they make some money, but are often all whiney about missing that last opportunity. This is what keeps the game balance in check - prevents them from becoming Persian kings. Think about it. Not only is it a fun way to add some zest to your urban encounters, but it really can create adventuring quests, either working for others or out on their own.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Plagues, Disasters and War

Those who read my blogs know that I often suggest knowing things like where the lumber or food is coming from. I often argue that it is important, and I have a reasonably serious reason: natural disasters. The Great Fire of London followed a massive outbreak of plague the year before. (Don’t hold me too tightly here - I’m summarizing enormously.) Meanwhile, England was at war (mainly their navy) with the Dutch. With London in shambles, the supply lines (and I believe the shipyards) were of no use in the war effort. The tide of battle turned. So what? Well let’s think about your fantasy world. Imagine your players/party are fighting a huge war against the enemy. Their city is supplying men, arms, artillery, and logistics (rations) to the war effort. All of a sudden, the capital bursts into flames and 20-25% of the population dies. Maybe it was the enemy’s saboteurs. Maybe it was just lightning. Maybe it was a cow. (OK - Mrs. O’Leary’s cow did not start the Chicago fire, but that’s a different post.) What happens on the front lines? Well, forget getting reinforcements. Forget getting new supplies, and by supplies, I mean food and ammo. Can the military in the field truly take the men and time to start hunting the region for their own supplies and wood for arrows and javelins? All of a sudden, the military’s priorities are going to shift from winning battles to surviving. That’s why it should matter, even to the gold farmers out there. Unless they have some spell caster summoning up magical food for them, they might have to start thinking about starving too. And they will need to worry about their army starving. But this is the stuff of high fantasy. Now instead of scaling the walls to kill the enemy, they need to figure a way to steal the enemy’s supplies, and possibly catch those saboteurs. Maybe their healers need to return to the city to try to stop the plague, and their fantasy army is now without magical healing. Maybe they were expecting six new navy ships to come out of the shipyards and beef up the navy, but those ships either burned or are now heading out to try and get food to feed the civilians. An enormous number of issues could arise, and most of them would cause missions. What? Your cities don’t suffer from plagues and disasters? Really? Where’s the actions and adventure in living in a utopia that never has problems? You know, stuff happens outside of the adventures. Cool stuff! Stuff that matters to the adventures and the adventurers. One serious outbreak of plague could turn the tide of war. It happened all the time throughout history.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Starting with a HUGE Monster

Maybe it’s because I’ve been watching modern Godzilla/King Kong-like movies lately, but I’ve been thinking more and more about starting a campaign with a HUGE monster. Cloverfield probably did this best (on screen). There was this huge monster tearing up the city, and the civilians were challenged in various ways: dodging throw statue heads, explosions, climbing falling buildings, fighting off “lice”. When they actually encountered the huge monster it was game over, but if they could have avoided the thing, they might have made it out alive, at least some of them. I’m liking that kind of idea! I don’t want to give away what I plan to do (because my play-testers read this), but what if a huge dragon erupted out of the middle of the city? It has been in an egg, underground, incubating for centuries. Maybe it causes huge destruction but flies off at first, maybe distracted by a herd of cattle that look far more appetizing than all these stringing humans. The players would first have to deal with the chaos and collateral damage of the eruption and the battle between the dragon and the army. Then they might have to go down into the hole to see where it came from, only to find that some sort of mini-dragon creatures that have been tending the egg or embryo over the centuries. Maybe then they figure out why it hatched now. Was it a simple time bomb or did someone do something to release it? Assuming someone did something, now it’s time to kick their tail. Oh, and then somehow figure out what to do about the huge dragon itself. I don’t like the idea that they would actually fight it - It’s supposed to be too tough. Either they watch the army fight it, or they come up with a plan to lure it away. Then again, there is always the Godzilla vs. King Kong plan - find some other enormous creature that might be able to fight it for you. (Avatars and demi-gods, please apply here.) Anyway - That’s what’s been running through my mind! Sounds kind of cool, doesn’t it? Imagine low level characters, claiming they were instrumental in bringing down the most powerful creature ever to exist in your game. That’s the stuff of legends! Post-script - To run a mission where the characters are desperately trying to survive the carnage of buildings getting tossed around and rescuing people from blocks turned into bonfires by the dragon’s breath weapon, you need a game that lets you do things other than swing weapons. Please find such a game! If you have one - excellent! If you don’t, try Legend Quest. We pride ourselves on having hosted exciting games at major conventions where no one ever attacked anyone else. (The coal mine fire is the best known of these.)

Followers of the Faith

We published Gods & Demons because we knew that many role-players liked to have lots of gods to choose from. But there is a companion book that we probably won’t publish: Followers of the Faith. Followers is a book of religions. I don’t recall ever seeing a game world or role-playing game where there was more than one religion for a particular god. But let’s think about modern religions; the ones that agree most closely are the ones that fight over the more minor differences. Why wouldn’t that be the same in our multi-divine game worlds? Let’s do a quickie example: Marina is the goddess of water and the seas. The religion Marina the Bountiful sees Marina as the goddess who bring the fish to the fishermen and rain to the farmers. Waters of the Rain religion ignores the fact that Marina has anything to do with the seas and see her only as a rain goddess. Marina of the Rivers sees her as the goddess of fresh waters and believes she manifests as a huge catfish. Everpresent Aquatics (also known as Marina the Jellyfish) is a religion once again focused on sea water and sailors. They believe that Marina has an enormous number of tentacles, and each one follows those ships that she has blessed in order to keep them safe. But it’s more than just multiple religions for the same god - What about the religions that might revere more than one god? The best example of this is the War Twins: the brother and sister gods Manoto and Shade being worshipped as twin war gods, where most religions see Manoto as war god and Shade as the goddess of death. Who cares? Right, that’s the question we always have to answer. First off, for player characters, can they only worship one god? and if they do, what are the relationships with the other gods? Not every person who worships a particular god will see in them everything that everyone else sees. In other words, gods should not be one dimensional characters. For the game master, these little differences are typically the cause of religious conflicts. Sure, you can have the god of fire fight against the god of frost, but if you want civil conflicts, rivalries and even battles, you need people who worship the same goddess but in different ways. Look at Earth History, especially England. Think of the Puritans and all the problems they caused. (Yes, I blame the Puritans, yes, right before Thanksgiving when everyone pretends they were the victims.) If you want to add more to your game world, you need to diversify your gods and religions.