Sunday, December 28, 2014

Gold Rush Fever

If you read this blog regularly and have checked out Grain Into Gold, you understand that #1 - I like my treasure (OK, that’s probably more An Army’s Arms Thunder Doom and the Slyvanian Infantry) and #2 - I get caught up in economies. It’s probably because I spend my days up to my eyeballs in the modern economy, but I do spend my nights in Fletnern (or sometimes Tamriel or Azeroth).

So it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that I was thinking about the Dutch Tulip Mania. If you don’t know what Tulip Mania is/was, it makes for interesting research. I wish universities taught stuff like this to students instead of politically correct classes, but I digress. Tulip Mania seems stupid to modern folks. Why would someone pay the equivalent of half a million dollars for a tulip bulb? Because other people had made huge amounts of money doing similar things. Just like nowadays any grandma can open her own store front on the internet, back in the 90s, people were investing enormous sums of money in the dot coms - most of which were a couple of idiots in their parent’s garage with a PC. Trust me - The dot com bubble of the 90s will be seen as insanely stupid by the next generation. I know guys who had no business day trading telling me (an actual trained and experienced investor) that I was an idiot for actually doing my job during the day. I lost nothing during the dot com crash.

But that is the issue isn’t it? It’s Gold Rush Fever. It’s why the Canadian and US governments had to stop people from going into the Klondike during its gold rush. You had guys from Texas and Oklahoma who were wandering around Alaska wondering how in the hell it could be this cold. While they were in Seattle, they weren’t the least bit worried - They had the coats they brought with them from home. They may have known how to mine, but they had no understanding of Alaska and what real cold is.

You think I veered again, don’t you. But I didn’t. Gold Rush Fever, whether it is about gold, tulips or IT stocks all comes down to the same thing - People think they understand the rules and the risks, but they don’t. Fortunes and even lives are lost. This is one of those times where you need to think - What would the stupid folk do? It’s not about thinking things through logically and allowing them to evolve over time. Nope, this is fast fast fast - do something stupid.

And it does matter to your game world. History tells us that these kind of economic bubbles happen throughout history. If there is one going on in your game world now, what is it doing? Well, it is changing prices across a broad region if not the world. If it is something more like a gold rush, then where is it and what do they need? If it’s in the desert, they will be buying up all the camels they can, and probably shipping in building materials, because those are pretty rare out there (I mean wood and fabrics). If it’s in the arctic, then it’s heavy fur clothing and dogs for the sleds. (What the Seattle ship captains did during the Klondike Gold Rush to supply dogs to the prospectors was despicable.) Mountains? Mules, donkeys, and horses, plus ways to haul water. Then there are the ways that people are making money off the folks who are doing the work. Boom town prices! All of this can lead to some very fun and very quirky adventures for your players, or it can be a semi-interesting distraction while they are busy in other parts of the world.
I keep wanting to fully develop a boom town economy, but I cannot yet figure out a way to roll it into a supplement. The closest I’ve come is the boom town that developed around the rediscovery of the Lost City of Ballogfar. Ballogfar was the capital of an ancient Goblin Empire - ruled by ogres with orcish soldiers and goblin workers. After the civil war (when the goblins and orcs headed south), the ogres replaced them with undead zombies and skeletons. Well, that only worked for so long until the undead caused a massive plague and wiped out the ogres. Once rediscovered, there was a flood of adventurers racing to get there to plunder the ruined city, and the vendors that were willing to risk setting up shop there were getting richer than the adventurers. Oh well, someday, after I hit the lottery and don’t have to work for a living, I’ll publish The Lost City of Ballogfar. It will rival those other “biggest dungeon ever” supplements, so don’t look for it soon.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Sheriffs and Deputies

One of the things I often wonder about when I’m filling in the blank spots between cities is, “At what point does a village merit a law enforcement agent of its own?” This may not seem important, but I think this is one of the main points that separates tiny villages from towns.
So what’s the threshold? There must be some magical point at which it makes sense for the “king” to assign a guy to the town. First - I am going to make an assumption: I believe that the king’s sheriff is also either the tax collector or actively helps the tax collector(s) when he comes to town. So I assume that the sheriff is actually the guy who generates the revenue for the king. This also makes him not the favorite person of the rest of the folks in town, though he is most likely feared.

OK, so let’s pretend that a sheriff makes about 150% of the farmers. Since farmers don’t really count their salaries in coins, this isn’t really easy to see, but you’ll follow. Here’s the math: I usually assign 20% taxes from the government. Compared to the peasants of Merry Old England, only “working one day in five” for the king seems reasonably fair. There is also a “tax” that is paid to the church, but that is different. So if all things were equal - five families of farmers could support one family of the sheriff. But then the king gets nothing, so does he split the taxes with the sheriff? 50/50? Ten families can support one sheriff? I cannot see the king being that fair, so let’s go to 33/67 - that seems more royal. So now, it takes 15 families to support a sheriff. But as you might have noticed - I said the sheriff makes 1.5x what a farmer does, so it isn’t 15, it’s 22.5 families required to support one sheriff. Let’s walk it backwards so you can see it from a different angle: There are 22.5 families in a town. Each gives 1/5 of their product to the king through his tax collector the sheriff. So the sheriff collects proceeds that equal the entire output of four and a half families (22.5x20%). The sheriff then sends 2/3rds of that to the king and keeps 1/3rd of it for himself. So the sheriff’s family is now living off the product of one and a half average families in the village.

But I usually put a “family” as two parents and six children. So that’s 180 folks in the town, not counting the sheriff’s family. Does it take a guy an entire day every day to protect and monitor less than 200 people? Nope! So what does that mean? It means if the sheriff wants, he can probably spend most of his mornings fishing. That’s more money that doesn’t have to come out of his own pocket if he can put meat on the table in this fashion. His wife has less to do than the farmers too. She can maintain an herb garden or other food producing plans that will make their “salary” go farther too. So when it comes down to it, the sheriff’s family is probably generating more than double the “income” of the farmers and not working as hard to do it. That’s another reason not to like him.

But what does he do for them? Well, if bandits come to town, he’s the point guy in the big fight. Same if it’s wolves. Same if it’s an enemy army. He also has to put up with an enormous pile of bullshit that is the king’s bureaucracy, but the villagers won’t see any of that and won’t give him the benefit of the doubt. Is he taking more from the villagers then he should? Probably. Is he sending less to the king? Probably. Sounds like a pretty good job, huh? Well, yes, but it is one of those 99% bored to death - 1% in danger of death kind of jobs. Risking your life does deserve a bit of a salary boost, just ask all those adventurers.

Last point - I am not suggesting that every village of 200 will have a sheriff. Depends on the king. He might put a young, inexperienced deputy at each town of 200-300 people. He might put a skilled sheriff in charge of four villages of 150-200. He might put a sheriff and two deputies in charge of a town of 500 and the three villages of 150 that surround it. Kings live well and want the most taxes they can get for the least expense. They see the sheriffs as an expense. Is this an incredibly safe region or are there real threats of wolves, orcs and bandits? How few “troops” can they get away with before they start risking their farms and villages?

This is sort of an abbreviated version of Urban Developments. If you're looking for more like this, check out the supplement!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

What’s a Professional Soldier?

Anyone checking deeper into the Council of Barons on Fletnern will start to see that the “standing armies” of these baronies are listed at incredibly low numbers. Forsbury is listed as having 300 and this is considered the largest standing army in the Council. So if Baron Forsbury wants to invade his neighbor, does this mean that he either travels with less than 300 guys or brings a militia? Not necessarily.

So where do the rest of his troops come from? Well, Baron Forsbury is an unusual case. He is a Cattle Baron and as such has vast herds roaming his lands. Those herds are controlled by cowboys, all of whom have been trained for battle. Now they are considered light cavalry or even raiders in a military sense. These are not knights mounted on horses! But they are some of the most skilled horsemen and not too bad with their crossbows.

For the more “normal” noblemen, here are some thoughts: Most small towns are going to have sheriffs and deputies. These are trained military men, but they are not part of the “army”. Similar comments could be made about the tax collectors, the jailors, the forest wardens, even the dog trainers and hunt master. Almost every able bodied man who is employed at the castle is likely trained at least to some degree in the ways of war. This may not be true for the cooks and butlers, but it might be.

The issue is that few lands can afford to have standing armies of great size where all the soldiers do is stand post. They have to be doing something that actively needs to be done. Now you might think we’re splitting hairs. Is the soldier standing post at the border and helping the tax collector part of the army? Not always. He might be a tax collector, a customs agent, a policeman, or any number of other jobs. When a modern army goes off to war, the border agents stay on the borders, but when one of my fantasy militaries marches, the border agents, tax collectors, and bailiffs suit up and march right along.
So what do I suggest you do? First, figure out what the army is expected to do. Are they the police as well? Do they guard the royals and the walls? Is the smith maintaining the weapons part of the army? Is he expected to fight in the field or just travel with them to maintain equipment? Why? because if you don’t know what is expected of them, then you don’t know what is expected of their leaders. If the General is in charge of only the standing forces, he may need to use politics to get the proper equipment instead of simply ordering his logistics unit to order or manufacture it. Does it matter? Yeah - Generals who worry only about training troops to fight are completely different types of leaders then if they need to manage the cooks and cobblers too.
I know - If you’re playing a game where the “fighter” becomes a lord simply because he passed some threshold of experience and his army shows up out of nowhere, you may not care about things like leadership, tactics, or logistics. You don’t care that the “lord” is a complete moron who can’t even write his own name, as long as his strength attribute modifiers grant him extra damage. But the rest of us understand that there are different types of leaders. Some can manage the day-to-day business of an army, and some cannot. Knowing how to get an army into the field and properly fed is vastly more important than whether they have super strength, but I guess that’s lost on some of the gold farmers out there.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Traitors - What do they do?

I was getting too long in my last post Traitors - Who are they? so I broke this part out.

OK, so now that we know we have all these traitors running around, what do we do with them? What are they doing? I like my traitors to be the slimy, silent type. The kind of guys that you know they don’t like you (assuming you are the king), but you would never think would go so far as to rebel. These are the long planners, the guys who bide their time, waiting for the right opportunity. These guys are the real threat because they will know things that will help them, especially things that may indicate to them when the time is ripe and the king is weakened.

I know there are the “in your face” kind of traitors too. Guys who run around doing things that ought to get them killed or at least arrested, but they seem to get away with them. These guys must have some manner of trump card in order to pull this off. Sometimes it’s an easy one - They are bandits, and the king cannot find them (the Robin Hood style). Sometimes it’s more like what we see in the world today - China actively hacks USA secrets, mining governmental and corporate targets for industrial secrets and yet the USA cannot move against them because they hold all our debt and the economic impacts would be devastating. The USA is not the first country foolish enough to owe enormous debts to another country - This stuff happened in the Middle Ages too! My last thought on how they get to flaunt the rule of law is that either the king is too weak or there are hostages involved. Both of these lead nicely into missions for adventurers, don’t they!

But what do traitors do? They try to weaken the current government. How? Typically it is one of the two extremes: they either try to take away the government’s biggest strength or they try to exploit its biggest weakness. Often the military is its biggest strength. How do you weaken that? Get them involved in a war with a powerful enemy. Poison the food - even if it is dysentery or something likely to not be lethal, a sick army cannot fight. Weaken their weapons in some fashion. Burning all the catapults could be enough to put an army at an extreme disadvantage and would be the perfect mission for a traitorous spy (or and adventuring party).

The truth is, there are so many things that traitors can do to weaken a government, that I cannot pretend to get into them all. But one thing that I think is too often overlooked is propaganda. Even in our modern world where information is plentiful, too often people ignore the facts and believe whatever they heard said multiple times. At its worst, they start to believe that what they’ve heard repeatedly is the truth and the factual evidence is lies made up by “the other side”. So what happens when this occurs in a fantasy setting where few people have any access to the truth? Rumors are wildfire.
What works? Sensational works! The baroness is a whore and her son isn’t the baron’s, thus weakening the heir’s claim on the throne. The king is stockpiling grain because he plans to starve the commoners in the city into paying higher taxes, thus causing the citizens to do everything they can to avoid paying their taxes and weaken the king’s treasury. (OK, we always avoid paying taxes, but these guys will get desperate.) The count is planning on starting a war with those berserkers next door just so he can have more land, discouraging men from join the army for fear of dying in a useless war. The prince is worshiping at foreign temples, weakening the people’s support of this heir if he isn’t “one of them”. These things actually have power and if believed can alter people’s thinking and more importantly alter their actions. That’s when the propaganda has worked. One traitor with a harp and a good voice can do more damage to a powerful king then a foreign army might be able to. Think about your traitors and what actions they are taking.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Traitors - Who are they?

Nearly every society needs to have its traitors, but not every traitor is the same. Before we get too deep in, I think we need a definition of “traitor”. For this post, we assume that a traitor is someone who is actively working against their own government. But why?

Knowing the motivation of the traitor is incredibly important. There are those crusading “traitors” who are working against the evil aspects of their government. Sure, they’re traitors to their government, whatever style of government that might be, but they are patriots who love their country as well. They aren’t going to burn the crops and salt the fields just to win. This is their homeland and they need to preserve it while defeating the government.

Similarly, there are those traitors who are just traitors against a small number of people in the government. This is often the case when the younger brother seeks to overthrow his older brother the king. Again, this is the land he wants to rule. He is not going to want to destroy the capital city that he intends to rule from. Here he might be willing to burn the crops of those who support his brother, but would still not want to do serious permanent damage to the prize he seeks to win.

A lot of historical traitors have turned coat simply because their feelings were hurt. Most often these are the guys who want recognition for something and when they don’t get it, they sell out their country/government. Sometimes it is obvious that they have switched sides, like when they show up with someone else’s army behind them, but sometimes it is not so clear. Would a scorned general allow an enemy into the country just so he can then lead his troops to victory and become the hero? Would a craftsman of some sort turn over the plans to a new factory because he wasn’t given the chance to manage the project? These traitorous acts in order to boost your own reputation nearly always backfire, but that’s not what’s going through his head when he’s committing the crimes.

What’s the outcome? Well, often you wind up with war, sometimes civil war. One of the main issues is that even if it goes this far - What do you do afterwards? How many times have younger brothers either tried to or successfully overthrown older brother kings? What do you do with the nobles from the other side? Most often they are forgiven and allowed to continue on as if nothing happened. Maybe they lose some land that the winner rewards his guys with, but not too much changes. Sometimes the winner is so pissed that he starts executing folks and taking lands wholesale. That’s when the consequences become harsh and long standing. Those who paid the price for backing the wrong guy remember the punishments, and so do their children (typically as a blood feud). I cannot give the true historic reference, but I recall reading about a younger prince who tried to overthrow his brother nine or ten times (in France). Each time was a failure, and the prince, being royal, could not be executed, only told to stay in his distant rural castle. Even though the winner/king did not try to punish the guys siding with his younger brother, the battles themselves cost the kingdom so many nobles from that generation that it had a serious impact on society.

More on Traitors soon.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Toot Toot Take 2

We love all our distribution channels, so to not forget about our wonderful friends over at Warehouse 23, here are the ones given 5 stars over there:

100 Bar Drinks

The Alchemist’s Lab
Gods and Demons
The Royalty
A Baker’s Dozen Villains (OK, not 5, but nearly - looks like 5-5-4 as the three ratings)

Why is there a difference? Well not all of our products get reviewed, so just because something isn’t shown as a 5 star, doesn’t mean it isn’t - maybe it has not yet been reviewed. Also - Not everyone gets our stuff. Many people believe that if it doesn’t increase their damage then it isn’t a worthwhile role-playing supplement. We’re far more about the role-playing then we are about the stat manipulation!
Also - We are able to offer bundles on RPGNow, but Warehouse 23 does not have that functionality. So it is actually a little cheaper to buy more of our stuff if you’re on RPGNow. But please understand that we love them both!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Who’s in your sex cult?

Well, we talked about the death cults, so I guess we should talk about the sex cults too. Yeah - I know - pretty sensational topic, but I think it’s fairly valid.

Do you have sex cults? Do you have a love god(dess)? What kind of love do they support? In my main pantheon, I have a goddess of marriage, who although she does cover some manners of sex is certainly not supported by sex cults. I have a goddess of beauty, but again, she’s a muse and not a supporter of sex cults. There is a goddess of prostitution. She has a sex cult! There is another “love” goddess from a different pantheon - OK, a lust goddess. She has multiple sex cults supporting her. So I don’t want to imply that every pantheon has sex cults or that they are completely mainstream. I think even in a fantasy world, most sex cults would be considered abnormal by the “regular folk”. (Sort of like the Bacchanalia were not acceptable to the average lowly citizens.)

Just like we did with the death cults I want to think about some of these things in our world. I watch a lot of wacky stuff on TV, and I’ve seen sex cults depicted on what claims to be reality TV. (That was my warning that you need to take this with a dose or seven of salt.) There seem to be two main types of sex cults. The first is where the leader of the cult is abusing other members of the cult, most typically the young girls. In these cases, the leader is typically a charismatic brain washer who convinces the members of his full or near divinity and then leads through fear. The members here, especially the men who are doing the abuse, will likely be fanatics. Their brains are so mixed up, that they will do what the leader says, even to the point of entering battles they know they can’t win. But it is also important to think about the fact that they should be considered mind controlled. There are a lot of magics that affect things like this, so whether the mind control is magical, mental or just mundane, there may be ways that the good guys can reverse the affects.

The other type of sex cult is one based on money. Here it is effectively organized prostitution. Here most of the “members” have no faith. They pay their donations to the temple in order to get sex. The whole religion thing is just a rationalization. Here the members and the “clergy” are going to be vastly less interested in taking any risks. Now their money will have bought them power, both military and political power, and that is not useless, but don’t expect the faithful to rise up in their fanaticism.

Who are these people? Well, the ones in the mind controlled cult are typically pretty normal. Too often they are the most simplistic folks who are being taken advantage of. From a straight up adventurer status, this typically means they are easy to defeat. (Does your game support evil priests having mind control “spells”? It really would make sense if it did. Since Legend Quest doesn’t use classes, priests in our game can be anything.) After the bad guys (leaders) are defeated, what do you do with the members/victims? For the monetary ones, you’re talking about some guys who have deep embarrassment of what they are doing, but overwhelming desire to still do it. That’s why they wrap themselves in these excuses of religion. Who are these guys now? Well, they are the creepy guys. The quiet, timid guys who never dated and likely live in the house they inherited from their parents. No, not just any shy guys, the creepy ones who need to fulfill their sexual desires by visiting the temple of the love goddess. Again, don’t expect them to either be able or willing to put up a fight. From an adventurer’s point of view, it is only the hired help that should be a threat.

I don’t know if this helps anyone in the planning of their missions, but it might help you plan out some of your cities. Then again, good characters may see either the young girls or the purchased slaves of these cults as people who need saving, so this may just be next week’s urban adventure. Then again, the comments here probably cover more than just sex cults, and may be useable for other cults as well.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Calling All Legend Quest Players

OK - Consistently getting products posted out there is not our strong suit, but we got another one out: A Baker’s Dozen Archetypal Characters. Need a starting level character for a game tonight - right here! Need a mid-level character to help or hinder the party - right here! Need a more advanced character - you guessed it, right here.

Here are 13 characters each at three levels of experience. These are strong, well rounded characters of use to most parties. To help out a bit, we also added a page on how I make up characters, just to give you the ultimate insider’s perspective on how to get Legend Quest to work for you. Oh, and it’s only 99cents, so probably in your price range!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Toot Toot

That was our own horn. Well, we’re not actually tooting our own horn, we’re telling you about other people who did. Here is a short list of some of the products currently rated as FIVE STARS on RPG Now:
Legend Quest - Full Rule Bundle
City of Rhum Bundle
City of Rhum
100 Professions
100 Towns
A Baker’s Dozen Villains
Character Foundry
Forge of Imagination: Spark of an Idea
Warriors Guild of Rhum
Empty Crypt
Amberrose Incident

Clearly someone thinks we're doing something right. Maybe you should check them out too!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Magic Items in Legend Quest

I’m not sure that everybody out there understands how enchanters in Legend Quest work. This goes for the folks who play it as well as the folks who don’t. So let me lay it out there.

In the Legend Quest rule book, and then expanded in Book of Wishes and The Alchemist’s Lab, we actually laid out how magic items get made. In laying out how the items are made (cost of materials plus the cost of labor), we lay out exactly how much it costs for alchemicals and enchantments. But it’s far more than that.

The rules lay out how difficult it is to learn to cast those magical spells to create those items. In so doing, we not only listed how expensive the items (actually the spells that create them) but also placed a clear cap on the power. How did we do that? Well, any GM who has created some starting level characters and some starting to mid-range enemies for his/her players will know exactly how powerful an enchanter could be. In Fletnern I have NOT made up every enchanter in the world, but I have set a level cap of this: There are no enchanters above power level 5. Even those guys who do have Pow 5, most of them are hidden away in the island city of Rimmim, so trying to get specific magical items can be very difficult to obtain.

OK - Some of the numbers: Starting characters start with 250 character points to build their characters. A typical adventure grants you around 25 character points in experience. So a 500 point character is one who has been on about 10 adventures (fighting forces typically equal or more powerful as they are). Guys who stay home - I usually give them about 10CP per year for “offsite experience”. A power level of five in enchanting magical power costs 320 character points. Figure that guy will need to have at least 100 points in attributes and must have another 100 points in skills that do not directly affect his enchanting. The Strength enchantment spell takes 25, and enhancing his abilities with that spell would be 5/10/20/or 40 points. So just to cast a power level 5 strength enchantment, which would put a human on par with a troll, would require at least 550 points. Assuming he is not an adventurer (and what enchanter is?), that means that he would have needed to spend the majority of his 55 years of life doing pretty much nothing other than cast the strength enchantment and learning how to cast it, and he cannot do anything else of value. To get to a power level 6 would require another 320 points meaning he might be able to pull it off during his 87th year - not likely. That’s how we restrict the power level of magic.

Now - There are ways around this, but even my simplistic explanation here isn’t all that realistic. This guy would only have a 60% (ish) chance of success, so it isn’t exactly realistic or the best way to do things. Yes - Of course there are ways to enhance things, especially with magical talismans and other enchantments, but you are still going to be having trouble getting above five power levels.

Look - We’re not here to bore you to death with numbers. We’re hoping you’re still here. The point is more that there should be and need to be limits to what can be done. But let’s also look at the other side of things - The points can also tell us that this 55yo enchanter could be less powerful but having far more spells - spells that might be valuable in the community (or even if those spells are not directly combat related). This is one of the many reasons that Legend Quest supports magic items that are not directly combat related.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

PCs as contacts

So I was watching a newer TV show. This female character appears, she’s in danger, blah blah. I get it. You need to have clueless characters in the show so some more knowledgeable character can explain to the newbie, and therefore the audience, what’s going on.
Side track: I hate this on Criminal Minds. Love the show, hate when they imply that professional profilers need Reid to explain Jack the Ripper lore to them. I know it’s a trope and a tool, but too far a leap.
OK - So they get the newbie involved in a lifestyle that will be dangerous to her every week, but this woman with no understanding of the violence and horror of “adventuring” goes along. I hate that. Sure, she’s nice to look at, but that character should go running screaming into the night, not joining up! My question is - Should we allow PCs to do the same?

I admit, I haven’t done this. I’ve partially retired the characters of players who aren’t around anymore, but not active characters. I guess they never asked for it. But I am going to allow it going forward. Here’s how I want it to work:

Something happens in game to the PC. Maybe they are maimed or something happens role-playing wise (they lose a close friend, watch a child die, see their god’s angel turn on humanity, could be anything), and they decide that to be true to the character, he/she needs to retire. First off, what will that character do for a living? I would want them to have a chance of becoming involved again. Maybe they become a bar owner and the party hangs out there. Too common. I don’t think they should become a weapons or magic dealer - That seems too powerful.

So what have I done? Admittedly, one of the most useful retired PCs we ever had was a pimp. I didn’t come up with that; the player did. He did it to upset others in the party, but once the player was no longer around, his character became a pimp full time. He was useful; his girls heard things and could be used as distractions. That campaign is and was often focused on urban adventures, so it was probably more useful than it would be to those out dungeon exploring. What could be good? A land lord? The local lord’s tax collector? The local priest? Librarian at the city’s magical university? These are some ideas that could be useful, but are not key to every mission. One great benefit from this? You can give the now NPC experience/character points, so if they are ever needed back in the campaign they are not completely left behind. I usually allow half the experience that the slowest PC is getting - but you can decide what’s fair.

What about the player? I would give a same for same powered character - same level, number of character points or whatever you use. I would even give a magic item or two to keep them competitive in the game - not everything that the old PC had - not as many healing potions and little one shots, but a couple of the more majors. That way, the player is not materially affected for having done the right thing as a role-player.

If you have done or eventually do this - Please let me know how it went. I’m certain there are things to learn from good and bad results here!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Grain Into Gold Comments

Every once in a while I troll the internet looking for mentions of Legend Quest or some of our supplements. Here's one I found at the bottom of a long series in a forum. I have a new favorite person!

Thanks for the folks who recommended Grain into Gold. HOLY CRAP. This thing is awesome. It's everything I wanted in a nice quick table, sufficiently detailed enough to be used on the fly. Which is perfect, because I really want a certain level of realism/predictability with respect to the world itself, to build verisimilitude, without having to be a computer and keep track of a ton of crap in my head or in some spreadsheet.

Seriously awesome system-neutral PDF, well worth the price. Highly recommend it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Blacklist TV

Have you seen the episode of The Blacklist (season 2 - episode 6) called The Mombasa Cartel? Towards the end, Red is threatening the rich guy and explaining Dembe Zuma’s backstory. He ends with something like, “and that’s the difference between good men like him and men like you, and me”. At which point Red shoots the SOB.

You’ve heard me talk about the main campaign in Fletnern that is centered on Forsbury and is very urban oriented. Well, the party leader, one of the most powerful swordswoman in the world, has a bodyguard - a huge dual weapon fighting ogre, former gladiator. We often have a very difficult time explaining the relationship between the two. The Blacklist did it great! Dembe said there was no point to killing the son of an unmarried mother at this point in time, but Red did it anyway. Why? Because he cares about Dembe and felt avenging the deaths of his family in this fashion was warranted. They’re friends, yeah, but it’s different, it’s more. Their tied together. She can’t imagine letting that guy get away with something he did to her friend 20 years ago. Dembe was right. There was no point, but that’s the way Red shows that he loves him. (No, not like that!)

Blacklist - Good show. Hate the girl; love the ideas!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Thugs and Two-Bit Gangsters (FRPG)

After covering Death Cults, it seemed appropriate to cover street thugs. Why, because they too are really the bully losers of life. Please understand - There are bullies that make great lives for themselves. Many CEOs are bullies, as are a huge number of people who have upper management positions in bureaucracies. Think those IRS folks who have spent the last year or more lying to Congress and the people of the USA are mice? No way - bullies who found their niche. But the street thugs are the bullies who didn’t find a good spot. Oh, they think they have a good spot. Their bosses allow them to bully people and feel powerful, but they are pawns.

Modern street thugs are most stereo-typically gang members. OK - let’s admit my bias. I grew up in a neighborhood where the mob was still in control. No random crime happened in my neighborhood, because the street thugs were terrified that the little old lady who’s purse he was stealing would turn out to be some major gangster’s mother. Only the mobsters got killed in my neighborhood (by other mobsters). Well that whole town has been in the news for years now because of the gang violence in the streets. Is it the fault of the IRS putting away all the major mob bosses? Well, partially. But let’s focus on the street thugs. They drive down the street and shoot as many bullets as they possible can without ever learning to shoot straight. In truth, I think they do it while terrified that someone is going to get a shot off back at them, and this ruins their already crap aim even more. How do we put these guys in fantasy terms?

I don’t think you can. Not directly. Without guns, the thugs need to be completely different “archetypes”, but we can still carry forward some ideas. First, I think a fantasy era gang leader would be looking for guys who are huge - not bright, huge. So whatever your game does to give the advantage to guys with near max Strength and Endurance, yeah, these would be those guys. But whatever your game does to grant benefits due to skill, these guys won’t have. I’m not suggesting these guys don’t know the sharp end of a sword, but I would think they should be near the minimum when it comes to training. The main reason for this is that these guys really are more for show than for go. You send a weaselly collector out with two huge goons, and the shop keepers will quake in fear. You put the thugs up against a trained soldier, and they’ll fall like wheat. But, if they score a hit on that soldier, expect damage modifiers.

My main reasoning for this is that these thugs are a dime a dozen. Any plow boy with a huge frame and broad shoulders can be made to look like a dangerous thug, but training takes money and time. To a gang leader, these guys aren’t worth that. Should a few of them get killed, he will find some trained killers to avenge them and protect his reputation, but those trained killers are likely to be a lot more “normal looking” than the brute squad. Want to jazz them up a little more? Give them some manner of flashy weapon. Remember, the idea is more in the intimidation factor then in the usefulness. If they have a sword that’s too big to use or a billy club with the end dipped in copper or silver, these will make an impression. If they have to use them, people might start figuring out how useless they are.

So what happens when your adventurers fight them? Well, the oversized Strength and Endurance stats should make them far more dangerous opponents then if they were more normally attributed, but the skills and skill levels still need to be low. In many games, high attributes are worth quite a bit more than “mid-level” skills, so it should work out. (You know your game better than I do and can adjust in the best ways!) Now once the good guys (players) start fighting the bad guys (thugs), soon enough the far more challenging guys will start to make an appearance, at least they will if there is any organization to the criminals. Organized criminals are dangerous! Street thugs are not! Need more convincing? Think of who their normal prey is. If they prey on shop keepers and farmers in the market, they are probably the dregs I’ve described here. If they are extorting huge sums from bankers and politicians, well then they aren’t.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Permanent Enemies

In our book Character Foundry, we discuss the concept of a permanent enemy. Permanent enemies are those who keep coming back to haunt the players/party again and again. We had several good ideas on how to keep bringing them back, but here are a couple more:

What about resuscitating them? So often player characters get raised from the dead, why wouldn’t their enemies? For this to happen, someone would need to be able to reach or retrieve the body(ies), and someone would need to cast the spell(s) capable of bringing them back. If the PCs can do this, why wouldn’t the NPCs? As long as the PCs can do this as well, it should be possible for the bad guys to do it as well. This can be dangerous, because once the party figures out that the bad guy can be brought back, they are going to start doing nasty things to the corpses before they leave the area. You may need to hide this guy in a helmet, at least at first. (Game rules point - At least in Legend Quest, you cannot return life to a body incapable of maintaining it. Thus, you cannot bring back a body that has been quartered or decapitated, nor could you help a corpse that had been burned, even if it hadn’t been completely consumed.)

OK - So you cannot keep bringing them back from the dead - the players won’t go for that. So the next one is similar - Instead of bringing them back to life - only take them half way - go for the undead. Bringing them back as a zombie is probably useless as we all know zombies are far too weak. But if you bring them back as zombies and try to hide the fact (making people including the PCs believe them to be back from the dead), then it can be fun. Still, that might just piss off the players when they realize they were duped. Depending on your game - Turn them into an undead or a lich if you must use that word. Whatever it is called, turning them into some manner of undead with intelligence probably brings them back into the game while giving them extra powers they did not have before, thus making them ready to face the PCs again. If you could turn them into a vampire, they could turn into mist clouds etc. and stay on as permanent enemies. Otherwise, being undead gives them a second chance but probably not too many more. You can probably bypass some of the rules about creating these kinds of undead if their god or demon wants them back in the action badly enough.

Of course you could just keep locking them up in an asylum that they all keep breaking out of, but who would be stupid enough to get involved in a story with that plot point. Oops

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Who’s in your death cult?

There is an important part of being in a death cult that I think we don’t think about often enough as game masters. First - What do we mean by “death cult”? Most FRPGs have gods of death and these gods have worshippers. While some of these religions are serious and upstanding members of society, some of them are “death cults”. These cults worship the concept of death. They enjoy sending folks to their gods of death and feel that mass murder is “holy”. Further, many of their members are actually seeking death. Maybe they feel that suicide is “good” but lack the will to do it, so they join the death cult hoping to get closer to death by killing others and possibly getting killed themselves. This is sort of a “suicide by cop” or suicide by adventurer. This explanation is not very good, because we’re trying to cover far too broad a topic. Not every suicide cult or death religion is the same, or even all that similar, so broad generalities don’t work.

So what is the important point that I think you’re forgetting? The members of death/suicide cults are losers! People with confidence and who will be a benefit to society don’t join death cults. Guys who are infatuated with their thoughts of six dozen wives in the afterlife are probably the kind of folks who can’t get one in the mortal world. Why is this important? It matters because the NPCs in these cults should not be assumed to act like “normal” people. They aren’t going to be soldiers who stand at post or agents carrying out secret missions with the skills of James Bond. They are going to be the loser bullies you knew in high school, the followers of those bullies, or the folks who weren’t just goth, but the ones who needed to constantly tell you they were goth and that’s what made them better than you. You know - the losers!

Yeah - I know - most of us FRPG players were considered geeks and even losers in high school, but the vast majority of us are working to make legitimate lives for ourselves. We’re not out looking for the fast track to heaven by wrecking harm on others. The death cult members are (looking for that fast track). So what should you do? You should assume that the members of these death cults are: unintelligent, bullies, followers, dedicated to their cause, cowardly, and typically chaotic. These are the types of people we’re talking about; people who either due to a lack of confidence or reason believe that there is nothing they can do to succeed in the normal fashion and therefore turn to concepts and organizations that are blatantly idiotic to the rest of us. Our world is filled with these folks (unfortunately). Too many examples present themselves. school shooters, terrorists, etc. Sometimes chaos needs to not only be role-played, but actually affects the outcome of the mission.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Halloween Sale

While not exactly in the spirit of the Halloween Spirit, Board Enterprises is participating in the Halloween Sale. If you want some of our books cheaper than they are normally (and they aren't that expensive to begin with), check them out here!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Religious Ranks and Titles

Continuing from our post on Ranks and Titles

So what do we call priests and priestesses? Honestly, this is one of the harder things for us to work on. Having been raised in Judeo-Christian homes in Judeo-Christian neighborhoods - multi-divinity religions don’t always make sense to us. But here are the basics, as well as an example of the fringes:

Anyone who has been officially trained to offer religious services is going to be referred to as a priest or priestess. While they are most commonly called “the Priest John” or “the Priestess Mary”, some religions will also refer to them as Reverend or Reverend Mother. Reverend Father is typically saved for men in religious service that specifically pertains to children, such as a priest or monk who runs an orphanage.

The priest or priestess who runs a small church, such as one in a small town or village, is typically referred to as the pastor. If the church offers one service on holy days (typically because every member of the congregation fits in the church building at the same time), then the person in charge is typically a pastor. This is especially true if the church has more than one priest - the top guy is the pastor. This is a non-sexed title. Women are also referred to as Pastor. When talking to or about them, again, they are Pastor John or Pastor Mary. This can be different than the person who has pastoral duties. The person who is assigned to take care of the members of the congregation and their concerns has the pastoral duties. You could have a Pastor who handles the administration of the church, runs the church services, and gives the sermons, while a lesser priest handles the pastoral duties. The title and duties are not always linked. Pastoral duties are typically handled by the most compassionate priest(ess), but sometimes by the most charismatic.

The pastor of a large church - one with many services in the same day or many priests or priestesses - is called Bishop or Bishopess. It is rare that a Bishop would be assigned pastoral duties, as they are typically running the business of the church. Both Pastors and Bishops are typically (all religions are a little different) chosen by the members of the church community or by representatives of the church community. This means that they can be hired from other places and brought in or promoted from the lesser priest(ess).

Monks are those who have devoted themselves to the religion but have not been formally trained for the religion’s ceremonies and mysteries. This does not mean they are uneducated, just not educated in the ceremonies of the church. Female monks are most commonly called nuns. Monks are most often called Brother John, while nuns are referred to as Sister Mary. While there are cloistered monks and nuns (those who shut themselves away from the world), the vast majority of these folks spend their religious lives devoted to one of the aspects of their religion’s teachings. For example - the god of life may have monks and nuns who act as doctors, while the god of war will have soldiers who do little more than train all day. Monasteries and convents can be run by priests, bishops or Mother Superiors or Brother Superiors. (Again, the use of “father” is uncommon.)

Bishops, Bishopesses, Mother Superiors, and Brother Superiors are all most commonly referred to as “Most Reverent” as opposed to the more common priests simply being Reverend. Monks and nuns are typically celibate (unmarried), though most priests, pastors and bishops are allowed to marry. Priest and therefore Pastor and Bishop are occupations one typically pursues their entire life, but nuns and monks more commonly will leave the order at some point.

Religions are nothing if not unique, so these generalities cannot possibly cover all the religions of all the gods. Some other titles that are seen include: Deacons of Shade (executioners in the service of the goddess of death); the Churchmen of St. Vullauce (a quasi-religious order who raise funds to help the poor); and the Heirs of the Divine Stallion (horse breeders who are keeping intact a line of horses bred from a divine horse given by the god of horses and horsemen). These are called Deacons, Churchmen and Heirs.

Last one - Among the Dethebs of Hughijen’s deserts, they have sayrmin. They have priests as well, but the sayrmin are a cross between priests and spiritualists. The sayrmin themselves will typically bargain away their service and their souls for power, and then spend their lives assisting others in doing the same. Of course, most of these men are fraudsters and con artists, but there are some who are the real deal. They organize adoration for the divine, and in return receive power or favors. Some consider them to be witch doctors, but that isn’t the best classification. Each serves a different god/spirit or set of spirits, so they can vary greatly as well.

I hope this gives you some good ideas to expand on!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Ranks and Titles

I was asked by one of you folks to explain how ranks, titles and forms of address were used in my game, which I’ll interpret as Fletnern more than Legend Quest. I knew I had some stuff on this, but I don’t think I can completely answer his question. His point was - different cultures do it differently, and how do I explain that in the game.

Let me start with some of the ones that I know. The city-state of Purity controls the Tandish Lowlands right up and even into the Mountains of Purity. Over centuries of intermarriages and a few skirmishes, those remaining in power agreed to a stable state of affairs. Now there are three Dukes (or Duchesses) that control the region. Each is reasonably autonomous in their own duchy, but they need to come to agreement to make decisions about the city as a whole. Their culture is such that they tend to always agree. Beneath the Dukes are the Counts who control counties. Makes sense, right? Next in line are the Barons over baronies, and then the Baronets over baronettes. A Tandish (Purity) county is typically about the size of a Velesan barony, which sometimes causes amusing difficulties in the two understanding each other. Nobles of authority (land controllers) are most typically referred to as “Your Grace”. Nobles of no authority are typically referred to as Lord or Lady. Therefore, Tandish barons are Lord or Lady, while Velesan barons are Your Grace. Only kings and queens are referred to as Your Highness, but there are relatively few of those around anymore. Other nobles tend to get upset when their bosses demand to be known as king; it leads to rebellions. Baronets are typically appointed, as are many Mayors or Burgomeisters. These lower titles (and they are jobs, not noble titles) are normally referred to by the job: Mayor Jones or Burgomeister Haffen. Knights - those who are knighted as a reward for some service (or perceived service) are “Sir”, so John Smith becomes a knight and he becomes John Sir Smith, at least officially. None of the jobs or knighthoods survive the person - You do not get to be a knight simply because your father was one.

Amongst the orc tribes, chiefs are addressed as “Chief My Chief” when they are chief of a smaller sub-tribe of the major tribe. The chief over all of one tribe is known the Chieftain. (The confusion here is that the Vile Ones is a major tribe with a Chieftain. But it has various smaller family units that make it up, and each of these is referred to as a tribe as well, thus the family unit sized tribe is Chief My Chief.) The orc known as Emperor Baratock amongst the humans is called Ocala by his inner retinue. It doesn’t really translate well, but would probably be something along the lines of Most Blessed One - not a divinity, just smiled on by a lot of gods.

The problem in getting too detailed here is that of “white space”. White spaces are those areas on your world map that you haven’t really designed yet because nobody has wanted to go there. If you plan out the different noble titles, then you start figuring out how much land they control. When you know how much land they control, you start thinking about how many there are and where they all are. Eventually (at least if you are like me) you find yourself hip deep in a project to name nearly every nobleman in your world. Those never work out. Fatigue on the project will cause you to either leave it behind (unfinished, but still so detailed that you’ll lose hours trying to figure something out a year later) or rush it and you wind up with square baronies ruled by guys named Bob.

I’m not saying don’t go there - You should! but remember to pull back before you sucked into the quicksands. As you may know from Fletnern, I’ve used major Earth or fantasy cultures to represent most of my human cultures, so when I need titles, I can rely on online encyclopedias. When you’re using Earth - make sure it works in your fantasy environment. Is a battle mage automatically an officer in the army? Can he reach knighthood? These are often better questions than what’s his rank called. (Not trying to offend there! The guy who asked me about this probably already has that piece figured out.)

Later - Titles and positions for clergy. This was already too long.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Real Monsters

I am a monster movie fan. I was glued to the TV as a kid for every Saturday creature feature. Frankenstein, zombies, Dracula, werewolves, even the mummy, but also Godzilla, King Kong and the big guys. It’s not that I really loved the monsters, but I loved the fantasy action movies.

So I think most of us have the human sized monsters in our fantasy games, but what about the giants? The honest answer when it comes to Legend Quest at least is that giant monsters don’t fit. I don’t know how I could incorporate King Kong vs. human sized characters. Sure, I could give him an Endurance (and therefore Life’s Blood or whatever you want to call hits to kill) that was monumental, but how do I handle him attacking? I tend to think that instead of giving a giant monster huge points, he/it should instead have a type of armor (call it thick skin) that would prevent most human sized weapons from affecting him. In the same vein, I could make it extremely difficult for such a giant to hit a human sized opponent. Imagine you grabbing a fly out of the air - kind of the same thing.

The thing is, I do have these problems already. What happens when pixies shoot their bows at humans? But in some cases, it’s not a matter of picking at flies. If King Kong swipes his arm across a roof top and there are people on the rooftop - he doesn’t have to be as precise anymore. Now he can utilize his great strength and anyone in the way is going to die. That doesn’t make for great role-playing scenarios - players don’t like their enemy constantly getting one-shot kills. But to a point, I have to figure it out.

When it comes to dragons, I think the scale is still one of strength vs. strength. Sure, dragons are vastly bigger than humans, but it isn’t on such a scale that the dragons could easily fail to notice the humans. LQ dragons are around 30’ long, so humans are still 20% of their size. I still might want to make certain dragon attacks a little harder to land. If it had a piercing tail spike or even a bite it might be tougher, but slashing attacks with its claws should utilize the creature’s great strength and even be allowed to hit multiple human sized enemies.

FYI - In the first King Kong movie, the stop action guys admit that depending on which scene you’re watching, Kong was between 18’ and 70’. They intentionally altered his height for the right amount of drama. So, how do I figure out what to do with that?

I’m going to work on this a bit - probably even playtesting some of the modifiers. Years ago I added an optional rule for size adjustments to accuracy, but we used them most often for things like hitting an apple at 100 paces, not pixies or dragons. I intend to share the full rules here before we publish the Omnibus edition of Legend Quest, but sometimes things move at different speeds than I would like. Honestly this probably belongs more in the realm of Monsters & Other Menaces, but I’m sure we can make it work!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Political Parties

We’re in the thick of an election cycle here in the US. Looks like the Democrats are going to be losing seats in both the House and Senate, but that is normal for a President’s sixth year. I’d like to think it was the American citizens wising up, but I think it can better be attributed to our national ADHD.

So how do political parties in your fantasy world work? You use them right? At the very least, the king needs to have a cousin, brother or uncle who wishes that they were king and is maneuvering in the background to take over if ever given the chance. My most major campaign is based out of Forsbury, so I know the political parties in the Council of Barons best. The main parties there are the New Order, the Moderates, and the Old Guard. For the most part, this is a generational thing, but not entirely. The New Order is mostly made up of Barons in their 30s and 40s. They want to do new things in order to expand their power - more of the risk takers. The Old Guard is more Barons in their 50s and 60s. They want things to stay as they are, even if they lose opportunities, as long as they prevent others from rising to threaten them (others here really meaning the non-noble class). The Moderates don’t want to be mired in the mistakes of the past, but they are not the risk takers the New Guard is. So you can see how they would be in conflict - rivalries and debates, but not open warfare.

In Myork, there are also three parties. They don’t have cool names (at least not yet), but they have entirely different long-term goals. One group believes strongly that the only way they will ever be able to wipe evil from the world is to take over the world and rule it with one government (and a martial one at that). They are actively building a new capital from which to rule the world and mainly use diplomacy to bring other rulers and politicians into their organization. Another lacks that patience and demands that Myork take action now. They see evil running free in the world and want to transport troops there and destroy it. This backfires on them time and time again. As soon as they crush the evil ones, the locals seem to immediately forget that the soldiers came there to liberate them and start whining about their freedoms being squashed by these foreign troops. So the knights go back to Myork and within 10-15 years, the evil is running rampant through that area again. Sound familiar? Think I’m a little bitter about how the USA is treated around the world? The third group is more isolationist. They believe that they can form a utopian society within their own borders and the rest of the world be damned, and they expect it will. Many of them believe that they have practically achieved this level and want to focus all attention on maintaining what they have. Truth is, they are pretty darn close to a utopian society - close enough that they have the time to get philosophical about fixing the rest of the world.

Lastly, there are two political parties in Brinston. Anytime another starts to rise, it gets gobbled up by one of the two existing parties. There are the Vintners and Merchant Princes. The Vintners are more of the old money. They own huge estates and vineyards and craft the best wines in the world. Agriculture and tradition are their power base, plus they have managed to marry off their pretty young ladies to various military superstars and control the populace through these military heroes. The Merchant Princes or Merchant Houses are the ones who truly control the trade around the world. Their fleets and caravans (but especially the ships) carry the most products and the most wealth. With the Houses taking a good percentage off the top of everything, they are incredibly rich. These two parties feud constantly, but they are nearly the same. Both wish to increase their personal wealth, though they tend to measure wealth in different ways (land and belongings vs. trade assets and coinage). Both wish to do everything they can to keep the non-nobles down and prevent any from rising to become their equals. Both have been wealthy for so long that it is difficult to find a “do-er” amongst the families; most are spoiled brats both as children and as adults.

Did I give you any ideas? This is actually a very simplistic summary. I didn’t get into the Hunting Party (a subversive group considering assassinations), the impact of religions, etc., etc., etc.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

More on Treasuries

Following up on How Much Money Should Someone Have?

Don’t forget to also check out our earlier post about what it takes to count the money: Collecting Treasure - Even when it’s pay.

For those of you who can’t figure out where the rest of the nobleman’s worth went - It’s tied up in furniture and real estate. We are actually working on a supplement that will give you all sorts of lifestyle choices for your character, but until then, it is probably easiest to assume that a person probably has their annual salary in real estate and their annual salary again in “stuff”. Palaces have “stuff” that is of incredible value, but may not be fence-able loot. The Hope Diamond is one of the world’s best known and most valuable diamonds, but the chances of finding someone to buy it - especially someone who knows it’s hot - are remote. Same for the Mona Lisa. Now not everything a nobleman or even a king owns will be that big a deal, but you don’t want to be the gem cutter caught remounting the crown jewels.

But guess what - even if your players (and/or their characters) can see art works and jewelry and recognize the monetary value, they’ll be missing a lot! That end table over there with the inlaid tortoise shell - yeah, looks like firewood to most adventurers, but it’s worth more than their (non-magical) armor. That little marble statuette beside the bed - It’s hugely heavy and the adventurer’s know that marble isn’t worth that much, but if it was carved by a famous artist, it’s worth more than the character’s house. Of course, if it was carved by the baroness’ cousin, it’s nearly worthless, but when do the PCs know that stuff? That dust in the bottom of the wooden box - is it powdered dragon brain worth its weight in diamonds or is it the remains of Aunt Hilda after her cremation? Huge amounts of value are hidden in plain sight, only to be detected by those who know what they’re looking for. Imagine a modern burglar breaking into a house and seeing a decorative silver lamp (like Genie’s). He melts it down and sells the silver for a few bucks, not knowing that it was an original Paul Revere.

Yeah - I love my treasure!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

How Much Money Should Someone Have?

This question can go in any number of ways. For the easiest question, I’ll give you the easiest answer: How much in coinage should the guy walking down the street be carrying? I typically assume that a person carries about what their daily wage would be when they are out and about. We’re talking about factory workers or craftsmen on their way to lunch or the bar, etc. Average guy makes 10sc p/day, so average guy has 10sc in his average pocket. Go after a powerful enchanter who makes 300+, and he’s going to have a lot more on him as “spare change” than the brewer.

But what I was really thinking about was more along the lines of how much would realistically be in the treasury of a local lord, baron, king, whatever. Let me air out my bias - I think it is very important to expect that most nobility (the ones who are actually owning and leasing or managing lands) should not have a lot of easy money laying around. OK, from a peasant’s perspective, it would be a huge amount of money, but not really. Example - Look at the annual report of any government or corporation. Look at their cash line and compare it to their revenue/sales line? Just because you pull in $5B annually, doesn’t mean you have $3B sitting around. So where’s their wealth? Well, the queen of England use to be considered the wealthiest woman in the world. What changed? They stopped counting the things that “the Queen” owns, but the Queen herself really couldn’t sell as they are national treasures. Yeah - She went from what could probably be $20B+ to a paltry $500M. That’s what I’m talking about. The Queen has palaces, jewels, art work, probably a stable full of fine polo ponies (I’m shooting from the hip here), yachts, farmland, etc. ad nauseam. OK, she could probably sell the jewels, but the rest of the stuff isn’t really saleable, certainly not easily.

So let’s assume - Your fantasy world is ruled by nobles. They control the “countries”. Their wealth may be completely mixed up in that of the government. In any case, just because they take in taxes of 1.2Msc in taxes annually and their own lands provide another 300K, how much of that is in the treasury (to be robbed)? Come on, we all knew that the only reason anyone really cares how much is there, is because they want to know if it’s worth knocking over the treasury. Here comes the big cop out answer - It depends! Seriously, if taxes are all due on April 15, then on April 16, the treasury is going to be looking pretty darn good! If taxes are paid in monthly, then you’d still see some far better piles once a month. But there would have to be decent level of coinage just laying around at the end of the month or the government would be borrowing massively. Yeah, I know, that sounds normal to us all because of our modern times, but it is unreasonable and unsustainable.

So what’s laying around? First, you have to know how centralized the treasury is. If the army and navy each have their own treasuries and so do some other folks, then the central treasury is going to be pretty thin. Then again, if the soldiers have to go to the central treasury to get paid, then you know all the cash is right there. Let’s assume that most of it is one place. It’s kind of tough to figure out what the current states and cities actually have. They don’t have an SEC watching their every move like corporations do, so they aren’t as transparent. (I know, you’re shocked, right?) Let’s back in: We’ll assume that the government collects 1,000,000sc (that’s silver coins) in revenue every year, because it’s a nice big easy number. We will therefore assume that they spend right around 1,000,000sc every year (or close enough for government work). Assuming a 12 month, 365 day year, they collect over 83,000sc monthly and spend about 2,700sc daily. If that’s it, you can guess that on the first day of the month, they have 83-84K, less 2.7K per day thereafter. But that assumes there is no cushion. Modern governments seem to have nothing but IOUs in their treasuries. Seriously, one state I looked at had >$65B in revenue and <$12M in cash spread around their agencies. That’s less than 2bps (or <0.02%). You’ll need to determine your fantasy gov’s cushion, but 10% of annual does not sound completely silly, especially if it is comingled with the noble’s funds. How big would that be? So now this example we have shows around 200,000sc at the beginning of the month. By the way - that’s more than four tons of silver and takes up almost 60 cubic feet (or a box 4’x4’x4’ assuming it was all melted into one huge cube - coins really don’t stack that closely together). The monthly 83K amount is around 3.5K lbs and 25 cubic feet. That’s a lot of coin. I know we used silver, but you have to assume that the savings you get from gold would be offset by the extra weight and space you’d need in copper.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Ghost Stories

So there are either a bunch of new stations out on cable or there are a bunch of new stations on my cable now. These new stations have some pretty cool shows. One that has caught my family’s attention - Amish Haunting. These are some pretty creepy stories. Witches, haunted dolls, haunted furniture, possessions, and more! Why do you care? Because these stories really translate to fantasy games. You know with the Amish, you never have to worry about the ghosts possessing phones or TVs.

But I want to give you one that I “made my own”. (I think all game masters need to find ideas and then make them their own - not plagiarize.) This isn’t from Amish Haunting, but one of those other ones. The party will need to contain someone who can do something about ghosts, or act as bodyguards for someone who can. Most games rely only on priests, but others may have mediums, channelers, or other spiritualists.

The spiritualist is asked to come to the home of a well-to-do family because there is poltergeist activity. From time to time, the “feeling” in the house gets very tense and eventually items start flying around. When the mother was hit in the head with a large bowl, the father had to act. After meeting with the owners, the father admits that he knows who the ghost is. His great uncle (a rather tense and extreme business man in his time) was killed in the house when burglars broke in and threatened the family. The family has known that since that time, his ghost has haunted the house.

Getting rid of the great uncle will require finding where his ghost hides out during the day. It happens that the uncle was a warrior and his armor is in the attic (not easily found). Once the armor is found, it can be exorcized (or whatever your game calls it). He will not go easily. He will fight and howl and scream, but he will be banishable. The party then goes home with the reward. Yippie!

Not so fast. The next night - right at midnight or whatever witching hour is in your world - every piece of furnishing not held down rises into the air and tornadoes through the first floor. You thought things were bad before; they are beyond horrible now. It may take two nights, but the father is going to demand that the party and the spiritualist get back into the house and fix the problem “they caused”. Their reputation, and probably their freedom since the father is distantly related to the nobles of the land, is now in jeopardy.

So what’s the secret? The house’s builder (generations ago) killed his wife and committed suicide in the home. He’s been the evil presence here ever since. When he was getting ready to cause trouble (the feeling of tension), the spirit of the great uncle would come out and protect the family. While he was frequently overwhelmed by the power of the home builder, he did prevent this enormous outbreak. But now he’s been banished and the evil spirit is fully loose. And he’s not going to be as easy to get rid of as the great uncle was. You need to figure out what they need to do to get rid of this guy, but remember that meanwhile this spirit is going to be throwing every piece of loose furniture it can get its ghostly hands on.

I think the solution is (but I think you should come up with your own): the evil spirit is tied to the cornerstone of the house, since he laid it. You can’t remove the cornerstone without destroying the house, so they need to lay some manner of blessing on the cornerstone. They also need to take the armor to the great uncle’s grave site and put him back into it so he can protect the house.

Not every ghost story lends itself to an adventuring party mission, but with a little help, some of them do. Make them, or this one, your own!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Things I’ve Learned from Grain Into Gold

Grain Into Gold is Board Enterprises’ best-selling book. It describes a fantasy game world economy building from the price of a loaf of bread and going all the way up to the cost of an ocean crossing merchant ship. It goes into great detail about why things cost what they do, most of it based on real world research seen through the eye of me - a game designer with over 30 years of experience in writing worlds, games and missions.

If you read my mail (or even some of the reviews) of Grain Into Gold, one of the chief criticisms is that I made too many assumptions. Maybe I did. I included a lot of those in the original book, because I wanted game masters to understand where the assumptions were in case they wanted to alter them for their own worlds. So what have I learned? I learned not to show all my cards. Going forward, I’m not going include the assumptions, just the end result of the calculations. Now I know why a shovel costs 10sc, but I don’t need to let everyone know the value of the handle vs. the weight of the steel vs. the labor of the smith. As long as the whole system works together and the prices make sense in comparison to each other - people are going to be happy about them. And oddly enough, the less they know the better.

I have also learned that there are people with really deep feelings about medieval craftsmen and exactly how they did their crafts. Now I expected that from the type of people I consulted when I did all the research. Yes - I have spent untold hours watching YouTube videos of re-enactors, reading books about European banking and mining, talking to people at those Colonial and Civil War living museums, and even trying to do some of these things on my own. The issue is that when I try to do them - I normally don’t have the best techniques, nor the right tools. But it isn’t those guys who argue with me - maybe they don’t read Grain Into Gold. It’s the guys who also read some of the same books as I did (or sometimes similar but different books). I can’t prove them wrong - but I still think that on the whole, I’m closer to being right.

I have also learned that even after 68 pages of narrative and 13 pages of price charts, I cannot make everyone happy. The most common criticism is that I either stressed too much on Western cultures or not enough on weapons and armor. On the weapons - I wanted it to be generic, and thought bashing my system’s way into the purchasing of weapons would make it less generic, and hostile to the systems that people loved. That’s why I listed nine weapons (long sword, long bow, battle axe, a few more, and on top of the nine are arrows and bolts). I thought GMs would just use my examples to interpolate the rest of the systems they needed in their games. Probably a bad guess - though there are a lot of math geeks who are game masters. On the Western thing - that was an unintended bias on my part. I bothered a few Europeans with my American terms as well (especially “corn”). Anyway, I was trying to avoid incorporating Fletnern (my game world), and I think that steered me towards those things that truly were generic - standard role-play game stuff.

So what else have I learned? I’ve learned that I can do it right. I’m getting closer and closer to releasing two d1000 random loot charts. These are going to dramatically expand the items in the lists. This time - I think I’m done telling everyone where the prices came from and just giving the values. I’ll also see what can be done about expanding into some of the other cultures. That might be more for Coins of the Road - our long delayed trade supplement. Stay tuned! There is definitely more to come!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Fletnern Wiki

Major milestone for us - The World of Fletnern Wiki has gone over 200 pages. Check it out, or get the quick Fletnern at our corporate site's Fletnern page.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Royal Divinity

Continuing our thoughts on what fantasy royals would do (Divine Right of Kings) ...

What are the myths about your royal lines? This is more likely one of those things you have thought about. Do they have the blood of dragons in their line? Descended from the gods? Talk to angels? Have the power of an ancient line of magic? What, besides being royalty, sets them apart from the rest of their race?

The royals and the nobles always want the people to be completely terrified of them, to know that they are different and cannot be equaled. So what stories do they tell? The myths can be powerful, especially if the people believe them. Even if they don’t, the myths serve as a means of inspiring the people. You don’t need to believe in Pegasus and Bellerophon to find them majestic or at least “cool”. Think of the art. Think of the stories and the songs.
Think too of the rivalries. Is one noble house descended from the constellation of the cobra and another use the mongoose in their crest? OK, that was too blatant. Maybe the dragon and the angels? You get the point. Sometimes the myths are used to tell the truth, when the truth cannot be spoken. Then again, it is a fantasy world. Maybe the king really is descended from dragons.

Does it matter? In a high fantasy game - absolutely! Kings with even a little divine blood should have serious advantages when trying to get the attention of the gods. Royals with dragon blood may be immune to fire. (Not all of the family as many people have seen in a popular TV show.) The noble line protected by the spitting cobra may be immune to poisons. The ideas for having a little “family magic” are countless.

Let’s take a completely different approach - TREASURE! A royal family that has been protected by unicorns will have ivory unicorn statues throughout their holdings. Or they will have paintings of the famous unicorn sightings. Or they will have silver unicorns inlaid into their gold signet rings. Or they will have whatever wood is closest to white inlaid into their tables in the form of a unicorn. Their staves will have unicorn heads. Their swords will have unicorn pommels. Let’s go with “all of the above”. I am unquestionably a fan of cool treasure, and ideas do not always just fall out of the skies. Knowing the heraldic symbols and legends of the locals gives you countless ideas for cool, artistic treasures; treasures that hopefully the players will appreciate, right before they turn them in for a boring number of coins.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Character Introductions late in the campaign

We’ve all had those issues - You either get a new player into an existing campaign or a character dies (with no hope of retrieval - outside of a comic book plot) and needs to be replaced. Assuming that you’re not running a campaign with multiple characters for each player (and most of us aren’t) - You need to introduce a new player into an existing party.

I’m funny - I don’t like to rely on people I don’t know to watch my back when someone might be trying to put a knife into it. As an adventurer, I would only want to go out on missions with people I generally trust. So I hate the concept of: Bob rolled a new mage and he’s going to start with the party tonight. I don’t care if Bob’s character is a starter character or somehow appeared fully formed with experience and magic items. Why would I trust this person in dangerous situations?

So I have a method I’ve started using. When a player has a new character to insert into an existing campaign, I give the player (and the character) knowledge about the next mission that no other character would have. Let me explain before I give an example. If the character knows things - maybe she is the one who actually introduces the mission to the party or he is the woodsman who has lived in this area his whole life and knows how to sneak in through the back entrance - then that character becomes valuable. So valuable, that the party needs to bring them along. By forcing the party to bring the new character, you are giving the party a chance to get to know this character, both in game and amongst the players. Maybe the character worships the same god(s) as one of the other players and is therefore easily befriended. Maybe the character is identical to another in the party and therefore kind of worthless. It’s a trial run to see if it works. If it doesn’t (like if the character is a backstabbing bitch and the rest of the party is the fantasy Red Cross), then tell the player they need something that fits better. Better that then trying to endure all the blatantly stupid gaps in the story that we all know are going to lead to the party fighting each other.

Examples: Easiest one - The new character is the quest giver and needs to come along for some reason. The issue here is explaining why it will later be OK for the character to join the party full time. The character is the only one in the city who can read the language written throughout the mission site. The character is the only one to have survived when the castle was overrun and is now the only one who knows his/her way around. Some part of the mission requires the new character to get past it - like a ghost who is their ancestor needs to open a portal and won’t do it for non-relatives. The gods demand that the new character go because they plan to reward him with some magical item that will help him bridge the gap between his lack of experience and the party’s higher “level”. (OK, I really hate that one. It’s crony capitalism.) Lastly - Some known barrier requires someone with this new character’s skill - acrobatics, tracking, flight, shape shifting, extremely light weight or small size, etc. In order to get where they need to be, they need this expert, and if they work out, they can stay. Just don’t let extremely powerful adventurers meet each other in a bar and decide to go off risking their lives and sharing (politely) treasures. I mean, come on!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Non Character Threats

Probably my favorite story/character of all time is Allan Quatermain. First off, he’s not that handsome dashing hero. He’s a very practical man, though he certainly has his honor. His “super power”? He’s just a really good shot.

But the important point for this post is that his biggest challenges are not other people or even the terrifying animals of Africa, but instead the terrain. Oh, he’s faced armies of natives and had a pod of hippos try and crush him, but the thing that always comes closest to actually killing him is the terrain. Deserts, disease ridden swaps, seemingly impassable mountains; these are the things that nearly kill Allan and his “party”.

I don’t think that we GMs use these tools enough. I always wanted to write a book, or a series of books, that laid out what GMs can do when the PCs face up against catastrophes. Which catastrophes? Well, that was always fluid. After all, a hurricane is a serious issue and will normally bring floods, so is the catastrophe the hurricane or the flood? and can a description of hurricanes be described without also detailing the flooding afterwards? So did the hurricane book cover both? Then did the sea water flood then destroy the fresh water in the area? So is the issue of not having enough water part of a hurricane or is it a desert issue? What about crops being destroyed? Famine? A catastrophe? part of a hurricane? Can you discuss the winds of a hurricane without also running into tornadoes? You can see how these probably belong on one book - but WOW is that going to be a big book!

Games are different. Maybe your game has some of these covered, either while discussing some spells or elsewhere. I think the issue comes down to one of drama vs. action. It’s tough as a GM to build drama and tension in a game setting, especially one where the players are almost equally interested in the drinks and snacks as they are in the game. Action is easier, and FRPGs are notorious for covering the action parts and not as much the drama parts. But having spent a considerable time tied up in a campaign centered on political struggles that only rarely break out into battles, I’m becoming more excited about the huge plots and not the little skirmishes. A warning, when you’re worrying about whether or not your character is about to die of thirst, a lot of little details become important: movement rates, fatigue factors, endurance in the face of dehydration, etc. Worrying too much about the little details will ruin the drama! My suggestion - Try to run the numbers before the game starts when no one is there. Then whether the players go down the route you expected or not, you have some pretty good information about how the rules would play out. I’ve never been one who could just throw the game rules aside and decide whatever I wanted, so by having some of the math done early, I could base the results on what I had earlier calculated. The best of both worlds - following the rules and shooting from the cuff.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

How to Grow a Fantasy Economy

No, this is not how to increase the size of a fantasy economy if you are a fantasy ruler. I could teach classes on that, but I won’t. This is how to take a couple of small things and start building them into much bigger things.

You need to start somewhere. Over 30 years ago, I drew a map of Fletnern, placed the major cities (poorly), and wrote really short descriptions of them. One of the items in those descriptions was what their major exports were. That’s a good enough place to start! Do you know what the natural resources or at least major exports of one of your cities or regions is? Good!

Let’s begin with an example. Two of the major exports from Rhum are beer and ceramics. We’ll start with ceramics. The soil in many places around Rhum is great for various types of ceramics. So, at some point over the last 30 years, I decided that inside the city of Rhum are several ceramics factories. They make different things, but one makes plates, another makes steins, and I forget what the rest might have been. So, we know that there are wagons filled with ceramics products moving out of the city. But in order to run a ceramics factory in the city, you need to bring in wagon loads of clay. OK - sounds a little weird, but we can do that. So now that you have the raw materials, there must be some pretty large kilns as well for firing those ceramics, so we’ll need some fuel. Rhum is surrounded by forests and the coal deposits are further south, so we’ll have them bringing in wagonloads of charcoal to fuel the kilns. The point? We started with “ceramics”, but now we know that plates, platters and steins are being crafted in the city. Honestly, they must be reasonably fancy or no one would bother “importing” clay - They’d just do it right there at the clay pit. So we know better what’s going out and what’s coming in - charcoal and clay. We’ve started.

But there should probably be that industry right there at the clay pits too. There, they make bricks. So we now also know that there are wagonloads of bricks floating around the city too. Moving on to beer: there are major breweries in the city. So the raw materials going in include barley, but do they? If you know anything about beer, they brew it not from barley, but from malted barley. So let’s have the malting process outside the city at the barley farms and plantations. So the thing coming into the city is the malt. What else do you need? Well the hops (they use hops in Rhum), is really minor, but there would need to be some of that. Also - there would need to be barrels. We’ll have the staves cut and dried in the field and then imported, so the barrel making is going in in the city. What about the hoops? saplings or metal? How about both?

OK - Without letting this get way too long what have we started to do? We started with ceramics and beer as exports, but now what do we know. We know wagons filled with clay, charcoal, wooden staves, saplings, copper, malted barley and hops are being brought into the city. We know wagons filled with fancy plates, platters and steins are going out as well as wagonloads of barrels of beer. But we know a lot more too. We know that the countryside is going to be filled with barley farms, clay pits, brick makers (with their own kilns), and colliers (that’s a charcoal maker). We know those barley farms have special buildings for the malting of the barley. If you want to get fancy, you know that there are ice houses near small lakes because they need the ice to control the temperature of the beer in summer (as opposed to brewing ales). That’s actually a lot about the culture of the region from two tiny ideas.

What’s next? Well, you know they grow barley, but what do they eat? Are the people heating their homes with charcoal too? with wood? Are they using horses or oxen to pull the wagons? donkeys? mules? Where are those animals bred and sold? Where are the wagons built? locally or are they brought from somewhere else? Beer doesn’t seem like a major export, because it is typically cheap, so this must be pretty good beer. Is everyone buying it, or just certain other cultures? What is blatantly missing? Well, iron and steel seem to be noticeably missing, so those must be coming from somewhere. Glass is missing, but if the ceramics are so good, maybe they don’t care. Maybe nobody in Rhum uses wine bottles. Maybe they don’t drink wine.

This wasn’t a lot of work. We knew some of the common exports. We assumed that the artful craftsmen were in the city (preferred to live in the city), and the cruder craftsmen lived outside the city where it must be cheaper. We brought the raw materials and supplies in. We defined the outputs just a little bit better. We wound up describing a whole bunch of stuff that people moving around outside the city would run into. We even defined a major section of the culture within the city because there are factories where large numbers of people work on the same goods. That means people tend to work for a major boss, and not for themselves, at least these folks do. Does that affect their lifestyles? Probably. By the way - One of the other exports of Rhum is furs, especially beaver. Even assuming that the pelts are coming in tanned and stretched, this is whole huge aspect of trade that must be going on. What’s going through the gates of your cities?

Monday, August 25, 2014

Fantasy World What Ifs

A while back (A New World for a New Campaign), I laid out how I thought I/we could develop new campaign worlds. There’s a reason I think about things like that - Fletnern (my current campaign world - available here for FREE!) is over 30 years old. Plans I have had in place for >20 years are still brewing. I just can’t bring myself to dramatically alter the world in a way that I haven’t had planned for at least a decade. Yeah - I know - that’s a personality fault, possibly related to OCD.

But the truth is: I absolutely love “What If” comics. Take characters and settings you know and love and then twist a major plot point. I love those things, but in the back of my mind is that lesson that all creative folks should have learned from the “lost season” of Dallas: No one wants to wake up and find out that Patrick Duffy is alive and in the shower. OK - That wasn’t really the lesson, but you know what I mean. No one wants to invest time and energy into getting involved in a story line just to learn that it was all “a dream”.

I actually have a usable technique for this, though it is a little too comic book based: I use alternate realities. Here’s the reason - In an alternate reality/timeline, you can change things, tweak the past to develop a whole new future, and then return home without having that timeline affect your main campaign. BUT! You can also return to that timeline at some point, so it doesn’t really go away. It is like having a series of pocket campaign worlds where you don’t have to redraw the maps.

You can of course do it any way you want, but I would greatly limit who can jump the time streams. In my world there are really only two ways this has happened: 1) there is a titan who can move from one timeline to another and he takes an interest in the people who are critical to various time streams (read “the adventuring party”) and 2) I have allowed an ancient ogre/goblin/orc spell to do it. Before you misunderstand this “spell” - it is based on the style of magic called Ceremonial Dance. If you know the history of the Ghost Dance, this might sound somewhat familiar. To get up enough magical energy to make the spell work, you need to get entire villages and towns of people performing the same magical dance together. Though I never defined it all that well, it takes well over 1,000 spell casters working together in an enclave style.

The titan is a lot more fun, because he takes people with him. He reports back on what your alternative selfs are doing. Since half the timelines move forward (as we live) and half move backwards (not that they accept they are backwards, they insist you are living backwards), he doesn’t actually time travel. He slips into the various time streams and until he winds up where he wants to in yours, then transfers out. So in order to travel back 120 years, he has to wait 120 years in an alternate time line. Since there are currently at least two of these guys running around, at least one of them learned how to magically hibernate, so he doesn’t actually live through everything, though he has less detailed information than his alternate twin.

This is already way too long, but why do it? Ever make up an enemy or enemy group that you loved, but your players made mincemeat out of? Well, in an alternate time line, the party failed and these guys got their way. Now the “only group to have defeated them” needs to time slip in and kick their asses again, only this time, they are vastly more powerful having been successful in building up their base. Were they on the winning side of a war? Alternate timeline - they lost, and now the last surviving member of the party has come to beg for aid. (I’d use a loyal follower here and not actually one of the player characters.) Yes - This is pretty Days of Future Past, but it is also Star Trek, Dr. Who, and generically every other sci-fi show at some point. Might even think Terminator.

I think it is very important to let them know that this isn’t their reality. Maybe not at step 1, but definitely early on. Otherwise they feel like their characters were written into a bad Dallas season.