Sunday, January 26, 2014

Fantasy World Wide Web

I’m back to the idea of how to place modern ideas into a fantasy realm. This time - the internet. Come on, we all love watching action movies where the hacker is defeating systems and also acting like James Bond, even if we know that most hackers would be out of breath running to the refrigerator. (Sorry if that offends! It’s just a joke. Please don’t hack my web site! Actually, if you are a hacker and have an interesting tale, email it to me. I’m still trying to figure out how to handle hacking in my modern games.) Back to the topic.

What does the internet do? Well for me, it provides me nearly unlimited information. It allows other people to communicate across the world. There is actually a very close analogy - the spirit world. To my mind, summoning spirits allows access to centuries worth of history and thus knowledge. It’s great, because like the internet, you cannot always trust the person that is giving you the information. As for the sending messages, I guess you could have spirits do that too, but it is not as close an analogy.
So how does it work? Well, you do your ritual to summon a spirit, carefully choosing which spirit you want to talk to, and get your information form it. So only a few folks can do it. You generally need to be some manner of mystic, but in Legend Quest, you can rely on necromancers or spiritualists or witches. (Spiritualists and witches coming soon. We've been play testing them for years.) By the way - we are using the word spirit here to describe the spirits of the dead. Now learning is great, but hacking would be better.

What does hacking do? Well, it gives you information that people want hidden. But how? Well, the ghosts can do surveillance, both on the real world and on what the other guy is getting from other spirits. Knowing what the other guy is asking of the spirit world might just be the most important investigation available. Spirits might also be set up as a defensive screen; here they would more likely be blocking certain styles of spells, not directly benefiting anyone in the physical world? It would be kind of cool if the PCs tried to cast certain spells at a bad guy, but his spirit forces were able to block them.

If you go down this road, you might wind up having every bad guy needing his own spiritualist or fortune teller. My main campaign is practically there with every one having their own fortune tellers. As always with bringing modern ideas into a fantasy game, don’t get too bogged down in the analogy. Just use the idea and go with it. Forcing an idea to fit an analogy often makes you go too far or in the wrong direction. Still - I’m going to be expanding this analogy for my games. As I come up with better stuff, I’ll post it here.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

How Much Magic Is There?

I am often at odds with myself as to how much magic there should be in the World of Fletnern. One of the things we did intentionally with Legend Quest was to make enchanting a weapon a secondary thing - When you want a magic sword, first you get a sword, then you get it enchanted. You don’t just go to a magic shop and buy a magic sword. What if the grip isn’t right? What if you wanted a certain kind of cross guard or pommel?

This makes enchanting a service you can buy in most major cities. It’s not cheap, but it is absolutely available. I know that goes against some GMs’ worlds, but to each his own, right? But how much magic do I allow in my world? Probably far more than most people would expect.

One of the consequences of making enchanting a service, is that it has a generally accepted price. Journeymen enchanters make about 300sc a day. That’s 30x what a carpenter makes, but still within the reach of some successful adventurers. But with an established cost, you can start doing some cost-benefit analysis. If you have to pay an enchanter four days (or ~1200sc) to enchant the sail on a ship in order to shave 10% off the travel time, then when is it worth it? Well, ironically (according to Grain Into Gold), the salary of a ship’s captain and crew is about 300sc per day. So if the sail will shave 10% of the travel, and therefore 10% of the payroll off the ship, then the sail only has to last 40 days in order to break even. If you could shave 10% of the payroll off a ship for six months with one magical sail, you would save yourself 4,200sc. (300sc per day x 10% x 180 days = 5400 - 1200 for the sail = 4200). Now, I’m not suggesting that a +10% speed sail only costs 1200sc (I don’t know, but I am writing myself a note to figure it out), but if it did ...

Which leads to the big question: So what? Any time an enchantment can last long enough to save a significant amount of time and therefore cost, then the people will be using magic to enhance their business. Solar glass is an alchemical that when used in greenhouses allows them to soak up sunlight, even on cloudy or rainy days. That means you can now grow tropical plants anywhere you want to. Is that worth a couple of thousand silver coins assuming it lasts 5-10 years? Yep!

OK - How do I justify magical weapons and armor? I actually ran through the math on this. Assume that you are actually paying a soldier during his training. Two years at 10sc p/ day, let’s just call it 8,000sc. Then add his equipment: spear, shield, chain mail. That is a pretty big investment. Assuming an officer has five years of experience, that investment is too much to risk. Now what keeps him alive best? The main combat enchantments in LQ are animated attack (increases your “to hit”), animated parry (decreases his “to hit”), and sharpness (decreases his armor protection, which effectively increases damage). Animated parry is easier and cheaper to cast than the others, and it therefore fairly dramatically reduces the enemy’s chance of scoring hits and thus lowers overall damage. My factory enchanters are not the greatest, but they can churn out a +20% parry shield for about 1,200sc. Risking 1,200 to protect ~18,000 - that’s a good bet. It is especially important if you know the history of the Latvich military and know that they got their keisters kicked at Rhum because the Rhoric snipers kept picking off their officers. Keeping those officers alive is a vital part of the new Latvich army.

So how much magic is there? There is as much magic as makes sense economically. For those cities that have enchantment factories, every officer will have some manner of magical item. Nearly every elven soldier has at least half a healing potion. Plantation owners make use of rain makers.

An extra point though: Golems can cost 12,000sc. Now a 12K golem is a fearsome fighting machine, but is it worth 25-30 mercenary soldiers (assuming it would last about a month in battle)? No. It just isn’t. So very few rulers have an army of golems hidden away. OK, a couple do, but these are the guys who have enchanters who are legitimately bored. The cost-benefit often shows that it is better/cheaper to just use more people.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Hired at the Bar

Imagine the paradigm - the employer goes to the tavern and hires some “heroes”, guys in a bar happy to risk their lives for money. Who do you get doing that? You get crap, people who cannot be trusted. Typically these are at best inexperienced folks, guys who would be just as likely to steal the prize or sell the employer’s secrets.
What do we do in real life? We do interviews with references and/or make use of recruiters who are expected to know the candidates. Using a recruiter makes a whole lot of sense. It makes a lot more sense to have an experienced warrior go out and form a team for you. He will know other warriors and may know other adventuring types as well. Far better to let him make the decisions. While he may not know them personally, he will have a much better chance of at least gauging their abilities.
In my campaigns, we've used recruiting posters and guilds, but for the best results, use a recruiter. In a recent campaign by one of our younger game masters, everyone in the party was a skilled missile user, but the bad guys were goblins living in a twisty cavern system. There was no hope of using missiles. A recruiter would have done a better job of putting a team together.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Aldar Cartel Wars

I mentioned the aldar recently, and I wanted to expand on them by discussing a recent cartel war. Two of the cartels near the top went to war. Why? Well, mainly for the prestige. The Slarmann cartel (mainly drugs and alchemicals) wanted to enhance their fame, so they took on the Ruedar (mainly gems and precious metals). The Ruedar are an old and established cartel and as such were considered to be more powerful than the upstart Slarmann, which ticked off the Slarmann who felt they were vastly more powerful. Let’s be real, the Slarmann also planned to raid Ruedar caravans and vaults, taking the easily carried gems.

So the Slarmann arranged for some ambushes and surprise attacks. Two things they did not count on: 1) The Ruedar were not going to simply roll over and admit defeat. On some levels it seems incredibly foolish that the Slarmann so greatly underestimated their foes, but that stuff happens in war. 2) They expected to confiscate the gems and precious metals the cartel had squirreled away, but the Ruedar, seeing this as a legitimate threat to their existence, immediately began using that treasure to hire mercenaries.

The war waged for about three years. Entire towns were wiped out in military actions and assassinations happened nearly everywhere. Most famously, a Slarmann assassin was magically made younger, until at the age of 9 they knew he would not be considered a threat. He went to a Ruedar region and entered a shop right behind a Ruedar partner. Quickly downing potions for supernatural strength and speed, he struck the partner with a poisoned dagger. He also killed the partner’s 11yo son before utilizing an invisibility potion to flee. The fact that he was caught at a checkpoint before leaving the city and was tortured to death never became news, only that the Slarmann were so evil (or efficient) that they were able to trick and kill an important partner or the cartel.

Eventually, the Ruedar paid some double agents, mercenaries working for the Slarmann who were happy to sell out for more money. The double agents caused such an enormous battle within the Slarmann HQ in the aldar capital, that other cartels judged it “too dangerous to allow it to continue” and allowed their own battle mages to level the structure. Everyone blames the #1 cartel for eliminating the Slarmann (likely for being so ambitious as to seek to rival them), but in any case, the Slarmann are all but wiped out, and the Ruedar are seriously hurt.

So what are the ramifications? Well, some truly glorious gems were sold by the cartel to fund their defenses. They didn't really flood the market with any gemstones in particular, but here are now some world class stones available that had been hidden away for decades. The Slarmann are a shadow of their former selves, so drug dealers around the world are now seeking to fill the void. This of course is causing all manner of drug cartel wars, and the price of drugs has risen around the world, while quality (and safety) have fallen. A good number of mercenaries have been killed, no matter which side they worked for.

So the Ruedar won, right? No. They survived. The winners were Filecylen, the top rated cartel. They deal in enchantments, especially magical weapons (their name means “weapons of power”), and they sold to both sides during the conflict, making great profits. Two of the top cartels are now in ruins, so there is only one cartel powerful enough to rival them (Viemves the slaver cartel). With a result like this, you might wonder if Filecylen actually instigated the war. Hmmm

Saturday, January 11, 2014


Legend Quest and Fletnern have the aldar. Though called dark elves (because they live underground), they are albino. They believe only in profits, so while they don’t consider themselves evil the ends will always justify the means - as long as the ends include profits. They hate the sun, so they need tunnels through which they can move their trade goods. So what do they do? They have firms whose job it is to tunnel through the continent. They prefer to use natural tunnels whenever possible, including widening the natural ones into trade routes. (We wanted to call them highways, but they are below ground, so ...) They send out scouts and spotters who find some good ways, and then they bring in the construction teams.

Standard (that’s a bad word, let’s say average) is 12’ wide with an arched ceiling with stone, support arches. The aldar employ slave diggers, mostly dwarves, trolls, and goblins, because those elven style arms just are not built for labor. Typically the engineers are aldar or dwarven, but they make use of mages and elementalists whenever possible to speed the work along. These tunnels travel hundreds of miles beneath the surface; these are major engineering feats. Currently they are connecting Forsbury to the rest of the network in order to make use of the surface trading giant.

This may seem useless, but think about it. First, underground there are no bandits - they control all access to the tunnels. Second, more often than not they go in reasonably straight lines. They don’t have to go around mountains or hills, though they will go deeper to get under water features. Lastly, since they built the tunnels, they are able to set the rest stops where they want them. They need to be built anyway, so they build them at exactly the right intervals. End result - these guys can move product faster than anyone else, safer than anyone else, and thus cheaper than anyone else. Do they lower their prices? Of course not! They just increase their profits.

For those of you gold farmers out there who only care about enhancing your damage numbers (though none of you are still reading this), you do care about this. You care because the aldar cartels make HUGE profits. Huge profits need to be protected. Huge profits cause rival cartels to go to war, and wars require mercenaries, highly paid mercenaries.

Monday, January 6, 2014


It’s that time of year where we start thinking about calendars. For my campaigns, there are two types of calendars: the time line that tells you how many days are between adventures and the weekly one that tells you what is going on around town. I think you guys understand the point of the time line, so let’s look at the weekly calendar.
Spoiler Alert - If you are a gold farmer who neither knows nor cares what happens outside of combat, please do not waste your time in reading this. This is a posting for people who play role-playing games. OK - Back to the post.
Rather than explain it, I’d prefer to just give two examples - examples actively in use in my campaigns. Weeks on Fletnern are 10 days long, and each day is named for a major god. Braday, Skiday, Marday, Manday, Flinday, Shaday, Caday, Treday, Enday, Laeday.

Scaret: This campaign revolves around the activities the party is doing on behalf of the priests of Marina, goddess of the seas. They are living in a very working class neighborhood - lots of fishermen and boatwrights.
Braday: Considered a day for family and sometimes religious services
Marday: Party expected to participate in religious services
Caday: Murryll’s bar holds team dart competitions
Laeday: Lanny’s tavern always has music

Forsbury: This is a far more established campaign where the remaining player characters are firmly entrenched in the politics and economics of the city. Therefore they get out a lot more.
Braday: Highest religious day - most businesses are closed and most of the people go to church services.
Skiday: Story Tellers at Quint’s Night Club (bardic competition)
Marday: Burlesque Night at Quint’s Night Club
Manday: Amateur night at the coliseum.
Treday: Illusions at Quint’s (entertaining illusions cast by expert mages).
Enday: Circus at the coliseum (family oriented)
Laeday: Market Day - The farmers and other ag based folks come into the city to sell their wares. Many employees only work a half day and then head over to the markets, because today is also pay day for the week. Live bands at Quint’s. Professional Gladiators at the coliseum (Fight Night).

So you can see, the idea is not to schedule out everything that happens every single day, but instead to have things ready. Oh, it’s Caday, they’re having the darts at Murryll’s tonight. or Wait, you can’t go drinking tonight - It’s Braday and only the cheesiest bars are open. These are the things that help to make a world seem real to the characters (and their players obviously).
It does affect the gold farmers too, even though they will likely refuse to believe it. Pick pockets need to know when pay day is. Politicians need to know when the people will be gathered in their temples in large groups. Traveling minstrels need to know which places are looking for entertainment on which nights. There is money to be made knowing what night of the week it is.

Sunday, January 5, 2014


I think every adventurer expects looting. Looting is how adventurers make their money. And yet in modern times, looting is considered dishonorable. So I’m always torn. Is looting moral or immoral?

First, I will insist that it depends on the culture. So everything said here is perception - there is no reality! Having given my disclaimer, I know several men, each of whom I respect wholeheartedly, who happened to come home from WWII with things that he didn’t exactly have issued to him. There may be a katana (modern infantry officer’s weapon, not some ancient work of art) I know of, and a gorgeous SS Officer’s luger. (Of course these were from different men.) So were these guys in the wrong? Definitely if you read the modern codes of conduct. It may be decades of playing FRPGs, but I think there is a line of morality. Taking something off a dead foe is one thing; taking something from a scared civilian family is another. Further - trading with a conquered foe is really OK, even if he’s selling his equipment in order to buy food.

Was it always morally questionable? Absolutely not! Caesar intentionally hit targets rich in loot in order to keep his troops happy (and prosperous). Not only did they loot the valuables that they came upon, they tied up the people and sold them to the slavers. The taking of slaves is one of the biggest forms of loot, and yet something I haven’t seen anyone do in any style of modern game. I guess it’s just too politically incorrect to even think of enslaving someone for profit - but again, I think you need to consider the culture.

One of the biggest questions I have, and I don’t really know the answer, is what you do to make sure the officers or nobles get their cut. I think they just get to wander the camp and anything big enough to catch their attention becomes theirs. There are probably noble houses or palaces that are off limits to the rank and file and only get to be looted by the bosses, who then give the things they don’t want to the soldiers who helped them loot the really good stuff. After all, if the noble officer takes a marble statue and a golden statuette, he would probably be willing to give his brute squad the solid silverware, which is probably much better than the rank and file got.

Does it matter? I think as a world builder, you need to establish what is considered acceptable behavior. Is it OK to loot civilians? Is it OK to capture and sell slaves? Is it OK to loot temples? That one got a lot of folks in trouble in the ancient world. Once you determine what is allowed, you have to establish the buyers for this stuff. If looting is not allowed, then there would still be a black market. This won’t get the looters anywhere near as much as they have gotten, but it’s still probably worthwhile. You also have to think it through. If looting of enemies is not allowed - what happens to all their stuff? Are they buried in it? Does the “army” take it? and if so, what do they do with it? Leave it in the field, and there will be looters, maybe the dregs of society, but someone is going to be willing to try and make a buck off of it. Ah, the unintended consequences of laws trying to mandate morality!