Sunday, June 29, 2014

Monuments - The really big ones!

What do you think of when you think of France? Most people think of the Eiffel Tower. China? The Great Wall? Italy? Maybe the Leaning Tower or the Coliseum? Do your countries or cities have these well-known monuments? Should they?

Newer civilizations, struggling to feed themselves do not build monuments. It is only the successful, more mature cultures that can produce these things. But once you get a king who isn’t all that worried about where his next meal is coming from, he’s going to start thinking about his legacy. Think pyramids!

These monuments aren’t just important because they’re cool - They are cool! They form a sort of collective consciousness about them. The people of the city/land see them as proof of their greatness and the foreigners see them as a recognizable “mascot”. Once you determine them, they start to create their own life. What’s on the coins of the country? Probably the huge monument. Where do the politicians go to give their big speeches? What do the potters craft to sell to the tourists? Think about the kings of old - What would they have wanted? Think about the religions - What would they have crafted? This is high fantasy - Maybe the gods or the mages or some other race put the thing there.

A New World for a New Campaign

Just guessing, but some of you out there might be thinking of starting a new campaign and are thinking that you want to build a new campaign world for it. But going to all that trouble for one campaign isn’t the idea - This is going to be a world you can continue to use. But you’re creating a new world, so there must be something wrong with the old one (assuming you have an old one). Is it that the players know too much? That can be the end of a campaign world!

So here’s the plan: You’re going to write a campaign (OK at this point you’re going to outline a campaign) where the party will eventually do something that will lead to a major change in the world. They may defeat an evil empire that is currently controlling the continent or return a princess to her father’s throne or find a lost city that returns to its former glory - something literally world changing. This might be the reason for the new campaign world in the first place - you didn’t want to mess up the current one.

OK - so you do all the smart world building things. You start small and keep expanding. You figure out one city and surrounding region and as the campaign grows in complexity, you keep developing more and more regions as they are needed. You introduce the main goal early on, but without the party knowing that it is the main goal. For instance, they start working against the evil empire, never dreaming that they will eventually work to topple it. The campaign grows and the party gets powerful and eventually they destroy the evil empire and all the lands are free.

Great - time to start the next campaign. Leave that one finished as they have certainly gone out with a bang, and they served the purpose. All those adventures allowed you to build the world as you went, taking digestible sized bites as things progressed. But the new campaign has two new players in it, and you don’t want the established players having more understanding that the first campaign carry forwards. It’s simple! The second campaign starts in the same world, but 50 years in the future.

50 years in the future, just about everyone from the first campaign would now be dead (unless they had some magical youth stuff). The evil empire is gone, so the politics and even the borders have changed. Everything has changed! As GM, you still have the same maps, the same cultures (slightly altered), the same races and monsters dwelling in generally the same places. But to the characters, everything is different. The shops are all changed around, the people are different. While it may be the same noble families, there are different people. The change that the first campaign accomplished is remembered, probably with a holiday, but probably not remembered the way the players remember it. That will be part of the fun - Changing things. History may be written by the victors, but it’s always written with a bias. Wouldn’t it be great if one of the original party’s enemies or rivals turned out to be the writer of the main history book? Anyway, things are different now, and the party has the fun of learning everything over again.

In some ways, this is how Fletnern began, but in our world, it was because the first campaign failed at what they were supposed to do. It’s less that they failed and more that the group who was playing broke apart and was replaced by a different group, with very few hold overs. To prevent the first group’s failures from affecting the new group of players, I walked the world forward 25 years. But 25 is a tough number, because some of those people are still alive, and it’s difficult to balance the same NPCs 25 years later. 50 works better! Give it a try.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Multiple Bad Guys - Follow Up (world building)

Between writing the draft of this post and finalizing it, I heard a political argument about the USA and the American Indians. (If you are offended by my use of the term Indian, please stop reading - I’m just getting started in offending you.) This plays completely into my points about: “There is no level of civilization that does not have some group claiming to own what is currently someone else’s due to an ancient grievance.”

I think the points are very important to GMs who are trying to build a world with some history. While many people spend an awful lot of time reminding us how horrible we were to the Indians (and we were), they imply that the Indians were peaceful folks living the idyllic lives of the noble savage. Yeah - not so much. The second the Iroquois League settled their internal issues, they invaded the Ohio River Valley. So if we were to return the lands we “stole” (here thinking Kentucky and Tennessee) who would we return them to? The Iroquois? The Algonquian? Even in the New World, so many different groups and cultures have possessed the same piece of land over time that the question of ownership can only be seen in the modern sense. After all, 200-500 years from now, who knows who will inhabit Tennessee?

I feel the same way about global warming. What are they (not “we”) trying to return to? What’s “normal”? The Medieval Warm Period? The Little Ice Age? These seem wrong since we’re describing them as being outside the norm, but what point in time is the right climate for the world, since it has been changing constantly since the Earth formed. With no baseline, there can be no goal.

OK - This may seem to have gone completely off topic, but it isn’t. The topic really is: Just because you know how your world looks now, do you know what it looked like “before”. Have different tribes or races fought over and conquered the same piece of land countless times? If so, why were they fighting to gain it? Has the climate changed and if so, what did it use to look like? Any land bridges formed allowing colonization? I normally have only used rivers drying up or changing course due to earthquakes, but that’s because Fletnern didn’t really have Ice Ages like Earth did.

What have you done? Where are the ruins of ancient civilizations, either great ones or small ones? What caused their ruin? It could be something as simple as a famine or as complicated as the overthrow of an empire by its vassals. Did the glaciers leave boulders all over the valley or is that the result of a war between giants? There are things that ancient cultures leave behind them, especially in high fantasy settings. A burial site might contain ancient bones and a few stone tools, or it might contain an ancient spirit of evil just waiting to be freed.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

GM Evil Tricks - Multiple Bad Guys

Maybe you’re the type who thinks that GMs don’t need to be evil. You’re probably in the minority. Most folks (players and GMs) assume that the guy or gal running the mission is evil - to the core. Some of us even like being thought of in that way.

So here’s a trick you can use to be more evil: Multiple Bad Guys

Here’s how it works: So the party is hired by the local merchant cartel to clear the bandits or orcs out of their mine. Seems the bandits attacked the mine and are now living there, with all the gold ore that the miners had dug out. Kind of standard, right? So they go out there and take care of those ruffians, right? Not so fast. Maybe as they approach the mine, there is a major battle between the bandits and the party. Seems like the bandits weren’t living in the mine, but in a camp just outside of it. But wait, there’s more. Inside the mine is a clan of dwarves who claim that the mine was always theirs and the humans were messing around in their ancestral home. They chased the bandits out, but the bandits had them in a state of siege. Nope, more to come. There is also a band of adventurers from a rival merchant cartel who have been tasked with getting as much ore and gold out of the mine as they can over the next three days, theoretically before the party gets here. It’s just that the party got here a little too quick and now the two adventuring parties are going to clash. You show up thinking you’re up against bandits, and find out you are fighting three separate groups.

This example is simplistic and unimportant. The thing you need to consider is throwing more at your players then you told them to expect. The local military/police is always a good one, because there are consequences to killing them. Anything worth hiring someone to retrieve is worth some bandit group trying to steal it first or from the party. There is no level of civilization that does not have some group claiming to own what is currently someone else’s due to an ancient grievance. There just are bad folks in the world who like to take what they can (and these are often called adventurers). Easy is boring!

There is another twist to this! What happens if the party learns that the local military, the local bandits, and their known enemy are all after the same thing? Can they team up? As a GM you should be ready for this, maybe even making it too difficult for them to succeed if they don’t. What happens then? Split the spoils or fight your recent ally. This is where it really starts to get fun!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Enslaving Refugees

In so many ways I try to get my game world to be similar to our own Earth, but I always find it funny when Earth mirrors Fletnern. A few game years back, there was a massive earthquake in the Detheb region. (Dethebs are generally like the Indian cultures, though the region no longer gets its monsoon rains and never had the same wildlife as the Indian subcontinent.) So what to do when the earthquakes collapse the deep wells that the communities rely on so desperately? Well, many of them fled the region - refugees looking for work and food anywhere. Others believed the centaur pirates and paid them to smuggle their families away to the other continent in order that they would be able to live in a region of ample water and bountiful crops. Yep - They paid known pirates expecting that the pirates would take care of them. The centaurs immediately enslaved every “passenger” they had, and sold them wherever they could find buyers. The influx of new slaves was so massive that it tanked the slave markets across the world.

So what do we see going on at the US’s southern border? Parents are giving their children to drug cartels and smugglers expecting that they will take care of the children and deposit them on the other side of the border for the US officials to raise. Shocking then that many of the children have been murdered or diverted into brothels and sweat shops. Those that do make it to the “camps” find them lawless and riddled with disease. Honestly, it is far worse than even I imagined, and I’m constantly being reviewed as being “too gritty”.

This just goes to other comments I have made - I am far too logical to write a world that resembles reality. Seriously - parents giving their children to known criminals expecting good things to happen. And I thought Americans were going insane. Even the Dethebs at least went with their children; granted the whole family is now in the mess, but I thought that was more believable.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Not All Orcs are Created Equal

I was reading a forum for players of another company’s game. The forum participants all seemed to be complaining that the “new creatures” were simply the old creatures with a different skin color and a few more hits to kill. In case you don’t play Legend Quest - any and every character in Legend Quest can be scaled to be a threat to the player characters/adventurers. Instead of “levels” and “classes”, character creation is on a point system, so you can easily generate an experienced orc who could be equal to an experienced adventurer.

But I hate when we think that it is only how many points to kill a creature that make the creature tough. Some obviously think it is the magical items or whatever other means of adding “pluses”. RPGs are bookended by war games and card games, both of which require strategy. Can’t we bring more of that into our games?

We published a book called A Bakers’ Dozen Tribes and another called An Army’s Arms: Thunder Doom. Tribes is a book devoted to giving ideas of different humanoid (orcs or whatever) tribes. By knowing more about the different tribes, a game master can choose different levels of sophistication to give his players different experiences with the same critters. AAA is a far more detailed look at the Thunder Doom tribe, one of Fletnern’s more elite orcish tribes. They failed in their coup attempt and are now racing across the Southern Plains, dodging patrols and trying to rebuild their power base.
No, this is not just a commercial for our products, but I wanted to show that not everyone treats “orcs” the same way. To be honest, is there a huge difference between kobolds, goblins, orcs, and the rest of them? Probably not. Not even if you include humans, halflings, dwarves and elves. That’s the way we see it. Sure, the stats are a little different, but it is the culture, the tech (both industrial and magic), and the strategy that make the difference.

OK - a decent analogy: You know that not all American Indians are the same, right? The swamp dwellers in Florida were different from the Plains Indians in the middle who were different from the northwestern totem pole makers who are still different than the mud hut Mexican ones. Teepees, long houses, mud cities, caves, etc. Different homes, different ways of living, different cultures. Your humanoid tribes need to be the same. OK, I just said that they need to be the same in that they need to be different, but I hope you’re still with me.

Fletnern has orcish tribes that live in the arctic - they are seal hunters and igloo builders. We have tribes that live in the swamps, where their best weapon is the swamp itself (quicksand can be far more deadly than a poorly made bow). Some tribes live in the mountains. These goat hunters are skilled in using the cover of terrain to rain arrows down on invaders or even rock slides as defenses. The main groups that live in the hills and mountains are more familiar in their tactics (similar to humans that live in the hills), but even here, you find differences. Some use dogs, some use dragons, some ride steeds, some rely on stealth, while others blitz. There are an enormous amount of tactics that can be used. Not every orc is created the same - They don’t all need to be the same.

If you game doesn’t allow for you to use some real tactics for your humanoids, you need to find a new game. And if all of your orcs are completely predictable, you need to change your style of game mastering.

Check out the new website

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You can also learn about our FREE world: The World of Fletnern. This world is free to use (non-commercially). Even if you don't have your campaigns live in our world, we're sure you'll see things that will spark you into developing some cool new stuff for your own!

There is also a fan site set up at Board Enterprises Wiki. We're encouraging the author and hope he will continue to keep adding and updating as he goes. He may be willing to get some help too!

As always - If you see a mistake, like a broken link or something, please let us know. A few years back we had a broken link that someone brought to our attention, and there were several comments like, "That's been busted for six months". Don't endure these things! Tell us and we'll fix them!! Please!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

What’s New in Town?

So the last post was about “walking news” stories and how they can be fun. I think I need to explain something: I think, and I hope you do too, that high experience adventurers should not be hired in bars by random quest givers. Yes - Starter characters respond to wanted posters and rumors around town in order to get hired in bars, but letting established characters do the same is just lazy story telling.

Once characters get into the higher echelons in one of my campaigns, I often make them work to get new missions. Sure - Many of their missions come from established contacts that they have made through other adventures. But sometimes, they need to find something to do themselves. That’s where the news stories come into play. By hanging out in bars and talking to the people they know around the city, things come up. One of my favorite things to do is to have them hear of multiple adventure ideas and have them pick between which one they want to do. This works best if I have a couple of ideas and 10-15 minutes at the end of a night’s gaming session. We can sort of role-play the characters learning the ideas and determining which direction to take.

I am not a masochist! I do not write up multiple adventures knowing that some of them will be ignored. Sometimes it is simply a decision of which one to do first, since the reason for going on the mission will not necessarily expire before they finish the other. Sometimes (when I’m particularly clever), both missions are based on the same actual mission, but they don’t know that until they get into it. For example - If their favorite bartender begs them to rescue his niece who was captured by slavers and their buddy the game warden begs them for help because someone is killing all the game in his region of the forest, maybe it is the slavers who are killing the game (to feed the slaves). Thus, whichever way they go at the problem, they are fighting the same group of bad guys. I have never had anyone complain that they felt railroaded into those missions, even though on the surface it seems like a manipulation. With a touch of role-playing, they feel like the world is an active place where one set of bad guys can piss off more than one contact. It might be the fact that they typically collect two rewards for the same mission that helps too.

Because I force my players to “find their own missions” news stories in my campaigns are very important. Truth be told, when I give clues about upcoming adventures in the news stories during this week’s game, the players rarely pick up on the fact, until they are at the end of the foretold mission and say - Oh, yeah, remember, he told us this was going on, but we weren’t paying attention. You can’t win them all!

Walking News

No, this is not a Walking Dead pun.

A “walking news story” is one that develops over time, though often a short amount of time. For instance - Your party will be in their home town for three weeks between missions, and they like to keep in touch with contacts, suppliers and bartenders. So the first story is something like: Hey, Did you hear? Bob Smith found a chest of gold coins just sitting on the side of the road. Keeps talking about money from heaven. Couldn’t happen to a worse guy. That’s all anyone knows on day 1.
Day 2 - Now people are hearing that Bob Smith actually claims the money fell out of the sky. Rumors start flying that he must have robbed someone. Bob can be found in the casinos spending his money like the idiot he is, maybe even buying the players a drink.
Day 3 - The merchants in town don’t have all the details, but they are hearing that one of their own lost a wagon that had a chest of gold coins on it, and boy are they mad. Doesn’t take a genius to put two and two together and blame Bob.
Day 5 - Bob has been murdered.

OK - So you might ask - who cares? That all depends on what you want the outcome to be. Here’s the real story: A tornado hit the wagon with the chest. Everything (chest included) got thrown around over a mile of terrain. Bob was hiding in a gully, waiting for the storm to pass (he did not fully realize it was a tornado, just a bad storm). He prayed to the goddess of luck to save him, and then the chest fell out of the sky. He of course gambled it away. But the true owners of the gold wanted it back, so they sent their guys to go kill Bob, recover the money, and make it look like some regular thieves took it from Bob because he was too open about his luck. They’re still pissed because they got less than half of it back.

Again, does anyone care? Well, this could just be a good story, something for the bar flies to talk about over drinks. But what if they want to get involved? What if your players decide to rob Bob? Well, now the merchant is looking for them, and this guy has the long fingers of the vastly wealthy. What if it wasn’t chance, and the goddess of luck intended to reward Bob for his prayer? Is she going to send some divine retribution at the merchant for thwarting her plans or was she giving Bob the money knowing he would gamble it away at one of her casino temples? What if the merchant hires the players to get the gold back? What if the city hires the players to collect the bounty on the murderers? What if the players go out and realize that there was a tornado? I assume the merchant knows Bob didn’t rob them, just profited from a freak storm, but he doesn’t really care. What if the tornado wasn’t a tornado but a battle between a major air spirit and a major water spirit? Could this be a prelude to something bigger and more important? Could there be an injured water spirit out there who might reward those who help him (maybe in capturing the tornado spirit)? But again, maybe they just talk about it in the bar, and nothing changes. Then again, this is high fantasy and the most mundane things like what seems to be a robbery might just be a war amongst the elements.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Home Field Advantage - Pre-Printed Maps

Pre-printed maps can be a godsend to us overly busy game masters, but how good are they? Too often, if you are using a pre-printed map over and over again, the players start getting use to them. The more strategic minded guys quickly find that one spot on the map that favors their style. Archers find an elevated perch where they don’t have blocking terrain. Tanks find the narrows where they can defend the squishees.

But how bad is this? Well, if you use the same map over and over again (and I have to admit we did back in the days we played BattleTech), the veterans have such an incredible home field advantage, that the new folks just don’t stand a chance. I don’t like that! I know it’s more work, but here in my old age, I won’t use pre-printed maps anymore. I just don’t see it as appropriate. Once or twice? OK. A dozen times? no!

Admittedly, this affects the true combat games vastly more than the role-playing style games, but it holds true in either. Once you figure out that anyone coming around that one corner is within your range, and you wait for them, you’ve cheated. Now if the map you’re using happens to be the character’s home (castle or other place to defend), then you should probably let them study it in order to give them that home field advantage, but that isn’t the most common occurrence, and we all know it.

Board Enterprises doesn’t publish these products, mainly because other companies have more artists then we do. I’m not trying to ruin their business, but I think you’d do better using a random map generator than using the same one over and over again. Random is just as easy on the GM, and doesn’t give anyone an advantage.

Saints or the divinely “touched”

In many fantasy games, there are all sorts of people who can reach out to the gods and might even have their prayers answered. These folks are often priests or witch doctors or shamans, or whatever. But they aren’t necessarily “saints”, at least not in my view.

Let’s forget for a moment what the modern Catholic churches say about sainthood. That style of posthumous miracle works for saints too, but we’re thinking more along the lines of miracles by the living. What differentiates a saint from a priest with holy spells? It is who initiates the contact. A priest or priestess reaches out to the divine in search of something. They contact the god, and yes, many times get something in return.

The difference is that the god (or minion or angel or whatever) contacts the saint. The divine reaches out to the mortal. Now these aren’t always happy events. I like thinking of Jonah (where God had a whale swallow him because he wouldn’t travel to where he was supposed to go) and Moses (who wandered around in the desert for four decades while God waited for the jerks amongst them to die) as examples of how a saint’s life isn’t always wine and roses. Yes, it is likely true that the definition I am using here is more like an Old Testament prophet and less like a saint, but I think we’re starting to argue semantics.

Why do saints matter? Well, in my games, praying to the gods (like in the heat of battle) doesn’t do you any good unless there is a divine being already focused on what you are doing. Gods do not answer emergency calls. Now if they assigned an angel or demon to watch over a battle and one of the generals calls out for help, that angel or demon might be able to grant some manner of benefit. The idea is that if the god reaches out to the saint and then the saint goes off to do as the god instructed, then the god is watching - now someone is likely to answer an emergency call. See, even you gold farmers can see the benefit of having an angel sitting on your shoulder, right?

From a more role-playing perspective - saints are proof that the gods are real. They have experienced the divine in a very personal way and can report on what happened. Since the gods are real and have reached out to the saints, those places where the saints “did their thing” become places of shrines and pilgrimages. As Chaucer taught us, the pilgrimage isn’t always the most important thing. Sometimes the interaction of the people on the pilgrimage is far more important. I just needed reasons to send people on those pilgrimages.

Silver Anniversary Approaching

The 25th anniversary of Legend Quest (and therefore Board Enterprises) is coming up - August of 2016. Seems pretty far away, doesn’t it? Yeah, not so much. The reason it feels closer is that we’ve been thinking through various different ways to celebrate the event. The one that is currently leading the pack is to produce and publish an omnibus edition of the Legend Quest rules. Right now it would be a rule book containing all the information from the Legend Quest rule book (Gold edition), plus Book of Wishes and LQ-Optional Weaponry. While this seems no better than the current Rule Bundle we have available, the books would be edited together, so all the information was sorted in the right order, and you wouldn’t have to flip between books or files to get all the information.

Let me sweeten the pot - It was also to contain notes from the game designer and playtesters, giving strategy advice as well as explaining some of the rules that haven’t been as obvious as we thought they were. So basically, everything, plus a lot of advice.

Right now, what I would love is if someone could email me at and give me some advice on how to use Kickstarter or one of the similar online systems to try and generate some additional funds through pre-sales. We’ve never done anything like that before and would appreciate any advice those who have the experience are willing to offer. I am not yet sure if this is the right way to go, but I think it would be a good social experiment. Plus - If we were to get near some stretch goals, there are a lot of optional rules, additional monster info, and character creation bits that we could throw in to reward those pre-ordering, in addition to getting it two months early.