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.