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!