Sunday, December 27, 2015

Silver Mines = Silver Coins (and that’s a good thing)

I actually read a lot about ancient economies, especially during the medieval era. Yeah, I’m a geek, but you’re a role player, so can you throw stones? Anyway, one of my favorite books on the subject mentioned something that has had an impact on me for some time now: It was important where they mined the silver they used to make coins.

OK, this seems logical and all, but it is actually a lot more important than you might think. Just as happens today, the “world’s currency” (today considered to be the US Dollar) gets to have a far bigger impact on the value of things than the other guy’s get to. What does this mean in your game world? Well, if most of the world’s silver is coming from one region and most folks use silver to make coins, then what the silver miners think something is worth is most likely what it’s worth, even if the iron miners think differently. Why? Well, because people have to trade with the silver miners in order to get their silver. Oh, you can trade your stuff to the iron miners to get silver from them, but that’s adding middle men and is never going to be your best deal. The same holds true if gold is your main currency - the gold miners hold huge influence.

So what? Assuming you don’t just trust your FRPG rule book to tell you what things are worth in your world (and OMG please don’t), then it matters that the silver miners prefer caraway and cinnamon to mace and cayenne pepper. It matters if they think that rubies are better than sapphires, even though chemically they’re practically the same thing. It matters far less if there are silver mines in every country of your world, because then their influence is distributed.

I have another point to make, but I want to avoid getting too deep into monetary policy: The amount of “money” in the world can be measured in many different ways. Modern countries do not agree on what constitutes money, even when each of them has 5+ measurements. Because of that, it is really tough to say this, but ... Only about 10% of the “money” in the US is actually currency as you would see it. How? OK, let’s take a fantasy example: Ben the merchant gives Alan the store owner sixteen bolts of wool cloth. In exchange, Alan gives him a “check” that Ben can cash back in the capital when he sees Alan’s cousin Dean. (Dean will give Ben coins for the check.) While Ben is traveling to the capital, he thinks he has 100 gold coins, because he has the check. Meanwhile, Dean thinks he has 100 gold coins, because he hasn’t made good on the check. Did Alan create 100 gold coins? Of course not, but now the world thinks it is 100 gold coins wealthier than it was before he wrote that check.

Again, so what? While I cannot believe that a fantasy era society would have 90% of its “money” wrapped up in deposits and other “digital” era creations, there still are questions that you might want to answer. Are there banks that lend money to people so they can buy homes, and did those banks get that money by taking deposits from other people? How much does it cost to borrow and how much does it pay to invest/deposit? Or, do the nobles hold all power of loaning money like this because they are the only ones with the money to lend? In Rhum (Fletnern), it is illegal to use the money given to you for safekeeping (on deposit), so they will never have a bank failure, but very few people can afford to buy homes (everybody rents). You may not care about a lot of this stuff, but it does have an impact. Let me give you some mission ideas:

A bank holds the deposits of all the members of the _____ guild and invests them by lending to merchants who trade via ocean going ships. What happens when a ship is taken by pirates? A huge amount of the guild’s money (people’s nest eggs) has just been stolen and the bank is not going to get it back without help from some adventurers. Seems like a “normal” retrieve loot adventure, right? Well, the bank doesn’t want anyone to know what happened, so it has to be kept quiet. Plus, the bank is going to lie to the adventurers and overstate the cargo of the ship hoping that they manage to bring back the ship and more of the pirate’s loot than the ship originally had. If the party does, who gets that profit? Should the party? the bank? the depositors? the original owners? It can get complicated! If the ship sank, are there sea laws as to who owns the cargo while it is on the bottom of the ocean? Today these laws can get pretty sticky, and the local “king” may think the cargo is his. (or the merman king might think it’s his.)

What if Ben gives Alan’s check to the party as payment for something? They go to the capital only to find out that Dean doesn’t have a brother named Alan and refuses to honor the check. Maybe they’re brothers and maybe they’re not. Maybe Ben is the thief or maybe Alan is, or perhaps Dean. The party wants their money but may have to do some serious investigating to figure out who it is that is cheating them. Then they can kill everyone in the house, because we know that’s what adventurers do, right?

Keep thinking about how this can affect your game world. We’re talking about a lot of money here, and a lot of money means a lot of opportunity for paying adventurers.

Monday, December 21, 2015

High Fantasy - Invisible Allies

The easiest way to give a character in a FRPG more power is to give them more allies. Since these are high fantasy games we’re talking about, how about giving them an invisible ally? I am not talking about an invisible assassin who sits in the corner with a cross bow, I am talking about supernatural allies.

Is the character a necromancer or in some other way in league with the dead? Would some manner of ghost or haunt stay nearby? Religious? whether a priest or not, those who benefit the gods are likely to have a minor angel or demon hovering around them at all times. Mages? Are there spirits of magic in your game? how about sprites or pixies? Hunters or other nature dwellers could have dogs or something more like a dryad.

Am I suggesting that you dramatically increase the ability of the character to fight battles? Oh my God NO!! If that is really how you took that, you’re probably in the wrong blog. What I am suggesting is that having unseen supernatural allies around serves a number of incredibly powerful purposes. For instance - The spirit of the dead or the magical spirit might be able to sense things like clairvoyance or other snooping spells. A dog, especially a supernatural one, would sniff out invisible assassins as they were moving in (even if the dog was useless in battle afterwards - still hugely valuable). Depending on the god or devil who sent the “minion” they could do just about anything, from warning of impending dangers to healing to casting some manner of defensive/protection spell. It seems perfectly reasonable for major landowner (Count or Duke) who encourages his people to worship a certain deity to have an angel who can cast a “summon armor” type spell on the nobleman, or a devil who can do the same. Of course the appearance of the armor would be dramatically different, but the effect would be the same.

A couple of examples in one of my campaigns: There is a warrior who has inadvertently done several missions for one of the major war gods. Because this warrior had never “declared” that they worshiped this god, he cannot wrap them in his full protections, but he did assign a messenger type angel to follow them around and report back what they do. (My gods are not all knowing; they need to have agents.) Not only does this angel spy and report, but it serves a guardian of sorts. Should any other god try to get their hooks into this warrior, the angel is there to warn them off. Eventually they did “declare” for this god, and a more powerful messenger showed up, as well as some rather serious “markings” of the war god’s “territory”.

One of the characters married the local baron. As Baroness, she gets involved in all sorts of issues in the city and region. One thing she did was suppress the racial bigotry against what is effectively the gypsies. Not only does she have a fortune teller (with real magic), but she has made a point of bringing guards into their neighborhood when there were people looking to terrorize them. In return, they gave her an incredibly artistic deck of cards. There’s no extra magic on it, other than the standard fortune telling magic (that the gypsy herself has), but only the baroness is allowed to handle the cards. The fortune tellers know that one of the spirits of fortune telling will detect the deck and latch onto it. The fortune telling spirits (in my campaign) can be incredibly vain, so only a powerful spirit will be able to claim this deck as its channel to the mortal realm. That pride will work in the Baroness’ favor as that spirit can then be manipulated using its pride to find out things that lesser spirits might not be able to learn, thus making the deck more powerful.

This is the kind of crazy stuff that needs to be in a high fantasy campaign. Can a fortune teller tell fortunes using tea leaves? Yes, but when you introduce a fancy ebony wood deck with gold and silver leaf and its own personal vain spirit, that’s when it is not only cool (from a role-playing POV) but also has some impact in the actual playing of the game. How often was the war angel useful? Never. Well, once - a priest of the same god wasn’t trusting the party, but he noticed that the angel was there, and immediately changed his tune. The players didn’t get it at the time, but that’s OK. I may rant against a certain author who is the darling of novels and HBO, but he has reminded us that supernatural things happen, and not everyone needs to understand them for them to still be both fun and memorable.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

World Building - Cultures that Don’t Work

I have come to realize that I’m not the only one who does this, so I thought I’d bring it up. In some ways, I see world building as a cathartic social commentary. What do I mean? Well, have you ever created a culture (current or historic) that follows some social policy that you believe is completely stupid? The point of your creation was to demonstrate what would happen if this social policy were used.

Let me give you an example (not mine!). There are folks out there who refer to themselves as anarcho-capitalists. They believe so strongly in the free market that they think that all governments should be abolished. They believe that the free market will encourage people to advance and everyone will thrive. One of our fans has two of these guys in his gaming group and set up a new campaign for when they all got back to school in the fall. A big part of the plan was that the core region follows these anarcho-capitalist principals and then to show how horrible everything becomes. (In my mind - the Lincoln County War is an example of what happens in a nearly complete anarcho-capitalist society. While I hate the levels that the current world governments have achieved in suppressing business, I do accept that a government preventing businesses from using force against its customers and competitors is a good thing.)

So what’s the point? The point is for you as the GM to let your imagination soar! Pick a region of your world that might be ignored at the moment, or perhaps more easily, pick an era. Build up a society that is/was using those principles that you believe to be foolish. You will need to determine if these people building this society are true believers or simply using this as a bullshit excuse for how/why they are taking over. Then think through what would happen as this society starts to run its course. Try to be fair, or if you feel that the issue is that this concept cannot survive a “jolt” (any emergency issue), then give them some run time before you jolt them.

But why? #1, because it can be cathartic. Honestly analyzing how this social principle will affect a culture can either prove your theories correct or give you some legitimate criticism of your criticism. #2, because it is cool. You have now just developed a region or era that you far better understand and would be able to GM if you had to. Also, because you will probably have wanted to consider the interactions between this society and its neighbors, you have probably deepened the history and lore of your game world, which is always a good thing.

For the non-role-players who don’t care about history or culture, crazy societies do crazy things. If they are sacrificing gold to the lake god, then the bottom of the lake is now covered in gold - you only have to slaughter the natives to get it. If they believe that mortal and demon interactions are fruitful, then they probably crafted a whole bunch of demon infused weapons. These weapons have a tendency to cause huge amounts of damage, but then corrupt the souls of those who use them. This means the gold farming player gets his massive damage weapon and the GM gets to teach him that the role-playing aspects of the game are important. There are always adventure sparks hidden in these histories you are creating!

Monday, December 7, 2015


Fletnern doesn’t have a lot of prophesies. To be honest, I typically only create them while I’m working on the mission that they will affect, and then I say that it’s a long lost prophesy that no one remembers. The main reason for this is that I want my players to feel, no actually to know, that their characters have the ability to impact the game world and make a difference. Those differences are not always good, but they are different.

Does a prophesy change that? Does it make it so that one result is going to happen no matter what the player characters do or influence? Well, probably. I think it depends on where the prophesies come from. Here are a couple of ideas.

Are prophesies just the gods bragging? For instance, if Marina, goddess of the seas, tells her priests that in the year that her constellation overwhelms the planet of blahblah, a new naval power will rise from the west, is she just letting them know that she has a plan in place and is expecting some favorite group of hers to rise to power by that time? I am really asking a separate question here, and it is what is the limit of the powers of the gods? We’ll get back to Marina in a second. In your game world, can the gods actually predict the future with great accuracy? Do they KNOW what the future holds? If so, then I think the world is now limited to what the gods expect will happen and it cannot be changed no matter what the mortals do. Hey, that may be what you want in your game world.

Back to Marina and her “prophesy” - I don’t think that the gods can actually predict the future, so Marina is just showing off. She’s saying, “I’m bringing a new power onto the seas and you better look out.” In this scenario, the player characters could thwart her plans. Oh, that would piss her off, but she doesn’t really have unlimited power that will make her prophesy come about. She can influence things and make miracles happen, but she cannot preordain who will be the most powerful navy in the world.

So without eliminating prophesies all together as too limiting, where can we use them? Well, the gods do like to brag, so that’s one case, but it isn’t actually a prophesy. I do think there can be prophesies like, “You will know the child is my avatar when the white wolf comes down from the mountain and kills the white deer in the kingdom of Oznarnia.” That’s a god telling you what they plan to do and how you will know they did it, as opposed to “On May 16, my avatar is going to kick your ass.” Not really sure how you’d know which child is the avatar, but isn’t that the fun part about prophesies? Leaving them open to misinterpretation is always fun. I do want to use this kind of prophesy, because it isn’t that different from my Marina example. The god is still sort of bragging, but also giving instructions. There can be a guarantee, “I will create a great flood” but it doesn’t say, “I will destroy this city with a great flood,” because someone might find a way to mitigate the effects of the flood. I hope you see the difference.

You might want to figure out how these prophesies come to the mortals too. Do the gods just send them in? Do the mortals go looking for them in smoke and incense? Were they written down so long ago that no one remembers, and if so, why? Why would a god tell you that 600 years from now I’m going to do ? I mean, sure they’re immortal, but they aren’t known for that kind of patience. In my game world, fortune tellers can actually see the events that are most likely to happen in the future (in other words destined to happen at this moment unless something happens to change them). They can see forward about one week per power level, and few spell casters have more than four power levels. So generically a month, maybe two months of prophesy (on a critical). Honestly, how can I as a GM really be ready for more than that?

Remember, novel authors use prophesies all the time, but that’s because they can. No one is participating in the creative process with them. But you’re a game master. You may have what you want or assume will happen but the players and/or their dice can change that. I think you need to make sure they have that ability. And always leave any prophesies clear only in hindsight.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Time in Fantasy

From a role-playing aspect, we need to make sure that we don’t place modern concerns on fantasy era people. I am thinking today mainly of time.

In the modern era, everyone either has a watch or a phone that acts as a watch. We know what time TV shows start and when someone says, “I’ll pick you up at 8:00” we expect to see them at 8:00, plus or minus ten minutes, maybe. We know when to be at work and what time is considered late. We even know what time it is in other countries and factor that into some of our communications.

But the fantasy folks don’t have it that easy. Even in my world of Fletnern, where there are grandfather clocks and semi-reliable time keeping devices (hour glasses, water clocks, and measured candles), the average Joe on the street doesn’t know exactly what time it is. I usually represent this by the way they talk about time: It’s noon; It’s two hours after dawn; It’s four hours after midnight, etc. Minutes are rarely discussed because they are too hard to measure.

This forced me to rethink my fantasy era factories. I do have fantasy era factories, but they do not use the assembly line. For example, if your job is to make ceramic bowls, then that’s what you do all day long. There may be someone who brings you the clay and someone who fires the pieces you threw, so sort of assembly line, but not. Maybe a better example is an enchantment factory. The enchanter makes the item from start to finish. They may have access to shared tools, be guarded by shared guards, and have shared buyers purchase their materials, but they do not do one process and then have someone else do the next process, and so on.

So why does this matter? Well, if you don’t have reliable clocks, then you cannot pay people by the hour, or even by the “full day’s work”. I think you need to pay them by the piece. Maybe you can establish a quota - making 15 stoneware platters is considered a day’s work - but still it has to be more piece work. This actually fits most of my fantasy cultures anyway - being paid for work accomplished and not for time spent at work. But this is an important change!

The other place that this really matters is in long distance trade. When you need to be on a cruise ship in this day and age, you need to be there at the specified time. And you can expect to disembark at the established time. Planes seem a little less reliable, but even still, nothing on the fantasy era. A ship could be off schedule by three to five days before most folks would really start to get nervous. A caravan could be delayed by rain, washed out bridges or fords, or any number of setbacks. Especially with the ships, this probably means that there would be a job of “ship watcher”. Some apprentice would sit on the docks and wait to spot ships coming in. Then he hightails it to the ship owner to let him know his cargo is on the horizon, giving the owner time to get up and get over to the docks to meet his ship and captain. Is it an apprentice to the merchant or the harbor master who does the running and spotting? I think it depends on the town.

Are there other jobs? Yep! History tells us that some factories would have wakers - people who would walk the streets of the city with a staff and bang on the windows of the factory workers in order to wake them up so they could be to work roughly on time. The various guilds would probably have rules or guidelines set to make the piecework rates “fair”, or the quotas. That probably means they would need to have some manner of auditor go and check on the guild members. That’s what is coming to mind now, but the more you think about life without watches, the more cultural impacts you can think of.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

High Fantasy - Gods

Switching the high fantasy gears for a second (see previous article and the one before that) - The gods in a high fantasy RPG need to be more important!

In a FRPG if you worship the goddess of dawn, you would believe that the dawn will not come if that goddess decides not to bring it. For a modern person who believes that the world circles the star - this seems foolish. Of course dawn will come tomorrow - it is a matter of physics. But not to the FRPG character. Physics be damned, if the goddess either decides not to bring the dawn or is in some way defeated or prevented from bringing the dawn, then the night will continue eternally. Therefore, every time the sun rises, this character would give thanks to their goddess.

But if it is a high fantasy game, it should be possible to prevent the dawn from coming. I don't know all or what implications would come of that, but it must be possible. If it isn't possible, then magic doesn't work. The same needs to be true of the other gods. If the god of the harvest decides to shift the rains, then a drought comes. Forget the weather men (they're never right anyway). If the harvest god wants the harvest to end, it ends. This might be easier to understand because we can more easily picture a drought or pestilence than dawn not coming, but they should be equally possible. That’s why there are gods. That’s why worshiping them matters. Because if they don’t get what they want, then they take away the things that mortals need to survive - like the sun, water, sleep, dreams, death (OK, obviously not to survive here, but there are some cool fictions about death taking a holiday).

This influence should be all over the place. Wine does not make you drunk because it has alcohol, but because the god of wine deems it so. My best example of where I have actually put this to use in is Rhum. Despite the spinning of the planet and the weather patterns, the winds near Rhum blow from west to east. This is because the more powerful spirit of the east wind (the wind that blows west or from the east) has given his younger sister (the wind from the west) this region as her own and he will not interfere, at least not too much. Yes - This causes weird weather patterns in this area! But again, the wind does not blow the direction it blows because of planetary physics, but instead because of magic and the “gods”.

This does work both ways. There is a humongous earth spirit deep beneath the surface on the continent of Hughijen. He is moving northwards at a very slow pace (because it is not easy to displace that much earth and rock). Every once in a while, about every ten years, the forces of the plates and rock layers shift to allow him to push forward, causing massive surface earthquakes. So are the earthquakes caused by a god/spirit? Yes. Are they caused by tectonic pressures of the plates rubbing together? Yes - but that pressure has become personified in this spirit. So since it is a high fantasy world, I still have some idea of the physics, I just give them different reasons for acting the way they do. High fantasy = Magic over science!

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Thursday, November 26, 2015

All that Crap

So - it’s a FRPG. A gang of thieves (likely the player characters) busts into a house and starts searching it for the big diamond they know is hidden somewhere inside. They check the underwear drawers, the cookie jar, the freezer ... the freezer? What do a group of modern players know about searching a house in a fantasy world? They don’t, but they shouldn’t need to.

OK - So the diamond is hidden in a secret pouch tied to the bottom of the outhouse seat. How do I know that? Well, ignoring the fact that I was the GM, I know that people put their human waste in outhouses. Sometimes they use the outhouse, sometimes they use a chamber pot and dump it in the outhouse later, but they still have an outhouse in the yard.

When an outhouse gets filled up, you have to do something. It is far cheaper to hire a guy to empty the waste out of the outhouse than to dig another one and use the dirt to fill in the old one. So I now know that there need to be professional outhouse emptiers. Sounds like a shitty job, huh? (Sorry, had to go there.)

I also know that nails are expensive and screws are astronomically expensive, so normal folks don’t use them. Since the outhouse is probably only emptied once a year, they don’t want to have a big cellar door behind it taking up space. All this together means that the seat lifts off, so the pro outhouse guy can have access to the big pile of waste material. (The whole seat, bench and all.)

So, in the modern era, Louisiana Congressmen roll up their cash in aluminum foil and hide it in the freezer. You know what? They aren’t the only guys to do that. (I don’t have any money, so don’t bother checking my freezer.) In a fantasy world, people hide things in a place they can get to relatively easily, but that no one wants to search: the outhouse.

But the point of this post is honestly not about where fantasy folk go potty. It is about how your player characters would find the diamond. Ignoring the use of magic, you cannot use any manner of senses skill to find the diamond, because it is not in plain view. It is hidden inside of something. (We assume X-ray vision is magical.) So how do you know where to look? In Legend Quest, you use your Scrounging skill. While scrounging is most commonly used to figure out where to buy what you need to find in an urban setting, it can absolutely be used here. This is not an incredibly uncommon hidey hole; it would probably be rather normal for a thief or investigator to check the outhouse. If it is less common, then maybe it is a Scrounging task with a modifier, but it is still scrounging to use your urban skills to figure out where something might be.

What’s point of all of this? If you are playing a role-playing game that does not have skills like Senses and Scrounging, then you cannot play detective style missions. No, you are not Batman, no matter how well you say the line, because all you can do is attack; you cannot detect. You cannot investigate; you probably cannot even question or interrogate prisoners. If you want to expand the types of missions you can do, you need a full role-playing game. Obviously we suggest Legend Quest, but I won’t take it personally if you have found a different game that still allows for non-combat related activities.

You know what else? Knowing stupid stuff like there are no toilets but there are outhouses (all those mundane things) can matter. You don’t need to know everything and constantly be talking about it, but you need to have some of this knowledge in the back of your mind in order to run your game properly.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

High Fantasy - Enchanted Items

OK, so the last post tried to establish that as long as anyone can learn to enchant (no special birthmarks needed), you will have a high fantasy game because there will be greedy or ambitious people who will want to make lots of money. But we (intentionally) glossed over the fact that there would be people willing to buy the enchanted items. Let’s look at that!

We established in Book of Wishes that an illumination enchantment would cost about 300sc. We established in Grain Into Gold that the average guy earns about 10sc per day. So for the average guy to buy an enchanted lamp, it would cost about a month’s salary. Seems out of whack, right? Well, we never wanted to portray this as “the average guy” is buying enchantments. But, we do think that the upper middle class and the upper class could be buying these. Here’s how and why: An enchanted lamp (as we showed last time) saves a person about 9sc per month in candles, so over the course of about three years, the lamp pays for itself. But only people with enough disposable income can afford to invest in this manner. The poor slobs at the low end of the economy can barely afford rush lights - they aren’t forking over the money for a magic lamp or even beeswax candles.

Skilled craftsmen, like locksmiths and distillers, would likely average ~15sc per day. (If this doesn’t make sense to you, you really need 100 Professions!) But that’s for workers. If you are the master of the lock making shop, you’re going to be making more. In fact when I’m trying to figure out bigger operations, most of my “bosses” (managers who don’t own the place) are often making 20sc a day. Now, you’re only talking about half a month’s salary. Healers and full on spell casters are closer to 50 a day. Beginning adventurers probably only get paid about 10sc a day like a sentry would, but they get all of their money at one time (after basically camping and living off the land for months on end). That’s why they can afford to buy magiced weapons and armor - because they effectively saved for a couple of months while they traveled to and from the zone of danger.

But that probably makes you wonder why we’re talking about magic lamps and not magic swords. That’s easy - I can tell you down to the last copper penny what you save by having a magic lamp that lasts forever. I cannot easily monetize the value of a magic sword. With the sword - The value is in the eye of the buyer. It should increase his chances of survival (by killing his enemies quicker), but what’s his life worth? More importantly, what’s the extra “edge” worth? Probably everything he has. Therefore, it’s tough to intelligently quantify and doesn’t work economically. Also - I have said often that while adventurers are an important part of the fantasy world, they are a very small part of it. Economics is about strong and steady business, not the “rock stars”. Knowing what an up and coming merchant would do is actually more important when figuring out prices and values than what a crazed sword swinger would do. (“crazed sword swinger”? that’s redundant)

All right, we’re going too far in that direction. Who would buy a magic lamp? The upper crust. So what do we know? They are not going to buy a piece of scrap leather even if it glows brightly. Minimum is probably a brass lamp or hooded lantern. A cheap brass lamp with a glass chimney runs about 5sc. But would a rich guy have one in his home? Maybe, if it were deep in his office somewhere and only seen by him. But if it is out somewhere it is going to have to be prettier. Truth be told, by the time you get done with the fanciest of lamps, the 300sc for the spell might not be the expensive part.
Is there a moral to this story? I think there is. In a high fantasy world, some magical items are going to be worth buying, as long as the person can afford it. Light, heat, clean water, these things are valuable and have a cost. Sometimes magic is the cheap way to get things done, at least in the long run.

Next time - What to do if your magic lamp burns out - or does it ever burn out?

Sunday, November 8, 2015

High Fantasy - Enchanters

OK - So first off, let me say what I think the difference between high fantasy and low fantasy is. I think the main thing that separates the two is who can learn magic. If any person can learn to perform magic - specifically enchantment - then you have a high fantasy game. If only a small percentage of people can do magic, then you can have a low fantasy game.

So why? Small divergence - Most of you are familiar with the stuff I write. Grain Into Gold is my best selling book (having surpassed even Legend Quest) and sets out to show anyone how to build an economy for their fantasy world. Pockets was intended to be a random treasure supplement for pick pockets, but more of the readers seem to see it as a guide to what over a thousand common items cost. Even 100 Professions is an economy supplement. So you’ll probably forgive me when I lay it out this way, but ...

Modern example - It costs a $#!+load of money to go to law school. It’s also a lot of work and probably only the top third of folks could do it. (That might not be true because I’ve met some stupid lawyers!) So why spend the money? Because you make a $#!+load of money, far more than the school cost you. It’s the same with enchanters. Even if it costs huge to learn to be an enchanter, you’re going to make it all back once you start working. Now we’re focused on enchanters, because it is easiest to sell their magic. Finding a way to monetize sorcery can be more difficult, but anyone can sell magic items.

But does it make sense? I like to lay it out like this, and yeah - I do focus on money: An illumination enchantment costs 300sc - why? because an enchanter typically makes about 300sc per day and it takes about a day for them to make an illumination enchantment. Actually, it also costs 50sc for the materials, but it is such a common enchantment that the supply has lowered the price. Is that worth it? It would take three candles to equal the illumination enchantment, which means you would burn about a pound of wax a day in order to match the enchantment (actually three candles - you would get 16 hours out of a pound of beeswax). So assuming a pound of wax a day, it would take about three years to save enough on wax to pay for the enchantment. But if the enchantment works “forever” then from your fourth year on - you’re saving money.

Did you get that? Spending 300sc for a lamp eventually saves you money, but it also makes the enchanter incredibly rich - at least 25 times richer than a mundane craftsman. That’s why you would spend the time and money to learn to be an enchanter - to get rich. And if anyone can learn magic, then there will always be those folks willing to beg, borrow or steal the money needed to learn the skills in order to become enormously rich later on. That’s why I said earlier that if anyone can learn magic, then you have a high fantasy game. Anyone who does not see this is really ignoring one of the main motivations in life.

More on high fantasy stuff coming very soon!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Crappy Governments

Notice - This is not just an anti-government rant, but instead a rather serious approach to placing enemy powers in your game world.

There’s something I’m really bad at - writing and role-playing stupid folks. I just recent mentioned in a blog post that you need to remember that some folks are losers and you can’t have everyone in your game world be both brilliant and successful (that would be the DC universe). But I’m really bad at crafting the stupid folks - specifically, the stupid winners.

In our modern world, I think these “stupid winners” are best seen in crappy governments. Look, I’m not going to wave the flag here and tell you how my guys are the best in the world. My guys suck. I am embarrassed that my fellow citizens continue to vote for people that say one thing and then do another after being elected. I’m embarrassed that my fellow citizens elect people based on such high ideals as political correctness and the “cool factor”. I strongly support either an IQ test or a current events quiz before allowing people into the voting booth, but the politicians in office now will prevent that from ever happening - They wouldn’t be able to get reelected.

But what am I talking about? As bad as my guys are, there are worse out there. There are worse here too - We have a guy who loudly tells people he’s going to raise the tax rate into the 90%+ range and people cheer for him. You can fool some of the people all of the time! But I’m thinking more about things like: financial policy hacks who specifically and purposefully caused the housing bubble but strongly believe that it was not their policies but instead 70 year old regulations that caused it (having never caused it before); politicians who are so heavily invested (and I mean monetarily) in passing laws about climate change that should they ever succeed, they become billionaires - whatever your beliefs about climate change, did we really want it to be about profiting from cap and trade?; or politicians who’s strategy for avoiding public scrutiny is to have so many massive accusations of fraud, greed and incompetence that they all blend together in this Wonderland that no one can quite figure out. OK, I got a little distracted there. What about countries where the government is a minority, whether racially, religiously or something else, and they use the military to control the majority while seemingly well intentioned neighbors sit on their hands. What about countries that have legitimate military power and weapons of mass destruction, but their leaders are noticeably insane, but their people never try to rise up against them?

What does this all matter? In a fantasy world, especially one where military coups and royal lines are likely to be the most common initiation of governments, you would have to have some of these crazy #@%&*#s in charge of armies and regions. I’d like to believe that when a country views their leader and they all look at each other and say, “This guy’s off his freakin’ rocker” that they find a way to get rid of him. But they don’t. At least they don’t in the real world.

So how do we put these crazy, crappy governments into place in our fantasy worlds? Well, it’s not like they have the internet. Most peasants don’t even know what the king looks like, unless his face is on the (copper) coins. The nobles and ministers who profit from the king’s idiocy will make sure that people outside the palace don’t learn what a moron he is for fear of losing their piece of the power. Meanwhile, they keep the king imprisoned in luxury and rape the country. When diplomats and ambassadors grow to understand that this guy is both insane and a danger to them, they still have to contend with a country filled with uneducated semi-patriotic serfs who haven’t learned what they know. You cannot get the citizenry to rise up against the rulers when they think everything is OK and refuse to think far enough out to see that their entire country is headed right towards a cliff. Sounds familiar to me.

So WHY do you want to put these crazies into your world? These are perfect targets for you adventurers, but it is vital to remember that simply sneaking in and assassinating the crazy _____ at the top is not enough. As the modern world has been seeing recently, eliminating one crazy often allows and even crazier into the vacuum. Unlike most movies, the peasants will not come out into the streets and cheer for the “heroes” who have liberated them from oppression. A well placed assassination would likely be the excuse those ministers needed to go to war with whomever they think they can steal land from, whether they are the right culprit or not. A quick war can cull those peasants, especially any that might actually be thinking about how bad their government really is. Don’t worry - the war slaves can do their jobs once the fields have been cleared of bodies.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Genre shifting - superheroes in fantasy

I have to admit - I have always wanted to run a super hero game in fantasy world. I’ve tried it a couple of times, and it hasn’t worked as I had hoped. I think this is because I have treated the games like they were FRPG and not super hero games. What do I mean?

Willie was a mild mannered alchemist working in the lab when a magical explosion sprayed him with all sorts of alchemicals. When he woke up the next day, he realized he had magical flame powers (or anything else you like).

Shelagh was messing around with her mother’s old books when she scrawled a pentagram on the floor and summoned up a demon. The symbol held the demon, but he seduced her with the promise of power. She let him in, and he granted her mastery over magnetism (or any other power you want). OK - Maybe she’s the bad guy.

The point is, that all of those goofy super hero origin stories are just as easily (if not more so) done in the fantasy realm. I have done campaigns where there were wererats in the party, or the girl born under a certain magical sign that made her a super charged battery for other mages, or had regenerative powers. If you think about it, some magic items or powers gained at certain points are really close to super powers anyway - armor that teleports around you when you summon it (or a weapon), beasts/steeds that come when called, any of a hundred special abilities assigned to magical swords. Even spells themselves, after all, Dr. Strange isn’t a super hero in a FRPG, he’s just another character.

Where I’ve gone wrong is in what they face. Comic book heroes rarely face a squad of orcs. They need something flashier, like a demon or a powerful poltergeist, maybe a black knight trying to take over the countryside only to be revealed at the most dramatic time to be the king’s daughter. Then again with innumerable gods and demons to use, why not have some evil god bestow powers on a bad guy. Maybe the bad girl used the summoning circle to let in a whole list of bad spirits/demons who are now possessing people and granting them new powers. Now we need a team of heroes to chase them down and eventually close the portal.

It’s not the character creation that drives us in the wrong direction; it’s the types of missions. Running a super-hero fantasy game isn’t that hard, as long as you don’t run them through the normal style of FRPG missions. Think - what would Alligator Man do in one of his adventures instead of what would a group of elven archers and scouts fight. I’m pretty sure that this is the trick!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Power Behind Magic

How do your games handle magic and where magical power comes from? My world Fletnern, and I guess in the game Legend Quest though probably more as an optional rule, has different magics coming from different sources. Honestly the rule book sort of glosses over it, and the Book of Wishes (the magic expansion) doesn’t get into it too deeply. That’s because LQ has always been focused on letting you run your game world how you want and tries not to force game world/setting issues into the rules.

Enough dancing around the issue - What do we mean? Necromancy is controlled by the magic involved in death. Healing is involved in the magic of life. Sorcery draws on the magic created from change or if you need to say it chaos. Druid = nature; illusion = light and darkness; spell singing = emotions; and conjuring draws magic from somewhere else, not natural to this world. But I like when things overlap. Druidic magic draws on nature, but that means that it is drawing some of its magic from the elemental magics that fuel the elementalists. Herbalists draw power from nature too, but pretty specifically only the plant side of nature. Spiritualism draws magic from death, but also from one of the “dimensions” that conjuring uses (the spirit realm). So necromancy and spiritualism may have some of the same spells and actually be able to use the same talismans to enhance their spells, but not always because they are not twins, but kissing cousins.

Nothing is more boring during a game session than a GM trying to explain the technical points of magic to the players. That’s not why they came. They’re looking to be challenged in some way (most often combat), but not lectured to. So by no means am I suggesting you spend game time having some scribe explain how magic works. You can have discussions with your players about it when you’re sitting around doing nothing, like when you’re waiting for others to show up, even if it’s waiting for the other guys to show up on your way to a “night out on the town” not necessarily a game. I strongly discourage you from discussing it at the bar! That never goes well.

But why do you care? First off, knowing more about how your world works makes missions and adventures pop into your mind. If you are thinking about using certain kinds of magic in combination, you will start thinking about how the bad guys are going to try and funnel sorcery through a conjured creature and try to take over the tri-state area. If you don’t know how magic works, then you will never create your own spells and be stuck with the stuff in the books. Your own stuff is usually much cooler!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Commentaries on Fletnern

Knowing facts about a place, especially a place as big as a world can be very important, but in order to understand, there needs to be opinion - commentary. We’re adding entries to the World of Fletnern blog as “commentary”. They are written from the point of view of the person indicated. There are several commentary “writers”, and their introductions will be found as well.

It is not that their commentary will be lies, but realize that it is only their point of view. It may be incredibly accurate or it may be misleading. However, they can tell you as much by giving you their opinion and allowing you to draw your own conclusions as you could learn from the factual texts.

To get into these commentaries, choose the Commentary category and start exploring.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Filler NPCs that feel real

So often, our game worlds feel like stage productions where there are a couple of people with lines, but everybody else sort of fades into this scenery - or is only assumed to exist. Think about it. When the player characters walk into that tavern to coincidentally run into the guy with a mission, does anyone know who else is in the bar? Beyond the mission giver, the bartender (typically the owner), and maybe a waitress, do you know who’s there? That’s just one example. If things are happening in an established town or even city in your world, how much do you know?

But you’re a game master. You have a job or classes that fill tons of your time and don’t have a lot of time to think up folks who just don’t matter, right? So you can buy pre-planned products, we sell several. [Royalty is probably one of the best as it lays out the entire court of a decent sized kingdom or barony. More characters than you should need.] But sometimes, you need to make them up yourself to have them actually fit in your world. Here is what I think is one of the easiest ways to do that: fill out the family.

Here’s how you do it: Let’s assume that a couple of missions ago you laid out that bar where all the hiring of adventurers happens. As we suggested, you know the owner and the waitress and the owner’s wife who works as the cook. So what’s next? Who else do they need at the tavern? Is it an inn (do they rent rooms)? If so do they need some manner of maid? Do they need a handyman? If the owner is the bartender he can’t do everything. Maybe you add a couple of bartenders who work every other night. This didn’t take too much brain power did it? Good, let’s move on. Let’s fill out the maid a little. Let’s make her the owner’s sister-in-law. That adds drama right there! Give her a touch of backstory. Does she work here because she’s a widow and her sister and brother in law are being charitable? Does she feel she works too hard and isn’t treated like a member of the family? Let’s move on.

How old is the owner? Did he inherit the inn? Assuming he did, does he have any siblings and how pissed are they that he got the inn? Maybe his younger brother owns the stable across the street - his inheritance. That sort of makes sense, right? Any other siblings? Let’s add a sister who married a farmer and lives outside of town. How do we hook her in? Well, her husband makes some of the ale they serve at the tavern. Lower quality, but he’s family so they do what they can to support him. What happened to the owner’s parents? Are they dead or retired?

OK, so far we’ve added extra characters to your town hopefully without taxing your imagination. You don’t need fully fleshed out characters, but you are building depth simply by keeping track of the familial relations. Let’s skip the rest of that extended family and try something else. Assuming that this is a heavily agricultural region, then one of the most important folks in the town is going to be the miller. Probably one of the wealthiest too. We’ll assume he inherited the mill from his parents. How many siblings does he have? How upset are they that he has the mill? Maybe he was the only son and has two sisters. His folks got those two married off to farmers with reasonably large farms (through large dowries), so the sisters aren’t angry, but they do have sons of their own. Does that mean our miller has nephews working for him? Are they good workers or lazy? Let’s assume they are good workers for now. What about the brothers in law? Are they still trying to get more out of their wife’s family? Maybe one is a good guy and happy that his sons are finding solid work at the mill. The other is a schemer and is trying to figure out how he can inherit the mill that his brother in law owns. By just thinking about one guy (the miller) and his family, we have now gotten a couple of notes on two farmers, two farm wives, several mill workers, etc. And all of these folks would likely be gathering at the tavern on a cool autumn night when adventurers are being hired.

Does it matter? Well, yeah sort of. If the barroom brawl breaks out, those three mill workers may have seemed boring and unassuming, but they’re cousins and will protect each other no matter what else happens. That one table may have two women and a man arguing, but they are the miller and his two sisters. They may look like the common folk (which they are) but they are the wealthiest common folk in the town. Not only do you now have these little surprises waiting behind the scenes for your players, but the further you get into this, the more mission oriented things are going to pop out. Think of it like some of the online/console games you play. Ever pick up a major mission only to find out that there are a couple of side quests that you can get done with relatively little extra effort? Well if the mission is to kill the local bandits, then maybe one of the major farm wives wants you to recover a piece of jewelry that was stolen from her by the bandits. Maybe her son wants to come along and help (because they robbed his mother). Maybe insulting the ale in the tavern is an insult to owner’s family pride, no matter how bad they know it is.

The point is NOT to waste time coming up with all this stuff! The point is (or at least is intended to be) that with 15-30 minutes of brainstorming, you can generate a couple dozen characters with interconnectivity and a touch of history. That makes your whole world seem so much richer! But be careful. Not every family is the Bushes. Yes, in the US there is a family where dad and son were both president and the other son might be president soon. These types of families (where everyone is important) are excessively rare. Remember to make up some boring people too! Not everyone is successful. Most families have a couple of losers. Many losers are quite content to be losers. You don’t want your campaign world focused on these losers, but knowing who they are shows everyone how great a GM you really are!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

More on campaign and world styles

Since I opened the door, I’m going to jump through. I am not a big fan of GRRM nor of any of his books, including the hugely popular series. So many people I have talked to about them, and I will likely classify these folks as minor fans, believe that GOT is the latest LotR. GRRM woke up at some point and decided he was going to out do JRRT. I mean what’s that with the initials anyway; isn’t that a huge tell? Because I’m not a fan, I haven’t listened to long interviews or anything like that, but it is very clear to me that GRRM never intended to write the latest version of LotR. What he did set out to do (consciously or unconsciously) was to write the newest version of War and Peace.

What do we all know about War and Peace? One of the longest books ever written. So many characters no one can keep track without a score card. A historical fiction - based on real events and in some case real people. Envelops a war to include some action even though it’s really never about the war(s). LotR may have a huge number of characters, but it’s never really about all of them. It’s about a small group of them (the Fellowship plus maybe a few more like Faramir). And the battles and war matter. They aren’t just backdrops that people can give dialog in front of them.

Do I have more to my argument? Well, what do we all joke about with Russian literature? It’s depressing, right? All this talk about death. LotR is an adventure story with true heroics. GOT is a blood bath where everybody gets killed at some point, usually a lot earlier than you thought they would. It’s just so depressing! Most folks would say that the most noble of the characters in the series was Ned Stark, and they kill him off early on. I would say that Jon Arryn was probably a good and possibly heroic character, but his death is what kicks the whole thing off.

Maybe this isn’t the right place to talk about these types of things, being a gaming blog, but I think it serves as a lesson to world builders. Know what your goal is! I’m not criticizing GRRM for rewriting War and Peace set during the War of the Roses (at least I’m not right now), but how many of his “fans” get it? Does it matter? Yeah! If your players think they’re sitting down to LotR and you serve up War and Peace, eventually they are going to catch on and be disappointed if not feel betrayed. And you don’t have Dan and Dave to rewrite things into a more exciting format.

GOT vs. WOW - Which is your game?

FRPG campaigns come in all flavors, and different styles appeal to different players. Stay with me on this one, because I think if you better understand what you’re doing subconsciously, you’ll either change direction or do it intentionally and better.

Some campaigns are like World of Warcraft. They have numerous combat encounters with some story lines in the background. Face it - Most WOW players don’t read the mission text, they see what they need to accomplish and get to it. Your game might be like that. I had players whose favorite line at the beginning of a mission was “I get in the car and go.” They were blatantly saying that they didn’t care why they were doing it, didn’t intend to do any planning, and just wanted to get into the action. You know what? They’re the most common. At major tournaments, the best players only listen to the mission intro in hopes of getting a clue as to how to beat the boss monster at the end. They aren’t there to participate in a grand story, but instead to kill some stuff for fun. Hey, no judgment here.

Some campaigns are more like Game of Thrones, but very few. Here you have to listen to what everybody says. If you listen carefully to all the subtext, you can get an idea of what everybody’s motivation is and knowing their motivation you can use it against them. These campaigns are more often run in game rules like Amber with fewer die rolls and more role-playing. Combat heavy games (those without actual social skill “rolls”) cannot handle these types of campaigns. Here the players get really invested, but they have to pay really close attention and to be honest, few are willing to do the work. Fewer GMs are willing (or able) to put in the front time to make these work.

Some campaigns are more like Lord of the Rings. These are epic battles against horrific sounding enemies and in some way the actions of a party of adventurers turns out to be more important than what all the kings and armies are doing, though the kings and armies set a pretty cool back drop to the “actual” action.

Having been a GM for a bunch of decades, I have some theories about these. I think the WOW style constant action with just the hint or pretense of a story are the kind of campaigns that many of the beginning players and GMs go for. They want the action; it’s like going to see a Schwarzenegger movie. They’re fun, but can be a little like rock candy - too much of a good thing. I think those guys grow into the more LoTR style campaign. Now the GM has a better handle on his world, and the players have “been there-done that” with most of the major monsters. Now they need something bigger, something grander. But it is a little hollow. The party has saved the world from destruction multiple times, but still needs to pay a copper coin in the bar for a beer. As the GM writes more and more for his world, he wants to draw the players in deeper and deeper. Now he’s getting into the GoT style of game. There are more NPCs than the players can keep track of and more plots then either the players or the GM will ever be able to get to the end of.

So what’s the best? The obvious answer is that the best solution is a mixture of all three, but how do you do that? First off, you need to make sure that what the GM wants and what the players want is the same thing. Assuming they’re close, you lean towards what everybody wants. I’ve made every mistake I have alluded to in this post, but you get to learn from my mistakes. Let me give you some hints:

Combat action is probably necessary in every FRPG mission. If nobody fights, it really doesn’t feel like an RPG. But the fights should make sense. Fighting through random encounters in the woods that occur because the random encounter die roll says it should is a waste of everyone’s time no matter how much experience or gold the PCs get. Stationary monsters with no food sources make no sense. It really isn’t that tough to say - I know there’s a pack of wolves in this forest that the PCs need to get through. I assume that they eat the deer and lesser animals in the forest, but they must be hunting. When the party comes into their territory, the wolves will hunt them too. Just having the wolves come from behind the party or ambush at night makes so much more sense than acting like they were cockroaches that go scrambling into battle when someone enters their clearing.

Epics can be very cool, but you should probably align the party with someone or something that has true power. If the party is a group of scouts for the main cavalry force in the country, they can still get into scrapes that matter without being the ring bearer. Something like this allows the king/general to be the huge hero and the party to be his favorite group of problem solvers instead of them actually being the end all and be all. King, general, court wizard, dean of the college, historian, admiral, mob boss - any of these guys could be the big boss, and the party works with and for him. Still part of epic stuff, just a touch more realistic when after they help to save the world, they’re still not worshipped in the temples. After a while, one of them might become that general or maybe king consort, but then you’re really going to be moving into the next style.

If you truly want to have an expansive world where everyone has their own motivations and their own personalities, then as a GM you need to be ready to adjust the outcomes for what your players do. Whether your players are saints or jackasses they are going to kill off one of the important people. Then you have to adjust. How does that change things you were planning? Don’t get mad, get clever. Also - They are not going to remember everyone from week to week. There is nothing wrong with giving your players cheat sheets. Make multiple copies or they’ll fight over it. Give them notes on who is who and what they already know. Being less confused, they are going to be a lot happier and not feel like they had to study for a test.

This was really long, I know. Maybe you see something you’re doing or not doing. Hopefully you got an idea or more than one. There’s nothing wrong with playing the way you want to play, but none of these styles of play taken in the extreme is going to please everyone in a moderately sized group of players. Blending is the absolute key!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Linking those darned adventures

Remember Raiders of the Lost Ark? The whole thing starts with Indy going to find the headpiece to the staff of Ra, something his buddy Abner Ravenwood had already found. So the biggest adventure ever starts by going back to something that was already found.

The more I think about this, the more I love it! So the party goes and raids a pyramid in order to wipe out the undead that have been messing up the neighborhood - normal stuff. Inside they find a helmet/head piece with some cheaper rubies in it, along with other fantastic mummy jewelry. The party does what? They sell it as loot, even if the rubies are low value. Four missions later, a guy comes into the bar to hire the party: I understand you are the group that raided the pyramid. I need you to help me find the lost temple of some god, but the only way to do it is to have someone wear the helmet and cast a relatively normal spell. You still have the helmet, right?

Of course they don’t! Now they have to go back through their fences and remember who they sold the helmet to. What if he passed it on? What if they started dismantling it? What if they forget where it went? This only works if you as GM have a semi-decent idea of who they sell their stuff to, and what they do around the city between adventures, and other things along these lines. But that’s the point - You get to start with an urban adventure and then move into the lost temple mission.

This is just one example of using an item to link adventures. I don’t think the linking item should be a mundane thing. It would have to be something reasonably unique. Might even be historic, so the fence may sell it to a museum for huge money - vastly more than the party received. Obviously the specifics in this post aren’t important, but having an item that is linked to a future mission is what matters. Might even be funny if the person holding the item has thrown it into a chest filled with similar “junk” and has to sort through to find it.

Why? Because campaigns need to have links. Because players need to feel that their characters are alive - alive in between missions, not just during them. Because it might make your players think twice before dumping everything for whatever meager gold they can get for it. and lastly, Because a link like this makes people invested in the missions and their characters, which makes them want to come back for more of your games.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Fantasy Factories

I mentioned that I have factories in my fantasy world (in Fast ideas follow-up) and thought I should probably clear some of that up.

First off, the benefit of factories is that while everyone is working, there are people around taking care of the little things. Like what? Well, cleaning up, bringing supplies to the workers, managing, handling suppliers, perhaps maintenance or other repair of the equipment, all those thing that those of us outside that industry would never think about as necessary, but are part of the normal work day. So when I’m working on all those economy things (like Grain Into Gold or Pockets), I usually give a worker 7.5 hours of work in a 10 hour day. In a factory, there are a bunch of other people around, so the workers are actually doing 10 hours of work in a day. So as long as you can pay some kids to sweep the floor and deliver supplies, then you will be saving money instead of having the craftsmen do those little jobs. But that’s the economics of the things.

So how do they work? Well none of my cultures utilize assembly lines. Even in factories, a craftsman makes the entire item. For the most part, interchangeable parts don’t exist, though the dwarves have achieved this in many of the things they do (at least within the clans - between the clans, parts are still not uniform). But there are some circumstances where the casting of metal parts do bring most cultures near to this. Why do I mention of all this? Because you need to forget what you think about when you picture a factory.

So what is a factory like? They are all different. A brewery is a factory because they are using huge tanks to brew beer that is mostly standardized - consistent quality. A brick making factory has the craftsmen making the bricks with teams of guys bringing in the clay, hauling off the bricks to the kiln, firing the kiln, and stacking the bricks. Ceramics factories (like where they would make plates, pitchers, and steins) work mainly the same way except that it takes extra time to craft a pitcher compared to a brick. A sawmill is a factory (under this weird explanation) because you have lumberjacks bringing in the trees, “craftsmen” operating the machinery, and other guys handling the drying of the lumber. Now a grist mill by comparison would likely not be a factory, because the miller is probably dealing with customers, determining the scheduling, running the milling, managing the staff, etc. all by himself.

An enchantment factory has enchanters working on the magic, while all sorts of servants and apprentices bring them the items they need. Each has his own “workstation” which is typically a granite work table. In the enchantment factory, they can have appropriate guards to protect the workers, the raw materials, and the product. They can also share some of the magical equipment and tools that are probably hugely expensive, but if you have five guys all using the same expensive tool, it doesn’t turn out to be as expensive. I mainly use enchantment factories for those cities that have massive armies and can afford to have a factory churning out low powered magical items for the officers and special operatives. Don’t believe there should be enchantment factories? Think about the cost of a single cruise missile or low light goggles in the modern world.

I’m not suggesting that every small town will have a factory, but in the major cities, greed for profits will find efficiencies where they exist. Any time a guy can get a bunch of people working for him and make a boatload of money, he’s going to do it.

Friday, September 4, 2015

d1000 - Pockets

Board Enterprises has just released d1000 Pockets, as in What has it got in its ...

Yep - You read that right - d1000. Actually there are over 1,100 items in the book. Why? Well, it is a random loot generator for when your players are picking pockets (or otherwise looting folks). d100 gets boring really fast! Even d1000 can get a little weird when items that feel like they should be really special show up a couple of times. That’s why this chart has over one hundred alternates and other side items that don’t show up normally in the random sequencing. If you roll something that doesn’t seem to fit, just use the alternate for that item.

So what is it exactly? A random loot chart. But there is more. First off, it has a very good random coinage chart for determining how many coins a person has in their pocket. None of the 1100+ items are spare change. Second, it has a reasonably good way to determine what a “pocket” is - or more commonly, what kind of coin purse is this character carrying.

But wait, there’s more. Every item in the book is priced at base, wholesale and collector values. Base is what the materials are worth. Easy enough on a small silver medallion - it’s worth the weight of the silver, if you were to melt it down. Sometimes these are a little better, as in a hammer being worth what a handle costs and what the steel is worth (instead of just steel and generic firewood) or a shirt being worth what the fabric could be sold for.

More commonly, the “craft” or wholesale price is what the item is worth due to the craftsmanship that went into it. That’s normally what you’d get when fencing or selling the item. Then again, if it’s a ring with an engraving, it might only be worth the weight of the gold. The collector value doesn’t enter into Pockets too much, because that’s what the item would be worth to a collector. This covers antiques, but also things like poker chips (no real value, but still some value at the right vendor!).

So why do you want to buy d1000 Pockets? Well, because you want your game to have cool loot, but you don’t want to spend your time figuring it out. Pockets is a loot chart. And the items are often intriguing enough to have the players say, “No, I’ll keep that. We don’t need to sell it.” The second reason is that it gives you the wholesale value for 1100+ items that follow the Grain Into Gold economy. Now it isn’t a perfect fit as a price guide, because there are a lot of items that are not worth a copper coin to a vendor (a couple of cookies or a few spare leather straps for instance). For anything worth a copper or better - it’s a pretty good price guide.

It’s 37 pages of content, and you know Board Enterprises. We did not waste space on artwork. That’s 28 pages on the d1000 chart, a page on the spare coinage chart, another page on the types of coin purses, and the rest on descriptions of how things work etc. (narrative). Hate to let the surprise out of the bag, but it’s $3.99.

Those of you who read this column regularly know how long we’ve been working on this. We can promise you: d1000 Pockets makes sense! The prices, both base and craft follow an established formula that started in Grain Into Gold and was massively expanded for this book. That does not mean you need to own Grain Into Gold to use this book (but why wouldn’t you want to own GIG?), but it does mean that we’ve got this thing down! From here on out, we should be able to turn around loot and treasure lists vastly quicker than it took on Pockets, while still maintaining that game balance that is vital to long running campaigns. Yes - The long term goal is a book I have been referring to as “The Great Big Book of Loot”. I won’t even say coming soon, just coming.

See it on RPG Now or on Warehouse 23.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

FRPG Global organizations

I have a problem with global organizations in fantasy eras. Now, this is going to sound hypocritical because I have global organizations in Fletnern, but I think that it takes something really powerful and special to have a global organization.

First - Why are they a problem? With the ability (or more importantly the lack of ability) to communicate over long distances, how do these organizations organize? How can the “mages guild” have chapters in every city? OK - They can have chapters, but they should not be seen as a global organization, more like franchises of major organization based somewhere else.

It really is this communication issue and the lack of organization that I think is the problem. If you have a “global organization” but they do not communicate frequently, enforce their rules, and constantly maintain a strict, common code, then it isn’t really a global organization and shouldn’t be considered all that global.

Some examples of how it can work: The High Order of Telepathy in Fletnern - These guys are all mentalists who can communicate across major distances. They act as a style of telegraph office for sending messages. But before you say I just wiped out my argument about any global organization communicating, the messages are like telegraphs - 10 words per message unless you’re willing to really pay through the nose. Also, each relay telepath gets the message and then passes it along - so no secrets can move this way. Further, there is a central school where most of them are trained, and they have a secret police force that can easily look into your mind and determine truth and intent, so you really can’t just trick them. They have the ability to control their own communications and enforce their rules. These guys work.

The Roman Catholic Church of the past - Global organization, right? Well, yeah, but how well did that work for them? Even with the Pope sending envoys and other guys out to try and keep the radicals in line, all sorts of nonsense happened. Now your modern Protestant will likely blame these on the church as a whole and forget that they too were part of that church at the time, but that’s beside the point. I bring this up because I think it is a fairly good example of how even the most powerful organization in the Western World at that time was unable to truly act as a global organization - way too much variation from country to country and lots of in-fighting. No, I am not saying they are/were evil, just unable to maintain a global organization with the level of technology they had at the time. For a global religion to work, the divine would need to be extremely actively involved, basically handling communications himself (sending angels down and stuff like that, not just to a prophet here or there, but to pretty much every bishop or regional leader). Hey - It’s high fantasy. You can do that if you want.

The Cartographers Guild - This is less a global organization and more like a loose federation. It works because map makers have a tendency to travel, so they can handle their own communications. They share their maps and try to go for honest and truthful maps. When they find a cheater (someone selling false or inaccurate maps), they report that guy to the local king. They cannot enforce their own rules, but rely on others to do it for them. Not only that, but they tend to inform the local king by letter as they are leaving town, just in case the king happens to be the map maker’s brother in law.

Slavers’ Guilds - This is the thing I really hate. These occur in literature, and they give these guys nearly omnipotent powers. They don’t do it intentionally, but they do give them extreme powers. Yes, slavery should be a part of fantasy adventure. It occurred too often in history to be assumed to be rare. Yes, they travel around, delivering slaves to markets all over the world, so you can say that they might be able to communicate. You might even think that they could have enforcers who audit slave auctions and make sure no one is cheating (however that works with their rules). What I really object to is the idea that the slavers would/could all work for the same global organization and in some fashion pay taxes and all work together. Slaver traders might need some level of organization and rules, but they are among the most despicable people in the history of the world. Are we to assume that the slavers who are typically capturing people in lesser civilized places or buying captured war slaves are going to agree to and follow a set of rules? I just cannot buy it (no pun intended). Each slaver would have a solid fighting force, more than enough to disappear a couple of auditors. Imagine how powerful and able to cross incredible distances a slaver lord would have to be in order to enforce his will on these powerful, secretive and cunning slavers.

Way too long - Hope I made some points. More, I hope you thought of a couple of ideas for things you have or are going to put into your world. Either figure out how your global organizations interact with themselves or agree that they really are just franchises and don’t typically believe the same things.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Random Appearances

Just a quick little blurb: Want to generate random appearances? Have a relatively modern computer RPG? Just let the game run some random “looks” for you. Often times, I hit the random key on looks, and the guy staring back at me from the screen just looks like a _______. There are only so many times you can do this before the descriptions start to get redundant, but then again, people’s descriptions do tend to be a little redundant. How many brown haired, brown eyed “plain faced” folks do you know? In any case - it might spark character ideas in you. It might just give you a description for a character you have a personality for, but no picture in your mind. I have done it a couple of times, and it usually works to spark something in my brain, though it can lead you down the rabbit hole as you start creating characters you never expected you would be creating if it gets you going in a direction you were not planning for.

When you run out on one, switch games. Come on, I know we’re all playing multiple computer games, or at least you still have them loaded on your computer. If you run out between WoW and Skyrim, you’ve probably already done a load of work!

Loan Sharks and other “friends”

When I wrote Rhum, seemingly centuries ago, I said that most folks did not own their property in the city. They rented. One of the main reasons for this was that there were no banks. The reason for that is that it is illegal (at least in Rhum) to use funds that were given to you for safekeeping. If a bank cannot use the funds you deposit into a savings account, they cannot make loans and they will not pay you interest on your money. So instead of banks, Rhum has what we would deem a collection of safety deposit box businesses.

Does that mean you cannot get a loan? No. In fact there are pawn shops and organized crime figures who are loan sharks. But what do they charge? In Warrior Guilds of Rhum, one of the pawn shops (described as a friendly guy) charges 10% per month, but only lends for up to two months (and does not compound the interest). But he has your goods, and if you don’t pay him back, he is typically able to sell your goods for about double what he loaned to you. So he’s pretty safe, even at 10%.

Honest research from one of my favorite books on the economy of the Medieval Period says that depending on what was going on, lenders were normally looking for about 20%, maybe 10-15% if they were lending to a stable government. OK, but we’re now going to talk about loan sharks, not the national debt. Loan sharking is incredibly more risky than lending to a government. How much more risky? Well, I think a loan shark lending to a gambler would probably want either regular interest payments of 10% per week or perhaps 20% per month if the guy was dependable. Loan sharks aren’t about long term debts or compounding interest, they are about collecting the interest regularly or breaking your legs. So this is not, “Thanks for the 1,000 gold coins, see you in a couple of months” kind of issue! Every week you pay the interest (the vig), until you can finally pay off the principal, which the loan shark probably doesn’t want you to pay.

One last point on this line - I think that the courts of Fletnern would be slow to allow people to confiscate property. At least the courts run by the priests of Brakin would be; the courts of Jassper might be quicker if that is what the contract said. Land/property has a different meaning than just something you own. It is likely a responsibility given to you by a nobleman, and you cannot give that away. This would be another reason that mortgages should be rare. Today, the bank forecloses on your house - happens far too often. But if the courts were going to prevent the banks from foreclosing, then the bank would be foolish to lend you money with a house as collateral. Then again, the courts would likely overlook the fact that the loan shark broke your legs and give him all of your worldly possessions (that weren’t land) to repay the debt you foolishly got into.

So what? If you did not see multiple mission ideas (“sparks”) in this post then I am ashamed of you! First - there are a ton of safe deposit businesses in Rhum. Second, there are a ton of loan sharks who need leg breakers. Not only do they need leg breakers, but they likely need hunters who can go out and retrieve folks that they lent money to, people who are trying to get away. What if the security on a loan is too heavy for a normal loan shark to cart away? Would he be willing to hire a gang of adventurers to go collect it for him? Maybe it isn’t too heavy for them, but maybe it is, and part of the mission is figuring out how to return it to the boss without damaging it. (Yes - I love non-combat related portions of missions.)

Not enough, think about loan sharking further! What if the loan shark lends money to a church and the holy relics are the security? If the church is late on paying, then what? Are you ready to steal relics from a church? What if the church is relying on this fact and effectively cheated the loan shark? What if the security is land, but the vassal knows the “king” will never let the land be turned over to the loan shark? Again, someone is using these rules to try to cheat the loan shark. Yes, sometimes you send in a thief to steal as many valuables from this cheater as you can and he uses stealth and all that stuff. Then again, sometimes, you send the collectors to the front door and they bust it down with their Thor hammers of thunder in order to collect. These do not have to be missions just for the sneaky guys!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Reasons for Dungeons

I have to admit that I hate the idea of dungeons. Maybe it’s an adult gamer thing, but I find it increasingly difficult to accept the concept of a “dungeon”. You know what I mean, an underground complex filled with monsters and traps where you can go from room to room slaughtering them. With or without a dragon at the end, I can’t suspend belief that these creatures can survive within a dungeon with concepts of feeding, cleaning (excrement), and simply not killing each other while they sit around and do nearly nothing. So having stated my bias - I know how much some gamers love the concept of a dungeon. I mean they are so easy to run - funneling the players down narrow halls, etc. So I have to justify the use of a dungeon. Here’s one:

What if the reason the dungeon has not been explored is that it collapsed? But there are all sorts of rumors, and some guy with some money determined that this site could be the location of the lost artifacts/treasure. So he brought out a crew, and they started digging - digging out the tunnel entrance. The digging crew was astonished when some of their people were killed as they were about to breech the gate.

This “lair” was a strange point of contact between the forces of evil (underground monsters, demons, stuff like that) and the surface world. I like to think of it as the fantasy “dark net”. There is something about this place that allows the evil guys to come into physical contact, and it was here that they were trading things back and forth. Now that the gateway (both the gates that were dug out and the lair itself) has been exposed, the evil guys are going to try and break out. It was some of the little ones who killed the first diggers, but now bigger, tougher guys are coming.

So the rich guy with the diggers first has to try and re-secure the gate. He’s going to start with brick and mortar, but that won’t work for very long. He’s going to need to bring in the party - super toughs who can handle these types of things. But what will they find? A smugglers’ den of the blackest type. There will be meeting rooms, store houses, and security check points. There might even be some manner of temples or chapels that some of the folks were using to communicate with dark forces “on the other side”. There will likely be some dead folks here, but they’ve probably been “affected” by the demons over the centuries. Bad guys include demons coming through as well as some undead and possibly some golem types.

But this will not be all. After they find a way to defeat the bad guys who came through, they will have to stick around for a little while so the gate can be locked up again. Yeah - evidence should show pretty quickly that the entry way didn’t just collapse but was sealed. But while exploring the lair, there may be some tunnels that don’t do what is expected. They might lead to some of the more established manor houses in the city, showing that at least their ancestors had some questionable dealings. Maybe some tunnels to the temples too. Probably some evil doers lurking within the city, and they’ve been here a long time.

Good hunting!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Bringing Action Oriented Politics into your Campaign

As you have probably seen from this blog - I like getting the player characters involved in the politics of the region. But there are a lot of campaigns out there where this likely seems either boring or too difficult. Let me see if I can convince you otherwise.

First off, why politics? The honest answer is that after game mastering for the same crew for decades, I ran out of ideas for traps. Remember all those fun ticks and traps that you would find in dungeons and you needed to figure out? Well my players love those, but they know me too well. I just couldn’t surprise them anymore. So I looked for something that would get their brains working without a dungeon. I tried a bunch of things, but the two that worked best were: Putting them in situations I had no idea how they could get out of and politics.

Politics can add that level of intrigue, suspense and surprise that you probably can’t get from folks who have been playing FRPGs for more than a couple of years. Let’s face it; after you get good at these games, it is no longer all that interesting to open a dungeon door just to see what is on the other side. By putting politics in, you can surprise them and make them think, and surprises in RPGs are usually pretty cool.

So what do you do? Let’s do what I think is the easiest way to introduce it: I call it, the Little Mermaid Gambit. You remember that movie, right? Forget the source material, we’re thinking mainly about the movie. Princess falls in love and because she is forbidden to marry her love, she risks everything: her life, her father’s life, the kingdom, etc. Even non-feminist women seem to hate the idea that a stupid girl gets herself in trouble only to have boyfriend pull her out after she basically killed her father. How does that play in a FRPG?

It plays perfectly. In politics, it is often about motives and secret motives. Let’s turn this gambit into an adventure: The party has a reputation as guys who can get things done, possibly get things done quietly. They are called to the palace and meet with one of the king’s advisors. It seems that the princess has gone missing. The advisor wants to pay the party to “rescue” the princess without alerting every peasant in the kingdom to the fact that she’s gone. You see the princess is beautiful, just about marrying age, and loved by the people (even if she is a little bubbleheaded). Odd thing is, and the PCs may not pick up on this, the advisor seems to know a lot about where she is.

So the party goes off to retrieve the princess. They probably encounter a few things along the way, just to make them think this is a “normal” adventure. I think we say she’s at some rural cabin, and there are some wilderness encounters along the way. So they get to the cabin and assault it. Inside is a hunter who immediately surrenders. Let’s hope the party accepts his surrender and doesn’t just murder him, but that might depend on your players and the kind of games they’ve played. So they question the hunter and though he admits that he and the princess are in love and have been trying to find a way to run away together, she didn’t show up. She was supposed to come to the cabin the night she disappeared.

So now they have a mystery on their hands. If they need to track, the hunter can probably help with that. You might want to distract them by making them kill a band of bandits that the hunter thinks may have intercepted her. But they need to get back to the palace and talk to that advisor. The advisor knew all about the hunter and assumed the party was just going out to retrieve the princess from her secret boyfriend. Problem is, many people in the palace knew about the boyfriend, and several of them knew she was planning to run off with him. What really happened was {feel free to go any direction you want here} the king’s younger brother/uncle/whatever actually had his goons kidnap the girl, knowing that the hunter would be blamed. He is holding her in a secret part of the palace. The king agreed to marry the princess off to a neighboring prince, thus instigating her desire to flee. Now the king is going to have a huge diplomatic issue on his hands if he cannot produce his daughter when the foreigners come for the big announcement. Meanwhile the evil guy is planning on holding the princess until his nephew/brother looks stupid, then “rescuing” her and giving her to the foreign delegation. This will make him look great and the true king look like an idiot. It will also make the foreigners (who are probably far more powerful than this kingdom) see him as the true power in the kingdom. This is probably just the first step towards the bad guy making an idiot of the king and eventually taking his place.

So what’s different here? The PCs need to start accomplishing tasks without killing people. Killing the main bad guy will be unacceptable, no matter what his crimes are, because he is of royal blood and in some way in line for the throne, though he might be third to sixth in line. Killing the foreign delegation will also be unacceptable - it would lead to war. So no matter what the players may want, they cannot kill some of these folks - at least not and keep their heads. They also need to talk to people in order to learn things. Remember all those spells they didn’t bother to take like charm? Yeah - now they need them. Who’s the bad guy? Even if they figure out where the princess is and rescue her, the bad prince has kept himself distant enough from them that he may not be implicated, so they may fight his hired hands but they never figure out who Mr. Big is. Of course, he’s still actively trying to discredit the king, so more stuff will happen (more missions), which the king will want the party to do because they were so good at this one.

This is actually an overly simplistic write-up. There won’t just be good guys and bad guys. The king’s bodyguard(s) may be good guys who want to protect the king and princess but they might hate the party for showing them up, or just for being riffraff off the streets who shouldn’t be trusted to carry weapons so close to the king. The king’s wife might have been given to him as an alliance prize, and she has her own agenda. She may only be the crying mother while her daughter is missing, but once she’s safe, her true desire to subvert this kingdom under her father’s rule might surface. Who’s the heir? What does she want? What about the lesser nobles? Are they looking to get some pressure on the king to lower their taxes? How far will they go?

I really hope something here jogs something in your brain. Most of what I have been running for some time now works similarly to this. Really not able to come up with any plot lines? Think about Batman - The World’s Greatest Detective. No, not that Joel Schumacher crap, some of the good stories. The more of these you run, the more characters you will be creating for your game world, because unlike dragons at the end of dungeon romps, these guys tend to stay alive. For anyone who has been playing RPGs for more than four years, you’ll make the old new again.

The Endless Dungeon - GENCON

The RPG Blog Carnival has put out the theme this month of GENCON and convention-ing. No Board Enterprises blog post about GENCON can ignore the Endless Dungeon.

When we debuted Legend Quest at GENCON, we wanted to run as many demos as we could, but that doesn’t really work in a single booth. Besides, I got the teaching time on the game down to about 30 minutes, and people in the exhibitor hall rarely want to stay still for that long. (I got it down to 25 by the end of that weekend, but still...) So here was my big idea: The Endless Dungeon. We were going to run a single dungeon style adventure for the 60 hours of the convention. No, we weren’t going to run the demo 15 times, we were going to run one continuous adventure for 60 hours. Play as often as you wanted, but if you left and came back for a later slot, someone else may have killed the character you were playing, or something worse.

Expecting that characters would die, there were a bunch of places along the way where the party would have the opportunity to rescue folks who would join up, so the composition of the party would change as the weekend went on. I had it all figured out. Yeah, except for the toll that game mastering for forty straight hours takes on you. OK, it wasn’t straight. It was 16 hours Thursday (with an hour break for dinner), 16 hours Friday (another one hour dinner break), and after 8 hours on Saturday, they pulled me out. I had eaten while running the game, but when my voice started to hurt, I decided to numb it with screwdrivers. We still argue over whether it was a violation of the MECCA rules to drink in the gaming room. I was discrete.

OK so I did take about a six hour break Saturday afternoon/evening, but I jumped back in to give it a good strong finish Saturday night, and I think I only took an hour on Sunday. (My back up GM was good, but not knowing the whole dungeon the way I did, he couldn’t adapt it to the number of players and time constraints the way I could.) The most memorable player? Yeah - part of the 25 minute tutorial was when I said, “You don’t have to do any math. The character sheets have everything worked out for you.” One of the players needed a calculator to subtract 9 from 14. Yeah - Had to add that one into the sales pitch from then on: “You don’t need a calculator to play this game, unless you are unable to subtract 9 from 14.”

So how bad was it? Not that bad actually. I needed to be in the booth, so that was bad. But I found the perfect person to run the booth when I wasn’t there (and then married her so I knew she’d stick around). Gaming halls are always loud and trying to be heard for a crew of 12-16 players in a hall like that is always tough. I probably should have paced myself better in the beginning (when things were more “normal” or along the lines of how it was written) so that I’d have more energy towards the end when it needed more off the cuff. Still - Board Enterprises published most of the Endless Dungeon as adventure modules. I have to admit that I think the first part - a simple adventurers vs. goblins piece published as Blood in the Slave Pits - is the best adventure mission I’ve ever written.