Sunday, May 31, 2015

Battle Captains

Follow up to Bringing Life to Your Game World and Bringing Life to Your Game World - Part II

I’ve talked about this before, but it kind of bugs me that when an army “loses” a war, they are often considered to all be dead. That’s not even slightly realistic and sucks if you are trying to create adventures. Just because they lost doesn’t mean that they all died. How many surrendered? How many escaped or deserted? How many were off doing other missions and haven’t been faced with the opposing army? Even if it is just a couple of units that were defending towns or territories that are now owned by the winners, there must be some guys who are still wild and free.

As important as it is to remember that there are some soldiers and other common guys out there who now need a new occupation, there will also be some leaders who escaped death or capture. These guys can now serve as a rallying point for any of the common soldiers who are still out there. Even if these battle captains are captured, they might serve as a rallying point as a couple hundred soldiers from the losing side might be willing to spring them from their jail (and maybe a bunch of extra POWs as well).

Did you make up the battle captains in your last war? Some of us do and some don’t. What’s a battle captain? Well, the army is probably run by a general who reports to and strategizes with the king (or whoever). The battle captains are the officers who report to the general or report to the officers who report to him. If the army really does get decimated, then maybe the only remaining battle captains are a couple of squad sergeants or legionnaires. The highest ranking of these guys will be the heads of the individual troops. Even if it is just a guy in charge of the archers, while another is in charge of the cavalry and a third has the infantry, there will likely be officers under the general. Even if you didn’t make these guys up before the big battle took place, afterwards, you can still add them in. Normally you do this by something like: They bring word to you that Captain Fleyr of the enemy forces is rumored to be hiding in the village of North Uptown. Captain Fleyr was in charge of all the enemy’s cavalry, and he is credited with that daring/cunning sweep that nearly took out your left flank during the decisive battle. They believe that he and his most loyal men fought their way clear of the battle. There were only a dozen of them when they fled, but they may be gathering numbers.

Need some drama after the massive climax of the huge war? Figure out what these battle captains are going to do. They might turn bandit. They might try to spark a rebellion. They might become a mercenary force. Meanwhile the guys who won the war are now going to have to defend every place that might get raided, so their forces are going to be severely strained. Perfect time to hire a party of adventurers to put down that rebel scum!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Dangerous Jobs

I was going to name this post Who’s Mad as a Hatter, but I didn’t think you’d click on it. It really should be titled: Dangerous Jobs that do not involve violence.

So hopefully before I lose you, what are we talking about? You’ve heard the saying “Mad as a hatter” I hope. Maybe you know the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland or from Batman. Anyway, the urban legend goes - hatters in Merry Ol’ England used chemicals in the hat making process that probably drove them insane. (Something to do with the mercury fumes.) This happened and it happened so commonly that they pretty much expected it.

What about in your fantasy world? Chances are they aren’t using mercury in hat making (that was more 1700-1800s). The same might be said for the dangers of match making (1800s). But are there dangerous professions that are going on in your fantasy cities? Of course there are! Even just thinking about acrobats and other entertainers who would commonly be injured in their performances and no one really cared. But what I am thinking about is the alchemists.
Just like the hatters, alchemists are typically encountering vapors and fumes that are probably dangerous to their health. I have set up a lot of alchemists in Fletnern that have gone insane or are going insane and how it affects their business. Sometimes it affects the neighborhood too. When a crazy alchemist is trying to put together some form of fire bomb, things can go wrong - really, really wrong. It would probably be less common for alchemists specializing in healing potions than those doing fire and other “bombs”, but it’s not like they would be thinking about proper ventilation or other safety tips.

Who else can we suggest might be crazy because of their job? Necromancers! Whether it’s the embalming fluids, the bone dust or just the horror of creating undead creatures - these guys will likely be some pretty warped dudes! Maybe some of the research mages. I think we’ve all read some horror story about a guy who went nuts reading old books containing knowledge that was not meant to be known. What about mediums? Those who contact the dead or other supernatural spirits. Maybe they aren’t insane, but do they get possessed?

Back to the big question I always want to ask: Why does it matter? This is some great starter material for adventures, typically urban adventures. Did the crazy conjurer guy at the magic university read the wrong book and try the wrong spell and now the basement of the college is being overrun by demons (maybe little gremlin type demons - they sound fun). Did the alchemist mess up and start a magical fire that cannot be put out by mundane means, and it is starting to consume more of the city? Did the crazy necromancer give some powerful undead creation a command that doesn’t make any sense, like bring me a new born baby every night (forever) and the duchess is about to go into labor? Crazy is sometimes easier to game master - it doesn’t have to make sense. (But can be a whole lot of fun, at least for the GM)

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Hidden Jobs

In every profession there are “hidden jobs”. These are the jobs (in a big company) or the tasks (in the smaller ones) that those of us not in those professions never think about. For example - Most of you have an understanding of credit cards and how they work. You would not be surprised to learn that in today’s culture, most credit card decisions are made by computers. You might even think that there must be some math/economics whizzes in there deciding what the computers will allow and what they will reject. But did you know that there is actually a profession for the people who translate the economics into something the programmers can understand and then translate the IT speak back into something the economists can understand? It’s a hidden job.

Why does it matter? We published 100 Professions to give GMs and players an idea of what kinds of things their PCs could be doing when not adventuring. But we did not put in a whole bunch of hidden jobs. In fact we avoided it. Why? Because it seemed to be far too specific and to be honest fraught with things that people would argue with us about.

But these jobs matter, because paying people to do these hidden jobs runs up the cost of ... well ... everything. Additionally, when you’re thinking about how many people you have in your cities, you need to think about some of these hidden jobs. There are way more people working in that brewery than you are thinking about.

Examples: all the janitors or other cleaning staff; accountants and bookkeepers even in labor jobs; pay masters and those who protect them; mechanics and other fix-it folk who maintain the machines being used - everything from the fabric looms to the mills; the toolmakers who make scissors, soup ladles, and steel anvils; runners of absolutely all kinds - the people (kids) who are bring supplies to workers or delivering messages or even product around the city; the secretaries and other assistants who take notes, keep schedules, and do just about everything for the big thinkers and other bosses.
Let’s stop on this one for a second. I assume that the vast majority of you reading this are younger than I am, so we’re all in the same boat on this one. Ever see a movie like 9 to 5 where they have this huge room filled with people (women) typing? Yeah, we don’t get that. None of us ever worked for a place that didn’t have some manner of word processing. None of us ever worked for a firm that actually did their books on four column accounting paper. We don’t get, but your parents or maybe grandparents understood a work force that is incredibly different from ours. That’s one or two generations ago. Think back to the time before Ford and his assembly line. That’s the day and age you need to think about for your fantasy cities. Every wagon part is hand crafted for this particular wagon. You cannot go to the wagon part store and get something that will replace what you have, because everything is custom built and a little bit different in size. Even bricks are little bit different in size and might not fit where you want them to. Maybe that all makes sense to you, but I have to stop and think it through nearly every time, because I have never lived in a world like that.

What’s the moral of this story? When you think about a blacksmith’s shop and you think that the blacksmith either works alone or with an apprentice, you’re probably missing the point in a big way. He might have one apprentice just for pumping the bellows on the forge, one apprentice for tending to the horses before he shoes them (yes, I know that’s a farrier and not a blacksmith), a journey man who helps him hammer, and another apprentice who holds the object with the tongs. Early this morning, those three apprentices may have had to carry a couple hundred pounds of coal into the shop and stack it in the bin, in addition to filling the water barrels (for drinking and otherwise) or whatever else they are quenching in (assuming they do that). Someone had to deliver the coal, someone had to put it wherever it is now (even if that meant shoveling it off the wagon), I could go on all day on this stuff and barely scratch the surface.

So what do I do? Well, most of Grain Into Gold was based on statistics from an era before the modern age (could be the year 1000 through early 1700s) on how much work got done in a day. More recent work has often been based on minutes/hours required by re-enactors or in some cases actually information from the proper era. But when I use minutes/hours to craft a specific item, I assume that they are only getting 7.5 hours of work done in a typical 10 hour work day. Why? because I am trying to compensate for all those hidden tasks that I don’t know about. This is why you would rather buy Board Enterprises supplements then try to figure all this stuff out yourself. We’re not just pricing an apple at one copper coin because it sounds good. We’ve figured out how many apples the guy can grow in a year and what he needs to sell them for in order to not go broke before the next harvest season.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Slavery - how it’s handled in Rhum

In our City of Rhum supplement, we tried to tie the whole city together as opposed to our previous supplements where we were detailing neighborhoods. One of the things that may have seemed like a throwaway comment in there is that children are legally the property of their parents and as such can be sold into slavery by their parents. We didn’t get into that as deeply as maybe we should have, but to do so would have seemed out of place - too much emphasis on that one topic. But it kind of bothers me that people may have the wrong impression.

Here’s how it really works: First off, abortion is considered completely immoral in Rhum. The killing of an innocent is seen as one of the worst things possible. The women of Rhum have spoken and there is no one who believes that those babies moving around within their mothers are anything but “life”. So to kill the unborn child is evil. But not every mother/family can afford to raise a child or more commonly another child. So they will commonly “sell” them to one of the plantations outside of the city.

While everyone in Rhum would describe this as selling the baby into slavery, our modern society might instead see this as an indentured servant contract. Contracts differ with each of the various plantations, but in general the contract is something along the lines of: The plantation and its owners promise to raise the child in a safe manner until the child turns 18-21 years of age. At that point the child will have repaid the plantation for his raising and would be free to leave if he/she chose to. At issue is that after 20 years of only knowing the plantation, a high percentage of those newly freed from their contract of indenture stay on. After all, they move from a shared bunk house to a “cottage” of their own with the right to marry and have children (though any children will be automatically entered into their own indentured contracts). These freed men are treated basically the same as the indentured servants, and they are paid only in room and board and a few extras, never in money that they could accumulate and take with them. Think of it as a form of Stockholm syndrome if you will, but they rarely go anywhere.

Now, from the point of view of the mothers - They perceive their choices as being between raising a child on the streets or in a home far too small for the family with an uncertainty if this child will be the extra mouth that causes her whole family to starve to death vs. going to work for a plantation where the child will be raised to adulthood, fed, clothed, and sheltered - most often in a means that the mother herself might consider far better than what she gets. Further, the child will at least be taught to be a field hand if not gaining a better career, such as brewer, weaver, or cattle hand.

Not to try and rationalize indentured servant contracts or convince anyone that slavery is a good thing, but there is no question in the morality of the Rhorics - an indentured servant contract gives the child a legitimate chance at a life - difficult but reasonably safe. Abortion is evil and gives the child no chance. Just wanted to clarify City of Rhum a little bit and maybe make you think about how certain things considered so horrid in our culture might be seen in a completely different light in another. If you’re a world builder, that matters.

Of course, I never did put any details into the hobo towns made up of those folks who do leave the plantations and serve as migrant farm workers. Trying to get some reasonable details there may not be easy.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Tenets of Religion

It occurs to me that the medium upon which something is written tends to make a difference in how that thing is treated. What am I talking about? Well, from the title of the post you probably know I’m talking about religious writings.

I am not Jewish, but the Torah is nearly always depicted as being a massive scroll from which they read. My own religious book is a thick book with very thin pages (I assume to keep the book from being even thicker). But these books are typically produced in the fanciest ways - leather bound covers, gold on the sides of the pages, some manner of gold leaf decorating the cover, often illuminated pages within the book - fancy! But there are other ways as well. The 10 Commandments were written on two stone tablets - It is not unreasonable to think that religions would continue to read the most important fundamentals of their religion off stone tablets. Perhaps a religion would craft the high prayers onto a wood panel maybe a relief cut, or etched into a metal sheet, or cut into the four sides of a marble obelisk at the center of the temple.

Does it matter? Well, yeah, I think it does. If this is a religion intended to be celebrated in major cities with major churches and cathedrals, then they really should lean towards the greatest displays. If that religion is then to be transported with people while they travel, maybe they carry a small pendant version of the obelisk with one rune on each side to remind them of the four basic tenets. Now I’ve probably lost some of you already who were thinking “This doesn’t apply to me. There’s nothing here that increases my damage output.” Well, you might be right, but if you knew that a major religion used obelisk pendants made of obsidian for their major sign, then as GM you can put a bunch of these in as loot. If you know that the holy writings are on a lambskin scroll frequently wrapped around the blessed silver rod, well, if you’re willing to defile religious objects, you know where to loot a couple pounds of silver. The cost of the gold leaf on the book will increase its price, but probably not its loot value since you probably cannot pull it off (certainly not a material weight of gold off).

But it is more than just the loot value of these things. It changes the character of the religion. Truthfully, reading from a huge scroll does make it feel that much “older”, at least to me. How would we feel if on Sunday they were reading from a smart phone? The words didn’t change, but the ceremony sure did. And with our fantasy pagan religions the “written” words can be nearly anything. Viking runes on a stone sign post. A totem pole. Phrases etched onto a suit or armor or maybe just the helmet. A style of script that looked like swords and daggers formed into letters. or like wild roses climbing up the page. Maybe a tapestry with the words woven in or embroidered on a nun’s veil. Don’t get bogged down in our cultural themes. Use them as a base and then let your mind roam widely!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Bringing Life to Your Game World - Part II

That last post - seems to me that I left out on piece, because I assumed you already can do this: Create three “people”.

If you haven’t read the other one, start there. Link here Bringing Life to Your Game World.

In order to role-play, you need to know the characters. That guy that I have mentioned I don’t like - the one with the extremely successful book series that is now an extremely special cable series - yeah, he didn’t really do this. He didn’t make up his own characters. He went into history and took some his characters from there. That way he had fully fleshed out characters who had made decisions and he could assume that the decisions they made in history were similar to what they would do in his books.

So the question is: Can you make up fully fleshed out characters and then make decisions the way they would? This isn’t that easy a question, nor answer. But if you only know the stats on the characters, then you don’t know them. This is the big difference between the gold farmers and the role players. Gold farmers really don’t care about personalities or even motivations. They believe that everyone’s motivation is to either get more gold or experience or most likely, to deal more damage than any other character in the history of the game.

So you’re here and you’re reading this, so you’re not a gold farmer. How do you come up with fully fleshed out characters? Well, you could borrow characters from history. You could find people in your own life and use them. We have all sorts of warnings about how to make them your own as well as how to not get caught on these “plagiarisms” in our book The Character Foundry. But this isn’t just a commercial for our products. I think the best way to develop a character is this:

Start with an idea - What are you creating? A brilliant politician? A massive warrior? A tactical strategist? A cunning merchant? Figure that piece out - sort of “the present”.

Then figure out “the past”. Develop a character history that helps to explain how this character got to where he/she is today. By doing this, you are really starting to figure out who this character is. Whether the massive warrior came from the slave pits at the arena or the fighting schools of some fancy city or the military campaigns on the frontier or the monastery of the god of battle will help explain who they are, and how they see the world. No big surprise - Now you figure out “the future”. Don’t actually figure out the future; just think about what this character wants in the future. This is their motivation. By knowing what they want, you have the best possibility of figuring out what they will do now in order to achieve that goal.

Present, past, future - Not that tough? Well, do it systematically, and it can be a lot easier. Once you know the character, you can determine what they would do. Once you know what many of your characters will do in different situations, now you can build the action of the campaign world. Yes, you can be the next GRRM, at least in your world, probably not in the paycheck.

Bringing Life to Your Game World

You know that show where there are all those different families all trying get their ass in the big throne? Think of that show. In their plots, they kill (or have killed) other people. So, you have a core group of people who are motivated by their greed for power. Want your world to breathe like that? Try this:

In your world, make up three of these people. It doesn’t have to three people. It should probably be three groups of people. Could be races of people, nations of people, families, whatever. OK, now determine what these folks have done to gain their current level of power (or land or money or whatever). If you work through that, you will likely come up with things they have done to each other as well as things they have done that have affected “innocent” parties. Now, figure out the affected innocent parties - nothing big; sketches work here. Now figure out what these parties will do in order to get revenge on the ones who wronged them. You’ve just written a huge and interactive history, or if you want sketched out the future action for your campaign.

What are you doing here? You’re role-playing. “If I were King Fred, and Queen Thelma from next door married my uncle in an effort to say that she deserved my throne by some rite of succession, I’d have her daughter threatened and encourage the barbarians on her eastern border to attack her prized vineyards.” “If I were the barbarians and we took over the vineyards, we’d drink all the wine, rape all the women, and carry off all the livestock, including horses and oxen.” “If I were Queen Thelma and I lost my vineyards and whole bunch of cattle, I’d have to raid Prince Mark’s lands to capture his storehouses full of food or risk my subjects starving.” “If I were Prince Mark and my subjects are all magic users, we’d curse Queen Thelma with warts, but since we can’t beat her army, we’d have to form an alliance with King Fred who still has food.”

You designed the sketch of the “people”. As you make decisions for them, you are continuing to develop them and understand them better. King Fred may have started out as one of the King Louises of France in the early 1700s - pompous and detached from his people. But as you make decisions for him, you decide if he is a Machiavellian schemer or a royal bumbler (or somewhere in between). You originally wrote that Prince Mark’s people used a lot of magic, but now you have to figure out exactly what they do with it. Can they go to war against armored knights or are they mainly scholars who are trying to figure out how the world spins on its axis? And what will they do with that knowledge?

I really think it is all about thinking through that next step. Just think through: if this happens, then that would be the natural response. It works with your world’s politics as shown above, as well as the economics, and a whole bunch of other things. It also works in reverse. You may have written a history that said this tribe moved into this land at this time. Why? Ask the next question, again and again. Why did they move in? Did they want more land? Did they get chased out? And then what were the consequences of them moving in? Did they enslave the population? Did they chase them out and they moved somewhere else? If no one was in the fertile lands, why not? Was there a war a couple decades ago and no one has taken over yet? That might need a why not question too. Ask yourself why, and you’ll really start to build.

If you can honestly (or even semi-honestly) make decisions from a role-playing perspective of “what would this character do in this circumstance”, you will continue to define the characters and flesh out your world. This really is accretive - That means the more you do, the easy it gets because it keeps adding things. After a while, you will know exactly what Prince Mark and his court wizards would do, because you’ve made a bunch of decisions for them and you know what trials they are facing on their other borders.

I hope this helps you start developing your worlds, your campaigns, and your games in general. Use the feedback you get from your players, too. They’re reactions to certain characters and ideas in your game world can help spur you in new directions, even if they are directions you did not think of moving in the first draft. Hey - It’s not retcon if they didn’t figure it out the first time around!