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.