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.