Sunday, March 27, 2016

What magic items do they need?

You watch James Bond movies, right? Of course you do! Ever notice that James is never given some massive weapon? Here is one of cinema’s most successful killers, and he’s doing the vast majority of it armed with a hand gun. Just a pistol, even if it does hit like a brick through a plate glass window. Sure, he electrocutes guys with fans, kills with shark pellets, throws people out into deep space, etc., but he’s a major movie hero and he never needs a bigger weapon. Can’t our FRPG heroes be more like that?

But then, what kind of magic items would we give them? The ones that compensate for people who are not in the party. Ever have a party of paladins and warriors in huge bulky armor and no thief type? OK, these guys need magic items that will allow them to do things that normally you’d have a thief for. Like what? Well, maybe a magical skeleton key that can pick certain kinds of locks. What about a magical telescope that allows them to scout from hugely long distances, so they don’t need anyone to get in close. Maybe something that quiets that armor a bit so they don’t sound like a high school marching band as they close on the sleeping dragon.

OK, there can be things that more directly affect combat too. How about the magnetic watch is some bracer or gauntlet that exerts a magical magnetic force against your opponent’s weapon or shield, making it tough for him to hit you with it? Maybe an amulet that protects against arrows in some fashion, because it takes so damn long to get those heavily armored guys into melee. (Wow, James must be inspiring me now, because I almost wrote “armoured”.)

Now Bond is a spy, but he is also an assassin. As a spy, knowledge is power, so his items do reflect his need to gather knowledge. This lack of massive weapons also forces him to use the things laying around the room to help him kill folks, which can be hugely fun in an RFPG. It would be pretty silly for him to walk into the casino in his tux with a bazooka strapped to his back, but this is a fair analogy to what some of your “adventurers” are doing.

In writing this, it occurred to me that this is what many of the items in XCom do. You can take the perk that makes you immune to panicking, or you can carry that alien artifact thing that does the same. That’s just one example. You could give those knights in armor a “flash bang” grenade that distracts the enemy, a grapnel hook that will hold them and their armor (allowing limited “flight”), or an attachment to that armor that prevents certain types of attacks, like garrotes or even poison clouds. Look, I don’t want to change every FRPG campaign out there, but isn’t there a point at which we have to say if you can’t kill some guy with a reasonably normal weapon, then you’re kind of a pussy. You should be so good at the killing thing that you don’t need to have the sword equivalent of an ICBM.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Missions with that little touch of role-playing

I like adding slang into my world. Things like an “UhOh” is what a lot of folks call a heavy crossbow (because it’s what the burglars say when they see one at night). Another is “baker’s hours”. The idea is that in order to make bread for the people to buy in time for their morning meal, the bakers need to get up in the middle of the night and start the dough. It needs to be made, rise, kneed, rise, bake, all by sunrise. Think of the old “time to make the doughnuts” commercials. Yes - This was to be a parody of “bankers’ hours”, but it did take on a life all its own.

So who cares, right? Slang - It’s so role-play! But even goofy things like this can spark missions, and this one sparked a really cool one for me: What if the king’s prized baker couldn’t wake up in the mornings because he was having awful nightmares? That would be the kind of thing they would hire wizards to figure out and correct! But I like missions that can “go either way”. So instead of just laying this one out there, I tried to figure out why someone would have cursed the baker with nightmares. Here’s what I came up with:

The king’s baker is the most celebrated baker in the kingdom. Not only graduating from a famous school, he has shown himself to have tricks up his sleeves that other bakers would literally kill to possess. But this all went to his head. Early in his career as the chief baker at the palace, he tried to woo a scullery maid. Well, he’s an ass, and he wound up raping her, but due to their different positions in the palace, no one cared what happened to her. So he did it again. And she ran away.

Well, she was half Yugsilanti (think gypsy if that isn’t too politically incorrect these days). She returned to her people, and the crones taught her some things. The maid made a deal with a nightmare demon (there are lots of them!) and cursed the baker. Now with the proper magics, it is almost easy to figure this out. You have to wait by the baker’s bedside until he’s having a nightmare, and then have the right type of spell caster either monitor the dream, or detect the “demon”/spirit. Then you have to summon the spirit and question it. This is not a loyal follower of the maid, and it will sell her out for any type of bribe. So then they track down the maid, now a witch and somehow get her to remove the curse (probably without killing her, because then how would she remove the curse?). OK - A little complicated, but a pretty straight forward mission, right?

But how do they play it? What’s the king really like? Does he value his morning pastries over justice? How does his answer sit with the party? This is in many ways a “funneled adventure”, meaning that the party is funneled into one series of actions that should lead them to the maid/witch. But once resolved, what then? Something this silly (a baker and his nightmares) could shake the relationship between the party and their king if he chooses the less honorable path of ignoring the rape.

Forget about role-playing silly slang terms. This is what needs to be role-played. What would these adventurers do in this situation? and how does that affect the king, the palace, and the court? This is when it gets fun! At least for me! Hope it does for you and your crew of players too!

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Divine Alchemy yields magic items

So after that last post (might be important to read that one before this, but your choice), I was thinking through some “divine alchemy”. Should these pilgrimages include things like: put a dragon fang, a lit blue candle, the long sword, and a live chicken on the altar in order to enchant the blade? So I was thinking that these pilgrimages should have sacrifices associated with them. Not only does it make them harder to do (requiring more adventuring instead of just showing up), but these are gods - they like sacrifices.

Now I have all sorts of rules about sacrifices in my game. Chief among them is the idea that sacrificing a person to a god allows that god to require ten years of service from that soul before they are released to their eternal reward. Well, I was thinking of a dog breed I developed as a temple guardian for the main war god in Fletnern (Manoto, god of war in the Dinsthain pantheon). What if someone sacrificed one of these “sacred temple guardians”? I think we have too dark a concept of sacrifices. Since the vast majority of us are monotheistic, we don’t see sacrificing in a good light. I am trying to role-play my NPCs, and I think giving a sacred dog to your god would be a good thing.

So here’s what I’ve come up with: You find a “perfect” dog (unblemished and the right color, etc.). You raise it for a certain period of time, maybe six to ten months. You have to follow some rather serious restrictions on how you raise it, including what you feed it, etc. After that, you sacrifice the dog on Manoto’s altar in a special ceremony. You have now created a dog angel that will serve Manoto in the afterlife. Manoto is a war god, so he has legions that battle other divine armies all the time. Not only did you just help your god, but when you eventually die, you get your dog back as a celestial war dog to work with you in the divine army.

Sounds a little sick to us modern folks, but not only do these folks have faith, but they actually have lots of gods around - gods that grant them spells and magic items. They can damn near prove that that the dog becomes an angel. Isn’t that a good thing?

A couple of extra things. Some people who have done this ritual swear that the angel dogs must be following them around, because they have been awoken from sleep just before an ambush by loud barking that no one else heard. The ritual is typically done by younger people (teens) because it is pretty exhausting to train the dog in this fashion (too tiring for old men) and because the amount of time you spend with the dog is something a married guy just couldn’t do. Lastly, or those of you still thinking this isn’t for you and your more hack and slash campaign: A priest (maybe the one in your party) is contacted by one of Manoto’s angels. It seems that there is a dog breeder who is not following all the proper tenets of raising these dogs. Because of this, young faithful men are going through all the work to create these angle dogs, but it isn’t working. This breeder needs to be punished. Boom, your next mission. The breeder will have an extensive family of guys who are training fighting dogs (those guys do tend to be rather rough or at least nasty) as well as a herd of war dogs. Maybe there is some special dog on that breeding farm that they have to rescue. It might be destined to be a special temple watch dog or it may be destined for one of the party members.

You see, I like the gods being involved in the campaigns; I just don’t like the gods being so predictable. Pray for X hours and get these spells. That’s not for my style of play.

Friday, March 18, 2016

New Design to Magic Items

If I were to ever write a computer RPG, one of the main elements in it would be the magic items. Duh, right? But wait, this isn’t simply a crafting station and the creation of some massive magic tech. Instead, I have always wanted it to go like this: (and this can work for non-computer games as well, in fact possibly better)

Early in the game, the character gets a minor magical item that looks really cool, but is not that powerful. Someone back home sees it and tells him that this is in fact the Sword of the Goddess, a legendary weapon of incredible might. But the character (and player especially) knows that currently it simply glows blue when bad guys are around. So the smart guy (priest, sage, fence, whoever) does some research. In order to get that Sword of the Goddess to become really kick ass, you need to do a pilgrimage to her holy shrine.

Now the pilgrimage can be anything the GM or writer wants. It could simply be a “six months pass while you climb the high mountain and dedicate the sword to the goddess once more”. More than likely, it will be a mission where they have to fight their way up the mountain because something bad is now in the way. Not only does this become a mission, but they become missionaries in that they are reopening the goddess’ sacred spot to other pilgrims. I prefer it being some manner of physical challenge, like climbing the mountain requires a dozen skill checks in climbing and related skills. If you want physical and combat, you can always have them fight a dream battle once they get to the top. Those are great because you can take away all their magical gear and leave them with only the Sword of the Goddess.

Maybe they need the right kind of sacrifice to awaken the goddess and have her bestow her blessing. This could be anything from a virgin to diamonds to a special flower that only grows in a distant swamp and must be kept alive while they trek up the icy mountain. Maybe they have to drag a rather useless priest along with them, making everything they do more difficult. In any case, they do the ritual at the shrine and the sword gains some pretty kick ass abilities that are in some way matched to the goddess’ aspects. Oh, but here’s the kicker - later on when the sword starts to seem underpowered for what the party is doing, that same smart guy says he found another pilgrimage they can do and have the goddess supercharge the weapon again.

It doesn’t have to be a sword! Shield, armor, helm, bow, whatever makes sense for the god/goddess and the character. If this is how magic items (at least the really powerful ones) in the world work, then you could probably have a shield of the goddess of home and hearth and a spear of the god of war and a helm of the god of life - assuming they are all allies. I think the first pilgrimage level item could be from multiple gods, but the second or third tier super charge can probably only come from one, though you could switch. (This means if you do the second tier pilgrimage for one, you are removing the second tier pilgrimage from any others, even if they are not with you.)

What’s the big deal here? Well, let’s say you are fighting a major priest of the chaos god’s cult. He is using a major weapon that does some cool magic stuff. Once it is looted, it loses all that cool stuff, because the magical abilities were tied to the pilgrimage he did, not simply the weapon. Pretty tricky huh? Bad guys get magical items powerful enough to fight the party, but the party does not get the windfall profit from selling all of them. It also gets the party far more invested in their magical items than if they bought them as is or looted them off some bad guy. Also, as a divinely powered item, it helps to keep them tied to their gods and religions, which can help role-players whether they are good at it or need a little help. Yes - everything I do is to try and get the players more invested in their characters, the campaign, and the world!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Cinematic vs. TV Superheroes

By now nearly all of geekdom understands the difference between the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Netflix shows. This is something I’ve been supportive of my entire career as a gamemaster. Here’s what I mean: There can be teams of world savers (like the Avengers) and teams of “smaller” heroes (like Daredevil and Jessica Jones) in the same world. Yes, the Avengers are in a position to stop an entire alien race from attacking the Earth. But that doesn’t make Daredevil any less fun while you watch him take on organized crime in Hell’s Kitchen.

How does this work in game? Well, one of the easiest ways I’ve found to control the action is through magic items. The world savers wind up with some pretty massive items that can do all manner of things, most importantly allowing or enhancing the largest (crowd control) spells and effects. There just is something truly epic about a fireball that wipes out an entire company of soldiers. Meanwhile, on what we’re calling the “small side”, you see things more along the lines of magic items that might enhance a sniper or a sneak thief, but you probably won’t see the same level of grand sorcery. World savers = Sorcerers. Subtle campaigns more often have necromancers and beast masters; still effective, but more in one on one fights and not taking on mobs of invading lizardmen.

The most important part is actually the mood you set. World savers have bright lights, bold colors, and (to a point) less mature plot lines. Small side campaigns are most often darker, and the conflicts are far more centered on individuals. World savers should get recognized in the streets and hailed as heroes. Small side folks may have a tiny section of the town where they are known and admired, but it will only be by those people who they have directly helped, and that number will be far smaller. But there is an upside to this. If a small side party rescues the tavern owner’s daughter from a gang of street thugs who plan to abuse her and then sell her to a slave dealer, that tavern owner will be devoted to them for life. He probably cannot afford to give them free drinks, but no matter how many years have gone by, if the party needs someone to hide them from the law, that tavern owner will risk everything to help them. Meanwhile, a year after preventing the world from being eaten by a cosmic dragon, the world savers will probably be forgotten by the public or worse seen as glory hounds.

Which you go with really depends on you and your players. Some folks just prefer one over the other. When I was running games once or twice a week, I typically had two teams going - typically one of each type. Sometimes it was fun to break out the hugely powerful team, while other times, you were just in the mood for something grittier. Crossovers don’t typically work, because the two teams are so different, that you really cannot put them up against the same types of enemies. What does work is when something needs to get done and a third party brings both teams in because they need a huge flashy unit and small stealthy one. Example - A powerful mage has summoned an army to attack the city. The flashy guys need to defend the city from the army, while the other team sneaks into the mage’s tower and assassinates him while dodging traps and a few bodyguards. While team-ups don’t work, every once in a while you can find a reason to swap one guy from one of the teams to the other, if he just seems to work better in the other style.

Never tried a small side campaign? Try one - mix it up! I think the small side campaigns really bring out the role-players on your team. This isn’t standing on hill tops watching the sun rise over a field of dead ghouls and vampires. This is getting into people lives, seeing the reality, good and especially bad, and then doing things to help these folks, because no one else seems to care. Plus - You can afford to let them lose. It may be heartbreaking to bring a daughter home on your shield, but maybe you saved her eternal soul from damnation. If the world savers fail, there goes the whole campaign world!