Monday, August 29, 2016

Common NPC Ideas (and why you care)

A couple of posts ago, it was about NPC Ideas, and you might be wondering why you care about NPCs that aren’t enemies to be killed.  Let’s run some examples:

Non-Role-Playing Game - The player wants to buy a war horse.  He looks at the equipment chart and it says a warhorse is 200 “money”.  He subtracts 200 from his money and writes down a warhorse on his character sheet.  He gives his war horse the maximum attributes allowed by the game rules and feels justified in doing so because he paid 200, where a “riding horse” is only 100.  Oh, and he probably never paid for the saddle, tack or other requirements, nor did he ever bother to figure out how much it would take to feed and stable said warhorse.  He’s only good with game money when it is being added to his character sheet.

Minimalistic Role-Playing Game - The player tells the GM he wants to buy a warhorse.  GM looks at the book and sees that it costs 200.  GM rolls (or has player roll) a Scrounging skill task and the roll shows a success.  So the GM says the PC has found a war horse in town.  The two write down how much the saddle and gear will cost, assuming that the horse seller sells saddles and gear as well.  Depending on how good the Scrounging roll was, the GM assigns some reasonable stats to the horse, and they go on, forgetting about the war horse, unless the PC is charging someone in combat.

Far Better Role-Playing Game - The player tells the GM he wants to buy a warhorse.  The GM asks him what he’s looking for: highly trained, young, huge, strong, mare, stallion, gelding?  The GM knows that war horses aren’t just sitting around in small towns, so he makes the player roll a highly modified (downward) Scrounging task, and it is a failure.  GM says, wait until you’re back in the big city.

Next week and the party is back in the big city.  Player reminds the GM, but misses this roll too.  So the PC goes to the stable near his apartment and asks the GM about the stable hands.  GM improvises that there is one who is seemingly in charge, young guy about 20-22, reasonably fit, laid back.  “Johnnie”  So the PC talks to Johnnie (Carousing roll - success), and Johnnie likes the PC.  PC says, I’m looking for a war horse and gives him the same kind of specs they talked about last week.  Strength more important than size, a good, compact, reasonably well trained war horse.  Johnnie says, I don’t know of any in town right now, but let me ask around.  PC tips Johnnie nicely, and Johnnie likes him even more.  GM rolls Scrounging for Johnnie.  Johnnie succeeds, because he really knows this town and the horse traders in it.  The next game day (probably same gaming session), GM tells PC that Johnnie has found him his horse.  Johnnie and the PC go over to the horse trader and Johnnie helps him negotiate the price down a little.  But this is an excellent war horse - near max attributes.  They settle on 275 for the horse.  On the way back to the stable and apartment, Johnnie stops by a tack shop and the two pick out the best war saddle, tack and saddle bags for the horse and the adventurer.  PC goes back to his apartment, and Johnnie makes sure the horse is comfy in the stable he runs.

How is this better?  Well, first off, now it is a role-playing game, because the player has to role-play important things, and buying a war horse is a pretty important thing.  If any of you bought a car by simply showing up at the dealership, taking the first one you saw where you liked the color, and paid cash flat out for it, then you won’t understand.  The remaining 99.999% of us know that this is a big deal.  The player now knows what kind of horse he has.  He knows what kind of tack he has.  This is important because otherwise the player will choose whatever is best for him later on in the campaign when something here becomes material.  You know it!  You probably did it too.

But what else?  Well the player now has a contact - Johnnie the stablehand.  When the PC returns from missions, he can say - I drop my warhorse off with Johnnie, and both PC and GM know where the horse is and how it is being maintained.  This method costs the PC more.  He wasn’t able to cheat on the tack.  He is going to have to pay to feed the horse and stable it, though Johnnie might make that a little easier on him.

A lot of gold farmers are out there right now rolling their eyes and thinking, “See, this is stupid.  They just wasted money that they didn’t need to.”  OK, we’ll ignore that the other way is cheating and focus on game play.  It’s six months (real time or game time) later and the city is under attack.  Does the gold farmer say, I get on my armor, I get on my war horse and I ride to where there is fighting?  Do GM’s allow that?  When you don’t know where the stable is, you can’t let them get to the war horse.  Even if you did, the gold farmer would need to saddle and prep his horse on his own, where the guy who role-played with Johnnie might be able to assume that Johnnie got the warhorse all prepped for him, saving precious combat turns.  Outside of a fight, Johnnie can also be a source of information, the victim of a crime and therefore the reason for a new mission, getting married to allow the city life to appear as if it is going on with or without the PCs.

Look, I’m not against war games.  If you want to spend a certain number of points, build a military unit and then test strategies by battling other military units, by all means!  But we’re talking about role-playing games here.  Seems like there should be some role-playing.

Getting Great Ideas because they’re wrong

OK, so you’re watching some non-existent movie about the crusades and they introduce the two main characters - a European knight and an Arabic soldier.  They have to team up to defeat the evil guy from one of their sides who thinks his side is losing and therefore plans to burn Jerusalem to the ground to prevent the other side from taking it.  You think - This is great.  They’re going to have a French knight (like Richard) teaming up with an assassin from the Middle East in a really cool period piece.  Only you watch the movie and learn that the knight is from England, with a Scottish accent and Irish ideals, and the “Arabic” guy is from Kenya and acts like he’s a samurai.

Guess what?  your ideas were better.  Know what?  Use your ideas in your game!

Why are they better?  Well, in general Hollywood kind of sucks when it comes to legitimately good ideas.  I am convinced that the writers in LA assume that all the people in the world are stupid, though in their defense, the movie going public does seem to prove them right more often than not.  But even more importantly - Your ideas are original!  No one going to see that movie and then playing in your game is going to say - Hey, you stole this idea from that Eddie Murphy Crusade movie.

This is the whole point behind our constant bombardment about GMs getting “sparks of ideas” and then making those ideas their own.  Just because you may have misunderstood something about the plot and you got it “wrong” doesn’t mean that you should scrap the idea.  The opposite is true - You should generate as many “wrong” ideas as you possibly can in order to build up the most innovative list possible.

Also - If you didn’t catch it here, I just came up with a legitimate reason for an assassin and a paladin to work together.  I know there’s a ton of BS out there about the Templars, but if you are really naive enough to believe that stuff, you’re really being ignorant.  Read up on the crusades from some of the fact based historians.  Don’t believe the propaganda on either side.  The crusaders just might be the closest historic event to high fantasy role-playing that ever occurred, and knowing more about them is going to fire up your imagination and generate those sparks!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

NPC Ideas

Back when I wrote Character Foundry, I was assuming that most GMs’ minds worked as mine does - tons of ideas, and they just needed to be focused.  Well, I’ve heard from some of the readers, and it is clear that not all GMs think this way.  But I can still help.

I took off for a weekend last month
Just to try and recall the whole year.
All of the faces and all of the places,
Jimmy Buffett

No really - That’s the trick.

So you’re trying to come up with some ideas to fill out your town or city.  You need some NPCs for the players to interact with, but you’re not really focused on anything particular.  The next time you sit down to lunch in a public place (restaurant, cafeteria, whatever), look around at the other tables.  Most are just “people” with their heads down and nothing for you to work with, but there will be a couple that show you a true glimpse of their lives.  Maybe it’s that cute girl talking on the telephone and literally telling you (and everyone within earshot) all about her new boyfriend.  She’s easy to turn into an NPC.  Maybe it’s the mother with three young kids.  Is she disciplining them or letting them run wild?  Does she look like she has her act together or is her stroller leaking toys and other items?  Bet you can just let your mind run for a minute or two and come up with a whole back story based on her.

OK, those are random NPCs, and you need something more specific.  You need a mayor, or king, or ruler-type.  Think back to your high school principal.  Was he/she a tyrant?  someone who desperately wanted to be cool and accepted by the students?  a complete incompetent?  Use that!  Even if it is only your opinion of how the person was, use that.  Make this NPC your high school principal.

Dislike using real people?  OK, last film you saw - who was the bad guy’s henchman?  Don’t use the main bad guy, because that is likely to be noticed by your players, but the minor characters - you can easily transport them into your game as NPCs.  But remember to make them your own.  Just because you are basing the NPC on some movie or TV character doesn’t mean that that is how they must stay.  Maybe the character died in the movie, so you don’t know how they might have grown.  That’s better, because now you need to role-play how they end up.  All you’re really borrowing is some back story and some personality traits.  You don’t need to use them as the next mission’s bad guy or bad guy’s henchman.  They might make a great follower for your players.  After all, how much work do you really put into NPC bad guys that are likely to die?  But if he is a follower, then he’ll be around for a while and may need a back story and a personality.

The point is that you have a lifetime of experience to draw on.  You’ve probably met a million people in your life.  Few of them are memorable, but some are.  Some can serve as the base for NPCs in your world.

If you are still having problems, Character Foundry can help, especially with how you “make them your own”.  A Baker’s Dozen Villains is pretty good if you need major bad guys.  We know you can do it on your own, but sometimes you just don’t have the time.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

How the Economy Grows aka how insane is Board Enterprises

In 1991, Board Enterprises released Legend Quest. Within the book were a decent amount of items in the price guide, some notes on living expenses (room and board), some notes on the prices of metals and gems, as well as the listing of weapons and armors and their costs. So, yes, 2016 is the 25th anniversary, so keep your eyes open for our LQ 25th anniversary Omnibus.

In 2006, BE released Grain Into Gold (GIG). That book laid out how to setup a fantasy world economy and contained 13 pages of price lists, very few of which were weaponry or armor. Oh, it’s the 10th anniversary there, but we really weren’t planning to do much about that.

In 2015, we released d1000 Pockets. While that was less of an economy book, it did list 1,000 items and their value as loot.

So how did the economy grow? Well, before GIG, I was working on the economy of my world Fletnern. I was doing what I needed to do to make things work, plus I was designing the City of Rhum and needed to price all of their goods. It was all growing organically - I typically only did as much as I needed to in order to run my gaming sessions that week. In describing what I had been trying to do in Grain Into Gold, I did wind up developing vastly more prices and pricing interactions. To be honest, I was retconning some of my prices because they did not hold up to logic.

What’s the point? The point is that without purchasing an economy like Grain Into Gold, you only develop what you need when you need it - and that’s typically OK. But the time comes when you either have to do a lot of work in order to stay ahead of your players or you resort to buying something. Obviously we think you need GIG, but I’m going to try and explain why.

We have been criticized for not footnoting GIG. I guess people think it’s a little too much like a scholarly paper and therefore they naturally lean to expecting some of the same from it. But it doesn’t work like that. In most cases, we were comparing crop yields in medieval Europe to current crop yields in the USA and then using those ratios to convert other current crop yields in the current USA to those crops as they might have been in medieval Europe. Did that make sense? I’m saying this: If medieval Europe got four bushels of wheat out of an acre and Kansas 1998 got 20, then if Kansas 1998 got 10,000lbs of potatoes, then we’ll assume that medieval Europe could have gotten 2,000lbs. Hugely oversimplified, but basically it’s that.

But that means that I needed to find as many examples of medieval crop yields as I could. What else? Well, the speed of work from pre-industrial era smiths, tinkers, tanners, etc. ad nauseam. This is where it starts to get important. I have done this. I have data from all manner of sources that gives an indication of how fast people were able to get work done before the steam age. Because way too much of this was lost in narrative sections (like GIG), I started to chart as much of it as I could in a spreadsheet. So now, I not only have a massive spreadsheet with established formulas on the speed of hand stitching fabrics and leathers, but also charts on the time required to hammer out an axe head vs. a chisel, vs. a knife vs. a bobkin arrow head.

There are two pieces of this that make it of value to you. We were able to produce d1000 Pockets pretty easily. With everything that had been done for GIG and some of the other things we’ve done, it was a matter of plugging in the specifics into those formulas, and the results spit out pretty quickly. There were certainly some additions that I had to do, but with all the research I had already done on arrows, it was pretty easy to extrapolate what it would take to make a dart - both toys and competition grade sporting darts. Second, I’m using the same charts and formulas for ... well everything. Even if you disagreed with my methods, they are consistent. Which means that the costs of things are consistent. Which means if you use GIG and Pockets, things should work out. I remember an early rule book from that game we all played 30 years ago - a battle axe cost 5gp and a long sword cost 20gp (I think that was how it went). Yes, it takes more skill to craft a long bladed weapon that won’t crack than a hulking axe, but come on!

This really isn’t intended to be a multi-paragraph ad for our products. It is meant to explain some of what we’ve gone through over the last 25 years in hopes of getting to a great place where the cost of equipment and the value of loot won’t cause game masters problems during their gaming sessions. Things make sense, both when selling and buying. That’s all you really wanted; isn’t it?