Monday, November 28, 2016

What’s Next for Board Enterprises?

Some of you have been catching the hints (not very subtle) that we are gearing up to try a crowd funding type project.  Now, I’m not young or hip enough to be using all the right words, but what we’re looking at is a Patreon project with a monthly “subscription”.  So what would your monthly subscription get you?

First, you would be supporting our efforts here, with the blog, the Fletnern wiki, and with the official projects.  The more support we get, the more content we can generate, and there is a formula to how many posts will be coming out.  So this is the “you folks are great!” portion.

Second, you will be getting what has been described by others as a monthly “e-zine”.  I never looked at it that way, but it is a collection of articles and columns, typically about a related title.  This is much more than a bunch of blog posts, but those will be there too.  This will be campaign starter kits (though less detailed than our soon to debut Necromancers Coup), optional rules, new monsters, new magic items, new uses for magic items, details on how to min/max your games and characters, etc.  As I look at it from a distance, I guess it is like an e-zine.

Third, for every dollar you contribute to supporting our efforts, we will put a dollar in your Board Bucks account.  (Open and willing to changing that name if someone can come up with something better!)  This means that in addition to supporting the cause and getting the e-zine, you will be able to trade your Board Bucks for any product we have on the market.  I really think this is a two-for-one sale where you are sort of paying for the e-zine and getting free product as well.

Anything else?  Well, yeah.  The main reason we’re even doing this is to get ourselves closer to the customers.  We’re going to have polls and votes and customer feed-back things going on in hopes of getting you folks out there to tell us what content you’re looking for.  The point is to aim the new content directly at what you folks want.  We’ve been having trouble connecting with you, and we’re hoping this will allow us to bridge that gap.

More?  Sure - As part of bridging that gap, we’re hoping that we can establish and maintain an ongoing conversation with you folks.  Curious about game design?  We’d love to tell you what we know.  Stuck on a world building issue?  We’d love to give some advice, but even more than that, we’re hoping we can foster a community where you’re helping each other and we’re sort of guiding along the way.  Not that we won’t help, but multiple heads are better than one.  (I really feel I need a picture of the hydra here!)

Please stay tuned to this blog as this is where we will be releasing the details.  Better yet, subscribe to the blog, because we’re trying to figure out what discounts or bonuses we can give to the blog subscribers.

Want to start helping now?  Follow this link and take our first survey.  We’re new to this survey format, so please forgive the overly basic nature of it, but give us some feedback on what you’re looking for.  We’re hoping to get going pretty early in 2017, so we’re hoping to get your feedback ASAP!

And thank you!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Is it (Fantasy) Sunday yet?

Never discuss politics or religion.  That’s the social norm, right?  That warning needs to be considered here too.  We’re going to talk about religion - fantasy religion, but still religion.  So we’re all warned.

I’ve discussed before that living in the USA in the twenty-first century, I don’t fully know how to role-play characters who live in a world where there are many gods and they are all real.  I’m not suggesting that there is no God in the modern world!  But there are not multiple pantheons of gods who are directly and intentionally making their presences known.

So what would it be like to live in a world where there were gods and the magic of the gods could be channeled / is channeled on a regular basis?  What would it be like to go to church and have your services to the god of life, knowing that the next cathedral over people were worshipping the goddess of the sea, and down the block the god of magic.  The only way I can think of it, is to sort of compare it to the various Protestant faiths.  At least in the modern world, Methodists don’t attack Lutherans.  For the most part, they respect that the other guys are not stupid or foolish for their beliefs.  They might think their rites and understandings are better than the next group, but they aren’t enemies. 

But that’s a bad analogy.  Think about how religion affects everyday life.  We have Saturday and Sunday off because of religion.  We call the morning meal breakfast because of religion.  The main reason they invented publishing was to print religious books.  The publishing of lies about the Roman Catholic Church became one of the biggest industries in Protestant Netherlands (while controlled by Catholic Spain).  That’s where all the BS you think you know about the Spanish Inquisition comes from.  Clearly, religion is a major force in the world.

But how different is it?  I don’t pretend to understand the Asian religions, but they don’t operate as the Judeo-Christian or Muslim religions do, and yet we don’t seem to have a problem in our cosmopolitan cultures (not with the Asian religions at least).  So would it be all that different?

This topic probably deserves its own graduate studies paper, so let’s focus on only one aspect and see what you think.  Services:  how people go to church to worship.  In Fletnern, the day is only 21 hours long and most work shifts are 8-10 hours, so there really isn’t a lot of time to spare.  I don’t believe that farmers (the vast majority of the population) could stop into a church every morning for services, but at the same time, certain types of farmers cannot take a day off either - I’m thinking mainly of shepherds and dairy farmers who need to care for their animals every single day.  Wheat farmers may be able to take a day off once a week for religious observation, but would they?  Keep holy the Sabbath is a Judeo-Christian idea, right?

Well, lacking a better model, here is what I have done in many of my smaller towns.  If the town is smaller, but still able to support a church ...

Sideline for math:  assume that the people “tithe” 5% - then you would need 20 families to support a “priest”.  Assume that the priest needs to maintain his home and the church, and you can assume that at 25-30 families you can have a church in a community.  I typically assume 8 people to a family - mom, dad, and six kids.  So a small church should be available in any community of 200-250+.  Each family needs a farm of some 30ish acres, so that’s 900 acres.  Call that 1.4 square miles, which takes up a circle about four thirds (1.33) of a mile across.  Meaning no one is walking more than 2/3s of a mile to get to a centrally located church.  Absolutely believable to me.  All of this type of stuff comes from Urban Developments, if you’re looking for that.

back to a smaller town with a church ... A small town like this will only have one church, and everyone will have been raised in the same religion.  No variances here.  They will all celebrate the same religious holidays and service days.  So once a week (once every ten days in Fletnern), they will take the day “off” to celebrate.  But this has to be much more than just go to church in the morning and have a roast chicken for dinner.  On the holy day, the community comes together for religious services.  Any peddlers or other merchants in the area will know which day is church day in the various towns, and will show up at the church to sell their wares.  The church would have to be on the main road, because it is the only place in “town” that everybody goes to.  So we wind up with morning services and a market of sorts.  Depending on the culture, some join together for “lunch” or return to the family home.

So how does this filter back into the cities?  Pretty similar, except that now there are religious services going on every day.  On the day your religion celebrates, you take the day off of work and attend services.  The markets circle around to the various churches on the right days, so if it’s Braday and you want fresh produce, you go to the church of Braken (whether you are a church member or not).  Businesses run by a single family will close for that one day, and their customers will be expecting it. Businesses with multiple employees would schedule folks to handle things while the others are out.  So without an overwhelmingly powerful religion in the area, business will run every day, even though some might close here or there.

This makes sense to me.  I grew up in a time (not that long ago) when businesses were closed on Sunday (and Thanksgiving).  Many restaurants that were not closed on Sundays (due to their reliance on church goers going out to eat) would be closed on Monday for the family to rest.  I’ve been running this model for a few years now and it does seem to be working.  But then again, think about how much effort I put into figuring out this one tiny aspect of a fantasy religion and culture.  I have a long way to go!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Science of Magic

I need some help from all you science nerds out there.  (and I use the term nerd with love and endearment!)  I’ve been trying to toy with alchemy, trying to make it more understandable (at least to me).  I thought if I could figure out some rules about it, that it might start to drive some missions and backstories.  So here’s what I’m starting with:

Humans breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide.  For lack of a better term - plants breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen.  The two systems work together in a symbiotic relationship.  (Please don’t get too technical if I’m using some of these terms incorrectly.)

So the same should be true in alchemy.  There must be offsetting reactions out there.  Case in point - dragons breathe out fire.  So shouldn’t there be something that “creates” air, water or earth?  But before I figure that out, I do have to figure out dragon fire breath.

At first I assumed that dragon breath was some manner of “normal” fire - carbon combines with oxygen to create carbon dioxide and heat.  I’ve been around a lot of campfires, and trying to figure out how much carbon a dragon would need to consume in order to get that kind of fire delivered, and it doesn’t seem reasonable.  (and dragons can’t fly, but it’s fantasy, but let’s keep going anyway)

So I thought - instead of just saying it’s magic, why not say it’s alchemy.  Still magic, but now we’re getting into the nitty gritty.  OK, if it is magic, what is it?  I’m going to speculate that it’s a nuclear reaction.  The dragon consumes and stores some manner of heavy metal.  Because the dragon is not sorting the different isotopes, the best fuel heavy metals are not as dense as you would find in a modern weapon (which I believe should be 85%+ of the radioactive stuff).  So what I’m saying is that the dragon subconsciously uses alchemy to cause a nuclear reaction within it.  Instead of several kg of fissionable material, it has maybe several grams of the metal and (I think I read maybe 3% of uranium is the fission fuel kind) only some much smaller subset is fuel.  So when a dragon breathes the E=mC2 equation produce a lot of energy, but nothing on the scale of a nuclear warhead.

OK - So here’s here I need your help:  Let’s assume that if the dragon can naturally create a nuclear reaction through alchemy, that the dragon’s body can withstand the effects (because I give dragon hide natural resistances to fire).  But does this make sense?  Could a small nuclear reaction within the dragon be focused and projected out via the mouth in what most humans would believe to be fire?

Assuming you completely shoot holes in my theory, what do you think it is?  The idea that there is a small portal in their throat that opens its way to some elemental source of fire doesn’t work for me - that’s not a reasonable magical use in my mind (just as I despise the concept of a portal to another dimension behind the eyes of the world’s greatest superhero).

Sunday, November 13, 2016

(Prior) Ordinary Life in RPG

So I’m still thinking about this month’s Blog Carnival topic of Ordinary Life in RPG, and for some reason I started thinking about the character’s prior ordinary life aka character history aka back story aka how did the PC get here.

At the risk of again seeming like this is only an ad for our stuff, I want to draw a contrast.  100 Character Histories is great for either getting the spark of an idea or just grabbing a back story and running off to adventure.  Sure, it can be the beginning of something far greater, but it is more typically used for something quick but still not completely artificial.  Speed Character Creation on the other hand builds your character history while it is building your character.  Making choices about where you lived and how you received your training not only build the history, but they tell you what side skills you would have developed because of that.

But in my game world (Fletnern), it goes far deeper than that.  There are two character history things I like to use to build characters.  By “build characters”, I mean give them potential role-playing and even mission inspiring plot points.  The first is in determining where they came from I assign or work with the player on what their rations are.  I know this seems odd, but I have developed the cuisines for most of the regions in my world.  If you’re newly arrived in Rhum from Forsbury, your rations are going to be beef based, because beef is nearly all they eat in Forsbury.  If you’ve just arrived in Brinston from Scaret, it’s salted fish.  While these seem inconsequential, once a player knows what his character’s native cuisine is, he will tend to lean that direction.  We’ve all had PCs show up at a non-descript tavern on an adventure, and when asked what they want to order, they either order what the player prefers or what’s cheapest.  But when they know their “back story cuisine” they tend to order that.  They actually think, “What would my character do here?” and act on it.  For those players who are not strong role-players, it is an easy start!

The other one is to try and get them involved in some sort of rivalry.  Honestly I think I only have four cities where these rivalries are actually developed.  In Brinston, it is typically based on what university you went to.  In Rhum, it is your guild.  In Forsbury, it is the merchant cartel you or your parents worked for.  In Garnock, it is which military troop ran your section of the city-state.  These rivalries give the characters something to talk about when they are role-playing.  Typically they also give the characters something to argue about in bars - argue, not fight to the death.  Showing the players that there can be conflict without bloodshed is an important part of my campaign world.

While this may not seem too much like “ordinary life”, there isn’t a lot of ordinary life that most parties role-play.  Adding some true role-playing in, even just a little bit, really helps the campaign world seem more real and gets the players more invested in their characters.  Invested players keep coming back week after week, which is really all a GM can hope for.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Ordinary Life in RPG

While I do sometimes do blog posts especially for the Blog Carnival, I usually don’t make a big deal out of it.  But this time, I have to, because they have picked my ultimate subject:  Ordinary Life in RPG.

In the description of the topic they even mention that:  Four of the dominating influences on our lives are Politics, Religion, Law, and Social Structure / Occupation.  This is so right up my alley.  The worst thing is trying to figure out what to write about.  I am so torn!  We’ve got Grain Into Gold; we’ve got Urban Developments; we’ve got the whole city of Rhum series.  Each of them touches on “Ordinary Life”.

For a VERY long time, I have been planning to complete a book now known as Lifestyles of the Fantastic and Magical, formerly known as How the Other Half Lives.  It has been laid out in a number of different ways, but now what it has turned into is a means for players and GMs to quickly determine what a PCs lifestyle is and how much that costs.  As I so often ask in these posts and then try to answer:  So what?  Why does it matter?  Well, what happens when your PCs get home from the adventure?  Is there any cost for living between missions?  If so, does it reflect the way that the PCs live or is there a standard cost?

The idea behind Lifestyles is to pick things like what type of apartment you live in, how fine your clothes are, and what you do to get your meals.  A lot of this rises from game mastering for the last three decades plus.  Worst example ever:  two brother elves who lived in a cabin in the woods yet believed that their non-adventuring occupation was crafting and selling steel weapons.  The cabin was generally free, they claimed to live of the land, and they claimed that they should only have to purchase the steel to craft weapons, which they also had time to sell.  As GM, I told them they would not be allowed to train for adventuring skills, limited their crafting, and fought with them at nearly every turn.  Wow, what I would have given for a neutral set of rules that could have been relied on.

So what are we talking about?  Well, labor costs money, but it also costs time.  If you want to eat out at the tavern every night, it is going to be more expensive, but can you afford the time to shop for groceries and prepare your own meals?  How long does it take to train for new skills or to maintain your attributes?  (Yes, Legend Quest demands that you train to maintain those peak level attributes.  Olympic level weight lifters do not remain at that level when they are not training.)  So you need to balance the number of hours in the day with how much money you have to spend.  So if you spend most of the day training or working, you may have to pay the extra money to eat at the tavern instead of making home cooked meals.

I can’t give numbers here, as there just isn’t the space, but you can imagine how this shakes out.  But what if your players don’t care about anything outside of combat?  Well, this can force them to care.  Most PCs will have some manner of part-time job - otherwise the GM will need to make sure they are properly compensated adventuring.  Part-time jobs and spending can be matched so adventuring profits go to adventuring.  But that means the PC needs a part-time job.  What are they capable of?  Just because you’re a trained killer, I mean “fighter”, doesn’t mean you’re a good sentry or bouncer.  Swordsmen are NOT good bouncers.  Bouncers eject people using non-weapon combat styles; they don’t attack with magic swords!

So that means that players need to care about something other than their to hit percentages in battle.  Just because you use armor doesn’t mean you know how to repair it.  But if you do know how to repair it, you can have a pretty good part-time job between adventures.  How much do we believe in part-time jobs?  100 Professions was written exactly for this.  (Sorry - this was never supposed to be a list of products! but it really is our strength.)  In any case - PCs still need to balance the hours training vs. the hours working.  We really think this balance of hours and money is the best way to realistically give players a decent understanding of their characters’ lives outside of the adventures.