Friday, December 23, 2016

Sewers and Fantasy Cities

This month’s blog carnival is on sewers and garbage.  I have to admit that the concept of fantasy sewers is one I take to heart.  I remember decades ago, nearly every fantasy computer game started with an exploration of the sewer tunnels and fights with giant rats.  There are many times that I think about trying to recreate - or maybe just create - one of those massive dungeons, but I don’t know if I have the stamina for the project.

I love the historic concepts too.  The Fleet River (and a couple of others) flowed through London, but became so polluted, that they basically paved over them and these three rivers became the London sewer system.  OK, I am dramatically over simplifying things, but that is basically what happened.  So Fleet Street is atop an old river that is now a sewer.  Man the puns and jokes just keep popping into my head, but they really aren’t funny enough to include here.

So what do I do in Fletnern?  Well, I have figured this out for the cities that I have run major campaigns out of, but not necessarily all of my cities.  Rhum is relatively easy.  The streets are supposed to have gutters that funnel the rain water (and garbage) into collection pits, which are “frequently” cleaned out by the city employees (the street sweepers).  This is how it works in the wealthy neighborhoods, but not in the poorer ones.  In the poorer neighborhoods, the pits overflow with rainwater and garbage and may flood the streets.

When Rhum was built in its current spot, there was a tiny river / large stream that would have run through the city diagonally.  Rather than bridge this stream throughout the city and expecting that it would become polluted (as would the drinking water), they decided to “bury” it.  Rhum is renowned for their ceramics, and they devised ceramic pipes.  With the tech they had, they made 8”d ceramic pipes, and laid “clutches” of them (9).  (They could not craft bigger pipes that would hold up.)  The plan worked - to a degree.  The stream flows through or around the pipes about 12’-15’ under the surface of Rhum.  An army training region is left as “wilderness” southeast of the city (where the stream runs underground).  This is now a marshy area because the water does not flow into the pipes as smoothly as most would have hoped, but since no one is allowed in the area, no one stops to think about the stream.  The public plan was that the stream would be diverted, and if asked, any who recalled the stream’s existence would say that is what happened. 

A clutch of nine 8” pipes is not a sewer that anyone could explore, but I did once shrink a party down to 6” and send them in to recover a wizard’s cat / familiar.  She was the captive of some unreasonably intelligent rats who were serious foes to people shrunk to 1/12th their normal size.

Brinston is built right up next to a cliff face.  The cliff is riddled with caves.  Some of these caves connect, but many of them do not, at least not in a way that could be traversed by anyone but the rats.  Some ingenious people have knocked down walls and connected them, but this is illegal.  The city has deemed certain caves and tunnels as sewer tunnels, meaning that they will run all the way to the cliff face and then down the cliff.  These tunnels are then linked to storm grates which wash the rain water (and anything else in the street) out of the city and down the cliff west of the city, so effectively into the ocean.

One of these sewer tunnels runs directly south out of the city, and thus right through the river front fishermen’s community.  While few want to live next to the open sewer, there is enough beach front that they can avoid the river of waste.  Several makeshift bridges cross the “channel” though the stench is pretty bad.  The streets in the southeast corner of the city have gutters that wash the water right up to and out through the walls.  There are various spots by the Drovers’ Gate Bridge where openings in the bottom of the wall are grated to prevent anything bigger than a house cat from getting through, but allow the waste water to flow out of the city and down the 6-12’ to the river below.  As this section of the city is the warehouse district, this is mostly rain water and therefore does not completely pollute the river water flowing past the fishermen’s hovels.

But only some of the caves and tunnels are designated as sewers.  Beneath the city all manner of industry is taking place.  This is where most of the chemists making calcium nitrate or saltpeter do their work.  They are working with dung piles and stale urine, but don’t want to lose their product from rain water getting in, so they are only using tunnels that do not run with water.  However, this means that they are typically in caves that do not have a lot of air flow, making the fumes more than noxious. 

There are all manner of other rumors about what inhabits the sewers tunnels and the other tunnels accessible from these sewer tunnels.  Chief among those rumors are the demon cults that hide beneath the city, possibly within catacombs stacked with bones.  The catacombs do exist, as some cultures who have used this spot have buried their dead in the caves, but the demon cult stories are at least exaggerated.  The other urban legend is of the horrible creatures that live beneath the city.  They are supposed to be “shark people” with reptilian features and rows of shark teeth in their mouths that open like a snake’s.  We’ll leave it to you to find out if the shark people really exist.

OK, so oops - I went on a bit long here!  I do know a bit about some of the others, but before I publish a ten page book in one blog post, I should stop.  I’ve avoided it up to now, but I can’t help myself:  So I hope you enjoyed this crappy little blog post and it inspired you to go take out the garbage.  Please keep coming back or you’ll miss all this great $#!+.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Racial Prejudice (in story telling)

One of the things I hate about sci-fi is that they too often assume that an entire planet is of one stereo-type.  When it comes to Earth based stories, most readers consider national stereo-types to be cheap story telling, boring and even objectionable (racist).  But when it comes to sci-fi stories, they are far too quick to accept that every person from the XYZ planet to be ruthless bounty hunters, or ABC planet are mentalists and pacifists.  I get that it is easier to do this, but this is propaganda level story telling - All Nazis are cruel but cowardly killers, blah blah blah.  Not supporting the Nazi cause here, but to assume that every one of your enemies is a certain way is stupid and short sighted.

The same is true in most fantasy games.  All orcs are stupid and violent.  All goblins are sneaky and underhanded.  All elves are tree huggers.  All dwarves are grumpy.  Lazy story telling!

So how do you do it?  How do you convince your players that stupid stereo-types are stupid?  One of the best ways is to turn the tables on them.  The aldar use stereo-types in their plays and operas all the time.  It’s like silent movies - the guy in the black hat with the handle bar moustache is always the bad guy.  So what are their tropes?  Blonde women are naive (OK, they really think bubble head).  Not too different from modern thoughts.  Black haired women are lustful, but typically have mean husbands.  Elves are also naive and gullible.

How does this help?  Well, after being assumed to be brainless barbarians, or bubble-headed blonde morons, or pathetically weak glass cannons who can’t adventure when they have a sniffle, yeah, it tends to get upsetting.  Hopefully after being assumed to be a stereo-type themselves they might see that there is a good reason not to return stupidity.

The other strategy is to make NPCs who are direct opposites of the stereo-type.  Put in a shirtless barbarian, but make him a healer.  Put in a scrawny mage looking guy, and have him turn out to be a dedicated locksmith.  Have the female warrior show up in strong armor that doesn’t make her look like a sex pot, and have her able to fight like a ninja despite the weight of the steel.  When they see that you are not going to play by the stereo-typing rules, they will know they can’t judge a book by its cover.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

What’s Next? Part III

You better believe we’re prepping for our Spring release / go live with our new Patreon project.  Part of getting ready is getting ready to show everyone what they’ll be getting.  So we’ve been working on the wiki more and more.  You can see some of it that we’ve already started posting.

One of the main goals of the project is to better fill out the Fletnern wiki, so this is the start.  Not sure how much we’ll keep getting done before we officially launch, but take a peek and you’ll begin to get a bit of an idea.  But remember - this is only a piece of the pie.  There’s a LOT more coming besides the wiki posts.

Superstition vs. Religion

There are numerous religions in the world that seem to believe things that most of the rest of us don’t.  The one that I’m thinking about right now is that there are certain religions that feel that talking animals are a depiction of magic, and all magic is the work of the devil, and thus evil.  I’m not here to disrespect the moral beliefs of anyone, but instead to consider how these things would be seen in a fantasy world.

Let’s think about this for a bit.  Many modern film watchers see no problem watching Disney movies whether there are talking animals in them or not.  But how would people in a fantasy world see it?  Well, first off, they actually see magic.  That makes things a bit more real.  We really don’t have to worry about a rabbit and a deer carrying on a conversation.

One thought that occurred to me is that these people have to legitimately worry about lycanthropes.  The use of an anthropomorphic wolf in a play would likely be terrifying to these people who would be concerned that it was a werewolf.  Completely unlike Aesop’s Fables and Disney movies, these would not be cute and clever animals, but instead dangerous monsters.  They can still be used as villains in plays and operas, but they would be seen as evil or even demonic.

But that is the other side of it - the concept of demons.  In most fantasy games, the players fight demons, so demons are real.  Many demons have animal or animalistic aspects, such as humanoid swine, etc.  Sometimes they are more chimeric - having aspects of multiple animals jumbled together.  We all know demons are evil, so are man-beasts also?  While many urban folk would likely be somewhat comfortable with the idea of centaurs, are they just as comfortable with minotaurs?  satyrs?  tumataurs? (tumataurs are like centaurs, but instead of man and horse, they are man and lion)  People, at least in mobs, are uncomfortable with things that are different.  These different races with different cultures would have to be scary or at least off-putting to most folks.

So, what to do?  On my world of Fletnern there are very few “cursed” items, so talking objects are not as spooky to the commoners as talking animals are.  So instead of a wizard in a play having a talking owl to help guide him, the wizard character might have a talking book.  Or the young knight would have a singing sword instead of a steed that carried on conversations.  These are often easier to depict in plays, as the voice actor can hide in the wings, while and actual object can be dangled via thin strings.

But how does this play in actual games (and combat)?  While it is not going to change the amount of damage done, I think it should impact the role-playing aspects on adventures.  If one of the characters (PC or NPC) is a minotaur, the other characters might automatically view him as evil and refuse to surrender to him.  How far would it go?  Some religions might see many “humanoids” as evil beasts.  I’m thinking about Legend Quest’s lurians - humans with swan wings.  While we might think “angel”, would some sects might see “man-beast = demon” and want to kill it in some horrific fashion in order to make sure it stayed dead.  I love paladins, but we do have a tendency to think in extremes, even more so when people try to tell us we’re wrong.  I think in a true role-playing game, such things should have an real place!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Good (Fantasy) Life

In the Barony of Bortofield, they grow sunflowers for the oil, and daisies for decoration.  Because of this, they see flowers as a central circle surrounded by straight petals.  So every piece of jewelry or embroidery that represents flowers in Bortofield, looks like this.  No roses, no tulips, just sunflowers and daisies.

So why do you care?  Because every piece of jewelry representing a flower in Bortofield looks like a daisy.  Your players like jewelry, right?  They loot it and sell it.  Maybe you don’t care what jewelry they find and simply say, “jewelry worth 1,000 coins”.

Let’s come at it from a different tactic:  In Garnock, pick pockets are so common that people don’t have pockets.  Instead, they have a coin purse that they wear inside the front of their shirts on a chain around their necks.  In Scaret, they have a fur pouch that they wear from their belt in front of the ... well ... in the front (like a sporran).  In Brinston, they wear vests and great coats, both with pockets.  If one of your player characters is a pick pocket, knowing how the people wear their money is going to be important.

Let’s keep going:  In Helatia, the stone buildings are plastered in a white plaster in order to make them look bright and smooth.  It also makes it nearly impossible to climb them.  In Scaret, nearly all the cloaks are made of wool.  Drying wool can be quite difficult, and many inns and even homes have a “closet” that runs behind the fireplace where the cloaks can be hung in a warm, dry place to help the wool dry for the next outing.  So the coat closet isn’t next to the front door, but instead across the room.  In Myork, they have recently switched the fashion of dress from wearing similar colors (green, emerald, grass, etc.) to wearing the exact color.  Exact colors are actually pretty difficult to do - consistent coloration in fantasy era dyes and all.  This makes outfits more expensive than they would be in other cultures.

Does this stuff matter?  Yes, both in the role-playing aspects of the game and even in the actual game impacts themselves.  Too often the GM needs to know some of these things, but because their worlds are not yet fully developed, they don’t know them.  Getting back to the treasure and loot scenarios - do you even know which stones come from which parts of your world?  Poor emeralds are found in the Slyvanian Forest, but they value the darkest emeralds, so they ship in the better emeralds from outside their forests.  That matters.  It helps a GM plan out the loot on caravans.  It can even help plan out missions.