Sunday, February 26, 2017

Character Classes: “Stupid” or necessary?

I don’t always agree with Shad, but I certainly do here.  I’ve been reading the comments and I think a lot of them miss what I see as the most important point:  character classes don’t just limit the character, they limit the game.

In character class games, only certain characters can accomplish certain things, which is limiting of the characters.  But also in character class games, characters can only do what their class is allowed.  That’s not entirely the same thing.  My concern here is that if no character class has a certain ability, then typically no one in the game can accomplish whatever that task is.  For example, before D&D came out with the thief acrobat, there was no way for a character to learn to walk a tightrope, because none of the classes had that skill.  And since no specific character class had the ability, it was not accomplishable in the game.  It is only in the skill based systems where skills can be used for a variety of actions, some with modifiers, but still, nearly anything can be attempted.

To fight the other side for only a second:  There is a piece of character classes that does work for games:  ease of learning.  For brand new players, an open-ended, skill-based game often offers too much choice.  When someone is trying to learn a game, being told, “you are a fighter” is vastly easier than working through “you are a naval soldier, so you can use a crossbow, swim, sail, wear lighter armors, carouse in sea ports, have a smattering of odd languages, ...”.

Early on, one of Legend Quest’s biggest fans told us that while he and his friends loved the game and played every week, he was teach FRPGs to his young sons via D&D, for exactly this reason.  I believe he had tried to craft a character for one of them and it got pretty frustrating.  But while I will acknowledge this issue, I will also say that it proves that after a while, players and GMs need to go out and get themselves adult games that will allow them to experience role-playing in all its glory.

The secret to making it all work is balance.  No one is an Olympic level fencer when they get their first level; they have to build up their skill levels.  As long as the cost of those skill levels (experience, time training, etc.) is balanced, the game will be balanced.

Looking for a good skill based game?  Try GURPs (at least the original version I played), RuneQuest, and Legend Quest all work really well.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Take a little time off from adventuring

This is not another of my many “what do adventurers do when they aren’t adventuring” lifestyle things, but instead what happens when a campaign starts to get a little stale.  Most of us have been there.  You’ve been playing these characters for a while and now the GM is having trouble coming up with ideas that make sense for these guys to do, but are different enough to still seem new and exciting.  Here’s what one fantastic author did:

I’m going to use my favorite comic book of all time as an example:  Alien Legion.  Never heard of it?  Understandable, because the series pretty much ended in 1990, and not all of you were born then.  (Yes, I have every regular edition of the book ever published - only 38, but still)  Anyway - After the first volume of Alien Legion ended, they needed a way to get the second volume (I think it was three or four years later in real time) off with a bang.  So they fast forwarded.  In the story, Nomad Squad had been in a huge battle and they were lost and presumed dead.  Their captain wanted to go search for them, but was never allowed to.  So he finally quits the Legion and goes out after them on his own.

Some of them are dead.  Some of them are not, but the two years that they spent on this planet hiding out and trying to survive had changed them, dramatically.  The honorable noble guy is now vastly more savage.  The murdering loner is now a bit more attached to his sidekicks.  The female soldier probably had it the worst, ‘nuff said.  At least one of the guys lost a limb or two (actually I think one of them loses limbs after being found, but one lost one in the “pause”).

What’s the benefit here?  I think many fold!  Start with the GM’s benefit - It’s almost like starting a new campaign.  You get that energy and excitement back because it is new.  Something has to have changed!  Just having “everybody lived their lives and now the band is back together” only works for one mission, and then dull again.  So something changes.  The boss/quest giver was killed (this actually works with the 47 Ronin idea), or a war started and the party needs to be brought back together to fight back, or there is a plague, or there is a religious conflict, or a hurricane.  Something has to have changed.

How about the player characters?  They get to play the same basic character, but now with a new twist.  Often times, you have an idea for a character, and the character doesn’t really grow into that, or the opposite, the character grew as you had originally expected, but now you wish something different had happened.  This is the perfect opportunity to correct it.  For example, you wanted a warrior who was tough as nails, but he sort of side tracked into an archer.  Or you planned for a mage who would be able to have incredible power, even if some of it had a more evil base, but you wound up with a generic run of the mill spell caster with a wide mix of spells.  These things can be fixed!

OK - Let’s get this out right away:  I don’t know that they can actually be fixed in an old school D&D style game with classes.  By the time that you are Fighter Level 8, there isn’t much that can be done.  In a point based character system (yes, like Legend Quest), you can add some skill levels that the character didn’t have before and really help the character make a change for the better, or at least different.

What do we mean?  Let me throw out a scenario to you.  Instead of this, you can always use something more mundane (but still good) in which the party broke up for everyday reasons, and now is back together, but this seems more thrilling to me (though likely to piss off some players):

For all the normal adventuring reasons, the party is attacking the stronghold of a slaver lord.  Just as they are about to attack the slaver lord in his “throne room” the floor opens up and all the characters fall through the floor and down a series of shafts.  They all end up in different prison cells in different areas of the base.  Anyone who tries to fly and avoid the shafts will wind up being peppered with arrows and/or facing the slaver lord all alone (meaning likely to die).

So what happens?  Well, if the slaver lord has any pride, his prison cells will not let the party out easily, probably not at all, so they are not truly captured by the slavers.  If you have to, let each one fall on a “balloon” filled with knock out gas, so they are well and captured and can wake up in chains (no spells with bound hands, right?).  This is a business man; he won’t just kill them.  He will find buyers.

The warrior types might become gladiators and be forced to fight in the arenas.  An illusionist might be used in a seedy brothel as entertainment (most likely as a movie projector).  Maybe one of the stealthy, smaller characters somehow manages to escape the cell, but finds himself outside the slaver lord’s fortress in a dangerous jungle.  A healer would obviously be of value and may be purchased by a barony undergoing a plague - despite now being a slave, could the healer really abandon these people to this horrible plague if he could save some of them with his spells?  Eventually, an outside force or the escaped roguish type will start to put the party back together, but what have they endured?

The gladiators are now cold blooded killers, having been forced to kill for sport and entertainment.  Worse yet, they might now be famous for having been gladiators.  The illusionist has been trapped in what might be a gilded cage - it looks like fun and games from the outside, but he has gotten to know the slave girls in the brothel and had to face the most disgusting of clients and made their illusional dreams come true.  The “free” rogue has been forced to live in caves and atop trees and survive amidst some of the most dangerous animals, including jaguars, snakes, poisonous spiders, etc. and is now a jumpy, paranoid mess.  The healer has been surrounded by the deaths of the innocents and has never had enough energy or magic to actually turn the tide of the plague, and so has had to live knowing that everyone else was dying.  This campaign suddenly took a dark turn, didn’t it?

This is just one example of what can happen.  I see the party getting back together and now trying to overthrow the slaver lord, again.  Over the past couple of years, he has only grown more powerful and now he is able to threaten the king and force the government to do what he wants.  They went from adventurers to more of a rebel force hoping to liberate their homeland from the iron fist of the slaver forces.

Be cautious here!  Players do grow attached to their characters, and any changes along these lines need to be handled carefully and jointly between player and GM.  I suggest the GM meet privately with each player and describe what has happened - You find yourself alone in a prison cell and chained to the wall.  They tell you to go out into the arena and fight to the death or they will continue shooting bows and crossbows at you from behind the steel bars until you are dead.  What do you do? and then craft a brief story about what happened during that time.  Together, you can often get this to work well.  Any player who feels they are being forced into something will resist and deny.  Far better to be collaborative than dictatorial here!

If it all falls apart and goes crazy bad - you can always just claim it was a horrible dream and they wake up with the roguish one picking their locks and letting them all out, in order to once again fight the slaver lord, but we all know what kind of a cop-out that would be.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

What’s Next? Part Last - The Schedule

So we’ve been talking about what we’re doing next and this Patreon project (aka Small Bites).  So here is what we think we’re going to do:

January 1, 2017 - We launched the Patreon page.  But please understand that we will not be launching all of the content at this time.  What we’re really asking you to do is please sign into the Patreon project and pledge us $1 per month.  If you’re willing to do that we’ll understand a lot - who’s interested, who our first polls will be with, etc.  The Board Bucks will kick in right away, so anything you pledge at any point will get you free product from our current catalog of products.
April 1, 2017 - We’ll actually launch the project.  The April pledges will get you the various levels of reward:  currently described as World Walker, Player (aka Player Character), and Game Master.
As an added incentive, we’re going to pre-release the first two “editions” to anyone who is pledged at $1 (or more) before April 1.  So how does this all work:
1/1/17 = Patreon page opened
2/28/17 = First edition goes out to any who are pledged (possibly sooner)
3/31/17 = Second edition goes out to any who are pledged (possibly sooner)
4/1/17 = The real deal is open and we’re really running this!
4/30/17 = Third edition goes out to those pledged at the various levels.

So what is the plan for editions?  At the moment, that’s a touch hectic, but we’ll produce it very soon.  So please jump out to the Patreon page and join the fun.  We’re building a world here, and we want you to be a part of it!!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

An Economic Thought Experiment (in a fantasy world)

Go to the grocery store - either in reality or in your imagination.  Go to the meat counter.  Steaks - $10, beef roast or ribs $5, ground beef $4.  Pork roast or ribs $2, chicken $1.  Why?  Because it is more expensive to raise beef cattle than it is to raise chickens or hogs, and typically beef is a more preferred (demanded) product.  So costs and taste.

Now go to the deli counter.  Roast beef $9, turkey, $7, chicken $7, ham $6.  Why?  If raw chicken is $1 and raw pork is $2, then why is ham $6 and roast turkey/chicken $7?  And if a beef roast is $5, while chicken is $1, then why is deli sliced chicken $7 to roast beef’s $9?  You could argue that there must be more labor involved in getting the chicken ready for lunch meat or perhaps more risk, but I don’t buy that (no pun intended).

My theory on economics is this:  perception equals reality.  What do I mean?  Everybody knows that beef is more expensive than chicken, and you see that at the meat counter.  But once it becomes “lunch meat” or cold cuts or whatever you want to call it, now it becomes far more homogeneous, more “alike” or basically the same.  When shopping for sandwich meats, people don’t think along the lines of beef vs. turkey, they perceive these products to be roughly equal in value.  I don’t, but I’m really cheap!

Why do you even care?  Because if you read Grain Into Gold, you will see that beef runs about 5cc (copper coins) a pound and so does wheat flour.  With pork at 2.5cc p/ pound, it is cheaper to feed your family on roast pork than on bread and water.  Really?  Yes.  Why?

I never intended to make beef and flour equal.  I studied the nonsense out of medieval farming techniques and tried to do some realistic assumptions.  Now, I had to take into account game worlds as I know them.  In most fantasy game worlds, the peasants may be poor, but they are not starving to death on a regular basis.  Despite many of our views of Earth’s commoners at that rough time, I cannot believe that they were starving to death either.  Otherwise there wouldn’t have been so many people to die from plagues.  What I did was assume that different products of an acre of land would be relatively equal in value.  So if your steer  ate two acres worth of hay, then the beef produced should be roughly equal to two acres of wheat.  And this is how it worked out.

Can I justify this?  Absolutely.  Fish is cheaper than beef.  Why?  Because it can be “hunted” in large quantities.  But if beef is too much more expensive than fish (it is already two and a half times as expensive), then people will stop eating beef and just eat fish.  OK, maybe not the nobles, but other folks will.  When food sources can be switched in order to lower an overall cost, guess what happens?  People switch food sources, until the two costs start to even out a bit.  This is my point about deli meats.  They tended to even out, because they can be exchanged for one another.  As long as a cheaper alternative is available, the more expense product will become cheaper.

So how do my peasants live if both meat and bread are expensive?  I have an easy answer to that:  starches!  Same book - Grain Into Gold - same idea - an acre’s production should be relatively equal in value all other things considered.  Potatoes, turnips, carrots, squash:  they are all at or below 1cc p/ pound.  What do I think my commoners eat for dinner?  Well, we’ll be getting enormously deep into that in an upcoming edition of Small Bites, but until then, I think they eat either pork sausage or chicken along with some squashes and tubers.  Not only do these starchy vegetables last reasonably long in a root cellar, but they fill you up and make you feel full.  They give you energy to work the next day.  Don’t believe me?  Look at the cafeteria at a college dorm (pretty easy for a lot of you, I think).  What do they serve?  Starches?  Why?  Because they are cheap!  Not everything has changed in the last 1,000 years.

Small Bites Update

WOW!  OK, I think I have actually put our first edition of Small Bites to bed.  I don’t want to say that it had false starts, because the vast majority of stuff I worked on for it is in there, but there was certainly a learning curve involved.  Well, that and this was supposed to be issue #3.  Again, nothing has been scrapped, but things got moved around on the schedule, what was going to be issue #1 is now #2 (not in the slang meaning!!), but it got converted (from “knights” to men-at-arms - more about that when I put that sucker to bed!).

So what have I learned?  Well, those of you communicating with me about this project are a smaller number, but you’ve been good about communicating.  I don’t have folks with opposing views, but I do have advice with differing priorities.  Here’s the crazy thing - with this format, I think I can keep differing priorities happy.  I am hopeful about that and know you will keep me honest!

But here’s the other thing that the “themes” are making me worry about - cross-over.  I’m not worried about crossing over from one theme to another, but in Fletnern, everything is tied together!  I can’t talk about the Avatar of Manoto in Helatia without talking about the differences in the religions.  I can’t talk about the Vators (mercs) of Myork without talking about how they were used against the death squads of Garnock, but I can’t talk about the death squads without talking about the Conquering War and boy does that open up a number of subjects.  So - do the death squads of Garnock debut in The Mercenary Vators of Myork or do they wait for their own edition?

And truth be told - I really never stop coming up with ideas.  So here’s what I’m going to do, at least at first:  I have already said I will get the early patrons copies of the editions before they are released - Still doing that!  What I hope to do it give them some “extra bites” when I do release the editions more broadly.  In other words, you get everything early for signing up, and then you get extra stuff when everybody else starts reading what you already have.  That way you sort of feel like it’s still exciting.  OK - exciting might be dramatic, but I’m pretty excited.  (If I say “stoked” does that just make we sound really old?)

So - to make a long post short (too late!) - Early patrons will not only receive the editions early (first one should be on or about February 28), but they will receive additional content (probably mainly mission ideas and other stuff you can use, but isn’t necessarily any “big reveal”) when the editions finally drop (closer to the end of March / beginning of April.  Want to become a patron?  Click here!

Questions?  Feel free to reply to this post or email us at and Thanks!