Sunday, March 26, 2017

An Island of Civilization in a Dangerous World

    The city-state of Myork is filled with military academies where knights and vators are trained to fill out Myork’s massive army.  But like all schools, these do not only teach the subject matter they are intended to teach; they also teach propaganda.

    Myork sees itself as the only bastion of civilization in an incredibly dangerous world.  To be fair, they have a forest of elves to their north who would like nothing better than to have the forests retake the stone cities and endless farmlands.  They also have mountains and hills literally filled with dragons of nearly every type.  Too far to the east and you run into the world’s largest desert, an endless wasteland of sand and dehydration.  So seeing the world as a dangerous place might be the intelligent reaction here.

    But they also see the other continent as a dangerous place, a place where freedoms are not matched with an endless vigilance.  In Myork, they know that freedom is not free and must be protected at all cost from tyrants and criminals.  One minor problem is that they assume everyone on the other continent is a criminal.

    So the military men (and women) graduating from these academies are ready to fight, and quick to find enemies.  They think nothing of advancing on a Latvich troop and attacking them simply because the Lats might be across a border that has been undefended for generations.  After all, in Myork, laws are obeyed, so that is the way life should be everywhere.  The fact that some country on the other continent cannot guard their borders doesn’t mean that the Lats get to expand, not when the Myork military is around.

    Is the Myork army a force for “good”?  Well, yes.  They are at least a force for “law”, but the law as they see it.  Diplomats from all eras know that there are times when fighting is necessary, but that laws and treaties sometimes bend to the practical conditions of the times.  The soldiers of Myork don’t see it that way.  They won’t throw their lives away needlessly, but they don’t see how right and wrong can have grey areas.  Dragons flying over farmlands need to be slain before they can feed on innocent women and children.  There is no question about that.  Similarly, “evil” troops must be stopped before they enslave the weak.  Their reasoning is actually pretty sound, but too often it may be impractical for those without their strong sense of justice.

    What do the military academies of your game world teach?

Sunday, March 19, 2017

When Culture Leads to Combat

The Xadras people of Helatia believe in schooling.  They have universities; they even have universities for things other than magic.  In fact, the first university in Helatia was for the training of naval officers, so now (culturally) every university in Helatia trains their students in the aspects of sea faring.  What does this really mean?  Well the mages are typically taught astrology as the basis for learning about magic - astrology and star navigation.  The mentalists are taught cartography and geography, because chances are they are going to wind up being relay telepaths.  In knowing where the various cities are and the continent’s lay out, they have a better chance of understanding how the different relay stations will work.

But are there other impacts?  You betcha!  If the culture believes in schooling, then if you plan to be more than a “regular” soldier / warrior / fighter, then you better get some training.  What does training in the martial arts lead to?  Specialization!

Standard soldiers in Helatia are taught to fight with spear and shield and might even be trained to perform maneuvers like shield walls and various formations.  But that’s about it.  Within Helatia, successful (surviving) soldiers will typically choose a school to attend for further training, and each of these schools has a different style of martial art.  Just as Asian martial arts follow different disciplines, so do these.  But what do they do?

Helatia is a port city, and it was founded by people willing to travel the seas in order to find freedom.  While the city is maintained by olive groves and other farming, they still look to the sea for inspiration.  So rather than have their martial arts patterned after terrestrial animals, they pattern them after sea animals, especially scary sea animals.

 As we get into these, please understand that in Helatia, soldiering is seen as an honorable profession among professionals.  In this culture, these martial styles are seen as normal and even cool.  Mocking a soldier because he has a shark fin looking helmet will be a slight against his honor and every other soldier who hears it is likely to help him defend his honor.

      Sharks (sometimes barracudas) - These soldiers see themselves as juggernauts in battle.  They smoothly slide through battle sites, striking where they see opportunities, but always on the move.  Obviously these types of soldiers do not work in units that use shield wall tactics.  While they are one of the rarer styles, they can be incredibly effective in battles that do not run in tight formations.  They are often heavily armored and seem to prefer plate mail styles, with strong breastplates but lesser armor on their arms and legs to allow them to move more freely.  They are experts in their armor, able to move far more quickly than would be expected in armor that heavy.  Their armor is always custom fit.  These are not standard militia soldiers issued a suit of armor, but instead connoisseurs who can afford far better.  They are also infamous for having some of the largest helmets, feeling that once they see where their prey is, they need the protection over the ability to watch other portions of the battle.  Those helms are nearly always decorated with some manner of crest, stylized to look like a shark’s fin.  This makes it easy for their allies to see them as they cut their way through a battle (since they don’t stay in formation).

Sharks are most commonly dual weapon fighters.  This allows them to move through a battle slashing from both sides as they close in on their prey.  The “signature” move of a shark is typically a double weapon parry followed by a disarming move.  This is often the only thing that will slow them in their movement around the battle, as stopping to block, double disarm, and then attack does take a few moments (or most likely at least two actions).  They favor slashing blades and will not use piercing weapons as stabbing and withdrawing would slow down their smooth movements.

The most famous (and wealthy) sharks will often wear their breastplates with shark motifs etched into them, but then have some manner of exotic arm (and sometimes leg) armor.  Since they want their arms armored, but still to have as much freedom of movement, they have been known to have dragon scale covering their arms, but steel everywhere else.  While something like nemean fur would seem to work better, they typically avoid the use of fur as it ruins the overall look.

A historic (and really famous) shark was Janos Barlarkik (thought by some to have been raised within the Xadras culture but actually of Rhoric blood).  He lost his right eye in a battle with the Tanta Bosh.  Afterwards, he tended to move his head in an odd fashion.  It was his unconscious way of compensating with his left eye for not being able to see out of his right.  While he was not considered a saint while alive, after he died, the priests found out that he was indeed favored by their war god and was quickly made a ranking officer in the celestial army.  He is therefore often thought of as Saint Janos.  While alive, he trained hundreds of soldiers; some he trained to be sharks.  His sharks wanted to be like their hero, so they copied his odd head movements.  Typically only by imitation, this odd head movement has become common amongst sharks.  Many believe it is them trying to see better out of their great helms, and perhaps for some it is, but it is simply patterning their hero.

      Octopi - These soldiers are trained to fight back to back, most typically with a sword and a baton (or any parrying weapon).  Obviously, they are not cut out to face archers, certainly not at any distance.  The idea is that with eight limbs (like an octopus), the enemy never knows where the attack is coming from.  They tend to strike out in unexpected ways, including blocking for each other so the intended target can get an attack in under the now blocked weapon.  They are often trained to kick as well, especially if they can pull it off as a surprise.

They would often be considered to be wearing “medium” armor, most commonly chain mail, but often with added decorations (that will act defensively).  Octopus shaped epaulets are often seen as are some truly spooky helms.  When three octopi fight back to back to back, they are often called squids.  As a normal course of battle, these teams call out to each other in coded phrases that allow them to shift around, further confusing their enemies as to exactly who they are fighting.

      Crabs - As might be expected, a crab fights inside heavy armor and relies on that armor to keep him safe, more so than most other forms of defense.  They do tend to use shields, but smaller shields that will block melee weapons, because they typically are too slow to get out of the way.  These are certainly “tanks” intended to absorb damage from enemies while others kill those same enemies.  It is not uncommon for crabs to use weapons that are slow and ponderous, but if and when they hit, deal an enormous amount of damage.  Their fighting style is often to wait for the perfect time to strike, even if that means that they don’t attack as often as others might have.

      Eel - Eels are actually fight mages, typically trained to have a spell in one hand and a weapon in the other.  The idea is that they will fight in more of a swashbuckler or dueling style with their weapon (most commonly a lighter, faster sword), and then when the time is right, unleash a devastating spell right into the enemy’s face.  Though lightly armored, they are not the glass cannons seen in other battle field mages.

We went on a little too long on this one, so we’ll stop here, but we want to bring the point home:  Knowing things about a culture, in this case that they prize schooling over experience and that they are romantic about the sea, can directly lead to knowing more about how they fight and what they will do in battle.  As a GM you may not need to know this about your world, but your games will be a lot more engaging (fun) if you do.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Grain Into Gold Questions

We had a couple of questions from one of you on Grain Into Gold.  Since he was curious, we figured some of you might be too.

First - 10 copper coins = 1 silver coin & 10 silver coins = 1 gold coin.  Seems too perfect.
Yep!  It is WAY too perfect.  Not only should the percentages be far different, at least if this was Earth, but they should fluctuate.  A gold rush or a silver miner strike would dramatically impact the value of commodities like precious metals.  Further, different city states would likely mint their coins from different purities of the metals, so a silver coin wouldn’t equal a silver coin.
So why?  I like to use realistic situations in games, but fluctuating foreign currency markets, and commodity markets, and geological discoveries are just too much work and math.  It is a game after all, and this level of economics is too much even for me.

Second - Does the cost of the materials factor into costs?  How does skill and training factor into the value of a craftsman?
Materials absolutely factor into the cost of items, but the cost of the materials doesn’t always factor into the amount paid to the craftsman.  Sometimes it does, like a silver smith makes more than a tin smith and less than a gold smith.  Similarly, rabbit furriers are far more common than fox furriers, so the fox furriers make more.
While training does factor into what a craftsman makes, one of the major factors in how much a craftsman makes is the cost of his tools.  The more expensive the tools, the more the craftsman can charge for his labor.

Third - How does risk factor into the value of a craftsman?  Coal miner vs. chandler
Does risk factor in?  Yes!  But, life is cheap in a fantasy environment; otherwise people wouldn’t be willing to face dragon fire to make some coin.  Similarly, miners make relatively little money because it is not a highly skilled profession.  Basic labor is cheap - look through Grain Into Gold for all the jokes about longshoremen.  Is that a tough job?  Sure, but it’s not like they got a college degree to learn how to offload ship cargo.

Grain Into Gold had a lot of salaries in it as did 100 Professions.  Those will give a great idea of how much different professions make.  It should be pretty clear what I’m talking about with the tools and the training and how it factors in.  Pretty clearly we like to answer the questions you folks ask us.

Small Bites - Edition 1

The first edition of Build Your Fantasy World in Small Bites is out and has been sent to anyone who has become a patron on Patreon (anyone, no matter the level).  So if you want to check it out, click here and please pledge a dollar.

In looking back at it, it is and is not entirely an original document.  The vast majority of the content has never before been published, but less than half of it was written for this edition.  Better to say less than half of it was designed and created for this edition.  You see, that’s how we’re going to be able to do this (provide this much content).  Most of the stuff has been developed, it just needs to be fleshed out and written in a semi-professional manner.  It exists, but in its “not ready for prime time” format.

The title of this first edition is The Avatar of Manoto - aka All About Warrior Priests.  So is it all about warrior priests?  Well, yes.  But it is not only about how to play a warrior priest.  That’s in there!  Maybe a little more about how to design one (character building and which ways to push for strengths in combat) than to actually role-play one, but there are certain weaknesses to a source book that is game neutral.  But there are also things like:  prices on holy symbols, examples of warrior priest religious orders, a campaign based on helping a newly built church of a warrior priest sect, and a whole bunch of other stuff. 

This is the way we do things at Board Enterprises.  We stuff our books to the gills with content.  I know, there are some of you out there who want the books to be pretty and entertainingly illustrated while you’re reading them, but that’s not us.  If you ever wanted to be entertained by illustrations, I would suggest checking out Deviant Art.  There are thousands of gifted illustrators out there and you can search through to your heart’s content, for FREE!  You don’t need to pay a game publisher for your art!

So is this it?  Is this how we’re going to do things going forward?  Yes, but only for the short term.  We want to work with you folks, get that dialog going that we keep talking about.  We’ll be polling you folks as we go on which articles you like, which you don’t and what we might be missing.  Sooner or later, I suspect we’ll pull Avatar of Manoto back and replace it with a newer edition that better matches what Small Bites has evolved into.  But we do really want you to be a part of that evolution!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Old Weapons and Safe Houses

What do your players /player characters do with their old weapons?  Many times my guys turn them back to the enchanters to get a few silvers back in their pockets.  But if you’re playing a high risk campaign where actions have consequences, sooner or later the PCs should find themselves under attack in their home city.  What do you do when the local police are staking out your home?  If you cut your way through them, you are vilified - for good reasons.  What would you do if you returned home from an adventure only to find your home city was under siege?  Sure, you have most of your gear with you now because you were out adventuring, but how do you take care of the logistics?  (food, water, shelter)

There may be (probably should be) times when the PCs are separated from their homes.  If done properly, maybe even separated from their main weaponry.  What do they do then?  Well, established adventurers would go to their safe house and grab their backups.  But what if you don’t have an established safe house?  and what do you stock it with if you are establishing one? 

I think whatever the last set of weaponry you had makes the perfect stock for a safe house.  Establish some type of apartment or something and place the last set of weapons inside.  OK, don’t just place them inside; they do need to be hidden in some manner.  You’d hate for common thugs to rob your safe house and come out adventurers.  But now - if you’re out to the taverns (of course without your armor and weaponry), and you’re being followed, you slip into your safe house, gear up and confront the morons who thought you were an easy target.  Take the time to go back to your fortress (or whatever) and you’ll find yourself ambushed along the way.

But why?  Well, establishing a safe house helps the players learn more about the city.  It helps them work to develop their own back story.  It forces them to consider what’s important - What are they going to need in an emergency?  It also serves to drain some of their money.  It takes some cash to buy a safe haven and a little more to maintain it - but that’s OK.  This might even lead to some short adventures - what if drifters start to live there?  What if thieves were to steal the supplies?  The more you and your players know about your world, the more fun it is to keep exploring.

This is the first post for the Small Bites project The Mercenary Vators of Myork edition.