Sunday, July 30, 2017

Prequel Missions

OK, admittedly, I’ve only done this once, but I really like the concept.  Here it is:  Most of us hate exposition.  OK, the first time you see the history of the universe scroll in front of you from a 70mm projector, it is really cool, but after however many years, it’s dull.  Unless you get James Earl Jones or some other phenomenal voice to read you all the history stuff, it’s boring.  Let’s be clear, when one of us as GM reads the history to the players, it’s dull!

So - the goal is to avoid the exposition - the monologue that most GMs need to read aloud at the start of most campaigns (and most missions).  So here’s what we do - You play a mission that gives clues to the history of the world and/or this campaign.  I like to think of it like the start of a Bond movie.  Ever notice that Bond movies always start with some fantastic action scene?  Does that scene set up the movie?  Sometimes.  Sometimes not.  This would be one of the “sometimes”.  But nobody cares about the why and who and the motivation during those action scenes; they just love the stunts!

That’s what we’re going for here!  Here’s a good example:  Everybody is told to pick one of the stock characters out of the pile.  All the characters are rather basic soldiers, though there are humans, halflings and centaurs.  No healers, no mages.  (This would be a great way to teach the rules to new players, too!)  The mission start exposition is this:  Do you all have a character sheet now?  OK, It’s dusk.  You are soldiers protecting the city of Villai.  The warning horns have just sounded and your city is under surprise attack by the Latvich army from Garnock.  You are fully armed and armored.  You walk out of your barracks and you see a squad of Latvich soldiers running towards you.  Initiative.

Really - that’s it.  Where is Villai?  you don’t care.  Who are the Lats and why are they attacking?  you don’t care, and you don’t know.  How come none of us cast magic?  Because you’re grunt soldiers - roll initiative or I’m going to attack you.  But what does my character want to accomplish, what’s my history?  you don’t care.  You want to accomplish survival.

But you won’t.  Massive battle is going on and you as GM just throw them right into the middle of it.  You could have this be a couple of gaming sessions if you want to!  They could connect up with more senior officers and bigger units.  They could protect a family home from looters.  They could get chased down the streets by chariots with archers and only be able to stay ahead of them by quickly ducking around corners that the chariots cannot manage.  They could take to the roofs and try to be snipers only to have a company of soldiers working their way up the stairs to the roofs to kill them.

HUGE action!  No role-playing, but huge action and fun!  During this massive melee, the party sees two halflings being chased by three enemies.  They intercept the bad guys and save the two halflings, who promptly run off hopefully to safety.  But just before the halflings turn a corner, the one looks back as says, “Thanks buddy.  Go cover my retreat, OK?”  Does this matter?  Not at the time, no.  This is a one shot mission and the party is going to die before dawn breaks -You’ve stacked the odds completely against them.

Then you start a new campaign and the party is based in Villai 25 years later.  The city has been mostly rebuilt and life goes on - standard adventuring stuff.  Eventually they get caught up in the whole issue of who stole the crown jewels of Garnock and why did that cause Garnock to burn Villai 25 years ago.  That was the battle they were fighting.  Now it makes sense, sort of.  They run into the same units; not the same people, but the same armor, weaponry, etc.  So it sort of seems familiar, because they were exposed to it before.  Oh, and the “retreating halfling”?  Yeah - he actually had the crown jewels on him.  Their seemingly unimportant characters who died before anyone knew what they did, saved the life of one of the conspirators and thereby prevented the crown jewels from being recovered by Garnock.  Had they failed to save the halflings in that first fight, Garnock would not have burned the city.  By saving the burglars, they doomed their own city.  OK, I think that’s pretty cool, even if it takes you a dozen game sessions to get to that reveal.

I said I did this once before.  We had a May convention - local, small, but we felt we had to go.  They wanted me to run some relatively big Legend Quest games.  OK, I can do that.  But my eyes were on GENCON in August.  I was planning to run The Endless Siege, a game that would fill every slot at the world’s biggest (arguably) gaming convention and a spiritual sequel to The Endless Dungeon we ran in 1991.  So here’s what I did:  The May convention mission was for a team of adventurers (sort of a special ops unit) to destroy the Flying Fortress - an actual flying building (not that big, but big) that was to serve for the bad guys’ HQ at the Endless Siege.  If they succeeded, there would be no Flying Fortress at GENCON, but if they failed, it would become a focal point of the 60 hour mission.

They failed - The Flying Fortress was the focal point of the Endless Siege, and truly the most fun we had during the event.  But that was cool!  The folks at GENCON knew that the May team(s) had failed and therefore it was the fault of some other gamers that they now had to contend with this thing.

I know you will still have to do exposition!  But running a prequel mission that helps to set up the action in the actual campaign can help to jump right into the action without everyone starting to get bored.  Honestly, I like the idea of fighting the Sack of Villai before basing a campaign there, even though the retreating halfling seems a bit overdone, and unlikely to be memorable enough to be the “big” link.  I think having the party play through the destruction of their city and then jumping 25 years forward will help root them in pride in their city and a hatred for the Latvich forces.  Passion is a tough thing to generate in a role-playing game, but it is awesome if you can get there!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Horses, deer or antelope? Why world building matters

A sane GM would ask why I spend so much time figuring out things like cuisine, clothing fashions, and art.  The quick answer is simple:  Because this is high fantasy.

This is high fantasy.  There are orcs, elves, dwarves and far crazier creatures like centaurs, vampires, and minotaurs, not to mention dragons and giants.  Are orcs humans with green skin?  Are elves humans with pointy ears?  Are dwarves short humans with beards?  If so, what is the point of even having them?  If this is high fantasy, then the subtle differences between a human and an elf will have to have an impact on their culture and their lifestyles.

Let me take the easiest first:  animal locations.  I expect that took you off guard, but I think it has the biggest impact on everything.  There were no horses on the continent that the titans (and giants, and humans, and halflings) came from.  So there were no cavalry units in the days where the titans ruled.  That makes sense, because there aren’t any giant or titan sized horses on my world.  Horses (all equines) come from Hughijen.  Once humans moved to Hughijen, they started domesticating horses and pretty quickly formed cavalry units.  Actually they started with horse riding explorers because they needed to cover ground quickly, but an explorer with a bow is a soldier, or an adventurer.

So horses from Hughijen, antelope from Drentae, and deer from Koaluckssie.  Ignoring the domestication of the horses, these are relatively similar animals - large herbivores that act as prey animals for large carnivores or packs of carnivores.  But the elves came from Koaluckssie (that is a hugely long story and greatly debated).  So did they domesticate deer and use them as steeds?  Yes, they did.  Steeds rarely, but beasts of burden more commonly.  But the elves don’t plow fields, so the idea of a beast of burden should probably only be seen as a pack animal and not as a vehicle engine.

This becomes important in that all of the horses on Drentae were imported at some point.  Sure, there are wild horses there, but they are like the American mustangs - descended from domesticated horses that escaped.  There were thousands of years in which this could have happened, not just the several hundred Earth had, so it is entirely plausible.  But the dominant prey animal on Drentae is the antelope.  So when the Barons of the Council of Baronies go hunting, they are going out after antelope, not deer.

Does it matter?  Well, let me get into the whole ‘they are all different’ thing again.  The elves actually imported deer so they would have something to use as pack animals and to hunt.  So an elven adventurer will most likely have venison pemmican as the meat of his rations.  A Velesan from Parnania (where they breed hogs) would have pork sausage or salt pork.  From the Council?  beef jerky.  From Scaret or Brinston?  those are sea ports, so expect to have salted fish.  Does it matter?  Maybe not, but there is a difference between humans and elves, and between different humans.

What else?  Well, the Lats live farther south and have trouble growing “bread wheat”.  So they grow “pasta wheat”.  So while a Rhoric will likely have hard tack in his rations bag, a Lat is going to have dried pasta.  Meanwhile, the dwarves have trouble growing any grains, and most of theirs are imported (traded for metal goods).  Because of this, their government basically mills and blends the various grains together to form a more uniform “meal” (because they are communist and believe in that sort of uniformity).  Meanwhile, the Bortens are growing corn and having cornmeal mush for their morning meal.  They make too much so that when lunch rolls around, they shape the leftovers into patties and fry them up.

Does it matter?  Again - they are different.  The cultures are different.  If you come from Traigar, you probably drink mead.  If you’re Rhoric, you drink beer.  Lat = red wine; Marilick = white wine.  but how does this affect the games?

Here are some ways this all affects the games:  The Rhorics love cinnamon, but it doesn’t grow anywhere near them.  So caravans transport the cinnamon from Caratok to Rhum and Snobist (and Rock Cove).  Now you have an idea of what might be on a caravan.  Silks come from the Quassim Islands and Dalavar.  Now you know what might be on the ships crossing the oceans.  Knowing imports and exports often helps GMs design guard quests.

An antler handled knife made in Forsbury will be from an antelope, while in Slyvania it would be from a deer.  This changes the look and feel of the weapons and tools.  Further, steel has become scarce in the southern central region, so Bortens from Scaret have turned to using bronze weapons in many cases.  The elves don’t typically do metal crafting, so they are using various alternatives, including flint tipped arrows and ironwood (semi-magical tress with the strength and durability of iron or low grade steel) maces.

This same lack of steel production in some areas leads to trade (again with the caravans and ships), but it also makes getting massive steel armors very rare in towns like Garnock and Scaret.  So their militaries are being outfitted in old armors that have been “repaired” or recycled or in leathers.  But since leather is not as good as steel, they are boiling the leathers and looking for alternatives, like dragon hides.  The orcs have no looms to speak of, so they are fully into wearing hides and leathers whether for war or normal use.  They also have the dragon hides and in some cases are trading them to Garnock.  Are we getting a little closer to the things you care about now?

The best emeralds in the world come from the jungles in the south, but they’re incredibly treacherous and there is no organized trade.  Sounds like a good mission for adventurers, huh?  But the elves do mine emeralds, lower quality emeralds.  Would the elves take action against someone trying to establish a trade in higher quality emeralds?  That would make for some good adventuring ideas!

There is a cartel out of Forsbury that is bringing in wagonloads of ivory from the north.  Mastodons in the far north and elephants in the far south.  Elephant ivory is better (whiter - and that’s not racist), but rarer.  Will someone try to compete with her?  And what trouble will they run into that far south? 

The Gold Mountains no longer contain gold, but they do still have silver mines.  So most of the gold was mined by the dwarves and transported to their current location in the north, while the orcs are mining silver in the south.  So you’re not going to find orc chieftains decked out with gold chains or other gold jewelry unless they found some sort of dwarven cache left behind.  So if you find an orc with lots of gold chains, does that lead to a much bigger exploration mission to figure out where he got it from?

The point is this:  There should be a difference between the cultures of tropical and temperate peoples.  There should be a difference between dwarves and elves and humans, and not just a couple of tweaks to what their attributes are.  These differences will not only serve to make the different races and ethnicities more fun to learn about, but will help the GM drive new missions and develop characters, their gear, and their loot.  If characters, gear and loot aren’t important to your game, then you and I are playing very different games.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

It’s Christmas in July!

Hey everyone!  We’ve been trying to keep this blog from becoming a commercial for Board Enterprises products, but every once in a while, we do want to remind you of where everything is.  This is a great time to do just that because one of our distributors is having a big sale right now:  It’s Christmas in July!  Click here to go out to RPG Now and take advantage of the sales on our products (and we guess on other stuff too!).  Or you can click right here to go get the Legend Quest Omnibus edition for only $ 22.50.  That’s over 300 pages for 25% off.

We also posted out latest Small Bite out there:  The Communist Clans of Rock Cove aka All About Dwarves.  Click here to check that out as well!  Yep!!  This is the FREE World Walker edition.  Tough to go wrong with free!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Is a horse just a horse?

The time will come when as a GM (or a player) you just want to call something a horse.  You don’t want to call it by the name of a breed, or what it does, or whatever.  It’s a horse.  It’s probably a “mutt” horse and thus of no particular breed anyway.  It’s just a horse!

And that’s OK!  Look, we have all sorts of breed names for horses.  We have stats for horses, and stronger or faster horses are going to be better than average horses.  When you’re getting deep into cavalry battles, these types of details can be important.  But guess what - It doesn’t always matter.  Sometimes a horse is just a horse and not a Rairbridair heavy draft horse.

This is true of far more than just horses.  There is a point at which all the details we seem to be including in everything we publish are in the way.  We give our customers as much detail as we can cram into a book, but we do so hoping that GMs are not going to bother getting into that much detail with their players.

Case in point - The party is walking down the road and sees a farmer leaning on the fence.  They say, “Which way to Rhum?” and the farmer points over his right shoulder.  That should be the end of that encounter!  The party does not need to know that Benjamin Mackersson is having trouble with his wife or that his children are now 38, 37 and 34, or that he enjoys fishing and rye whiskies.  They don’t need to know that the horse in the field is his plow horse, or that he bought it six years ago for 80sc and a promise of six dozen eggs.  Even if we put all of that in one of our books, don’t use it!  It’s there in case the party comes down the road and says, “Our friend will die if you don’t sell us your horse right now so he can be raced to the nearest town.”  Now the GM has an idea of what Ben thinks the horse is worth.  Or if they say, “Hey, what’s your name?”  “What do you do around here?  We’re looking for someone willing to make us dinner for a gold coin - how good a cook is your wife?”  OK, hopefully our level of detail makes more sense that that, but details are not always necessary.

There are different styles of play, and there are different players.  Some role players want to know what the farmers are wearing, and some couldn’t care less that the farmers exist.  Overdoing the detail is a mood killer!  We’ve mentioned it before, but I will never forget the time (I was playing, not GMing), that upon arriving in town, the party wanted to go into the bar.  We saw the sign with the beer mug and went in - or so we thought.  The GM kept describing the door to us.  We wanted to know our characters were inside drinking and flirting with barmaids and he kept telling us the dimensions of the door, what wood it was made of, how the bolts held it together.  Don’t be that guy!  Your players will never let you live it down, and the entire session that night was a mess.