Sunday, August 14, 2016

NPC Ideas



Back when I wrote Character Foundry, I was assuming that most GMs’ minds worked as mine does - tons of ideas, and they just needed to be focused.  Well, I’ve heard from some of the readers, and it is clear that not all GMs think this way.  But I can still help.

I took off for a weekend last month
Just to try and recall the whole year.
All of the faces and all of the places,
Jimmy Buffett

No really - That’s the trick.

So you’re trying to come up with some ideas to fill out your town or city.  You need some NPCs for the players to interact with, but you’re not really focused on anything particular.  The next time you sit down to lunch in a public place (restaurant, cafeteria, whatever), look around at the other tables.  Most are just “people” with their heads down and nothing for you to work with, but there will be a couple that show you a true glimpse of their lives.  Maybe it’s that cute girl talking on the telephone and literally telling you (and everyone within earshot) all about her new boyfriend.  She’s easy to turn into an NPC.  Maybe it’s the mother with three young kids.  Is she disciplining them or letting them run wild?  Does she look like she has her act together or is her stroller leaking toys and other items?  Bet you can just let your mind run for a minute or two and come up with a whole back story based on her.

OK, those are random NPCs, and you need something more specific.  You need a mayor, or king, or ruler-type.  Think back to your high school principal.  Was he/she a tyrant?  someone who desperately wanted to be cool and accepted by the students?  a complete incompetent?  Use that!  Even if it is only your opinion of how the person was, use that.  Make this NPC your high school principal.

Dislike using real people?  OK, last film you saw - who was the bad guy’s henchman?  Don’t use the main bad guy, because that is likely to be noticed by your players, but the minor characters - you can easily transport them into your game as NPCs.  But remember to make them your own.  Just because you are basing the NPC on some movie or TV character doesn’t mean that that is how they must stay.  Maybe the character died in the movie, so you don’t know how they might have grown.  That’s better, because now you need to role-play how they end up.  All you’re really borrowing is some back story and some personality traits.  You don’t need to use them as the next mission’s bad guy or bad guy’s henchman.  They might make a great follower for your players.  After all, how much work do you really put into NPC bad guys that are likely to die?  But if he is a follower, then he’ll be around for a while and may need a back story and a personality.

The point is that you have a lifetime of experience to draw on.  You’ve probably met a million people in your life.  Few of them are memorable, but some are.  Some can serve as the base for NPCs in your world.

If you are still having problems, Character Foundry can help, especially with how you “make them your own”.  A Baker’s Dozen Villains is pretty good if you need major bad guys.  We know you can do it on your own, but sometimes you just don’t have the time.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

How the Economy Grows aka how insane is Board Enterprises

In 1991, Board Enterprises released Legend Quest. Within the book were a decent amount of items in the price guide, some notes on living expenses (room and board), some notes on the prices of metals and gems, as well as the listing of weapons and armors and their costs. So, yes, 2016 is the 25th anniversary, so keep your eyes open for our LQ 25th anniversary Omnibus.

In 2006, BE released Grain Into Gold (GIG). That book laid out how to setup a fantasy world economy and contained 13 pages of price lists, very few of which were weaponry or armor. Oh, it’s the 10th anniversary there, but we really weren’t planning to do much about that.

In 2015, we released d1000 Pockets. While that was less of an economy book, it did list 1,000 items and their value as loot.

So how did the economy grow? Well, before GIG, I was working on the economy of my world Fletnern. I was doing what I needed to do to make things work, plus I was designing the City of Rhum and needed to price all of their goods. It was all growing organically - I typically only did as much as I needed to in order to run my gaming sessions that week. In describing what I had been trying to do in Grain Into Gold, I did wind up developing vastly more prices and pricing interactions. To be honest, I was retconning some of my prices because they did not hold up to logic.

What’s the point? The point is that without purchasing an economy like Grain Into Gold, you only develop what you need when you need it - and that’s typically OK. But the time comes when you either have to do a lot of work in order to stay ahead of your players or you resort to buying something. Obviously we think you need GIG, but I’m going to try and explain why.

We have been criticized for not footnoting GIG. I guess people think it’s a little too much like a scholarly paper and therefore they naturally lean to expecting some of the same from it. But it doesn’t work like that. In most cases, we were comparing crop yields in medieval Europe to current crop yields in the USA and then using those ratios to convert other current crop yields in the current USA to those crops as they might have been in medieval Europe. Did that make sense? I’m saying this: If medieval Europe got four bushels of wheat out of an acre and Kansas 1998 got 20, then if Kansas 1998 got 10,000lbs of potatoes, then we’ll assume that medieval Europe could have gotten 2,000lbs. Hugely oversimplified, but basically it’s that.

But that means that I needed to find as many examples of medieval crop yields as I could. What else? Well, the speed of work from pre-industrial era smiths, tinkers, tanners, etc. ad nauseam. This is where it starts to get important. I have done this. I have data from all manner of sources that gives an indication of how fast people were able to get work done before the steam age. Because way too much of this was lost in narrative sections (like GIG), I started to chart as much of it as I could in a spreadsheet. So now, I not only have a massive spreadsheet with established formulas on the speed of hand stitching fabrics and leathers, but also charts on the time required to hammer out an axe head vs. a chisel, vs. a knife vs. a bobkin arrow head.

There are two pieces of this that make it of value to you. We were able to produce d1000 Pockets pretty easily. With everything that had been done for GIG and some of the other things we’ve done, it was a matter of plugging in the specifics into those formulas, and the results spit out pretty quickly. There were certainly some additions that I had to do, but with all the research I had already done on arrows, it was pretty easy to extrapolate what it would take to make a dart - both toys and competition grade sporting darts. Second, I’m using the same charts and formulas for ... well everything. Even if you disagreed with my methods, they are consistent. Which means that the costs of things are consistent. Which means if you use GIG and Pockets, things should work out. I remember an early rule book from that game we all played 30 years ago - a battle axe cost 5gp and a long sword cost 20gp (I think that was how it went). Yes, it takes more skill to craft a long bladed weapon that won’t crack than a hulking axe, but come on!

This really isn’t intended to be a multi-paragraph ad for our products. It is meant to explain some of what we’ve gone through over the last 25 years in hopes of getting to a great place where the cost of equipment and the value of loot won’t cause game masters problems during their gaming sessions. Things make sense, both when selling and buying. That’s all you really wanted; isn’t it?

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Omnibus Rules Update

We still feel we are on track for a late October release of the omnibus rules. For those of you who may not know, 2016 is the 25th anniversary of Legend Quest, and we will be releasing the Silver Anniversary Omnibus Rules. This will include the original Legend Quest Rule Book, the Book of Wishes magic supplement, the Optional Weapons supplement, all of the previously published rules (often hidden away in the back of city supplements or adventures, many of which are no longer available), and then all the extras. What extras? There are three main types of extras: Clarifications, basically 25 years of FAQ inserted into the book where they will be the most helpful; Game Designer’s Notes, advice from John Josten the creator of the game - often strategies that he has learned from players over the last 25 years; and then Optional Rules. Yeah - There have been optional rules up to now, but this is the real deal. The more commonly accepted (and easier to implement) optional rules are inserted in the book where they make the most sense, but the really big ones, things like critical hit charts and magical fumbles, are in an extra section in the back.

Are things on track? Yes, but! The rule book and magic supplement have been edited multiple times over the past two and a half decades, but the optional rules haven’t. The optional rules were written so John Josten and the play testers understood what was going on, but that doesn’t mean anyone else can understand them. So the optional rules are serving as a challenge to getting the book completed and formatted.

Fletnern Elves

I have been mulling over how I was going to respond to NSD’s comment about matriarchal elves. First off, he did exactly what I hope you guys are doing - taking my examples and prompts and thinking about how it works in your world. Taking these posts and “making it your own”.

But he also got into the whole “elves live to be 1,000” thing. I’m not saying he’s wrong, or that any of you that do that are wrong! But I came at the whole world building things a bit differently. So here’s my story:

There were two books I took out of the (grade/elementary) school library religiously - well not exactly religiously but you know what I mean: The History of the Boy Scouts and Norse Mythology. We’ll ignore the first one here. So starting at age 6 or 7, my mind was first learning about myths and legends from the Norse point of view. I didn’t really understand who the Greek gods were until a couple years later and didn’t read the LotR until 8th grade. When I started building Fletnern and more importantly Legend Quest, I wrote it more from a Norse perspective than from a JRRT perspective. (Yes - I know he used similar source material, but we went in different directions!)

What do I mean? Well, dwarves and trolls are related. I still don’t fully understand where all that BS about trolls regenerating came from, I mean if you’re using JRRT as your source material, shouldn’t they turn to stone? My elves are often bad guys, or at least elites more intent on their traditions and current power than what would be considered “good” by every other race. Sure, I use orcs, but to me they are more of the stereo-type “noble savage” then slaves to the dark master(s).

There are all different kinds of dragons on Fletnern, but what differs is more than just what color they are. Also, without what I consider to be the horrible story telling of alignments, characters, especially the antagonists, can finally become more than one-dimensional characters. I even have slave traders that people like in my world; slave traders who important and vital members of the community.

Why do you care? You should care because my world is different than yours, likely even more different from yours than yours is different from some of the other peoples’ worlds. You shouldn’t change your world to match mine, any more than you should change it because some game company came out with a source book. But in knowing that my elves live normal life spans (the nobles do live to 120-150 due to all the magic, but not 1,000), you can interpret what I’m saying and then translate the bits you want to your world.

NSD was right - His elves have longer life spans. They have longer gestational periods. They have fewer children in the family. The bonds between mother and child over the course of centuries should be incredibly different than that of humans and orcs. My point was that too often we as world builders and game masters forget those differences. He hit it squarely on the head!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

A Quick Post on Prisoners

So, we’ve been catching up on the new version of Hawaii 5-0. First, I have to get past the whole idea that every single episode people pull out and shoot guns. But that is the point of this. The guys (including the criminals) in this show act more like adventurers than like cops, or even modern day soldiers. They shoot first and ask questions later, just like FRPG adventurers. So, is that bad?

Yep! Every once in a while I would like to see some guy give up before he’s got a couple of slugs in him. So getting past the morality of killing folks - Both the guys on this show and adventuring parties need to recognize that taking prisoners, you know the live talking kind, can be a great thing. Live prisoners can tell you what they were doing and why. They can point you to the next mission or clue or whatever. Dead guys? Well, they bleed. Is that useful? You know, you can loot living guys too.

A warning - Prisoners can add an extra level of complexity to game mastering. GMs need to be able to role-play what the NPC knows and how likely they might be to share that info.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

More on the matriarchs

In my orc post I mentioned that some of the orc tribes are matriarchal and that matriarchies don’t seem to work. At least they haven’t worked in Earth’s history. I don’t claim to be a feminist, but I don’t consider myself a sexist either (what is the antonym of feminist?). OK, so maybe I’m a bad judge of me, but what I am going to say here is a theory others have developed after doing some semi-decent research. I don’t know how true it is, but there seems to be something to it, so at the risk of offending just about everyone, here we go:

The theory is that matriarchal societies are doomed to failure because women have an instinctive trait to protect and try to better their children. Any time a woman gains power, she uses her power to advance her children, even if it is to the detriment of the “state”. So in other words, the queen wants her son to be king even if she knows he is unable to do the job.

Why do I think there is some truth to this? Well, we have some historic examples of this. In fact, the only powerful women in history that I could come up with that did not do this (put their children before the state) were those who did not have children. I’m not saying that it is true 100% of the time; but I’ve thought up about a dozen decent examples that seem to bare this theory out.

Want another stupid reason? I was watching this Chinese film recently with really bad dubbing into English. It was about some Mongolian chief, and the chief’s wife is begging her husband to kill his nephew, another chief’s son, because the nephew will eventually cause succession problems for her son. This isn’t proof, but it shows that even other cultures (in this case an Asian one) find a mother putting her children before the state as a standard trope.

This has caused me to rethink some of my cultures in Fletnern. I think I subconsciously built this in, at least in small doses. I’m not suggesting that this is a historic fact and everyone needs to establish it as the standard in their fantasy worlds, but that is what we’re building here: fantasy worlds. Believe it to be true or not, it would make for some really cool political adventures. Queen hires party to protect her son, but then explains that the only way to protect him is to kill his older cousin. Queen places son on throne, only to be the power behind the throne, to the point of rivals needing to have her removed from power, by any means necessary. You take it from here!

Matriarchal Orcs?

I mentioned previously that orcs in my world have some extensive breeding traditions. While I do think that I could probably fill a book on the subject, let me try to summarize it here. After all the title of the post did mention elves vs orcs, so I should probably comment on orcs.

When an orc kills enemies, loots treasure, or generally succeeds in military ventures, he brings honor on his tribe/family. The way that he brings honor on himself is to father strong sons. His legacy is unquestionably dependent on his offspring.

I base this on the idea that orcs fight in more of a “mob”. There is no armored knight on a horse surrounded by his retinue. There is no general giving all the orders. The tribe attacks as a tribe and wins or loses as a tribe. Maybe it would help you to think more along the lines of “a zerg rush” or a “horde”. In order to win this type of warfare, you need overwhelming numbers which can only be produced by efficient breeding.

To establish efficient breeding, the various tribes have various ways of determining mating partners. One of the more common styles is that male orcs are assigned a wife for the “season” based on their successes the prior year. Some tribes measure success with war games or sports, while others base it on booty taken or trophies. But in some way, they figure out who their “best” are, and these best are allowed to breed with the best women. Sure, there is politics and scheming involved, but the ideal is to get the strongest men and the best breeding women together to produce the best orc warriors for the next generation of army. Yeah, the losers get to breed too, but they wind up with the least successful breeders if any are left for them.

Tangent course - this leads to a bunch of cultural issues. Men are not “married” to women for more than a season, though sometimes they may get the same “wife” for maybe three years running. After that, the tribe wants to increase their best chances by mixing things up. So the boys are raised by the women (in the women’s quarters) for a few years and then turned over to the military trainers. They don’t really know their fathers, though they most likely know which one of them it was. This lack of family makes them put more faith in their trainers and their tribe. Their father figure becomes the war chief or drill sergeant, so their loyalties are different than people raised in families. In fact most drill sergeants (forgive me for using that term, but you all know what I mean) are sterile orcs - successful in battle, but unable to father, meaning they won’t play favorites, at least in theory. Oh, and if they don’t have enough males, it is the duty of the chief to take on more wives. Yeah! duty!

But in many situations, the tribe’s women decide which male gets which female every season. So in some tribes, the women are absolutely in charge. Yes, matriarchal orcs! It actually makes sense if you consider that if this is a raiding tribe, then the men are normally gone for long periods of time anyway. The females are the craftsmen, because the men are gone. The men are the hunters and gatherers, because the women are to be kept at home where it is safe. You don’t want to lose a stronger breeder because she was attacked by a boar while picking mushrooms; but the males are worth that risk.

This is a topic for another post, but I tried to research matriarchal societies. I wanted to see if there might be something I could steal from history and make my own. Guess what - There really aren’t any successful matriarchal societies. Don’t tell me that culturally men rule the world. We know enough history that there had to be matriarchal societies at one point or another. Why did they fail? I’ll link to the post when I write it.

So what other cultural points about orcs and their breeding programs? Well, the tribes are so entrenched in their breeding programs, that they cannot even have multiple tribes within the same military unit. Sure, multiple tribes can join together as a massive war band, but each tribe will fight mainly on its own. Rivalries between the tribes also justify them raiding each other, something that puts a constant strain on the Wembic Empire that is attempting to hold them all together. If random chance causes a tribe to have more girls than they believe they can afford to feed, they will sell the daughters of poor breeders, expecting them to be poor breeders themselves. So, yes, orcs will sell their own children as slaves, but it is not common. With the glory of the tribe being more important, there is a tendency by some poorer performing orcs to rely on avoiding the most dangerous aspects of combat and then rejoining their tribe at the end of the battle. Whatever you think of communal or socialist societies should come into play here, especially if you believe they lead to mediocre performance and a lack of risk taking.