Sunday, January 15, 2017

Titles, Ranks, and the Organization of Everything

You may have seen recently how one of our readers challenged us to write about “titles, ranks, and the organization of everything”.  Why? because it is hugely difficult to understand the noble progressions, along with the military rank progressions, and somehow fit it into a fantasy world that includes clerics and warlocks.  You know why it is hugely confusing and difficult?  Because there are no two cultures in the world that are exactly the same.

Yeah, it gets worse!  Over the span of time, titles and ranks don’t always mean the same thing even within the same culture.  Want an example?  Compare the monarchs of England.  Compare King Richard to King John (brothers and vastly different powers).  Now compare either of those to Queen Elizabeth I to Queen Victoria to Queen Elizabeth II.  Different times, and King/Queen mean completely different things!  They may not have different definitions, but they are certainly different roles with different powers.

Now try to throw the rest of it in there.  But the truth is vastly worse than you know.  Try to understand the USA political landscape, when people like Valerie Jarrett and Sylvia Mathews Burwell exist.  When titles get into the Senior Aide to the Deputy Chief of Staff (I made that up, but there are vastly worse ones out there), you don’t have a chance of figuring out what is really going on!

So what do you do as a world builder?  Well, you can take a few different approaches.  Here are a couple:

  -  Try to create a stacked hierarchy for the various governmental bodies in your world.  Determine what each title means (generally), along the lines of:  Lord owns one castle and up to a square mile of land; Baron owns at least one castle and up to 10 square miles; Duke has more than one castle and up to 100 square miles of land.  The problem with this is that it is never that easy.  Whether you wind up with individuals who have multiple titles or just because the king knows that his word is law and he can change the rules whenever he wants, it won’t work out in end.  Too rigid!

  -  Try to rank individual people according to their political clout.  This is what we tried to do in our book Royalty - We included a “Power” rating to represent how much influence each character had, mainly over Baron Forsbury but also in general - in the public understanding.  The way we did this wasn’t intended to be used as a die roll target, but instead to rank the people as to whom the Baron was more likely to listen to.  But in order to do something like this, you do need to have an understanding of the characters involved.

So how does it work in Royalty?  When I first started to flesh out Baron Forsbury (like 20-25 years ago), one of the first things I did was make sure that he had gone off to war in the past.  I then put together his squad including his closest personal friend (who was of no use at war), the veteran charged with keeping him alive, the kid intended to be his “squire”, and some others.  Guess who has really low level titles, but a whole lot of influence?  You guessed right - the guys he went off to war with.  Quicker than he would take advice from another Baron or nobleman, he’s going to listen to the counsel of these men, each of whom he has kept close.

Let’s get into another fun little role-playing thing I did during a campaign.  Let me let the cat out of the bag on Royalty:  more than one character in that book is/was a player character.  Hints:  Not Edward and not Roberto.  OK moving on ...  When Caitlin and Edward were planning to get married, one of the things they needed to do was prove that Caitlin was a noblewoman.  So a small group traveled to Purity and then on to her family’s lands quite a bit outside the city.  When her family heard she was going to marry a baron, they felt they need to support her financially.  You see, while the Barony of Forsbury is 70 miles by 45 miles, a barony in Purity is maybe 5% of that size (one of the ones controlled by the Countess Davies is 120 sq. miles of hill country).  So in the Central Plains, one of the baronies of the Council of Baronies is huge, while it is far more moderate in the Tandish Lowlands.  Honestly, each self-governed land calls itself anything it wants.  We’re getting ready to release a supplement all about the Kingdom of Birrowdaum - yep, a kingdom that is about 14x8, so right in line with a Tandish barony.  So King MacBirrow sits reasonably close to Baron Forsbury and yet controls 3.5% of the land.

So what is the point of a title?  Not very much to be honest.  I happen to know a guy who went from being an Assistant Vice President at a bank to an Accounting Supervisor at a major company.  HUGE pay raise, huge cut in title.  At a bank, titles are a dime a dozen, just like “kingships” are in the Greenlands.

So do we think you should figure out which is more important High Priest or Duke, Guildmaster or Clanmaster?  No.  Because depending on who holds those titles and who is the real boss of the land, it will change.  It will probably change from generation to generation.  It will probably change under the same ruler.  Want history - check out how often the pendulum swung from side to side during Henry VIII’s reign.  Best friend today - chopping block tomorrow, no matter what your title was.

The history of our Earth typically has feudal titles that sort of make sense.  A Baronet reports to a Baron who reports to a Count who reports to a Duke who reports to a King.  There is nothing wrong with using a system that works like that.  But is a Baron with a personal relationship to the King more important and politically powerful than a Count who rules over swamp lands that have nothing but fishermen and shepherds.  That is something you’ll have to figure out for your world.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Build Your Fantasy World in Small Bites

OK, so we now have a tentative name for our “Patreon Project”.  and it is as you have now guessed:  Build Your Fantasy World in Small Bites, or just “Small Bites”.

So what is Small Bites?  Well, others have described it as an e-zine, but I have always seen it as one of those secret boxes you can get a monthly subscription to.  OK, the e-zine explanation is probably better, but mine isn’t that far off either.  Every month, you will get a collection of stuff for your game.  Some of it will be GM related about how to run games better.  A lot of it will be world building related, including examples that you can use or use to spark other ideas, but also advice on how to world build!  Some of it will be aimed at building better (stronger, faster, with better stats) characters, whether they are PCs or NPCs, along with a healthy dose of character history.  And some of it will just be fun!

So, OK, I am NOT a world class marketer.  That’s pretty obvious, I know.  I’m probably not pushing the Small Bites project in all of the best ways, so here goes one of the behind the scenes things that I probably should have revealed before:  If you send in an idea or a question that we plan to use, You will receive the draft version of the answer or fleshed out article before anyone else does.  That’s pretty fair, right.  Give us the feedback we’re craving, and we’ll “answer” you with an article and then allow you to not only see it, but give us more feedback on whether or not we hit the mark.  You’ll be an associate editor.  Want credit for it?  You know what?  We’ll do that too!  (but only if you ask for it - you can offer suggestions and remain anonymous)

You know what else we haven’t been announcing?  If you sign up as a Patreon patron before April 1, we will get you advanced copies of the first two editions as they are completed.  The expectation is that this will be January 31 and February 28.  So you will have access to the first two at least a month before anyone else does, just for signing up with us and letting us know you’re there.

This Jan-Mar period is really a time where we’re working as hard as we can, but are really hoping to get the word out that we’re here, as well as listen to the feedback.

So - Are you ready to start building our world?  Are you ready to become part of the overall project?  You ready to be involved in a community of like-minded game masters and world builders who are all working towards common goals?  Then please - Hit the link and become a patron.  Sign up for $1 and get involved.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

500th Blog Post

It is not every day you make your 500th blog post.  Wow, eight years and 500 posts.  I guess averaging 62.5 posts per year means I’m doing OK.  No it hasn’t been every week I post, but clearly I did make up for any I missed.

So are you liking these?  You hoping we’ll continue to bring up hints and suggestions for your RPG playing, game mastering, and world building?  Have you been out to the World of Fletnern wiki to learn more about our free world and everything in it?  Do you want more?  More of the same and more new things?  Well, I’m sorry to abuse the 500th blog post on an advertisement, but I feel I have to.

It’s January 1.  New Year / New Start!!!  We’re launching the Patreon page today.  Here is the link.  Now, this is very important!!  We are not going to be fulfilling any additional content through the Patreon page yet.  We are launching in hopes of getting you folks interested, aware and voting.  Yep - voting.  The whole point is to provide content that you want, and we can only provide content that you want if you tell us what you want.  We expect the content to start shipping (figuratively / virtually) in April.

So we are only asking if you would be willing to contribute $1 per month.  That’s right - $1.  The Board Bucks will kick in right away, so contributing $1 per month (Jan-Mar) would get you $3 by Speed Character Creation and A Baker’s Dozen Archetypes, or Forge of Imagination, or a whole bunch of other stuff.

Please check out the Patreon page!  We’re really working our tails off to provide you the best stuff we can, and we truly think you’ll like most if not all of the extra content.  Most of the details are out on the Patreon page.  If you have any questions at all - please email us at

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 $#!+.