Sunday, April 26, 2015

Criticals

There are a couple of places in our latest book 100 Character Histories where I used the term “pocket critical”. I’m not sure if this is a term I just made up or not, but a “pocket critical” is a character that has been designed so that they can get a critical when one is needed. They keep a critical in their pocket - get it? Most games that allow for criticals have some mechanic by which you can increase your chances, and these characters use/abuse those mechanics. So a character who is or holds a “pocket critical” is the one you go to when you absolutely have to have that critical hit.

Hope that explains it. and if you need to see how you can make that happen, check out 100 Character Histories (available at either RPG Now or Warehouse 23). Not only does it have 100 character backgrounds you can use, but each of them is named, so you can just use the names if you need. But we weren’t sure that people would understand our histories and our short hand, so we also included 123 character archetypes. That way you can far more quickly understand where we were going and what we intended.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Character Histories

Hey everyone - We’ve put a new book out on our distributors’ sites: 100 Character Histories. Here’s the write-up:

So you’re starting a new campaign tonight, and you haven’t made your character yet. You’ve been a little busy and haven’t thought through what you want to do, so where are you going to get your ideas? Look here! Not only have we given you 100 character histories, but in order to explain these characters, we have given you 123 character archetypes. Even if you are playing a game where the dice determine your character, these histories and archetypes can guide you in giving them that touch of originality that will make them that much more fun to play and grow.
This supplement is for both players and game masters, because the ideas here are just as useful for non-player characters as they are for player characters. Use them to give you a jump start, that spark of an idea that will get the creative juices flowing. Without a brief character history like this, your character will lie flat on the page - taking mercenary jobs because there simply isn’t anything else to do tonight. Come on - breathe some life into them! Just pick a history and get going!
This is not a simple a one page chart. You will get a short paragraph for detail, but enough that you will understand and get some direction. Then you can take it from there.

This supplement contains:
45 pages of content
100 character histories - starting points to describe where they came from and why they are adventuring. Including suggestions on archetypes
123 character archetypes briefly describing character types and which skills they would most need.

All that for $2.99. Not only do I think it’s a bargain (45 pages for $2.99), but I honestly think it is a solid 223 ideas that nearly everyone can make use of. Here are the links:
100 Character Histories at RPG Now
100 Character Histories at Warehouse 23

Sunday, April 19, 2015

NPCs - Cannon Fodder or Useful?

The more I think about it, the more I think that there should be a lot more NPCs going along with the PCs when they adventure. You can feel free to disagree, but first, read my Tricks and Traps blog post.

But what else are these NPCs doing? I think that depends on your party. Most of the Wild West movies that I love involve them hiring a tracker. Unless someone in the party is really a skilled tracker (and you probably want them to be really skilled killers), then you probably need to hire a tracker in order to go after guys when you don’t know where they are. I often complain about sages and scribes telling the adventurers about mystic treasures and then trusting said adventurers to go off and retrieve this one of a kind historical item while the scribe sits at home and waits. Not to imply that scribes like exploring dangerous ruins, but to determine the location of a historic treasure and then trust the safe retrieval of this historic treasure to a team of thugs and murders - really? The scribe guy doesn’t want to go along? What if there’s a fake historic treasure and the “dumb” adventurers grab that because they don’t know any better? What if there are additional historic treasures that they may not recognize? What if they break it? What if they steal it?

I’ll go down this rabbit hole further: While you might expect your roguish guy to be able to pick the lock on a standard treasure chest (or bash it open), is your lock smith really good enough to beat a lock that has kept treasure hunters out of a tomb for centuries? Is your priest(ess) good enough to scare off the undead that have protected their final resting place? Your warriors may be tough enough to take on a dragon, but if some trap maker built something that can take them alive, are your warriors technical enough to use the trap properly?
I think adding NPCs in this fashion works best when you know a little bit about what you’re going to face. My parties know relatively quickly when they need to get on a boat to get where they’re going. So are the sailors all NPCs who are going to fight during this mission? Probably not, unless they get attacked at sea while they’re getting there. Otherwise it’s drop the party, then pick them up and head home. The NPCs I’m talking about now are just a little more than that. How about examples?

The party knows that there is a vault door, so they bring a safe cracker. They know there is a chasm because the bridge collapsed decades ago, so they bring a conjurer who can conjure a bridge, or a sorcerer who can fly them across. They know they have to scale up or down a cliff, so they bring a professional climber. The bandits were not at their “regular” camp site, so they bring a tracker. The hellhound with the flaming breath is in the jungle, so they bring a guy who flies to act as a forward scout. All the signs in the ruined castle are written in an ancient language, so they bring a language expert to translate. The dwarves between here and there are friendly, but only if approached in the right manner, so they bring a dwarven ambassador.

This isn’t Ars Magica where you bring a bunch of NPCs along to kill off along the way. This is an intelligent approach to “professional” adventuring. You might even want to think about it as Mission Impossible. Sure, you have Tom Cruise along on every mission, but he needs certain types of support along the way. Please help me by coming up with a better analogy than that!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Tricks and Traps

I love tricks and traps, though probably not as much as my players over the years. Let me correct that - They love “tricks” - puzzles that can be solved as opposed to “traps” that might be dismantled, but are not challenges in the same fashion. So puzzles, tricks, brain teasers - that’s what they were always looking for. But those are tough to come up with as a GM. Challenging half a dozen players who knew me for a decade or more was incredibly difficult, especially when I was expected to do it pretty much every week.

I’ve written on things like this before, but today what I’m thinking is from a more practical point of view, maybe even a boring point of view. I avoid making massive dungeons; I just don’t think they make sense. Why would someone make a huge dungeon (or any other kind of underground complex) and then stock it with monsters (who don’t eat each other), tricks, traps and treasures? Plus, Legend Quest is less of a slogging game. The challenge of LQ is typically winning a fight, after which you can more typically heal up a bit, catch your breath, and prep for the next one. It’s not intended to be an extended running battle like some other games are. I guess it is more of a series of encounters, and when you are stuck in an extended battle situation (like a major battle or war) you very quickly see how lethal a game this can be what with its fatigue, bleeding damage and armor deterioration.

But these tricks - Why? Why build a “dungeon” and plant these challenges to get through it? To protect something or keep the uninitiated out, right? Well, I hate to say it, but wouldn’t that mean that the “tricks” are going to be more on the order of a history test than some challenging riddle? My point is this: If the Masons hid a massive treasure under Washington DC like they did in that movie (or was it Boston?), then the “riddles” should be things like: “James Thaddeus Jones was which High Exalted Leader?” and then there would be some way to choose a number from 1 to 20 or whatever. Or three symbols belonging to the Masons and one that they do not use in their secret ceremonies. Take the fake one out of the wall and the other three can unlock the door. Stuff like that - stuff that their members would know, but no one else would.

Let’s give some more examples: A rune or old language that reads “fireball” and the only way to bring down the magical barrier is to cast a fireball at the target. (Could be fun in all sorts of ways if the target is in a tiny room.) An alchemical formula is written on the altar; by placing the missing ingredient on the altar the magic item will rise out of the marble. The relief on the wall shows an army attacking in a certain formation; only by shifting the proper defensive formation to combat that one can you unlock the door. Or it can be the boring stuff, like putting the six dead kings’ tokens in order chronologically.

My point is this: If you want to be more true to common sense, then flowery poems and riddles don’t make sense. The builders would want to test the treasure hunters to make certain that only their kind of people made it through. Now that I think about it, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade did it right. They were testing the treasure seekers knowledge and forcing them to follow clues that they felt only a devout person would understand.

So am I saying that your dungeons need to be boring and make everyone wish they were in school taking a final exam? Maybe not. Maybe the traps are too tough for the player characters. Maybe they need to bring a non-combatant who knows all this stuff into the dungeon with them, someone who can decipher the clues and answer the test questions. Then the challenge becomes keeping the scholarly guy (or gal) alive when the arrows and spells are zinging all over the room. That will be a different kind of challenge, and maybe a fun one.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter Eggs in Fletnern (with violence)

Stay with me on this one; it’s not what you think.

Some time ago, sun worshiping humans established a spring festival where they would have the children search through cow pastures for wooden balls painted or stained a golden color. They were “searching for the sun”. They would bring the golden balls back to their parents (or town elders) and receive small treats or finding them. While taking balls from other children was never fully encouraged, it happened. Most adults thought the fun was watching the children search through the tall grass and avoid the cow pies left behind.

The orcs picked up the game from the humans they enslaved, but they took the violence part much further. To ramp up the action, they had only one golden ball, so once someone found it, the others had to try and get the ball away from him. To the orcs (at least the original ones who played), the golden balls were not the sun but instead the fiery mouth of a dragon. So the orcs called the game Blan Zar or “golden eggs”.

The game has caught on in the Wembic Empire to such a degree that it is now played in specially built arenas by teams sponsored by military units. The more “official” teams still don’t wear equipment, but there are “leagues” were they can wear armor but no weapons. Of course these guys are wearing spiked gloves and other “weapons” built into their armor. Killing is frowned upon, but beating to unconsciousness is expected. Teams can be of any agreed upon size, but eight on eight is considered normal.

So yes, Fletnern’s version of an Easter egg hunt is a violent sporting event most typically celebrated by orcs. Probably not what you were expecting when you saw Easter eggs, huh? Did I tell you that during the winter religious festival at the end of the year they give each other gifts, but coal is considered a good thing? Yeah, I can be ironic.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Who runs things?

It is my belief, and I think history bears me out, that the more distant the authority is, the higher the chance that something local will fill the void. Honestly, it is more likely that this is based not on how distant the authority is, but instead on how distant the authority is perceived to be.

What do I mean? If the king is in the capital and never comes to this town, then someone in the town is going to become the “town’s king”. It might be the mayor, whether elected or appointed by the king. Maybe the tax collector, the sheriff. Could be the local priest or whoever has the most money or the most employees. The same is true in neighborhoods in major cities. Can I show an example? Well, if the citizens believe the police are ineffective, it is common for a local gang to hold more power over the people than the police. I’m not only talking about street gangs here, but also about organized crime.

It is not always a bad thing. In exceptionally rural towns there have been situations where the local pastor gained the authority of law. His sermons may as well have been the laws of that town. It wasn’t that there wasn’t a police presence or an elected government, but the pastor was still the leader.

How does the “true” authority regain its place? By being more present. Today, it is easy to think about our government, but we have a 24 hour news cycle constantly streaming into our homes. In your fantasy world, some of those farming communities cannot even imagine what the king looks like. He’s nearly mythical to them. That allows the local power to take over. Life does not exist in the vacuum, because it fills the vacuum. How are the power vacuums in your smaller towns being filled?

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Campaign Continuity

I’ve always hated “rod of seven parts” type missions. Go out and find many pieces of this one thing and then put them all together at the end. It always seemed wrong to me that so many items of power were split into multiple pieces that would all still function if jammed back together. I dislike them because I think it shows a lack of GM (or author) imagination, and by the time you hit piece five or six, the players are bored and just want it to be over. I think any time you make the party do the same thing more than three times, you’ve lost them.

So do I not believe in campaign continuity? Absolutely not. I believe that campaigns really need a form of continuity or they become a chaotic mishmash and prevent character growth. By growth I am talking about role-playing ideals, and not experience and gold farming. If nothing other than building your list of contacts, then at least you’re showing some history building.

So how would I do an item of many parts mission, assuming I thought that was something necessary? I think first they need to learn that it exists. If some wise scholar comes up to them and tells them about it, then are they just getting the stuff so he can have the item? If not, why would he tell them about it? If you’re going to spend that much time working on something then it should be pretty important - like save the city important. So let’s assume that an ancient enemy of the player’s hometown is marshalling their forces and getting ready to move invade. But someone (hopefully a player character while on a different mission) stumbles onto a find of some historic device, maybe either an artillery weapon of some kind, but in order to build it, they need all sorts of really strange parts, and they need them yesterday.

Now the players can go out on different sorts of missions to acquire the parts, but there should be other teams out doing the same. Maybe the “bowstring” on this thing needs to be dragon tendons because nothing else is strong enough, so they go out and kill some dragons. Meanwhile, another team goes out to get the granite needed to form the thing’s base and another team goes out to buy raw industrial diamonds for the ammo. So upon returning, they find out that steel isn’t strong enough so they need to go and purchase some magical metal from the dwarves, but they expect the dwarves to be jerks and maybe not let them buy what they need. Turns out the dwarves are cool about it, but at some point on that journey, the enemy has sent a hit squad to stop the party from succeeding, so they get their fighting, just not how they expected. But they return to find out that the diamonds were stolen by a bandit group before the other team got there and that team is now tracking the bandits through some major forest. So they have to go and basically bail out that group because they are really all captured by the bandits by now.

Meanwhile, back at home, the city has been besieged. They are all working feverishly on building this thing(s), but without the diamonds for ammo, it won’t work. So after the party kills the bandits, recovers the diamonds, frees the other team, now they need to break into their own city through the siege. They also probably have to fight through some scouting parties sent out by the attackers as well. And don’t forget that one of the hit squad got away and is now following them and basically calling in all sorts of trouble against them whenever they can, so they might want to take care of them as well.
What did I change? Well, first of all, I think it makes more sense that if it were really important you would send multiple teams. It makes it more fun to find that one of them needs to be bailed out. The time pressure typically adds to the excitement, especially when they effectively fail at meeting the deadline. These are not all - kill dragon-like thing - take body part missions. (It’s not an MMO for crying out loud.) There was one of those, then a trade mission (with spies), then a rescue/recovery mission, then a war game mission. Then once the thing is built, it may help turn the tide of the battle, but it isn’t going to do it all by itself. The party will still need to fight in the final decisive battle, and the artillery weapon may be helping, but will not directly aid them. It’s not like each of them just picked up a super duper magic sword.

As always, these are just thoughts intended to give you ideas and make you think. Take a strand of what I laid out here, make it your own, and run with it!