Sunday, June 28, 2015

Xenophobia

I spend a lot of time trying to get my fantasy cities to be cosmopolitan. You know - How do elves and dwarves fit into a mainly human setting in an intelligent manner. Why? Because my players tend to play all different races and if the city the campaign was based in didn’t like non-humans, then it would be kind of crappy to play a non-human.

But how realistic is that? In many case, it is probably OK. Truth is, most of my cities do have racial biases (racism if you will). The Rhorics of Rhum don’t like elves, because they sided with the dwarves in the recent Elf-Dwarf War. Similarly, the Marils of Brinston don’t really like the dwarves because of the same reason (as in they sided with the elves). Meanwhile the Angles of Myork really don’t like the elves (because they consider the elves of the nearby Circle Forest to be rebels) and they think all dwarves are incredible blacksmiths. Yes, it is still racism if you think someone is cool just because they are a certain race.

But shouldn’t there be places or at least pockets where other races are not welcome? Yes! One way I have tried to reflect this is when halflings or dwarves intentionally build inns and taverns with 5’ ceilings. They don’t want humans and they don’t want any humans that come there to feel welcome. Not only that, but it’s pretty tough to brawl while your head keeps knocking into the chandeliers.

But how else can we do this? It is not as if it has to be as subtle as short ceilings. Signs on the door reading, “No humans allowed here” should do the trick. Or simply having a deputy stand on the road into town gesturing for anyone of the wrong race to take the side road around the town instead of the one through it. Any adventurers who feel that the deputy would be an easy kill (and he would) should have been smart enough to think before they slaughtered a member of law enforcement and should soon be fighting in the shade of all those arrow volleys coming in on them. Yes, killing a deputy is reason to have the army mobilize and rain death down upon you, especially if they think you have magic and can only counter your magic with enormous numbers.
But race is only one reason to hate an entire group of people. Some cities should be deemed “holy” and members of the wrong faith(s) should be barred from entering upon pain of death. There are still some regions in Fletnern where magic is considered evil (or at least certain types are) and anyone deemed to be a “witch” will be barred or arrested. Some small towns might be closed to anyone who is not a member of a specific tribe or other small group within a race. How exactly they tell who is or is not a member of the tribe could make for some interesting role-playing and problem solving.

The more I think about where I want to do this, the more I realize that I already have, but need to be a little more clear (even to myself) about exactly who is or is not banned from certain places. My centaurs are pretty xenophobic, and so are my orcs. It would certainly make sense if the people they barred were ready to bar them right back. Great, now I have to start thinking about the wilds of Fletnern again, when I was actually getting somewhere on the more civilized parts.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Risk Takers

I am not a risk taker. It’s just part of my personality make-up. I don’t do anything without having a Plan B, and I never risk more than I can afford to lose. If you study business, you will likely read in management books various theories on whether or not risk is essential or foolish. Let me tell you my bias, and how I worked it into my world.

The city of Forsbury is known for being a “depot town”. That means that it is at a crossroads and as caravans come in, they drop off loads into the warehouses, pick up other loads and head back out. This is not a manufacturing center, it is a trade center. So it makes sense that the town is primarily controlled by the biggest merchants in the city. (There is a Baron who intentionally keeps his army strong and his taxes low in order to keep these merchants here, but who exactly is “in charge” is often questionable.)

Now, when I started the campaign in Forsbury, figuring that being surrounded by money and trade but not really manufacturing - this would be a great place for mercenaries, I established the merchant houses. There are about 30, but only the top eight or so really mattered. Some of them were long established, but most of the time that I was writing up the history of the houses, similar themes kept coming out. Why? Because I have studied business. The really successful folks are those who take risks and work their tails off.

For example - The Masterhills. The father of the current brother team running the cartel was a teamster who knew he could do it better. He loaded up his wagons and ran them at top speed from the river (where fish were cheap) to Forsbury where they weren’t, and he was able to do it fast enough to sell “fresh” fish. Then he loaded up his wagons with more rock than was safe for them to carry and ran that faster than he should down roads that weren’t good enough. Guess what - he undersold the competition. By the time his wagons fell apart from the stress and problems, he was rich enough to start doing things right.
But his sons, they were raised rich. They knew what to do to maintain it, and admittedly, they had enough initiative to go out and take more business from their competition, but by and large, they were playing defense. That was until Caitlin came along. A professional mercenary, sell sword, adventurer or assassin, depending on who you asked, she had spent her life risking, well, her life. Risking money was no big thing to her. She put together several expeditions to the arctic to hunt the mammoths (hey - it’s high fantasy) for their ivory. She brought back so much ivory that she altered the world market on it, though not until she too had become rich.

How does this affect your game worlds? Well, on Fletnern, the old money tries to play it safe. They bribe and control the governments to make it more difficult for other people to get into business. If they hire adventurers, it is more likely that they are doing it to attack a rival or try to destroy something that someone else has built. The young money guys - They are out there risking new ideas. They are exploring new regions looking for wealth they can take or trade for. They are running into lost cities and tribes that no one even knew were out there. Both of these can be employers for your player characters, but the missions are going to be completely different.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Power of a Lesser God

The cat’s out of the bag, so I may as well let it all out. Apparently one of my players was reading through Gods and Demons and noticed Pemblin. Actually another one of them had read through it earlier and for whatever reason thought I just liked the name and reused it. Yeah, I didn’t. After reading it and rereading it, he got it - the NPC who had attached himself to the party was actually a god. A really low powered one, but a god.

I got the idea from Swords and Ice Magic - at one time the last of the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser books. In it, the two adventurers wind up meeting Odin and Loki, but the gods are past their prime and starting to fade. That story had a huge effect on me and the way I portray divinities in Legend Quest. I liked the idea of putting in a god who had some magic left to him, but wasn’t really at the “miracle production” level.

So what could Pemblin do (as a god)? Well, on a scale of 1-10, he’s a 1. That means he’s really only about as powerful as a journeyman spell caster. He did have both spell singing and illusionary magics, but only at a (mortal measure) power level of 3. Admittedly, he typically had some pretty decent chances to succeed on his spells, but it wasn’t the sure thing that the players have now accused me of. There were some clues. He never slept. He did concern himself with things they couldn’t have known about. He knew every bit of trivia about every god (and there were a lot of missions for the gods in this campaign). OK - not huge clues, but I had hoped it would prove enough to make them suspicious.

While they never knew it - the campaign was caused by another minor god. So where Pemblin was the kind of god that gold farmers want, Kemple Tukk is not, but he proved to have far more impact on the world. Kemple Tukk is also a “1” on the divine scale. He is the spirit of items lost to the sea, a junk collector of everything that hits the bottom of the ocean. Sounds useless, right? But what is his motivation? He wants there to be more stuff that hits the bottom of the ocean. These things then become part of his “realm”, stuff he can control, actually sacrifices. So how does he get more of this stuff without pissing off every god who can squish him like a bug?

One of the things that had found its way into Kemple Tukk’s grasp was an ancient book of summoning spells from an aquatic race mostly forgotten by the surface dwellers. The last spell of this book was a way to summon the spirit of the leviathans (gigantic barracudas - 125’ long barracudas). His plan was simple - create a situation in which a group of surface dwellers would find the book, be able to translate it, and be foolish enough to summon this monster, preferably within the port of a major city. You see, he prepared a version of the book that left out what the proper sacrifices were to appease Neachoah (the spirit of the leviathans) when you summoned him, so Kemple Tukk knew that Neachoah was going to go berserk.

Yes - Kemple Tukk enlisted the aid of some other spirits, including some who were more powerful than he is, but the plan was his. The execution was mainly his. He hoped the blame would be spread around if anyone got too angry over what he had done. He sort of got lucky; one of his allied divinities convinced Marina goddess of the seas that the surface dwellers weren’t showing her the proper respect and this would be a great time for her to remind them that they needed to pray to her a little harder if they wanted to avoid having Godzilla’s little sister swim into their port and eat most of it.

Is there a point? Is there a moral to this story? Yes - Just because a divine creature is “lesser” or otherwise of minimal divine power, they are still viable influencers. They can have an impact on the world. Also, they all have different motivations. Few gods would have thought that tricking humans into summoning Neachoah into the port of Scaret would benefit them, but Kemple Tukk showed a half dozen or so of them that it was a good idea, but best of all for him. Motivations - they need to be diverse, but even though they have no impact on your damage rolls, they are vitally important for a good fantasy role-playing game.

This blog is not intended to simply be an advertisement for Board Enterprises products, but all of these divinities can be found detailed in Gods and Demons. If you’re looking for 200 divine creatures (gods, spirits, angels, demons and minions), this is great place to get ideas. There is also a full set of rules for using divinities in a FRPG that we think really supports the power of the gods without giving the player characters control over the gods.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Battle Captains

Follow up to Bringing Life to Your Game World and Bringing Life to Your Game World - Part II

I’ve talked about this before, but it kind of bugs me that when an army “loses” a war, they are often considered to all be dead. That’s not even slightly realistic and sucks if you are trying to create adventures. Just because they lost doesn’t mean that they all died. How many surrendered? How many escaped or deserted? How many were off doing other missions and haven’t been faced with the opposing army? Even if it is just a couple of units that were defending towns or territories that are now owned by the winners, there must be some guys who are still wild and free.

As important as it is to remember that there are some soldiers and other common guys out there who now need a new occupation, there will also be some leaders who escaped death or capture. These guys can now serve as a rallying point for any of the common soldiers who are still out there. Even if these battle captains are captured, they might serve as a rallying point as a couple hundred soldiers from the losing side might be willing to spring them from their jail (and maybe a bunch of extra POWs as well).

Did you make up the battle captains in your last war? Some of us do and some don’t. What’s a battle captain? Well, the army is probably run by a general who reports to and strategizes with the king (or whoever). The battle captains are the officers who report to the general or report to the officers who report to him. If the army really does get decimated, then maybe the only remaining battle captains are a couple of squad sergeants or legionnaires. The highest ranking of these guys will be the heads of the individual troops. Even if it is just a guy in charge of the archers, while another is in charge of the cavalry and a third has the infantry, there will likely be officers under the general. Even if you didn’t make these guys up before the big battle took place, afterwards, you can still add them in. Normally you do this by something like: They bring word to you that Captain Fleyr of the enemy forces is rumored to be hiding in the village of North Uptown. Captain Fleyr was in charge of all the enemy’s cavalry, and he is credited with that daring/cunning sweep that nearly took out your left flank during the decisive battle. They believe that he and his most loyal men fought their way clear of the battle. There were only a dozen of them when they fled, but they may be gathering numbers.

Need some drama after the massive climax of the huge war? Figure out what these battle captains are going to do. They might turn bandit. They might try to spark a rebellion. They might become a mercenary force. Meanwhile the guys who won the war are now going to have to defend every place that might get raided, so their forces are going to be severely strained. Perfect time to hire a party of adventurers to put down that rebel scum!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Dangerous Jobs

I was going to name this post Who’s Mad as a Hatter, but I didn’t think you’d click on it. It really should be titled: Dangerous Jobs that do not involve violence.

So hopefully before I lose you, what are we talking about? You’ve heard the saying “Mad as a hatter” I hope. Maybe you know the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland or from Batman. Anyway, the urban legend goes - hatters in Merry Ol’ England used chemicals in the hat making process that probably drove them insane. (Something to do with the mercury fumes.) This happened and it happened so commonly that they pretty much expected it.

What about in your fantasy world? Chances are they aren’t using mercury in hat making (that was more 1700-1800s). The same might be said for the dangers of match making (1800s). But are there dangerous professions that are going on in your fantasy cities? Of course there are! Even just thinking about acrobats and other entertainers who would commonly be injured in their performances and no one really cared. But what I am thinking about is the alchemists.
Just like the hatters, alchemists are typically encountering vapors and fumes that are probably dangerous to their health. I have set up a lot of alchemists in Fletnern that have gone insane or are going insane and how it affects their business. Sometimes it affects the neighborhood too. When a crazy alchemist is trying to put together some form of fire bomb, things can go wrong - really, really wrong. It would probably be less common for alchemists specializing in healing potions than those doing fire and other “bombs”, but it’s not like they would be thinking about proper ventilation or other safety tips.

Who else can we suggest might be crazy because of their job? Necromancers! Whether it’s the embalming fluids, the bone dust or just the horror of creating undead creatures - these guys will likely be some pretty warped dudes! Maybe some of the research mages. I think we’ve all read some horror story about a guy who went nuts reading old books containing knowledge that was not meant to be known. What about mediums? Those who contact the dead or other supernatural spirits. Maybe they aren’t insane, but do they get possessed?

Back to the big question I always want to ask: Why does it matter? This is some great starter material for adventures, typically urban adventures. Did the crazy conjurer guy at the magic university read the wrong book and try the wrong spell and now the basement of the college is being overrun by demons (maybe little gremlin type demons - they sound fun). Did the alchemist mess up and start a magical fire that cannot be put out by mundane means, and it is starting to consume more of the city? Did the crazy necromancer give some powerful undead creation a command that doesn’t make any sense, like bring me a new born baby every night (forever) and the duchess is about to go into labor? Crazy is sometimes easier to game master - it doesn’t have to make sense. (But can be a whole lot of fun, at least for the GM)

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Hidden Jobs

In every profession there are “hidden jobs”. These are the jobs (in a big company) or the tasks (in the smaller ones) that those of us not in those professions never think about. For example - Most of you have an understanding of credit cards and how they work. You would not be surprised to learn that in today’s culture, most credit card decisions are made by computers. You might even think that there must be some math/economics whizzes in there deciding what the computers will allow and what they will reject. But did you know that there is actually a profession for the people who translate the economics into something the programmers can understand and then translate the IT speak back into something the economists can understand? It’s a hidden job.

Why does it matter? We published 100 Professions to give GMs and players an idea of what kinds of things their PCs could be doing when not adventuring. But we did not put in a whole bunch of hidden jobs. In fact we avoided it. Why? Because it seemed to be far too specific and to be honest fraught with things that people would argue with us about.

But these jobs matter, because paying people to do these hidden jobs runs up the cost of ... well ... everything. Additionally, when you’re thinking about how many people you have in your cities, you need to think about some of these hidden jobs. There are way more people working in that brewery than you are thinking about.

Examples: all the janitors or other cleaning staff; accountants and bookkeepers even in labor jobs; pay masters and those who protect them; mechanics and other fix-it folk who maintain the machines being used - everything from the fabric looms to the mills; the toolmakers who make scissors, soup ladles, and steel anvils; runners of absolutely all kinds - the people (kids) who are bring supplies to workers or delivering messages or even product around the city; the secretaries and other assistants who take notes, keep schedules, and do just about everything for the big thinkers and other bosses.
Let’s stop on this one for a second. I assume that the vast majority of you reading this are younger than I am, so we’re all in the same boat on this one. Ever see a movie like 9 to 5 where they have this huge room filled with people (women) typing? Yeah, we don’t get that. None of us ever worked for a place that didn’t have some manner of word processing. None of us ever worked for a firm that actually did their books on four column accounting paper. We don’t get, but your parents or maybe grandparents understood a work force that is incredibly different from ours. That’s one or two generations ago. Think back to the time before Ford and his assembly line. That’s the day and age you need to think about for your fantasy cities. Every wagon part is hand crafted for this particular wagon. You cannot go to the wagon part store and get something that will replace what you have, because everything is custom built and a little bit different in size. Even bricks are little bit different in size and might not fit where you want them to. Maybe that all makes sense to you, but I have to stop and think it through nearly every time, because I have never lived in a world like that.

What’s the moral of this story? When you think about a blacksmith’s shop and you think that the blacksmith either works alone or with an apprentice, you’re probably missing the point in a big way. He might have one apprentice just for pumping the bellows on the forge, one apprentice for tending to the horses before he shoes them (yes, I know that’s a farrier and not a blacksmith), a journey man who helps him hammer, and another apprentice who holds the object with the tongs. Early this morning, those three apprentices may have had to carry a couple hundred pounds of coal into the shop and stack it in the bin, in addition to filling the water barrels (for drinking and otherwise) or whatever else they are quenching in (assuming they do that). Someone had to deliver the coal, someone had to put it wherever it is now (even if that meant shoveling it off the wagon), I could go on all day on this stuff and barely scratch the surface.

So what do I do? Well, most of Grain Into Gold was based on statistics from an era before the modern age (could be the year 1000 through early 1700s) on how much work got done in a day. More recent work has often been based on minutes/hours required by re-enactors or in some cases actually information from the proper era. But when I use minutes/hours to craft a specific item, I assume that they are only getting 7.5 hours of work done in a typical 10 hour work day. Why? because I am trying to compensate for all those hidden tasks that I don’t know about. This is why you would rather buy Board Enterprises supplements then try to figure all this stuff out yourself. We’re not just pricing an apple at one copper coin because it sounds good. We’ve figured out how many apples the guy can grow in a year and what he needs to sell them for in order to not go broke before the next harvest season.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Slavery - how it’s handled in Rhum

In our City of Rhum supplement, we tried to tie the whole city together as opposed to our previous supplements where we were detailing neighborhoods. One of the things that may have seemed like a throwaway comment in there is that children are legally the property of their parents and as such can be sold into slavery by their parents. We didn’t get into that as deeply as maybe we should have, but to do so would have seemed out of place - too much emphasis on that one topic. But it kind of bothers me that people may have the wrong impression.

Here’s how it really works: First off, abortion is considered completely immoral in Rhum. The killing of an innocent is seen as one of the worst things possible. The women of Rhum have spoken and there is no one who believes that those babies moving around within their mothers are anything but “life”. So to kill the unborn child is evil. But not every mother/family can afford to raise a child or more commonly another child. So they will commonly “sell” them to one of the plantations outside of the city.

While everyone in Rhum would describe this as selling the baby into slavery, our modern society might instead see this as an indentured servant contract. Contracts differ with each of the various plantations, but in general the contract is something along the lines of: The plantation and its owners promise to raise the child in a safe manner until the child turns 18-21 years of age. At that point the child will have repaid the plantation for his raising and would be free to leave if he/she chose to. At issue is that after 20 years of only knowing the plantation, a high percentage of those newly freed from their contract of indenture stay on. After all, they move from a shared bunk house to a “cottage” of their own with the right to marry and have children (though any children will be automatically entered into their own indentured contracts). These freed men are treated basically the same as the indentured servants, and they are paid only in room and board and a few extras, never in money that they could accumulate and take with them. Think of it as a form of Stockholm syndrome if you will, but they rarely go anywhere.

Now, from the point of view of the mothers - They perceive their choices as being between raising a child on the streets or in a home far too small for the family with an uncertainty if this child will be the extra mouth that causes her whole family to starve to death vs. going to work for a plantation where the child will be raised to adulthood, fed, clothed, and sheltered - most often in a means that the mother herself might consider far better than what she gets. Further, the child will at least be taught to be a field hand if not gaining a better career, such as brewer, weaver, or cattle hand.

Not to try and rationalize indentured servant contracts or convince anyone that slavery is a good thing, but there is no question in the morality of the Rhorics - an indentured servant contract gives the child a legitimate chance at a life - difficult but reasonably safe. Abortion is evil and gives the child no chance. Just wanted to clarify City of Rhum a little bit and maybe make you think about how certain things considered so horrid in our culture might be seen in a completely different light in another. If you’re a world builder, that matters.

Of course, I never did put any details into the hobo towns made up of those folks who do leave the plantations and serve as migrant farm workers. Trying to get some reasonable details there may not be easy.