Sunday, November 15, 2015

High Fantasy - Enchanted Items

OK, so the last post tried to establish that as long as anyone can learn to enchant (no special birthmarks needed), you will have a high fantasy game because there will be greedy or ambitious people who will want to make lots of money. But we (intentionally) glossed over the fact that there would be people willing to buy the enchanted items. Let’s look at that!

We established in Book of Wishes that an illumination enchantment would cost about 300sc. We established in Grain Into Gold that the average guy earns about 10sc per day. So for the average guy to buy an enchanted lamp, it would cost about a month’s salary. Seems out of whack, right? Well, we never wanted to portray this as “the average guy” is buying enchantments. But, we do think that the upper middle class and the upper class could be buying these. Here’s how and why: An enchanted lamp (as we showed last time) saves a person about 9sc per month in candles, so over the course of about three years, the lamp pays for itself. But only people with enough disposable income can afford to invest in this manner. The poor slobs at the low end of the economy can barely afford rush lights - they aren’t forking over the money for a magic lamp or even beeswax candles.

Skilled craftsmen, like locksmiths and distillers, would likely average ~15sc per day. (If this doesn’t make sense to you, you really need 100 Professions!) But that’s for workers. If you are the master of the lock making shop, you’re going to be making more. In fact when I’m trying to figure out bigger operations, most of my “bosses” (managers who don’t own the place) are often making 20sc a day. Now, you’re only talking about half a month’s salary. Healers and full on spell casters are closer to 50 a day. Beginning adventurers probably only get paid about 10sc a day like a sentry would, but they get all of their money at one time (after basically camping and living off the land for months on end). That’s why they can afford to buy magiced weapons and armor - because they effectively saved for a couple of months while they traveled to and from the zone of danger.

But that probably makes you wonder why we’re talking about magic lamps and not magic swords. That’s easy - I can tell you down to the last copper penny what you save by having a magic lamp that lasts forever. I cannot easily monetize the value of a magic sword. With the sword - The value is in the eye of the buyer. It should increase his chances of survival (by killing his enemies quicker), but what’s his life worth? More importantly, what’s the extra “edge” worth? Probably everything he has. Therefore, it’s tough to intelligently quantify and doesn’t work economically. Also - I have said often that while adventurers are an important part of the fantasy world, they are a very small part of it. Economics is about strong and steady business, not the “rock stars”. Knowing what an up and coming merchant would do is actually more important when figuring out prices and values than what a crazed sword swinger would do. (“crazed sword swinger”? that’s redundant)

All right, we’re going too far in that direction. Who would buy a magic lamp? The upper crust. So what do we know? They are not going to buy a piece of scrap leather even if it glows brightly. Minimum is probably a brass lamp or hooded lantern. A cheap brass lamp with a glass chimney runs about 5sc. But would a rich guy have one in his home? Maybe, if it were deep in his office somewhere and only seen by him. But if it is out somewhere it is going to have to be prettier. Truth be told, by the time you get done with the fanciest of lamps, the 300sc for the spell might not be the expensive part.
Is there a moral to this story? I think there is. In a high fantasy world, some magical items are going to be worth buying, as long as the person can afford it. Light, heat, clean water, these things are valuable and have a cost. Sometimes magic is the cheap way to get things done, at least in the long run.

Next time - What to do if your magic lamp burns out - or does it ever burn out?

Sunday, November 8, 2015

High Fantasy - Enchanters

OK - So first off, let me say what I think the difference between high fantasy and low fantasy is. I think the main thing that separates the two is who can learn magic. If any person can learn to perform magic - specifically enchantment - then you have a high fantasy game. If only a small percentage of people can do magic, then you can have a low fantasy game.

So why? Small divergence - Most of you are familiar with the stuff I write. Grain Into Gold is my best selling book (having surpassed even Legend Quest) and sets out to show anyone how to build an economy for their fantasy world. Pockets was intended to be a random treasure supplement for pick pockets, but more of the readers seem to see it as a guide to what over a thousand common items cost. Even 100 Professions is an economy supplement. So you’ll probably forgive me when I lay it out this way, but ...

Modern example - It costs a $#!+load of money to go to law school. It’s also a lot of work and probably only the top third of folks could do it. (That might not be true because I’ve met some stupid lawyers!) So why spend the money? Because you make a $#!+load of money, far more than the school cost you. It’s the same with enchanters. Even if it costs huge to learn to be an enchanter, you’re going to make it all back once you start working. Now we’re focused on enchanters, because it is easiest to sell their magic. Finding a way to monetize sorcery can be more difficult, but anyone can sell magic items.

But does it make sense? I like to lay it out like this, and yeah - I do focus on money: An illumination enchantment costs 300sc - why? because an enchanter typically makes about 300sc per day and it takes about a day for them to make an illumination enchantment. Actually, it also costs 50sc for the materials, but it is such a common enchantment that the supply has lowered the price. Is that worth it? It would take three candles to equal the illumination enchantment, which means you would burn about a pound of wax a day in order to match the enchantment (actually three candles - you would get 16 hours out of a pound of beeswax). So assuming a pound of wax a day, it would take about three years to save enough on wax to pay for the enchantment. But if the enchantment works “forever” then from your fourth year on - you’re saving money.

Did you get that? Spending 300sc for a lamp eventually saves you money, but it also makes the enchanter incredibly rich - at least 25 times richer than a mundane craftsman. That’s why you would spend the time and money to learn to be an enchanter - to get rich. And if anyone can learn magic, then there will always be those folks willing to beg, borrow or steal the money needed to learn the skills in order to become enormously rich later on. That’s why I said earlier that if anyone can learn magic, then you have a high fantasy game. Anyone who does not see this is really ignoring one of the main motivations in life.

More on high fantasy stuff coming very soon!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Crappy Governments

Notice - This is not just an anti-government rant, but instead a rather serious approach to placing enemy powers in your game world.

There’s something I’m really bad at - writing and role-playing stupid folks. I just recent mentioned in a blog post that you need to remember that some folks are losers and you can’t have everyone in your game world be both brilliant and successful (that would be the DC universe). But I’m really bad at crafting the stupid folks - specifically, the stupid winners.

In our modern world, I think these “stupid winners” are best seen in crappy governments. Look, I’m not going to wave the flag here and tell you how my guys are the best in the world. My guys suck. I am embarrassed that my fellow citizens continue to vote for people that say one thing and then do another after being elected. I’m embarrassed that my fellow citizens elect people based on such high ideals as political correctness and the “cool factor”. I strongly support either an IQ test or a current events quiz before allowing people into the voting booth, but the politicians in office now will prevent that from ever happening - They wouldn’t be able to get reelected.

But what am I talking about? As bad as my guys are, there are worse out there. There are worse here too - We have a guy who loudly tells people he’s going to raise the tax rate into the 90%+ range and people cheer for him. You can fool some of the people all of the time! But I’m thinking more about things like: financial policy hacks who specifically and purposefully caused the housing bubble but strongly believe that it was not their policies but instead 70 year old regulations that caused it (having never caused it before); politicians who are so heavily invested (and I mean monetarily) in passing laws about climate change that should they ever succeed, they become billionaires - whatever your beliefs about climate change, did we really want it to be about profiting from cap and trade?; or politicians who’s strategy for avoiding public scrutiny is to have so many massive accusations of fraud, greed and incompetence that they all blend together in this Wonderland that no one can quite figure out. OK, I got a little distracted there. What about countries where the government is a minority, whether racially, religiously or something else, and they use the military to control the majority while seemingly well intentioned neighbors sit on their hands. What about countries that have legitimate military power and weapons of mass destruction, but their leaders are noticeably insane, but their people never try to rise up against them?

What does this all matter? In a fantasy world, especially one where military coups and royal lines are likely to be the most common initiation of governments, you would have to have some of these crazy #@%&*#s in charge of armies and regions. I’d like to believe that when a country views their leader and they all look at each other and say, “This guy’s off his freakin’ rocker” that they find a way to get rid of him. But they don’t. At least they don’t in the real world.

So how do we put these crazy, crappy governments into place in our fantasy worlds? Well, it’s not like they have the internet. Most peasants don’t even know what the king looks like, unless his face is on the (copper) coins. The nobles and ministers who profit from the king’s idiocy will make sure that people outside the palace don’t learn what a moron he is for fear of losing their piece of the power. Meanwhile, they keep the king imprisoned in luxury and rape the country. When diplomats and ambassadors grow to understand that this guy is both insane and a danger to them, they still have to contend with a country filled with uneducated semi-patriotic serfs who haven’t learned what they know. You cannot get the citizenry to rise up against the rulers when they think everything is OK and refuse to think far enough out to see that their entire country is headed right towards a cliff. Sounds familiar to me.

So WHY do you want to put these crazies into your world? These are perfect targets for you adventurers, but it is vital to remember that simply sneaking in and assassinating the crazy _____ at the top is not enough. As the modern world has been seeing recently, eliminating one crazy often allows and even crazier into the vacuum. Unlike most movies, the peasants will not come out into the streets and cheer for the “heroes” who have liberated them from oppression. A well placed assassination would likely be the excuse those ministers needed to go to war with whomever they think they can steal land from, whether they are the right culprit or not. A quick war can cull those peasants, especially any that might actually be thinking about how bad their government really is. Don’t worry - the war slaves can do their jobs once the fields have been cleared of bodies.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Genre shifting - superheroes in fantasy

I have to admit - I have always wanted to run a super hero game in fantasy world. I’ve tried it a couple of times, and it hasn’t worked as I had hoped. I think this is because I have treated the games like they were FRPG and not super hero games. What do I mean?

Willie was a mild mannered alchemist working in the lab when a magical explosion sprayed him with all sorts of alchemicals. When he woke up the next day, he realized he had magical flame powers (or anything else you like).

Shelagh was messing around with her mother’s old books when she scrawled a pentagram on the floor and summoned up a demon. The symbol held the demon, but he seduced her with the promise of power. She let him in, and he granted her mastery over magnetism (or any other power you want). OK - Maybe she’s the bad guy.

The point is, that all of those goofy super hero origin stories are just as easily (if not more so) done in the fantasy realm. I have done campaigns where there were wererats in the party, or the girl born under a certain magical sign that made her a super charged battery for other mages, or had regenerative powers. If you think about it, some magic items or powers gained at certain points are really close to super powers anyway - armor that teleports around you when you summon it (or a weapon), beasts/steeds that come when called, any of a hundred special abilities assigned to magical swords. Even spells themselves, after all, Dr. Strange isn’t a super hero in a FRPG, he’s just another character.

Where I’ve gone wrong is in what they face. Comic book heroes rarely face a squad of orcs. They need something flashier, like a demon or a powerful poltergeist, maybe a black knight trying to take over the countryside only to be revealed at the most dramatic time to be the king’s daughter. Then again with innumerable gods and demons to use, why not have some evil god bestow powers on a bad guy. Maybe the bad girl used the summoning circle to let in a whole list of bad spirits/demons who are now possessing people and granting them new powers. Now we need a team of heroes to chase them down and eventually close the portal.

It’s not the character creation that drives us in the wrong direction; it’s the types of missions. Running a super-hero fantasy game isn’t that hard, as long as you don’t run them through the normal style of FRPG missions. Think - what would Alligator Man do in one of his adventures instead of what would a group of elven archers and scouts fight. I’m pretty sure that this is the trick!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Power Behind Magic

How do your games handle magic and where magical power comes from? My world Fletnern, and I guess in the game Legend Quest though probably more as an optional rule, has different magics coming from different sources. Honestly the rule book sort of glosses over it, and the Book of Wishes (the magic expansion) doesn’t get into it too deeply. That’s because LQ has always been focused on letting you run your game world how you want and tries not to force game world/setting issues into the rules.

Enough dancing around the issue - What do we mean? Necromancy is controlled by the magic involved in death. Healing is involved in the magic of life. Sorcery draws on the magic created from change or if you need to say it chaos. Druid = nature; illusion = light and darkness; spell singing = emotions; and conjuring draws magic from somewhere else, not natural to this world. But I like when things overlap. Druidic magic draws on nature, but that means that it is drawing some of its magic from the elemental magics that fuel the elementalists. Herbalists draw power from nature too, but pretty specifically only the plant side of nature. Spiritualism draws magic from death, but also from one of the “dimensions” that conjuring uses (the spirit realm). So necromancy and spiritualism may have some of the same spells and actually be able to use the same talismans to enhance their spells, but not always because they are not twins, but kissing cousins.

Nothing is more boring during a game session than a GM trying to explain the technical points of magic to the players. That’s not why they came. They’re looking to be challenged in some way (most often combat), but not lectured to. So by no means am I suggesting you spend game time having some scribe explain how magic works. You can have discussions with your players about it when you’re sitting around doing nothing, like when you’re waiting for others to show up, even if it’s waiting for the other guys to show up on your way to a “night out on the town” not necessarily a game. I strongly discourage you from discussing it at the bar! That never goes well.

But why do you care? First off, knowing more about how your world works makes missions and adventures pop into your mind. If you are thinking about using certain kinds of magic in combination, you will start thinking about how the bad guys are going to try and funnel sorcery through a conjured creature and try to take over the tri-state area. If you don’t know how magic works, then you will never create your own spells and be stuck with the stuff in the books. Your own stuff is usually much cooler!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Commentaries on Fletnern

Knowing facts about a place, especially a place as big as a world can be very important, but in order to understand, there needs to be opinion - commentary. We’re adding entries to the World of Fletnern blog as “commentary”. They are written from the point of view of the person indicated. There are several commentary “writers”, and their introductions will be found as well.

It is not that their commentary will be lies, but realize that it is only their point of view. It may be incredibly accurate or it may be misleading. However, they can tell you as much by giving you their opinion and allowing you to draw your own conclusions as you could learn from the factual texts.

To get into these commentaries, choose the Commentary category and start exploring.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Filler NPCs that feel real

So often, our game worlds feel like stage productions where there are a couple of people with lines, but everybody else sort of fades into this scenery - or is only assumed to exist. Think about it. When the player characters walk into that tavern to coincidentally run into the guy with a mission, does anyone know who else is in the bar? Beyond the mission giver, the bartender (typically the owner), and maybe a waitress, do you know who’s there? That’s just one example. If things are happening in an established town or even city in your world, how much do you know?

But you’re a game master. You have a job or classes that fill tons of your time and don’t have a lot of time to think up folks who just don’t matter, right? So you can buy pre-planned products, we sell several. [Royalty is probably one of the best as it lays out the entire court of a decent sized kingdom or barony. More characters than you should need.] But sometimes, you need to make them up yourself to have them actually fit in your world. Here is what I think is one of the easiest ways to do that: fill out the family.

Here’s how you do it: Let’s assume that a couple of missions ago you laid out that bar where all the hiring of adventurers happens. As we suggested, you know the owner and the waitress and the owner’s wife who works as the cook. So what’s next? Who else do they need at the tavern? Is it an inn (do they rent rooms)? If so do they need some manner of maid? Do they need a handyman? If the owner is the bartender he can’t do everything. Maybe you add a couple of bartenders who work every other night. This didn’t take too much brain power did it? Good, let’s move on. Let’s fill out the maid a little. Let’s make her the owner’s sister-in-law. That adds drama right there! Give her a touch of backstory. Does she work here because she’s a widow and her sister and brother in law are being charitable? Does she feel she works too hard and isn’t treated like a member of the family? Let’s move on.

How old is the owner? Did he inherit the inn? Assuming he did, does he have any siblings and how pissed are they that he got the inn? Maybe his younger brother owns the stable across the street - his inheritance. That sort of makes sense, right? Any other siblings? Let’s add a sister who married a farmer and lives outside of town. How do we hook her in? Well, her husband makes some of the ale they serve at the tavern. Lower quality, but he’s family so they do what they can to support him. What happened to the owner’s parents? Are they dead or retired?

OK, so far we’ve added extra characters to your town hopefully without taxing your imagination. You don’t need fully fleshed out characters, but you are building depth simply by keeping track of the familial relations. Let’s skip the rest of that extended family and try something else. Assuming that this is a heavily agricultural region, then one of the most important folks in the town is going to be the miller. Probably one of the wealthiest too. We’ll assume he inherited the mill from his parents. How many siblings does he have? How upset are they that he has the mill? Maybe he was the only son and has two sisters. His folks got those two married off to farmers with reasonably large farms (through large dowries), so the sisters aren’t angry, but they do have sons of their own. Does that mean our miller has nephews working for him? Are they good workers or lazy? Let’s assume they are good workers for now. What about the brothers in law? Are they still trying to get more out of their wife’s family? Maybe one is a good guy and happy that his sons are finding solid work at the mill. The other is a schemer and is trying to figure out how he can inherit the mill that his brother in law owns. By just thinking about one guy (the miller) and his family, we have now gotten a couple of notes on two farmers, two farm wives, several mill workers, etc. And all of these folks would likely be gathering at the tavern on a cool autumn night when adventurers are being hired.

Does it matter? Well, yeah sort of. If the barroom brawl breaks out, those three mill workers may have seemed boring and unassuming, but they’re cousins and will protect each other no matter what else happens. That one table may have two women and a man arguing, but they are the miller and his two sisters. They may look like the common folk (which they are) but they are the wealthiest common folk in the town. Not only do you now have these little surprises waiting behind the scenes for your players, but the further you get into this, the more mission oriented things are going to pop out. Think of it like some of the online/console games you play. Ever pick up a major mission only to find out that there are a couple of side quests that you can get done with relatively little extra effort? Well if the mission is to kill the local bandits, then maybe one of the major farm wives wants you to recover a piece of jewelry that was stolen from her by the bandits. Maybe her son wants to come along and help (because they robbed his mother). Maybe insulting the ale in the tavern is an insult to owner’s family pride, no matter how bad they know it is.

The point is NOT to waste time coming up with all this stuff! The point is (or at least is intended to be) that with 15-30 minutes of brainstorming, you can generate a couple dozen characters with interconnectivity and a touch of history. That makes your whole world seem so much richer! But be careful. Not every family is the Bushes. Yes, in the US there is a family where dad and son were both president and the other son might be president soon. These types of families (where everyone is important) are excessively rare. Remember to make up some boring people too! Not everyone is successful. Most families have a couple of losers. Many losers are quite content to be losers. You don’t want your campaign world focused on these losers, but knowing who they are shows everyone how great a GM you really are!