Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Real Monsters

I am a monster movie fan. I was glued to the TV as a kid for every Saturday creature feature. Frankenstein, zombies, Dracula, werewolves, even the mummy, but also Godzilla, King Kong and the big guys. It’s not that I really loved the monsters, but I loved the fantasy action movies.

So I think most of us have the human sized monsters in our fantasy games, but what about the giants? The honest answer when it comes to Legend Quest at least is that giant monsters don’t fit. I don’t know how I could incorporate King Kong vs. human sized characters. Sure, I could give him an Endurance (and therefore Life’s Blood or whatever you want to call hits to kill) that was monumental, but how do I handle him attacking? I tend to think that instead of giving a giant monster huge points, he/it should instead have a type of armor (call it thick skin) that would prevent most human sized weapons from affecting him. In the same vein, I could make it extremely difficult for such a giant to hit a human sized opponent. Imagine you grabbing a fly out of the air - kind of the same thing.

The thing is, I do have these problems already. What happens when pixies shoot their bows at humans? But in some cases, it’s not a matter of picking at flies. If King Kong swipes his arm across a roof top and there are people on the rooftop - he doesn’t have to be as precise anymore. Now he can utilize his great strength and anyone in the way is going to die. That doesn’t make for great role-playing scenarios - players don’t like their enemy constantly getting one-shot kills. But to a point, I have to figure it out.

When it comes to dragons, I think the scale is still one of strength vs. strength. Sure, dragons are vastly bigger than humans, but it isn’t on such a scale that the dragons could easily fail to notice the humans. LQ dragons are around 30’ long, so humans are still 20% of their size. I still might want to make certain dragon attacks a little harder to land. If it had a piercing tail spike or even a bite it might be tougher, but slashing attacks with its claws should utilize the creature’s great strength and even be allowed to hit multiple human sized enemies.

FYI - In the first King Kong movie, the stop action guys admit that depending on which scene you’re watching, Kong was between 18’ and 70’. They intentionally altered his height for the right amount of drama. So, how do I figure out what to do with that?

I’m going to work on this a bit - probably even playtesting some of the modifiers. Years ago I added an optional rule for size adjustments to accuracy, but we used them most often for things like hitting an apple at 100 paces, not pixies or dragons. I intend to share the full rules here before we publish the Omnibus edition of Legend Quest, but sometimes things move at different speeds than I would like. Honestly this probably belongs more in the realm of Monsters & Other Menaces, but I’m sure we can make it work!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Political Parties

We’re in the thick of an election cycle here in the US. Looks like the Democrats are going to be losing seats in both the House and Senate, but that is normal for a President’s sixth year. I’d like to think it was the American citizens wising up, but I think it can better be attributed to our national ADHD.

So how do political parties in your fantasy world work? You use them right? At the very least, the king needs to have a cousin, brother or uncle who wishes that they were king and is maneuvering in the background to take over if ever given the chance. My most major campaign is based out of Forsbury, so I know the political parties in the Council of Barons best. The main parties there are the New Order, the Moderates, and the Old Guard. For the most part, this is a generational thing, but not entirely. The New Order is mostly made up of Barons in their 30s and 40s. They want to do new things in order to expand their power - more of the risk takers. The Old Guard is more Barons in their 50s and 60s. They want things to stay as they are, even if they lose opportunities, as long as they prevent others from rising to threaten them (others here really meaning the non-noble class). The Moderates don’t want to be mired in the mistakes of the past, but they are not the risk takers the New Guard is. So you can see how they would be in conflict - rivalries and debates, but not open warfare.

In Myork, there are also three parties. They don’t have cool names (at least not yet), but they have entirely different long-term goals. One group believes strongly that the only way they will ever be able to wipe evil from the world is to take over the world and rule it with one government (and a martial one at that). They are actively building a new capital from which to rule the world and mainly use diplomacy to bring other rulers and politicians into their organization. Another lacks that patience and demands that Myork take action now. They see evil running free in the world and want to transport troops there and destroy it. This backfires on them time and time again. As soon as they crush the evil ones, the locals seem to immediately forget that the soldiers came there to liberate them and start whining about their freedoms being squashed by these foreign troops. So the knights go back to Myork and within 10-15 years, the evil is running rampant through that area again. Sound familiar? Think I’m a little bitter about how the USA is treated around the world? The third group is more isolationist. They believe that they can form a utopian society within their own borders and the rest of the world be damned, and they expect it will. Many of them believe that they have practically achieved this level and want to focus all attention on maintaining what they have. Truth is, they are pretty darn close to a utopian society - close enough that they have the time to get philosophical about fixing the rest of the world.

Lastly, there are two political parties in Brinston. Anytime another starts to rise, it gets gobbled up by one of the two existing parties. There are the Vintners and Merchant Princes. The Vintners are more of the old money. They own huge estates and vineyards and craft the best wines in the world. Agriculture and tradition are their power base, plus they have managed to marry off their pretty young ladies to various military superstars and control the populace through these military heroes. The Merchant Princes or Merchant Houses are the ones who truly control the trade around the world. Their fleets and caravans (but especially the ships) carry the most products and the most wealth. With the Houses taking a good percentage off the top of everything, they are incredibly rich. These two parties feud constantly, but they are nearly the same. Both wish to increase their personal wealth, though they tend to measure wealth in different ways (land and belongings vs. trade assets and coinage). Both wish to do everything they can to keep the non-nobles down and prevent any from rising to become their equals. Both have been wealthy for so long that it is difficult to find a “do-er” amongst the families; most are spoiled brats both as children and as adults.

Did I give you any ideas? This is actually a very simplistic summary. I didn’t get into the Hunting Party (a subversive group considering assassinations), the impact of religions, etc., etc., etc.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

More on Treasuries

Following up on How Much Money Should Someone Have?

Don’t forget to also check out our earlier post about what it takes to count the money: Collecting Treasure - Even when it’s pay.

For those of you who can’t figure out where the rest of the nobleman’s worth went - It’s tied up in furniture and real estate. We are actually working on a supplement that will give you all sorts of lifestyle choices for your character, but until then, it is probably easiest to assume that a person probably has their annual salary in real estate and their annual salary again in “stuff”. Palaces have “stuff” that is of incredible value, but may not be fence-able loot. The Hope Diamond is one of the world’s best known and most valuable diamonds, but the chances of finding someone to buy it - especially someone who knows it’s hot - are remote. Same for the Mona Lisa. Now not everything a nobleman or even a king owns will be that big a deal, but you don’t want to be the gem cutter caught remounting the crown jewels.

But guess what - even if your players (and/or their characters) can see art works and jewelry and recognize the monetary value, they’ll be missing a lot! That end table over there with the inlaid tortoise shell - yeah, looks like firewood to most adventurers, but it’s worth more than their (non-magical) armor. That little marble statuette beside the bed - It’s hugely heavy and the adventurer’s know that marble isn’t worth that much, but if it was carved by a famous artist, it’s worth more than the character’s house. Of course, if it was carved by the baroness’ cousin, it’s nearly worthless, but when do the PCs know that stuff? That dust in the bottom of the wooden box - is it powdered dragon brain worth its weight in diamonds or is it the remains of Aunt Hilda after her cremation? Huge amounts of value are hidden in plain sight, only to be detected by those who know what they’re looking for. Imagine a modern burglar breaking into a house and seeing a decorative silver lamp (like Genie’s). He melts it down and sells the silver for a few bucks, not knowing that it was an original Paul Revere.

Yeah - I love my treasure!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

How Much Money Should Someone Have?

This question can go in any number of ways. For the easiest question, I’ll give you the easiest answer: How much in coinage should the guy walking down the street be carrying? I typically assume that a person carries about what their daily wage would be when they are out and about. We’re talking about factory workers or craftsmen on their way to lunch or the bar, etc. Average guy makes 10sc p/day, so average guy has 10sc in his average pocket. Go after a powerful enchanter who makes 300+, and he’s going to have a lot more on him as “spare change” than the brewer.

But what I was really thinking about was more along the lines of how much would realistically be in the treasury of a local lord, baron, king, whatever. Let me air out my bias - I think it is very important to expect that most nobility (the ones who are actually owning and leasing or managing lands) should not have a lot of easy money laying around. OK, from a peasant’s perspective, it would be a huge amount of money, but not really. Example - Look at the annual report of any government or corporation. Look at their cash line and compare it to their revenue/sales line? Just because you pull in $5B annually, doesn’t mean you have $3B sitting around. So where’s their wealth? Well, the queen of England use to be considered the wealthiest woman in the world. What changed? They stopped counting the things that “the Queen” owns, but the Queen herself really couldn’t sell as they are national treasures. Yeah - She went from what could probably be $20B+ to a paltry $500M. That’s what I’m talking about. The Queen has palaces, jewels, art work, probably a stable full of fine polo ponies (I’m shooting from the hip here), yachts, farmland, etc. ad nauseam. OK, she could probably sell the jewels, but the rest of the stuff isn’t really saleable, certainly not easily.

So let’s assume - Your fantasy world is ruled by nobles. They control the “countries”. Their wealth may be completely mixed up in that of the government. In any case, just because they take in taxes of 1.2Msc in taxes annually and their own lands provide another 300K, how much of that is in the treasury (to be robbed)? Come on, we all knew that the only reason anyone really cares how much is there, is because they want to know if it’s worth knocking over the treasury. Here comes the big cop out answer - It depends! Seriously, if taxes are all due on April 15, then on April 16, the treasury is going to be looking pretty darn good! If taxes are paid in monthly, then you’d still see some far better piles once a month. But there would have to be decent level of coinage just laying around at the end of the month or the government would be borrowing massively. Yeah, I know, that sounds normal to us all because of our modern times, but it is unreasonable and unsustainable.

So what’s laying around? First, you have to know how centralized the treasury is. If the army and navy each have their own treasuries and so do some other folks, then the central treasury is going to be pretty thin. Then again, if the soldiers have to go to the central treasury to get paid, then you know all the cash is right there. Let’s assume that most of it is one place. It’s kind of tough to figure out what the current states and cities actually have. They don’t have an SEC watching their every move like corporations do, so they aren’t as transparent. (I know, you’re shocked, right?) Let’s back in: We’ll assume that the government collects 1,000,000sc (that’s silver coins) in revenue every year, because it’s a nice big easy number. We will therefore assume that they spend right around 1,000,000sc every year (or close enough for government work). Assuming a 12 month, 365 day year, they collect over 83,000sc monthly and spend about 2,700sc daily. If that’s it, you can guess that on the first day of the month, they have 83-84K, less 2.7K per day thereafter. But that assumes there is no cushion. Modern governments seem to have nothing but IOUs in their treasuries. Seriously, one state I looked at had >$65B in revenue and <$12M in cash spread around their agencies. That’s less than 2bps (or <0.02%). You’ll need to determine your fantasy gov’s cushion, but 10% of annual does not sound completely silly, especially if it is comingled with the noble’s funds. How big would that be? So now this example we have shows around 200,000sc at the beginning of the month. By the way - that’s more than four tons of silver and takes up almost 60 cubic feet (or a box 4’x4’x4’ assuming it was all melted into one huge cube - coins really don’t stack that closely together). The monthly 83K amount is around 3.5K lbs and 25 cubic feet. That’s a lot of coin. I know we used silver, but you have to assume that the savings you get from gold would be offset by the extra weight and space you’d need in copper.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Ghost Stories

So there are either a bunch of new stations out on cable or there are a bunch of new stations on my cable now. These new stations have some pretty cool shows. One that has caught my family’s attention - Amish Haunting. These are some pretty creepy stories. Witches, haunted dolls, haunted furniture, possessions, and more! Why do you care? Because these stories really translate to fantasy games. You know with the Amish, you never have to worry about the ghosts possessing phones or TVs.

But I want to give you one that I “made my own”. (I think all game masters need to find ideas and then make them their own - not plagiarize.) This isn’t from Amish Haunting, but one of those other ones. The party will need to contain someone who can do something about ghosts, or act as bodyguards for someone who can. Most games rely only on priests, but others may have mediums, channelers, or other spiritualists.

The spiritualist is asked to come to the home of a well-to-do family because there is poltergeist activity. From time to time, the “feeling” in the house gets very tense and eventually items start flying around. When the mother was hit in the head with a large bowl, the father had to act. After meeting with the owners, the father admits that he knows who the ghost is. His great uncle (a rather tense and extreme business man in his time) was killed in the house when burglars broke in and threatened the family. The family has known that since that time, his ghost has haunted the house.

Getting rid of the great uncle will require finding where his ghost hides out during the day. It happens that the uncle was a warrior and his armor is in the attic (not easily found). Once the armor is found, it can be exorcized (or whatever your game calls it). He will not go easily. He will fight and howl and scream, but he will be banishable. The party then goes home with the reward. Yippie!

Not so fast. The next night - right at midnight or whatever witching hour is in your world - every piece of furnishing not held down rises into the air and tornadoes through the first floor. You thought things were bad before; they are beyond horrible now. It may take two nights, but the father is going to demand that the party and the spiritualist get back into the house and fix the problem “they caused”. Their reputation, and probably their freedom since the father is distantly related to the nobles of the land, is now in jeopardy.

So what’s the secret? The house’s builder (generations ago) killed his wife and committed suicide in the home. He’s been the evil presence here ever since. When he was getting ready to cause trouble (the feeling of tension), the spirit of the great uncle would come out and protect the family. While he was frequently overwhelmed by the power of the home builder, he did prevent this enormous outbreak. But now he’s been banished and the evil spirit is fully loose. And he’s not going to be as easy to get rid of as the great uncle was. You need to figure out what they need to do to get rid of this guy, but remember that meanwhile this spirit is going to be throwing every piece of loose furniture it can get its ghostly hands on.

I think the solution is (but I think you should come up with your own): the evil spirit is tied to the cornerstone of the house, since he laid it. You can’t remove the cornerstone without destroying the house, so they need to lay some manner of blessing on the cornerstone. They also need to take the armor to the great uncle’s grave site and put him back into it so he can protect the house.

Not every ghost story lends itself to an adventuring party mission, but with a little help, some of them do. Make them, or this one, your own!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Things I’ve Learned from Grain Into Gold

Grain Into Gold is Board Enterprises’ best-selling book. It describes a fantasy game world economy building from the price of a loaf of bread and going all the way up to the cost of an ocean crossing merchant ship. It goes into great detail about why things cost what they do, most of it based on real world research seen through the eye of me - a game designer with over 30 years of experience in writing worlds, games and missions.

If you read my mail (or even some of the reviews) of Grain Into Gold, one of the chief criticisms is that I made too many assumptions. Maybe I did. I included a lot of those in the original book, because I wanted game masters to understand where the assumptions were in case they wanted to alter them for their own worlds. So what have I learned? I learned not to show all my cards. Going forward, I’m not going include the assumptions, just the end result of the calculations. Now I know why a shovel costs 10sc, but I don’t need to let everyone know the value of the handle vs. the weight of the steel vs. the labor of the smith. As long as the whole system works together and the prices make sense in comparison to each other - people are going to be happy about them. And oddly enough, the less they know the better.

I have also learned that there are people with really deep feelings about medieval craftsmen and exactly how they did their crafts. Now I expected that from the type of people I consulted when I did all the research. Yes - I have spent untold hours watching YouTube videos of re-enactors, reading books about European banking and mining, talking to people at those Colonial and Civil War living museums, and even trying to do some of these things on my own. The issue is that when I try to do them - I normally don’t have the best techniques, nor the right tools. But it isn’t those guys who argue with me - maybe they don’t read Grain Into Gold. It’s the guys who also read some of the same books as I did (or sometimes similar but different books). I can’t prove them wrong - but I still think that on the whole, I’m closer to being right.

I have also learned that even after 68 pages of narrative and 13 pages of price charts, I cannot make everyone happy. The most common criticism is that I either stressed too much on Western cultures or not enough on weapons and armor. On the weapons - I wanted it to be generic, and thought bashing my system’s way into the purchasing of weapons would make it less generic, and hostile to the systems that people loved. That’s why I listed nine weapons (long sword, long bow, battle axe, a few more, and on top of the nine are arrows and bolts). I thought GMs would just use my examples to interpolate the rest of the systems they needed in their games. Probably a bad guess - though there are a lot of math geeks who are game masters. On the Western thing - that was an unintended bias on my part. I bothered a few Europeans with my American terms as well (especially “corn”). Anyway, I was trying to avoid incorporating Fletnern (my game world), and I think that steered me towards those things that truly were generic - standard role-play game stuff.

So what else have I learned? I’ve learned that I can do it right. I’m getting closer and closer to releasing two d1000 random loot charts. These are going to dramatically expand the items in the lists. This time - I think I’m done telling everyone where the prices came from and just giving the values. I’ll also see what can be done about expanding into some of the other cultures. That might be more for Coins of the Road - our long delayed trade supplement. Stay tuned! There is definitely more to come!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Fletnern Wiki

Major milestone for us - The World of Fletnern Wiki has gone over 200 pages. Check it out, or get the quick Fletnern at our corporate site's Fletnern page.