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.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Tenets of Religion

It occurs to me that the medium upon which something is written tends to make a difference in how that thing is treated. What am I talking about? Well, from the title of the post you probably know I’m talking about religious writings.

I am not Jewish, but the Torah is nearly always depicted as being a massive scroll from which they read. My own religious book is a thick book with very thin pages (I assume to keep the book from being even thicker). But these books are typically produced in the fanciest ways - leather bound covers, gold on the sides of the pages, some manner of gold leaf decorating the cover, often illuminated pages within the book - fancy! But there are other ways as well. The 10 Commandments were written on two stone tablets - It is not unreasonable to think that religions would continue to read the most important fundamentals of their religion off stone tablets. Perhaps a religion would craft the high prayers onto a wood panel maybe a relief cut, or etched into a metal sheet, or cut into the four sides of a marble obelisk at the center of the temple.

Does it matter? Well, yeah, I think it does. If this is a religion intended to be celebrated in major cities with major churches and cathedrals, then they really should lean towards the greatest displays. If that religion is then to be transported with people while they travel, maybe they carry a small pendant version of the obelisk with one rune on each side to remind them of the four basic tenets. Now I’ve probably lost some of you already who were thinking “This doesn’t apply to me. There’s nothing here that increases my damage output.” Well, you might be right, but if you knew that a major religion used obelisk pendants made of obsidian for their major sign, then as GM you can put a bunch of these in as loot. If you know that the holy writings are on a lambskin scroll frequently wrapped around the blessed silver rod, well, if you’re willing to defile religious objects, you know where to loot a couple pounds of silver. The cost of the gold leaf on the book will increase its price, but probably not its loot value since you probably cannot pull it off (certainly not a material weight of gold off).

But it is more than just the loot value of these things. It changes the character of the religion. Truthfully, reading from a huge scroll does make it feel that much “older”, at least to me. How would we feel if on Sunday they were reading from a smart phone? The words didn’t change, but the ceremony sure did. And with our fantasy pagan religions the “written” words can be nearly anything. Viking runes on a stone sign post. A totem pole. Phrases etched onto a suit or armor or maybe just the helmet. A style of script that looked like swords and daggers formed into letters. or like wild roses climbing up the page. Maybe a tapestry with the words woven in or embroidered on a nun’s veil. Don’t get bogged down in our cultural themes. Use them as a base and then let your mind roam widely!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Bringing Life to Your Game World - Part II

That last post - seems to me that I left out on piece, because I assumed you already can do this: Create three “people”.

If you haven’t read the other one, start there. Link here Bringing Life to Your Game World.

In order to role-play, you need to know the characters. That guy that I have mentioned I don’t like - the one with the extremely successful book series that is now an extremely special cable series - yeah, he didn’t really do this. He didn’t make up his own characters. He went into history and took some his characters from there. That way he had fully fleshed out characters who had made decisions and he could assume that the decisions they made in history were similar to what they would do in his books.

So the question is: Can you make up fully fleshed out characters and then make decisions the way they would? This isn’t that easy a question, nor answer. But if you only know the stats on the characters, then you don’t know them. This is the big difference between the gold farmers and the role players. Gold farmers really don’t care about personalities or even motivations. They believe that everyone’s motivation is to either get more gold or experience or most likely, to deal more damage than any other character in the history of the game.

So you’re here and you’re reading this, so you’re not a gold farmer. How do you come up with fully fleshed out characters? Well, you could borrow characters from history. You could find people in your own life and use them. We have all sorts of warnings about how to make them your own as well as how to not get caught on these “plagiarisms” in our book The Character Foundry. But this isn’t just a commercial for our products. I think the best way to develop a character is this:

Start with an idea - What are you creating? A brilliant politician? A massive warrior? A tactical strategist? A cunning merchant? Figure that piece out - sort of “the present”.

Then figure out “the past”. Develop a character history that helps to explain how this character got to where he/she is today. By doing this, you are really starting to figure out who this character is. Whether the massive warrior came from the slave pits at the arena or the fighting schools of some fancy city or the military campaigns on the frontier or the monastery of the god of battle will help explain who they are, and how they see the world. No big surprise - Now you figure out “the future”. Don’t actually figure out the future; just think about what this character wants in the future. This is their motivation. By knowing what they want, you have the best possibility of figuring out what they will do now in order to achieve that goal.

Present, past, future - Not that tough? Well, do it systematically, and it can be a lot easier. Once you know the character, you can determine what they would do. Once you know what many of your characters will do in different situations, now you can build the action of the campaign world. Yes, you can be the next GRRM, at least in your world, probably not in the paycheck.

Bringing Life to Your Game World

You know that show where there are all those different families all trying get their ass in the big throne? Think of that show. In their plots, they kill (or have killed) other people. So, you have a core group of people who are motivated by their greed for power. Want your world to breathe like that? Try this:

In your world, make up three of these people. It doesn’t have to three people. It should probably be three groups of people. Could be races of people, nations of people, families, whatever. OK, now determine what these folks have done to gain their current level of power (or land or money or whatever). If you work through that, you will likely come up with things they have done to each other as well as things they have done that have affected “innocent” parties. Now, figure out the affected innocent parties - nothing big; sketches work here. Now figure out what these parties will do in order to get revenge on the ones who wronged them. You’ve just written a huge and interactive history, or if you want sketched out the future action for your campaign.

What are you doing here? You’re role-playing. “If I were King Fred, and Queen Thelma from next door married my uncle in an effort to say that she deserved my throne by some rite of succession, I’d have her daughter threatened and encourage the barbarians on her eastern border to attack her prized vineyards.” “If I were the barbarians and we took over the vineyards, we’d drink all the wine, rape all the women, and carry off all the livestock, including horses and oxen.” “If I were Queen Thelma and I lost my vineyards and whole bunch of cattle, I’d have to raid Prince Mark’s lands to capture his storehouses full of food or risk my subjects starving.” “If I were Prince Mark and my subjects are all magic users, we’d curse Queen Thelma with warts, but since we can’t beat her army, we’d have to form an alliance with King Fred who still has food.”

You designed the sketch of the “people”. As you make decisions for them, you are continuing to develop them and understand them better. King Fred may have started out as one of the King Louises of France in the early 1700s - pompous and detached from his people. But as you make decisions for him, you decide if he is a Machiavellian schemer or a royal bumbler (or somewhere in between). You originally wrote that Prince Mark’s people used a lot of magic, but now you have to figure out exactly what they do with it. Can they go to war against armored knights or are they mainly scholars who are trying to figure out how the world spins on its axis? And what will they do with that knowledge?

I really think it is all about thinking through that next step. Just think through: if this happens, then that would be the natural response. It works with your world’s politics as shown above, as well as the economics, and a whole bunch of other things. It also works in reverse. You may have written a history that said this tribe moved into this land at this time. Why? Ask the next question, again and again. Why did they move in? Did they want more land? Did they get chased out? And then what were the consequences of them moving in? Did they enslave the population? Did they chase them out and they moved somewhere else? If no one was in the fertile lands, why not? Was there a war a couple decades ago and no one has taken over yet? That might need a why not question too. Ask yourself why, and you’ll really start to build.

If you can honestly (or even semi-honestly) make decisions from a role-playing perspective of “what would this character do in this circumstance”, you will continue to define the characters and flesh out your world. This really is accretive - That means the more you do, the easy it gets because it keeps adding things. After a while, you will know exactly what Prince Mark and his court wizards would do, because you’ve made a bunch of decisions for them and you know what trials they are facing on their other borders.

I hope this helps you start developing your worlds, your campaigns, and your games in general. Use the feedback you get from your players, too. They’re reactions to certain characters and ideas in your game world can help spur you in new directions, even if they are directions you did not think of moving in the first draft. Hey - It’s not retcon if they didn’t figure it out the first time around!

Sunday, April 26, 2015


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!