Sunday, May 22, 2016

Official Announcement: Legend Quest Omnibus

We are now confident enough in our release date that we are willing to make the official announcement:

Legend Quest Omnibus Edition will be released October 2016!

So what’s “omnibus edition”? We’ve taken the Legend Quest rule book, Book of Wishes, Optional Weaponry and all of the optional rules that were published in various supplements, city books, and quests and bundled them altogether into one massive book. But wait! There’s more!

We’ve also gone through and clarified rules that either we thought might be a bit vague or we’ve had questions on over the years. We’ve also had the original game designer John Josten go through the entire book and add his comments here and there. He’s been doing this the whole time, and he’s giving you the inside scoop on some of the best strategies for PCs and NPCs as well as how to make the game run smoothly. PLUS!! Optional Rules! Yes, for the first time ever, we’re publishing the optional rules to Legend Quest, previously only seen by the play testers and designers. This means the critical charts and the fumble charts (both combat and magical) will be there as well as all manner of other tweaks these folks have been adding into the game over the years. But they are clearly marked as optional rules, so you can take them or leave them - your choice.

Need more? Well, how many of you have the rules to The Forgotten Hunt? These are in there too - the rules for using Legend Quest in the modern day including firearms, explosives (yes, the blast radius rules), and vehicles. We did leave out the campaign stuff about the modern day dinosaurs, but the rules are in there.

Why now? 2016 is the 25th anniversary of Legend Quest. Yep! two and a half decades of “a real gem of a game, one of the best systems I’ve ever seen”. (That’s a quote from the Dragon Magazine review of the game back in 1992, don’t quote me on the date, but the quote is dead on!) So this is our silver anniversary, but we’re not calling it the silver edition, because we called the digital version the “gold edition” and that feels like going backwards. “Omnibus” is both better and actually descriptive, so be on the lookout for Legend Quest - Omnibus Edition!

Keep watching this blog for news, or go to the Legend Quest page on our website and follow the progress there.

Team Cap - and why it’s RPG

First of all: Team Cap all the way!! No question about it! But why, and how these same principles can affect your RPG: (This is all based on the movie and not the comics. No spoilers!)

First - Team Cap represents personal responsibility, not rule by the Nanny State. Team Iron Man is all about letting other people tell you what to do, but Team Cap is freedom. I think the Watchmen showed us what it’s like when “supers” do the government’s bidding, as did Martial Law. Cap is right - He cannot allow himself to be controlled by the UN and allow them to dictate what he can and cannot do. Let’s be practical here, the UN has Cuba, Nigeria, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE on its “human rights” council. Are these the people who should be deciding when it is a humanitarian effort to go and save someone? (I know, it would probably be the security council, but they don’t seem to have any obviously stupid members at the moment.)

Second - Iron Man is an ass, and not in a good way. Sometimes you need a real @$$hole to make decisions, because they can make the tough calls, but the mere fact that TBolt Ross and Tony Stark think it’s a good idea is enough reason not to do it.

Lastly - Trying to avoid spoilers, even though you should all know this stuff, but ... Cap’s team is fighting for someone that they all know is effectively innocent. Getting angry at him is sort of like destroying a gun after an evil person has used it. The gun was not at fault and had it not been for that gun, the evil person would have found some other way to do what they wanted. So getting pissed at the innocent is what we do now?

How does this affect your game worlds? First, there is a difference between a soldier and an adventurer. Adventurers are far more mercenary. They follow far fewer laws and social conventions. They do as they please mainly because they can. And governments (and others) find them useful for this reason. Just like we still use mercenaries today. Oh, I’m sorry, paid military consultants.

Soldiers are different. Typically you need to convince them that they are right. There are a lot of soldiers in history who chose not to follow orders when they felt those orders were morally wrong. Yet there are a lot of soldiers who did things that today we see as evil, because at the time someone convinced them that it was the right thing to do. With all respect towards our fighting men and women, they are rarely given a choice about the morality of the conflict, but that does not mean that they have not been convinced that it was good or just.

So Team Iron Man wants to actually be super soldiers, but Team Cap (who is the “super soldier”) recognizes that sometimes an army is the wrong tool to use. I believe strongly in personal responsibility and personal freedom. I am actually pretty libertarian in my political views and typically feel that those who do no harm to others should be left to do as they please. I get that Team Cap is ready to take responsibility for what they are doing and make decisions on their own. If Cap kills someone, he should be held responsible. If someone dies while Cap is defeating a wild robot bent on murdering every human in the world, well as much as I may grieve for the families of the fallen, Cap just saved your asses, and gratitude may be the right thing, as opposed to a civil lawsuit.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Best Laid Schemes of Mice and Men or Why you need to know what the loser wanted

In my game world there was a major war, about 25 years ago game time. During this war, the military powerhouse of the continent tried to conquer the rest of the continent. In retrospect, I’ve had difficulty explaining why they failed. I can tell you some of the reasons: I was using a bad game that treated adventurers as gods and “regular guys” (including soldiers) as wheat to be mowed. I was young and wanted the player characters to be so important that they dominated everything. One fireball (and they had plenty) could kill huge numbers of “bad guys”.

OK, well, I’ve retconned a lot of what happened in that pivotal battle, including adding some unknown actions from competing global secret societies (see my earlier post). But part of what I now have to think about is, “What did they think they were going to do anyway?” I mean, they went trudging off to war, expecting to conquer the continent. OK, by my own descriptions, they had ten years to plan the whole thing. Ten years to study the targets, their logistics, and every other aspect of what was going to happen. Admittedly, no plan ever survives contact with the enemy, but they would have known that too. Just because I was an ignorant child, doesn’t mean that they should have been.

So now I find myself thinking through what they planned to accomplish. I think it matters, because it should speak to how they prepared and some of the actions they took while doing it. I had always said that they were attempting to take their targets as whole as possible. There was no burning of the crops or salting of the fields. They knew they were going to need those crops to feed their soldiers through the winter. But now I need to elaborate on that a bit more. Now I need to determine how far and how fast they planned to go.

This might seem silly, trying at this point to figure out what they would have accomplished if things had gone their way, but I think it’s important. First, it needs to be logical that they would have taken the actions that they did. Otherwise the entire city is run by morons. Also, by knowing what they thought would work, and what actions they took to get there, I will better know exactly how they were as they retreated. One of those things is that I have frequently gone back and forth on whether or not they had provisions on their way home. If they planned to hunker down in their newly conquered territory and then reap the harvested crops of that region, they may not have had ample stores. If they planned to keep moving, that go-go-go attitude would have needed to have been fueled by even more supplies. This matters because as I write the recent history of the small towns and villages they would have encountered on their retreat, I need to know how desperate the soldiers were. If they were starving, they would have attacked villages, whether or not they could easily win. If they were properly outfitted, discipline would have been better.

It also matters for those cities that would have been attacked. They now owe a debt of gratitude to the small city that held off the huge army. Politics and attitudes would be completely different if it became know that a particular city was next on the list and would have fallen shortly after. That does affect the game world.

It also matters because the folks back home would have been expecting certain things from the attacking forces. Would they have already been lining up replacement horses for cavalry units, expecting to deliver them in the spring? Would they have been manufacturing arrows? Which cities were they going after and what preparations were being made? One of the cities they did take is on a river, and is upriver from another major city. Were they planning on going after the huge coastal trade port that same year? the next year? Were they building barges? I think these are pretty important things to know, because they can have ramifications. And why do I care about ramifications? Because ramifications lead to missions!

What missions? If they had built barges (they didn’t, but if they had), then they would have tapped the lumber from that area for that season as well as leaving barges lying around. That might have led to any old guy getting his hands on a military barge and becoming a river merchant, or maybe a river pirate. If they were starving on the way home (and clearly some would have been), they would have raided villages. So now personal treasures and perhaps slaves are back at the home city and there are villagers who will want them back. (Think Nazis stealing art treasures.) A less disciplined retreat also means an army stretched across miles and miles of terrain, an army where pockets can be defeated by clever ambushes. That means fewer soldiers returned home and the home army needed to work quickly to build back up, especially if they were expecting a retaliatory strike. More, it means that ambushed squads would have been looted and those weapons and armor are now available in black markets across the entire region, instead of just in the attacked city. Maybe some of the soldiers traded their equipment for food. What happened to the deserters? If the aggressors never intended to attack a particular city, then the deserters might be more welcome there, or at least not outright attacked. If it is known that a particular city was the next target, they would treat any deserters as enemies of the state.

This is just one example of how knowing what the plans were will help you see how it affected the world. I wish I had been smart enough thirty years ago to have thought through all of this, but I didn’t. Older and wiser now. Maybe you can learn from my mistakes instead of making your own.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Pantheons or how to keep track of fantasy gods

When I wrote Gods & Demons, I referred to pantheons, but I really glossed over them. I figured everyone knew what a pantheon was, so we were OK, but I’m not sure if my specific use of the word makes sense to everyone.

Eons ago I wrote some stuff for another company (Beneath the Depths for Kenzer & Co’s Kingdoms of Kalamar - I think it’s now included in their major world book, or at least part of it is). We had similar thoughts on how gods should work, though they are stuck with that whole alignment issue. In their world, there are only a dozen or so gods, but they are interpreted differently in differently regions. I go a bit farther than they did in how different the gods might be region to region, though I have far more gods mucking up things on the mortal plane.

So what’s a pantheon? To me, a pantheon is a group of gods related by stories or myths. What does this mean? Well, if one god is seen as the son of two gods, then they must be in the same pantheon. If three gods are seen as brothers, then they and all their offspring are in the same pantheon. If a goddess is seen as married to a god, they are in the same pantheon. I include that last one, because I don’t want you to think it is only family or at least not simply blood relations. If there are no stories on how the gods are related, aligned or otherwise work together, then they are unlikely to be in the same pantheon. Gods known to be enemies are not necessarily in the same pantheons, but a less common example would be where the god of mercenaries was working against a pantheon right up until his employers sold him out. He joined the pantheon and is now their god of mercenaries.

So why does it matter? Well, it might not. On Fletnern, pantheons are most important when the pantheons go to war. So that means that gods can only be in one pantheon, right? Nope! If a god is in more than one pantheon they either need to stay neutral during the dispute or choose a side and assume that they are going to lose “membership” in the other pantheon. Does it matter if you lose your membership? Well, “exiled” gods (I cannot think of a better word, but I’m sure there is one) will likely find their religions outlawed and their shrines/temples torn down or rededicated to someone else.

So does every mortal fully accept that the gods are in multiple pantheons? No! Tell a worshiper in one region that they are worshiping the same god as someone in another culture is, and they are likely to get hostile. Tell a priest and you will at least be cursed. Just because the gods are above the petty squabbles of mortals doesn’t mean that these religious folks are. To the gods, the more worshipers the better, so there’s no reason to not reach out, especially when a neighboring pantheon seems to have a hole that their powers can fill.

Examples: Really quickly on this: Uilsilar is the god of agriculture (irrigation) in one region while being the god of a powerful river in another region. His power over the river is seen in how he keeps the chaotic river spirit (a water dragon) from flooding the farms, but allows it to flood in early spring to bring water and fertilizer to the fields. He’s an agriculture/irrigation god in both cases, but in one he’s a builder of canals and dams, and in the other a dragon defeating knight.

Meanwhile, Pento Tabochkis the judge of the dead. He is worshiped as Pento Tabochk by the humans, but as Zachoat by the orcs. In both cultures, he sits in the cavernous underworld and sends the dead down particular tunnels to arrive at their eternal rewards. This one is clearly seen as the same type of god, though they will fight bitterly as to whether he’s a human or an orc. (Gods are above such unimportant issues as race.)
What do I want you to take from this? Well, unspoken is that a pantheon needs to cover all the important aspects of life. If they don’t gods from other pantheons will start to “bleed in”. Gods can be in more than one pantheon. And lastly, you need to have a good heavenly brawl every once in a while. I have one brewing in Fletnern. If you follow my Fletnern stuff, you’ve seen some of the first signs of it, though no one can see it coming yet. The prophets will be notified soon.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

World Domination - Semi-Secret Societies II

Hey - Same political “spoiler alert” on this post. What is said here is going to contradict what your sociology professor told you. So if you think I’m too political, skip to a post about magic items.

It occurred to me that you might have read the last post and thought that I assumed that some of these groups had too much power. Maybe. If De Beers controls or destroys the world market in diamonds, so what? Well, it has consequences, but maybe not earth shattering ones. But let me point out some of the things that have happened because of the world oil supply as controlled by OPEC.

In August of 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait. Beginning in 1991 a coalition of nations led by the USA kicked the holy crap out of Iraq. The UN imposed harsh sanctions on Iraq. Iraq spends the next ten years refusing to follow the sanctions that were imposed, including (but not limited to) shooting at weapons inspectors, blocking the weapons inspectors from getting into places, refusing to allow the weapons inspectors out of some places, admitting to being involved in biological weapon research, having Russian missile parts “hidden”, and being officially noted (as late as 2003) by UN inspectors for violating the resolutions concerning their missile programs.

Finally, the USA leads a much smaller coalition into Iraq and shock and awe ensue.

What does this have to do with OPEC? Well, you may not be old enough to remember it, and hopefully you’re not believing the hype on either side, but the USA had a very difficult time getting the UN to enforce the sanctions and to build a coalition. You’ve been told that was all due to the Bush administration faking the evidence about weapons of mass destruction. Guess what? It was all about the oil baby! The “Oil for Food” program was supposed to keep Iraqi civilians from starving to death. Instead, it put an estimated $10 billion (yep, with a B) into the pockets of Saddam Hussein and his cronies. But it didn’t stop there. The problem at the UN was that many of the member nations were profiting from illegal oil trade with Iraq and didn’t want the USA to stick its “goody two shoes” nose in and mess the profitable (but illegal!) business up. Only one of the investigations showed that the corruption wasn’t as bad as previously thought, though most folks question that investigation. One of the top guys on the sunny investigation agreed to be a whistle blower, until someone put a bomb under his car.

So what am I saying? Due to controls on the oil markets, we have modern day examples of organized corruption across multiple countries and the UN. We have examples of people being assassinated. Why did everyone defend Kuwait? Because it was the front door to Saudi Arabia, and we couldn’t let Iraq control the Saudi oil fields. You want your blood for oil? It was in the first one, not the second. Now I don’t think we should ignore small countries that are taken over by bigger more powerful countries, but in recent history no one went to defend Ukraine. No one marshalled a coalition of nations to defend the folks in Rwanda. OK, maybe that was a civil war, maybe, but no one seemed to care about genocidal issues going on inside Iraq before they threatened Saudi Arabia.

OK - Maybe OPEC did not directly orchestrate either of the Iraq wars. I think they might have, but I cannot prove it. So assuming that they did not directly cause them, did they indirectly cause them? I say yes. Iraq wanted more oil wells, so they invaded Kuwait. Europe (including Russia) wanted more oil, so they created a situation where sanctions could not work which directly led to the second war.

Even if you don’t believe me, and too many of you have been too indoctrinated by your universities to believe me, you should still see the fictional wealth here. Just suppose that there was a war like country in your game world. They annex their neighbor, feeling that they must for their survival. The next neighbor in line gets nervous and drums up support for the liberation of the annexed country. This only works if the neighboring country has something everyone else wants. We may have moved from secret societies into the secret machinations of countries, but they are similar. And remember - countries have ambassadors, who may be the front face of the secret organization working behind the scenes. This would give the ambassador real power outside his own country. Maybe it’s a religious organization serving as a front for the real criminals? That would allow the ambassador easy access where he wouldn’t be watched.

I’m getting a huge slave lord vibe here. The slavers are using the politicians to cover up their activities while also instigating wars in order to gather more war slaves, and to kill farmers, which drives up demand. I’ll want it to be hugely complicated, so it’s going to take me a while to craft it, but my players better look out once I do.

World Domination - Semi-Secret Societies

Secret societies make for fantastic long term enemies. The party keeps doing missions, each time peeling back a layer of the onion, until they find the Illuminati at the core. But how do you run those secret societies as a GM? You could do some research and try to run them the way that conspiracy theorists (and I do not see that as a derogatory term) believe they run, or you can take a look at those groups of people in our modern day world that are quite public about their desire to control the world, or at least some portion of the globe.

Before I get going - for those of you who think I get too political, click out. While I am going to describe factual situations, I cannot keep my opinions completely out of it, so there will be some “spin” here. I don’t think it’s too much, but you’re warned.

OK, now that we got rid of all the thin skinned guys ...

Let’s start smaller: De Beers. For at least decades, the De Beers Company controlled the world’s diamond supply, by some estimates peaking around 90%. They used aggressive, but typically legal means to hold and enforce their monopoly. Things change and by most accounts, they no longer have an iron fist on the diamond supply, though they are still a major player. I don’t want to get too deep into the economics of what they did, but in a nut shell, they controlled the best distribution and forced manufacturers/miners to use their distribution channels or be shut out of them. They also flooded the market when they needed to to reduce the price of other guys’ diamonds in order to drive their revenues down so low they couldn’t say in business. Plain and simple economic power.

La Raza - In case you don’t know these guys, La Raza means “the race”. Basically it would be like the KKK rebranding themselves as “The White Supremacists”. You really don’t get more blatant than this. Many (I’m sure there are some groups that describe themselves as La Raza and swear they have none of these intents, but they are probably lying) of La Raza groups are looking for the “liberation” of the assumed Mexican territories that are currently within the USA, mainly Oregon to Texas. So they are an admitted racist group seeking to take land away from the USA. OK, maybe not world domination, but definitely ambitious. I’m still waiting for the French version to demand we give them the Great Plains since we “stole” them from Napoleon. So how do these guys operate? Typically through propaganda, but there are elements willing to use terrorism. They accuse others of being racist and of discriminating against Latinos, while trying to convince others of their ethnicity to join them. The power of words can be forceful.

OPEC - The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries has a lock on oil prices around the world. Before OPEC it was the Seven Sisters, oil companies that controlled the world market in oil. What happens when you attempt to work against the OPEC nations, like when the USA started fraking? OPEC turned the oil wells in the Middle East on “11”. They flooded the markets with cheap oil, and drove the price down so low that the frakers couldn’t compete (because fraking is more expensive to do than pumping oil in Arabia). Now that they’ve shut down many of the frakers, the wells slow down, supply is reduced, and the price of oil is going back up. Let’s be clear. This is not a secret society pulling strings behind the scenes. This is a global cartel with a global monopoly using thuggish economic practices to maintain that monopoly.

My last example of a group bent on world domination is the World Bank (throw the IMF and the World Trade Organization). Folks - This really is the Illuminati. These guys really do control the world. New World Order? Yep - it’s these guys. The World Bank, WTO and IMF decide “cases”, better to say arbitrations, in secret and oddly enough the richer “person” (could be a country, could be a corporation) nearly always wins. Now I’m a citizen of the USA, so my countrymen typically win, but I recognize tyranny when it’s shoved down my throat. No matter what country you live in, the WTO gets to make decisions that are binding on your government and trade within your country, and your government is basically unable to exert its own sovereignty. The problem here is that these three organizations have such a wide reach and have decided so many “cases”, that no one has the time to show the ramifications of them all. So let me hit just one of the more famous ones. Europe wanted to oppose the importation of USA beef grown using certain hormones or non-organic stuff. I’m actually in favor of huge steers, but I do think that the European countries should have the ability to govern their people. Nope! WTO said Europe has to take any beef the USA wants to export. Think about what else they can do, and have done.

Look - The point of this is not to complain about fair or unfair trade in our world. The point is that if you want to create a secret world controlling society for your game world, you have ample real life organizations to model. You may disagree with my categorization of some of these, but they are all seeking to dominate their part of the world or their part of world trade. I would think that most of them, especially La Raza, would need to operate in some manner of secrecy in a fantasy/feudal area, but how much secrecy? These organizations hold power - real, raw power. This isn’t some secret group of stock holders who are trying to buy an election. When you create your secret society - Think bigger! Then think bigger again!

NPC Ideas

I get it! We all develop our ideas in different manners. I tend to come up with way too many ideas and then have to try to pick the best ones before I forget everything. Others of you can find coming up with NPCs more difficult. Maybe you have great ideas for the big nasty evil guy at the end, but you have more trouble with the more mundane guys.

Every campaign, even the ones with the bare minimum on role-playing, needs to have a couple of mundane NPCs. I’m thinking here mainly of the bartenders, innkeepers, and others that every adventuring party runs into and typically interacts with. How can you make these guys sort of interesting without spending a ton of time on them because it really might not matter? Here’s an easy fix/idea:

Please remember that I’m OLD!! Like ancient! Like married with kids old! OK, so there are some singers who are really good story tellers. Most typically a “story song” is either about one person or maybe a couple, though Lou Reed likes to include a catalog of characters in his. Borrow someone from one of these songs. The two singers I think make this the easiest are Harry Chapin and Jimmy Buffett. Anyone of the songs on Greatest Stories Live or Songs You Know By Heart should easily give you a solid character for your game, and (especially Buffett’s) they do seem to be perfectly designed for bartenders and others around booze.

As always - listen to the songs, but make the characters your own. You only need the songs for inspiration, that spark that gets you going. Unless you’re actually running your campaign on a tropical beach, not every character is going to fit perfectly. With a touch of luck, your players may be way too young to really know this music and will find the characters fun and inventive, having no idea that you borrowed them a bit.

OK - So I feel obligated to throw a commercial in here, but you're now forewarned. If you still need more help with your NPCs, try Character Foundry. Tons of ideas for NPCs and quite a few hints on generating more.