Sunday, April 20, 2014

Idea Sparks - Military Units

OK - I often describe myself as being an idea man. By this I mean that I can typically develop a ton of ideas in a short period of time. I can develop a “100” supplement (100 Towns, 100 Professions, 100 Bar Drinks, Gods & Demons) in a day, though it takes me a ton of time to finalize, edit and format it. I assume this is a combination of my ADHD and imagination, but I think most people who are drawn to being game masters have similar traits.

But even though I can typically come up with a huge number of ideas, I often try to find a device that will help me. Here’s my most recent one: I need to establish more of Fletnern’s military units, both regular army and mercenary. So here’s what I’m doing - I’m using school mascots. A unit is nothing without a cool symbol, so while I can come up with all manner of military units, I want cool mascots and symbols to give them some life. Here’s what I mean:

There is a particular school that I don’t like, but has a fantastic defense line. So these guys are going to be heavily armored and shield users, probably less than others with their spears and having a red “wave” as their symbol.

Their rivals I like even less, but they are still a decent team. I don’t like them, so I am going to characterize them as being stupid and bullies, a dangerous combination in armed men. They are the tigers, so they will use a tiger on their emblem, and have striped patterns of steel and bronze on their shoulders, but their officers keep a small eagle as a pet. Not sure why, but I’m going to give them split armor (plate mail chest and shoulders, chain mail arms and legs). I’m going to give them swords (sort of gladius/leaf blades) and spiked bucklers.

There’s a pro team in a port city named for a sea mammal. My perception is that they have never been very good, but they’ve had some good QBs, so I’m going to make them a poorly disciplined unit with good officers. I’m going to give them fins on the top of their helmets to represent their mascot. Let’s give them battle tridents, all the better to keep the enemy away from the greener troops.

I don’t enjoy basketball, so taking the team from a city I hate, let’s make them bandits. I assume they’re all felons anyway. But they’re named after a car part. How do I use that? Let’s go with horseshoes. They use a horse as their symbol and actually sew horseshoes onto their leather gloves, where the iron will lead when they punch with their fists. Nasty, tattooed criminals quick to take advantage of anyone, dressed in horsehide leather armor.

I’m going to just keep going. I have college teams, pro teams, at least four sports to leverage - more than enough ideas to generate dozens of military units, if not a new 100 list. I can generate general personalities/cultures, general gear specs, and mascots/colors. What can you do with a start like this?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Armor Stats

OK - In Legend Quest, armor blocks damage, not attacks. In order to do damage, you have to hit the target and then do enough damage to get past their armor (called the Damage Absorption Rating - DAR). So how does it work? I have had the argument with many folks that armor isn’t strong enough. This is because it takes skill levels to wear armor, otherwise it slows you down, making you easier to hit. But let’s work through the math:

Standard soldier is walking around in chain mail. The DAR is 3, 2 vs. piercing weapons. Well, let’s put him up against a standard bow - a regular weapon for bandits and other enemies a standard soldier might face. A bow does 1-10 damage, so average 5.5. So chain mail blocks 2 out of an average 5.5 or 36%. That’s not so bad. Assuming our soldier had 36 Life’s Blood (higher than average but normal for a soldier), then with chain mail he could survive 10 average arrow hits, while his unarmored friend could only survive 6, dying on the seventh. I think that’s pretty important.

Just for grins, let’s consider the chain mail soldier against a claymore swinging barbarian. OK - claymore (two-handed sword) does 2-20 damage. The chain mail blocks 3. So average of 11 damage or 8 to the soldier. Here the armored soldier dies on the 5th attack, where the unarmored guy sees heaven on the 4th. One more attack. Is that a big deal? Maybe, but my point really is that modest armor (and chain mail is modest compared to the heavier stuff) is great for moderate combatants, but high level adventurers either need to invest in some heavy armor or rely on something other than their chain mail to protect them. Still - Our average soldier may not be able to stand up to a high level adventurer with a magical sword, but was he supposed to?

OK - admission time: The original intent was that even though the chain mail blocks 2 points of damage, that for example, if a bow did 3 points of damage to a target wearing chain mail, it is unlikely that the arrow actually made it through the mail. Instead of piercing the mail and drawing blood, it most likely left a small bruise under the mail, but never actually touched the skin. Now when using poisons, we typically say you must “breech” the armor in order to cause poison damage, so that third point will carry poison through, but this is more of an ease of gaming issue. I plan to add an optional rule (if I ever actually publish them) by which for poison to carry through, you would need to do double the DAR in order to have the poison be effective for exactly this reason. As an optional rule, it will slow down the game while the player and GM determine what damage was done to the armor and the person and if the damage was in fact double the DAR, etc. Optional rules = more math!

Who are the Regular Folk?

Do you know who the regular folks are in your cities? I do and don’t. Maybe they change depending on what I need from them. I know who they are in Rhum - They’re brewers and potters, cranking out their products in factories. They’re bigger folks - 5’9” on average, broad shouldered, stout (OK - chubby, but still strong). They’re wearing wool and deerskin. They are carrying knives and “stickers” (a single pronged fork, for all practical purpose). Yeah - I know these beer drinking working men.

I know who they are in Brinston too. The working class work in horrible conditions, often producing chemicals or glass for the various industries. The lower class are mainly porters/stevedores or worse yet, fishermen, barely surviving on the sandy river bank by the ocean. The upper classes and the soldiers don’t have it so bad. They have their private clubs where the world’s best wines pour in great quantities. They can all smell the sea throughout the city, except maybe for the chemical workers who have had their sense of smell seared from their noses. They’re uppity, even the lowly fishermen, convinced that they are the salt of the earth and their culture dominates. Well, in a lot of ways it does. Short, dark haired, following the fashions as they come down the river from the elven lands, these urban folks cannot imagine what it would be like to live in a smaller less important city.

I know who they are in Forsbury. The caravaneers who leave their wives and families to go out for weeks or months at a time, the vital link in the trade world. Those that stay behind are still working for the caravans - either manning the warehouses or working in some clerical or administrative role. They have the best of trade - just like the folks in Brinston, but like so many of those folks, they don’t have the money to appreciate it either. Still, they have their local churches, where some of their wives spend all day when they aren’t in town, listening to preachers who are the fantasy world’s version of talk radio.

Why does it matter? First - I like local color. If you’ve read more than one of my posts and didn’t get that, you may have been asleep. But even for those of you who don’t care about the role-playing - What happens when your player character thief tries to pick some guy’s pocket? Can the guy fight? Is he big enough to? Does he have a knife or weapon? Is he paying attention or does he think his city guards will protect him?

In Rhum - They’re big guys, and they all carry knives or daggers. They’ve been trained to box and wrestle as boys - it’s just what they do. In Brinston, they’re smaller, more intellectual, even the factory workers. Yes, the fishermen will be armed and know what to do with that knife, but the rest won’t be. They may have some street smarts, but their culture believes its own propaganda and they probably aren’t as aware as they should be. In Forsbury, they know that half the people in town at any given time are not from there. So many strangers make people wary. They stick to their neighborhoods where they can rely on well-known neighbors. They won’t be armed, but their neighbors are going to have a hatchet or cleaver nearby and will be willing to come help.

Why do I spend so much time figuring out my world, my cities, my cultures? So when someone goes off script, I know what to expect. In truth - I don’t really know who the common folks are in Helatia or Snobist or even Scaret. But I’m learning, and I’m writing notes, so the next time it comes up, I have a base to keep building on.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Military Machine - Gear

Do you know what your militaries carry? I mean actually carry - not just “chain mail, spear, shield”. We came out with An Army’s Arms a while back, and to be honest, they didn’t sell well. Each book is a detailed description of an army and their gear. I mean - really detailed. Well, that didn’t work the way we wanted, so we loaded up A Baker’s Dozen Tribes with a lot of gear notes. That did better, but with sales of Army’s Arms low, we didn’t publish the others we were preparing.

But back to the question - Do you know what they carry? Does the army issue each soldier with his kit? Do you know what’s in it? In order to know, you need to know how they’re fed. If there is a chuck wagon that travels with each battalion, then they need a lot less than if each squad cooks for itself. The point today isn’t really do you know what they have, but more to the point, Do you know who made it? If you think about all the stuff a soldier normally carries, even if it is just the combat system relevant stuff (armor and weaponry), who made it is very important. If you have an army of 6,000 swordsmen in scale mail, someone had to make all that. You need a lot more than a couple of blacksmiths to bang out 6,000 swords. Worse yet, if they all carry bows, then you need 6,000 bows and probably 120,000 arrows - not counting the ones they lose practicing. Who is making all that?

This is the way I build my worlds - I ask myself questions like this and then develop the answers. Depending on the place the army exists, there might be a weapons factory. If there isn’t, then there are a series of weapon crafters and armorers - and they might be of different skills. Now very few of my soldiers carry swords, but you still need to figure out who crafted their spears, shields and armor, even if it is studded leather. By figuring out some of the army of smiths who were working for the military, you can probably figure out who the player characters would go to for theirs. It gives those guys a reason for existing, not just waiting on the couple of adventuring parties wandering around the city.

I love the Three Musketeers - I won’t get into it, because this is already too long, but I love A. Dumas. One scene from the original book that I love is when they have to go to war. They’re told to get their stuff together and show up in a few days ready to march. Well, the heroes have squandered their pay on booze, partying and women. They have no funds to go out and buy war horses, uniforms, etc. They wind up selling a diamond to get the money, but the concept that the officers and nobles had to supply their own gear from the pay they received (and that they typically didn’t unless forced) entertains me. In that world, there must have been a host of tailors for military cloaks and uniforms, horse traders with steeds from nags to the finest, weapon smiths capable of etching coats of arms and other insignia, saddle makers, bag makers, scabbard makers, etc. etc. etc. No - You don’t need to make up each and every one of these businesses! You could, but I wouldn’t suggest it, unless you have players who love to role-play shopping. But you do need to have a handle on the fact that these folks exist and need to have shops in your world. I’ll go so far as to say that you ought to have a portion of the city (near the garrisons) where a soldier could find all these shops within a few blocks of each other - a mercenaries’ mall.

Maybe some of you have your worlds developed to this point, but I’m guessing few do. Maybe you just work off a price list - chances are it isn’t enough. I strongly suggest that you find the happy medium - a place where your players believe that you have nearly everything developed, but you have not bothered to work on anything that is never used. Utopia, right? But beware - get too detailed, and you won’t be able to remember it all anyway. Then you wind up stumbling during game sessions while you check your notes on that guy who sells the silvered armor.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Effects of Scale on a Game World

You know I don’t want to bad mouth my own products, but the thing I am most disappointed in with Fletnern is the city populations. With the populations of the cities, and therefore the countrysides being so low, there is not a lot of wiggle room within the economies. Mainly - Without an overabundance of taxes and governmental spending, there is far less room for organized crime.
How does this matter? Well, in the USA, we have lobbyists - lots and lots of lobbyists. Why? Because government is so freakin’ huge that they can make huge money by sidetracking some of that waste towards their clients. Often the waste or special favors are only a tiny percentage of the outflows, but here - a tiny percentage can be millions of dollars. Look at the well-known cronyism going on: the bridge to nowhere, solar companies getting subsidies in order to go broke, Al Gore’s blatant attempts to pass cap and trade in order to become a billionaire. That doesn’t all work in Fletnern.
On the tax collection side it doesn’t work that well either. The only city where it makes sense to smuggle goods is Brinston, because the tariffs are so high. Smugglers are nearly unheard of in other parts of the world because it isn’t profitable enough to smuggle things into a walled city. Without smuggling of illegal contraband, where does organized crime make all their money? In Fletnern, most things we see as illegal aren’t. Booze, prostitution, gambling - all legal, again taking money out of the pockets of those organized criminals.
Look, if your major cities all have a million citizens, and the ports are crammed with cargo ships going in and out, you might be able to hide graft and corruption within the system, and it may go on for a long time. Sometimes I wish Fletnern had that, but then we wouldn’t be able to suggest that a small but determined party of adventurers could actually change the world - certainly not as easily. Oh well, you take the bad with the good.

Sunday, March 23, 2014


Last post, we discussed what Lex Luthor would do. I don’t want to insult any of you, but Lex Luthor is way smarter than we are. In fact, Lex Luthor is smarter than just about everyone. Look - In real life, I have an IQ that is at the top end of the charts. I didn’t just make genius, I’m a couple of standard deviations farther up the curve from there. Even I’m not as smart as Lex Luthor. More importantly, while I do from time to time sit around and think up ways for my NPCs to hold their power over the world, I do not have as much time to devote to such musings as a full time super villain, I mean hero. So what to do.
Ever see a really intelligently run con game film or major suspense story? Don’t you love it when the smart guy goes, “I knew you were going to do that, so I have prepared this trap for you”. OK, I know I cannot write dialog. In any case, there are times in film and literature when the smart guy can guess every move of the less smart guys. You need to let people do that in your games.
Some players might call this cheating, but you need to have a means by which the super smart guy can show that he’s super smart. Super smart guys should not allow some thief to hide in shadows, get around behind him, and back stab him to death. That would not be super smart. In fact, having a lair where people could sneak around behind you, would be pretty dumb. So let’s assume that after you wrote that mission, your players are now sneaking around behind your brilliant NPC mage, and you know one backstab is enough to end his life. What to do? Add in something that the mage would have prepared. If you have to, take a bathroom break and give yourself a chance to think. Is he a necromancer with a skeleton hidden in those same shadows? Is he an illusionist with a blinding light spell set to go off if anyone tries to backstab him? Is he an alchemist with a form of living stone behind him that will attack or at least trip anyone trying to get him from behind? Or is he some manner of alien who has never encountered a rogue who uses backstab as their major attack form and is therefore completely surprised by this incredibly obvious move?
The point is, that there are those characters who are supposed to be able to reasonably predict other people as though life really were a chess game with limited outcomes. If your players use a common, but effective strategy, then the super genius needs to be able to predict that type of attack and have a counter on hand - even if you as the game master did not. When it comes down to it, the players have many minds to come up with really cool strategies, you have but one. Sometimes you need to use that almighty GM power to even the odds.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

WWLLD? (Another What Would ...)

Many times, when I am trying to put together a massive political, military and economic plot, typically led by a mastermind or group of masterminds, I think to myself: What Would Lex Luthor Do?
To me, Lex Luthor is the penultimate hero of the planet Earth. No one else is willing to intentionally provoke Superman. No one else has been able to see through Superman’s hypocrisy and see the truth, that Superman is in fact an alien invasion. No other fictional character I can think of has so perfectly blended political, economic, scientific, and military forces in order to actually come to the point of ruling the world (or at least becoming president of the USA).
So what would Lex do? Obviously, it depends on the situation, but I can tell you this - He’d find the weakness in what his rivals (or enemies) are doing and exploit it. He’d find a way to change the opinions of the common people and use them for the power they actually hold. He’d lead his enemies to underestimate his forces and then deliver the knockout blow after they had committed their forces directly into his trap. In other words, he would be brilliant!
You know why it matters? Because somewhere in your FRPG world, there is a ruler who is supposed to be brilliant. He’s supposed to be this world class thinker and doer, holding power in his fist and ruling with authority. But when the adventurers show up, he’s completely lacking in strategy. We all know why this happens - because you don’t have time to think up everything for every one of your NPCs. But for the really smart ones, you need to.
Mr. Luthor is the penultimate hero - He’s as good as it gets. He can even be humble when it suits him. Your leaders may not be like that. My elven leaders are smart, but they are constrained by their culture and traditions, as are the dwarves. When I think of what my military powers (usually orcs or one of the various human cultures) would do, they are constrained by the logistics of it all - How can they both attack the world and provide safety and food back at home? Even the most powerful mages often forget that not everyone can control magic or they forget that physical power is equally as effective, if used properly. Not everyone can be as good as Lex. But every once in a while, there needs to be someone who is.