Sunday, July 16, 2017

Is a horse just a horse?

The time will come when as a GM (or a player) you just want to call something a horse.  You don’t want to call it by the name of a breed, or what it does, or whatever.  It’s a horse.  It’s probably a “mutt” horse and thus of no particular breed anyway.  It’s just a horse!

And that’s OK!  Look, we have all sorts of breed names for horses.  We have stats for horses, and stronger or faster horses are going to be better than average horses.  When you’re getting deep into cavalry battles, these types of details can be important.  But guess what - It doesn’t always matter.  Sometimes a horse is just a horse and not a Rairbridair heavy draft horse.

This is true of far more than just horses.  There is a point at which all the details we seem to be including in everything we publish are in the way.  We give our customers as much detail as we can cram into a book, but we do so hoping that GMs are not going to bother getting into that much detail with their players.

Case in point - The party is walking down the road and sees a farmer leaning on the fence.  They say, “Which way to Rhum?” and the farmer points over his right shoulder.  That should be the end of that encounter!  The party does not need to know that Benjamin Mackersson is having trouble with his wife or that his children are now 38, 37 and 34, or that he enjoys fishing and rye whiskies.  They don’t need to know that the horse in the field is his plow horse, or that he bought it six years ago for 80sc and a promise of six dozen eggs.  Even if we put all of that in one of our books, don’t use it!  It’s there in case the party comes down the road and says, “Our friend will die if you don’t sell us your horse right now so he can be raced to the nearest town.”  Now the GM has an idea of what Ben thinks the horse is worth.  Or if they say, “Hey, what’s your name?”  “What do you do around here?  We’re looking for someone willing to make us dinner for a gold coin - how good a cook is your wife?”  OK, hopefully our level of detail makes more sense that that, but details are not always necessary.

There are different styles of play, and there are different players.  Some role players want to know what the farmers are wearing, and some couldn’t care less that the farmers exist.  Overdoing the detail is a mood killer!  We’ve mentioned it before, but I will never forget the time (I was playing, not GMing), that upon arriving in town, the party wanted to go into the bar.  We saw the sign with the beer mug and went in - or so we thought.  The GM kept describing the door to us.  We wanted to know our characters were inside drinking and flirting with barmaids and he kept telling us the dimensions of the door, what wood it was made of, how the bolts held it together.  Don’t be that guy!  Your players will never let you live it down, and the entire session that night was a mess.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Monsters & Other Menaces

The first expansion product announced for Legend Quest back in 1991 was Monsters & Other Menaces.  We knew that we had included all the stats for the monsters but not the text and background to use them all the way we hoped they might be used.  M&OM was going to fix that.  But the feedback at the time was that no, players wanted adventures and possibly a city to be based out of.  Well, we had those too, and we released The Endless Dungeon and The City of Rhum.

But I’ve been working on M&OM for over 25 years now!  Some of it you saw in the Omnibus Edition of Legend Quest, but there is still a ton of material to go.  You see M&OM was actually four parts:

Part 1 - Creature Expansions - The text in the rule books is scant, so here we were going to get into it a lot deeper.  For some of them, elves, dwarves, halflings, this may feel like us forcing our campaign world cultures on these races, but it was always intended to be a much broader dive into what the races were like and what benefits they could take advantage of.  For some of the creatures you may not have seen before like aldar and tumataurs, these longer descriptions may have been exactly what you needed to get these creatures living in your world(s).

Part 2 - New Creatures - This is probably what you were expecting this book would be about.  Here we would lay out a huge number of extra creatures, though most commonly they would have the same one or two paragraph descriptions.  Whenever possible, we based our monsters on a more myth based history, so here we were able to continue adding all manner of monsters from myth and urban legend.  This would also have been our chance to expand the dragons beyond fire breathers, etc. etc.

Part 3 - Characters with Character - Just like we’ve always done, these were to be NPCs who could come alive during a game.  Not one-dimensional character classes with stats, these were going to be full back stories and interesting quirks.  This is where we’ve been filling out the Small Bites M&OM sections, because we just have so ____ many of them.  And personalities and character backgrounds are not dependent on game rules.  You may not be able to use the Celtic inspired brownie creature we developed in your old school rules, but you can absolutely use the vigilante horseman archer who dresses in blue.

Part 4 - Starting Characters - We know - character classes produce player characters more quickly than point based characters, but I’ve been doing this for closing on 30 years now.  I typically have a pretty good idea of what will and what won’t work, and I have all the charts memorized.  So I can whip out a couple of 250 characters in some pretty blinding speed.  Why not let me prep the starting characters for you, so you can just grab one and go?

We went through this to give you a better idea of what the Small Bites M&OM articles are going to be like.  Expect all of the first three, but starting characters have been absorbed into Wet Behind the Ears.  So you’ll still get those, just not in the same space.  With the latest (currently only available to Patreon patrons) edition of Small Bites being All About Dwarves and the next one being All About Equines (horses, unicorns, pegasi +), you know Monsters & Other Menaces has come to the forefront!  Not to be too commercial, but if you sign up as a patron before the end of July, you will get the dwarves issue.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

My Favorite Archetype

When you play RPGs as much as I do, you tend to lean in one direction most often.  I try to play all sorts of characters, but when I play a game long enough, I do have a style of play I prefer.  Admittedly I mean when I play a game that doesn’t restrict role-playing by forcing you into taking some “class”.  Classes really are intended to just make the game easier for casual players who don’t like to put too much thought into their characters, so not for me.

So what is it?  I love to play Treasure Hunters.  What’s a treasure hunter?  It’s a style of Rogue Mechanic.  The 100 Character Histories book describes them like this:
Rogue who specializes in the use of tools to accomplish his tasks.  When in combat, they tend towards archery.

Let me tell you about treasure hunters.  They tend to annoy most party members because they think you should look into a room before you enter.  They think you should check for traps before you simply open the chest.  They try to sneak, but at times, this is difficult from all the various “tools” they are carrying.  But it’s these tools that make treasure hunters so much fun - for me.

To me, a treasure hunter is the real adventurer.  They spend their off hours in libraries, searching for clues about where ancient treasures are, then they lead their parties out into the wild in order to find these.  They are the nicest “thieves” you are ever going to find.  They need to be able to pick locks and defeat traps, but they aren’t out picking pockets.  They tend to be smarter and less brutish, so they rely on missile weapons more than melee, though they do still backstab when necessary.  If the rules allow it, I prefer to use knockout blows or hamstring more than just killing the guy, because questioning people leads to clues and clues lead to treasure.

But my fun comes in with the toys.  Start with caltrops in case someone tries to follow you.  You see treasure hunters know how to retreat in order to turn around and pepper their pursuers with arrows right when they wander into a mine field.  It’s the mine fields that make treasure hunting so much fun.  Early on it’s caltrops, but later it becomes alchemical mines, bear traps, mini-catapults, and other treats; anything that will make the enemy’s life really crappy.  Nothing better than having some jerk think he’s getting the better of you, only to have him soil his pants when he turns the corner.  These toys are fun in an offensive style too.

Anything else?  Well, treasure hunters tend to loot everything and everyone.  It’s not that they’re greedy; they really are just curious about what’s there.  You never know when you’re going to find a key in some guy’s pocket that’s going let you into the secret treasure vault.  OK, they’re a little obsessive compulsive, but that’s part of the fun too.

I hope you see the fun of these characters.  They’re rogues; they’re researchers.  They keep the party safe, even when the party doesn’t know they are being kept safe.  They also drive the missions by finding out where the best stuff has been lost for centuries.  Anyone can wield a big sword.  Treasure hunters are smarter than that.  Think Indiana Jones with James Bond’s toys - that’s how I see the treasure hunter.

Last point:  When you’re smaller, there is nothing more thrilling than running away from someone, racing up (or down) the stairs and hopping over that trip line you put there.  The jackass nears the top of the stairs, only to get tangled up and then go rolling down the stairs.  If that didn’t finish him off, this is the perfect time to shoot him full of arrows while he’s down and certainly not getting his shield in the way.  The only character art of mine in the LQ book is “Penthor the Kick”, half elf rogue so named because he would hide at the top of stairs and kick people as they came to the top.  Falling down two flights of stairs is more damage than he could have pulled off with his dagger!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Weapons by Race

There is at least one series of videos on the internet arguing about what weapons would be most appropriate for which races based on their physical capabilities.  While I cannot argue with the videos necessarily, I will argue this:  It doesn’t matter what the physical characteristics are; only what the culture is - to a point.  Here’s what I mean:

Many argue that elves use bows.  I can agree - to a point.  True, elves are typically smaller and weaker than humans (depends on your game, but they are in Legend Quest).  So elves would more rarely use long bows, but instead use “regular bows” or what some games refer to as short bows.  

I think it is important to think what works in a forest?  I would argue that a crossbow that can be aimed with less strength than a bow would be better for a hunter who sits and waits for prey.  Holding back a 30-40lb bow (what I consider most “standard” bows to be) still takes some strength and can be tiring.  Aiming a crossbow does not require that output of effort.  While I think hunting with a bow is fine, war in the forests allows innumerable trees to hide behind while people are firing bows at you.  You cannot use indirect fire because of the canopy, so range weapons aren’t all that important.  It is reasonable to think that an archer could shoot a crossbow then hide behind a tree while cranking it back up for the next shot.  Having a bow with an enormous range is likely useless as the trees would often be in the way if you are trying to shoot it too far.

Halflings are shorter and weaker still.  They too can probably use “regular” bows, or crossbows, but they live in more open areas, often hilly areas.  I think halfling tactics are shoot and run.  While this can be done with a bow, even a short bow takes up space.  If you’re shooting and then trying to duck through narrow spaces, a bow doesn’t work.  You need a sling!  Sure, a better ranged bow would be advantageous at certain times, but a sling can hide with you while a bow cannot.

Do orcs use crossbows?  Nope.  Why not?  Well, while some orcs could probably learn to craft crossbows, crafting precision weapons just does not seem to be their way.  They would like the long bows.  I also think an orc would prefer to pepper a target with as many arrows as possible rather than stay calm and aim like a crossbow sniper.

Dwarves and crossbows?  Yes!  First off, the same argument as orcs, in reverse.  Dwarves love technology and a precision crossbow with a range finder and a safety lock would be right up their alley.  I have to agree that dwarves should have shorter draw lengths, so if you need a dwarf to fire a bow, it better be some specialized bow - made shorter and thicker to deliver similar power in a shorter draw.  But dwarves lack agility.  (There was an argument about dwarves having shorter spines and therefore having better reactions - That guy didn’t understand momentum!  Getting a beefy arm to move is difficult.)  So with a crossbow, they can have the best of both worlds.  They can fire it from the shoulder or they can mount it on a wall or bi-pod and use it as an artillery weapon.  Artillery weapons do not rely on Agility, so the dwarf’s weakness is neutralized.

What about melee weapons?  Well, there’s a lot to talk about with melee weapons, but the first thing should be:  What is the enemy wearing?  Fighting heavily armored dwarves is different from fighting lightly armored elves is different from naked barbarians.  If the enemy wears full plate, I suggest finding a different enemy to fight.  No, really, I mean come on.  If they’re naked, I might even suggest saw toothed blades - maximum destruction of the flesh.  But in normal circumstances (normal to FRPG), a spear is the ultimate “I can do everything weapon”, but I’d still prefer a war hammer against plate mail.

But melee weapons are not always about their ability to cause damage.  Pikes are meant to keep cavalry away.  Big axes are foolish in territories that don’t have good iron mines.  A poor forester can still find a workable club or shillelagh in the woods, and it’s “free”.  He may be forced to use what he has.  And we haven’t even started on nets, man-catchers, and lassos for capturing or some of the military forks that (at least in game) are great for disarming.

There are some physical restrictions that should be put on races and the weapons they use.  No matter how much magical strength a halfling has - having him whip around a 6’ claymore would be stupid.  (This is FRPG not mongo manga.)  But when it truly comes to what weapons a race would use “normally” I think it all comes down to what their culture is, including what materials and craftsmen they would have accessible to them.  So it’s environment over heredity again!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Gold-Silver-Copper Conundrum

In most games, gold is ten times more valuable than silver and silver is ten times more valuable than copper.  Do you know why?  Because nobody wants to strain their brains.

That’s the honest answer.  You may not like it, but it is true.  In the modern world, this 100=10=1 ratio is pure nonsense.  Want to see what the ratios would have been historically on Earth?


We set it so silver would always be considered “1.00”, but you can see that not only is it not 100-10-1, but it is constantly moving.

Why?  Well, I don’t want to get too deep into the economics, because I think we have already gone too far in that direction, but ... First off, it is the fiat currency of the US$.  The US$ is worth whatever the US government pretends it is, and whatever other folks will trade for it.  That trade value is actually a detailed calculation based on interest rates in different countries.  So in a shorter answer - the foreign exchange value of the US$ affects the chart.

What else?  Lots of stuff!  People being scared about wars and riots change the prices.  New finds of deposits affect the prices.  New technology in extracting the minerals and metals affect the prices.  Could be anything.  Do you want to run your fantasy world that way?  I wouldn’t recommend it!  I have spent years of my life watching the currency markets and I can tell you without hesitation - do not run your world like this!  This is a small suspension of disbelief that yields an enormous amount of benefit.

So why even bring it up?  Well, I believe it must be addressed.  I believe that if you are stating that 10 silver coins = one gold coin and so on, then in your world, there should be 10 times as much silver as there is gold.  You are not running Earth.  If you wanted, diamonds could be commonplace and topaz could be really rare and valuable.  You’d have a ton to figure out if you tried to do the same with gold, silver, copper, iron, or tin, but you could.  Just because there is no clear gold to silver ratio on Earth doesn’t mean that there cannot be on your fantasy world.

 Then again, the ratio could be artificial.  We mentioned the Gold Guild in our last edition of Small Bites (Hoards & Other Treasures).  The legend says that the Gold Guild holds the ratio consistent by arbitrarily controlling the bulk of the gold reserves in the world.  But no one believes that, right?  There couldn’t possibly be a small group of people who were so rich that they could control the price of gold globally, could they?