Sunday, July 31, 2011

New Products?

Just a quick blurb about 2011 products - We’ve been in this small press arena for about 30 years now. When we went to GENCON, we made sure that our newest, hottest item was prepped and ready to debut at the show. Well guess what - so does everybody else. In order to avoid having our latest and greatest products lost in the mix of other debuts, we’re holding on to some stuff. Once the con season dies down a bit, expect to see several items come rolling out in fast succession.
Board Enterprises has continually provided high quality products without spending gobs of money on art and without spending gobs of money on advertising. You the customer who has found us benefits from that. The guys who have not yet found us do not, but we’re working to let them know about us too!
Just wanted you to know there is a plan; we have been writing and playtesting, but you won’t see it for a little bit more.

Going to the Bench

There’s a thing I’ve always wanted to do, but never really succeeded at: developing a “bench” for an adventuring team. The idea is likely based on some of the superhero stories I watched and read as a kid. When the Justice League needs to go underwater, they make sure they get Aquaman involved. (OK - I hate Aquaman more than I hate Hal Jordan) If the Avengers are going to go into the Neutral Zone, they probably call the Fantastic Four to come along. If you’re playing Warcraft, and you need a tank for an instance, someone logs off their main warlock and comes back on as a Warrior Tank. So why don’t we do that in pen and paper RPGs?
Well, because we invest so much time and love into our characters. Also because GMs are hesitant to write missions that require certain character types for fear of annoying their players. Few of us have as much time to play as we would like. To spend time getting a less powerful character up to a mid range just so you can have a bench seems like a waste of precious gaming time.
But as a GM you can do it. Here’s what I mean: Let’s assume that your party is strongly established in some city, but they’ve moved into that realm where their missions are quite often world saving type things that have them wandering the globe. What happens in their home town while they’re off defeating a demonic invasion in a distant desert? Well, someone must step up, or their home town will be a ruin when they return.
Here’s what I think we all need to do - Establish an NPC party of adventurers who handle the small stuff when your PCs are away. Here’s why I think this is fun (but remember - I’m a role-player, and not a gold farmer): So your main party of PCs goes off and saves the world from demonic invasion by slaughtering hundreds of demons wholesale and then invading the pits of hell to destroy the gate opening device, barely escaping with their lives. They return home to find that their home town is having a parade in honor of a team half as powerful as they are, because that mid-powered team just captured an orcish warlord and drove off his men. Of course, they’re thinking - “Hey - demons are a lot tougher than orcs!) “And we killed them. Those guys just chased them all over the region where they’ll continue to cause little troubles.” But the issue is, that the demons and that battle were on the other side of the world. The orcs were here. The locals only know or care about the local orcs, even if the demons would have enslaved the world.
If you’ve been reading this blog you have likely seen that I love to torture my players. Making them the saviors of the world, but then have to take a back seat to some local group of pansies - ah, pure GM bliss. You can build anything you want off this. Maybe the moderates worship the PCs, but nobody really gets it. Maybe the PCs have to clean up the NPCs’ messes, but the NPCs’ keep getting the glory. Maybe they have to team up. Maybe they start working for different political parties and will clash, but can’t outright kill each other in the streets.
Drama! It can be wonderful!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Gods and Demi-gods 3 - Tricking a god

So when I set out to write a blurb on gods, I was thinking about restricting a god’s knowledge of the world. I mean - Are they all omniscient (all seeing)? Odin had to give up an eye to become all seeing, and he was the only Norse guy with that power. Can gods only be “looking” in one direction at a time? If so, could a mortal create such a fuss in one area of the world that the god shifted his or her attention to that area and missed the fact that the mortal was stealing from them on the other side of the world?
Depending on how you handle the gods, maybe someone praying on the burglary side of the world could alert the god, though it might be too late. Maybe the god has a flock of angels or demons who are keeping tabs on things while his attention is diverted, but again, will the follower be able to warn the god in time? I love this concept - tricking a god. I mentioned the diverting of altar sacrifices before. Clearly that one stuck with me too. What about gods forming false alliances with each other? Wouldn’t their followers then form alliances too? Would the priests feel they had been misled by their gods if the joined with other, just to hear their god betrayed the other god? I guess those are the costs of worshipping an evil or untrustworthy god.
Just remember that gods typically have better or at least longer memories than mortals. They might be pretty vengeful if they’ve been tricked in an important way; oh come on, they’re going to be vengeful no matter how they were tricked. They might not be in a position to do anything about it, but they’re going to be mad. That should be fun too!

Gods and Demi-gods 2 - Communication

The last line of the last post got me thinking - How do the gods communicate? I think most of us assume that priests and priestesses spend a lot of their time in prayer. Why? Well, in my game, prayer grants adoration to the gods, which is in many ways their food and energy. So by praying, the priest type person is feeding his or her god - give a little to get a little. OK, but in modern times, most of us religious types believe that our God hears and answers our prayers. Now I’m not suggesting that every morning during prayer time, a major god needs to pass along pieces of advice to each of his priests, but if the god wants something done, shouldn’t he communicate that?
In my game world, anyone who has spoken to a god is referred to as a saint. If you dream that your god wants you to retrieve a long lost artifact and you survive the mission - you get to be called a saint (assuming that your religious folks believe you). Dreams are good, but sometimes a little too blatant for these major players. Subtlety can work too. I have set out the various “tools” that the various gods use, so that their priests can better understand when their gods are actually speaking to them. A war god’s tool may be fire. Maybe his followers burn their enemies’ homes after defeating them. If this were the case, then a will-o-the-wisp type lure (flying fire, always too far ahead to catch) might be perfect for this god to deliver one of his followers to the site of a battle. Doesn’t matter why the god wants them there, just how he gets them there.
There are all sorts of ways this can work. A magical or knowledge god might see smoke or water as their tool, and then they show their followers images in the smoke or water when they need to let them know stuff. These tools work the other way too. If a war god’s tool is earth, then when he sends a message of his anger, it will likely be in the shape of 30’ tall earth giant, and not in the form of a plague of locust. Yep, they communicate things in bad ways as well as good ways.
Don’t forget the inadvertent or lucky communications either. True believers see their deities as controlling things that are most likely random events. Who knows, maybe they’re right. Maybe it was a god’s will that the tree would fall down in the wind storm and crush the house of that sinner. Maybe it was the will of a god that he got lucky at the card table just when he did. Just because most folks are non-believers and think it was just chance isn’t going to be enough to dissuade a true believer. Just because the GM and/or player knows that it was simply a die roll that caused something to happen, doesn’t mean that the character has to understand that in game!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Gods and Demi-gods

There are all sorts of ways that games handle their deities. Some assign stats to them as though they were just really powerful characters. I hate that. I’ve read a lot of myths, and I don’t recall Hercules or any of the others killing any gods. Once you assign the amount of damage it takes to kill one, you are just asking the PCs to go and try (and probably succeed).
I’m all for limiting the powers of the divine. I wrote an article on it. (Find it here.) Unable to skew the game towards the player characters = good! Able to be killed = bad! At least in my measure.
So how do you keep them in check? Well, look at that article, I think that lays it out pretty well. If you want your characters to “kill a god”, I think you need to set up the god’s (or whatever) avatar on the world, and let them kill that. That way they have attacked and killed a divine creature, likely ruining his plans, but still they have not actually eliminated a divine creature that should be beyond such silly little things like death. Now if the king of the gods wants to kill a god, well, that’s another story!
I like the myths that treat the gods like they are a dysfunctional royal family with intrigues and enemies outside the pantheon. If one pantheon is in power (either in a region or across the world) I like putting in little upstarts who are looking to steal their piece of the pie without being assaulted by celestial hordes. In one campaign, the “god” of rats wanted to become the god of cities, and set out to diminish his rival’s power until he could usurp his place. In that campaign, there were also some tricks played where lesser spirits were sabotaging some of the gods’ altars in order to redirect the sacrifices to them, directly stealing power, though in truth relatively small pieces of power.
These are the types of power plays that mortal characters can get involved in (intentionally or accidently). Here is where the gods can play a direct part in the campaign, but without all the lightning bolts and thunderous voices.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

What’s “Better” - Weapons

Walk through a hardware store and you’ll find a row of hammers, a row of saws, and a row of power drills, all priced differently. So which one is better? The most expensive one, right? Why?
Let’s concentrate on the hammers and saws and other hand tools, because they are going to make a better analogy when I switch this conversation over to weapons in a fantasy game, which is clearly my intent. Why is one hammer more expensive than another? Most likely, it is in those things that are not immediately noticeable, at least not to the untrained eye. Is the grip better than the other one, less slipping? Is the steel a higher grade; is there less chance of it breaking? That’s the one we normally concentrate on. In our early supplement Legend Quest - Optional Weaponry (RPGNow or e23), we established four grades of weaponry: ornamental, standard, tool, and combat ready. Ornamental covers those “weapons” that were never intended to be used, like the swords old men wear at church functions or a “knife” that is actually a letter opener. The standard grade is what you would expect to find around a normal house - the knife you use to cut your steak. Tool grade is where they start to get tougher: the high quality knife a butcher or chef would have around their kitchen. Lastly, the combat ready is those knives you would expect Seals to have strapped to their thighs during a mission. The only major difference here is the sturdiness of the weapon - how well it resists damage. Let’s face it - a sharpened letter opener could be stabbed through someone’s heart and kill them almost as easily as a Seal’s blade. Damage isn’t the question - durability is.
We get back to the eternal “So What?” question. Why do you as a GM care if a weapon is standard or combat ready? First off, I have used these grades to help in loot. Do you want to arm some poor commoners, but you don’t want to hand over a treasure trove of resale steel to your PCs? Give them bows and hand axes that are of standard grade. No self-respecting weapons shop would take used, low quality weapons. Plus, it makes sense. Need to help your PCs get their weapons and equipment for those first few missions? Let them buy sub-standard weapons. They can always upgrade after they start to be successful. Should all their weapons be “combat ready”? No. Tomahawks and cudgels would almost never be “combat ready”. More likely tool grade. Not only is a cudgel made out of wood, making it weaker than a sword, but it’s barely crafted at all. Similarly, swords would almost never be crafted at standard grade, unless by con men in a traveling show.
Why else? Well to keep your adventurers on their toes. These guys are supposed to know what their doing when it comes to the tools of their trade. Have they neglected to train in skills like Appraise and Weaponcraft? Adventuring is not the same as fighting. Adventurers should be rounded in a way that soldiers and sentries never have to be, and even some of those guys would have the skills required to judge weapons. It’s really not about screwing your party over; it’s about maintaining an element of surprise and reality.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Nomads

Well, home from summer camp, and you know what it made me think about? Nomads. No, really. Spend a week without air conditioning and you start thinking about spending your summers in cool places and your winters in warm places. I’m not talking about the nomads who walk their herds or flocks from place to place so they can eat (more “modern” and still in existence today). I’m talking more about the hunters who followed herds or the gatherers that move from harvest to harvest. Probably a lot of mixed hunters and harvesters there; that’s why they were called hunter-gatherers. (OK, it doesn’t really matter which type I’m talking about.)
How did it work? Well, at its most general level, they moved to where the food was. There’s a Sam Kinison joke in there for you old guys. Let’s say they ambushed the migratory cattle herds as they were moving north with the spring, then they shifted position to harvest the wild beans. Next they went to where the summer succulent fruits grew, but they hurried to the site of the wild tubers and then on to the winter squashes at their height. Before winter sets in, they’re canoeing through the swamps collecting the wild rice, only to arrive in the citrus groves for the winter. OK, I haven’t checked to see if that would work, but it sounds good. There could also be stopping to hit the salmon runs or gathering eggs and meat from some ground birds when they hit their nesting season.
OK - back to the ultimate question - Why? Why do you care? Well, it seems to me that established farmers know how much space they need, and likely have it. To go to war with another country would be a major issue, and keep them from their crops - not something they would want. Even their nobles, who gather taxes on the crops, wouldn’t want them away for long periods. But the nomads have to move from place to place in order to eat and survive. Boy would they be pissed if they have a two or three year wandering cycle and they return to find one of their required spots is now a colony of cotton farmers. They might travel through established fields. They might deplete a certain type of prey animal in a region, but only on a three year wander cycle, so the animal has a chance to build numbers again. If that prey animal is now part of the permanent settlers’ diet, they aren’t going to be happy about the nomads “stealing their food”.
It’s all about perceptions, and those conflicting perceptions causing strife. Two groups of nomads might vie for the same resources. Nomads and permanent dwellers might compete for the same foods or space or water. This would be far more likely to cause problems that need to be solved by battle than those of established agricultural cultures. In a way, it is the same argument fought by the cattlemen and farmers of the USA’s “Wild West”. The cattle herds needed to roam, but then the farmers started putting up all these fences that got in the way of getting the herds to water. Instant conflict - the kind you might want to hire some hired guns, I mean adventurers, to straighten out! Just an idea, or several.