Sunday, April 23, 2017

Urban Adventure Information Gathering

When an adventuring party goes out to a dungeon, they may learn who built the dungeon and what they are after, but they rarely plan for it.  They don’t try to get the right tools, other than possibly getting extra rope if they know they need to repel to get into the dungeon.

But in an urban adventure, you not only have the time to plan, but you should be forced to do it.  You also have the ability to choose when to attack.  Not putting in this extra effort is foolish.  It will likely involve people in the mission (battle) that you don’t want there.  Like who?  Well, innocents, the police, or battle ready neighbors who may think you are after them as well.  So how do you choose your battles?  Through information gathering.

Let me draw a contrast between how information gathering is done in Garnock and Forsbury to show how this can work.  In Garnock, they are watching their own people, while in Forsbury they tend to watch the travelers who come into town.  Because of this, in Garnock they rely on street informants like street vendors, street sweepers, and even street walkers.  Meanwhile in Forsbury, they rely on the cab drivers, bartenders and most of all, the bellboys in the hotels.

But how does a party get this information?  There are really only two ways.  The first is the best way - by having the PCs already have established contacts in town - people who know them well enough to trust them and share gossip and other information.  The other is through bribery, most commonly through bribing an information broker.  Information brokers are the people who make their living by having already gathered all the information that people are probably looking for, or they know who to go to.  But it is important to remember, that very few information brokers are freelancers.  They work for someone.  So whatever the party is trying to figure out will be reported upwards.

Honestly - I suck at bribes!  In real life, I never know how much to tip a maĆ®tre d' for a good table, or any of that stuff.  I’m probably too much of a rules follower.  But in game, GMs need to understand how much of a bribe is required.  Here’s the only way I can figure out how to do it:  Take a guy like an information broker.  How many customers does he get in a day?  He probably averages one per day, so he’s learning everything he can just to inform one person.  This guy wants a full day’s wages to share his information; otherwise, he’s going to go broke.  So for relatively public knowledge (info that could be public for anyone who had the time to do the recon), he wants 12sc.  A bartender on the other hand who has a job and gets info requests three times a day (on average), he’s maybe looking for 3sc (x3 customers equals a full day’s wage for him).

But what if it is not public?  Well anything that could get the broker or his informants in trouble is worth a lot more - probably five times as much.  This includes things like who did the merchant leave the sleazy hotel with - gossipy stuff that isn’t public and probably shouldn’t be.  For something that could be dangerous, as in tell me the right time to assassinate the target, something that could get the informants involved in a murder, now we’re talking about two weeks’ pay or say 250sc.  Why?  Because first of all, the informant is going to lay low for a couple of days in hopes that nothing blows back on him, plus if he is in danger, he deserves a lot more.  How much do you have to bribe him to keep his mouth shut while the enemy is getting ready to torture him?  Yeah, that number doesn’t exist.  These guys are not the ones you rely on with secrets!

Small Bites Debut

OK - So we’ve been talking about Build Your Fantasy World in Small Bites or “Small Bites” all year.  But what is it?  Well now you can see!  and since it’s Board Enterprises’ World of Fletnern - You can see for FREE!!

The first edition of Small Bites has now been released and is available for FREE at RPG Now - click here for The Avatar of Manoto aka All About Warrior Priests.  It is 40 pages of stuff about an extended story line concerning the Avatar of Manoto (a demi-god just born in the mortal world), the city of Helatia, the World of Fletnern, warrior priests, being a player in a FRPG, being a game master of a FRPG, building your own fantasy world, and game mastering in general.  Sounds like a lot, right?  It is!  One of our favorite quotes from the folks who got the sneak peek at this edition was:  “Wow!  Way more content than I expected.  This is great.”  No kidding - that’s a direct cut and paste.

This edition (and the next one) are free!  No tricks, no gimmicks, no credit card necessary.  The blog is free - only partially because we cannot figure out a way to monetize it (mostly kidding).  The World of Fletnern wiki is free - as it was always intended to be.  The guides to Fletnern are free - again, from the start and on purpose.  But we are asking for help.  Please read through it.  If this is the kind of content that you think you’re going to like, please take a chance on us and help us out through Patreon.  We absolutely accept that you might want to start smaller, like with $1, but we’re hoping that that is just the opening that will give us a chance to really earn your patronage!

We’ve been talking about this for months now, so the time has come to shut up and show you.  So check out our first edition of Small Bites.  The feedback has been great so far, and we think you’ll find it to be just the thing that an experienced game master needs to fire up his imagination and guide him in all the work he/she does.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Thrill of the Heist

Ever watch a heist movie?  Ocean’s Eleven, The Italian Job, Kelly’s Heroes (my favorite movie of all time).  You know what I’m talking about.  A bunch of guys get together, and they are going to steal something.  Quite often they try to give the thieves some manner of reason to make it seem like they are Robin Hoods and not actually thieves, but well, they’re criminals.  Did it stop you from rooting for them?  Yeah, me neither.

There is something about stealing things that is thrilling.  Something in the breaking of the law, something in the danger, something in the “beating” whoever is there to stop you from doing it.  There is something there that gives you an adrenaline rush.  In rare occasions, I have been able to insert that feeling into games.  I want to do it more!

The vast majority of FRPG quests could have this feeling melded into them.  Sometimes the party is recovering a lost artifact ala Indiana Jones.  It can have that same “heist” feel to it.  Think about Indy and the golden skull.  Remember his assistant mirroring his moves at the dais?  It’s like that.  We need to get the players to be doing that; feeling the tension as their characters weigh the bag of sand.

So how do you do it?  I think one of the best ways is through melodrama.  It’s sappy and a bit silly (especially for guys trying to be cool), but to bring some of that style of tension into the game, you have to schmaltz it up as a GM.  What I mean is this:  OK, I’m going to roll this die.  If I roll a 12 or over, your character is going to succeed in sliding down the hall on your stomach without the guard noticing you, but if the number is lower, then the guard hears or sees you and will instantly raise the alarm.  Your whole plan hinges on this one die roll.  Either way, this is it; it all comes down to this.  Are you ready?  I mean are you really ready?

I admitted it was silly, right?  It is, but just as it is silly for famous actors to take a pie in the face for a movie, sometimes, you have to evoke your inner ringmaster.

These GMing tactics can be used in nearly any situation, but don’t go overboard.  Yes, you can do the same with a swing of the sword.  Yes, you can do the same with the casting of a spell.  But it is typically in the thieving rolls where one roll decides the fate, as opposed to a sword/spell needing to roll damage, and even then it is rarely final, but just the start of an long combat.

This is one of the reasons (I think) people like to play thieves.  Picking a pocket?  It’s a yes or no - one die roll, big gamble.  Yes - get money.  No - start the chase music boys.

It does not have to just be about these types of rolls.  The other way to get it is what I think of as the “gold effect”.  In the movie Kelly’s Heroes, every time someone saw the gold bar for the first time, there was this glittering music, and they were stunned in awe of the beauty of the gold.  This is what I’m going for when I reveal a treasure horde to the party.  The most anti-climactic thing you can ever do when introducing a dragon sitting atop a mound of gold is to start talking about numbers.

Look, in truth, the reason I’ve never written a novel is because I cannot write dialog and I find writing most descriptive narratives to be way too much hard work.  But if you have any spark of story teller in you, you should be able to weave a tale like this:  You know you’ve reached the final chamber of this cave system because the dragon is there.  In the blink of an eye, it all comes to you.  The mighty dragon is coiled upon heaps of gold.  The light of your torches gleams of multi-colored surfaces in the pile that must be gems, while the helms and armor of ancient warriors are mixed into the piles.  OK, I said I don’t do that well - often I can do it verbally better than I can write it because I can see what is or isn’t working for my “audience”.

It works for a single target too:  This must be the gem you’re after.  It sits on a pedestal with two hanging lamps providing the light to emphasize its many facets.  The gem is huge, bigger than you have ever seen before and of such a striking, true-blue color that the angels themselves must have crafted it.

Want to get back into the more roguish style?  Try this one:  Your target sits there in the restaurant, piggish and obese.  Shoveling food into his oafish mouth, you can see his stubby little teeth as he chews like a cow with cud.  This is the demon of a man that your client needs dead, and he is right in your sights.  He may be surrounded by witnesses for now, but you’re going to get him, as soon as he (falls into the trap the character has laid out).

The morale of this story is that especially when it comes to the single action, suspenseful things that rogues do, a little drama or melodrama can go a long way.  It is storytelling.  It is acting.  You don’t need to be James Earl Jones with a booming voice to play up the tension and anxiety.  Be yourself, but be a little bit bigger version of yourself, and bring those players into exactly how important this one moment in their characters’ lives really is!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Street Kids (in fantasy)


I grew up in an age where kids would just “go outside to play”.  We didn’t make play dates.  We never really knew where we were going; we were just going “out”.  Drove my dad crazy to not know where we were.  Now that I’m the Dad, it drives me crazy too.

But in a day and age where kids’ time is so structured, it is tough to remember those more innocent days when people weren’t worried about drive by shootings and other random violence.  So what do fantasy era kids do?

I think it’s important to call out some differences.  I know exactly what kids on the farms do:  they help their parents and do chores.  Not that they don’t get to play as well, but when there is work to do, they are working.  No child labor laws here!  I recall a story (no promise that it’s true) that Abraham Lincoln’s father rented him out to the neighbors, and Abe would chop wood and do other chores for money that he then gave to his father.  Try that today!

Before moving on - let’s finish the rural kids:  Mostly, they are doing chores:  weeding the crops, foraging for berries or mushrooms, feeding the livestock, helping in the kitchen, chopping wood or gathering kindling, all sorts of stuff.  What do they do for fun?  Well, their friends are a fairly long distance away (because they are on the next farm over).  This makes playing with friends a little tougher, but if time permits, they will try.  More likely, they will amuse themselves on their parents’ farm.  Some of their play time will likely be productive; things like fishing, grooming the horse(s), maybe a little hunting, even if it is only for crayfish or frogs.  But they will have toys too.  Little wooden figures they can set up as knights, corn husk dolls, fireplace soot tic-tac-toe, these kids have enormous back yards and imaginations to fill them, just not as many people as the city kids have.

So what happens in the cities?  The kids leave the home and play in the streets all day until they get home just before their dads so it looks like they’ve been around the house all day.  My city homes typically do not have back yards, or have very small backyards, because real estate inside a city wall is expensive!  So where do these kids go?

Most kids will try to get away from the house so they are out from under mom’s watchful eye, but they don’t want to go too far or they lose all the benefits of home (free food, clean toilet, bandages when necessary).  If there is a park close by, they will likely go there.  It will be a gathering place for all the neighborhood kids.  If there isn’t, then they are far more likely to get into trouble.  Come on, you know it’s true.  Where would they go?  an abandoned house, or the street corner, or a grocery store.  Even if their intentions are good, playing and hanging out in these places is likely to cause trouble for someone, and the accidents have far more consequences than they would at a park.  But what are they doing?  Typically just hanging out.

Is that all?  Of course not!  There will be some kids who are helping their parents at work, whether that be sweeping up the shop, helping mom when she is cleaning the fancy houses, or legitimately learning a trade as an apprentice.  Some of the kids will be enrolled in schools, but with the cost of these schools, it is unlikely that the kids will be there all day, probably only half days.  Some of the churches may try to run youth programs, but these are pretty few and far between.  While the kids may be playing sports, what sports are common in your cities?

Kids like sports, so let’s think that one through just a bit more.  In Forsbury, the main sport is horse racing, but very few kids can afford a horse.  So they would gather at the horse ranches, sitting along the fences watching the horses train.  They would constantly be discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the various horses (sometimes correctly, but more often not) and dreaming of their lives as jockeys.  In Brinston, the various policing units all have competitive track and field teams.  Here most of the kids would either watch the athletes train or compete in their own races and mini-competitions.  No, it’s not organized, but since when did a group of kids need adults to organize a game for them.  Oh, that’s right, it started in the 90s.  Taking a similar but darker perspective, in Garnock they all watch gladiatorial events.  Here the kids would be watching the gladiators train or actually going to the arenas and watching the matches.  Watching grown men kill each other for sport has to have an impact on a kid.

Does any of this matter?  Yes!  Why?  Because knowing what the kids do during the day will tell you where they are, and at times, it is important to know where the kids are.  Want to steal a race horse, expect that there are some kids at the fence watching you (during daylight hours).  Did your pocket get picked?  The kids on the corner probably either did it or know who did, but questioning a kid can attract all the wrong kinds of attention.  Plan to meet a contact at a public park?  You may not be able to communicate from all the noise the kids are making.

Ignoring these types of things makes your world feel dull and flat.  You need to describe your world as a bustling, rambunctious place.  Make the players feel as if there is life in the city, rather than just describing the signs above the doors of the businesses.  Let them know there are kids playing tag in the streets and mothers yelling at their kids for not being careful enough or to come home for lunch.  This is the illusion that you need to create.

Want to take it further?  One of my best players was the “kid whisperer”.  Immediately after getting any mission, she would question the local kids.  Why?  Well, the kids typically aren’t busy and will stop to talk.  Kids can be bribed for a whole lot less than an adult.  And kids seldom have agendas that would cause them to lie.  Granted, the character needed a lot of acting skill, because she was a cold-blooded killer, and those types of folks tend to scare small children and their pets, but she had the social skills to pull it off.  You might want to think about some of this the next time you find yourself in a big city and have no idea how to start the mission - whether you’re a GM or a player.

Post Script:  Having trouble with a character history?  Well, if you know about Brinston and that’s where the character spent his childhood, it would be common for the character to have Running or Jumping skill levels because of what they did as kids.  Do other kids have wrestling skills from the way they spent their youth?

Saturday, April 8, 2017

New Small Bites Survey




In our last survey, the choices were far too generic and didn’t really get at what we were thinking of for each of the topics.  We’ve put a new survey out there showing some of the titles that we’ve actually started working on, and we’d love for you to let us know what content appeals to you most.  Please click here to take the survey, or to learn more about what we’re doing with the whole Small Bites project click here.

We’re really doing this to learn more about what everybody is looking for and increase the communication between Board Enterprises and you - our reading public!

if you have any difficulties with the links, here are the actual sites:

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Endless Dungeon



Legend Quest was first published in 1991.  Honestly, it didn’t do so good that first year at GENCON, though we did sell more than the guy a few booths down from us who kept carrying boxes of games out every night to make it look like he was selling something.

So we felt we needed some form of marketing campaign for GENCON 1992.  Not being a great marketer, I decided to try and play to my strengths:  game mastering.  So instead of building up a flyer or an ad, I decided to run The Endless Dungeon across every slot at GENCON - that’s 60 hours, at least it was then.  But don’t think we kept running the same mission over and over.  No, The Endless Dungeon was my second ever “mega-dungeon”.

We started first thing Thursday morning at 8:00 and ran four, four-hour slots.  Every four hours most of the players would change and fairly often players who had played earlier in the show would come back, admittedly if they couldn’t get into another game, but they really saw us as being the perfect Plan B, and I can accept that.

But coming back, you could find the character you wanted to play might be dead or have been maimed or something.  Sure, sometimes you found out they now had a more powerful magic item too, but bad news was more common.  All in all, I think we averaged about 9 people per slot, so we ran 125-150 people through the event.  It was so well received (back in the book selling area) that we began publishing The Endless Dungeon in parts.

This month’s Blog Carnival theme is mega-dungeons, and I have been thinking a lot about The Endless Dungeon.  It’s no longer in print, because most people seem to prefer our generic stuff, and it is unquestionably laid out for Legend Quest rules.  I’ve been reading some other mega-dungeon posts, and I think this falls into what they’re calling a “node-based” mega-dungeon (one of their maps looks way too close to The Endless Dungeon map for it to be anything else).  That means that the original “mission” is to go after some goblin slavers.  At some point, you figure out that the slavers are working for someone else, though I don’t think you can figure out who right away.  Then you go back home with the freed slaves only to find out that the long tunnel you didn’t have enough time (or healing) to explore leads to another set of slavers who are also working for the mysterious “big bad” that you know is coming.  All the missions are linked physically and in the overall theme, but they are distinct places connected by tunnels, and not one enormous set of rooms after rooms.

I always thought this method made sense, because I do believe you need to retreat and rest up during a huge dungeon.  The multiple entrances into what became an underground city made sense, and allowed for the standard leave and train style of adventuring.  I hate letting parties “camp” inside a dungeon, and I had plans that they were to be attacked by overwhelming forces if they tried this too often.  (Taking an hour to recover half your Fatigue is one thing, but trying to sleep all night was out of the question.  Then again, we weren’t playing that original game.)

So the point of this blog post is more sentimental than informative, except for this:  I have considered redoing The Endless Dungeon and reissuing it.  I’ve also considered reissuing The Goblins of Kadafere Pass (I know I spelled that wrong, but while I have the original form of the adventure, I cannot lay my hands on the version that wound up in the binder set.).  You might think this would be a cake walk - just put them out, people will love them.  But I can’t.  I will have to go through them with a fine toothed comb - editing, improving, etc.  Still, I’ll do it if there is any interest in it.  The first Endless Dungeon mission is Blood in the Slaves Pits, and I’m telling you - I honestly think that is one of the best missions I ever wrote.  It shows goblins as used by nearly every GM when they first start (the lazy goblins that tend to get their hats handed to them) alongside a goblin mercenary force that can show you how effective “weak” creatures can be with just a dash of strategic planning.

So yeah, we have a mega-dungeon, I’m just not convinced that it’s what GMs are looking for.  It makes sense, it runs well, but if the party is as stupid as the first tribe of goblins, they don’t stand a chance!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Adventures vs. Soldiers 3 - Morale


    I really feel that the other articles in this theme have missed the most important part:  Morale.  I’m not talking about when one decided to turn tail and flee a battle; I’m talking about why they show up in the first place.
 
    Why do adventurers fight?  Most commonly, they fight for money.  Someone promises to pay them for the mission plus they plan to loot the enemy.  Now to many people, fighting for money is cold blooded and requires a rather sociopathic or psychopathic personality.  I won’t argue the mental case, but even fighting for money can be rather hot-blooded.

    Why do soldiers fight?  For patriotism.  Because they know their cause is just.  Because their enemy is threatening their homes, friends and families.  Are they always right?  Are the enemy always evil?  Nope.  But the generals and rulers must make them believe that they are on the right side of history and they are the good vs. the enemy being evil.  If the army’s leaders are unable to do this, the soldiers are going to be far less willing to go out and risk their lives in the taking of other people’s lives.

    That is one of the chief issues between adventurers and soldiers, and from a role-playing stand point, it is of the utmost importance.  An adventurer or other mercenary can weigh the odds once the battle is about to begin and decide if the cost-benefit here is worthwhile.  Is it worth getting into this particular battle or should we just retreat?  But the soldier has to weigh other factors:  If I flee, will that mean the death of my family?  Will people lose their homes to these savage invaders?  Recent surveys have shown that perhaps one of the most important factors that they weigh is the question, Will my friends in the unit be killed or maimed if I am not there to help them.

    In many ways, the difference between adventurers and soldiers is one of cold math vs. emotion.  Adventurers can afford to reduce it all down to how many coins are involved, but the soldiers cannot afford to do that (no pun  intended).