Sunday, December 17, 2017

The World of Prophesy

The latest edition of Small Bites is out, and yes, it’s FREE!

The Yugsalanti Fortune Tellers of the Roads aka All About Fortune Tellers is well, it’s all about fortune tellers.  But while these people are mystic and have all their magical abilities, they are also infamous for being some of the biggest con artists in the world.  So both sides of this passionate culture are on display.

Do you need nomadic fortune tellers and con artists?  Need is a strong word, but the Yugsalantis and their gaudy wagons serve as the spark of so many different missions and wild adventures that even the most experienced game masters are going to be loving the ideas this helps generate in their heads.  And we guarantee this!  Anyone who doesn’t find mission and quest ideas in this book that they have never considered before is entitled to their money back!  (Yeah, it’s free!)

So give it a try!  You’ve got nothing to lose.  Check out Board Enterprises and the whole Small Bites line.  We’re not for everybody; we know.  That’s why we want to give you a free peak at what we’re doing and see if we can lure you into our world!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

It’s Bigger Than You (Parties)

Nearly every FRPG game organizes the players / player characters into parties - groups of adventurers that work together, typically each bringing different abilities.  This is a standard “trope” of RPGs.

There are a huge number of role-playing plots that can be used if you put the party into something bigger than the party.  The main one that jumps out at me is the traitor.  How many really cool movies have you seen where the true action of the movie was about finding the traitor within an organization?  But if you try to do that with just the party, then you force the players to work against each other.  I have never seen that work out.  So if you want to have a traitor hunt, but the party won’t work, what do you do?  You make it bigger than the party.

By having the party work within a bigger organization, you can activate a traitor while still keeping the party together and working as a team.  This can be great for a murder mystery plot.  If you make one of the PCs the bad guy (even if he has good reasons) you will never get the trust back within the party.  Worse yet, you may never get the trust back with that entire group of players (friends).  They may claim to be adults and be able to work through it, but you can never fully separate player knowledge from character knowledge.

But what organizations?  It can be simple:  an adventurers’ guild, a school or university, an army unit, or a secret society.  Secret societies make the perfect choices for stuff like this because they are secret.  It’s tougher for another member of the adventurers’ guild to “betray” the guild, because there really isn’t anything there.  With a secret society, there are almost always rivals.  This gives something meaty to betray. 

Why push this line?  Because with a secret society, it is worthwhile to make up enough NPCs that could be traitors to the organization.  I like this as a first mission within the organization - You guys are not the traitors because you weren’t here / members when the first bad thing happened.  Therefore, we need you to find out who the traitor is.  Then when they succeed - they know everybody who is in the secret organization and those NPCs you wrote up are still of value to the campaign (other than the traitor who is likely dead).

That plan / plot works, but then the players don’t get the emotional hit of actually being betrayed, because they haven’t worked with these people before.  You know how to do that?  You roll it up like this, first mission and all.  The party finds and exposes the traitor.  But they don’t realize that the traitor they found was the underling.  The boss traitor is still active in the organization, and it will take a whole bunch more missions before they are able to realize that the mole is still active and then go find that one.  Now, they can run through the same group of NPCs but this time hopefully find the boss - someone who has been their “friend” for months.

There are countless traitor scenarios as well as others that require the party to have friends that are not PCs but instead NPCs.  If the PCs’ whole world is the party, then there is so much that gets left behind.  By making it bigger than them, you give yourself so many more plots to work with.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

How to Choose Your Enemies

When you need to create an organization, especially an organization that will function as a “permanent enemy”, start with just a general concept.  Pick something that appeals to you, because you don’t want to use something over and over if you hate it.  (One shot organizations can be things that don’t appeal to you, but nothing with longevity.)  The big concept should be easy enough:  a military, a school, a guild, a cult, a tribe, a cartel, whatever.  Now, what are the divisions within that organization, and what are the divisions within the divisions.  The bigger the organization, the more divisions there will be.

Example:  A modern military might have an air force, an army, a navy with or without marines, and a coast guard.  Within each of these groups are units which have component units within them, down to the squad level.  A fantasy military might separate the army from the cavalry from the militia.  The army might have archers and footmen, while the cavalry has heavy horse and patrollers (skirmishers).

Try to keep it real.  A terrorist organization that can field hundreds of planes and tanks would not be allowed to exist within the boundaries of a major country, unless the country was supporting that terrorist organization.  A cartel that ran sixty ships and forty caravans would likely be the most powerful economic organization in the world.  They would not operate in secret.  Of course, these are just games, but you don’t want your players to completely check their brains at the door.

How is the group of player characters going to butt heads with the organization?  This is where you can plan strategy.  Let’s go to an example:  The organization is a slave cartel, standard fantasy enemy.  But the leader of the slave cartel is a dragon who secretly runs the organization through intermediaries.  (The dragon is also crazy, which adds flavor later.)  She (the dragon) is a mage and has been teaching a group of treacherous dark elves some of her ancient magics.  This cadre forms her personal bodyguard, though in the right circumstances they would happily betray her.  So much for the headquarters.

The organization has two distinct limbs, plus ancillary organizations.  The one side of the cartel is the slavers selling slaves in markets where slavery is acceptable.  This is actually a fairly legitimate business, though they do rely on powerful bounty hunters/slave catchers.  This organization is mainly made up of warrior types, though few of them are straight melee types - more range and non-lethal types.  The other side of the organization is made up of pirates that raid the coastlines, burning villages and capturing peasants as slaves.  These pirates are more frequently rogue types.  They rely on their fearsome reputations and the fact that no one really knows that their raids are cover for capturing slaves.

OK - does this make sense?  An organization that actively sells slaves being supplied by a “brother” organization that captures slaves illegally overseen by a dragon ready to take action against anyone messing with her subsidiaries.  Seems believable in a fantasy setting.  You also have humans (the pirates), just about any race (the slavers), dark elves and a dragon.  Seemingly a good mix.  If the pirates capture someone, and a party needs to rescue them, they will have to fight the pirates and force them to tell who they gave the slave to.  Then the party goes and fights the slavers, only to find that the dragon is either coming after them for revenge or the dragon chose to take that slave as her own.  That should be at least three good solid missions, all from one organization.  Later on, after the party defeats the dragon, any dark elf mages that escaped might be able to rebuild the organization, allowing the party to go after them again. 

It might be cool to have the new head of the organization known as “the dragon” because she skinned the last head and now uses her hide as armor.  That way as the party begins to investigate, they will think the head of the organization is the same dragon (or a child or something) and will be unprepared to fight a powerful dark elf mage.

An organization does not need to be made of completely different entities as described in this example, but different can make things more exciting.  If all members of an organization are exactly the same, things can get dull quickly, and the players can come up with ways to defeat them more quickly.  Sometimes a little bit of different can be all that’s necessary.  Let’s take an evil snake cult example, another standard in fantasy games.  In one town, the cult is completely underground, both literally and figuratively.  They operate in secret and meet in secret.  The party will need to investigate to find them and then attack.  In the next town, the cult is seen as a perfectly normal religion and they meet openly, but keep their sinister side hidden.  Here, the party knows where the enemy is, but they cannot outright attack for fear of coming under fire from the legitimate factions in the town.  In the third town, the snake cult controls the town, so the characters will be outlaws if they are detected.  Now the characters need to operate as the secret organization in hopes of getting past the snake cult guards.  In each of these cases, the snake cult operatives will likely be very similar, but their public presence is completely different, making for three distinctive missions.

This is after all the main reason to use an organization - to link missions.  If the missions are linked, you only need to motivate the characters once, plus it adds a sense of continuity to the campaign.  Hopefully it will help you as well, because if the organization makes sense to you, you will have an easier time of developing it.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Conning Your Players

I always get nervous about bringing con artists into my campaigns.  I believe that they must exist in the fantasy world that I have created and even have an entire ethnicity that is well known for being tricksters (the Yugsalantis).  But the idea of conning the players always rubbed me the wrong way.

Let me explain what I mean.  I am absolutely for quest givers tricking the party.  That is a natural part of the game for me, and the players know for them as well.  Outright lying to them about their surroundings is most commonly the result of bad die rolls (Senses tasks).  Even having people they are questioning lie to them - absolutely normal.

So what don’t I like?  Well, selling them a charm from an “enchanter” and having it be a fake.  The Yugsalantis are not just con men, they have the world’s best fortune tellers.  Because of this, they are often selling trinkets to protect yourself against the evil eye (an actual spell in LEGEND QUEST) and other such things.  Some of their other common tricks are to sell tools and even weapons that are made of substandard steel and therefore far more prone to breaking.

So with me being a pretty mean spirited game master, why am I against this?  Well, mainly because I do think it is cheating.  It really isn’t though.  A warrior should have the Weaponcraft skills to tell a good weapon from a bad one, and if he doesn’t, then he deserves to be cheated.  Same with magic.  Why would you trust a witch selling “healing potions”?

But it does feel like cheating to me.  Honestly a big part of it is the logistics of it.  Say one of the PCs does buy a faked healing potion.  But then he finds or buys three more that are real.  You know his character sheet is going to read “4 healing potions” and not “one healing potion from witch and three from that dragon hoard”.  So how do you as GM remember that he has a bad one and figure out when it is to be used?  Now healing potions are probably noticeable when they work and when they don’t, but what about a strength enhancing potion?  As GM, you could probably completely hide the fact that the strength potion wasn’t working, but you will have to keep doing math in your head and remember that the strength potion was fake in the first place.  That’s a lot of work for a cheap scheme to take a few gold coins away from one of the PCs.

So instead of punishing PCs for buying dumb stuff, I go at it a different way.  When they are buying something important (a magic item), especially from someone they don’t know, they need to bring in a tester.  Think of it as taking a used car to your mechanic before you buy it.  If the enchanter says it is enchanted with vorpal sharpness, someone is going to bring in another enchanter to check it out.  Same type of thing with healing potions and the like.  This makes it more expensive to buy magic items, which is a good thing.

But the same goes the other way.  If a party hands an alchemist six potions and claims they are three fire and three frost resistance, the alchemist is going to say, OK, give me a couple of days to check them out.  He is then going to charge them for the amount of testing he needs to do, which means they get less for their loot.  But again, I’m OK with that.

With the assumption that there are these “auditors” around who can be hired to confirm what something is, I can run a game where I don’t sell fake objects to PCs.  All the NPCs may still be buying faked objects, because not being professional adventurers they do not normally bring an appraiser to the market with them to check everything out.

As per usual, I’ve just explained why role-players will like that this is part of the world / story, but what about those non-role-players?  Well the gold farmers can enjoy this added bit of lore, because it opens up possibilities for missions.  If someone is trying to sell faked magic items, they might kidnap the local auditor enchanter, or better yet, his daughter.  Now the party has to rescue the little girl before the big exchange goes down or their friend / boss / king will wind up paying big money for crap.

This is one of the main reasons I dive so deep into my game world - You never know when some idea you came up with to cover fraud among enchanters winds up giving you a great idea for an adventure.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Urban Developments turns Copper

Hey - We got some great news!  Our Urban Developments book has turned into a Copper Popular Pick on RPG Now.
We normally don’t do step by step type books, though maybe we should, because both Urban Developments and Grain Into Gold have been hugely popular on our sale sites.  Normally we throw the kitchen sink at you in hopes of sparking ideas and getting you thinking about your world, but both of these were really “start here move through this way” and apparently it worked as folks are voting with their dollars.
We really do want to thank all of our customers and especially our Patreon patrons who support us and the things we’re doing.  We are a small press company so any support helps drive us to get more product and content out there!

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Follow up - Safe Houses

This is a follow up to Old Weapons and Safe Houses.  With the RPG Blog Carnival this month being about sequel blogs and revisiting old posts, we thought we would join in the fun!
We have discussed adventurers having safe houses before, and this seems a must to any party participating in urban adventures.  The other alternative (and we’re not trying to set-up a paper tiger here) would be that the party is constantly walking around in their armor fully armed.

But how?  where?  Here are some of the ideas we have had:

Wilderness - Outside of town can often be the best place to lie low.  You can hide loot there, maybe to avoid taxes, maybe to avoid walking in with it on display.  You can keep extra weapons and food there in case you need to lie low for a week or two.  An old abandoned mine seems like the absolute best place.  You should be able to strongly secure the door, since the main entrance was intentionally dug.  After that, you should have room for whatever and safety.  And few kids or animals would be able to get past the secured door.  The biggest concern would likely be moisture seeping in somehow and possibly ruining what you stored there.  Plus, if it had valuable material, it wouldn’t be abandoned, so it should be really cheap.  You might even risk putting your own lock on someone else’s mine if you think they haven’t bothered to look at it in years.

An old quarry - While these are not as easy to say “there’s nothing valuable left there” they can still be cheap.  The shelter is whatever you want it to be, though honestly, rarely better than an old shack.  We wouldn’t suggest simply putting your stuff in the old shack and hoping for the best, but instead get a little clever.  Even burying it under the shack might be enough, but we like the idea of having your supernaturally strong character(s) pick up a huge boulder and hide whatever you want under that.  An old strip mine would qualify more here than under a “mine”.

In town - Picking an apartment to use as a safe house is tough.  If it is in too bad a neighborhood, then you run the risk of thieves.  If it is in too residential a neighborhood, it runs the risk of standing out and having nosy neighbors gossip about it.  If it is a good neighborhood it could be too expensive.  We think the busy neighborhoods are the best.  A smallish apartment on a busy street that mostly has stores and not homes, especially if the building has several apartments.  That way your safe house might go unnoticed as simply an unrented apartment.

In town there should be some manner of storage business.  Think about those storage spots we have in our modern world, though probably different from that.  You may not be able to stay in one (or maybe you can), but stashing away weapons and healing potions and possibly money could be a great boon to you when needed.  Business hours might turn out to be a problem, but that is a risk.  In Rhum, there are many of these places - most will store a trunk or chest for you relatively cheaply.  Think of it like a safety deposit box only bigger.

In town contacts can be incredibly important too, but someone is going to have to give them enough importance to have established them.  Family members, close friends, people you once rescued, these can all hide a couple of characters for a short time and certainly hide a trunk of stuff for them.  But remember, as great as these means of hiding out are, these same people can turn out to be hostages or victims.  That’s great mission starter stuff!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

How to Find The Sounding Board

One of the easiest ways to find new blog posts for The Sounding Board (that’s this blog in case you didn’t know) was to watch RPGBloggers, where all of our stuff was posted automatically.  Well, they seem to be tied up with something.  We really hope they finish their “maintenance” soon, but we’re trying to get the word out through some of the Google+ boards.  If you find our posts through Google+, please give us a +1!


But hey - if you have an idea or want to help steer us in a particular direction, please email us at  We listen!  and act on your advice.