Saturday, September 22, 2018

Sacrifices Part 3

So you were starting to think that we weren’t going to actually tell you what the benefit of sacrifices were, huh?  Tease in Part 1 but deliver in Part 3.  That wasn’t a ploy.  (We don’t think that far ahead.)  But telling you the benefits without leading up to how and why they work wouldn’t have worked for you anyway.

Why wouldn’t that have worked?  Well, mainly because just going through the motions doesn’t work.  If you want to get something of value from a divine, you need to give them what they want (even the good ones).  But if you just fake it and go through the motions, well, chances are they won’t get what they’re after, so neither will you.

We went through all that junk about eggs in Part 2 because they are important.  One of our favorite ways to deliver stuff from the gods is through the sacrifices.  For example:  Mage prays really hard to his god, one of the many trickster gods.  He wants a fireball spell.  Prays really hard.  The god gets him a message (dream, angel, whatever) and tells him to get the egg of a wyvern and do a sacrifice ritual.  (You know as a mage, he might just find the ritual in an old spell book - seemingly by accident.  The gods never do anything by accident.)  He gets the wyvern egg, does the ritual and the last act of the ritual is to smash the wyvern egg with his hand.

The egg smashes, and out pops a miniature dragon, named Fireball.  Remember, it was a trickster god.  But, the mage now has a portable flamethrower, though not as powerful as he wanted.  Maybe it is also a familiar and grants those benefits.  Maybe it has other benefits.  But it is also a servant of the god.  It is a spy and a tattletale.  Anything it sees will be relayed, or maybe only if it is important.  This could be good or bad for the mage as his god is now keeping a close watch on him.

This seems a silly example, but it is along the lines of what can work great!  You sacrifice a marble egg to the god of strength and it hatches into an earth elemental.  Maybe it needs to feed on stuff in order to grow into a big earth elemental, but it can grow.  Carve all sorts of holy symbols into an emu’s egg, then sacrifice it to your harvest god, and a rain cloud hatches to bring rain to your drought hampered farm.  Any time a god is sending something divine into the mortal world, it expands the god’s powers and abilities.  This means that they are often happy to send symbols of their power to their followers.

There are an unlimited number of gods, and they all act in different ways.  So without copping out, we cannot cover every possible outcome of praying to the gods for something, but more often than not (like 99% of the time) the answer from the god is no.  Well, more like 98% of the time there is no answer, and 1% no, and 1% yes.

The common fiction result of the evil god granting the mortal hero or villain massive cosmic powers doesn’t work well.  Sure, it’s what the players want for their characters, but what’s in it for the god?  If the god has any chance of not fully controlling the character, then this would be a huge mistake.  Whether intentionally or unintentionally, the character could spoil plans the god set in place generations ago.  This is one of the reasons that gifting a “helper” works nicely.  They are entirely controlled by the god.

But this helper doesn’t need to be as flashy as a mini dragon or earth elemental.  Perhaps the helper that hatches out of one of the eggs is an angel - a really low powered angel that is invisible and doesn’t do much.  What can it do?  Well, what’s important to the god?  Its job may be to carry the character directly to heaven or hell immediately upon dying.  Its job may be to report on the character’s morality.  Its job may be to sit on the character’s shoulder and give advice ala his conscious.  These are the things that a god wants.

They are not entirely useless to the character either, at least not all of them.  The Valkyrie whisking the soul off to Valhalla should prevent a character from falling prey to soul sucking weapons.  The tiny conscious on the shoulder could offer good advice about morality, but also have vast knowledge of divine and demonic creatures, and thus give advice about defeating them.

But the players want more for their characters.  But what do they bring to the party?  Well, if they are bringing in some pretty awesome stuff, they might be well rewarded.  But rather than simply handing out magical items, gods seem more inclined to hand out knowledge and experience.  No this is good; we’re talking about handing out character points, experience points, whatever your game mechanic is.  And or handing out knowledge.  This could be a skill they didn’t have before, or a spell, or the location of a hidden treasure.  This hidden treasure bit is sort of a self-perpetuating thing, because the god probably wants something that has been lost with that treasure.  So go find the treasure, sacrifice something, and get a new quest (shopping list) from your god.

The knowledge absolutely can be role-playing oriented though.  Does a character need to know who his parents where?  or where his lost sister is?  or why the bad guy hates him so much?  These work too!  So do prophesies, though those are always difficult to work with in a game campaign.

Let’s turn the tables and return to the original goal of this now series of posts:  Why do evil high priests sacrifice people and things to their evil gods?  Mainly because they want more power.  How do they get that?  Well, the new spell for a major sacrifice sounds kind of appropriate, especially if it works along with the god’s tool and possibly even serves as a sacrificial rite in and of itself.  But here again, this gift of an ally seems perfect.  The EHP burns three rival priests in a ceremony and a shadowy, flaming demon is released from the pyre.  This demon is mostly under the control of the EHP, until he’s not under control anymore.

I’m not always good at giving examples that everybody understands, so let me throw at least this at you:  Remember the first Hellboy movie?  Did anyone think the little monkey with the rock hand was dangerous when he showed up?  But he turned out to be pretty cool, didn’t he?  Maybe your players need some of that - They don’t think they got what they asked for from their god, but they probably did, or they did if they remain patient.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Sacrifices 2

Last post talked about sacrifices in general and hopefully helped to lay the ground work.  But there is so much more that can be discussed.  Our original point was that evil folks don’t do things for no reason, and their reasons are typically greedy.  So what’s in it for them?

Well, side tracking a bit first, we said that the best sacrifice is “life”.  Other than sacrificing live people and creatures, what can be done?  Well, the universal symbol for life (mainly in alchemy but in most all magic) is an egg.  So one of the best sacrifices is an egg.  Not all eggs are considered equal here, and in many cases, “fake” eggs can be far better.

The best “fake” egg is a pearl.  The value and rarity of round (or oval) pearls make them highly prized sacrifices.  The sayrmin of the Detheb culture are experts at sacrificing pearls to their divine spirits.  Basically the sayrmin perform a short ritual, then symbolically smashes the pearl.  The pearl is then gone (there are no pearl pieces; it’s just gone).  It has been received by the divine being who will use it as an egg to hatch some divine creature.  (Pearls resemble fish eggs.)

Chicken eggs can be used as sacrifices too.  But let’s think this through.  (Some of you may recognize the parable here.  It is true in Fletnern as well as real life.)  A family of farmers gathers on average six eggs every morning.  Every morning, they sacrifice one of their eggs to their god.  The single egg is of very little value to the god, but the fact that this family is giving one-sixth of their breakfast away makes the adoration received from this tiny gift far more substantial.

A rich guy goes to the farmers’ market and buys a dozen eggs every morning.  He goes and sacrifices these eggs to his major god.  Not only are 12 eggs of little value to a major god, but they are a drop in the bucket on the money this guy is going to throw away today.  He didn’t care about his sacrifice, so neither does his god.

Could he legitimately get something from his god for these sacrifices?  Yes!  The trick is importance.  Adoration means nothing if it “costs” nothing.  The best way we can think of to get acknowledged by your god for a dozen eggs is this:  Find a small monastery with four monks.  A monk’s job is to pray.  Arrange to have a farmer deliver a dozen eggs to the monastery every morning.  That way every morning at the same time, four monks will offer thanks to their god and to you - they will pray on your behalf.  Your god will get used to having these prayers and “hearing” your name.  Still costs the rich man next to nothing and he isn’t even thinking about it as he goes about his day, but he is now getting recognition for his minimal sacrifice.

But, eggs?  Really?  Yes!  They are one of the main / universal symbols for life.  The gods and spirits can use them to create servants or just to create.  The eggs are symbols and as such do not need to be real - like the pearls.  Many cultures carve the eggs from something, often marble or ivory.  Like the pearls, these eggs are made from rare materials and the process of carving them makes them more valuable.  Now when the egg is sacrificed, all the time and effort the craftsman used sort of factors into the adoration formula.  (As mortals we can never fully understand the adoration formula.)

Different gods will want different sacrifices, including eggs.  A god of strength who uses earth and stone as his tools would probably prefer a marble egg.  The sun god might want a golden egg, while more generic fire god might want an obsidian egg since it was “crafted” in a volcano.  Sea gods would probably want eggs more reminiscent of fish eggs, while reptilian gods might want eggs made of leather and not stone.

We promise - The next post will actually talk about what you can get for these sacrifices!

All About Courtiers and Wealth

     At most game companies, they come out with products they hope you’re going to like.  At Board Enterprises, we came up with a list of the things we were working on, and then asked our Patreon patrons what they think.  After a survey (about twice, maybe three times a year), we fast track what you tell us you want.
    So we’re a touch surprised to be unveiling The Palace of the Prince Governor of Brinston aka All About Courtiers and Wealth.  This was the unanimous winner of our last poll.  What’s it about?  Well, it’s about the quest givers - the nobles who control the adventuring parties.  It’s also about how you win friends and influence mission sponsors.  This is a whole new world for your players and their characters to try to conquer!

Sunday, September 9, 2018


Just a quick warning - This might be considered an “R-rated” subject.  While there will be nothing graphic, it is going to discuss horrifying topics in plain language.

So you must play fantasy role-playing games or you wouldn’t be here.  In the world that you game master or play in, there are bad guys, which include some evil religions that do some evil things.  But why do they do those evil things?  What do they get out of it?

If you answer is, “They do them because they are evil”, then we think you’re taking far too simplistic an approach.  It horrifies me to say this, but today I am siding with the gold farmers.  I don’t see a point to evil folks doing evil things on behalf of their evil gods, demons, devils or whatever unless they are getting something in return.  Why should I sacrifice that huge gem to my god instead of pawn it?

So let’s talk about sacrifices.  First off, why do the divine creatures want them?  Well, if something of value to mortals is sacrificed to the divine, then the divine receives adoration for that, and adoration is their “food”.  It sustains them and makes them stronger (if there is enough of it).

Anything else?  Sure!  Many things can be sacrificed and then be of use to the divine.  Sacrifice a weapon, armor or piece of equipment and the divine can give it either to one of his divine followers or one of his mortal followers.  Just as the item is of value to mortals, so might it be of value to divines.

But there are many things that the divines want that may not be useful to mortals, at least not for the same reasons.  Life is one of the most valuable sacrifices to the divines.  This is why human (or insert sentient race) sacrifice is of such value.  Not only does it supply the divine with adoration (or fear, which is just about as good), but grants the divine being use of that “life” / “soul” (vocabulary gets tricky here) for some time.  This time is typically assumed to be about 10 years.

Why ten years?  What’s ten years to an immortal creature?  Well, ten years to a divine is probably about 10 seconds to a mortal.  The comparison really cannot be made, but from a mortal point of view, it’s probably about the closest analogy we can understand.

Let’s walk through one to show why ten years sort of makes sense:  Evil High Priest Badguy has captured the princess and the rescue party was killed by his pets and followers.  The princess is 15 years old, and other than some typical teen year angst and drama, she’s been a really good girl her whole life.  She attended church services regularly, prayed daily to her goddess, and obeyed her religion’s moral code.  Assuming that the EHP Badguy sacrifices her to his evil alligator god, her immortal soul would be condemned to live in his swampy hell for eternity.  Right?

That’s not fair!  It’s not fair to the princess and, probably more importantly, it’s not fair to her goddess who was expecting to reap a lot more from this girl, both in life and the afterlife.  But the gator god deserves something, right?  I mean, his EHP did offer him the sacrifice.  So the gator god gets her for ten years.  Ten years to hang her over a gator pit or mostly submerged in swamp water or in some other way milk her for all the fear they can pull out of her.

But after those ten years (not an exact science) are up, she has an eternal reward that is waiting for her.  At least in Fletnern, that is what passes as “fair” amongst the gods.  Now, about those ten years:  If no one comes to collect the princess after ten years, maybe because she was so ordinary and plain and did nothing to endear her to her own divine, then the gator god holds on to her.  This is most commonly the end result of sacrificial animals.  There isn’t a god of all doves who keeps track of every dove sacrificed at every ritual and exactly ten years to the day after they are sacrificed, he drags his happy dove god butt over to hell to bring his follower(s) home.  It’s not worth it to him.

So in this example, most sacrificed animals will remain with the god they were sacrificed to for eternity.  What does he do with them?  Well, most likely, he feeds his “troops”, whatever they are.  You know those stories of the chariot goats getting eaten every night but being reborn every morning to pull the chariot again?  Yeah - like that.  There might be other things to do, but while a dove can get very afraid, it’s not like a divine creature is going to get much sustenance out of it.

Lots more to come on this topic!

For more on how we think gods should work in FRPGs, check out Gods and Demons by click the link here.  We not only give 200 divines you can use or modify for your games, but we also go on at length about how their powers can work, and lots more about the adoration and fear topic.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Pilgrimage Security

We’re preparing for the next edition of Small Bites Following the Path of Saint Khasmir Chouwaska aka All About Pilgrimages & Cartography.  Or Maybe it’s called Pilgrims to the Queen of the Gods.  We’re still deciding and wouldn’t mind some feedback.  Yeah, these titles are always a mouthful!  Anyway, we’re trying to figure out how security works for private businesses running pilgrimage services.

These pilgrimages are traveling on frequently used roads through civilized regions.  To imply that there are bandits all over the place would be to assume that the local lords are weak and do not employ ample guards, sheriffs, or deputies.  This is not the way that we see this region.

So what level of security is there?  Well, first off, the pilgrims rarely bring their own guards along.  Typically, they don’t because it is too crowded in the carriages to bring a couple of guys in armor.  But clearly it is also expensive.

Along the route of the Path of St. Khasmir, there are several religious orders.  The two most important are the Riders of the Long Trail and Guardians of the Sacred Flame.  The Riders are an order dedicated to the gods Ixaricks (god of travelers) and Manoto (god of war).  Typical followers of the Long Trail religion are those who make their livings being away from home for long periods of time, especially those who work the caravans or even soldiers.  The Riders are a religious order that spends all of its time on the roads, working to keep them safe from bandits and other threats.

The Riders of the Long Trail are a “beggar order”, meaning that they don’t charge for services, but instead ask for alms.  They are typically supported by the local lords, the local religions, any pilgrimage service providers, and by the pilgrims themselves.  If a Rider were to come upon a pilgrimage, he would approach and ask them for alms.  While those unfamiliar with pilgrimages may not recognize the order, their guides would strongly encourage the pilgrims to make some manner of donation to the Rider as he is seen as keeping them all safe.

The Riders typically patrol in pairs, but if their priory is poor (and the one along this pilgrimage is) they will travel singly.  Each of the Riders is a skilled, but not exceptional soldier.  As the name implies, they are all horsemen.  They will be trained in both missile weapons and in melee weapons, but there isn’t a true “standard” which they follow.  Many of the Riders were soldiers or police before joining the order.

The Guardians of the Sacred Flame on the other hand are far more formal and far better funded.  They are based in Parnania and their chief duty is to protect the eternal flames kept in the cathedrals of Laenta’s Lady of the Hearth religion.  The “Hearthers” as they are called are a different religion of Laenta, extremely popular in the more rural Velesan regions.

The Hearthers have their own pilgrimages, but since they are a smaller religion, they have not been built up in the same fashion that the Lady of the Wise Mother pilgrimages have.  Still, Heathers will come to the city to light their lamps or other devices from one of the eternal flames and then carry that flame home to keep for their families.  As such, the Guardians will often take some time away from the city and travel the countryside, shepherding pilgrims and keeping the roads safe.

The Guardians are holy warriors (aka paladins) with exceptional training and typically exceptional gear.  Their religion is large (still nowhere near what Lady of the Wise Mother is) and can afford to outfit and maintain a private security force.  Despite being of a rival religion, Guardians (and Riders too) will protect anyone traveling the roads in an appropriate fashion.  By this, they will not help slavers who get attacked, but would immediately come to the defense of anyone clearly belonging to any of the Dinsthain religions - which is pretty much everyone in this area.

Between these two holy orders and the local lords simply trying to maintain the peace, pilgrims should be safe traveling through the Central Plains, especially within the borders of the city-state of Parnania.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

All About Courtiers and Wealth

For all the patrons of our Small Bites Patreon project - The Palace of the Prince Governor of Brinston aka All About Courtiers and Wealth should be in your mail box this morning. If it is not, please contact Board Enterprises directly.

If you are not yet a part of the project, click this link to learn more.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

In Defense of Grain Into Gold

It was a dozen years ago that we published Grain Into Gold, and it has been heavily discussed ever since.  Some of the criticism is valid, but certainly not all of it.  While we still believe the system works, and we use it in both the play-testing campaigns and our products, we didn’t always explain every little thing and why we did it that way.  So let’s hit a couple of points.

We had a critic argue both that we didn’t value silver in a historic fashion and that we shouldn’t disbelieve the gold: silver: copper 1:10:100 ratios.  OK, you don’t get to have it both ways!  We’ve gone through the whole thing in The Gold-Silver-Copper Conundrum so you can look there, but historically, this easy 1-10-100 ratio doesn’t make any sense.  Not only is it wrong, but the value of each of these commodities changes all the time.  BUT!!  This is a game and not a master’s thesis on commodity economics.  The only way to game master a world and not make it incredibly difficult (and probably boring) is to take some economic short cuts.  The easiest one is that gold is ten times more valuable than silver which is ten times more valuable than copper, and this stay the same.

Now on Earth, estimates are that 25 times as much silver has been mined than gold.  So if they are both generally the same difficulty to mine and smelt / refine, then gold based on its rarity should be worth 25 times what silver is, not x10.  So if we are going to say 1:10:100, then we have to say that these fantasy worlds have a different ratio of metal rarities than Earth.  So if the game World of Fletnern has a different ratio than Earth does, then at the same time criticism of wheat or bread costing too many grams of silver doesn’t work.  Roman comparisons don’t work.

But, that doesn’t mean that we can just pretend that everything works as it does because we say it does.  And that is the whole goal of Grain Into Gold!  We wanted to produce a fantasy economy that worked together.  Now if the number of grams of silver required to buy a loaf of bread doesn’t equal Greek or Roman times, that’s OK, as long as the grams of silver required to buy a loaf of bread works in the system, as compared to apples, beer, and armor and swords.  But let’s be a bit careful here too.  Armor and swords are based on steel, so the cost of iron/steel to silver has to be established, though it doesn’t have to match Earth.

One of the most thorough critical reviews we received brought up the idea of coal being used for heating.  The critic said that such a use of coal indoors would expose these people to incredibly dangerous gases and other risks.  He’s right.  Burning coal indoors does expose one’s family to the risks of various dangerous, even poisonous, gases.  We accept that to be true and considered it when we wrote it.  Far too often, these types of things happened - people doing dangerously bad things just to stay warm.  As we continue to expand Lifestyles of the Magical and the Mundane in our Small Bites editions, there are some folks who use coal, while others use coke.  We’re hoping to have rules for surviving your lifestyle soon, and coal will absolutely shorten your life, while coke and charcoal should be safer.  Not safe, but safer.

Another factor in the Earth based comparisons is that many of the Earth based governments were practicing all sorts of communism and welfare.  If you want to know what the value of wheat or bread is in a society, you have to compare apples to apples.  You cannot compare a fully free market system to the welfare that went on in Rome.  If the government is giving bread and flour away, then the price that people are paying in the markets isn’t real.  It isn’t being determined by the populace, but only those people who are buying their bread.  Now, I could argue that this would both raise and lower the costs, based on your opinions of the black market and how it works or possibly abuses the economy.  Let’s just agree that welfare, communism and/or a “palace economy” change the way commodities get priced.

We’ve also freely admitted, that if you really want to figure out a balanced economy, then a copper coin doesn’t work, at least not with the balance we’ve shown.  A pound of apples from an apple farmer would cost about 0.8 copper coins.  So what does one apple cost if it weighs half a pound or less?  How do you split the copper coin into smaller pieces?  While this seems important when you are trying to figure out how a poor person lives, it just doesn’t become that important in the life of an adventurer.  Honestly, knowing this, we still went ahead with the book as it is.  Knowing that this was an issue, we thought focusing on the lives of FRPG adventurers was what was important.  So admitting the priority and the focus, hopefully you give us a bit of leeway.

Some folks have questioned various labor requirements and labor costs that go into certain crafts.  So are we right or are they?  Well, both (probably).  It is impossible to compare to “the Middle Ages”.  First off, assuming you are comparing your fantasy world to a time on Earth, which time(s) and which regions?  The Arabian regions were advancing mathematics and other sciences during the Dark Ages.  The Chinese had gunpowder far earlier.  The American Indians were basically stone aged during a period of European firearms.  What period is the right one for fantasy?

Where technology is is exactly the point of labor costs.  The labor costs of weaving depend on whether or not they have the flying shuttle.  Many other manufacturing processes depend on whether you’re using animal power, water power, or wind power.  Where is the technology?  Someone might criticize what we went with, because we gave some easily missed detail about the use (or un-use) of a water mill.  If they are using a different style of tech, the labor costs will come out completely differently.

Again, our focus was to try and make everything comparable.  If the various levels of tech make sense in the different environments, then we tried to use that to set the prices.  We haven’t yet completed (and may never finish) our supplement about the cost of trade goods, which is going to take into account the various different costs / prices in the various different regions.  Trying to set prices consistently across the world pushed us to use averages for everything, and we made a really big deal about averages always being wrong.

We do want to defend our book, and we still feel it works for how it is supposed to work.  You don’t have to agree with us.  There are folks out there doing all sorts of things with their fantasy economies.  There is even an “economy” that only uses the following currencies:  silver coin, gold coin, bag of gold coins, etc.  Compared to that, ours is horribly complicated.  You need to make your best decisions for what works for your world.  We think our economy works, and more importantly works consistently.  We also think our economy gets you passed a huge number of these hard thought out reasonings, or perhaps rationalizations.  As always, it is up to you to use what you want, and make it your own.