Saturday, March 17, 2018

Not complicated - Entwined

That’s how one of our Patreon patrons described the way we handle world building.  You know how sometimes you’ve been searching for that perfect word - yeah, we think he found it for us.

If you’re looking to find ways to get your game world “entwined”, come check out our “Build Your Fantasy World in Small Bites” project, or Small Bites for short.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Is Your Magic Balanced?

One of the most difficult “systems” to get to work in a FRPG is the balance between magic and melee.  If a mage can attack multiple people while doing more damage than a warrior can and to each of them, then it seems obvious that magic is over powered.  But magic can be restrained by allowing the warrior to attack every combat round, but the mage only has a certain number of “shots” in him.  So when does it balance?

Well, let’s look at a couple of examples.  In Legend Quest, the least powerful fireball can be cast by a mage who is not an absolute beginner, but isn’t some super experienced guy either.  That least fireball will do 2-15 points of damage to people who most commonly have 24-36 Life’s Blood.  While this doesn’t seem like a lot, LQ does have bleeding damage too, so once you’re below half, you’re in ever increasing some serious trouble.

Far more importantly, a spear in the hands of someone with a Strength Attribute of 4-6 (humans are 1-10, with 4 or 5 being average) will also do 2-15 points of damage.  So the mage does the same damage, but can hit multiple people with one spell.  So right now, the mage is definitely more powerful because it is the same damage to multiple people.

But the warrior can attack every turn until he exhausts himself.  Now in LQ the warrior (assuming a Strength of 6 and an Endurance of 6 - most warriors would have these or slightly better) would begin to exhaust himself after eight attacks.  The ninth attack would cause 3 points of Fatigue damage, and so would every other attack after it.  But he would probably have a Willpower of 4 or 5 (again, average), so assuming the lower 4 - he has 24 Fatigue points.  That means 8 turns before getting tired and then 8 more turns (3x8 = 24) of exhausting himself.  16 attacks seems to be quite a few.

The mage is going to take 2-15 points of Fatigue in casting the fireball.  Now he’s probably got a Willpower of 6 for 36 Fatigue points.  But with an average 8.5 Fatigue points, he’s only got four spells in him before he will pass out from exhaustion.  Four spells vs. 15 attacks (the 16th one would have driven the warrior unconscious, so we’ll call it 15 attack attempts).  The four hit multiple people.  The fireball is 20’ in diameter.  So is the mage hitting four people?  Depends on the circumstances, but that seems pretty reasonable.  So all in all, it sort of seems even.  Granted, the mage can get all of his guys beat up in four turns, and the warrior gives them a lot more opportunities to attack back, but in the end, it does still sort of feel pretty fair.

Now, not every game allows you to make easy comparisons.  A lot of games, especially those using character classes, have lots of stuff mixed into experience and advancement.  Having more points of damage you can take matters too, so if that is part of your advancement, then you have to understand the differences between glass cannons and tanks.  But!  We can make some comparisons by pitting them against each other.

As the level of experience increases, so do the factors of divergence.  In other words, comparing higher “level” characters gets really complicated because of the variations in characters as well as the way different groups might apply optional or variant rules.  Now I pretty much just play LQ now, so I sat down with players of the fifth edition of that other game to talk through how the characters shape up.

I remain skeptical because I saw the way that the more military classes progressed in this sort of straight line fashion and the mage classes progressed in what has normally been considered a geometric progression, so that by the time you got to the higher levels, the mages did everything and the warriors just tried to keep them from getting killed.

But we did some compares with ninth level characters, and it didn’t turn out that bad.  We found pretty much the same type of thing we just described - The mages did about the same damage as the fighter types, but did it faster, but were done with their spell casting while the fighters were still going.  Overall - not too far off each other.  I have to admit - I was pleasantly surprised that it was even close.

Now, let’s not be silly.  If a mage can “charm” an enemy and turn him against his friends (charm, dominate, possess, etc.) then that mage has shown a level of power that just might be over powered, but a lot of that comes down to role-playing situations or defenses, and not pure numbers.

So with both games seeming to be fairly balanced between magic and melee, there remains a point that really matters:  magic items.  The items given to the various styles of play can have an enormous impact on the game, no matter how balanced they might be when the rules were written.  Giving a PC a wand that removes his restriction of only so many spells per day changes the game.  Giving a warrior a sword that increases his damage to mage levels without restricting his number of attacks changes the game.

So what’s the right way to go?  Well, the problem is that game balance rests in the hands of the GM.  Tip the scales too far one way and you can ruin your game.  Tip them the other, and ruin the game.  We’ll give you advice, but it is really going to come down to experience.  You will (or already have) get to the place where you can sense the disturbance in the force.  You know what is going to happen if you give that character that item.  So don’t.  Or at least, after you do, learn from this mistake and don’t do it in the next campaign.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Are All Golems Golems?

In Legend Quest, golems can be formed in any shape the enchanter (and his stone carver) can imagine.  Golems made of stone are not remarkably different from golems made of iron.  The important part of this is that these are created creatures and mindless on their own.  This means we are ignoring the LQ earth golems and that other game’s forged people “race”, at least for now.

So our question really comes down to how do you control a mindless creature?  This same question can be asked of most skeletons and zombies.  Why do most people (we mean players) assume that a newly risen zombie knows how to hold its sword and swing it?  Why does the spell caster who just crafted a golem think it understands commands like “go kill that warrior and bring me his helmet”?

Now some of this depends on how your created creatures are formed.  In LQ it takes a while (a day or two) to put a zombie together.  It isn’t something you just pull out of the ground.  OK, it can be with the bag of bones spell.  And maybe the zombies are animated by a style of death magic that utilizes “forgotten memories” of the corpse in the spell, allowing it knowledge of how to swing that sword.  So that’s why we’ll focus just on magical constructs, like golems, for the rest of this.

Golems don’t have memories to utilize.  OK, so games have the flesh golems, but this isn’t necromancy and they shouldn’t be able to reach back into their memories in order to use old skills.  If they do, they are going to pull out a lot more of those memories and they are going to cause a lot more trouble than they would be worth!

What can we be sure of with any magically constructed creature?  Poison immunity.  No need for sleep.  Tireless.  Limited or no brain activity (we assume none).  Are these of benefit?  Of course they are!  What else?  Expensive!  How expensive?  Well, so expensive that few GMs will allow the party members to have them, and if they do, the golem has to be treated like a figure of glass.  If the golem cost you 10,000 whatevers, don’t use it as a meat shield.  There are living creatures almost as stupid who will act as meat shields for far less.

Without trying to dig deeply into any particular set of game rules - golems are great fun for GMs.  They can stand absolutely still, resembling statues or gargoyles until they spring to life and surprise the party.  In fact, they can stand still for centuries.  Long after the guy who built it is dead and gone, the golems will still be standing there protecting whatever they were supposed to.  This makes them perfect “ruins” monsters.

But that same trait can be used for living characters as well.  Do your adventurers always wait for the bad guys to be asleep before attacking?  Fine, put some golem guards to work.  They are always awake and never tire.  String bells on them and the second the golem gets into a fight, it will serve as its own alarm bell.  That way it won’t have to stop and hit the warning gong; the noise will just start.

We know - There is a strong faction of people out there who don’t care about anything that doesn’t do damage in an actual fight, but golems can be so much more than just stone fighters.  The tireless aspect allows them to work 24 hours a day (or 21 if you’re from Fletnern).  The poison resistance and no breathing thing can be used to allow them to walk underwater, through evil forests with poisonous plants, or ignore that poison spitting dragon you thought was so tough.

So when to use them outside of combat?  Think of them as engines that never need to eat, drink or rest.  Your fantasy house doesn’t have air conditioning?  Let the golem fan you all day long - or turn the axle that fans the whole house - or maybe bellows?  Not really sure how that works, but maybe.

But that can work too.  The golem pumps the bellows on the forge with one hand and swings the hammer with the other - boom - better than an apprentice who is always bitching about being tired and he swings harder than the veteran smith.  Or pulls as strong (or stronger) than the mule.  Or carries chests filled with treasure that the party never would have been able to budge.

There are often people who try to use magic to mimic modern day conveniences - like our fanning suggestion.  Golems aren’t just engines or vehicles, they’re the fantasy era robot.  How interesting are robots?  Well, judging from the amount of sci-fi stories about them, pretty darn interesting.  But we said they were mindless?  So what?  This is high fantasy, who’s to say that a demon, ghost or something cannot take over the golem?  That would be pretty cool - needing to exorcize the golem in order to regain control of it!

Please don’t get hung up on what’s different about golems between the different games.  Recognize these things for what they are - massively strong soldiers or laborers who never tire and will never run away in fear.  That is a cool thing!

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Centaurs, Minotaurs and Satyrs - Oh My!

At this point, if you are reading this blog and you are unaware of Small Bites, shame on you!  Small Bites (officially Build Your Fantasy World in Small Bites) is a massive project we’ve taken on to both flesh out the World of Fletnern and share it with the world.  But here, share it really means “take direction”.  What do you want to know more about?  What are you curious to see, or see our take on?  This really is intended to be a community project!

And we’ve just released the latest edition:  The Centaur Warlord of Lockney and Other Tales of the Beast Men aka All About Centaurs.  We think that’s our longest title yet, and most of them are pretty long!  So what’s this one about?  Well centaurs and the other beast men, silly.  We’ve laid out the six centaur cultures from the World of Fletnern, along with the way the satyrs and minotaurs live.  But we know not everyone is into the societies and world building pieces of this, so don’t worry!  There’s a lot of stuff in there about how to fight with and against centaurs, including how we think you can make them player character races as well.

Board Enterprises is an “old school” style of publisher.  You’re not going to get glossy pages and two-thirds of the page covered in art, but then again, you’re not going to pay $50 for a 15 pages of content in a 48 page book.  We’re all about the content!  Curious or just not trusting us?  You’re in luck, because the World Walker edition is FREE!!  Now you have to try it!  We dare you!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

It’s Not Every Day You see a Golem Horse (or is it?) - Part Two

OK, so we needed a Part 2 because Part 1 got off on a tangent that wasn’t supposed to happen.  Part 1 became all about game balance and magic items.  This was supposed to be about how magic is viewed by the “commoners”.

But it is important to know how common magic is in your world before you can figure out what people’s reaction to it is going to be.  Most low fantasy worlds employ witch hunters, mainly because rare things, like magic, are to be feared.

But what about in high fantasy worlds?  Do the farmers just watch golem horses march past their farms and think, gee, don’t see that every day?  Or do they gather their children and hide in the root cellar?  Well, if your world has the large amount of magic Fletnern has, it’s probably somewhere in-between.

All of this really does depend on the amount of magic you have in your world and whether it is seen as being evil, or dangerous, or just a normal part of life.  For me, the “commoners’ (I don’t know what else to call all of the regular people) recognize magic most often when they see it.  If they see certain types of magic, they probably react with a “Gee that’s interesting” kind of an attitude.  Things like healing magic or healing potions probably get this type of reaction.  Though a full resuscitation from the dead should get a stronger reaction.

But if the farmers are out in the fields and a fireball goes of whizzing by their heads, they do grab the children and head for the root cellars.  They know enough to afraid of battle magic, even if they aren’t terrified of healing magic or golems or even a necromantic skeleton.  This most likely comes from some level of familiarity with magic.  If they were completely ignorant of magic, they might not know to be afraid if some sort of colorful fog cloud killer came rolling over the fields towards them.  Those poisonous fog attack spells can be pretty devastating, but if they’ve never heard of this before, they might mistake a poisonous cloud for a normal cloud.  OK, they may still do this, but ...

So the point is really this:  You need to know how commonplace and unexceptional magic is in order to figure out how people will react to it.  This is yet another of the “you really need to do some of the world building” things.

But does it matter to the players what the commoners think?  It should.  There are magical items that show themselves clearly:  golem horses, flaming swords, lighted staves, armor etched with glowing sigils, etc.  What happens when the party comes to town looking for a room at the inn?  Does the innkeeper tell them all the rooms are full?  Does the sheriff show up to walk them to the other end of the town?  Are the witch hunters brought out to interrogate them?

The reaction to magic in general should be the reaction to the party, at least once they become successful.  In most places (low population density places) all strangers are suspect.  This goes triple for the ones carrying weapons and looking like they are ready to kill something (i.e. adventurers).

But the stories and myths matter too.  If there are stories of foolish adventurers opening old crypts and letting all the evil creatures out, then the people are going to be that much more concerned about strangers.  If every myth is about heroes gloriously conquering all evil, well, then maybe not so much.  Yeah, it’s almost always somewhere in the middle, isn’t it?

The commoners’ reaction to magic should also be a regional issue.  The plantation folks are going to be a lot less trustful of mages then the folks who’s town is centered around a magical university, or probably any university for that matter.  But those closer to universities and other centers of young, untrained folks making relatively big mistakes would be those who know the stories of what happens when things go wrong.  It is complicated and that’s OK!

One of the better ways to handle it is to make the reaction different for different people, even in the same town, but that puts a lot more stress on you as the GM.  Unquestionably, stereo-types are easier to GM than individual.

Still - presentation means a lot.  A hero who flies his white pegasi into town for lunch and tips well is not going to be feared as much as the dark and sinister looking wagon driver who has two skeletal oxen pulling his wagon.  It may be silly, but simply wearing a black hat or a white hat matters.

Small Bites Survey

Hey - We're planning out 2018's Small Bites editions and we always want your help.  Let us know which of the topics interest you most by heading out to this survey - click here.

In case you are not as familiar with Small Bites, it's our Patreon project that plans to dramatically increase the World of Fletnern as well as help give some great examples of how you can build your own game world:  world building, game mastering, campaigns, and on and on.

We are working towards a truly interactive community of world builders and role-players who can learn and share and come up with the coolest FRPG world there is!!  Come join us!

Monday, February 5, 2018

It’s Not Every Day You see a Golem Horse (or is it?) - Part One

So the question has been asked in this blog before:  How Much Magic Is There?  For a GM and world builder, I think that is probably the most vital question.  Seriously, that is THE question that must be asked when you are setting up your world.  Once you decide, you can tweak your answer, but you cannot change it too much, maybe with a huge global event, but not “just because”.

So what do you do?  For me, it has always been easy.  I play High Fantasy.  In fact, I even played a game called “High Fantasy”, which always confused me because they allowed for guns.  Anyway, in a high fantasy setting, there is a lot of magic.  Lots of magic comes with huge concerns for maintaining game balance.  Let the party acquire too many magical long swords and you could make them unstoppable.  Nowhere is this risk bigger than when you let your PCs purchase magical items.

In Fletnern, you can bring in nearly any item and have it enchanted.  This makes the game balance risk huge, because as the GM you get the party enchanting weapons, armor, rings, shoes, horseshoes (you want a flying horse, don’t you?), and so on beyond your ability to predict.  So how do you counter this?  OK, how you counter magic unbalancing your game is a topic for a 300 page book, but we’ll hit a few of the highlights here.

First, enchanters and alchemists need to be expensive!  By keeping magic costly and watching how much treasure you hand out, you can restrict what they are able to buy.

But second, and I think more importantly, actually make up the enchanters in the party’s home town.  If you say, “There is an enchanter in town and he will enchant anything you can afford to buy” you have already lost the campaign.  Maybe it’s easier in Legend Quest because enchanting is a defined form of magic, but if I recall correctly that other huge game required the enchanters to know a whole bunch of spells if they were going to try and craft anything.  The point is - don’t let them know every one of those other spells.

Let’s use LQ as an example:  The enchanter in this smaller city knows the following spells:  animated parry, hardened-steel, and flight.  He has three power levels (journeyman enchanter).  So what does that mean?  Well first off, it means that he cannot make your sword hit more often, in fact he’s pretty much focused on defensive magics.  Why would someone do that?  Well, mainly so his customers don’t kill him.  If some barbarian who hates mages orders a battle axe with vorpal sharpness, what are the chances that he cleaves the enchanter in order to avoid paying him or to recover his payment?  Too high for the enchanter.  This guy avoided that possibility by not knowing and therefore not offering vorpal sharpness as a service.

But what can he do?  Actually quite a lot.  By putting animated parry on both sword and shield, he can make the PC a lot harder to hit in battle.  With hardened-steel, he can allow mages to carry glass swords that will function just as well as steel ones but not interfere with their magic. (Steel and magic don’t mix in LQ.)  With flight, he can allow people to move faster and gain other advantage normally not allowed.  Or he could cast it on a spear and allow the spear to have ranges more like a bow.  These are not small things.

But he is also limited by the power level 3.  He’s not crafting the most powerful magical items in the world.  This allows the GM to put in a couple of juicy magical items (anything Power level 4 or better) into the adventures and still have the players get excited.

One of my better uses for this specific “details as restrictions” is the Ivory and the Amber Enchanters.  These two guys are active in the city of Rhum.  They are friends and rivals.  One always etches his protection amulets on ivory while the other always uses amber.  (Being formerly living things they both make enchanting easier.)  If you want fire wards, frost wards, or “shield spells” (defense-magical), you go to the Ivory Enchanter.  If you want defense-physical, defense-magical or charm wards, you go to the Amber Enchanter.  Other than protecting people from spells (defense-magical) they don’t even compete, and are happy enough to send clients to each other.  Because they are so limited in what they sell, they actually have protection amulets on hand and can sell them to a party ready to head out on an adventure right now.  No need to wait while he crafts the thing.

There is an underlying thought here that may not yet be obvious:  I allow magical items to be sold in every major city in Fletnern, BUT only the lesser items.  This gives adventurers something to save up for, but the truly game unbalancing things come only from me as the GM or seen another way, from looting the corpses of the big nasty evil guys at the end of the dungeons.