Friday, February 27, 2009

Things to consider for your Religion

What should go into the one page description of your religion?

Most RPG religions have deities that are powerful beings with cosmic concerns. I deliberately chose the term powerful beings. As most deities have limits on their reach and knowledge. Sure they can smash a PC, or kingdom like a bug but in a nutshell they are thought of people who have a lot on their mind. In many ways they are like a parent to the mortal races.

This conception of deities gives us a good starting point for describing them. Think of your deity as a person with cosmic concerns. They had a beginning, they have a history. All of this shapes the personality they have today. You don't need to go into great detail, a sketch is all you need to start with.

From the deity's motivation you can derive a set of teaching. Come up with a half dozen or so tenets.

Set the deity within the history and cultures of your campaign. This is another area where you can go overboard so try to limit yourself to a paragraph. What this helps with is to decide the scope of the religion. There are a lot of ways you can go but the main choices are cult, local, cultural, or universal.

A cult religion has a handful of followers and are mostly secretive. Cults are traditionally associated with evil gods. On the flip side nearly all religions start out as a cult at some point.

A local religion is tied to a specific place. Gods of city-states also fall into this category. For example a toad god that protect a large swamp and all those who live it. Because of the turmoil of the region he also become a protector god of refugees who traditional hid in the swamp as the invaders pass.

A cultural religion is found throughout a particular culture. Two variant to consider are cultural religions that are religions of state and it opposite a cultural religion that followed by a conquered or oppressed populace.

A universal religion is found throughout multiple cultures in multiple region. The key attribute is that they teach something that has universal appeal. For example Dannu's teachings of living in harmony with the earth, home and hearth is far more likely to be followed by many cultures than the Toad God's obession with a swamp.

Universal religions can rise by a variety of means. A varient where a culture become dominent over many regions and enough time passes where it becomes fused with the local cultures (like Rome). Another variant is continued contact with longer lived races like the elves. The continuity offered by the elves has a powerful effect on the surrounding human cultures resulting a shared core set of belief. In someways this parallels the effect of China on the surrounding regions.

This is not commonly done but I found that having some type of calender greatly add to the players sense of place. Now this does not mean I hand the player a calender of dates. But rather periodically a festival or a special day occurs. Dates to consider are Traditonal founding day, Important dates of the deity life, seasonal festivals.

Up to this point we have defined little that will have an impact on adventure prep. With the belief defined, a basic mythology, the background, and calender you should have enough information to setup what type of priest that follows the deity.

I find it useful not to think of the priesthood as a organization of the cleric class. But rather than a description of all those who make serving the deity their primary profession. So for the forest god he may have a order of cleric who job is to maintain sanctuaries, a order of fighter who protect the sanctuaries, and a order of rangers who patrol the woods between and carry messages between the sanctuaries.

The result should be one or more template you can use to flesh locales four your adventures. Think of the guidelines for orc tribes, and merchant caravan in 1st edition's Monster Manual.

Lay Followers
The body of the deity's believer is more than the priesthood. So having a paragraph describing what typical adherents are like will help in prepare adventures. Perhaps they live under some strict code, are they open to talking with outsiders, do they try to convert, and so on. The end result is another template you can apply to help you when you need to create a village of followers of Mitra vs a village of followers of Set.

Religious Structures
Put some thought in how temples and other important religous structures are laid out. There will be variation based on locale and regions but in general structures for religous purpose follow a pattern. Like the cross layout of many of the great cathedrals.

Finally if you have note any neat ideas you have for your religion that don't fit anywhere else. And if you need combat stats here is where they would go.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Religion not Deities

In the beginning of RPGS, dieties were viewed as really big monsters. The information given was nearly devoid of any information on how to actually use the deity in the campaign.

The reaction against this resulted in elaborate mythologies of near omnipotent gods. Yet largely devoid of information how to actually use this in a referee campaign. In the first case the wrong information was given and the in the second the information was on too high of a level.

It has gotten better over the years but still not enough is done. The 4th edition deity description are fairly good at giving the player the needed information for being a follower. But they lack information useful to the referee like typical temple layout, information on the how the priesthood are setup. Granted this is understandable as they are in the Player's Handbook and space is limited.

When detailing deities for your own campaign. I recommend more work be spent defining the religion not the diety. Along with what the followers believe, define how the temple are laid out, what are the important dates, and what type of hierarchy they have. All of this information is pertinent when creating adventures involving minions of that deity.

Don't get me wrong, some minimal mythology is needed as it is often the foundation for their beliefs and movitation. A good guide I found is to limit myself at the beginning to about a page worth of information (using a 10 point font).

For example when I worked with Necromancer Games this is my entry for Thor.

Thor, Battle God of Lightning and Storms, is Neutral Good. Thor is a major god in the court of Odin and in the hearts of many more popular than the All-Seer. He is known for his many heroic deeds in saving his worshippers from the depredations of monsters and giants. He eagerly rewards any follower who is willing to undertake similar quests. His domains are Air, Good, Strength, and War. His favored weapon is the Hammer. He is revered by the Skandians has shrines and temple scattered throughout the Wilderlands. Many of his clerics use the Temples of Odin as a base in their quests against the monsters of the Wilderlands.

I was limited in space so I didn't get into the details of the temple and the hierarchy. My goal was present, in as a few words as possible, a deity who was the patron of monster hunters. That they were so focused on the task that in many places they didn't have the time to build temples of their own and thus worked out of the local temple of Odin. That he was a popular among the ordinary folks which means PC who follow him have a leg up in trying for a good reaction among the peasants and townsfolk. I left out any combat stat information and only inserted the bare minimum of high level information.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A different type of accessory

My wife, Kelly Anne, is a enormously creative woman. She can draw, paint, do a bit of sculpture and above all she can garden. Not only she possesses a green thumb but pours enormous creativity into the garden that surrounds our house. What once was a typical green expanse of lawn is now filled with a riot of color and sweet scents. Despite the purchase of a small greenhouse several years back; the winter months in northwest PA offer few opportunities for working with plants.

Recently Kelly Anne has decided to turn her creative mind to creating hairsticks. Not the usual ones that you can buy in any store but handcrafted with beautiful and interesting toppers. Now what makes this of interest to you is that in addition to more traditional arrangements she has a selection of hairsticks with a gaming theme.

Her store can be found here. I hope you find something that interests you or your significant other.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Now for some GURPS News

The annual Report to the Stakeholder is up on SJ Game website. You can see it here.

This is always a tremendous thing that they do for their customers and one of the reasons they are a quality company. Although I grumble that I wish GURPS was more popular, and that they get a darn monster manual out. But hey there are rumors that one of my favorite 3e books, GURPS Low Tech, is one of the hardbacks this year. Plus e23 keeps cranking good stuff including my beloved GURPS Mass Combat along with the Dungeon Fantasy Series.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Other Knobs to play with

Here James Maliszewski talks about his Dwimmermount campaign. This paragraph caught my attention.

The session went well enough, but I have to admit that I think I need to mix things up a little next time. The initial thrill of a good ol' fashioned dungeon is starting to recede and what we're left with falls a bit flat at times. Granted, I have plenty to work with already: relics of a Thulian cult to Turms Termax, the presence of Tsathoggua-worshipping Ranine, and some peculiar artifacts that may point to deeper mysteries of Dwimmermount. So far, though, I haven't really given the players much opportunity to dwell on these things nor have I pushed them to investigate them. Part of it is that I'm still quite reluctant to take an active role in shaping the campaign's focus and/or direction; I'd prefer to be more reactive. However, I think I may be a little too passive at this stage. Likewise, I think I need to present more opportunities outside the dungeon. I want to keep Dwimmermount as the center of the campaign, but to be a proper center, there need to be things revolving around it and I haven't really set much in motion in the wider world just yet. Since the PCs will be in Adamas for time next session, I intend to use it as an opportunity to do just this.
Mike Mearls replies in the comment

Finding the right carrot to keep "modern" (for lack of a better term) Finding the right carrot to keep "modern" (for lack of a better term) gamers interested in a dungeon is tricky. IME, gamers are used to having external reasons to go into the dungeon, rather than creating their own motivations.

I think this is a symptom of how games have shifted over the past 30 years. When D&D first arose, the idea of an interactive, reactive game was so new and exciting that simply experiencing the game was enough to hook people.

Today, with consoles and computer games and MMOs, people are used to the idea of messing around in a fantasy environment. They go through that initiation phase (Cool! I can explore a fantasy world!) much earlier, and now want other knobs to play with.
In previous Dwimmermounts post James states he wants his players to be the prime drivers of the campaign and keep the heavy hand of plot as light as possible. I have developed a few techniques over the years to help this particular problem.

The DM is the only source of information on the campaign world. If not enough information is given then the players don't have anything to base their decisions on. This can be frustrating. Opposed to this is too much information which I call the dreaded info dump. The GM just droning on with reams of information about the setting. You want just enough to promote immersion so that the player feel comfortable with the setting and where his character fits in.

I do several things to avoid the info dump. I keep the initial handout to two pages of which about half is local information. Of the two the local information is the most important. You are going to weave a web around the character so that he embedded in a specific time and place with a past and sense of a future. Because the character is going to be an adventurer instead of marrying his lady love and having a dozen kids, the interconnection should be interesting and have the potential for future adventures. Some of these interconnections should done in conjunction with your player in a pre-game. While other you make for future surprises. If some area or dungeon, like Dwimmermount, is the centerpiece of a particular campaign then some of the interconnections should be setup so that it draw the players to that locale.

If you already have an existing campaign you can start using this yourself. The next time the players are back in the town make up a roster of inhabitants. With the character's personalities in mind group them so that one or more of the groups appeal to the individual characters. Then when you have your session introduce them. One surefire way of getting to look positively at these NPCs is too treat them like heroes.

For example Alaris the Rogue is invited to the Dagger's Inn where she's treated to a private feast by Boss Noggar in honor of freeing the Gem of Varasin from the 2nd level of Dwimmermount. During the feast Alaris meets Palis Geravis a lower rank thief that who is also a fan. She immediately takes a mutual dislike of Yagu the Noseless who feel that as a non guild member she should be made an example of. At the conclusion of the feast Boss Noggar offers her full membership, in addition he pull out an old map and wishes to discuss something else that can be found in the Dwimmermount. All the while Yagu is looking on with greedy eyes.

You can get as complex as you like with this. Once the players get immersed with their NPC social circle then you just handed them a bunch of knobs to twist.

An additional way of getting the players immersed is remember that your setting can be a living breathing world.

The Harn/Wilderlands route of infinite detail is one way provided it is not dumped on the players all at once. They to tend view the campaign as more fair as they feel that they can more easily discover things that will remain so. I will be honest, the work involved in getting to this point is tremendous and it is not practical for every DM.

But there are other way to give your setting that lived in feel. One technique is before a campaign I make up a list of events. These events are not like a Dragonlance style railroad plot. Rather these events represent what going to happen if the players were not involved. To add the lived in feel add more events that are not part of any plot or ideas you have.

For example in midsummer, the annual Crimson Merchant Adventurer's cattle drive runs into a problem and now the herd is scattered all over the North Way and points surrounding. This event has nothing to do with the fact that evil twin overlords are gathering all evil to attack the civilized lands.

Star Trek the Next Generation was noted for having as part of their formula the A Story of the episode, a B Story, and sometimes a C Story. The same way with these list of events, you have A list, a B, C, and D list, and then a bunch of random stuff. They don't have to very detailed either, no more than a paragraph for each entry is needed.

I can't stress this part enough, after you have your list of events it not a storymap. It what would happen if the players were not involved. That means when they do get involved your list is going to change. Not everything, but you will have alter it in response to what the players do. Now the good news is that in any long term campaign you are going to get fairly good at predicting what the player will do. This way you can prepare before hand. But there will be surprises.

Now James's Dwimmermount doesn't have a lot detailed for it and that was a deliberate decision. These things can still help for that situation. The key to remember is that he is using a megadungeon as his centerpiece.

Megadungeons can be thought as a lot of levels stacked every which way. But I recently played the Mines of Moria expansion for Lord of the Ring Online a MMORPG. It's version of Moria is very well done and drove in one important point. That megadungeons are their own setting. Any tool that you can use for a setting you can use for a megadungeon.

So my suggestions for megadungeons like the Dwimmermount is to treat them like their own little realm. Make sure that not only there are interesting rooms but interesting groups of room. But more importantly don't make it static. Make up a list of events that are going to happen if the players are not involved.

For example Maybe in three months the Kobold Chief that on the first level will die causing a civil war to erupt. You can plant clues that this event is going to happen and when the players uncover them they now have something interesting to decide about. Multiply this by all the other groups and bits that are part of a typical megadungeons and suddenly you have an interesting place with all sorts of knobs to turn.

If you think of stuff that connects back with the upper world setting and the main towns then you have something that can pull the character from the town into the dungeon, out again, and then back again.

For example Alaris agrees to the deal with the Boss and takes the map. When the party gets the treasure Alaris is ambushed by Yagu, the party kills Yagu and his evil band and return to the town and upholds the deal with the Boss. But the remains of the goblin tribe that guarded the treasure has vowed revenge and sent their best assassins to kill the party in the town. In the ensuing crossfire Palis Geravis is killed while saving Alaris. Alaris vows revenge on the remaining goblins and want to return to the dungeon. Meanwhile Yagu's lover Serais has made a vow of her own and begins to gather her own party. Unbeknowest to anybody the surviving goblins have allied with the losing faction of the Kobold war staking out a home in an area of the dungeons the party thought was cleared out.

And it can go on and on like this with lots of knobs for the players and GM to play with.