Monday, January 31, 2011

Checking your ego in at the (editor's) door.

My friend Tim at Gothridge Manor has written a series of good posts on his editing philosophy. (Part I, Part II) His aide has been invaluable to me getting Thieves of Badabaskor, The Wild North, both Points of Lights, and parts of the Majestic Wilderlands (It was my screw up that it didn't get well-edited before it's release).

It is hard an author to surrender his work to an editor. Because a good editor will do more than just correct grammar but work with you to produce a tighter, more concise, and ultimately a better written work. What hard for an author to deal with is the change of dozens of bits of text. Many have issues even changing a few words here and there.

As an author the thing to keep in mind is the overall purpose of what you are written about. To use the example that Tim picked, Points of Light it was to present four campaign settings, each with a distinct theme. Tim challenged me at various points in my writing as to whether what I had written was extraneous wordage or truly important. Like the example of the Night Hag, he also pointed out stuff I missed and recommended that I include more.

The point of writing a game supplement isn't to hear yourself speak but rather teach another gamer what you are trying to do. Whether it is a series of interesting classes, an adventure, a setting, or terrifying new monsters nobody knows what in your head unless you write it down. Also nobody will read it unless it is well-written, clear and concise.

A good editor will help with that and Tim certainly did with my material. But you need to let go of your ego to make the relationship work.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

And Frodo is taken into the tower.

For the past year I been reading the entire Lord of the Rings series to my eldest son, Jamie. Last night he and I finished up the Two Towers as Sam watched his master, Frodo, being taking into the orc tower that watches the upper passes of Cirith Ungol. Now it off into the Return of the King starting with what happens to Gandalf and Pippin at Minas Tirith

Friday, January 28, 2011

Creation thru Play Applied

James over on Grognardia has a interesting post on campaigns created through play vs those that are designed. Like him I noticed in the original boxed set of Forgotten Realms two areas seem to get far greater detail than the rest of the setting.

I have the same experience with the Majestic Wilderlands. The graphics on the left show all the different areas that I used or planning to use in campaigns.

The red areas show broadly my Main Campaign Areas. The largest runs between City-State and Viridistan and is the setting probably 80% of the campaigns I ran including my current two games.

To show how far a typical campaign runs I outlined my group with Dwayne, Tim, and the Rusty Battle Axes in Green. And Jerry and the Gold Star Anime crew in Purple.

The thinner red areas show regions that were used for one series of adventures only. The light blue areas are possible future campaign areas that I written some detail on. The one is the lower right corner is Ghinor which I designed with a combination of the Medieval Crusades and Italian City-States of the last Middle Ages.

The long area to the left is a campaign where the players are refugee fleeing the downfall of the Kingdom of Antil. They are huddled in camps along the thin sea to the top of the outlined area. Their mission is to sail to the south toward the bottom of the long area to find a new land for the refugees to settle and then return. There is a deadline as the conquerer of Antil will eventually reach the camps within a year or two and the hopes of freedom will be extinguished.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Law & Order for your Fantasy Games

For a realistic but RPG friendly treatment there is Harn Law at RPGNow

The original treatment of the subject is on pages 8 to 10 of Judges Guild Ready Ref book.

Everything from Draw & Quartered, Flayed, Whipped to the favorite; Case Dismissed.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

It's Harn Day!

I got the latest installment of Harn Subscription the first part of the long awaited Kingdom of Rethem, 2nd Edition.

Over the past decade, Columbia Games and the Harn Team have been updating the various kingdom articles, making them far more useful than the original. Mainly by including description of the various personalities involved in the ruling of the kingdom and it's society. So far they have done Evael, Kanday, Kaldor, and now Rethem.

This focus also make these kingdom articles useful for non-harnic campaign by detailing an interesting cast of NPCs and their relationship. The older kingdoms were very much encyclopedic in their content which limited their use as a harn supplement. The first half of Rethem doesn't disappoint in this regard. In it we learn that Rethem's queen has Elisabeth Bathory in her. She is dealing with the priests of the Morgath the god of the undead. Whose religion is not outlawed in Rethm. We learn who is backing Chafin III the King of Rethem. It is a pleasant surprise that his origins as the king of the "evil" kingdom of Harn is one familiar to most fantasy roleplayers who wind up as rulers. He was an adventurer and when his predcessor, Chafin II, died he and his fellow adventurers eliminated his cousins and gained the throne.

A typical Harn installment is 40 to 50 pages of material and because Rethem is 80 pages long they broke it up in two parts. The first half is the general overview, history, and details on who who in the government. Because Rethem is on the verge of civil war there is considerable detail on the military line-up of Rethem. Normally this is nothing special but the authors go into detail about the various mercenary companies which something not normally covered. I got some ideas for my own Majestic Wilderlands from reading this section.

One thing about using Harn is that the population is low and the scale of the military is definitely one where adventurers can make a difference. Large forces are numbered in the hundreds not thousands.

This installment came with a binder for Rethem which is an orange cover compared to the purple of Kaldor and the green of Kanday. I am looking forward to the second half which also have two regional maps. Along with material on the various settlements of Harn including details on the lords and notable inhabitants.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Want a custom miniature or dice?

One of the enduring images from Star Trek is the use of Food Synthesizers and Replicators.

In the past decade the use of 3D printers and other additive manufacturing technologies has grown by leaps and bounds. They work by taking a special 3D model building a real object layer by layer by depositing plastic, metal, and other materials. There is a final step where you have to trim off any support structure as well as polish or smooth.

These printers are expensive although there are some hobbyists models out there. But now thanks to Shapeways the technology takes a closer step to be usable by the rest of us.

From what I understand is that you upload a model created with their software or specs. Select the material and they give you a quote. If they approve then you will have the object in a couple of weeks. Obviously some skill is required in creating the models but still it a great advance in access to this technology.

There appears two applications of this. Custom Dice, and custom miniatures. Both are expensive but not out of reach for a one time purchase.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Roleplaying Warrior Societies

My view is that in a "warrior society" there is a premium placed on physical prowess at whatever skills the society values, (archery, horsemanship, etc). If you actually lived there your impression will be much like witnessing a whole town of football fanatics (American or soccer). There will be a hierarchy of physical skill and experience with most at the level that would be considered "backyard" football. Along with nearly everybody having the same childhood experience of training. (A society where 80% of the males joins youth football). The average skill level of the population will be shifted higher because of the emphasis on warrior training and ethos.

For most warrior societies it will seem more violent due to different safety standards. I.e. the backyard football is always full contact and never just "touch" football. True intent to maim (or kill) will be frowned on and the grounds for legal action or feuds.*

However the best of civilization is likely to beat the best of a "warrior" society" due civilization's ability to preserve and pass on knowledge. A warrior society acquiring civilization rapidly transitions because the relative abundance allow the mediocre warrior to flourish at other occupations.

With that being said, a civilized warrior society is usually the result of a conquering population oppressing a slave population like the Assyrians and the Spartans and usually is transitory compared to surrounding cultures.

I don't have any hard data to support this other than general knowledge of how skill differences work in a human population and a few historical accounts.

*One of the reasons I have such a generous negative hit points rule in my D&D campaigns is to allow PCs and NPCs to bash the shit out of each other and the result be unconsciousness rather than automatic death. My rule is -3 at first level growing by -3 per level until you reach your constitution. A character with a 15 constitution will die at -15 hit points at 5th level and that where it stops.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Magical Demographics and stuff

Beedo asked a good question about magical demographics in a comment to yesterday's post.

Before the internet I just pegged it at a 1000 to 1. So a city of 40,000 would have roughly 40 leveled Magic-users, and 40 Leveled Clerics.

As it turned about I wasn't far off the mark according to S John Ross Medieval demographics and other sources. There there are 1 clergy (people directly employed by the church) per 40 population and 1 Priest (i.e. D&D cleric) per 25 to 30 clergy. 40 * 25 means for every 1000 people there is a cleric.

My thinking on the ratio between Magic-users and cleric evolved from AD&D days to where I think for every 4 religious there will be 1 magic practitioner. This breaks down to

1 non-spellcasting clergy per 40 population
1 leveled cleric per 1000 population
1 non-spellcasting magic practitioner per 160 population.
1 leveled magic-users per 4000 population.

What is category three? Non-spellcasting magic practitioner? This this is the alchemist, store keep, monster hunter, component gatherer, etc, etc. They generally support the magic community.

For the Majestic Wilderlands I felt that the magic user ratio didn't produce enough magic-users. So I dropped it back to 1000 to 1 and put the cleric at 400 to 1 to keep them more common than magic-users.

Sean asked about the difference in play between AD&D style magic-users and GURPS Mages.

The main difference is that GURPS Mages are good at small scale spells. In terms of personal convenience and killing individuals; GURPS mage are far more powerful and versatile than AD&D magic-users.

AD&D magic-users are far more useful on the battlefield or dealing with large numbers of creatures. Many of the spells were developed during with D&D was a miniature wargame supplement and useful for in battle. Many spells developed afterwards continued to have large scale effects.

The patterns of rest and recovery are different for each. A AD&D magic-users has a lot more "stamina" over the short run but then comes a big down time of rememorizing from the spell books.

The GURPS Mage has short periods of intense activity followed by a short rest (less than an hour). In an all out fight a typical GURPS Mage will expend 10 to 15 fatigue some of it coming from powerstones (they store fatigue for spell casting). This results a half dozen spells cast in combat. Given the one second combat round and limited number you can cast due to fatigue it is important that you pick the spells for the situation. This compounded by the fact most of the spell work mainly on the small scale. Likely GURPS Mages can have a LOT of spells at their disposal making them very versatile.

In contrast the AD&D magic-users casting a spell is usually a battle-winner. A sleep or a correctly placed fireball can destroy the opposition.

For recovery have the Recover Energy spell which allows the restoration of 1 fatigue point per 5 minutes. Given the average mage has 10 to 12 fatigue this means they are full up in an hour. However Powerstones take much longer to recharge and are used sparely.

Magic, Religion and Society

The emulation of reality is a goal of many gamers both referees and players. It rages a lot for combat rules causing many to seek more "realistic" or interesting system. There is no real right or wrong answer. It is largely a matter of taste at how tactically detailed you like your combat or rules in general.

Magic also sometimes inspires these type of debates and it particular nonsensical there as you can make just about any damn thing. Call Chi, Psionics, the Force, Mana, whatever. Just make it a good design at the level of complexity you want.

Over the years criticism has been leveled at the D&D Vancian style of magic. Most alternative go as far away from memorization as possible and adopt some type of skill based magic system where limits on casting is how fatiguing it is or how much power it drains.

The D&D vancian magic system has a singular virtue compared to most of the alternative in GURPS, Rolemaster, Runequest, Harnmaster, D&D 4e, and so on. That is make sense that a faux medieval society would exist alongside a Vancian system of Magic.

For example, how do you deal with a GURPS Mage? By the raw rules, either you fight fire with fire and get another (hopefully friendly) mage or person that just happened to have a lot of magic resistance. Or get a bunch of mage willing to make you magic resistant items. And all of this leads to one thing. Killing the guy. If he has enough skill even ripping out his tongue, blinding him, or cutting off his hands won't be enough. Why? Because GURPS spells are learned skills that short of destroying the mage or his mind can't be stripped away from him.

The only real check in the raw GURPS rules is the fact that it takes a lot of points to be a mage and in GURPS skill points are a rough measure of how difficult it is learn. If society strips away the ability of the mage to spend the time training or teaching apprentices the problem could be managed.

In contrast all you need to do to a D&D magic-user is yank their spellbook. Sure they may have some memorized spells but without the spellbook they are all one shot effects. Plus unlike a GURPS Mage, it takes a high level wizard a lot of time to memorize the full spell tree. Especially in AD&D 1st. This makes the D&D magic-user far more apt to be a team player in society.

This is compounded by the cleric. They don't require spellbooks. Ordinarily this would be a dangerous thing but they only get this because they are pursuing somebody else's agenda. In lands that are dominated by less scrupulous gods the clerics are a force to be feared.

I baked the idea of clerics being dominant magic using class early on into the Majestic Wilderlands. The magic-users didn't get refined much until we ran the all-mage camapign in GURPS in the early 1990s. What a campaign that was.

Despite all the power that clerics get few players opt to make one. I think mainly because to be a cleric (or a paladin for that matter) means that most of the time you are pursuing somebody else's agenda not your own.

One interesting thing I learned about this throughout my years of refereeing is the art of manipulation with clerics and paladins. I mentioned in earlier posts that I work with players to develop backgrounds for their characters give them the context to adventure in the Majestic Wilderlands. For cleric and paladins this means they choose which deity to serve and usually had initial goals in align with the deities' ethos.

A typical approach would be the "Mission from God" where the referee has the deity keep feeding plot hook to the player. This I found to be a bit heavy handed and should be used sparingly.

Instead I look at what interests the player develop for his character and alter the various opportunities that come up to reinforce the fact he is serving his deity. The best moments come after a series of events are finished and the player realize he has been doing is what his deity wanted all along. It takes a light touch but it is really fun when it pays off.

Along with this I make sure that the character has plenty of contacts with the ordinary (and not so ordinary) people of his religion. I find this causes the player to start looking for opportunities to further the cause of the religion of his character.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Plot vs Story again

Over on the RPG Site I got involved in a discussion of the difference between Roleplaying Games and Story Games.

The basic difference is not so much of mechanics but of focus. Story Games is about collaborative storytelling. Roleplaying Games are about being a character having adventures in a setting.

What confuses the issue is the fact that many techniques of writing are useful to both. This is especially true of plot.

Plot is not the same as story. Good plot is vital to a good campaign. But plot is just a plan. One that has to be continually altered in light of what you do as the player. The key to making a plot continue to be fun is not to take to most logical or probable consequence but pick the interesting one that is possible.

The problem is that referees need to be taught to write and manage good plot. There are tons of books on writing good story. And there are many surface similarities between writing a plot and a story so game designers easily confuse the two.

Where they differ is that the written story is the final product. While a plot is a tool used in a roleplaying game where you can't predict what the dice or players do. Because of that there is whole another aspect where you have to dynamically manage the plot in response to what happened. There isn't much you can read to help with that and starting with Vampire and White Wolf everybody has gotten sidetracked on writing story when they should been learning how to manage plot.

For example the players assemble in Rivendell to decide what to do with the One Ring. The referee has figured out this epic journey climaxing in the One Ring being thrown into the Cracks of Doom where it was made. In the course of the discussion the players create a plan using the ridable Giant Eagles that the wizard character just used to escape a rival mage. The players will fly into Mordor and over the volcano and drop the ring in. Thus totally spiking the referee's story for the epic journey. A referee well-versed in managing plot will go with that and will make some interesting challenges along the way.

No matter how you slice it you still have a shorter campaign than the original plan. So the referee thinks; the original idea would resulted in the armies of Sauron being destroyed along with the ring.

With the quicker plan the referee thinks of a new plot involving the leaderless armies of Sauron rampaging through Middle Earth, the fact that the rival mage is still a problem, and there will leiutenants of Sauron (like the Mouth) that will survive the destruction of the ring. So there will plenty of epic stuff to do. Along with the one player's goal to become king.

Part of what I am writing for my Fantasy Sandbox book will be on how to create and manage plot. For me much of this came about not only from playing RPGs for 30 years but running and managing NERO LARP events for over a decade. LARP is not theater although many theater techniques very useful. LARPS are not tabletop so I had learn a whole new set of techniques to run a good event. Which made me appreciate more what I had to do for tabletop and come to a better understanding of how to run a good tabletop campaign.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Old Hill Fort

I been trying to do more original adventures for my campaigns. While the overall setting and events are always my own work, I commonly use published modules and tweak them for specific locales. Given that players are free to choose to go wherever they want it is sometimes the only way I can keep up with prep.

With the minimal dungeon style I talked about earlier I been trying to do more original adventures. Like the Elf Lord's Temple the Old Hill Fort is written in a similar terse style. You can download it for your own use from here.

Note that it is a lot smaller than the Elf Lord's Temple and the map represents my first serious attempt at doing a harn style castle/keep 30 years ago. Each square is 5 feet and yes it is supposed to be that cramped which something you should try to use in establishing the atmosphere of the place.

For those who are interested this is a map of the surrounding area. The hill fort is marked with a red dot. The triangle represents a seasonal guard output used by the foresters in charge of patrolling the woods. Each small hex is 2.5 miles and equals 1 league or roughly 1 hour of walking on level terrain.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Name Level Part II


The initial part of the campaign involved the party searching a series of old Trehaen Circles. The Trehean are an ancient order of magic-users, druids, and scholars in the Majestic Wilderlands. While investigating the circles, they heard of a ruined hill fort but didn't stop to investigate it until much later. Later still they travelled north beyond the old imperial border of Viridistan. During that series of adventures they befriended a small clan of Tharian Horselords.

As Eoleander approached 9th level, he started focusing on the hill fort. First the party cleared it out, combating a group of Claws of Kalis, (an assassin cult). Then while in Gormmah they were able to talk to Draco-lindus, the Overlord of the Dragon Empire*, and secure recognition of Eoleander's claim. Finally Eoleander returned to the Tharian clan and recruited them into his service. For the details on this I turned to AD&D Dungeon Master's guide and rolled up what type of troops he recruited.

The Order of Thoth is inspired by the Ars Magica's Order of Hermes, and Harn's Shek-Pvar. I always found the idea of a mage's guild more interesting than the lonely wizard of the fantasy I grew up with. People interacting with people always makes for more interesting adventures in my book.

The party acquired a house in Viridistan around when they were 5th level just after their first series of adventures. After securing the hill fort and recruiting the Madmen, I had one of Syrivald's friends from his apprentice days show up and offer his services. Then a few sessions later half of the conclave where he was trained showed up seeking refugee*.

From this Syrivald is slowly building up a conclave of the Order of Thoth in Viridistan. Already the party is reaping the fruits of this. In an early adventure they encountered a strange old Trehean circle that consisted of a series of rooms linked only by teleportation portals (C2 Island of Castimar). They successfully moved the entrance portal to their house in Viridistan and were trying to research how to make more. The newly formed conclave accelerated this and now they have a portal linking the hill fort to the house in Viridistan.

Name Level and all that.
I hope this and the previous post gives you some ideas on how to work in name level followers as part of the natural flow of the campaign. The basic idea is to keep notes on various potential groups that could logically wind up as these followers. When the time comes not only the players get some followers but added spice in the form of a past association. Finally it will comes with that most important item, the opportunity for more adventures.

* - My own Majestic Wilderlands timeline is considerably advanced over the Majestic Wilderlands Supplement. The supplement is set in 4436 after the first handful of campaigns I rand. The date in my own campaign is 4454.

The situation is civil war in Viridistan rages on. This is analogous to the ebbs and flows of the Hundred Years war between France and England which was in part a civil war which various regions of France allying with either King.

In City-State the tensions I alluded to in the supplement have blown up. The Overlord, Lucius III, died two years ago in game time and his underage grandson was elected Overlord. (His son having been killed in a botched recuse operation by the PCs in a mid 90s campaign). A council of regents rules in the Overlord's name. Recently one of the regents died, and Duke Divolic (a former PC) was appointed as one of the regents. Duke Divolic is a Myrmidon of Set, this enrages Duke Draco-lindus, (another former PC), who is a champion of the goddess Mitra (Set's enemy).

Draco-lindus declares himself Overlord of the Dragon Empire (a predecessor empire before the Tharian Overlords) and now City-State in the midst of a civil war of it's own.

Most of this is just background noise in the course of the campaign, but it had two direct impacts. The first is when the party sought recognition of the ownership of the hill fort. The second and more personal is when Syrivald's conclave was forcibly disbanded.

In the campaign involving Draco-lindus, he was a captain of a mercenary company. At one point he was shipwrecked and was forced to go overland back to City-State the party's home base. Along with them were two Thothian mages. They got into a battle and when they were on the verge of losing the mages teleported leaving Draco-lindus high and dry. Ever since he has harbored a hatred of the Order of Thoth and doesn't tolerate their organized presence. Although he will let individual Thothian mages live if they are otherwise peaceful.

Syrivald's conclave was in the path of Draco's army and the mages were turned out and the conclave looted and burned. The consequences of this haven't played out yet and should be interesting as the city of Gormmah is now part of the Dragon Empire.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Name Level Part I

Top-level fighters (Lords and above) who build castles are considered "Barons", and as such they may invest in their holdings in order to increase their income.
-OD&D, Men & Magic Vol I
When Clerics reach the top level (Patriarch) they may opt to build their own stronghold, and when doing so receive help from "above".
-OD&D, Men & Magic Vol I
Charisma is a combination of appearance, personality, and so forth. Its primary function is to determine how many hirelings of unusual nature a character can attract.
-OD&D, Men & Magic Vol I

In one of my Swords & Wizardry campaign the characters have reached name level, i.e. 9th level. Ashling Anubis , a 9th level Montebank (Thief-MU), Eoleandar , a 9th level Fighter, and Syrivald, a 9th level Thothian Mage (Magic-user with extra abilities). My refereeing style has always put a premium on the players interacting with the Majestic Wilderlands and one of the rewards is gaining allies and followers.

With Swords & Wizardry, (a OD&D retro clone) this is baked into the rules with the idea that at name level and with high charisma you attract loyal followers. During the course of the campaign I kept notes on who could be these followers for each of the three.

Ashling's followers were first encountered in the very first session of the campaign last spring. And it was not a auspicious beginning. The party ran a foul of the Madmen. The Madmen are the local thieves guild of Gormmah (a port city to the east of Viridistan on the shores of the Trident Gulf). Anubis thought he had something valuable to sell to them and the head of the Madmen, the Warden, laughed in his face. When the situation became hostile, Ashling casted his lone spell, Sleep, and hot tailed out of there.

Several months later in game time and real time, the party finally makes it back to Gormmah. There Ashling decides that a little payback is in order. Armed with a lot more spells he makes it way back into the basilica which served as the Madmen headquarters. Roleplaying his way in along with a few sleep spells he was able to sneak into the Warden's bedroom. The Warden was sleeping with a woman and so Ashling woke him up with a surprise! He used polymorph others to turn the woman into a squid and used his magical trident (which commanded sea-creatures) to order her to attack the Warden. In the ensuing confrontation, the Warden paid the 150 silver that he owed Anubis and the polymorphed women asphyxiated and died from a lack of water.

Then a few levels higher the party found themselves back in Gormmah again. By this time they acquired a ruined hill fort in the wilderness north of Gormmah and decided they needed a presence in Gormmah in order to supply the settlement they were building there. Ashling paid another visit to the Madmen and found the Warden had gone insane becoming totally paranoid in the wake of the previous encounter.

Ashling had enough of this and attempted to take out the Warden with the intent of seizing control of the Madmen. At first the Warden and his flunkies were no match despite fortifying the basilica. But apparently the Warden's madness was not simple paranoia, he make a pact with the demon. When he went down, he transformed into a hideous demon! After an intense couple of rounds the party destroyed the demon.

In the aftermath, Ashling became the new Warden of the Madmen and won his name level followers.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Next day of gaming

If anybody within driving distance of Edinboro, PA. I will be running another session of Swords & Wizardry/Majestic Wilderlands at the Gold Star Anime on Saturday January 7th. Note that this session is a good time to show up as the party about to go and find out what the deal with the Night's Bride Coven. We start at 4pm and game to 10pm or 11pm. Subsquent sessions are held every month.

Don't worry if you don't have characters, it takes about 20 minutes to roll one up and I used Jeff Rient's advanced XP charts to start you off with. So you will be between 3rd and 6th level.