Sunday, August 23, 2009

Fortress of Eagles

The follow up to Fortress in the Eye of Time, the same cast and crew continue their adventurers. One of the main characters, Tristen, continues to be a useful tool in showing readers how the setting works. See, Tristen doesn't have a lot of knowledge being a 'shaping', a kind of returned soul from the dead so he's always asking seemingly innocent questions in a thirst for knowledge. Take this little gem.

"You pray to the gods. Do they hear you?"

"I pray to the gods, on holiday. On a battlefield. Truth be known, that's the way of most men." (p. 81 hardcover sci-fi edition).

Note this. In the Forgotten Realms and other fantasy campaigns, it's common for the gods to be pantheon based and the players would pray to each god that was in charge of the sphere that the player was seeking assistance in. Want to win a battle? Pray to Tempus. Want to survive a storm at sea? Pray to the bitch queen.

Knowing the gods of the world and their methodologies will allow the GM to showcase the different ways religion effects the different castes of the setting.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Fortress In The Eye of Time or How to Host A Party

"...There have been now ten attempts on my life, of which the south gate is witness save the last, where we lost good men in my stead, and yet Lord Heryn swears the district under his control - ah, what else of gossip have I forgot? Armed bandits in the countryside, of which there now are fewer. Perhaps you have had such difficulties, my lords. If so I earnestly pray you advise me." (p. 242 hardcover sci-fi version.)
It's easily possible for a group of players to meet numerous factions and gain from them information. One way to allow the players a wider degree of control in what they may seek out in terms of adventure, is to have a gathering of like minded friends and allies and have them speak of their recent adventurers, issues, and potential problems. This allows the Dungeon Master to throw out several plot lines and see which ones the players are interested in before working fingers to the bone on something that the players may have no interest in.
Players have characters that are generally not the standard citizen of a fantasy realm. They go out and risk live and limb for treasure if not for personal reasons. Have them meet wagon masters who gather together and speak of the trouble on the roads. Have them meet nobles from different corners who gather together to tell old tales and speak of problems yet unsolved. Have them gather together with rival adventuring bands and share tales of woe.
The larger the DM can make the setting ahead of time as the players travel through it, the more options possible when presenting adventurers from those different venues. The trick is to have something that brings all of these elements together and adventurers being far from the normal citizen, can be that. Mayors they've helped in small communities may call for a feast in their honor. Warrior Kings whose aid they're secured may call for a show of might, allowing the players to show off their abilities while gathering new information.
And don't forget, during any such meeting, the chance for adventure is always there. Do all of the assembled like the characters? Do unfriendly forces know of the assembly and have the means to attack it? Are there any poisoners in the crowd? Any assassins?
Don't limit the danger to the dungeon. Provide the characters opportunities to use the world as a springboard for further adventurers and this will give the world more depth and character then only allowing the players meeting time with NPC's during mission hirings.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Riot at Bucksnort and other Western Tales or Mistaken Identity

One of the things it can be fun to do in a role playing game is to play the mistaken identity game. In The Riot at Bucksnort and Other Western Tales by good old Robert E. Howard, the first story Mountain Main introduces us to Breckinridge, a huge man whose skin is imprevious to normal harm and whose size pits him in the role of one of Robert E. Howard's standard "old blood" style characters.
When Breckinridge goes into town, he's mistaken for a boxer and this leads to some interesting scenarios.
In another story, Guns of the Mountains, Breckinridge temporarily falls in with a bad crowd that lies to him, claiming to be the sheriff and his deputies.
In terms of mistaken identity, it can happen one of two ways. The NPC's in the setting think the character is someone he isn't, or the player's think that a particular NPC or group of NPC's are someone they're not.
This can come about in an innocent way or it can be done through deliberate machinations where the players are trying to deceive someone or someone is trying to deceive the players.
In terms of actually pulling it off, a lot of the mechanics will depend on the game system. For example, in 3rd edition, there are several skills that can be used right off the bat such as bluff. Of course there is always magic. In addition to those standards, depending on how big the scam is, the party trying to hide may draw other people into the scam. For example, what if the players come to a town that's supposed to be under threat of bandit raid and they're too late? The bandits are already here and have informed the town people that if they let the character's know, things won't go well for them.
The GM should think of how the 'scam' is going to be pulled off and for how long. Players should do the same.
While impersonation can be a difficult piece to pull off well, it can also be fun providing new venues to the game that might not have been open otherwise. After all, who hasn't seen some type of spoof where one character of a social circle has a twin out there of another social circle and the two decide to swap families?
But it doesn't always have to be about people pretending to be other people. In a game like Dungeons and Dragons, what if it's monsters pretending to be other monsters? For example, in the story, The Haunted Mountain, the mountain man goes into a cave to wrestle with a primative wearing a panther and using a club. In the dark though, he comes across something else but isn't aware of it until he gets back into the light and asks where the primative is. "Well, what was that thing I just run outa the cave?" I hollered. "That was a grizzly b'ar." said Glanton (p.88).
One favorite of that method is the dragon that's one color but is actual another. This is usually the albino red dragon that breaths fire. All of the players arm up against a white dragon that uses frost and get a nasty little surprise when the fight actually starts. Its best to go light with that touch though as its not something that will work more than a time or two.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Silver Wolf, Black Falcon

Before starting off on any quotes from Dennis L. McKiernan's book, Silver Wolf, Black Falcon, I'll take a moment to make a general observation.

Do not force the campaign setting down the throats of your players unless they are all intensely interested in the world you've set the story in. Do not be so in love with all of the characters, locations, and histories of the campaign world that instead of actually doing something, the characters spend all of their time learning new things about the campaign setting.

Now if the players are enjoying themselves and enjoy looking around, not a problem. Completely ignore that statement above.

Some of the things I found in Silver Wolf, Black Falcon to be most interesting, were unintended consequences. Much like the old artifacts from back in the day, something like the old Dragon Orbs, Mithgar (the setting of the book), also has an item, the Dragonstone, that can compel dragons to heel.

"Destroy!" shriekd the Kutsen Yong again, reeling back from Chale's red-eyed gaze...

"You unworthy fool, you did not tell me what to destroy, and so I destroyed that which I most hated as wel las that which I most loved." (p.441-443).

In some game systems, there are spells like Wish, or the divine equal, Miracle, that rely on the caster using a carefully worded desire in order to gain something. In other instances, such as with magic items that allow you to control someone or something else, by not being careful and noting what exactly you want the subject to do, the consequences can be tragic.

Further on, in the afterwords, it notes, "...all Dragons were compelled to comply, Fire-drakes and Cold-drakes alove, but at that time the Ban was in effect, and all Cold-drakes suffered the is said that in remote fastness Ban-slain Drakes still lie, their treasures waiting to be found." (p.466)

In essence, a throw away line from the back of the book but a great campaign start up or idea. Something happens to a series of powerful creatures that empties the threat, or at least the original threat, from the monster lair and allows it to be open. But in inhospitable climes with danger just getting to said treasure, who would dare seek it out? Players of course.

In a setting like Forgotten Realms, the Game Master could use the Year of the Rogue Dragons and its events as a similiar cause and effect. Numerous lairs emptied out of dragons, but of treasure and danger? No.