Sunday, September 6, 2009

Prince of Dogs Final

When reading an epic length book like Prince of Dogs, there are probably dozens of ideas that you can grab ranging from names and organizations, to mannerisms for your Non-Player Characters.

My finishing off of the book leaves me with the following.

"Lady's Blood!" swore Leo. "Fire!" (p. 326 SFBC edition.)

It's easy to get caught up in the fantastic of a campaign setting. However, the mundane should always be ready to be pulled out when needed. Fire is a terrible threat to a city with no easy means of water or manpower to utilize it. When looking at your cities, think of which parts are made of stone and which of wood. Are parts of buildings, like old forts, made of both? If a fire were started, how would it spread? How would it be fought? Are there people enough to have a professional force of fire fighters? Are there spells or rituals that can be called into in order to combat a fire?

Fire in and of itself is powerful, but the results of the fire can be even more so. Nobles and peasant alike may lose their land and all their possessions. Who steps in to remove the burnt down husks? Are any old family secrets brought to the light when the basements are laid bare? Use the fire as an event that can be a springboard for other adventurers in the campaign.

"No, my lord. Duke Conrad closed the pass." (p. 337).

Fantasy campaigns, especially at lower levels, tend not to have the quick benefits of using instant transportation. Unlike modern settings, characters can't just get in a car and cover vast distances quickly.

While 4th edition tries to showcase some of this hardships with the concept build into the 'core' setting of points of light, the Game Master can easily increase the time needed to get from one place to another through a few simple methods. In this case, an Eagle, a king's messanger, is initially cut off from the pass by natural disaster and then latter, through efforts of royalty not aimed at halting the King direclty, but at handling a rival and indirectly coming into conflict with the Duke.

Being put in a situation where the characters have to go out of their way, and out of their way several times, gives the Game Master time to do several things. First, it showcases that things don't always go the way of the players. Second, it allows the GM to throw in some more random encounters. These can range from random assaults by various fiends always lurking in the background, to chance encounters with Non-Player Characters that have access to something that the players may need. This can also act as foreshadowing if the NPC is befriended and can be of use again latter.

"This food is scarcely fit payment for such tales as you have told us this night." (p. 365)

To further point out the differences in how things work in the here and now with the there and then, the Game Master should try to remember that events happening in one part of the world, even if not very far, may be unknown to another part. Normal citizens with little cause to travel may not know if the king is dead or alive, if a heir has come of age or even if there are more dire situations around the bend.

Without access to virtual instant communication such as we have today, many people in the psuedo historical fantasy settings remain woefully ignorant of the events of the world. The players, due to their travels, generally have a head start on others when it comes to the lay of the land. Remark on how common folk stand in awe of the player's experiences. Have bards try to woe them in exchange for tales of their doings. Have nobles invite them for dinner in order to learn what events have transpired recently. Remember that knowledge is power and that most people in such a setting would fear to venture beyond their own homes.

"No ambition for myself. For my son." (p. 558)

In terms of doing good deeds or of doing deeds for various patrons, the players should be aware that not all that is done is done for the here and now. In this case, Lavastine has taken a city under hostile control not only for the glory of doing so, not only to secure for his son a well made marriage, but because by doing so, in the future those lands may pass through his son's inheritance. These are potentially long term plans.

In these events, if the campaign is mainly about stomping dragons, it could be difficult to place something with a long term pay off into the campaign. Most foes that the players meet will quickly fall to blades and most plans contain no more depth then onto the next dungeon.

To foster some type of longer term plans in such a campaign, the Game Master should let some clue of what's to come further down the road into the player's hands. By doing so, the Game Master gives the players the opportunity to properly arm themselves. For example, if the Game Master knowns that undead will be in an upcoming crypt, clues of the undead's presence should be felt. If creatures with a specific vulnerability to silver are to be featured, the players should have time to arm themselves with such.

"You know what they call you now, some of them, don't you? The prince of dogs." (p. 576)

Names have power. Names grant recognition. If the players don't take a name for themselves, don't hesitate to give them one. This can come from numerous things ranging from the way they dress, arm themselves, the foes they've fought or the items they've used. In some cases it may be seen as complimentary and in others, an insult. For those who don't take the time to name themselves, take that power away and name them as you would.

Prince of Dogs finishes off with more potential story lines and a lot of character driven events that proper it onto the next book. If the Game Master can draw out the characters of his own campaign and interact them with the players to propel them onto the next adventure, then the Game Master is continuing to do his job.