Sunday, February 28, 2010
Quotes will be taken from that version.
In the book, one of the most important aspects of the historical setting of England is religion. This takes all manner of aspects in the book. This ranges from the personal, introspection of the main character Shardlake, a man who once wished to be a member of the clergy and was denied due to his hunchback, to churches owning land, trying to pass laws, selling beer, and having vast sums of treasure that make them a target for others.
“The skull of St. Barbara,” Cromwell said, slapping the casket with his palm. ‘A young virgin murdered by her pagan father in Roman times. Form the Cluniac Priority of Leeds . A most holy relic. ‘ He bent over and picked up a silver casket set with what looked like opals. “And here- the skull of St. Barbara., from Boxgrove nunnery in Lancashie.’ He gave a harsh laugh. ‘They say there are two-headed dragons in the Indies. Well we have two headed saints.’
Human remains of the famous and the holy were often assumed to have power that could be granted to those that would go and see them. Fakery of such objects were not uncommon during the Dark Ages and in other eras. The Game Master could easily give such items minor powers for a campaign that only work for those who are of the same religion or could easily send the characters on a hunt for ‘true’ relics as opposed to those that are fake.
The real trick would be to discover which ones are real and which ones are fake. Depending on how robust the skill system is, for example, 3rd edition had a few skills that might work with some different skill checks. 4e might make it into a skill challenge or even a minor ritual, “Divine the Relic” or something of that nature. Other editions can be hit or miss, but the fun in those cases is in having the players hunt down the information when they can’t solve things with just a skill roll.
In terms of the main character’s lack of acceptance by the church, his deformity is noted as a restriction. If all men are made in God’s Image, having one who is not a whole specimen stands against that theory and none who suffer any physical deformity were allowed into that church where Shardlake studied.
“To the left , against the far wall, stood the usual outbuildings- stables, mason’s workshop, brewery.” Pg 40
A church, especially a monastery that may not be inside of a city, is not necessarily one building nor it is necessarily only occupied with those of the church. In this example, the church actually sells beer by exclusive contract to the town. They have more employees than actual church members. These little touches can add a lot to a campaign when dealing with the role of religion.
For example, a fighter may not actually be a member of the church, but may still believe. A rogue may have done work for a church in past, selling their liquors and perhaps developing a taste for their special brand of liquor.
Like the sequel Dark Fire, I strongly suspect that Dissolution will contain more strong writing invocative of the era.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
I read historical from time to time. They provide a nice touch of what was and perhaps some potential elements for a role playing game based on such elements. A good one is a great stepping stone into another time. I saw Dark Fire on sale at Borders during one of their various fire sales and picked it up. Even though this is the sequel to Dissolution, I had no problem reading it from start to finish and pondered its evocative images of a time long gone by.
But how does that help a person running a RPG? Below I’ll be discussing Dark Fire, using quotes from the trade paper back by Penguin books.
“There was a pleasant breeze; we were too far from the City walls here for London smells to penetrate.” pg. 31
When describing the background, remember that there are five senses. Smell can be a powerful one. Sight is the standard. Hearing can be used to point out some unusual elements or some very standard ones when trying to reinforce how a particular place is. For example, the lull of the waves against the shore. Taste is one not often used because it’s often only thought of during eating. However, a thick mist that taste of sea salt… not so different but still telling.
“His face hardened. ‘And because you care too much for the fate of the Wentworth girl and, finally, you are too afraid of me to dare cross me.’ Pg. 63
“What’s that in your pocketA?” Barak asked as we rode up Bishopsgate.” (pg. 75
One of the ways to get to players that they are in a place that matters, that what they are doing matters, that where they are going matters, is to put effort into it by providing names to locations, events, and people. It definitely takes more time as a game master and can be frustrating when the player’s don’t bite, but at the very least, at least you’ll have those names if the players come around that way again. This is most often useful for places that the players will be again and again. It allows the players to get an idea of the size of their home, the types of people that live there, and what is currently going on.
Shardlake’s patron is none other than Cromwell who has charged him with finding an ancient formula for Greek Fire, also known as Dark Fire. The important thing though, is this isn’t a simple “here’s 50 gold to do the mission.” This is a patron of many passions whose good to his friends, but always a hard man. If the players have a leader that is a Non-Player Character, why do they work for him? What does he do? How well connected is he? Is he a man with a reputation that insist one should not cross him? With the alignments in 4e simplified, it’s probably a little easier to handle a patron like that then in previous editions where players were often assumed to be working for the ‘good’.
“You’ve killed Sam?’ Toky’s voice was a horrified croak. “You’ve killed Sam!” pg. 446
Toky and Sam are two mercenaries who have been a plague on Shardlake and his comrades, getting into the spots they need to long before them, killing those they need to talk to, and seeking to end the life of Shardlake and his comrade.
However, they do not come across as nameless brutes or thugs. While doing research on whose attempting to get in their way, the backgrounds of Toky and Sam and brushed up and they’re given a little more character.
When you can give the bad guys flavor and flair, don’t be afraid to do so. It’s far more interesting to fight Toky the former mercenary with the plague ravaged face than another level 6 brute.
“He took a shuddering breath. ‘Lord Cromwell has fallen!’ Pg. 482
One of the continuous criticisms of the Forgotten Realms, is the wide plethora of powerful characters. Here, the author takes a real world figure, one of great power, perhaps only second to the king, and show cases that even when the players are successful in their own mission, that it may not always be enough. With their patron fallen, Shardlake and his comrade have new venues to explore and new adversaries and allies to discover. If the campaign is getting stagnant, don’t be afraid to kill the NPC’s and leave the players to their own devices. They might surprise you.
“She shook her head. ‘Class is everything. I am a Vaughan. Once I would have been happy to know you, you are one of those fit to be raised up, as my husband was. But not now, given your past loyalties and who the new powers are in the land. And I will not be lowered to your status Matthew.” She shook her head again.” Pg. 489
For a game based, in theory, on a certain time period of history, it does a bad job in many aspects of capturing those elements. One of those, is in class status and social levels. Perhaps back in the day when Unearthed Arcana first rose as one of those original hard cover supplements and its random tables allowed you to roll on them, did the core game concern itself with those elements.
And in those elements, there are a lot of potential role playing opportunities. Class in and of itself, is often seen as a divine right. It’s often seen as a right of arms. It’s seen as a right of inheritance. It’s seen as a right of the noble blood.
The benefit of using class in this manner, is that most characters are completely unconcerned with class. Now mind you, if your game is heavily focused on social class and status and you’ve been running such games for a long time, you already know this. But it’s a potential gold mine of role playing for characters because when they don’t care about who you are, but rather, as most players do, what you can do, it upsets the existing standards greatly.
This can be a useful tool for launching various aspects of the campaign. It can also be one for showcasing personal failings. For example, despite Shardlake’s kind spirit, he has failed to notice that one of his own workers is half blind and that is the cause of the numerous failings we find the lawyer yelling about in terms of quality. Even Shardlake, the hero of the story, has his own flaws as he merely thought his man incompetent and lazy, not suffering.
Dark Fire is full of great descriptions and it comes through by using a wide cast of characters and having numerous plot lines in the air. It provides descriptions that often come to light latter and provides a twist at its ending that doesn’t cheat the reader. If you’re looking for something to inspire, C. J. Sansom’s Dark Fire might have what you need.
Sunday, February 21, 2010
As sad as my movie viewing habits at the theater are, such as seeing Sherlock Holmes just recently as opposed to the months before it was out, my television viewing habits are probably just as bad. While I find reality shows not my thing, and don’t care how much damn talent America has,I do think that shows today tend to be written tightly and have layers to them that break from the older routine of episodic trends to more encompassing overall arcs.
The bad part I find about that though, is I get lost easily when I don’t watch the show on a regular basis. For example, Lost. I was okay the first two seasons but after that, it was all over for me. Other shows changes so quickly due to poor writing like Heroes, that I find it’s easier to just catch up on a series on DVD.
For example, Best Buy had fringe on sale for $9.99. I’ve heard good things about it and my mother is a fan of the show. I figure, for $9.99, I’m willing to make the investment.
As I’ve been watching it, Fringe is filled with good ideas.
Fringe, much like the older show, X-Files, tends to start with a situation that will soon involve the characters. The GM can help set the scene and the potential pace of the session by either handing the players a interlude sheet or telling them of a particular instance in ‘narrative’ format. Letting the players know that it’s not something that they directly know as their characters, but that it’s there for their mood setting.
The first episode for example, starts off with an airplane flying in turbulent weather with the passengers coming down with a case of the melting flesh. Before we’re introduced to the characters or any of their background, we’re introduced to the potential situation.
Oliva Dunham, the professional agent, is in many ways, an adventurer from the get go. Her job is to investigate and bring to a closure things of the unexplained. Much of her work, indeed, the work of all the characters, isn’t necessarily beating down some vile foe in continuous combat, but rather, to find out how these events are happening, to explain them to the audience in a manner that is at least plausible. Her initial team includes FBI and CIA. This is taking what could essentially be considered the best of both worlds.
In a campaign, having a special agency or organization is a solid method of having the players know one another. Paizo, publishers of the Pathfinder Roleplaying game, use the Pathfinder organization. A guild dedicated to bringing new knowledge of exploration and history to others.
One of the clear benefits of such an organization, is it has a chain of command. The players can get their missions straight from the top. Their own personal backgrounds and events in play, can be incorporated into the guild. During the first season, Oliva’s own background comes into the show and she finds herself at odds with her job as technically you’re not allowed to investigate anything involving yourself. Yet she does. As would players.
Another benefit is that it is an easy way to allow the Game Master to prep the session with numerous Non-Player Characters ranging from assistances to superiors to friendly rivalries. Some of these perhaps, not so friendly. An organization may reach out to other organizations, perhaps ones that the players have had direct contact with before, and perhaps not in a friendly way. This could lead to some intense role playing situations where the players are forced to rely on those that may not have their best in terest at heart. This could encourage the players to do their own politicking on their own side or to trust that their own actions will lead to others doing that for them by default.
In terms of the organization, one of the other potential benefits is the inside agent against the players. It makes a change from the external threat as the players must know ponder who to trust. How far does the corruption go. Who is likely to have motivation to betray them? Why? What organization do those traitors work for? These elements can go a long way in bringing the players into the campaign setting as opposed to fighting another kobold tribe.
Organizations do not exist in a vacuum. Often, these organizations must interact with other organizations. In Fringe, the corporation Massive Dynamics continues to come into play, often involved with many of the elements of the ‘fringe’ elements of the show itself. The corporation, in many ways, becomes a go to for the organization that Olivia works for.
The idea of Fringe as a tool for fantasy role playing games though, may initially seem odd to readers. But while much of the setting is pseudo science, fantasy games have magic. There are magical monsters, demons, metals, and of course magical diseases. Several of the iconic monsters of the Dungeons and Dragons game are even the result of wizards playing god with genetics long before such terms were common. Mongoose Publishing even did a 3.5 book on Crossbreeds for wizards who wished to specialize in such methods.
The benefit of such mutants in the campaign, is that it easily allows the Game Master to tailor the campaign menaces to the strengths of the characters. The origins of such creatures can range from deliberate acts of a single source, to one involving the accidental use of magic.
Gates between planes for example, can leak energy and change those who are infected by them.
Magical explosions, such as the one that destroyed a country in the Eberron setting, can also lead to horrors that survive the wastelands. This is a common element to post apocalyptic settings like Gamma World. That the fall out and forced evolution of the natives.
Magical diseases which cause the infected to change as the disease progresses are another staple. One of the most famous being the old Zombie Virus.
For players, Fringe has potential too. Walter of course, brings the most to the table. With his various eccentricities and his mad science background, the viewers discover that much of what goes on in the series is related, in one way or another, to Walter’s former experiments or those he used to know back in the day. Imagine playing a mad wizard, alchemist or cleric whose initial entry into the party is based after years of being out of the game.
What physical actions would such a character have. What nervous ticks? Would they stutter? Tap their fingers constantly. Whisper to themselves?
At first, Walter’s son seems to be somewhat the odd man out. Not a member of the special agent force, not a brilliant man with the same background on his father, he’s there to play intermediary with his father. But he does act as many things. His contacts indeed, become a major focus for helping on the show. He always knows someone. In addition, he’s always willing to challenge his father, leading to some interesting scenes which can be excellent role playing material when dealing with characters that are related.
One of the things that the show starts off with though, is that in order to get things done, you have to make the characters have skin in the game. Olivia for example, is willing to undergo a potentially lethal order in the very first episode on the basis of how much she needs information.
In 4e, this could be something of a skill challenge relating to the event in question. The player, per standard, has to make a series of skill checks against the DC of the ritual. Each failure bringing with it racking pains. With older editions of the game, often the suggested challenge would be in assembling the ingredients in the first place.
In terms of theme, in a 4e Points of Light default setting, that might be a little more difficult. According to the first episode of Fringe, one of the themes is that society has reached a point where technology has come so far, that its past regulation. This type of evolved science, or in the case of Dungeons and Dragons, magic, requires some solid foundations to lay those stones upon.
On the other hand, much of this could be rediscovery of what caused those ancient empires to collapse in the first place and the players are some of the few specialists society has in dealing with those terrors from a bygone era.