Friday, April 29, 2011

Z Is for Zoo

In a fantasy city, where would all of the wondrous animals, monsters, and other unique entities be found? Why, in the zoo of course.

On one hand, in a fantasy city setting, zoos may seem incredibly dangerous. After all, some of the inhabitants there are bound to get out and cause all sorts of trouble. Well, that depends on the nature of the creatures released and how often it happens.

In C J Sansom's Soverign, while Matthew is out and about, someone opns up a bear cage in an effort to get the bear to finish him off. In a D&D campaign, perhaps someone lets out some creatures in order to take advantage of the chaos the situation brings, an indirect method of murder, or because they feel a social injustice is being done to the monster.

In some settings, the zoo may be huge. For example, in basic D&D, the Hollow Earth, is essentially one big perserve with people among its many wonders. In some ways, its whole purpose is to shelter civilizations that simply couldn't make it on the surface world.

Players may find themselves tossed up as oddities on an alien world if your game runs a little closer to the Planetary Romance that has a lot of influence on earlier editions of the game. Whole cities may be captured and put on display, such as the alien Brianic does with different civilizations to study and perseve them.

The more fantastic the setting, the more high end such zoos can be. In one campaign I ran, there were a series of islands run by mages with the entry point "Mage's Port", holding a wide variety of animals that were not native to the mainland, so that new travellers could quickly learn some of the flora and fauna about the place. In addition, the guilds offered high fees for animals brought back alive for further study, and lesser funds for those brought back dead but intact for museum pieces.

In additilon, if you just want another showpiece of how far the cilization has come, a well tended, well run zoo can be a sign of many things, and power is one of them. Who has the funds to take care of these animals? To feed them? To shelter them? To treat them when sick? To provide habitats that they can thrive in? Even in today's soceity, not all zoos are equal and not all zoos can quality as something where animals are taken care of and are not under a death sentence. You can tell a lot about a ciliziation by the way the treat their less fortunate people and their animals in captivity.

Y Is For Youth

Usagi Yojimbo has meet individuals who have children before, such as the spoof of Lone Wolf and Cub, Lone Goat and Cub. His own indiscretions have also gifted him with his own son, Jotaro. Their relationship is complicated because Jotaro has been raised by his rival, as Usagi was first serving with his lord, and unaware of Jotaro and then latter, Usagi was wandering, still unaware of him.

As the series has progressed though, Jotaro became a known entity in Usagi's life. A glimpse at the road not taken. In the series, it seems that many people know that Jotaro is Usagi's son. The mother, Usagi's mentor, Usagi, Jotaro, and well, its often remarked how they resemble each other like father and son by whoever seems them.

But Usagi and Jotaro themselves do not know that each of the other knows. It makes for some interesting moments.

Stan is able to capitalize on these relationships in Duel At Kitanoji, Travels with Jotaro, and Fathers and Sons. Here we directly see how Usagi's actions, and those of others around him, directly influence the youth of today, who will be the inheritors of tomorrow.

As Jotaro is but one of Katsuichi's students, we see how other members of the young are doing. His other pupil Shunji is far more... traditional in his thinking. For example, his fighting style and potential doesn't match Katsuichi's own teachings. In one instance, when a peasant is wounded, Shunji questions why the peasant is allowed to rest on a cart while the Samurai walk, whereas Jotaro takes the more common sense answer of not expecting a man wounded like that to walk.

The idea of the young though, isn't limited to just Usagi and his trails. Super Hero comics are fairly famous for trying to bring a generational theme to bear as they continue to evolve. Sometimes this may have started off as origin points for the main characters, other times a direct result of advancing the timeline and using an alternative time line.

For example, Spider Girl. Based off of a What If issue, the series had a good run as the direct daughter of Spider Man wove her way through a future that included the Fantastic Five, Avengers Next, and a host of other changes in the M2 universe. Several characters in that timeline were direct descendants of modern characters such as J2, Juggernaught's Son, Giant Girl, whose actually become part of standard Marvel Fare, Thunderstrike, another one whose become part of standard Marvel Fare, Wild Thing, Wolverine and Electra's daughter, and others.

When looking at the campaign and the setting, think of what effect the upcoming generation will have on it. The things that the younger people will find of intrest, will understand more inherently, will move to more quickly. These elements may be something that older characters may be wise to observe or if stuck in their own ways, fade to black.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

X is For Xenophobia

Xenophobia is a very powerful thing. The infamous drow ranger, Drizzt, suffers from it most of his early adventurers. Most, if not all of the surface world, suffers Xenophobia when dealing with the drow. This is part of the 'charm of the character if you will. He must strive against the stereotypes that have grown up about his race while maintaining his own code of honor and goodness.

Others that suffer from this treatment, like Elric, a creation of Michael Moorcock, don't necessarily have to deal with the issues of a morale compass that put them in conflict with the forces aligned against them, but must suffer the quick judgements of those who are afraid of Elric's race or simply wish them dead.

This is not something limited to older fiction though. Oh how I shudder when I think of labelling Drizzit as older fiction, but hey, if I remember reading it in high school and I'm closing in on 40... Anyway, Sarath, a cambion in Rich Baker's Swords of the Moonsea trilogy, worries about his own appearance because he wears his heritage on his face being a cambion that resembles something between a devil and a human. In the third book of the series, Avenger, while imprisoned, he worries that someone with his appearance will not receive a fair trail, if a trail at all, due to his appearance from the elves of Myth Drannor.

Now that last part is something to keep in mind when designing your fantasy cities. The fantastic elf city, our demonic friend Sarath worries, suffers some xenophobia. He has good reason to. In many bits of fantasy fiction, the older races of dwarves and elves, are generally convinced that their ancient abilities, their old homes, their lost structures and ruins, are means of such masterpiece, that today's efforts hardly scratch the surface of what they are capable of, but nonetheless, they are still superior to the works of man.

Keep in mind the potential advanced age, or long life of the races in question. Elves could live to see generations of humans come and go. Perhaps they are correct in that all things elf are greater than what man or dwarf could craft. In Privateer Press, the elves of that game system have unique forces at their disposal and are more than willing to engage the Retribution of Scyrah with the most modern and telling of Warmachine factions.

When looking at your fantasy cities, what is the outlook of the locals? Are they striving to learn from, and improve upon the past, or are they inherently satisfied with the deeds of the ancients? Are they positive that their own ways are superior to all others, or are they open to judging an individual by his own deeds? As the game has progressed and changed, Dungeons and Dragons has went from race as a class, to race as a choice, to race being almost anything in the game system, including, as Heroes of Shadow, the latest 4e supplement would allow, vampires, as a core race.

Would the people of the city look upon vampires as a resource? Would they look upon them as something to be hounded and hunted off the bat? The Noble Dead series by Barb Handee had different answers depending on who you asked ranging from death on sight to vampires don't exist, and the answer may be different for vampires than it is tielflings, as different settings play with different histories and assumptions.

Xenophobia is something that is already inherent in many fantasy defaults and is something that game masters can have a lot of fun with. Imagine that the old dwarf and elf animosity has long since faded, replaced by dragonborn and tiefling hatred as that is now the core setting and you may even be able to run different assumptions within the party.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

W Is For Waterway

I've always liked the idea of a city where the waterways are the main mode of transportation. A place where small boats are the norm and people move about to and fro on them. Where the water, for the most part, is just another obstacle, but still has its secrets and mysteries. After all, in a fantasy game, who knows what monsters may lurk underneath the surface, depending on how deep the waterways are and how far they travel out.

Waterways provide a means of transportation.

Waterways provide a means of trade.

Waterways provide a different look and potentially feel for a city.

In a standard D&Dish campaign, a waterway ridden city could have a number of different origins. While D&D has traditionally used sea elves for such things, what if the people who founded the city were of a little more malicious nature, like pirates and bandits, and didn't have quite the reservations about working with the Deep Ones, or one of D&D's many takes on them such as the Kuo-Toa? Here the riverways are still mostly safe, but sacrifices are made in exchange for that safety. Perhaps the deep ones inform the pirates of ships in the nearby region. Perhaps they all make sacrifices to Dagon together? Perhaps there is a breeding program or eons old pact that keeps the people of the city tied to the people of the depths?

When looking at some unique or rarely used factors a city can have, waterways, such as those found here, are different enough to stand out in players minds.

Monday, April 25, 2011

V is For Victim

One of the things I've noted about Usagi Yojimbo, is that he tends to stumble onto those in need of his help. In a game where the players are in a heroic mode, or at least concerned enough about their fellows to stop and help them out, the idea of using victims to set up the game is right in line with how things often run for the long eared samurai.

For instance, in Usagi Yojimbo The Shrouded Moon, Stan has Usagi seeing a beating in an alley as four thugs beat on one victim. Becoming involved, Usagi learns that the person being attacked isn't quite a lowly innocent. This is a pattern that often happens to Usagi as he assist someone who is not necessarily as helpless as their initial situation seems.

Game Masters can take it a step further. In older adventurers, it was almost a sight gag that if there was an attractive woman being held prisoner by the villains, that she herself was a vampire, succubus, doppelganger, or other obvious trap. This was much the same as when seeing a highly valuable treasure out in the open with no apparent guards or traps. If it was too good to be true, it was.

The only problem with handling things like this too often though, is most players get their cues from the Game Master. If the GM insist that it is a game of high fantasy and heroism and keeps slitting the player's throats through the use of victims who are actually monsters, then pretty soon, if not immediately, the players will stop helping the victims. They may not become so madden that they attack and kill everyone they meet who may be a victim, but that easy in to the game of throwing the players into a situation where they can help someone, will be gone.

When thinking about using a victim, you need to decide how the character in question has been wronged. Is the victim someone that has been murdered and needs avenging? Is the character someone who has been bested unfairly and needs justice? Is it someone that's been robbed and will suffer dire consequences if the funds are not returned, or another source of funds used to replace them?

Victims come in all shapes and sizes. The rewards for helping different individuals should be different. When helping a noble regain lost honor or a prized possession, a monetary award should suffice. When helping a peasant or harlot whose been attacked and perhaps even killed or scarred or sold into slavery, a XP story award based reward should suffice to keep the players motivated. Remember, that despite some people's enjoyment of the game and the role playing elements they can bring to it, to others it is just a game and without some type of compensation, either in gold or in intangible xp, they may not go for it.

Victims are a useful tool in the Game Master's bag and should be used when appropriate.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

U is For Undercity

An Undercity is a city that lies beneath the city. It seems simple and perhaps pointless, but I found the concept working fairly well when first introduced to it through Skullport via the Forgotten Realms many moons ago.

See, Skullport is located under Waterdeep. While Waterdeep, a massive city of much written lore, has a ton of material to it and a ton of adventuring options, it's still a fairly good city, inhabited by many mages who are so powerful that the idea of the city having openly evil elements to it, outside of say, plot elements, is alien. To allow for those darker elements that might be common, such as slavery and other bits, TSR came up with Skullport.

The other benefit of such a city, is that it is inherently more hostile to the players.  While there are other variants of cities that might be more inherently hostile to the players, such as by being on another plane like the City of Brass, or being a hub for creatures of planar power such as Sigil, the theme of a city in the Underdark, of a lighless city, is appealing because it allows players who have some ability to dwell in a place that's not normally safe for soft humans and elves, but due to their level, allows them to survive.

On the other hand, the Undercity is not known for its kind nature and those who think that just because they've survive other terrors may walk about unhindered or without worry should quickly be shown the error of their ways. The Undercity isn't necessarily worried about policy. It's not necessarily worried about adventurers disappearing. It's worried about merchandise flowing through its gates and out again in exchange for large sums of gold, silver and gems.

Skullport is not quite under the city, but it's a close enough example that I can get the point through of a city that is a dark mirror of the city above.  In a fantasy setting, this might not necessarily be a city that is physically under another city, but rather, a city that exist on another plane that has it's origins tied to the prime city. The plane of shadow for example, often is noted as being like the prime material plane, or the 'real world', only a dark reflection if it. The same is often true of descriptions used to describe the fey world.

When dealing with an Undercity, the GM should think of its overall purpose. Is it like Skullport in that it exist for trade and power to pass through in manners that would simply not be allowed in the city where the sun shines? Does it exist as a staging point for an insurgency against the city above? Are dark and alien races like mind flayers and beholders preparing the way for things even darker and more disturbing?

The benefit of an unknown Undercity is that it allows the GM to spring that unknown on the players. And as many adventurers will tell you, such as In Search of the Unknown, the unknown is alluring to players and the GM should seize every opportunity to snare the imagination of the players when possible.

Friday, April 22, 2011

T is For Thief

Cities are made up of various classes of people ranging from nobles and upper end merchants to beggars and street urchins. Within all of those ranks though, the profession of thief is one that players need always beware of.

Thieves have a long history in fiction. The old anthology, Thieves World for example, covered initially in role playing games by Chaosium and more recently by Green Ronin, is a testament to the urban master. Way back in the day, as a counter or add on, I was never really sure which 'cause I never had the whole thing, there were Thieves' Guild modules and adventurers and Haven, a city to play them all in. Truly old school.

Thieves have a long history in the game as being masters of skill. Well, not necessarily masters, but the only class that had opportunities to overcome obsticles like traps, secret doors, climbing walls, and other mundane things that didn't necessarily involve stabbing people. Oh yeah, thieves were also really good at backstabbing people. Well, maybe. Depending on how the Game Master ran it. As the editions have moved on, their skill sets have become less important, more integrated into the game, and their combat survivability and ability to inflict damage, especially with the back stab, he increased greatly.

But for me, one of the greatest theif resoruces came out in the second edition era through the Complete Thief's Handbook. It wasn't that it took the thief abilities and made them goodly, unlike say the Complete Book of Elves, but rather, it brought different dimensions and ideas about what the thief could be in the game in a way that I felt only the Complete Bard could compete with.

In gaming, it made you thing of things that might not necessarily just effect the one character, but thinking of a whole campaign of thieves. This was a common theme of each Complete book, discussing how a campaign could be run with one type or theme of class. In thieves, there was a lot of rich material.

Smugglers: Players may come to a city where weapons are not allowed. Where magic is not allowed. Where other bits that they may need, such as different components for spells, are not possible to find. Smugglers are a vast help in overcoming these standard obsticales, perhaps even using the sewers.

Fences: Sometimes the players accomplish the mission and retrieve an item of fame and fortune. Other times the players stumble upon an NPC that talks too much and wind up finishing him off in a manner that would do fans of Mortal Combat pround. In any case, the players have now come into ownership of a very unique, very easily identifable item of some sort ranging from distinctive gems or jewerly, to objects de art or even magic items.

A few other other varieites of thief, might fall under other bits and only be allied, or perhaps even rivals to the thieves guild such as a beggar's guild or an assassin's guild. Others, might be representing different aspects of the guild. Some jobs might require second story men who are masters of stealth and disguise. Others, like roughing up the dock workers and shops, might require mere brute thugs. Roles that were once perfect for the half-orc in 1st edition.

Thieves are also a good counter to adventurers, or a good source of adventure material because they don't necessarily run only as individuals. Thieve's Guilds are a very popular guild in fantasy fiction and even the Twain of Fafrd and the Grey Mouser ran afoul of them a time or two. The other benefit? Being filled with various rogues and thugs, the players won't have any problems mowing through them, and because their role, when not fighting against players, is society based, will quickly be replaced. Perhaps the next guild won't be after the party, but perhaps there to reward them? There are many stories in Usagi Yojimbo where thanks to his friendship with Kitsune, he finds himself facing gangsters and other thugs.

The thief has a lot of potential as both a player class and plot device regardless of the edition of the game you're playing and for those who hunt down the old Thieves Guild adventurers, you've got a lot of material to run through.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

S Is For Sewer

As I just finished through Stone and Sea, the second fantasy novel in the new Noble Dead series by Barb Hendee, it had a few parts where Wynn and her companions are working their way through an underground entrance that has waterways and such in it. Not quite a sewer, but it tied into my idea for S anyway, which was sewer so though I'd toss that out there. It was something I was thinking of in terms of its long use in both games and books, such as when Sharpe makes his escape in one during one of his various terms of imprisonment.

For me, sewers tend to be fairly iconic to cities. They are the low side of things. The city based dungeon if you will. Their prominence in cities varies depending upon the topic and year of publication. In the old Waterdeep City of Splendors boxed set, there are maps, general overviews really, as well as encounter tables and some ideas of what can be found down there. Movies, especially horror movies, have also made fine use of sewers such as CHUD, also known as the cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers. Ah, the 80's, how I miss you so.

In terms of using a sewer in a fantasy game, there are many utilities possible.

1. Item is lost in the sewer.

2. Individual is hiding in the sewer.

3. City is in ruins but sewers are intact and allow users to navigate the ruins.

4. Unique local monsters are down there.

5. Neutral meeting ground.

In terms of mapping, due to the potential maze like nature of the sewers, I generally have a few 'key points' mapped out and use a flow chart to indicate other things that might happen. Most of the flow chart is just movement. After all, if every delve into the sewers was a disaster, it wouldn't be too useful to the city above in its main job. 

So by having a few key points mapped out, generally a straight branch of sewer, maybe two or three versions that have different widths and heights, as well as a few connection points, I can throw out the map when the players do have encounters.

For encounters, generally I see sewers as having a few potential encounters.

1. Nothing. This is what I'm talking about. Just walking around the sewers might not be the most pleasant thing but shouldn't be an automatic death sentence.

2. Animals. These can range from the standard rat to it's larger or more diseased siblings to snakes living in the water or even the dreaded baby crocodiles.

3. Undead. If there's a worse place to die right? You'd be haunting this place as well right? But on a more serious note, any necromancer worth his salt that is using the sewers to conduct his experiments should be able to use the undead, who don't need to breath, as nice little traps for players. Sure, the skeletons are minions or low level hit dice, but when they start drowning you? In that filth? Ugh. Some undead that might be more feral, like ghouls or ghasts, may set up shop underneath say a butcher's shop or a morgue and come out at night and help themselves to some snacks.

4. Humans. For some poor bastards, they actually have jobs in the sewers. This can range from rat catching to plumbing. Some of these folk might act as patrons for characters if a rat catcher doesn't come back or a boss needs to break up those cursed union plumbing thugs and their evil ways! In a city where the thieves guild has no sway, thieves and beggars may make use of the sewers, perhaps using them as a spy network to quickly move around town without being seen. Such a service may prove valuable to players with a price on their necks.

5. A dungeon. What if the sewers are built on top of an even older, more ancient structure that was there? The trip through the sewer itself merely becomes an entrance way into the more traditional roles that players are used to.

6. Unusual. This could be harsh rains that flood the sewer, structural damage to the sewer causing blockage and backing up of materials and waters, cracks and drainage in the bottom of the sewer causing water to drain out, etc...

In short, sewers are a location that despite its humble origin, has long had a place in role playing games and with its many uses, will continue to do so.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

R is For Rumor

Once again hitting the C. J. Sanson book, Sovereign, Matthew Shardlake's inquisitive mind starts him wondering about certain things about the king, who in this time period in England, is also god's word on earth. Of course such things start off as nothing more than rumors about the King's true parentage but it's enough to get Shardlake down the path of inquisition.

I love rumors. What I remember as a young Dungeon Master, and this could be my crappy memory striking again, is that before you had skills like those in 3rd edition, you had various tables to roll on. The tables consisted on various things about the adventure, wither it was the location, the fabulous treasure, or some of those who lived about the land, and it had either a T for True or a F for false. The Gm was encouraged to add to the tables and to change things around so that someone playing through the adventure multiple times would not always come away with the same, or even the correct information.

Rumors fit a city based campaign for a number of reasons.

First off, people are always talking. Look at the Republican Party in America. This band of the so-called GOP, has insisted at times, that our current President is not naturally born. The rumor mill churns in the world of politics. The important thing though, is that even if its not true, it can generate its own air, its own power, its own field of negativity where things can be thrown into doubt for those whose faith or information isn't solid to begin with. The world of entertainment also swirls and churns with rumors ranging from dating, sexual preferences in the present, conquests of the past, and accusations of talent theft to other, even less kind things.

In a fantasy city, there are multitudes of options to work from.

1. Famous Buildings. Mage towers, guild halls, taverns, red lantern districts, and of course, sewers are all ripe targets for rumors. These can range from hauntings, to the origins of those hauntings to who is zooming who.

2. Historical Events. Much like how history can be remade by the winners, the modern history of a city may quickly fall sway to rumor and hearsay. For example, if the players saved a noble from assassination, the noble may spread around town that it was only his own exceptional skill at arms that saved a blundering party from assassination and that he felt so bad for them, that he provided them with riches so that they may improve their paltry skill set.

3. Individuals: Much like Sovereign, rumors are always swirling about the rich, famous, and powerful. Of course such rumors might not always be wise to find. In older editions of Dungeons and Dragons, powerful entities like Demon Lords and Devil Princes could hear their names mentioned as well as the words that followed it. Such entities would hardly take to rumors of their weaknesses, strengths, hidden strong holds, or allies. In the Forgotten Realms city, Waterdeep, the ruling council were masked and unknown so rumors were always flying over who the actual rulers were with only one of them, The Open Lord of Waterdeep, of course a paladin, known to the public.

4. Magic Items. In older editions of the game, things were not so static. 3rd and 4th put magic items into a 'math' function so that a character of X or Y level was doing A or B damage. Earlier editions wouldn't necessarily give you a super powerful magic item at low levels, but the opportunities were often there. For example, I've run White Plume Mountain and had a player character with Black Razor. I've run a PC that had Black Razor. I've run The City Beyond the Gates and had a player with the Mace of St. Cuthbert. There was no 'cheating' going on there, just honest to goodness module running and the players earned those powerful artifacts.

In the book I'm currently reading, Barb Hendee's Through Stone and Sea, Wynn, a sage, is seeking information on the Thirteen, the original vampires, and has to work through the rumors of a secretive sect of dwarfs in order to discover what she seeks. The author is turning her quest for information using only rumor and hearsay into a full fledged quest.

When preparing your cities, prepare some rumors that the players might stumble into. When preparing some encounter areas, prepare some rumors that the players might seek out. When providing information from the rolling dice, prepare two sets of answers depending on how high the player rolled or how well they role played out the scene and how much gold they dropped.

Rumors can add dimensions to the game that might otherwise be unexplored.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Q is For Quaffed

From ye old


[kwof, kwaf, kwawf] Show IPA
–verb (used without object)
to drink a beverage, especially an intoxicating one, copiously and with hearty enjoyment.
–verb (used with object)
to drink (a beverage) copiously and heartily: We spent the whole evening quaffing ale.
an act or instance of quaffing.
a beverage quaffed.
Remember all the talks about inns, taverns, and prostitutes? All the good food? Well, it's drinking time as well and I'm more of the opinion that when drinking, as I tend to do when I game, because I'm with friends, it's close to the house, and we're all adults, that we should enjoy our time together and that we should enjoy the drinks among well, friends.
Brandon wasn't a big drinker, but even he appreciated a bottle of Patron Silver Tequila I bought him. My other friend Tom, who runs Black Sun Games, also isn't a big drinker, but in honor of B's passing, he had a few with the rest of us drunks.
As you, or your characters celebrate their truimpths, have their quaff a few pints of that dwarven ale in honor of those who've passed.

Monday, April 18, 2011

P Is For Prostitue

Alright, I admit it. My memory was bad on this one. I've owned my Official Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide by Gary Gygax for decades and I was remembering the random table wrong. It would've been H for Harlot because good old Gary had a wandering Harlot table in the old Appendixes.

However, Gary is far from the only one to hit up such a random table for game play. After all, Runequest Cities has one as well, Prostitute Encounter Table 17 with a roll of 1d20 with five different possible results.

Now outside of a nod to the actual history of the game, what roles would these harlots play n a standard role playing game? Well, hitting up the old C. J. Sansom's Sovereign again, one of Matthew's friends has a vice where he enjoys a good beating with a leather belt every now and again and not wanting the misses to soil herself so, has a professional do it. This in turn puts him under another's power because these ladies performing these services have higher patrons whom they report to.

In addition, one of my favorite movies, The Brotherhood of the Wolf, used those in the sex trade as gatherers of information and even as royal spies and assassins.

While as a youngster we used to joke about the various potential for diseases from the lower quarters, the threat of assassination or having one's secrets spilled, or perhaps merely drugged and robbed, are probably more dangerous and potential things that an adventurer has to worry about.

Note that even if the adventurers themselves aren't seeking out the red lantern district for their own pleasures, they may be in search of information themselves. They may be seeking out information of a favorite patron or other tid bits that would generally not fall into the public hands.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Miscellaneous Updates

I live in Chicago.

It would seem almost, if not all of, the local, hell, the state wide stores known as Borders are closing. Numerous massive sales. I held off on most things but when it starts getting to be 80-90 off, then even I get weak. See, I already do a lot of shopping at Half-Priced books and often use the old $1 rack to buy things. Of course I also shop here and there and everywhere when I see a sale and as long as the book is in decent shape if I'm keeping it or just readable shape if I'm tossing it, I'm not too picky about things.

Right now one of my friends is running a 4e game. I'm 5th level playing a gensai wizard who specializes in fire and lightning. Ironically enough, I didn't make the character. After my dwarf warpriest died, one of my friends allowed me to use his old character because he'd moved on to a warlock hexblade. He's way into making characters and is a hella a min-maxer so I didn't mind.

In terms of Appendix N, I'm reading two books right now. One of them Prince of Wolves. It's used the second person form of fiction several times and I'm not a huge fan of that. It's also not 'grabbing' me which is a damn shame because I love some D&D popcorn fiction. I might have a few bits to snag for the blog but as it's a 'car' book, a book I only read while waiting for someone else in the car, it may take a while.

The second book I'm working on is Throught Stone and Sea by Barb and J. C. Hendee. It's the second series in the Noble Dead and to be honest, I'm not thrilled with it either. It's better than the previous book. Maybe it took the author a book to get the characters or maybe I'm just enjoying the exploration of the dwarf culture in this setting but it's going better. However, I still prefer the other main characters from the previous series. I find this group... whinny and uninteresting. I find the setting interesting and worth reading though so I'm trudging onward.

In terms of painting, I finally picked up a brush again. Between having the flu, my friend dying out of the blue and just a general sense of enui, I haven't really felt the urge to do so. Tom at Black Sun Games actually had some new miniatures in and I picked up a pack of lizard men and some Flames of War primer and gave it a go. I think I may have trashed it with a dip in the Army Painter strong tone because it was way too thick and I had to spend more time slopping it off than I probably would've saved by just painting the damn things. We'll see. It takes some time to dry off.

For the old postings in the A to Z Challenge, it has certainly gotten in the way of my initial intention of the blog; that of posting on things I'm reading/watching/etc... but not by as much as I feared and well, it's almost over already. When it is, maybe I'll go into some of the stuff like Casshern Sins, an anime I managed to watch all the way through on Nextflix or some of the really bad monster movies.

Tomorrow I'll get back to the ole A to Z challenge with the letter P. Unfortuantely for me, I screwed up where my initial inspiration was for my subject matter, but I've got a few back ups to support the utility of my choosen word for the day.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

O is For Occuptation (Military)

In the year 2011, the United States is still in a military occupation of Afghanistan. This has been the case for many years. However, this blog is not for a political conference, merely the introduction of what military occupation is about.

In a fantasy game, many races are conquerors and masters of the world, or the near world, at various points of time. In many fantasy genre based games, it often starts off with some type of lizard man or proto-lizard man like race, giving way perhaps to the dragons, then the elves and dwarves, and finally man. In Michael Moorcock's series about Elric, Elric's own people ruled the entire world at one point.  In the Palladium Fantasy system, the ancient times were ruled over by the Old Ones, the Palladium version of the Cthulhu mythos.

In such times, its easy to imagine cities becoming occupied by non-natives and using their strength of arms to crush any resistance. Depending on the nature of the campaign, it could go a few ways.

In the first, the players are actually part of the invading force. They could see themselves as the good guys, people just doing their jobs or part of an evil empire on the expansion. Their jobs would be to stop smuggling, smash rebel cells, and quell resistance through any means necessary. Depending on their own nature, the game could have heroic overtones. The players are in a monstrous community that has committed abominable acts against the players homeland and the players are not leaving till the monsters ability to inflict such carnage is completely destroyed.

The players could be 'simple' soldiers just there doing a job. Depending on the length of time they're in this foreign city, they may develop friends and allies among the natives. It worked well enough in Good Morning Vietnam right? Of course in such instances, the players may have rivalries and hatreds in their own side such as seen in movies like Casualties of War and Platoon, where their own side has its own monsters.

On the other hand, the players could be the locals under invasion from outside sources. Once again, depending on the nature of the players, the game play could follow various patterns of either heroic resistance or monstrous retaliation. For example, the players may be smuggling medical supplies to help their people out. On the other hand, they could be smuggling spell components of such a horrific nature, that their very existence is damning to peace.

The players could be resistance fighters who specialize in burning down military bases and snipping high ranking leaders. They could be opportunist that seek to rebuild the country in their own image, trying to control the ebb and flow of hatred against the outsiders and pushing their own agenda upon their people.

In circumstances where foreign powers are involved, the natives don't necessarily all band together. Various differences such as religion and clannish behavior, can easily lead to schisms that the oppressors can take advantage of. Indeed, in some cases, the only source of food and shelter may be the oppressors as everything else has fallen to ruin under the onslaught of war.

Military occupation may not be for everyone, but it is something that has happened for thousands of years and is a rich source of story potential.

Friday, April 15, 2011

N is For Nepotism

While reading C J Sansom's book, Sovereign, the nobles have a few 'hanger ons' with them that contribute little. Where I live, in good old Chicago, where we have Cook County and Illinois where we actually have a phrase used to describe how things are done, "Pay to Play", this might fall under the heading of Nepotism.

This is an old tradition that even has some roots in the church. I understand the Borgia might have had a little something to do with it eh

In a fantasy setting, especially a fantasy city, this would still probably be a fairly common occurrence. And yet... it could easily put the entire city in danger. Imagine a guard captain that's incompetent but knows some nobles. When the giants break through his gate, perhaps it's the players who get the blame despite the fact that the captain was no where to be found?

In the mage's guild, perhaps the player's who've found ancient and subtle arcane writings and items are skipped over for promotion by the son of the head of the mage's guild, despite the fact that he can't even cat a magic missile.

Nepotism can lead to all sorts of interesting bits where the players might not have to worry about the potential incompetents, but the allies and families of said incompetents. After all, in the movie Casino, it's not the fool who has multiple wins  occur simultaneously that becomes a thorn in Robert Dinero's character's side, but rather, that man's family who begin to investigate into Robert Dinero's qualifications.

The enemy takes many shapes and forms and corruption is just another of them.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

M is For Memento Mori

Latin, Remember that you must die.

I've been in a bit of a gloomy mood as of late. One of my friends, Brandon Kukta, passed of undiagnosed leukemia. He went quick. Like in a day. He'd been having some headaches, but hell, most people I know have those and due to his previous experience, Brandon hated doctors so whenever he didn't have to go see them, he didn't.

I played with B for years, well over a decade. It's strange thinking that when we first started gaming his daughter was in grade school and now she's almost off to college. I wish I had an 'origin' story of when Brandon and I started playing together but it's been so long that I couldn't even tell you what game system it was.

Brandon had an interesting life. Like several gamers I know, he was in the military. Those in the military that play Dungeons and Dragons, often note that "it's something to do" that's relatively trouble free. He served in a couple of hot spots and was proud of his service to the country even though of late he wasn't impressed with the direction the country's been heading.

When we gamed, it could be one of a variety of Brandon persona's at the table.

There was the always enthusiastic Brandon. He enjoyed gaming. He enjoyed painting. He enjoyed the BS around the table and the fact that most of us were long time friends, meant that he enjoyed the verbal assaults and defenses against each other. Brandon being one of the few hardcore Republicans at the table meant that he endured some of the most of the barbs about politics but he was always firm that the last Bush wasn't a real Republican and had some other ideas on that field that I won't go into here. The important thing here though, is that his enjoyment of gaming could be contagious and he could make other people eager to play.

There was the half-assed Brandon. Despite his love of trying out new games, Brandon was never into the details of the gaming itself. I remember several games of GURPS Traveller where we, the players, were running the game sysem aspect of it because he didn't know how the rules worked. He didn't like to get caught up in the grind of the systems. Hell, even recently with some 4e games he was running, he had one of the players take the role of the monsters. He wasn't worried about the player setting up the monsters to fail, he was just more interesting in getting that aspect of the game over.

There was the campaign killer Brandon. Sometimes B would get bored of a game. Sometimes quick. In the Village of Hommlet, he burned down half the town because he wasn't satisfied with the reward a merchant gave us. In another, he killed several wanderers and caused the party to become enrolled in conflict with the townsfolk. In many other games, because he played to enjoy the game, he'd often drop and start characters because he was bored with them. Several of us who ran the game knew how to handle it with a quick out of character discussion but others ran with it and were always surprised at the end results.

There was Brandon the role player. He would sometimes find a character and concept he enjoyed, usually in a longer running campaign where we were all pretty serious about it, and run with it, even when it was sometimes wacky. The character I remember the most, probably because he got a lot of play and Brandon did an entertaining job of running him, was the Black Tongue. This half-orc barbarian was one of, if not the only character Brandon ran in the Savage Tide campaign in 3rd edition. He made it all the way to the end.

The funny thing about this guy was that he was always worshipping different creatures and demons, depending on who we meet. He was always looking for his next big score. He was called the black tongue because he had a demon tooth that made his tongue grow black.

In recent years, Brandon and another of my friends, Tom, opened up Black Sun Games. It wasn't that neither of them hated Games Plus, but that awesome store is in Mount Prospect, and well, perhaps people haven't noticed that the price of gas never really went back down for its massive rises. In addition, when they were scouting out locations, Black Sun Games was essentially the only thing in town. The Games Workshop in the Village Crossing Center hadn't opened up. The Gamer's Paradise chain had closed up. It looked like it would fill some of the void in Chicago proper.

Brandon took that opportunity and made a LOT of friends. Both the Wake and the Funeral had numerous people there that B got to know through the game scene. These people had grown to know Brandon because he made them welcome at the store. He was also doing painting and playing Eve and other bits at the store and encouraging people to come on in and buy something. He had no problem doing special orders so even if it wasn't in stock they usually got it within a day or two thanks to being in Chicago. It also provided him with the opportunity to do conventions like Little Wars and Adeptacon as a vendor.

During this time period, Brandon became a painting machine. He whipped out many a soldier for Flames of War and owned a ton of material from Forge World for the Nurgle faction of the Chaos Space Marines. He did up several pieces for demo-models for the store to display the contents of the new Warhammer Fantasy boxed set, as well as other bits and pieces here and there. He could be funny with the painting. While I probably paid more attention to certain details of the figures, B could be adamant on some things being done right, like cameo on his Flames of War figures.

Looking at the old memento mori, Brandon's gaming and his life, what I knew of it, because he was a multi-faceted individual and this is only a blog post, will be my remembrance of death and it will be my "reminder in midst of frivolity or pleasure that life's higher purposes or temporal shortness must temper joy in earthly delights."

B, the guys all miss you and you old 80's music. It's not the same listening to the Smiths or the Banshees or Joy Division without you there to tell us what it was like on the scene. We miss you're jabs at the current administration. We miss your commentaries at the movies. We miss hanging out. We may not have always agreed on everything, but you were a hell of a friend and that's far more than most bring to the gaming table.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

L is For Law


Fifteen years in the academy

He was like no cadet they'd ever seen

A man so hard, his veins bleed ice

And when he speaks he never says it twice

They call him Judge, his last name is Dredd

So break the law, and you wind up dead

Truth and justice are what he's fighting for

Judge Dredd the man, he is the law


With gun and bike he rules the streets

And every perp he meets will taste defeat

Not even Death can overcome his might

Cause Dredd and Anderson, they won the fight

When the Sov's started the Apocalypse war

Mega-City was bombed to the floor

Dredd resisted, and the judges fought back

Crushed the Sov's with their counter-attack


Respect the badge - he earned it with his blood

Fear the gun - your sentence may be death because...



And you won't fuck around no more - I AM THE LAW

I judge the rich, I judge the poor - I AM THE LAW

Commit a crime I'll lock the door - I AM THE LAW

Because in Mega-City... I AM THE LAW

In the cursed earth where mutants dwell

There is no law, just a living hell

Anarchy and chaos as the blood runs red

But this would change if it was up to Dredd

The book of law is the bible to him

And any crime committed is a sin

He keeps the peace with his law-giver

Judge, jury, and executioner


CRIME - The ultimate sin

Your iso-cube is waiting when he brings you in

LAW - It's what he stands for

Crime's his only enemy and he's going to war

CRIME - The ultimate sin

Your ISO-cube is waiting when he brings you in

LAW - It's what he stands for

Crime's his only enemy and he's going to war

Thank you Anthrax for that little bit of homage to Judge Dread.

In games, its often useful to know some of the basics of how the justice system works. In the 3.5 era, Atlas Games published Crime and Punishment. A nice hardcover the provided 3.5 mechanics for a variety of things that might come up in dealing with lawbreakers.

In books I'm reading at the moment, C. J. Sansom's Matthew Shardlake stars in five books. I've just received book 4, Revelation, from good old Some of the things that make Matthew a good lawyer, the trust others put in him, his dodged determination to discover the truth of things, his innate curiosity,his relatively corrupt free methodology of handing issues, and his friendship with others who reinforce those good things about him, make him an individual that others seek out time and time again.

When I was a younger man, Bard Games, a company that produced the Atlantis Trilogy, had three handbooks for use with AD&D; The Complete Spellcaster, the Complete Alchemist, and the Compleat Adventurer. That last book had a class called the hunter, and under that, several variants including the bounty hunter.

This individual was one that had its own material including how much to charge, how to capture your prey, and other neat little bits. It wasn't necessarily the first time I had seen such a use, as one of the Best of Dragon magazines had a NPC version, but that Hunter version by Bard Games was neat.

And further in terms of hunting down the villains of a setting, the Clone Wars is filled with various Bounty Hunters. They make a quick way of throwing out a group of individuals that can toss a monkey wrench into things if a situation gets out of control.

The Law is something that most players in a hard core fantasy setting aren't necessarily going to worry about, but on the other hand, it's not something that needs to be the end if they are captured. For example, what about a campaign variant around the Dirty Dozen? Here the characters are captured and 'executed' and can either work for the state that captured them, or be sent to their death for real. It's a trick used by both Raymond Feist in his Demon War series, and also used in the Warhammer setting for the trilogy Blackhearts.

The Law should be something that even as its worst, can be turned into another adventure.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

K is For Key

Keys are a nice little treasure that you can throw into an adventure at almost any time and if not assigned when initially created, can be used at a more appropriate time.

Keys are great for a lot of the standards ranging from jail cells, handcuffs, chains, doors, chests, and in the fantasy settings, things like gates.

Keys can vary in size and type. The key for a storm giant's treasury might be slightly different than the keys to a halflings private stash of pipe weed.

In a city with a good thieves guild, there might even be specialist who can forge keys. These keys may come in a few different types. For a quick switch out, the duplicate key may only look superficially like the real key. It's a distraction so that no one knows that the real key has been yanked. In the latter case, an actual duplicate key is made that no one else necessarily knows about.

Well, you know, except for the poor guy who made that special duplicate key right?

Some of the older dungeon adventurers don't necessarily use a standard 'key' though. Sometimes there were slots that required a certain weapon to be used, other times a set of phrases to unlock something.

When dealing out the contents of a person's pouch to that rogue's latest acquisition, don't forget the keys!

Monday, April 11, 2011

J is For Jail

C. J. Sansom in Soverign, has the main character, Matthew Shardlake, wind up going to the tower of London.

For all intents and purposes, this is a confession house crossed with a jail. When you do in, you generally do not come out unless the country (the king), has what he wants out of you or at least has what he thinsk he wants out of you.

The jail should be everything that the players would like to avoid under more pleasant circumstances.

1. Cold and damp.

2. Expensive. Imagine that you get gruel and to get any food or clothes, you have to bribe the guards a little bit extra every time you'd like something outside of the gruel.

3. Dangerous. The guards may put you in with people who don't necessarily care about you or your causes or why you're in there because they have their whole slew of issues that's private to them that they are dealing with.

4. A bad place to die. Disease, rats, and other terrors lurk around every corner. There's no guarantee that you'll be getting out of this one.

In short, jail should be a place where if the players think they have a good change of going, that they should probably rethink what they're doing.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

I Is For Inn

One of my favorite reference books, The Encylopedia of the Middle Ages has a nice short entry for Inns and Taverns. "Until around the eleventh century, most travelers relied on the hospitality of private homes or monastaries to provide food and lodging. the increase in travel, particularly by merchants, made it impractical to rely on private dwellings, but it gave rise to the concept of "commercial" hospitality in the form of inns and taverns."

"The type of lodging a traveler could expect depending upon where he was going. In France, and Italy, a traveller could find inns or hostels in major cities, and smaller inns in outlying reigions. In the Arab countries, travelers could rest at a caravansary, which usually consisted of buildings surrounding a large courtyard. Less-traveled countries such as England and Spain offered fewer and more expensive choices, although In Engaldn travelers could get a drink and sometimes a simple meal, at an ale house.

"As travel increased, so did the number and quality of inns and taverns. Some enterprising individuals turned their homes into inns; others leased the inns from owners. Inkeepers eventually formed their own guild, which afforded a certain degree of quality control. Each room in these lodgins might hold several beds, and each bed in turn might hold several guests. Inns in university towns often rented rooms to students by the year. Inns usually had one or two paid employees beside the innkeper.

"Taverns also became more common, offering villagers, merchants, and students a place to eat and drink in simle but convivial surroundings. Already in the Middle ages merchants found a taverns a convenient meeting place to conduct their business."

In the fantasy settings that games like Dungeons and Dragons take place, the idea of a meeting place remains as true as ever. It's a bit of a cliche that the adventurers meet in a tavern, that there is a patron in the darker corners, that there are 'job postings' in the tavern wall that require specialized skills of the players. Even games like Warhammer though, aren't above using a tavern for a bit of quick fun as one of the most interesting short adventurers relies on a timeline of events and can play out different each time depending on the actions of the characters.

Inns are a place that can be customized depending upon the food and alcohol stylings, as well as any possible entertaininment that may be provided. Depending on where its located and which part of town, they may be reknown for places of gathering different types of information.

On longer trips, the Inn may transform, as it does in Warhammer, into a Waystation or sorts, a fortited tavern will walls and soldiers that has a higher cost, but is designed to keep the roads open.

As long as they're not overused or the players are seeking them out under their own power, the Inns and taverns of the setting should say something about the setting itself.

Friday, April 8, 2011

H is For History

When reading C. J. Snasom's Soverign, one of the things that comes into question is how history is formed and perceived by the people living today. There are older books that cover events and laws that become... shall we say, inconveinent and are purged from the archieves. But this isn't a universal purge as a few places that are out of the way still have this knowledge.

But not only that, but there are still some older people who recall the actual events.

Imagine a setting though, where there are elves, dwarves, and other long lived, if not immortal creatures. This rewriting of history doesn't necessarily become impossible, but it becomes more tangled. After all, it's not like people don't lie, even to themselves of older events or aren't above trying to make themselves look good, as a certain mage in The First Law series of books showed.

But outside of trying to recapture the truth of the past, either for the sake of knowing the truth or because there is vital information that is needed, history can have tremendous weight. After all, H is also for Holiday and it's not like someone just wakes up one day and announces something is now going to be celebrated. That's not impossible after all as Sienfield and Festivus proved but for the most part, holidays are build or corrupted from older events and then tied into more modern events to align themselves more popularly with todays ideas.

History can also be found in the very buildings that a city is build of. The materials and stylings of the old town may be different than the new town which may be different than the noble ward which may be different than the merchant ward and so on. History can also be found in the different styles of painting, music, dress and even outward attitudes.

When looking at your fantasy city, think about what events have given the city weight. Which events has the city hidden? Which events have become wide spread and celebrated? Which events does the city vow will never happen again? Which events has the city at one time vowed would never happen again but vigilance has long since cooled?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

G is For Guild

In the city, depending on the time frame, guilds are very powerful entities in and of themselves. They can often control whole swathes of the trade industry that they are tied to. They control the training, the secrets, and the access to the finer materials that each guild is known for.

But how does that tie into gaming?

In Paizo's evolution of the 3.5 engine, Pathfinder, the very name itself is that of a group of adventurers that seek to share knowledge and information about the world around them.

Sometimes the Guild membership has enough perks that players seek it out. Other times the players are either just so good at their job or just so independent, that they balk at the idea of joining a guild. The most famous type of area for guilds this shows up for is Thieves Guilds. For example, the Twain, Fafrd and Gray Mouser, are independents who have crushed the thieves guild in the past. The Order of the Stick has it's own member, Haley, who is a former member who went off to find a bigger and better destiny. In the web comic Weregeek, the latest storyline involves one of the rogue characters who is not a member of the local thieves guild.

In the Clone Wars animated series, season two had a subtitle of Rise of the Bounty Hunters due to the wide variety of characters and episodes that featured bounty hunters. In the comics that cross over into the same time frame, the Star Wars Omnibus Menance Revealed, showcases Aurra Sing, among others. Aurra Sing is so good that when the bounty hunter guild needs a rogue brought in, they call her.

Guilds, like unions, have their own dues, their own codes, and their own methods of handling things. Players might find themselves working for the a guild or against it. Depending on how tight a guild's control over things are, there might be competition from other guilds that do similar work as one guild seeks to expand at the expense of another's power.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

F is for Food

While it may seem a little silly to be talking about food, it has many important parts to consider.

In Futurama, when they're spoofing good old Chef Emeril and Bender decides to become a chef, the very art of food preparation becomes an adventure.

In the 'old days', in one of the different perfect bound adventure books (either the Book of Lairs I or II or one of the others in that line), the adventurers find out the meats that a famous place prepares include such cuisine as purple worm.

In Warhammer, it's almost a running gag that you don't eat the sausage as there are various times when the sausage is more than it appears or worse, is tainted with Chaos!

Food can also become an important commodity in and of itself. In the Clone Wars, they pay homage to the classic film, Seven Samurai. In that film, the Samurai are hired to protect rice farmers.

In Usagi Yojimbo, in the graphic novel 17, on the way to the duel with Usagi's master, there is another homage or sorts as a small cadre of samurai fight against a group of bandits intent on wiping out the village and using their food to survive the winter.

In sieges, food also becomes an enormous issue. In fantasy games where clerics or magic items can summon food, its probably a good bet that the besiegers have specialists to assassinate or destroy such items.

Food can also be a cause for celebration in and of itself. Being a native of Chicago, we have many food events and some of them go back to E for Entertainment, in that they include music and other goods to enjoy while eating a variety of foods.

Wither it's working for one chief that's a rival to another, protecting a city that's under siege, or fighting off yet another band of bandits intent on making off with this year's crops, food has a vital role to play in any game.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

E is For Entertainment

One of the things about a city, is that there are a lot of things to do in it.

In C J Sansom's Sovereign, book three of the Shardlake series, there is a need for entertainment. After all, the king is coming to Kent. One of the events arranged is bear baiting where a bear is pitted against hounds. While barbaric and cruel of animals, these 'sporting' events are not limited to the dark ages of history as even light hearted shows like Seinfeld have an episode where chicken fighting is the theme and of course, who could forget football superstar spending time in jail for pitbull fighting?

Outside of such animal cruelty though, cities have other various forms of entertainment. The Clone Wars carton series for example, often features the characters going into various bars in order to discover some information of a more seedy nature. Outside of the information exchange, there is often gambling, dancing, and of course, drinking.

In Chicago, not only do we have an enormous amount of bars and eateries, we also have various museums. The players could discover that some of the clues they're looking for are of such age or such rarity, that all available copies are only to be found in some obscure or expensive or exclusive museum.

But what about music? Chicago also has its share of outdoor shows. Such a show, where the center of the city is occupied and people are milling about, drinking, eating, dancing, and having a good time, could easily be the center of a chase scene or an assassination attempt. Imagine the chaos if the threat is perceived by the crowd or imagine the difficulty the characters will have communicating if it is not! The music, masses, and general horde of people will present their own difficulty.

Plays and operas may be another way to showcase various background elements in the campaign. Propping up an old play that showcases how the current king game to power, ala Hamlet, or providing a hiding place for the characters, or even a job source for the characters, can always be entertaining. After all, some would say the the Spider Man musical has certainly had its share of adventure worthy issues.

When designing a city, don't forget the things that make it more than run, don't forget the things that make it fun.

Monday, April 4, 2011

D is For Disease

I would have went with P is for Plague but I've got something else in mind for that letter.

In keeping the material in line with books I'm working on or just finished off, disease plays a minor role in C. J. Sansom's third novel of Shardlake, Sovereign. Several of the characters, while not suffering the direct effects of the Black Plague or other plagues, note that the cities tend to breed the plagues and that they are a periodical problem.

Even in the times we live in now, diseases can run rampant if given the right breeding grounds and opportunity. Various things happen, even when the disease is under control, that the GM should take into account.

1. Quarantine. No one gets in or out until its all said and done.

2. Specialist. The doctors of the olden times with their hook beaked masks filled with various incense and herbs to prevent the spreading of disease have a unique look all their own and this look has been used in various fields ranging from movies to comics.

3. Overkill: One of the reasons families may have been large is that disease could come along and wipe out everyone. In Sovereign, one of the characters notes that his own family has died of the plague but he managed to avoid it. What type of mentality does it set up if every dozen years or so a disease cuts through the locals and its a matter of hit or miss?

4. Magic: Dungeons and Dragons has a huge array of races, magic items, locations, planes, and other bits that can be used to spice up the normal disease. In a recent book I just finished, The Wolf Age, Ambrose suffered from a 'ghosting' disease that worked its way from his hand trembling to going insubstantial and that ghost like effect working its way toward his heart. Diseases don't necessarily all have to be about the standard bile and pus.

5. The gods. This goes both ways. While there are gods that help to cure the diseases, such as Lathandar in the Twilight War series, there are gods whose whole specialty is the spreading of diseases, such as Nurgle, one of the four Ruinous powers behind the Warhammer setting and whose creatures plague the witch hunter in that series.

6. A Weapon: Disease can be used as a weapon. In an old movie I recall, I believe, Flesh and Blood, disease is used in the water as a biological weapon.

When using disease, like many other large scale elements though, the GM has to decide what the role of the disease is. It's it a manufactured disease like the Blue Shadow from the Clone Wars that the players have to actively avoid, or is it a background element that for all intents and purposes, the players have plot immunity from unless they do something really stupid?

Is it something already in play or something that is coming? Is it a plot point that the players can stop, and if so, what happens if they fail to stop it? The Years of Rice and Salt provide one answer, but you'll have to decide if that's the answer you want for your own campaign.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

C is For Castle

When I was a younger man, I enjoyed some of the Eyewitness books, like Castle, that DK Publishing put out. Another one of my favorites was Castle by David Macaulay, along with Pyramid and Cathedral.

Such books wouldn't provide immense depth or detail, but they did have some nice illustrations along with a look at how long it took to raise a castle, and the types of people that were involved not only in the building of the castle, but in its maintenance long after the castle was build.

I throw C for Castle into my mix of urban adventure ideas, not because a castle is a city, although a large one may have enough staff and people visiting it to make it a suburb of its own, but because castles, designed for defense in and of themselves, would often have people start creating their own dwellings next to and around the castle. Walls could be then put up around their 'old town' sections and leave some of the newer construction outside the protection until eventually walls would either be build to encompass those sections, or there would be no need for the walls as the land itself was tame.

Many fantasy cities also have their castles named right after them, the most  famous of these probably being Castle Greyhawk, Castle Blackmoor, Castle Wasterdeep and I seem to remember the Castle in the City State of the Invicible Overlord as well.

When looking at a fantasy city, the age and original location of the city may provide you with the details you need to design the castles that might have started the whole thing off as well as a host of people that are needed to run the castle ranging from the kitchen staff and armory, but to the jesters and court nobels as well.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

B is For Besieged

The city is often a place for characters to unwind. There are numerous forms of entertainment, different locations to visit, different items and equipment to buy, rumors and gossip to catch up on, and otherwise, outside of the odd encounter by say, assassins, feel save.

But what if the city itself is in danger?

When I read Bernard Cornwell's Agincourt, a large part of the book dealt not necessarily with that particular battle itself, but with the besieging of the city, Harfleur, before it.

The work of being Besieged is also famous in fantasy thanks to the Lord of the Rings movies and the siege not only of the citadel in the second movie, but of the city proper in the third movie.

Even gaming fiction doesn't escape the use of the siege as Gortex, a massively squat and powerful drawf that seeks death throguh the time honored art of being a Troll Slayer, has been engaged in one in the far north. While gaming modules themselves don't often use the siege, WoTC's Red Hand of Doom has a scenario where the party is in a city when it comes under attack.

When doing the city under attack bit, there needs to be a few realizations of the party's role in things before hand. For example, is the party part of the local militia or national army? Are they part of some special forces? If they are just some random wandering mercenaries, the chances of them staying to fight if the have the means to easily escape, and let's face it, most such characters by the time they're 8th+ generally have a means of hitting the road.

Then you have to think of the opposition. The Lord of the Rings movies are good for this in one way. These are essentially classic sieges. Sure, there's a massive battering ram that has its own lore behind it. Sure, there are troops in there ranging from trolls and warg riders to elephants. Sure, there is a Nazgul attack there. But compared to a traditional fantasy kitchen sink game? That's purely standard troops in action. We don't see magic involved in the fighting on either side. We don't see a repeat of the use of explosives that we saw at Helm's Hold. We don't see armies of Giant Spiders and Giant Eagles and other fantastic monsters that wouldn't be offput by walls for example.

When preparing to siege a city, as the GM, you have to decide have fantastical you want the elements.

In the Gortex example, when a Chaos army is trying to take over the city, Gortex and Felix, his bard noble comrade who must document his life, act in many ways like special forces, going out and destroying cannons and other dangerous targets, allowing the city defenders to do what they need to do without fear of the big guns.

In the Lord of the Rings, the king of the Nazgul doesn't fall to arrows, but to a specific target that would probably be a player character in a game.

It might be best when running a siege, not to have the players have to fight the armies one on one, but to meet and break certain goals. In the siege on Helms Deep for example, in the movie when Strider throws his drawf comrade and them leaps across to hold the bridge on the outside, would be an example of a specific mission.

To tie it into Appendix N, let's look at the carton movie The Clone Wars. The movie has Anakin and Oobie in a city holding back the 'bots or clunkers as they're often called when the 'bots use a force field to protect their army. The 'bot army starts its advancement on the clones and cannot be attacked through the force field. The player's goal? Shut down that force field. In fact, much of the main character's work and deeds throughout the Clone Wars series that follows, are special missions.

Set up scenarios and goals for the players that will challenge them as a party instead of a slog to only drain their resoruces. Of course if draining their resoruces is the whole point of the siege...

For counter example, if you've been running a little fast and loose with the funds and magic items and the players don't always carry those things with them, if their in some pit uncovering more loot and come back and find the city they stayed at under enemy flag or in the midsts of a siege, making it difficult to get back to... well, their wealth and non-carried items might have new owners.

But don't be surprised if the city is only under siege that they don't either sneak into the city, or outright join the army doing the besieging on the condition that their own items within the city are untouched. Players are a funny and often unpredicitable lot.

Friday, April 1, 2011

A is For Assassin

One the the things that makes a city an environment worth visiting over and over again, is the people. The people of a city can do more to bring it to life than many other common elements used to bring unique designs to dungeons and wilderness.

Along those lines, assassins are something that springs to mind when I think of cities. In terms of where such inspiration might have originated from, in my youth, Raymond Feist wrote of Nighthawks, a group of assassins that worked in the cities and that Jimmy the Hand had to help a young noble struggle against. Another older write, Frizt Leiber had the Slayers Brotherhood, a guild of assassins in Lankhimar.

In more modern viewings, although still fairly old, one of the most popular assassins has to come from manga in the form of Lone Wolf and Cub. A series nearly thirty books long with many a tragic tale woven along the way.

Even Dungeons and Dragons fiction doesn't escape the long appeal of the assassin with one of the most popular (and loved to be hated by the internets) characters, Drizzt, having a rival, Artemis. The latter even carrying several novels of his own.

Assassins can make for clever foes or for nameless thugs. They can be used to showcase how seriously an enemy is taking the players, such as in the Paizo setting where Red Mantis Assassins may be hunting your party, as happens in at least one adventure path, or in older material such the Scarlet Brotherhood is known to use them such as in Expedition to the Keep on the Borderlands and other resources.

My own recent exposure to assassins and the tie in to Appendix N, where I try to keep what I'm reading, watching, and doing in terms of how it effects my gaming, would be Golgo 13, or at least the 12 episodes in one variation of it available for viewing from Netflix.

The problem with Golgo 13 though, is he's boring. He is set up as such a perfect sniper and killer that even when one of the other characters comes in and points out method after method of how the sniper must fail and cannot succeed or how the other character is some type of rival sniper and how he has laid out all of his plans, Golgo breezes through them.

This to me can be entertaining at times seeing the ultimate professional, but there is no build up or testing of the character's skill. There is no moment where the viewer is worried about the fate of Golgo. He's just so good that you might as well read the summary of the series and figure, "Yeah, this character's plan isn't going to work and Golgo will kill the target."

So that reminds me to keep things at least interesting for the characters. Keep them guessing at the very least. Try to have some sort of build up where