Monday, May 27, 2013

The Other Encounters For Cronnon

Simply Click the encounter charts to enlarge.
I think that this region is just ripe for a whole slew of forgotten gods desperate to be remembered. Some of them could still be benevolent, but most, I fear, will have succumbed to raging madness.
I envisioned the Goblins of this region to more resemble early hominids than the slimy, mini-orcs of typical FRPGs. They have tawny fur, two extra sets of kanines, and move with an animalistic lope. Communicating with whistles, chirps, and clicks (some of which humans cannot reproduce) also makes them seem even more like animals; however, they are just as intelligent as men. Further complicating the issue, goblin voice boxes are equally incapable of human speech. (I figured it could work Chewbacca style: men can learn goblin even if they can speak it and vice versa.)
To my mind goblins are the only alternative, playable race in the setting, but please do whatever you want with all this. Elves could easily live in ancient forests a few weeks travel to the East, and Dwarves could fit just fine in mountainous fortresses far to the South. If you're doing a D&Dish system, just modify halflings 'til they seem goblinish enough.
The New Goblin Settlement is in fact weary rather than wary of outsiders. Every time they've had contact with anyone not of their kind, it has ended tragically. Their values prevent them from simply killing those they do not know; however, the longer they stay in this part of the world, the more xenophobic they become.

The tribal structure of the Clasbreeg Giants mimics that of lions with whom they once shared the broad plains. Beyond the obvious imagery associated with lions, the very idea of them should still permeate Clasbreeg culture.

That's it for Cronnon and the Southern Marches. I hope you get some use out of this. (I know I will.) If you like the setting, have any suggestions/questions, or see any use for all this random please do leave some comments.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Cronnon: A Random Sandbox

Below is a random encounter chart for the entire Northern wilderness of the region. The Northern Chart covers rows 1-6 (jagged though they may be).

Roads usually take about a day to travel across on foot per hex, while wilderness hexes take 1 to 3 days to traverse depending on the terrain (center-to-center or edge-to-edge). 

This encounter chart can be rolled on once per wilderness hex. It's not your typical "Wandering Monster" chart but more of a series of problems, obstacles, and plots "in-potentia". Whenever you roll something that's a permanent place, be sure to mark it on your master of the map for future reference. There's  no need to roll on the chart when the PCs are at a hex already marked with a point of interest.

A few More Notes about this Microsetting

The people of Cronnon tend to be an irreligious if oddly superstitious bunch. There are two ruined temples in the Cronnon city proper. The first, a temple to the numerous "Old Gods" was torn down by the proselytizing conquerors. These zealots came from the Kingdom to which Cronnon used to be connected. They built a new temple to their monotheistic Earth Goddess which, in turn, has fallen to disrepair since the Downfall. There aren't any orders of clerics/priests, but many people believe in either Fate or Animism. Additionally, magic is very rare and viewed with virulent fear by most in the region. Magic-using characters should be discreet unless they want to be ostracized or worse. 
Click the Map to Jump Back to the Original Article

I've left everything purposely system-agnostic. Playing this with Savage Worlds will feel very different from doing it OSR. Just use whatever monster-stats make sense for your game, sketch-out or swipe a few maps (see Dyson's Dodecahedron at the top-right), roll up some characters, and BAM! you got yourself a really odd sandbox game. If they wander off the map, just keep the same type of terrain going.

If your player characters need a bit of goading, start them as very poor day-laborers in New Hope. When a group of NPCs come into the Workhouse buying round after round and bragging about how they struck it rich in some old tomb, the starving, out-of-work PCs should be hooked. Alternatively, you could have on of the wealthier homesteaders offer to outfit the PCs if they explore the ruins in B4 and split the take with him.

Click Here to review the post about "currency", and do try to remember the relative scarcity of metal goods in the region.

I've got more encounter charts and design notes still to come.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Quick Fire*: Tailoring Your Descriptions to the Characters

To my mind, character immersion is the very quintessence of Roleplaying Games. Making decisions from the perspective of your character and feeling what your character feels is pure magic. There’s a simple trick GM’s can use to help nurture this immersion: customising descriptions to the characters at hand.

Hey! Look! Examples!
“It’s a crisp and altogether pleasant autumn day as you all steadily trek up the mountains,” I said to the group as a whole. I then turned to the one player not playing a native of the region. He happened to come from a  much warmer climate. “It’s cold. Ridiculously, frigidly cold. Try though you might to bundle up in your cloak, the cursed breeze continues to cut you to the bone.”


Say two characters are hit with the same concussive blast for the same minor damage, one an ex-marine with lots of combat training and experience, the other a professor of Esoteric Studies. To the marine, “It was a hell of a tumble, really rang your bell, but nothing too bad.” To the professor,  “You only know you're alive because your entire body hurts. It’s hard to breathe. You can barely even think.”


Until you as a GM get a good feel for the characters, your opportunities for this are going to be limited. But, when you do use it, you’ll find a huge return in the form of player investment and engagement. You can’t ask for more as a GM.

*I was really unhappy with the last quick-fire article. So Quick Fire no longer means an unpolished, stream-of-consciousness article, but rather a short, to-the-point piece.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

"Coin" in the Southern Marches

It all started when the good Gnome, Mr. Martin Rayla, shared his idea to randomly generate a hex map. I got the time to actually make one a few days later (check it out if you haven't yet). Ever since,the resultant microsetting has been bouncing around my skull.

I've been thinking about the economy of the New Hope and God's Tree settlements. The majority of those making the long and perilous journey from Cronnon would be virtually without coin. Bartering seemed like the natural result of such a situation. However, the jealous nature of the Cronnon Guilds means a general lack of craftsmen and the goods they produce. To make matters worse for the settlers, the Guilds only allow trade with settlements and towns paying them taxes.

What then is there to barter? Rough cloth, shoddy rope, and crude crockery are all easy enough to imagine as coming from untrained cottage industry, but precious little else. Whatever properly constructed goods the settlers brought with them would be far too valuable to trade. So a formalised mode of barter came to be.

The Crock

Any man giving a full-week's work to another may expect to be paid with some form of trade good ( perhaps a small coil of rope, seeds, some few tanned hides, a good whetstone, or a small bolt of cloth) and one "Full Crock". These Crocks are smallish, lidded clay vessels filled with around a pound or so of grain (wheat flour, barley, oats, or sometimes dried peas). They are a fully recognized form of currency in both New Hope and God's Tree. Additionally, the employer is expected to feed his hired men at least once a day for the duration of their work and it's considered polite to send them away with a full-stomach. The wealth one accumulates has an intrinsic value as food as well as a defined cultural value.

This informal system of currency has led to the development of a pool of young migrant workers (read as "desperate potential adventurers"). They live at inns known as "workhouses" where the cumbersome Crocks can be stored for them on deposit. A single Full Crock buys a worker a week of food and shelter at the inn while the various trade goods typically buy an extra day or two (depending on the needs of the establishment). Empty Crocks rarely fetch more than a day. Most workhouses are just one large room with a scattering of tables and a cellar. The accommodations include a dry spot on the floor, a warm meal, and little else. When a worker wishes to leave, he/she is free to take any remaining Crocks he/she may have on deposit. Most workers hope to one day gather enough supplies to start a farmstead of their own.

The innkeepers that run these establishments are some of the few in the settlements that can read or write. In many ways, it would seem that the workers are at the innkeeper's mercy; however, the innkeepers are quite outnumbered, and there's no lawmen to call upon. The people police themselves; reputation is everything in the settlements.

Ya know, the Crock is a simple idea that'd be easy to transfer to any poor, isolated setting. Feel free to swipe it and drop a line in the comments to let me know how it goes. 

If you've got an unusual currency you've been thinking about or actually used in a game, I'd love to hear about that too.

I'm really enjoying designing this little setting. More to come. More. To. Come. 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Defining Your Terms - Beyond the Binary

I've written before concerning the importance of a common language when discussing tabletop roleplaying games. While I still believe such a thing would be useful, I don't expect that an agreement on terms is likely nor needed. Until formal academic studies of RPG practice and culture are commonplace, no consistent vernacular will be established. Even then it will be, as all language, an evolving and fluid lexicon. 'Til that glorious golden day in the future, all of us nerds are going to have to define our terms. Sans that, no real communication is possible. Unfortunately there's something that gets in the way of doing so with any actual depth: Binary Thinking.

Binary Thinking, Either/Or, Us vs Them.

A plague upon the Western World! A plague I say!

Binary thinking is considering an issue as consisting of only either A or B. You are either good, or you are evil; you are on our side, or you are the enemy; you either like Star Trek, or you like Star Wars; you're either playing a realistic game or a cinematic game. Not only does binary thought ignore the rich spectrum in between extremes, it also carries the implication that one state is better than the other (sometimes explicitly so). Now, there are certain qualities that are binary by nature: clockwise/counterclockwise, north/south, east/west,  + / -, and even good/bad; however, with few exceptions there are varying degrees within these binary opposites.

Taking the example of Good/Bad, I find that there is a definite line between the two ideas, a line that should not be crossed. Yet there is a world of difference between a mistake made during a lapse in judgement (still a bad decision) and a willfully malicious action (what I consider actual evil). You can make a decision that benefits you and harms no one else (good) while still the possibility of a better decision on your part exists (one yielding more benefit).* It's also quite possible to make a decision that has both good and bad consequences. Whereas binary thought carries the implication that states of being are always mutually exclusive.

The short of it is that dividing the world into binary opposites is inherently limiting, of little to no use, and very far removed from actuality.

What then does this philosophical dribble have to do with RPGs?

My Terms:

Verisimilar & Verisimilitude - When a particular mechanic or setting element elegantly evokes a sense of reality, demonstrating a reasonably authentic representation of real-world possibilities. I find this to be a more suitable and less a loaded word than "Realism."
     Example: A game that has realistic healing rates and simple but apt mechanics vis-à-vis disease could be said to be "medically verisimilar" or "have a  a simple sort of medical verisimilitude" if you prefer more Thoreau-esque prose.  

Exaggerated & Exaggeration - When a particular mechanic or setting element stretches something beyond its normal capacity, aka "over-the-top", "larger-than-life".  The dividing line between exaggeration & fantasy (see below) is not entirely clear. Exaggeration is when something that could or might happen is pushed beyond the bounds of normalcy. Fantasy, when something that can't happen does. An action hero diving thirty feet from an exploding helicopter and getting up without serious injury is exaggeration. A fire-breathing, flying dragon casting magic missile is fantasy.
     Example: A pulp-style game in which a mustachioed boxer might be capable of punching out a grizzly bear has "a fun and very exaggerated combat system."

Fantastical & Fantasy - When something that cannot happen does. Magic, dragons, orcish shamans, flying monkeys, extraplanar creatures, superheroes, etc. are all fantastical elements.  
     Example: The idea that "bikini maile" protects female warriors at all is "pure fantasy."

It should be noted, I am by no means attempting to supplement binaries with a trinary. These qualities are not the be all and end all of RPG theory. I do, however, find them to be at the heart of many discussions and arguments as to the nature of the games we play.

A pair of quick examples of these terms in use to describe actual RPG systems.

A short one:

Savage Worlds provides a reasonably quick, oddly rules-heavy game of cinematic, action-hero-style exaggeration.

A long one:

The venerable and thoroughly gonzo Rifts setting & system provides a clunky but playable and certainly interesting game. It's staggeringly fantastical setting includes ridiculously exaggerated super-science and dozens (hundreds?) of different takes on magic/psychics/magic-tech/psy-tech/mutants/cthulhu-esque-beings/etc.
Oddly, Rifts adopts strict verisimilar stances on certain things, seemingly at random. (Lasers are quiet, super-duper-rail-guns require pylon-bracings, the skill system in general attempts verisimilitude via complexity.) Then it exaggerates  and dismisses with fantasy many other aspects ( Literally ANYTHING can pop in through the rifts. "You wanna be a dragon? Cool. You're a baby dragon. You can cast spells and be bad-ass but you're really naive. Got it?")  In Rifts, if you can imagine it, there's probably a rule for it: expansive hardly conveys the spread of potentiality here.
All in all, it's a bipolar, rules-heavy, weird monstrosity, but I've never not had fun playing it.

Viewing settings and systems through these lenses has been a helpful tool for me to square away what I do and don't enjoy about gaming. As always, Your Mileage May Vary**.

* I am not about to get into an argument concerning morality on this blog. If you do happen to be interested in a philosophical discussion, you will find my Google+ contact info on the righthand menu (or bottom of the page if you're looking at the mobile version). I, however, make no guarantee I'll be available or in the mood for such a discussion.

** And if it does, I'd love to hear about it. Comments are more than welcome!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Quick Fire: The Illusion of Depth

Note: This is a quickfire, from-the-hip article I'm writing in part to challenge myself. It won't be as polished as my usual fare. You were warned.

If there's one sure way to lose the interest of your players, it's to drown 'em in details. Read a large, dull block of descriptive prose to them and eyes glaze, dice become towers, and phones begin to coldly glow beneath busy, uninterested fingers.

Quick, what's the exact placement of items on the shelves nearest to you right now? Okay maybe you know that, maybe. Alright then, at your best friends house, what are all the decorative items in his/her living room? You probably can't name half of them and I'd expect you spend a fair amount of time there. When ya walk into a room, you probably don't immediately inventory the place and attempt to gauge the exact size of the draperies and wall-art. You instead get an immediate impression of the general layout and sort of take in the atmosphere of the place.

The room I'm in right now as it probably ought to be described --> "The smallish room is cluttered and haphazardly decorated. Random papers, envelopes, and note cards lay on most of the flat surfaces. There's a computer and a fair sized TV. Smells of cooking waft in from the nearby kitchen."

How it often goes instead "The first thing you see is a big computer monitor it's pretty much right in front of you. There's a printout of a watercolor of a god-like figure stuck on a dry-erase board with doodles and numbers on the board behind it. The room is 12' x 14'. To the right is part of a blue-white sectional, wedged against the wall. There's a black coffee table between you and the computer desk. It's 1.5 x 3.5 feet. There's a pile of mail and books on it... ad nauseum"

When the Heroes/Grave-Robbing-Scumbags/PCs come into a room give them a few details that set the mood for the area then let them ask questions and explore. This is a game of interaction not a damn book-reading. Be prepared to improvise. They will, I repeat WILL go off and investigate something you didn't expect and will demand details about the least important thing in the room. The secret is to have an idea of the mood, atmosphere, and inhabitants of the place firmly in your mind. Then just sort of let the minute details grow from there as the players direct you around the space.

In a similar vein, vagueness is your friend when it comes to measurements. Everything should start at about this big, good-sized, a few feet deep, maybe a yard wide, should hold a quite a damn bit,  etc. Unless there's a cyborg with a scanning eye in the party, nobody will know the exact measurements of anything just by sight. There's no surer way to jar a player out of immersion and remind him/her that they're playing a game than saying, "the ogre magi is 17 feet away. What's your move?"

In short, remember the mood/purpose of the room and pull it outta yer ass from there. It's a lot more exciting to explore the dungeon alongside the players anyway.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Conceptual Concerns of a Low Fantasy Setting

The following is a Concept Draft I wrote to keep myself on task while developing my Low Fantasy setting, Ayhton. I intend to release Ayhton as a bonus setting along with my Roleplaying System Grit as well as a stand alone, system-less product. I reckon that revealing this abstract will illuminate both what Ayhton will be as well as what I like and dislike in a Fantasy World.

Ayhton: A Concept Draft

Ayhton is a world not unlike what our own world once was. The myriad cultures  of the continent of Ayhton bear striking similarities to many cultures of earth's past. The Braegings and Feyruslunders certainly have much in common with the various Germanic Medieval nations, the Thortoni vaguely share a not unsimilar history with the Greco-Roman world, and the Pyroshi are not unlike many diverse Slavic and Turkish tribes. But Ayhton is not some grand historical experiment of renaming real world cultures. It is a living, breathing place all its own. The many peoples of Ayhton are in a constant state of movement and change. They migrate. Their mores, religions, and ways of life evolve, mutate, and sometimes cease to be. Nations in heavy trade with each other spread more than wealth and produce; they force change betwixt them. There are no eternal cities or unchanging societies. Even the most xenophobic tribes change over time if from no other force than the weight of isolation. There are no "good" kingdoms nor are there "evil" empires, no evil goblins nor any good elves, no infallible gods nor innately wicked devils. Everyone and everything in Ayhton must be judged singly to be judged well. 
It is a place where the fantastic is certainly possible but rare. The vast majority of folk live their whole lives without ever witnessing any form of magic: divine, supernatural, necromantic, wizardly, or otherwise.