The Evil DM

The Evil DM
The Evil DM

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

How Small Details Affect the Big Picture

Many fantasy campaigns have a static world. Nothing significant changes in the world around the characters. I like to thrust the characters into situations where the world significantly changes. For example, in my World of Tiglath campaign the entire government organization changed almost overnight.

Characters must make new connections to the world. Who they connect with and what they do in the world has consequences. This requires defining the relationships between the non-player characters. The Game Master should lay out the network of relationships from the lowly fence all the way to the ruler. This way, when the players sell a little bobble that has some importance to a high level official there is a network diagram showing how the official will learn of the transaction. In the movie The Usual Suspects, Kobayashi tells each character how they unwittingly stole from Keyser Soze. The Game Master should plan for that type of scene. The Game Master should keep track of everything the player characters do. That way, several gaming sessions later the Game Master can ask the player, “Do you remember when you sold that strange looking piece of amber to the fence, Spezoil?” Then when the player character is confronted by an official who pulls out the piece of amber and says, “You sold this to my informant, Spezoil. How did this come into your possession?”

The news is full of stories how people come to power and fall out of power because of personal indiscretions. When the players find some minor trinket they have no idea the trinket could have a political history that could cause political upset. In the book Johnny Tremain the main plot revolves around a silver cup engraved with the Lyte’s coat of arms. Game Masters should learn to steal good plot points. The party recovers some loot including an engraved silver cup. Houses can rise or fall depending on which fence gets the silver cup.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Political Intrigue vs. Melee

One of my favorite movies is Lion in Winter. There is very little action in this film. Instead there is a lot of dialog and political intrigue. Mandatory action scenes where the party must kill or be killed often bog down the session. The Lion in Winter contains threats of violence and schemes but no killing. Some of the most enjoyable gaming session I have played and run have little or no action. I remember one long gaming session where the players debated for three hours what they wanted to do. It was a wonderful opportunity as a game master to write down all the wild ideas the players came up with.

I love a gaming session where neither the players nor game master need to pick up a pair of dice or consult a rule book. The goal of role playing should be role playing not rolling dice. I find political intrigue a powerful asset in the game master’s kit.

The party wanders into a small village. One of the members of the party is a third level cleric. The village cleric (note there is only one) is only second level. The village cleric is immediately concerned the player character is after his or her job.

The village constable only want to keep the peace. He is concerned the party might cause trouble with all their weapons and equipment.

One prominent member of the town is worried the new-comers might bring in subversive ideas. He/she feels the village must protect the children from the corrupting influence of outsiders.

The key is to let the party in on the intrigue. In the scenario where the village cleric is concerned about his/her job you could have a young boy/girl approach the party and ask, “Can I be your altar boy when you take over the Sanctuary?”

Again there is no need for melee. The village cleric may even try to bribe the party to leave. This provides an opportunity for part to gain treasure or information without swinging a sword or rolling dice.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Equipment as Works of Art

Today we take mass production for granted. You go to a big-box store and buy a rope out of a bin. There are tens of thousands of identical ropes. Most fantasy settings are not set in an industrialize world. That means each rope was made by hand. In a world of handmade stuff it was common for a craftsman to sign their creation. For example, the rope maker could use a few specially colored threads in the weave that made all the ropes they made unique form all the other ropes. Samurai swords often have a signature on their tang identifying the maker.

A World Builder can use this to make each and every item in their world unique. A character goes to a merchant to buy a rope. The merchant says, “I have two ropes for sale. One from the famed rope maker Connehorn for 52 gold, or one from the lesser known Reanderei for 50 gold.” Five Guys Burgers and Fries uses this very idea in their stores when they write on the chalk board what farm grew the potatoes they used for their fries.

This opens up new adventures. The party tries to sell a sword they took off of some monster. The merchant says, “The famed smith Mance forged this sword four centuries ago, where did you get this?”

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Ideas behind the Formation of the World of the Tiglath

In Gordon R. Dickson’s book Way of the Pilgrim, the Aalaag conquer the Earth. The Aalaag have better weapons and armor than humans. I wanted to have a fantasy setting with that same feel. The Assyrians were a powerful Bronze Age empire known for their military capabilities and cruelties.

I used these ideas as I designed the World of Tiglath. The differences affect every part of life. For example, the standard flint and steel that most characters have does not exist. Starting a fire is much harder. Non-player characters will always have someone responsible for maintaining the hearth and keeping the home fires burning because if the fire goes out it is not a simple matter to restart it.

Paper does not exist. Writing is done using a stylus onto either wax or clay tablets. Wax is cheap and can easily be erased, changed, repurposed, or destroyed. Clay tablets dry quickly but become permanent. Firing the clay turns the tablet into ceramic.

Saddles do not exist. Carts and chariots are used. All of these things significantly change the way the fantasy campaign feels. Because this setting is semi-historical there are lots of resources available for research.

World of Tiglath in 200 Words or Less

The World of Tiglath campaign is set in the Bronze Age like the move 300. Your world has been turned upside down by the invading armies of the Khanate of Marazzer. You were drafted to protect your country. The invading army marched in, killed you king, and took over the entire country before you could even join the fighting. Everywhere you go you find entire garrisons of soldiers slaughtered and a cruel new government in place. The invading army uses Tronlth as beasts of burden. Before today you had never even seen the strange animal that appears to be a cross between a rhinoceros and a triceratops. The soldiers of Marazzer have armor stronger than anything you have ever seen. Their weapons are shaper and more deadly. With brutal efficiency governors, mayors, and police chiefs in every town were rounded up and publically tortured to death. You and your party are on the run. You managed to avoid the being slaughtered. You are far from home in a land that is not familiar. You don’t know who you can trust. Are you prepared for the challenges in the World of Tiglath?

Saturday, February 9, 2013

First Adventure

Rough Introduction

A few weeks ago a chariot came into town announcing was invading once again. The King Ander proclaimed an order all the young and able-bodied assemble for training. You said goodbye to your parents and marched off to boot camp.

You never made it to boot camp. Your trainers were frantic and terrified. The armies of Marazzer had taken the capital and killed King Ander.

You were marched off to a training camp in the middle of the night. The next day you were ordered to stand guard and watch the north and eastern trails into the camp. Another group was to watch the western trail.

You were very tired after the long march. Despite your best efforts you fell to sleep early in the morning. No one came to relive you at dawn like they said they would. You stayed at your post until noon. You had not had dinner the night before. Your wine-skin was now empty. You were hungry, thirty, and tired. You slowly walked back to the clearing.

The characters wandered back to a scene of destruction. Everyone in the camp was killed. There were signs of large beasts in the camp leaving large circular footprints. The party gathers up some equipment and follows the large circular tracks heading west toward the shore. They notice a trail of blood mixed with the tracks.

As they follow the track the party comes upon the carcass of large, dead animal. They later learn the beast is called a Tronlth. Tronlth are large four legged animals that look like a cross between a rhinoceros and a triceratops. Tronlth have a large bony frill and three horns on a four-legged body. Tronlth are warm blooded mammals. In addition to the horns they have a set of small spines along the back. An adult Tronlth stands about five feet tall, 60”. The Tronlth had been speared and cut deeply along its side leaving the blood trail.

The party sees a small boy playing on the shore. They hail the boy. The boy runs away to the north. The party scampers after the boy and finally catch him. The boy is terrified and describes how his father was killed by the bad men. The bad men had their big monster with horns step on the boy’s father. The party tries to comfort the small boy.

A member of the party lights a torch and goes out into the water to see if he can catch some fish for dinner. He encounters something dark in the water but it swims away.

The torch attracts the attention of a patrol boat. The patrol boat lands two squads. Each squad has six men and a Tronlth. The party attacks the first squad and kills two men. The Tronlth has a pair of side-car baskets where a rider can stand. The leader of the first squad puts the character party to sleep.

That was the end of the first adventure.