Fantasy Inspiration

In the scene above can you see a face in the rockface? It probably isn’t there at all but it when I first saw the imagine it sort of jumped out at me.

The point is of this is threefold…

The first was the forum post by Jengada on rendering campaign worlds. The second was talking to a GM that is playing his game in Middle Earth and the third is all about adventure design.

Rendering Worlds

With the best software in the world I could not render a campaign world because I am a talentless lump when it comes to arty things. The closest I could get would be to try and explain what I could imagine to a designer and then let them try and create my vision. That is simply never going to happen.

Middle Earth

Middle Earth is always a rich vein for role playing. Right now you can buy into the Adventures In Middle Earth franchise. There is an entire Mirkwood Campaign for just $19.99. Converting from D&D 5e to any flavour of rolemaster is not difficult. There is the The One Ring™ Roleplaying Game which will set you back $30 for the core rules. I don’t know that system at all but it is based upon d12s and d6s. Rolemaster is so flexible that I cannot imagine that it would be difficult to convert the game materials over. Then of course there are the old school MERP supplements. These are potentially too valuable to play with. You could sell a single good condition supplement and buy an entire set of one of the other ME based games with the proceeds. We also have the problem the converting from old school Rolemaster to RMu is just as difficult as it is to go from a completely new game.

Right now there is the brand new Middle Earth Amazon Prime series getting people excited. There are also all the Peter Jackson movies. There are also some books apparently.

One slight problem with all these TV and movie renderings is that the visualisation of the director can over write what was actually in the books. Once you have seen Peter Jackson’s Gandalf then there is a good chance that that is how you will imagine him from that point on. If not you then certainly some of your players.

I think it would be hard to change the physical appearance of any place or people that have appeared on the TV and in the movies as your players will have a vision of what they think things should look like. Take the argument that orcs physically look exactly like elves, humans and hobbits. The corruption is that of the soul not the body. There is this quote on Quora: “When orcs first appeared (as stated in the Simarilion) they were mistaken for Quendi who had ‘gone wild.’ In LOTR when Eomer and his eored pass Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli he initially mistakes them for orcs from very close range. Later Frodo and Sam passed themselves off as orcs in Mordor. The orc leader is close enough to whip them. Despite wearing orc armor, helms and cloaks any radical difference in physical features should still have been apparent. Apparently JRRT intended that they shared physical characteristics with men, hobbits and elves .

So although ME is probably the ultimate setting for any fantasy game where you want to visualise the setting it is not without its problems.

Adventure Design

When I saw the image above I thought I could see a bit of a nose and mouth on one of the great rocks front and centre. Given the wild mountains, the snow and the water, possibly a lake as it looks too calm to be the sea, I think I could write a location based upon this image by Susan Cipriano from Pixabay Try this, go to and search for forest or mountains or lake. You will get so many options that could so easily be fantasy locations. You could tweak the setting to fit the images rather than trying to get the images to fit the setting.

It is not just landscapes either…

I could definitely write an fantasy location for that one!

Finally, I think Egdcltd and I both have a desire to create our own settings. The big stumbling block is the sheer cost of getting the art. I would suggest that if one were to start with the art and let that inspire the setting then more people could create great looking settings.

Setting ‘Challenge’?

Or about this? I could scour the image website and build a collection of brilliant and inspiring images for a fantasy setting. I then put it out there as a sort of challenge so anyone could download the package and write a setting based around the images. We all have inspiration but this would take away one barrier that stops people building their own fantasy settings.

Lazy Peasants

I am bringing together two threads here. The first is Gabe’s Lazy DMing and the second is a conversation I had with Marc about how he has house ruled the Patronage/Renown rules from One Ring in to RMu.

When Marc first mentioned Patronage he described it as a single figure, 0-6, that is used to represent the characters current standing with a particular NPC. 0 means the NPC barely knows you exist. If you do work for the Patron or help them out then your Renown goes up. By the time you get to a Renown of 2 you can start to ask for favours in return.

My immediate response was to ask if these rules accounted for Renown ‘flowing’ from one NPC to another, such as if you worked for a particular lord and had a good standing would that lords brother in a neighbouring town also look upon you favourably. Would the Renown flow along trade routes, so if you are doing good stuff in this town would the next town get to know about you and look favourably upon you when the party rocks up.

It turns out that some of these questions are covered in the rules.

So I started to think about this in the context of lazy GMing.

So imagine you create a little cross reference grid with NPCs listed down the side and across the top. It would be really easy to fill the grid with bonuses and penalties that apply to the characters social skills when acting for or against particular NPCs.

Lord AVizier BBaron C
Lord A+20+30
Visier B-30+20
Baron C-50+20

So in this example, obviously you would have rows and columns for every NPC you create on the spur of the moment:

Lord A likes and probably trusts his Vizier but and Baron C.
Vizier B dislikes Lord A but likes Baron C
Baron C really dislikes Lord A but likes Vizier B

You could easily generate these numbers using 1d10-5 x 10. Whenever a new NPC is introduced we just add a new row and column and add in a new rolls see how much they (dis)like the other NPCs in their location.

Using the table would be a case of looking at how the NPCs feel about each other and how they would feel about emissaries from one to the other. If the characters had been working for the Vizier recently and then they turn up bearing a message for Baron C then he is very likely to welcome them. If the message was from Lord A then there is more chance that he would keep them waiting around on some pretext.

Of course a GM could easily come up with these relationships themselves. The point is that even if you have no idea where the player characters are going to go, who they are going to talk or what they are going to latch on to, this technique will allow you to spontaneously create a level of social tensions and relationships.

If you ignore lords and barons for the time being you could have a table of the ‘normal’ people in the town. The players ask the barkeep about the best place to stay. If you had rolled a positive bonus on reactions for one innkeeper and a negative or near zero reaction to the other inn owner then the barman is likely to recommend the first inn. What if the serving wench is really popular with the few town guards you can had to create so far? The guard are likely to drink in that tavern and when the fighter in the party tries to hit on the serving girl he could end up being given the evil eye by the guard(s).

The template above has a blank grid with room for about 18 NPCs which is probably as many NPCs are you are likely to create in your typical village or town.

This is not intended to turn your game into roll playing rather than role playing. Where this works really well is when two or three random rolls create a little story of their own. Maybe a married couple end up with -50 in all reactions towards each other or you get a triangle where two men appear to hate each other but are both very keen on the same woman. Then her reactions to one or both of them could be the stuff of local gossip, tensions. And then in amongst all of these walk the PCs.

Obviously your mileage may vary.

This really is my last post before I move. Tomorrow at 8am I am giving up Cornish giants and celtic legends and heading for lands of Norse myths.

Generating Fantasy Adventures for Competent Players

No plan survives contact with the players.

—Davena Oaks

After my latest session I opened up Michael Shea’s The Lazy DM to compare his advice to my emergent method of adventure generation—one that suits my current campaign, anyway. It’s from this book that I pulled the quote above, and, for the sentiment contained therein, at first Shea’s advice seemed like it would be of some use to me. Then he suggested sketching three “paths” the adventure might take, then three NPCs the party might encounter. Not bad advice—perhaps perfect advice for particular groups—but I genuinely believe that this would not work at my table. Shea’s chief recommendation is to avoid spending time on adventure preparation that will not find use in an actual game. So, if I accepted this for my game, I wouldn’t even prepare three adventure “paths.”

The reason for this, of course, is that by now my gamers aren’t certain to use any trail I blaze for them. A path forecasts an Adventure. In many cases, my players won’t go on the “adventure.” Don’t get me wrong: they will adventure, but it will be one of their own choosing; perhaps I should say it will be one of their own making.

In case my tone is ambiguous here, I am not complaining. As a GM, I am more interested in seeing the stories that gamers create. This is why—somewhat belatedly—I’m realizing that I’m somewhat in error if ever I refer to our Monday night game as my game. For this same reason I’m realizing that it’s quite unfair of me were I to drop the current campaign, switch systems, start something new (as I have done before), as if our communal experience is an auteur rough draft that no longer satisfies me. Our campaign is not a monograph. It is our narrative, and to abandon it, through the authority of being Head Writer, would be an act of egotism and presumption.

The consideration remains, though, about how I might best execute my role as GM to provide the most interesting game possible for my players and their characters. I’m learning that the answer to this also is dependent on the shared experience the players want to explore. In a recent conversation with a player, I identified three modes of play within a wide spectrum:

Entirely free form. The PCs do what they will, dependent on the character personalities and stories, and the GM responds improvisationally.

Adventures keyed to character. The GM writes adventures, but they usually are relevant to individual PC goals and stories.

Adventures. Whether they are purchased or written by the GM, the story is the thing, and PCs are expected to “play through.” Larger PC goals might affect the adventure, but this is reliant on the GM’s indulgence or interest.

The player whom I was in conversation with wondered if my current method was entirely improvisational. I believe it’s in between the first and second form above. What I mean by this is that I have an idea of what is going on in the world independent of the PCs; how the PCs interact with these forces—if at all—is discovered during play.

This is not to say that (outside of world building) I don’t prepare at all! Against the Darkmaster provides me one narrative mechanic and resource that I can leverage in predicting what might interest the PCs. These are Passions (which I’ve simplified as individual character goals or quests) and Drive (a “benny” that PCs earn for following their Passions). In my world building, I have woven the individual PC Passions into one destination, and I think the overland quest to this destination is going to commence soon.

The other way that I have been preparing is as follows:

Generate the “unfleshed bones” or prompts of an adventure. Lately I’ve been preferring Richard Le Blanc’s D30 Sandbox Companion. During a session I can refer to this to help structure an emerging narrative.

Generate inspirational terms. I randomly select these out of a hefty dictionary. As the session progresses, I look at these for help in fleshing or weirding adventure components or answering player questions.

Generate NPC names. While I roll my terms, I gather morphemes, combining them for suitably fantasy-sounding names.

As I’ve suggested, this method has been developing for my current long form style of campaign play. I’m looking forward to next year, when I will run an episodic version of the Conan 2d20 rpg. That system has adventure generation resources particularly suited to Conan-esque Sword & Sorcery entertainment, and I think that that kind of adventure creation will be much more responsive to my individual vision for a particular group experience.

King of the Swingers

I spent the past two weeks writing a set of adventures. Bizarrely I have used a format I have adapted from Shadow or the Demon Lord to create an adventure for Zweihander as a writing tool to create a Rolemaster adventure.

Let me unpack that a bit.

Shadow or the Demon Lord [SDL] has a format for booklets that contain virtually entire campaigns or adventure paths in a single book. Each book contains eight to twelve complete adventures that link together to form a campaign. Each book is only 35 to 50 pages in total and each installment is just a couple of pages.

I like this format. As long as the GM knows the How and Why of the adventure, has the suitable maps and the key NPCs then they can actually run the adventure in the style that suits their players and their play style.

So using this layout I have written a set of adventures. They are all set in a jungle covered land. It starts with the characters being shipwrecked on the beach and from there there are several locations that can be explored and challenges to overcome, random encounters for characters that go exploring off piste and a plot that is running through the whole thing which will move events on around the characters.

I have used Zweihander as target system as a placeholder for all the possible versions of Rolemaster. This works because Zwei has a much smaller skill set, for example Athletics covers all physical endeavours from climbing to swimming and Awareness covers all forms of Perception. Zwei also have avery compact bestiary where there are just half a dozen basic normal creatures to cover all of life on earth that isn’t monstrous. The grimoire has only 9 spells per profession compared to the hundreds of RM spells.

From the Zwei version it is easier to add more detail, to cover the many versions of Rolemaster with its wealth of different creatures, spells and skills.

Writing for Zwei is much faster than it is for Rolemaster as you do not need to check as many references for all these professions, skill, spells and monsters. Once the adventure is written and you know what monster/NPC/spell or whatever the encounter needs it is really easy to find the reference you need.

It also means you get a bit of a 2 for 1 as you can sell the Zweihander version as part of their community content programme.

It seems a bit of a roundabout way of doing things but it seems to be working quite well. It is always going to be easier to do a ‘conversion’ rather than trying to develop for multiple versions of the same system all at once. I think that is where the SDL contribution comes in. If you know what the challenge is then you can either take a skills detailed approach then you can, that will please the RM2 players. If you use a reduced skill set then that is easily accommodated as well.

There is little or no difference between Creatures & Treasures, Creatures & Monsters and Creature Law so slotting in the same monsters is not much of an issue, the same is largely true of Spell Law as well.

I have been really careful not to use any ICE intellectual property and the setting is an unnamed and unidentified jungle coastline. You can drop that into almost any setting.

I have never tried to sell an explicitly Rolemaster adventure that is effectively ready to play before. I am curious as to how it will sell.

I released the Zweihander version at the weekend and it is selling OK, at a $3 price tag.

I am moving house this weekend but I hope to have this finished and ready to list on DrivethruRPG by the end of next week. I will let you know when I release it.

It is possible that I will not be in a position to blog on Thursday or next Tuesday so please forgive my silence. I am packing boxes!

Shadow World Spin Cycle: Thieves of Tharbad

Welcome to another “Spin Cycle” blog post! If you aren’t familiar with my previous entries on re-purposing MERP products for Shadow World you can find my take on the Court of Ardor HERE, HERE and HERE.

As stated, this entry will look at the MERP adventure module “Thieves of Tharbad” and how the material could be spun into the SW Setting. There are similarities between ICE’s Middle Earth products and the later Shadow World series so it can be easy to grab one of these modules for adventure ideas, maps and layouts.

Thieves of Tharbad (ToT) is only 34 pages but it starts with a great Angus McBride cover of some nefarious goings-on in the harbor and docks. It’s another great McBride picture that captures the kinetic energy of action and story with great use of lighting and shadows.

The table of contents reveals the familiar ICE book format: Intro, Lands, Inhabitants, Politics & Power, the city of Tharbad, Adventures and then the various tables. For those that want to grab quick to use adventure material, much of the into, history and background can be ignored. One of the “complications” of re-using MERP material is the flavor of Middle Earth names. ICE did a fantastic job leveraging Tolkiens language and naming conventions, but they are obviously different than the names and language words in Shadow World.

The real “meat & potatoes” is the city map, floor plans and adventure material. The city map is color with color codes for various professions and businesses. It’s typical of ICE and a great map for a city adventure. Again, some of the map names are very ME but can be overlooked.

The city material, maps and floor plans take up 9 pages so there is some good material. There are around 100 businesses identified with descriptions of varying length. This is more than enough for a GM to have a ready to run mid size city. There are detailed floor plans for the House of Healing, Embassy, a typical Row House, and a Merchant Home and Shop. No taverns though!

Adventures. The first adventure is called “The Extortion Ring and is almost 4 pages in length. It includes several floorplans as well. It’s a good adventure plot with the opportunity to expand it as needed. The second adventure is “Theft of the Tiara” and involves a theft and recovery of a valuable object. Part of the adventure takes place in the sewers and a basic map of the sewer system is included! The real gem is the “water fortress”:

It’s nice to have artwork like this to add the adventure. The third adventure has the players deal with a smuggling ring, and the fourth short adventure involves bandits in the wilderness.

A quick review of the charts indicates that most NPCs average between 4th and 7th lvl. There is a 20th lvl Fighter, a 14th lvl Mage and a 12th lvl Bard. The rest of the PC’s are much lower level. My sense is that Tharbad would be great for starting characters up to around 6-7th lvl as is.

All in all, Thieves of Tharbad is a great resource to use as a city to base the players, several good adventures and of course the framework to add even more plot and intrigue.

You can drop Tharbad onto most any area of Shadow World, but I use it for the city of Arakin on the eastern shore of the Sea of Votania (Haestra, Emer I).

The Black Companion

Thanks to Marc and his discord server I have had an opportunity to look into someone else’s RMu game.

Everything I run will of course be coloured by my own preference for play style. Marc was half joking when he said about me “You don’t don’t use any rules.” when we were discussing our GMing styles.

One of the things that came out of talking to Marc and seeing his campaign discussions is how RMu is always going to struggle with other people’s expectations. That gave me an idea, the so called Black Companion.

Part of the inspiration comes from Shadow of the Demon Lord supplements. In the descriptions on DriveThruRPG they explicitly list which core and companion books they use.

One of the difficulties with writing for Rolemaster, in the past, has been knowing what optional rules are in play as nearly all the optional rules end up increasing the power level*.

There will be some alternative methods or missing elements in the core books when they are released that have been discussed on the forums but rejected by the dev team. I am thinking of dedicated two handed weapon tables, charging rules, movement costing AP and alternative Called Shot rules. Those are the few that spring to mind. What I am thinking of is collecting these together and getting the authors to formalise their ideas based upon all the feedback that happened on the forum and then publish them as a ‘Black Companion‘ or alternative rejected options. Once we have a freestanding reference source of them then people an choose to adopt the included rules or not. At least they will all be using the same house rule to solve the same problem rather than having 50 variations to solve one problem.

So over the next few months I am going to trawl through the RMu Beta forums and try and identify these rejected, good ideas. Get the authors’ permission and then collate them all. It may even be easier for me to collect the ideas, summarise them and then just ask the originator’s permission to publish.

*Power Level in RMu could prove to be a real issue. How are we going to deal with adventures written for one power level but played at another? I would seem to be a case of having to adjust every single NPC in the book which is going to be a pain in the arse!

Elegance and Symmetry for Characteristics in Do-It-Yourself d100 RPG Design

In his four histories of the tabletop rpg hobby, Shannon Apelcline claims that the industry moved, from the 70s through the 90s, roughly from D&D-centric to complicated and simulationist to emulationist, this last often with a specific intellectual property as its referent. Our beloved Rolemaster belongs in this second category, of course. It is a more granular and “realistic” derivative of D&D.

One aspect in which RM is more detailed than D&D is in its range of Attributes. RM uses ten of them, whereas D&D employs six. Is it desirable to have ten rather than six? Well, I consider Attributes to be tools first, descriptors second, and if they prove to lack any real mechanical component—or if, in other words, there is no device to fit the tool—then they are devoid of purpose and threaten to disrupt elegance or symmetry in game design. This observation is not meant to argue that D&D’s six characteristics are a reasonable amount; we all know that Charisma is a frequent “dump stat.” Nor does this argue that ten Attributes should be the high end of descriptive qualities in character design. I maintain that if there is a meaningful purpose for, say, one hundred characteristics, then those one hundred qualities should be baked into that specific game design.

A further consideration for characteristics in game systems should be the intended emulation. If a game focuses on investigation and discovery, for example, it might not make sense to commensurately detail physical, combat-oriented aspects of character design. Of course, RM wasn’t interested in emulation but simulation (at least within the context of D&D-esque fantasy), so I think the ten stats were an attempt to codify as many aspects of the human person as is reasonably possible within an rpg. Of course many games that came after RM cared less about this.

I also must notice that RM is a d100 system, so it might be no accident that it contains ten Attributes. This raises yet another consideration of systemic and thematic elegance and symmetry. I’m not convinced that RM is able to find a symmetrical use for all ten Attributes—many of them appear synonymous or overlap with other qualities—but the impulse is admirable. The latest version of RM has streamlined this design by applying three distinct Attribute bonuses to every Skill, whereas earlier versions of the system seemed unclear which Attributes to apply to which Skill and lacked symmetry by not codifying the amount applied to each Skill, sometimes averaging the results instead.

RM’s ten stats is an example of systemic elegance, but theme and intended game experience should be a further influence on this aspect of game design. One feature of the rpg Yggdrasill (translated from the French by Cubicle 7 and published in English) that fascinates me is its Nine Characteristics in character definition. I have capitalized “nine” because these strike me as simultaneously simulationist and emulationist. To begin with the simulationist quality, Yggdrasill regards the human person as being composed of three basic aspects: Mind, Body and Soul. Each of these components is subdivided into three micro-stats for a total of Nine. This is neat systemic symmetry but also meaningful while considering Yggdrasill’s Viking Age emulation: Odin hung on the World Tree Yggdrasill (Odin’s “horse” or gallows) for nine nights; his ring Draupnir makes eight new ones every ninth day; the Old North cosmology contains nine distinct worlds.

Why have I been thinking about this? Well, though I love Yggdrasill, some features of that system stopped working for me at the table. In spare moments my mind returns to it, worrying at it, redesigning it until, by now, I think I might have something serviceable. Then, in another spare moment, I began imagining what a d100 Viking game might look like (Yggdrasill is sort of a dice pool system), using, perhaps, VsD’s promised Open100 license. So I began to build, and of course I started with VsD’s six MERP/D&D stats.

I used these for awhile, during my process. Finally I needed to discard them for Yggdrasill’s nine, with much better results. It’s difficult to find symmetry in six stats. There are three keyed to body, two to “soul,” and one to mind. Or perhaps the six break down more neatly into just body and mind, convenient for worlds and worldviews that don’t precisely accommodate beliefs in “souls.”

As I developed my emulation, I changed more of VsD’s system, too, then still more. I fell down a rabbit hole: what I wrote exceeded what I had produced for my Yggdrasill redesign. For my d100 emulation, I rejected subsystem after subsystem, and the possibility of telling the stories of just what I wrote and what I discarded strikes me as tedious. In the end, though, I believe I have built something considerably new, something that uses the nine stats of Yggdrasill, a vastly reduced Skill list fit for a northern milieu, a spell system lifted right out of the Havamal, a Skill Resolution table adapted from VsD, and a combat system inspired by Antony Cummins’s ebook An Illustrated Guide to Viking Martial Arts and Peter R’s claim that “realistic” combat must entail nearly every blow landing nearly every time.

Using organizations in your game to ground your PCs.

While it might be setting specific, I have always felt that most RPG systems ignore the importance of organizations for starting characters. In Rolemaster, chargen involves skills developed in adolescence and another set of skills in apprenticeship. There is a implied idea that the characters received some sort of systematic training to build the skills that establish their class or profession. But from that point, most games just drop that idea and players immediately become freelance “adventurers” (excluding perhaps Clerics).

In virtually every quasi advanced society, specialized training, knowledge and skills are transmitted through organizations: guilds, schools, associations and religions. Unlike it modernity, you don’t simply graduate with a degree and a specialized education, it’s understood that you have an obligation and loyalty to that organization now and in the future.

These organizations may be secretive or hidden, but most will have wealth, resources and members that give them financial, social or realpolitik power. Perhaps the reluctance to provide low level characters access to these institutions stems from a fear of game imbalance. How can a player enjoy the challenges of low level gaming if they belong to a group that will provide cost of living stipends, equipment and protection? It sort of defeats the purpose of the game?

However, it’s common sense that most player professions had to be the result of organizational training. Maybe a Rogue or Thief learned their skills on the streets, but a teenager isn’t going to get access to a library and learn to become a Mystic or Warlock. So rather than hand wave the issue, I encourage GM’s to embrace the concept of organizations and would offer a few ideas:

Mentors. Even if it’s only intermittent help, a senior member of a players professional organization could be a great mentor. As a mentor, they’ll want the player to learn through success and failure and not just hand them aid and advice; but a mentor can still be the guiding hand the GM often needs to further the plot. Plus the mentor can be the active ingredient in a adventure plotline.

Training. While actively using a skill can be a common sense mechanism for skill rank development, at times, skill advancement will need the input from a tutor or other source to initiate advanced techniques, concepts and abilities. An organization can be the obvious source for continuing education of special skills.

Safety. Am organization will want to protect their members, even initiates and apprentices. When appropriate, this gives players (and maybe the group) a safe haven to rest or avoid an adversary.

Healing. Healing doesn’t just have to be a resource found in a temple, church or even hospital. Many powerful organizations will have other professionals on retainer: healers, astrologers, spies etc. It may cost the player in dues or services, but their organization should be a source for professional services.

Shelter. I travel a lot but I don’t live in a hotel 365 days a year! Is it realistic to assume that adventures either live in a roadside inn or sleep on the ground all the time? Having a room at a “chapter house” or organizational dormitory gives a PC a place to live between adventures and during downtime.

Equipment. Organizations would probably provide basic kit to their lowly members and could provide additional equipment and/or magic items to a PC member for special missions.

Missions. GM’s are always coming up with fairly thin motivations for players and groups to go on an adventure. Organizations make it easy–they are hired or ordered to. No questions asked (and no answers provided!).

NPC Network. Organizations will be made up of a variety of other personalities and members that can be helpful to the player or even be problematic competitors!

Identity. While most players rely on their profession/class to give them identity, being a member of an organization can be more interesting. Organizations don’t need to be demised purely by profession (Thieves Guild, Magician Academy, Fighters Club etc), they can be made up of a variety of class types or have a over arching objective or purpose besides pumping out adventure classes.

What are some ideas for organizations?

  1. Military. Being a soldier is a useful background for a player. Armies don’t just employ soldiers; they need spies, spell-casters, cavalry and almost every type of skill imagined. PC’s would be veterans and probably no longer in the military, but would still have some advantages. A network of soldiers they were friends will; starting kit they take with them, a small stipend or land grant upon retiring, medals or some small fame, fighting or other skills etc.
  2. Militia or Constabulary. Similar to being ex-army, a PC could have been a city guard or policeman. That might give them access to a information network, call in favors from active guards, or given them special knowledge of a city or town.
  3. Criminal Enterprises. Smugglers, pirates, bandits etc are great backgrounds for PCs. These organizations don’t need to be inherently evil and the PC could have been recruited at a young age and given little choice. Ties to a criminal group might be a cool advantage for a PC: fence goods, rumors and tips, access to hard to find items, etc.
  4. Cults. I have a great time with cults; I define them as “un-organized religions” and often don’t even worship an actual God. My cults tend to take more than give to their followers, but they can be a great source of fun and conflict when a player gets into the role-playing aspect.
  5. University/Monastery. Educational organizations are great for removing the looting for profit motive from a player. Instead they are chasing knowledge and this allows me to have a player that is tracking key narrative points and exposition that might be lost on other players. This works especially well with Shadow World and it’s deep history and timeline.

For me, barring a few distinct player background situations, my players are all going to be tied to an organization. What have you used?

Discordant Thoughts

There are a couple of things I would like to write about this time.

The first is Marc’s Discord server. He has dropped the link on the ICE forums but that was a while ago so I thought I would repost it here.

Aby channel for discussion is better with more people involved.

The second thing I want to talk about was inspired by a couple of things that were said in the discord discussion. These were “not sure why everybody likes to use real life examples in rpg. This is a game, stuff is abstracted etc.” The rest I cannot directly quote as it was a longer discussion and it was more of a sentiment than any one explicit expression.

I want encapsulate it into ‘who owns the rules?’ So the situation was that the GM said that X situation was resolved using Y rule and the result was Z.

That would be fine apart from one or more players then said that they have real world experience of X and Y rule is wrong and Z wouldn’t happen.

Years ago, it seemed to me, the GM had the rules and what the GM said was the law and that was that. Today everyone can have a copy of the rules in PDF and check them at any time and if a ruling is not perfectly clear then they can question them.

The issue for gritty, simulationist, d100 games is that they are endeavouring to create a realistic game world experience. The game developers cannot have years of detailed experience of absolutely everything in life and you do not want 16million individual rules to accurately model everything. When you get a player or players with that real world experience they see the rule as written and recognise it as a poor model of reality.

So now you have a dilemma. The experienced players could house rule parts of the game to make it more accurate whilst still sitting within the RMu way of doing things but as GM do you want the players writing the rules of the game?

I had this recently in a game I am playing in. The GM wanted a very high magic game and picked all the RM2 optional rules that he thought would create the effect he wanted.

The result was that it all went too far towards everyone having too much magic too quickly. At 3rd level I have 12 spell lists and by about 7th level I would have had just about every spell open to me in my realm.

I had taken this opportunity to ignore the most obvious ‘go to’ lists in my realm and instead focused on learning the lists that normally get ignored as they are less useful or their utility is not immediately obvious.

Once the GM realised his error he told us all that he thought he had made a mistake and he was changing the rules.

His adjusted version was actually so restrictive that I thought he may have over reacted. It would certainly be the case that by about 8th level we would have no more lists than had we used the rules RAW. By 10th level though we would have less spells than RAW would have given us.

I know this to be the case because he has put certain limiting factors into the game and if they are to have any effect at all then they must limit our ability to learn lists. Any one of them would have been sufficient but their net effect is to dramatically reduce the ability of casters to learn magic.

For my character the effect is minimal and apart from a highly improbable situation where I fail every spell list acquisition roll for the next three levels it will have no noticeable effect. It will stop me learning the less useful and little used lists and make me stick to the tried and tested mainstays but no one else would notice that.

For other characters the effect will be dramatic and immediately obvious. If you take it all into account it is the same as changing the spell list cost for semis to 8/*. That is going to make learning lists rather expensive!

I emailed the GM and told him that for semis I thought his changes were too drastic and I showed him some examples. I don’t know what he has decided to do.

So is it OK for players to suggest rules changes? Who has ownership of the rules? If the rules are there to help everyone have fun and are really just guidelines should they all be up for negotiation?

My personal opinion, purely in theory at least, is that yes they are all negotiable but only before we start play. I dislike changing rules once the game has started as the amount of work for the GM to ‘fix’ hundreds of NPCs is rarely taken into account by players who only see the effect on their one PC.

What do you think?

Outside looking in

I have been looking at the way that other games publishers deal with community content recently and at the same time at the way that they put adventures together.

7th Sea is the most Rolemaster-esque when it comes to community content. Although there is a community content programme, free art and templates available, there is little or no company support for content creators. There are not enough staff at John Wick Presents and I suspect that the community content programme doesn’t earn enough money to warrant the investment in time.

The net effect is that there are not that many titles and they are of rather patchy quality.

Grim & Perilous Studios is right at the other end of the spectrum. They have a new CCP and are actively courting creators. Everything is fresh, new and exciting. G&PS is not keen on forums, preferring their Discord server but on the server content creators are given special status and a role title so you can spot them a mile off. Creators also have a dedicated channel.

The content creators, known as Librarians after the Grim & Perilous Library, actively discuss what they are working on and even have shared project management software, trello, to manage titles and collaborate to create supplements a bit like the Guild Adventurers (not to be confused with the Guild Companion).

G&PS also provides stock art and document templates for creators but also uses their social media accounts to promote new releases. That is a virtually free way of advertising these supplements and generating sales. It presumably will make the Library financially profitable sooner because of the advertising.

Schwalb Entertainment is another Discord advocate. They to have a dedicated channel for 3rd party publishers. The level of support is not as proactive as G&PS but the creators are actively discussing and assisting each other.

The interesting thing about Schwalb adventures is there structure. As with most community things in life people try to fit in. The ‘official’ supplements have an accepted structure. They cost $8 and for your money you get a 30 to 50 page booklet that details the background material and then six to ten adventures. Each adventure rarely extends beyond a couple of pages, a couple of NPC descriptions and a floor plan if you are lucky. It is more about explaining the ‘how and why’ of the protagonists and then letting the GM run the adventure in the best way for their group.

Each $8 booklet is an entire campaign in a book. I think that has a lot of merit. If most of the supporting material is already in C&T/C&M then just point people to the book. I have also seen caveats that says exactly what books are required. So if the book uses something from a companion that is listed as required.

There is nothing to stop anyone copying the Schwalb Entertainment model. It explicitly avoids using copyright material by pointing GMs at the core books and companions. The text dense, art light format is kind on the independent developer who doesn’t have access to an entire art department.

Somehow, I cannot see some of the big names on the forums going for the collaboration model but for us small fry it has worked well in the past.

I just wished that the RMu rules were finalised so we knew what rules we were writing against.