Friday, August 4, 2017

Making the Gameworld Calendar Matter


We live our lives with one eye on the calendar. Yet in RPGs, generally no one but the DM gives a shit about what day of what month it is. The average fantasy world calendar is just as useful as the French revolutionary calendar today.

Here are two ways that will make your players pay attention to the calendar.

Trick # 1 - Blame it on the weather


Just as us modern monkeys live with one eye on the calendar, we live with the other on the Weather Channel. I surmise 99.9% of any RPGers out there have read The Lord of the Rings, and know why Gandalf and crew turned back from the mountain passes and braved the deathtrap Moria - bad weather. Sure it was meddled with, but the fact stands that weather can ruin the most perfect of adventures. Have PCs bake in the summer sun (and run out of water), shiver in autumn winds (until they find cloaks), and bunker down when the snow hits the ground (or else recreate the Donner party). This will teach them that spring is when a person's fancy turns to adventuring, at least until the first flash flood hits.

Trick # 2 - Holiday, celebrate, run for your life!

Children especially measure the passage of time by the approach of holidays, and most can tell you exactly how many days till Christmas or their birthday. Here are a few fantasy holidays that are worth having in your world.

AUTUMN - All Souls Eve (Obon or Night of Hungry Ghosts in Oriental campaigns)
On this day the dead return to watch over loved ones or to do unfinished business, the undead can talk, but are peaceful unless the covenant is broken. Now's the time to ask the dead questions...

WINTER - Krampusnacht
Ah Christmas, the night when the Jolly Old Elf visits every household and gives presents to the good and eats the bad. Evil characters better do a good deed to put their name in the right ledger, or else be off world when Krampus makes its rounds, while the good might find just that piece of equipment they needed in their stocking.

SPRING - Carnival
With the return of life to the land the townsfolk come out to dance, drink, eat, and beat the shit out of one another. On this day all hierarchical relations are reversed, wizards must carry swords & abstain from magic, fighters must wear gowns and abstain from violence, thieves must give to the poor and needy, and clergy just leave religion at home, get shitfaced and have a good time. Breaking these customs is a taboo punishable by a knock to the head and time in the stocks.

SUMMER - Festival of Fireballs
To beat the heat, townsfolk gather by a cool river or lake, drink chilled wine, and watch the Wizardworks. Rival magicians from all over converge to flaunt their Fireballs, Mass Illusions, and Prismatic Sprays across the sky for the adulation of the masses who they usually ignore or zap. No one knows why they do this, whether for prestige, to please their patrons, or just because wizards are cray cray.

OTHERS
Considering that D&D is the elephant in the room, here are some extra holidays based on the alignment system you could sprinkle into your game calendar. These can also be great adventure seeds or hints for players.

LAWFUL or GOOD - Day of Feathers
Angels come down to earth and walk amidst mortals on the streets of a holy city. Woe to any but the pure of heart, while those good souls who have done righteous deeds make have questioned answered or ask for divine aid in their next holy mission.


CHAOTIC or EVIL - Purge Night
Just like in the movies or the Rick & Morty episode, the warped townsfolk put on demonic masks and mercilessly slaughter anyone they want for 24 hours. PCs can either join in the fun or wander in innocently and end up trying to stay alive for the duration, with the moral conundrum of whether to slaughter a whole town or not.

NEUTRAL - The Green Time
An animal gives itself for slaughter & feasting to neutral townsfolk, but a child must be slain in return. Strangers are considered as children, so are welcome with open arms, or else must find a sacrificial substitute.

Finally, here are two more random holidays worth fixing the dates of on your calendar.

BLACK DAY OF MERCHANTS
Here it comes again! All overstock must be sold! Beat the crowds and be there to take advantage of these crazy deals in equipment magical and mundane! No theft is allowed anywhere in the vicinity this day, and anyone with sticky fingers will have to deal with the local Thieves' Guild and merchant-owned golem floorwalkers.

THE EXODUS PILGRIMAGE
A usually hostile race passes peacefully through lands of men & women once every x years to commemorate a past exodus. Gillmen  join a Hadj to a buried desert city, dark elves sneak into the aboveground city that birthed their race, to light candles or hordes of goblins bathe in the sewers of People Town. Remember that humans and pilgrims honour a pact of non-violence during this time, and woe betide anyone who breaks the sacred immemorial agreement.

Cheers!

Monday, April 17, 2017

RPGs in Space, RPGs and space



What is the allure of gaming in space? For me, it boils down to two things:

1) You can go anywhere. Plans go awry? Just jump to another system and keep going.


2) You have the tech to do anything. Primitives think you're a god, and your wits are what keeps you above technological equals or superior beings.


This is also the allure of good spacefaring fiction. Look at Larry Niven's Known World stories, or Asimov's best tales. Although there are many veins of scifi, endless space is a rich and rewarding one.


Space is not the final frontier, unless you're gaming in the early days of space travel and are limited to one system. Space with a capital S is the endless frontier, the lack of frontier. This is the promise of spacefaring RPGs, yet they all too often hobble the freedom that space gaming should support.


Let's look at the first adventure module for the venerable Star Frontiers. The text starts,

"Welcome to the universe of the STAR FRONTIERS game! You are now a star-rover, one of the lucky few who spend their lives traversing the black void of deep space" (1).

This promise is quickly taken away by a railroad pirate attack with a staged result:


"Instead of landing in a choice site in a fully equipped shuttle, they are crash-landing in the middle of a hostile desert. They are light years from their home planets, with no hope of rescue in the foreseeable future." (7)


 Yes, the game promises, you can go anywhere and do anything. Then the GM is instructed to say but don't do either.


This is a load of bollocks. But Star Frontiers isn't alone.


The first adventure included with Traveler, Mission on Mithril, starts thus:


"Scout Service Starship CentralAxis, on detached duty, stutters out of jump space from Olympia three days late. That sort of delay spells almost deadly disaster to the jump drives of the tiny scout; without repairs, the ship will never jump again." (Mithril, 2)


This despite the text:


"Traveller is an entire universe to be explored" (Core Rules, 7)


Yet again the promise of Space is empty when access to space is denied.


I understand why this was so common. Science based gaming in an endless universe is daunting for the GM, so why not limit it to one locale? This kneejerk reaction is only natural given the dungeon crawling origin of the hobby.


Here's how to avoid this misstep:


1) Always allow access to space. The only times PCs shouldn't have access is when their decisions lead to this. They want to dangerously tinker with engines or start a fight that could take out their jump capability? So be it. But don't foist those constraints on them to further YOUR story. Space tales are about their story in your universe.


2) Always allow access to tech, if PC finances support it. This requires the GM to have a decent grasp of tech and its use and limitations. But remember that the GM has endless resources to throw at PCs (if they ask for it), and that turnabout is fairplay. If PCs use a device in an asymmetrical or novel way to get an advantage from technology, be sure that others in the same universe have as well, and the next NPC can draw from the same bag of tricks. Take note of any unique idea players have and add it to your arsenal.


3) Always remember there are consequences for PC actions. Yes, PCs can jump away from any shitstorm their adventures cause, far from local authorities. Yet science fiction gives us the proper response to this - the bounty hunter. From Star Wars to Cowboy Bebop, bounty hunters are called in when law enforcement fails, and can use any means or measures to bring in fugitives. Enough high-tech hunters on their trail and PCs might prefer surrendering to authorities.


So don't be cowed by the size of space. Read good fiction, get inspired, read the rules, take note of player ingenuity, and follow the PCs wherever they take you. The open minded GM will discover new things about his or her universe that will surprise them and make their job as rewarding as that of the players.



Sources

Acres, Marc et al. (1982). SF-0: Crash On Volturnus. 
 Lake Geneva: TSR.

Miller, Marc et al. (1983). "Mission On Mithril." Traveler CT Book Three: Adventures. Bloomington: Game Designer's Workshop.


Miller, Marc et al. (1983). "Mission On Mithril." Traveler CT Book Three: Adventures. Bloomington: Game Designer's Workshop.Core Rules