Archives for category: RPGs

I’ve always liked Foehammer from the first Halo game. Wherever the Pillar of Autumn’s crew needed her, she went, usually just in time. Foehammer knew how to pilot her Pelican transport like it was an extension of herself.

Carrying the idea a bit farther, I developed Foehammer as an NPC to use in my games. I plan to insert Foehammer into the fantasy Midgard game I’m currently planning.

Originally designed for the Eberron campaign setting, Foehammer is, in fact, two beings: a warforged and an elemental airship. It is impossible to tell where one begins and the other ends. Their history and origins are uncertain, but the few who have seen them up close know that they communicate without words, even in the heat of battle.

In Eberron, Foehammer were developed as a secret project during the end of the Last War. Through some accident during construction, the two became bonded in a way the artificers had not foreseen (and certainly could not understand). House Cannith performed numerous tests on the two as soon as the bond was discovered, but after just a few days Foehammer disappeared forever, leaving behind broken bones and a smoking hole in the Cannith research foundry.

The same origin story works in any setting. Just change House Cannith to fit whatever amoral research group you have handy. In Midgard, the clockworkers guild would fit perfectly.

Since escaping, Foehammer have kept to themselves. They can typically be found cruising at high altitude through convenient mountain ranges, and occasionally appear to rescue dumbstruck travelers caught by scrags or stuck in a landslide.

Both the airship and the warforged are the finest specimens of their kind, and some have attempted to take one or the other for their own. Attempting to steal a heavily-armed, sentient airship is hardly an easy task, and the warforged is a skilled combatant in possession of powerful warforged artifacts.

Foehammer will become a major player in the campaign world I am now developing. How might you use them?


Moneylenders (like Devi from The Name of the Wind) should be an essential part of any rpg.

In fantasy, they can offer the coin to buy important but rare things like artifacts or a resurrection.

In sci-fi, they can help you buy a ship or extra expensive tech.

In cyberpunk, they just help with everything and anything. Loans and debt are a part of the culture.

In all games, moneylenders open the door for debts, favors, resources, hindrances, and opportunities. They let players obtain things normally out of their reach, but there are far-reaching consequences. With a moneylender, the transaction isn’t over right away.

There should be rough levels for moneylenders. The more coin they have to lend, the higher the interest and the greater their resources.

Why might the PCs turn to a moneylender?

  • To settle a debt
  • To buy a ship or other transportation in a hurry
  • To buy a rare but important spell component in a hurry
  • To make an investment expected to have a big payoff quickly

What’s the common theme? Being in a hurry. You don’t turn to a moneylender if you have a lot of time or other options. And you don’t become a moneylender if you aren’t willing to break a few heads to collect on your investment.

Moneylending is very much an investment. Moneylenders don’t do it out of the goodness of their hearts (though I suppose that would be an interesting twist), but rather for the favors, goods, or money they get in return.

What do moneylenders get in return? There are a few salacious options off the top of my head:

  • Coin
  • Souls
  • Secrets
  • True names
  • Rare or illegal items or ingredients
  • Services in kind
  • A spell cast, no questions asked
  • Access to someone or something

Moneylenders have the potential to make any transaction interesting, and you never know when one might call in a debt or favor. Best to keep your nose clean and live within your means, but, well, that wouldn’t be any fun…

In one of the first episodes of Torchwood, the team encounters faeries. Related to my latest post about the fey, the faeries of Torchwood are mischievious, magical, and even murderous. Older by far than the humans and completely alien to us, they will not hesitate to kill to achieve their ends. Their victims are found without a mark, rose petals spilling from their mouths.

I quite liked the idea of fey assassins, so I’ve adopted and adapted it for my own purposes. The elves in my world are divided, some allied with the humans and some with the fey. There is a group of elves with unclear motives and alliances who have begun to kill, leaving no mark other than rose petals.

The group is made up of two ranks, the assassins and the foot soldiers. Each assassin has several levels in an arcane casting class, enough to allow him or her to cast phantasmal killer. They kill their victims magically, supported and protected by the foot soldiers. They specialize in killing quickly, quietly, and undetected.

I haven’t yet decided whether the group works for hire or is self-directed. They could easily play a part in political intrigue, or would make excellent rivals for a group of PCs.

Modern fantasy has largely repurposed elves. Elves used to be tricksters feared for their magic and otherworldliness, but especially in fantasy gaming elves have become ancient and noble creatures of high culture and learning. While thinking about the background of my gaming world I decided to adopt a more traditional approach to elves, and so I’ve come up with the following supposition:

Suppose the elves are not a race apart from humans, and suppose they are not ancient. Suppose the faeries left the feywild and entered the world of man, enslaving and entrancing it. Suppose they bred with humans and created the elves (and thus there are no half-elves). Suppose the humans and some of the elves rebelled and fought and drove the faeries back to the feywild (ie. were thrown out of the garden). Suppose there is a barrier, erected at great cost, and planar magic is dangerous and forbidden to most. Suppose some of the elves remain but are not exactly on great terms with the humans, and some of the elves get along fine.

The elves are a relatively new race, one trying to find its place in the world. They have magic in their blood and, like every other race, have as much potential for good as they do for evil. Still, there is something unsettling about them to most of my world’s inhabitants, and they will offer numerous roleplaying and plot opportunities. Furthermore, planar magic and the feywild will be an epic challenge and bring in traditional high fantasy stakes.

Ameron wrote a great post about suicide missions in roleplaying games. While (almost) no one likes to be surprised by a TPK, planning on a suicide mission can be a great way to amp up the tension. Heroic sacrifice is a traditional part of high fantasy, and there’s no reason you can’t make it part of a mission or even a campaign.

Of course, sacrifice need not be heroic. Knowingly going to one’s death is terrifying, to say the least. It may provide valuable perspective, and will certainly change the player’s outlook. Will they laugh in the face of death and live life to the fullest while taking heedless risks? Or will they take no risks and assure a meaningful sacrifice?

Add religion or ideology and a sacrifice can resonate for campaigns to come. Future characters might even be devotees of the famous martyr/saint from a previous campaign. Of course, this idea touches on a whole lot of social and political issues from the present time, so be sensitive and respect all points of view.

Photo by jerekeys

Why aren’t there more riots and civil disorder in roleplaying games? Because they’re a pain in the ass to run, and no PC has ever been able to mind his own business, that’s why. Here are some ways to introduce riots and revolution to your games.

  • Riots and mobs are massive, moving forces. Treat a riot like a large river, pushing the characters at random through the city. Characters may attempt to swim against the tide or out of it, but combat and spellcasting are impossible within the flood.
    • Violent riots may also deal small amounts of damage for every round a character is part of the crowd.
  • If the characters are in a city where riots are common, spring a riot on them without warning at random. Some quarters of the city are more likely to produce riots, of course.
  • Riots are a sign of instability and unrest. A skilled party may stir up or calm a mob at will, giving them leverage against a government or other powerful faction.
  • Barael’s Scythe is a relic of the third human empire. Barael, a humble farmer, carried it in a failed, forgotten revolution against the Shan. Barael whipped up a mob and led a suicide charge against an Imperial Guard unit stationed nearby. Against all odds, they successfully captured two dozen Guardsmen, whom they promptly executed. Barael was assassinated not long after, but his scythe has appeared at the forefront of riots and mobs all across Telmane.

How do you do riots and mobs?

I was really excited by Johnn’s post announcing the March carnival because: 1) life and death in RPGs offers a lot to play around with, and 2) his examples really sparked my imagination. To be honest, death doesn’t feature very heavily in my games. Nor does undeath, in fact. I’ve stayed away from vampires, liches, and zombies and I’ve never had a character death from one of my players.

However, in the near future I expect a shift toward death. I’m preparing a new campaign setting based in a city on the border with Morgau and Doresh, the realms detailed in Kobold Quarterly’s Imperial Gazeteer: The Principality of Morgau and Doresh, and Realms Subterranean. Here are a couple of ways I plan to include death:

  • The base city will be in contested territory—Morgau and Doresh to the northwest, Wyte and Tele to the south and southeast. The princes of the nearby realms have fought over it for centuries. About 70 years ago (1370), several powerful merchants declared an independent oligarchy and a bloody shadow war ensued, now called the Glorious Uprising. Morgau and Doresh used the opportunity to mount an offensive, using the defenders’ own corpses for fodder. The oligarchs rallied the city to fight the undead, using the external threat to solidify their power. While the oligarchy has relaxed in recent years and there is even some trade across the border, the fear of enemy agents is constant.
  • One artifact to be found during the campaign is the Axe of Imshandra. Imshandra was a holy warrior of Pharasma during the Third Human Empire, known for her devotion and fearlessness in battle. Ultimately slain during the assault on Lotherion, her reputation lived on, as did her weapon. Anyone who strikes the killing blow to a creature of at least equal prowess may shout, “I dedicate this death to Pharasma!” and receive the blessing of the goddess in the next encounter.
  • Few know that the city is on the edge of the long extinct First Human Empire. Exactly how and why the Empire perished is lost to time, but there is a small but active cult trying to revive it. The cult believes that the Empire is merely sleeping, waiting to be awoken by its loyal descendants. While they are active in several other cities, the cultists have begun to gather in this city. One of their prophets (actually a manifestation of the demigod Hos) wrote of a cataclysm to take place in the near future that would allow the cultists to perform the rituals necessary to raise the Empire. The appointed time approaches, and the cultists watch for omens. Little do the cultists know, of course, that they are being played by the demigods who plan to use the cultists to pierce the planar veil and manifest fully on the material plain.

So, that’s coming along. Sound exciting?