Archives for posts with tag: fantasy

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…

The Freeport Companion: Pathfinder RPG Edition (affiliate link) does a great job of translating Green Ronin’s classic setting into the Pathfinder RPG system.  I also have the Savage Worlds version of the book, and somewhat prefer the Pathfinder implementation.

The first chapter of the PDF discusses race in Freeport.  In addition to the standard races, there is a gnome variant and the azhar, a race descended from the efreet.  The azhar may best be described as proud and loud, but they are also loyal, if not terribly far-sighted.  The azhar are much like the fire genasi from my D&D 3.0 Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, in fact.  I like the PFRPG azhar somewhat better than the Savage Worlds azhar, and they seem to fit well with the tone of the setting.

The second chapter of the Pathfinder Freeport Companion is about classes in Freeport.  The writers went to great lengths to offer some customized classes especially fitted to adventures in Freeport.  This is one section that I think is better done in the Savage Worlds edition, since the book offers archetypes, rather than statted-out classes.  I don’t have any real objection to the new classes (in fact, I love new classes), but for the most part they feel like slightly reskinned base classes.

Despite the fact that most of the new classes feel somewhat superfluous, each does have at least one unique class ability that makes it worth considering.  The assassin, for example, has been done many times for many different campaign settings.  The Freeport Companion‘s assassin is done better than most, and I especially enjoy the system for handling assassinations away from the table.  The would-be assassin can make a roll to determine the success or failure of his assassination attempt when such an action would distract from the overall narrative or is a regular part of every session.  Some outcomes result in success and an improved reputation, while others involve failure and even death.

My final word on classes is that if I were going to use new classes, the first place I’d look would be the Genius Guides.  The ever-popular shadow assassin in particular would be well suited to life in Freeport.

Chapter three covers additional rules, like skills and feats, in Freeport.  The skills require little adaption, but the few changes made are well-placed.  There are also some new languages, which always add fun and depth to a game (says the psycholinguist).  The feats are, for the most part, excellent.  With so many new options it would be hard to get them perfect every time, but the writers of this particular game get pretty close.  It’s all about flavor, my friends.

Adventuring is a nasty business, and it often involves brushes with Things Man Was Not Mean To Know.  As such, I’m glad that the writers included an insanity mechanic in the Freeport Companion.  There are even tables of symptoms that you can choose from or roll on to create fun and nutty PCs and NPCs.  You could also use Scott Gable’s insanity mechanic from issue 11 of Kobold Quarterly, but I think the Freeport Companion will work just fine.

The equipment section of the book is another fine addition to the Freeport Companion.  The firearms are done well, and I especially love the bit on drug addictions.  Once again, adventuring is a nasty business and all kinds of peril to life and limb can result. The drugs and poisons offered here will give depth to pretty much any character, though I caution against relying on narrative crutches.  When used well, these items will cause – ooh, butterflies!

The spells and magic items of Freeport are equally important.  There are few new spells, but the hoard of magic items on offer just make my mouth water.  The Reaverbane will make any corsair or privateer tremble with fear, while Ring of the Boar will turn even the most lily-livered tripe into a fine fighting specimen!

The rest of the book is filled with prestige classes, sample NPCs, specific NPCs, a bestiary, and an adventure to start you off in Freeport.  The prestige classes fight the general context well without being too specific.  You could drop them in just about any nautical fantasy setting or region and it would work just fine.  The NPCs and creatures of the bestiary are similar.  These are resources that can be used in almost any campaign, but when brought together they make Freeport pop right off the page.

The introductory adventure, Fury in Freeport, is a great way to get started with your new Pathfinder campaign.  It’s a good introduction to the people and places of Freeport, though it’s by no means comprehensive.  That brings me to my one quibble with this book.  In order to get the full benefit, you have to have the core book.  While that’s not a huge hardship, it seems silly to require two books to get things going.  It does have the advantage of allowing the core setting to remain system neutral, though, so I won’t complain too much.

On the whole, an excellent production from Green Ronin.  If you’re thinking about running an Eberron game in the Lhazar Principalities or just want to try Freeport, you can’t go wrong with the Pathfinder Freeport Companion (affiliate link).  I give it 5 out of 5 stars.  I would dock a few tenths of a star for a couple of minor issues noted above, but in general I recommend this book for purchase!  Green Ronin also has a nice print/PDF deal, so I recommend taking advantage of that.

This PDF was provided as a free review copy by the publisher through the DriveThruRpg affiliate system.

A while back I ran a playtest of Warrior, Rogue & Mage because it had captured my attention as a real DIY fantasy roleplaying game with a lot of potential.  The playtest was a success, and my understanding is that it provided some useful information when Michael revised WR&M into the second version.  It’s been out for a while already, but I love it so much that I want to review it anyway.  I haven’t had a chance to play with WR&M v2 yet, but I hope to do so in the upcoming first week of school.  So, here are my thoughts and impressions.

The second version of this PDF is really quite impressive.  I liked the first one just fine, but there was clearly more time spent on layout and design on take two.  I don’t entirely agree with some of the typographic choices made, but my complaints are more aesthetic than practical.  The text is very readable, and the illustrations are wonderful for helping to set the tone.  One definite improvement over the last version is the size of the text.  Just a few points make a world of difference for readability.

The basic rules have not changed considerably from the first version of WR&M.  They are, however, somewhat easier to understand.  The abilities system is simple and easy to get started with, and it’s flexible enough that you can dream up a hundred variations for a single set of abilities.  The skills and talents give you mechanics correlates for your inspirations, including options like Channeller and Herbalism.

One big change from the first edition of the WR&M rules is that non-human races are available as player options.  Personally, I enjoy playing in an all-human world from time to time (insofar as the heroes go), since it breaks the stand-bys of fantasy storytelling, but it’s really a matter of personal taste.  It’s certainly nice to have the option, and the non-human races are set in Appendix 2: Optional Rules.  The original world that Michael sketched out remains intact, and it continues to be an excellent sandbox for fantasy roleplaying.

Mounted or vehicular combat and ritual magic get equal attention in the appendix.  Ritual magic is something that I’ve always felt was lacking in traditional D&D.  It’s easy to throw in a dark (or light) ritual as a plot device, but it rarely goes farther than that.  I don’t think WR&M explores the idea quite as far as I’d like, but it errs on the side of keeping things simple, and that’s something I can get behind.

The third appendix contains a bestiary, which is a boon to busy GMs everywhere.  NPCs and monsters alike are included with everything needed to run them except a little imagination.  On a similar note, at least one fan supplement has already been published – From the Imperial Forges.  It’s an excellent collection of items that fit with the included setting and can be dropped into any WR&M game.  One of my measures of success for any given game is whether the fans produce their own material and share it.  The fan material on DriveThruRpg is only a good sign.

At the astonishing price of $0, you can’t afford not to pick up both WR&M and From the Imperial ForgesWR&M makes a great game for experienced and new roleplayers alike, and there is something attractive about the DIY nature of the game.  It’s certainly a polished product, but it still feels like something a bunch of friends cooked up together.  I can’t give a much higher recommendation than that.

Michael Wolf’s excellent Warrior, Rogue & Mage is available for free on DriveThruRpg.  You can check out my earlier review here.  The new edition is as good as the first.  Always room for improvement, of course, but WR&M is a solid, free fantasy RPG with its own special twist.  Go try it out.

Update: The first supplement has been released on DriveThruRpg for free!  It’s called From the Imperial Forges, and it’s by Colin Chapman.  It’s a great set of items that make a nice addition to any WR&M game.  I especially love the soup stone.

Previously I wrote about Warrior, Rogue, & Mage, a free, old school, rules light RPG from Michael Wolf.  I announced my intention to do a playtest, and did so just a few days later.  Now I present to you my thoughts from that playtest, though they are somewhat incomplete due to circumstances explained below.

For the playtest I had three eager players and me, the GM.  I decided to place them in the city of Bekel, with a mission that would take them to the abandoned capital, Tukrael.  In order to motivate the adventure and give the characters a reason to work together, I offered them the Fortuners’ Guild.  The characters are members in the guild, which helps organize and regulate fortuners (a.k.a. adventurers).  As novices, they had undertaken a few jobs together previously, and on at least one occasion managed to incur a great debt to Murkraal, a mage high in the guild’s ranks.  Murkraal decided to serve as their patron and channels them jobs which ensure they will one day pay him back (with interest).

Unfortunately, some rainwater appears to have ruined this part of my notes from the session, and so all I have for each character is the first letter of each name: C (I think he was Charley), L (we’ll call him Lima), and A (we’ll call her Alpha).  At any rate, Charley, Lima, and Alpha were created by the players at the start of the session.  Chargen was pretty painless, though we did have some questions.  Movement didn’t appear to be in the rules (other than running “a short distance” under Combat Actions), so we decided to house rule it that each character could move 4 squares + 1 if their Warrior attribute was 5+.  That worked pretty well, so we’re sticking with that in any future sessions.  Also, my players wanted to take multiple actions, so I house ruled a Savage Worlds-like rule in which you can both move and cast a spell or attack, but at a -1 penalty to both (roll and movement speed).  Again, that worked pretty well so we’ll probably keep it around.

Charley, Lima, and Alpha had a nice spot of roleplaying with Murkraal as he offered them a new mission.  There wasn’t much going on at this point, though I hoped they would surprise me. Murkraal wanted an item from Tukrael, the capital city overrun by the undead.  While dangerous, this job would go a long way towards paying off their debt.  The item in question was a long brass tube with several pieces of glass in it that Murkraal said was related to the craft and used to belong to a rival of his last seen on the road to the dead city.  Alpha was a budding mage and took an interest in the item, which turned out to be a telescope.

After agreeing to take the job, the characters quickly left Bekel.  They chose to take the rocky, off-the-beaten-track route toward Tukrael in order to save time, but I decided that it would also be more dangerous.  A day or so into the journey the fortuners encountered a troupe of zombies wearing uniforms of the old empire (clearly quite old).  One of the zombies was even armed with a dragon rifle, though he had only a single shot and had impossibly poor aim.  They appeared to be wandering aimlessly, but decided that the fortuners looked pretty tasty.  The combat was mostly speedy, since the limited number of actions narrowed the players’ options (in terms of looking things up).  Instead of spending time on rules, they spent time considering strategy and placement, which made me very happy.

The zombies set upon our heroes in a gully, which forced the combatants to go more or less head-to-head.  Lima, a warrior friend of Charley the knight, quickly slew a zombie using his Massive Attack.  The other zombies were not quite so easily dispatched, however, and the fortuners earned their pay for that fight.  Alpha accidentally shot Lima in the leg while trying to hit a zombie with her dragon pistol, though she eventually ended the fight in dramatic style by shooting the last zombie, in close combat with Lima, in the noggin.

After finishing the first combat we were pretty low on time and couldn’t play again soon, so I threw in a roleplaying hook.   A group of rangers, international border guards sponsored by each city state, happened upon the fortuners immediately after the battle.  A little persuasion convinced the rangers that the fortuners were legit, and because the captain didn’t want them to get killed he gave them a telescope he had happened to find on a dead mage near the capital.  The fortuners returned home triumphant but bloody, and made steps toward financial independence!

All in all, the system worked well.  Defenses and health were well-balanced, and the skill/talent setup gave the characters enough options to have fun but not so many that we got bogged down.  The Mage attribute felt a bit underpowered, though it might be because our mage was a little more steampunk than traditional fantasy and so relied on her magic less.  More options for mages (or those using the attribute a lot) might be nice.  We only used zombies for monsters, but the single Monster attribute was surprising in its power.  I’d recommend that all considering using WR&M actually roll some dice to see what tricks your monsters will have before stepping into a game cold.

As far as rules light games go, I cannot recommend Warrior, Rogue, & Mage highly enough.  It was a fun system that let us really just play the game the way we wanted to.  I didn’t have to look far when I needed to come up with something on the fly, and NPCs were easy to create.  My players picked it up quickly, and there wasn’t too much of a learning curve.  There are some kinks, but it’s worth the time to play as is.  The most important thing is to keep from adding too much, since it’s just about right in terms of rules and fluff.  More on that fantasy world Michael teased would be nice (just because I like to read about other people’s worlds), but not necessary for gameplay, since it’s a good sandbox to build your own game from.

The typical fantasy world assumes a low level of general education.  Many (or most) can’t read or do basic math.  Scholars are rare or derided, and universities and higher learning are not considered to be worth the expenditure in gold and real estate.  Learning is generally not a priority for most people, because most fantasy worlds assume a medieval level of development and resources.  For the average peasant, there is little time for reading when crops must be gathered.  Adventurers focus on staying alive or the practical knowledge they need to loot more efficiently.  Generally, this makes sense given the medieval baseline.

That is not to say that education does not exist in fantasy gaming or literature.  It quite often does, but it is at best a sideline.  Eberron introduced institutionalized education into D&D in a way that hadn’t been done in a major production before (again, to the best of my knowledge – please feel free to correct the record).  I think it’s safe to say that education very rarely drives much of any fantasy world, and that it is very rare for education to be anyone’s priority (in the fantasy world at large, at any rate).  Within the scope of my gaming experience, there has been little in the way of an educated populace.

I’ve been looking for a real twist to the Pathfinder campaign I’m in the process of planning.  While reading David Weber’s By Schism Rent Asunder, I had a brainstorm.  What if education was common in my game world?  What if the Empire, the largest unified nation in the world, sponsors public education at all levels?  What if the Fellowship of Light, the largest organized religion in the world, encourages its faithful to better themselves and others through intellectual endeavors?  What if most of the population can read, do math, and owns at least a few books?  I don’t think this is necessarily a revolutionary approach to gaming, but it certainly revolutionizes my approach.

The first step towards solidifying this idea is to determine the level of education in science, mathematics, literature, philosophy, linguistics, and religion that has been reached.  In other words, how advanced is their education in real-world terms?  I’ve decided to go with an Italian Renaissance-era feel.  So, the sciences (especially their practical applications to engineering) are on the rise, and intellectualism is prized.  Successful rulers must also be well-versed in all aspects of learning in order to be able to converse intelligently with one another and in order to manage their realms.

Keeping with the Renaissance influence, organized religion is also a sponsor of education, though mostly so that they might tempt the people to join the ranks of the priesthood.  Architects and artists are commonly commissioned to create great works that venerate the pantheons.  Clerics and acolytes also educate their flocks as part of their ministerial duties.  Most mid-size cities on up have a college or university of some kind, and some have more than one.  The Imperial capital, of course, has the biggest and most awe-inspiring of them all – Imperial Collegium.  There are half a dozen competitors in the city, but none with quite the same resources or prestige.

The next consideration is magic.  How does it fit into education in my world?  Is it part of universities, or do spellcasters maintain their own schools?  Either choice presents more options, but I’ll stick with magic included in universities.  Spellcasters have their own guilds, of course, but magical education may be found at most temples of learning.  In fact, artificers and archivists are quite common in universities around the world, melding the magical with the mundane.  I’ve always loved Eberron’s blending of magic and technology, and I’d like to carry the same tone into my game world.  A little bit Renaissance to it, perhaps, but it’s a good starting point.

Similar to Eberron, I’d also like to make museums part of the educational scene.  Many colleges have them, and they help the adventuring economy thrive.  Such collections provide ample opportunities for buying and selling, as well as cloak-and-dagger affairs.  Universities compete over having the best museums, just as cities and kingdoms compete over having the best universities.  Skilled faculty are always in demand, as are items (or people)  for study.  This way, adventurers are an integral part of the educational system and the economy.  Adventurers also exist in their usual capacity as troubleshooters, mercenaries, and just plain treasure hunters, but I like having a solid reason for so many antiquities and artifacts to be moving through the economy.

Class-wise, scholars and teachers may be of any class.  Artificers and archivists are going to be common scholar classes in my world, with a fair number of bards, clerics, and wizards for flavor.  There will also be a very sizable proportion of NPC classes represented, since not everyone is an adventurer.  It will vary a bit by institution, of course, but at most places the majority of faculty members will be from NPC classes.  The most common heroic class is most likely the bard, followed by the wizard and archivist.  Clerics and artificers have the smallest noticeable presence, but there are still plenty of them.

And there you have it…

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, people who don’t identify with a particular gender or sexual label – I am before you today to inform you all of an upcoming project of mine.  I intend, with the help of a few good pens and pencils, some graph paper, a sturdy text editor, and (with a good amount of luck) some friends, to make a megadungeon and post it bit by bit here.

There has been a lot of talk about megadungeons amongst RPG bloggers of late.  This is not really related to any of the discussion of the theory of megadungeons.  This is all about having a good time and creating a kickass playground.

What I must first decide is whether I want to do a fantasy (read: D&D) megadungeon or a modern/sci-fi (read: Savage Worlds) megadungeon.  If I do a fantasy project it will be boatloads of fun and not confined to a particular setting, though it will likely be fairly edition specific with notes for alternative editions added.  If I do a modern/sci-fi project it will also be boatloads of fun but it will be centered around an urban dungeon of sorts – no mummies here.

Since I haven’t played nearly enough D&D of late I am leaning towards a fantasy megadungeon, but I shall continue to update you all on my progress going forward.  Later today or tomorrow I’ll post my initial thoughts.  I’d love to include maps and sketches, but I’ll have to sort out the scanner issue first…