Rumor Tables

I love the concept of a rumor table. What better way to come up with something on the fly when your players take an unexpected turn? Or perhaps there is a slow bit in town where they are looking for something to do that isn’t related to the main story elements.

Personally, I like to have several tables weighted for different locations. They’ll all have 75-80% the same content, but will have those bits that are of more interest to the general population of those locations be the most common to come up.

Then there is issue of the reliability of the rumors themselves. I use the following categories for reliability:

  • The True Rumor – These rumors are almost entirely accurate, perhaps only incorrect in some fairly minor details.
  • The True at Core Rumor – Some central aspect of these rumors are correct, but much of the surrounding details are incorrect in some way.
  • The Marginal Rumor – The vast majority of these rumors are flat out wrong, but there are nuggets that could pay off if noticed.
  • The Gossip Rumor – Nothing about these rumors are true, but if followed up on, nothing more than embarrassment or short lived ridicule.
  • The False Rumor – These rumors are wrong, names, locations, nothing turns out to be true.
  • The Dangerously False Rumor – These rumors are not only incorrect, but are incorrect in such a way that following up on them could lead to unexpected, and unprepared for dangers.

I’ll expand on these in a moment.

I’ll vary the ratio of each type of rumor in my tables, and update them fairly regularly. I like to have a living world, so rumors don’t stick around forever.

The True Rumor:  The frequency of this type of rumor can vary greatly, depending on the nature of the rumor. Wars and nearby battles tend to be common, as are other fairly major political issues that are simply unverified in the current area. A more specific, but potentially doubtful rumor; The bandits preying on trade along the north highway are actually in the employ of a neighboring Baron according to one survivor; will be less common. In that example, the rumor is essentially correct, but instead of the neighboring Baron, they’re actually in the employ of a different neighboring Baron.

True at the Core Rumor: This type will be slightly more common. Using the previous example, instead of having the bandits being employed by the neighboring Baron, they’re in the employ of a Duke from a neighboring Kingdom… Or so it seems after some digging, but how deep or shallow might this be?

Marginal Rumors: These rumors are usually wrong, but are among the most common. Someone heard a story from someone else, who heard it from someone else. There are however sometimes nuggets of truth to them, but usually nowhere near the scale of the rumor. A rumor of a town being invaded by the restless dead is investigated, only to find that the invasion was a deceased pet raised by a village kid who had access to some necromantic artifact. This could lead to a nasty event, or just be a one time thing that scared people.

Gossip Rumors tend to make up at least 50% of the table. Most of the time I’ve found that these are simply ignored. When they are investigated it turns out that the raid by bandits or monsters was someone stealing a pie. Or, more often, just tales of the blacksmith two streets over having a big fight with his eldest son.

False Rumors are just that. A boy who cried wolf type situation that someone passing through took as real. If followed up on, there is nothing found amiss, possibly not even a hint of what caused the rumor.

Dangerous Rumors: These are rumors that seem like a fairly simple thing to look into. Perhaps a merchant two towns over is hiring guards. When the characters arrive, they discover that this was a rumor intentionally passed to lure new victims to become food for a vampire.

 

Anyhow, I’ll make up varation tables for what might be discovered at taverns vs temples, markets vs bathhouses.  The vast majority will be false or gossip types, a handful of true or core types, with marginal rumors filling out what extra space is on the table. Dangerous Rumors only show up rarely, perhaps only one in every ten tables. They should be used for special occasions, or outright traps.

 

Lost Magics

One of the nice things that having a cataclysmic event in a world’s history, one sufficiently disastrous enough to all but wipe out all intelligent life, is that it leaves behind plenty of ruins and artifacts to find, explore, and discover.

Fortunately for me, it just so happens (by design) that there was such a cataclysmic event.

Of the many possible lost secrets to be discovered (I’ll only mentioning those that are sort of well known secrets) are fragments of lost lore, mysterious artifacts of both mundane and supernatural nature, and, perhaps most sought after, fabled magics only hinted at in the very small surviving magical tradition.

One such artifact, currently in the possession of the Cult Archpriestess of Lanbere (I’ll be detailing this region in a later post), is an ornate wooden staff, inlaid with filigree of gold and topped with an octagonally cut crystal of pale blue. Anyone with Magery who touches it can tell it has power, but so far, that power is undiscovered beyond the fact that touching the staff to water causes several yards of water to become glassy smooth and fogged to opacity.

Another, commonly encountered item that, seemingly at random, is detected as having power, is the traditional Settlement Stone. This is an obelisk on a large hexagonal pedestal that is always, by long lost tradition, built at the center of any settlement. Small villages may not have more than a wooden post where this may someday be built, but will always be constructed of stone. For unexplained reasons, sometimes these will start to exhibit power (to those who are sensitive to such things). Traditionally all of these obelisks have the same carvings. They are written in the standard runes, but in a language nobody knows.

Perhaps someday these writings and the purpose of the stones will become known?

Bestiary 1: Grobbs

Grobbs are a variation on a more or less standard RPG Goblin, somewhat customized for my setting and given a name that I’m not entirely happy with. Anyhow:

Grobbs average 4 feet tall, have coal or oil black skin. Their hands feature three fingers and one opposable thumb each, with thick, but not particularly sharp claws. Facial structure is similar to that of a vampire bat, ears included.

They prefer dim lighting, but are not comfortable in total darkness. As such they tend to be most commonly about their business during the twilight hours.

They prefer small nomadic tribal groups, averaging 50-80 members. They survive by being hunter-gatherers or by raiding small settlements.

Grobbs mature very quickly, reaching adulthood about 60 days after birth. All are born female, and will metamorphose into males between sometime between 12 and 18 months old. This metamorphoses takes about a week. Gestation for Grobbs lasts roughly six weeks and result in a littler of 2-4 young.

If a tribe finds itself without any females for more than a month, one or more of the weaker males will shift back to female. An all male Grobb tribe will sometimes try to raid other tribes or even human communities to find females.

Grobbs have only a rudimentary language. Their society, such as it is, consists of Rule of the Strong.

They are able to craft crude tools and weapons, usually wood, stone or low quality metals. These weapons will be Cheap Quality. However, they will often use better quality weapons and tools if they can find them, but they don’t take very good care of their equipment.

 

Average Grobb Warrior:

ST 7, DX 10, IQ 8, HT 10. Shortsword -12, Spear-12.

 

A campaign assumption note: For the game I will be running, I will be using the Mook optional rules. The vast majority of Grobbs they encounter will fall like leaves in autumn as a result.

Welcome to the Kingdom of Anstenar

As I may have mentioned before, I’m terrible at coming up decent sounding names on my own. Anstenar was the result of fiddling with a random name generator till something promising showed up, then fiddling with adding, removing, and substituting letters till I was happy with it.

 

Actually, this isn’t the entire kingdom. The main campaign setting deals primarily with only the newest frontier region, on a new landmass. The main part of the kingdom is a couple of weeks across the sea (in good weather) from the new acquisitions.

However, some things hold true everywhere in the kingdom. The fuedal system holds sway. There is one monarch, but several princes. The standard sub grouping is the Duchy. Most princes who are not the royal heir are ranked as Dukes. Below that are Barons. Barons rarely owe fealty to the King directly, but usually rather to a Duke.

Below the Barons are the petty nobles. These may be granted control over a portion of a higher noble’s lands to administer. Knights are a special case. They are not hereditary titles, but are restricted to those who are noble born. Think the samurai class post Oda Nobunaga. Rarely, a peasant can be granted noble status, but in general the classes are fairly strictly separated.

However, society is fairly egalitarian when it comes to the role of the sexes. While there is a strong traditional trend for women to remain at home, and most do so, they are not looked down upon for following their own path. The only exception is when it would cross class lines upwards. Nobles can slum all they want as a peasant, but peasants, and especially slaves, could face severe punishments if they pretend up and are caught.

The social order is as follows:

  • Monarch
  • Royal Family
  • Princes
  • Dukes
  • Barons
  • Hereditary Nobles
  • Knights
  • Free Peasants
  • Serfs
  • Slaves

There are of course, sub rankings within all of these groups, but that is for another post.

The religion of the Kingdom of Anstenar is overseen by the Cult of the Ancestors. This is an ancestor worship based religion, with the main practices based on keeping the dead content. Special emphasis is given to one’s personal ancestors or other family members who have passed on, and also to previous monarchs. After all, the dead need rulers as well.

The Cult will be detailed further in a future post.

As that’s all that I can bring to mind at the moment (I have other things distracting me right now) I’ll continue another time.

On Elves.

Ask my wife, or most regular players and they’ll probably tell you that I hate elves. This isn’t exactly true. I rather like elves in general, but they have problems.

The biggest problem I have with elves as most gamers know them is the lifespan. I can’t count how many games I’ve played in or have read about in published modules, settings, or actual play logs that ignore the lifespan of elves (and to a lesser extent other long lived races).

I’m talking about when a GM or published adventure has, somewhere in their notes or description for the players something along the lines of:

“Roughly 200 years ago, longer than anyone now alive can remember, a great war was fought. There are none old enough to remember the reason for this war…”

And yet, the group of PCs will usually include no less than 2 characters, almost always elves or dwarves, who are currently at least 50 years older than the time frame given. And they’ll always have someone, usually quite a few someones, in the local community much older than that who would reasonably have information on something that, for them, is not that long ago.

An comparison would be to have an adventure taking place today, in 2013, and having some of the narative include

“Long ago, in 1995, there was a war in Bosnia. So long ago that there are none left alive who had even heard of it…”

I don’t know about everyone who may read this, but that was a rather important event in my life, having been in the military at the time. Just a few years previously, I’d seen classmates on the news as US Marines in Somalia, and was wondering if this would be the big event in my life.

Even if it were long enough ago, such as the 7 Years War, that truely nobody is alive who was there or heard about it as it was happening, there will always be those people who pass on the stories.

That, in a nutshell is my problem with long lived races in games. Most GMs and players cannot comprehend the lengths of time involved, so they can’t comprehend that a race that can live for thousands of years would be any different from the humans in the setting.

I also don’t really accept the concept of  an entire race (I’m going to use that term, incorrect though it may be, because it is the one most gamers will be familiar with.) that tries to hold themselves aloof from any others, no matter how new they may be. Individual groupings within a race, sure. Happens all the time in the real world. But an entirerace, every single one of them that isn’t somehow considered a social deviant doing so? No, I don’t think so.  It’s sort of like the space opera thing with having The Desert Planet, or The Jungle Planet. Even when playing space opera games I try to avoid those.

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Now we get to the game I’m currently working on. I have a tendency to reduce the age of such long lived races to not more than about 50% longer than that of humans. This would put elves in my fantasy games as topping out at 150 to 200 years old. I’ve found this to be sufficient to allow for the exotic nature of the long lived races, and yet still have it in the realm of comprehension.

The setting I’m currently working on has several humanoid races. Of these, most are monsters, barbaric, tribal, and not suitable for player characters.

The only known playable races are Humans and Half-Elves. True elves having long ago interbred with humans to the point that the only way it is known that they ever existed is the occasional “throwback”. These are like recessive genes, the occasional child will be born with pointed ears, the distinctive hair colors of their elven ancestors, and perhaps some game statistic benefits for those who inherit stronger traits.

In game terms, this doesn’t actually mean much. It’s almost entirely cosmetic. Elves, if they were still around in pure form, have brightly colored hair, like what are common in anime (which partially inspired this setting’s flavor and feel). Ears are slightly pointed, but absolutely not the parasails anime elves tend to sport.

However, I have not left out the possibility of that True Elves, or even other, playable races exist somewhere in the world. What is known about geography of the world is very little at the point play begins.

 

Playing God. At least on paper.

Creating an rpg setting that both you, and your players, fall in love with is a great experience. It can also be a great deal of work.

As a preface, I am not a linear thinker. I don’t learn well in a linear manner, nor do I tend to create well in that way. As such, I have a hard time using modern tools (word processors and such) when I work up a setting. At least in the early stages. They’re great when I start assembling the various pieces into a more or less coherent whole.

My normal tools consist of a pile of notebooks and index cards. The index cards are used to note down ideas when I have them. The notebooks are for fleshing out those ideas, usually one notebook for each area of a setting. The current setting I’m working on currently exists in the format of a couple dozen index cards and seven notebooks.

To expand on this, as I’m doing my daily whatever, I’ll sometimes get a concept for, say, a cultural practice for Region C. I’ll write it down quickly on an index card, or in the random thoughts notebook (usually the index card). Later on, when I’m actively working on the setting, which I’ll take 20-30 minutes every so often, I’ll expand on these quick notes in the appropriate notebook, expanding the setting. Not everything that is jotted down on the index cards will get used. But those cards then go into a drawer for possible future use.

On to the actual setting creation.

In general I’ll start with a general genre to work with. This setting will be fantasy, that setting science fiction. At current, the setting I’m working on is fantasy.

My first step is almost always to sketch out a rough map. A starting location and what is nearby. Years of the bottom up method that seems to be the standard in D&D has left me with a bad taste in my mouth. I usually prefer to work top down. But this usually results in fairly detailed settings that nobody wants to play. So for this world I’m going back to the bottom up method.

As of the time of this writing, I have not given a name to the setting, or even the world at large. I began this world by pulling out a blank sheet of sketch paper (unfortunately far too large to fit on my scanner). I asked my players where the city/town they would be starting in was located. They talked for a moment then one of them pointed to a spot on the paper.

I marked that down with the symbol I use for a large town. I then asked for what was located to the east, the west, etc. Slowly a map developed.

The portion I could fit on my scanner. 40% of the left half.

Once I had the map, I had to come up with names. I’m horrible at naming things. This can be a major downside for a GM. It’s not that I can’t name things, it’s just that I always think they sound extremely stupid afterwards.

So, with the help of an online name generator, I noted down the starting city for this campaign. The large town, or small city of Corland’s Bridge.

At this point I had several aspects of the setting decided upon.

  • This world is low fantasy, at least to start. Magic exists but is not central.
  • For feel, the architectural style is… I don’t know the term, but if you’ve ever seen a medieval European style setting in an anime series, you’ve got the idea.
  • The religion for this region, and all currently known regions, is organized ancestor worship.
  • The game system used will be GURPS 4th Edition. Though I am seriously considering also writing up the system stats in Savage Worlds as well. I generally write settings system agnostic.
  • TL/3 with video game inspired versions (skimpy armor for female characters was decided upon by the players (most of whom are women).
  • The magic system will be using the Ritual Magic rules from GURPS Magic and Thaumatology.
  • The game will have a definite cinematic influence.
  • I’ve decided that the kingdom that most of the game will take place in uses Germanic style names.

So now I have a general outline to work from.

That’s it for this update.

 

First Steps. Again.

I have to admit, I don’t know how this will go. I’ve never really thought much about the concept of having a blog, even considered them something of a waste of time in general, if sometimes fun to read.

Anyhow, it seems like I have decided to actually give it a go as more than a once in a blue moon event.

To that I figure I’ll start off with thoughts on a new campaign/setting I’ve been working on. I don’t know if anything will really come of it, but it’s worth a try.

A bit of background first:

How I found RPGs… I hated going to the various sporting events that were required in elementary school and later, and, if I was lucky I could convince whatever teacher I had at the time to let me go to the school library and read, do homework, whatever. Most of them found this to be an acceptable substitute, so the library is where I spent probably one afternoon each month while the rest of the school was watching a basketball or football game.

On day, in the fall of 1982, I was sitting there reading (probably Lord of the Rings, which I still owe my father a replacement copy of, it being a very nice, boxed set that I read so many times it fell apart), when four or five other kids about my age came in, having learned of my excuse to get out of sports games. They started writing things up, talking among themselves, and rolling odd shaped dice. After a while, they invited me over, and I ended up creating a character. I don’t recall what that character was, or what exactly we did in that two hours of playing. Considering the norm in my area at the time, it was probably a random dungeon crawl with no rhyme or reason, just enter the room, kill whatever was there, and revel in the pile of treasure.

Just before it was time to catch the bus home, the guy running the game asked “Anyone want to try running this next week?” The table fell into silence. Being new, and having enjoyed myself immensely, I volunteered. He handed me a stack of books, mixed hardbacks and paperbacks, and I’m sad to say, photocopies of other books. But it was a start.

This collection consisted of a copy of the AD&D 1st Edtion Players handbook, The D&D Monster & Treasure Assortment (levels 1-3), Tomb of Horrors, and a partial copy, in loose leaf photocopy format, for Keep on the Borderlands.

This was my introduction into the hobby I love. The oddity of this situation is that if I hadn’t volunteered, I probably would never have played again. In my area finding a DM/GM, even a bad one, was worse than pulling teeth. I didn’t play again as a player until 1993 while I was in my later college years. But I was regularly a DM. And early on a mighty bad one I was by my current standards. Running nothing but random table dungeon crawls.

However, during that period, I tried to get more game books by almost any means necessary. The first coherent rules set I managed to get was the Mentzer BECMI basic set. I slowly aquired other books, some sadly lost over time (first printing AD&D Monster Manual sadly took a vacation by someone with sticky fingers).

Round about ’88 or ’89, I was given a copy of GURPS Basic Set 3rd Edition (3rd printing I believe). As well as a copy of the TSR Buck Rogers XXVc boxed set. I loved reading both of those, but had to continually set them aside since nobody wanted to play anything but D&D (which we had moved to AD&D 2nd Edition by this point).

Then, while in college, I encountered another local game group that I had not previously been aware of. They started a game of Star Wars using the then new WEG 2nd edition rules. I made some great friends in that group, and we played an ever evolving game using that rules set, and more or less the same characters until about 2001, when life took over and real life took over. We did play occasional other games throughout that time. Usually whenever the guy who’s family ran the local Alternative Medicine Store (aka herb shop), which had a small RPG shelf, decided to order something new that he wanted to try.

9 times out of 10, I was the guy handed the new game and told “figure out how this works”. I always did, but we almost never actually ran the game because it ended up being too different from either D&D or WEG Star Wars.

I ended up with several games because of this that I’d love to run again someday. Cyberpunk 2020, Twilight 2000 (v2.2), Star Frontiers, etc.

I have played, and rather enjoyed, various wargames since before I found RPGs, but those were even harder to find people to play with in my area.

 

Anyhow, though countless games, campaigns, and settings have been created and played or abandoned since then, I still love this hobby, and have decided to share some thoughts as I go about this new setting and campaign (and likely half a dozen more settings as my attention can never stay focused on any one for large periods of time).

Next time, some actual setting thoughts.