Category Archives: Worldbuilding

Making it Meaningful: Religion in RPGs

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Many games have a religious aspect or deal with religious themes. Fantasy game, in particular often include pantheons of gods for the PC to pick from. But unless the PC is cleric or paladin, his religious life ends up being nothing more than minor roleplaying color, something the PC does when he remembers.

For GMs (and players) who want to have religion play a more active role in the lives of all PCs, here’s a way to make religion have a bigger impact on the game: give the characters a chance of divine intervention (often abbreviated DI). Some games have this built into their systems, the main one coming to mind is In Nomine, where a roll of 111 (on 3 6-sided dice) means god smiles favorably on you, while 666 means you’ve attracted attention from the other direction…

Now these interventions don’t have be huge deus ex machina plot devices. Even minor little “miracles” can make a difference. Perhaps the PCs luck on a useful map of the island they needed to go to or a spell goes off with particularly great results or the crowd they’re talking to turns out to be especially receptive to their message…you get the picture. That’s not to say the PCs couldn’t be favored with a grand miracle — it all depends on what fits your game. If gods walk upon the earth or regularly take an active part in mortal affairs, they’re more likely to grant an impressive “miracle” than gods who are rarely seen or work exclusively through their followers.

Mechanics-wise, I’d have players roll for a chance of DI for their characters. It should be an extremely small chance, say 1-5%. I’d also say that players would only get to make a DI roll if they’ve been playing their characters very devoutly before that point. And even then, only when such a role would really matter. How and when player could roll would be up to you, as the GM. If you want the gods to take a more active hand, then you could allow players to roll whenever they wanted to; on the other hand, if you want them to be more “hands-off”, players could only roll under life-or-death circumstances (as defined by you).

The nice thing about using a percentile roll, is that you can make it a “sliding scale”–the more devout a character is, the more chance she has of getting a DI. You could even add a chance for an enemy of the PC’s god could take notice and decide to get back at the deity by messing with his followers. Say that a roll of 98-00 on percentile dice brings divine favor, while a roll of 01-03 brings the attention of the “opposite side”.

Note that this “opposite side” doesn’t have to be demonic or infernal; it could simply be a rival of the PC’s god. For example, in the Greek pantheon Ares and Athene seemed to have some “sibling rivalry” going on. In the case of a “bad DI”, say a PC, a devout follower of Athene is involved with important peace treaty talks that are crucial to the well-being of her kingdom. The kingdom has been at war with a rival for many years, but has finally become open to peace negotiations. Now the PC’s player, knowing how important these talks are, gets permission from her GM to try for a DI and rolls a 01. The GM rules that Ares, who desires the war to continue, sees an opportunity to mess with his sister and causes the other negotiating party to mis-hear our PC’s greeting as an serious insult, making negotiations start off on a bad foot. Or he could be so incensed that he calls for an immediate attack on the player’s forces.

By making your players get GM approval to try for a DI, you have a way to limit the power level of your game. No player would automatically have a “right” to roll for one, even if he perceives it as a life-or-death situation. This would help keep players from becoming dependent on divinities to get them out of trouble.

Next time, I’ll make a list of possible DI results.

[Image courtesy of wonderlane via Flickr Creative Commons]

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February Blog Carnival: Worldbuilding

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This month’s blog carnival topic is worldbuilding. How do you get the worlds you use for your game? Do you create your own or use a published world? If you create your own, where did you start? What do you like best about building your own settings? What suggestions and resources do you have for teaching others how to build worlds of the their own? What are the pros and cons of building your own world? Where do you get the inspiration for your worlds.

It’s a broad topic, I know. I’d like to stick to the whys and wherefores of building worlds, rather than details of the worlds themselves. Instead of telling us about your world, tell us how you created it and why, as well as sharing any tips you may have for others who’d like to build their own game world, but don’t know where to start.

I’m looking forward to seeing your posts; just put the URL of your post in the comments section below and at the end of the month, I’ll do a wrap-up post listing everyone’s contributions.

X Marks the Spot: 11 Map Making Tutorials

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Anonymous nautical chart in portolan style pro...
Image via Wikipedia
You’ve spend weeks, months…maybe even years creating your world. You’ve detailed new races, have exciting new character classes, have worked out your worlds ecology, history, monetary system etc. Now it’s time to present it to the players. But wait! There’s something else you need before you can begin using your world. That’s right: you need a map!
Below is a list of map making tutorials freely available on the web:
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It’s a Brave New World — Guang Keshar

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It’s been a long-time coming, but I’ve finally done it. After nearly thirty years of kicking the idea around (and thanks to the guys at the Gamer Lifestyle program), I’ve finally take the plunge and started my own small-press game company, rpgGM.com.

This is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time now, but just never really was in a position to do before. At least for now, rpgGM.com will focus on publishing my own original game world, Guang Keshar. The world is going to be published for sale as PDFs in a modular format — that way you only have to buy what interests you. If you want something about the Great Houses and the ruling Council, you can buy that. If you’re interested only in the geography of the world itself, then that’ll be available too.Many of these smaller products will be gathered up and published as larger compilation products (with some new material thrown in for good measure 😉 ), which will give you a price break from buy each one separately.

Soon I’ll also have a newsletter going out dedicated to the development of this world. It’ll contain exclusive content, development news, sneak peeks at products, game world tips and much more. The first issue of this should come out the end of December or beginning of January. You can sign up for it now on the company website. The site will also have free information, company and product news and tips, as well providing a place for you to provide us with feedback.

I’m really excited about this and can’t wait to share my product with everyone. But don’t worry about loosing this blog — I’ll still be posting here at least once a week (I’m trying for twice, but we’ll have to see what time permits) with the same type of content I’ve been writing all along. The newsletter Beg, Borrow, and Steal will still be published, though I may have to go to once a month, rather than once a week.

[Sales pitch over, we now return you to our regularly scheduled ponderings 😉 ]

Let Us Give Thanks: Chinese Harvest Moon Festival

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With this being Thanksgiving weekend here in the US, I got to thinking about harvest festivals in general. I rarely see harvest celebrations in RPGs and yet in real life, they’ve been an important part of life throughout at least a large part of human history. Harvest festivals bring families and communities together; surely our fantasy worlds would also have similar rituals and festivals?

chinese-moon-goddess(Image courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/jimmiehomeschoolmom/ / CC BY 2.0)

Harvest Moon Festival

Celebrated in the 15th day of the 8th lunar month of the year, the Harvest Moon Festival draws family members from far and near to celebrate the beauty of the moon together. The Chinese believe that the moon is  at it’s fullest and brightest, symbolizing completion and abundance. Like Thanksgiving in America, people use this harvest festival to give thanks to the gods for the blessings they’ve received over the past year.

This ancient festival is celebrated with parades, brightly colored lanterns, feasting and moon gazing. Children stay up late and lovers holding hands dot benches, hill tops and river banks. The most well-known of foods eaten are moon cakes – small pastries stuffed with a variety of fillings, the most common being a lotus seed paste. Traditional foods for this celebration are red, the color of luck and fortune.

Lanterns festoon public and private areas. Traditional lanterns take the shape of carp, butterflies, rabbits, lobsters and star fruits, among others and are usually colored red. Also known as “Women’s Day”, it makes the beginning of the “dark of the year”, the period of time when the days grow shorter and the nights long. This time of the year is considered yin or female. Women set up altars to the moon goddess Hengo or Chang-o, decorating them with moon cakes, round foods, tea, rice and wine.

When the moon is full, mankind is one

Sources

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Let Us Give Thanks: Homowo Festivals or “Hoot at Hunger”

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With this being Thanksgiving weekend here in the US, I got to thinking about harvest festivals in general. I rarely see harvest celebrations in RPGs and yet in real life, they’ve been an important part of life throughout at least a large part of human history. Harvest festivals bring families and communities together; surely our fantasy worlds would also have similar rituals and festivals?

For the rest of the month, I’m going to detail various harvest festivals from around the world that you can use as inspiration for your own games.

(Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/kkendall/ / CC BY 2.0)

homowo drummerHomowo or “Hoot at Hunger”

This is a festival celebrated by the African Ga people, marking their migration to Ghana. According to tradition, the Ga people suffered a severe famine; Homowo celebrates the bountiful harvest they achieved after reaching their new homeland. Essentially, Homowo consists of sharing a meal with the living and dead members of the family in celebration of the harvest. It also marks the beginning of the Ga year.

The festival draws family members from far and near back to their ancestral towns. Normal daily business is suspended and the festival is considered a time of social harmony where debt payments may not be demanded, nor can oaths be taken or legal proceedings begun. It’s believed that ancestral spirits will cause the death of anyone who breaks these traditions. In a fantasy setting, this could be literally true.

Homowo Eve

On the eve of Homowo, men bring their father-in-laws bottles of gin and women bring their mother-in-laws firewood for cooking the next day’s feast. The senior women of a family smear the window sills of their home with ochre to protect themselves from any evil spirits that might enter the town during the night. A fantasy version of this could have the ochre blessed with a Protection from Evil or similar spell.

Modernly, guns are fired to warn people to stay inside their homes as the ancestral spirits enter the town on this night, but you could have the local clerics use bells, horns, or other noisemakers for the same purpose. Late that night, the Ga king sacrifices a sheep and shares it with senior members of the Ga government.

Homowo Day

Early Homowo morning, women of the household prepare a feast for the family. The male heads of household pour libations and a portion of the feast food on the graves of their ancestral spirits. Then the family gathers and eats together, ignoring the usual social hierarchy were senior members of the house eat before junior members and men eat before women.

After the feast, the community celebrates with a dance during which social norms are suspended. Anyone may dance and people may wear the clothes of the opposite sex, sing songs making fun of important people, and/or dress in tattered rags. Everyone can dance as equals. While the dance continues, all social constraints are thrown off.

Ngoo Wala — The Day of Remembrance

In Accra, this takes place the day after Homowo. Families gather to mourn their members who died during the last year. People go from house to house greeting friends and relatives, wishing them well in the upcoming year. This is a customary day to settle disputes and arrange marriages.

Three weeks later, Homowo closes with a children’s celebration that involves a legal looting of the local markets.

Sources

Aside

Tweet Sometimes creating a believable city or town is one of the hardest parts of building an adventure or campaign. You don’t want all your towns to look the same and you definitely don’t want to get stuck in the … Continue reading

City Creation: Kael Pathfinder Stoutpoppy, Swordsmith

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Since the PCs aren’t likely to interact with Meadowbrook’s blacksmiths other than to have items repaired or commission new ones, I’m not going to spend much time detailing them.

Most Meadowbrook’s blacksmiths focus on creating practical items — horseshoes, plows and farming implements, iron nails and building tools, etc. Kael Pathfinder Stoutpoppy is the exception to the rule: he’s only swordsmith in Meadowbrook. While he can and does do other types of blacksmithing to pay the bills, his primary love is creating strong, beautiful blades.

Kael Pathfinder Stoutpoppy

Kael is a former ranger who settled down in Meadowbrook. While his home and shop are actually outside of the city proper, he and his wife, Janna, are frequent faces in town, especially at The Butter Churn tavern. While adventuring, Kael met and fell in love with Janna Stoutpoppy, a skilled fighter in the group he traveled with. When the two of them decided to retire and settle down, they chose Meadowbrook — Janna’s home town.

While Kael and Janna aren’t the only human-halfling couple Meadowbrook’s history, the match is unusual enough to raise eyebrows and start gossip tongues wagging. The Stoutpoppys had some difficulty accepting an human son-in-law, but Kael’s friendly, outgoing personality finally won over Janna’s parents. The rest of the Stoutpoppy clan, including Janna’s two sisters and her brother aren’t so generous of spirit and the divide has split appart the clan. Janna’s siblings have not spoken to her for the last three years. The couple are very much in love, but the situation has put a strain on their marriage; currently, the two of them are discussing plans to move to a larger city where they won’t stand out so much.

A skilled storyteller, Kael can frequently be found at The Butter Churn when not working. He’s frequently pressed to tell stories of his and Janna’s younger, wilder days.

Janna Stoutpoppy

Janna herself is much quieter than her husband. She’s friendly enough, but much more reserved and usually content to let her more outgoing half speak for both of them.

Her split with her family weighs heavily on her, though she does her best not to show it. She’s glad her parents have come around about Kael, but the fact that her siblings and most of her clan refuse to speak to her saddens her greatly. She also experiences some discrimination in the town; a few of the merchants, both human and halfling, refuse to serve her or Kael. She loves Kael deeply, but the situation is putting a lot of strain on her. She and Kael have begun to talk about moving to an area where there are more couples like them, something she’s not sure she wants to do. She feels torn by her love for Kael and her love for her family.

For her own part, Janna is an excellent fighter, extremely skilled at taking down opponents several times her size. She’s agile and intelligent, though very shy without a sword in her hand. Her shyness can come off as cold or haughty to those meeting her for the first time.

  • Kael Pathfinder Stoutpoppy, human ranger (AD&D terms: 10th level ranger).
  • Janna Stoutpoppy, halfling fighter/warrior (AD&D terms: 11th level fighter)

Note about halfling names in Meadowbrook’s world: Among halflings, property is passed down matriliniarly, from mother to daughter. Consequently, most husbands take their wife’s surname after marriage, adding it after their own. Kael and Janna followed this tradition, hoping that would help them gain more acceptence in Janna’s home town. Unfortunately, this hasn’t had the effect they’d desired.

Aside

Tweet The next entry on our list of Notable People is “Clerics of the local shrines”. While these would, indeed, be notable people (the head priest/ess of the largest shrines would likely have considerable influence), religions differ greatly from one … Continue reading

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Tweet What would a fantasy game town be without a thieves guild? Whether the PCs work with it or oppose it, the local thieves guild frequently provides many opportunities for adventure. Meadowbrook’s thieves guild is extremely small: 10 members. Until … Continue reading