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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

How to find out what players want

Talk to them.

(I bet you thought there would be more here, didn't you?)

Thursday, April 30, 2015

How Does Magic Impact Daily Life in Erealind?

Understanding how certain environmental factors affect daily life can help Players and Game Masters to breathe life into a situation, or even provide plot hooks, and the beginning of adventures. To that end, I’ve written this article to discuss how magic impacts daily life in the world of Erealind as a whole. Understand, this is a general description to give people and idea of what MAY happen. Remember also, depending upon the country and culture, things change, so not all of the scenarios discussed below will be experienced in every country, or even every town, village and hamlet characters may encounter. However, these can color a person’s viewpoint of the level of civilization they determine a town to have, or even how the inhabitants of a given town react to a magic user. This is meant to offer flavor to an adventure, and “fill out” the daily life to help Game Masters make the world more real to their players. So, without further ado…

In the world of Erealind, magic is ever present unless one happens in to be in artificially created no-magic zones such as the Tech Consortium’s “Null Shields” which block magical activity. Magic is not always some Magus annihilating enemies with fire, or Drava-Veid causing the creatures of the land to rise up and destroy enemies. Sometimes, a farmer just doesn't want his food to rot. Sometimes a business woman wants the food she is selling to stay fresh, and casts a cooling spell upon he food stand to keep the food cool even on hot days.

Because magic is a daily part of most individuals experience, over the years, more and more have become capable of using magic. Some people are simply capable of a cantrip or two, others a bit more, but it is rare to find even smaller villages without at least one person capable of casting some small cantrips.

There are some villages who have gone hunting for a spell caster to live in their area just for their basic usefulness. Since the Zargosian incursion 15 years ago, some towns go so far as to give land, or build homes for a magic user or some type of adventuring group to live in or near their town. However, many towns subsist with the abilities of those in their town or village.

To this end it is important to consider the implications of magic in everyday life. Consider that, in many places, the economy has been improved by the use of some basic low-level spells. Food stores with preservation spells cast upon them last longer and look better when they are sold at market or even are eaten as food. Wells are sometimes enchanted to keep the waters cool and/or clean. Some people can keep their milk from curdling, meat from rotting, or even keep the wood or stone of their homes from breaking down or falling apart thanks to constant upkeep of magic.

Consider a new Magus or Drava-Veid starting out who needs a place to continue their studies. Would not a small town near a trade route be a good place to live? The people of the local towns or farms would hire the Magus or Drava-Veid to help them preserve their food stuffs, or cast preservation spells on food being sold at market in other towns. Small wards placed around pastures might keep some predators at bay, keeping flocks safer. During dry years, creating water for crops can literally save lives. Being able to move the earth can make irrigation easier. Even religious groups and charities are helped by the fact that nutritious, if relatively tasteless food can be created to help those with little means from starving.

In this environment, magic can make life far easier, and ensure a better quality of life overall. All of these lead to a cleaner, safer, and often more profitable life.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Ignore Role Play at Your Peril

I got to thinking about my DM style and how it has evolved. I must admit, most improvement came after observing the wreckage of a campaign or my utter failure to account for the things most experienced GMs know. Thus, I try to take in depth looks at what other people say, what has worked for others, and apply them to myself. Otherwise, how could I grow?

Some people like the crunchy bits of a game system. The numbers align with glorious purpose. The characters are built on logic and creativity and answer with excellent power and playability.

However, numbers don’t tell a tale. They are the foundation and framing of a house. It is the creativity and role-playing that make all the numbers mean something. Creativity and role playing is what puts up the sheet-rock and paints the walls and decorates the home. I contend that encouraging that is part of the job of the GM.

When players have a skill check, but want to talk it out, let them. Sure, you might have them roll a couple times for persuasion/intimidation, or perception checks, but if you can work with the player to build the conversation, they will be intimately engaged. The experience (and XP) will mean more to them, and could even become a cool part of their character’s story.

How would this affect other players? Sure, a lot of people are just waiting their turn, but many players would see this as a cue to try this out. More players might role-play rather than roll-play.

And for the GM? Well, the GM gets an NPC that becomes more lifelike, more memorable, and an insight into what the character/player is thinking. They also get a more engaged and attentive audience reaching for chances to talk with NPCs and become more engaged in the game as a whole leading to a richer experience all around.

Need some quick inspiration?

Johnn Four, the master of, has a pinterest where he puts up various pictures he thinks are interesting and inspiring. I would recommend checking it out.

Johnn Four Game Master Inspiration

Also, I cannot recommend his site and news letter enough: - How to be a better game master - How to add more story and drama during fights

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Skills and Skill Sets

a.k.a. Chapter 10 as it is now.

A Skill Set as used in the Cyborgs & Sorcerers game is a general area of knowledge. Within a particular Skill Set are a group of Aptitudes. It is these Aptitudes which will allow PCs to accomplish a wide array of tasks.

            A cursory review of Skill Sets and individual Aptitudes shows they are purposefully being left vague. Putting large numbers of stat blocks and onerous rule sets would place more boundaries and limits on games and take away much of the discussion, bartering, or dare I say it – role-playing out of the game. The capabilities, profession and backstory of each character (if clearly defined) will help the Game Master and the Player achieve a good working understanding of a character’s ability to resolve situations in a mutually satisfactory manner

            As an example: Noric the Sapien wishes to hack into his father’s personal files. He must have the Technical Knowledge – Electrical and the Spycraft – Hardware in order to make a successful hacking attempt.

If you have a set of skills, it follows that you understand the basics and have the ability to attain more knowledge and information, as well as an idea of who might be the best sources for what you may not know or have including training and support.

Now, how do these work in the game?

Determine Aptitude Points, and Aptitudes
Aptitude scores are determined by two things, the associated Capability score, and the number of points put into a particular aptitude. Those two numbers added equal the total amount of aptitude a player character has. In game play, a player would roll a D20, then add their aptitude score to find their total
            To determine available aptitude points to assign, refer to the appropriate Profession in later in this chapter to determine number of points available for distribution.
Aptitude points / Aptitudes chosen + Aptitude Specific Capability score = Aptitude Level

In order to see if a character’s attempt use an aptitude is successful, a player must roll a D20 then add their aptitude level to find the result. Upon reporting their result to the Game Master, if the result equals or exceeds the difficulty of the task, it is a success.
D20 + Aptitude Level = Aptitude attempt result
Note that general aptitude groups for each Profession are suggested within each individual Profession listing. The number of allowable points of any given aptitude is listed in the Level Advancement table below. Skill descriptions and rules are in Chapter 10: Skills. Please refer to that chapter when selecting skills, and note that any skill you do not want can be traded for a different one.

Please note: Attempts to gather information or acquire greater understanding of a subject is part of any skill set, and having an aptitude is even more specific, and will lead to greater understanding and depth of knowledge.

Skill Set:           Technical Knowledge
            Aptitudes:        Electrical:  computers, electrical devices, even cybernetics
Engineering: building and tearing down structures, including demolition and military applications
Mechanical: vehicles and machines without, or not primarily made with electronic components

Skill Set:           General Knowledge
Aptitudes:        General Scholarship: other subjects not covered within other skills. The subject of a character’s general scholarship should be decided upon and noted on their character sheet. If a player wishes to spend aptitude points on more than one general scholarship field, they may do so.
History: having factual knowledge of events and people known to be real and proven
Lore:  knowing history and stories of people, places and things which are not strictly factual, especially mythology, magical beasts, legends, etc.
            Please note: Lore and History may overlap in some areas
Skill Set:           Social
            Aptitudes:        Political:  having knowledge of current politics, governments and laws
Personal: being able to sympathize, empathize, find common ground with, persuade and understand motives
Forceful: bluff, intimidate, coerce, understanding motives, blackmail, etc.
                                                Please note: Personal, Forceful, and Political can overlap
Mercantile: buying, selling, appraising,

Skill Set:           Nature
Aptitudes:        Flora: plants and growing things (including sentient flora) including, but not limited to defining, identifying and using or controlling
Fauna: animals and natural creatures including, but not limited to defining, identifying and using, training and/or controlling
Magical: creatures and plants which are magical in nature
Other: knowledge of beings, creatures and monsters from other planes or existence and/or other universes

Skill Set:           Spycraft
Aptitudes:        Hardware: locks, traps, alarms, anti-theft measures, forgery, Hacking (see note below) including the ability to set up, or disable or discover such things
Note: If Technical Knowledge – Electrical and Spycraft – Hardware are both known skills, Hacking becomes possible
Physical: escape and evade, hiding, moving silently, effective disguise, sleight of hand

I am trying to make skills simpler, and easier to handle in-game, while encouraging player/GM interaction. I think this system will make it happen.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

A short word on sickness…

I was out of pocket on a business trip, and got a horrific case of the flu. This happened after I had gotten my flu shot. It got me thinking that there may be a lesson there for me to consider.

In a game, if a person is poisoned, or sick, sometimes, we just play it as having only concrete, negative effects on stats and skill checks. How often is sickness, pardon the phrase, that clinical?

During the flu, I was exhausted. Walking to the bathroom tired me out beyond belief, not to mention the effort in deciding which end of me has to produce noxious liquid (which I strongly maintain could be weaponized). Sometimes I had no choice and became a dual fountain of wretchedness. Even walking elicited groans from me as it jostled my over-burdened and unstable stomach. Even the thought or faintest hint of food disgusted me and often led to retching or caused puking on a grand scale. I was a mess. Everything ached. I smelled bad. I was sweaty and cared about nothing other than trying not to move or breathe too much.

The paragraph above is s taste of what happened with the flu. Poisoning, wounds received, especially if they fester, are all things which could have that effect. Anyone who knows how it feels after even a minor operation knows you are just not the same for the next few days, even after being treated. These are the sort of things which game masters need to be able to convey to players if one of their characters gets sick in game. I am not suggesting anything be added to whatever the book says are statistic decreases. I am, however, suggesting that we as game masters can improve our storytelling by considering our descriptions, and making sure they really put our players in the correct mindset for playing an ill, poisoned, wounded, or diseased character.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Mining Myth to Make Legends

Zecharia Sitchin brought the beliefs of a 12th planet to the general public when he published the “12th Planet” in 1976. Mr. Sitchin translated ancient texts to form the basis of his work. According to ancient civilizations, the 12th planet was a large red planet that was inhabited by the Anunnaki (also called the Nefilim by the Hebrews) that periodically returns to our solar system. The Anunnaki are supposed to be very human-like except that they are much larger. These humanoids are supposed to be between 10 and 15 feet tall. The 12th planet, Nibiru, only returns to our solar system every 3,600 years because it is in a binary orbit between two stars: our Sun and a cold, unlit star farther out in the galaxy.

According to Sitchin, the 3,600 year periodic cycle of Nibiru is called a Shar by Sumerian historians. A single shar lasts a little more than 3,600 years on Earth, but it is equivalent to one year on the Nibiru. According to ancient Sumerian clay tablets and cylinder seals the total period of occupation/visitation by the Anunnaki was over 124 Shars.

The Anunnaki’s original objective in coming to Earth was to mine for gold. They atomically dispersed it into their atmosphere in order to prevent core-produced heat from dissipating excessively into space. Since 99% of Nibiru’s orbital cycle is too far from our sun to benefit from its heat, it has to retain its internally generated heat in order to survive The Anunnaki first extracted gold from the waters of the Persian Gulf area, but later switched to land mining in South Africa and other locations due to greater abundance of gold ore.

In game terms, what does this have to do with anything?

First, ancient myths are often used for fodder of stories of all types. Everyone knows this, everyone is aware of the tropes and cliches. Given that most gamers are well read (kinda goes with the territory), it is ever harder to go to myth for story ideas. I’m not saying you or I are bereft of ideas, just that having a framework to build something new, or to use as a story generator can jump-start the mind.

In the case of the 12th planet, I found in it a seed of something I can use. In the history of Erealind, the planet upon which the Cyborgs & Sorcerers game plays out, the core and surface worlds went to war. The core won by literally blasting the surface of the planet out into space. While there are remnants of the surface  still orbiting the planet, and some which are still within the atmosphere, greater portions got pushed much further out.

It is my intention to make the largest landmass which was “lost” support survivors of the war. They and their descendants have had nothing but trial and tribulation, toil and trouble since that time. However, in the utterly unforgiving environment, they not only survived, but thrived. They have built a civilization, and while their technology was massively advanced when they left, their pursuit of technological and biological perfection and ability to withstand completely inhospitable conditions have made them strong. Determined to wreak havoc upon those who did literally destroy their world, they are returning. They are not alone.
This is, in fact going to be the second expansion of Cyborgs & Sorcerers. The first one I am keeping closer to the vest. However, in this nattering on you've perused, you can see, I think, how my imagination was fired to create a basis, not only for a different culture, but also a different race (Anunnaki), and a situation which will profoundly affect EVERY corner of my world.

What myth would you use to enhance or build upon your world? What effects would it have? Where will you take the players? What waiting legends exist for them to discover, and fear?