Sunday, 31 May 2015

Thieves are not mere thieves: on class and level

A few days ago, on Google+, Dominic Crouzet posted on what he felt was missing from Fantastic Heroes & Witchery - and explanation of what Thief skills actually are:

I think that this is very important. Obviously, it acts as a corrective to the 'underpowered and incompetent' interpretation of the Thief class without changing anything but the perspective of players and referees - those laughably low chances of success are in fact the chances of the Thief doing something remarkable. This is because classed and levelled characters are exceptional people. Not all thieves are Thieves. The proliferation of classed and levelled NPCs in D&D material was one of the big wrong turns, looking back at published D&D material. Even in the marvellous Night's Dark Terror, Threshold is home to an unnamed 7th Level Thief who, improbably, seems to make his or her living picking pockets. By understanding success at Thief skills as the achievement of something remarkable, the petty pickpockets can be 0-level humans performing mundane, rather than exceptional, acts, Any PC should have a crack at performing mundane acts, depending on circumstance. But only classed characters get to use class abilities in order to achieve the exceptional. And by considering Thief skills in this way, we effectively grant high-level Thieves the kind of superhuman abilities gained by the other classes at high level - there is no need to detail new abilities as promised by Cook and Marsh.

But, of course, not all thieves are Thieves, not all 'fighting men' are Fighters, not all priests are Clerics, and... not all students of magic are Magic Users? Yes, possibly even the last case should be true. There should be 0 level scholars, cunning men and wise women who can work some petty magical effects, at great expense, effort or sacrifice, but only classed and levelled Magic Users can work magic with true power. And once the players and referee start thinking about classed and levelled characters as exceptional within the game world, playing at low levels takes on a different flavour. 

Friday, 22 May 2015

A Coffle of Slaves (Awkward Treasure #4, part one)

Now, you don’t get much more awkward than this. Not just physically and logistically awkward, but politically and morally awkward – in and out of game! Most game worlds feature at least some societies that allow the ownership of human beings (and/or sentient beings), so the idea of thinking, speaking beings (and people) as wealth is unavoidable. So what do the PCs do when a whole heap of potential GP (and XP) falls into their lap?  

Now, slaves need feeding, guarding, and care to get them to a suitable market in saleable condition. But things might be more complicated than that...

1d6 Slaves - Part One of Three

1. Humanoids. So the Goblins the PCs are fighting fail their morale check and surrender? What are the PCs to do? Let them go? Gygax would say not - he was a 'kill 'em all, the Gods have aleady sorted them out' kinda guy. Ransom them back to the Goblin Overboss? What, deal with that duplicitous bastard? Or tie them together and march them to the slave market of Xamptang? They won't fetch a great price, but they can make good latrine cleaners, chimney sweeps, provide replaceable muscle for the city engines, laboratory subjects, and arena 'amusement'. If the PCs are to engage in any kind of slave trading, this is the one that is morally and politically the least awkward - not only have the Players happily had their PCs butcher Goblins and the like, but in the game world it is likely that Goblins and their kin are afforded few rights or protections by human societies. The 'treasure' is still awkward in the sense that the Goblins will need feeding and guarding, and because their tribe might mount a rescue mission, but there are no special ethical problems for Players and PCs happy to see and treat Goblins as mere 'Monsters'. 

[A slightly more ethically... erm... interesting 'treasure' would be humans from another, enemy, culture. If your game doesn't make things easy for players by making their PCs' bidepal enemies bestial Chaotic beings, you might find humans filling this role in your game. Depending on the setting, it may be entirely right and proper that a victor in battle makes slaves of his enemies. To run against this would be wrong - to be acting badly - in terms of the setting. And PCs behaving badly is the source of great adventure, no?] 

2. Children. Who would want children as slaves? The Faerie King, of course! He wants children to amuse and placate his barren, melancholy wife. What, you thought it'd be about transporting captive children to help populate a hardscrabble colony? Maybe. But right now, let's remember this is a fantasy game. The children the PCs 'sell' to the Faerie King will live lives of beauty and plenty, but will be ejected from the Queen's garden - re-entering the mundane world - when they reach puberty. As time passes differently in Faerie, this will be 1d8 years after they enter the Hidden Kingdom. Depending on how these young adults view the loss of their normal childhood, and then the pain of being ejected from 'paradise', in just a few years the PCs might find themselves with a number of young enemies, each blessed in some way by their time in Faerie. 

The Faerie King won't pay in gold - though he may offer greedy PCs an improbably amount of money, but that will only be an illusion. This will dissipate as soon as the PCs try to spend the treasure, leaving just a pile of smooth pebbles. But not, if all the PCs do is keep the 'treasure' in a vault it will retain its glamour. No, rather than money, the Faerie King pays in magical favours, and he takes his debts very seriously. The PCs will be given some token, most likely a hunting horn, but perhaps a bell without a clapper, or a hawthorn wood 'torch' that burns invisibly when lit. The token is used to call in the debt, requesting assistance from the Hidden Kingdom. The aid may come in the form of some form of animated plantlife (tangling grass, a walking tree, etc.), a 'gift' provided by the little people (magical food and drink), a guide, anything up to even the appearance of the Wild Hunt itself. What is most likely is that the PCs will be seeking a specific favour from the Faerie King. There may be many ways to win his favour, and the PCs should have a choice, but this option will be tempting as what could be as easy as stealing a few children? 

Of course, if the PCs haven't been invited, they will face the problem of finding a way into Faerie, through which they can safely transport their captives. And if (when) news of the PCs alignment with the Old Folk reaches the common people they can be sure that there will be very awkward moments indeed.  

To be continued...

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Yay! Bryce is Back!

I've been busy, and my next 'Awkward Treasure' is turning into its own d6 table with two extra bonus entries. But I couldn't let a month go by without an 'I'm not dead' post. But those posts are boring. Much better is a 'Bryce Lynch is not dead post'. Bryce is one of the reviewers that I love to read, and I know that, more often than not, he is spot on when it comes to the quality, and more, gameability of OSR RPG products. I thought that Bryce had packed it last summer in after coming in for some undue stick from D&D fanboys after posting a negative review of Hoard of the Dragon Queen.

Actually, he's been back since late April, which explains why I didn't notice, and since his return has reviewed, amongst other things, a whole slew of DCC RPG adventures.