RPT#108 – Ten Ways To Enrich Your Campaign With Lists Of Rulers: Part I
A Brief Word From Johnn
New Article Posted At My Other Site
FYI, here’s an article I just posted at About.com for making your own cardboard and paper minis. Use of figs during play has been a past topic in this zine, so I thought you might be interested:
“Do-It-Yourself Paper Figs On-The-Cheap”
Johnn Four [email protected]
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A Guest Article By Neil Faulkner
[ [email protected] ]
On the face of it, lists of kings and queens for a fantasy game world might seem like a pointless exercise, the kind of excessive detail that only the most fanatical GM might indulge in.
As mere lists, they are just that–dry as dust and meaningless to players who maybe aren’t quite so absorbed in the GM’s master creation. But, with a bit of imaginative fleshing out, such lists can greatly enrich a campaign.
Whilst focusing on the monarchy might be a bit unfair to the unwashed masses, the history of the ruling power is also the history of the realm itself. Monarchs get remembered, whilst peasants largely don’t. Here is a selection of tips, tricks and ideas I’ve encountered whilst drafting lists of monarchs for my own campaign.
- Note The Birth Year
A list of rulers will inevitably indicate the years of their reign, but if the crown gets passed on down through the generations, you should also note each ruler’s year of birth. Otherwise, monarchs might end up exceeding all reasonable life spans or taking the throne before they could be born!
A queen who enjoys a long reign will be succeeded by her son when he is late in life, so his reign will consequently be shorter. A child king who has only a short reign is unlikely to have any children to pass the throne onto.
Assume an approximate interval of 20 years between generations, though it could be a bit less or possibly quite a lot more. A venerable monarch might outlive all of his or her children, to be succeeded by a grandchild. Young rulers who die young might hand the throne on to a sibling, a cousin, or an ambitious outsider.
- How Did The Reign End?
Rulers can perish in all sorts of ways. Many will cling to the throne to the bitter end, but others go out in a blaze of glory.
The War Hero
If a ruler’s reign coincides with an important war in the campaign’s history, perhaps he or she died in the saddle. Battles where kings get killed tend to be remembered (think of Hastings and Bosworth Field).
Rulers might suffer tragic accidents, such as:
- Capture by enemies
- Hunting mishaps
- Plagues (Baldwin IV of Jerusalem was a leper)
And of course, some reigns come to a premature end through nefarious deeds, which may pass into common folklore (the details perhaps losing a degree or two of accuracy in the process). Perhaps not all hunting mishaps were the accidents they were made out to be.
Monuments & Memorials
If the ruler perishes far from home, then some kind of monument might well have been erected to commemorate the event. By the time the PCs arrive, this might be anything from a daunting edifice to a few stones protruding from the grass.
Memorials to revered monarchs might be popular meeting points in towns (perhaps the PCs seal their shifty smuggling deal under the cold stone eyes of a celebrated queen), or they may lie forgotten in tangled forests.
- The Transfer Of Power
Once a ruler’s reign comes to an end, how is his or her successor chosen? The assumed norm is succession by the eldest son (a patrilineal succession), or by the eldest child whether son or daughter. But in a fantasy world, succession might be matrilineal, rule destined to pass to the eldest daughter. The progeny of kings are not always averse to disposing of each other to get their paws on the crown, so the transfer of rule might well turn out to be a messy business.
The Default Successor
The default successor might be considered unsuitable for the task of ruling the realm, in which case a rival might have considerable popular backing. Or the rival might simply be rich enough to hire a bigger army.
Whoever loses is, understandably, going to feel a bit resentful, and s/he or his/er surviving followers might well hold onto their claim to the throne, even over the passage of generations. The civil war that the PCs blunder into might have its roots centuries in the past.
Defeat in war can see the throne taken over by a foreign power who might rule directly or install a native puppet to govern on their behalf. This might be just a temporary state of affairs, or it can persist down into the present, changing the character of the entire realm. The conquerors might go their own way and later turn on their homeland (possibly starting a war that lasts for over a hundred years…). Basically, the ensuing political situation can be as complicated as you wish to make it.
Some rulers might abandon the throne voluntarily. They might give way to a more capable successor in times of crisis, or back down against determined popular revolt. Their intentions may or may not be noble (though they will inevitably try to put a noble gloss on their motives, whatever they do). Abdication can have unlikely causes. It seems odd that a king might step down to marry a foreign commoner with the wrong religious background, but it happened to Edward VIII.
In some cultures, it might be normal for rulers to nominate their successor, who might be quite unrelated to the present incumbent. Kingdoms might be sold or mortgaged if times get really hard. And whilst an interregnum might be brought to an end by bloody civil war, it is not impossible that a more peaceful solution is found and a successor elected to take the throne.
- Don’t Be Afraid To Reuse Names
England alone can boast 8 Henrys, 8 Edwards, 6 Georges and 4 Williams, accounting for 26 of the 42 monarchs since 1066. Certain names can be associated with particular realms, and of course reflect the local culture. They also cut down on the brainstrain of inventing lots of names.
Name Popularity & Trends
Names can fall in and out of favour, especially if the realm comes under the influence of a powerful neighbour. If you’re really into names, you can shift the flavour of names over the passage of time, giving early rulers archaic names while more recent rulers get modern ones (‘modern’ in the context of the game world, of course).
Rulers who have particularly distinctive reigns are perhaps more deserving of distinct names that won’t be confused with any of their successors or predecessors.
Rulers might have epithets bestowed upon them, as history’s verdict on the way they steered the ship of state. A king or queen might go down as the Great, the Wise, the Venerable, or the Mighty, though less flattering epithets are just as likely.
My own campaign features such monarchs as Galadwynne Vainheart, Olgania the Lawmaker, Cadbrinn the Fey, and Shenitiri Longbeard (whose reign was so long and uneventful that his name has become a byword for boredom).
History, incidentally, has no innate claim to be just, especially when it’s written by the winning side. The so- called Great may have been less than admirable, whilst the reviled and despised may have done nothing worse than lose the struggle for power.
- Look On My Works, Ye Mighty, And Despair…
Rulers like to leave their mark on the world, and some of these might well endure to be encountered by the PCs. When drawing up lists of rulers, consider what each one might have left behind.
Great works of civic architecture might well have been sponsored by a long-dead king or queen – a bridge, a fortress, a causeway, a harbour or whatever.
Rulers may have passed idiosyncratic laws that remain in force. Military or religious bodies may have been founded by a king or queen in the past.
The legacy of a past ruler might be slightly less tangible– a king who was betrayed by dwarves might have left behind a lingering suspicion of dwarves throughout the realm, either confined to the nobility or extant in the population as a whole.
Past rulers might have initiated significant social or religious movements, founded universities, sponsored alchemy or sorcery or established some peculiar national pastime. Rulers tend to be trend setters, so where one monarch goes a horde of sycophantic lackeys are liable to follow. Whole aspects of culture might be descended from a single royal whim, especially if it finds favour with the masses.
Thanks for the awesome tips, Neil!
Stay tuned for Tips 6 – 10 next week, in Part II of Neil’s article.
CHECK OUT THIS COOL D&D 3E TOOL FOR PCs
Todd Landrum, from Paladin Programming, has an awesome game master PC utility called “DM’s Familiar” that I’ve personally checked out and highly recommend.
Here’s a quick feature run-down:
- Databases. Enter your Spells, Monsters, Feats, NPCs, and Skills so you can look ’em up quickly.
- Import/Export. Lets you share anything you enter with your friends and they can share with you.
- Codex Tree: Remember MyInfo? This is just like it–a cool tool for writing adventures. It also holds links to database items with simple drag-and-drop. Very cool!
- Combat Board. Keeps combat completely organized with initiative, damage tracking, attack rolls, and more.
- Dicebag. You can roll any dice, in any combination, any number of times.
On top of all this, Todd is offering 25% off the price of his program for a limited time to Tips subscribers! There’s a freebie evaluation version available too, so you can try- before-you-buy. You can find out more right here:
Do you have any tips or ideas for how to handle music during games? This isn’t a “what’s your favourite music” request (though that might make for a good issue in the future).
Rather, how can a GM use and/or manage music to enhance game sessions? For example, it’s a good idea to have music set to a low volume during sessions for a little white noise to fill gaps between conversations. It helps keep energy levels higher and encourages roleplaying (i.e. there’s no silence to break).
Another tip might be to go to a pawn shop or used electronics store and pick up a cheap discman. Then go to a computer store and buy some $10 speakers and a $5 AC/DC adapter. Gun-tape everything together (tres chic!). Voila, a portable and compact RPG sound system for hopefully under $50.
Got any similar tips?
Send them on in to:
- A New Way of Antiquing Your Clues and Maps
From: Joe Dean
Quest Adventures Newsletter
This is an excerpt from my book ULTIMATE TREASURE HUNTS.
“When I make pirate treasure maps, I use a different method of achieving the look of old paper. Although it can be time consuming, the end result is well worth the time spent. Once I have the map image copied onto the standard stock white copy paper (the cheaper the paper, the better), I give it a crispy, water soaked feel by treating it in the following way:
Preheat a standard kitchen oven to BROIL. Please do not confuse this with the BROILER of the oven.
Place an old, flat cookie sheet on the top rack of the oven.
With any can of cheap aerosol laundry spray starch, spray a single piece of paper and quickly lay it flat on the hot cookie sheet you have in the hot oven.
Keep a close eye on the paper as the oven does its work. Initially, the paper will probably begin to curl, then finally flatten again. As it flattens, keep your eye on it. The brown discoloring can happen rather quickly.
Once the paper is the desired color, remove the paper from the cookie sheet with an oven mitt and repeat the previous steps until you have done them all. The process gives the paper a stiffer effect which can be associated with paper that was once soaked in water, then left out in the sun to dry.
For a further interesting effect, leave the paper in the oven longer. The paper will get darker, however you should still be able to read the image. However, due to the prolonged time in the oven, the paper will become extremely brittle. This way, your guests will have to make sure that they take extra care of the map/clue or else it will break into several pieces.
- 7 More Tips On Making Creative Player Handouts
From: Joseph D.
I’ve used printed documents extensively in the past few years, and I have a few tips.
- Use totally incomprehensible fonts for truly foreign or alien languages. There are fonts for hieroglyphics and runes, as well as oriental and middle-eastern languages. The PCs will need spells, skills, or NPCs to decipher the text. If any of the PCs have the ability to partially decipher the text, create a second version with some words in a standard font.
- For NPC writers who are either unintelligent or lack a strong background in literacy, use fonts that are close to a child’s printed handwriting. Neat cursive or decorative fonts can be used to convey a sense of intelligence or grace. Be careful with how closely fonts resemble each other, too. Your players may not notice small differences between fonts during game time.
- Handouts work well in modern games too. A bitmap or monospaced font (like Courier) is similar to an old-style computer screen or printout. You can also make fake email printouts, official letters, receipts, bills, etc.
- Make two versions of every handout: One that is formatted, printed on special paper, etc, and the other having nothing more than the unformatted text on plain white paper. More than once the fonts I chose looked wonderful — but were impossible to read during game time (we play with the lights down or by candle-light).
- Don’t assume the players will keep a copy of important handouts. Have the group assign one person to keep the handouts in a folder. There’s nothing worse than an important handout that ends up in the trash because nobody thought to keep it.
- Don’t confuse player knowledge and PC knowledge. A dwarven PC may understand many kinds of runes, but the person running that dwarf shouldn’t have to translate everything manually! On a similar note, don’t force players to use knowledge they have to translate. I’ve heard horror stories of players who knew Tolkien’s languages being forced to translate documents in-game.
- Use your time wisely. Beautiful handouts are a wonderful addition to a game, but can’t carry the game on their own!
- Creating Documents Found On Dead Bodies
From: Sergeant R
Here is a tip regarding player handouts. For those really old and exposed to the elements types of documents, such as those found on a dead body, follow this recipe:
- Take a spray bottle and mist a good coat of water, salt water, or bleach onto the finished document.
- Lay a piece of tin foil on the ground outside of your house or on the roof.
- Then lay the document, face down, on the foil. The sun will dry it out and turn it a yellowish color. If you leave it face up, the sun will fade the writing to almost nothing, so ensure it is face down.
- Check it often so it does not stay out too long. It will also be a bit brittle afterwards, so be careful with it.
If the PCs accidentally destroy it after they receive it, that’s their own fault.
- Let The Players Name Each Others’ Characters
Let the players name each others characters. This worked wonderfully for making nicknames – I set a five character limit (all you can fit on their locker tags) and let them go for it. The first name suggested and supported by two other players sticks.
This can probably work if you have trouble coming up with names for NPCs too.
- For D&D 3E GMs: Rogue Sneak Attack Tip
From: Mark L. Chance
- Page 47, PHB: “The rogue’s class skills…are…Bluff (Cha)….”
- Same page, same book: “Basically, any time the rogue’s target would be denied his Dexterity bonus to AC (whether he actually has one or not), or when the rogue flanks the target, the rogue’s attack deals extra [sneak attack] damage.”
- Page 64, PHB: “You can also use Bluff to mislead an opponent in combat so that he can’t dodge your attack effectively. Doing so is a miscellaneous standard action that does not draw an attack of opportunity. If you are successful, the next attack you make against the target does not allow him to use his Dexterity bonus to Armor Class (if any).”
1 + 2 + 3 = Use of sneak attack ability in melee combat even when not flanking a foe or when that foe is not flat-footed. If your players haven’t already thought of this themselves, have an enemy NPC rogue teach them. >:)
- Rolling Dice with Microsoft Excel
From: Laurence M.
Here’s a trick to use whenever you need dice and all you have is a computer and MS Excel. Open a blank Excel spreadsheet, click on a cell, and type:
Then click on the cell and format it as a number with zero decimal places. (You can do this by going to Format at the top of the screen, choose Cells, click on Number, and for decimal places, hit “0”.)
Voila! You’ve just created 1d6. To roll, hit the F9 key. Every time you do, the computer generates a new random number between 1 and 6 in that cell.
You can create other dice by replacing the “6” above with whatever size die you need. So, 1d20 would be:
If you want 3d6, type the 1d6 expression three times, with a plus sign in between, like this:
You can use this method to replicate any die roll you could ever want, or even make up a few new dice. 1d7, anyone?