RPT#267 - Game World Organisations, Part IV
Monster Contest Ideas
I have some prizes arranged for an upcoming contest and would like to hear your ideas for what the contest could be. It will be a monster-themed contest, and entries would ideally become interesting content I can share with you all so that everyone wins.
If you have a beastie-themed contest idea, I'd love to hear it. Thanks!
Playing In A Shadowrun Game
I've recently joined a bi-weekly Shadowrun group. We've had two sessions to date and no combat. I've been told this is highly unusual. While we have been trying to think our way past guards and barriers, I think our GM is just being nice to a bunch of newbies. I'm expecting a smackdown any time now. 🙂
So far, the campaign has been great fun. I'm scouring local bookstores for Shadowrun novels to help me learn more about the universe to get into character better. I'm currently playing a "Face" - a smooth-talking elf who packs a pair of nasty pistols.
The game is a nice switch from fantasy and D&D and I can't wait for session three.
Hopefully, you can get some gaming in this week as well. If you're having trouble finding a game group, you might want to check out Fantasy Grounds - an advertiser in this issue. They have some sweet software I've been fooling around with that facilitates online chat-based gameplay.
Real dice, real sheets -- real RPGs online
There is the original pen & paper RPG you like. It has a distinct look, feel, and maybe even smell. So far, you've perhaps taken it for granted that no software could improve or come even close to that gaming experience you enjoy while playing it with your friends. Well we've brought all of that online, save the smell.
Fantasy Grounds is a virtual tabletop for pen & paper role- playing games. Visit the website and get your copy! (Free demo available.)
Below are a few more game world organizations that will hopefully inspire you or be directly applicable to your current campaign. These organizations are based on entries submitted in last year's Game World Organizations contest.
Part I: Roleplaying Tips Issue #210
Part II: Roleplaying Tips Issue #218
Part III: Roleplaying Tips Issue #239
Types Of Game World Organizations: Roleplaying Tips Issue #209
Group Purpose: A group of wealthy and decadent hunting enthusiasts who take contracts to hunt the most dangerous game of all: man.
Membership Details: Led by multi-millionaire industrialist and hunting fanatic Terrance Hunter-Smythe, the Society's membership requirements are strict: prospective members must have a net worth of at least $50 million, have acceptable character (that is, have displayed behavior in the past fit for the scandal sheets), and have a fair degree of hunting skill (a test is given at the time of application). Contracts typically take the form of a big game hunt. Hunter-Smythe even gets into the great white hunter persona, complete with pith helmet and monocle.
Roleplaying Ideas: The Society can fit in any campaign; just make the members highly skilled with ranged weapon and hunting skills, and have no compunction about committing murder. The King would like to get his hands on them, as they killed one of his most loyal nobles, but their secrecy is air-tight. However, the PCs may be able to infiltrate the society and break it up for good.
Group Purpose: A conservative human organization that can easily be related to the KKK. The Order of the Closed Fist runs meetings and missions of hate, and its members get special privileges (beyond an outlet for their racism).
Membership Details: The Order of the Closed Fist is comprised of assassins, wizards, and many everyday commoners dedicated to hatred of other races, especially elves.
Roleplaying Ideas: An elf PC is targeted by the Order, a human PC is recruited and (if good) may join in the hopes of disrupting them.
Group Purpose: The Dark Summoning is a group dedicated to the destruction of good. It's composed of anything willing to serve the darker powers and is lead by a few somewhat crazy powerful mages. Membership includes drow, demons, vampires, evil humanoids, and anything else that wants to make trouble for the good folk of the land are welcome.
Goals: Goals are, in order of importance, stay alive, grow in power, destroy forces of good.
Roleplaying Ideas: A number of lone clerics and paladins have vanished. Villagers have reported strangers who don't eat or drink visiting taverns and asking questions. A mentally broken terrified guard who survived an attack mutters about glowing red eyes and keeps repeating the word "Vendui."
Group Purpose: A group of supervillains who use entertainment concepts as a motif for committing crimes.
Membership Details: The group is composed of:
- Their leader, the Emcee, with the psionic power of suggestion and hypnosis.
- Songbird, Emcee's girlfriend, possessing sonic powers.
- Beefcake, with super-strength and resistance to injury.
- Understudy, able to copy others' skills and powers.
- Stuntman, a highly-skilled normal with an arsenal of hand weapons and hand-to-hand combat moves.
Roleplaying Ideas: A favorite theme of theirs is an ersatz late-night talk show, using a roomful of robbery victims as their audience. The police chief is at his wits' end trying to find these people; he wants the heroes to do so, preferably before Oscar Night, when the assemblage of celebrities and valuables will be just too tempting.
Group Purpose: In the (presently "cold") war that has been going on for tens of thousands of years, the Agents of the Secret Commonwealth are pledged to fight on the side of the world against the one who means to consume it, and for the freedom of the peoples against that which seeks to (re)enslave them.
Membership Details: Mission agents of the Secret Commonwealth can be of any race and class (particularly, budding divine or arcane spellcasters normally prone to kidnapping or assassination by the "other side"), and are recruited after long covert observation by Station Agents, and a severe (though unfortunately necessary) test of character.
Background: Elves (and their fallen brothers, the orcs and drow) are the only people native to the world; the other peoples were originally brought in as slaves to help fight those elves still faithful to The Way, but many eventually became liberated instead. The world, now devoid of fossil fuels and many other natural resources (but in which magic works, though magnetism does not), has recently emerged from yet another global holocaust into a medieval-level society that little suspects its true history. Both sides maneuver for control of political power and magical places and technologies.
Group Purpose: In the mannish coastal cities one can barely hear oneself think over the constant hounding of the criers. For those of elvish (or other demi-human) blood who live in the ghettos, the Guild of Kites serves a similar purpose. The Guild of Kites is a parade guild with exclusively elvish (or possibly half-elvish) membership. Most members have some knowledge of magic, though that isn't required.
Membership Details: On average days, guild members are the same as any crier, but on festivals they display their unique talent for flying. The lighter members deck themselves out in loose, brightly colored clothing topped off by a wide, stiff cape. They anchor themselves with a long, light rope held by their handler. Often it is the handler who wields the magic, tossing the flier to the sky and keeping them aloft. From above the fliers cry out to those below, attracting crowds, performing stunts, and often acting as airborne cheerleaders for festival events.
- The guildmembers would make excellent scouts and spies, and likely would be an ideal front for smugglers.
- If inter-racial tension is desired, there could be tensions between landbound mannish criers and the high- flying elves of the guild.
Group Purpose: In a future age when illegal cloning has led to renegade groups operating in secret, the Ghostmen act as humanity's protectors from science's most heinous mistakes. Originally, the Ghostmen were political, aligned against the horrors of human cloning, but these days they are little more than street gangs. The only requirement is that one be a natural human, willing to do what it takes to save the race from renegades.
Since those who have been cloned and have transferred their memories to the cloned body are legally dead, there are no repercussions in killing clones. The Ghostmen tend to group themselves in small cliques - six to a dozen at most. When they find an enclave of clones they lay siege, picking off any who dare poke their heads out. When they feel they have their quarry cornered the Ghostmen move in, clean out the offending clones, and help themselves to whatever is left behind.
- The Ghostmen tend to live feast-or-famine, and if pickings are slim they are not above fabricating an excuse to pick on strangers. Their victims have often lived decades beyond a normal life span, and may have important information unavailable anywhere else.
- The original Ghostmen may still pull the strings, preferring to let the rabble get their hands dirty. Perhaps these original members have discovered their own fear of mortality, but wish to keep the secrets for themselves.
Group Purpose: Seen as a group of thrill-seekers, their outward appearance is an excellent cover for reconnaissance. Sending their "players" out into different types and areas of wilderness, they are able to gather information about the movement and numbers of enemies/monsters. Once they gather the needed information, they report to a authority with their findings.
Membership Details: Anyone with an affinity for wilderness survival may join the group on a trial basis. Once a "player" has come back with two completed cards, they are moved up into the ranks as recruiters. For every card completed after that, they move up a rank until they reach the honorary title of Baron. Once the current "Lord" retires or is killed, the highest-level Baron takes his place. At any given time, the Lord is either a high-level ranger or druid.
Roleplaying Ideas: PCs are asked to try their luck at a simple week-long excursion, which will take them into the wilderness to test their mettle. Each PC must spend 10gp for the entry fee, and are guaranteed to win 200gp just for coming back with a completed card. The PCs must bring back proof of each encounter. Coming back with a full card, they will be asked if they want to participate again, with a reduced entry fee of 5gp, and access to special equipment. These new assignments will be specific targets that they must accomplish, such as "Find out how many orcs are in the Trembling Woods."
Group Purpose: The Stonemasons Guild is an association of professionals that arose in the capital city of Xansis 73 years ago. It was started by two men, Nevard Bachmann and Toranis Everbeard, who were schooled in the art of stone cutting and masonry. Bachmann and Everbeard felt that members of their profession were given little respect in the capital by the authorities and the other professional unions. At first, the Stonemasons worked towards equalization of their trade, but it grew more sinister after Bachmann died under mysterious circumstances and Everbeard took over.
Membership Details: Membership was increased, and people from different professions and fields were admitted. Under Everbeard's leadership, the Guild began exercising quiet influence over politics in their area of the city. Eventually, a few members of the City Fathers (the Bundestag) became involved with the guild, and certain members received various privileges, like first choice on locations for stores and mills, or a break on taxes. An agreement was also reached with the Xansisander, the city's underground thieving guild. Members of the Stonemasons would not be the targets of thefts, and in return the Stonemasons would pass along information, equipment, and would help the thieves to fence or move stolen property.
This became very profitable for both groups, and Everbeard saw a great opportunity. He began chapters of the guild in various cities and towns across the country. No one knows for sure just how many there are. In some cities they are completely secret, and in others they exist in the open, known to all as a "gentlemen's club" with access only to members. The main guild hall in Xansis controls all guild policies and collects dues. Decisions are made by the Vechtenstein, or Shadow Stone, a select group of members headed by Everbeard. Each of the other town guilds across the kingdom has its own version of the Vechtenstein with a leader who reports to the guild in Xansis once a month (either in person, or by messenger).
- The Stonemasons of Swallows Glade operate a guildhall in the open on Kings Road. It is a large building fashioned out of wood (like most of the buildings in the town) but with ornately carved stone statues and filigrees. It is known as a sort of "club" for certain men in town. Usually, only the most influential and wealthiest are allowed to join, but exceptions are made if the Vechtenstein believes granting membership to someone will help in the long run.
- The guild is under the leadership of Martanius Elderwood, who is also the unofficial town mayor. Most decisions about the town are in fact made by the guild's inner circle. He has two deputies, his brother Vantasus, and Keevis Banok, the owner of Avriandor Import & Export. There are about 53 current members of the guild, most of whom own businesses in the town. The inner circle is comprised of 11 men, but their identities are known only to the other inner members.
- The guild has recently inducted a number of younger members to add strength to their group. Their goal is to teach the younger members, and perhaps send them to start chapters in the towns of Cadaeveron and Croft. The ultimate goal is to control trade and politics in the entire region of Bakkis, since they find the current lord too weak for their tastes.
- Presently, the guild is undertaking a mission to force out the small temple of Heironeous through intimidation. The official church of the nation is Pelor's and the guild supports it secretly without even the church knowing. Younger members of the guild have been sent on numerous nights to paint graffitti on the temple walls, and most recently they struck with horse dung. Martanius does not think that these childish pranks alone will do the job, but it has always been his intention to slowly escalate things.
- Members of the guild know each other by crossing their index and middle finger of the left hand and holding the hand up at about shoulder height. This can be helpful when traveling to other cities, but is mostly unnecessary in a town with only 53 members.
- Guild members can expect the following privileges:
- A job, if needed, or help with a difficult employer who is not a member
- A loan of money in difficult times without the interest normally charged non-members
- Healing from the church of Pelor that it usually not made available to non-members
- Discounts on goods in stores owned by members
- Food and lodging while traveling
- Help in legal matters before the Lord's court
- Unspecified "favours" for a price
SAGA OF THE DROW 1 – THE COMING OF THE STORM
This is the first in a linked series of three 256-page books. Each one contains a single epic story broken into ten parts, thus making thirty discrete adventures in total, all tied in to one overarching saga.
The adventures are structured to take the characters concerned from first level to thirtieth level. Each book covers a span of ten levels, meaning that every adventure will (if completed successfully) advance the characters by approximately one level of experience.
The Saga of the Drow begins with a mysterious summoning to a stone circle in the north of the island of Chillhame, close to a fishing village that is about the most unremarkable place on earth. As the Players explore their surroundings and learn more about why they have been brought here, helping the local villagers and finding out about ancient legends, they are...
- A fun campaign is about the interplay within the party, and the interactions outside the party.
- Everyone wants their own chance to shine.
These two goals aren't always so compatible. When one character shines, the others are left out of the action for a while. For the most part this is tolerable, as the players realize that their colleague is having their time in the spotlight, and it'll be repaid later.
There are some difficulties with this, or at least places where it could be improved upon.
- When the dedicated fighter shines, he usually shares the spotlight. The fight goes on around him, and the other characters steal some of his thunder.
- When the diplomat shines, the others grow tired of all this talk. What's more, if the player of the diplomat isn't really much of a speaker, then it comes down to unsatisfying dice rolls - not much of an opportunity in the limelight.
- When the mage (or other "Big Gun") shines, it tends to be a spell effect that everyone knows well. A clever application of the spell may earn him a brief round of applause, but it's rarely worth a curtain call.
- When the explorer or seer shines, it's a case of "make a roll--yes you know this." Even worse, if the piece of information needs to be fed to the group to progress or guide the plot, then some of the magic of the knowledge skill is taken away if, when the seer can't recall an obscure detail, the outlander "recalls a legend of his people."
- When the sneak shines, it's either a case of a roll against traps skill (not very exciting) or an exploration on his own, leaving the rest of the party behind and bored. This approach works great in movies, books, and comics where the audience is passive, but when there is an audience that wants to be active but is forced into a passive role while one player goes on an extended jaunt, boredom turns to dissatisfaction. In the best instances, this turns to humor as the rest of the gang make jokes around what is going on. It won't always work out this well.
The fish out of water - anyone can shine anywhere. Give people their chance in another's arena. Make the brawler try to cover for the rogue sneaking around the palace grounds (better yet, have him justify it to his old friend the palace guard), or have the mage engage in a fist fight.
Challenge people with their weaknesses. When a person is physically great, give them emotional challenges. If they are the big gun, give them a consequence to using it. When they are the talker, make them mute. A creative player will find new and novel solutions, and this is a true chance to shine.
The duel. Within a combat or on his own, a duel with a matched opponent makes a great scene. The others can be involved in keeping back the horde who try to swarm to their master's aid while the great fighters battle in single combat. The Brawler holds back the indefatigable foe while his comrades run for their lives (or for help, or to surround the enemy).
The battle of wit and words. A variant of the duel is the prelude - to provoke the enemy, confident in your own skill with steel. The game of chicken (or fast draw) where bravery, honor, or raw guts will put you at a disadvantage, but earn you glory and a place in song. Alternately, provoke him as the battle continues to either delude the foe, or force him into a rash maneuver.
The heroic sacrifice. It is a noble thing to win glory in combat. It is nobler still to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune fighting a sea of woe and saving all you hold dear. Usually, the brawler is in the enviable position of being able to take those slings and arrows for his comrades. Let him, and then let him milk it for all it's worth. (In one game, I play a priest who isn't great in combat but can soak the hits better than the fighters, so he draws the attacks to put the fighters at an advantage.)
The Big Gun
Novelty. The big gun will have their tired and true paths. The Dungeons and Dragons mage has his fireball. The tomb raider has his dynamite. Make sure you litter the encounters with opportunities for novelty. Let the mage play with those cantrips to good effect. (A patch of light or sound makes a great diversion.) Dynamiting a bridge may be more effective than dynamiting a group in hot pursuit. The problem is you require the player to come up with these novel ideas - but then again, if they don't, they don't deserve a chance to shine anyway.
Bluff. Blowing up a following crowd with heavy artillery is never as satisfying as holding them off with the threat of heavy artillery, especially if you're out of ammo (or the mage is unconscious, and the rest of the party is doing the bluffing).
What did I do with my staff? Having the mage engage in combat with mundane weapons is always amusing. A friend of mine plays a mage who has charged into combat more often than one of our fighters. It not only gives him an amusing time, but allows the fighters to shine by trying to save him.
Plot hooks. Using the things the Big Gun wants or needs (spell components, better equipment power) can make great plot hooks. This, of course, goes for all the party, but Big Gun opportunities arise more often.
A novel situation. Sure, you can use your diplomatic skills to justify your recent failure to your lord, but now talk your way out of a bar-room brawl... while it's going on. This can lead to great role playing and humor. Let the character get away with stuff, like politely asking a thug to hit someone else while he finishes his pint. As long as it's role played well, and he isn't getting involved, having him unperturbed by the disaster around him can be truly rewarding.
The bluff. A new variant on the bluff is needed for the diplomat. In his case, it works best if he bluffs and is disbelieved - and then give him a chance to prove his worth. Give him a big bonus or a streak of luck to do what he said he could, then the respect of those he's impressed. (Yes, well maybe you did shoot through the hole in that washer, but maybe you didn't. I don't suppose you'd like to try again with this masking tape over it... [insert rest of scene]. I hope you didn't take no offence sir.)
Know people. The seer or explorer traditionally knows things. But where did they get that knowledge? They must have learned it from other wise men, so they can also know people in the same field. This can amount to a wealth of plot hooks, and hence a chance to shine just by role playing the encounter with their peers and mentors as they explain why they now travel with a motley crowd of knowlessmen, the things that have happened to them in the meantime, and "what's this rumor I heard about you robbing graves all of a sudden?" They may also provide new adventure seeds.
Choice of targets. When the lich is killed and his soul searches for a new host, sure he might choose the mage, but maybe the sage is the target of choice. He may be the obvious choice for the villains to kidnap to use his rare and hard to find talent.
Blackmail. Seers often make the ideal person in a party to blackmail or cajole into doing someone else's dirty work. They have connections to people, places, and information, more so than any of the other character types, and so may be willing to sell their soul for a chance to save it, or at least be willing to buy time while the rest of the group comes to the rescue.
Prepare an ambush. The problem with being the party sneak is, while you can get around the problem, the rest of those lunks aren't as quiet, agile, or surreptitious as you. You can, however, get behind the problem and allow an approach from the other side (the mad dash towards the door to unbar it so the rest of the party can enter the fray), or set up an ambush (lob a grenade from the other side of the street).
Scout ahead. The problem with this is that if you go too far, the rest of the players are getting bored while you play on your own. A variants that may work includes having some communication with the rest of the group so they can participate in the operation. There are also the inherent dangers of being caught away from the fire power when the smack comes down.
Secondary talents. Most sneaks have a variety of skills. They bought that merchant skill so they could fence stolen goods,so how about putting it to a legitimate purpose? Dead languages learnt to help them rob graves are a good way to infiltrate an exclusive gentleman's club as an expert on the esoteric.
There are of course more character types, and other opportunities to shine. Maybe other GMs could send in their ideas for inclusion in the newsletter.
Sometimes you love 'em, sometimes you hate 'em, but they are the future of roleplaying games, so we need to nurture them to keep the games (and the gaming companies) alive and growing.
I'm an adult female whose training is in secondary education (though I'm not teaching now), and I enjoy working with this age-group. I've been GMing a Shadowrun game with teenagers for almost 3 years now, and I'd like to share with you some of what I have learned.
One thing that's nice from a GM standpoint about working with teenagers, especially if you are their first GM, is that they accept the rules as you've presented them. At least at first, and this continues for most of them. They come to the game to use their imaginations, and do things in a game that they can't do in real life. I've only had one rules lawyer develop out of eleven. For the most part, they are happy to leave the rules to me.
New players of any age tend toward being munchkins, and teenagers are no exception. Very quickly therefore, they will begin to question you about exploring odd character concepts. This is where you have to be careful.
I have indulged them, and sometimes it hasn't worked out. Their imagination and humor are the most enjoyable things about having them in the game, so don't immediately dismiss what they say, but do take some time to think about and modify as necessary their crazy ideas. There is always something you can use.
Another method I use is to alternate between printed adventures and what I call free-time. Reasons for using printed adventures are obvious, and if they're not, that's a subject for another article. Free-time is when the players get to choose things that their characters want to do. Sometimes, it's to simply spend what they've earned, as well as other character-improving activities.
What makes my free-time sessions so memorable are the encounters. I write the encounters myself with one or more specific characters in mind. I always have them write a background after they've played the character for a couple of months, and they are usually ready, willing, and able to do so by then. I use the backgrounds and other things they have said IC to develop a story about their character that they are unaware of, related to what is happening in the world around them and the NPCs they have generated with their background. For example, a long-lost relative is still alive, two of the characters are really twin brothers, and a character who previously would not allow anyone close to him develops a relationship with a female NPC.
At the request of my players, I have created a nemesis team. This has led to excitement, and sometimes frustration, on the part of the players. It's like any cartoon nemesis: they keep coming back. This situation makes for very dramatic moments as they try to figure out why the nemesis is doing this, and they try once again to defeat them when they appear. I'll never forget the looks on their faces when their beloved NPC was shot because of being with them when they were attacked. From a GM standpoint, having a recurring opponent makes for an easy on-the-fly combat when the game does not go as planned.
I have added a couple of house rules because I have a table full of teenagers, so this may not be appropriate if you only have one or two playing with adults. The first is that their characters cannot physically fight in-game. The second is that they cannot insult each other OOC. This has prevented many problems over the years in my game. Additionally, I give them plenty of NPCs to insult and fight.
So, the next time you have the opportunity to role-play with a teenager, relax and enjoy the enthusiasm. It just may renew your own.
Some players just like to be given maps of dungeons, landscapes, cities, and so on, and some GMs would like to make the PCs work for them. One way of accomplishing the latter is to have an NPC pass on the information that the best maps are to be had from the city's Cartography Department. Delighted, the characters race off to this survey office and ask for a map of their next adventuring location. The reply is an exorbitant price. For example, "Oooh...the map of the Hinterlands? Well, that'd be worth 50,000 gold coins!"
Outraged, the characters ask to either see this map (before they part with their money, even if they have that much) or at least demand to have such an extortional fee justified.
At that point, the surveyor reveals that this is not the cost that the characters need pay to buy a map, but the price that the survey office will pay for someone else to make the map - which to date is completely blank. (Blank handouts are really easy to make!)
Not only is there then a lovely opportunity for role-playing (based on the misunderstanding between the survey office and the characters), but also a great plot-hook (why doesn't a map exist yet? what happened to the last survey party?) and a substantial monetary reward for the characters to pursue.
Call of Cthulhu: Spawn of Azathoth
Astronomers theorize that our sun is not alone in its journey around the galaxy, but is accompanied by a heretofore unknown second star of dim radiance. This second star, while perhaps invisible from Earth even with the finest optics, periodically passes close enough to our solar system to have far-reaching effects upon the evolution of our planet - in the past causing mass extinctions, climactic changes, and similar catastrophes. Spawn Of Azathoth is a campaign for the Call of Cthulhu horror role-playing game. Through the appearance of ghostly apparitions, the exploration of sunken treasure, and journeys to unimaginably far-off lands, the investigators find themselves entwined in cosmic events....