From Jake Robins
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #327
- Meta-Game Organizations
- What Can Be A Campaign Setting Meta-Org?
- Organization Hierarchy
- Organization Advancement
- Responsibilities And Rewards
- Getting The Players Involved
- Example Meta-Organization
- Create Fluctuating Coin Values
- Classic Tip: Sense of Smell
- Custom Magic Weapons For PCs
- Fantasy Art At Elfwood
- GMs Sharing PCs
The term meta-gaming often has negative connotations in a roleplaying game, but it is not negative by definition. Meta-gaming simply means outside of the game, and the idea of meta-game organizations is a subject that can be brought to any RPG with little negative reaction.
What is a meta-game organization (or meta-org for short)? A meta-org is an organization within a campaign setting which PCs have the opportunity to join. Ever had a PC join the local thieves’ guild or rank up with the government commando force? You’ve joined a meta-org!
Most of my experience lies within the Living Greyhawk campaign (by the RPGA), where meta-orgs are the bread and butter for most PCs. However, the concept has been around since RPGs have been in existence. PCs have always made allegiances with some organizations while fighting others.
Most of the time, meta-orgs don’t take a tangible form. This article should help remedy that and give you tools to form up meta-orgs for your campaigns. Players will love the opportunity to be a part of an organization (and reap its rewards), and it has the beautiful byproduct of rooting PCs in the setting, making them more believable, more fun to play, and more likely to impact the setting and the story in a unique and interesting manner.
What Can Be A Campaign Setting Meta-Org?
Meta-orgs can be as small as a fantasy adventuring group and as big as an imperial starship brigade. However, small-time stuff can easily remain unwritten; PCs don’t need a set of guidelines to formalize their book club membership, for example. When an org is large enough to provide tangible benefits to a PC, and most importantly, impact the campaign and the setting independently of a PC, it might merit creating some guidelines.
Meta-orgs are unlimited in their nature. In a fantasy setting, meta-orgs might include branches of military (from cavalry to navy), a wizard’s college, a particular faith/church, or even a thieves’ guild. In a modern or sci-fi setting, they might include SWAT teams, workplace unions, modern military (air force or space fighters), or crime syndicates. The limit is your imagination and your setting, but generally, any sort of organized body of individuals dedicated to a cause or study can qualify for a meta-org.
Incorporating meta-orgs into a campaign adds a bit of work. Since PCs will be members of these orgs if they so choose, it is important to have the inner workings of the org worked out. Whether the GM or the player is responsible for the writing, meta-orgs should include the following information:
History. This information grounds the org within the existing history of a setting:
- Where did the org come from?
- Why was it created?
- How old is it?
- Who were the founding members?
- Has it changed since inception?
General Purpose/Goals. Establishing a clear concept for the org is important; it will give the PCs who join it a very clear idea of what they are out to do (on top of playing the game).
- What do the org’s members set out to do?
- Why do they do it? How do they do it?
Inner Workings. Having a clear idea of the daily mechanics of an org will help flesh it out more.
- How does the organization function?
- Where is it based (geographically)?
Relations to the Setting. This information will help it fit the setting a lot better.
- Who are the orgs allies?
- Who are its enemies?
- Is it a public organization (owned by the state), a private one, or even a secret one?
- Who funds it?
- Is it lawful or illegal?
- Is it generally appreciated by the populace or not?
Answers should just be descriptive. It is completely independent of any rules system. Because of this, it is also unlimited in its length or depth. If assigning this to a player (see below), he or she could literally write books about the org, or just a couple paragraphs.
Spend time and effort on meta-orgs to clearly define the organization. It is important to have definite structure in the form of three basic concepts:
- Organization Hierarchy
- Organization Advancement
These are outlined in other tips in this article.
Orgs should have some sort of hierarchy that is presented in a logical manner to PCs. While some orgs might have only one role in them, having multiple ranks in a structure with potential and apparent ascension will inspire PCs to climb the ranks. Many players enjoy the reward of getting promoted, much as they would when their PCs gain levels or abilities.
Rank structures could be linear. These are simple and easy to understand, and suitable if you want your orgs to be backstage of the main story. They should be logical and have obvious advantages the higher you get. Example: In a fantasy church organization, there might be the rank of Acolyte (1), Priest (2), and High Priest (3). The higher a PC’s rank, the more rewards and responsibilities he gets.
Rank structures can also be branched. This is essentially multiple paths or structures built off of the same starter rank. This structure can be more complicated, but also more realistic and more interesting.
Ranks from various branches can have equivalencies at parallel branches, but this is not necessary. Advantages should be weighed equally across the branches, and PCs should be faced with a decision when branching off, weighing choices and benefits of each.
Example: In a police force, all PCs can join in at the Constable rank. Once they’re ready to move on, however, they must choose to branch off, to either the K9 unit, the CSI team, the SWAT team, or the Drug-Busting Team. Each branch can have its own linear hierarchy, essentially making it multiple orgs within one.
Other structures exist as well and can be unique as you see fit. Other hierarchies might be loose ones (for a less-organized organization), where there might just be a few different roles to be filled. Alternatively, they might be independent linear structures. There are many possibilities.
Whatever structure you choose for your org, it should be consistent and clearly laid out for players. They should know what they’re getting into and know what they’re aiming for as they advance through the ranks.
While rules for advancement through the ranks will vary by game system, they share certain types of advancement techniques:
A PC might be required to have certain powers or abilities. In a d20 system, for example, they might be required to have a level of skill or feat. They might need to have certain spells, equipment, alignments, races or classes, etc.
These should increase logically as the ranks climb higher.
PCs might be required to take tests to gain a new rank. Test types vary widely, from a written exam (in the case of a wizard college) to a physical test (like you might take when joining the infantry). These could be as simple as using dice to play out (for example, being able to roll a high skill check, or do a certain amount of damage with a weapon or spell), or they might be entire adventures in themselves.
Some orgs might require certain time spent in a rank to prove loyalty before advancement. For example, the Imperial Starfighter Fleet might require pilots to fly for 2 years before they can be promoted to flight chief.
Be careful not to make unrealistic goals for players; no one wants to wait five years to go up in rank. Sometimes this will skew a real-world view of the org, but in typical RPGs, characters go from inception to retirement quickly, and orgs should reflect this. It’s more fun for everyone.
Unique advancement systems are possible. Example: In a navy org, officers might be required to possess a certain amount of badges or decorations before they can advance. A clear system is lined out (2 badges for rank 1, 5 for rank 2, etc.). Then the writer can create dozens of different badges that are awarded based on different circumstances (which can be combinations of the above advancement systems or something else entirely). Badges can even be tiered themselves, so that some are worth more than others (and obviously harder to get).
Most fleshed out orgs will use combinations of the above methods. For example, a thieves’ guild might require a certain proficiency with weapons, a time in rank, and a special advancement test to move up in rank.
Be sure to balance requirements so they present a realistic but challenging goal for players. Also, they should reflect rewards bestowed.
Responsibilities And Rewards
Ensure that different ranks and different orgs have member responsibilities. While PCs might have their own agendas, if they belong to an org, they should be expected to contribute to it. Responsibilities might include the following:
PCs might have to spend time working for their org. The town guard might require PCs to spend two days each week patrolling the parapets.
Weigh this type of responsibility carefully, as waiting for the PCs to go to work can be boring. If their work can be combined with their own agenda, this should not be an issue.
PCs might be required to pay for their membership. Wizard colleges might require tuition. Churches might require a tithe.
These fees should be minimal but not pocket change. Make sure players feel like they’re investing in the membership, but don’t break their banks.
Rewards vary and are dependent on game system; however, general categories might include:
- Items and EquipmentOrgs might give PCs equipment (as gifts or on loan). Higher rank mean better equipment. Alternatively, they might offer to sell the PCs special equipment they can’t get anywhere else.
- Power Enhancement: Being trained at a specific org might give the PCs mechanical benefits during their adventuring. For example, being an air force pilot might improve a PC’s ability to fly outside of the org, in the game itself. This enhancement should increase logically with rank.
- Services: The org might provide free or cheaper services to members. For example, a member of a church might get cheaper healing spells or medicinal care, and a member of a crime syndicate might get free fences to sell their stolen goods.
- Influence: Being a member of a certain org might give a PC reputation and power that lets him navigate society easier. Being a general in an army might give the PCs more lenient sentencing in a judicial system. Members of a resistance movement might be able to call on superior members to help them in certain problems.
It’s important to weigh responsibilities with rewards and to scale them logically through the ranks. Some campaigns might prefer powerful orgs and make them center stage of the story, while others might want meager benefits just to supplement the plot. Do what you feel is appropriate for your game.
Now that you’ve created an org, fleshed out its guts, and manufactured a detailed rank system and advancement technique, how do you implement it? How do you use it with your storyline? How do you recognize the benefits offered and balance it with the power you want your PCs to have?
When a PC becomes a member of an org, nothing makes his player happier than when the org becomes part of the story. A player whose PC is ranked up in the cavalry will love it when his adventuring party is confronted by a general who needs their help. Watch them step up and serve his superior officer with pride and enjoy the roleplaying.
It’s important to write into the storyline orgs the PCs are part of as often as you can. These link things together beautifully: PCs, the campaign setting, and the story. It doesn’t have to be all at once, but as long as each player gets a turn to have his organization featured in the plot, everyone will be happy.
An interesting thing to do is pit the players against an org of which one PC is a member. When a PC in the party becomes a bad guy, you can watch everyone weigh their loyalties and struggle with their divided responsibilities. This can account for some terrific roleplaying situations that everyone can enjoy greatly.
Even if you don’t want to orgs to be part of your main plot, have them working in the background. Have ways to let players know the org is alive and kicking and that their goals might parallel the party’s. Anything that brings together the players with the world and the organization is for the better.
Getting The Players Involved
Creating an org can be a lot of work, and creating separate plot lines for it can be even more daunting, especially when you’ve got a campaign story to deal with already! One way to alleviate this is to get the players involved.
Got a PC who wants to join the army? Have him write up the org. If the player can do the work, you can just keep an eye on the progress, ensure its balance, and even reward the player for his effort. The more a player does, the more rewards he should get, like bonus experience points, or even a greater level of rewards within the org he’s writing. This can be a great way to get players writing and thinking outside of the campaign and for their character. It makes great homework assignments, which many GMs use.
Below is an example of a meta-org for you to see. It uses all the tips outlined above, and uses a very generic and fictitious game-system. It is geared for fantasy.
The King’s Cavalry
The King’s Cavalry has been the monarchy’s biggest military presence within the kingdom for centuries. They have been His Majesty’s main fighting force as he conquered outlying nations and defeated rebellion in his own. They are highly disciplined and fiercely loyal, skilled with the use of the sword and the lance.
Created 600 years ago by the first monarch, they started out as a small force of knights. Today, they are a full-fledged fighting force with many outposts around the nation. They work daily to ensure order within the kingdom’s confines and to seek out enemies of the state and crush them.
The King’s Cavalry is a welcome force in the kingdom, obviously being sanctioned by the monarchy. They are based in the capital city, but operate from a dozen outlying forts. While known to be somewhat haughty and arrogant, they never fail to step forward when danger threatens their king or country.
The cavalry is divided into a metric chain of command. The General commands all the cavalry in the nation and answers Dire city to the king.
The General has a dozen commanders, who oversee the various outlying forts at the king’s disposal.
From there, the ranks go down in tens. Each commander has ten lieutenants, and each lieutenant commands ten sergeants. Each sergeant commands ten soldiers – the grunts of the cavalry.
Requirements: 1 degree of skill with horseback riding, 1 degree of skill with melee combat (sword and lance).
Responsibilities: 4 weeks a year spent patrolling the country and maintaining law. The King’s Cavalry must represent the monarchy and should remain courageous, proud, and undaunted by enemies.
Rewards: Each soldier is granted a horse and barding. He must take care of it as part of his responsibilities, but may use it outside of his duty.
Advancement: To reach the next rank (sergeant), a soldier must spend 2 months in rank as a soldier in good standing.
Requirements: 2 degrees of skill with horseback riding, 2 degrees of skill with melee combat (sword and lance).
Responsibilities: 6 weeks a year spent patrolling the country and maintaining law. The King’s Cavalry must represent the monarchy and should remain courageous, proud, and undaunted by enemies.
Rewards: Each sergeant is granted a horse and barding. He must take care of it as part of his responsibilities, but may use it outside of his duty. Sergeants have the authority to command any soldier to do his bidding, though abuse of this power (using it outside of his duty to the king) is frowned upon and can result in disciplinary action.
Advancement: To reach the next rank (lieutenant), a sergeant must spend 2 months in rank. Also, he must have captured at least 10 brigands and brought them to justice.
Requirements: 3 degrees of skill with horseback riding, 3 degrees of skill with melee combat (sword and lance), and 1 degree of skill with diplomacy or etiquette (lieutenants sometimes meet with the aristocracy to represent the cavalry or the king, and must be well mannered).
Responsibilities: 8 weeks a year spent patrolling the country and maintaining law. The King’s Cavalry must represent the monarchy and should remain courageous, proud, and undaunted by enemies.
Rewards: Each lieutenant is granted a horse and barding. He must take care of it as part of his responsibilities, but may use it outside of his duty. Lieutenants have the authority to command any soldier or sergeant to do his bidding, though abuse of this power (using it outside of his duty to the king) is frowned upon and can result in disciplinary action.
Advancement: To reach the next rank (commander), a lieutenant must spend 4 months in rank. Also, he must defeat in combat a giant to prove himself worthy of the rank. This combat must be done alone without the use of magic, though a lieutenant may of course use his mount.
Requirements: 4 degrees of skill with horseback riding, 4 degrees of skill with melee combat (sword and lance), and 2 degrees of skill with diplomacy or etiquette (commanders often meet with the aristocracy to represent the cavalry or the king, and must be well mannered).
Responsibilities: 10 weeks a year spent patrolling the country and maintaining law. The King’s cavalry must represent the monarchy and should remain courageous, proud, and undaunted by enemies. Commanders are also put in charge of a keep outside of the capital, and are charged with maintaining it.
Rewards: Each commander is granted a horse and barding. He must take care of it as part of his responsibilities, but may use it outside of his duty. Commanders have the authority to command any soldier, sergeant, or lieutenant to do his bidding, though abuse of this power (using it outside of his duty to the king) is frowned upon and can Result in disciplinary action. Commanders have control of a keep, which he may use to rest in and operate from.
Advancement: To reach the next rank (general), commanders must spend 8 months in rank. Also, the king must choose him as his representative personally and grant him the rank. There can only be one general at any given time, so commanders may have to wait for the previous general to retire or die.
Requirements: 6 degrees of skill with horseback riding, 6 degrees of skill with melee combat (sword and lance), and 4 degree of skill with diplomacy or etiquette (generals meet with the aristocracy to represent the cavalry or the King, and must be well mannered).
Responsibilities: 16 weeks a year spent organizing the cavalry and maintaining law. The King’s Cavalry must represent the monarchy and should remain courageous, proud, and undaunted by enemies. Generals command the entirety of the King’s Cavalry, and are faced with many responsibilities, such as dealing with foreign threats and internal unrest.
Rewards: Each general is granted a horse and barding. He must take care of it as part of his responsibilities, but may use it outside of his duty. Generals have the authority to command any other member of the cavalry to do his bidding, though abuse of this power (using it outside of his duty to the king) is frowned upon and can result in disciplinary action from the king, though this is rare (generals have a lot of leeway). Generals have control of the citadel of the cavalry in the capital, which he may use to rest in and operate from. Finally, generals are each granted a magical sword from the king, which has magical powers.
Advancement: There is no further advancement past General.
- Types Of Game World Organizations – RPT#209
- Drag & Drop Game World Organizations – Contest Entries – RPT#210
- Drag & Drop Game World Organizations Part II – RPT#218
- Game World Organisations, Part III – RPT#239
- Game World Organisations, Part IV – RPT#267
A Brief Word From Leslie
As a GM and a player, I’m always looking at random generators, for names, towns, treasure, or anything else my overworked brain can’t create. Recently, I came across a totally new kind of generator – the wiki generator. The title says: “Abulafia is a User-Extensible Random Generation Site (but if you refresh the page several times, it can change to something like Abulafia is a Creativity Machine!).”
I had a blast playing with it last night.
Anyone familiar with Tablesmith can add to the existing tables, or create new ones. Folks like me, with no expertise, can simply use the wonderful generators, encompassing names, treasure, items, poetic descriptions and more.
Try it out at:
eisel [at] nctv.com
Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters
Have a roleplaying tip you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!
Create Fluctuating Coin Values
From Aaron Petry
In my new D&D campaign world, I wanted to have some sort of currency exchange market to drive parts of the economy. So, stealing egregiously from Glenn Cook, I decided to require that half of the cost of the creation of any magical item be in silver that would be consumed by the process to make the enchantment permanent.
My magic deity is also the moon goddess, and silver and the moon have something of an association, so it was pretty easy to work it into the cosmology of the world. I decided this would mean sometimes silver would be cheaper, and sometimes it would be more expensive, depending on if the magic guild or temples were making a number of items.
Silver varies in price between 8 silver = 1 gold and 12 silver = 1 gold. I can determine the rate randomly, or I can peg it against political developments. The thing that makes it fun for my players is that now silver is a cool thing to find in a treasure, and they can speculate on the metals market. I even had an adventure where the payoff was information about the metals market, so the PCs could change all their gold to silver when it was cheap, then change it back a little later when the price went up.
Classic Tip: Sense of Smell
From Guillaume T. Boily
They say smell is the sense most related to memory. If it’s true, then why not use it in your D&D campaigns? For example, if your PCs visit a temple, you could light some incense to reflect the mood of the place.
Also, a recurring NPC could be linked to a particular smell. When you know your PCs will encounter that NPC, spray some perfume in the room before your players arrive. Since perfume is costly though, it might be a good idea to use common air freshener cans. Although some of them have a chemical smell, I know it is possible to find a few that feel natural. The good side of this is that they come in many different fragrances.
Custom Magic Weapons For PCs
From Ian Toltz
Here’s a tip for treasure.
I can’t speak for other games, but in D&D, it’s extremely common for characters to be specialized to one particular weapon. Sure, they can use others, but not as well and it will mean they’re wasting important portions of their character (i.e. feats spent specializing).
Therefore, often GMs are under pressure to provide “customized” treasure, verisimilitude be damned. You know, the only weapons in the treasure room are an enchanted mercurial great sword, an eleventh in blade, and a pair of Kama s. Luckily, that just so happens to be what the warrior, rogue and monk all use. What a coincidence!
Recently, I was tinkering around with the idea of enchanted metals which could be forged into magical weapons and armor, and I realized it’s a perfect fit for this problem. I’ve got 5 different metals: Arcanite (the base of all the others and a generic enchantment), and 1 for each of the elements; Acidium (Earth), Electrite (Air), Frostite (Water), and Infernium (Fire). Now I just stick a couple bars in the treasure horde and the characters take them to town and pay a small crafting fee to turn them into whatever they need.
It also helps a lot with flavor, I think, because I’ve got nice, unique descriptions for all the alloys. Each has a visible aura (glowing/smoking/etc), a texture (coloration and pattern), and give off a tactile sensation (Arcanite, for example, feels like it’s vibrating).
If you’re interested in the full descriptions for all the alloys I made, including magical bonuses of forged items, check out this thread I posted on ENWorld: 5 New Materials for Weapons and Armor
Fantasy Art At Elfwood
From Sam Radjabi
I’m sure most readers have at least heard about Elfwood, a forerunner in the realms of fantasy on the Internet. The huge image and story database it represents throws a huge source of inspiration at you, but there is a less known portion of Elfwood, called FARP (Fantasy Art Resource Project). There, you’ll find tons of tutorials and guidelines.
It’s well worth a look, especially the writing part, where you’ll find world and character building advice, description help, and lots more.
GMs Sharing PCs
From Daniel D. Baleckaitis
I’ve been involved in many groups in which people took turns being the GM. In the past, it was always difficult because people wanted to carry their characters from one campaign to another, instead of carrying a folder of 20+ characters to each gaming session.
I then ran across Ravenloft with its smoky mists and fell in love. Not only could this be used as a great transition from one campaign to another, but it also gave people the chance to use the same character under several GMs.
As a bonus, it can also be fun trying to corrupt players; the calling of the dark-side!
I have also found it makes things interesting when your group can play out as young vampires, werewolves, or even vistani struggling in a world that is different from their own, seeing the other side of gaming with heroic adventures coming to slay them. The sky is the limit with Ravenloft.