Good vs. Evil: GM Tips From Legend The Movie
From Matthew Ipock
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #603
Legend deals with the struggle between good and evil. The young hero strikes out with the help of a small band of misfit fairies to fight the red-skinned, black-horned stand-in for the Devil, hoping to rid the world of Darkness and usher in an era of Light and Happiness for all.
While this classic offers little in the way of adventure design or monster choice, it can teach you just a bit about story and plot design, and perhaps a little about the choices to offer players and their characters.
Innocent Desire Causes a Big Problem
The stories are ancient and numerous: Eve bites into the apple because she wants knowledge. Pandora opens the box to satisfy her curiosity. Romeo and Juliet love each other and just want to be together.
Sometimes the innocent desire of a simple heart causes no problems at all. But sometimes that innocent desire causes such horrible disaster it threatens to engulf the entire world in eternal darkness.
Legend offers such a story. Jack, a simple boy who lives in nature, loves Lily and has the innocent desire to show her something special and beautiful. Lily is overcome with joy at her special surprise, and the innocent desire to touch the rare unicorn is too strong for her to resist.
Little did these two lovebirds know that the evil goblins were waiting nearby, waiting for their chance to take down the unicorns and remove their horns, thereby removing their power.
Step 1: Choose Your Desire
The first trick is to decide what innocent desire you want to play off in your game.
- Innocent love for another
- Innocent desire to see something or someplace, perhaps because they have never seen anything like that before
- Innocent desire to travel by a certain means (boat/horse/hot air balloon)
- Innocent desire to help someone or some creature
- Innocent desire to have a certain item, perhaps because they have been poor most of their lives, and owning it would not, from their current point of view, cause any harm to anyone
Step 2: Pick The Innocent
The second trick is to decide whose innocent desire causes the big problem.
If it is a local commoner or a friend of the PCs, then the characters would be drawn in because they are of heroic stock and want to be helpful.
Better yet, try to work it so it is one of the characters who causes the big problem. Then not only do they want to be helpful, but you add in the feeling of guilt and the moral obligation to fix the problem. Now you have a hook on your hands.
Step 3: Create The Big Problem
The third trick is to make the decision on what big problem the innocent desire will cause.
You will want to decide how extensive the problem will be – will it be a problem only locally, or will it be a problem for an entire region, entire continent, or even the entire world?
Step 4: Choose What’s At Risk
The fourth trick is to decide the stakes.
- Will someone die?
- Will an important place be destroyed?
- Will a special object be destroyed or lost?
- Will a special power fall into the hands of evil?
- Will a great evil be unleashed upon the good people of the world?
Even Simple Folk Can Do Great Things
One of the most cliche plots is the “common person does something great” plot. You find it even in the simplest of stories, like fairy tales.
Just look at Jack and the Beanstalk. Jack gets his hands on some magic beans, climbs a magic beanstalk, takes out a giant, and brings back a goose that lays golden eggs.
Cliche is not always a bad thing, though. As the line goes, there is nothing new under the sun.
And tis true of Legend. Jack (they even use the cliche simple-folk name) is a simple, common woodland dweller. He knows nothing of fighting, of swords and armor, and nothing of good and evil and magic.
Lily, Jack’s true love, is a princess, but is a commoner-at-heart. She even states this. She would much rather live as a simple person in the woods than be a princess.
One of the greatest things to take away from Legend is simple, common folk can defeat the ultimate horrible evil.
There are ways to arrange this is your game.
For example, you can start PCs at low level, making sure they know their characters are common folk from the start. Then they slowly climb up to god-like stature.
Another example is to create a foe outside the rules of the game who can only be defeated by using some skill or trait available to the innocent, such as love, community or the strength of family bonds. Perhaps the villain is immune to magic and normal game-style attacks, but grows weaker when a community prays for him. Or maybe the enemy is invisible to everyone but children.
Remember that role playing game rules are guidelines. You should change things if you need to suit your story. There is no reason a dragon must have magical breath attacks. Demons and devils do not have to have magical defenses. The devil-character in Legend did not appear to have magical defenses. There is nothing to indicate the sword used to attack him was magical.
Also remember, when in doubt, there is nothing new under the sun. Go with cliche if you want. Go with real-world, typical myth and legend, if you like. Holy water can be used against undead. Salt can be used against fairies. Sunlight can be used against great evil (as shown in Legend).
Help Is (Or Should Be) Always Welcome
Offer plenty of good and innocent NPCs to help the characters. In Legend, Jack found himself in an enchanted forest filled with happy, helpful dwarves and faerie creatures.
And offer situations where the PCs need to ask these for NPC help, even if it means it might put the NPCs in danger. This connects the characters to your world and makes players feel like they’re part of something bigger than just their party. It’ll also make your group feel more responsible and connected to your NPCs.
- There are readily available NPCs in surrounding settlements and the characters just need to find them (plenty of reason for role-playing here)
- Certain sorts of NPCs (e.g., magic-users and healers) can be found in only certain regions and the characters need to travel to those regions to find help (plenty of reason to move and travel here)
- Introduce a traveling adventurer who seeks to help the poor and downtrodden.
Ensure any help offered to the characters is actually helpful. And in innocent stories, make the help without strings attached – helpful NPCs should be selfless.
Try to add more innocence and humanity to your games.
Kicking in the door and taking the loot is fun, but often disconnects players after awhile from the core of storytelling, which is to explore what makes us human and what’s truly important in life.
Brief Word From Johnn
Got My MyInfo Back
Last year I switched from PC to Mac. And I mourned the loss of my two favourite PC-only apps I use to produce Roleplaying Tips => MyInfo and NoteTab Pro.
I still have my PC laptop. But it is so big and clunky it feels like I’m using a cell phone from the 1980s. I have kept it around though because it’s how I get my NoteTab Pro and MyInfo fix.
On the weekend I finally installed VMWare and Windows 8 on my Mac, and I now have access to those two apps on my Air. It’s glorious. I’m typing this note in NoteTab Pro right now, in fact.
This means I can also install the Lone Wolf Development Realm Works software that’s in beta right now.
It looks like a decent solution to campaign information management. I got in on the Kickstarter for it, though now that I’m taking a break from Pathfinder as a GM I’m not sure how useful it will be.
There are some other campaign and game management apps out there, such as Combat Manager and Roll20. I think it would be a great idea to make a list of these and post them at the site for everyone to reference.
So if you know of any good RPG campaign management or prep software, send me the link and I’ll build the list.
In today’s feature article, Matthew Ipock shares three GM tips he gleaned from the classic movie, Legend.
He brings up a great point about using innocence more as part of your settings and adventure.
I think it’s easier to press the evil button than the good, especially for players, so hopefully today’s advice helps you add more good to your games.
Simple Campaign Structure Idea With 5 Room Dungeons
Gary Furash asks: “What are the easiest campaign structures for a nervous, non-improvisational GM w/ limited time? Campaign = around 16 or so connected sessions.”
5 Room Dungeons.
- Plan about six that are related but you can drag & drop into gameplay anytime. Fill in the gaps with ad hoc play, but drive PCs to the 5RDs with hooks, rewards, etc.
- Create a villain. Give him three lieutenants. Have the lieutenants operate out of three of the 5RDs.
- Create awesome treasure. Have those ready to drop when and where you need as reward, challenge or hook. Drop clues about them wherever possible. Put a couple as quest items in your 5RDs.
- Plan another 5RD that’s the villain’s lair. Try to save it for session 16. :)>
- Plan a final 5RD that’s the PCs’ home base. This is for session #1 to jump them into the campaign, give them something interesting to do right away, and help the campaign settle in a bit.
Note that 5RDs can be rooms or stages/phases/encounters across time and distance. The format is very flexible.
5 Room Dungeone Here are 88 5RDs you can grab for free.
Using Monsters As More Than Targets
Jesse Cohoon recently shared some tips for having the monsters in your game serve in ways that PCs have to actually interact with them, rather than stab them. By far, his best tip was this:
“Monsters can be a part of the government…or even the ruling party. Perhaps there was a war and they came to power as a part of the government. Instead of the Holy Roman Empire, consider if orcs had risen to power instead, how history would be different.”
So imagine the orcs won the last Great War, and rather than slay all the humans and elves, they just took over the ruling seats. That sounds like a fascinating story!
Another great idea he had was that the monsters are a normal part of daily life. “They could be your friends, lovers, acquaintances and associates.” What would it be like to have half-orcs that are not the result of non-consensual activity? Imagine having a dragon, a beholder, or a bugbear as a friend. Think about what it would be like to interact with a kobold shopkeeper.
How these interactions shape politics, religion and social structure would be up to the DMs, but here are some ideas to consider:
Would there be racism (or species-ism) for certain monster races? If so, which ones and what form(s) would it take place? Would such be illegal or tolerated, provided no one was killed? Or would they have no rights because they were of X monster race?
How do the laws apply to X monster race, or are they exempt from the laws because they either can’t understand the law or they’re above the laws themselves due to their power/prestige?
They could be used as forced labor. Slavery of X monster race could be fashionable and it’s up to the PCs to make it passe.
While less controversial than outright slavery, maybe X monster race is thought of as the best servants.
How To Keep Magic And Magic Users From Dominating Warfare
Think magic has made war obsolete? Think again. Here are 10 ways to keep magic and magic users from dominating warfare.
Magic users are vulnerable because they are individuals, as compared to phalanxes of soldiers or other military professions that rely on discipline and numbers.
A single assassin isn’t going to do to much damage against a large number infantry, but if that same assassin is able to slit the throat of the head magus, then the attacking army is in serious trouble.
There would become an ongoing arms race between assassin guilds and wizarding organizations between penetrating mage defenses and detecting assassins, defeating protective magics and protections against knives and poisons.
This answer is fun because it gives rise to potentially powerful assassins guilds, assassin mages, mage assassins, and the like.
Using magic to massively affect warfare requires a certain amount of magical firepower. Magic can remain common but doing large works, like breaching a wall or blasting towers into dust, requires a certain magical reagent, like powdered dragon bone.
Which is easier, simply maintaining a siege or hunting down a dragon, de-boning it, and then alchemically treating and powdering the bones to make the dust to blast the castle to dust?
All the while, the dragons have issue with being used as magic fuel, and rival nations and countries can be hunting their own dragons or allying with the dragons to protect them.
The Fabric of Reality
The fabric of the universe doesn’t like being messed with. It overlooks small transgressions like curing diseases and injuries, and raising small numbers of undead, small fireballs, etc. But when the dead are fully returned to life, towers are turned to fire in an instant, and other such things, well, the universe gets mad.
Everything exists for a reason and magic goes against this. Elementals can arrive to dispense extreme justice, or the servants of the gods can show up and start asking why impertinent mages don’t see the wisdom of leaving their perfectly good middle realm alone.
The Race of Magic
Handling large scale workings requires the assistance of an astral race. This is not so difficult, and becoming the master or ally to one of these astral beings isn’t hard.
The hard part? The Astral Beings are pacifists and loathe war. Convincing pacifist beings to blast thousands of living beings into ash is going to be really difficult.
The Oath of Mages
Magic is considered the highest art, and a cadre of mages going into something as base as war is as unlikely as a cadre of college professors acting as shock troops.
Such things are beneath the magi, and they abstain from warfare. Mages function as an untouchables class or an elite faction that holds itself aloof from secular issues.
Mages who stoop to involving themselves directly in war and other material issues can expect to have themselves drawn into magical duels against their peers, censuring, magical imprisonment and the like.
Magic is Divine
In the Tolkien universe, magic was the echoes of the music of the gods. Performing the magical arts was something that followed the flow of reality rather than destroying it.
Gandalf was a powerful wizard, but he barely ever used magic because it wasn’t part of the greater plan.
Trying to use magic in such a vulgar and blatant way is only possible if the magus channels the discordant music of Morgoth, and therefore, can only be done by evil magi who are the primary targets of the good magi. Typically good gods outnumber the evil gods.
Magical Cold War
During the Cold War, the USSR and the USA stood toe to toe armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons. Mages function in the same balance of power.
The only reason they do not unleash the arcane firepower is there are pacts and deals made that would open dimensional gates and flood the world with demons, fire elementals, or some other civilization ending event.
The mages know the power that will be unleashed if they start slinging spells haphazardly, and thus they push for peace or strive to restrict wars to conventional means only.
Defensive Magic Is Better Than Siege Magic
Glyphs, wards, runes, area enchantments, magical emblems, circles of protection, and so forth are just more effective than the opposing counterpart.
Every fortress with any longevity is sure to be loaded with such permanent magical ‘armor’.
As a Siege or a Battle Mage, are you comfortable loosing your ‘wall crushing’ spell on an unknown fortress when the spell might be blocked, changed, and spit back at you magnified ten fold?
This means to properly engage in a magical siege one needs to send in spy/magical types in to try figure out how the defences work, and then a way needs to be created to ‘hack’ those defences. I wager this is not an easy task, and therefore possibly a great quest for PCs.
Although possibly uncommon today, at one point loads and loads of anti-magic stone was found and used to create a large number of strongholds.
Simply put, a magical siege simply doesn’t work on any major location.
As an added twist, wizards are useless when touching said structures or even when passing by.
In the tradition of Greek mythology, each city or major location has a patron deity. Provided that the patron deity is properly appeased, major magical assaults will fail.
Here are a few examples of how a magical siege would be thwarted:
- A Luck God’s City – All magic seems to miss or deal minimum damage.
- A Death God’s City – Offensive mages tend to have fear issues that often trip up their spells, and on occasion they drop dead for no reason.
- A War God’s City – Strangely, arrows and other missiles fired from the city walls tend to kill the siege mages very quickly. The offence’s defences are somehow nullified.
- A Love Goddess’s City – The siege mage has a change of heart and abandons the siege because of a new love interest or rekindled romance. Alternatively, the mage just wakes up and finds himself a total pacifist and unwilling to let the spells go no matter how angry the generals get.
- A Nature Goddess’s City – This one has many possibilities. A few examples include plain anti-magic, the walls that rebuild themselves, a perpetual storm outside the city walls that keeps line of sight to a minimum and spoils magical ingredients.
- A Sun God’s City – Most offensive magi suffer from sun stroke to the point where even a night assault is unlikely. If a mage has the constitution and the stubbornness, at the moment a spell is to be loosed the caster becomes blinded by a bright light.