Roleplaying Tips Weekly E-Zine Issue #492
4 Best Ways To Handle Town Guards
This Week's Tips Summarized
4 Best Ways To Handle Town Guards
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A Brief Word From Johnn
500 Coming Upon Us - What Should We Do?
Long-time subscribers will probably have figured out I'm not
big on celebrations. At least, not for the ezine. To do a
special issue to celebrate a milestone like Issue #500 often
takes more work than a regular issue, and the content in
this type of thing often isn't nearly as useful for your
So, I put the question to you. I'm leaning toward #500 being
a regular issue. Bah humbug. But, what do _you_ want to see
in Issue #500?
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4 Best Ways To Handle Town Guards
By Johnn Four
Law enforcement in fantasy games presents GMs with a
a) Do you let the guards do their jobs, which means most PCs
will soon get into trouble and must duck and cover or fight
the guard at every turn?
b) Do you let the PCs run rampant, causing murder and
mayhem, and risk breaking sense of disbelief (and your hopes
and plans) because there are no consequences for breaking
Spending every campaign in prison or on the run is the type
of gameplay sentence you want to avoid. Here are the best
ways I know how to factor in town guards while still giving
PCs freedom to play their style of game.
1. Incompetent And Corrupt
The guard is unable to do their job effectively because they
have no training or skill, or because they have a selfish
agenda of abusing their authority to achieve personal gains.
PCs get away with most of their actions because the guards
are too busy serving their own ends. Alternatively, PCs
escape notice or capture because the guards are so
There is great gaming potential in such an environment!
- Leader hires incompetent guards for his own evil purposes
A blend of corruption and bumbling, someone has the ability
to only hire those who will not interfere with their larger
agenda. The leader figure could be the head of the whole
city, the head of the guard, or just a bureaucrat who
This option gives you an instant plot hook too, should you
choose: save the city from the corrupt leader. First step
would be finding out where the corruption lies. Next step
would be to learn how the leader is doing it and how he is
getting away with it. Third step would be getting proof,
catching the leader red handed, or removing the leader from
Such steps fit into the three act structure nicely, if you
choose. Should the PCs confront the leader without ending
things immediately, they just tip him off. This creates
great encounters and scenes, and puts new roadblocks in the
Before launching this situation, figure out:
- Who is the corrupt leader?
- How do they manage to fill the ranks with bumbling fools?
- What other authority figures must be involved to make
this happen? (e.g. politicians, high-ranking guards, other
- Why is the leader doing this? There must be some greater
goal or plot afoot.
- Captain Bennett, head of recruitment
- Interviews candidates himself; only hires the weak and
stupid; ensures the trainers themselves are unskilled;
shortened training to two days; pushes reports upwards that
only the poor, stupid and unwilling ever apply to be guards,
so the pool of choices is always limited.
- So far, the Captain has had little trouble convincing his
bosses that only poor candidates ever apply to become
guards. The head of the merchants guild filed so many
complaints about the law enforcement incompetence, it was
getting hard intercepting her each time. Plus, she has made
several astute guesses. So, he offered her a monthly cut in
exchange for greater access to merchant guild resources.
- The Captain works for the campaign villain, who would
find it much more difficult carrying out dark plots if the
guard were capable of detecting and interfering with them.
- Pockets of honesty and competence
You have the option to make key NPCs, guard units or
sections within guard head quarters skilled and uncorrupt.
You might do this to provide a bit of resistance to PC
activities. The threat of some guard retaliation might keep
players from burning the whole city down in the first
In addition, lots more plot and encounter potential opens up
if there is conflict within the law enforcement
- Guards are disorganized, under-funded and under-staffed
A great setup if you just want a quick method to knock the
guards out of your campaign so the PCs can do their thing
without much interference, while still offering a logical
reason why the guards have not locked them up yet.
Bureaucracy, budgets, leadership priorities, health of the
economy and government, and cultural factors can supply you
reasons why the guards do not get better equipment, training
For example, the city of Riddleport in my campaign is a
gentrified pirate city that has carried on a tradition of
contempt for central authority. Despite the danger, older
families and guilds prefer a lawless environment so they can
carry on the way they've always done under the philosophy of
"might makes right."
- Guards are cowards
Another type of incompetence, this option could explain why
the PCs can wage fights in the streets, break into places
without recourse, and intimidate the locals. Who will stand
up to them?
It's not believable every guard in the city hasn't the
backbone to do their job and arrest the PCs, but this reason
could work in the district the characters tend to operate
in, leaving the party free to act like typical PCs.
- PCs can bribe guards easily
An excellent option that gives the excuse you need to
prevent the campaign from turning into an ongoing PC
manhunt. If the PCs get into trouble, they can just open
their purse strings and buy their way out of an arrest,
sentence, or in the worst case, jail.
This option gives you the bonus of siphoning away PC
treasure. It becomes a new expense for them. The great thing
is the PCs choose to commit the crimes, so bribing guards
becomes a choice as well, if not a deliberate strategy.
Consider creating a list of crimes, and instead of the usual
table of punishments, note the expected bribe amounts
instead. Whether you choose to share this with the players
or not, it will help you keep bribes consistent.
You might also create individual guards who charge more or
less and who are more or less reliable. This gives you
variation on bribe rates, seeds for new NPCs and potential
plot hooks. For example, perhaps the guard who takes smaller
bribes to look the other way also reports the characters'
activities to a senior officer for a bonus.
2. Get Player Agreement Up Front
Before the campaign begins and characters are made, have a
discussion with your group. Decide how law enforcement will
work in the setting and how it will affect gameplay. Let the
players help you create this aspect of the game. Hopefully
this produces a result the group can live by and play by
when the campaign starts.
- What kind of adventures do you want to DM?
- What kind of adventures do they want to play?
- What kind of adventurers do they want to play?
Be sure to represent the world-building point of view, that
the players are unlikely to have, where the setting will be
full of people who need to live by the decisions the group
Sure, it is fun and easy to want to play heroes who can do
what they want without any consequences. But what has
stopped others from doing the same in the past, causing
strife, misery and tragedy? Surely a society would take
actions to prevent this from happening again.
By having this discussion at the beginning of the campaign
you can formulate a world around the desires of the group.
For example, the players remain adamant they want to be
unhindered by law enforcement. Two options of many come to
- Option #1: Create a warlord environment with an
unsophisticated legal system. There are no guards, just
agents of the warlord, and the warlord decides punishments.
The PCs are safe unless they commit some major crime.
- Option #2: Give the characters law enforcement powers.
This solves many small game issues handily, and gives you a
handy campaign platform as a bonus.
As you can see, both options have a profound impact on a
In addition, deciding this up front helps inform players
what kind of characters they should create. I think this is
where most campaigns fall down in terms of handling guards.
The group creates PCs near the beginning of the process,
which is like putting the cart before the horse. Or worse,
players create characters outside the process, and they just
show up to the first session with no idea of your plan, and
everyone hopes things magically gel together. Either way,
characters will be at odds with the setting, campaign and
adventurers the game master has planned.
The solution is to discuss law enforcement before characters
are created, as part of campaign planning from the
If you are mid-campaign there is still hope. If guards are a
current headache for you, have a group chat immediately.
Discuss the situation to get the group's preferences. Once
everyone agrees on the law enforcement style they would
like, you need to make some changes.
Start with the characters. Continuing the discussion, ask
the players how their characters will adapt to the group
decision. This might require character personality tweaking,
background changes, and motive changes. Players might need
to reframe their character's point of view a bit so they are
in sync with what everyone decided they wanted gameplay to
Next, tackle the setting. Make necessary changes so the law
enforcement style and presence matches what everyone's new
expectations are. With character and setting changes planned
out, you will need to update your adventure.
Make quick and seamless changes right away. Make bigger
changes that can be done without requiring retroactive
gameplay. Players will not care if you change game world
history that they have not learned yet, for example, though
you might need to update NPC backgrounds and motives as a
For changes that are big and visible I suggest running
encounters to play them out. For example, the PCs stumble
into a deadly fight between guards and the villain's
minions. If the PCs help the minions, then the guards who
had a grudge, proof, or pending charges against the PCs are
slain. Assuming no witnesses, problem solved. If the PCs
help the guards, then out of gratitude the guards become
friendly to them, drop the charges, and tend to look the
other way in the future.
3. Make Them Allies
Guards friendly and sympathetic to the PCs make many of your
headaches go away. This is one of my favourite campaign
options. If the guards are friendly, likely the PCs will be
more law abiding, or at least more cooperative.
Have the guards offer an olive branch. They must make the
first step as the PCs likely will not. This is
understandable because the players do not know what to
expect from the game world, so the characters will be
cautious or even hostile. Perhaps the guards summoned to the
aftermath of an encounter chat with the PCs in a
professional and objective manner. Instead of arrests, they
might offer warnings, or better yet, offer to help.
Not all law enforcement needs to be heavy-handed. From your
perspective, you might want to curtail fireballs and
slaughter in the streets from the start. You may be inclined
to summon a company of competent guards to smack the PCs
around a bit and teach them a lesson. As we know from
experience, this never works.
Instead, try making the guards sympathetic to the PCs'
situation. They are just doing their job. They want what is
best for the PCs, the town, and all the other citizens. "How
can we make this work so you can continue fighting against
Lord Maldor without burning the town down or putting anyone
Such an approach makes the characters sympathetic to the
guards, in turn. Often after such an encounter, the
characters will factor more lawful thinking into their
plans. If they do not, you have not lost anything. The
guards can still respond in force in the future.
However, the opposite is far more difficult to accomplish.
Guards that come off as hostile or jerks will get the PCs'
backs up. Future olive branches will get rebuffed. Chances
for the PCs to behave better because they have a friendly
and productive relationship with law enforcement are zero.
We come now to my favourite option for handling guards in
campaigns: factions. While not suitable for every campaign
or setting, Balkanised law enforcement gives you the
greatest range of options. There is no central authority, or
if there is it is no more powerful than other factions.
Instead, the environment is such that might makes right.
Regional leaders dictate the law. Enforcement style is based
on the philosophy and resources of each faction. Characters
can get away with a lot in such a setting, yet there can
still be consequences for running amok.
If PCs do get into trouble with a faction, they can just
change locations so they are out of arm's reach. Incursions
into a hostile faction's territory offer exciting and
dramatic gameplay, but the PCs do not have to be on the run
for the whole campaign this time. They just need to return
to neutral or friendly territory, and this territory could
be as large as one side of town or a small as a
This type of setting also gives you a chance to learn more
about your players. You can offer up a number of different
types of law enforcement and see what works and what does
Players also get more strategic options, should they choose
to exercise them. They can play factions off against each
other, form alliances and ruin relations between factions to
make areas easier to adventure in.
Faction play requires more work on your behalf, but it could
be just the thing to solve your guard problems.
More tips on factions:
5. Take Care Of This First
Communicate the rules of engagement early on, before any
crimes are made. Once the PCs commit their first serious
crime, a line gets drawn in the sand. The players await your
response; perhaps they even dare you to respond.
Avoid brinkmanship with a chat before session one. Describe
typical guard response. Ask players how they feel about
that. Work it out. Once the first crime is made it's too
late to have an objective discussion because the characters
already have something at stake.
6. Creative Penalties
Set boundaries the players can live with and the characters
can play by. Not all crimes need to be met by combat with
guards or jail time. Create penalties that motivate the PCs
to obey the law, as PCs will always play to the edge and
sometimes over it.
Fines are a good penalty. They let the PCs continue on
without fear of confronting guards because they have paid
for their crimes. Assuming fines are reasonable, the
punishment is brief, fair and endurable.
Innocent bystanders. The first time, one innocent person is
affected by the characters' illegal actions. The next time
three. The next time a dozen. If the PCs do not care, then
the fourth time a friend a relative gets caught up.
- Loss of property. The vendor's cart is destroyed and tears
roll down his face as he tells the PCs how his family will
go hungry tonight.
- Complaint. An NPC gets the PCs in trouble with a complaint
to the cleric's church, the fighter's guild, or the party's
enemy who now knows what they are up to.
- Death. This could be an alignment changer if it occurs
enough. Killing a contact or the person who was supposed to
pay the PCs is painful. The accidental killing of an ally
should drive your point home.
- Confiscation. The master hears of his apprentice's crime
and takes away the PC's spell book for a day or longer. The
warrior's magic sword is locked up for a few days by his
trainer. The rogue's masterwork tools and sewer access
are removed for a week by the Thieves' Guild.
- Divine retribution. Clerics are easy to punish - spells
and powers are withdrawn or nerfed. Gods can target all the
PCs too. Blue lightning bolts are a classic example, lol.
Healing services may be withdrawn. Curses or Geas might be
cast. Followers might be instructed to make life difficult
for the PCs.
- Privileges and rights. Exit and entry to the town may be
restricted. Temporary exile imposed. Goods and services cost
* * *
For more tips on law enforcement, check out Logan Horsford's
article, Police in a Modern Campaign.
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Character Development - Profile Template
By Ylanne Sorrows,
Republished with permission. Article originally appeared at:
The Role Play Academy
This character profile template is provided on the resources
page of my writer's website, linked above. I have posted
this character profile here to aid in character development.
The purpose of using a character profile is to flesh out a
character who is little more than a sketch, or who has not
had much thought put into him or her.
This profile was written primarily for literary purposes and
not roleplay purposes; however, it is easily adapted for
If you wish to use this profile, or portions of it copied
and pasted directly, as the standard skeleton in a roleplay
of yours, please credit me as the profile creator with my
name clearly visible. No one likes to see their work stolen.
You may also download a copy in Word 2007 format from my
website, which may be reproduced for personal or classroom
use only. (It's on the bottom right hand side of the page).
Another note upon the use of character profiles: ninety-nine
chances out of a hundred that your readers will never read
or see, or need to see, your completed character profiles.
They may not know the vast majority of the information you
will write and create about your characters. In fact, it is
probably best if they do not.
Nevertheless, the use of the profile as a resource for you
as the writer cannot be understated. It is an aid for you
when you have writer's block and must wonder what the
character would do, say, or think in any given situation or
moment - as one's history and beliefs will always be a
significant influence in one's decisions - or when something
comes up where you need an answer from the character's point
It may also be best to fill out the profile as if you are
the character himself...or as if you are some sort of
investigator or psychiatrist called upon to complete a
thorough dossier on the character, leaving no metaphorical
Without further ado, I here present the character profile
which I myself have created and refined, with instructions
and prompts throughout, over the past year and a half.
Role: For example, general role or story-specific role. The
former, things such as main character, main character's best
friend, bad guy, mentor to protagonist, etc. might be used.
The latter, things such as detective, older wizard,
disgruntled ex-boyfriend, lieutenant, etc. may be used.
Full Name: The character's full, complete, and legal name.
Name at birth: Same thing, but only if it was different when
the character was born, i.e. if s/he changed name because of
marriage, adoption, religious conversion, or other reason.
Aliases/Nicknames (if any): Any aliases or nicknames that
the character is addressed by, referred to as, or uses for
whatever purpose on any regular basis.
Title(s): Any title, such as Dr., Master, Special Agent or
Preferred name: What name the character prefers to be
addressed by. For example, foreign exchange student
Yeonggwang goes by Paul, or Nicholas goes by Nicky. It may
also be that someone is referred to primarily by their
surname, or by their complete, unabbreviated forename.
Age/Date of Birth: Both the character's age at the start of
the story, or 'canon', as well as the date of birth with the
Sex: Male or female.
Sexual Orientation/Gender Identity: How does the character
identify his or her gender? What is his or her sexual
Race/Ethnicity: What is the character's race? It may include
nationality or ethnic group.
Skin Tone: What is the character's skin tone? This may be
'dark brown', 'light brown', 'olive', 'pale', 'albino', or
perhaps even some fantastical hue for a non-realistic
Height: The character's height.
Weight: The character's weight.
Build: Slender, athletic, frail, sturdy, stocky, muscular,
or plump may be some of the adjectives that come to mind.
Eyes: What is the character's eye color? Be specific without
using purple prose. For instance, light brown, hazel, black
or pale blue would be acceptable. If the character wears
contacts that change the natural eye color, both colors
should be noted and explained.
Hair: What is the character's hair color? Be specific
without using purple prose. Also describe the texture,
thickness, length, style, and any other significant
attributes, such as whether it is oily or shiny. If it is
dyed, has highlights, or otherwise has unnatural
alterations, those should be noted and explained.
Clothes Style: What style of clothes does the character
wear? With very few exceptions (such as a story that takes
place over one day, or in a prison or boarding school where
students wear uniforms), your character will not be wearing
the same outfit throughout the story. Does your character
follow fashion trends? What materials, colors, and type of
clothes does the character wear? Where does he or she obtain
the clothes? Are they ethnic or traditional clothes? Is the
character promiscuous or modest?
Tattoos, Piercings, Marks, Scars: Describe the location,
size, and appearance of any tattoos, piercings, marks (such
as moles or birthmarks), scars, or other notable or
significant physical traits not already discussed.
Appearance: Describe the character's appearance without
reiterating anything already said. This is physical
appearance only. Equipment and such will follow later.
Religion: Does the character have a religious affiliation or
sense of spirituality? Has the character ever converted to
or from a religion or spiritual outlook? Describe in detail
the character's religious or spiritual beliefs or
Political Affiliation: What sort of politics does the
character have? Has the character ever changed parties,
affiliations, beliefs, or public platforms? Describe in
detail the character's political platform and activities.
Education: How educated is the character? Is he or she
literate? Does he or she have a secondary school diploma (or
equivalent)? What about higher education? Is he or she still
in school? Describe in detail the sort of education the
character has, noting and explaining any degrees or academic
honors or awards.
Languages spoken: What languages does the character speak,
including his or her native language(s)? Specifically, what
dialect of each language does he or she speak? When, how,
and why did the character learn any secondary languages?
Weapons (if any): Does the character have any weapons or
other sorts of equipment? What are they, how did he or she
obtain them, and why does he or she keep them? Has the
character ever lost or had confiscated any weapons or
equipment? What were they, and why did this happen?
Occupation(s): What is the character's occupation? Does he
or she have multiple concurrent occupations or jobs? When
did he or she start? How high up on the ladder is the
Past Occupation(s): What past occupation(s) has the
character had? Did he or she have multiple concurrent
occupations or jobs? How long did each last, and when was
the character employed? By whom? And how far did the
character advance? Most importantly, why is the character no
longer employed in these former positions?
Special Abilities/Skills: Does the character have any other
special abilities or skills, whether highly desirable or
not? Talents, learned skills, and such may all be listed
Activities/Organizations: What sorts of activities does the
character engage in? What organizations is he or she
actively supporting or participating in, and what
organizations is the character loosely affiliated with? What
sorts of activities and affiliations has the character had
in the past and why are they no longer current?
Hobbies: What sorts of hobbies does the character engage in?
Anything such as knitting, collecting money, or listening to
music may be listed here.
Interests: Any other interests that the character has or has
had, such as philosophy, economics, or weaponry.
Serious Problems, Flaws, Addictions, Disorders,
Disabilities: What are the character's most significant
problems or flaws? Does he or she have any addictions or bad
habits? What about criminal history? Does the character have
any disabilities or psychological disorders? If so, what are
they, when and how did they onset, and when were they
diagnosed? To what degree is the character affected, and
what is being done about it? Most importantly, what is the
character's attitude toward his or her flaws or
Citizenship: In what nation or nations does the character
have citizenship rights?
Place of Birth: Where, city and province or state, was the
Now lives: Where does the character now live?
Lives with: With whom does the character live? This may be
spouse, cohabitant, child(ren), roommate(s), pet(s),
parent(s), sibling(s), etc.
Current Relationship Status: Is the character currently in a
romantic relationship? With whom? When did it start? Is the
relationship healthy or unhealthy?
Relationship History: What sorts of romantic relationships
has the character had in the past? With whom? When did they
start, how long did they last, and why and how did they end?
Were they healthy or unhealthy?
Family: Who is in the character's family? Immediate?
Siblings? Children? With whom is the character in contact?
How are the relationships? Healthy or unhealthy? Why? Also,
describe both the current family relationships and childhood
relationships with family.
Other Biographical Remarks: Write the rest of the
character's biographical information. Anything that was
missed, or not expounded on already.
* * *
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