RPT#239 – Game World Organisations, Part III
A Strange Week
Hmph. Another busy week. I’ll be very brief this issue. 🙂
Has anyone tried the new Heroscape board game? It looks intriguing to me:
Also, a friend let me know Ars Magica 5th Edition is coming out soon. Woohoo! That’s a favourite RPG of mine, though I’ve yet to experience any extended campaign play. Maybe with this edition I’ll finally get more than a few sessions in…
Have a game-full weekend!
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Earlier this year there was a Game World Organisations idea contest. Readers submitted their ideas and winners were randomly drawn. Contest entries have appeared in two issues to date, and in this issue I’m pleased to present several more.
If you’re currently running a game, you might consider using use these ideas to help flesh out existing groups within your game world. If you’re about to start a campaign, these organisations might be great adventure seeds, world development aids, or background plotting tools.
I hope you find this latest batch useful. For the previous entries, visit these pages:
- Cult of Bones
From: Tyler ElkinkA cult with druidic overtones, the Cult of Bones has a low membership. Members are trained individually in the cult’s practices, which revolve around the “casting of bones” ritual. During training, members (referred to as “casters”), select a number of unique stones that have special significance to the druids. Each stone represents one of the following qualities:
- A Person
- A Situation
Individuals add or remove from this list as they feel is right. During the casting, the caster has some person, situation, or series of events in mind, and interprets the stones according to that.
The interpretation revolves around centrality and distance. The closer things are to each other the more closely they are related, and the closer they are to the center, the more important they are to the reason the caster has invoked the ritual. This ritual does not give information about the future, but rather the present and how to influence it.
- Diem Brasso
From: Dwayne TrawickGroup Purpose: The purposes of the Diem Brasso are complex, and they grow more and more vast over time. Originally, the Diem Brasso was a small collection of men, almost always commoners and many who were even past criminals, who have shown deep steel and heroism in their efforts towards the crown. In doing so, they were pardoned from any crimes and were adopted as the King’s Sons. The reason Brasso, meaning bastard, is used instead of something else, is to subtly declare the illegitimacy of the group. These were not true princes, and could never become King.
Their purpose grew to being a well-trained, well-outfitted core of troops whose loyalties were to the crown rather than its bickering (and often treasonous) clans. In time, the opportunities for becoming Diem Brasso widened. Any criminal or slave who served in the King’s Army for two years could become Diem Brasso or retire. That purpose increases still, to the discredit of the Diem Brasso.
With the invention of firearms in bordering enemy lands, the Diem Brasso have become a force of human shields whose honor in serving the King includes and is often limited to charging lines of longbaniers (riflemen) to draw their fire from the Dragoons who are more heavily armed, armored, better trained and, frankly, who are not paid for by the King. This has expanded the Diem Brasso membership to voucher membership, wherein any full member of the Diem Brasso may vouch for a friend or family member who will them be included into the group.
Diem Brasso are cavalry units who wear lighter armor and weapons, thus affording them the maneuverability lost to the Dragoons. Their stereotypical weapon is a long, straight, thin sword, created much like a katana. This weapon has no cross-guard (for my hand is the King’s and shall never err from its course). They also use spears and many other weapons, including a wide selection of missile weapons. Diem Brasso do not wear helmets (for my mind is the King’s mind and can thus suffer no harm) but a bandana with the color of their sergeant.
Membership Details: Currently, the Diem Brasso are available to any man (yes, only men so far), no matter what his status, title, reputation, or even criminal record. The hard part is, you have to have either been witnessed in some heroic deed (usually on the field of battle) or (recently added) be vouched for by a member of the Diem Brasso.
Roleplaying Ideas: The Diem Brasso are always in conflict with the Clan Dragoons, who consider the Diem Brasso as lower. They are a group in turmoil themselves, and are quickly losing heart in a King who sacrifices them so free- handedly. Plot hooks abound in them. What if one of the characters was a young sergeant who wishes to restore the former glory of the Diem Brasso? Alternatively, the group could all be members, sent off into distant lands to break themselves upon this or that objective. What if a character was related to a Diem Brasso and seeks to find him?
- The Half-Orc Liberation Movement
From: Laura ThurstonIt’s known by several names, and hardly unified from city to city, but any city large enough to support a half-orc community tends to generate a group of discontented half- orcs unhappy with their second-class status.Common to most of these haphazardly-formed groups is the following goal: equal rights for half-orcs.
The half-orcs believe that by organizing they can gain enough political clout to force changes in the way the half- orc citizenry (if they’re allowed to become citizens at all) is treated by the leadership of the city.
Membership Details: You don’t have to be a half-orc to be a member, but if you’re not, you’d better be able to prove your loyalty to the cause. If you gain the trust of the leadership, you could be a liaison to those who won’t deal directly with the half-orcs in charge.
- A PC half-orc is either a member or knows a member and gets drawn into the conflict.
- The movement could be set up and blamed for almost any unsavory activity other groups might want to avoid being associated with.
- PCs could have to chase NPC villains through a demonstration consisting of angry half-orcs.
- PCs could be prevailed upon to support or discredit the cause.
- Perhaps the movement is being used by someone else as a front. The movement would certainly conflict with the upper class’s desire to keep things just the way they are, and possibly a secret sympathizer has been funding them and is being blackmailed.
- Seahaven’s Sentinels
From: AngersorSeahaven’s Sentinels are a group of Courtsmen that are assigned special tasks by the royal court of this Seahaven city. While not a knight’s order per se, they appear as cavaliers, are heavily armed and armored horsemen, and are skilled in mounted combat and on foot. All wear the court’s colors: gold with sky blue trim, with the insignia of Seahaven.
Goals: Besides specific tasks assigned by the court, they protect the people and interests of the region. They have authority to investigate any problems, crimes, or general threats to the people. They are also skilled as diplomats, though the level of skill varies widely among the individuals.
A secondary, although not minor, purpose of the group is to show the court’s desire to keep the peace and to promote the prosperity of the land. This highly visible group helps keep citizen morale high. However, this same visibility can make some investigations difficult. These Courtsmen usually travel with an assigned “assistant” who, unknown to the cavaliers, are members of the royal court’s secret police. These agents can dig into areas the Courtsmen cannot, using “methods” that would be unseemly for the more visible Sentinels.
Membership Details: Membership is by invitation of the court and usually through referral from existing members.
Roleplaying Ideas: While the PCs are investigating a murder witnessed during a festival, a Sentinel shows up who’s been assigned to investigate the incident. He could either insist on running the investigation, or require that the PCs keep their noses out of court’s business. He also might simply wish to be kept abreast of findings they have.
- The Burning Hands
From: AngersorGroup Purpose: The Burning Hands is a small sect, part of a larger organization composed entirely of humans who promote racial hatred of all non-humans. The Burning Hands try to eliminate all corrupting influences of non-humans by any means available. But as followers of the Fire Lord, their preferences run more toward the flamboyant. Favorite methods include immolating opponents, or use of the poison Blood Fire.
Membership Details: Strictly by invitation only, but open to any kind of individual. Joining members are carefully screened before allowed entry into this very secretive society to catch any that would try to expose this organization.
Roleplaying Ideas: After running down and killing the assassin who was responsible for slaying an Elven ambassador, the PCs find two clues that point to those responsible. The poison used was Blood Fire, and the dagger has a very distinctive flame motif.
- The Hidden Arrow
From: Bob AdamsGroup Purpose: The Hidden Arrow is a guild of spies. They will spy on anyone for the right price.
Membership Details: To join, prospective members have to (1) prove their loyalty, and (2) obtain their own ring of chameleon power. The members also have to be able to speak at least 5 different languages.
- The Order of a Thousand Steps
From: Sub Zero 64Group Purpose: The Order of Thousand Steps is an order of monks, warriors, and wizards, dedicated to one single goal: Perfection. While a lofty goal, a philosophy applicable to the three trades, has developed: a Thousand Steps. Essentially, there are a thousand steps towards perfecting your art, be it arcane or physical. Each step is harder then the last, with a lesson hidden within each one, like a long journey.
Membership Details: Members live in secluded monasteries and have few urges to go outside, though this has changed. The ranking system is simple: each step is its own rank. There can only be one master, usually a member at the highest step, since none but the order’s founder has been known to acquire that last Step.
- For a PC actually playing a character of this path, the adventure hooks are plenty. For mages, there is always more arcane lore to be discovered. For warriors and monks, greater foes always await, so they can test your abilities to their very fine edge in search of enlightenment.
- Since the order opened up to the world, it has arranged for a friendly tournament: spells, fists, or swords. However, rumors are that a ex-follower of this philosophy is planning to disrupt the tournament, hoping to make the order lose face. While the order can watch out for itself, they need the PCs’ help to monitor the tournament and stop any sabotage attempts.
- The Alliterati
From: Mike MunsilGroup Purpose: The Alliterati is an alliterate group of gracile grey mice who whisper and while away the hours, plotting, posturing, and polishing their plans. They use their obsession, as all such paltry plotters do, to wend their tortuous way towards world dominion. They believe that being all alliterate will whisk them there, therefore, and thereafter they think.
Membership Details: Membership may be managed through an alliterative allocution to a concerned council of alliterative advisors who will weigh the prospect’s petitioning poetry. After admittance, a member must attend secret monthly meetings and not mention his membership to anyone.
Roleplaying Ideas: As this story opens, the Alliterati plan to diminish the status of a rival and wealthy political clan by whispering alliterative couplets into the clan champion’s ear as he lies loosely asleep. They believe he will thoughtlessly repeat their rhymes, and lose the competition thereby. This competition, after all, completes the contest of political will in the City of All Literati.
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- Villain Campaigns
From: Dr. NikRoleplaying offers a great opportunity to play a variety of characters and character types. I have run several villain- oriented campaigns in the past with great success. With the popularity of the super hero genre again on the rise, I would suggest exploring the villains super team or mercenary team.
For world setting, I prefer gritty and “realistic” with no amazingly super men, but more along the lines of highly trained and skilled individuals and some minor powers. This type of gritty world where super heroes still pack firearms appeals to me. I also prefer worlds where super powers come with lots of weird side effects to the body and mind.
A few things to keep in mind when playing a villain campaign:
- Friction between PCs tends to be more common. If your group has out of game friction between players, this type of campaign can draw that conflict into the game. Talk with your players and gauge their ability to cope with PC conflict. Set some ground rules regarding PC to PC actions and attacks before the game starts. You can also make the pair who have friction a connected “team” or duo. By connecting the characters, there is an existing reason to work together.
- Mature themes sometimes come into play. Again, talking with the players about expectations and limits is important to make sure that all players are comfortable and having fun. World mechanics should be clearly communicated and outlined. What kind of response should the players expect if they break various laws?
- Being BAD doesn’t mean being insane or a sociopath. Villains cross the line of law for a variety of reasons. Encourage players to develop backgrounds that will explain their reason for being a criminal. Being criminal doesn’t necessarily mean that one will have no limits. Not all criminals are armed robbers and not all armed robbers are murderers. Is stealing from a corporation OK, but not from an individual? Is killing ever acceptable? Under what conditions? Develop character motivations, limits, and goals.
Running a Villains Campaign can be extremely fun and exciting, offering a variety of scenarios and types of game play. I tend to run villains campaigns with the following ratio of events.
Session 1. Character Development, Leveling, Finding Job Options.
Session 2. Negotiate the Chosen Jobs. Begin the adventure.
Session 3. Major Adventure Action.
Session 4. Major Adventure Action.
Repeat, introducing new NPCs, develop existing relationships.
The criminal world is fairly tight. Word gets around how clean, messy, good, bad, quick, or slow a job gets done. If the group does well with an organization, it will most likely lead to future work from that individual. It will also alert those individuals or groups who were acted against. This allows for developing side stories and recurring NPCs.
I typically recommend developing 5-7 different factions. These should be a mix of possible employers as well as law enforcement. These various factions will all interact with each other as well, allowing for political role playing and involvement. The GM should track the actions and reactions of the various factions involved in the story line. For smaller scale, lower power games, these factions can be rival gangs or teams, local law enforcement, local heroes and vigilantes, organized crime bosses and other groups. For large scale campaigns, develop international crime syndicate bosses, government agencies, super spies, other villains teams, and other epic groups.
Break up story lines and missions. I try and have 3 or 4 major story lines that exist at any single time. These Major story lines may have 3 or more missions before that story arc completes. By alternating missions from the various story arcs, the world develops greater depth and interaction. In addition, this allows you to develop NPC and PC relationships and contacts. This also keeps the players thinking and trying to make connections behind the scenes, often leading to great spontaneous gaming!
Story Arc 1 Story Arc 2 Story Arc 3 A z 1 B y 2 C x 3 D w 4 E
In game, the sessions may follow something like this:
A, B, z, 1, y,
C, 2, x, 3, …
Some Random generation options for story arcs and plot twists:
Type of Job 1-3 Robbery 4-6 Destroy/Murder 7 Plot Twist *(special) 8 Paranormal 9-11 Gather Information On 12-14 Disable/Rough Up 15-17 Kidnap/Ransom 18-20 PC’s Condemned/Attacked By Type of Target 1-2 Rival Gang 3-4 Drug or Drug Dealer 5-6 Hero 7-8 Villain 9-10 Artifact / News or Press 11-12 Building 13-14 Law Enforcement 15-16 Government 17-18 Vigilante / Mercenary 19-20 High Tech Device or Person Pay Scale 1-3 Pittance 4-7 Low 8-17 Average 18-19 Good 20-25 Excellent 25+ Phenomenal (PCs Add Appropriate Bonus, Skill, Ability) Plot Twist 1-2 NPC Wants to Join 3-4 Authorities Snooping Around 5 Framed by an NPC 6 Stake Out/Explore a possible traitor 7-8 Press Snooping Around 9-10 Hero Snooping Around 11-13 Vigilante Snooping Around 14-15 NPC/Contact Turns Good 16-17 Natural Disaster (Quake/Flood) 18 Secret Identity Discovered 19-20 Capture Attempt by: 1-5 Foreign Government 6-10 GPPI/Government 11-15 Law Enforcement 16-20 Rival Gang/Faction
- Workaholic GM Remedy
From: Bob FreeburgHi Johnn,
I love your newsletter, and I’ve gotten many good tips over the years.
The Workaholic or Burned-Out GM issue really hit home with me. I’ve been a victim of this a few times.
This time, I think I’ve found a solution. My local gameshop owner has a gaming group. In his group, all games are played on an 8 week rotation. The GM has 8 weeks to do his thing. After the 8 weeks are over, there is an “in-between” week where the players for the next cycle roll up characters or play board games or card games or computer games, etc. Then the cycle starts over, with a NEW GM choosing the next game and taking the reins for another 8 weeks.
I’ve implemented this system into my own group, and the results have been tremendous. Everyone gets to play, everyone gets to GM. We play many different games, and that makes us more skilled players instead of just concentrating on “AD&D, ad nauseum…”
The diversity of games keeps us fresh. We’ve played Hackmaster, then switched to Old School Traveller, then switched to Call of Cthulhu, and next we’ll move to 3.5 Eberron.
Also, the 8 week format lends itself nearly perfectly to the 9-Act Format style of adventure writing. It’s win-win all around, and my players are having a great time with no one feeling undue burden or pressure. Try it out!
- Scooby Doo Endings Can Be Good
From: John G.Regarding Cannibal Monkey’s tips for adding horror to a campaign, I’d like to add one point, and actually, to disagree with him. Contrary to what he said, a Scooby-Doo ending can be terrific. I ran a party through a story loosely based on the Hound of the Baskervilles. The party duly uncovered the illegitimate nephew who was using the legend of the hound to murder the heir to the manor. Imagine their shock and horror the next night when the REAL hound showed up…
- Easy Way To Pick Up Counters
From: DarkechildeI’ve purchased most of the Fiery Dragon counters and like them a lot. The problem we ran into related to them being counters – they’re hard to pick up to move around, being flat. And since they’re flat, they tend to be overlooked for line-of-site, movement through them, etc.So, I bought a bunch of 3/4 inch blocks at a craft store, and used rubber cement to secure the counters to the tops – since the counters measure one inch square, it gives a nice overhang, and they now ‘occupy space’ on the board. Because we only secure them with rubber cement, they can be pulled off the squares when we’re done with them with no damage, and both the counters and the bases are reusable.
I went further, in a lot of ways, from there. From a scrapbooking catalog, I bought a one inch square paper punch, and now I take my old, unused common Magic: The Gathering cards as sources for new counters – I’ve also used cards from other games, art from magazine and the web, etc. A continuing supply of new and unique counters. 😀
Then, over a long weekend when I was snowed in, I painted 5 surfaces of each base-cube black, and painted the top white. On each white surface I made a number. So now, if I don’t want to dig out counters, or am in a rush, I can just put the cubes on the table, and the players can say “I’m shooting at number 14,” or “Is the orc shaman number 4, or number 6?”. Very useful on the table – I’ve got 60 of the cubes now, so I can field quite a number of counters, or faceless goons, if I choose to.
I mix the counters with metal minis (many of them Reaper, although I’ve got a lot of old Ral Partha lead as well – I paint minis to relax), as well as the D&D plastic minis. I like some of the MageKnight minis as well, but to use ’em on the table I usually have to rebase them to a 1″ base, so they ‘fit’ with the others.
Anyway, to wrap up what I was originally going to say – the Fiery Dragon counters are very, very useful, and if you use my little tricks, they become very, very table friendly
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