Situation Mining: To Save a Would Be King

I learned about the Birchlegs in reading Ivory Vikings: The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman Who Made Them by Nancie Marie Brown. I had little prior knowledge of Norwegian history, and found it rather fascinating.

It is an era of civil war in Norway. King Haakon Sverresson has died and the Baglers and Birchlegs vie for power.

Two armed men skiing. One cradles baby Haakon Haakonsson

Birkebeinerne by Knud Bergslien [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Birchlegs have entrusted you to deliver the 2-year-old Haakon Haakonsson to the security of Trondheim. Your journey starts in Lillehammer. You must cross dread ancient mountains and woods to reach safety.

Strider

Write a belief about:

  • How your devotion to King Haakon Sverresson makes you the natural leader.
  • Memory of a great wolf encounter and the measures you now take.
  • Your fellow rangers and how you’ll enlist their help.

Character sheet

Veteran

Write a belief about:

  • How your experience makes you the natural leader.
  • Why you fight for the Birchlegs and what you hope to bring about.
  • Preparations you are making for your arrival in Trondheim.

Character sheet

Foot Soldier

Write a belief about:

  • How you will contribute to the success of this mission.
  • Previous service with one of your companions and how you show kindred spirit.
  • Precautions you’ll take to avoid the trolls of your grandmother’s tales.

Character sheet

Scout

Write a belief about:

  • Being in this for fame, glory, and yourself.
  • What you hope to learn from one of your companions.
  • Previous service with one of your companions and how you show your frustrations.

Character sheet

Situation Mining: The Bargain of Burgundy

My prior reading of Blood Royal: A True Tale of Crime and Detection in Medieval Paris by Eric Jager inspired the following situation.

Louis's assassination on the rue Vieille du Temple. - Unknown

Louis’s assassination on the rue Vieille du Temple. – Unknown

Callous guards have pulled you from your cold and dank cells. You stand before the Duke of Burgundy and his guards. His deal settles in.

You will travel from Dijon to Paris and murder the Duke of Orléans. Upon your successful return to Burgundy, Duke John the Fearless will reward you wealth and land. You are certain the alternative is immediate execution.

Criminal

Write a belief about:

  • How you will play your part in assassinating the Duke of Orléans
  • Hedging your bets against a failed assassination
  • Acquiring necessary gear for the assassination

Character sheet

Desperate Killer

Write a belief about:

  • Your dismissal from Duke of Orléans court and how death is not enough for him
  • Convincing your conspirators this is a worthy cause
  • Preparing for your grant of wealth and land

Character sheet

Smuggler

Write a belief about:

  • How you will play your part in assassinating the Duke of Orléans
  • Laying in motion a plan to play both sides
  • Establishing a client-base in Paris

Character sheet

Student

Write a belief about:

  • How you will play your part in assassinating the Duke of Orléans
  • The change you imagine for France and how the play you wrote was the first step
  • What lessons you hope to teach your conspirators

Character sheet

Situation Mining: Dwimmermount

The ancient wards of Dwimmermount have fallen; At least that is what you heard from a wandering ascetic. There must be treasure and forgotten knowledge buried within that legendary mountain.

Dwimmermount Cover Image by Mark Allen.

Dwimmermount Cover Image by Mark Allen.

You stand at the door, knowing that with the wards failed, there will soon be others set on exploring and plundering Dwimmermount’s wealth.

Dwimmermount provides a rumor table. The GM may provide one or more rumors. In that case, consider adding a belief that addresses the rumor.

Bandit

Write a belief about:

  • What you will do with the wealth you gain from Dwimmermount
  • A cherished moment from your childhood and how you will reclaim it
  • One of your companions in this expedition

Character sheet

Itinerant Performer

Write a belief about:

  • Why you are called to explore Dwimmermount
  • When you realized your temple was a perversion and left in disgust
  • One of your companions in this expedition

Character sheet

For reference the gods of Dwimmermount are:

God Sphere of Influence Alignment
Anesidora goddess of grain, fertility, marriage, and law Lawful (Good)
Asana goddess of strategy, heroism, and science Lawful
Caint god of medicine, poetry, and music Lawful (Good)
Donn god of the dead Lawful
Mavors god of warfare Lawful (Evil)
Tenen god of travelers, craftsmen, and invention Lawful
Tyche goddess of fortune, prosperity, and destiny Lawful
Typhon god of judgment, discipline, and trade Lawful (Evil)

Rogue Wizard

Write a belief about:

  • What you hope to learn in the depths of Dwimmermount
  • Why you fled you master and how you are planning to revisit them
  • One of your companions in this expedition

Character sheet

Strider

Write a belief about:

  • What you hope to gain by exploring Dwimmermount
  • Why you’ve spent years in your lonely patrol of the mountains of Muntburg
  • One of your companions in this expedition

Character sheet

I generated the character sheets at the online Character Burner.

Gearing up for a Dungeon Crawl Classic

For the past few months, I’ve participated (when able) in Better World Books – Goshen’s Thursday game night. In a leap of faith, the store decided to stay open a few hours later on Thursdays.

They formed the Better World Board Gamers group but have expanded to role-playing games. As I posted earlier, the number of role-players has grown and I’m looking for a different style of game.

My initial thought was to run Labyrinth Lord or Swords & Wizardry. Since neither of those systems have core books for retailers, I wanted to run a game that Better World could put on its shelf. I also wanted a game that fit the casual, kick in the door environment.

I’m going to run a DCC character funnel one-shot on a Thursday night September 8th. I haven’t run it, nor played DCC before, but I’m familiar enough with the rules. Goodman Games overall support and output is impressive.

It harkens back to the days when Judge’s Guild was producing a massive amount of product for Dungeons and Dragons. There is an excellent interview at Save or Die with Bob Bledsaw Jr. regarding Judge’s Guild.

I’m not looking for anything deep, but for a chance to introduce different perspectives on game play and adjacent game systems.

Situation Mining: the Black Plague

Adding to Judd the Librarian‘s Burning Wheel situations:

The Black Plague

"The Triumph of Death" - Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Year c. 1562

“The Triumph of Death” – Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Year c. 1562

Bursting from the fabled city of Kyzantham, the Black Plague – a horde of orcs, goblins, and wolves – has spread like wildfire. Death and famine have taken root as the Black Plague banner now flies over half of the continent. There are no signs of the Black Plague slowing.

You are just within the borders of the Black Plague’s control. It is a land of butchery and uncertainty. Those who have acquiesced to the Black Plague survive for now…but life is not improving.

Duke

Write a belief about:

  • When you realized your sworn oath to the Black Plague would not be honored
  • Rallying your people to rise against the Black Plague
  • Why your lands are important and how you keep them safe

Character sheet

Student

Write a belief about:

  • What you left when fleeing from Kyzantham and how you will regain it
  • Who you are teaching (player characters) and why it is important for ending the Black Plague
  • Your research and how it will break the Black Plague

Character sheet

Servant

Write a belief about:

  • What you are doing to repay your debt to the duke
  • How you are preparing for the day you pay off your debt
  • Gathering the resources and alliances you need for safety from the Black Plague

Character sheet

Freebooter

Write a belief about:

  • The moment you left the king’s army and why it haunts you
  • Why you pursue of wealth and holdings
  • How you are using someone else to pursue your ambitions

Character sheet

I generated the character sheets at the online Character Burner.

Burning Sanctuary

I’m looking to leverage the situation of the English Anarchy. I have not given much consideration for non-human character stock.

What’s the big picture? What’s going on in this setting that makes it ripe for adventure. What’s changing, evolving, declining?

British Isles

14th Century English Isles

The Norman barons had once sworn to install Empress Matilda as Queen of England. But upon King Henry I’s death in 1135 they, along with the church and people of London, raised Stephen of Blois to King of England. Empress Matilda and Geoffrey of Anjou fled England.

Though supporting King Stephen, the barons have used this time to expand and tighten their holdings in England and Normandy. A Welsh rebellion has succeeded, as King Stephen focused on England and Normandy.

Both the Earl Robert of Gloucester (her half-brother) and King David I of Scotland (her uncle) have declared for Empress Matilda. King David I of Scotland has broken his earlier treaty, once more invading northern England. The Earl of Gloucester is in open rebellion.

Stephen has responded to these revolts, by attempting to seize control of Gloucester. Part of that campaign has been the siege and capture of Shrewsbury.

What’s the world’s culture? What are the cultural analogs? Analogs can be taken from historical earth, current events or fantasy works.

Its 12th century Northern Europe. Serfs are bound to their lords manor. Knights follow a complicated code of chivalry, established by the papacy to better shape their aggression.

There is a general chaos as Norway, Denmark, and France cope with civil wars and succession conflicts.

What’s the conflict in which the characters are involved? What are the sides? What’s wrong?

Three days ago, you declared sanctuary at Shrewsbury Abbey. Per the law of the land, you have 40 days to either confess your sins or abjure the realm. You have surrendered your possessions. Per the charter of Shrewsbury Abbey, you are free to move about the abbey’s holdings; a few fields for sheep.

Yesterday, King Stephen hanged over 100 knights that had defended Shrewsbury. But the castellan of Shrewsbury, Willian FitzAlan, managed to escape and join in rebellion.

It is September 1st, 1138 A.D.

What physical place does this conflict take place in? What ecology, environment, place?

12th century England. Keeps and castles dot the landscape, many wooden motte and bailey, though a few are stone fortresses. Connecting pockets of civilization are trails and roads, some reminders of the Roman empires. Ancient burial mounds dot the fields. The old forests remain, a reminder of past eras.

What’s the name of the most important place in this setting?

Near the heath and hills of Wales is Shrewsbury, a city with an abbey and motte and bailey castle. It is along the river Severn.

What’s the name of a faraway place that folks talk about, dream about or mutter under their breath about?

Rome, the divine seat of power and progenitor of the empire of the eagles.

Who are the antagonists? Who is opposing the goals of the characters?

There are two major factions:

  • King of England, Stephen of Blois
  • Empress Matilda, claimant to the Crown of England

King Stephen

  • Matilda of Boulogne, queen consort of King Stephen
  • Bishop Henry of Winchester – Brother of King Stephen
  • Count Eustace IV of Boulogne – son of King Stephen
  • Archbishop of Canterbury Theobald of Bec – appointed by King Stephen
  • Earl Ranulf de Gernon of Chester – loyal to King Stephen, though upset at loss of holdings to Scotland
  • Pope Innocent II – supported by letter King Stephen’s claim
  • Roger of Salisbury – Chancellor of England, Bishop of Salisbury
  • Miles of Gloucester – loyal to King Stephen, though he is reconsidering

Empress Matilda

  • Henry FitzEmpress – son of Empress Matilda
  • King David I of Scotland – uncle of Empress Matilda
  • Earl Robert of Gloucester – half-brother of Empress Matilda
  • Count Geoffrey of Anjou – husband of Empress Matilda
  • William FitzAlan – Castellan of Shrewsbury and Lord of Oswestry
  • Brian Fitz Count of Wallingford – loyal to Empress Matilda

Imagine all of the characters are standing a room/ruin/field with the antagonists or their minions. What do the antagonists want from that meeting? What do the characters want from that meeting?

King Stephen demands your loyalty and assurances of such; Be they hostages or holdings. You will take up cause against Empress Matilda and fight to ensure that Eustace is his heir.

Empress Matilda has similar demands, though she seeks Henry FitzEmpress as her heir.

Alternately, imagine the characters standing at the scene of some great disaster or calamity clearly caused by one of the antagonists. What’s the disaster? How did it happen? What are the characters going to do about it right now?

The peasantry has been taxed to its breaking point; Starvation is rampant and disease lays waste to villages. Banditry and worse are the result of two nobles fighting for the scraps of a decaying kingdom.

What type of magic exists in this world?

Lets talk about this. I am thinking of Faith and at least Folklore from the Burning Wheel Codex.

This will be a table conversation.

What character stocks are in play in this world? Which are restricted and why?

  • Humans are the dominant character stocks. It is said that the Welsh are the descendants of the Elves.
  • Trolls haunt the hills and fens.
  • Great wolves live in the ancient woods of the world.

I’m up for including others.

What cultural traits apply to the characters of this game world? Pick three character traits for each culture.

  • Anglo-Saxon: Folksy, grumbler, charitable
  • Anglo-Normand: Refined, tall, arrogant
  • Welsh: Beautiful singer, rebellious, proud
  • Scottish: Rugged, independent, boisterous
  • Irish: Rugged, artsy, story-teller

What’s your resources cycle? 1 month, seasonal, 6 months, annual? What’s the game world’s currency? Who collects the taxes? What do people do for work? what’s the major economy?

Resource cycle is seasonal. The kings taxmen collect the taxes. Pound, pennies, and farthings. The major economy is agriculture. Most people are peasants or yeoman scratching out a meager living.

Material world: what weapons and armor are available? Are some weapons and armor restricted to certain cultures or character stocks? What property is available? are resources and gear otherwise restricted?

Firearms and plate mail are not available.

What Makes a Good Role-Playing Session (for me)?

My default mode is critical pessimism; I’m working on that. In reviewing my blog posts, I am critical of game sessions.

So I decided to flip it and reflect on what makes a good role-playing game session (for me)?

A good RPG session requires a good group of players.

Good players are:

  • Generous
  • Respectful
  • Trustworthy
  • Curious
  • Invested
  • Active

This is the foundation. With a good group of players, most game sessions are good game sessions, even Fate.

It is one of the reasons I enjoy Games on Demand at GenCon and Origins; the GMs are invested, excited, and ready to facilitate their games.

In the case of a one-shot session, this is adequate. But for extended play, I need more. I need meaningful situations.

Meaningful Situations

At its very basic, do the character’s actions impact the fictional state of the world? Flipping this around, does the fictional changes of the world impact the characters?

Is the GM presenting situations that challenge the other players? And are the players attempting to advance their character’s agenda through overcoming challenges presented by the GM?

A key ingredient for meaningful situations is that risky ventures may pay huge dividends or bring about disastrous failure. Which asks what is at risk? What is there to gained?

  • Fictional advancement
  • Laughter and enjoyment
  • Mechanical advancement
  • System mastery

Fictional advancement, laughter, and enjoyment are not dependent on the rules. Though random tables and results can add a lot to the enjoyment as they give unexpected responses.

The other two bullet points – mechanical advancement and system mastery – are game system rewards.

Game System Rewards

In older editions of Dungeons and Dragons, characters gain most of their XP (and mechanical advancement – through gaining treasure. Conflict was dangerous and yielded little XP compared to treasure.

Domain rules become a natural extension of ever-growing wealth.

In more recent editions of Dungeons and Dragons, the characters gain most of their XP through combat.

Meaningful Rewards

Even though the most efficient method to gain XP is via treasure, the older editions have procedures that push the characters towards conflict. In this tension I see an elegant reward system.

Players that master this concept see combat avoidance as the best path. Anything that can end a combat is superior than engaging in a war of attrition:

  • Swingy spells (save or die)
  • Negotiation and forming alliances
  • Hirelings and Henchman to absorb failed efforts
  • Stealth and subterfuge

Yet through this all, the system increases character combat efficacy. And challenges the player’s humility regarding their characters; Why not fight, we’re strong enough?

One quick method is to apply Jared Sorenson’s 3 Questions to the rules:

  • What is your game about?
  • How does it go about that?
  • What behaviors does it reward and/or encourage?

In the case of older editions of Dungeons and Dragons, the answers revolve around exploration. In newer editions, it seems to revolve around combat.

Conclusion

I’m particular about my games; I want to enjoy my game sessions. They are a major time commitment. Both the group and system should cleave close to my ideal. A game of pure combat loses its luster.

My ideal answers to Jared Sorenson’s questions are:

What is your game about?

Exploration of a rich world, where characters can pursue personal agendas as well as play to find out.

How does it go about that?

Shared development of a rich world that challenges the characters.

What behaviors does it reward and/or encourage?

That which makes a good player:

  • Generous
  • Respectful
  • Trustworthy
  • Curious
  • Invested
  • Active