[RPG] Initial Jadepunk Characters

Thoroughly enjoyed our character generation recently for our forthcoming Jadepunk game, although they may still be subject to some tweaking and alteration, here is a look at the initial character designs.
Kaiyu Yuuto 
A young man raised into a life of priviliege who secretly became friends with a young girl from the poor district and, through her, was lead into helping the Jianghu fight against the oppresive regime of the 13th Governor.
Ba Tu Satoru
Born the son of a clockwork engineer, Ba Tu Satora was betrayed by a friend and left to die; his unlikely saviour came in the form of Dogen Hลinbล, a blind assassin who rescued the young boy and trained him in the ways of the silent killer.
The Tattooed Man (character name pending)
Inheriting strange black jade tattoos and a legacy of mysticism when he discovered a strange creature in a crashed airship, the tattooed man now uses his formidable powers to fight against the corrupt regime that holds Kausao in it’s vice-like grip.

[RPG] Using Hive-cities in RPGs

Hive Cities in RPGs
In this blog entry I want to talk a little bit about a concept that I have used in numerous roleplaying games and that seems to be very popular with my players (it’s going to be used in my forthcoming Jadepunk game ‘The Skyless City’ – you can see the video of our character and setting creation here), the concept of the hive city.
What do I mean by hive city?
A hive city is a city that is built upwards instead of outwards and in many different layers, different layers normally have different characters.
I think that I probably first came across the concept of a hive city in the Games Workshop skirmish wargame Necromunda (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Necromunda), in it gangs from various houses via for supremacy on a world that has been utterly polluted by industry; the hive citys or hives are huge man-made structures reminiscent of massive artificial termite mounds, each producing a stagger amount of manufactured goods and housing many millions of people. In general the uppermost spire of the hive world serves as the domains of the rich and privilieged, rising above the polluted atmosphere of the planet and touching the edge of space itself, the waste productions and pollution of the hives flow downwards forming a poisonous lake or sump at the very base of the hive; life on the lower levels become increasing unpleasant as the denizens are forced to drink water, eat food rations and even breathe air that has been recycled many times, the radioactive waste at the bottom of the hives also gives rise to horrendous mutants and monstrosities.
Here is a picture of a Necromunda style hive found on Yaktribe Gaming (http://gaming.yaktribe.org/community/threads/pictures-of-hive-cities-help-needed.2372/) posted by Malika.
Using this concept in RPGs
Although the concept (well at least my initial encounter with it) came from a dark, nihilistic science-fiction genre it can be used in almost any RPG, where the technology exists to create tall structures with multiple levels; for example Jadepunk is an amalgamation of steampunk ideas, wuxia and westerns, using enchanted jade in the place of more traditional steam based technology. Whilst designing our setting, one of the things that I was very keen to do (as I am in all of my games) is to get the players involved as much as possible in helping to design the setting where the game takes place; my general philosophy when using a published setting is that I start with the published material as a baseline, but that player and GM choices supersede anything written in the published setting. For example: In our Jadepunk game one of the players asked whether the game featured mythological creatures since he wanted to have a background that involved a Djinn-like creature, although the canon setting is largely focussed on humans, I see no reason why I would want to stifle a players creativity by refusing to incorporate something that could add a lot to the game and even take it in interesting new directions.
Why use a hive-city type structure in an RPG
One of the benefits of hive structure is that it enables you to present a (literally) multi-layered setting that illustrtates the contrasts and differences between the different layers without having to have a monumentally huge area. As you climb higher out of the pollution the people become more refined and the surroundings more opulent, whereas in the darker layers shut away from the sky and the clean air you have poisonous fogs, pollution where people live and die in abject poverty.
A hive-city is also a way of making class differences very obvious and present in a physical way, the rich and poor are not only divided by wealth and lifestyle but literally they exist on different levels of the game world; a poor person can only dream of climbing to the upper echelons and feeling the sun upon their face whereas the exceptionally wealthy live in luxury at the top of the hive or perhaps even floating above it (depending on the setting and technology available). Hive-cities also mark the PCs in your game as being something special, since they will be one of the few groups capable (or compelled to) move between the different levels whereas most of the poor will be forbidden from the upper levels and most high level dwellers would not sully themselves by descending into the depths.
In the modern world tall structures are quite prevalent and imply a certain level of civilisation, you only need to look at the modern high-rise skyscrapers of a city to see this, and this implied civilisation can give an interesting contrast in a game where you might otherwise not see it (such as a fantasy game for instance), especially when it is contrasted with some of the barbaric acts that often occur in many different RPGs; the veneer of civilisation can be quite thin and can hide a great deal of horror and darkness when it is peeled back, like a fine carpet covering a rotting and decaying floor.
Things to keep in mind when using a hive-city structure in your game
1. Decide roughly how large your hive is going to be: This doesn’t have to be an exact measurement but you should know whether your city is going to touch the stars or whether it’s just a few levels in height.
2. Decide on the character of the different levels: Each floor of your hive does not have to be different, you can group several of them together to create an area with a certain theme (a poor district or manufacturing levels for instance), but you should have a rough idea of the different levels that exist in your hive city.
3. Create some evocative details for the different levels: Once you’ve created the level grouping think about how they look or feel different from each other and the differences in the people that inhabit each level.
4. Consider how difficult it is to move between levels: A world with a lot of social mobility and movement between levels will feel very different to one where the boundary between rich and poor is guarded by troops wielding shotguns, also your PCs will inevitably want to move between levels at some point so give some thought to how this might be accomplished, whether there are any secret ways to do it and who else may move between the different levels.
5. Think about how the different levels affect and rely on each other: Different levels exist in a sort of eco-system where they affect each other and sometimes rely on each other, you don’t have to detail out a full ecological model but it’s definitely something worth thinking about before your game starts.
Getting the main aspects of your hive game down is far more important than having a perfectly detailed and rendering map of all the levels, i’d actually recommend against too much detailed mapping since it may not leave you much room for expansion and incorporation of later ideas.
A txt version of the rough concept for our Jadepunk hive city can be found here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0ByVpAo4rxDGuWGU1Wjd0U0J3emc/view?usp=sharing
Next time you want to give your game a bit of a different flavour or you fancy highlighting societal levels and differences in a very physical and obvious way, give hive-cities a go they’re great fun and can add a lot of depth to games.
Edit: My friend John Miles has just reminded me of another excellent fantasy version of a hive-city, the city of Sharn from the D&D Eberron setting, you can find more details about it here: http://eberron.wikia.com/wiki/Sharn

[Video-RPG] Jadepunk Setting & Character Creation

Myself and the three players for our forthcoming (and as yet untitled) Jadepunk game (Thashif, Jenny and Mathew) did a hangout last night where we did character creation and a bit of setting creation (hashing out the basic details of the characters home district within KauSao city). Very enjoyable (as always with this group), and we’ve got the first session scheduled for Sunday 28th, really looking forward to running it ๐Ÿ™‚

[Video-RPG] Making Undead Monstrous

Video made in response to dmlord Spencer’s request for advise on how to use my mythological monster design ideas with mindless horde creatures like undead.

[Art-RPG] Drawing a Cartoon Me

A short while ago someone commented on one of my videos (sorry I can’t remember who, I have an abysmal memory for names) suggesting that perhaps I should focus more on the audio elements of my RPG reviews etc given the amount of referencing written notes that I do in my videos; thinking about this the person had a point, I do tend to write down fairly comprehensive notes and then reference them frequently during a video to make sure that I don’t miss anything or leave anything out (all too easy to do with my lack of memory power). I considered moving across to an entirely audio format such as a podcast or something similar, it would be much easier for me to create and edit the files, not to mention taking far less time to upload than the normally lamentable times on Youtube; however, I don’t want to abandon the visual element entirely since i’ve very much enjoyed making Youtube videos and hosting them, plus getting involved with the whole Youtube RPG Brigade.

I also considered just doing an audio feed and then adding a static image over the top, as i’ve done with some of my Sunday RP Rambles and the recent RPG interviews that I did at Dragonmeet 2014, but, although this works fine for interviews it’s not particularly interesting to look at; one possible answer came when I was watching a Youtube video about conspiracy theories, effectively the creator of the video had made a slideshow of still images that were keyed to show up at certain points of the video. Having recently started experimenting with using the program Inkscape to create vector drawings (after it was recommended by Alex Gillot) I decided to have a go at creating a cartoon version of myself that could potentially be used to quickly create a series of images to go with the audio feed.

This is what I ended up with (not bad for a first attempt I don’t think):

I’m thinking of making a sample video using the cartoon version of me in the near future to see what it looks like, i’m hoping this might be a chance to combine my love of making RPG videos with my recently re-discovered (and long dormant) enjoyment of drawing (plus giving me more practice at using Inkscape); would love to hear your opinions and thoughts, send them to reddicediaries@gmail.com ๐Ÿ™‚

[RPG] Fleshing out Kalkedos the Swamp Troll

Okay, so in our previous post about designing mythologically inspired monsters we came up with the basics for a creature called Kalkedos, once a greedy man who was cursed by the god of merchants when he killed his neighbour (a loyal follower of the god) after the man rebuffed Kalkedos’ intent to woo his daughter, drowning the man in the swamps near his home. As he died the merchant, a loyal follower of his god, cursed Kalkedos and the god of merchants answered, lending power to the curse. Kalkedos was transformed into a lumbering, clumsy creature with warty skin, green the colour of envy, his mind twisted he gathers the filth of the swamp to him as his ‘riches’ blind to the fact that it is refuse and lashing out at another who dares try to steal from his treasure.

Bound to the scene of his crime, Kalkedos is unable to leave the swamp unless he receives the forgiven of the merchant’s daughter (who fled when her father died), should this happen and she be able ot convince him to leave the swamp then the curse would be lifted.

So what else do we have to do?

Strictly speaking nothing, we can pick some appropriate stats from a monster manual/bestiary (or create some) and run with the monster as it is, however, there are a few additional questions that we help us flesh out the monster a bit more.

What does the monster look like?
We’ve already described Kalkedos as being green of skin and ugly of aspect, however we can flesh this out a bit further, keeping in mind the reason for his curse; since he was a greedy, grasping man I envision him as having long arms and powerful muscled hands that can shoot out of the water, grabbing prey, throttling it and dragging it below the water. Kalkedos also has large reflective eyes used for scanning the swamp for treasure and any trespassers attempting to steal what is his.

What abilities does it have?
Physical power is Kalkedos’ main ability, however the god who punished him did not want him to die in the swamp (since that would end his punishment) so Kalkedos regenerates all but the most vicious of injuries in time, however, no matter what he stuffs into his huge fanged maw the creature is always lean and permanently hungry, denied the ability to sate his urges and lusts.

What are it’s weaknesses?
Since Kalkedos is always hungry he is easily lured with food, his greed also leads to him being attracted to shiny objects whether or not they have any actual worth; however he is unable to look upon the truly beautiful since it reminds him of what he lost, seeing people or objects of great beauty drives him into a rage and he will go to any lengths to smash the offending object/person.

Is there a way to break the curse?
Besides the god of merchants, the only way for the curse to be broken is if the dead merchant’s daughter or a direct descendant of hers, forgives Kalkedos his crimes and can convince him to leave the swamp; if this happens then his warty troll skin will slough off and he will be restored.
  
If you’ve come up with any interesting creatures using our guides please drop me a line at reddicediaries@gmail.com, i’d love to hear about your creations.

[RPG] Monstrous Questionnaire

As a companion piece to my GM Tips – Making monsters monstrous video, please find below a quick checklist for creating monsters based on a mythological model, answering these questions will give a bit of extra background and interest to truly monstrous monsters.

Questionnaire

1. How was the monster created?
– A result of divine procreation with a mortal (answer question 2).
– As a result of a curse (answer question 2 & 3).
– Created by a great power for a specific purpose (answer question 2 & 4).
– Monster is actually a form of lesser divinity or similar power (answer question 6).

2. If a divinity or higher power was involved in the creation what was the nature of the power involved?
(these descriptions are based on the greek gods listed on http://www.rickriordan.com/my-books/percy-jackson/explore-mythology/greek-gods.aspx but you can substitute your own)

– Sky
– Home & family
– Sea
– Agriculture & farming
– War
– Wisdom
– Music, poetry & prophecy
– Moon & hunting
– Fire & the Forge
– Love & beauty
– Merchants, Trade & Thieves
– Wine & celebration
– Underworld & Death
– Sleep
– Victory
– Choices
– Revenge
– Messages & Communicaiton
– Magic & spirits
– Luck & Fortune

If the monster is the offspring of a god then it’s powers will be related to their parent although they will normally be reflected on the physical appearance of the creature.

Example: The god of sky may sire a creature with huge wings or that is feathered like a bird.

Example: The god of sleep may give birth to a creature that only exists during the hour of dreams (night-time) or that can only be seen in the time just after waking when dreams are closest to the real world.

3. Why was the mortal cursed?
– Directly insulting the god.
– Taking actions that directly oppose the god.
– Wronging loyal servants of the god.
– Mis-using a talent/abilities granted by the god.

A mortal cursed by the god will tend to have powers and abilities that reflect those of the deity that cursed them, however they are often made twisted and grotesque.

Example: The god of sky may curse a person to become a monster harpy, a twisted bat-like creature with a barely human face.

Example: The god of sleep may trap a cursed person away from the waking world allowing them only to communicate in dreams, or perhaps they cause bad dreams and trouble sleep wherever they go (making people irritable and causing them to turn on the cursed individual).

4. What purpose was the monster created for?
– To punish those who oppose the gods.
– To guard something precious (also answer question 5).

Monsters created to punish someone are normally specifically tailored to deny those being punished some aspect of their life that they value or require, without simply killing them.

Creatures created to guard something precious are normally encountered only in the vicinity of the thing that they are guarding and have senses that cover the area, making it very difficult to sneak up and purloin their treasure. However, most such creatures have a method via which safe access to their charge can be obtained incase the gods should seek to send a favoured servant to acquire the item.

Example: The god of sky creates a giant eagle to guard one of his thunderbolts, the bolt lies in a huge nest constructed by the beast on an impossibly tall mountain.

Example: The god of sleep creates a monster to punish a debauched town of celebrants, the creature pursues them through dreams which begin pleasant and turn to nightmares, causing them to wake without the benefit of rest.

5. Where is the precious item located?
– In a faraway land.
– In a geographical inaccessible place (the bottom of an ocean, the top of a mountain).
– Protected in a hidden demi-plane accessible only via a portal or when specific conditions are met.
– The item is located inside or is part of the creature itself.

6. Which deity is the creature related to or affiliated with?
– Pick one of the deities from question 2 (or add your own).
– Then choose a more specialised/specific element that might fall under their portfolio (ie. clouds for sky, nightmares for sleep, vanity for beauty, etc).
– A lesser divinity will have powers and abilities related to it’s specific portfolio, these will be reflected on it’s physical form to a lesser degree.

Example: Related to the war god, a lesser-divinity of violence & fury may appear as a huge man with bulging muscles, glowing red eyes and a permanent expression of fury.

By making choices from this list and thinking about the various elements you should be able to create a monster in the style of the ancient greek/roman myths.

As an example: I’m going to create Kalkedos (the swamp troll from the video) by using the questionnaire.

Kalkedos the Swamp Troll

1. How was the monster created?
– As a result of a curse (answer question 2 & 3).
Kalkedos killed his neighbour when the man rebuffed Kalkedos’ intent to woo his daughter, drowning the man in the swamps near his home.

2. If a divinity or higher power was involved in the creation what was the nature of the power involved?
– Merchants, Trade & Thieves
As he died the merchant, a loyal follower of his god, cursed Kalkedos and the god of merchants answered, lending power to the curse. Kalkedos was transformed into a lumbering, clumsy creature with warty skin, green the colour of envy, his mind twisted he gathers the filth of the swamp to him as his ‘riches’ blind to the fact that it is refuse and lashing out at another who dares try to steal from his treasure.

Bound to the scene of his crime, Kalkedos is unable to leave the swamp unless he receives the forgiven of the merchant’s daughter (who fled when her father died), should this happen and she be able ot convince him to leave the swamp then the curse would be lifted.

3. Why was the mortal cursed?
– Wronging loyal servants of the god.
Killing the merchant.

If you produce any monsters using this system drop me a line about them either to reddicediaries@gmail.com, i’d love to see your creations.

[Video-RPG] GM Tips: Making Monsters Monstrous

In this video I talk about ways to reclaim that feeling of monstrousness for the various vile and evil creatures that may lurk in forgotten corners of your campaign world.

[LARP] Redcap Poetry

For those who may not be aware, as well as tabletop roleplaying I also LARP in both the Lorien Trust and Outcast systems over here in the UK, crewing Outcast and playing (also dying frequently) in the LT; my current character is a redcap, a sort of murderous, bloodthirsty fey, however i’m trying to play the character as outwardly polite, more Hannibal Lecter than Jason.
For a bit of a chuckle recently I decide to try and write some poetry in the style of my character and below is what i came up with:

[RPG] Tip Tuesday #1 – Ask Questions of your players

A problem that GMs often seem to run into when creating games is that the expectations of the GM and the players differ; you might think that your players want a freewheeling game of swashbuckling adventure, when they were actually picturing a game of political intrigue with the lords of the seven islands each vying against each other. This is a problem with an easy solution, but non-the-less it one that is often overlooked (especially by younger/more inexperienced GMs), simply ask your players. If you ever have a doubt about whether something is working in your game, ask your players; this can also work within a game, if you ever feel yourself stuck for an idea or your not sure how to progress ask the players.

For example: Contrary to your expectations the players have decided to enter the city by incapacitating the gate guard and sneaking in, you’ve not decided how the city guard are organised, don’t panic, turn to your players and say “Okay so you’ve done that, how do you think that the guards will respond?”

Whilst this might seem like a bit of a cheat, what it is actually doing is giving some narrative control to the players and allowing you to incorporate their ideas into the game, this helps your players feel more invested in your campaign.

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