Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Incorporating High Level NPC's

When I started this blog, I wanted to talk about two of my favorite things (but not brown paper packages, tied up with strings).  Those things are RPG's and fantasy novels.  Fantasy novels are great mind-fodder for any RPG player or GM.  They often have wonderful characters, settings, antagonists and ideas for you to crib, incorporate, rework or generally just assimilate into your games.

One series that I'm particularly fond of is the Malazan Book of the Fallen, by Steven Erikson.  The amazing scope, breadth of history, compelling characters and epic plots of the books really have to be read to be believed, but I think it's safe to say that, other than the Wheel of Time, another sort of series altogether, the Malazan Book of the Fallen is the most ambitious fantasy series ever written.  Lord of the Rings was ground-breaking and fantastic, but Erikson is a much more sophisticated writer.

One of the things that I like the most is the way that the books incorporate characters of various different power levels.  From the demigod-like ascendants, all the way down to the frequently deranged swamp-dwelling High Marshals of the Mott Irregulars (they are ALL High Marshals in the Mott Irregulars), pretty much every level of combat prowess or arcane power is represented.

I think that any DM who would like to work high-level NPC's into their game can learn a lot from Erikson's books.  In many cases, these high-level characters are powerful forces whose actions effect the less-powerful like natural disasters or forces of nature.  When titans clash, the wise get the heck out of Dodge.  

High-level NPC's don't just have to be mentors, rulers or antagonists.  They can also be inscrutable wanderers who occasionally devastate a continent for reasons only they know.  Or warring heroes whose battle destroy towns or countries.  It's possible to set all kinds of adventures around these kind of events.  Rescues, attacks that take advantage of the overall chaos, or even serving and supporting one of these powers, with or without their knowledge.  

So if you want some inspiration on creating a world where level 30 characters exist, then give the Malazan Books of the Fallen a read, and tell Kharsa Orlong I said hi.  From a fair distance.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Psychology and "Enchantment"

I think that saying modern games lack "enchantment" is nonsense.  Trying to compare a game that you look at with educated, experienced eyes, after 20 years of role-playing with the game picked up when you were ten is not worthwile, because you are a totally different person than you were.

When we started playing, we played the rules as we understood them. We messed with them, sure, but that's it, at first. We were enchanted with it because it was new and cool and we were in control of it.  We felt that feeling of enchantment, but it didn't have much of anything to do with the system, it had more to do with who you were.

In the book "Happiness" the author writes about how human being anticipate and remember. We expect things to be better than they are. And we remember them as being better than they were. That's how our brains work. Which brings me to the bad news:

The bad news is - you cannot get that feeling back. Not ever. Blaming systems because they don't evoke the same feeling of enchantment you felt is like blaming your wife of 20 years because you don't feel that same rush of passion you felt when you first met. I've sat in recently with teenagers who are just starting RPG's, playing D&D. And guess what - they are enchanted - just like we were with 1e or red box or whatever.  

Blaming systems or designers is ridiculous. Blame yourself - blame your memory, blame all the years you played and all the different games. Time makes enchantment go away, time and experience. Play 1e or OSRIC or whatever makes you happy, but be aware of why it does - because of the connection it makes you feel with that old feeling of enchantment. Now if only those darn kids would stop changing things...