Monday, December 27, 2010

We Make Change

In the Pathfinder Role-Playing Game (PFRPG), the monetary denominations work as follows:
  • 10 copper pieces to a silver piece
  • 10 silver pieces to a gold piece
  • 10 gold pieces to a platinum piece

Never mind for a moment that platinum coins were never used in the real world as currency. What's important here is that it's very easy in the game world to find yourself over-encumbered with thousands of copper pieces in a setting where the price of nearly everything useful is expressed in gold pieces. That's the situation Norma and Willa the dwarfs had found themselves in.

When we played today (for the first time in over two months, and boy were they excited!), the party split up into two groups. One group went to buy weapons, while the two dwarfs went after clothing and survival gear. So we would run one group for about half an hour, then switch focus to the other group, and then back again. At one point I had been with the dwarfs for a little while, talking over prices of some items a peddler was trying to sell them, and they were asking questions like, "How many copper pieces is that?" I wasn't giving answers, of course; they should tell me. They'll learn more that way. Then I had an idea.

"Tell you what," I said. "Why don't you visit a banker, and convert your coins and gems to whatever denominations you like."

Norma, played by my daughter, asked for me to tell her how much of each she could get.

"I can't help you. I've got to run the next round of their weapon shop fight," I replied, gesturing toward the other three players. "But you're welcome to figure it all out on the white board if you like. When you're done, we can buy the survival gear together."

Norma gave me the briefest of looks to convey her irritation, then said, "C'mon, Willa," and took her friend into the other room. As I was running the fight that nearly killed the other players, I glanced periodically at the two of them in the other room, working out their wealth and how they wanted to carry it around. Fifteen minutes later they were ready to shop. Not the hardest math in the world, but useful for keeping their skills sharp over the holiday break.

As they carry their wealth to other civilizations, the exchange rates are going to become more complicated. I'll need to come up with names for the coins, like "Sernese Crowns" and "Nimorean Dachyas," as opposed to gold pieces from one place or another. The coins will be different sizes and weights. And as the kids get older, we can make the value of gold itself vary from place to place, or over time.

There are plenty of economic lessons to be learned using RPGs.

Shopping Spree?

An elf princess walks into a shady weapons shop and says (among other things), "I have a magic bow!" A fight ensues with the shopkeeper and his twin sons, Junior and Junior II. It almost results in a TPK (Total Party Kill) when old Pops McBane (the shopkeeper), takes ol' Bessie (his greatsword)down from the wall.

After the dust cleared, a witness strolled in, saw the bodies, and fled to alert the town guards. The halfling druid, who spent much of the episode trying not to get involved, became a reluctant hero by summoning a fire elemental to cover their retreat. Now the adventurers are fugitives from justice.

Discretion does not appear to be Elerisa Celerna's strong suit.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Games and Education

As my presentation at the VaHomeschoolers 2011 Conference and Resource Fair approaches, I am trying to look outside my own personal experiences to learn what other educators are doing with role-playing games in the classroom. Although I have a long familiarity with RPGs, I am still a neophyte when it comes to using them as educational tools. It turns out that educators are doing a lot of cool things out there, and I want to be able to share some of those things at the conference and point homeschoolers to these resources when they consider bringing RPGs to their students.

As an example, David Millians has a blog called Games & Education with some useful resources. In a recent entry, he posted some old brochures that he produced back in the '90's. Although some of the games mentioned in the brochures are no longer published, the brochures themselves offer insights about the educational benefits of games in general (not just RPGs) and how to get the most out of them in the classroom setting. He talks about things like setting goals, how much time to set aside for gaming activities, and follow-up exercises to enhance learning.

Good stuff.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

My Top Ten Favorite RPG Monsters

The list below represents my favorite monsters to use in RPG games, not including ones I've made up. I'm really thinking about this list in terms of the way I'd run the monsters in a game of adult players, rather than with kids in a homeschool setting. But since gaming with the kids has slowed down the past two months, I'll just run with the list from the perspective of my grown-up games, since that's where my head has been at lately. Perhaps I'll revisit this topic later from the homeschool angle.

Most of the following is Open Game Content according to the Open Game License. The Mind Flayer is listed by Wizards of the Coast as "Product Identity," which means I can't go into too much detail here. I paid $30 for the 3.5e Monster Manual just to get this one monster, so I hope they don't mind the mention.

These are in no particular order:

Froghemoth - I love aberrations in general, probably my favorite monster type. This example is a doozy, lying in ambush in dank swamps, and able to swallow prey whole. Nom nom nom!

Doppelganger - Tough to use these effectively, but if you can pull it off, it's well worth the effort. Wait until the players trust an NPC. Then a doppleganger comes along, offs the NPC when no one else is around, and takes his place. Before you know it there's a predator in the characters' midst, "questing" with them, biding its time.

Demons - There's something about the unpredictability of these guys, coupled with their irresistible might, that I find frightening. That, and the chaotic realm from which they come is so fascinating and endlessly malleable.

Favorite "demon lord": Demogorgon (pictured).

Goblins - Not just vile and distasteful like orcs, but wicked and mischievous too. I really like Pathfinder's take on them.

Lich - What's not to like about a lich? If you're going to go undead, you may as well go all the way. I like these because you can really sink your teeth into their back stories.

Basidirond - Just a friendly little carnivorous plant that sprays you with hallucinogenic spores when you come into proximity with it. While you squirm on the ground trying to escape the quicksand that's all in your head, they move in for the kill. Better yet, someone else does (maybe some undead, used in conjunction with the basidirond as part of a trap).

Mimic - Up until a few days ago I hated these. I let the stupid illustration of the treasure chest with the teeth (in 1e it was a chest with a fist) color my thinking. I have recently read some good ideas for how to use these on message boards I frequent. Now I'm troubled that I was so short-sighted about how useful these monsters can be in a campaign setting, and how many ways there are to play them.

Drider - Evil elves crossed with spiders. 'Nuff said.

Shoggoth - Appeals to the H. P. Lovecraft fan in me. This monstrosity has it all: resists all sorts of special attacks, can emit a maddening cacophony, and simply has to occupy the space where you are to completely engulf you.

Mind flayer - Humanoids with octopi heads, these guys are brainiacs who won't hesitate to enslave you and blast you with psychic energy if you fall out of line. Best of all: they work across RPG genres, fantasy and sci-fi.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Spicing Up the Bag of Holding

The following is Open Game Content according to the Open Game License.

Another classic magic item that's been around in D&D for awhile is the bag of holding. Similar to Mary Poppins' bottomless bag, the bag of holding is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. Characters can stow their possessions in it without the weight of the bag changing. This means you don't have to hire a bunch of untrustworthy scoundrels to help you cart all that treasure you pillaged from monsters found in the dungeon. Just throw it in the bag and off you go on your next adventure.

In reading Pathfinder's description of this item (see link above), we learn that the bag's contents are actually kept in a "nondimensional" space, whatever that means. I'm inclined to think of this space as a place, regardless of it being "nondimensional." Perhaps it is in a tiny corner of some alternate reality or some kind of astral plane, who knows.

Contemplating this magic item, it occurred to me that it has wonderful potential to serve as both a puzzle and a plot device. The premise is simple: the characters find a bag of holding, and someone else - or something else - is out there with another bag of holding which opens into the same nondimensional space. Think of the possibilities! First, the characters discover all kinds of interesting stuff in the bag. Understanding the bag's potential, they start adding their own money/food/equipment into the bag. This works out just fine for a time, but eventually they go to retrieve an item, and lo and behold, it's gone. Or they notice something in the bag that they're reasonably sure wasn't in there before. All this because some other being is putting stuff in and taking stuff out of his/her/its own bag of holding.

It's only a matter of time before a character reaches into the bag only to have her hand grasped by...

...a claw!