Tag Archives: RPG

Tricks, Traps, and Puzzles in RPG’s and Stories.

I used to Gamemaster a lot for … well, not necessarily AD&D, but my own system based on that game. It was lots of fun. I especially enjoyed designing clever tricks, traps, and puzzles. This has carried over into my writing, as well. Many of my books and stories have some kind of puzzle in them. In RPG games (like AD&D) puzzles are an integral part of the game. I mean, after a while, even the most bloodthirsty person will tire from the endless hack and slash of your basic dungeon crawl. Tricks and traps add a special degree of unexpected flair to your basic gaming session. They force the players to think—and usually require them to put the thief in the party to work; though the best ones require input from the whole group. There are loads of pretty standard tricks and traps to choose from: poisoned needles, trap doors, poison gas, etc…. The best, though, are the ones you design yourself to really challenge the players. Probably the most difficult to pull off in a gaming session are riddles. This is because it’s all too easy to write a poor riddle (I know … I’ve done it). Basically, you write something that seems crystal clear to you at the time of writing, but when it comes time to spring it on the players, either they come up with two or more equally valid answers which you didn’t think of, or the riddle is too opaque and vague, and they just can’t solve it. In the case of riddles and RPG games, it’s usually best to go with actually published riddles, something some company somewhere wrote down, researched, and developed, supposedly with the help of experts, or something. The above is true of other puzzles you might feel inclined to include in your game. Some puzzles, like riddles, may just be too difficult for the players to figure out. That happened to me once, with one of my favorite puzzles of all time: an invisible maze. I won’t go into the details of the puzzle—I believe I have elsewhere—but I will just hold it up for the lesson it taught me. A puzzle/riddle in an RPG is useless if it is unsolvable.

This is NOT true in writing. No, when you are writing a story, you, the author, are the one who determines what the purpose of the puzzle is in the context of the story. You can use your basic tricks and traps from the RPG setting—the poisoned needle or the trap door, or what-have-you—or you can design your own. In such a case, almost anything goes because, generally speaking, the puzzle will be solved by the characters in the story because you are the writer and you are in complete control. There is no risk of, say, a riddle being unsolved because it’s too opaque, because you know what the answer is and you can just write it in—unless, of course, you want the riddle to remain unsolved, but that I would probably counsel against lest you irritate your readers. Regardless, you should still make the effort to design good riddles (and avoid the published ones for copyright reasons) but that is because they are a reflection of your skill as an author and not because you may inadvertently stump the characters. Puzzles in writing serve a similar purpose to what they serve in an RPG—they provide a break from action and just give the reader something to wrestle with. There is one more point to make about puzzles in writing: distance. Generally speaking, the puzzle shouldn’t be solved the sentence after it is presented to the reader; otherwise, they won’t have a chance to think about it and be impressed with its cleverness. The presentation of the riddle must be separated by a certain amount of distance from its solution in the story. The characters must struggle with it for a certain length of time, otherwise, the reader will not struggle with it—and what’s the fun of that? Give it a few pages, at least, so that the reader has a chance to ruminate about it for a while.

Anyway, those are some of my thoughts on tricks, traps, and puzzles in both RPG settings and writing. Enjoy!

World-building Athron: The Magic System: Some Basics

In the gaming system I used in Athron while world-building, I spent a considerable amount of time on the magic system. The nuts and bolts are formed by the spellcraft, rune lore, and alchemy skills augmented with the energy skills. But there is more. Not much more, but a few additional skills I feel are worth mentioning. Specifically, scholars in my system have access to a Scroll Lore skill, Command Item skill, and Item Lore skill.


Scroll Lore allows wizards to create their own scrolls. Basically, the wizard inscribes a spell from a specific spellcraft on a piece of parchment or vellum or what-have-you. Thereafter, the wizard may use the scroll in lieu of casting an actual spell. The advantage comes in the form of an energy savings. A scroll only requires the expenditure of as few as one energy point when it is used. Casting a spell with spellcraft requires far many more. The initial construction of the scroll, of course, requires the same amount of energy as casting the spell, but then the wizard may rest as many days as he likes and restore his energy levels. Such will give him more access to more spells when in the depths of a dungeon with a bevy of scrolls at hand.


Command Item is a skill that allows a wizard (or anyone else with the skill) to summon up and control the magical abilities of an enchanted item. If your sword bursts into flames upon command, it requires an effort of will to activate that function. There is not a guaranteed success to such an activity. No, it is based on a character’s or creature’s Command Item skill or its equivalent. Increasing the skill increases the chance of success.


Item Lore is a skill that allows a wizard (or anyone else with such a skill) to study a magic item that he or she has found over the course of adventuring or in the course of a novel. It requires a certain period of time to examine and study the item in question. If the character does this successfully, he or she will unlock the mysteries of the item and learn all its special abilities and powers.


The final skill in the system is a skill called Magical Lore. This does not translate well into a novel; it is more specifically a gaming skill. Basically, it increases the modifiers bestowed on other skills. For example, a high Magical Lore skill will increase the effectiveness of a character’s Rune Lore or Scroll Lore or what-have-you.


Lastly, the system allows for minor access to the spellcrafts through two additional minor skills. With these skills, the character can gain limited spell abilities. It’s difficult, but not impossible, for a warrior character to gain access to a limited form of flamecraft, or some other spellcraft. Theoretically, a warrior could have normal access to flamecraft, but it is prohibitively expensive in terms of experience and skill slots, so it is almost unheard of. These minor skills are a little easier for non-scholar classes to use than full-fledged full access major skills.

Insights into Athron: The Magic System (part III)

Continuing the theme of the magic system in Athron, I’d like to discuss some of the more miscellaneous spellcrafts. Specifically, I’d like to look at soulcraft, seercraft, deathcraft, and hellcraft as these, with the original four elemental spellcrafts, make up the most common spells used throughout Athron (well, woodcraft is pretty common, too, but I’m going to limit myself to just four spellcrafts today).


Soulcraft is primarily the art of conjuring, be it spirits or other otherworldly beings. To a certain extent it crosses over with other spellcrafts. For example, a master at spellcraft might be able to summon a demon (like in hellcraft) or a being of elemental fire (like in flamecraft) or a variety of other such entities. Its uses, except in rare cases (like when dealing with demons) are usually benign. Seercraft is another name for divination magic which, simply put, is: getting information. This can be done by casting stones, scrying through a bowl of water, or what-have-you. Like soulcraft, there is a bit of crossover with the elemental magics. Each elemental form of magic has its own limited form of augury that can be used in a pinch, but to get a thorough reading of some sort requires seercraft. Deathcraft is another name for necromancy. The field originally started as a derivative form of both soulcraft and seercraft. The first necromancers simply wanted to explore the art of obtaining information from the dead. But it soon evolved into a darker thing. Reanimating dead became the central goal of study, and from there all manner of undead were born: skeletons, ghosts, and vampires—you name it; they can all trace their origins back to deathcraft. Hellcraft is another name for demonology. It started as a derivative of soulcraft and flamecraft. The original practitioners had a bent towards evil, so, the focus was on demons and how best to harness their power. But demons are not long to be controlled; what was meant to ensnare the powers of Hell, soon came to ensnare those who sought to use it. Evil has a way of twisting back to harm its practitioner, and hellcraft is no exception. There are actually three different aspects to hellcraft for those who are foolish enough to study it: demonic conjuration, working with elemental fire, and a potpourri of other special effects including minor illusions and similar such things.


Well, that’s all I have to say about the magic system of Athron—at least, for now.

Insights to Athron: The Magic System: Spellcrafts (part II)

Today I’m going to cover part of my spell system in my world of Athron. I’ll begin with the elemental spellcrafts as those are the most common and probably the easiest to come to grips with. First, a word about spellcrafts in general. All magic is fueled by spell energy. Every spell caster has access to spell energy (in the gaming system the amount was determined by the level of skill the caster had in the appropriate spell energy). This energy can be used for three different types of tasks: 1) casting a spell, 2) inscribing a rune, or 3) making a potion. Each spellcraft has its own assets in each of these tasks. The elemental spellcrafts are flamecraft, seacraft, earthcraft, and windcraft. A character with skill in flamecraft, therefore, may be able to cast a fire-based spell, inscribe a fire-based rune, or make a fire-based potion. In the gaming system, all of these were separate skills, as was the general skill of flamecraft. At one point, I even had separate skills for every type of spell energy. For example, you had orange energy for flamecraft, blue energy for seacraft, etc … but I shortly found that that system was a bit too cumbersome for actual gaming, although I still kind of dig it.


Anyway, flamecraft (whether manifested as a spell or rune or potion) involves the manipulation of fire. Although it does not require a pre-existing flame source, it is stronger when one is nearby. A flame wizard with a torch or near a bonfire can be very dangerous. Seacraft is somewhat different. It, too, is more effective when there is a source of water nearby (although it is capable of pulling water right out of the air), but it is not completely inert without it. Seacraft involves the manipulation of water—it need not be salt water or any special kind of water, just water will do. Compared to the other elements, earthcraft and windcraft are almost always guaranteed to have an abundant source of their respective elements nearby. As such, the spells in the retinues of their respective wizards always assume the element to be present. Obviously, earthcraft manipulates earth in all its forms: mud, rock, mineral, and what-have-you. And windcraft permits the manipulation of air, nut just powerful gusts of wind. I have a fair-sized list of spells (I may or may not share these at a later date) for each of these spellcrafts. Likewise runes. And likewise potions. For example, I have spells like Fire Bolt, Continuous Inferno, etc … Readers of my novels may also recognize a few spells that recur with regularity: Earthen Hands, Fire Guardian, Earth Warrior, etc …  All told, the lists give me pretty good variety for the four basic elements.

Fantasy World Building: Game versus Novel

World Building is a concept that is common to both the role-playing game (RPG) and literature. Of particular interest is the fantasy RPG and the work of fantasy literature. RPG’s come in two varieties: computer-based (like World of Warcraft) and pen and paper (like Dungeons and Dragons). Although I have computer skills, I have never designed a computer-based RPG so I can’t really comment on that. But I do have experience designing and running my own pen and paper RPG. It is with that which I will compare writing a fantasy novel.


The first major difference between the two concerns the number of creatures. This occurred to me quite some time ago when I was reading the Mistborn Series by Brandon Sanderson. It’s an excellent series that I highly recommend. If you like, you can read my reviews for Final Empire, The Well of Ascension, and The Hero of the Ages (the first three books of the Mistborn Series). Anyway, in the series I was struck by the fact that there were only about five different types of creatures that Brandon Sanderson used. However, the more I thought about it, the more clear the reason for that became. There simply is not enough room in a novel to develop large numbers of creatures. This is because each creature requires several pages to properly introduce in a novel. Then it has to be used and applied in the plot. I would say the first time this happens, it takes about five pages or so. And a novel is only five hundred or so pages long. And each of those pages is precious and many contain other things beside creature descriptions. You have dialogue and narrative and scene descriptions. Taken together, these imply that you only have so many pages to dedicate to creature descriptions and use. Also, there is the fact that you as an author do not want to overwhelm the reader. The reader can only handle so many creatures at a time. A novel that featured fifty different types of creatures would probably do poorly because it would just confuse readers and leave them lost.


Contrast that to the role-playing game. In the RPG, variety is the spice of life. You need as many creatures as you can make. In any given gaming session, the party will likely only encounter a handful of different creatures, but through the course of their gaming career, they will likely have many different gaming sessions and since each session is and should be unique, they will likely encounter many more different creatures. In a way, it is like each individual session is roughly equivalent to a single novel. And it is the sheer volume of sessions that dictate that the players face dozens, if not hundreds, of different creatures. After all, how many monster manuals and monstrous compendiums does the D&D game put out? I honestly don’t know, I lost track somewhere along the way.


Anyway, those are my thoughts for the day.

Magic versus Science in the Fantasy World

It has been said that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” (Arthur C. Clarke—and while I’m quoting him, check out this site listing some of his other quotes, some are pretty good). I would tend to agree. I’m quite convinced that a modern computer would be regarded as a magical device by a secluded tribesman, or—going even more primitive—a monkey. They would be baffled by how such a device works, explaining it, no doubt, with recourse to mythology and mythic powers (assuming monkeys can even entertain such thoughts). I was about to propose a corollary to the above quote, then I did a search on the net and found this site: it is quite interesting; it seems the corollary evokes quite heated responses from the scientific community. I’m going to give my corollary anyway: “Any well-developed system of magic is intended as a form of alternative technology or science.” I’m not saying the magic actually works here on our lovely planet Earth, but rather, the magic as described in a fantasy setting is postulated as working in a situation where alternate rules apply. It could be an alternate planet, or more probably, an alternate universe.


There may not be practical utility in noting this, but I find it interesting. It kind of occurred to me as I worked on developing my world for my fantasy books (the first of which is “Drasmyr,” a dark fantasy featuring a vampire bent on destroying a wizards guild, now available for free at Smashwords). I’m also, on the side, developing a pen and paper RPG game to go with it. Anyway, the system of magic is complex and detailed. Let’s take potions. In my world, wizards can make potions. Generally, the process involves obtaining various ingredients and combining them so that their properties interact and evoke a desired result. The basic assumption behind this is that each of the ingredients has certain properties which can be harnessed with diligent effort. Is it not unreasonable to assume they are using an alternative Periodic Table or something similar that operates according to their own rules, so that alchemy in a fantasy world is something like a “parallel” form of Chemistry or Pharmacology? Magic in the fantasy world generally is not something quick and simple; it takes years of study and discipline for a human being to become a wizard and learn magic. Of course, using magic to blast something with a ball of fire might be stretching things a bit… but if we can have electric eels in this world, a fire-wielding spell-caster in an alternate reality might yet be feasible. And the rules that govern the fire-wielding spell-caster will no doubt require years of diligent effort to master. At this point, I don’t see much of a difference between science and magic: it is simply different rules give different results. Well, at least, in theory. In terms of practicality, it would be impossible and really foolish to try to spell out all the rules of a magic system at the same level of detail that we have for modern science. That would be the work of lifetimes, for something that doesn’t exist.


Additionally, if you play with the rules too much, and you follow them strictly out, the resulting universe could very well be unintelligible to us. No one wants to read very much about a “gak that blops a trebid.”


Thoughts, anyone?