Running the Game: Characters

  1. Adventures
  2. Running the Game
  3. The World

Characters: Players

One difference between role-playing games and most games was described by Callan Sweet and Joel Shempert on the Forge. Callan wrote “rearranging your character’s activities for a better story is a skill” not all players have. “It isn’t a skill you should automatically have. One doesn’t try and plan out chess for a more exciting game.”

When we say that role-playing games don’t have winners and losers in the traditional sense, this is part of what we mean. As Joel responded, “if a chess player beats his opponent, but does so inefficiently, it’s a legitimate critique to point out how he could have played better, and checkmated 10 moves earlier.”

That’s not a legitimate critique in Gods & Monsters. All it can be is a suggestion. And it’s probably not a good one. How you get to success matters as much as succeeding.

Keep this in mind if you have players who are new to role-playing games. There’s nothing wrong with trying to win, but in a game where winning means something else it may degrade their enjoyment of the game. The solution is to Guide the player to recognize what is and isn’t a win within the game. Achieving short-term and long-term goals is a form of winning.

One example of a game everyone’s familiar with that is planned out to be more exciting is televised football. When one set of players gets too bogged down, their goal changes from offense to defense. I’m not saying you need to put the other players on the defensive when they start getting bogged down, but it is one option. Even though the overall goal (winning the game by having more points than your opponent) remains the same, the short-term goal has changed. This is part of what random encounters do in Gods & Monsters: introduce excitement and convince the characters to move when they stop moving.

Sometimes you’ll have to find out what short-term goals interest your friends, and you’ll formulate those goals as wins. Like the powers that be who formulate football’s rules, it falls on you to plan the session for a more exciting game.

Player characters

Each player controls a character. Each character is always the main character—from the point of view of their player. What they internalize from the game should be able to be seen from the perspective that their character is the protagonist. The core of a Gods & Monsters game is the interaction between player and character, and in how the player identifies with their character.

For you, this means that every player character must be meaningful within the game’s setting. Over their first level, the player will help you establish in what way their character is meaningful. By the time a character reaches second level, they are above average in their part of the world.

Non-player characters

Only the main NPCs need character sheets. For the rest you’ll use an abbreviated form from the Encounter Guide. They’ll have a level as the kind of creature they are rather than an archetype level. They won’t have numbers for the six abilities; you’ll estimate their abilities and reactions using their creature level.

Snow guardian: (Fantastic: 7; Survival: 33; Movement: 15; Attack: snow fists; Damage: d10+1; Defense: 8; Special defenses: weapon immunity, not a creature; Special attack: snow blast; Size: Huge)

When you do create a full sheet for an NPC, the NPC does not receive mojo, but they can acquire resources such as fields and skills. Normally, you’ll know what they need; as a guideline, give the NPC half the mojo that a player character would have received, and spend it on fields, skills, and equipment as necessary.

If the NPC is on the PC side and is occasionally used as a replacement PC, it should have verve and mojo as normal, but can only use mojo when it is a player character.

Preparing dialogue

There are two types of dialogue you’ll have your non-player characters engage in: monologues and responses. Monologues are things that non-player characters say that are not in response to a player character. Keep your monologues short. Most of them should be less than five seconds, and the long ones less than twenty seconds. Anything longer invites players to respond, and then it’s no longer a monologue.

Because monologues are meant to block the game, you want to keep them not just short but rare; and when you do have them, make them mean something: keep them dense with information. The song from Lost Castle of the Astronomers is a monologue—it’s also a lot longer than ten seconds, but as a performance there is the expectation of catcalls and side conversations, so it doesn’t completely block play.

Here’s a monologue I used in the Weaving Well to introduce an adventure in which the player characters track down missing girls:

John: “Lillian, where is Amelie?”

Lillian: “I’m not Lillian, dad.”

John’s answer will get the entire tavern’s attention:

John: “I don’t care who ye are girl, where’s your sister?”

Lillian answers quietly enough that the tavern cannot hear her.

John: “Bevan Casady? She went outside and you didn’t tell anyone? Were you dropped headfirst from the crow’s nest? Stay here with your mother.”

At the mention of Bevan Casady, a man at one of the tables puts his hand to his head and mutters, “Oh, shit.” This is Bevan’s dad, also named Bevan.

Bevan the Elder: “Ryan, Carlin, come on, we’re going to get my son.”

That lasts just under twenty seconds, but there’s a lot of information in it: his fear of having his daughter outside, his inability to tell his daughters apart, his reference to a crow’s nest far from any ocean, and the kind of names common in this area.

Because responses are far more common than monologues, it’s a good idea to prepare yourself for what responses major non-player characters will have. Imagine the questions that this NPC is likely to receive from the players. What will be their response? Try to guess likely questions from the following perspectives:

1. Imagine that you’re a player character meeting this NPC for the first time.

2. Imagine that the player thinks they’re an old friend of this NPC.

3. What is the most important thing this NPC wants to be asked?

4. What is the most important thing this NPC does not want to be asked?

For each question, choose a different player character to pretend to be. You want both likely and unlikely questions, because your players will ask unlikely questions. If it’s an important NPC, establish four prepared responses; for less-important NPCs, only one or two are necessary.

Prepared dialogue helps you establish the flavor of the adventure, and helps to ensure that important, obvious information is established and passed on to the players. They also help to guide you into maintaining the personality of the non-player character.

What is evil?

Many of your important non-player characters will be evil. It is the means by which evil attempts to achieve its goals that creates many adventures.

However, it is difficult to play evil; it is difficult to understand the motivations of someone who is evil, and of course evil people don’t consider themselves evil. Because of this, it’s very easy to have unbelievable villains. In my toolkit, I keep a fortune cookie to remind me why villains do evil things:

For a good cause, wrongdoing may be virtuous.

This is evil: the end justifies the means. Your non-player characters have a reason for acting evil, and to the extent they think about it at all, they believe that this reason justifies their actions. Evil is pragmatic, and depending on their outlook, they may even not believe that their actions are evil because the pragmatic action—the one most likely to bring about their desired end—is never the wrong thing to do.

Evil is pragmatic. It will take the easiest, most expedient route to success. Evil is selfish. When thwarted, it envies the success of others. Evil will justify and rationalize when necessary, by saying that everyone does it, that their goal is more important than minor questions of right and wrong, that everyone’s the same and taking sides is unproductive, and that, for a good cause, evil is virtue.

And whenever evil tries to claim that evil is virtuous, they will also denigrate virtue. They will call it naïve, short-sighted, and even evil. If they have political power, they will rail against those evil, naïve reformers. They may even pass laws to imprison those who do good or who call for doing good.

So, look at what your evil villain wants to accomplish. Then, work out how the villain rationalizes it. Depending on the villain’s political power, look at how the villain discourages doing the right thing within their sphere of influence.

When your villains interact with the player characters or other non-evil non-player characters, smarter and more charismatic villains will use temptation. They will try to provide false choices, choices where all remaining options look like the wrong thing to do. The victim will be faced with choosing the lesser evil.

One way to do this is to convince the good person to put off making the right choice until only the wrong choices remain. When a problem is young there are usually both good and evil answers; the temptation of evil is to wait until only the evil answers remain viable.

If good and bad options remain, the smart or charismatic villain will try to misdirect the moral questions involved. They may try to divert the question into one more about suffering than right or wrong. In Walter M. Miller’s beautiful A Canticle for Leibowitz, one such person, a good man who has been tempted, says that “pain is the only evil I know”. This argument, that “they’ll suffer less” is a great temptation, because doing good often requires standing up against people who will not hesitate to abuse the innocent in their attempts to knock you and your allies back down.

Actions and Reactions

Gods & Monsters is a Dumasian universe where success depends on inborn ability and archetype. Study and hard work help you succeed, but what matters is the character’s abilities and archetype.

When a character attempts some action, you’ll ask the player to make an ability roll or a reaction roll to determine their success. They might make an intelligence roll to build a bridge, or a strength roll to lift an object. Sometimes, you’ll ask them to make such a roll for actions that they don’t know they’re performing, such as a perception roll to detect an ambush.

You’ll usually request a reaction roll when the action would be performed better by an experienced archetype, a long-running character. The ability to detect an ambush is heavily dependent on the character’s experience. A longer-running character is more likely to know that an ambush is about to occur than will a new character at the beginning of a story. Reaction rolls are usually reactive in nature.

If the character’s basic abilities are more important, getting better comes specifically through study or training, and level is mostly irrelevant, you can ask for a roll against an appropriate ability. For example, to lift something, a roll against strength is most important. In general, the only way characters get to lift more, even in books and movies, is by becoming stronger or by practicing weightlifting, not by becoming more experienced.

It’s your responsibility to choose the appropriate ability or reaction. Occasionally, you may also choose to apply one other ability as either a major or minor contributor. (This should be rare for reactions, which already contain the effects of two abilities.)

Remember that the group gets only two chances for any roll: one group effort and one individual roll. When you ask for a roll, such as a reason roll to remember something or a perception roll to perceive something, and any member of the group could do it, you should say, “I need one of you to make a ______ roll.”

Actions and Reactions: Difficulty

Depending on the difficulty of the action, you may grant a bonus or a penalty to the reaction roll or ability roll. You can do so based on the size of the obstacle or the relative difficulty of the action. Read the guidelines in the rulebook for more information. Often, you’ll know intuitively what the penalty or bonus should be for a particular action. But if you don’t, you can apply one of two heuristics to figure it out. The first heuristic is to use the average hero. The average hero has an ability score of 10. How often should the average hero succeed at this task? That is, what should the player have to roll for their character to succeed if they have an average hero? If the average hero needs a 15 or less to succeed, that’s a +5 bonus. If the average hero needs a 7 or less to succeed, that’s a -3 penalty.

The other useful heuristic is the 100% rule. What’s the minimum ability score needed to succeed or fail at this task 100% of the time? If it takes a 13 strength to lift this thing 100% of the time, that’s a bonus of 7, because 13 plus 7 is 20, and it’s impossible to fail when the required roll is 20 or less. If it takes a 4 intelligence to understand this thing, that’s a bonus of 16. On the other hand, if it’s an extremely difficult task, you might go the other way, and think about who will always fail. If a 6 intelligence will always fail, then that’s a penalty of 6, and if even a 15 intelligence will always fail, that’s a penalty of 15.

Be careful when applying both difficulty levels and obstacle size penalties, that you aren’t counting some difficulties twice. If they’re climbing an 80-foot wall, all you care about is the difficulty of climbing 10 feet of that wall. The obstacle size penalty will handle the fact that it’s 80 feet instead of 10 feet.

Fields and skills

Characters have Fields to help them succeed. Within each field they have skills. Their field expertise applies to all skills within that field. A character with Engineering at +2 and the bridge-building skill gains a bonus of two when building a bridge.

First, choose an appropriate ability, and then choose the appropriate field and skill. The player can (and should) suggest the appropriate skill, since they know their character better than you do. You will approve or deny that suggestion. For a field bonus to be appropriate, both the field and the skill must be appropriate to the task at hand. Only one field bonus can affect any roll.

Actions and Reactions: The risks

Players should understand the risks of failure. It’s often a good idea, before a player makes a roll for their character, to say something like “If you fail this, you will…”. The player can then make an informed choice about what action they’ll take and what results they’ll risk for their character.

One action per roll

Don’t divide actions into more than one roll outside of life-or-death situations; and inside of life-or-death situations, multiple rolls should help the character rather than make death more likely. Don’t try to work out the physics of an action. Ask for a reasonable roll with a reasonable difficulty level. When you start trying to focus too much on a single character’s action, you end up ignoring the other players.

Often, outside of conflict one short scene will be no more than one roll per person. Don’t sweat anything smaller than that. Contests don’t have a specific time-frame or duration. Generally, they apply to one purpose. This is especially important when players use mojo. Mojo is scarce, and when it is used on a roll its effects should last.

During a conflict, contest rolls will usually be one round’s worth of activities, but not at the expense of breaking up the contest into boring rolls. Every action should be fun or exciting or both. That includes every roll.

If an action requires more than one field, it probably needs to be broken into smaller steps, one per field. If a character has Literacy in their Highland Culture field, and they know Frankish from their South Bend Culture field, and they want to read some Frankish text, they will first need to read the text using Anglish Culture and then they will need to understand it using South Bend Culture.

If an action requires one field, only one roll need be made, even if the action requires multiple skills within that field.

The consequences of success

There are two types of success, depending on whether the character has the appropriate skill and field. If the character does not have an appropriate skill, any success will be a general one. It will be a success, but it will not bring with it specific long-term understanding. If the character has an appropriate skill they have a deeper understanding of what they’ve done.

• If a character successfully rolls to build a fire, and they don’t have an appropriate skill, they still have built a fire. But if they have an appropriate skill, you can assume the fire is safe, long-lasting, and more resistant to going out.

• If a character tries to communicate in a strange language, they will, without an appropriate skill, get a vague understanding of what the creature is saying. If they know the language, however, they know what the creature is saying.

• If a character reads hieroglyphics without knowing the written language, success means they have a general idea of the nature of the document: whether it is regal or common, whether it announces an event or records a diary. If they have an appropriate language skill, however, they have deciphered the writing.

The consequences of failure

If one of the characters has to know the answer for the game to proceed, then the act of asking the question is all that is necessary. You will usually want to avoid situations where the characters must perform specific actions and know specific facts or be unable to proceed. Where this is unavoidable, however, you will want to make the knowledge or success automatic: since you’ve designed the adventure so that someone has to know, then someone will know it.

You should also avoid being too tight with world information. On a failed roll, characters will still know or do something. If the player fails an intelligence roll to know the history of Castle Oberon, they may still know some relevant information about castles in this world.

Always make sure that you let players know when they fail a roll so that they will know to bid mojo if they desire a success.

Dropping things

If a character runs the risk of dropping something, then besides a reaction roll also use their carry score: if they fail their reaction roll, roll to see which slot they drop, not which item. If they have free slots, they might get lucky and not actually drop anything. For example, if a character has nine slots, you would roll a d10 to see which slot they drop from. Results of 10 will need to be re-rolled. They drop everything in that slot; if there’s nothing in that slot, they didn’t drop anything.

Actions and Reactions: Mojo

Mojo use always matters. If a player chooses to bid mojo on a roll that doesn’t matter, and they bid enough to succeed, you must either make it matter or tell them that while they have bid enough to be successful, spending that mojo will not advance them toward their goals. They can then choose to withdraw their successful bid.

What does it mean to have a skill?

In Gods & Monsters, characters can try all sorts of outlandish things. A character with no bridge-building skill might attempt to build a bridge; a character with no literacy may attempt to read a document; a character without fire-building skill can start a fire. In the short term, success is basically the same regardless of whether the character has an appropriate skill. The appropriate skill makes success more likely (because of the Field bonus) but lack of a skill doesn’t mean that a character cannot build a bridge, start a fire, or see what a book is about.

As mentioned above, if the character has an appropriate skill their success will be deeper and longer-lasting. The character who builds a bridge without any bridge-building skill will get their friends across the river, just as would a character with a bridge-building skill. Without an appropriate skill, their success is basically limited to this particular scene or action. That bridge won’t be trustworthy on their return trip, because the return trip is a different scene.

With an appropriate skill, it’s a lasting bridge. Barring an external force, the bridge will be there when they return. If an external force does attempt to destroy the bridge, the bridge will likely receive the character’s field bonus as a bonus to surviving.

Actions and Reactions: Time

How long does it take to perform a task? That can vary widely depending on the task in question. You’ll need to make a ruling based on how much has to be done to perform the task and how long you and the players think it ought to normally take.

When is a roll required?

In a role-playing game like Gods & Monsters, it is easy to see when abilities such as strength, agility, and endurance come into play. The game is played in words and imagination. The player’s own physical abilities don’t matter. But characters also have charisma, intelligence, and wisdom, and these are more difficult to handle. The player’s own charisma, intelligence, and wisdom are also used in the game. If they weren’t, the game wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.

When a player has their character say and do the right thing, no roll is required. A roll is necessary when there is ambiguity. So if a player has their character offer a dryad a gem the dryad will likely be friendly. If the player takes that friendliness as license to make fun of the dryad, a charisma roll will be required to ensure that the jest is taken as intended.

If a player chooses to have their character look in a desk drawer, they’ll find what’s obvious in the desk drawer. If they say merely that they’re searching the room, a perception roll might be required to recognize that the desk drawer is important.

Also, the player characters are always the center of attention. Unless there is a specific rule covering a situation, players will make the reaction and ability rolls that affect their character. When a player tries to have their character bluff their way past a guard, a charisma roll (with appropriate modifiers, including their opponent’s wisdom or charisma) might apply. If a non-player character tries to bluff a player character, the player gets to make a perception roll (with appropriate modifiers according to the non-player character’s skill and charisma).

Player knowledge, character knowledge

When characters know more than their player does, the player can roll dice to gain access to that knowledge. A player who knows nothing about building bridges can still have their character make an intelligence roll to successfully do so. What happens when the player knows more than the character does?

One answer is to treat game encounters as puzzles and obstacles for the player to solve. The players can act on the knowledge that they have. Their characters can know both what the players know and what is on their character sheet.

Another answer is to treat the encounters as a chance to roleplay the character. Where the player and character have possibly different knowledge, the player must choose:

1. the character would know this;

2. the character would not know this;

3. the character might know this.

For the first two cases, no roll is required. In the latter case, the player can determine a difficulty level as normal for any other knowledge the player is attempting to access via their character.

Neither of these answers are right or wrong. Both answers are valid, and both can be fun. They also overlap. Even with the second answer, player knowledge will still inform character knowledge but to a lesser extent. But it does help to make sure that everyone is on the same wavelength when it comes to player vs. character knowledge. If you see a conflict, you may wish to bring the issue up and make a group decision.

Otherwise, however, when players use player knowledge as character knowledge, and it makes reasonable sense, allow it.

Where it doesn’t make sense is usually when a player wants to introduce modern technology into a medieval and/or magical game. If they try to introduce something that shouldn’t exist, just tell them “that knowledge doesn’t exist here”.

Imparting information

A major part of Gods & Monsters is the Adventure Guide describing what the player characters see, what they know, and what they can reason.

There are some things you’ll tell them in your flavor text. The only way they aren’t going to know it is if they interrupt you before you finish reading the text. Describe the scene in order of what is most to least obvious so that interruptions don’t leave the characters ignoring the dragon in the room.

Other things you’ll tell them if they ask—the act of asking gives them the answer.

Some things they don’t have to ask about: when the time is right you’ll ask them to make a reaction roll. If they succeed, you’ll give them the information. For example, if they’re about to be ambushed, you’ll ask one of them to make a perception roll. If they succeed, you’ll describe something that lets them know there’s an ambush.

Many things you’ll tell them if they ask a question and then make an ability or reaction roll, depending on the question. For example, they might ask you what their character knows about ancient King Eglund. You’ll have them make an intelligence roll, and if successful they know something about King Eglund.

Sometimes you’ll have both automatic on questioning and roll-required information. When this happens, it might appear, after they roll and fail, that they’ve really succeeded. You are, after all, giving them information. If this is an archetypal roll, make sure that they know they failed. Otherwise, they won’t know to bid mojo for more information.

Absolute numbers and abstract rolls

Gods & Monsters walks a fine line between abstract and absolute measures of what characters can do. Characters have specific amounts of money. Players keep a list of exactly what the character carries. Within the rules there is a chart of movement rates with exact speeds. This Adventure Guide’s Handbook includes a complex chart detailing the distance to the horizon.

They are there for uncontested actions and for guidelines. In general, however, whenever a character is in some sort of contest or conflict, they will make an ability roll or a reaction roll. This gives them the opportunity to be lucky and unlucky, and to do amazing things using mojo.

In general, if you are comparing a character’s ability in a contest with the world, and there is a question of success or failure, the player will need to roll.

Automatic success and failure

When a player must roll less than zero to succeed, there is no chance of success (unless they can use mojo). When a player must roll less then 20 (or more) to succeed, success is automatic. If the player doesn’t know what number they need, you might still ask them to roll; but if the character reasonably knows that their success or failure is automatic, there’s no reason for the player to roll.

Degrees of success

There are three basic kinds of degrees of success. When you call for a random roll, and you decide that on a “difficult” success they found out one thing, but on a “nearly impossible” success they find out that plus something else, that’s a roll that has different degrees of success. You’ll need to make sure that if the player’s roll succeeds at the difficult level but fails at the nearly impossible level, that the player knows there are more successes. Otherwise, they won’t know that they can potentially spend mojo to gain that extra level of success.

The obstacle size can also result in potential degrees of success. If the players are tracking an enemy, and the enemy is twenty miles away, the obstacle size will mean a penalty of seven to the roll. Normally, this means that if they succeed at a penalty of 7, they track successfully and if they fail with that penalty, they are randomly lost.

But if, between the player characters starting and arriving at where their target was, the target has moved further, the obstacle size may change. Each action is a single roll still applies. If this means that they now fail, and they can use mojo on the roll, give them that opportunity.

But there’s another, more amorphous, psychological degree of success. Normally, all that matters in Gods & Monsters is whether or not the roll was greater than the target number or less then or equal to it. It’s a pass/fail system.

Excessive successes, however, are psychologically very impressive. When a player rolls a one and they needed a thirteen or so to be successful, that’s a cool thing, and if you want to apply that to the level of success, by all means do so. When a player makes their roll by ten points or more, you can give them more a detailed, deeper success. Some special description that lets them know that their character is outclassing whatever it is they’re doing. They’ll notice a few more things about the brigands who attempted to ambush them, or they’ve got a more detailed knowledge of the myth that they were rolling to know, or something like that. It won’t necessarily mean much to the game, but it will mean a lot to their character image.

Mojo and degrees of success

Mojo cannot be used by the player to arbitrarily create greater degrees of success; this way lies madness. Unless there were known target numbers, or target numbers that should have been known but that come up later due to obstacle size, mojo isn’t appropriate. Don’t call for or accept it.

Mojo needs to be used for known or distinct targets, or it will end up being siphoned off far too quickly.

Characters: Experience

Player characters increase in level by gaining experience points. They have four ways of gaining experience: using mojo for archetypal rolls, meeting strange creatures, defeating opponents in conflict, and looting treasure after defeating opponents in conflict. Player characters will gain experience from mojo immediately, as described in the main rulebook. It is your responsibility to keep track of the rest until the adventure is completed.

Long adventures

If a character gains enough experience to jump two (or more) levels before the adventure is finished, give them their experience total as of the previous day, so that they will gain their next level or come close to it, and will hopefully not jump multiple levels at the end of the adventure.

Meeting strange creatures

Groups gain experience for engaging encounters outside of conflict in the adventure.

For every encounter that the characters engage, add up the levels of the creatures in the encounter and multiply by twenty. Each player character gains that many experience points, even if they weren’t personally involved with the encounter.

Groups only gain this experience once for any encounter. Engaged encounter experience is awarded at the end of the adventure.

An engagement is any non-conflict interaction between the characters and the encounter. It can include acquiring information from the encounter through interrogation, accepting a job from the encounter, or engaging it in a discussion.

For example, the characters meet an army. If they fight that army, they’ll gain experience points as normal for the conflict. If they negotiate with the army’s leader, however, they have engaged the leader, and gain experience for that. The individuals in the army are not a planned encounter, and they haven’t engaged those individuals in any case, so they don’t get experience for engaging the army.

If, on the other hand, the guide has planned encounters with specific individuals within the army and the characters do engage one or more of those individuals, the group will receive experience for engaging those specific individuals.

If the characters are given a job by a great wizard, that wizard is a planned encounter. The group gains experience by engaging that planned encounter. Random encounters are usually part of the adventure and are thus possible engagements as well.

It is possible to gain experience for engaging a planned encounter as well as for a conflict with that encounter, if the characters do both.

Remember that characters also regain verve during an engagement.

Experience: Conflict

Groups gain experience for engaging in dangerous conflicts.

The group gains four experience points for every survival point of their defeated opponents.

If the total levels of the defeated opponents for that day were greater than the total levels on the player character side, the group gains 200 experience per excess level.

If any of their opponents were at least the same level as the highest level character, the group gains one hundred experience per opponent level for that opponent.

This experience is calculated for each period between rests, usually each game day, and comes from opponents who were decisively defeated (not necessary killed).

If a character gained a level during the day, use their lower level for that day.

An opponent may only be decisively defeated once during any one adventure. Opponents who are not part of the adventure are not worth experience. Villagers or townsfolk who are not part of the adventure are not measured, nor are “opponents” who were not opponents. The defeat of an unaggressive traveler, for example, does not garner experience for the characters. Random aggressive encounters are usually part of the adventure and count toward the opponent total.

Experience points for conflict are awarded at the end of the adventure, but are calculated daily. Divide the group’s experience total for the day’s adventure by the number of characters present for that day’s adventuring. This is how much each character receives for that day’s adventuring once the adventure is over. A day’s adventure is the period between resting for verve restoration.

Group effort

If any of the encounters were part of a group effort, use the group’s survival points, not each individual’s. For the level of the encounter, use the median level of the group plus the group’s group effort bonus.

Looting things

Loot is usually its own reward. Loot can, however, be turned into experience gains. Things looted from trapped or dangerous places during an adventure can be donated or lost with no expectation of tangible benefit. When such loot is donated or lost, it becomes experience points: one silver coin is two experience points.

The loot must have been taken in the course of an adventure from evil or hostile owners, or must have been freely given as the result of an adventure from good or allied owners. It must be lost with no expectation of tangible benefit. For example, donating to a village will give the group experience even though this increases the goodwill toward the characters in the village. “Good will” is not a tangible benefit. On the other hand, a “donation” that is really a bribe to get something from a church official is not experience-worthy. A loss in a gambling casino is not experience-worthy: there was an expectation of an immediate benefit.

However, if the player stipulates that their character will lose, and the Adventure Guide agrees, this counts as a loss worthy of experience. For example, the players might decide to lose their previous adventure’s loot at the beginning of the next adventure, so as to encourage their characters to accept the moving hand of fate. This is how sequels happen. They can designate one character to have squandered the money in the casino, then make fun of that character for the rest of the adventure.

Donations and losses must be to outside of the group: the group must actually lose the loot. Loot must be donated or lost during the adventure it was looted, or as part of the beginning of the next adventure.

If players (or a player) choose to have their characters lose loot, this is an opportunity for the players to exercise more control over the narration than they otherwise do. Players might decide, for example, that their characters should be forced to jettison some of their loot in order to escape pursuers, or leave a dungeon, or cross a bridge. If the Adventure Guide agrees, the players should then role-play their characters’ loss.

This option is useful after a particularly large haul when you’re wondering why your characters will want to adventure now that they have all this money.

Experience from loot is divided equally among all player characters at the time of the donation. Even if one character donates it against the will of other characters, all members of the group share in the experience.

Experience from loot is awarded at the end of each adventure or at the very beginning of an adventure if previous loot is lost before an adventure begins.

When is the end of an adventure?

Most experience comes at the end of each adventure. Usually, an adventure is a set of notes, whether from the Gods & Monsters web site—such as The House of Lisport—or purchased from someone else, such as The Hammers of the God, or downloaded, such as The Nameless Dungeon. The adventure ends when you set the notes aside, the player characters rest up for another adventure, and the game session ends.

In some cases, however, that “set of notes” is a huge book containing many adventures. For example, in mega-dungeons such as The Castle of the Mad Archmage or Stonehell Dungeon, each level is probably its own adventure. Characters will gain their experience when they leave that level, find a place to rest, and after the session ends. Many times, if you are writing your own mega-dungeon, you won’t bother creating the next level until they reach it. Each level is its own set of notes.

Sometimes, after they rest up they will then continue on to the next adventure during the same session. You’ll still wait until the end of the session to sum up their experience, and then give it to them at the beginning of the next session.

Gaining new skills and abilities

When characters gain skills and abilities, it doesn’t have to mean they suddenly acquired these abilities. Sometimes, they will need to study to learn new skills. Sometimes, the “new” skills can be explained by saying that the character always knew the skill, but “only now have they had reason to use it.” Or perhaps, if they did have a reason to use the skill before, but failed to do so, it was because they had grown rusty in the use of that skill since “leaving the farm.” After discovering that the skill remains important, they resolved to restore the skill they used to know.

The ability to learn new magic spells can be explained as the result of special insight, perhaps insight gained over the previous adventure.

In general, the players will have to work with the Guide to explain, if such explanation is required, the appearance of their characters’ newfound abilities.

Creating new spells

Players of sorcerors will want their characters to research completely new spells. Compare the spell with other spells to determine the new spell’s level.

Making new spells is mostly a matter of applying the appropriate mojo. However, no amount of mojo can allow the creation of spells that don’t make sense in the game world. You’ll need to work with the player to create a spell that both makes sense and is what they want. At various points the two of you should write the spell that their researches are leading toward, giving them the option of diverging to a different spell.

For example, a player might want a spell that lets their character remember, exactly, scenes or objects. So, they write up what they want the spell to do, and you might come back to them with something like Vivid Recall, that lets them remember a scene or object within level days. After level days, the recall degrades to a normal memory.

If that’s fine, then that’s where their research leads. But they might counter that they’re going to research a memory spell that lasts forever, not just several days.

You might then counter with something like Flash Memory, in which the memorization lasts forever but once remembered is gone completely. If they object that they’d like to view the memory any number of times, you might decide that as a memory this is an impossible spell (or you might not, it’s up to you), and if so, you might give them a reason roll to consider another tack. You might then counter with something like Crystal Record, where the memory is stored in a crystal, and may be viewed any number of times over several days.

New spirit manifestations

Unlike spells, which must be researched, divine spirits can do anything within their sphere of influence. If a prophet has a second level water spirit, they can manifest that spirit in any way that makes sense for a water spirit of that power level. The manifestation must be related to the spirit type and it must be religiously inspired; that is, it must be something that a prophet would do to show the power of their god.

If a player suggests a manifestation that doesn’t fit an existing manifestation, compare it to the existing ones and guess at a probable level for the desired effects. Don’t waste time on this—most of the time when they suggest a new spirit, you’re in the moment and don’t want to lose it. Just make a quick guess as to how the desired effects compare to other manifestations, and add two levels to your guess. The in-game justification is that the first time you try something new, it’s harder to do.

If the player comes to you ahead of time, so that you’ve got time to more seriously write up the manifestation’s effects, you can dispense with the 2-level penalty. The character has clearly been praying for inspiration and faith.

Once you have time to write up the spirit manifestation, decide what the actual level is for the minimum effect, and how it improves as the spirit level increases. Make manifestation levels low and then scale up—this helps to keep the total number of manifestations low, since each manifestation will have a wide range of power.

Decide on the manifestation’s spirit types; whether it centers on the prophet, by touch, or can be targeted to someone or something at range; what kinds of targets it can affect; and whether it affects one target, a limited number of chosen targets, all targets, or a group of targets such as enemies or allies, within the area of effect.

You’ll also need to decide whether it requires praying (words), moving (gestures), and/or a focus; if it requires a focus, whether this focus is the prophet’s holy symbol or some other symbolic thing.

Some spirits can be reversed, and the reverse may be usable by different spirit types.

The rule of thumb is, make spirit manifestations versatile so that there are fewer of them, and only allow manifestations that clearly display divine power.

Fields, skills, and specialties

A field is an umbrella of related skills. One or two fields is likely to make a normal person’s profession. Fields describe the profession or kind of profession, and the skills within the field describe specific actions. For example, if your game has a lot of smuggling, you might add “smuggling” to the list of fields. On its own, though, smuggling is not a skill: it doesn’t describe a specific action that can be rolled. Some likely skills within the smuggling field might be hide, bluff, or misdirect. These are the actual things a character might do when trying to smuggle something.

A player may choose any field or skill, even one not listed, as long as it doesn’t conflict with a restricted field set or a specialty. A field improves the character’s ability and reaction rolls, and does not greatly increase the power of the character. You will want to examine new skills to make sure they aren’t already covered by existing skills, and to see whether or not they should belong to a specific archetype. Skills should not directly assist archetype-oriented functions such as combat and magic.

If you accidentally allow a skill which shouldn’t be a skill, there’s nothing wrong with removing it from play or reducing its scope. If removing a skill greatly changes the game, it shouldn’t have been a skill in the first place.

Specialties are more powerful. Specialties can directly affect an archetype’s abilities. Specialties expand on the basic archetypes to create unique characters. If you allow new specialties, you should carefully examine them for prerequisites (other specialties that must be taken first) and requirements (moral code, archetype, minimum level, and minimum ability scores). Also, ensure that the specialty is a single specialty; if it should be two specialties, break it up. Try to keep your specialties fantasy-oriented unless you specifically wish to break away from the fantasy genre.

When you allow or create a new specialty, always reserve the right to modify it at a later time as you “playtest” it. You’ll always discover more about a specialty’s scope once it’s in play than you could imagine when you were designing it. You should give the player the option of retroactively choosing a different specialty if you modify it so far that they don’t want it any more.

Archetype-only abilities

Flight of the Spies.jpgOnly members of an archetype can use the special abilities of that archetype. Only sorcerors can cast spells, only monks may use psychic skills, and only warriors can create a combat pool out of their attack bonuses. Where other archetypes can use similar skills, the rules specifically cover their lessened ability. For example, while fighting is the domain of warriors, other archetypes may also fight but with fewer attack bonuses and a lesser facility.

The general rule is that specialized abilities can only be performed by the archetype that has that ability, and less specialized abilities can only be performed by other archetypes with penalties to the roll and less facility with successes. Where this is likely to come into play the most is with thieving abilities. Some of the thieving abilities are things that any adventurer might attempt during their career: disguise themselves, climb a wall, move silently.

You will not want to use the thief rules for non-thieves, except as a guideline for an upper limit of ability. Success rolls will usually be against an ability rather than a reaction (reactions get better with level, and only thieves get better at these skills). For example, if a non-thief attempts to climb a wall, you’ll choose an ability (probably the worse of agility or strength) and have them roll against that ability with a difficulty level depending on the wall. A relatively smooth stone wall will likely be at least extremely difficult. The character will move more slowly than a thief—probably one sixth movement. And their movement will be louder than walking: they’ll be breathing more loudly and letting mortar drop to the ground.

On the other hand, a thief ability as specialized as hiding in shadows will not be open to non-thieves. The thief’s hide in shadows skill penalizes other characters’ reaction rolls. A non-thief trying to hide will at best be able to avoid granting their opponents a bonus to notice them.

What do levels mean?

Levels are more for players than characters. Levels apply to characters only insofar as they are filtered through the narrative that the player constructs for their character. Normally, that narrative involves a neophyte warrior, wizard, thief, prophet, or monk realizing their potential as they progress through adventures. It’s easier that way, and easier is often best. But there’s nothing wrong with a player deciding that their first-level warrior is a skilled war hero, or that their first-level sorceror is an ancient wizard. The rules won’t change, but if they can construct their narrative appropriately—why they won’t defeat scores of goblins single-handedly like they did in the war, or why they aren’t using the earth-scorching magic they’re famous for—that can be cool.

This also works backwards. Some specialties allow the player to rewrite the past, as long as it doesn’t contradict what’s happened so far. Levels don’t exist to be contradicted. Take, as an example, a tenth-level sorceror with a teleport spell, who wants to teleport to a place they visited, briefly, on their first adventure. The player wants their character to be “extremely familiar” with the place so as to avoid injuries.

The character also has the specialty Foresight. The player can’t, however, choose to say that in reality the character spent months becoming extremely familiar with that location. It doesn’t fit with what’s gone before.

However, there is a third-level spell, Wizard mark, that lets them mark a place for later use as “extremely familiar”. If the character has that spell now, the player can use foresight to have cast it back in that first adventure—even though the character was first level at the time and, if they’d played it through then, would not have been able to cast a third-level spell. It’s the player who is bound by the rules, and the player’s character is now tenth level. As long as having cast wizard mark doesn’t contradict anything that’s gone before, they can have cast it, spending the necessary verve and mojo now.

This is even true if they don’t currently have the wizard mark spell! The player can decide to spend the mojo right now to get wizard mark, and then spend the mojo and verve to have cast it way back in that first adventure, as long as knowing wizard mark all that time doesn’t seriously contradict anything, which it probably won’t.

Bringing in new characters

Bringing in new characters is more difficult than starting a new group. First, you’ve got to “back-story” some reason for the new character to want to join the existing group. The new character could be a never-before-mentioned relative or friend of an existing character (including, if the new character is replacing a dead character, of the old character). Or, the new character could be searching or striving for the same thing—or a related thing—that the existing group is striving for. Or, they could meet through chance and join up on the hope of glory, money, and/or friendship.

Sometimes an existing non-player character can make a great new character.

The new character’s “I will explore” statement should justify why they are joining the existing adventurers, or provide incentive for joining the existing adventurers.

Experience points

A stickier issue is experience points. The obvious thing to do is start new characters with zero experience points. After all, they’re new characters that haven’t been played before. But not only does this make new characters that much more likely to die off because they’re over-matched by things that the existing group can easily defeat, it also isn’t true to our fantasy sources. As characters increase in experience, they meet comrades of similar experience.

One solution is to run the new character through a separate set of adventures to bring them partially up to level. This is most viable when there are multiple new characters coming in at the same time, and it can be especially profitable when the new characters are being played by new players. New players are often best started with low level characters so that they can familiarize themselves with the game and with their own abilities. And they are often best started on their own with no experienced gamers becoming impatient or laughing at their lack of expertise. Even good-natured ribbing can sometimes throw a new gamer off.

For experienced gamers who are coming in new or who are replacing a dead or retired character, it makes sense to give their characters enough experience to make them viable as part of the group. Have the player write up an outline of what their character did that makes them this experienced.

How much experience do you give them? This is really up to you and your group. Simple solutions are best: give them enough experience to match the lowest-experience character in the group; or give them two-thirds the experience of the lowest-experience character in the group. I use the latter.

If multiple new characters come in during the same adventure, give them the same initial experience points, even if they come in at different times.

Characters must start at least 300 experience points, plus 100 points per level, away from their next level, so that they have a reasonable amount of time to use their first level mojo.

Bringing in new characters: Mojo

Whatever level a new player character starts at, they get to use the discounted mojo costs during that first level. Characters starting at higher than first level begin with ten plus twice level mojo, modified by their archetypal ability as a major contributor.

Spells cost one mojo per spell level. Mojo spent on equipment is worth level times thirty silver coins.

Moral Codes

Unaligned characters

Being unaligned has advantages, but it also makes characters susceptible to divine charms such as divine service. And as they rise in power, they will enter situations where moral code matters, and will be unable to take advantage of those situations.

Characters who do not have a moral code will likely, at some point, have to make a choice. Many specialties require a moral code; if players create their own specialties, watch carefully for indications that a moral code of some kind is required; this can mean that the specialty is about taking a stand, such as an exemplar or merry band, or that the specialty deals in places of power, such as power shift or staff of power.

Changing moral codes

At each level advancement, consider whether or not the player character has changed (or, for unaligned characters, gained) their moral code. If you think that the character has been acting in accordance with a moral code other than the one they have on their character sheet, talk about those actions with the player.

Ultimately, it is the player’s choice whether their character changes or gains a code.

When a character changes or gains a moral code, it’s a bit of a big deal. It should be accompanied by acts of atonement, enlightenment, or righting past wrongs.

Often, especially for unaligned characters, the act that triggered the character’s new moral code is the atonement. The many classic Seven Samurai-inspired movies are examples of characters undergoing this type of change.

Ask the player whether they want their character to atone for their past moral code or lack of one; or whether they want their character to right past wrongs (from the perspective of their new moral code) that their character has committed or encouraged. If they do, ask whether they want their character to initiate the atonement, or if they want the game world to somehow require it of them.

In either case, it should make for a great adventure.

Be careful not to shift the focus of the narrative too far away from the other player characters. One thing to consider is that when one character in a narrative undergoes such a change, other characters might be doing the same. This shifts the focus from one player character changing, to some characters changing and others remaining stalwart. The atonement adventure should apply to all of the characters.

Playing Evil

Evil individuals make a choice of being evil, although they aren’t likely to call it that. Evil is selfish and manipulative. At the extreme ends, evil is sociopathic. While they won’t necessarily call themselves evil, the choice is still made. There are people who pride themselves on successfully manipulating those around them, and who even argue openly that such manipulation is the right way of dealing with others.

Evil often considers itself pragmatic, but usually this pragmatism is short-term. This doesn’t make it necessarily the same for every evil person: an evil Elf is likely to see a different short-term pragmatism than an evil Orc. The Elf may have hundreds of years left; the Orc only years.

Player characters should not be evil, unless the entire gaming group wishes to play an evil or mixed-morals party. Gods & Monsters isn’t designed to support the inter-player conflict that evil player characters will likely cause within adventures.

If one player wants to play an evil character, the other players should be informed. If a player doesn’t think that others in the group will be able to act correctly with the out-of-character knowledge that the player’s character is evil, consider that those other players are probably not going to enjoy the gaming session either. Any players that aren’t mature enough to suppress out-of-character knowledge aren’t likely to be mature enough to enjoy the role-playing challenges of playing with a secretly evil character (and that’s only the polite way of putting it to the player who wants to secretly play an evil character).

Characters: Prophets

Prophets, as might be expected in a game called Gods & Monsters, are a special class. Often, their use of Divine Guidance will help the player characters know what the right direction is when they’re lost during an adventure.

But more than that one spirit manifestation, prophets pray for guidance every time they call new spirits. Their deity will intervene if there’s a spirit that their deity wants them to have. Don’t hesitate to give prophets spirits other than what the player wanted when there’s a good reason from their deity’s perspective. Determine one or two spirits that the character should call, and if the character doesn’t call that spirit, replace one or two they did call with what they should have. Tell them this when they call the spirits, so that they know their deity has different plans for them.

When that happens, they will probably start looking for an appropriate place to manifest Divine Guidance, so be ready with a good riddle, omen, or divine tirade.

Overpowering player characters

Sometimes characters will get into situations they cannot win. They’ll take the wrong turn and suddenly face overwhelming odds, or in the course of the adventure they’ll face a much stronger opponent. You’ll find that players often have their characters fight to the death rather than allow them to be captured and stay alive.

This is not so unrealistic as you might think as the omnipotent Adventure Guide. It is certainly true to much of our pulp sources where heroes fight on against overwhelming odds until completely incapacitated, and it even makes sense in real life. If characters surrender to a small hostile group now, they will only find themselves disarmed and facing a larger hostile group later. This is true whether they’re facing bandits or lizard-men. As bad as the odds are now, the odds only get worse after a surrender.

This is especially true if the characters are carrying powerful magic items, or are relying on a sorceror who requires a spell book and spell components. Unless the characters have a good reason to believe they’ll be treated well, a last desperate stand with their weaponry and spells intact makes more sense than letting their weapons and spells get taken away. Surrender almost always makes an adventuring party weaker. An infinitesimal chance of survival by fighting now is better than a nonexistent one by fighting unarmed later.

Sometimes you’ll have been the one to pit the characters against overwhelming odds for the sake of a greater storyline. You have to be very careful when doing this, and make certain that you understand the situation from the character point of view. The players might know that you wouldn’t put their characters in an untenable position, but you can’t ask their characters to trust the Adventure Guide. The characters don’t know the Adventure Guide. The characters only know their enemies. If the characters can’t trust their enemies, the players aren’t going to have their characters trust you.

Also, players often resent game master attempts to “railroad” an adventure like this. Players prefer their characters to have choices. If the adventure begins to look more like a railroad that can only go one direction than a path with many branches, players will have less fun, and will take the game less seriously. Within these rules we talk about “characters” and “stories”. We use novel-writing terminology as a metaphor for many game-related events, but it is only a metaphor. Your games are not novels. They are not “written” by a single person. If they are stories, they are stories comprised of the combined choices and narratives of every player, and part of the joy of role-playing games is that you are playing to find out what those narratives will be.

Game masters sometimes get frustrated by what they see as player inability to let their characters be captured within the “story”, but there’s a similar perception on the part of players to game masters: game masters often treat their overwhelming hordes as if they were one individual, instead of as a number of individuals each of whom would rather not die today.

Or worse, as simply a tool to force a plot line.

It is important to look at these choices from the character perspective. It also helps to look at some examples of captures in our fantasy sources and in real history.

In real life, enemies on the medieval battlefield would often capture enemy leaders and ransom them later. This was partly because both sides were led by nobles who didn’t want to set a precedent that nobility should be killed, and who also had the wherewithal to raise money to pay a ransom. This situation doesn’t often apply to player characters, but if it does you will want to make sure that the characters know ransoms are expected. And that ransoms, once paid, are honored.

In more modern times, soldiers can be willing to surrender because they know that the other side keeps prisoners of war safe. Armies will keep prisoner of war camps because they know that it makes enemy soldiers more likely to surrender. But, again, POW camps don’t usually apply to player characters in a fantasy game. They are not soldiers, and their enemies don’t usually have POW camps.

Why should characters surrender?

What reasons do the characters have to surrender? Remember, from a character’s perspective, surrender is deadly unless there is a good reason to do it. Characters must have a reason to surrender. In both fantasy and real life, surrender is usually more dangerous than resistance. Criminals don’t ask for surrender because they want to be nice to their victims. They ask for surrender so that further resistance will be even more difficult. Normal people often fall victim to that trick, and die. But heroes should be more wary, and usually are.

Can they trust their captors? Without trust, surrender is a dangerous proposition. What have the captors done to show that they can be trusted? Have their captors done anything to show that they cannot be trusted?

Characters are more likely to be willing to surrender if they have met the enemy before and know that the enemy can be trusted to honor the terms of surrender. They are more likely to be willing to surrender if they have seen the enemy act honorably or if they have seen the enemy make an overture of trust. They might be more willing to surrender to a friend, or to an enemy they’ve dealt with before.

What do the characters have that is irreplaceable? Are the characters carrying items that cannot be replaced and that are worth fighting to the death over? Have they received any indication that captured items will be returned to them? Will the removal of these items make them even weaker compared to their captors? If the characters are carrying irreplaceable items and you think a prison adventure would be fun, you’ll need some means of safeguarding those items and ensure that the players know that such means exist.

What time constraints are on the characters? If you’ve set up a situation where the world will end, or a friend will die, and the characters are under a deadline, they may well see delays as unacceptable, even to the point of death. Capture takes a long time. Captives don’t usually have any say over how quickly they get to discuss the terms of their release. Characters under a deadline are less likely to surrender unless there is some indication that they’ll be able to quickly continue on their mission.

Edgar Rice Burroughs

I’m a fan of Burroughs’ Tarzan and find it a useful source for fantasy adventures. As an example, I’ve just pulled out Tarzan and the Castaways, and found a point where Tarzan is a captive. Backtracking to find out how Tarzan was captured, we find that this is a typical example of fighting “to the death”. Burroughs (the ‘Adventure Guide’) has special plans for Tarzan, however, and the enemies capture Tarzan alive.

First, Tarzan hears hunters killing elephants indiscriminately; Tarzan considers himself protector of the jungle, so he tracks them down. They have firearms, he has none. He doesn’t care. He tells them he’s going to kill them for killing the elephant. Mullargan, the “heavyweight champion of the world”, pulls his gun, but Tarzan attacks anyway—and succeeds in disarming Mullargan before Mullargan can fire.

This is a common mistake by beginning game masters: assuming that players will surrender the moment a gun is pulled on them (or, in fantasy, a knife is at their throat). In both fantasy and real life, surrender is dangerous in such situations. If an opponent pulls a deadly weapon on you, you have to assume they mean to kill you. That’s the time to resist, and crime statistics back it up: those who resist when a firearm is pulled on them survive more often than those who surrender.

Heroes know this, and they resist. Tarzan doesn’t give up because someone else pulls a gun on him. In fact, he initiates unarmed combat against an armed opponent, to avenge a death he cannot reverse. And he’s successful.

Further down the page, some tribesmen called the “Babangos” see the fight and decide to capture everyone.

The Babangos, realizing that the three men below them were thoroughly engrossed and entirely unaware of their presence, advanced silently, for they wished to take them alive and unharmed. They came swiftly, a hundred sleek warriors, muscled and hard, a hundred splendid refutations of the theory that the eating of human flesh makes men mangy, hairless and toothless.

Marks saw them first, and screamed a warning: but it was too late, for they were already upon him. By the weight of their numbers, they overwhelmed the three men, burying Tarzan and Mullargan beneath a dozen sleek dark bodies; Mullargan saw him raise a warrior above his head and hurl him into the faces of his fellows, and the champion was awed by this display of physical strength so much greater than his own.

This momentary reversal was brief—there was too many Babangos even for Tarzan. Two of them seized him around the ankles, and three more bore him backward to the ground; but before they succeeded in binding him, he had killed one with his bare hands.

Tarzan, like any good player character, fights to the end. He knows that dangerous creatures lurk in the jungle. And he’s right: these are cannibals. They plan to eat him.

After they bind him in combat, they tie him tightly; he’s captured. Burroughs knew he was setting up a situation where Tarzan would fight to the death, so he ensured that Tarzan’s captors were willing to capture him alive even after Tarzan killed some of them. Of course, Burroughs did this by making them cannibals who prefer living flesh, ensuring that Tarzan is going to do his best to escape as soon as feasible.

Novelists have many ways to capture their “player characters” and they make use of them. Sleep gas, binding during combat, knocking unconscious, nerve poisons. Good authors do not have their main characters captured through a surrender that makes no sense from the character’s perspective. Either the surrender was set up ahead of time in a manner that makes surrender reasonable, or the surrender is forced on the characters by knocking them out or tying them up.

In a discussion about this on Usenet, another person gave a different Burroughs example. I don’t follow John Carter of Mars, but this example has John Carter surrender without Burroughs having Carter fight to the end. In chapter three of A Princess of Mars he is faced by a small army armed with firearms. Carter realizes that fleeing is too dangerous when facing so many firearms. His choices are only to fight or to surrender. He has never met these fearsome enemies before. Without more information, it will make more sense to fight to the death than to surrender.

The Martian leader recognizes this, and decides to defuse the situation. Despite not speaking Carter’s language, the Martian must gain Carter’s trust.

The Martians, after conversing for a short time, turned and rode away in the direction from which they had come, leaving one of their number alone by the enclosure. When they had covered perhaps two hundred yards they halted, and turning their mounts toward us sat watching the warrior by the enclosure.

He was the one whose spear had so nearly transfixed me, and was evidently the leader of the band, as I had noted that they seemed to have moved to their present position at his direction. When his force had come to a halt he dismounted, threw down his spear and small arms, and came around the end of the incubator toward me, entirely unarmed and as naked as I, except for the ornaments strapped upon his head, limbs, and breast.

When he was within about fifty feet of me he unclasped an enormous metal armlet, and holding it toward me in the open palm of his hand, addressed me in a clear, resonant voice, but in a language, it is needless to say, I could not understand. He then stopped as though waiting for my reply, pricking up his antennae-like ears and cocking his strange-looking eyes still further toward me.

As the silence became painful I concluded to hazard a little conversation on my own part, as I had guessed that he was making overtures of peace. The throwing down of his weapons and the withdrawing of his troop before his advance toward me would have signified a peaceful mission anywhere on Earth, so why not, then, on Mars!

Placing my hand over my heart I bowed low to the Martian and explained to him that while I did not understand his language, his actions spoke for the peace and friendship that at the present moment were most dear to my heart. Of course I might have been a babbling brook for all the intelligence my speech carried to him, but he understood the action with which I immediately followed my words.

Stretching my hand toward him, I advanced and took the armlet from his open palm, clasping it about my arm above the elbow; smiled at him and stood waiting. His wide mouth spread into an answering smile, and locking one of his intermediary arms in mine we turned and walked back toward his mount. At the same time he motioned his followers to advance. They started toward us on a wild run, but were checked by a signal from him. Evidently he feared that were I to be really frightened again I might jump entirely out of the landscape.

Burroughs makes absolutely certain that Carter knows it is safe to surrender. The army’s leader orders his army to back off so that he faces Carter alone. The leader steps off of his horse, and then throws down his weapons. He speaks clearly (if unintelligibly), and holds the restraint in his open palm. When he has captured Carter and he asks his army to return, they start running. He tells them to slow down and not be so threatening. Carter not only has a reason to trust his enemy enough to surrender, he knows he can trust his enemy even after he has surrendered.

Honorable enemies who seek to capture powerful foes with minimal loss of life recognize that their enemy must trust them. They will make graduated promises and keep those promises even after their captives surrender. And it makes sense for opponents to want the other side to surrender. Surrender minimizes the loss of life on both sides. Groups that accept surrender and treat captives well will find that more opponents surrender rather than fight to the death. This applies to player characters as well as to non-player characters. If the player characters gain a reputation for killing captives or treating them poorly, their enemies will fight to the death or run away if it is safe to do so, but will rarely surrender.

Gender and our taboos

Gender is almost never referenced in the game rules. Assuming basically humanoid races, gender will usually, but not always, be male or female

Gender has no effect on the game rules. There are no rolls for pregnancy, for example. Player characters should never become pregnant, nor should they become parents, unless the player initiates it and requests it. Guides should not require major, permanent changes to player characters without player approval. Similarly, player characters should not be subject to rape or similar humiliations. While it may be realistic in some of the circumstances adventurers find themselves in, this is not a realistic game.

It is very easy for a game to spin out of control, with lasting detrimental effects to the players’ friendships, if these cultural taboos are broken. Players may find it interesting to play through some of these events: characters may become pregnant, may change gender, may lose arms, legs, or senses at the player’s request. The Guide, however, should never make the request, even as a suggestion. They must come specifically and explicitly from the player.

  1. Adventures
  2. Running the Game
  3. The World