Running An Adventure

So You All Meet In A Tavern...

The logistics of running an adventuring party are something which is often glossed over. So as to give you an insight into the view from the other side of the black hood, I'm going to give you a rundown of the process of putting together an adventuring party from the point of view of the patron. The aim here is to come up with a reasonable estimate for the hiring fees of adventurers and, more importantly, the probable payoffs of adventures, and also to provide GMs with a set of guidelines for designing reasonable patrons, fees and rewards.

Find Your Rumour

Most ideas for adventuring parties begin when [Patron] discovers a rumour of Terrible Darkness/Untold Wealth/Untold Wealth Guarded By Terrible Darkness. These sorts of rumours are fairly common and your average Patron type will be savvy enough to sort fact from fallacy. Here we come to the first interesting variation. Being able to sniff out a decent rumour requires a relevant Lore skill, or contacts in the relevant area. There is no reason why a PC couldn't be the one who first picks up the trail, indeed it's quite desirable, since it means the “why should we do this while you sit here in the warm” line stops flying since odds are your Patron will be coming with you.

Pay the Men

What usually proceeds is a briefing, which is often handwavy and unsatisfactory because people aren't sure what sorts of things are supposed to get said. The big issue is money. To avoid confusion I am making an Uber-GM call right here and now and stating the following:

The average fee for general purpose adventurers on a treasure hunt is 10 Hexa per head for a short journey, 20 for a long one. Cash in advance, plus a cut of the proceeds.

Average fee to retrieve an artifact or rescue a missing daughter is 20 Hexa per head up front and then a fee of anywhere from hundreds to thousands of Hexa when the object or person is retrieved.

Purely academic or philanthropic missions tend to be poorly funded but comparatively well paid, since there's no big reward at the end. We're looking at about 20 to 40 Hexa a head for the entire shebang. Half in advance.

The bounty on dangerous criminals ranges from 100 Hexa (an escaped murderer) through 1,000 Hexa (King Eric) up to 5,000 Hexa (whatever is in the Palace at Three Rivers). The usual agreement is to split the bounty evenly. Parties of adventurers rarely need a shadowy patron for this kind of work.

Dubious individuals tend to pay up to double the going rate for adventurers willing to go on a “no questions asked” mission.

So now you know. It is also worth noting that travel expenses are expected to be met. It is not generally considered part of the duty of an employer to provide his employees with healing potions and the like, that's what the cash in advance is for. It is considered de rigeur to tell your employees anything you know the knowing of which will help them do what you want them to. Travelling expenses for long journeys are expected to be paid, it tends to cost about 3 Hexa a head to send people to the Whistful City or the City of Silk, 5 Hexa a head to get to the Port of Glass or the City of Crossroads. Provisions for the journey are also expected to be provided by the employer and cost 1 Hexa per person per day.

Payoff: Economic Viability

You'll note that to send a party of five adventurers on a treasure hunt to the City of Chains, assuming a week long mission travelling via the City of Crossroads, will cost 60 Hexa in expenses even without the fees of the adventurers, this is a reasonable sum of money but is kind of high risk. The adventurers may fail, or may abscond with your cash. There may just be nothing there. Assuming that one time in eight the adventurers do make it back with the loot and assuming you've promised them half, you have 110 Hexa invested in this caper, and if you don't make at least 880 Hexa you're going to be losing money in the Digging Up Ancient Cities game. For you to make 880 Hexa there needs to be at least 1,760 Hexa in the haul, and that's just to break even long term. If you want to actually make your fortune you'll be looking to dig up as much as ten times this amount on the one dig that pays off.

Designing an Adventure

There's precious little advice that can be given about this process (at least usefully), however since this section is for guidelines, I can lay down some of my own preferences for how I'd like to see this thing run. These are only guidelines, but if you break them I'll get all upset and think that nobody listens to me.

"Why this shower of idiots?"

Guideline number one. Make sure that the PCs are suited to the adventure. If it involves a lot of sneaking about, then take Rangers and Thieves. If it involves parleying with Gods take a lot of Ordained characters. If it involves a lot of heavy fighting take warriors. Similarly the PCs need a good reason to go; “Because we're being paid” is usually a good reason, but if you're going to risk your life on another man's behalf the rewards should be big. “Because it will save the world” is also a reasonable reason. Another thing to note is the rules for advancing levels. Often the opportunity to do something that will put them up a level will provide a motivation for PCs to go off and do things regardless of the reward offered.

There is no shame in defeat

A lot of GMs are a little bit leery of allowing PCs on LARPs to lose. Sometimes this is understandable, if they need to succeed to save the world then it's probably best to fudge things to avoid trashing the setting, however in my opinion it is infinitely preferable for the PCs to occasionally have to just drop swords and leg it than for them never to feel in any danger. I am hesitant to suggest that GMs actually try to kill PCs, but for gods' sake don't bend over backwards not to, you'll only do the game a disservice in the end.

"We've got to save the world AGAIN?"

Do be careful about throwing in too many “or the world/the White City/life as we know it will be destroyed” plot hooks, because ultimately it gets silly and the PCs are eventually going to twig that you're never going to let them destroy the world, so they'll get careless.

Archvillain fatigue.

A good archvillain takes a good long time to build up, moving behind the scenes for months before the PCs actually get to scrag the bastard. I would be much obliged if people looking for a Big Bad to get away at the final moment picked one already extant in the setting, because it provides a feeling of continuity. Since I'm a physicist and like to classify things, I am going to define three distinct categories of villains. At the lowest level you get the Villains, these are the guys behind individual adventures, dodgy sorcerers, dubious merchants and of course that old favourite The Guy Who Hired You, feel free to make up as many villains as you like because the world is crawling with them. Above the villains you get Archvillains. The guys the villains secretly work for, the Big Bads of the campaign. GMs should feel that they are allowed to design their own archvillains, but I ask two things. Firstly, make sure your archvillain doesn't clash with any archvillains that are already out there. Secondly, unless I'm given a good reason to say otherwise, archvillains are public property, design one and you give everybody licence to use them as archvillains in their games as well. It is bad form to kill off another GM's archvillain, but don't labour the point. Finally on the villain hierarchy you get the Ultimate Cosmic Evil. These are strictly limited to the Powers I have defined but fundamentally with the Bound Ones, the Vitriarchs, the Light and the rest there should be plenty of terrible soul destroying evil to throw at people.

Die, Die, Die!

Another brief note on the archvillain thing. Be very, very careful about creatures that the PCs can't kill. There is little that annoys a group of player characters more than monsters they can't hurt. If you want a long fight it's better to have Monsters (the people playing them) return as new monsters (the gribbles being fought). “There's too many of them!” is a nice dramatic thing to shout as you go into a retreat, “No effect, guys” is less so. For more information about monsters and immunities to damage check the monsters page.

How Many Encounters?

This is a pacing issue. I believe that the general consensus is for 13-16 per game, although it varies according to how long you want things to go on, how much stuff you want to cram in and how much you're willing to make up on the fly. It also depends how long you want your individual encounters to be. There has been a tendency in recent games for encounters to be quite short - three PCs fight four monsters until the monsters die, then they do a bit of healing - but there's no reason why that has to be the case, having a LARP which consists of three 45 minute encounters is fine if you can work it. The most important thing to remember is that people are often going to be running around outside in the cold and the last thing, the absolute last thing you want is for people to be standing around feeling bored, damp and chilly.

What Sort of Encounters?

The White City relies far more on human antagonists than most LARPs, they're easier to phys-rep and can show up everywhere without the usual fantasy ecology problems. On established roads brigands are your biggest threat, the same goes for cities, in uncharted wilderness you're still just as likely to meet new tribes of humans as you are to run into strange gribbles. On the other hand strange gribbles are always fun, check out the monsters page for ideas.

Setting Specificities

What with this setting being as close to non-standard as you're ever likely to get with a generic fantasy LARP there's a couple of things I think I should probably highlight and clarify for all y'all.


Magic is dangerous. Really dangerous. To both the user and the target. PC Sorcerers are nasty, a third level Blood Sorcerer can bind the Big Bad to herself by magic, hold a knife to her own throat and start negotiating. A second level Ash Sorcerer can turn your Big Bad into a pile of dust with a touch. Be aware of these things, and either find workarounds for them or just let them happen. By far the best way to avoid your archvillain being turned to ash/blinded by the glory of the Light/blood-tied to the party healer or whatever is to not have them show up unless you're willing to risk getting them offed. See the notes on “archvillain fatigue” above.

Magic is still more dangerous in the hands of NPCs. A single NPC sorcerer can royally mess up a PC with a single effect (strike them blind, permanently bind them by blood, etc.). You should be very, very wary of using NPC sorcerers, and PCs should be very wary of tangling with them.

Attitudes to Magic

Magic is generally respected, but not terribly well trusted. Under the proper circumstances it is a pious activity, but only under the proper circumstances, and it's quite difficult for the layman to tell whether a given sorcerer is favoured by the gods or usurping their power to his own ends. Reaction to sorcerers, then, will go from quiet respect (for Ash Sorcerers, Light Sorcerers and, depending on the area, Chain Sorcerers) to fear and suspicion to outright terror and hostility (Glass Sorcerers). Openly casting spells can be a very good way to either really annoy somebody or scare them away. A fair few brigands will be unwilling to tangle with a sorcerer, but those in positions of authority will be inclined to keep rogue sorcerers under strict control.

The Divine

The Divine is something of a double edged sword. On the one hand it should be a real and pervasive presence in the setting, on the other hand PCs should not be facing Gods on anything like a regular basis. Followers and servants of the divine should be common, as should - much as I hesitate to use the word in this context - motifs which fit the powers involved.

  • Portraying Ash: The presence of Ash and the Burned Lords should be felt anywhere death is in the air. The presence of the Ash Lords will be manifest through stillness, calm and the presence of flurries of ash. Servants of Ash and the practitioners of Ash Magic are quiet, grim and unassuming.
  • Portraying Blood: The Old Powers are felt in the wild places, the depths of the Western Forest and the heights of the Northern mountains. There is a vital energy to them and their servants, a visceral sense of being here and nowhere else. Particularly strong attention from the Old Powers can lead to wild growths of plants or sudden manifestations of blood. The Old Powers are more frequently encountered in person than most other deities, since they are firmly rooted in the physical.
  • Portraying Light: The Light is in many ways the opposite of the Old Powers. It is distinctly distant and otherwordly, which is probably a good thing because its attentions are often difficult to endure. The chief symbol of the attention of the Light is, funnily enough, Light. Servants of the Light are pure, otherworldly and ascetic things.
  • Portraying Wind: A sourceless breeze is a sure sign of the attention of the Princes of Breath. Strange behaviours of the air, freak weather conditions and the like are all indicative of the gaze of the Princes. Servants of the Wind are changeable, capricious, and occasionally even insubstantial.
  • Portraying the Bound Ones: The Bound Ones should never be explicitly described. There is a wrongness to them, a sense that they do not belong here. Because they don't. Chain Sorcerers can summon up lesser Bound Ones, which appear as indistinct figures bound with many chains. If they break free (or are freed) they adopt some physical form. There are few descriptions of these creatures, because few people are mad enough to summon them. Half remembered accounts describe either monstrous things from nightmare or things of angelic and inhuman beauty. The Bound Ones are best portrayed through noises off, the sounds of tortured metal and twisted chains.
  • Portraying the Vitriarchs: The word “shattered” is the one that best describes both the Vitriarchs and their servants. “Shards” is another, related one. Things of the Vitriarchs are broken, splintered and shattered. Their attention drives men mad.
  • Portraying Dream: Never the same way twice. There may not even be any Dream Powers, they may just be a figment of the imaginations of those who claim to have spoken to them.
Other Spaces

First, please note that anybody caught using the term “plane” will get their eyes plucked out with a LARP safe skewer. The only “plane” people are likely to refer to is “the Shattered Plain”, which contains the Glass Tower where the Vitriarchs come from. It is possible for PCs to wind up in realms separate from the physical world, please note two things.

Firstly, this is a big deal; most people never leave the physical realm except when dead or sleeping, some Dream Sorcerers wander the dream-realm fairly regularly but that's the closest you're ever going to get to people making frequent journeys beyond the physical. Journeys to the Burned Realm are rare but heard of, usually to plead with the Burned Lords for the return of a loved one. Nobody in their right mind goes to the Shattered Plain.

Secondly, note that the number of otherspaces is strictly finite. Scholars recognise the existence of the Shattered Plain, the Burned Realm and Dream, and that's about it. It is possible that there is a realm of Light somewhere but nobody's found it yet, and the Priests of the Light insist that Light is a state of being rather than a place you can go to. There are no elemental planes, spirit worlds or even fæy realms, it's Ash, Glass, Dream or nothing.

Naming Conventions

In order to make things more coherent, I'd like people to at least be aware of the naming conventions I've used in the world of the White City. Personal names are largely European (including English) with the nobility taking a Mediterranean tint. Place names and the names of most nonhuman races that aren't cribbed from the list of common fantasy gribbles are purely descriptive, “City of X” “People of Y” “Lady of P and Q” and so on. Similarly for Powers.

gming.txt · Last modified: 2011/03/15 21:05 by osj01
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