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Old 02-02-2015, 06:18 PM   #1
Join Date: Mar 2013
Default [Campaigns] Non-Dungeon Fantasy

Hey all,

Just figured I'd gather some opinions from the community. I just got a Fantasy game off the ground that I've been prepping for for quite a while. The game takes place in a well-forested medieval nation about the size of Great Britain, with plenty of politics for the nobles and plenty of wilderness for adventurers. The players surprised me somewhat with their choice of characters: a wandering Jack-of-All-Trades with some magic up her sleeve, a high-noble forensic sorceress who moonlights as an art thief, and a disenfranchised blueblood with plans to assassinate his way up the social ladder.

I was able to get them all together for the first session; the wanderer and assassin got caught up in a murder investigation being worked by the sorceress, and were strong-armed into cooperating. I'm hoping that they'll have developed enough comradery that they'll make a point of sticking together after all is said and done. There has been a little bit of combat thus far (a scuffle with some street muscle), but I plan on keeping combat to a minimum, as none of the players are particularly combat-oriented.

What are some ways to keep the campaign exciting and distinctly "Fantasy-flavored" in absence of the traditional exploration, dungeoneering, and monster-hunting?

I have no problem running a less-combat-intensive game, I just don't have the best idea of how to do it successfully.

Please and thank you, everyone,

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Old 02-02-2015, 06:33 PM   #2
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Join Date: Nov 2004
Default Re: [Campaigns] Non-Dungeon Fantasy

Offhand, it sounds as though the assassin has got a perfectly good reason to hang out with the sorceress; connections in the legitimate nobility can only help his cause. Depending on the wanderer's motivation for wandering, she might well stick around as long there's a meal ticket in it for her.

As for keeping it 'fantasy themed', you've got two spellcasters onside already, which should do for a lot of it. Other than that, make sure that, e.g. the sorceress has to deal with magical criminals (there's been a string of murders involving victims being bled out and the blood is nowhere to be found; is the culprit a vampire, a blood mage, or a simple serial killer?)
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Old 02-02-2015, 06:45 PM   #3
Join Date: Mar 2013
Default Re: [Campaigns] Non-Dungeon Fantasy

Another problem, or, more specifically, little hiccup, is the financial/status difference between the characters. The forensic sorceress is the daughter of one of the most powerful men in the country, a Status 5 patriarch of one of the most powerful Houses in the country. The player took her father as a Patron, and as such has her Cost of Living covered. The other players are in more dire financial straights, and will probably end up having to work a Job to make ends-meet. GURPS: Basic Set specifically states that you shouldn't allow wealthy players to bankroll other players, as it lowers the relative value of various Advantages. If the wanderer and the assassin end up working full-time jobs, how are they going to realistically find time to tag along with the sorceress?

I suppose they could charge "consultation fees" on cases, but neither of them are investigative types, and it wouldn't make much sense for the Justice Department to be handing out payment to non-professionals.

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Old 02-02-2015, 07:09 PM   #4
Join Date: Sep 2004
Location: Montréal, Québec
Default Re: [Campaigns] Non-Dungeon Fantasy

You can let the sorceress hire the other PCs, though. The points she paid for cash ensures that the group cares for her priorities, and as hired help they can't easily claim a share of treasure.

As for material, most fantasy literature and films has very little dungeons in it - they're really a roleplaying and video game thing - so have a look there for inspiration.

A lot of "standard" types of stories adapt really well to fantasy tropes, as well: take an episode of Law and Order or Longmire and drop it into your medieval world, it should work fine. GURPS Mysteries is your friend.

Keeping the fantasy flavor is mostly about sticking pointy ears on people, really. Replace any subculture with elves, dwaves, gnomes and so on. Make the killer a werewolf. Have the intrigue be about a stolen magic item instead of a painting.

What I did in my D&D3 campaign was populate Europe with various fantasy races, but maintain (my stereotyped perception of) national character - Halflings in Belgium, Elves in Italy, Gnomes in Holland, Orcs in Poland, etc. If you don't tell them the rock people are basically Morrocan, they might never notice.
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Old 02-02-2015, 08:17 PM   #5
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Default Re: [Campaigns] Non-Dungeon Fantasy

Yeah, the other PCs effectively have Duty: Work for Sorceress in exchange for higher Wealth.
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Old 02-03-2015, 08:06 AM   #6
Join Date: Jun 2013
Default Re: [Campaigns] Non-Dungeon Fantasy

Originally Posted by Jinumon View Post
If the wanderer and the assassin end up working full-time jobs, how are they going to realistically find time to tag along with the sorceress?
So... don't have them work full time Jobs. They're likely going to be investigating some rather unsavory types, who aren't unlikely to have a good deal of illegitimate wealth. If the sorceress looks the other way, they should be able to cover their Cost of Living in that manner. Heck, a generalist and assassin should both be pretty decent at sneaking around, so they could work to reconnoiter places that need investigating and "liberate" some funds while they're at it.
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Old 02-03-2015, 09:21 AM   #7
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Default Re: [Campaigns] Non-Dungeon Fantasy

It sounds like you should focus on developing major NPCs in your campaign - villains, allies, and bystanders alike - as well as the settlements the PCs will visit. That will allow for lots of social interaction outside of classical dungeoneering and wilderness exploration.

These can still be fantastic. Apart from wizards' guilds and similar organizations with people capable of using supernatural power, nonhuman beings can live in such places just as well. You didn't mention whether the setting has nonhuman races - adding elves, dwarves, halflings and the like to your settlements will go a long way towards making them fantastic. Furthermore, many "monsters" might live in settlements as well - from wererats living in the sewers to vampires posing as living nobles.

How much have you detailed the supernatural elements of the setting? What exists, and what doesn't?
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Old 02-03-2015, 09:35 AM   #8
Join Date: Oct 2010
Location: Cambridge, UK
Default Re: [Campaigns] Non-Dungeon Fantasy

Originally Posted by Jinumon View Post
a wandering Jack-of-All-Trades with some magic up her sleeve, a high-noble forensic sorceress who moonlights as an art thief, and a disenfranchised blueblood with plans to assassinate his way up the social ladder.

... the wanderer and assassin got caught up in a murder investigation being worked by the sorceress
I see a way the characters can play both sides of the street here. They can carry on working in crime investigation, while using it as a means to spy out places to steal from, people whom they want to assassinate, and so on.

This gives you a different source of plots: the kinds of crimes that happen in a setting where there is magic, alchemy, and so on, including fantastic ways of committing crimes, detecting them, and so on. This should get the characters up to speed in ways of avoiding getting caught when they commit crimes of their own, although they'd be well advised to buy up their Acting before they get asked to investigate a crime they did themselves.

And there's another phase for the campaign when it all goes wrong and they have to flee the city.
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Old 02-03-2015, 03:41 PM   #9
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Default Re: [Campaigns] Non-Dungeon Fantasy

You should also consider the nature of power and wealth, in your fantasy society.

How do people seek the security of prosperity? In most medieval-style settings, the vast majority of wealth requires control of agricultural land.

The "wealthy" in such settings are those best able to take the lions' share of the limited surplus produced, while at the same time leaving their people enough food and other supplies to keep them (reasonably) healthy and happy.

However, such economies have very little in the way of real wealth, and the gap between rich and poor is pretty narrow. Lean years are bad for everybody, including the family of the local lord.

Real wealth comes when the agricultural hinterlands consistently and reliably produce enough surpluses to trigger specialization and trade. That, in turn, triggers the growth of towns, which concentrate the available wealth.

That creates the sort of disruptive economic change that drives political drama. Those who control the wealth in a society mostly control the power in that society, unless sufficient limits (both formal and customary) exist to keep them in check.

Change happens even more rapidly and disruptively if the local royalty -- whose power has been limited because the lower nobility controlled the land -- has started to side with the towns. Now, he extracts enough taxes to form a full-time, professional army, that prevents the local lords from throwing their weight around in the towns. In return, all the king had to do was grant trade monopolies and other entitlements that helped the towns at the expense of the noble land-holders.

("Yes, you most certainly can raise goats, milord, but you must sell the wool, parchment and cheese at the market in Riverdale. You can't sell it directly to the dwarves of Jarlton, yourself, because his highness has granted that monopoly to the Riverdale Guildhall. Oh, them? That's a troop of the king's chevaliers. We've had a lot of trouble with banditry and smuggling, of late, and his highness has graciously sent them to help secure the roads, milord. Oh, no, milord. Only the roads. They would never enter your desmesne without your permission. Now, how much military service do you owe his majesty in exchange for the rights to hold your fief?")

If you add in the possibility of international trade, and the notion that while the lords control the surface of the land but the king owns the mineral wealth, then you have even greater possibilities for dramatic conflict.

("Oh, your lordship would rather pay scutage to the exchequer than render direct military service? Most excellent, your grace. How would you like to... oh my. Gold dust and unrefined nuggets! Well, that would be most satisfactory, of course. It must have been a particularly good year for goat-cheese....")

Basically, you need to set up the sort of conflict driven by change that threatens the status quo, and offers the opportunity to move wealth and power to different groups than those who possess it, currently.

That's the sort of political upheaval that allows assassins to make a living, mobs to make money from coercion and wealth redistribution, and "security experts" to provide useful services.
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Last edited by tshiggins; 02-03-2015 at 03:49 PM.
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Old 02-03-2015, 04:26 PM   #10
Join Date: Jul 2007
Default Re: [Campaigns] Non-Dungeon Fantasy

You've got a lot of good suggestions here. I'd double down on what Jürgen Hubert and tshiggins say before tossing in my own say.

Even in relatively stable societies, you're going to have competing claims to monopolies, land or other rights/titles/whatever. A father conquers a territory and does a bad job of dividing it. A noble dies with no clear heir. Contradictory monopolies are created by the law. The king's favorite wants something, but another noble holds clear title and the king can't just seize the property.

Lots of adventure here, just in the "Help my cause/Hurt my opponent". Wool has to get to market? Guard/Plunder the wagons. Need the support of a sheriff? Persuade him to help you/not help your foe. (monster nearby) If you want to make things particularly cynical, have neither party actually give a damn about the object of contention. It's just a contest to prove who is politically dominant.

Depending on how "medieval" your society is, you might ask "Who benefits" as a prompt to developing adventures. Remember, there's no real concept of wealth creation beyond working the land. If one guy gets something, pretty much everyone believes that at best there was an even trade. There's good fodder for jealousy, envy and greed there. Of course, there's also a lot of room for simple abuse in feudalism, but that's fairly obvious on its own.

Then there's simple corruption, and depending on the legal system (and if it's "for reals" or not) the difficulty of solving it. Extortion on the road from bandits, death. Extortion on the road from Sir Jerkface, protector of the bridge, his noble due. Both ruin trade just about as much, and the bandits sometimes look like Sir Jerkface's men at arms. Beyond this, you've got cheating tax collectors, fraudulent documents, and the uneven distribution of information about trade prices. "I would pay more good sir, but the lord in Othertown only offers 6 pennies." (when he actually offers 7)

Just remember to throw in some sword fights most sessions. They're fun.
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