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    Mythic Magazine Volume 2
    Publisher: Word Mill
    by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
    Date Added: 06/05/2021 14:56:47

    "Randomized Location Crafting" is an excellent update and improvement on The Location Crafter. It's cleaner and easier to use than the original. The Area Elements Table is a nice improvement.

    The Random Element Descriptors Table is good on its own for describing a Location, Encounter, or Object. It has an additional use that the text doesn't mention: It can stand in for the Descriptor 2 table from Mythic Variations 2. The Descriptor 2 table strives to be a generic, one-size-fits-all list of adjectives you could apply to characters, places, and things. Some of its entries are harder to apply to one category or another. If you know you're describing a character, a place, or a thing, you can use the Encounter, Location, or Object column from the Random Element Descriptors instead of the generic Descriptor 2 table.

    The Area Elements Table creates the opportunity for external plug-ins: random generators you've found or created outside of the Mythic family of products.

    • If you get the "Random" result from the Encounter column, the article has you roll up a couple of Random Element Descriptors to figure out what it might be. Instead (or maybe in addition), you could use an external encounter generator you like.
    • If the Area Elements Table gives you the "Known" result, the article has you roll on the Known Elements Region Sheet. You could add the name of your encounter generator as a known element. Maybe you added "Tusken Raiders" to the Encounter column because you want them to be present, but you might also add "desert encounter generator" as a known encounter. You won't roll up the encounter until you see that result during play. That reduces your prep time and gives you adaptability during play. It lets you factor in other considerations on the spot, such as day vs night encounters or common vs rare encounters, without having to fill up the region sheet and without having to hard-code specific encounters ahead of time. Similarly, you might have external generators in mind for locations and objects.

    "Making the Most of Altered Scenes" is also helpful. I do find occasions when I want more inspiration for altering a scene. By the way, it took me a while to realize what the heading "Random Event Graft" was supposed to mean. I was immediately thinking of "graft" in the sense of political corruption. Eventually, it sunk in: "Oh, right, like grafting plant parts." :-)

    As usual, Tana Pigeon's writing is clear and organized. The fully worked examples are very good.



    Rating:
    [5 of 5 Stars!]
    Mythic Magazine Volume 2
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    Mythic Variations 2
    Publisher: Word Mill
    by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
    Date Added: 01/25/2021 16:54:44

    An excellent addition and update. It's clearly written and it hangs together nicely.

    The Fate Check (for yes/no questions) is cleaner and easier than the earlier Fate Chart. You don't have a table of 297 numbers to look up (198 of which were in a microscopic font size).

    The Detail Check (for open-ended questions) is also good. I like the mix of possible outcomes that inspire a direction to take: some that focus on particular characters, some that focus on particular threads, and some that stir emotional reactions. The table of examples ("Victor Milgrew Detail Check Question Examples") is helpful.

    The meaning tables for descriptions and actions don't do much for me. Neither did the previous Action/Subject tables. They're too generic and they don't always match up well with each other. Results like "Helplessly Healthy" and "Imitate Portals" are more likely to slow me down than to help me. My preference would be to see something like a "Meaning Table Crafter." Instead of handing you two prefab d100 tables that are supposed to accommodate every genre and every tone, it would guide you in creating your own d20, d10, or even d6 pairs of tables, for themes that suit you. You might use the Adventure Crafter themes (Action, Tension, Mystery, Social, and Personal), or just Combat and Conversation themes. You might also prefer tables that suit your game's tone, such as light entertainment, noir, or whatever. I'd get a lot more out of something like that than I do from universal tables. Granted, the meaning tables are completely optional, so I can skip them and no harm done.

    The Event Check is nicely done.

    I like the Behavior Check. In a sense, it's the Chekhov's Gun principle, applied to character descriptions. (One version of Chekhov's Gun: "If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there.") In other words, the Behavior Check is a way to make character descriptions directly relevant. If you say a character is cheerful or gloomy or whatever, the Behavior Check gives you a way to use it.

    The Behavior Check also exemplifies the "Focus on the Critical Few" principle. Some game systems would have you roll up bunches of traits for characters -- traits that you might mention once and then forget about. In the Behavior Check, no more than three traits are going to matter, so indirectly it encourages you to use restraint when cranking out traits.

    As much as I like the other chapters, I don't see the point of the Statistic Check. It's six pages on rolling up character stats (or other stats) into a generic form, and then you have to convert the generic results to the game system of your choice. In most RPG systems, stat generation is already pretty straightforward ("Assign these values to these stats" or "Roll these dice and assign them to these stats"). Even if I played a super-crunchy system with character creation that involves hours of dice rolling and lookups in tables and flowcharts, I'm not seeing how the Statistic Check would help. It seems to me that the Statistic Check complicates the process without enhancing it. In addition, I've stopped feeling the need to randomize every creature's stats. If you're facing an ogre, here are the ogre's stats. Period. Every time. Is the game really enhanced if Ogre 1's strength is a smidgen higher than Ogre 2's? Not for me. The more interesting situation for me would be that Ogre 1 is power-hungry and Ogre 2 is lazy, or that Ogre 1 is the chieftain and Ogre 2 is a hunter, or that Ogre 1 is known as The Mighty while Ogre 2 is known as The Sly; those traits will manifest when you do a Behavior Check. I don't need to randomize their stats to make them interesting.

    Finally, kudos to the writer (and any editors) for the good, clear writing. So often, RPG writing makes me think, "For crying out loud, use a spelling checker, learn what apostrophes are for, and study grammar!" Not here. Nicely done.



    Rating:
    [5 of 5 Stars!]
    Mythic Variations 2
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    High Fantasy Magic: A Simple Magic System for Fate Core, Condensed, & Accelerated
    Publisher: Tallstrunt Press LLC
    by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
    Date Added: 01/22/2021 18:35:09

    Of the various Fate magic systems I've seen, this is my favorite. It's a good combination of ease of learning, ease of use, and flexibility. I like the discussion on setting difficulty levels. I like the concept of using a sequence of resolution mechanics (no roll needed, single roll, aspect needed to roll, challenge, contest, conflict, session, scenario, story arc) to decide how much effort is required for a given magical act. It's a good use of the Fate pacing toolbox. Nice touches include describing animated creatures and enchanted items in simple but usable ways.

    High Fantasy Magic lists thirteen magical disciplines. They're a pretty good mix. You could easily add your own: a one-paragraph overview, maybe some typical stunts, and maybe some notes on the animated creatures and enchanted items the discipline would create.

    I use it with Fate Accelerated. The three permission aspects in HFM tell you which approach goes with each. It's easy to see why those approaches were chosen (e.g. Clever if you learned magic through years of study), but I've stopped using that one-approach-fits-all-magic viewpoint. I'd rather encourage players to use a variety of approaches. When you're the wizard of the group (for example), using one approach for all your magic tends to turn you into a one-approach player. I'd rather see an air magician use Forceful to blow down a structure, Quick to fly like the wind, Sneaky to blow forest debris across the group's footprints, and so on. The permission aspect says how you acquired your magic, and that still matters, at least for roleplaying purposes. A wizard whose studies focused on air magic and a priest of the sky goddess are still two different things.

    If I stuck with one approach per permission aspect, I'd expand it to six permission aspects to give each approach a shot at some magic.



    Rating:
    [5 of 5 Stars!]
    High Fantasy Magic: A Simple Magic System for Fate Core, Condensed, & Accelerated
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    Heads or Tales
    Publisher: WizBot Games
    by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
    Date Added: 12/28/2020 10:55:37

    Heads or Tales is great storytelling fun. According to your preference, make it all up on the spot or plan some material ahead of time (situations, characters, locations, items, etc.). Be ready to "run with it and have fun" during play. If your group can't approach this as improvised group storytelling, or if you can't bear to do without rules crunch, this isn't the RPG for you. We played this over video chat (because of the pandemic and geography). It worked out just fine because our group can use the honor system for flipping coins and eating tokens (yeah, eating your do-over tokens is a thing). If you have a player who isn't adept at making stuff up on the spot, let them plan ahead a little, or let other players suggest stuff during play when needed. If a player hates making stuff up on the fly, they might not enjoy this unless they're content to leave the improv to the other players.

    The coin flip resolution mechanism is dead simple. You know an RPG is dead simple when the core rule "book" is all of two pages long, and when the genre-specific supplements are one page each. Everything has a 50/50 chance, so instead of scaling the odds, we scaled the task until 50/50 felt about right. Is kicking in the door too easy for 50/50? Make success automatic instead, or declare you're not only kicking in the door, you're also dealing with whatever is behind it (if that feels like a good 50/50 task). Is taking down that dragon too hard for a single 50/50 coin toss? Come up with a couple or three successive challenges (which are 50/50 each).

    Recall basic probability: Estimate that roughly half of the coin tosses will fail, and therefore have consequences (injuries, mistakes, unwanted attention, unexpected delays, comical pratfalls, or whatever you make up on the spot). If you guess that your three players will face four or so coin tosses each, for example, realize that you could easily have about six mishaps along the way. Don't make the consequences too harsh or the characters aren't likely to survive past the first couple of challenges. The do-over tokens help offset the "house always wins" outcome.

    My advice is to minimize the number of coin tosses. Don't toss a coin unless both outcomes are plausible, fun, exciting, interesting, or relevant in some way. If one outcome is far more interesting than the other, skip the coin toss and go with the fun outcome. Save the coin tosses for the best moments.

    The genre-specific supplements are good. They use a series of coin flips to establish a situation. In a Wild West setting, your situation could be: "The problem is outlaws. The sheriff is dead. You're on a ranch." In a science fiction setting: "Your destination is a space station. Your ship is in red alert. You're searching for a piece of lost technology."

    Each supplement suggests some character archetypes. In the fantasy setting, "I'm a wizard" could be the full extent or your character creation process. Or maybe you'll punch it up with a descriptive adjective or two, or you'll declare yourself a member of some order of wizards. In the "run with it" spirit, we didn't worry about specific powers, limitations, or equipment. If you're a wizard, you can do wizard stuff and you have wizard stuff. That's enough to just run with it.



    Rating:
    [5 of 5 Stars!]
    Heads or Tales
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    [EBK] Empire Builder Kit - History Generator
    Publisher: Ennead Games
    by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
    Date Added: 11/23/2020 22:21:23

    Empire Builder Kit - History Generator is a rich, system-neutral resource for creating a realm's history or for creating random realm events as your campaign progresses. You make two or more dice rolls per event to find the overall event type and then to drill down into the particulars.

    In general, the events are newsworthy items, the main highlights of any given year. These would be front-page items if your setting had newspapers. They're often not on a grand, epic scale, but they're nationwide events more than personal events.

    What you don't get is a system for managing factions, economies, politics, or diplomacy, or for creating an integrated chain of events. If you want something akin to Microscope, Dawn of Worlds, or the old CountryCraft system from Dragon Magazine, this isn't it. That's no problem if you're happy with isolated events and if you're willing to handle continuity yourself. For example, suppose the History Generator tells you construction started a few months ago on a new border wall. It's up to you to remember that, decide the impact, and do something with it. If the realm opened a new spice route and you want to know how the new riches affect the realm, that's all on you. All you'll get from the History Generator (in that example) is the knowledge that a new spice route opened up. There's no calculation of how much it's worth, or what sort of spices they are, or what the market conditions are like.

    In addition to creating a realm's history, you could use the tool as an adventure seed generator. The PCs try to stop the event from happening, or they try to make sure it does happen despite opposition. Or the event just happened and the PCs deal with the aftermath. Or the PCs get hired by someone who wants to exploit the evolving situation. And so on. An event could also be the colorful backdrop for an otherwise unrelated adventure, or it could stir player interest if you're in a sandbox campaign.

    You could use the History Generator for the backstory of a PC, NPC, or special item. You might generate an event and tell a player, "You were there when it happened. Tell us about your special role in that event, and how the effects are still with you today."

    Several table results, but not all of them, assume a fantasy setting. You could apply this tool to other genres, with a few tweaks. You could "choose the next entry" or reroll, as needed. You could redo a few tables to skip over the non-applicable elements. You could reinterpret items for your setting, such as having magic become technology instead.

    You might want to doctor some tables anyway, especially the main table (Type of Event), to suit the flavor of your campaign or your realm. For example, suppose the realm engages in annual military campaigns. The chance of starting a full-scale war randomly is only 1 in 400 (0.25%). That's 1 in 20 to get the Combat & Military category, then 1 in 20 to get the "War - Start" result from Combat & Military. With 1d4 events per year, you could easily go a century without seeing that "War - Start" result. (Yep, did the probability calculation.)

    You might also want to doctor some tables if certain types of events are over the line in your group. Certain outcomes reference sexual assault and child death, for instance.

    Obviously, an alternative to doctoring any tables is to just choose the result you want instead of being ruled by dice. Nothing wrong with that. The tables still give you a rich set of menus to pick from.

    The text could use a round of editing. There are spelling mistakes (paryilcyar, assainsnations, alchaholic, alcaholohic), convoluted wording, chopped-off sentences, and so on. But it's not enough to make anything unusable.



    Rating:
    [5 of 5 Stars!]
    [EBK] Empire Builder Kit - History Generator
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    Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e
    Publisher: Arcanist Press
    by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
    Date Added: 06/19/2020 13:36:12

    This is good stuff, addressing something that has been problematic for a long time. It bugged me way back when I read Lord of the Rings -- that the only good orc is a dead orc, and any cross-breeding was considered a vile and unnatural abomination. It was the language of out-and-out racism, but somehow it became okay when orcish inferiority was a fact of the setting. And then D&D inherited that view. From a storytelling perspective, sometimes you want clear Good Guys and Bad Guys, but the assumption that was still problematic was "they're all like that, they're born that way, they have no choice."

    Separating ancestry and culture makes sense. It isn't hard to grasp.

    I get the idea behind erring on the side of culture over ancestry, but even so, there's still room for a nature/nurture debate to decide which elements belong on which side of that divide. For example, you could split the dwarf's +2 Con modifier so that it's part ancestry (+1) and part culture (+1). This is especially true if you apply the same principles to NPC cultures; giants really are bigger and stronger than pixies. I much prefer having NPCs and PCs playing by the same rules and systems.

    One could go a little farther and tie elements to backgrounds instead of monolothic cultures. For example, an elf entertainer and a dwarf entertainer might have things in common (e.g. +1 Cha) that a dwarf entertainer and a dwarf warrior don't. The cultural differences are in the menu of backgrounds a given culture offers. A rough, violent culture wouldn't offer the same mix of backgrounds that a kind, peaceful culture would offer. A sophisticated, urbanized, educated, wealthy culture wouldn't have the same mix as a scattered nomadic culture that's struggling to survive. High elves and wood elves might not have the exact same menu of backgrounds. This could add some complexity, but a) you might already have different background options for different cultures, and b) you don't have to map it all out in advance; you can build as you go.

    My one concern about the ancestry & culture approach is that the minmaxers will take even LONGER to create their characters. The player who said "I'm a dwarf raised by dwarves" and the one who said "I'm a human raised by elves" are done, while we wait around for the minmaxer to read over every option, weigh every possible combination, and go on at length about turning themselves into the ideal super-character.



    Rating:
    [5 of 5 Stars!]
    Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e
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    Fate Condensed
    Publisher: Evil Hat Productions, LLC
    by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
    Date Added: 04/09/2020 10:04:08

    I like the way Fate Condensed is presented.

    That said, I still find the Challenge/Contest/Conflict distinction overly fussy; you almost need a flowchart to figure out which resolution mechanism and restrictions apply. They're all really the same thing: A) The PCs are trying to achieve a near-term goal. B) You don't want to reduce the whole thing to a single roll of the dice. C) You want a way to treat the series of rolls as a unified whole. In writing terms, it's one beat (and perhaps a whole scene). You're managing the conflict that makes up the beat.

    For me, it's all a Contest. Whoever has the best result in the round -- no matter which action they took -- scores a victory (or two) toward whatever goal they're pursuing. The third victory achieves the goal. If you're trying to escape the erupting volcano, you're free and clear at the third victory, or it has cut off your intended escape path at its third victory. If the storm is trying to capsize your boat, it capsizes your boat at the third victory, or you're safe if you get your third. If you're trying to catch the bandits before they cross the border, you catch up with them at your third victory, or they cross the border at their third victory. If the dynamite "wants" to explode, it blows up on its third victory, or (if you're trying to flee the mine before the dynamite blows) you're safely out of the mine on your third victory.

    The intermediate victories also mean something in world. Intermediate victories for PCs fleeing the mine could mean they reach certain waypoints. If the dynamite explodes on its third victory, you know how far the PCs got based on their scores. Or you could leave the victories undefined until they happen, but they still mean something in world. PCs trying to sneak across the compound might have a mishap each time the guards score a victory, but you don't decide what those mishaps will be until they happen.

    Sometimes I'll decide that ties go to the environment (instead of making the environment a participant in the contest). Suppose "the yacht you’re searching is careening through Hong Kong harbor while a monsoon rages outside and the boat’s library is on fire." Maybe the contest is the PCs' search vs the raging fire. PC victories give partial or secondary discoveries until they find what they're seeking. The fire consumes more of the yacht each time it scores, forcing the PCs to abandon ship if it reaches three victories. If the PCs and the fire tie, I could give the monsoon a victory. If the monsoon reaches three victories, the yacht capsizes. Intermediate victories by the monsoon would be grim reminders that the ship is in danger, such as severe roll, pitch, or yaw.

    I've started applying Fate Contests to non-Fate systems. In one RPG system, we had a habit of letting battles take far too long. The Fate Contest structure now keeps those battles crisp and focused. The best result of the round scores a victory. When one side reaches its third victory, the fight is over and the winning side achieves its goal.

    I'm not docking Fate Condensed a star over the Challenge/Contest/Conflict problem, however. :-) I see it as a missed opportunity instead of a flaw in Fate Condensed in particular.



    Rating:
    [5 of 5 Stars!]
    Fate Condensed
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    Creator Reply:
    I don't know that it's a missed opportunity; running everything like a contest would drive me up the wall. Consider them a trio of tools to suit a variety of tastes.
    The Prepless GM
    Publisher: drag-n-drop games
    by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
    Date Added: 03/05/2020 14:49:34

    There's plenty to like in The Prepless GM, but it's not prepless. Preparation, in my book (well, in the dictionary), means getting ready in advance. Prepless, in their book, means "running any tabletop roleplaying game without any preparation whatsoever." The guidance in The Prepless GM is about preparing to improvise, not about ditching preparation altogether. Whenever I see guidelines that call themselves prepless, zero-prep, or no-prep, I think they have a very narrow definition in mind, as if "preparation" means rolling up the minutiae in every room of a mega-dungeon in case the PCs ever go there (quantity over quality). That would be a waste of time, but it's also a straw man: that's not the only kind of GM prep. Preparing yourself to run a heavily off-the-cuff session prioritizes quality over quantity, but it's not prepless. It's differnt prep, not zero prep. Anyone who does improv on stage has been through a good amount of preparation before they went out there; they prepared to improvise.

    Like other guidebooks of this type, The Prepless GM gives you a series of preparatory tasks, while simultaneously declaring it's prepless. Consider the irony: studying a guidebook in advance to prepare for prepless play. To quote Inigo Montoya: "You keep using that word. I don't think it means what you think it means."

    Chapter 1: Improvising Your Tabletop RPG Under the heading "The Principles of Going Prepless" (which should be called The Principles of Improvised Play), there's a good discussion on being both more adaptive and more focused ("serve the story") during play. That's good stuff, and it's applicable whether or not you're working from prepared material. The Question System is a handy way to keep the story moving. It gives you four different ways to handle questions, advising you to mix it up during the session. I like the fact that the guidebook doesn't declare there's only One True Way to do it; it acknowledges trade-offs.

    The preparation tasks from Chapter 1 include:

    • "You own all the books and know the system inside out." Whether or not you already know your game system forward and backwards, acquiring that knowledge was (or will be) prep work. You can't improvise well and keep the session flowing if you have a weak grasp of the rules or the setting. You have to gain a decent familiarity before you can improvise with it. That's preparation, not prepless.
    • "Clichés work, use them." In order to use the common tropes for your genre or setting, you need to know what they are. Gaining that familiarity is preparation, not prepless.
    • "You've watched countless of hours of tv shows, read books, and played many a roleplaying game." That's not true of all GMs. Some give GMing a try before they've acquired wide experience with the material. Even if you've been GMing for decades, you'll still spend countless more hours on your favorite entertainment media. Guess what: Spending "countless hours" on something that helps you prepare to improvise is preparation, not prepless.
    • "You can handle questions [in the Question System] in four different ways." You'll need to assimilate those four ways and understand the trade-offs so you'll be ready to use them during play. Preparation, not prepless.
    • "GMs can consult a bunch of tools and tables for generating random ideas." That means you'll need to come up with those tools and tables. Maybe you'll dig up existing tables you like. A few of them might be from Chapter 5 of this book. Maybe you'll use tables provided by your RPG system. Maybe you'll search online. Maybe you'll make up your own from scratch. All of those methods involve prep work. If you wait until session time to create them, you'll probably have some prep (for the next session) as you preserve and spruce up your tools and tables.

    Chapter 2: Cooperative Storytelling There's good material on how to engage your players in carrying the story forward. It offers some guidance on engaging different playing styles. It talks about delegating specific tasks to players, such as tracking the loot, drawing maps, and setting difficulty levels.

    Chapter 3: Plot and Drama The chapter starts with an extended quote from Stephen King, who doesn't like mapping out his plots ahead of time. He's not prepless, however. He ponders ideas "while showering, while driving, while taking my daily walk." "He starts with a super-engaging what-if questions that challenges the characters in unique ways." That's how he does his prep work.

    The material on Drama, Challenges, Schemes, and Character Goals (roughly a page on each) is solid stuff, offering tips on how to enable adaptive, improvised play with them. The tips on improving your descriptions are good. You can use all this even if you prepare material or use someone else's prepared material.

    The preparation tasks from Chapter 3 include:

    • "Pick a few things to describe every day" to improve your descriptive skills. Guess what: That's preparation, not prepless.

    Chapter 4: Formulas "A formula is a series of small questions or story elements that help you generate something more specific like an NPC or a battlefield." There are 14 of these formulas (NPCs, riddles, magic items, etc.). The chapter offers some dos and don'ts to make them work well on the fly. They're generally practical and succinct -- enough to keep play moving forward.

    The preparation tasks from Chapter 4 include:

    • "I encourage you to create your own formulas that fit your world and style of play." If you'd do that before a session instead of during one, that's preparation. If you make them up during the session, you'll need to preserve them for reuse (aka prep work).

    Chapter 5: Running a Campaign This chapter focuses on collaborative efforts for creating a campaign, creating characters, and launching the campaign. Good tips and techniques. There's some guidance on creating random tables on the fly. They give you five pages of pre-made tables you can roll against (adventures, names, traps, etc. The tables are words or brief phrases, not stats.

    A word about math. Yes, 6 to the 4th power = 1296, but that doesn't give you 1296 distinct quests. The quest table is basically a mad-libs table with four d6 rolls. You can roll up only six completely unique combinations. Once you roll up a seventh quest, you're necessarily repeating some or all of your six unique quests. That's 6 distinct combinations, and 1290 combinations that involve repetition. "We are exploring a lost city, seeking the Pillars of Time, guarded by a band of giants, before time unravels" isn't all that different from "We are exploring a lost city, seeking the Pillars of Time, guarded by dire beasts, before time unravels." The traps table has 65,536 possible combinations, but you can't get more than 16 completely unique traps out of it. The other 65,520 possible traps involve some repetition. Each of the tables for first names combines one of six prefixes with one of six suffixes. There are only six completely unique names in each of those tables, and 30 combinations that repeat part of a previous name. If you need a 37th human male, for example, you're necessarily repeating a prefix/suffix combination. That's not enough in a rich campaign setting full of NPCs that accumulate over time. Besides, there are some excellent, free, online name generators that give you a lot more name types and a lot more possible names.

    "Creating a campaign setting should take about ten minutes." "Rolling for stats should not take longer than 5 minutes" (assuming stats are the most important thing during character creation). "You are fifteen minutes into your first session when actual play begins." Well, that's optimistic. Have you met my players? I can't get them all to show up within 15 minutes of each other. RPG sessions are social occasions, so they socialize at first. Then it's time to herd the cats to get them settled in and let them get their stuff out. And then, once you get all of that (dare I say it) preparation out of the way, I'm supposed to believe that they'll start with a blank slate, come up with all their ideas quickly, and come to consensus quickly, "without any preparation whatsoever"? Nope. The initial chaos is part of their fun, so trying to rush them through it would throw a wet blanket onto the occasion and it wouldn't work anyway.

    You missed a spot or two. The book lists many ways to create content on the fly, but it says nothing about carrying any of it forward to later sessions. Unless you're running a one-shot, single-session adventure. you and your players will want to preserve some of what you came up with: tables, rulings, NPCs, relationships, locations, items, incidents, factions, etc. Recreating everything on the fly in every session (because you threw out or forgot all the previous stuff) would be maddening. This means you're probably capturing notes or making it legible and usable after a session, and reviewing the relevant material before the next session. That's preparation, not prepless.

    Beisdes, if you overdo the improv, I can imagine players saying, "Aaugh! Enough with the questions! Make a decision!" You need a balance. Some stuff isn't worth making up on the fly. For that, you can prepare. You can be smart about deciding what to prepare and what to improvise, but that process is itself a form of preparation.

    "But in order to make [the games] work as prepless games we are going to have to come at them from a different mindset. That means changing some of the ideas you are familiar with." Your players will need some explanation and possibly some persuasion when you change your practices and when you ask them to change theirs. If you give them that orientation between sessions, that's prep work. If you plan how you'll orient them during the session, you're preparing.

    Overall: Lots of good material, but it's not prepless, nor should it be.



    Rating:
    [4 of 5 Stars!]
    The Prepless GM
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    NPC Creator and Emulator
    Publisher: Eric Bright
    by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
    Date Added: 02/08/2020 13:35:58

    [Updating my review, Feb 7 2020: I try to write reviews that offer constructive feedback and suggestions to the publisher, as well as helpful information for a prospective buyer. When a publisher acts on feedback and suggestions, they deserve recognition and acknowledgment, so thanks go to Eric Bright for taking reviews into consideration and making updates.]

    The author states two goals: "1) I tried to make it so that NPCs can drive the plot better. 2) I made this a push-button, programmed PDF so you can get everything you need without flipping pages and rolling on tons of tables."

    [Updated Feb 7 2020: In the update, the author separates the text tables into one PDF and the JavaScript push-button generators into another. That simplifies life for anyone who's leery of downloading PDFs that include executable content, or anyone who has disabled executable content or gets warnings about it. The push-button option is still available for anyone who's willing and able to use it.] For me, the first goal matters more than the second. The second is a convenience, not a necessity. Furthermore, if you have security concerns about executable content in a PDF, you might have disabled Javascript in Adobe Acrobat Reader (or whatever PDF viewer you're using). The tables exist in the text, so you're not losing anything if you disable Javascript (unless the author updates the random generators without updating the text tables as well). To find out more about the Acrobat Reader settings, search for an adobe.com page called "JavaScripts in PDFs as a security risk."

    Back to the content...

    It's all system-neutral. The good news is that you can use this across game systems. The potential hassle is that it's on you to figure out what these tables mean in your game system.

    Creating an NPC

    The Creating an NPC section isn't bad, but it doesn't really add anything new. For each table in that section, you can find similar content from many sources.

    A couple of the tables are oriented toward a medieval European fantasy setting. The product description should mention that. If you've got cultures or species that don't fit that mold, you've got some customizing to do or you need other resources.

    The tables are Job Training (200 jobs with a medieval European/fantasy flavor), Social Background (20 social categories that are mostly medieval), Economic Status (wealthy, upper class, middle class, and poverty -- nothing you couldn't think up yourself), Character Motivation, Flaws, Demeanors, and Physical Descriptions. If your game system or game setting already provides tools for generating NPCs, you might not need or want any of the tables in this section. Or maybe a table or two will fill in a gap for you.

    [Updated Feb 7 2020: The term has been fixed.] By the way, in the Job Training table, someone who makes bows is a Bowyer, not a Bower (which is an attractive dwelling or retreat, or a lady's private apartment in a medieval hall or castle, or a shelter made with tree boughs or vines).

    The Character Motivation table offers 60 goals for an NPC. In general, they can serve as long-term or short-term goals or drivers for the NPC. For example, "Get revenge" could be the hook for a single adventure, or it could be the driver for an NPC's years-long search for the Six-Fingered Man. This table would be a good resource if you're not already assigning goals to major NPCs.

    The Character Flaw table is setting-neutral. It gives 100 adjectives describing various traits that make the NPC troublesome to those who have to deal with them. Nothing new here.

    Character Demeanors gives you 300 adjectives describing the NPC's overall behavior toward others. They're a mix of positives and negatives (polite, self-centered, gentle, grumpy, etc.). Character Physical Description gives you 100 adjectives. If you want either table to give different results for different character species, classes, alignments, skills, or other elements, you'll need to customize.

    Emulating an NPC

    For me, the Emulating an NPC section offers more distinctive content than the Creating an NPC section. It covers two tools: Random NPC Conversations and NPC Plot Knowledge. Both tools are usable during play (if you're willing and able to make up the specifics on the fly), or you could generate some results in advance to be used if and when you need them. Either way, the results are pretty general, so you'll need to add the specifics for your game world.

    Random NPC Conversations is a decent tool, especially for a more sandbox-oriented campaign. It's for when "you just want to talk to somebody and see if anything interesting comes up" (as the author says). Essentially, it generates general-purpose rumors.

    First, you decide whether the NPC is normally positive, neutral, or negative. Then you roll against a table of 33 "attitudes about conversation" to see what sort of mood the NPC is in at the moment. The moods are sorted approximately from positive to negative, so you have the opportunity to come up with modifiers for the table, if you're so inclined.

    [Updated Feb 7 2020: The reroll option has been turned into a specific entry. Pet peeve addressed!] Pet peeve: I'm no fan of "GM Choice or Reroll" results. My "choice" was to get random inspiration from the table. If I already had something in mind, I wouldn't have rolled on the table. If I roll on the table, I want a result.

    The next step with Random NPC Conversations is to roll up the topic. You get 60 topics. Put it all together and you could find, for example, that the NPC has a "guarded" attitude about "a source of wealth" or an "insane" attitude regarding "the heritage of an NPC."

    NPC Plot Knowledge is the tool I like best, because it ties the NPC to a particular adventure. It simultaneously develops a storyline and an NPC, so that's good stuff, for me.

    It consists of two tables: the type of information and the topic of information. For example, you could find out that the NPC knows a) the identity of b) an enemy spy, or that the NPC knows about a) a finanical loss involving b) a beloved NPC. It's up to you to come up with the specifics. The two tables blend together well, meaning you're not going to get nonsensical combinations.

    If the result is something you already had in mind, then this is your chance to share a clue. Maybe the NPC simply approaches the PCs with helpful information. Or maybe the NPC wants a favor before sharing the info. Or maybe you drop hints that this NPC knows something important, and it's up to PCs to figure out how to get the info. Maybe the NPC doesn't have the knowledge directly, but they know where you can get it.

    If it's not something you already had in mind, the result can become a plot twist. When you determine that the NPC knows the identity of an enemy spy, it could be an opportunity for a big plot twist. A previously trusted or minor NPC turns out to be a spy. Or the NPC giving you this info is mistaken. Or lying.

    To sum up: For me, the NPC Plot Knowledge tool is worth the one-dollar price tag on its own. None of the other tables are bad, but you'll probably want to adapt the results for your game world and your game system. For some of the tables, there's a good chance you can find similar, system-specific, or setting-specific resources elsewhere, quite possibly for free, or already included with material you've purchased.



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    NPC Creator and Emulator
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    The Book of Random Tables: Science Fiction 2
    Publisher: dicegeeks
    by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
    Date Added: 02/01/2020 09:23:24

    This is similar in style to the previous book of science fiction tables: a series of d100 tables with brief phrases or one-liners, no details or descriptions.

    Laboratories: The Lab Experiments table is useful for tipping off the PCs that something interesting is in the works. It might also be odd, disturbing, or alarming in some way. Items in a Biology Lab and Items in a Chemical Lab both give you ways to roll up assorted stuff. I wouldn't roll up piles of stuff for every drawer, cabinet, or room the PCs open -- boring! Instead, I'd pick one or a few things that are prominent or noteworthy and that are signficant for moving the situation along.

    Cargo & Trade Goods: Three d100 tables give you cargo contents; it's similar to Items in a Cargo Hold from the previous collection. As I noted above, I'd use this only to help pick out one or a few significant, noteworthy items, instead of rolling up every a complete cargo every time the PCs run into one. A few tables give you a name (but no description) for exotic cargo items: Fictional Trade Goods, Fictional Spices, Fictional Medications. The Cargo Weight table is useless for me; each entry is a number of metric tons -- meh. Think of your favorite science fiction movies, novels, and TV series; I'll guess that the precise cargo tonnage was never interesting or relevant.

    Encounters & Adventure Ideas: The tables are Space Hazards, Asteroid Belt Encounters, and Adventure Ideas. These are good news if a brief phrase or a one-liner is enough for you to work with. You could use these to create hooks or challenges, in advance or during play. If you're looking for more detail or structure, you'll need another resource, in addition to or instead of these tables.

    Reasons a PC is Absent: not relevant for me. For one thing, the table fills a niche that doesn't apply in our group, because we still bring characters along if a player is absent at the moment. I could have used this table for a player's extended absence, or for explaining why an NPC isn't currently available, except that the entries are generally silly, trivial, and/or short-term, such as "stuck in a lift" or "flash mob blocking the way."

    Technobabble: The two Technobabble tables combine to give you entries like Temporal Osmosis or Cotyledon Omega. It's up to you to figure out what the results mean.

    Alien Names: meh. You get 200 pregenerated names and an assumption that one table fits all aliens. There are plenty of apostrophes, if you like the overused trope that science fiction editors warn writers away from. I'd be more interested in a "generator generator" that helps you create a distinct name generator for each species you need.

    100 Corporate Names, 300 Planet Names, 300 Ship Names: handy lists of pregenerated names.



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    The Book of Random Tables: Science Fiction 2
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    The Book of Random Tables: Science Fiction
    Publisher: dicegeeks
    by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
    Date Added: 02/01/2020 08:29:59

    You get 26 d100 tables. A few of them are effectively d200 tables, spread across two d100 tables.

    The Encounters, Jobs, and Rumors section is good for brief ideas. You get short phrases, not details: Space Encounters, Planetary Exploration Encounters, Urban Encounters, Jobs, Rumors From the Spaceport Bar, and Spaceship Mechanical Problems. You might encounter a smuggler ship, hear about increased pirate activity, or have a fire in the engine room. If you prepare an adventure in advance, you could use these tables to come up with the initial hook and to create some challenges along the way. If you create meandering story threads during play, these tables could give you the tie-in to the next stage. If you use these tables for random encounters during play, prepare for improv. For example, an entry that says "Smuggler Ship" doesn't tell you anything about the ship, the crew, their current activities, or anything else. If that phrase is enough for you to work with, you're in luck.

    Several tables in the Items & Things section seem to be an invitation to roll up piles of miscellaneous pointless stuff: Items in a Desk, Items in a Government Office, Computer Files, Items in a Warehouse, Items in a Cargo Hold. The introduction tells you not to roll those up until game time to avoid wasted preparation, but I consider it a waste to roll up irrelevant stuff during play. I prefer the Chekhov's Gun principle (playwright Anton Chekhov: "If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don't put it there."). Players are good at coming up with their own red herrings, so adding piles of random stuff slows down the session instead of keeping things interesting. Instead, I might roll up ONE item from one of these tables, in advance, and declare that it's somehow significant. I make it prominent or noteworthy. Maybe I won't decide how it's signficant until we're playing. Maybe I'll be flexible about where the PCs find it. Maybe I'll roll up three items and decide that they all hint in the same direction (see the Three Clue Rule from the Alexandrian blog). Or I'll roll up two things and decide they're relevant for two different story threads. In other words, these tables aren't useless to me, but I don't use them to crank out random assortments. Finding out how many batteries and spare cuff links are in a desk just isn't interesting ... unless they're signficant.

    Some tables are good for putting a name to something when you don't want to settle for generic terms: 100 Space Stations, 100 Book Titles, 100 Drink Names, 100 Poisonous Plants, 200 Infectious Diseases, 100 Metals, and 200 Alloys. Those tables are just the names -- no descriptions. The two Code Tables are useless. Do I really need two d100 tables to pick code strings like Q29XF? Would anyone in a technologically advanced setting think that a five-character code string is useful?

    The Stars & Planets section is helpful. Types of Stars and Types of Planets use real astronomical terms, but without any descriptions. Prepare to spend some quality time with Wikipedia to find out what Luminous Blue Variables and Mini-Neptunes are. The Civilization Levels table offers 19 levels from Stone Age to Interstellar Age (without description).

    The Illegal Drugs table is the only table that offers any detail. It lists 100 fictitious drugs. The drug gets a street nickname (e.g. Dragon's Breath, Feather Shot), how it's taken, a qualitative description of intended effects and side effects, and a percent chance of becoming addicted. It's up to you to figure out what the effects mean in your game system.



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    The Book of Random Tables: Science Fiction
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    Encounters & Events - SciFi Volume 3 - Planets
    Publisher: Ennead Games
    by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
    Date Added: 01/11/2020 11:22:09

    Although it's part of the "Encounters & Events" series, these tables aren't really encounters and events. They're settings for encounters and events. They're descriptions of planetary features. Some entries are about the physical features of the planet, some about the local species, some about social or political structures, some about the planet's usage, and so on.

    Roll up or assign one or two of these for a world you're generating to give the world some character. There's a main table of 100 entries. Most entries include a d6 subtable to provide variations on the main entry.

    You won't find single-biome entries like swamp planet or desert world, but you will find entries for single-use worlds, such as Hospital Planet, Grave World, or Rubbish World. Many entries could be used to describe specific regions or sites on the planet, without necessarily describing the planet as a whole, such as Military Outpost or Jump Gate.

    Overall, the entries are in the low to medium range of science fiction plausibility. There are no input parameters or modifiers to let you adjust for what you've already established about a world. In effect, the tables assume you're working from a blank slate. A Garden World is as likely as Craters, and the tables don't know or care whether you're rolling up Mercury, Earth, Jupiter, or Pluto (or their equivalents elsewhere). It's fiction first, and then it's up to you to if you want to put some science-y explanations behind the results.

    If that's what you're seeking, this is a good tool for the job, offering good variety on various science fiction tropes. If you're seeking a science-based method for establishing a world's characteristics or the development of life or civilizations, this isn't the tool for you.



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    Encounters & Events - SciFi Volume 3 - Planets
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    Called Away - SciFi Edition
    Publisher: Ennead Games
    by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
    Date Added: 01/11/2020 00:42:34

    The described purpose is narrower than it needs to be: "a player or character can’t make it to a session or you need to have a certain character not present at the same location as others for a short time. Where did they go? What are they doing when not in play?"

    In our group, when a player misses a session, we play their character for them instead of making up reasons to take the character out of action. That works for us, so we don't need these tables for an absent player. Maybe we'd use them for an extended absence or a temporary retirement, but not for the odd missed session or two.

    However, there are other uses for these tables:

    • Roll up one to three entries as backstory for a PC or a major NPC. Describe what happened then, and how it still shows its influence today.
    • The PCs are looking for a particular NPC. If the NPC isn't available right now, roll on these tables instead of settling for a boring "not available" response.
    • If the PCs meet an NPC they've encountered before, you can roll up a result to say what the NPC has been up to since the last time.
    • If you need to convey information to the PCs about the setting or current events, roll up a result and use that as the means to convey it, maybe in the form of a news item or a conversation with a nearby NPC.
    • Use the result as the means for delivering an adventure hook, instead of yet another rumor in the spaceport bar.
    • Do you remember Morn from Deep Space Nine? He never had a speaking part, but the running gag was that other characters would keep referring to his actions that always happened off camera. Roll up an entry to say what your own Morn has been up to. In fact, I now think of these tables as the "Morn Tables."

    To get a result, you roll from the main d100 table. Some entries refer you to d20 subtables, Mad Libs-style. Here are some example results, with subtable outcomes in italics: Got into a fight/argument with another in party and stormed off. Attacked by a childhood enemy by mistake and is recuperating at a military starship. Character’s aunt lost their job as a translator and needs help. Is required to do jury service or give reason for exemption in person in nearby friendly planet or moon. An alien culture is after the character's kidneys for use in a mating ritual and they need to hide.

    In a d100 table, you're likely to start repeating results as of the 13th roll on the table (that's the Birthday Problem as applied to 100 entries instead of 365). However, replay value should still be good if you pick the next unused item instead of repeating, or if you find ways to make an entry fresh again on a repeated use. By the time I'd use up all 100 entries, I'm sure that a return to a past result wouldn't seem like boring repetition.



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    Called Away - SciFi Edition
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    Science Fiction Codex of Lists (2nd Edition)
    Publisher: JEN Games
    by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
    Date Added: 01/06/2020 04:03:18

    This is a solid collection of tables.

    The 2nd edition has more than twice as many pages as the 1st edition. That's mostly by expanding the existing tables. Many tables have more entries in the 2nd edition, such as Alien Races going from 36 entries to 200. Some tables expand brief entries into a few sentences, such as Alien World Encounters, which goes from brief phrases in the 1st edition to the phrase plus a few lines of explanation in the 2nd edition.

    As you can see from the product description and the preview, the tables cover a variety of science fiction flavors. You probably won't use every table in any given setting, but you'll probably find some relevant tables for most settings.

    The tables cover a variety of needs: planets, species, encounters, equipment, technology, social structures, and so on. You could use these tables to flesh out your prepared adventures or to throw in some random elements on the fly. You could use them to aid character generation (PCs or NPCs).

    The tables are system-neutral. It's up to you to figure out how to represent the results in your game system. For example, you could generate a world with low gravity or an NPC who's an explorer, and then you decide how to stat them up.

    Overall, there's little risk of rolling up nonsensical combinations. Many of the tables are stand-alone. When you combine tables, such as rolling up a planet and an alien species to go with it, you could wind up rerolling. For example, your planet might have low gravity, and then you could roll up a species that calls for a high-gravity world. This can happen, but most combinations work out reasonably well.

    One thing that's missing, and I'm glad it's missing, are entries like "GM's choice" or "Reroll." I don't need a table's permission to do what I want. These tables give you a result, every time.

    My frequent complaints about other random table collections include "That's not what that word means; look it up" and "Sheesh, run a spelling checker." Those complaints do not apply to these tables (yay). So maybe there's a missing hyphen here and there, but for the most part, the entries are written clearly instead of making you figure out or tolerate poorly written descriptions.



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    Science Fiction Codex of Lists (2nd Edition)
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    Town and City Builder
    Publisher: James Embry
    by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
    Date Added: 11/27/2019 15:12:52

    This is a good tool for creating settlements from villages to huge cities for a mostly medieval, low-magic setting. It's mostly system-neutral.

    It was written for the Raven of the Scythe Fantasy Role Playing Game, which I've never played. However, only two elements are specific to that game system: the prices (what's an SE?) and various modifiers, such as a -2 penalty when trying to get information from the locals in one type of district. I've stopped tracking coin totals in my games, so I don't care about the price lists. If you care about the costs, you'll have to convert 45 SE for a longsword (for example) to something comparable for your setting. The various modifiers should be easy to use directly or to convert for your game system of choice.

    The vast majority of the content isn't tied to any particular RPG system.

    It's mostly medieval, but it also includes some Renaissance or even post-Renaissance features, such as public art galleries and separate posh neighborhoods for the upper class. Conversely, a lot of material could work for an ancient setting as well. It's somewhat Eurocentric (churches and cathedrals, for example), but minor reskinning should be enough for other settings.

    The magic is limited. You'll find alchemist shops and witches' huts, but no magic shops or wizards. You could create your own "Magic District" by using other districts as a template. It doesn't mention any non-human races. If you want to create a dwarf city or a halfling village, it's on you to customize or reskin what you get.

    A big strength of the tool is that you can mix and match to give each settlement a distinct character. There are tables to select the number and type of districts according to the settlement size. You can roll them up randomly or pick and choose to create what you want. Even if you roll randomly, it's basically "guided randomness" instead of completely arbitrary randomness. The place will still ring true instead of being a random mess.

    Each district makes good sense. You get a paragraph of general description, a list of the specific places you'd expect to find there, and a list of tables for what else might be there. If you roll up an armorer's district, for example, you automatically get an armorer's workshop, and then the other tables for that districut put other sorts of shops nearby. If you don't roll up an armorer's district, some other district might still have an armorer's shop tucked in.

    Every shop type (even the things that aren't "shops," strictly speaking) gets a brief description and a price list.

    The encounter lists are good about saying who or what you encounter and how they're likely to act toward PCs. They're specific to each district type, instead of having a one-size-fits-all encounter table.

    A nice touch is that some districts have role-playing features. For example, gleaning info from the locals might be easy in an arts district or tougher in a high-end brothel district. Another nice touch is the name tables for districts and taverns. Especially for district names, you could come up with an interesting backstory to explain why a district is named Queen's Hill or Stag Court, especially if it has no obvious connection to the district's purpose.

    This isn't a mapping tool. The settlement is defined by its districts. It's up to you to lay out the city to show where the districts are in relation to each other.

    The table of contents is helpful, but it leaves out a few headings. At least one entry is out of order.

    There are some disappointing omissions:

    • No mercantile districts. There are market districts where you'll find individual shops, but nothing for the big trading houses you'd find in major trading hubs.
    • There are no wells, gatehouses, towers, monuments, bridges, lighthouses, arenas, menageries, fountains, canals, clock towers, graveyards, or bathhouses.
    • There are no embassies, military features (other than the citadel), orphanages (or foundling homes), enclaves for foreign populations, or ghettos for oppressed populations.
    • There's no mention of trade guilds or merchant guilds, although the lodges listed in various districts may cover that.
    • It makes no mention of where the lower classes live. In a rural village, field laborers would have simple homes. If a commoner practiced a trade or provided a service, they lived where they worked and they worked where they lived. The lord of the village lived in a manor house.
    • Towns and cities might or might not wind up with a "Housing (Middle)" district for "the more affluent citizens," but it doesn't say where these people live if there's not a housing district for them. Most likely, they live and work in the same place, or they have homes near where they work (no zoning laws).
    • Similarly, cities might or might not wind up with a "Housing (Upper)" district for the wealthy and nobles. It doesn't say where they live in the absence of a posh housing district. A noble probably has a home in the district where they draw their revenue (more on this below), or possibly a wall tower or gatehouse to call their own.
    • There's no mention of how nobles earn their income. This matters for RPG purposes because it provides hooks for involving NPC nobles. A rural lord collects rents and payment in kind from his peasants. A town or city noble might have a share of particular tolls, such as entry fees at a city gate, or trade tolls at the docks. A noble who presides over matters of justice gets a share of the fines. A noble might be compensated for staffing the garrison, or for providing (and leading) troops for the king's military campaigns. In short, the noble has a role or a grant that involves them in the city's daily life and operations.

    There are some wording mistakes. A maker of bows is a bowyer, not a bower. A bower (rhymes with tower) is "a lady's private apartment in a medieval hall or castle" or "a leafy arbor." The boundary between realms is a border, not a boarder. A gallery, in medieval usage, is a roofed promenade or balcony, not an art museum.

    Despite the omissions and the occasional mistakes, it's still a solid product for creating useful, varied settlements of various sizes.



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    Town and City Builder
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