Oct 25

Trollbabe and Scale: Examples of Heroic Power, Part 2


TalesOfAGM Dice Sq SmA fourth look at the ideas of Ron Edwards expressed in his game Trollbabe.



Today I shall complete the series on the ten scales by giving examples for the final five.


Scaled Examples

As with the previous article, to illustrate the principles of scale, I shall offer four examples of each scale in action. To put these examples into the context of the game, I shall use three archetypal characters: a rogue, a mage and a warrior. My final example will be aimed at the GM, and consider the types of plots that each scale suggest.


For the social- and skill-based examples we shall be following the career of Anlaf, a young rogue. The combat examples will show Theano as she increases in power. Finally, the magic examples will be taken from the career of Ragnarr the Storm Mage.


Ten Scales

trollbabeSo what are these scales? Trollbabe only has seven scales, but I have extrapolated upwards to expand the scope to fill all the likely options for a game. The examples are given for a fantasy game, but the principle also remains true for modern and SF games.


This article considers the last five of this series of ten scales.


6 A City

Or a large army.


Anlaf the rogue has expanded his control even wider at this scale, and could be the crime boss who effectively controls an entire city. Perhaps he is the leader of a pirate settlement, a fantasy version of Tortuga. He may even be a charismatic leader of a city, risen from the ranks of commoners to hold a position of power on the basis of his oratory alone.


Theano the warrior might be a noble now, with a fiefdom to rule. She could be the greatest general in the kingdom, who leads the King’s armies in battle. Perhaps she is a mercenary captain with an elite regiment of troops that are the equal in battle to a less experience force of greater numbers. The film 300 is an example of this scale.


Ragnarr the Storm Mage could now take the classic role of the Grand Vizier who is the power behind the throne for a city state. He may even rule a city in his own right, establishing a magocracy, a government by magic. Ragnarr’s spells are now truly epic, capable of mass effects, or extensive duration.


For the GM, the potential plots at this scale match the possibilities outlined above. The stakes are now city-wide, which suggests a formidable antagonist. A rampaging dragon, or a large army could threaten the city. Likewise, a branching conspiracy may seek to take control of the city. Political rivalry is a good way to set the stakes high, but in a context where simply killing the opposition is rarely a good response.


7 A Country

This scale represents a large geographical area, perhaps a few cites and associated towns and villages.


Now Anlaf is a powerful figure on a national stage, taking an active role in the Royal Court. He could have undue influence over the Queen, and thus his Thieves Guild can act with impunity. Perhaps his songs or plays are now the height of fashion, and he can subtly influence national politics through the subjects he presents at Court. Or possibly he is just a notorious thief who has stolen the Crown Jewels and the entire army is scouring the kingdom for his hideout, while all the time he lounges at noble banquets in the role of an idle fop. The Scarlet Pimpernel is a good example of a rogue at this scale.


Quite simply, Theano can be a warrior queen at this scale. She has risen now from leading a kingdom’s army to ruling it. Perhaps she is the power behind the throne, a king maker who has the military might to take the throne, but no wish to sit upon it. As a lone hero she is the match for even mighty dragons who could otherwise lay the kingdom to waste.


At this scale Ragnarr the Storm Mage is capable of the greatest spells. He could be the Royal Wizard who tends to the magical welfare of a kingdom. His is the power to summon a storm to blight the crops of a rival kingdom, or thwart the actions of a rival Royal Wizard. He will be counsellor to monarchs, and privy to the greatest secrets of the realm.


The potential plots for the GM grow ever more epic at this scale. Kingdom-wide threats and invasions offer a steady backdrop of drama and conflict. Palace intrigues could have an equally large impact on the setting, but with a tighter focus. Whatever role the Heroes have achieved at this scale, there will always rivals who seek to usurp them. Or perhaps it is the Heroes who are leading a rebellion against a corrupt queen.


8 A Continent

This scale indicates a collection of countries, more than a geographical area. It could also equate to an empire.


Once more Anlaf’s reputation spreads even wider. He could be the crime boss of a criminal empire that spreads across a continent. A network so large that the resources of a single country could not close it down. Perhaps he is the leader of a huge network of spies and informants who know the inner workings of every Royal Palace.


Theano is now at the tip of a great empire, perhaps Empress herself, or the Supreme Commander of the imperial armies. She could be the leader of the equivalent to the Praetorian Guard, the elite body of soldiers who often chose the next Emperor. Or she could be the leader of a barbarian horde so vast that nothing on the continent can stand in its way.


Ragnarr the Storm Mage can now enchant objects of immense power, or cast permanent spells. He might be the dominant voice in the Imperial Palace. Perhaps he is the Head Sage at the greatest library on the continent, a beacon of learning to rival the legendary Library of Alexandria.


The plots keep on expanding in scope. Imperial politics have a wider impact than just national ones, but the logistics and communication problems expand too. The number of factions involved likewise increases as conflicting cultures and nations are added into the mix. Plots at this scale are the epic tales of history, clashing empires and the fall of civilization.



9 A Plane

For most fantasy settings, this scale represents the entire world. For a SF game, then it could be a planet and its satellites.


Now Anlaf is the most famous person in the world, the subject of endless ballads and folk tales. He will have supernatural levels of skill, which appear magical to most people. He could be the head of a clan of ninja-thieves, who can pick any lock, hide in any space and steal whatever they want. In some ways, Anlaf is now rather bored, for there is nothing in the world that can challenge his skills. Anlaf may then turn to travelling the planes to steal artefacts from across the Cosmos.


Theano faces the same problem, she is all powerful and the stuff of legends. Indeed, she may be plagued by young blades seeking her out to prove their worth. For many doubt that the great warrior can be as invulnerable as she is in the tales. She has the skill and power to conquer an entire world, if only she can keep her bickering generals from fighting each other. Or stabbing her in the back.


Alternatively, Theano could send her armies out across the planes. Is the famous Blood War still raging? Or perhaps she wants to carve out her own slice of paradise on another world. She may even be petitioned by a higher power to join their noble cause. Theano may now be the champion of a deity, fighting for the greatest causes in the Cosmos.


Ragnarr knows all the secret lore of the world, and likely besieged with petitioners seeking his wisdom. He has become Elminster or Gandalf, with the fate of the whole world in his hands. He is now the ultimate power in the setting, and we all know the temptations of ultimate power.


In a multi-planar game, Ragnarr may seek to build himself a sanctuary away from the plots of his enemies. This would likely be on the Plane of Storm, as he is a Storm Mage, or perhaps on a demi-plane of his own construction. At this scale he could be consorting with demons and Elemental Lords as he bargains for ever greater power, or just information about his rivals.


Just as the Heroes at this stage resemble some of the most famous characters in fantasy literature, so too can the plots. Pick and choose story elements from your favourite books, and throw them at the Heroes. Yet, it does not have to be all about saving the world from yet another Dark Lord. Individual power at this scale will bring its share of personal dramas and intrigues that even the mightiest blade cannot slay. Vary the tempo of your game by highlighting the emotional dramas of the heroes too.


10 The Cosmos

This marks the largest scale for a story, this is where the gods walk.


At this scale the power of our Heroes is so immense that the differences between them as individuals start to disappear. They are now vying with the gods of the setting for power, and their stories move closer together. While the examples for each scale could apply to any of our three Heroes, at this scale there really is only one story: the journey to god-hood.


After battling fiends and planar armies, our Heroes are now set to battle the gods themselves, and stake a claim to immortality. Whether this is by snatching the crown from a current deity, or completing a sacred quest beyond the veil, this is the final challenge. Each of out Heroes is likely to seek a different portfolio of powers, but the duties of being a god and caring for their worshippers will be very similar.


So now it is time to bid farewell to our Heroes. The cosmos echoes to the endless partying of charming Anlaf, God of Wine, Women and Song. Mighty Theano, Goddess of the Righteous Blade stands guard at the portals to the City of Light. Meanwhile cunning Ragnarr, God of Lightning plots from his Fortress of Storm.


Aside from the transitional plot of attaining immortality, the stories at this scale are similar to the previous scales, only writ ever larger. Nameless creatures from beyond that seek to destroy the fabric of reality, or armies of rival gods all line up to challenge our Heroes. As power is so great at this scale, you may want to wrap up the campaign fairly soon.




Of course, you now have some excellent setting creation details to draw upon for the next campaign. Who could resist playing a new Hero who worships a previous character? Enter Roha the Navigator, Icel Frost Axe and Dardanius the Alchemist. What will be their stories?


Due to the length of this series, I split it into two parts. This final part dealt with the scales that are the stuff of epic tales. However, the principle of scales applies to games set at all levels, as I hope the first part illustrated.


What examples of scale have you found in your game? Share your experiences in the comments below.


Happy Gaming

Something for the Weekend next week: Elf or Scroll, Handling the Infodump

Oct 24

Prep in Progress: Chapter 28, Part 3

TalesOfAGM Cross


 Lack of time, limited prep & improv


The Prep in Progress entries are short summaries of my prep for my ongoing campaign The Tales of the Hero Wars.


So, it has been a VERY hectic week for me, and I lost Wednesday entirely due to the school disco. I scrabbled about yesterday to fulfil my blog requirements, and even so the long post will be late this week.


Consequently, my game prep has been equally lacking. However, there is still a little time remaining. Tonight will thus be a frantic scramble to piece together the components I might need for the game tomorrow. Of course, the advantage of adopting a more improvisational style, is that I simply prepare less. I have a lot of material unused from the previous sessions, so these will be available tomorrow if needed.


Indeed, I have a long list of tasks that I would like to complete, but now is not the time. For tonight, the focus is very much on the bare minimum of what I need to run a session. This actually makes the current situation an interesting experiment. I am sure this will prove to be a good insight into just what I really do need to run a session. Hopefully, I will not have cut things too fine, and find that I am caught unable to cope with some plot twist the players throw at me.


Then it might be time to throw in some more Nazi paratroopers just to give me time to think!


Lessons for Your Prep

Focus on what you really need, not what you would like. Adopting a prep-lite approach will always ease the burden on your schedule.


Happy Gaming


Oct 23

Voting for Storm & Shield: The Inner Council


The latest Warlock’s Journal Contest is closed.

journal square
The Warlock’s Journal is not always a precise source of information, and can often be contradictory. Close reading of the text has revealed nine potential leaders of the Inner Council. The Journal also offers multiple titles for the Inner Council leader.


A select band of planar scholars are being gathered to analyse the texts and determine which candidate is worthy of the role, and the title they will hold.


The Prize

But first, the incredible prize.


Johnn Four has kindly agreed to sponsor this round of the Warlock’s Journal. The prize for this NPC generation contest is a digital copy of his Ennie-winning NPC Essentials book.


This book is described on Johnn’s Roleplaying tips website as follows:


NPC Essentials is a huge collection of tips, techniques, and aids that will inject life and detail into your NPCs. This comprehensive book is filled with step-by-step advice on designing, role-playing, and managing NPCs during the entire lifetime of your campaigns. Also included are NPC archetypes, encounters, charts, and an example NPC-centric adventure (d20, fantasy).



The Entries

Storm&Shield LogoThe entries have been arranged alphabetically by name. These names are used in the Voting Survey, so make careful note of your favourites. The voting is explained at the end of this post.


I have prepared a short pdf listing the candidates, along with the title options.


Inner Council Voting pdf


The Voting

Voting for the contest is via Survey Monkey. You will be asked to vote for your FIRST choice and for your SECOND choice for leader. If there is a tie with the First choices, and only if there is a tie, then the Second choice scores for the previously tied entries will be added to their overall score to determine a winner.


Thus, PLEASE vote differently for the two selections, as I shall check the voting records. I will disregard ALL the votes of any entrant found to be voting the same way twice. There have been instances of repeat voting in previous contests held on Tales of a GM, so be sure that I will be checking.


Remember, vote DIFFERENTLY for your first and second choices.


Click here to vote


Voting closes October 28th.


Have fun choosing the new leader of Storm and Shield Prime.


Oct 21

Prep in Progress: Chapter 28, Part 2

TalesOfAGM Cross


Family time, the Wiki & a good schedule


The Prep in Progress entries are short summaries of my prep for my ongoing campaign The Tales of the Hero Wars.


Once again, the weekend was a complete failure for any kind of game prep. Assorted chores and family time took up all the weekend. I only managed to squeeze in a little writing by getting up around 5:30. The early morning moka pot is very enjoyable, but somehow I never found any time for the game.


This actually leads me to two conclusions. Firstly, I should take a careful look at my priorities to see if the game prep ought to be taking on a higher level. Secondly, should I actually bother with the Wiki at all? For now, I do not want to abandon the Wiki. I cannot think where I shall find the time to keep it regularly updated, but as I am not prepared to abandon it, then I shall just have to manage.


So, if I am going to keep the Wiki, then I really need to take a look at my weekly schedule, and see where the Wiki can fit in. This schedule has proved invaluable at advancing my writing, so there should be a way to squeeze in the Wiki too. It is half-term next week, with increased childcare duties. So, there will be less writing. However, I could use the time to also look at my schedule in a little more detail, and see what I can tinker with to fix the Wiki backlog.


Meanwhile, I also need to prepare for the game on Saturday. I am too busy tomorrow, so for this week my scheduled game prep will be on Thursday afternoon. First priority goes to completing the write up of the last session, which is woefully late. Next, I need the usual session outline to be finished. Then, I think it will be a simple case of drawing together a few tools to use, and then I am done. There is a lot of prep that was not used from a previous session, which I can use for this week. All of this means a light burden of game prep.


Could this be a chance to work on the Wiki? Fingers crossed.


Lesson for You Prep

A good schedule can find you time in the week that you might otherwise not use.


Happy Gaming


Oct 20

The Inner Council Contest Ends Tomorrow


Storm&Shield LogoTime is FAST running out for the latest round of the Warlock’s Journal Contest.


See here for a full list of the Warlock’s Journal Contests.


I have an excellent prize to give away. Would you like a copy of the superb Ennie-winning NPC Essentials from Johnn Four?


For an overview of NPC Essentials, see the Roleplaying tips website.


So what do you need to do to be in with a chance of this great prize? Easy, design a member of the Storm & Shield Prime Inner Council. This is a group who span the dimensions, with a hand in every world. Elite, well-funded and highly organised, agents of Storm & Shield can be found almost anywhere, in any environment.


Can you design the next leader of the Inner Council? In 300 words or less? By tomorrow?


Then I want to hear from you. Email your entry to Phil@talesofagm.com and be quick. The Closing Date is October 21st.




Full details of the contest can all be found on The Inner Council page.


Remember, you really need to write quickly. I look forward to reading your entry.

Best of luck

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