Saturday, 23 January 2010

Stealing NPC Ideas

I'm finally finishing Quicksilver: The Baroque Cycle Volume 1. Three or four years after I bought it. But if there is one thing I continually love about this book (and hopefully will about the complete series) is the vivid descriptions of life in the 17th century.

A lot of it perfect fodder for my WFRP game. Just one example is the historical and "common sense" descriptions of the London Bridge in its 16th and 17th century incarnation. As I read the description, Aldorf's Three Toll Bridge came to mind, so much so, I felt that Aldorf's own was inspired historically by the London Bridge.

In Quicksilver Neal Stephenson describes with detail the daily life on the bridge and dangerous currents beneath the bridge induced by the "starlings" or "sterlings." These can be seen in this rendering and the river current produced in this depiction. The businesses that could be found on the bridge inspired some fluff that I put in a campaign originating from Altdorf last year.

I especially liked how the richer denizens of London prudently opted the safer option of disembarking from river transport, climb the stairs to the street level, cross to the other side, descend to the river, and hope their original transport made the gauntlet of the starlings. On the bridge, the savvy would accost the upper class, for alms or business opportunity, as they crossed to meet, hopefully, their transport on the other side.

From this arose my vision of the Three Toll Bridge with its many merchants that crowd its wide crossing of the Reik. And as its historical complement, the Reik was channelled through the starlings of the bridge, eating the foolish and always clawing for the prudent. One can imagine the crowds that ply the nobles as they cross the bridge, or just while away the hours watching fools "run the starlings," betting and excitedly cheering, or cringing.

So my NPC idea is presented to you, the Bridge Boatman. A Boatman, ex-Ferryman (or ex-Stevedore as fits your campaign). The Bridge Boatman is the prudent navigator of the River Reik and its many bridges. The best are hired by nobles, and many nobles use regulars. Bridge Boatman are excellent masters of the broad water ways of the Empire and beyond, but know bridges exceptionally well. They know the safe starlings and the dangerous ones. They are prudent when such judgement is necessary (or their "cargo" demands it). They only take risks when they know the bridge before them, the river subtleties on the craft beneath their feet, or the payment in hand.

Many Bridge Boatman supplement income with smuggling; who better to run the currents of a particularly dangerous bridge in a pinch, or a chase. And even still, the most risk taking Bridge Boatman knows a cargo, flesh or other, not delivered does not pay and usually costs more, if not in life, in lively hood with the loss of boat, limb, sanity, or all three.

Bridges should be rated a Test Difficulty and for each mastery of Row, reduced 5%. Even the best should be challenged by bridge like the Three Toll Bridge. At night, any bridge rating suffers an additional -10% to its difficulty modifier (as high as -40%). For example:

Konrad has picked up his charge at a small pier near the Fork Wharf on the Luitpoldstrasse. A fat man dressed in finery, noble for sure, dropped a sack of silver on the floor of the boat, "Obereik, and not to-morrow," was all that he spoke. Two bridges, post haste. Konrad picked up the sack and weighed it. The Reiksbrucke (Three Toll Bridge) is rated Very Hard (-30%). Konrad is skilled in Row +10% (two mastery levels, or +10%) giving him a modified -20% to his Row skill (Strength 48%) when running the starlings of Three Toll Bridge. Konrad pushes into the current and chooses a left of center starling, sizing up the approach. Konrad needs 28 or less... he rolls... 28! The noble smiles, embracing the moment and the dangerous thrill; Konrad and the noble exit on the other side of the Three Toll Bridge drenched in the stinking water of the Reik. Konrad thinks only of the Kaiser bridge ahead (rated Challenging).
Posted by caffeinated at 1:05 PM in d10
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