The Children’s Crusade – Part III

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If you’ve got a party of kids – whether or not they’re being played by real-life kids – it’s time to consider how that complicates the game.

First up, is something that gets left out of a lot of games; Family is very important to kids.

That’s not something you normally deal with much in a role-playing game. There may be a few non-player characters who are important to the group as a whole, or are unusually memorable – but no one spends much time on an NPC who are only important to one or two of the players, since that’s time at the table (a very limited resource!) being spent on things that most of the players are not involved in.

That’s worse than splitting the party; at least when you split the party the rest of the players are looking forward to their turn; if you’ve playing out someone’s conversation with a family member, it’s almost certain that you’re playing out downtime – which means that the players who aren’t all that interested in establishing a “family” are just gritting their teeth while waiting for the actual game to start again.

Just as annoyingly, playing families means that the game master has to come up with a dozen or so NPC’s per character – and, if the character changes, all of that becomes a waste of time.

Fortunately, real history gives us an answer there – the same premise that this article series started with:

Fostering.

A bunch of unrelated kids get shipped off to be raised together in an important household – thus acquiring social skills, a chance to build connections, access to the best tutors, and a chance at favor. Sure, it might get them killed – but historically a lot of kids died young; it was a fact of life.

That means that the entire party is going to be, and to be sharing, a family. “Mother” may be the elderly cook who always gave the kids snacks when they were hungry. “Father” may be the armsmaster who makes sure they know how to defend themselves and deal with injuries. Other figures – the blacksmith, the stablemaster, and so on – may take the role of aunts and uncles. All the kids being fostered play the role of siblings – and a fostered child’s actual family may be little more than a distant memory, source of occasional presents, and source of rivals.

Now that gives us a much more reasonable number of NPC’s to handle – and makes sure that most of them will be useful throughout the entire campaign.

It also means that a lot of classical plotlines become practical.

  • If an usurper seizes control of the realm, that’s a personal, family matter.
  • Are the youngsters too idealistic? Some cynical relative may try to arrange to be rid of them.
  • Is someone setting up an arraigned marriage for a PC? That’s EVERYONE’s business.
  • The characters existence may be very inconvenient indeed for brothers and sisters whom they’ve never met but who don’t wish to share their inheritance. In fact, it’s entirely possible for their true siblings to be being raised in enemy courts. That can make for fun visits.
  • They have respected elders and a liege lord. The kids may be asked to investigate, or deal with, threats to the realm – or be placed in charge of troops or minor expeditions. It’s best that they learn to manage such things before they have to do so without advice.
  • If the group rescues oppressed or endangered peasants, they have a place to take them – and anyone who takes offence has a target.
  • They may be sent out to enforce law and order – perhaps even to bring some unruly party of commoner-adventurers to heel.
  • They’re representatives of the realm; they may have to handle diplomacy, treacherous members of the court, intrigues and plots, or uncover dopplegangers.
  • They might inherit – or be entrusted with the recovery of – some ruined stronghold or section of wilderness.
  • Plus, of course, all the typical “quest”, “attack on the realm”, “explore the dungeon”, and “fight the monster” scenarios work perfectly well – whether as independent adventures, or as requests.

And the wonderful thing is, they’ll all automatically be involved as a group. You won’t need to dangle hooks that interest one or two characters, and then have to herd cats to get the entire group headed in one direction.

Need further inspiration? “Youngsters exploring an unfamiliar world and encountering it’s terrors and wonders” is a pretty fundamental theme. I’d suggest Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, L. Frank Baum, Charles Dickens, C. S. Lewis, H. Rider Haggard, Lewis Carroll, Joseph Conrad – and, for modern familiarity – J. K. Rowling.

And for our next sample character we have.

Roland Huntley

Roland always liked to know things – preferably, before anyone else did, and witnessed with his own eyes rather than second-hand. Unfortunately, he lacks any real talent for the greater magics, and thus the easy road of divination was closed to him – or would, at least, have taken far too long to suit his tastes. He’s learned to make mundane skills, and the trivial tricks of lesser magic that were open to anyone, serve his purposes instead.

Level One Player Summary: Roland Huntley

  • Str 10, Int 14, Dex 16, Wis 14, Con 12, and Cha 12
  • Personal Disadvantage: Compulsively Inquisitive. Roland has been impulsively sticking his nose into things pretty much since he was born and just doesn’t know when to leave well enough alone.
  • Rapier: +5, 1d6+1, Crit 18-20/x2, 5′ Reach, up to four Attacks of Opportunity, +1d8 Sneak Attack.
  • Hit Points 9, Armor Class 19 (+2 Armor, +3 Dex, +2 Martial Art +2 Shield), Initiative +3, Move 30′.
  • Saves: Fortitude +2, Reflex +4, and Will +4.

Skills:

  • (2 SP Each, 4 SP after Adept): Bluff +13, Disable Device +14, Hide +14, Knowledge/Local +11, Move Silently +14, Search +11, Sleight of Hand +14, and Tumble +14.
  • (4 SP): Rapier Martial Art (Dex Based): +14 (11*). Techniques Known: Attack +2, Defenses +2, +5′ Reach, and Combat Reflexes.
  • (1 SP Each): Appraise +8, Climb +6, Decipher Script +8, Diplomacy +10, Escape Artist +11, Gather Information +10, Listen +8, Open Lock +11, Sense Motive +8, Speak Language +8 (5*), and Spot +8.
  • (Other Checks): Get a +2 Luck, +1 Morale, and +2 Competence bonus. All Dex-based skills get an extra +2 and all charisma-based skills get an extra +3.

Contacts: Arisheim the Sage (a local scholar), Sandarian (an informer), and Velof (the realms spymaster – who sees a potential successor).

Lesser Path Magical Abilities: Each is usable once per encounter, is activated as a swift action, and requires a DC 15 skill check to activate.

  • Bluff – Lesser Hypnosis: As per Hypnotism, but can only affect a single target with up to 1d4 hit dice.
  • Disable Device – Momentary Jam. A device – even something as simple as a door – can be disabled at a range of up to 60′ for 1d4 rounds.
  • Hide – Moment of Invisibility: Lasts up to three rounds, but ends if you attack something.
  • Knowledge/Local – Diplomatic Guise: Creates an illusory change of clothing, which lasts for up to one hour.
  • Martial Art – Iron Skin: +2 Force Armor for thirty minutes (usually kept up all the time).
  • Move Silently – Tracelessness: Wipes away signs of minor activities (footprints, disturbed dust,  fingerprints, swinging curtains, lit candles, etc) within a forty-foot radius burst.
  • Search – Reveal Magic: Close range, any magic within a 5′ radius burst will briefly sparkle in a complex light display life fireworks. Spellcraft rolls may be made to try and tell what it is.
  • Sleight of Hand – Recall Knives: Puts up to (2 x Dex Mod) knives that you drew within the last three minutes back into your sheathes if they’re within a 30′ radius and not being held by someone else.
  • Tumble – Great Leap: Adds 20 feet to your movement this round.

*I usually rule that Luck and Morale bonuses help with any martial art or speak language checks – such as for breaking things, or making out a bad accent, but not with the actual number of martial art techniques or languages known. Competence bonuses, however, do help.

Full Build:

  • Str 10, Int 14, Dex 16 (18), Wis 14, Con 12, and Cha 12
  • Personal Disadvantage: Compulsively Inquisitive. Roland has been impulsively sticking his nose into things pretty much since he was born and just doesn’t know when to leave well enough alone.
  • Warcraft (BAB): +0 (0 CP)
  • Weapon Focus/Rapier: +1 (+1 BAB, Specialized and Corrupted/Rapier Only, 2 CP)
  • Proficient with All Simple Weapons and One Martial Weapon (Rapier) (6 CP).
  • Augment Attack/1d8 Sneak Attack (4 CP).
  • Level One Hit Die: d8 (4 CP). That gives him 9 HP.
  • Save Bonuses: +1 to Will (3 CP).
  • Skill Points: 7 (Purchased, 7 CP) + 8 (Int Mod x 4) + 16 (Fast Learner and enhanced Human Bonus, for +4/level) = 31
  • Racial Ability Upgrade (3 CP): A consequence of – and paid for by – his inquisitiveness, these points go to upgrading the human racial bonus of “Fast Learner/Specialized in Skills” from half cost to double effect – thus starting in infancy.
  • Adept x2: Purchases the Hide, Move Silently, Tumble, Bluff, Sleight of Hand, Disable Device, Search, and Knowledge/Local skills for half cost (12 CP).
  • Augmented Bonus/“Studied Excellence”: Adds (Int Mod) to dexterity-based skills (6 CP).
  • Augmented Bonus/”Expressive Gestures”: Adds (Dex Mod) to charisma-based skills (6 CP).
  • Innate Enchantment, Corrupted/the user cannot wear armor (4 CP, for an effective value of up to 5000 GP). His effects include General Skill Mastery (+2 competence bonus to all skills, 1400), Fortunes Favor (+2 luck bonus to all skills and checks, 1400), Inspiring Word (+1 morale bonus to attacks, checks, damage, and saves, 1400), and Force Shield (L0 version, +2 AC, protects against Magic Missiles, 700).
  • Immunity to XP cost for Innate Enchantments (Uncommon, Minor, Trivial, only covers L0 and L1 effects, 2 CP).
  • The Lesser Path:
  • Shaping, Pulse of the Dragon and Heart of the Dragon, Specialized and Corrupted/requires a DC 15 skill check to produce a level zero effect, each skill is associated with a specific effect, each effect can only be attempted once every five minutes, the user must have at least four skill points in a particular skill before it’s effect can be employed Such effects are considered swift actions (10 CP).
  • Contacts: Arisheim the Sage (a local scholar), Sandarian (an informer), and Velof (the realms spymaster – who sees a potential successor) (3 CP).

Roland here is moderately complex for a kid – although it can be cut down fairly readily; simply calculate out ALL the skills, rather than just the ones with points in them to start. Dump the bit about activation rolls – half of them cannot fail with his bonuses – and then the skill references in the tricks. That will simplify the sheet a lot.

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