Modern AGE: From the Companion to Threefold

I’m leaving for Origins tomorrow and over there, Green Ronin may well have copies of the Modern AGE Companion available (though at this time of writing, pre-order is still a possibility). Yet it also happens that Origins will fall across Free RPG Day. Due to the rules of Free RPG Day, which put the spotlight on retailers, we won’t have our offering, the Threefold Quickstart, at the booth (862), but I’d love to see in in the wild if you find it nearby!

The new Quickstart is all about the upcoming Threefold setting. Let me tease it a bit here, with the very first worlds you’ll read from the full Threefold hardcover, which is on target for Q3 of this year.

 

 

Introduction

What if you could go anywhere?

Let’s unpack that. By “go,” we mean through gates between worlds: magical portals arrayed in routes called chains. We mean using the quantum ark, which threads our waveforms through the needle’s eye of marginal possibilities to other configurations of time.

By “anywhere,” we mean blinding heavens, fiery hells, machine worlds a century ahead of our own, impossibly sharp mountain tops whose residents are sorcerer-hermits. They don’t want you to visit, but they might be the only ones able to answer some esoteric question, which might even lead you to another world: perhaps via Vigrith, plane of a thousand gates, or Alatum, where the children of lost gods rule an empire, or one of the countless planes where the Nighthost, warriors who defeated their demon generals before recorded history, pillage and conquer.

And by “anywhere,” we also mean parts of our world you thought of as legends, old and new. We mean the rotting mansions of psychic secret societies, the secret labs that make soldiers and spies, the Gray Hand where the secret world government they always warned you about meets.

We mean places that never were, or could have been, or places we fear might exist through superstition or some future dystopian twist, and places we hope exist and are sending their extraordinary agents to help us find the better path.

There are too many possibilities to count, but we’ve settled on some rough classifications. Three of them—and three secret forces behind them. But in the end, you’re the one who might determine the ultimate form of everything that was, is, and shall be. That’s Threefold.

Andrzej, a Sodalt of the Protector branch, as is obvious from his scarab badge. What does that all mean? Oh, we’ll get to that.

Welcome to the Metacosm

Threefold is the first original setting for Modern AGE and, as such, requires the Modern AGE Basic Rulebook for use with the new game systems herein. Threefold is cross-genre, embracing fantasy, horror, and science fiction, and it’s designed to make maximum use of Modern AGE’s possibilities. This means players can potentially use any option in Modern AGE to make their characters, including those that give them extraordinary powers. It means characters can come from a staggering array of backgrounds, from worlds where magic and travel between the planes of existence is commonplace, to the most ordinary lives here on Earth—though in the latter case, those lives are unlikely to stay normal. Using the rules in this book, you can play a demon-haunted occultist, a wizard from a magical college, or a tactical cyborg—and all three of these characters could play in the same campaign.

The backbone of Threefold that allows this is the Metacosm: the universe of universes. There are countless realities, or planes of existence, belonging to three basic categories: Earth and its alternate timelines; the Otherworlds, where magic is a powerful force; and the harsh Netherworlds, where malefic forces reign. In most cases, these planes are connected by gates. Gates are hard to create, destroy, or block, so their presence creates routes through many planes, spawning trade, empires, and warfare. Our Earth is one of thousands of these planes, though our unique physical laws and no small amount of conspiratorial effort hide the greater Metacosm from us.

And?

Here and there I’ll be talking about the Threefold setting, releasing further information before it drops later this year. See you then!

Remembering Alejandro Melchor

This week was supposed to be set aside for me to talk about the Modern AGE Companion a little more, but I want to talk about Alejandro (aka Alex, or Al-X) Melchor instead. Alex passed away last week, due to the extended complications of a stroke he suffered in March.

Alex worked on every Modern AGE book currently at any stage of completion. In the core, he wrote rules, focuses, talents and part of the extensive Game Master advice in that book. He brought his talents to the World of Lazarus, the Modern AGE Companion, and the upcoming Threefold and Enemies & Allies, too. I’m currently looking for writers for a new book. It has an Alex-shaped hole in it now.

I first got to know him through a semiprivate community we shared, in 2001. I’d just been invited, as responses to my early professional work for White Wolf had been good. Alex did some work for them as well before taking an intensive gig with Mongoose Publishing in the early 2000s. I drifted away and he was busy, though I knew him through the Open Game License credits I bumped into while designing my own stuff. In the interim he developed an enormous list of credits, tending toward mechanically intensive work. I’d say one great thing about him is he could work on rules that reinforce stories and atmosphere, because getting game systems down was quick work for him.

Steve Kenson got to know Alex well, and took the lead in doing what we could to help when he fell ill. He reintroduced me to Alex, and Alex became a bedrock contributor for Modern AGE. He did so much more, in his own communities, on other games, and with other creative people, but I don’t want to presume to talk about any of that. We worked hard. We made some good ideas playable together. And he was unfailingly nice to everyone, a born collaborator, but didn’t hesitate to point out what he thought would be bad ideas.

According to family and friends, Alex liked proactive, resourceful, tough woman protagonists. Modern AGE uses a loose set of iconic characters created by the writers. Alex created Indra Winchester, the technically-inclined punk, who you can see on the cover of the Modern AGE Companion and inside the books of the line. In examples, he’s her player. I plan to keep it that way.

It seems so inane to go through his qualities as a creative guy, when of course there was more, but he was my comrade in making games. That’s what I’ve got to work with, even though it’s not enough to give the man his due. He was a visual artist, and beloved by various communities. And more, always more. In and out of this industry, I won’t be missing him alone, and won’t be the only one feeling new gaps in what might be possible, in work and life. I’m going to miss him.

 

Ronin Roundtable: Expansive Future

The Expanse Roleplaying Game, along with The Expanse Quickstart and GM’s Kit, are just the beginning of the game products for the popular sci-fi series. Green Ronin has more in the works, including two follow-up products that will round out and complete the stretch goals of the successful Kickstarter, and then some. Let’s peer into the future of The Expanse RPG with a look at those.

Abzu’s Bounty

One stretch goal of The Expanse RPG Kickstarter was a campaign series of adventures to supplement adventure material in the core book, GM’s Kit, and Quickstart. That series is Abzu’s Bounty, a complete Expanse campaign with a linked series of six adventures. It is designed as a “starter” game, although it contains advice on moving from one or more of the already published adventures into the series, and has links to the background of the “To Sleep, Perchance to Dream” adventure from the core book. The player characters in Abzu’s Bounty go from relative nobodies to potentially deciding the future of the System by the end of the campaign.

No spoilers as to the plot, but Abzu’s Bounty ventures across the System, from the Outer to the Inner Planets and back, and includes a means of supplying the crew with a ship of their own. There is also plenty of Expanse-style skullduggery and intrigue along the way. By the end of the series, characters should be in the mid-level range, starting at 2nd and ending up 7th or 8th level, leaving plenty of room to grow as The Expanse RPG does.

Abzu’s Bounty is written and developed, and in the editing and art phase of production.

Ships of the Expanse

The other major stretch goal of the Kickstarter was deck plans for a number of ship classes from The Expanse setting. Those will feature as part of the forthcoming Ships of the Expanse sourcebook; backers will get downloads of all of the stretch goal deck plans, but the sourcebook will include those and much more. In particular, Ships will take the basic chapter on ship-building and in-game use of ships from the core rules and build upon it, offering expanded details, options, and ways of creating and using ships in your own game.

Plus there will be those deck plans and details, closer looks at even more types of ships found in The Expanse, what they look like and how they’re laid out. This will make Ships of the Expanse a popular book with fans of the series and gamers alike.

Ships of the Expanse is in the design phase, with authors just completing their first drafts, as it moves into development.

Further Out

As players of The Expanse RPG know, the core book focuses on the period between the first two novels (Leviathan Wakes and Caliban’s War) with a lot of Expanse history waiting to unfold in the future. We’ve identified several distinct eras to Expanse game play, and the next one takes the setting and the series “further out” than ever before—far further than most of humanity ever imagined—once the protomolecule’s mysterious work on Venus is complete.

Modern Monday: The Companion and Beyond

Last time I was here I gave you a rundown of the Modern AGE Companion, currently at press and available for preorder or just PDF (in our store or at DrivethruRPG). Some of you were surprised our fourth Modern AGE release was already here, but believe me, we’re just getting started.

The world and the game are both bigger than you think.

Using the Modern AGE Companion

My last post provided a rundown of the Modern AGE Companion’s contents. It’s a big book of optional rules, and Modern AGE will generally not assume you have the book when it comes to understanding others down the line, though we may use some of its principles for “back end” design guidance. Thus, a power in a new book might be consistent with the Companion’s rules for extraordinary abilities, but you won’t need both books to understand it.

Some rules in the Companion are integrated with each other (such as the connection between the Demolitions Training talent and the new rules for, uh, demolitions) but in most cases, options exist to disconnect them. Incidentally, here’s a preview of the new rules for blowing things up.

Get a taste of Threefold on June 15th for Free RPG Day.

Burning Brighter on Free RPG Day

Next up, Modern AGE represents on Free RPG Day, with a Quickstart in the new Threefold setting, presenting the adventure Burning Brighter. Think of the old Quickstart as a prototype; this one sends characters across multiple strange worlds, to contend with transdimensional mobsters, the demonic invaders of a subterranean realm, and an unhinged clone—and the baby griffon’s still there, too.

The Threefold Quickstart drops on Saturday June 15 and will be available from participating retailers. While Green Ronin will be at Origins Game Fair this release is a retailer exclusive, so you won’t find it at our booth. However, I would be happy to see any you acquire that you see fit to bring by. I’ll be at the convention all week and would love to see it!

Open the Gates to Threefold in Q3

Threefold is the first original in-house Adventure Game Engine setting since the re-release of Blue Rose for the system. Unlike Blue Rose, which is an entire game, Threefold is a supplement to the Modern AGE core, similar to our licensed setting, World of Lazarus.

Threefold is big.

By “big,” I mean expansive in its ambitions, structure and possibilities for play. I wanted a setting where you could play virtually any character type in any genre, with the three “poles” being transhumanist SF, young-adult style fantasy, and dark fantasy, bound together by the concept of “speculative fantasy,” where weird things have rational underpinnings, and provide dilemmas that can be solved with a mix of clear thinking and idealism. I outlined Threefold as the kind of setting that might last through 20 years and 100 support products, and while I don’t expect that, you don’t get its spirit without wanting that.

“Big” expresses itself in the setting’s worlds—plural. Threefold is a setting of interdimensional travel through alternate Earths, fantasy lands, flame-tossed underworlds, and places that defy easy categories. Connected by gates, the countless planes are more than a mix of possibilities. Transplanar empires commanded by demigods, liberated members of the armies of the damned, and idealistic mystics struggle with each other, while enhanced operatives on Earth “hold the fort,” manipulate alternate histories, and deal with bizarre problems in their own backyards.

I want to tell you more, about the Sodality’s vows, the scarab badges members carry, and the conflict between the AI Lucifer and the counterparts who control organized crime, trading in things like souls and magic swords. But I have to let it drip out slowly. Get the Quickstart for Free RPG Day for more—for now. The hardcover is currently in art and layout, and due for release in the 3rd quarter of this year.

Encounter Enemies & Allies in Q4

Enemies & Allies is a book of strange creatures, useful Non-Player Characters, and optional rules to fit your game to their implied genres. The entries in this book cover modern fantasy, horror, technothrillers, crimes dramas, and near future or secret world science fiction. An appendix rounds things out with options to build creatures and NPCs from scratch, along with guidelines for converting creatures from other Adventure Game Engine games, such as the book’s Fantasy AGE counterpart, the Fantasy AGE Bestiary.

Enemies and Allies is fully written, in pre-production, and scheduled for release at the end of this year.

Get the Word Out

So, this is what’s coming, and when—at least, in terms of things I can talk about. I’ve talked about these books before, but sometimes people miss these messages and default to what they imagine might be happening. I develop most of Modern AGE’s books and follow each of them from conception to publication. I know what’s happening. So, if people are wondering what’s happening with the game, tell them what I’ve told you—or share this article.

The Expanse: Expansive Content

We’ve had a lot to say about The Expanse Roleplaying Game during the game’s development and successful Kickstarter, so we thought it would be helpful to provide a quick and helpful guide to all things Expanse from Green Ronin Publishing here on our site and elsewhere.

First and foremost, the link greenronin.com/blog/category/the-expanse-rpg/ is your key to Expanse-related posts on the GR.com site. You can download The Expanse Quickstart from here to check out the game and give it a try with a complete starter adventure and pre-generated crew of characters.

 

The Expanse Kickstarter

The Expanse RPG Kickstarter is where it all begins

Where you can see all of the promotional materials of the Kickstarter and, more importantly, view all of the public updates

 

The updates include a number of excerpts and previews from the game as “Expanse Extras”:

Expanse Extra: Spaceship Combat Example

Expanse Extra: Qualities & Flaws

Expanse Extra: Interludes

Expanse Extra: The Churn

Ronin Roundtables

Next, you can check out the previous Ronin Roundtable articles on The Expanse, looking at different previews and aspects of the game to supplement the information found in the Expanse Quickstart.

The Expanse: Questions of Canon

The Expanse: Doors and Corners

The Expanse: Starting Points

The Expanse: Space Combat

The Expanse: Power Armor

The Expanse: Character Creation

The Expanse vs. Modern AGE

Expanse Transmissions

Even with only the Expanse Quickstart and the PDF edition of The Expanse Roleplaying Game core book available, a number of groups have already launched their own Expanse games. If you’re curious to see the game in action and want to check out some actual play games on The Expanse online, here are some good places to start:

Happy Jacks offers an actual play of The Expanse RPG from ShadowCon

Jowzam’s Den ran a stream of the Expanse Quickstart adventure “Cupbearer” live on Twitch. Available for viewing on YouTube

Mosaic Gaming Network’s “Rolling with the Regulars” offers their “Phoenix Rising” vidcast and podcast of The Expanse, starting with Episode 0

The Spice Must Roll is a live broadcast of sci-fi tabletop RPGs. Season 1 focuses on The Expanse RPG, starting with Episode 0

Modern Monday: Here Comes the Companion

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about Modern AGE, but that’s not because activity on the game has slowed down. Quite the opposite; we have three new books and an adventure written, and a new quickstart ready to drop for Free RPG Day on June 15th this year.  I can’t cover everything in one post, but I can tell you about the Modern AGE Companion, which is out now! (Preorder with an instant PDF option here!)

Let’s do a 101 on the contents.

 

Cover art by: Victor Leza Moreno

Chapter 1: Characters

This chapter starts by breaking down the logic of character creation in Modern AGE, so you can make heroes using the bare bones of the system. Then we get into something long anticipated: fantasy and science-fictional backgrounds, from human anomalies to elves, dwarves, orcs, spirit-bloods—and even artificial intelligences. Then we move on to rules for handling characters who’ve been born with or acquire traits that may provide extra challenges in adventures.

Check out this sample featuring some of the fantasy and sci-fi types covered in this chapter.

Chapter 2: Talents and Specializations

Next up, we go over optional Grandmaster and Apex degrees for talents and specializations, with some examples of how they’re applied to existing talents. We also present nine new talents and seven new specializations, with full descriptions to the new Apex degree.

Chapter 3: Rules

As the title says! New rules include replacing Health with a damage resistance test, duels, fighting styles, flying characters, using miniatures in combat, advanced rules for hazards, poisons, diseases, fatigue, fear, and horror. These options should be used where they’d fit your campaign.

Chapter 4: Stunts

More about stunts! We start with a general discussion before providing rules to use a single table for all stunts. Then we talk about using these general stunts to make your own suitable for your campaign’s genre, or an adventure’s environment. Use these rules to support everything from swashbuckling panache to fighting in zero gravity.

Chapter 5: Extraordinary Abilities

Powers are one of the most hotly requested additions to the game, and chapter author Steve Kenson might know a little bit about that. These rules don’t turn Modern AGE into a full-on superhero game but are well-suited to lower key “street supers,” cyberpunk, and urban fantasy campaigns. The chapter concludes with rules for items made through magic and other extraordinary means.

Chapter 6: Social Options

New rules for Relationships, along with rules for organizations and social networks, fill this chapter. Characters familiar with other Adventure Game Engine games may have encountered rules for organizations before, but these are expanded to include new ways for characters to directly affect their fortunes. This chapter also includes rules for NPC companions, special stunts, and dramatic complications for Relationships.

Chapter 7: Technology

Here, we provide options for Player Character technicians to jury rig or create devices ranging from simple modifications to weird new inventions, limited by what the Game Master allows. The chapter concludes with guidelines for using explosives in Modern AGE games.

Chapter 8: The Modern Campaign

This chapter includes new rules for Game Masters to use to manage the flow of events in individual scenes and extended campaigns. This includes ratcheting up complications to counteract character success (something you might find familiar from The Expanse Roleplaying Game, in the form of “The Churn”) and rules for serendipity, so good fortune counterbalances failure. The chapter concludes with a system to generate sweeping events in modern games, from political power shifts to natural disasters.

Chapter 9: Genres

Written by Nisaba Press editorial director and accomplished fantasy and SF editor Jaym Gates, Chapter 9 drills deeply into applying genres to your Modern AGE games, expanding on the acclaimed Game Master advice in the core. Sections cover swashbuckling, Gothic horror, 1950s alien invasion, spy-fi, and modern to near future cyberthrillers.

What’s Next?

The Modern AGE Companion is here, but what’s next? Threefold, a new original campaign setting for Modern AGE, which will debut with a new quickstart you’ll get for the princely sum of nothing, because it’s coming out for Free RPG Day! The full campaign book is currently in layout and is scheduled to arrive later this summer. Watch for it—and for what we’ll say about it in the runup to release.

In Cinematic Mode, you never run from explosions.

 

Faces of Thedas: Yvette? Really?

(This round table contains mild spoilers for Fenris in Dragon Age 2. Yeah, it’s been 8 years but I still meet folks who just started playing it, Inquisition, and even Origins so erring on the side of spoiler alerts)

Hey folks, this is Jack here to talk a bit about Faces of Thedas.

Now no big book of characters can include every character in a large universe. You can look at our various offerings in DC Adventures, Wild Cards, A Song of Ice and Fire, and now Dragon Age to see this. The books include a lot of characters and groups, but not everything makes it into a particular book.

So who makes the cut? Well, it depends.

In Faces it was an intentional mix. The prime focus was on “quest givers”, people who enabled adventures and roleplaying opportunities for players, not who necessarily had their own adventurers. This is where characters like the Divine, Josephine Montilyet, and others came in.  But not all the characters fit exactly into that category. In many cases, characters were selected with a fair amount of wiggle room in how they could be used, often because they had targeted, and important but limited involvement in the canonical tales of Thedas.

In addition, some characters were included because they’d make good antagonists.  Potential antagonist characters weren’t necessarily villains, but definitely characters who could easily end up on the other side of a conflict from player heroes. This is your Lambert or Knight-Commander Meredith. Depending on the timeline and group? This might even be your Iron Bulls and Alistairs. This is also why we briefly revisited some of the important Darkspawn “bosses.”

Other characters were included because they would make potential romantic interests, allies, and patrons. These included some companions from the games, like Leliana. This also included characters with ties to important groups or events that still had that aforementioned wiggle room that makes them easier to throw into a campaign or adventure.

Some characters were also included because not including them was never an option. Be it Bioware or one of the several Dragon Age fans on our staff, there were characters people inside the production of this book wanted to see. This is also your Alistair, but also your Dorians and Cullens and so on.

With a few characters—very few admittedly—it was even the case someone in on the production side didn’t want to use a character in the book. Sometimes that person was me, but not always. I’m not going to detail who those characters were, but it was never a matter of “ugh, I don’t like them!” but some other reason that seemed compelling enough to use a different character.

So what about some of the folks who didn’t make it? It’s not that they couldn’t fit into one of these roles. Its not that they weren’t cool or no one liked them. It was just they didn’t make it for various reasons. For example, I actually like Fenris a fair amount. However, Fenris’ tale is pretty self-contained, socially isolated, and during Dragon Age 2 its quite possible he ends up dead at Hawke’s hands. So instead we had characters like Iron Bull or Michel—skilled passionate warriors with a story whose net cast a bit wider plot and campaign wise.

Note a lot of this was clearly “in our opinion.” That’s the thing about design, there’s always an element of personal, even arbitrary decision making. I’m not trying to thumb my nose and say, “well when you’re developer you can fix it!” but…there is a much less confrontational and more good-natured truth to that.  Not everyone will agree about what to include in a product.

And in case anyone is really wondering? I like Yvette. Yes, she’s a minor character who arguably “doesn’t matter”. I also think she makes a good romantic foil and political connection for campaigns who could grow and develop in response to interactions with a player group. So now you know.

Faces of Thedas: Preview

So the long awaited Faces of Thedas supplement for Dragon Age has just released and is available for print+pdf pre-orders. When I say “long awaited”, we ain’t kidding. From the fans to the writers to myself and the other folks at Green Ronin? We’ve been waiting for this book to come out for some time.

I’m not going to do dissection of the various delays and problems that led to the long development cycle. From tragedies to simple delays to approvals…it was a long road. But now that road is reaching its destination so let’s look at what that means.

Faces of Thedas is essentially a character archive/NPC cast book for Dragon Age. It doesn’t include every character in the games and novels, that was never really its purpose. Instead it takes various characters and organizations and provides additional information about them, including advice on how to play them, game statistics, and suggestions on how to use them in a game. These characters range from relatively minor but politically interesting characters like Yvette Montilyet to major players like Leliana and Cullen. Some characters are more likely to be plot movers and allies, others PC heroes will likely meet over a five course meal of swords, arrows, daggers, spells, and blood.

The book covers characters across all three games and various other media, which also means not ever character from a particular game, comic, book, etc… made the cut. This wasn’t due to some disregard for some fine characters who didn’t make it, there was just so much space and some other character for whatever reason was included instead.

What reasons? Honestly? I can’t tell you. Because there wasn’t just one. Some characters were deemed interesting, but their stories seemed more confined to a particular game, making them less likely to feature into tabletop campaigns. Others seemed to be statistically easy to replicate compared to another option, thus it was decided a character like Cole who didn’t follow normal character creation patterns would be more useful to model than someone like Lord Harrowmont, who for all his skill at intrigue and wonderful dwarf-y lordliness is mechanically a dwarf warrior who knows how to play politics. That’s nothing against all the Harrowmont fans out there, I like him too. However, I’m also confident most Dragon Age GMs wishing to use old Pyral can make a serviceable version of him for their games.

Speaking of Cole, here’s a preview of what he looks like in Faces. Note the background for playing incarnated spirits and the special Talent—these are the sorts of “extras” which sometimes pushed a character’s inclusion.

Faces of Thedas Preview PDF: Cole

Also, we wanted to leave room for rules for relationships and organizations. The organizations in particular were important since they provide new honorifics and ranks, which are useful for GMs but also potentially for PCs as well. For example, want to know just how terrifying your Antivan Crow PC is to his potential targets in Thedas? We have that covered, as shown in this preview of assassin-based honorifics:

See? Now you its even easier to play your reformed killer drawn back into a John Wick* style rampage of righteous revenge in Thedas! These are the sorts of things Faces was meant to enable, not just a catalog of characters, but a guide to using those characters easily and effectively. Information on the Carta, Friends of Red Jenny, and other organizations was similarly aimed at helping players and GMs alike.

All told, there are dozens of characters and groups collectively in the group. This includes four new backgrounds and numerous titles and honorifics and rules for relationships. It’s a fine resource for Dragon Age tabletop players and fans of Thedas alike. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

*The Keanu Reeves films, not the game designer.

The Expanse: Questions of Canon

The Expanse series of novels details major characters and events that establish the setting where The Expanse Roleplaying Game takes place. Much of this is described in the core book, but when you’re writing an adventure, how much of the “canon” of the setting should affect what you’re writing and, if it does, does it matter if you change it? When designing your game, you’ll be faced with deciding how much the existing Expanse setting and series affects your story. The following are some techniques to use when dealing with it:

Art by Victor Leza Moreno

  • Inspiration: You can use the existing canon as a springboard for your own storyline. Use of existing characters and events gives you a healthy pool of stories, personalities, and ideas from which to create a foundation for a great campaign. This also creates an immediate level of recognition for you and players familiar with The Expanse series. The trade-off is that you are bound to those portions of the canon you incorporate into your game. For example, if you decide to use Miller as a major NPC in your game, you are limited to a certain periods of time where that would be possible, and you have to be aware of Miller’s ultimate fate (and the fact that your players may know it as well) unless you choose to change things. If you do, you might find it messes with the players’ expectations. That can be a good thing or a jarring and unpleasant experience.
  • Flexible Canon: You can use canonical elements in your game, such as the setting or past events, but choose to change some things that might conflict with your planned storyline and allow the player characters to significantly alter canon through their actions. All of the major components can remain prevalent, such as the major factions and locations, but with tweaks in the events that follow. What if there were more survivors of the Canterbury? What if the player characters were the ones hired to track down Julie Mao—or were hired in addition to Star Helix and Miller? What if your story involved the crew of the Rocinante as major NPCs? The “flexible canon” approach is generally the one we have taken with the Expanse RPG: Things are as described from the books, at least initially, but the potential exists for the player characters to change things. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be much tension or excitement for their story, would there?
  • Ignore Canon: You can bypass canon altogether, or base your story around events with little to no effect on existing canon. The Expanse setting is vast and you could tailor stories and events that barely even touch the established canon outlined in the fiction. An entire campaign could focus on a crisis on one of the many different stations, or center your story on an exploration crew traversing the outer planets.

Whatever you decide, make sure if your players are aware of existing canon, they are also aware of any important changes you make to avoid confusion and clashes of expectation. In addition, if you do alter major events, be aware of the chain-reaction it may have on other events and characters down the road.

The Expanse: Doors and Corners

The Expanse RPG tweaks the damage system from the AGE System a bit by changing Health to Fortune, a measure, not of how healthy and durable characters are, but how lucky and “important to the plot” they are (the durability aspect gets covered by a Constitution-based trait called Toughness instead). The “ablative” qualities of Fortune remain the same: players spend it in order to reduce or mitigate the damage their characters suffer. If an attacker rolls 10 points of damage, a player can spend 10 Fortune points, and the character escapes any serious harm—that time. Of course, players can also spend Fortune to improve their characters’ chances of success with tests and, sooner or later, their luck is going to run out.

 

Art by Mirco Paganessi

Injuries & Wounds

If Fortune isn’t enough to completely spare a character from damage, then it is going to hurt. The character is either going to be taken out (see the following) or needs to take an injured or wounded condition to reflect the remaining damage.

If the character accepts an injured condition, the damage is reduced by 1d6. If any damage remains, or the character is already injured, the character must accept a wounded condition next or be taken out. If the character accepts a wounded condition, the damage is further reduced by 1d6. If any damage remains, the character is taken out. Once a character has the wounded condition, any damage that gets past Fortune takes them out.

Taken Out

If damage remains after applying Toughness, Fortune, and taking an injury or a wound, then the target is taken out of the encounter. The attacker may choose to impose any one condition reasonable for the type of attack which takes out the target. So, for example, an attacker may choose to take out a target with a gunshot and leave them dying, just wounded, or even just unconscious. The key point is that the attacker decides on the target’s condition.

Rolling Over

An Expanse character can also choose to roll over in an encounter. In essence, the character’s player chooses to take that character out of the encounter, except the player chooses the character’s condition, subject to the approval of the GM, rather than leaving their fate up to their opponent. Rolling over is a “live to fight another day” tactic for when it’s clear a character is overmatched and doesn’t have much of a chance otherwise. You can only roll over in an encounter before you are taken out. Once you begin applying damage from an attack that has the potential to take you out, it’s too late to roll over, so choose carefully.

Option: Dead-to-Rights

If you want a slightly more lethal Expanse game, consider the following option: In any situation where one character has another “dead-t0-rights” the target character cannot spend Fortune to eliminate damage, all damage must be accounted for with Toughness, injuries, or wounds, and any excess results in the character being taken out, as usual. Standard situations where a character is dead-to-rights include being completely surprised by an attack (such as shot by an unseen sniper, for example) or having the helpless condition, completely unable to avoid an attack or hazard. It’s up to you to define situations that leave a character dead-to-rights, and to tell the players in advance. For example, if you want them to respect guns, make it clear that having someone holding a gun on you means they have you dead-to-rights, unless you can somehow distract their attention. This means characters will probably be less likely to rush armed opponents, for example. Try to use this option as a tool to help the players make informed decisions about the risks their characters take.