World of Lazarus: Handling Asymmetric Gameplay

A World of Lazarus campaign doesn’t need to include a Lazarus as a player character, and in fact much of the book assumes the players are ordinary people trying to survive in this extraordinary world. The gamemaster’s chapter includes four general campaign models: Family, Serf, Waste, and Resistance, with the first three focusing on the various tiers of society that define the Lazarus setting and the fourth focusing on organizations like The Free who work to upend that stratification and restore basic human dignity to everyone. Each campaign model has its own player-character suggestions, objectives, adversaries, and nuances that can make for very different campaigns, and none require a Lazarus among the PCs’ numbers. For three of these campaign models—Serf, Waste, and Resistance—Lazari serve more as adversaries and boogeymen than heroes.

But we all like a power fantasy now and then, and World of Lazarus delivers with all the information you need to make player-character Lazari. But if every Family is only supposed to have one of these champions, how do you handle that at the table? Most roleplaying games are built around symmetric gameplay—the idea that player characters should be roughly the same power level. Fighters and wizards play differently, but if they start to feel too different, it feels unfair. Making asymmetric gameplay—where one player is more powerful than the others—work can be challenging, because you run the risk of one player being able to solve every problem, leaving the other players feeling useless and bored.

World of Lazarus describes several options for incorporating a Lazarus into your game, but the key is to design your adventures and opponents mindfully, making sure the Lazarus can’t do everything themselves and that there are challenges that showcase other players’ abilities. You wouldn’t design a fantasy adventure where every puzzle and every opponent could only be overcome by divine magic, and likewise you need to make sure you don’t build your Lazarus adventures in a way that every challenge is overcome by a Lazarus’s superior combat abilities. You may build combat encounters with one or two high-level threats the Lazarus must focus on, with other opponents that the non-Lazari party members can take out, or build your entire campaign with the intention of the Lazarus handling combat scenarios, but the focus including many scientific, investigation, or social challenges that the human party members can solve.

World of Lazarus details four ways of including a Lazarus as a prominent, permanent element in your own campaigns, which boil down to:

  • Lazarus Oversight, in which the Lazarus is an NPC the PCs report to directly every session, and who may occasionally join them on adventures as a plot device.
  • Rotating Lazarus, in which every player makes their own human-scale PC and collaborate to make a Lazarus as well, then take turns every session playing the Lazarus as an active party member.
  • Tip of the Spear, in which one player is the Family Lazarus, with the rest of the players playing various support elements. This suggestion is especially fitting for Family campaigns, considering that all Lazari receive special condition to enforce their loyalty, and so despite their power, the Lazarus PC is subservient to the other PCs.
  • The Phalanx, in which every PC creates either a Lazarus or a lesser version of a Lazarus, representing a coalition between families or an illegal attempt to circumvent the “one Lazarus per family” rule enforced by the Maccau Accords.

There are plenty of other ways to include a Lazarus in your game, from an occasional guest role to a cooperatively-played pseudo-PC to an NPCplot device the PCs can unleash as their secret weapon. The possibilities are limited by the deviousness of your own imagination. And you can always use the Lazarus talents to allow players to create half-measure Lazuri agents without applying the full Lazarus creation rules.

WORLD OF LAZARUS: MORE HUMAN THAN HUMAN

One of the major themes in the Lazarus comic books is humanity: What does it mean to be human and when do you stop being human? At the lowest end, the Waste of the world are treated as livestock to be used or discarded as needed and at worst as pests to be exterminated. The concept of human rights is a relic of the past, unknown to much of the world’s population, and so many Waste exist at the fringes of both civilization and humanity: They fight and hunt and scavenge to survive, even turning on one another. Are you still human when all the world—and maybe even you—regards you as an animal?

 

 

Of course, the comics address the other end of this chilling question: When are you so advanced you essentially graduate beyond humanity? Joacquim Morray is more steel than flesh. Li Jiaolong’s mind exists in the digital realm and operates a heartbeat away from singularity. Forever Carlyle cannot die. Are any of the world’s Lazari still human when their lives are so far removed from all the essential constraints that define mortal lives?

The World of Lazarus would be remiss if it didn’t allow players to tackle these same questions (and kick butt doing it), and so the book introduces the concept of Augmentation talents to the Modern AGE system. Augmentation talents are special categories of talents locked behind story-based walls and only permissible with Gamemaster permission, and grant characters an extra boost above and beyond what ordinary talents provide. Most player characters will have access to the four Minor Augmentation talents—Acuity, Adrenal, Resilience, and Strength—which represent minor upgrades to the human condition powerful entities can grant their favored agents. Minor Augmentation: Adrenal, for example, boosts a character’s speed and response times, allowing them to react faster in combat, evade enemy strikes, and push their accuracy beyond human potential by overstressing their body. While Minor Augmentation talents can provide a competitive edge, they pale next to Lazarus Talents—Armor, Awareness, Cognition, Endurance, Muscle, Prowess, Reflexes, and regeneration—which reflect the pinnacle of science wielded by the Families. While every Family doles out minor augmentations as rewards to loyal Serfs and useful agents, Lazarus talents are reserved and secretive, developed and possessed solely—in theory, at least—for a Family’s Lazarus and no one else. Lazarus talents can provide suites of unusual or unique abilities, such as Cognition’s ability to predict the future or Prowess’s ability to move at top speed without making a sound.

Because the Families in the world of X+65 command a variety of sciences and construct their Lazari in different ways, Augmentation talents focus on the results rather than defining how characters get there. A Carlyle agent and a Morray agent can both receive Minor Augmentation: Strength as a reward for their service, but the Morray talent represents implanting artificial muscle fiber or replacing whole limbs with cybernetic prostheses while the Carlyle reward reflects genetic engineering. While mechanically identical, the different applications of the talent will represent different changes in the characters’ lives: an inhuman appearance for the Morray cyborg and a lifetime dependency on maintenance drugs and hormone therapy for the Carlyle mutant.

The World of Lazarus campaign setting even provides additional rules for creating a Lazarus of your very own (either as a player character, or as an NPC for your own campaign), as well as several options for including Lazari in your campaigns and full statblocks for four Lazari appearing in the comics: Forever Carlyle, Sonja Bittner, Joacquim Morray, and Li Jiaolong. But to show how easy it is to make a Lazarus of your own, I’ll run through the process here to create a Lazarus we didn’t include: The Zmey, the barely-controlled engine of destruction that serves as the Vassalovka Family’s Lazarus! We very deliberately omitted this ultimate physical antagonist’s statistics from the book itself so each Gamemaster could custom-build their own version to always be a potent threat regardless of their group’s experience and makeup, but for this blog we’ll benchmark the Zmey to be the equivalent of a 12th-level character—slightly higher than Forever Carlyle’s listed benchmark.

Here’s what you need to know to build a Lazarus for your own World of Lazarus Game:

  • Build a Character: Lazari start like normal characters, except they always have the option to select a Family background to represent superior training. We’ll build him by buying Ability scores, giving him Accuracy 1, Communication -1, Constitution 2, Dexterity 1, Fighting 3, Intelligence 0, Perception 1, Strength 3, Willpower His background is deliberately obscured in-world (but check out last February’s issue of the Lazarus X+66 miniseries if you want the inside scoop), and while it’s not canonically perfect, I’m giving him the Minor Family Background, the Soldier Profession, and the Survivor Drive.
  • Add a Bonus Profession: To reflect their extra training, a Lazarus selects a second Profession from a list, gains the Focus and Talent provided, and selects the better starting Health and Resources scores from between their two professions. Because the Zmey is a big, terrifying guy, Brawler for his second Profession.
  • Add Bonuses: A Lazarus gains additional bonuses to health and their choice of Abilitity scores. In the Zmey’s case, we’ll add the bigger bonuses to Strength and Constitution, and the smaller bonuses to Fighting, Perception, and Willpower.
  • Add Lazari Talents: A starting Lazarus begins with Novice rank in two Lazari talents, and can acquire additional ranks in place of their usual talent selection as they level up, with the limitation that they can’t improve Lazarus talent ranks two levels in a row. The Zmey’s fearsome strength and resilience make Endurance and Strength the obvious choices here.

This gives us an impressive statblock, but remember this is the equivalent of a starting Lazarus and we want the equivalent of a 12th level Lazarus! So we have an additional 11 Ability advancements, 11 new Ability Focuses, and 11 Talent improvements! You don’t have to create your NPCs as if they were player characters—and in fact you’ll get much more focused, less cluttered character sheets if you just select Ability ranks, Focuses, and Talents that feel appropriate—but I like this method personally and so we’ll stick with it for now.

After adjusting for additional levels, here’s the version of the Zmey that will haunt my players’ nightmares:


The Zmey

Accuracy 2 (Assault Rifles)

Communication 0

Constitution 6 (Stamina)

Dexterity 2 (Initiative)

Fighting 5 (Brawling, Flexible Weapons+, Grappling, Short-Hafted)

Intelligence 0 (Families)

Perception 3 (Hearing)

Strength 7 (Intimidate+, Might)

Willpower 4 (Courage)

 

Speed: 12         Health: 81/165/210        Defense: 12/14/15         AR + Toughness: 4I/4B/2P + 6/7/9

 

Attacks

Unarmed +7 1d3+2d6+7 S
Axe +7 4d6+7 W + 1d6 P
Flail +8 3d6+10 W + 1d6 P

 

Favored Stunts: Lightning Attack

Talents: Clearance* (Novice), Dual Weapon Style (Master), Elite Soldier (Expert), Grappling Style (Novice), Overwhelm (Novice)

Lazarus Talents: Armor (Expert); Endurance (Master; Meningeal Reinforcement, Thermoregulation, Tireless), Prowess (Novice; Weapon Mastery [Flexible]) Strength (Expert; Crushing Grip, Muscularity)

Equipment: Axe, Heavy Flail, Skull Belt

Threat: Dire

 

World of Lazarus: It’s Time to Organize!

Players coming to World of Lazarus from other Green Ronin titles are probably vaguely familiar with the organization rules used in the Dragon Age Roleplaying Game, Fantasy AGE, and A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying. This simple, flexible system lets players take control of a noble family, thieves’ guild, mercenary company, or nation of their very own as a core part of the campaign. With the setting’s intense focus on the responsibilities and effects of character’s actions on the world around them, this system is a natural fit for World of Lazarus as well!

The setting book includes a few sample organizations already, including the Novaya Bratva crime empire and a sample Waste town, but you can make your own as a core part of your own campaign, using adventures to help shape the PC’s organization and their impact on rival organizations. For PCs playing Waste, they might build up their own tiny community and target organizations representing warlord armies, aggressive towns, and the local tax man. Resistance-focused campaigns might instead use the rules to represent the PCs’ resistance cell and network of supporters while their opponents include Family intelligence organizations, law enforcement, and criminal groups looking to pressure freedom fighters into supporting their own illegal empire. For a Serf campaign, organizations can represent anything from rival research groups in a scientific and corporate-espionage-focused campaign to enemy forces in a military campaign.

But we already started thinking about a Family campaign last week when I created my own character for a campaign, Carrie Morrow, a loyal but ruthless intelligence agent for the Quinn family, who are desperately trying to hold the Borderland South Sub-Domain together in the face of war and Family power struggles. The PCs can operate their own organization representing to Quinn family and their power base, and for this kind of campaign we’ll want some enemies… Say the local Hock forces eating into the eastern border? And a rival Family hoping to oust the Quinn’s and take their place? And just to keep the players on their toes, we’ll toss in something stealthy… say an up-and-coming dark web media group associated with the Free and prying in to family business. Each of these organizations will need their own statblock, a few named NPCs so the PCs have something human to recognize with their forces, and a modus operandi. But that’s all behind-the-scenes work for the GM. For now, let’s focus on what the players can build: Their own Family!

The GM decides that a Junior Family like the Quinns has Medium Scale, and lets us build the Quinn Family by selecting organization Ability scores from an array: one 3, two 2s, two 1s, and a 0, plus 2 Focuses representing important assets or focuses. The Quinn Family is stretched pretty thing right now, dealing with a war and political backstabbers, so we’ll want a good Force for military confrontations and a decent Tradecraft to help handle spies and political intrigue. We need to decide who the Quinns are, what makes up their power base, and what unusual assets they might be able to call one. After fifteen minutes of passionate debate and some light name-calling, we arrive at:

  • Force 2
  • Finance 0
  • Influence 3
  • Culture 1
  • Tradecraft 2
  • Technology 1

The Quinns are popular and know where all the bodies are buried—controlling the local media outlets and entertainment venues—probably with strong ties to CARSEC, but their lavish lifestyle has left them cash-strapped and perhaps lagging technologically behind what would be expected of a Carlyle house. Organization Focuses can be more abstract than character Focuses, and for the Quinns, we go with Influence (propaganda) and Finance (blackmail); the Quinns can put some serious pressure on people when they need to, making up for their empty bank accounts, but it won’t win them many new friends.

Being built with an array, the Quinns begin with a Cohesion of 3 and 28+2d6… 36 Capital. That’s all an organization needs to get started. Now the GM just needs to figure out how frequently the PCs will make Organization checks, which in turn determines the timeline of the campaign. Organization checks once a month means things are hitting fast and hard, with constant struggle and changes in power, while every three months or every six months would be more appropriate for drawn-out political maneuvering in a campaign intended to covered years. The GM wants the campaign to be high-energy and high-stakes, so we’ll go with once a month, usually with a PC-scale adventure somewhere in between Organization checks.

A PC organization gives the GM additional hooks for adventures; a bad Organization check may result in a drop in Influence, and the adventure may involve tracking down whoever is trashing the Quinns’ reputation, for example. A PC organization also provides additional options for rewards. The PCs capturing a renown Hock scientist as part of the adventure may provide a free Technology Focus while a remarkable public victory over an opponent in an adventure could restore organization Capital. Especially with an intrigue-oriented campaign, it’s important for the PCs’ personal action to feel like they have larger consequences, and affecting their organization or others is an easy way to represent that!

Welcome to the World of Lazarus

The World of Lazarus campaign setting for the Modern AGE roleplaying game is almost ready for launch. As our very first supplement and setting for Modern AGE, we’re both proud and nervous, but being huge fans of the critically-acclaimed comic book, we’re more excited than anything.

For those of you who haven’t yet read Greg Rucka and Michael Lark’s comic series, Lazarus is a dystopian, near-future world that is deeply divided between the haves and the have-nots. The comic paints a broad picture of an eerily realistic future, with a handful of corporate oligarchs ruling over the teeming masses in a world ravaged by climate change, disease, and war. While it doesn’t provide many opportunities to bust out the rules for magic and psychic abilities found in the Modern AGE core rulebook (or maybe it does; it’s your campaign), it provides a lot of other elements that make for a great roleplaying game setting.

 

Lazarus is cyberpunk, but that incredible technology is only available to the most powerful figures on Earth, and those directly useful to them. Genetic engineering, cybernetic, quantum computer—these are all technologies mastered by the Families who rule to world, but are only available to their most trusted assets.

Lazarus is post-apocalyptic, but only to those who can’t buy their way out of its impact. War, pandemics, and super-storms have wiped out large swathes of the population and rendered once-bustling cities into ghost towns. The wealthy and powerful can insulate themselves from the decay, living in technological utopias and living lives familiar to us here in the 21st century—working 9-to-five jobs, picking up dinner, and relaxing to browse social media. But those without means, the vast majority of humanity, live hand-to-mouth in grueling, nearly medieval conditions or else go off the grid entirely to scavenge and hunt a living in the fallen ruins of the old world.

Lazarus is political thriller, where the actions of people on-high dramatically impacting the lives of those below them, but also where the actions of the teeming masses make the powerful sweat and toss in their sleep. The wealthy are held up by sophisticated social machines, and anything that throws a wrench in those gears threatens to topple their empire. Intrigue and quiet deals with the devil happen at all social levels, and test characters’ resolve and morals.

This is a fun, flavorful world ripe for a hundred possible campaigns, from Serf soldiers fighting a war with next-gen technology to desperate Waste survivors eking out a living and exploring ruins to maybe, finally strike it rich enough to know comfort.

World of Lazarus Character Creation: Carrie Morrow

We didn’t have room for a character creation example in World of Lazarus itself, so please indulge me while I run through a quick character to show how easy it can be and how character creation shapes the kinds of campaign’s you’ll run. I’ll generate Carrie Morrow, starting off with just a name because it makes it easier to reference her as we build. And also because I like the name Carrie.

Character creation uses the rules from Modern AGE, so let’s start out by rolling up some random ability scores: A 12 in Accuracy gives us a 2. The rest are 12, 11, 11, 14, 7, 15, 11, and a 6. That gives us:

  • Accuracy 2
  • Communication 2
  • Constitution 1
  • Dexterity 1
  • Fighting 2
  • Intelligence 0
  • Perception 3
  • Strength 1
  • Willpower 0

I can swap any two scores, but I’m going to hold off for now. Right now Carrie is a decent scrapper, charming, and has a keen eye, so lots of ways this character can go depending on what else we roll up for her, but I’m thinking whatever her background, she’s been to the school of hard knocks and learned most of life’s lessons the hard way.

To roll her background, we need to know Carrie’s social class, and to know that we need to know what kind of campaign the GM wants to run. World of Lazarus offers for main campaign models—Family, Serf, Waste, and Resistance—with each model having difference focuses and challenges. Let’s go for a Family campaign, because I like the idea of Carrie stumbling through complex family politics with her respectable Communication and poor Willpower. Let’s say the campaign is about the Quinns, a Junior Signatory Family in service to the Carlyles, left to run the Borderland South Sub-Domain as Stephen Carlyle left to replace his father in leading the Family and the war with Hock escalates.

Rolling some more dice gives us a 3 for her social class—Carrie is a middle-class Serf—and another 10 for her Background, so Carrie is a Retainer, one of the new backgrounds in World of Lazarus:

“Your loyalty and diligence earned you a position within a Family household, directly or indirectly attending to the needs and wishes of a member of the Family. Your position may grant you certain privileges over other Serfs, but only as long as you remember your place.”

So Carrie is a toadie to the Family. I can work with that. A Retainer gets +1 Intelligence, either the Communication (persuasion) or Intelligence (homemaking) focus, and Novice ranks in either the Contacts or Social Survivor talent (another new addition to this book). I’ll go for Communications (persuasion) and the Contacts talent. A roll on the Retainer table also gives us a 9 for the Intelligence (law) focus.

Let’s Roll a middle-class profession. Because Lazarus adds extra Professions, we roll 1d6 and then a second 1d6, getting a 5 and a 4: A Breacher. This is another new option in World of Lazarus, basically amounting to a specialist at getting into and out of complex systems—a sort of high-end professional thief or corporate espionage artist; not where I expected this character to go. A Breacher gets 15+Con Health, starting Resources of 6, a choice of the Dexterity (sabotage) or Intelligence (security) focuses, and either the Burgalry or Freerunning talents. I’ll go with Intelligence (Security) and Burglary; they mesh well.

At this point, I’m going to use my free ability swap to trade Carrie’s Strength and Intelligence; she’s got a lot of Intelligence focuses, and as a thief I don’t want to lower her Communications or Perception.

Finally, we’ve got to determine Carrie’s Drive. Two more six-siders gives us 6 and 5. Carrie is a Savior. She sees some clear evil in the world and works to spare people from it. Given the Family-oriented campaign and her career as an acquirer of important things, we can safely assume that Carrie is a true believer: she believes in the inherent superiority of the Family and their rigid social order. She’s a follower, and at this point I start poking the other players to see whose agenda she clings to and supports without question. Thanks to her Drive she gets either the Command or Inspire talent (let’s go with Command), and a bump to either her Health, a Relationship, or Resources. I’ll go with an extra Relationship slot, and save that for another player who plays a Family scion.

Here’s what her character sheet looks like:

Lazarus_MorrowCharSheet

And here’s her story:

The Morrow family has served the Quinns for generations as lawyers and bureaucrats, but Carrie Lilah Morrow serves in a starkly different capacity. Firmly believing in the principals of social Darwinism, she knows that her elevated position is a result of her family’s hard work and superior skills, and by extension the Quinn’s must work harder and be possessed of even greater survival traits to flourish in the harsh modern world. She has seen the world outside the Family estates and comfortable Serf residential blocks and know that people—those people who refuse to respect the system—fight and kill over the most meager scraps rather than accept the Family’s generous Labor Reward Point system, and the Quinns need to be shielded from the harshest of those realities if at all possible. Attending school alongside the next expected Family leader, Amelia Quinn, Carrie made an eager sycophant and enabler, doing whatever dirty work the Family scion found beneath her or wouldn’t want traced back to her. She still remains at Amelia’s right hand, now serving the Quinn family as a spy and saboteur.

Carrie probably has a lot of growing and eye-opening ahead of her in this campaign. It should be fun!

The World of Lazarus Pre-Order and PDF

The World of Lazarus (pre-order and PDF)We are big Lazarus nerds here at Green Ronin, so we’re giddy to announce that The World of Lazarus setting for the Modern AGE RPG is now available for pre-order and PDF download. And, when you pre-order the physical book, we’ll offer you the PDF version for just $5! If you prefer to shop in person, participating Green Ronin Pre-Order Plus retailers can get you the same $5 PDF deal. Have them ask us for details.

The World of Lazarus is the first campaign setting for Green Ronin’s new Modern AGE RPG. Based on the critically acclaimed Lazarus series by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark and presented by Image Comics, the book brings this noir dystopia to tabletop roleplaying games. In the near future, time has rendered death obsolete, and life infinitely cheap. In the wake of governments’ failure and global upheaval, the Families stepped in and divvied up the world. Now peace and order reign in a world of technological marvels and neo-feudalism. The Families quietly war with one another, wagering the lives of loyal Serfs while they relax in lives of indulgence, all while the Waste—those left behind by this new order—struggle daily for base survival. Play members of a Family in the highest of high-stakes game, Serfs fighting for their Family’s interests to maintain order and safety, or disaffected Waste fighting for a better life in the burned ruins of the old world. The World of Lazarus requires the Modern AGE Basic Rulebook for use.

Ronin Round Table: Using the Fantasy AGE Bestiary in Blue Rose

Part III

One of the tremendous benefits of the Adventure Game Engine (or AGE) system is how quickly we’ve developed a diversity of applications for it. Not only does this give us a bunch of great games to play, but allows us to mix-and-match them to get ourselves a breadth of options beyond that of any single game.

Today, we’re concluding a series that shows this off a little. The Fantasy AGE Bestiary is an excellent book full of great monsters, horrors, and adversaries for your Fantasy AGE heroes. But its utility isn’t limited to Fantasy AGE campaigns – we’re going to talk a little about how these monsters might fit into the romantic fantasy setting of Blue Rose.

This is the last of three articles taking these critters, one at a time, and discussing where they might fit into Blue Rose’s setting, and what (if any) mechanical adjustments need to be made to make room for them. See the first part here, and the second part here.

Brian Hagan

 

 

Ocean Worm: Though Aldinfolk have legends of dragons, they do not consider these titanic ocean-going terrors to be dragons, per se. Still, the sailor jargon referring to them as “worms” has stuck. Many sages also refer to them as leviathans, and to the Lar’tyans, they are the Great Enemy, one of the few things that threaten their mighty warships. None of these with breath weapons have ever been reported in Aldean history to date. (See also the Shadow-Touched Serpent, on p100 of the Six of Swords adventure anthology.)

 

Ooze: Though strange, ravenous creatures with gelatinous bodies have existed for a long time, it is only recently that Aldin scholars discovered a strange fact: all of them are the remains of sorcerous work. Though it’s likely the Sorcerer Kings deliberately created some of them, the truth is far stranger: most of them used to be other creatures, or other sorcerous creations entirely, and all collapsed and devolved into these protoplasmic horrors, held together literally with sorcerous malice and little else.

 

Penanggalan: Old, blasphemous rites are responsible for the creation of the penanggalan. Similar to those which create liches, these sorcerous rituals are remnants of the ancient sorcerous traditions in what is now Drunac. The witches of the Rezean people are some of the few who recognize the signs of penanggalan among today’s adepts.

 

Rat King: According to certain rhydan sages, the conjoined intelligence of these strange horrors is a blasphemous mimicry of rhydan intelligence, the closest that Shadow can manage to the gift of a living soul. Whatever causes it, they are dangers in places where rats are plentiful and have many places to hide, which includes most cities. Rhy-rats (see Aldis: City of the Blue Rose) are best aware of the dangers of the rise of rat kings, and consider the careful monitoring of non-rhydan rat populations as part of their wardenship against Shadow.

 

Reaper: The priesthood of Selene teach that the reapers first appeared with the sorcerous rite that created the first of the unliving (different legends identify this unliving differently, but most tellings suggest it was a vampire or lich). Whatever their genesis, reapers now come hunting among all of the people of Aldea, living or otherwise. Many who find themselves stalked by a reaper flee immediately to adepts of the Selenite priesthood, who specialize in discovering what it is that has gained the ire of a reaper, and help a victim put it to rights, though sometimes this means seeing a murderer pay for the deaths they’ve caused.

 

Sea Devil: Sea devils rise up from the dark and cold depths that the sea-folk avoid descending into, for Shadow dwells in the deep oceans as well. Some sea-folk legends claim that sea devils are Shadow-corrupted members of their people from ages past; others seem to suggest that they are predators on sea-folk who rose to power by dwelling in the pelagic abysses. Regardless of where they came from, sea devils are a threat to all ocean-going folk: they are capable raiders of both subaquatic and above-water targets, swarming out of the ocean to attack sea-folk coves, seaside villages, and ships alike.

 

Shadow Person: Neither darkfiend nor unliving, elemental or fey, the exact nature of the shadow person is largely unknown. They are rare enough that only studied scholars are likely to recognize the signs of their predation without extensive research. They are known to torment the people of Kern most regularly, likely because Kernish folk are denied the means of defending themselves against them by their dark masters. Shadow people are considered darkfiends in Jarzon, and the witches of Rezea are said to know specialized wards to keep them from creeping into tents among the tribes.

 

Shard Lord: Records in the Vault of Censure – that collection of works considered too dangerous to permit general dissemination by the Crown in Aldis – claim that shard lords are a true abomination: the results of an infusion of arcanely sensitive shas crystals with the emanations of Shadow. This is why they are sometimes referred to as “shas lords.” The fact that shard lords are found most often in the Shadow Barrens upholds this origin story, as all of the shas deposits of that dark land are known to be utterly corrupted by Shadow, suitable only for works that aid sorcery.

 

Soul Harvester: For as long as Aldean folk have recorded their knowledge of monsters, they have spoken of soul harvesters. But these monstrosities were relatively uncommon for most of that history, until the actions of one of the Sorcerer Kings, the tyrant Yngalandis. Experimenting with uses for souls, Yngalandis constructed a sorcerous device that acted as a beacon and lure for soul harvesters, drawing them into this realm and forcing them to his service. Unfortunately, machinations by a rival not only destroyed the device, but scattered its power across Aldea, acting as a lure without an attached trap. Though these emanations have long faded, whatever culture exists among the soul harvesters has established this dimension as a place attractive for hunting, and they continue to stalk its folk.

 

Thin Man: Some of those who served in the wretched halls and palaces of the Sorcerer Kings mentioned the thin men afterwards, describing them as strange entities that came through shadowgates at the behest of the Sorcerer Kings. Whether ambassadors from a strange people known only to the Sorcerer Kings, or otherworldly mercenaries paid in some terrible coin, no one knows. It is sufficient that these things yet stalk the peoples of Aldea. Some scholars suggest this means that the thin men have either developed their own means of passage into this world, or that there yet remains at least one shadowgate that they have access to.

 

Treeman: It is said by some that the deeps of Wyss are home to entire communities of the treefolk, living trees who shepherd trees the way mortal shepherd sheep and cattle. Whether this is true of Wyss or not, treefolk occasionally appear solitarily in other deep forests. They are usually hesitant to speak to any folk, although a few rhydan enclaves have managed to establish alliances with them, and actually consider them kin in some capacity, plants given minds and souls the same way they are animals who were given such. Treefolk mystics are all incredible masters of the Nature Reading and Plant Shaping arcana.

 

Troll: Though they were once the terrors that haunted the high mountain passes, trolls are almost exclusively found in the Golgan Badlands, the Veran Marsh, the Shadow Barrens, and the wastelands of Drunac.

 

Werebeasts: Almost unheard of in Aldea, the exact origins of werebeasts are by and large a mystery. Some rhydan enclaves warn their members that werebeasts are what happen when rhydan are lost to Shadow, while some scholars think it is a curse inflicted on those who have mastered shapeshifting arcana who become corrupted. However it happens, it does so rarely, so much so that most Aldeans have never heard of werebeasts, though their existence is recorded among the Rolls of the Damned in Jarzon, and in the lore of Selenite mystery cults.

Ronin Round Table: Using the Fantasy AGE Bestiary in Blue Rose

PART II

One of the tremendous benefits of the Adventure Game Engine (or AGE) system is how quickly we’ve developed a diversity of applications for it. Not only does this give us a bunch of great games to play, but allows us to mix-and-match them to get ourselves a breadth of options beyond that of any single game.

Today, we’re going to start a series that shows this off a little. The Fantasy AGE Bestiary is an excellent book full of great monsters, horrors, and adversaries for your Fantasy AGE heroes. But its utility isn’t limited to Fantasy AGE campaigns – we’re going to talk a little about how these monsters might fit into the romantic fantasy setting of Blue Rose.

This is the second of three articles taking these critters, one at a time, and discussing where they might fit into Blue Rose’s setting, and what (if any) mechanical adjustments need to be made to make room for them. See the first part here.

 

Fomoiri: Among the terrors dwelling in the rainy, wet moors of Drunac are the fomoiri, having inherited their worship of darkfiends from the ancient warlock lords who once ruled that blasted landscape. Rezean guardians watch the boundary between the horselands and those high moors, watchful for raiding parties of these terrors.

 

Gargoyle: During the attack on Kern and its Lich King, the valiant warriors of Aldis learned to their sorrow that the masters of Kern had long ago subverted the natural tendencies of the strange, stony gargoyles, impelling them through subterfuge and magic to defend the fortresses and bulwarks of Kern. Though they are not overtly evil, they have been made to serve evil over the years, and it is said that the Shadowed Seven continue this practice. In contrast, however, Queen Jaellin and her consort Kalyran refused to slay the gargoyle defenders of the Lich King’s own demesnes, showing them compassion. In return, the small clutch of gargoyles swore to defend the Lady of the Hart, and even now have taken up residence in the highest places of the Palace in the city of Aldis.

Art by Brian Hagan

Gatorkin: Bloodthirsty and violent, the gatorkin of the Veran Marsh are a terrible danger to all who come across them. Despite this, some of the smugglers of Basketh Bay have struck deals with the voracious predator-folk, recruiting them in their criminal activities in exchange for certain delicacies the gatorkin find intoxicating and otherwise unavailable. The smugglers are also fond of delivering those they want to disappear to the gatorkin clans as “gift meals.”

 

Slumbering Eaters, or Sleeping Ghouls (Ghoul): Though sometimes called ghouls, these horrors are not the undead things typically named such. An ancient creation of sorcerers, the szalychta (or “locust-eaters”) have a cycle of existence in Aldea. For decades, they hibernate in torporous stasis, unaware and seemingly dead. Then, something triggers and they awaken, ravenous. They swarm up out of their subterranean expanses, sometimes even digging up from beneath graveyards, causing strange sinkholes where graves used to be. There, they feast on the dead, but these are inevitably insufficient to sate the creatures, who then come boiling up out of the sinkholes to feast on the living. Different “clusters” of ghouls have different cycles, ranging in ten to fifty year increments.

 

Groi: Found naturally throughout the Golgan Badlands, and domesticated as guardians and consumers of offal throughout Kern, some merchants have tried to sell them outside of those areas. Given that domestication of grois is less a matter of actually taming them and more about keeping them so well-fed that they are largely quiescent, these attempts almost always end in tragedy.

 

Grootslang: Largely thought to be a bit of folklore, the Royal College in Aldis has a stuffed specimen (which many cynics claim can’t be real). Unfortunately, the beast is altogether too genuine, although found almost exclusively throughout the expanses of Wyss. Some Finest patrols, however, report seeing something that greatly resembles a grootslang around one of the ancient Shadow-haunted ruins of the Veran Marsh.

 

Iron Maiden: If there is anything that is proof of the horrors the ancient Sorcerer Kings were capable of, it is surely the iron maiden. Occasional excavations still unearth these horrors today in places around Aldis and neighboring lands, and the Shadowed Seven of Kern are known to have several that they trade amongst themselves like favors. It is also said that Jarzon’s masters have used these in the past, though the modern Church forbids them as the work of Shadow…although no one is exactly sure what happened to those horrors.

 

Knifehound: Though largely wiped out in Aldis, Jarzon, and Kern, wild packs of knifehounds still roam many other places in Aldea. They are rarer in the horselands of Rezea, though still a problem sometimes. They are far denser in places like Drunac, the Golgan Badlands, and the Shadow Barrens.

 

Living Doll: Though named for children’s playthings, the possession of inanimate bodies by the anguished dead is neither jest nor firelight tale. Though there are scholars with their own ideas why it happens, in truth no one really understands exactly why it is some undead spirits take the bodies of dolls, mannequins, and even statuary.

 

Man-o-War: One of the bits of lore recovered from Jarek’s lore hoards was the creation of these monstrosities, and the Shadowed Seven – lacking the old Lich King’s arcane might – have seen the benefit of creating them. In recent years, Kernish resistance speak of the “armory wagons,” tarpaulin-covered wagons that seem to merely contain piles of armaments. Attempting to raid them to arm their insurgencies, the resistance fighters tell tales of those very armaments rising of their own accord into these horrid, shambling shapes, and reaping the lives of the rebels.

 

Merfolk: Denizens of the deepest watery abysses where even the sea folk cannot live, merfolk are strange. Sea folk scholars claim that like night people, they were the creations of sorcerers in ages past. While many of them are indeed vicious, bloodthirsty predators fond of the flesh of other folk who are capable of battling the largest of sharks, others are more peaceable and curious about settlements. They are clearly a nomadic folk, with bands traveling in wide circuits that usually hug the sea floors.

 

Minotaur: The few known clans of minotaurs make their homes in the Golgan Badlands, but even these claim that they hail from a land of mountain peaks far to the east of the Badlands. Indeed, the profusion of confusing labyrinths and mazes hewn out of the stone canyons of the Badlands speak to the long occupation of these bull-folk tribes, who frequently send out raiding parties into Jarzon, Aldis, and (with the death of the Lich King Jarek) into Kern as well.

 

Morlock: The actual origins of the morlocks is unknown. Though they were among the strange terrors employed by the Sorcerer Kings, it is clear they predate even that corrupt magocracy. With the fall of the Sorcerer Kings, morlocks fled once more into the under-kingdom warrens they’d always occupied, and are still discovered occasionally, in the wake of earthquakes and mining cave-ins, and one thing is clear: their hunger and viciousness has not abated in the least.

 

Mothman: Found throughout the Veran Marsh, southeast Aldis, and the forests of eastern Jarzon, these strange nocturnal predators are crafty, accustomed to hiding the traces of their hunting. Many strange and inexplicable disappearances are the results of a successful mothman on the hunt, and even the best investigators of the Finest have trouble ascertaining their work.

 

Nymph: Unlike many of the other fey that adept summoners are familiar with, nymphs lie in close communion with the natural world. Many of them remain within wild spaces entirely, eschewing the otherworldly gathering spots of their fey kin. Their revelries lure mortals in and change lives…or sometimes end them in wild bacchanals.

 

Night Terror: Mainlanders often doubt the existence of such things, even when warned outright by sailors and the folk of the islands and archipelagos in the Western Ocean. But there are other legends attached to these horrors, such as the claims that certain sorceresses in Lar’tya know how to curse someone so that they attract night terrors within dozens of miles of them, enraging them as surely as blood in the water enrages their mundane kin.

Ronin Roundtable: Ronin Ramblings!

With summer beginning to fade, I thAldis: City of the Blue Roseought this would be a good time to give you all a general update about goings on at Green Ronin. These last couple of months

have been a whirlwind. We had a great GenCon and released Aldis: City of the Blue Rose, Modern 

AGE and its GM’s Kit, as well as the Basic Hero’s Handbook and Rogues Gallery for Mutants & Masterminds. We also ran a hugely successful Kickstarter for The Expanse Roleplaying Game. We were literally on the edge of our seats in the final hour, wondering if we’d hit $400,000 and thus secure a new James S.A. Corey

Modern AGE Basic Rulebook

short story to go in the game. With 10 minutes left to go, we crossed the threshold. It was exciting! Huge thanks to all the backers of the Kickstarter, and of course to Daniel Abraham and Try Franck (together, James S.A. Corey) for not only creating a fantastic scifi universe but also doing so much to help us promote the RPG. If you missed the Kickstarter, never fear. You’ll have more chances to hop onboard.

After a brief pause to catch our breath, it was back into the breach. I was PAX West last weekend doing some panels, one of which (Designing Worlds: Experiences Creating Tabletop RPGs) you can see here: https://www.twitch.tv/videos/304840481?t=

Hal meanwhile has been working on laying out our next several books. Ork: The Roleplaying Game (the new edition of Green Ronin’s very first RPG!) is at print

Pre-Order and PDF: Basic Hero's Handbook for Mutants & Masterminds

now and is available as a PDF and for pre-order. Hal is currently working on World of Lazarus, the first setting for Modern AGE (based on Greg Rucka’s awesome comic) and the long-awaited Faces of Thedas for Dragon Age. You should see PDFs and pre-orders for both of those books in the near future. Meanwhile, Hal is also working with James Dawsey on the artwork for Sentinels of Earth-Prime, a Mutants & Masterminds card game using the Sentinels of the Multiverse rules we’ll be releasing next year. Jaym Gates has also been working hard to get our fiction imprint, Nisaba Press, up to cruising speed. Our first novel, a Blue Rose tale called Shadowtide by our own Joe Carriker, has just gone to print. More Nisaba news coming soon.

Next weekend is our annual Green Ronin Summit. While we have a cluster of people in Seattle, much of our staff is scattered across the country working

remotely. We thus find it valuable to fly everyone here once a year, so we can get together in a non-convention environment and talk over our plans for the next 18 odd months. We’ll be considering various proposals, deciding on the schedules for our game lines, and doing some long-term strategizing. Oh, and eating an

ungodly amount of cheese. Can’t have a summit without cheese! Or webmaster Evan’s famous ice cream.

Later this fall we’re back on the convention circuit. Nicole and I are hugely excited to go to Australia for the first time for PAX Aus in Melbourne. We’ll have a booth there (and a cool unique pin through the Pinny Arcade program) and we look forward to

meeting Aussie gamers face to face. A week later I am a guest at Week End Geek in New Caledonia. If you had told young me that gaming would one day get me to the other side of the world, I would not have believed you! Certainly, South Pacific sun in November sounds better than Seattle rain. Once we’re back home, we’ll close out the year at PAX Unplugged in Philadelphia.

Stay tuned for more news and updates. Fun stuff always comes out of the Summit!

Ork! The Roleplaying Game, Second Edition

 

 

Ronin Round Table: Minions!

Hey folks, Jack here. Long time no Round Table, but we’ve been busy on wrapping the Campaign Builder’s Guide and preparing for the push to finish Lairs, our next book after that for Fantasy AGE.

Now originally I had intended to do the third Iconic character from our “core three” heroes featured on our covers and such. And I will do that. However, a discussion with Vigilance Press head James Dawsey about his FAGE campaign got me thinking about a particularly utilitarian entry utilizing the Fantasy AGE Companion and Fantasy AGE Bestiary. In particular I wanted to discuss Minion rules and how they work with various creatures, but the decisions and analysis here are similar to the thought processes for other parts of the Play Options chapter of the Companion, such as the mob rules.

The Companion has Minion rules for disposing of some creatures as a minor threat. This is represented by a Minion Rating, which is the amount of stunt points (SPs) you can use to automatically defeat an adversary. You can even use this to dispose of multiple minions if you have the points, making it possible for skilled heroes to slaughter lesser foes.  The rules are discussed in more detail in the Companion, but that’s how they basically work.

Now the idea behind those rules is that GMs would assign a Minion Rating based on their needs. For example, goblins might be rated 1 or 2, based on how little a threat they are in a campaign. A high-powered game might give Minion Ratings to giants or other powerful foes, while they are never given those in lower-powered games. However, its also true there are certainly general niches and impressions many Minion type adversaries fall into in most campaigns while other adversaries might use these rules in very particular and unusual—but still valid—ways.

With that said, let’s look at some Fantasy AGE Bestiary creatures and look at how they interact with Minion rules.  I hope this is helpful to those seeking to use these rules in their campaigns.

Beastkin Art by Mirco Paganessi

Bakwanee, Beastkin, and Bouda

These adversaries all fill the “dangerous in large groups, makes great minions for boss monsters” category.  That makes them good candidates for Minion Rating 2. They can be disposed of with some strong attacks, but with some luck you can take down some extras along the way. In high powered campaigns? Drop these down to 1 and watch them fall. Or perhaps make them Mobs and then give the Mobs a Minion Rating—you heard it here first—for games of heroes who can cut down armies like a Fantasy AGE version of the Dynasty Warriors video game franchise.

Chimera

So Chimera don’t usually have Minion Ratings. They’re singular threats and tough. However, you could give their various heads a Minion Rating and then link some of their special qualities to these heads. Hit a “Minion” on the Chimera and they lose their dragon head and its breath or some other part. Other multi-limbed or headed adversaries could be similarly handled. These heads would likely be hard to hit, akin to a Lethal Blow stunt (5 SPs). Thus it would make sense to have these heads be Minion Rating 5.

Gatorkin and Fomoiri

A bit tougher than the above Bouda and company, they usually have Minion Rating 3, meaning a truly epic Stunt can take out two, but they’re still a threat.

Gargoyles

Gargoyle Minion Ratings should be set at around 4. This would be the equivalent of using a Mighty Blow and Pierce Armor to bash through their stone-hard skin with a disabling blow.  Sometimes the adversary suggests a stunt or combination of them which would “finish them”. This makes a good model for a Minion Rating.  In these cases, GMs will to do a bit more bookkeeping might offer a discount to a character who has one of the stunts that go into such calculations, making it easier for them to cut down certain Minions. However, this is another thing to keep track of, so its not for everyone.

Sea Devils and Merfolk

Its worth noting these adversaries are more dangerous in water. Mostly this is because they are at home in this environment where most characters suffer penalties. However, if you’re making aquatic minions? Consider making them with two Minion Ratings, one for out of water and one for in. In this case of these foes? 2 out of the water and 3 in the water makes sense, though you could remove the rating entirely underwater if you want to reinforce how important it is to face these foes on your own terms to ensure success.

Reaper

Reapers generally shouldn’t have Minion Ratings. But what if their ability to mark others for death allowed them to give someone else a Minion Rating? Thus a character marked by a Reaper could be cut down by the creature more easily.  This would also be a way to simulate a “death curse”.  However, be extremely careful using this concept on PCs and if you do make sure they are taken to 0 health and in danger of death by this, allowing them some way to survive.

Vampire Thralls

Vampire Thralls might be Minions, representing how they are sometimes disposed of easily in fiction even as the Vampire Lord is a major threat. This is somewhat represented already with its Hard to Kill special quality, requiring a Lethal Blow stunt to stake or behead them once they have reached 0 Health. However, making these creatures Minions makes them more fragile, doing away with the requirement to reduce their health. In this case, a Minion Rating of 5 is appropriate, the same SPs you’d need to use a Lethal Blow to finish them in their non-Minion state.

That’s just a few examples, but it shows the variety of ways the Play Options rules from the Fantasy AGE Companion can intersect with other books in the line.

Modern Monday: What’s Up? And Your Cool Idea From Gen Con

Modern Monday isn’t as frequent as it used to be, because Modern AGE is out! Buy it, play it, talk about it online. Today I’m going to talk about what’s happening with the game before finishing off with a cool idea put forth by multiple gamers at Gen Con.

(Want to dip your toes in first? Try the free Quickstart out.)

It’s out. Spread the word with your phone, not, uh, the other tool.

What’s Coming Out?

The Modern AGE Basic Rulebook is winging its way through distribution chains (and if you click on the link, you can get it straight from us, too). Preorders were on the march before distribution. We had this at Gen Con and it sold well enough that we had to order more halfway through the convention. I’m not sure how many we got altogether, but we went home with one box of ten. As developer, this lightened my heart.

We had advance copies of the Modern AGE Game Master’s Kit at Gen Con, and it should be following shortly. That’s the GM’s screen and reference cards. Being a middle-aged man, I found it weird when people bought this without getting the core, but of course someone explained to me that many of you had the game on PDF and wanted a hardcopy table reference. My beard visibly grayed in response.

The World of Lazarus is the first Modern AGE setting, based on the acclaimed comic series by Greg Rucka. It’s currently finishing layout. This is Crystal Frasier’s project, though I covered a modest chunk of writing. I love the comic and am looking forward to this. We expect this one to drop in a matter of weeks.

The Modern AGE Companion has fully edited text and art notes. It’s due to come out in early 2019. This is a counterpart to the Fantasy AGE Companion, in that it includes many new optional rules, including advanced talents, duels, horror, fantasy and SF backgrounds (like elves . . . and aliens), powers, technology, fighting styles—lots and lots of stuff. As it gets close to release I’ll preview some of its content.

On the Horizon

We have a tentative plan for Modern AGE that covers future releases. As I’ve explained here and there, I usually only announce books when they’re text-complete, so this part’s going to be vague even though some of these are already in production. Note that anything on this list is subject to change, but it includes the following:

  • Adventure support.
  • Adversaries and other NPCs across a range of genres.
  • One original setting with a very broad scope. If it performs well, it will become Modern AGE’s flagship setting.
  • At least one other setting. Setting pitches have been very popular for this game.
  • A dedicated Game Master sourcebook.

Like I said, things in this list are subject to change. I don’t lock things in until they’re close to completion.

Damn, I Wish I’d Thought of That: Shifting Mode

As mentioned, the Modern AGE Companion’s text is finalized. This is almost a pity, because I get new ideas all the time. However, there’s one thing I can’t take credit for, which three different people proposed at Gen Con: mode shifting.

Modern AGE has Gritty, Pulpy and Cinematic Modes to match your campaign’s style. These geniuses of Gen Con suggested being able to switch modes mid-campaign. This is a fantastic idea, meant to reflect things like the transition from a Gritty investigation to a Cinematic shootout. Of course, it can also be used to create games where, outside of set piece combat, characters can be effectively knocked out and captured. Here’s how I suggest you do it:

  • Calculate each character’s Health in all three modes. When the mode changes use the new Health score. Calculate the amount of damage accumulated separately from a character’s Health score. When your character’s base Health goes up due to a change in mode, recalculate their remaining Health by subtracting damage from the base. When your character’s base Health goes down due to a change in mode, use the lower of base Health or their remaining Health after injury, if any.
  • Use the Defense and Toughness scores of the most lenient mode the campaign will be shifting to. If you’re using all three modes, that’s Cinematic. Recalculating these really isn’t worth the effort.
  • Apply all other mode rules based on whichever one is in play, except the one for Resources. Pick one mode for that and stick to it. The main ones are how Toughness works, and which stunts you can access.

A Little Bit of Gratitude

Modern AGE seems to be a success. Before I go, I want to thank you for making it that way. Enjoy it, Play it. Talk about your campaigns. Have fun.