The Expanse: Starting Points

The setting described in The Expanse RPG is just after the events of the first novel, Leviathan Wakes, but that doesn’t mean you have to set your game at that point. You could go back to the beginning of Leviathan Wakes and tell a story that runs parallel to the adventures of the crew of the Rocinante, or even have your player’s characters take their place. Alternately, if you prefer, you could run a game set in the period of the later novels, or a time much earlier when humanity is first leaving Earth. The core Expanse RPG book doesn’t provide source material for either of these possibilities (though you can expect to see later history covered in future Expanse RPG books) but that shouldn’t prevent you from doing what you want.

Early History

The early history of The Expanse is ripe with campaign and adventure possibilities. The novellas Drive and Butcher of Anderson Station offer insights into history before Leviathan Wakes.

The early expansion and colonization of the Belt offers a lot of potential stories and adventures. Rival companies vie for influence and control. Newly established colonies in the outer planets smuggle in the goods and supplies needed to survive. The early days of the expansion from Earth and Mars are much like the Wild West as humanity spreads out into the solar system in search a new and better life – anything to escape the overpopulated cities of Earth.

The novella The Churn describes the crime-ridden, overpopulated city of Baltimore. Crime bosses and their “families” smuggle weapons and illegal cybernetic implants while engaging in all-out war with the authorities. Players could be part of one of the underground smuggling operations or the desperate authorities trying to stem the tide of crime.

Corporations vie for power and influence as humanity reaches out to colonize asteroids, moons, and planetoids throughout the solar system. Early pirates prey on ships that travel the vast, empty spaces between worlds. Most of the early pirates are essentially privateers in the employ of corporations, using the greedy and morally compromised to do their dirty work for them.

The Outer Planets Alliance (OPA) springs from the wants and needs of the citizens of the planets beyond Earth and Mars. The Belters find themselves perilously close to slavery since they are dependent on resources controlled by Earth. The characters could be early members of the OPA struggling to keep the people of the Belt free and dreaming of a day when they control their own destinies. The Butcher of Anderson Station is a perfect example of the conflict between the OPA and the inner planets.

Future Stories

Future supplements for The Expanse will explore the events of Caliban’s War and beyond, but don’t let that limit where and when you set your stories. The struggle for power continues as humanity travels out into the stars. For the time being, stories in this time are up to the GM. You could use the novels as inspiration, telling stories that run parallel to those in the books, or the characters could take the place of the protagonists in those novels, but with the opportunity to take the story in their own direction. You could also choose to go in a completely different course with the story. The Expanse RPG does look at some of these possibilities, including a number of “beyond canon” series concepts where the protomolecule does something quite different, or ends up somewhere else altogether.

The Expanse: Space Combat

The Expanse Roleplaying Game takes the popular science fiction universe of The Expanse fiction series by James S.A. Corey (starting with the novel Leviathan Wakes) and brings it to tabletop gaming using the Adventure Game Engine or AGE System. You may well have heard about The Expanse RPG during our wonderfully successful Kickstarter, and may have even backed it then. In that case you have our thanks and the opportunity to check out a lot of existing previews. There’s also The Expanse Quickstart available to download for free. As the game will also be going into pre-orders soon, we’re going to preview a few more things to give you a look at what you can expect from it.

Space Combat Stunts

Combat between ships in The Expanse is similar in some regards to combat between characters, but on a much larger (and often slower) scale and more simultaneous in execution than character-scale combat.

A round of space combat tends to be a bit longer than a round of character-scale combat, upward of a minute or so, although the exact time is flexible, as with character-scale combat. It’s long enough for all of the ships involved to execute all of the steps listed previously.

At the start of each round of combat, the character in command of the ship makes a TN 11 Communication (Leadership) test. If successful, the commander generates 1 Stunt Point, plus additional SP equal to the value of the Drama Die, if the roll contains doubles, much like a Stunt Attack action.

The commander may spend SP generated from the command test on other ship combat actions that round. This is an exception to the general rule that SP must be spent immediately—they can apply to any test by the ship’s crew that round. However, other tests by the crew during that round do not generate SP, only the commander’s initial test. Once a new round of ship combat begins, any unspent command SP from the prior round are lost, and the commander makes a new command test.

Command Stunt Points may be spend on the following stunts:


 

Space Combat Stunts

These stunts are used by ships in space combat.

SP Cost                Stunt

1+                           (Core) Guidance: You grant a +1 bonus to a chosen ship combat test this round for each 1 SP you spend. Choose one of the following: maneuver test, electronic warfare test, evasion test, point defense test, or damage control test.

1+                           Blinding Maneuver: You maneuver your ship in such a way as to blind or limit an opponent’s Sensors. Each SP you spend reduces an opposing ship’s Sensors score by 1 (to a minimum score of –2) until the start of the next round.

2                             Multi-Targeting: Your ship’s point defense cannons (if any) can both attack and defend this round without any penalty.

2+                          On-Target: Every 2 SP you spend increases the TN of tests to evade your ship’s weapon attacks that round by +1.

2+                          Tactics: Every 2 SP you spend increase the TN of an opposing ship commander’s next command test by +1.

3+                          Evasive Action: Every 3 SP you spend grants a +1d6 Hull bonus to your ship that round for resisting damage from successful weapon attacks.

3                             Perceived Weakness: You increase the damage of one successful weapon attack by 1d6. This stunt is a risk, as it has to come in Step 5 of the round, and requires a successful hit.

4                             Precise Hit: One of your successful weapon attacks results in an additional Loss, even if the target’s Hull completely eliminated the damage.

4+                          Set-Up: You maneuver an opposing ship into a hazard, such as a normally shorter range weapon, a field of debris, or even a floating rock. This stunt is considered a weapon attack inflicting damage dice equal to half the SP spent (round down). The Set-Up can be evaded; the TN is 10 + your Intelligence + Leadership focus (if any) + half the SP spent. So if a character with Intelligence 2 and Leadership spends 5 SP on this stunt, the TN to evade the Set-Up is (10 + 2 + 2 + 2.5, rounded down to 2) or 16, and a failure on the evasion test results in 2d6 damage to the target ship.

Green Ronin in 2019! Part 3: Dragon Age, Fantasy AGE, and Modern AGE

Welcome back to our look at Green Ronin’s 2019 plans. If you missed the first two entries, you can check them out here and here. In this final installment, I’ll be talking about Modern AGE, Fantasy AGE, and Dragon Age.

Dragon Age

All three of these games are powered by the Adventure Game Engine (AGE), which has become something of a house system for us over the past five years. Blue Rose and our upcoming Expanse RPG also use AGE, so if you play any of these games, you’re learning the core rules of a growing group of RPGs that cover a variety of genres. I originally designed the Adventure Game Engine for the Dragon Age RPG, and it took off from there. I’m thus happy to report that Faces of Thedas, the long-awaited sourcebook for Dragon Age, is nearly here. Once we get the final green light, we’ll put the PDF up for sale and launch the pre-order. The hour is nigh!

Fantasy AGE

Last year we released the Fantasy AGE Companion, the first real rules expansion for the game. We are following that up this year with two books to make running Fantasy AGE even easier. First up is the Campaign Builders Guide, which is designed to help Game Masters create, build, maintain, and run campaigns. It is filled with advice on crafting encounters and adventures, creating interesting monsters and locations, running epic-style campaigns, and more. It also includes tables to help generate campaign elements when a bit of spontaneity and randomness is desired.

After that we have a book called Lairs, which provides a series of detailed challenges you can adapt to your Fantasy AGE campaign. Each chapter presents a terrifying or formidable adversary, their servants and followers, and their headquarters, base, or lair. Also included are rules for lair and scene specific stunts to step up location-based action in your game. Between Lairs and the Campaign Builders Guide, Game Masters will have many new tools to work with.

Later in the year we should have a setting book for Fantasy AGE. Jack Norris and Jaym Gates have been working on a new setting and you’ll hear more about that as the year progresses. We do also still hope to release the Titansgrave world book, but that depends on some things beyond our control getting sorted out. Can’t say any more than that but fingers crossed.

Modern AGE

Last year we launched the Modern AGE RPG, releasing its Basic Rulebook and GM’s Kit. As its name indicates, this takes the AGE rules into a contemporary context. You can use it to run anything from the Industrial Revolution to the near future. Optional rules for extraordinary powers mean Modern AGE easily handles things like urban fantasy or fighting occult Nazis as well. Just last week we released The World of Lazarus, the first campaign setting for the game. It’s a dystopian near future setting based on the Lazarus comics by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark and it’s a great way to get your Modern AGE campaign going. If you’d like to know more about The World of Lazarus, developer Crystal Frasier did a series of Ronin Round Tables about it that you can find here.

Next up after The World of Lazarus is the Modern AGE Companion. This sourcebook expands the Basic Rulebook in a bunch of fun ways. There are new backgrounds, professions, and talents, plus new rules for extraordinary powers, technologies, and organizations. It’s also got a very useful chapter on adapting the rules to various genres, such as gothic horror, alien invasion, and Cold War spies. Summertime will then see the Enemies & Allies sourcebook. If you’re looking for adversaries and NPCs for your campaign, look no further! Since Modern AGE covers many different genres, Enemies & Allies ranges far afield, from elite operatives and scientists to horrors and arcane beings.

Later in the year we are going big with our first original setting for Modern AGE, Malcolm Sheppard’s Threefold. It’s an epic modern fantasy setting where characters explore countless planes of existence. In it, our Earth is only one of many alternate worlds. Beyond them, the Otherworlds contain dimension-spanning empires of godlings and sorcerers, and Netherworlds ruled by demon-gods raise armies of the damned. Characters might travel between planes as agents of the Sodality, an organization devoted to peacekeeping and exploration, defend Earth as cyborg agents of Aethon the conspiracy which patrols multiple timelines, or serve other groups. Threefold is big by design, and broad enough to contain all of Modern AGE’s genre possibilities. Stay tuned for more info and teasers about Threefold throughout the year.

A Banner Year

All in all, 2019 is shaping up to be a great year and there’s more to come. Look for an announcement about our community content program for Fantasy AGE and Modern AGE soon. As always you can keep us with us on this website, Twitter, or Facebook. We’ve got more fun stuff to reveal as the months go by. Here’s hoping 2019 is better for everyone!

Green Ronin in 2019! Part 1: The Expanse, Nisaba Press, Freeport, and Blue Rose

It’s January and that means it’s that magic time when I talk about Green Ronin’s plans for the coming year. We have quite a lot going on, so this year I’m going to be splitting this message into three parts that we’ll reveal Tuesday to Thursday this week. Today I’ll be talking about The Expanse, Nisaba Press, Freeport, and Blue Rose.

The Expanse Roleplaying Game coverThe Expanse RPG

Last year we ran a hugely successful Kickstarter for a new roleplaying game based on The Expanse novels by James S.A. Corey. The core rulebook is in the final stages of layout so we’ll be releasing it soon. We will be opening up late pledges for the Kickstarter via Backerkit so if you missed the original campaign, you’ll have another chance. You’ll also find The Expanse in book and game stores, of course, and it’ll be available through our online store as well. Releasing concurrently with the core rulebook is the Game Master’s Kit, which has a screen, a new adventure, and reference cards. Later in the year we’ll be releasing Abzu’s Bounty, a six-part adventure for the game.

After that initial suite of products, we’ll be expanding the game in different ways. The core rulebook is set between the events of the first and second novels. As the game line continues, we’ll be incorporating the events of the later novels in various sourcebooks and adventures. If you’d like to learn more about the game, lead designer Steve Kenson started a series of Ronin Round Table posts about it. You can read parts 1 and 2 now and more will follow starting next week.

 

Nisaba Press

Last year we started Nisaba Press, an imprint for fiction publishing. We are doing both short and long-form fiction that ties into our various game worlds. We began with short stories last year. These were initially released individually but we’ve moved to an electronic magazine format. You’ll now find our short fiction in the Nisaba Journal, a bi-monthly magazine that supports our various game worlds. Issue #1 came out towards the end of last year and issue #2 is out this month.

This year’s exciting development is full length novels! We’ve spent the past year building towards this and we’re beyond excited to debut our first novel this month. Shadowtide is a Blue Rose novel by our own Joseph Carriker and you can order it right now! We’ll be following that up with Height of the Storm, a Mutants & Masterminds novel by Aaron Rosenberg, and a collection of Lost Citadel short stories. More novels are in the works, so keep an eye on Nisaba Press.

Freeport

Last week we started the pre-order for Return to Freeport, a six-part scenario that is the biggest addition of adventure content for the setting in more than a decade. Since 2013 our Freeport releases have used the Pathfinder rules and Return to Freeport follows suit. As you’ve likely heard, however, a second edition of Pathfinder is coming this summer and while we wish our pals at Paizo the best, we aren’t going to support the new edition.

Does this mean the Freeport line is ending? Hardly! Freeport is our oldest setting, first seen in the Origins and ENnie Award-winning adventure Death in Freeport back in 2000. 2020 is thus both Green Ronin’s and Freeport’s 20th anniversary and you better believe we have some plans.

So this year you will get Return to Freeport and short fiction from Nisaba Press. We’ve collected last year’s Freeport stories into a short anthology called Dark Currents, which is available now. More Freeport fiction will appear in Nisaba Journal throughout the year. Then next year we’ll be doing a big re-launch for Freeport with a different rules system. Stay tuned for more news about that!

Blue Rose

Last but by no means least, we’ve got Blue Rose, our romantic fantasy RPG. We’ve got two books planned for the game this year. The first, Envoys to the Mount, is something special: a full-length chronicle. This series of adventures will play out over five years of game time and see the characters advance through all four tiers of play. Then, late in the year, we’ve got Touching the Wild. This is a dual-purpose book. Half of it is a bestiary of various Shadowspawn to provide new challenges in your chronicle. The other half is a player’s guide for Rhydan with lots of new options for Rhydan PCs. If you like Blue Rose but have wanted more psychic animals, Touching the Wild is for you!

That wraps up part 1 our 2019 plans. Come back tomorrow to learn about Mutants & Masterminds, Sentinels of Earth-Prime, and 5E.

The Expanse: Power Armor

The Expanse Roleplaying Game takes the popular science fiction universe of The Expanse fiction series by James S.A. Corey (starting with the novel Leviathan Wakes) and brings it to tabletop gaming using the Adventure Game Engine or AGE System. You may well have heard about The Expanse RPG during our wonderfully successful Kickstarter, and may have even backed it then. In that case you have our thanks and the opportunity to check out a lot of existing previews. There’s also The Expanse Quickstart available to download for free. Now that the game is also going into pre-orders, we’re going to preview a few more things to give you a look at what you can expect from it.

 

Artist: Mirco Paganessi.

Power Armor

One of the most fearsome sights on the modern battlefield of the System is military power armor, like the Goliath suits worn by Martian Marines. Two and a half meters tall, and weighing 400 kilograms even before a soldier climbs inside, power armor provides both formidable offense and defense. Half armor and half spacesuit, the armor has radiation shielding sufficient to let soldiers walk through a nuclear bomb crater minutes after the blast. The armor’s titanium and ceramic-composite exterior shielding is typically painted in camouflage patterns appropriate to the assignment, and enemies are often surprised just how well an enormous soldier in power armor can blend into the environment when they stand still.

The armor’s hydraulics system magnifies the wearer’s strength, much like a mech rig, and carries most of the weight of the suit, allowing soldiers in power armor to undertake marathon hikes and move surprisingly fast. They also enable the armor carry heavy weaponry, typically a rotary machine gun and sometimes a grenade launcher or micr0-missile pack. Sensor packages feed data to the wearer on the helmet’s HUD, allowing them to identify and track infrared targeting lasers used by opponents’ weapons, and even visually parse those weapons using the suit’s camera feeds to match them against an internal database. Those same cameras monitor in all directions, sending feeds back to squad officers and their military command center, which can monitor the life signs of both the soldiers and opponents who have been detected and attacked.

In AGE System terms, power armor grants the wearer the following:

  • All of the benefits of a vac-suit.
  • +12 armor bonus with no armor penalty, so long as the armor is operational.
  • +10 effective bonus to Strength and Strength (Might) tests.
  • +2 bonus to Speed and +4 bonus to Constitution (Endurance) tests.
  • An integral rifle doing 3d6 + Perception damage and capable of performing automatic weapon gun stunts.
  • +2 bonus to Dexterity (Stealth) tests compatible with the unit’s camouflage.
  • +2 bonus to Perception tests where the armor’s sensor package applies.

If power armor loses power, it becomes massive deadweight, effectively leaving the wearer restrained and unable to use any of the armor’s systems.

Maintenance: Power armor requires regular maintenance activities during interludes to remain in full working order (see Interludes in Chapter 5).

The Expanse: Character Creation!

The Expanse Roleplaying Game takes the popular science fiction universe of The Expanse fiction series by James S.A. Corey (starting with the novel Leviathan Wakes) and brings it to tabletop gaming using the Adventure Game Engine or AGE System. You may well have heard about The Expanse RPG during our wonderfully successful Kickstarter, and may have even backed it then. In that case you have our thanks and the opportunity to check out a lot of existing previews. There’s also The Expanse Quickstart available to download for free. Now that the game is also going into pre-orders, we’re going to preview a few more things to give you a look at what you can expect from it.

Expanse Character Creation: Izzy Moon

We’re creating an Expanse character for a game set in the Belt and the outer planets, and want someone with some experience aboard ships and stations. Let’s also focus on a character with some technical skills.

Starting off our character, we make nine 3d6 rolls on the Determining Abilities table, giving the character the following scores: Accuracy 2, Communication 1, Constitution 0, Dexterity 2, Fighting 1, Intelligence 1, Perception 2, Strength 3, Willpower 2. Since we want more of a technical character, let’s swap the rolled Strength and Intelligence scores, for Intelligence 3, Strength 1 (you get the option of doing that).

Since our game takes place out in the Belt, we decide to go with a Belter origin, although some of the characters may have different origins. We take note of the Belter traits; hopefully, the characters won’t be spending much time in normal gravity environments like Earth, Belters are hindered, even restrained, in heavier gravity.

We roll 2d6 for our character’s social class, getting a 6. Consulting the Belter column of the Social Class table, that indicates Lower Class.

Rolling a die on the Lower Class Backgrounds table, we get a 5 for Urban. Looking at the background, we give our character +1 Dexterity and choose the Misdirection talent, feeling like our techie is more cunning than athletic. Then we roll once on the Urban Benefits Table, getting an 8 for +1 Perception. Looks like we’re right!

Looking at the Lower Class Professions, we immediately knows that we want Technician and choose that with the GM’s permission rather than bothering to roll. Looking at the description, we give our character the Intelligence (Technology) focus and the Novice degree in the Hacker talent.

Looking over the drives, there are several appealing ones. Unsure which to choose, let’s roll randomly: We get a 5, indicating Column 2 on the Drive table, and then a 4, giving us Rebel, suggesting this character is a nonconformist who has gotten in trouble in the past. That fits. From this drive, we choose Improvisation to add to the character’s talents and Reputation for our improvement.

Our lower class Belter technician has Income 2, not an extravagant lifestyle! It’s pretty clear the character just makes ends meet, and can be described as struggling. The character lives a lifestyle of cramped quarters and eating mostly kibble and cheap noodles, but does at least have essential technical tools and equipment, which are part of the starting character’s package.

So our character’s starting Fortune is 15, unmodified because we applied the improvement from drive to Reputation. The character’s Dexterity is 2, giving us Defense 12 (10 + 2) and Speed 12 and Constitution is 0, so the character has Toughness 0. Sounds like our Belter techie is going to want to stay off the front-lines in a fight!

Consider who our Belter techie is. Let’s say that she came up from a lower class background but her smarts and technical savvy helped her to make it. Unfortunately, she occasionally needed help from less than legal elements to get what she needed for her education and repaid them with the occasional favor. Now she wants to get out from under the thumb of said criminal elements and go legit, but opportunities are thin. Longer-term, she wants to change the system that kept a smart Belter kid from realizing her potential without having to work the black market, although she’s not sure that she agrees with all of the OPA’s politics, particularly the more radical or violent factions.

As a low-class Belter and hacker, our character has plenty of opportunities to make both friends and enemies. She may know fellow Belters, have run into characters with lower class or criminal backgrounds, or who worked security or some other job that brought them to her part of the station. As a hacker, she may know some characters from online interactions, maybe some who think she is someone else entirely, such as corresponding with another character with mutual interests, who doesn’t yet know their friend is a Belter with no formal education.

We work out some more details of our character: We decided somewhere along the line that she’s a woman. Since she’s a Belter, we decide her heritage is a combination of Korean, Indian, and Brazilian in her more recent ancestry. Searching some online resources for suitable names, we come up with Isabella Anika Moon, known to her friends as “Izzy,” who is ready for her first adventure!

Lazarus: World of Lazarus as a Toolkit

Being a game designer means being a tinkerer, and even as you develop a new game, a part of you thinks “this would be perfect for this other game I want to run…” And so I think every AGE book, regardless of the line, is a stealth toolkit for Gamemasters. At least that’s how I went into designing World of Lazarus. While most of the new player backgrounds, for example, have in-world flavor, they are easily adapted to almost any Modern AGE campaign. Minor Family can be translated to “Scion of the 1%” while Herd Worker makes a dang good “Rust Belt Burnout.” Most of the talents are ready to pop over to any Modern AGE game as well (with GM permission, naturally). Except…

What to do with Minor Augmentation and the various Lazarus talents?

The four flavors of Minor Augmentation are built to balance with other talents, and you can always pop them into your otherwise mundane Modern AGE game as “Savant” or something similar: extraordinary but entirely natural abilities a character might be born with that set them apart. In this case, you might want to limit a character to only one Minor Augmentation talent and eliminate the story idea that minor augmentations need regular maintenance to keep functioning (or cause other occasional drawbacks).

The Lazarus augmentations don’t work quite as well as natural abilities. But man… do they work great for a variety of unnatural abilities! As we talked about a few weeks ago, the Lazarus talents represent a wide variety of improvements, from gene-splicing to drugs to cybernetics, and you can use them to reflect any of these options in your own home-spun campaigns! Want to do a gene-punk game where splicing is the new tattooing? Want an urban fantasy game where every PC starts with the blood of something unearthly in their veins? Lazarus talents can even represent temporary abilities PCs get from alien symbiotes, powered armor, or esoteric talismans.

Whatever use you find for Lazarus talents, remember that they offer players a power boost over mundane talents, and so they should come with an appropriate in-world drawback. In World of Lazarus, the setback is story-based: to possess a Lazarus talent, a PC must (theoretically) be a Lazarus. They are at the beck and call of their Family, and rely on their Family to maintain their extraordinary bodies. Loyalty is programmed into their DNA, and disobedience means death. Your own campaigns may impose similar constraints on PCs with Lazarus talents: they might need to remain loyal to a powerful figure to maintain their talents, or need expensive drugs or equipment that constantly push them to take dangerous jobs. They might instead have a more mechanical drawback, such as imposing a level of fatigue whenever the PC uses them in a scene, or requiring a PC to spend Power Points to activate it. It could open up weird new gameplay options: Lazarus talents might represent high-end cybernetics that need maintenance and can be hacked, introducing a minor story cost and a weird mechanical vulnerability.

There’s no perfect way to adapt new rules into your campaign, so play around and see what feels a little too good in play and what seems just right. Make sure your players know the rules might be in flux, and be willing to listen to their feedback as well. If they like the rules even if they seem a little much to you, always remember your NPCs can use them too!

OH! And my personal campaign idea? Roll Lazarus talents in with psychic powers and let my players go mind-diving into weird psy-scapes, Psychonauts-style!

World of Lazarus: Hazardous Contents

I am going to share something personal with all ya’ll here today:

I love hazards. They’re probably my favorite item in the AGE GM toolkit. They’re a quick, versatile little element that helps you balance out the TNs and damage to throw out when you need to slow your players down or make them think. But the Modern AGE core rulebook only gives you three examples: the Burning Building, the Killer Drone, and the Rushing River. There’s a lot of ways to hurt your PCs beyond these examples, and so World of Lazarus offers fifteen new hazards to drop into your game!

Some are pretty straightforward. The Auto-Turret is a fairly standard trap as you would expect it in the dystopian future of the Lazarus setting, and is easily adapted to other active dangers, while the Hock Flu details how to run a deadly, progressing disease. Other’s describe difficult environmental situations, like the Dust Storm and Superstorm, or help describe how arduous travel can be in a wasted world with the Crossing the Wastes hazard.

Other hazards present more esoteric threats that hit the things PCs really care about. The Financial Collapse describes what to do when a rival targets a character’s assets and contacts. Biometric Recognition Systems threaten a character’s anonymity in the modern world. But I think my favorite addition to this book is the Devastating Compromise, a hazard a character brings on themselves when they have to betray their core values to save others or improve their own lot in life. Here’s the text:

THE DEVASTATING COMPROMISE

MINOR

Sometimes, in a harsh world, people do monstrous things in the name of survival, or loyalty, or desperation, but these choices can haunt them for weeks or years. When a character takes an action that lies far outside their normal morality or runs counter to their Virtue, they must attempt a TN 13 Willpower (Self-Awareness) test (or higher, for particularly heinous crimes) or be haunted by their choice for the next 24 hours, suffering a –2 penalty to all Communications, Perception, and Willpower tests due to distracting thoughts, anxiety, and depression. Each time a character fails this roll, make a note of it. Once a character has failed a number of tests against devastating compromises equal to their Willpower + 5, they gain a permanent –1 penalty to all Willpower checks as their convictions and compassion erode. Once a character has failed a number of tests against devastating compromises equal to their Willpower + 10, they lose the ability to regain Conviction by following their Virtue. Characters can reverse these eroding effects through therapy, introspection, and following their Virtue, generally erasing one failed test for every significant deed done or six months of mental health counseling. The Hock drugs (see page 34) known as Blues can temporarily negate the effects of a failed test or the long-term Willpower penalty from accumulated failures.

Morality and personal choice are important elements in the Lazarus comic books, and reflecting that in the game’s mechanics felt like an important goal in development. In a world where human decency is dying out, betraying yourself has long-lasting impacts on a character. Gamemasters may adapt this hazard—perhaps replacing Self-Awareness with another Willpower focus like Courage or Self-Discipline—to reflect other situations with mounting stress or dread, like esoteric horror or the agony of retail work in the holiday season.

Pick up a copy of World of Lazarus to check out the fifteen new hazards available, as well as a wealth of other GM options like adversaries, campaign models, adventure seeds, and a sample adventure.

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