Ronin Roundtable: Charting the Expanse

As you may well have heard by now, Green Ronin Publishing has licensed The Expanse science fiction novels by James S.A. Corey to produce The Expanse Roleplaying Game, an AGE System game set in the world of the popular series (the seventh novel, Persepolis Rising, was released on December 5th, in fact). The Expanse is one of a number of different AGE System products we’re working on, including Modern AGE, the modern action-adventure equivalent of our Fantasy AGE rulebook, and Lazarus, based on the comic book series created by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark (soon to become a television series as well). Just how are we handling The Expanse in relation to what has come before with the AGE System and what is currently in the works?

Green Ronin to Produce The Expanse RPG

First and foremost, The Expanse is a stand-alone game. It will share a common system with other games, making it easy for AGE System veterans to pick it up. The core book will be self-contained and all that you need to get started playing your Expanse series, much the same way Blue Rose is a stand-alone game, even while it shares systems in common with Fantasy AGE.

Second, while The Expanse uses most of the common elements of the AGE System, our design philosophy has always been to tailor the system to suit the setting and story rather than the other way around, so the game will feature elements particular to The Expanse novels, setting, and style, such as replacing the Health score with a Fortune score, measuring more of a character’s luck in terms of staying alive in a fight or other dangerous situation. A twist on Fortune is you can spend it on things other than damage, but you run the risk of not having as much of it when you’re attacked or encounter other hazards. Likewise, the spending of Fortune affects “the Churn,” an in-game measure of how perilous and complicated things are: Eventually, the Churn can boil over and—as fans of The Expanse novels know—things can get really complicated really fast.

Third and final for this preview, The Expanse core book starts out with a setting in the nearly year-and-a-half between the events of the first novel, Leviathan Wakes, and the second, Caliban’s War. It is after a significant shake-up in the solar system, when major events are beginning to portend even larger changes in the future. It provides us—and your Expanse game—with a convenient starting point without the need to detail every event in the entire series. Plus it allows you (and us) to follow along with the series as major events continue to unfold. You can play in parallel to the events of the novels (it’s a big universe, after all, with a lot going on) or put your own characters into the roles of the crew of the Rocinante in some of the later stories of the series.

We’re still in the early stages of development, working with initial drafts of the text for The Expanse core book, so we’ll have more previews and news for you as things develop. For now, our goal is to ensure your own stories in The Expanse are exciting, fast-paced, and character-driven, with plenty of complications and a universe where even the sky isn’t a limit for very long.

Ronin Roundtable: Modern Ork!

No, that’s not coming out. But wouldn’t it be a hoot?

I’m contracted to act as “Developer at Large,” for Green Ronin, because is suits my role working on whatever needs to be done. Ork! The Roleplaying Game (Second Edition!) and Modern AGE are on my mind, as varied elements of my job, with one thing in common: They’re both in production. Ork! got there in September, and Modern AGE entered that stage earlier this month.

I developed both games, but their respective processes were very different. With Ork!, I followed in the steps of Jon Leitheusser, who did initial development, which in turn was based on the original game by Chris Pramas and Todd Miller. As Todd Miller is basically the ork god Krom, and all iterations of Ork! are intended to follow his mayhem-soaked vision, it was my job to make sure the project was properly . . . soaked. Spattered? Maybe that didn’t come out right.

 

Modern AGE put me in a more traditional role, developing the book from start to finish. Chris Pramas had ideas for how to make a classless, contemporary Adventure Game Engine RPG. I carried those into an outline, selected writers, sent nagging emails to writers (they didn’t need them, I’m just insecure) developed multiple drafts, directed playtesting, and adjusted everything. It’s hard to find landmarks for a game designed for wide open, multi-genre play, so in the end I went with the systems and ideas I wanted to see combined, in a single package.

What does “in production” mean? That the final drafts have been written, edited and put through a pre-layout proof. Using techniques I’ll call “sorcery,” (Note: I do not do layout) the layout person (often Hal) turns these drafts, which are .rtf files with markup Adobe software recognizes, into book-like PDF files. Meanwhile, artists submit sketches based on my art notes, and along with other folks, I approve them or request changes, until they end up as finished pieces.

My art notes could be better, as they’re the aspect of the job I have the least experience with, but they’re coming along, and sketches are coming in. For Ork!, that means reviewing Dan Houser’s humorously brutal illustrations, like one of an prideful ork getting crushed by Krom! (This is basically how the game’s mechanics work, by the way.) For Modern AGE, I’m helping artists get the looks of iconic characters just right. Modern AGE uses a common set of characters, players and an “iconic GM” in illustrations and examples, so it’s important to me that consistent visuals follow.

Once the finished art is added to the prototype layout we go over everything again, and check the files for technical issues too. At that point, as someone who is on the creative side of things, I assume the finished files float into the stars as wisps of fragrant mist (I also imagine the wisps are purple—maybe Blue Rose wisps are blue though) and by divine providence, materialize as books in warehouses. There are Ronin who apparently do work related to this; their tasks are a mystery to me. I must ask them what color the wisps are and also, why are they always annoyed with me for asking stupid questions?

The upshot of this is that both games are on track for an early 2018 release. This is how they got there—at least, as far as my part of it goes. Now, onward. Forward. There are new projects in line. Modern Ork! is, sadly, not one of them, though who knows? The idea is starting to grow on me.

Ronin Roundtable: Nisaba Press!

Hi, I’m Jaym Gates, Line Manager for Green Ronin’s Nisaba Press. We’ll be publishing fiction tied in to the Green Ronin properties, both short fiction and novels. I was given three missions: make a great fiction line, make sure it was a great diverse fiction line, and find some great new voices for both fiction and RPGs. That’s pretty much the most exciting mission plan you could give me, for anything. Why? I got into editing because I discovered how amazing it was to find those incredible new voices that no one else has found yet. There is also something intensely rewarding about taking a good piece of fiction and refining it to its best form.

As we’re releasing our first batch of regular stories, I wanted to talk a little bit about tie-in fiction, and why Nisaba.

First off, one of the best things about tie-in fiction to me is that it gives fans new stories and elaborates on beloved settings. Flavor text in RPG books is great, but sometimes you really want to go on an adventure with characters. See the sights of Emerald City, smell the sweet reek of Freeport, maybe feel the wind on your face as Rezeans gallop across the plains. While we can’t LITERALLY give you all of that, fiction gives windows to the new and existing characters in our settings. Maybe they’ll inspire new adventures, show up in your existing adventures, or just be a brief excursion with a fictional friend, but any way it goes, we love giving fans the chance to interact at more length with our settings.

It’s also a great way to get your RPG fix if you don’t have time to game, are playing another game, or can’t get a good group. It’s like talking to an old friend you don’t get to see often enough.

Secondly, tie-in fiction is a great way for new fans to get involved. There are a lot of settings, a lot of rules, and a lot of history. It can be scary for someone to just jump in at the deep end with no idea what’s going on. A short story or novel takes away that overwhelming feeling of “SO MUCH STUFF” and gives the reader a gentle introduction to a new place.

And last but not least: because the world is made of stories, and stories allow the creators to develop things that might never come up in the RPGs, or that might just not have been thought of. Narrative is a unique thing that forces you to think of so many angles that you might not otherwise see. The scents and sounds of a world, the interplay between character and their religion, questions of morality and honor. A story fleshes out what the RPG has built to a level that flashes and flavor text can’t approach.

So that is “Why tie-in fiction.” I’m really thrilled with the stories I’ve already been working on. We have Anthony Pryor’s My Night in Freeport, Lindsay Adam’s tale of an Aldean agent and a Jarzoni priest-adept, Eytan Bernstein’s story of Kid Robot’s first day of school, and so much more. All of these are original fiction set canonically in the settings you know and love. My hope is that they bring another aspect of engagement and joy in the setting.

And keep an eye out, we’re planning to host an open submission period in a few months, so if you’re wanting to write fiction for Blue Rose, Freeport, or Mutants & Masterminds, get plotting now!

Ronin Roundtable: Walking the Royal Road part two: Backstory

Hello and welcome to Walking the Royal Road, an ongoing series on using the Tarot (or Royal Road, in Aldin parlance) in Blue Rose AGE games. See also the first in the series, Part One: Friends & Loved Ones.

The Tarot has been used in roleplaying games for quite a long time, in a variety of contexts, and with good reason. Reading and deciphering the Tarot is less a matter of divination as it is storytelling—each card carries an intrinsic meaning (and sometimes a second meaning when the card appears inverted) that can serve as a building block for a larger narrative. When multiple cards are laid out, with each card position also having a meaning, it is possible to use them to build a small story of some kind, through the language of symbolism and the very human act of pulling disparate elements into a larger narrative.

The Blue Rose AGE core book already suggests a use of the Royal Road: in the establishment of a character’s Calling, Destiny, and Fate. There are also some suggestions for using tarot in Chapter Ten (p. 313, in the section “Walking the Royal Road,” where the title for this series comes from). This series of articles is going to suggest some additional uses for them.

The cards we use in these articles are the Shadowscapes Tarot, with art by the amazing Stephanie Pui-Mun Law, whose art has graced the covers of Blue Rose books throughout the game’s history.

Backstory

Today’s article discusses the use of the Tarot in generating a backstory. Romantic fantasy heroes frequently have backstories filled with twists, turns, tragedies, and confrontations. By the time these characters reach adulthood, many of the heroes of Tamora Price, Mercedes Lackey, Diane Duane, and other such authors have experienced a great deal that has shaped them into the heroes they are today. Of course, in those novels we frequently get to see this happening, but most Blue Rose game begin with fully adult characters. This provides a way to mimic some of those challenges.

The Spread

The spread for this method is not static, but can depend on just how much backstory the player (or Narrator, if creating the backstory of a Narrator character) wants to have had. A good round number for beginning player character is probably three cards: one for adolescence, one for young adulthood, and then a card that represents the struggle that led to the hero’s first level in a player character class. If they’re starting off at higher levels, an additional card for each level or two is probably also appropriate.

Feel free to also draw additional cards for major events. If your character is rhy-bonded, perhaps a card that reflects the events where that rhy-bond awakened in their lives. If they are part of the Sovereign’s Own, perhaps a card that represents them getting noticed or receiving training. If the character is older than a young adult, perhaps a card for every five or ten years since their young adulthood makes sense.

Some options for individual card meanings include:

  • Childhood
  • Adolescence
  • Young Adulthood
  • First player character level (often combined with another card, most likely Young Adulthood)
  • Rhy-bond
  • Entry into an Organization, Institution, or Group
  • Beginning of a defining Relationship
  • End of a defining Relationship
  • Starting a Family
  • Starting a Business
  • Middle Age

As you can see, there are a great many options, with the possibility of many more. Try and keep your focus to five cards or less, as the more detail there is, the harder it gets to weave it all together into a single cohesive whole.

This system is quite simple to use. Lay the cards out, face down, in a line. Then, from left to right, flip over each card, noting what stage or element of backstory this represents. Take the meaning of the card in question (using online resources or the booklets that frequently come with Tarot decks) as a prompt about the events the card represents; additionally, you can let the images on the cards themselves be a guide as well. Take notes; each of these cards is its own small story, but each is also a step in a greater story progression.

 

Example

In the image, we have laid out four cards to represent a new player character named Jaxan. Jaxan is a human adept (Forest Folk background) who is rhy-bound to a rhy-owl named Whisper. I have decided that the first card represents his childhood, the second card is his adolescence, the third card is the establishment of his bond with Whisper, and the fourth card is the achievement of his adulthood and the gaining of his first level of adept.

Childhood: Five of Swords. This card shows a winged swordsman, with a pair of dark-hued geese or maybe swans at his side. The card itself represents discord and conflicts of interest, the feeling that the world is arrayed against you, so you feel justified in focusing only on your own concerns and profit. Jaxan’s childhood was clearly tumultuous, and it looks like he had to take care of himself, having no one else to do so.

Adolescence: Judgment. This card shows a fey-like spirit among the flowers, playing music and surrounded by butterflies. The card represents release and renewal, having to make hard choices, making a judgment that may be harsh and difficult to face, but absolution comes thereby. With his adolescence, however, Jaxan was freed in some way by hard choices he made.

Rhy-Bond: Two of Pentacles. This card shows a harlequin-like figure balancing on one foot atop a pillar, while he huggles a pair of pentacle disks, with a monkey seated at his feet. It represents a balancing act, having to juggle and keep everything in motion, the trait of being flexible and adaptable, able to change directions easily and quickly. A sense of flexibility, of adaptability surrounds his rhy-bond; perhaps he is a good match with Whisper because the rhy-owl lacks that trait in some capacity? (I admit, the notion of a stodgy, grumpy older owl who is a bit hidebound in his thinking pleases me greatly.)

Adulthood: Four of Swords. This card shows a maiden in repose, a blade clutched to her body, her head reclining on three other blades, while she is surrounded by flowers and a dove is perched at her feet. Its meaning suggests a moment of repose, meditation and centering, and finding one’s inner strength. Jaxan’s adulthood–and the full bloom of his adept powers–may have come about not as a result of some kind of sudden trauma or stress, but the alleviation of such. When he finally gets the chance to rest, to turn his attention inward, his arcane talents blossom.

Conclusion

Here is just one example of this method for backstory generation. It’s far from the only one, to say nothing of the variety possible from other card results entirely!

Jaxan: The Woodwise Adept. Jaxan grew up in a small community called Avia, about three days north of Ennevan, in the southern edges of the Pavin Weald. The community was mostly made up of lumberwrights, fur-traders, and woodsfolk of various sorts. Jaxan has vague memories of his mother, but most of his genuine memories are of a neglectful father, who spent most of his time in the woods and when he was home, spent that time in the bottom of a bottle. Jaxan always sort of understood that his Da mourned his mother, but that didn’t change the fact that he basically left the boy on his own much of the time. (The themes of discord and being alone against the world are directly from the Five of Swords.) His closest neighbor, a goosewife with a full and hungry brood of her own, did her best to watch out for the boy, feeding him in return for his occasional help watching her geese, but that was the closest the wild boy had to any kind of supervision. (I really dig the birds in the card’s imagery, so he grew up helping to tend geese.)

As he grew older, though, he couldn’t help but note the sorts of things his Da brought home more and more. Coin, certainly, but also other trading goods, clothing, even the occasional weapon. His Da would make a trip into Ennevan occasionally to sell it, though he was always very protective of his privacy, instilling in Jaxan the need to keep quiet about their affairs to others. But when a pair of envoys came to Avia, looking for members of a band of bandits operating nearby, the fourteen year old Jaxan realized just what it was his father did for a living.

For the next couple of years, Jaxan held his father’s secret, though it ate at the sensitive and clever boy. He knew his own justifications became more and more absurd, but how could he betray his own father, even as neglectful as he was? He was the only family he had. But the next time someone came to Avis, seeking the bandits, it was a traveling noble and his companions, and they brought with them someone badly injured by the bandits. Face to face with the reality of the ill his father did, Jaxan fled to his home.

Sleep eluded him, until he was forced to sit upright in bed. Tomorrow he would find the noble, and do what was right. As he decided that, something battered at the shutters to his room. He fearfully crossed to them, and opened them, to find a great silvery-white owl perched on the sill. You’ve made a hard choice, Jaxan, the rhy-owl’s psychic voice said, sounding old and wise in his head. But you’ll never be alone again, not so long as I live. The rhy-owl introduced himself as Whisper, and the next morning, the two of them found the noble and told him of his father’s crimes.

(Note that I sort of switched up–or combined, really– the Adolescence and Rhy-bond cards to make the story make a better sense. Don’t hesitate to do that. No need to be slavishly beholden to the order of cards as they’re laid out. The goal is a good story.)

Finding out that the boy had no other family, the noble offered Jaxan a place in her retinue if he wanted it. Like most of the young of Avia, he was knowledgeable in woodslore and knew this part of the Weald. He thanked her, but refused. His one brush with helping to enforce the law was painful enough; he wasn’t entirely sure he was cut out to do so as his vocation. Instead, he returned the key to his father’s house to the heads-woman of Avis, gathered a few of his belongings, and he and Whisper disappeared into the woods.

Being perfectly at home in the woods, Jaxan spent some time getting to know Whisper, to mourn the loss of his father, but also to find some peace and clarity for the first time. It was in a forest glade that Whisper taught him to meditate and find his center, and over the next several months the two of them discovered and cultivated his arts in the animism and shaping (particularly plants) disciplines of arcane lore.

Now Jaxan is a young man ready to return to civilization, and the beginning of this Blue Rose campaign!

Ronin Roundtable: Summit Time

Once the summer convention season is largely completed but before we lose the momentum that meeting our fans and fellow gamers brings, Green Ronin holds its annual summit in the Seattle area to plan out what we hope to bring to market for the next year. Summit time is important to our company because everyone at Green Ronin works remotely, bringing their individual skills and unique talents to bear from their own home offices around the country.

2017 means it’s been 17 years of our little endeavor that began as a way for GR President Chris Pramas to keep his hand in roleplaying while he worked a day job in the fledgling miniatures division at Wizards of the Coast circa 2000. Considering how we work, with so many of us working in what might seem like isolation, I’m amazed and gratified at how stable the core of our team has been and how we’ve managed to grow ourselves to include so many ridiculously talented and patently wonderful people.

When we first started it was just me and Chris, though our pal Hal Mangold was involved from project #1 and our dedicated webmaster Evan Sass followed up not long after. Hal went on to become our business partner in the reconstituted Green Ronin Publishing LLC and if you’ve listened to my bit on the recent installment of Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff you know the high regard in which we hold him. The fact that they were, 16 years ago, the Best Man and Dude of Honor (respectively) at our wedding in 2001 should only be further evidence of our fond ties to these men.

I mention this because I consider “our people” to be not just coworkers and colleagues but also friends, near family. Summit time, in addition to being very much a working retreat where we meet for serious discussion and strategy for 8 or 9 hours each day, is also akin to a family reunion or some other sort of social gathering. We cook together, eat together, play games and watch movies and relax together. It’s bonding time… not “enforced bonding” or corporate ice-breaker game playing, but letting our introverts introvert, letting people who love the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles nerd out together, letting the night owls night owl and the early birds fix breakfast. It’s bonding time, time that reminds us all that our coworkers are humans and not just words in an email or posts to a Slack channel.

This year was kind of a big year for us because we reached a threshold where the number of “newbies” who had been to one (or none) of our summits in the past were nearly equal to the “old timers” who have now been to several (or every) previous summit. This year we welcomed Mutants & Masterminds line developer Crystal Frasier, who had the poor luck to be hired just after last year’s summit and so who had to go a full 11 months working for us without the experience of summitting to bolster her. Similarly, our magnificent Modern AGE line developer, Malcolm Sheppard, also had to wait through many months of work before meeting most of the rest of the team this year. After a full decade of waiting for Green Ronin to be in a place to launch a fiction line, 2017 was the year we were able to put our plans in motion and that meant that our Managing Editor Jaym Gates joined us for the first time this year as well. We also welcomed Veronica Templar, who graduated from volunteer to Event Coordinator when Donna Prior moved on. Veronica had, at least, met most everyone through her volunteer work for us as booth staff for GenCon but it was still her first summit in an official capacity (and she was dealing with an icky virus of some sort to boot). Finally, our Lost Citadel developer, CA Suleiman, joined us for summit business as well, though he did have the advantage of having worked as a Green Ronin freelancer before and knew at least a few of us before we dragged him out into the wilds of Eastern Washington to extract summit work out of him.

If there’s any indication that big things are afoot, looking around and seeing that a full 1/3 of your company summit is made up of new blood is certainly that.

Every year I leave the summit feeling energized and excited to tackle the upcoming year and this year was no different. If anything, I’m more excited than usual because I’ve gotten to see what Malcolm has been cooking up for our Modern AGE release and that in addition to our upcoming Mutants & Masterminds releases we have the wonderful work Crystal has put into the Lazarus setting. The line-up for Nisaba fiction is exciting me beyond words because as I’ve said, I’ve wanted to do this fiction line for a decade and Jaym is the PERFECT person to handle it for us. The Lost Citadel project was my “special project” last year and seeing it come into its own inside the company through CA’s capable guidance makes me nearly as happy as seeing Blue Rose make it out into the world did this year. Veronica blows me away with the things she’s taking on to up our convention presence and reboot the Freebooter volunteer program.

2018 holds much promise for Green Ronin and we have a really dazzling array of things planned. In addition to the new initiatives from our new faces, there are many things planned from our tried and true stalwarts as well. Chris will be along in the future to talk more about the specifics but I’ll just say that at the summit everyone was given a chance to pitch a “special project”…something done out of love or passion or inspiration. These are longer-term plans and ideas that Jack Norris, Joe Carriker, Steve Kenson, and Chris himself will elaborate on in future Ronin Roundtables. The most important part for me was that every idea had an advocate, that there was at least one person truly excited and inspired about every single “special project” to hit the table… and if circumstances keep us from doing them all right now, I definitely don’t want that to hold us back from making time to do them in the future. Nothing sells me quite as much as genuine passion for a project and the summit offered that in spades.

I am utterly convinced I work with the best people in all of gaming. That’s what Summit Time means to me and it’s one of the reasons I’m still in this business after 28 years. I hope you all come to love what we’ve got cooking as much as I do!

Ronin Roundtable: Upcoming Releases!

Well that was a GenCon for the books! Absolute mayhem at our booth, with folks lining up to grab our new releases. The announcement of the Expanse RPG license. New opportunities and incredible partnerships in the offing. It was amazing and we have you to thank for it. 17 years in business and we are stronger than ever before. Seriously, thank you!

We’ll be taking a couple of days to recover but then it’s back to work on our next batch of books. This seems an opportune time to update you on our releases for the next six months. We’ve got a lot going on so let’s get to it!

RPG Releases

Our next book will be the new edition of Freedom City for Mutants & Masterminds. We’ve been working on this for a long time and the hour is finally nigh! This is the original setting for the game, the metropolis that birthed the Earth-Prime setting. And at 320 pages it’s as mighty as Captain Thunder! Look for Freedom City in October.

November is a triple threat. We’ve got another Mutants & Masterminds book, Rogues Gallery. This was a PDF series we did for the last couple of years. The book collects all the villains from that and adds some new ones as well. If you are looking for foes for your PCs to tangle with, Rogue Gallery has you covered. Next up is the Fantasy AGE Companion, the first major rules expansion for the game. It adds new, fun material for almost every aspect of the game. There are new talents, specializations, arcana, and spells, as well as rules for chases, relationships, organizations, mass combat, and more! Finally in November we’ve got the second edition of Ork! The Roleplaying Game. This was Green Ronin’s very first release 17 years ago. Ork is a beer and pretzels RPG, great for one shots or when you want a lighter hearted game. Show those evil Squishymen who’s the boss!

 

We also hope to get Faces of Thedas, the next Dragon Age book, out before Xmas. The final text for that is up with BioWare for approval. Once we get that signed off on, we’ll be able to slot it into a month for release. Watch our social media feed for more on Faces of Thedas in the coming months.

 

As you can see, we’ve got quite a lot planned for the rest of 2017. For this reason we decided to move Modern AGE and the World of Lazarus from their original November release date to January. This gives us more time to develop the books, and lets us start 2018 with a bang. Modern AGE takes the Adventure Game Engine to Earth, letting you run games anytime from the Industrial Revolution to the near future. World of Lazarus, the game’s first support book, lets you play in the setting of Greg Rucka’s awesome comic. If you haven’t read Lazarus before, do yourself a favor and check it out. It’s seriously great.

In February we’ve got two more releases: Mutants & Masterminds Basic Hero’s Handbook and Return to Freeport. The Basic Hero’s Handbook is both an entry point for those new to Mutants & Masterminds and a useful table reference for anyone playing the game. If you’ve been interested in M&M but looking for an easier way to learn the game, the Basic Hero’s Handbook is for you. Return to Freeport is a six-part adventure for the City of Adventure. It’s the first new adventure content we’ve done for Freeport in some years, and it’s designed for a Pathfinder RPG campaign that’ll take you from levels 1-11. At nearly 200 pages in length, Return to Freeport packs in a lot of adventure!

Nisaba Press

A few months ago we announced that we were adding fiction to our lineup and that we had hired Jaym Gates to lead that effort. Our fiction imprint is called Nisaba Press and the Offerings sampler we released at GenCon and online last week gave you the first taste of what we’ve got cooking. We’ll be publishing short fiction monthly and novels and short story collections in print. In November we’ll be publishing Tales of the Lost Citadel, an anthology of stories set in the world of our upcoming Fifth Edition setting that we Kickstarted this summer. Then in January we’ll have our first Blue Rose novel, Shadowtide, by Joseph Carriker. Joe has also become line developer for the Blue Rose RPG, so he’s all up in Aldea!

More to Come

So that’s the overview of what’s coming in the next six months. We have our yearly planning summit next month and we’ll be making plans for the rest of 2018 and beyond. We’ve already got some awesome stuff in the works, like the Sentinels of Earth-Prime card game and the Expanse RPG. I’ll be back early next year to talk about more of our plans. Game on!

Ronin Roundtable: Covering the Modern AGE

Last time I was here, I introduced Modern AGE, the contemporary era implementation of Green Ronin’s Adventure Game Engine. Look on this very page, and you’ll see the cover. I’m not going to call it the absolute, final article–fine tuning the look is Hal’s business–but this is darn close. I’m going to riff on the cover to tell you a bit more about what to expect.

Who’s on That Rooftop?

Like many games, Modern AGE features iconic characters we use for examples of play, who indicate the kinds of characters you can build and advance. Early in outlining, I designed each iconic with input from a writer, making it their character–you’ll see the writers’ names pop up as example players (Meghan Fitzgerald is our “iconic GM” in these examples). Let’s look at who the characters are, and what they tell you about the game.

They Know What to Say

On the far left, Sean checks their phone. “Played” by Howard Ingham, Sean’s a socially focused character, and even though we don’t have set character sheets for iconics like them, they’re bound to have a high Communication score, along with focuses supporting social interaction. Modern AGE includes social influence and connection rules in its core. First off, we present a selection of attitudes an encountered NPC might have, and rules for gradually shifting an attitude in a direction conducive to a character’s desires. But this is an AGE game, so we’ve also baked in an option to get things done with one roll. If you’re like me, there are times you want to play through developing a relationship, and times where you want to know whether an NPC will help or hinder a hero right away. The rules let you do both.

Sean might also draw on a Relationship with an NPC, or Membership in an organization–we have rules for both, evolved from predecessors in Blue Rose. Sean might have the Intrigue talent to draw information out of connections, and a specialization like Executive or Socialite that makes it easy to draw on social ties.

He Shoots

Crouched in the middle, Brian McLaughlin is an ex-military operative, “played” by yours truly. Brian probably has a character Background or Profession rooted in military affairs, and a Drive that motivates him to stay armed, and ready for action. Modern AGE Drives provide a capstone benefit at character creation, bundled into a reason to say “yes” to engaging with a campaign’s stories. Brian’s focus is on ranged combat, so guns, bullets, and how to deal with them are obviously important to him. That means Brian picked armor with a high rating against ballistic damage. In Modern AGE, we split damage into impact damage, inflicted by melee weapons, ballistic damage, delivered by firearms, and armor-piercing penetrating damage. Ancient armor doesn’t protect against ballistic attacks; modern armor does. Almost nothing resists penetrating damage.

Brian may have the Rifle Style focus, and perhaps a specialization in Sniper or Gunfighter, which can make him a formidable opponent even when his targets have armored up. But much depends on the game’s mode, our term for what rules might be in play to support a genre. All characters have a resistance to damage called Toughness, but in the gritty game mode, it only protects against mild blunt force trauma. In pulpy and cinematic modes, however, one of Brian’s targets might shrug a shot off, and keep in coming.

She Hits Hard

Over to Brian’s right is Amy Wilson, “played” by Matthew Dawkins. She’s trained and motivated to deal with anyone getting too close for comfort. Amy’s a martial artist and melee weapons expert. Matthew wrote the equipment section, and knows the sort of blades, bludgeons and other weapons she might acquire. AGE games aren’t equipment focused, so each weapon represents a general category. Furthermore, note that with no classes, we’ve dropped the penalty for not being trained with a weapon, but since Amy is probably trained in multiple armed and unarmed fighting style talents and the Martial Artist specialization, don’t expect to be on an even footing.

One of the organizational changes we’ve made in Modern AGE will affect how Matthew plays Amy. In other AGE games, we presented one big list of combat stunts; in Modern AGE we have more stunts, but they’re split into smaller lists of stunts linked to specific actions (with some that fit any action, and advice that there is wiggle room). Some stunts are listed as “core,” meaning that as low-cost options that are easy to describe, they can be your first choice, to avoid decision paralysis at the table. We hope that this combined with short, focused stunt lists makes picking stunts easier. We’ve done the same for non-combat stunts as well.

Beyond the Rooftop

So that’s who’s on the cover. What are they doing on that rooftop? What city are they in? (And who are the iconics I haven’t introduced yet, including the one who leads into chatting about the investigation rules?) Modern AGE doesn’t have a default setting, so it’s up to you, though the World of Lazarus, coming out at the same time as a supplement, provides immediate possibilities. If you want to know more, your best bet is to come visit our booth at Gencon–we’re Exhibitor #1321–or visit the “What’s New With Green Ronin Publishing!” panel at noon on Saturday.

Ronin Roundtable: Walking the Royal Road, Part One: Friends & Loved Ones

Hello and welcome to Walking the Royal Road, what I hope to be an ongoing series on using the Tarot (or Royal Road, in Aldean parlance) in Blue Rose AGE games.

The Tarot has been used in roleplaying games for quite a long time, in a variety of contexts, and with good reason. Reading and deciphering the Tarot is less a matter of divination as it is storytelling—each card carries an intrinsic meaning (and sometimes a second meaning when the card appears inverted) that can serve as a building block for a larger narrative. When multiple cards are laid out, with each card position also having a meaning, it is possible to use them to build a small story of some kind, through the language of symbolism and the very human act of pulling disparate elements into a larger narrative.

The Blue Rose AGE core book already suggests a use of the Royal Road: in the establishment of a character’s Calling, Destiny, and Fate. There are also some suggestions for using tarot in Chapter Ten (p. 313, in the section “Walking the Royal Road,” where the title for this series comes from). This series of articles is going to suggest some additional uses for them.

The cards we use in these articles are the Shadowscapes Tarot, with art by the amazing Stephanie Pui-Mun Law, whose art has graced the covers of Blue Rose books throughout the game’s history.

Friends & Loved Ones

Today’s article is going to offer some additional character building. Romantic fantasy, as a genre, focuses not just on magic and feats of derring-do, but also the relationships formed by the characters. Characters do amazing things for love, for friendship, and for hate, and these kinds of motivators should always play into games of romantic fantasy, to some degree.

In order to have these kinds of motivations, though, player characters need some relationships in place. This system is intended to augment the Relationships mechanics, as found on p. 60 of the Blue Rose core rulebook. Where that system helps define how strongly heroes feel about other characters, this one will help with the brainstorming of figuring out who they are.

 

The Spread

The spread for this method is a simple three-card spread for each character.

The Role Card indicates in what capacity the PC knows the character in question. Take a look at the suit (pentacles, cups, wands, swords, or Major Arcana).

  • Pentacles: The person is someone you know in a professional capacity.
  • Cups: The person is someone who know familially, either a member of your family, or someone you met through a family member.
  • Wands: The person is someone you met in a social capacity, at a party or festival, tavern or theater.
  • Swords: The person is someone you know from a training or learning endeavor: a fellow apprentice, or someone you met in schooling of some kind.
  • Major Arcana: You met this person in some extraordinary capacity. Use the card itself as an inspiration: perhaps you met the Chariot while traveling, or you met the Tower during a terrible disaster of some kind.

The Personality Card indicates what this person is like. Use the tables for Calling, Destiny, and Fate in the Blue Rose core rulebook as a starting place. Note that this card does not indicate this character’s Calling, Destiny, or Fate—it’s simply what their outward-facing personality is like. There are always depths beneath this surface.

The Relationship Card indicates what your relationship with this person is like. The meaning of the card should be applied to this in some capacity. A Six of Wands suggests recognition of success, so perhaps this person looks up to you for your heroism; in contrast, the Page of Swords is about having enthusiasm but needing more information, so this card in the Relationship space suggests that the person looks to you as a source of information, or is themselves such a source for you.

 



Example

In the image, we have laid out some cards in the Friends & Loved Ones Spread.

Role: The Magician. We know this person because of magic, clearly. They might be an adept of some kind, or if we’re playing an adept or other talented character, perhaps we aided them with our own arcane arts.

Personality: The Star. Consulting the Callings table on p. 57 of Blue Rose, we see that this card represents “Artistic Mastery.” This character seems to be an artist to everyone they know, and not just a dabbler, either, but someone who really works to master their craft and achieve their vision.

Relationship: Seven of Wands. One of the typical meanings for the Seven of Wands is both aggression and defiance. In the Relationships space, this suggest someone whose closeness to the player character is either defiance—or, it’s someone who maintains the relationship out of defiance.

Conclusion

Here is just one example of a Narrator character generated using the spread above. It’s far from the only one, to say nothing of the variety possible from other card results entirely!

Godia Tulry: The Wishful Scrivener. We met Godia in the way she tends to meet new people—when she barged right up to us to ask us about our experiences and theories about the arcane. The other adepts roll their eyes and make themselves scarce when she shows up, because she’ll take up every bit of your time, if you let her. Despite their warnings, though, we find her delightful. She’s a dedicated magical chronicler, and we’re good enough friends that she has shyly confided that she wants more than anything to wield magic herself some day, but she just doesn’t have the Talent for it. Still, she is very sweet, loves when we use magic around her, and whipcrack sharp when it comes to arcane theory and history.

In the above example, magic is at the center of the friendship between Godia and the player’s character, per the Role card showing the Magician. Her insistent personality around her craft we derive from the Personality card showing the Star, and we’ve interpreted the defiance in the relationship, per the Relationship card showing the Seven of Wands, as coming from others who don’t understand the friendship.

 

Thanks: To Stephanie Pui-Mun Law for her amazing Shadowscapes tarot, which we use in this article. Her deck can be purchased off of Amazon here.

Ronin Roundtable: The Six of Swords

 

The Adventure Gaming Engine (AGE System) edition of Blue Rose: The Roleplaying Game of Romantic Fantasy is now in the hands of backers of the Kickstarter and available through distribution in fine game stores everywhere. As readers digest the contents of that sizable book, those looking to run a new Blue Rose game of their own need only one additional resource: Adventures! The Blue Rose book provides a sample adventure (“The Shadows of Tanglewood” by Steven Jones) and a wealth of adventure hooks and ideas, but for an ongoing series, Narrators are going to want additional adventure resources. Fortunately, we’ve anticipated their needs.

The new Six of Swords adventure anthology offers a set of six adventures for Blue Rose, complete stories including important characters, setting information, and all of the material a Narrator needs to run them.

  • The Mistress of Gloamhale Manor pits the heroes against the ghostly inhabitants of a haunted mansion in a search for the truth.
  • The Sixth Beast offers an opportunity to prevent war between factions in an outlying region of Aldis.
  • The Night Market sends the envoys into the dark depths of the Veran Marsh and the heart of the criminal underworld to recover a valuable arcane artifact.
  • A Harvest of Masks begins with mysterious abductions from Aldin villages near the wilderness of the Pavin Weald. Who are the masked abductors and what do they want?
  • Storms Over Kamala finds the heroes out on the wild Plains of Rezea to challenge the forces that have claimed a witch’s ancient homeland.
  • A Wanton Curse is set at a high society masked ball in a castle on Gravihain Eve, the Aldin equivalent of Halloween. What dark secrets are some of the guests concealing?

Most of the adventures are pitched toward low-level heroes, working from 1st level up through the upper low levels. The last couple adventures are intended for mid- and high-level heroes, both for Narrators who want to start out with a higher level game, and to offer examples of such adventures for a series as it grows and develops. Each adventure should be good for multiple sessions of game play, and most feature mysteries and character interaction alongside action and combat encounters.

The adventures cover a wide range of locations and styles, from the depths of the Veran Marsh to the open grasslands of the Plains of Rezea and the deep woodlands of northern Aldis. Adversaries range from criminal syndicates to corrupt sorcerers, vengeful spirits, and terrible unliving creatures like vampires.

We think this format provides a nice combination of adventures usable right out of the book and varied locations and plots. If Six of Swords does well, it may be a model for future Blue Rose adventure collections. We’re looking forward to offering other adventures and source material for the Romantic Fantasy role playing game and the fantastic world of Aldea.

ENnie Awards Voting Open and ENnie Awards Sale

We are pleased and humbled to be nominated for eight ENnie Awards this year. We’ve included a list of our nominations at the bottom of this post.

2017 ENnies voting is now open

In our excitement about the ENnies we placed several products on sale in our Green Ronin Online Store. Please check out our 2017 ENnie Awards Sale.

Our nominations are for:

Best Adventure:
Dragon’s Hoard
Best Art, Cover:
Blue Rose: The AGE RPG of Romantic Fantasy
Best Monster/Adversary:
Atlas of Earth-Prime
Fantasy AGE Bestiary
Best RPG Related Product:
Cinema and Sorcery: The Comprehensive Guide to Fantasy Film
Best Setting:
Atlas of Earth-Prime
Best Supplement:
Cosmic Handbook
Product of the Year:
Atlas of Earth-Prime

As always, sincere congratulations to our fellow nominees, and thank you to all who worked on these products, all who vote, and everyone else we may have forgotten to list.