Ronin Roundtable: Coming soon from Nisaba!

A whole year of Nisaba? It’s hard to believe, but it has indeed been a year since we announced Nisaba Press, Green Ronin Publishing’s fiction imprint. We’ve published some great fiction in that time, although we’re just now getting started.

If you’ve missed our previous offerings, don’t worry! They’re still available on our site: Brandon O’Brien’s witty, sweet Blue Rose tale of two thieves in an endless cycle of vendettas; Kid Robot’s first day of school, by Eytan Bernstein; and Clio Yun-Su Davis’s Blue Rose caper. You can even read Crystal Frasier’s Mutants & Masterminds story about Centuria, Lady Liberty, and robot dinosaurs…for free!

And while we’ve gotten off to a good start, Nisaba has a big year ahead, too.

Dylan Birtolo returns with a new Freeport adventure featuring Red Alice and a sinister amulet. Featuring fights through the Freeport sewers, chases over the high seas, and plenty of cult conspiracy, this series of three stories will release over the summer.

Rhiannon Louve continues her beautiful Blue Rose story of a grieving Rose Knight who finds a new lease on life and a new purpose in her courageous partner, a new Rose Knight with unusual talents.

Michael Matheson joins the Nisaba roster with a pair of tales, one for Blue Rose, and one for Mutants and Masterminds.

Richard Lee Byers tells another Mutants & Masterminds story about a woman fighting a terrible internal battle and the clairvoyant hero hunting her.

We’ll be debuting some new settings for our stories, too. Some will be stand-alone adventures to offer campaign ideas for our settings, while others will tease new settings we’re working on.

And if novels are more your thing, we have two novels coming this year! Joe Carriker’s Shadowtide is a sleek and sinister adventure through the political and cultural battlegrounds of the world of Blue Rose. Aaron Rosenberg brings in the first Mutants & Masterminds novel, featuring a disabled woman taking over her grandfather’s superhero cape while a bitter villain seeks vengeance.

Stay tuned for big news from the Nisaba world as we wrap up our first year and head into what we hope is a long and bright future, because we’ve just started on our plans.

Ronin Roundtable: Walking the Royal Road IV: Character Subplots

One of the pieces of advice many real-world Tarot readers give is to use the cards to tell a story. This is what makes the Royal Road such a fun tool to use in Narrating and playing Blue Rose: it’s a source to mine for inspiration when both planning and in play.

In playing a Blue Rose chronicle, each player character has a built-in subplot generator, in the form of their Calling. The Blue Rose core rulebook defines a character’s Calling as “their place in the world, their role in the grand story of life.”

To that end, while planning your story arcs, the Narrator should keep those Callings in mind to give player characters a place to “hook into” the narrative. That’s not just a stylistic thing, either: player characters recover Conviction by taking actions that are in accordance to their Calling, so part of the Narrator’s responsibility should include providing those opportunities.

We’re going to look at a way of using the Royal Road to define those opportunities. As with many of the previous “Walking the Royal Road” articles, you’ll want to make sure you have a Tarot deck (which can simply be any one of several online card randomizers), and a means of interpreting those cards to give you the maximum possibilities. 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. They also include booklets with summaries of card meanings, so we’ll be using those for our inspiration.

Method: The method for doing this involves drawing three cards, although you can use fewer or more cards if you want shorter or longer character-specific plot arcs. Essentially, each card is an “episode” in the subplot, and the character’s Calling defines the nature of the subplot.

Here’s an example.

 

 

Dame Emelynn Aros, Knight of the Blue Rose

Calling: The Sun (Championing the Everyday)

This calling is perfect for the earnest if somewhat naive Dame Emelynn, a newly-anointed Knight of the Blue Rose. She herself comes from a family of poor Jarzoni immigrants, who were nearly done in by the dangers of the Veran Marsh, but were saved by an itinerant Blue Rose Knight who was her inspiration. She is now a knight herself and wants to help the common folk whose problems are often overlooked by those with the power to do something about it.

 

First Card: Five of Swords

Interpretation: Discord and conflict of interests; feeling as though the world is against you, temptation to let everyone else be and just look to your own goals.

Plot: A somewhat dire card, the Five of Swords suggests a situation wherein it seems as if the good that the Calling wishes to accomplish has soured. The Narrator decides this means that some of Emelynn’s good deeds are soured by deed or circumstance. So she sets up an encounter with a bandit who is troubling local farmers, and Emelynn of course rides to help them. When she brings the bandit in to the local noble for justice, however, she discovers that the bandit is one of the Sovereign’s Finest, attempting to get his way into a nearby bandit gang. Not only is the envoy-bandit released, but Emelynn is expected to claim that he got away from her. While she is willing to do her duty, the farmers she was working to protect are bitter and upset with her for losing the bandit, and she has no way of defending herself.

 

Second Card: Knight of Wands

Interpretation: Change and progression toward a goal; daring and passion.

Plot: After a couple of game sessions where the locals treat her as a resented failure, the envoy contacts her psychically. He knows she took a blow to her reputation, and he’s grateful for her sacrifice, and wishes to know if he can count on her continued help. He asks if she and the other adventurers she spends time with would be willing to help him win the favor of the bandits. He’s met them, but they want him to prove himself first – the noble is going to provide a wagon of “tax money” and he wants Emelynn and her friends to act as the defenders for that wagon, fighting just enough to be believable, but then fleeing. A case full of coin is the sort of thing they’ll have to return to their lair with, so he’ll know the best place for the noble to send troops to take them all at once. They accomplish this, and the noble asks Emelynn and her friends to join in the attack on the bandit lair, which they agree to gladly.

 

Third Card: The Hanged Man

Interpretation: Letting go and surrendering to new perspectives.

Plot: This last card is the end of the subplot, where Emelynn and her friends ride with a troop of the Aldin Guard and the noble to attack the bandit camp. Upon their arrival, they find the envoy, stabbed and near death! Her adept friend heals the envoy while Emelynn herself leads the charge, fighting the leader of the bandits (with the blood of the envoy still on his blade). In the end, her heroism saves the day, and protects the valley’s residents from the depredations by the bandits. In an effort to preserve the envoy’s cover, the noble makes known the story of how Dame Emelynn’s bandit quarry escaped, and she took a noble vow to bring not only him but all of the bandits to justice, and the locals uplift her as their hero.

Ronin Round Table: Fantasy AGE Campaign Builder’s Guide

Hey folks, Jack here. So with the release of the Fantasy AGE Companion I thought I’d tell you a bit more about the next book in the line.

Now I know some of you are probably thinking “Oh, man, the Companion took so long to come out so how long is this new book gonna take?”

Well, not nearly so long because its mostly written. Its not entirely written, there’s still some more to do on it, but the early drafts are in and looking good.

See, a few months ago I had an idea for a new book to round out the “core books” for Fantasy AGE and had some interested writers who either were not working on the Companion or had finished their work for it. So…I set them to work on this new book, the Campaign Builder’s Guide.

So what is it? Simply put, it’s a book about all the aspects of building your campaign. Each chapter covers a different topic, from encounter design to creating religions and pantheons to designing rewards and more. Each chapter is gives advice and a deep discussion of the process of designing and creating these aspects of a campaign. Then it finishes off each chapter with a detailed example of the campaign element using those guidelines and advice. So each section includes both ready to use campaign elements and guidance on how to make your own.

For example, one of our Fantasy AGE Bestiary contributors will be doing a chapter on adversary design. He’ll go through the process of creating a threat for your campaigns, the problems, pitfalls, and a few tricks you can use to really make your villains and monsters work well. Then at the end of the chapter he will present some all new monsters designed with that advice in mind.  Likewise, I’ll be writing on how to customize your game for various fantasy subgenres and then picking a genre and providing optional rules and adjustments to Fantasy AGE to make it better fit.  Each chapter will follow a similar format for different parts of a campaign. Also included will be a chapter of various random tables to help GMs generate locations, groups, and concepts on the fly.

This book is designed to be a GM’s guide in the sense it will guide GMs on how to do things for themselves more effectively and also present examples for their use.  The book will be released later this year and should round out our current lineup of core book, rules companion, and bestiary.

Tales of Blue Rose: Quartet of Thieves

This week Nisaba Press presents a new Blue Rose short story, “Quartet of Thieves” by Clio Yun-su Davis.

A young woman travels far from home to deliver an important letter but must band together with a boy thief, his rhy-fox companion, and a caravan guard to steal it back when it gets taken by a criminal organization.

This Tale of Blue Rose can be yours to read in your choice of PDF, epub, or mobi formats, for just $1.99.

Fantasy AGE Companion Pre-Order & PDF

We are pleased to let you know that you can now pre-order the Fantasy AGE Companion in our Green Ronin Online Store, and when you add the pre-order to your cart, you’ll be offered the PDF version for just $5, for immediate download. (Please make sure to click “Add To Cart” on the popup/overlay once you add the pre-order to your cart.)

The Fantasy AGE Companion provides a plethora of new rules and play options for your Fantasy AGE roleplaying game campaign. This book expands upon the core Fantasy AGE rules and provides alternative game systems so that you can build rules and characters which fit any setting and genre you desire.

Tales of Blue Rose: The Cutpurse With His Trousers Down

The Cutpurse With His Trousers DownIt’s story time for this week, but there’s no need to gather ’round. You can purchase this Blue Rose tale and read it at your leisure, in your choice of PDF, mobi, and epub formats, for just $1.99!

In “The Cutpurse With His Trousers Down,” a master thief sees the perfect opportunity to frame his rival, and learns that best laid plans are often the first to go awry.

Author Brandon O’Brien is a poet and writer from Trinidad and Tobago whose work has been shortlisted for the 2014 Alice Yard Prize for Art Writing and the 2014 and 2015 Small Axe Literary Competitions, and appears in Strange Horizons, Uncanny, Reckoning, Arsenika, New Worlds, Old Ways: Speculative Tales from the Caribbean, and other outlets. He is also a performer with The 2 Cents Movement, and the poetry editor of FIYAH: A Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction.

 

Ronin Roundtable: Driven and Motivated

One of the new elements in Modern AGE is Drive, a trait which sets your character’s emotional motivation. You pick Drive at character creation, where it provides a small capstone benefit. If you use the Conviction rules (you’ll recognize these from Blue Rose: The AGE RPG of Romantic Fantasy, though they’re optional in Modern AGE) Drive also influences how it works.

But I’ll let you in on a secret: The best thing about Drive isn’t mechanical. It’s the principle of the thing.

I think virtually everyone has played a game where getting the characters involved in the story is a challenge. Roleplaying games have taken several stabs at pushing characters to act. The first tactic is no tactic at all. The game sort of assumes the GM’s job to convince the characters unfolding events are worth their time. When I was playing games as a teenager, this was virtually the only method. Combined with teenage defiance, this led to a lot of glaring and nonsense until everyone settled down. Another tactic is to weave characters into the setting, with responsibilities and problems which force them to get things done. More recent games have suggested ways to signal the GM about a thing your character might go for due to an obsession, goal or personality trait. This is a more focused version of the first, GM-as-salesperson method. Then we have background-driven motivations, ranging in length from one-liners to long backstories which are supposed to kick characters into action.

Drive is similar to all of these but isn’t quite the same. It’s a lot like “alignment” in some ways, and it absolutely is a personality trait, but its function is more than a description of the character’s psyche. Now when you get the book, this will probably read as overselling it, since Drive is not a mechanic designed to dazzle with innovation, and in nuts-and-bolts fashion, is fairly conventional. Here’s a Drive from the upcoming Modern AGE Basic Rulebook. It’ll look totally familiar to folks who’ve played a lot of RPGs.

Protector

There are a lot of threats out in the world, and you guard against them. Exactly what you consider a threat, and who or what you are protecting from it might vary, but the most important thing is you are not going to stand idly by when you could act.

Your quality is devotion to those under your protection and to your ideals, no matter what challenges lie in your path. Your downfall is recklessness when it comes to putting yourself (and others) in harm’s way to protect your charges.

Talent: Misdirection or Protect

Improvement: Health, Membership, or Reputation

What’s her motivation?

So why am I going on like this? I want to make its purpose clear. Drive is a personality trait that always answers the question: “Why are you getting involved?” Always. Because in Modern AGE, character creation assumes the question, “Are you getting involved?” is always answered in the affirmative. This is a subtle but important difference from games where the GM is supposed to sell you something, and games where the facts of the world (“I’m in the Secret Service,” or “They killed my master and I want revenge?”) dictate involvement. Drive is a personality trait which explains why your character is emotionally invested in the story.

Is this rhetorical sleight of hand? Absolutely. But it has a fine pedigree. Drive has a precedent in improv, where performers are urged not to block ideas that come out of the on-stage, brainstorming-while-acting process. So, when you crack the book open and pick a Drive, keep in mind that this isn’t a general blueprint of your attitude as much as the part of you that compels your commitment.

Drives are emotional, not factual, for a simple reason: Campaigns feature ever-changing conditions. Modern AGE also tells you to write down character Goals. Goals transform over time, but your Drive usually doesn’t. (Here’s an optional rule: If you want to change your Drive later, that’s fine, but you don’t get the benefits that come at character creation, except for how your new Drive affects Conviction, if you use it.)

Drive is primarily a way for you to develop your character’s emotional connection to the story. We can map it as a Mad Lib, as follows:

My inclination to be a [DRIVE] makes me want to get involved with [SITUATION] because [MOTIVATION], so I’ll [ACTION].

[DRIVE] is the Drive trait on your sheet.

[SITUATION] is what’s happening in the story.

[MOTIVATION] is an account of how your feelings about the situation inform your actions.

[ACTION] is what you will do.

To demonstrate how this works, I’m going to take the sample Drive, Protector, and hit the “Situation” random generator button at http://writingexercises.co.uk/plotgenerator.php. I get

A political demonstration turns into chaos.

Therefore:

My inclination to be a Protector makes me want to get involved with a political demonstration which has turned into chaos because I’m afraid of my friends getting hurt, so I’ll find them and lead them to safety.

In this model, a character goal is a situation that’s always happening—at least until you completely accomplish it.

Breaking this down makes it seem more complicated than it really is. The process is intuitive. As long as you exclude blocking the situation (by refusing to deal with it in an interesting fashion) it comes down to: “This is how my emotions push me to deal with what’s ahead.”

Drive is really a principle with an incidental game mechanic, adaptable to pretty much any game. It’s an attitude shift where getting into the story is your character’s premise, not their problem. In a fantasy game, instead of saying, “As a True Neutral character, I don’t care about this battle between good and evil,” say “As a True Neutral character, I need to accompany my friends to this struggle between the Moral Powers to test the strength of my convictions. Can I maintain detachment amidst all this struggle and suffering?”

Awkward Segue to Factual Update!

So, what’s going on with Modern AGE? The Basic Rulebook text is going through the production cycle right now. Its first setting, Lazarus (based on Greg Rucka’s comic of the same name, developed for Modern AGE by Crystal Frasier) has also entered production. The text for two small pieces of support for the game (to be announced) are also finished, and first drafts of an upcoming book are coming in.

I can’t wait to share it all with you. I’m driven—and I’ll say more about it all another time.

Ronin Roundtable: Walking the Royal Road III: Encounters in Aldis Preview

One of the resources I wanted to include in the upcoming Aldis: City of the Blue Rose when development began on that book was a simple “random encounters” system. Rather than monsters to fight, though, I wanted this system to be iconic “day in the life” scenes for the mighty capital city of the Kingdom of the Blue Rose.

Aldis: City of the Blue Rose book cover is a work in progress and may not reflect the final version. Art by Alayna Danner!

The Encounters in the City of Aldis appendix works simply: draw anywhere between one to three cards from the Royal Road (depending on how much detail you want to pepper the scene with), interpret as appropriate for the scene in question, and present to the players. It can also be interesting to have players draw their own cards for their scenes, and to even have them construct the scene as they or another player encounter it.

 

Below are two examples of how we’re using the system.

Example I: A Busy Square in the Middle Ward

For this example, painting the scene for player characters who’ve arrived in a busy neighborhood square, the Narrator chooses a three-card draw, having each of the players who are present for the scene draw one card. The cards drawn (and the interpretation from the appendix) are:

  • Nine of Chalices*: A small group of people gather about an old city well. Some people in the group solemnly lower their heads and whisper something into its dark waters. Turning around, they decisively march across the square. Others, barely able to hold back their giggles, run up to the well, squeak out a quick word or two, and then excitedly run off.
  • The Hierophant*: You cannot help but pick up on small conversations that buzz about your ears. Turing to see one of the sources of these spirited conversations, you happen to see a small group engaged in polite, but animated conversation. At the center of this small group, a noble is enraptured by the storytelling abilities of his companions. The noble, dressed in clothing that seems to set them apart from the more obvious locals, soaks up the conversations eagerly, only interjecting to ask clarifying questions about the various tales and descriptions the seasoned locals provide.
  • Queen of Swords*: You see an older citizen carrying scrolls and assorted books, one with a marking reminiscent of Queen Allia’s heraldry. They are soon met by other, similarly dressed citizens who begin discussing various aspects of Aldin history. Their voices remain calm and clear, each waiting for the other to finish their point before interjecting.

Using This Draw: All of these cards are set up fairly well for scenes of the sort being played through here; one of them even makes mention of a square! The Narrator describes the scene:

  • “The square is bustling with people both lingering and passing through the square. In one corner stands an old city well around which people gather. Some solemnly, and other excitedly, some of the locals seem to be whispering to one another…wait, no, they’re whispering to the well itself! In the middle of the square stands an old tree, under which a small group of people are picnicking. One seems to be noble by dress, and she is listening intently to the stories of her companions, all of whom seem to be trying to outdo the others with delightful stories and anecdotes. Nearby, a man of advancing years wearing the heraldry of one of the former Sovereigns of Aldis walks past you, carrying a tall, teetering stack of books and rolled scrolls. He makes his way past you, walking carefully to avoid overbalancing his burden. You can see two others crossing the square, wearing a similar sigil. When they see him, they quicken their pace so that they can help relieve him of some of the books he carries. They pause to one side of the square, greeting one another and discussing the contents of the books in delight.”

Example II: A Subdued High Ward Tavern at Midnight

For this example, one of the player characters is meeting a contact in a familiar tavern in the deeps of the night. The setting is one where not much is going on, but the Narrator wants to inject a little color into the scene, just to keep the player character (a spy always on the lookout for enemy operatives) on their toes, so the Narrator draws a single card:

  • Five of Pentacles*: A wounded citizen walks the streets ringing a small bell. They are accompanied by four others in distinctive clothing that marks them as priests of the Primordials. As the group slowly traverses the streets, they call out for charity, not for themselves, but for others. Onlookers seem moved by the procession and begin to speak with one another about how they too can help.

Using This Draw: Now, this card obviously isn’t entirely well-suited on its face for this scene. But the Narrator makes some alterations, adapting it for the quiet of the night-time tavern, thus:

  • “As you enter the tavern, your contact waves to you from the back of the room. The only others in the taproom are a quartet of folk who all wear the vestments of priests of the four Primordials. At the edge of their table is a hand bell and a begging bowl. They have split the coins from the bowl up in the middle of their table, and they are discussing to whom the various small piles of coins ought to go, sliding coins around as they illustrate their points. As you pass them by, you hear quiet but passionate discussion regarding a recently widowed mother of three, while another champions the work of a healer that seeks out the sickly poor in the Lower Ward.”

 

* Note that all the quoted text is as yet unedited, and may change in the final product.

New Blue Rose Fiction

Of Shadows and Light: Blue Rose fictionToday we have a new short fiction piece up for sale, set in the World of Aldea from our Blue Rose RPG! Rhiannon Louve brings us “Of Shadow and Light,” Part 1 of a series titled “Those Who Wait.”

Marn the Rose Knight is used to saving the world, but can Kiyn help her learn to save herself?

 

For other Blue Rose fiction, see:

Or view our entire Nisaba Press fiction catalog here.

Ronin Roundtable: Why Your Big Bad Gets Clowned

I’m excited. Hal’s been showing me art from the Modern AGE Basic Rulebook (that’s the core game, with all the rules you need to play) as the book goes through the production process (yes, it’s been written, playtested, edited and is now going through Adobe sorcery. Meanwhile, I have a team of authors working on the Modern AGE Companion, a book of optional systems for the game.
In case you missed previous posts, Modern AGE is the AGE system game designed for contemporary adventures, covering a period from the dawn of the industrial era to the present day, with options for different genres, psychic powers, and magic. Since the art is coming in, I want to use it as an inspiration to talk a bit about adversaries, not just in this game, but most traditional roleplaying games.

Art by Victor Moreno ~ “They’ve waited a long time to meet her, and you don’t want her keeling over in the first round.”

 

Enter the Devil’s Advocate

I’ll be nerd-biographical: Back in the 80s, I was playing in a house ruled AD&D game (who wasn’t, if they were playing back then at all?) where we slashed and burned our way past the “sweet spot” levels, where, at least by the standards of AD&D, the game remains balanced and easy to run. People often identify this range as levels 4 to 8. We’d hit 15th. Our DM Rick was obviously struggling, since he had to choose between foes with raw, big numbers, which turned combat into a grind, and enemies so complex that he needed to do significant planning ahead of time. We came, we saw, we conquered.

Then one day, things were a little different. Rick told Talid, one of the players, to sit right beside him. We got into the game. A wizard teleported behind us—and behind cover—nuked us with a bunch of fireballs courtesy of an item . . . and teleported out again. Talid chuckled. He was playing that damn wizard. Rick had offloaded the job of running a complex adversary to him. We eventually called him the “Devil’s Advocate,” not for the villain he was playing, but for the position. Just like old-school games had “mappers” and “callers,” we had a titled job for the person who played our enemies, distinct from the GM.

The Players’ Cognitive Advantage

Many, many groups have done this, of course, but I don’t mention this for its novelty, but because it taught me a game design principle which I’ve kept in my pocket ever since. Given the same character and familiarity with the system, a player will almost always use that character more effectively (at least in interacting with rules and challenges) than the GM.
I’ve noticed this in virtually every game I’ve witnessed, played in or run, and the reason is easy to tease out of the story, above. A player usually has just one character to deal with. They can become extremely familiar with that character, develop strategies, and devote their full attention to effective play. The GM doesn’t have that luxury; they’ve got other NPCs to run, an adventure to manage, and a campaign to track—and GMing is, for many people, more tiring simply because of the type of social interaction, where you speak to a group and must keep it focused.
And this power imbalance is often frustrating, especially to math-centric GMs, who can see their NPC should be balanced against the PCs, on paper, but ends up being a pushover. It’s not the math. The players are smarter than you—at least in this instance. They have a cognitive advantage.

Diabolical Advocacy and Streamlining

You can solve this in one of two basic ways. First, you can have a player act as Devil’s Advocate, running villains for you. It’s fun, but in many cases the pendulum swings the other way, and the enemy becomes too powerful to handle.

The other approach is to simplify the procedures for running your enemy. The crudest way to do this is to create adversaries who can only perform one task competently, like beat you up and absorb damage. The disadvantage here is that one-trick enemies can get boring. The variation we use in Modern AGE is to give many adversaries distinct abilities that serve as shorthand for what would otherwise be convoluted sets of abilities, or add flavor that a foe’s basic abilities don’t impart. For example, the Criminal Mastermind adversary has several abilities to stay dangerous without needing to shoot anybody, such as:

  • All According to Plan Stunt: For 3 SP, the mastermind can declare that another NPC present in the scene was working for them all along. That NPC betrays the heroes or produces some information or equipment the mastermind needs right then, and counts as their ally from then on.

(The Criminal Mastermind has other abilities, but you’ll have to grab Modern AGE for the full rundown. I’m not trying to tease, but this post is pretty long. Sorry.)

  • Scot-Free: Whenever the characters would capture, kill, or otherwise defeat the mastermind, the GM may offer the player of the character who bested them 5 SP to use at any point in the future on a relevant test, even if the winning test didn’t roll doubles, in exchange for the mastermind escaping to oppose the heroes another day. (If you’re using the optional Conviction rules, the player gains 1 Conviction instead.)

Both the Devil’s Advocate and streamlining are fine tactics for dealing with PC/NPC imbalance, and which one you use will depend on a bunch of other considerations, such as whether anybody wants to play Devil’s Advocate. Remember that this problem won’t come up if you know the rules better, or can marshal other advantages that compensate for your more diluted attention—and remember that sometimes, the PCs should win. Never snatch victory away when it’s truly deserved.