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

PART I

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

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

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

Afanc: Large, hungry beasts that haunt the icy bodies of water in the Ice-Binder, Bitterfang, and Golgan mountain ranges, they are the reason many mountaineers in the high mountains of Aldea prefer to take their water from run-offs and shallow bodies of water. Blackwater Lake in Kern was home to a small cluster of these things, the results of breeding projects by the old Lich King. No one has seen them in a while.

Ahool: Legends of merchants who’ve traveled to Wyss sometimes speak of the diminutive bat-folk of those deep, dark forests. Of course, many people say many things about those lands, and Wyssan citizens are rarely willing to admit whether or not they actually exist.

Amarok by Mirco Paganessi

Amarok: According to some old legends, in the days when the Light was dim in Aldea, the Exarch Yungo snatched into his power a mighty wolf of the Pavin Weald in the early moments of his Awakening, and corrupted it somehow. Instead of Awakening to psychic awareness and sapience, Yungo invested only his greedy hunger and ravenous nature into the place where that spark of Light normally resides, and that wolf, whose name was Amarok, became bloated and gluttonous, the first of its kind.

 

Bakwanee: Sometimes, the essence of Shadow-tainted locations settles into the simplest of life forms that live there, and warps them. This has happened to both the bloodsucking fireflies of the Veran Marsh, as well as the storm beetles of the Shadow Barrens, which hide beneath the ground, save in storms, when they emerge to harvest the ambient static in the air, sparking on their metallic carapaces. From these two frightening but largely harmless insects bakwanee have risen in great swarms, occasionally growing in number until they rush out of the Barrens or Marsh, ravening across the countryside until they are put down.

Basilisk: One of the many creations of the Sorcerer Kings, the basilisk can now be found in marshlands and rivers, as well as deep subterranean places.

Bouda: Wicked shapeshifters hidden among the often sedate packs of hyenas that can be sometimes found in the souther Rezean Plains, the Rezean witches say that the bouda were taught to envy two-legged folk their forms by a darkfiend in service to Ulasta the Green Flame, sharpening until they rose to walk as men did, so long as the bouda feast on their flesh frequently.

Burrower: These massive worms are all but extinct in lands that are even nominally settled. But some of them still haunt wild lands. In particular, the stinger-tail burrowers can sometimes be found in the wilds of Rezea, quickly bursting forth when they detect the ground-thunder of Rezean herds. The bellowing burrowers can be found in the Golgan Badlands, particularly in the foothills where the mountains above echo with their ferocious roars.

Carnivorous Plants: Any place where Shadow comes to rest among natural plant life can give rise to carnivorous plants, particularly if that contagion remains there for more than a single cycle of the seasons. Shadow-tainted wastes aren’t the only locations where this is true: a sorcerer’s glade where she performs her corrupt workings, a garden at the foot of a tower that houses an ancient artifact of the Sorcerer Kings, and even the lands surrounding the lair of a powerful darkfiend or semi-dormant Shadowgate.

Charnel Knight: It is said that when certain Knights of the Skull served the Lich King well, not even death ended their service to Kern. The exact rites responsible for this transformation are not publicly known, even among the Shadowed Seven. No new charnel knights have risen among the Knights of the Skull since the Lich King’s defeat, so it may be that the undead tyrant too that lore – like so much other – with him to his destruction.

Djinn: Elementals are natural intelligences given bodies of the elements. The djinn are a whole thing else. Though almost never seen today, djinn are elemental intelligences of elsewhere, alien entities whose awareness is snatched from those far off places that birthed them, and given elemental bodies and bound by potent magics beyond the scope of the simple Spirit Summoning arcanum. Give Djinn the Shaping arcanum appropriate to their elemental nature, and remove the Spellpower and Magic Points from their entry.

Eldritch Crown: It is said that the Vizier of Eyes, a notorious shadow adept of the Sorcerer Kings realm created these, through a hideous pact with a darkfiend that fancied itself a jeweler, save that it used mortals’ eyes in place of gems. The Vizier of Eyes sought to control some of the vainest of the Sorcerer Kings and it worked to some extent. Unfortunately, the adept could not control these creatures, and they escaped him, and the darkfiend made a perfectly fetching necklace of the Vizier’s own eyes.

Fire Ogre: Potent fire elementals of terrible power and fury, fire ogres are rarely summoned. Unlike elementals, when fire ogres return to the fiery recesses of the deepest depths, they do not forget what they experienced in the bright world above. Their destruction and their subjugation to the will of adepts both infuriate them, and they wait eagerly to turn that rage into destruction upon their return to the world again.

Too-Modern Tuesday: All the AGEs

Hi folks! It’s Memorial Day, so Modern Monday is coming in a little late. In response to some online questions last week, I want to clarify what the Adventure Game Engine (AGE) roleplaying games are, how they’re connected, and who’s managing them. When I talked about plans for Modern AGE, a few of you were wondering why I didn’t talk about Fantasy AGE or The Expanse. So, here’s the explainer.

What is the Adventure Game Engine?

The AGE system powers several Green Ronin roleplaying games. Along with the Chronicle System and Mutants and Masterminds, it’s one of the three systems Green Ronin has designed which the company is actively developing through various lines. (Okay, there’s Ork! too, so let’s say, “the three systems not based on the whims of a sadistic ork god,” instead.) We also work on projects for open game systems like 5th Edition, but AGE, Chronicle and M&M are specifically ours.

AGE is not a “generic” system. Rather, it’s a set of common game mechanics and principles which we use as the basis for a number of separate games, each with additional rules designed to emphasize a certain type of play. Some cross-pollination occurs between the lines, of course, but each AGE game has its own emphasis, and is developed separately.

AGE’s foundations include rolling 3d6 plus bonuses versus a target number, selecting stunts by generating Stunt Points through matching dice, and trusting the GM to improvise and make the system their own. That’s not all it’s about, but those are the most notable elements.

The AGE Family of Roleplaying Games

So, now you know that each game is its own thing with its own development, proceeding from some common elements, let’s break that down into specific games.

Dragon Age

Based on Bioware’s computer RPG series and its world of Thedas, Dragon Age presented the first version of the AGE system.  Dragon Age was originally released in three box sets which brought adventurers from 1st level to the apex of their powers but is now available in one omnibus edition.

Developer: Jack Norris

Worth Noting: In Dragon Age, Strength improves ability in close combat, and Dexterity is used for ranged combat. Dragon Age also has many elements inspired by the world of Thedas, including detailed rules for traps, unique specializations, and character backgrounds unique to that world, such as the Dalish Elves and Ferelden people. Classes are Mage, Rogue and Warrior.

Fantasy AGE

Fantasy AGE is an implementation of AGE designed to support classic fantasy genre gaming. It’s designed to be easy to learn. The core rules aren’t tied to any specific setting, but Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana is a post-apocalyptic science fantasy adventure series designed for its use. Fantasy AGE is customization friendly, with the Fantasy AGE Companion providing a host of expanded and optional rules GMs can apply as they see fit.

Developer: Jack Norris

Worth Noting: Fantasy AGE introduces Fighting and Accuracy to govern heavy weapons and light or ranged weapons, respectively. Magic provides spells according to theme-based arcana. The Mage, Rogue and Warrior classes are present here, with mechanics designed to support heir respective niches.

Blue Rose: The AGE Roleplaying game of Romantic Fantasy

The current edition of Blue Rose is the successor to its first edition, which used the OGL-based True 20 system. Blue Rose emulates progressive and romantic fantasy, especially as it evolved from the 1980s onward. In its world of Aldea, truly just societies (and not just despotic regimes we accept as “good” because it’s part of a genre convention to be cool with kings) thrive, but not without challenges. The adventure compilation Six of Swords can get you started.

Developer: Joseph Carriker

Worth Noting: Blue Rose introduces Relationships and Conviction as core mechanics, giving characters extra resources to draw on in defense of the people and motivations which define them. Character backgrounds are tailored to Aldea, and include the mystical vata and the rhydan, sapient, psychic animals. Magic as an intuitive psychic gift is a strong part of the romantic fantasy genre, so Blue Rose’s arcana differ from those of Fantasy AGE to support that.

Upcoming: Modern AGE

Modern AGE’s preorders and advance PDFs will be available Very, Very Soon. I won’t go into detail because I’ve been doing that for weeks. Modern AGE has no default setting, but the World of Lazarus, following the core book shortly, will provide a possible setting based on Greg Rucka’s comics series.

Developer: Malcolm Sheppard

Upcoming: The Expanse Roleplaying Game

Coming to crowdfunding this year, The Expanse is based on the novel series by James S. A. Corey (which as many of you know, is Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck), which explores a future wracked with interplanetary rivalry. Earth and Mars compete for control of the Solar System while the peoples of the Belt struggle with their demands—at least, that’s how it starts. The Expanse tailors the AGE system for gritty hard SF stories, including new rules for technology and spacecraft.

Developer: Steve Kenson

Next Monday

Next time, I’ll go on and on about the genres I like, and how Modern AGE supports them. Until then, I’m working on the next couple of books for the game. Take care!

Modern Monday: What’s Coming?

So, after answering some questions last week, general chatter compels me to talk about what we have planned for Modern AGE. In most cases, I’m going to talk about the current state of each release. Then I’ll answer a common question about how Modern AGE compares to its sister, Fantasy AGE.

In Production

The following things are in various stages of production—that is, the creation of a book from developed and edited text files.

Modern AGE Quickstart: It’s out! Read about it and download here!

Modern AGE Basic Rulebook (This is the core book!): This is currently going through last proof and art finalization. The advance PDF and preorders should be ready for June.

World of Lazarus: World of Lazarus is the first setting book for Modern AGE. It’s based on Lazarus, Greg Rucka’s dystopian-transhuman comic. Check the comic out (external link to Lazarus at Image Comics). This should be finished production shortly after the core. Note that project is a creation of Mutants and Masterminds developer Crystal Frasier, which is fitting, since she knows how comics and games intersect much better than I do.

Modern AGE Game Master’s Kit: This is the GM screen and reference card kit for Modern AGE. This is very close to finishing production and will be released hot on the heels of the Modern AGE Basic Rulebook and Lazarus.

Text Complete

The following thing happens to be text-complete, by which I mean writers have written it, and I’ve developed it, but it hasn’t entered production.

(Announcing the) Modern AGE Companion: This is currently in editing. I may add a short set of options we excised from the core book. The Modern AGE Companion includes expanded rules for powers, new talents and specializations, expanded stunts, campaign management, technology—lots of stuff. The Modern AGE Basic Rulebook is absolutely a complete game, but the Companion is anchored in the idea of customizing the rules for your campaigns.

Did I just announce a new book? Yes. I’ll probably give it a proper breakdown once we reach production. When is it coming out? That’s still to be determined.

Outlined and Approved

Okay, so my policy is the further something is from release, the sketchier I’m going to be about it. The following books have had their outlines approved, so I can start working with people to get them designed. They have cute code names for now.

Project Cranky (Real Name TBA): This is a utilitarian supplement for Modern AGE, not tied to any set campaign.

Project Crooked House (Real Name TBA): This is an original in-house setting.

Comparing Modern AGE and Fantasy AGE

How many shows have you seen where there’s always something weird going down in the “warehouse district?” We are not about to challenge that cliché. From the Modern AGE Quickstart, available now!

So, I’ve fielded a few questions about how Modern AGE relates to Fantasy AGE. Modern AGE isn’t just a case of copying and pasting guns over swords. I’ve already talked about how it’s a classless implementation of the AGE rules, but there are several other under the hood changes. These range from Resources, the system we use to manage in-game purchases without you roleplaying getting loans and doing taxes, to Breaching, the advanced test variant designed by Crystal Frasier to support heists and capers. These demand cooperation and dramatic reversals. Crystal originally designed these for World of Lazarus, but we all agreed they were so cool they should be in the core rules. Social systems and investigations are also part of Modern AGE’s core, as is appropriate for games where characters will be deeply embedded in complex societies.

Fantasy AGE features magic as a core assumption instead of an optional extra. Certain rules emphasize the special roles of each of its classes. It has several talents not present in Modern AGE, such as Armored Training and Horsemanship, which could be used for modern games, but represented cases rare enough for me to exclude them in favor of others. Fantasy AGE’s magical Arcana can expand the range of what’s available for Modern AGE characters, and Modern AGE’s new rules might be useful for many Fantasy AGE games, but in the end they’re separate lines, with differences that in some cases, cut right down to core systems. We trust you to perform whatever creative mashups you like. I for one would love to hear about any such “FrankenAGE” games.

Modern Monday: So. Many. Stunts.

Modern AGE is a couple of weeks from going to print. In this final stage, we’re refining the look of the game. One of the things we introduced late in the process was a system to color code the three campaign modes (Gritty, Pulpy, and Cinematic) so their rules options are easy to find. Plus, Modern AGE isn’t a one-and-done affair. We’re simultaneously fine-tuning the Modern AGE Quickstart and getting together a Modern AGE GM’s Kit featuring a screen and reference cards.

Oh yeah: There’s one other product in development that’s about 50% through final text development. But I won’t be talking about it until it’s been through a couple of other stages.

Anyway, back to those reference cards. They include a lot of stunts. Modern AGE uses stunts to represent exceptional success, but also for certain special moves which in other games, would involve a special subsystem. This changes how stunts are framed compared to other Adventure Game Engine RPGs like Fantasy AGE or Blue Rose.

Stunt Attacks

One new major action in Modern AGE is the Stunt Attack. In combat, you forego the standard result of an attack—inflicting damage—to automatically gain 1 stunt point. You still get stunt points from doubles. These and other sources of stunt points (usually Relationships) stack with your free SP. This is how you perform actions which in other games, would be resolved with a “grapple check” or something. In many cases it’s better to inflict damage, but when you gain talents and specializations which enhance your stunts (such as Modern AGE’s Martial Artist, who gains bonus stunt points for some stunt attacks) it can become a powerful option.

Core Stunts and Stunt Picks

Due to the expanded role of stunts, Modern AGE includes a whole bunch of them, bundled into specific categories, such as Grappling Stunts and Membership and Reputation Stunts (which support that game’s more robust social system. Two new “non-rules” enters the game to deal with the risk of decision paralysis. Every stunt list has labeled Core Stunts. These have low or variable costs, and are generally useful, so when you can’t decide on your stunts, these are your picks. Related to this non-rule is the next: is the book’s explicit advice to pick stunts you like and want to use ahead of time. Make your own menu and see how it plays out.

These are “non-rules” because they’re just ways to help you pick stunts. They never limit your selections. You can still pick any appropriate stunt you can afford! Eventually, you’ll find your favorites and use them to define your character’s personal style, but you can always switch them up. It’s a lens, not a locker.

Vehicular Stunts

As you might have predicted after seeing a similar system in the Fantasy AGE Companion, Modern AGE gives you the option to run vehicular combat without tracking a Health Point equivalent for cars and such. While the GM can assign Health values to vehicle parts and special effects for destroying them, affecting the vehicle as a whole involves Anti-Vehicle Stunts whose effects range from making the target vehicle harder to handle, to turning it into a twisted, flaming wreck. Some attacks, such as those with an anti-materiel rifle, can generate more powerful stunts against vehicles.

Chase Stunts are another new stunt group affecting vehicles, though they can also influence mounted or foot chases. These interact with Modern AGE’s chase rules. Again, if you’ve seen the Fantasy AGE Companion you’ve seen a version of these rules, though they’re not exactly the same as their modern counterparts.

More? Monday?

This isn’t everything you can do with stunts. In fact, I’m going to plug the Fantasy AGE Companion again and recommend its rules for stunt pools and stunt packages, which could easily be used with Modern AGE. Furthermore, we’re working on a few new options for stunts in that book I can’t talk about yet!

My evasive behavior will change soon—I promise! This is the first Modern Monday column, and as we ramp up to launching the game, and getting it to you in its “early bird” PDF medium, you’ll see more about Modern AGE, its principles, and our plans for the line. These include the World of Lazarus campaign setting, based on Greg Rucka’s comic of the feudal near future. See you next week!

Why call shotgun unless you really mean it? In case you’re wondering, Brian’s on the left side because this is Sean’s fancy British car.

 

 

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.

Bundle of Holding: AGE System Deals In Support Of Puerto Rico

Age Bundle of Holding

Through Tuesday, March 13th, you can get a terrific deal on Dragon Age RPG and Fantasy AGE RPG PDFs at Bundle of Holding. For just $9.95 you can get the Starter Collection, but you might as well meet or exceed the threshold (level up) price of (currently) just $24.72, and unlock $75 more worth of AGE System PDFs. Even better, 10% of your payment (after payment gateway fees) goes to the Maria Fund, a charity “with a mission to support frontline efforts to fulfill immediate relief needs and to organize for an equitable Puerto Rico over the long term.”

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.

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: Fantasy AGE Companion Preview

Hey folks, Jack here. It’s already a busy year here and part of it is putting the final touches on our upcoming Fantasy AGE Companion. The book is written, edited, and currently in its final layout and art stages, so I thought it would be cool to present people with a preview of the book.

Moreover, I find the best previews are generally ones that themselves either show the look and feel of product off or can be used as a sort of stand-alone bonus for people. In this case, we went with both. This preview presents one of our new race options for player characters, Beastfolk.

Beastfolk are animal like humanoids who mix humanoid forms with the natural abilities of various animals. Using this option you can play a cat-person or monkey-person or any number of similarly themed characters.

FA_Comp_preview_01_spreads

 

Beastfolk are only one of many new elements in the upcoming Fantasy AGE Companion, including more fantasy races, new arcana, new specializations and talents, rules for both gritty and cinematic play, mass combat, and more!  Some of these editions are adapted from other AGE games for Fantasy AGE but much of it is brand new.

The Fantasy AGE Companion is coming in  March in print and pdf.

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.