Player or GM, the Modern AGE Mastery Guide is Here for You

Modern AGE Mastery GuideI’m so pleased to announce that the Modern AGE Mastery Guide has gone to press, which means you can preorder the print version, get the PDF now as a $5 add-on with your preorder, or get the PDF on its own in our webstore or at DriveThruRPG. In case you’re curious, we’ve chosen a printer in Europe to keep shipping challenges to a minimum. This is the latest hardcover release for the Modern AGE roleplaying game, and joins the Modern AGE Basic Rulebook, the Modern AGE Companion, and Enemies & Allies as one of its “core rulebook” releases, as opposed to the game’s two settings, the World of Lazarus comic adaptation, and our flagship multiverse, the Threefold Metacosm.

Great news, right? But what is it? Is it a GM’s guide or player’s guide?

It’s both.

I have always hated the idea of separating advice for players and Game Masters, as if one side needs a bag of tricks to use against the other. That’s not how you should play Modern AGE, so that’s not how we do it in this book. Beyond being able to peek into the advice given to separate roles, we’re able to integrate it so the guidance is consistent. This format also makes it natural to provide the high-level advice GMs are used to getting, to players as well.

But it’s not all essays—it works out to less than half the content. The Modern AGE Mastery Guide also contained countless new recommended and optional systems, making it a counterpart to the Modern AGE Companion. Do you want simplified characters? Classes? Diceless play? Numerically rated personality traits? Do you want us to admit Stunt Attack is a little weak? Well, we have you covered.

Look at the table of contents here.

Conflict resolution in Modern AGE Mastery Guide

Character conflict done right, from the Modern AGE Mastery Guide

Done? Here’s a high-level summary:

Chapter 1: Playing Well

A guide to finding your preferences and improving your performance playing a Modern AGE character. This includes devising a backstory, searching for a role in the party, and how to play with consideration for others’ feelings.

Chapter 2: Variant Character Creation

A rules-focused chapter that presents multiple alternatives to standard character creation. This includes non-heroic characters, simplified characters, and character classes. Rules for quirks and personality traits round out the chapter.

Chapter 3: Playing With the Rules

Chapter 3 presents a host of new rules options that are especially relevant for players. This chapter starts with recommended new and revised rules before presenting options for everything from detailed injuries to streamlined encounters.

Chapter 4: Welcome to The Party

An advice-focused chapter covering the ins and outs of playing in a character party. This includes a further exploration of character roles, collective growth, and how to manage intra-party conflict.

Chapter 5: A Player’s Miscellany

Chapter 5 introduces additional rules and advice relevant to players, beginning with rules for customizing equipment, using explosives and other major threats in a low-rules, high drama context, and how to make extraordinary powers come alive in the campaign.

Chapter 6: Mastering Modern AGE’s Rules

A dive into using and customizing the rules. Aimed primarily (but not exclusively) at GMs, this chapter starts by exploring Modern AGE’s dice mechanics before discussing alternate criteria for target numbers, mixing success and failure, and rules for diceless play.

Chapter 7: Modern Adventures

A comprehensive guide to designing adventures based on scenes, sites, character relationships, and more.

Chapter 8: The Art of Game Mastering

Chapter 8 continues the high-level Game Mastering advice in the Modern AGE Basic Rulebook, delving into GMing styles, practical techniques, and the primary directive for all Game Masters: Be kind.

That’s the Modern AGE Mastery Guide. Get it and add another core book to your arsenal—but there’s still more to come. The Modern AGE desk has another softcover, hardcover, and several PDFs awaiting release—and that’s before a significant Modern AGE-adjacent announcement (which is probably not what you think!) next year. Overall, it’s a good time to get into what I will, with some arrogance but also some accuracy, call the premiere any-setting modern RPG. We got books!

Fantasy AGE Core Rulebook Cover Reveal

New Fantasy AGE Core Rulebook!

As Fantasy AGE fans know, we’ve been working on a Core Rulebook for the game for a while now. We decided it was time to bring together Fantasy AGE and Freeport, our signature fantasy city since 2000. More than that, we’ll be exploring many new lands in the world of Freeport through a setting concept called Stranger Shores. Once we had decided to put Freeport in the mix, there could be no other choice for the cover artist: Wayne Reynolds!

Tales of Freeport from the 3rd edition eraDenizens of Freeport from the 3rd edition era

Wayne has been the signature cover artist for Freeport since 2003, when he painted the covers for both Tales of Freeport and Denizens of Freeport. Wayne just gets the look of Freeport and his previous covers helped to define it. We wanted the Core Rulebook cover to illustrate that Fantasy AGE and Freeport were coming together. My idea: take characters from both and have them fighting side by side in the city. Art director Hal Mangold worked with Wayne to make it a reality.

Freeport: The City of Adventure for Pathfinder 1eFantasy AGE Campaign Builder's Guide

 

All the Fantasy AGE covers have featured a trio of iconic characters in perilous encounters. I suggested we take our iconic warrior and team her up with the pirate captain Wayne painted for the cover of Freeport: The City of Adventure. The foes had to be serpent people, a major element of the Freeport setting. You can see the results for yourself. As always, Wayne knocked it out the park. This is a cover worthy of our new Core Rulebook!

The Fantasy AGE Core Rulebook is scheduled to release in May of 2022. If you’d like to learn more about how it has been developed, check out episodes of ThursdAGE (also available on Youtube and Twitch). Each week the disembodied voice of Troy Hewitt chats with Fantasy AGE developer Owen K.C. Stephens, who gives advice about the game, the Adventure Game Engine that powers it, and answers your questions. Leading up to May, we’ll also have a series of articles exploring the Core Rulebook, so stay tuned.

The AGE of Wonderful (and Misfit) Toys

So, backstage, we developers have been talking about the different properties of AGE as a system, and how they might be tweaked, expanded, streamlined, and generally fooled around with. This is a conversation that builds up when it interests us, or when various projects demand it, and it’s responsible for a lot of the work we do with the Adventure Game Engine in its various forms: Fantasy AGE, Modern AGE, The Expanse, and Blue Rose—and of course these evolved from concepts devised by Chris Pramas for the Dragon Age roleplaying game.

Modding AGE games is half the fun!

If at first you don’t get the gameplay you want, mod, mod again. From the upcoming Modern AGE Mastery Guide

The wonderful thing about this process is that everybody has their own interpretations of how and why the rules work, and this sometimes helps with creative logjams. I may have talked about how it happens before, but hey, I forgot if I did, so why not talk about it anyway in the perishable blogging medium?

Churning Collaboration

Take the example of the Churn, devised for The Expanse—sort of. When I was working on the Modern AGE Companion, I got a look at the initial draft of the Churn. I liked it a whole lot, but I was also aware that as a game without a setting intended to serve a broad set of players, my “Churn” needed to generate more specific challenges from a rules perspective, because the GM couldn’t necessarily pull something from a well-defined setting. I renamed it Complications and added a bit of specificity in terms of the adversity it generates, and associated game systems like target numbers.

Then, of course, it turned out that Steve Kenson wanted to nail down the Churn a bit more. Handily, I had my draft in hand and sent it to him. So that’s how the Churn bounced between two games and came out with a redesign in both.

Another example of this is the invention of what we call breaching tests in Modern AGE and challenge tests in The Expanse: advanced tests that may have specific requirements and can impose special consequences for failure. As breaching tests, these were originally invented by Crystal Frasier for the World of Lazarus supplement, not the Modern AGE Basic Rulebook (both were written and developed at the same time). But the rules were so great I asked for them to be ported into core game systems. Steve Kenson picked it up for The Expanse, renamed it, and integrated it with the chase rules sourced from Modern AGE to streamline the latter.

Dubious Notions

However, not everything we produce makes it all the way to print or public pixels, for assorted reasons. The first is that the idea doesn’t really have a home in a new or upcoming game or supplement. They’re just free-floating notions. For example, at the time of writing we’ve just bandied about ideas for utilizing breaching/challenge tests where characters accumulate degrees of success with the ordinary combat system. Is there a place for it? Not yet, but much of the time we’ll keep these ideas in our back pockets, so to speak, until the right occasion comes up.

Then you have ideas which are great on paper but would just be too weird or dismal looking for people to get into. Here’s one I came up with. Hard Mode Stunts.

Hard Mode Stunts: Instead of setting the Stunt Die apart with a distinctive design or color than the other two of your 3d6, the Stunt Die is always the lowest die you roll. If you tie where two dice have the same number as a die with a higher result, it doesn’t matter which die you pick as your Stunt Die, since they’ll have the same value.

(Don’t know AGE? In our system we roll 3d6 + bonuses against a target number. One die is distinctive, and if any two dice have the same number on the face, that special die—called the Stunt Die or Drama Die—generates the number on its face in stunt points, which can be used to buy special effects like knocking an enemy down or getting your way with a particularly clever quip in social interactions.)

Now this seems like a logical rule. Stunt point totals tend to be high because matches happen in the set of rolls that are successes, and successful rolls will naturally be higher. With Hard Mode Stunts, you’re more likely to get fewer stunt points unless your entire roll is high—in fact, since you can’t get 6 stunt points unless 6 is the lowest die, you can only get that when you roll a natural 18 on 3d6. So logically, scales consistently, and…is no fun. In Modern AGE you might use it for the grittiest of Gritty Mode games. But AGE thrives on stunts! So, no—with one exception.

If there was a version of the AGE system that provided powerful tools to alter dice rolls or generate stunt points without relying on doubles, Hard Mode Stunts might work, with the understanding that you’ll usually be buying the big stunts, perhaps with something like The Expanse’s Fortune system. There’s a thought—but is there a place for it? Hmmm….

Old Games Never Die: True20 Revised Rulebook available for Print On Demand

True20 Revised Edition available for Print on Demand!I’m certainly dating myself, but long ago, I loved to haunt the aisles of the games auction at Gen Con and to visit shops that had older and out-of-print games. It was how I got to see products that pre-dated my entry into the tabletop gaming hobby, or that I missed somewhere along the way.

That was long before the explosion of online publishing, e-books, and print-on-demand, which transformed our relationship with those older products, and publishers’ relationships with their back-catalog. Now, old games (and old game books) need never die. They just “ascend” from their material forms to the virtual realm, where they can be purchased, accessed, downloaded, and even reprinted to add to some eager gamer’s collection.

All of that is a long introduction to announcing that Green Ronin is offering the True20 Adventure Roleplaying core rulebook as a print-on-demand product from DriveThruRPG. Since the original book was produced in black and white, it was a prime candidate for print-on-demand, allowing us to keep the cost reasonable for a non mass-market book, and making it easy to offer both softcover and hardcover editions.

Moving forward, Green Ronin will also be looking at offering print-on-demand editions of some of our other out-of-print titles, as staffing resources permit. Have a personal preference you’d like to see available? Please email letsplay@greenronin.com and let us know about it. Our focus remains on supporting and producing new material for our ongoing game lines like the AGE System and Mutants & Masterminds, but we want fans of our older titles to be able to replace well-loved books and to introduce them to potential new fans as well.

If you have never checked out True20 Adventure Roleplaying, now is a great time to do so and to get a package deal on both a print and PDF copy of the core rules. You can also explore the numerous settings, sourcebooks, and adventures using the True20 system on DriveThruRPG, also preserved for posterity. Old games never die, they just await new players to find and play them.

Gen Con Report 2021

Another Gen Con is in the books, and what an unusual Gen Con it was, in many regards.

Green Ronin booth at Gen Con 2021!As folks may know, this year Gen Con held a “hybrid” event, consisting of online and “pop-up” Gen Con events hosted by local game stores, in addition to the traditional in-person event at the convention center in downtown Indianapolis, where Gen Con has been hosted for over twenty years now. In-person Gen Con observed a number of restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including a cap on attendance, a mask requirement for all indoor and crowded outdoor areas of the con, and closing the convention center overnight for a complete cleaning. Along with reduced attendance came a reduced number of exhibitors: Many Gen Con stalwarts did not attend, and many others cancelled their plans to do so.

Green Ronin, like many exhibitors, reduced our presence at the convention: smaller booth space and minimal staff, just four of us, the smallest Gen Con staff we’ve had since I started working for Green Ronin back in 2003! We still managed to include our full lines of product on the tables that we had, and were pleased to be able to offer a limited number of copies of the new Ships of the Expanse, along with other new offerings like the Envoys to the Mount campaign for Blue Rose. We cleared out our remaining copies of The Expanse Quick-Start by giving a free copy with any purchase of $25 or more. They were all gone by Friday!

Ships of the Expanse was available in print for Gen Con!

While Gen Con 2021 was by no means an ordinary Gen Con, it was still a success. Sales justified our costs for being there and attendees expressed their gratitude at seeing us and having the opportunity to check out our products, both new and new-to-them. We saw lots of interest in The Expanse, Blue Rose, Mutants & Masterminds, and the AGE System, as we expected, but were also pleased to see to see interest in both our 5e products like The Lost Citadel, Book of Fiends, and The Blue Rose Adventurer’s Guide as well as our older Pathfinder products for Freeport.

Mask discipline in the exhibit hall and within the convention was generally excellent. While I occasionally saw a few noses hanging out, I didn’t see anyone unmasked anywhere they weren’t supposed to be. We generally took a cautious approach, avoiding a lot of the crowded events and areas, and combining taking our meals in our hotel rooms and visiting less crowded restaurants, especially those offering outdoor seating. Hand sanitizer was our constant companion and Nicole implemented a barcode scanner for sales checkout to help minimize the handling and passing back-and-forth of products. Because of our minimal staffing, and ownership’s preference not to ask anything of volunteers this year, we didn’t run any in-person events or games ourselves. As it was, we barely got away from the booth to walk the show floor (although we did all manage it).

Gen Con classics from the AGE system games.In spite of all of the differences, the heart of Gen Con remained very much the same: People were excited to be there and happy to see us, and enthused about their favorite games, while curious about what was new and coming next. We even met more than a few attendees who told us it was their first Gen Con ever! Certainly, we’re looking forward to welcoming them back to the show under better conditions in the years to come. We certainly appreciate everyone who visited the booth and who shopped or took the time to offer their kind comments.

We’ll have an even smaller presence at the Origins Game Fair in Columbus, Ohio, in just two weeks: Two staff members are scheduled to be there, but will be there nonetheless. We’ll have a similar-sized booth and all of the same product and are looking forward to greeting our friends, old and new.

Chris Pramas also recorded a quick interview with 1-2-3 D&D History at Gen Con. Check it out!

Book Mashup: Apocalypse Freeport

Andrzej was getting tired. He swept his greatsword in a figure 8, pausing to lean slightly to let a crossbow bolt pass him by and bury itself in the shooter’s friend, coming up the other side. He hated killing but the briefing said these people, filthy doublets, poor dentistry, and all, might destroy several universes. He hated killing, but something had hollowed their souls out, and it seemed merciful to dispatch what remained.

He wasn’t fighting alone. A vicious, pointy-eared, green-skinned little man covered his blind side with some quick knife-work. He didn’t know the fellow, who’d apparently been burgling the lair, shrine, or whatever Andrzej chased the cultists back to, barreling through the ramshackle streets of Freeport (crisis point of the plane designated NG-05522).

Andrzej parried an incoming cutlass, but an adjacent burly cultist sent him staggering with a belaying pin to the face, of all things. The little green man hid behind Andrzej as the cultist with the fanciest hat stepped forward and snapped a finger, wreathing her hand in green flame.

Comforted by training, Andrzej was ready for death.

“Let me show you glories to boil your eyes,” said the woman with the fiery hand.

“Hey!” Was that Mei’s voice? “Come get me first!”

Mei was an Aethon agent seconded to their group. She could keep Earth technology working on the weirdest planes. Mei appeared to be unarmed, on the other side of the doorway, with nothing but a tiny box on legs between her and the cultists.

Andrzej looked, gasped, grabbed the little green man, and hurled them both behind a sturdy pillar. The fire-handed woman took the bait and led the charge toward Mei, paying no mind to the box and its to-her exotic lettering, which said FRONT TOWARD ENEMY.

Yes, It’s time for another book and setting mashup, coming on the heels of Lost Ilium and Vaporwave Rose (Part 1 here, Part 2 here). This time around we’re doing an epic one, combining Modern AGE’s Threefold setting and the Freeport setting (through a Fantasy AGE lens) for world-shattering adventure! And because it’s a big tapestry, it’s a big article—no split this time. Drink it all in.

Freeport Apocalypse! Freeport meets Threefold

Apocalypse Freeport Campaign Setting

Ingredients: You need the Modern AGE and Fantasy AGE core rulebooks, as well as the Threefold setting book and the Pirate’s Guide to Freeport. The Fantasy AGE version of Death in Freeport and other Freeport books will also be useful.

(Links to print or PDF as available in our online store. Titles also available in PDF at DrivethruRPG.)

Genre: Portal fantasy and cosmic horror.

The Setup

Freeport. There are many cities by that name, but the Sodality, who explore the infinite planes, tracks legends about one of them with special care. The Divine Empire’s demigod-tyrants keep secret files on it too because It’s no mere legend to them. Where the Sodality suspects, highly placed imperial Optimates know: Freeport is where the fate of the Metacosm will be decided.

The plane Freeport stands in appears to be an Otherworld, where sorcery and wonders abound, but it’s really a “hell,” or Netherworld, and had an Alastor: what the less educated call a “demon prince.” This being, the Great Serpent Yig, might have been unique among its kind: amoral, but lacking the instinct to torture the inhabitants of its realm.

This made its plane vulnerable to attacks from enemy Alastors, and even the primal energies of the Netherworlds, where reality unravels unless bulwarked by sacrificed souls. Yig sought sanctuary by pushing even deeper into the outer dark, further than even rival demons typically went. To prevent reality erosion, Yig reshaped its plane, giving it the power to seize parts of planes which possessed stronger natural laws. Freeport now exists on a patchwork plane at the furthest edge of the Metacosm.

A being imprisoned in this final darkness saw the lonely light of the plane. All this Unspeakable One needed to do was to whisper certain ceremonies in the dreams of Yig’s mortal children, the serpent people. They had become mighty sorcerers, and rulers of the Valossan Empire, claimed from a continent said to be Yig’s body. But the whispers taught the powers of the Yellow Sign, and its students founded a cult whose grand ritual destroyed Valossa, the empire, and perhaps Yig along with it (though death is always different for gods). Even so, the ritual was incomplete, because it failed to bring the Unspeakable One to the plane. But with Yig fallen, the intruder gained partial, weakened control of the plane’s ability to tear pieces from other realms.

This was enough to slowly tear away part of the Otherworld called Kalakuth, but in the process, the Unspeakable One abducted the Ghul, a Prefect of the Divine Empire and demigod of death, and the Herald, his shapeshifting consort. After determining no nearby gates survived the transition, and that he couldn’t return home, the Ghul set about conquering the plane’s largest landmass, simply called “the Continent.” The Herald could transport themselves to other planes, but no one else, and the Ghul bade them to stay, and keep the conquest a secret. Thus, the Ghul founded the Empire of Ashes as a personal dominion.

By ravaging the Continent, the Ghul unwittingly fed souls to the Unspeakable One, and improved the state of sorcery, which had fallen since the destruction of Valossa. This revived the Cult of the Yellow Sign, which set about undermining the necromancer’s empire. Eventually, the Empire of Ashes was as dead as the shambling legions that served it.

The new pirate city of Freeport profited from raids in the vulnerable, lawless Continent. It grew on A’Val, an island remnant of old Valossa. The Cult of the Yellow Sign followed wealth and the possibility of serpent people lore there—but the long-lived Herald, who survived the fall of the Empire of Ashes, followed. The Herald learned the truth: The Cult’s ultimate goal was to summon the Unspeakable One, who would then gain full control of the plane’s world-eating powers. Freeport’s plane would become a cosmic predator.

The Herald used their powers to flee to Alatum, capital of the Divine Empire, but its rulers were too consumed with politics and rivalries to listen. So, the Herald traveled to many other planes, leaving rumors and clues—nothing firm enough to mark them as a traitor to the Empire—about Freeport, the Unspeakable One, and the world that eats worlds.

And sometimes, people listened.

As rollicking life in the City of Adventure continues, factions on other worlds plan infiltrations and invasions. Ambitious Nighthost captains see another Netherworld to conquer, and a weapon that could further their mission to liberate them all. A few fringe war-furies in the Divine Empire see the key to conquering the Otherworlds, even arrogant Earth, and claiming the throne. A circle of Sodality wardens wants to preserve Freeport’s unique plane, standing up for its people, an eliminate the threat. On Earth, a highly placed member of Aethon reads secret reports, and inspects locked cryochambers containing apocalyptic living weapons.

So far, these groups have only been able to plan. Freeport’s plane has no known gates, and if there are any, it is extremely likely they pass through multiple Netherworld hells. The Herald cannot transport others, and the Ferrymen, a faction who can, doubt the tale. But it is only a matter of time until the status quo changes. These groups will either find a way, or the cult of the Yellow Sign will make further progress, and the Unspeakable one will reach out to feed.

The Campaign

There are two was to run this one. The first is as a Fantasy AGE campaign set in Freeport that undergoes a sudden turn when people from other worlds appear, eager to stop the Cult of the Yellow Sign. You can use this to shift your game from traditional fantasy adventure into plane-traveling portal fantasy, and you can even introduce elements like modern technology. The key to defeating the Unspeakable One may lie in a distant realm, whether it’s an artifact, spell, or the consciousness of Yig, flung to some distant world. Note that the Freeport setting here isn’t “canon” Freeport, since it redefines and tweaks several things, such as by saying the Ghul was a renegade Optimate from the Divine Empire.

On the flipside, you can use Modern AGE and Threefold to send a Mission or other group of plane-travelers to Freeport, to soak up its rough charms and mind-searing dangers. It’s hard to get in or out of Freeport’s plane, so there’s plenty of time to enjoy the rum-soaked ambiance while hunting followers of the Unspeakable One.

Modern AGE and Fantasy AGE are largely compatible, though if you use Toughness and Modes, they should apply to characters from both games. Focuses, talents, and specializations are largely cross-compatible, though the GM should consider carefully before allowing Fantasy AGE characters to take Modern AGE talents that mimic class abilities, such as pinpoint attack. Weapon proficiency doesn’t exist in Modern AGE either, so assume characters made with that game are proficient in weapons that inflict up to 1d6 (plus inherent weapon bonuses) per point in the abilities they are used with, so a Fighting of 2 permits proficient use of Fighting-based weapons that roll 2d6 (such as a long sword) for damage before other bonuses. A few other minor tweaks may be required, but nothing too onerous.

The Herald is intentionally designed to be an easy NPC to insert into the game, because they can go or be anyone—even a longtime NPC contact, if the GM wants. But even though they can travel the planes without a gate, they can’t take anyone with them, to preserve the plane travel rules that bind other characters, as mentioned here and in Threefold.

Finally, Freeport’s plane has the following profile in the Apocalypse Freeport campaign.

NG-05522— “Freeport’s Plane” (Provisional Name)

Incessance: +5 versus technology, +1 versus the occult. Technology developed within the plane by natives is unaffected, as seen in the emerging use of firearms.

Library Summary: Analysts estimate an 86% chance “Freeport’s Plane” exists due to the reliability and consistency of accounts. According to these accounts, the plane can absorb regions from other planes and is contested by multiple divine entities. A gate chain has yet to be defined. Technology generally does not exceed Earth’s 17th century, and local variants of known human types, with examples such as “dwarves” (and confusingly “humans,” used solely for the local jana subtype) are commonplace. Governments tend to be unstable, and magic use is common. Extreme caution is urged.

Book Mashup: Vaporwave Rose, Part 2

Last time around I started this mashup between Modern AGE and Blue Rose without knowing how much I’d get into it. 90s cartoon romantic fantasy! The setup was so alluring I threw about a thousand words at it, so I had to break it up. Here’s the second part, but let’s go over the essentials again.

(Oh, check out the first book mashup, Lost Ilium.)

Vaporwave Rose 90s cartoon adventures in Aldea

Vaporwave Rose Campaign Setting

Ingredients: Get out the Modern AGE Basic Rulebook and Blue Rose: The AGE Roleplaying Game of Romantic Fantasy. The Modern AGE Companion, Aldis, City of the Blue Rose, and Envoys to the Mount (preorder hardcover, but the PDF is already available) are also helpful.

(Links to print or PDF as available in our online store. Titles also available in PDF at DrivethruRPG.)

Genre: 90s animated romantic urban fantasy!

The Setup, Part 2

Remember what I was telling you? The Blue Rose? Obscure 90s cartoon? Magnet for the young and, ah, alternative lifestyle’d? Magical genderfluidity? Telepathic ferret heroes? Was “alternative lifestyle’d” a period reference too far?

Okay, here comes the weird part.

The music videos started showing up on what looked like machine-generated streaming video accounts, their names just nonsense alphanumeric strings. It used to be the ability to catch The Blue Rose onscreen was mysterious, but I guess it’s all algorithms now. But these weren’t episodes. They were long music videos of extremely chill electronic music and iconic sounds from a smorgasbord of 90s pop culture, backing distorted scenes from TBR episodes—including clips no fan had seen before (and, allegedly, a game adaptation for the SEGA Dreamcast, because of course)—hammered into a color palette informed by VHS distortion and Windows 95 esthetics.

Yeah, I know what “vaporwave” is! I loved it. I blanked out. The missing time didn’t bug me at first—this was perfect stuff to zonk out to. I started falling asleep to it every night. I dreamed of Aldea.

But you don’t get bruises from dreams.

Accept the truth, even if you think you’re losing your mind. The Blue Rose, both person and series, were true. They remembered us. Aldea is real.

(Oh, look out for your pets. Sometimes they come with you. That means they’re rhydan, and sometimes they remember Aldea better than we do.)

I’ve been on dozens of journeys now, at night or just by concentrating on a video. Centuries have passed since The Blue Rose’s time. Ala is the stuff of legends, and we know more about that ancient hero from TBR fan lore than most Aldeans do from texts and oral traditions. As I grow more comfortable living another life there, I’ve come to believe Aldea returned to help us, but also needs our help. The final battle between the Blue Rose and Jarek seems to have ended in a stalemate, but the lich king discovered our world. He has agents—people possessed by “darkfiends,” straight from the show—who bring back ideas and artifacts. Kern turned its own capital into the first Shadow City raised half by magic, half by Earth industry. Others sprouted across Aldea: tenement blocks and imposing glass towers, smothered in a smog that burns orange by day, and reflects neon-purple flares of magic at night.

I didn’t know why I’d been summoned until I met other fans, some of whom I already knew from conventions and other scenes. Some of us looked different, maybe more like who we truly are than Earth gave us. Five of us had gathered on the other side for three episodes (hold on, getting to that) when we saw The Blue Rose and Golden Hart. They made us Shadowburners: Envoys who know Earth and can save Aldea from its darkness. Apparently, there’s a lot to love about our world, even from the Aldean perspective, but Jarek and his darkfiends have only brought the parts that give them power.

Be careful. I know it’s real not just because of the aches I get after some of the rougher episodes, or even because I’ve met fellow Shadowburners on Earth, but because I’ve seen the Fiendbound, Jarek’s possessed agents, here. Some probably would have been bastards anyway, but I’ve never met one who wasn’t a victim in some sense. On the other side, we can confront demons with swords but here, we need to kill their power over their hosts.

Epsiodes? Oh yeah. One convenient aspect of it all is that no matter how much time we spend in Aldea, with our bodies entranced in the real world as we wear new ones on the other side, once we come back, no more than 24 minutes passes—I’m guessing that’s half an hour, minus commercial breaks. Since I originally crossed to Aldea in my sleep, it took me ages to figure out. Sometimes we even see retro-style animated “fan films” based on what happened, on those same weird streaming accounts.

There’s physical evidence on my body. Testimonials from other Shadowburners. But best of all, I can show you. I know you indulged me when I geeked out about The Blue Rose, and that you’re a lurker on the Sovereign’s Finest group. You’ve seen the show. You’ve got potential.

Now just watch this video with me, and you’ll see even more.

The Campaign

You’re a Shadowburner: Someone who saw The Blue Rose cartoon and was chosen by the Blue Rose and Golden Hart to travel between Earth and Aldea. The Fiendbound steal innovations from our world, and Jarek’s industrial sorcerers fill in the infrastructure blanks with dark, life-draining magic. The nation of Aldis can’t keep up with this evil progress. It relies on Shadowburners to oppose Jarek’s forces and share the gentler things our world has to offer. You’re a good person who (even if you need to get past some psychological barriers) loves diversity. Most Shadowburners aren’t heterosexual, or they have a gender other that what they were assigned at birth. All despise racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia. The Golden Hart and Blue Rose are adamant about this requirement, so it’s a firm rule.

As a Shadowburner you lead two lives. The first is your life on Earth, represented by a Gritty (or for gentler Earthside adventures, Pulpy) Modern AGE character. However, you’re capable of learning the arcana of Blue Rose via the Arcane Potential and Wild Arcane talents. You can also learn other talents from Blue Rose, even if they have class requirements, if you meet the following prerequisites:

  • Adept Talents: Intelligence or Willpower 2, knowledge of at least one arcana.
  • Expert Talents: Communication or Dexterity 2, and at least one degree in one of the Expert’s starting talents (Blue Rose AGE RPG, p. 46), either from Blue Rose or Modern AGE.
  • Warrior Talents: Fighting or Strength 2, and at least one degree in a fighting style talent.

Rhydan Shadowburners exist as well, but in the real world they’re normal animals that feel bound to their comrades and who generally seem clever due to uncanny instincts. This makes them better suited for players who come occasionally or who want to play a different role in or skip Earth adventures.

Watching a music video connected to The Blue Rose and Shadowburner phenomenon puts you in a trance, and you awaken in a body representing your true self, created from the elemental substance of Aldea. In this form, your character is in Modern AGE’s Cinematic Mode, but with one difference: You don’t use Toughness. In Aldea, characters rely on armor or skill to survive (and as Blue Rose doesn’t use Toughness, this means you can use most material from that game as-is). No matter how much time you spend in Aldea, it only takes a 24-minute trance in the real world. Your fellow Shadowburners can enter trances at different times, but you’ll synch up in Aldea, as is necessary.

In a trance, you’re usually safe from being interfered with—this campaign isn’t about a knife in the back while you’re somewhere else—and while you don’t choose when you leave Aldea, it often happens after an episode-like series of events happen, often with an implicit lesson about tolerance and being yourself. Such is the binding power of a 90s cartoon. Your Aldean body and its immediate possessions turn into a luminous mist, and reform when you’re needed again, in a location set by the Narrator/Game Master. Any damage short of death you suffer in Aldea becomes half that amount, and stun damage, on Earth, so a rough adventure can make you sick or even knock you out. And if you die in one world, you’re gone in both.

The Fiendbound have some way of transporting physical artifacts between realms and have their hooks in government agencies and corporations, but you can’t do it—and finding out why is a major plot hook. Beyond stealing technology and cultural ideas to solidify Jarek’s rule (and giving GM/Narrators unlimited ability to create an industrialized, fascist, and particularly weird Kern), they want to make Earth a more hate-driven place, to create more fuel for the conquest of Aldea and, perhaps, claim another world as their own.

That’s the setup. I suggest you start looking for those music videos now.

Book Mashup: Vaporwave Rose, Part 1

I really enjoyed writing Lost Ilium the other week. I didn’t know if the mashups were going to be a series, but I left room for it. Past Me was pretty smart it seems because I quickly came up with another idea. This time, we’re going to combine Blue Rose, Modern AGE, and cartoons from the 90s. Unfortunately, I liked this one so much that I went overboard with the setup. It’s going to be a two-parter!

Let’s get started.

Ala Rose enters AldeaVaporwave Rose Campaign Setting

Ingredients: You need Blue Rose: The AGE Roleplaying Game of Romantic Fantasy and the Modern AGE Basic Rulebook. The Modern AGE Companion, Aldis, City of the Blue Rose, and Envoys to the Mount (preorder hardcover, but the PDF is already available) are also helpful.

(Links to print or PDF as available in our online store. Titles also available in PDF at DrivethruRPG.)

Genre: 90s animated romantic urban fantasy!

The Setup

The Blue Rose was a weird show, all right. Nobody agrees how many episodes there were, whether it was 2 or 3 seasons, or even who made it. The voice actors don’t appear on IMDB, and nobody’s heard of Magic Deer, its supposed animation studio. TBR ran on dozens of local stations in syndication. Each station has spotty, even contradictory records of what they broadcast, back when people clearly remember them showing episodes: reliably from 1991 to 1993, then in occasional bursts before finally vanishing by 2000. Everybody reports different times, though many swear it came on right after Cybersix, though not on the same station.

Some people got TBR shirts and tchotchkes in the mail after writing Magic Deer’s PO Box. Some swear they bought action figures in one of those big box stores. You can find some stuff cheap in antique stores—a bargain since it’s impossible to tell if the stuff is authentic, and most dealers don’t know the show anyway.

The 90s, with its triumphant conservatism, resurgent fascism, and an LGBTQ+ community reeling from the Right weaponizing a deadly disease against them, was demoralizing, even dangerous for some of us—and its problems sound familiar again. It was almost a lifeline. We needed it then, and it appeared for us. Funny thing about TBR Fandom: You didn’t have to be queer for the episodes to appear on your screen but given who shows up at Envoycons (“The only conventions featuring none of the cast and crew!” is our slogan), that seems to have worked better for reception than either cable or the ol’ rabbit ears.

Maybe that’s why it’s back.

Before I continue, let me talk about the show.

TBR is named after the secret identity of its main character, Ala Rose. Ala was one of us: a teen trying to live in this world. The origin is in the opening credits. Bullies chase Ala down an alley. They jump through an ornate blue door with Ferrus, their Ferret (I know, but it’s a cartoon, remember?). On the other side, Ferrus wakes Ala up by speaking into their mind! And they look around to see luminous woods on another world! Ferrus is an intelligent creature called a rhydan, from the new world, Aldea. He was an Envoy, agent of the good realm of Aldis. When he crossed over to Earth, he could barely remember his own name, and had to rely on instinct—and that’s how he found Ala, the prophesied Blue Rose.

In the first episode, they set it up fast. In the capital of Aldis, the Queen explains that the Blue Rose brings the Great Symmetry when it’s truly needed. The Queen gives Ala the sapphire-studded mask and sword of the Blue Rose persona, which allow Ala to take on a masculine or feminine secret identity. (The show never tells you what Ala’s gender or chromosomes are, and fans argue about it a lot, but I think the show did that on purpose and don’t care either way, myself.)

The secret of symmetry is that while the Exarchs, evil beings, say that love and hate are a balance, hate is the real imbalance. True symmetry balances the varied ways of love by allowing them to flower. Every just, passionate, and kind emotion is part of the Great Symmetry. The Blue Rose’s job is to uphold them all. Maybe that’s why the show wasn’t much of a hit. It had the adventure people think only boys go for, and the emotional focus only girls’ shows used to have.

Anyway, Ferrus uses his mind magic to fight beside the Blue Rose, and Ala meets a bunch of recurring Envoys, who become allies, rivals, romantic partners—or all three. The Blue Rose swings between a “town of the week,” dealing with classic community squabbles (that invariably have some evil sorcery exaggerating them, but I think this explanation was for the kids) and an ongoing battle against the evil nation of Kern, whose lich-king wants to…well, do the classic dark lord thing, serving the Exarchs. Sometimes, Kern agents are responsible for town-of-the-week troubles. It’s not the most nuanced setup but hey: kids’ cartoon. They do showcase other countries and peoples from time to time, either as a lesson in tolerance (see “The Roamers,” where the Blue Rose deals with people mistreating a group of nomads) or as a not-too subtle commentary on current affairs (all the episodes taking place in just-like-Fundamentalist Jarzon).

Between fragments, possible unreleased leaks, and definite episodes gathered by the fandom, we got at least 32 and possibly as many as 48 TBR episodes, including the annoying season finale—a two-parter ending in a cliffhanger! Ala leads a revolution against Kern and is about to do battle with Jarek, the Lich King, Herald of the Exarchs….

…and that was it, until now.

Now comes the hard part. Have you had the dreams too? Have you seen the fanvids? You have to.

You have to.

More about  later.

Dive Into the Aquarium for M&M

Danger Zones: AquariumThe release of Danger Zones: Aquarium is a bit of time travel on our side of things, because Aquarium was actually the first of the Danger Zones written, used as an example of how to set-up and write about the other locations planned for the series. It didn’t end up being the first one released, since M&M Developer Crystal Fraiser was able to take the time to further develop her initial sample map design for the setting, which is why our resident polymath has writing, design, cartography, and graphic design credits for the product!

Aquarium sets forth all of the essential elements that we have grown to know and love about Danger Zones: a summary and description of the setting itself, a practical look at the rules useful in using that setting, in this case things like water tanks, schools of flesh-eating fish, thermal shocks from plunges in icy water, underwater combat, and the inevitable exploding giant tanks of water (and the penguins, mustn’t forget about the penguins). It sets out the essential Cast section with archetypes (the Animal Trainer, Giant Octopus, and Great White Shark), along with a named supporting character (marine biologist Dr. Naname Anno), then it wraps up with a Capers section with three M&M adventure ideas featuring the setting.

Speaking of adventure ideas, it’s easy to borrow from popular media when it comes to making use of the Aquarium as a setting for your M&M adventures:

Trouble in the Tanks

Perhaps the aquarium has recently acquired an unusual starfish that is actually an alien creature or bio-engineered mutant with strange powers. The heroes are tipped-off by people disappearing in and around the aquarium. Of course, it doesn’t have to be a starfish. It could be an alien hexxim mistaken for an unusual Earthly sea-creature, or even a very angry goldish with tremendous mental powers. The relatively recent evacuation of Star Island off the coast of Freedom City (part of our “Summer of Starhaven,” over on the Mutants & Masterminds Patreon) sets up the possibility for certain alien beings or elements left behind in the ocean.

Finding AnnoFear my scaly wrath!

Are the characters fish (or penguins, or other sea creatures) dreaming that they are superheroes, or superheroes transformed into sea-creatures by a villain (such as the sorceress Medea) and left in the Aquarium to wallow in watery exile, only barely aware of their true nature, while the villains rampage unrestricted through their city? What if, in true comic book fashion, the transformed heroes are able to communicate with their fellow sea-creatures and get them to help stage a “prison break” so they can find a way to restore their true forms? Maybe someone like the sympathetic Dr. Anno may be able to help. They had best get on it before the moray eel (or shark) who is secretly loyal to the villain can cause trouble, or Aquarium personnel decide their behavior is too much trouble and have to release them back into the sea, or worse, feed them to the aforementioned shark…

The Atlantis Abduction

Alternately, perhaps the aquarium is being used as a cover for some sinister operation by a supervillain or criminal organization. They have captured an Atlantean and are holding them for study (or possibly even for ransom). The Atlantean might even be a member of the royal House of Atlan, exerting some of their powers over water or sea-life to stir up strange incidents at the aquarium or the nearby ocean in order to draw attention to their plight. When the heroes investigate the strange goings-on, the villains decide to move their captive further inland, tipping their hand and giving the heroes the opportunity to intervene. They had best do so quickly, before the forces of Atlantis marshal to storm the surface world!

When the Developer Plays: More Miscellany, Rules and Talents!

Last time I talked about playing Modern AGE using the Threefold setting—and I mean, playing a character, not running a game, which you don’t see developers write about much—I started getting into a grab bag of insights. This time around though, we’ll be talking about how we’ve worked with Modern AGE and its supplemental rules and talents in our Threefold game.

Wandersoul is one of many useful talents

Boosting

One house rule we use which will eventually be included in the finished but to be published Modern AGE Mastery Guide is the Boost stunt. Boost is a generic version of many other stunts which exists to help with leftover stunt points. Boosting costs 1-3 SP, which can be used for two functions:

  • If your next test would be logically helped by the test or circumstance that provided the stunt points you’re spending, you gain a bonus equal to the SP you spent (therefore, up to +3).
  • You can Boost someone else’s next test if, once again, it makes sense the action linked to the SP you’re spending would help. The bonus is equal to SP spent (+3 max) here as well.

Free Talent

Our GM, Steve (not Steve Kenson, but a local friend of mine) used an informal suggestion of mine that I’ve shared, here and there, and gave every character a free talent degree at Level 1, in addition to the talents Modern AGE characters normally get. This was so we could, if we were so inclined, lean further into our concepts, especially when it comes to Threefold-specific talents like Wandersoul or to gain posthuman augmentations by swapping out talent degrees. If you have campaign-specific talents, providing a bonus talent degree so they’re easier to take—even mandating the degree comes from one of these talents—is a decent idea.

Splitting Psychic Abilities

Threefold assumes that psychic disciplines, as opposed to magical arcana, use the Power Fatigue option on p. 92 of the Modern AGE Basic Rulebook. This means that instead of drawing on a supernatural energy source measured in Power Points, characters make a Willpower test to avoid getting progressively exhausted from using their gifts. GM Steve noted that psychic powers already use Willpower for activation tests and decided that our psychic PCs should make Constitution tests instead, to maintain balance between attributes. Now personally, I don’t mind the Willpower-alone approach, as Willpower’s uses are sometimes limited, and it streamlines testing—you could roll both tests at the same time without much trouble. But this might be a good idea for a game with a heavy emphasis on psychic power that also uses power fatigue tests.

Shabda Without Wandersoul

Multiple characters in our game took the Wandersoul talent. In Threefold, Wandersoul is intentionally highly effective at helping characters travel between planes, so it acts as an easy pick. It allows characters to sense gates between worlds and gives them knowledge of Shabda: Threefold’s universal language. Knowing Shabda is like having a conceptual “universal translator” in your brain so that you understand virtually any language so it’s extremely handy. But can you learn it without Wandersoul?

Tricky question. My original answer as Threefold’s creator was “no.” You needed to be a Wandersoul or Primal Being (a mystical creature bound to the Metacosm) to know it. But for playability’s sake I’ve backtracked on that. Currently characters in our game can learn it for one talent degree, but I think I’d like to eventually design an “official” answer that spreads out Shabda’s benefits as a dedicated talent and requires special (though attainable) circumstances to learn.

Catching Up

This series has caught up with the game to date, but I haven’t talked about everything I might say about it. Curious about playing Modern AGE with Threefold? Naturally, the best thing you can do is grab the books, but I’m also always willing to answer your questions. Cheers!