Team Preview: Red Group

 

We’ve spent the last few blog entries detailing some of the cool chapters in the SuperTeam Handbook that let you build your team from the ground up for thrilling heroics.

One of the most beautiful things about the Mutants & Masterminds system is its flexibility. While we generally sell it as cape-and-cowl set flying around throwing busses and fireballs at each other, the bare bones of the system can handle almost any action- and intrigue-focused flavor of modern, scifi, or historical games. One of the big goals of the SuperTeam Handbook was to provide a stealth campaign guide for more than just four-color heroics (there are plenty of those, too). Project: Freedom is classic superheroics mixed with behind-the-scenes political intrigue. The Upstarts are all about sabotage and civil disobedience. The Shadow Knights are chopsocky and ninja weirdness. And today we’re going to take a closer look at Red Group, an experimental AEGIS team who use criminal’s tactics against them with con games, theft, and sabotage to stop crooks and villains before they can threaten the world!


Power Level: 5    Power Points: 75
Team Template    7 points
Advantages: Benefit (cipher), Benefit (security clearance), Equipment 4 (team equipment and vehicle contribution), Team Code
Equipment: AEGIS concealed fiber armor (Protection 2, subtle), AEGIS blaster pistol (Ranged Damage 5), smartphone, vehicle contributions; 2 additional points of equipment
Complications: Loyalty Enforcement, Reputation (Criminals)


The public image of AEGIS, the American Elite Government Intervention Service, is dominated by steely-eyed operators or agents in heavy MAX power armor, who engage criminal organizations, terrorists, and supervillains. What the people don’t see are the five ordinary looking men and women quietly watching from nearby coffee shops or store fronts. They couldn’t imagine that these run-of-the-mill individuals are part of a new AEGIS initiative: Red Group, a pilot program sponsored by none other than Stewart “Rockstar” Bonham, Chief Administrator of Freedom City’s AEGIS operations.

The idea for Red Group was born from an unexpected skirmish between members of the Santa Muerte cult and SHADOW cells in Freedom City. The Santa Muerte cult under undead Tepalcatli had restricted their operations to Central America and the southwestern United States, but when SHADOW tried an aggressive push into the Mexican state of Chiapas, Tepalcatli retaliated with strikes against SHADOW operations in Freedom City, almost burning down Southside in the process.

AEGIS’s post-incident audit absolved the crimefighting agency of any failure to intercede and prevent this tragedy, but there was one voice of dissent from inside the Command Division: Analyst Jessie Baker. She claimed the Command Division had possessed actionable intelligence well before the Santa Muerte/SHADOW war, and that they failed to capitalize on it early enough. And when Command did pass the information along, it was through the Directorate arm first—standard protocol—preventing the Agent division from moving on the intelligence earlier. The auditors were ready to ignore Analyst Baker’s accusations; she had a reputation for rubbing people the wrong way, and her actionable intelligence had been little more than conjecture at the time. At best, her correct prediction was a coincidence, and they thought even that was generous. But Chief Administrator Bonham was intrigued. Baker may have the tact of sandpaper, but her predictions over the years had time and again proven correct off the faintest evidence, however untraditional her methods.

Bonham concluded there was a critical flaw in the way AEGIS communicated between the analytical thinkers who gathered intelligence and the structural thinkers who decided how to act on it. The analysts were having a hard time convincing the military and bureaucratic arms of potential threats because of how both sides parsed data and how analysts were able to think outside the box for deductive reasoning. The criminal organizations of the world were uniting in the interests of business, and they were sharing disciplines while governments were still restricted by their own borders. AEGIS had lost the ability to be agile under a heavier bureaucracy. Bonham also recognized that Baker was in danger of being fired by her superiors or walking away out of frustration, but she wasn’t just an asset. He saw in her the promise of a new AEGIS, a more fluid and dynamic organization that could predict and act rather than waiting for an event to warrant a response. So he offered her an opportunity instead.

Red Group is an autonomous unit under the direct supervision of Chief Administrator Bonham. It falls somewhere between the Command and Agent divisions, essentially allowing analysts to train and operate like agents in order to immediately act on the intelligence they gather in the field. Off the record, Red Group consists of five members—all specialized, all talented, and all an awkward fit for AEGIS itself—whose processes and instincts haven’t yet been dulled by years of rote paperwork and procedure.

Red Group is a secret arm of AEGIS for one very simple reason: Their mandate is to think like villains in order to predict upcoming conflicts and sabotage them before they happen. Their operations consist of five primary goals:

  • Find holes and weak points in the infrastructure and security of American institutions and facilities.
  • Identify and map out support networks for villains, from smugglers to financial backers to suppliers to underground clinics.
  • Construct complex profiles on villains, uncover their identities, and do exhaustive research on their formative elements like friends and family.
  • Envision, create, and carry out scenarios to determine proper courses of action.
  • Sabotage supervillains and criminal organizations before they can carry out attacks.

There’s one other mandate that Bonham insisted on. While Red Group has access to AEGIS’s supplies, housing, equipment, and deep pockets when a crisis calls for it, Bonham wanted them operating autonomously with fewer strings connecting them to their mother organization. This meant building up their assets and connections to foster street cred, to better understand how villains might work, and to avoid relying on AEGIS given the organization’s distrust of Bonham’s pet project. Red Group rarely operates out of the institution’s primary office, known as the Iceberg, in Freedom City. Instead they operate from a variety of temporary locations scouted by Baker and rely on black-market and stolen resources. Their techniques are unconventional—illegal in some circumstances—and justified post-mortem by how effective they are at preventing death and destruction. How exactly this approach will be seen by the general public if and when Red Group ever comes to light remains unknown, but for now their mission is to save lives, and their playground is every shadow in the United States.

SuperTeam Handbook: Buttery Roles

Last time, we made a brief mention of one of my favorite elements of the new Mutants & Masterminds SuperTeam Handbook: Roles. Think of these like the roles in a casting call: you are putting out a call for tall, handsome, and likeable with good comedic timing, but you’re not necessarily looking for Chris Hemsworth specifically (kidding; I am always looking for Chris Hemsworth; that man is a delight). Roles are guidelines and suggestions about the part you want to play. Broken into Tactical Roles and Concept Roles, they help you define who you are in relation to your teammates so that you can stand out and shine while still playing a part in the greater story. Each one provides guidance on how to build your characters, what powers and advantages help you fulfill your role. If each player picks a Tactical and Concept Role before building their character, it can help guide tough decisions in character creation and ensure heroes aren’t tripping over each other in combat.

There are several examples of each role, so like a true gamer, I’m going to roll randomly for examples, and we’ll see if we can put together a character concept from the combination: For a Tactical Role, I got Protection, and for the Concept Role I got Hotshot. Let’s take a look at the general description for each.

The Protector:

 

While the Assault and Control characters dominate the battlefield, it is up to the Protection hero to keep people safe—both their teammates and often innocent civilians in harm’s way. Heroes in this role might interpose their own invulnerable forms to deflect attacks or use powers to create protective barriers. Protection heroes also help with the aftermath of combat, using their abilities to treat or heal injuries.

 

The Hotshot:

You have got it and, given half an opportunity, you intend to prove it to the world! The Hotshot is a show-off, daredevil, or showboat, the hero who is looking for a spotlight and, if there isn’t one, will create it. Some Hotshots are just confident (many would say over-confident) and enjoy showing off what they can do—as many people would given the kinds of powers wielded by superheroes. Others are arrogant and need to demonstrate their superiority, or lack self-esteem but compensate with a show of bravado; fake it ‘til you make it!

Hotshots are generally earnest, even lovable, but they’re the first to look for trouble or stir it up if they can’t find any.

 

Each Role offers some trait suggestions, such as “Hotshots tend toward physical traits, whether incredible athletic prowess or impressive physical powers like super-strength or energy projection,” and “Interpose is the classic Protection hero Advantage, while other general Advantages like Diehard, Great Endurance, Instant Up, and Second Chance are useful to ensure the character stays in the action. Combat Advantages like Move-by Action, Redirect, and Set-up can help turn defense into an offensive edge for allies, while Leadership helps them to bounce back from some common conditions.” To me this screams a nigh-indestructible and incredibly annoying prank-themed hero who focuses on distracting villains. If we give her a high Presence, plenty of Deception, and advantages like Taunt, Redirect, and Set-Up, we already know she’ll be spending her action almost every round on taunts and jibes, either to goad the villain into doing something self-destructive or to set her allies up for a solid right-hook. Since she won’t be attacking as often, I can save some points by not giving her the best attack or damage in the world—say a +10 to hit but only 3 or 4 damage—and pour what I save into defenses or a few fun ancillary powers like Senses or Leaping so she can have a few stand-out moments when it comes to investigations or chase scenes.

Let’s put it all together:

 

Barbara Quip was a mousy accountant who enjoyed her simple life of work, reading, and cat videos, but found her life turned upside down when her bank was robbed by the villain Fear-Master (check out Freedom City, 3rd edition for his background). The duke of dread’s subsonic fear devices drove the bank into a panic, but for the meek young woman who had never experienced so much as a horror film, they ratcheted her mind into catatonia. When Barb finally awoke days later in the hospital, the doctors explained that her amygdala—the fear center of the brain—had suffered heavy scarring, leaving her incapable of feeling fear. The same damage left her adrenal glands in permanent overdrive, transforming the shy young woman into a hyperkinetic, manic shadow of her former self. Barely in control of her emotions, she took disability leave from her quite day job as she learned to adjust and became an urban thrillseeker by the name of Nuisance.

While Nuisance has the speed and accuracy to kick the tar out of a few bank robbers, she needs to rely on her wits and her more practical teammates to face any dire threats. That’s fine by her, as she likes the near misses and the snappy one-liners a lot more than she likes bruised knuckles.


Nuisance PL 10
STR 3, STA 8, AGL 8, DEX 4, FGT 5, INT 0, AWE 2, PRE 5

Powers: Adrenal Overload: Enhanced Stamina 4, Enhanced Strength 2, Leaping 5 (250), Regeneration 5, Agymdala Burnout Immunity 6 (Emotion Effects, Sleep), Hyperaware Senses 5 (Acute Smell, Danger Sense, Low-light Vision, Ultra-hearing, Ultravision). Advantages: Close Attack 5, Evasion, Extraordinary Effort, Fascinate (Deception), Improved Defense, Improved Initiative, Redirect, Set-up, Taunt, Teamwork, Ultimate Effort (Deception checks), Uncanny Dodge. Skills: Acrobatics 8 (+16), Athletics 4 (+7), Deception 12 (+17), Expertise: Math 8 (+8), Insight 6 (+8), Perception 4 (+6), Stealth 4 (+12). Offense: Init +12, Unarmed +10 (Close, Damage 3). Defense: Dodge 12, Parry 12, Fort 8, Tou 8, Will 11. Totals: Abilities 58 + Powers 33 + Advantages 16 + Skills 23 (46 ranks) + Defenses 20 = 150


I’m kind of excited to play her. She’s well outside my normal M&M wheelhouse, so I wouldn’t have normally considered this kind of build. Hopefully I can convince another player to look at the Assault Tactical Role and the Role Model Concept Role so she’s got a straight-laced partner to play off of!

Who’s Who and What’s What

In the previous blog, I mentioned that I’d give you the lowdown on the various teams this week, so here we go!

  • UNIQUE (PL 12): The United Nation’s premiere superhero team, focused on tackling global threats and natural disasters
  • Project Freedom (PL 11): A band of reformed villains putting their powers to use as super-powered community service.
  • The Outliers (PL 10): The heroes who don’t quite fit anywhere else, tackling problems too outrageous for any other team to notice.
  • The Upstarts (PL 9): Bound by their alien heritage and hunted by a private corporation, they focus as much on survival as they do righting wrongs.
  • Magna Force (PL 8-11): Empowered by a lost Preserver artifact, they defend the Earth from cosmic threats from behind the controls of giant, fighting robots.
  • The Ferroburg Four (PL 7): A hard-luck city needs its own hard-luck heroes, battling evil with grit, determination, and a solid left hook.
  • The Shadow Knights (PL 6): Spawned in a bizarre genetics accident, four sisters battle ninjas, magic aliens, and genetic abominations from the shadows of a technological playground.
  • Red Group (PL 5): Sometimes the good guys need to think like the bad guys, and this elite AEGIS team is licensed to turn crime against itself.

Hmmmmm…. but which one do we look at in detail next week?

Announcing Mutants & Masterminds, Powered by Champions!

For far too long, we here at Green Ronin have stuck our head in the sand and focused entirely on the Mutants & Masterminds game engine, ignoring the many other superhero game systems that came before. And ultimately, that kind of myopia doesn’t benefit anyone but ourselves. Our fans deserve better. We’ve long partnered with Steve Kenson’s Adamant Entertainment to bring you Icons Superpowered Roleplaying, and so we have reached out to the creators of other amazing superhero game engines, both active and defunct, to begin the new Mutants & Masterminds System Upkeep, Collaboration, & Knowledge Exchange Roundtable. Our goal is to bring you the great Mutants & Masterminds products you love, for the systems you play!

Releasing at the end of this month is the new Mutants & Masterminds: Deluxe Champions Handbook, powered by classic Champions 3rd edition! Everything you need to play a Champions-powered Mutants & Masterminds campaign, complete with extensive point-buy systems our fans already love, plus tracking END to pay for your powers, sorting your attacks in Killing and Non-Killing, and many other elements that add a much-needed authenticity M&M has always lacked. A lot of you will ask “why not use Hero System, Sixth Edition or Champions Complete?” And that is an excellent question. One which I have no answer to. Licensing is a strange mistress and the rites must be observed.

We’ve been hard at work to fill out the System Upkeep, Collaboration, & Knowledge Exchange Roundtable line, and you’ll be seeing monthly releases to support it for the next year. After the release of the Mutants & Masterminds: Deluxe Champions Handbook this month, expect soon-to-be fan favorites like Freedom City powered by Villain & Vigilantes, Emerald City powered by Heroes Unlimited, and Rogues Gallery powered by Street Fighter the Storytelling Game!

SuperTeam Handbook: Here Come the heroes

The Mutants & Masterminds SuperTeam Handbook, the newest addition to the 3rd edition lineup, is just around the corner. The text is finished. The layout is finished. At this point we’re just waiting on the final art and proofreading! In just a few weeks, it’ll be in your hands, ready to help your table get more out of their team!


The SuperTeam Handbook also marks the last leg of John Leitheusser’s prodigious run on Mutants & Masterminds, which started way back in 2nd edition and included the DC Adventures Roleplaying Game back in 2010. This book was his vision and his last product pitch for the line, and I’m happy he chose me to help usher it through to completion.

“But Crystal,” you say,”My group is already a superteam! We’re a team, and I think all my friends are just super, ergo…”Okay, yes, you’re friends are totally super, but here me out: Are you a superteam or a SuperTeam? Because there’s a difference. One looks way better on T-shirts. And you know what T-shirts are? They’re a quick and easy team uniform! Now you match. You’re even more of a team. Boom!

That’s value added.

Too much coffee. Let’s try this again.

Most RPG books are aimed and providing plenty of cool stuff your can do as a solo character, but most RPG groups play as teams. You’re not the only cool kid on the field. The SuperTeam Handbook looks at the awesome stuff you can do together as a group, from practical concerns like sharing points to build better HQ to drama-rich character interactions and personality conflicts that’ll just churn out those delicious Hero Points we all love. It’s a book that doesn’t just assume you’ll all work together as a team, but asks why you all work together, and how well you function as a group, and what do you do to stand out as a group. The player section introduces tactical and personality roles to help you flesh out your character’s own role as well as how well they mesh with other characters on the team and how they approach combat. It’s important to remember that your psychic doesn’t need to hit as hard as the brick or the living gout of elemental plasma; you pull your weight on the team your own way, and that can also be healing, buffing your allies, protecting people, or heckling the villain; they don’t call him “Robin, the Boy Distraction” for nothing!

“Ugh, but Crystal,” you say, forgetting I cannot hear you and this was all written days ago, “This all sounds like that icky story games, improv stuff. Where’s the beef?” Dude, chill. There is plenty of crunch for you lovely crunch-monkeys, too. The SuperTeam handbook introduces team templates so everyone can pool their resources to buy cool jets, submarines, and asteroid bases. And to make that process easier we also introduce plenty of cool jets, submarines, and asteroid bases. Behold!

 

Orbiting Asteroid Base 30 EP

Size: Awesome, Toughness: 10, Features: Combat Simulator, Cold Storage, Communications, Computer, Defense System, Fire Prevention System, Gym, Hangar, Holding Cells 2* (Impervious), Infirmary, Isolated, Upgraded Laboratory (+2 Expertise [Science]), Library, Living Space, Personnel, Power System, Security System 3 (DC 30), Workshop

 

There are also several new powers built with group functionality in mind, new team maneuvers to test out, and new advantages to help define what you can chip in to your team’s joint efforts.

Ladders, not Shackles

The meat of the SuperTeam handbook is over 100 pages of new, ready-to-play superheroes, spread across eight different SuperTeams. Each team contained 4-6 members as well as a four-page introduction with information on their background, their shared resources, and plenty of story hooks for Gamemasters to pick up and run with, as well as a team nemesis to face off against!

The teams in the SuperTeam Handbook are “soft canon,” which means they’re there as a guideline for players and Gamemasters. Every team is assumed to exist somewhere within Earth Prime, but the rosters and statblocks presented are aimed at players rather than at being perfect expressions of their role and history. You shouldn’t feel like the version of UNQIUE presented in this book is the One True UNIQUE that must always exist in Earth Prime. If you like the team concept and guidelines but not the characters (as player character heroes or NPCs), feel free to tweak them or toss them out and substitute your own. The SuperTeam Handbook is a toolkit on every level, not a definitive reference book.

Here’s the complete list of which teams will be showing up in the SuperTeam handbook, but you’ll have to wait for next week to learn the details of who’s who:

  • UNIQUE (PL 12)
  • Project Freedom (PL 11)
  • The Outliers (PL 10)
  • The Upstarts (PL 9)
  • Magna Force (PL 8-11)
  • The Ferroburg Four (PL 7)
  • The Shadow Knights (PL 6)
  • Red Group (PL 5)

Ronin Roundtable: GAMA Trade Show

Last week Team Ronin made their way to beautiful Reno, Nevada to attend the GAMA Trade Show. GAMA, the Game Manufacturers Association, puts on this show every year for publishers, retailers, and distributors to get together and talk about their products, policies, and industry news. Publishers put up booths in an exhibit hall where retailers can come chat, check out our wares, and create an environment for feedback and construction.

This year we set up our booth and talked with retailers about the upcoming print release of Return to Freeport, which releases in just a few days, and The Expanse which will release to hobby stores on April 23rd, shortly after our backers receive their copies. We also talked about our upcoming slew of releases, which you can read about in Pramas’ posts here, here, and here. Retailers were particularly excited to learn about the plans to support The Expanse, as excitement at the store level is higher than even we expected!

The other major topic of discussion with retailers was our Pre-Order Plus program! With so much going on in the industry, we wanted to take the time to educate our partners about this program in person. Tons of retailers were excited about this but hadn’t heard about it before so we used this opportunity to bring it to light so that our retail partners have all the correct tools and support we can provide them.

We also had quite a few closed-door meetings with our distributors to discuss issues in the supply chain and the growing market. Scott Thorne, the owner of Castle Perilous Books & Games in Carbondale, Illinois, said a few years ago that he estimated well over 200 SKUs a month which has caused some retailers and distributors some issues. All our partners were understanding and will help going forward! If your local game shop carries our books, make sure to thank them on our behalf.

Many of the things at GAMA Trade Show are often behind-the-scenes; the exhibit hall, the meetings, and the seminars are all meant for industry folks – but these things affect our fans as well. Meeting these people and having time to chat makes it easier for us to make our books and get them into stores, which ultimately makes our products more available and more accessible.

Finally, we got to chat with some of our peers and have fun talking about the Pun War we had on Twitter with some of our friends. There’s a lot to be said about our industry being built on fun, and being able to make that fun in a different way that we can still share with our fans is satisfying.

All in all GAMA Trade Show was a success, and we were happy to see our partners and friends from all over the world.  Now we look ahead to The Expanse and beyond – keep your eye on your local game store, and this space, for more of your favorite Green Ronin adventures!

Return to Freeport: A Love Letter to Freeport

I can’t properly express how excited I am to see Return to Freeport in its final, compiled form. This is a project that has been with me for a long time, and I couldn’t be more delighted with the final results. The idea of developing six adventures (by six amazing authors–Crystal Frasier, Jason Keeley, Jody Macgregor, Patrick O’Duffy, Stephen Radney-MacFarland, and David Ross) that each stand alone but also form a single united narrative, seemed daunting when I came on-board in 2013 to help with “Freeport: The City of Adventure for the Pathfinder RPG,” but I never would have guessed the final book would take until 2019 to see print.

Six years, for six adventures. And let me say up front—that’s almost entirely my fault. It is certainly not the fault of the authors, artists, or anyone else at Green Ronin. Mea culpa, and sorry folks.

And while I might be biased, I think the end result here is worth the wait!

The 168 pages, full color, hardback compiles and updates the six adventures we originally released in PDF format into one glorious book. The adventures take characters from 1st to 12th level, and go from hunting down the source of a curse in the streets of the city, to facing ancient terrors and enemy fleets on the high seas, to rooting out traitors and madmen in an even-darker version of the City of Adventure.

As much as possible, this book is a Love Letter to Freeport. I hope we managed to capture the unique blend of fantasy, horror, and swashbuckling action that has been the hallmark of Freeport since it launched almost 20 years ago. The authors have done a tremendous job both highlighting many of the elements introduced in the 544-page “Freeport: The City of Adventure” sourcebook, and in creating new foe and allies to surprise the players. I don’t want to get into spoilers, but there are unhuman gangs, undead crews, love, hate, revenge, and political machinations from other planes of reality… all with a side of grim smiles and sharp cutlasses.

One of the joys of working on a project like this is getting to expand a setting you love with characters, maps, and art to help bring it to life. Cover artist E.M. Gist knocks it out of the park illustrating one of the more dramatic moments of the adventure, and through the book the illustrators have done awesome work bringing the gritty streets of the city to life, and creating the look for new and unique ships, monsters, and locations into glorious detail. Even if I didn’t love the adventures themselves (and I do), I’d delight in the visuals that help expand one of the most veteran d20 locations.

I had a lot of fun visiting Freeport as a player when the first adventures for it came out, and I am thrilled to have been allowed to return as at our guide now, nearly two decades later. This book is a literal Return to Freeport for me, but it’s also a great opportunity to come visit the City of Adventure for the first time.

Just keep your eyes open, and your weapon handy.

 

Faces of Thedas: Yvette? Really?

(This round table contains mild spoilers for Fenris in Dragon Age 2. Yeah, it’s been 8 years but I still meet folks who just started playing it, Inquisition, and even Origins so erring on the side of spoiler alerts)

Hey folks, this is Jack here to talk a bit about Faces of Thedas.

Now no big book of characters can include every character in a large universe. You can look at our various offerings in DC Adventures, Wild Cards, A Song of Ice and Fire, and now Dragon Age to see this. The books include a lot of characters and groups, but not everything makes it into a particular book.

So who makes the cut? Well, it depends.

In Faces it was an intentional mix. The prime focus was on “quest givers”, people who enabled adventures and roleplaying opportunities for players, not who necessarily had their own adventurers. This is where characters like the Divine, Josephine Montilyet, and others came in.  But not all the characters fit exactly into that category. In many cases, characters were selected with a fair amount of wiggle room in how they could be used, often because they had targeted, and important but limited involvement in the canonical tales of Thedas.

In addition, some characters were included because they’d make good antagonists.  Potential antagonist characters weren’t necessarily villains, but definitely characters who could easily end up on the other side of a conflict from player heroes. This is your Lambert or Knight-Commander Meredith. Depending on the timeline and group? This might even be your Iron Bulls and Alistairs. This is also why we briefly revisited some of the important Darkspawn “bosses.”

Other characters were included because they would make potential romantic interests, allies, and patrons. These included some companions from the games, like Leliana. This also included characters with ties to important groups or events that still had that aforementioned wiggle room that makes them easier to throw into a campaign or adventure.

Some characters were also included because not including them was never an option. Be it Bioware or one of the several Dragon Age fans on our staff, there were characters people inside the production of this book wanted to see. This is also your Alistair, but also your Dorians and Cullens and so on.

With a few characters—very few admittedly—it was even the case someone in on the production side didn’t want to use a character in the book. Sometimes that person was me, but not always. I’m not going to detail who those characters were, but it was never a matter of “ugh, I don’t like them!” but some other reason that seemed compelling enough to use a different character.

So what about some of the folks who didn’t make it? It’s not that they couldn’t fit into one of these roles. Its not that they weren’t cool or no one liked them. It was just they didn’t make it for various reasons. For example, I actually like Fenris a fair amount. However, Fenris’ tale is pretty self-contained, socially isolated, and during Dragon Age 2 its quite possible he ends up dead at Hawke’s hands. So instead we had characters like Iron Bull or Michel—skilled passionate warriors with a story whose net cast a bit wider plot and campaign wise.

Note a lot of this was clearly “in our opinion.” That’s the thing about design, there’s always an element of personal, even arbitrary decision making. I’m not trying to thumb my nose and say, “well when you’re developer you can fix it!” but…there is a much less confrontational and more good-natured truth to that.  Not everyone will agree about what to include in a product.

And in case anyone is really wondering? I like Yvette. Yes, she’s a minor character who arguably “doesn’t matter”. I also think she makes a good romantic foil and political connection for campaigns who could grow and develop in response to interactions with a player group. So now you know.

Faces of Thedas: Preview

So the long awaited Faces of Thedas supplement for Dragon Age has just released and is available for print+pdf pre-orders. When I say “long awaited”, we ain’t kidding. From the fans to the writers to myself and the other folks at Green Ronin? We’ve been waiting for this book to come out for some time.

I’m not going to do dissection of the various delays and problems that led to the long development cycle. From tragedies to simple delays to approvals…it was a long road. But now that road is reaching its destination so let’s look at what that means.

Faces of Thedas is essentially a character archive/NPC cast book for Dragon Age. It doesn’t include every character in the games and novels, that was never really its purpose. Instead it takes various characters and organizations and provides additional information about them, including advice on how to play them, game statistics, and suggestions on how to use them in a game. These characters range from relatively minor but politically interesting characters like Yvette Montilyet to major players like Leliana and Cullen. Some characters are more likely to be plot movers and allies, others PC heroes will likely meet over a five course meal of swords, arrows, daggers, spells, and blood.

The book covers characters across all three games and various other media, which also means not ever character from a particular game, comic, book, etc… made the cut. This wasn’t due to some disregard for some fine characters who didn’t make it, there was just so much space and some other character for whatever reason was included instead.

What reasons? Honestly? I can’t tell you. Because there wasn’t just one. Some characters were deemed interesting, but their stories seemed more confined to a particular game, making them less likely to feature into tabletop campaigns. Others seemed to be statistically easy to replicate compared to another option, thus it was decided a character like Cole who didn’t follow normal character creation patterns would be more useful to model than someone like Lord Harrowmont, who for all his skill at intrigue and wonderful dwarf-y lordliness is mechanically a dwarf warrior who knows how to play politics. That’s nothing against all the Harrowmont fans out there, I like him too. However, I’m also confident most Dragon Age GMs wishing to use old Pyral can make a serviceable version of him for their games.

Speaking of Cole, here’s a preview of what he looks like in Faces. Note the background for playing incarnated spirits and the special Talent—these are the sorts of “extras” which sometimes pushed a character’s inclusion.

Faces of Thedas Preview PDF: Cole

Also, we wanted to leave room for rules for relationships and organizations. The organizations in particular were important since they provide new honorifics and ranks, which are useful for GMs but also potentially for PCs as well. For example, want to know just how terrifying your Antivan Crow PC is to his potential targets in Thedas? We have that covered, as shown in this preview of assassin-based honorifics:

See? Now you its even easier to play your reformed killer drawn back into a John Wick* style rampage of righteous revenge in Thedas! These are the sorts of things Faces was meant to enable, not just a catalog of characters, but a guide to using those characters easily and effectively. Information on the Carta, Friends of Red Jenny, and other organizations was similarly aimed at helping players and GMs alike.

All told, there are dozens of characters and groups collectively in the group. This includes four new backgrounds and numerous titles and honorifics and rules for relationships. It’s a fine resource for Dragon Age tabletop players and fans of Thedas alike. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

*The Keanu Reeves films, not the game designer.

The Expanse: Questions of Canon

The Expanse series of novels details major characters and events that establish the setting where The Expanse Roleplaying Game takes place. Much of this is described in the core book, but when you’re writing an adventure, how much of the “canon” of the setting should affect what you’re writing and, if it does, does it matter if you change it? When designing your game, you’ll be faced with deciding how much the existing Expanse setting and series affects your story. The following are some techniques to use when dealing with it:

Art by Victor Leza Moreno

  • Inspiration: You can use the existing canon as a springboard for your own storyline. Use of existing characters and events gives you a healthy pool of stories, personalities, and ideas from which to create a foundation for a great campaign. This also creates an immediate level of recognition for you and players familiar with The Expanse series. The trade-off is that you are bound to those portions of the canon you incorporate into your game. For example, if you decide to use Miller as a major NPC in your game, you are limited to a certain periods of time where that would be possible, and you have to be aware of Miller’s ultimate fate (and the fact that your players may know it as well) unless you choose to change things. If you do, you might find it messes with the players’ expectations. That can be a good thing or a jarring and unpleasant experience.
  • Flexible Canon: You can use canonical elements in your game, such as the setting or past events, but choose to change some things that might conflict with your planned storyline and allow the player characters to significantly alter canon through their actions. All of the major components can remain prevalent, such as the major factions and locations, but with tweaks in the events that follow. What if there were more survivors of the Canterbury? What if the player characters were the ones hired to track down Julie Mao—or were hired in addition to Star Helix and Miller? What if your story involved the crew of the Rocinante as major NPCs? The “flexible canon” approach is generally the one we have taken with the Expanse RPG: Things are as described from the books, at least initially, but the potential exists for the player characters to change things. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be much tension or excitement for their story, would there?
  • Ignore Canon: You can bypass canon altogether, or base your story around events with little to no effect on existing canon. The Expanse setting is vast and you could tailor stories and events that barely even touch the established canon outlined in the fiction. An entire campaign could focus on a crisis on one of the many different stations, or center your story on an exploration crew traversing the outer planets.

Whatever you decide, make sure if your players are aware of existing canon, they are also aware of any important changes you make to avoid confusion and clashes of expectation. In addition, if you do alter major events, be aware of the chain-reaction it may have on other events and characters down the road.

The Expanse: Doors and Corners

The Expanse RPG tweaks the damage system from the AGE System a bit by changing Health to Fortune, a measure, not of how healthy and durable characters are, but how lucky and “important to the plot” they are (the durability aspect gets covered by a Constitution-based trait called Toughness instead). The “ablative” qualities of Fortune remain the same: players spend it in order to reduce or mitigate the damage their characters suffer. If an attacker rolls 10 points of damage, a player can spend 10 Fortune points, and the character escapes any serious harm—that time. Of course, players can also spend Fortune to improve their characters’ chances of success with tests and, sooner or later, their luck is going to run out.

 

Art by Mirco Paganessi

Injuries & Wounds

If Fortune isn’t enough to completely spare a character from damage, then it is going to hurt. The character is either going to be taken out (see the following) or needs to take an injured or wounded condition to reflect the remaining damage.

If the character accepts an injured condition, the damage is reduced by 1d6. If any damage remains, or the character is already injured, the character must accept a wounded condition next or be taken out. If the character accepts a wounded condition, the damage is further reduced by 1d6. If any damage remains, the character is taken out. Once a character has the wounded condition, any damage that gets past Fortune takes them out.

Taken Out

If damage remains after applying Toughness, Fortune, and taking an injury or a wound, then the target is taken out of the encounter. The attacker may choose to impose any one condition reasonable for the type of attack which takes out the target. So, for example, an attacker may choose to take out a target with a gunshot and leave them dying, just wounded, or even just unconscious. The key point is that the attacker decides on the target’s condition.

Rolling Over

An Expanse character can also choose to roll over in an encounter. In essence, the character’s player chooses to take that character out of the encounter, except the player chooses the character’s condition, subject to the approval of the GM, rather than leaving their fate up to their opponent. Rolling over is a “live to fight another day” tactic for when it’s clear a character is overmatched and doesn’t have much of a chance otherwise. You can only roll over in an encounter before you are taken out. Once you begin applying damage from an attack that has the potential to take you out, it’s too late to roll over, so choose carefully.

Option: Dead-to-Rights

If you want a slightly more lethal Expanse game, consider the following option: In any situation where one character has another “dead-t0-rights” the target character cannot spend Fortune to eliminate damage, all damage must be accounted for with Toughness, injuries, or wounds, and any excess results in the character being taken out, as usual. Standard situations where a character is dead-to-rights include being completely surprised by an attack (such as shot by an unseen sniper, for example) or having the helpless condition, completely unable to avoid an attack or hazard. It’s up to you to define situations that leave a character dead-to-rights, and to tell the players in advance. For example, if you want them to respect guns, make it clear that having someone holding a gun on you means they have you dead-to-rights, unless you can somehow distract their attention. This means characters will probably be less likely to rush armed opponents, for example. Try to use this option as a tool to help the players make informed decisions about the risks their characters take.