Getting Started with Threefold

Threefold, which premiered at Gen Con and hits stores September 3, is a new setting for Modern AGE, allowing characters to explore numerous worlds connected to science, magic, and psychic forces.  It’s very, very big—one universe isn’t enough to contain it! Reviewer Jeremiah McCoy says it feels like a TV show with ten seasons of lore. This is intentional. I didn’t develop this to be a diversion, but a setting even an experienced gaming group could hang the majority of their play on for years. Talking about it, I called it a return to “Big Setting,” like those from 25 years ago and more which offer deep immersion and a variety of stories.

But this begs the question: Where do you begin? Fortunately, Threefold itself provides answers in its text. I want people to play it, after all. Unlike many of the great settings of yesteryear, it isn’t designed to just sit on a shelf.

Earth, Otherworld, Netherworld—each suggests different stories in the wider Metacosm.

Root Factions: The Sodality and Aethon

Chapter 4 of Threefold presents our default focus, split into characters from the Sodality, a transplanar agency devoted to exploring the Metacosm and defending its diverse peoples; and Aethon, who protect Earth’s prime timeline (primeline), meddle in the affairs of alternate worlds, and often accompany Sodality characters.

The Sodality received slightly greater support for play, as it’s integrated into the Vitane’s government of many planes, and characters’ service branches—Emissary, Protector, and Searcher, suggest the social, action, and exploration aspects that define Modern AGE itself. Characters follow the Vows of the organization, and supervisors called Magisters supply them with orders and goals. This makes a Sodality focused game the easiest one when you want to explore the broad setting.

Aethon suits a more conservative approach to the setting. Aethon characters have supervision and objectives to keep them focused, but primarily operate in Earth’s primeline or, using devices called quantum arks, in alternate worlds. They protect Earth from the dangers of alien planes, as well as homegrown sorcerers, psychics, renegade scientists, and miscellaneous strangeness. Aethon is the way to go when you want to gradually reveal the setting. Characters can eventually visit other planes working alongside Sodality members, or on clandestine missions such allies might not approve of.

While these factions are the easiest to start with, nothing in Threefold demands you stick to them. If you want to play Krypteia gangsters or Nighthost warriors, go for it! The Sodality and Aethon are the most approachable options, but not the only ones.

Picking Your Planes

Another way to narrow your focus is to look at different slices of the Metacosm, and decide what sort of worlds you want characters to visit. Threefold is designed to give each of the three major types of planes a default genre. Otherworlds suit classic fantasy adventure, where magic saturates the land. Netherworlds are keyed to dark fantasy and horror. Earth and its parallels lead to stories about the Singularity, transhumanism, and even time travel. Limiting your initial explorations to one of these types of planes can help focus the game. It’s also perfectly possible to run entire adventures, and even campaigns, without stepping through a single gate. This is best supported on Earth, where psychic guilds, rogue scientists, warlocks, and AI-directed criminals provide numerous challenges, but surviving a single Netherworld, or exploring one Otherworld, can occupy players for some time.

Speculative Fantasy

Beyond the core factions and planes, Threefold bases its default play style on “speculative fantasy”—that is, fantasy stories using the story patterns of classic science fiction. Next time around, we’ll talk about that. Until then, remember that while any story is possible, your story, and the focus you give the setting, is paramount, and will define your version of Threefold.

THE DELUXE GAMEMASTER’S GUIDE: ADVENTURE TO THE MAX

In our last Mutants & Mastermind’s Deluxe Gamemaster’s Guide preview, I showed off some of the new faces populating the game, including my beloved Jobber villain archetype. But the Deluxe GMG is more than just a new gallery of rogues! One area I’ve struggled with the third edition of Mutants & Masterminds has been adventure design. The original Gamemaster’s Guide delved deep into villains and plot and motivations and challenges, but never provided a chapter on stitching them all together into a full adventure.

So for this newly revised reprint, I added a chapter on exactly that! The new Adventure chapter provides some practical advice on planning an adventure, involving the heroes, and stitching together various scenes to help make compelling adventures with more to do than throw punches and busses. Mutants & Masterminds has roughly broken out the action into various “scene” types—Conflict, Challenge, Investigation, and Roleplay—for years in our official adventures without expanding much on what each of those scenes mean or how to make best use of them as a GM. Now each scene type gets a spread on how to write it, how to use the rules, and when to dish out Hero points, as well as a helpful random chart to help out if you get stuck.

The Adventure chapter also includes a half-dozen pre-built scenes for you to grab and drop into your own adventures on short notice. Anyone who picked up the Basic hero’s Handbook will be familiar with these, but if you haven’t, a pre-built scene has everything you need for an hour or two of interesting heroics above and beyond the beloved superhero slugfest. The scenes also show you how to use the Mutants & Masterminds rules in unexpected ways to play out some fan-favorite comic book tropes. The new scenes in the Deluxe Gamemaster’s Guide include shrinking your heroes down to insect size, handling massive invasions, and waging battles in the psychic realm, but my favorite is detailing how to play out a fun, high-speed chase!

 

You can download a PDF sample of the High Speed Chase right here! 

 

Of course, we wouldn’t leave you hanging with only a few sample scenes. Your group needs to save the day in more than just one scene at a time, so the Deluxe Gamemaster’s Guide includes two new Mutants & Masterminds adventures. In “Power Play,” a new criminal organization is taking over the streets of your fair city and threatening to bring one of the most dangerous supervillains of the previous generation back into play to secure their hold. In “The Isle of Dr. Sersei,” you must infiltrate a mad scientist’s island full of monsters to stop her deadly “salvation” of mankind. You can run each adventure as it is, drop in some of the sample scenes from Chapter 6 to bulk it out, or just use each adventure as a whole pile of extra sample scenes to drop into your own adventures. Maybe you’ll never run Power play at home, but knowing how to run the PCs infiltrating an underworld meeting or battling atop speeding tanker trucks is always fun to have in your back pocket!

 

Threefold’s Aethon: Working for the Righteous Machines

For the last two weeks I’ve written about Threefold’s Sodality (Part 1 | Part 2), one of the two leading factions for Player Characters in this new Modern AGE setting. The Sodality’s focus is outward, across numerous Otherworlds. Earth is a matter for its allies in a secret global state, the Peridexion. And of the Peridexion’s five divisions, one deals in words, blades and data flows to protect Earth’s primeline. That’s Aethon.

Aethon’s current symbol, fitting its name, which comes from the eagle that tortures Prometheus daily. Imposing consequences for rash innovations is part of Aethon’s mandate.

Aethon Operations

While the majority of Aethon’s operations are limited to Earth and dealing with threats to the worldlines, coordination with the Vitane is common. Operants (fully initiated agents) often travel the planes alongside Sodality Missions. When Aethon acts alone, however, Earth’s Alts—parallel worlds—are the most frequent exotic destinations, if a team must leave the “real world,” or primeline. Operant teams form Sections: a thousand groups given three-digit designations and occasionally, informal names, such as the augmented shock troops of Team Bear. On Earth or another worldline (accessible via standard quantum ark, a vehicle which is also a definitely computable object reprocessed into its target reality via esoteric mathematics), Sections perform the following missions:

  • Commit: Once properly analyzed, Sections impose desired changes on the status quo, altering the politics, technologies and other critical factors of a worldline, including the primeline.
  • Fork: With the aid of insights from Aethon’s patron, Section operants set specific actions in motion to create branch timelines.
  • Monitor: The most common mission involves keeping watch over the various aspects of Earth.
  • Push/Pull: Defending worldlines against unauthorized change is a task divided into pushing away extraplanar threats such as incursions from the Nighthost, or pulling Earth-based problems, from rogue scientists to warlocks, out of the equation.
  • Delete: For reasons barely understood by Aethon, the transcendental intelligences that rule it sometimes demand the deletion of an alternate universe, typically accomplished by eradicating sapient life on its Earth. The worldlines are gardens, and one must weed.

Such missions may lead to detours to other planes, contending with unauthorized supernatural forces, and avoiding alternate-universe instances of Aethon itself.

Aethon Personnel

Section operants (so named as an indication of how they’re handled) are the epitome of Earth’s potential: highly trained and gifted experts further augmented by swappable posthuman enhancements. These somatic and noetic technologies run the gamut from combat capable artificial limbs to altering probability by remodeling the mathematical substrate of reality. Operant gear ranges from slightly improved ordinary equipment to the reconfigurable MAW weapon system, Panoply-class powered armor, and cantors: cannisters of cloned psychic brain tissue imprinted with a bias toward science, which helps stabilize natural laws in planes where they operate more loosely.

Below the Sections, the Pool provides a steady stream of temporary agents and informants, many of whom don’t know who they work for. Above them, Management interfaces directly with the directors of Aethon and the Peridexion as a whole: the Machinors.

Aethon Leadership

It calls itself Lucifer, but the leader of the Peridexion uses many names and faces, communicating through any electronic devices—and even other machines, sometimes—to command it as the head of a council of six supremely intelligent AIs. Such beings are called Machinors, and not all help Aethon. In fact, a rival cabal, including an uncreated future intelligence interacting with the past, guide the Krypteia, an interplanar criminal conspiracy. In fact, it isn’t exactly certain that the Machinors are really AIs at all but appear this way as contemporary personifications of ordered knowledge. Aethon serves the Peridexion, which honors these six. Loyal subordinates point to the numerous occasions these instructions have saved Earth from catastrophe, but are the world’s other problems signs of flaws, subtle enemy action, or a plan that might leave humanity itself behind?

Aethon and the Sodality

The bond between Aethon and the Sodality dates to the end of the Fellwar, when the Machinors helped refugees from the Otherworlds but an end to it. Earth is said to be the seat of natural laws across the Metacosm, and sacred for it, and even in prehistory, its guiding figures wishes it to remain autonomous. As the Peridexion rose, it negotiated a number of treaties, such as those allowing people with extraordinary gifts and origins—arcanists, arvu, and others—the right to maintain secret communities on Earth. Aethon and the Sodality eventually developed a framework for lending agents and forming common teams, typically in the form of Aethon members joining Sodality Missions.

Through the Gate beyond Gen Con

Threefold is available to pre-order now in our online store, and will start showing up in retail gaming shops in early Sept. Until then, take a look at this preview about primeline Earth (with flashes of other planes on each side to tantalize you)—and see you through the gate.

 

 

Green Ronin To Publish The Fifth Season Roleplaying Game

Green Ronin to publish The Fifth Season Roleplaying Game. [Image shows the three novel covers from N.K. Jemisin's The Broken Earth trilogy. The Fifth Season, The Obelisk Gate, and The Stone Sky.]

 

GREEN RONIN TO PUBLISH THE FIFTH SEASON ROLEPLAYING GAME

N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy Comes to the World of RPGs

August 2, 2019—SEATTLE, WA: Green Ronin Publishing announced today that it has signed a licensing agreement with N.K. Jemisin to create a roleplaying game based on her critically acclaimed Broken Earth series. Each book of the trilogy—The Fifth Season, The Obelisk Gate, and The Stone Sky—won the Hugo Award for Best Novel, an unprecedented achievement in speculative fiction.

“The world building in the Broken Earth Trilogy is incredible and ripe with roleplaying possibilities,” said Green Ronin president Chris Pramas. “More than that, the books are searingly relevant to the current state of our world and we hope the game gives people the opportunity to explore the issues and themes the novels handle so deftly.”

“I’ve heard from many of my readers that they’re fascinated enough by the world of the Broken Earth that they’d like to visit it (nobody wants to live there tho!) and now they’ll get their chance,” said N.K. Jemisin. “I’ll be working with Green Ronin to try and make sure the spirit and feel of the books is rendered successfully in this new form.”

Green Ronin will publish The Fifth Season RPG in the Fall of 2020. Tanya DePass (I Need Diverse Games, Rivals of Waterdeep) and Joseph D. Carriker (Blue Rose, Critical Role: Tal’Dorei Campaign Setting) will co-develop the game. The Fifth Season RPG will use a revised and customized version of Green Ronin’s Chronicle System, which powered the company’s long-running Game of Thrones RPG, A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying.

More information and previews for The Fifth Season RPG will appear on greenronin.com in the coming months.

 

About Green Ronin Publishing

Green Ronin Publishing is a Seattle-based company dedicated to the art of great games. Since the year 2000, Green Ronin has established a reputation for quality and innovation that is second to none, publishing such roleplaying game hits as The Expanse, Dragon Age, and Mutants & Masterminds, and winning over 40 awards for excellence. For an unprecedented three years running, Green Ronin won the prestigious GenCon & EnWorld Award for Best Publisher.

 

About N.K. Jemisin

N(ora). K. Jemisin is an author of speculative fiction short stories and novels who lives and writes in Brooklyn, NY. In 2018, she became the first author to win three Hugos in a row for her Broken Earth novels. She has also won a Nebula Award, two Locus Awards, and a number of other honors.

Pre-Order and PDF: Threefold and Deluxe Gamemaster’s Guide

It’s the first day of Gen Con, and visitors to Booth 929 are finding our latest releases and advance copies of our upcoming books for sale. But even if you’re not at Gen Con, you can get in on the fun, too! When you pre-order Threefold and the Mutants & Masterminds Deluxe Gamemaster’s Guide through our Green Ronin Online Store, you’ll be offered the PDF version for just $5! If you prefer to spend your money at your local store, make sure they know about our GR Preorder Plus program. If they sign up, you can get a coupon for the same $5 PDF deal through them!

Prepare for Gen Con 2019: A Green Ronin Guide

It’s almost time for the Best Four Days in Gaming and the first sign of the end of summer, and we’re scrambling to see what new games we’ll be playing in September – but we couldn’t find anything! Every year tons of new games being released at Gen Con, or at least that’s how it’s been in the past, so we figured we’d give you a quick run down of what Green Ronin has to offer that’s new this year – each of these will be available in limited quantities at booth 929, and released later into your friendly local game store!

Also, be sure to check out our seminars and scheduled games!

Mutants & Masterminds Deluxe Gamemaster’s Guide

The first is the new Mutants & Masterminds Deluxe Gamemaster’s Guide. The original third edition Gamemaster’s Guide has been out of print for a while now, and the Deluxe guide is a hardcover version with 32-pages of brand-new material and is the best resource for new GMs right after the Deluxe Hero’s Handbook or Basic Hero’s Handbook.

Crystal Frasier had a look at the table of contents and even free preview PDF of a new archetype in Bigger. Stronger. Better. The Deluxe Gamemaster’s Guide

If you’re not at Gen Con 2019 you can Deluxe your Gamemastering skills on September 10th.

Mutants & Masterminds Superteam Handbook

We also have the new Mutants & Masterminds Superteam Handbook which brings the focus on super teams. This book includes eight pre-made super teams with details and rules for both players and gamemasters to add more team dynamics to your game. This has been a long-awaited addition to the Mutants & Masterminds game – and retailers will have it on August 6th through their preferred distributors.

If you’re looking for more information about Superteam Handbook you can check out what SuperDev Crystal has to say about it in these links;

Fantasy AGE Campaign Builders Guide

Fantasy AGE has come a long way since its release, and now we’re proud to bring the Fantasy AGE Campaign Builders Guide! Whether you’re looking to make your own fantasy pantheon, advice on interesting locations, how to make effective of entertaining encounters, this book has advice, mechanics, and examples that are ready to plop into your game! 

This will be available in retail on August 20th. Jack Norris has more to say about what to expect in his blog posts

Threefold: A Campaign Setting for Modern AGE

Last year we released Modern AGE Basic Rulebook and seen lots of feedback and released supplements including the successful Modern AGE Companion which we sold out of in the first two days at Origins earlier this year. Now we’re releasing the original setting Threefold, a full campaign setting with secret organizations, multiple worlds, and the ability to change your setting and theme while maintaining the same tone and characters. Threefold aims to be the flagship setting for Modern AGE going forward and will have plenty of books in the future.

Threefold will be available in distribution September 3rd. Does that sound up your alley? Malcolm can tell you all about what to expect in his original setting in these past Roundtables;

Nisaba Press: Height of the Storm – A Mutants & Masterminds novel

Height of the Storm: The first Mutants & Masterminds novel, by Aaron Rosenberg!!Height of the Storm is the tale of a young woman who takes over her grandfather’s role as the protector of her town, working with his old rival to learn to harness the powers she so recently discovered. But not all enemies are as evil as they may seem, and Lindsay finds herself weighing the safety of the city against the redemption of a man caught in events out of his control.

Just check out what Nisaba Press line manager, Jaym Gates had to say about the book, in Nisaba Press Update Height of the Storm

2019 is shaping up to be quite the exciting year for us and Gen Con will be a blast! Keep your eyes locked here during the convention for a special announcement. If you’re at the show, swing by and grab your new favorite book and meet the team.

Shadowtide: Recipes from Aldea!

Happy Monday, and Happy Gen Con!
 
In order to get what I like to call “Nerd Mardi Gras” off to a great start, we’re sharing a video blog from the delightful Jess Hartley. Lots of folks probably know that Jess has plenty of experience as both writer and editor, but what you may not know is that she also has a magical touch with something near and dear to my own heart: a good meal!
 
Jess has graciously put together a booklet of recipes inspired by some of the food in our first Blue Rose novel, Shadowtide! From candied lemon peels to a hearty stew and even a granola fit for a certain rhy-crow, Jess’s recipes really capture the spirit of living life in Aldea, the setting for Blue Rose.
 
So without further ado, here’s Jess to talk a little about it! Stop by and get your copy of the booklet (free while supplies last) at Booth 929 at Gen Con. And if you can’t join us, don’t worry: we’ll be making it available in PDF format in September.
 
Happy Feasting!

 

Mutants & Masterminds: BIGGER. STRONGER. BETTER. THE DELUXE GAMEMASTER’S GUIDE

Longtime fans and frustrated newcomers alike have probably noticed that the Mutants & Masterminds Gamemaster’s Guide has been out of print for most of this year. Why retire such a critical rulebook for one of our most popular lines? Well, we didn’t. The original Gamemaster’s Guide was involved in a terrible test-pilot crash, and so we retrieved it and took it back to base, where we rebuilt it better than ever!

The Deluxe Gamemaster’s Guide has all the material you love from the original but expanded with even more content and bound in a sturdy hardback to better stand up to table wear. So what’s new? Let’s take a look at the updated table of contents:

Deluxe Gamemaster’s Guide Table of Contents!

That’s 70 new pages of content! Let’s take a look at part of that today!

New Faces

The Archetypes chapter has been expanded to add new villains and new minions! One of the best parts of running a superhero RPG is getting to put your favorite tropes and sacred cows into the game, and I always thought the villain archetype needed a little more weird. The new villains include the Composite—a villain made from small particles or creatures, making them flexible and tough to hurt. But my personal favorite addition is the PL 8 Jobber, the second-string loser whose powers have a theme but don’t quite match the PCs’. These are your Shockers, your Condiment Kings, your Captains Boomerang. They’re great support; backed by a ton of minions or assisting a bigger villain, they’ll make you sweat. But on their own, they don’t stand much of a chance against PL 10 heroes.

I love the Jobber so much, I want everyone to have her! So here she is for everyone to enjoy!

Free PDF Prewiew of Jobber!

The archetypes chapter also includes lots of new minions to help round out your adventure lineup. The big goal was to add some more unusual minion opponents and round out that PL7-8 “Lieutenant” range, so here’s the list of new additions: Devouring Swarm, Trickster Faerie, Jinx Faerie, Arcane Cultist, Mystic Ninja, Drone, Robot Jockey, Tulpa, and my personal favorite and noteworthy missing pet: the Hyena. The Deluxe Gamemaster’s Guide also includes a new section just for templates, with seven sample templates to let you adapt the preceding minions for your own stranger capers.

Great Power, Great Responsibility

Part of being a superhero means being responsible in both deed and language. Words can have power, carry unexpected baggage, or be hurtful, and even when you don’t mean to cause harm, they can still have consequence. The original printing of the Gamemaster’s Guide included some word choices that are common comic book tropes, but also carry some real-world baggage. So we’ve changed a few names in the archetype chapter. These revisions use the same statblocks, but the shift can be confusing if you’re using adventures or villain write-ups that refer to these minions by name, so here’s the rundown on what got changed:

The Savage villain archetype is now the Hybrid.

The Thug is now the Crook.

The Hit-Man is now the Hired Killer.

And the minion-level Crime Lord is now the Boss. This wasn’t a sensitivity issue; we’re just trying to avoid confusion with the villain archetype of the same name.

Through All Doors: Threefold’s Sodality, Part 2

Last time in this series I introduced you to the Sodality: Threefold’s faction of planar explorers, diplomats and defenders of the right (at least by the standards of the Vitane transplanar alliance). The Sodality are one of two factions Threefold emphasizes as suitable for Player Characters, though it’s perfectly possible to run a game with protagonists from other groups. This time, I’ll talk a bit more about their recruitment and operations.

When the Emissary’s words fail and the Protector’s swords break, it’s up to the Explorer to find her Mission a way out.

Joining the Sodality

Most applicants for membership are citizens of the Vitane, of course, since one needs to both know of the Sodality and have access to apply in the first place. Still, recruits from other civilizations are not barred. In these cases, the potential recruit may be unaware of the greater nature of the planes or even the existence of the Vitane or the Sodality If they handle the truth well, a formal offer is made for them to join. On occasion, the Sodality has even found it effective to recruit people who learn about the organization by accident. Before a recruit is formally accepted, they must undergo a series of tests referred to as “the exams.” Some are fairly mundane written or oral tests, or physical trials meant to measure the subject’s physical skills, such as sparring matches or athletic contests. Other parts can be quite esoteric, involving arcane illusions and psychic scans, including psychodramas where applicants encounter their worst fears.

Passing the exams qualified recruits to enter the Academy, an island school in the Staghorn Sea on Vigrith. Training time varies, and training is tailored to the recruit while covering the essentials: the nature of the planes, how to unlock nascent soul talents, diplomacy, tactics, and the ethos of the Vows, which bind Sodalts to defend the defenseless, attempt peaceful contact with civilizations, respect the value of life, and avoid infringing the freedoms of others. Mastering the skills of the various branches may lead to extreme abilities, such as an expanded understanding of Shabda, strengthened intuition, and an understanding of Vidyavira, the “universal language” of violence that supersedes all martial arts. Yet on many occasions, the Sodality values perspective as much as skill, and do not require these specializations in order to take the field.

Once properly trained, a Sodalt joins a Mission under the direction of a magister, who coordinates that group’s efforts with others.

Sodality Missions and Operations

Rendered with a capital M, a Mission is the standard Sodality operation unit: a handful of Sodalts with complimentary background working under a magister on various assignments. Well-integrated Missions eventually give themselves a name and a visual symbol; until then they’re often known by the name of the supervising manager (“Brionne’s Fifth,” for example).

Sodality Missions take on a wide range of operations. First, each Mission has one or more wide-ranging standing orders which the Mission, with the occasional help of their magister, interprets to create their own operations and goals. Examples of such orders include:

  • Counter Praetorian activities on frontier planes.
  • Discover new civilizations.
  • Explore the planes of the Pazunian Chain.
  • Learn the nature of the Thresholders.
  • Protect endangered species.

Specific assignments, as granted by magisters, supplement these general orders. Some Missions are in frequent contact with their magisters, while others must range far from the known planes, and only check in infrequently.

Sodality Ranks

The following ranks exist in the Sodality.

Associate: Associate isn’t technically a Sodality rank at all, but an informal status assigned to non-Sodalts who assist the organization on occasion. Associates are sometimes called upon as “mission specialists” for particular situations where their skills or abilities are useful. Associate status is also commonly used at a magister’s discretion to try out potential recruits to see if they would be a good fit for the Sodality.

Pleb: Pleb is the common nickname for a student of the Academy, in between their status as a civilian or associate and a full member of the Sodality. Plebs are occasionally assigned to work with Missions as part of their education, although the Academy does not often put plebs into the field until they have proven themselves.

Neophyte: Neophyte refers to a new Sodalt, particularly one on probationary duty following graduation or induction.

Viator: Viator is the operational rank of anyone operating as part of a Mission, though most active duty members are addressed simply as “Sodalt,” saving the formal rank for special occasions. Viators within the same Mission do not “outrank” one another, and Mission leadership is decided by consensus or the assignment of the magister for the duration of a particular operation.

Warden: Warden is a particularly trusted Sodality rank, where a Sodalt is permitted to move between worlds freely at their own discretion. Some refer to warden rank as “wanderer” or “unattached” status, able to function more independently, although wardens are still assigned and report to a magister.

Beyond wardens, the Sodality is managed by magisters, monitors and at the very top, the Council of Intendants, headquartered in Cardinal House on Vigrith. These lofty ranks typically belong to supervisors, not front-line heroes, though individuals who hold them tend to be extremely competent.

And Aethon

The Sodality often conducts joint operations with Aethon, the security agency of Earth’s secret government, the Peridexion. We’ll talk about what these transhuman operatives do next time around.

Fantasy AGE Campaign Builder’s Guide: Art, Process, and Inspiration

Hey folks, Jack back again to talk about the our new Fantasy AGE Campaign Builder’s Guide. This time I want to talk a bit about the art in the book, how it comes to be, and its utility beyond just looking great.

So, with a book like the Fantasy AGE Campaign Builder’s Guide, where the focus is inspiring and guiding GMs with their own campaigns, art isn’t just cool, its potentially inspirational. Maybe that cool picture is just the spark someone needs to figure out the tone, style, or some element of a campaign that’s been eluding them. Inclusivity is also a concern; we want books that show a range of characters that will appeal to a diverse player base—not every dwarf looks like a short-bearded Scotsman and not every shining knight is a handsome European looking dude.

So how does the art get selected? Well, basically after the text is written and edited, it gets passed along to layout and art direction, which then tells the developer (me) what sort of art we need and where. This is generally both vague from a creative standpoint and precise from a technical one. So stuff like “We need a half page illo for this section” or “We need something for the start of each chapter in these dimensions” and so on.

Once I get those, I look at the text around where the art is to be placed and write up art descriptions like:

A trio of heroes are standing before a gigantic egg that sits in a nest of bones, vines, bits of smashed buildings, and other materials that present a feeling of menace. The egg is obviously thick shelled, mottled, and dark. It is cracking and something is beginning to emerge. Only parts of the creature inside can be seen, a glaring yellow eye, a scaly claw with some wet feathers along its length, and some tendrils or tentacles coming through certain cracks. The image here is very much that of a the birth of an alien and terrible thing. The heroes are very small compared to the vast egg and as such are mostly for scale, though one can be seen to be an armed warrior, one an archer, and another a spellcaster of some sort with a glowing rod. The scene is some vast underground chamber of which only some of it can be seen in the light of a mage’s rod and some glowing fungus around the cavern.

Often these descriptions have themes or tones I want captured. For example, a piece for a chapter about building monsters might have a scholar teaching monster anatomy. Or perhaps I want to capture the feeling of some comic cover, book illustration, or other inspiration from my own youth. You can see this in stuff like the M&M Cosmic Sourcebook, which I helped write some art descriptions for—several of the pieces in one chapter are homages to classic comic covers using Earth Prime heroes instead of Marvel and DC ones. I do this because I think this sort of influence, depth…call it what you will, shines through in the presentation of the art with the text of the book. And while I can’t make the art or lay it out? This is the part I can contribute—the initial set up for the artist to work their magic, so to speak.

Sometimes these descriptions reference other characters, books, etc… from Green Ronin itself, often mixed with some other piece of media I was enjoying or thinking about at the time:

A hero fights against a swam of vampire thralls. The area around is blasted and twisted, a place that resembles a post-apocalyptic version of a late medieval or early Renaissance Eastern European village, with some faces seen from those hiding inside crumbling buildings. The hero is the red headed swordswoman from page 17 of the FAGE Companion. She still has her massive sword, which she is swinging to catch a thrall or two as they try to leap on her. She has been scratched up a bit from the thrall’s claws, but seems to be holding her own. In the sky a faint red sun can be seen through layers of a cloudy gray sky–the idea is that something here or perhaps across the whole world obscures the sun enough to mute its effects on the creatures, meaning there is no true safe time in this world from such horrors.

I’ve become fond of that red-headed swordswoman in the Fantasy AGE Companion, something about the piece she appears in made me want to revisit her.  And then I watched Netflix’s Castlevania series and I decided she needed to fight vampires in this Campaign Builder’s Guide. Sometimes that’s just how it goes.

So then these descriptions are sent off to a freelancer artist who gives us a number of rough sketches to review. The art director and I (and often other folks) discuss which versions we prefer, often saying stuff like “Totally C instead of A or B but we need to work that charging velociraptor riding cavalryman from A in.” Sometimes this process is very quick, sometimes we go back and forth more, but in either case that’s just the process. Some of the best pieces in Fantasy AGE—in my opinion—were fast and easy from a feedback perspective. Others were long and hard, and just as amazing. In any event, the artists also add their own ideas, style, and embellishments. Sometimes an artist will present a piece that’s “wrong” from what we asked for in terms of an angle or action and yet its completely perfect and we love it. Other times great pieces get tweaked because they need to invoke something important from the book.

Anyway, once the sketches are approved and artist knows just what we want? They make the piece. Sometimes they share steps along the way, other times not. In any event, they eventually turn in a piece for approval and any final tweaks and adjustments are made. 

So after all is said and done, the monster egg piece becomes:

Art by Bryan Syme

While our red-haired swordswoman fighting vamps is presented as:

Art by Pedro Sena

And that’s essentially how it works. Just for dozens of pieces of various sizes and dimensions. It’s at times a complex process, but I truly enjoy it.  Hopefully those of you checking out the Campaign Builder’s Guide will find pieces to inspire and delight you as well.