Ronin Roundtable: Walking the Royal Road IV: Character Subplots

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

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

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

We’re going to look at a way of using the Royal Road to define those opportunities. As with many of the previous “Walking the Royal Road” articles, you’ll want to make sure you have a Tarot deck (which can simply be any one of several online card randomizers), and a means of interpreting those cards to give you the maximum possibilities. The cards we use in these articles are the Shadowscapes Tarot, with art by the amazing Stephanie Pui-Mun Law, whose art has graced the covers of Blue Rose books throughout the game’s history. They also include booklets with summaries of card meanings, so we’ll be using those for our inspiration.

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

Here’s an example.

 

 

Dame Emelynn Aros, Knight of the Blue Rose

Calling: The Sun (Championing the Everyday)

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

 

First Card: Five of Swords

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

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

 

Second Card: Knight of Wands

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

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

 

Third Card: The Hanged Man

Interpretation: Letting go and surrendering to new perspectives.

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

Tales of Earth-Prime: “The Bears”

Tales of Earth-Prime: "The Bears"Today Nisaba Press presents some new Earth-Prime fiction: “The Bears,” a short story by Susan Jane Bigelow.

Marley and Shanae lead a peaceful life in the Elysian Forest, staying clear of the hubbub of Emerald City, until an unnatural visit by natural creatures stirs up trouble from the past.

 

Ronin Roundtable: Back to Basics

I love to cook. I find the process of preparing a meal relaxing and love feeding family and friends wholesome and satisfying food. Still, there are plenty of times when I find I don’t have the time to cook something from scratch, and I’m happy to accept a little help from a meal-kit or some other prepared items. I also understand some people don’t care for cooking all that much, or have even less time to devote to it. It’s just a fact of modern life. Likewise, I love to tinker and build things in many of my roleplaying games, but the demands of day-to-day life are such that spending a lot of time learning and preparing a game isn’t realistic, or just isn’t a particular gamer’s style.

So, when discussing new products at Green Ronin’s annual planning summit, one of the ideas we talked about was what has become The Mutants & Masterminds Basic Hero’s Handbook: A simpler approach to the popular, long-running superhero RPG that looks to take some of the preparation out, while keeping all of the fun and the essence of the game rules in.

At its heart, M&M is not an overly complex game to play: Most everything is a d20 + ability or modifier check vs. a Difficulty, including dealing damage and other conditions. Where a fair amount of the complexity comes in is during the character design phase: M&M has a system of point-spending and power effects and modifiers that allows you to build almost anything, but that building process takes time and some knowledge of the system and how it works. Even with software tools like Hero Lab, it can be involved, and not everyone looking to play a superhero wants to put in that kind of work.

So, for M&M Basic, we offer a “meal kit” approach, where a lot of the prep work is done for you and you get an easy-to-follow “recipe.” Hero archetypes based on the Quickstart Character Generator from the Deluxe Hero’s Handbook offer you an easy series of descriptive choices: Is your Crimefighter brooding, cunning, or observant? Apply these ability modifiers. Are they confident, indomitable, relentless, tricky…? Apply these Advantages, and so forth. With just a few decisions, you can quickly put together dozens of different starter heroes based on classic types and be ready to play.

The book offers a few similar tools for the Gamemaster. There’s a sample adventure, and a “training wheels area” in the Doom Room, but also several “encounter archetypes” including different heists and crimes, rescues, and disasters, with all the game info to run them, which the GM can mix-and-match to create adventures with a minimum of prep, or use to supplement other adventure ideas. Likewise, while there are some sample villains (and plenty of minions), GMs can use the same tools for creating heroes to build opposing villains quickly and easily.

Best of all, the actual game play of M&M Basic is exactly the same as in the third edition Deluxe Hero’s Handbook. We simplify and explain things in a more step-by-step approach, and play down some of the more complex options, but players who learn from Basic can easily “step up” to the full-featured game whenever they want without having to re-learn how anything is done. We hope that M&M Basic offers long-time fans of the game a way to introduce eager new players as well as a means of making their own game prep a little easier from time to time, and an avenue for those who have always wanted to try Mutants & Masterminds, but who might have been scared off by the character building, a new opportunity.

Ronin Round Table: Fantasy AGE Campaign Builder’s Guide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tales of Blue Rose: Quartet of Thieves

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

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

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

Ronin Roundtable: Whisper Networks and Internet Justice

Much has happened in the past several months with women speaking out on issues of sexual harassment and finally being heard. Prominent men in politics, business, media, even in children’s literature, have been called to account for behaviors ranging from inappropriate “jokes” to violent sexual assault. Here in Washington state, one of our women senators has proposed limits on the use of non-disclosure agreements to prevent victims of sexual harassment from speaking about their experiences. Seattle’s newly elected woman mayor wasted no time in ordering an extensive review of the city’s harassment and discrimination policies. Structures are being reviewed and put in place to more properly and fairly address issues in the workplace in particular, and I am glad to see it.

For some time now, especially since the rise of the internet and its ubiquitous place in our lives, women have worked at protecting themselves and each other through back channels and whisper networks, the now infamous “Shitty Media Men” list being one example. Unfortunately, whisper networks are of no use to women who don’t have the right connections to access them, nor are they immune from hearsay that can be difficult, if not impossible, to confirm. They are good for focusing attention on potentially dangerous or unpleasant people, good for self-preservation for those fortunate enough to have heard the right whispers at the right time, but they are far less effective at achieving justice. In a world where we literally have to worry that someone might call down a SWAT team on a person they dislike or begrudge, the threat of vigilantism sadly must be anticipated, addressed, and resisted in order to see systemic changes enacted and upheld.

Merely having a “harassment policy” does not guarantee that such a policy is fair, just, effective, or evenly applied. Policies stating some variation of “at our sole discretion” actions that may or may not be taken are barely more than legal language to shield a company, convention, or organization from liability. Even policies attempting to address the issue of harassment in a sensitive manner for victims can fail in providing even the most basic due diligence, leaving themselves open to unethical manipulation and becoming party to (and legally liable for) defamation and other legal jeopardies any business wishes to avoid. “Justice” can be swift and summary, focused more on making the matter go away than understanding the truth and then acting accordingly.

When the dam broke on harassment in social media, I detailed in a semi-public post, viewable by over 1700 people, my own experiences with sexual abuse, stalking, harassment, and assault, the reverberating impact those events had on my life, and how my involvement in both providing support for other women in the game industry and standing up to try to make real change for women through my own company and my volunteer work had been particularly difficult and sometimes re-traumatizing, especially in the last year or two. To say I was at a particularly vulnerable point is an understatement and as “discussion” of public accusations of harassment in my own industry became more heated, I responded little differently than an animal in pain. It clarified for me that people in pain and trauma cannot always do right by others in pain and trauma, even with the best of intentions and the most sincere concern. It is an experience I do not want to repeat and as such, I will not be engaging in any further public debate on the subject. Instead, I intend to follow up with actions, to continue to provide opportunities for women through my company and my volunteer efforts, and to work for structural changes to the tabletop industry.

As of this writing, I am attending the GAMA Trade Show in Reno, where I will be bringing a proposal to the board for the adoption of guidelines and procedures called S.T.O.P. Harassment (Standards, Terms, and Other Practices). The intent is to create common and agreed upon set of policies for reporting issues of discrimination and harassment, setting up mechanisms for prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation into any such reports, and establishing protocols for taking corrective action. Green Ronin has paid for this document to undergo a legal review and we hope that GAMA can provide the impartial vehicle through which issues of inappropriate behavior can be properly addressed. The initial language we’re proposing can be found here: S.T.O.P. Harassment (Standards, Terms and Other Practices)

Tales of Earth-Prime: Before They Knew Him

This week’s new short story from Nisaba Press is “Before They Knew Him” by Richard Lee Byers, set in our Mutants & Masterminds setting Earth-Prime. It can be yours for just $1.99.

Freedom City’s strength is Dr. Metropolis’s strength. But that’s about to become his Achilles heel.

 

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

Age Bundle of Holding

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

Fantasy AGE Companion Pre-Order & PDF

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

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

Tales of Blue Rose: The Cutpurse With His Trousers Down

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

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

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