From Freelance to Dev (Ronin Roundtable)

I’m not normally a big fan of surprises, but I’ll make an exception for this one. When Joseph Carriker asked me if I’d like to write a Ronin Roundtable about making the jump from freelancer to developer, I was pretty psyched.

Coming Soon! Six of Cups is an Adventure Anthology for Blue Rose: The AGE RPG, just in time for Green Ronin Publishing’s 20th Anniversary!

I first inquired about writing for Green Ronin back in 2011, but my timing was bad and there were no projects in need of authors, just then. Even at that point, I’d been at this a long time, and that sort of thing happens: if you don’t have the good luck to ask right when a developer has an open slot on a project, the best you can usually hope for is for your name to go into the (often pretty big) pile of interested prospective writers for some other job, down the line. Fast forward a few more years and several more inquiries, however, and I got my break, doing some work for the Chronicle System. Only a couple of years on from there, in 2016, Joseph offered me the chance to take a crack at doing some fill-in development work on Desert Threats (again, for the Chronicle System), and I jumped at the opportunity to once again try my hand at an aspect of roleplaying game design with which I’d previously had only minimal experience.

Fast forward yet another several years and a bunch of development jobs, getting a little more hands-on with the process, each time, and I’ve come to understand that really is a whole different sort of beast. When you’re writing as a freelancer, you’re trying to realize, in a way that’s entertaining and informative, a vision that’s been outlined for you. You have input into what you’re creating, of course, but you’re almost always playing in a sandbox with firm borders. Development, on the other hand, entails bouncing ideas back and forth with other folks on the high-concept end of things, working to craft the vision that others will then put more extensively into words. In essence, you’re the one building the sandbox, and you have to create it with an eye toward making it a fun and rewarding place in which others get to play, while also stocking it with all the stuff they’ll need to get the job done right.

With writing, you have to be mindful of cooperating well with your fellow authors, but, beyond that, you’ve generally got quite a lot of autonomy—as long as you follow the developer’s instructions, you’re pretty much always good to go. Development demands an almost entirely distinct (and much more rigorously collaborative) skillset. You’re effectively a project manager, keeping everyone on track and maintaining the work as a cohesive whole, every step of the way, but there’s rather a lot more to it than that. You’re also the first-pass editor and art director, laying the groundwork for the actual editor and art director to do their jobs, and you’re absolutely going to need to do at least a little bit of writing, too; not just the book’s introduction (which is usually part of development duties), but also anything, at all, that ends up needing to be filled in. Similarly, pretty much anything that falls under “miscellaneous,” whether foreseen or unforeseen, ends up as part of your job. You’re the interface between the front-end and back-end of the creative aspects of the project, fielding questions from both sides, and trying to make everything run as smoothly as possible for everyone involved. Ultimately, though, there’s no feeling quite like seeing a book take shape, starting as a mere skeleton of an outline, and ending as a fully fleshed out addition to a setting you love.

So, yeah: adjusting to development has definitely involved a learning curve, but it helps to be working with great folks, all of whom bring their different strengths and perspectives to the table, even as I hone the skills that help me to bring my best work to each new book (and, in the process, to your gaming table!)

Time Goes By (Ronin Roundtable)

The Mutants & Masterminds RPG is old enough to vote this year. “The World’s Greatest Superhero Roleplaying Game” (tagline credit to the bombastic style of Stan Lee) turns eighteen years old in 2020, as well as Green Ronin Publishing’s 20th Anniversary! Alongside it, Earth-Prime, the official M&M setting also turns eighteen and, with the third edition of the Freedom City sourcebook that started it all released nearly three years ago already, one has to ask: “Where does the time go…?”

In his classic Strike Force superhero campaign, the late, great Aaron Allston offered a number of options for the aging of player characters: Allston had time pass in his campaign at roughly the same pace as the real world, so some characters were mortal and aged at a normal rate. Others were immortal and didn’t age at all, while various characters in-between had some forms of slowed aging or the like that kept them vital and extended their super hero careers. Good thing, too, since the Strike Force campaign lasted for over twenty years!

In the award-winning Astro City comic book series, author Kurt Busiek had time pass in the fictional city at the same pace as the real world: Astra Furst, in grade-school in the classic Astro City #4 in the mid-90s, graduated from college in Astro City Special: Astra in 2009. Born in the mid- to late-80s, Astra should be entering her mid-30s this year!

With inspirations like Strike Force and Astro City, Freedom City (and therefore Earth-Prime) also embraced the notion of time passing in the world and for its characters. When the second edition of Freedom City was planned, there was a mere three years difference between the first and second editions of the game. Therefore, I thought it would be fun to “update” things a bit, pushing the setting timeline forward by about that amount and having things like the teen hero Bowman graduating from Claremont Academy to “step-up” to membership in the Freedom League, Captain Thunder’s young (now teen) son attending the Academy and friends with the also-now-teen Chase Atom, and so forth.

The notion flowed through later M&M sourcebooks, such that when the first edition of Hero High came along, we introduced even more new “freshman” characters to replace the Next-Gen who were aging out. At least one of them (Elite of the Alterna-Teens) has gone on to become an adult legacy hero, taking up the mantle of the Raven in Atlas of Earth-Prime. By the time the third edition of Freedom City came along, some eleven years had passed since the second edition! That called for some changes, as readers can see, with ageless members of the hero and villain communities existing largely unchanged alongside others who have grown up, retired, or even left the mortal coil altogether.

Now, it’s likely that M&M will pump the brakes on the setting’s timeline a bit, given we honestly didn’t plan on it being around nearly twenty years later! Like I said, the most recent setting book is already three years old, and Green Ronin wants to play around a bit in that era, while giving you the opportunity to do the same, without constantly having to update “current events.”

Of course, it may well be that some game groups prefer the “classic” versions of the Earth-Prime setting and its characters. Perhaps the notion that the Sentinels from Emerald City came along years after the Freedom League, or that the “new heroes” of the setting have actually been around since Emerald City was published in 2014, doesn’t fit with their expectations.

Since the setting is yours to do with as you and your game group prefer, fear not! Somewhere out in the Omniverse is a parallel Earth that follows the “10 years ago” model of most mainstream comics, which says that their major characters have been active for no more than a decade or so, regardless of how long their publication history may be. It was how the original Freedom City timeline was built, with the first major event of the “modern age of heroes” happening ten years prior. The current Freedom League can still have come about as a result of the Terminus Invasion, which still happened ten years ago, just in 2010 instead of 1993. The “classic” first and second edition Freedom City-era characters can still be at the peaks of their crime-fighting careers.

Who knows? Maybe in the infinitude of the Omniverse there’s a ten-year cycle where a new “age of heroes” starts, over and over again, on a new world and the “old” Earth-Prime is a place they occasionally visit to see glimpses of the future that might await them—as time goes by.

Astonishing Adventures: The Isle of Dr. Sersei (Mutants & Masterminds PDF)

Astonishing Adventures: The Isle of Dr. Sersei

Astonishing Adventures: The Isle of Dr. Sersei

Welcome … to The Isle of Dr. Sersei! Today we present another issue in our Astonishing Adventures series for Mutants & Masterminds. Astonishing Adventures: The Isle of Dr. Sersei is an island-based Mutants & Masterminds PDF adventure for 4-6 heroes of Power Level 10.

From ignored eco-activist to feared mad scientist, Dr. Sersei will save the world, even if it means unleashing a plague that could wipe out half of humanity! The heroes have located her secret island base, and the clock is ticking before virus-laden missiles blast off to change the Earth forever. Are superpowers any match an army of mercenaries and mutants, or will the heroes meet their end on the Isle of Dr. Sersei?

Astonishing Adventures bring exciting new adventures for Mutants & Masterminds, Third Edition to you every single month, complete with all the action and villains you need to bring the story to life!

Modern AGE’s Enemies & Allies: Getting Normal (Ronin Roundtable)

Last time I posted about Enemies & Allies I talked about some of the ideas that went into design and development, but I used the chapters on fantasy, horror, and science fiction to illustrate my points. See this post for a rundown on this book of characters and creatures and you’ll notice something: two more chapters covering more down to earth subjects. Chapter 2: Elite Operatives covers some of the highly skilled figures of espionage, technothriller fiction, and some procedurals. Chapter 4: Crime and Punishment, gets into crooks and cops. Let’s talk about the ideas informing these chapters.

Who’s after you? Your character may not know but with Enemies & Allies, your GM does.

Elite Operatives: Aid and Opposition

Dylan Birtolo’s chapter covers a slate of highly skilled Non-Player Characters. In this case, the important thing was to populate the chapter with interesting, useful NPCs. This chapter’s primary focus is action and espionage, so we have the Armored Soldier, Double Agent, Field Agent, and Field Commander. In addition, we present the unique NPC Clara Lynch, a martial arts expert with military connections who can act as a gateway to the other elite characters in the book. In addition, we present the Negotiator and Publicist not only because not all highly skilled NPCs are combatants, but because they can provide valuable aid in areas typical characters aren’t good at.

This is not to say that we locked every character in this chapter to a straightforward function! Dylan included two entries that were generally useful, and deserved inclusion. First, the Robot Dog represents an automated threat or potential guardian based on cutting edge realistic technology. Many of us have seen the new generation of agile robots. The Robot Dog combines them with other innovations in artificial intelligence and, for the armed model, automatic targeting.

The Law and the Lawless: Populating the Underbelly

Ron Rummell’s chapter covers criminal and law enforcement. Both these elements are essential to modern games in virtually every genre, so we were especially careful to make it broadly useful. One of the most important aspects of this chapter is that it doesn’t limit itself to potential combatants, but NPCs covering the range of underworld and law enforcement figures who might appear in the campaign. Characters probably won’t get in shootouts with the Pickpocket, but that NPC may have stumbled across important information, or taken off with an object critical to the campaign. The Police Chief may not be on the front line, but they can call a citywide manhunt where Player Characters might join in or be its targets.

The other important element in this chapter was to carefully examine where any cultural biases may have pushed us, because these tend to manifest strongly in stories involving crime and the law. That manifested in how we developed the text, but also in how the art turned out. This means, for instance, that the image associated with the Mob Boss is that of an Asian woman who isn’t surrounded by the motifs associated with any stereotypical elements of any nationality’s organized crime group. Beyond ethical considerations, this gives the GM a sense of breathing room to devise their own groups.

After Enemies & Allies

This concludes my series about the book, but Modern AGE has more to come. Next time you read anything from me, it’ll probably be about Five and Infinity, the adventure series for Threefold—a setting that happens to accept Enemies & Allies as completely canonical. Talk to you then.

Love Bites: A FREE Mutants & Masterminds Novella (ePub & PDF)

Love Bites: A FREE Mutants & Masterminds NovellaHappy Valentine’s Day (or happy Friday if that’s not your thing) from all of us at Green Ronin! We are pleased to present you with Love Bites, a free Mutants & Masterminds novella by Roadtrip to Ruin author Skyer Graye.

Things have a tendency to go wrong around privileged Twy and the whirlwind of violence that is Bess. But can they hold it together for one fancy date at the hottest eatery around, on the most romantic day of the year? Probably not, but as they say, it’s how you respond to adversity–or the bar fight your girlfriend starts because she’s bored–that defines your character. And these two certainly have plenty of that. Author Skyler Graye introduces two of the heroines of the upcoming Roadtrip to Ruin novel, setting the stage for the rollicking adventure set in Green Ronin’s Mutants & Masterminds superhero setting.

Developer’s Notes for Enemies & Allies (Ronin Roundtable)

With Enemies & Allies for Modern AGE coming up for release in March (although the pre-order and PDF are available now!), I thought I’d briefly share the thinking that guided my development. On the surface, a book of NPCs and creatures seems pretty straightforward: Cram the game statistics in, do the art notes, and get it out the door (well, to Production, who turns it into a book instead of text files). This is exactly why I wanted to do Enemies & Allies differently. So here, in no particular order, are some ideas that shaped the book. Some were mine; others belong to fellow authors.

All he wants is you. The Chameleon borrows lives with the new extraordinary power of Psychic Shapeshifting, found in Enemies & Allies.

Genre and Context

The most important thing about the book is that I wanted to provide ways to situate these characters and creatures in their respective genres. That’s why the book is divided into genre-based (covering fantasy, horror, elite modern operatives, cops and crooks, and science fiction), and each chapter begins with optional rules to make the genre work with the chapter’s entries and in Modern AGE generally.

Separation of Powers

Urban fantasy and horror are very closely related—so close that the point of difference can be a tricky judgment call. This is why I used the difference between magic and psychic powers in Modern AGE as a guiding principle. Fantasy creatures are generally categorized as magical, while entries related to the horror genre are linked to psychic phenomena. But since this is in some ways a division of convenience, Enemies & Allies gives you advice on switching things around.

Broader Horror

Written by Matthew Dawkins, the Horrors and Witnesses chapter of the book is all about scary monsters and malevolent NPCs, but the content may be a bit different than other horror RPG offerings. Weirdly enough, this is because horror in roleplaying games tends to hang around the Gothic horror and Lovecraftian weird tale genres. We don’t disparage or entirely exclude those things—indeed, we include specific rules to enforce Gothic themes, if you want them, and the Anomaly is certainly a being out of a weird tale—but this book also harkens to pop-horror roads less traveled, from enemies that pull you into dark dreams to the dangerous results of covert paranormal research. Plus of course, ghosts.

Cyberpunk and Secret Science

Tanya DePass’ Science’s Edge chapter was designed to work with both contemporary and near-future games. We’re well aware that cyberpunk is a popular genre for RPGs, and for Modern AGE campaigns specifically, but we didn’t want to leave out games inspired by science fiction set in the modern day. Thus, the characters in this chapter aren’t stuck to any specific period. You might encounter the book’s Bioroid Assassin in a setting where part-organic androids are common, or in one where they’re built by a secret cabal—or sent back in time on a lethal mission.

Folklore and Modern Fantasy

Will Sobel’s Arcane Beings chapter, covering modern fantasy, doesn’t update classic fantasy creatures, but draws from recent folklore too. Legends not only persist, but are transformed and supplanted over time, and the chapter reflects that. It’s why the book has Quantum and Atomic Elementals, a mind-altering cryptid, and even the Headless Horseman, instead of just giving some elves guns and tattoos and calling it a day.

Other AGE Creatures Exist

One of the book’s appendixes talks about converting creatures back and forth between Modern AGE, Fantasy AGE, and Blue Rose, and I outlined the book well aware of the fact that Adventure Game Engine Game Masters routinely convert things from one book to another. That’s why I asked the book’s authors to avoid repeating creatures covered in other books unless they were highly appropriate, or, like ghosts, the most essential legendary beings. This seems to have inspired some amazing creative decisions on the part of the team, including the authors of the chapters mentioned above, and it means that fans of multiple AGE games can enjoy some added value.

Pre-Order Enemies & Allies; PDF Available Now

Enemies & Allies: Non-Player Characters and Creatures For Modern AGEYou can now pre-order Enemies & Allies: Non-Player Characters and Creatures for Modern AGE through our Green Ronin Online Store. When you do, the store software will offer you the PDF version for just $5, so make sure to click the Add To Cart button in the pop-up window. If print books aren’t your thing, you can order just the PDF.

Note: If you’d rather buy our products from your local game store or bookstore, please make sure they know about our Pre-Order Plus program! If you pre-order from a participating retailer, they can give you a code to download the PDF version for just $5.

Enemies & Allies

You can’t tell stories without characters and that’s where Enemies & Allies comes in. This sourcebook for the Modern AGE RPG is the Game Master’s one stop shop for NPCs and creatures, covering genres such as modern fantasy, horror, near future SF, technothrillers, and crime dramas. It also includes rules to help you develop your own creatures and NPCs from scratch and modify those from other Modern AGE resources. The book also includes new game systems for Heat (how much unwanted attention characters are attracting), geomantic places of power, and more.

Give your Modern AGE campaign character with Enemies & Allies!

Modern AGE in 2020 (Ronin Roundtable)

Modern AGE had a pretty good 2019! Last year saw the release of the Modern AGE Companion, a big book of optional rules and supplementary advice; and Threefold, the second Modern AGE setting (after World of Lazarus) and the all-original flagship setting for the game. The licensed World of Lazarus setting got some additional coverage with Crystal Frasier’s rules expansions in the Lazarus: Risen comic. Threefold was introduced to Free RPG Day patrons in 2019 through our revised and expanded Quickstart—get it online here.

World of Lazarus and Threefold also both made it onto Diamond Comic Distributors’ Top 100 Games sales list for 2019. That was nice too.

But it’s a new year, and time for new books and more! Here’s a bit of a rundown on what’s coming for Modern AGE this year.

There’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for this in Warflower, the first Modern AGE Mission.

Modern AGE Missions

The most requested thing for Modern AGE has been adventure support. We listened, and Modern AGE Missions is the result. Modern AGE Missions is an all-electronic line of adventures for Modern AGE. For the most part, these adventures won’t be tied to specific settings, with a few exceptions when the adventure concept warrants it. In some cases, adventures will present multiple story and premise options to help you tailor it to an ongoing campaign.

We plan to release these adventures quarterly starting with Warflower, an adventure we first used as a demo for Green Ronin’s Freebooters, which has since been revised and expanded.

Look for it and future Modern AGE Missions at DrivethruRPG or the Green Ronin Online Store, starting in March.

Enemies & Allies

The next hardcover core release for Modern AGE is Enemies & Allies. If you’ve read my prior articles hyping this book that’s no surprise. Enemies & Allies is a book of friends, foes, and stranger beings for Modern AGE. Its five chapters cover entries from five different genres, from the prosaic (such as special agents, spies, and gangsters) to the fantastical (such as banshees and the Headless Horseman) to the bizarre (the memory-erasing Glawackus and the rage-inducing Experiment #12).

In addition to the entries themselves, the book includes optional rules to bind them to specific genres. Add Heat rules to determine how badly the law or the Mob wants to find characters or use psychic impressions to foreshadow horrors. We top things off with appendices about animals, NPC creation, and adapting creatures back and forth between Modern AGE, Fantasy AGE, and Blue Rose.

Enemies & Allies releases in March.

Five and Infinity

Five and Infinity is the first supplement for the multi-world Threefold setting. It’s a collection of five adventures, starting with two for low-level characters, followed by three higher level adventures with stakes ranging from the intimate to the epic. Hunt giant spiders on city streets. Foil psychic assassins. Hunt soul-thieves through dystopian alternate Earths. Gamble in in an industrial hell’s demon-run casino. And if you make it that far, stop the apocalypse.

In addition to the book’s adventures, Five and Infinity introduces the Infinity engine, a tool to generate adventures and planes of existence. The most challenging thing about running Threefold is coming up with new planes and adventures on the fly, and we hope the Infinity Engine helps GMs get it done.

Five and Infinity is scheduled for release in the second quarter of this year.

The Modern AGE Mastery Guide

Game Master guides are a staple of RPG product lines, but the Modern AGE Mastery Guide is intended for players and GMs. This book presents a smorgasbord of new options interlaced with advice on how to play your character effectively, be part of a party of heroes, design your own adventures, and take advantage of Modern AGE’s specific characteristics.

In addition to giving you an advanced rundown on how the game works, this book introduces options for simplified characters, diceless play, new and custom equipment, freeform extraordinary powers, and quite a bit more. Combined with the Modern AGE Companion, this book should provide comprehensive options for customizing your game at the roots or on the fly. The book will also include developer-recommended rules changes devised after years of post-release play and testing.

The Modern AGE Basic Rulebook, Modern AGE Companion, Enemies & Allies, and the Modern AGE Mastery Guide comprise the game’s “core books” (though you only need the Modern AGE Basic Rulebook to run or play the game). You should be able to complete the quartet in the second half of this year.

And More

Truth is, we have other Modern AGE projects on the go for this year and next, including new setting material and rules expansions. Watch this space!

Roadtrip To Ruin, A New Mutants & Masterminds Novel

Roadtrip To Ruin cover imageRoadtrip To Ruin by Skyler Graye is a new Mutants & Masterminds novel from Nisaba Press, available for preorder and as epub and PDF eBooks, in our Green Ronin Online Store. (Print novel and two-formats-in-one eBook product are sold separately.)

A construct, a shapechanger, a demon, a fighter, and a talking Pomeranian hit the road for the road trip they’ve all dreamed about. But this is Emerald City, and things never go according to plan. A devious supervillain, a protective guard, and a surprising origin story will make this band of misfits work together if they want to survive. Will our heroes get to see their favorite punk band? Will they thwart the sinister scheme endangering their fellow rockers? Find out in Roadtrip to Ruin!

Roadtrip to Ruin follows Height of the Storm. Both novels explore Earth-Prime, the setting of the hit superhero RPG Mutants & Masterminds.

Nisaba Press

Nisaba Press is the fiction imprint of Green Ronin Publishing, under the leadership of Editorial Director Jaym Gates. Nisaba publishes novels, anthologies, and nonfiction tied to the rich and varied worlds of Green Ronin’s tabletop roleplaying properties and the larger world of tabletop gaming. With the release of Joseph D. Carriker’s Shadowtide and Aaron Rosenberg’s Height of the Storm, Nisaba Press brings a new facet to Green Ronin’s award-winning worlds.