Gen Con Report 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Mashup: Apocalypse Freeport

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

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

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

Comforted by training, Andrzej was ready for death.

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

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

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

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

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

Freeport Apocalypse! Freeport meets Threefold

Apocalypse Freeport Campaign Setting

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

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

Genre: Portal fantasy and cosmic horror.

The Setup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And sometimes, people listened.

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

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

The Campaign

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Mashup: Vaporwave Rose, Part 2

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

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

Vaporwave Rose 90s cartoon adventures in Aldea

Vaporwave Rose Campaign Setting

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

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

Genre: 90s animated romantic urban fantasy!

The Setup, Part 2

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

Okay, here comes the weird part.

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

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

But you don’t get bruises from dreams.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Campaign

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Mashup: Vaporwave Rose, Part 1

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

Let’s get started.

Ala Rose enters AldeaVaporwave Rose Campaign Setting

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

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

Genre: 90s animated romantic urban fantasy!

The Setup

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

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

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

Maybe that’s why it’s back.

Before I continue, let me talk about the show.

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

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

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

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

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

…and that was it, until now.

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

You have to.

More about  later.

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

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

Wandersoul is one of many useful talents

Boosting

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

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

Free Talent

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

Splitting Psychic Abilities

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

Shabda Without Wandersoul

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

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

Catching Up

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

When the Developer Plays: Miscellaneous Insights!

Over several articles in this series, I’ve talked about a few insights I’ve acquired playing a Threefold setting Modern AGE campaign in a bit of depth. Over the past while, however, things have become a bit more scattershot. So, think of this time around as a grab-bag of insights about Modern AGE and Threefold, and RPGs as a whole, that I hope you’ll find interesting.

Insights into the universe of Threefold in Five and Infinity!

Sometimes there are just too many damn universes. From Five and Infinity, Chapter 5.

I Got My Character Wrong

Last article I told you about my character…but I took a disallowed focus! Andrzej took Longarms for 8th level, but he’d taken Pistols at Level 7, breaking the rule that says you can’t take a focus for the same ability twice in a row. (You also can’t improve the same ability twice in a row.) Yes, I, the Modern AGE developer, forgot that. As a wise being once said, Pobody’s Nerfect. The reason for this rule is to encourage characters to develop in a balanced fashion. I took Fighting (Grappling) instead—still combative, but it doesn’t make me look like I only learned gun things for two levels.

Stunts Can Be Minigames

Now that we’re a bit more experienced and are digging more deeply into the stunts, it becomes apparent that some stunt sets are, in effect, minigames within the larger Modern AGE rules. Grappling, Investigation, and some social stunts from Modern AGE especially tend to work this way, where there are various options and counter-options in the stunt list. For instance, Takedown has advantages (extra damage) and disadvantages (opposed test, you fall prone as well) over the simpler Knock Prone, and contextually, Human Shield may be a better choice than either, in some situations. In play, Knock Prone is generally a better idea with single, tough opponents a team can gang up on, Takedown is superior for one-on-one combat, and Human Shield works best for a larger number of ranged attackers. These are insights into an emergent property of the rules that I think will influence my future work in AGE games.

Five and infinity Chapter 5Strategically Omit Answers

Right now, the campaign revolves around plans by a rogue alternate-universe version of the Aethon’s plans to make their own timeline the “true” one, or primeline, instead of our Earth (well, minus the existence of everything in Threefold). What does that even mean? According to the GM, it would destroy the primeline and wreak havoc with every other plane of existence, and the secret to shifting which Earth is the primeline is an algorithm processed by a sufficiently large group of god-computers called Machinors. The great thing about these answers is even as the setting’s creator, I didn’t know that. I have opinions regarding various things, and the Five and Infinity adventure On the Threshold of Apocalypse presents one possible scenario, but I’m not really sure how that works. Inspiring ideas by not providing all the facts is nothing new, but this has given me an idea of the most effective ways to do this. In this case, we left a hook in Threefold indicating the primeline had changed before, and of course we talked about deleting alternate Earths, so these big structural ideas were just waiting for a bold GM to mix them together.

Clarifications Needed?

Long term play has also raised a few questions and options about Modern AGE and Threefold rules, but these are a bit out of step with the general tone of this article. Next time I’ll give them a go.

When the Developer Plays: Let Me Tell You About My Character!

(No wait! Come back!)

As many people know, telling random folks about your character is simultaneously the greatest temptation in RPG talk, yet the lowest form of discourse. However, since I develop Modern AGE I guess I can get away with it! Beyond that, there is honestly some broad relevance, since I ended up accidentally playing an iconic Threefold character based on…me. This was not entirely voluntary.

An Iconic character in Threefold

Andrzej Paterseki (Sword Dad)

The Story of Sword Dad

People who know me know I’m a parent, and a practitioner/sometimes-coach of historical fencing (late medieval Italian longsword, a bit of rapier, a smattering of other stuff), which is why that kind of stuff ended up in the adventure I wrote, Warflower, whose name alludes to a real-life fencing treatise. At some point, this produced the internal nickname “Sword Dad,” about which I have…mixed feelings.

Then in 2018, we were working on Threefold, and wanted some new iconic characters: folks who appear in examples of play and illustrations. H.D. Ingham created several of them, including, as a bit of fun, one Andrzej Paterski, a swordsman working for the Sodality faction, based on the Sword Dad joke. Andrzej is younger and handsomer than I am, of course, but this was less wish fulfillment than wanting a marketable iconic character. Thus, a guy with a sword and glasses became one of the faces of Threefold.

Accidentally Andrzej

Then in 2020, our group’s regular GM decided he wanted to run a Modern AGE game with Threefold, which I’ve talked about in a few past posts. I went for random character generation and ended up with a character with the Warsmith sword-maker profession in Threefold, along high Fighting and Strength. Dammit, I ended up with Sword Dad. I just admitted this was him, wrote down Andrzej’s name, and got playing. So, this is how I was used as the basis for an iconic character as a joke, and then ended up playing him.

In fact, I’ve been playing Andrzej for a year now, in our Pulpy-Mode game, and he recently hit Level 8. (Playing without GMing has taught me a lot.) The focus of the campaign so far has been tracking down demonic para-technology connected to intervention from an alternate Earth. This became entangled in an organized crime family that traded in souls, but ultimately circled back into a plot to destroy the primeline—the “true Earth” by some measures—and replace it with an alternate world. In the process we discovered that the original primeline itself replaced a previous “true Earth,” Eld. We explored its ruins in sealed powered armor, as one does, and briefly examined the wreckage of a giant robot built by some classical Greece-derived civilization before learning the reality-modeling algorithm required to shift primelines via a trapped transcendental quasi-AI. Then we leveled up.

(Yeah, this is the kind of stuff you can play in Threefold, and there’s even a series of five adventures to get you started.)

Now that I’ve set the context, here’s Andrzej at Level 8. I thought that, even leaving the above backstory aside, folks might be interested in seeing an organically developed Modern AGE character of this level.

Andrzej Modern AGE Threefold 8 PDF character sheet

So You Want to Play a Dimension Hopping Trickster God for Some Reason, Part 2: We Got Your Timelines Right Here

Last time on SYWtPaDHTGfSR, I chose an article series title that did not lend itself to a catchy acronym. I also explained how you could, if you were somehow moved by some unlikely situation that made the idea of a dimension hopping trickster god exploring timelines —such as Loki, say, if we were to look at Norse mythology and I assure you, nothing else—part of the zeitgeist, how to make such a character for the Modern AGE roleplaying game, using the Modern AGE Basic Rulebook, the Modern AGE Companion, and the Threefold campaign setting.

Aethon has many agents who travel the Timelines

I didn’t just pick Threefold because of the character options, however. I chose it because if you want a dimension-hopping setting with an overarching theme to bind the infinite smorgasbord of varied realities, this is the setting to do it with. Threefold binds alternate worlds, fantasy realms, and hellish dimensions together in a common storyline. It’s so big, one of the main questions people have is, “How do I get started with so many options to choose from?”

Now we created the Five and Infinity adventure series to help answer this, but we also set it up in the setting book itself, by presenting two organizations that regularly travel the Metacosm—that’s Threefold’s term for the set of all universes. And I think one of them would be especially appropriate for those of you interested in the SYWtPaDHTGfSR play style: Aethon, the guardians of Earths various timelines and branches.

Aethon works out of a secret, super-scientific installation in Invindara, an obscure island nation between southern India and Madagascar, in the “primeline,” which is its term for the universe it prefers to cultivate. Parallel standard universes are typically defined by the presence of Earth. In the generally accepted tracking code use for other dimensions, it’s listed as EU-00004. E is “Earth.” U is “Uninitiated,” meaning most of its inhabitants don’t know about the existence of other universes. The number is the order in which it was logged compared to other dimensions. Yes, it’s a 4. Yes, you should get the book to find out why.

Things You Might Recognize from Somewhere

  • Aethon explores parallel worlds with the help of highly trained agents called operants in its missions in various timelines. Aethon maintains a higher technological base than the current present; operants have access to improved body armor and weapons. Of course, they also have access to powered armor, cybernetic augmentations, and canisters of cloned human neurons psychically attuned to stabilize natural laws on site, but if you want to stick with a SWAT outfit and a pointy stick that sends people to an undisclosed location, that’s fine too!
  • Aethon teams, called sections, possess devices allowing them to travel from world to world, these aren’t just portals hanging in the air—though in some cases those can exist. They use quantum arks: metal boxes that travel from one timeline to another. If you’re into retro interfaces, I’m afraid there’s no brass or wood paneling (though I guess you could decorate one that way), but you do throw a lever!
  • Aethon does “prune” timelines it deems undesirable. This is called deletion. Sometimes the reasons for this are obvious, such as when another timeline—an “Alt” in Aethon parlance, bases its technology on summoning demons and/or eating souls, something that has come up in the Modern AGE/Threefold game I play in, in fact. But other reasons are mysterious.
  • Many people have parallel universe counterparts called alters. Sometimes they can become problems. The culminating adventures in the Five and Infinity series deal with a series of alters who can be friends, enemies, and in one case, might destroy a universe after having become a kind of god.
  • Aethon is led by the Machinors, beings who have been described as both gods and transcendental artificial intelligences, but nobody ever meets them—well, not directly, anyway.
  • Yes, there is a “dumping ground at the end of the universe, it’s not a parallel Earth, but a hell-plane named Blattarum (NI-00099 in the standard index), described in the Threefold setting book and the final Five and Infinity adventure, On the Threshold of Apocalypse.

All that, from a setting released in 2019! Curious….

Things That Might Be New

  • Deleting an undesirable universe is…messy. The standard protocol involved eradicating all intelligent life and making the remaining world uninhabitable: a “Z class plane” in standard parlance. This isn’t that big a deal when a world has become totally corrupted—zombie apocalypses and insane supercomputers with nukes don’t inspire much second thought—but when Aethon decides an Earth needs to go for less explicable reasons, you might be tempted to rebel.
  • Aethon does not exist outside conventional time and space. This means, among other things, there absolutely are parallel Aethons. Many of these work in harmony with the primeline Aethon but others can be neutral or even belligerent. In the case of the last outcome, this often happens when an Aethon on an alternate Earth asks itself why it gets to be the “alternate” one, at risk of manipulation and deletion.
  • The Machinors—those mysterious machine gods that run Aethon—don’t always agree. Some of them work for those renegade parallel Aethons. Some of them manipulate timelines for their own ineffable amusements.
  • Remember what I said about fantasy worlds and hells? Threefold has planes of existence where the world is the scaly back of a dragon swimming through space, where people are exiled via catapult. It has a hell consisting of an infinite coiled ribbon of rock whose edges grind against each other, that was liberated from a demon prince.
  • The vast scope of the Metacosm means Aethon doesn’t work alone. These stranger planes beyond Earth are studied by the Sodality, who work with Aethon for stability across countless universes. The Sodality is a little nicer, too.

This gives your rebellious, adventure-prone trickster god a huge set of possibilities indeed, and that’s before you, say, make them a rhy-alligator by hacking in the rules for Blue Rose. When the GM goes that route, it’s better if you don’t question it.

So You Want to Play a Dimension Hopping Trickster God for Some Reason, Part 1: Making a God in Modern AGE and Threefold

Let’s imagine that somehow, the cultural zeitgeist has moved to the unlikely place of trickster deities jumping through alternate universes. How did this happen? Could it be that an exceptionally large media franchise owned by one of the largest entertainment companies in the world produced a show with this concept? But more importantly, do you want to play such a character in a coherent RPG setting, tailored for the needs of games? Modern AGE and the multi-planar Threefold setting have got you covered.

Not the sort of place you'd expect to meet a Trickster God

Making a Trickster God

The Threefold Metacosm has many beings who might be called gods, but the ones most amenable to play are the Optimates: children of a prior generation of semi-retired deities. Some of them rule the Divine Empire, but others are free agents or exiles. To make our trickster, you’re going to need the Modern AGE Basic Rulebook, the Modern AGE Companion, and the Threefold setting book. The unusual part here is you want to figure out the trickster god’s powers first, to figure out what level character they need to be.

Naturally, we need the Master degree in Illusion Arcana (Modern AGE Basic Rulebook), which requires three talent advancements. Our deity needs to be a bit stronger and tougher than mortals too. Going by the guidelines in the Modern AGE Companion, a x2 multiplier to Strength (Jumping) and Strength (Might), along with 2 points in Vicious Blow as a favored stunt, requires four talent advancements and represents sufficient strength as portrayed in…let’s say some popular streaming program in which such a character might appear. We’ll add +2 to the character’s Toughness using a magical version of the Dermal Armor enhancements. This costs two more talent advancement “slots.” That brings us to 9 degrees’ worth of advancements. A 7th level Modern AGE character has this many talent advancements available, but it’s not just about the powers, so let’s make our trickster god 10th level.

With that settled, we need to devise the basic Level 1 character, then work our way up through these advancements.

For background, we’ll look at the Threefold rules for ancestries. Let’s say our trickster god is actually an Arvu, one of the magical varieties of humanity (these are elflike) found in the setting. Maybe this god was adopted, eh? In any event, we can swap one background benefit for the Arcane Education ancestral trait, providing a rank in the Illusion Arcana, and the Trickster trait, which provides social stunt advantages which fit the character. Grace provides a similar benefit for other stunts, so we’ll take that. That’s three out of four background benefits. For the fourth, we’ll go outside the available rules and wing it a bit. Optimates like our trickster typically have the primal being quality on p. 139 of Threefold, which gives them social bonuses with beings who know them and allow them to understand Shabda, the universal language. We’ll treat this as a fourth ancestry trait.

For profession, we’ll pick Planar Envoy from Threefold as something the god’s parents probably wanted them to do, and which they sort of still do, in a twisted fashion. That’s 15 + Con Health, Resources 8, a degree in the Inspire or Linguistics (we’ll choose Inspire—Shabda knowledge means they effectively know every language already) talent, and either the Communication (Persuasion) or Intelligence (Current Affairs) focus—we’ll take Persuasion.

What about drive, our tricker’s “glorious purpose?” Let’s go with Achiever—the trickster has grand dreams, but may not be sure of exactly what they mean. That lets us pick Expertise or Inspire talent degrees. We already have a degree in Inspire, so we’ll take Expertise in Communication (Deception) in the sub-field “supernatural trickery.” We also get a Membership, Reputation, or Resources improvement. We’ll take Reputation: “Trickster God.”

From this point onward, we’ll use the Buying Abilities option on p. 12 of the Modern AGE Basic Rulebook to give the trickster Accuracy 0, Communication 3, Constitution 0, Dexterity 4, Fighting 0, Intelligence 2, Strength 0, Willpower 3—but be aware this is for a young trickster at level 1, and not the full-powered deity we want to emulate. With 9 other levels providing another 9 points in abilities, we can make them fully glorious—and get the talent advancements, additional focuses, and specializations to perfect our trickster according to plan.


The Trickster—10th Level

Accuracy 0, Communication 5 (Disguise +3, Deception, Investigation, Persuasion), Constitution 2, Dexterity 5 (Sleight of Hand, Sabotage, Stealth +3) Fighting 3 (Brawling, Light Blades), Intelligence 3 (Cryptography, Illusion, Occultism, Security), Strength 1 (Might), Willpower 1

Speed: 15

(Stats separated by slash are for Gritty/Pulpy/Cinematic Modes, respectively)

Health: 17/35/50

Defense: 15/16/17

Toughness: 4/5/6

Power Points: 60

Talents: Dual Weapon Style (Novice), Illusion Arcana (Master; Force 13), Expertise (supernatural trickery using Communication (Deception), Master), Inspire (Novice)

Ancestry Traits: Grace (With a Flourish or Oozing Confidence stunts for -1 SP), Trickster (Taunt and Class Clown stunts for -1 SP), Primal Being (spoken and written Shabda; +2 SP in social stunts against beings who have heard of them, who also gain +2 to tests to find out about them)

Extraordinary Powers: Dermal Armor (+2 Toughness), Favored Stunt (Vicious Blow costs 0 SP and can be used at will), Force Multiplier x2 for Strength (Jumping) and Strength (Might) tests (double the usual effect)

Specializations: Agent (Master)

Resources: 8

Social Ties: Reputation: Trickster God, and 7 Relationship slots to be determined


We’re missing equipment, Relationships, and a few other options, but this character is reasonably trickster-god-ish, and about twice as strong as a human of the same build. They can summon illusions easily and have several advantages when it comes to lies, betrayal, and the rest of a trickster god’s habits. Perhaps, in an alternate universe, they might have focused on direct mind control, but in the end, you’re left with the treacherous hand history deals you—or at least, this history. Next time, we’ll be looking at what our trickster might do in the Threefold Metacosm. Perhaps they work with an agency that prunes undesirable timelines. Isn’t that a thought?

Living in Dev-Time

Dev-Time is a lot like Time Travel

Dev-Time is a lot like Time Travel!

“When is that book going to be done? When?”

It can be strange living in what I call “dev-time” (or “development time”) because eagerly-awaited projects are often not just yesterday’s news for me as a writer but most likely last year’s news at times. The development cycle of a book, much less an entire game, is a fairly long one, and getting all of the words written is among the very first steps. Typically, I may get to see a project at the concept stage, getting in on discussion of whether or not to do it at all, along with what it might look like, contain, and so forth. More often, I get involved at or after the outline stage, when the overall concept of the book is pretty well established, and the developer is looking for someone to write stuff. That’s me.

Now, these days, I don’t write too many entire books for RPG publishers, including Green Ronin. While product development time for a book is long, actual writing time is relatively short. So unless I’m publishing a book myself (as I do with Icons Superpowered Roleplaying) and can take 4 to 6 months to write it all, or I’m working with an extended publisher timeline that allows me to write sixty to eighty thousand words or more, chances are I’m only writing a part of a book, a chapter or two (maybe three). Solo projects tend to be short: adventures, Patreon write-ups, articles, and the like, and many of those also get incorporated into larger books or collections.

I get my assignment, write it, and (ideally) hand it off at the appointed deadline. There’s feedback, development, revisions, new drafts, and then I hand over a final version of the text. Typically, that’s where my involvement ends. Sure, an editor might have the occasional “what were you thinking here?” question (tinged with varying degrees of frustration) or an art director might need notes or “does it look like this?” confirmation but, for the most part, my text sails off to those other shores to continue the rest of its journey towards becoming a finished book without me. That can sometimes be a long journey, even under the best of conditions. When conditions look like they have over the past year or so … even longer.

Thus the eagerly-awaited book someone is looking forward to is already in my rear-view mirror, often several exits back behind other recent projects I have handed off, some of which the public hasn’t even heard about yet. There’s a running joke in the freelance business that sometimes the only answer to a polite inquiry of “So what are you working on these days?” is “Upholding my non-disclosure agreement.” Dev-time is such that many projects aren’t even announced publicly at the time when people are writing them, although there may be rumors (the tabletop game industry being quite small and tight-knit).

While I have moved-on to other projects, the words I’ve already written are sailing through development, editing, layout, illustration, and proofreading. If they’re destined to see print, there will also be preflight checks, print buying and quotes, print proofs, and more before the book is finally handed-off to the printer. Even then, there’s printing, binding, shipping, warehousing, and distribution before it finds its way to a game store or gets shipped off to the buyer. In every one of those steps there is both margin for error and the potential for things to go wrong. I mentioned before about “ideally” handing off my text by the agreed-upon deadline. I pride myself on getting my work in on time, but life happens. This past summer, I took a fall off my bicycle and fractured my hip. While my recuperation didn’t overly impact my ability to work, allowances still needed to be made. Multiply that times all of the people who touch a project before it sees print and you magnify those allowances accordingly. People get injured, sick, divorced, married, pregnant, quit or take on new jobs, lose loved ones, run into financial problems, and all of life’s other challenges, to say nothing of encountering global pandemics, political upheavals, and more—all in the same year!

So if anyone involved in the publishing process of a book or product ever looks vaguely bewildered concerning its eagerly-anticipated release, it is quite possible that they exist in “dev-time.” From their perspective, that project has been “done” for some time, and it’s not that they’re not eager to see the finished products (believe me, there are several of my projects I’m looking forward to actually holding in my hands), it’s just that they’ve had to move on to other things in the meanwhile. Patience and understanding that there is more going on behind the scenes than you know will always get you a kinder response.