Modern Monday: What’s Coming?

So, after answering some questions last week, general chatter compels me to talk about what we have planned for Modern AGE. In most cases, I’m going to talk about the current state of each release. Then I’ll answer a common question about how Modern AGE compares to its sister, Fantasy AGE.

In Production

The following things are in various stages of production—that is, the creation of a book from developed and edited text files.

Modern AGE Quickstart: It’s out! Read about it and download here!

Modern AGE Basic Rulebook (This is the core book!): This is currently going through last proof and art finalization. The advance PDF and preorders should be ready for June.

World of Lazarus: World of Lazarus is the first setting book for Modern AGE. It’s based on Lazarus, Greg Rucka’s dystopian-transhuman comic. Check the comic out (external link to Lazarus at Image Comics). This should be finished production shortly after the core. Note that project is a creation of Mutants and Masterminds developer Crystal Frasier, which is fitting, since she knows how comics and games intersect much better than I do.

Modern AGE Game Master’s Kit: This is the GM screen and reference card kit for Modern AGE. This is very close to finishing production and will be released hot on the heels of the Modern AGE Basic Rulebook and Lazarus.

Text Complete

The following thing happens to be text-complete, by which I mean writers have written it, and I’ve developed it, but it hasn’t entered production.

(Announcing the) Modern AGE Companion: This is currently in editing. I may add a short set of options we excised from the core book. The Modern AGE Companion includes expanded rules for powers, new talents and specializations, expanded stunts, campaign management, technology—lots of stuff. The Modern AGE Basic Rulebook is absolutely a complete game, but the Companion is anchored in the idea of customizing the rules for your campaigns.

Did I just announce a new book? Yes. I’ll probably give it a proper breakdown once we reach production. When is it coming out? That’s still to be determined.

Outlined and Approved

Okay, so my policy is the further something is from release, the sketchier I’m going to be about it. The following books have had their outlines approved, so I can start working with people to get them designed. They have cute code names for now.

Project Cranky (Real Name TBA): This is a utilitarian supplement for Modern AGE, not tied to any set campaign.

Project Crooked House (Real Name TBA): This is an original in-house setting.

Comparing Modern AGE and Fantasy AGE

How many shows have you seen where there’s always something weird going down in the “warehouse district?” We are not about to challenge that cliché. From the Modern AGE Quickstart, available now!

So, I’ve fielded a few questions about how Modern AGE relates to Fantasy AGE. Modern AGE isn’t just a case of copying and pasting guns over swords. I’ve already talked about how it’s a classless implementation of the AGE rules, but there are several other under the hood changes. These range from Resources, the system we use to manage in-game purchases without you roleplaying getting loans and doing taxes, to Breaching, the advanced test variant designed by Crystal Frasier to support heists and capers. These demand cooperation and dramatic reversals. Crystal originally designed these for World of Lazarus, but we all agreed they were so cool they should be in the core rules. Social systems and investigations are also part of Modern AGE’s core, as is appropriate for games where characters will be deeply embedded in complex societies.

Fantasy AGE features magic as a core assumption instead of an optional extra. Certain rules emphasize the special roles of each of its classes. It has several talents not present in Modern AGE, such as Armored Training and Horsemanship, which could be used for modern games, but represented cases rare enough for me to exclude them in favor of others. Fantasy AGE’s magical Arcana can expand the range of what’s available for Modern AGE characters, and Modern AGE’s new rules might be useful for many Fantasy AGE games, but in the end they’re separate lines, with differences that in some cases, cut right down to core systems. We trust you to perform whatever creative mashups you like. I for one would love to hear about any such “FrankenAGE” games.

Jump into the Action! Modern AGE Quickstart Is Out!

Modern AGE RPG Quickstart Cover Image: Three characters in modern-day garb strike dynamic poses on an urban rooftop, lit from below. Skyscrapers tower in the background.A disease with no Earthly origin strikes. A legendary monster stalks back streets. Refugees from another world hide in our own, afraid of secret authorities. Gates between worlds, a sly demigod and a conspiracy introduce the Modern AGE roleplaying game with its new quickstart!

The Modern AGE Quickstart contains streamlined rules for Modern AGE, a game of contemporary adventure which uses the Adventure Game Engine found in Fantasy AGE and Blue Rose: The Age Roleplaying Game of Romantic Fantasy. Pre-set to Modern AGE’s Cinematic rules mode, it includes everything you need to run your first game except six-sided dice, writing materials and your friends. Along with the rules, the Modern AGE Quickstart comes with ready to play characters and Burning Bright, a modern fantasy adventure in its own mini-setting.

Using the full rules in the Modern AGE Basic Rulebook, you can continue the quickstart adventure, or devise an entirely new campaign. Modern AGE is designed to support any modern era setting from the Age of Sail to near future action. Modern AGE releases this June, followed by the World of Lazarus campaign setting, based on Greg Rucka’s comic series of future feudalism.

Jump into the action and download the Modern AGE Quickstart!

Image from Modern AGE Quickstart: A cigar-chomping, bearded mercenary stands in the foreground, with a wicked knife strapped to his flak jacket. In the distance, a magical-seeming castle looms atop a wooded hill.

Modern Monday: Occasionally Asked Questions

For this Modern Monday I’ve harvested Modern AGE questions from the Ronin Army forums. Instead of just copying and pasting them, I’ve synthesized some repeated questions into stuff I can answer in one go. I also made up a couple of questions I figured you’d want answered.

Persistent detective work pays off. Or just asking.

Is it a standalone game?

Absolutely. You don’t need Fantasy AGE (or any other AGE RPG) for Modern AGE. The World of Lazarus, Modern AGE’s first supplement, does require the Modern AGE core. That said, there are many useful things you might port between various games. Modern AGE’s Breaching rules, which cover capers and other complex cooperative tasks, would be interesting to apply to other AGE games, and in a modern fantasy game Fantasy AGE and Blue Rose both have elements which can be ported to Modern AGE.

Does work on Modern AGE affect other Green Ronin projects, or vice versa?

Modern AGE is one member of the Adventure Game Engine family, so naturally some folks are curious about whether work on Modern AGE affected, or will affect, releases for other games. Nope! Each game has its own line developer and writers who know how to manage their time. I did some writing for the Fantasy AGE Companion and the Titansgrave setting, but this happened during draft cycles, while writers were working, so it didn’t delay anything else. The production schedule gives it its own space. It’s all good.

Will there be cross-genre support?

Yes. This is handled in a few different ways. First, campaign mode (Gritty, Pulpy, Cinematic) can be used to fine-tune how various things work, so you can decide how action-oriented your game is. Second, the Game Mastering section devotes significant space to various genres, on their own and by historical period. This kind of “soft” support can be found throughout the game, including in suggestions on how to adapt various systems for specific genres and periods. Third, the game does have a slate of powers you may or may not choose to add to your campaign. That brings us to the next question:

Are there powers?

Modern AGE provides detailed support for two types of powers: magical arcana and psychic disciplines. These are mechanically similar in their base treatment, but the rules include options for distinguishing them from one another. In addition, the game has a “rough draft” treatment of the sort of minor powers we often see in TV series. If you want full-on superpowers? Well we have this game you might have heard of, called Mutants and Masterminds.

How does classless AGE work?

In Modern AGE, characters are initially defined by a social class and its associated background, a profession, and a drive. These provide initial ability bonuses, talents and other traits. As you level up, you choose further ability and talent advances, along with a few other things such as specializations. You can’t improve the same ability twice in a row and will eventually incur the multiple advancement cost for peak improvements, so this prevents doubling down on Fighting, for instance. Your character’s special abilities are defined by talents and later, specializations.

How does Health work?

Your character’s initial Health is determined by profession, drive and Constitution. When you advance, further increases are based on the game’s mode. In Gritty mode, your Health doesn’t increase at all. In Pulpy mode, the increase is 1 + Constitution (minimum 1). Cinematic mode grants the full 1d6 + Constitution per level increase might know from other AGE games.

Where’s the book at?

Modern AGE has passed through initial layout, proofing and copyfitting stages (copyfitting is when we tweak the text to flow better in the layout). The advance PDF, which we release so you can get an early look (and point out typos) before we absolutely lock down the text for print, will be coming very soon indeed. After that it goes through processes to get things into print.

What About the Quickstart?

Even sooner. Days. The Quickstart gives you streamlined rules pre-set to Cinematic mode, ready to play characters, and a modern fantasy adventure, “Burning Bright.”

Other questions?

I read the forums at www.roninarmy.com regularly. I can’t guarantee I’ll answer all your questions but posting there is the best chance of putting them in front of my eyes.

Next Modern Monday?

I don’t know. Maybe I’ll announce a new book or something. See you then!

Modern Mondays: Get Your Fight On

As we ramp up to Modern AGE’s release, let me tell you a little bit about how we handle contemporary-era combat. That means firearms, but I’m also going to talk about the ins and outs of combat in general.

Get Your Gun

A Modern AGE round lasts about 15 seconds, so we knew right away that a ranged attack roll wasn’t always going to represent one shot, even when characters aren’t spraying fully automatic weapons around. The assumption is that unless you’re using a firearm where you must reload after every shot, each attack roll represents several shots aimed at the same target (and other targets, provided you use stunts—but more of that in a bit). In most cases, you’re pulling the trigger as fast as you can. This raises two questions. First: Shouldn’t those extra bullets make a difference? Second: How do you track ammunition?

While Amy wades into the fray, Brian’s about to demonstrate the violent benefits of teamwork.

The answer to both lies in the Stunt Die. We wanted to wring more information out of the rolls you’re already making. When it comes too hails of bullets, the Stunt Die represents this by adding to damage whenever you use a weapon capable of rapid fire, be it semi- or fully automatic. The Stunt Die also determines when you run out of ammunition in a way that needs to be addressed during the encounter. In most cases, characters are assumed to have as much ammunition as they need, and to reload during pauses in the action which aren’t necessarily measured in game terms. However, if you miss, check to see if the Stunt Die is equal to or greater than the firearm’s capacity rating, which varies from 2 to 6 (a Capacity of 1 is a single shot weapon, and simply noted as such instead of being given a number). If it is, you use the action specified by the weapon (a minor action for a typical magazine-loaded handgun) to reload. Gritty games modify this to make running low more likely and require characters to state they’re carrying spare ammo.

When it comes to the various tactical options available based on the firearm you choose, Modern AGE has an array of firearms stunts, some of which are keyed to specific weapon types. For example, Short Burst and Suppressive Fire require automatic weapons.

Get Trained

Except for Stunt Attacks (see last week), most of what you’ll see in Modern AGE’s combat rules will be familiar if you’ve played games like Dragon Age, Fantasy AGE, or Blue Rose. One of the main differences are stunts, which are curated into focused lists for various forms of combat. This means Melee Stunts are available if you’re attacking with fists or blades, and Grappling Stunts are on hand for when you want to restrain your opponent. Incidentally, to allow for some basic personalization in unarmed combat, Brawling and Grappling are separate Fighting focuses with distinct stunt groups, though both inflict damage with a basic attack roll. There’s no “grappling subsystem” in Modern AGE beyond that.

Where unarmed combat has been split up slightly, other aspects of combative character development have been streamlined compared to prior AGE iterations. With no classes, there are no niches to protect by penalizing characters for using weapons. Thus, there’s no non-proficiency penalty. You make a standard ability-based attack roll and if you have the focus, benefit from its bonus. Furthermore, since there’s no need to sequester certain light weapons for the use of a particular class, Fighting now applies to all melee attacks, and Accuracy applies to all ranged attacks. To develop a fighting style, pick the focuses you want and talents which support them, such as Pinpoint Attack (which has a name Fantasy AGE players may recognize) and Self-Defense Style. Top it off with specializations like Gunfighter, Martial Artist, or Sniper.

Get Tough

The other new character-centered factor in combat is the Toughness trait, which is equal to your Constitution. Like armor (which is less common in modern games), Toughness absorbs damage, but the type of damage depends on the game’s mode—that is, one of the three genre-based rules options which apply to your campaign. In Cinematic Mode, Toughness works on virtually any form of damage, while in Gritty Mode, it only applies to what we call stun damage: the kind of stuff you take from a punch in the face. Pulpy Mode lies in the middle, absorbing damage from close combat weapons but failing against ballistic damage, which most firearms inflict.

Get Ready

Next Modern Monday I’ll talk about the game’s social and investigation systems. Since most modern settings feature functioning governments and societies, even wandering trouble shooters must deal with more than ruins and woods filled with, let’s say, angry bears. (Or indifferent bears. Don’t go near bears.) How do you run interrogations, make friends and grab clues? I’ll tell you then.

Modern Monday: So. Many. Stunts.

Modern AGE is a couple of weeks from going to print. In this final stage, we’re refining the look of the game. One of the things we introduced late in the process was a system to color code the three campaign modes (Gritty, Pulpy, and Cinematic) so their rules options are easy to find. Plus, Modern AGE isn’t a one-and-done affair. We’re simultaneously fine-tuning the Modern AGE Quickstart and getting together a Modern AGE GM’s Kit featuring a screen and reference cards.

Oh yeah: There’s one other product in development that’s about 50% through final text development. But I won’t be talking about it until it’s been through a couple of other stages.

Anyway, back to those reference cards. They include a lot of stunts. Modern AGE uses stunts to represent exceptional success, but also for certain special moves which in other games, would involve a special subsystem. This changes how stunts are framed compared to other Adventure Game Engine RPGs like Fantasy AGE or Blue Rose.

Stunt Attacks

One new major action in Modern AGE is the Stunt Attack. In combat, you forego the standard result of an attack—inflicting damage—to automatically gain 1 stunt point. You still get stunt points from doubles. These and other sources of stunt points (usually Relationships) stack with your free SP. This is how you perform actions which in other games, would be resolved with a “grapple check” or something. In many cases it’s better to inflict damage, but when you gain talents and specializations which enhance your stunts (such as Modern AGE’s Martial Artist, who gains bonus stunt points for some stunt attacks) it can become a powerful option.

Core Stunts and Stunt Picks

Due to the expanded role of stunts, Modern AGE includes a whole bunch of them, bundled into specific categories, such as Grappling Stunts and Membership and Reputation Stunts (which support that game’s more robust social system. Two new “non-rules” enters the game to deal with the risk of decision paralysis. Every stunt list has labeled Core Stunts. These have low or variable costs, and are generally useful, so when you can’t decide on your stunts, these are your picks. Related to this non-rule is the next: is the book’s explicit advice to pick stunts you like and want to use ahead of time. Make your own menu and see how it plays out.

These are “non-rules” because they’re just ways to help you pick stunts. They never limit your selections. You can still pick any appropriate stunt you can afford! Eventually, you’ll find your favorites and use them to define your character’s personal style, but you can always switch them up. It’s a lens, not a locker.

Vehicular Stunts

As you might have predicted after seeing a similar system in the Fantasy AGE Companion, Modern AGE gives you the option to run vehicular combat without tracking a Health Point equivalent for cars and such. While the GM can assign Health values to vehicle parts and special effects for destroying them, affecting the vehicle as a whole involves Anti-Vehicle Stunts whose effects range from making the target vehicle harder to handle, to turning it into a twisted, flaming wreck. Some attacks, such as those with an anti-materiel rifle, can generate more powerful stunts against vehicles.

Chase Stunts are another new stunt group affecting vehicles, though they can also influence mounted or foot chases. These interact with Modern AGE’s chase rules. Again, if you’ve seen the Fantasy AGE Companion you’ve seen a version of these rules, though they’re not exactly the same as their modern counterparts.

More? Monday?

This isn’t everything you can do with stunts. In fact, I’m going to plug the Fantasy AGE Companion again and recommend its rules for stunt pools and stunt packages, which could easily be used with Modern AGE. Furthermore, we’re working on a few new options for stunts in that book I can’t talk about yet!

My evasive behavior will change soon—I promise! This is the first Modern Monday column, and as we ramp up to launching the game, and getting it to you in its “early bird” PDF medium, you’ll see more about Modern AGE, its principles, and our plans for the line. These include the World of Lazarus campaign setting, based on Greg Rucka’s comic of the feudal near future. See you next week!

Why call shotgun unless you really mean it? In case you’re wondering, Brian’s on the left side because this is Sean’s fancy British car.

 

 

Ronin Roundtable: Driven and Motivated

One of the new elements in Modern AGE is Drive, a trait which sets your character’s emotional motivation. You pick Drive at character creation, where it provides a small capstone benefit. If you use the Conviction rules (you’ll recognize these from Blue Rose: The AGE RPG of Romantic Fantasy, though they’re optional in Modern AGE) Drive also influences how it works.

But I’ll let you in on a secret: The best thing about Drive isn’t mechanical. It’s the principle of the thing.

I think virtually everyone has played a game where getting the characters involved in the story is a challenge. Roleplaying games have taken several stabs at pushing characters to act. The first tactic is no tactic at all. The game sort of assumes the GM’s job to convince the characters unfolding events are worth their time. When I was playing games as a teenager, this was virtually the only method. Combined with teenage defiance, this led to a lot of glaring and nonsense until everyone settled down. Another tactic is to weave characters into the setting, with responsibilities and problems which force them to get things done. More recent games have suggested ways to signal the GM about a thing your character might go for due to an obsession, goal or personality trait. This is a more focused version of the first, GM-as-salesperson method. Then we have background-driven motivations, ranging in length from one-liners to long backstories which are supposed to kick characters into action.

Drive is similar to all of these but isn’t quite the same. It’s a lot like “alignment” in some ways, and it absolutely is a personality trait, but its function is more than a description of the character’s psyche. Now when you get the book, this will probably read as overselling it, since Drive is not a mechanic designed to dazzle with innovation, and in nuts-and-bolts fashion, is fairly conventional. Here’s a Drive from the upcoming Modern AGE Basic Rulebook. It’ll look totally familiar to folks who’ve played a lot of RPGs.

Protector

There are a lot of threats out in the world, and you guard against them. Exactly what you consider a threat, and who or what you are protecting from it might vary, but the most important thing is you are not going to stand idly by when you could act.

Your quality is devotion to those under your protection and to your ideals, no matter what challenges lie in your path. Your downfall is recklessness when it comes to putting yourself (and others) in harm’s way to protect your charges.

Talent: Misdirection or Protect

Improvement: Health, Membership, or Reputation

What’s her motivation?

So why am I going on like this? I want to make its purpose clear. Drive is a personality trait that always answers the question: “Why are you getting involved?” Always. Because in Modern AGE, character creation assumes the question, “Are you getting involved?” is always answered in the affirmative. This is a subtle but important difference from games where the GM is supposed to sell you something, and games where the facts of the world (“I’m in the Secret Service,” or “They killed my master and I want revenge?”) dictate involvement. Drive is a personality trait which explains why your character is emotionally invested in the story.

Is this rhetorical sleight of hand? Absolutely. But it has a fine pedigree. Drive has a precedent in improv, where performers are urged not to block ideas that come out of the on-stage, brainstorming-while-acting process. So, when you crack the book open and pick a Drive, keep in mind that this isn’t a general blueprint of your attitude as much as the part of you that compels your commitment.

Drives are emotional, not factual, for a simple reason: Campaigns feature ever-changing conditions. Modern AGE also tells you to write down character Goals. Goals transform over time, but your Drive usually doesn’t. (Here’s an optional rule: If you want to change your Drive later, that’s fine, but you don’t get the benefits that come at character creation, except for how your new Drive affects Conviction, if you use it.)

Drive is primarily a way for you to develop your character’s emotional connection to the story. We can map it as a Mad Lib, as follows:

My inclination to be a [DRIVE] makes me want to get involved with [SITUATION] because [MOTIVATION], so I’ll [ACTION].

[DRIVE] is the Drive trait on your sheet.

[SITUATION] is what’s happening in the story.

[MOTIVATION] is an account of how your feelings about the situation inform your actions.

[ACTION] is what you will do.

To demonstrate how this works, I’m going to take the sample Drive, Protector, and hit the “Situation” random generator button at http://writingexercises.co.uk/plotgenerator.php. I get

A political demonstration turns into chaos.

Therefore:

My inclination to be a Protector makes me want to get involved with a political demonstration which has turned into chaos because I’m afraid of my friends getting hurt, so I’ll find them and lead them to safety.

In this model, a character goal is a situation that’s always happening—at least until you completely accomplish it.

Breaking this down makes it seem more complicated than it really is. The process is intuitive. As long as you exclude blocking the situation (by refusing to deal with it in an interesting fashion) it comes down to: “This is how my emotions push me to deal with what’s ahead.”

Drive is really a principle with an incidental game mechanic, adaptable to pretty much any game. It’s an attitude shift where getting into the story is your character’s premise, not their problem. In a fantasy game, instead of saying, “As a True Neutral character, I don’t care about this battle between good and evil,” say “As a True Neutral character, I need to accompany my friends to this struggle between the Moral Powers to test the strength of my convictions. Can I maintain detachment amidst all this struggle and suffering?”

Awkward Segue to Factual Update!

So, what’s going on with Modern AGE? The Basic Rulebook text is going through the production cycle right now. Its first setting, Lazarus (based on Greg Rucka’s comic of the same name, developed for Modern AGE by Crystal Frasier) has also entered production. The text for two small pieces of support for the game (to be announced) are also finished, and first drafts of an upcoming book are coming in.

I can’t wait to share it all with you. I’m driven—and I’ll say more about it all another time.

Ronin Roundtable: Why Your Big Bad Gets Clowned

I’m excited. Hal’s been showing me art from the Modern AGE Basic Rulebook (that’s the core game, with all the rules you need to play) as the book goes through the production process (yes, it’s been written, playtested, edited and is now going through Adobe sorcery. Meanwhile, I have a team of authors working on the Modern AGE Companion, a book of optional systems for the game.
In case you missed previous posts, Modern AGE is the AGE system game designed for contemporary adventures, covering a period from the dawn of the industrial era to the present day, with options for different genres, psychic powers, and magic. Since the art is coming in, I want to use it as an inspiration to talk a bit about adversaries, not just in this game, but most traditional roleplaying games.

Art by Victor Moreno ~ “They’ve waited a long time to meet her, and you don’t want her keeling over in the first round.”

 

Enter the Devil’s Advocate

I’ll be nerd-biographical: Back in the 80s, I was playing in a house ruled AD&D game (who wasn’t, if they were playing back then at all?) where we slashed and burned our way past the “sweet spot” levels, where, at least by the standards of AD&D, the game remains balanced and easy to run. People often identify this range as levels 4 to 8. We’d hit 15th. Our DM Rick was obviously struggling, since he had to choose between foes with raw, big numbers, which turned combat into a grind, and enemies so complex that he needed to do significant planning ahead of time. We came, we saw, we conquered.

Then one day, things were a little different. Rick told Talid, one of the players, to sit right beside him. We got into the game. A wizard teleported behind us—and behind cover—nuked us with a bunch of fireballs courtesy of an item . . . and teleported out again. Talid chuckled. He was playing that damn wizard. Rick had offloaded the job of running a complex adversary to him. We eventually called him the “Devil’s Advocate,” not for the villain he was playing, but for the position. Just like old-school games had “mappers” and “callers,” we had a titled job for the person who played our enemies, distinct from the GM.

The Players’ Cognitive Advantage

Many, many groups have done this, of course, but I don’t mention this for its novelty, but because it taught me a game design principle which I’ve kept in my pocket ever since. Given the same character and familiarity with the system, a player will almost always use that character more effectively (at least in interacting with rules and challenges) than the GM.
I’ve noticed this in virtually every game I’ve witnessed, played in or run, and the reason is easy to tease out of the story, above. A player usually has just one character to deal with. They can become extremely familiar with that character, develop strategies, and devote their full attention to effective play. The GM doesn’t have that luxury; they’ve got other NPCs to run, an adventure to manage, and a campaign to track—and GMing is, for many people, more tiring simply because of the type of social interaction, where you speak to a group and must keep it focused.
And this power imbalance is often frustrating, especially to math-centric GMs, who can see their NPC should be balanced against the PCs, on paper, but ends up being a pushover. It’s not the math. The players are smarter than you—at least in this instance. They have a cognitive advantage.

Diabolical Advocacy and Streamlining

You can solve this in one of two basic ways. First, you can have a player act as Devil’s Advocate, running villains for you. It’s fun, but in many cases the pendulum swings the other way, and the enemy becomes too powerful to handle.

The other approach is to simplify the procedures for running your enemy. The crudest way to do this is to create adversaries who can only perform one task competently, like beat you up and absorb damage. The disadvantage here is that one-trick enemies can get boring. The variation we use in Modern AGE is to give many adversaries distinct abilities that serve as shorthand for what would otherwise be convoluted sets of abilities, or add flavor that a foe’s basic abilities don’t impart. For example, the Criminal Mastermind adversary has several abilities to stay dangerous without needing to shoot anybody, such as:

  • All According to Plan Stunt: For 3 SP, the mastermind can declare that another NPC present in the scene was working for them all along. That NPC betrays the heroes or produces some information or equipment the mastermind needs right then, and counts as their ally from then on.

(The Criminal Mastermind has other abilities, but you’ll have to grab Modern AGE for the full rundown. I’m not trying to tease, but this post is pretty long. Sorry.)

  • Scot-Free: Whenever the characters would capture, kill, or otherwise defeat the mastermind, the GM may offer the player of the character who bested them 5 SP to use at any point in the future on a relevant test, even if the winning test didn’t roll doubles, in exchange for the mastermind escaping to oppose the heroes another day. (If you’re using the optional Conviction rules, the player gains 1 Conviction instead.)

Both the Devil’s Advocate and streamlining are fine tactics for dealing with PC/NPC imbalance, and which one you use will depend on a bunch of other considerations, such as whether anybody wants to play Devil’s Advocate. Remember that this problem won’t come up if you know the rules better, or can marshal other advantages that compensate for your more diluted attention—and remember that sometimes, the PCs should win. Never snatch victory away when it’s truly deserved.

Ronin Roundtable: Green Ronin in 2018, Part 1

It seems like just yesterday I was wondering if this Y2K bug would indeed wreak global havoc (spoiler alert: it didn’t) while working on plans to start a new game company. Now here we are 18 years later and Green Ronin is still going strong. Although last year was challenging in many ways, we are starting 2018 in a great position. We have a bunch of projects nearing completion, fantastic new games in the works, and great prospects for the future. Today I’m going to talk about our plans for the next six months. I’ll then do another one of these in June to discuss the second half of the year.

The Expanse

Our biggest project this year is The Expanse RPG. We announced that we’d licensed James S.A. Corey’s terrific series of scifi novels last year and since then Steve Kenson has

been leading the team designing the core rulebook. In a few months we will be Kickstarting The Expanse RPG and the rules will actually be done before we even start the crowdfunding campaign. The game uses our popular Adventure Game Engine, as previously seen in our Dragon Age, Fantasy AGE, and Blue Rose RPGs. We’re excited to take AGE into the future! The Expanse RPG will release in August, debuting at GenCon.

Modern AGE and Lazarus

Want a new AGE game before the summertime? We’ve got you covered! Modern AGE launches in the Spring thanks to the hard work of Malcolm Sheppard and his team. The game lets you run games anywhere from the Industrial Revolution to the near future, with or without supernatural powers as you prefer. Concurrent with that we’ll be releasing the World of Lazarus, a campaign setting based on the amazing Lazarus comic by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark. Its compelling setting provides some timely commentary on current political trends and is a great place to tell stories.

Fantasy AGE, Dragon Age, and Blue Rose

Fantasy AGE and Dragon Age fans will be delighted to hear that two long awaited books are nearing release. Jack Norris and his team have finished the Fantasy AGE Companion and Faces of Thedas and both are now in layout. The Fantasy AGE Companion is the first big rules expansion for FAGE, offering up many ways to expand your game. Faces of Thedas brings a plethora of Dragon Age characters from the video games, novels, and comics to life, and adds some great new rules for relationships and romance. Speaking of romance and fantasy, Joe Carriker and his team have been working on the next book for our Blue Rose RPG. Aldis: City of the Blue Rose is a comprehensive sourcebook about the capital of the Kingdom of Aldis.

Mutants & Masterminds

We are kicking off 2018 with a bang with the release of the new edition of Freedom City, the signature setting of M&M since the game’s first edition. It releases to stores this week so now is the time to check out the city that started it all. Later in the Spring we’ll be releasing Rogues Gallery, a new collection of villains for your campaign. Crystal Frasier skillfully shepherded both of the books to completion, though they were begun by her predecessor. The first book she led from start to finish was actually the World of Lazarus but you’ll be seeing more of her vision of Mutants & Masterminds later in the year with the Basic Hero’s Handbook and Superteam Handbook.

Nisaba Press

Last year we hired Jaym Gates to start a fiction line for us, and this year her diligent work will pay off as Nisaba Press takes off. We will be releasing short fiction from our various settings monthly, and releasing two novels a year. The first will be Shadowtide, a Blue Rose novel by Joe Carriker. We’ll be following that up later in the year with our first Mutants & Masterminds novel.

Freeport and Ork

At the start of this article I mentioned the beginnings of Green Ronin back in 2000. The company’s very first releases were Ork! The Roleplaying Game and Death in Freeport, a modest adventure that launched our longest running property. The new edition of Ork is finished and entering layout. It’s great beer and pretzels fun. Return to Freeport is a six-part Pathfinder adventure coming later in the Spring in which Owen K.C. Stephens and his team really captured the feel of the City of Adventure.

SIFRP and Chronicle System

All good things must come to an end and such is the case with our beloved Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying. Our license expired in 2017 so there will be no new material forthcoming. We can continue to sell the books we’ve already released, however, so those will remain available to those who want to adventure in Westeros. Our series of compatible Chronicle System PDFs will also continue, first with Desert Threats, a new collection of creatures. Some of the rules material from our last planned SIFRP book, the Westeros Player’s Companion, will be released under the Chronicle System brand with the Westeros specific content removed.

To the Future!

As you can see, we’ve got an action packed six months ahead of us. Later in the year we’ve got excitement like the Sentinels of Earth-Prime card game and the Lost Citadel campaign setting for D&D 5E. Thanks for your continued support! We really do appreciate it. Here’s to some great gaming in 2018!

Ronin Roundtable: Modern Ork!

No, that’s not coming out. But wouldn’t it be a hoot?

I’m contracted to act as “Developer at Large,” for Green Ronin, because is suits my role working on whatever needs to be done. Ork! The Roleplaying Game (Second Edition!) and Modern AGE are on my mind, as varied elements of my job, with one thing in common: They’re both in production. Ork! got there in September, and Modern AGE entered that stage earlier this month.

I developed both games, but their respective processes were very different. With Ork!, I followed in the steps of Jon Leitheusser, who did initial development, which in turn was based on the original game by Chris Pramas and Todd Miller. As Todd Miller is basically the ork god Krom, and all iterations of Ork! are intended to follow his mayhem-soaked vision, it was my job to make sure the project was properly . . . soaked. Spattered? Maybe that didn’t come out right.

 

Modern AGE put me in a more traditional role, developing the book from start to finish. Chris Pramas had ideas for how to make a classless, contemporary Adventure Game Engine RPG. I carried those into an outline, selected writers, sent nagging emails to writers (they didn’t need them, I’m just insecure) developed multiple drafts, directed playtesting, and adjusted everything. It’s hard to find landmarks for a game designed for wide open, multi-genre play, so in the end I went with the systems and ideas I wanted to see combined, in a single package.

What does “in production” mean? That the final drafts have been written, edited and put through a pre-layout proof. Using techniques I’ll call “sorcery,” (Note: I do not do layout) the layout person (often Hal) turns these drafts, which are .rtf files with markup Adobe software recognizes, into book-like PDF files. Meanwhile, artists submit sketches based on my art notes, and along with other folks, I approve them or request changes, until they end up as finished pieces.

My art notes could be better, as they’re the aspect of the job I have the least experience with, but they’re coming along, and sketches are coming in. For Ork!, that means reviewing Dan Houser’s humorously brutal illustrations, like one of an prideful ork getting crushed by Krom! (This is basically how the game’s mechanics work, by the way.) For Modern AGE, I’m helping artists get the looks of iconic characters just right. Modern AGE uses a common set of characters, players and an “iconic GM” in illustrations and examples, so it’s important to me that consistent visuals follow.

Once the finished art is added to the prototype layout we go over everything again, and check the files for technical issues too. At that point, as someone who is on the creative side of things, I assume the finished files float into the stars as wisps of fragrant mist (I also imagine the wisps are purple—maybe Blue Rose wisps are blue though) and by divine providence, materialize as books in warehouses. There are Ronin who apparently do work related to this; their tasks are a mystery to me. I must ask them what color the wisps are and also, why are they always annoyed with me for asking stupid questions?

The upshot of this is that both games are on track for an early 2018 release. This is how they got there—at least, as far as my part of it goes. Now, onward. Forward. There are new projects in line. Modern Ork! is, sadly, not one of them, though who knows? The idea is starting to grow on me.

Ronin Roundtable: Upcoming Releases!

Well that was a GenCon for the books! Absolute mayhem at our booth, with folks lining up to grab our new releases. The announcement of the Expanse RPG license. New opportunities and incredible partnerships in the offing. It was amazing and we have you to thank for it. 17 years in business and we are stronger than ever before. Seriously, thank you!

We’ll be taking a couple of days to recover but then it’s back to work on our next batch of books. This seems an opportune time to update you on our releases for the next six months. We’ve got a lot going on so let’s get to it!

RPG Releases

Our next book will be the new edition of Freedom City for Mutants & Masterminds. We’ve been working on this for a long time and the hour is finally nigh! This is the original setting for the game, the metropolis that birthed the Earth-Prime setting. And at 320 pages it’s as mighty as Captain Thunder! Look for Freedom City in October.

November is a triple threat. We’ve got another Mutants & Masterminds book, Rogues Gallery. This was a PDF series we did for the last couple of years. The book collects all the villains from that and adds some new ones as well. If you are looking for foes for your PCs to tangle with, Rogue Gallery has you covered. Next up is the Fantasy AGE Companion, the first major rules expansion for the game. It adds new, fun material for almost every aspect of the game. There are new talents, specializations, arcana, and spells, as well as rules for chases, relationships, organizations, mass combat, and more! Finally in November we’ve got the second edition of Ork! The Roleplaying Game. This was Green Ronin’s very first release 17 years ago. Ork is a beer and pretzels RPG, great for one shots or when you want a lighter hearted game. Show those evil Squishymen who’s the boss!

 

We also hope to get Faces of Thedas, the next Dragon Age book, out before Xmas. The final text for that is up with BioWare for approval. Once we get that signed off on, we’ll be able to slot it into a month for release. Watch our social media feed for more on Faces of Thedas in the coming months.

 

As you can see, we’ve got quite a lot planned for the rest of 2017. For this reason we decided to move Modern AGE and the World of Lazarus from their original November release date to January. This gives us more time to develop the books, and lets us start 2018 with a bang. Modern AGE takes the Adventure Game Engine to Earth, letting you run games anytime from the Industrial Revolution to the near future. World of Lazarus, the game’s first support book, lets you play in the setting of Greg Rucka’s awesome comic. If you haven’t read Lazarus before, do yourself a favor and check it out. It’s seriously great.

In February we’ve got two more releases: Mutants & Masterminds Basic Hero’s Handbook and Return to Freeport. The Basic Hero’s Handbook is both an entry point for those new to Mutants & Masterminds and a useful table reference for anyone playing the game. If you’ve been interested in M&M but looking for an easier way to learn the game, the Basic Hero’s Handbook is for you. Return to Freeport is a six-part adventure for the City of Adventure. It’s the first new adventure content we’ve done for Freeport in some years, and it’s designed for a Pathfinder RPG campaign that’ll take you from levels 1-11. At nearly 200 pages in length, Return to Freeport packs in a lot of adventure!

Nisaba Press

A few months ago we announced that we were adding fiction to our lineup and that we had hired Jaym Gates to lead that effort. Our fiction imprint is called Nisaba Press and the Offerings sampler we released at GenCon and online last week gave you the first taste of what we’ve got cooking. We’ll be publishing short fiction monthly and novels and short story collections in print. In November we’ll be publishing Tales of the Lost Citadel, an anthology of stories set in the world of our upcoming Fifth Edition setting that we Kickstarted this summer. Then in January we’ll have our first Blue Rose novel, Shadowtide, by Joseph Carriker. Joe has also become line developer for the Blue Rose RPG, so he’s all up in Aldea!

More to Come

So that’s the overview of what’s coming in the next six months. We have our yearly planning summit next month and we’ll be making plans for the rest of 2018 and beyond. We’ve already got some awesome stuff in the works, like the Sentinels of Earth-Prime card game and the Expanse RPG. I’ll be back early next year to talk about more of our plans. Game on!