World of Lazarus: Handling Asymmetric Gameplay

A World of Lazarus campaign doesn’t need to include a Lazarus as a player character, and in fact much of the book assumes the players are ordinary people trying to survive in this extraordinary world. The gamemaster’s chapter includes four general campaign models: Family, Serf, Waste, and Resistance, with the first three focusing on the various tiers of society that define the Lazarus setting and the fourth focusing on organizations like The Free who work to upend that stratification and restore basic human dignity to everyone. Each campaign model has its own player-character suggestions, objectives, adversaries, and nuances that can make for very different campaigns, and none require a Lazarus among the PCs’ numbers. For three of these campaign models—Serf, Waste, and Resistance—Lazari serve more as adversaries and boogeymen than heroes.

But we all like a power fantasy now and then, and World of Lazarus delivers with all the information you need to make player-character Lazari. But if every Family is only supposed to have one of these champions, how do you handle that at the table? Most roleplaying games are built around symmetric gameplay—the idea that player characters should be roughly the same power level. Fighters and wizards play differently, but if they start to feel too different, it feels unfair. Making asymmetric gameplay—where one player is more powerful than the others—work can be challenging, because you run the risk of one player being able to solve every problem, leaving the other players feeling useless and bored.

World of Lazarus describes several options for incorporating a Lazarus into your game, but the key is to design your adventures and opponents mindfully, making sure the Lazarus can’t do everything themselves and that there are challenges that showcase other players’ abilities. You wouldn’t design a fantasy adventure where every puzzle and every opponent could only be overcome by divine magic, and likewise you need to make sure you don’t build your Lazarus adventures in a way that every challenge is overcome by a Lazarus’s superior combat abilities. You may build combat encounters with one or two high-level threats the Lazarus must focus on, with other opponents that the non-Lazari party members can take out, or build your entire campaign with the intention of the Lazarus handling combat scenarios, but the focus including many scientific, investigation, or social challenges that the human party members can solve.

World of Lazarus details four ways of including a Lazarus as a prominent, permanent element in your own campaigns, which boil down to:

  • Lazarus Oversight, in which the Lazarus is an NPC the PCs report to directly every session, and who may occasionally join them on adventures as a plot device.
  • Rotating Lazarus, in which every player makes their own human-scale PC and collaborate to make a Lazarus as well, then take turns every session playing the Lazarus as an active party member.
  • Tip of the Spear, in which one player is the Family Lazarus, with the rest of the players playing various support elements. This suggestion is especially fitting for Family campaigns, considering that all Lazari receive special condition to enforce their loyalty, and so despite their power, the Lazarus PC is subservient to the other PCs.
  • The Phalanx, in which every PC creates either a Lazarus or a lesser version of a Lazarus, representing a coalition between families or an illegal attempt to circumvent the “one Lazarus per family” rule enforced by the Maccau Accords.

There are plenty of other ways to include a Lazarus in your game, from an occasional guest role to a cooperatively-played pseudo-PC to an NPCplot device the PCs can unleash as their secret weapon. The possibilities are limited by the deviousness of your own imagination. And you can always use the Lazarus talents to allow players to create half-measure Lazuri agents without applying the full Lazarus creation rules.

WORLD OF LAZARUS: MORE HUMAN THAN HUMAN

One of the major themes in the Lazarus comic books is humanity: What does it mean to be human and when do you stop being human? At the lowest end, the Waste of the world are treated as livestock to be used or discarded as needed and at worst as pests to be exterminated. The concept of human rights is a relic of the past, unknown to much of the world’s population, and so many Waste exist at the fringes of both civilization and humanity: They fight and hunt and scavenge to survive, even turning on one another. Are you still human when all the world—and maybe even you—regards you as an animal?

 

 

Of course, the comics address the other end of this chilling question: When are you so advanced you essentially graduate beyond humanity? Joacquim Morray is more steel than flesh. Li Jiaolong’s mind exists in the digital realm and operates a heartbeat away from singularity. Forever Carlyle cannot die. Are any of the world’s Lazari still human when their lives are so far removed from all the essential constraints that define mortal lives?

The World of Lazarus would be remiss if it didn’t allow players to tackle these same questions (and kick butt doing it), and so the book introduces the concept of Augmentation talents to the Modern AGE system. Augmentation talents are special categories of talents locked behind story-based walls and only permissible with Gamemaster permission, and grant characters an extra boost above and beyond what ordinary talents provide. Most player characters will have access to the four Minor Augmentation talents—Acuity, Adrenal, Resilience, and Strength—which represent minor upgrades to the human condition powerful entities can grant their favored agents. Minor Augmentation: Adrenal, for example, boosts a character’s speed and response times, allowing them to react faster in combat, evade enemy strikes, and push their accuracy beyond human potential by overstressing their body. While Minor Augmentation talents can provide a competitive edge, they pale next to Lazarus Talents—Armor, Awareness, Cognition, Endurance, Muscle, Prowess, Reflexes, and regeneration—which reflect the pinnacle of science wielded by the Families. While every Family doles out minor augmentations as rewards to loyal Serfs and useful agents, Lazarus talents are reserved and secretive, developed and possessed solely—in theory, at least—for a Family’s Lazarus and no one else. Lazarus talents can provide suites of unusual or unique abilities, such as Cognition’s ability to predict the future or Prowess’s ability to move at top speed without making a sound.

Because the Families in the world of X+65 command a variety of sciences and construct their Lazari in different ways, Augmentation talents focus on the results rather than defining how characters get there. A Carlyle agent and a Morray agent can both receive Minor Augmentation: Strength as a reward for their service, but the Morray talent represents implanting artificial muscle fiber or replacing whole limbs with cybernetic prostheses while the Carlyle reward reflects genetic engineering. While mechanically identical, the different applications of the talent will represent different changes in the characters’ lives: an inhuman appearance for the Morray cyborg and a lifetime dependency on maintenance drugs and hormone therapy for the Carlyle mutant.

The World of Lazarus campaign setting even provides additional rules for creating a Lazarus of your very own (either as a player character, or as an NPC for your own campaign), as well as several options for including Lazari in your campaigns and full statblocks for four Lazari appearing in the comics: Forever Carlyle, Sonja Bittner, Joacquim Morray, and Li Jiaolong. But to show how easy it is to make a Lazarus of your own, I’ll run through the process here to create a Lazarus we didn’t include: The Zmey, the barely-controlled engine of destruction that serves as the Vassalovka Family’s Lazarus! We very deliberately omitted this ultimate physical antagonist’s statistics from the book itself so each Gamemaster could custom-build their own version to always be a potent threat regardless of their group’s experience and makeup, but for this blog we’ll benchmark the Zmey to be the equivalent of a 12th-level character—slightly higher than Forever Carlyle’s listed benchmark.

Here’s what you need to know to build a Lazarus for your own World of Lazarus Game:

  • Build a Character: Lazari start like normal characters, except they always have the option to select a Family background to represent superior training. We’ll build him by buying Ability scores, giving him Accuracy 1, Communication -1, Constitution 2, Dexterity 1, Fighting 3, Intelligence 0, Perception 1, Strength 3, Willpower His background is deliberately obscured in-world (but check out last February’s issue of the Lazarus X+66 miniseries if you want the inside scoop), and while it’s not canonically perfect, I’m giving him the Minor Family Background, the Soldier Profession, and the Survivor Drive.
  • Add a Bonus Profession: To reflect their extra training, a Lazarus selects a second Profession from a list, gains the Focus and Talent provided, and selects the better starting Health and Resources scores from between their two professions. Because the Zmey is a big, terrifying guy, Brawler for his second Profession.
  • Add Bonuses: A Lazarus gains additional bonuses to health and their choice of Abilitity scores. In the Zmey’s case, we’ll add the bigger bonuses to Strength and Constitution, and the smaller bonuses to Fighting, Perception, and Willpower.
  • Add Lazari Talents: A starting Lazarus begins with Novice rank in two Lazari talents, and can acquire additional ranks in place of their usual talent selection as they level up, with the limitation that they can’t improve Lazarus talent ranks two levels in a row. The Zmey’s fearsome strength and resilience make Endurance and Strength the obvious choices here.

This gives us an impressive statblock, but remember this is the equivalent of a starting Lazarus and we want the equivalent of a 12th level Lazarus! So we have an additional 11 Ability advancements, 11 new Ability Focuses, and 11 Talent improvements! You don’t have to create your NPCs as if they were player characters—and in fact you’ll get much more focused, less cluttered character sheets if you just select Ability ranks, Focuses, and Talents that feel appropriate—but I like this method personally and so we’ll stick with it for now.

After adjusting for additional levels, here’s the version of the Zmey that will haunt my players’ nightmares:


The Zmey

Accuracy 2 (Assault Rifles)

Communication 0

Constitution 6 (Stamina)

Dexterity 2 (Initiative)

Fighting 5 (Brawling, Flexible Weapons+, Grappling, Short-Hafted)

Intelligence 0 (Families)

Perception 3 (Hearing)

Strength 7 (Intimidate+, Might)

Willpower 4 (Courage)

 

Speed: 12         Health: 81/165/210        Defense: 12/14/15         AR + Toughness: 4I/4B/2P + 6/7/9

 

Attacks

Unarmed +7 1d3+2d6+7 S
Axe +7 4d6+7 W + 1d6 P
Flail +8 3d6+10 W + 1d6 P

 

Favored Stunts: Lightning Attack

Talents: Clearance* (Novice), Dual Weapon Style (Master), Elite Soldier (Expert), Grappling Style (Novice), Overwhelm (Novice)

Lazarus Talents: Armor (Expert); Endurance (Master; Meningeal Reinforcement, Thermoregulation, Tireless), Prowess (Novice; Weapon Mastery [Flexible]) Strength (Expert; Crushing Grip, Muscularity)

Equipment: Axe, Heavy Flail, Skull Belt

Threat: Dire

 

World of Lazarus: It’s Time to Organize!

Players coming to World of Lazarus from other Green Ronin titles are probably vaguely familiar with the organization rules used in the Dragon Age Roleplaying Game, Fantasy AGE, and A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying. This simple, flexible system lets players take control of a noble family, thieves’ guild, mercenary company, or nation of their very own as a core part of the campaign. With the setting’s intense focus on the responsibilities and effects of character’s actions on the world around them, this system is a natural fit for World of Lazarus as well!

The setting book includes a few sample organizations already, including the Novaya Bratva crime empire and a sample Waste town, but you can make your own as a core part of your own campaign, using adventures to help shape the PC’s organization and their impact on rival organizations. For PCs playing Waste, they might build up their own tiny community and target organizations representing warlord armies, aggressive towns, and the local tax man. Resistance-focused campaigns might instead use the rules to represent the PCs’ resistance cell and network of supporters while their opponents include Family intelligence organizations, law enforcement, and criminal groups looking to pressure freedom fighters into supporting their own illegal empire. For a Serf campaign, organizations can represent anything from rival research groups in a scientific and corporate-espionage-focused campaign to enemy forces in a military campaign.

But we already started thinking about a Family campaign last week when I created my own character for a campaign, Carrie Morrow, a loyal but ruthless intelligence agent for the Quinn family, who are desperately trying to hold the Borderland South Sub-Domain together in the face of war and Family power struggles. The PCs can operate their own organization representing to Quinn family and their power base, and for this kind of campaign we’ll want some enemies… Say the local Hock forces eating into the eastern border? And a rival Family hoping to oust the Quinn’s and take their place? And just to keep the players on their toes, we’ll toss in something stealthy… say an up-and-coming dark web media group associated with the Free and prying in to family business. Each of these organizations will need their own statblock, a few named NPCs so the PCs have something human to recognize with their forces, and a modus operandi. But that’s all behind-the-scenes work for the GM. For now, let’s focus on what the players can build: Their own Family!

The GM decides that a Junior Family like the Quinns has Medium Scale, and lets us build the Quinn Family by selecting organization Ability scores from an array: one 3, two 2s, two 1s, and a 0, plus 2 Focuses representing important assets or focuses. The Quinn Family is stretched pretty thing right now, dealing with a war and political backstabbers, so we’ll want a good Force for military confrontations and a decent Tradecraft to help handle spies and political intrigue. We need to decide who the Quinns are, what makes up their power base, and what unusual assets they might be able to call one. After fifteen minutes of passionate debate and some light name-calling, we arrive at:

  • Force 2
  • Finance 0
  • Influence 3
  • Culture 1
  • Tradecraft 2
  • Technology 1

The Quinns are popular and know where all the bodies are buried—controlling the local media outlets and entertainment venues—probably with strong ties to CARSEC, but their lavish lifestyle has left them cash-strapped and perhaps lagging technologically behind what would be expected of a Carlyle house. Organization Focuses can be more abstract than character Focuses, and for the Quinns, we go with Influence (propaganda) and Finance (blackmail); the Quinns can put some serious pressure on people when they need to, making up for their empty bank accounts, but it won’t win them many new friends.

Being built with an array, the Quinns begin with a Cohesion of 3 and 28+2d6… 36 Capital. That’s all an organization needs to get started. Now the GM just needs to figure out how frequently the PCs will make Organization checks, which in turn determines the timeline of the campaign. Organization checks once a month means things are hitting fast and hard, with constant struggle and changes in power, while every three months or every six months would be more appropriate for drawn-out political maneuvering in a campaign intended to covered years. The GM wants the campaign to be high-energy and high-stakes, so we’ll go with once a month, usually with a PC-scale adventure somewhere in between Organization checks.

A PC organization gives the GM additional hooks for adventures; a bad Organization check may result in a drop in Influence, and the adventure may involve tracking down whoever is trashing the Quinns’ reputation, for example. A PC organization also provides additional options for rewards. The PCs capturing a renown Hock scientist as part of the adventure may provide a free Technology Focus while a remarkable public victory over an opponent in an adventure could restore organization Capital. Especially with an intrigue-oriented campaign, it’s important for the PCs’ personal action to feel like they have larger consequences, and affecting their organization or others is an easy way to represent that!

Welcome to the World of Lazarus

The World of Lazarus campaign setting for the Modern AGE roleplaying game is almost ready for launch. As our very first supplement and setting for Modern AGE, we’re both proud and nervous, but being huge fans of the critically-acclaimed comic book, we’re more excited than anything.

For those of you who haven’t yet read Greg Rucka and Michael Lark’s comic series, Lazarus is a dystopian, near-future world that is deeply divided between the haves and the have-nots. The comic paints a broad picture of an eerily realistic future, with a handful of corporate oligarchs ruling over the teeming masses in a world ravaged by climate change, disease, and war. While it doesn’t provide many opportunities to bust out the rules for magic and psychic abilities found in the Modern AGE core rulebook (or maybe it does; it’s your campaign), it provides a lot of other elements that make for a great roleplaying game setting.

 

Lazarus is cyberpunk, but that incredible technology is only available to the most powerful figures on Earth, and those directly useful to them. Genetic engineering, cybernetic, quantum computer—these are all technologies mastered by the Families who rule to world, but are only available to their most trusted assets.

Lazarus is post-apocalyptic, but only to those who can’t buy their way out of its impact. War, pandemics, and super-storms have wiped out large swathes of the population and rendered once-bustling cities into ghost towns. The wealthy and powerful can insulate themselves from the decay, living in technological utopias and living lives familiar to us here in the 21st century—working 9-to-five jobs, picking up dinner, and relaxing to browse social media. But those without means, the vast majority of humanity, live hand-to-mouth in grueling, nearly medieval conditions or else go off the grid entirely to scavenge and hunt a living in the fallen ruins of the old world.

Lazarus is political thriller, where the actions of people on-high dramatically impacting the lives of those below them, but also where the actions of the teeming masses make the powerful sweat and toss in their sleep. The wealthy are held up by sophisticated social machines, and anything that throws a wrench in those gears threatens to topple their empire. Intrigue and quiet deals with the devil happen at all social levels, and test characters’ resolve and morals.

This is a fun, flavorful world ripe for a hundred possible campaigns, from Serf soldiers fighting a war with next-gen technology to desperate Waste survivors eking out a living and exploring ruins to maybe, finally strike it rich enough to know comfort.

World of Lazarus Character Creation: Carrie Morrow

We didn’t have room for a character creation example in World of Lazarus itself, so please indulge me while I run through a quick character to show how easy it can be and how character creation shapes the kinds of campaign’s you’ll run. I’ll generate Carrie Morrow, starting off with just a name because it makes it easier to reference her as we build. And also because I like the name Carrie.

Character creation uses the rules from Modern AGE, so let’s start out by rolling up some random ability scores: A 12 in Accuracy gives us a 2. The rest are 12, 11, 11, 14, 7, 15, 11, and a 6. That gives us:

  • Accuracy 2
  • Communication 2
  • Constitution 1
  • Dexterity 1
  • Fighting 2
  • Intelligence 0
  • Perception 3
  • Strength 1
  • Willpower 0

I can swap any two scores, but I’m going to hold off for now. Right now Carrie is a decent scrapper, charming, and has a keen eye, so lots of ways this character can go depending on what else we roll up for her, but I’m thinking whatever her background, she’s been to the school of hard knocks and learned most of life’s lessons the hard way.

To roll her background, we need to know Carrie’s social class, and to know that we need to know what kind of campaign the GM wants to run. World of Lazarus offers for main campaign models—Family, Serf, Waste, and Resistance—with each model having difference focuses and challenges. Let’s go for a Family campaign, because I like the idea of Carrie stumbling through complex family politics with her respectable Communication and poor Willpower. Let’s say the campaign is about the Quinns, a Junior Signatory Family in service to the Carlyles, left to run the Borderland South Sub-Domain as Stephen Carlyle left to replace his father in leading the Family and the war with Hock escalates.

Rolling some more dice gives us a 3 for her social class—Carrie is a middle-class Serf—and another 10 for her Background, so Carrie is a Retainer, one of the new backgrounds in World of Lazarus:

“Your loyalty and diligence earned you a position within a Family household, directly or indirectly attending to the needs and wishes of a member of the Family. Your position may grant you certain privileges over other Serfs, but only as long as you remember your place.”

So Carrie is a toadie to the Family. I can work with that. A Retainer gets +1 Intelligence, either the Communication (persuasion) or Intelligence (homemaking) focus, and Novice ranks in either the Contacts or Social Survivor talent (another new addition to this book). I’ll go for Communications (persuasion) and the Contacts talent. A roll on the Retainer table also gives us a 9 for the Intelligence (law) focus.

Let’s Roll a middle-class profession. Because Lazarus adds extra Professions, we roll 1d6 and then a second 1d6, getting a 5 and a 4: A Breacher. This is another new option in World of Lazarus, basically amounting to a specialist at getting into and out of complex systems—a sort of high-end professional thief or corporate espionage artist; not where I expected this character to go. A Breacher gets 15+Con Health, starting Resources of 6, a choice of the Dexterity (sabotage) or Intelligence (security) focuses, and either the Burgalry or Freerunning talents. I’ll go with Intelligence (Security) and Burglary; they mesh well.

At this point, I’m going to use my free ability swap to trade Carrie’s Strength and Intelligence; she’s got a lot of Intelligence focuses, and as a thief I don’t want to lower her Communications or Perception.

Finally, we’ve got to determine Carrie’s Drive. Two more six-siders gives us 6 and 5. Carrie is a Savior. She sees some clear evil in the world and works to spare people from it. Given the Family-oriented campaign and her career as an acquirer of important things, we can safely assume that Carrie is a true believer: she believes in the inherent superiority of the Family and their rigid social order. She’s a follower, and at this point I start poking the other players to see whose agenda she clings to and supports without question. Thanks to her Drive she gets either the Command or Inspire talent (let’s go with Command), and a bump to either her Health, a Relationship, or Resources. I’ll go with an extra Relationship slot, and save that for another player who plays a Family scion.

Here’s what her character sheet looks like:

Lazarus_MorrowCharSheet

And here’s her story:

The Morrow family has served the Quinns for generations as lawyers and bureaucrats, but Carrie Lilah Morrow serves in a starkly different capacity. Firmly believing in the principals of social Darwinism, she knows that her elevated position is a result of her family’s hard work and superior skills, and by extension the Quinn’s must work harder and be possessed of even greater survival traits to flourish in the harsh modern world. She has seen the world outside the Family estates and comfortable Serf residential blocks and know that people—those people who refuse to respect the system—fight and kill over the most meager scraps rather than accept the Family’s generous Labor Reward Point system, and the Quinns need to be shielded from the harshest of those realities if at all possible. Attending school alongside the next expected Family leader, Amelia Quinn, Carrie made an eager sycophant and enabler, doing whatever dirty work the Family scion found beneath her or wouldn’t want traced back to her. She still remains at Amelia’s right hand, now serving the Quinn family as a spy and saboteur.

Carrie probably has a lot of growing and eye-opening ahead of her in this campaign. It should be fun!

The World of Lazarus Pre-Order and PDF

The World of Lazarus (pre-order and PDF)We are big Lazarus nerds here at Green Ronin, so we’re giddy to announce that The World of Lazarus setting for the Modern AGE RPG is now available for pre-order and PDF download. And, when you pre-order the physical book, we’ll offer you the PDF version for just $5! If you prefer to shop in person, participating Green Ronin Pre-Order Plus retailers can get you the same $5 PDF deal. Have them ask us for details.

The World of Lazarus is the first campaign setting for Green Ronin’s new Modern AGE RPG. Based on the critically acclaimed Lazarus series by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark and presented by Image Comics, the book brings this noir dystopia to tabletop roleplaying games. In the near future, time has rendered death obsolete, and life infinitely cheap. In the wake of governments’ failure and global upheaval, the Families stepped in and divvied up the world. Now peace and order reign in a world of technological marvels and neo-feudalism. The Families quietly war with one another, wagering the lives of loyal Serfs while they relax in lives of indulgence, all while the Waste—those left behind by this new order—struggle daily for base survival. Play members of a Family in the highest of high-stakes game, Serfs fighting for their Family’s interests to maintain order and safety, or disaffected Waste fighting for a better life in the burned ruins of the old world. The World of Lazarus requires the Modern AGE Basic Rulebook for use.

Ronin Roundtable: Ronin Ramblings!

With summer beginning to fade, I thAldis: City of the Blue Roseought this would be a good time to give you all a general update about goings on at Green Ronin. These last couple of months

have been a whirlwind. We had a great GenCon and released Aldis: City of the Blue Rose, Modern 

AGE and its GM’s Kit, as well as the Basic Hero’s Handbook and Rogues Gallery for Mutants & Masterminds. We also ran a hugely successful Kickstarter for The Expanse Roleplaying Game. We were literally on the edge of our seats in the final hour, wondering if we’d hit $400,000 and thus secure a new James S.A. Corey

Modern AGE Basic Rulebook

short story to go in the game. With 10 minutes left to go, we crossed the threshold. It was exciting! Huge thanks to all the backers of the Kickstarter, and of course to Daniel Abraham and Try Franck (together, James S.A. Corey) for not only creating a fantastic scifi universe but also doing so much to help us promote the RPG. If you missed the Kickstarter, never fear. You’ll have more chances to hop onboard.

After a brief pause to catch our breath, it was back into the breach. I was PAX West last weekend doing some panels, one of which (Designing Worlds: Experiences Creating Tabletop RPGs) you can see here: https://www.twitch.tv/videos/304840481?t=

Hal meanwhile has been working on laying out our next several books. Ork: The Roleplaying Game (the new edition of Green Ronin’s very first RPG!) is at print

Pre-Order and PDF: Basic Hero's Handbook for Mutants & Masterminds

now and is available as a PDF and for pre-order. Hal is currently working on World of Lazarus, the first setting for Modern AGE (based on Greg Rucka’s awesome comic) and the long-awaited Faces of Thedas for Dragon Age. You should see PDFs and pre-orders for both of those books in the near future. Meanwhile, Hal is also working with James Dawsey on the artwork for Sentinels of Earth-Prime, a Mutants & Masterminds card game using the Sentinels of the Multiverse rules we’ll be releasing next year. Jaym Gates has also been working hard to get our fiction imprint, Nisaba Press, up to cruising speed. Our first novel, a Blue Rose tale called Shadowtide by our own Joe Carriker, has just gone to print. More Nisaba news coming soon.

Next weekend is our annual Green Ronin Summit. While we have a cluster of people in Seattle, much of our staff is scattered across the country working

remotely. We thus find it valuable to fly everyone here once a year, so we can get together in a non-convention environment and talk over our plans for the next 18 odd months. We’ll be considering various proposals, deciding on the schedules for our game lines, and doing some long-term strategizing. Oh, and eating an

ungodly amount of cheese. Can’t have a summit without cheese! Or webmaster Evan’s famous ice cream.

Later this fall we’re back on the convention circuit. Nicole and I are hugely excited to go to Australia for the first time for PAX Aus in Melbourne. We’ll have a booth there (and a cool unique pin through the Pinny Arcade program) and we look forward to

meeting Aussie gamers face to face. A week later I am a guest at Week End Geek in New Caledonia. If you had told young me that gaming would one day get me to the other side of the world, I would not have believed you! Certainly, South Pacific sun in November sounds better than Seattle rain. Once we’re back home, we’ll close out the year at PAX Unplugged in Philadelphia.

Stay tuned for more news and updates. Fun stuff always comes out of the Summit!

Ork! The Roleplaying Game, Second Edition

 

 

Modern Monday: What’s Up? And Your Cool Idea From Gen Con

Modern Monday isn’t as frequent as it used to be, because Modern AGE is out! Buy it, play it, talk about it online. Today I’m going to talk about what’s happening with the game before finishing off with a cool idea put forth by multiple gamers at Gen Con.

(Want to dip your toes in first? Try the free Quickstart out.)

It’s out. Spread the word with your phone, not, uh, the other tool.

What’s Coming Out?

The Modern AGE Basic Rulebook is winging its way through distribution chains (and if you click on the link, you can get it straight from us, too). Preorders were on the march before distribution. We had this at Gen Con and it sold well enough that we had to order more halfway through the convention. I’m not sure how many we got altogether, but we went home with one box of ten. As developer, this lightened my heart.

We had advance copies of the Modern AGE Game Master’s Kit at Gen Con, and it should be following shortly. That’s the GM’s screen and reference cards. Being a middle-aged man, I found it weird when people bought this without getting the core, but of course someone explained to me that many of you had the game on PDF and wanted a hardcopy table reference. My beard visibly grayed in response.

The World of Lazarus is the first Modern AGE setting, based on the acclaimed comic series by Greg Rucka. It’s currently finishing layout. This is Crystal Frasier’s project, though I covered a modest chunk of writing. I love the comic and am looking forward to this. We expect this one to drop in a matter of weeks.

The Modern AGE Companion has fully edited text and art notes. It’s due to come out in early 2019. This is a counterpart to the Fantasy AGE Companion, in that it includes many new optional rules, including advanced talents, duels, horror, fantasy and SF backgrounds (like elves . . . and aliens), powers, technology, fighting styles—lots and lots of stuff. As it gets close to release I’ll preview some of its content.

On the Horizon

We have a tentative plan for Modern AGE that covers future releases. As I’ve explained here and there, I usually only announce books when they’re text-complete, so this part’s going to be vague even though some of these are already in production. Note that anything on this list is subject to change, but it includes the following:

  • Adventure support.
  • Adversaries and other NPCs across a range of genres.
  • One original setting with a very broad scope. If it performs well, it will become Modern AGE’s flagship setting.
  • At least one other setting. Setting pitches have been very popular for this game.
  • A dedicated Game Master sourcebook.

Like I said, things in this list are subject to change. I don’t lock things in until they’re close to completion.

Damn, I Wish I’d Thought of That: Shifting Mode

As mentioned, the Modern AGE Companion’s text is finalized. This is almost a pity, because I get new ideas all the time. However, there’s one thing I can’t take credit for, which three different people proposed at Gen Con: mode shifting.

Modern AGE has Gritty, Pulpy and Cinematic Modes to match your campaign’s style. These geniuses of Gen Con suggested being able to switch modes mid-campaign. This is a fantastic idea, meant to reflect things like the transition from a Gritty investigation to a Cinematic shootout. Of course, it can also be used to create games where, outside of set piece combat, characters can be effectively knocked out and captured. Here’s how I suggest you do it:

  • Calculate each character’s Health in all three modes. When the mode changes use the new Health score. Calculate the amount of damage accumulated separately from a character’s Health score. When your character’s base Health goes up due to a change in mode, recalculate their remaining Health by subtracting damage from the base. When your character’s base Health goes down due to a change in mode, use the lower of base Health or their remaining Health after injury, if any.
  • Use the Defense and Toughness scores of the most lenient mode the campaign will be shifting to. If you’re using all three modes, that’s Cinematic. Recalculating these really isn’t worth the effort.
  • Apply all other mode rules based on whichever one is in play, except the one for Resources. Pick one mode for that and stick to it. The main ones are how Toughness works, and which stunts you can access.

A Little Bit of Gratitude

Modern AGE seems to be a success. Before I go, I want to thank you for making it that way. Enjoy it, Play it. Talk about your campaigns. Have fun.

Ronin Roundtable: The Expanse Versus Modern AGE

I’ve been back from Gen Con for nearly a week, having carried back some great memories—and annoying microorganisms. I got “con crud” in whatever form managed to hit my throat, chest and sinuses, while mixing in a fever. I’m running hot right now. And yet, through the haze of my illness, I remember many, many questions related to our recently-released Modern AGE, and its still-in-Kickstarter cousin, The Expanse Roleplaying Game. The Expanse features some elements originally devised for Modern AGE but is its own game. To sort out the details—and remind you that Modern AGE is out, and we’d love you to crowdfund The Expanse! —read on.

Both Games Are Core Books

First off, many people wondered if you needed Modern AGE to run The Expanse. You do not. The Expanse Roleplaying Game is a complete game based on the AGE (Adventure Game Engine) system. However, both games are compatible to various degrees. Modern AGE has a different selection of stunts which can easily be ported over, and has extraordinary powers such as psychic disciplines, which you might want to use in some personal variant of The Expanse. If your primary interest is Modern AGE, new rules for equipment and space travel are among some of the elements you can convert, along with Fortune, interludes, injury conditions and the Churn.

Both Games Are Classless

Not “classless” as in “something Amos might say or do,” but as in bereft of the character classes used in previous AGE games like Fantasy AGE and Blue Rose. In both Modern AGE and The Expanse, characters pick a background, profession and drive: Where they’re from, what they did, and why they get involved with the story. Where the games differ is that while Modern AGE presents a spread of options suited to a wide variety of contemporary settings, The Expanse’s counterparts come straight from the setting of the books, and incorporate the unusual environments of Earth, Mars and the Belt, leading to characters deeply embedded in its future history.

Each Game Has Its Own Take on AGE

While Modern AGE’s core systems were the basis for The Expanse’s design, we see the Adventure Game Engine as something which should be deeply customized for each setting. In Modern AGE, which has no core setting, this is accomplished through game modes (Gritty, Pulpy and Cinematic—see here for more on genres and modes) and other options. The Expanse novels present a defined reality for characters to operate in, however, so its rules have been tuned accordingly. Therefore, injuries are tracked using conditions in The Expanse, instead of Health, as they are in Modern AGE, with Fortune acting to moderate them according to a character’s dramatic arc.

Similarly, the narrative tone of The Expanse includes the optional Churn system, where luck is always answered by new challenges, because this is how the books play out. Modern AGE doesn’t have that system, though the upcoming Modern AGE Companion will include Dramatic Rhythm, which Game Masters can apply for similar effects.

Parallel Lines

I’m the developer of Modern AGE. Steve Kenson is The Expanse’s developer. We’re treating these as two independent lines for the sake of support and supplements, so that expansions such as the Abzu’s Bounty campaign don’t use a release “slot” (assuming there even is such a thing) earmarked for Modern AGE.

Plans for supplements for The Expanse beyond Abzu’s Bounty and The Expanse Game Master’s Kit have yet to be announced. Modern AGE’s core book is shipping now, with the Modern AGE Game Master’s Kit to follow (we had an early shipment come in for Gen Con, so those of you who bought a copy then got the jump on everyone else!). Next up for Modern AGE is The World of Lazarus (based on Greg Rucka’s comic of near future, posthuman feudalism, unrelated to The Expanse) and in early 2019, the Modern AGE Companion.

The Expanse is in mid-Kickstarter, but You Can Get Modern AGE Now

Since the Modern AGE developer is writing this column, he/I get to use the last bit to blatantly hawk that game. It’s for sale! It’s shipping! Get it from us or favorite supplier.

However, in fever-wracked visions (seriously, Gen Con made me unwell) I can see Steve frowning, so I will also mention The Expanse Roleplaying Game is in mid-Kickstarter. Back it so we can kick over final stretch goals, including new fiction by James S. A. Corey!

Modern Monday: Modern AGE is Out! What’s It About?

Yes, Modern AGE is available for print pre-order! This means you can also order the PDF immediately, either on its own, or with your book as part of Green Ronin Pre-Order Plus program. Tell your friends! Post on websites! Don’t believe every placeholder date you see posted in Amazon and vendor sites! Even as we speak, the game is in the queue to go to press.

It’s been a trip, from turning the slate of ideas (modern and classless, with some character creation structure provided by Chris Pramas) into a testable, then finished game. I didn’t want to just add guns and technology to Fantasy AGE. To produce an implementation of the Adventure Game Engine that fits the period, we developed some basic design principles. I’ve talked about these before, but since the game is out, I don’t mind going over them again. After that, I’ll talk about where we go from here.

Action, Exploration, Social

Modern AGE structures play around three areas. The Action area includes combat, chases and physical danger. Exploration covers literal exploration along with investigations and breaking into guarded locations.  Social interactions are essential to modern games, which usually take place in highly organized societies where politics are stronger than physical force.

Consequently, we developed new systems and stunts to support the three areas. Chase rules expand what’s possible in an action scene and can apply to chases on foot or horseback as well as in vehicles. Breaching and investigations support capers and procedural stories. For social interaction, we made relationships and memberships, first introduced in early AGE games, core parts of Modern AGE.

Indra and Jeff perform a classic adventure task with new tools. That’s one way of looking at Modern AGE.

Stunts

Modern AGE goes all-in with stunts. Stunts are a distinctive feature of AGE. They perform tasks other games often handle with dedicated subsystems. Grappling and other special combat maneuvers are dealt with here. Instead of using Health points, vehicles get damaged through a special slate of stunts.

The emphasis on stunts requires a change in how players should approach them. Stunts are organized into focused lists, and we’ve expanded how many are available. While any character can use any appropriate stunt, we recommend picking your favorites, including stunts modified and improved by talents and specializations.

Game Modes

The three game modes—Gritty, Pulpy and Cinematic—let you modify rules to fit the genre which best suits your campaign. I’ve talked about this in prior Modern Mondays, including last week. Mode most notably affects how characters resist damage with Health and Toughness, but also influences stunts, chases and even Resources.

Getting into the Game

The Modern AGE Basic Rulebook includes everything you need to play the game, including an introductory adventure designed with fantasy and science fiction options, should you wish those to be part of any subsequent campaign. In addition, Freebooter Game Masters at Origins and Gen Con will both be running “Warflower,” an adventure with similar variation.

Want a taste of Modern AGE before you get the core book? The Modern AGE Quickstart features a cut down Cinematic mode rules set, pregenerated characters, and a modern fantasy adventure.

What’s Next?

We’ve announced three upcoming releases. World of Lazarus adapts Greg Rucka’s dystopian feudal future comic for Modern AGE. It’s currently going through finishing touches in layout. The Modern AGE Game Master’s Kit includes a GM’s screen and reference cards. It’s at press.

Further along the line, we have several other books at various stages of completion. The one we’ve announced is the Modern AGE Companion, which has just finished editing. This book presents many, many new systems you can use to adjust the game for the genre or feel you prefer.

See You in a Bit

With the core book out, it’s time for me to give Modern Mondays a rest for a little while. I’ll be back from time to time, to talk about upcoming releases and other projects. I’ve talked your ear off about Modern AGE, but I’ve got another game coming: Ork! The Roleplaying Game, Second Edition. See you around!

Now Pre-Ordering: Modern AGE Basic Rulebook

Modern AGE Basic RulebookThe Modern AGE Basic Rulebook is now available for pre-ordering in our Green Ronin Online Store and through participating brick-and-mortar retailers! And, when you pre-order the physical book, you can get the PDF version right away for just $5! (If your favorite local game or book retailer doesn’t know about the pre-order deal, please point them at our Retailer Support page for details.)

Enter the Modern AGE!

Leap into exciting adventure in any era from the Industrial Revolution to the modern day and beyond. The Modern AGE roleplaying game allows you to shape the setting to suit your style—whether it’s gritty action or high adventure, urban fantasy or a dystopian future. With a new, classless character-building system, twenty levels of advancement, and optional rules for psychic and magic powers, you can create the heroes your world needs. Along with an innovative stunt system, rules for thrilling chases, and an introductory adventure, you’ll find all the action you’re after inside the Modern AGE Basic Rulebook.

The Modern AGE RPG features:

  • A classless implementation of the Adventure Game Engine. Develop characters based on their backgrounds and experiences across 20 levels of advancement.
  • Focuses, talents, and specializations like Investigator, Hacker, and Martial Artist let you customize your character.
  • Fast-paced combat featuring modern weapons and high-octane vehicle chases.
  • A game based around action, exploration, and social stunts. Roll doubles on three six-sided dice and something cool happens!
  • Arcane magic and psychic powers for modern era games.
  • Advice for first time and veteran Game Masters, including ways to customize the system for gritty stories, two-fisted pulp, and cinematic high adventure.
  • Sample antagonists and other non-player characters, and an introductory adventure: everything you need to start playing right away.

Use Modern AGE in the campaign setting of your choice, including the upcoming World of Lazarus, based on Greg Rucka’s creator-owned comic series of near-future feudalism, or use it to run adventures in the world you create. Grab three six-sided dice, and you’re ready to play in the Modern AGE!

Pre-Order Modern AGE Basic Rulebook today!