Threefold: 10 Weird Things in the Metacosm

Hey, I knew I was going to have to toss a listicle in this series of articles about Threefold, our new, original Modern AGE setting, but better to get it out of the way now instead of leaving it for the dregs, right? If you’ve been following along, you know Threefold takes place in the Metacosm, which includes myriad planes of existence, from fantasy lands to alternate Earths, connected by gates. There’s a lot of room for weirdness. Here are ten examples.

Self Pork. Not just good, but good for you. Headless clones only, guaranteed!

Cantor

A life support cannister containing the cloned brain tissue of a mystic who has recited poetry and prose praising science and technology. A properly deployed Cantor mitigates the effects of Incessance, a phenomenon that makes high technology less reliable on certain planes.

Deletion

Erasing an alternate timeline by destroying all intelligent life and sealing it off. One of the duties of Aethon, prime Earth’s transhuman intelligence agency, though they’re not always sure why they have to do it.

Engrammatry

A new discipline in science and engineering in the Haqida Technocratic Republic, a pan-Mediterranean state in an alternate Earth where the Abbasid Caliphate persisted and spawned even more influential successor states. Engrammatry creates physical phenomena through pure computation—reality out of math.

Immortal Crowns: Lands of Wartorn

A fully immersive MMO that allows players to inhabit synthetic “heroes” called Wayknights in the Otherworld of Wartorn. Astrally projected instructions from the player’s rig control their Wayknights, which are themselves relics of a lost civilization. Many normal people also live on Wartorn and fear the bloodthirsty Wayknights.

Krypt

A digital-psychic cryptocurrency rendered unhackable due to a causal interaction with the Titan Core, a future transcendental AI. A Krypt must sync with a physical component, such as a coin or tattoo (the latter has made the skins of certain individuals extremely valuable). The primary currency of the Krypteia, a multiplanar crime syndicate.

Self Pork

A gray market medical foodstuff made of the purchaser’s cloned tissue, prepared as jerky and given a little engineering along the way. Eating self pork made of…well, yourself…instigates rapid healing. The most trusted brand, Choppy, is named for its mascot, who’s got no head and two thumbs up.

Shabda

The universal language, known to wandersouls, those individuals capable of easily perceiving transplanar gates. When one knows Shabda, most languages are translated into and perceived as one’s first language, with occasional unusual nuances, such as posh aliens acquiring comparably posh British accents.

Sky Naga

Creatures who live in floating cloud lairs on the Otherworld of Brylancie. Their aerial battles are responsible for all weather and atmospheric phenomena, so local humans try to appease them by leaving fresh meat out for them at night. Brylancie’s moons are sky naga eggs; their numbers change every few decades. Fallen moon shell fragments are worth their weight in gold.

Shattersouls

Agents of Aethon capable of attuning themselves to their alters, or alternate timeline selves. Shattersouls are valued as deep cover operatives, as they are able to intuit the ways in which a given Earth deviates from the primeline. However, shattersouls are “spread thin,” psychically speaking, and this lowers their resistance to possession and sometimes transfers traumatic memories from alters.

Soulgun

An enchanted firearm capable of sustaining a Relationship (as per Modern AGE) with the user, though this makes said users seem somewhat remote when it comes to dealing with people. Soulguns are particularly favored by arcannoneers, who master channelling magical energy through these and other firearms.

Threefold: What’s in a Name?

Some of you were lucky enough to get the Free RPG Day Threefold Quickstart, and may have learned a bit about this, our first original Modern AGE setting. If not, you can learn a bit more by reading my last article about Threefold, written before the new Quickstart (which we’ll be able to make available to a wider audience in July) dropped.

But what’s in a name? Specifically, what’s in the name Threefold. This got attached to the project early, as a way of acknowledging the three elements I wanted to bind together: modern fantasy, contemporary horror, and near future, Singularity-sensitive SF. As we put it together, nothing else fit better, and in fact, it became even more suitable as we invented more of the Metacosm.

Three members of the Sodality, a branch of the Vitane, survey a new plane.

The Threefold Metacosm

Gates connect most of Threefold’s innumerable planes, allowing passage for those initiated into the Metacosm’s nature. Each plan is unique, but an informed traveler knows they belong to three primary categories.

Earths: Earths consist of the primeline (which connects via gates to Otherworlds) and Alts, branched-off histories (also called worldlines) which rarely have gates, so that they must be reached through Earth via extraordinary technologies. Magic functions poorly on Earth, but natural laws work with such reliable potency that it is the birthplace of the most sophisticated feats of science and engineering. Beings of order and information called Machinors mind the many Earths.

Otherworlds: Otherworlds shimmer with kanna, the creative energy that makes magic possible. Things which are legends on Earth are very real in the Otherworlds, though every myth is inaccurate, incomplete, or out of date. Most of the “gods,” or Hierarchs, have been driven away or gone into hiding, and new societies have sprung from ancient kingdoms. High technology functions less reliably, but magic often replaces it.

Netherworlds: Where Earth’s humans might regard Otherworlds as realms of Golden Age legend, they’d see their Glooms, Infernos, and demonic incarnations in the Netherworlds. Alastor demon-monarchs rule each Netherworld; their personalities influence their domains, and vice versa. Rivers of green fire and bleeding trees are not unusual. Natural laws bend as if influenced by a sadistic intelligence.

A few planes called Heterarchies defy the three categories, as their histories confer unique properties.

The Three Great Powers

Threefold takes place in the present, which is also the waning of the Third Age, which began at the end of the Fellwar: a prehistoric conflict for control of the Metacosm’s souls. Humans of all kinds, from the rough dreygur to the elemental huldra, defied gods and demon lords to bring peace. In that peace, three great powers arose, and now stand at the threshold of a new war, or perhaps some other, unexpected transformation. The powers are:

The Vitane: Risen from refugees of the Fellwar, the Vitane follow a doctrine called the Code of Wisdom which orients its society toward learning, democracy, and respect for the rights of numerous peoples, including the right to be left alone. The Vitane hides itself on worlds where planar travel isn’t common knowledge, including Earth. The Vitane has no true military, but its exploratory arm, the Sodality, includes fighting Protectors alongside its Emissaries and Searchers.

The Divine Empire: The end of the Fellwar threw most of the Hierarchs, the old god-rulers of the Otherworlds, into exile, but their children, the Optimate demigods, still felt they were due certain entitlements. Attempts to acquire these through Vitane democracy failed and eventually, many planes followed a splinter faction under Dyraza, self-proclaimed First (and only) Empress of the Divine Empire. Dyraza was slain by the Alastor, Avakim, and no successor has replaced her, but the Empire’s theocracy, where Optimates rule mortals across dozens of planes, abides.

The Nighthost: During the Fellwar, one host of soldiers commanded by the Netherworlds rebelled, inspiring others to do the same, until they became a mighty warrior society, the Nighthost. Nighthost warbands are raiders and warlords, who respect strength and relish a fair fight—or a properly framed unfair one. They’re a scourge of the planes, but greeted as liberators when they attack Netherworlds, and free their tortured inhabitants.

Okay, there is one more faction, but it’s not transplanar in the usual sense. The Peridexion is Earth’s secret government, under the rule of a collective of transcendental intelligences who monitor multiple spacetime continua. Allied with the Vitane, the Peridexion sends certain agents on missions with Vitane counterparts. We’ll talk more about these organizations next time. As for Threefold, we expect to have it at Gencon—watch for it!

Modern AGE: From the Companion to Threefold

I’m leaving for Origins tomorrow and over there, Green Ronin may well have copies of the Modern AGE Companion available (though at this time of writing, pre-order is still a possibility). Yet it also happens that Origins will fall across Free RPG Day. Due to the rules of Free RPG Day, which put the spotlight on retailers, we won’t have our offering, the Threefold Quickstart, at the booth (862), but I’d love to see in in the wild if you find it nearby!

The new Quickstart is all about the upcoming Threefold setting. Let me tease it a bit here, with the very first worlds you’ll read from the full Threefold hardcover, which is on target for Q3 of this year.

 

 

Introduction

What if you could go anywhere?

Let’s unpack that. By “go,” we mean through gates between worlds: magical portals arrayed in routes called chains. We mean using the quantum ark, which threads our waveforms through the needle’s eye of marginal possibilities to other configurations of time.

By “anywhere,” we mean blinding heavens, fiery hells, machine worlds a century ahead of our own, impossibly sharp mountain tops whose residents are sorcerer-hermits. They don’t want you to visit, but they might be the only ones able to answer some esoteric question, which might even lead you to another world: perhaps via Vigrith, plane of a thousand gates, or Alatum, where the children of lost gods rule an empire, or one of the countless planes where the Nighthost, warriors who defeated their demon generals before recorded history, pillage and conquer.

And by “anywhere,” we also mean parts of our world you thought of as legends, old and new. We mean the rotting mansions of psychic secret societies, the secret labs that make soldiers and spies, the Gray Hand where the secret world government they always warned you about meets.

We mean places that never were, or could have been, or places we fear might exist through superstition or some future dystopian twist, and places we hope exist and are sending their extraordinary agents to help us find the better path.

There are too many possibilities to count, but we’ve settled on some rough classifications. Three of them—and three secret forces behind them. But in the end, you’re the one who might determine the ultimate form of everything that was, is, and shall be. That’s Threefold.

Andrzej, a Sodalt of the Protector branch, as is obvious from his scarab badge. What does that all mean? Oh, we’ll get to that.

Welcome to the Metacosm

Threefold is the first original setting for Modern AGE and, as such, requires the Modern AGE Basic Rulebook for use with the new game systems herein. Threefold is cross-genre, embracing fantasy, horror, and science fiction, and it’s designed to make maximum use of Modern AGE’s possibilities. This means players can potentially use any option in Modern AGE to make their characters, including those that give them extraordinary powers. It means characters can come from a staggering array of backgrounds, from worlds where magic and travel between the planes of existence is commonplace, to the most ordinary lives here on Earth—though in the latter case, those lives are unlikely to stay normal. Using the rules in this book, you can play a demon-haunted occultist, a wizard from a magical college, or a tactical cyborg—and all three of these characters could play in the same campaign.

The backbone of Threefold that allows this is the Metacosm: the universe of universes. There are countless realities, or planes of existence, belonging to three basic categories: Earth and its alternate timelines; the Otherworlds, where magic is a powerful force; and the harsh Netherworlds, where malefic forces reign. In most cases, these planes are connected by gates. Gates are hard to create, destroy, or block, so their presence creates routes through many planes, spawning trade, empires, and warfare. Our Earth is one of thousands of these planes, though our unique physical laws and no small amount of conspiratorial effort hide the greater Metacosm from us.

And?

Here and there I’ll be talking about the Threefold setting, releasing further information before it drops later this year. See you then!

Remembering Alejandro Melchor

This week was supposed to be set aside for me to talk about the Modern AGE Companion a little more, but I want to talk about Alejandro (aka Alex, or Al-X) Melchor instead. Alex passed away last week, due to the extended complications of a stroke he suffered in March.

Alex worked on every Modern AGE book currently at any stage of completion. In the core, he wrote rules, focuses, talents and part of the extensive Game Master advice in that book. He brought his talents to the World of Lazarus, the Modern AGE Companion, and the upcoming Threefold and Enemies & Allies, too. I’m currently looking for writers for a new book. It has an Alex-shaped hole in it now.

I first got to know him through a semiprivate community we shared, in 2001. I’d just been invited, as responses to my early professional work for White Wolf had been good. Alex did some work for them as well before taking an intensive gig with Mongoose Publishing in the early 2000s. I drifted away and he was busy, though I knew him through the Open Game License credits I bumped into while designing my own stuff. In the interim he developed an enormous list of credits, tending toward mechanically intensive work. I’d say one great thing about him is he could work on rules that reinforce stories and atmosphere, because getting game systems down was quick work for him.

Steve Kenson got to know Alex well, and took the lead in doing what we could to help when he fell ill. He reintroduced me to Alex, and Alex became a bedrock contributor for Modern AGE. He did so much more, in his own communities, on other games, and with other creative people, but I don’t want to presume to talk about any of that. We worked hard. We made some good ideas playable together. And he was unfailingly nice to everyone, a born collaborator, but didn’t hesitate to point out what he thought would be bad ideas.

According to family and friends, Alex liked proactive, resourceful, tough woman protagonists. Modern AGE uses a loose set of iconic characters created by the writers. Alex created Indra Winchester, the technically-inclined punk, who you can see on the cover of the Modern AGE Companion and inside the books of the line. In examples, he’s her player. I plan to keep it that way.

It seems so inane to go through his qualities as a creative guy, when of course there was more, but he was my comrade in making games. That’s what I’ve got to work with, even though it’s not enough to give the man his due. He was a visual artist, and beloved by various communities. And more, always more. In and out of this industry, I won’t be missing him alone, and won’t be the only one feeling new gaps in what might be possible, in work and life. I’m going to miss him.

 

Modern Monday: The Companion and Beyond

Last time I was here I gave you a rundown of the Modern AGE Companion, currently at press and available for preorder or just PDF (in our store or at DrivethruRPG). Some of you were surprised our fourth Modern AGE release was already here, but believe me, we’re just getting started.

The world and the game are both bigger than you think.

Using the Modern AGE Companion

My last post provided a rundown of the Modern AGE Companion’s contents. It’s a big book of optional rules, and Modern AGE will generally not assume you have the book when it comes to understanding others down the line, though we may use some of its principles for “back end” design guidance. Thus, a power in a new book might be consistent with the Companion’s rules for extraordinary abilities, but you won’t need both books to understand it.

Some rules in the Companion are integrated with each other (such as the connection between the Demolitions Training talent and the new rules for, uh, demolitions) but in most cases, options exist to disconnect them. Incidentally, here’s a preview of the new rules for blowing things up.

Get a taste of Threefold on June 15th for Free RPG Day.

Burning Brighter on Free RPG Day

Next up, Modern AGE represents on Free RPG Day, with a Quickstart in the new Threefold setting, presenting the adventure Burning Brighter. Think of the old Quickstart as a prototype; this one sends characters across multiple strange worlds, to contend with transdimensional mobsters, the demonic invaders of a subterranean realm, and an unhinged clone—and the baby griffon’s still there, too.

The Threefold Quickstart drops on Saturday June 15 and will be available from participating retailers. While Green Ronin will be at Origins Game Fair this release is a retailer exclusive, so you won’t find it at our booth. However, I would be happy to see any you acquire that you see fit to bring by. I’ll be at the convention all week and would love to see it!

Open the Gates to Threefold in Q3

Threefold is the first original in-house Adventure Game Engine setting since the re-release of Blue Rose for the system. Unlike Blue Rose, which is an entire game, Threefold is a supplement to the Modern AGE core, similar to our licensed setting, World of Lazarus.

Threefold is big.

By “big,” I mean expansive in its ambitions, structure and possibilities for play. I wanted a setting where you could play virtually any character type in any genre, with the three “poles” being transhumanist SF, young-adult style fantasy, and dark fantasy, bound together by the concept of “speculative fantasy,” where weird things have rational underpinnings, and provide dilemmas that can be solved with a mix of clear thinking and idealism. I outlined Threefold as the kind of setting that might last through 20 years and 100 support products, and while I don’t expect that, you don’t get its spirit without wanting that.

“Big” expresses itself in the setting’s worlds—plural. Threefold is a setting of interdimensional travel through alternate Earths, fantasy lands, flame-tossed underworlds, and places that defy easy categories. Connected by gates, the countless planes are more than a mix of possibilities. Transplanar empires commanded by demigods, liberated members of the armies of the damned, and idealistic mystics struggle with each other, while enhanced operatives on Earth “hold the fort,” manipulate alternate histories, and deal with bizarre problems in their own backyards.

I want to tell you more, about the Sodality’s vows, the scarab badges members carry, and the conflict between the AI Lucifer and the counterparts who control organized crime, trading in things like souls and magic swords. But I have to let it drip out slowly. Get the Quickstart for Free RPG Day for more—for now. The hardcover is currently in art and layout, and due for release in the 3rd quarter of this year.

Encounter Enemies & Allies in Q4

Enemies & Allies is a book of strange creatures, useful Non-Player Characters, and optional rules to fit your game to their implied genres. The entries in this book cover modern fantasy, horror, technothrillers, crimes dramas, and near future or secret world science fiction. An appendix rounds things out with options to build creatures and NPCs from scratch, along with guidelines for converting creatures from other Adventure Game Engine games, such as the book’s Fantasy AGE counterpart, the Fantasy AGE Bestiary.

Enemies and Allies is fully written, in pre-production, and scheduled for release at the end of this year.

Get the Word Out

So, this is what’s coming, and when—at least, in terms of things I can talk about. I’ve talked about these books before, but sometimes people miss these messages and default to what they imagine might be happening. I develop most of Modern AGE’s books and follow each of them from conception to publication. I know what’s happening. So, if people are wondering what’s happening with the game, tell them what I’ve told you—or share this article.

Modern Monday: Here Comes the Companion

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about Modern AGE, but that’s not because activity on the game has slowed down. Quite the opposite; we have three new books and an adventure written, and a new quickstart ready to drop for Free RPG Day on June 15th this year.  I can’t cover everything in one post, but I can tell you about the Modern AGE Companion, which is out now! (Preorder with an instant PDF option here!)

Let’s do a 101 on the contents.

 

Cover art by: Victor Leza Moreno

Chapter 1: Characters

This chapter starts by breaking down the logic of character creation in Modern AGE, so you can make heroes using the bare bones of the system. Then we get into something long anticipated: fantasy and science-fictional backgrounds, from human anomalies to elves, dwarves, orcs, spirit-bloods—and even artificial intelligences. Then we move on to rules for handling characters who’ve been born with or acquire traits that may provide extra challenges in adventures.

Check out this sample featuring some of the fantasy and sci-fi types covered in this chapter.

Chapter 2: Talents and Specializations

Next up, we go over optional Grandmaster and Apex degrees for talents and specializations, with some examples of how they’re applied to existing talents. We also present nine new talents and seven new specializations, with full descriptions to the new Apex degree.

Chapter 3: Rules

As the title says! New rules include replacing Health with a damage resistance test, duels, fighting styles, flying characters, using miniatures in combat, advanced rules for hazards, poisons, diseases, fatigue, fear, and horror. These options should be used where they’d fit your campaign.

Chapter 4: Stunts

More about stunts! We start with a general discussion before providing rules to use a single table for all stunts. Then we talk about using these general stunts to make your own suitable for your campaign’s genre, or an adventure’s environment. Use these rules to support everything from swashbuckling panache to fighting in zero gravity.

Chapter 5: Extraordinary Abilities

Powers are one of the most hotly requested additions to the game, and chapter author Steve Kenson might know a little bit about that. These rules don’t turn Modern AGE into a full-on superhero game but are well-suited to lower key “street supers,” cyberpunk, and urban fantasy campaigns. The chapter concludes with rules for items made through magic and other extraordinary means.

Chapter 6: Social Options

New rules for Relationships, along with rules for organizations and social networks, fill this chapter. Characters familiar with other Adventure Game Engine games may have encountered rules for organizations before, but these are expanded to include new ways for characters to directly affect their fortunes. This chapter also includes rules for NPC companions, special stunts, and dramatic complications for Relationships.

Chapter 7: Technology

Here, we provide options for Player Character technicians to jury rig or create devices ranging from simple modifications to weird new inventions, limited by what the Game Master allows. The chapter concludes with guidelines for using explosives in Modern AGE games.

Chapter 8: The Modern Campaign

This chapter includes new rules for Game Masters to use to manage the flow of events in individual scenes and extended campaigns. This includes ratcheting up complications to counteract character success (something you might find familiar from The Expanse Roleplaying Game, in the form of “The Churn”) and rules for serendipity, so good fortune counterbalances failure. The chapter concludes with a system to generate sweeping events in modern games, from political power shifts to natural disasters.

Chapter 9: Genres

Written by Nisaba Press editorial director and accomplished fantasy and SF editor Jaym Gates, Chapter 9 drills deeply into applying genres to your Modern AGE games, expanding on the acclaimed Game Master advice in the core. Sections cover swashbuckling, Gothic horror, 1950s alien invasion, spy-fi, and modern to near future cyberthrillers.

What’s Next?

The Modern AGE Companion is here, but what’s next? Threefold, a new original campaign setting for Modern AGE, which will debut with a new quickstart you’ll get for the princely sum of nothing, because it’s coming out for Free RPG Day! The full campaign book is currently in layout and is scheduled to arrive later this summer. Watch for it—and for what we’ll say about it in the runup to release.

In Cinematic Mode, you never run from explosions.

 

Green Ronin in 2019! Part 3: Dragon Age, Fantasy AGE, and Modern AGE

Welcome back to our look at Green Ronin’s 2019 plans. If you missed the first two entries, you can check them out here and here. In this final installment, I’ll be talking about Modern AGE, Fantasy AGE, and Dragon Age.

Dragon Age

All three of these games are powered by the Adventure Game Engine (AGE), which has become something of a house system for us over the past five years. Blue Rose and our upcoming Expanse RPG also use AGE, so if you play any of these games, you’re learning the core rules of a growing group of RPGs that cover a variety of genres. I originally designed the Adventure Game Engine for the Dragon Age RPG, and it took off from there. I’m thus happy to report that Faces of Thedas, the long-awaited sourcebook for Dragon Age, is nearly here. Once we get the final green light, we’ll put the PDF up for sale and launch the pre-order. The hour is nigh!

Fantasy AGE

Last year we released the Fantasy AGE Companion, the first real rules expansion for the game. We are following that up this year with two books to make running Fantasy AGE even easier. First up is the Campaign Builders Guide, which is designed to help Game Masters create, build, maintain, and run campaigns. It is filled with advice on crafting encounters and adventures, creating interesting monsters and locations, running epic-style campaigns, and more. It also includes tables to help generate campaign elements when a bit of spontaneity and randomness is desired.

After that we have a book called Lairs, which provides a series of detailed challenges you can adapt to your Fantasy AGE campaign. Each chapter presents a terrifying or formidable adversary, their servants and followers, and their headquarters, base, or lair. Also included are rules for lair and scene specific stunts to step up location-based action in your game. Between Lairs and the Campaign Builders Guide, Game Masters will have many new tools to work with.

Later in the year we should have a setting book for Fantasy AGE. Jack Norris and Jaym Gates have been working on a new setting and you’ll hear more about that as the year progresses. We do also still hope to release the Titansgrave world book, but that depends on some things beyond our control getting sorted out. Can’t say any more than that but fingers crossed.

Modern AGE

Last year we launched the Modern AGE RPG, releasing its Basic Rulebook and GM’s Kit. As its name indicates, this takes the AGE rules into a contemporary context. You can use it to run anything from the Industrial Revolution to the near future. Optional rules for extraordinary powers mean Modern AGE easily handles things like urban fantasy or fighting occult Nazis as well. Just last week we released The World of Lazarus, the first campaign setting for the game. It’s a dystopian near future setting based on the Lazarus comics by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark and it’s a great way to get your Modern AGE campaign going. If you’d like to know more about The World of Lazarus, developer Crystal Frasier did a series of Ronin Round Tables about it that you can find here.

Next up after The World of Lazarus is the Modern AGE Companion. This sourcebook expands the Basic Rulebook in a bunch of fun ways. There are new backgrounds, professions, and talents, plus new rules for extraordinary powers, technologies, and organizations. It’s also got a very useful chapter on adapting the rules to various genres, such as gothic horror, alien invasion, and Cold War spies. Summertime will then see the Enemies & Allies sourcebook. If you’re looking for adversaries and NPCs for your campaign, look no further! Since Modern AGE covers many different genres, Enemies & Allies ranges far afield, from elite operatives and scientists to horrors and arcane beings.

Later in the year we are going big with our first original setting for Modern AGE, Malcolm Sheppard’s Threefold. It’s an epic modern fantasy setting where characters explore countless planes of existence. In it, our Earth is only one of many alternate worlds. Beyond them, the Otherworlds contain dimension-spanning empires of godlings and sorcerers, and Netherworlds ruled by demon-gods raise armies of the damned. Characters might travel between planes as agents of the Sodality, an organization devoted to peacekeeping and exploration, defend Earth as cyborg agents of Aethon the conspiracy which patrols multiple timelines, or serve other groups. Threefold is big by design, and broad enough to contain all of Modern AGE’s genre possibilities. Stay tuned for more info and teasers about Threefold throughout the year.

A Banner Year

All in all, 2019 is shaping up to be a great year and there’s more to come. Look for an announcement about our community content program for Fantasy AGE and Modern AGE soon. As always you can keep us with us on this website, Twitter, or Facebook. We’ve got more fun stuff to reveal as the months go by. Here’s hoping 2019 is better for everyone!

Lazarus: World of Lazarus as a Toolkit

Being a game designer means being a tinkerer, and even as you develop a new game, a part of you thinks “this would be perfect for this other game I want to run…” And so I think every AGE book, regardless of the line, is a stealth toolkit for Gamemasters. At least that’s how I went into designing World of Lazarus. While most of the new player backgrounds, for example, have in-world flavor, they are easily adapted to almost any Modern AGE campaign. Minor Family can be translated to “Scion of the 1%” while Herd Worker makes a dang good “Rust Belt Burnout.” Most of the talents are ready to pop over to any Modern AGE game as well (with GM permission, naturally). Except…

What to do with Minor Augmentation and the various Lazarus talents?

The four flavors of Minor Augmentation are built to balance with other talents, and you can always pop them into your otherwise mundane Modern AGE game as “Savant” or something similar: extraordinary but entirely natural abilities a character might be born with that set them apart. In this case, you might want to limit a character to only one Minor Augmentation talent and eliminate the story idea that minor augmentations need regular maintenance to keep functioning (or cause other occasional drawbacks).

The Lazarus augmentations don’t work quite as well as natural abilities. But man… do they work great for a variety of unnatural abilities! As we talked about a few weeks ago, the Lazarus talents represent a wide variety of improvements, from gene-splicing to drugs to cybernetics, and you can use them to reflect any of these options in your own home-spun campaigns! Want to do a gene-punk game where splicing is the new tattooing? Want an urban fantasy game where every PC starts with the blood of something unearthly in their veins? Lazarus talents can even represent temporary abilities PCs get from alien symbiotes, powered armor, or esoteric talismans.

Whatever use you find for Lazarus talents, remember that they offer players a power boost over mundane talents, and so they should come with an appropriate in-world drawback. In World of Lazarus, the setback is story-based: to possess a Lazarus talent, a PC must (theoretically) be a Lazarus. They are at the beck and call of their Family, and rely on their Family to maintain their extraordinary bodies. Loyalty is programmed into their DNA, and disobedience means death. Your own campaigns may impose similar constraints on PCs with Lazarus talents: they might need to remain loyal to a powerful figure to maintain their talents, or need expensive drugs or equipment that constantly push them to take dangerous jobs. They might instead have a more mechanical drawback, such as imposing a level of fatigue whenever the PC uses them in a scene, or requiring a PC to spend Power Points to activate it. It could open up weird new gameplay options: Lazarus talents might represent high-end cybernetics that need maintenance and can be hacked, introducing a minor story cost and a weird mechanical vulnerability.

There’s no perfect way to adapt new rules into your campaign, so play around and see what feels a little too good in play and what seems just right. Make sure your players know the rules might be in flux, and be willing to listen to their feedback as well. If they like the rules even if they seem a little much to you, always remember your NPCs can use them too!

OH! And my personal campaign idea? Roll Lazarus talents in with psychic powers and let my players go mind-diving into weird psy-scapes, Psychonauts-style!

World of Lazarus: Hazardous Contents

I am going to share something personal with all ya’ll here today:

I love hazards. They’re probably my favorite item in the AGE GM toolkit. They’re a quick, versatile little element that helps you balance out the TNs and damage to throw out when you need to slow your players down or make them think. But the Modern AGE core rulebook only gives you three examples: the Burning Building, the Killer Drone, and the Rushing River. There’s a lot of ways to hurt your PCs beyond these examples, and so World of Lazarus offers fifteen new hazards to drop into your game!

Some are pretty straightforward. The Auto-Turret is a fairly standard trap as you would expect it in the dystopian future of the Lazarus setting, and is easily adapted to other active dangers, while the Hock Flu details how to run a deadly, progressing disease. Other’s describe difficult environmental situations, like the Dust Storm and Superstorm, or help describe how arduous travel can be in a wasted world with the Crossing the Wastes hazard.

Other hazards present more esoteric threats that hit the things PCs really care about. The Financial Collapse describes what to do when a rival targets a character’s assets and contacts. Biometric Recognition Systems threaten a character’s anonymity in the modern world. But I think my favorite addition to this book is the Devastating Compromise, a hazard a character brings on themselves when they have to betray their core values to save others or improve their own lot in life. Here’s the text:

THE DEVASTATING COMPROMISE

MINOR

Sometimes, in a harsh world, people do monstrous things in the name of survival, or loyalty, or desperation, but these choices can haunt them for weeks or years. When a character takes an action that lies far outside their normal morality or runs counter to their Virtue, they must attempt a TN 13 Willpower (Self-Awareness) test (or higher, for particularly heinous crimes) or be haunted by their choice for the next 24 hours, suffering a –2 penalty to all Communications, Perception, and Willpower tests due to distracting thoughts, anxiety, and depression. Each time a character fails this roll, make a note of it. Once a character has failed a number of tests against devastating compromises equal to their Willpower + 5, they gain a permanent –1 penalty to all Willpower checks as their convictions and compassion erode. Once a character has failed a number of tests against devastating compromises equal to their Willpower + 10, they lose the ability to regain Conviction by following their Virtue. Characters can reverse these eroding effects through therapy, introspection, and following their Virtue, generally erasing one failed test for every significant deed done or six months of mental health counseling. The Hock drugs (see page 34) known as Blues can temporarily negate the effects of a failed test or the long-term Willpower penalty from accumulated failures.

Morality and personal choice are important elements in the Lazarus comic books, and reflecting that in the game’s mechanics felt like an important goal in development. In a world where human decency is dying out, betraying yourself has long-lasting impacts on a character. Gamemasters may adapt this hazard—perhaps replacing Self-Awareness with another Willpower focus like Courage or Self-Discipline—to reflect other situations with mounting stress or dread, like esoteric horror or the agony of retail work in the holiday season.

Pick up a copy of World of Lazarus to check out the fifteen new hazards available, as well as a wealth of other GM options like adversaries, campaign models, adventure seeds, and a sample adventure.

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.