Ronin Roundtable: Covering the Modern AGE

Last time I was here, I introduced Modern AGE, the contemporary era implementation of Green Ronin’s Adventure Game Engine. Look on this very page, and you’ll see the cover. I’m not going to call it the absolute, final article–fine tuning the look is Hal’s business–but this is darn close. I’m going to riff on the cover to tell you a bit more about what to expect.

Who’s on That Rooftop?

Like many games, Modern AGE features iconic characters we use for examples of play, who indicate the kinds of characters you can build and advance. Early in outlining, I designed each iconic with input from a writer, making it their character–you’ll see the writers’ names pop up as example players (Meghan Fitzgerald is our “iconic GM” in these examples). Let’s look at who the characters are, and what they tell you about the game.

They Know What to Say

On the far left, Sean checks their phone. “Played” by Howard Ingham, Sean’s a socially focused character, and even though we don’t have set character sheets for iconics like them, they’re bound to have a high Communication score, along with focuses supporting social interaction. Modern AGE includes social influence and connection rules in its core. First off, we present a selection of attitudes an encountered NPC might have, and rules for gradually shifting an attitude in a direction conducive to a character’s desires. But this is an AGE game, so we’ve also baked in an option to get things done with one roll. If you’re like me, there are times you want to play through developing a relationship, and times where you want to know whether an NPC will help or hinder a hero right away. The rules let you do both.

Sean might also draw on a Relationship with an NPC, or Membership in an organization–we have rules for both, evolved from predecessors in Blue Rose. Sean might have the Intrigue talent to draw information out of connections, and a specialization like Executive or Socialite that makes it easy to draw on social ties.

He Shoots

Crouched in the middle, Brian McLaughlin is an ex-military operative, “played” by yours truly. Brian probably has a character Background or Profession rooted in military affairs, and a Drive that motivates him to stay armed, and ready for action. Modern AGE Drives provide a capstone benefit at character creation, bundled into a reason to say “yes” to engaging with a campaign’s stories. Brian’s focus is on ranged combat, so guns, bullets, and how to deal with them are obviously important to him. That means Brian picked armor with a high rating against ballistic damage. In Modern AGE, we split damage into impact damage, inflicted by melee weapons, ballistic damage, delivered by firearms, and armor-piercing penetrating damage. Ancient armor doesn’t protect against ballistic attacks; modern armor does. Almost nothing resists penetrating damage.

Brian may have the Rifle Style focus, and perhaps a specialization in Sniper or Gunfighter, which can make him a formidable opponent even when his targets have armored up. But much depends on the game’s mode, our term for what rules might be in play to support a genre. All characters have a resistance to damage called Toughness, but in the gritty game mode, it only protects against mild blunt force trauma. In pulpy and cinematic modes, however, one of Brian’s targets might shrug a shot off, and keep in coming.

She Hits Hard

Over to Brian’s right is Amy Wilson, “played” by Matthew Dawkins. She’s trained and motivated to deal with anyone getting too close for comfort. Amy’s a martial artist and melee weapons expert. Matthew wrote the equipment section, and knows the sort of blades, bludgeons and other weapons she might acquire. AGE games aren’t equipment focused, so each weapon represents a general category. Furthermore, note that with no classes, we’ve dropped the penalty for not being trained with a weapon, but since Amy is probably trained in multiple armed and unarmed fighting style talents and the Martial Artist specialization, don’t expect to be on an even footing.

One of the organizational changes we’ve made in Modern AGE will affect how Matthew plays Amy. In other AGE games, we presented one big list of combat stunts; in Modern AGE we have more stunts, but they’re split into smaller lists of stunts linked to specific actions (with some that fit any action, and advice that there is wiggle room). Some stunts are listed as “core,” meaning that as low-cost options that are easy to describe, they can be your first choice, to avoid decision paralysis at the table. We hope that this combined with short, focused stunt lists makes picking stunts easier. We’ve done the same for non-combat stunts as well.

Beyond the Rooftop

So that’s who’s on the cover. What are they doing on that rooftop? What city are they in? (And who are the iconics I haven’t introduced yet, including the one who leads into chatting about the investigation rules?) Modern AGE doesn’t have a default setting, so it’s up to you, though the World of Lazarus, coming out at the same time as a supplement, provides immediate possibilities. If you want to know more, your best bet is to come visit our booth at Gencon–we’re Exhibitor #1321–or visit the “What’s New With Green Ronin Publishing!” panel at noon on Saturday.

Ronin Roundtable: Enter the Modern AGE!

So, at the beginning of May, we announced we’re going to produce the World of Lazarus, a guide to roleplaying in Greg Rucka’s SF-feudal Lazarus comic series. We noted it would be a setting for the Modern AGE roleplaying game.

Yes, this means we’re making a Modern AGE game. We said so in a sort of soft, sneaky way, but today, we’re going to dig into what that means.

 

 

Modern AGE?

Modern AGE uses the Adventure Game Engine to power stories set in the “modern era,” a period we’ve designated as running from the 18th or 19th century, through the present day, and into the near future. That means guns and computers, transoceanic empires and raucous democracies, and the Cold War and beyond, into the great geopolitical realignments of our time. But it also means urban fantasy, psychic powers, conspiracies and all the speculative and strange sources that fuel modern stories.

The Adventure Game Engine is the system you first saw in the Dragon Age roleplaying game. You witnessed its evolution into Fantasy AGE with Wil Wheaton’s Titansgrave setting, and into Blue Rose: The AGE RPG of Romantic Fantasy. Modern AGE might be thought of as a counterpart to Fantasy AGE, but if you’re familiar with one of these games, the rest will come easily. Modern AGE adds some new things to the system, and revises a few solid concepts to make them easier to use.

Developing the game, it’s been important to me to stick with the A.G.E. system’s core concepts: ease of play, strong tools for character development, and most of all, stunts.

Stunts and Areas of Interest

Stunts are the system’s “killer app;” where other games often struggle to integrate special actions and exceptional results, the A.G.E. system uses stunts to make them emerge during play. Modern AGE introduces some new stunts, but we also recognize the decision paralysis that can happen when doubles hit the table. That’s why we’ve designated go-to core stunts and places stunts into shorter, focused lists.

Putting stunts into categories means thinking about what characters do during the game. Accordingly, we’ve mapped out three core areas of interest: action, exploration and social play. Action encompasses combat, chases and other physical challenges. Exploration combines its counterpart in Fantasy AGE with investigation. Social play develops the “roleplaying” category, acknowledging that modern games often require heroes to present themselves properly in all the scenarios thrown up by complex contemporary cultures.

The three areas of interest act as a focus throughout Modern AGE’s design, not just stunts. Heroes with abilities covering all three can take on nearly any challenge the GM cares to throw at them.

Character and Genre Modes

Fantasy AGE presents broad classes, archetypes in that genre, and provides advancement options that allow you to lock in more specific elements over time. Modern era games don’t have the same archetypes, however, and don’t need the same niche protection vital to the feel of fantasy adventure gaming. So, we’ve gone classless. After developing a background, a profession and a drive that pushes your hero out of obscurity and into the story, you’ll select ability advancements, talents and specializations freely.

In some games, a private eye is someone who uses a car, camera and laptop to find evidence for divorces and lawsuits, while in others, they’re a two-fisted, iron-chinned stalwart with a talent for getting tangled in murders. The difference? Genre. Not all modern games feature the same degree of realism, so we’ve included specific rules modes to fit the stories you want to play through. The three basic modes are gritty, for stories where violence is unforgiving, pulp, where a battered hero can, say, claw their way out of danger, and cinematic, where protagonists achieve the competence often reserves for fantasy heroes and the most outrageous action games. These modes affect character toughness and stunt access, and guide advice you’ll read throughout the book.

And Beyond

In upcoming columns, I’ll talk more about Modern AGE’s design foundations, and the details that make them work. Until then, let me ask you something: What clicks for you about the Adventure Game Engine RPGs you’ve played? What do you want to see down the line? I’m developing it even as we speak, and things are getting locked in, but I’d love to read your conversations–and ever so sneakily, have you spread the word that Modern AGE is coming . . .

And in a Further Manipulative Move

. . . oh wait. It’s not all about me. While you should indeed talk about Modern AGE until it’s a breakfast cereal, I have been reminded that our Kickstarter for The Lost Citadel — Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy Roleplaying is in full swing. I was actually one of the authors in the short story collection that inaugurated this shared world, which we’re transforming into a setting for 5th Edition roleplaying. But if you’re an Adventure Game Engine fan, know this: If we hit $32,500, we’ll unlock the A.G.E System Hack, which converts the Dead-bound Zileska setting to A.G.E family games.

And if you’re curious about the setting and stories of The Lost Citadel, we have a sample short story available for FREE on our website. Check out Requiem, In Bells, by Ari Marmell.