Ronin Roundtable: Green Ronin in 2018, Part 1

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

The Expanse

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

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

Modern AGE and Lazarus

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

Fantasy AGE, Dragon Age, and Blue Rose

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

Mutants & Masterminds

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

Nisaba Press

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

Freeport and Ork

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

SIFRP and Chronicle System

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

To the Future!

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

Ronin Roundtable: Modern Ork!

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Ronin Roundtable: Upcoming Releases!

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

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

RPG Releases

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

Nisaba Press

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

More to Come

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

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.