Malcolm Sheppard

Malcolm Sheppard

After writing and designing games as a freelancer from 2000 on, Malcolm Sheppard is pleased to join Green Ronin as developer at large: the one who works on any number of games, from the Adventure Gaming Engine to Ork! Malcolm’s experience before Green Ronin includes Exalted, Mage: The Ascension, Onyx Path’s Chronicles of Darkness and Scion lines, as well as Shadowrun and Eclipse Phase. Outside game design, Malcolm’s worked in community development and education, and as a professional historical re-enactor, where he gave large metal swords to children. (They were blunt!) Malcolm lives in semi-rural Ontario, Canada.
Malcolm Sheppard

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Ronin Roundtable: On the Edge of Ork!

Ork! The Roleplaying Game, Second Edition, is into production, which in orkish means Hal am use machines and science to make book soon! (Me am creative focused; me am have lesser knowledge of Adobe products.)

Ork! Is dear to our throbbing, fat-armored hearts. We didn’t want to phone it in by just cleaning up and re-releasing the old game. Ork! am all new! Ork! am been through playtests!

Ahem.

One of those playtests was at this year’s Gen Con, where the game’s creative Orkmaster, Todd Miller, ran a game with the new rules. Todd designs fantastic, absurd adventures. My friend Wood characterized the vibe of Ork! as “stupid things by clever people.” There are many ways to play orks out there in RPGland, but if you want a game about rampaging orks that references Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God, alcoholic poets, Zardoz, and maybe Thundarr the Barbarian by way of The Road Warrior, we’re there for you, in a low-key sort of way. I think Todd’s adventure was based on John Fowles’ The Magus, but man, not the movie. Well it’s Ork!, so maybe the movie. But with more dismemberment—and ad hoc cures for dismemberment.

My main concern (beyond having my character staple back on some errant limbs) was making sure the system worked, and that Cheats did what they were supposed to do. As I mentioned last time I talked about the game, Cheats provide some room for character differentiation, and contribute to the classic rhythm of Ork!, where you’re encouraged to dig yourself a big, violent hole. Cheats let you steal opposed-roll dice from the Orkmaster, but those dice get used against you later. In play, that meant watching dice stack up in front of players until Todd saw fit to drop them on their orks.

Cheats sort of act as the flipside of ork points—the magic bean system we use to reward violent, impulsive, orky behavior—but where ork points are rewards for playing like an ork, Cheats represent a way to think like an ork, sealing your doom with short term gain. Indeed, one of the traditional elements of an Ork! game is dying, appearing before the ork god Krom, and seeing whether he’ll let you feast with heroes, or get reincarnated as a pine cone, or a strangely smelly rock.

But if you live, there’s room to keep playing. This edition of Ork! includes an enormous adventure section that can take orks through an entire campaign, from new gunks (junior, nameless orks) raiding the sickeningly cute squishy men for pies and ordnance (see the adventure! It makes sense!) to hardened bands raiding flying fortresses, and even an honest-to-goodness dungeon.

You Am Design Adventure!

So beyond some orkbragging, let’s get to some advice. If you want to design an Ork! adventure the way Todd does, I don’t know—he’s just too weird, man. But if you want to fake it, here’s what I suggest:

You Am Use Smart Idea: Ork! works as parody in part because you can introduce orks into scenarios that, on the surface, seem too smart for them. While you can run through traditional fantasy dungeons and forests and things, reach beyond this low-hanging fruit and ask yourself how orks would mess up Sense and Sensibility or The Seventh Seal (if the latter was good enough for Bill and Ted, it’s good enough for Ork!). Part of the game’s fun is having the players notice themes and references their less, uh, informed characters would miss.

You Am Beat Idea Until Goal Fall Out: Once you have a scenario that’s too smart for your orks, wring basic conflicts out of it that work on an orkish level: get a thing, kill a thing, wreck a thing, flee a thing, and so on. Sometimes orks wreck the “normal” story; sometimes protagonists recruit them to deal with a problem in the story, making them Rosencrantz and Guildenstern types (or more likely, Macbeth’s hired killers). Sometimes you need to add an extra fantastical element.

Consider My Dinner with Andre as an Ork! scenario. (Really!) As Shawn argues with Gregory about whether his theatre experiences constitute authentic living, this kind of intense discourse may cause ork heads to explode—and indeed, create a reality-breaking aura. Now orks have to break up that conversation to save the world (or their brains) and of course, the taxi and driver, restaurant staff, and strangely animate dishes become foes to be crushed!

You Am Keep It Loose: Orks wander off, kill each other and occasionally explode after an unwise meal, so while you can design adventures around scenes, these should feature plenty of room to go off-script. Every scene or location should be an amusement park filled with things to experience and often, destroy. In other games, designing locations and scenes might benefit from sticking to the overall story arc, Ork! benefits from lots of weird, wonderful and “irrelevant” detail. Include plenty of things for orks to steal, eat or kill that fit the premise of a scene or place, but may have nothing to do with the plot.

You Am Add Warlock: When it doubt, get the warlock to make orks do stuff! The warlock is the GM’s mouthpiece, and since orks are expected to be directionless and unfocused, it’s okay to use the warlock to kick them in the right direction.

That’s the story-brutalizing violence which makes Ork! work, and it’s what we’ve got coming. And green pig faces. Because that’s what orks look like. You know it.

Chris Pramas
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Chris Pramas

Chris Pramas is an award-winning game designer and writer, and the founder and president of Green Ronin Publishing. He is best known as the designer of the Fantasy AGE RPG, the Dragon Age RPG, and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, 2nd Edition. He has been a creative director at Wizards of the Coast and Flying Lab Software and a lead writer at Vigil Games. Most recently he worked with Wil Wheaton on the Titansgrave web series from Geek& Sundry. Green Ronin continues to thrive under his leadership, publishing roleplaying games like Blue Rose, Mutants & Masterminds, and A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying.
Chris Pramas
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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!