Ronin Roundtable: Ork! Lore and More Gore!

Okay, I’ve been busy talking about Modern AGE but there’s another game I’m developing. It’s nastier, brutisher, and shorter—and stylistically, promotes the use of words like “brutisher.” That’s Ork! The Roleplaying Game, 2nd Edition.

Ork! was Green Ronin’s first release, and its dank, beer-stained roots can be found in Chris Pramas’ NYC games with Ork! mastermind Todd Miller. These games ran on punk mayhem, goofy improvisation and the peculiar interests of their group, including The World’s Most Popular Roleplaying Game, The World’s Most Popular Fantasy Miniatures Game, and The World’s Most Popular Vaguely Depressing Filmmaker Who Fortunately We Can Name, He’s Werner Herzog And He Did That Thing About The Penguin Walking To Its Probable Death (It’s on YouTube). To turn this mash into a semi-coherent game, Chris Pramas devised a system, and out it came in the Year 2000, which back then, was practically the future, man.

So Ork! is special to Chris and Todd, and to Green Ronin as a whole. It’s a funny game, but it’s been designed with the same effort as we put into games like Fantasy AGE and Blue Rose. At times this meant a bit of extra work. I was called in to work on Ork! 2nd after Jon Leitheusser had already done a significant amount of development—more than enough to produce a functional RPG. So, my role was to tune the game into something in tune with the spirit of those early games, and which would fit hand-in-glove with the style of Ork! Game mastering—what we call Orkmastering for the deepest, most story-relevant reasons, I assure you—Todd performs when he runs it at Gen Con and elsewhere. That meant a top-to-bottom review and, where necessary, redesign. This stage got us to Cheats, where orks steal dice from the Orkmaster and each other (and risk the wrath of Krom, the merciless ork god), rules for ork magic (which risks the wrath of Krom) and other elements, all of which risk the wrath of Krom, probably.

For me, one part of the design was key: In Ork!, all dice rolls are opposed! Nowadays we have two basic schools of game design. In one, we figure out how things happen in the game based on some tactical challenge or representation of how the game world works. In the other school, we settle things based on their dramatic importance, how they might contribute to a developing story arc, and so on. Orks never went to school, and live with one boneheaded truth: Krom’s got a lot of wrath to spread around. So, in Ork!, opposed rolls represent how much interest Krom has in making life difficult for characters. Krom made the universe, so for the most part, meets expectations like big mountains being tougher to claim than little ones, but may also make things harder by getting bored, believing an ork is acting in a pathetic, unorkly way, and so on.

And lo, Krom’s wrath was spread around, and Ork! was sent to production, the dominion of a mysterious being called “Hal.” And Hal gave Ork! a perfectly serviceable layout. Truly respectable. Until, exercising the attention to detail that has defined our efforts on this game, decided it needed more rippy, blood-spattery bits. Here’s what it looks like now:

Wotank is not a “starter monster.”

Rippy, spattery—perfect for Ork! I look forward to sharing the product of all this work with you. Ork! The Roleplaying Game, 2nd Edition is scheduled to come out in August 2018. The game includes all the rules you need, things to kill (in a chapter called, “Things to Kill”) and a handful of adventures sufficient to get you through a short campaign. See you then!

Ronin Roundtable: How to Kill Everybody

I was lucky enough to be at Seattle’s Norwescon science fiction convention last week. I sat on a few panels, ran a few games, met some impressive writers and game designers, ate Hawaiian food for the first time (I’m Canadian, in Ontario; it isn’t common where I live) and picked up some terrible “con crud,” the diseases you get when you’re packed indoors with many, many people. And I killed everybody. In Ork! The Roleplaying Game that is. I ran “Hell Comes to Squishy Man Town!” one of the adventures that comes with the game. Orks are impatient about getting things started, and so is the game, so we included enough adventures to run what wargaming-descended sophisticates call a “campaign.” In killing the characters, I think I learned a little something about doing it well which might even translate to other games! Here goes.

Make Sure It’s Their Fault

Traditional adventures are usually inspired by situations or character motivations, but we can use a fine shorthand that brings them together: bad decisions. You want to encourage bad decisions as often as possible by bringing pressure to bear through the situation, and knowing the characters well enough to pluck their heart strings. You want them highly motivated but lacking the time and levelheadedness to make strategy-driven decisions. If they take the bait, you can kill ‘em.

Now in Ork!, character motivations are easy. Orks have individual personalities, but pretty basic drives. One of these is the need for a gunk—that’s an adolescent ork—to eat and win a name. Gunks compete for food, and get ignored until they get names, and with it, better opportunities for food and loot. In my case, we started the adventure with the gunks fighting over food. That drove an in media res scene where the gunks were trying to eat each other in the gunk pit (where they live: A pit. For gunks.) before the warlock, ruler of the orks, sent them on their terrifying mission, offering to give them names. This inspired all manner of bad decisions along the way.

Almost Kill Them, Then Kill Them

So once the players are making hasty, awful decisions, you may be tempted to waste them right away. No! Initially, you should reward their impulsiveness. Throw enemies at them they can defeat through simple decisiveness. Start with appetizers: minor foes that give them a sense of power. But don’t stop there. You want to make sure they believe their distorted thinking is truly battle-tested. That means a serious encounter that brings one of more of them a hair’s width from death. After that they’ll stand proud, covered, in unclearly-sourced gore, and take pride in rushing in.

In the Ork! session, I did just this. The gunks went into the woods, in search of the squishy man village, and when one of them wandered away, I waylaid them with squirrels. Lots and lots of squirrels. And they were victorious! One of them made a hat and some pants! Stylish. That’s when I dropped the fire breathing Pteranodon on them (all dinosaurs in Ork! also breathe fire, incidentally). The gunks decided they’d tame the thing, and after getting a little crispy, they succeeded! Time to fly a lizard to squishy man town!

(Note: The adventure actually has it down as a dimetrodon, but in the excitement I forgot, and used a Pteranodon. As GM, I don’t have to pay for my mistakes!)

Foreshadow Their Doom, Inconsistently

Now you must suggest, ever so lightly, that the characters might get into trouble by rushing headlong into danger. That bad decisions might reap terrible consequences. The trick here is to bring this thread in without undoing all the work you put into convincing the players that rash behavior’s awesome. This means signalling the warning in such a way as to create conflict, usually between the advantages of rushing in headlong and the rewards of patience.

In the Ork! game, a player was kind enough to do this for me by casting a whole bunch of spells. Yes, orks can use magic—but Krom, the ork god, hates that. Every spell attracted Krom’s Curse, which is . . . a lot of bad stuff. In this case, the ork sprouted a pointy hat, beard, and loathsome human appearance. Also, his equipment turned to ham. This made the casting ork a bit nervous, but his companion went, “You am covered in meat. Now we eat!” And they were all happy again, if nervous that there was now some Ian McKellan type fancy-talking at them. They were suspicious, but the wizard had ham.

Death Should Be Earned

Now that you’ve provided a subtle warning but overall, let them huff from the bag of ill-considered tactics, you can kill them. But don’t let it come down to a random knife in the eye, unless it would really amuse you. You must kill characters in ways that represent the sum of their bad decisions. Pull in NPCs from earlier events who’ve come back, eager for revenge. Explore the consequences of every dumb idea—every poorly guarded camp, every decision to save identifying a creepy mystic tome or enticing pie for later—in one character-wrecking conclusion.

In my Ork! game, this happened once the characters got to the squishy man village on their magically tamed, flying, fire breathing lizard. Their goal was to find the squishy men’s secret weapon. So, they got off the lizard and stormed into the barn that housed it, waylaying squishy men.

And of course, the flying lizard started setting everything on fire. The village, the adorable villagers (“squishy men” are called halflings in other games) and the barn—a barn filled with volatile chemicals. Naturally, there was an explosion. They were sent into the air, on fire. The wizard-who-was-once-an-ork tried to magically summon their lizard to catch them! And lo, Krom’s Curse manifested as a giant green foot. “There’s a trademark symbol branded onto its heel,” I said. It came down. DOOM. And it was made of all their bad decisions. Except the squirrels. They got away with that one.

Uh, Applications Beyond Humorous Death

“But what if I’m playing a serious game?” you ask? Ork! is a comedy game that rewards impulsiveness, but the same guidelines apply when it comes to ratcheting up the danger on stuffy games where you’re saving people or looking at Cthulhu and gibbering or whatever. Your job is to provide pressure through the scenario which interacts with the characters’ motivations, to encourage decisions which are emotional, not coldly tactical. Allowing characters to initially succeed with less than optimal choices is important as well. Convincing settings should be forgiving about character choices, most of the time. It not only relaxes and immerses the players but allows for characters’ common sense. Common sense is often tough to do, because the game world is a fiction, and gives us much less information than the real world. We have less to go on, and it may make us over-cautious. But as danger and weirdness increase, it’s time to be less forgiving. And when a reversal of fortune occurs, it should point back to past mistakes, grudges and things left undone. This is true even when the consequence isn’t death, but imprisonment, mission failure, whatever. Failure should feel earned and owned by players, so they feel as involved in it as they would in their successes.

Hey, What’s Up With Ork!, Anyway?

Ork! The Roleplaying Game, Second Edition is currently in layout and production. Artist Dan Houser is finishing illustrations and the whole thing should be coming out later this Spring. Soon, you too will be able to explore the meaning of violence in a refined, mature fashion, though it’s probably better if you use the game as intended, which is for . . . not that. Soon, you am ork!

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: 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.

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!