Ronin Roundtable: The Lost Citadel: Creating the First Map

Today’s RRT is by guest artist Andrew Law, who decided to share some insight into the process of creating his incredible map artwork for The Lost Citadel! Our Kickstarter has just one week left, if you’re a fan of 5th edition, you should really do yourself a favor and check it out now!

 


 

I’ve created hundreds of images during my professional career as a cartographer, but none excite and terrify more than the opening act: drafting the first map for a new setting.

Y’see, the first map is special. It sets the tone and mood for everything that comes after. It will be referenced, and re-referenced many times over by both the creators of the setting and the consumers, so it stands as an oft-trod gateway into the new world that many will come to know and love.

In short, I’m not just creating a map, I’m also introducing an entire setting with a single image.

No pressure, then.

Fortunately for me, The Lost Citadel has a wonderfully detailed writers’ bible that brings the setting, for all the Dead haunt its every corner, alive. So, there was already a wealth of detail to inspire me. All I had to do was draw it.

With all that in mind, I prepared to draft the first map. To begin, I referred to the design brief and did my best to conceive of something that would fully represent as much of The Lost Citadel as possible.

So, what did I have to create?

 

The Brief

My brief boiled down to three basic requirements:

1) Create a vertical/portrait map with the same dimensions as the Freeport city poster.

2) Depict the outer city of Redoubt, some buildings of the inner city, and point to other important locations off-map.

3) The style should draw from various Middle Ages to Renaissance sources from East to West, but match none exactly, to best represent the artistic style of the current inhabitants of Redoubt.

That all sounded good. In addition, I worked with a fourth design goal of my own in mind, to help channel my creativity:

4) The map will illustrate some of the setting’s core concepts and historical details, in order support the existing world-building and introduce readers to The Lost Citadel.

And, now knowing what was required, I set to work.

Composition

To begin, I first sketched the area to be mapped. It was immediately obvious the city, plus the volcano behind it, would fill a broadly squarish area. This being the case, I’d need extra material to fill the top and bottom of the final image.

The bottom section was easy to resolve — a nice big title plate emblazoned with something like ‘THE CITY OF REDOUBT’ would likely do, perhaps illuminated with some in-game detail — but the top was a little more problematic. What should go there?

 

To answer, I had a good think about the setting, and what would allow me to add some of the details from the writers’ bible directly to the map. Eventually, I went with what I felt was the obvious answer: I decided to continue the map up into the sky, providing an opportunity to draw some of the setting’s celestial details as well as its terrestrial.

So, with that decided, I sketched it all out then began work on the detail.

Map in the Middle

After completing the preliminary sketches, I developed the central area of the image: the map of the city, the volcano, and the extras surrounding these.

The map itself was created in a simple style reminiscent of many Middle Age maps from the East and West, but without some of the goofier attempts at perspective or scaling often on display in such older cartography.  As a nod to these medieval sources, I presented almost all towers and buildings as front elevations, hinting at a simplicity of artistic capability, but drew the surrounding city walls with a little more sophistication to ensure the image didn’t look too abstract. I then set about filling in all the details between, making space for all the outer city’s fields and primary districts. I then drew the inner city, which I presented as a crowded pile, with a small proportion of the many buildings on display. More information concerning the Inner City will come with the next map for The Lost Citadel, one that was unlocked as a poster when the Kickstarter reached its 29K stretch goal, so I wasn’t concerned about the lack of precise detail here.

 

Outside the city walls, it’s all ‘no-man’s land’ and ‘here be dragons’ (well, the Dead). All manner of dead things are drawn beyond the walls, mirroring the sea beasts of ancient ocean maps, and the dragons/monsters from similar land maps. They demonstrate the ignorance of the artist in question as to what actually lies beyond the walls, and the ignorance of people as a whole concerning the Dead and what they are. This ignorance is reinforced by the map depicting nothing beyond the eyesight of those who walk the walls; i.e.: this is a map of all that is left of the known world to the inhabitants of Redoubt, which is pretty bleak given the small area shown.

In addition to these semi-mythical undead creatures, some ruins and basic geographical detail was added. Also, five hands were then depicted pointing to distant locations (at the four corners of the central map and another at the bottom of the image below the title plate).

That all done, it was time to turn to what lay above the city and the volcano: the heavens.

Heavens Above

Drawing the heavens provided an opportunity to depict the two moons of the setting — that’s the moons that are used in the ‘O’ of The Lost Citadel’s logo, if you hadn’t noticed, so I felt it was an important addition. Also, to support one of the central conceits of The Lost Citadel, I associated both moons with the Dead and drew them as skulls. This made sense as the moons are most visible at night, a time of danger, when it’s harder to see the Dead creeping around.

Contrasting with this, I drew the sun rising over the central volcano — and, in turn, the city itself — as a symbol of life and hope, with golden rays reaching out in all directions. This sun hints to the new dawn of civilisation that Redoubt could be should it survive. To strengthen this imagery, I gave the sun a human face as humanity is currently in control of Redoubt, suggesting any potential ‘dawn’ is largely in the hands of the city’s human rulers. Also, for those looking for a bleaker reading here, the sun rising over the volcano also winks at a possible future eruption, which would be cataclysmic in so many ways…

To frame the sun and moons, I drew the heavens as a great arc filled with stars, implying the in-setting artist who created the map knows the world is a globe — or, at the very least, has copied this detail from an earlier source. I chose to do this to show that for all the old civilization has come to an end with the rising of the Dead, some of the high knowledge it gathered still, in some form or another, endures – after all, the time before the Dead rose is still within living memory of some of the city’s eldest inhabitants. So, for all the truth of the world as a sphere surrounded by celestial objects is undoubtedly unimportant to the shoulder-to-shoulder common folk scraping out the barest of survivals within Redoubt’s high walls, older truths are still present in the city’s few examples of art, and such lore is possibly not lost to all scholars.

That done, I added some clouds to the top corners and was ready to move on. Next up, the bottom of the image, and the titles.

Title Below

The title plate was both the easiest and hardest section to create. First, it’s just a few words bunched together, so what could be simpler? But I wanted it to be more than that – to recall the illuminated letters of many Middle Age documents – so I decided to go a little farther. After some thought, I figured depicting one of the key events in the history of Redoubt – when the Dwarfs who built the city were enslaved – was essential, and I also thought it important to weave the Dead directly into the lettering in some fashion. So, I set to work drawing the capital ‘R’ of Redoubt with a whole bunch of extra details.

If you take a look in the hollow of the ‘R’ you will find a small illumination. There I drew a collared Ghûl (the dog-like creature), a crowned Human in purple robes, a servile brown-clad Elf, and a defeated Dwarf being chained. This is an illustration of the aforementioned enslavement of the Dwarfs, and also stands as a quick guide to the four, sentient species inhabiting the city. I then turned to the letter itself, and drew a skeleton turning its back on the life illustrated within the R (and the word Redoubt as a whole), showing how the Dead were antagonistic to the city and life as a whole. Further, I cut the skeleton off at the legs to stand as a metaphor for the city’s ability to stop the Dead in its tracks (no legs, no ability to progress), but not defeat it, for the skeleton’s back is still strong and its ‘eyes’ sharp. Further, the skeleton is incorporated directly into the capital letter to hint the city itself has the Dead within, which is a very real danger that all fear.

 

 

Beneath the text, a brief note to the renaming of the city to ‘Redoubt’ is also marked with the following: ‘Named by the Accord of the Last Redoubt’. This provides a reference to another key historical event for the city, when the old Dwarf name for Redoubt – Elldimek – was abandoned by its new human rulers. Lastly concerning the title, the continent name is also marked for the reader’s information: ‘Last Citadel of Zileska’.

Finishing Touches

That all done, it was time to turn to the image as a whole and finish it off.

Firstly, I drew a border to compliment the central map, and then set to work scuffing it up a little, to give the impression of use and age.

I did this because I presumed the map’s original creator drafted the image a few decades in the past. This allowed the map to be worn, reflecting the recycling of all things in Redoubt, a fact of life in the over-crowded city where every resource is precious. So, I spent some time creating a tired, worn, bloodied, folded-up on itself finish for the whole image, all standing as a metaphor for the people of Redoubt themselves, who are not in the best of shape.

Then I added clouds and skulls to the four corners. These represent the four winds blowing death at the city, reinforcing the idea that the Dead come from all sides, and that the curse of the Dead is everywhere, nicely subverting more typical Breath of Life imagery.

I then revisited the entire map and added extra labels where required. To do this, I used three languages (at least) to show the multiculturalism of the depicted city.

The first language I used was English. This stands in for the most common language in the city, a tongue of Venmir origin (the Venmir are one of the Human tribes). This is used for the title plate, all the important labels, and the very simple poetry concerning the winds I added to the four corners.

The next language on the map also uses Latin letters, and is presented as a higher/older version of Venmir (from Angati origin – another Human tribe). It is used to show the sunrise at the top of the map – Svitanus: ‘Sunrise’ – and to drop a reference to Elldimek, the old name for Redoubt, at the bottom of the image – Malnova Elldimek ripozas kun la Mortin: ‘Old Elldimek lies with the Dead’.

Lastly, one or more languages are deployed with characters with a strong Eastern influence (Tibetan and similar), with two paragraphs at the bottom of the map beneath the title plate, and several labels elsewhere. The exact meaning of these is left to others to decide.

And, then, after a tweak or two more, it was finished, and I sent the final image over to Green Ronin.

 

Done.

So, after all that, I dearly hope you like the end result. It was a joy to create.

Now I’m looking forward to later in the year, as I’m enormously excited to be drafting the detailed plan map of the inner city of Redoubt.

Until then,

Andrew Law, June 26th, 2017

 

Crystal Frasier

Crystal Frasier

Crystal Frasier is the developer for the Mutants & Masterminds Roleplaying Game, as well as a comic book fan, RPG geek, and corgi aficionado. She has played a variety of roles within the tabletop and video game industries, and has lent her talents to companies including Green Ronin, Paizo Publishing, Palladium Books, Onyx Path Publishing, Rogue Genius Games, and Kobold Press.
Crystal Frasier

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Ronin Roundtable: Freedom City as You’ve Never Seen It!

One of my many duties as a developer for Green Ronin is seeing the 3rd edition of the Freedom City campaign setting safely off to print, like a loving mother. And as it turns out, this has been the easiest part of my job, because the book was almost entirely finished when I joined the team. So, like a loving mother who slept through most of her child’s life only to wake up in time to see them leave for college, I feel so proud of this enormous task I had virtually nothing to do with!

Freedom City 3rd Edition is almost entirely Jon Leitheusser’s legacy, following a similar format as the Emerald City campaign setting of several years earlier and building on the setting bones established in books like the Cosmic Handbook and Hero High. Freedom City has grown up and adapted to the turbulent events of the world. Some of your favorite heroes have retired as their years start to catch up with them, while new heroes have appeared to fill important roles. My only real contributions have been some light editing (Jon’s work is, as always, solid, and didn’t need much improving), and arguing with our esteemed production designer (chief art guy) Hal Mangold about the art.

Oh, and such art do we have! FC3E is a treasure trove of new art, bringing the city to life in detail we could only dream of in the past. Hal tracked down some amazing scenery artists to help flesh out the most recognizable city of Earth Prime, and I don’t think anyone will be disappointed to see the city’s superhero museum and the Champions sports bar franchise brought to life!

Just check out a few quick previews:

 

Domenico Neziti

Brian Hagan

Brian Hagan

Domenico Neziti

There’s a lot more to come, giving a reality to the creepily delightful Ocean Heights Amusement Park, the slums of the Fens, and the Hanover Institute of Technology cloaked in its mantle of mid-century modernism. Fans can finally SEE Freedom City as well as imagine it, and Gamemasters now have images to share when the heroes arrive, itching for a fight, so instead of screaming “I punch Dr. Simian,” they can yell “I punch Dr. Simian into the reflecting pool!”

And really, isn’t that what superhero games are all about? Punching apes into landmarks?

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: 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.

Jack Norris

A writer and game designer since the mid 1990s, Jack Norris has worked on numerous award winning and critically acclaimed publications over the last two decades, including products for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, DC Adventures, Scion, Mutants and Masterminds, and Feng Shui.He is currently working at Green Ronin developing Dragon Age, as well as co-developing other projects such as Blue Rose. Outside of his work for Green Ronin and others, Jack also designs and writes Tianxia, his own line of wu xia/kung fu action rpg products published through Vigilance Press. When not writing and designing, Jack is an attorney and consultant at the Vidar Law Group, a small Chicago-based litigation firm.

Jack also hates writing bios...

Ronin Roundtable: Examining Specializations

As I am working to finish the Specializations chapter for the upcoming Fantasy AGE Companion, I wanted to take a bit of time to talk about specializations.  Namely I wanted to take a look at how specializations are generally built and why they are built that way.

First and foremost it’s important to realize that specializations aren’t prestige classes or sub-classes you see in some other games.  There simply isn’t enough mechanical “oomph” in a single three tiered ability tree to cover various character elements the way a multi-level class overlay or substitution used in games like Pathfinder or D&D does.

And really? That’s okay. Because what Fantasy AGE specializations allow players to do is to combine them with talents, focuses, and other specializations to create highly customized characters.

So a specialization that makes you an expert axe-fighter, no matter how cool it is, won’t substitute for having the Axes focus. Or various talents to better swing, throw, and fight with your chosen weapon in various ways.  You will still want all of those things. And as the character advances if you decide you want to be an expert axe-fighter who is also adept at hunting down renegade sorcerers and evil mages? Well, you’re going to want to invest in the Mage Hunter specialization when you get a chance—likely customized to use Axes instead of Black Powder Weapons with its Novice rank.  Such combinations are how you build your “prestige class” for your character in Fantasy AGE, often making particular combinations of character abilities that are very distinctive and unique to most other characters around.

With these limitations and advantages to the system in mind, when designing specializations, it’s important to add mechanical elements that push a character upwards or sideways from other talents, class abilities, and the like, avoiding those things which simply replace an existing ability.  Don’t add a Novice specialization rank that takes another talent and makes it useless. On the other hand, don’t create an ability so overpowered when combined with another talent that it becomes a singular optimal build.  Neither one is particularly satisfying, and will result in specializations that are either too weak or too inflexible to be useful beyond a specific type of character.  So to use our axe-fighter example again, it’s cool to add a rank that lets you do certain stunts easier if you’re using an axe.  But don’t offer discounts on stunts that are already made easier by other talents.  That’s not a unique cool ability, its redundancy.  Likewise, don’t make an ability that’s pretty useless unless your character is dual-wielding axes, as this shuts out the character who uses two-handed, single weapon and shield, or single weapons.  This forces everyone with the specialization into basically the same or very similar builds.

Of course sometimes these rules are broken.  A specialization might be crafted with only single weapon fighting in mind or a talent ability might combine to make an expensive stunt cheap as part of a specialization’s core concept.  But in most cases, you’re better off with diverse powers and abilities that complement each other and provide neat options, instead of mere substitutions and numerical upgrades.

Also, when designing your own specializations as GMs or as players (with GM approval and aid), remember to treat specializations generally. Designing a specialization just for your PC might seem like a great idea, but it’s actually a really easy way to unbalance your character and not always in your favor!  For example, it might seem like a great idea to craft a warrior specialization that requires every strength and aptitude your PC already possesses and stacks potent abilities on top of talents and class abilities you’re already using.  But what happens if in a few levels you realize that more powerful monsters, more cunning foes, and more dangerous threats don’t fall to your “killer combos” as easily as their lower-level predecessors did.  Often, designing for more general utility within a theme is more useful and its certainly easier to apply to multiple characters in a campaign.

Azadrumoda

So with all that said, let’s look at how to build a specialization.  We talked about the Axe-fighter, so let’s give them a try.  I’m envisioning a specialized warrior, perhaps hailing from particular cultures, who are devoted to mastery of the axe in its various forms.

First this new specialization needs requirements.  These are usually relatively easy to reach, but not a foregone conclusion.  They also tend to include at least one ability score that best reflects a natural aptitude or particular physical or mental training.  In this case a few requirements are obvious. Given the concept and weapon involved, it seems like this would be a warrior-based specialization.  Also Weapon Group Axes would be required.  A focus with axes is so useful it’s hard to imagine most pursuing this specialization without it, but I’m leaving it off since it isn’t strictly required…just recommended.  To these obvious requirements I add a Strength of 2 or greater—it takes a lot of power to get and keep this sort of weapon moving effectively, especially the bigger ones.

With requirements out of the way, you need a Novice, Journeyman, and Master rank abilities.  These should match up roughly with talents or other specializations already in existence in Fantasy AGE.  For example, an ability that allowed a reduction in the cost of a stunt is roughly the same as many other talents.  A stunt cost reduction that only works in certain conditions might be a bit weak by itself, suggesting such abilities should allow for reductions in multiple stunts.  Balancing these is a bit of art and science, but with some practice it becomes fairly easy.

In the case of the axe-fighter specialization, it makes sense that even Novices would learn to always ready an axe with a free action.  However, this makes the novice level Quick Reflexes talent and Journeyman rank Thrown Weapon Style talents less useful.  So instead, let’s design an ability that reflects the ability of the fighter to throw an opponent off guard and seize an opportunity with a flurry of axe strikes.  Thus let’s say that as long as they’re using an axe on an attack, a novice rank axe-fighter can use the Seize Initiative stunt for 2 SP instead of 4.  Note: This is identical to the Scouting Journeyman talent.  But that’s a rogue talent…so it’s not rendered redundant by this warrior-only specialization.  Also, since it only works with axe attacks, it’s a bit weaker than the Scouting talent, which means making it novice rank specialization seems appropriate.

Now for the Journeyman rank.  It seems that axes are often considered to be scary because they can be used to deliver nasty blows and even glancing blows can be serious. Nobody wants to get hit by an axe and those skilled in its use are aware of this. So how to translate that into a Journeyman ability? You could give a discount on the Threaten stunt but we’ve already done a SP reduction so let’s consider an alternative tact. A Defense bonus might work, but that’s very similar to the Single-Weapon Style Talent. So instead let’s take this another way: the reason people are scared of axes is because getting hit by one is freaking horrible. Even if you armor stops most of it? It still hurts. So it makes sense Axe-Fighters can do serious damage with their axes. Again we might do a discount on Mighty Blow here that’s a Two-Handed Style rank. So instead let’s step sideways from those talents and provide a non SP discount bonus to Mighty (and Lethal) Blow and give an extra 1d6 damage when using Mighty Blow with an axe. Nasty to be sure, but it requires a particular weapon and a stunt at full cost, balancing out the effect.

Finally we have Master. Master rank Specialization qualities are at the core of the Specialization and can be quite nasty. So what’s the core of an expert axe-fighter? Striking hard and fast, keeping a foe on the defensive, and battering past armor and shields all apply here and what does that suggest? It suggests opening up a foe and finishing them off.  So what Master ability represents this? There are many options, but I’m going to go with two “lesser” abilities. First is the ability to use variant of the Disarm stunt to “hook” or bash aside a shield. This eliminates the shield bonus of a character until they take a Ready action to restore it.  The shield isn’t tossed aside like a Disarm against a weapon, but it is rendered useless for a time.   That’s pretty cool, but it only affects shields, so we should add something else. Let’s examine that against opponents who don’t have a shield to hide behind? A skilled axe fighter is very dangerous to attack as they’ve got a heavy, sharp weapon swinging about. So against unshielded foes? Axe-Fighters gain a Defense bonus, let’s say +2 because of the Master rank and limited use.

So there we have it. Your very own Axe-Fighter Specialization:

Requirements: Strength 2, Axes Weapons Focus Group

Novice: You may use the Seize the Initiative stunt for 2 SP instead of 4 when wielding an axe.

Journeyman: When using the Mighty or Lethal Blow stunts with an axe, add an additional d6 damage.

Master: You can use Disarm to “hook” shields, removing the shield bonus until the shield-user takes a ready action. You also gain +2 to your own Defense when fighting unshielded opponents.

Nasty, scary, tough, and yet pretty much useless without its chosen weapon, which provides some nice balance.

That’s just an example, but it shows the process of creating new Specializations in Fantasy AGE and is a preview of the process and types of things you’ll see in the upcoming Fantasy AGE Companion.

Steve Kenson

Steve Kenson

Steve Kenson has been an RPG author and designer since 1995 and has worked on numerous book and games, including Mutants & Masterminds, Freedom City, and Blue Rose for Green Ronin Publishing. He has written nine RPG tie-in novels and also runs his own imprint, Ad Infinitum Adventures, which publishes material for Icons Superpowered Roleplaying. Steve maintains a website and blog at www.stevekenson.com.
Steve Kenson

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Ronin Roundtable: Rhydan of Unusual Size

 

After some shipping snafus, the Blue Rose Romantic Fantasy Roleplaying game has made its way into the hands of Kickstarter backers and will likewise be finding its way to a game store near you (especially if you ask your friendly local game store to stock it…).

One element of the Blue Rose setting that differs from “vanilla” fantasy worlds is the rhydan: “awakened” intelligent animals with psychic abilities. Indeed, the name “rhydan” in Aldea (the world of Blue Rose) essentially means “thinking beast or animal”. Rhydan are based on the various—often psychically-linked—animal companions found in romantic fantasy fiction, psychic “catalyst creatures” and companions from science fiction (from Andre Norton’s Star Man’s Son to Alan Dean Foster’s For Love of Mother Not), as well as the talking animals of various faerie and folk tales.

Rhydan “awaken” from otherwise ordinary animal species, and Blue Rose presents a handful of the most widely known rhydan, along with a table for “create your own rhydan” options. Early readers of the book particularly noted that rhy-cats (one of the most common rhydan) typically look like siamese cats, but are the size of mountain lions and wondered: Are all rhydan of such unusual size?

No, or at least, not necessarily. Rhy-cats were some of the very first rhydan in the earliest drafts of Blue Rose (before we were calling them “rhydan,” in fact) and they were conceived of as a specific species, unique to Aldea. That status carried over into the final draft of the original edition of Blue Rose, which had fewer rhydan options than the current edition. Nevertheless, when we updated how rhydan were conceived of in the new edition, we kept rhy-cats largely as they were as a nod to the game’s legacy. It could well be that ordinary house-cats, or even great cats like lions, tigers, or panthers (oh my!) could have rhydan members.

 

It’s likewise possible, given how rhydan already differ from their “parent” species, for rhydan characters in Blue Rose to be quite different in terms of size or even morphology from their mundane cousins, if you and the Narrator wish. For example, while the Blue Rose book doesn’t offer options for extremely small animals like mice as rhydan, it would be possible, or the Narrator could even offer the option of using an existing animal template, such as the raccoon, as a basis for a two-foot tall rhy-mouse with manipulative paws (and, a penchant for swashbuckling, perhaps?). The same might go for rhy-rats as well as others such as rabbits. Similarly, while there’s no rhy-elephant (rhylephant?) option in the game, perhaps a small awakened elephant from a distant clime, based on the horse template with a lower base speed and the addition of a tusk attack and manipulative trunk, is an option. Extrapolate outward from existing templates for similar creatures and variants.

Each rhydan is already unusual amongst its own species, so there’s no reason you can’t further tweak their unusual nature to better suit a concept a player might enjoy. Spin out interesting new characters and companions for your own Blue Rose series!

Owen Stephens

Owen Stephens

Owen K.C. Stephens is a game designer who has worked on a number of products for Pathfinder, the Star Wars Roleplaying Game, and more. He is our Pathfinder Line Developer when he's not working full-time Developing Pathfinder at Paizo, or running his own company, Rogue Genius Games.
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Ronin Roundtable: New Paths in Freeport!

 

Adding New Paths to Freeport

Freeport: The City of Adventure updated the Freeport setting to the full set of Pathfinder Roleplaying Game rules… as they existed at the time. Since we published the massive 544 page ultimate urban fantasy setting and sourcebook in early 2015, new hardbacks have been published for Pathfinder. Most notably Horror Adventures, Occult Adventures, Pathfinder Unchained, and Ultimate Intrigue. So does that mean there’s no room for the classes and ideas from those books in Freeport?

No, absolutely not!

Here’s a quick rundown of some of the most noteworthy ideas from those volumes, and how you can use them in your Freeport campaign. Of course you don’t need any of these new books to run an awesome Freeport game. But if you already have them, Freeport makes a fine place to use them!

Horror Adventures

Okay, this one is really easy.

Add everything.

Well, feel free to add everything, and to skip anything you don’t like the look of. The sanity rules in Horror Adventures can either replace or augment the madness rules in Freeport: The City of Adventure. Corruptions, especially deep one, ghoul, possessed, and shadowbound, tie neatly to the horror elements of Freeport, especially those touching on cults and elder gods. In fact, adding an advance corruption to an npc using the cultist npc class from Freeport: The City of Adventure is a great way to make a unique and unexpected cult leaders.

The archetypes and class options from Horror Adventures are all perfectly appropriate for Freeport, but it’s worth mentioning the mad scientist (alchemist), dreadnaught (barbarian), elder mythos cultist (cleric), hexenhammer (inquisitor), cult hunter (investigator), bloody jake (slayer), serial killer (vigilante—see the discussion of Ultimate Intrigue, below, for thoughts on the vigilante), and elder mythos scholar (wizard) work particularly well for darker Freeport campaigns or for noteworthy villains.

Similarly many of the feats, spells, rituals, gear, and magic items work best in the hands of npcs, though if players want to dip a toe into problematic powers, this book expands the ways a GM can let them to that. The advice on running horror games and the shot bestiary are solid, but it’s worth remembering that while Freeport has horror elements, it’s as much pulp swashbuckling adventure as it is fear or horror.

Occult Adventures

Everything in Occult Adventures works fine in Freeport, but in general has a flavor of strange philosophies and traditions from far-off lands. A GM perfectly well can add an Academy of Psychic Sciences in the Eastern District of Freeport of a local, notable source of occult knowledge is desired, but these rules also present a wonderful opportunity to present fully flesh-out options for characters from “far away” to access to help them feel foreign and a bit alien. Given the nature of the Coils in Freeport cosmology such far-off lands could be anywhere, but existing options such as Mazin or Khaeder (or both) can also be reskinned as the home of psychic magic. This also creates a natural backstory for such characters, given that the ivory Ports on the continent are the primary traders with Khaeder, making them a logical starting point for Khaeder psychics, and a reasonable place to establish some small amount of psychic-aware schools and sages.

Pathfinder Unchained

The unchained versions of the barbarian, monk, rogue, and summoner work just as well in a Freeport game as the original classes (and, to be honest, the unchained summoner makes more sense and the unchained rogue is more flexible and interesting). The rest of the optional rules depend very much on whether you like the ideas behind them. There’s nothing about changing the action economy or altering skills that interferes with the rules from Freeport: The City of Adventure, and options like esoteric material components, innate bonuses, and scaling items can actually help reinforce the swashbuckling-with-magic feel of Freeport. Similarly the simplified monster creation rules work just fine, and if you like them, by all means use the,.

Ultimate Intrigue

There’s nothing about the Freeport setting that requires a GM to run games filled with intrigue, mysteries, social climbing, backstabbing, and interpersonal drama—but a lot of people sure seem to prefer it that way! For those folks, Ultimate Intrigue can be a significant boost to the level of talking, investigating, and scheming going on in a game.

The rules on influence can easily be used to track the PCs interactions with factions throughout Freeport, ranging from the various crime organizations to businesses, nobles, the guards, and even specific captains and crews. The research rules are great for mysteries that need more than a single check to find the answers for. The heists section is more advice than rules, but can still be useful for a GM wanting to add more complex schemes to a campaign. The pursuit rules work fine for tacking people across the city, or across an island, but can also be easily adapted for sailing ships attempt to catch up to or evade on another, or beat each other to a destination. The social conflict rules offer more advice and a number of examples of how to add social challenges to a game, and if a GM could use some help getting the most out of the colorful personalities and politics of Freeport, these can be a good jump-starter.

Then, there’s the vigilante class.

There are many fantasy campaign setting where a character with a social identity and a separate, secret vigilante identity don’t work well. If a game is primarily focused on clearing out a dungeon, or fighting as part of a formal military unit, or learning magic at a wizard school, the vigilante class has very few opportunities to shine. That can be true in a Freeport game as well, but characters inspired by the Scarlet Pimpernel or some version of Robin Hood can work very well in a Freeport game that has a lot of social interactions and scheming.

Before allowing vigilante PCs into a Freeport game, the GM should consider how they’ll interact with the campaign’s intended plot. Because the vigilante is built around the idea of having two identities, any player running one is going to look for opportunities to take advantage of that ability. If the campaign is going to include patrons and nemesis in social settings, and heists, and spying, and fights in back alleys the PCs would prefer not to get linked to, that’s likely to work well. If social interaction is going to be more straightforward, and most games focus on delving into cult temples hidden in the sewers or exploring new islands filled with ancient dangers, the vigilante (and characters using any similar options from the archetypes, feats, and so on in Ultimate Intrigue) is likely to get frustrated and have less fun.

Everything Else

Of course there are lots of other sourcebooks available for Pathfinder, from a lot of publishers, ranging from 1-page collections of a few themed feats to 32-page player-focused books to huge tomes on psionics, dragons as player characters, and 1930s-era pulp adventures. More easily than many settings, Freeport can handle all of it, if the GM and players think a new set of rules or options looks good and interesting. Adding too much may make the setting lose much of its existing flavor, but that doesn’t mean it’d be any less fun. The fact the cosmology of Freeport includes the idea that the coils of Yig have already drawn in pieces of other worlds closer to Freeport, and with the right ship (and the right magic) a crew could sail to nearly anywhere, means that anything a group decided to add to a Freeport campaign “fits in,” even if it’s something so strange the locals are likely to shoot first, and ask question alter.

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 – Sentinels of Earth-Prime: The Big Picture

We’ve got one day left on our Sentinels of Earth-Prime Kickstarter. If you haven’t backed it yet, head over to Kickstarter and check it out. It’s a cooperative card game that takes place in the core setting of our Mutants & Masterminds RPG and uses the excellent Sentinels of the Multiverse rules by Greater Than Games. The great news is that the Kickstarter funded in nine hours and now has topped $135,000, so we will be making Sentinels of Earth-Prime for sure and we’ll have the resources to produce the first print run up front. That really is one of the best things about Kickstarter from a publisher’s point of view, so if you are a backer, thanks for making it possible. Today I thought I’d share our long-term plans for Sentinels of Earth-Prime because we aren’t just launching a game here, but a game line. Let’s talk about what that means and how it relates to Mutants & Masterminds.

 

The first step is, of course, making the core game and the mini-decks that are part of the Kickstarter. Those are scheduled to ship to backers in April of 2018. We’ll then release them into stores, as we value our partners in retail and distribution and want the game to reach the widest possible audience. This should get Sentinels of Earth-Prime out just before summer, which is convention season for the game industry. We can thus run demos and promote it at important conventions like Origins and GenCon. This should all make for a strong rollout and help establish Sentinels of Earth-Prime as a worthy successor to Sentinels of the Multiverse.

What’s the next step? Expansions, of course! The way we’re designing the core game, it tells the story of key events in the years 2002-2006 of Earth-Prime, most notably the Grue attack on earth and Omega’s invasion of Freedom City. From there we have two boxed expansions planned. The first will advance the timeline to 2012, covering the Silver Storm in Emerald City and related events. The third expansion will bring the timeline up the present day, and include elements from The Cosmic Handbook and the new edition of Freedom City. Our plan is to do one release a year for the line, so the core game in 2018, the first expansion in 2019, and the second expansion in 2020. We may do additional mini-decks along the way. Certainly, we have plenty of characters to work with! Over the past 15 years, we’ve published literally hundreds of heroes and villains from the Earth-Prime setting, and more are on the way.

Mutants & Masterminds, the roleplaying game that birthed the Earth-Prime setting, will of course be continuing its run concurrently with Sentinels of Earth-Prime. The long-awaited third edition of the Freedom City sourcebook is coming out next. It’s in layout now and should be going up for pre-order by the end of the month. After that is a new print collection of the Rogues Gallery series of villains, which will include some all-new content, because you can never have enough villains in a superhero RPG! We round out the year with the launch of the Mutants & Masterminds Basic Hero’s Handbook. As the name indicates, this is a beginner friendly entry point into the Mutants & Masterminds RPG. If you’ve never played M&M before, it’ll be a great place to start.

That should give you a good idea where we are going with Sentinels of Earth-Prime and Mutants & Masterminds. If you want to get in on the Sentinels of Earth-Prime Kickstarter, there’s still time! There are some stretch goals we’d love to unlock before the campaign ends, so do check it out. We’re counting on you, heroes!

Joseph D. Carriker

Joseph D. Carriker

Joseph Carriker is developer for A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying and the Chronicle System. He has worked in the gaming industry since 2000, and intends to keep doing that for the foreseeable future. He's an avid proponent of diversity in gaming spaces, and regularly runs LGBT-oriented panels at gaming conventions, including GenCon's "Queer as a Three-Sided Die." He recently sold a novel, Sacred Band, available this winter from Lethe Press.
Joseph D. Carriker

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Ronin Roundtable: Critical Role – Vestiges of Divergence

As we’re closing in on the finish line for Critical Role: Tal’Dorei Campaign Setting, I’m putting the finishing touches on the chapter that deals with the heroes of the land. Part and parcel of that hero experience is, of course, magic items, and Tal’Dorei has some very cool things to offer, in the form of Vestiges of Divergence.

For those not in the know, the Vestiges are holdovers from a powerful magical era. When found, their power is subdued, after long years slumbering. But as the hero accomplishes more and greater tasks, the magic of the Vestiges stirs and begins to rise, allowing heroes to advance these items first to awakened status and finally to exalted status through the performance of great feats or personal development.

 

For today’s post, I’m going to share with you the Pyremaul, a massive hammer filled with potent elemental power.

Pyremaul

Weapon (maul), legendary (requires attunement)

Forged from deep red iron, this massive hammer houses an ever-burning gemstone of orange flame. You have a +1 bonus to attack rolls made with this weapon. When you hit with an attack using this weapon, the target takes an additional 1d6 fire damage.

You can choose to have this weapon shed bright light in a 30 foot radius and dim light for an additional 30 feet. If you kill a creature with an attack using this weapon, the corpse is immolated, turning to ash.

Awakened

When a character awakens Pyremaul, apply the following changes to the item’s traits:

  • Increase the bonus to attack rolls to a +2.
  • Increase the additional fire damage inflicted by a hit to 2d6.
  • When you score a critical hit with this weapon, the target must succeed on a DC 15 Strength saving throw or be knocked prone.

Exalted

When a character exalts Pyremaul, apply the following changes to the item’s traits:

  • Increase the bonus to attack rolls to a +3.
  • Increase the additional fire damage inflicted by a hit to 3d6.
  • When you score a critical hit with this weapon, the target must succeed on a DC 17 Strength saving throw or be knocked prone. The target also suffers an additional 3d6 fire damage from the critical hit.

(It should be noted that this item is currently in-development, and this draft may not reflect its final description.)

Donna Prior

Donna Prior

Events Manager at Green Ronin Publishing
Donna “Danicia” Prior is the Events Manager for Green Ronin Publishing. She is also the Executive Director of OrcaCon, the Inclusive Tabletop Games Convention in Everett, WA.

Donna is also a speaker at numerous conventions and conferences. She has spoken about building communities, diversity, harassment, and accessibility. She was a Gen Con Industry Insider for 2016.Donna is a gamer and a beer geek, often combining both hobbies while teaching new people to game and appreciate beer. She’s also insists she is NOT a Hobbit. You can follow Donna on Twitter: @_Danicia_. Find her also on http://about.me/Danicia.
Donna Prior

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Ronin Roundtable: Small Shows

I don’t write up a lot of blogs here for Green Ronin. Mostly, everyone sees my pushes for GMs for Gen Con and an occasional posting for other folks. I’m taking on the duties this week for the Ronin Round Table and I’m super stoked to talk about fan-run conventions and smaller events.

We receive a few emails here and there from fan-run conventions looking for support. This could mean a variety of things, ranging from free books, GMs to run games, or Green Ronin Staff & Developers to be Special Guests or Guests of Honor at various cons. Some events are looking for sponsorship or product for their game libraries. I’ll talk about each one and how we can (or sadly, cannot) support your event.

GMs – We have a pretty small group of super fans who run games for us at Gen Con aka the Green Ronin Freebooters. Many of them run games in their local game stores and conventions. They do this for the love of the hobby and supporting local game communities. We have a bunch of free content & “Quick Start” adventures which can easily be converted to “con games”, over at freeronin.com. Many of our GMs run their homebrews, tailored to their FLGS/con.

How we’re supporting the GMs – We’ve been working on more Quick Start adventures, which will make it easier for not only our Freebooters, but for any GM to run at a game store and con. These will be great introductory adventures, to highlight our game systems and our worlds. We’re talking of an asset kit, too, so any GM, FLGS, or Con can use these assets to promote their games and events on their social media.

Free Products – This one is tough. We’re still a small team, even though GR has been around many years. We simply cannot afford to send every convention free product. We still have to pay for the game, as it were, to “buy” it for said con. And then spend the shipping to send it out. We get many requests for books to add to a con’s library or “play & win” program.

But really, to be honest? Not a lot of folks actually pick up an RPG book to learn how to play over the course of the con. There are always exceptions, of course, for super motivated RPG players. And sadly, many of us in the industry have been burned by con organizers keeping the products themselves or selling them on eBay/their FLGS.

Green Ronin as Guests – This is an upside for everyone! You get to invite our staff to a show, we get to talk about our products, run some games, talk about the industry, and all kinds of cool things that benefit the con and our staff. Many of us have been invited to a variety of events, all over the world. We’re also more likely to bring a small amount of product with us to sell and donate, as we’ll be able to meet the organizers and the community.

Small conventions are great. It’s really wonderful to be able to easily chat with our community. It’s a great way for us to network with other publishers, and meet future freelancers. It’s a good way for us to bring content to your show, especially when we’re doing writer’s seminars, giving advice about publishing, or talking about diversity in our games and in our industry.

If you’re interested in our Freebooter program, you can check it out here. If you’d like to invite a member of the Green Ronin Team to your event, you can email me directly and let me know who you’re interested in bringing on board. You can find me at donna@greenronin.com and I’ll reach out to my team. We can focus panels, workshops, and games for your event.

Steve Kenson

Steve Kenson

Steve Kenson has been an RPG author and designer since 1995 and has worked on numerous book and games, including Mutants & Masterminds, Freedom City, and Blue Rose for Green Ronin Publishing. He has written nine RPG tie-in novels and also runs his own imprint, Ad Infinitum Adventures, which publishes material for Icons Superpowered Roleplaying. Steve maintains a website and blog at www.stevekenson.com.
Steve Kenson

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Ronin Roundtable: Freedom City, Then and Now

The worlds we create certainly can take on a life of their own. That has been my experience with Freedom City, the central starting point for the Earth-Prime setting for Mutants & Masterminds, now the focus of two major forthcoming projects that reflect the history of the setting and its future.

Sentinels of Earth-Prime

Over on Kickstarter, the Sentinels of Earth-Prime card game takes the hugely popular Sentinels of the Multiverse and brings its game mechanics and design to Freedom City, focusing on the “classic” era of the second edition of the Freedom City sourcebook from 2005, and the Freedom League of that time, along with some of their most fiendish foes, like Omega, Argo, Hades, and the Meta-Mind of the alien Grue Unity.

For M&M fans new to the card game, Sentinels pits teams of heroes up against the challenges of particular villains and environments, using decks of cards to represent all of those factors, and emphasizing just the kind of heroic teamwork the Freedom League is know for. For Sentinels fans new to Mutants & Masterminds, the Freedom City setting is meant to capture the classic feel of the superhero comics and offer a setting for telling all kinds of stories in a roleplaying context. If you’re unfamiliar with the heroes of the Freedom League or their foes, worry not! We have plans to profile all of the characters in the days to come while the Kickstarter is ongoing, along with providing you with some looks at Freedom City, its history, geography, and feel as a setting

For those who’d prefer not to wait, of course, you can find out plenty about the larger context of the Earth-Prime setting in the Atlas of Earth-Prime, Emerald City, Hero High, and Cosmic Handbook sourcebooks, available in print and PDF from the Green Ronin online store. Speaking of which….

Freedom City, Third Edition

Freedom City is also getting some much-needed attention from the roleplaying side of things in the forthcoming third edition of the Freedom City setting sourcebook, which rounds out all of those previously mentioned setting books to provide a complete look at Earth-Prime. More than ten years after the events in the previous edition of Freedom City that is the focus for Sentinels of Earth-Prime, the Freedom League and other elements of the world have seen some changes: Older heroes have retired, passing on their mantles to a new generation, and new heroes have appeared, often with ties to past events.

Captain Thunder and Lady Liberty have both lost their powers and left the Freedom League, but the Light of Liberty has chosen a successor, and Captain Thunder’s son, Ray, Jr., has graduated from the Next-Gen and the Claremont Academy to take his father’s place in the League, although not in quite the form anyone expected. Likewise, the Raven has followed in her father’s footsteps to pass her dark cloak and experience on to a young hero operating out of New York City (as detailed in Atlas of Earth-Prime) to take up a career in politics. Meanwhile, the previous “rookie” heroes of the League like Bowman, Johnny Rocket, and Star Knight are now seasoned veterans, helping out the “new kids” like Thunderbolt, Lady Liberty, and Centuria, the daughter of the legendary hero Centurion from an alternate Earth destroyed by Omega. The ageless and immortal members of the team, like Daedalus, Dr. Metropolis, and Siren, remain largely unchanged, although Daedalus’ involvement in aiding alien refugees from the shattered Lor Republic has led some earthly authorities to question his loyalties.

And that’s just within the ranks of the Freedom League! The new edition of Freedom City also looks at various other heroes of the setting, like the Atom Family, along with the ranks of some of Earth-Prime’s most infamous villains, nearly a hundred characters in all. This is combined with new and updated art and additional views of Freedom City like those seen here.