Ronin Roundtable: Convention Season

When I first got into the game industry in early 90s, there was a convention season that generally lasted from late May to early September. There were some shows in other parts of the year but the focus was on the summertime when students were out of school and families planned vacations. Companies scheduled their biggest releases of the year for convention season, typically debuting them at GenCon. And for the most part that’s how things were into the early 2000s.

In the last 15 years or so things slowly changed. Convention season was still a phrase we used in the industry but it seemed to get a little longer each year. Some old cons faded away but far more new ones were born. Some of this has to do with the infiltration of geek culture into the mainstream. More and more, gamers wanted conventions in their local area, and where they didn’t exist people made them. At the same time traveling to other cities and even countries to attend conventions became more common. When I flew from New York City to Milwaukee for my first GenCon in 1989, that was a fairly unusual thing to do. People routinely travel much farther to attend conventions today.

On the publishing side of things, we used to have the better part of nine months to concentrate on designing and producing games, then three months with a lot of travel that cut into design time. To show you how things have changed, here are the conventions and trade shows I’ve been to this year.

OrcaCon in Everett, Washington in January.

JoCo Cruise to Mexico in February.

GAMA Trade Show in Las Vegas, Nevada in March.

Salute in London, England in April.

ACD Games Day in Madison, Wisconsin in May.

Enfilade in Olympia, Washington in May.

Origins in Columbus, Ohio in June.

GenCon in Indianapolis, Indiana in August.

PAX Dev and PAX Prime in Seattle, Washington in September.

Alliance Open House in Fort Wayne, Indiana in September.

Next week Green Ronin will be at the inaugural show of PAX Unplugged in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

That will be my final convention of 2017. As you can see, that’s quite a bit of travel and I could easily do so much more. At this point I could probably attend a convention somewhere most weekends of the year, with the exception of Xmas season. Or to put that another way, convention season now lasts 11 months! Now obviously we can’t attend every show. There are certain staples, like GenCon and GAMA Trade Show that we always attend. Others change year to year. In 2018 we are the spotlight publisher at

Norwescon here in Seattle in March, and we’ll also be featured at Chupacabracon in Austin, Texas in May. Then in June we should be attending our first UK Games Expo in Birmingham, England. Will we make it back to Essen Spiel in Germany or finally go down under for PAX Australia? Maybe! When it comes to conventions these days, we are spoiled for choice. And while all that travel can be exhausting, it is worth it to be able to talk to so many gamers and game retailers face to face. To find out what shows we’ll be at, you can check out our events calendar and keep an eye on our various social media pages. See you on the convention trail!

Ronin Roundtable: Nisaba Press!

Hi, I’m Jaym Gates, Line Manager for Green Ronin’s Nisaba Press. We’ll be publishing fiction tied in to the Green Ronin properties, both short fiction and novels. I was given three missions: make a great fiction line, make sure it was a great diverse fiction line, and find some great new voices for both fiction and RPGs. That’s pretty much the most exciting mission plan you could give me, for anything. Why? I got into editing because I discovered how amazing it was to find those incredible new voices that no one else has found yet. There is also something intensely rewarding about taking a good piece of fiction and refining it to its best form.

As we’re releasing our first batch of regular stories, I wanted to talk a little bit about tie-in fiction, and why Nisaba.

First off, one of the best things about tie-in fiction to me is that it gives fans new stories and elaborates on beloved settings. Flavor text in RPG books is great, but sometimes you really want to go on an adventure with characters. See the sights of Emerald City, smell the sweet reek of Freeport, maybe feel the wind on your face as Rezeans gallop across the plains. While we can’t LITERALLY give you all of that, fiction gives windows to the new and existing characters in our settings. Maybe they’ll inspire new adventures, show up in your existing adventures, or just be a brief excursion with a fictional friend, but any way it goes, we love giving fans the chance to interact at more length with our settings.

It’s also a great way to get your RPG fix if you don’t have time to game, are playing another game, or can’t get a good group. It’s like talking to an old friend you don’t get to see often enough.

Secondly, tie-in fiction is a great way for new fans to get involved. There are a lot of settings, a lot of rules, and a lot of history. It can be scary for someone to just jump in at the deep end with no idea what’s going on. A short story or novel takes away that overwhelming feeling of “SO MUCH STUFF” and gives the reader a gentle introduction to a new place.

And last but not least: because the world is made of stories, and stories allow the creators to develop things that might never come up in the RPGs, or that might just not have been thought of. Narrative is a unique thing that forces you to think of so many angles that you might not otherwise see. The scents and sounds of a world, the interplay between character and their religion, questions of morality and honor. A story fleshes out what the RPG has built to a level that flashes and flavor text can’t approach.

So that is “Why tie-in fiction.” I’m really thrilled with the stories I’ve already been working on. We have Anthony Pryor’s My Night in Freeport, Lindsay Adam’s tale of an Aldean agent and a Jarzoni priest-adept, Eytan Bernstein’s story of Kid Robot’s first day of school, and so much more. All of these are original fiction set canonically in the settings you know and love. My hope is that they bring another aspect of engagement and joy in the setting.

And keep an eye out, we’re planning to host an open submission period in a few months, so if you’re wanting to write fiction for Blue Rose, Freeport, or Mutants & Masterminds, get plotting now!

Ronin Roundtable: Walking the Royal Road part two: Backstory

Hello and welcome to Walking the Royal Road, an ongoing series on using the Tarot (or Royal Road, in Aldin parlance) in Blue Rose AGE games. See also the first in the series, Part One: Friends & Loved Ones.

The Tarot has been used in roleplaying games for quite a long time, in a variety of contexts, and with good reason. Reading and deciphering the Tarot is less a matter of divination as it is storytelling—each card carries an intrinsic meaning (and sometimes a second meaning when the card appears inverted) that can serve as a building block for a larger narrative. When multiple cards are laid out, with each card position also having a meaning, it is possible to use them to build a small story of some kind, through the language of symbolism and the very human act of pulling disparate elements into a larger narrative.

The Blue Rose AGE core book already suggests a use of the Royal Road: in the establishment of a character’s Calling, Destiny, and Fate. There are also some suggestions for using tarot in Chapter Ten (p. 313, in the section “Walking the Royal Road,” where the title for this series comes from). This series of articles is going to suggest some additional uses for them.

The cards we use in these articles are the Shadowscapes Tarot, with art by the amazing Stephanie Pui-Mun Law, whose art has graced the covers of Blue Rose books throughout the game’s history.

Backstory

Today’s article discusses the use of the Tarot in generating a backstory. Romantic fantasy heroes frequently have backstories filled with twists, turns, tragedies, and confrontations. By the time these characters reach adulthood, many of the heroes of Tamora Price, Mercedes Lackey, Diane Duane, and other such authors have experienced a great deal that has shaped them into the heroes they are today. Of course, in those novels we frequently get to see this happening, but most Blue Rose game begin with fully adult characters. This provides a way to mimic some of those challenges.

The Spread

The spread for this method is not static, but can depend on just how much backstory the player (or Narrator, if creating the backstory of a Narrator character) wants to have had. A good round number for beginning player character is probably three cards: one for adolescence, one for young adulthood, and then a card that represents the struggle that led to the hero’s first level in a player character class. If they’re starting off at higher levels, an additional card for each level or two is probably also appropriate.

Feel free to also draw additional cards for major events. If your character is rhy-bonded, perhaps a card that reflects the events where that rhy-bond awakened in their lives. If they are part of the Sovereign’s Own, perhaps a card that represents them getting noticed or receiving training. If the character is older than a young adult, perhaps a card for every five or ten years since their young adulthood makes sense.

Some options for individual card meanings include:

  • Childhood
  • Adolescence
  • Young Adulthood
  • First player character level (often combined with another card, most likely Young Adulthood)
  • Rhy-bond
  • Entry into an Organization, Institution, or Group
  • Beginning of a defining Relationship
  • End of a defining Relationship
  • Starting a Family
  • Starting a Business
  • Middle Age

As you can see, there are a great many options, with the possibility of many more. Try and keep your focus to five cards or less, as the more detail there is, the harder it gets to weave it all together into a single cohesive whole.

This system is quite simple to use. Lay the cards out, face down, in a line. Then, from left to right, flip over each card, noting what stage or element of backstory this represents. Take the meaning of the card in question (using online resources or the booklets that frequently come with Tarot decks) as a prompt about the events the card represents; additionally, you can let the images on the cards themselves be a guide as well. Take notes; each of these cards is its own small story, but each is also a step in a greater story progression.

 

Example

In the image, we have laid out four cards to represent a new player character named Jaxan. Jaxan is a human adept (Forest Folk background) who is rhy-bound to a rhy-owl named Whisper. I have decided that the first card represents his childhood, the second card is his adolescence, the third card is the establishment of his bond with Whisper, and the fourth card is the achievement of his adulthood and the gaining of his first level of adept.

Childhood: Five of Swords. This card shows a winged swordsman, with a pair of dark-hued geese or maybe swans at his side. The card itself represents discord and conflicts of interest, the feeling that the world is arrayed against you, so you feel justified in focusing only on your own concerns and profit. Jaxan’s childhood was clearly tumultuous, and it looks like he had to take care of himself, having no one else to do so.

Adolescence: Judgment. This card shows a fey-like spirit among the flowers, playing music and surrounded by butterflies. The card represents release and renewal, having to make hard choices, making a judgment that may be harsh and difficult to face, but absolution comes thereby. With his adolescence, however, Jaxan was freed in some way by hard choices he made.

Rhy-Bond: Two of Pentacles. This card shows a harlequin-like figure balancing on one foot atop a pillar, while he huggles a pair of pentacle disks, with a monkey seated at his feet. It represents a balancing act, having to juggle and keep everything in motion, the trait of being flexible and adaptable, able to change directions easily and quickly. A sense of flexibility, of adaptability surrounds his rhy-bond; perhaps he is a good match with Whisper because the rhy-owl lacks that trait in some capacity? (I admit, the notion of a stodgy, grumpy older owl who is a bit hidebound in his thinking pleases me greatly.)

Adulthood: Four of Swords. This card shows a maiden in repose, a blade clutched to her body, her head reclining on three other blades, while she is surrounded by flowers and a dove is perched at her feet. Its meaning suggests a moment of repose, meditation and centering, and finding one’s inner strength. Jaxan’s adulthood–and the full bloom of his adept powers–may have come about not as a result of some kind of sudden trauma or stress, but the alleviation of such. When he finally gets the chance to rest, to turn his attention inward, his arcane talents blossom.

Conclusion

Here is just one example of this method for backstory generation. It’s far from the only one, to say nothing of the variety possible from other card results entirely!

Jaxan: The Woodwise Adept. Jaxan grew up in a small community called Avia, about three days north of Ennevan, in the southern edges of the Pavin Weald. The community was mostly made up of lumberwrights, fur-traders, and woodsfolk of various sorts. Jaxan has vague memories of his mother, but most of his genuine memories are of a neglectful father, who spent most of his time in the woods and when he was home, spent that time in the bottom of a bottle. Jaxan always sort of understood that his Da mourned his mother, but that didn’t change the fact that he basically left the boy on his own much of the time. (The themes of discord and being alone against the world are directly from the Five of Swords.) His closest neighbor, a goosewife with a full and hungry brood of her own, did her best to watch out for the boy, feeding him in return for his occasional help watching her geese, but that was the closest the wild boy had to any kind of supervision. (I really dig the birds in the card’s imagery, so he grew up helping to tend geese.)

As he grew older, though, he couldn’t help but note the sorts of things his Da brought home more and more. Coin, certainly, but also other trading goods, clothing, even the occasional weapon. His Da would make a trip into Ennevan occasionally to sell it, though he was always very protective of his privacy, instilling in Jaxan the need to keep quiet about their affairs to others. But when a pair of envoys came to Avia, looking for members of a band of bandits operating nearby, the fourteen year old Jaxan realized just what it was his father did for a living.

For the next couple of years, Jaxan held his father’s secret, though it ate at the sensitive and clever boy. He knew his own justifications became more and more absurd, but how could he betray his own father, even as neglectful as he was? He was the only family he had. But the next time someone came to Avis, seeking the bandits, it was a traveling noble and his companions, and they brought with them someone badly injured by the bandits. Face to face with the reality of the ill his father did, Jaxan fled to his home.

Sleep eluded him, until he was forced to sit upright in bed. Tomorrow he would find the noble, and do what was right. As he decided that, something battered at the shutters to his room. He fearfully crossed to them, and opened them, to find a great silvery-white owl perched on the sill. You’ve made a hard choice, Jaxan, the rhy-owl’s psychic voice said, sounding old and wise in his head. But you’ll never be alone again, not so long as I live. The rhy-owl introduced himself as Whisper, and the next morning, the two of them found the noble and told him of his father’s crimes.

(Note that I sort of switched up–or combined, really– the Adolescence and Rhy-bond cards to make the story make a better sense. Don’t hesitate to do that. No need to be slavishly beholden to the order of cards as they’re laid out. The goal is a good story.)

Finding out that the boy had no other family, the noble offered Jaxan a place in her retinue if he wanted it. Like most of the young of Avia, he was knowledgeable in woodslore and knew this part of the Weald. He thanked her, but refused. His one brush with helping to enforce the law was painful enough; he wasn’t entirely sure he was cut out to do so as his vocation. Instead, he returned the key to his father’s house to the heads-woman of Avis, gathered a few of his belongings, and he and Whisper disappeared into the woods.

Being perfectly at home in the woods, Jaxan spent some time getting to know Whisper, to mourn the loss of his father, but also to find some peace and clarity for the first time. It was in a forest glade that Whisper taught him to meditate and find his center, and over the next several months the two of them discovered and cultivated his arts in the animism and shaping (particularly plants) disciplines of arcane lore.

Now Jaxan is a young man ready to return to civilization, and the beginning of this Blue Rose campaign!

Ronin Roundtable: To Boldly Go…

Hard to resist the appeal of the world’s most famous split infinitive, given the topic of this column and the recent relaunch of a certain science-fiction television series, although this Ronin Roundtable has to do with far more earthly matters.

One question I get a lot on diversity panels and interviews about inclusion and such is: “As a queer creator, do you face a lot of censorship?” To which I’d say, as a cis-gendered white male American creator, not nearly as much as some, but from talking to a lot of my queer colleagues in the game industry, much of the censorship we have faced has been self-censorship, a tendency to second-guess ourselves, to flinch a bit away from including the kinds of things we’d like to read in a product, in the interest of appealing to a broader audience, or “not pushing” or, frankly, whatever bullshit excuse we could come up with to justify not putting ourselves “out there” too much.

In my own experience, RPG publishers have actually been quite supportive of my going out on a limb and it has been much more of a question of just how far out there I was willing to go. I’m sure that’s not necessarily everyone’s experience, but when I wanted to make the protagonist of my Shadowrun novels gay, and talk about his trauma involving the death of his mentor and lover when he was a teenager, or when I wanted to include an openly gay superhero in Freedom City, or to incorporate queer people into the mythology and society of a fantasy setting in Blue Rose, publishers supported me unconditionally. Any places where I didn’t push boundaries or challenge expectations I attribute to my own lack of imagination, courage, or willingness to take a risk.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not beating myself up over who and where I was back then. I did what I was able to do (rather than what I was “allowed” to do) and I had a lot to learn. I’m a strong believer in Maya Angelou’s ideal of “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” At least, I certainly try to do better. All creative work involves risk: You’re putting a part of yourself into your creation and then putting it out there for people to love or hate or criticize or simply ignore with a “meh” and shrug, for fellow professionals to edit, critique, and evaluate. When you’re also going against the current of the mainstream culture, you’re taking an even greater risk but, in my experience, the rewards of a creative work are commensurate with the risks that you take.

That’s what led us to talking at Green Ronin’s recent planning summit (and afterwards) about encouraging bold creation: opening opportunities for new voices, diversifying both our creators and our ideas, exploring paths not taken, and finding ways to support and encourage each other when we feel the urge to back away from a leap of faith that seems too far, too risky. To find ways instead to help each other and the creators who work with us by saying: “Be bold. Jump, and we’ll be there to help catch you.” Bold creativity and inclusivity—telling the stories that truly speak to you—is still a risk, it will always be a risk, but it’s not a risk you necessarily have to take alone. If this idea speaks to you, talk to us.

 

Ronin Roundtable: Summit Time

Once the summer convention season is largely completed but before we lose the momentum that meeting our fans and fellow gamers brings, Green Ronin holds its annual summit in the Seattle area to plan out what we hope to bring to market for the next year. Summit time is important to our company because everyone at Green Ronin works remotely, bringing their individual skills and unique talents to bear from their own home offices around the country.

2017 means it’s been 17 years of our little endeavor that began as a way for GR President Chris Pramas to keep his hand in roleplaying while he worked a day job in the fledgling miniatures division at Wizards of the Coast circa 2000. Considering how we work, with so many of us working in what might seem like isolation, I’m amazed and gratified at how stable the core of our team has been and how we’ve managed to grow ourselves to include so many ridiculously talented and patently wonderful people.

When we first started it was just me and Chris, though our pal Hal Mangold was involved from project #1 and our dedicated webmaster Evan Sass followed up not long after. Hal went on to become our business partner in the reconstituted Green Ronin Publishing LLC and if you’ve listened to my bit on the recent installment of Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff you know the high regard in which we hold him. The fact that they were, 16 years ago, the Best Man and Dude of Honor (respectively) at our wedding in 2001 should only be further evidence of our fond ties to these men.

I mention this because I consider “our people” to be not just coworkers and colleagues but also friends, near family. Summit time, in addition to being very much a working retreat where we meet for serious discussion and strategy for 8 or 9 hours each day, is also akin to a family reunion or some other sort of social gathering. We cook together, eat together, play games and watch movies and relax together. It’s bonding time… not “enforced bonding” or corporate ice-breaker game playing, but letting our introverts introvert, letting people who love the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles nerd out together, letting the night owls night owl and the early birds fix breakfast. It’s bonding time, time that reminds us all that our coworkers are humans and not just words in an email or posts to a Slack channel.

This year was kind of a big year for us because we reached a threshold where the number of “newbies” who had been to one (or none) of our summits in the past were nearly equal to the “old timers” who have now been to several (or every) previous summit. This year we welcomed Mutants & Masterminds line developer Crystal Frasier, who had the poor luck to be hired just after last year’s summit and so who had to go a full 11 months working for us without the experience of summitting to bolster her. Similarly, our magnificent Modern AGE line developer, Malcolm Sheppard, also had to wait through many months of work before meeting most of the rest of the team this year. After a full decade of waiting for Green Ronin to be in a place to launch a fiction line, 2017 was the year we were able to put our plans in motion and that meant that our Managing Editor Jaym Gates joined us for the first time this year as well. We also welcomed Veronica Templar, who graduated from volunteer to Event Coordinator when Donna Prior moved on. Veronica had, at least, met most everyone through her volunteer work for us as booth staff for GenCon but it was still her first summit in an official capacity (and she was dealing with an icky virus of some sort to boot). Finally, our Lost Citadel developer, CA Suleiman, joined us for summit business as well, though he did have the advantage of having worked as a Green Ronin freelancer before and knew at least a few of us before we dragged him out into the wilds of Eastern Washington to extract summit work out of him.

If there’s any indication that big things are afoot, looking around and seeing that a full 1/3 of your company summit is made up of new blood is certainly that.

Every year I leave the summit feeling energized and excited to tackle the upcoming year and this year was no different. If anything, I’m more excited than usual because I’ve gotten to see what Malcolm has been cooking up for our Modern AGE release and that in addition to our upcoming Mutants & Masterminds releases we have the wonderful work Crystal has put into the Lazarus setting. The line-up for Nisaba fiction is exciting me beyond words because as I’ve said, I’ve wanted to do this fiction line for a decade and Jaym is the PERFECT person to handle it for us. The Lost Citadel project was my “special project” last year and seeing it come into its own inside the company through CA’s capable guidance makes me nearly as happy as seeing Blue Rose make it out into the world did this year. Veronica blows me away with the things she’s taking on to up our convention presence and reboot the Freebooter volunteer program.

2018 holds much promise for Green Ronin and we have a really dazzling array of things planned. In addition to the new initiatives from our new faces, there are many things planned from our tried and true stalwarts as well. Chris will be along in the future to talk more about the specifics but I’ll just say that at the summit everyone was given a chance to pitch a “special project”…something done out of love or passion or inspiration. These are longer-term plans and ideas that Jack Norris, Joe Carriker, Steve Kenson, and Chris himself will elaborate on in future Ronin Roundtables. The most important part for me was that every idea had an advocate, that there was at least one person truly excited and inspired about every single “special project” to hit the table… and if circumstances keep us from doing them all right now, I definitely don’t want that to hold us back from making time to do them in the future. Nothing sells me quite as much as genuine passion for a project and the summit offered that in spades.

I am utterly convinced I work with the best people in all of gaming. That’s what Summit Time means to me and it’s one of the reasons I’m still in this business after 28 years. I hope you all come to love what we’ve got cooking as much as I do!

Ronin Round Table: Integrating Wizards 5e Adventures with the Tal’dorei Campaign Setting

Bidet, Critters!

Now that you have the Tal’dorei Campaign Setting in your hands, what can you do with it? Play games, of course. But what adventures? Wizards has released a number of adventure books since 5th edition launched, and some of them are easy to integrate into Exandria.

Caution: Spoilers for Out of the Abyss are contained beyond this point. If you wish to play as a player, stop reading here. You have been warned!

One of the Adventure books that Wizards has released for 5th Edition D&D is called Out of the Abyss. It was primarily written by Green Ronin, on behalf of Wizards. The adventure, as written, is set in the Forgotten Realms, but it takes place mostly in the Underdark, and so requires very little massaging to use it in Tal’dorei.

You may wish to change the names of some of the cities of the underdark. I don’t think it will really matter much for most of them, although many of them have been in use in the Forgotten Realms for many years. There is a rough map on page 19 of the adventure that shows approximate locations of the underdark cites in relation to the overland Forgotten Realms map. You probably don’t need to change this, as the facing page has approximate travel times between the various locations. It’s probably best to use that as a rough guide for travel.

The largest change needed in the book is Chapter 8. The first thing to do is replace Bruenor Battlehammer and Gauntlgrym with Gradim Greyspine and Kraghammer. Then, replace the various Forgotten Realms specific factions (The Harpers, The Lords’ Alliance, The Zhentarim, The Emerald Enclave, and The Order of the Gauntlet) with Tal’dorei specific ones. (I’d suggest The Arcana Pansophical, The Ashari, The Council of Tal’dorei, The Chamber of Whitestone, and The Clasp.) Special note: In the adventure, the Zhentarim have a trading outpost in an underdark city. Have one of the factions that you replace the Zhents with (perhaps the Clasp?) have a similar outpost.

Please feel free to make any other changes you might need or want to. Playing with a toolbox is fun, and can help you level up as a DM. Bonus conversion: here is the sword Dawnbringer (found early in the adventure) turned into a vestige:

Dawnbringer

Weapon ( longsword ), legendary ( requires attunement by a non-evil creature )

Dawnbringer appears as a golden longsword hilt. When it’s attuned and held in your hand, you can use a bonus action to activate it, causing a glowing blade to appear. Dawnbringer functions as a longsword with the finesse property. You have a +1 bonus to attack and damage rolls with this weapon. It deals radiant damage instead of slashing damage. When you hit an undead or demonic target with it, it deals an extra 1d6 radiant damage.

Sentience/Personality: See the adventure, page 222.

Awakened:

Increase the bonus to attack and damage rolls to +2.

Increase the extra damage to undead or demonic targets to 2d6

Once per day, you can use your action to cast lesser restoration on a target you are touching. ( Recharges each day at dawn. )

Exalted:

Increase the bonus to attack and damage rolls to +3.

On a critical hit against an undead or demonic target, maximize all damage dice. ( Treat them as if you rolled the maximum number on the die. )

The first time each day that one of your allies within ten feet of you drops to zero hit points, Dawnbringer heals them for 2d8+2 damage. ( Recharges each day at dawn. )

Tune in next time for a more in-depth conversion, Princes of the Apocalypse!

Ronin Roundtable: The Freedom to Change

One of the core features of Earth Prime is that it’s a dynamic setting. Just like your favorite comic books, the world constantly changes as new crises challenge heroes and villains alike, and the steady march of time means new heroes enter the picture as older heroes retire. In the Emerald City Knights adventure arc, we introduced a status quo on the west coast then tore it apart in the space of six months. In Hero High, we introduced the newest iteration of Next Gen (the first team having long since graduated to bigger and better things). In the Cosmic Handbook, we destroyed entire planets, destroyed an empire, and cranked up the danger as the Star-Khan conquers much of the Lor Republic and Blackstar forms his Blackguard to oppose the Star Knights.

The upcoming Freedom City introduces many changes of its own that have gripped the city since its last depiction over a decade ago. Popular Mayor Michael O’Conner has long since moved on, now representing the entire state as Senator O’Connel, with a dedicated familiar face taking his place. Crimelord August Roman is out of the picture, replaced entirely by his endlessly opportunistic daughter. Perhaps some of the most exciting changes are in the Freedom League’s roster. Several long-term members—including Captain Thunder and the Raven—have retired to make way for a new generation. Let’s take a sneak-peak at two of the newest members:

 

 

Thunderbolt is Ray Gardener, Jr, formerly of the teenage superteam Next-Gen. Hoping to follow in his father’s footsteps, he used the electrical powers he inherited to fight crime as the young hero Bolt. A little too eager to prove himself worthy of his father’s legacy and earn a place in the Freedom League, he fell right into the clutches of the fiendish Dr. Stratos, who used the young man as bait to lure Captain Thunder to his doom. The adventure that followed left Captain Thunder drained of his power and Ray Jr. infused with more elemental energy than his young body could handle. Now trapped inside a containment suit to stop his form from dissipating, Ray Jr tries to fill his father’s role on the Freedom League, but instead of youthful zeal he now finds his purpose in service, accepting the burden he struggled so hard to gain in his younger years.

 

 

Lady Liberty, by contrast, is one of the city’s newest heroes, and is still enthusiastically learning the lifestyle and the scope of her powers. Medical student Sonja Gutierrez sacrificed herself to save a stranger and found herself empowered by the Spirit of Liberty. Now inducted as a provisional member of the Freedom league thanks to her legacy status and tutelage under the previous Lady Liberty, Beth Walton-Wright, Sonja still struggles to balance her superheroics with her education and work. Unlike previous Lady Liberty’s, Sonja’s love for her native country is nuanced—she admires the spirit and potential of the United States against the terrible ways it treats immigrants like her parents and trans women like herself. Her frustrations are only amplified by a small by vocal group of conspiracy theorists who insist she somehow stole the mantle of Lady Liberty—including her nemesis, the murderous Madame Guillotine.

 

 

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: Cool Dads

Hey folks, Jack here. Warning, this is going to be kind of a down Ronin Round Table, but I think it’s an important one.

A couple weeks ago, my father, James Norris, died. He was too young to die, despite being 70. It wasn’t a heroic death or a quick easy demise. In fact, it basically just sucked.

Because, in the words of Star Lord? I had a pretty cool dad.

But relevant to gaming and the gaming industry? I also had a supportive dad. My dad was my first player. I didn’t know what I was doing with my old D&D Basic set but he thought this rpg thing was a cool idea too and helped me figure it out. We never played again after those early days, but it was in no small part thanks to him that I got into gaming.

But it wasn’t just that one time that mattered. While much of 80s America was buying into that idiotic “Satanic Panic” of the time and burning kids’ gaming books and shaming them for playing games with their friends? My dad stood up for me. He likened my loved of games with the “baseball statistics” games and toy soldiers he loved as a kid. That’s right folks, despite never carrying the label or playing beyond those first few games? My dad was a real OG…original gamer.

When he explained the analogies between his childhood interests and mine to my grandparents? They supported me too. When a relative or neighbor tried to give me shit about gaming? He told them to back off and told me to not be bothered by them being ignorant. He bought me gaming books and even D&D toys (remember those?) when he could afford to and along with my mom they supported me first as a gamer, then as a game writer. He took me to all sorts of fantasy, pulp, and sci-fi films when he could and when he couldn’t my grandparents obliged. We saw Star Wars, Highlander, Krull, Dark Crystal, and many others in the theaters and later on video. We saw Raiders of the Lost Ark seventeen times in the theater. So much of the pop culture pedigree many of us gamers possess I experienced alongside my dad and other supportive family members.

I doubt dad ever read a single game book I wrote, but he would proudly tell others that his son was a writer, did game design, and would often talk with me about the cultural and historical elements I was including in my work.

Even when it was all short car trip “yearly vacations” to a relative’s barbeque and hand-me downs and so on? You can’t buy that sort of support. I knew families who had far more with whom every gaming diversion was a fight. To these folks gaming was “the devil’s work” or just “weird and stupid.”

I was never told to play sports instead, though I did. I was never told to go outside and stop gaming, though I did that too. The only thing that concerned dad and the other family and friends who supported me as a gamer and creator were that I didn’t JUST game. That I learned and grew in other ways. Which is a good thing to do.

By not stigmatizing my gaming and yet quietly encouraging me to have a life outside of it? My dad helped me become a far more well-adjusted person than I might have otherwise. He taught me it’s okay to be myself and more importantly it was vital to let others be themselves. This resulted not only in me gaming but gaming better—it was always about me having fun with friends and not about winning or looking cool or showing up others with how “legit” I was. To this day when I roll my eyes at the various edition wars and pointless conflicts of game design theory I can hear my dad saying “What’s the point of that? If it’s not affecting what you’re doing, why not just let people play what they want and have fun?”

A pretty cool dad, indeed.

I buried my dad a little over a week ago. That’s not a euphemism. With the help of my lovely and supportive wife, herself a gamer whose always supported my work, I dug a grave for my father’s urn in the small cemetery where he now rests and filled in the hole. Then I gave a distracted and inadequate eulogy and cried by his graveside after everyone had left.  And that kinda sucks, I’ll admit. However, what doesn’t suck at all is all the support my father gave me as a gamer and game creator. That’s the lesson I hope people reading this take:

Support gaming and the people who do it. Support your kids, relatives, and friends. Don’t sneer at them and tell them its weird. Don’t buy into whatever society is telling you about it. Don’t push others out of it either or waste time trying to keep them out of it. Be confident in your fun and let others have theirs. Really? Just game, make games of you’re so inclined, and let other people do the same.

All the people—well, okay not Nazis. Dad wouldn’t have expected that of me or anyone else. He hated Nazis (Raiders of the Lost Ark 17 times! folks).

He was cool like that too.

Ronin Roundtable: Freeport in Space

While Freeport City of Adventure was written specifically to work with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, Freeport has a history with class- & level-based RPGs with a core d20 mechanic that predates Pathfinder. Freeport has always been a location that’s easily adapted to new game systems and settings, with much of the core information it provides (such as maps, factions, politics, and adventure seeds) are useful to a GM building a campaign or adventure regardless of the game system used.

Thus with the recent release of the Starfinder Core Rulebook, a new game and new setting built off the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and advancing its campaign world thousands of years in the future, it seems a perfect time to discuss how Freeport City of Adventure (and the Freeport Bestiary) can be adapted to spacefaring campaigns!

 

Conceptual Adaptations

While it may seem that a sailing-ship port doesn’t have a lot of relevance to a science-fantasy game, it’s actually not at all difficult to adapt Freeport to a Starfinder Roleplaying Game setting. The simplest way is to leave it on its island, and make it a major starport in a system that is along a significant trade route but far from any major government within your campaign. This allows the layout to be largely unchanged (starships might even dock in the water, as a cheap alternative to expensive high-tech landing pads), and keeps all its internal politics intact. All mentions of ships are simple adapted to starships, and local groups and NPCs are updated to their high-tech equivalents. The city’s factions, history, and even many of its adventures can be easily translated to science-fantasy equivalents.

 

Though it takes more work, Freeport can also be adapted to be an independent spaceport free of any planetary body. It can be placed on an asteroid with an environmental field keeping air in (again allowing the existing map to be used), or even turned into a massive (potentially mobile) space station. For this last option you’d likely need to create a new map (or accept a really oddly-shaped space station), but the scores of shops, temples, homes, and buildings in Freeport can be adapted largely unchanged by simply assuming their technological base (and goods, and NPCs) are updated to appropriate levels.

Obviously rather than flintlock-carrying, peg-leg bearing sea pirates, this updated Freeport is an open base of operations for space pirates. Some may cling to ancient fashions and traditions (eyepatches strapped on even over cybernetic eye enhancements), but in generally their technology and appearance changes to match the campaign setting. However, ship names, rivalries, debts, rumors, and rough parts of town remain conceptually the same whether your pirates and their home sport flintlocks or plasma pistols. Especially given how vast an entire galaxy of adventure is, having a fleshed-out set of goals, organizations, and names is extremely useful, even if you need to update the gear and stat blocks of anyone the PCs decide to fight with.

Finally, although it’s not as useful in most science-fantasy campaigns, Freeport can be dropped into a science-fantasy game largely unchanged. In this case it remains a low-tech sailing ship port, on a world with much less advanced science than a typical Starfinder Roleplaying Game setting. This makes the most sense if you want your high-tech PCs to have at least one low-tech world they interact with. Freeport might be on a planet where advanced technology doesn’t function for some reason, or under a powerful protectorate that ensures its culture isn’t irreparably altered by spacefaring visitors. Or it could be a world that is perfectly well aware of lasers and starships, and happy to trade local materials for such advanced tech, but simply lacks the industrial base to recreate circuit boards and transistors even when such things fall into local hands.

 

Adapting NPC Stat Blocks

While much of the material in Freeport City of Adventure can be updated to a far future setting with nothing more than the flip of a conceptual switch, the numerous named and generic NPCs are more useful if you can use them in your campaign when needed. In general, you can convert an NPC’s stat block using the same process as converting a monster stat block using the guidelines in Chapter 13 of the Starfinder Core Rulebook. This will tell you what skills to change, how to create a target’s EAC and KAC, how to generate Stamina Points, and so on. Most of the conversions are simple enough they take at most a minute or two, and you can actually ignore most of them and just use any appropriate-sounding skill for science-fantasy skill checks (it doesn’t really matter if you use Diplomacy as a Computers check, if you have an NPC you want to be good at computers, and you can simple use half an NPC’s hp as Stamina and half as Hit Points and give them all 3 resolve Points). The end result may not be exactly what a Starfinder Roleplaying Game npc of the same level would have, but it’s close enough.

Equipment is a little trickier—but only a little. You can either just change what an NPC’s equipment looks like (and change reload needs from once per attack to one per 10 attacks) and allow the NPC to attack multiple times based on iterative attacks and two-weapon fighting and similar options, or you can upgrade the NPC to level-appropriate weapons from the Starfinder Core Rulebook, and add the NPC’S CR to the damage.

 

Adapting Monsters

The Freeport Bestiary has a huge number of monsters that players won’t be expecting, making it a great resource for populating strange planets, new worlds, and the drifting hulks of abandoned starships. Altering a monster’s stat block is largely the same process as adapting an NPC stat block. However, a monster may need some additional changes made to make sense in a Star-Freeport setting.

For example, aquatic creatures you would normally encounter at sea should either be updated to exist in a wide range of environments (including flying in gas giant planets, and even travelling through the void of space), or be set up as creatures that might sneak onto a ship, be transported by PCs (perhaps as part of a space menagerie) so they can escape and cause havoc, or be adjusted to be planar creatures able to travel through realities (and possible be encountered during hyperspace travel). The important part is to make sure PCs don’t have to go to a planetary body of water to encounter them. Similarly monsters tied to specific terrain types, be that jungles or underground caverns, should be liberally re-envisioned to dwell in fungal forests, asteroid interiors, or the crypt-worlds of necromancer robots, as needed to fit the campaign. Constructs may be given the technological subtype to represent various robots, or left as magical creatures powered purely by eldritch forces.

Other monsters can simply be moved to locations the plot sends PCs to. It doesn’t much matter if an ancient ruined temple is a remnant of a long-lost serpent-folk empire on one world, or part of a reptilian civilization that spanned a thousand star systems, if it’s an adventure site it needs demonic traps, undead lurkers, constructed guardians, and inhuman intelligences with their own reasons for breaking in.

 

Exploration is About the Unexpected

The very fact most players won’t think of Freeport material as a natural fit for a science-fantasy game means they won’t see it coming when Mr. Wednesday has a task for them involving tracking down the privateer starship Morgenstern, or offers to vacate their gambling debts if they’ll deal with a bloathsome that’s settled on an asteroid with valuable mining concerns on it.