Fantasy AGE Lairs: The Night Market (Ronin Roundtable)

This week I get to branch out from The Expanse RPG and explore one of the Green Ronin lines I’m less familiar with, Fantasy AGE.  Specifically, I’m looking at Fantasy AGE Lairs (Pre-order and PDF on sale now!).  I’m most familiar with the AGE system from The Expanse and Modern AGE but having read the core book cover to cover I’ve been dying to give Fantasy AGE a try. Since my writing time is precious, I was looking for something that I could pick up and use right away. Skimming through Lairs I saw right away that there was a lot of opportunity here for one shot adventures or side stories that easily be inserted into an existing campaign. Some have enough depth that they could even form the basis for a new campaign. Being a fan of the dark and macabre and both the book and movie Something Wicked This Way Comes I was immediately drawn to The Night Market by Mark Carrol so that’s where my journey into Fantasy AGE Lairs began. I try to avoid major spoilers but if you’re a player in a Fantasy AGE campaign and think your GM might use this book, I suggest stopping here.

The Night Market offers a rich and dark setting that can easily fit into almost any fantasy campaign. The Night Market moves about so it could set up near any village or hamlet. For that matter, with only a little modification, I could see using this lair in a Modern AGE campaign with a supernatural bent. The player characters come across a wandering market filled with curiosities: acrobats, fortune tellers, merchants with strange trinkets, and sideshows abound. Even without an adventure hook this is exactly the type of diversion that most players will immediately be drawn too. I’ve never known a group of PCs who wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to explore a mysterious carnival!

The thing I liked most about the Night Market is that the setting alone could provide hours of entertainment without ever introducing the adventure that is included. In fact, I could envision the market appearing multiple times in a campaign before the characters uncover its secrets and face off against the villain. The adventure is geared toward higher level characters although the lair itself could be used for characters of any level. Both enemies and possible allies are described in the setting with some of their motivations being left in the hands of the GM.

The adventure is fairly straightforward: people in the vicinity of the market have gone missing and while investigating the PCs meet a ghost (a victim of the main villain) who offers to help them. The powers behind the Night Market are not trivial and could prove to be a powerful and dangerous enemy. As I discussed earlier, this setting is well suited as a reoccurring villain and the Adventure Seeds at the end set this up well. The heroes may rescue the missing villagers and even overcome the villain but he may appear again in a different guise.

The Night Market is definitely one of my favorites and pretty much exactly the kind of entry I look for in a book like Fantasy AGE Lairs and I highly recommend this book for GMs who are looking for individual settings and adventures or just to fuel your imagination. I expect this setting or something close to it will show up in one of my games in the near future!


Check out our previous previews for Fantasy AGE Lairs:
The Battle of the Beleaguered GM
School’s. In. For. EVER!
Getting More than Gothic with the Ghoul Prince

And don’t forget that the Fantasy AGE Basic Rulebook is currently FREE to download!

Mongrelfolk in Blue Rose (Ronin Roundtable)

I’m a dog person.

Thus, when I first started working on Blue Rose, it made me just a little bit sad to learn that Aldea had literal dog-people, but they’re shadowspawn monsters whose only avenue for participating in civilization involves hiring out as mercenaries to the most unscrupulous and undiscerning of employers. One of the themes of the game, however, is that no one is truly beyond redemption if they make the decision to champion Light, rather than Shadow.

 

So—presuming the choice to embrace goodness over evil—what, exactly, keeps a mongrel from being a player character? A lack of stats, that’s what.

Well, I’m here to fix that problem:

Mongrel

Neither human not rhydan, but instead something almost halfway between, mongrels have long plagued Aldea as the accursed creations of sorcery. Within them—in accordance with the wicked designs of the Sorcerer Kings who shaped their race amidst agony and misery—the reason and emotions of a sapient people war endlessly with the brutish instincts of beasts irreparably wounded in spirit, and most of them cannot reconcile these two conflicting natures, save through savage violence. Most, but not all.

One mongrel might’ve been taken in as a pup when their pack was destroyed or driven off, to be raised with the sort of love and kindness most of their kind will never know or understand. Another was perhaps found by compassionate Aldinfolk, grievously injured and frozen half to death, and nursed back to health, only to feel the inexplicable stirrings of a pack-bond with these gentle strangers and a desire to do right by them. Yet another might’ve simply always sensed that there must be something more to life than to hunt, pillage, and kill; some elusive yearning for nobler things that they found they could not satisfy in the company of their own kin.

Standing well taller than the average human and sporting the head of a dog or hyena, with mottled fur and canine lower legs, mongrels are utterly unmistakable as anything other than what they are. While they stand upright and have dexterous, human-like hands, they possess an inborn feral aspect that never entirely goes away, no matter how long they spend in the company of civilized people, and their voices have a growling, barking quality. To even the most personable mongrel, the world is as much a tapestry of potential threats as it is one of prospective friends.

Play a mongrel if you want a rough, primal character deeply in touch with their animal senses and instincts. Mongrels tend to be skilled hunters and fighters, typically favoring the expert or warrior classes.

Playing a Mongrel

If you choose to play a mongrel, modify your character as follows:

  • Add +1 to your Dexterity ability.
  • Add the Perception (Smelling) focus.
  • You have Dark Sight, meaning you are able to see up to 20 yards in darkness without a light source.
  • Your Speed is equal to 10 + Dexterity (minus armor penalty, if applicable).
  • Roll twice on the Mongrel Benefits table for two additional benefits. Roll 2d6 and add the dice together. If you get the same result twice, reroll until you get something different.

 

Mongrel Benefits

 

2d6 RollBenefit
2+1 Perception
3-4Focus: Dexterity (Stealth)
5Focus: Accuracy (Brawling)
6Weapons Group: Heavy Blades*
7-8+1 Fighting
9Focus: Constitution (Running)
10-11Focus: Perception (Hearing)
12+1 Constitution

 

* If the class you choose provides this already, you can take the focus Fighting (Heavy Blades) instead.

This week is also your last chance to pick up the Blue Rose Bundle of Holding! Pick up the complete line of Blue Rose 2nd edition AGE products, as well as several of our fiction offerings from Nisaba Press, all while supporting the Pride Foundation. Don’t miss out on this amazing deal!

 

The Year 2000: Green Ronin Begins!

Last time I wrote about the pre-history of Green Ronin, basically covering my start in the industry and how I navigated the 90s. When I left off the story, I was working at Wizards of the Coast. The first 18 months or so I was at WotC, I was working in what was still called the TSR Product Group (this later changed to Roleplaying R&D), writing various books for D&D and one for Alternity. During that period, WotC decided to spin up a miniatures division. They were looking to compete with Games Workshop, publishing both games and miniatures to support them. D&D miniatures, which had a long history back into the 70s, were also an important part of the plan. If you follow me on social media (I’m @Pramas on Twitter) you know I’m a huge miniatures fan, so it’s no surprise that I determined to join this effort. It took some doing, but I eventually landed a spot on the miniatures team and spent the rest of my time at Wizards working on the game that was eventually released as Dungeons & Dragons: Chainmail.

Chainmail is a huge story in and other itself, but I’ll leave that for another time and place. What’s important for our tale is that after some months working on the miniatures team, I found I missed doing roleplaying work. This brought my punk DIY instincts to the fore again, and I thought, “Well, why not start my own side company and keep a finger in the RPG pie?” In February of 2000, I decided to take this from idle thought to actual thing. I set up the company, got a bank account, and began to make plans. The first thing I wanted to publish was Ork! The Roleplaying. This was a lighthearted beer & pretzels RPG (now in it’s second edition!). It was based on some fun campaigns my friend Todd Miller had run back in NYC. I had Todd write up “The World of Orkness” while I designed the rules system. I slated it for a July release at the Origins game convention.

Meanwhile, back at Wizards, the Open Game License and d20 System Trademark License were first being proposed. The idea was to provide other companies a way to publish D&D compatible material. The fact that it was a free license created a lot of skepticism within WotC. I remember sitting in a big meeting with folks from R&D and thinking about the possibilities this could offer though. One point made was that WotC had difficulty making money off adventures, and this was something smaller companies might take up more profitable. Another point was that WotC was a big company and turning the ship to react to trends was a slow process. I thought, “Well, my company is small and agile! I should give this a shot.”

When the OGL and d20 STL were announced publicly, there was also a lot of skepticism from established RPG companies. Some saw it way to kill competition to D&D. Green Ronin, of course, had no established game lines to worry about, as Ork hadn’t even been published yet. I knew that the Dungeons & Dragons Third Edition Player’s Handbook would launch at Gen Con 2000 (along with some D&D minis my group was doing), so I decided to release a 32-page adventure that same day.

Working at Wizards by day did grant me some advantages. As a part of R&D, I had been involved in the playtesting and debates of Third Edition so I had a good grasp of the new system. I also knew WotC was taking a “back to the dungeon” approach for adventures. I decided, therefore, to offer something different: a city adventure. This would have the added bonus of creating a setting that could be expanded upon later. Now I didn’t want to do Generic Fantasy City #57, so I pulled some other influences into it. So what do you get when you mix D&D with pirates and Lovecraftian horror? Freeport: The City of Adventure!

That spring I wrote the adventure Death in Freeport. I wanted a cracking cover for it, and I thought it’d be great if I could get something by Brom, as he’d done the cover art for my AD&D book Guide to Hell. This was all done on a shoestring so I could hardly afford a new Brom cover, but I talked to him about it and we worked out something else. He had done a bunch of art for a collectible card game a few years before and I was able to license a piece from that for only $400. Later, I made a flier I taped up around Gen Con promoting this new adventure “from the writer-artist team that brought you the AD&D Guide to Hell.”

Need An Adventure for that New Edition?

I worked my contacts for the rest of the production of Death in Freeport. Nicole Lindroos, who had done the graphic design on the original edition of Vampire: The Masquerade, did the interior layout. Hal Mangold, who I had met when he was working on Deadlands at Pinnacle, did the cover design. The three of us would become partners in the company just a couple of years later. For interior art I tapped Toren Atkinson and Chris Keefe, who I had worked with at my first company. WotC friends Jennifer Clarke Wilkes and Todd Gamble did editing and cartography respectively. The whole thing came together very quickly because we had a hard deadline. We got the files to a Chicago printer in time to have it done for Gen Con. I took a huge gamble and printed 10,000 copies (pro-tip to small publishers: don’t do this in 99% of circumstances!). The printer actually drove copies up to Milwaukee for us and dropped them my hotel so we’d have them in time.

In July we released Ork as planned at Origins. It was modestly successful, pretty much what you’d expect from a new small publisher and their debut game. A month later we released Death in Freeport and that was something else entirely. It was an instant hit. D&D Third Edition was, of course, the big news of that GenCon and there were only two adventures you could get to go with it there: Death in Freeport and Three Days to Kill by Atlas Games. Just walking around the convention and nearby hotels, I ran across groups (sometimes just sitting on the floor) playing Death in Freeport with their new Player’s Handbooks. When distributor orders came in, it just confirmed what I’d already seen at Gen Con: the gamble had paid off!

By the fall of 2000, it was clear that Green Ronin had the potential to become more than a side project. More on that next time!

Fantasy AGE Lairs: Getting More Than Gothic with the Ghoul Prince (Ronin Roundtable)

Fantasy AGE Lairs presents a set of places, situations, and possible scenarios revolving around a small set of signature antagonists. I may be Modern AGE developer, but I’m also a Fantasy AGE writer and player, and I was looking forward to this book for a while. Jack Norris did a fantastic job here and I want to get into it.

The great thing about The Ghoul Prince, one of the entries in the book that really grabbed me. I’m a big fan of Gothic horror. I read it, I used to study it academically, and, well, I have a *lot* of author credits with some well-known RPG intellectual properties that called themselves “gothic punk.” Gothic horror is more than a set of visual motifs or a black clad rogue’s gallery, however. The genre has specific themes. The Ghoul Prince does a great job of highlighting these while moving beyond stereotype with one simple, brilliant move: choosing ghouls as intelligent, organized antagonists, instead of going with either the MVP of Gothic undead, the vampire, or the most popular high level lairing undead in fantasy, the lich.

In playing against type here, Jack set himself up to explain why, and does an excellent job, tying things into genuine Gothic themes. The eponymous Ghoul Prince, Tropo, has a story that touches on one of the primary ideas of the genre: the recurrence of sin, especially in the way it corrupts family. Tropo becomes a ghoul after committing unspeakable acts (well, we’ll call them that to avoid spoilers, at least!). After attaining a new state of being, where his evil acts have distorted his physical and spiritual self, he creates companions, furthering these themes. While this lair features the expected horde of flesh-eating monsters, Tropo’s most powerful lieutenants produce a parody of a family, or at least a feudal household. One fills the role of child and protector; the other is a priestly confessor.

Reading this, you quickly understand that this isn’t just swapping in undead. It’s got to be ghouls. For one thing, this removes the pretense of romance from the scenario. Tropo and his creatures are predators held in check by his exceptional will, but made all the more dangerous by his intelligence. This is a monster who looks past the pretense of mutual obligations in feudal relationships and emphasizes the power imbalance at their cores, because the lord’s desire for the power of flesh, normally abstracted through labor, is made terrifyingly literal. Tropo and his creatures must feast—and not simply sip at blood in some mockery of romance.

Beyond these thematic touches, Tropo’s ghoul forces also make this lair suitable for long term, multi-level play. Tropo and his “family” are at the top of a pyramid supported by a hierarchy of lesser children, from ones who’d suit a tough encounter for low level characters, to bigger challenges which can be quickly grown into with advancement, up to Tropo himself, who in Fantasy AGE terms, stands at the top of the Major Threat Level. An adventure outline provides a progressive introduction to the lair, and it’s supported by further hooks—all enough to make the forces and eventually, the castle of the Ghoul Prince suitable for a major campaign arc which may prompt the PCs to take over once they defeat Tropo. Once the flesh-eating lord falls, who will take his place? It’s all great stuff, and why this is my favorite chunk of Fantasy AGE Lairs.

(Editor’s Note: Just a quick reminder that the Fantasy AGE basic rule book in PDF, is currently FREE to download from our webstore!)

School’s. In. For. EVER! (Ronin Roundtable)

Green Ronin is a small family, so usually we all pitch in and help each other with mutual projects, doing some outlining or writing or editing or proofing on each other’s lines when things get tight, so it’s always exciting and special when a new product comes out that you haven’t seen until it’s newly born and ready to go home to a loving family. For me, Fantasy AGE Lairs is one of those rare babies I never met until it was ready for the baby shower.

I thought it would be a cool experience to pick one of the book’s eight titular lairs at random and read through it blind and give my first impression. The d8 came up 4, so I read the Yunivircity of Taabak!

The Elevator Pitch

The Yunivircity of Taabak is an innovative cosmic horror landscape you can drop into your Fantasy AGE world if you like Lovecraftian high-concept horror. A Being wants to exist, but can’t yet, and so it has inspired an obsession with how to make itself exist in a single woman… or that woman’s obsession with the potential for the Being to exist made it want to exist. Causality is tricky with things that don’t exist yet. Either way, this student’s work linked her to the being’s own not-quite-existing nature, and she became less of an individual and more of a vague concept. And soon she spread that intellectual infection to her entire school, transforming the entire university into the concept of a university and putting everyone trapped inside to work figuring out how they can eventually make their cosmic god real.

The entire landscape is just concepts of things—gray blocks for buildings, green sheets for laws, stacked geometric solids for students—devoid of any personal details. It’s an adventure inside the Dire Straights Money for Nothing music video. And if you attend classes too long, you stop being you and just become another concept of a student trying to bring this god into existence.

The Yunivircity is filled with other unique beings—students, instructors, and others—who are victims and threats all at the same time, who will leave you alone if you play along, attend your classes, and help with the research… but conforming to the group eats away at your individuality, which is the only things keeping you from fading away and becoming just like them. So you’re on a timer here, trying to fit in while still clinging to your unique identity just to survive. There’s a multi-stage template that grows slowly worse, like a disease, to help measure, ironically making you more powerful the more of your self you surrender to the Yunivircity.

It’s all the worst elements of public school, distilled down to the nightmarish extreme!

Whose Lair?

So, it’s a lair, right? Who or what lairs there? The being itself is left pretty vague, like any good cosmic horror, and you can’t fight it because it doesn’t exist yet. It’s an idea trying to force itself to exist, and you can’t punch an idea in the face.

Instead you’ll have to punch the Headmaster, the original student who contacted the being, or who created the being. Let’s not go down that road again. She’s lost her identity and exists as a stereotype of a school headmaster, pushing the entire campus toward the magical, scientific, and theological breakthroughs that will create her Being. She’s got magic for days and can control the Yunivircity itself, but she also has a face you can punch. As a cool twist, there are still bits of her individuality hidden around campus, too, trying to sabotage her own efforts.

There’s also the Dean of Discipline, who’s there to make sure everyone exists as a tidy concept and doesn’t let silly things like individuality or free will stop the students and instructors from working hard toward their shared goal. Like the Headmaster, the Dean is a unique monster and a serious beatstick that you won’t beat without a plan, but unlike the Headmaster, she’s a tower of muscle and sinew and eyes who will tear you apart with her bare hands.

But the Yuniviristy is built as a sort of looming horror of conformity. So long as you fit in and surrender to fate, no one—not the instructors or the Headmaster or the Dean—even notice you, let alone attack. The real monster here is dread and the fear of losing your individuality.

Why Would You Go There?

The Yunivircity is creepy and corrupts you and is inhabited by a weird abstract demi-god faculty, so why would you ever visit it? You may not have a choice. This is a lair that can come to you. The school is constantly recruiting talented minds, dragging them into its unreal existence to convert into its vague conceptual students. A friendly scholar, or even your party wizard, might be brought into the Yunivircity as a “new student,” prompting the rest of the group to undertake a rescue mission. Or the Yunivircity might impose itself over a local school campus for a few hours or days to collect a freshman class.

Even if you don’t end up with the college of improbable engineering landing in your lap, you might visit it for the same reason heroes visit any site of cosmic power: Because you don’t want an unfathomable god wrecking up your planet! Or you might aim a little slower and just want to plunder the Yunivircity’s library for rare books or magic, or to save the only person in the world who knows a vital clue for your wider campaign. I can easily see the Yunivircity being a terrible place you need to revisit repeatedly in your campaign to learn new clue or find forbidden knowledge, learning a little more about how it works each time until you’re powerful enough to end its threat.

The Final Verdict

I like it!

I know, I know! “You’re a Ronin! They pay you to say you like it!” Well, for what it’s worth, I’m reading and writing this while on vacation, visiting my parents’ humble swamp shack in rural Florida. I’m spending part of my vacation to check out a book I’m excited about as a GM. Is the Yunivircity a little niche? Yeah. Is it going to fit every campaign? Probably not, but looking back at the table of contents, Lairs includes cool fantasy tropes like a ghoul castle and a dragon’s lair (sadly, no Space Ace), and I’m glad there was room for weird alongside the standard tropes!

Would *I*, Crystal the Gamemaster, ever use the Yunivircity? Absolutely! It’s cool and weird and gives you game mechanics for a lot of cool horror concepts! Even if I didn’t use this lair as written, I can strip-mine this entry to build my own version.

And I get the distinct impression the Yunivircity of Taabak would work incredibly well in Blue Rose or Modern AGE as well, maybe even better than for a general Fantasy AGE campaign! I guess my players will find out.

The Pre-History of Green Ronin Publishing

I’m flying down to Reno this week for the GAMA Expo (formerly known as the GAMA Trade Show), which is the major trade show of the tabletop gaming industry. Thinking about my impending trip brought my mind back to my very first GAMA Trade Show in 1996. This era was the pre-history of Green Ronin. We’ll be doing a series of articles and interviews to commemorate our 20th anniversary this year but let me set the stage by talking about the years before the company’s founding in 2000.

Green Ronin 20th Anniversary Logo

 

Underground Companion, by Mayfair Games

Underground Companion, by Mayfair Games

I got my start in the game industry as a freelance writer in 1993. My first work was for Ray Winninger’s Underground RPG from Mayfair Games. Over the following couple of years, I did work on other games like Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (foreshadowing!), Over the Edge, and Feng Shui. After a couple of years of freelancing, I thought it was time to start my own company. This I did in 1996 with two partners (my brother Jason and Neal Darcy) and we bought a previously published RPG called the Whispering Vault that I had done some work on. We called ourselves Ronin Publishing and had the idea to each take a different color-coded screenname for company business. I was the Green Ronin (if you ever wondered what was behind the company name, that’s it).

While we were laying the groundwork for the company, I attended my first GAMA Trade Show to get the lay of the land. GTS used to move around in that era, and in 1996 it was in Atlantic City, an easy trip from my NYC apartment. Future Green Ronin co-owner Nicole Lindroos was in Vancouver, BC at the time, publishing a magazine called Adventures Unlimited with a group of writers that included the late, great Nigel Findley. Since they could not be at GTS that year, I agreed to take samples of the magazine around to various RPG companies and help promote it. I also helped out at the booth of the Small Game Publishers Association. The SGPA (later just the GPA) was an organization of independent publishers who pooled resources to get booths at various conventions and promote their games.

Blood of the Valiant: The Guiding Hand Sourcebook for Feng Shui

Blood of the Valiant: The Guiding Hand Sourcebook for Feng Shui

I had been going to GenCon since 1989 and freelancing since 1993 so the industry wasn’t new to me, but this was my first GTS. Trade shows are different than consumer shows. They are a place to talk to retailers, distributors, and fellow publishers about the new hotness, plans for the year, and industry scuttlebutt. My previous experience was hustling for freelance work and dealing with line developers but this was a whole different thing. This was the business side and it was new to me. I had just come out of grad school in 1995, where I was a history major. Business stuff I’d need to learn by doing it.

The next couple of years were indeed a learning experience. When we started the company, we agreed that we should try to get the rights to the Whispering Vault and if that proved impossible, I’d instead design a new game of my own. In retrospect, I wish we had done the latter. I had an idea for a game where members of various magical traditions banded together under Allied auspices to fight occult Nazis in WW2. Imagine an Aleister Crowley type and a Siberian shaman punching Nazis together with magic and you get the idea. My plan was to use tarot cards in the game’s core mechanics. Other games would tread this ground later but mine would have gotten there first if we hadn’t bought the Whispering Vault. Ah well. It seemed like a good way to jumpstart a company, and the idea was to do my game later. That never happened though. In two years, we only managed to publish one supplement for Whispering Vault called the Book of Hunts, and then a Feng Shui supplement called Blood of the Valiant. I had originally written this freelance for Daedalus Entertainment, the game’s original publisher, but I secured the rights to publish it myself as they were sinking under the waves.

I can’t beat myself up too much over Ronin Publishing though because the biggest problem was that we were ridiculously undercapitalized from the start (this is true of almost every RPG in history). I was working as a barista in NYC when we started, and then doing temp office work in Boston when I moved there to join my partners in the summer of 1996. None of us made real money so everything was done on a shoestring. Coming out of the punk scene as I did, my DIY roots certainly helped but it was a slog. After a year in Boston, I decided to move to Seattle. This was for love, though the possibilities of living in a center of gaming did not escape me. I continued to both do freelance work and try to run Ronin Publishing once I got to the West Coast. Indeed, for six months I tried to support myself only with freelance writing (pro-tip, don’t do this!).

Guide to Hell, for 2nd edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons

Guide to Hell, for 2nd edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons

In March of 1998 I got a job as an RPG designer at Wizards of the Coast. I tried to keep Ronin Publishing going but the writing was on the wall. I was hired at WotC to work on an attempt to marry D&D and Magic: The Gathering. Due to internal bickering at the company, this project was not long for this world, so after a few months I switched over to writing for AD&D, 2nd Edition. This was the later 2E era, when 3E was in development for a 2000 release (more foreshadowing!). I wrote books like the Guide to Hell, Vortex of Madness, Slavers (with Sean Reynolds), and the Apocalypse Stone (with Jason Carl). If you’d like to hear me talk about this era and the early history of Green Ronin, I’ll be a guest on Fireside with Peter Adkison on Gen Con TV on March 18. 

I worked at WotC from 1998 to 2002, founding Green Ronin smack dab in the middle. I’ll tell you how that happened next time!

Fantasy AGE Lairs: The Battle of the Beleaguered GM (Ronin Roundtable)

I was originally going to title this “The Lair of the Lazy GM” to get the reference to the new Fantasy AGE Lairs book in there, but decided that wasn’t fair, because it’s not a matter of laziness, but one of time.

It should come as little surprise that I loved creating things for my various campaigns as a Game Master. It’s one of the reasons I eventually got into doing it professionally as a writer and designer. Thing is, when I was at the peak of my own output in terms of creating things for my games, I was in my 20s, living with most of my game-group as roommates, and without many of the more—shall we say “mature adult”?—responsibilities that I have now. In short, I had more time and energy to devote to that kind of thing, to say nothing of the fact that I didn’t do it for work.

Which is all a long way of leading up to talking about Fantasy AGE Lairs, which (like several upcoming Green Ronin products) addresses the issue that a lot of us modern-day Game Masters face: “I want to run a game, but I don’t have time to prep everything.” I know that my own games these days tend to focus on either: 1) Things that I’m playtesting for work, or: 2) Published adventures and campaigns I can use as-is with a little customization.

Lairs helps with preparation on a couple of different fronts. The first is simply that it offers eight complete and ready-to-play adventures, each of which could occupy multiple game sessions. But it’s more than just an adventure collection since, as the title implies, Lairs offers location-based adventures, detailing a particular place that is the lair or home of the main threat of the adventure. From the Valley of the Whispering Titans to the Peak of the Mithral Dragon, Fantasy AGE Game Masters will find a variety of places they can drop into their own campaigns, and possibly expand upon, reuse, or build on to create further adventures. Indeed, each location in Lairs also features a set of four to six ideas for additional adventures in that setting.

Lairs also expands upon the Fantasy AGE stunt system with Location and Lair Stunts, based on the qualities of a place and time rather than a character or creature, tying the acquisition and use of Stunt Points into where the characters are in the adventure as well as what they are doing. Even without this exciting new spin, it would be a useful book for a Fantasy AGE Game Master who wants adventures by and for Fantasy AGE that are ready for hours of gaming fun.

This book is your ally in winning the battle of the beleaguered Game Master and can make the difference when it comes to being able to run your own Fantasy AGE game.

From Freelance to Dev (Ronin Roundtable)

I’m not normally a big fan of surprises, but I’ll make an exception for this one. When Joseph Carriker asked me if I’d like to write a Ronin Roundtable about making the jump from freelancer to developer, I was pretty psyched.

Coming Soon! Six of Cups is an Adventure Anthology for Blue Rose: The AGE RPG, just in time for Green Ronin Publishing’s 20th Anniversary!

I first inquired about writing for Green Ronin back in 2011, but my timing was bad and there were no projects in need of authors, just then. Even at that point, I’d been at this a long time, and that sort of thing happens: if you don’t have the good luck to ask right when a developer has an open slot on a project, the best you can usually hope for is for your name to go into the (often pretty big) pile of interested prospective writers for some other job, down the line. Fast forward a few more years and several more inquiries, however, and I got my break, doing some work for the Chronicle System. Only a couple of years on from there, in 2016, Joseph offered me the chance to take a crack at doing some fill-in development work on Desert Threats (again, for the Chronicle System), and I jumped at the opportunity to once again try my hand at an aspect of roleplaying game design with which I’d previously had only minimal experience.

Fast forward yet another several years and a bunch of development jobs, getting a little more hands-on with the process, each time, and I’ve come to understand that really is a whole different sort of beast. When you’re writing as a freelancer, you’re trying to realize, in a way that’s entertaining and informative, a vision that’s been outlined for you. You have input into what you’re creating, of course, but you’re almost always playing in a sandbox with firm borders. Development, on the other hand, entails bouncing ideas back and forth with other folks on the high-concept end of things, working to craft the vision that others will then put more extensively into words. In essence, you’re the one building the sandbox, and you have to create it with an eye toward making it a fun and rewarding place in which others get to play, while also stocking it with all the stuff they’ll need to get the job done right.

With writing, you have to be mindful of cooperating well with your fellow authors, but, beyond that, you’ve generally got quite a lot of autonomy—as long as you follow the developer’s instructions, you’re pretty much always good to go. Development demands an almost entirely distinct (and much more rigorously collaborative) skillset. You’re effectively a project manager, keeping everyone on track and maintaining the work as a cohesive whole, every step of the way, but there’s rather a lot more to it than that. You’re also the first-pass editor and art director, laying the groundwork for the actual editor and art director to do their jobs, and you’re absolutely going to need to do at least a little bit of writing, too; not just the book’s introduction (which is usually part of development duties), but also anything, at all, that ends up needing to be filled in. Similarly, pretty much anything that falls under “miscellaneous,” whether foreseen or unforeseen, ends up as part of your job. You’re the interface between the front-end and back-end of the creative aspects of the project, fielding questions from both sides, and trying to make everything run as smoothly as possible for everyone involved. Ultimately, though, there’s no feeling quite like seeing a book take shape, starting as a mere skeleton of an outline, and ending as a fully fleshed out addition to a setting you love.

So, yeah: adjusting to development has definitely involved a learning curve, but it helps to be working with great folks, all of whom bring their different strengths and perspectives to the table, even as I hone the skills that help me to bring my best work to each new book (and, in the process, to your gaming table!)

Time Goes By (Ronin Roundtable)

The Mutants & Masterminds RPG is old enough to vote this year. “The World’s Greatest Superhero Roleplaying Game” (tagline credit to the bombastic style of Stan Lee) turns eighteen years old in 2020, as well as Green Ronin Publishing’s 20th Anniversary! Alongside it, Earth-Prime, the official M&M setting also turns eighteen and, with the third edition of the Freedom City sourcebook that started it all released nearly three years ago already, one has to ask: “Where does the time go…?”

In his classic Strike Force superhero campaign, the late, great Aaron Allston offered a number of options for the aging of player characters: Allston had time pass in his campaign at roughly the same pace as the real world, so some characters were mortal and aged at a normal rate. Others were immortal and didn’t age at all, while various characters in-between had some forms of slowed aging or the like that kept them vital and extended their super hero careers. Good thing, too, since the Strike Force campaign lasted for over twenty years!

In the award-winning Astro City comic book series, author Kurt Busiek had time pass in the fictional city at the same pace as the real world: Astra Furst, in grade-school in the classic Astro City #4 in the mid-90s, graduated from college in Astro City Special: Astra in 2009. Born in the mid- to late-80s, Astra should be entering her mid-30s this year!

With inspirations like Strike Force and Astro City, Freedom City (and therefore Earth-Prime) also embraced the notion of time passing in the world and for its characters. When the second edition of Freedom City was planned, there was a mere three years difference between the first and second editions of the game. Therefore, I thought it would be fun to “update” things a bit, pushing the setting timeline forward by about that amount and having things like the teen hero Bowman graduating from Claremont Academy to “step-up” to membership in the Freedom League, Captain Thunder’s young (now teen) son attending the Academy and friends with the also-now-teen Chase Atom, and so forth.

The notion flowed through later M&M sourcebooks, such that when the first edition of Hero High came along, we introduced even more new “freshman” characters to replace the Next-Gen who were aging out. At least one of them (Elite of the Alterna-Teens) has gone on to become an adult legacy hero, taking up the mantle of the Raven in Atlas of Earth-Prime. By the time the third edition of Freedom City came along, some eleven years had passed since the second edition! That called for some changes, as readers can see, with ageless members of the hero and villain communities existing largely unchanged alongside others who have grown up, retired, or even left the mortal coil altogether.

Now, it’s likely that M&M will pump the brakes on the setting’s timeline a bit, given we honestly didn’t plan on it being around nearly twenty years later! Like I said, the most recent setting book is already three years old, and Green Ronin wants to play around a bit in that era, while giving you the opportunity to do the same, without constantly having to update “current events.”

Of course, it may well be that some game groups prefer the “classic” versions of the Earth-Prime setting and its characters. Perhaps the notion that the Sentinels from Emerald City came along years after the Freedom League, or that the “new heroes” of the setting have actually been around since Emerald City was published in 2014, doesn’t fit with their expectations.

Since the setting is yours to do with as you and your game group prefer, fear not! Somewhere out in the Omniverse is a parallel Earth that follows the “10 years ago” model of most mainstream comics, which says that their major characters have been active for no more than a decade or so, regardless of how long their publication history may be. It was how the original Freedom City timeline was built, with the first major event of the “modern age of heroes” happening ten years prior. The current Freedom League can still have come about as a result of the Terminus Invasion, which still happened ten years ago, just in 2010 instead of 1993. The “classic” first and second edition Freedom City-era characters can still be at the peaks of their crime-fighting careers.

Who knows? Maybe in the infinitude of the Omniverse there’s a ten-year cycle where a new “age of heroes” starts, over and over again, on a new world and the “old” Earth-Prime is a place they occasionally visit to see glimpses of the future that might await them—as time goes by.

Modern AGE’s Enemies & Allies: Getting Normal (Ronin Roundtable)

Last time I posted about Enemies & Allies I talked about some of the ideas that went into design and development, but I used the chapters on fantasy, horror, and science fiction to illustrate my points. See this post for a rundown on this book of characters and creatures and you’ll notice something: two more chapters covering more down to earth subjects. Chapter 2: Elite Operatives covers some of the highly skilled figures of espionage, technothriller fiction, and some procedurals. Chapter 4: Crime and Punishment, gets into crooks and cops. Let’s talk about the ideas informing these chapters.

Who’s after you? Your character may not know but with Enemies & Allies, your GM does.

Elite Operatives: Aid and Opposition

Dylan Birtolo’s chapter covers a slate of highly skilled Non-Player Characters. In this case, the important thing was to populate the chapter with interesting, useful NPCs. This chapter’s primary focus is action and espionage, so we have the Armored Soldier, Double Agent, Field Agent, and Field Commander. In addition, we present the unique NPC Clara Lynch, a martial arts expert with military connections who can act as a gateway to the other elite characters in the book. In addition, we present the Negotiator and Publicist not only because not all highly skilled NPCs are combatants, but because they can provide valuable aid in areas typical characters aren’t good at.

This is not to say that we locked every character in this chapter to a straightforward function! Dylan included two entries that were generally useful, and deserved inclusion. First, the Robot Dog represents an automated threat or potential guardian based on cutting edge realistic technology. Many of us have seen the new generation of agile robots. The Robot Dog combines them with other innovations in artificial intelligence and, for the armed model, automatic targeting.

The Law and the Lawless: Populating the Underbelly

Ron Rummell’s chapter covers criminal and law enforcement. Both these elements are essential to modern games in virtually every genre, so we were especially careful to make it broadly useful. One of the most important aspects of this chapter is that it doesn’t limit itself to potential combatants, but NPCs covering the range of underworld and law enforcement figures who might appear in the campaign. Characters probably won’t get in shootouts with the Pickpocket, but that NPC may have stumbled across important information, or taken off with an object critical to the campaign. The Police Chief may not be on the front line, but they can call a citywide manhunt where Player Characters might join in or be its targets.

The other important element in this chapter was to carefully examine where any cultural biases may have pushed us, because these tend to manifest strongly in stories involving crime and the law. That manifested in how we developed the text, but also in how the art turned out. This means, for instance, that the image associated with the Mob Boss is that of an Asian woman who isn’t surrounded by the motifs associated with any stereotypical elements of any nationality’s organized crime group. Beyond ethical considerations, this gives the GM a sense of breathing room to devise their own groups.

After Enemies & Allies

This concludes my series about the book, but Modern AGE has more to come. Next time you read anything from me, it’ll probably be about Five and Infinity, the adventure series for Threefold—a setting that happens to accept Enemies & Allies as completely canonical. Talk to you then.