Malcolm Sheppard

Malcolm Sheppard

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

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Ronin Roundtable: Covering the Modern AGE

Last time I was here, I introduced Modern AGE, the contemporary era implementation of Green Ronin’s Adventure Game Engine. Look on this very page, and you’ll see the cover. I’m not going to call it the absolute, final article–fine tuning the look is Hal’s business–but this is darn close. I’m going to riff on the cover to tell you a bit more about what to expect.

Who’s on That Rooftop?

Like many games, Modern AGE features iconic characters we use for examples of play, who indicate the kinds of characters you can build and advance. Early in outlining, I designed each iconic with input from a writer, making it their character–you’ll see the writers’ names pop up as example players (Meghan Fitzgerald is our “iconic GM” in these examples). Let’s look at who the characters are, and what they tell you about the game.

They Know What to Say

On the far left, Sean checks their phone. “Played” by Howard Ingham, Sean’s a socially focused character, and even though we don’t have set character sheets for iconics like them, they’re bound to have a high Communication score, along with focuses supporting social interaction. Modern AGE includes social influence and connection rules in its core. First off, we present a selection of attitudes an encountered NPC might have, and rules for gradually shifting an attitude in a direction conducive to a character’s desires. But this is an AGE game, so we’ve also baked in an option to get things done with one roll. If you’re like me, there are times you want to play through developing a relationship, and times where you want to know whether an NPC will help or hinder a hero right away. The rules let you do both.

Sean might also draw on a Relationship with an NPC, or Membership in an organization–we have rules for both, evolved from predecessors in Blue Rose. Sean might have the Intrigue talent to draw information out of connections, and a specialization like Executive or Socialite that makes it easy to draw on social ties.

He Shoots

Crouched in the middle, Brian McLaughlin is an ex-military operative, “played” by yours truly. Brian probably has a character Background or Profession rooted in military affairs, and a Drive that motivates him to stay armed, and ready for action. Modern AGE Drives provide a capstone benefit at character creation, bundled into a reason to say “yes” to engaging with a campaign’s stories. Brian’s focus is on ranged combat, so guns, bullets, and how to deal with them are obviously important to him. That means Brian picked armor with a high rating against ballistic damage. In Modern AGE, we split damage into impact damage, inflicted by melee weapons, ballistic damage, delivered by firearms, and armor-piercing penetrating damage. Ancient armor doesn’t protect against ballistic attacks; modern armor does. Almost nothing resists penetrating damage.

Brian may have the Rifle Style focus, and perhaps a specialization in Sniper or Gunfighter, which can make him a formidable opponent even when his targets have armored up. But much depends on the game’s mode, our term for what rules might be in play to support a genre. All characters have a resistance to damage called Toughness, but in the gritty game mode, it only protects against mild blunt force trauma. In pulpy and cinematic modes, however, one of Brian’s targets might shrug a shot off, and keep in coming.

She Hits Hard

Over to Brian’s right is Amy Wilson, “played” by Matthew Dawkins. She’s trained and motivated to deal with anyone getting too close for comfort. Amy’s a martial artist and melee weapons expert. Matthew wrote the equipment section, and knows the sort of blades, bludgeons and other weapons she might acquire. AGE games aren’t equipment focused, so each weapon represents a general category. Furthermore, note that with no classes, we’ve dropped the penalty for not being trained with a weapon, but since Amy is probably trained in multiple armed and unarmed fighting style talents and the Martial Artist specialization, don’t expect to be on an even footing.

One of the organizational changes we’ve made in Modern AGE will affect how Matthew plays Amy. In other AGE games, we presented one big list of combat stunts; in Modern AGE we have more stunts, but they’re split into smaller lists of stunts linked to specific actions (with some that fit any action, and advice that there is wiggle room). Some stunts are listed as “core,” meaning that as low-cost options that are easy to describe, they can be your first choice, to avoid decision paralysis at the table. We hope that this combined with short, focused stunt lists makes picking stunts easier. We’ve done the same for non-combat stunts as well.

Beyond the Rooftop

So that’s who’s on the cover. What are they doing on that rooftop? What city are they in? (And who are the iconics I haven’t introduced yet, including the one who leads into chatting about the investigation rules?) Modern AGE doesn’t have a default setting, so it’s up to you, though the World of Lazarus, coming out at the same time as a supplement, provides immediate possibilities. If you want to know more, your best bet is to come visit our booth at Gencon–we’re Exhibitor #1321–or visit the “What’s New With Green Ronin Publishing!” panel at noon on Saturday.

Donna Prior

Donna Prior

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

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

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Freebooters Ahoy! The Changing of the Guard.

It is a sad announcement for me to make, but I’ve recently flown the coop and am no longer managing the Freebooter Volunteer GM Program, nor the Events coordination for Gen Con and other shows. I resigned a bit ago, but we all felt like it was good to say goodbye to the community and offer a very hale welcome to Veronica Templar, your new Events/Freebooter Manager!

I’ve been very lucky to be working with Team Ronin these years, and it’s been a great pleasure to coordinate events with so many great volunteers. Green Ronin couldn’t be happier with the quality of volunteers, both some of our long standing Freebooters and with so many new folks. You’re what makes all the organizing such a pleasure.

For my team, I will miss you all greatly. You’ve been my biggest supporters, friends, and I love the hell out of you all. Luckily, most of you are in my local area, so I will get to see you for games and shenanigans. I cannot thank you all enough for the opportunities you’ve given me.

Where am I going? Catan Studio! I accepted a position managing the Organized Play program. You’ll still see me at shows, but you’ll need come to the Catan Event Hall to say hello! I’ll be busy running the tournaments and overseeing events, but I am always happy to take a moment to catch up and hear about your games.

I’m also still running OrcaCon, the inclusive tabletop games convention, outside Seattle. It’s the Unofficial Green Ronin Convention, and you’ll find most of the staff there each year. We’d love to see some of you come run games for Green Ronin Publishing.

So, things aren’t all sad around here, I’d like to tell you about Veronica! She is amazing and I am so excited she is on board to organize events and Freebooters. She’ll be growing the Freebooter Program, and we’ll be looking for more Freebooters at shows Green Ronin Publishing will be attending. You can read more information on the Freebooter Volunteer Info Page, and the team will be updating it as they start reaching out per show. So, if you haven’t made it to a Gen Con, maybe you can support Origins, UK Games Expo, Norwescon, OrcaCon, and more!

Veronica is a great organizer and has a very kind heart. I hope you give her the same love and enthusiasm you’ve shown me. And patience, as she learns her new role! If you’re interested in signing up as a Freebooter, hop over to that Info Page and fill out the form. She’ll be getting back to folks as we start booking the shows.

Thanks again for the years of support, not just from our Community, but from the Green Ronin Publishing Team. Go forth and be amazing!

Joseph D. Carriker

Joseph D. Carriker

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

Ronin Roundtable: Walking the Royal Road, Part One: Friends & Loved Ones

Hello and welcome to Walking the Royal Road, what I hope to be an ongoing series on using the Tarot (or Royal Road, in Aldean parlance) in Blue Rose AGE games.

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.

Friends & Loved Ones

Today’s article is going to offer some additional character building. Romantic fantasy, as a genre, focuses not just on magic and feats of derring-do, but also the relationships formed by the characters. Characters do amazing things for love, for friendship, and for hate, and these kinds of motivators should always play into games of romantic fantasy, to some degree.

In order to have these kinds of motivations, though, player characters need some relationships in place. This system is intended to augment the Relationships mechanics, as found on p. 60 of the Blue Rose core rulebook. Where that system helps define how strongly heroes feel about other characters, this one will help with the brainstorming of figuring out who they are.

 

The Spread

The spread for this method is a simple three-card spread for each character.

The Role Card indicates in what capacity the PC knows the character in question. Take a look at the suit (pentacles, cups, wands, swords, or Major Arcana).

  • Pentacles: The person is someone you know in a professional capacity.
  • Cups: The person is someone who know familially, either a member of your family, or someone you met through a family member.
  • Wands: The person is someone you met in a social capacity, at a party or festival, tavern or theater.
  • Swords: The person is someone you know from a training or learning endeavor: a fellow apprentice, or someone you met in schooling of some kind.
  • Major Arcana: You met this person in some extraordinary capacity. Use the card itself as an inspiration: perhaps you met the Chariot while traveling, or you met the Tower during a terrible disaster of some kind.

The Personality Card indicates what this person is like. Use the tables for Calling, Destiny, and Fate in the Blue Rose core rulebook as a starting place. Note that this card does not indicate this character’s Calling, Destiny, or Fate—it’s simply what their outward-facing personality is like. There are always depths beneath this surface.

The Relationship Card indicates what your relationship with this person is like. The meaning of the card should be applied to this in some capacity. A Six of Wands suggests recognition of success, so perhaps this person looks up to you for your heroism; in contrast, the Page of Swords is about having enthusiasm but needing more information, so this card in the Relationship space suggests that the person looks to you as a source of information, or is themselves such a source for you.

 



Example

In the image, we have laid out some cards in the Friends & Loved Ones Spread.

Role: The Magician. We know this person because of magic, clearly. They might be an adept of some kind, or if we’re playing an adept or other talented character, perhaps we aided them with our own arcane arts.

Personality: The Star. Consulting the Callings table on p. 57 of Blue Rose, we see that this card represents “Artistic Mastery.” This character seems to be an artist to everyone they know, and not just a dabbler, either, but someone who really works to master their craft and achieve their vision.

Relationship: Seven of Wands. One of the typical meanings for the Seven of Wands is both aggression and defiance. In the Relationships space, this suggest someone whose closeness to the player character is either defiance—or, it’s someone who maintains the relationship out of defiance.

Conclusion

Here is just one example of a Narrator character generated using the spread above. It’s far from the only one, to say nothing of the variety possible from other card results entirely!

Godia Tulry: The Wishful Scrivener. We met Godia in the way she tends to meet new people—when she barged right up to us to ask us about our experiences and theories about the arcane. The other adepts roll their eyes and make themselves scarce when she shows up, because she’ll take up every bit of your time, if you let her. Despite their warnings, though, we find her delightful. She’s a dedicated magical chronicler, and we’re good enough friends that she has shyly confided that she wants more than anything to wield magic herself some day, but she just doesn’t have the Talent for it. Still, she is very sweet, loves when we use magic around her, and whipcrack sharp when it comes to arcane theory and history.

In the above example, magic is at the center of the friendship between Godia and the player’s character, per the Role card showing the Magician. Her insistent personality around her craft we derive from the Personality card showing the Star, and we’ve interpreted the defiance in the relationship, per the Relationship card showing the Seven of Wands, as coming from others who don’t understand the friendship.

 

Thanks: To Stephanie Pui-Mun Law for her amazing Shadowscapes tarot, which we use in this article. Her deck can be purchased off of Amazon here.

Steve Kenson

Steve Kenson

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

Ronin Roundtable: The Six of Swords

 

The Adventure Gaming Engine (AGE System) edition of Blue Rose: The Roleplaying Game of Romantic Fantasy is now in the hands of backers of the Kickstarter and available through distribution in fine game stores everywhere. As readers digest the contents of that sizable book, those looking to run a new Blue Rose game of their own need only one additional resource: Adventures! The Blue Rose book provides a sample adventure (“The Shadows of Tanglewood” by Steven Jones) and a wealth of adventure hooks and ideas, but for an ongoing series, Narrators are going to want additional adventure resources. Fortunately, we’ve anticipated their needs.

The new Six of Swords adventure anthology offers a set of six adventures for Blue Rose, complete stories including important characters, setting information, and all of the material a Narrator needs to run them.

  • The Mistress of Gloamhale Manor pits the heroes against the ghostly inhabitants of a haunted mansion in a search for the truth.
  • The Sixth Beast offers an opportunity to prevent war between factions in an outlying region of Aldis.
  • The Night Market sends the envoys into the dark depths of the Veran Marsh and the heart of the criminal underworld to recover a valuable arcane artifact.
  • A Harvest of Masks begins with mysterious abductions from Aldin villages near the wilderness of the Pavin Weald. Who are the masked abductors and what do they want?
  • Storms Over Kamala finds the heroes out on the wild Plains of Rezea to challenge the forces that have claimed a witch’s ancient homeland.
  • A Wanton Curse is set at a high society masked ball in a castle on Gravihain Eve, the Aldin equivalent of Halloween. What dark secrets are some of the guests concealing?

Most of the adventures are pitched toward low-level heroes, working from 1st level up through the upper low levels. The last couple adventures are intended for mid- and high-level heroes, both for Narrators who want to start out with a higher level game, and to offer examples of such adventures for a series as it grows and develops. Each adventure should be good for multiple sessions of game play, and most feature mysteries and character interaction alongside action and combat encounters.

The adventures cover a wide range of locations and styles, from the depths of the Veran Marsh to the open grasslands of the Plains of Rezea and the deep woodlands of northern Aldis. Adversaries range from criminal syndicates to corrupt sorcerers, vengeful spirits, and terrible unliving creatures like vampires.

We think this format provides a nice combination of adventures usable right out of the book and varied locations and plots. If Six of Swords does well, it may be a model for future Blue Rose adventure collections. We’re looking forward to offering other adventures and source material for the Romantic Fantasy role playing game and the fantastic world of Aldea.

Chris Pramas
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Chris Pramas

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

GenCon is coming up next month and it’s a big one: the 50th anniversary! We will, of course, have a booth (#1321) and we’ll be debuting the Critical Role: Tal’Dorei Campaign Setting there (pre-orders for which started today). GenCon is doing a lot of cool stuff to celebrate the anniversary, including a recreation of Lake Geneva’s Horticultural Hall, site of the very first GenCon. There will also be a museum with all sorts of artifacts from the history of the hobby, including a couple of Green Ronin books. I already wish I was going to have more time to check all that stuff out!

The anniversary has, of course, made me think about my own history with the show. I first went to GenCon in 1989, when I was in college. I didn’t know anyone there. I went out by myself, had an amazing time, and convinced some friends to come back with me the following year. I’ve never missed a GenCon since. In 1993 it started to turn into work, as I began to pursue a career as a freelance game designer that eventually lead to me becoming a publisher. For a long time now the focus of the con has been work and I wouldn’t give up that up, but I do look back on those first five GenCons with much fondness.

Playing Warhammer Fantasy Battle at GenCon, 1990

In those days I came to play and I did not mess around. I would usually play in three 4-hour events per day. I would try to have one block free so I could get food and hit the dealers hall, but sometimes the events would line up so that I’d play for 12 hours straight. Some of the bigger miniatures game I played would be 8 hours by themselves! I didn’t mind. Quite the opposite! I was hungry for it, and I developed strategies to maximize my fun. At the time, I worked at an old school Italian coffee store in New York City. To save money and also time, I began bringing ground coffee, filters, and an electric kettle with me from home. I’d make a big thermos of coffee in the morning and drink it all day. One year, when I could barely afford a plane ticket, I brought a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter and that was most of my meals that week.

I hear folks complain about the various online registration systems in use at conventions today and all I can think about is fax machines. Back then you’d get a program book in the mail ahead of time and a sheet where you’d fill in your requested games and some alternates. On a specified day, you would fax it to TSR’s headquarters. Or try to anyway because thousands of other people were jamming up the fax lines at the same time. I was working a different job one year and one my regular duties was faxing various documents. Come registration day, I took my sign-up sheet, told my boss I had to make a fax for our department, and then spent an hour and a half in the basement trying to get it to go through! I pity the poor TSR staffers who had to hand collate all those sheets and fill the games. Closer to the con you’d get an envelope with printed tickets for your events. You often didn’t get all the games you wanted, so they’d fill out your order with generic tickets. On site, they had a giant board where the tickets would hang from rows and rows of hooks. You could wait in line and try to get into more events there. As you got the front, you could actually figure out which events still had tickets left by looking at the code numbers under the hooks that weren’t empty.

In this era GenCon was in Milwaukee. I don’t know if this is still the case but the downtown often smelled like chocolate because there was a factory there. Fun fact, it’s where noted cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer used to work! Every year there was a rush on the Hotel Wisconsin because it was cheap (like $64 a night) and close to the convention center. There was a diner on the ground floor where we’d get breakfast some mornings. I remember tying to order a bagel there and the staff had no idea what I was talking about. This was a confusing experience for a New Yorker. It did not help that was a vegetarian at the time. Let’s just say the options for non-meat eaters in Milwaukee in the early 90s were not plentiful. There was a terrible sports bar called Major Goolsby’s across from the convention center and I once ordered what they called a Wisconsin cheese sandwich there. Seemed safe enough. Wisconsin! Cheese! Why, there’s even a cheese museum on the highway between Chicago and Milwaukee. I get my food and it is a hamburger bun with one slice of American cheese, one piece of lettuce, and one slice of tomato. Sad vegetarian was sad.

But hey, no one goes to GenCon for the cuisine. I was playing tons of games and meeting new people every year. I loved the dealers hall then because the internet was barely a thing and there was so much gaming stuff I’d never see anywhere else but there. Finding that game I’d only heard about or scoring something long out of print felt like victories. The auction was great for that and I spent a lot of time between games there.

After my first GenCon experiences, I decided I wanted to start running games myself. Ars Magica was my favorite RPG then, so I began to run a two round ArM tournament. The characters and their covenant persisted year to year and I built on stories that played out in the finals. I did that for four years and it was a useful bridge between just being a fan and starting a career as a game designer. The things I learned playing and running games, and the people I met and the contacts I made, all played a role in me taking that leap. For these reasons and so many more, GenCon will always be special to me. So thanks, GenCon! Happy 50th and here’s to 50 more!

Nicole Lindroos

Nicole Lindroos

Nicole Lindroos entered the game industry in 1989. In that time, she co-founded Adventures Unlimited magazine, served on the board of the Game Manufacturers Association and as the chair of the Academy of Adventure Gaming Art and Design, volunteered both on the advisory committee and as the head of the Origins Awards, and has been an active freelancer for large and small companies alike. Since the year 2000 she has been co-owner and General Manager of Green Ronin Publishing. Her recent projects include contributions to the Dragon Age Tabletop Roleplaying Game and Titansgrave: Ashes of Valakana.

She's also the sweetest person you never want to piss off.
Nicole Lindroos

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Nicole Lindroos

Nicole Lindroos

Nicole Lindroos entered the game industry in 1989. In that time, she co-founded Adventures Unlimited magazine, served on the board of the Game Manufacturers Association and as the chair of the Academy of Adventure Gaming Art and Design, volunteered both on the advisory committee and as the head of the Origins Awards, and has been an active freelancer for large and small companies alike. Since the year 2000 she has been co-owner and General Manager of Green Ronin Publishing. Her recent projects include contributions to the Dragon Age Tabletop Roleplaying Game and Titansgrave: Ashes of Valakana.

She's also the sweetest person you never want to piss off.
Nicole Lindroos

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Ronin Roundtable: The Lost Citadel: Creating the First Map

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

 


 

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

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

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

No pressure, then.

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

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

So, what did I have to create?

 

The Brief

My brief boiled down to three basic requirements:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Composition

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

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

 

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

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

Map in the Middle

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

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

 

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

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

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

Heavens Above

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

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

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

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

Title Below

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

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

 

 

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

Finishing Touches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Done.

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

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

Until then,

Andrew Law, June 26th, 2017

 

Crystal Frasier

Crystal Frasier

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

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

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

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

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

Just check out a few quick previews:

 

Domenico Neziti

Brian Hagan

Brian Hagan

Domenico Neziti

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

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

Malcolm Sheppard

Malcolm Sheppard

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

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Ronin Roundtable: Enter the Modern AGE!

So, at the beginning of May, we announced we’re going to produce the World of Lazarus, a guide to roleplaying in Greg Rucka’s SF-feudal Lazarus comic series. We noted it would be a setting for the Modern AGE roleplaying game.

Yes, this means we’re making a Modern AGE game. We said so in a sort of soft, sneaky way, but today, we’re going to dig into what that means.

 

 

Modern AGE?

Modern AGE uses the Adventure Game Engine to power stories set in the “modern era,” a period we’ve designated as running from the 18th or 19th century, through the present day, and into the near future. That means guns and computers, transoceanic empires and raucous democracies, and the Cold War and beyond, into the great geopolitical realignments of our time. But it also means urban fantasy, psychic powers, conspiracies and all the speculative and strange sources that fuel modern stories.

The Adventure Game Engine is the system you first saw in the Dragon Age roleplaying game. You witnessed its evolution into Fantasy AGE with Wil Wheaton’s Titansgrave setting, and into Blue Rose: The AGE RPG of Romantic Fantasy. Modern AGE might be thought of as a counterpart to Fantasy AGE, but if you’re familiar with one of these games, the rest will come easily. Modern AGE adds some new things to the system, and revises a few solid concepts to make them easier to use.

Developing the game, it’s been important to me to stick with the A.G.E. system’s core concepts: ease of play, strong tools for character development, and most of all, stunts.

Stunts and Areas of Interest

Stunts are the system’s “killer app;” where other games often struggle to integrate special actions and exceptional results, the A.G.E. system uses stunts to make them emerge during play. Modern AGE introduces some new stunts, but we also recognize the decision paralysis that can happen when doubles hit the table. That’s why we’ve designated go-to core stunts and places stunts into shorter, focused lists.

Putting stunts into categories means thinking about what characters do during the game. Accordingly, we’ve mapped out three core areas of interest: action, exploration and social play. Action encompasses combat, chases and other physical challenges. Exploration combines its counterpart in Fantasy AGE with investigation. Social play develops the “roleplaying” category, acknowledging that modern games often require heroes to present themselves properly in all the scenarios thrown up by complex contemporary cultures.

The three areas of interest act as a focus throughout Modern AGE’s design, not just stunts. Heroes with abilities covering all three can take on nearly any challenge the GM cares to throw at them.

Character and Genre Modes

Fantasy AGE presents broad classes, archetypes in that genre, and provides advancement options that allow you to lock in more specific elements over time. Modern era games don’t have the same archetypes, however, and don’t need the same niche protection vital to the feel of fantasy adventure gaming. So, we’ve gone classless. After developing a background, a profession and a drive that pushes your hero out of obscurity and into the story, you’ll select ability advancements, talents and specializations freely.

In some games, a private eye is someone who uses a car, camera and laptop to find evidence for divorces and lawsuits, while in others, they’re a two-fisted, iron-chinned stalwart with a talent for getting tangled in murders. The difference? Genre. Not all modern games feature the same degree of realism, so we’ve included specific rules modes to fit the stories you want to play through. The three basic modes are gritty, for stories where violence is unforgiving, pulp, where a battered hero can, say, claw their way out of danger, and cinematic, where protagonists achieve the competence often reserves for fantasy heroes and the most outrageous action games. These modes affect character toughness and stunt access, and guide advice you’ll read throughout the book.

And Beyond

In upcoming columns, I’ll talk more about Modern AGE’s design foundations, and the details that make them work. Until then, let me ask you something: What clicks for you about the Adventure Game Engine RPGs you’ve played? What do you want to see down the line? I’m developing it even as we speak, and things are getting locked in, but I’d love to read your conversations–and ever so sneakily, have you spread the word that Modern AGE is coming . . .

And in a Further Manipulative Move

. . . oh wait. It’s not all about me. While you should indeed talk about Modern AGE until it’s a breakfast cereal, I have been reminded that our Kickstarter for The Lost Citadel — Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy Roleplaying is in full swing. I was actually one of the authors in the short story collection that inaugurated this shared world, which we’re transforming into a setting for 5th Edition roleplaying. But if you’re an Adventure Game Engine fan, know this: If we hit $32,500, we’ll unlock the A.G.E System Hack, which converts the Dead-bound Zileska setting to A.G.E family games.

And if you’re curious about the setting and stories of The Lost Citadel, we have a sample short story available for FREE on our website. Check out Requiem, In Bells, by Ari Marmell.

Jack Norris

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

Jack also hates writing bios...

Ronin Roundtable: Examining Specializations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Azadrumoda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Requirements: Strength 2, Axes Weapons Focus Group

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

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

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

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

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