World of Lazarus: Handling Asymmetric Gameplay

A World of Lazarus campaign doesn’t need to include a Lazarus as a player character, and in fact much of the book assumes the players are ordinary people trying to survive in this extraordinary world. The gamemaster’s chapter includes four general campaign models: Family, Serf, Waste, and Resistance, with the first three focusing on the various tiers of society that define the Lazarus setting and the fourth focusing on organizations like The Free who work to upend that stratification and restore basic human dignity to everyone. Each campaign model has its own player-character suggestions, objectives, adversaries, and nuances that can make for very different campaigns, and none require a Lazarus among the PCs’ numbers. For three of these campaign models—Serf, Waste, and Resistance—Lazari serve more as adversaries and boogeymen than heroes.

But we all like a power fantasy now and then, and World of Lazarus delivers with all the information you need to make player-character Lazari. But if every Family is only supposed to have one of these champions, how do you handle that at the table? Most roleplaying games are built around symmetric gameplay—the idea that player characters should be roughly the same power level. Fighters and wizards play differently, but if they start to feel too different, it feels unfair. Making asymmetric gameplay—where one player is more powerful than the others—work can be challenging, because you run the risk of one player being able to solve every problem, leaving the other players feeling useless and bored.

World of Lazarus describes several options for incorporating a Lazarus into your game, but the key is to design your adventures and opponents mindfully, making sure the Lazarus can’t do everything themselves and that there are challenges that showcase other players’ abilities. You wouldn’t design a fantasy adventure where every puzzle and every opponent could only be overcome by divine magic, and likewise you need to make sure you don’t build your Lazarus adventures in a way that every challenge is overcome by a Lazarus’s superior combat abilities. You may build combat encounters with one or two high-level threats the Lazarus must focus on, with other opponents that the non-Lazari party members can take out, or build your entire campaign with the intention of the Lazarus handling combat scenarios, but the focus including many scientific, investigation, or social challenges that the human party members can solve.

World of Lazarus details four ways of including a Lazarus as a prominent, permanent element in your own campaigns, which boil down to:

  • Lazarus Oversight, in which the Lazarus is an NPC the PCs report to directly every session, and who may occasionally join them on adventures as a plot device.
  • Rotating Lazarus, in which every player makes their own human-scale PC and collaborate to make a Lazarus as well, then take turns every session playing the Lazarus as an active party member.
  • Tip of the Spear, in which one player is the Family Lazarus, with the rest of the players playing various support elements. This suggestion is especially fitting for Family campaigns, considering that all Lazari receive special condition to enforce their loyalty, and so despite their power, the Lazarus PC is subservient to the other PCs.
  • The Phalanx, in which every PC creates either a Lazarus or a lesser version of a Lazarus, representing a coalition between families or an illegal attempt to circumvent the “one Lazarus per family” rule enforced by the Maccau Accords.

There are plenty of other ways to include a Lazarus in your game, from an occasional guest role to a cooperatively-played pseudo-PC to an NPCplot device the PCs can unleash as their secret weapon. The possibilities are limited by the deviousness of your own imagination. And you can always use the Lazarus talents to allow players to create half-measure Lazuri agents without applying the full Lazarus creation rules.

World of Lazarus: It’s Time to Organize!

Players coming to World of Lazarus from other Green Ronin titles are probably vaguely familiar with the organization rules used in the Dragon Age Roleplaying Game, Fantasy AGE, and A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying. This simple, flexible system lets players take control of a noble family, thieves’ guild, mercenary company, or nation of their very own as a core part of the campaign. With the setting’s intense focus on the responsibilities and effects of character’s actions on the world around them, this system is a natural fit for World of Lazarus as well!

The setting book includes a few sample organizations already, including the Novaya Bratva crime empire and a sample Waste town, but you can make your own as a core part of your own campaign, using adventures to help shape the PC’s organization and their impact on rival organizations. For PCs playing Waste, they might build up their own tiny community and target organizations representing warlord armies, aggressive towns, and the local tax man. Resistance-focused campaigns might instead use the rules to represent the PCs’ resistance cell and network of supporters while their opponents include Family intelligence organizations, law enforcement, and criminal groups looking to pressure freedom fighters into supporting their own illegal empire. For a Serf campaign, organizations can represent anything from rival research groups in a scientific and corporate-espionage-focused campaign to enemy forces in a military campaign.

But we already started thinking about a Family campaign last week when I created my own character for a campaign, Carrie Morrow, a loyal but ruthless intelligence agent for the Quinn family, who are desperately trying to hold the Borderland South Sub-Domain together in the face of war and Family power struggles. The PCs can operate their own organization representing to Quinn family and their power base, and for this kind of campaign we’ll want some enemies… Say the local Hock forces eating into the eastern border? And a rival Family hoping to oust the Quinn’s and take their place? And just to keep the players on their toes, we’ll toss in something stealthy… say an up-and-coming dark web media group associated with the Free and prying in to family business. Each of these organizations will need their own statblock, a few named NPCs so the PCs have something human to recognize with their forces, and a modus operandi. But that’s all behind-the-scenes work for the GM. For now, let’s focus on what the players can build: Their own Family!

The GM decides that a Junior Family like the Quinns has Medium Scale, and lets us build the Quinn Family by selecting organization Ability scores from an array: one 3, two 2s, two 1s, and a 0, plus 2 Focuses representing important assets or focuses. The Quinn Family is stretched pretty thing right now, dealing with a war and political backstabbers, so we’ll want a good Force for military confrontations and a decent Tradecraft to help handle spies and political intrigue. We need to decide who the Quinns are, what makes up their power base, and what unusual assets they might be able to call one. After fifteen minutes of passionate debate and some light name-calling, we arrive at:

  • Force 2
  • Finance 0
  • Influence 3
  • Culture 1
  • Tradecraft 2
  • Technology 1

The Quinns are popular and know where all the bodies are buried—controlling the local media outlets and entertainment venues—probably with strong ties to CARSEC, but their lavish lifestyle has left them cash-strapped and perhaps lagging technologically behind what would be expected of a Carlyle house. Organization Focuses can be more abstract than character Focuses, and for the Quinns, we go with Influence (propaganda) and Finance (blackmail); the Quinns can put some serious pressure on people when they need to, making up for their empty bank accounts, but it won’t win them many new friends.

Being built with an array, the Quinns begin with a Cohesion of 3 and 28+2d6… 36 Capital. That’s all an organization needs to get started. Now the GM just needs to figure out how frequently the PCs will make Organization checks, which in turn determines the timeline of the campaign. Organization checks once a month means things are hitting fast and hard, with constant struggle and changes in power, while every three months or every six months would be more appropriate for drawn-out political maneuvering in a campaign intended to covered years. The GM wants the campaign to be high-energy and high-stakes, so we’ll go with once a month, usually with a PC-scale adventure somewhere in between Organization checks.

A PC organization gives the GM additional hooks for adventures; a bad Organization check may result in a drop in Influence, and the adventure may involve tracking down whoever is trashing the Quinns’ reputation, for example. A PC organization also provides additional options for rewards. The PCs capturing a renown Hock scientist as part of the adventure may provide a free Technology Focus while a remarkable public victory over an opponent in an adventure could restore organization Capital. Especially with an intrigue-oriented campaign, it’s important for the PCs’ personal action to feel like they have larger consequences, and affecting their organization or others is an easy way to represent that!

Ronin Round Table: The Wolfenmoot

Artwork by Priscilla Kim

Artwork by Priscilla Kim

Howly Wolfenoot!

Recently, we became aware of the existence of a brand new holiday: Wolfenoot! Invented by an seven-year-old New Zealand boy, it celebrates people being kind to dogs. It’s a delightful notion, with households celebrating by eating roast meat and cakes decorated as moons, and the “Spirit of the Wolf” hides small gifts for family members – the kinder to puppers they are, the better the gifts! Folk have also decided to celebrate by donating or volunteering with local animal shelters and wolf rescues.

Quite honestly, that’s some delightful holiday goodness we couldn’t wait to get in on, and it seems only too appropriate to add Wolfenoot to the Blue Rose calendar, as well. I mean, for a setting that includes sapient, psychic wolves? It’s a natural fit.

So, without further ado, we present: Wolfenmoot, celebrated on the full moon of every month of Goion.

The Wolfenmoot

Full Moon of the Month of Goion

As winter settles into the Pavin Weald, and the moon begins to wax toward full, Forest Folk prepare for the Wolfenmoot. Read more

Welcome to the World of Lazarus

The World of Lazarus campaign setting for the Modern AGE roleplaying game is almost ready for launch. As our very first supplement and setting for Modern AGE, we’re both proud and nervous, but being huge fans of the critically-acclaimed comic book, we’re more excited than anything.

For those of you who haven’t yet read Greg Rucka and Michael Lark’s comic series, Lazarus is a dystopian, near-future world that is deeply divided between the haves and the have-nots. The comic paints a broad picture of an eerily realistic future, with a handful of corporate oligarchs ruling over the teeming masses in a world ravaged by climate change, disease, and war. While it doesn’t provide many opportunities to bust out the rules for magic and psychic abilities found in the Modern AGE core rulebook (or maybe it does; it’s your campaign), it provides a lot of other elements that make for a great roleplaying game setting.

 

Lazarus is cyberpunk, but that incredible technology is only available to the most powerful figures on Earth, and those directly useful to them. Genetic engineering, cybernetic, quantum computer—these are all technologies mastered by the Families who rule to world, but are only available to their most trusted assets.

Lazarus is post-apocalyptic, but only to those who can’t buy their way out of its impact. War, pandemics, and super-storms have wiped out large swathes of the population and rendered once-bustling cities into ghost towns. The wealthy and powerful can insulate themselves from the decay, living in technological utopias and living lives familiar to us here in the 21st century—working 9-to-five jobs, picking up dinner, and relaxing to browse social media. But those without means, the vast majority of humanity, live hand-to-mouth in grueling, nearly medieval conditions or else go off the grid entirely to scavenge and hunt a living in the fallen ruins of the old world.

Lazarus is political thriller, where the actions of people on-high dramatically impacting the lives of those below them, but also where the actions of the teeming masses make the powerful sweat and toss in their sleep. The wealthy are held up by sophisticated social machines, and anything that throws a wrench in those gears threatens to topple their empire. Intrigue and quiet deals with the devil happen at all social levels, and test characters’ resolve and morals.

This is a fun, flavorful world ripe for a hundred possible campaigns, from Serf soldiers fighting a war with next-gen technology to desperate Waste survivors eking out a living and exploring ruins to maybe, finally strike it rich enough to know comfort.

World of Lazarus Character Creation: Carrie Morrow

We didn’t have room for a character creation example in World of Lazarus itself, so please indulge me while I run through a quick character to show how easy it can be and how character creation shapes the kinds of campaign’s you’ll run. I’ll generate Carrie Morrow, starting off with just a name because it makes it easier to reference her as we build. And also because I like the name Carrie.

Character creation uses the rules from Modern AGE, so let’s start out by rolling up some random ability scores: A 12 in Accuracy gives us a 2. The rest are 12, 11, 11, 14, 7, 15, 11, and a 6. That gives us:

  • Accuracy 2
  • Communication 2
  • Constitution 1
  • Dexterity 1
  • Fighting 2
  • Intelligence 0
  • Perception 3
  • Strength 1
  • Willpower 0

I can swap any two scores, but I’m going to hold off for now. Right now Carrie is a decent scrapper, charming, and has a keen eye, so lots of ways this character can go depending on what else we roll up for her, but I’m thinking whatever her background, she’s been to the school of hard knocks and learned most of life’s lessons the hard way.

To roll her background, we need to know Carrie’s social class, and to know that we need to know what kind of campaign the GM wants to run. World of Lazarus offers for main campaign models—Family, Serf, Waste, and Resistance—with each model having difference focuses and challenges. Let’s go for a Family campaign, because I like the idea of Carrie stumbling through complex family politics with her respectable Communication and poor Willpower. Let’s say the campaign is about the Quinns, a Junior Signatory Family in service to the Carlyles, left to run the Borderland South Sub-Domain as Stephen Carlyle left to replace his father in leading the Family and the war with Hock escalates.

Rolling some more dice gives us a 3 for her social class—Carrie is a middle-class Serf—and another 10 for her Background, so Carrie is a Retainer, one of the new backgrounds in World of Lazarus:

“Your loyalty and diligence earned you a position within a Family household, directly or indirectly attending to the needs and wishes of a member of the Family. Your position may grant you certain privileges over other Serfs, but only as long as you remember your place.”

So Carrie is a toadie to the Family. I can work with that. A Retainer gets +1 Intelligence, either the Communication (persuasion) or Intelligence (homemaking) focus, and Novice ranks in either the Contacts or Social Survivor talent (another new addition to this book). I’ll go for Communications (persuasion) and the Contacts talent. A roll on the Retainer table also gives us a 9 for the Intelligence (law) focus.

Let’s Roll a middle-class profession. Because Lazarus adds extra Professions, we roll 1d6 and then a second 1d6, getting a 5 and a 4: A Breacher. This is another new option in World of Lazarus, basically amounting to a specialist at getting into and out of complex systems—a sort of high-end professional thief or corporate espionage artist; not where I expected this character to go. A Breacher gets 15+Con Health, starting Resources of 6, a choice of the Dexterity (sabotage) or Intelligence (security) focuses, and either the Burgalry or Freerunning talents. I’ll go with Intelligence (Security) and Burglary; they mesh well.

At this point, I’m going to use my free ability swap to trade Carrie’s Strength and Intelligence; she’s got a lot of Intelligence focuses, and as a thief I don’t want to lower her Communications or Perception.

Finally, we’ve got to determine Carrie’s Drive. Two more six-siders gives us 6 and 5. Carrie is a Savior. She sees some clear evil in the world and works to spare people from it. Given the Family-oriented campaign and her career as an acquirer of important things, we can safely assume that Carrie is a true believer: she believes in the inherent superiority of the Family and their rigid social order. She’s a follower, and at this point I start poking the other players to see whose agenda she clings to and supports without question. Thanks to her Drive she gets either the Command or Inspire talent (let’s go with Command), and a bump to either her Health, a Relationship, or Resources. I’ll go with an extra Relationship slot, and save that for another player who plays a Family scion.

Here’s what her character sheet looks like:

Lazarus_MorrowCharSheet

And here’s her story:

The Morrow family has served the Quinns for generations as lawyers and bureaucrats, but Carrie Lilah Morrow serves in a starkly different capacity. Firmly believing in the principals of social Darwinism, she knows that her elevated position is a result of her family’s hard work and superior skills, and by extension the Quinn’s must work harder and be possessed of even greater survival traits to flourish in the harsh modern world. She has seen the world outside the Family estates and comfortable Serf residential blocks and know that people—those people who refuse to respect the system—fight and kill over the most meager scraps rather than accept the Family’s generous Labor Reward Point system, and the Quinns need to be shielded from the harshest of those realities if at all possible. Attending school alongside the next expected Family leader, Amelia Quinn, Carrie made an eager sycophant and enabler, doing whatever dirty work the Family scion found beneath her or wouldn’t want traced back to her. She still remains at Amelia’s right hand, now serving the Quinn family as a spy and saboteur.

Carrie probably has a lot of growing and eye-opening ahead of her in this campaign. It should be fun!

Ronin Round Table: Using the Fantasy AGE Bestiary in Blue Rose

Part III

One of the tremendous benefits of the Adventure Game Engine (or AGE) system is how quickly we’ve developed a diversity of applications for it. Not only does this give us a bunch of great games to play, but allows us to mix-and-match them to get ourselves a breadth of options beyond that of any single game.

Today, we’re concluding a series that shows this off a little. The Fantasy AGE Bestiary is an excellent book full of great monsters, horrors, and adversaries for your Fantasy AGE heroes. But its utility isn’t limited to Fantasy AGE campaigns – we’re going to talk a little about how these monsters might fit into the romantic fantasy setting of Blue Rose.

This is the last of three articles taking these critters, one at a time, and discussing where they might fit into Blue Rose’s setting, and what (if any) mechanical adjustments need to be made to make room for them. See the first part here, and the second part here.

Brian Hagan

 

 

Ocean Worm: Though Aldinfolk have legends of dragons, they do not consider these titanic ocean-going terrors to be dragons, per se. Still, the sailor jargon referring to them as “worms” has stuck. Many sages also refer to them as leviathans, and to the Lar’tyans, they are the Great Enemy, one of the few things that threaten their mighty warships. None of these with breath weapons have ever been reported in Aldean history to date. (See also the Shadow-Touched Serpent, on p100 of the Six of Swords adventure anthology.)

 

Ooze: Though strange, ravenous creatures with gelatinous bodies have existed for a long time, it is only recently that Aldin scholars discovered a strange fact: all of them are the remains of sorcerous work. Though it’s likely the Sorcerer Kings deliberately created some of them, the truth is far stranger: most of them used to be other creatures, or other sorcerous creations entirely, and all collapsed and devolved into these protoplasmic horrors, held together literally with sorcerous malice and little else.

 

Penanggalan: Old, blasphemous rites are responsible for the creation of the penanggalan. Similar to those which create liches, these sorcerous rituals are remnants of the ancient sorcerous traditions in what is now Drunac. The witches of the Rezean people are some of the few who recognize the signs of penanggalan among today’s adepts.

 

Rat King: According to certain rhydan sages, the conjoined intelligence of these strange horrors is a blasphemous mimicry of rhydan intelligence, the closest that Shadow can manage to the gift of a living soul. Whatever causes it, they are dangers in places where rats are plentiful and have many places to hide, which includes most cities. Rhy-rats (see Aldis: City of the Blue Rose) are best aware of the dangers of the rise of rat kings, and consider the careful monitoring of non-rhydan rat populations as part of their wardenship against Shadow.

 

Reaper: The priesthood of Selene teach that the reapers first appeared with the sorcerous rite that created the first of the unliving (different legends identify this unliving differently, but most tellings suggest it was a vampire or lich). Whatever their genesis, reapers now come hunting among all of the people of Aldea, living or otherwise. Many who find themselves stalked by a reaper flee immediately to adepts of the Selenite priesthood, who specialize in discovering what it is that has gained the ire of a reaper, and help a victim put it to rights, though sometimes this means seeing a murderer pay for the deaths they’ve caused.

 

Sea Devil: Sea devils rise up from the dark and cold depths that the sea-folk avoid descending into, for Shadow dwells in the deep oceans as well. Some sea-folk legends claim that sea devils are Shadow-corrupted members of their people from ages past; others seem to suggest that they are predators on sea-folk who rose to power by dwelling in the pelagic abysses. Regardless of where they came from, sea devils are a threat to all ocean-going folk: they are capable raiders of both subaquatic and above-water targets, swarming out of the ocean to attack sea-folk coves, seaside villages, and ships alike.

 

Shadow Person: Neither darkfiend nor unliving, elemental or fey, the exact nature of the shadow person is largely unknown. They are rare enough that only studied scholars are likely to recognize the signs of their predation without extensive research. They are known to torment the people of Kern most regularly, likely because Kernish folk are denied the means of defending themselves against them by their dark masters. Shadow people are considered darkfiends in Jarzon, and the witches of Rezea are said to know specialized wards to keep them from creeping into tents among the tribes.

 

Shard Lord: Records in the Vault of Censure – that collection of works considered too dangerous to permit general dissemination by the Crown in Aldis – claim that shard lords are a true abomination: the results of an infusion of arcanely sensitive shas crystals with the emanations of Shadow. This is why they are sometimes referred to as “shas lords.” The fact that shard lords are found most often in the Shadow Barrens upholds this origin story, as all of the shas deposits of that dark land are known to be utterly corrupted by Shadow, suitable only for works that aid sorcery.

 

Soul Harvester: For as long as Aldean folk have recorded their knowledge of monsters, they have spoken of soul harvesters. But these monstrosities were relatively uncommon for most of that history, until the actions of one of the Sorcerer Kings, the tyrant Yngalandis. Experimenting with uses for souls, Yngalandis constructed a sorcerous device that acted as a beacon and lure for soul harvesters, drawing them into this realm and forcing them to his service. Unfortunately, machinations by a rival not only destroyed the device, but scattered its power across Aldea, acting as a lure without an attached trap. Though these emanations have long faded, whatever culture exists among the soul harvesters has established this dimension as a place attractive for hunting, and they continue to stalk its folk.

 

Thin Man: Some of those who served in the wretched halls and palaces of the Sorcerer Kings mentioned the thin men afterwards, describing them as strange entities that came through shadowgates at the behest of the Sorcerer Kings. Whether ambassadors from a strange people known only to the Sorcerer Kings, or otherworldly mercenaries paid in some terrible coin, no one knows. It is sufficient that these things yet stalk the peoples of Aldea. Some scholars suggest this means that the thin men have either developed their own means of passage into this world, or that there yet remains at least one shadowgate that they have access to.

 

Treeman: It is said by some that the deeps of Wyss are home to entire communities of the treefolk, living trees who shepherd trees the way mortal shepherd sheep and cattle. Whether this is true of Wyss or not, treefolk occasionally appear solitarily in other deep forests. They are usually hesitant to speak to any folk, although a few rhydan enclaves have managed to establish alliances with them, and actually consider them kin in some capacity, plants given minds and souls the same way they are animals who were given such. Treefolk mystics are all incredible masters of the Nature Reading and Plant Shaping arcana.

 

Troll: Though they were once the terrors that haunted the high mountain passes, trolls are almost exclusively found in the Golgan Badlands, the Veran Marsh, the Shadow Barrens, and the wastelands of Drunac.

 

Werebeasts: Almost unheard of in Aldea, the exact origins of werebeasts are by and large a mystery. Some rhydan enclaves warn their members that werebeasts are what happen when rhydan are lost to Shadow, while some scholars think it is a curse inflicted on those who have mastered shapeshifting arcana who become corrupted. However it happens, it does so rarely, so much so that most Aldeans have never heard of werebeasts, though their existence is recorded among the Rolls of the Damned in Jarzon, and in the lore of Selenite mystery cults.

Orktoberfest: November, Shmovember—Orks Am Ignore Sour Man Sense of Time!

So, this is the capstone on the Orktoberfest series, where I went over some of the notable elements of Ork!: The Roleplaying Game, Second Edition. Subtlety is not especially orky, so I’ll lay it out: This was to make you interested in it, so you would buy it. Krom, god of the orks, is a cruel cosmic overlord, but he’s honest! Therefore, I’m going to end things by making a “stone staircase pitch” (elevators are rare in the World of Orkness; anyone capable of building or maintaining one would probably be eaten by a troll).

Enter the World of Orkness!

Enter the World of Orkness!

Why You Am Buy Ork?

  • A simple, intuitive system for casual “beer and pretzels” roleplaying, that even gets around to supporting a theme—you against your god!
  • You play an ork: a short-tempered, uncannily tough, green-skinned-boar-faced bruiser, hoping to earn glory and dethrone your village’s sinister warlock overlord!
  • Full color, blood-spattered-yet-humorous illustrations by Dan Houser (see Icons: Superpowered Roleplaying too!) throughout.
  • New to this edition: Revised and expanded rules for magic—a potent art tainted by the curse of Krom, the ork god!
  • Finally, a game whose jokes refer to both Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo and Buck Rogers in the XXV Century.
  • Limb-ripping, bone-crunching combat, revised for the new edition!
  • A full-sized catalog of things to kill, from annoying flying monkeys to giant robots. Plus: All giant lizards breathe fire!
  • Seriously, a truly complete game, that includes enough adventures to run an entire campaign. Start by raiding the village of the pie-making, hair-footed squishy men, move on to crashing airships piloted by mutant stinkbugs, and meet your fate in the legendary dungeon called Horserat Mountain!

Why You Am Have “You Am” Sentence Constructions?

Okay, I keep forgetting to put this down in various blog articles. Part of Ork!’s fun is talking like an ork! Orks live in an eternal present, like stereotypical enlightened masters or excitable mastiffs chasing cars, so always use the present tense, with emphasis, because the word “am” usually precedes verbs and adjectives. “Am” also replaces “do,” “be,” “is,” and a bunch of other weak, worthless words. Orks use “me” instead of “I,” and frequently reject stupid dithering definitive articles, and generally employ Hemingway-eqsue economy of speech. Me am tell you good? You am get ork points for good ork talk!

Where Am World?

I never bothered to get into the setting before, either! Orks live in a place called the World of Orkness, because we don’t pass up cheap jokes around these parts. In development, we got rid of a bunch of stuff detailing specific areas because orks have terrible memories and if they mostly have a geography divided into their village and a fluid, enemy-filled not-village, this frees Orkmasters from the burden of consistency. However, the World of Orkness has a basic set of stuff in it, including:

  • Various weak and worthless creatures you may recognize from equally weak and worthless sources, including sour men (who we might call “humans”), squishy men (small, annoyingly cute, hairy-footed, and weirdly free from copyright claims until the point they throw rings into lava), bagpipe-playing goblins with Scots accents (so you can’t use them for dwarves—well “stunty men” to orks—in this setting!) and so on.
  • Anti-science trolls eat anyone trying to move things past a fantasy world technological steady state, and as an ever-comforting allegory for the anti-science stuff your weird uncle shares on Facebook.
  • A magic-ravaged world. Long ago, the World of Orkness’ (WoO? I should have thought of that during development!) mighty civilization Am Go Too Far, and suffered a magical catastrophe that ripped open the skin of the world like an old-timey hockey goalie’s face. Strange people, creatures, and things rained through rips in reality, and mountains got tossed around like the teeth of, once again, an old-timey hockey goalie’s face. Things have calmed down a bit, but you can still find virtually anything, anywhere. This includes items from the 21st century, since, well, we have a lot of stuff to dump due to the productive forces of late industrial capitalism. Magic may warp such things, from their shape to how they work. This is a whole bunch of words to tell you, “You can have your orks fight an animated Mazda Miata if you want.”
  • The aforementioned giant fire-breathing lizards.

What Am Next?

That’s it for Orktoberfest (at least for this year! Heh.). All that’s left is for you to buy Ork! However, that’s not all! Coming up next year, the Orkmaster Mayhem Kit will give you a screen and new adventures.

Furthermore, after experimenting with Ork!’s system a bit, I decided to see how it would work for a more serious rules-light game. I can’t say much about it now, but the wheels are turning. Watch this space!

Orktoberfest: Magic of the Orks!

One of the new things about Ork! The Roleplaying Game, Second Edition is the role of magic. Ork!’s mastermind, Todd Miller, requested that this edition include better rules for magic. Previously, magic was mostly left to the Orkmaster, who used it as an excuse to have village warlocks (then called shamans—we changed the terminology to something less problematic for the new edition) relentlessly bully players’ orks. In those rules, warlocks could do anything, and orks just had to suck it up! Plus, there were some magic trinkets available.

Not everyone benefits from “material components”

 

Go Ahead and Try! Heh, Heh.

The new edition has really taken it to the next level. Does this mean a new limit on the warlock’s ork-oppressing mystic might? Nope! Warlocks can still do whatever the Orkmaster thinks they can. This is because Krom, the fearsome god of the orks, trusts warlocks enough to let them reshape the cosmic energy he left around. What’s new is that now, any ork can try to cast spells by following a few simple steps and making a Magic roll.

As you might guess, orks aren’t the most studious creatures around, even if a place with the words “hog” and “wort” in it sounds like somewhere orks should go, to admire architecture, eat centaurs, and possibly vape something called a “huff-a-puff,” which for litigation related reasons I may be misremembering the name for. So, all ork magic is improvised. The prospective spell-ork needs ingredients, such as something he must do, a place he must cast at, or an item he needs to have. The number of ingredients is one per rank of the spell, going from Minor to Moderate and Major. Describe what the spell does, let the Orkmaster assign its rank get the right ingredients for it, and roll some dice!

Krom’s Curse!

There’s just one problem: Krom does not trust orks with magic. While Krom vomited up the whole universe, not all of it is under his complete control. (Even whispering this is blasphemy, and a warlock will turn you into a pine cone for mentioning it!) Magic’s the errant lint, dust, goo, and forgotten crowdfunding rewards which clutter up the cosmos. Krom’s too busy tormenting orks and looking impressive to clean it all up, but he doesn’t want orks rummaging through it either. Thus, when an ork tries to use magic, he suffers Krom’s Curse! Manifestations of the curse rage from growing an unwanted beard to being crushed by an enormous foot green foot tattooed with the cryptic rune, ™. The more powerful the spell, the bigger the curse, and failed spellcasting rolls get the worst curses of all! Fortunately, ork points can be used to partially reduce the effects of Krom’s Curse.

As noted, warlocks can still do whatever they want. Warlocks aren’t subject to Krom’s Curse because they’re loyal and have been taught Things Most Orks Are Am Not Meant to Know. The Orkmaster decided what they can and can’t do, though some things, like making magic items, is a special warlock ability, not available to spell-slinging common orks. Plus, other beings—disgusting non-orks!—seem to be able to make items, and even use magic without drawing Krom’s Curse. Orks don’t know what this is. Could it be the human god, Cromus, who of course has nothing to do with Krom, so shut up, making a different deal with his people? Who knows?

Prizes

On the topic of magic items, Ork! has plenty of them, from the magic tattoo of the Iron Bird to autogyros and dread magic spears. Activating some of these items also requires a Magic roll, and sometimes draws Krom’s Curse, but this is milder and less frequent, in exchange for potent but limited benefits—and the constant risk another ork will hit the owner over the head and take it. Items are daily (meaning they can be used a listed number of times per day), munchies (they get used up, like cookies and your good friend’s beers), futzy (these work every 2d4 hours) and always (lo and behold, these work all the time!).

Sample Magic Item: Grovel Stick

Daily (3×) • Krom Dice: 3d6

This short staff is carved with strange warlocky symbols and has mojo written all over it. It can be used as a club with a damage rating of 1, but that’s not its main function. No, the grovel stick is not an ordinary weapon of war. It reminds upstart orks who the boss is. The fact that its ability also works on squishy and sour men is a big plus. If the wielder of the grovel stick hits an opponent in hand-to-hand combat, he can choose to activate the magic rather than inflict damage. If the magic works, the victim falls to the ground and grovels uncontrollably for 1d4 rounds. Even if attacked, the victim continues to grovel. Never mind that orks can’t understand squishy men; groveling transcends language.

 

Next Time!

Ork!: The Roleplaying Game is shipping now! Next week we’ll be in November, and I’ll put a capstone on this series, giving you a full rundown of the contents. Happy Halloween—it’s an ork-worthy affair!

 

Orktoberfest: Pleasing Krom—and Cheating Him!

This past couple of Orktoberfest weeks we’ve talked about the basics of Ork! The Roleplaying Game, Second Edition (Pre-Order Link!), starting with Frequent Ork Questions (the FOrkQ) and moving to the core system, where you battle a god, and combat, glorious combat! Now in this and previous Ork! articles we’ve tried to get across a certain vibe, where the game is supposed to be goofy, fun, and open-ended, but some of you will still want to ask dumb questions like, “How does the system address the narrative premise?” Smart things like this sound like science, which in Ork! is traditionally punished by murderous, anti-science trolls. (In the rough and tumble World of Orkness, only trolls, with their entirely fictional ability to regenerate, can get away with anti-science beliefs that keep them from vaccinating their troll-cubs. The rest of you, vaccinate your kids!)

HE KNOWS

Nevertheless, this question has a two-pronged (two-tusked?) answer! We have ork points, the carrots, and Cheats, the sticks that look like carrots. Let’s talk about how these rules work.

Ork Points

Krom is almost always watching! Remember, the god of the Orks treats his creations with amused animosity. He wants orks to get into trouble, but also roots for them if they solve problems in the most orky ways possible, with brute force, ignorance and a bit of barbaric panache. The criteria are simple in description yet vast in creative depth, for the Orkmaster (the Game Master of Ork!) represents Krom at the table, and if they’re amused, Krom is amused! Thus, to represent Krom’s fleeting favor, the Orkmaster hands out ork points.

Ork points have several applications. They can make actions more effective, heal damage, and be spent to avoid Krom’s Curse when orks dabble in magic. The Orkmaster should grant ork points frequently, and players should spend them almost as frequently—and we say almost, because there may be a catch. You can also use ork points to add permanent improvements to your ork, but in the meanest, most classically orkish Ork! games you must choose between spending them on the spot and saving them to advance. This simulates the instant gratification temptations felt by all orks, and how it leads to bad decisions. However, we know this is just too much for some groups, so this hardcore option is presented alongside another, where you can still use ork points you spent in advancement. The Orkmaster picks which option they want for their campaign.

Cheats

One of the new things in this edition is character Cheats. In Ork! a Cheat can be seen in part as a counterpart to the specializations characters in other RPGs develop, but let’s face it: No ork ever learned the Quivering Palm after dedicated training. Orks are not studious but boy, are they ever stubborn—so stubborn, in fact, that in one subject dear to their hearts, they will themselves to overcome Krom’s opposition. In fact, they steal power from Krom!

To make a Cheat, you take a skill and define one subcategory of what it can do, such as swinging one type of weapon or using the Jock skill to climb. When it’s time to use that subcategory, your Cheat lets you steal dice from Krom to make things easier. When the opponent is Krom himself, via environmental hazards, you take dice from the number you’re rolling against and add them to your own. Against enemies, you grab Krom dice from thin air to add to the number you roll. Defiance and might! YEARGH!

Is there a catch. Oh yeah. You see, if you Cheat, Krom eventually notices the discrepancy and takes those dice back, to add to roll opposing yours later. The Orkmaster is encouraged to build a little pile of these dice in front of each player. When it amuses Krom, the Orkmaster grabs those dice and rolls them alongside them normal difficulty dice, so rolling against 4d6 can turn into rolling against 9d6, if a foolish player accumulated five Cheat dice. Cheating creates natural comeuppances, which is also very much in keeping with Ork!

You Am Do Anything

Next week: Magic!

Orktoberfest: Combat!

Let’s talk about the most important system in all roleplaying games: Combat! Okay, maybe not all roleplaying games. Maybe you play games where it’s all Angsty Debate Team or you roll for self-actualization. Ork! The Roleplaying Game (Like goes to pre-order: KROM DEMANDS PRE-ORDER) brings you back to your senses, filling them with a red haze and the ripping meat sounds of glorious battle.

Combat in Ork! is simple but atmospheric. Because it’s easy and game designers are lazy, fighting is an extension of the core rules, which I covered last week. Ork! uses opposed rolls for everything. Your ork’s basic attribute (like Meat, measuring general physical ability) gets a die type—the bigger the die the better—and your skill rating determines how many dice you roll. If the challenge is environmental, you roll against Krom, the merciless ork god who vomited up the world. If the challenge is another creature, you roll against it.

Thus, combat is a series of opposed rolls against whoever you want to wallop. You do as much damage as the points by which your roll exceeded your target’s. Add bonus damage for a weapon. The enemy’s armor reduces damage. One roll and it’s all done!

GLORIOUS!

Things You Am Do in Combat

Ork! isn’t particularly tactical, because orks aren’t tactical. They’re creatures of high aggression, low cunning, and constant hunger. This means many of the tactically oriented stuff found in other games works differently.

Movement: Ork! uses rough distances, ranging from Right Here (you can hit someone because they’re Right Here) to Over There (you have to hustle over, then hit them) to Far Away (it takes a round to get to them), Too Far (it would take more time) and Way Too Far (throw something instead!). These have real feet-based measurements, but the point is that the Orkmaster can use natural language instead of getting out a ruler.

Ranged Combat: Roll Aim (used for missile weapons and winning bets about who can hit a roosting pterosaur with a thrown pine cone) against the opponent’s Duck (the skill of being sneaky and getting out of the way). If the opponent is past the weapon’s short range, has a shield, or is hard to see, they get bonus die to their Duck roll. Easy!

Other Stuff: Combat includes rules for Attacks of Orkitunity (hitting cowards who try to get away!), sneak attacking and riding dinosaurs into battle. It has rules for Crunchies—pathetic enemies with just 1 Wound to make you feel mighty—and mobs, which is what happens when Crunchies gang up.

Big Hits!

“Critical hits” sounds too technical for a game where your character dreams of killing the stupid sun. Ork! has big hits instead. You score a big hit when you don’t need all your dice to succeed. If you rolled a 7, 8, and 3 on 3d10 against your opponent total of 14, the 7+8 you rolled, making 15, is enough. You didn’t need the 3—and you can use that to pick a big hit. The Orkmaster can make big hits up, but the game as a decent list.

Example Big Hit—Dis’Arm: Orks have heard the term “disarm” and assume it refers to their favored tactic of depriving an enemy of the use of a limb: twisting until it snaps, crackles, and pops; hitting it with a blade, bludgeon, or thrown rock; or biting it really hard. Your enemy can’t use of the limb until they succeed at an Endure roll versus 3d6 Krom dice. Roll this once per round immediately after the victim’s turn until they succeed. It doesn’t use up the victim’s action.

If the Dis’Arm happens as part of an attack that drops the enemy to 0 Wounds, the Orkmaster may allow you to chop or rip the target limb clean off! Now you have a gross club.

(Yes, there are rules for reattaching severed limbs. Got a nail gun?)

Defeat!

Characters in Ork! have a Wounds score, which works like the classic get-hit-lose-points-yeah-basically-hit-points system you know from other games. Unlike other games though, Wounds represent a general resistance to being physically defeated. This is a cheap trick that gets us out of designing stupid rules for “grappling,” “overbearing,” and so forth. How you beat up the enemy is entirely descriptive, and these descriptions are frequently vague, and full of yelling. What matters is how you intend to crush your enemy!

Therefore, dropping to 0 Wounds brings about the option of death, but it can also be used to indicate capture, maiming or just getting knocked out. As a side effect, the Orkmaster can refrain from killing orks outright until it would be really, really funny. This often happens sooner than you think, so beware anyway!

Me Am Not Die. Me Am Cheat!

Cheating Krom is a special system orks have to stave off doom in exchange for bigger doom. It and ork points are the high-falutin’ tone-reinforcin’ meta-systems of the game, and we’ll talk about them next week. Aaaargh!

Orktoberfest: Ork’s System!

Naturally, one of the biggest chapters in Ork! The Roleplaying Game is combat. We’re not going to pretend otherwise. Ork! is a game that unflinchingly tells you the truth: Combat is the most important system in roleplaying games! ARRRRRGH!

Accurate representation of Ork!’s game system in action.

Accurate representation of Ork!’s game system in action.

Ahem. Yet we understand you might want to identify stupid plants or sneak up on people (hopefully, to beat them up, leading to combat) or even—and this is not a good idea if you’re an ork—use magic. So, this week we’ll look at Ork!’s core rules.

The Core Rules: You Am Fight Krom!

For the lowly ork, each day is a struggle against other orks, squishy men, and, in a larger sense, Krom—wrathful, easily bored god of the orks—himself. This constant state of conflict is reflected in the following golden rule:

All dice checks in Ork! are opposed!

Many roleplaying games use what’s called a “target number” system where the benevolent game master decides the objective difficulty of a given task, and the player only needs to meet or exceed this target number to complete the task. Such sys­tems are for the weak. In Ork!, the Orkmaster represents Krom himself, and even the simplest task requires the player to dice off with Krom to get his way!

Orks roll a number of dice equal to their skill rating, which is usually between 1 (ork sucks) and 5 (ork rocks!). The better the attribute linked to the skill (attributes are Meat, Bones, Twitch, and Mojo) the bigger the dice (d4 to d12). So, a strong but callow young ork might roll 1d10 (skill 1, Meat d10) to whack somebody, while his smaller but more experienced counterpart rolls 3d8 (skill 3, Meat d8).

If the ork is going against a live opponent—somebody to beat up or outrun—that roll is opposed by the enemy’s roll. Against environmental and other stuff, the enemy is the world—and the god who made it, Krom! The number of dice you roll for Krom depends on how much he approves of what the ork is about to do, or how much failure would amuse him, and therefore the Orkmaster. This difficulty rating is Krom’s Favor, rated in the accompanying table.

Krom’s Favor

Krom’s Attitude Type of Action Krom Dice
Krom Am Resting His Eye Very Easy 1d6
Krom Approves Easy 2d6
Krom Am Not Care Average 3d6
Krom Am Annoyed Difficult 4d6
Krom Dislikes You Very Difficult 5d6
Krom Am Want You Dead! Extremely Difficult 6d6 and up!

We recommend d6 for Krom dice, though you can change the die type if Krom is feeling particularly nasty or uninterested. A mean Orkmaster might use d10s, while a complete weakling who smells like flowers after a spring rain would use d4s.

In the event of a tie, the aggressor wins! You always want to be the one acting in Ork!, not the wimpy defender! If you’re not sure who that is, the Orkmaster decides.

Beyond Stupid Basics!

Beyond the framing (ork versus Krom!), Ork!’s core system favors intuitive ease over showing off our game design chops. Yet, we do have an assortment of the stupid game system tricks you, the discerning consumer, have come to expect from modern roleplaying games. These include:

Cheats: When Krom isn’t paying attention, you can steal dice from him and add them to your own! Unfortunately, Krom is a god, and eventually figures it out, punishing you accordingly.

Ork Points: You get these when you act in an especially orky way, such as eating a face or engaging in axe-based art criticism. These give you ork points, which you can use for a bunch of benefits, from healing to cool tricks in combat.

Combat: Ork’s Combat chapter is the most important thing in the book! It has extra rules for everything from severing limbs to impromptu combat-oriented dinosaur taming. Lots to talk about, so we’ll get to it next week.

You Am Buy Ork When?

Ork! The Roleplaying Game, Second Edition is currently doing the warehouse to warehouse dance and gets into stores this month. You can still pre-order here and get the PDF right away as a $5 add on (or just get the PDF—see the link in the link above). See you next week!