When the Developer Plays: Threefold

Threefold for Modern AGEThere’s a stereotype among game designers and developers that you eventually get so swamped with work you don’t play. I must admit there’s a challenge, but in many cases it’s more that, if you work in games, you love games. You want to have some time in popular games, pick them apart, and see what you can use or devise in reaction to them. It sometimes makes it hard to concentrate. Plus, my working schedule tends to be chaotic. Between all that and some persistent minor but annoying health stuff, I haven’t been as diligent at getting to my weekly game as I would like. Fortunately, I’ve pushed past the fog of it all a bit and am back to my Modern AGE game in the Threefold setting—one which I play in, instead of GMing. This of course speaks to another stereotype: Designers run their games instead of playing characters. This was my situation too, but over the past year I have stuck to playing.

Modern AGE Andrzej

Andrzej, a Sodality protector and nerdy swordsman

Where Have I Seen That Sword Dad Before?

What’s it like to play the game you developed, with the setting you developed? I recommend it to anyone who makes games if you approach it with the right attitude. My group plays on Discord most Sundays, with people I played with in person back in pre-COVID times. I’ve known most of them for over 20 years, and it makes for a comfortable environment, as well as a testament to games’ ability to create and maintain friendships.

On my side, the biggest challenge is learning to relax into my role. By weird coincidence, I randomly created a character who happens to fit the abilities one of Threefold’s iconic characters, Andrzej, perfectly. Andrzej was, incidentally, created as a heroic parody of yours truly by writer H.D. Ingham. After some laughter at the coincidence, I just went with it. Thus, I’m playing Andrzej, a Sodality protector and nerdy swordsman.

Seeing What Works

I know Threefold extremely well, since I invented it, though the writers who worked on it gave it a life beyond anything I could have imagined. That’s the same creative expansion I enjoy coming from my GM, Steve (not Steve Kenson, a different cool Steve) and there’s been nothing so pleasurable and useful from a design perspective as playing Andrzej and exploring worlds Steve expanded and invented based on cues from the Threefold setting. I can see which parts of the setting are the most accessible, and which are a little more challenging to use, and these tend to be a lot different from what you might get out of just reading the book.

As Andrzej, I belong to a Sodality mission with some Aethon adjuncts that specialize in rough and tumble approaches to problems. One of the challenges here is that the Sodality and Aethon are designed to support traditional party play, but that tends to bring a lot of the baggage related to wandering “adventurers” with it. But being a Sodalt means having ideals—they represent mostly legitimate good guys, since they’re part of a multi-planar magical utopian federation of states—and as a group it’s taken time to get there, but we’re starting to lean into it. When it’s time to expand the Sodality, I’ll have to keep this indoctrination aspect in mind.

Right now, we’re engaged in diplomatic negotiations and some quiet investigations on an independent plane that has some relationship with the Nighthost, and who broke off contact with the Vitane (the aforementioned magical federation) because of the Crimson Trident incident, when a branch of the Sodality (the Vitane’s exploratory arm) went rogue. I find it interesting Steve grabbed inspiration from that part of the setting’s history, which Jaym Gates created to give the good guys a spicier backstory. Well, Jaym, it worked—we’re playing with the results. We haven’t met anyone from the Nighthost yet, but we’re dealing with rival diplomats from the alternate earth of Al-Hadiqa. In Threefold, our world, the “primeline,” claims to be the true Earth, and prevents other Earths from accessing other plans as much as it can, but Al-Hadiqa (a plane invented by the late and sorely missed Alejandro Melchor) won’t be limited by the primeline and its enforcers, Aethon. They want a political arrangement with this new plane that shuts us out. Normally, this wouldn’t be particularly alarming for us, but we’ve just come off some operations tracking down a family of soul smugglers who we strongly suspect are allied with this Al-Hadiqa faction. The role of souls in the game, and their role as illicit trade goods, was developed by Neall Raemonn Price, and coincidentally, his adventure for Five and Infinity, The Soul Trade, had some strong similarities to what Steve independently devised. That tells me this is one of the more accessible concepts in the setting and might merit further exploration.

Threefold through the dimensions

Learning What You Don’t Know

Now, I am pretty much the boss of Threefold. I invented the setting and plot its course. What does that mean when I’m playing a character in the setting? Well, I try to keep my mouth shut, and I’m mostly successful. My participation is about having fun through my character, and I also get to enjoy insights about how people use the setting, but Steve is going to have different ideas about what’s happening behind the scenes and how to interpret things—and he’s right. So far where I’ve mostly stumbled is in maintaining a separation between player and character knowledge. Last week Steve said, “Roll to see if you really know that” and he was right to do so. This is a common enough problem for anyone, especially in lore-heavy settings (Threefold is dense with information—you want to give it a few reads because I designed it as if it was already, say, 20 years old, on purpose), but it also tells me it might be a good idea to explicitly describe the knowledge base possessed by members of various factions.

Next Session

Are we on for this Sunday? I hope so. The plane we’re exploring is fascinating. It’s a low-gravity world with mile-high buildings and a floating continent that whips around the primary supercontinent at high speeds. The floating land has a gate that intermittently opens, letting visitors from the Nighthost through. We’ve only heard rumors, and I’m eager to figure out the truth.

A free quickstart PDF is available in our Online Store, and on DrivethruRPG!

A Wolfenmoot Gift

Wolfenmoot Web

Some time ago, Green Ronin staff were introduced to the wonderful notion of Wolfenoot, a holiday created by a boy in New Zealand as “a celebration of canines, kindness, and humans who embrace both.” We were so charmed by it, that we incorporated our own version into the world of Blue Rose, the holiday of Wolfenmoot, back in 2018. For what could be more Blue Rose than a holiday about kindness along with furry friends and family?

This past holiday season, I wrote “The Wolfenmoot Web,” a Blue Rose adventure focused on that holiday celebration, and a deadly threat that arises during it. It is an adventure for 5th level AGE System characters using the Blue Rose Romantic Fantasy Roleplaying game. Since we were also releasing the new Blue Rose Adventurer’s Guide, in PDF and print-on-demand, “The Wolfenmoot Web” includes a conversion appendix with all of the 5e game information needed to play the adventure as well.

Best of all, “The Wolfenmoot Web” is available as a Pay What You Want release for the Adventures in Aldea line on DriveThruRPG. This type of dual-supported adventure, usable for two different game systems, is a bit of an experiment for us, so we’re eager to hear what you may think about it. Would you like to see more 5e conversions of Adventures in Aldea for use with the Adventurer’s Guide? Drop us a line at letsplay@greenronin.com and let us know!

To the Moon, Heroes!

To the Moon!In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode “Far Beyond the Stars” there is an imaginary sequence involving science fiction publishing in the 1950s. The magazine’s editor presents the cover for the next issue and asks which of the pool of writers wants to write a story to go with it. The genesis for “To the Moon!” this week’s Astonishing Adventure, reminded me of that. We had a piece of art, seen on the adventure’s cover, featuring Tesla Girl and some kind of formless green blob fighting heroes on the Moon. M&M developer Crystal Fraisier asked me if I wanted to write an adventure to go with it. Who am I to argue with the time-honored traditions of pulp publishing?

Naturally, I knew the adventure needed to involve: 1) Tesla Girl. 2) The Moon, and 3) Some kind of formless green blob-thing. What happened is pretty much summed-up in the adventure’s introduction:

“Sometimes life as a superhero means dealing with government corruption, making hard choices between right and wrong, and keeping the truth from your loved-ones for their own protection. Then there are those times when your day is all about fighting animal-people, tracking down some stolen super-monkeys, teleporting to the Moon, and stopping an unruly—albeit brilliant—little girl from unleashing an ancient alien slime-ball to eat an entire city full of people. This adventure is one of those times.”

“To the Moon” gave me the opportunity to revisit a few personal favorite bits of Earth-Prime setting: namely Farside City, the hidden human offshoot civilization on the far side of the Moon, and moon monkeys, those blue-furred teleporting scamps that first showed up with Chase Atom’s buddy Cosmo, an homage to Gleek, Blip, and all of the other great space monkeys of our time. Turns out they go great together with a precocious but anti-social girl genius with a fascination for steampunk and Victoriana. Of course, the heroes have a few challenges to overcome before they even come face-to-face with the main antagonist of the adventure. Although it wasn’t entirely planned, those challenges turned out to involve a lot of “wildlife,” especially sharks, for some reason.

The adventure was also a fun opportunity to come up with a way to make a particular foe an interesting challenge for a team of M&M superheroes in game terms. No spoilers here—you’ll have to read, or better yet, play, the adventure—but sufficient to say I’m pretty happy with it, and I think it plays well. Crystal even had me tone it down a bit, so thank her, heroes! If you do run or play in “To the Moon” I’ll be curious to hear how the finale of the adventure goes!

By my count, “To the Moon” is our fifteenth offering in the Astonishing Adventures line. If you were playing Mutants & Masterminds and completing an adventure every week, they could keep you busy for almost four months—and we have still more adventures to come! We just recently had an online meeting of the M&M “bullpen” to pitch and workshop adventure ideas, and there are some really fun ones warming up in the wings. Meanwhile, if any of this summary sounds intriguing, head right on over to the Green Ronin store and then … To the Moon!

Astonishing Adventures: To the Moon! Is currently available in both the Green Ronin Online Store, and on DrivethruRPG

Green Ronin Patreon Roundup!

Patreon is an online platform that creators can use to run subscription services for all kinds of content. As a creative bunch of people, a number of the Green Ronin Publishing staff have their own Patreons, where they provide more of the kind of amazing game-related material and expert writing that Green Ronin fans have come to love. As gamers look for more ways to connect with favored game lines and game creators, we thought this was a good time to do a roundup of the various Patreons run by Green Ronin and its staff.

Mutants & Masterminds on Patreon!So, let’s start with the big news: Green Ronin has launched a company-supported Mutants & Masterminds Patreon! With amazing content by Crystal Frasier and Steve Kenson, this is the place to get a regular fix of official M&M material. Currently the Patreon focuses on projects that are too small or too niche for a full-sized book on them to make sense, but that fans are still clamoring for, such as updating 1st– and 2nd-edition characters. This Patreon is brand-new, so if you like being on the ground floor of new projects, the time to join is now!

One of the questions we’ve been asked quite a lot since the M&M Patreon was launched is if Green Ronin is going to do similar subscription services for other game systems, such as Fantasy AGE, Modern AGE, Blue Rose, Sword Chronicle, and so on. While we don’t have any announcements to make on that front yet it’s safe to say all options are being considered, and the more successful the M&M Patreon is, the more excited we’re going to get to expand this experiment.

That said, if you want more Patreon options now, many of the Ronins have ongoing subscriptions available already.

Our Publisher, Chris Pramas, has a Patreon of his own, where he gives us a tour of his (vast) gaming collection. The Curated Quarantine Patreon is a series of multiple posts per week, each looking at one game from Chris’s shelves. Each post talks about the history of the featured game, how and when Chris first interacted with it, and often gives some crucial context of the product’s place in the history of tabletop games. These are rare behind-the-curtain looks at the games one of the icons of the industry has in his own collection, and his thoughts on what makes them interesting.

On the other hand, if you want even more superheroic RPG content you should absolutely look at Steve Kenson’s Icons Roleplaying Game Patreon. Launched at the beginning of January 2021, this is a way for the award-winning designer of Mutants & Masterminds and Icons to produce and share short articles and other content (character write-ups, adventure ideas, and so forth) about Icons, the game he publishes through his own company, Ad Infinitum Adventures. It’s obviously a must-join for fans of Icons, but it’s also a great opportunity to see designer notes from one of the sharpest game creators in the industry.

Speaking of M&M designers, veteran creator Crystal Frasier also has a Patreon, where she focuses on presenting new gaming material and essays. Her creativity is boundless, as seen even in just the titles of her backer levels (Crystal glitter, Crystal shard, Crystal stone, and Crystal jewel). In addition to making blogs and game articles available to backers, Crystal does polls to give her backers a chance to help guide the direction of the Patreon’s offerings.

You can also find our Expanse RPG developer on the platform. The Ian Lemke Patreon features his posts on RPG content and designing a new game. At various levels of support, you’ll get exclusive updates on what he’s currently working on as well as news, notes, map sketches, and links to his stuff and previews of his blog postings to Grand Pooka’s Grimoire. At higher tiers you can also get sneak peeks at characters, setting material, and adventures, a look behind the curtain at design documents, rules, and pages of projects as they progress and access to his personal Discord channel where you can ask questions about his projects, offer your own input, and ask him anything about the RPG industry. At the highest level, you even get free copies of his self-published pdfs.

Finally, I have my own Owen K.C. Stephens Patreon. It focuses on my essays about game design, writing, and the game industry in general, and offers new game content. Right now, that game content is mostly focused on 5e, Pathfinder 1st and 2nd edition, and Starfinder, but a few bits of Fantasy AGE material find their way into my writings as well. I also occasionally post videos, and backers at higher tiers get  a pdf each month with all my free content from social media, including every Tweet and FB post with game- or genre-related content.

If Green Ronin Publishing or any of our staff launch more Patreons in the future, we’ll be sure to update our Roundup.

Join the Mickey Mastermind Club! with our Official Patreon

Green Ronin on Patreon!

Art by Jeff Carlisle.

Green Ronin have launched our first official Patreon, providing new game material for Mutants & Masterminds 3rd Edition! You told us you wanted even more villains for Mutants & Masterminds and we listened, reaching back into the archives to revitalize a ton of fan-favorite villains from previous editions who haven’t yet appeared in the current version of the world’s #1 superhero roleplaying game. Our first series of updates are everyone’s favorite band of sanctimonious kid psychics, the Psi Family!

Professor Psi has been a longtime rival of Dr. Atom and the Atom Family, and his children were a constant thorn in the side of the Silver Age team. Now that a new generation has been born, he’s become more determined than ever to prove the superiority of psionic humans and pave the way for a world where he and his progeny stand over mankind! And to give you a taste of what you can expect, we’re sharing a preview of the first release, the telekinetic powerhouse Argent, right here!

Patreon Preview!

Check out this FREE PDF preview of Argent!

Every single week, you’ll get a brand new villain updated and ready to play in your 3rd edition M&M game, with villainous teams released as series so you won’t miss your favorite members. While we’re starting with the Psi Family, a classic from Freedom City 2nd edition, we’re not limiting ourselves to that single book, and we’re eager to hear what you want! Need the two-fisted Contenders updated for your heroes’ next bout in the Circuit Maximus? Want to see the Golden Age Crime league for your historic campaign? Let us know! Every month we’ll release a poll asking you what we should convert next, and we’ll look at the comments to decide what to put up for vote!

But M&M is more than just villains, and the more people contribute to the Patreon, the more time we can justify dedicating to it every month. We’re already halfway to our next Power Level, where Steve Kenson and I will begin releasing monthly articles zooming in on fun elements of Earth-Prime you can use in your campaigns, like individual stores and businesses, colorful personalities, urban legends, and criminal groups. The next goal after that DOUBLES our weekly releases—that’s two villains every week at no extra cost!

And of course the Patreon is a chance for our fans to make their own mark on Earth-Prime itself! If you donate enough, you can join in on monthly developer chats to ask questions and get advice. And if you pledge at our top patron tier, you become a part of Earth Prime as we name-drop you somewhere in an official Mutants & Masterminds release as a bystander, business owner, sidekick, scientist, hench-person, or other colorful figure within our world! If you’ve ever wanted to own that comicbook store in Freedom City or run a mercenary league in Emerald City, now’s your chance!

The Patreon is just beginning, but it marks a new era in providing hyper-focused material to gamers that zooms in on your interests and needs without needing to pick up a full book! We hope you’ll join us and enjoy!

Our Live streams are back in the new year!

Hello friends!

Troy Hewitt here, community nerd for Green Ronin Publishing and the disembodied voice for our two live streams, Mutants & Masterminds Monday with Crystal Frasier and Steve Kenson, and the Fantasy AGE live stream ThursdAGE! With Owen KC Stephens.

Mutants & Masterminds Monday! ThusdAGE!

We’re entering the new year with our tech dialed in (sort of?), our content planned (definitely), and an excitement for our 2021 streaming plans that is off the charts (Absolutely)! With some crucial dev milestones around the corner for some of your favorite Green Ronin Titles, it becomes increasingly important for us to connect with the people playing our games directly. Truth be told, our streaming efforts are really a chance for us to reserve time each week dedicated to direct conversations, to hear your feedback, share our progress, and most of all, have some fun.

With Mutants & Masterminds Monday, Crystal Frasier, (lead developer of M&M) and Steve Kenson (creator of M&M) get together to suffer my ridiculousness every Monday at 2:00 PM Pacific. It’s as fun as you would imagine it to be- hanging out with Crystal and Steve is a pretty phenomenal way to spend your Monday, no lie, and with the addition of today’s announcement of our Mutants & Masterminds Patreon things are heating up like wow.

For those of you that have been keeping track of our weekly program, now 30 episodes strong, you’ll no doubt remember Crystal Frasier’s note-taking as a regular theme and why is that important? Well, she listens. She listens, and she cares deeply about the M&M developing story, and even more so about the people who are playing. While the Patreon will be a welcome boost to Green Ronin’s bottom line, it also comes at the request of so many Mutants & Masterminds enthusiasts, that considering the months of content Crystal has already planned, well, let’s just say you are going to want to watch today’s stream for all the details.

And you can do exactly that- you can get a front-row seat to our live streams, always free, always on Monday, always at 2p Pacific, on FacebookYouTube, and if that weren’t enough? Today we’re giving Twitch a shot!

What’s next? 60 second adventures on TikTok?! Not likely. Or is it?

Who can say! Now listen, I’ve got to get things ready for the inevitable tech hardship I’ll bring to today’s livestream. Come and check it out for yourself, but only if you like fun, useful M&M tutorials and advice, and listening to Crystal and Steve, two world-class fantasy world-building, hero slinging, funny joke-making, super storytellers in this universe and SEVERAL others.

And me! Your disembodied boy, Troy. We look forward to the next 30 episodes, one hour, one Monday at a time, but only if we can spend it with you. See you there?

Will we see you there?

As always, questions, comments, and compliments about our streaming efforts can be emailed directly to us: Letsplay@greenronin.com

Joe Carriker’s Top 5 Green Ronin Picks

Like other Ronins, I work at Green Ronin because I love what we do. So narrowing this list down to just five products? Not easy. That said, here we go! “Joe Carriker’s Top 5

Ork! The Roleplaying Game, Second Edition5. Ork! The Roleplaying Game, Second Edition

This updated version of the original Ork! is a glorious revisit of the sheer bonkers chaos of the original Ork! In this beer-and-pretzels game, you play…an ork. And it is your job to unleash all sorts of ork-like mayhem in the world. Being a systems wonk, though, it’s not (only) the premise that sells this for me, but the system that makes me love it.

Every check in Ork! is an opposed roll. Sometimes against enemies, but quite often the roll is opposed by…well, by the ork god, who is a surly, ill-tempered sort of deity who delights in the suffering of his people. The sheer gonzo premise of a game system based on “God hates you and wants you to fail, except that you’re doing your best to spit in his eye” is absolute catnip for me.

4. Book of the RighteousThe Book of the Righteous for Fifth Edition

I’m a big Fifth Edition player, for starters. I am also a huge nerd when it comes to worldbuilding, and I find one of the best disciplines of worldbuilding to be the construction of pantheons, creation myths, and the forms of religion that populate a setting. The gods of a world say so much about that place, and how its people revere them adds to it.

For my money, the Book of the Righteous does the best job of addressing some of that style of worldbuilding in Fifth Edition material to date. Fully realized pantheons, religious orders, creation myths, and all the rest of it, with tons of player-facing mechanics (including a wealth of new cleric Domains and paladin Orders)? I’m so in.

Threefold A Campaign Setting for Modern AGE3. Threefold

It is no secret that I love me some big universes. I’m a world-builder at heart, and I love sprawling, deeply interconnected, and flavorful settings with room to tell all kinds of interesting stories in. It’s probably no wonder then that I love me some Threefold. A setting that includes organizations for player characters to belong to, each with specific goals and modes of operation. A theoretically infinite variety of worlds to explore, including a whole bevy of them right up front, and potentially more to come? Alien tech and psychic abilities and weird history timelines? Seriously, this is exactly the kind of high-stakes rollicking adventure that I love, and developer Malcolm Sheppard has wrapped it all up in the extremely accessible Modern AGE system for me.

And uh you, too, of course. :)

2. Mutants & Masterminds Third Edition Deluxe Hero’s HandbookDeluxe Hero's Handbook for Mutants & Masterminds

Superhero RPGs and I go way back. During the Satanic Panic, my mom and pastor confiscated all my D&D goods to burn them. They left my Marvel Superheroes RPG stuff, assuming they were comics, and I kept right on gaming. If I have anything close to an Ultimate Universal System for my tastes, it’s probably M&M. It is very capable of doing superheroes, and a whole lot more. I’ve used it for cyberpunk, urban fantasy, and weird dimension-hopping type games, and I know folks who’ve used it for lots more. It is extremely flexible, but also easy to use.

Honestly, I just love using its system to build power sets. Mutants & Masterminds Third doesn’t present finished powers for you to use for your heroes. Instead, it presents an extremely exhaustive set of power effects. “What does this power do, mechanically?” the system asks, and encourages you to determine how it interacts with the rules. Does it do damage? Inflict penalties? Reduce an enemy’s power? Debuff with negative conditions? Once you figure that out, you can select the appropriate effects, slap a Descriptor (like Psychic, Magic, or Fire) onto it that describes what is responsible for those effects, and your power is ready to go.

The fact that you can play games that range in power from street-level shenanigans where a knee-breaker with a bat is dangerous, all the way to hyper-dimensional cosmic epics is nothing short of incredible. Best still, both types of games are extremely playable, too – I sometimes brag that unlike some other games, Mutants & Mastermind’s “high level” games are perfectly playable and just as fun. I love the system so much, in fact, that when I was first putting together the main protagonists for my novel Sacred Band (available now from Nisaba Press), I built them using Mutants & Masterminds Third Edition rules! (You can get them here, for free, by the way.)

Blue Rose: The AGE RPG of Romantic Fantasy 1. Blue Rose: The AGE RPG of Romantic Fantasy

I am the developer for the Blue Rose line at Green Ronin  precisely because this book is in my number one spot. I didn’t contribute to this book myself, so I feel entirely justified in just how much of a ridiculous fanboy I am for this game. I did some writing for its first edition, and fell in love then. Why?

Romantic fantasy is my jam, for starters. Fantasy that postulates magic that makes the world better and more accessible rather than more dangerous and more awful, narratives in which the people one meets and connects with are as important to the resolution as one’s skill with sword or spell, and a sense of egalitarian aspiration are all mixed together to form a sort of inspiring, uplifting fantasy that I just love. This edition of Blue Rose specifically is fantastic, as well, for its use of the AGE system. Stunts give exactly the sort of swashbuckling feel that should pervade these stories, and its magic system which allows the use of magic as long as one can resist the psychic exhaustion that comes of doing so is really enjoyable.

But anyone who knows me probably knows that I love this game because of how abundantly queer it is. Queerness is not an afterthought here – I commend a lot of games for their “well, nobody cares if you’re queer” approach to inclusion, but in Blue Rose queerness has impacted the culture and social identity of its people…in a good way. It also explicitly makes room for different types of queer characters, from those characters who have no idea what bigotry against them is (which can be very comforting to play for some queer gamers who don’t need marginalization in their gaming) to those whose heroism includes having come from very restrictive backgrounds and having fought their way to freedom (which can be a cathartic gaming experience for some queer folk as well).

Plus, honestly, the ability to play a sapient, psychic animal? Yes, please.

Crystal’s Top 5 Green Ronin Picks!

It’s hard to pick just 5 items from the Green Ronin catalog as favorites, because the company’s library covers an enormous variety of genres and system, but here’s the best I could do. Presenting “Crystal’s Top 5 Green Ronin Picks

Mutants & Masterminds Condition Cards!

5. Mutants & Masterminds Condition Cards

Mutants & Masterminds is mostly a fast, intuitive system that’s easy to adjudicate on the fly with little or no prep. Everything is a d20 + modifier resolution, with the modifier usually being related to your campaign power level. The only place I tend to stumble is in remembering the rules for the two-dozen or so conditions that powers and failed checks might apply to a character. That’s when game stops and I have to flip back to page 18 of the Hero’s Handbook and remember what rules to apply. That’s why I made a homemade condition card deck back when 3rd edition first released. Now that we have an official condition card set made from shiny cardstock and featuring iconic art so I can deal out conditions in style and I love them!

4. Mutants & Masterminds Superteam Handbook

Superteam Handbook for Mutants & Masterminds!

Alright, spoiler alert: I’m making my list assuming you already have a Hero’s Handbook for M&M, so that’s not even going on my list. But once you have the Hero’s Handbook (Deluxe or Basic), then what? There are the obvious choices—the Deluxe Gamemaster’s Guide if you’re the Gamemaster or Power Profiles if you’re a player—but for my money the handiest book for the whole group is the SuperTeam Handbook. It’s got expanded rules and character options for players and talks about building your superhero team as a collective, deciding roles and strengths and weaknesses that you rely on your teammates to shore up. But beyond that, the SuperTeam Handbook is a stealth campaign guide, showing you 8 distinct models for how you can run your Mutants & Masterminds game. You’ve got your standard “big heroes on the block” campaign, but also “fugitive heroes,” “urban vigilantes,” “super sentai,” and “quirky agents,” all with examples of the kinds of adventures and opponents those heroes might face. For Gamemasters, it also has a giant catalogue of characters that you can pass out to new players, or file the serial numbers off and use as villains if you don’t have time to make your own.

Modern AGE Basic Rulebook3. Modern AGE Core Rulebook

I have a soft spot for modern games, as illustrated by the large catalogue of d20 Modern manuals that observant readers may have seen in the background of M&M Monday streams. To mean, there’s a lot more excitement in bringing fantastic elements to a familiar world than in showing off fantastic elements in an already fantastic world. Modern AGE is a fun, fast, and flexible system that works great for any game set between the golden age of piracy and the near-future cyberpunk dystopia. The basic rules make it easy to put together a player character or NPC in no time, while the stunt system adds depth to combat and investigations. I’ve been running a monster-hunting campaign set in 1890’s San Francisco using just the core book and a copy of Modern AGE Enemies and Allies (a little side plug there) and having a great time.

2. Mutants & Masterminds Hero HighHero High Revised Edition for Mutants & Masterminds

I’m a sucker for X-men and Legion of Superheroes. It’s hard not to be when you spend puberty feeling like an outcast, so roleplaying in a world setting where you’re empowered for being the weird kid is just the chef’s kiss of roleplay options. This setting book for M&M is from before my tenure on the line but remains my evergreen favorite as a setting to run, play in, or fantasize about expanding. The 3rd edition version takes one of the strongest supplements for 2nd edition and revises and expands it to fill out the flavor and options of playing teen superheroes (or villains) while still worrying about getting your homework in on time.

Blue Rose: The AGE RPG of Romantic Fantasy Core Rulebook 1. Blue Rose: The AGE RPG of Romantic Fantasy

I know, I know. I’m the Mutants & Masterminds developer. Shouldn’t my number one product be an M&M book? Well, it isn’t. As much as I love comic books and superheroes, I love things that are unapologetically queer more. And I love romance and fairy tales and drama and people trying their hardest to be better than they were before, and Blue Rose offers all of that. While I usually sell it to my friends as “you can play a sassy psychic cat,” the selling point for me is that encounters are meant to be talked down or puzzled out at least as often as they’re meant to be fought, and all against a backdrop of gorgeous art.

 

Blue Rose Cover (work in progress)

Blue Rose Cover (work in progress) by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

 

 

Malcolm Sheppard’s Top 5 Green Ronin Picks!

What’s good? Taste is subjective, though I think everybody feels there are certain exceptions, such as the terribleness of the Star Wars Holiday Special, which transcends cultures and times as an object of derision, albeit sometimes affectionately so. So, this list of “Malcolm Sheppard’s Top Five” is just my opinion, though there may be hidden objective excellence rattling around in there, somewhere. This list isn’t in any particular order.

Mutants & Masterminds Basic Hero's Handbook coverMutants & Masterminds Basic Hero’s Handbook

Supers, and generally, point-build systems, aren’t my strong suit as a designer, but I love the genre. The Basic Hero’s Handbook is a masterful introduction to Mutants & Masterminds that communicates everything you need with remarkable brevity and straightforwardness. I especially like the streamlined character creation system, and how after using it, and not having to sweat points too much, you still end up with a character fully compatible with the rest of the M&M line, including characters made using the Deluxe Hero’s Handbook. Plus, it has all the rules you need to run it!

Fantasy AGE LairsFantasy AGE Lairs

This supplement for Fantasy AGE does a great job of mixing function and atmosphere. Each lair presents a creature, location, and situation. None of these are hard-coded adventures, but contain plenty of hooks and suggestions, and can be run sandbox style. My favorite lair in the book is the Lair of the Ghoul Prince, which I’ve talked about before, in a pervious article. Go read it!

 

 

Trojaqn War for the D20 system!Trojan War (d20)

Maybe I’m doing this wrong and I’m supposed to stick to current releases, but I love Homeric mythology, and really enjoy Trojan War’s particular adaptation. It covers all the major elements of this mythic-historic event, from gods and heroes to how it all works for original characters using the d20 System. I think it’s still valuable now because of the way it’s structured for games and the fact that d20’s design has been influential enough to seed itself in many other games, making conversion pretty easy. I miss these kinds of treatments of real-world mythology in games, and while there are new ones around, I want more! Maybe I have to do it myself….

 

The Lost Citadel Roleplaying (5th Edition)The Lost Citadel Roleplaying for 5th edition

Here comes the bias! I worked on the Tales of the Lost Citadel anthology, The Lost Citadel Roleplaying, and The Lost Citadel Fantasy AGE Conversion Codex—but there’s plenty I didn’t work on, in fiction, rules, and concepts, that’s just fantastic. The Lost Citadel is set in the last, desperate, walled city of the living, who struggle with each other while battling for survival against the risen Dead. One thing I love about the setting is it takes the basic conflict in the zombie apocalypse genre—that your living companions are as much a problem as the undead—and renders them on a social scale, in conflicts between the city’s factions.

Threefold A Campaign Setting for Modern AGEThreefold (Modern AGE)

Where The Lost Citadel is a choice tinged by my bias as a designer, well, uh, I’m the principal designer of Threefold. I made up the broad strokes and developed other writers’ work to get what I wanted: a setting for Modern AGE that would use the conceit of planar travel to permit virtually any kind of character, but wouldn’t seem generic, unfocused, or lacking strong story structures. Whether you explore the planes as a member of the Sodality or defend the Earth (sometimes from other Earths) with Aethon, there are always things to do, rivals to deal with, and secrets to uncover. One reviewer said the game felt like its setting had already been established for years. That’s the feel I wanted, and I hope you like it.

Steve Kenson’s Top Five Green Ronin Picks!

When Troy Hewitt (the disembodied host of Mutants & Masterminds Mondays, amongst other schemes) asked me to compiled a list of “Steve Kenson’s Top 5 Green Ronin products“, that constituted a challenge, because I’m terrible at self-promotion and felt like it would be disingenuous to pick products I’d written the majority of, or had a substantial hand in designing or developing. So I’ve tried to steer clear of those things on this list, since I contribute to a lot of Green Ronin’s products.

I’m also focusing on products currently available in the Green Ronin Online Store, rather than the company’s entire twenty year history—maybe another “Top 5 of All-Time” or “Top 20 of the last 20 years” list is something to revisit at a later date. Lastly, I’ll note that my list is in alphabetical order by title, rather than being ranked from 1–5 in order of preference, because I’m lazy and had a hard enough time narrowing things down to just five products.

So, without further digression, here’s my list.

Aldis: City of the Blue RoseAldis: City of the Blue Rose

I love city books—as anyone who is familiar with Freedom City knows—so the Aldis: City of the Blue Rose sourcebook could have been written just for me. It describes the center of Aldis, the default setting of Blue Rose, in loving detail, jam-packed with characters, local flavor, and adventure hooks, such that you could run a whole Blue Rose game where the characters hardly ever left the city. I’m also quite happy with my own contribution to the book, the introductory adventure “The Case of the Rhydan Swine.”

Envoys to the MountEnvoys to the Mount

Envoys is the first full-fledged campaign book for Blue Rose Romantic Fantasy Roleplaying and offers a series of adventures leading up to an epic conclusion, with some breathing room to add in other “side” adventures, either of your own creation or various stand-alone published adventures. One of my favorite elements of Envoys is the establishment of various character “roles” for the series—like the Envoy, the Historian, and the Rhy-Bound—which you can “cast” with your own characters. The adventures then provide prompts for subplots and other story elements involving those character roles.

Modern AGE Basic RulebookModern AGE Basic Rulebook

I sometimes feel like the Modern AGE rulebook is an under-appreciated implementation of the AGE System rules, because it packs a lot into a fairly slim rulebook: enough character design and game-play material to run countless campaigns ranging from the early-modern (Industrial Revolution) era up through the near-future or even far-future science fiction (although the latter may benefit from some stuff in The Expanse RPG, which was developed concurrently with Modern AGE). With the inclusion of arcane and psychic powers in the book as well, Modern AGE is also a system for urban fantasy or “secret powers” settings in any of its various eras. It’s hard to beat in terms of bang-for-your-buck game-play value.

Mutants & Masterminds Basic Hero’s HandbookMutants & Masterminds Basic Hero's Handbook cover

Mutants & Masterminds developer Crystal Fraiser has done some great stuff with the game: launching the Astonishing Adventures series (which has already produced more adventure content for M&M than we managed in all the years prior combined) and developing the terrific Time Traveler’s Codex, but my favorite is a project that could have only been developed with Crystal’s vision and guidance: The Mutants & Masterminds Basic Hero’s Handbook. Because sometimes, as a designer, you really need someone else to come along and lay out how the whole thing works. This book does that. If you have ever been intimidated by the rules or character design of Mutants & Masterminds, well, this is the book for you. It’s easy, accessible, and gets you right into creating a new hero in minutes and ready-to-play. Plus it is 100% compatible with the Deluxe Hero’s Handbook rules, so everything you learn is of value. I especially love the comic book examples of game-play that really bring the rules to life while providing clear and concrete examples.

Threefold: A Campaign Setting for Modern AGEThreefold

Because I’m a fairly jaded tabletop gamer, it’s not often that I get excited about a new game world or setting, but the Threefold setting for Modern AGE drew me in from the get-go with its concept and depth. It’s a meta-setting of sorts, in that it encompasses a “metacosm” of parallel worlds, a manifestation of the breadth and depth of the Modern AGE rules themselves. But Threefold goes further in setting up a unique and detailed cosmology that puts particular spins on the manifestations of magic and psychic (occult) powers, along with creating unique character backgrounds. Developer Malcolm Sheppard pitched it to me as “John Wick and Harry Potter team up to fight Satan’s robots” and I was in from that moment on. Personally, I’d change “team up” to “join Starfleet and Stargate Command” because, yeah … it’s like that. Check it out.