Sword Chronicle: Questions Answered, Plus the Chronicle System Guild

As Sword Chronicle undergoes the final sprint toward release we’ve fielded questions from social media, the GRAAD fan Discord server (we don’t run GRAAD, but we support it) and our online Gen Con panel. You’d like to know about our immediate and future plans, and to respond to some rumors. So, without further ado, here are some answers.

When is Sword Chronicle Coming Out, Exactly?

Our target is August 17. If it doesn’t come out that day for some reason, we’ll immediately announce the new day.

How is Sword Chronicle Coming Out?

Sword Chronicle was originally devised under the assumption that traditional printers and distributors would be unavailable. We also assumed we’d be able to budget far less than usual for Sword Chronicle compared to typical releases of this sort—and even supplements for our core books. Green Ronin President Chris Pramas has talked about how COVID-19 affected the company. We had to use a leaner, more agile process.

This means Sword Chronicle is an electronic first release, available in PDF first, with the intention of setting up print on demand at DriveThruRPG on or around that time. Furthermore, we’re going back to a classic style in RPG production by using a black-and-white or two-color interior, to cut costs for both people printing it out, and possible POD orders.

What Kind of Chronicle System?

We’ve also fielded questions about what iteration of the Chronicle System Sword Chronicle represents. The answer is straightforward: The game uses what is substantially the same as the system seen in the original A Song of Ice and Fire roleplaying game, minus the setting of Westeros, as our license for that intellectual property has concluded. Beyond our ability to swiftly make the game happen, one of the attractions of this is the fact that virtually every setting-neutral Chronicle System supplement remains compatible with Sword Chronicle, so the game automatically drops with additional support. And if you’re still playing Chronicle games using earlier books, you can use Sword Chronicle as an alternative core with few adjustments required. The major differences are:

  • In response to long time feedback from Chronicle players, armor no longer penalizes Combat Defense. Some slight changes to other rules support this shift.
  • Rules for fantasy ancestries are integrated into character creation.
  • Intrigue has been revised both for clarity and to bring some of the systems into line with more rigorous player safety standards.
  • Sorcery is part of the core rules. These rules are a streamlined version of the rules originally introduced in Chronicle of Sorcery.
  • Our new setting is the Shattered Era, though the rules themselves are largely setting neutral.

The Chronicle System Guild

The biggest new information comes last. At Gen Con we revealed something we’ve only mentioned in small conversations: the Chronicle System Guild. The Guild is a community content program for creators who want to use the Chronicle System to publish adventures, rules, and settings. If you’re a publisher working through DriveThruRPG, you’ll be able to publish Chronicle-compatible products by following the rules and license we lay out. Sword Chronicle will be the rulebook publishers reference.

We’ve been working on the Chronicle System Guild in a sort of intensive stealth mode since June, helping new and established DriveThruRPG publishers prepare their products to launch when the program premieres. We expect additional supplements to follow from our partners. The terms are very close to those of other community content programs, and we’ve tried to keep the restrictions minimal.

The Chronicle System Guild launches at or around when Sword Chronicle does. The goal is a simultaneous premiere, but dates are often shifting targets. Once it starts, you’ll be able to find all the details on DriveThruRPG.

Chronicle System Guild! For all your Sword Chronicle needs

Return to Freeport

Twenty years ago, at Gen Con in August of 2000, Green Ronin Publishing released one of the very first adventures for the brand-new third edition of Dungeons & Dragons, also one of the first published under the new Open Game License. Death in Freeport was the first experience many had in playing the new edition, both that weekend and in the months and even years that followed. As part of celebrating Green Ronin’s 20th anniversary this year, we’re pleased to offer players both old and new the opportunity to return to the swashbuckling “City of Adventure” with a re-release of Death in Freeport, updated for the fifth edition of the world’s most popular fantasy roleplaying game!

Death in Freeport for 5th edition!Of course, along with editions, a number of things have changed in the past twenty years, not the least of which is a worldwide pandemic that has placed some limits on printing, publication, and distribution. That means this new edition of the adventure will be available only in electronic (PDF) and print-on-demand (Coming Soon!) formats. On the other hand, we’ve come a long way from producing black-and-white saddle-stitched booklets with line art: The new edition of Death in Freeport is in full color, with plenty of color illustrations, the style of our other 5e products like Book of the Righteous and Book of Fiends.

What about the adventure itself? Here, we largely stick to tradition and the original work of Freeport creator Chris Pramas. Death in Freeport introduces the player characters to the free city and pirate haven known as Freeport, and entangles them in the mystery of a scholar who has gone missing, leading them to a much deeper threat, both figuratively and literally!

Of course, all of the adventure’s mechanics, encounters, and characters have been updated for Fifth Edition, and that includes the four pre-generated player characters who were a part of the original Death in Freeport: Rollo (gnome fighter), Malevir (half-elf sorcerer), Alaina (human rogue), and Thorgrim (dwarf cleric). As an added bonus, we’ve created three unique backgrounds and four original sub-classes for these characters, included in an appendix in the adventure. They feature the backgrounds of Privateer, Historian, and Street Knife, and the sub-classes of:

  • Valor Domain: A cleric domain to stoke bravery, cast off fear, and serve as a beacon of courage to your allies.
  • Buccaneer: A martial archetype for sea-faring fighters who rely on striking fear into the hearts of their foes, and using that fear to make themselves all the more deadly!
  • Alley-rat: A rogue archetype that rules the streets and alleyways, turning terrain into deadly traps and even developing Lair Actions for your turf!
  • Serpentkin: A sorcerous origin drawing upon the ophidian power well known to long-time fans of Freeport, summoning spirits and forces with a serpentine bite.

So whether you are looking for a fun 1st-level adventure to introduce players to the City of Adventure (or to Fifth Edition or even tabletop gaming) or just some characters, encounters, ideas, and traits you can loot and plunder for your own 5e games, join us for our return to Freeport!

Now available in the Green Ronin Online Store

or check it out on DrivethruRPG

Sword Chronicle: Introducing the Shattered Era

A funny thing happened on the way to making Sword Chronicle.

Sword Chronicle was based on the simplest of ideas: Taking the popular Chronicle System, which powered the now-concluded A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying Game, and using it to make a fantasy game that wasn’t connected to any licensed intellectual property. Green Ronin had already explored this space a little by creating PDF supplements for the Chronicle System that weren’t tied to any particular setting. That gave us the advantage of producing an all-new game using the system that already had support. Good stuff!

Shattered Era!

However, as a full-fledged roleplaying game, Sword Chronicle needed to provide a place to run campaigns: a setting of its own. Furthermore, this needed to get done quickly, since we wanted to release the game quickly.

Any sizable, longer-lived game company works on ideas that, for one reason or another, don’t turn into published material. That includes game settings. So, I looked around in the Green Ronin Vault (note: I just made this name up) and found a setting that, with a little adaptation, could work for Sword Chronicle. This had been called Shattered AGE, and had originally been designed for Fantasy AGE. For various reasons we didn’t stick with it, but the setting, designed by Jaym Gates and Jack Norris, had some solid bones. Its factions were suited to Sword Chronicle’s house systems. Best of all, it represented a departure from many of the assumptions of medieval fantasy without moving away from the most accessible elements or a play style suited to the Chronicle System.

Jaym wrote a draft collecting critical elements of the setting, and I got to work developing. First up, a name change. It became the Shattered Era, since we typically reserve the word “age” for, well, AGE. Next, I expanded and particularized one of the main ideas of the setting into a particular flashpoint: a time and place where multiple houses, including those controlled by players, could vie for power. A few stylistic flourishes later, and we had a setting for Sword Chronicle.

Welcome to the Breachlands

The last chapter of Sword Chronicle introduces the Shattered Era setting through the Breachlands. Once, the world of Annarum was the jewel in a crown of worlds, linked through high magic that harnessed the power of the stars. But some stars are evil, and one, the Unbidden Light, fell to Annarum, severing the ways to other realms—except for certain breached through which it drew strange creatures and fearsome armies. Using some of the last of the high magic, the dwarves made the Wall, which divided the “fallen” realms from the survivors.

Not long ago, the Wall fell.

Not long ago, the descendants of the Eastern “survivors” discovered that the peoples of the other side, disparaged as the “Monster Kingdoms,” had flourishing civilizations of their own.

Between them stands the Breachlands, a region inhabited by the survivors of its fallen cities, which were abandoned when the Wall went up. Now they’re nomads, whose territorial claims are all but ignored by nations on both sides of the former Wall, who see opportunities to benefit from the peculiar form of invasion called “colonization.” The rotting Aglam Empire would conquer the Breachlands to reverse its decline. The elves of Fal-Lossthar border the Breachlands, and fear encirclement, while the dwarves of Glassmere have just discovered their cousins on the other side of the Wall have thrived, and with them the Kamtain, or ogres, who were plucked from many worlds for unknown reasons, but now assert themselves as a rising power.

Joining them are mercenaries, religious military orders, and fiefdoms ruled by a combination of intrigue, military force, and sorcery. The high magic may be gone, but sorcery—the subtler arts of power—remain in the hands of a learned few. And on the Western side of the wall, in the Monster Kingdoms, dwell unknown peoples. The four-legged Kurgulan are swift, resolute warriors, strange for Easterners to behold, but their motives are somewhat comprehensible. The same can’t be said for the four-winged Nethuns Sar, master of the Black Prism. Nor do rumors of an invisible kingdom of air elementals, of the snake-beings further west, or of the Mixutul, said to be born dead, reveal any greater pattern to the Monster Kingdoms.

Tailored for Sword Chronicle, the Shattered Era setting includes descriptions of 18 houses with interests in the Breachlands. The game doesn’t assume you’ll use the setting, but it’s there, waiting for wide-eyed explorers and hard-hearted conquerors alike.

What’s Different About Sword Chronicle?

Our recently announced Sword Chronicle roleplaying game varies from classic fantasy RPGs in several respects. In many games, you play a rag-tag group of wandering adventurers, looking for justice, glory, and gold as you wander from place to place. You can do that in Sword Chronicle, but even classic adventures take place in a quite different framework.

Sword Chronicle houses

You Belong to a Noble House

By default, Sword Chronicle player characters all belong to one noble house, battling for survival and even supremacy. In fact, you and your fellow players will create your house together, settling on its strengths, weaknesses, customs, and even its favored symbols.

While you play members of a house, and control it in common, you are not necessarily the house’s leaders—in fact, you may not even be in line for the throne.

You Are Not All Equal

In many fantasy games, player characters who adventure together have roughly equal social status, but this is not necessarily the case in Sword Chronicle. Status is a game statistic, and it varies between individuals just like physical strength or skill at arms, though increasing status can be a tad trickier. Some characters may be the children of the house’s rulers, while others may be knights, bound by oath—and still others may be household servants.

This means that in the wider society to which the characters belong, some characters expect to be able to order others around. In private, the situation might be quite different, as young lords may strike an imperious attitude at court, but do what their advisors tell them in private. While your character belongs to a house, they may be servants, not rulers. This not only presents the challenge of working as a more hierarchical, cohesive group than many games allow, but it presents opportunities to subvert the hierarchy, because there’s more to power than status.

Because feudal societies pass power from parent to child, your characters will often be related. Not only that, but as this makes the passing of generations important, your character must have a definite age, instead of belonging to the rough late teens to twenty- or thirty-something standard of many games. You may choose an elderly character or a child.

You Can Be Manipulated

Unlike many games where you always have the final word over what your character says or does, Sword Chronicle includes rules for intrigue, where clever words and other inducements can manipulate your character into doing things that aren’t necessarily in their best interest. This isn’t to say your character might be made to do something against their will. Intrigue isn’t magic. It’s simply the art of convincing someone that what you want happens to be either what they also want, or at least must accept in order to further their interests. Many games have similar systems, aimed at characters controlled by the Narrator. In Sword Chronicle, player characters can also be influenced this way.

Like combat, intrigue has a set of rules and a choice of tactics, and your character can, if they wish, get better at it over time. However, there are some limits in place to keep these rules from being misused to ruin players’ fun and sense of comfort with the game.

Play Takes Place on Multiple Scales

Since you represent your house, your actions can take place on various scales. Your character might be absorbed in an individual action such as climbing a cliff; engaged in a group effort like a battle or an attempt to sail for a safe harbor; or involved in maneuvers intended to improve the political position of your house.

Different rules handle different scales. This is why, for example, Chapter 9 discusses individual combat—what happens in back alley brawls and duels of honor—while Chapter 10 provides the rules for mass battles. Similarly, your rewards aren’t just for your individual benefit, but can be channeled into improving your house’s capabilities.

Claim a Throne in the Shattered Era

For those of you who know the Chronicle System from the A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying Game, this structure is old hat—or crown, maybe. But Sword Chronicle offers a new setting, the Shattered Era. Next time, we’ll talk about that!

DUNGEONS & DISINTEGRATORS: Netherwar part 3 – Broken Strings

Netherwar part 3: Broken Strings

The newest installment of the Astonishing Adventures NetherWar series, Broken Strings, releases this week, taking your heroes across Freedom City to battle transforming robots and investigate a string of bizarre, toy-themed robberies. But what’s a magic-oriented series of adventures without a crawl through a traditional, fantasy-style dungeon? So Broken Strings eventually takes the heroes into a network of tunnels and prisons filled with traps, puzzles, and supernatural opponents itching for a fight!

If you’ve been following along with the NetherWar story, your heroes are in for a few revelations and some deeper mysteries, but even if you haven’t played the previous installments of the storyline, Broken Strings includes ideas for running it as a standalone adventure!

Delving Dungeons Deep

Mutants & Masterminds has a very different approach to character resources and scarcity—particularly health—than traditional fantasy roleplaying games. Heroes generally shrug off their injuries and conditions after every scene. Just like in comics, a superhero can take a thorough beating but be fine in time for their next encounter with a villain, and when an injury persists, that’s a temporary complication for which the hero earns a Hero Point. Meanwhile many fantasy RPGs limit characters’ access to health, class abilities, and equipment to add an element of resource management and risk assessment to each encounter. Fantasy RPG encounters like those in Fantasy AGE run a gamut of difficulties from trivial to deadly to slowly whittle away characters’ resources until they must rest, turn back, or perish. Superheroes on a dungeon crawl don’t capture the same mood as fantasy adventurers because they never need to track hit points, count arrows, or manage spells per day.

If you’d like to capture the spirit of dungeon-crawling fantasy adventure for Broken Strings or your own M&M adventures, consider to following optional adjustments:

  1. More Encounters

Mutants & Masterminds generally only tracks the big, bombastic battles much like a comic book storyline might, with small, quick encounters relegated to background flavor and montages. But fantasy adventures rely on low-difficulty encounters to build tension and tax resources—a swarm of giant spiders might not present any genuine risk of death, but they still deplete your limited pool of health and possibly spells. To emulate this in M&M, sprinkle in an extra 4-5 encounters with less powerful opponents like Animals, Monsters, and Zombies from the Deluxe Gamemaster’s Guide and 1-2 encounters with less-potent villains like the Jobber or the Psycho. You can also borrow all sorts of classic fantasy monsters from the Super Powered Bestiary, available from Rogue Genius games. Consider interesting terrain for each encounter and how the villains or the heroes might use it to their advantage. Don’t forget about challenge sequences that you can use as traps, such as those presented in The Pentagram Peril.

  1. Maps

Maps add an element of choice and exploration to a dungeon crawl, while Mutants & Masterminds focuses on dramatic scenes. The difference is showmanship vs. simulation. There’s no wrong answer for which you prefer, but each captures a different mood. If you want your players to struggle, suffer consequences for making wrong choices, and feel triumph for correct guesses, consider mapping the dungeon out and putting encounters at the ends of some dead ends. In this case, the heroes should have a few chances to learn some basic elements of the dungeon’s layout, such as the option of taking a dangerous shortcut or a longer path with more encounters, but less-challenging ones.

  1. Limited Recovery

Mutants & Masterminds hand-waves most healing. Heroes recover one damage condition per minute of rest, meaning they effectively heal entirely between encounters and face each new opponent fresh as a daisy. If you want health and healing to be a more scarce resource, consider replacing the normal recovery rules with Vigor. Vigor provides heroes with a limited pool of recovery they must spend to heal in-between encounters.

Each hero gains a poor of Vigor equal to their Stamina plus their Presence, representing their physical toughness and their force of will. When not actively engaged in combat, a hero can rest for one minute and spend one point of Vigor to reduce the severity of a condition by one step (from Paralyzed to Immobile, for example) or to reduce their accumulated Toughness check penalty by 1. Heroes can still recover from obviously simply conditions (such as standing up from prone) without spending Vigor, with the pool more intended to reflect recovering from damage, resisting poison, and shaking off diseases; the Gamemaster is the final arbiter of what conditions do and don’t require spending a Vigor.

Heroes can only regain spent Vigor by resting for 8-10 hours somewhere safe. The Treatment skill can be used to diagnose illnesses, stabilize dying characters, can revive Dazed or Stunned characters, and provide a bonus against diseases and toxins, but doesn’t provide any direct healing. Powers like Healing and Regeneration provide one additional Vigor per rank and dictate how often a hero can spend Vigor. For example, a hero with Regeneration 5 has 5 additional Vigor and can spend a point of Vigor every other round to heal. Under these rules, Healing allows the healing character to spend their Vigor to heal another character.

  1. Limit Resources

Part of the risk in a dungeon crawl is that heroes don’t have the immediate ability to replace lost or broken gear or reach out to allies. Devices, and especially equipment, are vulnerabilities that the environment can exploit. Don’t underestimate the effectiveness of minor antagonists destroying a hero’s weapons or armor in an encounter with the Smash action, as collateral damage from a trap, or randomly as a complication (awarding the character a Hero Point). A hero should be able to repair a Device as part of an 8-10 hour rest. Equipment can’t be repaired or replaced, but a hero should be able to scavenge temporary replacements with effort and/or skill use, though it might not be as good as what they have been using—a hero who loses their armor, for example, can still benefit from borrowing a defeated foe’s leather jacket.

You can temporarily impose these rules to simulate the harsher nature of a magical “dungeon dimension,” or to reflect the time pressure and stress of a supervillain’s gauntlet-style “carnival of calamity,” but make sure to keep in touch with your players about any changes—even temporary ones—you want to make to the rules. Whatever the scenario, the goal is for everyone to have a good time and tell a fun story.

Tune in next month as the NetherWar heats up and serpent people step in to make things really complicated!

Sword Chronicle: Introducing Ancestries

As it was based on the eponymous novel series, the first Chronicle System game, A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying, didn’t provide rules for the not-quite human characters that are staples of classic fantasy roleplaying games. We’re talking about elves, dwarves, and the like. As we were creating Sword Chronicle, a fantasy game that uses the Chronicle System but the setting of your choice (though we include one to start with), we knew this was an area we had to address, but not in the usual way.

First, the term “race,” traditionally used for these fantasy peoples back in the dawn of the hobby, had to go. I had personally abandoned the term in other work back in 2010, in a White Wolf project where I insisted on the use of “peoples.” In my role as Modern AGE developer I used “peoples,” as well, before settling into ancestries as the preferred term in the Threefold setting. Ancestries seems to be what Paizo’s Pathfinder opted for as well.

Second, many prior treatments of fantasy ancestries didn’t provide integrated support for characters with multiple ancestries, and characters whose culture wasn’t the one you’d expect them to inherit. What about a character with elf and dwarf parents, who grew up around humans?

In Sword Chronicle, the answer lies in character qualities, specifically benefits. At character creation, you gain two Ancestry benefits. The Sword Chronicle core rulebook supports dwarf, elf, human, and ogre characters. To indicate ancestry from one of these origins, take one of its corresponding benefits. If you’d like a character to have had all-elf ancestors, you’d choose two elven benefits, but for the example above, you’d choose one elf and one dwarf benefit. You may spend Destiny Points on further benefits, some of which may be easier to get for characters of the appropriate ancestry. As an example, let’s look at dwarves in Sword Chronicle.

Dwarf

Sword Chronicle includes several new Ancestries, such as Dwarves!Dwarves are a hardy people who prefer to dwell in mountains and rocky hills, where they either dig their homes out of the rock, or mine the area for stone to build citadels. Mountain and citadel dwarves have different cultures, and sometimes, distinctive family talents. Most people of dwarven ancestry are hirsute, with many growing long beards. They’re shorter than most humans by a foot or two, but considerably broader.

Dwarven culture values artisanship and concrete achievements over social niceties. In settlements dominated by dwarven social mores, smiths, stoneworkers, and other artisans may be part of the nobility, and lords may even be asked to produce a masterwork in their trade to qualify for leadership. Dwarves may possess more sophisticated technologies than other peoples, but are notably less interested in the study of nature. Dwarven communities practice some agriculture, but usually prefer to trade for things that grow.

Sample Dwarf Benefits


Blood of the Citadel

Ancestry (Dwarf)

The legacy of the citadel dwarves flows through your veins.

Each time you make a Cunning roll to practice a trade involving working metal, stone or other solid minerals, or to identify the value and properties of anything made largely of metal or jewels, you may re-roll a number of 1s equal to your Awareness rank. Whenever you are attacked by fire or heat, increase your passive Endurance by 2. Finally, add +1B to Warfare rolls when attacking, defending, or fighting in fortifications.

Axe Fighter I

Ancestry (Dwarf), Martial

Requires Fighting 4 (Axes 2B) or Dwarf Ancestry and Fighting 2 (Axes 1B)

You can swing axes with dreadful results.

Whenever you make a Fighting test to attack using an axe, you can sacrifice bonus dice before the test to deal additional damage. On a hit with the attack, your target takes extra damage equal to the number of bonus dice you sacrificed at the start of its next turn. This extra damage ignores AR.


What this Means

The first benefit is exclusive to people of dwarven ancestry. Characters without it can’t acquire Blood of the Citadel. The second is a non-exclusive benefit. Other characters can gain Axe Fighter I, but can’t use their ancestry benefit choice (which doesn’t cost Destiny Points) and have to meet a higher prerequisite.

That’s how the system works, and how elves, dwarves, and ogres join humans as character options in Sword Chronicle.

A Series of Tubes (Green Ronin on YouTube)

“Or we can just dive-in, do it, and see what happens.”

That was Green Ronin Community Director Troy Hewitt, one of our resident extroverts, encouraging us to pivot in the time of covid-19 toward our community, using the means at-hand, including video streaming. Troy has a great way of getting those of us who would want to study the situation for, well, ever out of our heads and into action. That next week, the first “Mutants & Masterminds Monday” live-streamed with me and M&M Developer Crystal Frasier, with Troy acting as host, moderator, and on-the-fly tech guru.

It’s now almost three months later and we have eleven (soon to be twelve) M&M Mondays under our belts. It’s still very much a “see what happens” learning process, but we’ve had guests on the stream, fielded questions from our audience, and Troy has come up with a few fun activities for us to do. We’ve even developed in-jokes (as gamers interacting are wont to do) from Crystal’s “journal of dreams” to our tendency to come up with new projects for ourselves while on the stream.

Green Ronin on Youtube!

All of which is a long introduction to announcing that, as things are progressing, some of our “M&M Mondays” episodes are available on Green Ronin Publishing’s YouTube channel. We’re putting more up as we go and the eventual plan is for us to start streaming live on YouTube and Twitch as well as on Facebook, so there will be even more places where you can see and hear from us and we can tell you everything that’s going on with Mutants & Masterminds and Green Ronin Publishing.

 

Not going to lie, for an introvert like myself, being on-camera isn’t easy, and I have been on-camera more in these past three months than I think I have been in the past three years, and then some. But at the same time, it has been wonderful getting to talk on a weekly basis with Crystal and Troy and our guests and to hear the questions and feedback from our community, many of you from week to week. It hasn’t been easy for Green Ronin (or many small businesses) with the initial loss of distribution and with many game stores still closed or doing only limited business. So every purchase of Green Ronin’s games helps, whether it is from the GR Online Store or supporting your favorite local game retailer.

We’re about two weeks from experiencing Gen Con Online for the first time (another “dive-in and see what happens” experience) and Green Ronin Publishing will be there with our games, our staff of wonderful and creative people, and with you, our community, and I’ll be there, in front of my camera, just as I plan to be next Monday. I don’t know for how many Mondays, to be honest, because things are changing fast and often these days but, I can tell you this: We’ll see what happens.

Hope you can join us sometime.

MAKE MINE MINIONS

One of the fun but oft-overlooked elements of Mutants & Masterminds is the minions that some villains bring to the table. What’s the point of fighting a Malador the Mystic without plowing through a horde of zombies to reach him? Who even is Grandmaster if he’s not backed up by a fleet of chess-themed cyborgs? Minions can help develop the character of a villain, increase the threat they pose to heroes, or let the heroes unload and feel unbeatable, depending on how you choose to use them.

As a basic refresher, minions are opponents that are quick and easy to take down, and pose very little individual threat to superheroes:

  • Minions cannot score critical hits on non-minions.
  • Non-minions can make attack checks against minions as routine checks.
  • If a minion fails a resistance check, the minion suffers the worst degree of effect, regardless of the actual degree.
  • Some traits, like the Takedown advantage, work specifically against minions.

Punching... minions... is very satisfying

Minion or Not a Minion?

One of the first questions you should ask yourself when building an encounter is whether or not the villain’s henchpeople are minions or full characters. Some minion statblocks—such as the Robot Jockey, Elite Soldier, and Mystic Ninja—are powerful enough they can pose some risk to superheroes, especially with a critical hit! Others—the Colossal Robot, Tyrannosaurus, and Dragon—are as powerful as PL 10 superheroes. You can easily use these statblocks for lieutenants and treat them as normal characters. While not as powerful as a PL 10 superhero, a PL 7 lieutenant can take more than one solid blow from a hero, might get a lucky critical, and can take 10 on attack checks against any minions supporting the heroes.

On the other side of that coin, you may want to apply the minion rules to a villain archetype to represent extremely dangerous opponents that the heroes can confront quickly, but not without some risk. Applying the minion rules to any of the sample PL 10 hero archetypes from the Deluxe Hero’s Handbook, for example, can provide a small army of deadly alien invaders, potent robots, or ninja assassins whose threat comes from their skill rather than their staying power. You might also apply the minion rules to “C-list” supervillains who might have potent abilities, but largely serve as easily-defeated comic relief in your campaign.

Finally, the minion rules are something you can apply gradually to help reflect the heroes’ growth. If your adventure focuses around a secret government program producing robots to police and victimize people with powers, you might treat the robots themselves as normal characters for the first few encounters, presenting a formidable threat the heroes must push themselves to confront, and eventually begin treating the robots as minions to reflect the heroes learning more about their tactics and weaknesses, allowing them to tackle much larger groups.

Remember, the minion rules exist to speed up combat and to reduce the swingy-ness that critical hits can cause. If you want an encounter to run faster—often as a lead-up to a bigger encounter—the minion rules are your friend. But if you want to slow an encounter down to emphasize tension or increase the risk, then toss them out and use standard character rules.

Customizing Your Minions

The minion archetypes presented across various Mutants & Masterminds supplements are generic ideals. Like the hero archetypes in the Deluxe Hero’s Handbook, they’re blank canvasses you can paint any sort of costume or personality on. Your ninjas may be standard silent warriors in black outfits, or with a fresh coat of paint you can use the same statblock for a music-focused street gang who fight with capoeira or criminal circus acrobats. How you describe your villain’s minions helps define the villain as well. Your Brute villain might be backed up by a team of Goon minions, but those minions wearing black suits and sunglasses sends a different message about who their boss is than if they dress like wrestlers or who are spliced with bear DNA.

If you want to put in a few extra minutes, consider the villain and what abilities they might provide their henchpeople, particularly in the form of equipment (though a criminal geneticist or cyberneticist might grant other, more permanent boons). A villain like Chakram from Rogues Gallery is a cool-headed professional who probably hires Soldiers as her team, but provides them with scaled-down versions of her own trick throwing rings rather than the rifles described in their statblocks. You can use the exact same ability description—Ranged Multiattack Damage 5—but describe it as throwing disks rather than a hail of bullets. You might also provide a few other trick rings like her crash-foam ring or knockout ring, lowering the effect rank to 5 but using the same Affliction effects. Other villains may provide entire suites of abilities; Madam Zero from Freedom City might provide “Ice Chests” to the generic Goons she hires. These technological breastplates grant the minions immunity to cold and the ice ramp power like Madame Zero’s, and replaces their Pistol attack with an Ice Blast with the same bonus and damage rank—it may even provide other powers like those in Madame Zero’s Cold Control array as alternate effects, likewise limited to rank 3 or 4. You don’t need to track the Power Point costs for these changes, just make sure you keep any new effects within the minion’s existing Power Level.

More Ways to Use Minions

Chapter 3 of the Deluxe Gamemaster’s Guide includes a sidebar with recommendations to get the most out of your minions. Ideas include using them as ablative villain armor by granting them the Interpose advantage or pooling them for Aid action and team Attacks. Here are a few more ideas that don’t quite use the Mutants & Masterminds rules as written, but can still add fun variety to your game table.

Minions! How Do You Defeat Them?

With their low Power Levels and the heroes’ ability to take 10 on attack checks, minion encounters can just be fun opportunities for the heroes to describe how cool or powerful their abilities are. Rather than rolling dice, you can simply turn to each player and say “There are 12 minions left. How do you defeat three of them?” Let players be creative in how they use and describe their abilities or skills; this may even be a chance for rarely-used powers or features to come up. This approach allows players to define more of their character than just rolling dice until everyone stops moving; they can be as skilled, powerful, sneaky, clever, or merciful as they want.

If you don’t want a minion encounter to serve solely as a Roleplaying scene, or there are some consequences to not taking down the minions quickly—perhaps taking more than one round means any surviving minion trips the alarm, for example—you can split the difference. Have each player roll an attack check or effect check of their choice, instantly taking down one minion with a successful check and one additional minion for every additional Degree of Success. The Takedown advantage plays a slightly different role here, automatically granting a hero one additional minion subdued per rank. This arrangement still lets heroes describe how exactly they take down multiple foes while still leaving room for consequences.

Boss Boosters

While trifling on their own, minions can augment a villain’s abilities, making them a far greater challenge to the heroes. Rather than attack the heroes directly with the minions, describe them as coordinating with their boss, using attacks to distract and herd heroes or coordinate the villain’s defenses. Mechanically, the minions make Routine Checks each round to perform Aid actions. A single minion can boost their villain’s attack check or active defenses by +2 each round. Two minions working together can boost both attacks and defenses. Three minions can work together to provide three degrees of success, increasing the bonus to +5 and six minions coordinating with their boss can increase both their attack and defenses bonuses by +5 each round. This approach takes some liberties with the Routine Check rules (which normally can’t be used in combat, except against minions) and the Aid rules (normally, the Defense bonus only applies against attacks from a single opponent), but greatly simplifies the math involved in minion-heavy fights. It also creates a scenario where villains surrounded by their henchpeople start out very dangerous and gradually become more vulnerable as heroes peel away their allies. Heroes must decide if they want to focus on the more vulnerable minions, gradually reducing the villain’s threat, or strike directly at the mastermind who can more readily avoid their attacks and more reliably strike back. It’s an effective tactic for villains specializing in cunning, like Conundrum or Killshot, or villains who rely on armies of loyal soldiers like Overshadow.

To increase the danger of this tactic, combine it with the Ablative Minions recommendation from the Deluxe Gamemaster’s Guide to prevent the heroes from defeating the mastermind until all their assistants have been dispatched. This combination transforms minions into a “health bar” for the villain, creating extremely challenging encounters with villains who might normally pose little threat to an entire team of heroes.

Unit Tactics

Villains aren’t the only ones who can benefit from assistance. Teams of minions can coordinate to great effect. The simplest way to track multiple minions working as a group is to group them into batches of four, then increase the attack check, defenses, and damage by +2—the assumption being that one minion acts as the leader, with one augmenting their defenses, another aiding their attack, and a third using a Team attack to improve their damage. The unit fights as a single opponent, and every failed Toughness check by the unit eliminates one of the upgrades—attack, defense, or damage—while a failed save against any area effect wipes out the unit. You can push the limits and use a group of ten minions to augment the same statistics by +5; in this case, two failed Toughness checks reduce a single bonus to +2 before the bonus is lost entirely with another failed check; an area attack wipes out half the minions from a large unit rather than all of them. For this use of minions, the Takedown advantage lets you knock out one additional minion per rank rather than its normal function.

Like the Boss Boosters technique mentioned above, this plays a little loose with the rules for Routine Checks and Aid, but greatly simplifies the math in running large groups of minions, effectively transforming a large group of minions into a single supervillain whose abilities gradually weaken over time. Heroes face a deadly opponent up front, but things get gradually easier as they wade into the fight and start knocking out goons. For tactically-minded villains, you might even combine this tactic with the Boss Booster, with one squad of minions intended to protect and augment their leader and remaining minions broken out into smaller units. The villain can use a Move Action on their turn to issue commands, reorganizing any minions left into full units once again so long as enough of them remain.

 

However you decide to use minions in your game, have fun tinkering with what the system can do and the new ways to threaten—or bolster—your heroes.

Green Ronin Publishing Streaming!

Over the course of the last few months, Team Ronin has been quietly engaging in some experimentation with livestreaming. I say quietly, because even though we’re broadcasting live to the world at large, we purposely chose to keep mum in the run-up to the events in order to give us some room to experiment with format and presentation, and to become familiar with the various technical and logistical aspects of planning, promotion, and of course, going live with the broadcast itself.

It’s been a few months now, and while we will continue to improve our streaming prowess and expand our efforts, it is safe to say that the experiment has been a great success! Though more importantly, we are truly enjoying the experience. So it’s time to level up our streaming game, and like any good endeavor meant to build stronger relationships and connect with people, it’s time to make a little more noise and most importantly, solicit feedback from you directly.

The original idea came as a result of an emergency meeting of the entire team. The spread of COVID-19 was creating a world-wide disruption in every aspect of our business, from printing to conventions- and though at the time there was uncertainty as to how long key infrastructures (like shipping services)  would be incapacitated, we felt certain of one thing: business as usual wasn’t going to work. But as important as finding ways to shift our overall approach to sustaining  a business, there was another, equally important issue to address: in the most trying of times, the connections you make with other humans plays a huge role in your outlook on the world. The more positive, constructive, and authentic human connections you have, your chances of success are increased exponentially. But more than that, we go a long way towards increasing that oft-fleeting feeling of well-being when we can be together in the struggle, even in the face of unprecedented global catastrophe,

So, with a pinch of teamwork, a dash of business necessity, and a heaping helping of blind enthusiasm, the Green Ronin livestreams will continue (until moral improves)! Consider this your invitation to stop by and join the conversation! We laugh a bit, tease a bit, and talk a lot about ideas and motivations behind your favorite Green Ronin projects, inviting your favorite freelancers and contributors from across our catalogue of products to join in the fun.

But be warned! We plan to continue experimenting with the concept, expanding the great ideas and regrouping around those ideas that don’t quite hit the mark. Some of it you’ll no doubt enjoy, other parts might not resonate as much (and that’s ok!). Just be sure to manage your expectations: these live streams are casual conversations and opportunities to connect. While we require time to perfect the presentation, we show up ready to connect and share with you directly.

So, if you’d like to check out a Green Ronin broadcast live and in person, you have two opportunities currently:

Mutants & Masterminds Mondays! Streaming with Crystal and Steve

Mutants & Masterminds Monday with Crystal Frasier and Steve Kenson, streaming live on Facebook at 2p Pacific, every Monday*

 

Fiction Fridays! Streaming with Jaym and Nicole

Fiction Friday with Jaym Gates and Nicole Lindroos, streaming live on Facebook at 2p Pacific every Friday*

Oh yeah, and I’m there too, your disembodied voice cracking wise and trying not to act like too much of an idiot in front of company.

Finally, if you’ve got some thoughts around the kinds of livestreams you would like to see, streaming venues you would like us to explore, or perhaps some thoughts on making the stream more accessible, feel free to send a note to letsplay@GreenRonin.com! I can’t guarantee that every idea can be incorporated, or that we can respond to every single email we receive on the subject of creative improvement, but I do promise we will read them!

Many thanks to those that stumbled across our little experiment and still somehow manage to stick with the program! We look forward to our conversations with you every single week, and hope you do too.

See you on the internet!

*A host of things can impact a livestream, from unplanned internet outages to illness, from to technical fumbles, to… well, just about anything. We reserve the right to shift and change hours, to reschedule, and to expand or contract our broadcast schedule as required by mood or law. Please adjust your expectations accordingly—and don’t forget to bring the fun!

A Pearl of Necessity

They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and that is certainly as true in the tabletop gaming business as it is anywhere else. One of the necessary reasons for writing adventures for the various game-lines that I work on is the need to have something to run when I am a guest at various conventions. For example, I originally wrote the Expanse adventure Salvage Op as a demo adventure to run at conventions before the game was even released. I likewise wrote the Blue Rose adventure Flight of the Snow Pearl (on-sale now!) in order to have something to run at a convention. I honestly don’t recall if it was originally OrcaCon, GaymerX, or one of the big summer conventions where I ran it first, but I’ve used it as a demo adventure at a number of conventions over the past couple of years since I wrote it.

Flight of the Snow Pearl

Cover art by Rita Fei

Without giving away too much about the actual plot of the adventure, Flight of the Snow Pearl is about what poet T.S. Eliot called “a wilderness of mirrors” which has become common parlance for talking about spying and espionage. In a situation or subculture where trust is a dangerous luxury, how do people maintain trust as an essential value? It’s a fairly short, focused, adventure but deals with some essential themes from Blue Rose, including characters helping those in need.

Flight of the Snow Pearl also demonstrated to me the way a fairly simple plot can play out in so many different ways at the table. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I have run the scenario at conventions, and it plays-out differently almost every time, with players focusing on different aspects of the plot and characters, and with certain rolls of the dice sending things off in different directions, even in cases where I’ve provided the same pre-generated characters to play. I love how such variability and variety are a part of tabletop RPGs.

So, if you’re looking for an adventure for your ongoing Blue Rose game, or have always thought of giving running the game a try—especially if you might want to run Blue Rose for a virtual convention or online event this summer—check out Flight of the Snow Pearl and give its story a go.