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.

Austium (Envoys to the Mount)

A Map of Austium

Map by Cartographer Liz Courts.

Envoys to the Mount is a full-length Blue Rose chronicle that takes players from origins as newly-graduated envoys of the Sovereign’s Finest to heroes of the kingdom of Aldis. The threats they face as part of that rise are dire and deadly, but perhaps none are more so than the wickedness of the lost city of Austium.

Once the capital of Faenaria, Austium was ground-zero for the Doom that destroyed the homeland of the folk who came to be called the Roamers.

Today, Austium is a Shadow-corrupted place, with four cabals of monstrous evil crouching in the ruins of the city. Above them sits arguably the most powerful darkfiend to ever slither out of Shadow into the world of mortals, the entity known only as the Lord of Austium.

Author Steven Jones did a spectacular job of detailing Austium, giving us a place that is not just a seemingly unending source of threats for Blue Rose heroes, but creating a place that seems to live, breathe, and positively bristle with potential threats. Because I do love me some hags and witches, I’m sharing the Coven of the Iron Cauldron here!

The Coven of the Iron Cauldron

The Queen’s Ward

The Coven of the Iron Cauldron is composed of sorcerers, hags, and other beings gifted in the arcane arts. It is immensely powerful and concentrates on uncovering the city’s lost lore with the intent of twisting it to the Shadow’s ends. While both the Guild of the Tarnished Coins and the Order of the Bloody Blades are larger, no other faction holds as much sway in the city with the Lord of Austium as the Coven of the Iron Cauldron.

Envoys to the Mount and Tales from the Mount bundle offer!

Don’t forget to pick up a copy of the Tales from the Mount fiction anthology as well!

Since this faction’s focus is on lost lore and the secrets of sorcery, they give little thought to the activities of the other factions and do what they can to remain neutral in their political games. When the Coven does get pulled into these powerplays, it’s usually due to some Guild of the Tarnished Coins’ scheme; these political maneuvers have created some animosity from the Coven towards the Guild.

 

The Coven was formed and is led by the Inside-Out Lady (one of the Talons), and since its early days, the Coven’s power has grown greatly. It was instrumental in raising Austium from the wastes of the Shadow Barrens. Since the Inside-Out Lady is kept occupied in service to the Lord of Austium, most of the daily duties of running the Coven fall on the Inner Circle, which consists of the Coven’s other founding members who are still alive and in Austium. Three members of the Inner Circle—Cendis, Doromin, and Lady Viddia—can be found in Appendix 3; Narrators should feel free to add additional members as they see fit.

The remaining faction members are structured into lesser circles consisting of three or seven members, and it is common for these lesser circles to have a low ranking darkfiend in their service. Most of the lesser circles choose one of the exarchs as their patron. Among the lesser circles, there are rumors of former Inner Circle members who clashed with the Inside-Out Lady and were forced to flee Austium or be destroyed.

The Coven holds dominion over the eastern section of Austium (the Queen’s Ward), with the coven’s main rites taking place in a ring of standing stones on Cauldron Hill, located close to the Tempest Gate. The lesser circles all have their own ritual spaces throughout the twisted mockery of the city.

Be sure to check out our previous articles previewing what you’ll find in Envoys to the Mount! And while you’re at it, don’t forget about our Year End Sale! going on right now. There are quite a few books and adventures in the Blue Rose line available, just in case you have any gaps in your collection!

End of Year Sale and GR Gift Guide

Happy holidays from all of us at Green Ronin! I don’t think 2020 was the year any of us hoped for but on the upside, it’s almost over! Right now, we’ve got our Year End Sale going on, which offers 20% off most of our titles through January 3. Get gifts for your friends and family, or just treat yourself. If you survived 2020, you deserve it! Two important notes. First, we do offer gift certificates in our online store, so if you don’t know what to get for the gamers in your life, that’s always an option. Second, shipping is particularly slow this year, so if you want things in time for Xmas, get your orders in early. If you aren’t sure what to get, I’ve put together a gift guide that may help. Let’s get to it!

Death In Freeport for Fantasy AGEAs you may heard, 2020 was Green Ronin’s 20th anniversary. One way we celebrated that was with new editions of one of our earliest releases. I wrote Death in Freeport 20 years ago, and now it’s available in two formats: Fantasy AGE and 5th Edition. Pick your system and then set sale for Freeport, the City of Adventure! Fantasy AGE fans will also enjoy Lairs, another new book for this year that features a host of ready to use encounters. 5E fans should check out The Lost Citadel Roleplaying, where players are survivors of an undead apocalypse in the last city standing.

 

Enemies and Allies for Modern AGE

If you want a flexible RPG that can handle just about every sub-genre of action adventure, check out Modern AGE. It got its character/adversary book this year with Enemies & Allies. If you want a kickass setting, also check out Threefold. It got some adventure support with Five and Infinity, which we serialized over the course of the year. We also launched Modern AGE Missions for even more PDF adventure support. We’re certain you need 30-50 feral hogs in your Modern AGE campaign, so make sure to check that out!

 

Envoys to the Mount for Blue RoseBlue Rose, our Romantic Fantasy RPG, is also getting (and giving) a lot of love right now. If you’ve never checked it out before, there’s a new Quickstart that gives you a complete adventure with rules and pre-generated characters. For more experienced players, we’ve just put Envoys to the Mount up for pre-order. This is a complete campaign for Blue Rose that takes characters through all four tiers of play. There’s also a tie-in fiction anthology called Tales from the Mount that’s available now. You can get a bundle with both Envoys and Tales too!

 

Sacred Band 2nd editionSpeaking of fiction, our imprint Nisaba Press has some great titles for holiday reading. Blue Rose fans will definitely want to check out Sovereigns of the Blue Rose, an anthology of stories about the fourteen rulers of Aldis. We’ve also just released Sacred Band, Joe Carriker’s critically-acclaimed LGBTQ+ superhero novel. Supers will also enjoy Roadtrip to Ruin, the latest Mutants & Masterminds novel. If short stories are your jam, we’ve released three anthologies this year: For Hart and Queen for Blue Rose, Powered Up for Mutants & Masterminds, and Under a Black Flag for Freeport.

 

 

Time Traveler's Codex for Mutants & MastermindsSuperhero fans should look no further than Mutants & Masterminds. If you haven’t tried it before, jump right in with the Basic Hero’s Handbook. We’ve just release the Time Traveler’s Codex (now available in print!), which is a whole book about timeline hopping shenanigans. If you’ve been wanting adventure support, we’ve really leaned into that this year with the Astonishing Adventures PDF series. These include stand-alone adventures and the five-part series NetherWar. Danger Zones is another new series. Each entry details a new location for superheroic action. And, by popular demand, we’ve also just released a deck of Condition Cards!

 

Ships of the ExpanseBut what if you want to go to outer spaaaaccceeee? That’s where The Expanse RPG—based on the terrific novels by James S.A. Corey­—comes in. There’s a free Quickstart if you haven’t dived in yet. This year we released Abzu’s Bounty, a series of six linked adventures for the game. Salvage Op offers a one shot for an evening or two of play. We’ve also just put Ships of the Expanse up for pre-order. This is the long-awaited book full of deck plans and details about the spaceships of the setting.

 

Sword Chronicle RoleplayingLast but by no means least, we launched the Sword Chronicle RPG this year. This takes the system we designed for A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying and spins it off into as an independent fantasy system. This has been available as a PDF for several months but just this week we’ve made it available as a Print on Demand title on DriveThruRPG.

 

Happy holidays, everyone! See you in 2021!


Character Hooks in Envoys to the Mount

Envoys to the Mount for Blue RoseIn a previous Ronin Roundtable, we mentioned a little bit about the Character Hooks mechanic we developed for Envoys to the Mount. In this Ronin Roundtable, we’re going to introduce you to not only the Hooks themselves, but how players select and use them, along with a sample of one of them.

The Summary

At the beginning of game play, the Narrator will pass around a sheet that summarizes the Hooks used in the campaign. Players choose these Hooks based on the summaries, allowing them to focus on the role they want to play within the chronicle. This is an example of the Vata Hook summary:

The Vata

The arcane runs through your veins as surely as blood does. You might be one of the pale vata’an, graceful and ethereal. Or you might be one of the umbral vata’sha, whispered about by the ignorant and superstitious. Regardless, you are an inheritor of the ancient legacy of the lost vatazin people. You might have been born to entirely human parents, or perhaps one (or both) of your parents are vata themselves. No matter your origins, you have found a place among the Sovereign’s Finest.

Choose This Hook: If you want to play a vata character in this campaign, a character with a mystical heritage who will begin to uncover ancient secrets about their people.

 

A Vata character for Blue Rose

The HandoutsCharacter Hook Handout for the Vata

Once all of the players have chosen their Hooks, the Narrator then gives each a handout which contains the following information. We have included the Handout for the Vata Hook here as well, so you can see what it all looks like.

  • Flavor Text: A quick paragraph that summarizes the character’s relationship with the Sovereign’s Finest, and very loosely defines their motivations. Ultimately, it simply contains a few evocative suggestions, which players should use as many or as few of as they like to help round out their characters.
  • Bonus Traits: Each Hook includes one or more additional benefits the character receives for taking on this role. Many of them are mechanical in nature, a core conceit for the Hook. Because the hero basically has to have them to function in that Hook role, we’re giving it to them for free, so as not to unduly limit character creation choices elsewhere.
  • Character Creation: This section makes some suggestions for character creation, suggesting focuses, talents, and specializations that expand the theme of the Hook in interesting directions. None of these are requirements, although the suggestions are made with the Hook’s role in the campaign in mind.
  • Drawbacks: Of course, nothing comes for free, so each Hook also includes a Drawback. In many instances, this is a unique mechanic or even story limitation that isn’t so much to balance the additional benefits as it is to drive home the themes of the Hook and further enwrap the hero in the role the player has chosen.
  • Backstory: Finally, each Hook includes three bullet points that are events or details that should be folded into the player’s concept of the character’s past. In many cases, these are not only tied into the assumed history of the character in that role, but they will also impact events that occur within the campaign. They include questions meant to help the player customize these details for their hero. They don’t have to share these details with the other players but should discuss them with you, the Narrator.

Envoys to the Mount is available for pre-order now in our online store, and on DrivethruRPG!

Don’t forget, you can also pick up the Nisaba Press anthology Tales from the Mount along with your PDF (also available on Drivethru), or select the add-on offer with the print version of Envoys to the Mount, for just $5!

And did we mention there were free pre-generated characters for Envoys? Just in case you wanted to get playing right away! Shocking no one, they are on DrivethruRPG as well!

Boom with a Capital B – Rapid-Fire villains!

The Astonishing Adventures line blasts off into space this week with our very first cosmic adventure, Prodigal Sun by Larry Wilhelm. The heroes travel to a star system colonized by the Lor Republic shortly before its collapse to investigate why the sun has suddenly turned an ominous red hue. While there, they’ll need to navigate local politics, survive an angry space minotaur, and come head-to-head with a few fan favorite starfarers if they hope to survive and save the four worlds of the Flegere System!

One of the fun tropes in cosmic comics is the notion of lone heroes armed with nothing but their trusty power ring and cosmic skateboard tackling entire massive ships and fleets of fighters, and Prodigal Sun delivers. To capture the feel of facing a massive ship bristling with guns, the adventure gives these powerful vessels multiple attacks in a single round. While there aren’t any formal rules for this in Mutants & Masterminds—heroes and villains alike are limited to a single attack each round—you can borrow the same balancing system I used for your own villains.

Rapid-Fire Villains

Astonishing Adventures Prodigal Sun!

Available now!

The action economy—the ability for a character or monster to attack more than once in a round—is a key factor in balancing the power between villains and heroes. Heroes can break this balance by spending Hero Points, but Hero points are a limited resource and one that usually only comes from setbacks. Giving your villains the ability to attack more than once makes them more dangerous, but isn’t game-breaking because Staggering or Incapacitating them removes all the attacks they might inflict in a round.

Consider the following to make a rapid-fire villain:

  • A rapid-fire villain gets one primary attack each round, which must be their highest-power and/or most expensive attack ability.
  • A rapid-fire villain also gets one secondary attack each round, which must be the same PL or less than the primary attack and be built from fewer power points. The secondary attack cannot be an alternate effect of the primary attack. If the rapid-fire villain’s secondary attack is lower than their PL, they can use it twice each round instead of once.
  • On any round they use both their primary and secondary attacks, a rapid-fire villain can’t benefit from circumstance bonuses to their attack checks, and can’t modify their attacks with abilities like Power Attack, Accurate Attack, or Defensive Attack.
  • A rapid-fire villain still only receives one Move action each round, but they may move in between making their primary and secondary attack.
  • A rapid-fire villain can’t mix their multiple attacks with other Standard actions, such as using the Leadership advantage or contributing to a Team Attack. They may either attack with their primary and secondary attack or perform a different Standard action.
  • A rapid-fire villain counts as 2 PLs higher when deciding how to balance your encounter.

These rules are fairly simple and you can use them on the fly to make a single villain more challenging for a group, but be careful not to overuse them. These are best applied to weaker foes you want to keep the heroes busy, as a deluge of high-level attacks can easily overwhelm your team.

Rapid-Fire Talona

To set an example, you can turn the airborn villain Talona into a fast-moving and deadly (well, deadlier) opponent by giving her the ability to attack more than once a round.

Looking at her character sheet, Talona’s Flock of Raptors Affliction is her most powerful attack, and so becomes her primary attack. Her claw attacks are only the equivalent of PL 10—two lower than the power of her Affliction—so she can use them twice a round as her secondary attack. With the benefit of her Move-By attack, Talona can spread out the hurt among the heroes while keeping some of them off-balance with a hostile flock of angry hawks.

This rapid-fire Talona is the equivalent of a PL 14 threat—a beefy adversary and a fair fight for an average team of four PL 10 heroes.

Give the rapid-fire rules a try at your own game table and let us know what you think!

Mounting Anticipation

Envoys to the Mount for Blue RoseIn the world of Blue Rose, the Kingdom of Aldis is normally where it’s at, but our newest releases, Envoys to the Mount and Tales from the Mount, are instead taking us on a journey to a very different destination, indeed: the Shadow Barrens, sorcery-defiled remnants of the once-thriving realm of Faenaria, where stands the quasi-mythical Mount Oritaun.

Envoys to the Mount is a campaign sourcebook for Blue Rose, spanning levels 2 to 17, which challenges a band of the Sovereign’s Finest to embrace their Destiny and defy Fate on an errand of mercy with repercussions to be felt throughout all of Aldea, now and for ages to come. While the quest begins innocuously enough—rendering aid to people in need across the kingdom—the adventure will lead these envoys to uncover ancient arcane secrets, pursue (and be pursued by!) deadly enemies, walk the streets of a metropolis long ago lost to Shadow, and ultimately stand against the earthly champion of the Exarchs in a battle both for the future of a lost people and for the soul of the world.

However, Envoys to the Mount is so much more than just a campaign. It also serves as a guide to the Sovereign’s Finest, outlining organization, operations, ranks and responsibilities, and all the other information needed to understand the inner workings of this revered Aldin fellowship. Within, you’ll learn what’s expected of an envoy, as well as the privileges and obligations of those who ascend the rank, and both a brief history of the Finest and a “who’s who” of its current leadership. Further, Envoys to the Mount explores the terrifying Shadow Barrens in detail—its vistas and many hazards, along with various points of interest for the bold… or the foolhardy—and provides new mechanics for use in this or any other Blue Rose campaign, such as the corrupt Shadow Dancer Talent and the exciting new system for challenge tests (a kind of advanced test with the potential for consequences every step of the way).Tales from the Mount from Nisaba Press

Of course, what’s a Blue Rose campaign without compelling player characters? Thus, we’re also releasing a free set of eight pregenerated 2nd level characters uniquely suited to the events of Envoys to the Mount, with built-in plot hooks intended to draw them directly into the action. While not necessary to enjoy Envoys to the Mount, these characters can jumpstart your adventure and get you right into the thick of things!

Last, but certainly not least, is Tales from the Mount, a nine-story anthology of nearly 300 pages of Blue Rose fiction centered upon the events, themes, moods, and settings of Envoys to the Mount. These stories shed a light on the dreaded Shadow Barrens and the terrible things that lurk within, through the exploits of those who defy Shadow with love and courage. Within its pages, you will accompany not just those braving the Barrens from without, but also travel alongside those from within that nightmarish land, to see that hope can bloom in even the most unlikely earth. Tales of bravery and sacrifice, of darkest sorcery and bittersweet triumph, await you!

What stories will you tell of Mount Oritaun?

Shake Things Up – Adding Complications to Encounter Designs

Whether you are a veteran GM who crafts every campaign world and adventure from scratch, a newcomer to running games who is just trying to get through a published adventure, or someone preferring any of the hundreds of possible in-between styles of gamemastering, sometimes you realize your encounters are in a rut. It may not be your fault—many GMs run published adventures for lack of time to create all their own content, and even for GMs who make a lot of custom adventures, players can often get really good at determining how a specific game works, and cutting to the solution of any challenge much faster than expected. Even if neither of those issues is a problem, sometimes you realize a player has built a character to be good at something that never comes up in play… and they feel cheated for not getting to do the kind of adventure they are prepared for.

Regardless of why you think your existing adventure toolkit isn’t doing everything you need it to, and no matter the game system you are using, it may be time to shake things up with a complication. Or a dozen complications.

Complications

Art by Biagio D’allessandro

Simple Complications

There are a number of very simple complications you can use to change the feel and flow of the RPG sessions you run. Here’s three that don’t take much advance work or thought.

Add Restrictions: If the players have gotten good at killing foes, require them to drive off threats without seriously hurting anyone. If they are masters of out-talking competitors during negotiations, make them argue their case next to a waterfall so loud no one can hear anything. If a single character is the best hacker the world has ever seen, set up the need to get information during a complete blackout when no computers are running. If the players’ favorite tactic is setting everything on fire, make them fight underwater.

The advantages of adding a restriction is that it doesn’t change the core rules of the game, it just makes players tackle a problem with some of their options off the table. You shouldn’t do this often—then it’s just shutting down character abilities—but there’s nothing wrong with forcing players to be flexible now and again.

Add Hindrances: While a restriction is specifically something that takes away some of the players’ normal options, a hindrance is something that makes the challenge of the encounter more difficult by adding new elements that can cause problems. If the PCs can sneak into any secure site anywhere, make them do so with an angry songbird in a cage they can’t muffle. If they normally bully citizens into giving them what they want, make them carry out their investigations with a bigger bully the citizens already hate. If they are experts at ranged combat, have a fight in a corn maze, with strong winds and torrential rain reducing visibility.

Add A Twist: Don’t go all M. Night Shyamalan about it, but sometimes the situation not being exactly what is expected is a great complication to throw at players. Perhaps the “attacking” wolves are just running from even bigger monsters right behind them. The crime family not only capitulate to the PCs’ demands they lay off a neighborhood, they ask the PCs to help them go fully legit. The final lock on the dragon’s vault is a sleeping cat you have to move without waking.

Secondary Challenges

Rather than just adding complications to an encounter’s normal challenge, you can add an entire secondary challenge of another type. If the encounter is a fight with a band of highwaymen, perhaps a group of mercenaries wander by and the bandits try to recruit them as reinforcement while the fight is already underway. Now in addition to the initial challenge of the combat, the PCs must deal with the secondary challenge of a negotiating while the fighting is ongoing. If the PCs were trying to break into a vault before the next guard shift comes by, perhaps they discover previous thieves have already rigged the vault with a barrel of gunpowder on a lit fuse, and now both problems have to be handled at the same time.

A secondary challenge can be a great way to allow characters who aren’t good at the type of encounter as the main challenge (or players who just don’t care about that kind of encounter) to get some time in the spotlight of attention anyway. If you have a complex puzzle lock with riddles, and that kind of challenge bores one of your players who has a combat-focused character, adding a mini-secondary challenge can give them something to engage with while the other players tackle the puzzle lock. Perhaps the lock is also haunted, so ghosts of past (unsuccessful) lockpickers materialize and attack every few rounds

When adding secondary challenges and complications there is often a temptation to make sure the difficulty of overcoming them is tied to how crucial it is they be overcome. That’s pretty standard design for the main challenge of an encounter, but it can be needlessly difficult and complex for something you are adding as a complication. When an encounter already has a key challenge, it can be overwhelming for an additional challenge to require the same degree of focus, effort, and resources. If you’re going for a climactic, epic encounter, that may be exactly what you want. But if you are just adding a complication to increase variety and interest in the encounter, there’s no reason it has to be as challenging as the primary problem—in many ways it’s more interesting if it isn’t. If most of the characters are trying to evacuate children from the burning orphanage, and you only expect one or two to be dealing with the still-present arsonist, making him relatively easy to deal with keeps the encounter’s focus on the lifesaving, rather than a fight. The characters who are poorly equipped to help get kids out, or who can’t resist a chance for a brawl, can focus on just a few of them easily defeating the firebug, while the rest of the characters get the more important plot point of saving children.

But that doesn’t mean the secondary challenge can’t be just as important, even if it’s not just as hard. Obviously, the children in the burning building need to be saved, but stopping the arsonist is important as well. Not only does it keep him from starting more fires (possibly in the building just across the street), so resource efforts don’t have to expand, it’s also a potential opportunity to find out why he started the fire to begin with. Is it fire-for-hire, as a crimelord wants to make a point, or a developer needs the land to finish a new project? Or did one of the children see something the arsonist wants to make sure never gets reported?

Keep it Fun

No matter what elements of complications you add to spice up encounters, try to make sure you are creating things your players will see as challenges to be overcome, rather than efforts to punish them for having powerful or single-minded characters. Problems with how characters are built or players should be handled with a conversation out-of-character on what is bothering you, and how the players can help you have fun while still making sure they have a good time.

Complications and additional challenges are to make the game surprising and fun for everyone and, like seasoning in good cooking, a few sprinkles now and then often go a long way!