Ronin Roundtable: Whisper Networks and Internet Justice

Much has happened in the past several months with women speaking out on issues of sexual harassment and finally being heard. Prominent men in politics, business, media, even in children’s literature, have been called to account for behaviors ranging from inappropriate “jokes” to violent sexual assault. Here in Washington state, one of our women senators has proposed limits on the use of non-disclosure agreements to prevent victims of sexual harassment from speaking about their experiences. Seattle’s newly elected woman mayor wasted no time in ordering an extensive review of the city’s harassment and discrimination policies. Structures are being reviewed and put in place to more properly and fairly address issues in the workplace in particular, and I am glad to see it.

For some time now, especially since the rise of the internet and its ubiquitous place in our lives, women have worked at protecting themselves and each other through back channels and whisper networks, the now infamous “Shitty Media Men” list being one example. Unfortunately, whisper networks are of no use to women who don’t have the right connections to access them, nor are they immune from hearsay that can be difficult, if not impossible, to confirm. They are good for focusing attention on potentially dangerous or unpleasant people, good for self-preservation for those fortunate enough to have heard the right whispers at the right time, but they are far less effective at achieving justice. In a world where we literally have to worry that someone might call down a SWAT team on a person they dislike or begrudge, the threat of vigilantism sadly must be anticipated, addressed, and resisted in order to see systemic changes enacted and upheld.

Merely having a “harassment policy” does not guarantee that such a policy is fair, just, effective, or evenly applied. Policies stating some variation of “at our sole discretion” actions that may or may not be taken are barely more than legal language to shield a company, convention, or organization from liability. Even policies attempting to address the issue of harassment in a sensitive manner for victims can fail in providing even the most basic due diligence, leaving themselves open to unethical manipulation and becoming party to (and legally liable for) defamation and other legal jeopardies any business wishes to avoid. “Justice” can be swift and summary, focused more on making the matter go away than understanding the truth and then acting accordingly.

When the dam broke on harassment in social media, I detailed in a semi-public post, viewable by over 1700 people, my own experiences with sexual abuse, stalking, harassment, and assault, the reverberating impact those events had on my life, and how my involvement in both providing support for other women in the game industry and standing up to try to make real change for women through my own company and my volunteer work had been particularly difficult and sometimes re-traumatizing, especially in the last year or two. To say I was at a particularly vulnerable point is an understatement and as “discussion” of public accusations of harassment in my own industry became more heated, I responded little differently than an animal in pain. It clarified for me that people in pain and trauma cannot always do right by others in pain and trauma, even with the best of intentions and the most sincere concern. It is an experience I do not want to repeat and as such, I will not be engaging in any further public debate on the subject. Instead, I intend to follow up with actions, to continue to provide opportunities for women through my company and my volunteer efforts, and to work for structural changes to the tabletop industry.

As of this writing, I am attending the GAMA Trade Show in Reno, where I will be bringing a proposal to the board for the adoption of guidelines and procedures called S.T.O.P. Harassment (Standards, Terms, and Other Practices). The intent is to create common and agreed upon set of policies for reporting issues of discrimination and harassment, setting up mechanisms for prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation into any such reports, and establishing protocols for taking corrective action. Green Ronin has paid for this document to undergo a legal review and we hope that GAMA can provide the impartial vehicle through which issues of inappropriate behavior can be properly addressed. The initial language we’re proposing can be found here: S.T.O.P. Harassment (Standards, Terms and Other Practices)

Ronin Roundtable: Driven and Motivated

One of the new elements in Modern AGE is Drive, a trait which sets your character’s emotional motivation. You pick Drive at character creation, where it provides a small capstone benefit. If you use the Conviction rules (you’ll recognize these from Blue Rose: The AGE RPG of Romantic Fantasy, though they’re optional in Modern AGE) Drive also influences how it works.

But I’ll let you in on a secret: The best thing about Drive isn’t mechanical. It’s the principle of the thing.

I think virtually everyone has played a game where getting the characters involved in the story is a challenge. Roleplaying games have taken several stabs at pushing characters to act. The first tactic is no tactic at all. The game sort of assumes the GM’s job to convince the characters unfolding events are worth their time. When I was playing games as a teenager, this was virtually the only method. Combined with teenage defiance, this led to a lot of glaring and nonsense until everyone settled down. Another tactic is to weave characters into the setting, with responsibilities and problems which force them to get things done. More recent games have suggested ways to signal the GM about a thing your character might go for due to an obsession, goal or personality trait. This is a more focused version of the first, GM-as-salesperson method. Then we have background-driven motivations, ranging in length from one-liners to long backstories which are supposed to kick characters into action.

Drive is similar to all of these but isn’t quite the same. It’s a lot like “alignment” in some ways, and it absolutely is a personality trait, but its function is more than a description of the character’s psyche. Now when you get the book, this will probably read as overselling it, since Drive is not a mechanic designed to dazzle with innovation, and in nuts-and-bolts fashion, is fairly conventional. Here’s a Drive from the upcoming Modern AGE Basic Rulebook. It’ll look totally familiar to folks who’ve played a lot of RPGs.

Protector

There are a lot of threats out in the world, and you guard against them. Exactly what you consider a threat, and who or what you are protecting from it might vary, but the most important thing is you are not going to stand idly by when you could act.

Your quality is devotion to those under your protection and to your ideals, no matter what challenges lie in your path. Your downfall is recklessness when it comes to putting yourself (and others) in harm’s way to protect your charges.

Talent: Misdirection or Protect

Improvement: Health, Membership, or Reputation

What’s her motivation?

So why am I going on like this? I want to make its purpose clear. Drive is a personality trait that always answers the question: “Why are you getting involved?” Always. Because in Modern AGE, character creation assumes the question, “Are you getting involved?” is always answered in the affirmative. This is a subtle but important difference from games where the GM is supposed to sell you something, and games where the facts of the world (“I’m in the Secret Service,” or “They killed my master and I want revenge?”) dictate involvement. Drive is a personality trait which explains why your character is emotionally invested in the story.

Is this rhetorical sleight of hand? Absolutely. But it has a fine pedigree. Drive has a precedent in improv, where performers are urged not to block ideas that come out of the on-stage, brainstorming-while-acting process. So, when you crack the book open and pick a Drive, keep in mind that this isn’t a general blueprint of your attitude as much as the part of you that compels your commitment.

Drives are emotional, not factual, for a simple reason: Campaigns feature ever-changing conditions. Modern AGE also tells you to write down character Goals. Goals transform over time, but your Drive usually doesn’t. (Here’s an optional rule: If you want to change your Drive later, that’s fine, but you don’t get the benefits that come at character creation, except for how your new Drive affects Conviction, if you use it.)

Drive is primarily a way for you to develop your character’s emotional connection to the story. We can map it as a Mad Lib, as follows:

My inclination to be a [DRIVE] makes me want to get involved with [SITUATION] because [MOTIVATION], so I’ll [ACTION].

[DRIVE] is the Drive trait on your sheet.

[SITUATION] is what’s happening in the story.

[MOTIVATION] is an account of how your feelings about the situation inform your actions.

[ACTION] is what you will do.

To demonstrate how this works, I’m going to take the sample Drive, Protector, and hit the “Situation” random generator button at http://writingexercises.co.uk/plotgenerator.php. I get

A political demonstration turns into chaos.

Therefore:

My inclination to be a Protector makes me want to get involved with a political demonstration which has turned into chaos because I’m afraid of my friends getting hurt, so I’ll find them and lead them to safety.

In this model, a character goal is a situation that’s always happening—at least until you completely accomplish it.

Breaking this down makes it seem more complicated than it really is. The process is intuitive. As long as you exclude blocking the situation (by refusing to deal with it in an interesting fashion) it comes down to: “This is how my emotions push me to deal with what’s ahead.”

Drive is really a principle with an incidental game mechanic, adaptable to pretty much any game. It’s an attitude shift where getting into the story is your character’s premise, not their problem. In a fantasy game, instead of saying, “As a True Neutral character, I don’t care about this battle between good and evil,” say “As a True Neutral character, I need to accompany my friends to this struggle between the Moral Powers to test the strength of my convictions. Can I maintain detachment amidst all this struggle and suffering?”

Awkward Segue to Factual Update!

So, what’s going on with Modern AGE? The Basic Rulebook text is going through the production cycle right now. Its first setting, Lazarus (based on Greg Rucka’s comic of the same name, developed for Modern AGE by Crystal Frasier) has also entered production. The text for two small pieces of support for the game (to be announced) are also finished, and first drafts of an upcoming book are coming in.

I can’t wait to share it all with you. I’m driven—and I’ll say more about it all another time.

Ronin Roundtable: ROGUES, INDIVIDUALLY

Mothers, lock up your sons: Rogues Gallery is coming. This hardback collects the 40+ Rogues Gallery PDFs in one collection, along with a dozen new villains and antiheroes to terrorize your campaign. Your heroes could fight one a week and still not finish by New Year!

Villain books are a classic installment in superhero RPGs, going back to classics like Champion’s Enemies supplements or Heroes Unlimited’s Villains Unlimited. They provide opponents to fight, sure, but they also flesh out a side of the setting that heroes rarely get to see, and that hero-facing books rarely delve into. If superhero games, at their core, are about optimism and what one determined individual can do to help others, then villain books show the pessimism of those same worlds: What happens when someone, despite all their power, can’t or won’t use it to help others, or even themselves. Mutants & Masterminds has always been about nuance and complexity—every bit as much it tries to be about being your best self—and I think the incredible diversity of characters presented in Rogues Gallery showcases some of the best that Earth-Prime has to offer: Classic throwbacks to the Silver Age like Amalgam, Elzaya, and Tun; villains that seem to painfully mirror our real world like Drive-By and the newly returned House of Usher; cold professionals like Chakram and IGT-92; off-the-wall weirdos like the Candy Crew, Newt, and Explodo, and more than a few characters who came so close to being one of the good guys like Arctic Fox, Eminence, Freestyle, and Red Mist. This last category are probably the most vital, holding a mirror up to reflect the ugly failings of the world, and all the things the heroes, through luck or perseverance, have escaped. “There, but for the grace of God,” is a popular and heart wrenching theme in a lot of comic books; it provides a moment of introspection in a medium that is all too often about jumping between spectacular fight scenes.

To round out the collected edition of Rogues Gallery and the setting of Earth-Prime, we collected a dozen new antagonists from some of the brightest Mutants & Masterminds writers. With the book following on the heels of Freedom City, 3rd Edition, most of these new villains operate out of Freedom City, or at least mention it briefly, but the ultimate goal was to round out the villain list for several of our newest books, including the Cosmic Handbook and Hero High. Some are classics, many are brand new, but we tried to tie all the new villains into the advancing timeline of Earth-Prime, and the recent changes described in Freedom City. Here’s what’s in store:

  • Alien-Gator II: This time, it’s personal! An alien from the alligator-like race known as the Jereid, Ssellessk’thaa was trapped on Earth as part of Freedom City’s recent refugee crisis. More aggressive than her 60s-era counterpart, and in full possession of her wits, she sees humanity as the corrupt, selfish, and brutal creatures they are, and has turned to crime against this unjust system in order to acquire what she needs to escape Earth and return home.
  • Empress Sola: One of the many Dark Lords held in check by the now-deposed Una, Sola rules a dimension deprived of its magical core, forever cursed to siphon the life force from other worlds to survive. Now Sola has set her eyes upon the magic-rich world of Earth-Prime.
  • Johnny Frostbite & Ice Princess: This daddy-daughter duo share the same ice powers, but radically different instincts for using it. Johnny hopes to shield his beloved daughter from the life of crime he fell into, but they remain on the run from a vindictive ex-wife.
  • Lady Guillotine: The new Lady Liberty has her own arch-nemesis after only a few months on the job, and her rival wants more than just Sonia’s powers: She wants her head!
  • Maestro II: With the original Maestro vanished, a handsome young inheritor has claimed the Master of Music’s legacy and wields similar powers.
  • MegaStar: Included by popular demand! Christopher Beck was a member of the original Next-Gen some 15 years ago, but never seemed to find his place in Freedom City’s hero community after graduation. A disillusioned man desperate to find something to belong to, he has a whole new team as one of the Argents!
  • Mother Moonlight: Heroism isn’t without its casualties, and loss drives people to terrible ends. When so-called heroes slaughtered her children, Anna-Marie Delgado gave herself over the goddess of rebirth in order to gain the power to take the children—literal and metaphorical—from every monster who wears the mantle of hero.
  • The Orphean: Trevor Cushing led his ideal life once upon a time. Studying music and magic alongside his wife, the pair could easily have shared the role of Earth’s next Master Mage as readily as they shared a life and soul. Now that his wife has been maliciously ripped away, though, the Orphean focuses on nothing but tearing down the boundaries between life and death to restore her to his side, no matter who else must suffer.
  • Prince Rokkar: The Star Khan’s campaign of conquest rolls over other stellar empires large and small, and when it conquered the Kash’rodan Empire, Khanate governors banished the juvenile prince to the backwater planet Earth. Though young, Rokkar wields the strength, fury, and firepower of a true Kash’rodan warrior, thanks to a little support from his loyal nanny-boy, MC-1.
  • Princess Silverwing: Power don’t make someone a hero, as Alison Middleton insists on demonstrating. Afraid of being mundane, she convinced herself that her mutant ability to generate gravitons is actually “fey magic,” proving her “true” heritage as an exiled princess from a magical world. Now Princess Silverwing is hellbent on returning to a time and place that doesn’t exist, or else making her life on Earth-Prime a little more magical.
  • The Starblights: Magical girls gone bad, the Starblights wield their magical power from another dimension to defend their turf and rumble with other supers.
  • Vathek the Appeaser: One of history’s greatest scholars and romantics, Caliph Vathek of the Abassides’s ego doomed him when he thought to get the better of the infamous strange he summoned to grant his every wish. Instead the scholar found himself bound as the devil’s apprentice, doomed to servitude until he sends his master enough souls to buy off his own cosmic debt.

And because you’ve all been waiting so patiently for this volume, here’s one of the new heroes to get you started: Princess Silverwing!

RG_PrincessSilverwing

Ronin Roundtable: Back Issue Gaps

Some three years ago in “Back Issues” I talked about some of the planned additions to the forthcoming third edition of the Freedom City setting sourcebook for Mutants & Masterminds. With the latest look at Freedom City now available, I wanted to devote some space here on Ronin Roundtable to talk about some of the “back issue gaps,” or the characters from previous editions of Freedom City (or other Earth-Prime sourcebooks) not included in the new edition.

 

I got my start in RPGs working on “living” settings: Even before I was a regular freelancer for FASA Corporation, their BattleTech and Shadowrun settings were “activated” worlds where time passed at more or less the same rate as it did in the real world, and the same was later true of their Earthdawn setting. I was an active GM and player for West End Games’ Torg, which also moved its Infiniverse setting and the associated Possibility War, forward month by month, year by year. One of Freedom City’s major inspirations—Kurt Busiek’s Astro City comic book—likewise follows the progress of real time, such that Astra, the “little girl lost” in one of the first issues of the series, recently celebrated her college graduation!

Back when Green Ronin was looking to publish a second edition of Mutants & Masterminds and Freedom City, there was a desire to expand upon and change up some things, and the passage of time seemed as good a reason as any for that to happen, so we shifted the setting forward a few years to match the difference between the first edition in 2003 and the second in 2006. That approach largely continued throughout the second edition line, although we were more often filling out parts of Earth-Prime’s past or more distant future than its present.

Of course, the space between the second edition of Freedom City and the third is a good deal more substantial, eleven years, just over a decade, and nearly fifteen years since the setting first appeared. It was clear that a lot more was going to change over that time than between the first two editions. Some of Freedom City’s heroes and villains are immortal and unchanging, but others have aged and gone through transitions in life, from the second Raven retiring from crime-fighting to go into politics (passing on her mantle to a young man who was just a teenager in our first Hero High sourcebook) to Johnny Rocket, who was barely out of his teens in the first edition, who is now a mature man, married, and raising a foster daughter with his husband.

While we were able to include well over a hundred different characters in Freedom City, third edition, we couldn’t include everyone, and we’re sorry if anybody’s favorite character happened to not make the cut. A few show up in various places in Atlas of Earth-Prime, The Cosmic Handbook, and the forthcoming Rogues Gallery, but even those books don’t cover everyone. Freedom City and Earth-Prime grew a lot over the years, and in some cases it was best to let certain characters fade into the back issue bins of history, the “Whatever Happened To…?” files. That’s not to say we might not revisit some of those characters in future M&M products but, for now, the spotlight has shifted.

Of course, that’s not to say you can’t include your favorite characters in your own Earth-Prime series. One of the great things about tabletop roleplaying games is that the world is literally what you make of it, and it is yours to do with as you wish. You might decide, rather than time marching onward, that the “present day” of Freedom City remains largely frozen at your favorite point, with its back-story slowly shifting forward in time, much like how the major comic book universes are always set in the present day, with modern histories that extend “10-15 years ago” in spite of focusing on major characters who have existed for more than 70 years!

Likewise, you might decide to include your own “Whatever Happened To…?” story and update the fate of your favorite character, or recapture their essence by creating a new “legacy” character who shared the original’s name, and possibly their motif, powers, and some of their history, but is a new version for the modern world. Freedom City is rich with such characters, and the third edition offers more than a few examples, including new heroes like Centuria, Thunderbolt, and the current Lady Liberty.

Whichever era of Freedom City you choose to play in (and whichever edition of M&M you choose to play it with), I hope you enjoy your time visiting a city that has come to mean a lot to me over the years, and that you truly “make yourself at home” and enjoy the “freedom” of Freedom City to create your own heroic tales of adventure!

Ronin Roundtable: Fantasy AGE Companion Preview

Hey folks, Jack here. It’s already a busy year here and part of it is putting the final touches on our upcoming Fantasy AGE Companion. The book is written, edited, and currently in its final layout and art stages, so I thought it would be cool to present people with a preview of the book.

Moreover, I find the best previews are generally ones that themselves either show the look and feel of product off or can be used as a sort of stand-alone bonus for people. In this case, we went with both. This preview presents one of our new race options for player characters, Beastfolk.

Beastfolk are animal like humanoids who mix humanoid forms with the natural abilities of various animals. Using this option you can play a cat-person or monkey-person or any number of similarly themed characters.

FA_Comp_preview_01_spreads

 

Beastfolk are only one of many new elements in the upcoming Fantasy AGE Companion, including more fantasy races, new arcana, new specializations and talents, rules for both gritty and cinematic play, mass combat, and more!  Some of these editions are adapted from other AGE games for Fantasy AGE but much of it is brand new.

The Fantasy AGE Companion is coming in  March in print and pdf.

Ronin Roundtable: Why Your Big Bad Gets Clowned

I’m excited. Hal’s been showing me art from the Modern AGE Basic Rulebook (that’s the core game, with all the rules you need to play) as the book goes through the production process (yes, it’s been written, playtested, edited and is now going through Adobe sorcery. Meanwhile, I have a team of authors working on the Modern AGE Companion, a book of optional systems for the game.
In case you missed previous posts, Modern AGE is the AGE system game designed for contemporary adventures, covering a period from the dawn of the industrial era to the present day, with options for different genres, psychic powers, and magic. Since the art is coming in, I want to use it as an inspiration to talk a bit about adversaries, not just in this game, but most traditional roleplaying games.

Art by Victor Moreno ~ “They’ve waited a long time to meet her, and you don’t want her keeling over in the first round.”

 

Enter the Devil’s Advocate

I’ll be nerd-biographical: Back in the 80s, I was playing in a house ruled AD&D game (who wasn’t, if they were playing back then at all?) where we slashed and burned our way past the “sweet spot” levels, where, at least by the standards of AD&D, the game remains balanced and easy to run. People often identify this range as levels 4 to 8. We’d hit 15th. Our DM Rick was obviously struggling, since he had to choose between foes with raw, big numbers, which turned combat into a grind, and enemies so complex that he needed to do significant planning ahead of time. We came, we saw, we conquered.

Then one day, things were a little different. Rick told Talid, one of the players, to sit right beside him. We got into the game. A wizard teleported behind us—and behind cover—nuked us with a bunch of fireballs courtesy of an item . . . and teleported out again. Talid chuckled. He was playing that damn wizard. Rick had offloaded the job of running a complex adversary to him. We eventually called him the “Devil’s Advocate,” not for the villain he was playing, but for the position. Just like old-school games had “mappers” and “callers,” we had a titled job for the person who played our enemies, distinct from the GM.

The Players’ Cognitive Advantage

Many, many groups have done this, of course, but I don’t mention this for its novelty, but because it taught me a game design principle which I’ve kept in my pocket ever since. Given the same character and familiarity with the system, a player will almost always use that character more effectively (at least in interacting with rules and challenges) than the GM.
I’ve noticed this in virtually every game I’ve witnessed, played in or run, and the reason is easy to tease out of the story, above. A player usually has just one character to deal with. They can become extremely familiar with that character, develop strategies, and devote their full attention to effective play. The GM doesn’t have that luxury; they’ve got other NPCs to run, an adventure to manage, and a campaign to track—and GMing is, for many people, more tiring simply because of the type of social interaction, where you speak to a group and must keep it focused.
And this power imbalance is often frustrating, especially to math-centric GMs, who can see their NPC should be balanced against the PCs, on paper, but ends up being a pushover. It’s not the math. The players are smarter than you—at least in this instance. They have a cognitive advantage.

Diabolical Advocacy and Streamlining

You can solve this in one of two basic ways. First, you can have a player act as Devil’s Advocate, running villains for you. It’s fun, but in many cases the pendulum swings the other way, and the enemy becomes too powerful to handle.

The other approach is to simplify the procedures for running your enemy. The crudest way to do this is to create adversaries who can only perform one task competently, like beat you up and absorb damage. The disadvantage here is that one-trick enemies can get boring. The variation we use in Modern AGE is to give many adversaries distinct abilities that serve as shorthand for what would otherwise be convoluted sets of abilities, or add flavor that a foe’s basic abilities don’t impart. For example, the Criminal Mastermind adversary has several abilities to stay dangerous without needing to shoot anybody, such as:

  • All According to Plan Stunt: For 3 SP, the mastermind can declare that another NPC present in the scene was working for them all along. That NPC betrays the heroes or produces some information or equipment the mastermind needs right then, and counts as their ally from then on.

(The Criminal Mastermind has other abilities, but you’ll have to grab Modern AGE for the full rundown. I’m not trying to tease, but this post is pretty long. Sorry.)

  • Scot-Free: Whenever the characters would capture, kill, or otherwise defeat the mastermind, the GM may offer the player of the character who bested them 5 SP to use at any point in the future on a relevant test, even if the winning test didn’t roll doubles, in exchange for the mastermind escaping to oppose the heroes another day. (If you’re using the optional Conviction rules, the player gains 1 Conviction instead.)

Both the Devil’s Advocate and streamlining are fine tactics for dealing with PC/NPC imbalance, and which one you use will depend on a bunch of other considerations, such as whether anybody wants to play Devil’s Advocate. Remember that this problem won’t come up if you know the rules better, or can marshal other advantages that compensate for your more diluted attention—and remember that sometimes, the PCs should win. Never snatch victory away when it’s truly deserved.

Ronin Roundtable: Green Ronin in 2018, Part 1

It seems like just yesterday I was wondering if this Y2K bug would indeed wreak global havoc (spoiler alert: it didn’t) while working on plans to start a new game company. Now here we are 18 years later and Green Ronin is still going strong. Although last year was challenging in many ways, we are starting 2018 in a great position. We have a bunch of projects nearing completion, fantastic new games in the works, and great prospects for the future. Today I’m going to talk about our plans for the next six months. I’ll then do another one of these in June to discuss the second half of the year.

The Expanse

Our biggest project this year is The Expanse RPG. We announced that we’d licensed James S.A. Corey’s terrific series of scifi novels last year and since then Steve Kenson has

been leading the team designing the core rulebook. In a few months we will be Kickstarting The Expanse RPG and the rules will actually be done before we even start the crowdfunding campaign. The game uses our popular Adventure Game Engine, as previously seen in our Dragon Age, Fantasy AGE, and Blue Rose RPGs. We’re excited to take AGE into the future! The Expanse RPG will release in August, debuting at GenCon.

Modern AGE and Lazarus

Want a new AGE game before the summertime? We’ve got you covered! Modern AGE launches in the Spring thanks to the hard work of Malcolm Sheppard and his team. The game lets you run games anywhere from the Industrial Revolution to the near future, with or without supernatural powers as you prefer. Concurrent with that we’ll be releasing the World of Lazarus, a campaign setting based on the amazing Lazarus comic by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark. Its compelling setting provides some timely commentary on current political trends and is a great place to tell stories.

Fantasy AGE, Dragon Age, and Blue Rose

Fantasy AGE and Dragon Age fans will be delighted to hear that two long awaited books are nearing release. Jack Norris and his team have finished the Fantasy AGE Companion and Faces of Thedas and both are now in layout. The Fantasy AGE Companion is the first big rules expansion for FAGE, offering up many ways to expand your game. Faces of Thedas brings a plethora of Dragon Age characters from the video games, novels, and comics to life, and adds some great new rules for relationships and romance. Speaking of romance and fantasy, Joe Carriker and his team have been working on the next book for our Blue Rose RPG. Aldis: City of the Blue Rose is a comprehensive sourcebook about the capital of the Kingdom of Aldis.

Mutants & Masterminds

We are kicking off 2018 with a bang with the release of the new edition of Freedom City, the signature setting of M&M since the game’s first edition. It releases to stores this week so now is the time to check out the city that started it all. Later in the Spring we’ll be releasing Rogues Gallery, a new collection of villains for your campaign. Crystal Frasier skillfully shepherded both of the books to completion, though they were begun by her predecessor. The first book she led from start to finish was actually the World of Lazarus but you’ll be seeing more of her vision of Mutants & Masterminds later in the year with the Basic Hero’s Handbook and Superteam Handbook.

Nisaba Press

Last year we hired Jaym Gates to start a fiction line for us, and this year her diligent work will pay off as Nisaba Press takes off. We will be releasing short fiction from our various settings monthly, and releasing two novels a year. The first will be Shadowtide, a Blue Rose novel by Joe Carriker. We’ll be following that up later in the year with our first Mutants & Masterminds novel.

Freeport and Ork

At the start of this article I mentioned the beginnings of Green Ronin back in 2000. The company’s very first releases were Ork! The Roleplaying Game and Death in Freeport, a modest adventure that launched our longest running property. The new edition of Ork is finished and entering layout. It’s great beer and pretzels fun. Return to Freeport is a six-part Pathfinder adventure coming later in the Spring in which Owen K.C. Stephens and his team really captured the feel of the City of Adventure.

SIFRP and Chronicle System

All good things must come to an end and such is the case with our beloved Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying. Our license expired in 2017 so there will be no new material forthcoming. We can continue to sell the books we’ve already released, however, so those will remain available to those who want to adventure in Westeros. Our series of compatible Chronicle System PDFs will also continue, first with Desert Threats, a new collection of creatures. Some of the rules material from our last planned SIFRP book, the Westeros Player’s Companion, will be released under the Chronicle System brand with the Westeros specific content removed.

To the Future!

As you can see, we’ve got an action packed six months ahead of us. Later in the year we’ve got excitement like the Sentinels of Earth-Prime card game and the Lost Citadel campaign setting for D&D 5E. Thanks for your continued support! We really do appreciate it. Here’s to some great gaming in 2018!

Ronin Roundtable: Learning to Boss

One of the biggest challenges in transitioning from a freelancer or an employee to a business owner and boss over the last nearly 18 years of Green Ronin’s life has been, for me at least, figuring out what an effective “boss” looks like. In some ways, it’s been similar to figuring out how to be a reasonable parent, which I felt I was getting a handle on just about the time my girl left for college. My initial goals were bare bones: don’t make the mistakes your worst bosses made, don’t take people for granted, uphold your end of the bargain, have your people’s backs and set them up for success even in trying situations. Goals, yes, the basest of goals, but the strategies to achieve those goals were harder to come by, especially having had a distinct lack of such leadership in my own working life. I’d worked for bosses who made employees with pneumonia come to work under threat of losing their job if they didn’t, bosses who were greedy and racist and crass and expected me to shut my mouth and even lie to protect them or lose my minimum wage position, bosses who were verbally abusive, who bent and broke labor laws, who ruled through threats and intimidation, who failed to support their underlings and readily offered them up as scapegoats when things inevitably went wrong. Knowing you don’t want to do those things isn’t the same as knowing how to effectively do things differently.

When Green Ronin was just a fledgling project, we had a small number of people and projects to consider. We worked with people we already knew well on a handful of projects and the whole endeavor was relatively forgiving of our inexperience and our missteps. Even as the company’s reputation grew, we remained a small and tight-knit group of “regulars” and what we lacked in the way of a central office and corporate buzzwords, we made up for in flexibility and a sense of camaraderie, that we were all “in it together.” Our guiding principle became to hire people who were good at what they did and let them do it… which is, fundamentally, still something I believe in but which also failed to provide guidance in some important ways. We’ve worked with a few folks in the past who “didn’t fit” with this freewheeling management style and it took more self-reflection than it should have to realize that was a failure of management as much as any issues of personality conflict or “poor fit” on behalf of the person doing the work.

 

In recent years, Green Ronin has enjoyed some spectacular (and satisfying) successes and we have been able to grow as a company and expand on our offerings in ways we’d never really come close to before. For the first time in company history, I have personally been divesting myself of responsibilities instead of taking on more. We have brought in new blood, people we haven’t known for years in advance of working with them, people with years of experiences unlike our own who have brought wonderful, fresh attitudes and perspectives. We have been made so much better and stronger from their contributions. We have also entered yet another phase of growth and responsibility, now that we’re not just a core of 4 (or 6 or 8…) people who know each other well and have deep and affectionate personal bonds in addition to our professional associations.

 

Many of us who make up the core of Green Ronin are hardcore introverts, shy sometimes, conflict averse sometimes, of a practical “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude towards things…especially because many of us feel passionately that there ARE “broke” things out there that need attention. Like the cobbler’s children going without shoes, I suppose. We never had a policy on how we handle having to take significant time off on a project for family emergencies (such as prolonged illness) because, well, it had never come up…even while we supported the existence of those policies and protections in the wider world. We didn’t have extensive policies around convention volunteers because we’d only attracted close friends and well-known-to-us volunteers for very small efforts until we hired someone to oversee those and purposely grow those programs recently. We didn’t have a “training policy” because, well, we’d only ever hired people who were already experts and aside from asking them to be familiar with a new rules set, there wasn’t much to “train” them on.

 

In retrospect, I know there are many businesses that would have and did have such policies and procedures in place in formal ways before they were ever needed. Perhaps due to my upbringing, my feelings had always been that it was not only unnecessary but possibly wasteful and definitely presumptuous to address things that did not need addressing. That someone like me anticipating having a big enough business to justify “training policies” was putting on airs, getting above my station, or bragging (as a child might claim they were going to be a famous author when they grew up and have someone to serve them tea, just you wait). Human as those feelings may be, they don’t represent the actions of a good boss… at least not the kind of boss I feel a responsibility to be.

 

Learning to be a better boss has not been something that comes easily or naturally to me. It very much goes hand in hand with my observations last year that this industry lacks mentorship, at least in any structured fashion. While I have, I hope, been a reasonably good and supportive employer on a one-to-one level with the people who have come to work with Green Ronin over the years, I’m still learning to be better, more effective, more efficient and to provide both a protective and predictable working environment. I have many things I want to accomplish with this company and with the wonderful and patient people who have joined us on our projects thus far. As Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.” Learning to boss better is my goal for 2018.

Ronin Roundtable: Welcome to Freedom City!

Whether visiting for the history and nightlife, or moving to Freedom City for its thriving tech or construction industries, you’ve made the right decision to embrace the city of heroes! And now Freedom City is easier to visit with the print edition of Freedom City 3rd Edition making its way to retailers.

Take a peek at the Visitors’ Guide to Freedom City to get a glimpse of how Freedonians see themselves… Or at least how Mayor Summers’ assistant, Ed, sees the city…

Ronin Roundtable: Charting the Expanse

As you may well have heard by now, Green Ronin Publishing has licensed The Expanse science fiction novels by James S.A. Corey to produce The Expanse Roleplaying Game, an AGE System game set in the world of the popular series (the seventh novel, Persepolis Rising, was released on December 5th, in fact). The Expanse is one of a number of different AGE System products we’re working on, including Modern AGE, the modern action-adventure equivalent of our Fantasy AGE rulebook, and Lazarus, based on the comic book series created by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark (soon to become a television series as well). Just how are we handling The Expanse in relation to what has come before with the AGE System and what is currently in the works?

Green Ronin to Produce The Expanse RPG

First and foremost, The Expanse is a stand-alone game. It will share a common system with other games, making it easy for AGE System veterans to pick it up. The core book will be self-contained and all that you need to get started playing your Expanse series, much the same way Blue Rose is a stand-alone game, even while it shares systems in common with Fantasy AGE.

Second, while The Expanse uses most of the common elements of the AGE System, our design philosophy has always been to tailor the system to suit the setting and story rather than the other way around, so the game will feature elements particular to The Expanse novels, setting, and style, such as replacing the Health score with a Fortune score, measuring more of a character’s luck in terms of staying alive in a fight or other dangerous situation. A twist on Fortune is you can spend it on things other than damage, but you run the risk of not having as much of it when you’re attacked or encounter other hazards. Likewise, the spending of Fortune affects “the Churn,” an in-game measure of how perilous and complicated things are: Eventually, the Churn can boil over and—as fans of The Expanse novels know—things can get really complicated really fast.

Third and final for this preview, The Expanse core book starts out with a setting in the nearly year-and-a-half between the events of the first novel, Leviathan Wakes, and the second, Caliban’s War. It is after a significant shake-up in the solar system, when major events are beginning to portend even larger changes in the future. It provides us—and your Expanse game—with a convenient starting point without the need to detail every event in the entire series. Plus it allows you (and us) to follow along with the series as major events continue to unfold. You can play in parallel to the events of the novels (it’s a big universe, after all, with a lot going on) or put your own characters into the roles of the crew of the Rocinante in some of the later stories of the series.

We’re still in the early stages of development, working with initial drafts of the text for The Expanse core book, so we’ll have more previews and news for you as things develop. For now, our goal is to ensure your own stories in The Expanse are exciting, fast-paced, and character-driven, with plenty of complications and a universe where even the sky isn’t a limit for very long.