Ronin Roundtable: Freeport in Space

While Freeport City of Adventure was written specifically to work with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, Freeport has a history with class- & level-based RPGs with a core d20 mechanic that predates Pathfinder. Freeport has always been a location that’s easily adapted to new game systems and settings, with much of the core information it provides (such as maps, factions, politics, and adventure seeds) are useful to a GM building a campaign or adventure regardless of the game system used.

Thus with the recent release of the Starfinder Core Rulebook, a new game and new setting built off the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and advancing its campaign world thousands of years in the future, it seems a perfect time to discuss how Freeport City of Adventure (and the Freeport Bestiary) can be adapted to spacefaring campaigns!

 

Conceptual Adaptations

While it may seem that a sailing-ship port doesn’t have a lot of relevance to a science-fantasy game, it’s actually not at all difficult to adapt Freeport to a Starfinder Roleplaying Game setting. The simplest way is to leave it on its island, and make it a major starport in a system that is along a significant trade route but far from any major government within your campaign. This allows the layout to be largely unchanged (starships might even dock in the water, as a cheap alternative to expensive high-tech landing pads), and keeps all its internal politics intact. All mentions of ships are simple adapted to starships, and local groups and NPCs are updated to their high-tech equivalents. The city’s factions, history, and even many of its adventures can be easily translated to science-fantasy equivalents.

 

Though it takes more work, Freeport can also be adapted to be an independent spaceport free of any planetary body. It can be placed on an asteroid with an environmental field keeping air in (again allowing the existing map to be used), or even turned into a massive (potentially mobile) space station. For this last option you’d likely need to create a new map (or accept a really oddly-shaped space station), but the scores of shops, temples, homes, and buildings in Freeport can be adapted largely unchanged by simply assuming their technological base (and goods, and NPCs) are updated to appropriate levels.

Obviously rather than flintlock-carrying, peg-leg bearing sea pirates, this updated Freeport is an open base of operations for space pirates. Some may cling to ancient fashions and traditions (eyepatches strapped on even over cybernetic eye enhancements), but in generally their technology and appearance changes to match the campaign setting. However, ship names, rivalries, debts, rumors, and rough parts of town remain conceptually the same whether your pirates and their home sport flintlocks or plasma pistols. Especially given how vast an entire galaxy of adventure is, having a fleshed-out set of goals, organizations, and names is extremely useful, even if you need to update the gear and stat blocks of anyone the PCs decide to fight with.

Finally, although it’s not as useful in most science-fantasy campaigns, Freeport can be dropped into a science-fantasy game largely unchanged. In this case it remains a low-tech sailing ship port, on a world with much less advanced science than a typical Starfinder Roleplaying Game setting. This makes the most sense if you want your high-tech PCs to have at least one low-tech world they interact with. Freeport might be on a planet where advanced technology doesn’t function for some reason, or under a powerful protectorate that ensures its culture isn’t irreparably altered by spacefaring visitors. Or it could be a world that is perfectly well aware of lasers and starships, and happy to trade local materials for such advanced tech, but simply lacks the industrial base to recreate circuit boards and transistors even when such things fall into local hands.

 

Adapting NPC Stat Blocks

While much of the material in Freeport City of Adventure can be updated to a far future setting with nothing more than the flip of a conceptual switch, the numerous named and generic NPCs are more useful if you can use them in your campaign when needed. In general, you can convert an NPC’s stat block using the same process as converting a monster stat block using the guidelines in Chapter 13 of the Starfinder Core Rulebook. This will tell you what skills to change, how to create a target’s EAC and KAC, how to generate Stamina Points, and so on. Most of the conversions are simple enough they take at most a minute or two, and you can actually ignore most of them and just use any appropriate-sounding skill for science-fantasy skill checks (it doesn’t really matter if you use Diplomacy as a Computers check, if you have an NPC you want to be good at computers, and you can simple use half an NPC’s hp as Stamina and half as Hit Points and give them all 3 resolve Points). The end result may not be exactly what a Starfinder Roleplaying Game npc of the same level would have, but it’s close enough.

Equipment is a little trickier—but only a little. You can either just change what an NPC’s equipment looks like (and change reload needs from once per attack to one per 10 attacks) and allow the NPC to attack multiple times based on iterative attacks and two-weapon fighting and similar options, or you can upgrade the NPC to level-appropriate weapons from the Starfinder Core Rulebook, and add the NPC’S CR to the damage.

 

Adapting Monsters

The Freeport Bestiary has a huge number of monsters that players won’t be expecting, making it a great resource for populating strange planets, new worlds, and the drifting hulks of abandoned starships. Altering a monster’s stat block is largely the same process as adapting an NPC stat block. However, a monster may need some additional changes made to make sense in a Star-Freeport setting.

For example, aquatic creatures you would normally encounter at sea should either be updated to exist in a wide range of environments (including flying in gas giant planets, and even travelling through the void of space), or be set up as creatures that might sneak onto a ship, be transported by PCs (perhaps as part of a space menagerie) so they can escape and cause havoc, or be adjusted to be planar creatures able to travel through realities (and possible be encountered during hyperspace travel). The important part is to make sure PCs don’t have to go to a planetary body of water to encounter them. Similarly monsters tied to specific terrain types, be that jungles or underground caverns, should be liberally re-envisioned to dwell in fungal forests, asteroid interiors, or the crypt-worlds of necromancer robots, as needed to fit the campaign. Constructs may be given the technological subtype to represent various robots, or left as magical creatures powered purely by eldritch forces.

Other monsters can simply be moved to locations the plot sends PCs to. It doesn’t much matter if an ancient ruined temple is a remnant of a long-lost serpent-folk empire on one world, or part of a reptilian civilization that spanned a thousand star systems, if it’s an adventure site it needs demonic traps, undead lurkers, constructed guardians, and inhuman intelligences with their own reasons for breaking in.

 

Exploration is About the Unexpected

The very fact most players won’t think of Freeport material as a natural fit for a science-fantasy game means they won’t see it coming when Mr. Wednesday has a task for them involving tracking down the privateer starship Morgenstern, or offers to vacate their gambling debts if they’ll deal with a bloathsome that’s settled on an asteroid with valuable mining concerns on it.

Ronin Roundtable: Upcoming Releases!

Well that was a GenCon for the books! Absolute mayhem at our booth, with folks lining up to grab our new releases. The announcement of the Expanse RPG license. New opportunities and incredible partnerships in the offing. It was amazing and we have you to thank for it. 17 years in business and we are stronger than ever before. Seriously, thank you!

We’ll be taking a couple of days to recover but then it’s back to work on our next batch of books. This seems an opportune time to update you on our releases for the next six months. We’ve got a lot going on so let’s get to it!

RPG Releases

Our next book will be the new edition of Freedom City for Mutants & Masterminds. We’ve been working on this for a long time and the hour is finally nigh! This is the original setting for the game, the metropolis that birthed the Earth-Prime setting. And at 320 pages it’s as mighty as Captain Thunder! Look for Freedom City in October.

November is a triple threat. We’ve got another Mutants & Masterminds book, Rogues Gallery. This was a PDF series we did for the last couple of years. The book collects all the villains from that and adds some new ones as well. If you are looking for foes for your PCs to tangle with, Rogue Gallery has you covered. Next up is the Fantasy AGE Companion, the first major rules expansion for the game. It adds new, fun material for almost every aspect of the game. There are new talents, specializations, arcana, and spells, as well as rules for chases, relationships, organizations, mass combat, and more! Finally in November we’ve got the second edition of Ork! The Roleplaying Game. This was Green Ronin’s very first release 17 years ago. Ork is a beer and pretzels RPG, great for one shots or when you want a lighter hearted game. Show those evil Squishymen who’s the boss!

 

We also hope to get Faces of Thedas, the next Dragon Age book, out before Xmas. The final text for that is up with BioWare for approval. Once we get that signed off on, we’ll be able to slot it into a month for release. Watch our social media feed for more on Faces of Thedas in the coming months.

 

As you can see, we’ve got quite a lot planned for the rest of 2017. For this reason we decided to move Modern AGE and the World of Lazarus from their original November release date to January. This gives us more time to develop the books, and lets us start 2018 with a bang. Modern AGE takes the Adventure Game Engine to Earth, letting you run games anytime from the Industrial Revolution to the near future. World of Lazarus, the game’s first support book, lets you play in the setting of Greg Rucka’s awesome comic. If you haven’t read Lazarus before, do yourself a favor and check it out. It’s seriously great.

In February we’ve got two more releases: Mutants & Masterminds Basic Hero’s Handbook and Return to Freeport. The Basic Hero’s Handbook is both an entry point for those new to Mutants & Masterminds and a useful table reference for anyone playing the game. If you’ve been interested in M&M but looking for an easier way to learn the game, the Basic Hero’s Handbook is for you. Return to Freeport is a six-part adventure for the City of Adventure. It’s the first new adventure content we’ve done for Freeport in some years, and it’s designed for a Pathfinder RPG campaign that’ll take you from levels 1-11. At nearly 200 pages in length, Return to Freeport packs in a lot of adventure!

Nisaba Press

A few months ago we announced that we were adding fiction to our lineup and that we had hired Jaym Gates to lead that effort. Our fiction imprint is called Nisaba Press and the Offerings sampler we released at GenCon and online last week gave you the first taste of what we’ve got cooking. We’ll be publishing short fiction monthly and novels and short story collections in print. In November we’ll be publishing Tales of the Lost Citadel, an anthology of stories set in the world of our upcoming Fifth Edition setting that we Kickstarted this summer. Then in January we’ll have our first Blue Rose novel, Shadowtide, by Joseph Carriker. Joe has also become line developer for the Blue Rose RPG, so he’s all up in Aldea!

More to Come

So that’s the overview of what’s coming in the next six months. We have our yearly planning summit next month and we’ll be making plans for the rest of 2018 and beyond. We’ve already got some awesome stuff in the works, like the Sentinels of Earth-Prime card game and the Expanse RPG. I’ll be back early next year to talk about more of our plans. Game on!

Ronin Roundtable: Covering the Modern AGE

Last time I was here, I introduced Modern AGE, the contemporary era implementation of Green Ronin’s Adventure Game Engine. Look on this very page, and you’ll see the cover. I’m not going to call it the absolute, final article–fine tuning the look is Hal’s business–but this is darn close. I’m going to riff on the cover to tell you a bit more about what to expect.

Who’s on That Rooftop?

Like many games, Modern AGE features iconic characters we use for examples of play, who indicate the kinds of characters you can build and advance. Early in outlining, I designed each iconic with input from a writer, making it their character–you’ll see the writers’ names pop up as example players (Meghan Fitzgerald is our “iconic GM” in these examples). Let’s look at who the characters are, and what they tell you about the game.

They Know What to Say

On the far left, Sean checks their phone. “Played” by Howard Ingham, Sean’s a socially focused character, and even though we don’t have set character sheets for iconics like them, they’re bound to have a high Communication score, along with focuses supporting social interaction. Modern AGE includes social influence and connection rules in its core. First off, we present a selection of attitudes an encountered NPC might have, and rules for gradually shifting an attitude in a direction conducive to a character’s desires. But this is an AGE game, so we’ve also baked in an option to get things done with one roll. If you’re like me, there are times you want to play through developing a relationship, and times where you want to know whether an NPC will help or hinder a hero right away. The rules let you do both.

Sean might also draw on a Relationship with an NPC, or Membership in an organization–we have rules for both, evolved from predecessors in Blue Rose. Sean might have the Intrigue talent to draw information out of connections, and a specialization like Executive or Socialite that makes it easy to draw on social ties.

He Shoots

Crouched in the middle, Brian McLaughlin is an ex-military operative, “played” by yours truly. Brian probably has a character Background or Profession rooted in military affairs, and a Drive that motivates him to stay armed, and ready for action. Modern AGE Drives provide a capstone benefit at character creation, bundled into a reason to say “yes” to engaging with a campaign’s stories. Brian’s focus is on ranged combat, so guns, bullets, and how to deal with them are obviously important to him. That means Brian picked armor with a high rating against ballistic damage. In Modern AGE, we split damage into impact damage, inflicted by melee weapons, ballistic damage, delivered by firearms, and armor-piercing penetrating damage. Ancient armor doesn’t protect against ballistic attacks; modern armor does. Almost nothing resists penetrating damage.

Brian may have the Rifle Style focus, and perhaps a specialization in Sniper or Gunfighter, which can make him a formidable opponent even when his targets have armored up. But much depends on the game’s mode, our term for what rules might be in play to support a genre. All characters have a resistance to damage called Toughness, but in the gritty game mode, it only protects against mild blunt force trauma. In pulpy and cinematic modes, however, one of Brian’s targets might shrug a shot off, and keep in coming.

She Hits Hard

Over to Brian’s right is Amy Wilson, “played” by Matthew Dawkins. She’s trained and motivated to deal with anyone getting too close for comfort. Amy’s a martial artist and melee weapons expert. Matthew wrote the equipment section, and knows the sort of blades, bludgeons and other weapons she might acquire. AGE games aren’t equipment focused, so each weapon represents a general category. Furthermore, note that with no classes, we’ve dropped the penalty for not being trained with a weapon, but since Amy is probably trained in multiple armed and unarmed fighting style talents and the Martial Artist specialization, don’t expect to be on an even footing.

One of the organizational changes we’ve made in Modern AGE will affect how Matthew plays Amy. In other AGE games, we presented one big list of combat stunts; in Modern AGE we have more stunts, but they’re split into smaller lists of stunts linked to specific actions (with some that fit any action, and advice that there is wiggle room). Some stunts are listed as “core,” meaning that as low-cost options that are easy to describe, they can be your first choice, to avoid decision paralysis at the table. We hope that this combined with short, focused stunt lists makes picking stunts easier. We’ve done the same for non-combat stunts as well.

Beyond the Rooftop

So that’s who’s on the cover. What are they doing on that rooftop? What city are they in? (And who are the iconics I haven’t introduced yet, including the one who leads into chatting about the investigation rules?) Modern AGE doesn’t have a default setting, so it’s up to you, though the World of Lazarus, coming out at the same time as a supplement, provides immediate possibilities. If you want to know more, your best bet is to come visit our booth at Gencon–we’re Exhibitor #1321–or visit the “What’s New With Green Ronin Publishing!” panel at noon on Saturday.

Freebooters Ahoy! The Changing of the Guard.

It is a sad announcement for me to make, but I’ve recently flown the coop and am no longer managing the Freebooter Volunteer GM Program, nor the Events coordination for Gen Con and other shows. I resigned a bit ago, but we all felt like it was good to say goodbye to the community and offer a very hale welcome to Veronica Templar, your new Events/Freebooter Manager!

I’ve been very lucky to be working with Team Ronin these years, and it’s been a great pleasure to coordinate events with so many great volunteers. Green Ronin couldn’t be happier with the quality of volunteers, both some of our long standing Freebooters and with so many new folks. You’re what makes all the organizing such a pleasure.

For my team, I will miss you all greatly. You’ve been my biggest supporters, friends, and I love the hell out of you all. Luckily, most of you are in my local area, so I will get to see you for games and shenanigans. I cannot thank you all enough for the opportunities you’ve given me.

Where am I going? Catan Studio! I accepted a position managing the Organized Play program. You’ll still see me at shows, but you’ll need come to the Catan Event Hall to say hello! I’ll be busy running the tournaments and overseeing events, but I am always happy to take a moment to catch up and hear about your games.

I’m also still running OrcaCon, the inclusive tabletop games convention, outside Seattle. It’s the Unofficial Green Ronin Convention, and you’ll find most of the staff there each year. We’d love to see some of you come run games for Green Ronin Publishing.

So, things aren’t all sad around here, I’d like to tell you about Veronica! She is amazing and I am so excited she is on board to organize events and Freebooters. She’ll be growing the Freebooter Program, and we’ll be looking for more Freebooters at shows Green Ronin Publishing will be attending. You can read more information on the Freebooter Volunteer Info Page, and the team will be updating it as they start reaching out per show. So, if you haven’t made it to a Gen Con, maybe you can support Origins, UK Games Expo, Norwescon, OrcaCon, and more!

Veronica is a great organizer and has a very kind heart. I hope you give her the same love and enthusiasm you’ve shown me. And patience, as she learns her new role! If you’re interested in signing up as a Freebooter, hop over to that Info Page and fill out the form. She’ll be getting back to folks as we start booking the shows.

Thanks again for the years of support, not just from our Community, but from the Green Ronin Publishing Team. Go forth and be amazing!

Ronin Roundtable: Walking the Royal Road, Part One: Friends & Loved Ones

Hello and welcome to Walking the Royal Road, what I hope to be an ongoing series on using the Tarot (or Royal Road, in Aldean parlance) in Blue Rose AGE games.

The Tarot has been used in roleplaying games for quite a long time, in a variety of contexts, and with good reason. Reading and deciphering the Tarot is less a matter of divination as it is storytelling—each card carries an intrinsic meaning (and sometimes a second meaning when the card appears inverted) that can serve as a building block for a larger narrative. When multiple cards are laid out, with each card position also having a meaning, it is possible to use them to build a small story of some kind, through the language of symbolism and the very human act of pulling disparate elements into a larger narrative.

The Blue Rose AGE core book already suggests a use of the Royal Road: in the establishment of a character’s Calling, Destiny, and Fate. There are also some suggestions for using tarot in Chapter Ten (p. 313, in the section “Walking the Royal Road,” where the title for this series comes from). This series of articles is going to suggest some additional uses for them.

The cards we use in these articles are the Shadowscapes Tarot, with art by the amazing Stephanie Pui-Mun Law, whose art has graced the covers of Blue Rose books throughout the game’s history.

Friends & Loved Ones

Today’s article is going to offer some additional character building. Romantic fantasy, as a genre, focuses not just on magic and feats of derring-do, but also the relationships formed by the characters. Characters do amazing things for love, for friendship, and for hate, and these kinds of motivators should always play into games of romantic fantasy, to some degree.

In order to have these kinds of motivations, though, player characters need some relationships in place. This system is intended to augment the Relationships mechanics, as found on p. 60 of the Blue Rose core rulebook. Where that system helps define how strongly heroes feel about other characters, this one will help with the brainstorming of figuring out who they are.

 

The Spread

The spread for this method is a simple three-card spread for each character.

The Role Card indicates in what capacity the PC knows the character in question. Take a look at the suit (pentacles, cups, wands, swords, or Major Arcana).

  • Pentacles: The person is someone you know in a professional capacity.
  • Cups: The person is someone who know familially, either a member of your family, or someone you met through a family member.
  • Wands: The person is someone you met in a social capacity, at a party or festival, tavern or theater.
  • Swords: The person is someone you know from a training or learning endeavor: a fellow apprentice, or someone you met in schooling of some kind.
  • Major Arcana: You met this person in some extraordinary capacity. Use the card itself as an inspiration: perhaps you met the Chariot while traveling, or you met the Tower during a terrible disaster of some kind.

The Personality Card indicates what this person is like. Use the tables for Calling, Destiny, and Fate in the Blue Rose core rulebook as a starting place. Note that this card does not indicate this character’s Calling, Destiny, or Fate—it’s simply what their outward-facing personality is like. There are always depths beneath this surface.

The Relationship Card indicates what your relationship with this person is like. The meaning of the card should be applied to this in some capacity. A Six of Wands suggests recognition of success, so perhaps this person looks up to you for your heroism; in contrast, the Page of Swords is about having enthusiasm but needing more information, so this card in the Relationship space suggests that the person looks to you as a source of information, or is themselves such a source for you.

 



Example

In the image, we have laid out some cards in the Friends & Loved Ones Spread.

Role: The Magician. We know this person because of magic, clearly. They might be an adept of some kind, or if we’re playing an adept or other talented character, perhaps we aided them with our own arcane arts.

Personality: The Star. Consulting the Callings table on p. 57 of Blue Rose, we see that this card represents “Artistic Mastery.” This character seems to be an artist to everyone they know, and not just a dabbler, either, but someone who really works to master their craft and achieve their vision.

Relationship: Seven of Wands. One of the typical meanings for the Seven of Wands is both aggression and defiance. In the Relationships space, this suggest someone whose closeness to the player character is either defiance—or, it’s someone who maintains the relationship out of defiance.

Conclusion

Here is just one example of a Narrator character generated using the spread above. It’s far from the only one, to say nothing of the variety possible from other card results entirely!

Godia Tulry: The Wishful Scrivener. We met Godia in the way she tends to meet new people—when she barged right up to us to ask us about our experiences and theories about the arcane. The other adepts roll their eyes and make themselves scarce when she shows up, because she’ll take up every bit of your time, if you let her. Despite their warnings, though, we find her delightful. She’s a dedicated magical chronicler, and we’re good enough friends that she has shyly confided that she wants more than anything to wield magic herself some day, but she just doesn’t have the Talent for it. Still, she is very sweet, loves when we use magic around her, and whipcrack sharp when it comes to arcane theory and history.

In the above example, magic is at the center of the friendship between Godia and the player’s character, per the Role card showing the Magician. Her insistent personality around her craft we derive from the Personality card showing the Star, and we’ve interpreted the defiance in the relationship, per the Relationship card showing the Seven of Wands, as coming from others who don’t understand the friendship.

 

Thanks: To Stephanie Pui-Mun Law for her amazing Shadowscapes tarot, which we use in this article. Her deck can be purchased off of Amazon here.

Ronin Roundtable: The Six of Swords

 

The Adventure Gaming Engine (AGE System) edition of Blue Rose: The Roleplaying Game of Romantic Fantasy is now in the hands of backers of the Kickstarter and available through distribution in fine game stores everywhere. As readers digest the contents of that sizable book, those looking to run a new Blue Rose game of their own need only one additional resource: Adventures! The Blue Rose book provides a sample adventure (“The Shadows of Tanglewood” by Steven Jones) and a wealth of adventure hooks and ideas, but for an ongoing series, Narrators are going to want additional adventure resources. Fortunately, we’ve anticipated their needs.

The new Six of Swords adventure anthology offers a set of six adventures for Blue Rose, complete stories including important characters, setting information, and all of the material a Narrator needs to run them.

  • The Mistress of Gloamhale Manor pits the heroes against the ghostly inhabitants of a haunted mansion in a search for the truth.
  • The Sixth Beast offers an opportunity to prevent war between factions in an outlying region of Aldis.
  • The Night Market sends the envoys into the dark depths of the Veran Marsh and the heart of the criminal underworld to recover a valuable arcane artifact.
  • A Harvest of Masks begins with mysterious abductions from Aldin villages near the wilderness of the Pavin Weald. Who are the masked abductors and what do they want?
  • Storms Over Kamala finds the heroes out on the wild Plains of Rezea to challenge the forces that have claimed a witch’s ancient homeland.
  • A Wanton Curse is set at a high society masked ball in a castle on Gravihain Eve, the Aldin equivalent of Halloween. What dark secrets are some of the guests concealing?

Most of the adventures are pitched toward low-level heroes, working from 1st level up through the upper low levels. The last couple adventures are intended for mid- and high-level heroes, both for Narrators who want to start out with a higher level game, and to offer examples of such adventures for a series as it grows and develops. Each adventure should be good for multiple sessions of game play, and most feature mysteries and character interaction alongside action and combat encounters.

The adventures cover a wide range of locations and styles, from the depths of the Veran Marsh to the open grasslands of the Plains of Rezea and the deep woodlands of northern Aldis. Adversaries range from criminal syndicates to corrupt sorcerers, vengeful spirits, and terrible unliving creatures like vampires.

We think this format provides a nice combination of adventures usable right out of the book and varied locations and plots. If Six of Swords does well, it may be a model for future Blue Rose adventure collections. We’re looking forward to offering other adventures and source material for the Romantic Fantasy role playing game and the fantastic world of Aldea.

GenCon Memories

GenCon is coming up next month and it’s a big one: the 50th anniversary! We will, of course, have a booth (#1321) and we’ll be debuting the Critical Role: Tal’Dorei Campaign Setting there (pre-orders for which started today). GenCon is doing a lot of cool stuff to celebrate the anniversary, including a recreation of Lake Geneva’s Horticultural Hall, site of the very first GenCon. There will also be a museum with all sorts of artifacts from the history of the hobby, including a couple of Green Ronin books. I already wish I was going to have more time to check all that stuff out!

The anniversary has, of course, made me think about my own history with the show. I first went to GenCon in 1989, when I was in college. I didn’t know anyone there. I went out by myself, had an amazing time, and convinced some friends to come back with me the following year. I’ve never missed a GenCon since. In 1993 it started to turn into work, as I began to pursue a career as a freelance game designer that eventually lead to me becoming a publisher. For a long time now the focus of the con has been work and I wouldn’t give up that up, but I do look back on those first five GenCons with much fondness.

Playing Warhammer Fantasy Battle at GenCon, 1990

In those days I came to play and I did not mess around. I would usually play in three 4-hour events per day. I would try to have one block free so I could get food and hit the dealers hall, but sometimes the events would line up so that I’d play for 12 hours straight. Some of the bigger miniatures game I played would be 8 hours by themselves! I didn’t mind. Quite the opposite! I was hungry for it, and I developed strategies to maximize my fun. At the time, I worked at an old school Italian coffee store in New York City. To save money and also time, I began bringing ground coffee, filters, and an electric kettle with me from home. I’d make a big thermos of coffee in the morning and drink it all day. One year, when I could barely afford a plane ticket, I brought a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter and that was most of my meals that week.

I hear folks complain about the various online registration systems in use at conventions today and all I can think about is fax machines. Back then you’d get a program book in the mail ahead of time and a sheet where you’d fill in your requested games and some alternates. On a specified day, you would fax it to TSR’s headquarters. Or try to anyway because thousands of other people were jamming up the fax lines at the same time. I was working a different job one year and one my regular duties was faxing various documents. Come registration day, I took my sign-up sheet, told my boss I had to make a fax for our department, and then spent an hour and a half in the basement trying to get it to go through! I pity the poor TSR staffers who had to hand collate all those sheets and fill the games. Closer to the con you’d get an envelope with printed tickets for your events. You often didn’t get all the games you wanted, so they’d fill out your order with generic tickets. On site, they had a giant board where the tickets would hang from rows and rows of hooks. You could wait in line and try to get into more events there. As you got the front, you could actually figure out which events still had tickets left by looking at the code numbers under the hooks that weren’t empty.

In this era GenCon was in Milwaukee. I don’t know if this is still the case but the downtown often smelled like chocolate because there was a factory there. Fun fact, it’s where noted cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer used to work! Every year there was a rush on the Hotel Wisconsin because it was cheap (like $64 a night) and close to the convention center. There was a diner on the ground floor where we’d get breakfast some mornings. I remember tying to order a bagel there and the staff had no idea what I was talking about. This was a confusing experience for a New Yorker. It did not help that was a vegetarian at the time. Let’s just say the options for non-meat eaters in Milwaukee in the early 90s were not plentiful. There was a terrible sports bar called Major Goolsby’s across from the convention center and I once ordered what they called a Wisconsin cheese sandwich there. Seemed safe enough. Wisconsin! Cheese! Why, there’s even a cheese museum on the highway between Chicago and Milwaukee. I get my food and it is a hamburger bun with one slice of American cheese, one piece of lettuce, and one slice of tomato. Sad vegetarian was sad.

But hey, no one goes to GenCon for the cuisine. I was playing tons of games and meeting new people every year. I loved the dealers hall then because the internet was barely a thing and there was so much gaming stuff I’d never see anywhere else but there. Finding that game I’d only heard about or scoring something long out of print felt like victories. The auction was great for that and I spent a lot of time between games there.

After my first GenCon experiences, I decided I wanted to start running games myself. Ars Magica was my favorite RPG then, so I began to run a two round ArM tournament. The characters and their covenant persisted year to year and I built on stories that played out in the finals. I did that for four years and it was a useful bridge between just being a fan and starting a career as a game designer. The things I learned playing and running games, and the people I met and the contacts I made, all played a role in me taking that leap. For these reasons and so many more, GenCon will always be special to me. So thanks, GenCon! Happy 50th and here’s to 50 more!

Ronin Roundtable: The Lost Citadel: Creating the First Map

Today’s RRT is by guest artist Andrew Law, who decided to share some insight into the process of creating his incredible map artwork for The Lost Citadel! Our Kickstarter has just one week left, if you’re a fan of 5th edition, you should really do yourself a favor and check it out now!

 


 

I’ve created hundreds of images during my professional career as a cartographer, but none excite and terrify more than the opening act: drafting the first map for a new setting.

Y’see, the first map is special. It sets the tone and mood for everything that comes after. It will be referenced, and re-referenced many times over by both the creators of the setting and the consumers, so it stands as an oft-trod gateway into the new world that many will come to know and love.

In short, I’m not just creating a map, I’m also introducing an entire setting with a single image.

No pressure, then.

Fortunately for me, The Lost Citadel has a wonderfully detailed writers’ bible that brings the setting, for all the Dead haunt its every corner, alive. So, there was already a wealth of detail to inspire me. All I had to do was draw it.

With all that in mind, I prepared to draft the first map. To begin, I referred to the design brief and did my best to conceive of something that would fully represent as much of The Lost Citadel as possible.

So, what did I have to create?

 

The Brief

My brief boiled down to three basic requirements:

1) Create a vertical/portrait map with the same dimensions as the Freeport city poster.

2) Depict the outer city of Redoubt, some buildings of the inner city, and point to other important locations off-map.

3) The style should draw from various Middle Ages to Renaissance sources from East to West, but match none exactly, to best represent the artistic style of the current inhabitants of Redoubt.

That all sounded good. In addition, I worked with a fourth design goal of my own in mind, to help channel my creativity:

4) The map will illustrate some of the setting’s core concepts and historical details, in order support the existing world-building and introduce readers to The Lost Citadel.

And, now knowing what was required, I set to work.

Composition

To begin, I first sketched the area to be mapped. It was immediately obvious the city, plus the volcano behind it, would fill a broadly squarish area. This being the case, I’d need extra material to fill the top and bottom of the final image.

The bottom section was easy to resolve — a nice big title plate emblazoned with something like ‘THE CITY OF REDOUBT’ would likely do, perhaps illuminated with some in-game detail — but the top was a little more problematic. What should go there?

 

To answer, I had a good think about the setting, and what would allow me to add some of the details from the writers’ bible directly to the map. Eventually, I went with what I felt was the obvious answer: I decided to continue the map up into the sky, providing an opportunity to draw some of the setting’s celestial details as well as its terrestrial.

So, with that decided, I sketched it all out then began work on the detail.

Map in the Middle

After completing the preliminary sketches, I developed the central area of the image: the map of the city, the volcano, and the extras surrounding these.

The map itself was created in a simple style reminiscent of many Middle Age maps from the East and West, but without some of the goofier attempts at perspective or scaling often on display in such older cartography.  As a nod to these medieval sources, I presented almost all towers and buildings as front elevations, hinting at a simplicity of artistic capability, but drew the surrounding city walls with a little more sophistication to ensure the image didn’t look too abstract. I then set about filling in all the details between, making space for all the outer city’s fields and primary districts. I then drew the inner city, which I presented as a crowded pile, with a small proportion of the many buildings on display. More information concerning the Inner City will come with the next map for The Lost Citadel, one that was unlocked as a poster when the Kickstarter reached its 29K stretch goal, so I wasn’t concerned about the lack of precise detail here.

 

Outside the city walls, it’s all ‘no-man’s land’ and ‘here be dragons’ (well, the Dead). All manner of dead things are drawn beyond the walls, mirroring the sea beasts of ancient ocean maps, and the dragons/monsters from similar land maps. They demonstrate the ignorance of the artist in question as to what actually lies beyond the walls, and the ignorance of people as a whole concerning the Dead and what they are. This ignorance is reinforced by the map depicting nothing beyond the eyesight of those who walk the walls; i.e.: this is a map of all that is left of the known world to the inhabitants of Redoubt, which is pretty bleak given the small area shown.

In addition to these semi-mythical undead creatures, some ruins and basic geographical detail was added. Also, five hands were then depicted pointing to distant locations (at the four corners of the central map and another at the bottom of the image below the title plate).

That all done, it was time to turn to what lay above the city and the volcano: the heavens.

Heavens Above

Drawing the heavens provided an opportunity to depict the two moons of the setting — that’s the moons that are used in the ‘O’ of The Lost Citadel’s logo, if you hadn’t noticed, so I felt it was an important addition. Also, to support one of the central conceits of The Lost Citadel, I associated both moons with the Dead and drew them as skulls. This made sense as the moons are most visible at night, a time of danger, when it’s harder to see the Dead creeping around.

Contrasting with this, I drew the sun rising over the central volcano — and, in turn, the city itself — as a symbol of life and hope, with golden rays reaching out in all directions. This sun hints to the new dawn of civilisation that Redoubt could be should it survive. To strengthen this imagery, I gave the sun a human face as humanity is currently in control of Redoubt, suggesting any potential ‘dawn’ is largely in the hands of the city’s human rulers. Also, for those looking for a bleaker reading here, the sun rising over the volcano also winks at a possible future eruption, which would be cataclysmic in so many ways…

To frame the sun and moons, I drew the heavens as a great arc filled with stars, implying the in-setting artist who created the map knows the world is a globe — or, at the very least, has copied this detail from an earlier source. I chose to do this to show that for all the old civilization has come to an end with the rising of the Dead, some of the high knowledge it gathered still, in some form or another, endures – after all, the time before the Dead rose is still within living memory of some of the city’s eldest inhabitants. So, for all the truth of the world as a sphere surrounded by celestial objects is undoubtedly unimportant to the shoulder-to-shoulder common folk scraping out the barest of survivals within Redoubt’s high walls, older truths are still present in the city’s few examples of art, and such lore is possibly not lost to all scholars.

That done, I added some clouds to the top corners and was ready to move on. Next up, the bottom of the image, and the titles.

Title Below

The title plate was both the easiest and hardest section to create. First, it’s just a few words bunched together, so what could be simpler? But I wanted it to be more than that – to recall the illuminated letters of many Middle Age documents – so I decided to go a little farther. After some thought, I figured depicting one of the key events in the history of Redoubt – when the Dwarfs who built the city were enslaved – was essential, and I also thought it important to weave the Dead directly into the lettering in some fashion. So, I set to work drawing the capital ‘R’ of Redoubt with a whole bunch of extra details.

If you take a look in the hollow of the ‘R’ you will find a small illumination. There I drew a collared Ghûl (the dog-like creature), a crowned Human in purple robes, a servile brown-clad Elf, and a defeated Dwarf being chained. This is an illustration of the aforementioned enslavement of the Dwarfs, and also stands as a quick guide to the four, sentient species inhabiting the city. I then turned to the letter itself, and drew a skeleton turning its back on the life illustrated within the R (and the word Redoubt as a whole), showing how the Dead were antagonistic to the city and life as a whole. Further, I cut the skeleton off at the legs to stand as a metaphor for the city’s ability to stop the Dead in its tracks (no legs, no ability to progress), but not defeat it, for the skeleton’s back is still strong and its ‘eyes’ sharp. Further, the skeleton is incorporated directly into the capital letter to hint the city itself has the Dead within, which is a very real danger that all fear.

 

 

Beneath the text, a brief note to the renaming of the city to ‘Redoubt’ is also marked with the following: ‘Named by the Accord of the Last Redoubt’. This provides a reference to another key historical event for the city, when the old Dwarf name for Redoubt – Elldimek – was abandoned by its new human rulers. Lastly concerning the title, the continent name is also marked for the reader’s information: ‘Last Citadel of Zileska’.

Finishing Touches

That all done, it was time to turn to the image as a whole and finish it off.

Firstly, I drew a border to compliment the central map, and then set to work scuffing it up a little, to give the impression of use and age.

I did this because I presumed the map’s original creator drafted the image a few decades in the past. This allowed the map to be worn, reflecting the recycling of all things in Redoubt, a fact of life in the over-crowded city where every resource is precious. So, I spent some time creating a tired, worn, bloodied, folded-up on itself finish for the whole image, all standing as a metaphor for the people of Redoubt themselves, who are not in the best of shape.

Then I added clouds and skulls to the four corners. These represent the four winds blowing death at the city, reinforcing the idea that the Dead come from all sides, and that the curse of the Dead is everywhere, nicely subverting more typical Breath of Life imagery.

I then revisited the entire map and added extra labels where required. To do this, I used three languages (at least) to show the multiculturalism of the depicted city.

The first language I used was English. This stands in for the most common language in the city, a tongue of Venmir origin (the Venmir are one of the Human tribes). This is used for the title plate, all the important labels, and the very simple poetry concerning the winds I added to the four corners.

The next language on the map also uses Latin letters, and is presented as a higher/older version of Venmir (from Angati origin – another Human tribe). It is used to show the sunrise at the top of the map – Svitanus: ‘Sunrise’ – and to drop a reference to Elldimek, the old name for Redoubt, at the bottom of the image – Malnova Elldimek ripozas kun la Mortin: ‘Old Elldimek lies with the Dead’.

Lastly, one or more languages are deployed with characters with a strong Eastern influence (Tibetan and similar), with two paragraphs at the bottom of the map beneath the title plate, and several labels elsewhere. The exact meaning of these is left to others to decide.

And, then, after a tweak or two more, it was finished, and I sent the final image over to Green Ronin.

 

Done.

So, after all that, I dearly hope you like the end result. It was a joy to create.

Now I’m looking forward to later in the year, as I’m enormously excited to be drafting the detailed plan map of the inner city of Redoubt.

Until then,

Andrew Law, June 26th, 2017

 

Ronin Roundtable: Freedom City as You’ve Never Seen It!

One of my many duties as a developer for Green Ronin is seeing the 3rd edition of the Freedom City campaign setting safely off to print, like a loving mother. And as it turns out, this has been the easiest part of my job, because the book was almost entirely finished when I joined the team. So, like a loving mother who slept through most of her child’s life only to wake up in time to see them leave for college, I feel so proud of this enormous task I had virtually nothing to do with!

Freedom City 3rd Edition is almost entirely Jon Leitheusser’s legacy, following a similar format as the Emerald City campaign setting of several years earlier and building on the setting bones established in books like the Cosmic Handbook and Hero High. Freedom City has grown up and adapted to the turbulent events of the world. Some of your favorite heroes have retired as their years start to catch up with them, while new heroes have appeared to fill important roles. My only real contributions have been some light editing (Jon’s work is, as always, solid, and didn’t need much improving), and arguing with our esteemed production designer (chief art guy) Hal Mangold about the art.

Oh, and such art do we have! FC3E is a treasure trove of new art, bringing the city to life in detail we could only dream of in the past. Hal tracked down some amazing scenery artists to help flesh out the most recognizable city of Earth Prime, and I don’t think anyone will be disappointed to see the city’s superhero museum and the Champions sports bar franchise brought to life!

Just check out a few quick previews:

 

Domenico Neziti

Brian Hagan

Brian Hagan

Domenico Neziti

There’s a lot more to come, giving a reality to the creepily delightful Ocean Heights Amusement Park, the slums of the Fens, and the Hanover Institute of Technology cloaked in its mantle of mid-century modernism. Fans can finally SEE Freedom City as well as imagine it, and Gamemasters now have images to share when the heroes arrive, itching for a fight, so instead of screaming “I punch Dr. Simian,” they can yell “I punch Dr. Simian into the reflecting pool!”

And really, isn’t that what superhero games are all about? Punching apes into landmarks?