The Expanse: Questions of Canon

The Expanse series of novels details major characters and events that establish the setting where The Expanse Roleplaying Game takes place. Much of this is described in the core book, but when you’re writing an adventure, how much of the “canon” of the setting should affect what you’re writing and, if it does, does it matter if you change it? When designing your game, you’ll be faced with deciding how much the existing Expanse setting and series affects your story. The following are some techniques to use when dealing with it:

Art by Victor Leza Moreno

  • Inspiration: You can use the existing canon as a springboard for your own storyline. Use of existing characters and events gives you a healthy pool of stories, personalities, and ideas from which to create a foundation for a great campaign. This also creates an immediate level of recognition for you and players familiar with The Expanse series. The trade-off is that you are bound to those portions of the canon you incorporate into your game. For example, if you decide to use Miller as a major NPC in your game, you are limited to a certain periods of time where that would be possible, and you have to be aware of Miller’s ultimate fate (and the fact that your players may know it as well) unless you choose to change things. If you do, you might find it messes with the players’ expectations. That can be a good thing or a jarring and unpleasant experience.
  • Flexible Canon: You can use canonical elements in your game, such as the setting or past events, but choose to change some things that might conflict with your planned storyline and allow the player characters to significantly alter canon through their actions. All of the major components can remain prevalent, such as the major factions and locations, but with tweaks in the events that follow. What if there were more survivors of the Canterbury? What if the player characters were the ones hired to track down Julie Mao—or were hired in addition to Star Helix and Miller? What if your story involved the crew of the Rocinante as major NPCs? The “flexible canon” approach is generally the one we have taken with the Expanse RPG: Things are as described from the books, at least initially, but the potential exists for the player characters to change things. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be much tension or excitement for their story, would there?
  • Ignore Canon: You can bypass canon altogether, or base your story around events with little to no effect on existing canon. The Expanse setting is vast and you could tailor stories and events that barely even touch the established canon outlined in the fiction. An entire campaign could focus on a crisis on one of the many different stations, or center your story on an exploration crew traversing the outer planets.

Whatever you decide, make sure if your players are aware of existing canon, they are also aware of any important changes you make to avoid confusion and clashes of expectation. In addition, if you do alter major events, be aware of the chain-reaction it may have on other events and characters down the road.

The Expanse: Doors and Corners

The Expanse RPG tweaks the damage system from the AGE System a bit by changing Health to Fortune, a measure, not of how healthy and durable characters are, but how lucky and “important to the plot” they are (the durability aspect gets covered by a Constitution-based trait called Toughness instead). The “ablative” qualities of Fortune remain the same: players spend it in order to reduce or mitigate the damage their characters suffer. If an attacker rolls 10 points of damage, a player can spend 10 Fortune points, and the character escapes any serious harm—that time. Of course, players can also spend Fortune to improve their characters’ chances of success with tests and, sooner or later, their luck is going to run out.

 

Art by Mirco Paganessi

Injuries & Wounds

If Fortune isn’t enough to completely spare a character from damage, then it is going to hurt. The character is either going to be taken out (see the following) or needs to take an injured or wounded condition to reflect the remaining damage.

If the character accepts an injured condition, the damage is reduced by 1d6. If any damage remains, or the character is already injured, the character must accept a wounded condition next or be taken out. If the character accepts a wounded condition, the damage is further reduced by 1d6. If any damage remains, the character is taken out. Once a character has the wounded condition, any damage that gets past Fortune takes them out.

Taken Out

If damage remains after applying Toughness, Fortune, and taking an injury or a wound, then the target is taken out of the encounter. The attacker may choose to impose any one condition reasonable for the type of attack which takes out the target. So, for example, an attacker may choose to take out a target with a gunshot and leave them dying, just wounded, or even just unconscious. The key point is that the attacker decides on the target’s condition.

Rolling Over

An Expanse character can also choose to roll over in an encounter. In essence, the character’s player chooses to take that character out of the encounter, except the player chooses the character’s condition, subject to the approval of the GM, rather than leaving their fate up to their opponent. Rolling over is a “live to fight another day” tactic for when it’s clear a character is overmatched and doesn’t have much of a chance otherwise. You can only roll over in an encounter before you are taken out. Once you begin applying damage from an attack that has the potential to take you out, it’s too late to roll over, so choose carefully.

Option: Dead-to-Rights

If you want a slightly more lethal Expanse game, consider the following option: In any situation where one character has another “dead-t0-rights” the target character cannot spend Fortune to eliminate damage, all damage must be accounted for with Toughness, injuries, or wounds, and any excess results in the character being taken out, as usual. Standard situations where a character is dead-to-rights include being completely surprised by an attack (such as shot by an unseen sniper, for example) or having the helpless condition, completely unable to avoid an attack or hazard. It’s up to you to define situations that leave a character dead-to-rights, and to tell the players in advance. For example, if you want them to respect guns, make it clear that having someone holding a gun on you means they have you dead-to-rights, unless you can somehow distract their attention. This means characters will probably be less likely to rush armed opponents, for example. Try to use this option as a tool to help the players make informed decisions about the risks their characters take.

The Expanse: Starting Points

The setting described in The Expanse RPG is just after the events of the first novel, Leviathan Wakes, but that doesn’t mean you have to set your game at that point. You could go back to the beginning of Leviathan Wakes and tell a story that runs parallel to the adventures of the crew of the Rocinante, or even have your player’s characters take their place. Alternately, if you prefer, you could run a game set in the period of the later novels, or a time much earlier when humanity is first leaving Earth. The core Expanse RPG book doesn’t provide source material for either of these possibilities (though you can expect to see later history covered in future Expanse RPG books) but that shouldn’t prevent you from doing what you want.

Early History

The early history of The Expanse is ripe with campaign and adventure possibilities. The novellas Drive and Butcher of Anderson Station offer insights into history before Leviathan Wakes.

The early expansion and colonization of the Belt offers a lot of potential stories and adventures. Rival companies vie for influence and control. Newly established colonies in the outer planets smuggle in the goods and supplies needed to survive. The early days of the expansion from Earth and Mars are much like the Wild West as humanity spreads out into the solar system in search a new and better life – anything to escape the overpopulated cities of Earth.

The novella The Churn describes the crime-ridden, overpopulated city of Baltimore. Crime bosses and their “families” smuggle weapons and illegal cybernetic implants while engaging in all-out war with the authorities. Players could be part of one of the underground smuggling operations or the desperate authorities trying to stem the tide of crime.

Corporations vie for power and influence as humanity reaches out to colonize asteroids, moons, and planetoids throughout the solar system. Early pirates prey on ships that travel the vast, empty spaces between worlds. Most of the early pirates are essentially privateers in the employ of corporations, using the greedy and morally compromised to do their dirty work for them.

The Outer Planets Alliance (OPA) springs from the wants and needs of the citizens of the planets beyond Earth and Mars. The Belters find themselves perilously close to slavery since they are dependent on resources controlled by Earth. The characters could be early members of the OPA struggling to keep the people of the Belt free and dreaming of a day when they control their own destinies. The Butcher of Anderson Station is a perfect example of the conflict between the OPA and the inner planets.

Future Stories

Future supplements for The Expanse will explore the events of Caliban’s War and beyond, but don’t let that limit where and when you set your stories. The struggle for power continues as humanity travels out into the stars. For the time being, stories in this time are up to the GM. You could use the novels as inspiration, telling stories that run parallel to those in the books, or the characters could take the place of the protagonists in those novels, but with the opportunity to take the story in their own direction. You could also choose to go in a completely different course with the story. The Expanse RPG does look at some of these possibilities, including a number of “beyond canon” series concepts where the protomolecule does something quite different, or ends up somewhere else altogether.

The Expanse: Space Combat

The Expanse Roleplaying Game takes the popular science fiction universe of The Expanse fiction series by James S.A. Corey (starting with the novel Leviathan Wakes) and brings it to tabletop gaming using the Adventure Game Engine or AGE System. You may well have heard about The Expanse RPG during our wonderfully successful Kickstarter, and may have even backed it then. In that case you have our thanks and the opportunity to check out a lot of existing previews. There’s also The Expanse Quickstart available to download for free. As the game will also be going into pre-orders soon, we’re going to preview a few more things to give you a look at what you can expect from it.

Space Combat Stunts

Combat between ships in The Expanse is similar in some regards to combat between characters, but on a much larger (and often slower) scale and more simultaneous in execution than character-scale combat.

A round of space combat tends to be a bit longer than a round of character-scale combat, upward of a minute or so, although the exact time is flexible, as with character-scale combat. It’s long enough for all of the ships involved to execute all of the steps listed previously.

At the start of each round of combat, the character in command of the ship makes a TN 11 Communication (Leadership) test. If successful, the commander generates 1 Stunt Point, plus additional SP equal to the value of the Drama Die, if the roll contains doubles, much like a Stunt Attack action.

The commander may spend SP generated from the command test on other ship combat actions that round. This is an exception to the general rule that SP must be spent immediately—they can apply to any test by the ship’s crew that round. However, other tests by the crew during that round do not generate SP, only the commander’s initial test. Once a new round of ship combat begins, any unspent command SP from the prior round are lost, and the commander makes a new command test.

Command Stunt Points may be spend on the following stunts:


 

Space Combat Stunts

These stunts are used by ships in space combat.

SP Cost                Stunt

1+                           (Core) Guidance: You grant a +1 bonus to a chosen ship combat test this round for each 1 SP you spend. Choose one of the following: maneuver test, electronic warfare test, evasion test, point defense test, or damage control test.

1+                           Blinding Maneuver: You maneuver your ship in such a way as to blind or limit an opponent’s Sensors. Each SP you spend reduces an opposing ship’s Sensors score by 1 (to a minimum score of –2) until the start of the next round.

2                             Multi-Targeting: Your ship’s point defense cannons (if any) can both attack and defend this round without any penalty.

2+                          On-Target: Every 2 SP you spend increases the TN of tests to evade your ship’s weapon attacks that round by +1.

2+                          Tactics: Every 2 SP you spend increase the TN of an opposing ship commander’s next command test by +1.

3+                          Evasive Action: Every 3 SP you spend grants a +1d6 Hull bonus to your ship that round for resisting damage from successful weapon attacks.

3                             Perceived Weakness: You increase the damage of one successful weapon attack by 1d6. This stunt is a risk, as it has to come in Step 5 of the round, and requires a successful hit.

4                             Precise Hit: One of your successful weapon attacks results in an additional Loss, even if the target’s Hull completely eliminated the damage.

4+                          Set-Up: You maneuver an opposing ship into a hazard, such as a normally shorter range weapon, a field of debris, or even a floating rock. This stunt is considered a weapon attack inflicting damage dice equal to half the SP spent (round down). The Set-Up can be evaded; the TN is 10 + your Intelligence + Leadership focus (if any) + half the SP spent. So if a character with Intelligence 2 and Leadership spends 5 SP on this stunt, the TN to evade the Set-Up is (10 + 2 + 2 + 2.5, rounded down to 2) or 16, and a failure on the evasion test results in 2d6 damage to the target ship.

Green Ronin in 2019! Part 3: Dragon Age, Fantasy AGE, and Modern AGE

Welcome back to our look at Green Ronin’s 2019 plans. If you missed the first two entries, you can check them out here and here. In this final installment, I’ll be talking about Modern AGE, Fantasy AGE, and Dragon Age.

Dragon Age

All three of these games are powered by the Adventure Game Engine (AGE), which has become something of a house system for us over the past five years. Blue Rose and our upcoming Expanse RPG also use AGE, so if you play any of these games, you’re learning the core rules of a growing group of RPGs that cover a variety of genres. I originally designed the Adventure Game Engine for the Dragon Age RPG, and it took off from there. I’m thus happy to report that Faces of Thedas, the long-awaited sourcebook for Dragon Age, is nearly here. Once we get the final green light, we’ll put the PDF up for sale and launch the pre-order. The hour is nigh!

Fantasy AGE

Last year we released the Fantasy AGE Companion, the first real rules expansion for the game. We are following that up this year with two books to make running Fantasy AGE even easier. First up is the Campaign Builders Guide, which is designed to help Game Masters create, build, maintain, and run campaigns. It is filled with advice on crafting encounters and adventures, creating interesting monsters and locations, running epic-style campaigns, and more. It also includes tables to help generate campaign elements when a bit of spontaneity and randomness is desired.

After that we have a book called Lairs, which provides a series of detailed challenges you can adapt to your Fantasy AGE campaign. Each chapter presents a terrifying or formidable adversary, their servants and followers, and their headquarters, base, or lair. Also included are rules for lair and scene specific stunts to step up location-based action in your game. Between Lairs and the Campaign Builders Guide, Game Masters will have many new tools to work with.

Later in the year we should have a setting book for Fantasy AGE. Jack Norris and Jaym Gates have been working on a new setting and you’ll hear more about that as the year progresses. We do also still hope to release the Titansgrave world book, but that depends on some things beyond our control getting sorted out. Can’t say any more than that but fingers crossed.

Modern AGE

Last year we launched the Modern AGE RPG, releasing its Basic Rulebook and GM’s Kit. As its name indicates, this takes the AGE rules into a contemporary context. You can use it to run anything from the Industrial Revolution to the near future. Optional rules for extraordinary powers mean Modern AGE easily handles things like urban fantasy or fighting occult Nazis as well. Just last week we released The World of Lazarus, the first campaign setting for the game. It’s a dystopian near future setting based on the Lazarus comics by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark and it’s a great way to get your Modern AGE campaign going. If you’d like to know more about The World of Lazarus, developer Crystal Frasier did a series of Ronin Round Tables about it that you can find here.

Next up after The World of Lazarus is the Modern AGE Companion. This sourcebook expands the Basic Rulebook in a bunch of fun ways. There are new backgrounds, professions, and talents, plus new rules for extraordinary powers, technologies, and organizations. It’s also got a very useful chapter on adapting the rules to various genres, such as gothic horror, alien invasion, and Cold War spies. Summertime will then see the Enemies & Allies sourcebook. If you’re looking for adversaries and NPCs for your campaign, look no further! Since Modern AGE covers many different genres, Enemies & Allies ranges far afield, from elite operatives and scientists to horrors and arcane beings.

Later in the year we are going big with our first original setting for Modern AGE, Malcolm Sheppard’s Threefold. It’s an epic modern fantasy setting where characters explore countless planes of existence. In it, our Earth is only one of many alternate worlds. Beyond them, the Otherworlds contain dimension-spanning empires of godlings and sorcerers, and Netherworlds ruled by demon-gods raise armies of the damned. Characters might travel between planes as agents of the Sodality, an organization devoted to peacekeeping and exploration, defend Earth as cyborg agents of Aethon the conspiracy which patrols multiple timelines, or serve other groups. Threefold is big by design, and broad enough to contain all of Modern AGE’s genre possibilities. Stay tuned for more info and teasers about Threefold throughout the year.

A Banner Year

All in all, 2019 is shaping up to be a great year and there’s more to come. Look for an announcement about our community content program for Fantasy AGE and Modern AGE soon. As always you can keep us with us on this website, Twitter, or Facebook. We’ve got more fun stuff to reveal as the months go by. Here’s hoping 2019 is better for everyone!

Green Ronin 2019! Part 2: Mutants & Masterminds, Sentinels of Earth-Prime, and 5E

Welcome back to our look at Green Ronin’s 2019 plans. Yesterday I talked about The Expanse, Nisaba Press, Freeport, and Blue Rose. Today I’ll be talking about Mutants & Masterminds, and 5E.

 

Mutants & Masterminds

Mutants & Masterminds is our longest-running RPG, now in its 3rd edition. Last year we released the Basic Hero’s Handbook, a new entry point for the game that makes getting started with M&M even easier. We’re going to follow that up this year with some PDF adventure support and a Revised Edition of the Gamemasters Guide. The GMG went out of print last year and rather than do a straight reprint, we thought we’d take the opportunity to add some new material (new adventures, villain archetypes, and more) and make it integrate more smoothly with the Basic Hero’s Handbook. We’re also making it hardback!

Before the revised GMG, though, we’ve got the Superteam Handbook. This handy sourcebook contains eight pre-built superteams that range from PL 5-12. These can be used to kickstart a campaign, or as allies, rivals, or enemies of the PCs. Later in the year we’ll have the Time Travelers Codex. This book provides a framework and ideas for including time travel in your supers campaign, as well as detailed info on select historical epochs and the sorts of adventures you might have there.

Sentinels of Earth-Prime

Mutants & Masterminds is also moving into a new area this year: card games! Sentinels of Earth-Prime is a joint project between Green Ronin and Greater Than Games that originally funded on Kickstarter. Sentinels of Earth-Prime is game that combines M&M’s core setting and the rules of Sentinels of the Multiverse. This is a core game so no previous experience is required. If you have Sentinels of the Multiverse games though, you’ll find that all the decks in our game work hand in glove with your current collection. Why, it’s almost like SotM designer Christopher Badell did all the deck design for our game (because he did!). The game is designed and playtested, and right now we’re working on getting all the art done. As this is a card game, there is quite a bit of art. You should see Sentinels of Earth-Prime this summer.

Tales of the Lost Citadel

Tales of the Lost Citadel novel coming soon!

Fifth Edition

If you enjoyed last year’s hugely successful Critical Role: Tal’Dorei Campaign Setting, we’ve got more Fifth Edition fun for you this year. First, we’ve got Lost Citadel Roleplaying, a campaign setting we also funded on Kickstarter. It’s a world where the dead roam at will and all the survivors have taken refuge in the city of Redoubt. Only its walls and the strength of its inhabitants stand between the dead and annihilation. Lost Citadel Roleplaying is in layout now and should be available for pre-order soon.

Later this spring we’re running a crowdfunding campaign on Game On Tabletop to bring back a Green Ronin classic for Fifth Edition: The Book of Fiends! Older fans will remember this book from the Third Edition era. It was one of our best selling and most critically acclaimed books in the d20 days, so it only made sense to bring it back. Demons, daemons, and devils will be yours in abundance! Rob Schwalb, one of the book’s original designers and also a member of the D&D Fifth Edition design team, updated all the existing fiends and added new ones too. You’d expect no less from the man behind Shadow of the Demon Lord!

That wraps up part 2 of our look at 2019. Come back for the final installment tomorrow to learn about Modern AGE, Fantasy AGE, and Dragon Age.

Green Ronin in 2019! Part 1: The Expanse, Nisaba Press, Freeport, and Blue Rose

It’s January and that means it’s that magic time when I talk about Green Ronin’s plans for the coming year. We have quite a lot going on, so this year I’m going to be splitting this message into three parts that we’ll reveal Tuesday to Thursday this week. Today I’ll be talking about The Expanse, Nisaba Press, Freeport, and Blue Rose.

The Expanse Roleplaying Game coverThe Expanse RPG

Last year we ran a hugely successful Kickstarter for a new roleplaying game based on The Expanse novels by James S.A. Corey. The core rulebook is in the final stages of layout so we’ll be releasing it soon. We will be opening up late pledges for the Kickstarter via Backerkit so if you missed the original campaign, you’ll have another chance. You’ll also find The Expanse in book and game stores, of course, and it’ll be available through our online store as well. Releasing concurrently with the core rulebook is the Game Master’s Kit, which has a screen, a new adventure, and reference cards. Later in the year we’ll be releasing Abzu’s Bounty, a six-part adventure for the game.

After that initial suite of products, we’ll be expanding the game in different ways. The core rulebook is set between the events of the first and second novels. As the game line continues, we’ll be incorporating the events of the later novels in various sourcebooks and adventures. If you’d like to learn more about the game, lead designer Steve Kenson started a series of Ronin Round Table posts about it. You can read parts 1 and 2 now and more will follow starting next week.

 

Nisaba Press

Last year we started Nisaba Press, an imprint for fiction publishing. We are doing both short and long-form fiction that ties into our various game worlds. We began with short stories last year. These were initially released individually but we’ve moved to an electronic magazine format. You’ll now find our short fiction in the Nisaba Journal, a bi-monthly magazine that supports our various game worlds. Issue #1 came out towards the end of last year and issue #2 is out this month.

This year’s exciting development is full length novels! We’ve spent the past year building towards this and we’re beyond excited to debut our first novel this month. Shadowtide is a Blue Rose novel by our own Joseph Carriker and you can order it right now! We’ll be following that up with Height of the Storm, a Mutants & Masterminds novel by Aaron Rosenberg, and a collection of Lost Citadel short stories. More novels are in the works, so keep an eye on Nisaba Press.

Freeport

Last week we started the pre-order for Return to Freeport, a six-part scenario that is the biggest addition of adventure content for the setting in more than a decade. Since 2013 our Freeport releases have used the Pathfinder rules and Return to Freeport follows suit. As you’ve likely heard, however, a second edition of Pathfinder is coming this summer and while we wish our pals at Paizo the best, we aren’t going to support the new edition.

Does this mean the Freeport line is ending? Hardly! Freeport is our oldest setting, first seen in the Origins and ENnie Award-winning adventure Death in Freeport back in 2000. 2020 is thus both Green Ronin’s and Freeport’s 20th anniversary and you better believe we have some plans.

So this year you will get Return to Freeport and short fiction from Nisaba Press. We’ve collected last year’s Freeport stories into a short anthology called Dark Currents, which is available now. More Freeport fiction will appear in Nisaba Journal throughout the year. Then next year we’ll be doing a big re-launch for Freeport with a different rules system. Stay tuned for more news about that!

Blue Rose

Last but by no means least, we’ve got Blue Rose, our romantic fantasy RPG. We’ve got two books planned for the game this year. The first, Envoys to the Mount, is something special: a full-length chronicle. This series of adventures will play out over five years of game time and see the characters advance through all four tiers of play. Then, late in the year, we’ve got Touching the Wild. This is a dual-purpose book. Half of it is a bestiary of various Shadowspawn to provide new challenges in your chronicle. The other half is a player’s guide for Rhydan with lots of new options for Rhydan PCs. If you like Blue Rose but have wanted more psychic animals, Touching the Wild is for you!

That wraps up part 1 our 2019 plans. Come back tomorrow to learn about Mutants & Masterminds, Sentinels of Earth-Prime, and 5E.

The Expanse: Power Armor

The Expanse Roleplaying Game takes the popular science fiction universe of The Expanse fiction series by James S.A. Corey (starting with the novel Leviathan Wakes) and brings it to tabletop gaming using the Adventure Game Engine or AGE System. You may well have heard about The Expanse RPG during our wonderfully successful Kickstarter, and may have even backed it then. In that case you have our thanks and the opportunity to check out a lot of existing previews. There’s also The Expanse Quickstart available to download for free. Now that the game is also going into pre-orders, we’re going to preview a few more things to give you a look at what you can expect from it.

 

Artist: Mirco Paganessi.

Power Armor

One of the most fearsome sights on the modern battlefield of the System is military power armor, like the Goliath suits worn by Martian Marines. Two and a half meters tall, and weighing 400 kilograms even before a soldier climbs inside, power armor provides both formidable offense and defense. Half armor and half spacesuit, the armor has radiation shielding sufficient to let soldiers walk through a nuclear bomb crater minutes after the blast. The armor’s titanium and ceramic-composite exterior shielding is typically painted in camouflage patterns appropriate to the assignment, and enemies are often surprised just how well an enormous soldier in power armor can blend into the environment when they stand still.

The armor’s hydraulics system magnifies the wearer’s strength, much like a mech rig, and carries most of the weight of the suit, allowing soldiers in power armor to undertake marathon hikes and move surprisingly fast. They also enable the armor carry heavy weaponry, typically a rotary machine gun and sometimes a grenade launcher or micr0-missile pack. Sensor packages feed data to the wearer on the helmet’s HUD, allowing them to identify and track infrared targeting lasers used by opponents’ weapons, and even visually parse those weapons using the suit’s camera feeds to match them against an internal database. Those same cameras monitor in all directions, sending feeds back to squad officers and their military command center, which can monitor the life signs of both the soldiers and opponents who have been detected and attacked.

In AGE System terms, power armor grants the wearer the following:

  • All of the benefits of a vac-suit.
  • +12 armor bonus with no armor penalty, so long as the armor is operational.
  • +10 effective bonus to Strength and Strength (Might) tests.
  • +2 bonus to Speed and +4 bonus to Constitution (Endurance) tests.
  • An integral rifle doing 3d6 + Perception damage and capable of performing automatic weapon gun stunts.
  • +2 bonus to Dexterity (Stealth) tests compatible with the unit’s camouflage.
  • +2 bonus to Perception tests where the armor’s sensor package applies.

If power armor loses power, it becomes massive deadweight, effectively leaving the wearer restrained and unable to use any of the armor’s systems.

Maintenance: Power armor requires regular maintenance activities during interludes to remain in full working order (see Interludes in Chapter 5).

The Expanse: Character Creation!

The Expanse Roleplaying Game takes the popular science fiction universe of The Expanse fiction series by James S.A. Corey (starting with the novel Leviathan Wakes) and brings it to tabletop gaming using the Adventure Game Engine or AGE System. You may well have heard about The Expanse RPG during our wonderfully successful Kickstarter, and may have even backed it then. In that case you have our thanks and the opportunity to check out a lot of existing previews. There’s also The Expanse Quickstart available to download for free. Now that the game is also going into pre-orders, we’re going to preview a few more things to give you a look at what you can expect from it.

Expanse Character Creation: Izzy Moon

We’re creating an Expanse character for a game set in the Belt and the outer planets, and want someone with some experience aboard ships and stations. Let’s also focus on a character with some technical skills.

Starting off our character, we make nine 3d6 rolls on the Determining Abilities table, giving the character the following scores: Accuracy 2, Communication 1, Constitution 0, Dexterity 2, Fighting 1, Intelligence 1, Perception 2, Strength 3, Willpower 2. Since we want more of a technical character, let’s swap the rolled Strength and Intelligence scores, for Intelligence 3, Strength 1 (you get the option of doing that).

Since our game takes place out in the Belt, we decide to go with a Belter origin, although some of the characters may have different origins. We take note of the Belter traits; hopefully, the characters won’t be spending much time in normal gravity environments like Earth, Belters are hindered, even restrained, in heavier gravity.

We roll 2d6 for our character’s social class, getting a 6. Consulting the Belter column of the Social Class table, that indicates Lower Class.

Rolling a die on the Lower Class Backgrounds table, we get a 5 for Urban. Looking at the background, we give our character +1 Dexterity and choose the Misdirection talent, feeling like our techie is more cunning than athletic. Then we roll once on the Urban Benefits Table, getting an 8 for +1 Perception. Looks like we’re right!

Looking at the Lower Class Professions, we immediately knows that we want Technician and choose that with the GM’s permission rather than bothering to roll. Looking at the description, we give our character the Intelligence (Technology) focus and the Novice degree in the Hacker talent.

Looking over the drives, there are several appealing ones. Unsure which to choose, let’s roll randomly: We get a 5, indicating Column 2 on the Drive table, and then a 4, giving us Rebel, suggesting this character is a nonconformist who has gotten in trouble in the past. That fits. From this drive, we choose Improvisation to add to the character’s talents and Reputation for our improvement.

Our lower class Belter technician has Income 2, not an extravagant lifestyle! It’s pretty clear the character just makes ends meet, and can be described as struggling. The character lives a lifestyle of cramped quarters and eating mostly kibble and cheap noodles, but does at least have essential technical tools and equipment, which are part of the starting character’s package.

So our character’s starting Fortune is 15, unmodified because we applied the improvement from drive to Reputation. The character’s Dexterity is 2, giving us Defense 12 (10 + 2) and Speed 12 and Constitution is 0, so the character has Toughness 0. Sounds like our Belter techie is going to want to stay off the front-lines in a fight!

Consider who our Belter techie is. Let’s say that she came up from a lower class background but her smarts and technical savvy helped her to make it. Unfortunately, she occasionally needed help from less than legal elements to get what she needed for her education and repaid them with the occasional favor. Now she wants to get out from under the thumb of said criminal elements and go legit, but opportunities are thin. Longer-term, she wants to change the system that kept a smart Belter kid from realizing her potential without having to work the black market, although she’s not sure that she agrees with all of the OPA’s politics, particularly the more radical or violent factions.

As a low-class Belter and hacker, our character has plenty of opportunities to make both friends and enemies. She may know fellow Belters, have run into characters with lower class or criminal backgrounds, or who worked security or some other job that brought them to her part of the station. As a hacker, she may know some characters from online interactions, maybe some who think she is someone else entirely, such as corresponding with another character with mutual interests, who doesn’t yet know their friend is a Belter with no formal education.

We work out some more details of our character: We decided somewhere along the line that she’s a woman. Since she’s a Belter, we decide her heritage is a combination of Korean, Indian, and Brazilian in her more recent ancestry. Searching some online resources for suitable names, we come up with Isabella Anika Moon, known to her friends as “Izzy,” who is ready for her first adventure!

Lazarus: World of Lazarus as a Toolkit

Being a game designer means being a tinkerer, and even as you develop a new game, a part of you thinks “this would be perfect for this other game I want to run…” And so I think every AGE book, regardless of the line, is a stealth toolkit for Gamemasters. At least that’s how I went into designing World of Lazarus. While most of the new player backgrounds, for example, have in-world flavor, they are easily adapted to almost any Modern AGE campaign. Minor Family can be translated to “Scion of the 1%” while Herd Worker makes a dang good “Rust Belt Burnout.” Most of the talents are ready to pop over to any Modern AGE game as well (with GM permission, naturally). Except…

What to do with Minor Augmentation and the various Lazarus talents?

The four flavors of Minor Augmentation are built to balance with other talents, and you can always pop them into your otherwise mundane Modern AGE game as “Savant” or something similar: extraordinary but entirely natural abilities a character might be born with that set them apart. In this case, you might want to limit a character to only one Minor Augmentation talent and eliminate the story idea that minor augmentations need regular maintenance to keep functioning (or cause other occasional drawbacks).

The Lazarus augmentations don’t work quite as well as natural abilities. But man… do they work great for a variety of unnatural abilities! As we talked about a few weeks ago, the Lazarus talents represent a wide variety of improvements, from gene-splicing to drugs to cybernetics, and you can use them to reflect any of these options in your own home-spun campaigns! Want to do a gene-punk game where splicing is the new tattooing? Want an urban fantasy game where every PC starts with the blood of something unearthly in their veins? Lazarus talents can even represent temporary abilities PCs get from alien symbiotes, powered armor, or esoteric talismans.

Whatever use you find for Lazarus talents, remember that they offer players a power boost over mundane talents, and so they should come with an appropriate in-world drawback. In World of Lazarus, the setback is story-based: to possess a Lazarus talent, a PC must (theoretically) be a Lazarus. They are at the beck and call of their Family, and rely on their Family to maintain their extraordinary bodies. Loyalty is programmed into their DNA, and disobedience means death. Your own campaigns may impose similar constraints on PCs with Lazarus talents: they might need to remain loyal to a powerful figure to maintain their talents, or need expensive drugs or equipment that constantly push them to take dangerous jobs. They might instead have a more mechanical drawback, such as imposing a level of fatigue whenever the PC uses them in a scene, or requiring a PC to spend Power Points to activate it. It could open up weird new gameplay options: Lazarus talents might represent high-end cybernetics that need maintenance and can be hacked, introducing a minor story cost and a weird mechanical vulnerability.

There’s no perfect way to adapt new rules into your campaign, so play around and see what feels a little too good in play and what seems just right. Make sure your players know the rules might be in flux, and be willing to listen to their feedback as well. If they like the rules even if they seem a little much to you, always remember your NPCs can use them too!

OH! And my personal campaign idea? Roll Lazarus talents in with psychic powers and let my players go mind-diving into weird psy-scapes, Psychonauts-style!