Remembering Alejandro Melchor

This week was supposed to be set aside for me to talk about the Modern AGE Companion a little more, but I want to talk about Alejandro (aka Alex, or Al-X) Melchor instead. Alex passed away last week, due to the extended complications of a stroke he suffered in March.

Alex worked on every Modern AGE book currently at any stage of completion. In the core, he wrote rules, focuses, talents and part of the extensive Game Master advice in that book. He brought his talents to the World of Lazarus, the Modern AGE Companion, and the upcoming Threefold and Enemies & Allies, too. I’m currently looking for writers for a new book. It has an Alex-shaped hole in it now.

I first got to know him through a semiprivate community we shared, in 2001. I’d just been invited, as responses to my early professional work for White Wolf had been good. Alex did some work for them as well before taking an intensive gig with Mongoose Publishing in the early 2000s. I drifted away and he was busy, though I knew him through the Open Game License credits I bumped into while designing my own stuff. In the interim he developed an enormous list of credits, tending toward mechanically intensive work. I’d say one great thing about him is he could work on rules that reinforce stories and atmosphere, because getting game systems down was quick work for him.

Steve Kenson got to know Alex well, and took the lead in doing what we could to help when he fell ill. He reintroduced me to Alex, and Alex became a bedrock contributor for Modern AGE. He did so much more, in his own communities, on other games, and with other creative people, but I don’t want to presume to talk about any of that. We worked hard. We made some good ideas playable together. And he was unfailingly nice to everyone, a born collaborator, but didn’t hesitate to point out what he thought would be bad ideas.

According to family and friends, Alex liked proactive, resourceful, tough woman protagonists. Modern AGE uses a loose set of iconic characters created by the writers. Alex created Indra Winchester, the technically-inclined punk, who you can see on the cover of the Modern AGE Companion and inside the books of the line. In examples, he’s her player. I plan to keep it that way.

It seems so inane to go through his qualities as a creative guy, when of course there was more, but he was my comrade in making games. That’s what I’ve got to work with, even though it’s not enough to give the man his due. He was a visual artist, and beloved by various communities. And more, always more. In and out of this industry, I won’t be missing him alone, and won’t be the only one feeling new gaps in what might be possible, in work and life. I’m going to miss him.

 

Ronin Roundtable: Expansive Future

The Expanse Roleplaying Game, along with The Expanse Quickstart and GM’s Kit, are just the beginning of the game products for the popular sci-fi series. Green Ronin has more in the works, including two follow-up products that will round out and complete the stretch goals of the successful Kickstarter, and then some. Let’s peer into the future of The Expanse RPG with a look at those.

Abzu’s Bounty

One stretch goal of The Expanse RPG Kickstarter was a campaign series of adventures to supplement adventure material in the core book, GM’s Kit, and Quickstart. That series is Abzu’s Bounty, a complete Expanse campaign with a linked series of six adventures. It is designed as a “starter” game, although it contains advice on moving from one or more of the already published adventures into the series, and has links to the background of the “To Sleep, Perchance to Dream” adventure from the core book. The player characters in Abzu’s Bounty go from relative nobodies to potentially deciding the future of the System by the end of the campaign.

No spoilers as to the plot, but Abzu’s Bounty ventures across the System, from the Outer to the Inner Planets and back, and includes a means of supplying the crew with a ship of their own. There is also plenty of Expanse-style skullduggery and intrigue along the way. By the end of the series, characters should be in the mid-level range, starting at 2nd and ending up 7th or 8th level, leaving plenty of room to grow as The Expanse RPG does.

Abzu’s Bounty is written and developed, and in the editing and art phase of production.

Ships of the Expanse

The other major stretch goal of the Kickstarter was deck plans for a number of ship classes from The Expanse setting. Those will feature as part of the forthcoming Ships of the Expanse sourcebook; backers will get downloads of all of the stretch goal deck plans, but the sourcebook will include those and much more. In particular, Ships will take the basic chapter on ship-building and in-game use of ships from the core rules and build upon it, offering expanded details, options, and ways of creating and using ships in your own game.

Plus there will be those deck plans and details, closer looks at even more types of ships found in The Expanse, what they look like and how they’re laid out. This will make Ships of the Expanse a popular book with fans of the series and gamers alike.

Ships of the Expanse is in the design phase, with authors just completing their first drafts, as it moves into development.

Further Out

As players of The Expanse RPG know, the core book focuses on the period between the first two novels (Leviathan Wakes and Caliban’s War) with a lot of Expanse history waiting to unfold in the future. We’ve identified several distinct eras to Expanse game play, and the next one takes the setting and the series “further out” than ever before—far further than most of humanity ever imagined—once the protomolecule’s mysterious work on Venus is complete.

The Expanse Roleplaying Game and GM’s Kit: Pre-Order and PDF

The Expanse Roleplaying Game PreorderIf you missed the Kickstarter campaign, you can now pre-order both the Expanse Roleplaying Game and the Expanse RPG Game Master’s Kit in our Green Ronin Online Store.

The Expanse RPG brings the science fiction universe from James S. A. Corey to the tabletop. Using the Adventure Game Engine (AGE) rules that power Green Ronin’s Fantasy AGE, Blue Rose, and Modern AGE RPGs, The Expanse takes players to a far-future solar system where humanity is divided: Martians, Belters, and the people of old Earth struggle for political power and resources, but older, alien, forces stir in the universe, and human history is about to take an unexpected new turn.

The Expanse: Expansive Content

We’ve had a lot to say about The Expanse Roleplaying Game during the game’s development and successful Kickstarter, so we thought it would be helpful to provide a quick and helpful guide to all things Expanse from Green Ronin Publishing here on our site and elsewhere.

First and foremost, the link greenronin.com/blog/category/the-expanse-rpg/ is your key to Expanse-related posts on the GR.com site. You can download The Expanse Quickstart from here to check out the game and give it a try with a complete starter adventure and pre-generated crew of characters.

 

The Expanse Kickstarter

The Expanse RPG Kickstarter is where it all begins

Where you can see all of the promotional materials of the Kickstarter and, more importantly, view all of the public updates

 

The updates include a number of excerpts and previews from the game as “Expanse Extras”:

Expanse Extra: Spaceship Combat Example

Expanse Extra: Qualities & Flaws

Expanse Extra: Interludes

Expanse Extra: The Churn

Ronin Roundtables

Next, you can check out the previous Ronin Roundtable articles on The Expanse, looking at different previews and aspects of the game to supplement the information found in the Expanse Quickstart.

The Expanse: Questions of Canon

The Expanse: Doors and Corners

The Expanse: Starting Points

The Expanse: Space Combat

The Expanse: Power Armor

The Expanse: Character Creation

The Expanse vs. Modern AGE

Expanse Transmissions

Even with only the Expanse Quickstart and the PDF edition of The Expanse Roleplaying Game core book available, a number of groups have already launched their own Expanse games. If you’re curious to see the game in action and want to check out some actual play games on The Expanse online, here are some good places to start:

Happy Jacks offers an actual play of The Expanse RPG from ShadowCon

Jowzam’s Den ran a stream of the Expanse Quickstart adventure “Cupbearer” live on Twitch. Available for viewing on YouTube

Mosaic Gaming Network’s “Rolling with the Regulars” offers their “Phoenix Rising” vidcast and podcast of The Expanse, starting with Episode 0

The Spice Must Roll is a live broadcast of sci-fi tabletop RPGs. Season 1 focuses on The Expanse RPG, starting with Episode 0

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 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).