As you probably know, Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. This month’s Charitable Giving Initiative sale is in support of Hurricane Maria relief efforts. For a limited time, Fantasy AGE Basic Rulebook and Fantasy AGE Bestiary are 10% off, in both print and PDF formats in our online store, and when you partake we’ll donate 20% of the sale proceeds to Hurricane Maria Community Relief & Recovery Fund.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
We are pleased and humbled to be nominated for eight ENnie Awards this year. We’ve included a list of our nominations at the bottom of this post.
In our excitement about the ENnies we placed several products on sale in our Green Ronin Online Store. Please check out our 2017 ENnie Awards Sale.
Our nominations are for:
- Best Adventure:
- Dragon’s Hoard
- Best Art, Cover:
- Blue Rose: The AGE RPG of Romantic Fantasy
- Best Monster/Adversary:
- Atlas of Earth-Prime
- Fantasy AGE Bestiary
- Best RPG Related Product:
- Cinema and Sorcery: The Comprehensive Guide to Fantasy Film
- Best Setting:
- Atlas of Earth-Prime
- Best Supplement:
- Cosmic Handbook
- Product of the Year:
- Atlas of Earth-Prime
As always, sincere congratulations to our fellow nominees, and thank you to all who worked on these products, all who vote, and everyone else we may have forgotten to list.
The clock is counting down on Kickstarter for The Lost Citadel — Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy Roleplaying. Thanks to our amazing backers, we fully funded in 24 hours, and have been knocking down stretch goal after stretch goal.
We have opened up pre-ordering for Six of Swords, an adventure anthology for Blue Rose: The AGE RPG of Romantic Fantasy. Pre-order the physical book through our Green Ronin Online Store, and we’ll offer you the PDF version for just $5 during checkout.
If you’d rather support your local retailer, you can ask them to sign up for our GR Pre-Order Plus program. When you pre-order through a participating brick-and-mortar retailer, they will give you a coupon code so you can get the PDF from us for just $5.
Six of Swords is an adventure anthology for Blue Rose. Set in the fantastic world of Aldea, these six adventures provide Narrators with ready-to-go scenarios for characters of various levels. They include ruined mansions, masquerade balls, vampiric curses, mysterious masks, sorcerous secrets, ghostly hauntings, lost loves, looming threats, and tragic quests where heroes are called upon to make the right choices. Six of Swords has hours of adventure, excitement, and entertainment for your Blue Rose game. The Kingdom of the Blue Rose needs heroes. Will you answer the call?
Jaym Gates, Nicole Lindroos, and CA Suleiman sat down together at the Origins Game Fair in Columbus, Ohio, and talked about The Lost Citadel, answering some questions backers have posted to the Kickstarter project page while they were at it. Hal Mangold caught it all on video, so we can all watch and enjoy.
In other news from the City of Redoubt, we have unlocked the Double-Sided Poster Map stretch goal, and are on our way to achieving System Hack: AGE, in which we hire Gary Astleford to create a system conversion document so you can adventure in The Lost Citadel using our Adventure Game Engine as featured in Fantasy AGE, Dragon Age, Titansgrave, and more!
If you’d like to learn more about The Lost Citadel before (or after) backing, check out these free previews!
- “The Bone-Shaker’s Daughter,” a short story by Mercedes M. Yardley
- “Requiem, In Bells,” a short story by Ari Marmell
- Example race: The Ghûl
As always, thank you so much to all our backers (and future backers)!
So, at the beginning of May, we announced we’re going to produce the World of Lazarus, a guide to roleplaying in Greg Rucka’s SF-feudal Lazarus comic series. We noted it would be a setting for the Modern AGE roleplaying game.
Yes, this means we’re making a Modern AGE game. We said so in a sort of soft, sneaky way, but today, we’re going to dig into what that means.
Modern AGE uses the Adventure Game Engine to power stories set in the “modern era,” a period we’ve designated as running from the 18th or 19th century, through the present day, and into the near future. That means guns and computers, transoceanic empires and raucous democracies, and the Cold War and beyond, into the great geopolitical realignments of our time. But it also means urban fantasy, psychic powers, conspiracies and all the speculative and strange sources that fuel modern stories.
The Adventure Game Engine is the system you first saw in the Dragon Age roleplaying game. You witnessed its evolution into Fantasy AGE with Wil Wheaton’s Titansgrave setting, and into Blue Rose: The AGE RPG of Romantic Fantasy. Modern AGE might be thought of as a counterpart to Fantasy AGE, but if you’re familiar with one of these games, the rest will come easily. Modern AGE adds some new things to the system, and revises a few solid concepts to make them easier to use.
Developing the game, it’s been important to me to stick with the A.G.E. system’s core concepts: ease of play, strong tools for character development, and most of all, stunts.
Stunts and Areas of Interest
Stunts are the system’s “killer app;” where other games often struggle to integrate special actions and exceptional results, the A.G.E. system uses stunts to make them emerge during play. Modern AGE introduces some new stunts, but we also recognize the decision paralysis that can happen when doubles hit the table. That’s why we’ve designated go-to core stunts and places stunts into shorter, focused lists.
Putting stunts into categories means thinking about what characters do during the game. Accordingly, we’ve mapped out three core areas of interest: action, exploration and social play. Action encompasses combat, chases and other physical challenges. Exploration combines its counterpart in Fantasy AGE with investigation. Social play develops the “roleplaying” category, acknowledging that modern games often require heroes to present themselves properly in all the scenarios thrown up by complex contemporary cultures.
The three areas of interest act as a focus throughout Modern AGE’s design, not just stunts. Heroes with abilities covering all three can take on nearly any challenge the GM cares to throw at them.
Character and Genre Modes
Fantasy AGE presents broad classes, archetypes in that genre, and provides advancement options that allow you to lock in more specific elements over time. Modern era games don’t have the same archetypes, however, and don’t need the same niche protection vital to the feel of fantasy adventure gaming. So, we’ve gone classless. After developing a background, a profession and a drive that pushes your hero out of obscurity and into the story, you’ll select ability advancements, talents and specializations freely.
In some games, a private eye is someone who uses a car, camera and laptop to find evidence for divorces and lawsuits, while in others, they’re a two-fisted, iron-chinned stalwart with a talent for getting tangled in murders. The difference? Genre. Not all modern games feature the same degree of realism, so we’ve included specific rules modes to fit the stories you want to play through. The three basic modes are gritty, for stories where violence is unforgiving, pulp, where a battered hero can, say, claw their way out of danger, and cinematic, where protagonists achieve the competence often reserves for fantasy heroes and the most outrageous action games. These modes affect character toughness and stunt access, and guide advice you’ll read throughout the book.
In upcoming columns, I’ll talk more about Modern AGE’s design foundations, and the details that make them work. Until then, let me ask you something: What clicks for you about the Adventure Game Engine RPGs you’ve played? What do you want to see down the line? I’m developing it even as we speak, and things are getting locked in, but I’d love to read your conversations–and ever so sneakily, have you spread the word that Modern AGE is coming . . .
And in a Further Manipulative Move
. . . oh wait. It’s not all about me. While you should indeed talk about Modern AGE until it’s a breakfast cereal, I have been reminded that our Kickstarter for The Lost Citadel — Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy Roleplaying is in full swing. I was actually one of the authors in the short story collection that inaugurated this shared world, which we’re transforming into a setting for 5th Edition roleplaying. But if you’re an Adventure Game Engine fan, know this: If we hit $32,500, we’ll unlock the A.G.E System Hack, which converts the Dead-bound Zileska setting to A.G.E family games.
And if you’re curious about the setting and stories of The Lost Citadel, we have a sample short story available for FREE on our website. Check out Requiem, In Bells, by Ari Marmell.
As I am working to finish the Specializations chapter for the upcoming Fantasy AGE Companion, I wanted to take a bit of time to talk about specializations. Namely I wanted to take a look at how specializations are generally built and why they are built that way.
First and foremost it’s important to realize that specializations aren’t prestige classes or sub-classes you see in some other games. There simply isn’t enough mechanical “oomph” in a single three tiered ability tree to cover various character elements the way a multi-level class overlay or substitution used in games like Pathfinder or D&D does.
And really? That’s okay. Because what Fantasy AGE specializations allow players to do is to combine them with talents, focuses, and other specializations to create highly customized characters.
So a specialization that makes you an expert axe-fighter, no matter how cool it is, won’t substitute for having the Axes focus. Or various talents to better swing, throw, and fight with your chosen weapon in various ways. You will still want all of those things. And as the character advances if you decide you want to be an expert axe-fighter who is also adept at hunting down renegade sorcerers and evil mages? Well, you’re going to want to invest in the Mage Hunter specialization when you get a chance—likely customized to use Axes instead of Black Powder Weapons with its Novice rank. Such combinations are how you build your “prestige class” for your character in Fantasy AGE, often making particular combinations of character abilities that are very distinctive and unique to most other characters around.
With these limitations and advantages to the system in mind, when designing specializations, it’s important to add mechanical elements that push a character upwards or sideways from other talents, class abilities, and the like, avoiding those things which simply replace an existing ability. Don’t add a Novice specialization rank that takes another talent and makes it useless. On the other hand, don’t create an ability so overpowered when combined with another talent that it becomes a singular optimal build. Neither one is particularly satisfying, and will result in specializations that are either too weak or too inflexible to be useful beyond a specific type of character. So to use our axe-fighter example again, it’s cool to add a rank that lets you do certain stunts easier if you’re using an axe. But don’t offer discounts on stunts that are already made easier by other talents. That’s not a unique cool ability, its redundancy. Likewise, don’t make an ability that’s pretty useless unless your character is dual-wielding axes, as this shuts out the character who uses two-handed, single weapon and shield, or single weapons. This forces everyone with the specialization into basically the same or very similar builds.
Of course sometimes these rules are broken. A specialization might be crafted with only single weapon fighting in mind or a talent ability might combine to make an expensive stunt cheap as part of a specialization’s core concept. But in most cases, you’re better off with diverse powers and abilities that complement each other and provide neat options, instead of mere substitutions and numerical upgrades.
Also, when designing your own specializations as GMs or as players (with GM approval and aid), remember to treat specializations generally. Designing a specialization just for your PC might seem like a great idea, but it’s actually a really easy way to unbalance your character and not always in your favor! For example, it might seem like a great idea to craft a warrior specialization that requires every strength and aptitude your PC already possesses and stacks potent abilities on top of talents and class abilities you’re already using. But what happens if in a few levels you realize that more powerful monsters, more cunning foes, and more dangerous threats don’t fall to your “killer combos” as easily as their lower-level predecessors did. Often, designing for more general utility within a theme is more useful and its certainly easier to apply to multiple characters in a campaign.
So with all that said, let’s look at how to build a specialization. We talked about the Axe-fighter, so let’s give them a try. I’m envisioning a specialized warrior, perhaps hailing from particular cultures, who are devoted to mastery of the axe in its various forms.
First this new specialization needs requirements. These are usually relatively easy to reach, but not a foregone conclusion. They also tend to include at least one ability score that best reflects a natural aptitude or particular physical or mental training. In this case a few requirements are obvious. Given the concept and weapon involved, it seems like this would be a warrior-based specialization. Also Weapon Group Axes would be required. A focus with axes is so useful it’s hard to imagine most pursuing this specialization without it, but I’m leaving it off since it isn’t strictly required…just recommended. To these obvious requirements I add a Strength of 2 or greater—it takes a lot of power to get and keep this sort of weapon moving effectively, especially the bigger ones.
With requirements out of the way, you need a Novice, Journeyman, and Master rank abilities. These should match up roughly with talents or other specializations already in existence in Fantasy AGE. For example, an ability that allowed a reduction in the cost of a stunt is roughly the same as many other talents. A stunt cost reduction that only works in certain conditions might be a bit weak by itself, suggesting such abilities should allow for reductions in multiple stunts. Balancing these is a bit of art and science, but with some practice it becomes fairly easy.
In the case of the axe-fighter specialization, it makes sense that even Novices would learn to always ready an axe with a free action. However, this makes the novice level Quick Reflexes talent and Journeyman rank Thrown Weapon Style talents less useful. So instead, let’s design an ability that reflects the ability of the fighter to throw an opponent off guard and seize an opportunity with a flurry of axe strikes. Thus let’s say that as long as they’re using an axe on an attack, a novice rank axe-fighter can use the Seize Initiative stunt for 2 SP instead of 4. Note: This is identical to the Scouting Journeyman talent. But that’s a rogue talent…so it’s not rendered redundant by this warrior-only specialization. Also, since it only works with axe attacks, it’s a bit weaker than the Scouting talent, which means making it novice rank specialization seems appropriate.
Now for the Journeyman rank. It seems that axes are often considered to be scary because they can be used to deliver nasty blows and even glancing blows can be serious. Nobody wants to get hit by an axe and those skilled in its use are aware of this. So how to translate that into a Journeyman ability? You could give a discount on the Threaten stunt but we’ve already done a SP reduction so let’s consider an alternative tact. A Defense bonus might work, but that’s very similar to the Single-Weapon Style Talent. So instead let’s take this another way: the reason people are scared of axes is because getting hit by one is freaking horrible. Even if you armor stops most of it? It still hurts. So it makes sense Axe-Fighters can do serious damage with their axes. Again we might do a discount on Mighty Blow here that’s a Two-Handed Style rank. So instead let’s step sideways from those talents and provide a non SP discount bonus to Mighty (and Lethal) Blow and give an extra 1d6 damage when using Mighty Blow with an axe. Nasty to be sure, but it requires a particular weapon and a stunt at full cost, balancing out the effect.
Finally we have Master. Master rank Specialization qualities are at the core of the Specialization and can be quite nasty. So what’s the core of an expert axe-fighter? Striking hard and fast, keeping a foe on the defensive, and battering past armor and shields all apply here and what does that suggest? It suggests opening up a foe and finishing them off. So what Master ability represents this? There are many options, but I’m going to go with two “lesser” abilities. First is the ability to use variant of the Disarm stunt to “hook” or bash aside a shield. This eliminates the shield bonus of a character until they take a Ready action to restore it. The shield isn’t tossed aside like a Disarm against a weapon, but it is rendered useless for a time. That’s pretty cool, but it only affects shields, so we should add something else. Let’s examine that against opponents who don’t have a shield to hide behind? A skilled axe fighter is very dangerous to attack as they’ve got a heavy, sharp weapon swinging about. So against unshielded foes? Axe-Fighters gain a Defense bonus, let’s say +2 because of the Master rank and limited use.
So there we have it. Your very own Axe-Fighter Specialization:
Requirements: Strength 2, Axes Weapons Focus Group
Novice: You may use the Seize the Initiative stunt for 2 SP instead of 4 when wielding an axe.
Journeyman: When using the Mighty or Lethal Blow stunts with an axe, add an additional d6 damage.
Master: You can use Disarm to “hook” shields, removing the shield bonus until the shield-user takes a ready action. You also gain +2 to your own Defense when fighting unshielded opponents.
Nasty, scary, tough, and yet pretty much useless without its chosen weapon, which provides some nice balance.
That’s just an example, but it shows the process of creating new Specializations in Fantasy AGE and is a preview of the process and types of things you’ll see in the upcoming Fantasy AGE Companion.
Through the end of May, 2017, when you pre-order the print version of Blue Rose: The AGE RPG of Romantic Fantasy, Blue Rose Narrator’s Kit, and the Freeport Bestiary (which is for the Pathfinder RPG) through our Green Ronin Online Store, we’ll offer you the PDF version of the relevant title(s) for just $5 during checkout. Just click the Add to Cart button on the popup to get the deal.
The Blue Rose Dice Set is also pre-ordering right now through the end of the month, but it doesn’t have a digital counterpart.
Other recent releases you may have missed are Love 2 Hate Politics and Love 2 Hate Comics, expansions for Love 2 Hate: The Party Game for Inappropriate People.