Tuesday, November 13, 2018

This week's games: 13th Age, Rising Sun, Up Front, and Manoeuvre


For a change, this was a week without serious playtesting on unannounced projects. Instead I ended up playing one session of 13th Age and a couple sessions of boardgames.

In our Wednesday night 13th Age campaign that will at-some-point-in-the-future drop us into the Stone Thief, we were in Horizon tracking down an expert on living dungeons. He had managed to overdose himself on his own magic cloak and become a monster known as a bonded, so paying him a visit led let to a fight where I had the sense that this monster we were fighting should really be tearing us up a lot more, remembering something of the Bestiary 2 writeup. (Page 15, a monster by ASH LAW.) Afterwards the GM indicated that he’d never rolled the magic even-numbers, and I’m glad I hadn’t seen the stats during the game because I’m pretty sure I would have realized they were even worse than we experienced, and would I have been able to keep my mouth shut? No. We got off lucky.


I’m having a great time roleplaying and freewheeling with icon relationship narrations in this campaign, but so far in combat my monk’s slogan, borrowed from Mark Jessup in our old 3.5 campaign, is: “I’m 39 hit points you don’t have to lose.” (It would be 40 points but I'm spending one point to maintain the illusion that I'm human. When mom is a rakshasa and dad is an ogre mage, sacrifices must be made.) 

The next night we tried a four-player game of Eric Lang’s Rising Sun. It was fun, despite the fact that I screwed up the game’s logic by introducing the autumn cards ahead of the summer cards. Yes, we played in a twisted fantasy world where spring-autumn-summer-winter led to my Bonsai Clan’s natural rhythms being horribly disrupted. Stunted trees were chopped up and fed to the Koi Clan without gaining the attention of the Imperial poets. The Turtle Clan conquered all.


The Dragonfly Clan also acquitted itself well but had one of its bushi eaten under the table by the newish monster in our home, our eleven-month old puppy, Sammi. Sammi managed to ninja miniatures off the table with no one noticing until she was done chewing. No more under-table game nights for Sammi.
(To give Sammi her due, here's a much more typical photo. This was the evening that Lee Moyer introduced Sammi to her first picture book.) 

I’m looking forward to playing Rising Sun again. It’s gonna make more strategic sense with the seasons aligned properly.

Over the weekend our 12-year old godson Lucas and I played a couple sorta-wargames that are also cardgames. First I taught him how to play Up Front, the amazing old Avalon Hill WW2 game that bills itself as the Advanced Squad Leader card game. It’s a fantastic system that handles actions, terrain, and combat resolution with a single deck of cards. I’ve played so many games of Up Front that even though it had been Many Years since I’d last played—so many years that the rubber bands holding the decks together all snapped immediately—I remembered the game well enough to teach it with fewer missteps than I’d added to Rising Sun. I made sure to play the Italians against Lucas’ British, but the Brits suffered mishap after mishap (a malfunctioning STEN gun!) and it was a proud day for Italy.

Then we played a couple games of Jeff Horger’s Manoeuvre from GMT. We both liked it a lot, the game hits a sweet spot for evoking Napoleonic battle without a complex rules set. I played with the Ottoman Turks and the Chinese 8-Banner Army against Lucas’ Brits. The photo shows Lucas’ finger pointing to where he intended the battle to be fought, instead of over to the right where a couple doughty British regiments had fallen to my Bannermen.


The Chinese are from the expansion, Distant Lands. It’s on sale for $25.00 on the GMT website. If you’re looking for a fast-playing light game that blends Napoleonic maneuvers with a touch of fantasy, this is a steal. It’s worth mentioning that Distant Lands has everything you need to play except the polyhedral dice, terrain that's more vanilla, and a box. The game is better with the core box added, which I'm sure you can still find in game stores, but the expansion alone creates fun battles.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Guest Post: Reskinned Cleric and Icons

Jonathan Tweet talks about our new 13th Age campaign . . . . 

One of the players in our gaming group stepped up to run 13th Age for us, specifically Eyes of the Stone Thief. That means Rob and I can play side-by-side for once instead of one of us being the “Age Master”. The players in our group call us “Age Master” when we GM, mostly as a way to make fun of us a little. Rob’s playing a monk who’s descended from rakshasas, which is perfectly normal for him. I’m playing Cyll, an aasimar cleric reskinned as a sophisticated master of ancient spirits. For this campaign, we reskinned a couple of the familiar tropes, mostly because I love to mess with things.

The Mystic: In place of the Priestess is a New Age figure known as the Mystic. We considered “Prophet” and “Guru”, but “Mystic” has the right connotation of mystery and perhaps ineffability. Unlike the Priestess, the Mystic is woolly-headed and noncommittal. He sees all things, good and evil, as part of a magical matrix, all of which is sacred in the eyes of the One Mind. He’s also sure that the Crusader is just fine, albeit easy to misunderstand. The Mystic’s sure that everything will turn out all right. In fact, everything already is all right if only we had the mystic vision to understand… Physically, the Mystic is the spitting image of Deepak Chopra, down to the Lenses of Mystery (Chopra’s eyeglasses). My character has a conflicted relationship with the Mystic, which is where this new take on the Priestess started. Maybe it will turn out that the Mystic is right about everything and my so-called spiritual character is just dead wrong about him.

The Archmage: Several of the characters are associated with the Archmage, mine positively. We decided that the Archmage would be the opposite of the Mystic: all competence and business. She’s the spitting image of Angela Merkel, maybe the most bad-ass woman on the world stage today. If the Archmage turns out to have a fatal blindspot, I won’t be surprised.

My “Cleric” and Clerics in General: My character uses the cleric stats, but he’s not a cleric. Instead, clerics in this campaign are slow-motion healers, and the instantaneous stuff that my character does is special to him. It’s the power of the spirits that he has contact with. I’ve renamed each spell or cleric power with a spirit name, and casting the spell means calling on that spirit. They tend to be family names, such as Big Sister for Heal, Grandfather Soma for Shield of Faith, and Monkey’s Uncle for Trickery-Domain effects. (The other spirits don’t like to associate with Monkey’s Uncle.) I also swapped in the rogue’s Smooth Talk talent as my “Spirit Voice” ability.

Aasimars: My character is a member of the Yzern clan, and ancient family known for arcane wisdom. We’re especially prominent in Newport, where clan members nepotistically help each other get established and take advantage of new opportunities. What most people don’t know is that the blood of angels courses through our veins. I picked the aasimar race for flavor, but probably I’d have been better off as a human. As an aasimar, I have a glorious head of wavy black hair that swooshes about as I turn my head, but I could have that as a human, too.

Here’s a photo of my mini and the new set of dice I got from a friend. They’re translucent, with wavy green color inside the die. 


On the topic of 13th Age, take a look at one of our latest releases, Book of Demons, available at the Pelgrane store and DriveThruRPG, in hard copy or PDF. Given the number of demons we've been fighting, I think our GM has plans for it.

https://site.pelgranepress.com/index.php/the-book-of-demons/

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/251272/The-Book-of-Demons

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Guesting at the Rose City Comic Con Sept 7-9!

Along with the fun people listed at the bottom of this blog, I'm a gaming guest at the upcoming Rose City Comic Con in Portland, Oregon. I lived in Portland for years during and after college, so it's going to be great to see old friends as well as new people.

Friday the 7th at 3 p.m. in Room 8, Paul Peterson and Tim Eisner and I are on a panel called Ask a Game Designer. Despite the ongoing example of the Onion, I'm pretty sure we won't be dispensing relationship advice.


Friday at 6 p.m., and again on Saturday at 5 p.m., I'll be at the Rainy Day Games booth signing things, talking about games, and running a demo or two for a couple hours.

The last time I was at Rose City Comic Con I ended up running a 7+ player demo of 13th Age for people who had never played rpgs before and who immediately turned the game into the only fully Player vs. Player deathmatch I've ever GMed! Speaking of deathmatches, this show I'll be demoing the Wrestlenomicon card game that I designed along with Shane Ivey and Dennis Detwiller for Arc Dream Publishing, coming to Kickstarter soon.

Here's the full gallery of wizards & rogues:


Wednesday, August 22, 2018

13th Age Mini-Adventures


Here’s the plan: we’re going to create a series of three 13th Age books that contain fully playable short adventures for all 13 of the icons, one adventure per icon at each of the three tiers.  

Oh. Wait. We already did it! The three books of mini-adventures are called High Magic & Low Cunning, The Crown Commands, and Fire & Faith. They’re designed by Cal Moore, with me handling development.

It turns out we made a mistake calling the series of books “Battle Scenes.” Yes, there are battles in these adventures. Most adventures focus on a series of potential conflicts. But there are also suggestions for other paths, reskinning advice to help you fit each adventure into your campaign, and all the types of icon-related details you expect in a published 13th Age adventure.

Cat and Simon and others who spend time behind Pelgrane booths at conventions noticed the problem first. GMs who are interested in buying books of mini-adventures sometimes skip right past the three Battle Scenes books because they want more for their game than battle scenes.

Hooray for GMs who want to tell worthwhile stories! Boo for us choosing the wrong name.

If you haven’t tried these mini-adventures in your game, the whole bundle is described in more detail and available here.



Monday, August 20, 2018

Guest Post: Thumbing Through 13th Age Glorantha

Jonathan Tweet gifts my blog with gaming-centered posts, and here he is, finally looking at something we created together! 

At Gen Con, I finally got a copy of 13th Age Glorantha for myself, and when I got home I looked it over page by page. During production, Rob worked with the art and layout to bring the book together, but I kept my eyes off it so I would be able to see the final book with fresh eyes. It was worth the wait! Over the last forty years, various art styles have represented Glorantha to gamers, and 13th Age Glorantha touches on all those styles. From Cults of Terror (1981), there’s a classic, full-color, black-and-white illustration of Thanatar. He’s the severed-head god whose worshipers steal magic from the heads of those they decapitate. There are plenty of stylized images of gods and heroes, which are perfectly suited for a myth-oriented world like Glorantha. Some illustrations are drawn in a comic-book style, which suggests the archetypal quality of the myths and those involved in them. Some illustrations represent a more recent style of Gloranthan imagery, with details inspired by East Asian and South Asian cultures and religious art. Other illustrations are gritty fantasy pieces, reflecting the down-to-earth aspects of roleplaying in Glorantha. It’s fun to see all these styles together, and it’s a cogent reminder that your Glorantha is up to you. 

The Glorantha Sourcebook is a treat to look at, too. It’s a system-free companion to 13th Age Glorantha, and it has lots of art that I would have loved to see when I was running Glorantha campaigns in high school and college. The iconic images of the gods do a great job of connecting the abstract background of Glorantha’s divine beings to the everyday life of characters in the world. 

Here’s a photo of a meaningful illustration from 13th Age Glorantha. This section of the book is about a terrible part of the God Time where your god was defeated, and this is Rich Longmore's depiction of the mighty Orlanth, defeated and broken. The player-characters get to enter the God Time in their god’s place, and then it’s their turn to face the denizens of Fangplace.


You can see I’m bookmarking some pages. These are places where I wrote something particularly harsh. Chaos is on the rise, and there’s plenty of harshness to go around. In one scenario in particular, I almost feel sorry for the players. 

Monday, August 13, 2018

Guest Post: On Dice Mechanics and Over the Edge

This is a guest post on  from Jonathan Tweet, who is in the last 24 hours of his Over the Edge Kickstarter with Atlas Games. I didn't directly contribute to the design of Over the Edge, but it turns out that I contributed indirectly! 

Rob’s first professional appearance at Wizards of the Coast was when he in brought an interesting skirmish miniatures game and showed it to leads in the game design group as a possible acquisition. It was designed as a Glorantha game, but it would work the same way for a Magic-based miniatures game. The special dice you rolled mostly had numbers on them, but some faces instead had runes that triggered special abilities. When you rolled the dice in this game, the numbers you rolled were important, but so were the runes. 

He brought the same approach to 13th Age, where a monster’s attack roll determines not only if it hits but also whether something else happens. For example, if a phase spider hits you with a d20 roll that’s even, it can make a second attack to steal one of your magic items. The attack roll means more than simply hitting or missing, and the gamemaster can use the same attack over and over with different results from round to round. 

The original Over the Edge from 1992 had a linear dice mechanic, where your roll of multiple dice resulted in a number that indicated how well you had performed the task being attempted. The new Over the Edge has a linear scale on two dice to determine success or failure, and it adds good twists (if a die is a 4) and bad twists (if a die is a 3). These are the surprising results, good or bad, that are part of the conflict’s resolution. The good twist and bad twist rule was the original concept that the whole dice rolling system is based on. That approach derives directly from Rob’s dice systems that provided results that were different not just in quantity or degree but in quality. 

The Kickstarter for the new Over the Edge ends Tuesday, August 14, at 11 am Pacific. 

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Over the Edge!


Design not final
Our Wednesday night gaming group stepped away from 13th Age games for about a year to play many short campaigns of Jonathan’s new Over the Edge.

We had fun with the initial draft, but I don’t think the first mechanics entirely worked for the group. A WMD-user named Ann Thunder was our nemesis in that campaign. We were all supposedly savvy agents but the storyline was eventually titled Ann Thunder Escapes. Ann Thunder had our number.

Our second long campaign went much better, though the mechanics were still in flux. We’d made jokes about our PCs running a sandwich shop together, and when the player who loved that joke wasn’t at the table the night we created characters, we gave him his wish! We called our shop Bread, Beef, & Beyond. The ‘beyond’ included a bomb-maker whose bombs changed people for the better and a transhumanist geneticist. Now that I think of it, the plot also hinged on the moment a ritually-augmented cow took an accidental plunge off the top of a university building, so there was more beef involved than I’d realized.

The next long campaign is where the mechanics came together wonderfully. We (well, maybe that’s largely me) stopped getting knocked out of roleplaying rhythm to question the mechanics. The roleplaying took off. This final version of OTE faultlessly handled our four diverse PCs going off in different directions, having full arc-closing experiences, and looping back together in a central plot. I’m hoping we return to this campaign some day, we were either going to get thoroughly messed up by the Temple of Divine Experience or just maybe we could come out on top. Or both!

The Kickstarter runs another four days.