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.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Where I'll Be at GenCon

In pictures, my week looks like this...

Here's the text version!

Thursday, August 2

13th Age Adventure Design Seminar.
11 a.m. to noon. . .
Lucas Oil Meeting Room 1
We run these as audience-participation workshops, so y’all will brainstorm a 13th Age adventure with Jonathan Tweet and Wade Rockett and I functioning as multiclass ringleader/muses!

Pelgrane Booth, Signing & Talking
3:30 to 5:00 PM
Booth #1317
I’m likely to be around the Pelgrane booth other hours also, but if you want to be sure to catch me, these are the times.

Wrestlenomicon Playtest/Demos
5:30 to 8:00 PM
First Exposure Playtest Room,  convention room109 near the bottom of the Westin escalators
I’ll be running games of Wrestlenomicon in the First Exposure Playtest  Room. It’s a two or three-player card game of apocalyptic professional wrestling between elder gods, launching on Kickstarter later in August!! 

My co-designers Shane Ivey & Dennis Detwiller of Arc Dream will be running Wrestlenomicon in First Exposure starting at noon. The later shift goes to Fire Opal Games CEO Marie Poole and me, Marie will start at 4:00 while I’m in the Pelgrane booth.

Friday, August 3

13th Age Monster Design Seminar.
11 a.m. to noon. . .
Lucas Oil Meeting Room 5
Another audience participation workshop with experienced 13th Age monster designers at the mics . . . and one developer, if Paul Fanning can join us.  Two of the monsters created in previous seminars appeared in Lions & Tigers & Owlbears: 13th Age Bestiary 2 last year!

Worldbuilding from Different Directions Seminar
12 noon to 1:00 PM
Lucas Oil Meeting Room 1
Here’s something you won’t see every year: at least three game designers involved with different games, all inspired by the same world, getting together to compare perspectives and approaches. Of course it’s Greg Stafford’s world of Glorantha, and Jeff Richard and Jason Durall and I will be talking about HeroQuest, RuneQuest, and 13th Age Glorantha.

Pelgrane Booth, Signing & Talking
3:00 to 5:00 PM
Booth #1317

Wrestlenomicon Playtest/Demos
8:00 PM to midnight
First Exposure Playtest Room

Saturday, August 4

Swords, Spies, & Shoggoths: The Pelgrane Press Panel
2:00 to 3:00 PM
Lucas Oil Meeting Room 5

Pelgrane Booth, Signing & Talking
3:30 to 5:30 PM
Booth #1317

Sunday, August 5

13th Age Glorantha Seminar
10:00 to 11:00 AM
Lucas Oil Meeting Room 7
Jonathan Tweet, Michael O’Brien (MOB) and I will take a jaunt through the many Gloranthas that helped create our 466-page labor of love and talk about the many possible campaigns it can help create, in and out of Glorantha. 

[[Also Sunday at 10:00 a.m until 2:00 p.m., Shane Ivey and Dennis Detwiller will be running more Wrestlenomicon demos in the First Exposure room.]] [

13th Age Glorantha Demo: The Next Valley Over
Noon to 2:00 PM
Chaosium Gaming Room
I put this demo and its pregen characters together last week. It’s in the freeform style you may have experienced playing the 13th Age convention demo I created a few years back. Other GMs will be running the demo throughout the convention. 

Pelgrane Booth, Signing & Talking
2:30 to 4:30 PM
Booth #1317

…And that’s the plan, aside from business meetings, design meetings, seeing friends, keeping contact with Fire Opal Games comrade Jay Schneider as he helps run Dragonfire and Shadowrun: Crossfire events, and touring the hall to surf the wave of thousands of happy gamers!

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The Subject Will be Revealed

Back in the 90s, when Lisa and I moved to the Bay Area so I could work at Chaosium, I got some fun postcards from a non-gamer friend in the Pacific Northwest who had gotten involved in a roleplaying experience he knew I would want to hear about. Every week for about a year, the players were creating poetry and art from the perspective of their characters. They did more worldbuilding than playing, when they played it sounded like a mix of roleplaying and live-action roleplaying. The game was full of secrets and spies and conspiracies. I asked for more info.

They were on an island. There were some really screwed up people running the island. Martial arts. Aliens, probably. Definitely magic.

Wait, wait, I said: are you playing Over the Edge? My friend wasn’t sure.

Is the island called Al Amarja? Yes!

I loved that this Over the Edge GM had made the game’s publishing history invisible to the players. They were having an experience, on an island named Al Amarja, and it was so over-the-edge that the game book stayed hidden.

I told my friend that I knew the guy who’d written the game, and that I’d introduce them someday. Years later, I did.

Vault forward another few years and Jonathan has revised Over the Edge. We playtested for a few months in my gaming garage, playing multiple mini-campaigns as Jonathan streamlined the system and shaped new storytelling tricks for the off the edge/grid campaigns of the 2020s.

The Kickstarter runs for the next three weeks. Visit soon. 

Monday, April 30, 2018

Cursed Court: Four Coins Variant

This is a guest post from Jonathan Tweet about a game we both love. You can find him on Twitter at @JonathanMTweet or on Google+ as Jonathan Tweet 
Atlas Games has a new board game that’s about placing bets based on shared, limited information, and it’s become one of my favorite multiplayer board games. Cursed Court was designed by Andrew Hanson, with great art by Lee Moyer. The board and cards consist mainly of art, so it’s an attractive game. The core mechanic is simple but deep, where each player starts with foreknowledge of two cards guaranteed to come up, one card secretly shared with the player to the left and the other with the player to the right. Players take turns betting on which cards and card combinations are going to turn up, watching each others’ bets closely to try to discern what the other players know.
Coins are used to guarantee the bets that players make. Each round, each player ends up with four bets placed on the board, each one backed up with a number of coins. Another player can take your place on a bet if they devote twice as many coins to the bet as you did. For example, if you bet on “The Scandal”, you score 3 points if, at the end of the round, the Courtesan, Queen, and Assassin are all in play. You can also put any number of coins on the bet, and they indicate how committed you are to it. Later in the round, another player can kick you off “The Scandal” by committing at least twice as many coins as you did. The coins add an important degree of strategy, both in how you assign coins and how you interpret the coins assigned by others. Bluffing can throw off other players, so it sometimes pays to assign coins to a bet that you’re not sure of.
The drawback of using the coins is that they lead to time spent counting and calculating. Players are stuck sometimes trying to figure out whether it makes more sense to commit 6 coins or 7. To figure that out, you need to know how many coins other players have left to play, which means counting their stacks.
When I play, I make a simple change to the rules. Instead of each player starting with 20 coins, you get 4. At this scale, the difference of 1 coin plus or minus is actually significant, and you see at a glance how many coins each player has left to use. Players get the same range of options, from committing no coins on a bet to committing all of them, but their intermediate options are limited to three: 1, 2, or 3 coins. The game moves faster, and you don’t really lose anything.
One game design rule of thumb that I’m sometimes credited with is that in a game two things should be the same or different. When we designed 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons, we made all the standard humanoid monsters, such as goblins and hobgoblins, noticeably different from each other. That was an example of the same-or-different rule in practice. The four coins variant is another result of that thinking. With 20 coins, when you back up a bet with 6 of them, it’s not the same as using 7 but it’s not all that different, either. Likewise, backing a bet with 1 coin is almost the same as not using any coins at all. Using only four coins, two different levels of commitment are always significantly different from each other because each individual coin is one-fourth of your total.
—Jonathan Tweet

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Book of Demons: using symbols from @GameIcons

In the last chapter of Book of Demons, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan wrote some deceptively calm text describing things that can be found in the Citadel of the Diabolist. I loved his understated approach to iconic horrors, and realized that using a traditional illustration style wouldn't fit. Instead, I decided to try understated silhouette-style symbols to maintain the contrast.

I asked layout artist Badger McInnes to play symbol-artist, but before Badger started, ASH LAW pointed me towards the treasure trove of Creative Commons symbols made available by @game-icons/. They're up to over 3300 symbols tailored for gaming, wonderful stuff for both published games and prototypes.

The site is searchable with tags and it was no problem to find ten symbols that worked by Lorc and Delapouite. Badger slightly modified the symbols, we handled the Creative Commons licensing text in the credits, and you can find them on page 103 of Book of Demons. Here's a snippet of the page with Gareth's text and three of the symbols . . . .

My stupid mistake was that I miscounted and only credited them with nine symbols. I left the Cultist icon by Lorc out of my count, the symbol just above. We ended up using ten symbols from game-icons, not nine. I didn't discover the error until I was writing this blog post and realized I wasn't going to be able to simply recommend the game-icons site, I also need to apologize for screwing up the count.

Apology: I apologize. I got confused. Gosh darn demon cultists.

Recommendation: Game-icons is a wonderfully useful site. Follow them on twitter at @gameicons. Design a game about prehistory because they just uploaded wonderful prehistoric icons. Have fun!