Thursday, September 18, 2014

dark trolls, meet the Dragon Empire

The big troll chapter kicked into 13th Age in Glorantha Tuesday!

That sentence could be parsed a few ways, so let's work it out again. The Uz Rule Darkness chapter is going to be a big chapter and it's going to be about trolls, who are also big, though not generally as big as they are in games from the Tolkien and Gygax traditions.

We're going to spend a whole lot of 13th Age in Glorantha making sure our trolls are as awesome as when they erupted into Glorantha in Trollpak. But that's future typing. Today I just wanna mention a couple fun things I might do with Gloranthan trolls when I'm running 13th Age in the Dragon Empire setting of our Pelgrane books instead of running games in Glorantha.

This isn't any type of  'official' design talk. This is me coming up with stuff I'd throw into a campaign. Ah, alternate-world Glorantha variants: this is a gaming homecoming! This first idea riffs on Dragon Empire history. If you end up using it, I'll probably want to hear about it, or about other actual campaign play with your own bring-in-the-Uz notions.

Option A: Levered Up from the Darkness
The story starts centuries ago when the dark elves poisoned the underworld to get at the dwarves. As collateral impact the drow hadn't anticipated, their poison also hit the trolls.

Deep down, down below the roots of the earth, far below the halls and mineshafts of the dwarves, there had been nothing but Darkness and the endless caverns of the trolls. That changed when the drow poison dropped into the troll's perfect Darkness. Escaping deeper failed. Fleeing sideways failed. The trolls moved up through the worst of the poison, past budding living dungeons (tastes like mad drow disease), through the dark elves themselves (tastes great!), through the dwarves that saw them as another insane threat erupting from the underworld (densely filling!), and up to caves and complexes near the surface (yummy treats everywhere!).

Much of the troll mythology we know from Glorantha doesn't apply when the horrible surface world the trolls have had to migrate to is the Dragon Empire. So let's introduce some new Dragon Empire riffs. Elves and dwarves are still obviously the trolls' terrible enemies. Riffing on the 13th Age icon histories opens up an immediate twisted variant that's hard to resist.

The trollkin curse that prevents trolls from reliably birthing trolls and instead curses them with trollkin (tastes like depression) is from the dark elf poison. The drow poison didn't drive trolls crazy the way it affects most everyone else, instead it warped their offspring. How? Well, our Glorantha book is going to have trollkin stats. But in this campaign, what if trollkin count as orcs once they've come to the surface world? And this Orc Lord who has shown up in the 13th Age? What if he's actually an empowered trollkin, or at least trollkin-friendly, and he only failing to conquer everything because he keeps dividing his forces to slay elves, dwarves, trolls, and Dragon Empire humans all at the same time?

I like this path better than putting trolls themselves in the Orc Lord's camp. Dark trolls have too much self-respect and way too much matriarchal dignity to put up with orcish crap. But trollkin? With a bit of a twist they might get behind an Orc Lord. And this lets the trolls maintain their strange status as terrible-people-who-somehow-still-on-the-side-of-order-vs.-chaos.

There are other twists and turns in this plotline, but they'd be connected to campaign events instead of obvious from the start. You'd think that the elves and dwarves and trolls might manage to unite against this version of the Orc Lord, but it's going to be tough. Particularly since the Dwarf King is freaking about the fact that the dark trolls in this particular campaign *love* the taste of true magic items, something they never got back in the deep homeland.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Sprinkling touches of Glorantha through all your worlds

Explaining 13th Age to people was pretty easy. "Jonathan was the lead designer of 3rd Edition D&D. I was the lead designer of 4th Edition. We've gamed together for around 15 years and have always played in each other's campaigns. So with 13th Age, we went ahead and designed the indie-touched d20 rolling fantasy game we want to play together!"

There was more to it than that, but that's the gist. 

13th Age in Glorantha is a little harder to explain. Let's see. "Jonathan and I both loved Glorantha from the moment we met its world of myths and heroes who learn secrets of power from the gods. In fact, the game that originally carried us into Glorantha, RuneQuest, took us both out of D&D for many years. Now that we have 13th Age flying, we've figured out how to take our d20-rolling dungeon-crawling storytelling game and apply it to creating co-created monster slaying, mythcrawling, and world saving campaigns in Glorantha, the types of games we dreamt of playing with RQ but couldn't quite get the system to handle." 

Well, that's all true! But many of the 13th Age players who get hold of the new book aren't going to be using it at first to run Glorantha campaigns. People are going to be looting the book for things to use in their existing or next-in-planning Dragon Empire campaigns, or whatever they're running from their homebrewed campaign batches. 

I'm going to be running some 13th Age in Glorantha games. I'm also going to be running some Dragon Empire 13th Age games. So as another perspective on explaining 13th Age in Glorantha, I'm going to spend the rest of this blog writing about a few of the ways I'm going to use the 13G book when I'm running the Dragon Empire. (And yes, 13G is my preferred acronym for 13th Age in Glorantha.) Of course you can apply these to any campaign world you play 13th Age in. 

Drafting the Earth Priestess Class
Ernalda is the earth goddess, the queen of the pantheon that's headed by the air god, Orlanth. Orlanth gets to rule because Ernalda says he can.The class that's devoted to Ernalda is the earth priestess. Unlike some of the other classes and class variants in 13G, the earth priestess is going to be something entirely new, a class that's all about providing synergies to multiple members of the party depending on the other characters that are in the party. The metaphor for the way in which the earth priestess treat her allies is as family. She provides unique bonuses to characters they can't gain any other way and she also provides more and more synergies when characters from different pantheons mix within her 'Ernaldan family.' As a leader character, she also has a lot of say in how her gifts are used. The goal is a class that's less techy than the commander but just as likely to be telling allies what to do or how to do it.  

I know two players in my Wednesday night game who love this type of synergistic play. And the simple way it's going to be accessible (and sensible!) within 13A games is through an icon you might have heard echoes of in the paragraph above: the Priestess! Treating diverse talents as family? Embracing characters devoted to other icons and providing a common purpose? Yeah, the earth priestess class says Priestess from the start. 

Gloranthan Gods that Effectively Provide Powers Associated with the Icons!
The earth/Priestess highlights one of the contributions 13G is going to make to 13th Age character design and concepts. 

Since the early days of 13th Age playtesting, we've had people asking for powers and feats and spells that are directly dependent on specific icon relationships. Though you'll find traces of the icon-centered approach in places like the sorcerer's talents and the chaos mage, I've avoided this design direction for the most part. 

Partly that's because when you're designing the basics of classes, you don't want to screen interesting pieces off behind a single story/roleplaying element. Partly it's because we've been extremely focused on creating playable mechanics that as many characters as possible can use. When I've had interesting ideas for mechanics that only fit a small number of characters, I've usually set them aside and concentrated on mechanics that will get wider use. Not to mention that when I've let things that were icon-specific slide through into playtest drafts, playtesters have given me hell! 

But Glorantha alters the design dynamic. For Glorantha, we're designing powers and spells that apply only to worshippers of Ernalda the earth queen, or Kyger Litor the terrifying mother of darkness, or Orlanth the storm king. We have to be specific to capture the essential mythical pillars the world is based on. 

What that means for 13th Age in the Dragon Empire campaigns is that you will get to map the Gloranthan gods to your campaign's icons. Ernalda sure sounds like the Priestess, but maybe in your campaign the High Druid is all about unifying disparate forces against the Emperor, so characters with icon relationships with the High Druid will also make sense as earth priestesses. 

Orlanth and the wind lords are a more interesting case. Depending on the 13th Age campaign you're running, you might decide that powers and spells and class variants that relate to Orlanth could be chosen by character with positive or conflicted relationships with the Elf Queen, High Druid, just possibly the Great Gold Wyrm, and also strangely enough the Emperor! We'll map out the campaign dynamics suggested by these choices. All of these choices could make sense, and as a bit of player empowerment there will also be the option for a character connected to the Crusader or the Prince of Shadows making a case for why they have powers connected to the air and the storm. 

The end result is going to be a wide range of interesting talents, powers, spells, and feats designed to be fully compatible with all other 13th Age powers. But for a change, these talents and spells will make sense associated with specific icons. They will tap into Glorantha's deep mythic approach to its gods and goddesses and you get to control the translation of that approach to your campaign's icons. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Adding Uz (aka dark trolls) to 13th Age

We just announced another stretch goal for the 13th Age in Glorantha Kickstarter and it's a doozy. Looks like this:

$60,000 – New Chapter: Uz Rule Darkness

A full chapter on using Gloranthan trolls as PCs, with playable myths and a new Uz* class that taps into many troll goddesses and gods. (*Also accessible to Darkness-rune humans!)

We started on this path when when the earlier $50,000 Enter Zorak Zoran stretch goal that we're presently scooting towards introduced trolls as an Elder Race.

Heck, we *started* on this path when I wanted the dancing troll priestess who appears in the blog post just below this post to be on the cover of our 13th Age in Glorantha postcards at GenCon! But I didn't want to come out and say it from the start because the treatment of Uz/trolls as a fully playable race unlocks my vision for the book.

The default way to play 13th Age in Glorantha is going to be with an eclectic (let's not call them motley!) band of adventurers from different pantheons who worship different gods with diverse powers. The world is under assault by Chaos. Heroquests that used to be solved by Orlanth's air powers alone now require new allies. Chaos monsters that have stolen portions of each pantheon's power can most easily be defeated by warriors whose powers cover a runic spectrum instead of sticking to only a single clan, a single tribe.

Of course Glorantha savants will be able to run many other flavors of campaign. But for 13th Age players new to the world, the important thing is to outline a few central pillars (Orlanth is Storm King, Ernalda is Earth Queen, Humakt is Death's Champion) and riff from there. When Uz Rule Darkness enters the book as a central pillar, we broaden the adventuring party beyond Orlanthi & Friends--or we redefine who can count as friends.

In Gloranthan terms, Dragon Pass is going through a variation of I Fought We Won, when unlikely allies have to bond together. Adventuring parties look a lot like they did in early RQ when most of us combined heroes from diverse pantheons.

In 13th Age terms, the Uz are the first race that comes with its own class! Talents in the Uz class let you focus on insect-transformation powers (the god Gorakikki) or spirit-summoning (Kyger Litor), battle (Karrg), throwing expendable trollkin at your problems (TBD, but possibly Kyger Litor again) or even healing (Xiola Umbar). Yeah, it's one of those druid-style classes, you could have a whole party of Uz without repeating much. And this class will be fully playable in any 13th Age campaign, in fact just lifting the Uz and dropping them into a 13th Age game is one of the straightforward translations from Glorantha to a version of the Dragon Empire.You wouldn't even necessarily need the dark trolls themselves, if you wanted to make it a human thing. Or maybe a half-orc or dark elf thing . . . .

Uz Rule Darkness isn't our next stretch goal. In fact there's a marvelous goal involving the Chaos demon known as the Crimson Bat that comes first, that I'm going to write about soon. But I'm talking about Uz now because we're in the middle of the Enter Zorak Zoran goal, the first bite of the troll. Just as the Zorak Zoran stretch goal is going to add new playable myths to Glorantha, this new chapter that covers many Uz is likely to spin us into new myth cycles in which the trolls are protagonists. Given the central vision of the Chaos-assault upon the world, even the Uz need some help. Crunchy-tasty surface people end being useful for something other than food. It's gonna be a romp!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Priestess Says Dance!

The 13th Age in Glorantha Kickstarter is live! 

I'm ecstatic that we're rolling.

And we *are* rolling. Jan Pospisil's dark troll priestess bangs the drum and Kickstarter is dancing! (Jan's art is from the Guide to Glorantha and he'll be doing similarly splendid work for our new book.)

See you on the heroquest.

Monday, August 25, 2014

a few of the things I learned at GenCon

People love runes.

How the hipster burned his mouth. 

Ed Greenwood's helpful aide, whose name I never caught, can most memorably be referred to an Elminion. 

Sandy Petersen's upcoming Gloranthan Gods War game is the answer to many of my childhood prayers. My grown-up self is feeling pretty good about it too, and as an added bonus we could use some of the minis in 13th Age in Glorantha!

E-Bay sagely eliminated the sale of souls on its auction site, ruling that souls are either non-existent or human remains, and in either case, sale of souls doesn't fly. Ken, who frequently writes about stuff, observed, "That's what Etsy is for."

The one thing we can all be grateful to Margaret Thatcher for is Warhammer 40K. 40Kcouldn't have happened without her. Thatcher had to soften up the area first. 

Don't ask Will Hindmarch to fetch your balloon off the ceiling unless you are prepared to run. 

When you ask the only nanny who has ever been admitted to the assassin's guild to take care of the baby, it's best to specify precisely what you mean by that. (Thanks, Cthulhuchick!). 

Feng Shui 2 = More Monkeys with Helix Rippers. Atlas Games Kickstarter in September and I'm there with hells on. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

This is us in Glorantha!

Fire Opal and Moon Design have announced the identity and Kickstarter starting date (August 27!) for our wild new 13th Age book!

13th Age in Glorantha is a supplement that will bring 13th Age's d20-rolling storytelling style to mythic adventures in Greg Stafford's world of Glorantha.

I've overjoyed about the project. There is a lot I want to say about the team (Jonathan! ASH! Jeff! Jan!) and our plans and the collaboration with Moon Design. But I'm getting ready to fly to GenCon tomorrow and I've already typed out a lot of what needs to be said at this point in sections of the website called WHAT? and DRAFT OUTLINE.

So for now, here's a story about the triptychs below that depict me and my wife Lisa as young adults, middle-aged souls, and clan elders. Stefano Gaudiano painted us as potential members of the clan ring for the Gloranthan computer/iOS game King of Dragon Pass.

Lisa was happy about the inclusion, but then slightly less happy when she turned out to have been included as a priestess of Uralda, the cow goddess, while I got to be an Eurmali trickster!

There were two saving graces. First, Lisa's Gloranthan avatar also appeared as a priestess of the Earth queen, Ernalda, and that was alright. Second, the first time that artist Stefano Gaudiano met Lisa, he jogged across the wide lawn of Olympic Park Institute to catch up with her and said, "Oh! You must be Lisa! I am so sorry I did not meet you before I painted you! You are so much prettier than in the photo I saw, I wish I had met you in person."

Bravo, Stefano.

And bravo for David Dunham and Robin Laws and Greg Stafford, the main architects of King of Dragon Pass, because if you're curious about Glorantha now that we're bringing 13th Age to the world, King of Dragon Pass is a marvelous playable introduction. It worked splendidly for Lisa, who is not ordinarily a roleplaying gamer.

Amusingly, KoDP didn't work quite so well for 13th Age in Glorantha collaborator ASH LAW because he just wanted to go exploring and on heroquests, not take care of his herds and his crops. His clans kept dying of starvation just as he was about to accomplish great things. In ASH's defense, 13th Age in Glorantha IS going to be all about the exploring and the heroquesting, so I may tease him about his lack of clan stewardship, but he's on the right track for our book!

Another place to get an introduction to Glorantha, if you are at GenCon, would be to visit the Moon Design booth or catch the Introduction to Glorantha panel at 6 pm Thursday at Crowne Plaza: Victoria Station C/D. There's also another Glorantha panel that looks like it will be excellent earlier on Thursday, Gaming as Mythic Exploration.

Is the final 13th Age in Glorantha book going to look like the draft outline that's up on the web? To some extent, I think, just as Lisa and I seem to be following trajectories akin to what Stefano traced for us in Glorantha!

If you are dedicated 13th Age player, have no fear, we're going to treat this book with the same love and innovation we put into 13th Age, the Bestiary, and 13 True Ways. If you're a Glorantha fan, I hope you'll come along with us as we play through the myths.

Friday, August 8, 2014


My sprite-like pieces of self that get things done on the internet were busy this week. Here's a short list of surfacings. If you already caught them all, thank you and good night!

I wrote a 13th Sage column for Pelgrane Press about when it might be a good idea to let the monsters use the escalation die in 13th Age. Should be helpful to many GMs. And if you're a player it will give you a couple signs to watch out for!

Pelgrane also helpfully posted the schedule of 13th Age seminars at GenCon. Which turns out to be exactly the same as my seminar schedule at GenCon. One seminar a day, and I'll be using the Pelgrane booth as my main home base during the show. I get to team up with ASH and Gareth for a couple seminars on adventure and monster design, with Ruth Tillman (CthulhuChick) and Mike Shea and Wade for another on GMing, and then there's a Year One seminar with Simon and Wade.

If you're not going to GenCon and you still want to hear me run a game, the Reverend En Fuego's crew at BJ's Geek Nation just started posting the first installment of the game I ran for them using 13 True Ways characters. I admit that the full session didn't get around to including a lot of gaming. The character creation process took me by surprise. I usually run demos freeform and just respond to what the table gives me, but for once I thought, "Hey, I'll have something ready and actually bring minis and monster stats." So I made the mistake of preparing three different battle encounters that I thought I'd be able to choose for an action-packed first session. Of course the players surprised me with something I really wasn't ready for, so we're going to get into the meat of the adventure the next session. Was character creation and story set up fun? Oh yeah. Especially if you'll enjoy learning from my mistakes.

Most all the monsters I had planned to introduce to the BJ's Geek Nation crew were from the 13th Age Bestiary. Which coincidentally had its PDF-only version go on sale at the Pelgrane shop and on DriveThruRPG yesterday.

Meanwhile Catalyst has released the full rules for Shadowrun: Crossfire as a PDF and we have confirmation that there are going to be many boxes of the game for sale at the show! I'm not going to be helping with Crossfire stuff as much as some people in Fire Opal, I'll be more focused on 13th Age, but I will help with a Crossfire event or two and teach a few friends how to play.

Speaking of product that will be at GenCon, 13 True Ways has shipped, apparently just ever-so-slightly behind our friend Bruce Cordell's Kickstarter book, The Strange. But that's OK because Bruce started his book long after.... oh. Right. OK. The point is: 13 True Ways will also reach many people soon and will also be at GenCon!

And even as 13 True Ways is en route, the wonderful secret 13th Age project that Jonathan and ASH and I are working on is going to be announced this Sunday! ASH and I will be able to talk about the early stages of the design at GenCon.