Tuesday, July 28, 2015

GenCon and other news

As a big change of pace, I'm not attending GenCon this year. My family needed me home more than people needed me at GenCon. Given that I experienced the full GenCon prep period but won't have the full GenCon, I'm going to enjoy rounding into my non-GenCon jobs.

Here's a round-up of some of the people from Fire Opal who are attending GenCon, many of whom will frequently be found at the Pelgrane booth among the Pelgranistas.

Cal Moore will be at GenCon, should be on a 13th Age panel or two, and has just had Sharpe Initiatives: Earthgouger come out as this month's installment of 13th Age Monthly. Earthgouger is a tiny taste of the many types of fun that Cal put it into the upcoming Battle Scenes books. I'm developing and writing the art order for the first book in that series, tentatively titled High Magic & Low Cunning: Battle Scenes for Five Icons. Cal has been the editor extraordinaire for all my 13th Age books (including the 13th Age Bestiary that is up for an ENnie) and I'm enjoying turning the developer/editor tables and working on his big books.

ASH ALL FREAKING CAPS ALL THE TIME LAW will be at GenCon, fresh from having put together the final installment of the first season of 13th Age OP, The Battle of Axis, and the first installment of the second season, Race to Starport, that's going to be played often at the con. ASH has been working on other 13th Age things also, those are merely the two adventures I personally developed in the push towards GenCon. He'll be on 13th Age panels. Go, ASH, go!

Wade Rockett will be on every 13th Age panel except the Monster Design Workshop. He will be splitting time between the Pelgrane booth (#609), helping get the 13th Age Alliance started, and the Kobold booth. Which reminds me, I need to arrange a pelgrane vs. kobold deathmatch in the poking-the-Emperor-in-the-eye gladiatorial arena in Drakkenhall, but that probably doesn't have much to do with Wade, who is All About the Owlbears.

Rob Watkins and Jay Schneider will be mostly busy with Shadowrun: Crossfire, the co-op board game we designed for Catalyst that is up for an ENnie in the RPG Related category. Jay is also going to be busy with biz.

Jonathan Tweet is taking a break from 13th Age in Glorantha to attend the con! He will mostly be found at Peter Adkison's Chaldea booth (#2332) running a Chaldea minigame he designed. He'll also be on the 13th Age in Glorantha panel. The two of us recently talked a bit about that game, and many other 13th Age topics on the recently released "The Future of 13th Age" episode of the Iconic podcast.

And speaking of 13th Age in Glorantha, here are a couple photos from our game last Wednesday. The first photo has Neil Robinson of Moon Design (GenCon booth #2535) on the left, playing Vastorlanth, a Moon-touched Lothario of an Orlanthi rebel. I'm in the dragon shirt enjoying the action with the escalation die cranked to 3. And that's special guest star Jeff Richard of Moon Design on the right, lowing as Mel, the former herdman Storm Bull berserker. The second photo is Jonathan's end of the table, with the glowing ball in the center of the battlefield representing the magical Water feature created by Sean's storm sorcerer when he narrated his Water rune to purify the broo-infected corpse of the Bagnot former headman and rolled a complication. Walktapus tentacle just visible at the bottom of the shot . . . .



Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Summoning Spells!


We've just cast a Summoning Spells installment of the 13th Age Monthly into subscribers' download accounts.

I had fun writing this one because I've been thinking a lot about how summoning works in 13th Age while working on 13th Age in Glorantha. Wizard and cleric summoning spells don't work the same as the druid and necromancer spells that appeared in 13 True Ways so the article starts with the new rules, part of the reason this is the biggest installment of the Monthly so far.

Highlights of the spells include lantern archons that are better at healing allies who have some trace of intelligence, wisdom, or charisma (healing equal to the highest ability score modifier!), the pentagram halos that float above the heads of demons you otherwise probably shouldn't be summoning, and the laughing demon, a new demon type that's surprisingly easy to control, but that may mean the joke is on you.

You can see the demon-halo and the laughing demon in the wonderful cover illustration by Rich Longmore, shown without logos above. There's more great art by Rich inside the issue, including a beautifully expressive shot of a wizard summoning an earth elemental that influenced the final mechanics.

This isn't the last word on cleric and wizard summoning. We'll follow-up on the subject in later products. Feedback on the spells in the article will also help the things that make it into print later. (And I should mention that the campaign variants mentioned in this issue's original capsule blurb will also show up in later products. I ended up sticking to spells and definite rules instead of outlining all the other options.)

If you've got a subscription, your Pelgrane account box should have the file already. If you'd like a subscription to the 13th Age Monthly, visit the Pelgrane store and you'll also get the previous five issues from this year. Or wait a couple weeks and this issue will be available as a single purchase on both the Pelgrane store and Drive-Thru RPG.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Notes on Eidolons

Eidolons_cover
A few days ago we put out Eidolons byASH LAW, an issue of the 13th Age Monthly that harnesses the full monster description style we used in the 13 True Ways Bestiary. If you helped playtest the Bestiary, you may even recognize these eidolons, because we put out an earlier version as part of the playtest package. Playtesters liked them, I liked them, it was only a matter of time before we were going to publish them.

What follows are developer notes on the article. If you want to see what I'm talking about, pick up a subscription to the 13th Age Monthly and you'll get this issue and the four previous issues as part your subscription. 

Our Focus on the Icons
I pulled eidolons and several other monsters out of the 13th Age Bestiary because the Bestiary was the first major product in the line and I wanted it to keep our focus on the icons. Eidolons are creatures from other realities. They warp the rules, so much that ASH included optional madness rules for PCs forced to deal with other realities. That’s fun stuff for GMs who want it, but in our very first 13th Age support book, I decided to stay closer to mainstream fantasy by not summoning too many non-Euclidean creatures from outside time and space.

As the line developer for 13th Age, the Bestiary taught me that designers needed more guidance about using the icons that are central to 13th Age. The creative streak that leads people to design games and write stories is sometimes a wild streak. When creators see a setting that’s all about something particular, like the icons, the temptation is to veer away from ‘what everybody is doing’ and bring in themes that haven’t been touched yet.  

Obviously that type of invention is a good thing, most of the time. But there’s are several big reasons that most published 13th Age material stays focused on the icons, and one of these reasons that may not be apparent is to allow players, GMs, and individual campaigns to happily riff on everything else! The baseline in rpgs is a line that gets criss-crossed and repurposed by most every game table. By keeping our focus on the icons and everyone who is involved with them, we leave more space for the character who wants their One Unique Thing to be truly unique and the GM who surprises everyone with a campaign idea no one saw coming.

Turns out that eidolons could also spring some of those surprises. They’re a multi-purpose tool for campaigns that want a new approach to NPCs and monsters that can only temporarily be removed by sword and spell.

The Optional Madness Mechanics
ASH is extremely fond of warped things from the outer colors of the reality palette. He’s wanted madness mechanics for awhile, I think. My sticking point is that madness mechanics have to be fun. This is a game that has to stay enjoyable to play rather than a simulation of what happens to a brain under assault from colors beyond space. Sometimes game mechanics for this type of thing are only enjoyable if you can appreciate the aesthetics of disintegration without caring that you’re now useless. There are good games that take that path, but 13th Age isn’t one of them. People who test these mechanics and send us playtest feedback at 13thAgePlaytest@gmail.com will have input on the book that’s underway that will use a version of this madness approach.

A Note on Art
Eidolon appearance can be nearly anything. And yet each of the eidolon illustrations, from Rich Longmore’s wonderful eye-catching cover to the roiling mess that is the eidolon in war form, has the same style of six glowing eyes.

First, this is mostly because I sent Rich a photo I’d taken in art museum of Catalonia in Barcelona as reference. My photo looked like this: 
So Rich gave me what I asked for, albeit with six glowing eyes instead of the seven I just realized are showing on the creature above. 

Second, you don’t have to interpret the art as saying that all eidolons have six glowing eyes. In my case, it's a post-facto explanation, but I think it works: these are all illustrations of the same eidolon!

As ASH said, Each eidolon is different and can assume different forms (as mentioned later in the stats section), but each eidolon also has its own distinct “look” and “voice” that it possesses no matter what shape mortals perceive it to be taking.

This eidolon’s look is that it has six glowing eyes no matter what form it’s in!

Friday, June 5, 2015

Epic Spell Blahs

A funny thing happened on the way to the publication of the second ESW set, Epic Spell Wars: Rumble at Castle Tentakill.

Actually, I wish it was funny, but it’s not, and I’m no longer the target audience.

I handled mechanical design on this set and its Mt. Skullzyfyre predecessor, aided by Matt Hyra’s devteam at Cryptozoic. Cory Jones of Cryptozoic renames the cards and writes the art descriptions and writes the story in the rulebook. What that means is that a large portion of the game’s initial success came from Cory, because I suspect that more people bought the game for its Nick Edwards art and its over-the-top theme than for the mechanics. I’d kinda hoped to shift that equation a little with set 2, because I was really happy with the choices added by the new mechanics, Blood, and creatures.

But I was wrong about thinking that the first set had been pushed to the edge. I didn’t realize that Cryptozoic was going to put an AWESOME MATURE CONTENT AND PROFANITY warning on the box, and I didn’t realize what that would mean.

I saw the cards for the first time last week and I wasn’t amused. There are sexist cards, racist cards, sniggering cards, and just plain ugly cards. It irritated me so much I only got through half the cards the first day.

I’ve discussed the set with Cory and he says he thinks of the ESW property as an Adult Swim cartoon. Huh. I think that’s a category error, and that even if you managed to make an Adult Swim cartoon out of a game, you wouldn’t handle the game as if it were the cartoon.

I’d been thinking of ESW as a game I was happy playing with my female and male friends and at conventions with strangers. But that’s not true anymore, unless I strip out the sexist and racist cards and squint at the rest.

I view this Adult Swim approach as a mistaken rebranding of an already successful game property that had wider appeal. Cory sees it as a minor alteration of an already edgy property.

And maybe he’s right about the minor alteration angle. It looks like I didn’t take the storyline in the first rulebook seriously enough, probably because it ticked me off. Certainly I believed that the game had found its tone the first time out. Turns out I was wrong. If this second set really is only a minor alteration, it turns out that the first set was as far as I was comfortable taking a game meant to be played by people I like. 

So I’m opting out of Epic Spell Wars publicity. I’m not pushing the game or running it at conventions.

Cory has apologized for surprising me with the switch to the NSFW model of the game and has agreed to take my name off the cover of the second printing.


The anthropologist in me is curious to see how this plays out. The rest of me is irritated.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Roman Aqueducts, Hell's Bells

Last month Lisa and I and the rest of her family took an amazing vacation through Barcelona and southern France. It was the first non-working vacation I've taken in a dozen years and there were so many splendid moments that attending an actual Barcelona game (vs. Almeria, league minnows) fell out of the top seven joys of the trip. I'll write some of those moments up eventually.

For now, a moment that came a few days after the Pont du Gard photo above was taken.

We were staying at a hotel inside the old walled city of Carcassonne. For ironic effect, Lisa had brought our copy of Carcassonne along in the luggage, but there were better things to do than play boardgames in the hotel, so the box ended up serving as a postcard'n'art storage unit!

Past midnight, Lisa and I decided to go for a walk all around the old city's inner walls, sometimes climbing up on the outer parapets where the floodlights showed the route. The walk alternated between long periods of silence and isolation dotted with bizarre moments of frenetic activity. Once a celebrating rugby team roared past on their own top-speed circuit of the walls. Later a small forest of birds chirped at full volume, fooled as intense spotlights aimed at the inner wall simulated morning.

Before the rugby team and the birds, in the quiet section when it seemed we were alone, we rounded a corner tower and stepped onto the longest straightaway. There was no one else in sight, only bats flitting overhead, weaving out of the towers under the moon. And then power chords started up in the distance. Da Da Da da-da-da Duh Duh DUH. Repeat. I knew the tune. Couldn't place it for another few steps. We were still hundreds of yards from the source but omg it was Hell's Bells, AC-DC.

Another few dozen steps and it was clear it was a live band. Deep bass thumping down from up high on the walls. Two-thirds of the way down the long straightaway we passed beneath the band's hole in the fortifications. Thirty-five yards up the thick inner wall of Carcassonne, blue and green light swirled out of an arrow-slit, accompanied by the best attempts of a French rock'n'roll band to scream Aussie lyrics.

A couple hundred more steps and we'd rounded the final tower of the straightaway and were back in the muted world of midnight between the walls.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Osprey's New Wings

This isn't a blog with new news. It's an appreciation.

A few years ago Osprey Publishing started publishing miniatures wargames in book form. This probably shouldn't have been a huge surprise, since Osprey's military history line has long been a huge resource for miniatures painters and historical wargame designers. So far my two favorites in the Osprey wargame line are Lion Rampant--Medieval Wargame Rules, by Daniel Mersey, and Andrea Sfiligoi's A Fistful of Kung Fu--Hong Kong Movie Wargame Rules.

The wargame line has notably moved away from the straight historical treatments that Osprey made its name with. Andrea's book, for example, is a skirmish wargame treatment of the territory Feng Shui arranges for roleplaying games. And with the launch of the Osprey Adventures line in 2010, Osprey has a full-fledged documentary fantasy project going, with books on everything from Hercules to Zombies to Werewolves and Ken Hite's The Nazi Occult.

The catalog of about-to-be-published Osprey books is a bit like walking into the history section at the bookstore and finding yourself at a gaming convention. Chris Pramas is about to publish Orc Warfare! Phil Masters is coming out with The Wars of Atlantis. Ken is putting together The Cthulhu Wars.

In a week, two friends have Osprey books coming out that I've already pre-ordered. Ryan Miller has a naval wargame, Fighting Sail: Fleet Actions 1775-1815. And Steve Long is publishing Odin: The Viking Allfather. The artist for Odin, a Spanish woman named a-RuMor, does great stuff, and I'm keen to see Steve's treatment of Odin-through-history and Odin-in-myth.

 


Friday, March 13, 2015

What the world needs now, is another freaking zombie

This newly arrived 13th Age zombie has two inspirations. 

First, I've been reading Jason Sholtis' compilation of The Dungeon Dozen: Random-Tables for Fantasy RPGs. "Reading" may be the wrong word, but I've definitely been picking it up and allowing photons from its pages to slam into my eyeballs. 

Second, I like the way one of the zombies in Cal Moore's Shadows of Eldolan adventure randomly ends up with a pumpkin stuck on its head and keeps on fighting, since hey, what does a zombie care? I started wondering if there was another interesting zombie I could insert into a crowded market-scene, and the mook below is the result. 

My guess is that the coin zombie is a necromancer's attempt to answer the age-old problem affecting most zombie attacks, which is that normal people start running away when zombies attack, and people run faster than zombies. A small expenditure of coins, an enchantment based on mortal greed, and you've got a zombie that magically convinces its targets to stick around and be eaten. 

If your PCs are the type who count every coin, feel free to let them collect coins of various denominations that add up to 1d4 gp per coin zombie after the fight. If innocent bystanders and NPCs ended up getting nabbed by the jackpot or sticking around to pocket coins, subtract a few from the loot. If your PCs are the type to track down every last coin . . . [[insert GM stage-whisper]], curse the coins. They did fall out of a zombie's guts, so they were cursed to begin with.  

Coin Zombie

We’re not sure where you got the idea that treasure falling out of dead monsters was a good thing, but it wasn't from this booby-trapped horror.

2nd level mook [undead]
Initiative: +2

Greedy claw +7 vs. AC—3 damage

C: Lethal jackpot +7 vs. MD (1d3 nearby enemies/bystanders)—3 ongoing psychic damage, and if target moves while taking ongoing psychic damage, it can only move to the jangling pile of coins that fell out of the zombie's crumbling body to cause this attack. 
     GM: If you're feeling merciful, say that a quick action to pocket some of the coins gives a +2 bonus to the save against the ongoing psychic damage. (This GM message brought to you by Jonathan-Didn't-Write-this-Monster.)
     Limited use: 1/battle per coin zombie, when that coin zombie is dropped to 0 hit points.

Headshot: A critical hit against a coin zombie cancels one mook’s lethal jackpot ability that turn, though if the crit eliminates more than one coin zombie, others will still trigger their own lethal jackpots.

AC      17
PD      12                       HP 8 (mook)
MD     16
Mook: Kill one coin zombie mook for every 8 damage you deal to the mob.