Monday, January 16, 2023

13th Age 2E Playtest Update

The 13th Age 2E playtest is rolling, with a lot of feedback coming in already on the first playtest packet. I’m still welcoming in new folks, though I’ve fallen a bit behind on that front and have some more typing and list maintenance to do this week.

On Wednesday nights, we’re midway through our own champion-tier playtest campaign, moving up a level after every 3 battles. Actually, after just two battles at 4th level, where Jonathan pulled out dragons and double-strength fights and gave my troll (think: dwarven half-orc) fighter the unusual experience of spending many recoveries they did not actually possess.

Jonathan has set this campaign in the wilds of the Dragon Wood, a High Druid centered area that's not really part of the Empire, where humans are known as Huggers (as in tree-huggers), the elves are 'witches' and definitely not to be trusted, and sky-dwarves (dwarves crazy enough to like it on the surface) seem a lot more reasonable than the dwarves who live underground. We're troubleshooters sent by allied icons, the Dwarf King and Great Gold Wyrm. We've got two different versions of the fighter, a puissant cleric, and a sentient magic staff who functions as our wizard. Sessions are alternating between desperate combat and cross-culture diplomacy.

Meanwhile, as most everyone reading this knows, WotC's OGL-foofarah has been a rapidly developing show-on-the-side. I found myself heavily distracted for a week, but it now seems clear that good things are going to come of this, and 2E work is proceeding unaffected. We're figuring out which interesting new path we're going to take through the world of license-or-not, and no matter what we decide I’m grateful and happy to see how Paizo has responded to this cluster of events. We'll come to a decision along with Pelgrane before we put out another playtest packet, or perhaps sooner.

Speaking of timing, it's clear I’m not getting the second playtest packet out before the end of this month. So I’m now aiming at early February. I’m also taking a glance at some of the feedback, partly to see whether I want to account for obvious changes in the next packet, along with the bard/rogue/sorcerer, or whether we’ll save all feedback revisions for the third packet.

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Alphabet Prime Music: Ada Sings Aie Aie Aie

My Alphabet Prime playlist has 200+ songs that at one point in time, and probably for a lot longer than that, were my favorite songs. It's a playlist of music I listened to over and over that I'm still happy to hear again.

I'm counting up the alphabet a few song titles at a time, adding occasional notes relevant to gaming and travel and stories where they exist. The alphabet prime label at the right will take you to other pieces of the count-up.

The three songs in this installment have two things in common: a) dudes singing; b) many other great songs surrounding them on their albums.

Ada, The National.

I love this album. I'm not sure whether I like it better than their other albums because it was the first album I heard from them, or because it's the best.

Against Pollution, The Mountain Goats.

Music, lyrics, a deadpan transition from the humdrum to lethal violence to the final days. The entire We Shall All Be Healed album feels like some sort of Unknown Armies or Over the Edge campaign, which, given subsequent roleplaying developments from the Mountain Goats, wouldn't be out of character.

Aie Aie Aie, Rachid Taha, Made in Medina

The friend who I was certain introduced me to Rachid Taha doesn't much like him and says she has never had a mixtape CD that included his songs. So my origin story of how I thought I first heard Rachid Taha while traveling with her in Hawaii is probably mistaken. Apparently many theater-goers first heard Taha on the soundtrack for Blackhawk Down, but in line with my ongoing cinematic illiteracy, I read the book and didn't see the movie. Made in Medina is a great album. I'm not sure it turns up later in the alphabet but I know Taha will.

Saturday, December 3, 2022

Three-Dragon Ante: Giants War Notes & Variants

Three-Dragon Ante: Giants War is an expansion of Three-Dragon Ante, just out from WizKids. (Earlier blog post here.) The set plays off D&D’s story of an ancient war between dragons and giants. Most of the new cards are based on D&D’s familiar giants: frost, fire, storm, stone, hill, and so on, along with Giant God cards for the bigger-than-I’d-originally-remembered giant pantheon.

You need the original 3DA set to play using Giant Wars, because every gambit awards one stake to the strongest dragon cards and the other stake to the strongest giant cards.

Time & the Endgame

Three-Dragon Ante has always played differently with different numbers of players. With two stakes that can be won each gambit, instead of one, Giants War increases the distinctions between three-player, four-player, and larger games.

So far, in my experience, three-player games are the most likely to invoke the variant end game. If no one has won after you’ve run out of cards in the main deck and shuffled in the middle game, score three more gambits and end the game after the third gambit’s toast. To win a three-player game before the toasts, you sometimes need to push the ante heavily instead of giving opponents time to recover. That’s true in all forms of 3DA, and more true when there are three players and two stakes per gambit.

Even if you’re not playing 3DA as a drinking game, I recommend raising beverages as you toast these final three hands. And if you’re making the toasts aloud, the final toast echoes better as “To fools like us!”

Variants for One-Stake Games

If you want to play a straight 3DA game with just one stake, all three of the new dragon suits will work so long as you shuffle the Mortals and Legendary Dragons (including the new Io and Shadow Invader) into a separate Legendary deck at the start of the game. You’ll need to play with either or both of the new Copper Dragon and Gold Dragon or the Legendary deck will be untapped. The new Gold Dragon from Giants War will always get to draw a Legendary card as long as someone else has played a card in the gambit, but if you lead with the Gold Dragon, you’ll only get a regular card.

I haven’t tried this variant. It seems like the Legendary deck will be kind of slim without all the Legendary giants, so I believe you should skip shuffling cards from the Legendary deck into the main deck at the start of the game.

If you’d rather play strictly with dragons and the original 3DA rules, skipping the Legendary deck, the new cards to add to the game are Io, the Shadow Dragon suit, and the Shadow Invader.

Both the new mortals—the Emperor and Ranger—will work in either variant. In fact, they’ll be more powerful than they are in Giants War games.

No Emperor’s Gambit

And speaking of the Emperor, yes, this is a very different version of a card that was at the core of the Emperor’s Gambit expansion for the original version of 3DA.

People often ask if the Emperor’s Gambit set that WotC published in 2010 going to be reprinted or revised. I’m pretty sure the answer is no, because hardly any of the dragons that were the core of Emperor’s Gambit have been brought from 4e forward to D&D 5e. 3DA licenses D&D’s dragons. Even if one or two of the iron, adamantine, mercury, earthquake, etc. dragons that populated 4e show up in 5e, I doubt the rest will appear.

So while we wait for dragons that probably aren’t going to show up, I’ve recruited some of the characters and mechanics from Emperor’s Gambit, including putting the Earthquake Dragon’s heavy-roller power on the new Fire Giant.

The Start-Small Variant

One more variant before I go, which started as an accident when I forgot to shuffle cards from the Legendary deck into the main deck at the start of the game!

Instead of correcting the mistake and re-dealing, I thought about it a second and decided it wasn’t bad to start everyone out with normal cards as their first hand. It feels a little bit like the “no dirt on the first trick” rules that some people use in Hearts. So, the Start-Small variant rules that you shuffle the 6 Legendary cards into the main deck after each player has been dealt their starting 7-card hand. Yes, ‘dirt’ in the form of a Legendary card might show up as you draw cards during the first gambit, so that’s a tiny bonus for people playing to draw.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Speeding Up, Letting Go, What the Hell

For a person who always loved games, it took me too long to learn that I'd be able to play more often if everyone enjoyed playing with me. I wasn't a bad loser, or an intolerably bad winner. I was just soooooo slow. I played "well" because I analyzed all options and wasn't quick about it. When my wife Lisa started talking about using a timer, or just not playing some games with me, I got the message.

These days I work at playing quickly, carving off a couple slices of analysis and putting the rest in the "yeah, things might get messy there" bucket. It's not always easy just-letting-go, and sometimes I have to roleplay reasons that I'm not going to work hard at being clever.

For example, playing Lanterns, I limit myself to a one-minute turn, and the last game I played when it felt like I might be making a mistake, I said something like "Well, we dropped the oars and were scrabbling around in the bottom of the boat when we should have been lighting lanterns. So we've gotta dump the lanterns overboard before the boat catches on fire, now!"

Playing Commands & Colors: Samurai Battles for the first time a couple months ago, I played from the beginning saying that my commander was nursing a bad hangover. Did a good job of roleplaying that too, since I ended the game by charging disastrously with the wrong unit, snatching defeat from victory. Ee ja nai ka!

Playtesting new games with skilled designers and tournament players, I sometimes run into a variant of the same problem. Even in their first game, players who don't really understand the rules yet tend to want to analyze everything instead of just-playing-through.

So I've recently been starting introductory boardgame and testing sessions with roleplaying advice: "Pretend we're drunk! We're not going to get everything right. You don't know the system and I'm not gonna do a perfect job explaining things all the way through, so you won't make the right decisions, let's just plow through and if something goes wrong, well, it's my fault, what the hell!"

[[art by By Kawanabe Kyōsai - National Diet Library Digital Collections, Public Domain,

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

13th Age 2E packet going out on Wednesday

It's done, and formatted.

I'm showing it to Pelgrane and peeps to catch any glaring errors as I figure out Mail Chimp's current configuration and add newcomers to the playtest list.

I think giant problems are unlikely at this point. I should be able to get the playtest's Alpha draft sent out on Wednesday, November 9th.

Sunday, November 6, 2022

13th Age 2E playtest timing: Tomorrow or Tuesday...

We've got the chapters together except for some adjustments in Monsters.

I should finish that creative and editorial work tomorrow, and that should mean that the Mailchimp packet can go out to people in the playtest on Monday the 7th or Tuesday the 8th.

If there's a problem with this timing I'll speak up again on this blog.

I'm very excited, what we've got in the packet has turned out to be quite fun.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Re-remembering the Dragon Empire

My work rhythm for this week has been to work on game design for an hour, then read ten minutes. So I'm always going to associate this final week of preparing the first playtest packet of 13th Age 2E with Arkady Martine's A Memory Called Empire. What a great book. The author is a scholar of the Byzantine Empire. Sometimes when scholars write novels their learning sucks up the oxygen. In Martine's case, she's using what she knows to enhance excellent storytelling.

Meanwhile in our not-really-Byzantine Dragon Empire, we're going to have the first 2E playtest packet out in the first few days of November. Four chapters of the packet are done. The classes chapter still has math underway, along with some epic-tier powers and a bunch of feat-checking.

I believe we've got a couple of days work left on the playtest manuscript, followed by a day making last minute additions to the playtest list, writing the playtest questionnaires, and wrangling the distribution. Either of those timelines might or might not add a day, so I'm aiming at having the 2e playtest packet out on November 4th.