Friday, May 13, 2022

Games for Charity

Here's a guest post from Jonathan Tweet . . . .

This month I raised $50 for my late wife’s favorite charity, Planned Parenthood, by shipping my old Talislanta books to a fan of the game in exchange for his donation. There are a lot of old games in my basement that need to find good homes before I move out of here, and I figure I can raise money for charity while I’m at it. In addition to regular piles of game books and cards, there are a bunch of oddball games and personal effects, such as my campaign notes from the hacked version of D&D that I ran in high school. Some stuff I can easily offload onto a local game store or something, but lots of items I would rather place personally.

Talislanta was a peach of a project for me. Revising the rules for Wizards’ 3rd edition was a fun project, and the standalone adventure Scent of the Beast was filled with promise for an upcoming “adventure path” that never materialized. It was sad to see it go but gratifying to pass it along to an old fan of the setting. --Jonathan Tweet

Monday, April 4, 2022

Three-Dragon Ante: Giants War

Ante again! Some time around July 2022, WizKids is releasing my sequel to Three-Dragon Ante: Legendary Edition, a 100+ card set called Three-Dragon Ante: Giants War.

This new set of blue-backed cards introduces 4 colors of good giants, 4 colors of evil giants, 3 colors of dragons, a full pantheon of giant god cards, and rules for fighting for a giants’ stake and a dragons’ stake each gambit. (Hint: you only score your flight for the stakes you are strongest in, so feints and strategy-shifts abound.)

The backstory of the game is based on the Thousand-Year War between the giants and the dragons, back when the world was young. The history of the war appears on page 19 of Volo’s Guide to Monsters. Short version: the giants lost their world-spanning empire. The game might be a bit of a sore spot for the giants. . . or maybe they like the reminder that they were once in charge, and could be in the future?

I’ll have more updates later. For now, let’s go through the three cards shown in this preview image!

Frost Giant: One of the four colors of evil dragons, of course. Relishes competition, when its power triggers you collect gold from anyone else competing for the same stakes. If you’re playing first in the gambit, or slipping in to try and take a stake without any competition, you’re not giving the Frost Giant the fight it wants, so it won’t earn you any extra gold.

Surtur: Yes, the set comes with the full pantheon of giant gods! The giant gods, dragon gods, legendary giants, legendary dragons and legendary mortals get shuffled into a single Legendary deck at the start of the game, with six cards from that deck shuffled in with the normal deck of giants and dragons. Many cards’ powers let you draw a card from the new Legendary deck, so there’s a decent chance that Surtur might be competing with other gods. He’s worth at least +2, a total of 12 for the Giants, if his power triggers, and when your opponents are taking a gambit seriously he could be worth more.

Copper Dragon: A new Copper Dragon card! The original Copper Dragon is still great for games that don’t use giants and the Legendary deck. But the original Copper Dragon power, that adds a random card to your flight and triggers its power, is not much fun when you’re carefully managing which stakes, dragons or giants, you’re fighting for. So the new version plays off the Copper’s gregarious nature—your weakest opponent gets to draw a card, and then you draw a card from the Legendary deck. This type of sympathy for the weak isn’t the type of thing the new giants cards go in for, but you’re fighting for the dragon stakes and maybe setting yourself up with a power card.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Drakkenhall: City of (Surprisingly Amusing) Monsters

cover by Roena I. Rosenberger

You wouldn't know it from the seriously beautiful cover, but Drakkenhall: City of Monsters is a seriously funny book!

You *might* know it from the back-cover text, because having multiple chapters that made me laugh out loud translated into the easiest copy-writing job I've ever had. It goes like this:

Monsters are people too!

The Emperor expected a city of monsters to destroy itself, but instead the Blue and her people have created a city that’s wickedly unique: Drakkenhall!

Make a splash in the social season alongside a fashionista ooze!

Spend the night at a dybbuk inn at the docks, where possession is a perk!

Dodge the amputation golems until you can get your healing spells back!

Explore the Rubblehoods, the neighborhoods that have been left as monstrously energetic ruins!

Shop (OK, OK, plunder) the Goblin Market and admire (fight) its pet otyughs!

Prove yourself as the most dangerous monster of all–an Adventurer worthy of joining the S.M.A.S.H. Society!

Drakkenhall: City of Monsters is a 124-page 13th Age sourcebook for GMs running adventurer and champion-tier campaigns. Contents include Ailor the Draco-Druid, kaiju shark mooks, 60 other monsters, the secret history of the Dragon’s Orc statue, a couple gnarly ideas for replacing missing limbs, urban planning notes (city of monsters-style), and light rules and guidelines for sea travel in the Dragon Empire that Gareth managed to slip into the chapter on the Docks!


Giving each of the book's authors a full chapter of their own worked better than I could have hoped. Drakkenhall is already on pre-order in the Pelgrane store and we're in the last few days of the layout process, so the final PDF will be part of that pre-order soon. Pick it up and attune your dance card for the Houses of Decadence!

Friday, March 11, 2022

Kor, the Ograkshasa Monk

What does rebellion look like when dad is an ogre mage and mom is a rakshasa?

In Kor’s case, rebellion looks like obtaining magic that makes you look mostly human and studying to be a monk in a monastery run by the Dragon Emperor. Of course, many of Kor’s forms don’t look a lot like styles practiced by Imperial monks. There are limits to how straight you can be when the Black Dragon is an old family friend.

Yeah, Jonathan says this is the most-me character ever.

I used the beastblooded modifiers and the bestial fury ability from Book of Ages (page 77). When Kor (it’s kinda Rak backwards, natch) goes beasty-fury, the spell making him look human drops temporarily and you get a glimpse of the tigrish-ogre beneath. I didn’t realize I could have sung “ograkshasa ograkshasa ogra ogra ograksasa” until now.

I’m using the past tense because we were right there, deep in the Stone Thief (thanks in large part to the activities of Kor’s older sister Kyla), when Paul Hughes gifted me with the certificate that crafted Kor at HeroForge. I decided to keep Kor’s hands facing human-style, instead of trying to show him full-beast. And then my wonderful talented friend Brittany Broyles (@blondeofmystery) painted Kor. Now we know how to make sure campaigns don’t get played again: make a HeroForge mini of your character.

Still, hope remains. If not back inside the Stone Thief, some other game. Maybe I’ll get really old school and blow a character created for one campaign into another version of the Dragon Empire, like a leaf in the wind. A leaf with fangs!

(a much better photo from Brittany, with the other two minis she painted for me accompanying Kor)

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

The Wave & Wave

Yeah, it’s two great books with almost the same title.

The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean, by Susan Casey, is from the genre that mixes compelling science with the author’s personal experiences. The science concerns the physics of giant waves and interviews with the people who study them, along with an investigation of previous understandings of giant waves, and how we are still underestimating the frequency and effect of rogue waves of 80’ or more. The science chapters are fascinating.

The personal-experience chapters eventually focus on time spent with champion surfer, inventor, and adventurer Laird Hamilton. The adventures on the waves are the closest I’ve come to reading a true-life Doc Savage story. If Hamilton isn’t bigger than life, we’re given an excellent picture of just how big life can be. For a more detailed review, this one is good.

Wave, by Sonali Deraniyagala, has an entirely different purpose and emotional register. It's not how big life can be, it's how big a disaster can be and how that hits one person. The cover design matches the book’s impact.

The first chapters are a mind-wrenching account of being caught in the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia. It’s unlike anything else I’ve read. The rest of the book follows a tortured path through survivor’s guilt and the mechanisms of a return to life. The copy I read didn't have a subtitle, but now it's subtitled "A Memoir of Life after the Tsunami."

I found myself reading a number of disaster stories during the pandemic. A disaster this huge, that hit a world away from almost everyone I know, is one of those things I try to remember as part of maintaining perspective. I associated Wave with another book I loved, Annie Dillard's For the Time Being. Dillard's book I can reread, Deraniyagala's, probably not.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Photo Wrapping!

This Christmas I came up with a method of wrapping presents that made me happy. It couldn't possibly be something entirely new, but I've never seen anyone do it. I don't feel like searching the internet for the people who did it first; I'm just gonna write it up!

I was wrapping a final round of presents and I didn't have enough paper or labels. I realized I had a color printer. And lots of great photos of the people we were giving gifts to. So all I had to do was print pictures of a gift's recipient on several sheets of 8.5" by 11" paper, fold and tape the sheets together to cover the key portions of the present, ensure that the face got central position on the packaging, and voila: no need for a label! For extra effect, use pictures the gift's recipient has never seen.

Depending on the size of the gift, you may have to use other bits of contact paper to hide portions of the gift. I feel like this style of 'wrapping' is more about providing the moment of opening-discovery, not trying to wrap the present tightly as if it was being probed by a 7 year-old.

This is a photo of the top of a present to my wife Lisa, two prints used on the top, taped together, featuring the moment we saw that the angel wing mural in northern Oahu had been rendered in the colors of the dress Lisa was wearing!

Friday, January 7, 2022

Honorable Combat in 13th Age

Here's part of the first draft of a section of the upcoming Icon Followers book that details a rules variant I've been using in my campaigns. It's an important part of a book of NPCs who tend to be associated with the same icons as the PCs. I'm curious to hear from people who try it.


13th Age combat mechanics handle deadly fights against monsters, but we’ve largely ignored a style of combat that could create a variety of interesting stories. What happens when a group of paladins devoted to the Great Gold Wyrm disagree with the player characters about who should take responsibility for a captured evil sorcerer who has information that the PCs need? What happens when a rival adventuring party claims first dibs on a soon-to-surface living dungeon full of phat loot, saying that they’re better prepared to deal with this particular dungeon, and that the PCs should hang around as backups? What happens when a circle of druids insists that the adventurers leave their section of the Blood Wood when it’s not at all in the PCs’ interests but also not a matter of life and death, especially given that the PCs know that these are the druids who will soon be defending the woods against monsters from the Iron Sea?

Instead of fights to the death, all the way down to 0 hit points, I’ve been playing this type of fight between semi-respectful enemies as fights to the fall, down to 33% of each combatant’s normal hit points.

You fall at one-third hp: When both sides have agreed to honorable combat, combatants drop out of the fight at 33% or less of their standard hp. They can heal themselves, and heal fallen allies (or even fallen enemies . . .) but they take no further action in the fight. Play them as crawling or limping to get out of the center of the battle, or lying still and applying pressure to their wounds. Anyone targeting them with further attacks has broken the rules of honorable combat, and forfeits.

Deaths still occur. Mighty blows—especially against determined resistance from rivals who are about to fall but don’t want to give in—can score crits and take out foes. But killing the enemy isn’t the point. You can hammer this home when rivals who have been knocked out of the fight use healing potions or healing magic to help restore fallen PCs.

Combat pacing: Use the escalation die as normal, but remember that fights generally start slightly favoring the PC’s enemies. There’s a risk of an early loss if things go very badly for the PCs, but if any of them can hang on, the escalation die can pip them ahead in the end.

Not good, still honorable: In my campaigns, I’ve used PCs’ icon relationships as a guide to when honorable combat might be possible despite what good-oriented characters might expect of their evil or ambiguous rivals. Negative icon relationships generate fights to the death. But positive and conflicted icon relationships with ambiguous and evil icons ca lead to honorable battles.

For an example from my campaign, a character who had a conflicted relationship with the Three—thanks to a huge favor he had once-upon-a-time done for the Black—accepted a proposal for honorable combat from a flight of black dragons attempting to recover three half-dragon/half-lizardfolk eggs that the PCs had salvaged from a destroyed village. The PCs were attempting to return them to their lizardfolk allies, the dragons thought they took precedence over lizardfolk. Without that icon relationship, and the history it represented, the dragons would surely have attempted an ambush and thievery. As it was, the dragons badly lost the fight to the fall, and afterwards agreed to provide overflight security for the lizardfolk until the younglings hatched and were old enough to decide for themselves if they wanted to come join the Black dragon. It ended up feeling like a fail forward for the NPC iconic followers of the Three, while feeling like a kick-ass win and a good-deal-in-the-circumstances for the PCs.

Here's the aftermath of the honorable battle with the dragons, with lizardfolk rooting for the PCs on the sidelines, skeletons summoned by the necromancer occupying the middle ground, and small upside-down black dragon where the PCs critted it to death despite the 33% guidelines..