Tuesday, March 9, 2021
Thursday, January 28, 2021
I’d always hoped to add servitors of the elder gods to the game, cards that would have the same card backs as Cultists. When we started the Kickstarter, I presumed that new Cultists would be a project for the future. But the future arrived during the KS. Shane and Dennis found a way to add The Dead to Hastur’s Cultists and recruited the Deep Ones for Cthulhu. Kurt handled the art, I did some mechanics, and ta-dah, mission accomplished. But maybe I missed a step: I didn’t adjust the Cultists paragraphs on page 13 of the rulebook to account for these KS-exclusive cards. Some people have asked about it.
So here’s a rewording of the rules to account for the new Cultists. I’m going to phrase these rules to reflect the way I use the Cult tile, which is different than how the rulebook recommends using it. I’m also not going to use the terse style that saves space in a rulebook. This will be wordier.
Cultist cards are in a separate category from the other cards in the game, distinguished by their own card back to prevent them being mistaken for cards that are part of your normal deck and your normal hand.
Before the game, shuffle your Cultist cards and place them face-down as a separate Cultist deck on your Cult tile. Use as many Cultist cards as you have available for your god. (For Kickstarter backers who bought everything, Cthulhu will have 8 standard Cultists, 5 Willing Sacrifices, and 5 Deep Ones. Hastur will have 8 standard Cultists, 5 Willing Sacrifices, and 5 The Dead. If you’ve ended up with fewer Cultists than that, don’t worry, just use what you’ve got.)
Neither player starts with any Cultists, but some cards can grant them to you. When you gain a Cultist, draw the top card from your Cultist deck and keep it on the edge of your hand of cards so that it doesn’t get mixed up with the rest of your normal hand of cards. Given that there’s not a lot of text on the Cultist cards you’ll need to refer to often, my method is to turn them upside down so I don’t confuse them with the cards that are officially in my hand. You could even just turn them backside up so that all you can see is the Cultist card back. Because a Cultist card doesn’t count as a card in your hand, you’re just holding it with the rest of your cards to keep track of it as an available resource. If you feel like setting it somewhere else, go ahead! There’s no limit to the number of Cultists you can accumulate.
When you sacrifice a Cultist, place it face-up into a separate Cultist discard pile. You should have room on your Cult tile for both the Cultist deck and the Cultist discards. If you ever need to gain a Cultist and don’t have any left in your deck, reshuffle your Cultist discard pile.
The full rules for each type of Cultist are printed on that card. In other words, if the Cultist in your hand is one of The Dead or Deep Ones, you won’t be able to use it for the standard Cultist sacrifice.
When you use a standard Cultist or one of The Willing Sacrifice bonus art Cultists, Cultist sacrifice works like this: When you advance an attack on your track (using Momentum), you can sacrifice one or more Cultists you’ve gained earlier to move that card an extra space for each Cultist sacrificed. (If you move multiple cards due to exclamation point momentum, each Cultist sacrificed moves a single card.)
At the moment the Willing Sacrifice cards don’t accomplish any more than the normal Cultists . . . aside from the possibility of making a mid-game sacrifice of a loved one (or the first friend I played D&D with) who strongly supported our Kickstarter! But when the game has expansions down the road, we’ll find a way to add some zing to the Willing Sacrifices.
Tuesday, January 12, 2021
I've been running two 13th Age campaigns. The campaign that's been more active is a Thursday night game with two of our teenaged godsons and a couple good friends. The game has been a delight, mostly because of what the PCs bring to the table. This is the first time I've run a game in which a character uses icon relationship advantages to prevent other characters from the learning the truth about their icon relationship advantages!
The players named the campaign 'The Adventurers' Lament' during the first session. I'm not sure what they'd had time to lament by then, but it hasn't gotten less appropriate. They started at first level headed towards The Strangling Sea and the NPC summary below covers events up to their long-awaited level-up to third: in-and-out of the Stranglesea; into a running battle with the forces of the Lich King and the Crusader; into a network of elven teleportals (under attack by the Lich King) that eventually took them to Axis and the warrens beneath the Crown of Axis amphitheater. The players say I don't let them level up enough, and I respond by saying they knew what they were in for when they chose the name of the campaign.
I suspect that the summary may not strike readers as a document from a second level game. I use 13th Age to get characters involved in seriously dramatic events from the very first session.
I started the list to keep track of a storyline that was generating complications faster than it was resolving them. The current version of the NPC Summary lives at the bottom of the campaign's google drive doc. While I'm using the Zoom-swoop method for battles, we use the google drive doc to write session notes, record the worst puns, and track initiative.
The summary got rolling in October. For fun I'll probably keep the summary semi-updated in this post.
The Four PCs
Butters: ‘Human’ necromancer who was thought dead for decades after an unfortunate fireball accident (probably not an accident) while fighting for the Emperor. No longer has his original spellpowers, the extended experience with death has taught him necromancy. An old acquaintance of another PC somehow ended up providing Butters’ skeletal companion; see Billy. Butters provided the campaign’s tagline by proclaiming that this time around he was going to be 8.3% less evil. But subsequent actions have caused the GM to reduce that percentage a couple times, and raise it once, so that it’s presently hovering at “7.8% Less Evil.” [[1/9/21 update: Down to 7.6%]] The other PCs don’t know that Butters broke a tentacle off the statue of the elder god, Glark, in the Stranglesea, and is transporting it in pockets and other unsavory places, but given the weird flying fish and the bizarre friendly acknowledgements by worshippers of dark gods, they would have figured it out if Butters’ player hadn’t been using skill checks and icon relationship advantages to keep them in the dark. [[Lucas Pina]]
Gherophy: Gnome bard who pretty much screams instead of singing. He glows golden when rocks are placed against his skin, and spent an unhappy childhood being used as a glow lamp in the gnome burrows, which were not happy places. Despite the fact that he’s known as the Golden Gnome, or the Glow Gnome, he has improbable stealth skills and increasing advantages from the Prince of Shadows, who knows a trick in plain sight when it’s disappearing. Gherophy isn’t an active problem for the other PCs, as Butters sometimes manages to be, but he regards damage as something that other characters are supposed to take, and takes cover accordingly. [[Robbie Myers]]
Bromach: One half of the game’s ongoing existential question: “What, Then, Should a Dwarven Warrior, Be?” Bromach’s answer involves rage, a sharp sword, and staying drunk enough that you can’t even hear the would-be orders of your would-be dwarven exemplars. Bro grew up in the wildlands among the timberwolf nomads and married above his Charisma score to a (probably) elven woman he calls the ‘queen of the nomads.’ When they separated because of Bromach’s tendency to sell the artifacts of the tribe to pay drinking and gambling debts, she cursed him with a unique problem: inanimate objects in his vicinity wake up just enough to trash-talk him. Usually it’s mockery. Every once in a while it’s helpful information, which indicates to Bro that his wife actually does want him to survive. Which is sweet. [[Miguel Friginal]]
Dhomnin Light-Braid: The other half of the Dwarven Debate. Dhomnin isn’t a paladin. He just acts like one, a tendency that got more pronounced when he was gifted with a golden spiral helmet from the Great Gold Wyrm that helps him point out the unwise or unsavory actions of others. See Chuck, below, for the main evidence that Dhomnin has a different class. Despite not being a paladin, Dhomnin is frequently said to be the highest Charisma dwarf in the world. It’s probably not true, but he did mediate a famous dwarven feud and survived long enough among the Cold Ones, a tribe of lizard people, to become a two or three time winner of their annual Games. (Honestly, the GM forgot Dhomnin’s actual One Unique Thing: which is apparently ‘having healed the Black Dragon of a mortal wound.’ So Dhomnin has performed some diplomacy tricks on the GM as well!) [[Tim Baker]]
Ataya: The multiclass librarian/rogue/sailor who helped the PCs escape from the Stranglesea, with information if not magic or swordplay. The PCs have agreed to help her a bit as she travels with them, she has messages to lost-sailors’ families to deliver. She may be more adventurous than she’s letting on, but she steers clear of the combat scenes.
Billy: Butters’ skeletal companion. Apparently a friend of Bromach’s in life. Apparently dead as a result of drinking a ‘healing’ potion provided by Butters. Butters says “It was an accident!” Provides a bony ear for Bromach’s (drunken) meandering musings. I believe that’s why Billy has been termed an ‘emotional support skeleton.’ Bro may or may not realize that Butters hears it all. Billy now also flames.
Byornnolf-Broddi: The feud that Dhomnin is sort of famous for having mediated. It was a Jedna’s Folly problem. Not well known outside those parts.
Captain of the Stonehammer: Not much of a sailor, or a repair expert, but all-dwarf, and determined to fix his ridiculous boat even though that’s pretty much impossible. He’s not so much going down with the ship as slowly strangling with the ship and everyone on it.
Choralinthor [slain]: Elder faun in the service of the Elf Queen; probably a spellcaster, who left the PCs to fight in the portal battle alongside the elves. // To everyone’s surprise, slain during the running battle in the portals. Not that the PCs saw the body themselves. But there *really* isn’t any obvious reason the elves would lie about it, since the rest of the interaction was played straight.
Chuck: Dhomnin’s fierce monitor lizard companion. The visible sign that Dhomnin really truly is a ranger, though mostly the PCs think that Chuck has a friend who is a dwarven paladin. Or something. // The party sublimates their affection for each other by lavishing their affection and nurturing on Chuck.
Edgar O’Dun: the necromancer (now rogue?) previously known as Ser Vant
EKKYON the Forgettable DEMON [‘killed’]: Not sure why this undead demon with a giant axe is on the list since the PCs killed him already during that horrible battle ‘guarding’ the teleportals. He did say he’d be seeing Bromach again, but undead demons always say that kind of thing as you “kill” them. “
Elyssa: Former paladin in training who had no taste for weapons and armor. Seconded to learn from the Archmage’s people, so she’s one of the more talented magicians in the service of the GGW in Axis, at present. Helping the PCs track down the elemental troublespots that have been throwing Wyrmblessed off its Axis. The GGW’s people presented her as something of a non-combatant but that was almost certainly a cover story. No one had time to think about it at the time, but in retrospect the stunt she pulled with the force bubble and the wizards’ duel with the would-be elemental saboteurs marks her as a couple notches above the PCs’ level.
Firigin: Cowardly but skilled inventor, Inigo’s former partner, somewhat indebted to the PCs for screwing up so badly while they were doing their best to guard him. Lives in a dome that has a lot in common with Butters’ new teeth. It must have taken a lot of dead walruses to build the dome. // Also the creator of the Stone Girl. // Incapable of multi-tasking, as proven by the fact that Ser-Vanh was able to steal so many gems while Firigin was distracted sending Dhomnin’s message to the Dwarf King.
Fishstick the Dread Pirate: A dread gnome pirate apparently buried near Firigin’s place on Silver Cove. Who knew? Rusty, that’s who. The pirate’s ghost says it owes Gherophy a favor, as the gnome who cleared his tomb of the Lich King’s attempted takeover. That favor isn’t preventing Fishstick’s skeletal parrot, Korthas, from systematically retrieving the gems the PCs stole from the tomb.
“French”: Real name is Crunch, but after surrendering this burly half-orc bandit (Dead Flowers gang) admitted that he hoped to a) be sentenced to the gladiatorial games; b) eventually open a wine and cheese shop. So it looks like his original name will be buried by my original mispronunciation, by his having surrendered in the first place, and by his newly arrived ‘French’ accent.
Galadon: The lizardman in the service of the Great Gold Wyrm who commissioned the party to track down Inigo Sharpe in order to fix the floating island of Wyrmblessed above the city of Axis. Galadon fought a high-level cloaking action to keep the main portion of the Lich King’s forces off the PC’s trail, according to Gerophy’s glowing golden dream. More recently he’s been gifting the PCs with magical treasure of their hearts’ desires. (In Butters’ case, that turned out to be magical armor that looked like cured human skin. It is. It’s Butters’ skin, back from when he was recognizably human and alive. The PCs haven’t had time to investigate how Butters’ fireballed-skin became a magic item only to turn up in an Imperial armory decades later.) // When the Wyrmblessed rituals are complete, Galadon is arranging the force-teleport that will get the PCs back to the Stranglesea to rescue the dwarven and human survivors.
Glark: Apparently a goblin god? Some sort of weird idol in the goblin shipwreck maybe? A Stranglesea thing? Who could say? Who indeed? Someone who broke a tentacled piece of the idol off and keeps it in their pocket?
Hornharrow: super weird Inigo-created potential demon-banisher artifact, but not a magical artifact. Inigo freaked out when the PCs found it in a cave with cultists and he wants them to get it to the Great Gold Wyrm. (For a change, Inigo’s new plan succeeded; Hornharrow does not appear to be the PC’s problem any more.)
Inigo Sharpe: Problematic human inventor turned weirdass robot head. Still an inventor. Shocked sober, recently, by the discovery of his demon-wrecking contraption (just above), which he had thought destroyed. No longer wishes to be taken by the Crusader and cooperating with the PCs. // Presently handed off to the Great Gold Wyrm’s people, who he appears to be getting along with surprisingly well while fixing Wyrmblessed.
Klinkhammer: Former gladiator and owner of a tavern near the Axis arena district, the DeeOhGee. Tavern sign: a black dog. That’s also the name of the tavern’s signature drink. Maybe a racist. A dwarf.
Korthas the Skeletal Parrot: “Loserssssssss.” Has been stealing back gems that the PCs had liberated from the dread pirate’s tomb. // Update: Has now turned up perched in Unta’s office, apparently negotiating a business deal of its own. This was a big surprise to everyone; to Gherophy and Butters because they thought Korthas was a dungeon-problem, and to Bromach because he’d been too drunk in Fishstick’s Tomb to remember much (we’d played Miguel’s character for him to give the scaredy-characters some muscle); and to Dhomnin because he has no idea what’s going on, since he was too straight-laced to be trusted by the dread pirate’s ghost when he sought PC-assistance.
Melinda & Keller: Wreck rats left behind on the Stranglesea. Dear friends of Ataya. Therefore probably people worth getting to know. If they’re still alive.
MR. X: He teleported into the middle of the Lich King/Elven Lawyer fight that played out across the teleportals. He was surrounded by dead undead and magical lightning that he appeared to control, which writhed around him to strike down any undead that showed signs of unlife. Mr. X recognized Gherophy and said he’d see him again, though he didn’t introduce himself in turn. Dark skinned, power rippling from an ivory cane. Some type of sorcerer. Badass as Jules in Pulp Fiction and not necessarily trying to be the shepherd.
Nameless Hungry Ghost: The entirely fearsome spirit that nearly killed Bromach, put the rest of the PCs on their heels, and flew away with the head of Inigo Sharpe. Luckily for the PCs, the Crusader magicians controlling the ghost didn’t have much control over it, and when shove came to stab the hungry ghost stood aside after being promised a respectful burial ceremony in the wreckage of the unhealed battlefield named Oldblood. Butters lived up to that promise, which means the ghost wasn’t nameless to everyone, but Butters is good at keeping secrets.
Pumpkin, Teal, & Rusty: Gnome bandits. Or gnome layabouts. They seem pretty awful at banditing. At least one of them is now dead, slain in the hungry ghost/Crusader zombie attack, but it’s not clear if it was the dude who wanted to be called Grim Grimkin (instead of Pumpkin) or if it was Teal. The gnomes knew Gherophy when they were all younger and Gherophy was being more or less tortured as a light source, so that’s not all good.
‘Queen of the nomads’: Bromach’s ex-wife; definitely connected to the Elf Queen. Cursed Bro with the thing that makes the gritty guy unique: inanimate objects speak to him. Yes, often at inopportune times. Mostly at terrible times. But there are moments when the objects appear to want him to stay alive. Bro is sure of it. It’s just that their moments apart are more fiery than other peoples’.
Quentin Bonerazor/Boneraiser: Bro’s new magic sword, found in the aftermath of the battle at Oldblood, the draconic battlefield which the Crusader’s people made the mistake of trying to use as a bastion against the PCs.
Regna: Strangely perceptive. (GM has no idea who this is. Players have not yet helped. We shall see.)
Rusty: See Pumpkin. But Rusty is a bit more daring and knows where things are buried. Or maybe that’s because he was temporarily possessed by a long-dead fearsome pirate.
Ser Vant: A glibly coined name for Butters’ ‘servant,’ a former magician in the service of the Lich King who chose service over death-by-PC. Also, Butters has promised to seek the revenge that drove our loyal (?) Ser Vant to serve with the Lich King in the first place, against the evil (we’re assured) Baron Von Hendriks, near Glitterhaegen. So it’s close to Butters’ old turf, the Duchy of Turin. 11/5/2020: Ser Vant has been released from service. We are told that he is staying to help the Great Gold Wyrm’s people with the Wyrmblessed project. Butters counts this as a success, a reformation. Butters is at least 60% right. The man’s real name is Edgar O’Dun, and it seems he has left the necromantic ways behind and is now a lovable rogue.
Shiny: Gherophy’s new pet skitter lizard. Has officially survived 1 hour in range of Chuck’s jaws, but maybe that’s because Shiny is safe within a sack and kinda doped-up on ritual magic.
Skullface: High elf leader of the Dead Flowers gang. Captured by the PCs in a battle that was too one-sided to be remembered as a battle. Nearly escaped by teleporting through a trapped corridor but was run down and taken out by a very determined Dhomnin, who won handily by bringing both fists to a knife fight.
Stone Girl, The: The boat invented by Firigin using Inigo’s original work. Gherophy has a real connection to her. For the rest of the PCs, she’s just a boat, but Gherophy probably knows better.
Turin, Duchy of: Butters’ ancestral grounds, taken from him when he more or less died thanks to that errant fireball.
Unta: She’s a former gladiator and a (rare) human friend of Klinkhammer, the proprietor of the DeeOhGee. She also has recently taken over the management of an old arena that’s trying to make a comeback, the Crown of Axis. Butters decided he wanted to invest. Unta has big plans for the PC’s investment, starting with getting them to clear out the warrens beneath the amphitheater. Mission in progress.
Friday, December 18, 2020
This is the Chinese Garden by South Seattle College in West Seattle, on an almost deserted Thanksgiving weekend during covid.
Things to find if you click to enlarge: a giant carp called the dragon carp (from the legend that any carp that could climb the cascades at Dragon Gate on the Yellow River in Hunan would be transformed into a dragon), two terra-cotta generals, the downtown Seattle skyline, and two lions.
Tuesday, December 15, 2020
I enjoyed John Harper’s original version of AGON, but I never ran or played that version. I’m quite a bit happier with the second edition. My capsule review would be: “AGON is as much fun to play as it is to look at. And it’s gorgeous.” A tip of the helmet to the illustrator and layout artist—oh wait, that’s all John Harper too, ennit? Well, a tip of the helmet to co-writer/designer Sean Nittner and all the Evil Hat people and other friends who helped get the game out, then.
I’ve been running two campaigns, both for six players. Well, seven players if you use AGON’s counting method, since the ref counts as the Strife player. AGON mentions that the system creaks a bit with over five players, but both groups have been going well. It’s possible that it’s working smoothly because neither group has high expectations for speed. The Stormcrusher group (and no, Zeus wasn’t happy about the name of that ship) has two players who are entirely new to roleplaying, so explanations and deliberation are a natural part of the session. The other all-veteran group loves to chew the scenery so AGON’s extended storytelling riffs have kept everyone entertained.
It’s also true that I’m running the game differently than I would for fewer players. I’m adding more threats to the Battle sequence, so that there’s more at-risk even though the higher number of players makes it more likely that at least one of the heroes will win. I thought I’d frequently split the party during the Trials stage, but the players have resisted that, sometimes for roleplaying reasons and sometimes because they’re metagamers. Instead I’ve spun out separate microstories from the same challenge with the understanding that some challenges play out over long periods of time. I’ve also skipped entire phases of the battle and jumped past 50% of an island’s possible story to keep things on track, but no one has noticed a problem so although the system may be creaking, it’s not audible to the players.
Mostly the tone has been delightfully archaic. I had to suffer through a few installments of the Tales of the Silently Gliding Prius, the result of asking the veteran crew to name their ship ‘something Greek,’ but last session, Jonathan Tweet's hero, WEIRDTALKINGKETALOS, failed to prevent a giant serpent from smashing the Prius to bits, so I’m looking forward to the next installment of the campaign now known as Tales of the Serpent’s Fang.
Tuesday, November 24, 2020
Ruby Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches in Washington. This panorama shot is from 2017, catching a moment when Lisa, our dog Roo, and my cousin and her husband were the only people in the panorama.
We saw amusing evidence of Ruby Beach’s international appeal on this trip. We just missed the people who scratched this message into the sand, so we can’t be 100% sure they were German.
But we were positive of the language spoken by the next three people to arrive. Three French folks showed up as we were admiring the no-kissing sign and immediately started scratching a response in the sand to the south.
I’m still bummed we didn’t stick around to read the French response, but we were running late and maybe a little cold and we kept walking.
Appropriate French responses accepted here!
Wednesday, September 30, 2020
I've been running more games than ever before during this pandemic. At the moment, I've got a usually-weekly 13th Age game and a more-or-less biweekly 13th Age Glorantha game. I realize that many people run games a lot more often than that; I can't claim to be a prolific GM!
Instead of using Roll20 or Fantasy Grounds or Astral VTT, I've been using what I call zoomswoop. For the talking and the non-combat roleplaying, I'm one of the talking heads on the group video call. When it's time to roll initiative, I swoop my camera down near a battlemap, set up the minis, and until the battle's over I play action-puppeteer with everyone's miniatures and my monsters, with occasional camera call-backs for hand gestures and body language cues.
I admit I kind of love it. When I'm responsible for moving all the miniatures, hypothetical moves and stutter-step fakes abound. The barbarians shake with rage, the necromancer cowardly turns his back as he runs away, and the dwarf ranger's loyal and ridiculously effective monitor lizard ends up leaning on its boss or climbing atop the enemies. Interpreting character actions with tiny adjustments is fun, and the players focus on their actions, their dialogue, and their smack-talk. Plus I get to pan the camera up every time the ridiculously large escalation die gains a pip.
Two cameras would work. But using a single-camera swoop lets me keep my I'm-thinking-face off camera part of the game. People know that when I bring the camera back up to talk it's gonna be important.
I suspect that lots of other people are doing the same thing w/o feeling the need to coin a term for it! But maybe not. My players expected to be using a virtual tabletop and some have been surprised that the zoomswoop works.