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, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2183868

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.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

13th Age 2e: More Info

As I promised in the first installment, here’s a look at the final five bullet points on the list of “Here’s (some of) what’s coming in 2e”. People interested in joining the public playtest in six or eight weeks can write me at 13thAgePlaytest@gmail.com and I'll ping back when I've added you to the list.

More flexible handling of kin/ancestry powers: We’re not using the term ‘race’ in 13th Age 2e. I should have listened to Jonathan when he suggested we skip the word back in 2012. Some games have moved toward speaking of ancestry. That works. We’re trying ‘kin’ in our current playtest document.

Unlike in the 1e core book we’re providing two or three possible ‘hero powers’ for each kin, giving players the opportunity to make their character less cookie-cutter—if your group has two high elves in it they’ll have more interesting choices than who uses their teleport power that round.

We’re also making it clear that you can tell the story of your character by mixing ability score bonuses and hero powers that don’t usually go together. The manuscript’s current note looks like this:

Customizing your kin: Thanks to the fact that character classes provide a choice of two ability scores, it’s generally possible to play a pretty-good character of any class, no matter what kin you’re playing. But given that you’re also coming up with your character’s backgrounds, and a One Unique Thing, there are compelling story options for most any character to use the ability scores and hero power of any kin they choose.

Are you the only human adopted by the Dwarf King? Maybe you look like a human but say That’s Your Best Shot? like a dwarf (page XX). Are you a silver folk rogue who teleports in a silver flash and calls your power silverspark teleport?

You can mix and match kin looks, outlooks, ability scores, and powers as you like. Leverage backgrounds and uniques if you wish, or let your character’s story evolve during play.

As part of adding choices for everyone, hero powers that weren’t that great have been improved or replaced with better options . . . and yes, Elven Grace has been nerfed. My players will no longer torment me with all-wood-elf parties. Pre-playtesting, Elven Grace looks like this:

Elven Grace (Hero Power)

At the start of each of your turns, roll 1d6 to see if you get an extra standard action. If your roll is equal to or lower than the escalation die, you get an extra standard action that turn. You then stop rolling for Elven Grace until you've taken a quick rest. Alternatively, you can pass on the extra action and keep rolling each turn.

Champion Feat: Once per day, roll a d4 for elven grace instead of a d6. If you don’t get an extra action, this daily option is not expended.

Scarier monsters and cooler treasures: We’re not changing monster math, but we are adding nastier specials where they belong and rethinking some of the large and huge monsters that made it hard to design interesting encounters at high levels.

Digging into the math, we realized that some of the treasures PCs have been using don’t keep up at epic tier, or come all that close to keeping up. So… cooler treasures? Yes, with math that shouldn’t be a problem to apply to previously published treasures.

By the way, I should mention that all the benefits that 2e PCs are enjoying aren’t being balanced by changes in monster math . . . but we are changing the recommendations for how tough battles should be for experienced players, and testing methods of doing that without increasing combat length.

More banter, better advice: We understand the game a lot better. A lot of the advice we gave nine/ten years ago turned out to be only half-right (or worse). So, we’re writing advice we are sure will be useful, and arguing about real things instead of talking hypothetically about campaigns none of you had gotten around to running yet!

New and better take on the fighter: If you like the original fighter, you can keep playing them—but you’re probably going to love the new fighter. For now I’ll just say that most of the fighter talents stayed, maneuvers turned into things you choose to do instead of deciding everything after your attack roll, and the fighter has a talent that encourages them to maintain a balance of offensive and (somewhat) defensive maneuvers. Also: I adapted good stuff from the Humakti class in 13th Age Glorantha!

New cover from Lee Moyer & Aaron McConnell: Not just a cover, but also new art, they’re both extremely excited to show the results of their level-ups since 2013.

As are we. More soon.