Wednesday, August 29, 2012

On the track of the Koru behemoths

I didn’t add this to the official Kickstarter promises at, but one thing I’m dying to do in the 13True Ways book for 13th Age is a map of the carved and magical back of a Koru behemoth.

Koru behemoths were a wonderful suggestion from Keith Baker when Jonathan and Keith and I started doing initial concepting on 13th Age. Yes, Keith was involved in the earliest days of 13th Age, and he contributed greatly to notions including the Elf Queen’s position as ruler of three cultures, the Crusader’s role as the champion of the dark gods, and the icon who became the Prince of Shadows. Keith’s biggest contribution coincidentally shares his initials.    

From the 13th Age book: The Koru behemoths are a widely scattered population of twelve to twenty enormous eight-legged creatures from the dawn of the world. They look something like a cross between an elephant and a turtle, but each behemoth has grown in different ways and reshaped its shell carapace to suit itself, so no two look alike. The behemoths are so large that it’s difficult to form an accurate opinion of what an entire behemoth looks like since you can only see one angle at a time.

These town-or-city-sized beasts migrate counter-clockwise around the fringes of the Dragon Empire. On our map you can run your finger over the approximate path the behemoths follow as they curve around the Empire. Nothing, not even the Diabolist, the Three, or the Archmage messes with a Koru behemoth.

Therefore the behemoths’ great shelled backs make splendid homes for nomads, barbarians, monsters, and magicians. Magical rituals allow some groups to create permanent homes on the behemoths, less successful settlers only last a season or half a circle. Jonathan and I make a few suggestions for what might be on behemoths’ backs in the 13th Age book but it’s another area where we don’t want to say too much. We think it’s more fun for GMs to come up with their own behemoth societies and plotlines instead of picking and choosing from our ideas. We’ve seen some great examples already, including a traveling city of thieves in a game run by Martin Killmann, as he wrote up in early playtest feedback:

“When I read about the Koru Behemoth, I came up with an entire city on one - I call it Red Lantern City. It's on the back of a giant turtle. During the day, when the turtle is moving, the city is asleep, but it awakes at night, when the turtle rests.
“As a moving target, nobody can claim authority over it, and so it became a self-organizing city run by the guild council, primarily the Wizard Guild (public engineering and services) and Thieves' Guild (law enforcement). It's pretty crammed, but public transportation is offered by flying carpets.
“Main sources of income are narcotics, prostitution and gambling, which are offered to any city that the Behemoth passes. It's also a haven for bohemians and exiled artists.”

Ah, exiled artists. Warms my bohemian heart, it does. If the Kickstarter goes through and we get to work with Lee Moyer and Aaron McConnell on art again, I’m going to turn Lee’s skills in bizarre-mapping and Aaron’s talents in draw-anything to illustrate the back of a Koru behemoth. I may still decide NOT to illustrate the behemoth itself, maybe that should be left to  the imagination. But a behemoth-back would show off a truly unusual champion-tier environment, something that GMs will be able to borrow pieces of as visuals for their own campaign even if they don’t want to play the full map.

We’ll have the same philosophy about the maps of the overworld and forests in the book. The point will be to provide maps that can inspire daydreams as well as games, maps that give you the feeling that you could find your way around in this fantasy world while still being surprised.

And in a perfect world, although Keith’s not involved with this incarnation of the Koru, he’ll have another take on them in a project of his own . . . . soon.

Friday, August 24, 2012

13th Age at GenCon, 13th Age at PAX

I had enormous fun running games and freeform demos of 13th Age at GenCon. On the way I met…

… a halfling with a clockwork heart made by the dwarves who revealed his extra gear when it came time to snatch the treasure

…an elven ranger who’d lost his eyes to faulty justice and received two opals from the Elf Queen in recompense so that he is now known as the Queen’s Eyes

…the five favorite sons of the Imperial party circuit in Axis (as close to the Brat Pack as I can imagine running in my serious-adventure versions of 13th Age!)

...another group of PCs who sorted themselves more or less into bandits and pursuers, so that I could start the action with a Spaghetti Western style face-off with icon relationship rolls complicating the backstory until the real bandits attacked

…a pyromaniac wood elf who turned out to mainly be burning out temples and cultists of the Diabolist thanks to the guidance of the Crusader, but was too tight-lipped to bother explaining that to horrified onlookers

…a halfling acrobat who’d managed to perform his way out of the Diabolist’s Circus of Hell (I hadn’t known there was a Circus of Hell!)

…another halfling rogue who was a dealthless pirate whose soul is trapped by the Blue in Drakkenhall

…an impolitic lady-in-waiting of the Imperial Court more suited to smiting monsters and rival courtiers with her awesome Golden Monastery skills

…and a dwarf cleric/explorer who found it in his heart to overcome a life spent subjugating nature to open himself to the power of the High Druid just in time to get the boost he needed to be flung from the ground by earth elementals and put the hammer-smack onto the imp escaping with the Emperor’s Earrings (…that were about to returned to the Dwarf King, since the rest of the party didn’t have a bead on the treasure!)

The One Unique Thing element of character creation, along with the backgrounds and the icon relationship roll mechanics, mean that every game of 13th Age gets to surprise the GM as much as it surprises the players. I left the convention inspired and happy instead of tired the way I sometimes am after running demos that are variations on the same theme.

Of course there were other wonderful One Unique Things and backgrounds generated by players, but I hesitate to write them all out now. The happiness of people creating their character’s unique story isn’t aided by me saying, “Oh yeah, I’ve run another game where someone did something similar.” I know that in the long, or even the short run, people will be sharing loads of stories about their characters, just for this moment I’m content not to record full lists. 

We will be running more two hour demos at PAX next weekend. I’ll be there on Friday and Sunday as part of our demo team that will be running all weekend. We use pre-generated characters that leave all the fun story stuff to the players to create in the first hour of the demo: UniqueThing, backgrounds, icon relationships. I’m gonna see if we can work with the same sort of freeform experience that works with what the players bring to the table. It may be tough for GMs who aren’t as fluid with the game or it may work out perfectly, we’ll see.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

13 True Ways: a 13th Age expansion book

We are at GenCon. I'll be at the Pelgrane booth often during the convention, Jonathan is flying in later tonight.

Simultaneously we've started a Kickstarter drive for 13 True Ways, a 13th Age roleplaying sourcebook by the original team of me and Jonathan and Lee and Aaron.

It's at

The video attached to the Kickstarter may have a couple fun moments even for people who aren't so much into gaming. For the record, while I am now on video accepting the appeal of tyrannosaurus rex, I'm personally on the side of triceratops.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Krab Jab RPG art show

This post won't do quite as much good if you're not living in Seattle. But you could also see the show if you come to PAX and its big gather-all-artists evening is just before PAX. The opening gathering is tonight at the Georgetown studio Chris Pramas shares with Julie Baroh and Mark Tedin and others. 

Aaron McConnell and Lee Moyer got four (maybe five) pieces from 13th Age into the show and are also going to be selling prints. I believe they are pieces no one has seen yet, striking work at a great size. 

The line-up of artists showing work is amazing. I'm excited for this show, especially since I rarely get to spend enough time in the art hall at GenCon. And yesterday I got to contribute a small wall-blurb on fantasy art from a game designer's perspective. Make time to visit. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Archmage Engine! Or, How to Publish 13th Age Compatible Stuff

A creative flame.
Arcane mastery.
A hint of guile.

We’re creating 13th Age under the Open Game License because we think the OGL is the right way to play well with others.  

We are working out the interactions between Fire Opal Media, Pelgrane Press, and people who want to publish things related to 13th Age using the OGL. As a result, some of what I’m about to say in this post may change, but in broad outlines, here’s what’s going on. Those of you who care less about technical details may find your eyes glazing over the deeper you go, so I’ve tried to put the good stuff on top.

Right now, people who want to use our game mechanics can use them so long as they comply with the OGL. It’s sweet to ask us permission and tell us what you are up to, the way the folks using using 13th Age mechanics in the Last Stand and The Bestiary of the Curiously Odd Kickstarter projects did; but you technically don’t have to ask us permission to use the mechanics.  

So if you want to publish your setting and your original icons with our mechanics? Go for it, and use the Archmage Engine logo above (thank you, Lee Moyer!) to identify your work as being compatible with 13th Age.  You can also say “Compatible with 13th Age” on the cover of your book. However, the 13th Age logo itself is part of our product identity, and therefore not available to use without our permission.

People who want to publish professional material that makes use of our product identity material in 13th Age will need to ask Pelgrane Press for permission. Email until Simon tells us a different address he’d like used. This permission applies to both initial permission to do the work and final approval of the text. Magazine articles, for example, fall under this category, and are likely to be published with a line saying something like

13th Age and the Icons [plus other elements that might be in the article] are trademarks of Fire Opal Media. This article published by agreement with Pelgrane Press Ltd.

Using our artwork with permission might also be possible, and if used would include a notice like so:
Artwork copyright ©2012 Fire Opal Media Ltd

Shortly after 13th Age is fully published we will publish a System Resource Document to help people sort out which parts of 13th Age are open game mechanics, and which parts are product identity that can’t be used without written permission.

The SRD will sort through what are open game mechanics and what is our product identity. A starting point is in the notice at the front of the Escalation Edition of the game, which presently identifies our product identity as: All trademarks, registered trademarks, proper names (characters, icons, place names, new deities, etc.), dialogue, banter and comments from Jonathan and Rob, plots, story elements, locations, characters, artwork, and trade dress.

We’ll also come out with some form of friendly policy statement to allow fans to talk about and use our world and setting details on blog posts and fanzines, without having to worry about asking permission. I don’t know exactly what that statement looks like, but picture something terrible and restrictive and then imagine the opposite. We’ll do the opposite.

If there are aspects of the situation this blog post didn’t cover, wiser heads will deal with them shortly.

…and for the souls who perceive the oddities of OGL interaction with product identity, yes, it is a tiny bit odd that we’re using the symbol of the Archmage, which is otherwise part of our product identity, to anchor the logo for the game’s engine. But what the heck. The symbol looks good, it should communicate to players of 13th Age, and given the enthusiasm we’ve seen from Team Archmage we’re happy to share the symbol in this respect.