Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Numenera and the History of Plunder

I had a wonderful time at Dragonmeet and in London with the Pelgrinistas. One of the happy discoveries on returning home is that my 13th Age co-designer has a a guest blog ready to roll. Over to Jonathan.

Now that Bruce Cordell’s and Monte Cook’s Kickstarter campaign for The Strange is over, we can once again pay attention to Numenera, Monte’s new RPG about exploring the mind-boggling world of the far future. Numenera is remarkable for, among other things, its emphasis on loot. The game is explicitly about exploring the mysterious world and recovering wondrous artifacts from ages past. Many of these devices are powerful enough to influence the course of a game session or campaign. They’re game-changers. In some ways, this emphasis is a return to original D&D and a reversal of a general trend in RPGs away from loot. 

In original D&D, there was precious little to differentiate one fighting man from another, other than magic items. Fighters had no skills, powers, or tricks, just stats. But loot found in the dungeon made one fighter different from another. An elven cloak made one character invisible, while a necklace of missiles let you throw fireballs. Magic items dropped randomly, based on big percentile tables, so they could be disruptive. The level of a treasure determined the chance it included a magic item but did not influence which random of magic item you found. If a low-level character randomly found a big magic item, it changed the game’s dynamics. The party could now take down monsters that had outclassed them or avoid obstacles that would otherwise have stymied them. Our campaigns were thrown off-balance, but it sure was fun to cut loose with overpowered magic items. 

With 3rd Ed, Monte, Skip, and I rationalized the random tables, categorizing magic items as mundane, minor, medium, and major. The idea was to reduce the disruptive effects of magic items, making loot less of a factor in differentiating characters. Even so, there were plenty of ways for magic items to have a big impact on play, especially anything that let you go invisible, fly, or otherwise substantially change the fundamentals of combat and dungeoneering. In 2007, Fourth ed took normalization even further. Magic weapon abilities, for example, were all made modest enough that each one was less valuable than an additional +1 on attacks would be. A +2 weapon with no ability is better than a +1 weapon with the best ability. That approach ensures that the weapons’ special abilities can’t disrupt game balance. Thirteenth Age follows this logic as well. Outside of the F20 tradition, loot has generally been even less important. My own RPGs (Ars Magica, Over the Edge, and Everway) have little loot to speak of, and you see much the same in Champions, Call of Cthulhu, Vampire, Feng Shui, and other significant RPGs. 

An exception that proves the rule was my slim RPG Omega World, a d20 take on Gamma World. I created that game specifically to recapture some of the disruption that had been balanced out of 3rd Ed. Omega World was meant as a change of pace, without the balance necessary to handle campaigns of indefinite length. Random good luck and random bad luck were built into the game’s DNA. Like Gamma World before it, Omega World was about characters with strange powers exploring a mysterious, fallen world, hoping to find powerful artifacts from ages past. Which brings us back to Numenera.

Numenera takes loot to the next level. The very title of the game refers to the unfathomable technology left over from eight past “worlds.” Here, game-changing loot isn’t a problem to be moderated. It’s the core of the game. How do you get over-the-top loot without knocking the campaign off-balance? Monte squares this circle by giving each item limited uses, often one. Using crazy loot is part of the game, but the action doesn’t spiral out of control. Monte has preserved for us something that most RPG designers have left behind—preserved it and advanced it. It’s exciting to see Monte bucking a nearly universal trend and giving players an experience that’s hard to find elsewhere. Numenera successfully advances classic roleplaying tropes in ways other than loot, such as character identity and dungeon crawling, but discussion of those will have to wait for future posts.

--Jonathan Tweet

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Night Eternal

Reading early reviews for my new card game, Night Eternal: the Game, has been amusing and educational.

The game is from the backstory of the True Blood HBO series. When I say backstory, I mean way back, back to the late Middle Ages when the vampires' world was split between two factions, the ruling Authority and the Monarchy, former rulers who clung to older and more overly violent ways. This isn't a game about Sookie Stackhouse and vampire lover quadrangles. It's a game of cutthroat Medieval-vampire politics.

Several reviews have noted that the game has similarities to Three-Dragon Ante (3DA). True. Also, apparently to Richard James' Lords of Scotland, which came as a surprise to me since I'd missed that Lords of Scotland from Z-Man is a game with mechanics partially inspired by 3DA.

I originally designed Three-Dragon Ante (3DA) to be a sort of anti-poker, a quasi-gambling game that used micro-rewards and kept everyone playing instead of encouraging constant folding. 3DA lacked wagering dynamics and didn't do much with bluffing. Night Eternal starts with mechanics similar to 3DA but structures them around a contest for two separate pools of blood each battle, one from the Monarchy and one from the Authority. You can only win one of the two blood pools and one of the two starts double the size of the other. Consequently, bluffing about which prize you're aiming at is a big part of the game's strategy. Micro-rewards compete with temptations to go for the two macro-rewards.

Corey Jones of Cryptozoic wanted this game to be something that the vampires of the world of True Blood played to stay in touch with the past. In the old days they probably played it using humans as currency. So another design theme is that the game is a bit nasty, especially the abilities of the Immortals cards, unique vampires that come out of a deck that's separate from the normal Agent cards. Get hold of a few Immortals cards and you've got a shot at springing a nasty surprise on the opposition, but to obtain the Immortal you either had to play low or play smart. The one friend who I won't recommend the game to recently told me that her three children had finally learned how to play games together without fighting. Night Eternal is the wrong game for that family until they have a couple more years of gaming-without-conflict under their belt.

I'll have more to say about the game, here and elsewhere, but at the moment I'm about to get on a plane to fly to London for Dragonmeet. So I'll finish with a couple promo card images from the artist, Kieran Yanner. Yes, if you're an RPG fan you've been seeing Kieran's splendid work in Numenera. I was thrilled to find that he was the artist for Night Eternal.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Games Games Games

RPGs, 13th Age: 
I had a lot of fun finishing the new drafts of the monk and the commander classes for 13 True Ways. They're going out to the Kickstarter backers and the Escalation Edition purchasers and people who bought the 13th Age Bestiary pre-order. I believe they'll go out before the end of the week as part of the Pelgrane Press Page XX process.

Both classes will benefit from playtesting, especially the commander since this is its first iteration. Playtest notes definitely count. My last step with the monk was to reread all the playtest email we received at 13thAgePlaytest@gmail.com and check off each item as accounted for or at least considered.

Meanwhile in our Wednesday night campaign, the players have started calling me "Agemaster." It appears to be especially amusing to them when they're being helpful, or seeking favor, or sincerely trying to get my attention through the tumult of the room. They're also doing it because it irritates me a little. Perhaps because I'm the oldest human in the room. Perhaps because I'm not that fond of inventing new names for well-understood terms. It's not like I actually want this term to catch on. But it has gone on long enough that they're now shortening it to AM. I can't very well escape it and I suppose it also works if you're playing Dragon Age. So if amuses you, you're welcome. Yeargh.

RPGs, Thornwatch: 
We played one session of the in-development fantasy rpg created by Mike Krahulik of Penny Arcade. A delightful experience. I don't speak any French but there's a French word I love, bricolage, which may or not mean what I think it means: putting together pieces of everything to assemble something new. Thornwatch is a bricolage game, assembling elements of rpgs, card games, and deckbuilding games into something unique. It's not trying to be a do-everything rpg, it's trying to be a specific game experience you'll play when the time is right and when there are new things you want to try. The initial design is excellent. I'm a sucker for the-world-is-forest narratives. I love the Thornwatch/Lookouts stories and art. This should be really good.

Digital, Dwarven Delve: 
Down below where only fungus grows, my gaming group comrades have mounted another assault on their Dwarven Delve Kickstarter game. They've got an excellent playable demo to show where they are headed and they're getting extremely close to Kicking, a couple days left and not much farther to dig. When they Kick I'm definitely going to thank them for calling me Agemaster by introducing them to 13th Age versions of their own monsters in our Wednesday night games.

The Face in the Frost, the gang from the tube

I finally read John Bellairs' The Face in the Frost last week after owning and ignoring the book for decades. Why did it take me so long? Maybe glancing at the book's cartoons as a youth turned me off for no good reason other than being tired of reading about friars and monks. Not much of a reason, but that could have been it, and when you have a book forever it's easy to forget that you could get around to reading it instead of finding something new.

John Rateliff reminded me of the book's existence a couple years ago when we were talking about the history of fantasy for the permanent Fantasy exhibit at the EMP. Then a couple weeks ago, reading John's review of an Ursula Le Guin talk he attended in Seattle, I was reminded of The Face in the Frost again, a connection that made sense when I pulled the book out of a downstairs shelf and found Le Guin's admiring quote on the cover.

The Face in the Frost reads quickly and still feels substantial. The story has held up remarkably well for a fantasy written in the 60s. It's quirky, it's charming, it's dead-scary serious. I liked it a lot.

As I was reading the book last weekend, pressed to the glass of a door on Seattle's light rail train, there was a moment when reality and The Face in the Frost darted past each other. In the book there's a confrontation with a shouting wizard during a crossover between worlds of fantasy and the world we know as real. On the Seattle light rail a heavyset Filipino man burst out of his seat and shouted down an older African American man who had been talking quietly to someone else in a seat a couple rows back. "Hey! F*** you man! I'm a member of the Sons of Anarchy! I'm sick of people disrespecting us!"

"Alright, man, alright," said the older guy, slipping out of his seat and out the train's door, which had luckily just opened at a stop in a south Seattle tunnel.

I took a few seconds to watch as the ranting gang-man stalked back to his seat. I turned back to the war of magic in my book. Then I tried to connect the dots in the real world scene I'd just half-witnessed. I thought the Sons of Anarchy was a TV show about a fictitious biker gang? Who, if anything, really piss off the Hell's Angels? So this would have made a lot more sense if he had been yelling that he was a Hell's Angel. Which he didn't. Which means this guy a few seats down identifies himself as a member of a television biker gang? Oh. He's really crazy.

Or have the Sons of Anarchy crawled out of the tube and turned into a real gang in Seattle? Which is also crazy, but it's socio-cultural crazy involving the blurred line between tv-shows and and tv-reality-shows instead of just personal batshit crazy. No answers, unless I wanted to move up a few rows and ask the Son of Anarchy about his gang affiliation. So I went back to my fantasy book about blurring lines across malleable realities.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Kicking the Strange

Roger Zelazny's Amber series and side-doors in Moorcock's Elric books started my love of reality-shifting adventures. John Ostrander's Grimjack comic book series made good on the genre's promise. Years later I started serious work in the roleplaying game industry as a writer and editor on Nexus: the Infinite City, the genre-scrambling predecessor of Feng Shui

So I'm tickled that my friends Bruce Cordell and Monte Cook are teaming up on The Strange, a multiversal project that cleverly promises to portray the characters' world-hopping through character sheet power-set transformations  based on my favorite part of the Numenera system, the character statements. But never mind tickling my personal fancy, Monte's Kickstarter projects define how successful Kickstarters should be run . . . and at how extremely successful Kickstarters end up offering almost-but-not-quite-too-much value to backers. 

The Strange is in its last three days on Kickstarter. The pile of alternate-world loot that's headed to backers is growing hour by hour. Today's updates include The Paradox Room, a nifty introductory short story that I've been looking forward to seeing in final form since Bruce brought it to our writing circle. 

Professionally, I'm looking forward to the new game. Personally I'm so happy knowing that Bruce is going to be spending his next year working on something this much fun.

Friday, November 8, 2013

13th Age update: Commander, Monk, Playtest Files, Dragon Kings

This week's playtest of the new commander and the half-revised monk went well.

In the commander's case I didn't make any changes after the playtest. Partly that's because the design is in OK shape for now. Partly it's because Thorinn, the 5th level dwarf commander who used to be a bard, was hapless. He had no hap. When you're rolling d20s, playtesting every so often devolves into "Wow, so this is what the character class looks like when you suck." The dybbuks who had possessed the party's erstwhile paladin friend turned out to have Mental Defenses that deviated from the monstrous norm and even the commander's last-ditch outmaneuver attempt came to naught. The class design mission is to somehow make even these sucky moments potentially worthwhile.

The potential doesn't always get realized. Thorinn has had a slightly rocky road since he transitioned out of being a bard. Weird things happen when your story-oriented 13th Age campaign is also the campaign that's being used to test all the new classes. Thorinn who was once a bard became a bardmander and is now a full-on commander who is likely to shift even more when we adjust for results of public playtesting.

There will be a new playtest document some time next week. The talent half of the monk is revised, the forms half is still underway. Some of the early monk talents worked so well that the rest of the talents were somewhat irrelevant. The monk could vary from hugely powerful to utterly feeble because the talents and forms were so uneven. That's not entirely surprising, given that the class hasn't had an official development pass, but I'm trying to avoid it on this pass. The next version of the monk design aims to make all the talents worthwhile, eliminates one of the pieces of the class that wasn't working (daily options for finishing attacks), makes ki powers a more integral part of the class (instead of only appearing as feats), and opens up some of the unnecessary restrictions on icon relationships and weapon choice and flavor that were getting in the way of character design. Those of you who sent playtest comments? Your comments helped a lot.

Playtest Distribution Plan
As before, we'll be sharing the monk & commander playtest files with people who bought the 13th Age Escalation Edition and people who supported 13 True Ways. We're also planning to go one step further. The publication of 13th Age has brought in many new players and GMs. People are writing us every week asking to help playtest, particularly people who seem to be converting over from other systems and want to know how we're handling classes that aren't in the core book. We've settled on a cunning plan that seems fair. People who pre-order the 13th Age Bestiary by ordering the Hatchling Edition will also get the 13 True Ways playtest files. If you've supported us by buying the Bestiary in advance, you'll see the playtest versions of the new classes and whatever else we decide to send out for wide playtesting on 13 True Ways.

A Different Kickstarter
There's another Kickstarter with 13th Age connections surging towards the finish line this week. Timothy Brown's Dragon Kings project is a campaign world and rock and roll project in the spirit of Dark Sun. The project is funded and is presently a few thousand dollars away from a stretch goal that would create a 13th Age-compatible rules PDF as part of the package. Darren Pearce is the designer slated to tackle the 13th Age aspect of the project and I'd love to see what he comes up with. Give the project a push if you can.

And elsewhere in video
Mike Shea interviewed me about 13th Age for Critical Hits earlier this week. The first half hour or forty minutes is a discussion of icon relationship rolls, including verbal notes on advice Jonathan and I will be formalizing in the GM chapter of 13 True Ways. The video amounts to working notes on the topic. Other topics include the formats of upcoming adventures and Heisenberg's Monster, Mike's wonderful term for the sense in which 13th Age frees GMs up by allowing them to be surprised by what comes out of the box.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

For inspiration: Archaeology magazine

The most recent issue of Archaeology magazine, November/December 2013, has four pieces I found inspirational.

An Imperial Underworld details the network of roads that cavers have been uncovering underneath Hadrian's Villa, 15 miles east of Rome. There was an upstairs/downstairs dynamic in play here, where upstairs was a world of palaces, libraries, baths, and gardens, while downstairs was a network of tunnels that kept things running smoothly and silently. The cavers recently found underground roads 19 feet wide, wide enough for ox-carts traveling both ways. I'm planning to use these ideas in Axis somewhere and I loved the hint of interplay between the enthusiastic cavers and the stuffier people running the site.

Later there's an examination of how at least one ancient Roman glass workshop mastered a type of nanoartistry, suspending gold particles in glass so that an apparently opaque cup changes color based on what light or liquid is in or behind it. Then there's a Bronze Age Mystery in which perfectly useful boats (and a couple old ones) are sunk in boggy East England rivers. Along with a few other excellent articles there's a look at ten ancient tattooing traditions. And finally, on the last page, a wonderful look at what appears to be a ceremonial shield from the Moche culture of Peru, constructed like warriors' shields but made of reeds and yellow feathers!

Definitely an issue worth looking at . . . . unless you lack the willpower to resist the magazine's bizarre medley of golden oldie and odd collectible advertisements, highlighted this month by "The only Cuckoo Clock inspired by the Wonders of Ancient Egypt."

Friday, November 1, 2013

Scatterlings of Fire Opal

In a start-up, everyone has other projects going.

Here are three of the projects people in Fire Opal have created in recent months. Two are published. One is pushing towards the printer on Indiegogo. 

Wade's Ravens
Wade Rockett handles community relations for Fire Opal, notably on 13th Age. How pleasant that is to say. Working with Wade has been wonderful. Now he has published a Pathfinder booklet for Open Design called Advanced Races 5: Ravenfolk, a supplement for the new world of Midgard that's being put out by Wolf Baur and Companions. Ravenfolk started as Wotan's spies among the mortal races. They have a reputation as thieves but what they're really about is stealing secrets. Yeah, that's a race with Prince of Shadows stamped all over it. So Wade took a first swing at the 13th Age-compatible conversion notes and we'll probably nudge those notes a bit in the future. 

Lee's Pin-Ups
I've loved Lee Moyer's literary and science fiction calendars the past couple years. This year's calendar is a benefit for the Clarion Foundation, the people who put on the extraordinary science fiction and fantasy writing workshops. It's a great cause, Lee's art is a delight as always, and you can obtain the calendar by contributing to the Indiegogo campaign that's running another three weeks. The video has a couple cute moments, I'd say. With the calendar done, we're going to get Lee back for a few more pieces for 13 True Ways, and the better the Indiegogo goes the better mood he'll be in. 

Brandon's Quingo
Brandon Bozzi produced our 13 True Ways Kickstarter video and will surely work on other Fire Opal projects in the future. His current project is a socially responsible gaming company called Game It Forward. Their first game is Quingo, available for free on iPhone and iPad. It's a savvy quiz game with well-implemented time pressure mechanics, pop-culture awareness and wonderful side-jokes. And that's just the fun side. The serious side is that you earn cash rewards for a charity of your choice as you play. My wife Lisa loves it and lucky for us it works extremely well as a two-player team-up on iPad, two people stabbing or nudging the screen depending on their spheres of knowledge. We do OK with Revolutionary war battles and animals that are invertebrates, but the 80's pop songs are killing us. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

One sorcerer blog, two voices

After a couple months away, Jonathan recently returned to our 13th Age table playing a halfling sorcerer named Samlael. Well, the halfling is sort of half of the character. Samlael's One Unique Thing is that he learned sorcery from his familiar, a small green snake named Winder. Winder does all the talking for Samlael, who only speaks in his normal halfling voice when he is casting spells. In other words, Jonathan has stepped out from his usual pattern of playing small spellcasters with funny voices. This time he's got a small spellcaster whose familiar has a funny voice. You play what you love.

All the other PCs knew Samlael back when he was a skilled courier in the Elf Queen's service, back before he met Winder and learned magic. Samlael's reintroduction to the PCs was one, no, two of the freakier roleplaying sessions I've GMed. Not because of anything I set up. Just because of Jonathan's absolutely faithful maintenance of Winder's creepy snake voice, speaking of Samlael in the third person: "He's really happy to see you guys too," Jonathan hissed while Samlael bounced up and down gleefully and gave his old wood elf comrades big knee-hugs. The combination of apparently normal halfling personality and creepy snake intonation was a freaky gift that kept on freaking.

So much so that before the next session, Jonathan took the time to clarify that although he was weirding the table out with his roleplay, the key to the story was that Samlael and Winder are not scaring everyone in the world. They have so much charisma and magical mojo that people just go along with the arrangement, it seems unique-interesting instead of unique-freaky. We've gotten better at playing it this way, so much so that while the wood elf PCs are busy putting their kingdom together, Samlael has wound up presenting himself as an Agent of Distinction (Jonathan's wonderful choice of official title) and the main spokesperson for the ever-so-busy elves.

So that's the story side. On the mechanical side, Jonathan has written this this guest blog on sorcerer mechanics as they relate to the history of DnD spellcasting.

Jonathan says: 
My 13th Age sorcerer casts empowered spells, which are a new way to embody the original approach to spellcasting. In D&D in 1974, a magic-user’s spells were special. They were more powerful than a fighting-man’s attacks, but the magic-user cast fewer spells than the fighter made sword attacks. This original formulation—spellcasters with one-use spells and fighters with infinite-use attacks—survived all the way through 3rd Edition and on into Pathfinder. The problem is that high-level spellcasters not only get more spells but the average power level of their spells also goes up, creating a multiplier effect. High-level spellcasters deal more damage than the fighter, round after round after round. Fourth Edition solved this problem by normalizing all the classes, so that they all have comparable access to limited-use, high-power attacks. For the first time ever, D&D classes were really balanced, but they were also too similar to each other. The dichotomy from 1974 was gone. Fighters had limited-use, high-power attacks just like the wizards did. Magic wasn’t special any more. Rob and I brought this dichotomy back in 13th Age, where spellcasters have more limited-use, high-power attacks than fighters do. If we did our work right, the classes are still balanced even though their power profiles are different. The sorcerer in particular embodies this dichotomy with its “Gather Power” class feature. A sorcerer can spend one turn “powering up,” and then cast a double-strength spell next turn. It means that my sorcerer casts two or three bigs spells per battle, while the ranger makes five to ten attacks in the same number of rounds. The classes are balanced, but magic is still special. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Many Trumpets: this week in 13th Age

A wonderfully eventful week that opens several doors.

Early in the week, Pelgrane sent out an update of the 13th Age Bestiary's Hatchling Edition to those of you who have pre-ordered it. If you haven't pre-ordered it, now may be a good time, because Simon's note about possibly increasing the price later isn't getting any less likely with me dropping the couatl into the book and adding at least three new monsters (one fungaloid, two jorogumo). 

A day or so later, ASH LAW sent a short seasonal adventure out to the 600+ groups participating in 13th Age Organized Play.  600 groups!  ASH did some cunning work here that I'm planning to adapt into an-entirely-different campaign. 

Yesterday the new Page XX from Pelgrane announced the release of our Archmage Engine SRD. Thanks to Chad Long and Cal Moore, it turned out very well. Apparently some people worried that it would be a fakey-SRD, but the point of doing 13th Age as an OGL game was to get people playing it and using the system. Yes, it's a real SRD, and it should prove useful to people looking to overlap with our game engine. 

On 13 True Ways, Jonathan and I are running our Daily Workplace Simulator experiment at my place. Playtesting of the commander went well and I'm processing feedback for the commander and the monk to get new versions of these two classes ready for external testing. Discussion of all the other new character classes has led Jonathan to dig into work on the occultist. He has surprised me with an entirely new type of spellcaster. I'm not using the words 'new type ' lightly, I don't think these mechanics have been tried before. I'm simultaneously excited to have Jonathan working directly on character class design and scared because I'm the GM in the group these days and this occultist is going to spring occasional reality-wrenching ambushes on whoever wears the GM-cap. 

We'll update again on 13 True Ways next week.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

13th Age Bestiary Sighting: Couatl

When the 13th Age Bestiary updated *today* for people who purchase the Hatchling Edition pre-order, there was a special treat. Yes, this time the 220+ pages of the Bestiary includes all 52 of the intended entries instead of accidentally leaving out the couatl. Special!

The couatl dodged the first Hatchling Edition because I'd created the monster outside the book's standard process. I wrote the couatl in the middle of the project when we needed a replacement creature. I sent it along to the editor instead of sticking it in the pool with the other submissions and only noticed after our Hatchling broke out that we were one couatl shy of a full nest.

It wasn't that long ago that I asked Robin Laws for a new story for D&D's couatl when I was leading the design of the 4e book WotC called The Plane Above: Secrets of the Astral Sea. Robin's couatl were all about status competition and serving as patrons for adventurers and would-be-heroes who they pushed on to greater heights or deeper dangers. And also: brilliant cloud-palace ziggurats.

My new take on the rainbow flying snake could incorporate Robin's couatl story if you choose that route for your campaign. But most of what I've written hinges on elements unique to 13th Age, such as the icons. There are probably also traces inspired by my recent re-exposure to the mysteries of Shadowrun's dragons. In the words of the opening flavor text: Some monsters exist to fight, to feed, to dominate, or to destroy. Couatls exist to remind the icons that reality may be more complex than what they’ve made of it. If your 13th Age campaign is getting anywhere near epic tier, or if you enjoy monsters that shake up what everyone else considers reality, you're going to want to check out this couatl.

 Below, Rich Longmore's take on what a couatl looks like on first glimpse, when it's flying traditional rainbows instead of iconic colors.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Doom that Came to the Night Eternal

Keith Baker and Jenn Ellis Baker and Dan Garrison stayed with us this weekend while they were playtesting a prototype of their upcoming rpg, Phoenix, at GeekGirlCon.

Saturday night was game night. Aside from the Cryptozoic offices, we had what might be the only table in the world that could play back-to-back sessions of my upcoming game, Night Eternal, and Keith's upcoming game, The Doom that Came to Atlantic City.

I've been playing a lot of Night Eternal since Cryptozoic sent me a pre-publication copy. I'll say more about it soon, but for now I'll just say that my extreme familiarity with the game's strategies didn't help me any against the Baker-Machine. Keith was the dominant vampire, despite my status as a knowledgeable elder.

And life didn't get better for non-Bakers when we moved to playing Doom. Actually I've only *seen* one game of Doom that Keith didn't win, so if people eventually try to argue that Doom is a luck-based dice-rolling game, they're missing something. It takes skill to summon your Doom.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Fear the Treasure. Fear IT!

About four sessions ago, in the 13th Age campaign that has developed into heroic efforts to reclaim the legacy of the magically suppressed Elf King, I decided to give out some treasure.

Not just any treasure. I told everyone that it was time to use the Optional No Math System on page 191 of 13th Age. It's a small table you can use to hand out occasional healing potions and runes without worrying about tracking loot piece-by-piece.

We'd never bothered using it in this campaign, mostly because we haven't cared much about one-shot items. True magic items are what we've cared about, especially with some of the character development that has played out through items devoted to particular causes or liberated from other time streams.

So I thought it was time to give the one-shot items a chance. In retrospect, telling the players I was about to give them treasure was the wrong way to set-up the situation. Because when the players realized I wasn't giving them "true" treasure, but was instead about to make them roll for potions, well, there was some grumbling. Probably cursing. Cue the classic paternal GM-voice, "Well if you don't want any treasure you don't have to roll," lecture. Of course they wanted to roll.

For some reason Jonathan rolled first. Maybe because I wanted him to try the system, I don't know. As he rummaged for his favored d20, I decided to set up the story by saying that the PCs were searching the enemies' bodies after the battle they'd managed to squeak through the previous session. In this case, the enemies had been extremely well-equipped ogres from an alternate timeline in which the Dragon Empire was ruled by ogres instead of humans. I'd originally intended to just stay abstract about the looting as the system suggests, but I got carried away with details. I described the many bandoleers hanging from the ogres' broad backs, all ready to be looted, and Jonathan rolled. I think he was excited about the roll but he rolled just a 6 and he reacted like he'd blown the roll. I lost track of the fact that I was trying out the Optional No Math Treasure system and asked Jonathan to tell us how he had managed to bungle the looting operation. I can't remember his exact story, but he made something up about poking his finger where it shouldn't have gone, otherworld magic not acting like he thought it would.

"Right. It was booby-trapped. The thing blows up on you. OK." I rolled a couple d8's, the first dice that came to my hands, and said, "So you take 7 damage. No, wait, 14."

Jonathan's mouth dropped and he was so very far from his happy-rational place. As he leaned forward to record the HP loss on his sheet and to voice a reasonable protest, I sensed the enormous shadow of the mistake I was making. But Jonathan's outrage was so hilarious I couldn't resist thrusting the comedic dagger. "Also you get an adventurer-tier healing potion." Kept my straightface for a few seconds. Then laid my head down on the table and laughed, as everyone else howled and carried on and called me a terrible person and a worse GM.

Paul, who was supposed to have been rolling next, said, "I was told there would be no math. And that . . . that looked like math." He threw his d20 aside. "Y'know, I think I'm fine. I don't need any treasure. No treasure here. Treasure hurts."

Four sessions later, people are still scrambling for cover every time I use the word "treasure."

Monday, October 14, 2013

13th Age Monster Sighting: Dybbuk

Everyone else seems to be decorating for Halloween so I thought we'd meet the holiday on the threshold with a horror-tinted monster preview from the 13th Age Bestiary.

 The dybbuk is a creature from Jewish mythology. The version ASH LAW designed takes just as much from Japanese and Korean horror films. Rich Longmore's art nailed the fantasy/horror crossover.

The Dybbuk Legends section is a good example of our approach to the half-created world of 13th Age. We provide multiple interesting options and trust each GM and their players to come up with the ideas that make for the campaign's best story. The half-created world completes its creation in each separate campaign.

The Dybbuk Possession section might spark weird horror-haunting stories or it might just go into the background as an explanation of what's going on when dybbuks aren't actively possessing someone like the poor elven priestess shown above.

The I Cast Thee Out! sidebar touches on the fun mechanical twist to this monster. If you hit it with holy attacks, there is a chance of blasting the dybbuk out of the body it is possessing. That's the good news. The bad news is that the dybbuk becomes an undamaged higher level ethereal dybbuk that will wreck your souls. Fortunately for some PCs, the ethereal dybbuk can't maintain its presence in the world without its host, and fades round by round, so just . . . hold . . . . on . . .

We'll let you find the current mechanics for yourself when you buy the finished book or pre-order the Hatchling Edition from the Pelgrane Press online store.


Possessing ghosts, demonic intruders, or alien visitors. Who can say for sure?

Dybbuk Legends

The stories surrounding dybbuks are often contradictory, probably muddied by the dybbuk themselves. For your game decide which one or more of the following ideas are true:
·         Dybbuks are demons who seek physical bodies to do evil deeds. They imitate the recently departed to confuse demon-hunters who hear about them. [demon]
·         Dybbuks are the souls of the dead who wish to continue living in warm bodies. [undead]
·         Dybbuks are strange visitors from another realm who use the memories of the dead as their guides and the bodies of the living as their vessels. [aberration]
·         Dybbuks are possibility-echoes of those who never were, people who could have existed if not for the birth of another. [aberration]
·         Dybbuks are the souls of those who were rewritten out of existence by magic. [undead]
The monster entries for the dybbuk show their type as “demon,” but that dybbuk origin might not apply in your game. Feel free to change their type to suit your story.

Dybbuk Possession

Dybbuks are blown about by spectral winds no one else can see and must cling to people and objects. Spellcasters and others who have more spirit vision than most occasionally see dybbuks clinging to the sides of buildings like fluttering flags or desperately clinging to the shoulders of animals and people like shadowy capes. Characters who can see the other-world will mistake the translucent shade of a dybbuk for a trick of the light unless they make a DC 30 check.

Once a dybbuk finds a host it wishes to possess, it anchors itself to the victim’s body. Thereafter it lives inside its host’s physical shadow and is no longer buffeted by other-world storms. Over time the dybbuk warps the mind and body of its host, and eventually inhabits it entirely.

<<insert sidebar>>
I Cast Thee Out!
Using holy damage on a dybbuk possessing a corpse (a corpse dybbuk) or a living victim (a parasitic dybbuk) can force the dybbuk to leave that body, but it produces a new, slightly tougher monster. Thankfully, the ethereal dybbuk fades away after a short time, because it can’t maintain a physical presence in the world for long without a host. Exposing a dybbuk to holy water or dragging it onto holy ground might have a similar effect, or not—that is the GM’s call.
<<end sidebar>>

Friday, October 11, 2013

Current 13 True Ways work (Drakkenhall, dragons, and druids)

Jonathan and I have moved into a new work phase on 13 True Ways, meeting every afternoon in my garage studio. Long periods of separate work punctuated by discussion. Yesterday Jonathan finished up a big section on icon relations in Drakkenhall and moved on to monster design. Our debate on metallic dragons roamed over the history of D&D and eventually clambered onto our standard 13th-Agey approach of handling the familiar with twists that suit us. We're more or less agreed, but expect designer sidebars in that section.

That monster tile above? That's the silver dragon tile by 13 True Ways artist Lee Moyer. See the Great Gold Wyrm tile in the core book for the ur-tile that set the pattern for the silver.

Meanwhile I finished a draft of the commander class that's ready for internal playtesting but I'm not going to say more about it than I said in yesterday's post until I'm happy with the tests. I've moved on to the druid, which somehow immediately generated new insights on handling multiclassing and racial feats, so yeah, enough of the blogging, back to the big picture druid mechanics and the new category of feats that turned out to be hidden in the underbrush surrounding the druid's woods.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Commander, Cardhunter, Golem Arcana

The undercurrent for this week is miniatures-style play. 

The Commander for 13th Age
I've been working on what we used to be called the 'battle captain' class for the 13 True Ways supplement for 13th Age. I got tired of the battle-captain mouthful and renamed the class "commander." It's more direct, dodges the adjective-generated question of how many other types of captain you can play, and describes the current mechanics better. 

When I'm happy with internal playtests the commander will join the monk in wider playtest. Jonathan thinks that this version of a commander is more like a miniatures game thing than he would expect a 13th Age class to be, but I'm arguing for the fact that the ongoing carefully weighted options are a play pattern beloved by the people who want to play the commander class in the first place, so at the moment, yes, this is another class that plays unlike any of the others. 

Meanwhile in the world of spending time pushing electrons on a game board instead of typing electrons into design files, I've been playing a lot of Cardhunter, the deck-based minis-style dungeon-fight game from Blue Manchu. I like this game a lot. Playing is free though they may find ways of attracting you as a Paypal. If you enjoy crunchy minis games, tactical puzzle-solving, or comedy-of-genre riffing on the cheesiest conventions of early D&D roleplaying, definitely check it out. It's been a long time since I worked with Skaff Elias on Chainmail and D&D Miniatures and I'm happy to see that he got involved as an advisor on a game that's so much fun. 

Where Cardhunter tickles old school memories with newfangled deckbuilding TCG design, Golem Arcana is the next big idea pulled from Jordan Weisman's hat. People have talked about using digital media to make a tactical miniatures game faster and easier to play. Jordan & Co. are trying to pull off the first ambitious version of such a design with an epic fantasy setting and big and beautiful 'miniatures.' The Kickstarter runs another four days and even if you're not likely to support it, you should look at the video, which does a good job of explaining some core concepts miniatures fans and game designers are going to want to keep track of. 

[[below, Golem Foundry by Kekai Kotaki]]

Golem Foundry, by Kekai Kotaki

Monday, September 30, 2013

Happy Tweet Day

Jonathan had a birthday this weekend, with personalized cupcakes arranged by his girlfriend Stef.

Jonathan had asked for presents to be given to charity in his name instead of given to him, so it was just as well that I couldn't find the present I'd intended to give him. Instead he handed me the slip of paper pictured below, torn out of next year's desk calendar that he clearly means to use as a messaging tool instead of as a calendar.

It's a good collaboration.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Today's Fortunes

The quotes and dialogue that follow are from the last couple weeks, alternating between quotes from 13th Age game sessions and our section of the real world, far from the game table.

The photo above is apparently also from the real world, since it's what I found on the path from my house to my garage-studio this morning, dropped more or less where birds discard the pits after they've feasted on our plum trees.

Special Teams
It's time for CSI: Cleric Sorcerer Investigations.
      How long have you been waiting to say that?
A little while. Not long.
      Except with your autistic bard it's more like the Special Buses Unit.
The big bus . . . is just too much freedom for me.

Movement Fumble
I stepped on a dying elephant seal. And lived.

I don't really know what position is correct.
      Snake on top.

1-point background
Yes, it's true. I worked as a phone sex operator for four weeks and didn't realize I was a phone sex operator. They always said just be welcoming and friendly to the people who would call in and it was called welcome wagon so I just talked with people. They called back!


Oh this is sad. Zombie dad just wanted the chance to take little Crispin fishing.
      Don't worry. It's the Make a Lich foundation for dead children.
'It's Never Too Late.'

What good is a throne if you don't take it by force?

Royal Family
Wait a minute. How does this work? Do we ALL get to be king?
      Yes. One at a time. For a very short time.
I volunteer to be the last in the succession. Just saying I'm OK with that.

Cat Stuck in Tree for One Night, but Not Two Nights (from a friend's email)
I got out my climbing harness, a helmet, and a back pack.  Up I went.....up and up until I was about 8 feet from the cat.  The tree was swaying and getting thinner and thinner.  It was starting to get dark.  I strapped myself to the tree and my presence gave the cat the encouragement to lower himself to me.  Now i am about 40 or 50 feet off the ground with a wet, scared cat clawed to the tree and it needs to get into the back pack, which is still on my back (This just maybe be the same backpack that saved us from the killer grouse!).   I am not sure how it all happened, but within about 10 minutes I was at the bottom of the tree with the cat in the bag.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Happy day of the Hatchling!

The 13th Age Bestiary is now available for pre-order and pre-publication playtesting! Like the Escalation Edition for the original 13th Age book, purchase of this Hatchling Edition of the Bestiary from the Pelgrane Press store gets you a PDF, updates whenever they're available, and then the final printed book and PDF. Unlike the Escalation Edition's many long moons, this pre-order Bestiary is already nearly finished and publishing is going to be a quick process. Simon expects to have the final book out early in 2014. 

Now that the Bestiary is on its way, I'm switching back to full work on 13 True Ways with Jonathan. One of the curious effects of the Bestiary is that it's going to change the way we approach monsters in 13 True Ways. Originally we were sticking to the just-the-facts approach of the core book, very short stat-based entries. But the Bestiary shows how we can present full entries on monsters and stick with the game's half-designed-world that leaves important decisions up to each campaign. So the monster entries in 13 True Ways are going to use the full approach from the Bestiary wherever it's warranted. 

But enough about the future. Check out the Pelgrane Press Hatchling Edition announcement page that charmingly lists the names of all the monsters in the book. You might have to buy the PDF to figure out what some of the base entries are, others will be clear. 

We've chosen not to call out which authors were principally responsible for individual entries, so I figured for this introduction blog post I'd go ahead and list one monster that made a special impression on me from each of the other authors. Let's take it in alphabetical order by designer's first name.

ASH LAW did a lot of great work in the book. His chuul entry gets the CREEPY INNOVATOR prize for adding something to an existing monster that makes a lot of sense and opens up all manner of story ideas. 

Cal Moore improved every monster as an editor, many monsters as a developer, and Kevin Kulp's whispering prophet and others as a mechanical designer. 

Ken Hite made the original monster selection and assignments. Ordinarily I'd have to credit his catastrophic (to PCs) tarrasque, but I *love* the arch tone and precise language of Ken's entry for the manticore, so sorry tarrasque, you just got beat by a manticore

You may have already seen Kevin Kulp's redcap's first appearance on EN World. I'm also pretty fond of the lammasu as epic tier creatures that may be a touch too overworldly for the PC's good. 

Rich Longmore didn't design any monsters but he's doing all the art and gave us the wonderful little hatchling above so hey, he gets thanked and mentioned. 

Rob Watkins wrote a psychologically insightful story for some new white dragons who are entangled with the Lich King and then did some great mechanics to back the story up. 

Rob Wieland did something elegant with the story of the lich that seems likely to get a lot of use in 13th Age games and storylines. He's also got the monster that ends with z, the zorigami, and I think they're cool enough that I broke the rules again and mentioned two of his critters. 

Ryven Cedrylle got a tough assignment, the intellect devourer, and, well, yikes. There are a couple surprising wrinkles in this one. Campaign impact entirely possible. 

Steve Townshend has a 5th level warp beast wedged within the madness of rather larger elder beasts; I love the warp beast's shifting impact on each battle and the fact that it makes sense for all sorts of warpage. 

Have fun with the Hatchling Edition and send us playtest comments as indicated in the file!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Rose City ComicCon September 21-22

This Saturday and Sunday I'll be a guest at the Rose City ComicCon at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.

I lived in Portland for 12 years so it will be a bit of a homecoming.

This time I'll be running two hour 13th Age demos and a Shadowrun: Crossfire demo near the Rainy Day Games Booth. Paul Peterson will also be there, he's going to be running Smash Up! demo and a Smash Up! tournament and a Guillotine demo. Sign up for these events will be at the Rainy Day Games booth, and the following link takes you to the calendar of events and a map.

There should be a good amount of time for just-talking. But I think the event timing means there's no way I'm getting into the Smash Up! tournament.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Heart of Gold: a 13 True Ways update

Smilin' Sammy G, as he is known to his friends, was the first of the characters created by fans who supported the 13 True Ways Kickstarter. Sammy comes to us from Alex Paciga, who created a legendary bard with a truly sunny disposition and depths which will make him *interesting* to be around. 

This painting of Sammy is by Lee Moyer, of course (http://leemoyer.wordpress.com/), who conceived of character portraits as the style for the new book's chapter openings. Sammy G's portrait is presently slated for Chapter 5, the grab-bag chapter that I presently refer to as either Gamemaster's Grimoire orOlde Schoole. The hidden depths I referred to earlier make Sammy a natural fit for this chapter, but I don't want to say too much so that Alex's creation can receive his full ovation in print. 

So when is that going to happen, you ask? Hopefully Q1 of 2014. There are two things that could push us into Q2: me butting heads with the developer over character class issues or Jonathan and I getting all labor-of-love and working harder to match the standard set by the core book. If we take that longer path, we'll approach 13 True Ways as we did the Escalation Edition for the core book: we'll send backers and pre-order customers a usable early draft that will keep getting better as it trundles toward the finish line. Otherwise, there's something to be said for happy surprises, and we'll only share the bits that need playtesting.

We've indulged in some periods of 13 True Ways silence while I was working on the core book and the Bestiary. We're now returning to once-a-week updates on 13 True Ways. These updates will soon include other mechanical bits. People have sent us all kinds of good feedback on the monk at13thAgePlaytest@gmail.com, and we'll be asking for your help with other aspects of 13 True Ways.

Friday, August 23, 2013

GenCon: You can't spell rock-n-roll without O-R-C

The publication of 13th Age made my GenCon hugely enjoyable. Instead of gradually growing tired and hoarse, I started the show tired (after staying up until 4 am playing Shadowrun: Crossfire the night I arrived, I confess) and gained energy through the rest of the convention, despite sleeping not-so-much.

I think it was Rachel Kahn at the Pelgrane booth who worried that I might be functioning as some type of energy vampire. Which could have been true, but only in a happy-extrovert non-zero-sum good-for-everyone manner. I enjoyed great conversations with fans about 13th Age, a series of wonderful interviews that I expect will be trickling out soon, and challenging/thoughtful GM huddles with the people running 13th Age OP games.

And then there were the two-hour 13th Age demos. I never got away from the Pelgrane booth to see the sessions that were being run as part of our OP, but Steve Dempsey and I ran two-hour demos at the booth, eventually aided by Dave Thompson when the demand for demos grew beyond what we could handle.

The two-hour demo format hands people 2nd level pre-gen characters with ability scores, feats, powers and spells chosen. What's left is the fun stuff: one unique thing, backgrounds, icon relationships. The first hour introduces the players to 13th Age and gets everyone creating their uniques and backgrounds, a process that sometimes starts slow but almost always acquires hilarious or dramatic momentum as people see how they can make up things they are going to enjoy. You can find a version of the demo at http://www.pelgranepress.com/?p=8764 if you're interested in using it for a one-shot or pick-up game. (I'm also using the format as a low committment way to play with friends who aren't serious gamers [yet] but want to try an rpg session to see how they like it.)

I give everyone at the table freedom to come up with a character that amuses them. Then I ask enough questions to help the character amuse me. After character creation, it's the GM's job to pause, take stock of the PCs, and quickly figure out a path they might share. The remaining hour of the demo sandwiches combat roll-playing between roleplaying  at the beginning and end. Sessions vary hugely in emotional tone but they all show how a campaign can be built around the interests and icon relationships of the PCs as well as the GM's plans.

Many of the uniques from last year's GenCon made it into the final text of 13th Age. This years games were just as good. I'm going to write them up one-at-a-time, focusing on player creativity and GM tips.

I didn't write down the names of the three players in the Thursday group. The first guy said that his drow sorcerer was actually the spirit of a former sacrifice that had taken over the drow magician who'd bungled this diabolic act. He wanted something impressive for his soul and we settled on a minotaur; lots of roleplaying bravado possible there.

The second unique belonged to Iggy the half-orc barbarian, whose true name was Ignatius and had never really wanted to be a barbarian, he was an athlete and a scholar with highly advanced education who'd been called back to the family business (barbaric tribal warfare) to represent the family's proud martial heritage that couldn't be advanced by mere book-learning.

The third PC was a gnome bard. Frankie the gnome bard. He had invented rock.

That brought the whole scene together. The former-minotaur, Stig, was the screaming drow vocalist, a fury born of diabolism and nature. Iggy was the drummer. Frankie ran the show, lead lute, the creator. The plot turned out to be a bit of an ambush created by treachery. The PCs thought they were on the trail of some killer drums that were being used by orcs to kill guardsmen at a frontier fort. The orcs had some warning of the group's arrival thanks to a treacherous guardsman (Emperor 5, good for me). And the orcs didn't believe that Frankie had created rock. They wanted their music back.

Highlights included the fact that the players started referring to Frankie as 'Gnome Elvis.' I kept asking for the names or melodies of metal songs to accompany spells and character actions but they kept feeding the table what could charitably be called easy-listening, so when the PCs steadily rolled 1's and 2's for their attacks we had an obvious magical rationale. The PCs didn't focus their attacks so the orcs all stayed above staggered too long for comfort, the orcs' improved critical hit range kept coming into play and we eventually got to start testing the death save rules. Things were looking so bad that I explained the 'flee-and-take-a-campaign-loss' rules. If the PCs had fled, everyone would have known they were impostors: "We'd be Milli Vanilli," said Frankie's player. But they stuck together. There was a moment when I thought that one of Frankie's spell names was so metal that I gave him a chance of breaking the orc's drumstick, it just felt right for there to be a chance. I said that if I rolled a 1 or a 2, since the orc was going to try and attack, that it would be pretty bad for me. So of course that was the moment when luck broke for the PCs. They fought through that grim moment when Iggy was down, chased down the last orc, and shone a rainbow in the dark... just in time to look like heroes in front of the Imperial Squad who'd been brought in with a floating icon relation 6 with the Emperor (in case I needed to provide an explanation for the characters fleeing...).

The orc drummer art accompanying this post is another great illo by Rich Longmore from the upcoming 13th Age Bestiary. The real stats for the drummer/screamer would have been over a second level group's capacity to deal, but I riffed a bit on his abilities. Wherever Iggy the academic barbarian is now, he's playing these drums.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Dwarven Delve

Half of my Wednesday night 13th Age gaming table is running a Kickstarter for their company’s new Dwarven Delve game for iOS, Android, PC, and Mac.

It’s an underground exploration and combat archeology action game. The dungeon layout is a bit like the mechanics of the Pipe Dream game, you reconfigure the dungeon on the fly, opening up new passages to fat loot and monsters you want to fight *right now* while trying to reroute the real-time charges of monsters you don’t want to have to tangle with. Along the way you develop the abilities of your six dwarven adventurers and dip into a forgotten history that touches on the archetypal tragedy of the dwarves: always digging just a bit too deep for their own good.

Given that the core of the Tinkerhouse team is in my gaming group, I might end up helping with the game if they do really well with the Kickstarter, but my potential self-interest is a lot smaller than my hope for my friends.

In case you’re wondering, the half of our 13th Age table involved in Tinkerhouse is…
… the elf monk who shapes wood and has now turned out to be directly descended from the bloodline of the original Elf King’s royal architects
… the dwarf bard who reads the unique thrum of objects he drums upon and is now learning the battle hymns of an alternate world in which dwarves rule the Empire
… the elf rogue who knows that the Prince of Shadows is not who he claims to be and has now, probably not coincidentally, been taken over by his own shadow, not that the other PCs knew that until this moment

They do good play and they do good work. 

High Icon Relations, Low Comedy

Cal Moore has been doing a bang-up job of editing 13th Age and helping to develop and edit the Bestiary. He’s also running a 13th Age campaign and he sent over a report on a recent game that I thought was worth sharing. Note the cunning use of successful icon relations rolls to provide a flashback that saved the PCs from exposure. Though I suppose they did suffer from ogre-exposure.

Cal’s note….

By the way, tonight's game was good. Party's businessman ranger convinced the others to spend 3200 gp to buy 40 barrels of liquor (rum, dwarven whisky, and shroom juice "room juice.") Packed it on a small ship and traveled to the Port town on river emerging from the High Druid's main forest area. Then proceeded to piss off the owner of the Sapphire, the main town tavern/whore house (based on the Gem from Deadwood), who totally lowballed an offer to them. They spent most of the rest of the time trying to sell the 40 casks in small chunks to the few other tavern owners in town, plus the Imperial praefect (who took a cask of shroom juice for free as his due). They were still about 800gp in the hole when they went off to look into an orc warband who is using extortion on the wood elf settlements upriver to take what they want. While sneaking up on the camp and hiding by a small cliff just below it, an ogre comes to the edge to take a piss and looks down (Stealth Dex rolls, each PC gets a 5 or under, oh oh). The sorcerer uses his 5 and 6 Elf Queen rolls [[icon relationship checks at the start of the session]] to flashback to when a bard back in town gave him a magic gem for a one-time illusion, which he uses to make them look like rocks in the cliff. So the ogre doesn't notice them to the point that he pisses all over them down below. End of session! :) Next week, the sneak attack (and laundry).

Why I love 13th Age. My PCs have never willingly been pissed on before and seen it as a success.