Tuesday, July 29, 2014

OMG! Trilogy!

Last Friday, ASH LAW and I were working on our new 13th Age project in my garage studio. (And no, the new project is not announced yet. Soon!) I cursed because I wanted to look at the commander for a moment in a printed copy of 13 True Ways instead of rummaging through the PDF, and of course that wasn't possib. . . . . wait a minute. "I've got a printed copy," I said aloud, atoning for my cursing. There, in the folded cardboard on the gaming table . . . the printer's proof of 13 True Ways.

The approved proof.

So I got to flip through finished pages to see what I needed. It felt great.

And then I stacked the proof beside the 13th Age Bestiary and the core book and had to admit that it looks like we've got a player's book, monster book, and GM's book, a product scheme we originally avoided by presenting 13th Age as a single all-you-need-to-play volume.

The appearance of a trilogy is probably a good thing. But I have to say ours is a bit different than the traditional player/monster/GM scheme. Our approach is a lot more like the old Arduin Grimoire and its follow-ups that started with Welcome to Skull Tower.

The 13th Age core rulebook sort of qualifies as the player's book, but it also has monsters and treasure and a geography chapter and a sample adventure. The explicit goal is to help players contribute to the story of each unique campaign. The hidden goal is to get players excited about the campaigns they might be able to run themselves, slightly increasing the number of GMs in the world . . . .

The 13th Age Bestiary definitely qualifies as a monster book, but we deliberately let each monster tell us how it could accomplish the most for the game instead of forcing the work into a monsters-only-please format. Frost giants have fimbulwinter environmental effects, chuuls spawn usable magic items, and the fungaloids are hiding a flipping playable PC race. (And yeah, those examples were all ASH's way of adding value!) The unique voices of our many contributors came out stronger because we didn't force authors to force monsters into cookie-cutter boxes.

And then there's the newest book, approved but not quite printed. The setting material and deviltry advice and mini-adventures in 13 True Ways help GMs, but six new character classes and the multiclassing rules and other goodies make it a player's book as much as a GM's book. Our goal with 13 True Ways was to do all the coolest things we could think of, so it's an Emperor's Kitchen Sink book instead of a focused GM product.

I'm going to be happy to present new players with these three books together. They make a compelling threesome and the contents round out the play experience. Add in the first two black and white books, Book of Loot and Shadows of Eldolan, also likely to be available at GenCon, and we've got a line!

Publishing Schedule...
So far as we know, 13 True Ways should be available in print at GenCon. We're planning to drop-ship pre-orders and Kickstarter reward copies in early August direct from the printer. Those shipments will be books only, the various KS extras (and the deluxe leather-bound copies that need bookplate signatures) will be another shipment later. The hope is that most KS backers in the USA will have their copies before GenCon. There are going to be other logistic details to sort out but I won't personally be the person doing most of the sorting, so I'll wait until I know more before saying more. I can say that long-waiting Kickstarter backers will certainly also all be getting another small treat, in part because we feel bad that backers outside the USA aren't likely to have their copies before GenCon. Like all printing and distribution plans, this requires things to stay on track. So far the process has been smooth. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

The ENnie Clan Competes

It is such a good year for the ENnie awards that games I might ordinarily vote highest are not only competing with each other, they're competing against 13th Age! [[Click here to vote if you'd rather vote than read.]]

It's wonderful that 13th Age is nominated for Best Game, Best Rules, and Product of the Year. From my perspective of not actually enjoying competing against friends and collaborators, it's not so wonderful that we're up up against games including Hillfolk, Numenera, and FATE. As Robin Laws has pointed out, all but one of his competitors in the Best Game category contributed to his excellent Hillfolk or its companion campaign book, Blood on the Snow, which is also nominated for best supplement. Pieces of this awards ceremony are as tight-knit as a clan longhouse electing a chieftain and warleader.

I guess that's a high class problem. However these awards get sliced, I'm reasonably certain that I'm going to get to watch joyful friends accept some awards while still having a shot at accepting an award with possibly less well-disguised glee!

Here's the link to the voting site. Anyone can vote. The system lets you rank games so it's not an all-or-nothing choice unless you want it to be. I hope you'll vote for 13th Age if it's your cup of tea, or even if it's your second or fourth-favorite rpg beverage.If you're shy about voting because you don't know many of the games, the ballot helpfully links to info on each nominee.

Other nominees I haven't mentioned that I have fuzzy-sapiens feelings for are (not surprisingly!) the Midgard Bestiary: 13th Age Roleplaying Game Compatible Version (Best Monster/Adversary), Trail of Cthulhu: Eternal Lies (Best Adventure), and the Complete Eternal Lies Suite soundtrack by James Semple and his party of composers which is up for a Best RPG Related Product award.

Along those same lines, I'd somehow missed the also-nominated soundtrack for Night's Black Agents, Dust & Mirrors. How did that happen? Pelgrane Press is doing a *lot* of good stuff. They belong somewhere on the Fan's Favorite Publisher list, I'm thinking. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Three reviews

In the last couple days I've seen three great reviews of games I worked on that are about to hit the shelves.

13 True Ways cover

This nicely-angled review of 13 True Ways captures the joy that Jonathan and I got from creating the book. I'd love to say that Lee and Aaron also took joy from the process but Lee was so darn intense when he was working on 13TW. It was a fierce glowing joy, maybe, like dangerous lava radiant beneath the crust.

I'll be doing my best furiously-glowing-Lee impression at the Pelgrane booth at GenCon, and I'm hoping that printing works out so that 13 True Ways will be glowing alongside.

This video review of Shadowrun: Crossfire from the Dice Tower guys is fun and extremely positive. I laughed out loud at the moment that Tom said that he might just be interested in a one-shot Shadowrun rpg session now, though he had not considered that an option before. It was amusing because that was the audience-response that Catalyst hoped for when it hired Fire Opal to design this co-op deckbuilding game--they wanted people who had never played SR to have a way into the world. Greg Marques did a great job as the lead designer on Shadowrun: Crossfire, and the rest of the team was awesome to work with, including people like Cal Moore and Rob Watkins who also work on 13th Age, and folks like Mike Elliot and Jim Lin who I used to work with at WotC.

There's a possibly more informative text review of SR: Crossfire on Boardgame Geek. The review is well-written and much more thorough than I would have expected given the reviewer's brief exposure to the game. For longer exposure, come to the Catalyst Game Labs booth at GenCon. They should have Shadowrun: Crossfire demos rolling and boxes selling.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Authors leveling up

I read two good books in the last couple weeks, both by authors who started their careers along different tracks.

ARI: Let's say that Ari Marmell started out writing D&D sourcebooks. That's probably almost true, at least in a publishing sense.

Ari has been writing novels for a few years now. If you read one of his early books, but nothing since then, I'm happy to say that Ari has gained several levels as a writer. I say this as someone who set aside one of his earliest novels after being jarred out of the story by problematic sentences. But that's no longer a problem. Sentence by sentence, Hot Lead, Cold Iron is smoothly written and great fun. The urban fantasy twist into the world of faeries worked for me, the plot stayed interesting, and I'm looking forward to the sequel.

"ROBERT": You knew that Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym for JK Rowling right? Word got out. The Silkworm is a sequel to The Cuckoo's Calling. I eventually liked the Harry Potter books, though I still haven't gotten around to reading the later books in that series. I'm extremely happy that Rowling has moved on to writing adult mysteries. I understand why she wanted to pursue this new direction writing under a pseudonym. This work is excellent and deserves wider readership so I suppose it's not such a horrible thing that the secret leaked.

I liked The Silkworm more than the first book in the series, in part because of its handle on the psychology of the main characters and its accurate assessments of how the same events are different for women and men. That character development started in the first story, and in any case it's well worth reading The Cuckoo's Calling first.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Tweet's Beginner RPG

Part of my job as Jonathan's friend is to make sure his good jokes don't get wasted.

Talking about his Grandmother Fish book the other day, Jonathan said, "Y'know, I could say that this is my most accessible beginner roleplaying game yet! But I'm not going to say that. Only to friends."

At which point I step in.

If you visit the Grandmother Fish Kickstarter page and download a preliminary draft of this child's-first-book-of-evolution, you'll see that describing the book as a beginner roleplaying game is amusingly true. Kids play animals that squeak and wiggle and chomp!

RPG-talk isn't precisely on target for a Kickstarter page that's primarily aimed at science enthusiasts, parents, and humanists. But for this blog that handles games more often than not? Yeah, I'll happily spread the joke that Jonathan was a notch too tight-laced to use.

And if you like what you read and decide to sponsor the Kickstarter, please use your pledge to support our triceratops allies against the fanged aggression of T-Rex!

Please click to download a preliminary draft PDF copy of the book (approx 4 MB)

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

13 True Ways follow-up plans

The text below is from a 13 True Ways Kickstarter update I just posted. Since it talks about material that will also interest everyone buying 13 True Ways on pre-order or ordering it from their hobby shop, I'm posting the update here as well.

Hey, 13 True Ways supporters!
By now most of you will have seen the 13 True Ways PDF, except for those old-fashioned souls who want to wait for the printed book. I know there are some of you because Jonathan is one! Yes, Jonathan Tweet doesn’t want to spoil the surprise by looking at the PDF. Since I handle art and layout and editing communication, Jonathan still doesn’t know what the final book is going to look like, apart from the text, so if you are waiting for the printed book later this summer you have some good company.

Along with the final printed books there are other backer rewards in the works, such as dice and t-shirts and postcards. Those are all at various stages in the production queue, and I can’t predict when they all will be ready.

For now I want to talk about another aspect of 13 True Ways delivery: the other PDFs that are going to show up on your computer in coming months.

We ended the Kickstarter promising a 180-page book. Once we got into the design phase, our labor-of-love approach pushed us up to 256 pages. And because it was a labor of love, Jonathan and I prioritized the things we thought would be the most fun, and held our work to a very high standard. If we felt meh about something, and believed that you would feel meh about it too, it didn’t go in. We ended up delivering on all the stretch goals in the Kickstarter along with all the backer rewards, but some of our ideas in the original 13 True Ways Kickstarter plan didn’t make it into the book.

So here’s what we plan to do about it.

We’re going to finish those pieces properly as part of the upcoming subscription-based 13th Age annual (name to be determined), along the lines of the excellent Ken Writes About Stuff from Pelgrane Press. I should be clear that the we I’m mentioning includes me, but not always the other members of the original 13TW team. Sometimes I’ll be the designer, other times I’ll act as developer with other talented contributors handling the design work. Sometimes we’ll be completing work that I started on 13 True Ways but didn’t finish to my satisfaction.

As a 13TW Kickstarter backer, you’ll have two options when the annual goes live:
1.       You can choose to get only the issues that contain 13 True Ways follow-up content, for free
2.       You can choose to purchase the entire first 13th Age annual at a discount which covers all of the free content to which you’re entitled, plus a bit extra

Not every month’s installment will contain 13 True Ways follow-up content, and there’s no set schedule about when a particular piece of 13 True Ways follow-up content will be completed. This may stretch out for quite some time, because during the design phase of 13 True Ways we unexpectedly hit on a few things that could serve as the basis for larger books. If they do get turned into books, when those surprises get unveiled we’ll send a related freebie to 13TW backers. Think of this operation as a purchase that keeps on providing surprising micro-rewards.

With that in mind, I’m going to go ahead and list the things that didn’t make it into 13 True Ways and my current thoughts on how they’ll be part of the 13th Age annual subscription, or not.

Appearing in the annual at some point
Details on forests & woods to make them distinct: This grew into something a bit different than I thought originally.
More on gladiatorial games: Yeah, there’s some more we can explore here.
Rules for dragon-riding: I know that a lot of you were really looking forward to this—I was, too—and some of you even backed the project because of it. So I’ll be blunt: so far all the systems we’ve come up with have been worse than no system at all in terms of their impact on the game. I'm not interested in publishing bad systems, and I’m pretty sure you’re not interested in getting them. ASH and I are continuing to work on these rules, and we’ll do everything we can to ensure they get included in the first annual. I can promise that we’re not going to shrug our shoulders and send you something that we think isn’t worth using, just so we can check off a box on our to-do list. We'll get it to work because I know ASH will kill me if we don't.
Illustrated comparisons of the adventurer, champion, and epic tier: We’ll do these, but probably not by Aaron and Lee.
Some fantastic maps of the overworld and portions of the underworld: Ditto.
A cutaway map of a typical elven wood: Same.

Partially appearing in the annual after their actual potential is realized in future books
Racial feats: because they do appear to have a place in the game, but that place may come as a surprise.
Feats associated with the icons: same story. The obvious mechanics weren’t so good, but there is something interesting hidden behind the idea.
Stats for the 13 icons themselves: As the game evolved and matured through further development and play, we became increasingly convinced that this was an idea we didn’t want to pursue half-cocked. You can see the care we took detailing the 4 backer-created NPCs in the Gamemasters’ Grimoire chapter of 13TW. In a sense, those NPCs function a bit like mini-icons, and our final approach to this topic may bear some resemblance to the multi-option approach used for the NPCs. But when I say ‘final approach,’ I’m acknowledging that this isn’t something we intend to pursue soon. When we do finally take this path, it’s almost certainly going to be the basis for a book rather than a slice of a different book. In the near-ish future, we will be doing monster-style stats for various servants and followers of the icons. Some of the high-level lieutenants of the icons will find their way into a 13TW-backers update to provide touches of the high-level play people might have been looking for from actual icon stats.

There are also going to be surprise backer freebies along the way, some of which expand on ideas that made it into 13TW.

That’s all I’ve got for now. We’ll be in touch about the annual’s start date and other details once we’ve built the plan out further, probably before or around GenCon.

Yours in the whirl,

Rob Heinsoo
Lead Designer, Fire Opal Media

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Jeff Grubb's worlds from A to Z, and then sticking at G!

Back in April, Jeff Grubb participated in the A to Z challenge with an alphabetical jaunt through fantasy worlds, with a focus on game worlds. Jeff's short summaries, occasionally with anecdotes, are well worth reading. I learned a lot, partly because if I had the gumption to attempt the same alphabetical sally, my worlds could only have overlapped with Jeff's by six or seven letters.

I particularly liked Z is for Zothique (because I sometimes forget about Clark Ashton Smith and wish I didn't), U is for Underdark (I'd forgotten that Jeff helped name it), S is for Stormfront (which is one of those moments of alternate world wot-the-hell history, I had no idea TSR almost had a game partially inspired by Winsor McCay drawings), M is for Minaria (again, I didn't know anything about the Divine Right world), A is for Amber (because I completely agree about the re-readability of the original five-volume series, and have been sharing it with new readers), and G is for Glorantha (because, yes, Greg Stafford's Glorantha is my favorite game world, and also where the rest of this post is headed!).

Jeff's take on Glorantha is concise and personal and perfectly captures the world's core conflict, the Hero Wars confrontation between worshipers of the Red Moon goddess (urbane sophisticates, but allied with ultimate Chaos) and worshipers of the air god Orlanth (resolutely free and recklessly violent).

Personally, I owe a lot to Glorantha. It's not only my favorite example of applied mythology, it also gifted me with formative moments in youth and adulthood. Youth: the RQ bibliography that first got me reading anthropology. Adulthood: several years of employment working at Chaosium and then at A# working on King of Dragon Pass.

While working at A#, I got to play in a sense-of-wonderful Glorantha Heroquest campaign run by Jeff Richard, alongside David Dunham and Neil Robinson and seven other thanes.

Fast-forward about fifteen years, and the second-Jeff-mentioned, Jeff Richard, has co-authored a magnificent monolith of a book called The Guide to Glorantha along with Greg Stafford and Sandy Petersen. Actually it's a twin monolith of a book. It's one of those Kickstarter projects that started sane and blossomed into something flagrantly unlikely when it got funded beyond wild dreams. The Guide is being sold at a special pre-order price until July 7th, and they're running all manner of art and text previews.

The Guide isn't a game book. It's a world and mythology book, good for thinking, and if you like it also comes with a book of maps. But if you scroll a little farther down the www.glorantha.com site, you'll see that the Heroquest Glorantha book is due at GenCon, an updating of Robin D. Laws Heroquest that will be good for thinking and playing.