Sunday, September 28, 2014

Talk Write Talk Write

Idle Red Hands

I'm not sure I've had a more satisfying interview than the podcast episode that Jeff Richard and I recorded with the Idle Red Hands crew last week! Jeff and I wove between Glorantha, 13th Age, and 13th Age in Glorantha. We covered the basics and then we dipped into a few surprises, including Jeff's account of the books we'd like to publish for 13th Age in Glorantha after the Kickstarter and my discussion of how it's going to be possible for some players to play a super-powerful Mistress Race Gloranthan troll! (Hint: It involves eating your lower-level character.)
Meanwhile in the written digital word, Jeff and Jonathan and I answered some questions for Obskures. Jeff and Jonathan explained why Glorantha is good for thinking and good for gaming, while I talked a bit about the standard campaign dynamic of 13th Age in Glorantha

If you missed it, there was also a fun Iconic podcast with me and ASH LAW about 13th Age in Glorantha just before the Kickstarter began. This was the moment that it became clear to me that ducks were going to force their way into the book. I'd been slightly resistant, but slight resistance wasn't going to suffice, and the ducks have already joined us in style via a stretch goal named Feathered Fury

Speaking of stretch goals, we added three new goals over the weekend, floating the potential for a Chaos cult, an adventure, and long overdue playable mechanics for the bizarre secret societies that eventually came together to form a magician's army called the Sartar Magical Union. In our game, they will be a source of new talents, powers, and spells for most of the 13th Age player character classes. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Note the elf bow

While I've been wrapped up in the 13th Age in Glorantha Kickstarter, there's been a whole lot of gaming bursting out of other pocket universes, including a second edition I've been wanting for years. I'll let a picture set the scene. The photo below is an artifact from my year at Chaosium, 1996-97, an artifact I'd forgotten about until a couple weeks ago.

That's page 52 from the Glorantha book called Elder Races, part of the Elder Secrets box set published by Avalon Hill. I hated the art in that book. Hated it so bad. Hated it so much that I couldn't bear to look at it. And hey: I didn't have to! Chaosium had a photocopier. I had a copy of Feng Shui. Voila! The page that's captioned "A green elf chieftain. Note the elf bow" looked a lot better when I photocopied Jeff Miracola's rendering of The Killer archetype from Feng Shui and pasted it on top of the original 'elf.'

I'd never resurfaced a book before and I've never done it since. This copy of Elder Races features rescue-guest illustrations from Seventh Sea, Pendragon, and Surviving On the Edge.

Of all these books, the one that's still with me is Feng Shui. And *right* *now*, Robin Laws and his dragon-band of sidekicks and sorcerers are running the Feng Shui 2 Kickstarter. Robin has updated the rules splendidly. The Kickstarter campaign is worthy. And a lot of the art looks good enough to color photocopy for personal use and paste over art you just can't bear to see one more time.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

13th Age in Glorantha, Chapter 1 Summary

13th Age in Glorantha will contain around twelve chapters. That’s too much to summarize in a single blog post, so this tour of the work-in-progress book starts with the first chapter: Initiations
As an opening chapter, Initiations introduces newcomers to Glorantha while unveiling several mechanics we’re creating to handle new styles of 13th Age adventures.
As part of Initiations, you’ll find. . . . .
. . . .a short introduction to Glorantha and its gods and runes. Runes aren't like the temporary magic items in the 13th Age core rulebook. Gloranthan runes are symbols that hold true cosmic power. They're the building blocks of reality, and sometimes also the weapons that can destroy pieces of reality you don't like. For example, the war god Humakt is the original wielder of the Death rune. . . and it’s shaped like a sword! Humakt is also the sworn enemy of things that break the laws of death, namely the undead. Humakt’s runes are Death and Truth, but he’s not the only god associated with these runes. Thanks to stretch goals, our book will also include the crazy-berserk troll god of Death and war, Zorak Zoran, who is the dishonorable opposite of Humakt who even offers necromancer-style secrets of creating undead! 

The Initiation’s chapter’s short overview of the world’s mythology has links pointing to all the other full myths that will be appearing later in the book. It will be what newcomers need as an introduction to the world, enough to get them rolling through the myths and dangerous locations later in the book. For those who want more, there will be more information in the Glorantha Source Book that’s also being created as part of the Kickstarter. 
. . . .the basics of the cosmological battle against Chaos, as well as notes on our game’s default setting, a catastrophic moment of Unraveling when Time’s web breaks and Chaos crashes in. The purpose of setting our action during a Chaos-eruption is that newcomers to Glorantha can feel free to play in the world without feeling like they need to understand all its previous details. Long-time fans of Glorantha can do as they like, newcomers can operate in the less-structured setting of the Unraveling.   
. . . . introduction of the system that’s taking the place of the icon relationships in the core 13th Age rulebook. The system appears to have two parts, worship and rune affiliation. Although the system is phrased as ‘worship’ in Glorantha it could easily be used in 13th Age games played in the Dragon Empire or any campaign world with icons. I’m excited about this revision of our freeform storytelling mechanics. We’ve started over, searching for what we most want to use for Glorantha-style games instead of just translating our existing mechanics.
. . . . an introduction to the way we’re handling playable myths. Take a Gloranthan myth, like the story of The Suitors, in which various gods seek to impress Ernalda. Tell the myth, paragraph by paragraph, in standard mythic prose. Wherever the myth demands, write-up a station of the heroquest that a worshipper (and friends) would experience when they cross to the Godtime and adventure within that myth. Myth stations end up something like rooms in a dungeon. What kind of dungeon? Not the logical real-world type! The mythic anything-can-happen & there’s always a heroquest surprise type of dungeon! The type of dungeon where Chaos is actively corrupting pieces of the myth you used to be able to count on, so that one of the suitors for Ernalda’s hand turns out to be an albino demon-Broo wielding a dragon-sword stolen from a heroquest the player characters fumbled earlier in their careers! On the bright side, death while you are heroquesting isn’t necessarily fatal, like death in the actual world—it just creates dangerous obligations, surprising weaknesses, or the type of plot complication/campaign loss that epics get built around . . . if you survive!
It’s worth mentioning that 13G campaigns will generally alternate between adventures taking place on the map and adventures played out in the Godtime of heroquesting. In a sense, the GM is encouraged to set up the war against Chaos (or the Lunars, or whoever the current enemies are) as a two-front battle, fought both in the mortal world and in the Godtime.
It’s also worth noting that low level player characters don’t delve all the way into the deep Godtime when they heroquest. They’re more likely to go on local heroquests, trying to chase the undead out of a particular set of valleys via magic (instead of hunting every last one down in person!), or restoring a desecrated shrine to the ancestors by returning to the moment the clan hero created the shrine, or recovering a specific war banner from a long-lost hill fort. Many of these low level heroquests will show up in the geography chapter that appears toward the end of the book.
At champion and epic tier, the heroes become more likely to survive serious myth-crawling, quests that intersect with the stories of the gods themselves instead the god’s children or followers. We’ll start seeing some of those serious cosmological myths when we get into the second chapter: Orlanth is Storm King.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

dark trolls, meet the Dragon Empire

The big troll chapter kicked into 13th Age in Glorantha Tuesday!

That sentence could be parsed a few ways, so let's work it out again. The Uz Rule Darkness chapter is going to be a big chapter and it's going to be about trolls, who are also big, though not generally as big as they are in games from the Tolkien and Gygax traditions.

We're going to spend a whole lot of 13th Age in Glorantha making sure our trolls are as awesome as when they erupted into Glorantha in Trollpak. But that's future typing. Today I just wanna mention a couple fun things I might do with Gloranthan trolls when I'm running 13th Age in the Dragon Empire setting of our Pelgrane books instead of running games in Glorantha.

This isn't any type of  'official' design talk. This is me coming up with stuff I'd throw into a campaign. Ah, alternate-world Glorantha variants: this is a gaming homecoming! This first idea riffs on Dragon Empire history. If you end up using it, I'll probably want to hear about it, or about other actual campaign play with your own bring-in-the-Uz notions.

Option A: Levered Up from the Darkness
The story starts centuries ago when the dark elves poisoned the underworld to get at the dwarves. As collateral impact the drow hadn't anticipated, their poison also hit the trolls.

Deep down, down below the roots of the earth, far below the halls and mineshafts of the dwarves, there had been nothing but Darkness and the endless caverns of the trolls. That changed when the drow poison dropped into the troll's perfect Darkness. Escaping deeper failed. Fleeing sideways failed. The trolls moved up through the worst of the poison, past budding living dungeons (tastes like mad drow disease), through the dark elves themselves (tastes great!), through the dwarves that saw them as another insane threat erupting from the underworld (densely filling!), and up to caves and complexes near the surface (yummy treats everywhere!).

Much of the troll mythology we know from Glorantha doesn't apply when the horrible surface world the trolls have had to migrate to is the Dragon Empire. So let's introduce some new Dragon Empire riffs. Elves and dwarves are still obviously the trolls' terrible enemies. Riffing on the 13th Age icon histories opens up an immediate twisted variant that's hard to resist.

The trollkin curse that prevents trolls from reliably birthing trolls and instead curses them with trollkin (tastes like depression) is from the dark elf poison. The drow poison didn't drive trolls crazy the way it affects most everyone else, instead it warped their offspring. How? Well, our Glorantha book is going to have trollkin stats. But in this campaign, what if trollkin count as orcs once they've come to the surface world? And this Orc Lord who has shown up in the 13th Age? What if he's actually an empowered trollkin, or at least trollkin-friendly, and he only failing to conquer everything because he keeps dividing his forces to slay elves, dwarves, trolls, and Dragon Empire humans all at the same time?

I like this path better than putting trolls themselves in the Orc Lord's camp. Dark trolls have too much self-respect and way too much matriarchal dignity to put up with orcish crap. But trollkin? With a bit of a twist they might get behind an Orc Lord. And this lets the trolls maintain their strange status as terrible-people-who-somehow-still-on-the-side-of-order-vs.-chaos.

There are other twists and turns in this plotline, but they'd be connected to campaign events instead of obvious from the start. You'd think that the elves and dwarves and trolls might manage to unite against this version of the Orc Lord, but it's going to be tough. Particularly since the Dwarf King is freaking about the fact that the dark trolls in this particular campaign *love* the taste of true magic items, something they never got back in the deep homeland.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Sprinkling touches of Glorantha through all your worlds

Explaining 13th Age to people was pretty easy. "Jonathan was the lead designer of 3rd Edition D&D. I was the lead designer of 4th Edition. We've gamed together for around 15 years and have always played in each other's campaigns. So with 13th Age, we went ahead and designed the indie-touched d20 rolling fantasy game we want to play together!"

There was more to it than that, but that's the gist. 

13th Age in Glorantha is a little harder to explain. Let's see. "Jonathan and I both loved Glorantha from the moment we met its world of myths and heroes who learn secrets of power from the gods. In fact, the game that originally carried us into Glorantha, RuneQuest, took us both out of D&D for many years. Now that we have 13th Age flying, we've figured out how to take our d20-rolling dungeon-crawling storytelling game and apply it to creating co-created monster slaying, mythcrawling, and world saving campaigns in Glorantha, the types of games we dreamt of playing with RQ but couldn't quite get the system to handle." 

Well, that's all true! But many of the 13th Age players who get hold of the new book aren't going to be using it at first to run Glorantha campaigns. People are going to be looting the book for things to use in their existing or next-in-planning Dragon Empire campaigns, or whatever they're running from their homebrewed campaign batches. 

I'm going to be running some 13th Age in Glorantha games. I'm also going to be running some Dragon Empire 13th Age games. So as another perspective on explaining 13th Age in Glorantha, I'm going to spend the rest of this blog writing about a few of the ways I'm going to use the 13G book when I'm running the Dragon Empire. (And yes, 13G is my preferred acronym for 13th Age in Glorantha.) Of course you can apply these to any campaign world you play 13th Age in. 

Drafting the Earth Priestess Class
Ernalda is the earth goddess, the queen of the pantheon that's headed by the air god, Orlanth. Orlanth gets to rule because Ernalda says he can.The class that's devoted to Ernalda is the earth priestess. Unlike some of the other classes and class variants in 13G, the earth priestess is going to be something entirely new, a class that's all about providing synergies to multiple members of the party depending on the other characters that are in the party. The metaphor for the way in which the earth priestess treat her allies is as family. She provides unique bonuses to characters they can't gain any other way and she also provides more and more synergies when characters from different pantheons mix within her 'Ernaldan family.' As a leader character, she also has a lot of say in how her gifts are used. The goal is a class that's less techy than the commander but just as likely to be telling allies what to do or how to do it.  

I know two players in my Wednesday night game who love this type of synergistic play. And the simple way it's going to be accessible (and sensible!) within 13A games is through an icon you might have heard echoes of in the paragraph above: the Priestess! Treating diverse talents as family? Embracing characters devoted to other icons and providing a common purpose? Yeah, the earth priestess class says Priestess from the start. 

Gloranthan Gods that Effectively Provide Powers Associated with the Icons!
The earth/Priestess highlights one of the contributions 13G is going to make to 13th Age character design and concepts. 

Since the early days of 13th Age playtesting, we've had people asking for powers and feats and spells that are directly dependent on specific icon relationships. Though you'll find traces of the icon-centered approach in places like the sorcerer's talents and the chaos mage, I've avoided this design direction for the most part. 

Partly that's because when you're designing the basics of classes, you don't want to screen interesting pieces off behind a single story/roleplaying element. Partly it's because we've been extremely focused on creating playable mechanics that as many characters as possible can use. When I've had interesting ideas for mechanics that only fit a small number of characters, I've usually set them aside and concentrated on mechanics that will get wider use. Not to mention that when I've let things that were icon-specific slide through into playtest drafts, playtesters have given me hell! 

But Glorantha alters the design dynamic. For Glorantha, we're designing powers and spells that apply only to worshippers of Ernalda the earth queen, or Kyger Litor the terrifying mother of darkness, or Orlanth the storm king. We have to be specific to capture the essential mythical pillars the world is based on. 

What that means for 13th Age in the Dragon Empire campaigns is that you will get to map the Gloranthan gods to your campaign's icons. Ernalda sure sounds like the Priestess, but maybe in your campaign the High Druid is all about unifying disparate forces against the Emperor, so characters with icon relationships with the High Druid will also make sense as earth priestesses. 

Orlanth and the wind lords are a more interesting case. Depending on the 13th Age campaign you're running, you might decide that powers and spells and class variants that relate to Orlanth could be chosen by character with positive or conflicted relationships with the Elf Queen, High Druid, just possibly the Great Gold Wyrm, and also strangely enough the Emperor! We'll map out the campaign dynamics suggested by these choices. All of these choices could make sense, and as a bit of player empowerment there will also be the option for a character connected to the Crusader or the Prince of Shadows making a case for why they have powers connected to the air and the storm. 

The end result is going to be a wide range of interesting talents, powers, spells, and feats designed to be fully compatible with all other 13th Age powers. But for a change, these talents and spells will make sense associated with specific icons. They will tap into Glorantha's deep mythic approach to its gods and goddesses and you get to control the translation of that approach to your campaign's icons. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Adding Uz (aka dark trolls) to 13th Age

We just announced another stretch goal for the 13th Age in Glorantha Kickstarter and it's a doozy. Looks like this:

$60,000 – New Chapter: Uz Rule Darkness

A full chapter on using Gloranthan trolls as PCs, with playable myths and a new Uz* class that taps into many troll goddesses and gods. (*Also accessible to Darkness-rune humans!)

We started on this path when when the earlier $50,000 Enter Zorak Zoran stretch goal that we're presently scooting towards introduced trolls as an Elder Race.

Heck, we *started* on this path when I wanted the dancing troll priestess who appears in the blog post just below this post to be on the cover of our 13th Age in Glorantha postcards at GenCon! But I didn't want to come out and say it from the start because the treatment of Uz/trolls as a fully playable race unlocks my vision for the book.

The default way to play 13th Age in Glorantha is going to be with an eclectic (let's not call them motley!) band of adventurers from different pantheons who worship different gods with diverse powers. The world is under assault by Chaos. Heroquests that used to be solved by Orlanth's air powers alone now require new allies. Chaos monsters that have stolen portions of each pantheon's power can most easily be defeated by warriors whose powers cover a runic spectrum instead of sticking to only a single clan, a single tribe.

Of course Glorantha savants will be able to run many other flavors of campaign. But for 13th Age players new to the world, the important thing is to outline a few central pillars (Orlanth is Storm King, Ernalda is Earth Queen, Humakt is Death's Champion) and riff from there. When Uz Rule Darkness enters the book as a central pillar, we broaden the adventuring party beyond Orlanthi & Friends--or we redefine who can count as friends.

In Gloranthan terms, Dragon Pass is going through a variation of I Fought We Won, when unlikely allies have to bond together. Adventuring parties look a lot like they did in early RQ when most of us combined heroes from diverse pantheons.

In 13th Age terms, the Uz are the first race that comes with its own class! Talents in the Uz class let you focus on insect-transformation powers (the god Gorakikki) or spirit-summoning (Kyger Litor), battle (Karrg), throwing expendable trollkin at your problems (TBD, but possibly Kyger Litor again) or even healing (Xiola Umbar). Yeah, it's one of those druid-style classes, you could have a whole party of Uz without repeating much. And this class will be fully playable in any 13th Age campaign, in fact just lifting the Uz and dropping them into a 13th Age game is one of the straightforward translations from Glorantha to a version of the Dragon Empire.You wouldn't even necessarily need the dark trolls themselves, if you wanted to make it a human thing. Or maybe a half-orc or dark elf thing . . . .

Uz Rule Darkness isn't our next stretch goal. In fact there's a marvelous goal involving the Chaos demon known as the Crimson Bat that comes first, that I'm going to write about soon. But I'm talking about Uz now because we're in the middle of the Enter Zorak Zoran goal, the first bite of the troll. Just as the Zorak Zoran stretch goal is going to add new playable myths to Glorantha, this new chapter that covers many Uz is likely to spin us into new myth cycles in which the trolls are protagonists. Given the central vision of the Chaos-assault upon the world, even the Uz need some help. Crunchy-tasty surface people end being useful for something other than food. It's gonna be a romp!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Priestess Says Dance!

The 13th Age in Glorantha Kickstarter is live! 

I'm ecstatic that we're rolling.

And we *are* rolling. Jan Pospisil's dark troll priestess bangs the drum and Kickstarter is dancing! (Jan's art is from the Guide to Glorantha and he'll be doing similarly splendid work for our new book.)

See you on the heroquest.