Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Composing the 13th Age

Here’s a uniquely wonderful experience I never imagined having: spending the last year commenting and kibitzing as James Semple and his team of composers and live musicians created the 13th Age soundtrack!
James is in his last couple weeks of work on the album, putting all the pieces together. I just finished writing short liner notes for two dozen tracks. Simon Rogers and James will add to the notes, dialogue-style. That’s perfect since to a small extent Simon and I got to talk about tracks all year long as James created and revised . . . and had new tracks spring on him out of nowhere!
Some of the music is meant to be looped in particular moments of play. Other tracks capture the spirit of a particular icon or location. It’s all excellent. As the album has come together, I’ve been thinking about my mom, a talented singer and classical music lover who died a few years ago. Her influence certainly helped me have any opinion worth hearing as James’ music came together, and I have to thank James and Marie-Anne Fischer and all James' other collaborators for the fact that this soundtrack would have been the first product associated with my gaming career that my mom would have enjoyed! I’m not being melancholy about this. I’m amused that work creating a fantasy world finally led back around to a creative effort that would have amused the woman who introduced me to the Lord of the Rings and C.S. Lewis, but didn't have much use for fantasy after that. These songs? These songs she would have loved.
The two pieces I’m linking to now are the first and the last pieces composed, I believe. The 13th Age Theme is a rousing start, with moments for reflection. Dreams of a Lost Age came out of nowhere at the very end, a lovely piece that may have many different expressions in the various cultures and traditions of the Empire.

I know that James and Simon are working to get the soundtrack published as quickly as possible. I don’t think we have a firm date yet.  

Friday, October 10, 2014

Why Jonathan Loves the Red Moon

When my 13th Age collaborator Jonathan wants to blog about game-stuff, he does it here. We're in the last four days of our 13th Age in Glorantha Kickstarter, and today Jonathan wants to talk about the best bad guys: worshipers of the Red Goddess. We'll be covering them as enemies in the 13th Age in Glorantha book. Those who want deep information on the history and philosophy that Jonathan loves will probably want to add a copy of the Glorantha Source Book to their Kickstarter loot. 

Glorantha has the best villains. There are fearsome, human-eating trolls. There are venomous, regenerating, octopus-headed Chaos giants. But the top villain prize goes to the Lunar Empire and its plan for universal harmony—that is, world domination. Anyone who’s known me for five minutes knows that I adore irony and ambiguity, which is where the Lunars come in. To their enemies, they’re an abomination, but in their own eyes they’re just undertaking the thankless job of enlightening the world. The Lunar Empire recognizes its chief divine enemy in Orlanth, the supreme god of the PCs’ default culture. The Lunar Empire has what I’m looking for in my villains: sophisticated philosophy, good intentions, and dangerous Chaos magic that’s terrifying to the player characters.

The Red Goddess and Chaos
The chief goddess of the Lunars is Sedenya, the Red Goddess. A few hundred years ago, she was born as a human in the sun-worshiping, patriarchal culture north of Dragon Pass, where 13th Age in Glorantha is set. She grew in power until she achieved full godhood. Unlike the old gods who existed before time, Sedenya incorporates opposites, such as life and death. She even accommodates Chaos, the otherworldly force that seems bent on destroying reality. She tames it and trains it to her will. Most Chaos monsters are hideous abominations, but the Lunar elites are neatly dressed and well educated. To the Lunars, their ability to live in harmony with Chaos demonstrates the superiority of their Way. To everyone else, their truck with Chaos proves that the Red Goddess is nothing but one more Chaos god out to pervert and destroy the world. Sedenya now floats high above her empire as the Red Moon.

The Lunar Way
Sedenya teaches her followers to rise above their traditional ways and to embrace universal enlightenment. Each subverted culture keeps its customs and power structure, but the ruling elites are Lunar initiates with a cosmopolitan view of the universe. Since the Empire can annex a land without overthrowing that land’s traditional ways, it has been able to expand continuously. In Dragon Pass, the Orlanth-worshiping people of Tarsh were converted to the Lunar way. There’s something unnerving about an enemy that wins by subversion and perversion instead of merely destruction.

Imperial Domination
We all love underdogs, so a domineering empire makes a great enemy. The Lunar Empire has been subverting and conquering other people left and right, including lands where Orlanth used to be the main deity. The Lunar armies are bigger, better equipped, and better trained than anything the surrounding lands can muster. Cadres of Lunar magicians are specially trained for battle, making the Lunar armies the most magically powerful in the world. What’s worse is that they don’t want to destroy you outright. They want to break you and your people so that you submit to their enlightened oversight. Above the Lunar armies, contingents of magicians, and subjugated rulers are the enlightened Lunar elites who think they have everything figured out and that they’re better than everyone else. What’s not to hate? 

In 13th Age in Glorantha, the PCs regularly enter the world of myth, where they protect the founding legends of their people from the incursions of Chaos. It’s difficult enough when you meet a legendary hero in a myth and they’ve been corrupted by Chaos, but it’s even worse when Lunar heroquesters are hacking their way into your people’s myths in order to make them compatible with the Lunar Way. Will the PCs’ home turf advantage be enough to let them stop the Lunars and their reality-twisting magic? 

The Crimson Bat
To top it all off, the Lunars also have this giant Chaos demon bat monster with a dozen major eyes and hundreds of smaller ones. A small group of devoted and merciless magicians fly it around the provinces, where they feed rebels and other unfortunates to the Bat. It’s always hungry, and the souls of those devoured live in eternal torment within the Bat. I had the Bat show up in a RuneQuest campaign back in college. It was, at the time, the most terrible monster that had ever appeared in any of my RPG campaigns. 

Modern Humanism
For me the delicious thing about the Lunars is that they are similar to modern secular humanists. They just want to spread enlightened harmony across the world. They help traditional people rise above their parochial and conflicting world views to join together as one. “We Are All Us,” say the Lunars. In particular, they have helped people overcome strongly patriarchal cultures and promoted liberty and higher status for women. With this enlightened view, people can even see that things they once thought were abominations are really just fine. The modern style of the Lunar Way means that these Chaos-worshiping imperialists would also make great PCs in a campaign that plays out from the Lunar point of view. My secret hope is that 13th Age in Glorantha is successful enough that Rob and I can do that project next. 

--Jonathan Tweet, October 2014

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The One Unique Thing in Glorantha

(How did this Lunar mage break into the blog? See Oriane's story below.)

Four days left in the 13th Age in Glorantha Kickstarter, and I'm having fun writing up pieces that are new to one or the other of the game's audiences...

My second favorite part of 13th Age character creation is selecting my character’s One Unique Thing. My very favorite part of 13th Age character creation is helping players figure out their characters’ One Unique Things when I’m the gamemaster!

Choosing your class, race, and powers is fun, but that’s all stuff the game provides, you’re pretty much shopping from menus, figuring out how to best accessorize a dwarf commander. Your One Unique Thing is your first chance to tell everyone how your character is special and how the upcoming campaign or one-shot session is going to be different than all others! As a rule, One Unique Things don’t provide powers, but it’s extremely common for characters with One Unique Things they love to find ways of orienting their later powers around their unique. The same goes for the campaign as the GM cycles between the central stories of each character, using characters’ One Unique Things and backgrounds as plot hooks that matter.

I’ve had a couple people tell me that the One Unique Thing will be an extremely interesting addition to Gloranthan roleplaying sessions because Glorantha hasn’t done this before. I agree that it’s going to be INTERESTING in the all-caps-excellent sense of that word. But I’m not so sure that the One Unique Thing is new to Glorantha.

I’m not arguing the point about other RPGs set in Glorantha. You could absolutely add the One Unique Thing to the next RuneQuest characters you create, and you probably should, I think it would be fun! Heroquest’s freeform character traits come a bit closer to setting up characters who have de facto One Unique Things, but the traits are part of the game’s mechanical system, and that’s not what 13th Age’s version is about, not at character creation anyway.

No, it’s not the game experiences that we’ve shared in Glorantha that have already introduced the concept of the One Unique Thing. It’s the Heroes and Superheroes that Jeff and Jonathan and I have loved for the past few decades of our Gloranthan fandom!

Jar-eel the Razoress is a daughter of the Red Emperor and the culmination of a mystic breeding plan to create the perfect person: magical eugenics! And it worked!

Harrek the Berserk skinned his own god and wears it as a cloak. (It’s occasionally fashionable, since his god was a White Bear.)

Harmast, the Orlanthi heroquester who is the protagonist of several of Greg’s novels, was the last of the Kodigvari, a line of Orlanthi sacred kings in the God Time.

Beat-Pot Aelwrin wears a freaking pot on his head, fights with a cleaver, and was recruited from the Imperial kitchens.

Androgeus combines the worst of both genders into one infinitely powerful package.

Sir Ethilrist went to Hell, but came back as the world’s top mercenary and the unique owner of a Doom Hound.

Arkat? Well, Arkat the Liberator aka Arkat the Destroyer aka Arkat the Betrayer aka Gbaji (?!) had this shtick where he gained a new One Unique Thing every time he gained a level!

You see the pattern, and if you know Glorantha you can add the others! Greg created his major Heroes with a One Unique Thing, because that’s how the best sagas and myths did it.

My certainty that our 13th Age characters had to have One Unique Thing as part of their initial conception? Quite possibly inherited in part from the stories I love most from Glorantha.

Think of it this way: your character may not survive to become a Hero, but 13th Age characters are essentially defined as the type of people who have the potential to become Heroes. That’s what sets them apart from NPCs. Most of the NPCs in the world do not have a One Unique Thing. The PCs are special, and in the case of 13th Age in Glorantha, they’re special in a way that some people will recognize as the spark of power that Heroes possess. Dangerous people to be around, but these are dangerous times.

So when you are creating your first One Unique Thing, think about the type of story have you always wanted to play, but haven’t quite been able to. You may not get to play it all the time, but when the GM or the other players turn the spotlight on you, it may be plots and stunts and adventures related to your unique that shine out.

I can’t be sure how often I’m going to get to play the game myself. I end up being the GM, a lot, and as I said, I don’t mind that. But when I think about the stories I would love to try out in Glorantha, here are the first few that come to mind, and a couple one-liners that Jonathan came up with.

Kitson: The only dark troll ever born to human parents. Father was probably a Kitori tribesman, mother was an Ernaldan priestess powerful enough to keep him and herself alive. My character bridges the worlds as a multiclass Zorak Zoran berserker and Orlanthi Wind Lord.

Karvadi the Claw: (Jonathan’s one-liner, my version) An alynx changed to human form! Probably the consequence of some ancient heroquest playing out, or possibly has no idea what really caused the transformation. Not especially devoted to Yinkin, god of alynxes/cats, because really, you expect a cat to somehow be devoted to another cat? That ‘let’s-worship-Yinkin’ stuff is for humans!

Oriane: Oriane is a powerful but troubled Vingan warrior with an even more powerful Vingan aunt named Jareen. Oriane's troubles largely stem from the strange and disturbing fact that her magic seems tied to the cycle of the Red Moon, which is pretty much like saying that her prayers to the Virgin Mary only work if she burns black candles and sacrifices a newborn. A troubling secret. As the campaign begins, Jareen is dying. On her deathbed, Jareen tells Oriane about a Lunar mage who has come unaccompanied into the clan's territory once every seven years since Oriane was born. Jareen has slain the Lunar every time, but he comes back seven years later looking exactly the same, yet more powerful, and Jareen now understands that Oriane will have to face the mage herself, and perhaps learn the truth about . . . well, you know. Unfortunately Jareen dies without saying when the Lunar mage is due back, or what his powers are. (The GM says "Thank you.")

Yelarn: One day a week, she is possessed by the spirit of one of her ancient ancestors. She keeps the same abilities and some of her knowledge, but her personality and soul varies depending on which ancestor is with her. Often it’s useful, as if the ancestors send someone to help. Sometimes it’s a big problem, as if the ancestors wanted to get someone troublesome out of their ectoplasmic hair for awhile. Obviously doesn’t come up every session, but when it does come up there are sometimes lasting consequences. As Yelarn grows in power, it might just be true that her ancestors start rearranging the gods and goddesses she worships, but those pages have yet to be turned.

Harad Stoneshaper: Harad is a straight out normal 13th Age fighter who worships Orlanth. He doesn’t consciously shape stone. Stone just happens to come to life when he spends much time around it. Statues bend into new shapes, stone doors warp open, buildings tend to survive upright for a time, but if he were imprisoned in a stone structure for weeks? The building wouldn’t survive. This is an example of a unique that starts small but who knows where it will go. The dwarves, for example, are going to *hate* this guy. Unless, that is, they figure out that he is actually the missing piece of one of their broken world engines. Which would be another style of problem!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Sword Vale Death Quest

I’m writing up some examples of what 13th Age in Glorantha will feel like in play. Terms and mechanical elements are subject to change.
This first example has a key player character devoted to Humakt. Let’s name her Alana. Before we get into Alana’s One Unique Thing, a couple words about Humakt, the Sword God. Although he’s part of Orlanth’s ring, he is no longer Orlanth’s brother, having severed their kinship, probably as a consequence of Orlanth’s theft/misuse of Death in the Godtime.
But Alana is a female Sword of Humakt whose One Unique Thing is that alone of all Orlanthi, she is still kin to Humakt! What’s not clear yet in the campaign is whether Alana is technically Humakt’s impossible daughter/grand-daughter, or if she is somehow part of a Storm Clan that didn’t get severed from Humakt when he cut his kinship ties with the Storm Tribe in the Godtime. That’s the type of detail that’s better left to be determined by the events of the campaign. (Glorantha note: Alana’s player might have been inspired by rumors of Arkat being Humakt’s son, or she might have cut her way to this story as soon she learned that Humakt had cut himself away from kin.)

The setting, the enemy plot: In a valley named Sword Vale, sacred to Humakt, the Lunars are attempting to engineer a local heroquest that slays both Orlanth and Ernalda. The central myths, in which Orlanth and Ernalda quarrel with Humakt, are too minor to deal serious metaphysical damage to these supreme deities, but even a localized dead zone would be a terrible precedent. Perverse heroquesting of this sort might show the Lunars how to turn Humakt’s power against his allies.
The mechanics behind the story: The party’s Humakti, Alana, learns of the Lunar quest via rolling a 5 on her worship die this season. To be more precise, from the GM’s perspective, the Lunar quest wasn’t even happening until the Humakti rolled a 5 with a worship die. The worship die has generated an obligation and the GM invents the specific details of the Lunar plot to match Alana’s 5. 
Failure to act is failure indeed: The consequences of not even attempting to fulfill an obligation to your god are worse than failing when you try. If the PCs confront the enemy questers and fail, they may suffer damage and magical consequences, but they’ll have whittled down the rune-control consequences of the Lunar heroquest and the Lunars will be weaker than they would have been without the fight.
If Alana and the rest of the PCs simply ignore the Sword Vale problem, the Lunars will undertake the heroquest unopposed, allowing initiates of the Lunar war god Yanafal Tarnils (originally a perverted Humakti himself, according to some) to corrupt the Humakt myth into a Lunar tool. Alana will take a personal campaign loss, probably something that strikes at her core, given that her One Unique Thing is all about unexpected kinship with Humakt. In addition, Sword Vale becomes a new Lunar stronghold, a constant thorn that defies all of Orlanth’s, Ernalda’s, and Humakt’s powers and will have to be dealt with in the end by PCs who follow other gods.

The true action: So of course Alana and the PCs respond to Humakt’s warning. After fighting (or sneaking?) their way into Sword Vale, the PCs have to choose between
  • retaking the heavily guarded central Humakt shrine in order to charge directly into the Lunar heroquest (cue big fight scene), OR
  • performing a different Humakt quest in a different holy spot in the valley (that might or might not lead to direct confrontation, depending on their level of success it might get them into the Lunar myth or it might just partially re-establish Humakt’s control of the Death rune in the vicinity, but the Lunars might still gain more power than they had), OR
  • if the party’s Orlanth and Ernalda magic is much stronger this season than its Humakt magic, the PCs might perform one of the Ernalda and Orlanth wooing/wedding quests.
Note that these heroquests won’t be relevant to the Lunars’ plot within Sword Vale unless the quests are performed inside the valley. This adventure is set up with the notion that the Lunar heroquesters are already on the way to victory. Merely seizing the shrine back from the Lunars, and even managing to kill the Lunar questers *after* they emerge from the Godtime, will accomplish something. But if there’s no confrontation with the Lunar questers in the Godtime, even indirectly, the Lunar magic will probably win out, and Orlanth and Ernalda will be dead (or perhaps just dead to each other) in this valley.
Rewards: Each of the quests has its own odd complications and possible rewards. The biggest reward, since this is Humakt we’re talking about, comes to the war party that meets the Lunars head-on within the myth they’re trying to convert. The Lunars will surely face a battle against Humakti within the myth and if the PCs can have at least one Humakti with them (Alana!), the PCs can stand in for those Humakti. Killing Lunars dead within a Humakt myth? Priceless. Most likely, each PC that survives the battle would gain at least a temporary relationship with Humakt, or a temporary mastery of the Death rune, something that could be used to strong magical effect sometime in the next few sessions. As the central figure in the myth, Alana, along with one random PC (possibly even the party’s Ernaldan earth priestess!) will gain permanent blessings from Humakt, functioning exactly like a 13A magic item with a default bonus, power, and quirk, but connected to Humakt’s power.  
There might be other rewards possible, but in the case of this heroquest, I’d probably play that the other reward one or more PCs might gain would be part of the heroquest surprise, an unexpected scene/stage/battle/interaction in the Godtime that comes as a surprise appearing in the myth. In this myth, I’d probably determine the heroquest surprise partly using a rune relationship result a PC had floating at the start of the quest. If there were none, the heroquest surprise would come straight from a Lunar hell.
And speaking of Hells: You may have noticed that there’s a particular flavor of evil that is missing from this storyline: the Chaotic flavor. Yes, some Lunars are Chaotic. But in this instance, the truly Chaotic Lunars aren’t on-stage. These Lunars are operating far from the Crimson Bat and the other oogy elements of the Red Goddess’ pantheon, possibly because it would be just-stupid to bring obviously Chaotic beings into a Humakt heroquest you were hoping to subvert.
If you wanted to complicate the story above, the Lunars will get a lot more than they aimed at if they succeed with their quest. In fact, let’s set up Act Two no matter whether Alana succeeds or fails.
Act Two says that the Lunars’ attempt to slay Orlanth and Ernalda does not create an opening for the Red Goddess. Instead it creates an opening for a terrible mockery of the royal marriage, in which the king of the storm and the queen of the earth could be locally replaced by the Chaotic god of stolen knowledge (Thanatar) and the definitely-wronged/forever-vengeful Chaotic goddess of rape and monsters (Thed). Thanatar and Thed? Now that’s Oogy.

Maybe even so oogy that the PCs end up not-killing the Lunars as quickly as they would have normally since the Lunars are also trying to stop the Thanatari and the broos. But that’s a moral compass question for your campaign. 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Jonathan Calls on the Gods

My 13th Age collaborator Jonathan Tweet occasionally uses this space to write a guest blog on a gaming topic. Today he's introducing the gods of Glorantha to 13th Age players. He opens with a truth that I would have punctuated with an exclamation point! 

The gods of Glorantha inspired the icons of 13th AgeRob and I both value the way Gloranthan gods helped player-characters connect to the game world, and that’s basically where the icons came from.

With 13th Age in Glorantha, you’ll be able to see how these gods fulfill a function similar to that of the icons. The thing I like about Glorantha’s gods is that they have personal histories and particular personalities. Gods in game worlds can sometimes be generic and abstract, and in fact the icons of 13th Age are intentionally generic as well. The gods of Glorantha, however, are something different. They have detailed histories and complicated relationships to each other, creating a rich pantheon for gamers to explore. This post highlights some of the gods and shows why Rob and I think they’re so cool.

The Storm King, Orlanth
Orlanth is a mighty god, a destroyer and a builder, a rebel and a leader. His bywords are freedom and action, so he’s perfect as an adventurer’s deity. In the mythic past, Orlanth used Death to kill the Sun Emperor, plunging the world into darkness. Later, he led a party of “Lightbringer” gods into the Underworld to save the Sun and bring hope back to the world. Orlanth’s people are now often depicted as bronze-skinned warriors, I think of them as having a “Germanic barbarian” feel, given that they live in clans with chiefs, jarls, and thanes. In our default time period, the Orlanthi people have thrown off their conquerors from a more advanced civilization, the Lunar Empire. The Orlanthi, the Lunars, and everyone else with a bone to pick are getting ready for conclusive battles that will settle scores once and for all.

The Earth Queen, Ernalda
She is the Great Goddess, the power that reunited the world after it had been nearly destroyed by Chaos. She was once the wife of the Sun Emperor, but Orlanth killed him and demonstrated to Ernalda that he alone was worthy of her. Ernalda binds everything together. Without her, society could not exist, or even the world itself. She was originally an Earth goddess and still has many Earth-related aspects and allies. In times of trouble, Ernalda offers surprising powers, and when you’re playing 13th Age you know it’s going to be a time of troubles. 

Death’s Champion, Humakt
This dire god was the first to bring Death into the world, and he rules the Death rune. Although born a storm god and brother to Orlanth, he has cut his kinship ties to Orlanth and shed his connection to the winds. Now he is the pitiless god of battle and death. His devotees are fearless warriors with a special hatred of the undead. Truth and oaths are also part of Humakt’s purview, and his devotees follow strict codes of honor and justice. In their mind, the best defense is killing everyone who stands in their way. 

The Storm Bull, Urox
This horn-headed brother of Orlanth loves violence and hates Chaos. During the Great Darkness, he faced down and defeated Wakboth, a supreme incarnation of Chaos. Today, his followers are unruly berserks, tolerated by polite society because they are so good at finding and destroying Chaos monsters. Certain players love that sort of character, and maybe there’s one at your table. Urox’s most devoted followers undertake a heroquest that, if they’re successful, grants them horns that actually sprout from their heads. 

The Dark Power, Kyger Litor
She is the chief deity of the trolls. The trolls of Glorantha are both more human-like and more alien than the default trolls that d20-rolling adventurers have been hacking and burning since 1974. Like humans, trolls have a sophisticated culture, with their own myths, gods and mores. These trolls, however, are different. They are scary darkness creatures who will eat people if they can, but they are also devoted enemies of Chaos. Females are bigger than males, and they rule troll society. Due to an ancient curse, most troll births produce stunted dimwits, called trollkin and relegated to second-class status. Or maybe fifth-class status, since they sometimes get devoured. The domesticated animals in troll society are monstrous bugs of various sorts. Over the vast population of trolls rules Kyger Litor. She owns the Darkness rune and provides darkness magic to her worshippers. 

The Red Moon, Sedenya
Orlanth’s great foe is a new goddess, the Red Moon. Unlike the old gods who existed before Time, Sedenya can abide Chaos and even direct it toward positive ends (they say). Her son, the Red Emperor, rules the Lunar Empire, which is at war with the Orlanthi people. If you listen to the Lunars, they will tell you that they have a superior, sophisticated culture capable of reconciling dichotomies and even making peace with Chaos. Barbarians would do well to be reasonable and adopt Lunar beliefs and practices, they say. If the barbarians aren’t prepared to concede, the Lunars are willing to force the issue. The Lunars have already subverted many other cultures, following their goddess’s motto that “We Are All Us.” The Red Moon makes an excellent villain in a campaign, since she is both attractive and deadly. Her followers have excellent military organization, powerful schools of magic, and a religion that’s adept at taking over local beliefs. If that doesn’t work, the Lunars call on the Crimson Bat, a monstrous creature of Chaos [[rh: already added to the 13th Age in Glorantha book as a stretch goal]] that requires human sacrifices to live and that drives its enemies insane. As the Red Moon, the goddess Sedenya literally hangs high above her empire, day and night. From there, she sees her empire spread century by century.

If none of these gods prove to be your favorite, there are others. Babeester Gor is the avenging daughter who like to chop off pieces of her enemies with her mighty ax. The warrior god Elmal once served the Sun but left his court to join Orlanth, and now he is Orlanth’s loyal thane. Orlanth’s warrior daughter Vinga inspires adventurers, especially women, to undertake daring quests. The world of Glorantha is filled with gods from the cosmic to the local, and there are bound to be options that appeal to the various sorts of gamers you have at your table. Rob and I had our eyes opened when we first encountered Gloranthan gods decades ago. We’re both really excited to share more of what we love with the 13th Age crowd. When 13th Age in Glorantha debuts, you’ll see why. 

--Jonathan Tweet, October 2, 2014