Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Alphabet Prime Music: Ada Sings Aie Aie Aie

My Alphabet Prime playlist has 200+ songs that at one point in time, and probably for a lot longer than that, were my favorite songs. It's a playlist of music I listened to over and over that I'm still happy to hear again.

I'm counting up the alphabet a few song titles at a time, adding occasional notes relevant to gaming and travel and stories where they exist. The alphabet prime label at the right will take you to other pieces of the count-up.

The three songs in this installment have two things in common: a) dudes singing; b) many other great songs surrounding them on their albums.

Ada, The National.

I love this album. I'm not sure whether I like it better than their other albums because it was the first album I heard from them, or because it's the best.

Against Pollution, The Mountain Goats.

Music, lyrics, a deadpan transition from the humdrum to lethal violence to the final days. The entire We Shall All Be Healed album feels like some sort of Unknown Armies or Over the Edge campaign, which, given subsequent roleplaying developments from the Mountain Goats, wouldn't be out of character.

Aie Aie Aie, Rachid Taha, Made in Medina

The friend who I was certain introduced me to Rachid Taha doesn't much like him and says she has never had a mixtape CD that included his songs. So my origin story of how I thought I first heard Rachid Taha while traveling with her in Hawaii is probably mistaken. Apparently many theater-goers first heard Taha on the soundtrack for Blackhawk Down, but in line with my ongoing cinematic illiteracy, I read the book and didn't see the movie. Made in Medina is a great album. I'm not sure it turns up later in the alphabet but I know Taha will.

Saturday, December 3, 2022

Three-Dragon Ante: Giants War Notes & Variants

Three-Dragon Ante: Giants War is an expansion of Three-Dragon Ante, just out from WizKids. (Earlier blog post here.) The set plays off D&D’s story of an ancient war between dragons and giants. Most of the new cards are based on D&D’s familiar giants: frost, fire, storm, stone, hill, and so on, along with Giant God cards for the bigger-than-I’d-originally-remembered giant pantheon.

You need the original 3DA set to play using Giant Wars, because every gambit awards one stake to the strongest dragon cards and the other stake to the strongest giant cards.

Time & the Endgame

Three-Dragon Ante has always played differently with different numbers of players. With two stakes that can be won each gambit, instead of one, Giants War increases the distinctions between three-player, four-player, and larger games.

So far, in my experience, three-player games are the most likely to invoke the variant end game. If no one has won after you’ve run out of cards in the main deck and shuffled in the middle game, score three more gambits and end the game after the third gambit’s toast. To win a three-player game before the toasts, you sometimes need to push the ante heavily instead of giving opponents time to recover. That’s true in all forms of 3DA, and more true when there are three players and two stakes per gambit.

Even if you’re not playing 3DA as a drinking game, I recommend raising beverages as you toast these final three hands. And if you’re making the toasts aloud, the final toast echoes better as “To fools like us!”

Variants for One-Stake Games

If you want to play a straight 3DA game with just one stake, all three of the new dragon suits will work so long as you shuffle the Mortals and Legendary Dragons (including the new Io and Shadow Invader) into a separate Legendary deck at the start of the game. You’ll need to play with either or both of the new Copper Dragon and Gold Dragon or the Legendary deck will be untapped. The new Gold Dragon from Giants War will always get to draw a Legendary card as long as someone else has played a card in the gambit, but if you lead with the Gold Dragon, you’ll only get a regular card.

I haven’t tried this variant. It seems like the Legendary deck will be kind of slim without all the Legendary giants, so I believe you should skip shuffling cards from the Legendary deck into the main deck at the start of the game.

If you’d rather play strictly with dragons and the original 3DA rules, skipping the Legendary deck, the new cards to add to the game are Io, the Shadow Dragon suit, and the Shadow Invader.

Both the new mortals—the Emperor and Ranger—will work in either variant. In fact, they’ll be more powerful than they are in Giants War games.

No Emperor’s Gambit

And speaking of the Emperor, yes, this is a very different version of a card that was at the core of the Emperor’s Gambit expansion for the original version of 3DA.

People often ask if the Emperor’s Gambit set that WotC published in 2010 going to be reprinted or revised. I’m pretty sure the answer is no, because hardly any of the dragons that were the core of Emperor’s Gambit have been brought from 4e forward to D&D 5e. 3DA licenses D&D’s dragons. Even if one or two of the iron, adamantine, mercury, earthquake, etc. dragons that populated 4e show up in 5e, I doubt the rest will appear.

So while we wait for dragons that probably aren’t going to show up, I’ve recruited some of the characters and mechanics from Emperor’s Gambit, including putting the Earthquake Dragon’s heavy-roller power on the new Fire Giant.

The Start-Small Variant

One more variant before I go, which started as an accident when I forgot to shuffle cards from the Legendary deck into the main deck at the start of the game!

Instead of correcting the mistake and re-dealing, I thought about it a second and decided it wasn’t bad to start everyone out with normal cards as their first hand. It feels a little bit like the “no dirt on the first trick” rules that some people use in Hearts. So, the Start-Small variant rules that you shuffle the 6 Legendary cards into the main deck after each player has been dealt their starting 7-card hand. Yes, ‘dirt’ in the form of a Legendary card might show up as you draw cards during the first gambit, so that’s a tiny bonus for people playing to draw.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Speeding Up, Letting Go, What the Hell

For a person who always loved games, it took me too long to learn that I'd be able to play more often if everyone enjoyed playing with me. I wasn't a bad loser, or an intolerably bad winner. I was just soooooo slow. I played "well" because I analyzed all options and wasn't quick about it. When my wife Lisa started talking about using a timer, or just not playing some games with me, I got the message.

These days I work at playing quickly, carving off a couple slices of analysis and putting the rest in the "yeah, things might get messy there" bucket. It's not always easy just-letting-go, and sometimes I have to roleplay reasons that I'm not going to work hard at being clever.

For example, playing Lanterns, I limit myself to a one-minute turn, and the last game I played when it felt like I might be making a mistake, I said something like "Well, we dropped the oars and were scrabbling around in the bottom of the boat when we should have been lighting lanterns. So we've gotta dump the lanterns overboard before the boat catches on fire, now!"

Playing Commands & Colors: Samurai Battles for the first time a couple months ago, I played from the beginning saying that my commander was nursing a bad hangover. Did a good job of roleplaying that too, since I ended the game by charging disastrously with the wrong unit, snatching defeat from victory. Ee ja nai ka!

Playtesting new games with skilled designers and tournament players, I sometimes run into a variant of the same problem. Even in their first game, players who don't really understand the rules yet tend to want to analyze everything instead of just-playing-through.

So I've recently been starting introductory boardgame and testing sessions with roleplaying advice: "Pretend we're drunk! We're not going to get everything right. You don't know the system and I'm not gonna do a perfect job explaining things all the way through, so you won't make the right decisions, let's just plow through and if something goes wrong, well, it's my fault, what the hell!"

[[art by By Kawanabe Kyōsai - National Diet Library Digital Collections, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2183868

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

13th Age 2E packet going out on Wednesday

It's done, and formatted.

I'm showing it to Pelgrane and peeps to catch any glaring errors as I figure out Mail Chimp's current configuration and add newcomers to the playtest list.

I think giant problems are unlikely at this point. I should be able to get the playtest's Alpha draft sent out on Wednesday, November 9th.

Sunday, November 6, 2022

13th Age 2E playtest timing: Tomorrow or Tuesday...

We've got the chapters together except for some adjustments in Monsters.

I should finish that creative and editorial work tomorrow, and that should mean that the Mailchimp packet can go out to people in the playtest on Monday the 7th or Tuesday the 8th.

If there's a problem with this timing I'll speak up again on this blog.

I'm very excited, what we've got in the packet has turned out to be quite fun.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Re-remembering the Dragon Empire

My work rhythm for this week has been to work on game design for an hour, then read ten minutes. So I'm always going to associate this final week of preparing the first playtest packet of 13th Age 2E with Arkady Martine's A Memory Called Empire. What a great book. The author is a scholar of the Byzantine Empire. Sometimes when scholars write novels their learning sucks up the oxygen. In Martine's case, she's using what she knows to enhance excellent storytelling.

Meanwhile in our not-really-Byzantine Dragon Empire, we're going to have the first 2E playtest packet out in the first few days of November. Four chapters of the packet are done. The classes chapter still has math underway, along with some epic-tier powers and a bunch of feat-checking.

I believe we've got a couple of days work left on the playtest manuscript, followed by a day making last minute additions to the playtest list, writing the playtest questionnaires, and wrangling the distribution. Either of those timelines might or might not add a day, so I'm aiming at having the 2e playtest packet out on November 4th.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

13th Age 2e: More Info

As I promised in the first installment, here’s a look at the final five bullet points on the list of “Here’s (some of) what’s coming in 2e”. People interested in joining the public playtest in six or eight weeks can write me at 13thAgePlaytest@gmail.com and I'll ping back when I've added you to the list.

More flexible handling of kin/ancestry powers: We’re not using the term ‘race’ in 13th Age 2e. I should have listened to Jonathan when he suggested we skip the word back in 2012. Some games have moved toward speaking of ancestry. That works. We’re trying ‘kin’ in our current playtest document.

Unlike in the 1e core book we’re providing two or three possible ‘hero powers’ for each kin, giving players the opportunity to make their character less cookie-cutter—if your group has two high elves in it they’ll have more interesting choices than who uses their teleport power that round.

We’re also making it clear that you can tell the story of your character by mixing ability score bonuses and hero powers that don’t usually go together. The manuscript’s current note looks like this:

Customizing your kin: Thanks to the fact that character classes provide a choice of two ability scores, it’s generally possible to play a pretty-good character of any class, no matter what kin you’re playing. But given that you’re also coming up with your character’s backgrounds, and a One Unique Thing, there are compelling story options for most any character to use the ability scores and hero power of any kin they choose.

Are you the only human adopted by the Dwarf King? Maybe you look like a human but say That’s Your Best Shot? like a dwarf (page XX). Are you a silver folk rogue who teleports in a silver flash and calls your power silverspark teleport?

You can mix and match kin looks, outlooks, ability scores, and powers as you like. Leverage backgrounds and uniques if you wish, or let your character’s story evolve during play.

As part of adding choices for everyone, hero powers that weren’t that great have been improved or replaced with better options . . . and yes, Elven Grace has been nerfed. My players will no longer torment me with all-wood-elf parties. Pre-playtesting, Elven Grace looks like this:

Elven Grace (Hero Power)

At the start of each of your turns, roll 1d6 to see if you get an extra standard action. If your roll is equal to or lower than the escalation die, you get an extra standard action that turn. You then stop rolling for Elven Grace until you've taken a quick rest. Alternatively, you can pass on the extra action and keep rolling each turn.

Champion Feat: Once per day, roll a d4 for elven grace instead of a d6. If you don’t get an extra action, this daily option is not expended.

Scarier monsters and cooler treasures: We’re not changing monster math, but we are adding nastier specials where they belong and rethinking some of the large and huge monsters that made it hard to design interesting encounters at high levels.

Digging into the math, we realized that some of the treasures PCs have been using don’t keep up at epic tier, or come all that close to keeping up. So… cooler treasures? Yes, with math that shouldn’t be a problem to apply to previously published treasures.

By the way, I should mention that all the benefits that 2e PCs are enjoying aren’t being balanced by changes in monster math . . . but we are changing the recommendations for how tough battles should be for experienced players, and testing methods of doing that without increasing combat length.

More banter, better advice: We understand the game a lot better. A lot of the advice we gave nine/ten years ago turned out to be only half-right (or worse). So, we’re writing advice we are sure will be useful, and arguing about real things instead of talking hypothetically about campaigns none of you had gotten around to running yet!

New and better take on the fighter: If you like the original fighter, you can keep playing them—but you’re probably going to love the new fighter. For now I’ll just say that most of the fighter talents stayed, maneuvers turned into things you choose to do instead of deciding everything after your attack roll, and the fighter has a talent that encourages them to maintain a balance of offensive and (somewhat) defensive maneuvers. Also: I adapted good stuff from the Humakti class in 13th Age Glorantha!

New cover from Lee Moyer & Aaron McConnell: Not just a cover, but also new art, they’re both extremely excited to show the results of their level-ups since 2013.

As are we. More soon.

13th Age 2e: The Same Core Team

Several people have wondered whether Jonathan Tweet is working on the 2nd Edition of the 13th Age core book. The answer is yes. The 13th Age core book was a collaboration between Jonathan and me, teaming up to create the game we wanted to play together, with Lee Moyer and Aaron McConnell providing the art. The same core team is creating 13th Age 2e. For the final manuscript we’ll bring in the game’s current line editor, a new sensitivity reader, and a new layout artist.

Why? Because I can’t create a credible revision of 13th Age without Jonathan. He and I don’t see eye-to-eye on everything, but we share a vision for this game, we have synergistic skills, and we’ve been talking for years about how to make 13th Age better—qualities that can’t be replicated with another designer. Pelgrane has long wanted to publish a 2nd edition of the game, and the community has been asking for one for even longer. I told Pelgrane that I couldn’t do it without Jonathan—either it would be a collaboration between me and him, or 13th Age 1e would be the only edition. Pelgrane and I knew that without a second edition, 13th Age would stagnate and the game would wither away; so they agreed to publish the new edition with the original creative team.

Beyond the core book, I will continue to run the line of supporting products without Jonathan—an arrangement that suits both Jonathan and Pelgrane. After his contribution to the manuscript is finished Jonathan will start work on a new children’s book to follow up on Grandmother Fish. I’ll move on to finishing Icon Followers (up to 128K words at present), one of the 13th Age books that will follow up on 2nd Edition.

Unlike the first time we created this game, we’re working pretty quickly. We’ve already run several playtests and plan a full playtest packet for wide distribution in the next few weeks.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Announcing 13th Age 2nd Edition

Yes, we’re making a 2nd Edition of 13th Age! And yes, that’s present tense: work has already begun, and you can sign up to playtest the new edition by writing me at 13thAgePlaytest@gmail.com.

The image you see here is a slightly edited version of the playtest flyer we handed out at GenCon, revealing more of the updates we’re making to the game. Today I’ll say a few words about the first four items in the list and talk about the remaining items in a future post.

Backwards compatible: I love it when new editions let players use all the books they’ve already bought and the ideas they’ve created in their campaigns. We’re not interested in making you buy new versions of the Bestiaries or do frustrating conversion work to use previously published adventures. There’s going to be an appendix in 2e suggesting things like “You could use the new default bonus for the magic belts in Book of Loot and Loot Harder since we’ve changed that in 2e,” but the core math and the combat rules will be the same. You won’t need to re-buy books, not even 13 True Ways. If there’s a 13TW class or two that needs brushing, I’ll handle that in another book focused on character classes.

Better options for class talents, powers, and spells: As originally published, some classes have a lot of great choices for talents and spells, while other classes have a few great choices and a significant number of meh choices. One of the biggest goals of 2e is to give every character more interesting choices. Spells that sounded fun but turned out to be not-so-good have been improved. Talents that didn’t measure up have been downgraded into class feats. Feats that were originally epic feats now frequently appear as adventurer-tier feats, with champion-tier and epic-tier feats above them that truly feel epic instead of like small math-bumps.

Each class gets +2 additional pages: Classes like the ranger and paladin that were always quite simple now have talent options that can make them more interesting for experienced players. Classes like the sorcerer get more spells with a greater range of effect. Most of the classes are getting quite a bit more than 2 pages; so far it’s only the rogue that hasn’t grown beyond that.

Improved icon relationships: Thanks to feedback from GMs over the years we’re aware that our original icon relationship rules weren’t as clear or simple as we hoped. Ask five 13th Age tables that are happy with the icon rules which method they’re using and you’ll get four different answers! We’re working to suggest icon relationship rules that more tables will find natural to use in play.

Other talking points: I’ll post about the remaining five bullet points soon. I’ve also been seeing speculation and questions about who is working on this book, and whether that team will work on the line going forward. I’m writing a separate post about that to hopefully clarify things.

We expect to send out the first widely distributed playtest packet sometime in September or October, and like the flyer says, you can write us at 13thAgeplaytest@gmail.com any time before then if you’re interested.

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Games I've Got at GenCon & Scheduled Panels

I'll be seeing some of you at GenCon in the next few days!

Mostly I'll be at the Pelgrane booth, booth #423, talking with people about the news for what's coming for 13th Age, and the wonderful Drakkenhall book that's out at this show:

Here are some panels I'll be involved in for Pelgrane or with Pelgranistas. . . .

Friday August 5th, 12:00-1:00 p.m. [Hyatt Studio 1] Ken & Robin Talk About Stuff. Robin has to stay in Toronto, so Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan and I are joining Ken to talk about roleplaying, conspiracies, writing, and conspiracies about roleplaying writing.

Saturday August 6th, 4:00-5:30 p.m. [The Stadium: Meeting Room 8] Swords, Spies, & Shoggoths: The Pelgrane Press Panel. There are a lot of fun projects surfacing soon that I didn't know about until the pre-con planning session, so I know panel attendees will be pleasantly surprised.

Sunday, August 7, 11:00 a.m.-12 noon. [Hyatt Studio 1] 13th Age Monster Workshop. Attend the panel and make suggestions. Or heckle. Our rogues gallery of 13th Age designers and developers and a publisher will spin the suggestions into a publishable baddie. I slated this madness for Sunday since it tends to leave us punch drunk.

Other fun.... All con long, Dara Studios at Booth 2400 will be running demos of the Storybook Brawl board game I wrote about last week. I'll be there when I can, or you can ask me about the game when you find me nearer Pelgrane.

And Wiz-Kids at booth 1715 will have copies of Three-Dragon Ante: Giants War to show off, but I don't believe they'll have enough copies to have them on sale. It was close, so that means the game should be out in retail soon.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Storybook Brawling onto a Tabletop

The art above is called Flights by Moonlight. It’s the first storybook image we got from our amazing artist, Ekaterina Chesalova, for the Storybook Brawl boardgame I’ve been working on the past year with designers from my company, Fire Opal Media, and other designers from Good Luck Games.

One of the coolest things about designing games is that sometimes the games you play turn into games you’re working on. In 2021, I was playing a lot of Storybook Brawl, the digital auto-battler-style game of twisted fairy tales on Steam. I knew some of the designers. I loved the game. My business partner Jay Schneider and I got in touch and we ended up signing on to design a board game version of Storybook Brawl!

If you’ve played the digital version, you’re probably aware that most of the mechanics that make the digital version tick don’t translate into a board game. The truth is that it can be liberating when mechanics are so untranslatable. We had to evoke the feel of the digital game, and the fun of its brawls, in a board and card game environment that would stay fun for players of many ages instead of gradually eliminating people until only one winner was left.

I love this type of challenge!

Sometimes my early designs are reasonably close to the final design. This was not one of those times. Jay and the rest of the development team did so much work and redesign, and along the way we realized that the way to set up the brawls at the heart of the game was with a storybook that would double as a scenario guide!

The Flights by Moonlight picture above? That’s one of the early scenes from Act II: Home Realms, showing the moment Mrs. Claus and Pan’s Shadow meet after their stories have been shuffled together. The storybook’s opposite page gives each player a choice between three Plot Twists before that round’s brawl: Workshopping (just some gold to buy better cards); From Up Here, Everybody Else Looks Tiny (the right to buy cards from your shop for a tiny price this round); and Moonlit Reconnaissance (banishing a random card and acquiring two new cards).

Yes, it’s a deckbuilding game of sorts. And each brawl leads to another story later on in the storybook, until the grand finale. I’m thrilled with the game and in love with writing storybooks for it! It’s one of those games I’m going to struggle to keep a copy of because my wife Lisa is gonna be giving it away as a gift. (Seriously: I’ve had to borrow copies of Three-Dragon Ante and Epic Spell Wars from friends because all of our copies had been gifted!)

The Storybook Brawl board game is going to be published by Dara Studios. It will go on Kickstarter later this fall. Come by booth 2400 at GenCon next week to see a prototype, check out the storybook, and to play a demo for between 2 and 4 players.

I’ll usually be at the Pelgrane booth, #423, and though I’m mostly doing 13th Age things there, I’ll be happy to talk about Storybook Brawl and will probably be at booth 2400 running/playing games now and then.

I’ll post in the next couple days about the Pelgrane-and-other-things I’ll be up to at GenCon.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Games for Charity

Here's a guest post from Jonathan Tweet . . . .

This month I raised $50 for my late wife’s favorite charity, Planned Parenthood, by shipping my old Talislanta books to a fan of the game in exchange for his donation. There are a lot of old games in my basement that need to find good homes before I move out of here, and I figure I can raise money for charity while I’m at it. In addition to regular piles of game books and cards, there are a bunch of oddball games and personal effects, such as my campaign notes from the hacked version of D&D that I ran in high school. Some stuff I can easily offload onto a local game store or something, but lots of items I would rather place personally.

Talislanta was a peach of a project for me. Revising the rules for Wizards’ 3rd edition was a fun project, and the standalone adventure Scent of the Beast was filled with promise for an upcoming “adventure path” that never materialized. It was sad to see it go but gratifying to pass it along to an old fan of the setting. --Jonathan Tweet

Monday, April 4, 2022

Three-Dragon Ante: Giants War

Ante again! Some time around July 2022, WizKids is releasing my sequel to Three-Dragon Ante: Legendary Edition, a 100+ card set called Three-Dragon Ante: Giants War.

This new set of blue-backed cards introduces 4 colors of good giants, 4 colors of evil giants, 3 colors of dragons, a full pantheon of giant god cards, and rules for fighting for a giants’ stake and a dragons’ stake each gambit. (Hint: you only score your flight for the stakes you are strongest in, so feints and strategy-shifts abound.)

The backstory of the game is based on the Thousand-Year War between the giants and the dragons, back when the world was young. The history of the war appears on page 19 of Volo’s Guide to Monsters. Short version: the giants lost their world-spanning empire. The game might be a bit of a sore spot for the giants. . . or maybe they like the reminder that they were once in charge, and could be in the future?

I’ll have more updates later. For now, let’s go through the three cards shown in this preview image!

Frost Giant: One of the four colors of evil dragons, of course. Relishes competition, when its power triggers you collect gold from anyone else competing for the same stakes. If you’re playing first in the gambit, or slipping in to try and take a stake without any competition, you’re not giving the Frost Giant the fight it wants, so it won’t earn you any extra gold.

Surtur: Yes, the set comes with the full pantheon of giant gods! The giant gods, dragon gods, legendary giants, legendary dragons and legendary mortals get shuffled into a single Legendary deck at the start of the game, with six cards from that deck shuffled in with the normal deck of giants and dragons. Many cards’ powers let you draw a card from the new Legendary deck, so there’s a decent chance that Surtur might be competing with other gods. He’s worth at least +2, a total of 12 for the Giants, if his power triggers, and when your opponents are taking a gambit seriously he could be worth more.

Copper Dragon: A new Copper Dragon card! The original Copper Dragon is still great for games that don’t use giants and the Legendary deck. But the original Copper Dragon power, that adds a random card to your flight and triggers its power, is not much fun when you’re carefully managing which stakes, dragons or giants, you’re fighting for. So the new version plays off the Copper’s gregarious nature—your weakest opponent gets to draw a card, and then you draw a card from the Legendary deck. This type of sympathy for the weak isn’t the type of thing the new giants cards go in for, but you’re fighting for the dragon stakes and maybe setting yourself up with a power card.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Drakkenhall: City of (Surprisingly Amusing) Monsters

cover by Roena I. Rosenberger

You wouldn't know it from the seriously beautiful cover, but Drakkenhall: City of Monsters is a seriously funny book!

You *might* know it from the back-cover text, because having multiple chapters that made me laugh out loud translated into the easiest copy-writing job I've ever had. It goes like this:

Monsters are people too!

The Emperor expected a city of monsters to destroy itself, but instead the Blue and her people have created a city that’s wickedly unique: Drakkenhall!

Make a splash in the social season alongside a fashionista ooze!

Spend the night at a dybbuk inn at the docks, where possession is a perk!

Dodge the amputation golems until you can get your healing spells back!

Explore the Rubblehoods, the neighborhoods that have been left as monstrously energetic ruins!

Shop (OK, OK, plunder) the Goblin Market and admire (fight) its pet otyughs!

Prove yourself as the most dangerous monster of all–an Adventurer worthy of joining the S.M.A.S.H. Society!

Drakkenhall: City of Monsters is a 124-page 13th Age sourcebook for GMs running adventurer and champion-tier campaigns. Contents include Ailor the Draco-Druid, kaiju shark mooks, 60 other monsters, the secret history of the Dragon’s Orc statue, a couple gnarly ideas for replacing missing limbs, urban planning notes (city of monsters-style), and light rules and guidelines for sea travel in the Dragon Empire that Gareth managed to slip into the chapter on the Docks!


Giving each of the book's authors a full chapter of their own worked better than I could have hoped. Drakkenhall is already on pre-order in the Pelgrane store and we're in the last few days of the layout process, so the final PDF will be part of that pre-order soon. Pick it up and attune your dance card for the Houses of Decadence!

Friday, March 11, 2022

Kor, the Ograkshasa Monk

What does rebellion look like when dad is an ogre mage and mom is a rakshasa?

In Kor’s case, rebellion looks like obtaining magic that makes you look mostly human and studying to be a monk in a monastery run by the Dragon Emperor. Of course, many of Kor’s forms don’t look a lot like styles practiced by Imperial monks. There are limits to how straight you can be when the Black Dragon is an old family friend.

Yeah, Jonathan says this is the most-me character ever.

I used the beastblooded modifiers and the bestial fury ability from Book of Ages (page 77). When Kor (it’s kinda Rak backwards, natch) goes beasty-fury, the spell making him look human drops temporarily and you get a glimpse of the tigrish-ogre beneath. I didn’t realize I could have sung “ograkshasa ograkshasa ogra ogra ograksasa” until now.

I’m using the past tense because we were right there, deep in the Stone Thief (thanks in large part to the activities of Kor’s older sister Kyla), when Paul Hughes gifted me with the certificate that crafted Kor at HeroForge. I decided to keep Kor’s hands facing human-style, instead of trying to show him full-beast. And then my wonderful talented friend Brittany Broyles (@blondeofmystery) painted Kor. Now we know how to make sure campaigns don’t get played again: make a HeroForge mini of your character.

Still, hope remains. If not back inside the Stone Thief, some other game. Maybe I’ll get really old school and blow a character created for one campaign into another version of the Dragon Empire, like a leaf in the wind. A leaf with fangs!

(a much better photo from Brittany, with the other two minis she painted for me accompanying Kor)

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

The Wave & Wave

Yeah, it’s two great books with almost the same title.

The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean, by Susan Casey, is from the genre that mixes compelling science with the author’s personal experiences. The science concerns the physics of giant waves and interviews with the people who study them, along with an investigation of previous understandings of giant waves, and how we are still underestimating the frequency and effect of rogue waves of 80’ or more. The science chapters are fascinating.

The personal-experience chapters eventually focus on time spent with champion surfer, inventor, and adventurer Laird Hamilton. The adventures on the waves are the closest I’ve come to reading a true-life Doc Savage story. If Hamilton isn’t bigger than life, we’re given an excellent picture of just how big life can be. For a more detailed review, this one is good.

Wave, by Sonali Deraniyagala, has an entirely different purpose and emotional register. It's not how big life can be, it's how big a disaster can be and how that hits one person. The cover design matches the book’s impact.

The first chapters are a mind-wrenching account of being caught in the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia. It’s unlike anything else I’ve read. The rest of the book follows a tortured path through survivor’s guilt and the mechanisms of a return to life. The copy I read didn't have a subtitle, but now it's subtitled "A Memoir of Life after the Tsunami."

I found myself reading a number of disaster stories during the pandemic. A disaster this huge, that hit a world away from almost everyone I know, is one of those things I try to remember as part of maintaining perspective. I associated Wave with another book I loved, Annie Dillard's For the Time Being. Dillard's book I can reread, Deraniyagala's, probably not.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Photo Wrapping!

This Christmas I came up with a method of wrapping presents that made me happy. It couldn't possibly be something entirely new, but I've never seen anyone do it. I don't feel like searching the internet for the people who did it first; I'm just gonna write it up!

I was wrapping a final round of presents and I didn't have enough paper or labels. I realized I had a color printer. And lots of great photos of the people we were giving gifts to. So all I had to do was print pictures of a gift's recipient on several sheets of 8.5" by 11" paper, fold and tape the sheets together to cover the key portions of the present, ensure that the face got central position on the packaging, and voila: no need for a label! For extra effect, use pictures the gift's recipient has never seen.

Depending on the size of the gift, you may have to use other bits of contact paper to hide portions of the gift. I feel like this style of 'wrapping' is more about providing the moment of opening-discovery, not trying to wrap the present tightly as if it was being probed by a 7 year-old.

This is a photo of the top of a present to my wife Lisa, two prints used on the top, taped together, featuring the moment we saw that the angel wing mural in northern Oahu had been rendered in the colors of the dress Lisa was wearing!

Friday, January 7, 2022

Honorable Combat in 13th Age

Here's part of the first draft of a section of the upcoming Icon Followers book that details a rules variant I've been using in my campaigns. It's an important part of a book of NPCs who tend to be associated with the same icons as the PCs. I'm curious to hear from people who try it.


13th Age combat mechanics handle deadly fights against monsters, but we’ve largely ignored a style of combat that could create a variety of interesting stories. What happens when a group of paladins devoted to the Great Gold Wyrm disagree with the player characters about who should take responsibility for a captured evil sorcerer who has information that the PCs need? What happens when a rival adventuring party claims first dibs on a soon-to-surface living dungeon full of phat loot, saying that they’re better prepared to deal with this particular dungeon, and that the PCs should hang around as backups? What happens when a circle of druids insists that the adventurers leave their section of the Blood Wood when it’s not at all in the PCs’ interests but also not a matter of life and death, especially given that the PCs know that these are the druids who will soon be defending the woods against monsters from the Iron Sea?

Instead of fights to the death, all the way down to 0 hit points, I’ve been playing this type of fight between semi-respectful enemies as fights to the fall, down to 33% of each combatant’s normal hit points.

You fall at one-third hp: When both sides have agreed to honorable combat, combatants drop out of the fight at 33% or less of their standard hp. They can heal themselves, and heal fallen allies (or even fallen enemies . . .) but they take no further action in the fight. Play them as crawling or limping to get out of the center of the battle, or lying still and applying pressure to their wounds. Anyone targeting them with further attacks has broken the rules of honorable combat, and forfeits.

Deaths still occur. Mighty blows—especially against determined resistance from rivals who are about to fall but don’t want to give in—can score crits and take out foes. But killing the enemy isn’t the point. You can hammer this home when rivals who have been knocked out of the fight use healing potions or healing magic to help restore fallen PCs.

Combat pacing: Use the escalation die as normal, but remember that fights generally start slightly favoring the PC’s enemies. There’s a risk of an early loss if things go very badly for the PCs, but if any of them can hang on, the escalation die can pip them ahead in the end.

Not good, still honorable: In my campaigns, I’ve used PCs’ icon relationships as a guide to when honorable combat might be possible despite what good-oriented characters might expect of their evil or ambiguous rivals. Negative icon relationships generate fights to the death. But positive and conflicted icon relationships with ambiguous and evil icons ca lead to honorable battles.

For an example from my campaign, a character who had a conflicted relationship with the Three—thanks to a huge favor he had once-upon-a-time done for the Black—accepted a proposal for honorable combat from a flight of black dragons attempting to recover three half-dragon/half-lizardfolk eggs that the PCs had salvaged from a destroyed village. The PCs were attempting to return them to their lizardfolk allies, the dragons thought they took precedence over lizardfolk. Without that icon relationship, and the history it represented, the dragons would surely have attempted an ambush and thievery. As it was, the dragons badly lost the fight to the fall, and afterwards agreed to provide overflight security for the lizardfolk until the younglings hatched and were old enough to decide for themselves if they wanted to come join the Black dragon. It ended up feeling like a fail forward for the NPC iconic followers of the Three, while feeling like a kick-ass win and a good-deal-in-the-circumstances for the PCs.

Here's the aftermath of the honorable battle with the dragons, with lizardfolk rooting for the PCs on the sidelines, skeletons summoned by the necromancer occupying the middle ground, and small upside-down black dragon where the PCs critted it to death despite the 33% guidelines..