Tuesday, November 14, 2023

The Bard, an intro adventure, and two playtest campaigns: 13th Age 2E progress

It has been a busy month!

Kin powers on the Pelgrane website: I’ve been running some of the new kin powers on the Pelgrane Press website. These are powers that may change in the design process. They’re not guaranteed to be what shows up in the Beta packet, but they’re what we’re using now.

Humans are here. Dwarves are here. And the silver elves, aka drow, are here.

Jonathan’s work: We played through the first playtest of the new introductory adventure Jonathan wrote for the back of the book. It went great and it covered territory not explored in Blood & Lightning, our original intro adventure. Jonathan helped Paul, a new 13th Age GM, with GM-support material while Paul was running the intro. Jonathan has also been working on the monster chapter and analyzing the current state of several revised 2E classes, with results feeding into the playtest.

Teachers from the Court: Our second-level playtest spun out of the intro-adventure is now called “The Teachers from the Court,” since that became our PC group’s cover story. The campaign has spawned notable shifts in the barbarian, and seems likely to create some things for the ranger.

Bards among us: And since last week, the playtest includes the actual 2E bard! The high-elf dance-bard that Sean had been using with was entirely playable but had little to do with the direction the bard class is headed. I’d handed Sean a playable pseudo-bard that I’d mocked up to play in J-M DeFoggi’s Rumble in the Stacks adventure that’s being serialized on the Iconic podcast.

My main job last month was to create a bard with a structure that hasn’t been seen in other F20 games. Given that bards have generally not entirely lived up to their potential, I’m happy to experiment with something new. I’ve got the class playable up to 5th level and later this week I’ll be tackling higher level spells.

The Dwarfoids Campaign: For nights when we don’t have a full quorum for Teachers from the Court, I’ve restarted the third level campaign I was running before we started designing 2E. The initial concept: Suicide Squad for dwarven deviants looking to prove themselves to the Dwarf King. I call it Spearpoint, the players call it Dwarfoids, and their irreverence is winning. You’ll find the original outline of the campaign here.

Now that we’re testing 2E, several characters experienced personal transformations.

Tuli, the lava dwarf chaos mage, has kept his back story but is now a cleric. To differentiate him from the cleric in the Teachers campaign, Tuli is the most random and worst cleric possible. By which I mean, healing is not his thing, and all his talent/domain choices have been chosen as the things we think players are least likely to embrace. Testing by setting oneself on fire. Tuli can take it. He’s a lava dwarf.

Djkuud, the disturbingly almost-undead ‘hopping monk’ who’d served the Gold King, is now a spellfist sorcerer, testing the breath weapon approach the sorcerer in the Teachers campaign avoided. Less mobility, more firepower. Same creepiness.

Jak Manblood is still proving that he’s the dwarfiest of all fighters, and now he’s doing it using the new maneuvers and without using the Combat Rhythm talent, because our playtest nerf-hammer seems to have pounded that talent down far enough that it is not necessarily the correct option.

The Occultist, Thorinn Oakenshield, has retired to be the charismatic leader of the derro clan who call themselves The Startouched, now converted—by our heroes—to a way that’s closer to the King’s Forge. And instead, Jonathan is playing Gurski, a half-orc barbarian. In this campaign, half-orcs are derived from dwarf barbarians on the frontiers rather than from humans. Gurski has a secret One Unique Thing that none of the rest of us (including me, the GM) know about. What we do know is that Gurski is testing a promising revision of the rage mechanic.

And finally, a photo taken during the Teachers from the Court game by Rob Dalton. Jonathan added a caption to it, using my nickname, Beto.

Beto: Hmm, these rules are too harsh. Must adjust.

JoT: Hmm, these rules are too forgiving. Must adjust.

Sunday, October 8, 2023

13th Age 2E early October Update

In the last couple weeks, I spent a bit of time going over Jonathan’s work on the magic item chapter. It’s one of the chapters I’ve managed to digest all the playtest feedback on, and the version we’re finishing now is quite fun.

Mostly I’ve been working on the revision of the sorcerer class. I’m about one talent, five spells, and a bunch of level-by-level math short of finished.

The core of the original sorcerer class remains but every talent and spell that survives has been revised. The adventurer-tier playtest game we started last week should reveal whether the new twists in the sorcerer’s action economy and turn-by-turn choices will survive and show up in the Beta playtest packet.

Speaking of our at-home playtest, Jonathan’s work the past couple weeks was to finish the first draft of the new introductory adventure that will be in the back of the 2E book. Our friend Paul is GMing and I haven’t read the draft of the adventure because Jonathan wants me to find out what’s-really-going-on organically, along with the rest of the players! Jonathan is playing, but has made it clear that for a change, his low-Intelligence dwarf barbarian (well, he calls himself a fighter, but he’s awfully rage-y for a fighter) will not be offering sound tactical or strategic advice.

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Heino Heinsoo, 1929-2023

My father, Heino Heinsoo, died last week at the age of nearly-94.

The final fall was bad. There were a couple beautiful moments after the fall.

Family, friends, and hospice came together to help him die at home, in the same room where he cared for his wife, my mom, when she died fourteen years ago.

I'm going to miss GenCon. I'll be in touch with the 13th Age 2E playtest folks and my other projects some time in August, I expect.

Friday, June 9, 2023

Vault of Mini Things!

Last week before our 13th Age 2E playtest, Jonathan handed me a big plastic bag full of Cardboard Heroes. They were mine, the bag I used as D&D minis and Earthdawn minis and The Fantasy Trip minis back before I mostly switched over to the pre-painted plastic figures we were making for D&D at WotC. I’d loaned the cardboard heroes bag to Jonathan ages ago when he needed more baddies for the 3e Elysombra game and the bag had been forgotten in a box of game supplies.

I spent a couple minutes rummaging through the cardboard zombies and lizardfolk and dragons, wondering which I might use. And then Sean noticed the rummage and told me about the all-grown-up version of flat-hero minis that’s being funded on BackerKit right now. It’s the Vault of Mini Things from TinkerHouse Games.

I love this project! I currently use prepainted plastic minis, and I sometimes use painted metal when it matters and I’ve got the right figure handy. I’ll be supplementing and occasionally replacing those minis with the figure in this set.

Marshall Short’s art on these figures and the various terrain settings is fantastic, and he also has a PrintableHeroes Patreon that includes VTT figures.

The Vault’s organization and storage system is clever and will pack a huge number of options into a relatively compact box.

And terrain is often the weakness of my games, and I’m excited about using this Vault’s selection of terrain either alone or supplementing maps.

The official BackerKit campaign lasts another week.

It’s worth browsing the site to see all the great minis and terrain that’s included. Here are three snippets that caught my eye: a pair of side-by-side heroes that I’d like to play as a team (frog guy! sorcerer gal!), some of the dungeon terrain, and a few of the magic items/spell effects that I definitely don’t have miniatures of anywhere else!

Thursday, May 4, 2023

Badger Badger Skunk, aka Badgery!

Two years ago on my birthday, I ran a 13th Age game centered on a game-within-a-game, a sport played underground that the gnomes involved called badgerbadgerskunk. It was the 31st session of the Adventurers’ Lament campaign. Gherophy, the gnome bard who glows golden when rocks are placed against his skin—who still manages to walk in shadows like a rogue thanks to blessings from the Prince of Shadows—was celebrating his birthday in Axis and the local gnomish community put together a special game of badgerbadgerskunk in his honor.

Campaign Background: What you need to know about gnomes in this campaign:

a) They are frequently scoundrels, bandits, edge-workers, masters of the grey areas whose culture heroes are people like the Dread Pirate Fishstick;

b) They’re natives of Glorantha, emigrants to the Dragon Empire, and whenever there’s something weird going on with the gnomes, the players (who are the ones who decided on this) wave their hands and say “Well that’s Glorantha for you,” and

c) They talk with animals, especially underground critters like badgers and bulettes.

Maybe it was the Glorantha connection that got me thinking about a sport the gnomes would play. I’ve always loved Gloranthan trollball, where the ‘ball’ is an expendable trollkin that scampers when fumbled and is definitely going to need to be replaced several times each game.

Gnomeball: For the gnome version, I decided that the ball was gonna be a badger. You’ve gotta sweet talk the ball into going along with you or it’s gonna tear your ear off. Unlike the troll game, the gnome game makes seriously hurting the ball an unthinkable faux pas sure to get you ostracized . . . after the badgers have had their fill of you.

Of course it’s not just badgers. My starting mechanic for the game was that 1 in 6 balls are a skunk instead of a badger. The new ball gets hurled up out of a hole in the center of the underground playing burrow, a central zone with various tunnels and levels of chambers and corridors and slides, with teams attempting to carry the ball across the other team’s goal line at the far ends of the burrow. In long games, you’d expect that the ‘new ball’ might be a badger or skunk that has already been in play earlier in the game, so you’d better make friends with the ball or you’ll pay for it all game long.

The Birthday Game: Gherophy’s team started with threee NPC gnomes: Gimplenappe, Rusty, and Pumpkin-who-wants-to-be-known-as-Grimkin. These ne’er-do-wells had been introduced as members of a quickly-defeated gang of gnomish bandits. They were childhood friends/tormentors of Gherophy, and the PCs spared them instead of treating them like other bandits. (Good thing: later they become our low-level PCs for all-gnome sessions!) Getting the badgerbadgerskunk game organized was the low-gnomes’ moment of glory.

Gherophy’s team was allowed to have two dwarves, the central combat-ready characters in the Adventurer’s Lament PC group. This was viewed as a handicap by the opposing team, because although dwarves are pretty close to being able to stand up straight in most of the chambers of the badgerbadgerskunk burrow, they’re also likely to get chewed on and sprayed whenever they attempt to advance the ball. Dwarves have no communication skillz, not in gnome-terms. This held true for Bromach, the group’s dwarven barbarian, who got clawed, sprayed, and sprayed again. Eventually he realized that there weren’t many rules about illegal blocking and so he took out his frustrations on the other team.

But Dhomnin, who the group always speaks of as a paladin (thanks to his earnest domination of high-Moradin ground and his golden-spiral GGW helmet), is actually a dwarf ranger who puts a lot of effort into his relationship with his monitor lizard animal companion. Dhomnin hit very difficult skill rolls skunk-after-skunk. He couldn’t quite talk with the beasties, but they came to an understanding involving treats and I-no-longer-remember-what, so even when Gherophy wasn’t grabbing the ’ball’ and spinning through shadows, the group’s offense kept humming.

And I did say, skunk after skunk, not skunk after badger. Because dice are my friends and when I’m rolling a d6, a 1 in 6 chance of a skunk instead of a badger turns into a single badger mixed in with 4 skunks. Whahahahahaah! You’re all getting sprayed!

Most of the rest of the dice rolling I left to the PCs, treating skunk-talking, badger-carrying, skunk-tracking, gnome-tackling, and tricky goal line hand-offs as skill checks of various types, some easy, most normal or hard. Everything was harder for the two dwarves but that didn’t faze Dhomnin.

I did a bit of dice rolling myself for a couple skunk and badger attacks when it was dramatically suitable. Poor Rusty, good thing he has a left ear. But it wasn’t a game about running out of hit points—for the real heroes, getting damaged applied penalties to your next skill checks and made it more likely your team would get scored on.

The PCs won in high highlight style with moments of glory evenly distributed and a barrel of Klinkhammer’s finest Black Dog ale to soothe the barbarian’s cuts!

Post-game Show & the Wider World: Yesterday I talked with Lee Moyer about badgerbadgerskunk. By the end of the day, after phoning me a couple times to ask questions about where the game might be played, Lee came up with his preferred name for the game, Badgery. And then he designed the logo that’s painted on a signboard outside the arena-burrow of the Badgery HQ in Concord, the Dragon Empire city where gnomes feel most at home. The Badgery Concord League!

So yeah, I’ll have to do more with this, won’t I? Thanks, Lee!

If you use badgerbadgerskunk in one of your 13th Age games, let me know at 13thAgePlaytest@gmail.com.

Thursday, April 27, 2023

EN World Interview about 13th Age 2E Streaming Monday the 1st of May

13th Age 2E was voted as one of the most anticipated RPGs of 2023!

So Jessica Hancock of EN World and I will be spending part of our May Day doing a streaming interview about 2E on the Not DnD livestream, one of the podcasts based at enliverpg.com.

That's Monday, May 1st. We'll be on for an hour starting at 10 p.m. BST, which is 5 p.m. EST in the USA, and 2:00 in the PST afternoon here on my West Coast.

The show will be streamed live in the following four places...

Twitch - @enpublishing

Facebook - @enpublishingrpg

Twitter - @enpublishingrpg

Youtube - Link here

If you can't catch it live, you'll also find it available along with 47 earlier Not DnD episodes as a podcast.

The show usually opens with Jessica asking how the interviewee got into gaming. Since I put my first dungeon on graph paper in 1974, we'll find out many stories Jessica wants drawn from that well!

When we get into 2E I'll aim to stay in tune with viewers who are new to 13th Age while providing some news for Alpha draft playtesters who gave us excellent feedback and are now waiting for the Bravo draft!

Monday, January 16, 2023

13th Age 2E Playtest Update

The 13th Age 2E playtest is rolling, with a lot of feedback coming in already on the first playtest packet. I’m still welcoming in new folks, though I’ve fallen a bit behind on that front and have some more typing and list maintenance to do this week.

On Wednesday nights, we’re midway through our own champion-tier playtest campaign, moving up a level after every 3 battles. Actually, after just two battles at 4th level, where Jonathan pulled out dragons and double-strength fights and gave my troll (think: dwarven half-orc) fighter the unusual experience of spending many recoveries they did not actually possess.

Jonathan has set this campaign in the wilds of the Dragon Wood, a High Druid centered area that's not really part of the Empire, where humans are known as Huggers (as in tree-huggers), the elves are 'witches' and definitely not to be trusted, and sky-dwarves (dwarves crazy enough to like it on the surface) seem a lot more reasonable than the dwarves who live underground. We're troubleshooters sent by allied icons, the Dwarf King and Great Gold Wyrm. We've got two different versions of the fighter, a puissant cleric, and a sentient magic staff who functions as our wizard. Sessions are alternating between desperate combat and cross-culture diplomacy.

Meanwhile, as most everyone reading this knows, WotC's OGL-foofarah has been a rapidly developing show-on-the-side. I found myself heavily distracted for a week, but it now seems clear that good things are going to come of this, and 2E work is proceeding unaffected. We're figuring out which interesting new path we're going to take through the world of license-or-not, and no matter what we decide I’m grateful and happy to see how Paizo has responded to this cluster of events. We'll come to a decision along with Pelgrane before we put out another playtest packet, or perhaps sooner.

Speaking of timing, it's clear I’m not getting the second playtest packet out before the end of this month. So I’m now aiming at early February. I’m also taking a glance at some of the feedback, partly to see whether I want to account for obvious changes in the next packet, along with the bard/rogue/sorcerer, or whether we’ll save all feedback revisions for the third packet.