Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Gamehole Con was fun!

This is an open thank you letter to Gamehole Con, who flew me and many other game designers across the country a couple weeks ago for a sweet and extremely well-organized weekend of gaming.

Personal highlights included. . .
. . . .meeting Tom Wham and watching him demo Feudality, because I’ve played so many hours of his games over the years, and it was wonderful to watch him explain one of his creations.
. . . running a session of 13th Age in Glorantha that rivalled the 6 Feats Under session for sheer manic energy, particularly when the trickster managed to go airborne via a Life-infused Air spirit he’d caught in his bag of mischief.
. . . running another 13th Age in Glorantha session that nearly led to a permanent change in the curve of Humakt’s sword, which is a fancy way of saying that the Lunar Empire nearly Illuminated the PCs’ quest.
. . . a panel about 13th Age and many editions of D&D that Jonathan Tweet and I ran Saturday morning.

The panel centered on a question and answer session. I don’t believe anyone recorded it. I don’t recall all the questions, but I wrote a few of them down. The answers below incorporate some of Jonathan’s answers and most of my own.

Q: Do the icons know they are icons?
A: Jonathan and I assume that the icons know they are icons and that this is a term that means something in the world. Greg Stolze’s The Forgotten Monk novel shows this well, the world and ages of the Dragon Empire make sense when the icons are aware of their own status. It would be possible to run a campaign where the icons weren’t at all certain of their status, but that feels like a different approach than what we’ve chosen as our baseline.

Q: Where do the conversational sidebars come from?
A: Our standard banter. The fact that we don’t always agree, and felt like showing that we sometimes disagree helps free up GMs and tables to play things their own way, since not even the designers entirely agree on all points. And most of all, a desire to use a conversational tone.

Q: Why was the druid missing from the core book?
A: Simply didn’t have a good version of it ready for when the rest of the book was done. Same for the monk, which was on the cover of the core book partly because I was trying to inspire myself to make sure I finished it, but no.

Q: What was the last icon added?
A: I asked the audience to guess. The second guess got it: the Crusader. I realized we needed an icon for evil characters who wanted to be part of the establishment, highly ambiguous heroes.

Q: Were there other icons we did not add?

A: Yes, and I’ll name three. We talked about a Merchant Prince, but went with the Prince of Shadows instead. Jonathan had argued for Tiamat, especially as an evil dragon inspiration of cultists, but I didn’t like that and we gave her stuff to the Diabolist and the Blue of the Three. And finally, I had proposed a Mother of Dungeons, something in the center of the world creating living dungeons and sending them up as eyestalks, and Jonathan shut that down by pointing out that it wasn’t really someone PCs would be able to have a meaningful relationship with, which helped establish our understanding of what it meant to be an icon in the first place. 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Gamehole Con: Sweet home Wisconsin

Next weekend is Gamehole Con in Madison.

The convention is amazingly well-organized, has a slew of great guests, and a huge number of game sessions in the works.

My official schedule is down below. Saturday's morning 13th Age panel is a) the earliest you'll see me at a game convention, and b) a chance to see whether Jonathan and I are unusually loose-lipped as we're harvesting first-coffee and first-tea of the weekend.

For my wife Lisa and I, this particular convention comes with a huge bonus: we both have relatives all through Wisconsin, so it's not just a game convention trip, it's a chance to connect with aunts and uncles and cousins all across the state.

The last time Lisa was in Wisconsin she bought a pair of lightsaber toys in Baraboo, which soon led to an airport announcement that a TSA representative had waited their entire career to be able to deliver: "Will the woman who left a lightsaber at the Security Check please return to TSA to recover her lightsaber?"

Looking forward to seeing and gaming with many of you in less than a week, with or without lightsabers.

My schedule . . .

Friday, November 6th
10:00AM    13th Age Demo
8:00PM      Shadowrun: Crossfire's Gonna Get You

Saturday, November 7th
8:00AM      13th Age & Other Ages
2:00PM      13th Age: The New Batch

Sunday, November 8th
10:00AM    13th Age: The New Batch

Lisa, lightsaber recovered . . . 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

7 Icon Campaign

[cover by Lee Moyer]

Last week I put the finishing design touches on the next issue of the 13th Age Monthly, due out at the end of August.

7 Icon Campaign is a change of pace for us, and it was great fun to create. It started as a thought experiment: Jonathan wondered how it would work to compress our game's 13 icons into 7. The experiment was a success, and it led to his new campaign. If you already know the 13th Age icons, you can probably figure out who has been combined with who by inspecting Lee's wonderful cover above. 

7 Icon Campaign is based on Jonathan's original campaign notes, and the questionnaires that he handed out to us players before we created our characters. I've elaborated on the original notes with a mix of feats, talents, and spells. They're inspired by the new composite icons but will work fine in any 13th Age game. In just under 6K words, there's a new racial feat for dwarves, a feat for either clerics or wizards, a new necromancer spell, and one new talent apiece for the bard, sorcerer, and paladin. My favorite is probably the necromancer spell, but you may be a nicer person than me and have other preferences. 

You can wait until some time in September to buy the single issue, or pick up a subscription to the full year of 13 issues in the Pelgrane store. Or you can take advantage of the sale that Drive-Thru RPG is running until August 19th, and subscribe at $3 off the usual price, so it's only $21.95. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

GenCon and other news

As a big change of pace, I'm not attending GenCon this year. My family needed me home more than people needed me at GenCon. Given that I experienced the full GenCon prep period but won't have the full GenCon, I'm going to enjoy rounding into my non-GenCon jobs.

Here's a round-up of some of the people from Fire Opal who are attending GenCon, many of whom will frequently be found at the Pelgrane booth among the Pelgranistas.

Cal Moore will be at GenCon, should be on a 13th Age panel or two, and has just had Sharpe Initiatives: Earthgouger come out as this month's installment of 13th Age Monthly. Earthgouger is a tiny taste of the many types of fun that Cal put it into the upcoming Battle Scenes books. I'm developing and writing the art order for the first book in that series, tentatively titled High Magic & Low Cunning: Battle Scenes for Five Icons. Cal has been the editor extraordinaire for all my 13th Age books (including the 13th Age Bestiary that is up for an ENnie) and I'm enjoying turning the developer/editor tables and working on his big books.

ASH ALL FREAKING CAPS ALL THE TIME LAW will be at GenCon, fresh from having put together the final installment of the first season of 13th Age OP, The Battle of Axis, and the first installment of the second season, Race to Starport, that's going to be played often at the con. ASH has been working on other 13th Age things also, those are merely the two adventures I personally developed in the push towards GenCon. He'll be on 13th Age panels. Go, ASH, go!

Wade Rockett will be on every 13th Age panel except the Monster Design Workshop. He will be splitting time between the Pelgrane booth (#609), helping get the 13th Age Alliance started, and the Kobold booth. Which reminds me, I need to arrange a pelgrane vs. kobold deathmatch in the poking-the-Emperor-in-the-eye gladiatorial arena in Drakkenhall, but that probably doesn't have much to do with Wade, who is All About the Owlbears.

Rob Watkins and Jay Schneider will be mostly busy with Shadowrun: Crossfire, the co-op board game we designed for Catalyst that is up for an ENnie in the RPG Related category. Jay is also going to be busy with biz.

Jonathan Tweet is taking a break from 13th Age in Glorantha to attend the con! He will mostly be found at Peter Adkison's Chaldea booth (#2332) running a Chaldea minigame he designed. He'll also be on the 13th Age in Glorantha panel. The two of us recently talked a bit about that game, and many other 13th Age topics on the recently released "The Future of 13th Age" episode of the Iconic podcast.

And speaking of 13th Age in Glorantha, here are a couple photos from our game last Wednesday. The first photo has Neil Robinson of Moon Design (GenCon booth #2535) on the left, playing Vastorlanth, a Moon-touched Lothario of an Orlanthi rebel. I'm in the dragon shirt enjoying the action with the escalation die cranked to 3. And that's special guest star Jeff Richard of Moon Design on the right, lowing as Mel, the former herdman Storm Bull berserker. The second photo is Jonathan's end of the table, with the glowing ball in the center of the battlefield representing the magical Water feature created by Sean's storm sorcerer when he narrated his Water rune to purify the broo-infected corpse of the Bagnot former headman and rolled a complication. Walktapus tentacle just visible at the bottom of the shot . . . .

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Summoning Spells!

We've just cast a Summoning Spells installment of the 13th Age Monthly into subscribers' download accounts.

I had fun writing this one because I've been thinking a lot about how summoning works in 13th Age while working on 13th Age in Glorantha. Wizard and cleric summoning spells don't work the same as the druid and necromancer spells that appeared in 13 True Ways so the article starts with the new rules, part of the reason this is the biggest installment of the Monthly so far.

Highlights of the spells include lantern archons that are better at healing allies who have some trace of intelligence, wisdom, or charisma (healing equal to the highest ability score modifier!), the pentagram halos that float above the heads of demons you otherwise probably shouldn't be summoning, and the laughing demon, a new demon type that's surprisingly easy to control, but that may mean the joke is on you.

You can see the demon-halo and the laughing demon in the wonderful cover illustration by Rich Longmore, shown without logos above. There's more great art by Rich inside the issue, including a beautifully expressive shot of a wizard summoning an earth elemental that influenced the final mechanics.

This isn't the last word on cleric and wizard summoning. We'll follow-up on the subject in later products. Feedback on the spells in the article will also help the things that make it into print later. (And I should mention that the campaign variants mentioned in this issue's original capsule blurb will also show up in later products. I ended up sticking to spells and definite rules instead of outlining all the other options.)

If you've got a subscription, your Pelgrane account box should have the file already. If you'd like a subscription to the 13th Age Monthly, visit the Pelgrane store and you'll also get the previous five issues from this year. Or wait a couple weeks and this issue will be available as a single purchase on both the Pelgrane store and Drive-Thru RPG.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Notes on Eidolons

A few days ago we put out Eidolons byASH LAW, an issue of the 13th Age Monthly that harnesses the full monster description style we used in the 13 True Ways Bestiary. If you helped playtest the Bestiary, you may even recognize these eidolons, because we put out an earlier version as part of the playtest package. Playtesters liked them, I liked them, it was only a matter of time before we were going to publish them.

What follows are developer notes on the article. If you want to see what I'm talking about, pick up a subscription to the 13th Age Monthly and you'll get this issue and the four previous issues as part your subscription. 

Our Focus on the Icons
I pulled eidolons and several other monsters out of the 13th Age Bestiary because the Bestiary was the first major product in the line and I wanted it to keep our focus on the icons. Eidolons are creatures from other realities. They warp the rules, so much that ASH included optional madness rules for PCs forced to deal with other realities. That’s fun stuff for GMs who want it, but in our very first 13th Age support book, I decided to stay closer to mainstream fantasy by not summoning too many non-Euclidean creatures from outside time and space.

As the line developer for 13th Age, the Bestiary taught me that designers needed more guidance about using the icons that are central to 13th Age. The creative streak that leads people to design games and write stories is sometimes a wild streak. When creators see a setting that’s all about something particular, like the icons, the temptation is to veer away from ‘what everybody is doing’ and bring in themes that haven’t been touched yet.  

Obviously that type of invention is a good thing, most of the time. But there’s are several big reasons that most published 13th Age material stays focused on the icons, and one of these reasons that may not be apparent is to allow players, GMs, and individual campaigns to happily riff on everything else! The baseline in rpgs is a line that gets criss-crossed and repurposed by most every game table. By keeping our focus on the icons and everyone who is involved with them, we leave more space for the character who wants their One Unique Thing to be truly unique and the GM who surprises everyone with a campaign idea no one saw coming.

Turns out that eidolons could also spring some of those surprises. They’re a multi-purpose tool for campaigns that want a new approach to NPCs and monsters that can only temporarily be removed by sword and spell.

The Optional Madness Mechanics
ASH is extremely fond of warped things from the outer colors of the reality palette. He’s wanted madness mechanics for awhile, I think. My sticking point is that madness mechanics have to be fun. This is a game that has to stay enjoyable to play rather than a simulation of what happens to a brain under assault from colors beyond space. Sometimes game mechanics for this type of thing are only enjoyable if you can appreciate the aesthetics of disintegration without caring that you’re now useless. There are good games that take that path, but 13th Age isn’t one of them. People who test these mechanics and send us playtest feedback at will have input on the book that’s underway that will use a version of this madness approach.

A Note on Art
Eidolon appearance can be nearly anything. And yet each of the eidolon illustrations, from Rich Longmore’s wonderful eye-catching cover to the roiling mess that is the eidolon in war form, has the same style of six glowing eyes.

First, this is mostly because I sent Rich a photo I’d taken in art museum of Catalonia in Barcelona as reference. My photo looked like this: 
So Rich gave me what I asked for, albeit with six glowing eyes instead of the seven I just realized are showing on the creature above. 

Second, you don’t have to interpret the art as saying that all eidolons have six glowing eyes. In my case, it's a post-facto explanation, but I think it works: these are all illustrations of the same eidolon!

As ASH said, Each eidolon is different and can assume different forms (as mentioned later in the stats section), but each eidolon also has its own distinct “look” and “voice” that it possesses no matter what shape mortals perceive it to be taking.

This eidolon’s look is that it has six glowing eyes no matter what form it’s in!

Friday, June 5, 2015

Epic Spell Blahs

A funny thing happened on the way to the publication of the second ESW set, Epic Spell Wars: Rumble at Castle Tentakill.

Actually, I wish it was funny, but it’s not, and I’m no longer the target audience.

I handled mechanical design on this set and its Mt. Skullzyfyre predecessor, aided by Matt Hyra’s devteam at Cryptozoic. Cory Jones of Cryptozoic renames the cards and writes the art descriptions and writes the story in the rulebook. What that means is that a large portion of the game’s initial success came from Cory, because I suspect that more people bought the game for its Nick Edwards art and its over-the-top theme than for the mechanics. I’d kinda hoped to shift that equation a little with set 2, because I was really happy with the choices added by the new mechanics, Blood, and creatures.

But I was wrong about thinking that the first set had been pushed to the edge. I didn’t realize that Cryptozoic was going to put an AWESOME MATURE CONTENT AND PROFANITY warning on the box, and I didn’t realize what that would mean.

I saw the cards for the first time last week and I wasn’t amused. There are sexist cards, racist cards, sniggering cards, and just plain ugly cards. It irritated me so much I only got through half the cards the first day.

I’ve discussed the set with Cory and he says he thinks of the ESW property as an Adult Swim cartoon. Huh. I think that’s a category error, and that even if you managed to make an Adult Swim cartoon out of a game, you wouldn’t handle the game as if it were the cartoon.

I’d been thinking of ESW as a game I was happy playing with my female and male friends and at conventions with strangers. But that’s not true anymore, unless I strip out the sexist and racist cards and squint at the rest.

I view this Adult Swim approach as a mistaken rebranding of an already successful game property that had wider appeal. Cory sees it as a minor alteration of an already edgy property.

And maybe he’s right about the minor alteration angle. It looks like I didn’t take the storyline in the first rulebook seriously enough, probably because it ticked me off. Certainly I believed that the game had found its tone the first time out. Turns out I was wrong. If this second set really is only a minor alteration, it turns out that the first set was as far as I was comfortable taking a game meant to be played by people I like. 

So I’m opting out of Epic Spell Wars publicity. I’m not pushing the game or running it at conventions.

Cory has apologized for surprising me with the switch to the NSFW model of the game and has agreed to take my name off the cover of the second printing.

The anthropologist in me is curious to see how this plays out. The rest of me is irritated.