Thursday, January 29, 2015

Monk & Thief

There are two great new 13th Age books in different stages of imminence this week.

Greg Stolze’s TheForgotten Monk is the first 13th Age novel! It’s on Kickstarter to be published by Pelgrane’s Stone Skin Press imprint and it has already made its initial target. Now Greg is strettttching and he has been very generous with his early stretch goals, so if you’re a 13th Age player, you can sign on now and you’ll already be receiving stats for monsters and situations from the novel.  

Just as each 13th Age campaign has its own unique plots and interpretations of icons, races, and places, Greg’s novel presents its own reasonable and idiosyncratic interpretations of subjects like elven speech patterns and Imperial law. Unlike fantasy novels connected to some other game worlds, these tropes aren’t part of a canon that other writers now have to use. Each 13th Age novel gets to make its own decisions about the version of the world it’s going to portray.

I love The Forgotten Monk! It’s simultaneously warm and humane and full of lethal violence. That would be a good recipe for a 13th Age campaign and it’s a wonderful mix for a novel. I’m not being descriptive of the contents because you should go look at the Kickstarter page and read about it there. 


In Gar Land, Dungeon Hunt You
The second book is just about to hit retail shelves, and you can already pre-order it from the Pelgrane store. It’s Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan’s Eyes of the Stone Thief.

A couple words you won’t have heard already about the book: I’m jealous!

Living dungeons are one of my favorite parts of 13th Age and when Gareth pitched the idea of a living dungeon that hunts PCs and their loved ones down instead of waiting to be looted, I not only knew it was going to be special, I also had a strange creator half-remorse feeling that went something like: “That is such the perfect implementation of the idea and now I am never going to come up with it myself.”

Gar started by calling the project Moby Dungeon. It had stronger-Ahab tones early on before it became so seriously its own thing. You can catch an echo of that original starting point from the peg-legged halfling magician on the cover, gathering power as her comrade hefts a harpoon.

All Gar’s ideas were so good that it wasn’t a surprise when the project kept growing and growing and turned into a 360 page book. Calling it a mega-dungeon does it a bit of a disservice. Mega-dungeon is a nice marketing term, I think, but it implies nothing but a claustrophobic delve-and-more-delve underworld experience. Eyes of the Stone Thief takes the time to detail the surface locations that are connected to killing or supporting the dungeon, the cults and warlords who have a stake in the living dungeon’s fate.

The book is one of the most lootable supplements ever (and I’m talking to you, GMs). It’s got quick-and-dirty mass combat rules as part of a slave revolt in an enemy keep. The Cult of the Devourer. Dozens of montsers useful in all piece of the champion tier, things like the swordapus, filth hydras, and a drunken wizard. Glorious 3D maps of each dungeon level which are pure-caffeine for my imagination, even if I’m not using the Stone Thief I’m going to use those locations! And each of those levels could be the basis of its own dungeon. In fact, Gar has already written an article on the Pelgrane web site about how to chop the 13 levels of the dungeon into 13 separate dungeons

So Gareth has done something special. I may have started jealous, but now I’m grateful. This is a campaign fun-box brimming with awesomeness. I don’t know that I would ever personally be capable of writing a 360 page adventure. And now that Gareth has written Eyes of the Stone Thief, I know that I absolutely never have to.

Thanks Gar!

Monday, January 19, 2015

101 Not So Simple Monster Templates

I like this recent 13thAge-compatible DIY monster tool from Rite Publishing. The book has a not so simple origin story. It first came out in 2011 as a Pathfinder sourcebook written by Steven D. Russell. Step forward a few years and Patryk Adamski approached Steven and Rite Publishing with a reworked 13th Age compatible version. The mechanics are new, the art is new. Like Kobold Press’ and ASH LAW’s Deep Magic volume that's compatible with 13th Age, 101 Not So Simple Monster Templates is a book that is inspired by the previous Pathfinder RPG edition rather than a straight conversion which is confined to the original mechanics.

What you get from this Rite Publishing book is an alphabetical list of 101 conversion templates for customizing monsters on the fly. Many of the templates add a level to the monster, so that the impact of the template’s new abilities and powers get offset by lower stats. A few of the templates, like Burned Out Creature or Unhinged Creature, go the other way and reduce the creature’s effective level.

There are a couple niggling problems. A few of the templates use language that’s different from standard 13th Age terminology, but not so different that it’s difficult to figure out. A few other templates almost certainly err on the side of being too nasty. Resilient, for example, has got to be missing its level adjustment.

But balance issues are minor, particularly in a system that advises GMs to regularly make battles unfair! If you’ve been running 13th Age, you’re going to be able to recognize the few too-nasty templates easily, they’re not subtle.

I’m especially happy with 101 Not So Simple Monster Templates because its text is all published under the OGL. As a designer, I’m not likely to borrow a full template and the template approach, but there are several creative mechanics here that I’ve already borrowed or revised as elements in new monsters headed into 13th Age in Glorantha and future installments of the 13th Age Monthly. So I’ll be adding this to the list of OGL books in the licensing section of an upcoming product or three. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Soon you will fly on dragon back!

I'm celebrating the imminent launch of the 13th Age Monthly!

I'm also celebrating what may be my favorite cover ever, painted by Lee Moyer as an upgrade of the Feathered Crown illustration he and Aaron McConnell originally created for 13 True Ways.

Those of you who backed the 13 True Ways Kickstarter will be getting this first installment of the Monthly for free, since dragon riding was part of that book's original flight plan.

Pelgrane will be announcing the rest of the business details for 13M in the next few days.  The model will be similar to Pelgrane's splendid Ken Writes About Stuff subscription.

I was going to type out more details about the project. Then I remembered that I'd already watched Wade Rockett copy-write the basic description of the Monthly for the upcoming web announcement. So here's Wade's text. You'll be seeing it again soon on the Pelgrane site along with a listing of the first three months of articles:

Subscribe to The 13th Age Monthly and you’ll receive all-new 13th Age RPG goodness for GMs and players every month for a full year. These 4000+ word PDFs offer new rules systems, Bestiary-style monsters, player character options, and more.

The 13th Age Monthly is overseen and developed by Rob Heinsoo, with a stellar list of contributors that includes Jonathan Tweet, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan (Book of Loot, Eyes of the Stone Thief), ASH LAW (Tales of the 13th Age) and Cal Moore (Shadows of Eldolan).

It's going to be a great ride!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Six Kobolds walk into a bookstore. . . .

Kobold Guide to Combat (Print Preorder) - Click Image to Close

I'm used to getting together with friends for gaming on Wednesday night. But this Wednesday is different, with a different set of friends, and we'll be on a panel at a bookstore talking about games instead of playing.

Kobold Press is publishing the Kobold Guide to Combat. Editor Janna Silverstein has brought together a few of us Seattle-area contributors for a panel/reading/minotaurshit session (if you have to ask, that's triple the experience point value of a bullshit session) at the University Bookstore at 7 p.m. That's the main UW bookstore at 4236 University Way NE and of course it's a free event. (Some early reports showed the event at 6 p.m. Ignore that disinformation campaign by jealous hobgoblins. 7 p.m. is the hour.)

The panel will be huge fun. With Chris Pramas and Jeff Grubb and Steve Winter and Wolf Baur and novelist John A. Pitts, Janna is going to have her wrangling-facilitator hands full.

Come by to say hello, roll a couple dice (I'll bring them!), buy a copy of the new book, and acquire autographs for handwriting analysis.

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!