Friday, May 31, 2013

Tarrasque at Bay

The Monster Art +13 contest we ran after the 13 True Ways Kickstarter had one entry that I discarded immediately. It was from Christoper Tatro and it read like so:

Ever see a dog in a stand-off against three larger animals it doesn't quite know what to make of, like turkeys or goats or something outside its realm of experience? How it crouches its front end down and growls, its back end still raised and ready to spring or run? And the other animals just look on unphased and unimpressed?

That, but with a tarrasque facing down three Koru Behemoths, in a clearing with a nearby forest coming up only to about belly-level for scale.

I laughed. Christopher wanted his tarrasque and he wanted it with Koru Behemoths on top! He'd only forgotten the part that said that one of the Koru Behemoths was swinging an aircraft carrier as a baseball bat. 

My first reaction was because I'd decided to avoid illustrating any Behemoths for awhile, to let people's imagination carry them wherever they wished . . . a plan that pays off with great fan art like the piece done by Temporalpyradox on the Impossible Forge tumblr. Also, Ken Hite was already going to run the tarrasque in the 13th Age Bestiary, and I didn't want to horn in on that action. 

But the more I thought about the image the more it appealed to me. And I remembered our guiding principle that showing off one flavor of Behemoth meant nothing about all the other flavors. So I asked Aaron McConnell what he thought of the illustration, implying that I thought it was crazy. And of course Aaron said, "Oh, I don't know. It sounds kind of challenging. I could get into that."

So here you are. I'm showing the rough draft of this two page spread though the final may be somewhat different. There are going to be more elements that show scale, there are going to be more features and carapaces and such on the behemoths, maybe small changes to the tarrasque. I think of this look for the Behemoth as moving forests, probably more connected to the High Druid than others. 

And yes, the tarrasque will appear first in the Bestiary, with a great writeup from Ken. Jonathan and I will find some other Way of the Tarrasque in 13 True Ways

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Shadowrun's Icons

One thing I've loved about helping design the Shadowrun: Crossfire game has been getting back in touch with the Shadowrun universe. SR's mix of orcs and Uzis and Kurosawa-tinged street noir is good for fun. I've enjoyed what I've read of the upcoming Shadowrun Fifth Edition from Catalyst and that got me wondering about what 13th Age and its OGL mechanics, the Archmage Engine, could contribute to a Shadowrun game.

The first answer is the icon relationship system. But in SR, the powerful entities that shape the world aren't icons, they're corporations.

Start with the Big Ten, Ares, Aztechnology, Renaku, Saeder-Krupp and the rest. Add other corps as possibilities if that suits the GM's intentions for the campaign or a players' roleplaying input, provided the GM is comfortable going with it. Heck, add 3 and make me feel all fuzzy with the number 13, but that's a grace note.

You're playing shadowrunners, not wage mages and suits, so the rules on how to handle positive, conflicted and negative relationships get flipped around compared to relationships with icons in 13th Age. In SR, you can only spend 1 point on a positive relationship. Let's rephrase that. You can only spend at most one point on a single positive relationship, the rest of your points have to be spent on conflicted and negative relationships.

Conflicted relationships are still roleplaying hotness. Negative relationships will be more common and are great for temporary alliances against a corp or inside information left over from previous conflicts.

In SR, you'll want to take advantage of the fact that the corporations are huge, with tentacles and limbs twitching everywhere. A relationship point is likely to represent contact with a specific person or net-entity or a sub-grid or a marketing contractor or a freelance assassin who needs to take someone out and maybe you can help. That's important because it's hugely likely that the PCs are going to end up making runs against targets they have a better-than-negative relationship point with. In SR, it's all about deniability and triple-crosses. 13th Age's fantasy plays it much straighter, loyalty is loyalty and a positive relationship might carry weight with a great many people connected to an icon. But SR is never that clean and even people who would prefer to treat you decently may be forced by their day job to call in the attack drones.

Likewise, SR relationship points are going to change. You've got a positive point with Ares and you burn Ares horribly on a run? Maybe the guy you knew in Seattle gets fragged. Turn that positive point with Ares into a negative point, or maybe turn it into a conflicted point with the corp that profited from Ares' pain.

I'll be curious to see whether this makes sense in an actual SR game. I'm not sure whether it integrates or supplants contact/connections mechanics and what's being brought in with SR5. I'm pretty sure that the Archmage Engine rule that rolling a 5 on a relationship roll is good for the character AND good for the GM applies splendidly to interactions between shadowrunners and corporations. Simplicity might suggest trying it as its own mechanic instead of crisscrossing with other systems.

And speaking of criss-crossing, we only had 8 pages that needed revision from the 13th Age proofs today. The printing process is moving. Those who want to pre-order 13th Age game to get the PDF now and the print copy as soon as it's ready can follow this link for details on the Bits'n'Mortar implementation for the game, or order directly from

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Night of the Blue or Off-Pink Death Save Ninja

Last night's 13th Age session was even madder than usual. Three of the six players in the Wednesday night group were rejoining our campaign after finishing several weeks of a mad sprint to get a great new iOS game ready for submission to the Pax 10 contest. It was wonderful to have them back. But a day off from work had included, umm, celebrations earlier in the day that left one of the players flapping madly in the wind before the game night's drinking had even begun. So to frame the action around the table, the congratulatory note I got earlier this morning centered on having found a way to allow the boozled player to LARP as a Chaos Beast. Metaphorically true.

It takes me way too long to do full game write-ups, meaning that I end up not doing any write-ups. That's got to stop. So here are high points from last night's plucky attempt to deliver a centuries-old message tube to the Emperor, who in this case happens to be an Emperor who has been dead all those centuries. He's buried in a recently rediscovered Imperial Tomb and the Imperial Tomb Approach Paths appear to be experiencing dimensional turbulence, probably related to the destruction of the flying realm that warded the area. Behind the scenes, I was tinkering with dimensional madness because I've had the developed mechanics for chaos beasts and naga and drow to get into playtest in a hurry.

The Return of Luthan: Fehlauer had rolled up his one-armed wood elf fighter ages ago and then I'd placed the character sheet in a Very Safe Location that we hadn't uncovered for later games. His original ability scores? Ridiculously well-rolled. When he had to recreate the character (these were the days before electronic devices . . . . or rather the days before we got around to using them) I had made him reroll his ability scores. It didn't go so well. So yesterday the session returned to glory days for Mike, because I'd found Luthan's One True Character Sheet. Happiness is an overly competent mini-maxer reunited with his well-rolled stats.

Chumming My Dungeon: Early on I asked Lightner, playing a bard who'd rolled a story-die result with the Emperor, to go ahead and tell me what the name of the Emperor was who was buried in the tomb. As I was talking, I'd decided that although Emperors in this campaign had no name during their reign, The Emperor being quite sufficient, dead emperors gradually acquired a sobriquet that summed up their spot in the historical record. Without missing a beat, Lightner, playing the Intelligence-nerd bard, said, "Why, the Bloody Emperor. Of course."
   "Thank you. Oh, thank you," I said.
   "Chumming the dungeon!" chirped Lightner.
   The table bursts out in all its voices, "How about the Generous Emperor? Or the Emperor of Incredibly Rich Funeral Goods? The Emperor of You Can Take it With You?" And so  on.

Reservoir Elves: At some point, approaching the gatehouse in the middle of the tomb path, I asked for a marching order. They spread the minis across the table. Six abreast. Everyone wanted to be in front. Well. OK. The immediate reference to Reservoir Dogs only temporarily lurched into Mr. Pink designations. Foreshadowing, there.

Hampered: At some point I told Fehlauer that Luthan was hampered, save ends. "Hampered! Oh, slightly dampish." "But placed carefully at the side of the battle." And it dissolved from there.
   "Thank you. Thank you all. The book has gone to the printer, and you waited for the perfect moment to notice this term. Thank you."

Rumpled: The battle mat was just a tiny bit folded, mounding in a few rubber crests. Not enough to be a true problem, but it was fascinating to watch people decide that dice that were not favorable to them that happened to be sitting on a slope of any gradient were "clearly cocked." Rerolls occurred quickly. But really, I was hitting them hard in order to test nagas and some nasty drow, so the one-quarter cocked interpretation of the night was fine.

I'll Just Lie Here, Thanks: The elven rogue who plays like a ninja, Talimir, wasn't having the best session, partly owing to the player being smashed. Talimir got smashed too, but by a troll wearing the red and gold livery of an alternate emperor. So Talimir's player, Mark, kind of fades in and out of the building, getting up for air. Nobody healed Talimir the first round, so it's time for a death save. Mark didn't bring dice this time, grabs a die out of the pile and rolls. That's the result pictured above, though not the original location of the roll. Mark said, "17," pushed away from the table, and shambled into the darkness for awhile.
     When the explosion of voices around the table had died away, I heard Sean say, "Well, Mark found a way to roll less than 1."
     The Blue Cube of Zero is going to be a thing, particularly since Mark's usual yellow d20 has rolled so poorly for so long (original 3e playest) that we all know it as Old Yeller.
     And yeah, in the daylight I can see that this bead isn't actually blue, but that's what it looked like in last night's bad light and it might be funnier to get the color wrong.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Tarot Chariot

My friend Theresa has got a photo/design project running called the Portland Tarot. I loved the first images, one of which you see above, and have been hoping that she would continue the work into a full deck. 

The good news is that she has. 

The rougher news is that her first try at using Kickstarter hasn't succeeded yet and is running out of time. 

I loved living in Portland. Twelve years that started in college and ended in terrain approximated by this deck. 

If you're interested in the project but don't have anything to do with Portland, think of it as a Weird Urbana Tarot. Weird urbana have a way of surfacing eventually so I know something will come of this, if not now, then after a few more turns of the cards. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Middle of Amber

I was going to write a blog post suggesting that people support the Lords of Gossamer & Shadow Kickstarter that is taking up where the Amber rpg by Eric Wujcik left off. The Kickstarter has about 19 hours to go, the game should carry on for years. And maybe I am still writing that blog. But I'm shifting the focus off the new game that I-am-looking-forward-to-and-think-you-should-support .... back towards the Roger Zelazny stories that created the path for the game.

By high school, Zelazny was my favorite author. The extent to which I loved his work has clouded my memory of how I first encountered him. It wasn't through Jack of Shadows or Lord of Light or Nine Princes in Amber. It was through The Guns of Avalon, bought second-hand in a musty used paperback store built into a weird indoor-outdoor mall that would soon go out of business when I was in 7th grade and my family had just moved out of the Army and into Oregon.

If you're familiar with Zelazny's work, you know that The Guns of Avalon is the second book in the Amber series. I missed that. I liked the cover illustration of two warriors battling chaotic hordes. Well, they looked like orcs. Inside it didn't go quite the way I'd expected. By that time I'd read the Lord of the Rings and Watership Down and Starship Troopers, but it's possible that The Guns of Avalon was the first troublesomely adult novel I'd read. The demon knocks on the window and he goes ahead and invites it in? The girl he fenced with and then slept with may be another demon who killed off the kindly family? He's walking through realities and getting stronger all the time? And now we're using guns in fantasy worlds? What?

I wasn't ready to deal with a story this loaded.

Skip forward a year, maybe less. I'm in Gandalf's Den and there's a big display of Zelazny books, a series of books in a new black cover design I like a lot. I'm looking at the books and I see something called The Guns of Avalon. Wait. This is the book I have with that other cover. Wait. It's the second book in the series? Ohhhhhhhh.

I bought Nine Princes in Amber. Loved it. Read The Guns of Avalon again, in the old weird cover that used the words 'another swashbuckling fantasy voyage to the kingdom of Amber' instead of coming right out and saying it was a sequel. I felt dumb. But happy.

So my introduction to Zelazny was as a magical force that blew in from nowhere, didn't quite synch up to my very-sheltered youth, and gradually became a beloved companion.

May the lords of gossamer and shadow continue the work.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Five 13th Age Progressions

1. The cover above is our first rough draft. Aaron and Lee still have lots of work they plan to do on it. That's a wind-and-lightning powered druid fighting a dragon who has yet to be revealed. It gives us game designers something to strive towards.

2. Lee calls the piece Over Drakkenhall. I love the name, partly because it reminds me of the WWI airplane battles that were my entry into gaming playing Fight in the Skies/Dawn Patrol. I guess I can confess that my slang for the cover-dragon is 'the Bloody Red Golden,'but don't worry, the story behind this has everything to do with Lee's/Aaron's art mixed with the sorcery of the Blue and nothing further to do with WWI ace jokes.

3. On other 13 True Ways work, Lee and Aaron continue to roll through the art, Robin Laws has turned over great work on devils, Drakkenhall, and Axis, and Jonathan is carving his own twisty multi-icon passages through the ruins of Drakkenhall.

4. While Jonathan, Aaron, and Lee press forward on 13 True Ways, I'm using my designer-head for a few weeks to help with the 13th Age Bestiary that Ken Hite has organized for Pelgrane. It's mainly designed by people including ASH Law, Ken, Kevin Kulp, Rob Wieland, Ryven Cedrylle, and Steven Townshend, with editing by Cal Moore. There are innumerable dangerous and quirky touches that deserve to be touched on in later posts. For now I'm developing monsters, improving mechanics and suggesting ways that the monsters' stories can dare more in individual campaigns.

5. And in regard to the book you've all been waiting for.... Once upon a time my page count estimates suggested we wouldn't have room to print the last chapter of 13th Age, the mini-adventure called Blood & Lightning. We said we would put the adventure on line since we couldn't fit it into the book. Well the good news is that I was wrong and the adventure does fit into the book. Last week, with the 304 page layout finished except for page xx's, Simon and I decided to add the revised Blood & Lightning adventure back into the mix. We've got a 320 page book now with no need for an adventure download and it looks like the decision is only going to cost us three days. So we'll have more good news soon, I think.