Friday, December 7, 2012

Guide to Glorantha & a signature stone

When Jonathan and I directly address the reader in 13th Age, we mark our comments with signature tiles. Jonathan's tile is in the style of the Archmage. My tile, created by Lee Moyer, is a black stone, the style used by the High Druid. If you are not familiar with the world of Glorantha created by Greg Stafford, you'll miss the fact that this signature stone uses four Gloranthan runes. Here's the stone where it first appears, on our signature page at the start of 13th Age.*


Reading left to right, that's Magic, Moon, and Fertility above Communication. And the god I'm thanking along with Greg Stafford is Orlanth, Glorantha's god of the rushing air.

Glorantha has been one of the constants in my gaming and intellectual world since the day I read about the White Bear & Red Moon boardgame in the pages of the Space Gamer. Reading Greg's bibliography in the original RuneQuest introduced me to anthropology, comparative religion, and the study of mythology. Later I got to work with Greg at Chaosium and on the King of Dragon Pass game.

You can see me talk about Glorantha in a three minute video* towards the bottom of the Kickstarter page for the magnificent Guide to Glorantha book that is running for another ten days. It's going to be a gloriously illustrated system-neutral introduction to the world that hasn't been surpassed as a feat of ongoing mythological creation. A later piece of the video should be about why gamers and fantasy lovers who have never been involved with Glorantha should be interested in this Kickstarter.

Promise yourself this: even if you don't have it in you to help fund the current Guide to Glorantha,, keep it somewhere in the back of your mind. Watch Greg's video on the Kickstarter page when you have the time. Track down a copy of the Guide later on, enter its pages, and keep track of many Gloranthan experiments and creations I expect the Guide to inspire.

*The website referenced in the signature page? Under construction. It will be up by the time 13th Age releases. 

*So, about the music that accompanies my interview's opening and ending titles... Jeff Richard started the filming afternoon by giving me stick about the Christmas sweater I was wearing. Then I gave him crap about the Wagner music he'd used to frame Greg's video. I managed to get the Christmas wreath that half-haloed me on the wall behind my head taken down before we filmed, but singing may have been involved. The moral: don't screw with people who are about to add musical accompaniment to your video. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

13th Age at ZoeCon


I ran a two hour demo session of 13th Age at ZoeCon last week for five players. I was deadline -rushed working on 13th Age so I didn’t otherwise partake of the convention, but I did catch up with a couple friends I hadn’t talked to in years.

The player who’d traveled the furthest was visiting from Peru on business. Perhaps not coincidentally, he played a character with a bit of business in her background: Arian was a halfling heiress, the exiled heir to the largest halfling corporation in the world. It had an assimilation-style name, something to fit in among the taller barons of Glitterhaegen, so I can’t remember what the corp was called. Arian was a rogue who was inordinately fond of all-things-elven but she took her main cues from the Prince of Shadows.

Unlike most sessions, where I actively try to find connections between all the PCs, this session ended up feeling a lot more like a game of Fiasco. Somewhat at a loss for a unifying plotline, I fell back on the notion that the High Druid’s resurgence had reactivated ancient dwarven mines and that some mines were now sending out powerful metals that had been lost for centuries.

The player of the elf wizard had been reading a lot of Tolkien. He glibly dubbed our miracle metal quindilar. Quindalar flowed and shimmied and did its best impression of the stuff in the briefcase at the end of Pulp Fiction. All the PCs ended up wanting quindilar, or having an interest in its future, and after off-screen travail and the deaths of their other traveling companions, they faced off at the entrance of a former dwarven copper mine, now pulsing with quindilar veins.

Talian the  elf wizard and Court historian was friends with the halfling heiress. The elf wizard had been exceptionally good friends with the Elf Queen, since he was the father of her upcoming child. It was expedient for him to leave the Court while still breathing and he hoped that quindilar might offer him an avenue to a life where he could have more to do with his family.

The dwarf cleric, Ollen, had been blessed with the Great Gold Wyrm with the ability to eat most anything, a survival blessing that had allowed Ollen and other heroes to survive a fearsome siege. Ollen preferred minerals. That’s probably where I started conceiving the quindilar plan.

Raven the half-orc barbarian was a foundling and a champion of the forest, devoted to the High Druid at a level that went beyond words.

Trixie…. Well, Trixie was a mess unless she was fighting. A two-weapon fighter and a one-woman hybrid of a Great Gold Wyrm champion and a camp follower. The details are now buried.

I can’t claim there was a great deal I added to the session. I started the action with an orc-fake. As the PCs faced each other at the mine entrance, swords drawn and wands ready, an orc arrow hissed out of the darkness of the mine and clattered off the fighter’s armor. A fight with minions of the Orc Lord made the most sense given the PCs’ enemies. I reached into my minis bags for the orcs. Undead, gnolls, goblins, lizard men. No orcs. Whoops.

Aided by the players, I came up with the following: “The gnolls have been fighting their way here too. They ran out of arrows. They’re down to using orc arrows. That’s why that attack missed so badly [natural 1].”

So the orc fight turned into a gnoll’n’demon fight. The PCs got over their initial mistrust and didn’t start interfering with each other until the moment that the gnolls had given up (Trixie’s sword, blessed by the GGW in preparation for combat with demon-lovers, was putting the fear into them, literally) and the Diabolist’s messenger imp that was trying to escape with a glowing golden tube was tumbling from the sky suffering from acid arrow damage that was going to kill it. Trixie made a play for the tube before Ariana (the halfling heiress) put her swashbuckle talent to perfect use and somersaulted away with the goods.

At that point the action could really have gone all-Fiasco, but Ollen the dwarf and Raven the barbarian calmed people down. We ended with a round-the-table tell-me-the-end-of-your-character’s story, that went something like this…

·         Ariana used quindilar to build a company that competed with her father’s organization while embracing halfling culture instead of pretending to be Big Folk.
·         Talian wisely kept away from the Court of Stars but used quindilar to further his researches and to create beautiful gifts for his lover the Queen and toys for the child.
·         Ollen discovered that quindilar was just about the tastiest thing he’d ever experienced. I didn’t give him much of a chance to expand on his character beyond this broadly mimed discovery.
·         Raven made all the other characters’ plans possible by NOT working with the High Druid and the powers of nature to shut the mine down. “As long as they use quindilar in moderation and do not harm the earth,” he said.
·         Trixie died alone of an unmentionable disease.


Friday, September 21, 2012

Playing 13th Age at Penny Arcade


I’ve been running some great games of 13thAge lately. This is a long writeup of the game we played at Penny Arcade on Wednesday.

Jerry TYCHO Holkins and Mike GABE Krahulik were joined at the table by two players who are in my usual 13th Age game (Sean and Fehlauer) and another who joined our table later that night (Lane.) I didn’t deliberately import my players. They happened to be there: of the six dangerous stalwarts in my 13th Age game, four of them presently work behind the security doors of the Penny Arcade compound, though mostly not for PA. The extent of the crossover came as a surprise to Jerry and Mike and even as a bit of a shock to me, it’s been one of those progressions where friends gradually accumulate in a workplace.

We played the freeform demo style I’ve been having so much fun with since PAX. I hand out pregen second level characters with most everything filled in but name, one unique thing, backgrounds and icon relationships. Players create the story for their characters without sweating the mechanics. I don’t impose campaign-direction, everyone’s free to create their characters any way they like. Well, I did ask for the PCs to be more-or-less good guys, but as you’ll see, with this group that skewed towards or less. After an hour of character creation, I weave a sensible opening plot out of their diverse histories, something that will lead to combat, soon, we roll icon relationship dice to start the session with story-pointers, and away we go.

All character history notes in what follows are the players’ creations, their contributions to the storyline.

Sean played a dwarf gem salesman/bartender named Gnoff (Son of Grimmt; 14th of Clan Gnoppt) who’d gotten into the cleric business as a consequence of having his severed hand replaced by a holy ruby hand by a great hero. It wasn’t clear if the hero performed this transformational feat to reform Gnoff, reward him, or pay him back.

Lane played Lojan Kinslaver, a half-orc barbarian who was repenting for his previous slaver-ways by serving the High Druid on errands of liberation. Lane opted against creating a unique thing about his character because his backgrounds were already a twisted mess of betrayal, we left it open to be created during the session or to arrive in a hypothetical future.

Mike played a halfling rogue named Finn Dinder who stole the Ever-Burning Flame from the Tower of the Shapechangers. Hold a minute: the Red Tower of the Shapechangers. Not the Blue Tower. That’s entirely different. Finn was disappointed that the Ever-Burning Flame looked like a pretty normal candle. Boring. He sold the Ever-Burning Flame back to the same Red Tower Shapechanger wizards. That act was a perfect expression of his one unique thing; like the Prince of Shadows, Finn passes everything he steals on, it’s not about owning, it’s about thieving. (Dinder rhymes with ken….) So he was a great thief and a good fence. It was the resale activity that had introduced him to Gnoff of the Ruby Hand.

Fehlauer played a French-accented dark elf sorcerer named Henri Blanc who’d been the chief torturer in Drakkenhall. Henri hears pain as music. Henri creeped us all out with well-placed synaesthesia melodics. For example, once, while an adventurer had been performing (ick) for Henri, Henri learned that the Blue dragon was plotting with the Diabolist to unleash demons through the world. That was too much even for Henri, who became something of a traitor to the Three but was still kicking around the Drakkenhall area.

And then there was Jerry’s gnome bard. Jerry explained the basics of character, Maudlin W___. We all nodded. Then Jerry capped the explanation in fine storyteller style with the truth of what was going on and we all said “Ohhh....”in unison. Then I sat and thought about it for a moment. Yes, a character to think about. The great news is that Jerry’s gnome bard is going to be in 13 True Ways thanks to the magic ofKickstarter, so I’m not going to blab about what’s going on with Maudlin. It’s going to be a surprise.

The plot that took shape came as a surprise to me. Which is one thing I love about the way 13th Age has come together, the GM gets to be surprised like the players.

It turned out that the opposition were slavers from the Crusader muscling in on a hellhole north of Drakkenhall. Marching through the forests, the Crusader’s forces had taken slaves to throw against the hellhole’s ablative defenses. That irked Lojan. Earlier, Finn the thief had sold the Crusader slavers a flame-key he’d stolen from someone else. Now Maudlin turned out to need that key for his next, um, mission. (Everyone thought the ‘flame’ that would be needed was going to turn out to the flame that Finn had stolen earlier, but I poo-pooed that notion while half-agreeing…) So with Lojan’s enthusiastic prepwork, the group pitted itself against the slavers in a semi-ambush beside the Crusader camp.

Lojan’s prepwork included Lane throwing terrain all over the table! And then taking a photo of it...


Highlights of the battle were probably the moments when Maudlin the gnome bard sang the Song of Heroes while holding off two armored warriors on a boulder pile, singing about an earlier doughty hero of the Great Gold Wyrm who fought off an ogre (?). Maudlin made it so by casting spells while engaged, disregarding their feeble opportunity attacks to score critical hits with a spell he’d jacked from the sorcerer. Then he finished the job with his sword… and thanks to a successful storyline roll with the Great Gold Wyrm, Maudlin got a golden-spirit trace on the pouch of the warrior he took down, showing him that the key he needed was there.

Meanwhile the enemy’s spellcasting chanter made the huge mistake of approaching Henri the drow sorcerer where the sorcerer was perched in a tree. (If you squint, you can see Henri at the top of the right-hand tree in the photo!) The Crusader’s magician said something like, “Hello, fellow spellcaster,” and hit Henri with a set-up spell that did 3 points of damage. Henri had spent his previous turn in the tree gathering power. I don’t remember what Henri said in reply, but I know he sneered. He used his drow cruel ability to turn his lightning fork’s natural even attack into a crit and the enemy chanter exploded, starting with his armored Crusader gauntlet and sparking through his torso. Then Henri’s spell forked all over the battlefield (rolling and rolling even) and fried the two other strongest Crusader warriors, both of whom had been softened up already by the falchion/dagger/hammer of the barbarian/rogue/cleric.

I rule that the spell had been so powerful that Henri blew the tree apart underneath him. Fehlauer said that was a bullshit call and he was may have been right, I was roleplaying being sore about his ridiculous dice luck and the fact that I’d forgotten to bring more archers but really I was just impressed and wanted his sorcerer to blow things up even more. Especially since he’d started out by saying that he was ‘gathering power stealthily,’ which I happily pointed out was the opposite of anything he got to do as a flashbang sorcerer, particularly when he was gathering power by damaging his wounded enemies, drawing lines of power from them to his non-hiding spot up the tree.

So when the symphony of pain was finished, the remaining Crusader thugs put up minimal resistance. The highlight here was that I had inadvertently screwed Mike’s halfling rogue by failing to print out the improved version of the Shadowalk rules, so he had failed every time he tried to slip into shadows. I made a story angle out of the failure by saying that he was screwing up because the Ever Burning Flame of the Red Tower of the Shapechangers was back and burning over his head, serving as a beacon every time he tried to get away!

The group finished the battle with several of its members realizing that the icons pulling Maudlin’s strings weren’t who they claimed to be… and that the key they’d obtained from the Crusader was in fact a key to the hidden gate of the hellhole the Crusaders were attacking… and that Maudlin’s next mission involved the mistress of the balor who ruled the hellhole.

With just a bit more time I would have been able to pull off a mask to show what happens when you steal from Shapechangers, but Finn was already have enough trouble coming to terms with the candle burning over his head and there was a limit to the torture that could be brought to bear in an hour and fifteen minutes of play, even if that torture played out like a sweet-flowing Song of Heroes. 

Robin Laws in 13 True Ways


Any moment now, when Kickstarter pushes the 13 True Waysbook over $64K, Jonathan Tweet and Robin D. Laws and I will be working together again for the first time.

Jonathan and Robin have worked together, most notably on Over the Edge.  Robin and I have worked together from my first paid gig writing an adventure for Pandemonium through Nexus/Feng Shui/Shadowfist for Daedalus and King of Dragon Pass for A-Sharp and 4e books like Underdark and Plane Above. And of course Jonathan and I have collaborated on a bunch of games, those happy collaborations are why we undertook 13th Age.

But unless I’m forgetting something, Robin and Jonathan and I have never all worked together on the same big project at the same time. The success of the 13 True Ways Kickstarter has enabled us to bring Robin aboard. I sent him a list of four possible subjects to round out the book, Robin chose to write about the world’s idiosyncratic devils (bizarre individual personalities distinct from the demons who only want to destroy) and the intricacies of three courts, one of men, one of elves, and one of monsters.

The 13 True Ways book is mapping bigger and better than we hoped. Thanks to Robin joining up, this burst of big/better isn’t going to mean ‘slower.’

And assuming we hit the slightly higher target, Robin will also be joining the previously scheduled back-and-forth designer dialogue between me and Jonathan wherever that works out through the rest of the book! We expect Robin to bring the wit-punches. Or maybe he’ll just agree with everything we say, demurely. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Monk, necromancer, occultist


The monk and the necromancer are definitely in 13 True Ways. The occultist is more of a Hail Mary stretch goal (well, the diabolic equivalent of the Hail Mary).



The monk: Early 13th Age playtests and various versions of the Escalation Edition showed the over-the-top direction we’re taking the monk. Once or twice Jonathan has argued for a less flamboyant version of the monk, something more like a martial artist, which would certainly be possible but not as much fun as what I’m headed for. I’ve won the argument by pointing out that JoT never plays monks, no matter what type of story/mechanics they have. I am always drawn towards the monk but often frustrated by mechanics. So our monk unapologetically feels like a character from a different tradition, using opening attacks, flow attacks, and finishing attacks in sequences that build in power and compose (barely passable) haikus. We’ll get the balance right in 13 True Ways. The fun is already there.

The necromancer: Here is another class summoned by the story of 13th Age. The Lich King used to be the Wizard King. He’s got a whole lot of arcana-jitsu and these days it’s all tied up in dead things. Maybe PC necromancers can siphon away the Lich King’s power and use it for their own ends.  

I’ve wanted to do a necromancer class for awhile. It’s good to be able to approach the necromancer in a system that lets classes diverge, since I’m not certain of all the places the design will lead.

The necromancer will also affect the monsters that appear in 13 True Ways. So when y’all ponied up $37,500 as a stretch goal for an RPG that hasn’t been published yet, well, you brought some undead monsters aboard along with the necromancer.

The occultist: This is the top-line stretch goal at the moment and would represent a stretch for both the backers and the designers. It will be interesting design work to make a class that lives up to connections with the Diabolist while playing differently than the wizard, sorcerer, necromancer and chaos shaman. Handling it now when we’ve got the team of me and Jonathan and Lee and Aaron would be a great thing, we could accomplish some design and artistic maneuvers that aren’t as likely later on. Given the amazing support we’ve been getting from increased pledges, new pledges, new dungeon backers, new legendary bard backers… we’re certainly stretching a pseudopod toward the figure on top of the pyramid.    

[[Art/Minis: The blue-robed necromancer and the red-robed occultist were painted by Richard Bark. I believe they are both old Ral Partha minis. The monk with his back to the camera appears to be an old Shang-Chi figure, I bought it from the WotC library when it sold off many of its old minis. Maybe Steve Winter knows who painted it....]]

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Battle captain, chaos shaman, druid


There are nine character classes in the 13th Age core book. Four new classes are definitely appearing in the first expansion book, 13 True Ways. Two more classes, the battle captain and occultist, could be added as stretch goals for the Kickstarter.

It takes a lot of work to do a new class right, particularly when we’re also committed to handling multiclassing. I suggested the two new classes as stretch goals for 13 True Ways because they would make the book into something bigger and better than I could have hoped.

I’m going to say a few words about each class that appears (or might appear) in 13 True Ways, three at a time. Let’s start with the battle captain, chaos shaman, and druid.

Battle Captain


Originally Jonathan and I were planning to let the bard fill the role of “healer who gives people orders.” But obviously bards are more than that. And the warlord’s approach to commander-style healing seems to resonate with many players. So I started thinking about how we’d do the mechanics for this type of class in 13th Age. I came up with some answers I liked, at which point it seemed obvious to add a warlord-style character to the list of stretch goals.

Who remembers the marshal class that appeared in the Miniatures Handbook that Jonathan and I helped design for 3e? Hand that gamer the ancestral badge of obscure discernment. The marshal was an important antecedent for the warlord. I’m not saying the battle captain is going that route. But I thought I’d mention that the warlord wasn’t the first commander in the squad. Definitely the first martial healer commander in the squad though. I imagine that adventuring parties led by a warlord would have a bit of trouble going back to a marshal: “What do you mean that you can give us orders but you can’t let us heal? Arrgh!”


Chaos Shaman


I’m fond of occasionally random mechanics. This fondness can be a strength when I figure out how a particular section of the gaming audience isn’t being served by mechanics that are too cut-and-dried. It can be a weakness when I let randomness get in the way of actions that should be straightforward. Well, the chaos shaman is going to be an unapologetic class for people who prefer to play on the ragged edge of WTF instead of the cautious curve of well-ordered priorities. It’s likely to present a very different way to play. Some people will love it. Others, not so much, which means part of the design challenge is to make sure that people who don’t want to play a chaos shaman have no problem playing with a chaos shaman.

In the story of 13th Age, the chaos shaman is a tradition of magic kept alive by the High Druid and now invigorated by the reappearance of the Orc Lord. Classes that make more sense of connections with problematic icons are part of what 13 True Ways is about. You may not need to be a half-orc to be a chaos shaman, but it might help.


Druid


It killed me to have the High Druid as one of our thirteen icons and not be able to get the druid into the original book. But my design goals for the druid were a bit too ambitious to be finished working in the initial phase of this project. We needed to nail the system down before mastering the stunts we hope to  pull with the druid. We’re tinkering with themes that have always been in stories involving druids but haven’t shown up in druid class mechanics. I’m happy to get a chance to take a deep breath, go over the whole thing with Jonathan, and carve the druid into shape.

[[About the art/minis in this post: Richard Bark painted the battle captain; I think it may be a Glorantha mini, but I’m not certain. // I’m also not entirely certain what the chaos shaman is going to look like, it will be fun to work that out with Aaron & Lee. So I chose three minis that might triangulate the chaos shaman concept. The two on the flanks are also painted by Richard Bark, Peter Lee painted the Ral Partha magician in the center. // The druid mini is the Ravencloak Visionary that I wrote the art suggestion for in Dreamblade. Perhaps it was tacky to set myself up with a mini I knew I wanted but couldn’t quite get created through D&D Miniatures. Logan Bonner offset the tackiness by painting the mini up for me to game with, the original is monochrome.]]  

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

2 Serendipities



1
Last week my aunt and cousin visited from Wisconsin.
They drove through Oregon and visited my mother's grave in Springfield.
They ran and laughed and dodged through the cemetery, scattering in four directions every thirty seconds
because all the sprinklers were on and they were big powerful sprinklers, not the kind you want to get blasted by the whole hit.
Eventually the older generation accepted its fate and stood stoic in the spray, but the younger generation kept dodging.
A wonderful visit to my mom's grave.
I can't decide, now, if Mom would have kept dodging the water or taken the hit, if she'd been there.
When she had her mobility she liked a challenge.
But she was always the first person to say "It's only water," and accept the rain or a splashing.

2
Our friend Steve has organized or run the Cereal Thrillers breakfast cereal bar at Burning Man for years.
We helped the first year since it had somehow turned out to be my idea, but haven't been back.
This was the best year ever for Cereal Thrillers.
There are dozens of stories from this year I don't know yet, but the one I heard came from Dreamblade minis.
Every other year I've supplied a case or two of Dreamblade minis (and early on, some D&D minis as well) to be inserted in the cereal boxes as prizes. Shake a cereal box, get a freaky miniature from humanity's dreamscape, the cereal barista gets to tell a little story about the newly discovered creature.
When I started running out of minis, my olde Dreamblade co-creator Jonathan helped with a case or three.
But this year I was out. No more Dreamblade minis to give away as prizes.
Then Steve found a full case of Dreamblade sitting on the bar at Burning Man and thought it was something Jonathan had brought.
No. It was a gift from a man sitting and eating his cereal.
He had loved getting the Dreamblade minis in his cereal two other years, so this year he decided to bring a case of his own to contribute to the cereal bar.
So the tradition continues.


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Song for the Elf Queen



 I wrote a few lines on gaming art that appear on the wall at the Art of Roleplaying Games exhibit at Krab JabStudio.

Before I was a gamer, children’s books and historical illustrations sparked my sense of wonder. I spent hours daydreaming over favorite paintings, imagining that I was canoeing through a lushly textured Maine swamp (The Summer Folk) or landing on the beach beside the Vikings (Time Life History of the Ancient World).

Not surprisingly, gaming eventually absorbed some of my daydreaming time. But I still daydreamed over gaming illustrations, putting myself into the adventuring party outside Morno's Skull Tower when there was no one to join me at the table.  

When I’m writing art suggestions for games, I imagine that a kid somewhere is going to daydream their own solo game through the pictures that result. Dense possibilities, many entry points, active magic, mysteries—these can all matter as much as what’s supposedly the focus. 

I've loved working on 13th Age with Aaron McConnell and Lee Moyer because we’re creating dense and daydream-worthy art. Take this sample layout (using old text) from the bard character class as an example. You can see from the way I wrote the art suggestion that I wasn’t sure the piece would come off. Getting fully successful magic effects that match your own vision from a talented artist whose vision is probably on its own track? It’s tough.

Icon Notation
Possible high concept illustration.
The point would be to show an elven druid playing a musical instrument.
The notes are visible magic coming out of the instrument. 
Some look like classic musical notation.
Others look like stars joined by the Elf Queen’s face.
This would fit incredibly well with the game mechanics. Don’t know if it can be done.
Could be small or large as Aaron desires.

Icon Notation turned out better than I dreamt. It’s beautiful, it flows, Aaron used the full-page instead of piping small, and it’s a perfect 13th Age illustration of a bard using the Balladeer talent to sing the praises of the Elf Queen. This partnership has me excited about finding new (or simply wonderful!) ways to illustrate fantasy tropes. I’ll show some more samples of Aaron and Lee's work on 13th Age before the 13 True Ways Kickstarter is through. I’m hoping that the Kickstarter works and we’ll be able to create more active magic. http://bit.ly/13TrueWays

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

On the track of the Koru behemoths


I didn’t add this to the official Kickstarter promises at http://bit.ly/13TrueWays, but one thing I’m dying to do in the 13True Ways book for 13th Age is a map of the carved and magical back of a Koru behemoth.

Koru behemoths were a wonderful suggestion from Keith Baker when Jonathan and Keith and I started doing initial concepting on 13th Age. Yes, Keith was involved in the earliest days of 13th Age, and he contributed greatly to notions including the Elf Queen’s position as ruler of three cultures, the Crusader’s role as the champion of the dark gods, and the icon who became the Prince of Shadows. Keith’s biggest contribution coincidentally shares his initials.    

From the 13th Age book: The Koru behemoths are a widely scattered population of twelve to twenty enormous eight-legged creatures from the dawn of the world. They look something like a cross between an elephant and a turtle, but each behemoth has grown in different ways and reshaped its shell carapace to suit itself, so no two look alike. The behemoths are so large that it’s difficult to form an accurate opinion of what an entire behemoth looks like since you can only see one angle at a time.

These town-or-city-sized beasts migrate counter-clockwise around the fringes of the Dragon Empire. On our map you can run your finger over the approximate path the behemoths follow as they curve around the Empire. Nothing, not even the Diabolist, the Three, or the Archmage messes with a Koru behemoth.

Therefore the behemoths’ great shelled backs make splendid homes for nomads, barbarians, monsters, and magicians. Magical rituals allow some groups to create permanent homes on the behemoths, less successful settlers only last a season or half a circle. Jonathan and I make a few suggestions for what might be on behemoths’ backs in the 13th Age book but it’s another area where we don’t want to say too much. We think it’s more fun for GMs to come up with their own behemoth societies and plotlines instead of picking and choosing from our ideas. We’ve seen some great examples already, including a traveling city of thieves in a game run by Martin Killmann, as he wrote up in early playtest feedback:

“When I read about the Koru Behemoth, I came up with an entire city on one - I call it Red Lantern City. It's on the back of a giant turtle. During the day, when the turtle is moving, the city is asleep, but it awakes at night, when the turtle rests.
“As a moving target, nobody can claim authority over it, and so it became a self-organizing city run by the guild council, primarily the Wizard Guild (public engineering and services) and Thieves' Guild (law enforcement). It's pretty crammed, but public transportation is offered by flying carpets.
“Main sources of income are narcotics, prostitution and gambling, which are offered to any city that the Behemoth passes. It's also a haven for bohemians and exiled artists.”

Ah, exiled artists. Warms my bohemian heart, it does. If the Kickstarter goes through and we get to work with Lee Moyer and Aaron McConnell on art again, I’m going to turn Lee’s skills in bizarre-mapping and Aaron’s talents in draw-anything to illustrate the back of a Koru behemoth. I may still decide NOT to illustrate the behemoth itself, maybe that should be left to  the imagination. But a behemoth-back would show off a truly unusual champion-tier environment, something that GMs will be able to borrow pieces of as visuals for their own campaign even if they don’t want to play the full map.

We’ll have the same philosophy about the maps of the overworld and forests in the book. The point will be to provide maps that can inspire daydreams as well as games, maps that give you the feeling that you could find your way around in this fantasy world while still being surprised.

And in a perfect world, although Keith’s not involved with this incarnation of the Koru, he’ll have another take on them in a project of his own . . . . soon.

Friday, August 24, 2012

13th Age at GenCon, 13th Age at PAX


I had enormous fun running games and freeform demos of 13th Age at GenCon. On the way I met…

… a halfling with a clockwork heart made by the dwarves who revealed his extra gear when it came time to snatch the treasure

…an elven ranger who’d lost his eyes to faulty justice and received two opals from the Elf Queen in recompense so that he is now known as the Queen’s Eyes

…the five favorite sons of the Imperial party circuit in Axis (as close to the Brat Pack as I can imagine running in my serious-adventure versions of 13th Age!)

...another group of PCs who sorted themselves more or less into bandits and pursuers, so that I could start the action with a Spaghetti Western style face-off with icon relationship rolls complicating the backstory until the real bandits attacked

…a pyromaniac wood elf who turned out to mainly be burning out temples and cultists of the Diabolist thanks to the guidance of the Crusader, but was too tight-lipped to bother explaining that to horrified onlookers

…a halfling acrobat who’d managed to perform his way out of the Diabolist’s Circus of Hell (I hadn’t known there was a Circus of Hell!)

…another halfling rogue who was a dealthless pirate whose soul is trapped by the Blue in Drakkenhall

…an impolitic lady-in-waiting of the Imperial Court more suited to smiting monsters and rival courtiers with her awesome Golden Monastery skills

…and a dwarf cleric/explorer who found it in his heart to overcome a life spent subjugating nature to open himself to the power of the High Druid just in time to get the boost he needed to be flung from the ground by earth elementals and put the hammer-smack onto the imp escaping with the Emperor’s Earrings (…that were about to returned to the Dwarf King, since the rest of the party didn’t have a bead on the treasure!)

The One Unique Thing element of character creation, along with the backgrounds and the icon relationship roll mechanics, mean that every game of 13th Age gets to surprise the GM as much as it surprises the players. I left the convention inspired and happy instead of tired the way I sometimes am after running demos that are variations on the same theme.

Of course there were other wonderful One Unique Things and backgrounds generated by players, but I hesitate to write them all out now. The happiness of people creating their character’s unique story isn’t aided by me saying, “Oh yeah, I’ve run another game where someone did something similar.” I know that in the long, or even the short run, people will be sharing loads of stories about their characters, just for this moment I’m content not to record full lists. 

We will be running more two hour demos at PAX next weekend. I’ll be there on Friday and Sunday as part of our demo team that will be running all weekend. We use pre-generated characters that leave all the fun story stuff to the players to create in the first hour of the demo: UniqueThing, backgrounds, icon relationships. I’m gonna see if we can work with the same sort of freeform experience that works with what the players bring to the table. It may be tough for GMs who aren’t as fluid with the game or it may work out perfectly, we’ll see.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

13 True Ways: a 13th Age expansion book

We are at GenCon. I'll be at the Pelgrane booth often during the convention, Jonathan is flying in later tonight.

Simultaneously we've started a Kickstarter drive for 13 True Ways, a 13th Age roleplaying sourcebook by the original team of me and Jonathan and Lee and Aaron.



It's at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/fireopalmedia/13th-age-expansion-book-13-true-ways-0

The video attached to the Kickstarter may have a couple fun moments even for people who aren't so much into gaming. For the record, while I am now on video accepting the appeal of tyrannosaurus rex, I'm personally on the side of triceratops.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Krab Jab RPG art show

This post won't do quite as much good if you're not living in Seattle. But you could also see the show if you come to PAX and its big gather-all-artists evening is just before PAX. The opening gathering is tonight at the Georgetown studio Chris Pramas shares with Julie Baroh and Mark Tedin and others. 

Aaron McConnell and Lee Moyer got four (maybe five) pieces from 13th Age into the show and are also going to be selling prints. I believe they are pieces no one has seen yet, striking work at a great size. 

The line-up of artists showing work is amazing. I'm excited for this show, especially since I rarely get to spend enough time in the art hall at GenCon. And yesterday I got to contribute a small wall-blurb on fantasy art from a game designer's perspective. Make time to visit. 






Friday, August 3, 2012

The Archmage Engine! Or, How to Publish 13th Age Compatible Stuff

A creative flame.
Arcane mastery.
A hint of guile.


We’re creating 13th Age under the Open Game License because we think the OGL is the right way to play well with others.  

We are working out the interactions between Fire Opal Media, Pelgrane Press, and people who want to publish things related to 13th Age using the OGL. As a result, some of what I’m about to say in this post may change, but in broad outlines, here’s what’s going on. Those of you who care less about technical details may find your eyes glazing over the deeper you go, so I’ve tried to put the good stuff on top.

Right now, people who want to use our game mechanics can use them so long as they comply with the OGL. It’s sweet to ask us permission and tell us what you are up to, the way the folks using using 13th Age mechanics in the Last Stand and The Bestiary of the Curiously Odd Kickstarter projects did; but you technically don’t have to ask us permission to use the mechanics.  

So if you want to publish your setting and your original icons with our mechanics? Go for it, and use the Archmage Engine logo above (thank you, Lee Moyer!) to identify your work as being compatible with 13th Age.  You can also say “Compatible with 13th Age” on the cover of your book. However, the 13th Age logo itself is part of our product identity, and therefore not available to use without our permission.

People who want to publish professional material that makes use of our product identity material in 13th Age will need to ask Pelgrane Press for permission. Email Simonwork@profantasy.com until Simon tells us a different address he’d like used. This permission applies to both initial permission to do the work and final approval of the text. Magazine articles, for example, fall under this category, and are likely to be published with a line saying something like

13th Age and the Icons [plus other elements that might be in the article] are trademarks of Fire Opal Media. This article published by agreement with Pelgrane Press Ltd.

Using our artwork with permission might also be possible, and if used would include a notice like so:
Artwork copyright ©2012 Fire Opal Media Ltd

Shortly after 13th Age is fully published we will publish a System Resource Document to help people sort out which parts of 13th Age are open game mechanics, and which parts are product identity that can’t be used without written permission.

The SRD will sort through what are open game mechanics and what is our product identity. A starting point is in the notice at the front of the Escalation Edition of the game, which presently identifies our product identity as: All trademarks, registered trademarks, proper names (characters, icons, place names, new deities, etc.), dialogue, banter and comments from Jonathan and Rob, plots, story elements, locations, characters, artwork, and trade dress.

We’ll also come out with some form of friendly policy statement to allow fans to talk about and use our world and setting details on blog posts and fanzines, without having to worry about asking permission. I don’t know exactly what that statement looks like, but picture something terrible and restrictive and then imagine the opposite. We’ll do the opposite.

If there are aspects of the situation this blog post didn’t cover, wiser heads will deal with them shortly.

…and for the souls who perceive the oddities of OGL interaction with product identity, yes, it is a tiny bit odd that we’re using the symbol of the Archmage, which is otherwise part of our product identity, to anchor the logo for the game’s engine. But what the heck. The symbol looks good, it should communicate to players of 13th Age, and given the enthusiasm we’ve seen from Team Archmage we’re happy to share the symbol in this respect. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Fire Opal Media & 13th Age


June 22, 2012

Dear gamers, 13th Age playtesters, and friends, 

Last week, Simon Rogers and Pelgrane Press started selling pre-orders for 13th Age through the Pelgrane store. It’s time I wrote a note about the business side of the creation of 13th Age

If you are only concerned with game design and gameplay issues, you'll want to skip this note. Its final point will be to explain what I know about the possible trajectories of 13th Age, including, of all things, a Facebook game. But first I'm going to explain those possibilities by introducing the company that has created the project, Fire Opal Media.


How We Started Fire Opal Media
Jay Schneider and I didn’t work together at Wizards of the Coast but we knew each other’s work. I’d designed roleplaying games, card games, and miniatures games while at WotC. Jay had worked as a designer leading the team that put Duels of the Planeswalkers on Xbox. When we found ourselves as free agents in the middle of 2010, Jay and I decided to collaborate on a new electronic game design.

My first concept for a game convinced Jay he wanted to work with me. Then Jay came up with a much better idea. We recruited two other friends as founders: a business guy, Gerald Linn, and our technical director, Louis Towles. 

Our next decision set us on an unusual path. We didn't have the money to fund an electronic game. We didn't like the way game companies were usually set up, with rewards flowing mainly to investors and people who handled money rather than the people who did the work. Instead of looking for investment money, we decided to set ourselves up as a game design co-operative. 

We also took the ambitious position that we could finish our first electronic game in 14 weeks. We called ourselves 14WeekHobby. Oh utopian dreams. 

So we ended up with around 30 freelancers in various parts of the country working for sweat equity on an electronic game that struck each of those people as a worthwhile risk. 

The good news is that this 14Week game is still ticking slowly along, closer to reality every month, still being labored on via a bizarre sweat equity coding team that is making it work. The bad news, if you do the math, is that 14 weeks was a nutso deadline and 14 months didn't work either, and so on. Our 14Week game should come to fruition some day but I don't know when. Normally you have to be a somewhat big/or-at-least-funded company to successfully publish an electronic game of any ambition, but the excitement of working together on something that could be big has carried us this far. We say that those of us still working on these projects for Fire Opal in their off-hours and in late-night team sessions have 'the pajama gene.' 

Of course 14WeekHobby was never our real name. Especially not 28 weeks later. So we teamed up with my friend Lee Moyer and put together a name and logo and identity as Fire Opal Media. 

Then we determined that it was nigh impossible to set ourselves up as a true cooperative because the laws for co-ops are mainly set up for agricultural products, not game design. So instead of taking a turn into dairy-farming, we've restructured ourselves as a game design corporation where nearly everyone is working for sweat equity. All of us working on Fire Opal projects end up as part-owners of what we create.

13th Age
While our developers and computer programmers were working on the 14Week game, there wasn’t much point in doing more ambitious electronic game design. I turned to non-electronic designs. One of those projects turned into Epic Spell Wars, a freelance gig for Cryptozoic. But what I most wanted was to take advantage of the fact that Jonathan Tweet and I played D&D together every Wednesday night. Jonathan and I could work together to design the game we would most want to play together.

Jonathan and I have been friends for years. Working together again was natural. Since Fire Opal Media isn't interested in being a tabletop rpg publisher, we were looking at teaming up with Pelgrane as the publisher from the start. 

What Fire Opal was interested in was an IP that it could use for games on other platforms. Most of the Fire Opal coders were busy working on 14Weeks, but we had a great new programmer named John Hodgson who needed something to work on. We all had enjoyed the Tiny Adventures game that WotC made for Facebook and then shut down. We decided to try making our own simple Facebook game for 13th Age. It doesn’t have its official name yet, so for now let’s call it 13FBG.

13FBG is a low-impact text-based adventure game for Facebook using a version of the 13th Age IP. Jonathan originally ran the project, then he got hired by Amazon and had to stop working on 13FBG, so I took over while working on 13th Age. I believe in making individual games fit their medium instead of trying to represent precisely the same reality, so this Facebook game uses 13th Age icons and classes as a framework, but really, the background story and world are most of what the games have in common. The game has some cool new ideas. But the reasons Jonathan and I are passionate about making 13th Age as a tabletop game that inspires every player and GM to go wild with their campaign? None of that translates over to this electronic Facebook game. 

I originally viewed the 13th Age rpg as art I wanted to accomplish, a labor of love. I thought it might be good business, but I wasn't sure. I thought that the 14Weeks game or maybe 13FBG would surface as the stronger business push of the company. 

Fast-forward to now, where I find that 13th Age, the labor of love project that we *attempted* to create as self-encapsulated seems likely to spawn at least a bit of a game line. And 13th Age is being published soon while the electronic games that Fire Opal started long ago are still coding their way toward reality. 

Plans & Possibilities
So here's the probable future as I know it. 

First, we are going to publish 13th Age through Pelgrane as soon as it's well-finished. I have 690+ pages of playtest feedback I'm digging through and accounting for. Y’all took the time to point out the problems. We owe it to you to think about them and improve what needs improving before we publish. We're working on it. We wanted to publish the game by GenCon but no, that’s not going to happen. The first priority has to be making the book great. Schedule will slip instead of quality.

Second, at some point we are going to figure out how to make an expansion book for 13th Age using the same team, me and Jonathan (design) and Lee Moyer and Aaron McConnell (art). The finances of our present sweat-equity reality may well push us toward Kickstarter for that, especially since we have an idea or two for how Kickstarter could interact with the book marvelously.

Third, I know that Pelgrane wants to publish other books for the line including adventures and.... well I shouldn't speak Simon's mind. I am going to be as involved with these books as I can be, in one case I believe I'll be the main designer. The Pelgrane-initiated books aren't likely to have art from Lee and Aaron; other artists will be getting in on the act. 

Fourth, we are figuring out how to participate in the OGL while holding on to the story elements of the game as our intellectual property. 

Fifth, our sweat equity model *seems* capable of pushing the Facebook game 13FBG out into the world sometime later this year; partially because our programmers rock. Partially because Gregory Marques who handled Tiny Adventures once upon a time is now running it. Partially because great writers like Logan Bonner, Greg Stolze, and Tracy Hurley have signed on to help write the adventures. And partially because we will cunningly re-use as much of the art from 13th Age as possible to illustrate the online game. 

So there is a lot going on. 

My first priority is finishing the 13th Age rpg. I love the process of getting this done right. 

For now, other Fire Opal people like Wade Rockett and Jonathan Tweet will probably be speaking more about 13th Age than me. When 13th Age is done I hope to be more in touch with social media and with the playtesters who have sent wonderful adventures, great graphic treatments, fun write-ups, and pictures of toenail painting sessions occurring mid-combat. 

Yours in the whirl, 

Rob Heinsoo
Lead Designer, Fire Opal Media

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Richard Garfield on Epic Spell Wars

While revising the cleric for 13th Age on Friday night I got a mightily surprising text message. Richard Garfield texted to say that he had put up a podcast on Epic Spell Wars and that he hoped I liked it. Umm, yes, I do! The link is here.

The podcast is funny and thoughtful. Richard observes that ESWOTBWDAMS is a game where what you see on the cover is exactly what you get from the art, components and gameplay. From a general game design perspective, Richard talks most about the tension between player interaction and intrusive player politicking. I was happy that Richard zeroed in on the way Epic Spell Wars handles politics, a subtle element of the design that doesn't always get noticed.

Richard describes ESW as a party game, which I think is right. I recently asked people preparing press releases for 13th Age to stop referring to the design of Epic Spell Wars as "critically acclaimed." Critically acclaimed felt wrong to me. Acclaimed by people who like to laugh and have fun, that seems accurate. I'm extremely happy that Richard is one of the people in that camp!

Richard's podcast ends with a children's section where he quizzes his son and another kid on their favorite characters and moments in the game. Very sweet. So I thought I'd sign off by sharing this thank you note I got from two kids, Wayan & Nils, who we gifted with a copy of the game early on.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The New Map

I have a new piece of art by Lee Moyer hanging on the wall above my computer monitor to inspire work on 13th Age. It came in especially handy while working through Chapter 8: THE DRAGON EMPIRE with the editor.


The top-right piece in the photo above is the map for 13th Age, captured during a rare moment of sun in Seattle. I'm  overjoyed to have the map above me. Printing the big version was worth it. It won't be in the book at this size but who can say what the future holds?

As to the rest of the art currently on my work-wall, I suspect many of you will recognize one or two of the other pieces but I'm not sure how many people will recognize all four from what's visible.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

+4 Amulet of Mighty Fists


Once upon a time in Elysombra, toward the 2/3rds mark of Jonathan Tweet’s epic 3e campaign, I switched from playing Sigurd, the dwarf fighter who’d taken a level of cleric to better understand Primus’ will, to playing a half-dragon gnome psychic warrior named Dzhay who maintained an illusion of looking like a jailbait Pippi Longstockings until she tore someone’s throat out with her camouflaged silver-dragon teeth.

Dzhay plundered the Psionic Handbook and came out loaded for war. For this, and for abandoning Sigurd, and for somehow talking the notoriously stingy DM into gifting me with a full load of good magic items, I achieved campaign infamy.

Which did not lessen the second time our party got gacked trying to destroy a particular naga-infested Temple of Evil.  We’d been hit by overwhelming barrages of empowered fireballs and lightning bolts, some cast by nagas and some cast by our own frickin’wizard, who’d had  the courtesy to ask whether Dzhay could take a hit from a fireball but did not entirely listen to the answer. The answer had been no, not so much, and especially not with a disintegrate spell on the way from the nagas.

So Dzhay was toasted and Jonathan gleefully turned to determining the fate of the magic items she had been carrying. Old school baby! First I rolled saves for the stuff she used, then I turned to rolling for the items that she kept in her backpack. When I mentioned that it looked my +4 amulet of mighty fists had been destroyed, Mark Jessup, playing the party’s abused but beloved monk, Ta-Wei Shek, nearly spit out his teeth. “You have a +4 amulet of mighty fists? And you keep it in your backpack?”

“Yeah, the enchantment I get from [one-or-the-other-of-the-cheezy-and-near-permanent-psychic-warrior-tricks-I-was-using] is better…Uh-oh.”

“Augh! Augh! +4 amulet of mighty fists! Do you know what Ta-Wei is using? A +2. Augh! Augh!”

Guilty. Guilty and oblivious. And in no position to correct the error.

This, and other slights and fiascoes, eventually led Mark to utter the despondent war cry we forever associate with his flamboyant yet strangely ineffective characters: “I’m 76 hit points you don’t have to lose.”

Although to be fair, in the final act of our heroes’ mortal existence, Ta Wei-Shek climbed the head of the world’s greatest red dragon, Vaerm, and punched her in the brain, no +4 amulet required. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Doom!


When Lee Moyer and Keith Baker started their Kickstarter for the excellent Doom that Came to Atlantic City boardgame, I felt there was something missing. A few things, actually. Despair. Desperation. The mounting pressure of inevitable torment.

But now that the game is meeting and exceeding its stretch goals one-after-another, now the torment arrives. As I seek to work with Lee on the art for 13th Age, he is called upon again and again to reach deep within his withered septum to scrape another pewter benefit out onto the Kickstarter ladle. Let it be so.

I love this game. In a previous incarnation I no longer clearly recall, I contributed ideas to the game that its creators deemed worthwhile. Don’t let that put you off. It is more fun than capitalism and less destructive to your friendship circles than the OC (Original Cults). Although it appears to be a luck-based move-around-the-board adventure, there’s quite a bit of skill involved in actually winning, as the wins-to-losses ratio of the verdammt Keith Baker has proven in games I have been privileged to lose. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

At the Sign of the Happy Harpy


We had an amazing family vacation for two weeks just as I was turning over the 2nd playtest draft of 13th Age. We spent two weeks in Turkey, starting with four days in the carved rock of Cappadocia, where I typed the new echo spell notes for the wizard listening to the night call of the muezzin bouncing off a fortress rock named the Castle of Uchisar. Then we drove south and west along the coast, hiking in ruins and swimming in the Mediterranean before catching aflight to Istanbul for a final four days of museums and bazaars.
In Kalkan, we stayed in a sweet hotel that we thought was named the Harpy Hotel. But half its logos and signs said the Happy Hotel. Which was it? Well it started as the Harpy Hotel. As witnessed by the Harpy Stele at the nearby ruins of Xanthos, the local harpies were conceived as benevolent spirits, winged women who took the souls of dead children to heaven. Huh. Dead children, well, I guess that’s the human condition. Heaven is good, at least.
But every week a hotel guest mentioned that as far as they knew, harpies were monsters. Eventually the hotel acknowledged its PR error. The owner’s name includes a Turkish word for happy, so the new name is a double-entendre that most guests won’t realize.  
As we were checking out I decided to take one last look at email since it seemed likely we wouldn’t have access that night. I had a surprise present, the first 13th Age monster tile I’d seen from the Diabolist, sent over by Lee Moyer who’d finished the tile from Aaron McConnell’s rough pencils. And yeah, the moment we were checking out from the Happy/Harpy Hotel, Lee sent over the harpy.

I had my laptop in hand as we checked out and showed the art to the concierge, saying “You know all those people who turned the harpy into a monster and made you change the name of your hotel? I make games. I’m part of your problem.”
For those of you reading this entry for information on 13th Age instead of keeping up with my synchronicity highway vacations, here’s the scoop on our monster tiles. Preparing the art order, I mulled over the fact that our monster selection for the 13th Age book deliberately sticks close to d20 norms. Therefore most of our monsters have been extremely well-illustrated multiple times. And recently. What were we going to add? Did our audience really need another monster-format illustration of a gnoll? An otyugh, even? There had to be a more interesting approach. So I turned to the strengths of our setting: what if the monsters could be represented by control glyphs created by the Archmage? That way the monster illustrations would be different and say something useful about the world. Maybe I’d put together a card game using the glyphs. Maybe the game would correspond to a game played by wizards. 
I talked the idea over with Lee Moyer. Mr. Value-Added, I call him. Once Lee began experimenting with the glyphs, he suggested that we rank the monsters with icons they might be associated with instead of giving the Archmage all the credit. Of course! Each monster or monster type appears on a form of tile, stone, gem or plaque associated with one of the icons. The Diabolist’s tiles are all shaped like the harpy tile, a shape you'll recognize from the icon's illustration. On the Diabolist’s other tiles, instead of a harpy you’ll get a hezrou or dretch or balor. But the Elf Queen’s tiles look nothing like the Diabolist’s tiles, ditto for the High Druid and each of the other icons associated with a few of the monsters.
Lee nailed this project. We’ll share more monster tiles soon!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Kill Tokens: short play variant for Epic Spell Wars


Epic Spell Wars awards victory to the first player to win two Last Wizard Standing tokens. But playing with four or five players, it can take five to six games for the magic second win, and that’s too long a game for some people.
   If you want to play a set number of games and come away with a definite winner, or you suspect the game may have to end early, try this variant rule.
   Every time you play a spell (or use a treasure, however you do it) and knock a rival wizard out of the game, you win a Kill token. One spell kills three enemy wizards? That’s three Kill tokens. If the game has to end before someone has won two Last Wizard Standing tokens, break the tie between people with one LSW token apiece by counting Kill tokens. If that’s still a tie, heck, I say let them tie. (Haven’t had a tie yet…)
   The play pattern shifts a bit in a good way. Players recognize that getting a kill may end up helping them win, so there is more point to going out in a blaze of glory.
   You don’t score a Kill token for taking yourself out, but if you can take yourself out you prevent a foe from getting the kill. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Bravo for the Lords of Waterdeep



Lords of Waterdeep deserves the acclaim it’s getting in the boardgame world. For detailed reviews, see Boardgame Geek and elsewhere on the net. Rodney Thompson and Peter Lee created the design in their free time before selling WotC on the idea. The published game lives up to their original vision.
    I had to wait a bit longer than I liked to play my first game. But after my first two-player game, I arranged games four days straight. The last [non-narcissistic!] boardgame I wanted to play so steadily was Dominion. I’m as fond of Lords of Waterdeep.
    If I have a problem with the game it’s that I’m better at it than I am at Dominion. I've won five of six games of LoW, though that might qualify as ludicrous trash talk given some of the two and four point margins of victory I’m crowing about. Even so, that’s a victory record that makes games harder to play in my family. Lisa loves Dominion because she can count on a better than 50% chance to kick my ass.
   I've played LoWwith friends who know little about the Forgotten Realms and in a couple cases nothing about D&D. They talk of the adventurers in the game as ‘orange’ and ‘black,’ the colors of the cubes, instead of calling them fighters and rogues. When I asked my brother if he was going to finish a quest one turn he said, “Well, it looks like I’m going to Discover a Hidden Temple of Laugh-Out-Loud-th.” But even people playing the game as a series of actions designed to acquire cubes of a certain color and cash them in for victory points enjoy the game immensely.
    The more a player knows about D&D the more they catch the flavor. And if you know the Forgotten Realms, you’re thinking “Yeah, hosting a festival of Sune requires two fighters and two wizards who translate into bards singing for the goddess of love and beauty, that’s perfect.”
   I’m looking forward to playing more games soon. And I’m OK with that comment about winning too often coming back to bite me on the VP track. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Three Evil Overlords

Yesterday morning I decided to take advantage of the buy-15-and-you-finally-get-1-free card I had from Starbucks. I rolled on down the hill to the drive-through, made the order, pulled up to the window and reached for the postcard where I'd thrown it in the passenger seat. "That's odd," I thought. "There's a 13th Age postcard in here. I thought I only had one of those.  Great! It must have fallen out of Jonathan's stuff and Lisa found it when she cleaned the car." The card was something we put together for Jonathan when he was on panels at Norwescon. The wonderful art by Aaron McConnell and Lee Moyer shows two of our evil icons, the Diabolist and the Lich King.
   Beat. Beat. Beat.
   "So where's my Starbucks card?"
   Beat.
   "Oh."
   Yeah, I was a few sips of caffeine shy of firing on all neurons and I'd grabbed the wrong treasured postcard from the special spot behind the Fokker DR-1 triplane model on my desk.
   So as I floundered for my wallet to pay for coffee with a Starbucks Gold card instead of a postcard, I told the barista I'd grabbed the wrong card.
   "Well that looks really cool! What is it?"
   Turned out I could  *almost* have traded the 13th Age postcard for coffee. The barista and a friend working beside him play a lot of tabletop games, mostly Pathfinder and Warhammer. Next time I'll find out which Warhammer armies they favor.