Monthly Archives: March 2014

Heartbreaking Roles

broken-heartI’m intermittently working on a terrible idea of a game, a fantasy heartbreaker which I’ve currently title “NMMDI” or “Nyquil Made Me Do It”. This is the actual working title, on the cover, in Papyrus. I have no better way to insure it gets a real name if I ever finish it.

The idea behind it is to make a pretty standard fantasy heartbreaker with characters, gear, strong GM and so on, but with sensibilities from more recent games. I actually took the D&D Red Book as my template as I started out, though I’ll deviate a little bit by the time it’s done.

The mechanical stuff may be a future topic, but I realized I wanted to share one section from the definition of terms, because it illustrates somethign which has gotten important to me over time.

At the Table

When the rules talk about a player they mean someone sitting around the table (or in the chat) or otherwise playing the game. Everyone is a player, but some players have one or more roles. The Host is the person whose home is being used for the game. Online games and convention games may not have a host, but those situations should be pretty clear. The Organizer is the person who took responsibility for scheduling the game, keeping track of who can and can’t come and so forth. A Proctor is a player who brings supplies for the game, including refreshments. The Game Master, abbreviated as GM, is the player responsible for facilitating and driving play, providing opposition and a great many other things. Other players are Play Masters, abbreviated as PMs[1].

It is expected that there be overlap between the roles. A PM may also be Host and Proctor, another PM may be Organizer, another PM may also be Proctor, and the GM may well have no other roles besides GMing. It’s important to communicate the roles between the players so everyone has a clear set of expectations, but it also has some impact in game. There are bonuses that go along with most roles, and if you expect your GM to also be Organizer, Host and Proctor, then those bonuses go to her!

So, first, yes – there’s a small pool of awards that get handed out at the beginning of each session to reward the players who have helped facilitate the game. If any of those dice don’t get allocated (which is to say, if the GM also has to facilitate the game), then they go into the GM’s pool to mess with stuff. In fairness, that’s not much of a penalty for the players, but my hope is that the rewards both incentivize and normalize other players taking roles in making the game go. I know that in some groups this is taken as a given, but in others, the GM also has to effectively project manage the whole process, which kind of sucks. If the GM has to do more work in play, then it’s too much work, and if you’re playing a game where the GM doesn’t do more work, then why is only one player doing the out of game work?

Overall, the challenge of writing a game with no assumptions has been really fascinating, and it shows up a lot in things like this – the ideas surrounding the roles of the people at the table. It also means writing a lot more than I’m used to. Not sure whether it will ultimately produce anything worthwhile, or if it’s just going to be a sharpening stone. But it should be fun either way.

  1. That PM thing? At first, I felt awkward about it as overly contrived, but as I’ve written more text, it’s proven SUPER helpful for clarity while simultaneously suggesting that everyone is a player, which is kind of a big deal for me.  ↩

Divinity in the Eternal Kingdom

ankhOk, this Eternal Icons thing is continuing to buzz in my brain, so I’ve started up some further notes on chargen and play.

It is Known

Characters get two more points for backgrounds, but they must take a reputation at at least +2. Effectively, this is what the other characters (and others) know about the character. It should be true, but if it’s false, then it will be important to communicate the way in which it’s false to the table for reasons which are about to become obvious.

In game, this is a nice hook, but there’s also a meta-purpose for this – it is effectively the summation of the character to be used when bringing players in and out. It is, effectively, a resume. When the player roster shifts, this should say enough about the incoming character to spot any red flags for having the character fit in.

Some tables might want to use classic alignments in this fashion (alignment makes an interesting background[1]) since in many ways it serves a similar purpose. But the bottom line is that it’s a quick sniff test for concept compatibility with a small mechanical hook.

The Divine

The Eternal Kingdom has an official church, rife with ceremony, iconography and appropriate profanity. It is also largely a puppet of the crown, having historically served as a rubber stamp for the King. In his absence, its role may evolve, but that is a matter for your table. In any case, clerics, paladins and the like may absolutely hail from this faith.

It is, however, not the only option. The universe is absolutely littered with gods, ranging from tiny local deities to mighty pantheons. That they exist is not much of a matter of debate, but they are considered rather provincial by the natives of the Eternal Kingdom. Gods tend to be very powerful within their domain, but those domains are usually limited to a single world, and even then, all but the mightiest of them are overshadowed by the Eternal Scions.

Further, gods have a bad habit of thinking themselves the center of the universe, something that doesn’t sit well when the actual center of the universe comes over and punches you in the kidneys. As such, many gods never even try to explore the worlds beyond their own. But there are always exceptions – some travel the worlds for reasons of their own, others seek to spread their influence (always a dicey proposition). Some adapt to their place as small fish in a bigger pond quite adeptly, and there’s a not-insignificant population of gods in the Golden City itself (in both temples and taverns).

Part of this is complicated further by the fact that the line between a god and a being of power is almost entirely ephemeral. One reason that gods are viewed as provincial in the Golden City is that beings of power are so common there that claims of godhood just seem to be putting on airs.

Mind you, there have been gods of sufficient power and scope to demand the attention of the Eternal Kingdom. Many of the stories of the kingdom’s founding include tales of the King casting down and binding various gods, forcing them to bend knee to him. While the details have evolved into legend, this is still an occasional concern, and at time the Eternal Scions have ventured forth to remind a divinity of its place. Of course, as tensions rise within the kingdom, some of these beings may be reconsidering their ambitions.

The Nature of Gods

There is no one answer for what gods are and how they work. Any and all of the possibilities below may be true for some or all gods.

Things that might be true:

  • Gods need power from worshipers, with more powerful gods often being more dependent on that worship while more minor gods can get by without it.
  • Worshippers do not give a god power so much as reach. Expanding worship of a god to a new world can eventually expand that god’s power to encompass that domain.
  • Agents allow a god to act beyond its domain far more effectively than direct action.
  • The power of a god is usually tied to a particular place or set of places (Such as a world, or the local cosmology of a world). Within that domain they may be immensely powerful, but outside of it, their power is greatly diminished.
  • This is a reason that expanding domains is a real motivator for some Gods.
  • Having a foothold in the Eternal Kingdom resonates into power for a god out in the Infinite Worlds, so they are invested in establishing temples, even small ones, in the Golden City and driving traffic to them.
  • This is also the reason that Eternal Scions terrify the Gods, because they are capable of destroying entire worlds. Intractable gods have simply seen their homeworlds split asunder by the passing of a Scion.
  • Gods are not unique in being powerful, but in their ability to share their power through agents. That power is usually drawn from their domains, so the gods personal power may or may not reflect on the power it offers
  • There is nothing that differentiates gods from any other being of power, except the label.

Divine Heroes

Ok, so what does all this mean for clerics? It largely depends on what you want. If, as a player, you just want to serve a remote, abstract power, then you can totally do it. Come up with the name of your god, some trappings, maybe a story of why you’re out in the infinite worlds, and you’re good to go.

But the nature of the Eternal Kingdom allows for another option – in the Eternal Kingdom, there is no reason that gods need to be remote. From a certain perspective, they’re just administrators looking to franchise. It suggests a very different relationship when a cleric needs to drag her god home after a night spent at a dive bar, or when a mercenary paladin is willing to smite in the name of the highest divine bidder. In short, a god may be similar to a patron, with a direct, personal relationship with its cleric, and an agenda to promote.[2]

There’s not a lot of mechanical implications to this, but it’s rich material to draw on one when crafting background or one unique thing.[3] The GM will probably also want to decide which Icons have sway over the God, though this may well be secret.

Divine Villains

This matter-of-fact divinity means that the machinations of gods very easily translate into plots and agendas.  Cults are not abstractly evil – they serve specific gods with specific plans, abilities and goals.   Gods are, by their nature, power brokers, so it’s easy for them to have their hands in many places.

Gods also make good villains because their power (and threat level) makes them dangerous but still likely to act through agents.

Divine Bargains

It is totally worth stealing the “Roll of the Gods”  rules from Questers of the Middle Realms, but in the absence of that, follow the general idea that Gods offer power in return for it being used in their name.  Exactly what they gain from the use (power, influence, weakening barriers, whatever) may be a mystery, but the transaction is very straightforward.   For players, this might be basis for interesting backgrounds, but this idea is more important for explaining NPC motives and powers.

Gods of Darkness and Chaos

Cthulhu doesn’t have anything going for him over other gods besides very good PR.  There are absolutely dark, horrible, sinister gods who would seek to tear apart reality if they could. Thankfully, their influence tends to be limited because they don’t really have a lot to offer to prospective worshippers.  Existential threats that reveal the universe is small and uncaring become much less scary when you jump up the scale a step.  That said, these dark gods can still be a real threat, especially among the Infinite Worlds.

More dangerous are those gods who actively seek to subvert the Eternal Kingdom.  There is something of a loose cabal of divinities who seek to change the status quo throughout the infinite worlds.  Their motives are diverse, but they largely offer their followers a vision of something different and better.   However, they must act with care – overtly working against the Eternal Kingdom tends to end poorly, but secrecy pairs poorly with worship.

A few gods exist in realms so far removed from the Eternal Kingdom that they can act openly, but their distance also makes any action difficult.  For most of the gods of chaos (as they are sometimes called) secrecy is maintained by the assumption of mantles, effectively divine aliases.  There is no “Burion, Lord of Abandon”, only a guise taken on by one or more gods.

Were this not such a secret, then some might wonder how exactly they have managed to maintain their divine connection through the mantle, and one might wonder if there is something about these specific mantles that might make them more than mere theatre.  But there is no one in a position to ask that question.

Except, of course, for the Icon who provided them.




  1. Especially for a game that leans more planescape-y. Huh. Will have to remember that.  ↩
  2. By extension, this relationship also tends to illustrate why the god needs the cleric as much as the cleric needs to the god.  ↩
  3. In fact, there’s no reason a character might actually BE a god. It doesn’t help much from day to day, but it may mean they have a place of power out among the worlds. Or perhaps they don’t any more.  ↩

In the Wake of the King

(This is an Icon Set, for 13th Age, with obvious influences. )

The King has been gone for years, and the rumblings of court fear he may never return. For now, the Eternal Kingdom still stands, but enemies gather beyond the horizon, hoping for a sign of weakness. The King’s  children, each a power to be reckoned with, jockey for position. Some hold strong to their bailiwicks within the Eternal Kingdom, others have taken the roads and ways to the infinite worlds beyond the horizon, in search of allies and power, or perhaps to withdraw from the conflict sure to come.

But whatever direction their struggles take them, the world still turns around them, and the thousand dangers and opportunities that underly the Eternal Kingdom churn on.

Adventuring in the Eternal Kingdom

The Icons of the Eternal Kingdom are its scions, the children of the king. Their infighting and struggles take place on a massive scale, yet are profoundly personal. While their infighting could be fuel for a game of its own, it also creates a backdrop for kicking down doors, killing dangerous monsters and other worthwhile pursuits.

One important difference between the Eternal Scions and other Icons is that much of what they do is secret – most NPCs of any note have a thread that connects them to one Icon or another, but even they may not be aware of it.  Some of this is a function of their power – reality itself bends in subtle ways to comply to the will of the Icons – but it it also the nature of their conflicts. Open action invites retribution, so secret proxy fights are the norm.

This, of course, means that people like adventurers are of great use to the icons – effective enough to be useful, but still playing on a smaller chessboard than the Icons themselves (Arrogance is another common trait of the icons). Whether as a direct or indirect patron, the Icons are more than happy to work through adventurers to pursue their own ends, which are just as likely to be far-reaching and subtle as they are to be petty and vindictive..

While the icons may be engaging in their own internal struggles, there’s still a lot of be done.  Monsters roam the wild places, with new threats walking in from the infinite worlds every day.  Ancient ruins dot the mountains and forest.  Mysterious islands fill the seas.  Worlds of danger and treasure can be found in a wrong turn off a royal road, a misread map or an ancient and forgotten road.

For those of a more civilized bent, the many trading partners of the Golden City are all major urban hubs of their own, each of which would be the crown jewel of their world were they not in the shadow of the Golden City.  These cities are in a constant struggle for prominence among themselves, and often within themselves as well.  And, of course, there are dangers aplenty – no crossworld empire can exist with parasites and other dangers. While few of them may have the power to be a threat to the Icons, they still may have substantial power (and sinister agendas) within their own spheres, and their existence is almost certainly a benefit to somebody.

Icon Set: The Eternal Scions

The Scions of the King are beings of incredible power, though their appearance and motivations seem quite human.  Superhumanly strong and durable and seemingly immortal, they are able to traverse the infinite worlds at will, finding treasures and raising armies with no more effort than you or I might take to go find a pair of shoes in our closet.  They shape luck and circumstance to their will, and have thousands of years experience at their chosen pursuits.  And those are only the abilities that everyone knows about.

However, they are also a family, albeit a profoundly dysfunctional one. They may come to blows, but it is rare that they do so with any permanent end in mind. Some of this is tradition – the king would not tolerate such things.  Some is practicality – the death curse of a Scion is a terrible thing indeed. And some is probably sentiment – these are the people they’ve despised for millennia, and old enough hatreds can come close to a sort of affection.

GeneralThe General – Eldest son of the King by the golden queen, he has long since abandoned any claim in the throne in his pursuit of perfection on the battlefield (and with an understanding of how such ambitions lost him his siblings). He has no patience for the squabbles of his family, but at the same time, he figures heavily in all their plans, for none wish to make an enemy of him.


regentThe Regent – Second eldest son of the King by the sliver queen, he would be the perfect heir in every way save that of birth. Born before the marriage of his Mother and Father, his claim to the throne has always been tainted. Despite that he has made himself into a leader, and in the absence of the king, he has been been the administrator (and some say, de factor ruler) of the Eternal Kingdom. It’s common knowledge that the day will come that he seeks to make his claim openly.

LostPrinceThe Lost Prince – Younger Brother of the Regent and ever the Favorite of the King, he is much like his brother, save that in his legitimacy he has always held a place of primacy in their father’s eye. Or he did until he vanished somewhere in the infinite worlds, centuries ago. His body has never been found, and is is the hope or fear of many that he may someday return.

He is never far from the minds of the Kingdom, and whenever events take a strange turn, there will always be those who will take it as a sign of the Lost Prince’s actions, or a portent of his return.

HuntressThe Huntress – Last child of the silver queen, the ambitions of a daughter have been overshadowed by such brothers. But if their sun cast too much light, she has found refuge in the moon. Like her mother, she knows the secrets of the City of the Sky, and like her mother, she keeps them well.


SorceressThe Sorceress – The eldest daughter of the bronze queen, she is a small dainty thing made of fire and razor blades. Her mother’s magic runs strong in her, and in a family of mighty warriors and dashing rogues, her wit and wisdom earn her words  a seemingly disproportionate weight.



RakeThe Rake – A dashing figure of color and light, the son of the bronze queen is the very image of a hero. An accomplished swordsman, skilled sorcerer, able politician and all about man about town, he suffers only from the comparison of those around him. For every way in which he excels, someone in his family overshadows him.

Still, his very obviousness makes him something of an Enigma – it is clear that he has ambitions and an agenda, but his overt actions are so blatant that most assume they are a smokescreen for something else.

ArtistThe Artist – Brilliant, mad or both, the artist is the youngest child of the bronze queen, he abandons and embraces mediums as readily as he creates and destroys work that lesser spirits would call masterpieces. At his best, he is a brilliant, dazzling soul that illuminates the whole kingdom. At his worse, he could very well crack the whole world open.


watcherThe Watcher – A byblow of the king and a queen of the sea, she has remained apart from the workings of her family, more home beneath the waves, watching all through water and mirror. Her ambitions lie outside the Eternal Kingdom, but her secrets are valuable everywhere.


AdmiralThe Admiral – Eldest illegitimate child of the King and the iron queen, a bastard he was born and a bastard he has ever been. He stands out in a family of duplicitous backstabbers as a pirate and a rogue. While he does not wear his loyalties on his sleeve, he carries them on the edge of a knife.


WardenThe Warden – Second son of the iron queen, he is the keeper of the forests, hunter of dragons, the Warden in White, riding his mighty steed at the head of his pack of hounds. It is a duty he resents, far from the light and music of the court, but like all the children of iron, is is a duty he would lay down his life fulfilling.


GiantThe Giant – Last son of the iron queen, he is taller and stronger than any in the family, and perhaps that size accounts for a heart that still beats with love and compassion within this den of vipers. A mighty combatant, he is no strategist or courtier, and while easily misdirected, he is a fearsome enemy indeed when riled.


romanticThe Romantic – Daughter of the king and a woman from the infinite worlds, the Romantic is the most beautiful woman in the Eternal Kingdom (though some few give that acclaim to the Huntress). She is well aware of her beauty, and many consider her little more than a vapid creature of the court, Indeed, she does not have the strength of arms or magic of her siblings, but she has chosen a different battlefield, trading swords for salons. Whether this is shallow attention seeking or a cunning agenda is something of an open question.

ScoundrelThe Scoundrel – Youngest child of the king, he is the farthest from the throne and farthest from the considerations of it. He has abandoned ambition in favor of his own entertainments. An accomplished musician and a legendary gambler, there is very little the Scoundrel won’t do, except take on the responsibility that suits a prince.


  • The Children of the iron queen (the Admiral, Warden and Giant) are a tightly knit cabal, and are well known for their loyalty to the Eternal Kingdom over politics.  However, they are also known for their individual passions, which can overcome their better judgement.
  • Similarly, the children of the bronze queen (Sorceress, Rake and Artist) form another cabal, more known for their cunning and general magical aptitude.
  • The Children of the silver Queen were once a cabal as well, but something drove a spike between the Regent and the Lost Prince, and each pressured the Huntress to choose a side.
  • Long ago, before any but the children of gold and silver can remember, there was a similar cabal among the children of gold. Terrifying as it is to contemplate today, the General was the least of his siblings.  However, in their ambition, they became a threat to the King, and that spelled their doom and (presumed) death.  It is said, among those who know,  that the General’s aversion to politics is all that spared his life.
  • The Warden is said to have an inappropriate affection for the Sorceress.
  • The Artist and the Watcher were born at nearly the same time, with the Watcher a little bit older.  This is uncommon in the family, and the two have a close bond as a result, with her viewing him as something of a little brother.
  • The Regent and Admiral are said to be close friends, though given who they are, the question is which one is faking it.
  • The Regent currently holds his power with the support of the Children of Iron and the lack of a strong opposition.  In the absence of the Lost Prince, there are not many who could press a claim for rulership (perhaps the Rake). But at the same time, his position is more tenuous than it seems – the children of iron are traditionalists, and if the Regent overreaches, then he may find his position quickly crumbles.

The Eternal Kingdom

Eternal Kingdom

The Golden City – Crown jewel of the Eternal Kingdom, the Golden City is a true crossroad of worlds, sitting at the hub of trade routes that extend out into the infinite worlds. The whole city is wrapped around a great harbor, and proceeds uphill, overlooked by the Royal Palace.

  • The Admiral and The Giant spend much of their time in the city, and are frequently seen in the harbor area.
  • The Scoundrel tends to leave quite a trail in his wake when he’s in town.
  • The Romantic is a fixture in the better parts of the city.

The Royal Palace – Seat of the king and home of the royal family, it is a masterpiece of architecture and magic, overlooking the Golden city, and by extension, the infinite worlds beyond it. The royal family makes their home there, and it is said that is is rife with their secret playthings and powers.

  • Every Icon (save the Lost Prince) can be found in the Palace at one some time or another, though some are more frequent occupants.
  • The Regent’s seat of power is the palace.
  • When not in the city, The Romantic is almost certain to be found in the Palace
  • The Sorceress makes heavy use of the Palace’s Library, and the Artist has an entire hall dedicated to his work.

The Dragon’s Spine The mountain that holds the Golden City and Royal Palace on its slopes is the southernmost peak of a mountain range that extends far to the north. As old as the golden city is, these mountains are older still, and outside of a few forts and outposts, it is still largely wild country, home to monsters and ancient ruins.

  • The General takes the mountains more seriously than most of the rest of the family (Perhaps knowing something that he has not shared). He maintains an elite team of mountaineers who patrol the mountins to the best of their ability.
  • The Peak of the eternal Mountain is the gateway to the City of the Sky, and as such, it is often frequented by the Huntress.

The Forest Unending – To leave the eternal kingdom by land, you will eventually pass through the forest. All roads pass through it, but the roads are only the smallest fraction of it vastness. Entire kingdoms exist within the forest, never seeing beyond its bounds. And, of course, the oldest and most dangerous creatures can be found in its shadowy depths.

  • The forest is the Warden’s domain, this fact is uncontested. His army of rangers is the largest standing force in the Eternal Kingdom, but they are still spread incredibly thin.
  • The Huntress is no stranger to the Forest, but her presence is not always welcomed by the Warden.
  • The Sorceress also has some secrets in the Forest, and some whisper that she is the leader of a cabal of witches whose influence extends far and wide.

The Boundless Sea – While less obvious than the roads through the Forest Unending, the seas around the Eternal Kingdom are full of ways out into the infinite worlds. The barriers between worlds are rarely obvious, and the result is a vast and shifting sea, full of monsters, mysterious islands and, of course, pirates. The navies of the Eternal Kingdom and her allies keep the trade routes as safe as they can, but there are always new dangers emerging.

  • The Admiral and the Giant lead the Eternal Kingdom’s Northern and Southern Fleet, They spend much of their time at sea.
  • The Watcher’s interest in the City of the Waves keeps her interested in affairs upon the Boundless Sea.
  • The bronze queen came from an island to the south, and the Sorceress, Rake and Artist all spend some time in transit to and from her homeland.

The City of the Waves – Beneath the sea, not far from the coast of the Golden City, stands the Golden City’s sister city. Ancient magic renders the waters around the city breathable, though the natives no longer need such magics. The city’s population is small, but it holds many secrets and unknown magics, and superstition suggests that any disruption in one city will be reflected in the other. Whether true or not, this concern has allowed the two cities a peaceful coexistence without the tensions one might expect of two powers in such close proximity.

  • The Watcher makes her home in the City of the Waves, and while she is not the Queen, her influence is extensive. More, she is also privy to many of the City’s secrets.
  • The Scoundrel has cut an impressive trail through the City, and there is a death sentence waiting for him should he ver return, though the details of why this is so are fuzzy.
  • The silver queen had close ties to the City of the Waves, and her children are welcome there. The regent rarely has time to visit and the Lost Prince is missed, but The Huntress is a regular visitor.
  • The Romantic visits often enough to maintain relations with the city’s elite.
  • The Admiral and Giant have a tense relationship with the City. The people of the Sea are nominally allies to the fleets, but it is usually on their terms.

The City of the Sky – When the moon is full, a ghostly reflection of the golden city appears in the sky above the golden city itself. A silvery staircase rises from the peak of the royal mountain, and the brave (or mad) can travel up those stairs to face the visions that await them and try to return before the city vanishes again. Those who survive the trip report visions of the past and future, and many feel the secrets to be learned are worth the risk

  • It is rare that a full moon comes around and the Huntress does not visit the ghostly city. Given the risk of a stray cloud, it may be safe to assume she knows something the others do not.
  • Some suspect that the Lost Prince is trapped in the city in the Sky, and that the Huntress’s journeys are in search of her brother.

The Infinite Worlds – Beyond the bounds of the Eternal Kingdom are an infinite number of worlds and realities. It is said that the royal family can travel freely among them, but everyone else depends upon the roads and sea lanes laid down by the King and maintained by his children. Worlds of every type exist, but the lanes lead only to ones that are of some use to the Eternal Kingdom, but the worlds the lanes pass through can be less predictable.

  • The Scoundrel and General spend much of their time among the worlds, both looking to avoid the Eternal Kingdom (though neither would appreciate the comparison).
  • Every few decades, the Romantic finds a world that appeals to her sensibilities. She will spend time cultivating artists, philosophers and intellectuals, and eventually she will return to the Eternal Kingdom with the seeds of the latest fashions.
  • It is suspected that the Lost Prince is lost somewhere among the Infinite Worlds, though it difficult to say what could keep him lost against his will.


Mechanical Notes

  • For dice rolling purposes, The Lost Prince serves as the spoiler. In circumstances of unknown and uncertainty, things are often attributed to the Lost Prince.
  • None of the icons are particularly good or evil, so by default, they are all priced as ambiguous. If it is critical for your game to have Heroic and Villainous Icons, then you may assign them as you see fit, but I would lean towards  The General, The Lost Prince and the Giant as Heroic, and the Sorceress, Artist and Admiral as Villainous.
  • A player may choose one or more of their personal Icons to be a secret to them, in which case the GM is free to decide who it is at any point down the line.  There is no particular mechanical advantage to this, but sometimes it’s just fun.

Sorcery in the Eternal Kingdom

Sorcerers do not draw their power directly from the Icons, but rather are indebted to an icon for their power.  The Icons hold many secret sources of power – Founts of flame, bottled lighting and so on – which they share with those they favor (or which may be stolen).  As such, Sorcerous Backgrounds are replaced with Sorcerous Secrets. These secrets are rarely tied to a single Scion, rather, some scions are inclined towards certain secrets.

The Eternal Kingdom equivalents of 13th age Sorcerous backgrounds follow:

  • Arcane Heritage becomes Secrets of the Sun and is tied to the southern isle  and the traditions of the bronze queen.  It may be tied any one of the children of bronze (Sorceress, Rake or Artist).
  • Chromatic Destroyer becomes Secret of the Storms – The character has attuned to the four great storms (Ice, lightning, poison and acid) beyond the bounds of the Eternal Kingdom.  Finding the storms is difficulty enough, and surviving them is something else entirely, but if survived, they are a potent source of power. Any scion could show someone the way to this power, if they had sufficient incentive.
  • Fey Heritage becomes Secrets of the Sea and is the domain of the Watcher
  • Infernal Heritage  becomes Secrets of the Sword.  In a hidden chamber, somewhere in the vicinity of where the Dragon’s Spine meets the Forest Unending lies the tomb of a would be conquerer.  The figure of a giant of a man (easily 12 feet tall) lies in state, clad in black armor and impaled by a great red sword.  None have successfully drawn the sword free, but those who have tried carry away a bit of its power.  The General knows where this chamber is, as does the Warden. The Sorceress and the Regent may also know.  It’s possible that other Scions know, but it’s a well-kept secret.
  • Metallic Protector Heritage becomes Secrets of the Sky – These can only be learned in the City of the Sky, so the Huntress is the most obvious avenue to this power.
  • Undead Remnant Heritage becomes Secrets of Shadow.  These are the vestiges of an enemy of The Eternal Kingdom, long since vanquished, but with necromantic relics still scattered through the Infinite Worlds.  The Scions largely destroy these relics when they find them, but some are kept in back pockets when needed. Of course, some suspect that the use of the power of those relics may suggest that the enemy is not quite so vanquished as all that.



Vengeance Is Mine

Vengeance BoxToday I got something in the mail that I’m quite excited about: the Vengeance expansion for Sentinels of the Multiverse.

For the unfamiliar, Sentinels is a superhero card game which is neither collectable nor deckbuilding but is instead just awesome. Each hero in the game has a unique deck, along with a special ability, and when you play, everyone picks a hero, and the table picks a villain (who has a deck and abilities) and an environment (which has a deck). No one plays the villain or environment – the decks are basically automated to provide opposition.

Obviously, this is basically designed for a multiplicity of combinations – Legacy, Tempest and Tachyon (the heroes) may face Baron Blade in the Ruins of Atlantis and it’ll be a lot of fun, but if you change one element, like the villain or environment, it changes the whole experience.

Because this is not a deckbuilder, each deck can have a very distinct feel, wish specific advantages and disadvantages. In fact, some decks are simply harder than others, and the rulebook comes out and says as much. This goes a long way towards keeping the game replayable – it is rewarding to try new heroes and villains, but it’s also rewarding to try to master existing ones.

It also makes their expansion model work very smoothly, since each expansion box basically adds some new decks. There is no harm in not having an expansion, and if you do get one, it just integrates into play with no new rules. As an additional bit of cleverness, the unique powers that heroes and villains have are also represented on cards (which, in the case of heroes, look like issue covers) which allows them to occasionally do cool things like print “alternate covers” – hero cards with a different base ability but designed to use the existing deck.

There are more cool things about this game than I can easily summarize. The rules for taking out hero allow the player to continue to participate, which is great mechanically. The art is stylized, but consistent, and in a way which shows a deep understanding of comics, an understanding underscores by the comic book “quotes” at the bottom of each hero card. It goes on.

My introduction to the game was actually at Pax East. Fred and I had gotten to the game floor early, so we hit the boardgame lending library. I grabbed Sentinels because while I owned the original edition (a precursor to the current Enhanced Edition) I had never played it, and had avoided their kickstarter because I didn’t want to buy a game twice.

We played a couple games of it, at which point I walked over to the Greater Than Games booth and handed them the majority of my spending budget for the con for one of everything (The core games, all the supplements and a handful of promo decks and cards). I have not regretted it since, and Sentinels has been one of our go to games since then. (We also got to say hi to the creators after hours, when they walked by us getting murdered by The Chairman, one of the nastier villains.)

The Vengeance expansion was recently kickstarted, and I somehow missed that, which is sad, because I would have backed the hell out of it. But I ordered it as soon as it went up on their webstore, and here it is. I obviously have not yet had a chance to play it, but I want to very badly, because it looks fantastic. A few things that jumped out at me while opening it up:

  • The new heroes include an archer. That alone would win my love.
  • One of the other new heroes is actually a team of lesser heroes. Super curious to see that in action
  • There are rules for a new multi-villain mode of play which looks like a world of pain
  • Sentinels has Nemesis rules, where some heroes and villains do more damage to each other because they’re arch enemies. It looks like Vengeance has filled in some gaps in this (some prominent heroes had no nemesis) and also introduced some effects triggered off it
  • The box is wonderful. The original Sentinels box was designed for Storage, but mine has been bursting at the seams for a while now. This box is designed for storage with plenty of space to take my overflow and some future expansions.

If it’s not obvious, I’m pretty psyched.

Two Column Fate

Two-column Fae (or Fate) is a term I mention from time to time and other people have used it in their hacks, but I was thinking of a particular thing to be done with it today, and it occurred to me that i have no explanation of the foundations of those idea, so this is where I’m going to lay that out.

Two Column Fate basically uses two lists of skills, approaches or similar. When it comes time to make a roll, the character takes one from column A and one from Column B, totals them up and makes the roll[1]. Structurally, this is very similar to a classic “Stat + Skill” model, and it could be used for that, but the real utility of this model is to handle much more interesting cases.

There are a few mechanical benefits to this – notably it can bring the intuitive simplicity of Fae in line with the numbers you see in Fate. But the biggest virtue of this system is that it allows for the two columns to have drastically different origins (both thematically and mechanically) which allows for a wide range of interesting mechanical effects.

Consider a few examples –

Fae Leverage
Approach Crime
Careful Hitter
Clever Hacker
Flashy Grifter
Forceful Thief
Quick Mastermind
Style Passion
Force Loyalty
Wits Love
Resolve Hospitality
Grace Honor
Fate: Pick Two
Action Necessity
Mind Quality
Money Speed
Muscle Efficiency

The other thing that excites me about this is that you can treat the columns as  interchangeable elements. If you want to run a mech game, you can swap out one of the columns for the mech stats column when you’re in your mech. Different character classes might use a different second column. One column might be fixed, and the other on change over the course of play. It’s a huge avenue of responsive rules and customization[2].

So, putting a pin in it, so I can save the explanation in future conversations.

  1. Fae2 is technically a two column hack, except that the two columns have the same content.  ↩
  2. The idea that struck me was inspired by demonology type magic. You could totally use a summoned demon as your second column, so that you use its bonuses when you act through the demon. That’s pretty standard. But where it can be fun is to make the demon’s list all nasty verbs, like Destroy, Corrupt, Reek and so on. Even if you don’t use it for evil, it just kind of LEANS that way.  ↩

I Know a Guy who Knows a Guy

I was watching heist trailers, and was struck by the phrase “He’s the guy who knows a guy who knows a guy”. It jumped out at me that this is, in a nutshell, how to adjudicate contacting rolls, in any system.

Basically, you make the roll, and if you blow it out of the water, then you know a guy. Have a scene with that guy and get what you want.

If you don’t quite nail it, then your guy knows a guy, and he gives you an introduction.
If you really don’t do well, the maybe your guy knows a guy who knows a guy.

In short, the worse you roll, the further out you need to go. Now, this is cool for two reasons.

First, it generates more scenes, even if they’re just quick ones. Those scenes all revolve around people, which is great. It means the GM needs to have a decent stable of lowlifes, but if you’re running a game where someone knows a guy, then that should be an expectation.

Second, each additional circle introduces new wants and uncertainties. You can trust your guy, sure. And he says you can trust his guy, so maybe you can, but he’s going to want something for making an introduction with his guy, who may well have his own array for problems.

All of this hinges on an understanding that contacting (and really, similar social-gathering-information skills) should not just be treated as a mechanized version of google. Things don’t just happen – there are always people and things involved, and where people and things are involved, that’s where life gets messy.

But on the other hand, you don’t want contacting to dominate play – sometimes you just want to breeze past how you got you hands on a truckload of chickens and get on to the caper. To deal with that, I’d suggest the following rules of thumb:

  • If you succeed well enough that you got it from your guy, then don’t play a scene, just note which guy[1].
  • If you need to go further out, then that’s a reason for a scene. You need to meet with this new guy. And this is the important thing – you may not want to go alone. Bring at least one other character along as backup – after all, you ARE dealing with criminals here. And if you guys can’t get a good scene out of a clandestine meeting with some total screwball, then consider whether this genre is right for you.

  1. Yes, your guys should have names and personalities, even if just loosely sketched.  ↩

My Dungeon World Stumbling Block

So, I have been working on a post-dungeonworld Fantasy Heartbreaker for no good reason other than it sometimes demands to be written. We’ll see if it gets to a finished state or just peters out, but it’s proving an interesting exercise, and it produced an interesting tangent.

I was discussing this with some friends yesterday, and the topic came up of why Dungeon World does not sit quite right with me. Now, I recognize it’s a great game, but it always is a bit of a rough experience for me, for reasons I still struggle with. Part of it is that the struts of the system are so visible that I can’t really unsee them, and I don’t know if that will ever be solvable, but the other issue is one I’ve felt and said, but have had a hard time getting past instinctive.

Basically, I assert this: the *World system is a tool that improves your gaming, but it has a point of optimum return which is higher than any other such system I can think of, but is (like all such tools) lower than the maximum possible. It’s silly to assign numbers to fun, but for purposes of argument, let’s say that I feel that DW helps push you up to 85% maximum fun, but then creates a drag as you get past 85%.

(I realize that’s a contentious assertion, especially since no one ever thinks their game is only 85% (or less) fun, and that is the inherent flaw of using numbers to illustrate this, so please just accept that it’s a flawed example to express an idea, not some kind of absolute truth.)

In any case, while that’s easy to assert, I have struggled with crystallizing a concrete example of why it is so, and I think I’ve hit on it, or at least enough to put forward a hypothesis.

And this is it: Dungeon World makes you game better as long as the mixed results in the text are as good or better than what you would come up with on the fly.

Obviously those mixed results are not the ONLY thing in DW – there’s the structure of the language and all that comes with that, but those are not things I need to reference. I’m zeroing in to the mixed result thing because I feel like it’s really an essential driver[1], and because the way moves are written is genuinely brilliant in teaching you how to adjudicate such things.

I’m going to turn this over in my head for a bit – I’m not sure it will stand, but for the moment, it feels like it’s the piece I’ve been missing in my thinking.[2]

  1. Yes, you can invent extra mixed results, just as you can invent new moves on the fly. But if you’ve internalized it to that point, then it’s a technique, not a game. And that’s awesome. I could absolutely play an ad hoc game with Risus character sheets and Dungeon World resolution where every roll is a move created on the fly. But that would be something very different (in large part because the resolution really isn’t the only part of Dungeon World.  ↩

  2. Also, if you think that this is a condemnation of the *World system rather than an acknowledgement of something freaking brilliant, then you need to spend some time trying to build structures that make play better. It’s really, really hard.  ↩

Secrets, Rumors and Fast Setting Building

A bit more psyche stuff, but easily applicable to other games. Specifically, a way to tie high psyche characters into the mysteries of the universe without making them X-Men.

So, suppose that you, as a GM, sit down and write 10 secrets of the setting. And not wussy, academic secrets, but real, actionable secrets. So, not “The statues of Aegis Tor are sleeping giants” but “The Statues of Aegis Tor are sleeping giants and you know the names to call to waken them and what it means.”

Now, deal out a certain number of these to the first player. Let them make a note of it (you also note it), take the cards back, shuffle them, and deal some to the next player, repeating until you’ve gone through everyone.[1]

You can stop now, and if you do so, then proceed under the following assumption: Only the secrets known by a player are true. If you build your secrets interestingly enough[2], this can be enough to get you multiple different settings (effectively) out of the same base material.

Alternately, if you want to be consistent n your secrets, you now do the following. Rewrite your 10 secrets in mamby pamby style – purely informational with little to act on. Then write 10 false secrets in equally mamby pamby style[3]. Mix the two lists together and hand it to your players as the rumor list for a setting. They will recognize some as true from the secrets they know and they will know some are true from the cards they did not see, and what would have otherwise just been a bulleted list of forgettable stuff has transformed into textured information.

Now, while I frame this idea for more cosmic games, like Amber, LoGaS or Planescape, there is no reason it can’t scale down very easily to whatever game you want to play. With a little tweaking, it could work very well for a treasure hunt campaign (Pirates of Darkwater, etc.) depending upon how you frame the secrets.

And as a bonus, you could go really nuts and combine the two techniques – create a deck of 20 true secrets, but only use half of them every time you play. I admit, that has a certain appeal because that makes the con kit for this profoundly reusable, which is always a plus.

In fact, as I think about the con kit, I might actually reverse the order – give the one page of rumors out in advance (since it can be sent via email before a game, if the situation calls for it) and the cards can be done at the table.  Paired with, say, a one sheet summary of the setting, and I think you have enough to rope in players without inundating them.

  1. If you’re using psyche, hand more card to higher psyche characters. if not, just hand out an arbitrary amount.  ↩
  2. I’m pretty sure Mortal Coil would be a useful reference for how to build powerful secrets.  ↩
  3. Do this knowing that you are effectively handing out a list of plot hooks, so really think about the false ones and why they’re false. They should not just be dead ends – that’s super dull. Rather, the reasons they are false should be potential springboards to play.  ↩

Psyche is my Bane

Bit of Amber/LoGaS nerding – I don’t like Psyche. This is separate from some of the normal confusion and issues that come from having four really broad stats and dealing with edge cases, but rather is very specific to the stat.

In the Amber DRPG, it is possible to establish mental contact with people via physical contact or eye contact. This in turn lets you engage in mental struggles, plant suggestions and compulsions and generally dink around with people’s heads. I dislike it for a bunch of reasons.

  • Aside from a battle of wills via trump contact (which is a special case) this is not something in the source material and is, in fact, really very tonally at odds with the source material.[1]
  • It makes for bad play, specifically player-abusive play. Not just antagonistic GM stuff – that’s part and parcel of Amber – but full on fun sucking cheese.
  • Worse, it effectively makes it a trump. Interpreted liberally enough (as it often is, because some people REALLY LIKE THIS) it ends up completely overwhelming strength because you can establish a psychic link while someone is beating the crap out of you, because it’s skin to skin contact.
  • On a meta level, it brings out the worst in gamers. It is the ultimate triumph of the nerd over the jock given form, and it tends to bring along that baggage.

LoGaS brings froward Psyche from Amber, and while it’s absolved of the first bullet point, the others still stand. This does not make it a bad game, and in fact, it makes it a better one in some ways, because the setting can be predicated on the idea of psyche effectively being psychic prowess. And if people want that, it’s awesome, but it’s not something that I keep at my table.

I’ve done a couple of fixes over the years. Simplest is, of course, to just keep Psyche but say that the psychic stuff is off the table. This actually works very well, especially for con games, and since I feel it’s a best practice to be clear what falls under what stat[2], it gives an opportunity to call out the other things psyche is useful for, notably perception and cunning.[3]. I’ve even taken it a bit further to simply rename the stat (usually to “Craft”, which only makes sense to Talisman players).

This is freshly on my mind due to my itch to run some Lords of Gossamer & Shadow or similar, so I am now working through some other possible approaches.

  1. To say nothing of the fact that it makes many of the actions in the book become nonsensical  ↩

  2. This is a whole other topic in and of itself.  ↩

  3. This anecdote may make no sense if you haven’t played the game, but one of my favorite tricks was this: In a large game (18ish people), I told the person in first place “You are first. Here is who is second and third”. I told the person in second place, “You are in second place. You know that SOMEBODY is in first place, but you don’t know who.”. I told the person in third place “You’re in first place.”  ↩