GenCon logo_websiteComing to you live…

Well, obviously not live live – while I may be writing this from a hotel room in Indianapolis, it won’t be up on the Pelgrane site for a week. And for that matter, I’m hardly alive either, after the arguably best but very definitely longest four days in gaming.

Let us start again. That seems to be a wise move.

I ran two or three 13th Age demos each day of GenCon, using pregenerated characters that had basic mechanics but no Icon, backgrounds or OUTs, and a very simple intro scenario that can be summarised as “something bad is happening in Glitterhaegen that is neatly resolved in an hour with two quick fight scenes and a skill roll”. While all the demos (bar one) followed that basic story, bringing in elements from the players’ contributions meant every game felt radically different.

I’ll use the last demo I ran, late on the Sunday afternoon as an example. Even though five people had signed up, only one actually showed (every other demo had between three and six players) – a lovely chap named Edgar, and I hope he doesn’t mind being used in this article. With only one player, Edgar asked for a halfling rogue pregen, so after running through the basic mechanics, we started on what makes 13th Age different from other F20 games and such a joy to run.

I gave all the demo characters a 1-point Positive relationship with the Emperor, mainly so I could use “you’re all working for the Emperor” as a fallback story if nothing else suggested itself. I then showed Edgar the full list of Icons, and asked him to pick one more.

Negative with the Elf Queen, says he, picking an unexpected Icon relationship. I asked him to go into a little more detail on this, and he describes how he was the only thief to successfully steal from the Queen’s court, coming up with his One Unique Thing at the same time.

I told him to leave Backgrounds blank for now – in a one-shot demo, or even in a campaign for that matter, it’s often more fun to fill in backgrounds when they’re needed in play. As there was only one player, I added a GMPC, a half-elf paladin of the Crusader (OUT: On Fire).

I had three different variations of my simple little plot based around three different Icons – a soul-stealing merchant for the Diabolist, a grave-robbing necromancer for the Lich King, and a pirate plotting to take advantage of an impending Orc Lord attack. I could have just said “because you’re servants of the Emperor, you’re called upon to help Glitterhaegen” and introduced any of the three variations or used my GMPC paladin’s Crusader relationship to bring the PCs in to investigate the soul thief, but instead I changed ‘Orc Lord invasion’ to ‘demonic elves out of the Bitterwood’ and brought in Edgar’s antipathy towards the Elf Queen. I always try to tie plots to the player characters; even if the connection is a bit tenuous, it’s worth it to be able to go “because of this thing about you, in particular, you’re involved in this adventure.”

Next, we rolled Icon relationships; Edgar’s Emperor came up with a 6, and I gave him a belt of the city (from the Book of Loot) to help with the investigation.

Actual play time! I described how the city was under threat of invasion by dangerous, isolationist elves who considered humans to be usurpers. While the Imperial Legion manned the walls, there were rumours of elven commando units sneaking into the city, and traitors were said to be in league with the elves. The PCs had traced one such traitor to the grand bazaar, a huge, crowded open-air market in Glitterhaegen.

I planned to set my first fight scene in the market. My original notes called for an attack by a band of illusory orcs, but I could use disguised elves just as easily. I then asked Edgar a few questions about the market.

  • The grand bazaar’s dominated by a structure or monument of some sort. What is it?”
  • “Something’s happening in the market that’s going to make your investigation harder – what is it?”

By asking these questions after I’d set the initial parameters of the scene, I gave Edgar control over specific details of the scene while retaining overall control. No matter what he came up with, I could still use my attacking elves. It gave him a sense of engagement with the setting, which is great. It also forced me to stay awake and keep thinking on my feet – setting up situations where the GM gets surprised is super valuable, especially when you’re running a bunch of convention demos in a row. If there’s no challenge for the GM, it gets boring and the players pick up on that boredom. Finding tools to keep your own energy and enthusiasm up is a good habit for a GM to cultivate.

I deliberately didn’t ask open-ended questions, like “where do you find the traitor?” Some players freeze when given that much freedom of choice – for that matter, I wouldn’t be completely confident about my ability to improvise a scene that would still work within the constraints of a demo if the player came up with something completely unexpected (“I find the traitor in a dragon’s lair under the city!”).

Edgar proposed a giant statue of a former admiral, blowing a horn, and a street preacher, both of which worked perfectly with my intended plot. I decided that the street preacher was the traitor in disguise, trying to convince people to abandon Glitterhaegen and flee on the waiting ships – which his pirate fleet would then capture and despoil. The giant statue was a great image and focal point for the fight. (Previous demos gave answers like “a huge crystal gazebo”, “a temple to Mammon”, or “an elven graveyard” and “a children’s festival” or “a funeral procession”).

Edgar’s halfling went off to listen to the preacher, so I got to ambush him with my fake demon elves who attacked the gathered crowds. Cue a quick fight scene. I used the orc stats I’d prepared earlier for my elves instead, hastily reskinning them. If any of them had critted, I’d have described their expanded-crit-range ability as a blast of magical hellfire or something suitably infernal.

Afterwards, I didn’t bother to make him to roll to see if his rogue noticed that these elves were common wood elves, not the fabled demon elves that threatened to attack Glitterhaegen. Instead, GUMSHOE-style, I just told him that because of his experience in the elven court (his OUT of “I stole from the Elf Queen”), he recognised these elves for what they were, and he quickly deduced that they were deliberately trying to whip up terror and dismay in the city. The flipside of the ‘fail forward’ principle is that if failure is boring, don’t ask for a roll. He quickly deduced that the elves and the street preacher were in league, and scampered up the statue to confront the traitor.

Instead of attacking, he launched into his own speech, rebutting the traitor’s tales of gloom and doom. I asked Edgar to roll, and he decided to create a background on the spot to give him a bonus. He was, he announced, the former mayor of a Halfling town, and so was experienced in public speaking. Defining backgrounds in play often generates surprising juxtapositions like that – if I’d insisted that he fill in all his backgrounds during the brief character creation phase at the start of the demo instead of leaving them blank, he’d probably have gone for something like “burglar” or “forester” to fit in with his One Unique Thing of having stolen from the Elf Queen, not “ex-mayor”.

Between his not-bad Charisma, his belt of the city, his background and a good roll, Edgar’s Halfling convinced the people of Glitterhaegen to rally to the defence of the city instead of fleeing on board the waiting ships. The frustrated preacher revealed himself to be the treacherous pirate, dropping his act and acquiring an outrageous accent – YARR! – in the process. While my original notes called for the player characters to encounter the traitor on board a ship, a swashbuckling fight on the shoulders and head of a giant statue worked just as well.

Fight scene, players win, demo ends. Huzzah!

One could argue – and in certain moods, I’d agree with this – that 13th Age is a game of two halves. There’s the relatively detailed and balanced combat engine, and the considerably looser and fuzzier story-generating mash of backgrounds, Icons and OUTs. Certainly, in a simple 45-minute demo like this one, I was able to use that divide to my advantage by warping the mutable story-side elements around the player’s choices and answers, while leaving the mechanical side unchanged.

Interestingly, one of the take-aways from the 13th Age adventure design panel seminar was that people preferred using adventures for inspiration and pre-prepared encounters to use in their own games instead of running the adventures as written in the book. While we’re unlikely to go so far as to publish a book that’s half stats, half fuzzy ideas on how to put those stats into context, that flexibility is one strength of 13th Age that we’ll build on as we look towards GenCon 2015.

 

 

Gen Con is almost here, and we have some great seminars lined up. Pelgrane Press has also submitted a GUMSHOE panel as well as an overall Pelgrane Press panel, and we hope to see those go live soon.

13th Age Adventure Design
Date & Time: Thursday at 1:00 PM
Duration: 1 hours
Location: Crowne Plaza : Pennsylvania Stn C
The freeform story rules in 13th Age require a different approach to adventure design. Rob Heinsoo, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, Philippe-Antoine Ménard and ASH LAW will talk about how to design with icons, backgrounds, uniques and more, and answer your questions.

13th Age GM Roundtable
Date & Time: Friday at 3:00 PM
Duration: 1 hours
Location: Crowne Plaza: Grand Central D
Rob Heinsoo, Mike Shea, Ruth Tillman and Wade Rockett share their advice on how to run 13th Age, from handling icon rolls to collaborative world building and beyond. Got questions? Bring ‘em!

13th Age: Year One
Date & Time: Saturday at 3:00 PM
Duration: 1 hours
Location: Crowne Plaza: Victoria Stn A/B
13th Age debuted one year ago at Gen Con! Join Rob Heinsoo, Simon Rogers and Wade Rockett as they talk about where the game is now, share what’s coming next and answer your burning questions.

13th Age Monster Workshop
Date & Time: Sunday at 2:00 PM
Duration: 1 hours
Location: Crowne Plaza: Pennsylvania Stn C
Join Rob Heinsoo, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan and ASH LAW as they build a new monster that’ll take advantage of the game’s mechanics to deliver all sorts of nasty surprises at the table.

GenCon logo_websiteWith Gencon upon us like an amorous gorilla of fun, here are six precepts that have served me well when running games at conventions.

1. Know The Player Characters

The PCs are the players’ interface with your adventure. If there’s one bit of preparation you can never skimp on, it’s the player characters. You don’t need to memorise everything, but you need to remember any key plot hooks or powers that you can use to bring that character into the action. Point out places where a particular PC might use one of their abilities (“hey, your spy has Traffic Analysis, so you can intercept the bad guys’ radio communications and work out their movements”) and things they need to know (“as a Paladin of the Great Gold Wyrm, you probably know someone in the Imperial Legion. You could try tapping them for information”). You can’t rely on the players to volunteer information like they might in a regular campaign game.

2.Go Around The Table

At a table of six, you’re going to have a mix of players – loud ones, quiet ones, shy ones, dominant ones, rules-lovers and people who don’t care what dice they’re rolling, combat monsters and character actors, hardcore fans of the game, and people who wandered in because there was a free spot at your table. It’s easy to fall into the trap of catering to the really enthusiastic, engaged players at the expense of others. So, always go around the table and make sure all the players have the opportunity to get involved in the action. Suggest ways for them to contribute if necessary.

Also, go physically around the table, especially if it’s a noisy room. If you need to have a one-on-one conversation with a player, don’t shout across the table. Get up and walk around to that player if you can.

3. Observe The Rules

Don’t necessarily obey them, mind, but don’t completely ignore them. Many people play convention games to see how a particular rules system plays. They want to see how the game works, especially the elements that are especially thematic or distinctive. For example, you can run an Aliens-inspired bug hunt mission in any science-fiction rpg, and it’s always a good model for a convention game – but show off the distinctive elements of your game of choice in the bug hunt. An Ashen Stars bug hunt might highlight the use of investigative abilities to find a way to escape the remorseless aliens, while a Gaean Reach bug hunt might spend more time talking about how this is a trap set by the hated Quandos Vorn.

4. Beware of Time Dilation

In a four-hour convention slot, you can assume that the first 30-45 minutes are lost to late arrivals, reading character sheets, introductions, trips to the bathroom and/or snack bar and other administrivia, and you should aim to finish up half an hour before the end of the slot, to give yourself a buffer in case scenes overrun, players need to leave early, and to handle any post-game debriefings. That leaves you with a shade under three hours of actual game time. Expect your first few scenes to take much longer than planned, as players struggle to find their character’s voice and role in the group, and to get to grips with the setting. Expect later scenes to go much more quickly than you’d expect, as convention players take bigger risks and make grander gestures than they might in campaign play.

5. Be Prepared!

Character sheets, dice, pencils, scratch paper (enough for you and the players), copy of your scenario, enthusiasm, quick-reference sheets, a rulebook, bottle of water, more dice because the first lot are going to roll under tables and get lost, more enthusiasm. Phone, set to silent. Throat lozenges, because you’re going to be hoarse after running a few games. Get some sleep and eat some real food if you can manage it.

In extremis, enthusiasm may be simulated with sufficient sugar and caffeine.

6. Let the Game Breathe

Part of your role as a convention GM is to make sure that everyone has a good time at your table. Sometimes that means giving the players things to do by throwing interesting NPCs and mysterious and action scenes at them, but it also involves stepping back when the players are having fun just roleplaying their characters or planning their next move. If everyone’s talking animatedly about events in the game, just step back for a moment. This can be hard to do in the heat of the moment, especially with that remorseless clock ticking down towards the end of the slot, but it’ll pay dividends with a good table players.

Pelgrane Press will be at Origins Game Fair on June 11-14, running the following 4-hour games in the Hyatt Regency Ballroom. You can find a master spreadsheet at http://originsgamefair.com/events/games/. Hope to see you there!

Event Number Event Name Event Start Date/Time Game Master
7011 13th Age – Omenquest Thu 10:00 AM Jacob Wachtman
6981 13th Age – Caverns & Cave-Creepers Thu 6:00 PM Kendall Jung
6982 13th Age – The Folding of Screamhaunt Castle Fri 10:00 AM Jacob Wachtman
6984 13th Age – Omenquest Fri 2:00 PM Kendall Jung
6985 13th Age – Caverns & Cave-Creepers Sat 10:00 AM Jacob Wachtman
6986 13th Age – Omenquest Sat 11:00 AM Randy White
6988 13th Age – Fungaloid Infection Sat 2:00 PM Kendall Jung
6989 13th Age – The Folding of Screamhaunt Castle Sat 4:00 PM Randy White
6990 Trail of Cthulhu – Voices from the Other Side Sat 4:00 PM Rob Bush
6991 13th Age – Danger at Deathless Gulch Sun 10:00 AM Jacob Wachtman
6992 13th Age – Caverns & Cave-Creepers Sun 11:00 AM Randy White

Pelgrane gamesYou might have noticed this post announcing our GenCon 2014 attendee survey (if you’re going to GenCon, be sure to enter before the end of February to go into a prize draw for Pelgrane vouchers – the survey link is here). We’re still working out the fine details of our GenCon GM package, so if you’re interested in running games at GenCon, email me for more information and to stay updated on our plans.

It’s not just GenCon, though – we’re always looking for GMs for other conventions. At the moment, conventions we’re attending and recruiting GMs for include UK Games Expo (Birmingham, UK – May 30th to June 1st) and Origins Game Fair (Columbus, OH – June 11th to 15th), but we also need GMs for Pax East (Boston, MA – April 11th to 13th) and Pax Prime (Seattle, WA – August 29th to September 1st).

We’re also keen to support conventions that we can’t make it to, but you can! If you’d like to run Pelgrane games at your local games convention, email me and let me know – we can help out with demo game and full game scenarios for all our lines, and we might even be able to offer incentives and prizes for your Pelgrane Press games.

Maybe you heard that Night’s Black Agents, the supernatural spy-thriller game by Kenneth Hite, scored two silver ENnie awards at Gen Con; and that its new expansion Double Tap sold out at the show.

I ca hear you asking, “Can I try this amazing-sounding game at PAX?” and “Is this an opportunity for me to get my first-person shooter console-loving friends into tabletop RPGs?” YES YOU CAN, and YES IT IS.

Peter Darley is GMing Night’s Black Agents at Indie RPGs on Demand, Washington State Convention Center room #305/306 on these days and times:

  • Friday, 1PM-6PM
  • Saturday, 11AM-4PM and 5PM-10PM
  • Sunday, 1PM-6PM

I’m serious about the FPS thing, by the way. Night’s Black Agents lets you play a badass Jason Bourne or Ziva David style covert operative, going up against a sinister vampire conspiracy in exotic locations across the world. Using high-tech weapons, networks of contacts and cool spy gear, you can evade, outwit and destroy your foes in exciting cinematic ways.

Drag your friends to Indie RPGs on Demand and try this game! You won’t be sorry.

13th Age banners at Norwescon

Are you going to PAX Prime in Seattle? Hey, us too! Here’s a roundup of all things 13th Age:

Play 13th Age – 13 awesome GMs will run 13th Age at Indie RPGs on Demand, Washington State Convention Center Room #305/306, with games starting every hour. We’ll also have Very Special Guest GMs, and never-before-seen monsters from the 13th Age Bestiary.

  • Friday, 10AM-7PM – Guest GM: Rob Heinsoo, all day.
  • Saturday, 10AM-7PM  – Guest GM: KISW’s The Rev. En Fuego, 3PM-7PM
  • Sunday, 10AM-7PM – Guest GM: EA BioWare’s Patrick Weekes, Noon-4PM
  • Monday, 10AM-4PM

Buy 13th Age - Gamma Ray Games is in the same room as Indie RPGs on Demand, and has stacks of 13th Age books to sell. Get your copy at PAX!

Get a 13th Age poster map, art print or original sketch from artist Aaron McConnell - Aaron will be at the 13th Age table, WSCC level 2 on Saturday and Sunday, 2PM-4PM. His wares include:

  • 11×14 prints of icons and other 13th Age art ($20)
  • High-quality 18×24 map posters ($40)
  • Custom 11×14 sketches ($50)

Not at PAX? Play online with Aaron R. on Saturday at 9PM EST – We’re happy to announce that Aaron (aka WolfSamurai and Phelanar) has joined the 13th Age team as our official Online Organized Play GM. Aaron runs an award-winning online 13th Age campaign and demoed the game for Erik Kain at Forbes magazine. He’ll be running a one-shot on Saturday for those of you who aren’t at PAX. Contact him on Twitter or Google+ for details.

Ask us questions - We have a table at WSCC level 2, where friendly and helpful people from Fire Opal Media will happily talk to you about the game. Look for the banners with the Diabolist and Archmage on them.

Play Night’s Black Agents - Want to take a break from 13th Age and play a Pelgrane Press game where you kill vampires and do cool spy stuff? Peter Darley is GMing this awesome RPG by Kenneth Hite at Indie RPGs on Demand:

  • Friday, 1PM-6PM
  • Saturday, 11AM-4PM and 5PM-10PM
  • Sunday, 1PM-6PM

We hope to see you there!

 

UPDATE: All of our events but one (The Lost Tower of Suln in the VIG Lounge) are sold out! If you want to play 13th Age at Gen Con, find us at Booth #101 and sign up for the 2-hour demo with GM Rob Heinsoo. See you in Indy!

Want to play 13th Age at Gen Con? As of right now we still have a few openings in these games — anywhere from 1 seat to 4 seats. Grab your place at the table!

RPG1352025 – Danger At Deathless Gulch SOLD OUT
Start Date & Time: Thursday at 11:00 AM
Duration: 2 hours
Location: Marriott : Indiana Blrm D : 2
Journey to the badlands of Midgard’s magic-blasted Wasted West to recover a magical tome from a crashed dwarven airship. This adventure will use icons from the Midgard Campaign Setting.

RPG1351150 – The Lost Tower of Suln (VIG only)
Thursday at 2:00 PM
4 hours
ICC : VIG Lounge
The tower is back, and the Icons are moving to control an artifact of Achmos. Pre-gen characters provided. Generate Uniques, Backgrounds, and Icons then play the module. VIG and VIG Companion only.

RPG1352435 – Blood and Lightning (Fast and Furious Version) SOLD OUT
Thursday at 7:00 PM
2 hours
Marriott : Indiana Blrm D : 3
Boltstrike Pillar is under attack! Fight, fast-talk or sneak past squads of mooks and nightmare creatures as you ascend the pillar toward your ultimate foe. Every game will be different.

RPG1352023 – Blood & Lightning SOLD OUT
Friday at 1:00 PM
4 hours
Marriott Blrm 3 : 6
A hidden enemy threatens Boltstrike Pillar, one of the Dragon Empire’s magical nodes. Defend it at all costs! Your choices during character generation ensure that no two games will be the same.

RPG1352021 – Blood and Lightning (Fast and Furious Version) SOLD OUT
Saturday at 10:00 AM
2 hours
Marriott Blrm 7 : 4

RPG1352034 – Caverns & Cave-Creepers SOLD OUT
Saturday at 11:00 AM
2 hours
Marriott Blrm 7 : 3
A spider cave, and a wizard who will pay well for their eggs. But so will his sorceress rival. And someone else will pay to see the eggs destroyed. Wait, is this 13th Age or Fiasco?

RPG1352039 – Blood and Lightning (Fast and Furious Version) SOLD OUT
Saturday at 1:00 PM
2 hours
Marriott Blrm 7 : 3

RPG1352031 – Caverns & Cave-Creepers SOLD OUT
Saturday at 5:00 PM
2 hours
Marriott Blrm 7 : 6

RPG1352022 – Blood and Lightning (Fast and Furious Version) SOLD OUT
Sunday at 11:00 AM
2 hours
Marriott Blrm 7 : 5

13th Age logoMAYDAY: Two of our Gen Con volunteer GMs had to cancel their con plans. That’s 14 hours of 13th Age gaming that won’t happen, unless heroic GMs step up to take over their slots.

If you can help, please email cat@pelgranepress.com!

In return for your help we can offer swag, and a chance to hobnob with our designers — including a daily GM huddle with Rob Heinsoo.

NBA DEXCON 2013

CONFIDENTIAL//SI-NBA//ORCON

We have learned that last year’s operation in Morristown, New Jersey failed to end the vampire threat. Kenneth Hite and John Adamus urgently request assistance at DEXCON 16 from 10:00AM – 6:00PM, Saturday, July 6, 2013 to counter yet another assault by the undead…

…or to participate in it.

The Operation: The 2013 World Night’s Black Agents Championship will be run in two rounds by Night’s Black Agents designer Kenneth Hite, assisted by John Adamus. Players can come for either, or both sessions:

  • The first round is a LIVE ACTION session in which players portray agents, vampires, and the holders of the clues to a terrifying conspiracy.
  • Surviving agents follow those clues to an explosive final tabletop round.

Prizes: Up to five winners (determined by survival and excellence) will receive FREE 2014 combo memberships to METATOPIA 2013, DREAMATION 2014 and DEXCON 17.

Get more details, and order Night’s Black Agents from the Pelgrane Shop.

Night’s Black Agents brings the GUMSHOE engine to the spy thriller genre, combining the propulsive paranoia of movies like Ronin and The Bourne Identity with supernatural horror straight out of Bram Stoker. Investigation is crucial, but it never slows down the action, which explodes with expanded options for bone-crunching combat, high-tech tradecraft, and adrenaline-fueled chases.

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