Coming 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.
Are you going to GenCon this year? Complete our GenCon questionnaire before February 28th, 2014 and be entered into a prize draw to win Pelgrane Press vouchers!
The questionnaire is available here: http://goo.gl/uRBrrt
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
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
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
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
Marriott Blrm 7 : 4
RPG1352034 – Caverns & Cave-Creepers SOLD OUT
Saturday at 11:00 AM
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
Marriott Blrm 7 : 3
RPG1352031 – Caverns & Cave-Creepers SOLD OUT
Saturday at 5:00 PM
Marriott Blrm 7 : 6
RPG1352022 – Blood and Lightning (Fast and Furious Version) SOLD OUT
Sunday at 11:00 AM
Marriott Blrm 7 : 5
Hail, raiders of the Gen Con high country! To celebrate the launch of Hillfolk and its companion volume Blood on the Snow, we’ve arranged two signing events at the Pelgrane Press booth. We have so many contributors at the show that we’re going to be splitting our signers into two bunches.
On Thurs Aug 15th at 3 pm swing by to grab autographs from such tentatively scheduled luminaries as Jennifer Brozek, Steve Dempsey, Dave Gross, Rob Heinsoo, Ryan Macklin, Michelle Nephew and illustrator Rachel A. Kahn.
Then come back on Sun Aug 18th at 11 am for the cuneiform stylings of Keith Baker, Emily Care Boss, Steven S. Long, TS Luikart, Andy Peregrine, Wade Rockett and Pedro Ziviani.
The Pelgrane Booth has moved to bigger digs this year, and is now #101, across from our fine pals at Paizo.
I’ll be there for both events, and around the booth for much of the rest of the time. As always I’ll be happy to deface any of my books, new or old, for you.
Many other contributors are at the show but unable to make this event. This will not prevent you from suavely bushwhacking and/or waylaying them as they perform their duties at booths elsewhere on the exhibit hall floor.
Kickstarter backers will recall that they can arrange ahead of time to pick up their books at the show. And of course there will be copies on sale for those of you who did not join us for the campaign back in October.
This post covers all things GenCon 2013.
Collect your books at GenCon
First I say to you Collect At GenCon! Preorder your books from the Pelgrane Store, paste COLLECT@GENCON into the voucher field at the bottom of the store page. Use your usual address. You won’t get charged shipping.
If you order 4 or more products, you’ll automatically get the Pelgrane convention 4 for 3 offer, and it will calculate the best price for you. Bring your order number and id to the stand and will give you your order. This offer does not apply to existing orders – we can’t unprocess orders you’ve already placed.
Where Are We?
This will be the biggest ever GenCon for Pelgrane Press, Fire Opal Media and ProFantasy Software. We are opposite the Paizo stand here on stand 101. Stand guests include Rob Heinsoo, Kenneth Hite, Robin D Laws, Steve Dempsey, Paula Dempsey, Chris Huth and Rachel Kahn, who will be happy to chat to you and sign things.
Games, Games, Games and Seminars
We’ll be running demos on the stand, but we have a lot of officially sanctioned events, and representation at Games on Demand.
There is a GUMSHOE seminar, a 13th Age seminar and lots of Pelgrane games. We could really do with some more more GMs – so contact us for more details.
Newly minted and fresh out at GenCon will be eight
MAYDAY: 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 firstname.lastname@example.org!
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.
This GenCon was definitely the best I’ve attended in very many respects. First, the con itself was packed, and the atmosphere was very upbeat. I was concerned that the absence of many creator-owned publishers might have affected this, but the residue of their presence (Games on Demand, for example) meant that their good work continues.
Second, Pelgrane had a stellar array of booth occupants. First we had Beth Lewis, who transformed the look of the booth, with a smaller demo table and large card displays which gave the demo area a dual purpose. Wire racks displays for Pelgrane and ProFantasy made both booths look more professional, and made a better use of space. Both printers (Taylor and Thomson Shore) came through, with Ashen Stars, Dead Rock 7 and Out of Time all present as planned. The GeoFern charge of $265 drayage for the 100 Ashens Stars stung, but steeled us to sell more copies.
Robin Laws spent much of his GenCon behind the Pelgrane booth, with appearances by Ken, whose brash American ways and gift for elegant précis shifted many books. Beth was also a good upseller, with a number of customers walking away dazed, wondering how their purchase of a copy of Esoterrorists turned into a 4 for 3 bundle. I designated the area behind the Pelgrane stand an American zone, and attempted to channel the colonial spirit of free enterprise and brazen commerciality, to limited success. Apparently “man up” has three a’s, and “conflab” is not an American word.
Paula Dempsey signed and promoted her book, the Investigator’s Guide to Occult London, and is now officially one of the talent. We took a more ad hoc approach to demoing, and Steve Dempsey ran many short demos for Trail of Cthulhu and Ashen Stars. We have to thank Kevin Kulp for the Ashen Stars demo game which he ran for us on Wednesday, and we appropriated. Kevin ran other longer Ashen Stars games – we know, because the players came to the stand and bought the book.
Graham “Walminator” Walmsley left us with the beautiful Stealing Cthulhu print copies of his Purist adventures and his other books, then flitted from booth to booth surrounded by adoring fans like a Justin Bieber’s red-headed uncle.
I only had a brief time alone behind the stand (half an hour or so on Saturday) – there is something about a single person behind a booth which is like gamer Kryptonite, or maybe it’s just me, but the rest of the time we were so busy, we didn’t get much of a chance to chat. Robin and I did devise “inappropriate dungeon” in a lull, but I’d better explain that one in person.
It was great to meet all our customers, and a far greater proportion of visitors to the stand already knew what GUMSHOE is and were really asking about the difference in iterations so they could pick the right setting for them. Robin, Ken and I ran a GUMSHOE seminar, and for the first time, the majority of people in the audience were already GUMSHOE GMs, and were asking useful questions which resulted from actual play. It was interesting that the panel members’ perspectives of investigative games differed, so we were able to give a broader range of advice. Steve and Paula noticed a big flurry of sales after the panel, so we must have done something right. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to record the session.
There were still a few people who equated “not having to roll” with “investigation is too easy in GUMSHOE” and “the idea of GUMSHOE seems railroady” but they are few and far between now.
We sold all of Stealing Cthulhu, most of the Ashen Stars, more Trail of Cthulhu than last year, sold through Mutant City Blues (which appears to be regaining momentum) and lots of Bookhounds, too. Out of Time and DR7 also sold very well. Sales of all products were up, and our sales total was double last year’s, which is amazing.
(c)2011 Roberto Micheri
Beth picked up an ENnie for Cartography for Bookhounds, and I want to give a shout out to the yog-sothoth forum volunteers who helped us compile the index. Next year, we’ll be submitting ProFantasy products as well, because the irony of Pelgrane winning cartography was just too much.
I talked to Jason Walters, who has big plans for IPR over the next year; Ron Edwards, who bemoaned his lack of technical nous in getting his books out in PDF form (any volunteers?); Luke Crane, who showed me how to walk like an American; Michelle Nephew who was there sans John and twins; Will Hindmarch and Jeff Tidball, whose shiny little faces give me hope for the future of the industry; and was very happy to talk to proactive retailers who signed up both to Bits and Mortar and the Ashen Stars Game Preview Event.
Swag was limited by luggage allowance, but I grabbed The One Ring, Free Market, Spione, Cliffourd the Big Red God, Cthulhu Gloom, some M&M and Eclipse Phase supplements.
Finally, big thanks to all the GMs who ran GUMSHOE and other Pelgrane games at GenCon; next year, we’ll try to get even more on the books.
Other GenCon wraps-ups mentioning Pelgrane:
We are away for GenCon, returning on Monday 8th August. All mail orders will be shipped out on Tuesday, though PDF versions will be available as usual within minutes. We will be in intermittent email contact.
Ralf of ProFantasy has created some posters for GenCon…