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Ashen Stars is the ENnie and Golden Geek-nominated SF GUMSHOE game from RPG legend, Robin D. Laws.
They call you lasers. Sometimes you’re called scrubbers, regulators, or shinestars. To the lawless denizens of the Bleed, whether they be pirates, gangsters or tyrants, you’re known in less flattering terms. According to official Combine terminology, the members of your hard-bitten starship crew are known as Licensed Autonomous Zone Effectuators. You’re the seasoned freelancers local leaders call when a situation proves too tough, too baffling, or simply too weird to handle on their own. In the abandoned fringe of inhabited planets known as the Bleed, you’re as close to a higher authority as they come.
In this gritty space opera game, the PCs are Lasers, freelance troubleshooters and law enforcers operating in a remote sector called the Bleed. They’re needed in the wake of a massive retreat by the Combine, the utopian empire that colonized it. Amid the ashes of a devastating war, the lasers solve mysteries, fix thorny problems, and explore strange corners of space—all on a contract basis. They balance the immediate rewards of a quick buck against their need to maintain their reputation, so that they can continue to quickly secure lucrative contracts and pay the upkeep on their ship and their cyber- and viroware enhancements.
Featuring seven new and highly detailed playable species -
- The eerily beautiful, nature-loving, emotion-fearing balla
- The cybes, former humans radically altered by cybernetic and genetic science
- The durugh, hunched, furtive ex-enemies of the Combine who can momentarily phase through solid matter.
- The humans, adaptable, resourceful, and numerous. They comprise the majority of a typical laser crew.
- The kch-thk, warrior locust people who migrate to new bodies when their old ones are destroyed.
- The armadillo-like tavak, followers of a serene warrior ethic.
- The vas mal, former near-omnisicent energy beings devolved by disaster into misshapen humanoid form.
Ashen Stars also contains extensive, streamlined rules for space combat, 14 different types of ship, a rogues gallery of NPC threats and hostile species’ and a short adventure to get you started in the Bleed.
Read feedback, reviews and see sample chapters here.
Status: Out Now. Includes PDF.
Greyhawk. Golarion. Eberron. Mystara. The names of these settings ring out in the history of roleplaying games. It’s no surprise that many 13th Age fans want to run campaigns in them, or others that are equally beloved. And one question comes up all the time: how do I figure out who the icons are in that setting?
That was the project I undertook when I turned 13 powerful NPCs from the Midgard Campaign Setting into icons for the Midgard Bestiary by Kobold Press. Here’s what I learned: When you’re identifying the icons in a setting, whether it’s an existing product or your own homebrew campaign, focus on Connections, Goals, Geography and Flavor.
There’s only one mechanic for icons: relationship dice. This is the most important thing to understand about icons. They are all social by nature. A powerful dragon who spends all of his time in the heart of a mountain, sleeping on a mound of treasure, is not an icon. But a dragon who rules a city-state could be an icon, because she has followers, factions, allies, enemies and a need to employ adventurers.
This is important on a practical level because someone has to provide the benefit of an icon relationship roll to a player character, whether it’s gold, a magic item, a map, a copy of a key, a crew of henchmen, or valuable information. Even if the benefit comes in the form of a flashback, it’s still a flashback to a past interaction with a follower or foe of the icon. (Or at high levels, the icon itself.)
Here’s another reason that greedy dragon I mentioned isn’t an icon: he doesn’t have goals. All icons want something, and they use their power and influence to chase after that thing. Usually what they want gets in the way of something another icon wants, and that’s when the fun really starts. Goals make icons more than just vending machines for benefits — it makes them compelling and exciting additions to your campaign. If a setting’s NPC isn’t driven to accomplish or prevent something, they won’t be a very interesting icon.
An icon’s influence can span the globe, but most of them have a center of power somewhere. A few, such as Midgard’s Baba Yaga, are nomads who might turn up anywhere; but such beings aren’t the rule. (And adventurers are still more likely to find that cunning Feywitch in the Old Margreve forest than they are in the Southlands.)
When choosing the icons for your campaign, consider the extent to which an NPC’s influence is determined by geography. In 13th Age‘s default setting, the icons are most powerful and influential on their home turf, but their actions can affect events setting-wide. But not every setting includes people whose influence could be felt anywhere, no matter how far.
Depending on your comfort level, you can take one of two approaches here:
- Decide where you want your campaign to take place, and choose icons based on which powerful NPCs with goals and followers could reasonably influence events in that place. For example, if your campaign takes place in and around a single city, your icons could be the ruler of the city, the local crime lord, the dwarf clan chief up in the nearby mountains, the northern barbarian king whose mercenaries fill the army’s ranks, the elf queen of the woods surrounding the city, and the scheming undead lord of a neighboring principality. If the city is important enough, faraway icons (even ones on other planes) could take an active interest in what happens there.
- Present your players with all the possible icons in the setting, and have them decide which ones they want to be involved with. Then apply the above process in reverse, identifying a place where all these powers could be in play.
You can also use the involvement of icons who are distant, and their influence limited, to foreshadow that something important is going to happen that makes them want to have agents on the ground. If a baron sends assassins to kill a high priest on the other side of a continent, there must be a good reason he went to all that trouble. Maybe the baron has a direct interest in the affairs of church and state halfway around the world; or maybe he’s allied with, or being blackmailed by, a faction closer to where the PCs are based.
Your choice of icons influences the type of campaign you’ll run, and which your players will play. Ask yourself whether making a particular NPC an icon helps to create the kind of game you’ll enjoy playing.
If the PCs never venture far from their city, but a distant sultana bent on conquest is an icon, it probably means her agents are in (or very near) the city, and your campaign will have a flavor of international intrigue. If the decadent, demon-summoning ruler of a slaver kingdom is an icon, you’ll focus heavily on the criminal and occult underworld — particularly smuggling, drugs, slavery and black magic.
You might be wondering how many NPCs to elevate to icon status. Five? Thirteen? More? Less?
Again, let’s look at practicalities. Just because you have 13 icons in a setting doesn’t mean that all 13 are going to be active in your campaign. And an even smaller number will play a major role in your adventures through successful icon relationship rolls. But in my experience, knowing that there are other powers striving and clashing in the world gives a setting depth, and makes it more dynamic. Even if things are relatively quiet in your neck of the woods, a mighty necromancer’s army might be steadily marching on a distant trade city — where a siege could mean a hungry winter for the dwarves in the North.
Me, I like to go with 13. It’s traditional, you know?
In the latest episode of their privateering podcast, Ken and Robin talk d20 Cthulhu, piracy, setting clichés and True Detective.
The Origins Award nominees for 2014 have been announced, and we’re happy to say that Pelgrane Press has products in two categories!
Congratulations to all of the nominees! And if you’re attending Origins, please stop by our booth — we’d love to meet you, and tell you all about these and our other fine products.
In the latest episode of their top-hatted podcast, Ken and Robin talk voice work, mob magicians, prehistoric drinking and Franz Anton Mesmer.
by Rob Heinsoo
ASH LAW and I are both going to be running quick 13th Age games at the new AFK Tavern in Renton tomorrow, April 5th, as part of International Tabletop Day.
ASH is showing up around 11 am, I’ll be there around 12:30 to run a couple two hour games before I return to my regularly scheduled work weekend.
I’ll be running demo style games, the usual pregen character sheets that the players get to add the interesting stuff to, backgrounds and icon relationships and the One Unique Thing.
But not all the pregen sheets will be the usual sheets. Tomorrow I’m going to bring pregen sheets for characters like the woman pictured here, in art by Aaron McConnell and Lee Moyer: the necromancer. I know that class hasn’t gone out to wider playtesting yet but it went a round within Fire Opal and it will be fun to bring it into the game tomorrow. What type of fun? Well, here’s one of the popular talents from the necromancer in its pre-edited form. Not everyone wants to play this way, but for those who do . . . .
If you spend your move action, your quick action and your standard action casting a daily spell that ordinarily only requires a standard action—while screaming grandeloquently, cackling maniacally, or megalomaniacally describing the grandeur of your plans and the futility of your enemies’ resistance—the daily spell you are casting becomes a recharge 18+ spell (roll after the battle) and you can invent a slight improvement to the spell, especially if it’s at least partly story-oriented.
Adventurer Feat: The sound of your own voice invigorates you and you gain 1d6 + your level + Charisma temporary hit points when you use Cackling Soliloquist.
We may or may not play with the chaos mage’s special brand of crazy tomorrow. I’m working on the first revision for that class today and if works out we’ll probably use it, if I’m not happy yet it will have to wait outside the tavern.
Looking forward to tomorrow and seeing friends I haven’t seen for awhile as well as new souls and necromancers.
In the latest episode of their entangling podcast, Ken and Robin talk monster ability awareness, stolen passports, William S. Burroughs and the Mary Celeste.
Join Rob Heinsoo and ASH LAW at AFK Elixirs and Eatery in Renton, WA on Saturday, April 5th for International TableTop Day! Here’s the schedule at the table:
- 11:00 AM to approximately 1:00 PM – ASH
- Approximately 1:30 PM to 5:00 – Rob
First come, first gets-to-play. As a special bonus they’ll have pre-generated characters for the never-before-seen necromancer and chaos mage classes from 13 True Ways. We hope to see you there!
While we’re on the subject of TableTop Day, we realized that we do not have tabletop tokens to represent Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day in our games. ASH used ProFantasy Software’s Character Artist 3 to rectify the situation.
Download the printable tokens