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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.
Redditors dig Hillfolk. Here’s what some say,
“I played a “season” and it was one of the most fun campaigns I ever had… I really felt like a cast member-and-writer of a drama series as I played.”
“The finale was absolutely amazing. People held back all season and the finale became a madhouse of one-upping each other, dropping their saved up chips to take control of the big scene and turn it to their character’s advantage. But the whole appeal of it is – if you win now, you’ll pay for it later. And if you lose now, you have the power later to upturn the applecarts of the others.”
“I really recommend it for anyone who enjoys story gaming and the idea of a real drama series with mic-drop action.”
“I’ve run several games of Hillfolk (well, DramaSystem) and it has easily become one of my all time favourite games. In my opinion it’s everything it promises to be and then some, it’s the most fun I’ve personally ever had behind the DM screen.”
“Hillfolk is goddamn great.”
“It’s awesome. I love how it’s so intuitive. I feel that it’s pretty well already become the go-to game when there’s not some other sort of crunch that I want out of the game. I was impressed at how we had a group of moderately different levels of playstyle and experience, but there wasn’t much trouble with everyone getting it and getting into it. It’s a very smooth startup that way.”
“DramaSystem is more a way of thinking about games rather than strictly just a game in and of itself. I like how it gets people to focus on when things become interesting in a game because there’s conflict, because you can sweep as much material as is necessary between scenes. There’s some surprisingly interesting metagame around the procedural system.”
Jason Thompson, over on his blog, mockman.com, reviews The Dreamhounds of Paris. Jason says,
“This is great stuff. The Surrealists and the Mythos belong together.”
Adding, “The idea of the Surrealists being Randolph-Carter-level Dreamers (or even better than that Carter dude) is genius; I can’t imagine historical figures who fit the role more.”
“In short, this is a fascinating, challenging campaign that pays homage to Lovecraft’s ‘canon’ Dreamlands, but, since it simultaneously upends and mutates them, might be just as well suited to people who *hate* the Dreamlands (shame on you). If I had one wish, I could have used more of everything…”
You can check out the full review here. You can purchase the Dreamhounds of Paris Bundle, featuring The Book of Ants, at the shop.
Like most designers, when I get a stray idea for a game mechanic I try to exercise the discipline to make a note of it.
Here’s where I can’t speak for other designers: I almost never use them, because they are misconceived by dint of their very nature as stray ideas.
Mechanics for their own sake don’t serve the games we try to fit them into. The standalone rules idea is invariably aesthetically pleasing in the abstract. And that’s not rules should be. They should solve a problem arising from your design goals, not sit there looking all pretty and innovative.
For example, I’m glad I saved the following note, and even gladder that I didn’t build it into DramaSystem:
Grid you fill out to keep track of identically framed scenes –- repetition alters odds of success, as you can’t have the same outcome more than twice (and then only when you haven’t advanced the conflict in any other way.)
The idea of a grid you have to fill out seems momentarily engaging. It gives players a concrete way of interacting with the rules. You can imagine yourself behind a booth at Gen Con opening up a book and showing it to a someone you’re pitching the game to.
Yet in practice it would pose a distraction from the organic creation flow DramaSystem aims to facilitate. The occasional transfer of a drama token, and the even more occasional play with procedural tokens and cards, provides more than enough ritual gaminess.
It is worse than distracting, in that it sets out to solve a hypothetical problem that in practice never occurs in DramaSystem. Once it gets moving, the story moves so quickly that you’re not tempted to revisit an exchange that has already been resolved. Players searching for a scene to call naturally reject this option, without needing a rule at all, much less one that has them filling in a freaking grid.
No matter how beautifully graphic designer Christian Knutsson would have made that grid look.
Lesson: jot down those free-floating rules ideas for what they might teach you about design. But don’t wedge them into your designs, inflicting them on unsuspecting players.
As Gridlock the Stray Rules Idea, pictured at right in full tentacled glory, might say, “If I’m aesthetically pleasing in my own right, I’m too complicated!”
Hillfolk is a game of high-stakes interpersonal conflict by acclaimed designer Robin D. Laws. Using its DramaSystem rules, you and your friends can weave enthralling sagas of Iron Age tribes, Regency socialites, border town drug kingpins, a troubled crime family, posthuman cyberpunks and more. Purchase Hillfolk and its companion Blood in the Snow in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.
In the latest episode of their well-excavated podcast, Ken and Robin talk overly real CGI, themselves as scared kids, the Toronto mystery tunnel and Charlemagne vs. Irminsul.
This newly arrived 13th Age zombie has two inspirations.
First, I’ve been reading Jason Sholtis’ compilation of The Dungeon Dozen: Random-Tables for Fantasy RPGs. “Reading” may be the wrong word, but I’ve definitely been picking it up and allowing photons from its pages to slam into my eyeballs.
Second, I like the way one of the zombies in Cal Moore’s Shadows of Eldolan adventure randomly ends up with a pumpkin stuck on its head and keeps on fighting, since hey, what does a zombie care? I started wondering if there was another interesting zombie I could insert into a crowded market-scene, and the mook below is the result.
My guess is that the coin zombie is a necromancer’s attempt to answer the age-old problem affecting most zombie attacks, which is that normal people start running away when zombies attack, and people run faster than zombies. A small expenditure of coins, an enchantment based on mortal greed, and you’ve got a zombie that magically convinces its targets to stick around and be eaten.
If your PCs are the type who count every coin, feel free to let them collect coins of various denominations that add up to 1d4 gp per coin zombie after the fight. If innocent bystanders and NPCs ended up getting nabbed by the jackpot or sticking around to pocket coins, subtract a few from the loot. If your PCs are the type to track down every last coin . . . [[insert GM stage-whisper]], curse the coins. They did fall out of a zombie’s guts, so they were cursed to begin with.
We’re not sure where you got the idea that treasure falling out of dead monsters was a good thing, but it wasn’t from this booby-trapped horror.
2nd level mook [undead]
Greedy claw +7 vs. AC—3 damage
C: Lethal jackpot +7 vs. MD (1d3 nearby enemies/bystanders)—3 ongoing psychic damage, and if target moves while taking ongoing psychic damage, it can only move to the jangling pile of coins that fell out of the zombie’s crumbling body to cause this attack.
GM: If you’re feeling merciful, say that a quick action to pocket some of the coins gives a +2 bonus to the save against the ongoing psychic damage. (This GM message brought to you by Jonathan-Didn’t-Write-this-Monster.)
Limited use: 1/battle per coin zombie, when that coin zombie is dropped to 0 hit points.
Headshot: A critical hit against a coin zombie cancels one mook’s lethal jackpot ability that turn, though if the crit eliminates more than one coin zombie, others will still trigger their own lethal jackpots.
PD 12 HP 8 (mook)
Mook: Kill one coin zombie mook for every 8 damage you deal to the mob.
Traditionally in the West, Friday the 13th is a day of calamity: plans go awry, every advantage is met with a disadvantage, and any act can have unintended consequences.
In that spirit, here are three cursed magic items for the 13th Age roleplaying game:
Mr. Punch’s Hat (+2 armor at adventurer tier): Once per day when you drop an enemy to 0 hp with an attack using a melee weapon, you can shriek, “That’s the way to do it!” in a grating, high-pitched voice to gain a +2 bonus to your next attack with that weapon this battle. If you do, you take a –2 penalty to MD until the end of the battle. Quirk: Violence is always the answer.
Wand of Misrule (+2 implement at adventurer tier): You take a –1 penalty to skill checks based on Wisdom. When you score a critical hit while using this implement, the target is confused (save ends). If the natural attack roll is 1–5, a random nearby ally takes 1d6 psychic damage. Quirk: Speaks in riddles.
Staff of Misrule (+3 implement at champion tier): You take a –2 penalty to skill checks based on Wisdom. When you score a critical hit while using this implement, the target takes 1d6 psychic damage and is confused (save ends), and you can make a second attack against a nearby or far away enemy. If you roll a natural 1–5 on the second attack, you take 1d6 psychic damage and are confused (save ends). Quirk: Has contempt for authority.
13th Age answers the question, “What if Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet, lead designers of the 3rd and 4th editions of the World’s Oldest RPG, had free rein to make the d20-rolling game they most wanted to play?” Create truly unique characters with rich backgrounds, prepare adventures in minutes, easily build your own custom monsters, and enjoy fast, freewheeling battles full of unexpected twists. Purchase 13th Age in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.
In the latest episode of their revelatory podcast, Ken and Robin talk F20 entheogens, Rahm’s run-off, status quo first acts, and Goetia.