Support Eberron!

Over the last few years I’ve been working to support Eberron, between posting my unofficial Q&As and lobbying WotC for some form of official support. It’s my hope that this will come to pass in 2015, and that we will have new Eberron material. However, there’s no easy way for WotC or myself to know just how many people still want new Eberron material. I don’t know how many people find my Q&As to be useful, and if it’s worthwhile for me to continue writing them. So I’m asking you to help me get a sense of how many people actually want to see new Eberron material.

I’m currently involved in two D&D related charity events. On October 25th I will be playing an artificer in the Extra Life campaign with the WotC D&D team. On November 2nd I will be running an Eberron adventure for ChariD20. Both of these are supporting noble causes – childrens’ hospitals and child literacy – and they are also a chance to show support for Eberron itself. I’m asking you to donate one dollar to one of these causes, and to reach out to anyone you know who would like to see new Eberron material and to ask them to do the same. All I’m asking for is one dollar – just enough to stand up and be counted as someone who would like to see more Eberron in the future (and hey, supporting a good cause in the process).

Donate to Extra Life

Donate to ChariD20

If you’re able to spare more, these are both excellent causes. Furthermore, if you donate at least $10 to ChariD20, you’ll get a copy of the 5E Eberron scenario I’m creating for the event… meanwhile, if you donate to Extra Life, you can help establish details about the character I’ll be playing (currently an Artificer who follows the Silver Flame).

TO BE CLEAR: This is just an informal show of support. There’s no concrete assurance that it will affect WotC’s decisions. But knowing how many people are willing to throw down a dollar in support of Eberron means a great deal to ME, and helps strengthen my resolve when it comes to lobbying for new content and continuing my unofficial support… and at the end of the day, you’re helping a great charity. So if you’ve enjoyed my Q&As or other work and want to see more of it in the future, please give $1 to one of these causes – and share this message with other Eberron fans that you know.

Thanks!

Keith Baker

Gaming For Charity

I’ve been busy working on Phoenix, and I’ll have more to say about that soon. But I’m also making time for a few special projects, and I hope that you’ll support either or both of them.

First up: On Saturday, October 25th I am taking part in Extra Life, a Charity program benefiting Children’s Miracle Network hospitals. I’m participating as a player with the Dungeons & Dragons team: I’m going to be playing in the first 8 hours of a 24-hour D&D marathon run by gamemaster Greg Bilsland. The entire event will be live-streamed, so you can follow along with our perilous journey. My donation page is here, and I’m personally raising money for Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. In exchange for your donations, you can help establish details about the character I play – everything from my name and class to my motto or battle-cry… plus, the more money I raise, the more benefits the DM gives to me, just like the Hunger Games! In particular, if you select an Eberron option for my Race or Class, I will develop 5E stats for that element and post them here. For Race, you can choose an Eberron specific race – such as Warforged – or a traditional race with a specific Dragonmark. Note that these will not be official and may not match whatever form official 5E Eberron support takes, and in the case of the Artificer I will only develop the elements of the class as needed for this adventure, NOT a full 20-level class with a full infusion list. Nonetheless, it is an opportunity to help an awesome cause and to get the wheels turning on 5E Eberron development, and I hope you’ll lend a hand! Once again, you can find my donation page here.

A week later – on Sunday, November 2nd – I’ll be on the other side of the screen, gamemastering events for Celebrity ChariD20. This event is raising money for Reach Out And Read, a charity that promotes child literacy. I’m going to be creating a short 5E Eberron adventure with pregenerated characters. If you donate you can watch the livestream of the event, and with a donation of $15 or more you will get a copy of the Eberron adventure. You can donate here!

Both of these are excellent causes, and I hope that you will help to make them both succeed. If you have any questions about either one, please ask. Otherwise, again, please lend a hand and support Extra Life or ChariD20. Thank you!

 

Hacking 5E Eberron

I am confident that there is going to be official 5E support for Eberron, but I don’t know when it will happen or how extensive it will be… and I know that there’s people out there who want to start a 5E Eberron campaign RIGHT NOW. I can’t provide extensive support, in part because I don’t know the system well enough. I’m still learning it, and I don’t know what’s balanced and what isn’t. My first pass on a few ideas was based on material in the playtest that has now changed; it needs to be reevaluated and rebalanced, and it’s going to be a while before I have time for this. But I can still provide some advice on starting your own Eberron game.

First and foremost, reskinning is your friend. Don’t be afraid to change names and change flavor. An infernal warlock doesn’t have to be infernal; as long as your DM’s on board, there’s no reason “Dark One’s Blessing” can’t be “Blessing of the Silver Flame.” “Hellish Rebuke” becomes “Vengeance of the Flame.” And pow! – you’ve got a Silver Pyromancer. Consider the following examples…

BEASTHIDE SHIFTER WARRIOR. Mechanically, he’s a half-orc barbarian with the bear totem spirit. Which means that he’s strong and durable, he’s got darkvision, and when he gets into a fight he can temporarily enter a state where he becomes stronger and more durable. You and I know it’s “barbarian rage”; but there’s no reason you can’t describe it as beasthide shifting.

LONGSTRIDER SHIFTER DRUID OR RANGER. Mechanically, she’s a wood elf; she’s got darkvision, enhanced senses (Perception proficiency), she’s fast, and good at hiding in the woods. She doesn’t literally shift, but on the other hand, any time she moves 35 feet she’s moving faster than a human could; you could simply describe her shifting at the start of combat. There’s a few things that don’t make sense, like the fact that she doesn’t sleep and has weapon training. You could ignore that or recolor it – it’s not that she DOESN’T sleep, it’s that her senses are so sharp that she can’t be taken unawares even while sleeping, and her feral mind resists charming effects. And is it really a problem that your shifter druid happens to know how to use a longbow?

HALF-ELF ARCHER ARTIFICER. This guy might be from House Cannith, but he’s from a mixed bloodline and can’t inherit the dragonmark. But he DOES have a talent for crafting temporary magic items and for making things explode. He can recognize and identify any sort of magic by studying its aura. He’s good with rituals and can figure out how to perform anybody’s rituals. Druid? Wizard? Cleric? He understands the fundamental principles and can make anybody’s ritual work. But crossbows are his specialty. Give him a moment and he can jury-rig a hand crossbow from almost anything. Give him another moment and he can throw together an enchanted bolt. Explosive? Stunning? Radiant Damage? He can do it. Of course, mechanically he’s an Infernal Warlock with the Pact of the Tome. His mastery of rituals comes from his Book of Ancient Secrets invocation. His ability to identify any magic item is the Eldritch Sight invocation. His fantastic hand crossbow is simply the cosmetic explanation of his Eldritch Blast. He can always put a deadly crossbow together, and he can fix up a host of magic bolts. Radiant damage? Sacred Flame. Explosive Bolt? Fireball. Stunning Bolt? Hold Person. Flamethrower? Burning Hands. Of course, given that the crossbow is entirely cosmetic, he can use any of these effects without it; this time the fireball is a one-use wand he’s thrown together. The point is that “invocations” don’t have to be invocations; they can represent his expertise. Spells can be jury-rigged magic items; he’s simply limited in how many he can put together before he needs to inventory his supplies with a short rest, and he can only create items tied to his specialties. It’s obviously not perfect; he can’t repair constructs (although with the Tome pact, you can get him the Mending cantrip) or create PERMANENT magic items. But it can at least get you the FLAVOR of an artificer until the real thing gets figured out.

WHAT ABOUT DRAGONMARKS?

I have thoughts on how to handle Dragonmarks, but my ideas are still very half-baked. For now, the simplest thing to do is simply to not play a character with a Dragonmark. You could still be in a HOUSE; any number of backgrounds support this. You Guild Artisan is a Cannith heir. Your Entertainer is Phiarlan. Your Soldier is from House Deneith. Your half-orc ranger with the Outlander background is Tharashk. Your Noble isn’t an aristocrat; he’s an arrogant House heir from a particularly powerful branch of the family. He hasn’t developed the mark yet, but you just wait and see – he WILL. You don’t need to have the Mark to have the flavor of the house.

If you really really want the Mark, there’s a few ways to do it. The simplest is the Magic Initiate feat; simply relabel it “Least Dragonmark” and choose a spell and cantrips that reflect your desired class. If you’re human, you can even do it at first level. Alternately, you could explain some of your class abilities as being derived from your mark, just as I reflavored the barbarian rage as Beasthide Shifting. Combine that with an appropriate background and it can certainly work. However, I do think there is a much better way to do this; I just think it wants to be its own thing, and I haven’t worked it out to my satisfaction.

WHAT ABOUT WARFORGED AND CHANGELINGS? KALASHTAR AND PSIONICS?

While all of these things are important parts of Eberron, you can have an Eberron game without them – and for now, that’s what I suggest you do. There are lots of possibilities you CAN easily explore right away… so try one of those. One of my favorite Eberron PCs is a warforged artificer, but in the campaign I’m in right now I’m playing a half-orc paladin from the Demon Wastes… because that DOES work perfectly within the existing rules, and it’s an interesting part of Eberron I’ve never explored in depth. If I hadn’t done that I was considering playing a Royal Eye of Aundair (arcane trickster rogue), a paladin of the Blood of Vol, or an agent of the Trust. Other characters in my campaign include a Gatekeeper druid and someone actually playing Jaela Daran (a cleric of Light using halfling racial stats to reflect “child”). I really like playing warforged, and I certainly will once they are ready, but I can start exploring Eberron in 5E without them.

BUT HOW DO YOU RECONCILE EBERRON WITH RARE MAGIC ITEMS?

It’s a good question, and frankly one I can’t answer in depth until I’ve actually seen the DM’s Guide. The main thing to me is that you can keep the fundamental idea of Eberron as a world in which low-level magic is used to benefit society – where we send messages with speaking stones and light the streets with continual flame – without making magic swords commonplace. The idea of 5E is that even a +1 magic sword is a special thing, and I’m okay with that as a concept. Low level magic remains a driving force of Eberron – it just turns out than many magic items that used to be low-level are now in fact high-level.

I’ll revisit this topic once the DM’s Guide is out, and I hope that there will be official support that will address it even more clearly in the future. But the short form is that I don’t believe 5E’s approach to magic items critically damages the basic foundation of Eberron.

That’s all I have time for today, as I’m just about to head off to PAX. If you’re in Seattle, check out my schedule here – in particular, I will be hanging out at Card Kingdom from 6 PM – 8 PM this Thursday!

Before I go, here’s two quick questions from the mailbag…

WotC seems to have taken down Eye on Eberron and your other series of Eberron articles. Do you know if they have plans to put them up again in the near future, or, if not, they are mirrored elsewhere?

I think this is just about reorganizing the website to focus on 5th Edition. It looks like all the content is still archived and available. The Dragonshard articles are here. And I think this is all the 4E articles.

My players are heading into Dolurrh through a manifest zone. Thoughts on the effect on unguarded players and divine powers?

Off the top of my head, the big thing about Dolurrh is that it saps your memories. I’d have people make Wisdom saves every so often, and anytime they fail say “Tell me what you’ve just forgotten.” If they can think of something dramatic and entertaining, that’s what they’ve forgotten. If there’s nothing compelling, I might have them forget a proficiency, spell, or class ability. It’s not something you can FIGHT – so needless to say, it’s a pretty compelling reason to get out of there ASAP.

I don’t particularly think DIVINE powers would be singled out; if there’s trouble, I think arcane magic would be equally affected. Bear in mind that Dolurrh isn’t the source of negative energy – that’s Mabar. So I might run through the spell list and come up with a few spells that will behave in an unusual manner – does Speak With Dead allow you to make contact with the living? If you use resurrection magic, does it fail, or does it just zap the target right out of Dolurrh? But I don’t have a list of effects off the top of my head.

PAX 2014

This is the busiest time of year for me. Having just got back from Gen Con, I’m about to go to PAX Dev, and then stick around for PAX Prime. You can find me at the following events:

THURSDAY 2:45-3:45, Vashon

Roundtable: Worldbuilding

Designing a setting for your game can be a mind-expanding experience. Whether you’re crafting cities for an MMO or mapping terrain for an RPG, you have the whole world in your hands. Designer Keith Baker leads a discussion on what makes worlds work.

THURSDAY 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM, Card Kingdom

Hanging Out With Keith

THIS IS NOT A PAX EVENT! Thursday night I’ll be spending a few hours at Card Kingdom. Come talk about Eberron, Gloom, or what I’m doing with my new company Twogether Studios! Take a look at Fairy Tale Gloom! This is going to be an informal event so drop by anywhere in that range.

MONDAY 10:30 – 11:30, Sandworm Theatre

The Art of the Table: GMing Beyond the Basics

Fending off a horde of ravening zombies seems like child’s play, compared to wrangling the needs of a party of RPG gamers! GMs must wear the various hats of actor, guide, narrator, friend, foe, and many more… All while still staying sane and helping everyone bring the most fun to the gaming table. Ben Mandall and our panel of expert game masters will analyze what it takes to be a truly superb GM in an interactive panel that both first-time and veteran GMs will learn from. Bring your questions!

Again, my Card Kingdom event has nothing to do with PAX, so you don’t need to go to PAX to catch up with me there. One way or another, I hope to see some of you in Seattle!

Dragonmarks 8/21/14 – Drow, Dwarves and More!

As some of you may recall, my original plan was to write about Aundair. However, I’ve been a little busy recently, between conventions, Gloom, and starting my own company.  I do still plan to tackle Aundair and the Eldeen in the near future, and to talk about options for 5th Edition, as much as I can. But for now, here’s a few questions that came my way about the races of Eberron. As always, these are just my personal opinions and may contradict or clash with canon sources.

Eberron is hardly lacking in diverse character options, but none of your various Drow societies allow easy opportunities for use as player characters. Was this deliberate? Could you reasonably think of a playable Drow? As it stands, the Vulkoor-worshipers, Sulatar, and Umbragen are all xenophobic “jungle savages” for adventuring parties to slay or narrowly escape.

First off: was it deliberate that they didn’t allow EASY opportunities for player characters? Absolutely. The Drow are supposed to be alien and mysterious; I wouldn’t want them to be casually integrated into the Five Nations, because if that’s the case what makes it interesting to play one? With that said, “no easy options” doesn’t mean “no options”, so let’s look at a few.

The Foundling. In my novel The Shattered Land, we run into a gray-skinned man named Gerrion. He’s a Sulatar halfblood who now lives in Stormreach as a gambler and guide. While Gerrion is specifically half-drow, his story works just as well for a full drow; he’s drow by blood but was raised among humans. Just as the city elves of Eberron are dramatically different from the Aereni or the Tairnadal, you can always just have a city drow, who is genetically drow but not influenced by their cultures.

The Fish Out Of Water. If you consider the protagonists of the Dreaming Dark trilogy to be an adventuring party, The Gates of Night introduces a drow player character in Xu’sasar. She is a Qaltiar drow (an offshoot of the Vulkoori, but with a broader animistic tradition as opposed to being entirely hung up on scorpions) who ends up stuck with the rest of the party and as lone survivor of her clan. There’s no easy way for her to physically return to her home, and with her clan dead, not much for her to return to. So she binds herself to the party and fights alongside them, doing her best to adapt to their strange world and bizarre traditions. If you want to get a better sense of how I see this working out, well, check out the book!

The Emissary. The Umbragen aren’t “jungle savages”; if you go to the primary source, they are a subterranean culture easily as advanced as the Aereni. Most critically, they are currently locked in battle with the Daelkyr lord Belashyrra… and they are losing that war. By and large, the Umbragen aren’t xenophobic; they simply don’t CARE about the surface world. The primary reason for an Umbragen to come to the surface is to find weapons, magic, or allies to help inn their war against the Daelkyr… which is a perfectly valid path for an adventurer. If that doesn’t work for you, you could easily have an Umbragen exile who has been banished from the depths for any number of reasons, and traveled to Khorvaire because hey, they aren’t some sort of jungle savage, and if they must live on the surface they’d rather do it somewhere civilized.

 
Eberron has always reveled in non-standard takes on traditional D&D races, yet the presentation of dwarves in the setting cleaves very closely to traditional view of our favorite bearded alcoholics. Was this intentional? In a setting where the elves are Mayan necromancers and the hobbits ride dinosaurs, it seems curious to have dwarves still happily mining their mountains and hating orcs.

First off, the goal of Eberron wasn’t to change races just for the sake of changing races; it was an exploration of facets of those races. Both the Aereni and the Tairnadal are essentially a response to the long lifespan of the elves, with the idea that a race of people with a potential thousand year lifespan will have trouble letting go; thus they find ways to cling to life, preserving their heroes through magic or emulation. The intrigue-laden society of the gnomes is tied to their natural knack for illusions, ability to talk to burrowing spies, and knack for alchemy (which is to say poison). In the case of the dwarves, what I wanted to explore is something that I feel doesn’t come out often… The dwarves have all the gold (along with the best steel). If you look at the picture of the male dwarf in the 3.5 ECS, he’s not a long-bearded warrior in chainmail with an axe in one hand and a stein in the other; he’s a merchant prince. The dwarves of Eberron are the Medici banks and Saudi princes. Yes, they can fall back on their natural toughness and their love of the axe, but their power is their gold. Let’s look at Antus ir’Soldorak, chancellor of the Aurum:

Antus’s holdings include gold and platinum mines. Following the secession of the Mror Holds, he founded the Soldorak Mint, and his currency is now commonplace throughout Karrnath and the Lhazaar Principalities. He has invested his wealth across the Five Nations, and could have an interest in any sort of industry that serves the needs of an adventure. He is determined to break the power of the Twelve and stamp out the last vestiges of Galifar, and to this end he searches for new industrial and magical developments—seeking to fund such endeavors and exploit their results before the knowledge can be acquired or destroyed by the Twelve. He has an enormous gilded airship, Chains of Gold, which includes its own speaking stone station and altar of resurrection. Soldorak spends most of his time aboard his ship, flying from city to city to oversee local operations. He purchased his noble title, and technically he is a Karrnathi warlord, but he rarely visits his estates.

Just to point out, Antus isn’t a weird unique case; while it has spread across Khorvaire, the Aurum was founded in the Mror by wealthy dwarf-lords who wished to increase their influence.

So you can HAVE the drunken dwarf warrior who wants nothing more than to go beat down those mountain orcs, but he’s likely working for one of the mighty clan lords whose power comes from gold more than from iron.

There’s no question: on the surface, the dwarves are the least distinct of Eberron’s races. But there is still a unique aspect to them that can be very interesting to explore, if you dig into it.

Did any of the dwarves who kicked out the surface tribes, survive down in Khyber below the Mror holds?

Not according to canon sources, but you could always change that in your campaign. Perhaps there’s a lone fortress still holding out against the aberrations. Perhaps explorers find an amazingly advanced peaceful dwarven civilization… but is all as it seems, or are they secretly controlled by the daelkyr? Or perhaps the only survivors are the derro, the twisted remnants of the ancient dwarves. Personally, I lean towards the latter option… all that’s left below is horror and ruin, and ancient secrets waiting to be found. But it’s certainly something you could take in a different direction.

Were there any races you wanted to have in Eberron that didn’t make the cut? If so, what were they?

Well, there were the merfolk and sahuagin in the oceans, but I wasn’t pushing for those to be playable races. The only playable race that was cut from the original write-up was goblins, who have always continued to linger on the fringes of playability.

If a new PC race were to emerge, where’s your best pick as to where?

That’s too broad a question to answer without more information. Eberron is full of options for introducing new creatures or races. In some cases, the best answer would be overlaying it on an existing element… for example, replacing the half-ogre Eneko of Sarlona with Goliaths, if you want a Goliaths in your game. Wilden could be created when Oalian explodes one day. With that said, there’s lots of entities that could produce a new race. Mordain the Fleshweaver. The Daelkyr.  House Vadalis. Someone messing with the tools the giants used to create the elves and drow. A new race could have existed for ages in Khyber or Xen’drik and simply never been encountered until recently. Or it could be the result of the Mourning – a Cyran village or town spared from death, but instead transformed into an entirely different species. Each option is simply going to bring different story hooks for a player of that race.

One thing that has nettled me for years; why does the Mark of Finding manifest across racial lines? Humans never end up with the Marks of Storm or Detection, yet Tharashk counts both humans and half-orcs among their number.

An excellent question – after all, full-blooded orcs can’t get the mark either. There is no known answer, and it’s one of the many mysteries of the Dragonmarks; why are ANY of them bound to the races that they are. However, it is something that the people of the Shadow Marches point to as proof that the half-orcs are a bridge between the two races… the Mark of Finding is something humans possess and orcs don’t, but it is shared by the jhorgun’taal (the Marcher term for half-orcs, “children of two bloods”).

How do the Gnolls of the Znir Pact feel about Gnolls throughout the rest of Khorvaire?

For the most part, that they are feral barbaric savages. But it’s not like there’s a lot of gnolls IN Khorvaire outside of Droaam, and most are in desolate places like the Demon Wastes or the depths of the King’s Forest, so it’s a rare thing for a Znir gnoll to actually encounter a non-Znir gnoll.

How are warforged handling their new OS? (That is to say, 5th edition)

It’s too soon to say. There was an early version of warforged presented in the alpha playtest materials, but I think it could be improved upon, and as it wasn’t included in the PHB there’s still an opportunity for that to happen.

How may warforged did a creation forge make at one time? Did they come off in batches?

In my opinion, this varied by forge, but most forges would be designed to produce multiple warforged of the same design at one time.

If the eladrin had a chance to get a portal or spell or something that could take them back to Thelanis would they take it? Would they leave the feyspires behind?

Some might. But if you read my novel The Fading Dream, my premise is that many of the more powerful fey are tied to their spires… that they are in some ways manifestations or extensions of the spire. They could wander from it for a time, but they couldn’t choose to abandon it forever without losing their identity.

 

GenCon, Gloom, and Twogether!

GenCon2014I’m back from GenCon with a few new games to try out. While I didn’t have a lot of opportunities to play games, it was an inspiring trip and an opportunity to catch up with lots of old and new friends. There were also a few important announcements that I wanted to share.

Gloom2GLOOM 2.0 AND MUNCHKIN GLOOM

The second edition of Gloom is in stores now. You can find more information about it here, but I wanted to highlight a few things. This is an improvement to the existing game, not a complete transformation. While there are significant differences, it is possible to mix old and new cards together. With that said, if you own the first edition but still want to get the second edition, I’m working on something that will let you get good use from outdated cards… expect more news on that in a few weeks. if you have any questions about Gloom Second Edition, ask below.

However, there was another piece of Gloomy news at GenCon. I’m teaming up with Atlas Games and Steve Jackson to produce MUNCHKIN GLOOM. You may wonder how this works… after all, the goal of Gloom is to tell a sad story while keeping your opponents happy, while the foundation of Munchkin is backstabbing your friends while you amass ultimate power and wealth. Well, how exactly do you GET all that power and wealth? Munchkin Gloom takes a look at the other side of the coin, placing you in control of a dungeon full of monsters whose lives are about to be ruined by a band of obnoxiously overpowered adventurers. We’ve got a lot of fun ideas and I think it’s going to be a great flip side to the basic Munchkin saga. Munchkin Gloom will be out in 2015, along with Fairy Tale Gloom.

twogether_color_webINTRODUCING… TWOGETHER STUDIOS!

It’s been a long time coming, but my wife Jennifer Ellis and I are finally launching our own game company: Twogether Studios. I’m best known for creating Gloom and Eberron, and Twogether will reflect the principles seen in both of these. We intend to create engaging products with a strong emphasis on storytelling and imagination. We are working on RPGs, card games, and other ideas, and expect to launch our first Kickstarter in February 2015 to fund the production of a game we’ve been working on for the last year. If you want to keep up with what we’re doing, you can follow us on Twitter at @Twogetherstudio, or keep an eye on our website. I’m very excited about our plans for 2015!

PantsDnDWHAT ABOUT EBERRON?

I’m afraid this weekend didn’t produce new information about Eberron support in Fifth Edition. The D&D team at Wizards of the Coast has a lot on their plate right now managing the release of the new books, and I suspect it’s going to be a little while before they can focus on this. However, it’s something that is still in motion and I’m excited about the possibilities, so hopefully there will be solid news in a month or two. In the meantime, I’ll be getting a Q&A out later this week. And for my part, I just put together a half-orc paladin of the Silver Flame (from the Demon Wastes) to play in the 5E campaign I’m playing in. More news as soon as it’s available!

Gen Con 2014 Schedule!

It’s been a busy week getting ready for Gen Con – I hope I’ll see some of you there! If you’re going, here’s a few places you can find me.

THURSDAY AUGUST 14

2 PM, Room 210: DUNGEONCRAFT LIVE!

Kenneth Hite, Ray Winninger and I will be providing our best GMing tips.

FRIDAY AUGUST 15

4 PM, Room 210: PLAYING GOD

The role of the divine is an interesting part of world design. How do you make faith matter in a setting? How do you involve deities without making mortals feel irrelevant? I’ll be discussing these topics and more with Greg Stafford and Steve Kenson!

SATURDAY AUGUST 16

11 AM, Room 211: FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN

Horror campaigns can be tricky to pull off in RPGs. How do you overcome player knowledge? How to you address the fact that people playing a horror RPG are expecting the unnatural? I’ll be exploring the subject with Kenneth Hite, Shane Hensley, and Andrew Hackard.

5 PM – 7 PM, Hyatt Lobby: GEN CON MEETUP!

One of my favorite things about Gen Con is getting a chance to catch up with old friends and meet new people. I’ll be hanging out in the Hyatt Lobby for two hours, and happy to talk about Gloom, Eberron, or any of the projects I’m working on now!

 

If you’re not going to make it to Gen Con, I’m also going to be at PAX Prime, Rose City Comic Con, and Geek Girl Con. If you are going to be at Gen Con and plan to attend one of more of these events, leave a note below… especially if you have a topic you’d like to see covered at one of the panels!

What’s Going On With Gloom?

SDCC Booth

GLOOM SECOND EDITION

Gloom Second Edition is due to hit stores this week, and I hope to be playing it at Gen Con. But what is Gloom Second Edition? What’s different, and why was it changed?

Starting with what’s different, Atlas has a helpful list of significant changes on their website. The fundamental structure and layout of the game hasn’t changed, and it is possible to play with first and second edition cards mixed together into one deck. Here’s a few key points…

Look at Cthulhu Gloom. Like Cthulhu Gloom, the second edition uses timing icons to specify when card effects are resolved, and it has the tombstone images on death cards. One improvement over Cthulhu Gloom: Event cards now have a central image that gives them the same silhouette as Deaths, so you can’t recognize them from the back of the card.

Troublesome cards have been changed or removed. There have always been a few cards that have been too powerful (Body Thief), too confusing (Til Death Do Us Part), or simply awkward (any card that has an effect that resolves on your next turn). Some of these cards have been removed completely; others have been streamlined.

Expansion Symbols. A long-standing issue has been the difficulty of pulling out an expansion once you’ve mixed it in with your core set. Now all cards have symbols that indicates what set they belong to, making it easy to play with just one expansion at a time. In addition, the art for the story icons has had a facelift. 

All of these things are the results of ten years of playing Gloom and bumping into things I wish I could change. It’s not a complete redesign; it’s just an opportunity to improve a host of little problems. Think of it as a Designer’s Cut (I wanted to add a commentary track and some deleted scenes, but it just didn’t work out). Let me know what you think of the changes, and if you have any questions ask here!

FAIRY TALE GLOOM

My next project is Fairy Tale Gloom. We all know that many of the fairy tales we know and love turn out badly in the end, whether it’s the Little Mermaid dissolving into foam when she fails to win her Prince (spoiler alert!) or Snow White’s stepmother being forced to dance to death in red-hot iron boots. Fairy Tale Gloom gives you the opportunity to establish once and for all just which classic character had it the worst… though the winner is expected to come up with a moral for their story!

Fairy Tale Gloom is a stand-alone game that supports 2-5 players. It’s possible to mix it with any other set, and in the promo card Atlas has been handing out this summer – The Looking Glass - is intentionally compatible with both Fairy Tale and classic Gloom. However, like Cthulhu Gloom, it uses a few icons you won’t find in other sets, so you’ll water down the effect a bit if you mix it together. There’s some interesting twists in FT Gloom, but at this point we’re not sure when it will be out – certainly not until the end of the year – so I’m going to wait to dig into the details until we have a release date set!

Gloom aside, it’s an exciting time. I’ll be at Gen Con and PAX Prime, and I’ll post my Gen Con schedule in the next few days… along with a new Dragonmark!

 

San Diego Comic Con 2014: Gloomy Plans!

Tomorrow morning… far too early tomorrow morning… I am heading to SAN DIEGO COMIC CON. I’m going to be spending most of my time there in the Geek & Sundry Lounge, hanging out and playing Gloom. I’ve got the following special events on my schedule…

Friday, 11 AM – Noon: FAIRY TALE GLOOM WITH MOLLY AND MARIAN

Want a peek at the next Gloom product? I’m going to be playing a round (using an early prototype deck, to be clear) with awesome musicians Molly Lewis and Marian Call. Drop by and take a look!

Friday, 1:30 – 2:30: THE BIG GLOOM GAME

Five tables of Gloom, giant Story cards, and awesome celebrity players like Patrick Rothfuss, Boyan Radokovich, and Nika Harper! Unfortunately the tables are all filled, but it should be a good spectacle.

Friday, 4:30 – 5:30: MIDDLE-GLOOM

A few years ago I created a science-fiction themed version of Gloom that you will NEVER see published. If you want to see Wesley Crusher Set Up By Sith and Captured In Carbonite, this is the game for you. This year I’m adding a few new cards tied to one of my favorite TV shows, The Middleman, and playing with Middleman creator Javier Grillo-Marxuach and Middlewriter Margaret Dunlap. I expect both hilarity and hijinks!

Beyond that: on Thursday I will be hanging out at the G&S Lounge off and on, talking about all the things and playing Gloom. Beyond that: I’m also going to be at Gen Con and PAX Prime. I hope to see some of you soon!

Six Questions: Jonathan Tweet

It’s been a little while since I’ve posted Six Questions. But recently I had an opportunity to talk with Jonathan Tweet, and I couldn’t pass up the chance. Jonathan’s work has always been an inspiration to me as a designer, and I briefly had an opportunity to work with him during the early stages of 13th Age. Now he’s working on something entirely new and different.

jonathanHeadShotIf you’re not familiar with Jonathan Tweet, you may just not have been paying attention. Jonathan’s early design work includes Ars Magica and Over The Edge; OTE is a personal favorite of mine, and influenced Eberron in a number of ways. He revised Talislanta for Wizards of the Coast, and published the card-driven RPG EverwayAnd he was lead designer on a n obscure little game you’ve probably never heard of… the third edition of Dungeons & Dragons. After leaving Wizards of the Coast, Jonathan teamed up with Rob Heinsoo to create 13th Age (with a little bit of help from yours truly!). And now he’s working on something entirely new, a children’s book called Grandmother Fish.

The biggest problem in asking Jonathan six questions is that there’s more than six things I’d like to know. For example, how does he feel about D&D Next and Pathfinder? Fortunately for me, David Gross already asked that question, which freed me to focus on some of his older work.

You’ve created an amazing range of games over the course of your career. What’s your greatest strength as a designer and writer, and how is this reflected across your body of work?

I see how things can be different. While I’m good at math, and I have a clear focus on the player experience, that’s not what sets my work apart. My goal hasn’t just been to create new RPGs but to change the way people play RPGs. Fortunately, I’ve been able to do just that a couple of times. Starting in 1987, Ars Magica set a precedent for bringing more story content to characters and to game mechanics. My creative partner on Ars Magica ported the structure to the modern world with Vampire: the Masquerade, which in turn had a big influence on gaming in the 90s. In 1992, Over the Edge showed how simple, free-form rules could allow greater player creativity. That game had a big influence on the indie game movement, and I’m proud of that. In 1995, Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Ed rationalized the structure of the rules. That had a huge impact on how people play D&D, and it influenced countless d20 games. People are still playing that system, albeit as Pathfinder under the Open Gaming License. The new RPG from Rob Heinsoo and me, 13th Age, combines my old love of simpler systems and free-form creativity with my renewed love of the D&D experience. Time will tell how influential it proves to be, but I have high hopes. Plenty of its concepts are directly portable to other versions of the D&D game.

I also have a knack for explaining things, and I spent years innovating new ways for people to learn games. I created original-format starter sets for Ars Magica, Magic: the Gathering, Dungeons & Dragons, and other games. That “beginner friendly” approach even informs the children’s book I’m doing now, the first book to teach evolution to preschoolers.

In 1992 you introduced the world to the island of Al Amarja with the RPG Over The Edge. The system is flexible and embraces player creativity, and the setting is a great source of inspiration while encouraging each GM to make the world their own. What led you to develop Over The Edge… Both setting and mechanics?

In 1990, I had left my game design career in Minnesota and a failed love affair in Barcelona, and I was back in my home town with a job selling mutual funds on commission. For my friends, I invented an accessible, creative roleplaying game, something much simpler and stranger than anything I would have designed for publication. In terms of mechanics, it was inspired by Chaosium’s Ghostbusters game, which debuted the dice pool mechanic, was super simple, and gave players a little bit of free-form creative license. The setting was inspired primarily by the writing of William S. Burroughs, especially Naked Lunch. My old friend Robin D. Laws speculated about the nature of a hypothetical RPG based on Burroughs, but he wasn’t serious about doing such a game. He inspired me to look into Burroughs, and I ended up doing a modern-day setting filled with reality-warping dangers and unseemly conspiracies.

The mechanics and setting go together. Around 1990, it was considered the height of artistic RPG design to have a fully-realized, original game world, such as you see for example in Skyrealms of Jorune or in Ars Magica. The problem I had with Ars Magica is that new players could not freely use their imaginations when creating characters because the characters had to fit into a particular setting, one that they were not familiar with. The point of Over the Edge was that a player could create a character without really looking at the rulebook. The setting was familiar: the modern day, only as weird as you can envision it. That meant that players could draw on their whole knowledge of the world to invent their characters. And the system has no skill lists, abilities scores, or other crunchy bits that constrain your character concept. The system and setting were both devoted to this core concept: that the new player could make up the character they wanted, and it would be excellent.

In 1995 you created Everway, an innovative RPG that used cards and storytelling in place of dice. What inspired you to create the Fortune Deck, and what do you feel it brings to the roleplaying experience?

Tarot cards appeal to fantasy gamers but also attract people who aren’t sword-and-sorcery fans but who like magical imagery. That was 20 years ago, before fantasy had spread as far into the mainstream as it has today. Our goal was to reach beyond the core RPG market to an untapped audience of potential new players. Honestly, it didn’t really work.

Tarot cards were my answer to the problem of what to replace dice with. Dice are cold, abstract, and numerical. If you think about it, it’s an odd component for a roleplaying game, which is creative and open-ended. In fact, one beginner role-player in my Over the Edge campaign found rolling four dice and adding the results to be too much arithmetic, especially when everyone at the table was watching and waiting for her to name her total quickly. I wanted a resolution system that wouldn’t fluster players like her. Everway’s Fortune Deck plays on the imagery of the tarot to give the player a “randomizer” that inspires the imagination, without arithmetic.

It’s fun to have a randomizer that plays on concepts instead of with numbers. The results can send play into surprising directions that wouldn’t result from a numeric input. There have been many times in play that someone drew the “exact right” Fortune Card, almost as if Fate were stacking the deck. Sometimes the card is so apt that it sends a chill down the spine. It’s fun to plug into that sort possibility with an evocative randomizer.

When your plane goes down on the way back from Australia, you find yourself stranded on an island with four strangers and four games. What games do you take?

Backgammon, Sequence, soccer, and Hillfolk. Backgammon has more randomness than chess, which allows one to play more casually. It also comes with a pair of dice that you can use for all sorts of other games. Sequence is a straightforward, team-friendly game that comes with a double-size deck of regular cards. We can turn that into two regular decks for poker, solitaire, hearts or anything. By “soccer” I guess I mean a soccer ball. Balls offer endless amusement. And finally Hillfolk, Robin D. Laws’ new RPG. It focuses on dramatic interactions between PCs, and it’s setting-neutral. We could play one setting after another, and the game is built for campaign-length play, which would come in handy on a desert island.

Your current project is something entirely new: Grandmother Fish, a child’s first book of evolution. Tell me what drove you to write a children’s book, what makes Grandmother Fish unique, and how your past experience has shaped your approach to writing it.

Fifteen years ago when my daughter was little, I started working on Grandmother Fish, trying to figure out how to make evolution accessible and appealing to a little child. I’ve always been a big fan of evolution, and I’ve got a talent for explaining things, so I started working on a manuscript. They say if you can’t explain something to a child, you don’t understand it yourself, so I took that as my challenge. The book would show a child how our ancestors evolved anatomy that we still have today, such as bones, or don’t have any more, such as tails. A children’s book author, however, let me know that my manuscript was not ready for publication. It was promising but not amazing.

Last September, after leaving Amazon Game Studios, I hit on a way to make the book amazing.  Instead of talking about body parts, like jaws and bones, the book gets the kid to mimic actions, like chomping and wiggling. Kids, parents, and teachers really love the interactive, mimicry aspect of the book. This interactive element makes the book accessible to even younger children than before. Instead of being one of several published evolution books for grade schoolers, it’s going to be the only evolution book for preschoolers.

Evolution means a lot to me personally because it’s not just an abstract scientific fact. It’s the story of how we fit into the epic tale of life on earth. Like Neil deGrasse Tyson says, affirming our connection to all living things is a soaring spiritual experience.

There’s a week left in Grandmother Fish’s fundraising campaign on Kickstarter. What are you aspirations for the campaign, and what’s your next step after Kickstarter? Are there other fields of science you’d like to explore in this way? 

Evolution is by far the science that’s most in need of a book for preschoolers. The rest of science is wonderful, too, but evolution is personal. It’s about who we are, how we got here, and our connection to the rest of the living world.

My original thought with the Kickstarter campaign was to self-publish Grandmother Fish before I got another corporate job in gaming. I didn’t want to go to my grave regretting that I’d never made the book happen because I was too busy pursuing a paycheck. But now that I’ve gotten into Grandmother Fish, I’ve made a couple important contacts in the science fields. Maybe I’ll keep mixing science into my game design career. For now I’m just focused on the Grandmother Fish Kickstarter campaign. That gives me plenty to think about each day.

Our Kickstarter funded on the third day, so at this point my aspirations are simply to reach more people. The more people we reach, the bigger a splash we make with evolution. I would like the success of the campaign to demonstrate that, yes, the country is more than ready for a preschoolers’ book of evolution. If someone merely hears about my book and thinks for the first time about teaching evolution to preschoolers, I can go to my grave happy.

That’s all for now. As of this moment there are six days left in the Grandmother Fish Kickstarter, so check it out now!