Phoenix Friday: Manifestations of The Dread

It’s Phoenix Friday! If you haven’t seen it yet, check out our new website for Phoenix: Dawn Command. We’ve just submitted the test run of our first Phoenix expansion – we’ll have more news on that soon.  Meanwhile, I’d like to take a moment to talk about the force that threatens the world of Phoenix… The Dread. 

The Dread began slowly. Over the course of months, stories began circulating around the Empire. People murmured of savage beasts attacking travelers on the road, and caravans disappearing. There were reports of sudden plagues and strange weather. But these tales weren’t taken too seriously…until 591 IC, when the Bone Legion sacked the city of Westergate and began its inexorable march along the Summer Shore. Without the Phoenixes, news traveled slowly across the Empire. By the time the Emperor heard about the fall of Westergate, there was another, closer catastrophe: The town of Dulacia had fallen to the Chant, a form of infectious madness. It was at this point that the enemy was given a name. The Emperor assured the people that the Dread now gripping the Empire would not last, that order would soon be restored.

Thus began three years of escalating terror. The Imperial Army has done its best, but mortals cannot face these threats. The Army has been powerless to stop the advance of the Bones along the Summer Shore. When a town falls to the Chant, all anyone can do is ensure the curse spreads no further. Fortified cities provide shelter against many threats, and refugees have flooded the largest cities…but many manifestations of the Dread can strike anywhere. The Emperor has done his best to give the people hope, but in truth, there’s little he can do…and in their hearts, the people know it.

The most critical point in understanding this threat is that The Dread is a name the people have given to this wave of horrors. It gives the sense that they are facing a single foe that could potentially be engaged. But the Dread is anything but monolithic. Is the Chant related to the Bones? Do either of them have anything to do with the reports of Fallen activity in the north, or skinchangers in the Grimwald? No one knows. While missions in Phoenix often involve battling some manifestation of the Dread, investigation is equally important; the long-term goal is to unravel the mystery, not simply to kill a few monsters. The Chant is a contagious curse: someone starts chanting and attacking the people around them. Suddenly others are chanting and fighting. Within hours it can engulf a city. But… how does it spread? Are mortals afflicted when they touch chanters, or is just hearing them enough to spread the curse? Is there a way to cure those afflicted without killing them? Beyond that, how and why does it begin… and what does it have to do with the Bones, or other major manifestations? If you encounter a Chant outbreak in a village, containing it is a start… but uncovering the answers to these questions is the real challenge.

What does this mean for Players?

You become a Phoenix by dying, making your way through the Crucible, and returning to fight the Dread. In thinking about how you died and what drove you to come back, consider if you encountered the Dread — and if it was the Dread that killed you. What manifestation did you encounter? Was it your first interaction with the Dread, or had you dealt with other aspects of it? How will you react if you encounter it again? If you were killed during a Chant outbreak, are you terrified of the Chant, or are you determined to find a cure? And as you face the Dread in play, think about how your character conceives of it. Do you believe the Dread is a single force that can be fought, or do you think it’s the end of days? Are you shaken by the things you’ve seen, or does it just fuel your conviction to somehow bring an end to it?

What does it mean for GMs?

Whether you’re developing your own stories or using the mission arc in the basic set, keep the scope of the Dread in mind. The Bones and the Chant are major threats. But the Dread manifests in hundreds of lesser ways, and part of what’s terrifying about it is that no one knows where it will manifest or what form it will take. It’s as if nightmares are bleeding through into the world. Not every manifestation is deadly or even dangerous. But they are happening with increasing frequency and that is part of the fear that grips the Empire: dealing with a seemingly endless parade of terrors, never knowing what will come next.

Lesser Manifestations of the Dread

The Chant, the Bones, the Fallen Folk — these are major manifestations that can threaten cities. But not every face of the Dread is so epic in scope. Here’s a list of a few lesser manifestation of the Dread. If you’re a marshal, this might give you some ideas to add color to a scene or an interlude; if you’re a player, perhaps one of these could fit into your backstory.

  • Unnatural Weather. It’s summer, and the Phoenixes are approaching a village in one of the green valleys of Ilona when the snow begins to fall. The chill could soon prove deadly to mortals… and are there strange shapes out there, obscured by the fallen snow? Whether it’s a freak blizzard, rain of blood, a fog that won’t lift, unnatural heat or devastating storms, the Dread can create any sort of localized weather you can imagine.
  • Blighted Crops. An unnatural blizzard could ruin crops, posing a threat of famine and ensuing panic and chaos. Plants could grow, but in unusual forms. What will happen if anyone (human or animal) eats this strange fruit? Crops could appear normal, but be tainted and cause hallucinations in those who come into contact with them… or simply become incredibly toxic. Or perhaps the fruit of a plant bleeds when you cut or bite into it, and the plants scream in pain when cut.
  • Afflicted Animals. The Dread can turn wild beasts into monsters, transforming them into fearsome and unnatural forms. Animals – even herbivores – could begin craving blood or meat. Animals could be warped in ways that don’t make them a threat, but simply disturbing: loss of all hair; twisted limbs; animals with no eyes, who somehow still seem to be able to see; strange coloration; beasts that speak or sing in a language no one knows, but that don’t respond to attempts at communication. Maggots could spontaneously manifest, or hordes of vermin or insects could be inexplicably drawn to locations. Non-migratory animals could nonetheless migrate in large numbers. Phoenixes could come upon hundreds of dead animals of a particular species, all of which apparently dropped dead in an instant. What does it mean?
  • The Dead Rise. The Bones are the corpses of warriors who have risen to continue the battles they fought in life. The Bone Legion in the south is the most visible manifestation, but Bones can rise anywhere there’s been great violence. Bones don’t have to be human; the core set includes the Carrion Birds, and you could easily have other animals. These things are challenges to be fought, but death can be broken in ways that are eerie as opposed to deadly. Imaging a pack of ghostly wolves – entirely insubstantial – that stalk travelers but can’t actually touch or be touched by them. Ghosts of lost loved ones could dog the steps of a Phoenix, or you might have a town where such spirits haunt the inhabitants… or perhaps they just scream and wail. Phoenixes might come upon a farm whose inhabitants were killed by a plague… but their corpses continue their daily tasks, mechanically going through the motions. On a less direct level, strange footprints or handprints could appear with no explanation. Menacing graffiti could appear on walls. The haunting spirits could be known to the locals, or they could be from a distant past and be angry about the strangers in their homes.
  • Mass HysteriaEven without supernatural influence, people are terrified of the Dread. This is exacerbated by the fact that many people have been driven from their homes. There is panic, scarcity of resources, anger and suspicion that turns people against one another. Add the unnatural influence of the Dread to the mix, and things get worse. People could be haunted by terrible nightmares — threatening visions of a possible future, images of betrayal by friends or neighbors, or bizarre dreams depicting alien worlds. Large groups could be afflicted with collective amnesia… or perhaps their bodies are seized by hostile spirits for brief periods, and they can’t remember what happened while they were possessed. Groups could be gripped by burning anger, crippling despair, or deep ennui. People could find themselves speaking in languages they don’t understand, suddenly unable to communicate with one another. Can the Phoenixes calm those afflicted? Is this the work of spirits that can be exorcised, or something else?
  • Breaking Natural Laws. Be it on a small or large scale, the Dread can simply break the way the world works. Reflections or shadows threaten those who cast them. In a particular body of water, nothing will float. In a particular region, wounds won’t close… or perhaps people die, but their bodies won’t rot. Glass dissolves into sand. Water turns into acid. There’s a smell of rot in the air, though there’s no source. When people breathe, the exhale smoke or foul odors. Combustion won’t occur in a village; candles and hearths alike are cold, casting the people into darkness.

These things may not have a direct effect on the action of the game. They aren’t as dramatic as a pack of hungry Skinchangers or the arrival of the Harvester of Fear. But details like these can add interesting flavor to a scene, and emphasize the fact that the Dread is entirely unpredictable… you never know what’s going to happen next, and we don’t know why all these things are happening now.

if you have questions about Phoenix or the Dread — or favorite supernatural disturbances of your own — add them in the comments!

Phoenix Friday: New Website!

It’s Phoenix Friday, and to celebrate we’re unveiling our new website for Phoenix: Dawn Command. In addition to providing a portal to purchase the game, this will be our nexus for information and support, including downloads and videos. Please take a look and share it with anyone who might be interested!

This is a major milestone for me and for Twogether Studios. We’re a small company and Phoenix is our first product, but we’ve got big plans for what we want to do for Phoenix. I’m currently working on a new mission arc, and we’ve got a number of things in development — including an easy solution for groups that want to play with five or six players. With that said, the more people who know about Phoenix, the more we’ll be able to do for it. If you’ve played it and enjoy it, please help spread the word. If you haven’t played it and you have questions, ask in the comments below. And if you’re planning to run Phoenix at a convention, let me know so Twogether Studios can send you some swag!

Thanks to everyone who’s joined me on the journey to this point. Join me next Friday as I delve deeper into the mystery of the Dread!

 

Phoenix Friday: Origin Stories

Welcome to the second installment of Phoenix Friday! Every week in June I’m going to be posting material for my new RPG, Phoenix: Dawn Command. Phoenix is now available for sale, either from Amazon or directly from me through Twogetherstudios.com. If you have any questions about Phoenix, please post them in the comments below. If you’d like to see Phoenix in play, you can check out the livestream PDC game on the Saving Throw network — the final episode of Season Two will be streaming Saturday, Jun 10th at 12:30 PM Pacific Time! 

Phoenix: Dawn Command is a war story. Your world is under attack by a host of supernatural terrors. The dead prey upon the living. Ghosts howl with the wind. Skinchangers and stranger beasts lurk in the wilds. Entire cities have been lost to a chant that turns those who hear it into killers. As the game begins, we know we are at war with the Dread, but we know almost nothing about it. Why are these things happening? How are they related to one another? Can they be stopped, and if so how?

As a Phoenix, your character is someone who died and was given the chance to return to life with the power to fight the Dread. But that power didn’t come easily; you went through spiritual and physical trials to earn the right to return as a Phoenix. So when you are making a character, there are questions we want to answer.

  • Who were you in your first life? How did you die, and how long were you in the Crucible before you were reborn as a Phoenix?
  • What are you fighting for? What gave you the strength to overcome the trials of the Crucible?
  • What do you have left in the world? Do you have relatives or descendants? The town you grew up in, or failing that, a homeland? What do you care about?

In some RPGs, these things don’t really matter. But Phoenix is a game where you may be called upon to lay down your life — more than once — for the things you care about, and it’s going to be a much more satisfying experience if you actually care about something. With that said, this is a tall order to drop on a beginning player who knows nothing about the setting. What concepts are even possible? Where could they be from?

If you want a quick start, you can download a wing of pregenerated characters from the Twogether Studios website. Meanwhile, here’s a set of backgrounds that explore some of the more exotic possibilities of the setting. As a Phoenix, you might have been a child; a former Emperor; or even a very bad dog. These ideas are intended to be inspiration — showing what’s possible within the setting. If one of your players would like to play one of these characters, that’s great. But they could also take a piece of the idea and change it. Perhaps they like the Old Soldier, but they want to have fought alongside the Phoenixes in the Civil War instead of having opposed them. Or they like the basic concept of the Ship’s Cat, but want to be Bitter instead of Forceful. That’s great! The goal of these pieces is to give you an idea of what’s possible; what you do with them is entirely up to you. And if you don’t use any of these ideas, you might want to use them as members of the Rival Wing, as described on page 145 of Guidelines for the Newly Inducted Marshal

 

THE SHIP’S CAT: FORCEFUL

What’s over there?”

To be clear: you weren’t an actual cat. But you were born on a ship. Your people — the Wynderi — are the best sailors in the known world. Your family believe that the land first rose from the water, and that some day the waters will rise and reclaim the land. As a result, they sought to spend as much time on the open water as possible, and you almost never set foot on solid land. They called you the Ship’s Cat because you were small and endlessly curious. You were always climbing in the rigging and looking for new things on the horizon, and whenever you encountered another ship you’d sneak aboard and poke around. As it turned out, your parents’ conviction that it was safe on the water was misplaced. One day you were beset by fog. A new ship closed with you, and you naturally boarded and began to poke around. You were surprised by the rotting wood and torn sails, and too late you realized that it was a ghost ship crewed by corpses. The ghostly sailors pursued you, and you tried to get to the rigging and make it back to your ship, but you weren’t quite fast enough; the moldy ropes slipped through your fingers, and you’ve blocked out the details of what happened next. But instead of dying, you found yourself in the Crucible, with the promise of endless adventures ahead. Your optimism and your curiosity carried you through the trials, and now you’re back in the world and faster than ever. You’re on a grand adventure, and you’re going to stop the Dread and save the world.

You died as a child, and while you spent what seemed like years in the Crucible, you still maintain the essential optimism, curiosity and enthusiasm that you had in your first life. You spent your life on a boat, and now you’re getting to explore the entire world! However grim and horrifying a situation is, you’re always looking at the bright side of it. You’ve never seen a swamp before! Or a hungry ghost! What’s it going to do? Why? You want to help people — you’re a hero, and that’s exciting — but you also are just thrilled to be out in the world and on an amazing adventure.

  • You’ve blocked out exactly what happened when you died. You don’t actually remember if your family escaped or if they were killed by the ghost ship. Your life is full of new adventures and there’s a lot of distractions and things you have to deal with right now. Are you excited when you see Wynderi? Do you want to find out if your family are OK? Or are you intentionally trying to ignore the Wynderi to avoid thinking about your family?
  • Everything is new to you. You’ve never been in a big city or a forest. You’ve never fought a werewolf. It’s all extremely exciting. You generally look for the best in everything, as reflected by the Never Gives Up suggested Trait… but at the same time, you’re not an idiot and you’re not going to try to hug a zombie. Probably.
  • As a Forceful, your greatest strength is your speed and mobility. You hate to stand still, and you’re always looking for the next interesting thing. You want to be a hero, so try not to cause too much trouble for the rest of the wing with this — but what happens if you poke that thing over there?  

Suggested Traits: Crude But Effective, Small & Quick, Never Gives Up, Untouchable

 

ADVENTURING ARCHAEOLOGIST: SHROUDED

“That belongs in a museum!”

You’re one of the Shadovar. Your people were driven from their homeland centuries ago, before the first Phoenixes formed the Empire, and today they are nomads who travel from place to place. Superstitious people accused the Shadovar of being necromancers who traffic with the spirits of the dead, and there is some truth to this; there are skilled mediums among your people. But this is simply because you choose to honor the dead, because if you preserve the memory of those who have come before you, they never truly die. For you, this principle applies to the past as a whole. You’re intrigued by the heroes of the Empire — both the Phoenixes who founded it and the humans who took it from them. You’re equally fascinated by the cultures that existed before the Empire. And most of all, you’re fascinated by the Old Kingdoms — civilizations so old that we don’t even know if their people were even human. There are a only a handful of ruins and relics of Old Kingdoms still in existence, and they are often imbued with tremendous magical power. You believe it’s possible that the Imperial Flame itself — the force that empowers all Phoenixes — could be a relic of the Old Kingdoms. You love exploring these mysteries. And the Dread is the greatest mystery of all! It began three years ago… what caused it? How are the various manifestations of the Dread related? Is there a purpose to the Dread beyond simply destruction?

You died pursuing these questions, and you refused to remain dead while this mystery threatens to destroy all that you love. You were a great scholar in your first life, and you used your time in the Crucible to hone your skills even further. If you use the suggested Traits, Seen This Before and Brilliant Deduction may reflect your experiences in your first life, but it could also tie to your extensive training in the Crucible. You may not have actually seen this before, but you read an account of it in the endless library in your Crucible; and your brilliant deductions about the Dread may be tied to your extensive research between lives.

  • Your primary concern is unraveling the mystery of the Dread — and in so doing, saving the entire Empire. With that said, superstitious people have always blamed the Shadovar for trouble, and in the present day there are many who think the Shadovar are tied to the Dread. Do you want to help the Shadovar, if you can?
  • Is your family still alive? The Shadovar are traveling people, so even if they are alive you have no idea where they might be right now. But are they important to you? If so, which living family member is most important to you?
  • You are fascinated by history. What period of history intrigues you the most: the golden age of the Empire? The time of the first Phoenixes? The first known human civilizations — the time before the Shadovar were driven from their homeland? Or the mysterious Old Kingdoms, about which almost nothing is known?
  • You died pursuing secrets. What was it you were trying to discover? Were you killed by a manifestation of the Dread — undead soldiers, a terrible curse — or did you die in a more mundane way?
  • As a Phoenix you will be fighting to protect people from the manifestations of the Dread. But you want to always be looking for answers. You’re never content just to stop a threat; you want to know why it happened and how it relates to the Dread as a whole. And meanwhile, keep an eye out for other interesting connections to history!

Suggested Traits: Brilliant Deduction, Makes It Look Easy, Seen This Before, Superhuman Reflexes

 

OLD SOLDIER: DURANT

“I built this Empire, and I won’t let it fall.”

Two centuries ago, a civil war split the Empire. The first Phoenixes had formed the Empire by conquest and forced its people to join together. While that may have served a greater good, in time the people grew weary of being ruled by immortal overlords. Humanist forces challenged the Phoenixes, and after a long and bitter war the Phoenixes stood down, turning control of the Empire over to humanity. The first Emperor was Mikan Dolanti of the Dol Talu — your family. You were a general in the civil war, and your military expertise helped usher in the golden age of humanity. You clung to life for as long as you could, and after your death you lingered in the Crucible… until you eventually felt the suffering of your people. You fought your way through the trials and now you have returned as a Phoenix yourself. But you will never be a tyrant. In your first life you saved the Empire from a supernatural threat; as a Phoenix, you’ll do it again.

You’re from Ilona, and as far as you’re concerned it embodies all that is good in the Empire. It’s a place of fertile fields and green valleys. Its cities are havens for culture and education. Ilona is sustained by the noble houses of the Talu, and your house — the Dol Talu — is the noblest of all. Almost two hundred years have passed since your death, and while you care deeply about the Empire, the modern world may be strange to you. Consider the following…

  • What was your exact position in your family? You served as a general in the war, but did you hold a high place after the war? One possibility to consider: you could actually be Mikan Dolanti, the first mortal emperor. It would be up to you to decide whether you announced that or kept it hidden; as a Phoenix, everything about your appearance (even gender) can change upon rebirth, so it wouldn’t necessarily be obvious that you were the first emperor.
  • Are you an idealist who truly cares about the entire Empire? Or are you primarily concerned with protecting your family — which includes the current Emperor?
  • You’ve been dead for two hundred years. Setting aside the Dread: Are you happy with the state of the modern world? Are you thrilled with everything your descendants have accomplished, or are you a curmudgeon who feels that everything was better in your day?
  • You fought against the first Phoenixes after they became tyrants. You are now part of Dawn Command, but in addition to saving the Empire from the Dread, you’ll want to make sure that these new Phoenixes don’t abuse their power.
  • You were a great military leader in your life. If you use the suggested Traits, this is what Noble and Commander reflect; you can give bonuses to your allies by offering strategic guidance.

Suggested Traits: Noble, Commander, Seasoned Veteran, Superhuman Strength

 

WARLOCK: ELEMENTAL

“Heed my words, spirits of the Dusk, and let your flames consume my enemies!”

You were born in a crumbling farm on the barren plains of Skavia. Your family was poor and struggled to survive, though in the distance you could see the great bastion city filled with the rich and powerful. When you were young, a mysterious masked figure stepped out of the shadows and told you that it could change your family’s lot and give them wealth and comfort… but you would have to perform a service in the future, with no questions asked. You agreed, and the very next day a messenger arrived. Your mother, it turned out, was heir to a fortune; you moved to the Bastion city and lived there in comfort. As you grew older you learned about the Fallen Folk, the enigmatic spirits that lingered in the shadows of your homeland. In the past, warlocks gained great power by bargaining with the Fallen. But the first Phoenixes banished the Fallen Folk when they established the Empire. By all accounts, the Fallen were just a myth, and any interaction with them forbidden. Needless to say, you were fascinated. You studied the legends and learned the basics of Duskcraft. Most of the spells you found no longer worked, as the Fallen were banished and bound in Dusk, but the potential was intriguing.

When the Dread began, you were fascinated and concerned. Before you could delve too deeply, your masked benefactor returned. It told you that it was time for you to make good on your promise. You were to leap to your death from the top of a high tower. But the Fallen Prince promised that you would not die; you would have the chance to be reborn, imbued with great power. You could use that power to fight the Dread, and to save the world… but in the process, you must help the Fallen Folk return to the Daylit World. Most Fallen aren’t evil, or so your benefactor says; they wish to be free from their prison, and to help your people once again. Your patron promised to protect your family from the Dread if you honored your arrangement; and it pledged to destroy both you and your family should you refuse. It was your duty to die, and so you did.

As an Elemental Phoenix, your powers are tied to your studies of Duskcraft. You learned about the art of fireshaping in your mortal life, but it is only as a Phoenix that the flames began answering your call. Your astonishing luck reflects minor Fallen helping you when you are in need, and your Charming trait reflects the beguiling power of the Fallen. All this power is a great gift that can help you protect those in need. But will you honor your pledge? As you fight the Dread, will you also seek to restore the Fallen and bring them back to the Daylit World?

  • Your bargain with the Fallen gave you the power you need to try to save your world. But how do you feel about it? Are you reluctantly going along with this because it’s what you need to do to protect your family? Are you excited about the idea of bringing back the Fallen Folk because of the power they could give you… do you hope to save the Empire so that you can rule it? Or are you hoping to find a way to renege on the deal and banish the Fallen you’ve been bargaining with?
  • What do you know about your Fallen patron? What does it look like? Sound like? Is this reflected in your Elemental powers at all? Are the flames you conjure normal flames, or are they an unusual color? Are they flames at all, or are you actually conjuring lesser Fallen spirits that attack your foes and then vanish? Is your patron a spirit known in popular stories, or has it hidden its identity from you?
  • Your Fallen patron is protecting your family, and has promised to destroy them if you betray the Fallen. How big is your family? Who’s your favorite relative, and why?
  • Skavi warlocks traditionally wore half-masks covering their lower faces. Do you wear such a mask? If so, what’s the design?

Suggested Traits:  Astonishing Luck, Charming, Master Plan, Warlock

 

BAD DOG: BITTER

“I’m going to chew you up and spit you out.”

Once upon a time, you were a good dog. You lived in the swampy Fens with a big family and you loved them very much. Then one day bad things came out of the water. They smelled rotten and sour, and though you bit them and fought them they crushed you and killed the people you loved. As you died you were consumed with anguish and loss… and filled with hatred for the things that killed your people. And somehow, that hatred carried you into the Crucible. Somehow you knew that if you fought long enough and hard enough you could return with the power to destroy the things that hurt your family. Finally you made your way through the big fire and into the world. Along the way you’ve learned many things. You’ve learned how to speak as people speak. You’ve learned that you have a new pack, or “wing” as they call it, that will help you take revenge. You aren’t going back to fight the specific things that killed your family — not yet — but you will hunt down these bad things wherever they appear and you will make them pay.

You’re a dog who has somehow returned as a Phoenix, something that’s never happened before. The Fens have stories of remarkable bond beasts, and perhaps such a creature was in your lineage. Nonetheless, here you are. Your intelligence has been enhanced in the process of becoming a Phoenix, and you are as smart as any human; you also have the power of speech. Your exact appearance is up to you — you could resemble a domestic hound, or you could be a enormous wolf with coal-black fur and burning eyes — but you are huge, strong, and you have a collar made from Pyrean steel; this is your talon, and marks you as a Phoenix. Your appearance is largely defined by the way you see yourself, and when you die and are reborn you could chose to be reborn in a humanoid form — whether as a werewolf-like hybrid, or in a purely human form. For now, you don’t have hands… but you don’t need weapons to fight, and your strength is sufficient to overwhelm most enemies.

  • The wing is your pack. Is it important to you to be the alpha? If not, you may want to pick a member of the wing who takes the place of your lost family for you… whatever else happens, you are fighting to protect that character.
  • You have intelligence on par with a human, but you’re not human. Many aspects of Imperial civilization make no sense to you, and you may interpret the actions of strangers in ways that fit the logic of a dog.  
  • Do you have the excited enthusiasm of a happy dog? Or are you entirely consumed by your quest for revenge on the Dread?
  • Do you want to be human (which could eventually lead to assuming a human form upon rebirth)? Or do you consider the canine form and life to be superior to that of humanity?

Suggested Traits: Hunter, Vengeful, Terrifying, Too Big To Fail

 

GODSPEAKER: DEVOTED

“Let the Merciful Mother ease your pain.”

You were born into the Myr Talu, one of the noble families of Empire — though admittedly, you’re one of the noble families of the Fens, so your people are princes of the backwater swamp. Nonetheless, you were born into wealth and luxury, and you lived as hedonistic a life as was possible in the Fens. You had a lot of good times. And then something unexpected happened. You were having a mushroom party with your friends — there’s a lot of mushrooms in the Fens — when a pack of twisted beasts came crawling out of the water. You’re not sure what came over you — something in the mushrooms, perhaps? — but you ordered your friends to run and charged the beasts yourself. You were torn apart, but you bought enough time for the others to reach the boat and escape. And instead of just dying, you found yourself in the Crucible… and you weren’t alone. Your ancestors founded the Myr Talu using the power of their House Gods — mighty spirits that bound themselves to your bloodline. The House Gods were banished to the Dusk in the first days of the Empire… but now you found yourself face to face with the gods of your people, and they told you that you have a destiny to fulfil. The Dread threatens to wipe out the Myr Talu and all the people of the Empire. They will not allow that to happen, and since they cannot return to the Daylit World, you must be their hand.

You’re not the smartest person in the room. But your gods can offer your guidance, and if you use the suggested Traits, this is what Extensive Training and Smartest Person In The Room represent; when you need to do something beyond your personal talents, you can draw on the Myr gods for inspiration. Beyond this, you can channel their power to inspire others; this is reflected by your Inspiring trait and by the Core Devoted Lesson that allows you to add your cards to the spreads of your allies. When you use this ability, call on one of your gods… “Merciful Mother, give my friend the strength she needs to survive this.” Existing Myr Gods include Myr, the Bringer of Fortune, chief goddess and general source of prosperity and wisdom; Taeloch, the Serpent in the Water, the aggressive bringer of justice; and Lassia, the Merciful Mother; but you can expand this pantheon if you have an idea for a particular god that can expand the pantheon. At the moment, the gods are imprisoned in the Dusk; while they have great potential power, at the moment they can only affect the world by acting through you.

  • What is your relationship with the gods? You were a slacker in your youth. Has this divine revelation inspired you and made you yearn to be the best person you can be? Or are you still somewhat reluctant, a hero only because the gods constantly drive you and demand that you be better than you are? Do you praise your gods, or do you consider them to be annoying aunts and uncles?
  • Do you have a special relationship with one god in particular, or do you interact with them all as a group?
  • Most Phoenixes don’t interact with gods in the Crucible: they only interact with the spirit of a previous Phoenix. Are you very open about your relationship with the divine, or do you keep it secret? It was the first Phoenixes who banished your gods to the Dusk, when your ancestors abused their power; some might fear that your gods are in league with the Dread.
  • Your family, the Myr Talu, were the leaders of the southern Fens and the protectors of its people. The Dread has overrun the Fens and the Myr Talu have been driven from their homes. The gods have urged you to work with Dawn Command; defeating the Dread is the only way to save the Fens. But do you yearn to know if your family has survived? Do you want to help your scattered people? Or are you solely concerned with your divine mission?

Suggested Traits: Extensive Training, Inspiring, Misspent Youth, Smartest Person In The Room

That’s all for this week! Post questions —or YOUR character concepts — below!

Worldbuilding 101: Taverns

There’s a lot of exciting things in the World of Keith. Phoenix: Dawn Command is now available on Amazon. The price is the same as getting it at your FLGS or from our website, so if your FLGS carries it that’s your best option. However, if you can’t get it locally, Amazon provides a way to avoid the high shipping costs that have been a problem in the past. I’m writing new Phoenix material right now, so you’ll see more of that in the months ahead!

But on to today’s topic. A few weeks back, someone said It’s easy to make Eberron feel like Eberron in the big cities. How do I do the same when visiting a tavern, or hamlet?” 

I addressed the main question in this Dragonmark article, but taverns are an interesting topic and I wanted to take the subject beyond Eberron.

A tavern can serve many functions in a campaign. Traditionally, it’s a place for adventurers to meet mysterious strangers in order to acquire quests. But there are many other ways to use an inn. In Casablanca, Rick’s Cafe is a neutral ground where people from all walks of life mingle; “Everybody comes to Rick’s.” While also in Casablanca, The Blue Parrot is where you go if you want to make a deal with underworld boss Ferrari. Consider…

  • GOODS AND SERVICES. Are you looking for a pilot? You’ll find the best in the cantina in Mos Eisley. Smugglers, traveling merchants, mercenaries, spies… Anyone without a legitimate storefront may sell their services in their favorite watering hole. And the choice of tavern tells you a little something about that person.
  • ONE NIGHT STAND. Your adventure may be taking you to Mordor, but a night at the Prancing Pony can add color and complications to the journey. It’s easy to gloss over travel, taking the “red line on the map” approach. But a night in an interesting inn can be a memorable scene. How do you spend the evening? Do you hide in your room? Sing an old Brelish song with the captains in the corner? Gamble with those mercenaries? When the tinker offers to sell you a lucky charm, do you take it or do you tell them to get lost?
  • DEN OF THIEVES. A tavern can be a home base for a particular group of people. It could be neutral ground: if you want to negotiate with the Boromar Clan, have a drink in Callestan. Or it may be that you’re taking your life in your hands when you go inside, and you’d better be prepared to fight your way out. The party’s rogue may have a bar where she meets fences or negotiates with higher-ups in the guild. In my last CCD20 adventure, the party is pursuing a war criminal who’s holed up in an inn in Graywall; can they dig him out without angering the locals? Cottonmouth’s club in Luke Cage is a good example of this.
  • HOME FROM HOME. A tavern can be a great base of operations for a group of adventurers, especially if they are freelance agents. This could be a location that develops organically over time, or it could be something you work into the initial backstory. It could be a family business associated with one of the player characters, perhaps operated by a parent or sibling. It could be owned by a friend, perhaps a soldier who fought alongside the adventurers during the war but retired from the adventuring life due to injuries. It might be simple business; the innkeeper provides the adventurers with free room and board in exchange for them dealing with any troubles that arise in the bar while they’re around. It could even be that the inn belongs to one of the PCs… consider Kote in The Kingkiller Chronicles. Having a set base of operations can help the players feel a stronger sense of attachment to the world, and you can work with them to develop details about the inn. What’s their favorite meal? What’s an interesting detail about the server? What’s the most unusual feature about their character’s room? And of course, once the players are attached to the location, it becomes a thing that can be threatened to generate dramatic tension…

SETTING UP SHOP

So you’ve some ideas of what to do with your tavern… now you need to describe it. Start by considering the following elements.

PURPOSE. Typically, the general purpose of a tavern is to provide a comfortable place for people to gather over food and drink; if it’s an inn, add lodging to the lineup. Does your establishment have any other purpose? Is it a casino? A brothel? A recruiting center for mercenaries? Is it operated by a church or other organization, and how does that affect decor and services?

CLIENTELE. Does this establishment serve the general population, or does it serve a more specialized niche? While this could be something like mercenaries or criminals, it could just as easily cater to fans of a particular sport, people who work at a nearby business (a quarry, a mill, a shipyard), or members of a particular faith. This decision can help you envision what sort of people might be around on a typical afternoon. If it serves a particular niche, do they welcome outsiders or drive them away? Will the hrazhak fans teach you the sport, or give you the cold shoulder? If you’re planning to use the place more than once, come up with names and descriptions for three regulars people can usually expect to find here.

STAFF. Who runs this place? Is the innkeeper or bartender the owner, or are these separate? Is there live music? Is there a single weary barmaid? A host of goblin servants? Bound spirits that handle domestic tasks? How does the bartender maintain order… a shotgun or wand behind the bar? A scary bouncer? The general love of the clientele?

DISTINCTIVE FEATURES. What makes this inn stand out? Why is it in this particular location in the first place? Who founded it? Is the bartender a former celebrity of some sort? Is there something remarkable about the structure? Is there something that serves a particular purpose… a fighting ring? A stage for performances? What about food and drink? In Eberron, there are Zil waterhouses that only serve water flavored with prestidigitation… what does this place serve, and why?

LOCATION. Why is there a tavern here? In a big city it might be one of a dozen, but if it’s out in the wilds it’s a valid question. Is it on a major trade road? Does it cater to pilgrims on their way to a nearby shrine? Is it the last outpost of civilization on the edge of a mystic wasteland?

Here’s a few examples to consider…

  • The Labyrinth. Located in the monstrous city of Graywall, the Labyrinth is built into an old quarry. A vast awning keeps rain from flooding the quarry, and customers descend a spiral ramp to get down to the common room. A medusa manages the bar, and the statues scattered around are a warning to those who might cause trouble. Goblins and gnolls surround the central firepit, cheering for the harpy performing mesmerizing torch songs. The rooms for rent are part of a vast network of caves that stretch below the quarry.
  • The Quill. Known as a refuge for authors and wizards alike, The Quill is named for the writing implement of a legendary mage, which is ensconced above the bar. The Quill serves the students and faculty of the nearby college of magic, and this is reflected in its fixtures; the rooms are lit by continual flames, and there are a number of unseen servants that perform menial tasks. Most of the servers are students themselves, while the bartender is a retired alumni who prefers mixology to magic. Nonetheless, it’s an excellent place to hear gossip or trade for rare components. Brave mages can compete in the creative cantrip competition that occurs every week.
  • The Crooked Tree. This inn is on the only road that runs through the deep forest. It’s built around the trunk of a gnarled tree, and while she lets the innkeeper handle business, the owner is the ancient dryad bound to this tree. It could be that most customers are mortals who use the main road, or it could be that the inn primarily caters to the fey that lurk in the shadows of the wood; if this is the case, you might have to pay for a drink with a secret, or pay for your room with a promise; gold is worth nothing beneath the Crooked Tree.

These details are great for building random scenes. Even if you’re just using the inn as a one night stand, is there an event going on when the players arrive? Is it a competition a player could take part in? Give that bard a chance to do what they do best! Or if it’s on a trade road or pilgrimage route, will a caravan roll up while the player characters are dining, and will it bring trouble?

Should a fight break out, these details can also add a lot of flavor. In games like d20, combat can sometimes feel very clinical… I rolled an 18 and did six points of damage. OK, but what did you DO? Think about bar fights in any movie. Are you hitting someone with a barstool? Tossing them through the window, or back into a rack of bottles? What I like to do in this sort of situation is to provide the players with a 3×5 card with a list of notable things in the bar… A Roaring Fire; A Barstool; A Plate Glass Window; A Chandelier; A Barmaid With A Tray Of Drinks. If the player can explain how they are using one of these elements as useful part of their action, they gain a benefit. In This is a core principle of Phoenix: Dawn Command, but it’s something you can use in any system; for many players this sort of prompt really helps them visualize the environment and get more creative with their actions. In Phoenix, using an environmental element lets you draw a card. In d20, a good use of a prop could provide advantage to a roll… or in the case of the Roaring Fire, shoving someone into the fire might add a little fire damage to the attack instead of advantage to the roll. Using an element doesn’t remove the element from the environment – the fire doesn’t go out, and people can still do things with it – but the advantage only goes to the first person to make use of an element.

PASSING THE TIME

So: the adventurers stops in the Chattering Skull en route to the Mournland. It’s a Karrnathi bar, and the animated skull of the original owner rests on the bar. They’re there for the night. As GM, what can you do to make it interesting?

  • Games. How do the locals pass the time? If you feel so inclined, you could take a pause to actually play a game you feel resembles something people might play in the region. If you prefer to keep things short, you can use a few quick rolls to resolve the outcome. A bluffing game would be a test of Deception and Insight. A game like darts could be a series of opposed attack rolls; the person who makes the three best ranged attacks wins. Armwrestling? Sounds like a Strength/Athletics check. Drinking contest? Constitution/Endurance. With any of these, don’t rely entirely on the die roll; describe the game, and give a player a bonus for an entertaining description. Typically, the amount of money normal people would wager won’t be significant for PCs, but it can still be a good story and help PCs connect with the locals.
  • Entertainment. Is there entertainment at the tavern? A traveling bard could share local news or a stories of the region… either of which could potentially be useful if the actual adventure takes place nearby. if one of the players is an entertainer, they could be asked to fill this role themselves. Or there could be a competition, whether musical or magical!
  • Stranger Danger. You’re enjoying your dinner when a group of loud, arrogant Emerald Claw soldiers show up and start throwing their weight around. They aren’t here for a fight, and technically they aren’t breaking any laws. Are you going to be the one to engage in violence, potentially bringing harm to the innkeeper? If not, this can be a fun opportunity to interact with people who are usually villains in a non-violent context.
  • Mysterious Opportunity. A traveling peddler offers a good luck charm or an ancient map. A stranger approaches and says something that’s clearly a code phrase, and hastily backs away when the PCs don’t know the right response. A smuggler offers rare goods at a low price – the PCs don’t need the goods now, but do they want to miss the opportunity? A fight breaks out between two strangers at the next table… will the PCs interfere? A stranger – secretly a spy – suddenly collapses from poison. Will the PCs get involved? And there’s always the possibility for romance…
  • Ask The Players. A simple answer is to ask your players what happens. They’re spending an evening in a tavern… what do they think should happen? This gives the players an easy opportunity to shape the story… whether to introduce a new plot thread or simply to describe their armwrestling victory.

BUT WHAT ABOUT EBERRON? 

The original question was about taverns in Eberron. The first issue is definitely location; looking at the examples above, The Labyrinth is in Droaam; The Quill is near Arcanix; and The Crooked Tree is in Thelanis, though you could drop it in a manifest zone. Everything that I’ve said up to this point applies, but you want to answer specific questions tied to Eberron. How does magic apply? What impact has the war had? Is there a warforged bouncer? Did the bartender lose his arm during an Aundairian bombardment? Is there a way to involve a magical beast – the hearth is in a gorgon’s skull, or there’s a giant owl who’s taken up residence there? If there’s shifters in the region, are people arguing about the shifter sport hrazhak? Perhaps the bartender is a changeling, who has different faces for different moods… Max is always up for conversation, but when you see Mildred at the bar, just order your drink and don’t ask questions?

And as long as we’re talking about taverns in Eberron, we have to discuss the GOLD DRAGON INN. While Ghallanda licenses inns of all sorts, the Gold Dragon is their primary franchise operation. Just like in our world, the whole point of the Gold Dragon is that people know exactly what to expect when they go into one. So play that up. Add your own details about what defines a Gold Dragon Inn, and make sure to highlight that every time the players stop at one. Here’s a few I’m literally making up right now.

  • The Gold Dragon Inn has a mascot, Goldie the Dragon. Every GDI has a mural inside of Goldie wrapped around the inn, looking down at you with a wink and a grin. Some inns have a Goldie costume – which involves three halflings – that they bring out on special occasions.
  • The Gold Dragon Inn always has a greeter, typically a halfling barmaid who says something along the following lines. “Welcome to the Gold Dragon Inn, where our guests are our greatest treasure! Would you like a tankard of our Copper Egg ale?”

Basically, any time the players are wandering around and happen to stop for the night, what do you know, it’s a Gold Dragon Inn! With the exact same greeter speech! And friendly, helpful staff who are happy to provide you with useful information about the region! The place is amazingly clean, as the staff uses a minor dragonmark focus item that ties to the Mark of Hospitality, using a prestidigitation effect to wipe away dirt and grime with the wave of a wand. And then, once people have gotten used to it, have them end up in a bad part of Karrnath where there’s no Gold Dragon Inn. The tavern they end up in is grimy and there’s holes in the roof from Thranish air raids (“Never had the gold to fix ’em,” the owner says. “Don’t worry, I moved the bed out from under.”). The owner lost a forearm in one of those raids but has a skeletal prosthetic. He’s probably not going to kill you in your sleep. Probably.

JT: Are there any major inns or taverns that operate without Ghallanda’s backing, or as open competition to the House’s industry?

SD: Dragonmarked’ makes it seem like other establishments certainly exist, but if they’re not at least sponsored by the Hosteler’s Guild, they’re regarded in the Five Nations as second-rate or questionable. If an exception existed that posed a serious threat to Ghallanda interests in an area, unsavory repercussions might occur.

I’m including SpoonDragon’s answer because it hits the nail on the head. The Dragonmarked Houses dominate their fields, and have established and maintained that dominance over the course of centuries. But that doesn’t mean every inn is a Gold Dragon Inn. You have three classes of business, as established in Dragonmarked: businesses directly run by the house; businesses bound to the house, which are essentially franchises like the Gold Dragon Inn; and licensed business, which pay a percentage and agree to meet the industry standards established by the house in exchange for being able to use the house seal. MOST inns and taverns are licensed. The critical thing is that this isn’t just a scam run by the houses. They DO establish and enforce industry standards, a role that is usually handled by the government in our world. A tavern has to pay Ghallanda for the license, but it ALSO has to meet the house standards for hygiene and health, and that’s the real VALUE of the license: potential customers know they can trust it. That shabby Karrnathi inn described above COULDN’T be a licensed business, because it doesn’t meet the standards. So a really successful and well-established business – like The Oaks in Sharn – could run without a license, trusting in its established reputation. But it’s sort of like posting a sign on your door saying “We’ve never had a health inspection.”

Generally the houses won’t act against lone businesses that choose to operate outside their scope. However, if someone truly poses a serious threat to their market dominance, they will take steps to deal with it… starting with negotiation, then negative propaganda, then more severe methods. A Ghallanda Black Dog (from Dragonmarked) can poison food or drink just by looking at it; this is a handy person to have in your back pocket when you want to give a rival restaurant a reputation for food poisoning.

I have always wondered about Gold Dragon Inns, starting with the price point. Are we talking Super 8, or Hamton, or Hilton, or Fairmont, or what? How big is the common room (in terms of area or number of patrons)? Is there both a tavern and a restaurant? What sort of food is served? How many rooms? How many of those rooms cater to small creatures like gnomes and halflings? Are there any other services provided? What sort of security is present – for valuables, or common areas, or private rooms?

This was cut for space from Dragonmarked, but addresses this a bit…

Two Ghallanda-licensed taverns in Sharn may have nothing in common beyond the house seal. But the Hostelers Guild maintains a number of bound businesses with outposts across Khorvaire. These strive for uniformity, and a traveler knows exactly what he can expect when he goes to a Gold Dragon Inn. 

          The Gold Dragon Inn. A home away from home for the frequent traveler, the Gold Dragon Inn provides reliable (if not exceptional) services at reasonable rates. Every Gold Dragon Inn possesses a heavy safe secured with arcane lock, and a soundproofed back room that can be rented for private events or important negotiations. House Ghallanda works with House Thuranni and House Phiarlan, and a Gold Dragon Inn will always have some sort of guild-licensed entertainer on hand.

            The Drum and Lyre. These taverns specialize in spicy Talentan cuisine, and serve as venues for music and dance. Three nights of the week are reserved for halflings performing traditional Talentan works; three nights are filled by performers from House Phiarlan or House Thuranni; and one night is held for amateurs and independents, which can be an opportunity for PC bards to hone their skills and make a little silver. Occasionally musical performances are set aside for athletic events, including sporting matches between miniature clawfeet and other Talentan beasts.   

As I’ve said before, the Dragonmarked Houses essentially set the industry standards, which is to say the prices in the rule book. So if you look on page 158 pf the 5E Player’s Handbook, the Gold Dragon Inn generally would be considered Modest accommodations (5 SP/night) while the best suite in a GDI would be Comfortable (8 SP/night). I generally think of the GDI as having a simple tavern attached, but some might have a full restaurant (perhaps a Drum & Lyre!). The size and number of the rooms will be based on the expected clientele; a GDI in Zilargo will have lots of rooms for small guests, while one in Breland will be predominantly designed with medium guests in mind. A GDI could have six rooms or a hundred rooms, based on the logical ability of the region to support it and the needs of your story.

Now, as noted above, the GDI is not the only sort of inn Ghallanda runs. It’s a known quantity, but many Ghallanda heirs prefer to run their own unique licensed business. The house itself runs a number of more luxurious inns, such as the Twilight Palace in Graywall; these would be in the Wealthy to Aristocratic class of lodging, and include services provided by other Dragonmarked houses – a Sivis message station in the hotel, an Orien courier on call, etc.

HOW ABOUT PHOENIX?

I can’t create new material for Eberron, but I can create anything I want for my new RPG Phoenix: Dawn Command. I think this post has gone on long enough, but I’ll do a follow-up next week that highlights the role of the tavern in Phoenix, with a few different locations you could use in your campaign.

Phoenix Q&A: Playing Cards

Shrouded Phoenix

Twogether Studios officially released my new RPG Phoenix: Dawn Command in the beginning of August. Currently, it’s only available through our website, but we intend to get it to retail soon; if your FLGS is interested in carrying it, have them reach out to us at info@twogetherstudios.com. We’ve got lots of plans for ongoing Phoenix support, and I’ll unveil these as soon as the details are ironed out. For now I want to start with some simple Q&As for people who are running or playing Phoenix: Dawn Command. Today I’m going to take a look at the core mechanic.

Phoenix: Dawn Command is a card-based roleplaying game. Each player has a deck of action cards that represent the capabilities and unique traits of their characters. At any given time, a player will have a hand of 5 or 6 cards, reflecting what they are capable of in this moment. There is a random element to this, because you are going through your deck and any given draw might be especially good or bad. But IN THE MOMENT you can look at your hand and know what you’re capable of… so unlike rolling a die, you know when you have a good hand or a bad hand, and the question is what you can accomplish with the resources that are available.

Long ago, Rich Malena posted two videos about Skill Spreads and Combat Spreads. These were done with prototype cards and contain one critical error, but they are still a good basic (and visual) grounding in how the system works and I suggest you take a look at these. The following questions are all dealing with specific aspects of making spreads – but these videos walk you through the basics. So if you aren’t familiar with Phoenix, click on the links and check those videos out. I’ll wait.

Back? OK, let’s get on with the questions.

I’m confused about the basic timing of a spread. Say I play a Trait in the spread that lets me draw a card. Can I then add that card to a spread? Can I exchange this new card for a card that I’ve already played in the spread? 

When playing a simple spread, you may just lay down all your cards at once. If you’re making an Attack spread and planning to play Str-3, Str-2, and Gra-4, you can just say “Attack Spread, 9 points!”… because there are no complicated timing issues. However, if there’s any question or timing or choice, you actually want to play your cards one at a time. Here’s how this works.

  1. When you make a spread, you start by declaring the action you wish to take. The GM approves the action and tells you what type of spread to make and what suits you can use in that spread. This is also a time to figure out the base value of the spread due to any bonuses from Skill Specialties or Lessons. (“I want to lift a heavy rock. Because I have the Athletics specialty, I’ve got a base value of 5.”)
  2. Declare the first card you are using in the spread. Once you do this, that card is committed to the spread and cannot be swapped out. Now resolve any effects of that card: If it’s a Trait, how are you justifying it? Will the GM increase its value? Does it allow you to draw an extra card? Continue until you have resolved every effect associated with THAT CARD. (Playing the trait Never Gives Up: “We’ve been through a lot, and I’m not going to let this boulder be the thing that keeps us from reaching our goal. I’m never giving up until I lift that rock.” The GM approves this justification and increases the value to 3; it’s appropriate, but not as perfect a match to rock-lifting as, say, Superhuman Strength. In addition, Never Gives Up says “Draw 1 card when you use this in a spread” – so you do that now.)
  3. Declare the SECOND card you’re using in the spread and go through the same process: does the card have any special effects? Does it need to be justified? (Playing a Strength-4 card… perhaps the one you just drew! Nothing special here.)
  4. Continue this process until you have played as many cards as you are allowed to play in the spread. Note that any justified Trait doesn’t count towards the limit of cards you can play in a spread, so you can play any number of Traits in a spread, as long as you can justify them.
  5. Determine the final value of the spread and determine the result.

So: Once you have committed a card to a spread, you cannot remove it or swap it out. However, if a card in the spread lets you draw a new card AND YOU HAVEN’T HIT YOUR CARD LIMIT you can add this new card into the spread. This is a mistake in Rich Malena’s Skill Spread video: he draws a new card and swaps it for a card already in the spread.

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If a player is using a Trait to enhance a spread, the only thing that matters is the name of the Trait, not its mechanical effect, right? They only need to explain why “Superhuman Strength” helps in this situation to get its advantage in a narrative way; the fact that I can use the card to stun an opponent doesn’t matter when I’m not using it in a Skill Spread. 

This is correct. A Trait has three components.

  • Suit and Value (Grace 1)
  • Descriptor (Commander)
  • Power (You may discard this card to add 3 to a wingmate’s spread)

A player can use the Trait for its base suit and value without providing any justification; they can always just play Commander as a Grace 1 card. They can also use its POWER without any justification; they don’t have to explain how they are adding +3 to a friend’s spread, because that’s just what the card does. However, if they can explain how the descriptor is relevant to what they are doing, they can add it to a spread regardless of suit and without counting against the limit of how many cards you can play… and in a Skill Spread, you as the GM may increase its value based on how appropriate it is and/or the quality of the justification.

traits-web

I feel some “card names” are quite universal like “Seen This Before”, what if a player uses it to any monster, claiming he’s seen this before and know how to inflict Brutal damage to it? Should I decide as a DM that whether it makes sense or not? 

First off, it is always up to you as GM to approve the justification of a Trait and to decide what benefit the Trait provides. And it’s only when used in a Skill Spread that a Trait may get an increased value for a good justification. In a combat spread, the only benefit is that you can add the card in regardless of suit and that it doesn’t count against limit. The POWER of the card may help in combat. So the Trait Killer Instincts does allow the player to get Brutal Damage on an attack, and it’s intentionally pretty easy to justify adding it to an Attack spread, making it a free play. On the other hand, it’s not that broadly useful outside of combat. Meanwhile, Seen This Before is potentially quite universal – but there’s no way a player could use it to get Brutal damage, because it doesn’t do that. When used in a Combat spread, it’s only worth +1 to the spread value. Easy to justify, but not that big of a deal.

Now, in SKILL spreads, justification matters. Based on the strength of the justification, you can decide to increase the value… generally to 3 if the Trait is fairly useful, and to 5 for an extremely good justification. If it’s the absolute perfect Trait for the task – Superhuman Strength when you want to lift a rock – you may decide that they can simply discard the Trait without even making a spread.

So Seen This Before is almost always valid in a Skill Spread… but the strength of the justification still matters. WHERE has the character seen this before? If they’re fighting Chanters and the player says “I dunno, I saw Chanters somewhere” I’d probably let them use it, but only for the +1. If they say “In my first life, I was in a village that got hit by the Chant; I lost my brother in that outbreak” I’d give them at least a +3, assuming that fits with their backstory. If the character says “I got killed by the Chant LAST GAME, remember?” I’d definitely make it a +5, because it’s hard to be closer to the Chant than that. But as the GM, you are always the final judge; the player can’t DEMAND a bonus.

With that said, another critical example here is Makes It Look Easy. This is intentionally an incredibly easy Trait to justify in a spread. Whatever you’re doing, you can always make it look easy. But in Attack or Defense, all it does is give you a +1. And in a Skill Spread, it’s automatically worth +5… which means that the justification doesn’t really matter. Essentially, Makes It Looks Easy is the perfect card for the player who’s NOT good at coming up with justifications, because they don’t have to; the card just hands them the bonus. On the other hand, Seen This Before is one that is easy to justify with a good story and can usually get 3-5 points… and it ALSO has the power of being a strong boost to an ally’s spread. So Seen This Before is a card I encourage storytellers to take, and Makes It Look Easy is one I’d push on a shy player who has trouble justifying things.

If you have more questions about the core mechanic, ask here. You can also get answers to questions on the Phoenix: Dawn Command group on Facebook!

Phoenix Q&A 8-10-16

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Phoenix is out in the world! We just got back from running demos at Gen Con. If you’re looking for a copy, you can buy it on the Twogether Studios website. We are working on making it available to brick and mortar stores, and if you are a retailer who wants to be kept appraised of this, email us at Info@twogetherstudios.com. If you want to see Phoenix in action, you can check out this broadcast from Saving Throw, which will be a continuing weekly series!

This is a very exciting time for me. I’ve been working on the game for over three years now, and people are finally able to play it. At the same time, I’m very nervous. What did we miss? Will everything make sense to people? With any project of this size, it’s inevitable that something will slip through the cracks. Eventually we’ll have a FAQ up at Twogether Studios, but for now, here’s some questions from the Phoenix Dawn Command Facebook group. if you have questions, post them below!

 

GENERAL QUESTIONS

Do you plan to publish expansions and to develop the world further? 

Absolutely. One of the main reasons I’ve wanted to create a new world is to have the ability to explore it as deeply as time allows. There are a number of different things on our radar…

  • Exploring the world in more depth, providing more material and hooks for GMs who want to create their own stories.
  • Additional player options: more Traits, Talons, Lessons, and the like. We also may provide a way for players to get their own decks.
  • Additional GM tools: Challenges, missions, and more.
  • I’m also playing around with ideas for Phoenix fiction.

These are all things we could do, but we’re a small company – so we’re limited both by time and resources. In days ahead we’ll be polling the player base to see what you want. Would you prefer more premade missions? Or would you rather have more information about the provinces and cities of the Empire? Let us know in the comments below! Beyond this, our ability to support the game will definitely be linked to the number of people playing it. So if you like it and want to see more, please spread the word.

What movies/tv shows/novels do you think best represent the Dawn Command game? I’m having a tough time putting my finger on it, combining elements of magical swordsman, swashbuckling, and Roman legion.

I’m not personally aware of a show or book that perfectly captures all the aspects of Phoenix. Here’s a scattershot of things that touch on some of it.

  • Rome (TV) focuses on a pair of soldiers in a classical setting. If your Phoenix party of the Imperial Army in your first life, or just from Ilona, there’s a lot to like here.
  • Game of Thrones (book/tv) isn’t a great match overall because it’s largely focused on people ignoring an existential supernatural threat and engaging in petty politics. But the plotline of the Night’s Watch specifically has some overlap with Phoenix: a small unit of soldiers with limited resources standing against a seeming unstoppable mystical foe.
  • Lord of the Rings (book/movie) includes a number of scenes of heroic sacrifice. In my mind, Moria is a perfect model for a Phoenix mission. You’re sent to the mines to find out why there’s been no contact from the dwarves. You find that the outpost has been massacred. Investigating, you encounter orcs… but you’re Phoenixes, you can handle orcs. You encounter a troll… a tough battle, but you can handle it. Then you find the balrog. Now you know the source of the evil, but you can’t handle it. Unless someone does something, you are all going to die. Who will hold the balrog at the bridge so the others can escape?
  • Aliens (movie) is science fiction, but deals with a small unit of soldiers facing a mysterious and deadly threat. The imagery may be completely wrong, but the tone is appropriate.
  • Likewise, Pacific Rim (movie) is the wrong genre, but deals with a largely united world facing an inexplicable alien threat that mundane forces simply can’t stop. Replace jaegers with Phoenixes and there’s some useful tone notes here.
  • On a more specific note, Tanith Lee’s Night’s Master (novel) inspired our view of the Fallen Folk, and is generally a good source of inspiration for Skavia.
  • My co-designer Dan Garrison also recommends Glen Cook’s Black Company books and Steven Erickson’s Book of the Fallen as mission oriented military fantasy.

If YOU have a thought about a show, book, or movie that you think captures the mood of Phoenix, post it below!

The Bitter didn’t exist in the Phoenix Imperium, meaning there were only five schools. The Devoted symbol has 6 points on it, which represent the Schools. Did it change when the Phoenixes begin to return? What were the Marshals’ reactions to the first Devoted with an altered symbol, let alone the first Bitter to appear?

Excellent question! The trick is that the Empire didn’t create the School Symbols; they are artifacts of the Crucible. So the Devoted symbol has always had six points and always been seen as “A group joined together” – even though the points don’t quite add up. The question is: assuming the six points of the Devoted symbol do represent six Schools, was the six School ALWAYS Bitter, and simply unrecognized in the Dawn Legion? Or was there a different School that never showed up, which was in some way corrupted or warped to become Bitter? Or crazier still… is Bitter NOT a School at all, and there’s still some other sixth School waiting to be seen? And if so, what are the Bitter Phoenixes? Some scheme of the Fallen? A corruption of the Flames?

As for the Marshal’s reactions, this is something we’ll explore in more depth in the future. The Marshals are working with limited resources and will essentially use whatever resources come their way. You can be sure that some of them – specifically, the Durant Marshal Honor – are very concerned about Bitters, while Winter is likely fascinated by them and studying them very closely.

Are Elementals really the only Phoenixes who can ranged attack? A Shrouded can’t use a bow or throw a knife?

The Elemental is the only School whose core combat style allows ranged attacks. But there’s a variety of ways to make ranged attacks. Most of these rely on the Talon. Mundane weapons aren’t especially effective against most manifestations of the Dread. A dreadknight is solidified fear; there’s nothing for an arrow to hit. A Talon is a conduit for the Phoenix’s supernatural power, and can bring down things that can’t be dealt with by normal weapons. With that in mind, here’s a few ways to make ranged attacks.

  • Any Phoenix can burn 1 Spark to make a ranged attack using their Talon. This is covered on page 124 of the Marshal’s Manual.
  • When a Phoenix reaches Rank 2, they choose an additional power for their Talon. The base set include six Talons. Two of those – Epitaph and Thoughtcoil – allow their wielders to make ranged attacks at no cost.
  • Often a Phoenix can make a ranged attack by using an environmental element. Is there something you can throw? Or collapse on an enemy?

So if you have a vision of a Forceful archer or a Shrouded who throws knives, define your Talon as that ranged weapon and choose Epitaph or Thoughtcoil at Rank 2. For your first life you’ll have to burn a Spark each time you make a ranged attack, but it only takes one good death to get your concept to work.

 

TRAITS AND SPREADS

First of all, I’d like to clear up something that seems to be a common point of confusion. A Trait has three elements.

  • A suit and value… “Intellect 1”
  • A descriptor… “Seen This Before”
  • A power… “Discard this card to add 3 to an ally’s spread.”

You can always use the Trait as a normal card of its suit and value… just adding it to the spread as an Intellect 1. You don’t have to explain anything or tell a story. However, in this case it counts towards the limit of cards you can play in the spread, and the suit has to match the limitations of the spread.

If you can narratively explain how the descriptor fits the action you are performing – where you’ve “Seen This Before” and why that experience will help you now – you may add the Trait to your spread as a bonus card. It adds its value to the spread, but does not count towards the card limit, and you can play it regardless of suit.

You may use the power of a Trait any time you use it in a spread, in addition to adding its value to the spread. Certain cards have powers triggered when they are discarded – this is NOT the same as adding the card to a spread.

Can I play 2 traits in a Row, as long as I can explain them in the narrative?

Yes, you can play any number of Traits as part of a spread. If you can give a narrative explanation, they’re bonus cards; otherwise they count towards the card limit.

My three person wing has a hard time getting 15+ for skill checks. What’s a good way to increase skill spreads for low rank Phoenixes?

The critical answer: TRAITS. Here’s a quick breakdown of the elements of a Skill Spread.

  • Base Cards. You get to play three cards in a Skill Spread. with a decent hand, a Phoenix can typically hit a value of around ten.
  • Skill Specialties. A relevant Skill Specialty adds +5 to the check and may allow the player to use an additional suit for the base cards. So at this point we are hovering around a value of fifteen.
  • Traits. If a player can narratively explain the relevance of a Trait, the GM may increase its value in a Skill Spread. My rule of thumb is that if a Trait seems somewhat appropriate it should be worth +3; if it’s clearly very appropriate, it should be +5. A number of Traits – such as Extensive Training, Makes It Look Easy, and Intuitive – provide a +5 bonus to a Skill Spread without requiring any justification, which can be good for players who are uncomfortable with improvisation.
  • Sparks. Each Spark a player burns is worth +1 to the spread. One of the main uses of Sparks is to let Phoenixes push beyond the limits of the cards to perform truly amazing actions – if they are willing to pay the cost!
  • Player Action. Depending on the situation, the player themselves may be able to get a bonus through creative action. For example, if the action is making a speech, I might give a bonus of up to +3 to a player who actually makes a bit of the speech… or if the player simply presents an exceptionally good plan.
  • Other Characters. A Devoted can discard a card to improve an ally’s spread. This is weak at Rank One, but becomes very powerful over time. With a good narrative explanation, a player can discard a trait and add its value to an ally’s spread; if it’s an excellent explanation and a very appropriate Trait, I’ll potentially increase it’s value to three. A number of Traits – such as Commander and Absolute Conviction – allow you to improve an ally’s spread without requiring narrative justification.
  • Thoughtcoil. The Talon Thoughtcoil allows its wielder to burn one Spark to add +5 to a Skill Spread – a powerful tool for someone who wants to be a skill user.

Essentially, fifteen is close to the limit of what you can do with no help and no special abilities. Hitting a thirty is something that will require some effort, both on your part and potentially on the part of your wingmates. If you can do it, it should feel like a triumph.

When putting a trait in a wingmate’s spread, do you still get to draw a card if the trait says “draw a card when you use this in a spread?”

No. Technically, you never put a Trait in a wingmate’s Spread – you discard the card to add its value to the Spread. This means you don’t trigger effects that say “When you use this in a Spread” because that’s not what you did – you discarded it, and in so doing you gave the person making the spread a boost.

 

REBIRTH

Regarding adding cards to a player deck upon rebirth: if they are adding a “5,” that has to come from the school tied to their original death … but if they are adding a trait card, that has to come from the school associated with their most recent death. Is that correct?

That is correct. New action cards are always draw from the suits of your core School, while new Traits and Lessons are drawn from the School of your most recent death.

When a Phoenix advances and picks a lesson from a new school, are they limited to the lessons available depending on if that other school is in play, i.e. I’m playing a Durant, but die a Bitter death. Can I take a Bitter lesson that’s already in play or can I only take Bitter lessons that are still in the box and not attached to the Bitter player?

With the default set, the idea is that you can only take the Lessons that remain… and if there are no Lessons available (because other players have taken them all) you can take a Lesson from your Core School. With that said, this is largely an artifact of the limited card set. It is our intention to make additional Lessons and additional copies of the existing Lessons available in the future, and I’m fine with a player simply writing down the details of a particular lesson and having it on a “virtual card”. With that said, the Core Lessons are only available to someone who dies their first death in that School. I’m fine with two people having the Shrouded Shadow Dancer Lesson, but your Forceful can never get one of the Shrouded Core Lessons.

How do you balance the experiences of the wingmates, if one character dies more often than his wingmates? 

This isn’t actually as significant a problem as you might think. A higher-ranking Phoenix has more power, but a lower-ranked Phoenix can push themselves to hit high values by burning Sparks… and they can afford to be more reckless with their resources because hey, they’ve got more deaths to work with.

With that said, sometimes it’s no fun for a player to be the odd duck who doesn’t die, and whose friends are all tougher than they are. This issue is addressed on page 143 of the Marshal’s Manual: If a character just isn’t dying in missions, you can always work with the player to come up with a satisfying story of how they died between missions.

Beyond this, Reward Cards (Page 153) are a way to strengthen Phoenixes who just won’t die, so they can still feel a little special… assuming that they’ve done something worthy of reward!

 

LESSONS

Which challenges count as living for the Devoted ability Share Pain?

The only Challenges that are immune to Share Pain are those listed as “Undead” (look on the back of the Challenge card). These Challenges generally use a grey color palette (versus blue for mortal and purple for Fallen). So Chanters are still alive and Share Pain works on them, but Whisperers are undead and immune to its effect.

Do the bonds that specify turns work out of combat? The Durant Bond allows the player to burn a spark to let another play draw a card. If my wingmate is trying to make a grace skill spread out of combat, but has mostly Intellect cards, can I use my durant bond to let them draw another card? Similar question with the devoted bond (and any other similar bond), can I return a committed spark to the devoted out of combat to draw two cards to take two sparks? 

Yes on both counts. The player making a spread is the active player and it is their turn – even if it’s out of combat and you aren’t tracking turns. So that player can draw on the Devoted Bond. What this means is that you can only use it once per spread; essentially, any time you take a significant action out of combat, it’s “your turn.”

This ties to the fact that you redraw cards immediately after resolving an action outside of combat… as if you took a turn and reached the end of it.

 

That’s all for now, but post additional questions here or in the Facebook group!

 

Unboxing Phoenix

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Phoenix is at Gen Con 2016 – follow the link for a list of events, or stop by room 143 in the Convention Center to get a copy. Whether you backed the Kickstarter, get it at Gen Con, or get a copy from Twogether Studios, when you open the box you’ll notice a few things. First, it’s heavy. The box contains a 460 page book and 296 tarot-sized cards, which is basically like buying four actual Tarot decks. Second, when you open it up, the cards are shrink-wrapped in six individual piles, as shown above. However, they aren’t actually sorted. So… what do you do with all of these cards? Here’s my guide to sorting your decks.

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MARSHAL CARDS

The game includes eight Affliction cards, six Talon cards, and a batch of Challenges (Name on the top, Defense in the corner, monster in the middle). Challenges and Afflictions are cards you’ll use when running a mission. The Talons will go to the Phoenixes, but not right away.

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SCHOOL CARDS

You’ll find six cards with the names and symbols of the six Schools. In addition, there’s a large number of tan Lesson cards (Talents, Combat Styles, and Skill Specialties); each of these has a School symbol and a rank at the bottom. Sort these by School. In addition, there’s a number of Traits tied to Schools, which also have the School and rank at the bottom. Put all these together, so you have a pile that has the Durant Lessons & Traits, the Devoted Lessons & Traits, etc. These will get used in character generation and whenever characters die and are reborn.

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TRAITS

Traits are action cards that have text and titles. Separate these by suit: Strength, Intellect, and Grace. You’ll also find eight special Grace Traits with different pictures than the others. These are tied to the missions and rewards for heroic actions; set them aside.

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ACTION CARDS

What’s left? The action cards, which form the bulk of the player decks. The simplest thing is to sort these as you will need them for players. Each player gets 16 action cards: two copies each of Grace 2-4, and two copies each of either Strength 2-4 or Intellect 2-4. The cards with a value of five will be gained through rebirth, so set those aside.

By the end of this, you’ll have a pile of Challenge cards and Afflictions for the Marshal; a pile of cards tied to Schools; and a pile of Traits and action cards for players.

Any questions about this or other aspects of Phoenix? Ask below!

Phoenix and GenCon 2016!

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First of all, PHOENIX IS IN THE WILD! If you’re on Twitter, let me know (@Hellcowkeith) when you get your copy! For those of you who didn’t back the Kickstarter, we’ll be bringing Phoenix to Gen Con 2016! If you want to find Phoenix at Gen Con, here’s a few opportunities.

  • Blackbox will be selling Phoenix in the Kickstarter Room (Room 143, near the Exhibit Hall). Supplies are limited!
  • You can play a two-hour demo of Phoenix. This is a short scenario using pregenerated characters, but it’s a chance to dive in and give it a try.
  • You can create a character. This is a one-hour event that takes you through the process of developing a character and a wing. Character creation is one of my favorite parts of the system, and you get a Phoenix notebook as a takeaway!
  • We’re holding a seminar about Phoenix on Friday. We’ll be talking about the system, the setting, and the three-year journey to get it out!
  • And finally, I’ll be talking about Phoenix at the Q&A with Keith! This is a casual conversation, so I’ll also be talking about Eberron, Gloom, and what’s in development!

I hope to see you there!

Phoenix Q&A 7/5/16

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Dan Garrison and I have been working on Phoenix: Dawn Command for the last three years. We’ll be releasing the game in August, and it seems like a good time to start talking about it! If you missed the prior post, here’s a link to the events we’ll be running at Gen Con. Meanwhile, if you have questions about the system or the setting, ask away!

You once mentioned how magic in a setting should truly affect the world. How does it affect day to day life of the world of Phoenix?

In Eberron – and D&D in general – magic behaves in a scientific manner. It is reliable: as long as you don’t get punched in the face while you’re casting it, your fireball will always work. One wizard can teach a spell to another. Eberron was thus based on the idea that if magic behaved like science, then it should be incorporated into the world just as science has been.

Phoenix works from a completely different core assumption. Magic isn’t reliable: it is mysterious, powerful, and very dangerous. Humanity has dabbled with it for a long time, but never truly mastered it. Each region has its own magical traditions… the Grimwald shamans invoke natural spirits, while Skavi warlocks bargain with the Fallen Folk and the Talu families draw on the power of their House Gods. Or at least, they used to. Again, while powerful, all of these practices were dangerous and unpredictable. When the Phoenixes established the Empire, they drove the Fallen Folk into the Dusk and banished the House Gods. The practicing of magic was forbidden, and much arcane knowledge was lost. This continued throughout the Phoenix Imperium. Following the Civil War, the Phoenixes themselves disappeared. In the following centuries, some people have begun to dabble with these dangerous arts once more… but it remains an obscure and hidden practice. And now we have the Dread. Are the Fallen Folk returning? Could the Talu reclaim their House Gods? Could the Dread itself have been caused by such foolish dabbling with forces best left alone? Of course, all of this is deals with the personal use of magic. There are also magical artifacts in the world. The Bulwark cities of Skavia are built around powerful such relics… and some of the cities ARE such relics, such as the remnants of a massive bridge now known as Hafsbridge. In a sense, you could look at this as similar to manifest zones in Eberron: People have found an ambient magical effect and settled their to take advantage of its power.

So Phoenix is a setting where magic exists and IS part of the world… but where humans have very little understanding of it. In Phoenix, investigation is part of the story. Defeating a threat is obviously important – but understanding what it is and why it has appeared is even more important, if you hope to turn the tide.

There is one approved form of magic, and that is Ash Sorcery – an art that deals with the Imperial Flame and uses the final ashes of Phoenixes for major workings. But that’s explained in more detail in the book. Intellect-driven Phoenixes can choose to dabble in one of these old paths of magic, and Skavi or Talu Phoenixes could have ties to their ancestral traditions. But again… these are things that have been buried as opposed to being embraced. Even Phoenixes are now considered legends; as one of the new generation of Phoenixes, you are bringing magic back to the Empire.

Phoenix Trio

I had the impression that heroes are more “guys with superpowers” than traditional fantasy heroes, and that these powers don’t look like magic. Did you considered this aspect? Do you think this make the world of Phoenix more similar to the fantasy of Japanese anime than traditional european/american fantasy?

Well, let’s take a look at three Phoenixes. Shepherd (left) is a Durant Phoenix, a tough warrior who faces her enemies with sword and shield. She draws on her power to survive injuries that would bring down others, and to give her the strength to protect her allies and bring down her enemies. Elegy (middle) is a Shrouded Phoenix, whose magic shrouds her in shadow and allows her to learn the secrets of her foes. Drake (right) is a Devoted Phoenix. The light of his flame strengthens his allies and heals their wounds. A shaman in his first life, he knows the ways of the spirits and can exorcise the restless dead.

Phoenixes are, in a sense, superheroes. They are mortals reborn and infused with mystical power. No one can just decide to become a Phoenix; you have to be chosen and you must endure the tests of the Crucible. So that is very different from the typical d20 character. With that said, Shepherd is a warrior who goes toe to toe with her enemies, Elegy makes devastating attacks from the shadows, and Drake is a healer who strengthens his allies; in terms of story roles, not SO different from a fighter, a rogue, and a cleric.

With that said, YOU decide exactly how your Phoenix’s powers manifest. This also ties to the Traits you select in character creation. Drake selected the Trait Shaman; as a result he decided that his magic involves calling on natural spirits. One Elemental could say that his Talon is a spellbook, and that he conjures his flames by reading from its pages; while another could take an Engineering specialty and present his Elemental as an artificer, saying his Talon is a makeshift flamethrower and that his attacks use this and grenades of his own design. One Durant could explain her resistance to damage by saying that she is just exceptionally good at blocking attacks with her shield, while another says that he’s actually just a massive suit of armor.

So the ROLES of the characters are familiar: Warrior, healer, rogue. But how their abilities manifest is up to you. A wing of Phoenixes could look exactly like a typical D&D party… or they could be considerably more exotic.

Have you ever considered to use the d20 system for Phoenix? Do you think you could project an adaptation for that system?

Making a new system isn’t something to do lightly. There’s a lot of good systems out there; why make a new one? When Dan and I first started working on Phoenix: Dawn Command, we considered the possibility of driving it with the d20 engine. In some ways, it would be a relatively simple conversion. Start PCs at second level, and each time they die they gain three levels. The Phoenix Schools translate fairly easily to d20 classes: Bitter (barbarian), Durant (fighter or warlord), Devoted (cleric or druid), Shrouded (bard or thief), Elemental (sorcerer or warlock), Forceful (ranger or monk). In Phoenix you have a pool of energy – Sparks – that let you push beyond your limits; you could represent with an expanded version of the Action Point system.

But there are other elements of the system that don’t translate so easily. When an enemy attacks you, does it hit you and how much damage does it do? When you attack it, are you successful? How much damage do YOU do? When they cast a spell on you, do you resist it? In d20, these things are determined by random die rolls. In Phoenix, all of these things are in the hands of the player – literally, in their hand of cards. It’s not simply a question of what cards you have in your hand, but how you choose to play them. In Phoenix you may well decide to be struck by an attack you COULD avoid… because you’d rather save your best cards to do something amazing on your next turn. You can push beyond your limits with Sparks, but you die when you run out of Sparks. Is this the right time to use that power?

Essentially, when you fail or die in D&D it’s typically because random events didn’t go your way. You fail a saving throw. Your enemy rolls a critical hit. In Phoenix, as often as not, when you die it’s because you CHOOSE to die… because with your sacrifice you were able to do something important. You use the last ounce of your power to hold the door against the horde of zombies or strike the mortal blow against the ultimate enemy. You may die, but quite often it feels like a triumph, not just a bad roll of the dice.

Another way to look at this: Your paladin is facing the Lord of Evil. He makes a grand speech swearing to avenge the demon’s innocent victims. He uses his mightiest attack. And then… he rolls a one, the attack fails, and your turn is a dud. There are times when this can be hilarious and fun, but from a dramatic perspective that’s not how you wanted the scene to go. In Phoenix, you can look at your hand and your Sparks and know before you make that speech whether you can pull this attack off. It’s possible you have a crappy hand and you simply CAN’T perform a successful attack this turn. But if that’s the case, you know it and you can try to figure out what you CAN do with the cards that you have. Hold that big speech and attack for your next turn; this time, save the victim on the altar or grab that scroll in the corner.

So you could make a VERSION of Phoenix using d20. But unless you substantially change the system, it won’t feel the same as actually playing Phoenix.

 

I’m a little bit skeptical about the whole “accessible to non-roleplayers” thing. Have you actually tested that claim with some random friends or relatives that have never gamed before?

I understand your skepticism! We’ve been testing across the country over the last three years, and I’ve played with a lot of people who aren’t my friends or relatives… including quite a few who haven’t gamed before. One of my favorite sessions involved three generations of a family, in which the grandparent had never played before and the youngest member of the group had played games like Pokemon and Magic, but never an RPG. I wouldn’t recommend it to someone who’s not at least interested in trying an RPG, but as long as they are up for trying it, there’s a number of things that make it easy to learn. As a player, everything you need to know is in the cards that are in front of you and in your hand. There’s a minimal amount of terms to pick up – you’re not dealing with dozens of stats and game terms, and you don’t have to look up rules during play. The core mechanic is very straightforward: tell the GM what you want to do, and they’ll tell you what you cards you need to play. That same mechanic underlies attack, defense, and noncombat actions… so once you’ve got that down, you can do anything.

The GM needs to understand the rules. But it’s an easy game as a player. It’s NOT a good game for someone who likes complex simulation or lots of fiddly rules. With that said, there are strategic decisions and optimization choices that give more experienced gamers something to play with. Complexity also varies by School – Durant is one of the simplest Schools to play, while Devoted and Forceful are more complex.

At the end of the day, it’s an RPG, and there will be some people who will always be intimidated by that. But I have played with many non-gamers over the last few years, and as long as someone is interested in giving it a try, it really is easy to pick up.

Are there are plans for Supplements? Of what Kind?

Certainly. The Marshal’s Handbook only has room for a high level overview of the setting. I’d like to delve into the regions and cultures of the Empire; the manifestations of the Dread; conspiracies and other threats beyond the Dread itself; additional mission arcs; and of course, more Challenges for GMs and more Lessons, Traits, and Talons for players. In the long term, I’d be interested in exploring other periods in the history of the Daylit World. I’ve also been playing around with Phoenix fiction. Essentially, all the things I can’t currently do for Eberron. However, the scope and form of this support will of course depend on the success of the core game; at this point, we don’t know what the demand will be.

Do you think Phoenix will be translated in any language different from English?

This is entirely dependent on how successful it is and whether there’s a demand for it. Right now, it’s to early to know.

Did Dragonlance Saga had any influence on this work?

No – I’d never even heard of Fifth Age until over a year after we’d been working on Phoenix, and I’ve still never actually played it. From skimming the rules, I think there’s definitely some overlap – both use cards to remove the random factor of dice, and both encourage a more freeform approach to skills and magic. However, there are some fairly substantial differences. In Phoenix, each character has a unique deck that reflects the abilities and traits of their character; in FA people draw from a common deck and combine the cards with a separate character sheet. I believe that FA uses hand size as a reflection of health, while Phoenix uses tokens to track health. Phoenix has the resource of Sparks, which allow you to push beyond your limits… but you die if you run out of them. And, of course, in Phoenix death is how you grow stronger.

They’re both card-based fantasy RPGs, and there’s bound to be some overlap. But it’s coincidental rather than intentional.

Regarding the PDF download: I hoped we would get some NPCs write ups, specially for the Marshals… There are conflicting reports about the manner of a certain character’s death in the front and back portions of the book. I assume that’s intentional?

The PDF that has been sent to backers doesn’t include the 200-page mission arc that’s included in the physical book – we just wanted to give backers a chance to familiarize themselves with the rules. The mission arc gives a much deeper look into the world, and includes descriptions of many NPCs and locations. It also explains the discrepancy you’re asking about, which is indeed intentional; during the missions, the players have an opportunity to learn secrets that have been hidden from history.

The missions have some sort of timeline occurring besides the one the players will be doing? Do have a sense of all the success and failures of the Command in the world, and lessen the “we are the only group doing something around here” feeling?

The missions focus on the player characters. However, there is a bigger picture going on. The Bones are moving north. Cities may fall to the Chant. This is something that is conveyed in interludes, stories that are told between missions. Interludes generally don’t require gameplay; it’s an opportunity for players and GM to address other events in the world. As part of this, players are encouraged to create a rival wing – another group of Phoenixes that are out on missions at the same time as the players. Now, these Phoenixes don’t actually HAVE to be rivals; they simply serve to emphasize that there ARE other Phoenixes out in the world, and during interludes the GM may report on their actions. “While you were fighting the Chant in Ilona, the B-Wing was dealing with skinchangers in the Grimwald. Badger and Cutter were killed, but Mercy was able to banish the possessing spirits and save Talmouth.”

About number of players, the game is supposed to be played with 3-4 players, is possible to play the missions with just one or two?

It is definitely possible to play with fewer than three or more than five. However, it’s not ideal. Phoenix is designed with teamwork in mind, and many situations require sacrifice for victory. So a single player is going to lack all the skills required to handle most situations, and will be in a bind if faced with a situation requiring sacrifice. Conversely, in a 5-6 player game each player has less time in the spotlight and there’s less of a sense of limited resources. So 3-4 is definitely the magic number… but once the game is out we’ll post advice on running for other group sizes.

About NPCs, the rules are very much us against them, how can we handle friendly (and helpful) NPCs? Like very capable humans, wizards, other phoenix.

The focus of Phoenix is defending the innocent, and you’ll often end up in situations where there are mortals who need your help. With that said, even an exceptional human is extremely fragile next to a Phoenix; further, many mortals simply have no defenses against the threats that Phoenixes can resist (possession, the Chant, etc). Phoenix uses a mechanic called the Buddy System, whereby a Phoenix teams up with one or more mortals and is responsible for keeping them alive. Capable mortals will enhance the Phoenix they are teamed with.

None of the existing missions involve teaming the wing with NPC Phoenixes. Essentially, there just aren’t enough Phoenixes in the world for Dawn Command to be able to spare more than one wing for anything but the direst of threats. A situation that did call for multiple wings – for example, a group of Devoted working together to exorcise a mass haunting – would likely be done as an abstracted skill action as opposed to tactical combat. We could certainly expand the system to include Phoenixes as allies in combat – there’s a future mission I want to write that would involve it – but it’s not the primary focus of the system.

How can we proceed when a player misses the game night? In other systems the DM can play for him, or another player assume at least the control of the mechanical decisions. Is this situation, how do we proceed? Just handwave the actions of the absent player?

The simplest answer is to come up with a reason for the character’s absence. Provided you’re starting a new mission, come up with an alternate assignment for the missing character: a Forceful was sent on a vital scouting mission, a Devoted had to go help with a mundane plague, a Durant is organizing a militia force. For whatever reason, they aren’t at Pyre and can’t accompany the wing, and the group will just have to make do without them. This ties to the difference between Phoenix and d20. No one character is absolutely vital. A Devoted is useful, but not having a Devoted isn’t the same experience as not having a healer in another game… because death isn’t the end of the story. The mission is there, and if you have to take it on shorthanded, you’ll have to push yourself even harder to succeed. You may not all make it. But death is how you advance, and if you never fall, you’ll never rise to greater heights.

The situation is more awkward if you’ve split a single mission into multiple sessions and a player drops out in the middle of a mission. Even there, I would be more inclined to come up with a reason that the character has to leave than to have them tag along without a player. While the system is simple, there’s a lot of decisions about how to best use your resources, to justify your traits, and simply engaging with the story – it’s much more involved than just saying ‘Well, the fighter would make a Power Attack.” You certainly COULD play two characters or have the GM control a character, but it will be more complicated than it would be in a system like d20, and it would be far cleaner to simply drop the character from the scenario. If there’s absolutely no logical way to justify it, the simplest answer is to come up with something that kills them; they can be reborn once the player returns.

With all that said: I believe the game is optimal with 3-4 players, and the core set only has enough cards to support four players at a time. But if you have a group of players who often can’t make every session, you can have six players come up with characters… and simply only have four of them play in any one session. So the Durant can’t make it this session? Great, it’s time to call in the Bitter. This is an approach I’ve used with many other systems. In Phoenix it works well because most missions do begin with a reset on Pyre – so the current roster is whichever four members are in Pyre when the call goes out.

A similar question – do you think it would be possible to play without physically being around a table? For example, if I had the game, and my friends lived in other cities, how crazy would it be to try to play via forum post, or skype, or something like that?

I’ve never tried it, but I believe it could be done. As it stands, the issue is that each character needs deck of cards. If each player had a deck – whether because each player owned a copy of the game, or because you broke up your copy and sent the character decks out to each player – then you could play over Skype, provided you trusted your players to be honest about the cards in their hands. It’s a narrative game, so play-by-post isn’t actually weird at all; it’s just again a matter of the player having to have their character deck, and you trusting them to be honest about the draw.

Again with NPCs, in the missions we will have other phoenix, besides the Rival Group and the Marshals?
There are a few other Phoenixes that appear in the missions, yes. But again, bear in mind that Phoenixes don’t have time to just hang out and socialize. There’s less than a hundred Phoenixes in the world. They can be instantly sent into danger, but they have to make their own way back to Pyre before they can be sent out again… and there is a constant stream of new threats every day. So as a Phoenix you’ll be lucky to have a few hours at the Grand Aerie before you’re back out in the world. But certainly we will be presenting additional Phoenixes over time – including the iconic characters we use in our demos and the Phoenixes created by our Tragic Backstory and Portrait backers.

Rules Question: Speed. So, the Challenge acts after X Speed player turn has passed. So a reduction of the Speed value is good, and a increase is bad. So why when a challenge is Stunned it has it’s speed REDUCED?
Drat – that is a mistake that slipped through. Your analysis of Speed is correct, and yes, when a challenge is Stunned its speed should in fact be increased by one – since the EFFECT of this is to make it act less often. We’ll make sure to have this in the errata when the game is released.

What else would you like to know?

Phoenix: Dawn Command

EPSON MFP image

As a Phoenix, death is not the end of your story. 

You have passed through death and returned stronger than before. Now you are the last hope of a world besieged by nightmares. To defeat the Dread you will have to unravel ancient mysteries and overcome terrifying threats. You have seven lives to save the world: make each one count. 

Phoenix: Dawn Command is a fantasy roleplaying gaming coming out in August 2016. Phoenix’s card-driven system puts the skills and strengths of the character directly into your hands – an intuitive system that’s accessible both to longtime gamers and those who have never played a roleplaying game before. For the GM, the system facilitates collaborative storytelling with a minimal amount of prep time… and the basic game comes with a seven-mission story arc ready to run out of the box.

Daniel Garrison and I began working on Phoenix: Dawn Command almost three years ago. I like to say that it’s a bridge between Eberron and Gloom. Like Eberron, it’s a fantasy setting with an intriguing story to explore. Like Gloom, it’s a card-driven game that encourages storytelling… and in which you eventually want your character to die. It is a world where the stakes are high, where your missions matter, and where victory often requires terrible sacrifice. You have seven lives, and you grow stronger each time you die… but each time you come closer to your final death. Death isn’t the end, but neither is it trivial… and I love the stories that you can build with this foundation.

Phoenix: Dawn Command will be released in August. Over the next few weeks I’ll be writing more about the setting, the rules, and answering any questions that you have. I’ll be doing my first Phoenix Q&A later this week, so if you have questions, post them in the comments or contact me directly. If you’re a Kickstarter backer (at the $45 level or above), you should have already received a link to download a pdf of the sourcebook; if you haven’t, use the contact me button to let me know and we’ll see what we can do.

For now, here’s a few things you might want to check out.

  • Twogether Studios will be demoing Phoenix at Gen Con. Here’s a schedule of our events. 
  • Last year, playtester Richard Malena posted a series of YouTube videos explaining various elements of the game, including Character Creation, Skill Spreads, and Combat. Bear in mind that Richard made these a year ago, so he’s using prototype materials. The mechanics are sound, but this isn’t what the final game actually looks like.

Post your questions about Phoenix: Dawn Command in the comments below!