GenCon is just around the corner, and I’m going to be busy as always! If you see me wearing my hat, I’m on duty and happy to talk about any of my games or sign things. If I’m not wearing my hat, I’m doing my own thing. Meanwhile, there’s lots of places you can find me! My company Twogether Studios is at Booth 1459 in the Exhibitor’s Hall—drop by and try our latest game Cool Cool Cool! Meanwhile, I’ll be playing D&D live with an amazing group of people with Six Sides of Gaming. Here’s a breakdown of events…
CELEBRITY SIDE QUEST: THURSDAY Time: Thu 11:00 AM Location: ICC 500 Ballroom Description: Dungeon Master Luke Gygax takes a party of bold adventurers through a tower of traps and thieving mayhem! The audience will have the chance to influence the game with suggestions, voting, cheers and more. Participants: Luke Gygax (DM), Deborah Ann Woll, Krystina Arielle, Keith Baker, Tommy Gofton, Surena Marie
WORLDBUILDING WITH KEITH BAKER Time: Thu 3:00 PM Location: Hyatt Studio 1 Description: What does it take to create a compelling fantasy world? Where do you start and how deep should you go? Whether you’re developing a setting for a novel or a TTRPG, whether you’re creating a world to share with your friends or a product for wide release, there are basic principles that can guide you on your journey. Participants: Keith Baker
CELEBRITY SIDE QUEST: FRIDAY Time: Fri 6:00 PM Location: ICC 500 Ballroom Description: Dungeon Master Vince Caso (The Guild/L.A. by Night) takes his party of adventurers through a mysterious adventure of murder and mayhem! The audience will have the chance to influence the game with suggestions, voting, cheers and more. Participants: Vince Caso (DM), Deborah Ann Woll, Krystina Arielle, Keith Baker, Tommy Gofton, Sandeep Parikh
ILLIMAT LEARN AND PLAY WITH ONE SHOT! Time: Fri 8:00 PM Location: ICC : 144–145 Description: Illimat is a modern card game that feels like it’s been around for a century, Whether you’re an experienced member of the Society of Luminaries, a seasoned skyjack, or a novice who’s never heard of the Fool of Winter, this is your opportunity to play a round of Illimat with the creators of the game and some of the hosts and players from the One Shot Podcast Network! Rules will be taught and hearts will be broken. Join us!
EBERRON AND BEYOND Time: Sat 11:00 AM Location: ICC 245 Description: I’m known for creating the Eberron Campaign Setting for Dungeons & Dragons and the card game Gloom, as well as games such as Illimat, Phoenix Dawn Command, and The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance with his company Twogether Studios. Join me for a discussion of projects past and present, including behind the scenes tales of Eberron and a peek at what’s coming next from Twogether Studios! Participants: Keith Baker
FINDING YOUR THING WITH TRAVIS MCELROY AND GUESTS Time: Sat 1:00 PM Location: Westin – Grand 3 Description: Podcaster/author/creator/voice actor, Travis McElroy (The Adventure Zone; My Brother, My Brother and Me) chats with friends about the journey of finding that “thing” at which you excel & makes you happy in life. Participants: Travis McElroy, Krystina Arielle, Keith Baker, Jenn Ellis, Cate, Osborn, Danny Quach, Laser Webber
CELEBRITY SIDE QUEST: SATURDAY Time: Sat 6:00 PM Location: Crowne Plaza : Pennsylvania Station A Description: Dungeon Master Tommy Gofton (The Gamers/Evil Dead 2 Boardgame) takes his party of special celebrity guests to their pan-ternity BruH to defend against their old Frat – the Delta Nu Delta! Can they survive the mayhem? The audience will have the chance to influence the game with suggestions, voting, cheers and more. Participants: Tommy Gofton (DM), Krystina Arielle, Keith Baker, Vince Caso, Bee Zelda
DESIGN A MODULE PLAYTHROUGH Time: Sunday 11:00 AM Location: Crowne Plaza : Pennsylvania Station A Description: Dungeon Master Devin Wilson (Destiny of Worlds/Shadowrun Takedown) takes his party of special celebrity guests through the Design A Module seminars run during Gen Con! The audience will have the chance to influence the game with suggestions, voting, cheers and more. Participants: Devin Wilson (DM), Keith Baker, Vince Caso, Surena Marie, Elisa Teague, Bee Zelda
Outside of these events, you might find me at the Twogether Booth (1459) — See you there!
Imagine that your world is a plaything for cruel gods. There’s no escaping them; every corner of reality falls under the dominion of one of these fiendish overlords. Their power manifests in countless horrifying ways. In the domain of the Gatekeeper, you can hear lost souls wailing in the wind… and you know that if you die, yours will join them. In Bel Shalor’s realm, your shadow conspires against you… and some day, it will kill you and claim your body as its own. Dral Khatuur brings slowly advancing, inevitable ice. But the greater and more subtle threats strike at your mind. Within the realm of Rak Tulkhesh you’ll find your anger surging. You find yourself gripping a knife you don’t remember picking up. You keep thinking about your enemies. A week ago you didn’t even know you had enemies… but now it’s hard to think about anything else. The hatred is like fire in your blood, and the only thing that will sate your rage is violence. Perhaps—perhaps you can overcome this brutal haze, to realize that these aren’t your thoughts. But the longer you stay, the more your own memories and motives will fade away in the bloodthirsty fog. This is the power of the overlords. You’ve never seen Rak Tulkhesh, but he’s in you… and soon you’ll be ready to kill for him.
Whether they twist your thoughts or the environment around you, there’s no escaping the influence of the overlords. But you have more direct threats to worry about. To Rak Tulkhesh you’re one of hundreds of thousands of fleas; his hungry wrath sweeps over you, but he won’t manifest personally to strike you down. And he doesn’t have to, because the world is filled with fiends. Some flaunt their horrifying forms and delight in spreading terror and bloodshed; others conceal their true nature and wear the faces of people you love or trust. Demons can possess corpses or beasts… or, for that matter, your body. Perhaps you’ll have to watch as one of Tul Oreshka’s vicious children uses your hands to murder your best friend and then paints a perfect, heartbreaking portrait of them using your fingers and their blood. Fiends could be in the plants around you, in the words you read, in the sword in your hand. If you’re lucky you’ll still have a strong enough sense of self to be able to feel fear and horror at what’s happening around you.
This is life in the Age of Demons. But who are you in this time? You might live in a thatched hut with your extended family. You might be hiding in a network of caves with two other survivors, and you’re pretty sure one of them is possessed. Or you might live in an ancient, crumbling city filled with scheming factions. Your may feel that your time is coming, but the oracle has seen a vision of dragons filling the sky with fire; she says that by nightfall tomorrow, your city will be in ruins. All of this depends on the whims of the overlords. Over the course of a hundred thousand years, the inhabitants of the realm of the Wild Heart have never been anything other than prey. While in the domain of Sul Khatesh there have been a dozen civilizations in that same period, each of which eventually followed a path of arcane science that ultimately destroyed it. But even where you find civilizations, they aren’t free. The subjects of Sul Khatesh can’t resist abusing magic any more than the subjects of Rak Tulkhesh can avoid war. You might ask why Sul Khatesh and her children would do this, why they’d allow a civilization to rise up only to wipe it out in an instant with an arcane cataclysm or over the course of a century through a brutal inquisition. Is it an experiment or art, like the daelkyr? Is it part of a master plan? No. Ultimately, it’s more like food, or perhaps music. The only thing an overlord truly desires is the joy it receives from tormenting mortals. Why? Because mortal souls have power. Gods in some settings need mortals to worship them. In Aerenal, it is the devotion of the living that sustains the Undying Court. The overlords don’t want worship; they want fear, and they want mortals to experience their vision of the world. Rak Tulkesh wants to see hatred and war. Sul Khatesh delights in the fear of magic, and so she creates scenario after scenario in which magic is abused and leads to cruelty, terror, and ultimately destruction. Dral Khatuur wants people to live in fear of the creeping cold. They don’t have an endgame, because they are immortal and endless. They don’t want to ever completely destroy the mortals, because it is torturing mortals that bring them joy. And so it was for millions of years. Some domains saw millions of years of brutal chaos; others saw civilizations rise and fall, but those civilizations were always under the psychic sway of the ruling overlord (whether they knew it or not) and would inevitably be destroyed.
That’s the backdrop to keep in mind when thinking of the Age of Demons. It was a world that was utterly dominated by immortal overlords, where fiends roam freely in the world, both openly and covertly. Civilizations only existed to serve the appetites of the overlords and were wiped out when they lost their savor. Overlords had broadly stable domains, but the borders of their realms were constantly in flux; among other things, the people of a neighboring territory aren’t as used to the terrors of a rival overlord, and their fear is sweeter. Dral Khatuur wants people to fear the advancing ice, not just to learn to survive in it; as such, she would choose to let her borders ebb and flow. The side effect of this is that the overlords were constantly warring with one another.
Now I’ve painted a picture of the Age of Demons, let’s look at a few questions my Patreon supporters have raised this month.
What was the relationship between the Couatls and Dragons during the Age of Demons? Did they respect each other as equals, or did they have conflicts?
The Age of Demons lasted for millions of years. In the final ten thousand years of the Age, there was a powerful draconic nation that called itself Argonnessen. Its disciplined flights of dragons trained to incinerate armies and to raze cities. And these mighty creatures were utterly devoted to the Daughter of Khyber. This overlord is an immensely powerful being. The dragons of the present day have to go to great lengths to avoid falling under her influence, and that’s while she’s bound. During the Age of Demons she was at the height of her power, and the dragons were her tools; she used them to terrify mortals and to attack the domains of other overlords. So there was no powerful nation of dragons that fought the overlords, because any powerful force of dragons would be corrupted by the Daughter of Khyber. The dragons opposing overlords were a small band of scrappy rebels who had been shielded from the influence of the Daughter of Khyber by their allies, the native celestials. Let’s consider each of those forces.
It’s said that Khyber created fiends, Siberys created celestials, and Eberron created natural life. But Khyber slew Siberys. This is why the native celestials are so much weaker than their counterparts, and why there are no celestial equivalents to the overlords. The celestials that exist are just a faint echo of what would have been had Siberys had an active hand.
Native celestials embody the broad concept of goodness in the world. Compassion, justice, defense, wisdom, love; these are the sorts of concepts personified by the celestials. Just as the fiends exist to prey upon and terrify mortals, the purpose of the celestials was to guide and protect them. Given that the celestials were massively overpowered and outnumbered by the fiends, this was something they did subtly—working to inspire people or to guide key mortals who could help others… teaching people to fish rather than giving them fish. Whenever celestials were exposed, fiends would swarm in to destroy the interlopers and whatever they had accomplished; subtlety was vital. However, keep this section from Chronicles of Eberron in mind…
Glance across a Khalesh plain and you may see what looks to be a giant bone projecting from the earth—a fallen column of something like polished ivory. The locals call these “dragon bones,” saying they’re the bones of Eberron herself. But search further and you may find patches of wall, foundations, or even small buildings formed from this dragonbone. It’s virtually indestructible and seemingly immune to the passage of time. In truth, this isn’t made from the bones of the earth; it’s a building substance used by the ancient couatl, the most numerous of the native celestials of Eberron. Khalesh is one of the places that the couatl came into the world in the Age of Demons, one of the anchors where these immortals would reform if they were destroyed. In a sense, it’s the celestial counterpart to the Demon Wastes of Khorvaire; a place suffused with lingering celestial power.
The fiends vastly outnumbered the celestials, and over the course of millions of years they learned where most of these celestial anchors were. But they couldn’t actually DO anything about them. The celestials are as immortal as the fiends, and when destroyed they would eventually return. Given a good reason—for example, if the couatls tried to foster a mortal civilization in their spire—the fiends would bring sufficient forces to bear to destroy everything in a celestial spire. While the immortals would return the mortals would be lost. For that reason, the celestials kept their work subtle, working with individuals or small groups of mortals who then worked with others. The celestial guides could shield mortals from the psychic influence of the overlords. They could teach them, helping mortals master magic or other skills. They could even channel their power into a mortal, a form of voluntary possession. However, throughout most of the Age of Demons, they were never able to affect any grand change. The final rebellion wasn’t the only rebellion; it’s just the only one that had lasting results.
While it’s never been mentioned in canon, in my Eberron Flamekeep is built on dragonbone foundations and that the font of the Flame is a celestial anchor point. Likewise, there is a celestial anchor in the Labyrinth around the Demon Wastes; this is a sacred haven of the Ghaash’kala orcs.
Throughout this I’ve been saying celestials instead of couatls. Any celestial statblock could be reskinned to reflect a native celestial of Eberron. Just as the native fiends have a certain fondness for feline forms, the native celestials often have some blend of serpentine features or prismatic feathers. The couatl are by far the most common form of native celestial, but adventurers could encounter a deva with rainbow wings or a ki-rin with prismatic scales and a serpentine head. Compared to their counterparts in Shavarath or Syrania, these celestials are still guided by the basic principle of embodying positive ideas—of protecting and inspiring mortals as the Silver Flame continues to do today. Throughout most of the Age of Demons, these native celestials were only loosely aligned and largely sought to express their nature as individuals. They didn’t try to act as a host, because all that would accomplish would be creating a target to rally the fiends; they worked subtly and on their own. Which brings us to…
DRACONIC CHAMPIONS OF THE AGE OF DEMONS
In the last era of the Age of Demons, Argonnessen was a tool of the Daughter of Khyber. But there were small groups of dragons who evaded the Daughter’s control—first through celestial intervention, and then through the use of rituals and spells that they created. Dragons possess innate arcane power. The celestials helped the dragons understand their potential, but the rebels developed their own tools and techniques. Different cells specialized in different things. Dularanahk and her brothers led groups of warrior dragons and titans, capable of unleashing devastating force when it was required. Ourelonastrix worked with a cabal of dragons studying arcane science. Think of this as a hacker collective that provided logistical support and facilitated communications between the cells. All of this built on the work of previous generations; Ourelonastrix didn’t single-handedly master the secrets of arcane magic. But working with the couatl Hezcalipa, he made a crucial breakthrough that would ultimately bring the Age of Demons to an end: he discovered the Draconic Prophecy. What followed likely took centuries, as Ourelonastrix rallied the disparate dragons and Hezcalipa called on scattered celestials to help find Prophecy signs, gathering enough data to understand the power and possible paths of the Prophecy. Up to this point, the rebels had no real goal other than survival; without a way to permanently defeat an overlord, there was no reason to start a war. Now there was a glimmer of hope—a path through the Prophecy that could lead to victory.
The dragons who challenged the overlords weren’t a nation or a massive army. They were remarkable individuals, leading small bands of other remarkable mortals—including dragons, giants, titans and more. Ourelonastrix was the greatest expert on magic and knowledge. The Dols led militant cells, while Kolkonoran facilitated logistics and support, moving supplies between the cells. Eventually the studies of the Prophecy revealed a possible path to victory. And this is when the war began in earnest. This is where we have Dularanahk facing the Lord of Death, and other clashes in which the rebels gathered all their military might together—because they needed to win battles, acquire artifacts, or even potentially to lose key battles in order to lock in the future Ourelonastrix had discovered. The final key element was the sacrifice of the celestials to create a force that could bind the overlords. But even this wasn’t an instant victory. Once the celestials kindled the Silver Flame, the overlords were severed from their heart demiplanes; when their avatars were destroyed their essence would be bound into the prison shards. But each one had to be individually defeated… and even though they were weakened, this was no small task, especially without the help of the departed celestials. The first target was the Daughter of Khyber; once she was bound in the Pit of Five Sorrows, her hold over Argonnessen was broken. And now there was a true army of dragons fighting to bring down the remaining overlords, one by one.
OK… BUT WHAT ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THEM?
The original question was What was the relationship between the Couatls and Dragons during the Age of Demons? Did they respect each other as equals, or did they have conflicts? The important thing to understand is it wasn’t about the relationship between THE DRAGONS and THE CELESTIALS. It was about the relationship between Ourelonastrix and Hezcalipa, between Dularanahk and Azcalanti, and others. Because you aren’t talking about nations, you’re talking about remarkable individuals. Within that framework, it was the purpose of the celestials to guide and protect the mortals. There were many conflicts between them—disagreements over actions that endangered innocents, dragons believing the celestials were holding back, celestials trusting tradition while Ourelonastrix urged them to follow his instincts. Likewise, there were celestials who opposed the sacrifice that kindled the Flame, even if they ultimately took part. But again, these agreements and disagreements were between individuals, not cultures. While the celestial anchors resemble cities, the couatl never had a nation.
You’ve mentioned native celestials… What are native fiends like?
Fiends are incarnations of evil concepts. In the planes, they are tied to the central idea of their plane. A Shavaran devil reflects the idea of evil in war. A Daanvi devil embodies tyranny or oppressive order. A Fernia balor represents the cruel, chaotic destruction of fire. The native fiends more broadly represent evil in the world. Their purpose is to tempt and torment mortals, wreaking Khyber’s vengeance against the children of Eberron with a hundred thousand tiny cuts. All native fiends are tied to Khyber; most are specifically part of an overlord and its heart demiplane, but there are some time to demiplanes without overlords. Native fiends generally reflect an aspect of their overlord’s defining concept. Fiends tied to Rak Tulkhesh are tied to some aspect of hatred or war. Those associated with Sul Khatesh are more likely to be associated with magic or dangerous secrets. However, they can approach this in different ways. A raskhasa serving Rak Tulkhesh may excel at inspiring mortals to go to war—using its talents for deception to set conflict in motion. While a goristro bound to Rak Tulkhesh is a fiendish engine of war waiting to be unleashed on the battlefield.
A goristro? Absolutely. Just as couatl are the most common celestials but not the only celestials, rakshasa are the most numerous of the fiends but far from the only ones. Any fiendish stat block could be used for a native fiend, with a little cosmetic reflavoring. In the image that accompanies this article, the multiarmed figure on the left is a native marilith. Feline features are in fashion among the native fiends, but in describing a fiend, don’t feel you need to make it mundane. What differentiates a rakshasa from a weretiger? Canonically, the rakshasa Mordakhesh has stripes of blazing flame across his black fur. The First Scribe, Hektula, has arcane sigils on her fur. Remember that fiends aren’t natural creatures; when they are revealed in their full power, they should have obviously supernatural aspects.
Beyond this, I’ve suggested that feline features are a fashion. Rakshasas are natural shapechangers, and they are immortal embodiments of ideas, not creatures of flesh and blood. There may have been a time when the Lords of Dust wore shark heads, or even draconic features; the present use of feline features may be a fun retro reference to the Age of Demons. With this in mind, when adventurers in my game use True Seeing on a fiend, they don’t see its tiger form. Someone looking at Mordakhesh with Truesight will see him as a figure of shadows striped in flame and as a bloodthirsty sword, all at once. They will see that he has killed tens of thousands with his own hands, and feel his all-consuming appetite for war. Because THAT is the truth of Mordakhesh. For fiends and celestials, truesight doesn’t just strip away disguise self; it reveals their truth. Depending on the power of the fiend and the circumstances, I may make the individual with Truesight make a saving throw to avoid psychic damage or a condition; it can be dangerous to look too closely at a powerful immortal.
Just for fun, here’s a table you can use to add some random flare to a rakshasa or other native fiend…
Was there a time before the Age of Demons?
There was a brief time, yes. If you believe the myth, Eberron defeated Khyber by constricting her and then becoming the world. The principle is that Khyber’s children were able to slip through Eberron’s coils. But this wouldn’t have happened instantly, and even once the overlords were out in the world it surely took some time for them to sink their roots into reality and to establish their dominions. So, there was a period in which natural life flourish before being dominated by the overlords. What was it like? Who knows. Keep in mind that this was millions of years ago and that most likely, cultures didn’t appear fully formed. How long did it last? Were there any significant cultures in place before the overlords claimed the world? Largely, that’s a question you need to answer based on the needs of your story. Morgrave professor Cord Ennis suggests one possibility in this article about sphinxes:
While intriguing, Ennis admitted that there was one piece of the puzzle that still escaped him. When do these time-traveling sphinxes come from? His first thought was the distant future—that they could even be some sort of mystically evolved descendants of the modern races. Yet if that were the case, is there no risk of their meddling changing their own future? Given this, he ultimately favors the idea that the sphinxes are from the very distant past—that they could potentially be the citizens of the FIRST civilization of Eberron, a society that predates the Age of Demons and whose existence was wiped from history by the dominion of the overlords. With this as a foundation, Ennis suggests that the actions of the sphinxes might not be the absolute demands of destiny one would expect from embodiments of the Prophecy, but rather a grand game. As their time is long past, the sphinxes don’t actually care about the ultimate outcome; whether the overlords rise again or the daelkyr are unleashed doesn’t actually hurt them. Ennis further suggests that this could reflect the different techniques seen among sphinxes. The “divine” sphinxes—those wielding clerical abilities—could see their actions as being a divine mission, potentially even one mandated by the Progenitors (because what other gods were there at the dawn of time?) while the “arcane” sphinxes could be the scientists of their time. Thus, Flamewind could be in Sharn because she knows it is a nexus of elements she wants to deal with—events or people she wants to observe or influence—but that between those key events she is simply enjoying studying this time and place, so alien to her native time.
The key point of this idea is that the Sphinx civilization is so far back in time that no evidence of it remains, and that its downfall is utterly inevitable. The sphinxes can’t save themselves; all they can do is to play games in the future. That’s all for now! I have very limited time at the moment and most likely will not answer questions posted in the comments, but feel free to discuss them yourselves. I do answer questions on my Patreon, and in fact, I will be hosting a live Q&A on my Patreon Discord at 9 AM Pacific Time on Saturday, July 22nd. So check out my Patreon if you want to participate in that! Your support directly determines how much time I can spend creating Eberron content, so thanks to my current patrons for making this article possible.
We’re in the final two days of my latest Kickstarter and I’m still looking for some good dogs. But what IS this game? What it all about? What do I love about it?
In 2017 I made a game called Action Cats! as a labor of love. I never intended to release it; I just wanted to make a game with pictures of my friends’ cats. The structure is simple: the judge presents a picture of the cat and gives that cat a name. Everyone else combines two cards in their hand to create a sentence, and then tells that story. This is a critical point. You don’t just hand the cards in; you present the story, expanding and adding as much detail as you want. It was a simple side project, but once I started playing it with people, I discovered that it was a lot of fun. Collaborative storytelling is one of my favorite activities, and it’s the best part of Gloom. But… we’re living in very gloomy times, and as much as I love Gloom, it’s fun to have an excuse to tell HAPPY stories for a change.
We released Action Cats early in 2018. The next day, I woke up to find my pug staring at me as if to say “Dude, where’s MY game?” Scientific studies have determined that he’s 104.2% as cute as our cats (full disclosure, these are pug-funded studies), and we know a lot of other people with adorable dogs. So Action Pups! seems like the next logical step.
At a quick glance, Action Pups! looks like a lot of games you’ve likely already played. There’s a judge. People combine cards to make an answer. The judge makes a choice. It is a common design, and that’s a good thing about it; it’s a game I can play with any member of my family, and I can teach you how to play in 15 seconds. But the actual experience of playing it is quite different from, say, Apples 2 Apples. Let’s consider a round.
The judge sets a dog in the middle of the table and introduces them… in this case, the judge declares that this dog is Loudmouth Larry.
Each player has a hand of cards. One side of the card has a picture of a dog; the other has two story prompts—the beginning and the end of a sentence. Each player combines two cards to create a story; when everyone is done, they take turns pitching their stories.
Keith: At the end of the day, I think there’s one question we all ask ourselves. Who… think about it… Who’s a good dog? Is it you? Is it YOU? Every week, Loudmouth Larry examines another of the great dogs of popular culture. This week: Snoopy. Cultural icon, sure: but is he a good dog? Tune in to find out!
Jenn: I admit, “Who’s A Good Boy” is a compelling podcast. But Loudmouth Larry’s personal story is far more interesting. You may not have thought about this, but when people go into witness protection, they can’t take their dogs with them; it’s a dead giveaway for someone searching for them. Loudmouth Larry is a professional surrogate dog, providing people on the lam with temporary canine companionship until they can return to their own lives. His podcasting is the one thing that provides continuity in this nomadic life.
Now, if you’re not feeling inspired, you can just read the text straight off the card. But like Gloom, what I love about the game is using the card text as a starting point for a more interesting story. If the dog is a superhero’s sidekick, who’s that hero? Does the dog have a super power and a secret identity, and if so, what are they? If they have a podcast, what’s its name? Who sponsors it?
One of the things I enjoy about this is that it adds variety. There’s over 28,000 possible card combinations. But someone can play the same combination of cards three games in a row and come up with a different take on it each time. This is further enhanced by the use of gray text. In the example about, the card says ‘This dog would like to know: who’s a “good dog?”‘ The fact that good dog is in gray means that you can change it when you present the story. So Loudmouth Larry wants to know who’s a SOMETHING. He might want to know “who’s a cat in disguise?” or “who’s addicted to podcasts?”
Ultimately, the goal of Action Pups! is to encourage people to tell stories… to give you a reason to think about what your pup’s podcast might be, or how this dog is going to save the world. It’s family friendly, and some of the best games I’ve played have been with three generations at the table. It’s not a game about winning; but it’s a fun tool to get people telling stories. And, of course, it’s a chance to…
Get Your Dog In The Game
Action Pups! will include 170 dogs. But we don’t just want any dogs in the game; we want YOUR dogs. Anyone who backs the game can submit pictures of their dogs, and our favorites will be in the game. In submitting pictures, there’s a few things we’re looking for.
Portrait Orientation. The picture needs to fit on the back of a card.
Pups, Not People. We want images of individual dogs with no people in the shot. It’s about the dog’s story.
Props. Poise, or Potential. We’re looking for dogs that inspire stories. They’re all good dogs, but we want pictures that make you say “What’s that Pug doing in front of a microphone?” or “Why is that Corgi wearing a crown?” Whether it’s an interesting location, funny costume or prop, an interesting pose or expression, we’re looking for pictures that will inspire stories.
That’s all there is to it. But there’s not much time left! If you think your dog is an action pup, back the Kickstarter campaignbefore it comes to a close!
Crowdfunding is a great thing. I wouldn’t have been able to create Illimat or Phoenix: Dawn Command without Kickstarter. I’ve backed exactly one hundred projects on Kickstarter, and I wanted to share a few with you. Most of these are in their final 24 hours, so if they sound interesting, act fast!
A new tabletop game from Donald Eskridge, creator of The Resistance and Avalon. While I don’t think it’s directly connected with The Resistance, the story makes sense to me: the dystopian future has gotten even worse, and now you need to get off planet before meteors destroy it all in a fiery death ball. Players need to form (and break) alliances to get their shoddy ships off the ground. Among other things, Abandon Planet includes 16 awesome plastic rockets. As I’m writing this it only has nineteen hours left, so if it looks interesting, check it out fast!
While I haven’t actually played this game, or any of the games the engine is based on (Mutant: Year Zero or Coriolis), I love the art, I’m generally a fan of the concept (kids deal with strange things in the eighties!) and I’m willing to take a chance on anything that Matt Forbeck is involved with. So count me in for Tales From The Loop. This one has EVEN LESS TIME left than Abandon Planet does, so if you like surreal Eighties adventures – or Matt Forbeck – check it out now!
I’ll let this Gumshoe/Call of Cthulhu sourcebook speak for itself: This sourcebook flips the standard Lovecraftian view of minorities on its head, putting them in the role of heroes who must struggle against cosmic horrors while also fighting for a chance at equality… The heart of the Renaissance was a revolution aimed at changing the world through art, ideas, and the written word. It was a uniquely powerful movement against the unjust status quo, a time in history that still inspires today. The history, people and stories in this book shine the spotlight on the people of Harlem, their successes and their struggles. There’s 28 days left in this campaign, so you’ve got a little time to check it out… but check it out!
Switching from games to music, Lenore is a Portland-based folk band getting ready to launch their first album. I can’t tell you much that you can’t hear better with your own ears; if you got to the project page you can stream two tracks from the album and see what you think! I recommend taking a few minutes to watch the video, which is a touching retelling of the origins of the band (and features awesome cellist Jessie Dettwiler!). There’s ten days left in the campaign, but they’ve still working towards their funding goal, so if you back them spread the word!
Thanks for reading! I’ll be back tomorrow with a new Eberron Q&A.
Yesterday my wife Jennifer Ellis and I said farewell to our best friend and companion for more than a decade. I’ve never felt as close to a dog as I did to Mister Pants; he is a member of our family, and his loss is deeply felt.
While my next big thing is a long-term project, I’ve got a number of small things in the hopper. One hit shelves today: The Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding. This is an anthology of essays by a host of talented designers, including people I’ve worked with in the past and others whose work I’ve long admired. The topics range from very broad to quite narrow; some look at things from a high level, whereas others are more practical… how to design a cult, a guild, a tribe, a nation. I contributed two essays, “How to make a High-Magic World” and “Bringing History to Life.” I’ve only just received my other’s copy, so I’m still digesting the other essays in the book. So far I’m enjoying it, and as someone currently designing a new setting, it’s given me a lot of things to think about. Wolfgang Baur will have more to say about the Guide in this week’s Six Questions, but until then, take a look for yourself at Drivethru RPG, Createspace, or Amazon!
Beyond this, my most recent releases are all tied to my love of Lovecraft. Unpleasant Dreams is an expansion for Cthulhu Gloom, adding new Stories, Transformations, Guests, and more; I discuss it in more detail in this post. Earlier this year I released Cthulhu Fluxx, which brings a little much-needed madness to the chaos of Fluxx. While it keeps the overall structure of Fluxx – get the Keepers you need to meet the shifting goal, while dealing with the ever-changing rules – Cthulhu Fluxx adds a second layer. You’re trying to win for yourself, but you also need to work with the other players to keep everyone from losing. No one wins if Cthulhu rises… with the possible exception of the secret cultist, if one is out there! It was a fun challenge as a designer, and I’m happy with the results.
I’ll be talking about my next big thing soon; we’re still catching up from the chaos of the holidays, and I’m getting back into my work groove. I hope that 2013 is treating you well so far!
I’m working on my post about my Next Big Thing, but in the meantime I thought I’d throw out a quick note about the things I’ve been enjoying over the past month. This isn’t a best of the year post; these are just the things I’m listening to, watching and reading RIGHT NOW, and my thoughts about them.
I’ve been enjoying Locke & Key for years now, but I had the good fortune to receive the special edition of Welcome to Lovecraft as a gift, and that’s got me reading the series through again. Locke & Key is certainly my favorite comic of recent years, and on the list with Sandman, Hellboy, and Grant Morrison’s run on Doom Patrol for lifelong favorites. It’s best to discover it on your own, but I’ll describe it as a blend of Narnia and a good ghost story. A group of children return to an old family estate and stumble across its ancient and magical secrets… but the doors opened by the magical keys can lead to more gruesome dangers than Lucy or Edmund ever faced in Narnia. I like keys, and as such I’ll also give a nod to Skelton Crew, a studio that has produced replicas of the magical keys from the series. As comic collectibles go, these are fantastic. The keys are the critical visual element and tool from the stories, and Skelton’s replicas are a good size and weight; they’re fun things to carry around even without the story connection. So far they haven’t opened any doors for me, but who knows.
In The Hobbit, the people of the Shire know relatively little about the world beyond their fields. Luckily, Gandalf shows up and provides us with detailed exposition about the history of the dwarves and that the dragon. Moving on to the Lord of the Rings, through Gandalf, Elrond and Galadriel we are kept well-informed about the history of the conflict and its major players.
The Kingkiller Chronicles have some common threads with Lord of the Rings or The Wheel of Time. There’s an ancient evil lord. He’s got a cabal of powerful minions, much like the Nazgul or the Forsaken. They’re all up to something. But unlike LOTR or Wheel of Time, we don’t know what it is. Imagine Lord of the Rings without Gandalf. Frodo has the ring. He actually knows that it’s bad and should be destroyed in Mount Doom. But he doesn’t know where Mount Doom IS. The stories about Sauron are full of conflicting details, and while some legends say that he lived in Mordor, there are no current maps that show the location of this long-forgotten kingdom. In The Kingkiller Chronicles, Kvothe has much the same problem. He’s had a disastrous encounter with the ancient evil, but he has trouble finding out exactly what it IS. As he learns magic and hones his other skills, he—and we, through his eyes—gets glimpses of the truth through folktales, songs, rumors, and religion. But there are conflicts in all of these, and the truth remains to be revealed. Rather than the story being about the goal—IE, the destruction of the Ring or the defeat of the Dark One—it’s more about the journey. For me, much of what I enjoy is the way that the mysteries of the world are slowly unfolded instead of being laid out from the start.
I’m still only partway through WMF. In some ways, it’s a blend of Harry Potter and Ender’s Game—a brilliant boy learning the secrets of magic, using his wits to deal with rivals at school and the other challenges of life. Yet there are constant patches of crabgrass foreshadowing great deeds and tragedies that lie ahead. It’s a very different sort of tale from the warring kings of A Song of Ice and Fire. But it’s certainly managed to hold my interest; I want to know more about the world, perhaps more than I want to know about Kvothe.
GAMES I’M PLAYING
I play a lot of games. In the last week I’ve played Cards Again Humanity, Ticket to Ride, Lost Cities, Love Letters, Quirks, Cthulhu Fluxx and a few different flavors of Gloom. I’m very happy with Unpleasant Dreams, the first expansion for Cthulhu Gloom… if you have any questions about Unpleasant Dreams (or for that matter anything I’ve made), please ask here! Here’s some thoughts on a few of my favorite games I’ve played in the last month.
You’re flying a ship through a galaxy crowded with wormholes and asteroids. Your ship is barely holding together. Panels are falling off. Slime is leaking out from the cracks. There are an endless assortment of adjustments that need to be made. Punch the orbvalve! Set the microfluxer to 5! Deactivate the quantum valve! Consider purchasing upgrades! It’s more than one person can handle. Fortunately, you’re not alone. You’re part of a SpaceTeam.
SpaceTeam is a cooperative game for 2-4 people, played on iPads and iPhones. Each player has a piece of the ship’s control panel, covered with an assortment of bizarre and often hilarious controls. As the game unfolds, you receive instructions and have a limited time to complete them. But many of your instructions apply to the controls on the panels of other players. The result? A lot of panicked shouting, as you watch the timer counting down and hope that the command you’re shouting makes sense to one of your comrades. “Tighten the Ubercronk! Set the Hypermodulator to six! Tip the Waiter! Wormhole – EVERYONE FLIP!” Any given action is quite simple: push a button or turn a dial. However, the combination of time pressure, communication within your team, and console malfunctions that have to be fixed or simply ignored make it an extremely entertaining experience. I’m sad that they didn’t create a holiday version; I can imagine sitting around the living room with my family shouting “Deck the halls! Parum the Pum-Pum! Mistletoe – everybody kiss!”
In short, it’s a fun, quick cooperative experience, and a perfect way to pass time while standing in line or waiting for something to start. And it’s free. So what are you waiting for?
A simple game that combines speed and pattern recognition. Five objects are placed in the center of the table. A card is drawn from the deck. Each card has four elements: two objects and two colors. If a color/object combination matches one of the objects on the table—for example, there is a picture of a white ghost—the first person to grab that object off the table gets the card and the point. However, in many cards, neither of the two objects shown are the proper color. In this case, you look for the object that isn’t represented on the card in any way. So if a card has a green rat and a red ghost, you are looking for an object that’s not a ghost or a rat, and isn’t red or green… which only leaves one possibility, the blue book. Grab the book and you get the point. If you grab the wrong object, you lose a point—so while speed is important, you don’t want to grab until you’re sure.
This basic game is a great deal of fun, and it’s good for people of all ages; I admit that I played about five rounds with an eight year old and lost every time. However, there are lots of ways to increase the complexity once your group is familiar with it. You can say that if there’s a ghost on the card, you need to shout the name of the proper object instead of grabbing it… or that if there’s a book, the correct answer is the object that’s the color of the book on the card, not whatever the normal answer would be. It’s fast and easily portable. The only problem is that it’s somewhat hard to find. I got my copy off the internet, and I’ve been recommending it to every brick & mortar store I’ve been to.
Always/Never/Now is a cyberpunk adventure cycle created by brilliant designer Will Hindmarch, and I’d say that it’s something like a mash-up of Mission Impossible and The Usual Suspects as written by William Gibson. You’re a brilliant operative who’s been called out of retirement for one last job… a job that will span the course of many adventures and delve into a host of mysteries. The system is inspired by Lady Blackbird; it’s easy to use and encourages players to get into the mind of the character. As the group’s strategist, you don’t get experience for killing things; rather, you get experience when other people follow a plan that you’ve devised. As such, you are rewarded for being a leader. Pregenerated characters are provided, which means that you have a well-balanced team with a lot of interesting backstory built into the characters themselves. One element I found particularly engaging was the use of environmental tags. When our group was engaged in a tense car chase, Will provided us with a list of specific objects in the scene – high tension wires, a hapless motorcyclist, a tanker truck, a news helicopter, an overpass. Over the course of the scene, we could use each of these elements once in the description of an action in order to get a bonus to the roll. Now, nothing was stopping us from introducing these or other elements on our own; but by providing us with a list, Will really got me thinking about what we COULD do with those things. I might have simply tried to outrun the enemy; instead, I starting thinking about how the hapless motorcyclist could flip over their hood, causing them to crash into the tanker truck. It’s an idea I could easily see transporting to other settings and systems, such as Eberron. If you want someone to swing on a chandelier, let them know that the chandelier is right there waiting to be used!
Always/Never/Now was funded on Kickstarter early this year. At the moment, the only way to play it is to corner Will Hindmarch at a convention (and I suggest you do). However, it will soon be available as a PDF for download. I’ll be sure to mention it here when it is; it’s definitely worth a roll of the dice!
And finally, for those who missed my earlier post, here again is Gloomy Santa…
Overall, I’m pretty happy with 2012. We survived the Mayan Y2K+12 Bug with a fine bunker warming featuring Molly Lewis & the Doubleclicks. Looking back over the year, Jenn and returned to Portland after a brief stay in Austin, Texas. We sailed the seas on the second JoCoCrazyCruise. We acquired a pair of adorable kittens who have since quadrupled in size…
Our lives are one big adorable YouTube video.
In gaming news, I released Cthulhu Fluxx and the first expansion for Cthulhu Gloom, Unpleasant Dreams. Gloom was featured on the Geek & Sundry show Tabletop. I’ve expanded this site with Six Questions, which has helped me to get to know some of my friends a little better and answered such burning questions as “What three dice would Will Hindmarch take to a desert island?”
In gloomier news, the current issue of Dragon marks the final installment of the Eye on Eberron series. It is my hope that Eberron will continue to be supported in D&D Next, but I don’t have any news on that front. With that in mind, I am developing a new fantasy setting that I’ll be using as a foundation for games and fiction. Expect to see a more detailed discussion of this new world over the next few months!
I count myself lucky for all of the good things in my life. I’m grateful to be surrounded by good friends and family, and especially for my wonderful wife Jenn. And I consider myself blessed to have been able to share my creations with so many people. Working on Gloom and Eberron has been a wonderful experience. I always enjoy discussing my games and novels with people, and if there are things you’d like to know, use that contact button on the right!
Happy holidays to all of you, and I look forward to sharing stories in 2013!
It’s tough being the boss. The kobolds are on strike, the bottomless pit isn’t deep enough, and that bum King Croak just got a new princess in his dungeon… and you know those gallant knights can’t resist the ol’ princess in peril gag. Your stomach’s growling – how are you going to lure some tasty adventurers to your lair? As a kid, I used to pump quarters into Ghosts’n Goblins. I slaughtered my way ever further into the dungeon, splattering minions in the quest to reach the next big boss. Boss Monsteris a non-collectible card game that recaptures those eight-bit adventures… from the other side of the screen. As a boss monster, you need to build a dungeon that is dangerous enough to slay the most epic hero. But it won’t matter how deadly your dungeon is if you can’t lure heroes to your door… so you need to balance your firepower with the right combination of loot.
Boss Monster is a dungeon-building game. Every turn, a few heroes show up in town. You win the game by killing ten points worth of heroes; you lose if too many get through your defenses and wound you. Every hero can take a certain amount of damage and desires a certain type of loot; they will go to the dungeon of the player with the greatest amount of the loot they are looking for. So in the example above, the Thief wants gold (as shown in the upper right corner of the hero card); Gorgona’s dungeon has three bags of gold. She’s got a pair of holy relics for luring clerics. However, if fighters or wizards show up, she’s currently got nothing to offer. Meanwhile, her dungeon can inflict 5 points of damage… which means she doesn’t actually WANT that epic thief in the picture coming to visit, because she can’t kill it.
The basic action of the game is simple; each round, you have the opportunity to add a room to your dungeon. Heroes are drawn to the dungeon based on treasure, and then you see if those heroes can survive a dungeon and wound the boss or if they die in the process. The fun of the game comes in dungeon design. First there is the basic challenge of competing with your opponents to have a dungeon that can lure the heroes that are out there. But beyond that, there’s a lot of strategic options to room placement. Some rooms provide bonuses to adjacent rooms of a specific type; the Dizzygas Hallway bumps up the room that comes after it, if that room is a trap. Other rooms provide special benefits if a hero dies in that room. Setting up a effective dungeon the same fundamental thrill you get from putting together a killer combo in a deck-building game, but that combo is on the table and continues to evolve over time. In addition, spell cards and certain rooms (such as the Jackpot Stash in the image above) are one-shot resources that provide an instant effect, allowing additional strategic choices and twists in the action.
Boss Monster can be played by two to four players; it’s strongest with three or four, but works as a two player game. Once people know how to play, it’s reasonably fast; an average game takes about 20 minutes. The 8-bit art is entertaining and fits the theme. The wide range of options makes it very replayable, and it’s the sort of game where even when I lose, I just want to play again.
Boss Monster currently has a week left in its Kickstarter campaign. Backers at the $25 level get a host of extra cards and bonus goodies; at higher levels you can playtest future expansions and even get a copy of the playtest deck (which is what I’ve been using) right away. All I’ll say is that it’s quick, fun, and I’ve been playing it whenever I’ve been able to drum up opponents; I actually played a few rounds on Election Night, as we waited to see who would end up as our next boss monster. So check out the Kickstarter, and tell ’em Hellcow sent you!