Category Archives: Tabletop

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DC Deck Building Game: Forever Evil

Cobra_CommanderLike many people my age, I collected GI Joe action figures as a kid. What set my collection apart was that it consisted entirely of Cobra action figures. I wasn’t interested in the Joes; I loved Cobra and wanted to collect all their toys. Destro, Cobra Commander and the rest were way cooler than the do-gooders. Thankfully, my parents took my obsession with the bad guys in stride and didn’t put me on any kind of mood-altering medication or report my “suspicious” toy collecting to anyone in the medical field.

With Forever Evil, DC has managed to tap into my inner childhood fascination with being the bad guy. Forever Evil is the second stand-alone expansion for the DC Deck Building Game (after Heroes Unite). Like Heroes Unite, you don’t need the original set to play Forever Evil, although combining sets allows for a great new game mode (more on that later). Forever Evil has a similar premise to the first two sets: players purchase cards from a main deck to build their own decks. They then use their cards to fight and score victory points.

DC3_ForeverEvil_BaneThe twist in Forever Evil is who players are fighting. Instead of taking on the role of a super hero like Batman, Superman, or the Flash, players choose one of seven DC villains and try to defeat a super hero. Black Adam, Lex Luthor, and Bane are among the playable villains, although the only bad girl in the bunch is Harley Quinn. Many of the mechanics will be familiar to players of the earlier expansions: cards are bought for power, super heroes make attacks when they first enter play, and players collect equipment, location, and weakness cards.

The major mechanic twist is Forever Evil’s insistence on destroying cards. While the first two sets focused on players collecting cards, Forever Evil features many cards that provide bonuses or victory points only when that card is destroyed (i.e. removed from the player’s deck and discard pile). In this way, players truly emulate super villains, who rampage to their hearts’ content without a thought to the consequences. This mechanic also means Forever Evil is more resource-based than the other DC sets.

Because players can only use a card’s bonus once before it is destroyed, they must conserve their resources and destroy each card only when it is the most advantageous to do so. Several cards only provide victory points when certain cards have been destroyed. A great example is the Phantom Stranger hero card. Phantom Stranger’s face value is 10 victory points; however, each Punch card in a player’s deck is now worth -1 victory point. Although Punch cards give power to spend on more cards, Phantom Stranger encourages players to destroy those cards to ensure the full value of Phantom Stranger.

Like the other DC Deck Building Game sets, Forever Evil can be played by 2-5 players. It’s a perfectly fine two-player game, even though my wife and I found the first few rounds a bit slow as we figured out the new mechanics and strategies. The new “destroy” mechanic does take some getting used to; weighing the risks of trimming a card from our decks for the potential rewards was something we had to take into consideration with every turn. In the end, we found this expansion just different enough from the other expansions to be fun and will be playing it again.

And next time we’re going to combine our copy of Forever Evil with our friends’ copy of Heroes Unite to play the new rule variant: Good Guys vs. Bad Guys. By combining Forever Evil with either of the previous expansions, players can then split up into teams: heroes and villains. In this scenario, the heroes battle a stack of super villains while the villains battle the super heroes. It’s an interesting further twist on the game and one I look forward to trying out.

tl;drs

Quick summary: Forever Evil is the latest stand-alone expansion for the DC Deck Building Game. This time, you play the villains, trying to defeat the super heroes of the DC universe.

Recommended if you like: Any of the DC Deck Building Game iterations, plunder, carnage and mayhem.

Better than I expected? Between the novelty of playing the bad guy and the new mechanics, there’s something new and enjoyable for those familiar with previous DC sets.

Worse than I hoped? Harley Quinn is the sole playable female villain. There’s no Poison Ivy or Catwoman, let alone Talia al Ghul or Star Sapphire. My wife appreciated the gender diversity Heroes Unite brought to the table, but Forever Evil seems like a step backward.

Verdict: Forever Evil is a great addition to the DC Deck Building Game sets, with a fun premise and enough variation in the gameplay to encourage replay.

Related Reading: My review of the original DC Deck Building Game.

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My new favorite card game: Hanabi

I am not as big into board games as some – but I’ve picked a few favorites to play with my friends, and Hanabi quickly rose to the top. My conflicted feelings about Cards Against Humanity are enough for another article, but it cemented what kinds of game scratch that fun gaming itch with my friends. It’s quick paced, easy to jump in and out of games, and doesn’t take longer to play the game than to bloody well explain it to someone new playing it!

Image via http://www.thegamernerd.com/

Image via http://www.thegamernerd.com/

Opinions aside on the humor of Cards Against Humanity, it reminded me that playing more than digital games with friends can be fun again! (I can’t tell you how utterly bored I got trying to play Settlers, or Puerto Rico, or other games that took what felt like an eternity to explain the rules when all I wanted to be doing was having fun with my friends around the table!) I love that the idea is simple – The entire game consists of a deck of cards, and a few chips. The deck has five different colored suits, numbered 1–5 in each color. The players are trying to place a row in the correct order from 1 to 5 for each color, with the added challenge that you don’t get to look at your own cards – you can only help the next player by giving them a hint about what is in their hand. If you want to point out that they have a “2” in their hand, you have to point out all the 2’s in their hand (same goes if you want to point out a red card – you have to tell them all the cards that are red). To give a hint it costs a token. If they play a wrong card that doesn’t fit in the order of the fireworks display, it costs a token. Run out of tokens? The game is over, and your fireworks display goes off! There is a bit more to the game than that, but it’s really that simple.

It’s fun because it’s quick, and cooperatively having fun at the table! Not that I don’t like competition – I will yell and scream with the rest of them at Knight Squad (for reals, my favorite party video game), but I like the camaraderie of Hanabi. You learn quickly who does and does not have a poker face while you are pulling out a card in your hand to play – is it the right card? Am I playing a card that will screw us all? WILL I ACCIDENTALLY SET OFF THE FIREWORKS? Maybe not that intense, but it does get amusing!

Lastly, the game is fast. I can’t imagine that the game would actually take 30 minutes like it says on the box – we usually wrap up a round in 15ish minutes. (Maybe longer if we stop to get a round hanabi-cardsof drinks, or distracted by BS’ing around the table – which okay, those happen with us every game – but I love that!) When we play the game, you are committing to a finite round of fun, and then you can be out. This isn’t Trivial Pursuit that you need to block out the next 3 to 29 hours of your day. This is by far my favorite game to take when we’re out and about with friends and time to kill (with a runner up of Uno!).

I’d love to hear if you have any other favorite fun games that are easy to learn and fast to play!

Theodoor_Rombouts_-_Joueurs_de_cartes

Cards, Cards, Cards!

This holiday season, spend some time with family and friends with these down and dirty (and really dirty, in the case of Cards Against Humanity) single-deck card games.

My love of single-deck card games has been well documented throughout my Dorkadia tenure. Single-deck card games require minimal investment in either time or money (which is perfect for me; I’m still embarrassed at how many meals I skipped to afford new packs of Magic cards back in the day). With the upcoming holiday season, many of you will no doubt be spending time in groups, either with your family, or your friends (who may or may not be avoiding their own families). The following are a few of my favorite single-deck card games, perfect for crowds. None of them are particularly difficult, and all of them are good for large groups. They also work as palette chasers, if you need a break in between that epic game of Axis and Allies or Eldritch Horror.

The_Great_Dalmuti_coverThe Great Dalmuti

Possible Players: 3-8

Best With: 5-6

Games you could play in a row before moving on to something else? 5

The grandaddy of single-deck card games that weaned me from my Magic addiction. Dalmuti plays like the traditional card game Asshole. The cards are ranked from the Great Dalmuti to the lowly Peasant, and players try to shed your cards in groups, with the lowest-numbered card set taking the trick. (The deck contains one 1 card, two 2s, all the way to twelve 12s.) The winner is the first one to get rid of all their cards.

What sets Dalmuti apart is its between-game station changes. Before the first game, players are arranged in a hierarchy. Players are assigned one of four characters. One player is the Great Dalmuti, one the Lesser Dalmuti, one the Lesser Peon and one the Greater Peon, with the rest being Merchants. Before each new game, the Greater Peon must give the Great Dalmuti his two best cards, while the Lesser Peon gives the Lesser Dalmuti his best card. The Greater and Lesser Dalmutis return the favor, only they can give the Peons any card they wish. At the end of each round, the winner becomes the new Greeat Dalmuti, with the second-best player becoming the Lesser Dalmuti and so on. While it is possible to move up in the ranks, the card sway at the begging of each game does give the Great Dalmuti an advantage, and part of the fun is trying to unseat the current Great Dalmuti.

werewolvesWerewolves of Miller’s Hollow

Possible Players: 8-18

Best With: 12

Games you could play in a row before moving on to something else? 2-3

What Dalmuti is to Asshole, so is Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow (WoMH) to the Russian card game MafiaIn WoMH, players receive one card face down at the beginning of the game. Their card is their character: some players are werewolves while the rest are scared villagers. At “night” the werewolves come in and kill a villager; it is up the the players to talk it over during the “day” to guess which players are werewolves before the werewolves kill them all.

WoMH is a great game if anyone in your group is more story inclined (during our last gaming session our GM guided us in the game, providing just the right amount of atmosphere). Players with good poker faces will also enjoy this game, as it requires a certain amount of plausible deniability if you’re the werewolf and are trying to throw the villagers off your trail. With the addition or commission of specific villager cards (such as the Fortune Teller, Sheriff, or Hunter) the game can be scaled to difficulty, which makes it a perfect game for later in the evening if you’ve had a few.

mascaradeMascarade

Possible Players: 2-12

Best With: 10

Games you could play in a row before moving on to something else? 2-3

A recent addition to my card-game collection, Mascarade is simpler than its dazzling artwork and numerous little fiddly bits suggests. The object of the game is to collect 13 coins. At the start of each game players are given a card and 5 coins. They look at their cards once before turning the card face down. During each players turn, they may look at their card, swap their card with another player (or not), or announce who they are and perform the action of their station. (A King takes three coins from the bank, for example, while the Witch may swap her coin collection with another player.) Resource cards come with the deck to remind players what actions their characters perform. The game ends when one player has 13 coins or any player goes bankrupt.

The bluffing aspect of this game makes it super fun in groups. If a player announces their character, any player may challenge, only the penalty for getting a challenge wrong is to pay a coin to the bank. In large groups its entirely possible to lose track of which character each player is, meaning the challenge stakes are that much higher. Games can also go by fairly quickly, since it’s possible to “forget” about a player until they’ve already won. Highly recommended for fans of beautiful design and simple gameplay.

Note: while it is possible to play Mascarade with 2-3 players, the game become infinitely more challenging. More is better here, although the instruction book does a good job walking you through how to play the game with fewer people.

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Cards Against Humanity

Possible Players: 4-15

Best With: 6-8

Games you could play in a row before moving on to something else? infinite (or more likely 1 game that just goes on forever)

We’ve blogged about Cards Against Humanity (CAH) before, and if you’re caught up in pop culture you already know how fun this game can be. I’d like to draw your attention to the Canadian expansion, which is an excellent addition to the game if you’re playing against an inordinate amount of hockey hosers.

TableTop-logo

Tabletop: Game On!

Grab your favorite board game, warm up your dice, and watch out for owlbears in Wil Wheaton’s internet show.

There are two things I love in this world that fellow Dorkadia writer Charles Spurr doesn’t get: IPAs and Tabletop. As a dark beer man, Charles reacts with indifference whenever I gush over Gchat about whatever new hoppy beer I’ve discovered. Likewise, board games aren’t his thing (he’s more of a video-game player), so anytime I try to talk to him about the latest Tabletop episode, his response is a huge “meh.” Which is cool; we don’t all have to love board games. But for those of you who do, you should be watching Tabletop.

It’s the internet show I never knew I needed. While I’ve always loved board games, I’ve always been hesitant to spend money on a game I might hate. (This is especially true for the spendier games.) Two things help me make choices on what games to buy: board games (like the excellent Castle in Toronto) and Tabletop. Of the two options, I prefer watching Tabletop as my go-to learning tool. Wil Wheaton is a natural at explaining game mechanics and offering strategy to his fellow players.

The premise is simple. Every other week, Wil Wheaton gathers three friends from the movie/music/internet/gaming sphere and sits them down for a game. He opens by explaining the game and outlining the ways to win, then this week’s guests are introduced and the game is on.

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Games are often punctuated by confession-room style mini interviews with the players, and as rules need to be explained they pop up in increasingly sophisticated art breaks. Each game is roughly a half-hour long (although there are some two-parters) and put up on the Geek and Sundry channel.

What makes Tabletop great for me is Wheaton. His genuine interest in gaming shows through, and much like Late Night’s Jimmy Fallon, Wheaton cares more that everyone enjoys themselves than winning (except when it comes to Tokaido). Tabletop’s guest stars are largely drawn from people I know and enjoy, such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer alums Seth Green or Amber Benson. Occasionally the guest star is amazing (it had to be a great moment for Wheaton to be playing Munchkin with the creator of the game, Steve Jackson) or hilarious  (Felecia Day? Always a pleasure; the intricate backstories she invents for her characters is jaw-dropping).

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My only critique of the show happens anytime the guests are all male. Usually Wheaton mixes up the gender cast, which makes for a more enjoyable game to watch for me personally. Anytime there are four guys playing there seems to be a little too much “guy humor” (specifically on the Tsuro of the Seas episode).

But this is a minor quibble. Tabletop got me into so many games (including some I’ll review for Dorkadia). It also got me into watching series on YoTube, and remains one of the few shows I look forward to week after week. May Wheaton and Day continue to play more games for many seasons to come.

tl;drs

Blank is a blanker version of blank: Tabletop is like a geekier version of Top Gear, replacing top-of-the-line muscle cars with beautifully designed board games and way fewer people in helmets.

Screen credits over/under: Under. Wheaton and Day are the sole credited screenwriters. The instructions for each game are done well and makes each game easy to follow along.

Recommended if you like: Board games, obviously.

Better than I expected: Three seasons in and the premise hasn’t faded; each game feels fresh and the art department gets better and better each show.

Worse than I hoped: With a few exceptions, the episodes featuring all guys get as dudebro as this game gets. The interactions between players are much more fun when there’s a gender mix.

Tabletop would work better as a(n): A few years ago I’d have wanted a network to pick up the show, but now? I’d rather Wheaton keep creative control and keep it on YouTube.

Verdict: Like board games? Looking for primers on new games? Then you should be watching Tabletop.

Icon Relationship Feature

13A Hack: Player Driven Relationship Rolls

The 13th Age core book details three main uses for Icon relationship dice: rolling at the start of every session for improvisational guides, rolling for dramatic events, and rolling for discovery and surprise when the players go off the prepped course. The latter two are brilliant; they successfully allow players to see how their character’s personal relationships shape the story when they turn an important and perhaps unplanned page in their adventure. But I’ve always felt that the improvisational use has needed fleshing out and clarification.

In practice, when the players roll their Icon relationship dice at the beginning of the session they’re not just rolling for group-wide improv inspiration, they’re actually rolling for unique and personally tailored resources. The book makes it clear that the players, not just the GM, can use these relationship rolls to gain secrets, magic items, narrate flashbacks, and more. It’s an exciting prospect that’s bursting with potential but the rules are unclear how these powers are shared, how they interact with mechanically concrete things like combat and skill checks, and what guidelines there are for building the narrative together.

This player driven relationship roll rules hack is designed to address this ambiguity but keep the spirit of this the relationship rolls intact. These clarifications aren’t limiting player or GM options, they’re giving the players a powerful tool to leave their mark in a session’s story and to use those Icon relationships to their fullest. Let’s flesh out those start of session relationships rolls so they can be the player driven, narrative sharing, compelling resource that they should be!

What You’ll Need

Icon Relatoinship CardYou will need a small number of two different kinds of tokens. Small glass tokens of two different colors will do, differently colored poker chips, or two different kinds of coins. One type of token will represent “unambiguous tokens”, or a 6 on the Icon relationship roll. The other type will represent “complicated tokens”, or a 5 on the Icon relationship roll.

You should also print out an Icon Relationship card for each of the individual relationships each PC has. You may want to slide them into protective sleeves designed for collectable cards after filling them out.

Icon Relationship Cards PDF (with background)

Icon Relationship Cards PDF (without background)

Rolling Icon Relationship Dice

When the characters are created (or when this hack is introduced into an ongoing game) each of the players will fill out a card for each their individual relationships. They need to fill in the name of the Icon and circle the type of relationship.

At the start of each session all of the player will roll their Icon relationships dice just like in the core rules. Then:

  • For every 6 rolled place an unambiguous token on the respective card.
  • For every 5 rolled place a complicated token on the respective card.

Generosity the wizard fills in two cards, one for her 2 point positive relationship with the Archmage and one for her 1 point conflicted relationship with the Lich King. At the beginning of a session she rolls a 5 and a 6 for the Archmage and a 3 for the Lich King. She puts one unambiguous token (represented by dimes in her group) and one complicated token (a penny) on her Archmage card. No tokens are placed on the Lich King’s card.
Icon Relationship Example 1

Spending Tokens

At any time a player can spend a token from one of their Icon Relationship cards to describe how their personal relationship with their Icon is providing them a benefit. The player can choose from one of the following benefits:

  • Reroll any d20 the player just rolled, keeping the result they like the most.
  • Add a +5 bonus to any d20 the player just rolled.
  • The player can introduce a new story element of their design that allows the party to attempt to solve a problem in a creative way.

If the player spends an unambiguous token the benefit is gained without trouble. If the player spends a complicated token then the GM will introduce a twist either right after they gain the benefit or later on in the story.

Generosity’s party has been ambushed by medusa scouts! She was struck by a petrifying gaze earlier in the fight and just rolled a 3 on her fatal last gasp save. Generosity spends a token from her Archmage card, recalling how she witnessed a wizard from Horizon stave off petrification from a cockatrice bite by redirecting arcane energies to the still-alive flesh until he could be saved, which she immediately tries to emulate. She crosses her fingers and rerolls the last gasp save.

The party finds themselves unable to avoid a confrontation with the massive stone golem guarding the jungle temple. As it rumbles to life, Generosity levels her staff and casts lightning bolt. Her player rolls a total attack roll of 16, just under the golem’s PD. Not wanting to waste her daily spell she spends a token from her Archmage card to narrate how her arcane sight allows her to locate the bubbling arcane core within the stone golem’s chest. That core would be vulnerable to a lightning bolt, if it’s hit just right. Spending a token Generosity gets a +5 bonus to the attack roll, making it hit!

Followed by agents of the Lich King, Generosity and her party are looking to find quick and discrete transport to the peak of Starport hundreds of miles away. Generosity spends a token from her Archmage relationship to find someone that can teleport them the entire distance.
Generosity: I want to find a wizard that can teleport us directly to Starport so we can’t be followed.
GM: I didn’t even know that was possible! Who knows how to teleport, and why isn’t teleportation happening all the time in the Dragon Empire already?
Generosity: Probably an old contact from the wizarding college. Also, teleportation is unpredictable and dangerous and takes a top notch wizard to control.
GM: Awesome. Why would a top notch wizard do this for you? Sounds like a major service you may have to do a favor for.
Genersity: Oh no, he’s not top notch. He was kicked out of the college for doing strange experiments with time and space. But I believe he can get us there.
GM: Sounds great. You find your contact and he’s eager to finally be able to do an experiment with living subjects. Tell me where you find him and I’ll take it from here.

Rerolling and Adding a +5 Bonus

Players can choose to reroll or add a +5 bonus to any single d20 just rolled. That includes attack rolls, skill checks, saving throws, death saving throws, disengage checks, recharge rolls, etc. Players can’t combine the reroll and the +5 bonus, nor reroll more than once or give multiple stacking +5 bonuses. See “Spending Multiple Tokens at a Time” below.

Introduce a New Story Element

Easily the most exciting option, a player can spend a token to conjure up a story element to take the plot in a new direction. When a player spends a token in this way they’re drawing upon their character’s personal relationship with an Icon and the Icon’s domain to shape the world in a meaningful way. The player needs to clearly state what they want out of this new story element as they spend their token. Then they need to narrate the new story element, bringing it to life for themselves and the rest of the group. The GM should ask questions to get a better feel for the new story element and how to weave it into world. Questions of how, why, and who should flesh out new element and place it within the larger picture of the campaign. (How does this new story element fit in with what the party knows about the world? What the Dragon Empire knows? What the other Icons know?) Table talk is encouraged, other players should jump in with their own questions and even include their own player characters with the narrating player’s permission. By the end of the questioning, the party should be eager to draw on this new story element and the GM should be thinking of all the new challenges that couldn’t have been created until the moment that story element came into existence.

When a token is spent the authority shifts from the GM to the player, if only for a short time. Normally, the players are asking the questions and the GM is providing the answers. When a new story element is being conjured by a player, the player is providing the answers instead. Imagine that the GM has passed the mic to the player for a bit and is now joining the audience. Work together as a group to make sure that new story elements are a beginning, not an end. Even if a new story element gets the player what they want, they should still guide the story in a new player-born direction that is exciting and full of adventure.

What is a new story element? It could be an old contact that owes you one, a secret passage into the fortress, a nursery rhyme with a clue for fighting the beholder, a damning vice to leverage against the Imperial Governor, a constellation whose starlight reveals the ancient path, a loyal village dog that distracts the goblins for just long enough for the rogue to try to sneak away.

Viability and Transparency

In the spirit of 13th Age’s other limited resources, the GM needs to let the players spend a token to reroll a d20 after it’s known that the original roll would have failed. The GM also needs also be honest as to whether or not a +5 bonus would make the difference between success and failure. These tokens are there to allow players to succeed in the face of unlikely odds and bad luck, not to dupe them into spending a resource when it wouldn’t matter.

Spending Multiple Tokens at a Time

Typically, a player shouldn’t be able to spend more than one token on a single check, as spending a token requires at least a short narration of how the Icon relationship grants you that specific bonus. (Not “grants as many bonuses as I need right now until I succeed”.) Players can’t spend multiple tokens to get the +5 bonus more than once on a single check, nor reroll a check more than once, nor combine the reroll with the +5 bonus. Players should also technically not be able to spend more than one token to introduce more than one story element at a time, but story elements should grow and be expanded upon generously as needed.

Unused Tokens

Unused tokens are lost at the end of each session if they are not used.

Are the Rolls Still Improv Inspiration?

Absolutely! This system does not prevent GMs from using the beginning of session relationship roll to shape the session. The player driven mechanics are simply laid on top of that improv inspiration, GMs are free to give out information, magic items, and introduce contacts and threats based on the rolls as they please. If desired, GMs can still fill in a worksheet like the one found on page 180 in the core book as a guide to fill the session with Icon-specific adventure.

Complicated Token Twists

When a complicated token is spent by a player the GM needs to introduce a twist either right away, if something immediate makes sense, or later on in the adventure. Twists shouldn’t negate the bonus the players just received, nor should they get them into trouble that’s wildly worse. This rules out giving a condition (like dazed) to a player that just rerolled an attack roll, it’s just not fun.

Twists will likely depend more on the fiction than the mechanical benefit gained by the player, and the GM should ask questions (similar to introducing a new story element) to inspire a twist if needed. It’s also not out of bounds for the GM to ask “how does the Crusader’s commander know you, and why is that a very bad thing?” If the token spending player has an idea for a twist the GM should run with it! Ideally, the twist should directly spring from the Icon and player involved but it’s not a requirement; GMs shouldn’t be afraid to occasionally mix things up in a truly surprising way or introduce a straightforward complication like “yes, even more goblins”.

Here are a few options for twist inspiration:

  • Change the environment in a way that will cause trouble.
  • Take a fictional element of their narration and create unforeseen trouble.
  • Reveal an unwelcome past or relationship.
  • Introduce or foreshadow a threat that now is paying attention to the party.
  • Create an obligation or demand from the Icon’s organization with consequences. (Could be an immediate demand or a demand left for a future golden opportunity.)
  • Cause trouble for the party’s friends, contacts, and favorite settlements.

Let’s imagine that Generosity spent a complicated token to introduce the wizard that could work some risky teleportation magic to get the party to Starport. The GM thinks for a moment, wondering if she wants to pocket the twist until later, but she has a good idea for immediate action. The party is teleported to Starport without their enemies knowing of the journey, because that’s what the player stated she wanted out of the token. However, the GM describes that the party finds themselves teleported to a location within Starport, in glassy ice tunnels burrowed into the mountain’s glaciers. The echos of chittering rhemoraz can be heard in the darkness. This is an example of a fictional element being a source of unforeseen trouble. The new story element is successful and has moved the story forward in a fun player narrated way, and the GM adds in a twist that doesn’t undo or contradict what the player wanted, demands immediate attention, and kicks off a new adventure!

Perhaps Generosity spent a complicated token to add +5 to her attack roll against that that temple guardian stone golem, targeting the bubbling arcane core within its chest. The lightning bolt hits, but the arcane core within the golem magnifies the magic wildly! Unnaturally swift storm clouds start to build in the sky above the fight. This effect shouldn’t immediately impact the fight mechanically but the rain that starts after the encounter will certainly impact the dungeon crawl in the jungle temple. This definitely changes the environment in a way that will cause trouble: swift moving waters pulling PCs towards pit traps, damp soil pushing giant dire beetles up to roam, and jungle beasts on edge thanks to rumbling thunder will shape the rest of the adventure.

Interacting with Class Abilities

Most of the abilities that adjust Icon relationships in the core book will play extraordinarily well with this new system. When in doubt, rerolled dice should give the opportunity to gain tokens mid-session (see the paladin’s Way of Evil Bastards talent) and new points of relationship interact normally with the beginning of session rolls (see the bard’s Balladeer and the rogue’s Smooth Talk talents).

Created and Shared Under the 13th Age Community Use Policy

This rules hack uses trademarks and/or copyrights owned by Fire Opal Media, which are used under the Fire Opal Media, 13th Age Community Use Policy. We are expressly prohibited from charging you to use or access this content. This rules hack is not published, endorsed, or specifically approved by Fire Opal Media. For more information about Fire Opal Media’s 13th Age Community Use Policy, please visit www.fireopalmedia.com/communityuse. For more information about Fire Opal Media and 13th Age products, please visit www.fireopalmedia.com and www.pelgranepress.com.

White Dragon by Sandara

13th Age Contest: The White and the Wizard King

I only recently discovered the Iconic Podcast, a show dedicated to my favorite edition of D&D: 13th Age. Not only do they interview the big players in the 13th Age scene including the game’s co-creator Rob Heinsoo, but it’s refreshing to hear a gaming podcast really drill down into the mechanics of a particular game in addition to bantering. Thankfully I found the podcast in time to enter their first writing contest!

There are two figures in the 13th Age core book that are only hinted at: the evil Wizard King that ruled the world before the setting’s sprawling Dragon Empire did, and the White dragon who was killed by said Wizard King for reasons unknown. The Iconic Podcast uses the White as their mascot, so they asked writers to offer their perspective on who exactly the White was and what showdown occurred.

I wanted to share my entry for the contest, which I’m very happy with largely due to Hannah hitting my fiction writing gears with a hammer hard enough to shake some of the rust off. I wanted to produce something that wasn’t just a character piece on the White, but instead was something that a GM could read and be full of and locations for their own game. It must have worked, because I manged to sneak away with second place! You can see the other entries here at the Iconic Podcast’s site.

13th Age Contest Entry: The White and the Wizard King

The oldest records we have here in Horizon suggest that this world has always been full of change and strife, even before the Ages started. The Wizard King built roads and raised forts against the monstrous wilderness, all before the Dragon Empire’s first Seal. But what could have been a glorious beginning was doomed to be a painful misstep. The Wizard King, history tells, would not be content until he controlled everything.

The Wizard King established absolute power over his growing domain through an alliance of lawful and evil Icons. Our shelves are full of tales of arcane police exacting cruel punishments for crimes not yet committed, chimeras of humanoid and beast charring those that would not bend their knee, and even idle armies of sleepless undead. The Icons that resisted the rule of the Wizard King’s dark empire fought bravely but they founds themselves bested. With broken bodies and spirits they fled to the only lands not yet controlled by their enemy’s forces. It didn’t have a name then, but we have come to call it the Howling North.

The White desired nothing but distance. Glacially large and ponderous, the white dragons were happy to be lone philosophers charting the paths of the stars while hearing the ice floes sing. However, the pleas of the fleeing Icons broke the White’s quiet contemplation. The Great Gold Wyrm cautioned the White! He said this was a foe too strong for even a single great dragon to stand against; with the Wizard King’s alliances so too would his enemies need to stand together.

With time, the White would eventually see the wisdom in the Gold’s words. The resistance and the Icons who lead it would need years to recover after their battles against the King, but the White was strong, untested, and ready to lead. Clearly the direct assaults of the past would lead them nowhere against the Wizard King’s aberrant and undead armies. The courage of the Gold and the wisdom of the White had to find another solution.

The dragons’ forces left the Howling North and marched to the Wizard King’s empire, a fact the Gold and White allowed their enemy to discover; baiting him into action. The King crafted great arcane dragon-traps in the path of the army while abominations waited in tunnels to ambush soldiers. Some suppose that the Wizard King saw the White’s defeat as his last final challenge, others are convinced he merely wanted to see if he could turn the White into an undead servant. Either way, the threat of a new Iconic dragon was too much for the Wizard King to ignore.

The trap was sprung as the resistance approached. Men, elves, and dwarves fought valiantly but were dragged away screaming below the ground. The white dragons froze entire legions of unnatural creatures, summoning blizzards and hail, but even they were brought low by the Wizard King’s trickery. With flashes of light and the breaking of runes, living lashes of force leapt from the ground to ensnare them. One by one the dragons were dragged, roaring, to the earth.

Those few soldiers that remained above ground watched as the Wizard King himself approached the bound White. He brought his Focus to eye level with the grounded dragon. As he started an incantation, the White summoned all of her power. She bent the arcane bonds to their limits to make one final snap of her jaws, severing the Wizard King’s arm and swallowing it. The Focus was quickly ground to dust between the her momentous icicle-sharp teeth.

Enraged, the Wizard King brought complete and utter destruction upon the White. He summoned now forgotten syllables that struck beyond the White’s body and into her being. Her existence was erased, the land around them blasted by the force of reality being rewritten. The destruction bled from the White and into her children, cursed to be feeble until the end of Ages. Even the arm that was within the her belly was gone, forcing the Wizard King to fashion one of iron as the Lich King.

Unknown to the Wizard King, while he faced the White’s forces, other Icons of the resistance lead a strike against the his throne of Stormmaker, called “Necropolis” in modern times. The White’s risk, the sacrifice of her life and legacy, was her plan from the beginning.

And that’s where our tale ends, sadly! Though some crude mosaics found to the North of Forge tell of a primordial Orc Lord taking the head of the Wizard King, no record remains of the strike on Stormmaker. All we know for certain is that shortly after the death of the White, the first Draconic Seal of the Dragon Empire was created. We assume that the loss of the Focus was instrumental to the King’s downfall, but we don’t even know what it was. For that matter, who were the Icons that sided with the Wizard King and what malevolent enchantments and promises remain to worry us in this modern Age? It’s a troubling thought.

Oh my, I’m sorry, I have completely went off on a tangent. You asked a simple question about a dragon and I’m afraid you got more than you bargained for. Adventurers are a rare sight in this library and I allowed myself to get excited.

But why were you asking about ancient history again?

Game Hooks

The actions of the White and her climactic bait-and-switch could have immediate application to adventures in the 13th Age. If your campaign involves the Lich King, the complex relationship of unaging dragons, or the ancient histories of the Ages themselves, the White and the Wizard King could be central players.

Losing Focus

The most obvious question is how the Wizard King came to power in the first place. The presupposition that his power was tied to a Focus object allows your game to revolve both around it and those others that would also seek it. What the Focus is, of course, depends on you and your players. Don’t rule anything out, nothing says that the focus has to be an inanimate object.

A Deal with Dragons

The White worked with the Gold to make a plan that would allow a strike at Stormmaker. What other Icons were involved, and are there any other debts that need to be paid? Deals with dragons are magical things that transcend death and time. If your campaign’s primary villain is the Lich King, even an Icon as slippery as the Prince of Shadows could be made an ally if the party could clear some pre-Ages debt he inherited from a predecessor in the process.

The Land Before Time

Injecting a myth like this into your game is begging for your players to question it, plumb its secrets, and create One Unique Things based around it. Threats and player elements that reach back to the time before Ages gives your story an epic scope without changing much about the game’s mechanics. They also gives you carte blanche for creating whatever bad guys you want. The Wizard King had beholder cavalry that are still waiting to be released from the Underworld and now the Lich King’s agents have found them? Why not?

Locations

Evidence of the conflict between the White and the Wizard King lies hidden deep below layers of dirt and history. Those locations that still remain in the world are well hidden, potent, and a complete mystery to most.

The Dragon Graveyard of Moonwreck

If this myth exists in your game, Moonwreck is certainly the site of the battle that spelled the end of both the White and, ultimately, the Wizard King. While the body of the White was destroyed, the bodies of her powerful children remained trapped in the arcane bonds the Wizard King created. Dragged down over time, the skeletons of dragons are scattered all throughout the underworld beneath Moonwreck.

A different flavor of Underworld: The underworld is already a dangerous place where all bets are off. But such a concentration of dragon remains gives you the ability fill the caves beneath Moonwreck with all sorts of arcane surprises. All manner of beasts could be given the gift of draconic magic given enough exposure.

Rumors from the Dragon Empire:

  • The Archmage believes that a scale of an ancient white dragon could be used to make a powerful scrying focus, if his tall tale telling subordinates are to be trusted. A curved scale filled with freezing water reflecting the stars could potentially answer any question. Any.
  • Some say the now-covered tunnels under Moonwreck are filled with ancient combatants and monsters from a forgotten war. Under the right astral conditions the bodies rise and do battle once again. It would be wise to stay out of that part of the Underworld. Unless of course you wanted to ask an ancient general something.
  • I heard gibbering before I could see them, but it was unmistakable: derro in the tunnels under Moonwreck. But they weren’t the normal, crazy, murderous kind. They were working together to mine chunks out of a skull the size of a tavern poking out of a cave wall! I had no idea what they were planning to do with those chunks of bone, but if it was worth derro working together I didn’t want to stick around to find out!

The Howling North

The White’s domain was far from the verdant, temperate lands that her more ambitious brethren lusted after. Frigid glacial planes, killing winds, and natural ice caves extend for miles beyond count. This is nothing like the frozen but populated slopes of the Dragon Empire’s mountains. Now that the White is gone the Howling North consumes the life of all living creatures that choose to stay within its bounds.

A dangerous trek: If you want to put a perilous journey between your players and anything ancient that they need to find, you can’t get much more dangerous than this. Journeys should require preparation and a few good background tests, lest the party show up to their intended destination with a quarter of their normal recoveries!

Rumors from the Dragon Empire:

  • Ancient ruins from an unfathomable alien culture lie beyond the frozen mountains. Not even the White approached these monolithic structures.
  • Everyone knows that sheets of colorful energy can be seen waving in the skies over the Howling North. But no one knows how they interact with ritual magic.
  • For what little is written about the Howling North, a singular ice fortress jutting up from the middle of a glacial plane is a recurring tale. The North is all but lifeless since the Ages began as far as we know, what is the castle’s purpose?

Magic Items

Scales of the White’s Heart (any armor, robe, shirt, or tunic; champion/epic)

Bonus: +2 AC (champion); +3 AC (epic)
Effect: If you have been reduced to 0 hit points at least once during a battle, increase the bonus of this armor by +1 until the end of that battle. (Champion would become +3 AC, epic would become +4 AC.)
Daily: You can use this power as a free action after you’ve rolled a death saving throw that you’re not pleased with. If you do, act as if you had rolled a natural 20 on the death saving throw. (Allowing you to spend a recovery and take your turn normally.)
Quirk: Someone changing your mind is as easy as changing the course of a glacier. That is to say, not very easy at all.

Badass featured image is White Dragon by Sandara, used under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).

Guillitine

Guillotine: Decapitation for Fun and Profit

A few weeks ago I blogged about Lunch Moneya favorite card game of mine and one of the single-deck games that weaned me from my Magic: the Gathering addiction. Today I’d like to introduce another of those single-deck games that’s easier to play and only slightly less morbid: Guillotine.

Guillotine was originally released by Magic wranglers Wizards of the Coast in 1998 (on Bastille Day, no less), and is back in print after a few years of unavailability. Guillotine is a score-counting game: the object of the game is to behead French nobles and collect the most points by the end of the third day. Despite its macabre subject, Guillotine is much more lighthearted than Lunch Money, with colorful cartoony artwork depicting the characters and actions. Gameplay is simple, making the game easy to pick up. At the start of each game, players are dealt five cards, and a group of 14 nobles form a line in the middle of the table. On a player’s turn, he or she can play a card and then collect the noble at the front of the line. Once all the nobles are collected, a new line is formed for Day 2. At the end of the third day players count their scores (each noble is assigned a set of points, with some nobles worth negative points) and the player with the highest number of points wins.

You never find out if the pot the Piss Boy is carrying is empty or not…

Sounds easy? It is, which makes Guillotine a great fun little game to introduce to your gaming group. I find the game works best in groups of more casual gamers. There is some strategy involved (you can play bonus cards to give extra points to nobles of a certain rank for instance), but the strategy doesn’t overwhelm the game or require players to memorize too many rules. Besides the basic draw-a-card-play-a-card rule, all rules are printed on the cards. When you play a card or collect a noble, you do what the card says. The cardboard guillotine that comes with new editions of the game adds a nice decorative touch, too.

tl;drs

Blank is a blanker version of blank: Guillotine is a more lighthearted version of Lunch Money

Credits over/under: Under. The cards have a beautiful, uniform look to them.

Recommended if you like: quick and easy card games you can teach to your friends in 5 minutes or less.

Better than I expected: I hadn’t played Guillotine for a few years before I bought a new card set and was impressed at how much my friends enjoyed the game and asked after playing it.

Worse than I hoped: Robespierre is still a noble no one wants.

Verdict: Good addition to anyone’s game collection.