Crown of Axis

The arena officially opens in a month! In the next Page XX, you’ll have the opportunity to purchase Wade Rockett’s PDF-only intro adventure. It’s in the middle of layout now and has been slotted into the schedule as Pelgrane’s March 1st release.

Until then we leave you with Simone Bannach’s illo of spirit-aided oratory from a noble of House Emberhill, dedicated to restoring Axis’ glory one decaying arena at a time.

Drakkenhall: City of Monsters

Art is complete. I’d say design is complete except that J-M DeFoggi and Liz Argall came up with some new monsters to add while J-M is finishing development work on other chapters. J-M is working on his last development pass, the next step will be teaming up with me to handle final math and storytelling questions. We aim to turn the Drakkenhall sourcebook over to the editor the first week of March. I’m not sure when it will be out of editing and into layout.

Simone Bannach gets the art preview again, this time from a couple of the citizen-monsters who give the city its epithet.

Gareth’s New Book

Cat has turned Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan loose to work on his new 13th Age adventure. We’ve learned that when Gareth is unleashed, he soon returns home with a thick manuscript held between his jaws. So we’re not entirely certain that this wicked new adventure will be slipping into the schedule in this position, but we wouldn’t be surprised. Nor would we be upset, because it would be nice to publish an adventure in between two sourcebooks.

Behemoths: Paths of the Koru

Authors are working on their second drafts. Art hasn’t been commissioned and development hasn’t begun, so this sourcebook is still a ways off. We’ll find out soon whether it moves up the schedule or down.

Icon Followers

I’ve done less work on Icon Followers than expected, which sees it moving to later in the year. Playtesting of the pieces that are finished has gone well, and regular contributors including Cal Moore, J-M DeFoggi, and Liz Argall have been adding exciting bits, so I expect to announce this Bestiary of NPCs’ next steps later this year.

Speaking of announcements/heralds, that’s the flute and quill symbol of the Axis Bardic College, a touch added by ASH LAW and illustrated by Aaron McConnell.

[[Crown of Axis cover by Aaron McConnell and Lee Moyer, Drakkenhall cover by Roena I. Rosenberger]]

In part one I described how Crown of Axis began with an invitation to write the next big introductory adventure for 13th Age, and my idea to set it in the Emperor’s city of Axis. I just had to convince Rob Heinsoo this was a good idea!

First, I read everything ever written about Axis in 13th Age. The game’s “your Dragon Empire will vary” approach meant that I was free to present one possible interpretation of the city, but I wanted to make sure I had a good understanding of, and feel for, what had come before. I was also aware that a GM might not have 13 True Ways (which contains the most extensive writeup of Axis to date), so I would need to figure out what background information was important enough to include within my limited page count. Brief descriptions of the various neighborhoods were vital: PCs might travel anywhere in the city, and I had to equip the GM with enough information to handle the basics. Some of it was important to making players feel like Axis is a place: the tastes, the sounds, the smells, and how people there live their lives. I wanted to invite players to sample the street foods, play wargames in the taverns of Garrison, and cheer on gladiators in the arenas.

I wrote a detailed, bulleted outline with a rough map of a key adventuring location and sent it to Rob and J-M DeFoggi, the project’s developer, for review. I knew they would come back with incisive questions, as well as comments about things I may have overlooked or not fully thought through.

Without spoiling anything, I’ll share some issues (large and small) that I needed to work through before the outline was approved:

  • The outline included real-world historical people and institutions as placeholders for fictional ones, and the longer those placeholders stick around the harder it will be to create the fictional versions.
  • Nothing prevents the PCs from going straight from the situation in the beginning of the adventure to the final battle, ignoring everything in between.
  • Why doesn’t [BAD GUY] simply do [OBVIOUS THING]?
  • The design needs to account for the possibility that the PCs will fail in the end.
  • Some players will want their characters to fight in the arenas as gladiators, so the GM needs tools to handle that.
  • The PCs spend much of the adventure solving a mystery, and there aren’t investigative rules in 13th Age. It would be great if there were an elegant mechanic to handle those parts that feels like it belongs in 13th Age.

In the end, I wrote eight drafts of the outline before Rob gave me the go-ahead to write the adventure. This was great because even though plenty of details would change during the design phase, my foundation was rock-solid. However, I struggled at the beginning: this was the biggest RPG writing project I’d ever taken on, and my anxious perfectionist brain became overwhelmed. The solution was to schedule weekly Skype discussions with J-M where I’d share the status of the draft and we’d work together to solve any design and plot problems that came up. That’s where most of the solutions to the challenges above came from. It’s the closest I’ve ever worked with a developer on an RPG project, and it was incredibly helpful.

The final draft kicked off the development phase, a back-and-forth process where J-M ensured that my design matched the desired play experience, and he checked my math and mechanics. He also asked me to write a handful of art orders: descriptions of people, items, or locations for an artist to illustrate. From there it went to the editor, Trisha DeFoggi, and from there to layout. Which is where we are as of this writing!

I hope these posts are helpful to anyone who’s interested in becoming an RPG designer, or just wants to know how the RPG sausage gets made—and I hope you enjoy playing Crown of Axis when it comes out!

 

“Wade Says” icon by Regina Legaspi.


13th Age combines the best parts of traditional d20-rolling fantasy gaming with new story-focused rules, designed so you can run the kind of game you most want to play with your group. 13th Age gives you all the tools you need to make unique characters who are immediately embedded in the setting in important ways; quickly prepare adventures based on the PCs’ backgrounds and goals; create your own monsters; fight exciting battles; and focus on what’s always been cool and fun about fantasy adventure gaming. Purchase 13th Age in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

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With Crown of Axis out of its design and development phases and currently with the editor, I thought See Page XX readers might be interested in hearing how the adventure came about—a behind-the-scenes look at how one adventure came to be, for aspiring RPG designers or anyone who likes to hear how the sausage gets made.

It began with Rob Heinsoo emailing to tell me that Pelgrane wanted a new 1st level introductory adventure for 13th Age. Shadows of Eldolan and The Strangling Sea are both excellent, but they’d been out for a while and it would be good to have something fresh to offer. Would I be willing and able to write:

  • A 44(ish) page adventure for level 1 characters
  • Introducing GMs and players to 13th Age, its distinctive mechanics, and its approach to F20 roleplaying
  • With different types of antagonists than the other intro adventures (e.g. not undead)
  • As soon as possible?

This was the first time I’d actually been asked to write an adventure instead of volunteering myself. Wreck of Volund’s Glory began as a homebrew adventure I wrote to run at Gen Con, and I pitched it to Kobold Press as a product after a few successful sessions. The general outline of Temple of the Sun Cabal took shape at the 13th Age Adventure Workshop panel at Gen Con, and I offered to write it up as a full adventure for 13th Age Monthly.

This project would also be the longest and most complex RPG project I’d ever tackled. I love a good writing challenge (and seeing my name on the covers of things), so I said yes. Rob asked me to send him a pitch and a proposed outline.

I thought about the adventures that most excited me when I was new to RPGs, playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons as a teenager back in the early 80s. As a huge fan of Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories, I loved city adventures—ones where armed and dangerous rogues wander through bustling markets filled with exotic goods, fight duels, chase pickpockets, evade the city watch, and become embroiled in the sinister schemes of the wealthy and powerful. A lot of introductory adventures are set in the kinds of places Fafhrd and the Mouser left behind in order begin their careers—for this one, the heroes would follow their example and head for the big city.

For a long-form creative project I find it useful to have a one-sentence summary of what this thing is and what it needs to accomplish, so I can refer back to it throughout the process in order to keep myself on track.  For this project it was, “An introductory 13th Age adventure in which the PCs are new adventurers seeking their fortune in a wealthy and powerful city, and which will inspire the same feelings of wonder and excitement I experienced when I encountered City-State of the Invincible Overlord as a teenager.”

And where would such an adventure be set but in Axis, the seat of Empire?

I immediately realized what I’d be getting myself into if I set this adventure in Axis. Writing an adventure to introduce brand-new players and GMs to a game is a heavy responsibility already, but to set it in arguably the single most important city in the game? What on earth was I thinking? But the idea grabbed me and wouldn’t let go: our heroes would test their mettle in the legendary City of Swords itself.

But only if Rob agreed.

NEXT: In Which The Author Adds Meat to These Bones, Researching Axis, Brainstorming Adventure Elements, and Constructing an Outline to Present for Rob’s Stern Judgment

 


13th Age combines the best parts of traditional d20-rolling fantasy gaming with new story-focused rules, designed so you can run the kind of game you most want to play with your group. 13th Age gives you all the tools you need to make unique characters who are immediately embedded in the setting in important ways; quickly prepare adventures based on the PCs’ backgrounds and goals; create your own monsters; fight exciting battles; and focus on what’s always been cool and fun about fantasy adventure gaming. Purchase 13th Age in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

A funny thing happened on the way to the Crown of Axis arena. Wade’s request for a cover image featuring two powerful female gladiators had been executed in style by Aaron McConnell:

original sketch

For a change, Aaron decided to hand-paint the piece, old school instead of digital. That turned out to create a delivery problem. At first, the paints wouldn’t dry. Well, they dried a bit, but the yellow was taking a loooooong time. Then Aaron’s scanner tech couldn’t pick up the colors he’d painted with properly. Neither could Aaron’s photos.

drying on the easel

So Aaron went over to Lee Moyer’s house, since they were working together on a different project and Lee has a Serious Scanner. And if you know Lee, you know Lee’s super-power—he had suggestions. They got the piece scanned and then worked together on the paints, turning a high-noon situation into an evening showdown. Aaron held onto the piece for another couple weeks, but he has overcome separation anxiety and is calling it done!

Crown of Axis cover by Aaron McConnell, with paints assist by Lee Moyer

 

 

Send more gladiators!

Beneath the blood-soaked sands of the arenas lies a secret that could topple the Empire. . .

Axis, mighty capital of the Dragon Empire! Here, the markets flow with goods and gold, ambitious nobles rise and fall within the Emperor’s court, knives flash in reeking alleys, and gladiators’ weapons clash to the roar of crowds—while the metallic dragons who guard the Empire watch over it all.

Your band of heroes has come here seeking opportunity, a chance to make a name for yourselves and earn some coin. Axis has work for your kind: armed, dangerous, and willing to enter the tunnels beneath an old gladiatorial arena to confront whatever’s been killing the workers there. But any blade drawn, spell cast, or gold piece stolen in Axis might cause ripples that spread in unexpected ways—maybe even as far as the palaces of the Emperor.

Crown of Axis is an introductory 13th Age adventure for 1st level heroes by Wade Rockett (Temple of the Sun Cabal, 13th Age Game Master’s Screen and Resource Book). It can be played as a one-shot or as the start of a campaign, and is customizable based on characters’ icon relationships.

Format: PDF
Author: Wade Rockett
Developers: Rob Heinsoo, John-Matthew DeFoggi
Cover: Aaron McConnell, with paint assist from Lee Moyer
Status: In development