Daughters of the Nile

This is my wife’s book, the third in the series. The first book, LILY OF THE NILE, is available for all e-readers at 75% off at all online retailers. It should appeal to all fans of historical fiction, women’s fiction, or fantasy fiction (there’s magical realism in it). Enjoy!

Daughters of the Nile slide

From critically acclaimed historical fantasy author, Stephanie Dray comes the long-awaited new tale based on the true story of Cleopatra’s daughter.

After years of abuse as the emperor’s captive in Rome, Cleopatra Selene has found a safe harbor. No longer the pitiful orphaned daughter of the despised Egyptian Whore, the twenty year old is now the most powerful queen in the empire, ruling over the kingdom of Mauretania—an exotic land of enchanting possibility where she intends to revive her dynasty. With her husband, King Juba II and the magic of Isis that is her birthright, Selene brings prosperity and peace to a kingdom thirsty for both. But when Augustus Caesar jealously demands that Selene’s children be given over to him to be fostered in Rome, she’s drawn back into the web of imperial plots and intrigues that she vowed to leave behind. Determined and resourceful, Selene must shield her loved ones from the emperor’s wrath, all while vying with ruthless rivals like King Herod. Can she find a way to overcome the threat to her marriage, her kingdom, her family, and her faith? Or will she be the last of her line?

Read the Reviews

“A stirring story of a proud, beautiful, intelligent woman whom a 21st century reader can empathize with. Dray’s crisp, lush prose brings Selene and her world to life.” ~RT Book Reviews

“The boldest, and most brilliant story arc Dray has penned…” ~Modge Podge Reviews

“If you love historical fiction and magical realism, these books are for you.” ~A Bookish Affair

Read an Excerpt

Below me, six black Egyptian cobras dance on their tails, swaying. I watch their scaled hoods spread wide like the uraeus on the crown of Egypt. Even from this height, I’m paralyzed by the sight of the asps, their forked tongues flickering out between deadly fangs. I don’t notice that I’m gripping the balustrade until my knuckles have gone white, all my effort concentrated upon not swooning and falling to my death.

And I would swoon if I were not so filled with rage. Someone has arranged for this. Someone who knows what haunts me. Someone who wants to send me a message and make this occasion a moment of dread. My husband, the king must know it, for he calls down, “That’s enough. We’ve seen enough of the snake charmer!”

There is commotion below, some upset at having displeased us. Then Chryssa hisses, “Who could think it a good idea to honor the daughter of Cleopatra by coaxing asps from baskets of figs?”

The story the world tells of my mother’s suicide is that she cheated the emperor of his conquest by plunging her hand into a basket where a venomous serpent lay in wait. A legend only, some say, for the serpent was never found. But I was there. I brought her that basket. She was the one bitten but the poison lingers in my blood to this day. I can still remember the scent of figs in my nostrils, lush and sweet. The dark god Anubis was embroidered into the woven reeds of the basket, the weight of death heavy in my arms. I can still see my mother reach her hand into that basket, surrendering her life so that her children might go on without her. And I have gone on without her.

I have survived too much to be terrorized by the emperor’s agents or whoever else is responsible for this.

If it is a message, a warning from my enemies, I have already allowed them too much of a victory by showing any reaction at all. So I adopt as serene a mask as possible. My daughter blinks her big blue eyes, seeing past my facade. “Are you frightened, Mother? They cannot bite us from there. The snakes are very far away.”

I get my legs under me, bitterness on my tongue. “Oh, but they’re never far enough away.”

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Daughters of the Nile cover

Available now in print and e-book!

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Kobo | Powells | IndieBound | Goodreads



Available now in print and e-book!

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Kobo | Powells | IndieBound | Goodreads


Stephanie Dray Headshot

STEPHANIE DRAY is a bestselling, multi-published, award-winning author of historical women’s fiction and fantasy set in the ancient world. Her critically acclaimed historical series about Cleopatra’s daughter has been translated into more than six different languages, was nominated for a RITA Award and won the Golden Leaf. Her focus on Ptolemaic Egypt and Augustan Age Rome has given her a unique perspective on the consequences of Egypt’s ancient clash with Rome, both in terms of the still-extant tensions between East and West as well as the worldwide decline of female-oriented religion. Before she wrote novels, Stephanie was a lawyer, a game designer, and a teacher. Now she uses the transformative power of magic realism to illuminate the stories of women in history and inspire the young women of today. She remains fascinated by all things Roman or Egyptian and has-to the consternation of her devoted husband-collected a house full of cats and ancient artifacts.

13 Reasons to Switch to 13th Age

Curious about the new 13th Age RPG? Here are 13 reasons to switch.

  1. 13th Age was written by Jonathan Tweet (Lead Designer of D&D 3rd Edition) and Rob Heinsoo (Lead Designer of D&D 4th Edition) and combines the best ideas from both games (and avoids the ideas that didn’t work). In some ways, though, it has an “old school” feel (which in particular reminds me of Advanced D&D).
  2. The 13th Age rulebook is all you need to start playing. You don’t have to buy anything else. It’s a player’s handbook, game master’s guide, monster manual, and campaign setting guide all-in-one. If you’re not content with the setting and monsters in the book, the rules give advice for creating your own. Of course, you’ll probably want to pick up 13 True Ways when it comes out, because it looks like it will be brilliant.
  3. Backgrounds flesh out your character in a way skills cannot. Instead of having Open Locks and Hide skills, you might write a background like “Ousted Leader of the Thieves’ Guild of Drakkenhall +5.” Then whenever the GM calls for you to make a skill check, you can add +5 to your roll if you can explain how that background applies to your situation. 
  4. Every PC has One Unique Thing that makes her truly special. Your character might be “the lover of the Elf Queen” or “the tallest halfling in the world” or “a reincarnation of the last Archmage, who is slowly remembering his past.” Whatever you can imagine!
  5. Icons tie characters to the campaign setting and make them important. The Icons are the movers and shakers of the setting — for example, the Archmage or the Emperor or the Lich King — but they have fought to a standstill and need the PCs to break the balance. Every PC has positive, negative, or complicated relationships with these Icons.
  6. Magic items are cool. Every magic item has a personality and desires and is completely unique. No more yawning when the party finds another +1 longsword.
  7. The classes are all different and have cool mechanics that make each one special. Some are pretty simple to play, like the barbarian who basically just hits things for lots of damage, but can rage and do even more damage. Some are really complex, like the wizard, who has all kinds of options like Vancian magic and counterspelling, or the bard, who has Songs with an opening effect, sustained effect, and final verse effect. There’s something for every style of player.
  8. It’s pretty hard to min-max with these rules. Character classes are reasonably balanced. A small set of stacking rules prevent players from piling on unusual combinations to create the ultimate character.
  9. You don’t track XP. Characters improve every game session, gaining one small boost from the next character level. After a 3-4 game sessions, everyone advances to the next level.
  10. The game promotes epic storytelling. GMs make Icon rolls between games to guide the story based on character relationships with the Icons. Characters “fail forward” when they fail skill checks, meaning that you don’t “whiff” so much on bad dice rolls; instead, you get partial success with new consequences that drive the story forward. Players can make Icon rolls when they feel they’re stuck or need help, and those rolls can bring aid from an Icon but can also create new complications.
  11. Combats are fast! The rules really make combat encounters fly. The “Escalation Die” mechanic gives PCs an increasing advantage after the first round. Monsters are designed to be simple for GMs to use. Rules for conditions and saving throws and movement are streamlined and simplified. Movement is gridless and freeform (no measuring or counting squares). As GM, it’s pretty easy to throw together a monster encounter in a few minutes.
  12. Healing only happens if you earn it like heroes. You have to complete four good encounters before you are allowed to use your healing recoveries. It’s usually better to press on and fight more than to run away. If you have to turn tail and escape from an encounter,  you can, but you incur a campaign setback as a result.
  13. The rulebook is dripping with flavor. It is beautifully illustrated by Lee Moyer and Aaron MacConnell and laid-out with love and skill by Chris Huth. It’s a work of art in itself. The text is dotted with personal advice from Tweet and Heinsoo, written in their own voices (and sometimes the two argue a bit in an amusing way). The supplied setting, The Dragon Empire, is a world described in just 15 pages, but they evoke high fantasy in a way that will surprise you in almost every paragraph. The sections that describe the Icons and races capture the quintessence of the generic fantasy world that you’ve played in for years, but have twists and turns that will bring back that sense of wonder you had when you first started playing.

 

 

13th Age Contest

I am sponsoring two contests for the 13th Age RPG. Two winners will receive a copy of the 13th Age rulebook (standard cover). One winner will receive a 13th Age Icon spinner ring. I will judge all entries. All decisions are final.

This contest is not affiliated with Pelgrane Press or with Fire Opal Media. This is just something I’m doing for fun, by myself.

 

AVAILABILITY: This contest is available to everyone but is void where prohibited by law. I will pay Media Mail postage (for the books) or First-Class Mail Letter postage (for the Icon spinner ring) to anywhere in the United States. If you live outside the U.S. and win the contest, you must pay the postage (by sending me the money via PayPal) within a reasonable amount of time, or I will give the prize to the next runner-up.

LICENSING: By entering, you agree that your entry is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. That means that other people can use it freely (under the terms of that license). My hope is that we’ll create a collection of character ideas and completed characters that people can use for their projects, or use to jump into organized play.

ATTRIBUTION: I will probably post all of the entries I receive on this website or on Vault of the 13th Age under the Creative Commons License described above. If you want me to add credit or attribution for your character (for example, “by Adam Dray”), add a line that says “Attribution:” to your entry and specify how you want me and others to attribute your work.

NUMBER OF ENTRIES: Each person may enter both contests. Each person may submit only one entry per contest.

ENTRY: Email your entry to me at 13thagecontest@gmail.com with the name of the contest (“Character Idea” or “Character Stats”) in the subject.

DEADLINE: The contest closes at 11:59 PM Eastern Time on August 31, 2013. Any entries received after that time will be ineligible for a prize.

 

First Contest: Character Idea

Prizes: Two winners will be selected. Each will receive a copy of the 13th Age rulebook (without the autographed bookplate).

Contest: Create a rough sketch for a character, using some of the unique features of the 13th Age game. This shouldn’t require you to own the rules already!

Entry: Email your entry to 13thagecontest@gmail.com with the subject “Character Idea”.

Rules: Your character sketch should have the following elements:

  1. A cool name.
  2. A race and class. The races and classes should be from the list of classes in the 13th Age game (including the 13 True Ways supplement).
  3. Two or three backgrounds. You don’t have to specify any points or numbers here.
  4. One Unique Thing that makes the character really special. This is a short sentence or two.
  5. One or two Icon relationships. Each is designated as positive, negative, or complicated. Describe the nature of each relationship in a short sentence or two.

The standard 13th Age races are human, dwarf, dark elf, high elf, wood elf, gnome, half-elf, half-orc, halfling. There are some optional races, too: dragonic/dragonspawn, holy one/aasimar, forgeborn/dwarf-forged, tiefling/demontouched. It doesn’t matter if you know that half-orcs are a kind of plague, and that half-elves are not born of a human and elven parent. Just make up what you think your character’s race is.

The standard 13th Age classes are barbarian, bard, cleric, fighter, paladin, ranger, rogue, sorcerer, and wizard. 13 True Ways adds the battle captain, chaos shaman, druid, monk, necromancer, and occultist. Since 13 True Ways isn’t out yet, we don’t know much more  than you do what these classes are, so use your imagination!

Backgrounds are 13th Age‘s replacement for skills. Instead of having Pick Pockets and Open Locks and Sneak, you just write “Thief” as a background and whenever you want to do anything a thief can do, you roll your Thief background. “Thief” is a bit boring though. Personally, I’d write “Reknowned Thief of Boldtower” or “Secretly the Elf Queen’s personal cat burglar.” Those are legal backgrounds, and they’re way more interesting than just “Thief.”

Your One Unique Thing is what makes your character really special. Go read some blogs about what you can do with that. So that people can use these character sketches for the “Tales of the 13th Age” organized play games, please avoid Unique Things using the word “only” (and similar). Bad: “The only dwarf in the world.” Good: “The tallest dwarf in the world, at 5’2″.”

Icons are the movers and shakers of the campaign setting. Let’s assume these characters are in the Dragon Empire, the default setting of the 13th Age game. If you haven’t read the rules, you don’t know anything about that setting, and that’s okay. Just glance over this list of Icons. If you really want to make a character from a different setting, that’s okay, but I might not know that setting very well, and you’re at my mercy for judging.

Icon Spinner Ring
Second Contest: Character Stats

Prize: One of those nifty Icon spinner rings (see picture at right).

Contest: Create a fully-statted 2nd level character.

Entry: Email your entry to 13thagecontest@gmail.com with the subject “Character Stats”.

Rules: Write up a complete character using the 13th Age rules. The character should be a legal 2nd level character and follow the 13th Age rules so that it can be played in the “Tales of the 13th Age” organized play games.

You don’t have to use a character sheet, but there are nice ones on the Vault of the 13th Age website. I’m fine with plain text, though. In fact, I may prefer it, because it keeps things easy for me to review. Please compute all to-hit rolls and damage rolls so that any player could pick up this character and start playing with minimal rules reference.

Include your character’s name, stats, feats, talents, powers, spells, backgrounds, Icon relationships, One Unique Thing, and anything else you want to tell me about the character.

Here’s how I might do it (this was a PC I made back in the Escalation Edition days, so the rules might have changed since then):

Rojur Rainblade

Human Fighter 2

Str 18 +4, Con 16 +3, Dex 14 +2, Int 10 +0, Wis 10 +0, Cha 10 +0

Init +5, AC 19, PD 15, MD 12, HP 44, Recovery 8 x 2d10

Melee +6 (2d8+4, 2), Ranged +4 (2d6+2, –)

heavy chain shirt, falchion + long curved knife, light crossbow

Backgrounds

+4 bodyguard and ultimate betrayer of the son of the Emperor

+4  master of disguises

One Unique Thing

The Emperor’s son’s betrothed (a princess from the Elven Court) is in love with me, not him.

Icon Relationships

Emperor (complicated) 2

Elf Queen (positive) 1

Quick to Fight

(Human) At the start of each battle, roll initiative twice and choose the result you want.

Extra Tough

You start with nine recoveries instead of the usual eight.

Threatening

Whenever an enemy tries to disengage from you, it takes a penalty to its check equal to your Dexterity or Constitution modifier, whichever is higher.

The penalty doesn’t apply if you are stunned, grabbed, or otherwise incapable of making an opportunity attack.

Two-Weapon Slasher

When wielding melee two weapons, deal twice your normal miss damage on a miss.

Talent: Comeback Strike

Once per battle as a free action, make another attack with a –2 penalty after your first fighter attack during your turn misses.

Adventurer Feat: You no longer take the –2 penalty to your Comeback Strike attacks.

Talent: Tough as Iron

Once per battle, you can rally using a quick action instead of a standard action.

Talent: Counter-Attack

Once per round when the escalation die is even and an enemy misses you with a natural odd melee attack roll, you can make a basic melee attack dealing half damage against that enemy as a free action. (The attack can’t use any limited abilities or flexible attack maneuvers.)

Two-Weapon Pressure

Flexible melee attack

Special: You must be using a weapon in each hand.

Triggering Roll: Any miss

Effect: Until the end of your next turn, you gain a +2 melee attack bonus against the target.

Carve an Opening

Flexible melee attack

Triggering Roll: Any natural odd roll

Effect: Your crit range with melee attacks expands by a cumulative +1 this battle until you score a melee critical hit. When you score a melee critical hit, your crit range drops back to normal.

Precision Attack

Flexible melee attack

Triggering Roll: Any hit with a natural 16+

Effect: You gain a bonus to the damage roll equal to your Dexterity modifier (+2).

Deadly Assault

Flexible melee or ranged attack

Triggering Roll: Any natural even hit

Effect: Reroll any 1s from your damage roll. You’re stuck with the rerolls.

Adventurer Feat: Now you can reroll both 1s and 2s.

Verge: Reincarnated

Let’s pretend this is the reincarnation of Verge, my languishing cyberpunk game. I had to get this down tonight before I forgot it. I still have some stuff to add to the basic structure, like specific setting creation rules using my network map ideas from the old game and some strong Situation-generating rules. Structurally, this game doesn’t resemble the old game at all, but I’m fine with that. This is just a bare-bones capture of a new cyberpunk game I’ve been rolling around in my brain.

 

Setting

Dark future, cyberpunk. It’s an urban environment. You’re in Median, a supercity of five million people in Midwest America somewhere. Everything is owned by corporations except the Rubble. The Rubble is the crumbling ring of abandoned city around the Core, disintegrating after war and food riots and disease shook Median.

Rubble people are zeros. Core people are ones. You’re rubble.

If you don’t need more information than that, skip down to Characters.

Inside the Core, everything is clean and shiny. Nothing is broken. Invisible nanobots see to it. Traffic moves effortlessly without the need for stoplights, thanks to robotic cars. People dress in the latest fashions and eat at posh restaurants. They live in luxury apartments in the city or take the levrail out to their clustervillage home in the Green.

Or at least that’s the myth. Inside the Core, people are carefully divided into three strata: labor, skill, and money. If they’re labor, they work a crap job that anyone can do with a couple days of training. If they’re skill, they’ve dedicated their entire life to learning something so that they won’t end up in the labor pool. If they’re money, they managed to get out of their skilled job and work occasionally, when they need to, doing something reasonably pleasant. Maybe they make high risk stock trades. Maybe they produced a bunch of really popular vids and live off the royalties. Maybe they’re a scientist who consults for the big pharmas now and then. You’re not Core, so it doesn’t matter.

Maybe you used to be Core but fell. Lots of people fall for all sorts of reasons. Hiding from someone–the law, a loan shark, a vindictive girlfriend, an unforgiving corp, the military. Maybe hiding from yourself. Maybe you can’t pay your bills and got kicked out onto the streets in the Core, which doesn’t tolerate vagrants and homeless, so the bots swept you gracelessly into the Rubble. Or maybe you were born in the Rubble and will probably die in the Rubble.

Why don’t people move out of the crappy part of the city? Well, there’s nowhere for them to go. Zeros aren’t allowed into the Core. You need proper id to do anything there, including enter it. Sure, there are ways in, but it’s dangerous. Lawbreakers end up as labor slaves, or mind drones hooked to trodes to amp up the city’s brainframe computing power.

Rubble folks can’t just move out into the Green, either. For hundreds of miles around the city proper, the Green is a carefully controlled environment consisting of farms, forests, ponds, burbs, and wealthy estates. It’s patrolled by flying drones and robotic crawlers. If you don’t belong there, you won’t last long out there. Sure, way out beyond the Green is the Wild, untamed wilderness between the cities. The railtubes between cities are safe, but the rest? Full of disease, wild animals, outlaws, mutants, runaway military robots, and other great reasons to take your chances in the Rubble.

Characters

Everyone come up with the barest outline of an idea for a character, informed by the setting stuff. You’re Rubble now, remember, but maybe you fell from the Core.

Don’t bother writing it down; just think about it a minute or two. The important parts are:

  1. Name. You need some kind of name for other people to call you. It might be just a first name or just a last name, for now. It might be a handle. Examples: Leigh Sun Kang, John, Svetlana, Case, Rodriguez, Butler, Toons, R3d, Juice.
  2. Skill. What job or package describes what you do best? Pick one. Examples: hacker, muscle, soldier, broker, dealer, cop, teacher. 

    Put three empty checkboxes to the left of that skill. 

    For example: [ ] [ ] [ ] hacker

  3. Damage. Start thinking about what issues you’re facing, but don’t solidify anything yet. These issues make it hard for you to use your skill. Examples: a hacker who has a drug addiction, a soldier who doesn’t want to kill anymore, a cop who is under the thumb of a Chinese ganglord, a broker who is a pathological liar, a broker whose daughter was kidnapped. More on Damage later.

     

    Damage probably falls into one of these categories: doubt, hesitation, outside pressure, fatal flaw, dependency, debt, embarrassing desire, obsession. For example, don’t write down “dependency” but interpret it and write down “drug addiction” or something along those lines.

     

    Put two empty checkboxes to the left of that damage. 

    Put a score of “1″ to the right of the damage, too. That’ll make sense later.

    For example: [ ] [ ] drug addiction 1

So you wrote down your Name and Skill to start with. These things have checkboxes and your damage has a score of 1.

Tell everyone else at the table. They should track your character the same way they track yours, so they know what matters to you. Keep tracking everyone’s characters throughout the game–you should always have a complete character sheet for everyone else. Don’t worry, there’s not much information on a character sheet.

Game Master

Okay, so pick the player who created the most adversarial character. She’s the GM and her character just became an NPC.

The GM’s job is to frame scenes for other players. Be aggressive. If a character is killed or removed from play, that character’s player takes your place as GM and you get to make a new character and be a player, if you want.

Play Sequence

Okay, so you have characters. The GM takes turns pushing your characters into trouble, maybe one at a time, maybe as a big group, maybe in pairs or triplets–doesn’t matter. The players respond with what they’re doing. Whatever people are saying happens, happens… until it doesn’t, anyway. When any participant thinks that something doesn’t just happen that way, reach for the dice. Use the conflict resolution system to find out what happens. The thing you’re resolving is pretty coarse-grained. 

What characters can do

So here’s the thing. If you wrote down “hacker” as a skill, then you’re a hacker. Let’s not mess around here. Being a hacker means that you are a really awesome hacker. I mean, your character sheet at first has nothing but your goddamned name and a single skill on it, so you better be really good at that skill, right?

There never should be a question about whether a character can do the thing she’s skilled at doing, as long as the table generally feels that the thing could be done by an expert. Hack into the most guarded AI in the world? Yeah, you can do that. Just like that. No roll required.

The catch: once per session, you have to establish the skill. That means using it two different scenes before using it in a way that really matters. Check a box next to that skill each time you introduce it. Check the third box when you’ve used it up and can’t use it anymore in this session (burned it).

The first time, you can just mention it in a scene. You know, talk about how you’re flipping through virtual data screens, searching for information, casually subverting city security to find pictures of that hot dude you saw at the minimart. That’s one mention. Then in a later scene, maybe not even your own, you bring up how you get a paycheck for a hacking job you did. It’s a big check and you spend it on upgrades to your computer hardware. That’s two mentions. Now your skill is established. Everyone at the table gets it, right? You’re a hacker. Now that it’s established, the next time the GM throws a problem at you, and you say you solve it with hacking, the people at the table with you are nodding at you. You hack the problem away, just like that. Once per session. That’s called burning your skill.

What characters can’t do

Here’s where things go south. The character is damaged. You can’t use a skill more than once in a session. Certainly, since you have only one skill at start, you’re not likely to have a lot of options.

Imagine that you respond to some problem the GM tossed at your character. The GM says, “No, you can’t just do that. What skill are you using?” You pick “hacking.” Unfortunately, you already used hacking this way in this session, so everyone at the table shakes their head. You’re damaged, so you only get to use that skill once that way.

Damage

That’s okay, now the scene isn’t about your hacking. It’s about your damage. You’re not just a hacker; you’re a hacker with a drug addiction. Instead of the scene being about whether you’re a good enough hacker, we’ll just assume you are, but the real problem is that you’re a drug addict, and that throws your success here into question.

Now you describe your problem. Here’s the bad news: you need to establish your damage, too. Twice, just like anything else. Check a damage box every time you take a scene to establish your damage. Two checked boxes means the damage is established (ready to be used to solve problems).

Everyone at the table has to understand your problem. If you haven’t had enough scenes to establish your damage and you’ve already burned your skill, then you’re gonna fail. Failure is fun and kind of awesome, so don’t sweat it. Failure sets up serious story issues for your character to overcome later on. You were about to hack into New Virtual Bank and the pressure really started getting to you, and that made you want some e++, your drug of choice, and you started sweating and jonesing for a fix, and you flubbed the whole job.

But if you’ve established your damage in two scenes, describe how your success or failure here is really all about this damage, and then make a dice roll. If you succeed, you overcome your damage long enough to deal with the problem in front of you. If you fail, your damage overcomes you, and you fail at your task; also, you increase your damage score by one.

The number doesn’t really change how useful your damage is to you. After all, it’s damage, not skill. The number really indicates how deeply entrenched this damage is–how hard it is for you to cure yourself of its effects. Hacker with drug addiction 6? Not likely to kick the habit any time soon. Hacker with drug addiction 1? There’s a chance you could kick the habit now.

Damage Dice

The dice in this game are extremely simple. First of all, you need a handful of standard six-sided dice. Half a dozen should do.

Pick up one die for your skill. Pick up another die for your damage. Roll them. Did you get any 1′s? If so, you succeed. If not, you fail (and damage increases).

Getting rid of damage

Any time you want, a scene can become about getting rid of your damage as long as it isn’t about something else. It’s a special roll that has the potential to completely eliminate your damage, but in all likelihood will remove only a small portion (16%) of your damage. It’ll be hard to rid yourself of a problem completely.

Pick up a handful of dice–a number equal to your damage score–and roll them. Reduce your damage score by the number of 1′s you rolled. If you manage to roll all 1′s (it could happen…) then you’re allowed to eliminate your damage completely. You can remove it from your character.

(You might want to make sure you replace it with new damage soon, else you won’t have a way to solve problems. Characters in this game are powered on brokenness!)

If you want, leave your damage score at 0 and don’t remove the damage from your character completely. That’s up to you. Your score can’t go below 0, but you can still use your damage to solve problems.

Always, always, always take the time to describe how you overcome your damage, whether you reduce its power over you or get free of it.

Forcing damage

The GM can do something called forcing damage. That’s when she basically tells you that you’re having a problem that’s about your damage. Your hacker needs a fix now and can’t really function without it. Your teacher, faced with the sounds of your crying daughter on the phone, cannot maintain her tough composure in front of the kidnappers.

You can go along with it. If you do, you can reduce your damage by 1 point. If that reduces you to 0, feel free to remove the damage from your character at the end of the scene, if you like.

You can fight it. If you do, roll a number of dice equal to your damage score. If you get any 1′s, you fail to overcome your damage and you’re forced to do whatever the GM said were the consequences.

New damage

At any time, you can write a new damage description on your sheet with three empty boxes next to it and a score of 1. However, you still have to establish it in two scenes before you can use it to solve problems.

Don’t create too many damage issues for your character. Use your judgment. Let the new types of damage flow freely out of the story you’re telling. Don’t strain credibility with weird psychological quirks out of nowhere.

Death and getting lost

It’s really hard to die in this game. The only way you can die is if you create a “dying” damage track and its score reaches 6. I mean, other  than just saying that you want your character to die (that’s always an option).

Otherwise, you can become so damaged that you can’t be saved. Any time the sum of your damage scores totals 12 or more, your character becomes lost. Narrate how you lose your character and how she fades, pitifully, out of this story. Does she die of an e++ overdose? Does she get kidnapped by a cult and ultimately convert? You decide, but that character isn’t playable anymore.

If you want to keep playing your character, make sure you reduce your damage enough so that your total damage never reaches 12.

Or lose the character and make a new one. Only takes a minute: remember, all you need is a name, a skill, and damage.

Convention Round-up

I’ve been rather busy with my day job so I haven’t had a lot of time and energy for gaming. However, things will slow down for me in May. Several conventions dot my radar. 

1d4con is a brand new convention in Winchester, Virginia, starting April 26. I’ll be running two slots of 13th Age and one slot of my Indie by Storm demos.

Camp Nerdly is in its sixth run now. Held in Prince Williams Forest Park just south of DC, we sleep on cots in rustic cabins, share cooking and cleaning duties, and play games in the giant mess hall in the woods. I’ll be running one slot of 13th Age there and who knows what else.

FiranCon is a private convention over Memorial Day weekend for members of the online community I founded with my wife. We’ll get together for a weekend and hang out, chat about FiranMUX, party till the wee hours of the night, and play some games. I’m running 13th Age, Dogs in the Vineyard, 3:16, and Monsterhearts there. I’ll play a lot of board games, probably, too.

I had planned on hosting a gameapalooza at my house on March 31 while my wife was doing her author thing at Conbust, but I forgot that was Easter weekend. Maybe some other weekend.

13th Age: Rituals, part 2

As promised, here’s part 2 of my expanded Rituals for 13th Age. You can read part 1 here.

 

“Things get interesting”

What does it mean when a ritual caster fails his roll and “things get interesting”? The rules say that the ritual still succeeds. I prefer to make it the caster’s choice. Offer them a consequence or nasty side-effect, and ask them if they accept the consequence or let the ritual fail.

It’s still left entirely to the GM to figure out what complications to inflict on a failed ritual skill check. Here is a table to spark your creativity. Either roll on it or pick a result you like.

  1. The effect is just slightly less than expected. If you wanted to heal 10 people, you only heal 9. If you wanted to fill a room with water, there’s a 1″ gap of air at the top.
  2. The effect is just slightly more than expected, but in an inconvenient way. If you wanted to shine light on the room, it’s a bit too bright to see well (-1 to attacks). If you wanted to heal the entire party, you also just gave the monsters some temporary hit points.
  3. Stunned. There’s a magical blowback and you are stunned for as long as it took to cast the ritual.
  4. Drained. The ritual drains 1-4 of your recoveries.
  5. Unwanted attention. The casting summons some magical spirits or monsters, who are angry about the magic. If you used a ritual circle, feel free to make the monster really outrageously powerful but trapped in the circle (for now, and not leaving any time soon).
  6. High material cost. The ritual steals more material ingredients than it was supposed to. If you used an item that wasn’t supposed to go away, it goes away. Maybe the ritual “sacrifices” other non-magical items on your inventory or your friend’s.
  7. High spell cost. The spell you chose to expend for the ritual isn’t accepted by the spirits. They demand a better one…
  8. Jealous magic items. Your magic items (or a friend’s) refuse to work until appeased. They are jealous of the powerful ritual.
  9. Time shift. Everyone within earshot of the ritual is transported instantaneously 2d6 hours into the future, just skipping the time in between.
  10. Interest of an Icon. Your ritual attracted the attention of an icon. Roll the icon die to find out which one. The icon sends an agent to investigate, or comes to see herself.
  11. Teleport. The party is magically transported somewhere interesting: a dungeon, a tower, a court room, etc.
  12. Discovery! It seems the caster has discovered something important. She can cast rituals like this one at a +10 skill check from now on.

I’d love to hear your ideas to expand this table!

Magic circles

The tables in the last article mention using magical circles to gain a bonus on ritual checks. My thought was that merely scratching out a 10-foot circle with sigils is enough to create a “poor” circle and get the +2 bonus but if anything goes wrong during the casting and the circle is broken, “things get interesting” really fast.

To earn the “fair” rating, one must spend some time and materials on the circle. Drawing the circle and sigils with specially-prepared sand or the like qualifies.

Permanent circles are those that are carved into the surface with great care. These cost at least 1000 gold pieces, for the “good” rating. The “excellent” rating costs at least 5000 gold pieces and requires a carved circle and sigils inlaid with precious metals in just the right type of stone.

One need not create a circle in the floor. Many ritual casters choose to create their casting circles on walls or even the ceiling.

Ritual Holy Relic

This item is usable only by people with a positive relationship to the Priestess. For such bearers, the relic confers a +2 check to all ritual spell checks. The item has no effect for anyone else.

This magic item contains the spirit of an old saint, who was a powerful ritual caster herself. Once per month the item’s wearer can summon a magical casting circle on any nearby surface. The circle counts as “good” for the +10 bonus to the ritual check.

Quirk: The caster second-guesses every use of her divine magic, wondering if she’s doing the right thing.

Teamwork

The 13th Age rules don’t really offer good rules for assisting one another with skill checks, so there isn’t a great way for ritual casters to get help. Because my vision of complicated rituals involves teams of people joining hands in a circle, I’m offering this variant rule.

A ritual caster can enlist the aid of as many people as she wishes. Each additional person increases the DC of the ritual by +1, because too many cooks can spoil the broth. However, those helpers each get to make their own skill checks, and each successful skill check gives the ritual caster a bonus to her own roll equal to twice the helper’s level.

Set the DC for the helpers in a special way. The helpers roll before the ritual caster. The first helper must make a DC 11 check. Each helper after the first must roll equal to or great than the last modified die roll that succeeded.

 

More Examples

Sibella feeds a village

Sibella (wizard 2) wants to feed an entire village of 100 willing people (for a day). She uses the special silver holy water bowl in the temple as her vessel, and takes advantage of the permanent casting circle carved on the dais. She uses heal as her spell base, which is loosely suited to the work. She pours out the holy water into the grooves of the casting circle and asks for the blessings of the gods to feed her people.

Difficulty check: 25 = base 10, effect +10 (eyebrow-raising), duration +5 (one day), range +0 (nearby, can’t touch all this food), barriers +0 (none)

Skill check bonus: +18 = spell suitability +2 (loosely suited), material components +1 (silver holy water bowl, untouched by casting), casting circle +10 (“good” circle), ritual acts +5 (holy water in circle)

Sibella doesn’t have a particularly well-suited background to use, but she has her Wisdom 14 (+2) and adds her level (+2), so a total of +22 to her roll. A 3 or better will make sure the ritual succeeds.

Now, if she didn’t have the casting circle at the temple, she’d only have a +12 bonus to her check, so she’d need to roll 13 or better so succeed. In that case, she might have asked her fellow party members to join hands around the silver bowl and pray with her.

The first helper rolls and gets a 12 (needed 11+) and adds his level (+2). The second helper rolls 5 (needed 12+) and doesn’t help. The third helper rolls 15 (needed 12+) and adds his level (+2). The fighter roll 13 (needed 15+) and doesn’t help. Last, a temple priest tries to help; he rolls an 18 (needed 15+) and adds his level (+1). This nets a bonus of +5 to the caster’s skill check.

Andricon shields the party from scrying

Andricon was a powerful wizard played by my friend Jesse in one of my D&D 3E campaigns. I think he was 11th level when we stopped. In this example, I’m reimagining Andricon as a 7th level wizard in 13th Age.

Andricon and his allies are trying to take down an evil king. The king has great resources, including powerful mages who can use scrying to locate enemies. Andricon decides to develop a powerful ritual that can make him and his friends immune to magical detection.


Difficulty Check: DC 45 = effect +10 (eyebrow-raising magical stuff), duration +20 (for a year), target +5 (targeting another spell), target +10 (affects allies present at casting time, if they stay within a mile of Andricon)

That’s a pretty high number. Andricon will add +7 for level, +4 for Intelligence 18, and +5 for a background (“star pupil of the Arcane Academy”), for a total of +16. That still leaves a 27 point gap, unreachable with any d20 roll. To have a 50/50 shot at success, Jesse needs to come up with +17 points of bonuses.

  • First, he requires that each of his friends give him some of their blood. They cut their hands and bleed into a bowl. As GM, I rule that this doesn’t really help for the “target” bonus; it’s other people, not his friends, that this spell is affecting.
  • He picks the 7th level scrying utility spell as his base. That’s a really good fit.
  • He sacrifices a crystal ball of his own. This is an uncommon item (it could be rare, but let’s say it isn’t so rare in this campaign). He smashes the crystal ball with a hammer, crushing it into dust, then mixes the blood and crystal dust together. 
  • He can’t afford the risk of a permanent casting circle. That alone could end up attracting some attention, despite his anti-scrying spell! Instead, he draws one out with wax on his apartment floor. It qualifies as “fair.”
  • He spends an entire week in meditation and study. That’s similar to the “fasting” ritual act.

Skill check bonus: +24 = +0 target (blood doesn’t help), +5 base spell (well suited), +7 material components (destroys uncommon item), +6 casting circle (good), ritual act +6 (week of meditation).

Andricon will roll d20 + 16 + 24 (that’s d20 + 40) vs DC 45. He needs a 5 or better, which should be an easy roll, but things sometimes do go south…

 

13th Age: Rituals

 

Today’s blog is about rituals in the 13th Age RPG.

 

13th Age on Rituals

The rules’ glossary defines rituals thus: “The ability for a practiced ritualist to use magic in a free-form way, if given time to concentrate and improvise.” A ritualist is someone who has the Ritual Casting feat, open to anyone, but useful only to a character who has spells.

Adventurer Feat: You can cast any spells you know as rituals.

Clerics and wizards get Ritual Magic as class features. Wizards with the High Arcana talent also have access to this: 

Champion Feat: You can cast full rituals by using all your actions each round to focus on the ritual for 1d3 + 1 rounds. As with standard rituals, your fast rituals are not meant to replace combat spells; they’re a means of acquiring and improvising wondrous magical effects rather than a means of inflicting damage and conditions.

The Rituals section in the Running the Game chapter details how rituals work. It’s a cross between a set of complex recipes (“cooking a five-course meal”) and a combination of coordination and stagecraft (“staging a puppet show”). The ritual requires preparation, even if quick-cast. One needs special ingredients that could spawn a side quest to obtain. The casting takes time: at least a few minutes but possibly a few hours–unless you have that Champion-tier feat that lets you cast a ritual in 2-4 rounds. The ritual consumes an actual spell. The examples suggest that the spell should be appropriate for the ritual work, but the rules don’t seem to require that. Last, rituals are hard; the caster has to succeed at a skill check (using the standard difficulty numbers), but “failure means life gets interesting” with unwanted side-effects and the ritual still succeeds.

The rules offer this alluring suggestion about how the rules of magic work:

Performing a magic ritual once actually makes it less likely that the same caster can perform the same ritual for the same effect again, because the world builds resistance to being broken.

Rituals are scattered throughout the game text. The equipment section mentions pouches for ritual components and weapons used as ritual implements. Rituals are offered as a possible explanation for a character’s power advancements as they level up. Stone golems are created by rituals. Trolls use ”ancient rituals in a forgotten tongue to mark their biographical and mythic milestones.” Some living dungeons can only be slain by rituals whose clues lie scattered about their passages. Rituals of friendship carve homes in the shells of the Koru Behemoths. The Cathedral invites heroes to participate in their rituals in order to heighten the effects of the magic.

Ritual sacrifice of living creatures is mentioned several times. The key example given under “Secret Information” in the Improvisational Techniques section discusses one of Rob’s games in which a half-orc fighter sacrificed a gnome bard (his fellow party member) on an altar in order to redeem the Diabolist (an evil-leaning Icon). 

 

Rituals, Expanded

So that’s what the rules have to say about rituals. It’s quite a bit! However, it leaves me wanting more. As a GM, I have many questions about how to adjudicate ritual use in my games.

  • What are the limits of a ritual?
  • How do I determine a fair difficulty check (DC) for any given ritual effect?
  • How do spells interplay with rituals? Does it matter what spell a character uses?
  • How should I handle the “ingredients” requirement? Is it possible to cast a ritual without them?
  • Why bother with the sacrifices? When are they required? What does that do for the caster?

I’ve thought about this a fair amount. What follows is a variant rule system for 13th Age ritual casting. It builds on the existing system so it should not disrupt an existing campaign, but add flavor to it.

Let’s start by recapping the existing procedure for ritual casting: 

  1. Describe to the GM the effect you want.
  2. Pick a spell you’ll consume in the process. It should have something to do with the effect.
  3. The GM sets the DC (usually a standard number based on the Tier of the effect) and explains ingredients you’ll need.
  4. Go on a side adventure to gather the ritual ingredients.
  5. Spend some time casting the ritual.
  6. Make a skill check vs. the DC. Use a relevant background and ability (probably INT). Failure means “things get interesting.”

Here’s the guts of the variant system:

  1. Describe to the GM the effect you want.
  2. GM sets DC based on the tables below. It’s abnormally high. 
  3. Add components to gain bonuses to the skill check. See the tables below.
  4. Pick a spell to consume. Doesn’t have to be relevant to the effect, but a well-suited spell earns a bonus to the skill check.
  5. Spend some time casting the ritual. The more time, the bigger bonus to the ritual. Sorry, quick ritual casters.
  6. Make a skill check vs. the DC. Use a relevant background and ability (probably INT). Failure means “things get interesting.”

The main difference is that the GM sets the DC based on circumstances (with tables to help) and the caster gains bonuses for additional preparation (with tables to help). Also, the GM tells the caster what the DC is immediately, so the player can take measures to earn bonuses sufficient to succeed at the roll.

The rest of this post consists of two sets of tables (one for setting DC, one for earning skill check bonuses) and then some examples of the system in action.

Ritual Difficulty Modifiers

All rituals start at a DC of 10. Modify using the tables below.

Effect

Pick one:

 -5  so mundane it could just be a coincidence and not
     magic at all
 +0  reproducing stuff you could have easily done without
     a spell
 +5  reproducing stuff you could have done without a spell
     and a few hours of work
 +10 eyebrow-raising magical stuff
 +15 jaw-dropping magical stuff
 +25 epic magical effects

Duration

Only one of these applies. Choose the most favorable, except in combat.

 -5  extremely brief
 +0  in combat, 1 round +3/round after the first
 +0  out of combat, for an hour or so
 +1  for a couple hours
 +5  for a day
 +10 for a month
 +15 for a season
 +20 for a year
 +20 for a lifetime (caster's)
 +30 for a lifetime (target's)

Target

All of these apply:

 +1  per sentient creature affected, unless willing
 +1  per every five non-sentient creatures affected
 +5  if it's countering another spell
 +5  additional if it's countering a very old spell

Range

Only one of these applies:

 -5  affects something you touch
 +0  affects something nearby
 +5  affects something far away (within bow shot)
 +10 affects something quite far away (within a mile)
 +15 more than a mile away, less than ten miles
 +20 10-25 miles away (about a day's travel...
     add +10 for each additional day's travel distance)

Barriers

All of these apply. Double or triple if the barrier is extra thick.

 +0  no barrier, line of sight
 +5  no line of sight
 +5  stone
 +10 metal
 +10 magical barrier

Ritual Skill Check Bonuses

Target

Only one of these applies:

 +0  an object you can see or touch
 +1  someone you know
 +5  someone you know very well
 +2  if you have one of their hairs or personal items
 +5  if you have a treasured possession
 +10 if you have some of their blood

Spell Consumed by the Ritual

Only one of these applies:

 +0  the spell isn't really suited to this job
 +2  the spell is loosely suited to this job
 +5  the spell is perfectly suited to this job

Material Components

Only one of these applies. Assume the item is suited to the task:

 +0  a common item, untouched by the casting
 +1  a common item, diminished by the casting

 +1  an uncommon item, untouched by the casting
 +3  an uncommon item, diminished by the casting
 +7  an uncommon item, destroyed by the casting 

 +5  a rare item, untouched by the casting
 +10 a rare item, diminished by the casting
 +20 a rare item, destroyed by the casting

Casting Circles

Only one of these applies:

 +0  no casting circle at all
 +2  poor, small, temporarily layed out
 +6  fair, large, temporarily layed out
 +10 good, large, permanently carved in stone
 +20 excellent, large, permanently carved in stone
     with precious metals

Ritual Acts

Only one of these applies:

 +0  no ritual act
 +1  simple ritual: lighting one candle, saying blessing...
 +4  keeping candles lit around a casting circle
 +5  receiving the spirits' permission for the casting
 +5  filling a carved-channel casting circle with holy
     water, special sand, blood, etc.
 +6  fasting the day before the ritual
 +10 performing the ritual on an auspicious day: a holiday,
     an uncommon astrological event, after a divine sign...
 +15 performing the ritual on the perfect day (a once-in-a-
     lifetime astrological event, etc.)

Special Knowledge

Only one of these applies. Assume the knowledge is gained during a quest:

 +0  no special knowledge
 +10 elder arcane formula
 +10 a true name (very powerful, and reusable!)

Example 1: Feeding the party

Sibella, a 2nd level human wizard, wants to create a magical dinner that sates the adventuring party (five people) for a few hours.

Start at DC 10 and add modifiers.

+5  reproducing stuff you could have done without a spell and a few hours of work
+1  for a couple hours
+5  [+1 per sentient creature affected, unless they're willing]
-5  affects something you touch
+0  no barrier, line of sight

+6 TOTAL

The DC is 16.

 

Now compute the skill check modifier for the ritual.

The caster creates the food on top of a big, flat rock that the caster is touching.

+0 an object you can see or touch
+0  no casting circle at all

She expends a Utility Spell.

+0 the spell isn’t really suited to this job

She uses a bit of iron rations from her pack.

+2  a common item, destroyed by the casting

She says a common dinner blessing.

+1  simple ritual: lighting one candle, saying blessing, etc.

The wizard gains a +3 bonus to her skill check. 

 

Sibella has a background, “Raised in the alleys of Tenrook +4,” and explains that she learned how to turn a few scraps of food into a meal with a ritual that kept her from starving when she was homeless. The GM feels this is more of a Wisdom check than Intelligence. The player rolls d20 and adds 1 (Wisdom bonus) + 4 (background) + 2 (level) + 3 (ritual bonus), or d20+10 vs DC 16. She has a good shot of pulling this off without complications. If “things get interesting,” the GM might say that the food is nutritious, but it tastes terrible, or that it gives everyone gas, or that the smell attracts owlbears.

If Sibella is going to cast this ritual more often, she should consider buying a silver bowl and inscribing it with runes. That should qualify as an uncommon item (that is untouched by the ritual), for an additional +1.

 

Continued in Rituals, part 2

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Difinia update

In what might be my last weekend off for a few months (complicated software implementations at work), I spent some time working on Difinia.

In terms of look-and-feel, I created a banner image (shown on this page), changed the fonts and line spacing, and moved the interesting content to the front page and put the index on the wiki entry page.

There’s new content, too.

I’ve got a lot to do yet, but it’s moving in the right direction.

Difinia – the new setting

I’ve begun work on Difinia, the new setting I talked about in my last post. I started a site for it on Obsidian Portal and I’ve developed my map some more. Here’s the map, and then some discussion about my work.

Names

Coming up with a couple dozen names is hard. Bad names can ruin a setting. You have to avoid names that sound silly, can be mocked easily, or have real-world meanings. Imagine if I named my chief city “Ballsak” or “Londin.” For this project, I came up with 26 names to start (one for each letter of the alphabet) and then assigned them to places on the map.

A handful of my names have Latin sounds: Aurius, Sentium, Gantus, Bisannia. Some sound Greek: Haxiane, Noros, Enmos, Ulyos, Umuzos. A couple have a Nordic feel: Udra, Olnir. Some, Slavic: Chevna, Spezna. The country Wujjai is intended to suggest a Chinese sound. Onamai suggest Japanese. Fianha, the elven lands, has a Gaelic sound. A bunch of places have typical mish-mash fantasy names: Turic, Tesik, Darvaen, Aridhon. As I lay down the labels on the map, I imagined older empires that could have lent their languages to areas, even if the countries are independent now–though maybe some are part of larger empires.

Countries

I dropped cities on the map. I used three dot sizes to represent major cities, minor cities, and important towns. Most of these are on the coasts, as power trades along the seas in Difinia. At my wife’s insistence, I added a canal in Aridhon. She said, if she were a leader, she’d solve this pesky sea problem with a bunch of slave labor and some shovels. Well, she said something like that.

Aridhon is shaping up to be the power player in Difinia. With a central location and a canal joining one sea to the next, it has two major cities along the main shipping route between the east and west. I envision Aridhon as an Empire like Rome, conquering the nearby states and adding them to its portfolio. Iveria, Gantus, Sentium, Aurius, Seeran, and Ruania are satellite kingdoms.

Evinor and Thunis are players, too. Ulyos controls a lot of sea traffic that comes south instead of through the Dhoni Canal, so it has some power (but is also ripe for picking by one of the larger powers).

Bisannia is a large country with a lot of resources, and I envision it as a loose confederation of warring feudal city-states, but not a lot of interest in foreign affairs. Haxiane to the east is large and prosperous, but they are cut off by the mountains and tend to be insular and quiet. Wujjai doesn’t have a lot of large population centers, but it does have a populous country and a history of biting hard if threatened Onamai on the large lake in the southern desert is full of warring nomads, and their cities are mostly places they get together to trade, not true civic centers in the classical sense.

Travel

I think most travel in Difinia is by sea or land. There aren’t a lot of magical options open to the common person. They’ve invented magical flying ships, but binding a hundred air elementals is hard and expensive and prone to problems. The richest states might support a few teleportation gates capable of sending someone instantly between two fixed points. Easy teleportation to any known destination doesn’t exist.

Climate

The top of the map is glacier-cold. The bottom of the map is desert-hot. That leaves a lot of room in between and suggests that Difinia is really big. However, remember that it’s on a small moon, so the world just isn’t that big. I suspect that the map depicts about half of the world, and that the rest of the world is ocean. Of course the east side of the map doesn’t show any ocean, so that suggests there’s some unexplored area over there. “Here be monsters.”

 

The world is coming together. Tell me what you think!