Tales from Mu: Isle of the Throneless King — page 1

Hey there! As a sort of combination adventure/world primer, I’ve been working on a side project for the site – Tales from Mu! A series of comics to help everyone understand how the world works, get adventure ideas, and even get across some of the mechanics. The first installment is titled the Isle of the Throneless King, and I’ll be putting up new pages for the next few days to get the introduction out of the way, and will then be switching over to a more paced schedule of Monday and Wednesday afterwards. I’ll also have a better set up for the comics here soon, so stay tuned! But for now, enjoy!

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The GearStream! …well, not just yet.

Hey everyone! Nick here again. So Wednesdays are going to switch over to the GearStream for some chat on games, game design, and chill time running through some of my favorites as well as test sessions of Mu and anything else that might be in the pipe!

But my equipment isn’t quite up to the task this week, so come back next week for the official launch of the GearStream! Wednesdays at 9pm PST.

We’re Back with Tradewind!

Returning from a rather unfortunate and unforeseen absence, we’re back with some background to the central city of Mu! This update comes to you from our lead world historian, Ian Auger.

Hi, my name is Ian, and I’m the Senior World Engineer/Contracted Word Monkey here at Gearheart Games. Nick asked me to put together some blog posts on the world of Mu: Age of Adventure to introduce you all to the game’s world. Without further ado, allow me to present the centerpiece of the setting: the city of Tradewind.

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Eighty years ago, four ships sailed into the harbor of Dellaporta.  The banners flying on the tall masts both raised a celebration and sent riders from the gates of the city — the Ninette Expedition had returned.  Named after the Mim explorer leading the small fleet, the expedition was a joint venture between the kings of Frimble and Lichlen, seeking a second route into the heart of the southern continent.  The city-states of the Pelakos League had long controlled the overland routes from the southern shore of the Sea of Voyage into the heart of the continent and therefore had a monopoly on the lucrative trade in spices and silken fabrics flowing out of it.  Ancient records mentioned passages through the mountains lining the continent’s western edge, however, and armed with records dating back to the Empire, Ninette had ventured forth in search of a route that would bypass the League’s hold on the inside of the continent.

On her return, however, she brought back more than just a map laying out a new trade route.  The expedition had taken rock samples as they made their way across the newly named Ninevene Mountains, and assays taken on the voyage home revealed that they held traces of iron, copper, and more importantly, gold.  Riches lay along the route to the Great Swamp as well as in it, enough to radically change the balance of power along the shores of the Sea of Voyages, and the two kings deliberated over what to do with the bounty they’d been handed.  Between them, they could exploit the treasures they’d found, but holding them for long would be difficult, especially should the League unite or possibly even ally with one of their neighbors to dislodge them.

Inviting leaders of the other nations formed out of the fall of the Pelagian Empire, they instead proposed a compact — extracting the wealth would take people, equipment, and money, and all those who contributed could share in the rewards.  In order to ensure equitable distribution, goods flowing from the south would come through one port, a city governed by the signers of the compact. The signing of what would come to be known as the Tradewind Accords by Lichlen, Frimble, Avellais, Pelagos, and the Craglands changed the face of Dellaporta forever.  The city that had launched and received the Ninette Expedition would become the city that received the bounty it had unlocked.

Since the signing of the accords 75 years ago, the port has exploded in population, attracting workers, artisans, merchants, artists, and adventurers from across the five nations signing to the treaty.  Belonging to all of the Accord nations, but a part of none, Tradewind offered the possibility of a new life, either in the city itself, or in the burgeoning colonies on the Ninevene coast.  It is a cosmopolitan city, with vast markets selling seemingly everything to be had in the world, narrow cobble streets on which a dozen languages are spoken, and opulent villas built by the city’s new monied elites springing up on seemingly a daily basis.

Examine the city a little closer, and the peaceful, prosperous aura fades.  Tradewind has rapidly become the center of the world for mercenaries and adventurers, two groups that rarely leave peace in their wakes.  Both ship out from Tradewind to troubled spots across the two continents, and both bring trouble home with their gold when they return.  While the Adventurer’s Guild and Mercenary Board attempt to keep their unruly members in line, they only sometimes succeed.  While the Five Nations — six, now that Lichlen has been consumed by civil war for nearly a decade — are officially at peace and the Accords guarantee a share of the riches, that has never stopped them from trying to undercut each other for a larger share of the wealth.  Their representatives on the council are at each others’ throats as often as they’re in agreement, and their disputes boil out equally onto the ballroom floor and the shadows of the market streets.  In the midst of all this, however, the people of Tradewind grow and prosper. Nearly four generations after the founding, more and more people are proud to style themselves Tradewinders.

And now I’ll turn this back over to Nick!

Many thanks to Ian! Look forward to more of his writing and setting as we continue to bring Mu: Age of Adventure to life!

Under the Hood 2 – Mu: Age of Adventure Systems Chat: Rumors, Renown, and Reputation

Welcome back to Under the Hood. This time I’ll be going over three non-combat systems in Mu: Age of Adventure that are designed to give the players more ways to interact with the story and world than whether or not they can hit something.

First it is important to go over Renown and how it interacts with the game, as the Rumors and Reputation systems play directly with and offer rewards for Renown. As the name implies, a character’s Renown is what above all else they are known for. Renown represents more than just fame in Mu, it represents the beliefs that everyone, even the world itself, have in what the characters can do. Characters with Renown are important and interesting, and the world itself wants to see what will happen.

Mechanically, Renown is the true form of a character’s growth in the story. It exists alongside a character’s level, but represents the great things you are known for, rather than simply what level of monster you should be fighting. At character creation you pick a thing you are renowned for, as well as the deed you did in order for everyone to recognize you and grant you your starting Renown. Over the course of the game your character performs additional Deeds of Renown – powerful, dramatic accomplishments outside the bounds of the normal rules – totally at least eleven before finally performing a Legendary Deed. This is to be the capstone of that character’s story. However, unlike a character’s level which increases at the end of an adventure in a very regular interval, Renown and Deeds of Renown are left up to the player to perform over the course of a campaign. To keep players from simply trying over and over, attempting Deeds costs Renown Points. A small amount are rewarded upon leveling up, but the vast majority of these points are earned through the Rumors and Reputation systems.

Rumors, as the name implies, are things that are heard on the wind by the characters about themselves. They might be possible theories on secret identities, rude gossip, dangerous hearsay, or any myriad of things. They are also given to the players by the other players in the group (assuming everyone is agreeable on what the rumors are). This accomplishes two main things: for one it gives the players an immediate connection to the other characters. You get to see where someone takes an idea you gave them, and you can even help them deal with the strange occurrences that are sure to come from the Rumor. And two, it gives the GM plenty of ready-and-waiting ideas for characters, plot beats, and story twists. The Rumors system is part “create-a-side-quest” and “part ideas from a hat”. It lets players fill in the small gaps in the running plot with things they want to see, while also giving the GM enough time to roll the various disparate parts together in a way that won’t feel forced.

Mechanically, the system is very simple: once a rumor is agreed upon the players can then work to either disprove or play up the rumor about them. For each session where a player spends some time working on their rumor – either seeking out individuals related to it, working on personal aspects of it in their spare time, or otherwise interacting with the world in a suitable fashion – they gain 1 Renown Point and move their Rumor track closer to it either being played up or down. The track itself starts at 0 and goes either to -3 or 3. This gives the GM and the player three sessions of work to craft a suitable interesting side story with an introduction, a build up, and a climax. Once complete, a Rumor then also turns into a new Renown, as a way to show the character’s continued involvement with the world.

How one completes these Rumors is also important. Which brings me to the final system, and while the least involved it is also important. Depending on how a character goes about completing their Rumors, or if they end a session having been acting especially characterful, they can earn Face or Rudos points to represent how they carry themselves and how they are viewed by the world at large. Face points are accrued at the end of a session where the character overcame a significant story beat or worked on their Rumor using their own personal strengths and skills, or humbly accepting help, or if they selflessly help their friends. Face points do not represent “good” acts, although good characters would almost certainly have them. They represent the character being loyal, humble, and competent – all aspects a villain could easily possess. In the other direction, Rudos points are awarded when a character accomplishes their goals while being self aggrandizing, underhanded, and opportunistic. Rudos points also come with a great deal of bonus Renown to represent the personal power the character is generating for themselves. In this sense, Rudos represents hubris and unchecked ambition more than “evil”. Once a character has accrued enough of Face or Rudos points they can choose to align themselves with the side of their choosing.

In game terms this is a choice between a quick influx of personal power with a looming downfall on the horizon (Rudos), or a rough and slow build up to an eventual shining moment of clarity (Face). Players can even make dramatic Turnabouts, shifting from Face to Rudos or vice-verse, if they find themselves stuck in a place they don’t want their character to be. While the Reputation system can affect interactions between the players and some NPCs, the biggest part is how Reputation affects Renown.

Face and Rudos are at their peak when characters begin performing greater and greater Deeds of Renown. With Face characters striving towards their big breakthrough, and Rudos characters attempting to keep their house of cards from crumbling. This cycle of systems is designed to reward players for investing time and effort into the setting and world, but also the game itself. The systems also help the GM by having the players constantly feed them information on what they want to see without having to break immersion. They help form a skeletal outline for the campaign’s story that the GM can then mold into a sensible story that everyone is happy with.

The Rumors, Renown, and Reputation systems are in a step into a more narrative focused style of game. They tie the world together not with numbers but with plot hooks and character arcs. But they don’t quite fully push Mu: Age of Adventure away from its crunchier roots. Phew! This was a long one this week, but I wanted to really get into some of the more story and narrative focused systems in Mu, and how they can help players and GMs alike have a better game experience. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next week!

Under the Hood 1 — Character Growth: Levels, Class, Stats, and Skills

Hey everyone! Welcome to the first installment of “Under the Hood”. For this first outing I want to talk about character growth systems in RPGs. Systems designed with long campaigns in mind have some way for the players to grow and become more powerful as they progress. But how you set up this progression is exceptionally important. Character progression tells a lot about a game and the setting, both from a mechanical standpoint and a flavor standpoint. How do the characters progress? What do they earn that makes them better and more capable from their previous selves?

Traditionally, a level based system has been the corner stone of character progression. This provides set points where the players improve in very noticeable ways. It also gives GMs an amount of power scaling with what to expect from the players at a given level. This approach shines when having to design or balance combat encounters or otherwise purely mechanical interactions between the players and the game. With levels the players are locked into set power bands – be it newbies just coming into their own, or powerful demi-god like individuals – that can be planned around and balanced accordingly. Most importantly though, levels indicate a strong reliance on combat. If combat is to be simply another puzzle or encounter to roleplay through, using levels becomes unnecessary. But if each adventure the players go through during their grand campaigns involves a significant amount of aggressive problems to be solved, levels are a great way to keep encounters feeling appropriately challenging without accidentally squashing the players or the monsters. The drawback to level based progression is having to also take into account the pacing of improvements to avoid large stretches of time when no one is getting better. Boredom can be a killer even with significant jumps in power or proficiency once new levels are reached.

Almost always attached to levels are character classes. These offer a set of abilities and stats that direct how the character grows and what kinds of things they will be capable of as the campaign goes on. Classes, much like levels, have the most bearing on a character’s combat prowess. What class a character is determines the most useful direction they should take in order to maximum their effectiveness once diplomacy has failed. But equally important to having classes as a form of character progression is what each class says about the setting they are employed in. A setting that uses staples such as warrior, rogue, and wizard sends the signal that the game will have a more classic medieval fantasy setting, most likely containing dungeons and even possible dragons. But conventional or not, classes and what they are capable of can tell a lot about your setting. They communicate the relative technology level of the setting, whether or not it is magical, any classes tied to religion or government can gives clues to culture, and so on. Classes also push characters towards certain archetypes by providing them a framework of abilities and requirements that can restrict them to set paths. Giving up some fluidity between archetypes when using classes isn’t a bad thing if the game is designed around having a party of largely disparate archetypes.

Most systems, even those that use levels and classes, rely on stats and skills to provide the backbone of what a character can or can’t do. A list of attributes that measure a character’s overall potential that are then further expanded upon with a variety of skills they possess is a very easily understandable system that provides as much or as little granularity as necessary. Even in a fairly rigid system with little ability to cross-over between classes, a stat/skill system in addition to the leveling system is easy for players to understand and gives them additional freedom to customize their characters in whatever ways they want. A purely stat/skill system can function on its own just fine, but can run into issues with combat if players have to spend too many points or allocations on the same things just to avoid a messy death. It can also blunt feelings of growth if new skills show up at a slow pace while encounters and challenges rise at an equal level.

When designing a system then, the more you can get out of the different ways to go about having characters improve without falling into the pitfalls of any of them the better. A hybridization between the more regular trickle of improvement with skills and the large jumps in power from levels is what I choose for Mu: Age of Adventure. I like the familiarity levels and classes bring, and the focus on combat fits a setting that is full of heroism and adventure. To avoid the pitfall of a slow progression, the system also uses a variety of skills, traits, and other personal descriptors that let players reach smaller goals in between levels to avoid long stretches of homogeneity. Next week I’ll go over the systems I put in place to give players other goals to achieve and rewards to earn in between levels, but for this week my time is up. Until next time!