So, at the beginning of May, we announced we’re going to produce the World of Lazarus, a guide to roleplaying in Greg Rucka’s SF-feudal Lazarus comic series. We noted it would be a setting for the Modern AGE roleplaying game.
Yes, this means we’re making a Modern AGE game. We said so in a sort of soft, sneaky way, but today, we’re going to dig into what that means.
Modern AGE uses the Adventure Game Engine to power stories set in the “modern era,” a period we’ve designated as running from the 18th or 19th century, through the present day, and into the near future. That means guns and computers, transoceanic empires and raucous democracies, and the Cold War and beyond, into the great geopolitical realignments of our time. But it also means urban fantasy, psychic powers, conspiracies and all the speculative and strange sources that fuel modern stories.
The Adventure Game Engine is the system you first saw in the Dragon Age roleplaying game. You witnessed its evolution into Fantasy AGE with Wil Wheaton’s Titansgrave setting, and into Blue Rose: The AGE RPG of Romantic Fantasy. Modern AGE might be thought of as a counterpart to Fantasy AGE, but if you’re familiar with one of these games, the rest will come easily. Modern AGE adds some new things to the system, and revises a few solid concepts to make them easier to use.
Developing the game, it’s been important to me to stick with the A.G.E. system’s core concepts: ease of play, strong tools for character development, and most of all, stunts.
Stunts and Areas of Interest
Stunts are the system’s “killer app;” where other games often struggle to integrate special actions and exceptional results, the A.G.E. system uses stunts to make them emerge during play. Modern AGE introduces some new stunts, but we also recognize the decision paralysis that can happen when doubles hit the table. That’s why we’ve designated go-to core stunts and places stunts into shorter, focused lists.
Putting stunts into categories means thinking about what characters do during the game. Accordingly, we’ve mapped out three core areas of interest: action, exploration and social play. Action encompasses combat, chases and other physical challenges. Exploration combines its counterpart in Fantasy AGE with investigation. Social play develops the “roleplaying” category, acknowledging that modern games often require heroes to present themselves properly in all the scenarios thrown up by complex contemporary cultures.
The three areas of interest act as a focus throughout Modern AGE’s design, not just stunts. Heroes with abilities covering all three can take on nearly any challenge the GM cares to throw at them.
Character and Genre Modes
Fantasy AGE presents broad classes, archetypes in that genre, and provides advancement options that allow you to lock in more specific elements over time. Modern era games don’t have the same archetypes, however, and don’t need the same niche protection vital to the feel of fantasy adventure gaming. So, we’ve gone classless. After developing a background, a profession and a drive that pushes your hero out of obscurity and into the story, you’ll select ability advancements, talents and specializations freely.
In some games, a private eye is someone who uses a car, camera and laptop to find evidence for divorces and lawsuits, while in others, they’re a two-fisted, iron-chinned stalwart with a talent for getting tangled in murders. The difference? Genre. Not all modern games feature the same degree of realism, so we’ve included specific rules modes to fit the stories you want to play through. The three basic modes are gritty, for stories where violence is unforgiving, pulp, where a battered hero can, say, claw their way out of danger, and cinematic, where protagonists achieve the competence often reserves for fantasy heroes and the most outrageous action games. These modes affect character toughness and stunt access, and guide advice you’ll read throughout the book.
In upcoming columns, I’ll talk more about Modern AGE’s design foundations, and the details that make them work. Until then, let me ask you something: What clicks for you about the Adventure Game Engine RPGs you’ve played? What do you want to see down the line? I’m developing it even as we speak, and things are getting locked in, but I’d love to read your conversations–and ever so sneakily, have you spread the word that Modern AGE is coming . . .
And in a Further Manipulative Move
. . . oh wait. It’s not all about me. While you should indeed talk about Modern AGE until it’s a breakfast cereal, I have been reminded that our Kickstarter for The Lost Citadel — Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy Roleplaying is in full swing. I was actually one of the authors in the short story collection that inaugurated this shared world, which we’re transforming into a setting for 5th Edition roleplaying. But if you’re an Adventure Game Engine fan, know this: If we hit $32,500, we’ll unlock the A.G.E System Hack, which converts the Dead-bound Zileska setting to A.G.E family games.
And if you’re curious about the setting and stories of The Lost Citadel, we have a sample short story available for FREE on our website. Check out Requiem, In Bells, by Ari Marmell.
Evan (he/him) got his start in tabletop games in 1995, as a co-founder of Rubicon Games. Among other games, he has worked on Cranium, Cranium Hullabaloo, and the Pokémon trading card game. RPGs he has edited for include Everway, Ork! The Roleplaying Game, Spaceship Zero, Warhammer Fantasy second edition, the d20 System, A Song of Ice and Fire, Mutants & Masterminds, Dragon Age, Fantasy AGE, Modern AGE, Blue Rose, Pathfinder, and Critical Role (5e). He has been managing our web sites since about 2002. He co-designed Walk the Plank, our card game of piratical trick taking, currently available in print-on-demand format via DriveThruCards.com.