TTRPGs vs Quarantine

Whew. March and April got away from me. Hence why this article may show up a little late. With the coronavirus and the subsequent lockdown of many places around the world, our social gatherings have changed. As a result, our gaming nights have changed. We can no longer gather around the same table, sharing snacks and drinks but are restricted to our computers and kitchen tables. If you’re anything like the Iconic crew, you have been itching to play some games, in any form.

The easiest way to get back into gaming with social distancing is with a conference call and at home supplies. Simply being able to see everyone at the “table” can go a long way to feeling like an adventuring party again. Zoom, Discord, Google Hangouts, and Go-to-Meetings are all platforms I have used to game with friends outside of my home. With each of these, you can have your dice and character sheets on your desk or computer and inform the GM of successes or failures rolled. Many games have basic gameplay and books available for free for the players who don’t own the books. 

What if you want to get a little more fancy? Discord has virtual dice-rollers you can install in your server. Then there are no more fudging dice rolls and an overabundance of natural critical hits. Although I haven’t actually seen that happen in the groups I play with, I understand some GMs want to see their players’ rolls. Go-to-Meeting, Discord, and Zoom allow your GM to share their computer screen. The GM could pull up a map, edit it with a photography program and voila! No more simple theater of the mind. The downside is the cost to use some of these programs, Zoom and Go-to Meeting in particular, if you have more than two people or want to go longer than 40 minutes. Someone has to pay for it. If the group joins together, the cost is reduced, so encourage sharing the financial burden.  Discord, Hangouts, and Jitsi are free for video conferencing. Gimp and Krita are great programs for photo editing or drawing on pictures. 

If that is still not enough for your group, consider Fantasy Grounds or Roll20. You will still need a separate video conferencing platform for Fantasy Grounds, but having character sheets, dice rolls, and maps available to share across the group is often worth the cost. Last month, Nick wrote an article discussing the various virtual tables you can use to enhance player experience. These are great. Using the Fantasy Grounds platform to create encounters and share them with your players is super helpful when theater of the mind is distracting or even difficult. My primary experience is with Fantasy Grounds. The GM has to shoulder the burden of the cost here unless everyone in the group wants to buy a mid-tier version to play together. The full GM version will allow them access to the full program, the ability to create encounters, and the players can get the free version to piggyback off…if they purchase the various games as well. In my personal opinion, unless you are running weekly games and planning to continue to run them through FG, the cost is exorbitant. However, I am always supremely grateful to the GMs who run a game on this platform for me.

In this time of forced isolation, you can still play the games you love. At Iconic, we have turned to the computer and internet to help us run and play games with people a few houses down and across the country. Now is a great time to try something new. If you are interested, the 13th  Age Discord channel has a virtual tabletop channel for options and help. Let us know your favorite ways to still get the gaming goodness. Stay safe, everyone. 

Written by Becca

S4-E03: Class Acts – Necromancer

We’re back for another Class Acts, this time taking an in-depth look at the Necromancer class from 13 True Ways. (also available in the SRD). We discuss the history of the class as well as the Features, Talents, and Spells that we really like!

And as a thank you to all our listeners, you can use this code to get a 10% discount off your pre-order of Book of the Underworld! This code is good through June 1, 2020.

Voucher code: POD#ICONUNDERW


If you enjoy listening to the Iconic Podcast, please consider supporting us by becoming a patron!

And a special thank you to all of our awesome Patrons!

S4-E02: Interview with Gareth

For this next episode, we brought Gareth Hanrahan back onto the show! We talk to him about the recent novels he has written, then dive into some of the 13th Age books that he’s working on, including Book of the Underworld!

And as a thank you to all our listeners, you can use this code to get a 10% discount off your pre-order of Book of the Underworld! This code is good through June 1, 2020.

Voucher code: POD#ICONUNDERW


If you enjoy listening to the Iconic Podcast, please consider supporting us by becoming a patron!

And a special thank you to all of our awesome Patrons!

Technology and Immersion

Among the many things that are different from when RPGs first became a thing, the development of technology has been one thing that has had a dramatic impact on the gaming industry. You no longer need to pull out a suitcase of books to flip through each of them looking for an obscure rule, you can now just run a search through your PDFs to find it. You don’t even need to be near the people you’re playing with; you can play online with others from anywhere in the world! The myriad uses of technology at the table help make connections and improve the overall immersion of the gameplay experience. But technology is a knife’s edge – as helpful as it is, it can very easily have the opposite effect and do more harm than good.

But before we dive into this, I think it’s helpful to define what it is that’s at risk with using technology, and that’s namely player immersion. How I understand player immersion is that it’s the degree to which the player’s imagination is easily evoked. The higher the degree of immersion, the more easily the players can get into character and mentally ‘see’ what’s being described and respond accordingly. But immersion can be like walking on ice, once it’s broken, the whole charade crashes down into the icy waters below, and it can be hard to climb back out.

You can bolster immersion by bringing technology to the table in the form of playing thematic music, displaying evocative imagery on a screen, messaging secretly with players about character-specific things, having a digital space for notes to be stored and shared, sharing a virtual tabletop with remote players, automating things like dice rolls, modifier adjustments, and HP tracking, and more! Any one of these benefits helps keep the players’ (and your) focus more on the game than on your surroundings, which will lend to deeper immersion, progressing farther in each session, and crafting a more compelling story together.

But as beneficial as any of these things are, each comes with the risk of the technology failing and breaking immersion completely. For example, let’s say you have a music track all queued up to play a musical score to ratchet up the tension as the players step foot into that long-deserted temple. The moment comes, and as you describe the scene, you hit play. But the only thing coming out of the speakers is silence! What usually happens next is that the game gets put on pause while you figure out what’s going on with the music player. When you finally do get it all working, the immersion the players had is now mostly gone and you have to work to everyone back into the flow of the game.

Virtual tabletops typically come with a digital dice roller, and many times it has direct, automated tie-ins into your character sheet. This allows players to look at their sheets less, spend less time crunching numbers, and gives them the mental space to stay focused on the game. But what happens when the player can’t find the right button to click? Or it throws error messages? Or their computer crashes completely? You may end up spending more time working to get the software to work than it would have taken to do things by hand, and by the time you do get it working, you might have forgotten what you were even rolling for!

Technology is a great asset to the gaming experience, but it’s best used when you are very familiar with it and you are prepared for what to do when it fails. As part of your campaign prep, go through the various pieces of how your technology works and get a good understanding of what might go wrong with it. If you’re playing online or using a virtual tabletop, it might be good to use part of your Session 0 or even dedicate an entire session to training everyone on how to use the different pieces of the software, that way everyone knows how to trigger their powers or roll their dice. And before you start each session, test the technology you’re about to use. For example, if you’re going to use some thematic music, be sure to hook it all up and hit play to make sure it works right. And if you’re doing anything over the internet, double check all your camera and microphone connections and your internet stability before getting started.

For my home game, I have four players who are physically present and one who joins us virtually. Over the years, we have tried a number of different technology options trying to find the combination that fits our group the best. And we’ve discovered that using the bare minimum of technology works really well! So even though we use Fantasy Grounds (FG) for a virtual tabletop where we can see scene-setting imagery and the battlemap to tokens around in combat, we still use paper character sheets and roll physical dice. As the GM, I like seeing the entire monster stats, so I’ll usually run the monsters by referencing a PDF or a physical book and rely on FG just to track the monsters’ health. Other than that, we leverage Discord for our text conversations and Zoom for our audio/video connection. Every group is different, but we found that if we use much more technology than that, we start losing that immersion factor.

One of the benefits of our hybrid setup that we have discovered is that we can now be very flexible in accounting for players who can’t physically make it to the game. And we can even switch to playing entirely online for a session or two with very little advance notice. Subsequently, this has allowed us to miss fewer sessions due to player absence than we would otherwise. It adds a bit of extra work for me as the GM to set up and run all of that in addition to the game, but despite the hiccups along the way, it’s been worth it.

It took us a while to settle in on what works, so if you’re wanting to introduce some technology into your gaming group, be patient, and have an open dialogue with your group. There are countless options out there, and I’d love hearing what you’ve found works for you!

Written by Nick

S4-E01: Welcome to Season 4!

It’s hard to believe we’ve completed 3 seasons of the Iconic Podcast, and we’re now headed into Season 4! In this season opener, we review what we had covered last season, as well as what we’re looking forward to in Season 4!

And as a thank you to all our listeners, you can use this code to get a 10% discount off your pre-order of Book of the Underworld! This code is good through June 1, 2020.

Voucher code: POD#ICONUNDERW

S3-E26: Random Encounters: The Planes of Dust and Ash

In the mines below Gatemark, the heroes have followed a dwharven hero from a previous Age to a portal to the Plane of Ash and Dust, which is where we pick things up with our next Random Encounter. In this Epic Tier scene, we brainstorm what players may encounter as they stride through this plane of death on their way to a showdown with the ‘big bad.’

If you want to string all these scenes together, you can listen to the past episodes here:

Episode 12: Monster Fight
Episode 18: Into the Desolates
Episode 19: Into the Tombs
Episode 21: The Mines

The setting we’re using is Ta’nar (which you can hear about in Episode 9, but this could be ported into the Dragon Empire or your own campaign world without too much difficulty.


If you enjoy listening to the Iconic Podcast, please consider supporting us by becoming a patron!

And a special thank you to all of our awesome Patrons!

S3-E25: Interview with Rob Heinsoo

In this next episode, 13th Age game designer, Rob Heinsoo comes back on the show! We talk a bit about what he’s currently up to gaming-wise, talk about some 3rd party Archmage Engine stuff, then pick his brain about a number of upcoming 13th Age products! Specifically, we talk about the Book of the Underworld, Elven Towers, Crown of Axis, Icon Followers, and Further Adventurers.


If you enjoy listening to the Iconic Podcast, please consider supporting us by becoming a patron!

And a special thank you to all of our awesome Patrons!

Icons of Ta’nar

To continue our theme of exploring Ta’nar, this month we will introduce the Icons of our setting, set on the continent of Sentali. Like the Dragon Empire, there are thirteen Icons influencing Sentali. They fall within the spectrum of good, neutral, and evil, as commonly seen in fantasy worlds. Some Icons are individuals, both mortal and immortal, and some are groups of like minded beings.

 

Demoloth (evil) – Demoloth is an old name, but one still feared in Sentali. The daemon lord of plague from a previous age, its touch was never truly scrubbed clean from the surface of Ta’nar, and its presence lingers in the dead places of the world and within the bodies of the Pale elves. Dig deep enough into the earth, and Demoloth is there. Summon enough skeletons, and he’s bound to show up, if only to show off. 

Empress (good)- Reayne of Kardane is the ruler of the largest empire on Sentali. Ensconced to the north of the Desolates in Mo’zanbaal – Kardane’s capital – her eyes and agents are focused southward seeking to ensure the stability of her Empire.

First Born (evil)- The First Born is a presence that forms demonic cults in the wake of its revelation. None know who or what the First Born is, but daemons answer the call of its faithful, prophesy about its birth, and seek to ease its passage into the world. The cult of the First Born existed for many Ages, but only recently came to light. This icon is found in realms and areas of deep despair and desperation. There are enclaves scattered throughout the Desolates where mothers sell their children to the cult and siblings betray each other for the smallest scrap of favor with the enigmatic First Born.

Guild of Falling Leaves (neutral) – The Guild of Falling Leaves is ostentatiously a trading guild with routes that spread like a web through Sentali. However, most harbor the belief that the Guild also trades in contraband products and deeds. There are always people interested in acquiring unique goods and there are always people willing to find those goods for coin. It is only recently that the Guild gathered the power and ability to be an iconic organization, and it will fight to keep this status.

Host (pantheon)(good) – The Pantheons of Sentali contain a myriad of Immortals, Celestials, and Empyreans. Many worship the whole of a pantheon or focus their efforts towards the cult of a single god.

Hystal (evil) – Known as the Grasp of Vengeance, Hystal is more than just first among equals in the hierarchy of the cults of Shadow’s Reach. The high priest is rabid in his devotion to the goddess Ganagal, and will use whatever power, born within this world and without, to assure his mistress’ dominion of Ta’nar. 

Keeper of the Sands (good) – Ullia Stonehoof, is the high druid of the Desolates. The Auxeness seeks to preserve its identity in the face of those who would claim its lands as their own.

Perversions (evil) – Long ago, the High Father, patron God of the city of the Reach, was slain by six of his children. Though they thought they were up to the task of ruling as gods, they were found lacking. Consuming the flesh of their father, the six became Celestial beings, but at a cost. That act of cannibalism perverted their very natures. The six Perversions, full of power, began to gather worshippers to themselves in Shadow’s Reach. The High Father’s other children, the six Panaceas hide themselves aways, afraid to gather too many worshippers for fear of being the main course in yet another family feast. 

  • Ganagal ‐ Perversion of Vengeance 
  • Pat’sum ‐ Perversion of Bondage 
  • Bak’ith ‐ Perversion of Envy 
  • Bak’oth ‐ Perversion of Greed 
  • Oba’sansh ‐ Perversion of Cannibalism 
  • Dren ‐ Perversion of Madness 

Possessed King (neutral) – Bound within Crandoc Hold, the Possessed King can be found within the Capital of Firanolg. KurNokThal is blessed or cursed by the near constant presence of the Dwharven god, Mogondral. The heir to the lost throne of Draggnaul, the Dwharven god‐prince serves as banner and warning to his kin in the Desolates.

Red Alchemist (evil) – The Red Alchemist is a new Icon to Sentali. She is known throughout Ta’nar for creating aberrations and abominations in her labs, and then auctioning them off to the highest bidder as organic weapons. But no one knows where her lab can be found. Her name comes from both the red arrow head she uses as her symbol and the bloody experiments attributed to her. If strange creatures are found in the wastes, then you can be sure that the Red Alchemist had something to do with it.

Rivener (neutral) – The Rivener is a mystery from a previous age. The wight travels about Sentali, seeking out the gnarls of fate that would cause global upheaval and ends all involved with amoral brutality. He has been given undeath as a second chance at redemption and will carve his way through rather than discuss options. None know what the undead warrior seeks, but his bloodstained trail crisscrosses the continent.

Spellqueen (good) – The Spellqueen rules Estalin, the hidden refuge of the Ala-Senti. Aware of all that occurs within her demesne, the Spellqueen senses the encroachment of ancient powers that seek to consume her people in chaos and fire, and plots to end them. As one of the Wild Elves, or Ala-Senti, she has sheltered and led her people in the new lands they sought refuge in.

Wanderer (good)- This Icon crops up in the myths and legends of Sentali. Some say it is his lawful guidance that keeps the world from falling into darkness. He often appears as an old man guiding the hero onto their next path. The Wanderer has been around since the beginning of the world, standing against the darkness and chaos of the world.

 

The “good” Icons are the Empress, the Host (pantheon), the Keeper of the Sands, the Spellqueen of Estalin, and the Wanderer.

The “neutral” Icons are the Guild of Falling Leaves, the Possessed King, and the Rivener.

The “evil” Icons are the First Born, the Grasp of Vengeance, the Lord of Undeath, the Perversions, and the Red Alchemist.

 

 

These thirteen Icons can inspire or cause nightmares for your characters. Hopefully you will enjoy interacting with and thwarting the schemes of the movers and shakers of Sentali. 

Written by Mark

S3-E24: Dark Alleys & Twisted Paths Review

Last episode we had Martin Killmann on to talk about his 13th Age books, and this week we give our Iconic Review of his latest book, “Dark Alleys & Twisted Paths.” Spoiler – it’s a great book, and you should check it out!

Be sure to pick up the book using the link above, and join in the 13th Age Discord server Martin hosts!


If you enjoy listening to the Iconic Podcast, please consider supporting us by becoming a patron!

And a special thank you to all of our awesome Patrons!

S3-E23: Interview with Martin Killmann

We finally got our schedules aligned to get Martin Killmann onto the show to talk general gaming stuff (he’s a fan of The Dark Eye! Who knew?!?) as well his 13th Age books “Dark Pacts & Ancient Secrets” (reviewed in Episode S2-E25) and “Dark Alleys & Twisted Paths.”

Be sure to check out his great books using the links above, and join in the 13th Age Discord server he hosts!


If you enjoy listening to the Iconic Podcast, please consider supporting us by becoming a patron!

And a special thank you to all of our awesome Patrons!