BEOWULF: Age of Heroes is a new setting for one player and one GM for 5e. In this article we take a look at one of the changes we’ve made to base 5e- alignment.
Beowulf the poem is a study in contrasts when it comes to religion. Its visions of meadhalls, monsters, sea creatures and dragons remind us of pagan legends and make us think of great adventure novels. But Beowulf is given to thanking the Christian God for his good fortune and the poet tells us that Grendel (and his mother) are the kindred of Cain. So the poem blends both the Church and the Old Ways into a seamless whole.
Every Hero in BEOWULF: Age of Heroes is human, from somewhere among the many lands that surround the Whale Road. They may be from nearby, Baltic-born and stern as the sea. They may be from strange lands to the south, with strange speech and tales no one has ever heard before. Each Hero comes to a life of adventure by a different path. Their background represents both their lineage and their life experience.
First and foremost, every Hero has access to the same Ability bonuses as any other. Adding such modifiers allows you to customise your character but is not dependent on where they were born or what they look like. Similarly, you can roll on a table (or pick) a special quirk (benefit) that is personal to you. You make some other choices, such as your age, alignment and languages and every Hero gets to start with a Feat. You then choose a background, and start building a story of how your Hero came to be. We posit the existence of a Trader’s Tongue that the folk of the North Sea and Baltic use when making deals that has loan words from a variety of languages, so that everyone can understand one another.
BEOWULF: Age of Heroes is designed primarily as a duet game, with one gamemaster and one player. Thus when it came time to design the classes, we quickly resolved that the idea of class roles was something that wouldn’t quite work. It was okay for a player to choose a focus for their Hero’s class, because Followers (non-player characters that accompany the character and are able to temporarily aid them) can help support the player in weak areas. But every character needed to have a certain measure of toughness and some ability at combat. We decided to create just a single class, the Hero class, and use 5e’s subclasses to allow a player to choose a focus for their Hero. We ended up with six different subclasses. Each based around an Ability score.
We’ve seen a lot of excitement around our upcoming RPG projects – Ken Hite’s Hellenistika and BEOWULF. Today we present our first designer diary for BEOWULF!
Our designer diaries will be irregular updates on how things are progressing behind the scenes, what we’re working on, the challenges we’re facing and so on.
BEOWULF DESIGNER DIARY 1
About the story of Beowulf For those that don’t know, Beowulf is one of the oldest recorded stories in Western literature. As such it’s right at the root of a lot of the kind of heroic stories we enjoy. In terms of events it’s very simple – Beowulf, a hero of the Geats, a people living in Southern Sweden, hears tell of problems in Denmark. A wonderful meadhall, Heorot, has been built there, but it’s been largely abandoned due to the malign influence of Grendel– a monster who has been killing the inhabitants. Beowulf being a heroic type resolves to slay the hellspawn of the haunted hall. And he does. After figuring out the monster’s weakness he abandons his traditional war-gear, wrestling the creature and ripping its arm off. Poor old Grendel limps off to die.
But things aren’t over. The victory comes with consequences! Grendel’s Mother presents another monstrous threat to happy life in Denmark. Never being one to shy away from great deeds Beowulf must also figure out how to defeat this new adversary. Which of course he does!
Time travels on, and Beowulf becomes a King of his people. Word comes to his meadhall that a great dragon has awoken after its hoard is disturbed by a thief… We won’t spoil the ending if you haven’t read it. But we strongly recommend that you do. Both Seamus Heaney and JRR Tolkien have made marvellous translations of Beowulf, and they’re well worth your time.
In addition to the heroic events and inevitable battling, there’s a lot of exciting “meta” stuff in the way the tale was recorded, and the accompanying glimpses we get into cultural details of Anglo-Saxon life. We love it!
BEOWULF the RPG setting
Taking our enthusiasm for Beowulf the Anglo-Saxon poem as our inspiration, we set out to make an exciting setting and set of additional/amended rules for 5thEdition.
The world of Anglo-Saxon stories is something we’re all really interested in from a historical and fictional standpoint. We love the style of the stories, the way the world looks and feels, the arms and armour and so on. BEOWULF will feature all the feel, but it isn’t intended as strictly a historical treatise. It’s a strongly-flavoured “story book” world of heroic tales.
Heroes in BEOWULF will sail across a story book version of the world of roughly the 5thto 11thcenturies, solving mysteries and ridding kingdoms of monsters, just like Beowulf in the original tale.
Duet Play The first “rules thing” we wanted to offer was really high quality duet play for 5thEdition. None of us have quite the time we’d like to play RPGs, and by making a great set of rules for just two people we can really help with that. So it is that BEOWULF is designed primarily for one gamesmaster and one player.
That in turn led us to develop a really strong structure for duet play for both the player and the GM: we’ve been analysing what having just one player means for the 5thEdition rules, as well as the social side of play. The results of that work all come together really nicely in BEOWULF as a setting and ruleset.
The Beowulf of the story is a singular hero, just as the rules are for a single player, but Beowulf is not entirely alone in the story. Like so many heroes of legend he has his followers with him, occasionally chipping in to help when relevant to the story. (This is also true of Achilles’ Myrmidons, Jason’s Argonauts, Gilgamesh’s Enkidu and so on)
So with BEOWULF we are creating a special set of rules for the actions of a hero’s followers. And as far as we can tell it’s rather unique! Just like in the story of Beowulf, followers are on hand when you need them, but there’s no need to track them as if they were full non-player characters. They’re there when it matters, and they’re in the background when they don’t.
Followers support the hero, and a hero will need to recruit help along the way as he or she tries to figure out any mystery he or she encounters.
Play beyond the session Followers in BEOWULF also offer some unique additional features. We’re really keen to offer the chance to actively “play” betweensessions – The gamesmaster always has opportunities for fun in creating adventures, but in BEOWULF the playertoo can invest some time in enjoyable and rewarding game activity on their own between sessions.
The exploits of followers becomes the focus between games, and that mechanically feeds into the next session.
Challenges Recently, we’ve spent a lotof time discussing what it means to lose a follower, and precisely how we want to pitch that. As something you’ll be invested in, and something more than a simple resource, we want the loss of a treasured follower to matter. The interactions with your band of followers matter. But we don’t want it to hobble your character mechanically beyond reason when a follower parts company with your hero. Indeed, we want the loss of valued followers to happen as part of the story of your hero.
We’re finding the balance between the loss of a follower being akin to the loss of a favourite magic item in a regular 5e game, or the loss of a whole level in a more old school game. Those are loose analogies, but they give you an idea of what we’re wrestling. The answer we’ve come up with relates to our core maxim when making BEOWULF – that you can lose in the short term to gain in the long term – and we’ll have more about that in a future diary.
Whither Multiplayer? The way we’ve put BEOWULF together means that if you do want to play with a group you can! If you wish to assemble a team of heroes from across the world that have to come together to battle a threat too great for one hero you can totally do that! Followers fade much further into the background, and the group of heroes comes to the fore, replacing the need for followers to support their hero.
What’s next? We’re finishing up our current round of rules polishing, and once that’s done we’ll be reaching out for more playtesters. That call will go out via the Handiwork Games newsletter, so be sure to sign up! You can find details on our website at www.handiwork.games
Rich Thomas of Onyx Path Publishing has announced the Scarred Lands Creature Collection for 5e will be made in collaboration with Handiwork Games!
Rich Thomas: “Last year, when we were planning just how to take the efforts that Stewart Wieck had started and run with them, we knew that a new version of the legendary Creature Collection was how we wanted to lead into Onyx Path’s new exciting era of Scarred Lands.
Running parallel to that, one of my favorite creators in tabletop RPGs, Jon Hodgson, artist and creative director, was putting together his own game studio after his long years at Cubicle 7. Jon did just about everything over there, and as we talked, I realized that he had the experience and awesome artistic taste to take a project from concept all the way through to printing – including running a Kickstarter for it.
A project, like, say… our Creature Collection!
The Scarred Lands Creature Collection for 5e will be written, art-directed, and laid out by Jon Hodgson’s company: Handiwork Games!”
Jon had this to say about working with OPP on Scarred Lands:
“I’m really excited to get the chance to work with Rich and Onyx Path. We met as Guests of Honor at GenCon a couple of years running, and realised we had a lot in common, and a shared drive to make great games.
Scarred Lands is an extremely cool setting, and I’m delighted to get the chance to work on the latest version of what was such a historic book – the first 3e monster book! I’m pulling together a great team of 5e experts and artists, and we’ll do our very best to delight you with the Scarred Lands Creature Collection for 5e!”
Rich Thomas: “We at Onyx Path are also thrilled to be working with Jon and Handiwork Games. He’s assembled an extremely talented crew for both the writing and the art, and I think this is going to be the most useful and most beautiful version of Creature Collection ever. While Jon will be working with Onyx Path, and have access to our writers and artists, he will also bringing another new group of creators into the Scarred Lands, which is going to be great for creators and fans alike!”
About Onyx Path Publishing
Founded in 2012, Onyx Path Publishing is a Pennsylvania-based company dedicated to the development of exemplary, immersive worlds. Working with a group of amazingly talented creators, we explore print, electronic and other forms of media distribution to make our products available to our fans.
Onyx Path staff are united in our common background with White Wolf Publishing and we will continue to supplement those famous product settings with new releases, while adding to the industry with brand-new concepts for game play. We are lucky to include ENnie, GAMA and other award-winning creatives as contributors to our upcoming release schedule. Their commitment to quality reflects the goal of Onyx Path and the reason for our existence.
With over 20 years of publishing experience from which to draw, we are industry professionals who love the art of the game and plan to continue making meaningful, innovative contributions in the years to come.
Handiwork Games is a new tabletop games publisher based in Scotland, UK. Led by ex Cubicle 7 Creative Director Jon Hodgson, Handiwork Games is producing its own RPG and card games, as well as providing high-quality studio services for other publishers.
A world known to its inhabitants as Scarn, the Scarred Lands is a place of dynamic heroism, supreme villainy, and incalculable magic. Torn and twisted by battles between the titans and their children, the young gods —fought largely by monstrous titanspawn pitted against humans, elves, dwarves, and other “divine races” — Scarn is a world still wounded deeply by the Divine War that took place less than two centuries ago.
The Scarred Lands has been a favored d20 system fantasy setting since the release of the Creature Collection in 2000. Over the next several years, over 40 titles were published for the Scarred Lands, making it one of the most fully supported fantasy RPG settings ever and the premiere product line of the former Sword & Sorcery Studios.
Handiwork Games is a new tabletop games publisher based in Scotland, UK. Led by ex-Cubicle 7 Creative Director Jon Hodgson, Handiwork Games has launched with news of two RPG lines.
The first is a partnership with renowned RPG author, Ken Hite. Hellenistika is a fantasy ancient Greek setting for 5th Edition. With the tagline “LIVE FAST • LOVE WELL • LEAVE A GOOD-LOOKING MOSAIC” Hellenistika promises new classes, playable species and setting specific rules for 5e.
“From the Pillars of Herakles in the West to the Silken Cities of the East, from the isle of Hyperborea in the North to the Mountains of the Moon in the South, the world spreads before you, alive with gods and marvels.
The Great Conqueror lies dead and mummified in Alexandria, leaving the world to scheming kings and greedy cities … and to you, if you can seize it. Ancient magics lurk in Babylonian ziggurats and Egyptian pyramids. Carve your names into history with your weapons and your wits, and beat your fellow wonder-makers and mercenaries in the games of treasure, wine, and love.
Adventure across the “good parts version” of the Hellenistic Age, a time of swords and scrolls, heroes and cults, war elephants and deadly Amazons, griffins and dragons, piles of gold and robot guardians, super-ships and death-machines – and that’s before we put our fantastic spin on history!”
The second game in the line up is BEOWULF – a mythic setting again for 5e. Promising similarly tailored rules, BEOWULF stands out as being designed for two players – the GM and the Hero.
“One of the oldest recorded stories in Western Europe, Beowulf is an epic tale of hero against monster. And then the monster’s mother. And then a dragon.”
BEOWULF is a setting and rules set for 5th Edition, designed primarily for duet play – one GM and one player.
BEOWULF presents a host of new and specially adapted rules to create epic and thematic adventures for your lone hero and his or her companions. Explore Migration Era Europe and beyond, solve mysteries, and do battle with dreadful monsters.
With writing and rules design from hand-picked 5e and folklore geniuses, and with art from Jon Hodgson and friends, BEOWULF will be a thing of epic wonder.”
Known for his work at Cubicle 7 as creative director, his definitive Tolkien art on The One Ring RPG and as a successful freelance artist in his own right, Jon Hodgson oversaw a great deal of C7’s successful creative work, so when he announced his departure in early 2018 many were keen to know what he was moving on to do. It appears the plan was to launch his own games company.