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Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan
Freelance game designer & writer. Allegedly.
Freelance game designer & writer. Allegedly.


Gen Con, briefly.
It was a con of highs and lows, but the highs were oh so very high. I'm proud of what we achieved with the Dracula Dossier project, gratified that an awful awful lot of hard work and research was recognised, and lost about 1d100 SAN when the Hawkins Papers won the gold for best supplement. (And given the really hard work of assembling the physical papers remains to be done, they're going to have to invent some new award just for that.)

I ran two games - Midnight Sub Rosa for Trail and The Valkyrie Gambit for Timewatch - and while everyone had a good time, I screwed up key parts of the plot in both. Clearly, running prewritten adventures is a fool's game.

My thanks to the stalwart Pelgranistas on the stand, our growing halo of regular co-conspirators, my fellow gaming professionals, all our kickstarter backers, all the fans, and the egg-flavoured yellow matter at the Embassy Suites breakfast bar that makes the rest of every day seem like an improvement on the morning.

As those who've seen photos and wild rumours know, I had a little adventure on the way home. I brought Ken's bag down to Will H's Mobile Tetris Game/overfull car, waved goodbye, turned around, and - in what I can only describe as sudden wild desire to embrace the Embassy Suites, or more accurately as not looking where I was going, I tripped over the kerb and fell face-first up the steps. Fortunately, my glasses broke my fall, so I was left with only a gouged nose, cut cheek, and rather a lot of loose blood.

I patched myself up enough to confirm I wasn't concussed and that I could avoid interacting with medical professionals until I was back in Ireland. I got plenty of strange looks, especially after twelve hours of sleepless travel, and the Heathrow Surveillance State cameras decided I was a non-person for a while. (Also, when checking in to Delta, the computers warned Cat and I that we were going to Null, and they weren't able to confirm if we would be able to stay in Null as we weren't citizens of Null and didn't have valid Null visas...) I persevered, and am now back home, where Drs. T & E are giving me plenty of injections to stop me falling down airplanes.

Gen Con. Let's do it again, but I need a break of about a year first.
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GenCon Timetable (I think)
6pm GM Huddle ICC245
8pm DJA

11AM 13th age Adventure Design, Crowne Plaza Grand Central Ballroom A
1PM Stealing from the Movies, Crowne Plaza Victoria Stn C/D
7pm Midnight Sub Rosa (Trail of Cthulhu), ICC244 Table 12

11AM 13th Age GM roundtable?, Crowne Plaza Grand Central Ballroom C
2pm Valkyrie Gambit (Timewatch), ICC245 Table 12
8pm Ennies

12PM 13th Age Monsters, Crowne Plaza Grand Central Ballroom B
1PM Pelgrane Panel, Crowne Plaza Grand Central Ballroom B
4pm Investigative Masterclass, Westin Capitol II

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Finished MEDUSA'S WEB, and yeah, that's about all I want to say about it.
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I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Ken, I love you like I love few non-frozen-custard things in this world, but I'm not splashing out fifty bucks to get your jibber-jabber, and also I hate cancer even more than I love you."

Well, now there's a way to resolve those strangely specific feelings about me -- the Trail of Cthulhu  +Bundle of Holding is back! Fifty bucks worth of my stuff -- Trail of Cthulhu, Bookhounds of London, Rough Magicks, and three bucks of The Book of Smoke -- plus the rest of Paula Dempsey's brilliant Book of Smoke urban weirdness sourcebook, two count-em two books from the even-better-than-frozen-custard +Robin Laws (Armitage Files and Stunning Eldritch Tales), the Arkham Detective Tales scenario pack from Younger More Handsome Me +Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, the Keeper's Screen, and of course a pineal-pounding Trail of Cthulhu soundtrack from +James Semple!

ALL for an Illuminated $23!

AND ten percent of your payment goes to Cancer Research UK who hold their beakers and test tubes with their pinky fingers extended, 'cos they're classy. I have no information on how they eat their frozen custard.

And yes, faithful readers, the odds are that you already have this WHOLE package but does everyone you know have it? Makes an ideal gift this festive early-June Trinity Holiday frozen custard season!
Trail of Cthulhu
Trail of Cthulhu
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My last few major projects:
* Secrets of the Ancients - Traveller campaign, 15+ sessions
* Heart of the Fury - Bulldogs campaign, 8+ sessions
* Darkening of Mirkwood - One Ring campaign, 30+ sessions
* Eyes of the Stone Thief - 13th Age campaign, 15+ sessions
* Pirates of Drinax - Traveller campaign, 20+ sessions
* Dracula Dossier - Night's Black Agents campaign, 20+ sessions

I should probably do something other than giant campaign books once in a while. 
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I made a thing and I mapped the thing and now the Master calls. +Kenneth Hite 
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Just ran a session for two players (so I dropped in a GM-controlled Hound who'll fade into the background if I grab more players). I'm quite certain I messed up on half the rules - there are a lot of moving parts - but the players had fun, have a nicely atmospheric lair (a haunted barge in the middle of a toxic canal), and most importantly, have set the Lampblacks up for a big fall next session by poisoning their demonic eels (imported as a secret weapon against the Lampblacks).

For  #Fridaythe13thAge , I dug up some notes I made on Icons a few years ago. The Icon system is a deceptively simple little tool that can easily be transplanted into other games.

Tools, not Rules
Icons are tools in the Gamemaster’s toolbox, not rules that have to be followed. You won’t break the game if you don’t use them. You’re under no obligation to roll relationships every session, or to let any part of your campaign prep be sullied by randomness. 
You can also adjust how the relationship dice work. The rules as written pile everything onto a set of d6 rolls, so one relationship roll might be used to see who the villain of the adventure is and who gets benefits and who’s behind some subplot, but you can break aspects out on their own if you want. In my game, when I’m sure want to involve a single Icon, I don’t make everyone roll their relationship dice and hope just one player gets a 5 or 6. I just make a list of the players’ chosen Icons and choose one at random. 
You can even drop Icons from the game entirely. You lose some of the charm, and they’re a very useful tool to have, so don’t do that lightly – and if you do excise Icons, make sure your players don’t load up on powers like Balladeer or Calling the Blood that key off Icons. 

Flags & Pointers
Before we get to rolling dice, take a look at the Icons on your players’ sheets. The choice of icons made by a player is a declaration about the sort of stuff they want to see in the game. If a paladin player takes, say, Positive Great Gold Wyrm, Negative Lich King, Negative Orc Lord, then that’s pretty unambiguous – she’s taken the ‘paladin-y’ Wyrm so she wants to be part of an order of paladins, and she wants to hit undead and orc bad guys. If she’d taken Negative 2 Lich King, you’d provide her with more undead to hit. Compare that to a Paladin who takes Conflicted Crusader, Conflicted Priestess, Negative Diabolist – this is a guy who wants moral dilemmas and hard choices. He’s set his character up to be torn between two dramatic poles – can he live up to the divine standards of the Priestess, or will he take the more pragmatic road of the Crusader as he battles the wiles of the Diabolist?
Any Icons in common between players are going to be important in your game. If everyone’s got a relationship with the Archmage, then he’s the centre of gravity in your stories; it’ll all come back to him in the end. Look at the shared Icons whenever you’re stuck about where the game should go next – those shared Icons are the concepts that the majority of the players are interested in. If you want to run a game of politics and intrigue in Axis, and there’s a pile of Orc Lord relationships on the table, then stop and have a talk with your players about expectations. 

*Randomly Generated Villains *
If most of your players have the Lich King on their sheets, then he’s your go-to villain. However, if every adventure’s about fighting the undead, the fun will go stale quickly. Mix things up by rolling relationship dice for villains. You’ll still get a bad guy who’s got a personal connection to at least one player character. You can see this in action in the Blood and Lightning adventure in the rulebook, where the goblins’ master can be determined through Icon rolls, and that changes what special abilities the goblins possess.
Pre-written adventures like Blood and Lighting give several options for villain, but you don’t need to do that in your games. You can roll for villain first and then build the scenario around that. This week they’re fighting… * rolls * the High Druid! Oh, maybe she curses this village so winter never ends there, and it’ll be all frost monsters and ice magic! 
Using your players’ chosen Icons ensures that there’ll always be a meaningful connection between the adventurers and the villain; picking the Icon from that subset randomly keeps the game fresh and gives everyone a chance to go up against their chosen foes.

Inspiration When Preparing
More ambitiously, you can use Icon storyguide rolls to help you plan whole adventures. Again, you don’t have to improvise things – you can roll at the end of a session, and do your planning based on that. 
I usually have an idea of where the next session is going to go based on the events of the previous game, so I don’t base the whole adventure around a relationship roll. I usually just use it for subplots and added wrinkles. If the PCs are off exploring an orc-infested wasteland, I don’t need anyone to roll a 5 or 6 on their Orc Lord dice to tell me he’s involved. However, I’ll happily grab that 5 for the Archmage and put an arcane archaeologist who needs rescuing as a side quest. 

Icon Rewards
Players fixate on one particular part of Icon relationships – the rewards. Roll a 5 or 6, get a magic item, right? This is a misreading of the rules, as a 5 or 6 just means that the Icon plays a part in the adventure, not that the player gets an explicit benefit, but it’s a natural misunderstanding – it’s an obvious ‘hook’ when describing Icons to players, and it makes mechanical sense that investment in an Icon would pay off mechanically. 
However, putting a red hat on the Dwarf King and having him hand out +1 Swords to all the good girls and boys is a dull way to use Icon rewards. Giving a few magic items at the start of the campaign works well – nothing cements a player’s loyalty to an Icon like a “free” magic item – and you can use rewards to top up the adventurers’ magic arsenal as required. If one PC is falling behind the rest of the group, or they’re in need of a bunch of healing potions or a curse-breaking scroll, you can have an Icon hand them out. 
Much better, though, is to let the players come up with other ways to spend their Icon benefits. Spend that 6 with the Emperor to demand help from the Governor of New Port. Spend that 6 with the Diabolist to know the secret ritual to bind a demon. Spend that Negative 6 with the Lich King to make the undead monster vulnerable to your next attack, because you know the right prayer for that sort of undead.

Campaign Hooks
This, to my mind, is the real genius of the Icon system – it lets you create stuff that hangs together really quickly, with a minimum of negotiation and backfilling. The Icons are the fixed hooks in your campaign on which the players can hang their own ideas and plots. Instead of having to come up with an elaborate and detailed backstory about why, say, my character is actually a dryad without a tree, I can just say “oh, the High Druid exiled me from the forest”. Now, there’s still the potential for that elaborate and detailed backstory to come into being, but we don’t need that at the start of a campaign – right now, we can just hang that plot around the High Druid and keep going. 
What’s more, because I now have a relationship with the High Druid, I’m going to take an interest every time the High Druid shows up, even if it’s not directly connected to my exiled-dryad plotline. Every time something else gets hung on that hook, it involves me more in the game.
In some horrible, benighted game where Icons didn’t exist, I could still play an tree-less dryad exiled by some all-powerful nature deity – but then I’d have to make that nature deity up, and talk to the GM and the other players about how that nature deity fits into the rest of the setting, and there’s no guarantee that that nature deity would play any role in the game other than taking my tree away at the start. By pushing the players to hang as much as possible off a fixed constellation of plot elements, icons channel the creativity of the players so their disparate ideas and stories start crossing over and sparking off one another. Everything undead-y calls back to the Lich King; everything demon-y falls into the Crusader/Diabolist/Great Gold Wyrm triangle. Icons draw campaigns together. 

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In these final 23 hours, ALL backers of The Dracula Dossier now get (if only in digital form): Dracula Unredacted and the Director's Handbook both in full color, plus a book of six extra Edom-verse scenarios (by +Stephanie Bryant, +Ruth Tillman, +John Adamus, +Bill White, +Dennis Detwiller and me), +James Semple's "Dracula Suite" soundtrack, The Edom Field Manual, the Hawkins Papers handout pack, plus Perveniet Calix a DramaSystem series pitch for the Edom-verse by +Ryan Macklin, and an Esoterrorists campaign frame by +Robin Laws, and (if we hit £77,500) a deck of NPC cards (and I'll be pushing for more rather than less) suitable for attaching with string in a glorious Adversary Map or dealing out tarot-style to determine the next scenario.
The Dracula Dossier
The Dracula Dossier
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