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Friday, 21 June 2019

Free RPG Day 2019: Modern AGE Quickstart: Threefold

Now in its twelfth year, Saturday, June 15th was Free RPG Day and with it came an array of new and interesting little releases. Invariably they are tasters for forthcoming games to be released at GenCon the following August, but others are support for existing RPGs or pieces of gaming ephemera or a quick-start. The release for Free RPG Day 2019 from Green Ronin Publishing is Modern AGE Quickstart: Threefold. As its title suggests, this is a quick-start for Modern AGE, a roleplaying game which updates the AGE System first seen in Dragon Age – Dark Fantasy Roleplaying Set 1: For Characters Level 1 to 5 to do gritty action, high adventure, urban fantasy, or dystopian future. Modern AGE Quickstart: Threefold presents a slightly simplified version of the Modern AGE rules, a lengthy three part scenario which introduces a new setting for the Modern AGE rules, and five pre-generated characters, all of which comes in a forty page, full-colour booklet.

At the core of each character in Modern AGE are eight abilities—Accuracy, Communication, Constitution, Dexterity, Fighting, Intelligence, Perception, Strength, and Willpower. Each attribute is rated between -2 and 4, with 1 being the average. They will have ability focuses, areas of expertise such as Accuracy (Assault Rifles), Communication (Gambling), Intelligence (Occultism), Perception (Searching), and so on that add a +2 bonus to appropriate rolls. Characters can also know Weapon Groups, Talents, and Specialisations and these are worked into and explained in the five pre-generated characters, although they are not explained in Modern AGE Quickstart: Threefold. This is intentional, since it is not designed to cover character creation, but rather showcase the mechanics and the new setting in play.

Mechanically, Modern AGE Quickstart: Threefold uses the same basic mechanics as Modern AGE and Fantasy AGE as well as Dragon Age – Dark Fantasy Roleplaying before it. Known as the AGE System or Adventure Gaming Engine (AGE) System, this requires the use of just six-sided dice, both to handle actions as well as effect—such as damage, time taken, or to generate Stunt Points. To undertake an action, a player rolls three six-sided dice to beat a target, the average being eleven. To the roll a player also adds the appropriate Ability and if one applies, a +2 bonus for any Focus. For example, Trace needs to find the location of a gate to their next destination and believes that it can be found in the library of Cardinal House, home to the Sodality’s governing body on the Otherworld of Akavastu. The Game Master sets the target to eleven. Trace has an Intelligence of 3 and a Focus of Research, which gives him a bonus of +2, thus enabling to add five to the roll. Trace’s player rolls the dice and gets a result of 4, 4, and 2, for a total of 10—just not quite enough for Trace to succeed and find details of the location he is sure is noted in the records. Fortunately, with the addition of the appropriate Ability and Focus—Intelligence and Intelligence (Research)—the total is actually 14 and so Trace finds the information he needs.

Now of the three six-sided dice, one is a different colour to the other two. This is called the Stunt Die. Typically, it acts as an effect die, measuring how well a character does or how quickly an action takes, but in the basic rules, particularly in combat, the Stunt Die does much, much more. Whenever a player rolls doubles on two of the three six-sided dice and succeeds, he gets a number of points equal to the result of the Stunt Die to spend on Stunts, which come in four types—Combat, Exploration, Social, and Power. Thus, Knock Prone or Vicious Blow are Combat Stunts for use in melee or missile combat, Powerful Manifestation or Fast Use are Power Stunts when casting magic, Speed Demon or With a Flourish are Exploration Stunts for general actions, and Impress or Class Clown! are Social Stunts.

To continue the example, Trace’s player rolled 4, 4, and 2 on the successful research attempt. Since he rolled doubles, the Stunt Die is activated and as this was 2 result, Trace’s player has just two Stunt Points to spend. Looking at the Exploration Stunts, the most obvious option is ‘Speed Demon’ which cuts the time it takes to complete the test in half. The Game Master decides that as a consequence, Trace and his fellow team members will get to the gate before the main enemy operations team does, though they may be chased by a small band of scouts.

Overall, whatever the iteration of the AGE System, the mechanics are easy to grasp and easy to play, providing an enjoyably cinematic play experience via the rich choice of Stunts and Talents. Modern AGE Quickstart: Threefold explains the mechanics in just ten pages, including the use of magic, serving either as a quick refresher for anyone familiar with the AGE System or as a solid introduction to the basics of the mechanics.

In addition, Modern AGE Quickstart: Threefold also introduces a new setting for Modern AGE—The Metacosm of Threefold. The Earth is but one world in the Metacosm, all connected by a series of gates. The Earth is a tech-world, although its highest technology—experiments into time travel and the manipulation of parallel worlds—are controlled by a conspiracy of inhuman intelligences known as the Peridixion. Otherworlds vary widely, from worlds where islands float on endless seas to worlds ruled by Optimates, the demigod children of gods. Collectively they rule a Divine Empire, whilst another power, the Vitane, promotes peace and the dissemination of knowledge. The Sodality is an independent organisation of explorers, diplomats, and warriors. Beyond this, there is a third power, the Netherworlds, places of nightmares ruled by archdemons whose subjects are damned souls. Earth is the first layer in the Metacosm, the Otherworlds are the second, the Netherworlds the third, whilst the Divine Empire, the Vitane, and the Netherworlds are first, second, and third powers. Thus three layers, three powers, and a tripartite secret behind it all—hence Threefold.

Thus what you have in Threefold is a cross-parallel, planet-hopping setting which mixes genres. So technology and magic mix to varying degrees from parallel to parallel as do the genres, including fantasy, science fiction, conspiracy, cyberpunk, and more. Modern AGE Quickstart: Threefold primarily showcases elements of these in the five pre-generated characters. So the five includes a bruiser with the ability to locate gates between worlds, an ex-combat medic, a broker and dealer also with the ability to locate gates between worlds, an investigator able to identify things not of the Earth who has been augmented with cybernetics for different skill foci, and an Arcanist who cast magic to access electronic devices, track people and objects, and if necessary blast them! All of them are decently done, though the ex-combat medic may feel somewhat mundane in comparison to the others. All though, begin the scenario with knowledge of the Macrocosm and the fact that there are more worlds than just the Earth. None of the characters have their age, appearance, or agenda predetermined and theirs are free to set these as they want.

The scenario in Modern AGE Quickstart: Threefold is ‘Burning Brighter’. The player characters begin in New York City at the Blake Clinic, a free medical clinic that is also a front for Aethon, the Peridexion’s paramilitary and espionage arm. When a man suffering from strange symptoms is brought into reception and the clinic is attacked by offworld, hi-tech agents, then the player characters know that something is amiss. This is confirmed when they are recruited into a joint Peridexion-Vitane task force and informed that an agent has gone rogue and may well be spreading the disease that the man was suffering from. The player characters are tasked with tracking down and dealing with the damage that this agent has done—someone else will go after the agent.

Divided into three acts—plus prologue—‘Burning Brighter’ will take the player characters across multiple Otherworlds and along the way will encounter a mythical beast, an Optimate with a mythic backstory and a van, members of a warrior band, the Nighthost, invaders from the Netherworlds, and more, showcasing various parts of the setting, how its factions interact with each other, and how some technology might not work on every world. Along the way, the players  should get a chance to show off their characters’ talents and abilities, get used to the Modern AGE mechanics, and perhaps uncover a secret or two. The scenario does end with almost everything resolved, but there is room for the Game Master to develop further adventures once she has a copy of Modern AGE and the Threefold setting supplement.

Physically, Modern AGE Quickstart: Threefold is very nicely presented with a bright, clean layout, full-colour painted artwork throughout, and decent writing. If there is an issue with physicality the quick-start it is that the cover is underwhelming and if there is an issue with Modern AGE Quickstart: Threefold as a whole, it is that hilst the rules are easy to learn and impart, the same cannot be said of the background which conversely is potentially overwhelming for the players  should the Game Master attempt to impart it to them, Especially for a one-shot. That said, it might be helpful for the Game Master to put together a cheat-sheet for the background as well as the mechanics when preparing to run ‘Burning Brighter’.

Modern AGE Quickstart: Threefold is easy to read, the rules are easy to learn, and the scenario, ‘Burning Brighter’—which feels like a  more fantastical version of the television series, Sliders—should provide two session’s worth of decent play. Overall, Modern AGE Quickstart: Threefold is solid introduction to both Modern AGE and the Threefold setting.


Modern AGE Quickstart: Threefold will be available to download from the Green Ronin Publishing website from Monday, July 1st, 2019.

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