Aes Libris 1

The start of our new video series: Aes Libris. This is the successor to Aes-y Listening, which we’ve posted about before.

Our first Aes Libris video is the famous stoic Victorian poem, Invictus, by William Ernest Henley. The text:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.


Aes-y Listening 19

One of our favorite architects that bridges the steampunk and modern eras is Frank Lloyd Wright. So for episode 19 of Aes-y Listening, we picked one of his short speeches from 1938.

In it he discusses the Floo Floo Bird and how its tendency to fly backward was similar to the attitude of architects. His advice, that designers should move forward with the materials they have rather than cling to what came before, underlies some of the building design we’ve used for Laton.

This is the last episode of Aes-y Listening. YouTube, sadly, dislikes puns in the names of series when it comes to searching. So for the next episode, we used a new name for the concept.

Iconic Spotlight: Ji Wang

Welcome to a new series of articles, “Iconic Spotlight!” Our Aes Quick Start Guide includes a half-dozen pre-made characters. We wanted to highlight each of these explorers in turn.

Our first iconic to feature is Ji Wang, the concoction expert. Ji Wang is a very old character, whose existence predates Aes: Brass Revolution. She was originally developed as an NPC who uses a new class of concoctions, serums. Her scientific research in turn supplied lore and background on the history of serums, as well as concoctions in general.

Since being shifted to a pre-made, her specialty went from serums to solvents, but her quest to discover new chemicals remained. Thanks to her status as the very first pre-made character we envisioned, she is also the character we use in the core book to provide an example of character creation. We also made her the leader of the iconic heroes, as we felt it made our team composition a bit more unique than what we’d seen in other games.


Ji Wang, science heroine and leader of the crew of the Airship Zhuge! Steady and analytical, she supports her teammates in clashes with her array of concoctions. In the social arena, she often acts as the team’s lead voice to academics and omnipresent innovators.

Ji Wang’s passion has always been concoctions. As a young girl, she’d spent hours mixing various compounds in her home in Tanso. One particularly memorable incident involved her pet hamster, Huey, and an explosion of sticky solvents. From then on, her parents worked hard to afford her access to books and tutors as they could find them. They dedicated everything they had to ensuring she would advance to a better life – a chance she swore not to take for granted.

Growing older, she studied the history of concoctions and their myriad uses for inspiration. The Tanso immigrants didn’t have many volumes on ancient Zhengqi concoctions, but she absorbed what she could. Applying to Guozijian University, she was admitted by demonstrating a new solvent for safely dissolving glues and gels without damaging solids.

Graduating with full honors, Ji Wang went into the world to pursue her studies in the wild. While at Guozijian, she’d become fascinated by the ancient herbal concoctions that predated the formal sciences. While some had been formally studied and integrated into balms, many more remained untapped. She set out into Aeneam to find these “lost” ingredients and bring their properties to modern science.

Her research caught the eye of Christy Eosolvo, who offered her a faculty position at Eosolvo University. With the sanction of the university, Ji Wang began to travel Aeneam. Along the way, she met the doctor, Draben, whose knowledge of vis exceeded her own; and the artist, Anna, whose keen eye proved valuable. A chance encounter in Buffalton brought her into contact with Aisa, Gurgen, and Yegor. Together, they set out to explore the continent.


Ji Wang has three main faculties: Solvent Maker, Maker Haste, and Hammer Space. The first gives her the ability to create and customize solvents. That plainly ties into her back-story. Maker Haste allows her to create these solvents faster than a normal person, which is useful during a clash. Hammer Space allows her to draw small items from nowhere on the fly. That means she’ll always have a handy solvent vial ready if she’s caught by surprise or in a difficult pinch.

Thanks to both a human adaptation and knowing Solvent Maker, Ji Wang knows 4 modifications. One allows her to create gases. Another creates traps. The third deals damage to living things and the fourth gets herself out of being stuck in glue.

Play Style

Ji Wang is the crafting example we supply to players. Since a key focus of Aes is “heroic science,” we needed a crafter who would function both in and out of combat. Ji Wang focuses mainly on the use of flair, making her great at dealing with people as well as manipulating items. Her high clarity in invention means she looks intelligent – good for interfacing with Laton’s R&D labs or university professors.

Normally, a crafter has to spend their whole turn to make a new item. By giving her Maker Haste, Ji Wang can craft and move in the same turn to keep herself from harm. As that improves, she’ll eventually be able to make concoctions on the fly for free while still helping to deal damage to targets.

Her ability to create traps that cause targets to stay put is highly versatile, since it can be used offensively and defensively. By making gases, she can reach targets that are behind closed doors. While she has little offensive power on her own, she can inflict some with at least one concoction type if she needs to. Lastly, she has the ability to get herself and allies out of sticky situations if her own solvents are used against her.

Ji Wang is a support build – she helps the combat characters from the rear and by helping to control the battlefield with her traps. Unlike other games, her status as a crafter does nothing to hinder her ability to participate in combat, so those who play her aren’t totally on the sidelines.

Version 10 “Alpha’s End” By the Numbers

Version 10, “Alpha’s End,” the newest version of Aes, has finally been released! This has been a long, extended undertaking for us, fraught with delays, but also yielding some very high quality results.

Pages: 389
Faculties: 249
Modifications: 718
Testing time: 15 months

The first major difference: time. Version 10 had the longest development cycle of any single version. In the 15-month span it took us to finish this, we’d completed the first eight versions of Aes!

We’d like to say all of this was testing and refining. Indeed, quite a lot of it was. We wrote entirely new crafting material and went through several versions for each. We added dozens of pages of lore. We radically altered how distance and motion work in the game’s engine. However, there was a distinct delay in development caused by personal life issues during this time. We’re only human, so we’re glad we were able to work through it in the end.

No surprise version 10 was tested at the most conventions of any version before it. This was the first one tested twice at the same convention and the first to be used twice for other annual events in the fall. We doubt it will be the last in this regard. For weekly sessions, we actually paused running Aes in stores for a few months to help focus energy on development. However, even with that pause, there were well over 50 sessions of Aes run using this incarnation. The extended testing cycle meant we caught a lot of typos and the wording for several faculties got tweaked several times to be easier to understand.

The new content is evident in the other numbers. Compare them to the stats of version 9. Fifty-seven new pages and that’s despite cuts! We removed items like charges and serums we felt worked better in expansion material.

As for material added, we had 23 new faculties (a modest gain), but a crazy 232 increase in modifications! This is not shocking given how much crafting we added on: vis tinnabulators, thrumbines, simuloids, capes, and bucklers. With their addition, we now have the fully realized stock of tinnabulators and turngears we wanted for the core book. We also added faculties supporting armor usage and some new tricks for Volition.

And the changes went far beyond more faculties and mods. Lore has been greatly expanded. Taking a recommendation to focus on Laton as the main setting rather than the entire nation of Aeneam, we zoomed in on the capitol city. There’s enough lore and hooks for each sector of Laton that an Invisible Hand can likely think of some clever ideas. Memberships have been implemented, accompanied with lore on several major groups in Aeneam that players can join.

To improve accessibility to new players, character creation has been revamped to flow even better. There are a lot of steps, but that’s because we unpacked each one for maximum clarity. Down the line we might group some of them together, but for now this highly detailed breakdown has tested well with new players. At the end of the book is now a glossary so all the jargon and pronouns are succinctly summarized for quick and easy reference.

We also did one of the first major system changes since version 5 and 6. Motion and distance are no longer measured in exact numbers. Instead, they are listed as relative speeds and proximities. This allows the Invisible Hand to “fudge” things in combat. The main benefit is an explorer caught in the wrong place during combat doesn’t have to wait as long as to come running in if they’re slow. It can be said just a single turn running is enough.

Range is now a set of approximate distances from one another, rather than a carefully calculated sum of meters. This addresses one of our major issues from testing since day 1: the accounting mini-game. Explorers want to play the game and do crazy maneuvers and stunts. Running the math to see if they can run and then attack with the AP they have and then being disappointed if they come up a little short goes contrary to good action. Now the Invisible Hand has greater freedom to handwave it away. (The official term for running an Aes game is “invisible handwaving.”)

The other major change we made relates to an earlier post about the Armor Problem. We’ve dropped the health point / body point system. Now, explorers start with sturdiness from armor. Once their armor breaks, they start taking damage to health. Health is hard to recover (only 10% per respite), so taking HP damage is quite dangerous. That leaves explorers to balance the downsides of taking heavier armor over ensuring they aren’t killed in the field.

What’s next?

Version 10 is the end of the alpha phase for Aes. At 2 years and 4 months, this is longer than we anticipated, but not well outside expectations. It can take RPG’s 5 years or more to see completion.

Our next version will be the beginning of the Beta. This will be noted in the numbering. When we began, we numbered the alpha versions as 0.01A. We later scrapped this in favor of 1.0A, 2.0A, etc. since people were reluctant to play a game with decimal iterations. With version 10, we’re now at 0.10A. The beta will begin at either be 0.1B or 0.2B – we’re still de-beta-ing (ha). We’ll likely refer to them as 1.0B and 2.0B, but the goal is that 10.0B will in fact be version 1.0 of the game – the final release copy.

To get the first beta version ready, we have several long-term tasks. First, talents need to be balanced and revised to match the lore focus on Laton. Second, the Invisible Hand section is going to get an overhaul so we can grow the number of game runners.

Third, and the largest task, we’re going to a broad meta-review of every faculty and mod to evaluate exactly what play styles and combinations are currently at work. We’ve already observed that certain faculties are more popular than others. We have a rough idea of what works as an individual faculty that makes explorers want to use it. Insight into synergy is what we’re missing at this stage. We want to make sure that many common types of explorer behaviors – combat and non-combat – are supported and encouraged in the core book.

These three issues will take time. As we begin work on them, we’re going to resume running games. Our focus is going to be developing a suite of adventures for Laton we can formalize and release to go with the core book down the line. It’ll also let us see what content is most relevant to the setting and what we can move to other planned releases in the future.

Version 9 “Fully Charged” By the Numbers

Version 10, the end of the alpha stage for Aes, is currently in the final stages of being printed! Before that’s finalized, we wanted to give the summary of how version 9 came to be, as we see it exiting the testing landscape.

  • Pages: 332
  • Faculties: 226
  • Modifications: 486
  • Testing time: 4 months

Looking back at the numbers for version 8, several things are clear. Version 8 was focused on removing content we knew would not be a focus for the core book, such as sand shapers and grit tech. Version 9 focused on moving us closer to beta by adding core content: 34 more pages, 27 new faculties, and 122 new modifications.

On the faculties front, hurled weapons finally got support through specialized faculties. There were also additions made to self-defense and invention.

With crafting, the two biggest additions were charges and thrumbines. Players now had the chance to customize explosives, making a demo man a viable player type. Thrumbine mods allowed for personal vehicle creation, a definite thematic necessity. A new type of hybrid between mods and faculties – habits – were added, finally allowing explorers to customize their animal companions, at least a little bit.

Two major systems implemented with version 9: memories and vending points. Memories had been on the character sheet since it was first drafted. We always knew we wanted a system that players could use to signify special in character knowledge. It also gave us a way to impart more lore about the world from a “first person” perspective, so that players could put themselves into the minds of their explorers more readily. Version 9 saw memories added for each of the four main nations, with Aeneam and Zahnrad being the main focus.

Vending points are a system of special “chits” players can cash in once per game session. We’ve discussed their implementation and relation to the five ideals already.

In terms of testing duration, version 8 to 9 had one of the longest periods to date with 4 solid months and multiple conventions. There were 2 regular sessions a week for much of it, so the total sessions alone were easy above 20. That allowed for robust testing of all the new material and helped identify some bugs.

However, this length of testing time was quickly dwarfed by version 10’s dev cycle. Version 10 featured cuts and additions, but overall sported very different numbers from version 9, as we’ll see in its upcoming “By the Numbers” breakdown. We’re planning to have the print version ready before the end of November, in time for the holiday season and to close out 2017 on a high note!

Aes-y Listening 17

For episode 17 of Aes-y Listening, we did a reading of “If” by Rudyard Kipling.

Here is the full text of the poem:

If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!