Ask Me Anything: Keith Baker (Eberron, Phoenix: Dawn Command)
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    Ask Me Anything: Keith Baker (Eberron, Phoenix: Dawn Command)

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    The Dread began three years ago with the rise of the bone legions in the south. Since then it has spread across the known world, a waking nightmare that takes hundreds of horrible forms. Ghosts howl in the night. Skinchangers lurk in the wilds. Fallen soldiers rise to slaughter the living. Entire cities fall to a Chant that turns all who hear it into mindless killers. We dont know why this is happening. We dont know how to stop it. All that we know with certainty is that we are fighting a war and we are losing. Over a third of the Empire has been lost to the Dread, and each day brings new horrors. In this dark time we have one hope: Phoenixes are returning. Every citizen knows tales of the Phoenixes, champions who can face death and return stronger than before. In the centuries following our brutal civil war the Phoenixes have become legends and now you are one of them.

    A few days ago I launched my first Kickstarter: Phoenix: Dawn Command. It's a card-based RPG with a twist on character death; in Phoenix, death is how your character becomes more powerful.

    A few things to know right away about Phoenix:
    • The game has nothing to do with the old RPG "Phoenix Command".
    • It uses cards to resolve actions, but it is an traditional format RPG: a GM guides 2-6 players through an adventure. The initial game supports up to four players.
    • It ships with seven adventures, but there will be guidelines for creating your own challenges and adventures in the manual.
    • It works fine for one-shots, but it is designed for long term games.
    • While it's a card game, it's not collectible.


    In Phoenix, you are the last hope of a world facing a mysterious and implacable threat. While you have the ability to return from death, you can only come back seven times, and you don't come back quickly. Most of your missions have high stakes and tight timelines, and if you and your allies die your mission will fail. Death has consequences, but it isn't the end of the story. And more often than not, the odds will be stacked against you. The success of your mission is often more important than your own survival, and it's a question of how much you are willing to sacrifice to succeed. This is the primary reason for using cards in place of dice. While it's random in the long term, at any given moment you know exactly what your character is capable of and how hard you'll have to push yourself to succeed. You have a pool of mystical energy that lets you exceed the limits of your hand, but when that energy is exhausted you die. Is it worth it?

    Compared to Eberron, Phoenix is a world driven by a clear story. You have a mission and you'll have to work as a team to succeed. But it lets you tell a very different sort of story than most RPGs, and I'm happy with how the mechanics and the setting work together.

    If you have any questions, ask them here! I'm posting about it on my blog, and I'll link articles in a follow-up post.

    Here's places to learn more about Phoenix.

    The Kickstarter Itself

    Character Creation in Phoenix: Unofficial video that goes through the process of creating a character.
    One Shot Podcast: Podcast of a session of Phoenix.
    Going Last Podcast: Interview with Keith Baker and Dan Garrison
    Sweetlittefox: Playtest review

    Keith-Baker.com: A series of blog posts


    TO BE CLEAR: While I just dumped a lot of Phoenix info on you, this is an AMA threat and you can ask me anything! I'm happy to talk about Eberron, Gloom or last night's Game of Thrones.
    Last edited by Hellcow; Monday, 13th April, 2015 at 04:32 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by paradoxweaver View Post
    How many sessions do you estimate the built-in "adventure path" will take? 120 pages seems quite short for a rulebook, so I find it unsettling that it is supposed to contain a full story arc on top of the full rules!
    The missions run between 3-6 hours, and the longer ones can be split into two sessions. The guide also includes advice for creating new challenges and adventures - so you're not limited to that arc.

    As for the book, 120 pages is a minimum. It's possible it will end up being expanded, or supplemented by (free) PDF material.

    Quote Originally Posted by paradoxweaver View Post
    Any plans about follow-up books, expansions, etc? Care to give us an idea of your plans for the future of PC?
    In the initial arc, the Dread is largely unknown. People don't know the full scope of it, why it is happening, or how the various manifestations relate to one another. Phoenixes have only just started to return. They are few in number, lack resources, and haven't established a relationship with the Empire; that's something the actions of the players can affect. So much of the drive of the arc is discovery. The initial set of missions deals with a particular aspect of the Dread, but certainly doesn't solve every mystery in the world. So there's lots of room for additional adventures and for digging deeper into the setting.

    If there's sufficient interest, the next step - which would likely involve an entirely different generation of Phoenixes - would be to look at the world once the answers are known and there are more Phoenixes, when it's about fighting a war instead of finding answers. Beyond this, part of the history of the setting is the fact that the original Phoenixes established the Empire but ended up stepping down after the people rose up against them... will this new generation of Phoenixes seek to take power, or find a different path?

    Essentially, the first act is more of a focused, mission-driven introduction to the setting; the second act would allow for a wider range of stories and directions for PCs.

    And fiction is a possibility; there's a lot of interesting storytelling hooks in the setting.

    But all that depends on if there's interest in the system and the world!
    Last edited by Hellcow; Monday, 13th April, 2015 at 01:27 AM.

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    Hi Keith,

    Thanks for taking the time to do this. I've been a huuugge Eberron fan since I first started taking a serious look at it in 2007, and I've been a follower of your work ever since. Thanks for everything!

    So Phoenix: Dawn Command (PC?) is a card-based RPG, which is definitely a departure from the traditional "book + dice + character sheet" model. What brought you to combine the "non-collectible card game" format with a roleplaying game?

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    Hello Keith Baker, in the artwork for the sample Phoenixes, I noticed that they all have their faces in profile. Is that part of the artistic direction for all Phoenix characters in this set (Phoenix: Dawn Command)?

    Just curious on whether this style is meant to convey a particular feel for the game, such as the temple art from ancient Egyptian mythology or the classic heroes of Greek mythology? Will other views be allowed for Phoenix characters?

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    Ask Me Anything: Keith Baker (Eberron, Phoenix: Dawn Command)

    Hi. Thanks for doing this.

    Is this game like TSR's old SAGA system, where players draw and refresh hands from a communal deck (but still have a character sheet), or more like ccgs and deck-building games in that each character is represented by its own deck?

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    Hi Everyone!

    There's a lot of great questions here. Needless to say, I'm happy to discuss any topic - Phoenix is certainly the focus of my life right now, but I'm happy to talk about Eberron, Gloom, my cats or anything else. I'm going to group similar questions for purposes of answering.

    So Phoenix: Dawn Command (PC?) is a card-based RPG, which is definitely a departure from the traditional "book + dice + character sheet" model. What brought you to combine the "non-collectible card game" format with a roleplaying game?
    Why did you decide to go with a card system for game resolution instead of using either regular numerical dice or customized dice?
    Is this game like TSR's old SAGA system, where players draw and refresh hands from a communal deck (but still have a character sheet), or more like ccgs and deck-building games in that each character is represented by its own deck?


    In Phoenix, each player has their own set of cards that represents a character. You have a small set of Lessons, which stay out in front of you and can be used at any time. These reflect the core, reliable abilities of your character - a Durant's ability to shrug off damage, a Devoted's power to take the wounds of others, and so on. Then you have a deck of action cards; at any given time you usually have a hand of five of these. Many Action cards are just a flat attribute and score - "Strength 4". However, the low-value cards are Traits, which have both a special ability and describe your character in some way... "Vengeful", "Hunter", "Seen This Before." When you're performing an action, if you can explain how the trait applies (where exactly DID you see this before? How is you experience as a hunter relevant here?) you can add it to a spread regardless of restrictions and may receive additional benefits. You can see all these elements in the Character Creation video that Rich Malena put together.

    So: Your character is entirely reflected by a deck of cards. You have a character sheet, but it's more about defining your character's backstory and connection to the world and you don't actually need to have it out at the table.

    The bigger question, then: Why do this? What does it add to an RPG?

    For one thing, it provides players with a strong sense of narrative control. There is a random factor from round to round as you draw cards, but in any given moment you know exactly what your character is capable of. You don't make an epic speech, launch your biggest attack at the balrog, and then role a 1 and have nothing happen. Instead, you know if you're capable of making that attack this round, and if you can't, it's a question of what you can accomplish with the resources you have available.

    With that said, Phoenixes have ways to push beyond their limits. Many abilities allow you to assist team-mates. However, the most important tools are your Sparks. This is a pool of mystical energy that you use to power your supernatural abilities... but you can also use it to add directly to attack or skill spreads. The catch? When you run out of Sparks, you die. So in Phoenix, success or failure is less about random chance and more about what you're willing to sacrifice to succeed. Which ties directly to the whole death-isn't-the-end aspect of the game. There are times when it is worth it to get hit by an attack you could have avoided in order to save your cards to do something vital on your next turn... and times when it's worth it to burn all your Sparks to do something amazing, even if it means you'll die.

    Essentially, it's a different sort of story than a typical dungeon crawl. You have a shared mission and that mission is more important than any one of your lives. The cards are a way to put important decisions in your hands.

    It's really another question, but to be clear: when you die, you don't come back right away and you don't come back at the place where you died. Think about Gandalf's sacrifice fighting the balrog in Moria. He DID return stronger than before, but not immediately. Most missions are very time-sensitive, and if you have a TPK you will fail... and then have to deal with the consequences of that failure.

    One of the difficulties I found in playtesting (a different card-based game) was that I realized every player wanted to keep the deck of cards that made their character, permanently. Since there would only be one copy of the game I wasn't quite sure how to combat this, but was considering the possibility that there would have to be some kind of player pack. What are your thoughts on this issue?

    Without knowing the demand, it's not possible for us to invest in player packs. I do think there are players who'd like to have their own decks, and I'd love to have some sort of print on demand option, but currently we haven't found a satisfactory solution; for example, DriveThruCards doesn't currently print tarot-sized cards. But it's certainly something we'll continue to explore.


    Do you think you've managed to deal with the fact that a card game seems to make the players (in my playtesting experience) feel more at competition with the GM?


    It's not something I've found to be a problem. The GM doesn't have a deck of cards like the players. There's nothing random about the GM's actions; I choose WHO a creature will attack and which attack it will use, but then it's in the hands of the player as to whether that attack will succeed or fail. Sure, a competitive GM could be vindictive in the choice of WHO to attack and what attack to use, but that's true in any RPG.

    I think the big thing that makes this less of an issue is that in Phoenix, the odds are always stacked against the players. If I'm designing a dungeon in D&D, I'll generally try to make it fair. In Phoenix, I don't have to. I can put that balrog in the bottom that you can't defeat, and the question is if any of you can survive to escape with the info you've gained. Because Phoenix is essentially about being able to beat those odds through smarts & sacrifice... even if you may not all make it out. I don't NEED to get extra competitive; the PCs are going to have a challenging time as it is.

    Do you feel you've managed to capture a feeling of making every character feel unique without overloading them with cards?

    I do. Action decks are actually quite small and the Traits - which are selected by each player during character generation - provide a lot of flavor as well as providing unique abilities.

    In the artwork for the sample Phoenixes, I noticed that they all have their faces in profile. Is that part of the artistic direction for all Phoenix characters in this set?

    Where did the inspiration for the artwork come from? It's pretty unique and cool.

    In developing the action cards, we wanted to present images of Phoenixes as they would be depicted in the world itself, as opposed to a "snapshot" of a Phoenix. We were looking for a blend of Byzantine/Tarot flavor with WWI and WWII propaganda posters. This is a world at war, and these are stylized depictions of heroes and threats. As a side note, the artists are Rich Ellis and Grace Allison of Periscope Studios.

    I need to stop here for now, but I'll get back to the other questions next time I have a moment!
    Last edited by Hellcow; Sunday, 12th April, 2015 at 09:24 PM.
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    Hi Keith,

    I'm just double checking before backing - do you ship to New Zealand? An extra charge for that is assumed.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rabbitbait View Post
    I'm just double checking before backing - do you ship to New Zealand?
    Yes. It took a little while to get it sorted out, but we can now ship anywhere in the world.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stacie GmrGrl View Post
    How many sessions do you feel the average campaign will be with this game to go from beginning heroes to the end and final death?
    After death, the soonest a Phoenix can return is dawn on the following day, and you can only return in certain places. Most missions are on a tight timeline, so in many adventures it's not actually possible to die and be reborn in the course of a single session. As such, it will likely take at least seven missions to go through the entire cycle, and that's assuming you die in every session, which would be pretty aggressive play. There are missions in our initial path that last long enough for death and rebirth, and we also have lots of hooks in the path for GMs to drop in interludes or additional missions.

    It also varies by School. Bitter Phoenixes are most powerful when close to death, so as a Bitter you want to live on the edge and could potentially die every mission. Meanwhile, Durant Phoenixes are all about being hard to kill; the Durant is the best choice for the person who wants to ease into the death and rebirth concept.

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    Quote Originally Posted by CubeB View Post
    Are there any plans to support online play with this game, or is that too far in the future?
    It's certainly a possibility, but for now we're really focusing on getting the core game out.

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