Given how small and confined the world feels these days, I thought it might be appropriate to take a look at an RPG supplement about endless worlds and infinite alternate Earths. Somewhere out there, I’m sure we just skipped 2020!
What is this setting full of potential? Today I’m going to look at the Threefold setting for Green Ronin’s Modern AGE Basic Rules. Modern AGE has rules not only for modern arms and equipment, but also has support for magic and superhuman powers, allowing for a wide range of modern era genres. The Threefold setting is designed to take advantage of the broad scope of the Modern AGE rules.
This review is based on the PDF of the Threefold Campaign Setting, which is 186 pages. This includes a full-page ad for the Lazarus setting, a two-page character sheet, and a three-page index. This is a full-color product with full page and half page art pieces, with the full-page pieces introducing individual chapters. Several “iconic” characters appear in the Modern AGE rulebook that appear in several of the pieces in this book as well.
Most of the book is formatted in a two-column layout with several sidebars called out with separate colors. For several stat blocks, the book retains the orange/yellow/green formatting for the different modes of play introduced in Modern AGE (Gritty/Pulp/Cinematic). The introductory fiction and glossary sections are formatted in three columns. There are various sidebars throughout the book that give quick paragraph explanations of multiple realities throughout the book as recurring plot hooks.
There is a Green Ronin quirk that exists in several products and is in evidence here as well. Green Ronin is often very efficient with page usage, meaning they don’t allow for a lot of blank space. The consequence of this efficiency is that at times a stat block will appear on a different page than the headings that contextualize that stat block. For example, in the adversary chapter, a stat block may appear in a sidebar on one page, but the paragraphs that give more information about the character represented by the stat block won’t appear until the next page.
Because this is a campaign setting, the text assumes a few different degrees of familiarity with other products in the Modern AGE line. The text notes that Modern AGE Enemies and Allies is written specifically with the Threefold setting in mind, and a few of the factions mentioned in this book have stat blocks for characters in that book, which are not repeated in this book. Additionally, a few optional rules from the Modern AGE Companion are mentioned as options as well.
The Modern AGE Companion does not feel as obligatory, despite the references, but the expanded range of opponents may be something that a GM running this setting may wish to access. At the bare minimum, as this is a campaign setting for Modern AGE, this product will require the Modern AGE Basic Rulebook to use.
After the introduction, this product is divided between a Player’s Section and a Game Master’s Section. The Player’s Section includes the following chapters:
- Chapter 1: Across A Thousand Planes
- Chapter 2: Threefold Characters
- Chapter 3: Secrets & Potent Powers
- Chapter 4: The Sodality & Aethon
The Game Master’s Setting includes these chapters:
- Chapter 5: Eternals at War
- Chapter 6: The Planes
- Chapter 7: Treasures
- Chapter 8: Denizens of the Planes
- Chapter 9: Metacosm Campaigns
- Adventure: Identity
Across A Thousand Planes
The first section of this campaign setting details the very large scope on which the campaign plays out. In this case, there are many alternate realities, but they are grouped into three broad categories, Earths, Otherworlds, and Netherworlds. Earths are worlds that appear as alternate versions of our world, either resembling the past or the future, or the present where some events in the past unfolded differently. Otherworlds are usually magical places that are distinct enough that they don’t resemble any era on Earth, but might have certain mythic touchstones (for example, resembling the godly realms from the various religions of Earth). Netherworlds are dominated by occult (psychic) powers, rulers trade in and manipulate souls, and the gates to these worlds are usually sealed or guarded.
Gates between planes are very difficult to create or destroy, but they can often be locked or unlocked, and some characters have a natural ability to sense how to manipulate existing gates. Because some destinations don’t have a direct link, characters may need to travel across multiple realities to reach their desired location.
The politics of the setting involve the Vitane (a multi-world magical government that exist across various Otherworlds), the Peridexicon (the secret government of Earth), the Divine Empire (multiple magical Otheworlds ruled by the children of ancient gods), and the Nighthost (the allied armies of the more hellishly disposed Netherworlds).
There is a lot of history that is presented as some of these governments spring from others, various capitals are established, and various factions create enforcement and exploration organizations. In general, you get the broad strokes of what organizations are the primary movers and shakers in the campaign, but the full concept of where gates come from, how they work, and the truths of the universe don’t show up until later in the book.
The setting as presented in this chapter is interesting, but this section includes just enough to get confusing. There is just enough information to get some wrong ideas about how things work. I know this is the player facing section, but I think the bare minimums of the major transplanar nations and organizations would have been a better, shorter summary.
This section of the book adds extra rules to the options from the core book. There are new backgrounds, ancestries, professions, talents, and specializations. These are generally flavored towards providing context within the Threefold metacosm setting.
The backgrounds provide multiple variable benefits. These benefits may be ability boosts, or skill focus, and there is a chart with multiple benefits, meaning you can have many characters with the same backgrounds that derived very different items from those backgrounds. Each background also grants talents, and because this is where talents first come into character creation, we learn that you cannot gain both psychic and magical talents. Those are mutually exclusive supernatural power sources in the setting.
This section also provides ancestries. Ancestries allow you to replace options that you gained from your background (meaning that you don’t need to replace anything from your backgrounds if you don’t want to do so). The ancestries included in the setting are:
While some of these correspond to various fantasy species, they do so more broadly. For example, Arvu are kind of similar to elves, but depending on the world they may be more traditional fantasy elf, or more sidhe fey creatures. Dreygur may seem more like demonic humanoids or Unseelie fey. Huldra may be like gnomes, dwarves, or goblins. Jana may resemble jinn. According to Vitane law, anything with a soul is human, so regardless of minor details, all of these species are effectively humans from different worlds across the Metacosm.
The next set of character options in this chapter are professions. Depending on the profession chosen, the character might receive another focus and talent, and this also sets their starting health and resources.
The talents section introduces a specific kind of talent called the Soul Talents. Soul Talents often involve encoding for which world the character has an affinity. Often the soul talents lock a character out of taking a different set of talents, and may tie a character to Earths, Otherworlds, Netherworlds, or may brand the character as a Wandersoul. Wandersouls are characters with a natural affinity for gates and extraplanar travel, and can pick up the location and traits of planar gates.
Specializations are a simpler version of what 3rd Edition D&D players might recognize as prestige classes. These are bundles of abilities that a character can pick up at higher level that makes them better at a particular set of skills. In this case, many of these specializations tie a character to one of the organizations in the setting as specific operatives, or as members of factions specifically outside of the organizations (like the Red Pact Warlocks, arcane practitioners that don’t learn one of the approved courses of magical study).
I like what’s going on in this chapter, I just wish the previous chapter had focused a little more on explaining just the organizations and setting elements directly highlighted by the character options in this section.
Secrets and Potent Powers
This section adds new powers to those that appear in the Modern AGE Basic Rules. There are new Arcanas, Psychic Powers, and Augmentations. In addition to new options, there are also Occult Rites. These rites allow a group of characters to trigger powers they do not currently have, or to trigger powers at a range and scope that the power usually doesn’t allow. There are also additional rules for how magic can be replenished, and how to determine the limits on how many augmentations a character can have.
As mentioned in the previous section, characters with the ability to use magic cannot learn to use psychic abilities. Characters with Augmentations, special high tech body modifications, can have one or the other, but the more augmentations a character has, the harder it is for them to use either their magical or psychic powers. This essentially aligns the power sources in this manner:
- Otherworlds = Arcana
- Netherwords = Psychic
- Earths = Augmentations
One of my favorite aspects of how magic works in this campaign setting is that on magical worlds, characters regain magic after a certain amount of time resting. Magic is ambient. However, on less magical worlds, characters can perform artistic activities to generate magic points. Magic is the energy of creation, so creative efforts spawn additional magical energy. I have heard magic expressed this way before, but I like the way it is mechanically reinforced here.
Some unscrupulous magic practitioners can also siphon magic from people that are themselves artistic. Minor feeding in this manner just stunts the character a bit, but prolonged feeding eventually kills the artist. Additionally, magic practitioners, in a pinch, can siphon magic from existing magic items to replenish their ability to cast spells.
Rites generate Gnosis, which allows characters to build an effect from that Gnosis. In addition to performing the standard rites, characters can generate more gnosis by committing forbidden acts. Committing these forbidden acts generates more gnosis because they transgress what the common consciousness assumes “should” happen, and breaking that generates more power. Thankfully, there is a discussion about how to approach these transgressions carefully at the table, although the discussion would have been better formatted as a wider safety sidebar. Additionally, the terminology used is very common, but I’ve seen some discussion about the etymology that makes me hesitant to use it.
I was a little concerned at the beginning of the Augmentation section, because there was a reference to the limits and what happens when a character exceeds their limits on augmentations, both physically and mentally. Thankfully, we don’t have a situation where anyone’s humanity or sanity is challenged. Characters that have too many augments may end up having a difficult time making constitution tests or they may become, or have a more difficult time removing, exhaustion.
The Sodality & Aethon
This section looks at the organizations that are the assumed baseline for player characters. The organizations have a basic level of cooperation, meaning you could have a mixed group of PCs working together, but it’s going to be more likely that player character groups will belong to one or the other. In general, the Sodality performs more above board, straightforward missions, while the Aethon operate in a little more of a grey area.
The Sodality is primarily going to go on missions that feature diplomacy, protecting worlds from invasions coming through various gates, or gathering information from newly discovered worlds. There are three branches to the Sodality, the Emissary, Protector, and Searcher branches. They receive badges with a reserve of magical energy, and magical papers that can appear as whatever official documentation they might need on a given world. This engages part of the setting lore, that there is a platonic ideal of language. Anyone that knows the true language of the metacosm isn’t fooled by these documents.
The Aethon’s job is to protect the chain of alternate Earths, and they are directed by artificial intelligences that predict the path of various Earths. Sometimes they protect an Earth from a planar incursion, but other times, the AIs direct them to “tweak” the course of history on an alternate Earth, for some long term plan. Sometimes they even need to “delete” an alternate timeline that may be a greater threat in the long run.
While the Sodality is aligned to the Otherworlds and magical pursuits, and the Aethon is aligned to alternate Earths and high tech pursuits, both organizations recruit people from beyond those rigidly defined pursuits. Both organizations have recruited assets from other worlds, or picked up members that were planar refugees.
Eternals at War
This is the first chapter in the Game Master’s Section of the book, and it explains the biggest framing concept of the campaign setting. We’ve already seen the “Threefold” concept in that there are three broad categories of worlds, and three sources for supernatural power. These aren’t just randomly recurring themes. The reality of the Metacosm involves the Aions, the most powerful creatures in the Metacosm, Abraxas, Logos, and Nemesis.
Spoiler territory for the nature of the universe.
Three super-powerful beings were dreamed into existence by humans. One is the power of mythic cycles, one is the power of science, and the other is the power of immediate cause and effect. If a critical mass of humans leans towards one of these three, they effectively become God, and rewrite the universe so that their truth has always been true across the Metacosm.
The gods of various pantheons, artificial intelligences, angels, and demons are effectively the “children” of these three major forces. None of these beings have souls in the sense that humans do, but exist as subdivisions of the interests of the three greater powers in the Metacosm. These Emanates have founded or guided the various multi-planar empires over the millennia, naturally moving the universe in one direction or another into a consensus on who God should be.
I really warmed up to the setting when I read about the quirkiness of magic and creative energy, but as soon as I read about competing aspects of God that might rewrite time if enough people believe in them, I became more invested in this setting. I do think it’s a little ironic that, much like man imagining God and God retroactively creating the universe, it’s interesting that so much of the previous material in this book suddenly looks different once reaching this chapter and realizing what the biggest meta-concession of the setting is.
The next section discusses the planes, planar travel, and planar designations in more detail. It gives a code designation that is used by various organizations to categorize planes, and also introduces a few planar types that fall “in-between” the simpler designations of Otherworlds, Earths, and Netherworlds. For example, there are Abysses, planes that generally can’t support human life at all, and worlds with some mixture of magic, psychic, and technological support.
There are rules for traveling between world without planar gates, sealing gates, and incessance rules. Some worlds are so vehemently aligned with the rules of one of the Aions that waves of energy rewrite what is possible for travelers on that world. This section also gives a more in-depth look at the various planar government capitals for the Sodality, the primary Earth, and the most prominent Netherworld.
This section details the standard equipment, gear, and vehicles used by various factions in the setting. It also includes rules for trading in souls, the benefits gained from honorifics, and extraordinary items that fall outside of standard equipment.
One of my favorite bits of gear has to be the Malcanthus, effectively a rifle grown from an invasive plant common to various Netherworlds, which shoots poisonous thorns as ammunition. It embodies what I like about this setting, in that it feels very much like what a legionnaire from hell might carry, but it’s also not quite something we’ve seen in other settings, and has its own lore based on the lore of planar travel.
Souls can’t be extracted without an owner’s permission, and there are a few different functions they can provide, like providing extra magical power, extending life, or returning vitality. The “soul” talents from the previous section are literally soul talents . . . without a soul, those talent slots are empty, but a character that goes without a soul for too long loses their free will and ceases to be an individual.
Honorifics are touched on in the Modern AGE Basic Rules, but there are additional ones attached to working for various organizations, training with various groups in the setting, or having a reputation that requires traveling the planes.
Denizens of the Planes
This section of the book gives stat blocks for various regularly encountered NPCs. Each of these stat blocks includes variable stats that are keyed to gritty, pulp, or cinematic rules, as defined in the Modern AGE Core Rules.
The NPCs are organized either by power groups or planar type. Some of the stat blocks are more “standard” operatives, while others are specifically named NPCs, with more detail added commensurately. For example, there is a section of Netherworld rulers that provide individual “demon lords” or “angels” that rule specific Netherworlds. There are also some “gods” from various Otherworlds. Some NPCs are free agents and wandering criminals.
It is noted that the Modern AGE Allies and Enemies sourcebook provides characters specifically for this campaign setting, and some factions mentioned, like the warlocks mentioned in previous chapters, don’t have representative stat blocks in this section.
This section has a lot of story hooks. There are general story hooks based on broad themes for the campaign, and there are more specific campaign hooks provided for the Sodality. In addition to these story hooks, there are more specific examples of Sodality missions with various steps spelled out.
There is also a discussion of how to use the Gritty, Pulp, and Cinematic modes from the Modern AGE Core Rules. There are multiple ways that these are suggested to be implemented, either as campaign wide rules, or as specific settings for different worlds (i.e. Earths are Gritty, Netherworlds are Pulp, Otherworlds are Cinematic). None of the suggested implementations is considered the “default,” but there are some calculations that have to be done to change modes between worlds, so that on the fly calculation may be something that the GM and players may not wish to do in play.
This is one of those sections of the campaign setting where I almost wish there was less of an option. I get that this is meant to leave the option to use various modes open, but I’m not a fan of recalculating stats based on the current location, and traveling the planes as operatives of multi-planar factions feels pretty cinematic to me.
The example adventure assumes a starting team of Sodality characters performing a mission for their organization. The adventure involves planar travel, negotiation, extraction, and a hearing with a “god” about the nature of humanity when a soul can’t be detected in an organism.
What I like about this adventure is that there are a few key scenes detailed, and the core conflicts are spelled out. NPCs are given stat blocks. But in various places, characters can resolve scenes in multiple ways. For example, when characters might run from or escape an encounter, there isn’t one assumed way for them to do so, and there are a few suggestions on what might happen and how to adjudicate this. There isn’t one way to obtain a judgment, but there are several directions from which the group may approach the judge.
This may not appeal to everyone, but I have come to appreciate adventures that present a central plot and some key scenes, but don’t force rigid connective tissues. I realize this may not be as ideal for people that don’t want to decide how to adjudicate moving from one scene to the next on their own, but it does mean that if there is an obvious way to travel from point A to point B, there won’t be a defined path from which the GM is concerned about deviating.
Clarity and Balance
I’m an easy mark for modern fantasy where a myriad of truths can coexist, and this setting has that concept in abundance. Where this product pushes past “you can go anywhere” into “this is the product you want to use to explore the planes of existence” is in the details. The concept of recharging magic by performing artistic endeavors is great, and I love the meta-reality of three competing concepts of God that somehow manage to resonate with the organizations in the setting and the gaming subsystems at play in the game itself.
I also really appreciate having a good starting point for what player characters are meant to do in the setting. The starting adventure not only introduces the type of adventure that players should be going on, but also leaves several pieces of the resolution open-ended to flex around how players might resolve the situations presented.
Too much of the setting information is presented too quickly, without enough relevant context. There are a few places where I wish the line between optional content and assumed baseline were a bit more clear. Additionally, the potential alternate rules that might affect psychic characters, as opposed to magic-using characters, feel like they reinforce the idea that the occult path is the “wrong” path, and that feels a little off to me for how much space is spent on occult characters. I also feel like the book, while providing a strong set of options for starting organizations, doesn’t provide as much in the way of a well-defined home base or set of familiar faces.
Qualified Recommendation–A product with lots of positive aspects, but buyers may want to understand the context of the product and what it contains before moving it ahead of other purchases.
I think this is a strong campaign setting that has a lot of room for creativity. If you want a game of modern sci-fi/fantasy, and you like the AGE system, it’s not hard to recommend. Even if you want an idea of what do to with this kind of “exploring alternate worlds” campaign structure, its not a bad place to start generating ideas.
The best way to engage the setting is from the top-down, looking at the primal forces of this meta-reality, and how that shapes the magic, psychic powers, and technology of the setting. The weakest point of the setting is that it gets fuzzier the closer you get to the “bottom” layer, but that also leaves more creative freedom for those groups that want to customize their own contacts and stomping grounds.
What are your favorite modern action settings? Do you like magic or science fiction in your modern settings? If not, what modern genres are your favorites? We would like to know in the comments below!