Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Review - Translation Codex

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Vitals

Published By: Ryan Chaddock Games • 142 pages • $8.00 (currently $5.00) • Full Color PDF

What's In It

The Translation Codex is the first third party supplement for The Strange. It's fitting that for a game based around traveling to different worlds and assuming new abilities for each that the Translation Codex features one hundred new Foci for GMs and players to use. Of course it goes without saying that any fan of Numenera, or any other game using the Cypher System, could use this product to greatly expand the core offerings of Foci for player characters.

From the outset the presentation shows a great deal of forethought.  The product is broken into sections of major themes, from paranormal to earthly and more, allowing the GM to quickly find like foci for use with a given recursion.  Each foci is formatted for a single page, ensuring that they can easily be printed for use at a table. Chapters also contain a one piece piece of short fiction and a handful of short recursion ideas. Each recursion is only given half a page worth of space and so detail is light, but given that this product isn't geared toward recursions the light detail can be forgiven.

Rather than traditional artwork each foci has an icon, similar in style to the kind of line art one sees on safety signs, and presented in a color that ties it with the themed section to which it belongs.  This is an interesting choice, but the art doesn't always sell the foci as well as traditional artwork would.  These icons also pose one of the few sore spots in my mind.  The oddly shaped icons, are usually placed between the two column layout with text wrapped around them.  This results in strange line breaks and a great deal of hyphenated words broken across lines and spaces to accommodate the icons. The focus "Follows the Old Ways" is by far the most guilty in this regard, with the focus' symbol, a crooked staff, being placed in the center of the left hand column, breaking two paragraphs into difficult to read split columns.

But how are the actual foci? Split into five major themes and five minor themes the foci cover a lot of ground thematically. The writing is quite good and with a few exceptions each foci had well balanced Tier 1 offerings.  It gets more difficult to assess the utility of the focus powers from higher tiers but none of the foci seemed overly strong or weak. A number of the foci utilized the long term benefits available for purchase with experience as part of their advancement.  Gaining a contact or wealth is a nice reward and works well within the foci that utilize such benefits to deepen the thematic tie between mechanics, character, and gameplay.

Of course in any such collection of foci there will be those that stand out and make people want to play them.  For my part, I was delighted to see "Brandishes a Death Ray" most of all due to prior gaming experiences.  Meanwhile foci like "Bears a Holy Symbol," "Just Won't Die," and "Dies" (yes, you read that right) are all standouts that I would like to try in future games. The foci also go a long way toward showing the flexibility of the Cypher System, with entries like "Dons a Power Suit", "Controls Weather", and "Wields Cosmic Power" showing that the Cypher System could host a superheroes game as easily as it can low fantasy and high concept science fiction.

Closing Thoughts

One of the most common complaints I have heard about The Strange since launch is that the number of available foci within the game is small when split across the three major recursions.  With the release of The Translation Codex that shouldn't continue to be a problem.  Containing one hundred new foci this third party supplement ensures that GMs and players will have access to a wealth of foci for nearly any recursion they could hope to visit.  Some formatting issues do create some clumsy word and/or line breaks, but only in rare cases is this more than an annoyance.  The quality, variety, and number of foci this product provides more than make this product a worthwhile (and value packed) addition to Cypher System games.

Score: 90% - A fine addition to the Strange (or any game using the Cypher system).

Author's note: A complimentary review copy of this product was provided for the purposes of this review.