Friday, April 1, 2016

April Fools

Yeah, no post today. Seriously and for realsy.

OK Fine!

Here's I dunno 7 bad ideas for gaming on April Fools day

  1. Give the players +5 objects that are totally useful, but not really at all useful. It's a +5 Thimble! A +5 compass. 
  2. Let the players defeat the big bad super easy style. Then have him surge back for a TPK.
  3. Have the players find a ton of treasure. Have it all be counterfeit.
  4. Have the heroes rescue the prince/princess/king/queen/duke/whatever. Have that person be super duper douchey and mean and also the villain.
  5. One of those skeletons with the rusty sword and the rusty skullcap? Yeah, he's actually the lich!
  6. Ask the players what they want to do. Then run something else. 
  7. At the end of your session tell your players they can level up, then laugh and tell them they are April Fools.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Nuts & Bolts #73 - Hacking the Cypher System Part 1: Horror Mode

Recently +James Walls +Ryan Chaddock and I examined the Cypher System Rulebook's contents. Specifically we looked at the rules that were new to that book, rules that were designed to facilitate genre play, but that can be hacked for other genres, other uses, or both. Over the next few months I'm going to look at these again and see how else I can break these rules down and rebuild them. I may even look at some of the more core rules and see how those can be made to work for us in new ways.

For starters I want to look at Horror Mode yet again. Horror mode presents a way to increase tension in a scene or scenes by increasing the range of rolled GM Intrusions. Starting with the default natural 1, Horror Mode allows this range to expand by one each time a GM Intrusion is rolled from 1-2 to 1-3, and so forth. During the show we suggested using Horror Mode like effects to represent insanity, corruption, hostile environments, and even the effects of holding too many cyphers. But what else can Horror Mode do? And what else can in inspire?

Time Limits

Sometimes you want to put the characters under pressure to accomplish a goal in a set amount of in-game time. Time constraints are stressful and rather than making tasks more difficult to represent this pressure you can increase the range of rolled GMIs instead. As time counts down, the chance of GMIs increase and the players are incentivized to act quickly to meet the goal or reach their objective before things go from bad to worse.

Much like normal Horror Mode the name of the game here is to create tension. As the timer counts down the GMIs start rolling more frequently, and the players start having to dread those dice. But unlike in a horror genre game you shouldn't be punishing the players unduly, the fact that their time is running out should be the biggest factor here. Good use of GMIs would be having a task take longer than it should have, or similar setbacks that will put good time to bad use.

Environmental Effects

We touched on this briefly during the show through Jim's use of an increased GMI threat range to represent the danger of the wastelands in Dark Sun or the Reckoner's corruption of the world in Deadlands. In this instance instead of starting small and growing these environments have a fixed increased range. Those ranges may shift, lowering if the local fear level decreases, or the characters take steps to ensure the dangers of the wastelands pass them by, but they have a set starting value.

That's not the only way to deal with environmental threats though. In the Numenera adventure Vortex the players are transported to a facility within the sun itself. As they explore this ancient structure they find that the station is deteriorating, exposing the players to the potential of a fiery death. You could play this as a kind of time limit, with each hour adding to the GMI range, but the actions of the players can accelerate, slow, or even mitigate the stations deterioration. As a result it makes sense to treat this less as a time based effect and more as an effect based on player action and inaction. Accidentally (or intentionally) lower the deflectors and the GMI range increases as the station is bombarded by even more solar energy. Repair the station-keeping thrusters and the GMI range decreases. GMIs of this kind should be environmentally focused. The space station has a hull breach, the burning building collapses in one spot, the deadlands spew forth something horrible, etc.

Personal Corruption

In a darker toned game the characters may be fighting a losing battle against the corruption of their own selves. The Aberrant setting from White Wolf featured supers who tended toward mutation and madness if they grasped for power too quickly. Players might be given the option to willingly increase the range of GMIs either for the session or the campaign in exchange for a boost of power. Take a session long increase and gain the benefit of a major effect as though you rolled a natural 20. Take a campaign long increase and gain a commensurately more powerful bonus like a free advancement, or possibly even a power shift (depending on how big/how many steps the increase is).

Hero Mode

But wait, what about the other end of the system? Why not use the concept of Horror Mode but flip it on its head. Expand the range of Major and Minor Effects to show the characters gaining "good karma" or some similar benefit as a reward for their heroic deeds. This could be the reward for a GMI in a supers game, where the players gain a bonus that makes their dice rolls that much better. This might require some kind of reminder on the table, but think about how fun it could be to have the players gaining a Minor Effect on 15-17 and a Major Effect on 18-20.

Match GMI Range to Task Difficulty

This is a pretty big change, but it's one that will encourage uses of training, effort, and assets which is a good thing. Basically the range for rolled GMIs should be equal to level of difficulty of the task. A level 10 task rolls a GMI on a 1-10. Of course one doesn't roll for anything level 7 or higher because you cannot possibly roll a 21+ on a d20. Instead, as the rules intend, the level of the task is reduced by the training, assets, and effort that the players put forth.

Example: A player has a level 6 task in front of them; the rolled GMI range is 1-6. They are trained in the task, have an asset from equipment, and put two levels of effort into the task reducing the level of the task from 6 to 2 and the range of rolled GMIs when they filly roll a d20 to determine success is now a 1-2.

This change is obviously one that will alter the game from the ground up, and probably will result in more uses of effort. It also emphasizes the difficulty of rolling against a task at high difficulty level. Taking a roll on an unmodified level 5 task has a 25% chance of a GMI being rolled! Reducing the difficulty of your tasks, even a little will have tangible increases in the odds of success, and also tangibly reduce the odds for something even worse to crop up.

Other ideas?

That's what I have at the moment, but I think there are probably other ways to leverage the Horror Mode concepts for use in the Cypher System (and maybe other games). What ideas do you have for using the Horror Mode concepts?

Monday, March 28, 2016

Story Seed - Lakini's Origins

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On the off chance you missed it somehow, +Monte Cook Games is running a Kickstarter for Worlds of the Cypher System, featuring three settings that will use the Cypher System Rulebook. One of these settings, Gods of the Fall, features a dark fantasy world where the gods have perished and the heavens fell to the earth. Character travel the path of divinity as they try to attain godhood and either save or destroy the world. +James Walls is running a live on-air session of Gods of the Fall this evening titled "A Vigil for Cows." As part of this event I'll be playing Lakini, a Sleen Destroyer who Moves Like the Wind. Today's story seed is part of the background I came up with for Lakini ...


Ever since I was just a hatchling I enjoyed going fast. I ran everywhere. Always.  Being fast just helped me find new places to explore, new sights to see, and new experiences. Being fast also meant I got into trouble a lot by going where I wasn't wanted. Thankfully I could get out of trouble just as quickly. Running is what made me realize my destiny. I wasn't just fast, I was faster than anybody I had ever met. I was so fast others started to talk, to ask what magic made it so.

Divine magic.


The town had stories of thing in the ruins. We'd all heard them. There was a treasure of the old gods that was waiting to be claimed. There was a monster, a thing left over from before the fall. There was danger an darkness and death. The stories did what they were intended to do, they kept the foolish scared enough to stay out of the ruins, they reminded the smart why they too stayed away, and they reminded all of us that there were things best left undisturbed.

Well, almost all of us. God of Wisdom I am not.

I was curious, more curious than cautious, and far more so than afraid. That made all the difference. Where others balked, or dreaded, or quaked fully in fear, I saw mystery. I saw a sight unseen in ages. I was faster than anybody that anybody had ever heard of wasn't I? If I was so fast maybe I could go and explore and return before any monster could catch me, or any trap could hold me.

I was partially right.

I raced into those ruins like a swift breeze. I opened doors that crumbled to dust at my touch. I trod on dust that was untouched in uncounted years. I pillaged treasures of inconsequential value to all but myself. And then I found the old temple. It lay at the very heart of the ruin, obscured by the rubble of time and neglect, but it still retained a stately austerity that was clear even to my eyes.

It was also lived in.

The creature was indeed real, and while nothing else of the stories seemed to be true this proved to be the exception that proved the wisdom of the tales. Even now I cannot describe the thing that dwelt there. It seemed without form, or perhaps it was simply shrouded in raiment that disguised its shape.

It reached for me and I evaded it. I slipped from its grasp and yet I could not lay hand on it either. We sparred and traded almost blows. It taunted me silently, and I, hardly one with words, mutely refuted it. We were well matched, and it seemed that perhaps the ferocity of the thing had been exaggerated greatly. I finally devised a plan. I had raced about this ruin and in doing so I could hopefully use it's form to my advantage.

I put forth my best speed, my greatest effort, and I raced the thing through the maze-like temple. I at last began to gain on the creature by using the shortcuts and pathways I had learned as we sparred. Faster I raced, and closer I got, until at last I laid my hands on it, grappled with it and finally subdued it.

As I held the creature, who's form I still could not discern, there was a sudden flare of light. I looked and saw a winged serpent embossed in the air in divine light. I knew it for what it was, my symbol of power. What shocked me was not this sudden awakening to my potential but instead the identity of the creature I grappled with; my own shadow.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Last Week Today - Week of March 21-27, 2016

Story Seed - The Hunt

Nuts & Bolts - Review: Shadow of the Demon Lord, 5 sessions deep and Player's Perspective

Shadow of the Sea Lord - Building Relations and Project Hiatus


The Worlds of Cypher System Kickstarter is going gangbusters. Check it out!


Did you watch Cypher Live last week? My co-hosts +James August Walls and +Ryan Chaddock and I discussed the newer rules that the Cypher System Rulebook. Check it out below!