Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Nuts & Bolts #120 - Review: Kamandi Challenge #4


Kamandi Challenge #5 is out today, so here are my thoughts on issue #4 from last month. Spoilers henceforth.

Vitals

Published By: DC Comics • 31 pages • $3.99 • full color • Art: Carlos D'anda • Words: James Tynion IV

What's In It?

Spoilers ahead folks last warning!



Where were we? ...oh, right, in the claws of a giant Kong sized cat!

Kamandi and Vila were in a bad place. Our plucky hero fought back as best he could against the giant cat, finally jumping down its throat... and waking inside it's control center! This was no giant mutant, but instead a cleverly disguised giant robot! While Kamandi managed to enter the robot unharmed Vila was less lucky and once again the protagonist had to come to the rescue.

Honestly I was a bit disappointed with this. Kamandi is the hero, I get that, but Vila as a character has been little more than a half century old damsel trope. The last issue Kamandi rescued her and freed her, and it was, relatively, OK because he clearly had the agency last issue. But now would have been a good opportunity to give Vila her own agency and instead ... not so much.

So instead Kamandi confronts the two cat-scientists, or are they cat scientists?, that control the robot. Long story short, he grabs Vila and climbs back out the mouth of the robot and into the cockpit of the jet the robot wears around its neck. Activating the jet Kamandi and Vila escape while also serving their captors a little comeuppance.

Kamandi blacks out and the plane crashes elsewhere, in a rocky desert by a massive wall. In short order Kamandi and the unconscious Vila (see what I mean about no agency?) are captured and revived by the Kanga Rat Murder Society. They are to become the next participants in a blood sport hunt somewhere in the ravaged post-apocalypse Australia...

OK, so let's break it down. The writing is pretty good aside from the whole issue with Vila being stereotypical rescue bait. The story of the two scientists and their giant robot was actually pretty good, and a great way out of the prior issue's cliffhanger without feeling like a dodge at all. The transition into the second half was less abrupt than in prior issues and the cliffhanger has me wanting issue #5 now, which is a good thing.

The art this issue is more to my liking, with a less cart kiddie cartoon style. I'm not objectively rating the art here (or in any of these) as I am no artist, but I know what I like and this is probably right behind Neal Adams' art in issue #2 for this series thus far.

Lastly we come to world building, because ultimately the setting is as much a character in this series as Kamandi or any other. We get, through the robot builders, a good bit of exposition and background about the Jaguar Sun Cult, and it quickly fills in that culture in a way I feel like we sadly did not get for the God Watchers last issue. We also get, through art and words a good amount of information about the Kanga Rat Murder Society. There's an interesting mention about the giant wall holding back something, and visually we get a strong sense that the Society has access to some very high levels of technology, which should hopefully prove very interesting next issue.

Rating: 85% - I dock 15% for a cliched lack of agency in the sole female character in an otherwise great issue.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Story Seed - Regret

Image Source: http://mleth.deviantart.com/art/Landscape-592994056

My final goodbye. I couldn't say how I knew. Pain wasn't new to me. Nor was weariness. I'd been walking the Walk for so long I can hardly remember anything before I began it. But today was different, my old body was wearing thin. Pains that I usually dismissed or ignored, caused me to wince and stifle groans. And for the first time in many months I woke tired; weary to the bone and feeling that this was more than just a bad night's sleep.

Looked up to the early morning sky, the moon rode low in the west, a gibbous egg shape belted in green and ragged along one edge where the the treeline broke the otherwise smooth shape. The stars shone in a blanket of deep blue that faded as I turned eastward. The horizon was already taking on the golden light of pre-dawn. I wondered for the ten thousandth time how it was that decades of walking the Path had seemingly brought me no closer to the end, or even a return to the beginning.

For the first time I found myself thinking that the Wandering Walk might be a futile lie; a path to nowhere walked by those hoping to find meaning in what none were willing to admit was a meaningless journey to nowhere. Was that a pain in my heart or in my soul that stirred in my breast? I don't know which.

I took my time to pack my meager belongings. My pack was light, but with time even a light pack becomes a heavy load. When at last I was ready I shrugged into my pack and found it heavy; the straps cut into my shoulders and the load seemed to drag me down. I grunted, settling the pack until I felt it sat as comfortably as it could.

At last I could delay no longer. The first unimpeded rays of dawn light were already lancing across the landscape and casting long golden limned shadows. I set out at last, a twinge of pain etching every movement with acid. After an hour I reached for the cypher I had carried for so many years and pressed it to my skull just behind my ear. I felt the pain slide away. "Farewell my home," I said.

I never felt it when my body collapsed to the ground. I never felt my body's passing. I never again set foot along the Wandering Walk. The datasphere has been my home ever since, and I feel neither pain nor want. I have learned the truth of many things, but the saddest truth of them all is this: I was almost at the end.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Last Week Today - May 15 - 21, 2017


Monday
Story Seed - After the Apocalypse

Wednesday
Nuts & Bolts - RPG Blog Carnival - Supah Seekrit

Friday
Gods of the Fall - Gods of the [blank] - Part 6 - Gods of the Apocalypse

~~~~~~~~~

As a note to my regular readers. Starting next week I am going to be putting Story Seeds on hiatus. In the duration I'll be posting some Cypher System characters for a game I'm planning to run at Gen Con, and maybe online ...

~~~~~~~~~

I'm running games at Gen Con! Want to play with me? Look for Numenera: Awakening the Jade Colossus in the Gen Con event schedule, I'll be running it three times during the con:
  • Date: 2017-08-18 (Fri 3:00PM - 7:00PM)
  • Date: 2017-08-19 (Sat 11:00AM - 3:00PM)
  • Date: 2017-08-20 (Sun 12:00PM - 4:00PM)

Friday, May 19, 2017

Gods of the Fall - Gods of the [blank] part 6 - Gods of the Apocalypse


War, Pestilence, Famine, and Death. The Midgard Serpent and Fenris. Kalki. If you're a god of the end times you're in good (or bad, depending on your point of view) company. The end of things isn't always the end though. Gods of the Fall predicates a cyclical rise and fall of gods. So too does Norse myth and the Hindu faith.

In the west though if anybody has an edge on the market for end times tales its the Abrahamic faiths. Christianity in particular. War, Pestilence, Famine, and Death ride in on horses and bring out the beginning of the end. The thing is those four aren't evil, not as such, they are heralds. Harbingers. Agents of God (capital "g" here). The Bible has the four horsemen arrive when the first four of seven seals are broken. The horsemen are agents of the end, yes, but they aren't evil as such. More like forces of nature.

Or maybe they are normal folks who one day realize they are being called to service in God's name. What would you do if you realized on day that you were the incarnation of the Horseman of Famine? Would you embrace your destiny, and in so doing gain greater and greater power of your Dominion over Famine? Or would you find a way out of your fate, try and fight against the will of God? What happens if the Four Horsemen aren't terribly keen on the whole Armageddon thing?

It's not a far stretch at all to use Gods of the Fall's dominion rules for the Horsemen. With four players and four Horsemen you have ready made character arcs, and with the improvisation rules I discussed last week the players have a decent amount of room to play with their dominions. You could pitch this as a game about the players trying to skirt the end of all things, or as a "villains" game where they eagerly tear down the world with a goal of bringing about the promised paradise that comes after.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Nuts & Bolts #119 - RPG Blog Carnival - Supah Seekrit



Last week, I discussed the fact that secrets in RPGs don't tend to remain secret by the very virtue of PCs tending to learn and uncover hidden knowledge or facts, though such knowledge may remain known by limited or few people by story's end. If you want to use some kind of secrets in your game you have decide what they are first. So, to that end, here's a breakdown of the big categories and some examples.

Person

A secret or hidden person can fit any number of potential stories. It may be a the last heir of a powerful lineage. A witness, hidden away to protect them before the trial of a criminal. A powerful wizard with the means to solve a problem the party has. Or even one or more members of a secret society. Secrets of this nature often resolve around people hidden for their own protection, or as a result of lost knowledge (such as birth records). The hidden person may be actively hiding, hidden without their knowledge, or even unaware that they are hidden at all!

Example: The Last Archmage - Tal-zor the Fey Touched has not been seen in decades, but only he possesses the raw magical might to defeat a threat to the realm. The PCs must locate Tal-zor and convince him to return and save the kingdom.

Place

Secret places are either hidden on purpose or lost. Lost may be due to mishap, time, or other factors. These kinds of places could be secret lairs (villainous or heroic), lost temples or libraries, secret panic rooms, hidden labs, hard to reach or remote natural places (caves, groves, lakes, even planets), or even alternate dimensions or worlds (the Upside Down anybody?).  Unlike a hidden or secret person a location is (probably) not mobile, and (probably) not actively avoiding detection. There may be special skills or objects needed to find out open a secret location, and they may be protected by those who are aware of the secret.

Example: The Planet of Ack-tum - What do you do with an object too powerful to be destroyed, but too dangerous to keep around? You hide it in the deepest, darkest, most remote and desolate system in the galaxy! Rumor has it that Ack-tum exists in a stable pocket within a trinary system of singularities. The PCs must track down not only the location, but the means to access Ack-tum to retrieve an alien artifact.

Thing

Secret things are like secret places, they are either being hidden, or have been lost. Rings of power, rare gems hidden in rubbish statues, holy relics, illicit substances, and segmented weapons. These things may be hidden in plain sight; a powerful rune weapon disguised under layers of grime in the back of a junk shop. Or they may be kept in a hidden location. Segmented items may be broken into parts that each function as a lesser item but only when joined with their other components reveal their true power.

Example: The Will of Mr. Boddy - A millionaire has died, but his will is missing. With no heir and no will the state stands to take possession of the dead man's estate, unless the PCs can find Mr. Boddy's Last Will & testament.

Skills & Knowledge

Secrets in their purest form in some ways. A lost thing or place can be found in time even by accident, but secret knowledge is another thing entirely. Secret Seven Finger Kung-Fu, the lost magical techniques of flesh sculpting, the secret bloodlines of the last prophet, and the real assassin of the king. These kinds of secrets tend to survive by the will of a select few, or perish as those who know them perish. Hidden or secret knowledge may be lost among the stacks at a library, or hidden away in a secret place, or even held by a select few, or one person.

Example: The Master of the Divine Steel Badger - The warlord Jang-Lu is crushing all who stand before him, sweeping across the empire with his army in an unstoppable wave of blood and death. The warlord and his army all practice Furious Tiger Kung-Fu which has proven superior to all other forms. Rumor has it that there is only one counter to the Furious Tiger style, that of the lost art of the Divine Steel Badger. The PCs must track down the secret techniques of this form. Is it hidden in a scroll in an old monastery, or does a master still practice the style in some remote location?

Monday, May 15, 2017

Story Seed - After the Apocalypse

Image Source: http://www.deviantart.com/art/Matte-Painting-Scavage-680566342

I stopped and drank the tepid remains of my water. The wind blew dryly, tossing sand about my ankles, and buffeting me with the scorching dry of the desert. All around me the decaying remains of long metal structures and some kind of standing platforms. I recalled seeing a drawing once of something called a boat. Perhaps these were boats. Maybe this had once been sea or ocean.

I'd heard the histories. The world was once something better. Something crowded with people. Something where plenty was more than a concept. All of that was before however. Now the world was dying, or at least it was here. People said there may be other parts of the world where famine and disease and war hadn't sow the seeds that death later reaped.

I shoved the empty bottle back into my sack and continued onward. The skeletal remains of the vessels around me were scaled with rust and marked with holes in places. I doubted there was scavenge worth my effort. I needed to cross this desert before my water supply ran out, and with only a single bottle remaining I worried that the desert would claim me.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Last Week Today - May 8 - 14, 2017


Monday
Story Seed - Shrine

Wednesday
Nuts & Bolts - RPG Blog Carnival - Keep it Secret, Keep it Safe

Friday
Gods of the Fall - Session Prep - Out of the Frying Pan...

~~~~~~~~~

I'm running games at Gen Con! Want to play with me? Look for Numenera: Awakening the Jade Colossus in the Gen Con event schedule, I'll be running it three times during the con:
  • Date: 2017-08-18 (Fri 3:00PM - 7:00PM)
  • Date: 2017-08-19 (Sat 11:00AM - 3:00PM)
  • Date: 2017-08-20 (Sun 12:00PM - 4:00PM)

Friday, May 12, 2017

Gods of the Fall - Session Prep - Out of the Frying Pan...



I don't really want to belabor a journey, especially in a game that only runs monthly. As such it's about time for the players to reach Mehergan and the Furnace. The problem is the PCs decided not to enter the Furnace this session and I spent a good three hours improvising Innkeepers, guardsmen, and the proprietor of a dry goods store.

Now I know how +James Walls must feel in our DCC games!

I spent my time laying a bunch of possible hooks. Weird visions that the Taran had when he touched the furnace. Weird sounds that one of the other players heard when near the same. The Furnace itself I played up like some kind of M.C. Escher meets the TARDIS impossible structure. It seemed to have a fixed external size but the inside features of even the tunnel running through it and acting as a gate into Mehergan were in flux. There was 6 doors one way, a dozen on the way back, and then four when a character looked the third time! That tunnel was 150 feet, a 1/3 of a mile, and 500 feet at various points. I'd say the character's are interested!

I also got to give my players some crap during RP, which was fun. The Taran innkeeper didn't take too kindly to Demodamas' comments about Taran cuisine. And she wasn't initially very warm to Polodius' attempts to curry favor by learning her language.

Thankfully at the end of the session we were at the end of the night and a perfect place to stop. Come next session the players will be waking for an early morning jaunt into the unknown!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Nuts & Bolts #118 - RPG Blog Carnival - Keep it Secret, Keep it Safe



This month's blog carnival topic: Occult Mysteries and Magic. In this usage occult is meant to convey the meaning of hidden and secret rather than the more commonly used current day meaning of things related to magic and astrology and the like. So really this month's topic is "secrets."

When it comes to hidden lore and magic a GM is faced with a real catch-22. If they use it, then it ceases to be hidden and secret; if they don't ... what's the point? To that end GM's need to be prepared to bring that which is hidden and secret into the light and make it known. In doing so you are going to fundamentally change the state of the game world, even if only a little.

Secrets and hidden knowledge work best as a plot point in a campaign, or even as a MacGuffin. The One Ring was the latter, a secret (forgotten) treasure of immense power and evil that drove the whole story of the Lord of the Rings before being destroyed. Consider the Mummy from that other film franchise (the good one with Brendan Fraser, not the crappy looking Tom Cruise one) his very existence was wiped from history and his resting place hidden to keep him bound forever in cursed undeath. Once that secret got out the plot advanced and bad things happened until the heroes ended the threat (in this case with other lost lore).

Alternately secrets can be something of a player motivation and/or reward. Perhaps the wizard wants to uncover the secrets of a long lost form of magic. That will drive the characters to quest for it and eventually be rewarded with that knowledge (or given reason to keep that knowledge buried). Or maybe a player gives his GM the gift of a mysterious background and leaves that up to the GM to develop and reveal as they like. Perhaps that character destined for greatness, or the lost child of a powerful figure, or maybe they just need to learn who the six fingered man was so they can avenge their slain father.

Regardless of how you use them in your games the thing here is that what starts out secret, hidden, or lost, will be revealed, in part or whole, to at least the PCs. They may choose to keep that secret from the world for its own sake, or they may reveal them for the betterment of their world. The choice will remain in the hands of the PCs and you the GM.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Story Seed - Shrine

Image Source: http://jaikart.deviantart.com/art/The-Elder-Tree-560958156

The shrine was overgrown with growth. Roots and weather had damaged the statues and standing stones extensively. There was no sign of caretaker or inhabitants. Only the grotesque remains of the statues, now crippled and deformed by rooty growths, populated this place. Even unmoving they made for unnerving companions.

Shala moved forward along the damaged stone path, careful picking the most stable footing. The wind sighed through the canyon's stone walls, sometimes whistling as it caught one of the old stone sounding tubes just right. The effect sounded like the moaning of the long dead. Shala shivered, her grip going white knuckled on the mace hanging from her wide belt. The wind also brought a strange scent. One of cinnamon and rose, and incense and some fruit that Shala could not identify.

Shala rounded an open bend, skiriting wide the gnarled figures that may once have been saints or gods. The scent grew stronger. Peering up Shala at last laid her eys on the a great blooming tree, the last Tree of Ashsang. Once the Ashang grew in every city and every temple, a promise from the gods to the people. They smelled pleasant to all who beheld them, and bore fruit that were said to heal even the more grievous of maladies and filled the belly like a holiday feast. All that was before the Fall. Before the gods died, and with it their promise of protection and beneficence.

Shala approached the tree, and saw that though it flowered it bore no fruit. With no fruit there could be no seed, and no hope of restoring the trees throughout the land. With no fruit there was no promise from the gods to the people. Shala regarded the tree, and contemplated how she could restore the promise, and in so doing, make the tree bear fruit once more. The prophecies had proclaimed and promised restoration, if only Shala could determine how to fulfill them.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Gods of the Fall - Owning Your Dominion


I seldom speak negatively about the works of the MCG crew. I truly enjoy the Cypher System on multiple levels, and have made it one of my small handful of go to systems. However there are always places where even the best game, best setting book, best supplement can miss the mark, for a lone reader, or a whole community.

I think it's clear I love Gods of the Fall. As a setting it have really caught in the way that even Numenera didn't (and that's saying something). But if there's a fault to be found it's the limited support of dominion powers. There's not many in the book and they tend toward very broad (some may say generic) application. It's hard to fault this approach because the other end of the spectrum is an exhaustively comprehensive list that bloats the book with abilities and generally doesn't add a lot that players and GMs couldn't do with a little work.

Unfortunately not all players and GMs feel empowered to expand the game with new abilities to fit their need and their game. This is nothing to be ashamed of, it can be scary trying to build a new ability or power, especially as GM, for fear that you may throw your game a curveball it cannot recover from. Earlier this week I posted about the answer: Improv Powers.

Reader Tony Love pointed out that Improv Powers could help expand on a character's dominion in Gods of the Fall, and I agree wholeheartedly! In addition to helping to expand the utility of type and focus powers the "Modifying Abilities on the Fly" rules can be used to expand on Dominion Abilities. Even the simple Divine Aura could become a source of power within the purview of your Dominion.

Let's consider what a difficult modification of the Divine Aura could do. Difficult is defined as "modifying an ability to do something within the spirit and general idea of the ability." For Divine Aura this would be minor influence over the purview of their dominion such as:
  • Generating light equal to a torch - dominions of fire, light, sun, and possibly others
  • Generating enough warmth/heat to warm the immediate area around the god - dominions of fire, fun, hearth, etc
  • Providing an asset to attempts to calm an enraged lynch mob bent on vengeance - dominion of justice, law, order, etc
  • Providing an asset to attempts to stir a gathering into a rowdy mob and inciting violence - dominion of chaos, war, vengeance
As you can see showing your aura and making a difficult (level 4) roll can allow for some useful dominion themed uses of power that may not normally be in a character's repertoire.

How about  formidable (level 7) uses of a divine aura? Formidable is defined as "modifying an ability to do

something similar to the description or intent, but changing its nature". That's going to need a little more interpretation, so let's consider that we're probably going an order of magnitude beyond a difficult task.
  • Generating a fiery aura sufficient to set items ablaze and deal minor environmental damage to those nearby - dominions of fire and sun
  • Creating an area of health and beneficence that eases suffering and may aid in recover from injury and disease - dominions of health, hearth, life, etc
  • Providing an asset (or two) to incite a peaceful man to violence - dominions of war, chaos, etc
  • Pacifying enemy combatants of level less than or equal to your tier - dominion of war, peace, power, etc
These abilities really start to show the god-like power that these characters can possess. Even at Tier 2 a character with a good roll and some effort may be able to occasionally "stunt" abilities of this level of power. 

Lastly we have the "impossible" (I still prefer improbable) difficulty modifications (level 10). These are uses that "[modify] an ability to accomplish an effect that has nothing to do with its description or intent". At this level we're talking gods doing god things. This could literally be anything, though the farther (or is it further) from their purview the less power they will have. At this level we could have:
  • A god of war single-handedly carving a path through an opposing army to slay the enemy general.
  • A god of life raising the dead or curing even the most tenacious or deadly disease or poison.
  • A god of the sun bringing day to the night, or causing night during the day.
  • A god of chaos inciting civil war.
  • A god of winter bringing summer to an early end, or breaking winter's hold months early. 
As you can see, these are some considerable effects. GMs always have the power to say no, but should be encouraged to allow players to use these rules, and instead of saying no they should instead offer a more reasonable (to their mind) option. RPGs are a "team sport" and working together with your players or GM is always the better option when it comes to use of these kinds of improvisational rules.

More to the point though, by using these rules you can expand the Cypher System in such a way as to truly allow a game like Gods of the Fall to blossom. Better still, if a player uses the same improvisational ability multiple times without breaking the game they and the GM may just codify the ability into a Dominion, Type, or Focus power (as appropriate) with an easier use thereafter (after all, they did practice!). Empower yourself and your players and allow them to empower their gods to greatness. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Nuts & Bolts #117 - Hacking the Cypher System - Improv Powers


You may not notice, and if you are a player and not a GM you can even be forgiven, but the core rules for the Cypher System has a section called "Modifying Abilities On The Fly" (CSR pg 226). It's in the "Optional Rules" part of the book and I think that's a shame in a way because I don't see this being embraced much in the games I play in or run, even when I expressly allow it for my players. These rules are in Numenera (pg 114, Modifying Abilities) and The Strange (pg. 354, Modifying Abilities), but seem oft overlooked.

So what is this whole "Modifying Abilities On The Fly" thing? The idea is to give the GMs and players a little room to use the powers of their Type and Focus beyond the way they are written. It's difficult to plan for everything, and it's even more so to provide balanced options that cover all situations and uses easily. So when a character needs to weld two pieces of metal together but doesn't have a specific weld/glue/attach power they may be able to improvise something like a fire based onslaught into a welding torch for a scene.

Trying to use such an ability "out of scope" isn't going to be easy, and so there are ability check difficulty suggestions. Using a fiery onslaught as a welding torch might be difficult (level 4), while using the same to jump higher may be formidable (level 7), and using it to achieve sustained flight would be impossible (level 10). Obviously (I hope) GMs are free to say no to outlandish attempts. Using telepathy to fly probably shouldn't even be possible as a level 10 "impossible" task.
Editor's Aside: A level 10 task can be accomplished and so "impossible seems a bad adjective to use. We should probably aim for something closer to "improbable." Just sayin'...
So what good is all this? Well, anybody who's played more than a few hours of RPGs has probably run into a case of "Can I do X?" where the request seems perfectly reasonable and within scope for the character, but isn't expressly allowed and adjudicated by the rules. GMs often have to think on their feet and make snap rulings, and these rules for modifying abilities can help make that process a little easier. It's also useful for the players, as it gives them guidance for just how far they can push their abilities above and beyond what is explicitly detailed in the book.

So, next time you're at the table consider stretching beyond the book. If you are a player look for a unique way to use your normal powers. And if you are a GM consider allowing the players to use their abilities to achieve some of those wacky things they ask to do.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Story Seed - Storm Center

Image Source: http://twpictures.deviantart.com/art/Landscape-Concept-574974463

The storm rotated around the two jagged towers. Some kind of white metal from a past age, they jutted upward like knives, stabbing at the sky. I pulled the oiled canvas cloak tighter around me, as another gust of wind brought a slashing fall of water droplets that stung like tiny darts. I trudged along the road, wondering if the tightly fitted slabs were built in the same age as the towers.

An hour later the winds suddenly died out as I crossed into the eyes of the storm. I stared upward in awe, watching and wondering how the towers maintained the twin interlocked vortexes. I pulled my gaze away and looked across the plain to the towers again, they seemed barely closer; I guessed they were a good five or more miles off. The eyes of the storm must be a dozen miles across each, rotating around each other and around some point above the towers. I shook the rain from my cloak and started again for the towers.

Another two hours later and I finally neared the ancient structures. Smaller, needle thin towers hundreds of feet high dotted the grounds around the towers. Like their larger brothers they seemed to be manufactured of a silvery white metal and even on inspection I could see no seam or join. I approached the taller of the two towers and wonder how many thousands of strides high it was. An unrelieved surface stared back. I wondered how many other nanos before me had stood here stymied by these strange relics of days gone bye.

I smiled and removed the small flat pane of glass I'd paid so dearly for. Within the glass lights and symbols seemed held in stasis. I placed the object flat on the tower face and tentatively removed my hands. It hung there for a moment before sliding into the silvery metal as thought it were melting. I held my breath in anticipation and was relieved when a narrow seam formed an ideal rectangular outline. The rectangle became a depression as the metal seemed to sink into itself, finally revealing an opening. Grinning I stepped inside.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Gods of the Fall - Another Approach to Cyphers


Cyphers in Gods of the Fall are relatively unchanged from those we see in Numenera, The Strange, and other Cypher System games. The explanation of where they originate from is different but the core concept is the same: single use devices of fantastic power. In Gods of the Fall cyphers are explained as crystallized motes of divine energy, physical things that can be picked up, carried around, sold, traded, lost or stolen, and eventually used up, their physical form evaporating back into the aether as the divine energy is spent.

But what if we took a different tack?

The gods are dead and those that may yet become gods are only beginning their journey. Heaven (Elanehtar) is gone. Divine energy is at its least constrained. In prior times before the Fall there were dozens, possibly even hundreds, of gods, each brimming with divine energy. Elanehtar was whole and was itself a realm entirely divine. So in such a case why would free divine energy retain a static form?

Why would cyphers stay in the same form and function until they were used? Heck, why would divine energy even solidify into any form at all? Why wouldn't all this energy just return to some kind of formless and pervasive state waiting for the right person, place, or thing to render it into the world?

To put it plainly: Why even have cyphers be things, and why have those things be statically the same until used? It's all divine energy, and gods channel divine energy.

Here's my proposal. The characters are gods, and cyphers are part of their divine abilities. They are not physical things (though the can be MADE physical). Each session you roll up new cyphers for each character (unless continuing directly from a prior session). These cyphers are power the character can use by channeling divine energy. If they want they can make one manifest and pass it off as a minor miracle, but otherwise these cyphers are internal to the character and their power. Whenever the character rests they replenish their cyphers, and can also re-roll any they still have if they want.

Before you freak out about how this undermines some of your NPCs there's no reason that an evil god-to-be couldn't manifest and bestow cyphers to their followers or minions. It might even be possible for powerful soul sorcerers or bibliomancers to capture a young god and "milk" them daily for the cyphers that their divinity produces. Likewise slaying divinely empowered foes would offer people (NPC and PC) to capture the divine essence in cypher form for a short time after death.

This spin on cyphers could either justify making the cypher limits a hard cap, or could make the soft cap threat of ravers even more damning. After all, if you go over your cypher limit you probably did so by making your cyphers manifest and not giving them away, or by taking the divine power of others (in manifest form) and hoarding it.

Of course, if you take this approach it also means that the idea of cyphers as shard of Elanehtar is probably gone, and with it the idea of restoring that lost heaven once enough cyphers have been used up. It also makes divinely charged remnants of the prior gods and prior worlds more valuable because these are that much rarer and exceptional. The divine weapon of a dead god would potentially be a more precious artifact than an enchanted blade created in Corso. Not by virtue of ability (though very possibly) but because it represents a rare stable nexus of divinity.

Then again, the way cyphers are written works pretty well too.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Nuts & Bolts #116 - Review: Kamandi Challenge #3


Kamandi Challenge #4 is out today, so here are my thoughts on issue #3 from last month. Some spoilers henceforth.


Vitals

Published By: DC Comics • 31 pages • $3.99 • full color

What's In It?

OK, listen, if you're with me this far I'd like to think you're probably reading the Kamandi Challenge monthly as it comes out. If not you should probably just wait until December when I post my review of this 12 issue series as a whole. Regardless, spoilers ahead folks as I'm going to start talking about the plot a lot more....


.... seriously, we're going full spoiler here ....


... last warning!


Where were we? ...oh, right, falling!

At the end of the prior issue Kamandi found himself checking the post-apocalyptic gravity by falling/jumping off a cliff to avoid some bad guys. I say falling/jumping, because I'm genuinely not sure which is the case.

We pick up this issue with a bunch more anthropomorphic animals observing Kamandi's science experiment. A pair of rather large man-bats (not batmen to be seen here, move along) fly out to rescue Kamandi. We transition to Kamandi behind held inside a pre-apocalypse boat where a plant person joins him. Kamandi meets the captain, a turtle who seems to have knowledge of Kamandi and claims to be part of the "God Watchers".

These guys seem suspicious, which only gets worse when it turns out that the plant people are treated as a sentient salad come dinner time. Ouch. An attack from the non-friendly man-bat tribe sends our hero to the island of the Jaguar Sun Cult, because that's the kind of pacing these books have. In short order Kamandi and his planty girl Friday are captured and offered up as dinner for a Kong sized kitty....

OK, so did I enjoy this issue? Yes ... but, I kind of wish there was a little more room given to actually explore the parts of the world we visit with some more detail. The pacing of the story is so fast that at times things are more teasing than I would like. Still, one cannot fault the creative team(s) for trying to hit as much of the world as possible.

The world building here is an exercise in masterful execution of minimalism. We get so very little of the savage bat tribes, and yet what we gain is enough to give us a strong impression of them; more than enough that I could use them in a game I feel.

The God Watchers are a little less developed, they seem to be intentionally mysterious. They have technology to create sapient plants, they have intelligent insects (bees and manti) working for them, and they seem to have knowledge of Kamandi, including a picture of him with his parents. I'm doubtful we'll get more, but I kinda wish we would.

The jaguar folk are savage and either keepers or, or kept by, the aforementioned Kong-sized jaguar. Since this is a cliffhanger situation we could gain more from the next issue, but given the resolution of the past two I wonder if we'll instead be whisked away to a new part of the world.

The pacing of this issue is a little rough. The first two issues felt like a contiguous story, but this one moved so quickly between scenes and settings that it felt a bit disjointed. The resolution of the cliffhanger from last issue was better though, and felt a little less dodgy than gorillas jumping out of an old nuke, so props to the writer (Jimmy Palmiotti) on that one. This issue's art (by Amanda Conner) was a step down in my opinion, with a simpler feel and look. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't my preference either.

Rating: 70% - A look that didn't appeal and an overly ambitious pacing left me wanting

Monday, April 24, 2017

We Now Interrupt Your Regular Programming


Posting will be disrupted this week due to complications from my work. Apologies.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Gods of the Fall - Gods of the [blank] part 5 - Gods of Modern Myth


I'm totally going to cheat here ...

Superhero comics are often called modern mythology. The stories are larger than life, the protagonists and antagonists resound with us on deep fundamental layers, and a lot of the best stories can be simplified down to essential plot points that are not dissimilar to those stories from antiquity.

But there's a difference in playing Cypher System Superheroes and a Gods of Modern Myth game.

Firstly, superheroes tend toward varying origin stories. There are often heavily co-joined themes (hello rich white guys with a very specific skill set, last aliens of their species just trying to make a life, and mutants/metahumans), but if you look at the big two you will see a diverse mix of origins within their upper tier of characters. Characters in a Gods of Modern Myth game are going to share a common origin: They. Are. Gods. Which brings me to ...

Secondly, We rarely spend any time with comic book superheroes when they don't have powers/skills. Sure after 70-odd years you get a Batman: Year One type story, but generally origins are quick and we move on to the superpowered "good parts". Not so with Gods of Modern Myth. These characters need to gestate and realize their powers. Depending on the players and GMs they may be little more than heroic but otherwise average people for 4 to 8 sessions before they finally gain their "super powers" (e.g. power/divine shifts). This has the advantage of both getting to know characters before they become larger than life heroes/gods, but also to help establish that the opposition is greater than the average person; in other words it lets the GM set the scale of the game.

Thirdly, the scope of a Gods of Modern Myth game should be broader than the average superhero comic. Gods of Modern Myth should be tackling citywide problems from the start and by tier 3 they should probably be saving the world Justice League style, or even the whole cosmos like the Guardians of the Galaxy. The scale, as I mentioned before, should be bigger, but so too should the scope. If your characters aren't shaking the pillars of the universe at tier 6 what are they going to be doing, and how could it possibly match up?

So yeah, Gods of the Fall reinterpreted as superheroic modern myth. It's probably not for everyone, but maybe it should be. 😄😄😄

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Nuts & Bolts #115 - RPG Blog Carnival - Dungeon of Mega


Mega dungeons. Some people probably get excited at those two words. A call to arms to delve deep and plunder long forgotten treasure.

Not me.

I have never had much in the way of experience with mega dungeons. I played a little bit of Undermountain in high school back in AD&D 2nd Ed, a game I just didn't enjoy much, but beyond that I've never really done the deep dark dungeon crawl on the scale worthy of the appellation "mega dungeon."

I think what I disliked about the Undermountain experience was that it felt forced. My issues with 2nd Edition aside I don't know if the GM for that game wasn't very good, or just felt pigeonholed into running the dungeon as designed. The whole thing felt stiff, wooden, a little bland. There was no life in the GMs descriptions of things, and I personally think that this comes down to ownership. He hadn't created the dungeon and so he didn't feel that he owned it. That showed, at least for me as player, in his depiction of the place and its occupants and hazards.

Which doesn't mean I'm not willing to try it myself. I recently picked up Castle Whiterock. It's perhaps not as well known by name as Undermoutain, but it got my interest as a GM because it has a deep backstory and it's many levels present space for both a long term campaign but also for shorter contained story arcs. Of course, I'm also going to tinker with it and convert it into a post apocalyptic ruin of the ancients. I figure that'll give me the leeway I need to make it my own.

I guess if it comes down to one thing I have to offer this month it's that you need to own your mega dungeon. Whether or not you designed it, or merely co-opted it, you as GM need to be able to bring it to life, and part of that is feeling a sense of ownership. Being willing to make changes great or small will help that, and being willing to completely skip a room or level, or cavern because you understand that it doesn't fit into your narrative; all of these things are important in giving your players a good game. And if you can't give them a good game what's the value in a mega dungeon?

What the heck is the RPG Blog Carnival? Check out Johnn Four's header page for the circus here.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Story Seed - Absolute Zero: A Visit to Venus

Image Source: http://alexandreev.deviantart.com/art/Station-637869779

"Venus doesn't seem so bad," I said, pressing my face against the window. Clouds roiled below, mostly sulfur dioxide and other toxic chemicals. Here though, as we approached Aphrodite station, the hellish planet seemed for more pleasant.

The pilot spared a moment to snort derisively between communications with station control. I ignore him. The station was a dichotomy of industrial and elegant. Atop, it was a beautiful golden geodesic dome. Below, it was entirely functional: airlocks, thrusters, cargo pods, and the like. The shuttle was gliding toward one of those airlocks now, cutting through the atmosphere under computer control. I'd never ridden in an aerodynamic lighter than air shuttle before, and it felt more like being in space than being into atmosphere.

While the shuttle docked I reviewed what I knew of Aphrodite station. It was one of six, at the moment, stations that provided research and atmosphere cycling. The Venusian atmosphere was just lousy with carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide among other unpleasant but useful chemicals. The stations cracked the carbon dioxide and sold the components; elemental oxygen was a commodity for anybody who wanted to breathe, and carbon in any number of forms proved nearly as valuable as a construction material.

So here I was coming to the second most hellish place in the system (trust me, Io is worse by far) tracking down information about shipments of carbon nanotubes. To put it another way I was looking for a needle in a factory full of needles... and hay. I wondered if I was chasing nothing, or if the information I had was accurate. As useful as carbon nanotubes were, I couldn't imagine why anybody would hide shipments of them, let alone in the quantity that appeared to be being masked, but then, that's why I was here.


Friday, April 14, 2017

Gods of the Fall - I Live, I Die, I Live Again



Gods of the Fall is a game set in but a tiny portion of a much larger cycle. The Falls have happened before, and may well happen again. The gods of old weren't the first and, if the PCs have their say, will not be the last. This kind of cyclical story can be played in more than one way as well. Gods of the Fall implies that the new gods are probably not full-on reincarnations of the old gods. There are too many remnants and threads of the old that need to be plucked or cut or burned away. In addition the game's strong allowance for the PCs to be their own gods with nearly limitless choice further points to the PCs being entirely new.

But that doesn't have to be the case. Maybe you want to run things so that the PCs are specific gods reborn anew who must not just claim their divine right, but re-claim their old dominions and powers. In such a case you may want to lean in on Relics of the PCs past selves. In addition you may want to set the players to the task of designing their characters from the top down, or rather from the 6th tier down. Having a complete ultimate version of each player's character can allow the GM to both plan accordingly but also to make liberal use of foreshadowing. A character may find themselves on the receiving end of an ability they don't yet have for instance.

Additionally by helping to design the old gods the players will be able to have a little more in-character knowledge than usual, and may even be able to set up personal story arcs where their god rethinks their past selves' choices. A player may have the opportunity to fix mistakes of their past self, or even approach their dominions in a different way than their did in their prior incarnation. Sure, it's a little more work up front for both you and your players, but it also opens up opportunities that may not present themselves otherwise.

This kind of cyclical play also allows for something a little different within Gods of the Fall, starting as Gods and playing through the Fall. Think about it, it's the kind of opportunity that seldom comes along. Your players build their gods up to their ultimate point, the time just before the Fall when they are probably at their strongest. You, as GM, then run them through a session (or two, or three, or more) as their full-on god selves while the world falls to shit around them. Maybe they fight against it, maybe they try to escape it, maybe they try to lay contingency plans for their eventual return. In the end their gods die ... and are reborn as first tier gods to be, not yet aware of the auspicious destiny that awaits them!

If your group is really good you may even convince them to let other players run their prior god-selves. In this way they can truly see how the Fall and rebirth changed their gods. Or didn't. Sometimes the cyclical nature of things is a result of not progressing and advancing from iteration to iteration. In the end you may finish your campaign the same way you kicked it off, with the fully powered gods Falling once more...

Image Source: http://albert-lopez.deviantart.com/art/I-Live-I-Die-I-Live-Again-537322192

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Nuts & Bolts #114 - Inspirational - Into the Badlands



I got clued onto Into the Badlands a while back, but it wasn't until it recently hit Netflix that I was able to actually watch the first season. I can honestly say it was worth the wait. Into the Badlands (ItB from here out) is the kind of show that refuses labels. It's got martial arts, but it's not really a "kung fu" show. It's set in a post-apocalyptic world, but it's not really a post-apocalyptic show. It takes and fuses elements of a number of genres includes the aforementioned into something unique.

Though tough to pin down from a genre perspective the show can easily inspire any number of genres. What stands out to me is how little world building the show uses during the first season, and yet how well that works. The show sets up its world with a minimalist flair that both paints in broad strokes while also providing small snippets of detail.

Here's the opening narration:
The wars were so long ago nobody even remembers. Darkness and fear ruled until the time of the barons, seven men and women who forged order out of chaos. People flocked to them for protection. That protection became servitude. They banished guns and trained armies of lethal fighters they called Clippers. This world is built on blood. Nobody is innocent here. Welcome to the Badlands.
That's not a lot of specific detail, but it also tells us a lot. Broadly we know that the titular badlands are ruled over by a society that is more or less feudal, with Barons controlling vast tracts of land and the people who work them like the serfs of old. These Barons each control some kind of resource trade, petroleum, opium, minerals and the like. There's a tenuous peace between the Barons at the outset. Oh yeah, and the the barons also have armies of martial arts trained thugs.

Beyond that initial setup he later learn that somewhere beyond the badlands is a city that may or may not be legend known as Azra. There's also a river that runs through the badlands and is controlled by "The River King" who is not a baron but has both their respect and a similar purview of power.

Once you get into the show a bit we see that remnants of the old world exist. Motorcycles. Cars. Phonographs. There seems to be a lack of electronics but many early 20th century technologies seem to be at least semi-common. Less is more in creating the world. Broad strokes set the canvas of the setting and the detail slowly fills in with each episode on an as needed basis.

I said that I didn't think this was really a post-apocalypse show, and I stick by that, it's more like a post-post-apocalypse show. The usual themes of a post-apocalypse tale are gone. Resources are available, society has returned in some way, and scavenging seems to be a thing of the past. In some ways this reminds me of Numenera, it's a setting about living in the society that has grown up in the corpse of the old world and lives among its bones.

While ItB isn't post-apocalyptic in its themes it can still be useful for a GM. The way that the setting is laid out would work just as well for a more traditional post-apocalyptic setting. Those same broad strokes will allow your players to easily grasp the generalities of the setting while the limited detail and very narrow view of the story at the start will keep them from being overwhelmed by setting download syndrome. You can even use your players to help flesh out the setting by taking the ideas they have for their characters and expanding on them in little, or big, ways. Minimal effort, maximum return.

The second season of ItB started recently, and I imagine it'll make it to Netflix in due time. I'm eager for it to do so because I'm curious to see how else they develop the setting.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Story Seed - Absolute Zero: Stillness

Image Source: http://minion999.deviantart.com/art/Sci-Fi-Corridor-661950732

The junction was empty and quiet. Life aboard a cramped space station was seldom describable by either adjective, but when you took the time to hack access to the unfinished expansionary sections of your home you could sometimes find time to use them. In this case the quiet was relative. The bulkheads still groaned their occasional protests to pressure and heat and there was the quiet hum of power distribution and the life support systems. Those last two were Karen's fault, but she really didn't feel like having to explain wearing a rebreather and heavy coat. Instead she hacked the station's grid and turned this junction on two hours ago. Long enough for the atmosphere to recycle a few times and warm up.

Her palms were sweating. She scrubbed them on her pants and cursed her nerves. This whole thing was insane, she wasn't entirely certain how'd she'd come to be here. It had started innocently enough but like a relentless rush of atmo out a hull breach she'd quickly gone from commiserating about the mining corps to agreeing to use her network access to pull data. Tomas seemed nice enough, and he said that if he and the people he worked for could prove the corps were falsifying records it could give the USG reason to sanction the corps. Maybe even remove their extraterritorial status. The USG wasn't perfect, but Karen had to think they'd fix the problems.

Karen realized she was feeling dizzy. She put a hand on the cold bulkheads and started for the hatch out of the section. She realized dimly that she could see her breath. Confusion and panic began a war in her mind. It took effort to realize that the air handling was quiet. She stumbled for the the exit and fell when the lights cut out leaving her in cold, still darkness. As she gasped for air she wondered if Tomas had betrayed her, or if one of the corps had found out about her hack and traced it back to her.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Updates


As you probably know I was knocked out pretty hardcore by a flu this week and missed my usual weekend writing time. Instead of trying to play catch up this week or even just having a partial week I decided to take the week off entirely. I have used my evenings to update the Gods of the Fall, Properly Sorted Nuts & Bolts, and It Came From the (MCG) Blog! pages however. Those have now been updated through the most current posts. For Gods this was about 6 weeks of posts updated in, for Nuts & Bolts this went back to early January, and for my MCG blog index it turns out I came in a mere couple of weeks from being a year between updates.

I plan to return to posting as normal starting again on Monday. Thanks for bearing with me.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Unexpected Hiatus


Laid out by a flu or something. Wasn't even remotely able to get my usual writing done this weekend.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Friday, March 31, 2017

Gods of the Fall - Session Prep - Dreaming Under a Cursed Moon


I really need to stop putting things off. I coulda, shoulda, done this prep a month ago before the original play date before we had to push things out. Instead I waited ...

So here I am trying to plan a road trip session quickly. I want to do something that stands alone. Not every session needs to service the larger story for the campaign. I also know that the Nightlands are the geography I have to work with. So, what can I do with that and how can I do it?

Sleep. It's the thing that I can be sure the PCs will do, and it's a thing that, in the Nightlands, can lead to adventure, because in sleep there is Nod, the realm of dreams and nightmares, where a group of would be gods may find themselves off footing and struggling to adapt.

Sounds like a great start. It's also a good idea because I have a maybe in my group and the player has purchased sleep dust. If he's absent he's sleeping without dream. If he's there, it's an easy early session GM Intrusion to have him forget to use it, or have been swindled with fake product...

So easy enough start, drag the characters into the dream world. Now comes the hard work. The dreamworld should be memorable. Description of the scenery will be key, as will the flora and fauna. Things should be recognizable but also strange, warped, and different. Sometimes pleasantly so, otherwise nightmarishly so. Of course setting the scene is only as good as the scene to be set, and that includes setting up the plot of the session/adventure. So why have they ended up in the dreamlands? Or maybe more pertinently, what of consequence will happen?

I think early on I want to confront the characters (not the players, focus on the characters), with nightmares that reflect their journey, both past and ahead.
  • Iztal to be confronted with what being a God of Shadow truly means, riding the knife's edge between light and darkness
  • Utar desires dominion of strength, will he build something that lasts?
  • Polodius seeks knowledge, lost secrets could save the world, or damn it
  • Demondamus delved too deeply what darkness did he bring back with him and what does it mean for his pantheon?
I'll also seek to introduce the King of Nod for RP purposes. He is a figure steeped in power and knowledge but also held to his own agendas. Does he help them, harm them, or act indifferently?

This will be a RP heavy session as I suspect the follow up may be combat heavy by comparison, but in my pocket I can introduce nightmares to press the characters to act in seeking a means to wake. Once again the secret lies in embracing their godhood. Should they assert themselves as new gods they will wake safely, if not they may not wake at all...

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Nuts & Bolts #113 - Review: Kamandi Challenge #2

Issue #2 Cover

Kamandi Challenge #3 is out today, so here are my thoughts on issue #2 from last month. Minimal spoilers.



Vitals

Published By: DC Comics • 31 pages • $3.99 • full color

What's In It?

Warning: mild spoilers ahead! Or maybe picante spoilers. I'd suggest you read #1 if you plan to and then come back ... we'll wait ...

OK...

So the whole point of coming back for #2 is to see how February's creative team would fish Kamandi's butt from the fire. The nuclear fire, if the cliffhanger at the end of issue #1, was to be believed. The resolution of that cliffhanger takes a significant chunk of the story and ultimately drives the direction of this issue's cliffhanger.

About that though. While the resolution of the cliffhanger is well orchestrated and in keeping with what I know of the classic series it feels a bit like a dodge. Less a resolution of the cliffhanger and more an alteration of the cliffhanger's stakes. It works but part of me feels a little cheated. The fact that the prior author's plan (as explained in his letter at the end of the issue) is closer to what I expected (ish) only adds to that feeling.

Still, the dodge also throws off the hero's footing and pushes the action toward an Easter egg and interesting direction change for the series. Given the breadth of Kamandi's world and the limited nature of this series it's gratifying to see that they are apparently making efforts to explore the setting as much as possible. Again, it does feel a little like a dodge on previous issue's ... issues ... *ugh* sorry, but if I had to choose from a semi-forced means of seeing more of Earth A.D. or only seeing a small portion of it in greater detail I'd choose the former. If nothing comes of this series after its 12 issue run I want to see as much of the world as possible. If DC decides that this was successful enough to re-launch Kamandi as an unlimited series there will be more than enough time to explore specific parts of the world in greater detail there.

As for this issue as an RPG resource? There's plenty of new stuff introduced into this issue for a GM to pull into a game. From new (and old) enemies, to crazy artifacts, and post apocalyptic vistas, if you can't find some inspiration here for a game you probably aren't looking hard enough.

Rating: 90% - The art this issue is fantastic and the story is pretty fun, even if it feels a bit like a dodge. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Story Seed - Absolute Zero: Return

Image Source: http://tryingtofly.deviantart.com/art/Resistance-briefing-room-595199320

"Keady. Ee-Ell-Enn-Two-Four-Bee-Omega-One-Six-Epsilon. Over." The transmission was a bit rough, but the voice was unmistakable and the computer confirmed the command code before I even had to ask it to. I looked across the command center at Wan. "Wasn't Keady on Hecate station? How'd he survive that cluster?" I asked. It was a rhetorical question, of course, Wan hadn't left Absolute Zero in five years.

Wan just shrugged his shoulders and spoke into his headset. "Lakini, you are clear to approach docking port Two-Seven-Alpha. Welcome to Absolute Zero. Over." He flipped a switch, "Should have have security...?" he asked. I nodded and he toggled the interior security channel. "Security, this is command, send two officers to Two-Seven-Alpha." He paused, listening, then replied, "It's Keady." He cut the line and removed his headset, nodding to the junior comm officer.

I met him halfway around the room, "Hecate was obliterated wasn't it?" I'd read the reports but Wan had been one of those who had monitored system-wide communications.

"As far as I knew nobody got off Hecate alive. Of course this is Keady we're talking about so ..." Wan grinned even as I grimaced. Keady's reputation was legend, in that a lot of what people claimed he'd done was myth.

I pinched the bridge of my nose, feeling a migraine coming on, "Yeah. Keady." I sighed, "Come on, let's get down there and try to find out how the hell this is possible. On the way you can tell me everything you know about this ship, what was it again?"

"The Lakini, and we don't have much. It's a private for-hire ship. Registered out of Vesta. Last berthed at Phobos two weeks back. Didn't file a flight plan when it left." Wan paused, probably scanning through the wireless feed to his ocular display. "Captained by ... Nicholas Alexander. Eh, no other official crew registered, like I said, private ship."

"And this Captain Alexander?" I asked as we rode the left down.

"He's a moonie. Used to run ice for Terra-Form on Mars. Left there eight years back. Resurfaced five years ago on Vesta when he registered the Lakini. That's about all we got in the data-banks." Wan stopped in the hall, "Sir, there wasn't record from Hecate about the Lakini docking. Do you think they were there?"

I stopped a few paces ahead of him. "I don't know," I replied over my shoulder. "But I think we're in a position to find out, and maybe find out what really happened to Hecate." I turned fully toward him, "Wan, I'm worried. I think our little private corner of the sky is about to get a lot less quiet."

Friday, March 24, 2017

Gods of the Fall - Inspirational


Today's a quick post in words, but a long one in duration, because I'm on vacation at Gary Con! I'm probably busy playing a game or wandering through the dealer hall. Regardless of my absence, I wanted to make those of you who may have missed it aware of a great resource for Gods of the Fall GMs...

Crash Course Mythology

If you are a fan of mythology (as I have been since I was a kid) you probably owe it to yourself to check out this series just for that alone. If you are a GM or player of Gods of the Fall I think there's some value here in seeing how myths are structured and evolve. I've embedded the first 3 episodes here but by the time this posts there will be two or three more beyond this I think. Well worth the 10-15 minute chunks of time in my opinion.




Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Nuts & Bolts #112 - RPG Blog Carnival - The Darkness Within


Because I seldom come at these blog topics from the obvious angle, and because there is an increasing amount of fiction (and therefore games) derived from exploring a person's headspace, let's take a look at the darkness of the mind and soul....

Dreams & Nightmares

Journeying into a person's dreams, or even the world of dreams itself, is hardly a new idea. These kinds of the adventures are not typical but they can certainly be fantastic. As you no doubt know, dreams can be very strange. More than that though dreams can be dark. Exploring a person's nightmares often means coming face to face with their worst fears.

The possibilities here are endless. Perhaps the characters have to enter the dreams of a local lord and rescue him from his nightmares. Once inside they have to navigate the twisted nightmare realm and convince the lord that they have the power to awake from these dreams.

Likewise character's may be able to enter the world of dreams, a strange parallel to our own world into which people sometimes dream themselves during sleep. The dream world is perhaps safer than a specific person's dreams, and yet also more dangerous. While the character's will not be at the mercy of the dreamer's mind they will still be in a realm where thoughts and dreams can impact the world around them. Worse they may come into conflict with dreams that have become sentient, or other dream walkers who have more control.

The Landscape of the Mind

Much like entering a person's dreams entering their mind can allow you to experience aspects of their personality that can be personified as individuals. The adventures one can have inside another's mind can allow them to see that person's personality rendered real. A person's dark side may be manifest as a terrible monster, or more insidiously it may be that an evil person's mind if a hostile environment that attacks all outsiders.

Exploration of this kind can allow you as GM to explore aspects of an NPC in ways that force the players to re-evaluate their relationship with the NPC. The PCs may learn that deep within the evil sorcerer is a scared and abused boy whose heart turned to darkness because of his traumatic childhood. Or they may learn that within the peaceful monk that runs the orphanage is a sadistic soul that drives the monk's fearful temper or strange behaviour toward certain people.

The Hyde Factor

Naturally when exploring themes and stories around people's dark sides one need not delve into the character's soul or dreams. Instead of internalizing the narrative one can externalize the darkness through magic curse, science mishap, or madness. This is the Jekyll and Hyde story and is well known. It's fame makes this no less interesting, and indeed can act as the instigator for an adventure that will lead to dream delving or mind walking.

That monk's dark side may be causing him to act out, perhaps even channeling his Qi to transform him into an Oni during the dark of night. The characters then need to dive into the monk's mind (during the day) to confront the darkness in the monk's soul and defeat the oni.

How do you use the darkness within in your games? Do you explore the dark sides of your PCs and NPCs at all?

Monday, March 20, 2017

Story Seed - Absolute Zero: Arrival

Image Source: http://derbz.deviantart.com/art/Asteroid-Docks-612728801

Fifty thousand credits. More money than my little ship and crew could take in with a year's worth of the jobs we usually executed. Fifty thousand credits for a three month journey into the Oort Cloud to a station that didn't officially exist except as rumor. The risk was that my passenger didn't pay up front, but fifty thousand credits was worth the risk, and I could only assume that there must be something at the coordinates he gave us, otherwise he'd be as screwed as the rest of us.

Now I sat in the cockpit, the thin man known only as Keady hovering behind me as we drifted toward what he assured me was the much rumored Absolute Zero station. The asteroid, if you could really call it that covered as it was by structures and gantries, tumbled end over end relative to the view-port. This far from Sol it was dark and only the station lights really gave away the size of the thing. I turned and gave a questioning look at the thin spacer behind me. "This? This is Absolute Zero?" It was far more impressive than I could have imagined. He just nodded. I was about to press him for more information when the comm squawked.

"Unidentified vessel, your ship silhouette and transponder are unregistered. Come to a full stop and identify yourselves. Ship name and port of origin. If you fail to comply in ten seconds you will be fired upon. Over." The comm signal cut off, whomever ran this place was clearly in no mood to play games.

As if thinking the same thing Keady licked his lips, "You'd better comply. They have mass drivers and gigawatt lasers. At least the last time I was here they did."

I was already firing thrusters to bring the ship to a stop relative to the tumbling rock as he said this. I looked back at him again, "How ... how'd they get their hands on military grade weapons?" Keady looked at me with those dark ringed eyes of his and I just shook my head and turned back to my console. I flipped a switch and spoke aloud, "Station is this the Captain Alexander of the Lakini out of Port Vesta, please respond. Over."

The reply came quickly, "Standby Lakini." There was a moment of silence, "Lakini, please state your crew compliment, number of passengers, and business here. Over." Perfunctory and straight to the point.

"Five crew. One passenger. We were hired on specifically to get this man here after the disaster at Hecate station. Over." Probably more information than I needed to give them, but better safe than sorry. The comm was silent, my skin began to itch and I checked the passive sensors to see if they were powering on a weapon system.

"Lakini, who is your passenger? Over."

I sighed, even as station control went this was getting irritating. I thumbed the comm on and gestured to Keady to introduce himself. He nodded and cleared his throat, "This is Keady, authorization code Ee-Ell-Enn-Two-Four-Bee-Omega-One-Six-Epsilon. Over." I didn't know what any of that meant but I assumed station control would. I looked at Keady again, wondering who this man was. Not for the first time since pulling this man from a life pod floating in the debris of Hecate station I wondered just what I had gotten Lakini into.

"Lakini, you are clear to approach docking port Two-Seven-Alpha. Welcome to Absolute Zero. Over." The flight path sent by station control directed me to a large docking spar that jutted off the central mass. I keyed the ship to automated docking and let the computers do the heavy lifting. When I was done I turned but Keady was gone, and I was left once more wondering what lay ahead. I hoped it included fifty thousand credits.