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

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"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...

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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

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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


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.


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 ...


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

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"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

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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.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Gods of the Fall - The Name of the Thing

We all know the name of the game, but have you considered what it really means? It's pretty clear from the game's art that there was an overt attempt to stand away from the Western & European classical religions. There's a less obvious lean toward the religions of Middle Eastern antiquity, and more classical and modern India. That's all subtext. It's all in the art and presentation. There's nothing over to direct somebody away from Thor and Hermes, but the subtle touches of names, artwork, and even the mechanics of the game suggest these things.

And then there's the title: Gods of the Fall. It's evocative and creates a certain expectation. Unfortunately it may not be the right expectation for some. Because "god" (note the lowercase "g") and "God" are not the same, and given the Eastern lean of the material I started to do some digging. Turns out that that the East may have contributed more than just a visual aesthetic, because there seems to be more than a little Hinduism in the gameplay and mechanics. Take a look at the following I dredged up from Wikipedia when researching "deities" recently:
Difference between deity and monotheistic God (from Wikipedia here
A typical deity in Hinduism, differs from the monotheistic concept of God in other major religions, in that the deity need not be omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent, or a combination of these. 
A deity – god or goddess – is typically conceptualized in Hindu tradition as a "supernatural, divine" concept manifesting in various ideas and knowledge, in a form that combine excellence in some aspects, wrestling with weakness and questions in other aspects, heroic in their outlook and actions, yet tied up with emotions and desires.
I'd say that the Hindu model of deities fits Gods of the Fall rather well wouldn't you? I'd even go as far as to say that while "Deities of the Fall" isn't a better title, it is a more accurate one. The characters that the players control are gods but too often that gets mixed up and confused with Gods. The characters are deities, they have limited scope and very real vulnerabilities that balance out their impressive strengths. They are prone to human failings, as were the gods before them.

This isn't a condemnation of the game or the title. Gods of the Fall sounds better and it catches the eye and imagination better. It's the title the game needs and even if it isn't perfectly accurate of the intended play style it's the right title for the game.

All that said I think it bears understanding that the characters should be defined by their limits and their humanness as much as they are by their powers and dominions. Allowing fear and greed and other failings and weakness mix with their divine attributes will help yield a better story. Either through pure roleplay or by helping you as GM to define stories and enemies that compliment and contrast the characters.

Gods of the Fall is a game of deities striving to both transcend their humanity and also lift the world from darkness into light. Keeping in mind that darkness can come from within as well as without will only help tell a better story.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Nuts & Bolts #111 - Hacking the Cypher System - Mastery

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inability. Untrained. Trained. Specialized. Cypher System players will no doubt instantly recognize these terms and the significance of them. The skill spectrum assumes that Untrained is the default state; that any character can attempt any task with this basic level of competency. Depending on your type, focus, and descriptor you may have a few, or many skills at levels other than default. Of course, beyond their level of training characters can apply effort to varying degrees to make tasks easier beyond even that which their training affords.

The Cypher System Rulebook introduced a new variable into the dynamic when it brought us Shifts. Shifts are incredibly powerful, which fits their use within Superhero games and the players as divinities setting, Gods of the Fall. Using shifts turns a character to 11. Not only do Shifts grant what is essentially a permanent and free level of effort, but depending on the shift type these can apply to a very wide scope (such as with Dexterity or Intellect shifts) or a great depth (such as with Single Attack shifts adding both a level bonus and additional damage).

I've said in the past that at its default style of play Cypher System is very well suited to games with a pulpy tone. The characters are very capable, very robust, and stand out from the norm with special abilities or skills (foci). The mechanics of effort and recovery further increase this feel. Characters can take their chances on less important tasks but with effort they can make success of more important tasks more routine. Likewise the ease of recovery (at least the first two recoveries) allows for characters to bounce back quickly at first.

Why am I detailing all of this? Because there are times when I feel like a step between basic Cypher and Cypher with Shifts would be nice. While one could certainly limit the number of shifts given to characters the breadth & depth of scope would still greatly alter game play. So what's a GM to do if they want to add just a little more punch to their PCs in keeping with something like a Golden Age Supers game, or a more heroic game of myth?


Mastery works a little like a Shift and a little like an extra level of Training. Mastery is applied to a skill the character has already gained at least a level of Training in and grants not only an increase in the level of training, but access to a higher level of skill competency: Mastery. Characters with Mastery in a skill reduce the difficulty of tasks associated with the skill by three levels. It's as simple as that. In order to gain the most from Mastery characters will need to already be (or soon to gain) Specialized in the skill in question, and taking Mastery makes them one of the (if not THE) best in the field. These are the peerless Samurai, the genius mechanics, the bleeding edge scientists and engineers.

I'd suggest granting not more than one, maybe two, levels of Mastery to characters to hit that sweet spot of allowing characters to truly excel. The use of Mastery can help differentiate between characters of similar type and role. A pulp aviators game (such as Skyward) may find itself with two characters specialized in piloting and mechanics, but one may choose Mastery in the former skill, where the other applies Mastery to the latter. Instead of stepping on each other's toes one becomes the undisputed best pilot and the other the best mechanic.

I've not tested this idea out, but I hope to eventually. In the meantime, if you get a chance let me know how it went.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Gods of the Fall - Rock You Like a Hurricane

Here I am ... with another look at the setting of the Afterworld. Or more accurately, one part of it; one feature really, and the secret I think it may contain: The Eye of Elanehtar.

The Eye is a complicated feature. One part everlasting storm, one part magical fallout, one part howling gang of ravers. Oh and the great granddaddy of ravers, the Delirium. The book dedicates only a small bit of space to the Eye, and with reasonable cause given that the majority of the Eye is centered over the sea-filled crater of what was once Cavazel.

As you can see there's a lot going on there. An everlasting storm by itself would be an interesting feature for a fantasy setting, but we get to add a bunch of other goodness to that. It's almost too much. But not really. I've discussed my thoughts on ravers before. The Delirium is basically a raver on steroids, inflicting madness on anybody nearby and spawning curses and chaos. It very likely represents the nearly complete soul of one of the dead gods, one whose death agony was so extreme that it lost all sanity. The Delirium may even be the "queen" raver, spawning and controlling its lesser brethren. Heck I could probably write this whole post just riffing on the Delirium.

But I won't.

The magical calamity that occurred when Elanehtar "smote" (Bruce's word not mine) Cavazel is very probably fueled by a great deal of released divine energy. The chaotic and sudden release can help explain the massive storm, and the curses that it flings about like almost living creatures. As does the presence of the Delirium.

Entering the storm is likely incredibly dangerous for gods and is surely lethal to mortals, though one can assume that such a death would be of the most unpleasant kind. Some may even posit that the danger is sufficient to make any entry entirely pointless. After all, Cavazel is gone there's nothing left but a watery grave presided over by a deadly storm. Who would ever find reason to enter and why?

For the first part: gods on the rise. For the second: Elanehtar's ruins.

Gods of the Fall is a Cypher System game and so it needed a reason for Cyphers. Bits of crystalized divine energy precipitated (literally) by the fall of Elanehtar provided more than enough reason and context for Cyphers in the game setting. There's even talk that people of the Afterworld believe that maybe, just maybe, Elanehtar could be restored if enough of its energy could be freed from Cyphers. But what if Elanehtar isn't utterly destroyed or cast asunder as Cyphers? What if the remains of Elanehtar are intact and whole and shrouded from the prying eyes of mortal ken by the everlasting storm known as the Eye of Elanehtar? What better place to hide the remains of a one-time heaven than in the calm center of a storm? In its eye?

Then again maybe a storm is just a storm. I dunno...

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Nuts & Bolts #110 - RPG Blog Carnival - Out in the Dark

Once again the circus ... err, carnival, is in town! This month's topic is "Things in the Dark" which is pretty awesome in both its breadth of scope and possibilities for getting just about any RPG and genre involved. You can read the kick-off post here.

The Dark. Sometimes it's literal, sometimes it's figurative, and sometimes it falls between the two and straddles that line. In space operas and science fiction the latter is often the case. The literal dark of space combined with the figurative dark of the unknown. The realms of space beyond our solar system, or humanity's empire, or even the galaxy. The Dark, at the edge of all we know, an abyss that holds seemingly limitless potential and danger.

True darkness in space is difficult however. The universe is a vast place but it is also full of galaxies and stars and the light of these islands of matter can, and does, travel throughout the cosmos. There's not many places where one can go in space and truly find darkness. Unless one risks the most powerful and destructive objects that we know of: Black holes.

Nobody knows what happens past the event horizon of a black hole. Does matter simply collapse into infinite density, being ripped into atoms in the process by tidal gravity difference due to the exponential relation between the strength of gravity and distance from it's center? Do objects continue to exist in a surreal world where even light cannot escape and space is warped into an infinite curve before they eventually fall into the singularity at the center? Or are black holes just the opening of a wormhole in space-time leading to some other where, when, or even another universe?

Or maybe something stranger? Depending on how rigorous you want your science to be there's probably other theories you could mine for ideas, and if you are leaning toward something a little more "science fantasy" you can do whatever you want.

The fact that light and electromagnetism cannot pierce the event horizon of a black hole may mean something different if you are using magic or psionics. A Spelljammer type setting may find that black holes are also massive anti-magic disruptions. Does the Force bend around a black hole, or pass through it? Alternately maybe black holes are transformers, converting matter and energy into magic or aether, or even providing some kind of baseline field of the Force that Jedi manipulate.

But what's inside? Again this would depend on the rigor of your science and the specifics of your setting. If black holes are massive magical batteries fueled by the matter and energy they consume does that make them gods? Could black holes be aware and intelligent? More horrifying, if they are what happens if you make them unhappy?

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

Monday, March 6, 2017

Story Seed - Barter

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"What are you doing here?" the man asked. Tall and thin he held himself stiffly upright, gazing down with contempt at my companions and I.

"We seek council. The wisdom of the Order of the Hollaston is known far and wide." I bowed as I spoke, hoping the others behind me were following suit.

The figure regarded us silently, his inhuman eyes looking down a long nose as me. He did not look amused or terribly impressed with my attempt to curry a favorable disposition. After what felt like a millennia her spoke. "Our wisdom is ours. We do not seek or require trade. You have nothing to offer us for our wisdom."

I'd expected this. The Order was well known for its xenophobic isolationism. I bowed my head, "Indeed, I am sure that is often the truth, but in this instance your wisdom is superseded by a gap in you considerable knowledge." I reached under my cloak and produced a thick tome. Bound between brass slabs etched in hair thin tracings of runs and sigils, three hinges and three locks held the contents firmly shut, and secret.

"This tome we retrieved from the deep ruins of the fallen tower of Ullbac. Surely it contains knowledge long since forgotten within the realms?" I held the tome out with both hands, offering it, "Surely your council is but small payment for the ownership of such an ancient tome?"

The wizened figure stood silent, peering down at us through those strange eyes. I found ti unnerving, and swallowed hard to stand my ground. At last the silver grey eyes shifted from me to the tome. I drew a ragged breath, only realizing I'd been holding it as I drew in a chest full of fresh air. I waited and hoped, and wondered if such as the Order could be trusted with whatever lay within the book.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Gods of the Fall - Relics

Relics are a thing in myth. They just aren't really a thing in Gods of the Fall. That's cool and all, and for some groups it probably works out OK, but I think there's some value in godly relics. In items of power so intrinsically wound up in the divine legend of their godly owner that they become an indistinguishable part of that legend. You can't talk about Mjolnir without talking about Thor for instance. That's easily the best example that is commonly known thanks in large part to a comic book god that bears little in common with the myth that spawned him.

Consider Hercules (or perhaps Herakles) and the pelt of the Nemean Lion. The Nemean lion's skin was so tough that blades and arrows couldn't puncture it and the lion was thought invincible. Enter Hercules, who used his great strength to strangle and choke the lion to death. He was then able to carefully remove the lion's skin and wore it, both as a trophy and as an unbreachable defense, for even in death the skin of the Nemean lion resisted cuts and punctures.

That's a divine relic. Zeus' Thunderbolts, Odin's spear Gungnir, Cú Chulainn's Gae Bolga, and Athena's Aegis are all other examples of relics. For other gods relics may take on a different kind of role, one representing a loss or sacrifice on the god's part. Tyr's missing hand, Horus' eye, Osirus' manhood, and Odin's eye, are all relics in that they are aspects of the god that are important to that god's power and myth. Odin gains knowledge of fate and magic by the sacrifice of his eye much in the way Mjolnir grants Thor strength and the power of thunder.

Observant and well read readers may at this point realize that I'm taking huge ques from White Wolf's Scion RPG, and I totally am. I cop to it. I think that, rules issues aside, Scion had a great grasp over the divine legend and how to embody that into an RPG, and I don't think that taking lessons from Scion and applying them to Gods of the Fall in any way lessens either game.

How do you introduce relics? Well depending on what kind of relic we're talking about a character may start with a weapon they favor heavily, or they may find something. A relic item may even start play as an artifact, but through continual use by the player grow to be something more. I look at relics as being an artifact that cannot deplete for the character, that grants a special divine shift of some kind to that player. For relics that are represented not by a physical item but instead by a physical infirmity, I would offer two shifts, with the second being offset by the handicap of the injury itself. Tyr isn't going to be using two handed anything after Fenrir bit off his hand, so that's a detriment, but it's also a relic and it represents his steadfast devotion, his honor, and his strength as a god to make a sacrifice; after all, he knew full well that he would lose his hand once Fenrir realized that the gods had bound him.

Will I use this in my monthly Gods of the Fall game? Possibly. I like the idea of doing so, but I don't want to jump the gun too early either. we're only just now getting to 2nd tier and I don't think relics should really come about until probably third or even fourth tier. Still, it's an idea I've been toying with, and I think it fits nicely with the themes and helps to deepen the story potential.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Nuts & Bolts #109 - Review: Kamandi Challenge #1

Issue #1 standard cover, art by Bruce Timm


Published By: DC Comics • 43 pages • $4.99 • full color

What's In It?

The return of the last boy on Earth!

I don't usually read comics. The only title I have ever bought as a monthly is Saga (more on that in a future blog post), but I decided to make an exception and buy a copy of Kamandi Challenge #1. A little history: Kamandi was created by the great Jack Kirby and over the years DC has more or less refused to let anybody into the playground since the 1970 after the title's initial run ceased. 2017 is Mr. Kirby's 100's birthday and so DC decided to finally let the post apocalyptic character return.

The "challenge" part is what made me decide no to wait until this inevitably got re-released as a trade. See because so many creators have asked DC to write or draw Kamandi over the years (and DC always said no) they decided to take an unconventional approach to bringing back this title. Each month a separate creative team of writer(s) and artist(s) will pick up the story from the cliffhanger left by the previous creative team. They have to resolve the cliffhanger and then tell the next part of the story and leave a new cliffhanger for the next team's month. It means that over the course of the next 12 months we'll probably get one wild ride, but it also means this limited series should be really fun too.

Warning: mild spoilers ahead!

Issue #1 has a prologue written by Dan DiDio (who also acts as overseeing editor) and drawn by Keith Griffen with the main story (picking up on the prologue's cliffhanger) written by Dan Abnett and drawn by Dale Eaglesham. I'm unfamiliar with either artist, but I at least recognize the names of the writers. The issue introduces us to Kamandi (a name he gets from his home in the Command D bunker) and starts to show us Kamandi's world populated by mutant animals and ruled over by a kingdom of tigers. Much like planet of the apes man is considered an animal while the animals are anthropomorphic and intelligent (though far more varied than just apes).

I grabbed this for three reasons. Firstly it just seemed like it could be a fun limited series. Secondly I love post apocalypse stories & worlds. Thirdly between my early days playing the TMNT & Other Strangeness RPG and After The Bomb (the post apocalyptic version of the same) and the upcoming release of Mutant Crawl Classics RPG I thought that reading this series would be both nostalgic and inspiring.

In all three respects this was a worthwhile purchase. The promise of the second issue resolving the crazy cliffhanger from this issue will probably make me buy into that as well. I think the biggest risk will be the changing artist and writer each month, which could be either boon or bane. As inspiration for RPGs I'd say they're off to a good start; this issue was mostly split between character introduction and world building. The evocative art certainly gives me some ideas, as does the mish-mash of tech used by the characters.

I'm no expert on comics, but I know I enjoyed this and that it made me eager to pick up the second issue. I'd say it's worth the price of admission and then some, at least for what I was hoping to get out of it.

Rating: 100% - great art and a good start for this series, at least in my opinion

Monday, February 27, 2017

Story Seed - Seeker

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At last! My chest heaved as I gasped for the thin air and my weakened muscles trembled, threatening to pull me down and send me tumbling from whence I came, but at last I had found the monastery. I could see it with my own eyes, a glorious towering structure built out of the upward thrusting rock of a remote mountain peak. The last refuge for the long thought lost Brotherhood of the Trembling Hand.

I surveyed the way before me, I'd have to go down to go up, and the ascent to the structure did not seem to be aided in any way. Not for the first time I wondered if I would find an empty structure, guarded only by the long dead. I carefully sat, and took a precious few minutes as my body recovered some of my spent energy.

I regarded the flocks of birds that seemed to make this peak home, and the faint traces of greenery. Little more than scrub grass, lichen, and low shrubs. Could the monks have eked out a living here in isolation for so long? I began to doubt that they could.

The birds though... the birds gave me pause. Of course it was simple for them to access this place, flight would carry them here without the struggles of a difficult climb. If the birds could survive in this place perhaps the monks could. They may have secret gardens of edible plants and perhaps even hardy mountain goats that could forage the peak.

I struggled once more to my feet and set off, carefully picking my way. There was only one way to learn the truth.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Gods of the Fall - A Plague Upon Your House

I've written about using illness in gaming before. That post was pretty general but I think there were a lot of salient points there for the average game.

Gods of the Fall isn't your average game however.

The setting of the Afterworld is, in a way, a two-fold setting. You have the mortal level of a high fantasy world where the gods have died, despots rule, and darkness pervades much of the land. And then you have the god level where the players can seize the power of heaven for themselves, eradicate despots, venture to hell to destroy demons like no other, and eventually bring about lasting change to the world.

Everything in that original post works just fine for the mortal level of Gods of the Fall (or any other setting), but when you have godlings as characters you have to up the ante a bit. Diseases that can effect young gods need to be more than just powerful versions of mortal disease. If you can normally run around calling down divine fire and slaying demons getting the sniffles is ... disappointing.

It's also somewhat silly. Characters can and likely will have a shift or two of divine stamina among them. These characters are going to be unlikely to fail a save versus disease. Godly diseases probably shouldn't infect characters the same way as mortal diseases. Communicable diseases of the mind, or magical (like a curse) or even those that infect based on beauty or hideousness, or skills of certain kind. Its also possible that one simply cannot resist some divine diseases and must either ride them out, or possibly even carry out a divine labor to become cured!

The symptoms should also be similarly grand in scope. A couple of points of damage is probably not going to be very interesting (or crippling), but those same couple of points will be downright terrifying if damage taken from the disease is not recoverable until the disease is first cured. Similarly a step down the damage track is debilitating but the loss of divine shifts is both more interesting and more in theme with a divine disease.

Another possible symptom of a divine disease could be a geas, a forced behavior that is brought on by the disease such as being unable to refuse hospitality, the inability to use certain items or consume certain foods, and similar. Look at Gaelic mythology for some examples of this. Breaking a geas, if the character is able, often strips them of their power or otherwise makes them weak.
A really brutal example of this is the Irish figure Cúchulainn. He has a geas to never eat dog meat, and he is also bound by a geas to eat any food offered to him by a woman. When a witch learns of these she is able to bring about his downfall by offering him dog meat. With no way to avoid breaking one of his geas he is rendered powerless and eventually perishes. 
When thinking up new diseases for god level characters the GM needs to be thinking WAY outside the box. So to close this blog out here's a couple of ideas to get you started.

  • Nod's Lament - This disease seems to come out of nowhere and causes horrific nightmare and paranoia and even waking visions of terror. It grips a potential god whenever they try and rest. Every time a character tried to take a rest to recover pool points they must succeed on an Intellect defense roll with a level equal to the number of points rolled to recover. Failure results in the character regaining none of the points and wasting the rest opportunity. Recovery is automatic after successfully resting three times.
  • Freedom's Bane - Contracted as a result of interacting with Seraph's of Sin the character gains a random geas as determined by the GM. This gaes remains until the character completes a labor or slays the seraph (if it still lives). 
    • Note you may want to use a GM Intrusion when using this one the first time as there is no chance to "save vs disease"

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Nuts & Bolts #108 - Hacking the Cypher System - Initial Costs

Let's talk about Initial Costs. The Cypher System Rulebook details Initial Costs on page 195 (Numenera Core pg 89, The Strange Core pg. 102). Briefly, Initial Costs are an upfront cost of pool points to even attempt a task. Normally tasks in Cypher System are free unless they are an Ability with a cost, or the character uses Effort. This can be offset by Edge. Initial Cost comes right off the top.

You want to shove that door open? It's a level 4 task and has an initial cost of 2 Might just to try it, any Effort adds on top. It's important to note that Edge can only be applied once per task attempt and so if you have an Edge of 1 and apply Effort to the aforementioned task you end up spending a total of 4 Might (2 Initial Cost, plus 3 for Effort, minus 1 for Edge).

I think Initial Costs are underutilized. I cannot recall the last time I saw them at the table as a player or in a written adventure. I must even admit that I don't make use of them very often. I should though, and so should you. Initial costs are a great way to held GMs control player resources. Cypher System characters are quite robust. Pool points and Edge make it easy for players to execute certain kinds of tasks at will or with very little cost. Likewise recovery rolls are easy and plentiful early on, and further extend the characters' resources. Moderate use of Initial Costs can help a GM to either deplete character resources or to help make one in-game choice a little less attractive than another.

Consider if you have two ways that characters can progress out of a current scene. One is easy but leads to a planned ambush or other trouble. The other avoids the trouble. You could make the other option harder, or you could give it an initial cost that must be paid. So the players can choose the easy but risky option or the harder costly version that is safer.

I'm going to make an effort to start using Initial Costs more. I think it has the possibility to make games better and allow me as a GM to substitute costs for difficulty levels. Most importantly I think it'll help me control player facing resources.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Story Seed - Across the Sea

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"Tell me again about how the gods saved the city papa," Hiella pleaded as she wriggled under the covers.

"OK dear, ok, but tomorrow something different," Wollace said softly.

"Long ago, the old titans, those that came before the gods, lived in another realm and helped the people who worshiped them. Our city was a great center of their worship, and all the titans looked upon our ancestors with favor. The great temples held festivals and worship days and offered sacrifices to the titans and in return the city received their protection and grace.

"Many years passed. Many centuries. The city grew and the titans remained pleased by the devotion that the city gave them. The city was blessed, and obviously the favored home of the titans when they were on the mortal plane.

"None know what happened the day the titans died, or how a divine could even die, but there was a great sound of thunder from across the ocean. Soon a wave of water unlike any ever seen by man or divine came rushing over the ocean. The titans knew that whatever disaster had befallen the west was divine in nature, and would claim them as well. The four greatest patrons of the city sought to protect their worshipers and together they expended the last of their considerable might to raise the city above the water and out of reach of the great wave.

"The titans all perished that day, but the four who saved the city did not disappear. They became stone and continue to hold the city aloft to this day." Wollace leaned down to kiss his daughter on the head, "And that is how the titans saved our home."

Friday, February 17, 2017

Gods of the Fall - In Praise of Page 32

I'll stop using this art as soon as I get tired of looking at it.

OK, so let's talk about page 32 of Gods of the Fall. I'm going to start by directly addressing Monte Cook Games, author Bruce Cordell, and any other RPG publishers & writers paying attention: Do more of this.

Page 32 is a literal page from the Book of the Dead Gods. It contains a hymn to Avi the Sun, the words of Mudarak's Song, and a passage from Samiel 2:17. Page 32 is look directly into the game setting and directly at a document that a character in the game may be familiar with. More than this however Page 32 is a window into everything that the author cannot write into the text. It implies the content of an entire book in terms of style of writing and style of prose. In a game about fallen gods and new gods it gives us a glimpse at the way that the old gods were worshiped and a glimpse at how the new gods may likewise find themselves revered.

This one page is, in its own way, worth as much as the rest of the setting section. It does something that the remainder of the setting information cannot do, which is provide a sense of immersion. It does this not by telling us about the world, but showing it to us directly.

This is certainly not a new and unique way of presenting setting information. White Wolf made excellent use of such techniques in its Aeon product line back in the 90's and early 2000s by way of presenting massive in world records from the internet (or similar) or newpapers and other print media. This was then backed up by more traditional encyclopedia style world building. There are a few pages in The Strange presented as Estate case files and introductory packets. Games like Shadowrun and Interface Zero have presented their encyclopedic world information layered within the guise of matrix posts by various hackers, complete with snarky comments. I'm sure there are numerous more.

My first time through Gods of the Fall I paid this page little more heed than I did any other. I was intent on devouring the book, and wringing as much out of it as possible in the form of raw information. Page 32 stuck in my mind though and when I was planning my first session I decided to read directly from that page when I ran a scene featuring an Adherent street preacher. The effect was, I think, tremendous, as the passage sounded like something from an actual prayer book to the players.

Could I have done this on my own by writing my own poem, hymn, or such? Perhaps, though I doubt I would not have been half as successful at hitting the style, and less than that at the content. More to the point though I didn't have to. By providing in-setting material I was able to immerse the players with very little effort. 

So, to my fellow players and GMs, go read page 32 again. And maybe a second time, and consider what it tells you about the setting, from inside the setting. And to the RPG writing and publishing folks out there, consider including more of this in future products. These glimpses at the setting from within can do more to immerse your readers than a dozen pages telling us about the setting from the outside.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Nuts & Bolts #107 - RPG Blog Carnival - Exit Stage Left

I wanted to follow up my prior post about planning scenes based on the purpose they serve with another tool I use when planning: determining how the players can exit the scene. As I see it, no matter the circumstances of a scene, there's really only two way out, defined exits and undefined exits.

A defined exit is a fixed & finite way out of the scene. This could be as simple as finding a way to open the door of the jail cell that the players are currently prisoner within. Or it could be as complex as a negotiation scene where the exit is the end of negotiations (regardless of how they end). Defined exits are more commonly associated with adventures that are linear in design (such as a dungeon where each room only has a finite number of entrances and exits). 

An undefined exit is ... undefined. It's an open ended problem that the characters (and thus the players) are free to "solve" however they choose. This could be a scene of sneaking into an enemy stronghold (do they go in via the sewers, by impersonating the guard, climbing the wall?), or even a combat scene (they could win, run away, perish, something else, or even a combination of those).  Undefined exits can be associated with more open or "sandbox" games and allow the players to have a greater degree of creative control over the game.

Don't mistake my words for implying that undefined exits are in some way better than defined exits. Think of it more in terms of your control over the flow of an adventure. If you plan a scene such that it has only one or more defined exits you have better control over how the scene will transition to the next. This will allow you to plan up front and require less improvisation in play. On the other side, a scene with undefined exits encourages player creativity and can allow for the adventure to go into directions that even the writer hadn't planned for. This will require some more improvisation, but can also be more rewarding for the GM running the game, as they will be able to experience the surprise of the players' solution to the scene. 

Another thing to consider is that knowing what kinds of exits one scene has allows you to better plan the entrances for the next scene. If you only have a single defined exit then there should only be a single way into the next scene. Conversely having a number of defined scene exits, or a scene with undefined exits, requires that your next scene (or scenes) be planned accordingly. Again, this can be more work up front, but help ease play at the table. Transition for scenes with undefined exits may also require improvisation, with no real way to plan for every contingency.

Understanding scene exits can help you plan ahead and plan accordingly. It can also help you know how much improvisation you'll need to plan for, and help you determine how your adventure will flow from scene to scene.