Friday, June 23, 2017

Predation - Early Thoughts

Predation Wraparound Cover, copyright Monte Cook Games
So, how 'bout them dinos?

I've had the PDF of Predation for a couple weeks now, and the print for about a week. I've started the process of reading through it, and at this point, I feel like I can start speaking about my initial thoughts. A year ago, around this time, I did the same for Gods of the Fall, and if you are a regular reader of this blog you know what kind of rabbit hole I fell down with that setting. Some of you are no doubt hoping I'll tumble down a bambiraptor hole with this game. So let's get into it.

The first twelve pages are introductory. The author's intro, a setting intro, and a concept intro. We get an overview of the everything we need to know going forward. Nothing overtly revelatory, but as an appetizer it does it's job well.

Chapters three through seven are character focused. A handful of new descriptors (savage for the win!), the four Predation-customized Types (Karns, Osteons, Tecs, and Pteryxs (Pteryxes? Pterii??)), and some new Foci (or maybe Focuses, YMMV) including some reskins for existing Foci and entirely new Foci like Predates and Plays God (among others). Some new equipment and such as well. All of this is on par with what we saw in Gods of the Fall in terms of setting customization and expanded options. Chapter six is where Predation really roars...
...or maybe coos? Dino's as birds may not be a new concept but I'm old enough that it still takes a conscious paradigm adjustment at times. 
At any rate Chapter Six is all about dinosaur (and primitive mammal) companions. These aren't your usual brand of generic animal pals that add very little to the game, and even go well beyond the more capable companions we've seen in Foci like Controls Beasts and Builds Robots (or even Leads). These dino companions are essentially secondary PCs. They are in fact played by players other than their "owners" which adds a fun twist since companions are not forced to follow the instruction of their humans.
I got to playtest this at Gen Con 2016 and it was fun to ignore the companion's "poorly worded" request and do what felt natural for the creature. I think in a campaign with a good group of players this could be really great in a lot of ways.
Companions get their own stats and a mini descriptor called "Dispositions" that helps breathe life into the companions and ensure that not all companions of the same type are the same. A Clever stegosaurus and a Clumsy stegosaurus are sure to be VERY different at the table.

Chapters eight through eleven give us the setting of the game, the "world" of Grevakc, or North America in the late cretaceous after some heavy contamination of the time stream. I'm about halfway through this part of the book, having read the "Welcome to..." chapter, the organizations, and a good chunk of the setting's regional descriptions.

The organizations are all unique and interesting. Being a setting that is noticeably difficult to describe (it's a pre-apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic, high tech, primitive world (frankly the time travel aspects are just enabling the rest of the setting's wackiness)) each of the groups has been given a very evolved feel (haha, puns). SATI, the setting's antagonistic source of order, has lost contact with the future and as a result they are falling apart in part and parcel for instance. Leadership tries to hold things together, but even they cannot manage their own employees. The group feels very realistically like the crumbling remains of a vast corporation.

The secretive Butterflies feel to me like the boy with his finger in the dam. The flood of temporal damage is probably too late to stop, but they will try their damndest all the same to prevent irreparable damage to the history of the future. Then there is the Genesix Fellowship who seek to prove the existence and location of the Biblical Garden of Eden. It's an interesting twist in a game that leans so heavily on science (and SCIENCE!!) to toss in a group that leans on both science and faith. The idea that "Eden's" location is somehow encoded into prehistoric DNA is one that dovetails into the rest of the setting nicely and ensures plenty of story space for groups that choose to use the Fellowship in their games.

Chapters twelve and thirteen are the bestiary, and present some truly terrifying predators, some awesome modified species, and a smattering of human NPCs. I've not fully read this section yet, but I just glancing through there's a ton to like in here, both in terms of the creature and the awesome artwork.

The remaining three chapters are GM advice, cyphers, and an adventure. I read the intro to the cyphers but otherwise I have not yet completed this section of the book. I'll be sure to give it a look before I attempt to run this setting, but until then it's not a priority. Plus I'm really hoping for a chance to play in this sandbox.

I've read more of this book at this point than I had of Gods of the Fall when I wrote my early thoughts for that setting. I'm not remotely disappointed with anything I've seen so far. If the quality of the remainder of the book only meets that of what I have read, and I have no reason to assume otherwise, then I am certain that this setting will capture the hearts and minds of many a gamer in the same way that Gods of the Fall did. It remains to be seen if I am beginning a long slide down that aforementioned bambiraptor hole or not, but I'd be surprised if I wasn't still discussing this game in six months at the least.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Nuts & Bolts #124 - Dee Eye Why

It's a weird time to be an RPG person. The advent of Kickstarter has been a boon for so many sectors of the hobby, from RPG rules and settings, to dice, dice, dice, and also dice, to accessories like custom dice towers, dice, GM screens, dice, maps, dice, and even gaming tables. Also sometimes dice.

In another 20 years it's be easy to forget that a whole generation is growing up with easy access to makers who want to sell the things they love to make, and that those of us who were deep into RPGs before the Kickstarter explosion often 1) made do without fancy accessories, or 2) made our own accessories. Thankfully that intrepid spirit will never go away, whether from a love of craftsmanship or a death grip on frugality, there will always those who make stuff.

I've been playing RPGs for 25(ish) years and while I am no craftsman (except with words), I am frugal (alternately cheap, but the latter has negative connotations that I don't think apply here). So while I don't tend to make a lot of stuff when I do it's because I have found a way to fill a hole and fill it cheaply.

How? Well, thankfully crafts stores and the things they contain are night infinitely adaptable. On Monday I posted about how I plan to use some blank dice and a sharpie to make my own set of "road dice" for Furry Road. Here's a bunch of similar finds via amazon and some ideas that I've had for them.

Hex Tiles

These plain wood tiles are hexagonal, the favored shape of RPG people ... I think. They are also reasonably cheap (about 50¢ each). If I ever find myself in the position of running a hex crawl for people in person I could buy a bag or two of these and have actual tiles to lay down during play. Do some painting or some sharpie-ing, or even assign your players to decorate the tiles as they "uncover" them during play. You could number the backs for easy "reassembly" or even glue them to a thin piece of MDF board for a more permanent game map.

Blank Dice
These are either the exact dice I used for my "Road Dice" or very similar. Basic 16mm while cubes. Take a sharpie and mark them up however you like. You could do custom attribute dice with ranges different from 1-6, or you could draw some basic dungeon halls and make your own cheap geomorphic dungeon dice.

Blank Cards/Decks
I considered making a "Road Deck" instead of using dice, because cards can convey a lot more information, but sometimes the KISS method is best. Cheap blank cards have TONS of uses though, from cheap cypher cards, geomorph tiles, and secret notes, to replacing dice with card decks. Also useful if you want to make small reference sheets or flash cards.

Sensing a theme yet? I actually don't have a use in mind for this at the moment, but I could see myself using this to present some kind of informational tableau, or as a different kind of battlemap (sometimes giant rolls of paper/vinyl aren't easy to transport). Of course this also reminds me of an older post ...

Chits, Tokens, Health bits and the like. 
Most people just use paper, but some of us prefer a tactile, and easily visible way to track our health, or the health of our players ... player's characters. There are just WAY too many options here, from little wooden blocks, to colored chips, to poker chips, to actual heat shaped chits and tokens. They are usually super cheap when bought in bulk. Like less than a dime a pop, sometimes right down to a penny each.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Furry Road - Road Dice

Since I'm alway looking for neat ways to make the game exciting and unpredictable for myself as GM as much as the players I enjoy using certain random elements. I rarely pre-determine loot for instance. For Furry Road I knew that one of the things that HAD to happen was some vehicular combat, including (I hope) people jumping between moving vehicles and fighting atop them. I considered grabbing a roadway map for the geography that the game will be set in, but that's ... boring. Also this is a post-apocalypse game so I didn't want to have stuff too organized. I also wanted there to be an element of the unknown.

I considered first making a deck of "cards" in the form of geomorphic road tiles with important information drawn in or written. I realized quickly that this would work, but that my artistic skills are a little too limited for such an endeavour for a one-shot. I also wanted something a little more exciting than some flimsy home made cards. Enter these...

Plain white dice/cubes and a black sharpie marker. You can get 25 of these dice to be for cheap on Amazon, like $8 or so cheap. Add a sharpie and off you go making your own dice. I created three types of road representing normal roads (just two parallel lines), high quality/well maintained roads (two parallel lines with a dotted divider in the middle), and broken roads (parallel jagged lines). These will indicate the normal state, driver's advantage, and driver's disadvantage for piloting tests. I also drew in some turns and a few intersections. Lastly I added a couple of sides with "X"s in the roads to indicate a trap or other hazard (pothole, debris, etc.) that could damage a car.

I pretty much drew 3 or 4 straits of various quality and then added turns or intersections for the other two sides. Five dice later and I can roll up a section of road at random during a highway combat for Furry Road. I'm thinking this will make running combat a little more exciting for both the players and myself.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Gods of the Fall - Another Approach to Cyphers Redux

Previously, I brought up an idea to make Cyphers a feature of a PCs divine power. After receiving Predation recently (digital and then my backer's copy) I was reading and found that that game uses similar tactic with Cyphers being encoded into people's DNA via the temporal disturbances that cause them. Now I wonder if my idea was my own or something I subconsciously remembered from my playtest of Predation last year. Either way I still think there's merits to this idea for Gods of the Fall.

Going further (farther?) and taking a cue from the mode of cypher distribution via time anomaly a GM could give new cyphers out via fonts of divine power, wellsprings of magic, and slain foes in the form of spiritual energy (and possibly divine energy). This isn't too far from the current norm in which cyphers are divine energy that often is formless glowing orbs or crystals. Only the oldest of cyphers have become manifest in the form of common objects.

There's a single downside to adopting this method into the game, at least from my standpoint, and that's that it prevents any non-divine beings from using cyphers against the PCs. Frankly, it's not often I do so, but that's my prerogative and I'm loathe to throw something out of the toolbox that I may want later. And while I don't use it often I have used it, and so it's not something I want to retcon. Perhaps in future campaigns I'll make the change. Perhaps not. Either way it's an idea worth putting a little cognition on.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Nuts & Bolts #123 - RPG Blog Carnival - Genre Smash

This month's topic, Gonzo and Cross-Genre Gaming, comes from the Crossplanes blog. I don't know much about "gonzo" gaming a such, but I know a thing or three about mashing genres together. In fact, every one of the settings I showcased in my "Top Five RPG Settings" blog post is at least a little bit of a mash up.
  • Nightbane is modern horror mixed with alien invasion
  • Dark Sun is high fantasy crossed with post eco-apocalypse
  • Deadlands is a western crossed with both horror and fantasy
  • Shadowrun is cyberpunk mixed with urban fantasy
  • Numenera is fantasy mixed with post-apocalypse and far futures, where the unknowable science replaces magic
What is it about genre mash-ups that appeals? Well, for my money it's the ability to juxtapose different themes in ways that you cannot usually. Consider Shadowrun, you can take a street samurai who is holding onto their humanity by shreds in the face of continuous augmentation and put them across from a hermetic mage whose very source of power relies on staying as pure in body as they are in spirit. 

Numenera juxtaposes a medieval human society amidst the ruins of not one by either prior civilizations with technology so far advanced that it is understood as hardly more than magic. A prime example of Clarke's Law. 

Alternately, the combination of two genres can help support themes, building higher than either can alone. Deadlands mixes the wild west with supernatural horror. The western expansion was already a case of exploring the unknown, conflict with indigenous peoples, and the boom or bust nature of the gold rush. The injection of supernatural horror is able to deepen all of those themes by adding the supernatural unknown, expanding the conflicts with the indigenous people by adding layers of ideology between the hucksters (european magic) who take power from the Reckoners, and the native shamanistic magics that oppose the Reckoners; add in the power of God in the form of blessed for an entirely extra layer. Further the boom or bust of the gold rush is thematically echoed by the Ghost Rock boom/rush, which also enables a technology vs nature vs supernatural element in the form of the various steampunk super science inventions.

Ditto how a post-eco-apocalypse adds new layers to the darker fantasy tones of Dark Sun by providing context for blood sacrifice, slavery, use of primitive gear, and the lesser prevalence of magic. Likewise for Nightbane where the paranoia of invasion and takeover of the government is deepened by the injection of magical doppelgangers, shape-changing creatures, and the questioning of self as a result of supernatural transformation. Add in third and fourth parties in the form of vampires (who have their own designs for us) and the Lightbringers (whose origins are purposefully difficult to pin down) and this supernatural spin on a traditionally science fiction genre is given new life.

Then again, maybe it's just that mash ups speak to that primal gamer instinct to compare crap. Can a black dragon really take down a Veritech fighter? Well, thanks to Rifts we can find out. [The answer is yes BTW, easily.] Sometimes you just want to see odd combinations, and really the American pop cultural landscape has been filled to the brim with two massive settings that embrace all manner of genre in the form of the DC and Marvel comic book universes. Neither publisher has ever shied away from having aliens, magic, mutants, high tech super soldiers, and psychics all in the same setting (with plenty of other options to boot). Batman is "just a guy" and his arguable best friend is an alien god. They routinely hang out with a Goddess/Golem (Wonder Woman depending on her origin), a metahuman/mutant (the Flash), a space cop (Green Lantern), and more. The Avengers are similarly mashed up in the comics (less so in the movies where magic is just Clarke's Law tech).

Me, I prefer a mash-up that adds something in terms of theme or tone. Whether that is in support of or juxtaposition of the genres at work doesn't matter, but I think that those mash ups are the ones that gain the most from the effort and tend to capture the imagination more. Your milage may vary, but I'll always see it that way. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Furry Road - The Feral

Image Source: Palladium's After The Bomb, 2nd Edition

Design Notes: Originally I was looking at Aggressive or Rugged as descriptors here, as I wanted this character to feel like a character who grew up outside of civilization. Thankfully Predation recently came out and features a new descriptor, perfect for my needs: Savage. As a mutant cat the focus Moves Like a Cat seemed a natural fit to catch many of the aspects of the character I wanted to see. Claws is as easy as the T1 warrior ability, Needs No Weapon. In this end this was a pretty easy build. Could I do it without the MLaC focus? Sure, I'd apply pretty much the same skills and pools, and the only thing I'd be missing was the Safe Fall ability. 

Zhan the Cat is a Savage Warrior who Moves Like a Cat

Tier 3 • Effort 3
Might 18 • Edge 2
Speed 19 • Edge 3
Intellect 10 • Edge 0

Cypher Limit: 2

Armor: 0 (none)

  • Inability
    • all pleasant social interactions
  • Trained
    • all tasks involving intimidation and scare tactics
    • smashing and breaking things
    • balancing
    • Unarmed Attacks
    • Survival
    • initiative
    • perception
  • Specialized
    • climbing
    • jumping
    • Speed defense
  • Safe Fall
  • Practiced With All Weapons
  • No Need for Weapons
  • Trained Without Armor
  • Swipe
  • Mighty Blow
  • Fury
  • Lunge
Equipment: Appropriate clothing, plus one expensive item, two moderately priced items, and up to four inexpensive items.

  • knife (light weapon)
  • crude pipe club (medium weapon)
Initial Link to the Starting Adventure: You told everyone you were going to join, and no one said no to you, so here you are.

  • Jim the Raccoon saved your life and you now feel you owe him a debt that cannot be repaid.
  • You love to tease and play practical jokes on Max the Dog but you also respect his ability to drive with such precision and grace

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Last Week Today - June 5 - 11, 2017

Furry Road - The Brains

Tuesday Tools - Revised Cypher System Character Sheet

Nuts & Bolts - Hacking the Cypher System - An Aspect of Fate

Gods of the Fall - Session Prep - ...Into the Furnace

Friday, June 9, 2017

Gods of the Fall - Session Prep - ... Into the Furnace


What do we know about the Furnace? Well the book says that its all iron, covered in glowing red runes, predates the city by hundreds or more years, and then there's the inside. The inside is bigger than the outside, has numerous rooms, some of which seem to look out on other parts of the world, and occasionally the howling of a predator can be heard. Oh yeah, and sometimes those who go in never come out.

So there's a lot of potential to the Furnace, but it's potential that needs work to tease out and make usable.

The setup of the thing is that the PCs are looking to go in after a recent expedition that hasn't returned. They're already motivated so, in my book, the hard part is done. Unfortunately that's all I have at the moment.
I wrote this WAAAY before we finally played this, so I had a little more than the nothing I claim above. 
Also, look, return of post play notes! 
But ... there's that bit about a predator, and that other one about windows that look out on other places. Both are pretty good hooks and very interesting complications to the story. The party that disappeared could have run afoul of the predator ... or they could have exited the furnace to somewhere else. Honestly, I don't yet know which will be "right."
Lies! I totally have a plan. I just don't know if I can pull it off...
Let's think about that predator. Looking through the Gods of the Fall bestiary I fail to find something that feels a good fit. The "bigger on the inside" and "windows to elsewhere" aspects of the Furnace however have me thinking about weird dimensions. One of my favorite Numenera creatures is also a dimensional creature, the Abykos is just the right kind of predator, and easily modified to consume divine energy instead of energy from Numenera devices.
I accidentally revealed the Numenera connection during play last night. Not a big deal, but I can't help but wonder if any of my players caught on to the abykos' nature. Still, I think they're working so far as an interesting threat/denizen. We'll see how things play out in the end. 
As for the windows that look out on ... somewhere else. That's easy enough to hold in reserve. I have a few ideas. They could just look out on some other place, another part of the world, acting as a form of fast travel. Or they could look out on a different world entirely, that's more difficult because the players will need to get back eventually anyways. As a third option they could open out to another time, the future or the past, either could offer interesting story options.
Yeah, the windows were probably my favorite part last night. It was fun being able to make up scenery on the fly. The first couple were somewhat "normal" but I redeemed myself with a forest of trees that had membranes between the branches in place of leaves, "kinda like bat wings" as I described it. Afterwards I wondered where I dredged up such a weird image, and I kinda hope I get the chance to use it again. 
Most of this session was getting the character thoroughly confused and "lost". Due to a timely "bad idea" and a GMI I split the party which I think worked out. The talky player got his own interaction with the abykos folk and may have made a friend. Or not, we'll see how that works out. We ended the evening just after getting the group back together. So the next session will be a probably wrap up of this story (unless things go long as they sometimes do).

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Nuts & Bolts #122 - Hacking the Cypher System - An Aspect of Fate

I've been noodling this idea around for a bit now. Thankfully it's one that requires almost no real effort to implement, and has a pretty easy learning curve for players and GMs. Also, it's probably something that people are doing without realizing it already. Basically I'm going to steal the idea of Aspects from FATE for use with Cypher. 

First, a bit of background for those of you unfamiliar with FATE and therefore aspects. From the FATE Core System Rulebook, "An aspect is a phrase that describes something unique or noteworthy about whatever it’s attached to." (p.56) Now in FATE there's different types of aspects; High Concept, Trouble, and then regular aspects. Player characters get one each of the first two and three of the last. 

The great thing about Cypher is that your character sentence is basically the character's High Concept. Indiana Jones is a Tough Explorer who Hunts Relics, does exactly what the high concept is intended to do and wrap your character up in a neat little one-line package. 

That just leaves a Trouble and however other aspects the GM wants. The Trouble aspect is pretty self explanatory, being a character flaw or such that leads the PC into temptation or bad choices. Think something like Indy's That belongs in a museum! that got him into hot water twice in the first hour of The Last Crusade

Any other aspects just help fill in the blanks. In Fate they are crucial to other parts of the system, but in Cypher they could be used to hit on character traits that aren't easily defined by Type or Focus abilities. This could be something like Opposable Feet, or something like, Branded by the Devil. 

OK, so now that I've laid out what Aspects are let's talk about what they would do in a Cypher System game. It all boils down to two parts of the game: GM Intrusions, and player assets. Now, I'm not proposing that there is anything wrong with GMIs, far from it, it's one of the high water marks for Cypher, but at times as GM I just struggle to do a GM Intrusion that fits the scene. Having a character's Trouble aspect handy would be a great reminder of how to do very character driven and personal GMIs. Indy just can't resist a good adventure to find lost cultural treasures, and protect them from Nazi's after all!

As for assets, I feel like, in my experience, players don't always have good ways to grab assets. They have their skills and effort, and maybe an obvious asset from equipment but there are times I wish that somebody would ask, "Hey, Indy is a Tough Explorer who Hunts Relics, can I gain an asset to figure out if this pedestal that the idol sits on has some kind of trap?" Because A) that would be awesome, and B) I would reply "Hell Yes."

And then there are the weird instances of characters. Characters like the mutant Chimpanzee that I created as a pre-gen for Furry Road and posted earlier this week. As a chimpanzee he has opposable feet, meaning that unlike I silly humans he can easily grab and manipulate things with his feet. Maybe not as well as a human hand, but way better than a human foot. This should count for something, but it's not something easy to quantify as a skill, or even a Type or Focus ability. I even checked the mutations in Numenera and The Strange and didn't find something I liked. I built a custom ability, but I think that just having "chimpanzee" as part or whole of an aspect would probably have worked just as well. In fact I'm going to probably do all the Furry Road pre-gens in this way to help cover all the little bits I cannot otherwise catch mechanically with abilities. 

I'm not advocating the creation of actual aspect phrases for Cypher System characters, but treating the character sentence as a kind of aspect and using that as GM to help guide GM Intrusions and assets cannot be a bad thing. Much like the One Unique Thing, Icons, and Fractal Design I think Aspects have potential to inform gameplay in other game systems, or, for GMs and players who like, they can even be lifted directly into other games to help bridge character concept with character rules.  

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Tuesday Tools - Revised Cypher System Character Sheet

So a while back I mentioned that the metrics for my blog were showing that my custom character sheet was nearing 1000 views. I also promised to do a revision of the same with updates based on how I play the game and see it played now. This new sheet removes the large circles for pools (since my group uses either scrap paper or poker chips), has a single stack of skills (since we don't tie skills to pools), and does away with the cypher section almost entirely (since we use index cards or the MCG cypher cards). The result was a goodly more area for Type and Focus abilities and a cleaner look (IMO).

You can download the new revised version here. I hope you enjoy it, and if you have any feedback please leave it below in the comments.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Furry Road - The Brains

So this is the first of the planned pre-gens for Furry Road, my Gen Con "secret game" and an homage of sorts to After the Bomb one of the first RPGs of my youth. My design notes will be included to discuss things like how I represent character traits and any excursions from the standard Cypher System Rulebook basics, this includes Descriptors and Foci from outside of the CSR. 

Image Source: Palladium's After The Bomb, 2nd Edition

Designers notes:
My intent with Cornelius was a team leader of sorts. A planner and enabler who helped make other people better. Unlike the "face" Cornelius's Speaker abilities would be geared toward aid over working people. Since chimpanzees are primates this character would be the one requiring the least effort for "animal traits" mainly just something to represent the opposable digits on his feet, for this I decided to simply replace a single skill purchase with an ability that would grant an asset when the character could use his feet for a task like climbing, holding, or the like. I also selected climbing and balancing to help round out that ability.
**Note: The Resourceful Descriptor is from Numenera Character Options 2

Cornelius the Chimpanzee is a Resourceful Speaker who Would Rather Be Reading

Tier 3 •  Effort 3
Might 15 • Edge 1
Speed 12 • Edge 0
Intellect 22 • Edge 2

Cypher Limit: 3

Armor: 1 (light armor; tough clothing)

  • Inability
    •  tasks to notice danger around you
  • Trained
    • Tasks that involves learning something new
    • History
    • climbing
    • balancing
    • electronics 
  • Specialized
    • Planning
  • Opposable Feet: You gain an asset when in situations where you can benefit from using your feet to hold onto things, such as climbing, picking up objects from below you, and the like. Your feet are strong enough to support your weight if given proper purchase.
  • Practiced With Light & Medium Weapons
  • Planner
  • Applying Your Knowledge
  • Aggression
  • Encouragement
  • Speed Recovery
  • Expert Cypher Use
  • Discerning Mind
  • Flex Skill
Equipment: You have a bag of light tools. Appropriate clothing, nightvision goggles, binoculars, repaired tablet computer, flashlight, duct tape, backpack, package of 20 zip ties.

  • Bowie knife (light weapon)
  • .38 Special (light weapon)
Initial Link to the Starting Adventure: The Calivada Road Patrol (CRP) approached you to ask you to the mission, because of how resourceful you are. Though you prefer to stay at HQ with your books and maps, you know that the team will need your help and leadership.

  • You think that Zhan the Cat is ignorant and uneducated. You have yet to decide if she can be taught more civilized ways.
  • You've worked with Max the Dog before. One time you were both involved in a crash that you know he still feels guilty about. 

Friday, June 2, 2017

Gods of the Fall - Godly Visage

Being a god isn't always about supreme power and limitless possibilities. The mortals who worship you feed you your power and through them you have ties to the mortal world. A god of war whose followers never get a hand winning probably won't be holding onto his mortal powerbase any more than a god of harvest who's too busy "sowing oats" to help ensure that the crops in the world grow. But beyond godly duties there are other downsides to being a god. You might get caught up in the turnings of the wheel of fate (or ensnared in fate's threads, pick your metaphor), or you may find that once you're known for something it becomes all but impossible to shake off.

And then there's the whole look of being a god. You may become known for having an animal head, or missing a body part, or being lame, or any other physical cue. It's possible that this may happen in a way that you aren't terribly happy with. With great power comes a terrible skin condition.

Gods of the Fall presents a fantasy world, one where the characters (and thus the upcoming gods) are all depicted looking like the mortal race into which they were born (I was about to say looking human, but I didn't want to be racists against the Taran and Sleen players out there). It is likely that in this setting the gods are more like those of the Norse and Greek/Roman pantheons; they look like "us," and probably act like us.

But maybe one of your players isn't too keen on looking like "just some guy with some glowy SFX"? The divine aura being those SFX. So what do we do for him? Well, that divine aura doesn't have to just be limited to some glowing and a symbol right? These are gods right? Why can't the "divine aura" be a whole different appearance? Perhaps the god of fire isn't simply wreathed with glowing red and a flamelike symbol, but actually takes on the appearance of a charred body as well? Or perhaps his glow comes from within, and flames roar within his mouth and eyes! The god of war may wear only a light armor, but her divine aura may take the form of ultra heavy battle armor festooned with the trophies of her kills!

So that's my point, the divine aura of the gods need no just be a nimbus glow and a simple symbol. It could represent a more complex appearance shift, in the form of physical attributes or illusory equipment that represents the god's domain.

Unless your game isn't set in a fantasy world. Using the ideas of Gods of the Fall in the modern world (similar to the base setting of White Wolf's Scion), or an alternate history (my idea of Legends of the Wild West), or some other setting idea, is something I've discussed before. In this case instead of the divine aura being an illusory sign of divinity it is mechanically tweaked to be the god's actual divine form, subtly or substantially different from the mortal guise that the gods use to move about within the world.

Regardless of how you decide to use it, the Divine Aura can be as simplistic or as complex as you and your players desire it to be, and can help to deepen the nature of your games where gods walk among mortals, either deliberately hidden, or simply not radiating their full power.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Nuts & Bolts #121 - Hacking the Cypher System - Re-rolls & the XP Economy

I put the poll shown above up a few weeks ago. I was curious to see if my experience at the table, a frequent re-rolling of 1's, was true or not. I expected to see a high skew toward natural 1's being re-rolled, but in fact the opposite was true. Color me surprised.

This got me thinking on the nature of re-rolls and ... well, I realized that maybe it's just not a thing that can be quantified. Some folks are going to re-roll all the time, others will hoard that precious XP for advancement. Some GMs will be stingy with XP, thus making re-rolls rarer because the currency is more valuable, while others will be generous and re-rolls will come cheaply. Still other GMs may be cruel with their Intrusions, causing players to be more willing to avoid them, while others will be more even handed and players will be less prone to avoid them.

I'd assumed that re-rolls were fairly common, but by the numbers the poll shows that 55% re-roll only rarely or infrequently. So where at the outset I had been thinking of this blog being ideas to help curb overly common re-rolls now I see that this is a problem that isn't terribly common. So instead of a hack to fix a perceived issue I see now that it's a matter of play style, both player and GM, and a matter of the XP economy.

As far as fixing any perceived issue with the XP economy that's up to you and your players. A frank discussion is well advised, and it may be that you need to balance your XP awards better, or remind players that unlike other RPGs Cypher's power curve is steep and the end is far less far away than in other games. It only takes 24 advancements to hit Tier 6. If your players are taking an advancement after every session that's a years worth of gaming if you play every other week, and only 6 months on a weekly basis. So remind them that hoarding XP for advancements isn't always ideal. Conversely if you are seeing too many re-rolls you may also see a slower power progression. This isn't much of a problem, so long as the players are OK with the slower rate of advancement. 

Monday, May 29, 2017

Furry Road - A Cypher System Homage to After the Bomb

Image Source: via

Oh man, that pun is gonna be all kinds of trouble. 

I've mentioned before on this blog that I got a lot of gaming mileage out of the old Palladium TMNT game line. Specifically the After the Bomb setting. It didn't make it into my Top 5 game settings when I wrote that blog a couple years back, but it probably should have been an honorable mention. Of course that whole blog is probably in need of a do-over at this point; two years brings a lot of new RPG settings.

Still, with Mutant Crawl Classics soon to come out I've been thinking more and more about the Post Apocalypse. Part of why I backed MCC at the level I did was because of After the Bomb. And for my Gen Con 50 after hours game I decided that I wanted to run something inspired by AtB. Since MCC isn't out and I just cannot stomach trying to make pre-gens and run it in the Palladium system. Ergo I am going with my go-to works for damn near anything system: Cypher System.

Specifically I'm going to go all Mad Max Fury Road on the After the Bomb setting by using the Road Hogs portion of the setting. In the post apocalyptic California there are highways aplenty, roving gangs of mutant animals, and fuel shortages. I think it shows remarkable restraint that author Erik Wujcik didn't do all this in Australia. It's also awesome because Mutants Down Under (the Australia portion of the setting) got to be all kinds of different weird.

I'll be making some subtle changes. Instead of New Americorp the "hero" government will be Calivada (since it's basically a sizable chunk of California and Nevada and this game doesn't hide from goofball place names). The Road Hogs gang will be mostly mutant pigs, because duh!, and a more genuine power than they are implied to be in the setting materials.

Of course the big work is on the pre-gen characters. I'll be posting these here in abbreviated form (e.g. no ability text, just names) starting next monday and going through July. Here are the 8 PCs. If I end up building anything new (like descriptors) or making changes I'll be sure to highlight that in a wrap up post.

  • mouse - mechanic
  • Bird - scout
  • Cat - warrior (melee)
  • Dog - driver
  • rabbit - "the face"
  • raccoon - scavenger/scrapper
  • chimp - historian/sage/leader
  • Horse - warrior (ranged)

Either way, I hope this proves to be as entertaining for you all as it is for me.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Gods of the Fall - End of the End

"I told you not to feed it after midnight!"

When does the Apocalypse end? No, I'm not just asking a silly sounding question (though I agree at first blush it seems a bit much), but really, at what point does the Apocalypse transition into the Post-Apocalypse? In the case of the world of Gods of the Fall it seems that transition was about 42 years in the past, but who decided as much and what is it that signaled that change?

The timeline in the back of the book says that Elanehtar's Fall marked the first year AF (After the Fall). The Fall of the world lasted a bit longer however. War and strife and death as mortals bereft of the gods who once walked among them spun out of control. For me the end of the apocalypse and the beginning of what comes next is seven years after the Fall when Nulumriel comes to power. Nulumriel began the process of stabilizing the Nightlands and the rest of the world began to follow, slowly. For all of her apparent evil (maybe I'll get into that in another column) she did help stabilize the region by proclaiming herself empress, and having the power to back that claim up.

What's my point here? Well, much like how the end of the world takes time so too will the end of the post-apocalyptic.

Case in point: along come the players and depending on how things proceed they may well put in the effort to kill Nulumriel while proclaiming themselves gods. Doing so is likely to be the capstone of a campaign. The final event that fulfills prophecy of the Return. But what about what comes next? As GM you can wrap up the story with simple narration, you could leave it open to the imagination, you could even allow the players to take it in rounds to describe how their gods save the world thereafter.

Narration on your part isn't a bad thing, and leaving things open can be appealing for parties with varied views, but I think that a collaborative narration in the round is probably the wisest choice for many groups. It will give the players a chance to say goodbye to their characters by putting them through their paces. The player a of god of death can describe how they restore the underworld. A player of a god of crafts may describe how they build a new kind of seraph to serve their pantheon. This kind of open ended storytelling will bring out a richer ending than any single player could describe, and allow everybody at the table to put a touch of their own into the setting.

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.


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

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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

Story Seed - After the Apocalypse

Nuts & Bolts - RPG Blog Carnival - Supah Seekrit

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.


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.


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.


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

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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

Story Seed - Shrine

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

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

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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

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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.