Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Nuts & Bolts #127 - Review: Adventure Writing Like a Fucking Boss

Editor's Note, given the product title I'm not going to bother censoring myself this week. 

So, earlier this year I had a moment of realization. I came to see that while I'd been ignoring the written adventures of both yore and today I'd been missing out on learning design from other people's effort. It's not that I can't run a game, or write an adventure for myself, but going through the process of writing one for other people made me realize where I tended to say "fuck it" and just improvise. Not a bad thing, but not a great thing for published product.

So I've been looking at various bits of advice in this regard. The latest of which is "Adventure Writing Like A Fucking Boss" which is a title that really says something about the confidence level of the author...

Published By: Kort'thalis Publishing • Written by: Venger As'Nas Satanis • 14 pages • $3.00 • Color PDF (with a print friendly option)

What's In It?

Advice that strips out most of the bullshit. Seriously, there's very little pretension here, which is a good thing. Hell, it's probably the best part of this product that it doesn't treat itself as being too far "above the reader." In what amounts to about 9 pages of text if you strip out the art, cover, and credits the author lays down the foundations of adventure writing. As a GM for decades there's not a lot here that's "new to me" but it's refreshing to see it all laid out and bare.

The content is broken out into fifteen sections ranging from about 3 paragraphs to a dozen or so. The author starts off by detailing why you may want to write your own adventures. OK, fair enough, but probably anybody who has gotten this far already made that choice. It then goes into the idea of the elevator pitch as a metric for good and bad ideas. This is pretty reasonable, if you cannot sum up an idea into 2-3 interesting sentences it's probably not an idea that will yield an interesting adventure. Or it's too much, and you need to consider breaking it up into smaller parts; perhaps your epic idea can become fodder for a series of adventures instead. From there we get some advice on finding your own writing style and trying to make the best of it. There are some words of wisdom here in regards to over-writing.

Next we get a discussion of the adventure rails. Ah, to railroad, or not to railroad, that is the question! Actually, no, screw that, NEVER railroad. But, to the author's point, knowing when to toss in "guardrails" to keep the adventure from going entirely ... ahem ... "off the rails" ... is wise. Players are ... unpredictable creatures, and having mitigating factors in place to help keep the session from going bananas is good. Most GMs simply cannot keep up improvising after a certain point without abandoning the original adventure, which sucks.

At this point we're on page four and getting into the meat. First we get "Anatomy of an Adventure" breaking down the basic (and classic) structure for storytelling. Then the author dives into scenes and starts discussing each component therein. The fact that adventures and scenes have the same basic structure is makes this all the more valuable.

From here out the product fires on all cylinders for me, right up until the last section, which just didn't float for me, but hey, that's cool, it's only one page. The writing keeps being punchy and direct, and breaks down how to build a scene up without getting overwrought. It's presents the idea of a "Trailer Test" to help prune scenes much in the way the Elevator Pitch helps prune out bad adventure ideas. This is just the fractal nature of things in my opinion.

After scenes we get a quick hit of the three most basic aspects of gaming (and storytelling) and how these should all be present in some form to make for a good session. Lastly there is some advice for "moments" or interludes, the stuff between scenes that adds color, as well as the idea of callbacks.

The layout if functional, the art is minimal (which is fine) and of a good quality, but I couldn't stand the full color version with these angry red veins rimming each page. It added nothing, and it detracted plenty. Thankfully there's a printer friendly version without that. I will say the cover is quality, and I imagine that's just good marketing to put an attractive eye catching cover onto any product. Duh.

Closing Thoughts

I'd say that if you're new to GMing, and new to writing up your own adventures this is a pretty damn good purchase for $3. If you've been at it a while it may make for a nice refresher course, and the clean and bullshit free presentation of the writing does help make this a nice reference or refresher. Will this make you a "fucking boss" at adventure writing? I'm not sure about that, but it sure as shit will help prevent you from making an ass of yourself. There's plenty more to writing good adventures than structure, but if you don't have good "bones" the flesh won't matter for shit.

Score: 85% - Pretty good for those wanting a refresher course or those who are new to adventure writing. Maybe not what you're looking for if you've been GMing for a while.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Furry Road - The Scout

Design Notes: Let's start with the basics; Soars Across the Sky is found in In Translation. I wanted to ensure that the character had true flight and this was one of the few foci that provided it, and early enough for this to allow for an interesting pregen character. As a scout I needed to get some perception in there and Sharp-Eyed  worked well at that and provided the "Find the Flaw" ability that I thought made an interesting addition to the character and took her in a slightly different direction with a more military intelligence feel rather than a more "traditional" field scout. Adept was a weird fit, but I wanted two of each type and I'd already run out of Explorers. In this case though I think it worked out to make for an interesting set of abilities when combined with the idea of a mor military espionage & intelligence scout. 

Nausicaa the Bird is a Sharp-Eyed Adept who Soars Across the Sky
Tier 3 • Effort 3
Might 10 • Edge 0
Speed 15 • Edge 2
Intellect 17 • Edge 1

Cypher Limit: 3

Armor: 1 (flight suit, no penalty)

  • Trained
    • initiative
    • assessing danger
    • Sneaking
    • intelligence gathering 
  • Specialized
    • perception

  • Find the Flaw
  • Hover (1 Speed points)
  • Flight Suit
  • Flight (4+ Speed points)
  • Flying Punch
  • Protected Flight (3 Speed points)
  • Practiced with Light weapons
  • Push (2 Intellect points; SFX: buffet the target with your wings) 
  • Scan (2 Intellect points)
  • Understanding (2 Intellect points)
  • Subterfuge
  • Flex Skill

  • Custom .45 Carbine (light ranged weapon, long range, 4 damage)
  • nightstick (light melee weapon)

Equipment: Aerodynamic flight suit (counts as light armor with no penalty), shotgun microphone, binoculars, gear harness, 2x rations, box of chalk.

Initial Link to the Adventure: You’ve been noticing some strange things going on, and this all appears related.

  • Anthony the Mouse made you your custom carbine which has served you well in the field. 
  • Jessie the Rabbit once mistook you for an enemy and nearly took you out with a grenade. You still have a few scars from the burns.
  • You are impressed with, and a bit envious of, Nux the Horse's ability with firearms. 

Friday, July 14, 2017

Gods of the Fall - Session Prep - Finding the Way

Once again we return to the Afterworld... kinda.

The characters have entered into the twisted and nonsensical interior of The Furnace. Or maybe they simply passed from one realm to another? Uncertainty about where they are combined with confusion about the rules of this place and its doors that lead to other realms has them flatfooted. In addition there are strange beings here who seem hostile in part, and who may be cypher-phages, consuming the divine energy of the cyphers the character bear.

The characters themselves are of course divinely powered and thus contain divine energy, that'll be the crux of this session as the creatures feed on that energy. This is the curse of this traveling space, as it turns mortals who stray too long into these phage creatures. The PCs will encounter some who are far more fargone than others, and may even be able to help the prior party return to the Afterworld and regain their humanity.

I have two main goals for this session:,
  1. The PCs should figure out what happened to the lost party. 
  2. The PCs should figure out how to control the traveling doors. 
The former should be easy enough as the last part of the prior session had them finding the campsite of the last party. I plan to drop clues as they investigate which combined with the behavior of one of the phages/party who has an uneasy truce with the group should point them in the right direction.
Turns out that either I wasn't adequately setting up the "riddle" or it was just a bit too obtuse, but it took the players some time to grasp the fact that the windows and doors were controlled by their wills. They did eventually figure it out, and before frustration boiled off all the fun. 
The latter calls back to the characters' trials from their first adventure during their trials within the shard of a past heaven. As divine beings they have the ability, nay the right, to enforce their will on the world(s) around them. This is something I feel strongly is a core theme to games where the players grasp at godhood: the power to change the world to your will, balanced (or not) by the wisdom to know when to do so and when not to.
I needed to take a little more direct approach with this, using a final GM intrusion to have "No-face," who had been following them around and eating their cyphers before attacking and trying to siphon off Polodius' divine power, slip through the doorway they'd opened back to the Afterworld. Removed from the doorway realm the creature vomited up some cyphers as it's body tried to return to normal, but injury and/or the duration of its stay meant that the man perished before he could become fully human once more. 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Nuts & Bolts #126 - Mutant Crawl Classics - Repeater Bears

Post-apocalypse games have always been something I've enjoyed. I posted last year about why I was backing the Mutant Crawl Classics Kickstarter on the basis of my love for After the Bomb. I've been posting a lot of Cypher System content lately related to After the Bomb, but Mutant Crawl Classics released to backers recently and so it's only fitting that I begin to look at that game and embrace it's altogether different brand of post-apocalyptic craziness.

Ultimately, I'm not sure if MCC will earn itself a dedicated "day of the week" slot like other games/features have, but for now I'll slide my creations into N&B as an outlet...

So I saw somebody use the phrase "it bears repeating" elsewhere and now I have this crazy idea for Repeater Bears ...

Repeater Bear

Repeater bears are mutations caused by exposure to the ancients' broken and malfunctioning time dilation technology. Repeater bears have mutated the ability to become unstuck in time. They appear much like normal bears but have faint after images and pre-images caused by their temporal echoes. These temporal echoes can be made physical by interaction with temporally stable matter. Though they are not sentient they are intelligent enough to control the repeater bear's natural abilities in combat making them especially ferocious, being capable of striking multiple times thanks to their temporal echoes.
Repeater Bear: Init +1; Atk bite +4 melee (1d4+2) or claw +5 melee (1d6+1); AC 17; HD 4d8; MV 20’ or climb 10’; Act 1d20; SP Bears Repeating; SV Fort +2, Ref +6, Will +4; AL N.
Bears Repeating: When attacking, if the repeater bear hits it's target, it may attack again with a cumulative -1d penalty until it misses or the target it dead.  

Monday, July 10, 2017

Furry Road - The Triggerman

Design Notes: I'd considered making this a character a bow user early on, but then changed my mind as I realized that the technological capacity of the After the Bomb universe was more than enough for bullets to not be a rare and prized commodity. Carries a Quiver becomes Carries a Rifle and otherwise remains mostly intact. Horses primary have the traits of speed and/or strength. Swift and/or Strong seemed good descriptor options, but I obviously could only use one. Further, I really didn't need excessive strength or Might because the character prefers firearms and so Strong was out. In the end I also decided to forego Swift as well and rely on training and Edge to represent the horse's inborn speed. This allowed me to focus on adding an interesting personality to the group by way of another quirky descriptor. Enter the "Vengeful" descriptor and a character who has some personal stake in the mission at hand... 

Nux the Horse is a Vengeful Warrior who Carries a Rifle

Tier 3 • Effort 3
Might 16 • Edge 1
Speed 18 • Edge 3
Intellect 8 • Edge 0

Cypher Limit: 2

Armor: none

  • Trained
    • Attack: Rifles
    • intimidation
    • torture
    • tracking
    • Craft: Rifles
    • Jumping
    • Lore: Road Hogs
  • Specialized
    • Craft: Bullets
    • Running
    • Speed Defense
  • Archer
  • Covering Fire/Double-tap (1 Speed point)
  • Overwatch (1 Intellect point)
  • Pierce (1 Speed point)
  • Successive Attack (2 Speed points)
  • Deadly Aim (3 Speed points)
  • Spray (2 Speed points)
  • Trick Shot (2 Speed points)
  • AK47 Rifle (Medium weapon, long range, rapid fire)
    • 2x magazines of 30 rounds
  • .308 Rifle (heavy weapon, long range, bolt action)
    • Nightvision scope
  • .45 Pistol (medium weapon, medium range)
Equipment: Clothing, light tools, functional GPS map, 2x rations, flashlight, duct tape.

Initial Link to the Adventure: Your gang was wiped out by the Road Hogs and you want revenge, plain and simple. 

  • You are especially taken with Jim the Raccoon's junk-scavenged crafts, and when you use an item in a way that requires a roll, add +1 to the result. 
  • You think that Jessie the Rabbit talks too much and wonder if she really understands the threat of the Road Hogs.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Predation - A Before B and Also C

See, I told you that would attract ants!

Why "c"? These things aren't arbitrary. Large corporations like SATI have rules that govern everything internal. So the Gre-Vakian c trials that brought our PC's ancestors to the cretaceous era were almost certain preceeded by Gre-Vakian a and b trials. But what about those trials? Very little is even implied, let alone said, of them, and their existence isn't confirmed, just conjecture based on a logical presumption.

Gre-Vakian a Trial

The "a" trial was probably the prototype phase, or the phase immediately after that. The commuters from the "a" trial clearly either failed in whatever mission SATI set forth (very possibly the same mission as the "c" trial) or had another mission entirely. I'm going to choose to think that they probably had a different mission, as SATI sending two groups of commuters back in time and then opting for "third time's a charm" seems a bit forced. So what was the intent of the "a" trial? Infrastructure.

Consider that the Last Commute has been described as a failure of the machinery in the cretaceous. This seems reasonable at face value, but give it some thought and you realize that there must be more to the story. I got into that last week, but suffice to say I think that the Last Commute was the result of Paradox biting SATI square in the butt. I think that SATI's time travel was one way; you can send but but your cannot retrieve. Trial "a" was very likely concerned with getting equipment in place in the past to verify that return trips were even possible. Imagine being part of the "a" trials and knowing that if the tech didn't work you were dino chow!

My guess is also that the "a" trial was very small scale. A small group of experts and technicians and the mechanism to send them home. A proof of concept that only barely counted as being a trial at all.

... but if that's true, then what about "b"?

Gre-Vakian b Trial

What exactly is SATI up to in the past? We may never know, unless we are the GM, or the GM chooses to reveal that to us in the game we play in. Or is Shanna writes a Predation novel. A novel with awesome dinosaurs ... I'll try and suggest that at Gen Con this year. I digress, while we may not know the point of SATI's expeditions we can make certain assumptions.

Assumption: The "b" trial was either a failure, or had a different goal from the "c" trial.

This seems pretty reasonable. SATI must have a reason to be sending thousands of its employees back in time. So either "b" failed but a "c" trial was still positive on the old risk vs reward analysis or "b" was doing something different from "c".

Assumption: The "b" trial was located elsewhere (or elsewhen) such that the "c" trial would not find evidence of the prior trial, or run into and interfere with the prior trial.

Yes, I'm implying that the "b" trial could be/have been concurrent with the "c" trial. I don't think this is too far fetched to assume that these could be concurrent in different locations, or that the "b" trial was taking place in a different time period. This feeds directly into ...

Assumption: The commuters of "c" trial were not in any danger from "b" trial, nor were they required for "b" trial as such.

Basically if SATI was putting this kind of investment into these trials they wouldn't sabotage themselves, and they probably wouldn't have the left hand unaware of the part they had to play in the right hand's projects.

So with all that what was trial "b" up to? I obviously cannot say for certain but I have a couple of ideas.

  • The Gre-Vakian b trial had the same/similar goal as the c trial but elsewhere/elsewhen. Possibly at the end of a prior era like the Jurassic or the late Paleogene. In this case I think they were essentially "mining" genetic information. Ancient DNA could give insight into the evolutionary process, provide treatments for diseases, and even yield means to improve crops by adding prehistoric DNA.
  • The Gre-Vakian b trial isn't even on Earth! SATI is and INTER-global corporation. I don't think that this is a mistake and there are references to other planets. I think SATI could have sent a trial back in time to study Mars when it was livable. It's even possible that they had reach beyond our solar system, and if so there are any number of places they may have wanted to use time travel to exploit. 
  • The Gre-Vakian b trial "failed" and the "c" trial was initiated to pick up the pieces. The reason there seem to be a lot of "lost" SATI facilities in just the 100-ish years since the last commute is because they are facilities that were part of trial "b". Perhaps the commuters of "b" are dead and gone, or maybe they were recalled 
    • Could it be that "c" is just a ruse and the "b" project continues on even now?

Regardless of my thoughts there's plenty of room for your own interpretations, assumptions, and conclusions. Do you think the commuters of Gre-Vakian c trial are the first? If not, what do you think happened to "a" and "b"?

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Nuts & Bolts #126 - Hacking the Cypher System - P.E.T.S.

Image Source:

One of the big features that Predation is likely to sell books on is its Companion dinosaurs. I think that's great because it obviously a cool idea that catches the imagination of a lot of folks. I think it's also great for the Cypher System in general because I think the companion rules are pretty fun and a nice addition to the continually expanding tool set that is the Cypher System.

It doesn't take a lot of effort to reskin the dinosaur and upgrade names to something that suits your campaign world. It could be various fantasy type creatures for a Gods of the Fall game (or something more D&D-ish if you prefer), or it could be strange aliens in a game world similar to Avatar (the blue people one, not The Last Airbender one).

For my money though I think that these could also make great robotic companions, or as I am wont to call them: P.E.T.S.

That's Personal Electronic Technical Servants. Small drone-like but semi-independent robots that would fit great into a science fiction game. These could be small recon bots, larger combat models, or even semi-sentient and autonomous "vehicles" that can carry a rider or act on their own. Unlike a game of Shadowrun where only the rigger has drones, everybody (or nearly so) in a setting with P.E.T.S. would have one to help them out and act as a companion. In fact people find that even though the limited AI of these drones sometimes misinterpret their commands, they are more than worth having around because the personalities they develop over time make people bond with them as they would a dog or cat.

In such a setting the need to roll to "convince" your P.E.T.S. to do what you want is a result of the stock AI needing to learn it's owners vocal and non-vocal queues and signals. When fresh out of the box these AI tend to get easily confused by the unconscious signals a human makes without realizing. Over time however the AIs better learn their humans and become less prone to confusing mixed signals.

It's not a very big hack, but I thought I'd share the paradigm shift.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Furry Road - The Mechanic

Author's Notes: This one could have been easy but I wanted the mouse to be small in stature and as it turns out there's not really a good Descriptor for small. The closest I could find was the Halfling descriptor from Alternate Origins (The Strange Fractal), but that descriptor was very tied into the cultural aspects of halflings as much as their physical traits. As a result I decided to build a new descriptor which you will find below. As an adept I am justifying much of the type abilities of this character as bits of gear. Scanning tools, weaponry, and the like. Lastly I want to call out the "Duct Tape" skill, which is meant for jury rigging repairs and creations in short time. Think of the kind of things you'd expect out of MacGuyver. This skill can be used in turns where Crafting would take hours, but the result isn't permanent, and may be prone to failure (e.g. GMI).

You are much smaller than your peers, at least half as tall, possibly smaller. Your body is proportional so you are also lighter and then to be less strong as well. You had to learn to look out for yourself and look out for what others were doing lest they harm you accidentally because they failed to notice you. On the bright side you are harder to hit and quick on your feet. 

You have the following characteristics:
Nimble: +2 to your Speed Pool.
Skill: You are trained in sneaking and hiding.
Skill: You are trained in climbing tasks.
Skill: You are trained in perception.
Skill: You are trained in Speed defense.
Smaller Fit: Because you are smaller you find it harder to find equipment your size. All gear that you need sized for you costs 50% more. On the flip side you are able to fit into tighter spaces including reaching into spaces that your larger peers cannot. 
Physically weaker: Whenever you would apply Might effort you must spend 1 additional point from your Might pool. 
Inability: Resisting disease, poison, and fatigue is harder for you. You have an inability with all Might Defense tasks. 

Initial Link to the Starting Adventure:
From the following list of options, choose how you became involved in the first adventure.
1. One of the other PCs saved your life previously, so you’ve (somewhat reluctantly) agreed to help.
2. One of the other PCs saw the value of somebody your size and asked you to come along.
3. You made a case for your inclusion based on your abilities regardless of your size.
4. You want to prove that you are just as capable as your larger peers. 

Anthony the Mouse is a Small Adept who Crafts Unique Objects

Tier 3 • Effort 3
Might 11 • Edge -1
Speed 15 • Edge 1
Intellect 18 • Edge 2

Cypher Limit: 4

Armor: 1 (ward)

  • Inability
    • Might defense
  • Trained
    • Sneaking and hiding.
    • Speed defense.
    • Perception.
    • Climbing 
    • identifying the function of any kind of device
    • Crafting: Electronics
    • Crafting: Blacksmith
  • Specialized
    • Duct Tape (jury rigging)
    • Crafting: Vehicles
    • Crafting: Gunsmith
  • Smaller Fit: Because you are smaller you find it harder to find equipment your size. All gear that you need sized for you costs 50% more. On the flip side you are able to fit into tighter spaces including reaching into spaces that your larger peers cannot. 
  • Tinkerer. 
  • Quick Work (3+ Intellect points). 
  • Advanced Taser Mk II (Onslaught)
  • Proton Decay Instigator (Shatter)
  • Armorweave Clothing (Ward)
  • Automatic Diagnostic Handheld (Scan)
  • Machine Efficiency (Tech Flavor)
  • Targeting Eye (Advanced Taser Mk II)
Equipment: You begin the game with a bag of light tools, the tools needed to make your first-tier crafts, and a bag of heavy tools. Mechanic's jumpsuit, wi-fi enabled camera, beat up quadcopter drone, appropriately sized camping gear, 50' rope & grappling hook (rated for your weight), and four rolls of duct tape.

  • Pen knife (light weapon)
  • .22 Derringer (Light weapon, short range, 4 shot pepperbox)

Initial Link to the Adventure: You want to prove that you are just as capable as your larger peers.

  • Nausicaa the Bird has a customized rifle that you fashioned for her. 
  • You are constantly impressed by the things that Jim the Raccoon can assemble from little more than junk.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Predation - Last Commute

Can I get mine well done?

It was nice while it lasted. Nine years. Nine years after it began the Gre-Vakian c trial went off rails when the machinery that connected the commuters to the future stopped working.

But why?

Here's what I think ...

SATI discovered a method to travel time, but that method was one-way only. You love travel forward or backward from your starting point, but you couldn't go back without having access to the same or similar machinery at which point it once more becomes a one-way outbound trip. SATI's tech couldn't retrieve an object or person from another point in time.

Why do I think this? Well it's simple really; if they had the means in the future to retrieve persons and objects from the past why would they invest in the infrastructure of buildings, power generation, and machinery to build a time travel facility in the past? Housing for commuters, lab space, and the like would require a great deal less effort than building a massive time travel apparatus. The very fact that there was time travel machinery sent to, and constructed in, the Cretaceous is evidence enough for that technology to be limited to sending commuters, but not retrieving them.

As a result of the one-way nature of their time travel technology any expedition to the past was a virtual death sentence for the commuter without the machinery in the past to send them home. Trips to the future are easier since one can safely assume the tech will still be there. So when the Last Commute disabled the machinery in the Cretaceous era it prevented the commuters from returning to the future, but the future should have been able to send help back.

Unless the future was gone.

I think that the commuters of Predation's Gre-Vakian c trial are the victims of paradox. Their presence in the past has altered something. Perhaps it is the tampering with animal genetics that changed the very course of evolutionary history on earth, or perhaps the commuters stop the impact of the comet/asteroid responsible for the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event which, I can safely say, would probably have some repercussions on the future.

Regardless of HOW they caused it, the commuters accidentally altered the future and erased their history. Obviously this creates a significant paradox, the least of which is that you can't go home to a future that doesn't exist, nor can that future send back help. The result: the machinery of time travel failed spectacularly and has been impossible to repair since, because the future the commuters are trying to return to doesn't exist anymore.

I guess it's true what they say: "You can't go home again."

Monday, June 26, 2017

Furry Road - The Scavenger

Author's notes: Once more we have an instance of a character that doesn't need much heavy lifting to align their species to the final character. Raccoons are mostly known for being nocturnal scavengers who are rather curious. I decided to buy Specialization in Perception to make up for the lack of a night-vision power, but it also doubles as keen smell and hearing. Certain mentions associate them with a habit of procuring shinies in the same way magpies do. As such Gluttonous Explorer who Scavenges seems a good fit here ...
I should note that Gluttonous is found in Gods of the Fall (p. 126), and Scavenges is found in Expanded Worlds (p. 55).

Jim the Trash Panda (Raccoon) is a Gluttonous Explorer who Scavenges

Tier 3 • Effort 3
Might 16 • Edge 2
Speed 15 • Edge 1
Intellect 14 • Edge 1

Cypher Limit: 3

Armor: 2 (scavenged riot gear)

  • Trained
    • persuasion
    • tasks related to the exchange of money, including haggling
    • tasks directly related to theft
    • resisting the effects of poison
    • scavenging
    • Craft: armorer
    • Craft: metalsmith
  • Specialized
    • Perception
    • stealth 
    • eating and keeping down copious amounts of food and drink
  • Practiced with Light & Medium Weapons
  • Practiced in Armor
  • Endurance
  • Muscles of Iron (2 Might points)
  • Extra Edge
  • Eye for Detail (2 Intellect points)
  • Serv-o
    • Serv-o Defender
    • Serv-o Repair
  • Tool Mastery
  • Think Your Way Out
  • Junkmonger (2 Intellect points).
  • Survivor’s Advantage. 
Equipment: Clothing, large backpack, lead-lined tent, duct tape, bottle, flashlight, a bag of light tools, the tools needed to make your crafts and an ammo box full of 100 assorted rounds.

  • Bolt-Action Rifle (medium weapon, long range)
  • crowbar (medium, also an useful tool)

Initial Link to the Adventure: Your greed can be sated only by taking on dangerous tasks in return for great rewards.

  • You saved Zhan the Cat's life and you now she feels she owes you a debt.
  • Nux the Horse is especially taken with your junk-scavenged crafts, and when they use an item in a way that requires a roll, they add +1 to the result. 

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 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 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.