Friday, May 5, 2017

Gods of the Fall - Owning Your Dominion


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

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


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

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

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

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

Monday, May 1, 2017

Story Seed - Storm Center

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

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

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

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

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