Friday, September 26, 2014

Quick Hit Story Seeds #2

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In the far north of Navarene, entire villages have gone silent, with no word from farmers or traders or local lords.  Rumors of a new weapon held by the Gaians have the lords on edge. Dispatched by the crown to investigate you find that there is a creature, something unknown previously, consuming all in it's path ...

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With the right cyphers, the right allies, and a lot of luck a dread destroyer can be stopped.  When it was discovered that three were converging on the city luck flew out the window on wings of fright.  Now the city's only hope, and your best chance to save the only home you've ever known, is to  do what none have ever done since before the city's founding: enter the Guardian and activate it ...

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While attending a ball in Iscobal you are surprised to see that all of the young women have added a small amount of armor to their attire.   Investigating further you find that the women in question are all unmarried and of eligible age.  When the decidedly not ritual combat began between two young women vying for one of the men at the party you begin to understand why Iscobalan men are so diffident to their wives.

Story Seed - Not Yet Dead

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You stumble into the clearing off the path, exhausted from a long day's travel.  Before you can relax however you realize that there is already somebody taking rest in the camp site.  The fire pit is clearly cold and unused, and the stranger is unresponsive, apparently asleep given their reclining position and the hat pulled down to shade their face.

After several attempts to rouse them you remove the person's hate to discover a long dead corpse, it's skull shining in your torchlight with the gleam of metal and synth.  Disturbed the body collapses and the apparently artificial skull rolls free.  More startling still are the dim lights that suddenly illuminate deep within the eye sockets.

Story Seed - Blood

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"Yup. Just ...blood."


Clarke shrugged, "What do you want me to say? The key was blood.  The smell of it, the feel of it, the friggin' taste of it. Blood. Blood blood blood blood blood!" He shivered, "We don't have to do this.  Honestly, I'm creeped out. This could be some seriously bad place."

"If we bail out we'll never know." Sean jerked a thumb back to the other room. "They're waiting.  What do you want me to tell them?  Tell them that we skip a payday because this one seems dangerous? We've seen danger before."

"Not like this.  This seems ..."

"Bad. Yeah, you said that. Listen," Sean said, "we translate, blend in when we get there.  We grab some cyphers, maybe some gold or jewels, and then we bail.  We have a inapposite gate if we need it, and we can always translate out with only a little time.  What's the risk?"


"OK. Now I think I get it." Sean looked up the steep steps of the pyramid. The plaza was busy, but he, Clarke, and the others blended in.  They were dressed in apparel that matched the world, skins and woven grasses. Ornamentation made of volcanic glass, gold, and teeth. "Blood. Yeah, makes sense."

"Yeah." Clarke agreed.  The others nodded as well. "Listen, we're here, and we may as well stick around and try to go unnoticed.  Make the trip home tomorrow."

"And try to at least make a payday out of this excursion," Sean finished for him.

"I'd agree," Samuels said, "but I don't think we want to stick around that long."  They all turned to look at him. Samuels was decked out in priestly garb, and his face was more serious that usual.  "Sacrifices will be made today, and according to the new memories I have, the gods themselves will choose."

Looking upwards to the pyramid they could see a massive figure, body slick and red with blood, appear in a flash of fire and smoke. A sudden thunderclap drove the point home.

Summary - A group of recursion minors translate to a world based on Central American myth and find that sometimes the danger of a new recursion truly is not worth the risks.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Quick Hit Story Seeds

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Far beyond the Clock of the Kala at the center of the desolate wastes of the Upheaval, a temple is built.  Some say that the temple is a prison for a sentient singularity, and that it is the raving of this insane creature that has torn the land asunder and created the Upheaval.  Pilgrims seeking to learn mastery of gravity are said to make the difficulty journey there to risk the creature's ill temper for the reward of esoteries unknown by the rest of the world.

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The cave is suffocating with the sickly sweet cloying stench of death and rot.  Piles of putrefying  flesh dot the stone floor, many still mingled with clothing and equipment of the victims.  You choke on the odor and gag at the sight of the remains, wondering if you should go on, if the rumors of the treasure of cyphers and artifacts within could possibly be worth it.  Then you hear the sound.  A scraping and thumping as something heavy moves deep within the cave...

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Five miles off the shores of Ghan there lies a small island of rock and little else.  On that isle is a cave that is in no way natural. And in that cave, there is an orb of metal and energy.  The orb pulses at random, throwing out waves of gravity, time, and other common and less common powers.  It is said that the orb can alter reality at its fundamental level if one can interface with it.

Story Seeds - Eye of the Beholder

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"Listen well child," the old grandmother spoke, her frail voice wavering like the light of the lone candle that lit the room.  "Not all numenera are pleasing to the eye.  To our eyes.  Deep in the Beyond there exist great heaving blocks that float like buildings torn from the earth.  Hideous to our sight they were built by something else.  And some say that they are still inhabited."

Back Issues #2 - I'm Sick of This!

I wrote this when I was down with a cold, or maybe a mild flu. Either way I was feeling rather icky at the time. Luckily I'm not sick now for what that's worth.

Issue #2: I'm Sick of This!

Ah, sickness. Aside from children, who get out school, and people who hate their job, who get a day away without having to "kill" their fourth grandmother this year, I doubt anybody likes being sick. You feel bad, usually you try to not see other people, and often you have unfortunate substances of various colors and viscosity leaking, oozing, or otherwise escaping your person. Sometimes violently. Ugh.

On the flip side, even if you weren't trying actively to avoid people, chances are pretty good that people are shunning you like you have the plague. Which you might. People on the bus move away from you, co-workers all but beg you to go home; basically you are treated as a pariah; unclean and outcast.

Where the hell am I going with this? Good question ... oh, right. Disease and sickness. In your games. In your player characters.

Being sick isn't something that everybody can "afford". Plenty of people have a livelihood riding on their daily work, if they are sick they have to "man up" and work through it. I doubt a farmer, a real, legit, hands in the dirt farmer one would see in a fantasy campaign is going to take a day off unless he's all but falling down, or if his wife tells him to rest. The same applies in fantasy games to all lines of work. Almost all; one expects the village healer to at least not be coughing up blood, if not outright healthy, he is the healer after all. Still, if you need want to infect your PCs with an illness look no further than, well .... just about anywhere. The barmaid, the weapon smith, the local alchemist who buys those girdles of masculinity/femininity off of the heroes cheap and then sells them at enormous markup to those kinky transvestite elves in the next forest over...

... woah, sorry about that, my rhino-virus addled brain got away from me ...

OK, so why make your characters sick? Well, you could do it as part of a larger game plot. Perhaps they really pissed off the wrong God. Or maybe they shouldn't have opened that long sealed tomb/facility/space pod. Maybe it's the end of times, the seals are being opens and the PCs, in their infinite stupidity, have decided to go mano-a-mano with Pestilence Himself.

Or maybe you want to be a dick. Admit it, when you act as the Storyteller/Gamemaster you sometimes just enjoy being a douche. It's a perk of the job.

Remember last session when one of your players laughed about how easy it was to clean out the Kobold caves and retrieve the MacGuffin of the week? They won't be laughing when they come down with the same debilitating illness that laid the Kobolds low. Then again maybe the opposite is true. A player with a racial hatred for Orcs comments on how Orcs never really pose a challenge because the group is much higher level than they were a dozen sessions (or more) back. Slap the PCs with something suitably nasty and debuff them some. Then tell them that the only cure can be found in the Orcish lands. Smile evilly when you do, they earned it.

Of course people aren't the only ones to get sick. Player's mounts and familiars could come down with a nasty case of "poops in your shoes". Nothing like a semi-intelligent animal with a case of the flu and a surly attitude because of it.

In a more modern day, or even a futuristic science fiction setting, computer and technology viruses are fair game as well. Recall that Shadowrun data retrieval you did last week? If you do then you already know why your cyberdeck and cyberwear are all on the fritz. The alien artifact you found on Planet LV-426? Infected with an intelligent AI virus that is going to try to turn your ship, and your crew into its mindless slaves.

Hard technology isn't the only target here. Biotechnology is just as susceptible to illness as we are. That spine gun could stop regenerating ammo, or your spinal tap could suddenly cease increasing your intellect and instead inflict a little madness. Magical items could easily far prey to a magical disease. Eww, why is my rune sword of demon slaying oozing green mucus? Never a good thing.

OK, in hindsight, yes, being sick sucks, but you know what they say, "Misery loves company."

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Story Seed - Risk/Reward

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"The Temple of the Broken Moon?" the young man asked with incredulity in his voice.  "Never heard of it."

His drinking companion, really just his neighbor at the worn bar, shook his head, "Jus' because you ain't never heard of it don't mean it don't exist!"  His breath reeked of the rot that was clearly evident in the man's weathered countenance.

"Fine, fine, so what of it?" the younger man asked, wrinkling his nose at the gangrenous stench that managed to overpower the overall odor of the bar itself.

"Deep in Matheunis it stands, a crescent like the waxing moon.  Under the light of the newest moon it opens a gateway to a realm of madness and death!"

The young man rolled his eyes, "So? If that's the case I don't wanna know if it now do I?"

"Ah, but there's the rub.  Treasure beyond worlds be found for those who venture through that wild realm.  Other worlds entirely, worlds not like our own ..."

Story Seed - The Book

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Arem laid the book down before the priest, but said nothing; instead he waited expectantly. The Aeon priest studied it for long moments, almost seeming ready to speak numerous times, but each time stopping short of saying anything at all.  She studied the book intently.  First observing the cover, the spine, the back, the edges of the pages.  Never did she open it. That would be presumptuous.

She finally broke the silence. "What have you brought? It seems an ordinary book. Old, though hardly exceptional for it."

Arem licked his lips. He forced his eagerness down and then said, "It's not ... it is not a book." He hurriedly continued before she could object, or strike him for a fool.  "It is a thing of the numenera. The pages are alive with data spirits.  Within this tome resides a digital creature connected to the datasphere."

"If you are true, then why part with something which is of such value; not only in monies but for its usefulness in retrieving the lost knowledge of the ancients?" the Priest's voice was heavily laden with skepticism.

"I am but one man. I could not protect this from those who would sieze it by force.  You have the entirety of the Order of Truth and the weight of the Amber Pope to help protect it," Arem said

He opened the book and there was a light pleasant tone. "Hello Arem.  Who is this new person?" the book asked, drawing a look of astonishment from the Aeon priest.

Summary - A long forgotten book that holds a digital intelligence is found.  What secrets does it know? What does it desire now that it is once more in the hands of mortals?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Story Seed - More Where That Came From

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"I found it in an old ruin, two ages old at the least."

Hakor turned the item over in his hands, not looking at it, instead staring intently at the woman before him, trying to gauge the truth of her words.

"It has value yes? Many shins at the least?" the woman's voice was tinged with a mechanical edge, and her eyes were old viewer lenses, black and wide, betraying no emotion.  Her words were phrased as a question, but intoned as a statement.

"Yes, but tell me about this temple, where is it? I will pay double to know of its location," Hakor knew that this was a worthless trinket, but he felt it a harbinger of greater treasures.

Story Seed - The Vault

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It seemed to rise from the gloom of the forest in mere steps.  One minute there was naught but the dim green twilight of the sun filtered by semi-opaque leaves, illuminating yet more trees, the occasional lichen covered rock, and furtive forest beasts.  Then suddenly the trees thinned and there was something rising from the earth, peeking out from the dirt and leave as surely as it peeked through the veil of unknowable time.  A structure of white metal and whiter synth...

Nuts & Bolts #2 - No Roll for You

I've been playing RPGs for a while and I've seen plenty of good and bad rules & mechanics.  This is intended to be a regular or semi-regular discussion of notable mechanics, good or bad, and what I like or dislike about them.

No Roll for You

For the past nine months (and not counting games at GenCon) I have been playing almost only a single system: Numenera.  Numenera uses the Cypher System (which is also used by The Strange). There's a lot to like in the Cypher System, but I think the one thing I feel most strongly about is that I, as GM, never need to pick up dice.
sounds of people leaving
Some are likely to check out right there. Dice rolling and RPGs are about as synonymous as they come, and the prospect of not being able to roll funny shaped dice may be a turnoff for some. I didn't think anything of it at first, it was just another thing I hadn't seen in a game before.

After reading through the rules I started to understand the intent; doing away with opposed rolls means that players are rolling against set difficulties.  This is hardly new in game design, D&D has always had fixed defensive values against which the players and GMs roll to attack, or save, or use a skill.  The difference here is in shifting away even the fixed target GM rolls to the player's side.  Now instead of a GM rolling against a fixed player defense, the player rolls against a fixed NPC attack value.

It doesn't seem like much, but it gives the GM a great deal more control in balancing encounters.  The critical fumbles and critical successes, both reviled and lauded respectively, become the sole domain of the PCs.  If a great deal of critical hits come up in combat and end an encounter quickly the players feel the glory.  Likewise the players feel the burn of all the fumbles.

There's no longer the chance of a combat going poorly for the PCs because the GM rolled well, nor any chance that an encounter will play out too easily because of poor rolling by the GM for the NPCs.  This is no minor effect, after all the GM isn't playing against the players, and so they should be the ones enabled to feel triumph or failure. It also means that the abilities of the characters are at center stage at all times.  A player can invest in the style of play, the strong and weak points of their character, that they want to have.  This is player agency at its best.

The GM not having to roll dice also means not having to fudge dice rolls to make the game better (there are better ways to do that, and I'll touch on them later), and with no need to fudge rolls (or roll at all) that allows a GM to bring down the biggest barrier between themselves and their players: the GM screen. GM screens are both a physical barrier and kind of social barrier.  It's the GM screen that helps to generate the mentality that it's the players against the GM, when in truth the GM is a player too.  The GM and the players should all have a common goal: to have fun. Setting aside the need for a barrier between them can help GMs and players work together better.

Some people will argue that the GM screen also serves as a useful tool beyond hiding rolls by providing space for GM reference materials.  While I agree that they can serve this purpose I would argue that such materials can do their job lying down on the table and need not interfere with the GM/Player relationship that is core to the RPG hobby.

In the end I don't know if this would prove to be a mechanic that could translate to other games, but I know it is a big part of why I like the Cypher System. Further I think that it is a good way to help both the players and GMs feel in control of their own sides of the game.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Story Seed - The Inn

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The inn was unremarkable from without.  A structure of mixed materials and methods standing by a winding hard packed dirt road.  The two stones out front were remarkable only for their inner glow, a tinge of elder light from some long forgotten numenera buried within.

We were tired however and the prospect of a real bed and a possible bath made us stop early despite the extra miles we could have traveled before nightfall.  The innkeeper was happy to take our coin for a room, a meal, and the use of their hot baths.  It was only then that he asked a question that I did not expect.

"Will you need to use the recharging vault?"

Story Seed - The Holes in the Walls

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"It just stood there in the water. Nothin' keeping it up, just a jumble of rocks I thought until I looked through the holes"

The Aeon Priest leaned forward, "And what did you see."

"Cold fire, and red skies, and cities made of glass, and forests of flesh, oceans of acid ... each space was a view into another world." The priest nodded, he had heard of such things before. "The last one though was filled with spirits, and they reached for me.  I think they want to escape ..."

Story Seed - Worth

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"They call it the City of Paper," the man said as the boat cut through the waves toward the docks and piers of the city of Harmuth.

"It doesn't look like paper," the little boy said skeptically.

The man laughed, "Nay lad, it's not made of paper.  Harmuth is a port like any other but there are many mills that make paper for shipment to other parts of the Steadfast.  The city is what it is because of paper." 

The boy looked back at his father, "Why? You can't eat paper.  You can't build anything out of paper."

"Books boy, you can't have books without paper.  An' the rick folks love books.  An' the Aeon Priests.  Every mystery of the worlds before they write into books so that we don't forget what we have learned anew.  That's what happened to the worlds before.  We forgot what we knew, an' it has to be learned all over."

"That makes sense," the boy said, trying to digest it all. 


"It's a nice story, but I don't see why it should matter one whit to me an' my men."

"Because, if you steal this cargo, and this ship you are going to slow down the progress of all mankind.  You will heed us from rising from the ashes and moving toward the glory of the old worlds."  The Captain was no longer a boy, but the lesson his father had taught him had stayed with him.  He traded in goods and knowledge, doing what he could to facilitate the rebirth of the civilizations of mankind's past.  

The pirate captain sneered, "An' what good do tha' do me now?" he asked.  Without waiting for a reply he waved the curved blade in his first through the air, "Search the ship boys, I don' believe that a man so well dressed on a vessel so fine carries naught by useless paper. Seize the valuables and slay the crew. This ship do be ours now!"

"You can't!"

"Oh, I can, I will, an' I am!" the pirate said, unloading a buzzer into the captain's chest.