Friday, October 3, 2014

Quick Hit Story Seeds #9

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As you camp for the evening in the Beyond the full moon rises overhead, cast in a strange reddish hue.  Without warning a beam of green light emanates from it toward earth.  You think that the termination point of the beam might be nearby ...

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High in the Black Riage a monastery exists where the monks utilize numenera implants that allow them to control the flows of time itself.  It is said that their knowledge of the past is unparalleled.  Rumor says that they will grant a single request within their power to any who can reach their citadel.

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In search of water your party had followed the cut of the land and been rewarded with the sound of a rushing stream.  However, when you finally reached the source of the sound you find the water runs red, colored by some unknown substance from further upstream.  Casting your gaze in that direction you see the ruins of some ancient structure ...

Quick Hit Story Seeds #8

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The Iron Wind approaches! 

Your group has been recruited by a local clave of Aeon Priests.  They have observed a slow moving storm of the Iron Wind on the far horizon.  Steadily it has approached their town/village of over a thousand people.  Unlike other storms this one seems to making a straight line for the town rather than moving about randomly and erratically.  Can you help them save their town?

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Your progress along the canyon floor was slow.  You had yet to see any opportunity to climb out of the long cut either.  After what seemed like weeks, but was only days you rounded a switchback and found a great archway, carved out of the gutrock, spanning the canyon.  Beyond it were pillars, each hundreds of feet high, that appeared to be contemporary to the arch, and beyond that a hint of something more ...

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As you go about your business, and assassin, dispatched by the brigand/lord/etc. that you last crossed paths with, leaps from shadow and attacks.  If you defeat it you can loot its armor for a cypher that will allow you to blend into darkness for 1 hour (asset to stealth tasks).

Story Seed - Computational Asymptote

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Carl waited while the vault scanned his hand print. Steph nervously guarded his back, an AR15 held tight to her shoulder, her weight shifting from foot to foot.  The muffled sounds of explosions and worse rumbled through the hall. He checked his watch, "Fifteen minutes since the incursion.  We might still have time."

"Did you see that thing? I don't know what's in this vault but unless its a nuke I don't see how it could help." The strain was only just now showing in Steph's voice. Carl made a note that if he survived this he'd queue up some extra psych tests for her.  She was holding together remarkably well, and might make a good cleaner.

If they survived this.

The vault opened and they moved inside.  There wasn't much to see.  A white room, a pedestal, and small object that looked like a mathematician's fever dream under a box of glass.  An infinitely detailed fractal rendered in three dimensions. The latticework pattern repeated ever smaller until the detail was lost to the eye. 

"Beautiful isn't it? Not many have the clearance to even know this thing exists, fewer still to see it. Considering it is probably the single most powerful object on Earth I can't blame the Board for keeping this under lock and key." Carl advanced into the vault, moving toward the pedestal, and the small keypad embedded in it.

"What is it?  It looks kinda like a ..." Steph shook her head, unable to come up with words to describe it.

"Yeah, its hard to describe," Carl replied punching a code into the small keypad. "I hear that the 3D printing revolution means that some of the cyphers culled directly from the strange itself can take on some really wild forms, especially the ones that don't have a function that corresponds here on Earth." The light flipped from red to green and the inch thick panel of glass slide to the side.  

Reaching in to take the object he shrugged, continuing, "I don't think anybody really understands this stuff.  This thing especially. I just know that the eggheads say this little guy is a ... How did they put it? A computational asymptote formed by an infinitely recursive logic loop." 

"Oh yeah, totally, I can see that." Steph rolled her eyes, "Did the eggheads give you a translation into English?" Outside something bellowed; a sound like the world ending, which was appropriate because it probably was.

"Yeah, but you'll feel a lot sillier saying it." Carl saw her arch an eyebrow at him questioningly.  "They said it could potentially re-write reality in a localized area.  When I asked what the hell that meant I got that look that you get from very smart very patient people talking to very dull people. Then they told me it granted wishes." Steph whistled.

"Yeah. I really hope they were right. I hope it works because, you know, that," he gestured toward the door.  "Only one chance. Time to make a wish."


Carl blinked.
He looked at his watch. 
It was 2:34. 

He had seven whole minutes to stop the end of the world. 


Summary - The world is ending and an unfathomably dangerous item is the only hope to stop it.

What would you do with an Entropic Seed? Would you save the world as it was being torn down around you? Could you?  What if you have no other option? If breaking the rules is the only way to win?

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Quick Hit Story Seeds #7

After days on the road through the beyond you see a distant hump on the horizon, a town in the far distance.  With renewed vigor you make your way for this oasis within the wastelands, desperate for a hot meal and a place to replenish your supplies.  Within an hour of first sighting the aldeia you all begin to hear strange music.  The closer to the town the louder it gets and soon it becomes apparent that not only will it not cease, but for each member of your party they hear the music differently ....

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The complex was old beyond reckoning.  Yet, despite this, it was clean.  The numenera built into walls, and doors, and every other surface (or so it seemed) either functioned safely, or not at all.  As you set to dismantle a nearby device, a crackle of energy and the smell of ozone suddenly alerted you to another presence.  Lighting in hand, the arch-nano stared at your party, waiting for you to make the first move...

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Deep below the city, through conduits long thought sealed, you followed the cultists.  In catacombs long forgotten, you come upon the grand forge, still vomiting forth molten metal as it has for untold years.  You watch as the cultists gather, chanting obscene words ....

Quick Hit Story Seeds #6

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The Iron Wind howled outside your shelter.  Warded by ancient numenera and the esoteries of the nano you traveled with your party was protected from the transmuting storm outside. 

When at last the storm ended you dug yourselves out from within a small hill, thankful that the Iron Wind had not buried you deeply, or within solid rock.  Outside the land was washed clean, barren, save for short scrub grasses.  The only feature within range of sight was an arch of stone.  As you approached it you realized that what you saw through the stone did not correspond to what lay beyond it...

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You wake to find the morning still dark. Clearing your eyes you see that an unnatural darkness blankets the land, emanating from a massive inverted pyramid that was not there the day before...

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As your party presses further into the deep forest the daylight dwindles to a green twilight.  As you traverse a small ravine a red beam of energy washes over your group.  Following it back to it's source you are confronted by an ancient automaton ...

Back Issues #3 - Making Your Own Inspiration

Sometimes inspiration rolls a 1. It happens, you sit down to work on a game, or a character, or what-have-you, and you draw a big old blank. A goose egg. Nada. Niet. Nothing. Zero. Zilch. Zip... you get the idea. What do you do? You could try again later, or you can taunt inspiration to take another swing...

Issue #3: Making Your Own Inspiration

Sometimes, when you are lucky, you stumble on a picture, or song, or video that sets your imagination going. Other times you gotta take a cattle prod and get medieval on it. It happens to me often enough, often enough that I've made a hobby of sitting with my computer while I watch TV, and dredging up ideas.

A picture worth at least fifty words ...
Between DeviantArt, Google Images, ArtStation, and Astronomy Picture of the Day pictures are one of the best places to jump start my stalled imagination. This is my experience of course, your mileage may vary. These are my search engines of choice, but if you have another you prefer I'm sure that will work well enough too. Just plug in a term that is related to the work you are having trouble with and then peruse some pictures. View a few or scan over thousands.  Look at recent items or dig deep into the way back machine.  I do this literally daily.

Wikipedia holds a similar value in my mind. Sometimes I find some obscure fact about the subject I'm working on. Others I find something on the front page and start clicking through, moving through pages via provided links until I find something that triggers an idea. Google can do similar by linking you to other wikis and numerous other informational sites. Sometimes a little extra knowledge will help trigger a new idea.

Music, at least for me, is also capable of lubing that creative engine, and granting new ideas. Be they works by an artist I am familiar with, or something new, music, lyrics, and video can often do the job. Especially useful, I find, are the services that will take your input and then find you new music that is similar in composition and style. Likewise YouTube will give you a slew of recommendations in response to a video you are watching. I've found entire new bands in this way, and plenty of video that made me look at some of my favorite music in a whole new way.

Lastly are bookstores and libraries. Sometimes just walking through the fiction stacks and pulling random books out based on their title or cover artwork will get you something you needed, an idea or concept, or even that specific work of art or fiction. If nothing else maybe you can find something to read to help pass the time while your brain recuperates. Your FLGS works well here too. Gaming books for other games are great inspiration at times, and if you have an older store in your area, or one that has a used bin you can sometimes find some real treasures for cheap.  Likewise if you don't mind reading PDFs DriveThruRPG (and their sister sites) have lots of free stuff, ranging from old games to new, full books to sneak peeks.

I'm sure there's other ways to jog ideas lose.  Those are just the ways I do it.  How do you kick start your imagination?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Quick Hit Story Seeds #5

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While diving with the Redfleets you encounter a great fish in the deeps of the ocean.  Easily large enough to swallow you whole, and armed with a maw of jagged teeth you don't have time to decide on fight or flight before it contacts your mind telepathically and says, "Hello." ...

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On the southern shores of Ghan there lies an island topped by an ancient mechanism.  Legends say that under right stars the device activates and opens a gateway to another world...

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While traveling deep in the Beyond through a wasteland of barren sand and rock you top a rise and see below you a glimmering cube of energy.  As you approach you see that within the cube is an oasis of life within the otherwise barren landscape.

Story Seed - Junction

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The artificial stone of the stairs had barely held together as your party descended into the darkened tunnel.  With a terrific, thunderous crash they collapsed as you began to walk deeper into the dank tunnel.  Left with no way to go back to the surface behind you, your only choice was to move forward, following the light of your glow globe.

Wary for predators, your group moves slowly down the tunnel, the stark wall of synthetic rock showed great age, and cracks and crumbling sections riddled the surface.  Below, two conduits of glass or synth ran in parallel under your feet with no apparent function still remaining.  Suddenly you step out of the tunnel, and into a vast open chamber that begins to light itself from recessed panels, revealing mosaics of tile and glass and metal that decorate this long abandoned structure.

Perhaps further exploration will reveal its purpose, and a way out ...

Story Seed - Triangulation

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The pylon, a large crescent shape, jutted upward from the stone bedrock. A great grey semi-circle, it seemed empty to all who saw it, though none could explain why they felt that way.  The surface was textured without pattern or apparent purpose. Whatever hands, or other appendages, had formed the pylon had not deigned to sign it, or leave sign of any kind, and none that were aware of it could infer its function.  Its purpose was unknown and unknowable.


The Clock of the Kala

The pylon stood alone in the field.  A lone sentry guarding an empty pasture. It had stood there for countless years, and it would likely do so for years more.  The angled stone did not match the ground around it. It did not match the mountainous ring of the Clock, nor the deep bedrock below.  The pylon was an alien among the people of the Kala.

Alien and ignored.

None among them studied it. None among them drew it. Their children were told to not look at it.  The pylon was forbidden.


The Deep Deyong

The pylon stood on a dais carved from the fundamental bedrock below.  It stood raised in a deep bowl of carved stone, raised up and worshiped.  The pylon, a stabbing spire of sharp angles, and sweeping curves, was the basis of the religion of the people of Deyong. The pylon did nothing to garner this attention. It did not shelter the people. It did not defend the people. The pylon did not respond to or acknowledge their worship, their devotion, or their pleas for aid. The pylon was a god of indifference; a sign that humanity could rely on none but themselves.


The pylons silently weathered the years without change or action ...

... until one day they began to gather energy.

Summary - Across the Ninth World structures of unknown origin or intent awaken...

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Quick Hit Story Seeds #4

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At first you were glad to finally leave the Cloudcrystal Skyfields.  The domain of the Giaians was verdant and a welcome change from the harsh and barren landscape you left behind.  But then you started to see strange things in the flora. 

Now as you approach a field of large flowering plants a shiver runs up your spine as they all turn, as one, toward you and your party the wide flowers looking so much like watching faces of an army of plants...


Taking your hand away from the wound to see how bad it is and treat it you begin to hear the sound of fine mechanisms at work.  Washing the blood from the wound and peering deep into the riven tissues you see, much to your shock, that deep within are fine machines at work; positronic motors, gears of micro and macroscopic size, even little pulleys and belts. 

Have you always been part machine, or has something changed recently?


Traveling across the plateau had taken three days, but finally your party has reached the northern edge.  Looking down from the crumbling edge you see below what appears to be a large town, previously unknown to the Steadfast.  At its heart a create circular hole bores deep into the earth.  Making camp for the evening, with plans to approach the town the next day you are surprised to see a bright purple glow emanating from the hole as the sun sets...

Story Seed - The Freezer

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It took nearly two weeks to trek through the cold desert; Matheunis nearly claimed all of your lives at one point or another.  After that came the Southern Wall, taller than the tallest building any of you had seen, and exuding cold to bite through all but the most powerful of numenera.  Two days of ascent brought you to the top, and from there you could see the glow.

Another day to climb down to the icy flat-lands beyond the wall, and three more trekking across windswept ice and little else.  Now you stand within a mile of the source, and wonder what the ancients were thinking...

Nuts & Bolts #3 - Not all Fiats have four wheels

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Fiat. GM Intrusion. Compel. Complications. There's plenty of ways to say it, but I like fiat.  What's fiat?
fiat • noun • an arbitrary decree or pronouncement, especially by a person or group of persons having absolute authority to enforce it
There's two ways to look at this as it relates to RPGs:
  1. Basically everything the GM does is fiat.  They control the world, and so everything that isn't the PCs is technically Fiat.  This is outside the scope of what I want to discuss.
  2. Anything the GM does to intrude on the story and the players, often to the detriment of said players, and occasionally based on the character's own characteristics and background.
That second one is what I want to discuss.  There are many games out there that codify the process of GM Fiat.  From FATE's Compels, Numenera's GM Intrusions, & Complications from Mutants & Masterminds, among many others.  Fiat is a way for the GM to steer an encounter through a Risk/Reward system.  These games also tend to have a mechanic sometimes colloquially referred to as "bennies" that players can spend on their character's behalf (these bennies are not something that exist within the game, but exist on a meta-level).  I'll dig deep into bennies at some later time, but suffice to say that bennies are the "yang" to the "yin" of the Gm's fiat.

That is to say that GM Fiat is the Risk portion of this mechanical relationship.

As I stated above: Fiat is a way for GMs to steer events during a game.  This is done by injecting events, circumstances, pitfalls, and even occasionally benefits, into the story. Usually they are done with little or no chance for players to countermand them (though some systems allow players to pay bennies instead of gaining them to avoid such a use of fiat). The events commonly have at least some degree of direct impact on one or more players.  Since the GM is already controlling the world, and everything and everyone within it that isn't a player character, the point of Fiat (and the oft associated benefit) is to codify permission for GMs to reach deeper into the story, and to do so without calling for rolls from the players.

Which is to say that fiat is sometimes used where the larger rules break down.  A GM decides that it would benefit the story to break a PC's weapon, to have their loved ones kidnapped by their archenemy, to run out of ammo, or a ship's hyperdrive to fail suddenly.  All of these are will within the purview of the GM's roles & responsibilities but seldom have any kind of their own codified rules (and really do not need them).

So why is GM Fiat good? And why is it bad?

To start, in games where bennies are used, fiat is often a primary mode of dispensing bennies to the players.  This is often crucial to the basic economy of those games' engines. Players without access to these bennies may lack the ability to activate certain character abilities (either directly or by way of a recharge type mechanic), which spins the game's encounters out of balance. In this respect fiat is not just good, its necessary.

Secondly, fiat allows a GM to steer the story in small ways, sometimes ways that might impinge on a player's domain (e.g. their character). Equipment breaks.  Sudden unexpected penalties. Complications that force a character to act a certain way by leveraging motivations, goals, and relationships with NPCs. This might initially seem bad, but these actions and activities drive player engagement, and help balance encounters.  A combat may be going poorly for a game's "big bad" and the GM can use this to buff them or allow them to escape and fight another day.  Likewise players will be more involved and engaged when their character's backgrounds and personalities are tied into the story.

Thirdly, it codifies the GM's ability to indirectly impact the players and the world to steer the story.  Villains making an escape, a much needed resource being unavailable through normal channels, or a bridge being out. These have indirect impact to the players, affecting the world around them, but not the characters or their gear and relationships directly.

These are all ways that a GM can maneuver the game and the players.  If the players need to get to a certain place but are intent on missing some important step having a bridge out or a road occupied by a superior enemy force can give the GM the chance to ensure that the PCs get the information or item they need.  Often these are last minute events.  The bridge collapses or is destroyed immediately before the players want to cross, the vendor finds that they have just sold the last of whatever the players needed. Sometimes these last kind of fiats are driven by the story and may not trigger a game's fiat rule.  Other times however there is a sense of immediacy for the players, that this wasn't planned by the GM ahead of time.  These fiats can provide a necessary means for the GM to do what needs doing to keep a session rolling forward.

On the bad side, some GMs can be heavy handed with fiat, making encounters more difficult that need be, or making players miserable by constantly depriving them of weapons or equipment.  Needless to say this is abuse, and GMs can hide behind the rules all they want but that doesn't make it good gaming.

Fiat can also lead to a feeling of being "railroaded" where the only path becomes the one not obstructed by some contrived blockage.  This is a thin line is some cases; a good idea, can be executed in such a way as to be limiting to the players if not played carefully.

Lastly there are games without a fiat mechanic.  Those are the games where GM's need to step most carefully.  Even the best uses of fiat in such a game may come across poorly with the wrong players, and the worst become the fodder for years of "worst GM ever" stories.  In this regard games that have a mechanism for it already have a leg up on the competition in my opinion.

In the end I think that fiat mechanics are a good thing.  They open up options for the GM, and (most of the time) ensure that players are compensated.  They ensure that the GMs can steer encounters, sessions, and campaigns in such a way as better the story. They give the GM a tool to drive player engagement, and, inversely, they help players tell the GM how they can be engaged in the game. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

Quick Hit Story Seeds #3

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Far out in the beyond you find a large ring of stone and metal protruding from the ground.  Beyond it you can see more, roughly half a mile apart stretching toward the horizon in seemingly endless sequence.  When you walk through the first you find yourself seamlessly transported to the next ring in the sequence...

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Far to the north in the Beyond, well past the Great Slab, or the Caecillian Jungle a vast desert stretches as far as the eye can see.  This waste is so devoid of life that even the more southern reaches of the Beyond seem to be teeming with life by comparison.  Six days into your trek north you spy a lone structure, jutting from the sand in imitation of the rocky pillars surrounding it.  

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While traveling you stop by a lake for water and observe a strange crystal formation.  To your surprise the formation responds to your presence, approaching you, across the water ...

Story Seed - The Natron

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While traveling near the Sere Marica you come upon a strange site, a statue of a creature.  Only upon closer inspection is it clear that this is no statue but a creature turned to stone...

The Natron (lvl 6)
The Natron is a large creature that appears as a squat wide bodied mound covered with rocky scales.  Its gaping maw is filled with jagged teeth, but far more dangerous is its chemical vomit which can turn a victim to stone.

Health: 25 • Armor: 2

Damage: 6

Movement: Short

Modifications: Defense 5 due to size.

Combat:  Instead of attacking with a bite the Matron can, as often as once every other round, vomit a hot stream of concentrated minerals.  All targets in a cone area at immediate range will be affected.  The chemicals seep into the skin and through orifices (therefore fully sealed armor will negate this attack) and requires a level 6 Might defense.  If failed it will inflict 6 points of Speed damage and stun the target for 1 round during which time they may take no actions.  On a successful defense the target is stunned but does not take any Speed damage.  Characters reduced to 0 Speed by this attack are paralyzed and can only take mental actions thereafter.

Use:  The Natron is a predator and hunts for food.  It will retreat if faced with a target that does not fall easily.

Environment: On the southern shores of the Sere Marica

Loot:  Searching through the petrified remains of its prior meals will reveal 4d6 shins, 1d6+1 cyphers, and occasionally an artifact.  

Story Seed - Core

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The four operatives wriggled through the the winding tunnels deep below Harmonious.  Conduits and cables wound through the space with them, some pulsing with power, others with fluid, or high energy plasma guided by integral magnetic coils.  There were wires too, and thin pipes that dripped sweat.  That some of these were bio-mechanical and dripped actual sweat rather than condensation only added to the sense of claustrophobic discomfort.

The Estate's intelligence said that the Karum had built something here.  Something that would not be good for Earth.  Not that the Karum ever did anything that wasn't bad for Earth. Sam and Janel were joined by
two Quiet Cabal operatives; Klaatu-barada, at the group's front, and Nikto at the rear.  That the Estate and the Cabal were working together indicated just how potentially serious this particular situation was.

Ahead, Klaatu punched a grated access panel out of its frame and slide out of the narrow tunnel, rolling into a crouch and sweeping the area once before motioning Sam and the rest to come out.  Sam dropped to the floor, a metal grating that made Sam grin wryly at how similar things were on Ruk sometimes.  Behind him Janel and Nikto clambered out of the tunnel, squinting in the sudden bright.

The area was bathed in a sickly green glow that reflected off metal, and tinged biomechanical flesh in hues of green and brown and purple.  They followed Klaatu through a few wending passages and suddenly out into a vast open space.

At the center of the chamber was a massive globe of steel and glass and tendon and muscle.  The green light that bathed the entire chamber emanated from there. "Well, that is one rather large power core." Sam glanced down at the scanner in his hand, "Aaaand, it is only barely stable at the moment. This thing could take out all of Ruk if it blows. What the hell was the Karum thinking?"

"They were going to warp it to Earth." Janel pointed to the massive dynamos, "Those are inapposite generators.  This whole place is rigged to transport out."

Summary - A group of Estate and Cabal operatives journey deep under Harmonious on Ruk to find a Karum doomsday weapon.