Friday, October 10, 2014

Story Seed - The Master

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The deep halls echoed with the sounds of footfalls.  Four sets of feet creating a staccato of sounds as they descended to the very heart of The Great Slab. The royal family proceeded onward to the grand chamber, and a secret that only they, among all citizens of the slab, knew.

Tsar Forxado gritted his teeth, keeping his emotions chained to his will. Tears welled in his wife’s eyes, but were surreptitiously wiped away before they could tumble free.  Theeodee, their daughter was nearly as somber as her parents; she knew what waited below for her little brother.  She held the princeling’s tiny hand tightly, and kept him from dashing ahead to explore.

It is time for the child to awaken, had come the message from the machine at the heart of the slab to the mind of the Tsar.  It had woken him from sleep, early in the morning of his son’s World Day. Forxado had not allowed it to ruin the special day for his son, but both his wife and his daughter had known too that this request had been made, and needed to be honored.

The princeling Doradus, only just today five years in the world, was the only member of the family excited for this trip.  These tunnels were new to him, and further they were deeper than any he had explored before.  He missed the true reason for his family’s reticence, unabashedly na├»ve at this stage of his life, and wanted nothing more than to break his sister’s grip and charge forward eagerly into the mysterious depths of his home.

Finally after what seemed an eternity to all involved the four arrived at a pair of great doors dotted with orbs the glowed redly. Three of the family were gripped with dread, the fourth by sudden excitement. Forxado stepped forward reluctantly, fighting a desire to grab his son and flee, and pushed the doors open.  He understood now what his father had told him five years earlier; this truly was his greatest test as ruler of the Slab, more so even than the same moment with his daughter. 

Beyond the great doors was a large chamber. The walls were stair stepped blocks, dotted with more of the glowing red orbs, and beyond that at the end of the chamber was great machine that had the look of numenera, or age beyond knowing by mortal man.  Doradus twisted his hand and broke free of his sister, delighted by this new find, and dashed forward headlong to meet the Master.


Summary - In the Beyond dwelling within and atop the Great Slab is a civilization unknown to the Steadfast and others in the Beyond. A tsardom that lives peacefully within the remains of a great relic of the prior ages.  On the day of their fifth year since birth the children of the royal family are introduced to their Master, a great numenera from beyond the past.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Back Issues #4 - It's Electric!

So in New England, in the winter, we have 4 primary risks to life and limb; snow, ice, bad drivers, and static electricity. Alright, perhaps I'm exaggerating, but cold dry air does tend to make for some fantastically painful electric shocks, usually when you least expect it. Electricity is pretty fun stuff when you aren't rendering a limb numb. It can even be used in an RPG...

Issue #4: It's Electric!

Despite my opening, I'm not going to advocate annoying players with tiny meaningless jolts of electricity ... even though that would help many a table top game stay on topic. No, I swear.

In a modern game, ion and particle beam technology, even plasma, are all aspects of electrical theory. Plasma is electrically charged and responds to magnetic fields. Particle beams are directed and accelerated by use of intense magnetic fields (never mind the electric power needed to isolate them). Nikola Tesla intended to show the wireless transmission of electricity, famously demonstrated with a lightbulb of his design powered without wires or fixture.

Generation of power is huge nowadays, huge enough that in a game set in the near future, like Shadowrun, you could have an entire run based around the theft of a prototype or plans for some kind of fusion reactor or a high efficiency solar panel. In a modern day supers game an electrical themed villain could be running a series of heists to get the components he needs to build an electrical weapon or maybe a powered suit. Alternately he could be misunderstood, with a "the end justifies the means" philosophy, who is stealing these things to prove his theory is right for the betterment of the people. Of course, he's misunderstood and foiled by the heroes and eventually goes mad (as all good evil scientists do) and becomes a recurring villain.

On the fantasy side of things, lightning bolts are such a common offensive tool for mages that one would think Zeus was getting a cut of the profits. Wizards and mad scientists seem to love electricity to such a degree you wonder if it has some kind of addictive quality. Heck, that's an idea worth exploring right there.

Or maybe next time a player zaps a knight in plate armor with a lightening bolt have the target suddenly become magnetically charged. Small weapons become stuck to it, or even attracted towards it from afar. A 1 ton iron golem with even a moderate magnetic field could probably grapple a paladin as a free action simply by way of adhering to him. If your game is a little less silly and a little more serious it's reasonable that that attack would cascade through the knight's armor and into the ground without affecting the man within. A Faraday cage in medieval application essentially. A golem, being an nonliving construct, would likewise have nothing to fear from a few thousand amps and volts passing through its conductive body and into the ground. Sure it's not "fantastic" but it might get the wizard to explore a new spell or two.

Electricity is just half of the Electromagnetic effect though. What about the other end; magnetism. What effect would a magnetic attack have on a metal armored foe have? Spinning a magnet around a chunk of metal is how we use turbines to generate electricity; could a magnetic attack possibly generate additional electrical damage or effects?

It's now understood that our ancestors probably had a better grasp on electricity and magnetism than we give them credit for. Archaeological evidence has implied that electroplating was possibly used by the Parthians, while the Greeks had demonstrated knowledge of static electricity by 600 BC. Is it unreasonable for a fantasy age inventor to have an electrical device or two?

The ancient Egyptians maybe had invented the light-bulb a few years ahead of Edison. The Dendra Light is conjecture based on hieroglyphs found inside some tombs, and the fact that it would be rather dark inside those pyramids and underground crypts. Granted, torches could have lit the rooms just fine, but some people take those carvings as evidence of something more. Granted this has largely been debunked, but its interesting to think about.

And what about the other end of the spectrum (as it were)? The far future may finally implement wireless electricity the way Tesla wanted.  Or there may be new ways to generate power entirely.  Go far enough and maybe electricity becomes a quaint form of old tech. How does the far future engineer/technician deal with electrical systems that are hundreds of years out of date and completely unfamiliar?

Next time you turn on a light give a moment to think of just how extraordinary the power that lights that bulb is. Try and think about how our forefathers would have seen it, and give thought to how power technology has changed in the past twenty years and how much more it could change in another twenty.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Story Seed - The Blackest of Markets

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"Do you have it?" The buyer's voice had an odd echo to it, a distant quality that was hard to describe.

Sa'tellae bowed her head slightly, her eyes on the the buyer throughout. "It was most difficult. Soulstone is dangerous, rare, prohibited-"

"Yes, yes, but do you have it?" the buyer intoned. His fingers, thin, long, and bony, slipped out of the long embroidered sleeves of his enveloping robes, and conjured a glimmer of magic.  An image filled the space between then, "This will be yours, as agreed.  If ... you have the stone." The image showed gold and jewels, enough that Sa'tellae would be able to retire to the highest levels of Hazurrium in luxury.

She licked her lips, eyes darting between the prize, and the client. The client who frightened her, with his request for a material so rare that few even knew of it. Finally she nodded, "Yes, yes, I have it. But conjured illusion is not payment. I need to see it in person."

The chuckle that emanated from the shadow enshrouded cowl unnerved her more than she wanted to admit. "And I do not take assurances of product from any being, human, qephilim or other. Show me the stone and you will receive your earned reward."

Nodding she moved into the back of her shop, disappearing behind a curtain of silvered cloth.  Shortly she returned with a chest bound in oricalcum, and placed it on the counter. A whisper of soul magic opened the lock, and Sa'tellae peeled the lid back to reveal the soulstone within.


"She was found like this. Her soul is gone. Rent asunder, or trapped, but she cannot tell us who slayed her, or what was in the chest."

The captain of the guard prodded at the chest with a short baton of ebony.  "Oricalcum I'd wager. Whatever was in here is not something we want in the hands of a murderer."

Summary - A dealer in alchemical goods is found slain, and evidence suggests that they were in possession of something truly dangerous.  Can the killer be found, and the item recovered before falling into the hands of somebody with the power to make the most evil use of it?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Nuts & Bolts #4 - Stunt Man

Numenera (mentioned back in the second column) is not the only game I am playing nowadays, and although our campaign has been on hiatus for a bit, I have been enjoying Dragon Age immensely. This is relevant because I can point to a single aspect of the AGE (Adventure Game Engine) system as the reason: Stunts.

The AGE system resolves all checks for attacks and skills with a single die mechanic: 3d6 of two colors (e.g. two white and one red, as above) plus an attribute and modifiers from skills or other bonuses.  As a result there is a bell shaped probability curve, quite unlike the flat distribution of a d20 roll as used by numerous other systems.  Instead of having a system for critical hits on high die rolls the AGE system uses a Stunt system.  When any two of the dice match, and the attack or skill check is successful, the roll generates Stunt Points (SP) equal to the "Dragon Die", the one red die in the example above.

Right off the bat this means that unlike the venerable "critical 20" a roll can generate Stunt Points regardless of how "good" it is. In other words, so long as the underlying check succeeds the dice can generate SP through the entirety of the result curve, not just at the extreme high end. The worst roll, a 3, with sufficient bonuses, against a low enough difficulty, could succeed, and the player could gain a single stunt point.  Likewise, because there are two colors of dice, with the odd die out setting the number of SP generated, a roll of 1,1,6 could generate 6 SP, or 1 SP, and a roll of 6,6,1 could do the same. This mechanic also occurs far more often than the aforementioned critical 20 (which is 1 in 20 or 5% of the time), with a probability of roughly 42% (though some of those, like a roll of 1,2,1, will likely not pass the difficulty to become success). Most commonly this will come up in combat of course, and all things being equal combat will see stunts coming up multiple times every combat, sometimes multiple times in a round.

But what good are these Stunt Points, you may ask? Stunt Points can be spent to purchase various special moves and modifiers. Spend a couple of points to add a d6 to the damage of your attack, or make your attack disarm the enemy.  With enough points you can perform multiple attacks, or drive an enemy back. The options, combined with how frequently stunts can come up in combat, make for a very dynamic combat system.

Stunt Points cannot be saved for future use, so a single SP must be spent or it is lost. This encourages creative play with the stunts available against the SP available for that stunt. Additionally, as players advance their characters they will gain abilities that will reduce the cost of certain stunts associated with their class or talents. A character who uses two hand weapons will find it easier to afford the "Mighty Blow" stunt that adds 1d6 damage. While a rouge will find that they will find it easier/cheaper to use "Pierce Armor". These advantages both encourage a certain kind of stunt use, and ensure that as players gain more experience they become capable of ever more powerful, and impressive, combinations of stunts.

Of course dice rolling isn't limited to combat, and neither are stunts.  Lists of stunts for social and exploration encounters are included that will enable characters to excel in those areas as well. Swaying opinion, locating extra clues in the current scene, and the like.

In the end the Stunt mechanics ensure dynamic results on dice rolling, and help to drive exciting combats and other encounters. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Story Seed - Impact

As I stood on the shore, the skimmer board humming eagerly under my arm, there was a sound like thunder.  A growing rumble that began in some unknowable distance and grew louder and deeper until finally it ceased in a single apocalypse of sound that slapped the ocean flat like a tamping rod on fresh dirt.

I pulled myself from the surf, the sound had been like a physical impact knocking my feet out from under me, and looked up.  A glowing lance pierced the heavens.  White hot at its core, and nearly too bright to witness, it cooled to yellow and orange and red in its corona.  When it hit the ocean it did so with such force that I could not see if it sank or detonated.  Water was thrown in every direction, a killer wave rose and raced toward me.

A burning spear from beyond Earth, a remnant of a prior age, or something else? I do not know.


This is the last of the Story Seeds originally posted to the Numenera Fans Google+ Group. New Story Seeds will continue on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (with occasional time off for holidays and the like). 

Quick Hit Story Seeds #10

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Following the pilgrims you at last come to the alleged source of the earthquakes.  Three massive objects jut upward from the earth, sigils and runes glowing with the light of other days, and in the center the energy coalesces slowly forming something ...

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While exploring a dark place of the numenera you come on a sphere of energy that appears to trap within it the form of some being.  The sphere throws off sparks and lashes of energy, while from within comes a sound like the agonized keening of a man in extreme pain.

As you approach the town of Vecori the forest gives way to open land.  Here you begin to see strange hollows carved into the earth.  Precisely round in a way that refutes any natural explanation, and almost perfectly hemispherical, each hollow contained in its center, at the bottom of the strangely smooth curve, small obelisks.  The smallest and shallowest of these hollows were a dozen feet across and nearly as much deep, while the largest are nearly forty feet in diameter.  

Story Seed - Factory

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The factory was silent. Auxiliary lighting provided the barest traces of crimson glow, outlining control panels and laying paths to follow through the dark. I sneezed, multiple times, rapid fire.  My sinuses were bitching, so I grabbed an injector from my bag and doped up. This place must have been lying here unused for decades, maybe even longer. Every step set off an exploding cloud of dust. I wet a rag from my canteen and tied it around my face to keep the dust out and then doused another as I advanced toward what I hoped would be the primary control panel.

The rag came away caked with grime. The panel was marginally cleaner. This was old indeed; the panel was mostly glass with a small side area of actual, physical buttons.  No neural interface. No tri-D holo-controls.  Touch capacitive glass and synthetic polymer keys. I shook my head as I wiped away more of the dust, looking for the power key. The circle broken by a vertical line reminded me of something I had seen once, and it was the only part of the panel with any illumination, so I pressed it hopefully.

At first I thought nothing was going to happen. Then the snap hiss of old style lighting units igniting broke the silence. High overhead recessed panels in the ceiling lit up splashing light down into the room in visible shafts swirling with disturbed dust. Under my fingers the panel flickered to life. A boot sequence of some kind. I thanked the All-Song that it was still working. I could charge the Karum double for a factory that worked from the get go.

I sneezed again and felt woozy. My allergies were really going insane. I found the control for the air handling and turned it to maximum turnover. Hopefully that would clear the air shortly.  As machinery and lights continued to come to life the silent stillness of the unknown years was washed away with the din of machinery and the hum of lighting.  The panel awoke fully and I began to scroll through the functions searching for something that would indicate what kind of factory I had found.

I sneezed again, but this time it transformed into a coughing fit. Pain lanced in my chest, and I tasted blood.  The light headed feeling intensified. I gripped the panel to keep from falling and saw that operations schematic.  This was a biologicals facility. I suddenly understood the reason for the hard tech. Whatever they were doing here could have interfered with biotech controls.

Another coughing fit wracked my body with spasms and pain. I went down to my knees, my vision blackening around the edges. I realize now that whatever was in here was sealed up for a reason. I hit the floor, wheezing ineffectively. As the blackness continues to claim my vision I realize that I vented the air to the atmosphere. I'm sorry.

Summary - A scavenger finds an old factory somewhere on Ruk, but what he gets is more than what he bargained for. Now a deadly toxin from Ruk's past is released into the environment. Was the toxin meant as a weapon, or have the years changed the people of Ruk such that something once harmless is now deadly? Can the cloud contagion be stopped or contained before it reaches Harmonious, and what effect on Ruk's other inhabitants will there be?