Friday, November 7, 2014

Story Seed - Haven

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I opened my eyes and blinked at the brightness. We were safe; free of the caved in crypt where the soulshorn had trapped us. Beside me I heard Jeff get up, and I started to look around to get my bearings.  We were on a small hilltop surrounded by fog and mist. A great pine of some kind rose up above use offering a sort of timid shade in the indistinct light.  I could hear the sound of water nearby and caught a glimpse of a small coming down over a rocky rise. The whole hilltop was barely fifty feet across, but it was peaceful, and there was nothing trying to kill us.

I stood up myself, turning in place and taking in the view, or the lack of view I suppose.  Nothing beyond the hilltop was visible, the mist seemed to enclose and enshroud everything below and also obscured the view of the sky and the horizon. I mused that it was like some kind of pocket of clear air within a rolling fog front, or the eye of hurricane even, though the mist seemed as calm and peaceful as the hilltop itself.  I picked a direction, toward the stream and in the general direction of its flow, and headed that direction.

"Hey, don't wander!" I heard Jeff call after me.

I turned, walking backward and called back, "It seems safe enough to me." Then I thought about it and added, "Say, where the heck did you take us anyways, I don't think I've heard of this recursion."

"STOP!" he yelled, commanded really. I think he was using a little bit of the strange itself on me because I stopped dead. Jeff was jogging over and pulled me forward, spinning me around in the process. "You damn near walked off the edge of the world."

The mist was thinner than it seemed and I saw now that he was not exaggerating. The ground sloped downward a bit and then dropped off completely.  Below I could see a a large boulder floating within that sea of white, and beyond that apparently nothing.  "Where the hell are we?" I asked, sounding more scared than I wanted.

"It's my personal recursion," he replied, a hint of sadness in his voice.

I sensed there was something there, and discreetly asked, "What happened to the others?"

He looked at me, and shook his head, "That soulshorn happened. That wasn't the first time it and I crossed paths. This place is all I have left of them. We created on the down low, took time and effort and if the Estate finds out I'll be in deep shit, but its safe and quiet, and now you know about it. So I hope I can trust you to keep it secret."

I nodded, taking in the small world again, from an entirely different non-literal point of view.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Back Issues #7 - The Big Game(s)

Sport and the mass audience. Be it the arena in a fantasy game, a major pro sports event in a modern campaign, or some kind of futuristic sport for a science fiction game, sport has the potential to play a part in your character's background ... but first a word from our sponsors ...

Issue #7: The Big Game(s)
Sport started out as in many cases as martial exercise, both as competition for practice and to determine those most capable; the alpha (male). Over time much of the combative aspects of sports have remained. From football tackles, to the distance and accuracy of a javelin throw, and the obvious combat prowess of boxers, MMA fighters, and martial artists. In America Football is king, and with the possible exception of Hockey, is the most violent of the major professional sports. When one looks at a football stadium, at the number of people, the shape, and the activity within, that of men beating other men physically, it is easy to see the classical influence of the Roman Arena. Violent sport as entertainment for the masses.

What does any of this have to do with RPGs? To answer that we go back to fantasy RPGs and the Gladiatorial Arena.

The arena and gladiators are a possible source of character origins for fighter type characters. A slave who wins his freedom by surviving a number of matches for instance. You characters may find their way into the arena in game as well, perhaps for a crime they didn't commit (or one they did), or as a means of entertaining execution by the campaign's villain. Are you not entertained, indeed. Likewise the characters may use the chaos and crowds at a day of games to carry out the theft of a rare magic item, the assassination of a corrupt noble, or to stage the rescue of a condemned man!

In the modern age things may seem more tricky. After all, we don't have fights to the death, execution by gladiator, exotic animals being slain (or slaying unarmed comdemned criminals). We do have men who's training is as intense as any soldier's. We have boxers and mixed martial artists who are trained to disable and incapacitate their opponents. We have events watched by millions and attended by thousands of people, in the largest of venues more than 100,000 people.

The DC Comics hero Wildcat was/is a boxer. MMA and boxing, football, and rugby, all could contribute valuable combat training to a potential character. Likewise any of the potential game plots above, the theft of an item from a powerful figure, the assassination of a political or business persona, could join with such ideas as high-jacking a country or worldwide signal to use for mass mind control, a terrorist or super villain attack on the crowd, even the potential for game fixing and an effort to exploit or expose such efforts.

Extrapolating into the future allows you to put your own spin on things. What was old is new again. The Running Man and Rollerball both showed a future where televised sports were more and more violent. Deathrace (either of them) and Gamer both show futures where the collateral damage, the death and carnage of hyper-violent sports becomes the next great entertainment event. In a game set in the near or far future it is possible that with advanced medical technology and cloning that hyper-violent sports return, that duels to the death and gladiatorial combat once again becomes the sport of the masses when the damage inflicted can be repaired and healed, and those who fall in future battle sports can be revived and rebuilt.

Soldiers and cyborgs, doctors and and technicians can all be born from the forge of these new sports. Likewise giant robots and their pilots could find their origin in the new high tech extreme sports. There's a movie coming out this yeah called Real Steel about robot boxers/mma fighters. At first the idea may strike as silly but then again just a few years ago Robot Wars was on TV weekly featuring automatons beating the gears out of each other. Where the sport itself is regulated and refereed by computers and sensors the art of fixing and cheating a sporting even can enter the truly high tech. An entire campaign could be run around a hacker who is fixing games and winning an enormous amount of money for himself and his clients.

The next time you are working on a player character, an NPC, or devising the plot for your next gaming session give some thought to how sports may affect your character, your NPC, or the plot of your next session.

How have you used sports in the creation of your characters? How have sports been used in your games?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Story Seed - The Red Scarscape

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"There it is folks." The captain stood up from his command chair.  All eyes on the bridge of the chaos skiff were locked on the view outside however. The usual swirling fractals of the strange were giving way to a dichotomy of uniform chaos. The colors bled from the area forward of the ship until only red remained.  Like some vast boiling flower the Red Scarscape floated amid the tangles of chaos, its crimson roiling surface changing at every moment in geometry but never in color.  Red like blood. The blood of some long dead world.

"The Red Scarscape. Our allies in the Cabal have warned us of the dangers below that roiling surface. As we get closer we'll see bits of structure in that chaotic soup." He looked around at the half dozen men and women around him, the entire crew of his little ship. He took in their trepidation, nervousness, excitement. Each was reacting differently to this mission, and even within the skiff there were signs of alienation starting to set in. Captain Barnes hoped that they would stick it out for the long haul, that they would follow him into chaos and history. "The leadership wanted us to verify this location first and foremost.  We did that, we could leave now and this mission would be successful."

He turned from the screen, putting the gut wrenching sight behind him and addressed his crew directly. "But we can do more. The eggheads want to study this place. The management wants to see if there is anything of value within. Our secondary mission was to locate and identify any potential point stable enough for the Estate to establish a long term scientific outpost. We have stores for weeks yet, and more than enough instrumentation to do that an more.

"My friends, I cannot lead where you will not follow. A leader without men and women to follow him is no leader, he is but a lone individual, capable only of achieving what things can be achieved by an individual. Together we are more than the sum of our individual selves, we can accomplish more together than we can alone, but only if we are all willing, all ready to stay out here longer, to leverage our success for greater gains. I will not require that we stay, but I will ask that we do so. We have a chance here to study a piece of the strange no human has seen before, a chance to show the Foundation just how valuable this ship, her crew, and her mission can be to the Earth."

He took a deep breath, calming his jangling nerves, and hoping that they would follow him now. "So, who's with me?"


Summary - Mankind's first encounter with the Red Scarscape (core book page 224).

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Nuts & Bolts #7 - What it takes to pay the bills.

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Skills are a fundamental part of most RPGs.  They help to define a character's abilities, either generally or specifically, and help to inform the GM where to focus their stories.  Skills can be broad or narrow or even specific, they can be permissive or restrictive.  Skill systems help to define play and speak to the design of the game as a whole.

Let's start with a few definitions:

  • Permissive skill systems - assume that characters are capable and allow characters to attempt any task
  • Restrictive skill systems - assume that some or all skills are impossible to attempt without training
  • Broad skills - skills that pertain to a widely defined abilities such a all technology, combat, all vehicle types, and the like
  • Narrow skills - skills that pertain to specifically defined abilities, often task oriented with skills to cover individual aspects of a broad category such as individual sciences, or breaking ranged combat skills out into pistols, rifles, bows, etc.
  • Open Skills - a subset of broad skills, using a user defined skills rather than an inclusive list

Different systems for skills will lend a different flavor to game play. Broad and permissive systems lend a more heroic feel where characters are very capable and able to overcome any challenge. Narrow and restrictive systems lead to characters with tight focus who can quickly find themselves out of their depth.

Regardless of the skill system of your chosen game selection of skills by the players should help inform the GM of the kinds of stories to tell.  A player who has skills pertaining to espionage will want to use said skills. Often is this little trouble, especially if the scope of the game is laid out for the players during character creation, but if a player chooses skills that may not intersect with the scope of the GM's intent it may signal a potential disconnect between the player and the GM. Such situations are an opportunity to head off player dissatisfaction before it occurs by discussing with the player and recalibrating the game or the players concept accordingly.

Likewise open skill systems afford the opportunity to approach skills differently.  Rather than using task oriented skills an open system can use professions or trade. Having training as a "spy" yields a broad skill base in tasks like cryptography, stealth, surveillance, and the like. This approach is used in 13th Age, allowing characters to have had prior careers before becoming adventurers, and works well to help generate depth to character background while putting their skills and training into a useful context.

Regardless of the skill systems you use, consider how your skills speak to your character, how they inform your character's abilities and what you want to be able to do in game. Even if you don't use careers or professions as skills consider what your character did in the past and what kinds of training this would result in that would filter into the skill system of your game.  Skill may not have the play impact of combat abilities or spells, but they speak as loudly or more so as those traits in defining a character's past.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Story Seed - The Slick

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"The wastes.  Go far enough north and west from Ghan and before you come to the domain of the Gaians there is a stretch of desolate coastline where few creatures and fewer people live. This land is frequented by those of my trade; smugglers, traffickers, spies, and worse. Dangerous though it is this land is the safest path between the Steadfast and Gaian lands. 

"The waters here are murky. Clouded through by a slick oily substance that mixes with the water but does not stick to anything it chokes the fish and other marine life.  Some say that it is a contaminant from a prior age, some poison byproduct of an ancient numenera.  Others say that the slick is itself a form of alien life, one so foreign that it does not register as such to us.  Whatever the slick is, it ensures that the wastes are barren of all but the carcasses of dead sea creatures the withered strands of whatever plant life can filter out the slick, and those of us making trade in coming and going in secret.

"I once made camp in the remains of some great creature.  The cave of its ribs was ample enough for a dozen men, and its skull stood nearly higher than I could reach.  I know not what that poor creature was, but surely it fell foul of the slick and perished in those filthy waters.  The waves saw fit to give the creature a burial on the shores much as it does for other, smaller, creatures of the sea.  As you might surmise the wastes regularly stink of the foul odor rot. 

"The skeleton was gone when I next returned. I know not why. If some person harvested the poor creature's remains they did so with remarkable speed. If the Iron Wind cleansed it from the shores it did not see fit to leave any other evidence of its passage. I suspect that the slick itself, whatever it may be, had some hand in the dissolution of those great remains. I cannot prove it so, but there was a great pool of the material where I believe that the carcass had lain."

"And this is this slick that you speak up?" the aeon priest asked, holding up the small jar, its lid sealed with a numenera I had acquired at great expense.

"Yes, and I think it is spreading."


Summary - To the west and north of the Steadfast an oceanborn blight spreads through the water, killing creatures of the sea, and leaving vast stretches of shore dead and lifeless.