Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Story Seed - Thanks for Translating

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November 4th, 2013 - After Action Report, Recursion 27.32.XA.001

The above picture ... I cannot even believe that I drew it with my own hands, let alone That I have the memories of seeing it with my own eyes. I say they were my own eyes but who really knows with translations.

Regardless ... this morning we used the Oracle to map a new recursion. As usual the Oracle provided coordinates for translation but little else.  I took my team, Paul and Allison, and with some effort we translated. The world was ... odd. Surprisingly old and well established despite its limited size.  The forest seemed devoid of life at first, and the trees oddly formed. We were surprised to find that we had our Earthly countenance.

After fifteen minutes we were discussing our next steps and putting serious thought to returning home. From appearances we assumed this recursion was dying, the small forest simply being the last remnant of some older and more expansive world.  That is when we heard the sound.

It sounded like a bird, but now, here at home, I recall it sounding more like the "gobble gobble" noises my nieces and nephews make. Then again, given the creature's appearance, I suppose that is indeed what it is. I cannot pretend to understand how this came to be.

Jenkins' best guess is that this recursion was once some ancient place formed during humanity's dawn, and that as the culture that birthed it died out and faded into forgotten history, the recursion began to die off.  At some point, more recently perhaps, though who knows when the practice started or where, the creative spirit of children drawing birds, especially turkeys found this place and altered it.  Without any form of narrative this place became very nearly as two dimensional as the crayon drawings of the strange hand-like birds that influence it, and now inhabit it.

I am thankful that the creatures were docile. I do not want to think of what could have come from an encounter with them had they been hostile.  Jenkins ... the man wants us to send one back through an inapposite gate for study.  I am appealing to the council to close the recursion to visitors. I'll be grateful if I don't even have to see those things again.

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Summary - Sometimes fictional leakage need not come from a single source.  Common myths have been known to blend into singular recursions.  So what then happens to the leakage of so many imaginative minds creating a common cultural form of artwork with a singular theme and form?


As a note, tomorrow is Thanksgiving and so there will be no Throwback Thursday tomorrow, nor a new Story Seed on Friday this week.  Regular posts will resume on Monday. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Nuts & Bolts #9 - We Have Cookies

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Corruption. Whether its a fall to the Dark Side, giving in to the temptations of demonic powers, or succumbing to madness as a price for forbidden knowledge, corruption of the body, mind, and/or soul is a prominent theme in fiction and role playing games. There are many character types in RPGs who have to struggle with (or potentially revel in) corruption from Jedi, to vampires, to the investigators and cultists in games set within the Cthulhu Mythos. Of course there is also moral corruption, but ... that's another column.

Let's start by looking at the potential mechanics involved with role playing characters who are subject to corruption. There are, of course, games that don't deal with mechanics, they leave a character's fall to darkness, or ascent from those same pits, up to pure role play and agreement between GM and player. That can work for some games and for some people, but it doesn't make for a good column about game mechanics.

There are two ways that a character can slide toward corruption, the path of constant struggle, and the slippery slope.  The path of constant struggle assumes that every step down the path of corruption is as difficult (or easy) to resist as the one before it and the one after it.  The character's fall to darkness, mutation, or madness takes place in increments often through their own choices or actions, and they often have every opportunity to stop falling toward corruption. Being exposed to a genetic mutagen requires some kind of resistance check, but no matter how mutated the character becomes the next check is the same as every other.

The slippery slope, on the other hand, is as it sounds, with each step down the line becoming harder to resist and/or easier to trigger.  Perhaps the difficulty of the sanity check increases for each prior failed check, as the character fails more checks the likelihood that they will fail more checks increases. Alternately instead of the resistance checks becoming more difficult they come more frequently. As one's sanity begins to erode more things have the potential to cause your already fractured psyche to reach the point of another break.  And then there are instances where the slippery slope becomes more like "watch that first step" as checks become more frequent and more difficult.

Redemption often follows the same paths. Sometimes the state of a character's corruption is as easy as backtracking, doing the opposite of their prior behavior, and making the same kinds of tests to change themselves back. Whether this is a steady process, an uphill battle (with each step up the path becoming harder), or even a sort of slippery slope where the path to redemption becomes easier over time. Depending on the specifics of the corruption, redemption may also follow a path different from the path down. A path of steady descent may have an uphill climb to redemption. Of course sometimes there is no way back from the darkness.

Depending on the type of corruption there may be player choice involved with regards to a character's movement through that journey. In a post apocalypse game with mutating radiation the players can only do their best to avoid exposure to this radiation, and if they fail to do so they may stumble into mutation.  Users for the Force however have every choice in the direction of their character. While there may be times where succumbing to negative emotions is difficult the character has choice on their side, and the ability to seek redemption.

So why make a choice like tapping into the dark side of the Force, or calling power from demonic sources? Often the answer comes down to risk versus reward. Assuming that the player doesn't have a plan to run their character a certain way then the balance of risk and reward will likely drive a character's path during play.  For the Jedi the reward of the dark side is fast easy power.  The risk is that they will become addicted to that power and seek it out more often. For a user of dark magic the reward is their magic itself, while the risk is increasingly greater degrees of demonic influence, be it mentally or physically as the character starts to become a demon themselves.

Balancing the risk and reward for a choice based form of corruption is important as well.  If the risk is too great and the reward is not commensurate players will be less likely to take the risk.  Likewise if there is reward with little risk then the bite of corruption becomes such that character's will overindulge without consequence. In either of these cases if corruption is meant to be rare or infrequent (or super common) it may be better to remove the mechanics altogether and allow the GM to adjudicate the instances of corruption via role playing alone.

With a good balance between the risk and reward however the players will willingly take the gamble according to their own analysis of that relationship, taking the risks when the rewards will be most able to help them, while refraining from doing so constantly so as to avoid excessive exposure to corruption.

As an example, the White Wolf game Aberrant featured super humans powered by quantum energy, but exposure to excessive quantities of quantum could result in taint and aberrations that altered the character's mind or deformed their body (though some saw these changes not as negatives, but as a sign of transcendance of their human limitation).

The methods for gaining taint, and aberrations, varied but the common theme was that "power corrupts"; characters could purchase powers at a discount by taking taint, thereby making their points (whether at chargen or later with experience) give them more "bang for the buck."  In practice buying powers with taint was often very cost effective and a well balanced reward versus a known risk.  The only downside was that characters who started buying a power with taint did not need to continue doing so.  Combined with the fact that the first few points of taint did not generate any aberrations led some players to always buy a little taint because there were no consequences.

In addition characters could amplify their powers by performing a "power max" driving their abilities to have stronger effects or gain ancillary add ons, like a ranged attack becoming explosive, or a mental attack having the ability to penetrate mental defenses. In theory this was a good mechanic, allowing characters to put extra power behind their effects balanced by a risk of gaining more taint.  Practice however showed that the instance of character's generating taint from such behavior was extremely low, and the taint gained was "temporary" and could be bled prior to becoming permanent.

The result was a system that promised one thing and delivered poorly on it. With players who wanted to play their character's descent into aberrancy being forced to do so a certain way, and posing very little risk to those who wanted to avoid taint, while simultaneously providing a clear and fairly risk free way to "game the system".

In closing, corruption can allow for themes of good and evil, purity and taint, the price of power, and the like to be explored with dramatic, and visible in some cases, signs of a character's state. Using and creating mechanics around such kinds of corruption requires some thought as to the balance of risk versus benefit, and some consideration on how easily characters will fall to corruption, and if they can rise from it and be redeemed and how difficult that journey is.  Corruption isn't for everyone, but for certain kinds of games and certain kinds of players it can lend another layer of depth to role play, while for other games it can be an integral part of the conversion of a fictional world to a playable game.


In other news the blog rolled over 4k views last night.  So I want to extend a heartfelt thank you to all my readers for continually showing me that there is value in my efforts here.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Story Seed - Babel

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"It reaches to the sky it does! Repeatin' smaller an' smaller each time, like ... like some kinda pattern." The boy gestured with his hands trying to indicate the immense size of the object.

The scholar wrinkled his face in doubt, "It looks like a rock." The object at hand did in fact look a little like a rock, though in truth it was fairly obviously a device of unknown technology. "But let's say I believe you, how does it ... open?" The white object was perhaps five feet tall and half as much wide, oblong like some kind of enormous pill.  It was decidedly not infinitely tall and reaching for the heavens.

The boy frowned in return, "You gots ta believe me! It jus' happened on it lonesome.  The water was lappin at the rock an' it just started to grow."  He scratched a filthy arm with dirt encrusted fingers, "T'was a full moon during the day, would that matter?"

"Now we're getting somewhere," the scholar muttered to himself, "Yes, yes indeed, that may well make all the difference..."


The scholar found a small cottage, rented it with trade of services identifying items culled from ruins, or providing healing of the sick, and with his spare time he studied the eastern ocean.  He kept a journal of the high and low tides, of the moon and its phases, and in time he was able to discern when next the full moon would be visible during the day at a time of high tide.


Six years passed before the scholar returned. The boy was a young man now, and he recognized the scholar as the older man rode into town on a strange beast.  He remembered the questions that the scholar had asked and he knew why the man had returned.  He returned once more to the beach, and found the stone, or whatever it was, half buried in sand and wet with the incoming tide. The young man looked to the sky and saw the crescent moon.  In three weeks he suspected that he would see the stone unfurl once more, that alien device reaching upward to the heavens again.