Friday, December 5, 2014

Story Seed - Incursion

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"Wow, this place is a dump!"

"Cut the chatter, Miller. Everybody keep your eyes open, and spread out. Jones, any idea where this thing is?" Smith swept his submachine gun across the room, surveying what had once been a lobby as his team flanked out to either side.

Smith, a tall thin woman peered at the tablet in he hands, "Readings are continuing to climb. Triangulation suggests that the incursion point will be ... on the fourth floor." She raised her head and looked around, adjusting the SMG danging from her harness in a tactical sling.  "I'd estimate we have five to ten minutes.  When do the heavies arrive?"

Kent grunted dismissively, "Fifteen at best, so we have to hold the gate at least five I guess."

Miller's voice came over the radio, "Elevator is busted, looks like somebody cut the cables or something."

Johnson, the fourth member of the team, and easily the most taciturn, checked in next. "El-tee, the stairs are clear, aside from the reek of piss and vomit." He sounded bored.

"Hold tight Johnson, we're coming to you.  Miller, sweep the back, check if there's a second stairwell." Kent nodded to Smith and the pair made for Johnson's position, their footfalls crunching on dirt and pieces of broken tile and glass.

At one point the building had been a nice small office building.  Like so many others in Detroit it was now an empty shell, abandoned for years, and target for scavengers looking for copper and steel to sell at scrap yards. Kent and Johnson moved up the stairs, leaving Smith at the door until Miller reported in or joined her. The stairwell smelled worse than Johnson had described, clearly at one point this building had been occupied by squatters, and the stairs had been the toilet.

The second floor was cleared and Miller confirmed that the other stairs were inaccessible, somebody had apparent barricaded the door from the inside. The team continued to the third floor, staggered advancement, clearing the way entirely before moving upward.  It took nearly all of the ten minutes to clear the first three floors of the building.

The fourth floor was not empty.  In the center of a haphazard pile-up of abandoned desks a crackling semi-sphere of energy pulsed, discharging electrical bolts at random.

"Holy crap," Smith said, looking not at her tablet but the gold crucifix on a chain she wore, it was floating in mid air, pulled taut on the chain by gravity fluctuations.  "This is ... really bad."

"No shit," Miller said from the back, still keeping and eye down the stairs.

"Where's this sand coming from?" Kent asked as he carefully advanced. A sudden flare of electricity stopped him short and a blast of fine particulate from the sphere suddenly pelted the group.

"That's not sand boss, its whatever is trying to come through that unstable gate!" Smith was hunkered down, tapping away at her tablet, "We need to close that ASAP, before whoever or whatever is on the other side figures out how to lock it down."


Summary - in the urban ruins of Detroit a portal to some other world begins to open, leaving a small team to either close it or deal with whatever comes through...

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Back Issues #10 - Do I Know You?

When people think of Fantasy RPGs probably one of the first things to pop into their minds are elves. Then Dwarfs, wizards, maybe orcs (or orks if you prefer), goblins. Dragons probably make an appearance in there. The list goes on and on. In general though these things all have a certain set familiar traits; Eleves are long lived and pretty, dwarfs are short and hardy, orks are brutish and powerful. This provides a commonality that allows the gamer to have touchstones that are instantly familiar. I say we throw that out the window ... 

Issue #10: Do I Know You?

The Ork (or Orc, if one prefers), is a well known, much maligned, staple of the genre. Regardless of the game they tend to be stronger than a man, often less intelligent, and primitive or savage. Many are green skinned, which is a trait that sets them further apart from humans, elves, dwarfs, gnomes, etc. The stock art for an Ork depicts them with pointed ears, over sized lower canines that thrust out of a jutting lower jaw, and of course a thick frame heavy with muscle. Basically that picture over to the right.

Now we say we want to give a new spin to the Ork. We want to make something old and familiar, new and, if not novel the at least, different. This requires we make changes to the standard. Physically we have three primary traits, skin color, build, and facial structure (which we could further break down if desired). We also have two primary behavioral traits, being of limited intelligence, and being primitive.

We want to change things but maintain a certain level of familiar recognizability. As such we have to be careful with changes to the physical aspects lest we end up with a race that is no longer Ork. We could leave their appearance the same and change only their cultural and mental aspects, but if we're going to make changes, let's make some changes. We want to keep the general appearance of the face, the heavy brow, the jaw, the tusks, the ears, so that leaves the other physical aspects. We change the hue of the skin from a medium green to a mahogany brown, with traces of darker, chestnut brown veins below the skin. We also alter the traditional black hair color to a deep rust red, as it will serve the race well in its new forest habitat. The tusks we de-emphasize slightly, and we likewise reduce the often seen heavy brow and jutting jaw, keeping the general Orkish features but making them less savage. Next we address the Ork's build. We do away with the often seen barrel chest, giving them a more human like body proportion. That done we have a creature that still looks like an Ork, but is clearly different.

Doing away with their low intellect and primitive or barbaric lifestyle comes next. We give them a more human standard level of intelligence but add to it a strong will that couples with their hardly physical nature. Orks are a resilient lot, and so should be mentally as well as physically. For a Fantasy game we also give them an affinity for making things. Not stone or ironwork (as would normally be the providence of dwarfs), nor magic (as would be the domain of many an elf), but instead we gift them with an affinity for woodworking and agriculture. From savages to carpenters and farmers. Initially these Orks would live in and around forests, near clearings and plains, and with time their settlements would grow along these boundaries that define their lives.

Being farmers and craftsmen also implies now that the traditional warlike attitude is replaced by village and city building, and trading. Further we can assume that in time they would likely become adept with weapons appropriate to their culture, axes, hammers, teethed & bladed weapons, and scythes are all likely to be hallmarks of the now forming "Wood Ork". They would also likely be known for the high quality of their bow and crossbow weapons (though perhaps not for their marksmanship).

...and that's it; we now have a race that would, if inserted into an otherwise "standard" fantasy milieu, would fit in well with humans and their allies. An Orkish race that while bearing a vague physical resemblance is now quite different from the expected standard.

What do you folks think? Is this a race that you would be interested in playing in a game, or is this instead too different from the classic Ork? What would you change to make the races of a custom fantasy setting new and exciting?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Story Seed - Birth

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"What do you think they are?" Girn asked, standing some distance away from the half buried spheres and keeping an eye out.

Jollo shrugged poking at one of the stone balls with his staff, "No clue."

"If you two could be quiet, I can investigate," Ipun retorted, irritated at his companions' banter.  The nano was crouched near the sphere farthest from the piled group of them.  He had a book open in one hand and was inspecting the thing with a magnifying glass, primitive, but it wouldn't deplete like some of the nicer alternatives.

Jollo and Girn exchanged exasperated looked and returned to poking the sphere with a stick and keeping watch, respectively. Ipun shook his head and flipped to a different section, comparing the swirling patterns on the rock to the notes in his book.  Nothing was matching, whatever these were he had no record of anything like it.  "Nothing," he muttered snapping the book shut.  "I'm going to try a Scan," he announced, "if that doesn't work let's just move on."

Reaching out with his mind Ipun tapped into the countless micro-machines in the air around him and tasked them with retrieving data about the sphere.  The others looked on as he reached out to the object, holding his hand out just above its surface.  After a moment he frowned, "It's alive?"

"That a question or a statement?" Girn asked, pointing his heavy crossbow at the rocky orb.

"Both," Girn replied back, "My scan tells me this is life, but my eyes and experience tell me it's a rock."

"Let's smash it open!" offered Jollo, already growing bored with this discovery.

"No!" the others said as one, evidence that on rare occasion they did both agree.  "What do you think Girn, is it some kind of egg?"

"Could be," the nano replied, "but I can't penetrate its shell with what I have here."  He tried to stand up but his knees were sore from the prolonged crouch and his balance tipped him forward.  His outstretched hand easily found the orb's surface, preventing him from toppling over.  "Ow!" he cried, tearing his hand away from the object and righting himself quickly, "Cut myself."  He looked at his hand, a small cut on the meat of his palm was bleeding.  He used a clean cloth to apply pressure and wrapped a length of cord around it.

"Let's go, we can check them out again on the way back," Jollo suggested.  The others agreed, they had little other options to investigate the stones anyways.

They were less than a dozen meters away when they heard the crack of stone breaking.  Looking back they saw the sphere broken, and a wet pink arm, reaching out toward the light. The head that followed it was Girn's spitting image.


Summary - Not all life appears as we expect.  Three adventurers stop to investigate what seem to be stone balls only to find that they are a most peculiar form of life indeed.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Review - Translation Codex

Want it? Buy it!


Published By: Ryan Chaddock Games • 142 pages • $8.00 (currently $5.00) • Full Color PDF

What's In It

The Translation Codex is the first third party supplement for The Strange. It's fitting that for a game based around traveling to different worlds and assuming new abilities for each that the Translation Codex features one hundred new Foci for GMs and players to use. Of course it goes without saying that any fan of Numenera, or any other game using the Cypher System, could use this product to greatly expand the core offerings of Foci for player characters.

From the outset the presentation shows a great deal of forethought.  The product is broken into sections of major themes, from paranormal to earthly and more, allowing the GM to quickly find like foci for use with a given recursion.  Each foci is formatted for a single page, ensuring that they can easily be printed for use at a table. Chapters also contain a one piece piece of short fiction and a handful of short recursion ideas. Each recursion is only given half a page worth of space and so detail is light, but given that this product isn't geared toward recursions the light detail can be forgiven.

Rather than traditional artwork each foci has an icon, similar in style to the kind of line art one sees on safety signs, and presented in a color that ties it with the themed section to which it belongs.  This is an interesting choice, but the art doesn't always sell the foci as well as traditional artwork would.  These icons also pose one of the few sore spots in my mind.  The oddly shaped icons, are usually placed between the two column layout with text wrapped around them.  This results in strange line breaks and a great deal of hyphenated words broken across lines and spaces to accommodate the icons. The focus "Follows the Old Ways" is by far the most guilty in this regard, with the focus' symbol, a crooked staff, being placed in the center of the left hand column, breaking two paragraphs into difficult to read split columns.

But how are the actual foci? Split into five major themes and five minor themes the foci cover a lot of ground thematically. The writing is quite good and with a few exceptions each foci had well balanced Tier 1 offerings.  It gets more difficult to assess the utility of the focus powers from higher tiers but none of the foci seemed overly strong or weak. A number of the foci utilized the long term benefits available for purchase with experience as part of their advancement.  Gaining a contact or wealth is a nice reward and works well within the foci that utilize such benefits to deepen the thematic tie between mechanics, character, and gameplay.

Of course in any such collection of foci there will be those that stand out and make people want to play them.  For my part, I was delighted to see "Brandishes a Death Ray" most of all due to prior gaming experiences.  Meanwhile foci like "Bears a Holy Symbol," "Just Won't Die," and "Dies" (yes, you read that right) are all standouts that I would like to try in future games. The foci also go a long way toward showing the flexibility of the Cypher System, with entries like "Dons a Power Suit", "Controls Weather", and "Wields Cosmic Power" showing that the Cypher System could host a superheroes game as easily as it can low fantasy and high concept science fiction.

Closing Thoughts

One of the most common complaints I have heard about The Strange since launch is that the number of available foci within the game is small when split across the three major recursions.  With the release of The Translation Codex that shouldn't continue to be a problem.  Containing one hundred new foci this third party supplement ensures that GMs and players will have access to a wealth of foci for nearly any recursion they could hope to visit.  Some formatting issues do create some clumsy word and/or line breaks, but only in rare cases is this more than an annoyance.  The quality, variety, and number of foci this product provides more than make this product a worthwhile (and value packed) addition to Cypher System games.

Score: 90% - A fine addition to the Strange (or any game using the Cypher system).

Author's note: A complimentary review copy of this product was provided for the purposes of this review.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Story Seed - Divergent History

Summary/Intro - Something different today. I wrote this with another piece of art in mind and then came up with a better story for that and scrapped this.  That art became the "Monument" Story Seed from a couple weeks ago.

Ultimately I really like this little bit I wrote, it's a journal entry from early in Ardeyn's history.  Written by one of the first denizens to gain the spark, it's a glimpse of how a self aware creature may view the growth and change a recursion goes through over time.  In Ardeyn's case of course it grew rather rapidly and within a kind of time dilation bubble due to the circumstances of its creation.

At any rate, it's a short piece, but I hope you all enjoy it and it get's your mind going as to how the spark might lead cultures and people in a recursion to deviate from the creator's original whims and intent.


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I have walked to the edge of the world. I have looked over the drop where the badlands end, where the chaos beyond the world can be seen, during the day it becomes harder, the sun washing it from the sky at times, but it is there, beyond our sun, our moons, our stars.  A realm that we do not yet understand.

In the badlands, things fall from this other realm like rain at times.  Creatures from beyond invade our world, seeking their own ends, or to serve the Betrayer, or even the Sinner. Treasures too fall from the sky.  Potent magicks that defy understanding and are consumed in a single use. These treasures are a mystery and yet they drive a burgeoning economy of treasure seekers for the crown and for its enemies.

But stranger still is that the world is subtly, quietly, growing. I have observed this well, though days, weeks, months, and even years of careful study and record keeping.  The land itself gains an inch here, a hand's breadth there; sometimes in as little as a few hours. The rate is inconsistent, or follows a pattern I cannot fully see to study.  All I can determine is that our world is growing, like some kind of living thing. I can only pray that it is the Sinner's prison that grows and not the Sinner himself.

Stranger still was the monument.  To the far south, in the borderlands of Kryzoreth, I found a monument that had not been there during my visit ten years prior.  It was worn and weathered and clearly originated from the Age of Myth, but my maps and notes were thorough and clear; I had not seen it before.  The monument and the ground it stood on had not existed prior. The villagers nearby spoke of it as though it had stood for years beyond memory.  I do not understand what this means, but I wonder if the Maker's influence still touches our world.

 - Excerpt from the blasphemous writings of Kurn'al the Learned, circa 297 AB