Friday, March 20, 2015

Story Seed - The Godking of Spacetime

A note to my readers before we get started: There will be no new post on Monday as I will be taking a little time off for a creative recharge. There may not be a new Nuts & Bolts this coming Tuesday as well, but that's less certain. Worst case routine posting will resume again next Wednesday, best case Tuesday.

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"You feel that?" Marrod asked.

"Feel what?"

"Feels bouncy."

Worrad rolled his eyes, "Bouncy?"

"Yeah, bouncy, like ... I dunno, like the gravity is off." Marrod took a little hop, and landed softly. "See!"

"You're cra- ...zy?" Worrad pointed ahead. Through the narrow ravine they could make out a vast wide valley nestled between the rocky spires. At the far end there was a glimpse of a great white arch, and within it a truly massive statue, easily a hundred feet tall.

"Wow," Marrod said, as he continued forward.  "Worrad! Come look! They're floating!"

Worrad stumbled forward and peered over his brother's shoulder. Sure enough within the valley massive cut blocks of stone floating as though immune to natural forces. With a clearer view he also say that a second partial arch floated in pieces above the first. The entire thing had the air of a half finished project, or a kind of strange study in negative space.

Marrod pulled his brother forward and soon they came to the end of the ravine and stepped out into the valley proper. The could now see the network of sunken trenches that cut through and under the earth. It appeared like a bizarre cross between quarry and holy site.

"You feel that?" Marrod asked again.

"The only thing I feel is nauseous. Something's not right here."

"Yeah, that's what I meant." Marrod took another step forward, and swallowed hard against the feeling of being sick. The archway and its statue seemed very close suddenly. Looking down caused Marrod to reel, his feet looks tiny, like he was far away from them, as though stretched. He turned to speak to his brother and found him far away, a small speck standing near the ravine still.

Worrad bent over, hands on knees, and deliberately breathed in and out trying to calm his tumultuous stomach. He heard a distant voice and looked up to see his brother hundreds of feet away. He shook his head, not sure how long he'd been standing there, and took a step forward.

Marrod gulped as he saw his brother come closer, suddenly looming, towering, over him like a giant. Without thinking about it he stepped back, afraid of being crushed, and found himself seemingly at the foot of the arch. He spun around and found the statue under the arch seemed to be missing. On a hunch he looked up to see that it now towered far above the arch, thousands of feet into the sky. Once more he stumbled backwards in surprise.

Worrad was about to reach for his brother, when he stepped away, disappearing from sight. The nausea was overwhelming now and Worrad couldn't bear to move again; something was twisting their perceptions, and making them feel this way. He looked around, trying to find Marrod, when he felt somebody bump into him from behind. Turning it was his brother, appearing no different than normal.

"Brother, I think we should leave this place," Marrod whispered.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Back Issues #23 - It's The End of the World - Part 5: Post-Apocalypse II

So everything that was has gone all topsy-turvy and ended, but somehow people survived. You've laid out what happened, why it happened, when it happened, and how it happened. Maybe you've detailed the "before times" a little, maybe a lot, but now you are in the shit, you have to lay out what it's like now ...
Issue #23: It's The End of the World - Part 4: Post-Apocalypse II

It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine ... Maybe. Maybe not. Let's find out. I think when it comes to a post apocalypse setting you do need to know what came before, even if only in the barest most general terms. 20th Century Earth. The 12 Colonies of Man. Generic Fantasy World. What have you. Knowing where you came from will help you answer the who, what, when, how and why questions, but also the big three that I think can sum up what you need to address when working on a P-A setting: What Changed? What Stayed the Same? and What's New?

What Changed? and What Stayed the Same?
Two questions, yes, but really the sides of the same coin. As you determine one the other will naturally fall into place. This is going to depend on what your apocalypse was, and how people survived it, as well as how much time has passed since it happened. If your apocalypse was biological it may have left the Earth with time to heal and a renewed ecosystem will be prominent to your setting (unless the bio-threat targeted all life indiscriminately), it's even possible, depending on the time passed, that infrastructure and technology may remain undamaged. If it was destruction and war, chances are pretty good that everything is a blasted and ruined wreck. If magic is involved, things can get very weird rather quickly.

The world itself isn't the only thing to change though. Society, what's left of it, survived and is likely changed by the experience. Survival of the fittest is the natural law here so there are likely to be wild animals, bandits and raiders, and, possibly, pockets of civilization (relative) where people band together. This is something that will follow for any setting. I personally have always thought of Firefly/Serenity as a P-A setting; here you have the core worlds, keeping to "civilization" and technology, you have the outer worlds, where people survive on grit, determination and gumption, and you have Reavers, who follow a sick and twisted "might makes right" philosophy. And all that in space. In this case the "death" of "Earth that was" is the apocalyptic event that happened some unknown time in the past.

Lastly (in a vastly generalized sense) there is likely a change in the tech level, again dependent on the time passed since the apocalypse as well as the starting point. With any significant loss of life there is going to be a commensurate loss of knowledge and loss of manual labor infrastructure. High technology like computers doesn't put food on the table, and after several generations it's possible that such luxuries may be lost entirely in the face of the base struggle to survive. On the opposite end, given a longer time frame a newly reborn society may well be able to quickly advance back to (and possibly beyond) the original tech level by cannibalizing the bones of the dead world.

Resources also fall into this balance. If food is scarce it will become a prize to be taken, or earned. In a world renewed, a veritable restored Garden of Eden, the opposite may prove true, when there is plenty to eat, and drink is easy to find what becomes the status items? What becomes the resource that drives the market?

It's also possible that "the more things change, the more they stay the same." A fantasy world laid low by the Godswar will likely not lose much. Peasants are still peasants after all. A "post Earth" setting is likely to retain much of the space-faring high technology that allowed humanity to flee from their dying home world.

In the same worlds things are going to remain. Human nature is what it is, and even in a trans-humanity type of setting greed, vanity, and the whole spectrum of human flaws are likely to remain. Basic biological needs and imperatives likewise remain, food, shelter, a safe place to sleep, procreation, etc. Outside of settlements and civilization the law of the gun, or "might makes right," will probably rule. Inside towns and cities (such as they are) there will likely remain some semblance of law, possibly actual law, possibly a communal enforcement of "might makes right" in the form of a lawman. Subtle details may change, but the larger themes will not.

What's New?
Superficially anything new is probably something that changed, but that's not always the case, and even if it isn't completely new some things may not ring true as "changes." Mutations, while technically changes, may prove drastic enough to be considered new, and the presence of mutants itself is something new to many P-A settings. Radiation does funny things, but so too can magic, and biotechnology, so there is plenty to work with here.

Entirely new and novel technology or magic may also crop up in the aftermath of an apocalypse. The nuclear war that kicked off things in the Rifts setting gave way to a surge of magic that altered the world immensely. New science like cloning and cybernetics or bionics may come about as a result of a fundamental loss of the ability to procreate (as in he Aeon Flux film). The risk of imminent destruction may spur technology to escape a dying world leading to space travel and FTL, or the creation of large scale space-based biospheres or habitats like O'Neill cylinders, or even Dyson Spheres.

The new can also represent things beyond humanity; an alien species (or many), new gods taking the place of those now dead, and the like. How do these elements interact with the survivors, do aliens prey on our world, taking our time of weakness and exploiting it, or do they come in peace to help rebuild? New Gods, rising from the bones and ashes of their predecessors may demand worship and sacrifice, thirsting for the power that they now hold. Or they might be drawn immediately into infighting with their fellows leaving mortals to make their own way or to be drafted into new service with the promise of protection for their faith.

Setting Idea #1: The Day After Ragnarok
Food still needs to get onto the table. Peasants will still farm, hunt, and trap, while nobles will still war to protect their serfs or make allegiances to form fledgling nations. New gods are gathering power and vying for position among themselves and seeking new worship from Midgard. The effects of the blood of gods and monsters on the land creates new creatures, spawns new magics, and may give rise to new deities. Meanwhile old evils, once guarded against by the old gods are now able to resurface and reclaim power once theirs.

Setting Idea #2: After Magic
Steam. Gunpowder. Steel. Clockworks. With the gods dead and magic gone technology begins its slow rise to replace both magic and faith. Nations once based on powerful magics now find themselves third world countries while those who were always doing without magic are able to adapt quickly (if indeed they even need to adapt) to the changes in the world. New nations form, boundaries move, and craftsmen find themselves with eager patrons where before they had few.

Setting Idea #3: TransHumanity
The nanite plague reshaped the world in fundamental ways. The entire ecosphere reels in the wake of widespread genetic alterations, and the fusion of biological with technological. For two hundred years humankind totters on the edge of the abyss before pulling itself away. Now three species have risen to the top. The Chromed, who embraced the integration of man and machine and continued the process, become near ever-living constructs of robotics and cloned tissue, their minds transferable as data between bodies.

The Naturals, they represent that last of true humanity, having been born out of those who escaped the plague or were improved by it, they represent the apex of the human animal and have mastered genetic manipulation to continue refining the human form. The Deltas; the sliver of plague victims who found that the cure did not entirely disable the nanites. They learned to control the nanomachines within their bodies and were able to integrate them into their physiology. Earth's ecosphere is still a disaster, with techno-organic plant and animal life, chimeras, and even throwbacks having reclaimed much of the world.

Will these questions help you to design your next setting? Can this advice be useful for settings in other genres as well? I tend to think so, but what do you all think?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Story Seed - Off to See the Wizard

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"That's the wizard's tower?" Habiel asked incredulously. He was staring down at the landscape below, but the verdant fields, irregular canyons, and the small farms, they all failed to register in his eye. Instead the young man goggled at the thick finger of stone that rose from the edge of a deep canyon.

It seemed impossibly balanced on a base no larger than a farmhouse, yet the spire quickly broadened to nearly five times that before rising hundreds of feet into the sky. Behind it, like a cape, its shadow undulated across a cow pasture. Most importantly for Habiel though was the cobbled together group of structures hewn from the rock at the very top; the home of the wizard Kholil.

"Yup!" Shara replied, a tinge of smug satisfaction mixing with her natural exuberance. She looked at Habiel in profile, and wondered if he was really going to do it. With a tiny shrug she voiced her question, "You're really going to try and apprentice to Kholil?"  He nodded, but said nothing, eyes still locked on the upraised prominence of stone. "There's no stairs, no ladders, no way up without magic, you know." Again he nodded. Shara sighed, "Well, I guess we'll have to climb it then."

Habiel turned to her suddenly, "We?"

"Of course silly, I didn't save your life and claim you as my betrothed just to let you kill yourself climbing some silly old wizard's tower." She smiled at him, and Habiel wondered once more how his fate had become entwined to such an amazing woman.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Nuts & Bolts #24 - My Top 5 RPG Game Systems

A while back I dropped a list of my five favorite RPG settings. This is going to be like that, but with the purely mechanical side of RPGs. Without further ado, and in no particular order ...
... oh and please note that these are my favorite, but they may not all be the best ...

Cypher System

Yup. No big shock to those who know how, why, and where this blog started. Of course I have written about cypher before, but there's more to it than just the asymmetrical dice system. The simplicity of the system is a huge asset. Its quick to resolve any action, and easy to teach to people. It encourages improv on the part of the GM as much as the players, especially with how easy it is to quickly stat a one-off creature or NPC. The single use cyphers also hit the sweet spot for giving your players some real powerful abilities without tossing the game right out the window into munchkinland.  It's my go-to system right now because I feel like I can best be the GM I want to be with Cypher, more so than with any other system.

13th Age

Another choice that may seem obvious. Funny thing is that I have only ever played 13th Age one time, at GenCon 2014. But that's the thing of it; I like the system for all of the bits that I can steal so easily for other games. The brilliant One Unique Thing, the Escalation Die that can really help speed up combat, the Icons system that helps make your characters central to the machinations of the game world. At this point the fact that I have only ever played four hours of 13th Age is only a minor footnote to me.  The reasons I like the system have nothing to do with how well it plays, but how well it makes other things play. I can't think of a better compliment than to say that a game I don't play is in my top five purely for the innovations I have stolen from it.


OK, some might argue that Fiasco isn't an RPG, but I say screw 'em. It's role playing in a purer form in some ways than any other game. There aren't stats, you can't default to tossing dice to resolve who wins, instead it forces you to play a role and really get into it. It makes you play the game as a story first, and a game second. A lot of more traditional RPGs do their best to try, but they still have mechanics for resolving all the actions and bits and bobs.  Fiasco simply asks what is going to make the best, most screwed up, clusterf--- of a story.

Mutants and Masterminds

This one is an odd one, because its a d20 game, so maybe I like the d20 system, but I don't really. I've also played a lot of both the 2nd and 3rd editions and they both have strong selling points and annoying weaknesses.  When it comes down to it though what makes me love M&M so much, and why it gets on this list across two editions is the power creation mechanics. M&M was my first exposure to a purely effect driven system. The only difference between a blast of fire and a blast of ice is the descriptor (ice or fire) attached to the base effect. Other effects can be used to counter according to their own attached effect. So an ice blast can counter a fire blast, but so too could another fire blast, or water. By paring down a super powers RPG to its basest effects and then allowing players to build their characters up from a common and level starting point it created a supers game where it felt like a super smart mastermind could really hold his own against a paragon like Superman. I don't know if it's the best supers game, but it's the best one I have played.

AGE (The Adventure Game Engine)

AGE isn't perfect. I'd be lying if I tried to say it was. In its current form it has too much baggage trying to ape a CRPG (computer/electronic RPG) to be a truly good pen & paper RPG, but for all its warts it has one of the most fun combat systems I have played in a long time. I wrote about the AGE system's Stunt Mechanics a while back, and I stand by my comments there. I think that it is an innovative and exciting system that allows for spectacular results. That it does all of this on an approximate 42% of rolls simply makes it better. Of course if you throw 13th Age's Escalation Die into the mix you get an even more dramatic effect.


Are these the best 5 game systems out there? Probably not, but at least a couple of them are very good, and a couple more have great parts to them, and all of them have touches of greatness that make them my 5 favorite. Got a favorite of your own that's not on my list? Tell me about it in the comments, maybe I'll kick myself for forgetting it, or maybe I'll have a new reason to check it out.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Story Seed - The Oracle

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He drifted through time. Viewing events real and imagined through dead eyes. Real time feeds of information mixed with his memories, forming a tangled jumble interweaving fact with possibility, the past with the present with the future. Yet somehow when he spoke truth tumbled out amid the flow of words. Truth about the present, the past, and futures yet to come. For those who gathered to listen and record his words he spoke prophecy and revealed mysteries.

The oracle was no longer entirely human. Years of inhaling the hallucinogenic vapors had consumed organs, destroyed bone, and wasted muscle and skin. Implants replaced his lungs, his jaw and throat. Arms and legs were replaced with clumsy steel. Blind now from the vision his eyes were white orbs, vestigial to his role as oracle. Like others before he was confined to a chamber of constant exposure to mind altering substances.

The oracle himself was mad beyond reckoning.Stimulators placed into his cortex ensured that he did not become entirely lost, that he would speak when the people outside (were they his captors? his followers? or were they his family? he could not remember) required his voice and his insights. They applied electricity to his brain, they force coherence where none would be otherwise, and through that the enforced compliance, or provided it. Who could know for certain?

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Last Week Today - Week of March 9-15 2015


Story Seed - The Tree - Discover the truth behind the myth. (my most popular post thus far by way of pluses)


Nuts & Bolts - Icons - Stealing more mechanics from 13th Age.


Story Seed - Rogue Planet - Deep in the strange is a dead world, or is it?


Throwback Thursday - Post Apocalypse - What happens after the world ends?


Story Seed - First - A village girl is thrust into the grasp of destiny.