Friday, March 27, 2015

Story Seed - Duel

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I wait in silence.
Birds take flight into the sky.
The stillness returns.

This deserted place, 
a legacy of the past.
A battlefield again. 

My fate, soon to come.
Am I to perish now,
to keep my honor?

He approaches; Death.
Draped in black, warded in bone.
A sword before him.

A rush of swift wind.
Our swords clash rendering sparks,
and soon; dripping blood.

Weakness stills my heart,
We are both defeated now.
The stillness returns.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Back Issues #24 - Revisionist History - Setting the Stage

A shorty this week folks ... Way back in Issue 5 - ok not that far back, but still - I discussed the idea of looking at your character's major life events through a revisionist lens. The same procedure can be, and often is, done for settings for all manner of fiction from literature to RPGs and comics ...

Issue #24: Revisionist History - Setting the Stage

Alternate history is certainly nothing new. Harry Turtledove has made a career of it, and a good one at that. Other authors have dabbled or jumped in as well. Depending on how you choose to approach the material many of the RPGs that we play can count in this genre. Anybody who has played in a DC or Marvel Comics inspired RPG probably has touched on this. Both Marvel and DC have done good business in the comics trade with these stories as well. From DC's Elseworlds line (and stuff that wasn't branded as such but still applies), to Marvel's nearly infamous Age of Apocalypse, the general idea of "What if this happened instead of this?" has been used heavily in fiction.

The central tenant to these stories is usually the change of a single event, or the presence (or absence) of a certain something that wasn't there prior (or is missing now). The Guns of the South posits the result of the Confederates being given AK-47s from the future during the Civil War, and the outcome of that change. Age of Apocalypse posits the Marvel Universe without Professor X. Red Son explores as Soviet raised Superman. There's no hard and fast rules here. Changes can be huge and still have small effects, while smaller ones can wreak gross changes. People that never were, or who survived when they should have died (or vice versa). Wars won by the other combatant, or which were not fought at all. Technology discovered before its time, or later than it ought have been.

The basic questions you need to ask as you work up an alternate history world are much the same as any other. What were things like before. What changed? What is new? What is the status quo and how does that impact society?

Setting Seed #1: Camelot Ascendant
The story of Camelot represented the best of humanity laid low by humanity's inherant weakness and flaws, but what if Lancelot had been able to keep it in his pants? What if Guinevere had been a little more chaste? If Camelot had been strong internally when Morgan le Fey and Mordred attacked it from without would it have stood strong? Over a thousand years later the kingdom of Camelot rules over all of Europe in a golden age.

Setting Seed #2: The United Colonies of America
King George the Third decided to give the American Colonies what they wanted, representation with seats in the parliament. The American Revolution never occurred and the British Empire Expanded west all the way to the Pacific, controlling better than a third of the Western hemisphere. Two hundred and more years later the United Kingdom of the British Isles and America controls or has strong ties with much of the world (retaining India and Australia both as official members of the commonwealth).

Setting Seed #3: Aeon Triumphant
This one is based on White Wolf's old Aeon Trinity RPG line ... Max Mercer man's up and takes care of the Michael Donighal/Dr. Primoris/Divis Mal problem back in the 30's before things can go from bad to worse. The clash between two of the most powerful post-humans in the world saturates the Earth in Telluric energy ensuring that the inspired age will continue for decades or longer. In the late 20th Century there is no N-day and instead Aeon focuses on slowly pulling the world's people together into a united front. The Doyen see this as a problem because while still weak, human stalwarts/proto-novas are both numerous and influential. In the mid twenty-second century Earth is attacked without provocation by the Chromatics under the influence of the Doyen. Humankind has yet to achieve interstellar travel and must now defend their home system from a threat comprised of a primitive race with advanced technology.

Three possible seeds to grow into a new custom setting. Do any of them appeal? Does this kind of exercise make for interesting settings in your mind?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Story Seed - Inevitability

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It felt wrong. The tunnel appeared both infinitely deep and yet flat like a two-dimensional image. From the edge it appeared like a distortion without depth or detail; little more than a heat shimmer. Still, standing before it Henry could feel the tug of some kind of force. It wasn't easily identifiable; it didn't push like a rushing of air, or tug like some kind of gravitic influence, and it seemed utterly ineffectual on inert matter. Henry frowned, it was more like a pull on his mind, as though it was compelling him to defy causality.

He wondered who built it. It certainly wasn't some phenomenon of nature, there were conduits and rings of metal within the gaping wound. Energy played over these, suggesting a compelling force that drove the machinery to inflict this paradox on reality. Henry looked down at the watch in his left hand, and then to the nearly identical one in his right. Nearly identical except for the woven cloth band that was worn and battered by some time in the elements. He had found the watch first, and then the tunnel, which had appeared only after he picked up and examined the watch. He'd have thought little of the coincidence of finding a match to his own had it not been for the engraving on the back; they were identical, right down to the divot he had put in himself with an awl. The watch was his, but looked to have been here for some time.

It was impossible; much like the tunnel that had appeared from nowhere and was visible only from one direction, with no apparent depth. Henry felt the tug of the tunnel, it seemed to be calling to him, compelling him to move closer, to try and enter it, and explore its mysterious length.

"It's a tear in time," a voice said behind him. Henry turned to see a man approaching. He wore a long coat, a wide hat, and sunglasses; Henry thought he looked like somebody trying not to be recognized. "It goes back nearly fifteen years," the man continued.

Henry backed away, unsure of the stranger. "I'm not supposed to talk to people I don't know," he said, thinking of the warning his parents had given him when they moved from their old familiar neighborhood to this new town.

The man laughed, "Yes, I remember saying the same when I was your age." He hunkered down, and took off his glasses and hat; to Henry he looked oddly familiar but he couldn't put a finger on it. "My name is James, what's yours?" he asked.

"That's my dad's man," the boy exclaimed, relaxing a bit now that he could see the stranger's face. It was a kind face he thought, but also a sad face, "Is something wrong mister?"

James considered the question for a moment, "I guess you could say I lost something."

"Want me to help you find it?" the boy asked feeling more at ease. "I already found a watch, though it's weird, it looks just like mine." He offered the battered watch to the man to look at.

James took the watch and regarded its stilled hands and weather worn appearance. He could feel the tugging of the portal, urging him to what needed to be done; what had been done before. "I had a watch just like this when I was your age," he said.


"Yup, even had the same engraving." The older man was now gritting his teeth, fighting the mental force from the tunnel, the force that was compelling him to push the boy into the fissure. He looked at the watch, frozen at 3:44. "What time is it? This one has stopped," he asked gesturing to the worn watch.

"Three forty three," Henry replied slowly peering down at his watch. He felt the odd pull strengthen, but still didn't understand what it was. He looked up to the that he man had come close. He was about to say something when the man shoved him toward the strange tunnel. He stumbled, and fell into its opening, blinding light and numbness washed over him as he seemed to fall forever.

The opening winked out of existence, and the man heaved a heavy sigh. "I'm so sorry, I thought I could stop it, but I realize now that I never had a choice. I couldn't because it had already happened." He looked at his old watch, and thought about the past fifteen years. He wondered what his father and mother would say, if they would recognize him after so many years. Then he laughed, knowing that for them it was not even an hour.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Nuts & Bolts #25 - Microscope

It's no revelation that I like to steal/borrow mechanics from games and apply them to my games of choice. I have written a lot about 13th Age in that regard (and will continue to do so until it is reduced to little more than its d20 core), but there's other games that have mechanics that work well outside of their native games.

Microscope is different though. I don't want to borrow a mechanic from Microscope to apply to Cypher System or AGE, or whatever. Instead I want to just co-opt the whole RPG into the early stages of any planned campaign ... and here's why.

I'm guessing that there's a decent number of people who might read this and not have any idea what Microscope is.  It is an RPG (duh) about building history. It's diceless, cooperative, freeform (to an extent), improvisational, and scalable. But that still doesn't tell you what it does. A session of Microscope creates a world. Yes, a world, and that is why it is one I would co-opt for use as I started a campaign.

When you play Microscope the group creates a timeline of a world, a setting, and as each turn unfolds more detail is added, more facts are revealed, and more events are laid out. You start with a concept, a "big picture", a broad block of time that could be rather broad, or rather narrow, depending on your preference, and then create periods of time within that big picture. The nature of Microscope is fractal, much in the way FATE is, and so within those periods you will define events, and within those events you will create scenes.

The game is scalable, so if you only play a single session and go around the table three times you will likely have a good amount of information to work with, but you could just as easily go on to play another dozen sessions, adding to and refining the session to a high degree. Regardless of how detailed you decide to go the people playing have a direct hand on the history and structure of the world you create, and that is why I think its perfect for use as part of an RPG campaign.

Often GMs want to build a new world, one where they can control who did what and when and where. That's great, but it can lead to problems down the road during play. The GM has put a lot of effort and time into their world  and is probably rather heavily invested in their setting; they may even be a little too attached to it as a result. Conversely the players are only as knowledgeable as what they are given to read by the GM or what they can gain from discussion. This can mean that the GM is far more invested in the game than the players are.

By using a game like Microscope to create the game world and its history with your players you will be able to gain a great deal without losing out on the best part of custom settings; the fact that you "own" them. Using Microscope will help spread the workload out among the whole group. This will require some degree of compromise up front, and a willingness to relinquish absolute control, but you will gain players who have more investment in the game world (literally in this case), and you will allow them the chance to add or remove facets of the world that will interest them (or disinterest them). Likewise they will be able to help steer the setting history in ways they find interesting, they will have a good solid understanding of the world, and will (hopefully) be that much more excited to play in the resulting world.

It also helps that the creation of your new world will be a process of game play and not game design. You and your group will hopefully enjoy the experience of building your world as much as you will playing in it.

If you want to check out Microscope, its available through DriveThruRPG for a mere $10. In print I have seen it on Amazon for under $20. I highly recommend it, not just for use as a campaign word creator, but because it is a great game in its own right.