Friday, May 22, 2015

Story Seed - Life From Death

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The remains of the city were quiet. The only sounds came from the whistling of the wind through the canyon streets as it blew across the broken windows of the buildings. Those buildings, their broken facades grinning like skulls or slumping into the streets in defeat, were a potential source for all manner of pre-war tech. A lucky scav might find a working domestibot, or a high capacity fuel cell that still functioned. Far more common were the bits and pieces of broken tech that could be salvaged. A good techsmith could turn junk in any number of useful items, and they were always in need of parts.

Kcal lifted the small EMF scanner and flipped the toggle. There was a low hum as the green display brightened, showing distance rings around a central bright dot. She waved the device about for a few minutes, but got no response. With a click she snapped the toggle back down to conserve power. With no active power sources in the area she wasn't going to score any functional tech, but she also wouldn't need to worry about any warbots left over from the Scorch. She hoisted her pack up onto her shoulders and looked to the intersection ahead. She could move down either of the side streets, or continue down this main avenue.

Kcal made her choice and started forward, picking her way around the larger pieces of rubble and debris, and keeping her eyes roving and her ears alert for trouble. The crunching of her boots was quiet, and could only barely be heard above the sound of the wind. She turned left and started down a wide street littered with the metal hulks of burned out autos. Their metal had the tell tale twisted and melted look of a plasma bomb. Some part of the back of her mind thought they looked like wax. Thankfully the plasma weaponry didn't leave any bones, so she didn't need to see the dead. Up ahead she could see an open space to the right, a plaza of some kind she thought and she made her way towards it. The plaza would make for a good base point to search from.

As she got closer Kcal could see that the plaza was broken, the sythstone cracked and buckled from some long ago impact. Curious she hurried forward hoping to find a downed combat drone, or possibly even an aerial fighter. Instead, as Kcal entered the plaza she was confronted with a large sphere partially embedded into the broken synthstone. It looked like an undetonated plasma bomb, probably dropped at the same time as the others that had slagged the street and the autos. Atop the crumpled weapon a tree grew out of the broken casing, its roots twining around and into the weapon and down into the earth between the cracked paving. All around the object short grasses grew, healthier and more vibrant here than elsewhere in the city or beyond.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Nuts & Bolts #33 - Guest Starring the Return of the Previously On...

You have probably seen it in TV, maybe read it in comics, or a book series, maybe even in some movies; the character who keeps coming back. They aren't a regular, they certainly aren't often around to be a supporting cast, but they crop up just the same. In RPG terms callbacks are when an NPC, be they a friendly or an enemy, show up in a later session. This isn't the same as an NPC who is in every session however, that's more like supporting cast; callbacks are when the special guest star comes back for an episode. 

Sometimes it's a rare example of a long pay off, other times it's a favorite character who comes in and out of the narrative, but who is gone far more often than they are around. Sometimes with time they start to show up more frequently, getting upgraded to the next higher level of recurrence, other times they only make a single return to pay off the very reason they were inserted into the story previously. Obviously if your big plot is "defeat evil guy" then said evil guy should probably show himself, mock and deride the player characters, and possibly defeat them one or more times. This builds up the animosity and makes what may have been an impersonal quest a very much personal one. It also helps establish the character of the evil guy, their strengths and weaknesses, this will allow the players to more organically find their "secret weapon" for defeating the evil guy.

It works for heroic NPCs as well. A knight who requests the player's aid from time to time can eventually become an ally that they can call on to help them later. A scholar that has provided much wisdom and hidden knowledge can later call in a favor and give you a solid plot hook for a story. Call backs also allow for the setting to become a little more real. Unless the characters are literally making a constant path that never doubles back it is unlikely that they will never encounter significant personages again. This can even be used for humorous effect if the players are always encountering the same traveling bard or peddler. That seemingly minor NPC can later be revealed as something else if you so desire; an agent for the evil guy, or a divine being interested in ensuring the success of the characters' quests.

Needless to say I find callbacks to be very useful for long term plots.

Callbacks don't have to be used for just characters however. Items and places, even events, can be used to connect plots between "episodes." An important relic that the character's rescued for an NPC may prove to be the only weapon capable of defeating an enemy. A dungeon (or equivalent) that started a long quest and was seemingly fully explored may turn out to have only been the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

Overall I find the technique invaluable to building a better narrative, one that engages the players and helps them to care about no just their character and the loot they have amassed. It helps to make their previous efforts in changing the world feel real, and their previous explorations carry more impact beyond that of the tabletop equivalent of a procedurally created dungeon. And when it comes down to the loot, well it helps to make the loot special as well. Whether it's the lightly enchanted weapon that was more powerful than they previously knew, or it's the dangerous item whose sale later comes back to haunt the PCs when it is used on innocents or even they themselves.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Announcement and Giveaway!

Hello all! You have all hopefully already heard about the release of the first issue of the CypherCaster Magazine, a fan-made e-'zine for Numenera and The Strange (and really all Cypher System Products). That's a shot of the cover right there by the immensely talented +Jeff Brown (aint it awesome).

What you may not know is that I contributed several pages of material based on and expanding on my Story Seed The Tree from earlier this year (the text of The Tree is included as well). These pages are an additional series of field reports regarding the related recursion cluster inspired by Norse myth and presented on Estate letterhead suitable for printing and using as player handouts in your game in addition to their value as inspiration.

To celebrate my first published work and the first issue of the CypherCaster I would like to give a copy away. If you'd like to win a copy of the magazine please send an email to inspstrikes[at]gmail[dot]com (with the [at] and the [dot] replaced with an @ and a . respectively), with the subject "CypherCaster Celebration Contest". Entry deadline is 11:59pm (23:59) on Tuesday 26 May 2015. I'll randomly determine a winner from the entries and have a code for a free copy sent out to you next week.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Story Seed - The Golden Keyhole

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The city's wall was unbelievable to the eye. Two thousand vertical paces of worked stone running nearly ten leagues in length to encircle the great fortress of Kel'za'moon. As if sheer size was not enough to impress and earn the Unbreachable City its name the design of the massive edifice was even more cunning. The walls sat flush with a great circular chasm cut into the bedrock of the plains themselves. Dropping a thousand paces straight down and nearly five hundred across the cut made it impossible for attacking forces to approach the city in any way but for the found great causeways.

The narrow causeways each entered the city at a tall gate that looked much like a keyhole, and the people had taken to referring to them as such. The Golden Keyhole exited the city to the southwest and each evening was bathed in the golden light of sunset as it washed over the plains and painted the walls the color of ripe wheat.

Jeddika crossed the causeway, approaching the gate as the sunlight lit it in a great slash of bright color. She was suitably cowed by the view over the edge of the stone walk and the imposing height of the gate and the walls. Up close Jeddika could see that the walls were not simply stone, but were cunningly painted and worked with shallow carvings that lent texture and color to what could have been a featureless fortification. She clutched at her meagre possessions; a book that she could not read, given to her by the village seeress, a staff of maple, spalted through with black lines like some kind of mystic writing, a gift from the magister, and around her neck the simple amulet that her parents had given her. Aside from a small pack of extra clothing and some travel rations she was all but penniless.

She paused, looking back, across the causeway, across the plains, into the golden aura of the setting sun. Jeddika knew not what lay for her beyond these walls. She took a deep breath, and turned back to the city, turning away from her old life and striding forward to an unknown future.