Friday, June 5, 2015

Story Seed - Understanding

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"Is it much farther?"

"No, we're fairly close now. Maybe a mile or three."

The boy frowned, "If it's that close shouldn't we be able to see it?"

"Can you not?" his companion asked. She gestured, "It is there, as surely as your village behind us, or the rune that you carved to prove to me that you were worthy to be my apprentice.

The boy looked down across the rocky slope, scanning for the sorceress' home. He squinted looking for a tower, a home, a cave, something that could be his new mistress' home. All he could see was a rock strewn pasture, no different than any of those that surrounded the village and provided places for their sheep to graze.

"Well, do you see it?" she asked gently. With her face shrouded in the shadow of her red-hooded cloak the boy could not read her expression.

With some reluctance he shook his head. "All I see is are rocks in a field."

"Ah, then fear not, because you see but do not understand, and while I can teach one to understand I know of no being on their earth patient enough to teach the blind to see."

"You need not tease me mistress," the boy replied petulantly.

The sorceress sighed, "I am not teasing you boy, I am trying to teach you a lesson: everything in this world is not always as it appears." She put her hand on his shoulder to stop him, "Behold, and understand that my home has been visible to you since we crested the ridge, you just lack the understanding to know that you are seeing it."

The boy watched she the sorceress took a few steps away from him. She began to speak in a language that he had not heard before, but they he felt was just at the edge of his understanding. Around them both the wind began to pick up, sending their cloaks billowing and rustling. Eldritch energies gathered around the mage's hands as she spoke and with a final word she cast her arms wide sending forth waves of pure magic that washed down into the field. Astonished, the boy watched as the stones rose from their resting places and began to assemble themselves, forming walls and arching doorways, windows and tall columns. Within moments the pasture was empty of rubble and instead occupied by a grand and towering structure.

"Do you understand now what you see?" the sorceress asked.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Nuts & Bolts #35 - Review: Broken Immersion

Want if? Buy it!


Published By: Ryan Chaddock Games • 59 pages • $5.00 (currently $3.00) • Full Color PDF

I'm a little behind in my reviews, both in those solicited and unsolicited, but the only way to do better is to make an effort to clear my plate.

What's In It

Broken Immersion is a supplement for The Strange that adds additional detail to the recursion of Ardeyn. Specifically it looks at Ardeyn's origins as an incomplete MMORPG that was uploaded to the strange as a means of plugging or blocking the "hole" (for lack of a better term) allowing the strange to connect directly to Earth.

The first portion of the product looks at character options. This gets a bit meta since it posits that occasionally a character translates in such a way as to gain access to the "character creation screen" of the recursion, a portion of leftover code from the recursion's initial seed. Discussion on options such as gender, race, and "class" (as a window on foci) follows. This elaboration provides a gateway to the meat of the chapter: new character options.

The first portion provides a handful of new racial options which are neither Descriptor nor Foci and provide Advancement options for players to invest in with experience. It's an interesting approach, but has the potential to get awkward when a player translates away (Do they lose access to that Advancement? Do they take a new one appropriate to the new recursion?). Likewise this does not suggest a similar Advancement option for Quephilim and golem characters. It's a nice addition for an Ardeyn based game, but may not work in a more travel prone campaign.

Following that are five new foci filling traditional MMORPG roles like tanking, support, and DPS. These foci are generally good, though as a person who doesn't play any MMOs I may not be the best judge of their match to those kinds of gameplay experiences.

Chapter two looks at the nature of the "base code" of Ardeyn, and how characters may gain foci that can tap directly into that code and manipulate the recursion fundamentally. This is a really interesting take on the recursion and reminds me much of the nature of the strange itself as an alien computer network itself. Four foci are offered to dive into this concept, much like Manipulates Strange Energy does for the strange itself. Of these four one requires the use of new "code cyphers" introduced later in this book. Another, Alters the Landscape, falls a bit flat in my opinion as the ability to actually change the landscape of the game, by adding removing, or moving features like walls, hills, and the like, isn't granted until 6th tier. The lower level abilities are good, but are based more on sensory abilities and object relationships. It's a good focus, but it could have been "advertised" better.

Chapter four introduces "code" cyphers and some new artifacts to the game. If regular cyphers are bits of the program of the strange network itself, then code cyphers are little bits of the program underlying the formation of Ardeyn. Named after video game console commands these cyphers have effects that mimic or are inspired by game effects like friending, going AFK, and the like. The artifacts are mostly a mix of "game gear" like weapons and armor, but there is an interesting "code based" artifact which deploys an invisible (untextured) wall.

The third chapter contains three examples of sub-recursions that are attached to Ardeyn in the form of "quest areas". These are fully detailed and can be run as an adventure session. I'm not certain if I will even gain the chance to use these (or possibly play them) so I left this chapter unread, and merely flipped through it quickly.

Closing Thoughts

Overall Broken Immersion is a pretty good product. There are a number of very good ideas and interesting implementations of the recursion as MMORPG concept. A few of the entries seem to lack a good connection between idea an execution, and the races will require some additional thought before they can be implemented into a standard game of The Strange. For a game set exclusively on Ardeyn there is a lot of material to mine here.

Score: 80% - A lot of great ideas, though some will be less useful than others to different groups.

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

Monday, June 1, 2015

Story Seed - Choice

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She had lost count at how many steps along the Wandering Walk were behind her. Like many, she had no concept for how many steps lie before her. As a pilgrim along the Walk she existed in a state of limbo; she was not at the beginning, but not at the end, and her progress between the two was unknown and, perhaps, unknowable. Step after step passed under her feet, wore at the soles of her boots, stole moments of her life like a vampire in the night.

The woman struggled to remember her name on the rare occasions that she met others travelers. She worried when they told her they were also on the walk, worried because they were headed in a different direction entirely, or would choose a different path after walking together for an hour, a day, or rarely a week. She knew her path; she knew the path, and she would not waver from it. In the back of her mind a worry seed gnawed at her mind, subconsciously gathering evidence that the Walk did not exist at all, that it was impossible to follow the path because there was no one path to follow. This part of her considered that either the Wandering Walk was truly a personal experience, or that its inscrutable nature was yet another test, and that only by seeing through the deception of the Walk could one find the true path.

The woman stopped and consulted an artifact, whispering prayers to the nano-spirits to ensure that the device would continue working. The small cube displayed a holographic map of the local world, labeling the major features in a shifting script that had taken months to learn. She frowned as the map confirmed that once more she was climbing into the Black Riage. The woman dug back into her memory; she had crossed these mountains five previous times along her Walk. Never by the same path, thankfully, but regardless these mountains were to be an obstacle to her journey once more. Another test of her faith in the Walk.

She found a narrow path cut into the mountains, the way shaped into uneven stones, and began to climb. Time lost meaning for her until she came to a fork in the path. Looking ahead and upward she saw that the path diverged into two stone towers. Their red edifices were unlike the surrounding bedrock, and they held no hint of occupation or purpose. Beyond the towers the paths rejoined each other and continued deeper into the mountain range.

The woman stood, considering the towers, the path, the Walk, and her choices. Left or Right? North, or South (though in such seemingly insignificant deviation)? Like much along the walk she had no knowledge of the purpose of this choice. Would her choice color the walk beyond this point? Was this yet another test in a seemingly unending sequence of challenges? What resolution would this impart to her journey?

Or perhaps there was no query here deeper than left or right. The woman stood, leaning heavily on her staff, and considered the value of the options before her.