Friday, August 14, 2015

Story Seed - Outsider

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One last (?) post inspired by +Monte Cook Games current Kickstarter Into the Ninth World.  The third book in the line is going to be called (at least for now) Into the Outside, and will deal with other dimensions that the prior worlds connected to/created/invaded/etc. I'm probably most excited for Into the Night, but Into the Outside is easily 2nd on that list, as I think this book will have the most room for the folks at MCG to really go wild!  #NinthWorldKS


The chime jingled and I looked up from my ledger. The figure that entered my small shop was dressed in swaths of silk and brocade. Gloves pulled up to mid arm were snug on the figure's hands, and the loose and billowing legs and sleeves of their outfit were subtly quilted. A shapeless hat sat atop the figure's head which itself was further swaddled in a close fitting hood. Even the figure's face was covered, today by a mask of fine porcelain with features that were androgynous. Never once since meeting Veress had I seen even a hint of skin, hair, or other. Always when meeting with Veress the being - for I could not discern what species or sex Veress was a member of - was completely enrobed and covered.

"Veress!" I cried out excitedly. "How fares my favorite client this day?" I could not read Veress in any meaningful way, but I was truly excited because no other client seemed to be as bottomless a coin purse as Veress. I had long since ceased to feel any remorse for the exorbitant sums that I charged Veress; never once had this particular customer argued or haggled with me over price, and always I was paid as agreed.

"I am well Owan. Have you acquired the item I commissioned?" Veress' voice was disconcertingly flat and devoid of indicative pitch or timbre. I felt the flesh of my arms rise into barmskin as it always did; something about Veress' voice just didn't sit well with me.

"Indeed I do! Indeed I do!" I replied, happy both to be rid of the dangerous device and to recieve my considerable payment. "Allow me a moment and I shall return with it." I bowed toward the motionless and expressionless figure before moving into the back room of my shop. The object Veress wanted was a strange fusion of mechanics and biology; some kind of hybrid heart and power core. I had paid a group of hunters a hefty sum for the device, culled as it was from the chest of a callerail.

I came shuffling back into the shop proper and set the heavy device onto the counter. Veress leaned forward, bending at the waist, and inspected the device. "Cost a shiny shin to get one of these. Callerail are dangerous creatures, but my team managed to take one down without damaging this ... umm, whatever this is."

"It is a power regulating device," Veress said while straightening. "And it is as requested; your people did well."

I noted the odd way that Veress said "people," but I had other concerns to worry about. "What will you be needing next?" I asked, momentarily delaying the payment portion of the transaction in favor for setting up the next item to acquire for my strange client.

"I will require nothing more. This device will complete my work." Veress reached into the swadling robes and produced a small sack. The mysterious figure placed the payment onto my counter and indicated it, "Your payment as agreed." Veress began to pick up the regulator to leave.

So matter of fact; so dismissive, if not condescending. My curiosity suddenly seized the reins and got the better of me. "Wait. That's it? After six months of mysterious requests and strange hunts for exotic devices? Why have you been gathering all these things? Who are you? Why do you keep yourself so hidden?"

Veress paused, head tilting to the side slightly like a seskii. "You have never asked questions such as these before. I am surprised that do so now." The figure seemed to consider it for a moment while I struggled for a response. "Very well. The devices I have requested have been crucial components for an item of ..." Veress trailed off as though searching for a word, something else I had never seen. "A piece of the numenera, as your people call it, that will render a opening to my home so that I may return to my people."

Veress stepped forward and set the regulator down once more. "I am Veress of the urnirvoringend, and I keep myself concealed for your protection."

I blustered and finally found my words, "Please, if this is truly our last meeting let me see what you look like, I have never seen or heard of the urnivorgend."

"Urnirvoringend," the alien replied, correcting my mispronunciation. It paused again and then reached up to remove its mask. What I saw there was indescribable. Even now I cannot bring my mind to bear on the memory, only on the sensation of that memory. I know that what I looked upon was not of this world or any of those worlds that shone in the night sky. Veress was as alien to our reality as the numenera is advanced compared to a horse cart, or a simple oil lamp. More, its visage was ... unfathomable."


The old man fell silent. The aeon priest finished his notes and checked on the recording device. The quiet sound of charcoal on paper and the crackling of the fire were all the broke the silence. "And that was what caused-"

The old man nodded, "That sight blinded me, and that sight is why I have not slept soundly in forty years. It was no sight that any man should see."

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Nuts & Bolts #44 - Hacking, but not slashing.

I can only assume this made sense to somebody...

Back in early December I wrote a blog discussing some of the considerations that bore thinking about when applying a new skin onto an existing game system (The New Skin). This blog is the flip-side of the coin, making actual mechanical changes to a game to alter the genre, feel, or tone.


In my blog about re-skinning games I basically tackled the idea that sometimes you want to play in one setting, but use the mechanics from another setting, mechanics that you prefer or feel will be better for the game and setting. Assuming you aim to do the least work possible and change nothing but what things are called, I discussed how choosing mechanics for the right tone, look, feel, and gameplay style you want all influence how the final game will come together.

Of course reskinning things isn't always so easy, and many times it requires some adjustment of mechanics. It's my opinion that once you start to tinker with mechanics you exit the realm of re-skinning and start to enter the realm of hacking.

Let's take the example of using fantasy game's mechanics for use with a science fiction setting & genre.  There are a multitude of challenges involved to take a game between genres. Some archetypes will transfer over without issue; warriors types probably won't require heavy mechanical rework, aside from adding in abilities for use with guns, but making a cleric or wizard feel like a psychic or somebody who uses nanotechnlogy (or something else exotic) will.

Those others will require a great deal of work; magic is a staple in the fantasy genre and fantasy games often have robust magical systems for those kinds of characters. In a science fiction game those magic systems may require a great deal of work to fit into the genre. Assuming that your setting doesn't afford you the use of psionics, nanotechnology, or mass-to-energy conversion, magic may even need to be dropped entirely. This is where hacking starts to happen.

Generally speaking I think that my two salient points from the discussion on re-skinning also apply when hacking a game:
Game mechanics have a certain "feel" to them.
Finding the correct feel for a game comes down to two aspects: genre and tone.
Unless you really plan to dig deep and change a lot of the core mechanics (in which case maybe you have left hacking and entered the realm of game design), you will probably be making minor or moderate changes that alter the way the game feels to better match your designed endpoint; that is, to better match the feel, genre, and tone.

Taking a fairly stock fantasy system and tweaking it to feel more like a dark fantasy game (a tonal shift and possibly a genre one depending) may mean something as simple as adding a check to spell casting. Success on the check casts the spell as normal, failure may mean corruption. It could also entail adding some aspect of psychological damage. Neither is a major alteration or addition to the rules but they change the feel of the mechanics to closer match "dark fantasy." 

More moderate changes may mean adding or removing an entire mechanic. It may also require some additional modifications to impacted secondary factors. As an example: making D&D, which is fairly high fantasy, work for a low fantasy setting may involve simply removing most spellcasting. This has a pretty significant effect on how the game will play, with some classes and creatures changing how they play in major ways. A wizard without spellcasting, limited only to rituals and any items they can enchant, may suddenly become unplayable without modification to attack ability and health. 

The trick with these kinds of changes is ensuring that a) you get what you want and b) you don't damage things with your inclusions or exclusions. Adding corruption to arcane spellcasters isn't a huge change, but removing all spell casting to better emulate a low fantasy feel will have potential aftereffects that you may or may not see ahead of time. A good way to try and spot that during the planning stages is to ask yourself "And then what?" When you answer that question try to think about what that change will impact. Alternately you can look at this from the other side by asking "Why?" Regardless of which direction you take ask that question at least three to five times to really dig to the root of what you are doing.

I want to make a low fantasy version of D&D so I'm going to remove all spellcasting.  Why? Because in low fantasy wizards seldom wield flashy direct magic effects, their powers are more subtle and often more arcane. Why? The rarity or difficulty of magic means that wizards want to cultivate an air of mystery to help compensate for the fact that their magic is difficult and subtle. Why? In the low fantasy genre power is harder to gain, and more tricky to hold on to, a wizard who makes too much of an impression will gain rivals and enemies.

By answering the questions you help yourself understand what you are trying to get at. You may also see that removing spellcasting won't solve the problem. What you really want is a way to make spells rarer and less frequently cast, but also have magic still retain the power and utility that makes it worth pursuing. As a result maybe you will decide to allow only certain spell schools, and reduce the number of spells granted (or mana to cast spells from), but conversely increase the power of those spells to compensate. Suddenly a wizard who can cast dozens of magic missiles per day can only do so twice, but they operate at a level of power higher than normal for the system. The wizard now has to shepherd his magic, but when he looses it, the result is impressive enough to make up for the rarity.

Lastly consider what you are changing and if it will fit with the game. That picture at the top is humorous because it's ludicrous. The monster truck underbody with the mini-van body is a clearly mismatched pairing. Consider if what you are adding (usually, but sometimes removing, or modifying) will mesh well with the remainder of the game mechanics to bring things closer to your desired game feel.

In the end I want to emphasize that you shouldn't be afraid to tinker with your games to suit your needs, but you should take care and consider the ramifications as you change, add, or remove things. Likewise, if you see that a change does not work in play as you hoped or expected remember that you can change things. Game go through playtesting, and nothing is perfect in the first try. Hacking a game system is little different from creating one from the group up except in a sense of scale. Keep in mind your desired goal of tone, genre, and feel, and consider the intended and unintended consequences of your changes on other aspects of the game system.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Tuesday Tools #3 - The Strange Custom Character Sheet

Anybody who has played The Strange knows that you can quickly rack up a significant number of pages of character sheet. Each recursion you visit results in a new sheet to "dock" onto your base sheet, and after visiting a half dozen or more recursions you have a rather thick sheaf of paper.

I don't have a solution to that problem ... just sayin'.

However I do have a fix to a more minor issue I have had. Every time I need to create a new recursion sheet I have to redact the abilities and bonuses from one of the prior sheets to arrive at my character's "core",  their descriptor and type only stats.  So I decided that I would try to make my own character sheet for The Strange that included space for "core" stats and also reclaim some of the space lost to the large Cypher box and such.

My sheet can be found here. It's three pages, 2 for the front & back of the "home" recursion (usually Earth) plus a Recursion sheet that can be folded and docked to the main sheet. It's meant for 8.5x11 paper and the weird offset of the main page accounts for the margin of the docking sheet.

Please let me know if you like this and find it useful. Or if you see ways I could improve upon it. I'm especially interested in hearing if the the font is OK. A poker chip compatible version will be dependent entirely on my ability to squeeze more space out of things to make room for the larger circles needed.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Story Seed - Into the Deep

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The Into the Ninth World Kickstarter continues to blow through stretch goals and as I write this we're working toward a PDF with details for playing Octopus characters. I can't be the only one who really wants this ... #NinthWorldKS


I floated down among the aquatic trees. The strange sea was cool on my skin. As I drifted down I found the sea grew brighter, the water itself seeming to give illumination to what should have been an enclosing darkness. I relaxed as it became clear that the bio-mechanical gills the Redfleet nano had implanted into my neck were working as well as claimed. Confident now that my shins had bought me a working piece of numenera I allowed myself to slide deeper into the eerily illuminated waters.

What had seemed the tops of massive trees in the shallower depths soon showed themselves to be a species of great floating kelp. As I neared the sandy bottom the kelp thinned to strands that wafted in the gentle currents. This world was so unlike my own; an alien environment just beneath the waves that lapped at the lands of the Steadfast.

I tried to swim forward, but found that my robes tangled my limbs. Cursing myself I stripped them off leaving me clad only in the skintight body-glove oddity I had bought from a varjellen in Qi. The varjellen had found it a curious item, as it could not be made wet. Luckily it fit me well, or perhaps that too was some part of its ancient design, and in keeping the water from my body it kept me warm in the cold waters. I rolled the robe up and tied it around my waist, freeing the small device I had brought down with me from the pocket and clutching it in my hand.

I swam forward again, deeper into the forest of kelp, weaving among the faint shadows cast by the strange and pervasive light. My eyes darted among the drifting stems and roots as I sought out my contact. I was not sure who to look for, as I had only contact through an intermediary, a member of the Redfleets who had suggested this meeting in the first place. I knew only a name, Oolluunn, and that he - or perhaps she, or even it - could only meet me here in the waters. I reached out to the datasphere to confirm my location and then allowed myself to drift to a stop, and waited.

Floating among the fronds and tendrils of the kelp forest I waited for some time, glad for the strange clothing that kept me dry and warm, and the gills that kept me breathing. After some time I heard a noise I could not identify. It repeated several times, and I tried to locate its source. I was unused to hearing sound underwater and only after the last utterance did I see what I thought was its source. A creature, perhaps the size of a child of ten; its body was seemingly little more than a jumble of tentacles and a fleshy blob. A pair of strangely intelligent, and seemingly shy, eyes peered out from the creature's center of mass.

Seeing that I had spotted it, it uttered that sound once more, and finally when it became clear I did not understand it touched its mind to my own. "Are you Kellin? I am Oolluunn, and I understand you have a device you wish me to look at."

Sunday, August 9, 2015