Sunday, December 25, 2016

Last Week Today - December 19 - 25, 2016

Holiday Schedule

2016 Holiday Interlude #1 - Frostborn Snowmen

2016 Holiday Interlude #2 - Reindeer

Have happy holidays folks and I see you in 2017.

Friday, December 23, 2016

2016 Holiday Interlude #2 - Reindeer

Name: Reindeer

Level: 3 (TN 9)

Health: 12 • Armor: 0

Damage: 3

Movement: Long

Modifications: Defense as level 4 due to speed.

Combat: Reindeer attack with hooves by kicking, and with antlers by charging as a level 4 creature. One in nine reindeer has a glowing red nose that can fire a beam of energy at level 4 dealing 5 damage.

Interaction: Reindeer are smart but still animals and generally can only be interacted with as animals.

Use: Reindeer are found throughout the North and especially around the North Pole and Santa's workshop. Reindeer are always friendly to those who share the holiday cheer. A willing reindeer can easily carry even a large humanoid creature, and characters who befriend them are able to count them as staunch allies for transportation.

Notes: Reindeer don't fight to the death and will retreat at speed as soon as they are able.

Loot: Most reindeer don't drop any loot, but those reindeer with glowing noses may yield a cypher if slain.

GM Intrusion: The reindeer was part of a herd and 1d6 more come to its aid, either to help defend it or to lend aid to it or its allies in some other fashion.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

2016 Holiday Interlude #1 - Frostborn Snowmen

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Name: Frostborn Snowman

Level: 3 (TN 9)

Health: 14 • Armor: 1

Damage: 3

Movement: Short on level ground or ascending, Long if skiing/sledding downhill

Modifications: Defense as level 1 against heat & fire attacks & environmental effects. Defense as level against water based attacks, and failed water based attacks heal 1 point of health.

Combat: Snowmen attack with their limbs, or a weapon if they have one. A snowman can also form snowballs and attack at up to short range for 2 points of damage.

Interaction: Good snowmen can be jolly and helpful especially providing advice how to find good places to ski or sled and locations where hot cocoa can be found. Evil snowmen are seldom willing to parlay and will attack to protect whatever they have been set to protect, or whatever target they can reach if they are wandering.

Use: Good snowmen are often found near the lairs of Gingerbread Dragons and/or the North Pole and are happy to help visitors. Evil snowmen are often created by Gingerbread Ninjas to act as guards or to aid them in attacking Santa's elves or Gingerbread Dragons.

Notes: The above stats are for frostborn snowmen of human stature. Larger creatures will have higher levels and non-humanoid snowmen will have additional or different capabilities.

Loot: Slain snowmen will leave behind a single holiday appropriate cypher (healing/recovery cyphers, flight, and the like) in the form of an article of clothing or piece of their non-snow features.

GM Intrusion: The frostborn spends a turn creating another snowman to aid it.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Holiday Schedule

Hey folks. Holiday season is here. I'll be going off schedule for the next couple of weeks. I've got a couple of Holiday Interlude posts again this year starting this week. There are those from last year for your themed gaming fun!

Holiday Interludes

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Last Week Today - December 12 - 18, 2016

Story Seed - Lost Kingdom

Nuts & Bolts - Advanced Logistics

Gods of the Fall - Here There Be Monsters

Starting next week: Holiday schedule including new Holiday Interludes!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Gods of the Fall - Here There Be Monsters

This'll be short(ish) because it's all pure speculation, and when it comes to speculation I prefer to light the fire and walk away. The Afterworld is large-ish; I think I recall somebody estimating it as having the land are of Texas. As settings go it's plenty enough space to roam around and cause trouble, or stop trouble, or get into and out of trouble. It's pretty small though on a world or planetary scale.

Let's assume that the world that the Afterworld is part of is Earth size. Texas is about 268,000 square miles area, which is a tiny portion of the 57.5 MILLION square miles of land area for the Earth as a whole. That's 0.47%.  So if we assume the world of Gods of the Fall is the same size and land to water ratio as Earth the Afterworld that we have a map for is not even half a percent of the setting. Half a percent! Needless to say there's a LOT of room for additional setting material. I can certainly hope that we'll get more official material, but hoping and getting are two very different things.

So, what's a guy to do? Well, the first thing I do is ask the most obvious question: Did the Fall have an effect on the rest of the world? If so, were the gods of the Afterworld the gods of the rest of the world, or did dozens or hundreds of pantheons die during the Fall? Did dozens or hundreds of heavens Fall that day? Are there potentially hundreds of underworlds tossed into chaos? Is the entire world teetering on the brink of darkness and corruption? How many other parts of the world wallow in darkness like the Nightlands?

I can't answer these questions for you. I'm not even sure there is value in answering these questions for myself. Let's say I decided, for my game, to say to all of those. What does that mean for my players? Should they feel obligated somehow to contact the gods of the rest of the world? Do they even have the means? Can a single GM and a single game group even tackle a story of such scope that it can encompass an entire planet?

Maybe it doesn't matter. Maybe it does. These are things that a GM will need to decide, perhaps with their players, perhaps on their own. I don't know how I'll answer these questions, that'll take some time and consideration. What about you? What does the world beyond the map look like in your game?

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Nuts & Bolts #102 - Advanced Logistics


Regardless of what you get out of playing RPGs, how much combat you prefer versus role-play, whether you are into intrigue and romance or the perfectly executed combination of feats to drive your enemies before you and hear the lamentations of their women ... ahem ... regardless of the why you play you probably expect that over the course of a campaign or series your character will develop and grow. That they will gain some form of experience, be it as a game currency to increase traits or give in-play boons or as a simple arbitrary metric toward the next plateau of power or level. Here's the thing though, there's more than one way to skin that proverbial cat (note: we do not condone skinning non-hypothetical cats, ed.) and show the mechanical growth of your characters.

When it comes to gaining experience there are two primary ideologies: Experience as Currency and
Experience as a Meta-Value.

Experience as Currency

Plenty of games use this method, with GMs rewarding players with experience points that they can use to buy advancements. In some games this is an entirely meta-activity only. Experience gains and spends are only ever carried out off frame in the world of the character sheet. It's pretty easy to balance the value of experience spends in this way. If an attribute contributes to five skills it should probably cost roughly five times as much experience to increase compared to the cost to increase a skill rank. Similarly "power" stats that grant access to new levels of player powers are probably going to cost more than simply increasing currently available abilities.

Other games gift broader importance to experience and add in a mechanical significance where the player can spend experience during play to enhance the character's abilities. Often this comes in the form of a re-roll, or possibly the purchase of an extra die (for dice pool systems), or some other bonus. This comes with a more difficult design challenge; how do you balance long term permanent advancement against short term character boosts? The cost to use experience to re-roll a failed roll, or add to a roll prior to rolling it needs to balance favorably against permanent advancement or the players will simply hoard their experience and forego those short term uses. Likewise it needs to avoid becoming overly favorable compared to advancement, usually this is easy, but it does bear noting.

These games tend to use modular character creation, whether that means a point buy system or a "building block" method that alllows choices from certain pre-defined packages, or even mixes of the two where character creation hybridizes the two. This gives the player more freedom but also has greater room for balance to go out the window.

Experience as a Meta-value

As common as currency based experience is, experience as a meta-value is probably the better known. The granddaddy of RPGs uses this method primarily (I seem to recall some magical crafting requires spending EXP in D&D) and plenty of newer systems do as well. You gain a certain amount of experience, usually determined by the GM, after each session. Once you pass a threshold value you advance in level and gain the associated benefits of that new level.

Balancing experience between characters in this game is a matter of understanding how characters accumulate experience and deciding how quickly characters should advance, and if they should do so at the same pace. The benefits are clear, advancement can be balanced directly and advancement is controlled specifically to set level benefits instead of a more customizeable piecemeal advancement.

These games tend to use character classes that pre-define many aspects of a character and minimize the player choice to perhaps an ability or two, or a selection of spells, and some may not even offer any customization. This limits the freedom the player has over their character but favors designed in balance.

What's it All Mean

So what, right? This isn't exactly rocket surgery. If you're familiar with RPGs you've definitely seen at least one of these and very likely both. It bears understanding however. As a player understanding how your game of choice controls character progression can help you make informed choices what whatever level of choice you are given. As GM it bears understanding the way your players' characters will advance and understanding what you may or may not be able to expect from that.

The other reason it helps to understand different character advancement systems is so you can find a game that fits your expectations. Perhaps you don't care about detailed customization of your character's abilities and just want something simple and straightforward. Or maybe you desire to be able to tinker and build exactly the character you have a vision for in your mind. These are just as important to some players as how the game plays and even what the game itself it about.

Did I miss something? Disagree with me? These are my thoughts but I welcome yours in the comments.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Story Seed - Lost Kingdom

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"Ten thousand years. That's what the legends say. This city was lost ten thousand years ago shortly after the gods came to power and favored humans over the sleen."

"That's ridiculous, the gods didn't favor humans over the sleen, or the taran for that matter."

Haaldr scoffed, "They didn't before the Fall, but ten thousand years ago maybe they did. Maybe the sleen didn't worship the gods at first and so they were on the skat list."

"Maybe," Uttol said skeptically, "but this place doesn't look like the forest had been growing over it for even a hundred years."

Haaldr nodded, "It is strange." The slender man knelt down and inspected a serpent statue. "Perhaps because it was never fully abandoned."

"I think that's probably right. Haaldr, umm, we appear to have ..."

"Yes? What?" Haaldr replied. "What is it Uttol?" he asked again, vexed. Finally he turned from the statue and drew a sharp breath, Uttol was being held at spear point by half a dozen savage appearing sleen. Their scales were decorated brightly with smears of pigment, and their lithe bodies were clothed in leathers and woven reeds. "Oh my," Haaldr managed before a trio or spears were brought to bear on him. "Well, it would seem my theories were right after all."

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Last Week Today - December 11, 2016

Story Seed - Source

Nuts & Bolts - Hacking the Cypher System - Modes of Play

Gods of the Fall - Session Prep - Things Fallen & Things Divine

Friday, December 9, 2016

Gods of the Fall - Session Prep - Things Fallen & Things Divine

When we left off for my last session the characters had had an eventful Festival of the Fallen Gods and then witnessed a falling star. They decided to investigate and the last parts of the session had a character putting their hand into the strange semi-spherical storm that shrouded the fallen star.

About that storm...
  • The storm is chaotic divine energy, similar to the Eye of Elanehtar, and will curse anybody that touches it or passes through unless they succeed on a level 4 intellect task.
    • GM Intrusion - Curse with no save
  • The storm seems to howl with an almost humanoid voice and indeed is currently binding a pair lesser ravers to this place that will attack anybody who passes through the storm.
    • GM Intrusion - A 3rd raver appears if this fight is going too easily for the PCs
    • In play the PCs were off to a really terrible start with dice and just 1 raver really presented a challenge so I didn't even use the 2nd let alone the GMI 
  • The intent here is to firmly place the currently mortal PCs into a position of facing things much digger than themselves. This is intended to be very difficult as an encounter (and indeed session) because without having a sense of scale at the mortal level I don't know if the grander scale, and the grander capabilities of the PCs later will matter as much.
Inside the storm the crater formed by the fallen object is a bowl of churned and scorched earth littered with broken pieces of whatever it was that fell from the sky. The players can scavenge here and find cyphers readily with a 1 on a d10 chance to find a divine cypher (see my prior post here). I intend to allow the PCs to easily replenish their supply of cyphers and a few extra to help drive the action and even some of the long odds in the session.

Descending into the crater requires some tricky climbing. The descent comes in three portions with different challenges:
  1. The initial climb up to the rim is difficult, requiring an initial Might cost of 3 points, and a level 4 climb check to avoid falling and taking 3 damage.
  2. The second portion is an easier climb down into the center of the crater. This is easier requiring only a level 2 climb check but it is littered with burning debris and unstable cyphers. Each character should make a level 4 perception check. If they succeed they need to make a level 3 speed defense check to avoid an exploding bit of cypher or divine energy, if they fail the difficulty of this roll is 5. Either way a failed speed defense roll causes 4 damage that ignores armor
    1. GM Intrusion, have a character fall (for normal damage) and also roll over an active cypher that immediately activates for its normal effect - roll to determine effect at random!
    2. As a major effect I had a character get effected by a positive cypher in this way
  3. The final approach to the object is a scramble up scorching hot churned earth. It is a trivial level 2 Might defense task and 1 point of ambient damage, but 3 points if they fail the check. 
The fallen star is actually an object, a vaguely oblong shape that juts upward from the broken earth and glows with symbols that hold no meaning to even the most studious of scholars (level 10 to translate). Making it impossible for the PCs at this time. The largest of these symbols of a spiral and any of the PCs touching it will disappear! The easiest way to facilitate this is to use a GM Intrusion on the first PC to investigate the object and have them touch the symbol and vanish. This will hopefully prompt the other PCs to "follow" 

Vanished characters are now inside the object which is actually a fragment of a prior heaven, one of the counterparts to Elanehtar that was destroyed during a prior fall. The characters find themselves in a fracture astral space where divine energy churns and decays. They are on a broken island of stone and crystal that floats amid the decaying remains.

The following GM Intrusion is suitable at any point during the following journey to escape this decaying realm.
  • GM Intrusion - part of the island crumbles away and a PC must make a speed defense roll (level 4) to scramble to safety. If they fail allow the other PCs to try and grab them.
The first island is nondescript and obviously a broken part of something far grander.
  • Looking around the characters will realize that this place is unstable and the divine energy that binds it together is decaying rapidly. 
  • All the characters can see another broken island some hundred yards away with no apparent means to get there. A successful level 4 perception task will reveal a third island beyond that.
  • Leaving the island is as simple as willing oneself to do so. 
    • The first character to try and will themselves to move off the island in this way should make a Intellect roll at level 3 to control their thoughts (belief is difficult)
    • Characters may fly, leap, swim through the aether, or even just will themselves to the next island, so long as they hold the conviction that they are able they will be able. 
    • This is test of the would-be gods and their willingness to take command of their destiny.
The 2nd island is much as the first but the broken remains of a statue and altar stand at the island's center. The figure is clearly a god, but just as clearly they are unknown to the characters. 
  • Another look around will reveal the 3rd island, and a successful perception check at level 4 will reveal a fourth island beyond that. 
  • The altar is large, 4' x 8' is a depression on the top. 
  • Characters will recognize that the sacrifice must be genuine, more than a token amount of blood for instance
  • Leaving this island is as simple as making an offering on the altar. 
    • The offering must be a mortal one. Cyphers are divine energy and will not suffice. 
    • A gift of blood will take the form of at least 6 points from one pool 
    • A gift of worth will take the form of at least 2 pieces of equipment
    • A gift of skill will take the form of a level of training in a skill of the offerer's choice, this may remove a level of training, or create an inability, this loss lasts until they complete a 10 hour rest. 
  • Upon making a sacrifice a fraction of a stable bridge will form between the 2nd and 3rd islands. All of the characters must make a sacrifice, because a pantheon is a product of all its members and its strength comes from the whole.
The 3rd island contains a pool of molten liquid that wells up from the land and spills off the side, falling into the roiling and decaying aether below. 
  • The 4th and final island is clearly visible from here and has a large broken archway.
  • Leaving this island requires the characters to take from the pool some of the liquid and imbibe it. 
    • any test article used on the liquid will be burnt, melted, or otherwise destroyed
    • the level of the pool will diminish with each character's taking from the pool until none remains
  • upon drinking from the pool the character's aura will flare brightly and they will disappear, reappearing on the 4th island
    •  I should note that it may be worthwhile to specify this aura seems divine as it plays into the next test on island four.
Once the pool is empty the heaven will begin to collapse as the last character is transported to the last island. On the fourth island there is a broken archway. It is mostly complete but as the aether realm decays so too does the archway. And as the last of the characters reaches the island the rate of the realm's decay begins to accelerate worryingly.
  • Leaving the island, and the aether realm, requires walking through the archway with one's divine aura ablaze.
  • The remains of the aether realm, this one-time heaven, will decay rapidly and if the character's dally the last island itself will begin to break up. There is little time to waste in departing.
At this point the character's probably shouldn't realize just what has happened but they may suspect. Their divine nature has been awakened but the experiences within the shard of a prior heaven should be more confusing than they were illuminating.

Back in the world the fallen object decays into divine energy leaving nothing of itself behind but a single divine cypher. The divinity storm dissipates and the characters see that it is morning and there are other scavengers and explorers who have come to the area during the time they were gone.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Nuts & Bolts #101 - Hacking the Cypher System - Modes of Play

Many thanks to +Ryan Chaddock for inspiring this column (kinda), as I found myself without an idea on a low energy week.

Horror mode is a thing. It's a cool way to mechanically build dread and horror in such a game. And it's in the book (by which I mean the CSR), which means that I don't really need to write about it as somebody already did.

Unless ...

Games have genres. Numenera is ... OK, Numenera is hard to pin down. Is it science fiction? Is it fantasy? Is it a medieval post apocalyptic game? Sorry, got distracted. The Strange is, on the surface, a science fiction game, but it also enables play in just about any genre depending on the recursion of the day. Gods of the Fall is a high fantasy game. Games have genres, but rules do not. The Cypher System Rulebook supports play in most any genre. Some may need a little extra effort, but hey, applying effort is what the Cypher System was designed for!

So if Horror is a genre, and it has Horror Mode as an additional rule, is there a possibility to interpolate the design philosophy to other genres? Yes. Yes, there is. Let's start by looking at what Horror Mode does, and then apply that to other genres.

Horror Mode helps to reinforce the genre by pushing the tone using GM Intrusions. That's it. How it does so, i.e. the mechanics, is how it does what it does, but what it does is help build a sense of dread, foreboding, and horror by pushing the tone. In the Horror genre dread, foreboding, and horror are your bread and butter. They ensure that the game feels the way it should and are a fundamental part of making the genre what it is. So what about other genres? How can you use the Horror Mode mechanics to push the tone of other genres?

The first thing to keep in mind is that GM Intrusions aren't merely an excuse for the GM to make life miserable for the players. According to the CSR (pg. 372), "GM intrusion is the main mechanic that the GM uses to inject drama and additional excitement into the game." Drama and excitement. Not pain and suffering. Not increased difficulty and added frustration. Drama. And. Excitement.

Now some games will gain excitement or drama from pain, or difficulty, and/or any number of other things. So yes, if you are playing a World War II game a GMI that gives a character a wound adds excitement and/or drama. In a game of teen romance you will probably want to use a different tactic; a character putting their proverbial foot in their mouth when talking to their crush for instance. A game of cyberpunk may want to use GMIs that push the tone by emphasizing the disconnect between man and machine, or perhaps the horrifying implications of the blurred lines between man and technology when true A.I. seek to gain "human rights."

  • Fantasy Mode - introduce elements of the supernatural, explore the difference between races, key off of the nature of polytheistic religions, explore the mercurial nature of magic, etc
  • Science Fiction Mode - explore the nature of man's relationship with technology (often skews negative), explore the relationship of humanity to alien life, key off the laws of unintended consequences, etc.
  • Romance Mode - have things misunderstood by a paramour, have crush find out about your feelings at an awkward moment, have an enemy find out about your feelings, etc
  • Cyberpunk Mode - emphasize the negative aspects of man-machine interface, introduce elements dealing with the rights of artificial life, key off of the societal impact of wealth stratification, explore the impact of increasing corporate power and independence, etc.
  • Superhero Mode - explore the relationship of power and responsibility, justice vs revenge, heroism versus vigilantism, key off the potential for mishaps of power, explore the dual nature of heroic identity and civilian identity
There are other genres and many have multiple tones that you can push. It's entirely possible to play a fantasy game with horror elements and use horror mode to push that tone. Likewise you could play with a mix of romance, teen, and comedy using the mode rules to push any or all of the tones associated with those genres. 

How else could you use the mechanics behind Horror Mode in non-horror games? 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Story Seed - Source

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"Well this doesn't look good," Kendak murmured as they approached the cave.

"Why do you sssay that?" Ssaa'm asked, the sleen's voice drawing the words long.

Kendak gestured violently to the cave entrance, "Maybe because it looks like a human skull!"

"Oh, I sssuppossse it doess," Ssaa'm grinned, "But at leassst it looksss nothing like a Sssleen."

"Thank you, your concern is touching."

The pair cautiously approached. Water was pouring from one eye and into the jutting jaw of the cave's skull-like opening before flowing outward. This was the source of the river Decaas it seemed, or at least it's point of emergence from the mountains. The river's waters had been making downstream villages sick and so Kendak and Ssaa'm had set out to find the source of the contaminant.

Ssaa'm dipped a rod into the river, the clear gem at its other end began to glow a sickly green. "Ssstill the water isss fouled."

"Great, I guess we have to keep going." Kendak stepped into the cool waters and sloshed up to the tooth maw of the cave. Stepping over the jutting lower teeth he summoned a sprite of starlight to light the way. "Into darkness we go."

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Friday, December 2, 2016

Gods of the Fall - A Nod to Dreams

Tell me all your thoughts on Nod...
(no apologies at all to Dishwalla, some apologies to my audience however)

In case you haven't already come to this conclusion let me lay it out for you: Nod is weird.

It's a dreamworld rendered physical, of course it's weird, but that's hardly the weirdest bit. I've been thinking about Nod recently, wanting to start a series within the series on some of the locales of the Afterworld, and Nod is proving very weird. Consider this, it blocks out the sun at all times for the Nightlands, and only for the Nightlands. This means (or may mean) that it moves through the sky, but it moves in a very specific way as to only block the sunlight that would fall on the Nightlands. It's there from sun-up to sun-down, preventing the light from reaching that cursed land.

It's magic, right? That's the easy way out, and it certainly applies, but really stop and think about it. Nod never allows sun to land in the Nightlands, but all you have to do is step beyond its very well defined shadow and "Bob's your uncle" there's the sun. A celestial object just doesn't work that way, so yes, Nod is weird because of magic, but that doesn't answer anything. Is Nod always visible? At night do you look up and see Nod just as you do in the day? Does it wax and wane or is it just a constant orb casting shadow upon the Afterworld?

And what about that shadow? The way Somorrah is described even when its light side is in daylight the dark side is dark. Not just shadowed, but dark. So is Nod casting a shadow at all, or is the darkness purely a magical effect? A curse that swallows the light? And in the process of swallowing the literal light, is it also swallowing the metaphorical light? Is the darkness of Nod responsible for the moral darkness of the Nightlands?

Potential Spoilers here...

We know that Nod is the land of dreams and that the King of Nod is/was the god of dreams/sleep from before the Fall. We know he survived by divesting himself of his divinity and that as a result Nod is stuck where it is as the result of some ancient curse. These are the completely facts that the book present, but GMs are free to use or ignore these at their own desire. I'll proceed forward assuming you intend to use them.

Nod isn't described as a place of dreams alone, but one of "nightmares and dreams" and it seems that the emphasis there is on nightmares. Nod, and its King, seem to have fallen towards darkness as a result of the Fall. I say this as he is stated as god of dreams not god of nightmares, but who knows. Maybe this is why Nod's shadow has created such a twisted and morally bankrupt land, or why it has fallen on a land that became thus. Perhaps if the King of Nod were to find his own better self Nod's shadow may change, or perhaps it is the nature of the supposed curse of "eternal darkness and night" that caused Nod's "fall" that has twisted the King of Nod into who he now is. Lifting the curse and saving Nod may be intertwined.

Alternately maybe there is another realm of dreams out there, a pleasant land that was cast adrift in the Aether, or otherwise lost during the Fall. Maybe there is more behind the Guild of Sleep's war on Nod than most people know. Does the Guild have information they hold in secret, or perhaps backing from powerful entities that have goals for Nod that we do not know?

Nod is weird and it presents a lot of setting potential even for characters who never venture there and GMs who never intend to use it. It may also represent a deeper layer of how the Fall affected the world and continues to do so. I think decoding Nod's truth is something best left to each GM, but think that that truth is all but guaranteed to be of profound influence on the setting. So ...

Tell me all your thoughts on Nod, 'cause I'd really like to read them...

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Nuts & Bolts #100 - Critical Reaction

First of all, holy crap, 100 of these things!

Secondly ... holy crap, 100 of these things ... *phew* no wonder I'm tired.

OK, enough grousing, back to the show!

I made a comment today (the day I wrote this, not the day it published) and the more I think about it the more it remains true. I said...

At the time I was just thinking about how a fighter can do all kinds of cool stuff with stunts in AGE the same way a fighter in DCC gets to do cool stuff with their Deed Die.

But then I got to thinking about it and I realized that a lot of DCC captures the "potential for awesome" that the AGE system uses its stunt mechanic for. For spell casters the tiered spell results from spell checks is a more extreme version of getting an AGE Spell Stunt. Fighters obviously get their Deed Die which works much like a Combat Stunt with ability to deal extra damage, push a foe, and similar.

I gave this some thought. Why does the Stunt Die still jump out at me as one of those truly great mechanics? Why does the design of DCC similarly enchant me? And then I thought, why do we remember natural 20s and critical 1s so much more often than the other 18 results of the die?


There's a certain desire for mechanics with a level of reliability. It's human nature to want to know that something will work. But there's also the gambler's desire to win big, to play the risk. This is why we love to roll the dice and are overjoyed at those high critical results and similarly dismayed by the low critical failures. And the mechanics tend to reinforce those dice rolls by making those moments stand out further from the surrounding events. Critical successes do double damage or have some additional superlative effect, and critical failures deal setbacks or fumbles or the like. These moments stand out because they are designed to do so. They are by no means the only way a moment can stand out, but I'd guess that more than half of the anecdotes we hear about gaming are related to a critical result of some kind.

Not all games use a d20 of course, which leads to mechanics that do similar jobs. The AGE system uses stunts for when you roll doubles on your 3d6. The FFG Star Wars system (does it have a name?) uses Triumph and Despair symbols. DCC has criticals and fumbles AND graded dice rolls for spells AND heroic Deed Dice. DCC is a veritable smorgasbord of exceptional dice potential. Savage Worlds and other systems use "Exploding" Dice. The list goes on.

But there are games that don't have this same level of chance imbibed into their design DNA. FATE's dice coming up all minus or all plus doesn't do anything more than any other roll. I don't recall that Dungeon World had anything special around the dice, but I could be remembering incorrectly. I think in hindsight and with some reflection that this is perhaps why I am less attracted to those games.

Where am I going with this? Good question! Actually I think its just that I realize now that as much as reliability in character skill and abilities is a good thing that players strive for that many of us also seek out and crave those random aspects of gaming that bring surprise to the table and help spin unexpected and unique events into our own personal legends.

What's your take?

Monday, November 28, 2016

Story Seed - Amid the Ruinscape

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The snow crunched underfoot. It sounded like a child taking a bite from a pastry. The air was cold, crisp, and dry and carried the sound cleanly. I stopped and waited, listening. No other sounds but the whistle of wind among the ruins. The last cries of a dead city.

The snow and ice had penetrated this place deeply. It stuck between the stones like mortar, and coated boulders like moss. This place had been locked away in the frigid cold of the north since before the Fall. I wondered if perhaps it had been frozen here since before some prior Fall. Did the long dead citizens of this place worship gods whose names would never be uttered again? I didn't know. I would probably never know, which cast strange doubts in my mind. How could there be knowledge that the God of Knowledge did not know? Or did lost knowledge cease to be knowledge at all?

I shook myself out of my reverie and checked the crystal again. An artifact or cypher, I wasn't even sure which - so much for the god of knowledge! - the crystal was pointing me toward something. It had been leading me here for months. The bar of light drifted left and right as I moved my hand, the movement was ever more exaggerated as I had neared this ruined place, and I knew my goal was close. I followed it once again, allowing it to lead me toward whatever fate it held.

After an hour I found it. The ruins of an old building. A temple perhaps, or a library, or both. I liked it, the style was simple, clean, appealingly functional. I meandered for a bit, picking through the rubble of a collapsed room, before continuing to follow the direction of the crystal. It led me to a large table, the altar I supposed.

It was covered in ice and snow. Entombed. I prepared a spell, laid the energy out in a diffuse blast that melted snow and liquefied ice and in moments the altar was cleared of water that had fallen before I was born. I waited for the steam to blow away, or re-freeze and fall once again.

Then I saw it. Laid into the altar, gold and silver, a symbol. A book and a scroll in the hands of a human shape. My symbol. Partly chosen, partly gifted by fate. I began to wonder the nature of the Falls, and just how cyclical the rise and fall of the gods truly was.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Nuts & Bolts #99 - Hacking the Cypher System - Grading on a Curve

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I've been thinking lately of something in the Cypher System that is missing. No, not missing, but instead it is implemented in subtle ways. I should note that for a good long time even after I realized it, I didn't really realize what it all meant. What I'm discussing is success on a gradient. This isn't simple success or failure, but a case where one can objectively see that one success was more so than another success.

It's there in part, in whole, and in subtle ways. There are aspects of the game that obviously grade success on a kind of gradient, but others are less apparent. Let me show you...
Example: You can hit in combat and do your weapon's damage, OR you can hit in combat and do your weapon's damage plus extra based on Effort; a crushing blow, a critical hit, a strike to a vulnerable area. You still hit your target but that Effort you invest adds gradients of success beyond the base level. 
Example: Reveal, the 2nd Tier Adept ability that grants a target the ability to see in the dark or low light. Each level of Effort (again, Effort is key here) allows two additional targets to gain the benefit of the ability. It's an expanded degree of success in that the user's ability or expertise allows more people to gain the advantage. 
Example: Word of Death, a 6th Tier ability in the Casts Spells focus, allows the user to slay a foe of level 1 outright. A roll is required but Effort can be used in more than one way. Effort can reduce the difficulty of the roll, as usual, or it can increase the level of the creature you can slay. A character could apply all six levels of effort to the ability effect and in doing do slay a creature of level 7 outright ... if they have a way to succeed on the ability check. 
So, as you can see, there are already ways in which the Cypher System uses grades of success. Now you might counter by pointing out that if you fail a roll to attack that Effort is wasted and so the roll is still one of binary success or failure. Likewise the roll to use Word of Death. So you may say that there is no gradient on success but instead gradient of effect. Or you may reject my arguments entirely.

Regardless, the fact remains that in some cases, and in some instances, Effort can improve the baseline of success into something more. A weapon strike does more damage, an ability has a greater effect. These are laid out in the combat rules, in the descriptions of abilities.

What about in skills and other abilities?

I propose that while Effort can, and should, continue to be used to make checks easier, it should also be able to expand on the scope of success for these skills and abilities. Perhaps a lock would normally take a minute to pick, but the PCs need to get past it quickly before a guard shows up. Effort could make it easier to pick, but perhaps more importantly it can speed up the time required. Maybe a character who Carries a Quiver needs to make a new weapon and some ammunition. Crafting a bow and some arrows might normally be the work of day or more, but Effort can reduce the time needed.

Perhaps instead its a matter resources. The character thinks they have enough to make a dozen arrows, but each level of effort allows them to squeeze a little more from their limited resources, and gain an extra arrow or two. A group trying to find food and water might use effort to increase the resources they mine with each attempt to hunt or gather food, or collect water. In social situations this can also work. A character may be petitioning a local lord for a favor, effort may gain them an extra favor. A character in a market may desire to reduce the cost of an item by bartering, a basic success may reduce the cost by 10%, with an extra 5% for each level of effort applied to the attempt.

Obviously this is the tip of the iceberg, and I clearly cannot think of every possible use of Effort in this way. It's even possible that some GMs may wrap such things into their internal calculation of difficulty for a task. "OK, you are trying to pick this lock, which is level 3, but you have to do it quickly, so that'll make it a level 5."

In this way the expanded effect is rolled into the difficulty and the effort applied to success is consequently rolled into the effect. This will depend on the style of the GM and how much they know of the player's intent. It's easy to know that the players need to pick that lock quickly because as GM you set that situation up. It's less easy to know that the player intends to ask for not just horses, but also a pair of knights to ride out with them. The NPCs social difficulty is already set in this case so it may be easier on the GM to say, "You'll need to apply a level of effort to convince the lord to lend you two of his knights as well, and that Effort will not make the roll easier."

So in the end I guess it's up to us to understand how graded successes are in the game and how to make them work in our games as both player and as GM. Either way I think it's important for everybody at the table to remember that effort can do more than just make things easier, it can make successes count for more, or produce more, or take less time. Together, with a little Effort, we can make our game a success, or maybe just make it a little better.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Story Seed - Repose

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That which is not dead may eternal lie ... 
H.P. Lovecraft

Fate is a tricky bitch.  
Tellendau the Lord of Mischief

Leppa walked among the stones. This place was as peaceful as it was mysterious. There were dozens of stones, perhaps more than a hundred, and each seemed to be inscribed with iconography. A stream meandered through the glade. It wound its way around the stones as though respecting them in its own way. At the center of the glade an arch reach skyward the sun beaming through the windows playing across the stones in patterns of light and dark.

Leppa stopped at one of the stones and squatted before it. The iconography was old and unfamiliar but still clear and precise. Leppa reached out to trace the icon with a finger. The stone felt warm to her touch and almost vibrated with some form of old power.

So long it has been, the voice came to Leppa mind like a whisper on the wind. Another generation of the doomed . How long has it been?

Leppa fell backwards, startled, and the voice went silent. "Doomed?" she asked aloud. When no reply came she tentatively reached out to the stone once more and laid her hand upon the icon.

There is an evil in the very roots of the world. All those who would be gods are fated to die by its hand. The voice was less faint now, but to Leppa it sounded old beyond measure and perhaps no longer what it once was. You are wise to come seek us. We escaped our fate, in a way, and we can show you how.

"The gods Fell because of something buried in the earth?" Leppa asked.

They and many before them. Only we few escaped fate's cruel hand. You too can escape Anhilation.

"I'm no god, what can I possibly do? Is there no way for this evil to be defeated?"

The stone was silent for a time. You have the potential for godhood, and with it a doomed fate. The cycle with always turn from light to dark, there is no other path.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Last Week Today - November 7 - 20, 2016

Monday before last
Story Seed - Edge of Destruction

Story Seed - The Blood of the Earth

Nuts & Bolts - Hacking the Cypher System - Recovery


Gods of the Fall - Divine Cyphers
Find all my Gods of the Fall content indexed here!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Gods of the Fall - Divine Cyphers

Cyphers are bits of Elanehtar. Rendered physical in the world and smashed like a piece of china slammed to the floor the former godsrealm is now so many broken bits of loose power. By definition this makes all cyphers a little bit divine. But there are divine cyphers and then then are Divine cyphers.

The dozen plus new cyphers in Gods of the Fall are almost all made to interact with Divine Shifts in some way, and all are potentially very powerful as a result. I like to think of these cyphers as being in a different class, similar to Extreme Cyphers (from the glimmer of the same name). I look at both these shift-based cyphers and the extreme cyphers as being capital "D" Divine. In setting these are much more powerful, but also much more rare, and far more sought after for power.

These are the kinds of cyphers than can turn almost any situation in one favor, or render any challenge moot. These are the kinds of cyphers that a plot point can revolve around. Since these aren't included in the CSR's random cypher tables it makes it the responsibility of the GM to include these in the game. I plan to use them for plot points (as I did in Festival of the Fallen Gods) and as rewards for major divine enemies like Ravers, other gods, and the like.

Sprinkled occasionally through the game I hope that cyphers of such power will help to emphasize the grande scope of the divine narrative, and empower the characters to perform amazing deeds.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Nuts & Bolts #98 - Hacking the Cypher System - Recovery

This seems apt...

I'm going to preface this discussion by saying that I haven't tried this as of yet, and that like most of these Hacking the Cypher System articles what I propose may look good on paper and fail utterly at the table. Likewise what works for some may not work for others. Grain of salt and all that.

That said, I found myself having a discussion about how the Cypher System compares to other systems, and one of the things that I feel fundamentally informs how the Cypher System plays is the resource management aspects of Cypher as they compare to other games. Almost every RPG uses some form of resource management during play, resources may be as simple as Hit Points, or as complex (relatively) as the Cypher System's multiple pools which function both as a form of health and a resource for getting actions to succeed or expanding on success (e.g. doing more damage with attacks).

Some RPGs, like the old school clones, tend to make resources very tight. Daily spells, limited hit points, expensive single use potions (if even those), and the like. Contrast that with the Cypher System where resources are relatively plentiful, and easy to recover (via recovery rolls), or replenish (via gaining of new cyphers or XP from GM Intrusions). But can you change the basic "economy" of the Cypher System to change the way the game plays? And will doing so actually make the game feel different?

The GM already has implicit control over the rate at which new Cyphers come into play (more on that in a different column) and the rate at which they use GM Intrusions. When I play in a campaign session I aim for one GMI per player +1 for the group (or possibly just an extra normal one) per session, but when I ran game at Gen Con this summer I knew they were one shots and threw GMIs out like they were going out of style. They weren't always full on bad (though seldom full on good) but I think (hope) they made for good story beats that reeled the players in.

Recovery rolls are in the player purview however, and the players can stop and rest when they like. Right? Well, kinda. As a GM you have ways to prevent the players from resting, especially the longer 1 hour and 8/10 hour recoveries. Keeping the pace fast and the pressure high will drive some player groups to push through and play without a rest while others will retreat and find safe places. GM Intrusions can help a group that is overly conservative moving without taking a rest after every encounter. Likewise having a (sometimes literal) ticking clock may prevent players/character from having the time to rest. If you are on a sinking ship you probably aren't going to waste 1 hour grabbing a catnap.

These are aspects of play that fall into the grey zone between players and GMs and a GM must tread carefully and not abuse such tactics. There may be times however when a GM wants to tell a "grittier" feeling story. And in those instances it may benefit the story and the players (including the GM) to discuss possibly changing the rate of recovery rolls.

A game set in a low fantasy world, or a zombie apocalypse (or other post-apocalypse genre) may gain an added level of grit if the GM and players agree to slide recoveries out from the normal cadence. Allowing first recovery after a 10 minute rest, 2nd after 1 hour, 3rd after 8 hours and dropping the 4th entirely will do two things to the game: first it will change pacing and the balance between deliberate caution and forced action will shift as the time to rest will be harder to come by, second it will reduce the available "action currency" by eliminating a recovery roll and making players slower to recover.

For genres where survival is a paramount theme this may work to help establish the feel and tone of the game by shifting Cypher slightly away from its heroic and pulpy norm. Then again it may not. As I mentioned above, I haven't tried this and I don't know how well it would work, if at all. Still considering how your group uses (or abuses) recoveries may help you to run better games were the stakes feel a little more real regardless of the tone you are looking for.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Story Seed - The Blood of the Earth

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"There it is," Woachid spoke reverently, "the Blood of the Earth. A liquefied mana wellspring; the only one of it's kind." I could tell from his voice that for him this was transcendent moment.

I said nothing, instead allowing my senses to reach out, to feel the pure magical power that flowed out of the small butte. Even a hundred paces off the power was palpable. It was like being at a major ley line nexus during a celestial event. There was a greater fundamental energy however; a degree of proximity that was difficult to otherwise explain. I marveled at this power and wondered how it came to be that such a natural resource had apparently never come to be exploited.

"There is a fundamental ... flaw, to this power however," Woachid said as though my question had been spoken aloud. "The potency of the Blood is too great to use. The effort involved to dilute it so that it can be used is more than enough to prevent any serious exploitation."

I scowled, irritated now at an apparent waste of time and effort. This had been a wild goose chase. "Then why did you bring me here? What value is there in learning of this place master?" I held my tongue despite my irritation, and even managed the honorific, though I was certain my tone would earn me a rebuke.

"Because you are young and you need to know that this exists. And because you need to understand that the Blood can be used in cases of dire need," he said emphasizing the possibility. I waited for an explanation, and none immediately came. The silence stretched and I opened my mouth to ask. "Drink the Blood, and near limitless power is yours, but it will burn your soul and destroy your ability to use magic thereafter." My master turned to me and looked deep into my eyes as though searching my very soul. "That is assuming you live from the experience at all. The price of power is not paid lightly my student."

I swallowed, understanding now why this place was untouched and pristine. Those who would abuse such power were too selfish to risk the price, and those who would protect it were more than selfess enough to ensure it remained unspoilt.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

State of the Blog

No blog post for today.

I just don't know what to write.

I'm unfocused and unsure today. I'm a little frightened of what I woke up to.

I need to move forward, and I will, but for today, and maybe this week, I'm not sure what I can do with what I feel.

I'll be back. Hopefully sooner, rather than later.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Story Seed - Edge of Destruction

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Stormlook Holdfast sat staring out at the Eye of Elanehtar, a permanent storm that marked the Fall and the destruction of Cavazel. The stacked block-like buildings, halls, towers, and vaults squatted at the junction of the Ruinscape and the cracked and flooded corpse of the world of before. The view wasn't exactly one that people came for, but I'd grown up here and to me it was home.

Like most holdfasts Stormlook was built like a fortress. It was a heavy fortification, built not against enemy troops, but to fend off the random curses that the Eye occasionally threw off, and the insane remnants of the old gods known as Ravers that existed most commonly in and around the Eye.

Still, Stormlook was my home and I knew its halls and corridors as well as anybody. It helped to be able to make a quick escape when your livelihood depended on cutting purse strings and picking pockets. It wasn't an honest life I know, nor was it particularly glorious, but it was the only way I knew. My father had never come back from the deeps, he was probably dead, and my mother been cursed by the Eye, and thankfully had not survived long. I stole and filched and conned my way through my adolescence and probably would have continued to do so until I was dead if I hadn't stolen the wrong bauble.

Bauble, in hindsight, is a grossly inadequate term. It wasn't just some shiney bit of gaudy jewelry or a simple souvenir. As it turns out cyphers, broken remains of Elanehtar that was, took many forms and to those who have divine potential their minor aura of divinity made them especially attractive. It also turns out that, for some, exposure to certain cyphers can awaken that spark.

I wrapped my cloak around my shoulders a little tighter and looked back at Stormlook one last time. It wasn't home anymore. I wasn't the same person today that I was yesterday. I had a destiny to fulfill, and maybe if I succeeded I could come back here one day, and look out on an ocean unmarred by storm and sorcery.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Gods of the Fall - Session Prep - The Festival of Fallen Gods

It took a while, but I finally started what I hope will be a healthy monthly campaign in Gods of the Fall last night. With four players at the moment (including +Andrew Cady +Dave Hanlon +andrew lyon and +Jim Baltzell-Gauthier ) I had a "session zero" a month before to discuss characters and get some ideas from the players with last night's session being our first play session.

During our discussions I asked if they wanted to start off knowing about their divinity or not. They decided to start entirely mortal which I thought would be fun to see how they learned of their divine potential. Of course then I realized I needed to not only plan a puny mortal adventure, but also seed in the opportunity to discover their divine potential during play in the first couple of sessions of the campaign.

Not yet sure if the group would start aligned or not I decided that a good way to kick things off would be a big public event where the PCs could bump into each other as need be and where I could allow a goodly amount of open roleplay before tossing out a major plot point as early, or late, as needed.

Since my game is going to start in Somorrah, and since  Somorrah has a large number of Adherents, I decided that a festival on the anniversary of the Fall would make a great event to kick off the game and the campaign! Enter "The Festival of Fallen Gods," a nighttime celebration throughout the city where people celebrate the old Gods in a way similar to the way the Day of the Dead is celebrated in our world.

In addition, the festival falls onto an annual celestial event in the form of a meteor shower. Most people assume the event started only after the Fall, but the shower is just a periodic event and has been going on since before history. Still the blazing meteors make for a wonderful special effect for the Adherent's proselytizing.

Of course the Order of Reconciliation doesn't take too kindly to this ...

Once I had my initial setup I needed a few drop-in events I could use to keep things going and give the PCs some chance to forge relationships in an organic way. Using a random city-event list I grabbed a pair that I thought would work well:
  • An Adherent, preaching that the Gods will return in time and reward the faithful, becomes embroiled in an argument with a Reconciliator that soon escalates to violence. 
    • Since a level 7 Knight of Reconciliation would mop the floor with fresh Tier 1 PCs I'm going to treat this guy and his buddies as Slavers for the purposes of the session. 
    • The Adherent will be a simple level 2 NPC but will be backed up by one or more of the Queen's guard if need be (pg 46)
    • I figure that the PCs will probably side with the Adherent, but if not, or if they don't take part at all, it will tell me a little about them that I can use later.
  • On a less busy side street or alley a young woman is on hands and knees frantically searching the ground for something. One of the PCs spies a piece of jewelry nearby under some refuse. 
    • The kicker here is that the stone set into the jewelry is a Cypher, and a powerful one at that. I'll give the PC who finds it an inkling of it's worth and then see if they return it or keep it. 
    • As before regardless of the outcome this will tell me something about one or more of the PCs. 
    • The Cypher is a Divine Elevation, and can grant 2 power shifts to a target for 1 minute. A powerful piece of fallen Elanehtar!
  • The PCs see a sleen reveler carrying a puppet effigy of a fallen god that looks extremely similar to one of the PCs! The sleen is staring at the PC in apparent surprise/shock. If the PC the effigy matches approaches the person they drop the doll in surprise and the PC feels the impact.
    • This one is straight up foreshadowing, and a one-time thing, they can do anything they want to that doll thereafter and they won't feel it, but it should be a scene that really freaks out at least the one PC if played right.
The last thing I have planned is intended to be the end of the session and set up the second: a meteor, far brighter and closer roars overhead during the festival and crashes into the wilderness beyond the city in the direction of the Verge. Depending on the timing for my session the PCs may be able to travel out to the site in the first session or that may be the cliffhanger ending of the session. With ~4 hours and brand new characters (and a new player) I'm not sure how long the festival scenes will take. 

If the meteor fall happens early I'll probably inject an encounter or two on the road and plan to end when they arrive at the impact site. Regardless exploring the crater and its contents will be the primary thrust of our second session. I'll post about that in a month or so after, that session has been run!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Nuts & Bolts #97 - A Smattering of New Materials

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This week I'm kicking a Gods of the Fall game/campaign and as a result my mind is turning to fantasy materials and items. The following are a few ideas I have come up with over the years and I decided to present in a somewhat "system neutral" fashion. Since I am also planning to add these into my game I'll present my thoughts on how to use these in the Cypher System.


"Cold" iron is a well known term for mostly pure iron used against fairies, spirits and other supernatural creatures. Wight-Iron is an form of cold iron commonly associated with the undead barrow kings and other undead warriors. Wight-iron is magical, but not technically enchanted as it is a side effect of close contact to undead creatures over a period of time.

Wight-iron is truly cold, both to the touch and to the soul. Wight-iron weapons often have a patina of frost on their blades or metallic faces and strike with supernatural cold, dealing increased damage to beings vulnerable to such.

In addition wight-iron weapons can chill the soul of a living target. This may take the form of additional damage, ability damage to intelligence/intellect, or even level drain depending on the system and the weapon. Most such weapons will have one of the former two effects with a minor die (d3 or d4). The drawback to Wight-iron is that they tend to shatter on fumbled attack roles.

For the Cypher System Wight-iron weapons would be artifacts with a level of 1d6. In combat these weapons would do their level of damage direct to Intellect (and thus bypassing most armor). These weapons have a depletion on 1d10 normally, but are also prone to shattering as a result of a GM Intrusion.

Dakar Steel

Dakar steel is known by its two most notable traits: it's deep black color, and the burning heat of the forge that continually emanates from it. Dakar steel is forged with the spirit of a fire elemental trapped within and the enchanted steel takes on a black color as sign of this. These weapons are commonly found within arid kingdoms and those known for the enslavement of other entities.

Hot to the touch at all times weapons forged of Dakar steel require use of specially enchanted hilts or the use of special gloves and gauntlets or they will deal burning damage to their wielder. These weapons always deal additional fire based damage, often increasing the damage output of the weapon by 50%-100%. In the hands of a magic user these weapons can add their bonus damage to any fire spells channeled through them.

In the Cypher System a Dakar Steel weapon is an artifact with a level of 1d6. In combat these weapons do 1 additional damage for light weapons, 2 additional damage for medium weapons, and 3 additional damage for heavy weapons. Additionally this damage bonus can be added to any fire-based abilities used by the wielder if they are channeled through the weapon.

Nemean Leather In fairness, this idea isn't really mine, but whatever...

Supernaturally capable members of otherwise normal animals can happen under the right circumstances. Sometimes it is the intentional result of magical tinkering by gods or wizards, and other times natural magical flux or celestial circumstances can gift power to an animal pup.

Regardless of the cause a Nemean animal is exemplary in most every way. Tougher, stronger, faster, and in many instances smarter, these creatures often become legends in their own right. Those who manage to slay a Nemean find that their bodies can be a cornucopia of supernatural crafting materials including, but not limited to, the skin.

Most commonly known are items of Nemean leather. When properly prepared the skin of a Nemean creature can make stronger than usual leather commonly forged into armor. Other uses exist, including bags which are often enchanted with effects to grant enhanced capacity or the ability to hide their contents in some way. Nemean bones and sinew are occasionally used to make powerful bows or crossbows as well, but are far less common.

In Cypher System Nemean leather armor will be a medium armor with the armor penalty of a light armor. A bow made of Nemean materials will do an additional point of damage. A Nemean leather bag or waterskin is often able to hold twice or three times the volume it seems while weighing very little more than an empty item of its size; such an item is an artifact with a depletion on a d20 when items are removed, or when a waterskin is filled.

Blood Oak

Blood oak is an uncommon form of the normal oak tree. The blood oak is the result of a necromantic ritual wherein an oak nut (acorn) is planted into the chest cavity of a ritually disemboweled victim. The tree grows from the victim's corpse and appears in all ways as a normal oak except for blood red leaves. The rarity of blood oak is due in part to the ritual nature of the oak's creation, and the length of time needed for the tree to grow to a harvestable size. The harvested wood of a blood oak is deep red in color and often retains a wet appearance even after being completely dried and prepared for use.

The most common use of the blood oak is in the form of wands and staves where it grants additional power to spells that affect blood or control a victim, including undead. These uses are most common because the tree can be harvested in only a few years for the required growth. Fully grown adult specimens (which are always sterile) can yield sufficient lumber footage to craft protective wooden shields and even armor (though rather uncommon) which can protect the bearer from the same blood and control magics that the wood can empower in other forms. Rumors of entire buildings built with blood oak lumber exist, though if these are true it is unknown what such structures could do.

In the Cypher System blood oak wands and staves grant an asset on abilities that target blood or seek to control a target. Blood oak armor or shields provide an asset to resist the effects of control and blood magics when worn/wielded. Such items would be artifacts with depletion rolls on a d10 for wands and staves, and d20 for shields and armor.

Elixir Crystals

Have you ever wondered what happens to magical potions that don't get used and dry up? Many potions simply go bad and cease to work, or change into something untoward that may have a significantly altered effect. Under the right circumstances some potions can be coerced into crystallization, much like a sugar solution left to evaporate that will leave rock candy behind.

Elixir crystals are not simply a "just add water" form of their original elixir however. These crystals radiate a weak magic and are often worked into jewelry which can be worn to gain the advantage of their effect. Elixir crystals may have effects similar to the effect of their elixir source, such as a healing elixir producing a crystal which can aid in recovery. Others may have related effects, a crystal formed from an elixir of stone to flesh may provide resistance to petrification for instance. While others may have radically different effects that seem entirely unrelated.

Regardless of their effects, the boons granted by elixir crystals are relatively modest and dependant on the size of the crystal. Such crystals are also enormously expensive due to the large quantities of their alchemical source materials; a thumb sized healing elixir crystal would be formed from dozens of healing potions/elixirs. As a result these crystals are fairly rare, and often are not economical for alchemists to create.

In Cypher System games elixir crystals will provide a small bonus. A large crystal (thumb sized) may provide an asset to a given task, while smaller may provide a +2 or a +1 at their smallest. Healing crystals will provide a bonus to recovery rolls, usually +1 or +2. All such crystals are artifacts with depletion of between d100 and d20 depending on GM prerogative.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Story Seed - Annihilation

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Black hole sun, won't you come, and wash away the rain? - Soundgarden

I wanna see it painted, painted black
Black as night, black as coal
I wanna see the sun blotted out from the sky
I wanna see it painted, painted, painted, painted black
  - Rolling Stones

Keillot raised his hands up, feeling the power flowing from the black orb. Here in the deep aether the true void was an actually visible, tangible thing. A sphere of absolute nothing that consumed all that it contacted. Keillot stood on the wreckage of some dead world. All around the aether howled in misery and doom as it fell into the void; fell to a fate of eternal nothingness, an anathema for the aether that was boundless possibility.

The dark man smiled as he drew power into himself from that void. The power to destroy utterly was the most potent weapon he could wield against the Annihilation Seed that had destroyed so many gods before him, and threatened still more in the ages to come. Full of the void's destructive potential Keillot flung down the crystalline shard of long lost Elanehtar and summoned a portal to the world.

In the seemingly unending night of the fifth deep a glowing maw opened from the deep aether and Keillot, who already fancied himself as the new king of gods stepped into the world, his form shrouded in the dark bleed of the void energy he contained. He strode out and made his way toward the Annihilation Seed.

The Annihilation Seed floated in the night of the fifth deep, a great crystalline shard of malignant power. So purple as to be black it pulsed slowly with its own inner energy, an energy that would eventually burst forth and throw down Keillot and the other new gods.

"Not this time, not this cycle," Keillot said as he raised his hands and cast forth the destructive power of the void ...

... and howled in agony as he felt the Annihilation Seed draw in the void's power and Keillot himself as it gained power by drawing the void into its corrupt form.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Last Week Today - October 24 - 30, 2016

Story Seed - History

Nuts & Bolts - Hacking the Cypher System - Expanded Dominion Abilities

Gods of the Fall - Gods of the [Blank] Part 4 - Gods of the Strange

Friday, October 28, 2016

Gods of the Fall - Gods of the [blank] part 4 - Gods of The Strange

All these worlds and more ...

Far Beyond Quickened

You've explored the strange, you've used cyphers and seen how they can effect the real world as easily as they do recursions, and now you've found that you have started to see the fundamental underlying truth. You are starting to understand how the strange is connected to the prime reality. You've started to awaken to greater power still. You're more than just quickened now. Now, you are a god of the strange.

You're going to need The Strange for this one in addition to Gods of the Fall (and probably the CSR, but you may be able to do without). The characters should start out just like any other quickened characters. For the first tier things seem "normal," or at least as normal as things would be in The Strange.

After a few sessions however things change, and the character's catch glimpses of the fundamental code of the strange in situations where that isn't to be expected. They also start to display an unusual aura, this may be a literal corona of light on Ardeyn, an effect of pheromones and bio-circuitry on Ruk, and a bearing and demeanor shift on earth. The characters are not different, yet, but at times other people can see there is more to them.

In time, after the reach tier two, they discover they can tap into the strange in powerful and subtle ways no matter where they are. They gain Strange Shifts that function throughout the prime reality, all recursions, and the strange. These shifts should probably not be on Focus abilities to minimize bookkeeping and to emphasize that their powers are beyond all these worlds. They also choose dominions which could be very traditional, or very modern (a god of computers, a god of media), and abilities that further grant them power over the realities they visit.

The setting is that of The Strange, but dialed up a bit. These are characters who can not just travel between realities and work to prevent Earth from drawing the attention of planetovores, but in time they are capable of fighting those planetovores on something approaching equal terms. Any recursion they visit will integrate them into its narrative as ever more potent and vital figures and in time these characters may be able to become gods of multiple recursions above and beyond any they may create for themselves.

Adventure Ideas
If you ever wanted to have a planetovore actually attack the Earth this might be the ideal time to run a campaign of such scale. At the apex of their powers god characters will be able to confront and hopefully defeat planetovores of level 15 and save the Earth, or damn it when they become planetovores themselves.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Nuts & Bolts #96 - Hacking the Cypher System - Expanded Dominion Abilities

Ok, technically this should probably be "Hacking Gods of the Fall..." but if you're like me then the god-specific systems from GotF will end up in other Cypher games anyways, even if only in the ways I have been discussing for the past couple of Fridays (and this coming Friday). Regardless, this is still Cypher System-centric, but I'll admit it's a bit left of dead center.

One of the things in Gods of the Fall that makes character feel like Gods are divine shifts, another is their aura and symbol, and a third, distantly, are dominion abilities. You see, dominion abilities are a cool idea, but there only so much room in a book and only so many options at the disposal of players and GMs, and because Gods of the Fall doesn't use a preset list of canned dominion (Canned dominion, now with 33% less salt!) the list of dominion abilities simply cannot encompass all possibilities. Add to that that many of the abilities feel less like "dominion" abilities and more like "divine" abilities - including some of which you'd expect to be standard kit - and sadly the dominion abilities can be the lesser, oft overshadowed, aspect of playing gods.

But it sure as heaven and hell doesn't have to be that way!

You see, sometimes it just takes a simple readjustment of your point of view to see a solution. In the case of dominion abilities, I think that Bruce Cordell saw that there would be times when players didn't want to take any of the available choices, and he built in the option to forgo a dominion ability in favor of an additional type ability. That's great, and it helps, but it doesn't really "solve the problem" of dominion abilities being overshadowed and occasionally forgotten. 

Before I get to me solution I wanted to touch on another problematic non-problem: namely that some dominion choices seem to push very heavily on certain choices of foci. A Hardy Destroyer who Stands Like a Bastion, God of Fire may seem really odd choice - he doesn't have any fire abilities! Here's the thing though, Fire is the character's dominion, so shouldn't their dominion abilities help to speak to that?

The solution to both problems is really quite simple: allow players to take a second focus to replace all of their dominion abilities. That character is now a Hardy Destroyer who Stands Like a Bastion, God of Fire, and his dominion abilities are just taken from the Bears a Halo of Fire focus. In play he'll have all those cool fire abilities to pull from which will play into his dominion, but both the player and character won't need to feel obligated to play a Hardy Destroyer who Bears a Halo of Fire, God of Fire. 

I'd probably implement this at 2nd tier by giving players both the Tier 1 and tier 2 abilities of the focus that best suits their dominion. This doesn't prevent a Hardy Destroyer who Bears a Halo of Fire from being God of Fire, and if they did they could just take dominion abilities from the standard list, or even take abilities fro other foci that would also apply. A God of Fire might also Bear a Shard of the Sun or Blaze with Radiance!

Players and GMs shouldn't feel like doing this is an all-or-nothing choice either. There's no reason why a player couldn't take an ability from the core list like Call Seraph, and then take an ability from a focus at the next tier.