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

Image Source:

"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