Friday, January 20, 2017

Gods of the Fall - Going Deeper

The Deeps. Five strata of underworlds buried beneath the Afterworld. A wealth of possibilities that are only hinted at. Beyond everything else in Gods of the Fall the Deeps captured my imagination immediately. Here was a reasonable, logical in-game excuse to use all those mega-dungeon maps that proliferate around RPGs. More than that however was the fact that the Deeps are tied very strongly to the Fall and to the themes of lost divinity and days gone by.

Briefly the five Deeps are:
  1. The lost civilization of serpent-men
  2. A massive fungal ecology
  3. A realm of chthonian monsters beholden to a long dead god of monsters
  4. The twisting labyrinth of an utterly alien race
  5. The deep abyss and the source (potentially) of the Fall
At least, those are what the book details, but who says that you have to use the same five Deeps as the rest of us. Here's the thing: the contents of the deeps (the Fifth Deep notwithstanding) are not that critical to the setting. Maybe you want to swap out weird mushrooms and spores for a massive underground see populated by blind albino mer-folk. Or maybe you want to drop the weird alien slug men for a crumbling clock-work machine that fills the entirety of the Fourth Deep.

So, like I said, what is in the first four Deeps is largely unimportant in the grand scheme of things. The existence of the Deeps themselves is what is of paramount importance. They hints at the true of the world that has been forgotten, namely that the Fall is not the first time Gods have perished and brought ruin to the world. Likewise the rise of new gods is something that has occurred before.

Or maybe as the saying in Battlestar Galactica goes, "All of this has happened before, and will happen again."

So then, if the what's in the Deeps isn't important (again, the 5th Deep notwithstanding) why not make a change or two. Heck, even the 5th Deep could be changed from its nigh featureless darkness around the Anhilation Seed to something more interesting: a maze, a dungeon, a vast ruin scape, or anything else you may like.

Perhaps the 5th Deep takes on the appearance of a vast digital wireframe realm that de-rezzes and experiences data corruption and glitches as you approach the Anhilation Seed. A change like this could hint at a connection to The Strange, or perhaps just that the world your PCs know is not "real" and that the Fall is the result of system resets caused by some kind of hardware or software damage. If you wanted to go this route you could even pepper the early game with cyphers that would hint at this either by effect or by appearance. Perhaps a healing cypher causes the character to "refresh" by disappearing for an instant and then reappearing with fewer wounds.

The other Deeps act as opportunities to the GM to explore tangential genres of fantasy. As I mentioned before a sprawling dungeon, a massive clock-work, a sunken undersea kingdom, even a realm of faerie, all could work as potential re-skins for the Deeps and allow the GM to explore the themes he wants or to leverage other RPG products.

Personally I like the idea of turning one of the Deeps into a vast clockwork machine. Given the way the Seraphs in Gods of the Fall appear to be semi-divine clock-works or golems I think this might add an interesting extra layer to the game and it's setting. Will I do it in my current game? Maybe, but then I don't know what the PCs will choose to do now that they have learned their destiny.

What ways would you consider re-skinning the Deeps?

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Nuts & Bolts #103 - RPG Blog Carnival - Oh, Man!

I've decided that this year I want to try to participate in the RPG Blog Carnival. With luck this may introduce some new readers and help expand the blog some. Welcome to any newcomers, and thanks for sticking around to my current readers.

The RPG Blog Carnival is a roundtable of sorts sponsored (if such a term is appropriate) by +Johnn Four via his Roleplaying Tips website. Each month there's a topic hosted by a blog and other bloggers can post about it and link back to the source blog and in return at the end of the month the source blog will make a roundup post sharing links to all participating blogs. 

But I digress... January's topic is "Prophecies & Omens." I tackled prophecy previously on the blog (#50 I Foresee a Long Post) so I don't much feel like tackling that side of things a second time. Omens, on the other hand, I haven't really dealt with. So let's take a look at the prompt:
For the Carnival: What are the omens for good and bad luck in your setting? Is there a form of augury not dependent upon birds? How do omens work in your game? Are there any mechanical benefits to spotting or fulfilling an omen?
Hmm... kinda setting specific, but I think I can take those and speak generally to them. Let's give this a whirl.

Kinds of Augury

Let's start with the many form of augury one could use in a game. Given that we're not talking prophecy I'll focus instead on augury in the form of signs and portents that one might observe. More specifically these are the kind you don't go looking for like rolling bones, reading entrails, or looking at tea leavings. Omens of this kind are either specifically referenced from earlier prophecy ("When the sun goes black the witch king's bane will come to the world...") or are more commonly known (if the groundhog sees its shadow there will be four more weeks of winter). These omens can take on nearly any form.

Common knowledge omens may be as mundane as predicting weather or good or bad fortune, or as esoteric as to determine a child's potential (the 7th son of a 7th son). These omens will also be culturally dependent, it's unlikely that a dwarf would know of or care about weather related omens. Conversely they may find omens that predict earthquakes helpful, and they may read bad fortune in a beer that quickly loses its head. Suck culturally aligned omens will help to deepen the immersion into your world as well.

Prophecy is, of course, a tricky business. Omens from prophecy tend to take on the characteristic vagueness that prophecy is often known for. "When the sun goes black the witch king's bane will come to the world..." probably indicates an eclipse, but it doesn't really tell more than that. Is this a traveler to the kingdom? A child born that day? That hour? That moment? Or does it indicate something else. Perhaps a magical device will change under the light of such an eclipse and become capable of harming the witch king.

Consider how much information you are giving away, and also how specific the information is, the less detailed and less specific the greater use to your game such prophecies, and their attendant omens, will be.

Good & Bad Omens

Omens can foretell both good and bad events and fortune, and good omens need not stem from good sources. It may well be that in your game the death by drowning of a sibling is a portent of fame to come. Such omens are still bad in their own way, the death of a loved one is a terrible thing, but a culture that sees such an event as a good omen may have some strange notions of death. Most often omens are innocuous, a groundhog seeing its shadow, a black cat crossing your path, until you are aware of the omen they bring. Think again to the idea of dwarves, they may take omens from a drought with a long lasting head, or an axe that shatters while being forged.

The scale of the omen sign to the omen prediction need to be equal, but the rarity should be. Having a black cat cross your path isn't terribly uncommon (unless black cats are themselves uncommon), and so whatever bad luck it brings would not be great. The flip is that a 7th son of a 7th son is likely to be a rare event and such a child may well have a great destiny befitting such an omen.

The Pros and Cons of Omens

And what of those omens and their meanings? In the parlance of a game an omen of good, or bad fortune may simply mean an advantage, or disadvantage, on a player's next roll, either a specific roll or a just the next to occur. A more potent omen may indicate extending such a boon or bane for a longer period, hours, days, possibly longer. Bonuses on damage rolls or even defense may also be appropriate. Likewise an automatic shift in disposition for the better or worse in the next person you meet may be appropriate.

Obviously, meeting the prediction of a prophecy will have results that were spelled out, or hinted at, in the prophecy. Where the conditions of prophecy tend toward obscurity, the results tend to be clear: the defeat of a great evil, the coming of a great good, the end of an age, the next king, and so forth. I find that these are best used as the kickoff to a campaign (a PC is able to use "the king's weapon" or some such and that kicks off the whole story) or as a roadmap toward the end of the campaign (The PC's do something in game that signifies them as the one to end a great evil kicking off their journey to the eventual vanquishing of the villain).

Signs & Portents

Using these in game can be as simple or as complex as you want. I personally go for simple in most game things because I have found that complicated rarely makes things better in proportion to the increase in difficulty. For prophecy you may want to write that ahead and have it found by the PCs early in the game, but you could easily have it be something that you write hastily after the scene has ended so as to better craft a triggering condition unique to the players' actions. For omens and signs I would start by having the PCs notice these things during play. A successful check with the right skill would reveal the nature of the omen. You can also use this without checks if you know the PCs have a tough (or easy) encounter and you want to buff (or debuff) them prior. Once they know that a white bird in summer means the death of an NPCs they like then the next time you have them see the same portent it will have a greater impact on the game. "Play it forward," if you will.

That's all I got this month. Hopefully this goes well and I'll continue participating throughout the year. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Story Seed - A New World

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This is inspired by a recent decision to do a one-shot of After the Bomb RPG on my birthday coming up. It was favorite of mine years ago, and I hope it stands up to a trip down nostalgia lane.

Nobody rightly recalls how it all happened. How it started. Some say it was a war for resources that escalated. Some that it was all an accident with an advanced defense system. Others say it was a disease that made mankind mad, and in its madness it lashed out, flailing at itself with weapons of mass destruction. However it began the world was bombarded in nuclear fire and the old world was destroyed. The world died, humanity was reduced from billions to tens of thousands.

Maybe it was the radiation. Or a chemical. Or some kind of disease that changed. Regardless, as humankind fell the animals rose. Mutations rapidly changed the wild and domesticated animals of the world. Intelligence. Sentience. Sapience. Hands. Even psychic abilities. As humanity gasped against their death, the animals took their first breaths as the world's new dominant "species." The remaining humans have either embraced the new citizens of the world or banded together against them. In the ruins of the old world both parties eek out survival. 

The wind swayed the trees and brought a new scent to my nose. I sniffed and then wrinkled my nose at the odor, some kind of synthetic volatile. Motor oil perhaps, or something else. I crept forward and peered out from the hedgerow. A mechanized soldier, one of the Empire's robot suited thugs. I sat back and un-slung my rifle from my back.

Not for the first time I cursed my underdeveloped legs. Walking on two legs was beyond me for more than a few steps, unlike some of my friends who were more human in that regard. Still, I shouldn't complain too much, my hands were well developed and I'd retained the superior sense of smell of my forebears. I lifted the rifle, then thought better of it. Instead I grabbed the battered walkie talkie. It's case was held together with old silver tape and the batteries were being held in by a rubber band, but it worked. I clicked it on and quietly called for help from my comrades.

I took up my weapon and waited, peering through the simple tube scope on the rifle and waiting for my allies. I didn't have to wait long. A bellowing roar preceded the arrival of Moose. Antlers down he charged the armored soldier, slamming into it with the force of a car. Hot on Moose's heels were Shifty and Fred. Shifty held a submachinegun that was comically large in the mouse's hands but the cleverly assembled recoil brace did its job and he laid down and impressive amount of suppressing fire. Fred was another dog, but his mastiff roots made him huge and he rushed out swinging a crude maul built from an old metal pole with a chuck of concrete still fused to the end.

Two other soldiers joined the first but I managed a lucky shot and got one just below the face shield of his helmet, sending the man down in a gurgling tumble. The stream of bullets from Shifty kept the other pinned down long enough for Moose and Fred to beat the first into submission. The third ran, his robotically augmented legs carrying him away quicker than any of us could, or cared to, follow.

"They're getting brazen," Shifty said as he reloaded an extra long magazine for his weapon. "This is way closer to home than they usually patrol. Things are getting bad."

Fred nodded, "War is coming."

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Last Week Today - January 9 - 15, 2017

Story Seed - Marksman

Sadly work got the better of me this week and I was unable to prepare my usual schedule. However one more thing of mine was published this week: my adventure "Thirst" for Gods of the Fall was published in issue #8 of the CypherCaster! If you have a Gods of the Fall game running, or plan to start one, this is a great (my opinion) adventure for shortly after your players hit tier 2. Please consider checking it out. If you like the magazine please consider reviewing it on DriveThruRPG, and if you run the adventure please let me know how it went!