Friday, March 17, 2017

Gods of the Fall - The Name of the Thing

We all know the name of the game, but have you considered what it really means? It's pretty clear from the game's art that there was an overt attempt to stand away from the Western & European classical religions. There's a less obvious lean toward the religions of Middle Eastern antiquity, and more classical and modern India. That's all subtext. It's all in the art and presentation. There's nothing over to direct somebody away from Thor and Hermes, but the subtle touches of names, artwork, and even the mechanics of the game suggest these things.

And then there's the title: Gods of the Fall. It's evocative and creates a certain expectation. Unfortunately it may not be the right expectation for some. Because "god" (note the lowercase "g") and "God" are not the same, and given the Eastern lean of the material I started to do some digging. Turns out that that the East may have contributed more than just a visual aesthetic, because there seems to be more than a little Hinduism in the gameplay and mechanics. Take a look at the following I dredged up from Wikipedia when researching "deities" recently:
Difference between deity and monotheistic God (from Wikipedia here
A typical deity in Hinduism, differs from the monotheistic concept of God in other major religions, in that the deity need not be omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent, or a combination of these. 
A deity – god or goddess – is typically conceptualized in Hindu tradition as a "supernatural, divine" concept manifesting in various ideas and knowledge, in a form that combine excellence in some aspects, wrestling with weakness and questions in other aspects, heroic in their outlook and actions, yet tied up with emotions and desires.
I'd say that the Hindu model of deities fits Gods of the Fall rather well wouldn't you? I'd even go as far as to say that while "Deities of the Fall" isn't a better title, it is a more accurate one. The characters that the players control are gods but too often that gets mixed up and confused with Gods. The characters are deities, they have limited scope and very real vulnerabilities that balance out their impressive strengths. They are prone to human failings, as were the gods before them.

This isn't a condemnation of the game or the title. Gods of the Fall sounds better and it catches the eye and imagination better. It's the title the game needs and even if it isn't perfectly accurate of the intended play style it's the right title for the game.

All that said I think it bears understanding that the characters should be defined by their limits and their humanness as much as they are by their powers and dominions. Allowing fear and greed and other failings and weakness mix with their divine attributes will help yield a better story. Either through pure roleplay or by helping you as GM to define stories and enemies that compliment and contrast the characters.

Gods of the Fall is a game of deities striving to both transcend their humanity and also lift the world from darkness into light. Keeping in mind that darkness can come from within as well as without will only help tell a better story.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Nuts & Bolts #111 - Hacking the Cypher System - Mastery

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inability. Untrained. Trained. Specialized. Cypher System players will no doubt instantly recognize these terms and the significance of them. The skill spectrum assumes that Untrained is the default state; that any character can attempt any task with this basic level of competency. Depending on your type, focus, and descriptor you may have a few, or many skills at levels other than default. Of course, beyond their level of training characters can apply effort to varying degrees to make tasks easier beyond even that which their training affords.

The Cypher System Rulebook introduced a new variable into the dynamic when it brought us Shifts. Shifts are incredibly powerful, which fits their use within Superhero games and the players as divinities setting, Gods of the Fall. Using shifts turns a character to 11. Not only do Shifts grant what is essentially a permanent and free level of effort, but depending on the shift type these can apply to a very wide scope (such as with Dexterity or Intellect shifts) or a great depth (such as with Single Attack shifts adding both a level bonus and additional damage).

I've said in the past that at its default style of play Cypher System is very well suited to games with a pulpy tone. The characters are very capable, very robust, and stand out from the norm with special abilities or skills (foci). The mechanics of effort and recovery further increase this feel. Characters can take their chances on less important tasks but with effort they can make success of more important tasks more routine. Likewise the ease of recovery (at least the first two recoveries) allows for characters to bounce back quickly at first.

Why am I detailing all of this? Because there are times when I feel like a step between basic Cypher and Cypher with Shifts would be nice. While one could certainly limit the number of shifts given to characters the breadth & depth of scope would still greatly alter game play. So what's a GM to do if they want to add just a little more punch to their PCs in keeping with something like a Golden Age Supers game, or a more heroic game of myth?


Mastery works a little like a Shift and a little like an extra level of Training. Mastery is applied to a skill the character has already gained at least a level of Training in and grants not only an increase in the level of training, but access to a higher level of skill competency: Mastery. Characters with Mastery in a skill reduce the difficulty of tasks associated with the skill by three levels. It's as simple as that. In order to gain the most from Mastery characters will need to already be (or soon to gain) Specialized in the skill in question, and taking Mastery makes them one of the (if not THE) best in the field. These are the peerless Samurai, the genius mechanics, the bleeding edge scientists and engineers.

I'd suggest granting not more than one, maybe two, levels of Mastery to characters to hit that sweet spot of allowing characters to truly excel. The use of Mastery can help differentiate between characters of similar type and role. A pulp aviators game (such as Skyward) may find itself with two characters specialized in piloting and mechanics, but one may choose Mastery in the former skill, where the other applies Mastery to the latter. Instead of stepping on each other's toes one becomes the undisputed best pilot and the other the best mechanic.

I've not tested this idea out, but I hope to eventually. In the meantime, if you get a chance let me know how it went.