Friday, April 14, 2017

Gods of the Fall - I Live, I Die, I Live Again

Gods of the Fall is a game set in but a tiny portion of a much larger cycle. The Falls have happened before, and may well happen again. The gods of old weren't the first and, if the PCs have their say, will not be the last. This kind of cyclical story can be played in more than one way as well. Gods of the Fall implies that the new gods are probably not full-on reincarnations of the old gods. There are too many remnants and threads of the old that need to be plucked or cut or burned away. In addition the game's strong allowance for the PCs to be their own gods with nearly limitless choice further points to the PCs being entirely new.

But that doesn't have to be the case. Maybe you want to run things so that the PCs are specific gods reborn anew who must not just claim their divine right, but re-claim their old dominions and powers. In such a case you may want to lean in on Relics of the PCs past selves. In addition you may want to set the players to the task of designing their characters from the top down, or rather from the 6th tier down. Having a complete ultimate version of each player's character can allow the GM to both plan accordingly but also to make liberal use of foreshadowing. A character may find themselves on the receiving end of an ability they don't yet have for instance.

Additionally by helping to design the old gods the players will be able to have a little more in-character knowledge than usual, and may even be able to set up personal story arcs where their god rethinks their past selves' choices. A player may have the opportunity to fix mistakes of their past self, or even approach their dominions in a different way than their did in their prior incarnation. Sure, it's a little more work up front for both you and your players, but it also opens up opportunities that may not present themselves otherwise.

This kind of cyclical play also allows for something a little different within Gods of the Fall, starting as Gods and playing through the Fall. Think about it, it's the kind of opportunity that seldom comes along. Your players build their gods up to their ultimate point, the time just before the Fall when they are probably at their strongest. You, as GM, then run them through a session (or two, or three, or more) as their full-on god selves while the world falls to shit around them. Maybe they fight against it, maybe they try to escape it, maybe they try to lay contingency plans for their eventual return. In the end their gods die ... and are reborn as first tier gods to be, not yet aware of the auspicious destiny that awaits them!

If your group is really good you may even convince them to let other players run their prior god-selves. In this way they can truly see how the Fall and rebirth changed their gods. Or didn't. Sometimes the cyclical nature of things is a result of not progressing and advancing from iteration to iteration. In the end you may finish your campaign the same way you kicked it off, with the fully powered gods Falling once more...

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Nuts & Bolts #114 - Inspirational - Into the Badlands

I got clued onto Into the Badlands a while back, but it wasn't until it recently hit Netflix that I was able to actually watch the first season. I can honestly say it was worth the wait. Into the Badlands (ItB from here out) is the kind of show that refuses labels. It's got martial arts, but it's not really a "kung fu" show. It's set in a post-apocalyptic world, but it's not really a post-apocalyptic show. It takes and fuses elements of a number of genres includes the aforementioned into something unique.

Though tough to pin down from a genre perspective the show can easily inspire any number of genres. What stands out to me is how little world building the show uses during the first season, and yet how well that works. The show sets up its world with a minimalist flair that both paints in broad strokes while also providing small snippets of detail.

Here's the opening narration:
The wars were so long ago nobody even remembers. Darkness and fear ruled until the time of the barons, seven men and women who forged order out of chaos. People flocked to them for protection. That protection became servitude. They banished guns and trained armies of lethal fighters they called Clippers. This world is built on blood. Nobody is innocent here. Welcome to the Badlands.
That's not a lot of specific detail, but it also tells us a lot. Broadly we know that the titular badlands are ruled over by a society that is more or less feudal, with Barons controlling vast tracts of land and the people who work them like the serfs of old. These Barons each control some kind of resource trade, petroleum, opium, minerals and the like. There's a tenuous peace between the Barons at the outset. Oh yeah, and the the barons also have armies of martial arts trained thugs.

Beyond that initial setup he later learn that somewhere beyond the badlands is a city that may or may not be legend known as Azra. There's also a river that runs through the badlands and is controlled by "The River King" who is not a baron but has both their respect and a similar purview of power.

Once you get into the show a bit we see that remnants of the old world exist. Motorcycles. Cars. Phonographs. There seems to be a lack of electronics but many early 20th century technologies seem to be at least semi-common. Less is more in creating the world. Broad strokes set the canvas of the setting and the detail slowly fills in with each episode on an as needed basis.

I said that I didn't think this was really a post-apocalypse show, and I stick by that, it's more like a post-post-apocalypse show. The usual themes of a post-apocalypse tale are gone. Resources are available, society has returned in some way, and scavenging seems to be a thing of the past. In some ways this reminds me of Numenera, it's a setting about living in the society that has grown up in the corpse of the old world and lives among its bones.

While ItB isn't post-apocalyptic in its themes it can still be useful for a GM. The way that the setting is laid out would work just as well for a more traditional post-apocalyptic setting. Those same broad strokes will allow your players to easily grasp the generalities of the setting while the limited detail and very narrow view of the story at the start will keep them from being overwhelmed by setting download syndrome. You can even use your players to help flesh out the setting by taking the ideas they have for their characters and expanding on them in little, or big, ways. Minimal effort, maximum return.

The second season of ItB started recently, and I imagine it'll make it to Netflix in due time. I'm eager for it to do so because I'm curious to see how else they develop the setting.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Story Seed - Absolute Zero: Stillness

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The junction was empty and quiet. Life aboard a cramped space station was seldom describable by either adjective, but when you took the time to hack access to the unfinished expansionary sections of your home you could sometimes find time to use them. In this case the quiet was relative. The bulkheads still groaned their occasional protests to pressure and heat and there was the quiet hum of power distribution and the life support systems. Those last two were Karen's fault, but she really didn't feel like having to explain wearing a rebreather and heavy coat. Instead she hacked the station's grid and turned this junction on two hours ago. Long enough for the atmosphere to recycle a few times and warm up.

Her palms were sweating. She scrubbed them on her pants and cursed her nerves. This whole thing was insane, she wasn't entirely certain how'd she'd come to be here. It had started innocently enough but like a relentless rush of atmo out a hull breach she'd quickly gone from commiserating about the mining corps to agreeing to use her network access to pull data. Tomas seemed nice enough, and he said that if he and the people he worked for could prove the corps were falsifying records it could give the USG reason to sanction the corps. Maybe even remove their extraterritorial status. The USG wasn't perfect, but Karen had to think they'd fix the problems.

Karen realized she was feeling dizzy. She put a hand on the cold bulkheads and started for the hatch out of the section. She realized dimly that she could see her breath. Confusion and panic began a war in her mind. It took effort to realize that the air handling was quiet. She stumbled for the the exit and fell when the lights cut out leaving her in cold, still darkness. As she gasped for air she wondered if Tomas had betrayed her, or if one of the corps had found out about her hack and traced it back to her.