Wednesday, June 15, 2016

"Breath Of God," a Gods Of The Fall short story excerpt

Want to know what it’s like to live in the Afterworld, forty-two years after the gods died and the world was ruined? Read "Breath of God," a short story set in the Gods Of The Fall universe, where the world is broken. But a few still look for hope, stand up for what’s right, and try to redeem both themselves and their world.

The following is an excerpt from "Breath of God:"


He trudged along in the dust, pausing occasionally and adjusting the straps holding a massive book that rode his back like some mute ungainly infant. The road was deserted and bone-cold under the moon’s dreaming face. Dim light from the pearly glow surrounding the moon’s disk revealed dead trees, tumbled structures, and the ruins of a failed civilization in all directions except ahead, along the road.

Indignant trumpeting came from somewhere behind him. He looked around. An elephant was catching up to him, but was still far back along the dim track. The swaying lanterns on the carriage fixed to the beast’s back jolted with each step.

He shuffled to the road’s edge and took out his pipe. Red light flared as he set matchstick to tobacco brick. Smooth smoke gave him a moment’s peace from the tome’s weight as he watched the plodding beast advance.

When the elephant finally drew even, it stopped with a jingle of reins.

A craggy female face peered down at him from the sedan chair surmounting the carriage. “Need a ride, padi?”

“Padi? I’m no teacher. Call me Sabien.”


“My apologies. The book you bear . . .”


Sabien adjusted the straps, which were cutting into  his shoulders. “No. I do not instruct. But I’ll take that ride.”

“Two stars,” said the elephant driver. “For that, I will carry you all the way to Corso. Four stars, and you can ride in the carriage. It’s warmer.” The driver’s smile was ingratiating.

Sabien knocked the ashes from the bowl with a tap on his boot heel. “No carriage. I’ll ride with you.” The carriage driver let down a rope ladder, and Sabien joined the woman on the sedan chair. He counted out two gold coins into the driver’s gloved palm.

The driver pocketed her payment and twitched the reins. The elephant heaved into motion. He unbuckled the straps securing his burden, shrugged it around with a relieved sigh, and took the book’s weight in his lap. He leaned his head back against the cracked headrest, closing his eyes. The elephant’s dry, faintly sweet odor somehow made the chill air less biting.

“I’m Bolaz,” came the driver’s voice.

Sabien grunted, his eyes still closed. He hoped she would recognize his desire for silence—

“Lone travelers on the road between Corso and Somorrah are rare. Are you a trader?”

Sabien counted to three, then opened his eyes. “I have an appointment that is long overdue.”

“Oh?” Bolaz’s attention flickered from Sabien to his book.

How many stars to buy your indifference? Sabien wondered. But he grunted in acknowledgment.

“What’s it about? If you don’t mind my asking. It looks important.” The driver’s eyes lingered again on the weighty tome. It was bound between two sheets of blank, yellowish iron. Bolaz presumably couldn’t see the faint nimbus surrounding the book, a nimbus Sabien had only learned to see himself a year ago. The secret silver glow took the form of a single floating symbol: a gust of wind inscribed in silver that never tarnished. For all its beauty, the thing was heavy as guilt.

He rested one hand on the metallic cover. “Important? Yes. But also dangerous.” He guessed that Bolaz was nearing sixty. She’d known the gods before the Fall. Maybe she fondly recalled the magnificent time that Sabien, only eighteen, had never known. If so, perhaps she wouldn’t turn him over to the first Reconciliator they saw in Corso if he told her the truth.

Because, more than anything else, Sabien wanted to tell his story.

------

If you liked that, you can continue reading the "Breath of God" here.

Want to know more about Gods of the Fall, an RPG setting using the rules of the Cypher System? Get a copy for yourself, or at least check out the free preview here.



Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Bodies In Translation – Gear and Foci vs. Stat Pools In The Strange

In The Strange, player characters travel into limited worlds called recursions; seeded from myths, novels, movies, and comics. Each time a PC steps into a new world, their body and mind adapt so that they become part of that world in a process called translation. For example, when Katherine Manners translates from Earth to the fantasy recursion of Ardeyn, she gains a general understanding of that world and its languages and arrives wearing appropriate clothing.


An oddity of translation is that—except for cyphers—travelers don’t take their gear with them. Instead, their gear goes into abeyance. It isn’t lost; the gear is returned to travelers the next time they come back to a previously visited recursion. Continuing the previous example, when Kate returns from Ardeyn to Earth, she doesn’t bring back the magic implements, spirit companions, or gold coins she found on Ardeyn. On the other hand, she regains all her gear from Earth: her trusty revolver, her fractal arm tattoo, her Earth clothing, as well as her expensive smart phone.

On the other hand, your character's stat pools remain constant between alternate worlds. How does that work? (Answer: Check out the full blog at the MCG site where it just went live.)

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Meet the main characters in Myth of the Maker

Thanks to the magic of Kickstarter, my novel Myth of the Maker is a reality. Publication date is pending, but I'm working on the 2nd draft even as we speak. Want to know a little more about my novel set in universe of The Strange? Alright: Meet the novel's four main characters. Rather than write up a bio for each of them, I've provided a short excerpt from the first chapter in which each character appears:
Carter Morrison
The planetovores breached the starting grid. Jason had attacked me, trying to select himself as the one to return home. He’d panicked. Only one of us could print back to Earth. He hadn’t understood all the implications. There’d been no time to explain. He said I was a selfish prick, and worse.
Was I? Maybe.
But the whole fucking planet was on the line.
Katherine Manners
The port scanner failed to turn up a single open connection. The spoofing attack hadn’t fooled anyone. And the packet sniffer was a complete bust because there just wasn’t any data. Kate’s usual techniques, plus a few of Raul’s paranoid schemes, had been for nothing. BDR’s servers were locked down.
So Kate resorted to social engineering. It was a cliché, but only because it worked. Success just required a bit of play-acting. Picking up the phone and pretending to be an angry supervisor threatening the job of a confused customer service rep had gotten her results before.
Not this time.
Jason Cole
The Lord of Megeddon had many names. To some, he was War. To others, Legion. To most, he was simply the Betrayer. But among himselves, he was Jason.
Homunculi peered at Jason from their stations on either side of the exit. Each was a copy, but their bright scarlet coloration denoted their status as inferior clones of the original.
Of him.
Elandine, Queen of Hazurrium
Sword in hand, Elandine walked the borders of the Strange under a red sun. So close to the edge, the light seemed old and used up. Beneath her boots, the land was convulsed. Long ruts dragged scars down to the west as if made by the monstrous talons of a colossal Stranger unable to retain its grip on Ardeyn. The occasional cactus and thorny tree drooped, wilted with pestilence.
The splintered landscape was Ardeyn’s edge, where only the insane or suicidal trespassed. Beyond it drifted a sporadic scatter of free-floating skerries like barnacles on reality’s border. And beyond them lay the Strange. She rarely glanced that way.
Elandine traveled a path parallel to the chaos that spurned all rules, not into it. The Strange would not try her strength, not today.
The Maker willing, it never would.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Gods of the Fall FAQ

Cover art by Lie Setiawan
What is Gods of the Fall?

In Gods of the Fall, the old gods are dead! PCs awaken their divine spark, claim a dominion, and become a god in a fantasy world in which the heavens smashed upon the Earth like a vengeful star.

But from the ashes of this catastrophe, characters can declare themselves to be a god of War, of the Hunt, of Winter, of Fire, or something else. And if they can complete their divine labors and throw down the despots that rose in place of the fallen gods, they might redeem a world fallen into evil. They might truly become—gods!


Just how powerful are the PCs in Gods of the Fall? Are we talking D&D Immortals Set level, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys level, or something else? 

Gods of the Fall characters start out at first tier as powerful as a regular Cypher System character. But by 2nd tier, if they've met their first Obligation (which is essentially to pick a dominion, like Secrets, the Hunt, or whatever, and design/choose your own divine symbol to go with that dominion), you get access to a special set of dominion abilities, plus 3 discrete power-ups called divine shifts. Each tier thereafter, you get ANOTHER divine shift.


How does Cypher System's character creation interact with Gods of the Fall characters? Are Focus replaced with Divine Domains? How does the power level escalates when compared to, say, Numenera?

Foci are not replaced for Gods of the Fall characters. Instead, characters gain access to a special set of dominion abilities that they can choose in addition to the abilities they normally get each time they have the opportunity to choose type abilities after going up a tier. AND they get access to divine shifts, which are very much like the power shift mechanic described in the Cypher System Rulebook.


How large is the world of GotF? Continents? Major nation states? Is hell or whatever the main enemy?

The world is about the size of the Earth, but Gods of the Fall focuses on an area of a single continent. The four main regions of this continent include the Nightland (which is the civilized area that survived the Fall, which due to some kind of curse is plunged into eternal darkness), the Verge (a sort of wild area), the Ruinscape (a formerly civilized country completely destroyed by the Fall), and at the center of the Ruinscape, a never-ending storm where the realm of the gods physically smashed down on the world, called the Eye of Elanehtar. But yep, Soulrest is also a place (some call it Hell), but now that the former gods of Death are dead, creatures are seeping out into the mortal world.


Considering the other MCG titles, how do crossovers work in Gods of the Fall? I feel like if a character from The Strange ended up in this world, they would be immediately overwhelmed. More importantly, what happens if they find something and take it back with them? Is that correct and this game is more of a standalone than the other MCG titles or is there some cross-over appeal?

If a character from The Strange translated into the Afterworld (which is what people in the world call their realm in the wake of the god's Fall), they would 'translate' to take on the context of the world. Which means they'd have the opportunity to Awaken a divine spark! You're right, if they translated in at a tier higher than first, they'd have a few steps to take in order to gain divine abilities, which are called Obligations. But the Obligations aren't overwhelming, at least at lower tiers. But more difficult Obligations (like "divine labors") are the same faced by in-world characters :).

Cyphers found in GotF translate like all cyphers in The Strange. And like most artifacts, artifacts found in GotF probably don't translate, but remain until The Strange character returns again. The same would be true of foci, divine shifts, and dominion abilities acquired in the Afterworld--they'd be there for characters who return to the world by translation. Of course, I can imagine a scenario, ability, or something else where a villain of GotF tries to take their godhood with them to modern day Earth of The Strange. This is what happens sometimes when "planetovores" try to overtake the Earth. One more mission for Estate operatives to try to stem ;)


Players choose a dominion and gain access to dominion centered abilities/powers. Can you speak to how many dominions there will be in the book and how many abilities for each you expect to have for players to choose from?

Dominions are not a 'set' thing in GOTF. In a way, they're like Cypher System skills. We provide a list of potential dominions (War, Secrets, Death, Hearth, etc.) but you could go with whatever you feel you want to be the god of, like Riots, Mountains, Strong Drink, Stories, or whatever. Then from your choice of descriptor, type, foci, and set of dominion abilities, you can build your god in a way that you think fulfills your dominion. If you're the god of Fire, you probably choose type abilities and foci that give you fire abilities, design a symbol that involves fire, and use your divine shifts to up-gun one of those fire abilities to greater-than-mortal levels.


Wait wait wait... if a Villain in Gods of the Fall chased characters from The Strange back to Earth, they would RETAIN their powers and godly might?!?!

If using Gods of the Fall with The Strange RPG, the GM is of course free to come up with all sorts of fun possibilities, even breaking the normal rules that disallow Magic abilities to function in a Standard Physics universe. But normally, as I said above, the divine abilities wouldn't translate, but instead remain behind until The Strange character translated back.


Do you have to be a god in training character? What about being a character that is doing research into bringing back the old gods? I'm thinking along the lines of the priests in The Fifth Element. Would that be better as an NPC to run into while you're busy being Bruce Willis.

Yes, there is a "god in training" tier--it's tier 1. That's when character first begins to Awaken to the possibility they might have something of the divine about them. The backstory for that discovery is different for each character. One possibility might very well have the story you suggest--on the trail of the dead gods, you discover something demi-divine about yourself... The GM helps the player devise this either as part of a character's backstory, or during the first few adventures--however the GM wants to handle it.


Will this setting contain any elements that are not traditionally found in "high fantasy"? For example aspects of steampunk, black powder, or clock works? Can you speak to the cultures of the Afterworld?

Of course the main thing that makes this fantasy unique is that the gods are dead and the PCs have the chance to become the new gods ;).

But new gods are what the world needs to be redeemed. In the unexpected aftermath of the Fall, the world fell into turmoil and shadow. Literally darkness, in the case of a region called the Nightland, courtesy of an intruder moon called Nod causing an eternal eclipse. But a psychic darkness grew in the wars, riots, and rampages that followed, a darkness that persists to this day.

Life is cheap in the Afterworld. An insidious ethos took root. Many think nothing of financially ruining, kidnapping, torturing, taking as a slave, crippling, or killing someone of lesser means as an idle amusement, as part of a game, or to make some quick coin. While this barbarous attitude isn't universal, it is epidemic.
Some of the most wealthy and entitled classes keep torture dens, where slaves and debtors are branded, whipped, and mutilated for amusement (or horrification). Being less powerful or financially secure is reason enough to be targeted for killing or being sold into slavery. Murder, rape, theft, assault—all these and more crimes are tolerated in most places, and in the largest city-state of the Nightland called Corso, are even regulated by the payment of indulgences—if you pay a fee to murder your neighbor, then you can do so and remain on the right side of the law. Corso is a terrible place to be powerless.

Several other city-states exist. One has a culture of undeath-meets-excess. Another is a mining state populated by "angels" left in the world after the Fall. There are a few places where goodness struggles against the shadows, like Somorrah, which lies on the edge of the Nightland.


Are gods the only powers to deal with? Do we have devils, angels, other celestial entities and such to deal with?

Creatures include 'ravers' which are the husks of dead gods that have retained animation. Some creatures are those one would expect to find in fantasy, like the nefar (trolls, orcs, goblins, ogres). Other expectations are turned on their heads.
For instance, dragons in the Afterworld are not great winged beasts; dragon is the term conferred on sorcerers who leave behind morality and ethics in their quest to gather magical power


Will the setting be primarily humano-centric, will it have your traditional fantasy races (Elves, dwarves, halflings etc) or are there races that are unique to the setting? How are races being handled within the rules, racial specific descriptors or some other option?

The setting is primarily human-0-centric. The traditional fantasy races are absent as written (though dwarf and elf do exist in the Cypher System corebook as descriptors). However, there are two new races in the setting: eyeless hulks called tarans, and snake-people called sleen. These each are presented as racial descriptors, but the option is provided to be a sleen or taran without taking the descriptor and still gain the appearance and cultural background of a sleen or taran.


What's the technology level like? Are the heroes more likely to be swinging swords or firing guns?

Swinging swords, using magic, and eventually divine magic (which is magic accessed at a higher level than mortals can manage).


It sounds like a pretty dark setting at start. Is the over-arcing theme slanted toward one of redeeming the world or driving it further into darkness? Or is that left up to the group without a bias one way or the other as written? BTW, this sounds like this is going to be a really fascinating setting.

Definitely dark. Yes, the over-arcing theme slanted toward one of redeeming the world--in fact, there are Seven Prophecies interwoven throughout the setting that provide the GM methods for the PCs to accomplish such goals (prophecies like Law, Understanding, Salvation, and Love). However, the GM and group could go another way... the Seventh Prophecy is of Ruin, which is open to some interpretation.


Are you going to address explicitly what led to the gods crashing and burning on the planet or is that going to be a mystery that the individual GMs are going to be able to tailor as they see fit? or a mix of both.

There IS something of a mystery as to what happened that I won't spoil here. However I will say that evidence in the region called the Ruinscape suggests this is not the first time something like this has happened to the world. In fact it may have happened at least SEVERAL previous times going back into primordial history. A history PCs can explore in preserved Deeps revealed under the Ruinscape. That said, the GM is provided with guidance on choosing the actual reason, and what PCs might want to do about it in the future once they'e fully claimed their godhood.

Are there other dimensions in this world such as Heaven and Hell or is everyone literally on the same plane? I ask because in most fiction, gods, devils and many other mystical beings exist on another plane than mere mortals do.


Yes, other dimensions exist, and some locations descried in Gods of the Fall are on other dimensions. Others are not. Soulrest (that some call Hell) is in an alternative dimension. The realm of the gods USED to be in another realm, but it materialized over the world, fell, and shattered into millions of tiny splinters (those splinters are now known as cyphers…). Likewise, the intruder moon Nod used to be a separate realm of dreams, but it now hangs dangerously low in the sky overhead, tracking the sun so closely that it blots out the sun on the land below (creating the Nightland). When people in the Afterworld talk about where other worlds/other dimensions might lie beyond their own, they talk of the "Aether."


A region without sunlight implies that nothing green can grow (without magic) and the weather would be all hosed up. With Nod so low in the sky, the tides would be spectacular, too. Are you going to involve all this sciencey stuff, or focus on a more Fantastic atmosphere in Nightland?

Magic definitely plays a part in ameliorating physical aspects that would otherwise be troubling. Nod is actually relatively small as moons go, and it tracks very low in its "orbit." It's also not as cold as it should probably be under the eternal eclipse, but magic also mitigates that. Special farms in the Nightland called golden bowers have found a way to keep food production up, as well, though there is also trade with areas not under the eclipse. And so on.

(This FAQ was assembled from the Q&A I did on the Worlds of the Cypher System comments on Tuesday March 15th.)