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.)

Monday, February 29, 2016

Gods Of The Fall. Unmasked. Predation.

Awaken your 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.

Or find yourself trapped in the dark and dangerous world of the Cretaceous Period. First you'll have to figure out how to survive using the tech you brought from the future—modern weapons, advanced science, and bioengineered dinosaurs. Then you can worry about the asteroid that history says wipes out most life on earth.

Or drift to the edge of insanity. They'll say you're dangerous. Insane. That you suffer from Dissociative Mask Disorder. Your parents and the doctors and the press and the military—they can’t believe what’s happening. They can’t believe what you can do. And they wouldn't believe the price you pay.

What does it all mean? On this improbable day (at least, improbably 3 out of every 4 years), we launched a freaking crowdfunding campaign. Check it out! 

Worlds of the Cypher System Kickstarter: Explore all new worlds and play in any genre with the award-winning roleplaying game system behind Numenera and The Strange.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Breathing Life Into Your RPG Encounter

The job every GM faces is to immerse the players in the make-believe world of your setting. You can do that in lots of different ways, but in an article I posted at MCG titled Breathing Life Into Your Encounter, I focus on a few strategies for bringing a specific scene to life for your players.

For example, I stress how when your player characters enter an encounter, don’t hide what’s important about the encounter behind less-important minutia. For example, if PCs exploring a ruined cathedral enter a chamber containing a two-headed wolf sleeping in the nave, lead with the wolf. Don’t start out describing the room’s dimensions and the number of windows. Those details can come afterward.

More? Check it out the entire article here, which lays it out in "5 Easy Steps" :).

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Time Loops or Evolution Over Time in Recursions

Figuring out if time flows--or loops--in Strange worlds seeded by fiction can be tricky.

How does time flow in recursions seeded by specific fictions—does a recursion evolve and generate history, like on Earth, or does it remain static, like a novel on a shelf?

The answer is both. Some recursions remain static—true to the narrative that seeded them into the Strange. No matter how often a recursor visits, they never seem to change or vary from the fiction they’re based on.

Others evolve, deviate from their original fictional basis, and generate history of their own.

Want some examples? Check out the full blog entry here: Beyond the Book: Recursions—Static or Evolving?

Monday, January 11, 2016

Washing Machine Fixed

I disassembled the washing machine, removed a sock clogging the water pump, plus a couple more socks in the basin beneath the main tub (future clogs waiting to happen), and reassembled the whole thing. 

Now it's working again! Moral of this story: 

Don't overfill your washing machine, people! 

(Alternative moral: Appliance repair is in every one's reach, thanks to the internet!)

How can I take apart my washing machine, you're probably asking? Watch this video:

Friday, January 8, 2016

Perfect Toy For A Nine Year Old

Perfect Toy For A Nine Year Old is my story in this new sci-fi meets Cthulhu anthology Tomorrow's Cthulhu. Check out the full anthology here!

An excerpt:

“Dad, this is boring.” Margaret flopped down on the couch next to Charlie.

Charlie Tokarev looked away from the program they were watching: mustachioed fish explored a land of robot dinosaurs across three walls and the ceiling of the family room. He hadn’t been paying close attention because the show was boring. But his daughter picked the program, so he’d pretended to watch. Charlie gratefully wiped the fish away with a wave of his hand. A green forest, wet with rain, rustled to a phantom wind all around them.

“Then choose something you like,” he said.

“But I’m bored!” Margaret dropped her head back to stare straight up at the ceiling and the digital clouds scudding by.

Charlie swallowed a sigh. When she didn’t get enough sleep, Margaret got cranky. She’d spent the last few days at her friend Zoey’s house and probably slept only a few hours the previous night.

“Tell you what, pumpkin. How about we talk about your birthday next week. I want to get you something special. How old will you be?”

Margaret didn’t immediately respond, but that was a good sign.

“Nine,” she allowed.

“Nine! Nine is a very important number. I think you deserve something extra special for turning nine.”


“Something from the printer. Something real.”

Read the whole story, and many more in Tomorrow's Cthulhu!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Ebooks to Paper

For several years, I purchased mostly ebooks and audiobooks (at least when it comes to fiction--I've always preferred my game books in print). But after seeing how much Batgirl continued to enjoy print books after being an early ebook supporter, too, I tried an analog paper book about 6 months ago. And you know what? It was magic.

Since then, I've stepped off the ebook revolution bus. I've been reading mostly paper novels, as I did before there was such a thing as ebooks; witness my already overflowing shelves, pictured above. Anyway, reading in analog has continued to be amazing. I recommend it. If you've found yourself reading less lately, try a paper novel for fifteen minutes. Nothing is quite so relaxing and stress deflating as reading a solid, physical book.

Of course, this is just one annecdotal report. It turns out, though, there is quite a bit of evidence behind the idea that reading paper books has advantages over e-reading.

(Aside: You know what goes great with paper novels? Light, my friends. Like this little clip-on book lamp. Instead of putting reading lamps behind the couch, behind my favorite chair, and next to the bed, I just clip the lamp to the book. I know, I know, lots of you already do this. I USED to do this years ago. But I got out of the habit; lost my old clip-on lamp. This is just a reminder to those of you, like me, who may have forgot some of the joy reading print can bring.)

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Kickstarter By The Numbers

87: the number of Kickstarter campaigns I've backed.

6: The number of Kickstarter campaigns I pledged that failed to fund (so I guess I didn't back those).

2: The number of Kickstarter campaigns I pledged that are still in their funding stage.

12: The number of Kickstarter campaigns I pledged that haven't yet reached their promised delivery date (or are within the 6 month grace period I give all KS rewards before I begin to seriously wonder).

67: The number of Kickstarter campaigns I backed that I should have received a reward for by now...

59: The number of Kickstarter campaigns I pledged out of 67 for which I DID receive the promised reward. Not bad, all things considered. The very first one I backed was Diaspora (which failed to deliver rewards), an open-source alternative to Facebook ;).

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Strange Revelations: Ten Instant Adventures for The Strange

(This blog was originally posted here by Charles Ryan.)

What’s the hardest part of running a roleplaying game? It has to be the preparation. You can’t just spontaneously say, “Let’s play a roleplaying game” unless someone’s already spent hours preparing an adventure for the group. But what if running a great game didn’t require any more effort for the game master than it does for the players? What if you could get up and running in—literally—just five minutes? Strange Revelations: Ten Instant Adventures for The Strange makes prepping for an RPG no more difficult or time consuming than setting up a board game, while showcasing the wonder and weirdness of the many recursions lying in the Shoals of Earth. This is a must-have for beginning and veteran GMs of The Strange.

These aren’t adventure seeds—they’re complete adventures in an innovative format that requires minimal prep. Run them as one-shots or drop them into your ongoing campaign when you don’t have time to prep your own adventures. You can even run them together as a campaign for months of effortless play!

Strange Revelations includes:
  • Ten adventures on Earth and across numerous recursions, complete with maps, NPCs, and all the details you expect. 
  • An innovative format for adventures: five minutes of prep gets you started, with no need to read pages and pages of text in advance. 
  • An escape from a post-apocalyptic cannibal wasteland, a horror-themed board game that exerts bizarre powers over its players, a medieval wardrobe that opens into a hellish realm, and much, much more. 
  • Great advice on running adventures with little or no prep. 
  • Beautiful, full-color Show ’Em illustrations to reveal to players during the adventures. 
  • Six pregenerated characters that get you playing in minutes. 
  • A handy rules cheat sheet to make things run even more smoothly.

Protect Earth from a malefic Lovecraftian entity. Search for salvage on a derelict spacecraft. Set off into the dark energy of the Strange itself to defend the Orb of Worlds. Strange Revelations is a must-have for beginning and veteran GMs of The Strange, and anyone who’d like to play RPGs as easily and spontaneously as board games!