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Author: Paul B

The Crown and The Anchor

The Crown and The Anchor

I’m almost done with reading Johnstone Metzger’s entertaining Old School The Nightmares Underneath; I’m working through the section on creating the Nightmares themselves.

People’s nightmares literally fuel the creation of Incursions from the outer realms into the real world, the Kingdoms of Dreams. Chaos seeps into the land of Law, nibbling away with insidious intent.

Negative emotions create the potential for these Incursions; emotions like anger, fear, disgust and pain infuse an object – and that object becomes the Anchor. Until you send some brave soul into the Incursion and destroy the Anchor, the Nightmare Incursion persists.

The emotion embedded into the Anchor also figures in the sensations and landscape that make up the Nightmare and the Monsters that dwell there. And somewhere, a Crown – like a Boss Monster – lies, whether waiting or hunting, ultimately in control and shaping the power of the Incursion about it.

I like the idea of the separate Crown and Anchor – the control and the power source – that make these Nightmares different. I can see myself using something like this in general dungeon creation. I mean, it makes sense as a concept – a bit like Alien Queen and the Power Plant within the terraforming station on LV-426. Sort of. If you don’t sort out the Anchor, the place remains; if you don’t sort out the Crown, the threat persists and regenerates over time.

I’m almost done reading. I suspect I’ll have more to say.

Numenera: Starter Set

Numenera: Starter Set

I don’t know how I missed it, but Monte Cook Games released a Numenera: Starter Set recently. I guess it must have been very late 2016 – December even? I only recently noticed it at Gameslore – and then on Facebook. Given that I just started running Numenera again earlier in the week, I thought I’d give it a look and see what it offered.

I have run Numenera several times at conventions, large and small. I have found it easy to prep for and interesting to run. As I got a copy of the Reliquary Box Set from an earlier Kickstarter, I have some extra table bling like maps and play mats. I find it makes it easier to engage new players with a game and setting if they have something really tactile and colourful in front of them. A character sheet will usually do; if you can throw out a big glossy map or something, even better.

However, core book Numenera can be a tough sell off the back of a demo. £40 – £50 for a 400+ page hardback book – that can feel like a steep price and a steeper learning curve. Mostly the former, because I find Numenera pretty easy to sell as a simple and intuitive game – and that the core book comes rammed with options and a meaty lump of setting. On top of that, Monte Cook, Bruce Cordell and Shanna Germain cooked up a fine platter of cheap and accessible Numenera support material – much of which I have reviewed in the past on Geek Native.

Anyway – I got the box today, so I thought I’d do a quick box opening video to show you what you get. I can see the box aims at the same market as Fantasy Flight’s beginner sets for Star Wars, providing the essential game mechanics and an adventure with a map and pre-generated characters. An adventure bundled in a box.

I think that a Star Wars beginner box perhaps has slightly more content – like card chits and those fancy dice. However, the simplicity of Numenera and the cheap Glimmer PDFs that provide more material mean that you could run a few adventures with a minimal of additional cash outlay. Indeed, if you dive into the fan communities on the Web, you could glean enough new material for adventures without spending another penny.

I’ll do a proper review when I have had the chance to look through the content of the box properly, especially the sections supporting the player and GM understanding of what to do with all this cool stuff!

Numenera: Live from Norwich

Numenera: Live from Norwich

Numenera: Strand proved a useful touchstone yesterday for kicking off an adventure in the Ninth World. I always answer any questions the players have about the situation that their characters find and the world around them, but Numenera: Strand was a neat way of setting the scene and the tone.

A 10-minute video with just enough narrative and atmosphere to get the Numenera setting fixed inside your head – that works for me. It’s crowd-funded money well spent as a tool – and it’s more than I could muster for scene-setting (despite having quite the reputation for tabletop bling, especially for games like the Cypher system and Symbaroum) with those new to the Ninth World. Combined with the Numenera: Starter Box, you have an ideal in.

I had three players and having selected characters – a Nano, a Jack and a Glaive (Haro, Uraz, and Tanasia) – I set the tone.

Well, I say set the tone.

I think we were all in a surprisingly chipper mood last night, so low-key humour stuck around the whole session.

That aside, I managed to use Numenera: Strand as a satisfying hook into the first session. The sudden appearance of a massive floating artefact over the Steadfast after the discovery of the first silver shell cypher had set authorities and treasure-seekers to a certain task – find more shells!

The Order of Truth were keen to collect both the shells and the black boxes that appeared when the silver cyphers were activated and called the floating artefacts. Authorities had voiced their concern about the well-being, safety and security of their populations; while many nobles had joined the treasure-seekers in tracking down other shells.

The party of three had ventured into the wastes beyond the south of the Steadfast, into the Cold Desert. They had been travelling out for weeks from Qi, the capital city of the Steadfast, and had got a lead from an informant called Stan, a friend of Haro. Alas, when they arrived in the settlement of Norwich, Stan admitted she’d lost track of the shell’s whereabouts after a violent encounter with a mercenary group she referred to as the Crows.

The inhabitants of Norwich had repurposed the shells of giant snail-like creatures as accommodation, draping the entrances with canvas, cloth or synth sheets. They appeared troubled and scared.

Before meeting Stan and one of the local Aeon Priests, Larry, Haro noted that the snail shells formed a spiral, growing outward from the brick Clave at the heart of Norwich – which meant the homes themselves and their layout mirrored the spiral on the outside of the black boxes dropped by the artefact.

Daft names aside – with Glen, Les, Colin, and Allan to follow – the group managed to get a taste of an awkward situation and a significant threat, but struggled to care about anything but the silver shell. Where’s are the shins in it for me? Well, we’ll see next week.

System-wise, I’m rusty and I didn’t have quite the energy necessary to enforce the rigours of the system. Roll a d20 – low and you fail, high and you succeed; that’s about all I could manage for the first session. Next time, I will approach the mechanics a little more conscientiously.

As I say, Numenera: Strand proved very useful – and I’m interested in hearing how other people might use it.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

Binging the box sets. Watching Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency – and that was a half season binge of four episodes – on Netflix last night.

Very good. Like it. As a long time fan of anything Douglas Adams, I read Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency when it came out, around 87/88. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy remains my favourite, but Gently offered something different and new. Gently had more impact on me personally than Ford or Arthur, for example. I continue to employ a largely holistic driving technique informed by Gently’s theories on universal connectivity. When Google Maps fails you , what have you got to lose?

I’ve been watching the whole thing with a view to picking out all the finer details, half expecting them to come back later.

(Rather like how I watched Rogue One, expecting a bucketload of Easter Eggs.)

Love this lot – Farah, Dirk, Todd and Amanda, especially Amanda. Her condition – Pararibulitis, a nerve disease that means her mind can convince her she’s in danger when it doesn’t exist, like she’s freezing, on fire, or gripping a kitchen knife instead of a drumstick – could be interesting in a tabletop game. Farah is bad ass, Dirk is an inspired idiot. Todd… well, Todd’s good, too. I mean, what’s not to like about Elijah Wood?

Jade (Farah) Eshete’s hair deserves a special mention. I swear, that hair is almost hypnotic. Each time she’s on screen, I’m awed and fascinated. I can’t explain.

I’m looking forward to watching the rest. It captures the spirit of the books without being slave to an existing plot line. We have weird experiments, strange machines, deadly traps, lost pets, strange deaths, odd wardrobe choices – and it’s all good. I would sit through four episodes back-to-back for anything that didn’t deserve it. The only thing that stopped me watching the second half of the season was fatigue – and this isn’t a show you want to be watching half asleep for fear you’ll miss something fleeting but important.

Poison City

Poison City

20160229_poison-city_paul-crilleyPoison City (by Paul Crilley) reads a bit like Rivers of London books by Ben Aaronovitch and a twinge like Charles Stross’s books about The Laundry. Probably more former than latter. And, perhaps, with a dose of Hellboy and Night Watch thrown in for good measure.

Gods, monsters, vampires, spirits, angels, demons, fae, and worlds outside our own, mixed up with folklore and mythology from across the world. Set against a South African backdrop, I’ve really enjoyed the first 200-pages of this book – despite my desperately poor reading speed and diabolical reading average this year.

I borrowed this from the library – as you can only get a hardback at the moment, following a release earlier this year – and I’m on my third renewal. I need to do better. I need to stick to the 25-pages of book a day target I intend for next year, but might as well get on with now. In the Goodreads Book Challenge, my effort stands at 3 books finished for 2016. I think that’s selling me short, but it might be right for whole books read. I need to find a way to account for articles, short stories, novellas and so forth. It’s all words and pages; all fodder for the creative process.

Gideon Tau works for the Delphic Division of the South African Police Service, dealing with complex and dangerous occult investigations. He has little support, aside from a cantankerous DCI from Yorkshire and a drunk canine spirit guide, but somehow he gets the job done – and that despite only a tenuous grasp of magic bordering on the amateur. While others in the Division have specialised, Tau’s grasp of ‘Shinecraft’ still relies on a physical focus – a wand – and sometimes he makes really bad decisions that land him in deep trouble with the wrong kind of entities.

All very entertaining and fast-paced. Feels a bit like an origin movie at the moment, skirting over a lot of ground with scant detail. The occult world holds a lot of surprises and here we glimpse dozens of them, with the lingering promise of many more books in a series somewhere ahead.

I can see potential in using this as the backdrop for a roleplaying game – Night’s Black Agents, World of Darkness or, probably, something driven by Fate. Light on magic, high on action, investigation and peril from entities beyond mortal ken. The Esoterrorists might work as well – as you’ll be wanting to Veil Out most of the action and magic seems more dangerous than useful in the greater scheme of things.

December 12th Update – So, I finished reading this over the weekend, having extended the renewal yet again.

Liked this a lot. Definitely an “origin” book for the series and without spoiling anything, which is tough, Tau makes a ton of enemies in the latter half of the book. He makes enemies amongst his friends, colleagues, associate organisations, angels, orisha and others – directly or by the result of his actions.

The state of play at the end of the books has multiple sequels splattered all over it with all kinds of angles – and I can see tabletop role play potential aplenty. Indeed, I can see even more potential now that I’ve finished the book than before. And angles on the world as well.

You could have a ragtag group of player characters made up of Delphic Operatives, minor supernaturals, wing-clipped angels, soul-damaged mortals, and possibly even Fae (though I’m inclined to believe they have a sordid and dark road ahead of them in later books that might put them mostly off-limits).

A game in this world would have all the repercussions of this book to deal with and still have a whole other world to consider.

Poison City was released in August 2016 and you can currently grab a copy in hardback or on Kindle. It’s well worth your reading consideration and certainly something I will come back to and re-read; most likely I’ll re-read with the intent to run a game against the backdrop, probably with Hollowpoint or the Cypher system.

Hollowpoint seems to fit for reasons that will become obvious as you read. The Cypher system with something dredged out of Gods of the Fall might work, too.

Dream Teams and Inspiration

Dream Teams and Inspiration

sturpbadgeimageThese RPGaDay questions are still weird. Short (-ish) answers inevitable.

Day #13: What makes a successful campaign?

I have no idea. I have never had the opportunity to run one.

Day #14: Your dream team of people you used to game with?

My dream team resides in my current gaming group, the best bunch of people I could care to have. I have had some fantastic games over the last four years and the current group at STURP (STockport Unorganised Role Players) excels in all sorts of ways. I don’t think I could ask for anything more – except, maybe, consistency, dependability, and more sleep.

RPGaDay Day #15 asks: Your best source of inspiration for RPGs?

I think showers. Seriously, I have some of my best inspirational moments while I’m having a shower. Whether I’m trying to finish off an adventure, thought storm a new mechanic, or fathom a new take on an old system – I just have to take a shower. I have no clue what the connection is between hot water and the creative processes, but it works for me every time!

RPGaDay 2016

What Comes Next?

What Comes Next?

I’m skipping a couple of entries in RPGaDAY because I just don’t have an answer. Both Day #10: Largest in-game surprise you have experienced? and Day #11: Which gamer most affected the way you play? – well, they’re drawing a blank.

I have not, to my recollection, ever had any in-game surprise launched on me, nor have I launched. I might be wrong, but if I am it mustn’t have been a very memorable experience.

Of gamers affecting the way I play, I really don’t like playing. When I GM, I do it the way I do. I imagine I have picked things up from over the years, but I couldn’t tell you a name of someone in particular. If I have seen someone run a game a certain way, I might try it. I don’t read stacks of gamer advice or following anyone’s YouTube stream. So, no – nothing coming on that one.

RPGaDay Day #12 asks: What game is your group most likely to play next? Why?

Who knows. Honestly.

I get it that many people have regular campaigns that run for weeks, months or years, but I haven’t. I’m quite thankful to turn up each week and find enough players to run a game.

The prospect of something long term, an actual campaign, seems rather nice, but unlikely.

The upshot, we play something new every other week most of the time. What game comes next – it might be easier to consider what I have planned for the next 6 months.

All being well, I’d like to run:

That’s probably enough for the time being! The Dracula Dossier should be something more long term with a return now and then. Dragon Age has already become my long term go to – with more than half-a-dozen adventure passed so far.

The rest – well, Symbaroum and The Cthulhu Hack will have more than one outing at conventions and the local club, too.

RPGaDay 2016