A Rather Strange Evening

Yesterday evening into the wee hours of this morning, I was getting up close and personal with The Strange, the new roleplaying game from Monte Cook Games. I ran my first ever session having had a quick couple of read-throughs of the PDF for my in-real-life group, then had the pleasure of experiencing it from the other side of the GM screen as a player in a game run by Lucas Fox, accompanied by a player and the GM of a Numenera game I play online (which Lucas also plays in).

The TL;DR of this is simply – it’s a blast, I loved both running the game and playing it.

For running my game, I’d been captured by the idea of emulating the classic D&D cartoon. My players, all knowing each other in real life, played themselves and we started them off with only a descriptor – no types or foci – to represent their mundane, naive place in the world of The Strange. The game started at a fun fair, not something some of the players would normally bother with if not for the fact that there was a big geeky draw – a replica of the roller coaster ride from the D&D cartoon intro. Obviously, it was more of a haunted house ride than an actual dimensional hopping roller coaster, but for nostalgia’s sake the players were all up giving it a go at least once.

After much queueing, they eventually got onto the ride, but not before noticing a somewhat out-of-place man in a suit with a briefcase, looking a little nervous. They mostly just made jokes about him until a hulking brute of a man started pushing his way through the queue, clearly looking to cause some serious damage to the man in the suit. The suit quickly opened his briefcase to reveal some shoes, a hammer and a crystal ball. Taking the hammer, a hit the coaster carts and they suddenly lurched into high-speed, the safety restraints activating and locking in the few people that had already gotten into the cart (namely the players). As the cart rocketed into the ride, the suit touched an earpiece. “They’ve caught up to me. Rendezvous compromised. Requesting evac!” But then to everyone’s surprise, the huge man’s arm raised up the back of the rear cart, somehow he’d managed to jump and hold on and now he was climbing towards them all!

With the situation about to get a whole lot worse, the suit just swore, unable to move easily to defend himself in the safety harness, so he touched his earpiece again. “Going to do an emergency recursion. Got civilians with me, coming in hot.” He pulled the crystal ball from his briefcase and through it ahead of the roller coaster and it shattered into a strange portal, the players screaming as they rocketed through it into a dark, dense forest. Luckily, the portal closed just in time to stop the man coming through, well, at least all of him. He head made it through, but it wasn’t the face of a man any more, but some kind of grey, dog-like beast. The players were flipping out at which point I decided it was best to make them all choose a focus and type :D

This left us with our four players as:

  • Barry – An Inquisitive Spinner who Works Miracles
  • Alana – A Strong-willed Paradox who Practices Soul Sorcery
  • Greg – A Weird Paradox who Embraces Qephalim Ancestry
  • Ian – A Tongue-tied Vector who Wields Two Weapons at Once

As you may guess from the foci above – they weren’t on Earth any more. They were on Ardeyn. They clothing had all changed, their mobiles no longer worked, or were even mobiles at all. Most striking of all was Greg, who was some ebony-skinned, slightly canine looking creature. Surprised and shocked by the changes and the sudden assault on their minds and a wave of new knowledge and understanding rushed into their heads, they floundered, unsure of themselves until the suit, now also an ebony-skinned humanoid like Greg had become, introduced himself. He apologised for what was happening, but was also shocked by what he was seeing. The players had taken surprising well to the translation and their changes, especially Gregs drastic change, confirmed his suspicions – they were all Quickened, imbued with an innate connection to the Strange. However, there wasn’t time for any of that – it wouldn’t be long before more of those like the man chasing him came after them and he couldn’t complete his mission baby-sitting a bunch of civilians. He’d take them to a nearby safehouse in Ardeyn. Barry had a new-found knowledge of geography, and worked out they’d landed in the Green Wilds. Lucky for them, Agent Neal, as the creature had introduced himself, knew of a converted qephalim ruin deep in the forests that the Estate had a base at. Without explaining much further, he told them to stay quiet and follow him – these forests were full of Sarks, and two qephalims wandering around would be sure to draw their ire.

Unfortunately, they ran afoul of a group of 4 Sarks and due to some botched stealth rolls, were spotted and a battle ensued. Several bad rolls happened, including a 1 on Greg using his Kindred of Death ability which actually ended up infusing an injured Sark with deathly energies, raising it up to a level 5 creature instead and granting it the qephalim mythlight lance ability. After a protracted battle, mostly saved by the efforts of Barry’s healing abilities and Alana’s brutal Exception uses, they emerged victorious, though hurt. After some time, they reached the ruins Agent Neal had spoken of, an immense, black-stone mayan pyramid set into the side of an gigantic tree which must have been almost a quarter-mile in diameter. Awed, they followed the agent inside the dark temple, the only light the faint glow of his and Gregs mythlights. Eventually at a dead-end, the Agent touched a stone on the walls to reveal a modern-day looking numeneric keypad. He tapped in a code, got scanned by some kind of laser, then gave a voice print verification and the dead-end wall opened with a ka-thunk, revealing some kind of command centre filled with equipment circa 2000, so a little outdated, but not too much. Fill of other agents and analysts, some dressed in normal Earth attire, others clearly Ardeyn natives, a large stone golem in a suit greeted them and after a brief talk with Agent Neal, had armed guards escort them to a holding area whilst he debriefed the agent. The players waited patiently, browsing through some old National Geographics and Cosmo magazines in the waiting area.

Eventually, the golem returned and gave them a choice. Their lives would never be the same, Quickened as they were, they’d forever be a target, a resource to be abused and exploited by those that could make use of their talents. The Estate could keep them safe, erase their memories, keep an eye on them – they could go back to their old lives and forget everything, living under the careful watch of the Estate. However, they had proven themselves capable, they’d handled themselves well (especially since they had no equipment or weapons) and taking to translation surprising well for first-timers. As Quickened people, the Estate could use their talents and they’d be safer knowing their enemies than living in ignorance. With the right training, they could become agents of the Estate, if they were willing to try.

We ended the session with, after some deliberation, them accepting. They were translated to London, then escorted on a first-class train journey home and we called it a night. When they translated back, I ruled that their new Quickened state translated their knew knowledge and abilities back into Earth-compatible forms, so their focuses switched, leaving them on Earth with new abilities granted by their new foci as:

  • Barry – An Inquisite Spinner who Solves Mysteries
  • Alana – A Strong-willed Paradox who Works the System
  • Greg – A Weird Paradox who Conducts Weird Science
  • Ian – A Tongue-tied Vector who Wields Two Weapons at Once (it’s a draggable focus)

Effectively, this meant they’d developed new abilities and knowledge, just by virtue of translating back and forth, which probably isn’t exactly how it’s meant to work, but worked well enough for our purposes. All in all it was a fun game, even if not a whole lot was accomplished. The players did far less in the fun fair/intro-Earth portion of the session than I’d expected but that wasn’t a problem and it allowed us to speed through to the meat of the Strangeness. Of course, lots of questions remained unanswered – what was Agent Neal’s mission? Who was he meant to have met and what had happened to them? Who/what was that guy chasing him? And of course, since their pursuers head was in Ardeyn, does that mean his soul is in the Night Vault, and will sinister forces learn things from it or give it a chance at revenge?

Almost immediately after wrapping up that session, I got to play in another game, resurrecting a character of mine I had generated in a play-by-post playtest game of the Strange – Casey DeBraun, a Brash Paradox who Is Licensed to Carry. I’d built her initially as a sort of female Indiana Jones, but she ended up playing out as far more of a bitch than I planned, constantly disrespecting our ‘newbie’ agent who hadn’t been filled in on the Strange or any weird abilities and only referring to her by computer application names when I needed her to do things (she was a tech). I wont explain too much since the whole game is on youtube, but it was a blast and I nice change to play a contemporary-modern setting game (I tend to end up playing in fantasy settings mostly).

Hello, I’m darkliquid, and I’m a Roleplaying Addict

I love tabletop roleplaying games. There is just something about them that can’t be satisfied by any other kind of gaming experience. As a writer, I guess I find them a really rewarding exercise for my imagination and improvisation, as well as a fun way to tell stories without having to do all the work myself. Ultimately, that’s what it’s all about for me, which is why I love very narrative-driven games as opposed to the more combat-orientated simulationist games.

I have to admit, I’m a bit of a game addict. Whilst I don’t play or run nearly as many games as I would like, I do have a penchant for collecting games in the hopes that I’ll play or run them one day. As such, I have a great many books and PDFs of games that I’ve never even played or run at all. I’ve been getting a lot more into playing games online over skype/hangouts, so hopefully I can make use of what little free time I have to change that.

While I’m sure my game collection isn’t nearly as sizeable as some peoples, my list of games currently includes:

There are probably other ones that I’ve forgotten about. From the list you’ve notice the majority of them probably fall on the more ‘indy’ end of the spectrum. Out of all of them, I’ve only ever played or run a few, namely:

  • Dresden Files – run an almost immediately aborted game (we generated a fictional Southampton to play in, sadly never ended up playing in it after that)
  • D&D 3.0 – played and ran a bunch of games. Hilariously broken system, sort of a guilty pleasure than anything I’d actually consider seriously for running one of my own games nowadays.
  • D&D 4 – don’t remember running it, but played a few games. Could take it or leave it really.
  • GURPs – played one game play-by-post on a forum. Tried running a game, didn’t like the system as a GM very much and switched to the WEG Starwars D6 system
  • Feng Shui – never played (that I can remember), but ran a bunch of games. System sometimes feels a little clunky, mostly due to either me being an idiot when reading the rules or the copy-editing in the books being a little poor.
  • Wushu – never played, ran one game using the Feng Shui setting, enjoyed it a lot
  • WEG Starwars D6 – played and ran multiple games, in the Starwars setting and home-brewed ones. West End Games’ D6 system is still one of my favourites in terms of the simplicity and easy of use
  • Psi-Run – playing a game via play-by-post. Very enjoyable, simple system
  • Paranoia XP – briefly played one session, don’t think I ever run it as all my usual players are too afraid of letting out my inner sadist! :P
  • The Strange – it’s only just been released, hoping to run a game today
  • Numenera – I’ve played a few online games, both play-by-post and over skype. Run a bunch of game sin real life. Really enjoy it from both sides of the GM screen
  • Fiasco – played in one game of this an really enjoyed it. Not been able to get into another game since.
  • Microscope – really enjoyed using this as a tool to build a campaign for Numenera. Sadly never played it properly.
  • Gamma World – ran this a couple of times, enjoyed it. Kind of like Numenera in feel in some ways, though a bit more gonzo.
  • Shadowrun 4th Ed – ran a few abortive games that never really got off the ground, never played it.
  • Shadowrun 2nd Ed – played a few times, enjoyed it quite a lot though the sheer about of options and depth to combat sometimes bogged things down a bit.
  • Don’t Rest Your Head – I love this, ran a few games of it before.
  • A Penny For Your Thoughts – played this and found it really enjoyable – some of my other players weren’t really convinced though

I’ve also played in a few I don’t yet own, mostly Storyteller games such as Werewolf: The Apocalypse, Vampire: The Masquerade and straight World of Darkness. I’d really love to play Promethean, Changeling, Mage and Genius. Geist looks really interesting too.

Nowadays I find myself drifting towards games that aren’t the typical high-fantasy setting. I like my dystopian cyber punk and urban fantasy, but I’d really like to play a very hard-sci-fi game, which I’ve never really experienced before, having only ever played action-sci-fi games where the science most definitely IS fiction, rather than something a little more gritty and grounded. That said, I wouldn’t mind playing some seriously old-school fantasy adventures using Lamentations of the Flame Princess, which seems pretty much designed to take everything awesome about the original D&D system and distil it through a lens of more modern game-mechanic design aesthetics, cutting away a lot of the cruft.

I was running 2 Numenera games a week, plus playing about 4-5 online games play-by-post, but due to time constraints on both myself and the lives of my players, I’m not playing games nearly as often as I’d like. However, I’m not against running the odd one-shot online for people, if it’s a system I know well like Numenera. Drop me a line if you’re interested in getting a feel for what Numenera is like.

Kickstarters, Cards and Fiction, oh my!

As those who follow me on social media will know, I’ve launched a kickstarter with my friend and US business partner, Andreas Walters, who also helped with the production of The Mechanical Bard: Ninth World Tales, a collection of short stories set in Monte Cook games Numenera roleplaying game setting.

Both of these launched recently, and I’m super excited. I’ve mentioned the The Mechanical Bard before, but for those who don’t know about the kickstarter, let me give you some background.

Andreas and I where working on another 3rd-party supplement for Numenera, having already worked together on Ninth World Assassins and currently working on a few other projects as well. During the development of this particular product, we began coming up with various tables for rolling up NPCs and I remarked that I wish I had something like that to hand while writing, so I had a quick set of ideas I could just draw from a deck of cards without needing to get too distracted with using web-based generators or rolling dice against lookup tables and scanning down them to find my option. The idea of a really simple to use, tactile way of generating NPCs on the fly really stuck with us, and so we decided to spawn of a separate project from scratch based entirely around that concept. What we worked on over the next few weeks was starting to become really exciting and we realised we wanted to go all in and make it the best product it could be – 300 hundred cards, across 8 different categories, including Relationships, Goals, Physical Traits and Personality Quirks, all with individual artwork, to lend some visual inspiration to the text as well. To do that though, we need money – hence a kickstarter.

If that idea piques your interest, please do check out Non-Player Cards on Kickstarter, or checkout the mini-site I set up over at nonplayercards.com

As mentioned, we finally launched The Mechanical Bard: Ninth World Tales, an anthology of short fiction set in the Numenera roleplaying setting sourced from the Numenera fan-community. I’m proud to have written 2 stories that are a part of it, and to be published along side some author really great authors. The book is entirely free in electronic format, as our gift to the Numenera community. The print version which should shortly be available is released as near to at-cost as possible as well. You can find The Mechanical Bard: Ninth World Tales on DrivethruRPG.

Gamemastering in Numenera

I’m not a particularly experienced GM, but I’ve been doing quite a lot of gamemastering of Numenera games recently, so I figured it would be a good idea to write about my experiences, both to share some hopefully useful information with other budding Numenera GMs out there and also just get some ideas for my own improvement out of my head.

To start off, lets get something out in the open:

I’m incredibly lazy.

As a GM I do exactly 0 prep. I don’t make up encounters beforehand, I don’t plan out stories, or scenes or any kind of interaction at all. Why not? Because it’s one hell of a lot of work and quite frankly I’m blown away with awe by the GMs that have the time and energy to do that during the gaps between actually running their games. I’m a busy person and I can barely find time to do much of anything, let alone plan ahead for a game which might not even end up using any of the stuff I work on, due to a little thing called ‘free will’.

This isn’t to say I go in with absolutely no ideas. I’m using musing with half a dozen or more half-formed nebulous concepts bouncing around in my skull but anything in the way of plans or grand, multiple session spanning epics written down on paper or computer are alien to me. As such, all my games are run almost entirely ad-hoc, improvised on-the-fly as a response to the players. Even when I’m running a pre-written adventure out of a book, I’ll mostly improvise, only deferring to the book during lulls in activity at the table to refresh myself on the rough adventure plot and maybe some creature stats.

A lot of my improvisation also comes down to the fact that I have an absolutely terrible memory for facts. I’m good at remembering patterns, but little chunks of factual data like names, places characters stats, etc, elude me most of the time. Planning ahead for that doesn’t really help unless I’m constantly reading from my notes, but I prefer not to read from a book while GMing, because it makes delivering the content fall a bit flat in my opinion. That’s more a failing in me for not being able to read aloud very well, rather than with the concept of reading from a book, though I will say I also prefer to be able to retain eye-contact with the players and address them directly, rather then looking at a page. GMing isn’t just reading, speaking and idea generation – it’s a performance role.

So, now you have a rough idea of where I am coming from, you’ve either buggered off, thinking I’m talking out of my arse, or you are intrigued and wish to learn more. For those of you still with me, let me continue…

Continue reading

Baru, My New Numenera Character

In the new Numenera game I shall hopefully be playing in this Friday, I shall be playing a simple-minded giant called Baru, a Foolish Glaive who Performs Feats of Strength.

Baru is a simple-minded, friendly young man in his late twenties to mid-thirties that works on his parents farm. He is huge and eats like an aneen, a fact that his parents are finding hard to reconcile with their meagre earnings on their failing farm. Already they have had to sell their animals and Baru tills the fields, dragging the plough himself using his immense strength. It’s simple work, so Baru enjoys it because he likes being outside in the sunshine.

His brother, being the more enterprising sort, sometimes takes Baru down to town to have him perform great feats of strength for the amusement and amazement of onlookers, occasionally earning them some shins in the process, but still it can only help so much and the farm is still failing. After much soul-searching his ageing parents decided to send Baru off with his brother Zigg to find their fortune and maybe bring something back of worth or use so that they might revitalise the farm. The parent don’t hold out much hope, but with the fields ploughed, they can hold out without Baru and Zigg until next ploughing and also don’t have to shoulder the huge expense of feeding Baru. Maybe a journey will knock some sense into the boy, his parents hope.

Eventually, Zigg and Baru became separated and Baru found himself wandering the Steadfast alone, looking for something that could help his parents. He didn’t really know what that might be, but he was sure he’d know when he saw it.

What most, including Baru himself, don’t know, is that Baru isn’t simply dimwitted. Due to some quirk of the Numenera half of his mind is floating around in the data sphere, doing whatever it does out there. Sometimes in moments of lucidity it reconnects to his meat-brain, but most of the time that portion of brain-power is simply unavailable to him. However, it might explain his uncanny luck – perhaps his subconscious out in the global data network manipulates nanites and numenera in the subtle ways available to it to help out his body in meat space. Whatever is going on, it doesn’t concern Baru. He’s always been this way, and the strange dreams he has are just dreams, as far as he is concerned.

Book Accomplishments

As part of my drive to not be a mopey “I deserve nothing” bastard, I figured I’d highlight some of the things I’ve directly been involved in. By directly involved, I’m counting actually authoring stuff, or acting in an official role in the books production some way (so I’m not counting myself just being a ‘backer’ of something, like in Kickstarters for example). My brain would love to tell me that I’m just being self-indulgent and boasting, but I just think it’s nice to share things I’ve done with people. It’s also nice to make public some of the small pieces of ‘proof’ that real things have actually come of my work. This isn’t a complete list, but it’s most of the things I feel proud to have been a part of that I actually have physical, real-world copies of.

books

From the top-left going clockwise, we have:

The Mechanical Bard: Ninth World Tales

The Mechanical Bard: Ninth World Tales is the name of the Numenera Fiction Anthology I founded along with other members of the Numenera fan community. It’s a collection of 6 short stories sourced from authors within the Numenera fan community and hopefully, assuming all the licensing can be sorted, it will be available in PDF and print. This is a test print copy for my own personal use and it isn’t available publicly yet (but hopefully soon!). The book contains two short stories by myself, one of which can already be found in the wild on Ninth World Hub, and I also wrote the introductions to nearly all the stories within. The introductions are told in the style of preambles by the Mechanical Bard, a fictional narrator of the tales within the collection. Soon there will be a website to accompany this that will hopefully become a place where the whole Numenera community can share fan-fiction together.

Ninth World Assassins

Ninth World Assassins is a supplement for Numenera focused around (surprise!) assassins. My contributions to the project were mostly in an editing capacity (though not proofreading) and providing feedback, the odd bit of re-writing and some contributions of actual text to the book in a number of different places. On a side note, Andreas Walters, the publisher and author, is a great guy and you should expect to see more things from both us working together in the future and he also has managed a lot of the publishing gubbins with The Mechanical Bard.

Do: The Book of Letters

Do: The Book of Letters is a supplement to the roleplaying game Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple, a delightful, child-friendly, story-telling game by Daniel Solis which I backed on Kickstarter. Gameplay revolves around people sending letters to the temple asking for help, and those letters form the basis of the ‘missions’ the players (as pilgrims) go out to complete. During the Kickstart there was a call for submissions of letters from the backer community, so I submitted one and it was picked for inclusion in the games supplementary letters book. I think this was my first ever piece of published game writing.

Rails 4 Application Development HOTSHOT

Onto the more technical side of things, I acted as one of the Technical Reviewers on Rails 4 Application Development, a book that covers developing several different kinds of applications, from Pinterest clones to simple video hosting and streaming sites. The book gives a lot of great insights into building more web applications with Rails 4 beyond the typical “to-do list app”.

Learning Devise for Rails

Another book I was a Technical Reviewer for, in fact, the first one, this book covers learning to use the Devise gem for authentication on your Rails application. It’s for beginners, so doesn’t get super advanced, but it’s great if you are just starting out and want to get to grips with the systems Devise provides.

Triad: Hath Three Parts Wrought

Triad is my first (and only) completed NaNoWriMo novel. As a result, it’s terrible, but it has a lot of good ideas. For a long time I’ve had the ideas of a world about which fiction could be written or within games could be run, but it existed almost entirely inside my head. The novel was a way of getting those ideas out onto paper, so as such it can be a bit info-dumpy at times and obviously being a NaNoWriMo novel and pants-ed the entire way through, it quickly becomes ludicrous. However, the raw, unedited draft is available publicly on the internet if you wish to offend your eyes with terrible writing. This print copy was created using the free CreateSpace offer winner of NaNoWriMo get, just so I could have a nice physical print for editing. However every time I look at the story I physically cringe from the awfulness, so it’s yet to go through a rewrite or edit phase.

Imposter Syndrome

I suffer terribly from imposter syndrome. Well, by my inexpert self-diagnosis anyway. I feel like a fraud most of the time and find it hard to ever accept praise or recognise my own accomplishments.

Intellectually, I’m aware that I have achieved things, and that I’m not a failure or useless, but that doesn’t stop the constant nagging feeling that perhaps I’m just being prideful for even thinking that or that everything I’ve achieved has been a matter of luck or because those judging it as an achievement just don’t know any better or are just ‘being nice’.

Quite frankly, it’s fucking awful feeling this way and I hate it. I want it to stop but I don’t know how. Praise often involves being the center of attention, at least for a little while, and I really don’t like being in the spotlight. Naturally, hating something means I’m loathe to do that to others, which is why I tend to be pretty shy a lot of the time, because I don’t like to put someone on the spot because I know how that feels. Sometimes empathy is a bitch.

I guess this blog post is the equivalent of old adage “the first step is admitting you have a problem”. I have a problem, and it’s destroying my ability to be happy. I’m a little afraid that without it, I wont have the same drive to try and achieve things I do now, but then again, striving to feel like I’ve achieved something but never feeling it is probably worse than actually feeling a sense of achievement about things, or more accurately feeling a sense of achievement without the feeling being accompanied by guilt and self-doubt.

Yes, it’s stupid. I know these feelings have no basis in fact. Sadly knowing that doesn’t stop them from being there anyway.

I deserve to feel good about the things I’ve achieved. So fuck you, brain, fuck you.