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
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).