It’s been a while…

Normally I’d have littered this blog with all of my gushing excitement over the next game I was about to run: and believe me, my excitement for Legend of The Five Rings is still torrential.

The best laid schemes o’
mice an’ men gang aft agley
said Samurai Jock

But this whole global pandemic has placed an implacable dam in front of that metaphor and my anticipation of samurai action has had to be put on hold, at least sorta*.

I’m blessed with having friends who have TAKEN THIS SHIT SERIOUSLY. None of us have done anything other than accept that meeting in person is just off the fucking cards for a while. And while I was doubtful of our ability to switch to Sunday-night Roll20 session (my favourite thing in the world being able to look a man directly in the eye while you lay a gnome pun on him), I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it limitations and all.

Our Sunday night Numenera campaign was nearing the end of the first act when it got called to a halt. Rather than try to keep that up, we’ll just return to it when happy days are here again. In the meantime, it is entirely possible that we’ll be able to incorporate more world building games like we did with The Quiet Year. Tiny Taverns, for example, is a rules light, remote friendly game where you run a fantasy tavern. Adventures in customer service. I’ve thought about getting that and coming up with the story of their preferred tavern in bohemian Sham. Tiny Taverns – Gallant Knight Games | TinyD6 | DriveThruRPG.com

I still miss Numenera, of course, but it’ll wait. The distant future is going nowhere. Actually, it’s getting closer. But hey, my itch for samurai action got an asterisk beside it, so let’s put an asterisk beside my love for Numenera too.**

Instead, we pivoted to using Roll20, which has been good and also bad. Bad because it’s a dreadful UI and I can’t believe that this is the default platform for RPGs, holy shit. Good because… it does kinda work. Not as smoothly as it should, but hell, it lets us do the thing we like to do. I’m just saying, competent UI writers, Roll20’s lunch is there ready to be eaten.

L5R: Family Matters

I’m Grandma’s favourite.
No, I’m Grandma’s favourite.
No, me.
Me!
(A tense stand off ens-.. oh, it’s over)

Welp, I’ve got plenty of time to sit around thinking about Legend of the Five Rings RPG now… After ingesting the fluff and checking out the game mechanics, I got into looking at what makes the characters work and how are they different from each other in a world where everyone is supposed to think and behave in a prescribed way, but also there’s no objective truth.

The heirarchy of loyalty in Rokugani society goes, from the top, Emperor/Clan/Family. But within each of these levels there is room for ambiguity: is everyone supposed to have loyalty to the Emperor or the Empire? Could those two things ever be at odds? Families have their own Daimyo and each Clan has their Champion, can those two authorities ever pull the player in two different ways? And how do more abstract values like the tenets of Bushido interact with these things? If honesty would hurt the Emperor or Empire, should you be honest and put personal integrity ahead of the Empire’s wellbeing?

There aren’t really right answers to these questions, only individual interpretations and that’s the source of so much conflict and drama, big and small, in L5R. I mentioned the Major Clans in the last post, but within each Clan there are several families. There are also Vassal families and Minor Clans, which players may interact with, but in the basic out-the-box game you can’t play these. FFG or Edge or whoever: RELEASE BADGER CLAN SOURCEBOOK NOW!

You can order this on a t-shirt and I wouldn’t even be mad if you did. Look at that little guy!
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Rokugan on my mind

Way back in 2018 I mentioned that I was excited about all the games that I was fixing to play or that were headed my way. I was VERY excited about The Stars Are Fire, because I was on a space adventure kick. But now I’m not. I have no idea why. Star Trek likely suffers from the same problem. I’m just not that into space right now. I will be again, that’s how it works.

I think the problem with Star Trek is also that it’s a sorta clunky ruleset, compared to the sleeker, easy-come-easy-go Numenera. There’s a time and place for those games and I love many of them dearly. The writing for Star Trek was a bit patchier too, with some excellently organised stories and some really confusingly edited stories.

Tang Garden hasn’t arrived yet, although it narrowly seems to have escaped China before Coronavirus started affecting transport. I do hope it will be here soon, the last email I received said it would be here this week. Longer on a container ship just means it is safer to inhale that new game smell, right?

Nope, the Spring lantern that has been lit in my heart is for Legend of The Five Rings and the fire shows no sign of going out any time soon, buuuut…. I do this, a lot; get super psyched for some game and get really into it and then… a brief pause and I lose all interest in it. I’m not sure why that is, but I’ve learned to go with it now and not try to make something last. I’m SUPER-INTO Legend of The Five Rings right now, but when I’m over it, I’ll be over it. The ideal way this would happen is for all the stars to align and I’d actually get to play the game while my ardour is up, so to speak. But at the moment I’m crashing towards MNUFC home game schedule, wanting to finish the arc of the first “season” of 2menera, enjoying the easy dungeon-bash nature of Descent and wanting to play all the cool boardgames we all own and some of the ones we don’t. It’s a trial for sure.

A very cool playmat they make for the RPG that helps people keep track of initiative, Void points, stance and what the hell the dice faces mean.

Fortunately, L5R has plenty to keep me going. It’s a game that has a whole bunch of lore, but with Fantasy Flight’s reboot, they’ve dialled back the timeline and are writing a new story, one which is a bit more… organised. I’m not saying the original story smacked of cool ideas hurled together haphazardly… but the new story is real good.

I never really got into Game of Thrones because it was mostly magically warmed-up history nuggets hurled at each other into a (sort-of) coherent shape. Nothing wrong with that, it just wasn’t for me. Maybe there’s a Japanese guy out there looking at the L5R lore and thinking exactly the same thing and that’s also totally fine. The game definitely owes a lot more to samurai dramas than any other source. This isn’t an historical re-enactment; Rokugan isn’t even an island FFS.

In the extremely unlikely event that I haven’t talked your ears off about this game: players play members of the privileged Samurai class of the Emerald Empire. The game plays with the tension between the character’s wants and desires (extremely low on the scale of what is considered important), their loyalty to their family (and their unique abilities), their loyalty to their clan (and all its political maneuvering), their loyalty to their Emperor (who owns everything, but doesn’t necessarily have their best interests at heart) ALL while trying to live up to the unattainable code of Bushido. And keeping the elemental spirits happy. And trying not to let the demons and foreigners over-run the empire. Also, there are forest-spirit giant squirrels that shoot streams of angry bats out of their mouth. Someone should do something about them.

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Numenera 2: Out into the world.

Scene: The handsome man grabs the oversized metallic hand before the knife fingers can slash his throat. With a twist of his hips and a powerful yank, the arm detaches from the cybernetic humanoid who reels back in shock. The man hurls the still grasping arm at the surprised construct as it wildly ignites a cutting laser beam from one baleful mechanical eye. His cry of defiance as the beam misses him is muted as his throat pushes out a wave of the breathable superfluid in which he exists.

/recordscratch

“Yep, that’s me, Germain. Right now I’m fighting for my life at a nanoscale against cybernetic-saboteurs who are infesting a giant drug-addicted symbiotic life form that I helped rescue from a gravity-controlling would-be despot while searching the world for the means to defend my hometown against semi-mythical celestial slavers. You might be wondering how I got here…”

I have a LOT to recap, having fallen so far behind with recaps that… I have no idea how to start.

In short:

  • They assembled to investigate a complex beneath the Inert Cylinder that dominates the sub-settlement of Sham.
  • They discovered that the complex housed a time manipulation device and that it warned them of impending doom/maybe caused the impending doom.
  • After some deliberations the Council of Elders sent them out beyond the borders of the Makhtesh and find… something, anything to help them avoid the terrible fate foretold by the time machine.
  • They journeyed down the Peristaltic Funicular through the mountain and travelled across country to the settlement of Glawv and made contact with the nearby Clave.
  • They saved Glawv from the predations of a wannabe Warlord, Halcus, destroyed his warband and rescued a Lattimor who had been held hostage.
  • They accompanied the Lattimor home to help him get healed of the various cruel things done to him and in doing so gained restricted access to an archive of technology.
  • They got a quick ride to a not-that-nearby city of Tilt which has a University and a LOT of religions.

So how is their Initial Goal of finding a way to prevent the devastation of Lone going?

  • They have figured out that the timeline manipulation is REAL dangerous and seems to have accidentally erased Shaar Greyfeather, the Pletbird Poulterer who owned (and used) the tunnel they initially explored. Not only is Shaar not there, people don’t remember him and as far as they all remember, everyone takes care of the Pletbird flock communally.
  • They’re racking up Allies: Councillor Acobe went along with their crazy plan to trick their past selves into going and fucking with a time-machine; relic delver Tsuro turned out to be Father Bazzurro of the Order of Truth; she knew a Clave of other (much less useful) Aeon Priests two of which are headed to Lone; the townsfolk of Glawv are grateful and willing to open up trade for their weird malleable amber goods; Vo-Hurrin, the rescued Lattimor, and (to a much lesser extent) his roomie, Dillom collect and store an absolute treasure trove of Numenera plans.
  • They’ve made an enemy too. The proto-warlord Halcus is a member of the Sisters of the Eclipse, a network of criminals and marauder gangs. While the drug-peddling Sisters are found throughout the great valley beneath the Makhtesh, the characters don’t seem to have attracted attention beyond the ire of Halcus, who probably turbohates them.
  • They’ve secured sources of large edible birds with flammable feathers and malleable amber glass, just in case that’s ever important.
A really rad bird by Dave Melvin which is now canonically how Tiltbirds look.

Scythe, “I was smitten by the artwork”

Ooh theres a digital version too: https://store.steampowered.com/app/718560/Scythe_Digital_Edition/

Over the holiday break Kat and I took Magnus to the mall in Edina so he could play in the children’s area next to the DMV In The Mall. On our way there we happened to pass by Games by James and perused their end of year sale, which was mostly just those $50+ shitty games you didn’t want before were now $5-10 cheaper and I wasn’t impressed so we moved on.

After about 10 mins of watching him not get run over by the nice and patient other children, I looked up some of the top reviewed games on boardgamegeek.com and found that Scythe was a highly recommended game for 1- 5 players. I go back to Games by James where I found another customer holding one of their last copies, who gladly handed it over to me and I promptly took to the checkout. What was his problem? Bureaucratic fool, he has no idea what he’s got there. Turned out it was a bit of foreshadow.

Some time later Kat and I sat down to play. I broke open the game, punched out dozens of pieces, arranged them in what I thought were the correct groups, and stared at the rules for just over an hour at which point Kat had fallen asleep. Seriously this game has so, many, damn pieces – and it should.

Number of pieces aside, if you’re not someone who plays a lot of boardgames, and by a lot I mean every few days for the past decade, it’s gonna take you a minute to digest what it is you’re actually supposed to do to win. It ain’t fuckin monopoly here and once you think you’ve got the basic flow down there’s a tiny gotcha that makes you turn the car around and go back to that fork in the road.

In Scythe, each player represents a fallen leader attempting to restore their honor and lead their faction to power in Eastern Europa. Players conquer territory, enlist new recruits, reap resources, gain villagers, build structures, and activate monstrous mechs.

Scythe works like this: you’re one of 5 selected faction commanders in the game trying to make your way through a dystopian post WWI landscape filled with advanced military technology (robots and lasers) but contains farmers that still harvest their crops by hand. Somehow the forced communist government spent ALL their R&D on advancing weapons of war for the past 25 years and not one dime on inventing a… tractor or plow. I think this is how they make the setting to be more 1920’s-ish because a robot harvester would make the game too futuristic, but they wanted to have Mech’s because Mech’s are just fuckin’ cool man.

Every part of Scythe has an aspect of engine-building to it. Players can upgrade actions to become more efficient, build structures that improve their position on the map, enlist new recruits to enhance character abilities, deploy mechs to deter opponents from invading, and expand their borders to reap greater types and quantities of resources. These engine-building aspects create a sense of momentum and progress throughout the game. The order in which players improve their engine adds to the unique feel of each game, even when playing one faction multiple times.

This to me was primarily the “flow” breaker and where things got confusing. It’s a strategy game but not necessarily turn based so yes you can think about things for a minute but at the same time the other players are doing their “turns” so what you thought was a good idea 5 seconds ago isn’t anymore and oh well fuck it I’ll just go with this. Which is ok if that’s what you expect, but we weren’t and it made it less fun. I think other player types might not like this as well.

This guy – https://youtu.be/ffMLIL5qGQg does an incredible job at explaining the rules and gameplay. We ended up watching this video after losing faith in our ability to understand the rules. The rule book is well written, but just to understand what to do in a turn took over 20 minutes and a lot of not giving up.

The game was Kickstarted and it feels to me that while it was being funded (or not, right?) the makers just kept coming up with more and more rules to cover the “what if?” and “but what about” ism’s. This is ultimately a good thing and means you can play it over and over again, but makes it difficult to know what is the happy path when you start out.

We haven’t actually had enough time to finish a game. Yeah right, so how can I write a review? Well because I think we’ve got it down now and when we go back and get our rhythm down I know it’s gonna be a good time. Learning a game is fun because you get that little hit of dopamine whenever you discover a new route or method to do a thing and it seems like this game is chock full of those little gems.

B+

Bottom line (pun intended) don’t play this game if you’ve got a lot on your mind, it’s not relaxing due to it’s complexity. But, if you want to forget everything and just focus on this tiny universe of scrutinized options, consequences and tiny victories, take off your coat it’s gonna be a long night.

Numenera 2: Art Inspiration

Bryce wanted me to check to see if the website migration had worked, so rather than get stuck into a recap that may never materialize, I thought I’d post a few links to art stuff that I’d been mentioning on Sunday.

One of the many inspirations listed in the Numenera 1 book is Moebius. I mentioned him last Sunday because his stuff really is great and I’m always on the edge of pulling the trigger on a big fat coffee table book of Moebius art.

I mean, right?

Jean (Moebius) Giraud is dead now, died a few years ago but not without doing a little bit of a lot of stuff. He had a graphic novel, themed books, stand-alone projects and (I think) some animation. I almost prefer the works out of context though, especially when I’m trying to get inspired late on a Sunday afternoon.

If I had a sentence to try to describe the style, I’d say Tintin-meets-your-favourite-Prog-Stoner-Band’s-Album-Cover.

I’m reasonably certain Moebius inspired a lot of the look of Nausicaa, an earlier Miyazaki movie that’s also listed as an inspiration in N1. (I think Vampire:The Masquerade was the first to list its non-RPG influences. Bauhaus, sure, but Vaclav Havel… that was a curveball.)

Anyway I try to keep a rolling Pinterest flow of art that gets my thinkparts pumping because if I’m ever flummoxed for an idea I can often fall back on something I’ve seen or, hopefully, come up with something new that’s egged on by the themes and style of the artwork. Berenock owed its weird hat-based hierarchy to a couple of atmospheric pieces on Pinterest an that played out into a cool addition. It’s a great place to sift through for character art, too, if you’re too coward to draw your own character.

Inspiration for the Sheep Station in Cypher Deadlands. I think this was by Erikas Perl.

My current Art-Crush though is Cosimo Galluzzi, who does some stupendous work, a lot of character stuff very much in keeping with Moebius’ aesthetic. Really enjoy his stuff.

Anyway, check out Pinterest for neat ideas and check out Moebius just to make your life better. And if you find cool stuff let me know!

Numenera 2: Meet the Crew

The character creation process in Numenera (both iterations) does a great job of providing prompts for character motivation and connections. In the last campaign most people picked those up and ran with them, while Bryce didn’t care too much for the prompts he landed and created his own fascinating background. Either way, prompted or freehand, the system lets you be pretty creative and the payoff is well worth it. For the GM, it’s a goldmine, because players create their own story hooks and strings with which to puppet them in the right direction. And that’s so much better than just being told what your character is doing and why.

We sacrificed some of that free-wheeling creative energy in character creation by putting so much work into the place from which the characters originate. That setting IS the character background, but experienced in different interesting ways by the creations of the players. So you can’t have the same breadth of possibilities in this deliberately isolated setting; but since this story is about how the isolation of the Lone Makhtesh ends, that’s appropriate. The possibilities, they will come to the players.

Ben is playing BROGAN, a Civic Delve who Sees Beyond. Brogan was a mid-level Barrier, the local safety patrol. Think of them as the Coastguard Corps of Engineers Fire Dept and you’re about there. Their responsible for ensuring that the Lone Maktesh’s environment doesn’t kill its inhabitants, I guess. But all that is in the past, as Brogan has made the lateral move to the Agents. Agents are responsible for making sure that the Lone Makhtesh’s inhabitants don’t kill each other, I suppose. They are problem solvers, first and foremost, tasked by the Council of Elders to *vague-handwave* make things better, using their good judgment.

Brogan is rumored to know have an innate ability to know when things are about to go wrong. But the truth is, he is is observant and pays attention to what’s going on around him in his community. But the truth is also that he can see some things others can’t and though they don’t often make sense to him, he can sometimes use this unusual sense to anticipate and solve problems.

Brogan was tasked with assembling a group of people to help him in a dangerous undertaking, so he approached four other people – jeez, I assume these were the first people he approached, maybe this is his B team – to accompany him on this ill-defined job.

Greg is playing DEL, a Mystical Jack who Dances With Dark Matter. He’s an old guy, early 70s, son of storied Barr’n who established the eponymous settlement on the western shore. Barr’n of course, disappeared mysteriously and his son is no less mysterious. A hermit among people, scavenging when no-one notices. He skulks, for want of a better word, always in the shadows. At least they should be shadows. Maybe they’re shadows?

Living on the fringe of such a small, isolated and communal society isn’t particularly easy, but Del has managed it, slipping by largely un-noticed and unlocked for, but none of that works on Brogan. Brogan sees him just fine, where others struggle. Bringing Del into the fold is Brogan’s attempt to make the shifty old mystic a productive member of society.

Noe is playing FRIST OF THE TOWER, a Mechanical Wright who Builds Tomorrow. Frist is a relative newcomer. She and her mother were pulled from the far shore of the lake by – amongst others – Brogan in his capacity as a Barrier.

Her mother is mentally diminished to the point of insensibility and Frist cannot remember anything of her past. Yet her affinity with the Numenera has made her useful to the “Divers” who cautiously plunder the Ruin Beneath The Water. She’s obviously talented, if a bit… off.

Bryce is playing GERMAIN; a Gregarious Jack who Radiates Vitality. This age-indeterminable Adonis is a scion of a well rooted Lone family and has lived… a lot. In that he has never left the Makhtesh, but people of all ages remember when he was their age. It could just be a flaw in perception or memory, but no-one can put a finger on exactly how long he has been around. This aside, there is something about GERMAIN that people are drawn to so he finds himself well thought of and well connected.

Brogan has cause to be uneasy around Germain though. The details are inconsequential at the moment, but while he was a Barrier, Brogan could have sworn that Germain died in an accident; one which Brogan uncharacteristically failed to prevent. Brogan felt responsible for Germain’s supposed death, but it turns out… he didn’t die. So Brogan isn’t sure how he feels.

All those who arrived due to the Bright Ones bore a swirling pale mark on their left wrist. Their children did too. Not a pattern, not a random blotch either. They’re all pretty much the same, no matter who has one or how many generations removed from the captivity they are. But Germain’s isn’t. Germain’s is warped or… faded. Changed in some way.

Last on the list (but first in our hearts) is STRABO, played by Rolland. Strabo doesn’t have any weird past with Brogan. He doesn’t give him the willies or blow him away with some uncanny ability. Strabo is simply well known as the best damn tracker in the Makhtesh and the steep mountain valleys to the north and west.

Strabo’s work is primarily tracking down rustlers, either feuding families from Yolshead or the rare miscreant outlaw. Either way, they’re getting found. His brothers take care of the rest of the successful family holdings on the western slopes, but that isn’t enough for Strabo and the wanderlust that sees him tracking over every valley and ridge is starting to grow larger than the Makhtesh can contain.

So these are the people Brogan assembled on the vague request of Councillor Ebric, who had some problem at the local poultry farm. Cool, totally sounds like he needed to assemble a real A-team.

Numenera 2: The Quiet Year of Lone Makhtesh

Before The Bright Ones came, the people of your community struggle to remember that they lived very different lives. They had their own communities, their own families and friends. They had their own trades and professions, religions and customs, songs and stories. With such a diversity of backgrounds, the only thing all of your community has in common is that when The Bright Ones came, they ended all of that.  

The Bright Ones were a race of powerful beings, yet they needed docile slaves to maintain their decadent lifestyles. Captured and torn from their past lives, those slaves were fed a regimen of behaviour-controlling drugs to keep them physically healthy, mentally vacant and usefully servile. Time passed, but the enslaved were not really aware of its passage; they did not seem to age and rarely tired, despite their labours. The Bright Ones went about their inscrutable business, scarcely paying attention to those that toiled on their behalf. 

At some point though, calamity struck the civilization of The Bright Ones. The slaves were unaware of the cataclysmic events unfolding around them and went about their appointed tasks as they always had done, even as their masters abandoned them. Eventually the supply of drugs faltered and the long-suppressed minds of the slaves of The Bright Ones became clearer and sharper. Some, but not all memories returned. Frustratingly, almost no memories of The Bright Ones remained, except the common impression of beings of light, too intense to look upon directly. 

The citadel of The Bright Ones went dark, and fractured just as their slaves woke from their stupor. A sliver of the shattered city ended up here, in this unknown and largely uninhabited terrain. The former slaves emerged from the ruins of captivity and into an unforgiving but free world.

Their part of the broken city was found in an alpine makhtesh, broad and thinly forested, with dense hard stone sides. Small streams had slowly carved out a channel that led to a trickling waterfall over a plunging precipice. That changed while the former slaves woke from their drugged state: some part of the city produced endless amounts of fresh, pure water at an incredible rate and the valley quickly flooded. When it filled the valley the lake that formed was dotted with new islands, small rises in the valley floor among which the forlorn section of the Bright Ones city now found itself.

The community settled to living within the walls of the broken fragment of the Bright Ones city scavenging what they could from the structure. They largely self-organized, with a collective childcare quickly arranged for the younger members of the community, but the structure of the community remained fluid: there were no families present, indeed most people were strangers to each other, outside of their shared experience of captivity and servitude.

Spring

Spring saw the community begin to develop small factions. The factions disagreed about some things, but during their first season in their new home, the island they called Lone and those clustered close to it, their groups jostled along together without to much friction.

The first, and best organised of the groups, were those that believed that the Bright Ones were divine beings. Their shared beliefs galvanized this relatively small group and early cooperation and favoritism helped them corner the best living quarters and put them in control a great deal of the community’s resources. The group was aided in its early formation by the arrival of Torbert, an emissary from a nearby island village. Torbert’s people held the Bright Ones in high esteem, politely stopping short of considering them divine.

Once formed, this group, (internally known as the Probus, Mega-Probies to those outside the group) developed some simple ceremonies (baptism in the dangerous but breathtaking waterfall which held a mysterious shining object) and attached religious significance to the relics the community found around them. The nearby giant clear cylinder atop a flat-peaked mountain once shone in the night, they learned, and attached its new inertness as a signal of the Bright One’s displeasure or rejection. The sunken ruin found in the water was, to them, a place of the enemies of the Bright Ones. When a young boy discovered an alien cadaver in the ground, the Probus took reverent custody of it as they believed it to be a Bright One.

The other early factions that formed could best be understood in the relation to the Probus. While most of the recovering captives were simply cynical about the inherent divinity or goodness of the Bright Ones, two other opinions emerged: that the Bright Ones were categorically not divine beings (the Anti-Probus stance), or that whether the Bright Ones were divine was a a matter for history since they were gone and were not coming back (the Post-Probus opinion).

The community made some good progress in addressing the scarcities that faced them. They had more water than they could ever use up, so that took care of that. They cleared forest in order to have some land suitable for farming, salvaged tools from the broken city, built boats rather than crude rafts, found workable stone, discovered what they eventually found to be tin and also their own vein of copper. They discovered a powerful piece of Numenera that showed the contents of the ground beneath them, but the first person to use the device was so surprised that they dropped it in fright and the viewing apparatus broke.

While there were no obvious threats to their safety, barring a staggeringly oppressive series of lightning storms, members of the community began to notice that they often couldn’t be found: some people simply seemed to disappear for a short period of time. They reappeared, none the worse for wear and with no memory of the intervening time. While this set nerves on edge, some astute observers notices that it never happened to Probites.

The first real schism in the community came at the hands of rebellious youths. Led by charismatic Wilemina, the teenagers secretly built crude rafts and set out for the mountain that bore the crystalline cylinder. There, they set up a camp and stayed.

Tired of getting by on cobbled together rafts and punts, the residents of Lone began the task of building boats so that they might begin collecting resources from the surrounding terrain in earnest and explore the shoreline. By the end of Spring, the boats were ready and the people of Lone began to expand their reach across the lake.

Summer

The lightning storms of Spring gave way to destructive straight line winds of early summer and windbreaks were created to prevent the water being whipped across the fertile land they’d laboured to attain.

The teens were gone and apparently were not coming back: they offered access to their “Utopia” in exchange for supplies, but were rebuffed, their settlement called a sham, a name that stuck with the young inhabitants and outsiders and returned to work on their own inscrutable projects, which involved talk of a Holy Copper Mountain. Outsiders came from further up the valleys, but they similarly received a tepid welcome and went on their way. Torbert’s people began arriving and contact was improved with them, at least.

The main focus of summer was in trying to establish some structure to the society they were creating. Work began on a lengthy pair of projects to raise a building for the Council of Elders to house a vaguely deliberative body, as was a curing house/abattoir/tannery settlement over where the Great Horned Yol had been seen. A school was initiated, primarily to ensure literacy and numeracy amongst the very young, but there were adults who needed the skills too and they were welcome. A Hall of Records went hand in hand with this, as a place to store all the writing that was about to happen, but this structure collapsed, victim of the shifting island soil.

In religious news, one of the eldest of the Probus died, in shady circumstances. That saved him the embarrassment of knowing what happened to the corpse of the “Bright One” they had found; while the body had been in decent condition, all things considered, the frequent pawing and relic snipping by the devout caused the thing to lose its integrity and disintegrate. Relics were taken and preserved by the faithful as best they could. Following Torbert’s failed coup at the end of summer, for whatever reason, the Probus congregation ballooned as more and more bought into the lure of the safety and harmony the Bright Ones had given them.

The survey of the lakeshore discovered many interesting things, but gyroberries – delicious, sweet, self-magnetically-aligning fruit – and the explosion in population of freshwater crustaceans (Yabbies) were the most immediately impactful as these were two new food sources. On the main cluster of islands, they found stone tablets with engraved maps of the surrounding areas, which also helped the survey but also pointed at a settlement now covered by the enormous waterfall.

At the end of summer, with the Council of Elders hearing petty disputes and something approaching law and order at hand, Torbert and a few like-minded individuals tried to seize power of the Council and create a dictatorial regime. The attempt failed, narrowly. While no blood was shed, the attempted coup was ALL the talk. Humbled, Torbert left the settlement, vowing to return.

Autumn

A dozen marauders showed up in the valley and shook the settlement down for some cyphers and supplies. Despite their small number, and mostly primitive weaponry, the goons had the use of two powerful firearms of some sort and no-one could really stand up to them. They maraudled on their way. An outbreak of disease also had everyone rattled and they began to think more about infrastructure and protection.

The small processing settlement over on Yolshead Peak was operational. This not only contributed to the overall wealth of resources, but gave people a different place to go and live (the teen’s Sham town receiving no interest) which helped settle the disputes some people were having regarding how they should all live – those interested in a less communal, more privacy- and family-oriented life upped sticks to go husband those Yols.

The Elder Council’s building also finished, as a place for official arbitration to occur. It was a nice open accessible space for hearings and judgements and what-nots, not that they really had any laws on the books or ways to enforce them. That was addressed in the autumn: a small peace-keeping, problem-solving oriented force of Agents was established with a building to headquarter them. The Agents wore decorative copper shields on their arms. 

A second sort of force was set up in response to a natural threat – the erosion of the “islands” upon which Lone stood. These were really just hillocks in the valley prior to the flood and the incredible amount of water flowing around them was starting to wear away top soil and root systems, causing the islands to crumble. The Barriers were those tasked with patrolling the edge of the water, shoring up what could be saved and building up when needed.

This problem with the island erosion, both of Lone, and the smaller islands like North and South Regoni, Aggro etc prompted an ambitious public works project, to channel the flow of water in one reinforced direction through the islands with a canal and reduce the overall level of the lake temporarily by flooding other parts of the valley. The inhabitants went at this with gusto, but became obsessed with getting the canal just right: they ended up with a beautiful, gracefully lined, granite-sided canal of fast-flowing pure water. Bonus: it provided a current heading northwestwards, the hardest direction in which to sail given the prevailing winds. They built up the rest of the islands over time, with low dykes to keep out those marauder dicks as much as anything else and eventually each island began to have it’s own character and name, even though collectively they remained Lone. The project wasn’t perfect, several townsfolk drowned during a heavy rainstorm when their palisade crumbled, but in general, the work endured.

In the midst of this construction, thoughts turned to future industry and a waterwheel was set up and space for various workshops to take advantage of the turning axle.

Socially, all was not well, however, as simmering resentments boiled over into violence. Torbert’s body washed up on the lakeshore, obviously a victim of an unknown violent end. Similarly, the Council of Elders was attacked at night; several Elders killed by a ruthless, never-apprehended attacker. Arguments about the use of currency erupted and matters were made further complicated by a find of more stone tablets, this time bearing a list of rites, customs and laws of those who lived in the valley beforehand.

The last of the good wood was gone, all that remained at this point were trees drowned by the lake and rotting early. A few trees survived, but none that were good for construction. Good news! They found some excellent Cerulean Pines for construction on one of the survey trips, further up one of the minor valleys. It would be ideal for construction, so a bor’n leader named Barr’n gathered up some folks over to create a logging camp and a way to get those logs back over to Lone.

They did have an abundance of fibrous plants though, Sailweed, a type of weed able to adapt to the wet environment and now taking over the new habitat, kind of like the stream crustaceans which had now become big fat lake crustaceans.

If Autumn wasn’t tumultuous enough, Sham, the settlement of teens led by Wilemina was embarking on construction at a phenomenal rate: some sort of tower up the side of the mountain upon which rested the clear cylinder which those attuned to that kind of thing reckoned was awake again. A party was dispatched to investigate but they came back a few days later having aged decades, their leader expiring on the boat ride home. They survivors were barely coherent and senile to the point of helplessness. The Council of Elders ordered some investigation into the strange effects, but the investigation was sabotaged by Fort, a Probite of no particular standing. He refused to say why he sabotaged the investigation or on whose behalf, so not knowing what to do with him, the Agents made up a cell and kept him there until he felt like talking.

Winter

Barr’n, head of the lumber camp, disappeared while walking among the trees (no big deal because that sort of happens all the time here) and never came back (oh, that’s different). Despite this the lumber camp and dock opened on schedule, to much rejoicing. The dock is pretty close to the Yolshead settlement too, so the west shore of the lake saw more people move there for work.

That side of the lake was found to have a massive conduit of wires running seemingly between the bases of the nearby mountains. And a little further up that side of the lake the gyroscopic berries were found to have entheogenic qualities when consumed ripe. The ecstatic religious visions the berries induced were not present when the fruit was consumed hours after picking.

Two great civics projects were undertaken in early winter: the Third and Fourth Estates flexed their muscles. In the first part, the Council of Elders began a project of deliberating over a written constitution of laws and guiding principles, incorporating wisdom from the stone tablets they had found as well as the solicited opinions of the inhabitants of Lone. For the second, a newspaper of sorts was produced, even though doing so used up the last of their good pulp wood. The broadsheet featured… well, just about anything anyone wanted to write down.

And then, suddenly, the quiet year was over.

The End

Those few on Lone who survived the return of the Bright Ones can add little to the horrified and awestruck accounts of those that watched from Sham, from Yolshead, from Torbert’s Hill or Barr’n’s Folly: a piercing light that rendered many blind for days, a cacophony of deafening trumpeting sounds and an oppressive weight that pressed those present to the ground to squirm in terror in the dirt.

The terrible assault on the senses persisted almost half an hour, yet seemed to last all night. Those that could, scrambled in terror for shelter but few were lucky enough to find any shelter that could keep out the seeking, ravenous light. The horror and threat of imminent destruction left them as abruptly as it went and those that remained in the valley experienced a sense of utter loss that haunts them to the present day, six decades later.

Those elders, who years ago emerged the following morning half blind and deafened, cannot quite put their finger on exactly what it was they lost, personally. Collectively, they had lost two thirds of their population, vanished with no sign. The Bright Ones seemed to have severed personal, emotional connections that night too.

The inhabitants of the Lone Makhtesh spent that winter and many after it, huddled against the cold, anticipating the return of the Bright Ones – with trepidation or longing, and sometimes both. When the weather turns cooler and the days shorter, inhabitants of Lone look to the elders and watch as, with haunted shadows around their eyes, they fearfully glance – not to the open skies above, but to the ground beneath their feet.

The Quiet Year and Dialect: Character building through Worldbuilding through gameplaying.

Part of the appeal of Numenera 2 (Electric Boogaloo in the Butt) is the focus on building your own aldeia – your own Ninth World settlement amidst all those millions of years of ruined civilizations. The Ozymandius’ Mighty Works Tour Basecamp. The Ninth World has much to commend itself as a freewheeling Tour de Murderhobo setting, but there’s something about the balance of primitive society, bonkers crazy tech literally lying around and the imaginative descriptions of the existing settlements by Monte and Shanna and Bruce and Sean etc that fire the imagination with regards to trying to build something sort of permanent in a world that has made laughably impermanent eight previous star empire-level civilizations.

The setting remains the same, the old rules have gone nowhere, Twomenera is not a second edition, there’s just a few extra layers to the lasagna. And three of these layers are character types (tries to remember his Numenera sentence structure… A Descriptor Type who Focuses… yes, type) especially suited to serving in the building of a settlement: The Delve, an exploring scrounger type; The Arkus, a community leader/diplomat; and the Wright, a person who knows how to create new technology out of the bones of very old tech. There’s still PLENTY of room for the Glaive, Nano and Jack, of course as long as communities need their particular skills.

The settlements of the Ninth World are rare but awesome: pretty much every one we ran into is its own kind of place BUT worldbuilding is never as interesting as character building. A cool sandbox is still just a sandbox without the players creating interesting inhabitants interacting with that sandbox. The goal of worldbuilding shouldn’t be the be-all of the game: the worldbuilding is there to enhance the character building.

This is just a dope festival poster with a real heavy Numenera vibe. Yay Moebius and also Orange Goblin.

So if 2menera involves cool worldbuilding, how do we incorporate cool character building into that worldbuilding? Can the two be connected, interwoven? The best way I can think to do that is to make features of the world important to the characters. You can do this if you have established lore that everyone has access to: Belegorn, my Ranger of Arnor laments the lost lore of the fallen Dunedain kingdoms of the north and hopes for the return of the King to the throne of Gondor as his people’s last chance of order in a darkening world because that’s easy when you have a background lore as thicc as Tolkien’s. You can ascertain fairly complex relationships that likely exist between Belegorn and the world around him. But in a brand new, hot off the stream-of-consciousness mad libs we used to create our settlements? That’s harder.

Creating that character investment in a place, time and the people involved might be best created by using creative mini-games. Two games have me thinking of this: The Quiet Year and Dialect.

The physical version of the game with proper cards and stuff.

The Quiet Year is a collaborative map drawing game where players help narrate the growth and development of a community in between two great calamities. I listened to a Friends At The Table podcast that used TQY in order to create setting background and I really liked the idea. The rules set a structure to how the players narrate the recovery of the community from the first catastrophe and all that they accomplish before the second crashes upon them. When the game is done, you are left with a map showing a pictorial representation of not only the area, but the history of that year. And you have a ready made background for the character’s hometown. Maybe not the characters, you could be collectively creating the distant founding story of the settlement, not necessarily your character’s formative years.

The “dies” bit is a bit overstated.

Dialect also tells the story of an isolated community, but this time the story is told through the language they speak. It’s again a card based game that is collaborative and chatty and at the end of it you end up with a dialect and a story you’ve told about the speakers of that dialect. Language in games is tough to do well with a mostly monolingual (or at least no-one speaks the same second language and no-one has hopped aboard the Duolingo Italian Express with me) group of players (I’d be super interested in how groups of bilingual players incorporate language into their games, because it seems like you could do a lot) because the easy default is for everyone to speak Common or Truth or Ye King’s Tongue or whatever.

Language though can be an important part of the world you build though: consider what it means to be able to speak French in Middle Ages England. Or Welsh. Or Latin. Each of these languages tell you something about the speaker, the society it moves within and the role it plays in that society. Even crazy games-created cants like the weird argot of Planescape (which, maybe they knew, maybe they didn’t, but ‘Berk’, used kinda like ‘dude’ in Planescape, is rhyming slang for ‘cunt’, which always made Planescape seem like the most Australian of D&D settings) or the cheesy street-speak of Shadowrun’s alternate-Seattle. It was awful, but… it kinda worked. I can read it now in the Shadowrun isometric games (all good, btw) and I slip right back into that world.

Numenera has a leg up in this regard because while people might speak the Truth, a lot of what they are talking about is simply shit other people have never seen and can barely comprehend when it is described to them. It isn’t crazy, it’s just really complicated to describe. People are constantly describing never-before-seen, one-of-a-kind stuff to each other.

These two mini games – a map creation and a dialect creation game should create a plausible physical, social and historical narrative of a settlement, outside the control of one person. As a setting kick-off, I think it would require that it is started from fresh – using none of the 9th World background presented in the Rulebook. Maybe somethings borrowed, but both mini-games seem like they’d work best if given as few ties to existing lore as is possible.

Thing is, without the idea of getting an End Result out of both these mini-games, I’m not sure how satisfying they’d be to play. And getting an End Result isn’t the goal of either game. The play’s the thing. There’s no resolution to either game. You end up telling a fragment of a story. But hopefully – the entire idea this sparked in me – is that this fragment of a story is enough to get going creating the world in which the characters are then created. And crucially, it would be a world I’d be only marginally involved in… and that’s sort of exciting as a GM. I get to be as surprised as the players.

The Cardassian Checkmate, 1.4

Well that was certainly an exciting episode last night, despite the reduced crew. Cardassians are one of my favourite villains, because they’re just so fucking arch. Suffice it to say that the outcome of last night’s rash decision making in fraught circumstances will substantially alter the USS Chiron’s mission briefing.

I got home, still wired from the late coffee and wrote up as much as I could remember…

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