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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Machine of Death

Boardgame Geek gives Machine of Death a 5.5 out of 10 rating, which is pretty low, but also not terrible, since Boardgame Geek is the Pitchfork of Sitting Around a Table with Friends. This makes me think that this game isn’t that much funnier than the people you play it with, but that’s fantastic news for me.

I enjoyed the murderous improv and what amounts to Structured Bullshitting, which I suspect Boardgame Geek can’t figure out quite how to force into a metric, of last Sunday night.

How each round goes is this: You generate a target. A name, two possibly interesting aspects of their personality and a location.

Then you find out how they are going to die. This isn’t negotiable – someone who is fated to die of “Kittens” can’t be killed by bullets. They will die of Kittens, somehow.

Then, you make that happen.

As Predestinarian Assassins, you have to nudge the person – subtly or violently – towards their date with death. You are provided a budget, of course, of three objects (typically) to make that nudging happen. There’s a planning stage where you lay out what your plan is if everything goes right and during that time you collectively decide how likely each component is likely to work as intended.

When it comes to Murderplanisgo time, a 90-second timer gets flipped. You roll for your first element and if it works you progress to the next element of your plot. If it DOESN’T work, you draw another budget card and can then try and work that into the plan on the fly.

If you run out of time before killing your target… uh, too bad, they get away.

But if you do kill them, you can achieve bonus objectives (rolled randomly; like make a getaway, destroy evidence, throw a wake) using any leftover budget cards or a new one drawn from the pile.

There’s a tiny amount of things left to chance and a lot more just arguing about how to murder people and I think that is what makes it more fun for me than for the Boardgame Geek reviewers.

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Entropy’s Demise, 1.3

There are some things Modiphius has done really well with Star Trek Adventures and other things they’ve done really badly. The Index in the Rulebook is one of the most annoying wastes of time in any Rulebook ever. It feels like a giant backwards leap to mid-80s British roleplaying game where enthusiasm for getting the game out overcame other things like… hiring an editor or proper layout designer. I’ve been pretty gushing about their tone and I think we’re coming to understand and like the game system, so I won’t go on and on about how great it is.

The difference between Entropy’s Demise and Border Dispute is amazing though – not in terms of tone; that’s excellently done throughout the game products I’ve read so far. Border Dispute is a complicated scenario presented well, with supporting documentation and lots of good, thorough work by the writer (Obtain Information momentum spends fleshed out, for example or threat spending upgrades for the GM and his villainous NPCs).

Entropy’s Demise is lacking either of these “extra chips in the poke” when both would be useful and fitting, but also lacks maps when maps would be super useful, yet provides maps when they aren’t and doesn’t explain how certain key events go down. The Away Team in their first session took down a Romulan and took him prisoner. It’s good that they do that, that event advances the plot – but how they do could do that isn’t even outlined in the scenario. It’s neither a set up vignette, nor something for which you are given guidelines (oh boy, have I been spoiled by the elasticity of Monte Cook Games scenarios). Stats are given for the dude and also what happens if he is overcome and captured… and that’s about it.

Those kind of missing links between scenes or missing relationships between events are maybe the fault of the writer, but seem far more the responsibility of the editor. It really seems like a lot of content might have been cut out of this scenario with nothing done to fix the incisions. We’ll see which model the scenarios in the rest of the book follows.

Self criticism time, now that I’ve doled it out some: After this scenario it became obvious that we’re not leveraging the player values enough, which is something I should actively do and players should be keeping an eye on. Interaction with the values is how players grow or change and we just haven’t done that – the problem with being hyper-competent, I guess. So when it came time to do milestones at the end, no-one qualified.

Players are encouraged to get in the hang of technobabbling their crazy ideas because that is way more likely to work. I.e. “Can we use our tricorders to set up some sort of perimeter alarm?” isn’t likely to get the go-ahead because I have no idea how you would do that, whereas “Can we set up a narrow beam resonance field between two tricorders with alerts to our combadge if either tricorder stops receiving information from the other device?” is likely to get the go-ahead because I also don’t know how to do that, but in the right way. That isn’t (okay, it’s a little bit of) me just being a dick GM, that’s something the game encourages and with good reason.

I’ve also got to get used to spending threat more. I should finish the game with an empty pot of threat and a bunch of players with tightly clenched anal columns. I was – for at least the last two sessions of this adventure – running on only a few hours of sleep and an awful lot of espresso. Hopefully a break for a week and then right back into it should help.

Act 1

The USS Chiron was cruising towards the Carina system. A space station that captured gasses from the nearby gas giants in the outer edge of the system had started disintegrating, to everyone’s surprise. An evacuation was underway with which the crew of the Chiron would be assisting the station was past saving at this point, but still held enough to mean that they weren’t under the gun too much. The ships engineers would be assigned to keep everything where it should be while everyone else would simply provide guidance for the civilian ships arriving to ferry away the refugees.

That wasn’t the only thing going on in the Carina system, however, and the other problem seemed smaller, yet trickier. Colonists on the inner world of Carina VII – a fertile, warm idyll – had noticed rapid aging of both their crop (grapes), their structures and their population. They had no idea why and… would like to know what was going on.

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Liminal Shores

I just don’t know.

When I was alerted that there was another Monte Cook Games Kickstarter I a) was excited and b) groaned, because I can’t keep buying all these fucking awesome games.

With Numenera 2 (2menera) Kickstarted and delivered and all done and dusted this new KS is a bunch of great material for the system which I really, really like. Of all the RPGs I’ve picked up post-Pathfinder this was the one that changed the way I thought about them and changed the way I enjoyed them. Numenera has been great to me and I’m looking forward to playing it again.

The setting, with its tremendously open not-fixed-in-place world gives the GM and players room to make just about everything happen. There’s so much mystery and in that mystery, possibilities await. It isn’t a stuffy, stodgy world where certain things have to stay the same way otherwise it will invalidate x, y and z. There are benefits to that kind of world, your Dragonlance setting, etc or any well-established setting – instant familiarity and buy-in if you are slipping into a game of Middle Earth Roleplaying like a cosy familiar hoodie. But Numenera is about discovery as much as it is anything else – so there are unknowns. Unknowns.

Liminal Shores promises to push back some of that unknown. The project will reveal some of the secrets of the Ninth World – the planet encompassing datasphere will be explored, and mysteries of the past (how come Earth is the second planet from a sun that still works but should have died ages ago and who did that and why and, jesus, how?).

There will be three books: Voices of the Datasphere examines the information web surrounding earth and how you can interact with it. Liminal Shores explores a new land, found only through following clues in the datasphere. Edge of the Sun promises some big reveals regarding how things came to be as they are.

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A Romulan Engagement in the Neutral Zone

Personal Log: Commander Soral, Stardate 48212.4

This is the personal log of Soral, Commander and Chief of Engineering currently serving aboard the USS Chiron in the Delta Quadrant.

Having situated myself with the current capabilities of this vessel, running through numerous simulations involving improving efficiency of our warp drive and energy distribution systems, interviewing the staff of our engineering department to introduce myself and become aware of their personalities, interviewing with my captain to learn of her philosophies and planned implementation of commanding our crew, I found myself greatly anticipating our first mission.

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Border Dispute, 1.2

The spoiler warning for this one has to go up right away, because this one was a mystery scenario with a few twists and surprises. This was the first scenario I’ve run from the These Are The Voyages Vol. 1. So yeah, if you haven’t played Border Dispute, but might, seriously worth your time to NOT read this; it really is a good, very Star Trek adventure by Andrew Peregrine.

Act 1

The action got underway when the Captain of the Chiron was hailed on secure subspace channel and went to take the message in her ready room. A few minutes later, she re-emerged, gave the helm new coordinates and put the ship on Yellow Alert. She summoned her senior officers and informed them of the situation.

A Federation medical vessel, the USS Nightingale had strayed into the Romulan Neutral Zone and been apprehended by a Warbird, which had disabled it and was preparing to tow it back to Romulus as proof of the Federation’s ill intentions towards their treaty with the Romulan Star Empire.

Upon arriving just outside the RNZ they found the Nightingale pretty badly beat up, dwarfed by the hulking D’deridex-class T’Varen. Establishing contact with the Nightingale they found that her captain was dead, her computer core deliberately scuttled, her hull falling apart in places, half her crew dead and her engines buggered. It was looking bad over there.

via GIPHY

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Interstitial 1.1x

I went over the time between the end of the last Mission and glossed over debriefing and the character’s actual meet up with the Chiron before we actually dug into the next episode. I went over the Milestone system of character development too, which is unusual to me, but makes sense and has a nice cooperative element to it. We also decided how Riker sits on the toilet; and now you know how Riker sits on the toilet.

“Muh basement got one of them there Riker turlets.”

If you are injured (for reals) or if you challenge/live up to/suppress a Value or Directive (mission specific value, essentially) that’s an important moment in your career and you achieve a Milestone. For special circumstances, I – like a preening emperor tossing a laurel wreath to a gladiator-slaying lion – will throw out a Spotlight Milestone award. This is up for a vote by the players, deciding whose “special episode” this was. Both Milestone and Special Milestones allow you to reassign numbers on your character sheet – you can lower one thing to raise another. It isn’t necessarily a character getting better, they’re already hyper-competent, but they get the opportunity to dial in on what makes their character particularly useful.

Once you’ve received a few Spotlight Milestones (which isn’t going to be that often, even if you play a lot of missions given that we will have 5-8 players sharing the spoils) you get an Arc Milestone, which signifies particular growth as a person and does, finally, unequivocally improve your character’s numbers.

I’m not sure how often this will be important, but I kinda like the system. Especially that a Milestone is tied to a particular experience, which players should make note of at the time. “Whose episode was it?” Is also an interesting question to ask of the players and could lead to a little more player agency, which I’m growing to love now that I’ve taken my Dungeon Master gauntlets off.

To start play off I leaned into the cinematic/televisual nature of the game’s structure and asked everyone for a few montage scenes of their settling in to the Chiron. Show a lot of things happening at once, remind everyone of what’s going on (What’s going on?) And with every shot you show a little improvement, to show it all would take to long, that’s called a montage (Montage).

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