Recursion Notes

I know in my last post I promised a campaign setting…I’m still working on some of the basics before I settle in and start building. In the meantime, I thought I’d share a first (and somewhat incomplete) draft of a recursion I’ve been working on for The Strange.

There of course is a reason I’m posting it today. While it’s not set in Punxsutawney or in February it is based on the same basic trope as the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day…which is of course today.

So in case you have somehow missed this modern comedy classic Bill Murray is a weatherman reporting on Punxsutawney Phil and becomes trapped in a recurring loop where everyday is exactly the same as the one before. That’s the basic premise of this recursion: Everyday is Saturday August 8, 1998. Now the PCs can make changes and discoveries but, for good or ill, ultimately every new day erases any changes.

So without further ado…

Saturday, August 8, 1998

Level: 4

Laws: Standard Physics, Exotic

Playable Races: Human

Foci: [earth foci]

Skills: none

Connection to the Strange: No direct connection to The Strange.

Connection to Earth: A few gates

Size: Developed Recursion

Spark: 0%

Trait: Tough

What a Recursor Knows About Saturday, August 8, 1998

  • Saturday, August 8, 1998 seems to operate under the law of Standard Physics.
  • The geography of Saturday, August 8, 1998 aligns with a small portion of Millscroft, a small town in the American Midwest.
  • Despite the bright and cheerful summer day, a recursor visiting Saturday immediately senses something is off and can see menacing, smoky shapes lurking in the shadows.
  • The Fireman’s Festival began last night and runs through the end of the weekend.
  • Mabel’s Diner has been in business for 75 years and still serves the best pie in the county. Everybody says so.
  • You are checked into room [xx] at the Gables.

The bright, warm sun shines over the quaint antique stores and restaurants lining the Norman Rockwell-esque town square that is the center of life in Millscroft. People bustle about the business of the day. Children can be seen biking and playing in the tree-lined green space between Main Street and Lincoln Avenue. Somewhere in the distance a dog barks and a horn honks.

The town is abuzz with excitement for the evening’s festivities, most notably the softball game at Wilshire Field between the teams of High School Faculty and Emergency Services. Even as residents jostle past one another, warm smiles and friendly wagers are exchanged.

Despite the nostalgic glow of better times, for some, a menacing presence can be felt on the fringes. In the too-dark shadows, one can almost catch a glimpse of too-tall humanoid creatures made of oily smoke watching and waiting.

Every Day is the Same

By and large, the recursion follows the laws of standard physics except in one significant manner: Every day is Saturday, August 8. The events of the day endlessly loop with no lasting repercussions from the day prior, for good or ill. No one dies (permanently), new wounds vanish and old injuries that needed tending upon arrival will require fresh attention with each reset.

A PC who arrives in Saturday, August 9, 1998 with reduced pools should note the reduced values somewhere so that each of the pools can be returned to that state during the recursion’s reset.

This doesn’t mean time passes differently here. Every repeated day is still a day passing elsewhere. It just means that something or someone is setting the recursion each day.

The Town

MIllscroft is appears to be the stereotypical small, midwestern community with a kitschy mainstreet full of antique shops, a small post office and the locally famous Mabel’s Family Restaurant.

  • Filigree: An upscale restaurant near the Gables.
  • The Gables: Two blocks south of Main Street, within easy walking distance of the antique shops, sits the grand old Victorian house that now functions as Millscroft’s foremost bed and breakfast. Run by a lovely couple of recent retirees (Chris and Abigail Pope) who have joyfully discovered just how much work even a small hotel is. Most recursors translating into Saturday discover they have a room here.
  • Glen’s Barbershop: Located on Lincoln Avenue. Glen’s has four chairs and a 45 minute wait for most of the day. Ten dollar haircuts and lively discussions on movies, sports, politics and local gossip occur all day until 5pm when the doors close.
  • Mabel’s Family Restaurant: At the eastern end of Main is Mabel’s Family Restaurant. It’s warm, inviting atmosphere and delicious from-scratch taste make this local eatery a hub of activity in town.
  • O’Malley’s Pub: Ostensibly an authentic Irish pub, this bar is about as Irish as baseball.  Nevertheless, it is a favorite off-duty hangout for the local fire and police. O’Malley’s can be found on Willshire Avenue near the baseball diamonds.
  • Peachy Keen: This beauty parlor off Willshire has seven stylists who work by appointment only so waiting is kept to a minimum. Today the shop closes at 2 p.m., but until then several of the local women can be found chatting inside while the owner Annie and her other three on-duty stylists work.
  • The Village Ice Cream Parlor: Squeezed between two large shops on a side street just off Lincoln sits the Village Ice Cream Parlor, an old-style soda shop. A long line stretches out onto the sidewalk, an indication of how good the homestyle ice cream and craft fudge inside are.
  • Vinyl Addiction: As the name implies, this seedy looking music store specializes in actual vinyl records rather than CD’s or cassettes, although it does sell all of those formats, including a sizable rack of 8-track cassettes.
  • Wilshire Field: This small park has two baseball diamonds, but most of the remaining space has been given over to a host of festival game tents, beer stands, and rented carnival rides, all a part of the annual fire department’s fundraising festival. Parking is tight; most people walk in or park at the nearby elementary school.

Other locations: Awesome Comics, Greene’s Corner Pharmacy, Millscroft Fire House, Millscroft High School, the public library, the town hall, Wilshire Elementary

Timeline

Since every day in the recursion is exactly the same unless someone with the spark interacts the residents, here is a timeline of several of the day’s significant events.

6:06 a.m. Day begins. Jesse Charleston Mabel’s morning cook wakes up late for work.

7:00 a.m. Mabel’s opens on time for breakfast but the kitchen isn’t quite ready for guests. Luckily, the early morning crowd is sparse.

10:15 a.m. A crew of movers drops an antique player piano trying to lift it into a second-story apartment over the Red Barn. Most likely no one was injured (see GM Intrusions below.) Very few of the creepy, smoky-shadow creatures seem to be about.

8:00 p.m. Fletcher Brooks is mugged at knifepoint crossing through an alley to get to the festival. He attempts to resist his assailant and receives a nasty cut, but still manages to lose his wallet. Characters with the spark may notice a large number of the smoky-shadow creatures hovering close by.

9:02 p.m. Fireworks begin down at Wilshire Field.

1:15 a.m. Despite not seeming to be affected by the Reset, the smoky-shadow creatures always head towards the circle highway about this time.

1:30 a.m.  Emergency helicopter roars overhead towards the highway.

1:36 a.m. Day ends. 4 ½ hours until Reset completes.

The Reset

Despite every day being the same, time still flows in this recursion. Each day begins at 6:06 a.m. Saturday morning, and continues until 1:36 a.m. on Sunday with a reset period of about four and a half hours in which everyone in the recursion is unconscious.

It is theorized that if a recursor could remain conscious past 1:36 a.m. (a difficulty 8 task) they would actually witness the recursion reset itself. People and all moving matter would simply stop in place until such a time as they were relocated to whatever location and condition they were in prior. The theory continues to suppose that a recursor who was active during this period would not only not be reset but could also be killed. There are no reported occurrences of recursors attempting this successfully and so the theories remain purely conjecture.

A Note on Cyphers: The reset affects most things but it cannot touch cyphers. Once a cypher is used it is expended and any new cyphers gained are retained with a new reset.

Bestiary Note

The smoky-shadow creatures are a variant of Boogeymen (The Strange Bestiary) who feed on pain and death and are drawn towards certain events in this recursion. Unless one of these creatures chooses to be seen only characters with the spark can see them at all. PCs who pay attention will likely notice these creatures (unlike the other denizens) do not seem to follow the rules of the Reset or a pre-ordained path.

Using this Recursion

It is important to remember that unlike most iterations of the “every day is the same” trope PC’s are not trapped in this recursion and there is probably no way to “fix” the loop. So your stories here should use the format as a backdrop not the primary conflict. Maybe they must find a particular cypher or artifact believed to be hidden in one of Millscroft’s many antique shops. Or perhaps, an agent of the estate with an inoperable tumor has retired to Millscroft to add a few years of life but hasn’t checked in for sometime.

GM Tip: Mood Music. Make a medium to long playlist of music of from 1997-1998 and play it during your game. Don’t put it on shuffle. Whenever the recursion resets restart the playlist.

GM Intrusions Suggestions:

  • (Arrival) Two characters who either don’t get along or are experiencing friction right now discover they are roommates at the Gables.
  • (First Reset) The character in question resets awkwardly: Falling out of bed, or stumbling down the bed and breakfast’s stairs. Whatever the inconvenience, it repeats at every reset.
  • (Anytime after the first reset) Untimely death. A fluke accident like the falling piano (above) or an out of control car kills a PC. If you are running a time-sensitive adventure and want to award an XP to each PC, you can narrate a jump to a fresh reset.

New Year, Resolutions, and a Campaign Setting

So if you follow this blog you may have noticed I don’t post much. Certainly not as much as should and definitely not as much as I would like. As a result you might expect that the first blog entry of the new year would be a resolution post saying “I will write more in the coming year.”

Nope. Not gonna happen.

I am notoriously bad at keeping New Years resolutions. I will say that I will try to post more frequently here not because it’s the first of January but because I’ve been dissatisfied with the amount of content I published to this blog last year. So I’ve been thinking about how I might fix this and how I might add content. So over the next 12 months I’m planning to lay the groundwork for a new fantasy campaign world. Starting with a town or other home base for the PC and building out from there. In addition to the setting material I plan to have new class options and feats for players and new monsters and templates for GMs.

If there is something you’d like to see included leave me a note in the comments, I may just find a way to work it in.

So I guess I did just promise to write more…whoops.

Sci-fi Relics in Your Fantasy Game

Earlier this month Rogue Genius Games published my second sci-fi inspired Relic File, a strange little item known as The Breath of the Heavens. The Breath of the Heavens is a twinkling cloud of nano machines which inhabit a host’s lungs and does some pretty weird and cool things. Before that we released Quicksilver Mail a glob of liquid metal armor that engulf’s the bearer’s body, and provides an environmental readout on its HUD, features a built in buckler and more.

This subset of my Relic Files line is largely inspired by my experiences with The Expedition to the Barrier Peaks when I was eleven or twelve. Possibly the most memorable aspect of The Expedition to the Barrier Peaks was the presence of discovery flowcharts. These helped determine if your PC could make sense of the technological devices you might find.

I did not originally include any sort of activation rules in my relic files but if you enjoyed that part of the old module I present a pair of simple, similar rules for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. Now it can also be hazardous to activate a relic from beyond the stars much like it was to activate a technological device in 1980.

Optional Rule: Daily Activation

This option is a modification of the Relics As Feats rules (see Relics of the Godlings I or II). You may attempt to use any ability you meet the level requirement for however if you do not have the necessary Relic Attunement feat you must make a Use Magic Device check each day. If you are successful you have access to all of the relic’s special abilities you meet the level requirements for, however if you fail the roll by 10 or more you suffer a minor mishap and take the damage listed on the table below. A successful Reflex save reduces this damage by half.

Optional Rule: Initial Activation

Slightly modifying the Daily Activation rule it also works for games using the Relics As Assumed Treasure option but instead of requiring access to the feat you simply gain its benefits with a single successful activation role.

 

Feat

Emulating

Use Magic Device DC Minor Mishap Damage
Relic Attunement I 15 2d6
Relic Attunement II 20 6d6
Relic Attunement III 25 9d6
Relic Attunement IV 30 12d6
Relic Attunement V 35 15d6

May the Fourth Be With You

A little more than a year ago a friend of mine moved across the country and we planned a HouseCon event. We would invite a bunch of our friends over open house style and play RPGs and board games all weekend. We set aside a few hours for a Fate Accelerated Star Wars game to kick off the weekend’s gaming. We spent about 20-30 minutes making characters defining our setting and explaining the rules (most of the group had never played any sort of Fate) we then played the game for rest of the night adding and subtracting players as needed. It was so popular we continued to play for a few more hours the next morning before we broke out the board games.

What follows is the guide we now use for Fate Star Wars and a story pitch. Defiance is a good starting point for discussing where everyone might want a rebellion era game to go. Particularly if players are unaccustomed to the open nature of a Fate campaign.

Fate of the Galaxy

Establish Your Era / Setting Basics

Star Wars stories cover thousands of years and several distinct eras. While technology is largely unchanged through all of these eras (blasters, lightsabers, and faster than light starships are all commonplace) other details change from era to era, such as who the villains are, whether Jedi/Sith are common or all but extinct, even what worlds still exist. It is therefore important that your group is mindful of the differences and agree on a particular era.

You should also decide how much you are willing to deviate from film and EU cannon.  There is no right answer except the one that works best for your group. Maybe one of your PCs blows up the first Deathstar or what if the first Deathstar wasn’t blown up at all. What worlds are now in jeopardy?

Character Creation is Basic FAE

Choose a high concept, trouble, and one to three additional aspects.

Rate your six approaches (+3, +2, +2, +1, +1, 0).

Begin with 3 stunts,

and 3 refresh.

Playing Droids and Aliens

This is a no sweat very easy option simply use your aspects and stunts to simulate a non human.

About the Force

You may choose to have surviving Jedi and force adepts in your game. You do not need to charge those players a penalty but they will need to include this Force connection in their high concept. Furthermore they may want to purchase stunts to represent some of their prefered force techniques.

Example: Because I am a Jedi, I get a +2 when I forcefully  overcome an obstacle,  when Jumping.

Example: Because I am trained in the Jedi Mind Trick, I get a +2 when I sneakily create an advantage while I am talking to someone.

Spaceships, Specialized Gear and Droid Companions

Like the force these should be included in a character’s aspects and stunts however most characters are not defined by their gear and need not use their high concept to establish it.

Example:  Because I wield a Lightsaber, I get a +2 when I flashily defend, against ranged attacks.

Example: Because I know a few maneuvers, I get a +2 when I flashily overcome an obstacle, when piloting the Millennium Falcon.

If your gear cannot be summed up in a stunt you might choose to use the “Extra” rules options from Fate Core.

 

A Sample Setting

Image

Opening Crawl

These are dark times. The Jedi are hunted outlaws facing total destruction at the hands of the Galactic Empire. The Emperor continues to expand his reign of terror and the Galactic Senate is powerless to stop him.

A faction within the Senate, led by Bail Organa, has begun to plot rebellion diverting funds and material to hidden Jedi and the fledgling rebel fleet.  

Aboard the newly commissioned (but aging) rebel venator class star destroyer The Defiance the PC’s will begin their adventures in the Star Wars Universe.

 

Notes

It has been about 10 years since the Emperor issued Executive Order 66 (and the events of Episode III). Despite the attempted purge not all Jedi were caught and killed a small number of survivors (beyond Yoda and Obi Wan Kenobi) are in hiding. Players who wish to play Jedi may want to incorporate this hunted status in their trouble.

Similarly players who wish to play rebel clones have a couple of options. A truly fortunate individual clone may have been strong enough to resist imperial programming and disregard Order 66. Or more likely the clone may have escaped the slaughter on Kamino about a year ago. The Cloners dissatisfied with Imperial interference in their operations began to breed an army of their own one without the flaws requested by the Empire. When Imperial forces became aware of the army Imperial Commandos were dispatched to eliminate all rogue Kamino clones. While fairly thorough some clones may have escaped to join the fledgling rebellion.

Bail Organa and other influential individuals have begun to lay the groundwork for rebellion but there is no Rebel Alliance yet (by cannon that is another seven years into the future but might happen sooner depending on how the campaign proceeds). What these politicians, military and civilians have managed to pull together so far only amounts to a small fleet. The most recent addition to the fleet is the officially decommissioned star destroyer Patriot recently recommissioned by the rebels as the Defiance.

The Defiance will serve the campaign as a mobile home base for the PCs frequent missions against the Empire’s interests.

This is a Lightside Campaign model. PCs should not be Imperial sympathisers or dark force users although they could for a time at least operate as spies inside the imperial command structure.

Interlude: Congratulations

Well Today was the day. A new RPG Superstar was announced and I’d like to congratulate Victoria Jaczko, 2014’s RPG Superstar! I know it was a hard won victory because like every year the top four entries were all top notch. So congratulations also to the three runner-ups:  Mike Kimmel, Mikko Kallio and Robert Brookes for impressive runs this year! These are all names I expect we’ll be very familiar with in the coming years.

On a related note, Mikko announced today that he has also started a design blog of his own: A Sword for Hire. If you’re interested in seeing behind the scenes of RPG Superstar from a contestants point of view it looks like it will be worth checking out.

So congratulations again to the top four particularly our new Superstar Victoria Jaczko and her forthcoming adventure: Daughters of Fury!

Observations on RPG Superstar Part 2: Looking Back at 2012

In 2012 what I wanted was to write that years RPG Superstar Pathfinder module. When I read my name on the Top 32 list I was thrilled and shocked! Suddenly I knew was only a few short weeks from . . . . Well, if not the Superstar then surely the Top 4.

Then I read the comments on my item. It was a cold shower. Sure I was in but I’d been nearly passed over. I knew I was entering an item, Cayden’s cup, that had some design parallels to an item in one of the books (both were cups dedicated to Paizo’s resident mead-hall deity) but I thought it should be a big enough design space that I could add another tankard to the game. What I hadn’t counted on was the tankard of the cheerful duelist from Mathew Morris in 2010. Suddenly it wasn’t parallel design with just one item but two and the second one had been a Top 32 item! Not a great start.

Now in my defense the 2010 contest began at the tail end of 2009 which had been an abominable year. It started rocky and by June had sunk to an all time low with the unexpected passing of my father. Even several months later I had little interest following Superstar and so missed Mathew’s tankard on its natural run. I should still have caught it in 2011 when I did my review of previous years entries to prepare for the 2012 season of Superstar but somehow I missed it. That oversight nearly cost me in the first round.

 

What followed is a blur. Me racing to complete each round’s assignment and struggling to not repeat mistakes from previous rounds. I remember feeling a sort of bond form with the judges. It was hard not to with Clark Peterson and Neil Spicer taking so much time to cover every aspect of each entry. Sean K. Reynolds’s commentary was much more terse but still effective. I was writing as much for them as for myself. Each round I would excite myself with a new idea and think this is it! then the judges comments would come crashing in and my hopes would be dashed but I’d win new design insights.

For me it all culminated in the hot mess that was the njaa’mende, my gonzo totally unwieldy intelligent trap building swarm monster with the unpronounceable name. In retrospect even it seems longer but I only lasted three rounds. I was a top 16 contender a far cry from my naive expectations of Top 4 but I ended very happy with my achievements. I even received my first freelance offers.

What I wanted was to write that RPG Superstar Pathfinder module. Turns out what I needed was to fail spectacularly. I wasn’t ready to be any sort of freelancer when I started my 2012 Superstar run. I needed the failures and the little victories to make the transition from bystander fan to contributing fan and freelancer.

OBSERVATIONS ON RPG SUPERSTAR PART 1: BREAKING IN

Since 2008 Paizo Publishing has been running RPG Superstar, an American Idol inspired RPG design contest. Each year hundreds of gamers answer the round one open call and submit their best wondrous item design in hopes of being one of the top 32 designers who get to compete in the subsequent rounds for the grand prize of writing an official Pathfinder adventure module for Paizo.

The competition to become one of the top 32 is tight. While some of the contestants may be unprepared, more and more, the contestants are producing excellent magic items. Some of the designers have been refining their entries for an entire year. As a result it gets harder with each passing year to break into the top 32. Now I’ve made it through this gauntlet twice and while I don’t believe it makes me an expert it may offer me a unique perspective and what follows is a wondrous item creation method distilled from the lessons I’ve learned from failure, success, and large amount of advice from other talented designers.

This is not meant to be the only way to make a magic item or even the “right” way to make it into the top 32. It worked for me this year but really I only hope that maybe these steps might help someone.

Preparation (part one): Read all of the official rules, previous top 32 winners, the advice threads on the Paizo boards, the critique my item threads and Sean K. Reynolds’ auto reject guide. Even if you have been entering this contest every year since it began at least review these resources you never know what you’ll rediscover.

Preparation (part two): Copy-paste the provided template complete with all the bulletin board code(bbc) into your favorite word processor. I like to use google drive, it keeps a revision history,  I can work on my entry from almost anywhere and I can easily share my work with my alpha and beta-readers (more on that later) but whatever you find most comfortable.

Once the template is copied into the word processor, without removing the bbc change the portions that should be bolded or in italics to match the bbc. It may sound silly but by adjusting the font to reflect the bbc it makes it easier to read the entry and having the code in place now is easier than inserting it later.

Brainstorming: Step away from your computer if possible grab a notepad and a pencil and go someplace quiet. Forget spells, mechanics, and rules. Just brainstorm a cool magic item. Imagine a cool set of visuals or a dynamic power. I recommend focusing on the cinematics of your item’s power over its mechanics at this point. If you have an item you can imagine appearing in a summer blockbuster you’re probably on the right track.

Once you have your basic idea think about who would make it. Not the specific history but generally is it made by arcane casters, clerics, druids or someone else? Is it made by humans, goblins or elves? You need not include this in the text of your item but it can help in keeping your design focused. An amulet made by elven wizards will differ greatly from one made by a goblin druid even if they have similar effects.

Write and take notes: Don’t worry about style just get the idea recorded so you don’t lose it. If you have any gem phrases make sure to note these as well.

Make a first mechanics pass: So you have a visual, how might you apply that effect in game terms? Could your effect break or bend an existing rule in a cool way? Is this an item you would want to use in a game as either a PC? Or to a lesser degree, would you want it for your NPCs as a GM?

Try to avoid obvious the Swiss Army knife (SAK), spell-in-a-can(SIAC), monster-in-a-can (MIAC) and other instances of auto-reject criteria. Also avoid straight +X modifiers keep the mechanics as interesting as the visuals.

First draft: You should have enough now to write your first draft. Don’t sweat the word count just get it all down. I tend to seriously over write at this step…I find cutting words preferable to trying to shoehorn words in.

Second mechanical pass: Now is the time to start thinking about spell selection what spell or creative combination of spells might generate your chosen effect / mechanics. Again use this opportunity to avoid SIAC.

This is also where you’ll work on pricing the item.

Revisions: Enlist help. You know what your item does and sometimes as a result you can’t see the most obvious glaring flaws. Try to have an alpha reader or two preferably with varying degrees of system mastery. This will help you target trouble spots in your entry.

If you’re like me, you will probably need cut words and cut more words just to pick up a few words so you can clarify a point…then you’ll need to cut more words because you just went back overcount. Tighten your language as much as possible now that voting is public shorter entries are often prefered. So make every word count and come in as short as your idea allows.

Pass later revisions to either your alpha readers or a set of beta readers and revise again. Now it bears mentioning that you can revise too much so exercise caution. There comes a point where you just need to walk away.

Make certain you’re following all the necessary Pathfinder style conventions: Sizes are capitalized, spells and wondrous item names in descriptions are not capitalized and are italicized. Make sure you have added bbc where it is needed.

Preview: Prepare a messageboard private message to an alpha or beta reader by copy-pasting your entry into the body of the PM. You should be able to see any faulty bbc before reaching the submission tool.

Also when you make your final submission hit “preview” this will perform the official Paizo word-count and give you one last chance to catch any errors.

I haven’t included every piece of advice available. I suspect someone could write a book on Superstar magic item creation but hopefully I’ve provided enough suggestions to get someone started.

I highly suggest someone interested in RPG Superstar design check out the Blazing 9 thread and all the other resources available on Paizo.com.