Monthly Archives: August 2016

Building Better Worlds, sort of.

abandoned city

Our second installment in the Crux development series will attempt to demonstrate how we do our worldbuilding and how we’d get from a basic concept and expand it out to fit it into a setting, in this case, over the course of an afternoon. We’ll normally spend a little longer doing so, but this ought to serve as an example. Here goes nothing:

Tom: Throwaway example: A settlement built among the aftermath of a tidal wave hitting your steretotypical fantasy city.

Matt: Yep, let me ponder that. Are we talking typical D&D fantasy?

Tom: Yeah, so soaring towers, spires and implausible architecture.

Matt: Right, so I’m picturing any towers still standing being a bit crowded.

Tom: …those that aren’t are toppled or listing.

Matt: Depending on how long the floodwaters stay around, possibly to the point of having jutting platforms added on the sides, sort of scaffold – ghettos.

Tom: I was going a similar way, possibly even to a treehouse-village wrapped around the sides of buildings, possibly constructed from shipwrecks that have been cast inland.

Matt: Also, given that this is a fantasy world you’re likely to find that more than just fish and silt wash up in the tsunami.

Tom: Dispossessed aquatic sentients?

Matt: In fact, just for the sake of it lets say, that there’s the ruins of some atlanean mega-civilisation nearby, and the tsunami basically scraped the seabed of their surviving relics and dumped them on the land amongst all the detritus.

Tom: Just to add to the already ramshackle debris lying around. So, there’ll be no shortage of construction material…

Matt: A large portion of which could be valuable, some of which may be… malfunctioning.

Tom: Some of it could be working as intended, but really not in a way conducive to people living nearby. So what we’re looking at is two cities having a head-on collision under several million tons of water. And, owing to typical fantasy handwaving, we have survivors on both sides.

Matt: Nice, that’s an interesting place to explore already. It’s got desperate people who are going to need heroes (you), treasure and traps potentially anywhere, sociopolitical conflict…

Tom: Would the end-result settlement be the results of two factions building their new homes together, and them meeting in the middle? Say, at the waterline? And it can be a massive 3-d dungeon affair in terms of mapping – All the rigging, rope swings and parkour!

Matt: Maybe, but only after the players have brokered some kind of treaty, I think it makes for a more fun situation to enter it when things are a bit desperate and antsy. The atlanteans want their stuff back, the surfacers need atlantean stuff to make new lives for themselves and vaguely suspect the atlanteans of being responsible for the tsunami in the first place.

Tom: Okay. We join them in a ‘feuding neighbours’ situation. Neither is really in a situation to make aggression towards the other, but, as their opposite numbers are different, neither side trusts the other.

(There have been many different cities called Atlantis, all of them believing to be the original one, and nobody knows any different, leading to several feuds between underwater civilisations, so much so, that any relics that wash up from an underwater civilisation is referred to as “Atlantean’, as a generic term).

Matt: Basically “…and their hubris grew too great and they were swallowed by the sea” is the endpoint for many civilisations of high sophistication, a bit like how the reason often given for why there seems to be far fewer alien races than the drake equation predicts is “and then they developed nuclear weapons”.

Tom: It does tend to thin the herd, somewhat. “Hey, guys! Look what I made. Remember those people we don’t like?”

…and it goes downhill from there.

Matt: Perhaps the sea itself is a malevolent entity. Like a lot of people are annoyed at the “medieval stasis” of fantasy civilisations, how they never seem to progress past late middle ages even in thousands of years of history. Perhaps they know something… the sea doesn’t like it if you get too uppity.

Tom: Some dreadful water-entity playing at being god, when it’s actually just a territorial beast who doesn’t like all the noise the interlopers are making.

Matt: …or perhaps it’s just super-possessive, if it sees a shiny it wants it. Naturally, being as large as it is, the shinies it mostly wants are civilisation-size.

Tom: Six of one, half dozen of the other?

Matt: Basically the sea is stormy and changeable of temperament, which is fitting.

Tom: Would the Raging Sea be an active antagonist, something that can be confronted or placated?

Matt: Possibly halfway between antagonist and elemental force you just kinda try to avoid.

 

[Now we have the basic concept, we start advancing it a little bit, and working out what could probably go wrong with it. Given the Atlantean history of hubris and not playing with others, a solution soon presented itself. ]

 

Matt: After a few centuries I picture you’d have a hybrid culture of surfacer and atlantean once the tensions are cleared up, all the surface architecture being a bit archaic and grand.

Tom: Perhaps there could be artificial lagoons built as fishing traps created  by clearing some areas of debris, that which hasn’t been swept away by the aforementioned Raging Sea. Protective walls have probably been put up to divert the worst of the whole ‘elemental problem’

Matt: Possibly there could be some sort of Melnibonean thing arising after a while, where they make a pact with the sea, then start using all that neat atlantean technology to start raiding other nearby cultures and throwing a tithe of their booty into the depths to appease the Raging Sea.

Tom: There we go! That’s what we were missing!

Matt: We might have to involve time travel, so players can see what their good intentions hath wrought…

Tom: Half-Atlantean elemental cultist pirate raiders!

Matt: stop_penis_erect_archer.gif

 

[So now we work on implementation – how could we shoehorn this in, where could we put it?]

 

Tom: This could be a particularly strange region that phases in and out of sync with the timeline. It’s bordering on unstable, so the dragons have their eye on it. This could allow for the timeskips…and an excuse for the Raging Sea to be a non-euclidean Lovecraftian Horror

Matthew: Bitchin, so we have refugees from a magical kingdom crossing paths with the remnants of an ancient megaculture, clashing, eventually merging and becoming a new, greater scourge on the world than any that has come before, able to advance their civilisation without interference from the Raging Sea.

Tom: Apart from next week’s rampaging evil culture…

Matt: Nothing beats haughty cultist pirates.

Tom: Even more so when they seem to appear out of nowhere, come to think of it. How about this? The reverence given to the Raging Sea by tithes and sacrifices allowed it to pull itself into sync with the timeline, when the cultist pirates are enough of a force to defend themselves and become a power in their own right. Perhaps if they’re defeated, the hold on being in phase with the timeline weakens and their home phases back out again – until next they return…

–transcript ends–

From here, we have three possible periods for PC interaction that could be used, if we choose to go with the timeskip device:

1.The formation, with feuding neighbours.

As we mentioned, there’s a lot of opportunity to be instrumental in building a bridge between the two factions, and exploring the unknown ruins to discover what relics can be recovered, Exploration and diplomacy are orders of the day.

2. The Golden Age.

High adventure on hostile seas! The two societies are one, and may welcome the return of the legendary heroes who return from beyond the mists of time to once again come to their aid in the face of great danger, and perhaps get to the bottom of what The Raging Sea is…

3. Evil cultist pirates.

The heroes return to find the civilisation not as they remember, having become cruel and decadent in their years of isolation, and now in league with the Raging Sea, feeding its endless greed and possibly on their way to becoming a threat to all of Crux. It’s up to the original heroes of the city to put right what has inexplicably gone wrong.

Depending on the time of year and strange planar convergences that are never entirely predictable, you could encounter a ruined people in dire straights, an enlightened and open civilisation amid a new rennaissance or a marauding pack of decadent sea-cultists.

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Waxing lyrical, or the matter of Crux.

So what’s this Crux malarkey, anyway?

Matt Keevil: Crux is a Weird Fantasy Western set in the plane of new beginnings, a place formed from the remnants of a thousand worlds that faced Armageddon and didn’t have the heroes they needed to survive.

Tom Cole:  Yep. It’s a multicultural Weird West game set on the accreted remains of several apocalypses, borrowing from elements of the cultures who survived and continue to wash up on the shores.

So what is it?

Matt: Gameplay and tone on Crux is heavily influenced by themes of personal choice and conviction, a world where acting like a hero gives you the power to pull off the feats that make you a hero.

Tom: I’d say it’s a chance to do some extensive worldbuilding without necessarily having to deal with typical fantasy tropes. Some of the earliest brushstrokes were run as a D&D homebrew about 10 years ago, and gently entertained. When Matt and I started writing for Corporation we found that our worldbuilding brains played very well with each other, so several completely unrelated late-night conversations actually have found their way into the version of the game we’re writing now.

So it didn’t spring, fully realised and conspicuously naked from the sea foam

Tom: It really came tgether with the idea for The Most Metal Setting Ever.

Matt: …which involved “Cancer is part of nature too” elves and eusocial technofascist humans in vertical cities
and dragons as owl-like night hunters with bacteriological breath

Tom: Yep. Too much metal for one hand.

What’s with all the different genres? What do you think this is, TORG?

Matt: Right, well in Crux’s case it’s somewhat justified – it’s a plane comprised of the surviving remnants of thousands of worlds, of course it’s going to be a bit eclectic!
Each world-shard added to Crux’s strangeness, uniqueness and diversity, both in its population, very few of whom are *entirely* human, and its technology, culture and threats.

Tom :and owing to heroics and personal drive being something of a motivating force in th world, they’re going to have different ways of doing things – The concept of something being anachronistic is soemwhere between alien, redundant and rude. Is there a specific word for that?
Anyhow, There have been a few irreverent nods toward certain tropes and conceits within the genre, such as. despite being from countless different realities, everyone speaks the same language. (There’s a second prototype of the Tower of Babel, buried in the wastes somewhere, called the Tower Of Tolk, in case you were interested)

Matt: Crux is also designed to be a “drop in” setting, that can be transitioned to from any other game.
If your group is getting a little bored of their current campaign world but are still attached to their characters, end the world and keep the characters as new immigrants to Crux.

So, is it going to be serious, grimdark and edgier than something made of edges?

Matt: Seriously grimdark? Nope. Nay, never. Well, maybe. But mostly the focus is on the psychological experience of encountering the weird. That can be grimdark in some situations, but not always or even often. Players in Crux are Big Damn Heroes, after all.

Tom: In a post apocalyptic setting it tends to be stereotypically equal parts nihilism and/or objectivism, the whole Ayn Rand meets Camus and Neitzche over dinner and cocaine. We’ve come out the other end of that. The average player character has somehow managed to not only survive the end of the world, but come away mostly unscathed, and has the chance at a fresh start, and prospects new. There’s a bit more of a pioneer spirit prevailing, so there’s an element of hope….

“All the better to take away from you when you thought you were safe, my dear”, said the scaly, tentacled octopus-man. After all, you’ve got to have juxtaposition to get effective weirdness, otherwise you just end up having weird for the sake of being weird – Fishmalk syndrome, and the immersion goes right out the window.

Matt: Yep, the weird should spice the familiar, being buried in weirdness is just chaos.

What kind of things can characters do? Are there classes?

Tom: Well, this could get quite open-ended. Classes, no, although certain types of character will certainly tend towards similar skillsets.

Matt: There are no character classes, characters are created and advanced through a point-based system. There are however factions and allegiances that a character can join which grant access to certain special abilities. Join the Stoneface Marshalls for example and you can acquire the power to see through earth and stone or track a person’s footsteps over any earthen surface. Or become a Brother of the Nematode Oracle and slip your worm-tattooed hands into living flesh and reshape it at will or even blend it with inorganic substances.

Tom: We’ve avoided having a deliberate ‘Caster’ skill tree, again, as it was a trope we didn’t think worked in this setting, but instead, extended the abilities one would think of as ‘spells’ to be derived from equipment.
Or membership and training in a faction group

Matt: Instead characters acquire certain supernatural abilities that are more akin to superpowers than Vancian spells.

Tom: In that they’re always to hand; part of the character, as opposed to taking up a slot in your head.

Better yet, what kind of characters can you play?

Tom: Shall we do one example each and alternate?

Matt: A lawman whose face is a mask of stone, who tracks outlaws no matter where they may hide. Few can outdraw him, none can escape him.

Tom: A snake-oil salesman whose word is an ironclad contract., and is met with fear and trepidation, not because of their horns, or their ruddy skin, but because their pills and potions actually work.

Matt: An outrider for the Rail Barons, seeking to expand the growing webs of the great rail network and invite new arrivals to Crux to join the Ultharine States Alliance.

Tom: A dead man who has finally learned to live; a living ancestor, rewarded for serving faithfully all their life with the gift of blessed undeath, painted up in sacred icons of life and ready to undertake a journey in which they will drink, smoke, feast and frolic with all the zeal of someone who knows that they can’t die.

Matt: A visionary artist who escaped the oppression of the Hivelands, armed only with the power to move hearts and minds, spending each day one step ahead of their kinsmen who seek to bring them back in chains.

Tom: An officer and a Lady in the Swine-Mounted Cavalry, doing your duty and keeping the land safe from bandits with glistening sabre and trusty scattergun, equally at home at a state banquet, or the roughest of dive bars, with her trusty War Hog never far behind.

Matt: A bountyhunter who never sleeps until his quarry is caught, as implacable as an advancing storm and watchful as a hawk, and when close, subdues his target with the force of his own surpressed exhaustion.

Tom: An assassin who was framed for an unsanctioned murder of an important visiting dignitary, and has taken on the office of The Hanged Man, in order to clear their name, as their identity slowly fades, gradually giving in to the constant urgings of the geas woven into their armour.

Matt: A member of the Dustwalker tribes, having just come of age, scouring the world for her Wisdom, whatever it may be, maybe discovering the secret avenues within the raging storms, here to there in the blink of an eye. “The trick is, to get yourself good and lost.” the Elder said…

Tom: …And let’s not forget the theist-for-hire, who’ll believe in anyone if the money is right. There are many lonely former gods out there who are willing to pay good coin for some really zealous supplication, a little reminder of their glory days.

Where will our adventures take us?

Tom: Out there. New lands and new civilisations… Well, what’s left of them. There’ll obviously be some Tomb Raider/Indiana Jones-style delving into newly arrived ruins, in order to find the best loot before someone else stakes a claim to it. There’ll be the opportunity to visit exotic locations, and get yourself into all manner of mischief, intrigue, and chicanery.

Matthew: And of course there’s shard-prospecting, exploring the remnants of a newly-arrived dead world, whether that be to loot it for the treasures it contains, to inspect it for the threat it might pose for its neighbours or to decide if it has promise as a new addition to the nation that employs you.

Tom: Or sneaking into the Planar Observatory out of hours, to plot the time and location of the incoming shardfall before anyone else…

Matt: You may get several shards from the same world Of course there’s then a big rush to find all the “choice” shards and loot them of all their valuables and sell the location rights to the Rail Barons or whoever is looking to develop it.
Basically dungeons just fall from the sky.

Tom: The logical evolution of ‘rocks fall’, but these have PC-accommodating space inside.

Matt: Or, if the rocks hit from the underside, that’s how you get dungeons. It’s currently just headcanon but I picture Crux as being shaped like one of those old sherbet-filled Flying Saucer sweets.

Tom: It is now. You heard it here first. There is a Down-underside, but it’s largely desolate and not fit for habitation. It is theorised that There Be Dragons.

Matt: of course this is all just theory, only cranks and yahoos claim to have been “over the edge” to the Down-under.

Tom: Most importantly, I think, there’s no ‘right way’ to do it. There’s scope for whichever playstyle suits the group’s taste. whether they’re doing Blazing Saddles, Vikings, Dragon Age, House Of Flying Daggers or Unforgiven

Should we also venture the “what kind of things have influenced or inspired you while writing this?

Tom: I’d cite Neverwhere and American Gods, Preacher and Transmet, SLA Industries, Scar Night and Iron Angel by Alan Campbell, most of David Gemmell for the grandiose Big Damn Hero moments. The whole aesthetic of Into The Badlands, elements of Bioshock and  Dishonored, not quite so much Assassin’s Creed, Regretzio – Definitely The Borgias and almost definitely the Dark Souls series. I’d have to say that the biggest influence is down to researching viable technology and working out a plausible, or at least plausible *sounding* model for how a society works. Even if it is situated on the ‘shell’ of a leviathan hermit crab wandering around a swamp.

Matt: For my part I’d say China Miéville’s Bas-Lag trilogy first of all, particularly “Iron Council”. To that I’d add the Oathbound campaign setting and Fallen London for the charmingly weird details and John Hornor Jacobs’ “The Incorruptibles” and “Foreign Devils” for the Western stylings in a fantasy setting. Lovecraft of course gets a nod, though Crux borrows a lot more from the Dream Cycle than the Cthulhu Mythos (don’t worry though, there’s plenty of room for some eldritch horrors to pop up), and finally Clint Eastwood’s whole body of work in the Western genre.

Tom: Why did Clint Eastwood never do a cosmic lovecraftian horror movie?

Matt: A missed opportunity, for sure…High Plains Drifter veered toward it in places…

Tom: This bears rewatching, then.

* * *

Okay, so we hope that’s given you an idea of what we’re working towards, and whether you’d like to know more. If so, watch this space. There will be a facebook community page up and running in the next few days. We hope you like what you see, and are at least half as nerdy-keen as we are to be working on this.

Hard love.

Tom Cole (and Matt Keevil, on the other end of a messenger conversation)

Back from the dead

For the forseeable future, this blog will be changing to cover RPG development, system building and work in progress on the Crux corebook, and the processes behind its creation.

Some of the changes being made to the existing Brutal Engine, used in Corporation initially started began to take shape when I was working on a rewrite of Exalted 3rd Edition with Mercury Locke. Our reworking of the Intimacies paved the way towards the changeover to facets of Conviction and the trauma pool, but more on that in due course.

The rewrite of Graceful Charm Methodology, fully edited and in pdf can be found here.

Onyx Pathfinder

The original treatment can be found here:

In the following article, we’ll be explaining what Crux is, and the rough concepts behind it, so you, dear readers, aren’t quite as mystified by the enthusiastic stream of conciousness ramblings and seemingly unrelated and anachronistic settings, and our reasons for the decisions we made as regards the setting as a whole. With luck, we’ll manage to get the idea across in a clear, concise, and mildly irreverent fashion.

If we don’t, there’s always tabloid journalism, or Young Adult novels by the numbers.