Category Archives: RPG Writing

All the eggs in one basket-array

Shard Prospecting: Dungeons Reimagined

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The classic dungeon-crawl is something rather close to many of our hearts; a series of challenges, puzzles and monsters that the players overcome through a combination of guts, ingenuity and often, luck.

Thing is, they’re not always easy to incorporate into settings outside of classic fantasy without seeming a little out of place, or perhaps contrived. You’ve got raids on enemy estates or installations in cyberpunk games, or heists in your spy-thrillers – even the good old-fashioned tomb-raiding, whether for treasure, or forbidden knowledge.

 

What can Crux offer you that’s different?

One of the major features of the setting are the Shards, each a fragment of a world that has ended, due to one circumstance or another. Each of the existing nations of Crux is a stable shard, but often, fragments of worlds will materialise out of the wastes of the Betwixt, only to be swallowed by the storms around them, as well as the entropy they bring with them. They are dangerous places, but also rich in resources and treasure, so are a sought-after commodity.

And where there are sought-after commodities there are people who are willing to pay through the nose to get what they want.

Enter the players…

You get the chance to be the lucky miscreants who trawl through the ruins of dead cities, with implausible architecture, strange dangers, curious conditions and maybe even survivors. Most likely, you won’t be the only ones…

 

What does this mean?

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Awesome Set-Pieces!

Most dungeons are simply a bunch of ‘encounters’ or set-pieces strung together, hopefully underpinned by a common theme – with a newly arrived Shard, the sky’s quite literally the limit – sky-bridges, tall towers, beautiful gardens, a mansion full of antiques, – There’s no need to keep to the dungeon aesthetic, as these things materialise out of thin air, and you’ll be among the first to explore them.

 

Odd Environments!

These environments can be either very familiar, or as wild and strange as your GM’s imagination can envision – crystals that generate anti-gravity fields, giant psychoactive mushrooms or a water-park  long since overgrown or even a burned-out chemical plant. The environment can deliver new experiences and new dangers every time, so going in blind isn’t necessarily a good idea. Look before you leap!

 

Intrigue and Politics!

Unless you’ve managed to bribe someone for the insider knowledge, you’re not likely to be the only ones on the scene for very long. Other prospectors also have patrons and sponsors, from all over Crux, with different agendas, who have their own plan for the spoils. They might even pay more than your current employers…

 

Different Ways To Approach Things!

Unstable shards are normally approached in one of three ways:

  1. Temporarily stabilise the shard, to get the most resources out of it before it disintegrates.
  2. Attempt to permanently stabilise the shard, to either extract it, along with any survivors, or settle it, and run the risk of it becoming unstable again, or worse…Dragons!
  3. Collapse the shard, with the hope of seizing the fundamental essence of the world, reality-pearls, and gain the ability to shape destiny itself. Tales of those who have managed it are few and far-between, but all of them agree, things get very strange once the shard, and the reality it sits in starts breaking down.

 

Unconventional Escape Routes!

Have you ever wanted to escape from an imploding cityscape clutching onto a harpoon’s winch cable, being spooled up onto a magitech zeppelin? Here’s your chance!

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Also, Random Generation!

We’re also throwing together a means of randomly generating Shard encounters or themes, so that, should you literally be drawing a blank, there’ll be something that you can produce through the Power Of Proctomancy. We’re going to be testing whether we can use a normal 52-card deck, and possibly a Tarot deck as well. Watch this space for more on that!

All of these elements can be part and parcel of your dungeon-crawling experiences, but they don’t all happen in context – in Crux, they’re not handwaved, they’re part of the setting.   

Hope that’s piqued your interest…

Until next time, hard love,

Tom Cole

 

Designing Campaign Locations

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When running a campaign, or several stand-alone adventures that take place in and around a specific location, its often sensible to populate the players’ sandbox with details – not just the elements that make up the adventures themselves, but details that give the setting a life and character of its own, and more things for players to interact with. Growing this sense of participation and investment is key to getting players on board with your narrative.

It’s far easier to show this by means of a worked example, and, while doing so, we can demonstrate some of the emergent details that come about as a part of the process. Not all of these details are directly useful, but the conclusions we reach coming to them help us get a feel for the setting and provide interesting avenues for development.

Development Questions:

What is it?

What purpose(s) will it serve?

Consider what the location represents, both in terms of its purpose, in-terms of the story, as well as to the players, and in general. Nowhere exists in a vacuum, and many locations are built for a reason.

What features or facilities will it need to accomplish them?

Fairly self-explanatory; a military outpost will need barracks, an armoury and so forth, while a research station will need workspaces. Once you know what the location was built for, you should be able to work out the necessary features, and flesh things out from there.

What makes it memorable/stand out?

Is there anything about the area the location is in that makes it unusual? Perhaps it has a freshwater spring, or a rock-face illuminated by phosphorescent moss. What does it look like? Is there a strange tone to the light, or is the main square fragrant with the scent of fresh spices and baked bread?

How?

How does it fit into the setting

How do folk reach this location? Is it connected by the rail network, or is it off the beaten track? If it produces goods, or needs to import resources, how do they get there, and how regularly?

How does the location work/function?

What are the day-to-day operations that happen in the location? Is there a daily routine, or do things vary from one day to the next?  Are there disruptions to the routines? What consequences does it have?

How will the players relate to the location?

Do they live here? Are they visiting? Where do they live, and in what kind of conditions? Do they have business here?

Who?

Who are the power-players?

Who is in charge, and who holds influence? Are they popular, tolerated or reviled? Why? Consider defining the power structures, and working out how they conduct themselves.
Are they held apart from the general population, or do they prefer to be one of the crowd?

Who are the normal people?

What’s the mood of the general populace? How do they live? Are they well-off, or living hand-to-mouth? What kind of lifestyle do they have? What do they do in their leisure time?

Who do they (the PCs) know?

Contacts, friends, and acquaintances will define the players’ interactions, so it’s good to work out who they know – design a couple of NPCs, and work out how what they can provide for the players.

 

Example Location: Hive Unity

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What is it?

A Hive-City built on the borders of the Hivelands to serve as both a trading installation and embassy. A settlement spreads out from the base of the hive, and this serves as a melting pot for cultures passing through to do business.

The main components:

A skyport, for Hivelands airships

An embassy, and offices for diplomats

A marketplace

A rail terminal

A surrounding town, which may or may not be a wretched suburb of scum and villainy.

What makes it different?

Most Hivelands settlements are homogenous and regimented, while Unity is a melting pot for the Hivelands’ interactions with the rest of Crux. By virtue of its embassy, there’s the opportunity to meet all manner of foreign dignitaries, as well as the potential for all manner of incidents to occur.

In terms of the place in the setting, it’s a transport and trade hub, which means that it’s easy enough for plotlines to involve it, even if just passing through. An operation of this scale, in terms of both trade and diplomacy, will require substantial organisation, so there has to be people working to this end, along with people who seek to profit from exploiting the goings on..
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Government structure:

The overall running of the Hive is taken by a pair of administrators, the Logistician and the Vigilant who deal with daytime and nocturnal matters respectively.  Below them are a team of specialists who deal with particular areas of expertise

The main specialists in Hive Unity, and their areas they govern, are as follows:

The Sentry: The skyport, air traffic and signals

The Adjutant: The embassy, visiting dignitaries and matters of culture

The Quartermaster: The market ward, flow of goods and running of the trains and wagons

The Sapper: The Undercroft, keeping public order, maintainence and amenities, information gathering.

The general populace

As well as housing visitors, and traders, the Undercroft is also home to several criminal gangs, who are allowed some leeway to pursue their enterprises provided it’s kept within reasonable levels.  In return, they act as an unofficial city watch within the Undercroft, dealing with problems quickly and discreetly. This sidesteps the necessity of calling out the Hive Garrison for every minor disturbance.

The soldiers of the Hive Garrison are usually present in a ceremonial capacity, on guard or on parade. Otherwise they are on standby to deal with any serious threats to Hive Unity. As befits their role, many are decorated veterans and are expected to set a brave and heroic example when in the public eye. This is to humanise Hiveland soldiers in the eyes of visitors, and to showcase their impressive regalia.  

The Undercroft

The Undercroft spreads out radially from the base of the Hive, repurposing and adapting the pre-fab buildings as they go, leading to a uniform state of wear and tear throughout the wards. It seems that even the Hivelanders’ urban squalor is efficient and functional.

The tried and tested construction methods also are evident in one of the more disconcerting aspects of the Undercroft: The wards are essentially identical in terms of layout. Some buildings may be used for different purposes, Over time, the Hivers of the Undercroft have started to adopt the quirks and convention of the Outsiders and are attempting to turn their houses into homes, with rather mixed results. It is for this reason that artists from the Hivaland enclaves passing through to the world outside are sought after by the Crofters for their expertise on matters aesthetic.

NB: Each ward is build on an identical, modular plan, so that amenities and resources can be distributed efficiently.

On Art:

Hivelander iconography and craftsmanship is exemplary, but even this is a functional choice. It’s designed to inspire allies, give enemies pause, or to cultivate a mystique. The concept of ‘Art for Art’s sake’ is regarded as an almost paradoxical idea by the common Hivers. Although the strange contemplative pilgrims who leave their enclaves into the world outside would certainly be familiar with, and promote such an idea.

Emergent detail I

Addresses in the Undercroft are given a particular form, so that navigation can be easily achieved, which has the unique side-effect that most of the pedestrian traffic goes in one direction.

The form is as follows:

Ring (inner to outer),

Ward (from the gate, going clockwise)

Court

House number.

This would be written as 1/4/2/16, for instance, operating in a similar manner to a post/zipcode.

The Hive Structure

Most of the tower of Hive Unity is taken up with the administrative and logistics offices alongside the grandiose diplomatic chambers. The usually spartan hive-interior is festooned with impressive iconography and metalwork, lending an almost Art Deco feel to the decor

The cosmopolitan attitude of the Undercroft is in stark contrast to the harsh professionalism present in the diplomatic chambers. It is uncertain whether this is down to the societal prejudices holding on since before their shardfall, but there is certainly something unusual lurking beneath that diplomatic vaneer. It’s not to say that they are unpleasant, more unnervingly aloof, their manners too perfect – some would go so far as to say “soulless”.

Many diplomats are also members of the Hivelands’ intelligence corps, and their training and ideological conditioning is evident when they’re acting in an official capacity, Of course, when they’re operating off the record, they’re no different from the next person, they wouldn’t be effective spies, otherwise…

Emergent detail II

The skyport, as well as providing mooring for airships, contains several arrays of cranes, ramps, winches and freight elevators to ferry cargo up and down the hive structure itself. Most are powered by steam engines, which can also be employed to shunt down the heavy freight brought in by rail.

The lifts are controlled by a series of threaded pillar, encircled by a triple bearing ring. Rotating the pillars raise and lower the platforms with remarkable efficiency, and are nearly silent. This particular mechanism is called a “ball screw”.

On that particular turn of phrase, I’ll take my leave, I think, before phrasing becomes a thing again.

Hard love,

Tom Cole.

Our X are different…

Tvtropes has a delightful index page entitled Our Monsters are different (located here) – in which, as one would expect, details how many of the fantasy touchstones will be altered in various settings in order to put their own spin and flavour on them. Needless to say, we’ve done our own take on a few of these, and here are a few of them.

Our zombies are different:

Classic Romero zombies are simple, mindless animated corpses which, owing to a logistics shortfall in Hell, if the tagline is to be believed, walked the earth, and attacked/ate the living. Pretty simple stuff.

On Crux, zombies are more or less a natural phenomenon. They are a side-effect of a phenomenon called Lifebloom – Crux is made up from the world-shards of countless former worlds, each bearing the residual axioms of its world of origin, and once a shard becomes part of the whole, the disparity between the world and its new arrival will cause the flow of energies to and fro, as they seek equilibrium. The energies of life and death are often thrown drastically out of balance through the shard’s apocalyptic upheaval, and its procession through the Void. Upon arrival, these energies roil over the land, dissipating through the dust storms and grounding the energies of the shard in Crux proper. These transitions are not always peaceful, and when these turbulent currents ground themselves, they erupt into the world as crackling clouds of eldritch mist, flashing with green-tinged lightning, dragging the bodies of he nearby dead into motion, filled with the rage born from a world’s end; not one soul, but the screaming fragments of hundreds. A lifebloom can normally be predicted through the use of corpsewrack seaweed. The air bladders throb and pulse slightly in the hours beforehand, resembling a heartbeat as the storm gets closer to breaking.

Our dragons are different:

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Seath The Scaleless, from Dark Souls; a definitely atypical dragon.

Dragons, in most settings, are greedy, powerful reptillian creatures that crave treasure in all its forms, and lair in caves or castles. They are often paragons of good or exemplars of evil, and can wield great temporal power.

Our dragons are powerful and terrifying for different reasons. They are indifferent to the goings-on of civilisation, and care nothing for treasure, princesses or crusading heroes. They are curators of the world, drawm to areas of dimensional instability, often the foothold for nameless horrors to come forth into the world. The dragons’ role is to excise the danger before it happens, by razing the infected region to the ground, so the desolation is reclaimed by the void on the outer reaches of Crux.

(From our reference document:)

“In areas where one axiom holds sway, to the exclusion of others, the beginnings of instability start to show themselves – the air feels greasy, disconnected; the ground unsteady, no matter what the footing. It is this that calls to the dragons; that which consumes all. Soaring silently over the condemned lands, systematically eliminating every living thing in their wake. Their breath, an acrid cloud of gas that contorts the body with rigor, while rending their every organ asunder with the most sudden and virulent fever under the sun. Seldom does anyone survive. Those that do are broken, scarred things, driven by an urge for bloody revenge, and the stirrings of withdrawal from the violently addictive toxin, the very breath that all but killed them. They are faced with few choices, take up the call of the Dragonslayer, die trying, or accept the inevitable.”

Next up, Our PC races are different, with a few examples!

Cooking in Crux, or weirdness in worldbuilding.

While brainstorming or worldbuilding, the process tends to involve taking ideas and themes and then expanding on them to slowly build a clear picture of the scene. In this case the scene may well be the size of a small country, but the touchstones that paint the clearest picture tend to be the little details. These will vary on a case-by-case basis, but are often a fairly inconsequential thing, such as fictional, factual and legal documents being printed on different colours of paper, or a type of street food served in a region based on local produce.

An example of the latter came into being when Matt and I were writing a brief overview for the Cities Of The Riverlands – so we assumed one of the nearest food sources would be fish. Of course, being Welsh, the idea of adding laverbread into the mix was inevitable, and the idea of making it into a pie, or pastie followed in no short order.

Eventually this recipe started forming in my mind, which we called the Blacksea Butty (probably because of some seaweed in the flour, or something) and I started entertaining the thought of actually making an approximation.

Here follows the account of Cooking In Crux – The Blacksea Butty (alpha test, with the notes I made at the time)

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The finished product (alpha test)

Ingredients, quantities kept deliberately vague (what do you think this is, baking? Wait, some of it kind of is):

2 cloves garlic
1 red onion (for colour if anything else)
[2 fillets river cobbler
2 fillets haddock]*
2 slack handfuls of prawns
salt and pepper
1 packet of ready-made pastry, either puff or shortcrust, for preference.(see below)
Flour
Milk
Butter or appropriate approximation
Cheese(red leicester and mature cheddar)
2 eggs

Prep:

Marinade the cobbler and haddock, diced. in the juice of two lemons, along with some salt and pepper for about 2-3 hours.

Grate the cheese. Make your country grate again!

The Rest

To two dabs of butter, melting in a pan, add a dollop of flour, this is your roux, from which the sauce will be put together.

So…

add the milk, (3/4 of a pint, I’d guess) and put on a low-medium heat until the sauce starts to thicken. Drop the cheese in (handful of extra-mature cheddar and red leicester here), and stir til dissolved. Add salt and pepper if you’re a shameless autocondimentator.

Attempt to cut up about 5 sheets of nori (the seaweed used for sushi rolls), fail and realise that they can be scrunched up and then crumbled. Add this to the pot and stir.

Whack onto simmer for a little bit.

Facepalm drastically.

Realise you should have used shortcrust pastry as filo is really faffy. Put together a pastie/turnover affair using four or five sheets of filo, then sealed up with another topsheet of filo, to hold it all together. Brush with egg.

Grease up a baking tray or dish, add the nascent butties. Whack it in the oven and pray.

About 30-35mins in the oven, thereabouts until it starts to brown on the top, take out and leave to stand for about 10-15 minutes. Take out, cook some veggies and attempt to compose a suitable presentation picture.

Consume your creation. Succumbing to food poisoning at this point is considered bad form and a sign that you have done something wrong.

Thankfully, dear reader, they turned out pretty well for an idea assembled purely from the recesses of my mind, and I will probably be making these again, with a much better idea for how to go about it.

Until then, happy eating, and hard love,

Tom Cole.

Run! It’s Godzilla!

(except, due to international copyright law, it isn’t – but let’s run like it is Godzilla.)

Something we noticed when brainstorming Crux is that occasionally, really, really big creatures came into the equation. Traditionally, in RPGs, this means a creature with a load of hitpoints, or equivalent, attacks that use more damage dice than a  session of Shadowrun, and armour that puts a battleship to shame.

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This is all well and good, but what you have is just a normal monster scaled up to titanic proportion. It doesn’t actually offer anything different, or a significant challenge beyond ‘hit it until it dies’, and, as I found with D&D from 3rd Edition onwards- as did a great many of you, I would imagine – this isn’t always as exciting as it should be. These are supposed to be massive, world-shaking things, not just a statblock to be approach the same way as any other.

So, what are we doing to change this? We decided to turn to computer games for a couple of ideas (in some cases as research, in others, just for an excuse to slack off a bit). In some of the medium’s more cinematic offerings, the Big Bad Boss Monster isn’t just an enemy, it forms part of the environment, or uses the environment as a weapon – In Shadow Of The Colossus, they are both the environment and adversary in one, and this was certainly something we wanted to play with.

Another thing we noticed was something of a trope with boss fights was the battle being broken down into stages, such as getting the monster’s attention, evading its clumsy/heavily telegraphed swings, exposing a vulnerability and striking at its weak point for MASSIVE DAMAGE! Then lather, rinse and repeat. Each of these stages ought to present different challenges, and allow for a variety of solutions.

Modelling the boss monster, or leviathan (as a catch-all term) as an active and hostile environment, with the weak points as your goals allowed us to string together a bunch of spectacular set-pieces together as part of some truly large-scale conflict, which requires Big Damn Heroes, as well as their allies, to overcome.

Needless to say, coming up with the range of attacks that leviathan-scale creatures could come up with, and how to model them in-game was a load of fun, as was thinking of awesome countermeasures that players could use to lay these beasts to rest.

Of course the use of harpoons and tow-cables is an option. It’d be rude not to include it.

It’s worth noting that this won’t be the catch-all rule for all large creatures, just the truly titanic ones in very big, special, stompy cases. Advance apologies to arachnophobes, as well, as this could very well involve giant steampunk robot spiders, just in a slightly better adventure than the Wild Wild West film.

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In our next post, we’ll start previewing some of the areas of Crux, to give you a taster of what they involve, and the influences we had when coming up with them.

Until then, hard love.

Tom Cole

Building Better Worlds, sort of.

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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.

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)