Cruxmas Time: Talents

 

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It’s behi…oh never mind…

So, the festive period is beginning to die down, we find ourselves running low on leftovers, and realise that perhaps we ought to be doing something, whether this is the case or not. With this in mind, I present to you a quick look at how we intent to be managing Talents, which determine all the wonderful and unusual tricks that your character can do; the things that make you special.

The Talents are organised into three categories, so you can choose to favour one of these three character archetypes, although in play, you won’t be tied to any particular bias in this case; they just provide a rough guide to your character’s initial calling.

They are:

SAGE: Knowledge and technical ability

SWINDLER: Social ability and finesse, as well as the shadier side of things

SOLDIER: Martial and physical supremacy.

The various Talent Trees within these categories are divided into three levels of proficiency, each of a greater power than the one before. Within each of these levels, we have individual Talents, which are special tricks (Or Feats, if you will, if you’ve been playing D&D for ages, like I have). Many higher level Talents have prerequisites, which will be listed in their description. Frequently you’ll need to learn a couple of lower-level Talents, before you can progress to a higher level one. It follows, after all, that you’d have to learn the basics, before you start picking up the deeper mysteries.

I’m going to assume that you have been through the previous article, so the system shouldn’t be too arcane. So, without very much further ado, here’s an example of one Talent Tree from each of the archetypes, plus a handy flowchart so you can see how one could progress through the trees.

The flavour text is meant to be evocative of what the Talent does, and not a canonical explanation of its sole application. If, like me, you are a fan of describing awesome stunts, try and think about cool variants on this…

SAGE

Arcane Theory

This deals with the understanding of the workings of magical devices, auras and magical phenomena, and how they interact with the world.

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Jayce from Magic: The Gathering – probably quite good at theory

Arcane Theory Flowchart

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Proficiency Level 1

Discern Enchantment

Your understanding of the ebb and flow of magical energies allows you to intuitively understand the nature of any enchantments present on any device you are in physical contact with, and how to use them. No roll is required.

Attune Any Item

Prerequisites: Discern Enchantment

Normally, the process of attuning an item so that  you can harness its arcane properties requires a ritual so that the energies of the item and your aura may harmonise with each other. With enough training and understanding, you are able to extend your etheric sense into the item and integrate with it instantaneously. To do so requires the expenditure of one point of Conviction. You may unbond items from yourself with equal ease.

Witchfinder

You are able to recognise the telltale marks of different magical guilds, allowing you to determine what powers a practitioner possesses. Make an Analysis+Arcane Theory roll against a difficulty equal to the obscurity of the magical guild upon meeting them, each success reveals one fact about the nature of the guild’s powers, or tricks they are likely to possess.

Seal Enchantment

Prerequisites: Discern Enchantment

Just as you are able to implicitly understand the workings of a magical device, you are able to put measures in place such that they are prevented from functioning. By spending a point of conviction while in contact with an item, and making an Arcane Theory roll, a number of magical enhancements equal to your successes the device are disabled, such that a user, apart from the seal’s caster must spend a point of  their own Conviction to gain access to them again. After this, the device functions as normal; the seal is broken.

 

Proficiency Level 2

Control enchantment

Prerequisites: Seal Enchantment

By spending a point of Conviction, and committing an Aura Slot, while in contact  with a device, you are able to establish a connection to the enchantment placed on an item or device. After you have done this, you may cause the device to activate its enchantments, shut them down as per Seal Enchantment, or use any other Arcane Theory talent that would affect the enchantment specifically, provided it’s within your line of sight.

Talismanic Gesture

Prerequisites: Attune Any Item

You make a disruptive sign infused with your Will and Aura to protect you against hostile magic. Spend a point of Conviction and make an Arcane Theory roll against standard difficulty. The number of successes gained are used as a penalty against any magical attacks made against you, in the same manner as cover, with a value equal to your Integrity.

Binding Gesture

Prerequisites: Seal Enchantment, Talismanic Gesture

Reaching out towards a target, you create a binding ward that impedes the use of any magical items in use, although not innate abilities (summoned and created entities count as items for the purposes of this Talent). The affected items are unable to function for the rest of the round. This costs 1 point of Conviction to use and requires an Arcane Theory roll against standard difficulty, or the target’s Integrity, whichever is greater.

 

Proficiency Level 3

Empowered Focus

Prerequisites: Control Enchantment

By spending a point of Conviction, and committing an additional aura slot to a device, you drastically increase the arcane power available to a magical device. The next time it’s used, double the amount of net successes rolled. The device cannot be used the following round. Especially fragile items may become damaged through use of this power.

Shatter Enchantment:

Prerequisites: Binding Gesture

You are able to unweave the magical structure of enchantments, causing them to become unstable and collapse. This includes the removal of simple curses, shattering wards or barriers and other sustained effects. Imbued items, and severe curses  are often more difficult in terms of the degree of success required, so disenchanting an item is often the subject of a downtime action, with in-game activities to support it – particularly powerful curses and wards may require a sidequest to shatter, but with this Talent you will always know what is needed to do so. As with its prerequisite, this costs a point of Conviction to perform.

Talismanic Barrier

Prerequisites: Talismanic Gesture

You are able to sustain the ward created through Talismanic Gesture for a number of rounds equal to your Endurance. While the barrier is active, you may not use any other Arcane Theory talents or magical devices.

Commentary:

This one seems quite complicated, but the ability to manipulate arcane devices is quite a prominent part of the ‘technology’ system in Crux – In some cases, devices use both mundane and magical components, so learning to manipulate this is very useful.

That having been said, the process of understanding the arcane is not meant to be simple, so many Talents require others as prerequisites. Developing a proper understanding is a process that requires some commitment, hence the path is long and a little bit winding.

 

SWINDLER

Deceit

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Lying and cheating by massaging your truth until it does what you want it to. This applies to both written and spoken communication attempts.

Deceit Flowchart

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Proficiency Level 1

Blather-barrage

In a pinch, your quick wits and smart mouth can get you through some tight situations. Make a Deceit Roll against their Integrity to shift their attitude one step towards Neutral (if somewhat confused). (e.g. If they are hostile, doubling their Integrity score in successes moves it directly to Neutral). This normally lasts until the end of the scene.

For 1 conviction, this may be used upon the opening of hostilities if you act first, potentially averting the combat.

Flirtatious overtones

Getting into someone’s personal space, whether metaphorically, emotionally or literally, is often enough to put people off their guard. Spend a point of Conviction and make  a Presence + Deceit roll against their Integrity. Every two successes lowers their effective Integrity by one for the next social roll. If they have reason to suspect your advances as disingenuous, this roll is opposed either by an Intuition + Streetwise or Deceit roll (their choice). This doesn’t reveal your intentions, just rebuffs your attempt. Of course, if the ploy is successful, you may have to make good on your promises…*

(NB: Gender or sexual preference does not play any part in this strategy, mechanically speaking, although the details of how it functions may differ – how much you want to go into that is up to the preferences of your group)

 

Proficiency Level 2

Method Actor

Prerequisites: Blather-barrage

Your skills at deceit are so honed, even you believe them, at least temporarily. Any attempts to discern whether you are lying at that point, will automatically fail,

Outrageous display

Prerequisites: Flirtatious Overtones

Sometimes, to win a verbal exchange you don’t have to be right, you just have to make a good show of being wronged. In a situation where there are witnesses present, make a Deceit roll against their integrity, the greater number of successes you achieve, the stronger the impression your display makes, and the greater their disapproval towards your mark. A normal crowd’s collective Integrity will be 3, although this will vary depending on their attitude

 

Proficiency Level 3

Up is down

Prerequisites: Method Actor

Using your sincerity and persistent assertions to wear down your marks’ will, you may eventually convince them of nearly anything. Spend a point of Conviction and make a Deceit roll against their Integrity, as an opposed roll if they disagree with your position. Success means that they believe what you told them as true, until presented with evidence to the contrary. Blatantly false assertions or common knowledge tend to unravel rather quickly, so it is best used with an element of the truth, or kept within the bounds of plausibility.

Commentary:

While not having as many Talents as Arcane Theory, Deceit’s talents are far more universal in their application, and while the path to mastery seems straightforward, the outlying Talents provide complimentary abilities that allow the main path to come into its own.

 

SOLDIER

For direct combat skills, there are very few prerequisites, all that is required to learn a higher level Talent is to have one of the level below it. So, to learn a level 2 Talent, you need a level 1, and for a level 3, you need to know a level 2. Straightforward, yes? So straightforward, it doesn’t require a flowchart.

 

Close Combat: The Cunning Path

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This set of techniques is basically the opposite of fighting fair, and that’s the way its practitioners like it. It’s often not the only style someone learns, but it’s one that, after it saves their life, it’s the one they never forget.

Proficiency Level 1

Cheap Shot

Sensing a gap in your opponent’s guard, you make a swift lunge, catching them unawares in a vital, and often sensitive, spot. When attacking, you may declare to use a cheap shot instead. Instead of dealing usual damage, inflict the weapon’s base damage and inflict the Dazed status upon them.

Trip

Interrupting your opponent’s gait, while offering a little leverage and encouragement, you up-end them, sending them sprawling to the floor. Declare Trip instead of a standard attack. In place of usual damage, inflict the weapon’s base damage and your opponent suffers the Knock Prone status

 

Proficiency Level 2

Arterial Strike

You throw a rending strike through a vital area, causing a spectacular gout of blood. Spend 1 Conviction. If your attack hits, as well as normal damage, your opponent is affected by Bleed.

Human Shield  

Dodging with liquid grace around your opponent, you always manage to keep their body between you and danger. Spend 1 Conviction. This round you may add your opponent’s Defence score to yours, counting as cover. Attacks aimed at you that miss will automatically hit your opponent.

 

Proficiency Level 3

Turnabout

With perfect timing, you jar your opponent’s hand as it swings towards you, causing their weapon to drop. Catching it in the crook of your elbow as it falls, you spin it around to give them a taste of their own medicine. Spend 1 Conviction. If your attack hits, they are disarmed, and you may attempt to make a bonus strike using their weapon.

Commentary:

As with Deceit, all the Talents are part of a toolkit, and while you can reach the capstone quickly and easily, you’d benefit from the lower level ones also being in your repertoire.

 

So, there we go, another example of how the development is going. I’m currently in two minds as to whether the next excerpt will be crunch or fluff, so will probably have a chat with Matt, and see what wonders we can come up with.

 

Until then, take care and Hard Love,

 

Tom Cole.

 

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You’ve never even *been* to the Crunch.

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Crux: The game mechanics, part 1.

Most of the previous articles have been concentrating on the worldbuilding aspect of the project. The mechanics were being constructed in parallel with the lore and the setting, as we hashed out what we thought characters should be able to do, how they should behave, and what kind of feel that we thought the game should have. Initially, a lot of the values were decided on either an an ad-hoc basis or just  a rough value kept in there as a placeholder until the mechanics around it could shed some light on the matter. After some time, and rather a lot of head-scratching, we’re finally at the stage whereby we have a near-enough complete system suitable for initial playtests.

So…how does it work?

Most challenges and tasks are resolved through the use of skill checks, which work as follows.

Roll (ATTRIBUTE) number of D6, and add a number of extra D6 equal to the appropriate Talent’s mastery level, from 1-3.

Dice that roll 4 and above count as a success. A greater number of successes equate to a greater margin of success at your chosen action.. Your GM will allocate a number of successes required for a task to succeed. A routine challenge would require 3, while truly heroic tasks may require 8, or more.

Mastery in talents allows for a dramatic increase in the potential for rolling successes, on several levels.

A Fistful of D6s (Dice Tricks)

So, depending on your level of mastery with your Talents(Your skills, powers, and what makes you special), you can make your dice pool (All the dice you roll) either Explode or Cascade.

Exploding dice means that any that roll above the target number are rolled again and any successes scored on those dice counted toward your total. These dice are not rolled again, even if they scored above the target number.

Cascading dice are like the exploding dice, only more so. Every 6 that you roll, roll again, counting the roll towards your total successes. Keep going until you stop rolling 6s. In this case rolls of 4 count as successes and rolls of five still qualify as Exploding for one more roll – which can begin Cascading again. This particular trick has the potential to generate a massive amount of successes, and because of this, it requires Conviction to access(more on that later)

So:

Talent Mastery

Proficiency 1 – dice rolls of 6 Explode

Proficiency 2 – dice rolls of 5+ Explode

Proficiency 3 – dice rolls of 5+ Explode, a point of Conviction can be spent to convert any dice rolling 6 to Cascading.*

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The Combat System

We’ve been hoping to keep combat streamlined, and it plays out a little differently to how things normally go.

  1. Each participant declares their action.
  1. They make their attack (or suitable skill) roll, noting successes, and add their weapons’ Initiative Modifier, as well as any others.
  1. The highest initiative acts first, followed by the others in descending order.
  1. You may deviate from your declared action, but doing so incurs a 1-success penalty on your attack roll.
DECLARING ACTIONS – CLARIFICATION

While actions can be declared by participants (player characters and NPCs) in any order, and they can be changed in response to anothers’ right up until the combat rolls are made, it is probably most effective to have the players to declare their actions together, and choose whether they wish to act impulsively, or to react to the intentions of their opponents. This adds the feeling of a little more agency as battle is joined, and groups can pick their style to suit, whichever version suits them best.

Attack rolls, that is skill checks in combat, run as follows:

Roll (ATTRIBUTE)+(Talent Proficiency Level) vs. Opponent’s Modified Defence

(Defenders add their melee TPL to Defense in melee, and applicable cover value to ranged combat rolls)

If you beat your opponent’s modified Defence, each net success is added to the damage you deal.

Most melee attacks tend to use AGI as their base skill, while ranged combat is most dependent on Reflexes or Perception, depending on whether you’re in a quick-fire gunfight, or are lining up a long-distance shot.

Weapons and Damage:

To explain this, let’s take a look at how weapons work:

They have values in the following categories:

Weapon type: Their basic group; this defines the Close Combat Talent Trees – in this case, the styles, that are available to the weapon group.

Initiative Modifier:(+xI)  How quick, or responsive the weapon is. Adds to your Intiative, as we covered above

Base Damage:(+yD) This, normally static value is added to your net successes for your attack. The total is dealt to your opponent’s Resolve

Keywords  These describe the special properties that each weapon has. You also have the option to add more, through customisation or enchantment, or a combination of both, should you be particularly wealthy.

Sample keywords:

Awesome:   Your opponents suffer a -2 initiative penalty for the first round of combat. Costs 1                                            Conviction  to ignore this effect.
Spin-up      The weapon’s Base Damage increases by 2 for every successive round it is fired (Spot the                               gatling gun keyword)
Righteous   +4 Base Damage, provided you are not benefitting from any cover bonuses.                                                          (Shields/barricades count)
Chaining     Every two net successes cause the attack to jump to another hostile target, losing                                            two levels of damage per jump.
Unstable     +2 Base Damage. If no successes are rolled, the weapon explodes, dealing double base                                    damage to the wielder.
Entropic      Each hit degrades the targets’ cover or armour value (in that order) by 1. When it has a                                    value of 0, consider it to have either melted or disintegrated into a pile of dust.

While we’re on the subject of armour…

Ned Kelly

The Armour Value reduces incoming damage, and can negate it entirely. However, the weight and bulk of armour, along with shields and suchlike, reduces your AGILITY, often penalising your attack rolls, and consequently your potential to seize the initiative.

As you can probably gather, you can choose to trade off speed for greater resilience or survivability to outlast your opponents, should you want to go toe-to-toe. Alternatively, you could plan for a faster attack, and use the cover you find in your environment to your advantage, as seizing the initiative can often dictate the flow of the battle…

Called Shots and Status Effects

It’s perfectly possible to trade your common-or-garden strikes until you wear down your opponent’s Resolve and they drop. Or, you could spice things up with a tried and tested kick to the crotch. Perhaps you’re something of a pacifist, and don’t have the stomach for killing, but know the scriptures are fuzzy on the subject of kneecaps. Called shots are more difficult to pull off, requiring more successes, but have additional, and often debilitating effects, depending on where, how hard, and with what you choose to make their day with.

Your Talents also will give you the option to inflict status effects on your opponent, ranging from stunning them, or having them staggering around dazed, knocked flat on their figurative arses, or bleeding profusely(internally or externally, your choice), these can be applied in succession, and can really put a damper on someone’s day, and easily spell a sticky end if you’re not careful.

So, that’s a quick overview of the crunchy parts of Crux. Coming up next time, we’ll have a look into Talents and Conviction, and how your character’s special skills, along with faction and bloodline powers, allow you to be Big Damn Heroes.

Until then, Take care and Hard Love

Tom Cole

All Hallows’ draws nigh…

As All Hallow’s Eve rolls around and our focus veers towards the spooky, I’d like to introduce a playable bloodline to you that is, thus far, unique to Crux, and their peculiar role in their society.

I present: The Calaveri.

Undead are conventionally sad, tragic beings, with little or no prospect save the dour and often gothic tale that surrounds them. The Calaveri take more from the Baelnorns of Forgotten Realms, in that they are both community protectors and living ancestors. We take this even further: They are the reward of the people of Aoctlan after death and are integral, participating parts of the community, an active and outgoing part of the nation, as well as its most formidable defenders.

Not to mention snappy dressers…

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Taken from Lady Mechanika, La Dama De La Muerte,

“The living folk of Aoctlan are a down-to-earth, hardworking people, toiling tirelessly and without complaint, producing food, drink and art in equal measure. They are devoted to their duties like no other, knowing that their reward awaits them in the afterlife. As their life draws to a close, those worthy are chosen to make a pilgrimage to the teocalli-city of Mictlan, where they are interred and undergo the transformation from servant to exemplar, reborn as one of the Calaveri, a joyous inspiration to their people…

…Significantly for undead, Calaveri are able to eat and drink and even become intoxicated despite their notable absence of internal organs, and indeed do so at every opportunity, though quite where it all goes nobody has been able to determine – anything they consume seemingly just vanishes into the inky blackness inside their skulls. It is theorised that this sustains them through a process more akin to the offering of burnt sacrifices to ancestors than mortal digestion.”

– Direct from the game dev notes

So, they’re faith-powered weaponised temples, fuelled by good food and gifts where the thought is more important than the substance. They are, in fact *empowered* by partying this hard, and can ‘bank’ offerings into a power pool to supercharge their Talents, which gives them a unique versatility.

More than this, however, they’re an inspiration to all around them, and they are uniquely positioned to empower their comrades, granting Conviction to all around them, one of the game’s major resources.

Does this mean they’re the bards?

Not necessarily. Their own particular unique abilities may make them very good at a support role, but how they do that is up to their player, and every other bloodline, which we will detail as time goes on, have their own particular ‘equaliser’ powers. These will give new options, as well as offering a level of granular customisation to your own particular flavour of hero, or heroine, while (hopefully) not making things too complicated and crunch heavy; we prefer to think that these tricks will give you a few more options.

 

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Happy Hallow’een, pardner.

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.

giant-mechanical-spoodwin.

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.

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.