Review: Worlds Numberless and Strange

What will you find as you venture into Earth’s shoals?

Witch covens battle in the mammoth city of Halloween. Nazis struggle to master mythological relics in the Eleventh Reich. T. rexes hunt hominids on the tropical island of Mesozoica, while skyships fend off pirates and predators in the tempestuous cloud seas of Seishin Shore.

In The Strange, recursions—limited pocket dimensions with their own laws of reality—are seeded from human fiction and mythology. A recursor might discover Atlantis, Oz, the Victorian London of Sherlock Holmes, or places even more bizarre and perilous. Worlds Numberless and Strange takes you to dozens of new recursions, where supervillains, dinosaurs, space troopers, killer robots, gods, and other dangers guard wonders and treasures few people on Earth have ever seen!

This week has been an awesome time to be a fan of MCG. The PDF of for the Cypher System was sent out to those who pre-ordered, the Numenera Reliquary boxes are being shipped out, and Worlds Numberless and Strange was released. WNS is a supplement for The Strange, a game that we love quite a bit here at TRF. The Strange imagines an Earth with an unimaginable number of recursions that the adventurers can travel to, including the fantasy world Ardeyn, the sci-fi world Ruk, and more including 221B Baker Street, Innsmouth, and Crow Hollow. There are recursions for almost any imagined fictional world, and all you have to do is imagine it.

Worlds Numberless and Strange provides 70 new recursions to add to your game. Seventeen of these are very well fleshed out with detailed information, history, cthulhuindividuals you might encounter, and artifacts that are present within that recursion. The others are just seeds that the GM can use as a starting point for their own ideas. I really love the table at the beginning of the chapter that the GM can roll on to determine which recursion they might accidentally translate into. I think the recursion seed Aser and I were both the most excited for was R’lyeh, which you can get shot by your superiors for visiting. If you survive that is. No one wants Cthulhu gain the spark and become able to translate.

The new recursion I was most excited about is Microcosmica, which I microdescribed as those episodes of Magic School Bus where they go inside various students to learn the inner workings of the human body. Aser likened it to Fantastic Voyage, and since they used a quote from the movie at the beginning of the listing, that might be the more accurate representation. But if you think there won’t be a yellow school bus zooming around if I have players show up in Microcosmica you are sorely mistaken. Plus there’s the new descriptor “Becomes Bacterial” which I want with every bit of my biochemist’s heart.

Aser really enjoyed the Rebel Galaxy recursion, inspired by all of your favorite space operas. Since we just encountered Darth Vader in our Strange game, and have recently decided we need a Star Wars game in the Cypher System this recursion is full of some pretty helpful ideas in setting that up. One of the most valuable set of rules provided was those for ship to ship combat, which included ways to take out the enemies ship without necessarily shooting them down.

rebelOther recursions include an alternate reality where the Nazis won, a steampunk Camelot, Atlantis, Zombies, Superheroes, and Dinosaurs. There are plenty more, but I don’t want to give away all of the awesomeness included. Besides this, there’s more information about regions and organizations within Ardeyn and Ruk, as well as new artifacts for those worlds. There are a handful of new descriptors that are tied to the new recursions, including Becomes Bacterial, and some new creatures.

If you’re looking for some new places to take your group, or just some inspiration for your game you should pick up Worlds Numberless and Strange. It’s a beautiful, informative book with lots of plot hooks, individuals to encounter, and worlds to explore. I can’t wait to head to some of those recursions in our own game. It is available from DriveThruRPG and the MCG Store. The PDF is $16.99 and the book is $44.99.

TRF Favorites: RPG Systems

Of course, we love RPGs here at TRF – and we try to dip our toes into as many systems as possible. However, some of them have a special place in our hearts, and we come back to them time and time again. So, in no particular order, here are our top 5 systems:

1. Numenera. Numenera is actually the longest running campaign we have for TRF – and for good reason. The Ninth World is a treasure trove of weirdness and creativity. The only limit to what can be done is your own creativity. For the main part I’ve only run written adventures for TRF – The Devil’s Spine and Beyond All Worlds. However, the world is open and so easy to integrate into the games. I’ve begun building my own campaign, and going through the Ninth World Guidebook, Core Book, and Bestiary have given me so many ideas of twists and turns to introduce to my characters.

I love the Cypher system as well. It’s all player facing, so the GM rarely has to roll – I only roll to see what cyphers or mutations to hand out to my players. It’s also a d20 system, but doesn’t use modifiers like Pathfinder or D&D. Instead a difficulty is set for each task between 0-10, and the players must roll above the difficulty x 3 in order to succeed. However, they are able to adjust the difficulty, by using effort, spending out of their pools, being trained in the task, or using a cypher. Players earn XP in every session, for playing and through GM intrusions, which means I as the GM offer them XP in exchange for something bad happening to them. The great thing about XP in the Cypher System is that you can spend it. So you roll a one at a crucial moment? You can spend one of your XP to re-roll. Don’t want to take that GM intrusion? Spend an XP to avoid it. I keep finding myself in other systems wishing I could spend that XP for a re-roll, or adjust the difficulty in my favor.

Character creation is also great. There are three archetypes possible: Glaive (the fighter), Nano (the wizard), and Jack (the rogue). Each character gets to pick a descriptor and a foci, so you get to pick characteristics and what is important to your character, and then get the stat bumps to make this possible. When we were going through character creation for the Mysteries of Ninth World, I told the players not to worry about having an even distribution of the character types, because it’s really the foci and descriptors that make and set apart the characters. For instance, Ilvarya and Titania are both Jacks, but they are completely different.  And I can’t emphasize enough how easy I find character creation and leveling up. It feels very natural, and there isn’t too much to keep track of.

I’ve run games in a bunch of different systems, and Numenera is far and away my favorite. The world is so interesting and so deep, and like I said the only limit is your own creativity. The books are gorgeous and simply a joy to read through – the little tidbits scattered throughout are so entertaining.
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2. Final Girl. We record several episodes each week and attempt to balance about 18 different schedules to make sure we can get the whole group there each time. With that many people, it shouldn’t be a surprise that sometimes not everyone can show up. When that happens we have The Final Girl to turn to. This is GM-less system that takes about 5 minutes to set up, and all you need is a deck of cards. In a game of Final Girl, you create your own horror movie and get to wallow in all the great tropes that exist. I love horror movies, I love the tropes, and I love pulling them out in this game.

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Set up is easy and fun and the rules are very simple. As the game progresses everyone gets a chance to play any of the characters as well as the killer, and it becomes more and more of a bloodbath as the game goes on. The only sticking point we’ve ever hit is that sometimes the card draws mean it takes a long time for the killer to succeed in a scene, but things are set up so that eventually they will kill their victim(s).

Worried you can’t come up with a scenario to play in? The back of the book has 52 possibilities, including “Somehow, you have been sucked into Hell. You are trying to escape because it is obviously not a healthy place to be,” “A scientist or scientists plays God and returns the dead to life. They are not grateful,” and “Dracula.”

This is our go-to game for something quick to play because it is honestly the system we’ve probably had the most wacky fun in.
Sadly the site where we purchased this from isn’t up currently. We’ll keep you updated!
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3. The Strange. A lot of the praises I sung for Numenera can just be applied here. Both games run off the Cypher system, and what works there works just as great here. What is unique and puts the game on this list is the setting. In this version of our world, other realities exist just below the surface of our perceptions where dwell the embodiment of every fictional construct people have ever believed in. Fantasy worlds where lords and ladies live in magnificent castles and knights and magicians do battle with dragons, mad science dystopias where bioengineering runs amuck and people with psionic powers are as common as graduate students, or any number of post-apocalyptic wasteland, all are not only possible but are reachable by people with the ability to interact with The Strange.

The Strange is a long since defunct dark energy construct underlying our reality that once permitted faster than light travel between the stars. Whoever built it isn’t around anymore though, so there’s been no one around to work on upkeep. What’s worse, there are things that live out there in the dark spaces beyond normal space and time, hungry things. Ever wondered why we haven’t found anyone else out there among the stars? The answer is simple: planetvores found them first.

But that’s the big picture. What The Strange means for most people is that you can travel anywhere and do anything, using characters built using the simple yet deep creation system described above. Then, whenever your character goes to another reality, translates to another recursion as they say in game, you manifest in a new body suitable for that reality and get to pick a different focus. Someone who operates undercover on Earth may channel sinfire in the fantasy kingdoms of Ardeyn, or incorporates weapons in the alien recursion of Ruk where mad science reigns. Each place they go, gives characters a contextually appropriate way in which they can be the hero they want to be. In short, The Strange is the ultimate sandbox.
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4. Trail of Cthulhu. In the second episode of The Redacted Files, our brave heroes barely escaped a terrible fate when they were chased off a mountain by its otherworldly inhabitants and their human intermediary. Then they found an entire town flash frozen, its population of 300 souls wiped out in an instant. Then they failed about half a dozen perception checks and the scenario ended because there was nothing else they could do to get the story back on track. What Trail of Cthulhu was meant to address was this very fundamental shortcoming in any system that relies on pure luck for story element. To put it simply, if you need a piece of information to move forward, the Keeper gives it to you.

Trail of Cthulhu isn’t just a straightforward modification of the Call of Cthulhu framework adapted to Robin D. Laws’s terrific Gumshoe Engine though, far from it. Trail seeks to recapitulate everything that is mythos role-playing into a system more suited to procedural investigation, so that the drama switches from will the investigator find the clue to what can the investigator learn from the clues he or she discovers. What this means is that at the end of the day, though they still probably won’t be prepared for it, the players will get to see what it is they were meant to find, rather than wandering around, looking for the plot until the world ends, sometimes literally.

This mentality of automatic success is taken a bit farther with the use of investigative skills, where point spends can be used to gain just a little bit more information, and general point spends that end up working a little like effort in the Cypher System, enabling that spectacular success just at the right moment.

All in all, Trail is a polished experience that makes searching for the truth behind the mythos and the road to insanity so much smoother.
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5. Night’s Black Agents. So, what could make Trail of Cthulhu more awesome? What if you replaced the investigators with spies from your favorite espionage thrillers? And what if you replaced Eldritch horrors with vampires behind a global conspiracy with links to the highest levels of the governmental, commercial and criminal elite? Then you’d have an amazingly entertaining roller coaster ride, otherwise known as Night’s Black Agents.

On top of the usual Gumshoe goodness, NBA adds modular vampire creation guidelines, a menu of thriller combat rules, bonuses for players who specialize in certain abilities, guidance on setting up cities in which your agents may wreak havoc and conspiracies whose scope will boggle the players’ minds.

In the hands of a meticulous planner, Night’s Black Agents is a tool that could easily create campaigns that are works of art. In our hands, it makes for a great way to wreck things in new and exciting ways. We can’t wait to share our first adventure at the end of April.
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*Note: If you purchase these titles from Pelgrane Press, a PDF is included with the book.

–Megan and Aser

Why The Cypher System is a Blind GM’s Best Friend

One of the principal selling points for the Cypher System is the ease with which a GM can pick it up and be running epic games of action, intrigue and suspense in just minutes. The thing is, that many of the steps that Monte Cook Games took to achieve this happens to make the game a dream to run as someone with a visual impairment.

Simplified Movement:
Distances in the Cypher System are abstracted to immediate (within arms reach), short (10 to 50 feet), long (50 to 100 feet), and beyond 100 feet. This means that out of the box, the system doesn’t rely on movement grids, map squares or require you to establish ranges. Moreover, line-of-sight and other conditions are defined solely by the narrative. This means that with an imaginative group of players involved in the story the GM is telling, combat can move smoothly without having to manipulate miniatures or tokens as part of the core experience.

Simplified Bonuses and Penalties
My Cavalier in Pathfinder often has bonuses to his attack roll from his strength, the weapon he wields, abilities he and other party members are using, and circumstances of combat: so he can have a +9 to to a d20 roll as a level 3 character. The Cypher System’s measure of difficulty, in steps ranging from 0 to 10 with training, assets and circumstances decreasing the difficulty by steps, and bonuses only ever adding 1 or 2 to a roll makes managing the math at the table a trifling concern. I grew up having to manage complex equations in my head, but I’m glad that when I’m telling players what to roll, I don’t have to with the Cypher System.

The GM DOES NOT Roll:
Accessible dice rolling apps and random number generators aren’t that hard to find, and there are now even Braille dice on the market, but what requires even less time- not having to roll at all. The GM sets targets for the players to roll against, and when non-player characters enter combat against one another, players are designated to roll for them. It’s an elegant distribution of responsibilities that keeps the story flowing nicely while preserving the gaming aspect of the experience for the players.

Braille d20 from 64 oz Games

Braille d20 from 64 oz Games

All of this makes running The Strange for the podcast a breeze. I’m still what I’d consider a novice player, let alone a GM, so I think I’m still prone to making simple mistakes. But the consequences to the experience for the players I think have been far less than they could have been thanks to the features of the Cypher System. Blind or otherwise, if you’re interested in making the jump from running a character to running a game, I’d urge you to consider Numenèra or The Strange as terrifically accessible starting points, in more ways than one.

Game Review: The Strange

The Strange
One of the greatest things to come from starting The Redacted Files, though nothing in comparison to meeting Megan of course, was the discovery of just how diverse the tabletop gaming genre really is. We’ve tried something like a dozen games sofar, and bought tons more. I’m new to the whole space, so it’s not like I’ve had time to get tired of anything yet: but even so, I did start to wonder at how many games used D20, and how many did it in essentially the same way. And don’t get me wrong, it’s very fun, but how many games are there that have skills based on attributes that modify a D20 roll? There are versions of Star Wars, Star Trek, and Call of Cthulhu that work the same way as Dungeons & Dragons. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily, but variety is good. And nothing seemed so different yet familiar as Numenèra.

Numenèra’s Cypher System is a marvel of elegant simplicity. Your health is tied up in three point pools: might, speed, and intellect that deplete in that order when you take damage. If a pool reaches zero, you become less capable to the point that you’re essentially only able to crawl away when you have points in just one. But that’s not all, aside from getting training, using equipment or coming up with circumstantial reasons (I have the high ground) for making your rolls easier, you can choose to burn points from your pools. It’s terrific to see it in action, as players run through the cost/benefit analysis on the fly and bet it all for the big win, trading in their half their might points for extra damage or to guarantee a hit with that superweapon they’ve been keeping in their back pocket, or ensure that official definitely sees things their way.

Aside from rolling in skill challenges and combat, the Cypher System handles everything else in a similarly abstracted but meaningful way.. How much your character is carrying doesn’t matter unless it’s important to the plot, all weapons of a given category always do the same damage be they heavy crossbow or greatsword so long as they hit. And distances are described as merely being immediate, short or long.

As far as a GM’s ability to tell an interesting story, there are a few more interesting twists. the experience system works off of discoveries and plot developments players encounter in game: and, the points they earn can be cashed in for more immediate benefits than character improvement like re-rolling a result or having the benefit of a skill for a limited time. What truly set Numenèra apart though, was that the game master does not roll. Instead she sets difficulties for tasks, which the players must roll against. Trying to bluff a town guard, roll against his ability to sense deception. Need to avoid having an angry mutant cave your head in with a maul, roll speed defense against his creature level, plus any applicable bonuses and penalties. It is one of those systems that seeks to get out of the way and let the GM and the players try to tell a good story. Where it succeeds better than most in my opinion, is that it remains a fun game while doing so.

So we all fell in love with Numenèra. The game had a brilliant system and was set in an incredibly well-realized science fantasy world a billion years in the future where high technology from past civilizations is as little understood and tenuously controlled as magic in the hands of people scrabbling to survive in otherwise medieval conditions. We played several sessions of it on the podcast and loved it: but then I began to wonder, what would it be like to run Star Trek in this? 😛 And then Monte Cook Games brought us The Strange, and we found out.

Now, we could find out what it was like to be crewmen on a starship exploring the galaxy, or knights on an epic quest, or scientists racing to discover the cure to a zombie virus, all in the same game. Because in The Strange, practically every fictional reality believed in by enough people is real, somewhere in the Strange: a network of dark energy older than Earth itself and underlying our own plain of existence. And for people who are “quickened,” going to those other worlds is as easy as closing your eyes and thinking yourself there. It’s not quite that simple of course, and there are dangers involved, not least of which is the ever present threat of planetary annihilation from residents of the Strange hungry for new worlds to devour. Ever wondered why we seem to be alone in the universe? They’re why. What’s worse, everyone who’s learned of the Strange, from greedy recursion miners to shady government agencies are out to use what they can buy, borrow or steal from handy recursions or even the Strange itself here on Earth.

So how does it play? You can hear our actual plays here. As of this writing, we’ve run half a dozen sessions and all involved seem determined to run several more. I ran the adventure included in the core book for a scratch group and have been spinning a yarn for our players ever since that I hope listeners have found entertaining. Not having to roll is very liberating, as it gies me the freedom to try to keep ahead of the players as they react to the fluid situation created by the dice rolls. I like to think this makes me less vulnerable to dramatic die rolls as I can adjust difficulty on the fly as things happen. Also, throwing in creatures to fight or NPCs to interact with is as easy as coming up with a creature level. The world provided for players to explore are well-populated with people to interact with, monsters to slay, and plenty of hooks to drag players into long sessions full of questionable choices. Unfortunately, since the book is about as long as that for Numenèra but with infinitely (literally) more worlds to cover, there isn’t as much detail, including really important things like foci specific to the different kinds of recursions you’ll encounter. Moreover, many included recursions are the thinnest of skeletons that require the GM to fill in a lot of blanks. This is the sort of thing that can be addressed with supplements though. And if the recently released Bestiary and the way Numenèra have been supported are any indication, there’ll be plenty more to chew on in short order.

In short, I’ve fallen in love with the game, but just wish there was more of it, and cannot wait for more Cypher System games and the forthcoming system rule book so I can try coming up with a setting just for TRF.

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Not So Strange Episode 2: The Subtle Approach

Using information obtained from the bank fiasco, the group sets out to find who is behind the destruction of the Quiet Cabal headquarters on Earth. They find more then they bargained for.

Some sound effects used with permission from Ambient Environments .
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Not So Strange 1: Damn it! There will be action!

Estate Badge and Documents
From The Strange RPG

Our newest campaign introduces new players Matt and Mike to the TRF line up. Two Estate Agents with a curious connection become involved when a Rukek member of the Quiet Cabal is attacked at a bank in downtown Seattle.

THE STRANGE and its logo are trademarks of Monte Cook Games, LLC in the U.S.A. and other countries. All Monte Cook Games characters and character names, and the distinctive likenesses thereof, are trademarks of Monte Cook Games, LLC. Printed in Canada.

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The Strange: The Curious Case of Tom Mallard, part 2 (it’s still October 6th somewhere)

Three agents of The Estate are tasked with an easy assignment, to watch over a recursion miner. Yet things are more complicated then they appear and as they begin to investigate they are sucked into a greater mystery. 

THE STRANGE and its logo are trademarks of Monte Cook Games, LLC in the U.S.A. and other countries. All Monte Cook Games characters and character names, and the distinctive likenesses thereof, are trademarks of Monte Cook Games, LLC. Printed in Canada.
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The Strange: The Curious Case of Tom Mallard, part 1

Three agents of The Estate are tasked with an easy assignment, to watch over a recursion miner. Yet things are more complicated then they appear and as they begin to investigate they are sucked into a greater mystery. 

THE STRANGE and its logo are trademarks of Monte Cook Games, LLC in the U.S.A. and other countries. All Monte Cook Games characters and character names, and the distinctive likenesses thereof, are trademarks of Monte Cook Games, LLC. Printed in Canada.

Direct Download!


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