I decided to try out another RPG-themed subscription box, so this month I received my first box from Dungeon Crate! Dungeon Crate has been going since about the beginning of the year, and they have pictures of what was in the previous boxes which gave me a better idea of what I could expect in my box. Each box has a theme, and the one I received was Elementally Speaking, with lots of elemental-related items.
The designer of Red Markets and long-time contributor to Role-Playing Public Radio Caleb Stokes once remarked that games like Call of Cthulhu are, contrary to popular belief, just as escapist as your stereotypical sword-wielding adventuring fantasy, only in a different way. I couldn’t agree more, and I love them for it. I first came to tabletop role-playing a little after I’d just gone blind. Well, I’d been pretty much blind as far as most people were concerned for quite a while. But Where before I’d been able to make out shapes, perceive color and detect motion, now I truly, functionally could not see. I felt frail and small and decidedly mortal. And then I found a podcast feed from something called The Unspeakable Oath, with actual play recordings of a game called Delta Green.
This variant of Call of Cthulhu starred members of a conspiracy within the United States federal government who conducted investigations within investigations, concealed evidence while trying to find the horrible truth, discredited witnesses of the unnatural, and served as the only effective defense against things man was not meant to know. It was a hard game, one that challenged you to play smart and watch out for any angle because the odds of emerging with your body and sanity intact were already vanishingly small. And therein lies the escapism: with the whole world, the uncaring cosmos arrayed against you in all its apathetic splendor, you play a puny human that goes out into the dark to fight the monsters with nothing but a Glock, a fake ID and the knowledge that you can only ever forestall the inevitable, because if you don’t do it, no one else will. Fuck the odds, humanity is still here and will be until these agents are dead at least, because that’s what it means to be Delta Green. It was a setting whose fatalism and sense of gallows humor appealed to me. So imagine my disappointment when I discovered that the books from which these games were run had been published more than a decade before and long since disappeared from store shelves. That would change of course, with the advent of electronic sales and print on demand, Delta Green could be had again, but too there was talk of more. Delta Green would rise again.
And now it has, in the form of an entirely standalone product with its own line of hardcover releases scheduled through this year and the next at the very least. Born of Kickstarter and gifted with the depressingly rich world of Post-9/11 covert operations to muck around with for background, the new Delta Green RPG promises a thrilling new world of modern mythos horror for your agents to die in: nihilists rejoice!
A lot of subscription boxes are hit or miss. I’ve actually never kept a subscription for one longer then a few months. But I was really excited to hear about RPG Crate– a subscription box that aligned with one of my greatest passions. RPG Crate advertises that it has “Fantastic Tabletop Roleplaying loot delivered right to your castle steps! Subscribers will receive a monthly RPG Crate which may include up to a dozen different products; full modules, maps, dice, miniatures, exclusive adventure settings, and other tabletop role-playing game treasures.” I subscribed to get my hands on the first box and was super excited to have it arrive this month.
CypherCaster Magazine is a great fanzine for all Monte Cook Games, with a ton of valuable information and inspiration with each release. I have found valuable information with each release, and the latest issue is no exception.
The first piece is a short story set in the world of Gods of the Fall written by Bruce Cordell. There’s not a lot about the setting, but there is a lot of world building that really helped me get a feel for the setting. For those of you who don’t know, Gods of the Fall was part of the Cypher System kickstarter earlier this year as a setting book. It builds a world where the gods have disappeared, but years later people have dominions they can control awakened. There’s a lot to love about this setting, most of all the flexibility of the powers, and how perception can change them.
There is also a short story by Andrew Cady, called Field Mission, which is an action piece set in the world of The Strange. It has a Lovecraftian angle that I really love, and I only wish that it could have been longer.
I really love the small focused setting in Qi for Numenera, written by Chris Fitzgerald. Miranda’s House is a boarding house that you can have your PCs stay in or find a lead at. There’s descriptions of the staff and guests, and what is really great is that the NPCs are given a short description as well as strengths and weaknesses. The strengths and weaknesses really give you an idea of who the character is and how to play them, but isn’t super restrictive and doesn’t require a lot of reading or things to keep track of. There’s a great diversity of people to encounter, plus a menu of food that can be found there! I haven’t seen a Ninth World menu anywhere else, and the creativity was great. Now I want a whole article focused on the regional delicacies of the Ninth World.
The bulk of this release is a really interesting intergalactic police cypher setting called Sector Agents, created by David Wilson Brown. It gives some really great advice on incorporating the variety of foci for PCs as different alien species in a way I think really works out well. I really enjoy pulpy settings, and Brown doubles down on providing that. We’ve been talking about building a Star Trek-esque campaign for a cypher game, and this has so many great ideas and resources, including tables for creating star systems, a table for planetary politics, and a random mission generator. Plus, there’s the laws for interstellar space that your Sector Agents will enforce. This issue really helps give you the resources you need to run a game in the setting, with five species that can be encountered or played by a PC, including ones that aren’t bipedal.
There are two adventures that accompany the Sector Agents setting, the first called “The Curious Case of Praxis-3” by Rustin Coones, and the second written by TRF friend John WS Marvin, “The Prisoner of Morpheus Station.” You’ll have all of the resources you need to try out this really fun looking setting and have your own pulpy, police procedural.
Great minds think alike, and it was a pleasant surprise to see the Vehicles with Character article by Marc Plourde. Vehicles in the Cypher games haven’t been given much attention, and we’ve talked about creating a new system using the character creation rules to make a really special ship on TRF before. Luckily, Plourde did the work for us! Using the same basic outline for building a character, he outlines how different parts of a ship are analogous to a character, and how points should be distributed. He has a huge list of upgrades that are available for your ship, but what I really love is his suggestion that both credits and XP can be used to buy these. Many parts of the ship creation reminded me of the Firefly (Cortex+) system for building a ship, with choosing distinctions and assets. But the method he outlines is really a great fit for cypher system, and I think it’s something anyone running a Cypher game with a ship in it should read.
There is also a campaign set in a new recursion, which is described in Issue 005, called Zuomeng by Rustin Coones, Scott Robinson & Jennifer Ross. The setting is full of pirates and your agents must determine what Rukian agents are doing near a US naval base.
I have found a wealth of information, ideas, and inspiration in each issue of CypherCaster Magazine, and I am happy to read it each time. The magazine always has a really diverse set of articles, and the ideas that I read have been consistently great. However, this issue was plagued by some formatting issues and one difficult to read font. I don’t think any of this is distracting enough to prevent me from giving two thumbs up and my recommendation to add it to your Cypher resource list.
You can find this Issue 006 at DriveThruRPG for $4.
Check out my review for Issue 001 here.
Sometimes a regular cypher just won’t do…
Extreme Cyphers is the newest glimmer from Monte Cook Games and is compatible with Numenera, The Strange, and The Cypher System. It contains 40 new Cyphers with much more dramatic effects then the standard cyphers found throughout the games. There’s a handy table to roll on to make it so you can randomly hand out these cyphers, but I think as a GM you might want to pick out these cyphers for special occasions.
I love that within the Cypher system a glimmer like this can be used within any of the games. There’s a table included that gives the forms that the cypher could take in the Ninth World, as well as the common recursions in The Strange. This should also give you some ideas how they could appear in your own setting using the Cypher System.
These cyphers are overpowered and some could have some long term effects on your game, like the introduction of a volcano in the middle of a previously geologically boring region. Or allowing a PC to heal up all of their pools to full simultaneously while getting rid of all diseases and poisons. Or even causing everyone within the given radius to rage and attack each other. As a wise man once said, “With great power, comes great responsibility,” and there’s all kinds of things that can happen if your party maybe forgets being responsible when they have the ability to take the shape of any creature they know to exist.
Any of these cyphers would be a great legendary artifact the party is charged with acquiring, and maybe even destroying. Or maybe they need it just so they can get to the next stage of a plan. Or maybe it’s in the hands of a villain and they need to make sure that they don’t use it. Whatever the reason you introduce an extreme cypher, they certainly can bring an extra level of risk or power to your campaign
This is a really useful glimmer, and very powerful cyphers are something that I think are a great addition to the system. In the Numenera campaign I recently wrapped up running I wanted a one use powerful object, and expanding some options for that is very helpful. One thing that I wish was included is what happens if an extreme cypher is in your possession when you have more then your allowed number of cyphers. I think that this would likely lead to more instability, and perhaps more explosive problems if you hold onto one of these for too long.
The Sun Below: Sleeping Lady is a Numenera supplement produced by Dread Unicorn Games and written by John WS Marvin. It continues to develop an entirely new location in the Ninth World, an underground tunnel system that has yet to be fully explored or understood. Along with the new location, bestiary, foci, descriptors, and Numenera, there is a short campaign to run for your players that introduces and delves deep into this new location.
A great deal of the set up of this game deals with characters and locations that were introduced in a previous supplement – The Sun Below: A City on Edge. However, running that scenario is not necessary for running Sleeping Lady, alternate introductions are given and the adventure is careful to assume that you might not have prior knowledge.
One thing I think is great in this adventure is that they have it set up to run for characters of any level. Monster stats are modified by the level of the party, so that the GM doesn’t have to put a lot of work into sorting out altering the difficulty of an encounter themselves. There are also instructions on building up crowds of minions, called mooks here, to swarm up on your characters. They provide different ways to create your mooks so that they can last just a little longer. I really like the way they developed this idea for Numenera and think it would be great to adapt to my own games.
The adventure begins with the party getting a plea to help save the city of Bursang, part of The Sun Below. However, the situation is more complicated then has yet been realized, and the fate of the Ninth World will end up in the hands of the party. This is a nice and neat campaign, and there are several possible ways for the PCs to try to save the world. The easily modifiable levels of difficulty come in handy with this, as neither you as the GM or the creators of the scenario can predict in what order the party will choose to attack.
I think the creativity in a lot of points of this book is great. For instance, one artifact, The Mind Sword, causes the user to laugh evil when they hit on a roll above 17. Adding quirks like this to artifacts really personalizes them to your character and can introduce great reoccurring jokes and character traits.
The supplement seems to be intended for new GMs, as there is some handholding as you read through it for want to do as a GM. I think this can be great, especially for GMs who are unsure of themselves. The layout is in the same style as the other Numenera books, which makes it easy to recognize when they’re pointing out things like GM intrusions. There are some points were it is a little harder to follow, but for the most part flows very smoothly. There is a lot more art then I was expecting, and it really illustrates the creatures and characters you meet throughout the adventure well.
Sleeping Lady is a great campaign to pick up and run for your party, and is easy to use for the GM. I like several concepts that it introduces, such as quirks on artifacts and mooks for swarming fights. It is available on DriveThruRPG for $7.99. You can also visit Dread Unicorn’s website for more information on their supplements and materials.
*The Redacted Files received a free copy of this supplement for review purposes.
Into the Night is a new setting book from Monte Cook Games for Numenera. It focuses on expanding the world to outer space, and what terrors and wonders lie out there for the Ninth Worlders to discover.
It is a 160 page book, with the first section (about 35 pages) focusing on how to reach beyond earth and the bodies near enough to Earth for initial discovery and other exploration. The second section (about 45 pages) looks at the other planets in our Solar System. The third section (about 60 pages) looks at threats and places that adventurers can explore outside of our solar system. The book closes with 20 pages of new creatures to encounter. Throughout the book are new story seeds, cyphers, and artifacts.
Many of the existing astronomical objects are ones we can find the analogues for today: the Moon is, well, the Moon, Naharrai is Mars, Urvanas is Venus. However, there are new objects as well, like Branu’s Kiss a globe of blue-green water that orbits between Earth and the Sun. Or Calram, a small object that orbits earth, but is full of beings that have greater tech then the Ninth Worlders enjoy. There’s also a pretty great derelict ship for you to explore.
Beyond our solar system lies more planets, galaxies, and strangeness to explore. These new worlds include some of their history, distinguishing characteristics, and all kinds of ideas to build your own story from. There are also ten more planets that have rudimentary descriptions, which I think are great to use, but also give you an idea on building your own new weird planets.
Each section on a location in this book includes a handy “Using –” panel, with around five plot hooks to pull characters into a situation in that location. I think there’s a lot within the text as well to establish your own ideas for why the adventurers should be here. There’s also information on ways to get there, which can be handy when all the places are light-years apart!
This book handily includes rules for combat between vessels – some of which was outlined in Worlds Numberless and Strange, but I think it is a valuable addition to Into the Night, especially when there’s always a risk your craft may be attacked by pirates. For ship to ship combat you first compare the levels of the ships, and if your ship is a higher level you have a reduction in the difficulty of actions involving the other ship. If it is lower, then the difficulty is increased. You still make attack and defense rolls, and things like ship weapons and coordination with other ships play into the difficulty as well. Specific maneuvers can also be accomplished by modifying the difficulty. There’s a lot going on to effect the roll, but I think the addition of ship to ship combat can make the game much more interesting.
One thing I found odd is a one place you can visit is called The Gloaming, which is also the name of the Vampire/Werewolf recursion in The Strange. Since the locations have nothing to do with one another, I think a different name would be more appropriate, even if in canon The Strange and Numenera aren’t connected.
One minor complaint I have with the book is the scattered nature of the new Numenera. It makes it a little more difficult to pull out a new artifact without them being gather in one place, and it also can make it difficult to find them again mid-play.
The art in the book is gorgeous, and there is some variation in styles throughout, but I think this serves to give a view of the Ninth World and beyond from other eyes.
I think this book brings a lot into any Numenera game, and is full of great ideas of how to bring Space into your sessions. Into the Night is available from Monte Cook Games as a PDF ($14.99) and Hardback ($39.99). It’s also available from DriveThruRPG as a PDF. You should also look into the beautiful Nightcraft glimmer, which goes into even more detail about a vessel that can by used to traverse space (MCG Store | DriveThruRPG | $2.99).
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, individuals 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 described 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.
Other 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.
The Cypher System now has a FanZine called the CypherCaster, produced by David Wilson Brown. The CypherCaster promises to be a great resource for any fan of the Cypher System. The first issue includes information on upcoming releases, an article on incorporating Space in your Cypher game, a short story set in Numenera, a Numenera adventure for tiers 1-3, a series of reports from The Estate reporting on a new recursion, and a new gothic recursion to use in your campaign.
I keep up on news from MCG and their new releases, but CypherCaster has everything gathered in one place, including information on the No Thank You, Evil! Kickstarter campaign (you can read about that here in my interview with Shanna Germain). One piece of this that was especially interesting to me was an interview (by Andrew Cady) with the creators of Shotgun and Sorcery, a new third party game utilizing the Cypher System by Outland Entertainment that was kickstarted earlier this year.
Exploring Cypher Space by James Walls delved into one GM’s experience in adapting the Cypher System into his own unique scenario and campaign. I think in general this is going to be easier when the Cypher System book comes out, but the author has a lot of great advice, and some plot ideas that are tempting to introduce into my own campaign.
Shapes in the Sand by Jim Ryan is a wonderful short story that really seems to capture the weirdness of living in the Ninth World and what you can encounter. I kept waiting for Ryan to state flat out the character types for the protagonists, and it was great just to sort of figure it out yourself.
Hunting for Krofwarton by Chris Fitzgerald is a short adventure that is well-written, and I really loved the portraits that were drawn for all of the NPCs. I wish the maps had been a little better drawn, but they clearly show what’s intended. In this adventure, the PCs are approached to help a con-man recover some stolen goods. Fitzgerald intends for it to play out like a Guy Ritchie film, with several groups of bad guys all trying to get the same thing.
The Norse Recursion Cluster field report by Marc Ploude is a great way to give some details of the story without giving us everything. I think this has a great potential for getting your own ideas from the recursion that is introduced in pieces. I especially love that some of the reports are redacted. The report is intended to give the GM seeds for using the recursion in their own campaign, with some details of the people and creatures found there.
I love Holstenwall, a gothic horror recursion by Scott Robinson. It’s nice and spooky and introduces points of interest within the recursion. I wish they had included some foci that were made just for this recursion, but all the information they do include is great. I also appreciated the list of resources they provided to get your own ideas of what to have present in this recursion.
The Fanzine concludes with MCG news and events for MCG fans.
I definitely think that this zine is a great investment for Cypher fans. It’s full of great information and ideas, and is only $4 on DriveThruRPG. The next issue will be out in July, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it as well!
Ever sat back and looked at your cypher-wielding party battling abhumans and thought, “you know what this needs, something really weird…” If so, In Strange Aeons may be just what you’re looking for. In Strange Aeons is a Numenera glimmer released by Monte Cook Games that introduces the Mythos into the Ninth World. So it’s pretty much the best of all worlds for me.
ISA introduces new character options, Mythos monsters, creature re-skins, and mechanics for adding insanity to your game of Numenera. I added some of these to the Beyond All Worlds side quest that I ran. I also plan to pour more of it into the Mysteries of the Ninth World campaign as we continue into an adventure of my own design.
I think this is handled very cleverly. Instead of adding a new pool to track (like the stability and sanity pools in Trail of Cthulhu), ISA uses the character’s existing intellect pool. Using their mechanic, when ever the party encounters something from the Mythos, they must make a sanity roll where the difficulty is equal to the level of the creature. This means upon encountering a Shoggoth they must make a difficulty 7 role. If they fail the roll, they lose a number of intellect points equal to the level of the creature. If a character moves down the damage track due to sanity loss, she immediately loses a point permanently from her pool and regains 1d6 +1 points back. If she loses all of her intellect pool, the character loses their own descriptor and gains the Mad descriptor. They also get to increase their pool to 1d6 + tier and gain an intellect edge. If they lose all of their pool again, then the character cannot recover.
ISA also offers ideas for GM intrusions for your characters as they encounter they Mythos and encourages players to decide to switch over to the Mad descriptor if they feel that is the way their character is going. You can also introduce inabilities as characters grow obsessive, which is balanced by increasing another skill, like knowledge in a certain area.
ISA introduces two new character descriptors – Mad and Doomed. Mad comes into play within the Insanity mechanic, and when a character drops low enough in Intelligence they take the mad descriptor in place of the one they chose at charaacter creation. This descriptor causes the character to become less mentally stable – they gain an inability in intellect defense. However, they also can be given insight by the GM that will give them information that they have no reason to know. The other descriptor added is Doomed. Doomed gives you benefits for perception and speed defense, and you have an asset to resist insanity. However you can’t refuse a GM intrusion, and you don’t get XP when you take one. To quote the glimmer, “The universe is a cold, uncaring place, and your efforts are futile at best.”
If you don’t want to use one of the plethora of Mythos monsters given in the books, you can improve an existing one using the skins provided, which include Non-Euclidian, Squamos, Tentacular, and Unnamable. For instance, if I want to have a Squamos abhuman, they gain +1 to their armor, and have improved abilities in swimming, jumping, and escaping. However, they will have a harder time peacefully influencing people.
ISA gives stats for Deep Ones (and therein, stats for Dagon and Mother Hydra), The Great Race of Yith, Mi-Go, and Shoggoths. (The Strange Bestiary introduces even more Mythos goodness including Night Gaunts and Elder Things). I think moving forward I will edit the stats a bit – I thought the Shoggoth was too easy for my party to defeat in Beyond All Worlds. By increasing the hit points and its armor, I think it will become more terrifying.
I think ISA really understands how to add the Mythos to a game. Monte Cook states his intent:
Making something “Lovecraftian” doesn’t just mean adding more tentacles. It isn’t just about monsters from space. Lovecraftian horror is cosmic horror. It is the terror that comes from the realization that the universe is vast, inhospitable, and uncaring. Humanity’s desire to find our place in it is fruitless. We have no place. We are insignificant and meaningless specks in the unfathomable reaches of both space and time. Worse, there are entities so monstrous and vast that should we come to comprehend them—even a little—we would go mad, and should they ever notice us, they might destroy us with but a thought.
This fits Numenera particularly well, actually. Humans of the Ninth World who begin to think about the billion or so years behind them, and the immense civilizations that have come and gone in that time— each so much greater than the Ninth World that humans can’t even comprehend them—can easily begin to feel the grip of cosmic horror.
The glimmer is full of tips on how to run a good horror game and how to really bring the Mythos to life in your game. Making something Lovecraftian isn’t just about introducing tentacles, like In Strange Aeons says, it’s a feeling that this glimmer will help you invoke.