Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Quattro con Carnage - Session 7 - Numenera

Cyphers, Swords & Sorcery


Well here we are, ladies and gentlemen, nearing the end of this crazy road.  We've come full-circle.  We've experienced three systems together, and its time for one last Quattro con Carnage escapade as we shift over to Numenera.  We also borrowed some rules from The Strange, Numenera's sibling, also driven by Monte Cook Games' Cypher System.  It would be fair to say that this entire experience, from Basic Fantasy RPG to Numenera sprung out of my sick and twisted head when I was trying to consider whether or not the Cypher System could mimic that classic feel of an OSR type game.  Certainly the rules and mechanics are nowhere near similar, however the light and fast rules of the Cypher System allow for greater game-master flexibility.  So if a GM wants to invoke a certain tone or feel in a game, they have an easy rules system to do so.  

If you aren't familiar with the rules in Numenera, here is a quick primer on the dice-mechanic.  For every action, from climbing walls to stabbing monsters, the GM determines a difficulty on a scale of a 1 to 10.  The player then decides of he or she has any advantages to use, such as special training in a skill or a one-use technological item (called a cypher), to reduce the difficulty rating.  Once this number is settled upon, the player needs to roll higher than the target number times three.  

For example:  Jeremy's character Umbrin is going to climb up a steep wall.  I, the GM, determine the difficulty to be a "5".  Jeremy states that Umbrin is trained in climbing and has a grappling hook.  The training reduces the difficulty by one, as does the grappling hook.  The new difficulty rating is "3", so Jeremy needs to roll a "9" or higher on a twenty-sided die to succeed.  

Instead of traditional ability scores, characters in the Cypher System have three pools:  Might, Speed, and Intellect.  Points from these pools are spent to fuel abilities, power-up attacks, and reduce the difficulty of rolls by spending "effort."  But overspending can be dangerous, as these same pools also serve as "hit points!"

There are a lot of innovative and interesting mechanics in Numenera, and if you'd like to get a closer look, they have a wonderful website full of resources.  Want to learn how to play Numenera?  There is even a YouTube video!  Furthermore, if you'd like my full perspective, I recently did a blogpost titled "Why You Should Play: Numenera".  



Going Quattro



For the purposes of running a traditional fantasy campaign I made a few cosmetic adjustments to the Cypher System rules, but for the most part left everything the same.  There are three "types" in Numenera, base classes that serve as a character's core source of abilities:  Glaive, Jack, and Nano.  Rather than re-skin these as "Warrior, Rogue, and Wizard", I decided to keep their original names to help other, Cypher fans follow along.  
Cyphers have a magical source of energy, instead of a technology base, and all Nano esoteries are arcane in nature.  

Unlike previous weeks when I had to build several of the characters for players who did not have the proper materials, I was very excited that everyone in my group was able to crank out their own PC.  I allowed each player character to start at 2nd Tier, but I did not allow them to start with any cyphers.  Two of the transitions actually surprised me: Lomman and Rydian.  Lomman, who had been a crusading type for much of the campaign, was built using the Jack type, which typically represents a jack-of-all-trades.  I was certainly expecting a crusader to be more of a Glaive.  Andy decided to go full-wizard with Rydian's build, completely ditching his archery skill, and any semblance of fighting ability that comes standard with an OSR elf.  

Dramatis Personae con Carnage


Umbrin, played by Jeremy
A guard-for-hire from Tannryth once in the employee of a wealthy Archon
  • a Hardy Glaive who Looks for Trouble

Lomman Senan, played by Marc
A devout crusader of Ogmios looking enforce some "justice healing"
  • an Honorable Jack who Works Miracles

Rydian Ornitiar, played by Andy
An Aarenian relic-hunter who longs to recover a lost family artifact
  • a Mystical Nano who Wields Power with Precision 

Jorin Everlast, played by Craig
A pilfering initiate to the Embrace who just "made bones" 
  • a Clever Jack who Works the Back Alleys 

Drogos, played by Andreas
Dwarven blacksmith, last survivor of Happenstance, and holy convert to Ogmios
  • a Tough Jack who Masters Weaponry


Umbrin Saves the World


Our brave adventurers were splashing about in a deep pool of water at the very bottom of the Lost Chasm.  Just a few moments before, all five heroes took a massive fall from far above, and were now seemingly trapped.  With only a faint glow coming from the Ever After hundreds of feet above, and no obvious way out of the pool, the party started to fear that all hope was lost.  But then, a brilliant green form appeared above the party.  

It was the Queen of the Ever After!

The Queen thanked Rydian for his forced service, as he brought the Iceshard Wasting and Horn of the Ice Demon to the depths of the Lost Chasm.  Now that the two items were immersed in the waters, they slowly faded away.  Quickly, the capricious Queen changed her mood, and she instructed the party that they would be a proper meal for her ethereal children.  

"Good day," the Queen stated, as she started to fade away.  

"But…" whispered Rydian.

"I say good day!" the Queen snapped, and completely faded away.  

Just then, the low and guttural moans of hungry spirits echoed above, and three spectral forms began to drop onto the party.  The appearance of these ghosts caused a terrible fright amongst the party, and when they finally came into physical contact, the ethereal fingers had a painful cold touch.  Lomman drew his holy symbol while Umbrin communed with Sashiria.  The enchanted sword told the warrior that it would be in their best interest to go underwater and seek out the "Sea Horse Statue."  That would be the only way to escape the Lost Chasm, other than the long way: climbing out.  

Considering the possibility of climbing out, Rydian used his new Cutting Light spell to blast a handhold into the stone walls.  But after a quick snap of light, the spell tore through the entire wall and revealed a much larger chamber on the other side.  Also on the other side was a new spectral form.  Umbrin was now busy slashing with his sword while Lomman was firing smiting blasts from his symbol.  Rydian fired his Cutting Light at the newly revealed spirit, and when struck, the spirit grew some new, living flesh.  This gave Jorin a target for his daggers, which the little halfling chucked towards the ghost.  Surprisingly these drew blood!  These "Ghosts of the Lost Flesh" actually seemed to gain flesh and bone with each damaging strike. 

Eventually the battle ended, and the party started to recover.  During the battle, Drogos climbed through the new passage and discovered a large mushroom along the wall with some magic buds.  Once the battle was over, the party traveled to this area and Rydian spent some time with the buds.  Each possessed a strange arcane ability (cypher) that could help the user at a later time.  

Around this time, the party started to consider Sashiria's idea of swimming down below.  Somehow, however, this idea of swimming caused Lomman to think of frolicking.  Frolicking thoughts led to thoughts of scantly clad elven ladies for the weak-willed Cleric.  Immediately Ogmios was in Lomman's mind, and his terrible disapproval forced the priest to reconsider his deity of choice.  

[GM's note:  maybe it was a little unfair, but I threw a GM Intrusion at Marc, and twisted Lomman's Savage Worlds Hindrance (Quirk: Constantly Thinking about Elven Ladies), so that his god disapproved and he would need to roll on the Dungeon Crawl Classics Disapproval Table.  I'm evil.]

Since climbing up was next to impossible, swimming down would be necessary.  Rydian used his Cutting Light spell to illuminate the area below, but almost succeeded in cutting off his… toe.  Drogos had a darkvision cypher (and swimming as a Jack flex skill) so he popped the bud and began to swim down into the depths.  Twenty feet down there was a passage to the right, leading into a large chamber.  At the center of this chamber was a massive jade seahorse statue, with glowing red crystal eyes.  There was also a pocket of air above the seahorse.  Drogos swam up, got a breath, and started to swim back.  Just outside of the statue's chamber, however, Drogos let out a bubbly yelp!

Umbrin was starting to get concerned.  Five minutes passed and the party's curious dwarf was still underwater.  Stowing Sashiria across his back, Umbrin swam down into the pool.  At the very bottom of the Lost Chasm, beyond submerged corridors to the east and west, was a dead end and a terrible bottom feeder.  

It was a Dire Oyster! 

The warrior saw a wriggling dwarven foot poking out of the horrible mollusk's shell.  Umbrin grabbed the shell, and started to lift, using all of his might to pry the shell open.  Once freed, Drogos pulled himself away, and swam to the surface, with Umbrin not far behind.  

"Was there a pearl in there?" Drogos asked nonchalantly.  

The party decided that they needed to go investigate the statue as a group, so everyone swam together into the chamber.  Lomman moved closer to the structure and felt a pulse of old and terrible power.  The cleric believed this to possibly be the old sleeping deity known as "Magrizt the Evil Sea Horse of Doom!"  

The rest of the group swam up to the pocket, discovering a much larger cavern above.  Rydian started to climb up, but his loud usage of Cutting Light to blast handholds disturbed the bats above.  A great swarm came down and chewed on the elf for several moments before returning to the cavern above.  Lomman came up to the pocket as well, and started climbing up into the bat's cavern.  

At the top of the passage, however, Lomman accidentally fell into a Dire Land Oyster's mouth!  

The rest of the party scrambled to get their priest free.  Looking down, Drogos noted that there was one part of Lomman that wouldn't be oyster lunch: a single severed left hand.  Umbrin again played the part of hero, as the warrior pried the mouth of the oyster open, and yanked Lomman free.  Once the crusader was wiped clean, his hand was brought over.  Umbrin, trained in healing, used some light tools to "nail" the two bones together, and then plucked Drogos' dwarfy chin whiskers to help sew the hand to Lomman's wrist.  Once the hand looked properly aligned, Lomman cast a curative spell and the wounds were healed!  The rest of the party decided this was a good place to rest, and everyone hunkered down for a few hours.

There was no other way out of the cavern, which meant the party would have to deal with Magrizt's statue.  Drogos swam back down, and started investigating.  But when the dwarf tried prying the jeweled eyes free of the jade body, the water around the statue began to drain away.  It was then that the statue spoke!

Magrizt was very clear that he was hungry, and that he could help the party flee the Lost Chasm in return for a sacrifice.  The head started to move about, looking at Drogos, and then up to the rest of the party in the cavern above.  Umbrin tossed the giant oyster down, and it landed right in front of Magrizt.  

"It is all for you… it is an offering!" Drogos called out to Magrizt, and then walked forward towards the statue.  

Of course Magrizt figured that the "offering" consisted of dwarf with a side of dire land oyster, and so the statue's head snapped forward and gobbled up Drogos.  With the party's dwarf only a couple bites away from death, a tough choice had to be made.  Another offering would be required.  

Again it would be Umbrin to the rescue.  The Hardy Glaive took one last glance at Sashiria and then leapt down into the chamber below, sword pointed at the mouth of Magrizt.  But instead of stabbing the giant jade statue, he deftly placed the sword in its mouth as a new "offering".  With a magic and intelligent sword, Magrizt felt appeased, and he let Drogos free.

The rest of the party climbed down the wall and picked up the party's dwarf.  True to his demonic word, Magrizt opened a passage at the back of the temple, allowing the adventurers to travel out of the Lost Chasm.  

"I win!" proclaimed Umbrin, as he left the dungeon's depths.  

Most Notable Quotations


"It's 'ooh shiny' that you can actually play a campaign in, instead of a bunch of one-offs." - Marc describes Quattro con Carnage.  

"So Rydian is a Mage-y Mage who Mages?" - Jeremy had a good handle of Rydian's build.

"It's a water level!" - I felt bad saying this to the players.  

"Oh crap, my mace is made out of glass!  New plan!" - Marc forgot that his family's ancestral weapon was transformed last game.  

"There was no swimming as a dwarf… there was only 'nearly dying' every time." - Surprisingly Drogos didn't mind playing 'scout' for the group, which meant swimming… a lot.  

Jim, freaking out about 4 systems in 8 weeks - "I cannot keep straight Constitution, Stamina, Vigor, and Might.  I can't do it anymore!"
Marc - "That's what you get!"

"I thought I got away from that damned mechanic!" - Marc was none too thrilled when Jim showed up with the Dungeon Crawl Classics book and the Disapproval Table.  

"Everyone make a spot check… I mean a notice roll… I mean an Intellect Roll for Perception!" - Jim kept getting confused.  

"It's your turn to be in the clam!" - Andreas to Marc.

"Would he take a sacrificial clam?" - Jeremy had an idea to appease Magrizt.  

"If I had a nickel for every time I heard Drogos say 'a little help'…" - Marc had a point.  

Behind the Schemes


Okay I admit it: I was winging it for most of this adventure.  

I mean, who else would come up with a Dire Oyster other than me?  Actually this was a planned "ad-lib" session.  When I wrote the Savage Worlds portion of the adventure, I knew that Magrizt would be at the very end, and that he could potentially attack the party.  I started building the demon statue, but only came up with some basic Savage Worlds stats.  I didn't really have anything else designed.  But I knew that one of the adventures in this series of eight needed to be a random, on-the-fly kind of evening, so I picked last night.

The ghosts I were improvised, the same as the magic mushroom, the two oysters, the bats, and pretty much everything about Magrizt except for the idea that he could be an old god that had a wicked bite.  

It was crazy that this adventure felt, to me, to be the most "old school" of the bunch, at least when it came to the tone.  

"It was certainly the most cruel!" said Marc.  "How many times did we roll a '1' and suck up a GM Intrusion for free?

This was true.  We ended up having five rolls of a "1" through the evening.  Statistically impossible, but great for creating an amazing story!

Hey, how about Umbrin?

That was a pretty amazing evening for Jeremy's character, who spent nearly four sessions quietly not hitting anything.  Tonight he was the absolute hero of the day! 

So one game left for Quattro con Carnage… well, one final session with me as the GM.  

See you next week!

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All of the fun so far: