Thursday, March 24, 2016

Cypher System Fantasy - Welcome to The Strange




At Last


Tuesday's game was ten sessions in the making.  Way back in July, when I first started planning for this campaign, I knew that I wanted to run an Ardeyn native game of The Strange.  But I was also very excited for my new Cypher System Rulebook's immanent arrival.  Our Tuesday night crew had wrapped up a year long Numenera campaign, and I needed to cook up something big and spectacular.  

All of my players are veterans of The Strange, and several were part of the playtest with me before the game's release.  If we were to start a campaign on the Ardeyn recursion of The Strange, with characters native to the fantasy realm, the big reveal of other worlds' existence would be muted.  I wanted a big surprise twist, but since The Strange is essentially designed for those kinds of mash-ups, it was always going to be a challenge...

... but what if we didn't start with The Strange?

Using the Cypher System Rulebook, I came up with the idea of running an all Ardeyn fantasy campaign outside of The Strange.  Perhaps the players would suspect something at some point, but I didn't want to give any significant indications that we would ever travel to Earth or another recursion.  There would be no mention of Spinners or Vectors, Translation or Inapposite Gates.  All would be revealed at some point, when I'd find a way to get the fantasy characters over to Earth without translating.

Just like Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time.  

But I wanted one more hook, some kind of connection between the two worlds.  Frank wasn't sure of what character to create, so we got together and thought up the idea of Gabriella Winter: a college-aged hacker working for The Estate, posing as Sister Sariety on Ardeyn.  "Gabbie" was a character Frank returned to from time to time, always in a different campaign setting.  Gabriella existed in our Eberron campaign, our Dark Sun 4e campaign, and as "Gabriella the Teenage Lich" in Necessary Evil.  

Come to think of it, perhaps this has always been the same Gabriella... just traveling recursion to recursion as someone else.  That's the magic of The Strange as a campaign setting... anything is possible!

So there you have it, faithful readers!  If you've been with us all these months, interested in a Cypher System Fantasy campaign, you've actually been reading about The Strange all along...

Mwa, ha ha ha ha!


Living 4 Crits Presents

Cypher System Fantasy/The Strange Campaign

Gabriella Winter and the Dragon Curse of Ardeyn



Cast

  • Zamani, a Spiritual (Ugallu*) Explorer (Magic) who Masters Foot and Fist**, played by Andy
  • Shenuesh, a Rugged Adept (Combat) who Wields Two Weapons at Once, played by Jeremy
  • Yaren, a Foolish Warrior who Stands Like a Bastion, played by Craig
  • Verrenn, a Spectral*** Adept who Casts Spells, played by Marc
  • Gabriella****, a Charming Spinner who Works the System, played by Frank
** Masters Foot and Fist is from Worlds Numberless and Strange by Monte Cook Games
*** Spectral is a new and original focus written by Marc Plourde and featured on his blog, Inspiration Strikes
**** Formerly a Charming Speaker who Works Miracles on Ardeyn

Episode 11: Welcome to The Strange


[Note:  Nearly all of this dialogue was exclaimed by my players Tuesday evening during this amazing game.  I've done my best to capture all of it and put it right into the recap.]

"Gabriella!" Agent Calders screamed out just before taking another bullet.  "You're too late!  Run!"  Bullets few across the room, as the party emerged from a massive circular gate-like structure.  The entire wall and window assembly in front of everyone was completely torn asunder, with visible claw marks covering the floor and walls.    

The Focused Inapposite Transfer Device must have worked, Gabriella thought.  The Hofmann Institute device was designed to force entities traveling from Ardeyn via Inapposite Gate, to come through this transfer gate.  

Having just traveled from the fantasy realm of Ardeyn to the Hoffman Institute office in Alexandria, Virginia, everyone in the adventuring party was in a state of shock.  With her own Baezedaar Bracer destroyed, Gabriella translated back into her proper form.  But Charming Spinner's companions still carried with them their original, Ardeyn aspects.  Zamani was still an Ugallu, Verrenn undead, Shenuesh a lycanthrope, and Yaren an armor-clad knight.  As gunfire from four armor-clad mercenaries raked the party of adventurers again, their shock melted away and everyone sprang into action...

... everyone except Shenuesh, who was still enslaved by Gabriella's cypher.

Wanting to dish out a little pain of their own, Verrenn and Zamani started lashing out with their own powers.  The Adept blasted the mercenaries with Arcane Fire while Zamani summoned wind and lightning energy into fearsome bolts.  Gabriella called out to the group to follow her, as she retreated back to a nearby elevator door.  The entire team followed, with Yaren, shield raised, placing himself between the mercenaries and his fellow adventurers.  

Once everyone was in the elevator Verrenn looked around.

"Why have you brought us nto this small box room!" the Spectral Adept exclaimed.

Gabriella Winter had a lot of explaining to do.

When the elevator reached the first floor the Charming Spinner guided the team towards an emergency exit.  Once outside, the party noticed that several unmarked cars were parked just outside of the office building, but a sizable park awaited just across some train tracks to the north.  

Careful to be quiet, the fantasy adventurers followed Gabriella into the park, where they almost gave themselves away after bumping into a pair of homeless people.  

"Oh my God," one of the homeless screamed out.  "There's a werewolf, a ghost, and a giant walking cat coming after me!"  

Fortunately, Verrenn put an end to the woman's yelling with a simple Stasis spell, while Shenuesh knocked the other man out cold.  

Once at the park, Gabriella tried to calm down the very angry adventurers.  She explained that the world they all came from was actually a fantasy world, another land that was very different from Earth.  

"Which of the moons are we on?" Verrenn asked.

Looking up, Gabriella pointed to the Earth's one moon.  "We're not on a moon, we're on Earth.  That's our moon."

Zamani was horrified.  "There's only one of them?  How can you live like this?"  

Gabriella asked again that everyone just trust her, and that she would find a way to get them home, but first they had to get to somewhere safe.  Crossing the street into a nearby shopping plaza, the Charming Spinner hailed a taxi and convinced the driver that they were a troupe of actors just leaving a play.

"Yeah, that's fine.  I've seen weirder here in DC," the taxi driver stated matter-of-factly.  

Once in the taxi, Gabriella asked to be taken to her hotel, the Hampton Inn just south of Old Town.  

Along the way to the hotel, Verrenn decided to call out everything he saw outside the windows, as he was completely amazed by this futuristic evening.

After seeing a Target:  "That seems to be an extremely large place to buy bows and arrows."

After seeing a Dicks:  "No."

After seeing a Burger King:  "Who is this King of Burger?"

After seeing some cars on the Beltway:  "How could we all be moving this fast without horses!"

After seeing the Washington Monument in the distance:  "Surely that must be part of a Qephilim ruin!"  

"You're probably right," quipped Gabriella.

Eventually the taxi pulled up to the Hampton Inn and Gabriella led everyone into the back entrance, using her keycard to open the exterior door, and then the door to her hotel room on the second floor.

What played out next was absolute madness!  

"What is this black frame?  Do you worship darkness?" Zamani asked, poking and proding at the television.  Once the TV was on, Gabriella turned on Sponge Bob Square Pants for her teammates.  Shenuesh, still enslaved, watched calmly while Zamani kept clicking the channels, battling Verrenn for the remote.

"This is a magnificent scrying item!" Verrenn kept shouting at the TV.  The Spectral Adept eventually got ahold of the remote.  "A Magic Wand!"  

"Dibs!"  Zamani yelled at Verrenn, grabbing the remote and accidentally turning on a rather interestinig Pay-Per-View movie.  Everyone in the room started staring at the screen when the phone rang. 

"Hello?" Gabriella asked, picking up the phone.  It was the front desk, and they were concerned at the Pay-Per-View usage, as it wasn't approved by Gabriella's employer.  The Spinner agreed to go downstairs and handle the problem in person.

As Gabriella left the room, she could hear Verrenn yell at Zamani.  "Bring back the amusing sponge-form creature," the undead wizard demanded.

Once downstairs, Gabriella groaned.  Nick, the night auditor at the Hampton Inn, was an absolute jerk, and he was always trying to cozy up to the Spinner.  This time, he tried using her apparent questionable Pay-Per-Viewing to his advantage, insinuating that he'd let Gabriella's superiors at The Estate know about her usage.  Gabbie wasn't putting up with that crap, though.  She talked her way past Nick's antics, and went back upstairs...

... walking in to her room just in time to see Shenuesh (now un-enslaved) trying trying smash her laptop.

"Stop!  We need that!" Gabriella screamed.  

Figuring that this was the right time to let everyone in on the big secret, Gabriella had all o the adventurers sit down around her computer screen.  The Spinner carefully explained that Ardeyn was another world, much like Earth, but that it existed first as a "computer game."  Gabriella was a hacker of some renown, and had managed to acquire one of the few copies of "Ardeyn: Land of the Curse", the same game that Carter Strange used to upload into the Dark Energy Network (a.k.a. "The Strange") just a few years earlier.  In her time spent with the alpha version of the MMO, Gabriella learned all about the people and places of Ardeyn.

The Estate needed to send an expert to Ardeyn to locate the whereabouts of a potential threat to Earth, a dormant dragon named Rhilan and a set of bracers that could allow creatures to maintain their powers on other recursions.  The Hoffman Institute, an allied agency with the Estate, believed that a very rich and politically connected organization on Earth known as the Bradley Cooperative wanted to bring Rhilan to Earth with one of the Baezedaar Bracers.  Since the bracers most likely worked like constant inapposite gates, always "on" and always "pinging" potential planetovores in the Strange itself, the threat had to be dealt with.  Unfortunately, political pressure from two politicians in Washington shut down the Estate's operation.  

Something more covert would be needed.  

In exchange for removing her extensive criminal record, Gabriella Winter would make several trips to Ardeyn via translation and become "Sister Sariety."  Once on Ardeyn, she would find native adventurers to go on a quest to destroy Rhilan and his following.  Should Rhilan's followers give him a Baezedaar Bracer, and send him back to Earth or any other recursion with all of the powers of Magic, Sister Sariety/Gabriella was to follow, along with her team of magic wielding adventurers.  

Gabriella showed the travelers from Ardeyn several scenes from their homeland on her computer as she spoke, trying to prove the truth.  

"My world is probably a video game to someone else, somewhere," Gabriella stated as she tried to offer some empathy.  She showed the Citadel Hazurrium, the dungeons below the Queensland, and even gave Zamani proof of the Shadow Realm that the monk had been seeking for so long.    

Once everyone agreed to to hear more from Gabbie's superiors, the Spinner turned on the news and saw that there were several dragon sightings over Washington DC.  She texted Assistant Director Conrad Merrick of the Estate, and agreed to meet up the following morning.  It was going to be a long week.

The next day, after a long shower, Gabriella went downstairs and retrieved food from the continental buffet for all of her fellow party members.  For most of them, this was their first taste of Earth food, including the hot beverage that Gabbie kept referring to as "coffee."

"Why does this smell so good, and yet tastes so bad?" Zamani wondered out loud.  

A little past nine o'clock Director Merrick called Gabbie and stated that a car would be there soon to pick everyone up.  They were to meet in Fairfax, Virginia, just west of downtown Washington DC.  As the party packed up their gear, Zamani noticed something strange about the device known as a "remote control."  

The simple piece of Earth technology had changed into an cypher that could bestow arcane armor.  Strange.

After an hour long drive through weekend traffic, the party arrived at a shopping complex in Fairfax.  The Estate office here was an abandoned space located above a Jersey Mike's sandwich store.  It was here that they met Conrad Merrick.

Conrad elaborated on some of the news that Gabriella had shared.  The Bradley Cooperative's well funded plan to bring Rhilan to Earth put everyone at risk, both those of this world, and those on Ardeyn.  Should any of the Baezedaar Bracers remain on Earth, a planetovore would surely arrive.  Conrad feared that it could already be too late, as agents operating in the Strange itself believed "something" was currently en route to Earth, and could be as few as six or seven days from making contact.

Conrad's tone was brisk, and his phrases laden with cursing.  "You speak a great deal of excrement," Verrenn remarked to the man.

The party seemed mostly against the idea of helping the Estate, as they all (with the exception of Gabriella) believed that they were putting far more into the deal than they would receive.  But with Conrad's insistance that Earth's destruction would lead to Ardeyn's, the adventurers reluctantly agreed to continue following Gabriella, so long as they could be returned home.  

Conrad believed that if the party could destroy Rhilan's Baezedaar Bracer, it would greatly reduce the dragon's power, turning him into something that could exist within the standard physics of Earth.  That said, he cautioned the party on removing their own bracers, as they could lose the assets that would help them track down and defeat Rhilan.  Once the dragon's bracer was destroyed or captured, they could return to the Estate, and travel back to Ardeyn...

... probably.  Conrad wasn't one-hundred percent sure how yet, but he was working on the problem.  

Reviewing their leads, the party decided that they had three possible options to start their investigation:
  • They could track Rhilan's path over Washington DC, and see if they could hunt the dragon the old fashioned way.
  • They could visit the politicians working with the Bradley Cooperative, and try to get information through intimidation or more.
  • They could go directly to Deep Creek, Maryland, where the Bradley Cooperative was located.  
Choosing the third option, the party left Conrad and went with their driver to the van.  It was time to visit western Maryland.


Quotes


"His eyes are just taking a smoke break." - Marc after I described one of Zamani's targets having empty, smoking eye-sockets after a wicked attack.

"Cool, than I will get a cab." - Frank realizes Gabbie has money.

"Yeah, that's a good idea, just leave us standing out front." - Craig wasn't about to let the taxi driver drop everyone off at the front of the Hampton Inn.

"Tis the night of the Intrusion!" - Craig commenting at my massive amount of GM Intrusion dropping.

"You're lucky my Might pool is at zero or I'd be dropping 3 levels of effort to break the thing." - Jeremy expressing his character's frustration of being so far away from Ardeyn, and how he'd take it out on Gabriella's computer.