Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Strange Thanksgiving Translation Codex Special

Happy Thanksgiving

You've read the title of this blog post correctly:  The Strange Thanksgiving Translation Codex Special.  I was going to put an "edition" at the end of that, but I felt like it was long enough.  Let me explain… 

You know what Thanksgiving means to me and my family - GAMING!  Actually, we game pretty much all year long (as I'm sure you can already tell), but any holiday in our family is especially awesome because we get to be with lots of friends and family.  Well this year for Thanksgiving my wife, kids, dog, and I all packed ourselves into our Chevy Traverse and took a trip to Smyrna, Delaware, where my parents live.  You may have read our play report from Thanksgiving Eve, where I ran AD&D 2nd Ed. Council of Wyrms for everyone in the house.  Last night the gaming continued as my cousin Beth and my mom joined Jen and I for some Gloom.  If you've never seen or heard of Keith Baker's fantastic card game Gloom, it's worth checking out, especially for you horror fans.  Wil Wheaton and company even had a Tabletop Episode featuring the game that is worth a look.  

Council of Wyrms was sort of an afterthought for the Thanksgiving Gaming Extravaganza… something I tacked on right before leaving Pittsburgh.  The real gaming was to occur on the Saturday after Thanksgiving when my cousin Rachel, her fiancĂ© Carmel, and my brother Tom would get together to play Monte Cook Games' The Strange!  Despite being a very new game on the market, it wouldn't be the first time, or holiday for that matter, that this particular group of players got together to play The Strange.  Last Christmas we had a special game day at my parents house and I had my hands on the playtest rules just after The Strange successfully completed its Kickstarter.  I had everyone at the table sign an NDA, and we gave the game a spin!  

Well two of the players, Rachel and Carmel, are back with their characters from last year: Horatio Caine (from CSI: Miami) and Jessica Fletcher (from Murder She Wrote.)  My brother asked to play a member of the Philadelphia Eagles (following their big win Thursday!), and my wife brought her regular character, Jackie Dingo from Dingo and the Cosmos and Eschatology Code.  My kids also brought a pair of fictionally leaked characters for this adventure that I was setting in San Fransokyo, the city featured in Disney's Big Hero 6 (awesome movie!)

But Wait, There's MORE!

The adventure that would come to be titled "All Gobbled Up" had a somewhat different plot when I first wrote it, but then Ryan Chaddock Games sent me over a copy of their new product: The Translation Codex.  This particular sourcebook, written by Ryan Chaddock and Jordan Marshall, is Ryan Chaddock Games' first licensed product for The Strange.  Although most of Ryan Chaddock Games' previous titles could easily be used with The Strange, having a product specifically designed for the newest Cypher System setting is great.  But this product is more than just some source material for use in your The Strange campaign, it provides something that the game really needed…


That's right, you heard me correctly… this are 100 foci included in this book, broken up amongst six different categories. 

  1. Disenchanted covers foci that would be a great fit for historical recursions and/or low, non magical fantasy.
  2. Otherworldly are quite the opposite: high fantasy or for use in campaigns where magic is used rather than technology.
  3. Pseudoscientific is a neat twist on Mad Science, with hints of comic book superheroes.  
  4. Earthly (probably the most necessary) is just that: a whole pool of foci that can be used for your Estate agents while defending Earth on home turf.  
  5. Paranormal seems like a dark twist on psionics.  
  6. Miscellaneous covers five more specific types of foci, with only a handful for each: Lovecraftian Horror, Mythic, Space, Strange, and Wild West.  

For example, under Disenchanted you have "Rides a Noble Steed", which although similar to Controls Beasts in Numenera is more specific to having a mount.  Braves Dungeons, under Otherworldly, could let you build a very accurate "Thief" character for a recursion mimicking old-school Dungeons & Dragons.  "Leaves the Physical World", under Paranormal embraces Astral Projection.  

So that's three of one-hundred… what else… 

One particular favorite of just about anyone who I've met who has had a chance to look at the book is "Dies."  Covered under Miscellaneous, Dies is a Space-themed focus that allows you play a redshirt.  Each of your Tier abilities essentially has your character dying so that another could come take his place.  The Tier 2 power "Meat Shield" has your character dying so that someone else in the group doesn't get hit.  Your character sheet only requires you to spend 2 Might points to use this power, but in the game your character dies and another redshirt joins the group instantly.  

But there aren't just foci in this book, you also get some great recursions to use in your game.  Each chapter includes a few places where you could easily fit the proceeding foci, which could greatly expand your campaign with minimal preparation.  For instance, under Disenchanted you have Sherwood Forest, a Level 5 recursion that operates on Substandard Physics.  Just 100 by 100 miles, this ancient recursion would be the perfect place to send your party if you'd like to see them up to their necks in a much more realistic renaissance festival!  The "Steals from the Rich" focus doesn't hurt either!

Back to my original point though, on how this influenced adventure design.  Originally I was going to have the adventure take place on Earth, with the characters dealing with rogue, partially-quickened Beak Mafia goons on the loose.  But once I read through the Pseudoscientific Foci, I really wanted to do something a few steps further, and dig into everything that the Translation Codex had to offer.  I set the adventure in San Fransokyo, and told the players that they would have to pick from the Mad Science foci under Pseudoscientific.  Some of the choices made sense.  Some… didn't… 

Cast of Characters

  • Jacqueline Dingo, a Skeptical Spinner who Adopts Animal Qualities, played by Jen 
  • Horatio Caine, a Sharp-Eyed Spinner who Wields Cosmic Power, played by Rachel
  • GLaDOS, an Artificially Intelligent Paradox who Plays with Portals, played by Evie
  • The Doctor, a Clever Paradox who Employs Fantastic Gadgets, played by Carrie
  • Mark "The Sanchize" Sanchez, an Impulsive Vector who Pursues Physical Perfection, played by Tom
  • Jessica "J-Fletch" Fletcher, a Brash Vector who Brandishes a Death Ray, played by Carmel

All Gobbled Up

It was Thanksgiving and Agent Jackie Dingo of the Estate was staring at three pictures of turkeys just before translating to the mad science laden recursion of San Fransokyo.  Enzo Gorlomi, Antonio Margheriti, and Dominick DeCocco were all known associates of Don Wyclef, notorious gangster and member of Crow Hollow's Beak Mafia.  Several days ago, Estate operatives in Crow Hollow witnessed the three no good goons and hit men get into a particularly nasty scrape with a rival gang, forcing them to get out of "tree" for a little while.  Each of the goons had the spark, and Gorlomi was quickened, but something must have been wrong with the translation key that the ringleader was carrying.  When the three popped out in Trenton, New Jersey they were turkeys.  

Large, oversized, turkeys.  

Gorlomi, Margheriti, and DeCocco wasted no time before causing trouble on Earth and getting the attention of Agent Dingo.  The three built a small gang in just two days, and then travelled down to Philadelphia where they started to rob high end restaurants, especially those that were featuring special Thanksgiving menus.  Earlier Thanksgiving morning, the three were seen breaking and entering into Morimoto, a restaurant run by the Iron Chef of the same name.  When Agent Dingo went to meet with Morimoto, she found out that the Beak Mafia goons took all the money, and were especially cruel to his staff preparing the turkey.  Then the turkeys found out that another Iron Chef, Chen Kenichi, had opened a restaurant on the recursion of San Fransokyo.  Morimoto overheard the trio of terrorizing turkeys state that they were going to "show that despicable Chen Kenichi who's boss" and then quickly departed the restaurant, cash in hand.  

Morimoto didn't have to ask Agent Dingo for her help, it was already implied as all Iron Chef's are members of the Estate.  

But Agent Dingo would need a crack team of operatives for this mission, especially since she had never been to San Fransokyo.  So she had her two assistants, Agents Crystal and Arianna Cosmo, wrangle up some fictionally leaked agents: Jessica Fletcher, Horatio Caine, GLaDOS, and the Doctor were all willing to help.  It only took a quick phone call and then a flight on special Estate supersonic jet to get Agent Mark Sanchez to Philly after trouncing the Dallas Cowboys earlier that Thanksgiving day.  

Once assembled, the team translated into Tenshin Market, right in the heart of San Fransokyo.  They weren't sure where the turkeys would be, nor for that matter where Kenichi's restaurant was located.  Horatio Caine spotted a nearby shop called "Peking King", and tapped his badass, hard hitting associate Jessica Fletcher (or J-Fletch as she preferred to be called) to get some information.  The owner of Peking King told the two investigators the location of Kenichi's new restaurant:  Big Yamato Fusion.  It was several miles away, however, and time was of the essence, so Agent Dingo stepped in and asked to borrow the shop owners vehicle.  When he refused, J-Fletch got right in the man's face, and with one hand lifted the owner off of the ground 

"I have a death ray and we have places to be," growled Jessica Fletcher as her grip continue to tighten.  "I'm not getting any younger, and we gotta get things done!"

The owner pulled the keys to his truck out of his pocket and dropped them on the floor.  When J-Fletch finally released the poor man, he was rubbing his neck.  The Brash Vector's grip was so unbelievably powerful that it tore at the shop owner's flesh near his neck.  As the team left the market, Mark Sanchez, still wearing his full uniform, pads, and jersey (Eagles gear doesn't ever translate, it always enters a recursion "Green") autographed the bloody chest of the shop owner.  With a wink, the quarterback was gone.  

The pickup truck parked in the back of the market was a piece of crap.  There was only a single wheel in the front, and two in the back, and the cab only had seating for a pair of Estate Agents.  GLaDOS pulled her mechanical body behind the wheel while the Doctor insisted on riding shotgun.  Agent Dingo, J-Fletch, Caine, and the Sanchize all piled into the bed of the truck as the vehicle set off down Hill Street… aptly named since most of it was at a near 45 degree angle heading towards the bay.  

While the vehicle was slowly moving along in traffic, J-Fletch started looking at the stun.  It seemed like something passed in front of the bright orb for a moment, but just for the briefest of seconds.  Thinking that something was amiss, the Brash Vector ducked, just when a massive, two-hundred pound turkey slammed into the vehicle!  It missed Jessica Fletcher and instead struck Agent Dingo, dragging her out of the vehicle.  GLaDOS wasn't aware of what just happened in the back, so when Dingo was pulled free of the bed and rolled, she was in turn run over by the team's newly acquired vehicle.  Agent Dingo shook her head and stood up.  There was a tire print on the back of her fine leather jacket now.  Exasperated, Agent Dingo lifted her nose up into the air so that she could sniff out the turkey.  With her new animalistic qualities in San Fransokyo, nothing could hide from Dingo's snout!  Agent Dingo slowly walked across the street towards an abandoned coffee shop.  That must be where the turkey went, and Agent dingo turned to….

… BAM! 

Agent Dingo got hit by a trolley.  She should've been watching where she was going.

Jen desperately searched for something on her sheet to get her out of her GM Intrusion

"Rub some dirt on it," Sanchez told Agent Dingo as he casually walked by.  

The rest of the Skeptical Spinner's teammates picked their leader up off the ground and sat her down on the sidewalk.  The abandoned coffee shop was nearby, so while GLaDOS and the Doctor tended Dingo's injury, Horatio Caine grabbed Sanchez and J-Fletch and scouted out the building's entrance.  The door was ajar, with a single turkey feather laying right in front of the portal.  Caine feared that this was a trap, but Mark Sanchez didn't feel like checking.  The Impulsive Vector lifted his cleat and kicked the door in, but quickly fell over as an explosive poison gas cypher was detonated.  The foul powder covered everything, forcing Caine to cover his mouth and run back towards the street.  Caine turned to Sanchez to see how he was doing, and found that the quarterback couldn't get enough of the horrible poisonous dust.  Sanchez was kneeling on the floor, scooping up piles of the powder and snorting it up his nose. 

"That sweet, sweet turkey poison," the Sanchize proclaimed.  "On the street they call it T-caine!" 

Sanchez was going to crawl further into the room, but Jessica Fletcher grabbed his jersey and pulled him back.  The old novelist had a flashlight, which she pointed into the shop, revealing several tripwires ahead.  But as soon as J-Fletch mentioned the possibility of more poison gas, Sanchez forced his way in and set off the remaining gas bombs.  The poor QB was hooked!

While Mark Sanchez continued to huff turkey poison, Caine grabbed J-Fletch's flashlight and moved towards the shop's back door.  The Sharp Eyed Spinner kicked the door open, but only revealed a chamber of old coffee cans and garbage.  That's when the Horatio Cain heard the click of a revolver.  Slowly turning around, Horatio saw a massive turkey holding a .38 Chief's Special to the head of Eagles Quarterback Mark Sanchez.  

"One move and he gets it!" shouted Dominick DeCocco, in an old-timey gangster accent.  The turkey was wearing a full suit with holes cut out for his massive wings.    

Horatio Caine was still wearing sunglasses while scouting the old coffee shop, but could see that the turkey's grip on the gun was rather weak.   He reached up to take his glasses off, but as soon as Caine touched the side of his sunglasses a beam of energy flashed out from the lenses, shooting the gun from the turkey's hand.  

"YEAAAAHHH!!!!!" screamed out as the beam of brilliant energy illuminated the entire room.

The turkey was clearly rattled, and flapped violently as the pistol slipped form his grip.  Before he could recover, however, Jessica Fletcher was in the room, brandishing a wicked looking death ray.  A single blast of the horrible purple and black energy scorched a hole in the turkey's wing.  DeCocco seemed be losing the will to fight, and was just on the verge of surrendering when GLaDOS burst in and used her portal gun to create a never-ending hole, from floor to ceiling, that the turkey fell through.  As the injured turkey reached terminal velocity, unable to flap his wings due to his death ray burns, he came apart and liquified.  

Only left with a puddle of flesh and feathers, Horatio Caine sifted through the mess for a clue.  The turkey had been wearing a fine suit, and pinned to the lapel was a single red flower.  Hoping this clue could lead to Gorlomi's gang, Caine got the rest of his crew back in the truck and drove a few more blocks down Hill Street until arriving at Blake's Florist.  

Blake was a multi-classed Florist/Surfer, and while his laid back attitude worked for his clientele, it annoyed the Estate Agents.  Asked about the flowers, Blake admitted in his relaxed tone that there was a really short man who entered the store earlier and purchased three flowers.  Agent Dingo asked if there was a camera, but Blake didn't want to let the investigators see the video… at least not without some payment.  Horatio Caine pulled a stack of ones out of his back pocket and made it rain all over Blake.  The man was basking in the glory of crumpled, slightly moist one-dollar bills, and just turned his monitor around so that the party could get a look.  

GLaDOS and the Doctor hacked into the machine and started searching the footage from the day.  Sure enough, a short yet massive, turkey-esque looking gentleman donning an Abraham Lincoln mask made the purchase.  There was a vehicle outside, a white sports sedan, of which the hackers also took note.  It was about that time that Horatio Caine reminded his teammates that they had to get moving.  Time was of the essence, and who knew when the Gorlomi crew would strike Big Yamato Fusion!

When the team finally pulled up to the restaurant, which was situated on a pier just over the bay, they feared they were too late.  The sporty yet practical white sedan was already parked in the lot, but inside the restaurant everything looked normal.  The waitstaff was active and people were enjoying their food.  The Estate Agents put their heads together for a few minutes to formulate a master plan but Jessica Fletcher soon grew tired of the debate.  Whether it looked normal or not inside the restaurant, something bad was going to go down.  J-Fletch grabbed her melt-all cypher and simply walked up to an exterior wall of the restaurant, followed by Mark Sanchez and GLaDOS.  

The Brash Vector smashed her vial of clear fluids on the top of the exterior wall, which started to dissolve.  When a hole large enough for a 6'2" quarterback appeared, the Sanchize erupted into the room clutching a football.  With a flick of his wrist, Mark Sanchez signed the ball and then threw it right into the face of a nearby waiter.  The man toppled over unconscious.  

"He's got no hands," the Sanchize stated.  

GLaDOS and J-Fletch also entered the room, and started looking for turkeys, but none were clearly visible.  In the back of the building, Agent Dingo, the Doctor, and Caine entered, forcing their way past head chefs and sous chefs, prep staff and dishwashers.  Nothing was amiss, but at the center of the restaurant, standing at the sushi bar was Iron Chef Chen Kenichi, mouth agape at the extreme methods the Estate agents were using.  

"What are you doing to my restaurant!?!" screamed the Iron Chef Chinese.  

But Horatio Caine just ignored the Iron Chef.  He scanned the room and quickly thought up a plan.  Since the turkeys were so short, they should easily stand out.

"Everyone stand up!" Caine shouted.  "Let's see who's got the short end of the stick."

On the far side of the restaurant there were two diners who weren't standing… and each was wearing an obnoxious Abraham Lincoln mask!  Caine popped a Mentos (a telepathic cypher) and gave another to Agent Dingo as the two investigators approached.  Not only were the pair of masked gentlemen wearing the correct mask, they were also sporting red flowers.  But they refused to stand.  

Carefully, Horatio Caine bumped up against one of the suspects and slid an enslaving ring cypher onto his right talon.  Agent Dingo asked the charmed suspect about their plans, and he started coughing up all the goods.  He told the investigators that a whole bus of goons was coming, and that the agents would have to act fast to not be outnumbered.  When the other suspect, the turkey known as Enzo Gorlomi heard Antonio Margheriti start spilling his guts, he whipped out his own revolver and got ready to use it.  

But The Doctor and J-Fletch were all over Gorlomi!  The Doctor pulled off his Converse sneaker and threw it at the gangster, and for some crazy reason, the turkey dropped his .38 and plucked the flying shoe from flight.  Things then got a little crazy.  J-Fletch went to use her death ray on the turkey, but it exploded in her hands.  Mark Sanchez had been sporting a sawn-off shotgun, and he loaded a gas-cypher shell but when he fired it at point blank range, it not only gave the Gorlomi temporary amnesia, it gave the QB amnesia as well.  

Agent Dingo wanted to finish things quickly, and her powerful Cell Disrupting Hair Dryer cypher could've done the trick but she missed.  Gorlomi then started reaching for a cypher. Just before approaching, Horatio Caine noticed that the two suspects had been bristling with terrible cyphers and he desperately shouted to J-Fletch.

"He's got cyphers!  He's got cyphers!"

The next part played out in bullet time.  Still reeling from the exploding death ray, Jessica Fletcher dropped the broken pieces of her device and locked eyes with Enzo Gorlomi.  Charging forward, the Brash Vector slid to a stop just a few feet from the notorious turkey gangster and completed a perfect roundhouse kick, snapping the bird's neck.  It was finished.

Horatio Caine quickly called the local San Fransokyo police to let them know of an impending robbery at Iron Chef Chen Kenichi's Big Yamato Fusion, while Agent Dingo put Antonio Margheriti into custody.  As the team left the restaurant on the pier the sun was going down on this festive Thanksgiving.  

Jessica Fletcher was quite pleased with her skills, and with her eyes silently commended Mark Sanchez.  Then they high-fived.  J-Fletch then turned to Horatio Caine, and locked gaze with the hard-boiled CSI officer.  Slowly the two moved together and embraced, fiercely.  Strongly.  After a long, languid kiss, Jessica Fletcher and Horatio Caine looked out over the bay.  


Quotes from the Table

"And every time he shoots laser beams they go 'yeaaah!!!'" - Rachel discussing Horatio Caine's power.  

Rachel: "I will speak with that fowl merchant." 
Tom: "He hasn't done anything wrong yet!" 
Rachel: "Water fowl."

"Alright guys… we need to find that chef before his goose is cooked." - Horatio Caine.

Carmel: "I'm just saying, I never saw a turkey dive bomb out of the sky." 
Tom:  "That's cuz nothing lived to tell about it." 

Jim:  "He had a single red flower on his lapel." 
Tom:  "He's just classy, that's all." 

"I look like Olivia Newton John in the Physical video." - Carmel decided that J-Fletch would run from the florist to the restaurant and not take the car.

"I'm gonna melt my stuff and go right in the middle… cuz they won't expect that." - Carmel discusses her plan to break into Big Yamato Fusion

"Who's the turkey po-po… Stouffers?" - Carmel

"Gotta call chief Butterball!" - Jen

Post-Game Report

Okay, I'll admit that this game was a little silly, but that's what happens when you put this crew together.  To be honest, by the end of the game the players were starting to play for "quotes" over experience points, but that's what makes these holiday one-shots so special.  Who knows, maybe we'll get another chance in the future to see J-Fletch and Caine in action.  Perhaps their Honeymoon will be spoiled by some murder most fowl!  

We had an incredible time with the new foci as well, and only a few minor modifications were made in play.  Brandishes a Death Ray seemed to make a bit more sense if the user was "trained" in the death ray, otherwise the payoff didn't seem worth the risk.  Also, I had to seriously tone down my daughter's expectations with GLaDOS's portal gun.  For an 8 year old player it was no big deal, but if you are going to allow another player to choose this focus, be careful that they don't abuse it.  Or at least consider using lots of GM intrusions!  

If you enjoyed these new foci, and would like to check out the other 94, you can hop over to DrivethruRPG and pick up Ryan Chaddock Games' The Translation Codex RIGHT NOW for just $5!  You'll be glad you did!  

Happy Thanksgiving! 

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