Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Cyphering the Starbucks Experience

A Taste for Adventure

Oh, Starbucks.  How we adore thee!  If its a Thursday evening, and my mother-in-law offers to watch the trio-of-doom, the very first place my wife and I visit is our local Starbucks.  The sights, the smells, the tastes…

… mmm… the tastes!

My wife and I are Starbucks addicts, and we're not ashamed to admit the fact.  Yes, we totally understand that we are buying five-dollar coffees, and that its a terribly wasteful habit.  But we don't care, and this is a judgement free zone, FYI.

Besides, this isn't a review about Starbucks, rather its a blog post about using Starbucks in your roleplaying games.

Yes, I'm serious.

I'll agree that this makes for kind of a strange post, but I committed to running with it earlier today.  Around lunch time I was sitting in a Starbucks, drinking one of my favorite tasty beverages (it was a grande coconut milk latte), just trying to think of something to write about later.  I always carry a Numenera notepad in my work briefcase just in case an amazing idea pops into my mind. 

So there I was, sitting with my notepad open, trying to think of something to write…

… and there were NO amazing ideas popping up.

I had "blogger's block!"  

But then I started looking around the room and an idea popped into my head.  Quickly I tossed this post on Facebook:

"Sitting at lunch. Thought I'd try to write something... but blogger's block has returned again. Maybe I could 'stat' a Starbucks barista across multiple RPG systems…"

Like most crazy ideas I come up with, this one festered.  I left Starbucks and attended several meetings before heading home from work.  But the entire time (through both meetings and the drive) I kept thinking about about Starbucks from an RPG perspective.  Writing something for multiple settings would be a lot of work for one blog post, but perhaps I could contain all of that caffeinated goodness in one system…

… one Cypher System!  

Why stop at a single barista, though?  There are many adventuring possibilities contained within a single Starbucks!

Cypher Starbucks

Two years ago this post would've just covered Starbucks in the Ninth World of Numenera, but now that it's 2015, and we have both The Strange and the Cypher System Rulebook (CSR), I've gotta be open to Starbucks across the entire Cypher-verse.  But hey, feel free to use any of these ideas in any way you want.

Or don't use them, because the more I think of it, the more I realize that this is a terribly cheesy idea.  You've been warned.  

Let's start with something simple…

What is a Starbucks?

Let's get real, the very nature of Starbucks changes as you go from one game to another.  

Cypher System Rulebook Starbucks

This really is the easiest path to including a Starbucks in your Cypher games.  Perhaps the fantasy genre is a bit far fetched for a Starbucks, but your superheroes, horror, and modern games could definitely include corporate coffee houses.  Even in a science fiction setting, there is no reason why Starbucks wouldn't spread to the rest of the solar system and beyond.  

Ninth World Starbucks

Numenera is all about the "weird," so I see no reason why you couldn't just include Starbucks in your Ninth World adventures.  To be clear, I'm not suggesting you reskin anything… just throw the actual Starbucks into your Numenera campaign "as is."  You know that massive city of Qi?  I bet there are at least fifteen Starbucks locations surrounding the University of Qi.  There's a really great location in the City of Bridges overlooking the Merchant Docks as well.  

Imagine the look on your players faces as their characters walk down the road and run right into that green logo.  What's weirder than that?

I can sense you shaking your head in disbelief and disgust.  But hey, if you want serious adventure seeds for Numenera, you should be following +Marc Plourde not me.

The Starbucks Recursion

Okay, the meat and potatoes of this section is Starbucks as a recursion in The Strange.  Maybe the reason that there are so many Starbucks locations throughout the world is that each and every one is the same location… the same recursion… but they just appear different to each patron.  So when you walk into a Starbucks in Portland, it's actually a recursion, and the very same location as the Indianapolis Starbucks attached to the Omni Severin.  

Mind blown!

Starbucks Attributes
  • Level:  5
  • Laws:  Mad Science
  • Playable Races:  Human, although all are welcome
  • Foci:  Draggable plus Calculates the Incalculable, Doesn't Do Much, Interprets the Law, and Would Rather be Reading
  • Skills:  Coffee Bean Lore, Starbucksian Etiquette 
  • Connection to the Strange:  There's a "Dark Energy Network Frap" that's on the secret menu.  If you drink it you instantly translate to the Strange itself.  With a frappuccino in your hand.
  • Connection to Earth:  There are translation gates to Starbucks on virtually every street corner on Earth.  Seriously, go to downtown Pittsburgh and they are friggin' everywhere.
  • Size:  The size of a Starbucks… because it's a Starbucks.
  • Spark:  100%
  • Trait:  Relaxing.  Spending Intellect Effort for research, studying, or any other knowledge/lore seeking efforts costs 1 less point of Intellect.  


Have you ever wondered what a barista would look with role-playing stats?  I sure have!  Perhaps you won't agree with my take on these creative crafters of creamy coffee, but that's too bad.  

My blog.  My rules.

Barista 5(15)
  • Motive:  Just wants to make you the perfect coffee
  • Environment:  Can be found in any Starbucks location.  Occasionally a Barista has to take out the trash, and may be found outside a Starbucks location… but not too far.
  • Health:  15
  • Damage Inflicted:  
    • 5 points (melee, very long, thin metal spoon)
    • 3 points (ranged, thrown plastic green no-splash thingies)
  • Armor:  2 (that green apron is made of kevlar (CSR/The Strange) or woven nano-tubes (Numenera)
  • Movement:  Short
  • Modifications:
    • Positive social interaction as level 6
    • Resist intimidation as level 7
    • Make incredible coffee as level 10
  • Combat:  Look, baristas don't like to get into fights.  Have you ever seen a barista take out a velociraptor?  Heck no!  That barista would rather make that tiny feathered dinosaur a really yummy hot cookie.  But when a barista has to throw down, they don't hold back.
    • Doubleshot:  If a barista is corned, they can't reach in their apron and pull out a pair of espresso shot glasses full of scalding hot espresso.  They are always full.  The barista can make an attack against two targets at an immediate distance, both of whom need to make a Speed Defense roll at a difficulty of 5.  If struck by the hot espresso, the target takes 5 points of Speed Damage.  
    • You Got Frap'd:  A barista can lob an icy cold frappuccino against a target, although they are very polite about this attack.  Often they will shout "enjoy your drink" while the condensation-covered cup soars through the air.  This is a short-ranged attack, and affects everyone in an immediate distance.  Anyone who fails a Might Defense roll to "endure the cold" takes 3 points of cold damage (ignores armor) and immediately starts shivering uncontrollably.  For the next round all of the target's actions are performed at one additional step of difficulty.  
  • Interaction:  When a barista greets someone they often ask if they are ready to place their order.  If not, the barista waits patiently, smiling.  If approached in a threatening manner, the barista may ask if the target would like to speak to a manager (a 7(21) NPC).  
  • Use:  Sometimes your player characters want coffee.
  • Loot:  Choose one of the three new cyphers that are found in this blog.  

Tasty Cypher Goodness

The Cypher System wouldn't be the Cypher System if there weren't cyphers.  These one-use special items take on the "theme" and "flavor" of their home campaign settings.  So in Numenera a cypher is an ancient piece of technology that has one final use left.  In The Strange a cypher is a small snippet of the "god code" that is the alien dark energy network.  In The CSR, a cypher is just about anything you want it to be.  

I'm offering you three new cyphers for your campaigns, to use however you see fit.  I guess you could technically reskin regular cyphers into Starbucks-themed cyphers.  Perhaps that mocha frap is actually a Detonation (Web) Cypher, ready to be thrown at incoming hipsters!  That instant Starbucks blueberry oatmeal could function as a Stim, helping your character with one really tough roll.  

Or you could skip "reskinning", and go with one of these three items:

Hot Venti Carmel Macchiato 
  • Level:  1d6+2
  • Effect:  This is my wife Jennifer's favorite drink, and she orders it whenever she goes to Target.  Or when she leaves Target to continue shopping elsewhere.  I'm pretty sure that the C-Macch helps her shopping, probably because its so good at focusing your mind on finding the best deals.  After your first sip of a Hot Venti Carmel Macchiato, and for the next hour, the difficulty of all searches for good deals, values, and sales is reduced by three.  

Pumpkin Spice Frappuccino
  • Level:  1d6+1
  • Effect:  This is nasty.  Just… nasty.  I don't know who would want to drink a pumpkin frap, but I'd just want to throw it at someone I didn't like.  A Pumpkin Spice Frappuccino can be thrown like a grenade, up to a short distance.  Upon impact, all targets within immediate range take damage equal to the cypher's level, and get the pumpkin spice taste stuck in their mouth, making them terribly nauseous.  For a number of rounds equal to the cypher's level, the target can't stop spitting, and must spend 2 points of Intellect to focus on any other action besides spitting that nasty gunk out of their mouth.  Should've kept your mouth closed!  

Venti Iced Coconut Milk Latte
  • Level:  1d6+4
  • Effect:  The beverage of beverage!  Whether hot or cold, I love coconut milk latte's.  They are my favorite drink at Starbucks.  But since it's still technically summer, we're going to stat the icy variety!  After drinking a Venti Iced Coconut Milk Latte, smooth NPR-style jazz starts playing in the user's head.  It doesn't matter what setting (The Strange, Cypher Horror, Numenera, whatever), there's smooth jazz.  For a number of rounds equal to the Cypher level, the jazz continues and the user gains specialization in smooth jazz lore and two skills of their choice.  This does not stack with existing training or specialization.  


I hope you've enjoyed this Cyphering of the Starbucks experience.  If there is any chance that you use any of these weird and crazy rules and guidelines in your game, please let me know!  I'd love to find out how, and more importantly why you thought it was a good idea to follow my advice.  

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