Thursday, May 26, 2016

Cypher System Fantasy - A Shark at the Finish Line

A Shark at the Finish Line

This is it, the end of the road for this Cypher System Fantasy meets The Strange campaign.  This whole thing started off last summer as a way to test-drive the new Cypher System Rulebook, and get an idea of how it handles traditional fantasy.  Of course I had to go and break that "test-drive" and completely "jump the shark" a few months later after revealing that everything had been part of The Strange all along.  

I'm going to toot my own horn a little, as I think the big plot twist was a success.  With the exception of Frank, the only other player who was "in" on the twist, everyone seemed surprised when their Ardeyn characters ended up on Earth.  This all happened at the end of a climactic scene on a ziggurat located at the heart of a Starless Sea.  One minute the player characters and battling evil, and the next they are checking into a Hampton Inn.  Since I knew this was coming, I essentially built the entire campaign up for this single moment.

In hindsight I wish that I had been better prepared for everything that came after this game master jumped the shark.  

"My life was perfectly fine until Sister Sariety dragged my ass over here!" - Shenuesh.  

The first ten adventures of the campaign were certainly lighthearted, especially when it came to "player character-to-player character" interaction.  Zamani was needled constantly about whether or not he was a wizard, and for some reason Sister Sariety had terrible luck when it came to wells.  But most of this originated at the game table, and not in the campaign setting itself.  The players made the jokes, but the campaign was relatively sincere when it came to the story.  Up until the end of Sailors on the Starless Sea (session 10), we were enjoying the typical fantasy campaign.

At one point I made a comparison about how our transition to The Strange was inspired by "Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time".  Little did I know that the analogy was spot on, even before I experienced the campy mess that I created post-session 10.  The last three adventures of this campaign were straight out of a terrible late '80's, early 90's B-movie.  Let's review some of the scenes:

  • Fantasy characters trashed a Hampton Inn hotel room.
  • Zamani experienced bacon for the first time, and became an addict.
  • The entire party played D&D "in game" with two local, truck-driving, hunters.  
  • The super secret evil organization owned a golf course.
  • The PC's infiltrated the aforementioned golf course, and did battle with golf-club cyphers.  
  • The entire final scene...

While I'm being critical of myself, I should also note that I'm a little torn on how I ended the campaign.  I don't think I did a very good job as game master and storyteller.  What seemed to be a fairly fun inter-party dilemma could've been executed in a much better fashion.  You'll see soon enough, but Marc really put this in perspective when he said this:

"That was easily the strangest ending to any adventure I've ever been in." 

Perhaps I'm being overly critical, as it seemed like everyone had a good time.  But I think I learned some valuable lessons running this campaign, and I'll carry them through as I move forward to the next.

I need to spend more time listening to what the players want from their characters.  Looking back, there were so many opportunities to explore Shenuesh's backstory, and while I touched on them a few times, I never went deeper.  I should have, and regret not doing so.  The same goes for the potential relationship between Verrenn and his grandson Yaren.  

I also turned the bad guys into idiots.  Seriously, I had the Bradley Cooperative running a golf course.  Why?  At this point I had gone so far off the rails, that I was delving into "gonzo nuts", DCCRPG Crawling Under a Broken Moon style antics.  

So that's it.  That's my rant.  Lessons learned, and at least my players stuck with me through the end.  I think they may even be staying through for the next campaign!

Living 4 Crits Presents

Cypher System Fantasy/The Strange Campaign

Gabriella Winter and the Dragon Curse of Ardeyn


  • 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
* Ugallu is a race option from Broken Immersion by Ryan Chaddock Games
** 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 12: Dragon Hunt, Part Two


The fantasy characters from Ardeyn, along with their handler from the Estate, fled the scene of the helicopter attack by hot wiring an RV.  Rather than fleeing town, the party figured that the Bradley Cooperative would never expect them to return.  So Gabriella drove the RV to a parking lot located a half mile away from the Bradley Cooperative's super-secret, golf course base of operations as part of a stakeout.  

While observing the Bradley Cooperative from a distance, the party heard something strange underneath the RV.  After investigating, they noticed a still-drunk woman exit the storage compartment, looking for "Steve."  The woman entered the RV, and Verrenn locked her in a stasis field.  Gabriella had the idea to use the drunk as a distraction.  Using her suggestion twist, Gabriella convinced the woman to crash the RV into the side of the golf course clubhouse.  Everyone climbed out of the RV for this scene, except for Yaren, who accidentally got left on board.  Fortunately he escaped before the crash.

While everyone at the Bradley Cooperative dealt with the RV crash, the party sneaked into the largest building on the complex.  From the outside, the building appeared to be a seventy foot wide storage shed, but once inside, the team found a feathered dragon monitoring an iMac.  

Verrenn was the first to the dragon, and let loose with an arcane flare against the dragon's Baezedaar Bracer.  Thee attack missed, as the dragon appeared to be a hologram.  After chiding the party for thinking a full-grown monster would be sitting in the middle of a storage locker, the dragon requested a parlay.  

The dragon wanted to make a deal.  It admitted that it needed the four visitors from Ardeyn to stay on Earth so that the combined power of the remaining bracers could finish summoning the World's Scale, a massive draconic planetovore.  Once the World's Scale arrived, it would devour Earth, freeing Ardeyn forever, and then the dragon would help the Ardynians return home.  The dragon believed that the people of Earth, especially the Estate, would eventually turn on Ardeyn, after raiding it for magic and resources over time.  The dragon also informed the Ardynians that they were all just "stories" and "NPC"s being used by The Estate.  Unlike Gabriella or even himself, the dragon told the four fantasy characters that they lacked the "spark", and should they take off the bracers, they would become mindless minions.  He said that Gabriella knew this, but was not sharing the information with her team.    

Given that the characters from Ardeyn were not happy to be on Earth, and Gabbie was looking to be somewhat dishonest, the deal was sounding pretty good.  

While searching the room, Zamani broke the hologram projector, causing the dragon's image to disappear.  Gabriella was able to detect the surface thoughts of the dragon, and noted to the party that it was less than fifty feet away.  Shenuesh's sharp perception led the werecreature to the corner of the room, in an area surrounded by boxes.  Using his shatter spell, Verrenn blasted the boxes away one by one, finally revealing a small drainpipe, where an eight inch tall dragon sat in front of an iPhone sized iMac.  

The dragon popped out of the drain and continued his plea to have the Ardynians help him in his cause, and for quite a long time the entire party was deadlocked.  The Ardynians didn't trust Gabriella and the Estate, and at least the dragon was from their home recursion.  It soon became apparent that half of the party might turn on the other half.  Out of nowhere, Zamani attacked Gabriella, just before Yaren attacked the dragon.  

Yaren used his powerful katana for a razor sharp slice against a tiny, thimble-sized Baezedaar bracer.  Once the blade connected, the bracer, exploded, and the dragon fell to the floor.  With the laws of magic no longer governing the dragon, the creature's shrunken lungs could not support it's mass.  Even though it looked small, it still weighed as much as a full sized dragon.  Eventually the poor creature died.  

The party left the golf course and returned to the Estate.  After a brief debriefing, the four Ardynians returned home.  Yaren, Zamani, and Shenuesh all destroyed their bracers, but Verrenn kept his.  Perhaps it would be the secret to returning the undead to life.  

Notable Moments

  • I used an image of "Ke$ha for the drunken woman locked into the lower part of the RV.  When she tried climbing into the vehicle, Zamani, in all his furry glory, tried stopping her.  She just called him "Jeff" and pushed past, grabbing a cold baconator out of the fridge.  Zamani went nuts for the baconator, and there was much inner party conflict over the sandwich, especially when Verrenn locked it within the woman's stasis field.
  • Most campaigns end with a "big bad", but I wanted this one to end differently... hence the tiny dragon.  The dragon became tiny through magic, so that it could stay hidden and out of sight.  The amount of effort spent on searching for the dragon and trying to ascertain the truth of the creature's "deal", was almost as much as the party could've sustained during a battle.  
  • The scene where the party parlayed with a dragon took nearly an hour from start to finish.  The dragon pressed for the party (at least those of Ardeyn) to join his side, and there was a short time when I thought this would happen.  
  • In the last moments before Yaren attacked the dragon's Baezedaar Bracer, everyone started powering up.  Spells were cast, cyphers used, and I really thought there was going to be a conflict, but wasn't sure who was going to be attacking who.  When Zamani punched Gabriella I thought the campaign had imploded.  I was close to being right.
  • I big question throughout the end of the game was what would happen if one of the Ardynians took off their bracer?  Frank's character actually knew the truth: those from Ardeyn were lacked the "Spark", and would become mindless NPC's on Earth.  But originally, I was going to have the characters "translate" into the players.  Zamani would become Andrew Lyon, and Shenuesh would become Jeremy Land, and so on.  


"I wanna get to Shop n'Save!" - Craig saw a grocery store on Google Maps, right near the Bradley Cooperative headquarters.

"Yeah sister!  How does this thing work?" - Zamani wanted to hot wire the RV.

"I look like a freakin' green ghost person... BOO!" - Marc describes his character for Ke$ha.

"I could cast ray of confusion, but I don't think it would do anything to her." - Marc, regarding Ke$ha.

"I don't care about the girl, I just want the Baconator!" - Zamani was really ticked off that Verrenn's stasis field kept his beloved Wendy's sandwich trapped in Ke$ha's hand.

"My life was perfectly fine until Sister Sariety dragged my ass over here!" - Shenuesh to the rest of the party.

"We got tons of experience points to use until someone rolls a nineteen or twenty." - Frank justifying one final attack against the level 9 bracer.

"The Schlieffen Plan!" - Jim exclaimed, as everyone powered up for combat.

"Who's attacking who?  Is it every many for himself?" - Craig started to panic.

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