Sunday, February 15, 2015

Monte Cook and Kevin Crawford are chocolate and peanut butter

The Ninth World is a great place to visit but I wouldn't want to game there.
Part of my struggle with the Numenera setting is a basic difference of philosophy. I read once that Monte Cook is not a fan of origin stories.  I absolutely love origin stories.  I want to know why things are as they are.  The inscrutability of Numenera intentionally deflects "why?".  Monte makes a point of not telling players why things are the way the are; it's all part of his Weird aesthetic.

Kevin Crawford, author of Other Dust and about thirty other amazing books, is all about Why.  Context is key to understanding his settings; his back stories are deep but not boggy.  His writing embodies Kenneth Hite's principle of every sentence containing at least one gameable idea.

The sense of context that Kevin brings to his products extends to his random tables as well.  In the latest issue of The Sandbox, his free pdf periodical, there are two one-roll generators called What's That Abandoned Structure? and A Quick Backwater Spaceport. They work by rolling all the gaming dice from d4 to d20 at once and consulting six short but idea-rich tables.   These are ideal for generating quick ruins, claves and settlements for Numenera.  The What's That Abandoned Structure? table has the following categories:

  • Where are the usable entrances?
  • What's its most noticeable form of decay?
  • What was its original use?
  • What's worth finding in it?
  • What dangers exist in it?
  • What interesting features does it have? 
Rolling on this, I got a structures whose external sheathing is decaying and falling away.  Its usable entrance is a sinkhole or tunnel to a basement level.  Originally, it was a government building of some sort. Inside is a somewhat cumbersome but precious object.  Something is emitting dangerous gas or radiation.  The running water still works and is stuck on.

To turn this into a Numenera ruin, I did two things. First, I changed the question of original use to "What was its most recent use?" which allows for an inscrutable past as well as some recent context. Then I rolled on the A Weird Thing About That Ancient Structure table from Monte Cook's Injecting the Weird glimmer pdf.  I came up with "Interior is akin to a hive, with honeycomb
walls, floors, and ceilings."

So I have a decaying building whose exterior sheathing is coming off but for some reason cannot be accessed except through a subterranean tunnel.  It was most recently used as a government building  and is full of honeycomb-like structure on the walls, floor and ceilings. Perhaps the building has been overtaken by some insectoid creature or hive of creatures.  Hazards, complications and sources for GM intrusions include running water stuck on  (water source for current residents), radiation or gas (possibly not harmful to the current residents) and the current residents themselves. There is a cumbersome but precious object here (a discovery, in Numenera parlance.  Perhaps a stasis pod or datasphere access point that provides warmth or energy for the current occupants but also puts out a radiation that is harmful to humans and mutants.) After flipping through the Numenera bestiary, I've decided that a swarm of Caffa or some new radiation-resistant variant are the current occupants.

That's a pretty decent adventure site from seven die rolls.  Kevin's basic structure plus one of Monte's weird details gave me a great basis for a location.  Adding in a few of Monte's insectoid beasties from the Numenera core book and I've got one corner of the Ninth World ready for adventure.  I'm sure that if I follow the format for the Backwater Spaceport (roll on the table, weird it up with an NPC or other element from the glimmer) I could come up with a clave worth remembering.

I think a little context goes a long way towards making the Ninth World more accessible to me as a GM, and by extension to any future players I may host. Mixing Kevin Crawford's excellent context-building tools with just a dash of  Monte Cook's aesthetic of the weird and unexplainable will gives me a more accessible and therefore playable Ninth World.