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Why ‘The Strange’ Really is Strange

November 09, 2013 | | Comments 10

300x100xStrangeLogo-Color-10101-300x100.jpg.pagespeed.ic.OCld5mrpCQ-1For those who do not know, The Strange is a new RPG game currently being kickstarted by Monte Cook Games. Take a look at the The Strange Kickstarter page to get more specifics on the setting. In a nutshell, it is set in current-day Earth, but it has recursions, which are alternate realities or different worlds you can travel to. I have been following this project closely and, I believe, it has a chance to do something very special in tabletop gaming. Something that has rarely, if ever, been done before.

From speaking with people, and reading online commentary, it is clear to me that most people do not understand what makes The Strange a big deal. Sure, it sounds cool with the two main recursions in the base game: the fantasy world of Ardeyn and the Alien shipwreck of Ruk, which is a sci-fi biotech world. However, this game is built to do something really magical. The Strange has two key points that will allow players, and specifically game masters, to do the often unthinkable.

You know all those RPG books on your shelf? The years and years of collecting and playing? Guess what? They are all instantly available as resource books and adventures to make a recursion in The Strange. The first key point is that ANY, and I mean ANY, previous gaming world can be set up as a recursion to The Strange. Want to go to Faerun? Sure. How about run a Battle Mech for House Steiner? Why not! Want to run spice for House Harkonnen? Watch out for Paul-Maud’Dib. For every single book on your shelf, the answer is yes.

Converting a game you like into a rule system you want to play is nothing new in the Tabletop RPG community. Unfortunately, it is a labor of love, very heavy on the labor portion of the equation. Even converting something from an older edition of rules to a newer edition of rules, in the same game world, can be arduous. It is often so difficult that thoughts of doing it are quickly abandoned. So, why in the world would I want to pull that copy of of my favorite adventure of all time, Expedition to Castle Ravenloft, off the shelf and convert it to run as a recursion in The Strange?

Well, the second key point to what makes The Strange really special is that it runs off the same cypher system that powers Numenera. If you have not played Numenera, it is a very GM friendly system. It’s elegant rules are simple to implement quickly. With these rules, you can run an adventure with no pre-conversion needed. Yes, I said it, you can convert a game on the fly, very simply, as you play. This is absolutely unheard of in the RPG world.

Let me show you how. Let’s zoom into my homemade recursion of Barovia, I have my Expedition to Castle Ravenloft book (3.5 edition D&D), I have randomly opened the page… Ah, we are in the Castle itself, in the Northtower peak (Encounter K60B, pages 109 and 160 for those following along at home).

Ravenloft Map
 
The top room of this tower is a somber mosaic of gray and black tile. Ornate coffins are strewn about, all closed but one. A mausoleum-like door seals off one section of the room.

First off, there is a ‘Circle of Death’ trap on the the very last step. The sourcebook says it is a DC 29 to both find and activate. That is a high-end magical trap for level 10 players in 3E D&D, so I am going to make that a difficulty 7 (formidable) Intellect task in the cypher system to both find and disable. If the trap does go off, we are going to ignore the whole ‘Circle of Death’ BS. That spell is either save or die (which sucks) or doesn’t effect a creature at all if they are over 9 hit dice (which sucks). Instead, we will give everyone in short range a difficulty 7 speed task to prevent 7 points of damage.

In the room there are three creatures, a vampire spawn, a Forsaken Shell, and a Shadow.

Ravenloft Vampire SpawnLet’s look at the Vampire Spawn:

- I will make The Vampire Spawn a Level 5 creature.

- This creature has a blood drain ability that, in 3.5 D&D, drains constitution to re-heal itself if the opponent is pinned. Converting for this recursion, if the vampire has an opponent held (difficulty 5 might test), she can do an attack at one step in her favor (difficulty 6 might test) for 5 damage that heals herself 5 as well. We don’t have to worry about the CON damage, as Might is the first damage taken in the cypher system.

- She also has domination, a perennial GM favorite. In the source book, it is a DC 14 Will save, range 30 feet. So we will make it range close, and a difficulty 4 intellect test. Failure mean that you are a vampire spawn puppet. Which would be a lot of fun! Well, maybe not for everyone at the table.

- Next up, Energy Drain. DC 14 fortitude save or you get a negative level and the vampire heals. Negative levels? BARF! Lets do something fun with this one, as the idea is to sap the ever-living life-force out of someone. Lets say that this attack (difficulty 5 might test) will do 3 points of damage to whatever pool is the lowest. Hit them where it hurts. And, of course, also heal the vampire 3.

- The vampire has fast healing, giving it 2 point back a turn. If ever reduced to zero, it goes gaseous and tries to escape. We will keep that ability just as it is.

- Speaking of Gaseous form, she can do it as an action. Going gaseous will make her fly. While in this form, the vamp can’t do anything, and any physical attacks don’t harm her. But you can still blast her with anything energy/magic that the GM thinks appropriate.

- Lastly, she has Spider climb, where she can climb sheer surfaces. No modification needed their either.

- Looking at other odds and ends, you can see she has a +10 to her hide check in D&D. So in the cypher system, if she hides and someone tries to find her, you can give her 1 or 2 steps favor on the player’s roll.  She also has the improved initiative feat, so you could make her be considered a level 6 creature when it comes to initiative.  You can take or leave all of this. The detail is completely up to you and what you feel is appropriate for your story and your game.

The same idea is followed for the Forsaken Shell and the Shadow that are in the room. And the same process for the 2nd trap, a chute down to an area below. After they finish with that room, they can do a difficulty 3 intellect test to search the room and possibly find some treasure in the coffins. The emeralds and jade sculpture can remain the same, just converting to whatever The Strange uses for currency. The potion of haste? I will give them a potion cypher that gives them +1 to their speed edge for an hour, maybe even a +2 if it was a hard earned fight. You could think up fun stuff for the rest of the treasure as well, or roll on the randomized charts.

That’s it.  You don’t have to pre-plan all that. Just have the adventure as written, read what the situation is and what any creatures can do normally,  and then modify it on the fly to fit into the cypher system. For those of you who are not familiar with the Numenera rules / cypher system, I apologize. You probably don’t know half of what I am trying to explain. But, take this main idea away. It is dead-simple to do instant conversions in the cypher system. And with the idea of recursions, it is easy to bring your favorite game world to new life inside ‘The Strange’.

The Strange is currently in Kickstarter, but has already funded. Many stretch goals are being met, so I encourage you to check it out. If you are not a kickstarted user, expect The Strange to be available around August 2014. Numenera is available physically in stores now. If you want them in PDF form, check out DriveThru RPG.

Let me know your thoughts and what will be your first recursion into The Strange?

You already know mine. Long live Count Strahd von Zarovich!!!

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About the Author: My first experiences with serious gaming came from the Hero Quest board game. I then made the next step to the RoboTech RPG and a lunchtime meeting of AD&D Oriental Adventures. My interests now are pretty much the same. Boardgames and RPGS. Some of my favorites boardgames are currently Settlers of Catan, Wings of War, Battlestar Galactica, and Space Alert. For RPGS, it is Aces & Eights and Chronicles of the Shattered Empire (Arcanis). But I am always down for a good round of Dungeons & Dragons.

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