Thursday, January 21, 2016

Artifacts in The Strange

Monte Cook Games is about to celebrate the release of the Encyclopedia of Impossible Things -- a cypher and artifact book for The Strange -- with 10 days of previews and a contest.  This exciting program got me thinking about artifacts in the game and some ways to better integrate them into your campaigns.

As you know by now, I am not reluctant to break rules in the game to tell what I think will be a fun story.  I love the concept of cyphers changing forms to match the technology and setting of a new recursion.  This approach reinforces the notion of recursions as information constructs and provides fun potential for reimagining different cyphers.  A taser on earth can be an immobilizing organism in Ruk or a charming pendant in Ardeyn.  I like to let my players propose what their cyphers will look like in new settings.  This gets the players involved in the fiction and setting of the game.

What I was confused by in the rules is the limitations imposed on artifacts.  By the book, artifacts do not translate.  They are embedded in and specific to the code of a recursion.  My dreams of imagining what Excalibur would look like in Ruk were shot (if I followed the rules, that is).

TM and © 2014 Monte Cook Games, LLC
Of course, the rules never stop me.  I can understand the concern.  Artifacts are, by design, more powerful than cyphers.  Cyphers are one shot items that can, at most, disrupt a single scene -- and usually in a greatly entertaining way.  Artifacts are persistent with a change to "deplete" or become inert.  This means that artifacts have the chance of disrupting multiple scenes if they are too power.  And, why would you not want artifacts that are dramatic?  The limitation of artifacts to a single recursion lets you develop the story around each a little more and mitigates the potentially disruptive effectives on the game.

I am not persuaded that these concerns warrant a blanket rule.  I have no problem with using a GM intrusion to deplete an artifact that is disruptive, for instance.  I see more up-side to having flavorful artifacts that translate across recursions so I treat most artifacts as cyphers for purposes of translation and changing form.  I can imagine a scenario where I would want to limit an artifact to a single recursion -- but that would be the exception to me rather than the rule.

So let me provide a couple of examples of how loosening this restriction sets up interesting gaming moments.

Consider Excalibur.  Making it possible for artifacts to cross recursions opens up a number of fun story moments.  Would Excalibur look like a monofilament blade in Ruk?  In a child-like recursion, it could be the most awesome wrapping-paper roll sword ever.  Is it possible that Excalibur originated on another recursion (meteorite?  likely story....) and has a different original form?  All of these story possibilities hinge on the chance that artifacts can translate across recursions.

The first preview is of the Spellbook of Thoth ( ). I will provide some examples of how allowing it to translate will open up story potential. First, and most obviously, you could encounter the tome on Earth. As written, it originated on the New Kingdom recursion. It is no a stretch to imagine someone bringing this to Earth. That lets you have a story of tracking down a dangerous mystical tome on Earth. It could be that the tome includes more than just the spells listed and the players must recover the tome to avoid cultists using it to perform some large ritual of badness.

Also consider how the tome could take different forms in different recursions. In Ruk it could be a data crystal with various programs on it (the spells being the programs). As above, its age could hint at fragments of the All Code on the crystal -- but these fragments come at a huge price. Be careful when you "correlate [all] the contents" of ancient All Code fragments (with apologies to HPL).

When you move the artifact over, you may need to modify the aesthetics of some of the powers. Summoning an ape may not make sense in Ruk - summon a servitor robot or hard light construct instead.

It only takes a moment to envision what an artifact might look like within the trope of a given recursion -- and it is a moment of fun if you take the chance.

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