Monday, October 21, 2013

Rifts and Words: A Microscope Session

For RPG Geek’s Virtuacon I ran two sessions, the first being a dedicated world-building game of Microscope on Friday. I’ll post tomorrow on the whole con experience, what I learned this weekend, and how Sunday's follow up Fate Accelerated session in this world went. Below is a slightly cleaned up version of the timeline the five players created. They’d decided beforehand to do something ‘post-apocalyptic,' but came in not knowing exactly what that meant. Afterwards I wrote up a narrative summary to give potential players in the world something to hang their head on. I’m not sure which part should be read first. Note that this version uses an abbreviated form with questions instead of scenes. 

BIG PICTURE: The fabric of reality rent.

PALETTE
ADD
  • Multiple dimensions
  • Limited magic
  • Superhumans
  • Mutants
  • Dimension ‘deniers’ - cult
  • Stories as currency

BAN
  • Giant robots
  • Doomsday “device”
  • Zombies
  • No deliberate manipulation of dimensional tears
  • Advanced futuristic tech
  • Other non-human species

PERIOD: DAY OF RENDING (D)
  • Star-cross'd lovers from different dimensions prompt a conflict between factions that accidentally opens the rifts. (D)
  • Question: What happened to the Star-Cross’d lovers? The energy released killed Garsh Hasek, and his lover Jhanna escaped into the rift vowing revenge. (D)
  • Technology eating demons come through a rift, starting in Japan of Dimension Alpha (D)
  • Over the course of a week, an unknown event turns books turn to dust and blanks all the Kindles/ebooks. (D)
  • Question: What destroyed the stories? The dimensional rifts leaked magic across the attached dimensions, transforming story’s meaning- “words”- into power which seeped into people and the air. (D)
  • A dimensional portal opens in the middle of a stadium at Super Bowl half-time on Dimension Zohar. (D)
  • The first Mutant is born to family present at the Super Bowl game. (L)
  • Within the span of days, tens of thousands of men, women, and children are killed as unknown diseases appear across each world.  Families are torn apart. (D)
  • A new project, called Rift Pandect,  begins with explorers, scientists, and governments across the world working together to catalogue portals and dimensions. (L)

PERIOD: THE GREAT DIVIDE - Seemingly irreparable schisms form among human-kind (D)
  • Mass incidents of botched surgeries and infanticide sweep through dimensions as families try to hide mutant infants. (D)
  • Question: What did the enemy (the people looking for mutants) do with these lost souls? Rumors abound, but there are suspicious dark vehicles that look like large beetles (insect) crawling the countryside, belching black smoke and sending shivers up the spines of anyone caught in their path. (D)
  • Escapees from a prison camp free others imprisoned by Elite Humans called The Elected. Malik Hutchens, leader of the escapees, sought to reunite with his lover, but found him DEAD!!!! (D)
  • In a hijacked broadcast, Malik Hutchens, with his army of wronged mutants and other undesirables at his back, declares war on the Elite Humans of The Elected. (L)
  • After some of the Elite Humans claim to have found a dimension free of mutants, they escape through. The portal vanishes behind them. The power of the Elected on Dimension Zohar collapses. (L)
  • Chuck Woolery reveals his theory that the dimensional rifts happen because of True Love being denied. (L)

PERIOD: THE AGE OF THE MYSTERIOUS (L)
  • The teaching of Word Magic becomes regulated with the founding of the School of Words in Dimension Fenris. (L)
  • Jhanna appears to a group of women. They start a cult worshipping her and decrying rifts as evil. (L)
  • Question: What does this cult intend to do about the rifts? Close them by sacrificing Mutant babies. (D)
  • A mutant named Mok’ek survives the attempt at sacrifice because one of the cultists gains conscience. (L)
  • The Jhannate responsible for Mok’ek’s release is captured and claims Chuck Woolery’s theory as her defense. (L)
  • The Jhannates are absorbed into Fenris’ Word Speaker units and their name stricken from records, in atonement for their past transgressions. (L)

PERIOD: EURASIA FROM DIMENSION 342342-A “ALPHA” GOES TO WAR WITH EURASIA 352435-F “FENRIS” (D)
  • An Elite Unit from Fenris is captured by Alpha forces while trying to do recon. (D)
  • Question: What were Commander M’s secret orders, the ones he risked his people for?  His orders were to launch a preemptive strike on the enemy Alpha command structure. (D)
  • Forces from Alpha learn of the preemptive attack and begin sending their untrained Word Speaker units to strike at Fenris. (D)
  • Question: What did the famous 342342-A Alpha scientist Adv’em sacrifice to collect enough Word Magic when he realized they didn’t have enough mutants to pull off the attack? The dimension of his lover Rhazah Kash when he learned the secrets of the dimension-shattering Final Words rituals. (D)
  • The most powerful Word Speaker, Orfek’ Bator, fueled by the Final Words ritual, tells the tale of the destruction of Wester Euro of Fenris. (D)
  • Question: Whose side was he on? Orfek built a coalition of all the factions caught in between the two sides. (L)
  • With the destruction of Wester Euro 352435-F Fenris and it’s stories, Mok’ek gathers his people (the modified copies of himself) to take advantage of the void, and they gain a foothold in Fenris. (L)
  • Question: How does Mok’ek become the leader? Mok'ek reveals his mutant power, the ability to transform people into echoes of himself. He slowly shifts his dimension’s populace into copies of himself. (D)
  • Question: Who was there in 352435-F Fenris before Mokek’s dominion?  The people of Wester Euro had founded the School of Words, thereby holding not only the greatest Word Speakers in the dimension, but also the only systemized means to teach the art. (L)

PERIOD: THE RECKONERS’ EXODUS (L)
  • Dimension 352435-F Fenris is brought under the rule by their first mutant leader, Mok’ek. (L)
  • Paranoia seizes Mok’ek’s mind, and he begins to execute people by the hundreds. (D)
  • Question: What tales did the Jhannite dreams tell him that drove him mad? They showed him how each of his copies ended up flawed- all slightly different from himself and the revelation made him panic. (D)
  • Ek’em, the first of the non- Mok'eks, assassinates the head Mok’ek. (L)
  • Jhanna appears once again and graciously accepts Ek’em’s nomination to fill the void Mok’ek’s death has left. (L)
  • Question: What happened to all the other Mok’eks after the head Mok’ek dies?  Although their physical forms remain that of Mok’ek, each is now forced to view the world through their own eyes and to develop through their own experiences. (L)
  • Ek’em abandons the rifts and outlaws their use. (L)
  • Fragmented Sects of the School of Words begins to secretly train and look to their Jhannate roots as they gather power. (L)
  • The last True Mok’eks, called Reckoners, leave through the rift to keep their Mok’ekness pure. (D)

The Shape of the Worlds
The coming of the rifts shattered the dimensional walls and twisted the laws of reality. It splintered worlds- reducing many to a fraction of their original size. Three of the largest and most stable only contain a portion of their surface area from before the Day of Rending. Dimension Alpha (342342-A) spans from the Pacific Ocean through to Eastern Europe. Dimension Fenris (352435-F) contains Europe, Northern Africa and a portion of central Asia. Dimension Zohar (373453-Z) contains the Eastern portions of North and South America. Rifts, drops into the void, and other strange barriers limit the geography.

While survivors have identified and experienced many other dimensions, these three core worlds seem to be linked, even overlapping. Rifts and gates between them appear constantly. While no gate ever stabilizes, the frequency and duration of these rifts makes their use easier. The Rift Pandect Program has developed tools for estimating duration of a gate once formed- an art that's half science, half superstition. Rifts also appear which don't lead between these three dimensions. Some have appeared to places frequently enough to be known and named (Patagonia-12, Carcosa, Soulwell) but others remain mysterious and dangerous. Rift appearances, while regular, still elicit fear.

The Current Worlds
Significant differences exist between the three core dimensions, but they share some common features. The vanishing of all written material: printed, sketched, or electronically stored caused an immediate loss of expertise, communication, and knowledge. Imagine all instructions, all technical manuals, all labels, all computer prompts gone. Perhaps the civilizations could have recovered afterwards, but the many crises which followed on its heels: disease, rogue mutants, demons, and rift swallowings- made that nearly impossible. Today it is possible to write things down, to make labels. However material seen and read by many persons will begin to decay and fade. Expertise and stories are transmitted by copying, audio recordings (where possible), and oral tradition.

That's meant that the general tech level has fallen back to a mix of 19th century and 20th century developments. Expertise is concentrated and valued- leading to guild-like institutions. Restoration and refurbishment of old devices is a constant process. Most new devices and tech will be around the level of the early 20th century. Still some places have managed to figure out ways to use powers and magic to create new hybrid items. The city of Mengazia on Fenris prides itself on efficient and long lasting recording and playback devices. Zohar's Neo York has come to be known for expert firearm manufacture. Dimension Alpha's less known for technological developments, having suffered a plague of technology eating demons which recurs from time to time.

What is Life Like?
In the 50+ years since the Day of Rending, civilizations have crashed, rebuilt and been shattered again. All three core dimensions had been at an early 21st century level- albeit with differing cultural influences and histories. Most current authority lies enclaves, city-states and regions. Warlords and other leaders have taken control- in some places to maintain order and in others to exploit the populace. Travel between settled regions is made more dangerous by Rift Pop-Ins, bandits, magical forces, and harsh. Until recently the exception was Fenris, where the unity of the Mok’ek mind kept everything in order. However the death of Mok’ek has meant a splintering of aspirations, goals, and alliances. Slowly Fenris has begun to fragment even with the authority of the new Jhannate.

Most people deal with the fact of the new strangeness among their people. Mutants are a fact of life- not populous, by present everywhere. They’re a minority with striking powers. That’s created fear and persecution in some areas. Fenris, in particular, quietly works to purge Mutants or at least control and isolate them. Alpha varies from place to place; governed heavily by superstitions. Dimension Zohar’s more accepting, with many regions offering mutants prized positions and authority. Most mutants possess a single striking power. It may be weak to start, but with practice and time it can be developed. Mutants always have some visible mark of their state- a physical sign proclaiming them as different.

Magic also appears in many places. The most powerful once were the Word Speakers who had magic which could change reality, depending on the stories they knew. The destruction of the School of Words scattered their order. Modern Word Speakers (outside of the Jhannate Command) train with a master or in small conclaves. Their arts mimic classical magic, usually focused around a particular idea or concept. Word Smiths are a different matter. These gifted artisans can imbue objects with the power of words or stories, creating magical or even simply empowered mundane objects. Most places have trained Word Smith who collect stories and then transform them into useful things. That’s why stories are considered a prized currency across the lands. Word Smiths are generally restless- seeking out new stories to shape and engrave.

Two other factions are worth noting. Though the Rift Pandect program eventually collapsed in the various crises, survivors passed on the knowledge they’d uncovered about the Rifts. They’re evolved into a nomadic order travelling across the dimensions and venturing into new places despite the risks. Pandects have the skills to sense new rifts, determine how long they will remain open, and in some cases to convert the energy of a rift to a useful function. They’re also said to be expert catalogers of the strange beasts and magic. A more recent creation, the Broken Mok’ek are those who could not bear life among their brethren. Not everyone in Dimension Fenris had been transformed into a copy of Mok’ek, but everyone had been touched by his influence. Broken Mok’ek have only been partially transformed. As a result they’re seen as weird among their fellows and they themselves feel out of place. As a result, they flee Fenris to travel. Broken Mok’ek often have some social skill problems and are often introverted. Most have obsessive studied a field or developed a talent which they use to define themselves as different. They can be quite gregarious regarding that area of expertise.