Say “syzygy” three times fast

Into much kooky mayhem! This is where my ongoing skill challenges and prepped situation and announced character quests all collided, producing plenty of “this is how our story goes” with not a single intended or planned effect to be found in in my preparation.

It’s also a good opportunity to discuss that preparation in more detail. Those following along know that the cute little floaty-land I described in the previous post about this game, called Our Land by the two primary inhabitants, has some back-story. A crystal meteor hit it, hard enough to shatter off a piece, and Irru has had a hell of a time steering it back to rejoin the main part. Meanwhile his sister Urri has had an equally difficult time trying to manage the consequences of the impact, including an incubating mega-crystal and increasing wildness among the inhabitants.

To make matters worse, each has a fragment of crystal from the growth and is convinced the other has the “right” one, as using the respective piece results in a disturbing, dangerous impasse, perceived as a mystic Door.

There are several things I’m not telling you: what are Urri and Irru, anyway? (hint: the latter’s behavior when one of the player-characters successfully struck the former) What is this “Land” relative to the crystal which struck it, and can they be reconciled? Why is the former monastery at the corner of Our Land closed and silent?

Leaving those currently-forbidden secrets alone for now, here’s what I prepped:

  • A standing skill-challenge to address the growing/developing crystal, particularly concerning the contact Urri and Irru have made with it; failure means it erupts and goes into overdrive (details thereof withheld for the moment)
  • Uneasy cooperation between the siblings toward visitors, but also competition to get them on each one’s respective side regarding the other’s crystal fragment
  • Urri is reskinned from the Goblin Acolyte of Maglubiyet, and Irru from the Goblin Hexer, both of which are very nasty monster builds but are also nifty-and-nuanced enough to make for cool individual characters; Urri’s hawks are Bloodhawks, and Irru’s pebble-men are Orc Raiders, neither of them particularly reskinned
  • Bizarre behavior from the land’s apparent population, including intense compliance and subordination toward both siblings, but also murderous and weird wild actions toward anyone else when their “boss” isn’t looking; I treated them as Skulk Murderers in their role as domestics, and as Wilden Destroyers in their more forest-y wild role.
  • Certain properties of being within the small forest or within the crystal creche, specifically a voice/persona composed of the collective beings represented by either
  • The internal or psychic space produced by either crystal fragment, expressed by the image I used to lead this post, including its point of entry for anyone using a fragment and the properties of the guardian at the door.

Now, all that is just fun and for play-purposes, mighty functional. How on earth did I come up with it?

The answer is … a bit of synergy, a little bit of unexplainable pattern-making when there isn’t one … but also, looking at the right things to kick those intangibles into tangible notes. In this case, the “right things” were …

1. Dyson’s big map of the sky-island which struck me as pretty much perfect for a bit of unhinged reality in the shattered-cosmos setting we’re working with, especially of the less-crazy, more-earthy, actual farm-and-castle variety. Not too far from the concepts in Michael Reaves’ The Shattered World, although that novel’s setting is a little meat-and-potatoes compared to the whacknut stuff I’m aiming at. This map provided me with great cues for back-story, including the tethered/shattered-off piece and what appears to be an impact site, plus some kind of crystal growth.

2. My desire for multiple agents with very different desires, in a small-scale location; the map permitted me to isolate spheres of control (e.g. the tower, the farm), and to consider the role of the forest.

3. A flip through the Monster Manuals for fun builds to use; this is not only ongoing, but I’m working with choices I’d specified quite a while ago – one cannot read the Goblin of Maglubiyet’s mechanical build without wanting to make a badass psychedelic-fantasy woman out of it.

4. Dyson’s geomorph, one of dozens. I chose this one because of its philosophical implications … well here, let me explain.

You see, the intention with all those geomorphs is to hook them together side by side, to create an ongoing sprawling space. But I’m doing something weird with them: connect up opposite openings as indicated here by color:

I developed this for my first Barbaric Psychedelic game, in which I made a 3×3 square with nine geomorphs and hooked’em up like this at the far edges. It worked pretty well. It was also too big for what I had in mind here, where I wanted the action to be more about the whole landscape and less about doping out the dungeon in and of itself. Sooner or later I found myself thinking about doing it with one geomorph, for a kind of bite-sized infinite space that would be extremely weird to experience but not crazy-impossible to figure out pretty quickly.

Furthermore, I like Dyson’s work on these because they’re often not … well, to put it bluntly, not stupid. There are lots of levels (i.e. elevations), there are interesting details and room constructions, there are what seem to be little half-heard back-stories one suggests to oneself upon scrutiny. And when you do this fucked-up tesseract trick with one of them, you often get quite an interesting little biscuit. To the point where I’m looking at them now like this by default, forgetting their intended purpose, and I have to squint and shake my head to stop doing it.

Anyway, try it out: start with the blue and green arrows at the top right corner and apply them to the illustrated geomorph. See how each one takes you to one end of the big, long diagonal corridor with the door in the alcove? Using those two starting arrows, you’re on “this side” of the door.

Now, start with the other side of the door. From there you go either through the purple arrow or the red arrow at the bottom left, and you end up at another diagonal corridor which ultimately joins up at that point we began with in the above paragraph. Interesting! Two sides of the door with very distinct zones of the rest of the passages … and if one posits a kind of blindness or confusion at that non-door point of overlap – where there just happens to be an interesting little squeezed corridor for no reason … then you get a door which will obsess two opponents from either side, neither one realizing that all they have to do at that other point is to … turn around, and see one another.

Ice Cream Koan unlocked! You can see from there why I needed two primary NPCs engaged in this problem, no more and no less, and how easy it was to make them twins/siblings. Taking that back to the monster/build picks was easy, including sidekicks for each (I knew how nasty the bloodhawks could be from an earlier game, and I wanted to see what 4E orcs were like), setting up features for the forest and crystal beings in tame/wild states, and choosing an approprite guardian for the now capital-D Door.

Now, I can’t tell you which piece clicked with which other one first. #1-4 were all occurring simultaneously, and crucially, over a long period of time through a couple notebooks, rather than a single dedicated “I must prep this!” push. That’s also in tandem with other preps I’m doing of similar kind, so for example, that’s not my only creatures-list I’m thinking of. I know that the twins-concept and certainly their characterizations were a late step, as well as the rather nice notion that the meteor impact had splintered off that piece which was tethered (i.e., it’s not a foreign arrival). I also know that I have no planned or hoped-for solution to the whole situation, so that’s not part of prep at all.

Thoughts and points and questions: all welcome.


9 responses to “Say “syzygy” three times fast”

  1. Not that anyone asked…

    …but Runt, who is self-centered, semi-oblivious, raised in the epitome of "toxic masculinity" culture, inexperienced, and petrified about what others think of him, is laughably bad in the sack.  

    Also, if my plan works, it's gonna be pretty epic.  

    • Yeah, I noticed your

      Yeah, I noticed your references to the lack of "the Land movin'" and filed them for later use, as in a certain someone's dialogue.

      Epic laughs at plans! (but needs characters to have them)

    • “I have a cunning plan”

      Since Ron was discussing his prep and now James has mentioned the Plan he has clearly been working on since the moment we finished this session maybe it would be interesting to talk about player prep?

      My experience thus far suggests the dice will laugh at you and Runt James. See Ezhelya's rapidly aborted plan to lead a slave uprising at the start here. To be fair my hopes for that weren't high even before my awful diplomacy roll, but it seemed like something she would try.

      I have had a bit more success brainstorming stuff to bring in that fits the colour of setting – eg the bug healing potion. But it seems to me that the system is swingy enough, at least at this level, that any grand plan will rapidly go off the rails – interestingly hopefully but rapidly and decisively.

      I  suppose I'm saying enjoy that feeling of how cool it's going to be now because you won't be ten minutes in to the next session. As long as you're fine with that its all good clean fun. 

    • Plans in D&D succeed by

      Plans in D&D succeed by radically re-defining success, which, to the unobservant philistine, closely resembles catastrophic failure.

  2. Constant player-thought: “I can’t believe that worked!”

    Despite an absolutely astounding-for-level Arcana rating, and an almost-unfair per-encounter "substitute Arcana for Bluff, Diplomacy, or Intimidate" Power,  I'm often surprised that anything Eneku tries works – I'm kinda shocked everyone ended up in the crystal.

    I can see Eneku forming some pretty epic plans here too – but at the moment, he can't have 'em because he wasn't there when Runt talked to the … spirit of the forest? But … the crystal-fragments are now at least on a path towards "rejoining" the crystal-mass. He may regret it, but that IS what he wanted …

    As for epicness generally, I think I messaged that Urri and Irru were making me think of Agak and Gagak from Moorcock. It took four Eternal Champions to deal with them, so we're probably doomed.

  3. Grid use?

    These D&D 4 games have mostly been fairly interesting to listen; I really like how you weave in skill use (challenge or not) into combat.

    Did you use an explicit grid and tokens or an equivalent when playing? Why or why not?

    • I’ve discussed this in detail

      I've discussed this in detail at some point in the D&D posts here. I like using the grid but had no practical way to do it through the screens (and I hate all the available sites/software for it, or at least those available at the time we played). We used "soft" or "informal" grid-based play, which is to say, imposing an imagined grid over known or mostly-known area, and applying the grid-based rules as best you and the others can.

      For this game, since I always used a map, it was easy to state how many squares were involved (e.g, "this chamber is 30 squares long, so that means its widest point is 10 squares wide"), and to proceed from there. Effectively, mentally marking off the map you have with squares and using it accordingly.

      This skill evolved from how I and many others, probably most, played early Champions, whose rules are the direct parent to the movement and combat rules in later forms of D&D. It is also displayed, with careful explanation, in Champions Now. I presented more thoughts about different movement/map options in Movement and maps, which was a reply to an email about movement in Sorcerer, and the comments in that post go into many details.

      However, if we were playing in person, I would have been happy to use a more explicit grid with character tokens, in which case I would have used a dry-erase white board to sketch the immediate chamber or area, and provide a legend or other notation to measure it in squares.

    • Right now I use a mix of that

      Right now I use a mix of that and actual grid when there are many opponents or a complicated environment, or if we happen to have a grid at hand from a previous situation where we used it. One person I often play with likes tactics and character optimization and the objective and optimizable targetting of spells and movement granted by the grid.

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