Forays into "The Future": Locations (Vault #32)

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In this edition of The Vault we bring you 20 locations for your forays into the Future. We recommend skill checks be used to “unlock”/ascertain the answers to some of the questions or potential plot paths offered below. We’ve provided some ideas for Skill resolution in some of the entries. For groups comfortable with advanced role-playing, a Game Master might allow the player who succeeded at a Skill check to direct the course of the shared fiction, providing the answer to the potential plot directions.

  1. _Time Scar/Singularity_ (#TScar) A quantum distortion in spacetime. *Any ability with “Phase” or “Teleport” in the name is played as a 1 (on failure) or 20 (on rolled success).

  2. _Derelict Dyson Sphere_ (#DDyson) Remnant of a superior galactic empire. What caused it to be uninhabitated? Does it function still? Are those humanoid bats hanging in hibernation “above” you?! Oh god….* Adventurers must make a Persona check of 10 or above or lose 1 Persona.

  3. _Space Slug_ (#SSlug) It scours asteroids and small moons clean, and it hitched a ride to your home system. The slug may be a location all in itself, with an infestation of parasites the adventurers may have to battle.

  4. _Solar Sail_ (#Sail) This vast solar sail is a hundred times bigger than any ship in the fleet, and it’s towing something. What is it? How do you change its course? *A Knowledge skill check of 8 or above may yield the answer to one of those questions. A “20” might yield two such answers, of a more specific nature.

  5. _Crystalline Obelisk_ (#Obelisk) Something as big as a space station or dreadnought seems trapped inside. None of your instruments registers any readings from it at all. Did an eye larger than your shuttle just blink? * Adventurers make a Charisma skill check of 10 or above or provoke a “response” from the obelisk that causes 3 damage to any who failed.

  6. _Asteroid Field_ (#AField) When the mining crews cracked that methane giant, they may have doomed the system. Now huge gouts and plumes of fire arc between the deadly debris. Can you save the survivors? Stop the field dispersion? * An Athletics skill check of 12 allows you to save the survivors OR stop the degradation of the field.

  7. _Living Planet_ (#LPlanet) You hear it in your mind…It knows all your fears and dreams. * Make a Persona check of 10 or more or lose 1 skill level.

  8. _Space Prison_ (#SPrison) The icy penal colony of Rura Pente is feared across the galaxy. What did you do to earn imprisonment here? Will you escape or rule it from within? * A Charisma skill check of 7 or above saves you from the ritualistic gang-beating given to all newcomers. Failure costs you 4 health.

  9. _Transdimensional Rift_ (#TRift) Quantum pioneers think it might be a new universe being birthed at the edge of our own. Dark Matter engineers fear it could be a weapon experiment of terrifying power. * Make a Knowledge check to discern a safe approach to the Rift. Failure results in destruction of 1 Loot item per failed check.

  10. _Omega Station_ (#OStation) In orbit perilously near two soon-to-collide black holes, it seems set to harvest the imminent gamma burst. But what could such power be used for, and what structure could withstand such a blast?! The only certainty is that all the galactic governments want it for themselves.

  11. _Helium 3 Refinery_ (#H3) A prize of pirates, the spigot of galactic trade, and the first target in intergalactic conflict.

  12. _Scorched Terra_ (#Terra) A former M class planet blasted clean by a civilization’s nuclear suicide. Are there survivors down there? Tech to be scavenged? * A Knowledge skill check of 10 or above allows you to locate usable tech. Draw a Tier 1 Loot (Tier 2 if you rolled 18 or above).

  13. _Rimworld_ (#Rim) A colony at the edge of known space. Why’d you come here? What is your role? The threats and wonders?

  14. _Numena Nebula_ (#Nebula) Every ship that’s entered it has severed Comms with High Command. They’ve been observed working on something, but what is it?

  15. _Forbidden System_ (#FSystem) A solar system placed on the Galactic Council’s Interdict List long before humans achieved spaceflight. What brought you here against your better judgment?

  16. _Aeon Gate_ (#AGate) Cryptography doesn’t know if the structure allows one to leap across the light-years or through time itself.

  17. _The Planetkiller_ (#TPK) An asteroid inbound to your planet. Only landing on the surface will tell if it’s path is one of accident or design. The clock is ticking…* A successful Athletics skill check of 9 or above will allow you to execute a perfect landing. Failure results in everyone being roughed up (take 2 damage).

  18. _Uncharted Moon_ (#UMoon) It’s not supposed to be here. Wait…that’s no moon!

  19. _Plague Fleet_ (#PFleet) They vanished twenty years ago. You’ve found them, but what could drive a hundred different crews to insanity or death at once? Luckily, you’ll get a vast salvage bounty…if you survive.

  20. _Necro World_ (#NWorld) Communications ceased at 07:34 Galactic Standard Time. What killed this world? What if it happens again? * Require periodic skill checks to resist the effects of whatever killed this world. Rotate through the three different skills. Failure on Athletics results in 2 damage for each failed check. Charisma failure lowers Persona by 1. Failure on a Knowledge skill check causes players to lose a Loot.

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Forays in the Future: Seditious Synths (Vault #31)

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In this edition of Forays, our exploration of The Future expansion, we’ll provide 20 plot ideas for the new Encounter Type found in the expansion. Here are your plot ideas for Synths. We can’t wait to see where you take these adventure seeds. Enjoy!

  1. _Esoteric Explorers_ (#Explorers) You’re the first organics encountered by a race built and abandoned long ago. They’d like to examine your “hardware” and “CPU”s.

  2. _Mining the Homeworld_ (#Miners) The glittering skyscrapers of your homeworld’s surface are easily accessible silos of material.

  3. _Nanomission_ (#Nano) The swarm insists they wish to provide us with an upgrade. Some paranoid few fear we won’t be “us” anymore.

  4. _Lockdown_ (#Lockdown) The government has imposed draconian measures in the wake of losing a democratic election. They’ve placed automated turrets and sentries in the streets. Will you fight with the rebels? Even if you don’t, you’ll be forced to venture forth when food supplies dwindle…

  5. _Virus_ (#Virus) Local automated systems have gone haywire in the wake of devilry by the infamous hacker “El Loco Biologico”. You may have to defend yourself from haywire machines, but the surveillance state ensures you’ll be charged for any property damage…

  6. _Proving Grounds_ (#Grounds) Synths on this planet run gladiatorial games where the finest organic specimens are tested. Victory brings freedom and luxury.

  7. _ Synthesized Life_ (#SynthLife) They printed you in a lab in an effort to restore an extinct species. Your masters debate whether you’ll pass the “Turing Test”. Maybe you can do so by escaping…

  8. _Starjackers_ (#Starjack) They’ve come to take our Star and transport it to their home system. The only advantages we have are numbers and desperation.

  9. _Imperators of Order_ (#Imperators) Established to maintain ecological stellar environments, they systematically decimate civilizations that become too aggressive in terraforming systems.

  10. _The Replacements_ (#Replacements) Command has deemed you obsolete. You can consent to experimental cybernetic upgrades or be ‘“retired”, whatever that means. You’ve noted discrepancies in the vidfeeds from Command…are organics still in charge?

  11. _Total War_(#Total) You’re on a diplomatic mission when total war breaks out between your hosts and an unknown species. Whose side do you take? Will the invaders perceive you as hostiles?

  12. _Regrets of the Flesh_ (#Regrets) In the wake of cybernetic replacements, you must contend with phantom limb syndrome and specters of your biological past. * You may choose between a Persona card or a permanent Loot upgrade. If you took the Loot, anytime you’d gain or lose persona, take 1 health damage instead. If you chose Persona, suffer -1 to all rolls whenever Loot is in your inventory.

  13. _Dystopia_ (#Dystopia) As one of the last surviving members of an endangered species, you’ve been deposited on this lush “zoo planet”. Will you accept your imprisonment? Conspire with the other “preserved species”? Will the zookeepers even let you die?

  14. _Belter Brigade_ (#Belter) You help guard the worlds of the inner system by manning an outpost in the asteroid belt. Your sensors have gotten strange readings, and now a cat-and-mouse game with an unknown force is set to ensue amid the debris.

  15. _Omega Watch_ (#Omega) As elite operatives of the Omega Watch, you investigate the worst of threats—anything that’s killed a planet or solar system. Your task is to discover the culprit of such existential threats, then, if the havoc was caused by an intelligent source, ensure culprits are brought to heel or eliminated.

  16. _Unified Field_ (#Field) The successor to cyberspace has been populated by the shades of trillions of organics downloaded before biological death. There are rumors the denizens of the Darkweb may have found a way to merge digital and physical reality using quantum physics. What if they succeed? What if they are wrong?

  17. _Brainjacked_ (#Bjacked) The captain and the rest of the First Contact delegation have returned from a meeting with the Synths. But they’re acting suspiciously. Will you relieve the officers of command? Then what?

  18. _Synthesization_ (#Synth) During combat with Synths you’ve been injected with nanites. You fear your body and mind may not be yours much longer. * During the initial combat, any adventurers who take damage are injected. If their Skill or Persona falls to minimum, the next ability must be played against the best interests of the party.

  19. _Damage Control_ (#Damage) True AI brought unparalleled societal upheaval. As officers in a law enforcement agency, you’ve been partnered with synthetics in a new war on cybercrime. But who is friend and who is foe?

  20. _Infiltration_ (#Infiltration) Vastly outnumbered, you’ve been dropped behind enemy lines with the mission of uploading a quantum virus into the Synth army. If you succeed, you’ll turn the tide of this engagement.

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The Storm (Vault #29)

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The Great Storm can imperil even the most magically or technologically advanced society or community. Even when the immediate fury has passed, there are life-threatening circumstances that come to the forefront. One or all of the 15 ideas below might face a party when the storm comes.  We've organized them into sets of encounters that go together under a common theme.

The Finger of God

  1. _Tornado!_ (#Tornado) The cone of terrifying wind makes a deadly projectile out of even a stalk of straw. > A Knowledge (Magic) check or Perception (Ranged) check of 13 or above is required to avoid the bludgeoning debris. Take damage equal to half the value of your failed roll.

  2. _The Conflagration_ (#Confl) The high winds have spread flame throughout the village or city. Without swift action, the community may not survive. > An Influence check could be required to rally the citizenry and organize their firefighting efforts. A Magic check (especially with an ice Ability) could put out one of the burning buildings, but which one?

  3. _All Hail_(#Hail) Ice chunks the size of your fist begin pummeling the region. > A Fortitude (Melee) check will of 10 or above saves the adventurer from significant damage. Failure leads to bruises equal to 2 health in damage.

  4. _Mudmire_ (#Mud) The ground is a slippery mess. > Any Ability checks will be made at a -3 penalty. If the reduced roll would be a 1, play the Ability's critical failure.

  5. _Beasts Unhinged_ (#Unhinged) With their pens and fencing destroyed, panicked livestock frantically stampede and attempt escape. > A party member must choose a type of communal animal (horse, cattle, chicken, llama...ostrich/chocobo). They find themselves in the midst of a stampede. Play an ability. If the ability succeeds and deals 3 or more damage, the adventurer escapes unscathed. If not, they take 5 damage.

The Blizzard

  1. _Snow Covers All_ (#Snow) With the region in the grip of a record setting blizzard, the adventurers are sought out to find travelers (or children) who didn't make it back to habitation before the storm. > A Tracking (Ranged) check of 7 or above will allow the party to find tracks leading to the lost.

  2. _Trapped!_ (#Trapped) Those tracks end in what appears to be a recent Avalanche. Only swift and vigorous action will save the victims. > A series of three Athletics (Melee) checks of 8, 9, and finally 10 must be made to dig out the trapped. If any are failed, party members can sacrifice 1 health to succeed instead. Each failure without the health sacrifice results in the death of one of the trapped.

  3. _The Killing Cold_ (#Cold) The frigid temps drop even further. > A Magic or Loot card with "fire" in the descriptor can be spent to stave off the killing cold, or a Survival (Ranged) check of 13 or higher will do the same. Failure results in loss of 3 health and 1 Persona.

  4. _The Crevasse_ (#Crevasse) A hidden crevasse opens, swallowing party members. > Any adventurer who rolls less than 10 on a Perception (Ranged) Check falls in, taking 2 health damage. A climb check of 7 or above is required to escape.

  5. _Avalanche_ (#Avalanche) The mountain slope trembles and shifts. A white wall of death descends...> An Athletics check of 12 or above will allow an adventurer to outrun the deadly snow. Failure results in entombment (go to "Trapped!" for checks to escape).

The Hurricane

  1. _Fearsome Flooding_ (#Flooding) Citizens are stranded. This is a job for heroes. > An Influence check might be required to convince a scared commoner the adventurers are not looters. An Athletics check will surely be needed to traverse the treacherous, flooded streets.

  2. _Looters_ (#Looters) You could almost admire their opportunism, if it didn't come at the cost of the vulnerable.

  3. _Structural Collapse_ (#Collapse) The building you are in groans and creaks...then a wall and ceiling collapse upon you. > A Magic or Ranged check of 9 or above is needed to avoid being struck by sodden building materials. Take 3 damage on failure.

  4. _Dire Diseases_ (#Disease) The waters have proven an ideal breeding ground for molds, bacteria, and mosquitoes. > A Fortitude (Melee) check of 6 or above is necessary to avoid illness. On failure, suffer a -2 to Ability checks for the remainder of the quest.

  5. _Gales Most Gruesome_ (#Gales) The hurricane's winds are the most inopportune condition under which to fight. > Ranged, Music, and Magic abilities fail on any roll less than a 15. Melee abilities suffer -5 to rolls. Enemies cannot surge. Everyone (including Encounter cards) is dealt 2 damage each round.

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Lovecraftian Lyricism [The Forge #8]

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"The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown." --H.P. Lovecraft, "Supernatural Horror in Literature"

What are the elements of Horror or Mystery? How does one distill the essence of the genre and infuse it into a crafted Quest? This week we're not going to spend time with scripting in the Quest Crafter, but on the techniques that endow your story with the aesthetics of Horror.

Should you wish to see a detailed examination of all the elements, I strongly recommend reading the entire 30 page essay from one of the masters himself.  I hyperlinked Lovecraft's article above ("Supernatural Horror in Literature"). 

But if you want the footnoted version, I shall endeavor to abbreviate some of his insights below. Incidentally, focusing on many of these suggestions will improve non-horror stories as well. 

  1. Keep Secrets. Secrets create tension. Secrets beg to be discovered. They wait like a treasure chest, just asking to have their locks sprung. All quests should have a secret. The best have a secret with a twist (I prefer moral twists). For example, "commoners" have hired the adventurers to destroy a nest of zombies outside of town. What they haven't revealed is the zombies are actually protecting the townsfolk from them, for they are secretly bandits wishing to prey on the town.

  2. Use Suspense & Foreshadowing. Hint at the dark terrors that may await, but use a light touch. This is the most difficult thing to do in many stories, and spoiling things early on will certainly do much to ruin the mood. To do this well almost requires you to psych yourself out. Even better, hint at more, but don't reveal the totality of secret. Create fragments of history. Leave gaps in the puzzle for players to fill from their own imaginations. Consider leaving certain questions unanswered completely (at least in your first "episode"). Fortunately a Quest need not be linear...each and every possible outcome and terror can be a possible path and ending. For example, in my quest "Dark Gifts" (Worldbreaker #2) player choices determine who the real kingslayers are...the identity of the villains is not set in stone, but determined by player choices, and *SPOILERS* even allows for a party member to be the assassin. This leads to the next point.

  3. Create False Trails. Make false allies. Make false enemies. Twist things. You might even allow the adventurer(s) to choose to be the villain, but never force adventurers to be evil (remember, we have kids playing with their parents).

  4. Make the Adventurers' fears mirror those of Players. The best Horror connects us with the characters in the story either because we associate with the personalities of the protagonists or the fears addressed resonate with universal human fears. Visual horror can appeal to instinctual biological impulses (jump scares, creepy images or sounds). Written horror must appeal to psychological fears. Social Alienation. Damnation. Meaninglessness of personal actions or efforts (or existence itself--though a well grounded person will find such suggestions empty and uncompelling). Poverty. The best horror or suspense imparts us with a sense that our actions DO matter, but that we ever teeter on the brink of failure, and a poor choice will result in disaster.

  5. Set Atmosphere. Make Places into People. Look at how Stephen King perpetually personifies the inanimate in his works. The Dome is intelligent. Black House is capable of motion and intent. The Dark Tower looms throughout a series of novels like a monolithic foe. In the aforementioned and linked essay, Lovecraft wrote, "Atmosphere is the all-important thing, for the final criterion of authenticity is not the dovetailing of a plot but the creation of a given sensation." (Emphasis added.)

I would like to think my commissioned Horror quest, "Raventree Manor" does all of these at some level. I spent 40 hours listening to Lovecraft's stories in audiobook format to try and get it right. That leads to my last point:  Borrow brilliance from others. Learn from the masters. Get inspired. 

Wikipedia has a pretty good write-up of some scholarly analysis of Horror elements. We'll leave you with a quote from that entry with some good parting advice:  "Sometimes a story intends to shock and disgust, but the best horror intends to rattle our cages and shake us out of our complacency. It makes us think, forces us to confront ideas we might rather ignore, and challenges preconceptions of all kinds. Horror reminds us that the world is not always as safe as it seems, which exercises our mental muscles and reminds us to keep a little healthy caution close at hand." --Elizabeth Barrette's "Elements of Aversion"

Happy quest writing!

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Malevolent Mysteries [The Vault #18]

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"The Horror" is upon you!  Most of you have it in your possession as I write. If not, it lurks, waiting to take you unawares! Of course this means some of you may be pricked with the peculiar madness to craft your own horror-themed quests. Yesterday's "Forge" entry should help with that, and we're not going to stop there. Provided below are 20 plot seeds for your Horrific protagonists:

  1. _Parasitic Peril_ (#Peril) During the greatest Feast Day in the kingdom, infected meats risk making many commoners hosts to larval horrors.

  2. _Predictable Prophets_ (#Prophets) A mad prophet wielding fell powers has enthralled and terrified a village.

  3. _Pharaonic Family of Ra_ (#Ra) A cult of inept dandies seeks to summon a divine being. They awake a Horror instead.

  4. _Sky Beast_ (#Sky) It lives, tentacled, in the clouds. Poisonous rains are the only warning and herald of its approach.

  5. _Minister of Madness_ (#Minister) All he wants to do is teach, and his students have grown to be many. Some are even old associates of the adventurers.

  6. _Dark Deals_ (#Deals) With the adventurers on the verge of death in battle, a horror rips them out of time and space to propose a way out. For a price.

  7. _The Ancient Door_ (#Door) Cyclopean and foreboding, it has stood unopened since the foundation of the city. Now, though, a crack has appeared in the door, terrible light spilling out. Most the light touches become dangerously homicidal. What will occur if it springs fully wide?

  8. _The Offer_ (#Offer) A strange, mighty, and unknown magus instructs the adventurers in the ways of power. The price of such power is sanity, forfeited one bit at a time.

  9. _Unhinged_ (#Unhinged) A riddle keeps driving sages and scholars insane, but leaving it unresolved could cost the kingdom everything.

  10. _Personality_ (#Personality) A pacifistic leader is impregnating his willing followers, with twins, but one of each pair may not be human.

  11. _Dark Waters_ (#Waters) Something from the depths keeps visiting, taking others back to the deep with them. Curiously, it always leaves its victims' left hands behind on the shore.

  12. _The Bower_ (#Bower) They want to make their home here, in the greatest Tower constructed by man. Closed doors seem incapable of keeping them in or out...

  13. _Terraforming_ (#Terra) "Invasive Species" threaten to overtake the area, one bulbous, mold encrusted tree at a time.

  14. _Communion_ (#Comm) The adventurers manifest strange powers, but with each use the fabric of reality frays.

  15. _Eaters of the Dead_ (#Eaters) The local cemeteries are being defiled, bits and pieces of the exhumed dead left behind. Their eaters are slowly becoming more human, with all the memories of the eaten. To what lengths will people go to be reunited with departed loved ones?

  16. _The Thousand Young_ (#Young) A cavern has been found that contains enormous eggs. No one knows the species, or what may come out if they hatch.

  17. _Trojan Tentacles_ (#Trojan) Judging by the custodian's remains and the shattered glass case, the ancient and foreboding statue in the museum may not have been a statue. That means all the companion statues in the excavated city being unearthed nearby may in fact be an army. What set the first loose? How can the others be contained?

  18. _The Legacy_ (#Legacy) The adventurers unearth evidence that the monarchs of most countries are not entirely human, and some may be in the service of more ancient, even less human masters.

  19. _Dreamstalker_ (#Dream) People are dying in their sleep, horrific marks appearing on their bodies from out of nowhere. Can the adventurers find the dreamstalker and stop them?

  20. _The Triangle_ (#Triangle) A shipping lane once vital to the commerce of many nations has been swallowing up all ships that brave its waters. Can the adventurers find the cause and stop it?

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