The Strange RPG – First Thoughts, Part 2

ts-coverLast time, I discussed various aspects of Monte Cook Games’ Cypher System.  There were a lot of really interesting mechanics that lend themselves well to storytelling and roleplaying.  This post will focus more on the setting and adventure that I ran to give you a glimpse into the weird and fantastic world that is The Strange.

Before I dive into any of the details, I really have to say that the materials are excellent.  They’re very well-written, easy to understand, and the illustrations are excellent.  Whether you grab the Player’s Guide or the core rulebook, you won’t be disappointed by the quality that MCG has put into these.  They don’t seem to ever to anything halfway, and that’s certainly evident here, as well.

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Artwork example from The Strange core rulebook.  The images are all quite detailed and impressive.

The Player’s Guide has everything you need to learn how to play The Strange and create your characters.  If you grab the core rulebook for The Strange, you’ll find that all of the material in the PG has been included.  So, for anyone looking to save a few bucks but still run a game, you can grab only the core rulebook and have everything you need for yourself as a GM and for the players.  (Of course, that means sharing a book, which is a bit of a hinderance when it comes to several people making characters at once.  But once you’re past that, it’s not really a big deal.)  The books are also available in PDF format, if that’s preferred.

Now, on to The Strange…

The Strange is set in modern times, with most characters originating on Earth.  The Earth, along with the rest of the universe, exists in parallel with a dark energy network called The Strange.  This network plays host to various other worlds.  Worlds that often came into existence by the efforts and will of people.  (It’s possible to create new worlds, called recursions, within The Strange, if so desired.  There’s a whole section of rules on how to do this, if the players want to try it.)  Because of this, many of these worlds resemble – and can even be built upon – our own fictional creations.  Places like Oz, Wonderland, and the London of Sherlock Holmes can and do exist within The Strange.  And characters may travel (called translating) to these other worlds via portals, gates, or keys simply to visit, or to accomplish their missions.

Players within The Strange are typically agents of The Estate, a clandestine government organization that “doesn’t exist” for the purpose of protecting Earth from various threats that relate to The Strange energy network, its recursions, and those wishing to cause harm through those worlds’ inhabitants and technologies.  These inhabitants include weird and mysterious creatures, called “planetovores”, which can consume whole worlds and end their existence.  The Estate helps to keep these creatures at bay.

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I put the adventure, notes , character sheets, and all handouts into a binder for ease of use.

The adventure that we ran is called Eschatology Code.  It involves some crucial bits of technology that have fallen into the wrong hands, a cult prophesying the end of the world, that threatens to destabilize the Earth’s connection to The Strange energy network and open the floodgates for planetovores to come to our world.  Father Foss of the All Souls Church of Deliverance in Sioux Falls, SD has begun preaching about the end of days.  Intelligence leads The Estate to believe that Foss has this dangerous technology and plans to deploy it.  Can the agents put a stop to whatever he’s up to?

I found another GM, Justin Alexander of “The Alexandrian”, that had put together some excellent handouts and prep notes for running this adventure.  I’d highly-recommend taking a look and utilizing what you like with your own players.  I found it a great help to have all of these materials throughout the session.  He also has reviews and prep notes for other adventures within The Strange, Numenera, and various other RPG systems.

The adventure consisted of three main parts: briefing and travel to Sioux Falls, arrival and investigation, and finally putting a stop to Father Foss and his cult.  I don’t want to reveal too many details, but this was a fun one-shot adventure.  It originally ran at Gen Con, and is meant for a 3-4 hour time slot.  I’d say it was just about right, even for a bunch of novices (including the GM).  It also includes pre-gen characters so you can get right down to business.

Enemies, NPCs, and monsters all had simple stats and attacks.  Everything was well laid out, and it made it really simple for me to determine what the enemies and NPCs would do next.  No significant flipping back and forth to find stat blocks or details.  Basic enemy stats were right in the margins alongside the adventure text for the encounter.  Simple maps were provided for a couple of key areas, just in case anyone felt they were really necessary.

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An example of the adventure.  All MCG materials for Numenera and The Strange are similarly laid out.  Some areas have sidebars.  Others have notes in the margin to call out stats or point to the core rulebook for more details.  Really impressed with the layout.

Learning to play was fun and easy.  My players were able to grasp the Cypher System and the task levels without any issues.  It turned out that it’s also a very easy system to run.  Even if you’re not sure how to handle something, it’s simple to assign a difficulty to just about anything.  Attacking a basic bad guy?  Level 2.  Doing it through a crowd?  Level 3 or 4.  Have sniper training?  Lower the difficulty by a level.  Because there aren’t a ton of granular rules to deal with, it’s really simple to add or subtract a level or two just based on the situation.  The player then rolls to see if they succeed.  And movement is just as simple, making use of immediate, short, and long distances instead of having to count everything out using squares or hexes on a map.

Because it’s a rules-light system, we were able to run the entire adventure without any maps or minis.  I love minis, but it really made for a fast-moving game that kept everyone interested and engaged the entire time.  They would just describe what they wanted to do, and I ran with it.  And as a GM, it made for a simple system to run.  I had no issues keeping up with what players were trying to do, or determining what NPCs were up to.  When in doubt, just assign a difficulty level and go.

All-in-all, I’m really happy with how the game went.  I loved learning a new system.  And I cannot wait to try running my crack team of agents through another adventure.

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Here you can see my pre-gen character sheets in their sleeves.  I used the tent cards and cypher cheat sheets found at The Alexandrian as player aids.  They worked out well!

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