A while back, I brainstormed some ideas for different variations on cyphers in different settings for the Cypher System – Ideas for cyphers in different settings. This post is an expansion on one of those ideas, though it could be adapted for other systems, I’m sure. Suggestions or additions are welcome in the comments, as always.
The universe is a tapestry. Whether this is proof of a divine creator or just a weird consequence of string theory is unknown and doesn’t really matter; the important thing is that time and space are constructed of carefully woven threads, known as The Weave.
A very small percentage of the population, colloquially known as Stitches, can perceive this weave and even interact with it to produce unusual effects. This is kept secret from the rest of the population; any Stitch who starts weaving magic in public is likely to be quickly silenced by the others in the community (though a couple of Stitches have made a living as professional stage magicians).
Most Stitches can only perceive the barest fragments of the Weave and maybe perform a couple of simple tricks. However, there are some who have a much greater grasp of it and who can produce truly magical effects.
Although this is a modern setting, Stitches can perform many unusual feats, so the Adept type and many of the more supernatural foci are still appropriate. All the characters are still human though, so foci such as Abides in Stone are not appropriate, and foci such as Slays Monsters will provide little benefit.
Any player wanting to play a heavily magical character should be willing to show some restraint in public or face the in-game consequences – this is something to discuss ahead of the game.
Artifacts are known as “patterns”. They are left over from the original weaving and will produce a specific effect when activated. They are still part of the weave itself, so they often appear as relatively innocuous objects. (e.g. a lighter that, when flicked, causes all glass in the vicinity to shatter; a violin that, when played, causes storm clouds to gather.)
Cyphers are known as “threads” and are loose threads in the Weave that Stitches can remove and use later to produce a one-time effect. More powerful threads could also be modelled as a broken pattern that will only work once, though they still obey the same rules as threads. (e.g. Something like the Volcanic Heart from Numenera, could be a pattern that was supposed to produce a regular fire on demand, but it’s stuck in a feedback loop, so as soon as you activate it, it will just keep generating heat until it burns itself out.)
Optional rule: Common threads – The majority of threads in the weave are of a few specific types (20 types, to make it easy to randomise and have decent variation). These are by far the most common type of thread found and are well enough understood that Stitches can carry more of them safely – up to five per cypher “slot”. Each type of common thread can produce several thematic effects, based on the the type, which can be chosen with each use.
For example, a “body” thread can be woven to have an effect on an individual; either recover 4 might points, recover 4 speed points or gain 1 armor for ten minutes.
As an addition, each of these threads could have an option for a trained character. For example, a character trained in medicine could also use a “body” thread to cure a disease.
The Agency – As global, clandestine conspiracies go, The Agency is pretty benevolent. They’ve decided, probably correctly, that the world is not ready to find out that certain individuals can rewrite parts of creation. They serve two purposes; firstly as a kind of supernatural police force (earning them the nickname, The Tapestry Police), dealing with things that the regular authorities are simply not equipped to handle; secondly they help keep Stitches off the public radar. They are not generally heavy handed in their duties; the first time someone breaks the masquerade, they’ll clean it up and have a quiet word, rather than instantly disappearing the person. Obviously repeat offenders are dealt with more severely.
The Guild of Weavers – A group of the most skilled Stitches, they study the weave and see how far they can develop their skills. Any PC with the adept type will either be a member or on their watchlist. They maintain good relations with The Agency, but secretly, the upper echelons are trying to build up enough of a following to reveal themselves to the world in such a spectacular fashion that there is no covering it up.
Order of the Divine Needle – A group of religious fanatics who subscribe to the belief that God created the Weave and that altering it is blasphemy. They’ll hunt down and kill Stitches where they can find them, though occasionally they will accept converts who have sworn never to touch the Weave again.
Froggers – This is the derogatory term for a loose alliance of doomsday cults, who all want to destroy the weave and end the world. Fortunately, the Weave is pretty robust, so they’ve only ever managed to cause localised damage to it, which can be passed off as a terrorist incident or natural disaster.
The Stitch ‘n’ Bitch – An underground club that only Stitches can enter, as the owner has placed an incredibly powerful pattern on the front door; a Stitch must tie off the final thread that connects the door to the club or it will simply open into an abandoned warehouse. The club is often used as neutral ground among Stitches, as the owner comes down very hard on those who cause trouble in his establishment; even the Agency treads with caution while under his roof.
Other setting notes:
Bobbins – Patterns are easily carried, as they are physical objects. However, threads are intangible, so the way that Stitches carry them round is by temporarily tying them to a trivial item, often referred to as a bobbin. Having random threads tied to it, often causes the bobbin to act in unusual ways; a coin might always land on its edge when tossed or a d6 might change all its sides to match whatever number it just rolled. Encourage players to invent their own bobbins that tie in with their character; if a PC loses their bobbin, they can simply create a new one by tying threads to a new object.
Tapestry spiders – These extradimensional parasites live outside the Weave. Occasionally they break into reality, where they manifest as black spider-like creatures, with too many legs and too many eyes, ranging anywhere from cat-sized to horse-sized. They seem to have no real purpose in coming through to reality; they generally just attack anyone in the vicinity and then disappear back into the Weave.
Optional rule: Gunshots – If you want to keep the setting relatively gritty and low-powered, I’ve been considering a rule to make firearms a little more dangerous. If a character take damage from a firearm, they are immediately moved one level down the damage track (this only happens once, even if hit multiple times). This level of damage cannot be recovered until they receive proper medical attention (this could come from another PC, but they would need to be trained, have access to proper medical supplies and have time to do a proper job).
The thinking behind this rule is that it only makes guns marginally more lethal (to die, a character would still have to empty two out of three pools), but it does provide a decent incentive not to get shot, as you can’t just make a couple of recovery rolls and be good as new. Obviously, if you’re playing a high-powered game as Agency super-soldiers or something, there’s probably no need for this rule.